Tag Archive: Venus Hum


About two weeks ago, I heard for the first time the legendary NME C86 compilation. I know, I know. I’ve referenced it here several times in the past without having ever heard it for myself – it’s all a little Tom Townsend-ish, isn’t it? And the answer is, yes (though, in my defense, at least I’ve actually read Mansfield Park). But that’s not the point here. The important thing is what happened next.

I spent the rest of the rest of the week caught in an endless YouTube vortex of Talulah Gosh and Rosehips, relentless googling forgotten Peel Sessions, and scouring eBay trying to trick myself into believing I could afford that Shop Assistants 7-inch. Then I came across this old Guardian article by Manic Street Preacher Nicky Wire and it all sounded so familiar. Well, maybe not all of it. I was two years old in 1986. I wasn’t exactly wearing Pastels badges to McCarthy gigs and publicly denouncing Thatcherism, but the connection to the music thing, I get that. And that title – “The Birth of Uncool” – well….

Because, while I may have an immense fascination with garage punk and believe wholeheartedly in the indie-classical movement, at the end of the day, it’s still Belle & Sebastian lyrics I’m quoting. And if you were to go through my “I’ll get to it in a minute” pile, you’d realize that there is certainly no shortage of brilliant new indiepop out there (upcoming releases from Matinée, Soft Power Records, and WeePop! immediately spring to mind), not to mention all those lost classics from the original C86 era.

So I’ve made the executive decision to begin a weekly indiepop feature. Be it an interview, new single, or grainy distorted video clip from the 80s, get ready to start your weekend with Indiepop’d Fridays. From now until the talent pool dries up (or I get bored), Friday mornings will be dedicated to all things melodic: from twee and shoegaze to jangle pop and anything else that makes me want to dance around with flowers in my trousers.

So let’s start things off with a band from my formative years—the band that indiepopped my cherry, so to speak—back in the late 90s. All Star United produced two brilliant pop records at the end of the last century, including International Anthems for the Human Race, which I consider to be pretty close to perfect. Back in the days when I still fancied myself some kind of stylized post hardcore punk with a heart of gold (I knew all the lyrics to “Full Color” before most of you knew P.O.D. wasn’t pronounced “pod”), All Star United were one of the very few pure pop bands I was willing to listen to. But, unlike my late 90s rapcore collection, those first two ASU albums remain in heavy rotation even now, more than a decade later.

Fun fact: International Anthems also included synth programming contributions from Kip Kubin more recently of the absolutely brilliant Venus Hum. Funner fact: they say, though I can’t confirm it, that in college, Ian Eskelin, lead singer of All Star United, lived in the same dorm and on the same floor I lived on as a freshman. I want so badly for this to be true.

A Switched On Christmas Spectacular

I love Christmas. What’s not to love (even though the fact that half the world celebrates it in the summer kinda freaks me out)? It’s the month leading up to it that I’m not so keen on. Sure, December has its good points, like Starbucks red holiday cups and the incomparable scent of winter (again, with the exception of that freakshow Southern Hemisphere). But, let’s face it, December comes with a lot of crap, too, like traffic, huge crowds, and the incomparable cold of winter (except for you know who). By far, however, the worst facet of the Christmas season is the music. Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas music. What I absolutely hate is the effect it has on musicians, namely the “I’m bored, let’s make a Christmas album” attitude. Cases in point: Newsong’s “The Christmas Shoes” and Bob Dylan’s new Christmas album.

No, it’s been a decade since I’ve come across a Christmas album that delivers consistently from start to finish (it was BEC Records’ Happy Christmas volume 1, feat. a young Switchfoot, Starflyer 59, and Five Iron Frenzy, among others). This year, thankfully, has been different. There are a number of promising collections circulating right now. Here are two of them.

The Cardiff-based Bubblewrap Collective has put out a collection that is in some shops this week and ought to be for sale at Rough Trade in London sometime next week. The concept is quite clever, I must say. Twelve artists were given 31 days to write and record a song based on one of the twelve days of Christmas. The result is a varied landscape of often lo-fi, stripped-down indie goodness where ukuleles and glockenspiels (and everything else, really) flourish with an impressive line-up including: The School, Little My, Allo Darlin’, and The Bobby McGees.

Our old friends and Indie Handbook favourites, The School (who are included on a couple of other Christmas comps this season which, if we can get our hands on copies, we will also review for you) have the twelfth day (for those who, like me, don’t have the attention span to make it through the entire song, that’s drummers drumming). And they execute their share of the festivities brilliantly with the handclappy C86 ditty “Drummer Boy”. Brontosaurus Chorus, on “Calling Birds” (that’s the fourth day), manage to pull off what may be the single greatest line in the history of Christmas music: “Christmas is a time for excessive drinking”.

