Tag Archive: Elefant Records


Cosmos – Fitness Forever and the next to last days of disco

Fitness Forever - Cosmos

Fitness Forever – Cosmos

“Disco will never be over. It will always live in our minds and hearts.” So begins Matt Keeslar’s final speech in Whit Stillman’s The Last Days of Disco. While the death of their club and the dawn of the Eighties spelled the beginning of the end for the Doomed Bourgeois In Love, disco’s fate, it seems, was far from sealed. Enter Fitness Forever with their second album for Elefant Records, Cosmos.

After their first album left frontman Carlos Valderrama empty, as he describes it, the band were left with ample room for stylistic exploration. In time it seems, the band took to mining a vast depository of ’70s music for inspiration. The result is an album that has more than one foot (let’s say one and a half feet) firmly planted in the disco era. But John Travolta, this is not. Cosmos, while a disco record in spirit, is more stylized in practice, marked as much (or more) by the metered cool of bossa nova as the licentious revelry of Studio 54.

While Cosmos is an album very much at home in the musical landscape, it’s not the sort of record to settle down in one place for very long. While numbers like “Disco Quiz” and the title track may be the most reminiscent of the last days of disco (well, I say “reminiscent,” but then, I’m not really chronologically qualified to reminisce about such things), tracks like “L’amore Annegato” play it closer to the ghost of Getz/Gilberto that haunts the whole of Cosmos. One would even be forgiven for comparing songs like “Hotel Flamingo” or “Le Intenzione Del Re” to latter-day Belle & Sebastian.

At its heart, Cosmos is driven by a loving embrace of an amalgam of influences: lush instrumental textures straight from late ’70s radio, shuffling rhythms and intricate jazz progressions, and bossa nova inflection. It’s enough to send Ted Boynton awkwardly cavorting his way across the dancefloors of Barcelona in pursuit of plain-looking girls.

At the end of that speech from The Last Days of Disco, Matt Keeslar’s character Josh declares, “Disco was too great and too much fun to be gone forever. It’s got to come back someday.” Whether that’s a part of his impassioned speech that Josh “actually believes” is irrelevant, because, if Fitness Forever’s latest is anything to go by, that day is here.

More info about Cosmos on Elefant Records

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A few days ago, in an attempt to find something new to listen to in the car, I pulled out a few Brazillian bossa nova CDs I grabbed when Tower Records closed it’s Chicago stores in 2007. I loved them at the time, but, to be honest, I haven’t really given them a second thought since June of the following year. Now, I don’t put much stock in these things (even if I did watch My Dinner With André last night), but when I opened my email the following morning to find a trio of new Elefant EPs, including the newest single from Giorgio Tuma with Lena Karlsson (Komeda), it was almost as if my sudden inclination to revisit my post-collegiate Latin leanings was meant to prepare me mentally for the present single. The two-track EP is the Italian songwriter’s third Elefant release and reflects strongly the instrumental influence of Latin jazz, Sergio Mendes, and the various Gilbertos with seventies soul harmonies and the glitchy charm of Stereolab.

Also currently available from Elefant is a 10-inch mini-LP, If Words Could Kill, from Leicester indiepopsters The Silver Factory, a follow-up to their first EP released on Elefant only a few months earlier. The band, though named in honor of Andy Warhol’s pop arthouse, is far from a rehashed Velvet Underground. Clearly rooted in the British Invasion (see “I’m Alright”) is likewise decidedly steeped in ’80s indiepop (Close Lobsters; Soup Dragons). Really, it sounds like the kind of record you might expect to find on Matinée (which is just my subtle way of saying that this is the sort of thing that will appeal to fans of Math and Physics Club). Drop the needle on this one, and it’s only a matter of seconds before you’ll feel the overwhelming desire to don your favorite wool jumper and stare at your shoes.

While I think it has been fairly well-established that a great many Elefant releases will ultimately prove to be something special, occasionally, a release leaves even me stunned. Try as one might to write them off as just the latest in a string of girl groups built by male songwriters to recapture the ethos of a bygone era (e.g. Monster Bobby and The Pipettes), there’s something particularly irresistible about The Yearning. Created by songwriter/producer Joe Moore, The Yearning’s aptly titled EP, Jukebox Romance, was recorded in a cupboard underneath a staircase in Moore’s home. But where other such groups with similar origin stories seemingly aim to conjure up Spectoral shades, The Yearning recall a time when mad old Phil was just another Teddy Bear. So much so, you half expect singer Maddie Dobie’s boyfriend (no doubt the spit of James Dean) to hop on his Triumph and go skidding off of Dead Man’s Curve. In fact, the legendary screeching tires sound effect even makes an appearance on “Boy Racer”. In fact, for the most part, Jukebox Romance is doo-wop down to the “shoo-wop-doo-wah-oo” background vocals and spoken interludes, right up until the moment “Don’t Call Me Baby” has a passionate fling with a James Jamerson bassline. (And all of it with that misty hue you find wherever British artists adopt American vernacular styles.*) Where The Yearning are concerned, I think the first track on Jukebox Romance says it best: “You Make Lovin’ You Easy” and I can’t exactly say why (—well, I probably could, but that’s a topic for another time). Jukebox Romance is available now from Elefant Records.