On the lighter side are “Five Golden Rings from the Hi 5 Kings” by The Rocky Nest (including a heartbreaking muted trumpet refrain between otherworldly vocal performances) and Allo Darlin’ with the ukulele-laden “Silver Swans in NYC”. Then there’s the relentlessly charming “Lords Keep Leaping” by Silence at Sea, complete with injected sound effects. I’m going to have to stop myself there, because I’ve got another album to talk about. You’ll just have to check out the other seven days on your own.

Venus Hum’s Switched on Christmas EP (get it here for free) is something completely different from the 12 Days compilation. Rather than a set of entirely new songs, Venus Hum have embraced the spirit of reinterpretation championed by artists like Wendy (née Walter) Carlos on such albums as Switched on Bach and Switched on Brandenburgs. (Once upon a time, the traditionalist in me cringed at the thought of such an atrocity. The post-structuralist in me has since destroyed that aesthetic neophyte.)

Certain tracks on this EP, like “Suzy Snowflake” and “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm” translate naturally into such an electrified idiom. Even before listening, the concept is a welcome change. Ballads like “Silver Bells” also sync easily with the band’s dreamy electropop aesthetic, as a sort of hybrid of their first two albums (though it’s more Big Beautiful Sky than The Colors In the Wheel). On the opener, “Let It Snow”, Annette Strean’s vocals have been assimilated into the network and “switched on” along with a seemingly endless array of computers, synths, and processors to dazzling and (aurally) sparkling effect.

Going in, however, I had my doubts about how even one of my all-time favorite bands would adapt two of my favorite seasonal numbers. There is, of course, the classic “The Christmas Song”, penned by Mel Tormé, immortalized by Nat “King” Cole, here given a tastefully switched on treatment, with a bit of ambient crackling tacked on in the opening for good measure. In the cases of electro-programming wizards Kip Kubin and Tony Miracle, it is their sensitivity and, more importantly, ability to hold back that render “The Christmas Song” not only passable, but one of two “must hear” tracks on the EP. The other being “Silent Night”.

Now, about that “Silent Night”. It’s come a long way since Christmas Eve of 1818 and the debut performance (for voice and guitar) at Nikolaus-Kirche in Oberndorf, Austria. But it’s still one of those songs I prefer un-fooled-around with. Sometimes (ok, oftentimes) it’s easy to question if all of the “progress” we as human beings have made in the last 191 years, has really left us any better off or if we’ve regressed, and those really were the “good old days”. Maybe we really have sucked the world dry of all the beautiful things. Venus Hum’s take on this, perhaps quintessential, musical rendering of the birth of Christ is humbly trippy and sufficiently glitchy (just like we are), but the sound of Annette’s voice floating just over top of it leaves me with the sense (and hope) that there just may be some goodness left in the world.

Sleep in Heavenly peace”? Yes, thank you. I believe I shall.

17 is kind of a sexy, unlike Megan Fox

Someone from Paste magazine recently posted his top 25 songs of 2009 so far (I’m too lazy to go looking for it, so you can find it for yourself). I only agreed, I think, with one of the tracks on his list, so I have made my own. I’m also too lazy to actually come up with 25 songs and put them in any sort of real order, so here are 17 songs, more or less in the order they ranked in my mind at the time I posted this. (Why 17? I don’t know. I like it. It’s prime number and a rather attractive, if slightly abrasive, one at that.) I’m sure, if I had an entire day to work on this (and didn’t have to drive to Chicago after work tomorrow), it would probably look somewhat different. Also, I can’t promise that these all came out in 2009, it’s a little hard to tell with unsigned bands.

1) On My Usual Catch Up with Cecilia – Hari and Aino I think you all already know how I feel about them

2) Close My Eyes - The Peekers Life in the Air is a pretty fabulous album. This song reminds me a lot of Pink Martini’s “Sympathique” 

3) In Knowing – Swimming in Speakers Yeah, we love them a lot. It looks like a lot of people are coming round to our way of thinking.

4) Good at That – The Hard To Get It’s encouraging to know that producer agrees that this is the best song on the EP 

5) Bobby on Repeat – Parlours I haven’t told you about Parlours yet, but I will. Right now it’s a handful of demos recorded by Dana Halferty but I am very excited about the future of this project.

6) And Suddenly – The School Granted, it’s not my favorite song on the MySpace page, but it is my favourite of the tracks to be released this year. 

7) Funny Little Frog – God Help the Girl Yeah, it’s a cover, but Brittany Stallings’ voice is brilliant. This is one sexy recording. 

8 ) Sad Eyed God of Lovers & Drunks – Bitter Things I forgot how much I love this band until I listened through their MySpace again in preparation for this list. 

9) At Least I’m Not as Sad as I Used to Be – fun The new album will be out in August, but you knew that already 

10) French Navy – Camera Obscura This is the one that made the Paste list.

11) Mess of Hope – This is Ember I am sorry to admit that I haven’t really thought about This is Ember since Dutch Week. I miss them. 

12) Keep Cooler – Nancy They are from Brazil. I am pretty sure it is not pronounced quite the way it looks, but I might be making that up.

13) Seventeen – Casxio *Note the irony…

14) Sweetheart – Mari Persen Mari is also a member of The Royalties, from Bergen, Norway. The Royalties have an American tour coming up in October, but it looks like it is going to be limited to the NYC and L.A. areas. Sad. I like them a lot. Mari’s solo work is more inspired by Blossom Dearie and will appeal to fans of the early Cardigans (like Emmerdale and Life). There is an album due out around October.

15) The Magic Between Us – Venus Hum I still don’t really know when the album is going to be coming out, but I’m gettin’ antsy. I love you, Annette. (By the way, is anyone keeping track of the crushes I have admitted to since starting this blog?)

16) Whirring – The Joy Formidable Technically, this song was released in 2008 on A Balloon Called Moaning, but the eponymous 7-inch came out in May. My copy is autographed because they love me and because I pre-ordered. 

17) It’s not the End of the World, Jonah – The Secret History I admit it. This kind of sneaked in at the end of 2008, but I didn’t hear it until February of this year. That is the only reason it falls so low on the list, otherwise it would probably hover somewhere around 6 or 7.

So, there’s my hastily assembled “17 Best of 2009″ list. You probably think I’m a complete whackjob. That’s fine. I’m used to it. Argue with me here or on Facebook.

Oh, I totally forgot that Dear Reader‘s Replace Why with Funny came out this year. In that case, stick “Dear Heart” somewhere up there in the top five.

I am so tired. I was up until 3:30 this morning writing a review and then back up for work at 8:00. And I have to host a dinner party Saturday evening, so you will forgive me if I choose the path of least resistance and discuss a few albums that I am looking forward to, rather than delve into completely uncharted territory. Back in January, Under the Radar Magazine printed a list of about 25 of the most anticipated indie releases of 2009. I was anticipating 4 of them and they have all been unleashed. These four were not mentioned. They are nothing less than subterranean.

Little Birdie Storybook (more of an idea, really) – Little Birdie Storybook is Becca Kreutz who writes some of the most charming and enchanting songs you will ever hear. All that exists at the moment is a handful of demos on her MySpace page, recorded at home in one take on an out-of-tune piano, but she will be heading into the studio to have another go at them. To be honest, I am going to miss those blue notes. You Regina Spektor fans will enjoy this, though Little Birdie Storybook is pretty much impossible to dislike. I think I am looking forward to this one the most. You will be hearing a lot more from me on this topic in the months to come. In the meantime, listen to the demos. You can find the lyrics here.

FunAim & Ignite (23 August) – Fun is the name of the band. The name is nearly as pretentious as that of French rockers Rock and Roll, but it is entirely appropriate. I caught their set in support of Manchester Orchestra, and I can say without reservation that they have earned the name. Stylistically, they fall somewhere between Queen and Mika. The release date for Aim & Ignite was up in the air for a while, but it now stands at 25 August. I know what I’ll be doing that day. For now you can check out their MySpace where you can pick up a free download of “At least I’m not as sad as I used to be” which you can also stream on Facebook (where you can also become a fan of The Indie Handbook). If you want more, catch one of the few remaining dates with Manchester Orchestra.

The School, (title and release date TBA) – This one is still in the works. They went into the studio to begin work a few weeks ago. If you’ve been following us for a while, you already know how much I love this band and for your sake I will tell everyone else to read this. Needless to say, I am pumped. I may have to go to Cardiff to thank them in person. You are all more than welcome to join me.

Venus Hum, (also TBA) – I mentioned this on the Facebook page a couple of days ago. It’s been three years since their last studio album, The Colors In the Wheel, which included one of my favorite songs ever, “Pink Champaign” (I will post the video below). Finally, they are back in the studio. Annette Strean has one of the most striking voices I have ever heard and backed by multi instrumentalists Kip Kubin and Tony Miracle, they have produced enduringly appealing albums in my music library. I’ve been listening to Big Beautiful Sky all week. You can track the progress of the recording and here a few samples (which may or may not end up on the record) at the band’s blog here. (Ok, I am adding a live version of “Yes and No” because the band are actually in it.)

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