*This is not a bad thing. It’s not even easy to explain. It’s just what happens—sort of like the way every time Americans touched C86, it turned into grunge.

I like Knickers

I don’t know how often you folks clean out your spam folders. Personally, I try to do it a few times a week. Granted, 85% of the time it’s Central African solicitors and Irish Lottery winnings, but occasionally, something slips through. (I often wonder how many of the indecipherable Korean and Chinese mailings are actually press releases for fantastic new bands I’ll never hear because I made the mistake of not learning every language ever.) But it’s the most recent number to be dug from the depths of discarded pyramid schemes which left me nearly breathless from the potential magnitude of such a near miss.

Knickers (I don’t think I need to explain to you why Gmail filed this where they did), are the latest effort from Simon Love (The Loves). According to one interview, by the time The Loves retired on Valentine’s Day 2011, Simon already had plans for Knickers. Still, as the story goes, Sarah answered an ad Simon had posted on Gumtree.com reading “French Girl Wanted”. A few crude demos later, Knickers were formed. To date, the band have only played a handful of gigs (including one last week with Elefant labelmates The School), but word is spreading fast. On my recent trip through the UK, the chat around the record shop circuit (Rough Trade, Spillers, Monorail, Avalanche, etc.) was about Knickers (the band…I checked). I even met a man here in terminally uncool Columbus, Ohio this week who asked me if I knew anything about them.

The word is out, kids – and so is the record – a four-track EP on Elefant Records, that is. And if you’ve ever loved anything on Elefant, it’s an EP you’re going to need – four pop gems inspired by French yé-yé, ’60s garage, and the Velvet Underground. Lead off track, “My Baby’s Just a Baby” is a catchy ode to melodic dirty garage rock. Between a strong stomping melody and a clever video [below] in which Sarah gives the boy bandmates the RealDoll treatment, the lead single makes a compelling case that Knickers are onto something here. And the follow-up tracks are far from filler.

What follows is a fitting tribute to the golden age of pop. “Are You Ready, Girl?” is a crooning cover of what is essentially a lost Kinks tune (written by Dave Davies for an unreleased solo album) and finds singer Sarah channeling Nina Persson at her swooning best. In fact, the hallmarks of the Cardigans’ frontwoman are also a major part of what makes the current EP such a resounding success. Sarah is obviously a woman who knows her way around a hook. It’s her ease of delivery coupled with Simon’s masterful pairing of fuzzed-out and jangly guitars that drives the charging duet of “A Thousand Ways” (a duet that cleverly mirrors the pairing of clean and dirty guitars). And elsewhere, it is the juxtaposition of purity of tone and melody (and doubling glockenspiel) with those same dirty guitars in “Darling” that makes such an indelible impression on the listener and will leave you singing that final hook for days (unless, of course, you’ve left the EP on repeat, as I have, in which case each memorable hook is supplanted by the next, ad infinitum).

Knickers debut EP, My Baby’s Just A Baby, is available digitally and as a limited seven-inch on red vinyl from Elefant Records.

Check out Knickers on: [Facebook] [Twitter] [Bandcamp] [Tumblr]

Tracklist:

  1. ‘My Baby’s Just a Baby (But I Love Him So)
  2. ‘Are You Ready Girl?’
  3. ‘A Thousand Ways’
  4. ‘Darling’

Reading Too Much Into Things

Handclaps, sweet harmonies, and a little bit of soul—it’s not the formative years of a nascent Motown, but the newest LP, Reading Too Much Into Things Like Everything, from Cardiff’s indiepop mini-orchestra, The School. And it’s not just early Motown that’s in play here. Whether it’s echoes of Lesley Gore, Del Shannon, or the Supremes, classic textures from pre-British Invasion American rock ‘n’ roll are ever present on the band’s latest effort.

It’s nothing new, of course. The School have always been a band rooted in the ’60s, but Reading Too Much finds the band on firmer footing than ever before. Where the debut LP, 2010’s Loveless Unbeliever, was assembled over the course of several years and lineup changes, the current lineup has been together since early that same year and remained consistent through the composition process of their sophomore release. It’s that consistency which has helped to build a more cohesive album than the first LP. They say you have a lifetime to make your first record. Well, time is one thing. Vision is something else entirely. Loveless Unbeliever was (mostly) the brainchild of a single person with a rotating cast of players, and, while Liz Hunt (vocals, keyboards) may remain the prevailing force, Reading Too Much is clearly a group effort, and music written with the players in mind, and which plays to their strengths will nearly always prove more successful than music written in a vacuum.

While the album is frequently driven by the keyboards which have been so prominent in their previous work, The School are at their best (at least in the context of this album), when the standard keyboard sound is traded in for a digital organ and clean guitars give harmonic vitality to already irresistible danceable rhythms, as on “Why Do You Have To Break My Heart Again” and the lead single “Never Thought I’d See The Day”, where their use in combination with handclaps, upbeat background vocals, and the classic early ’60s drum beat result in what could be a certified dance hit, vintage 1963. In other places, such as “I Should Do” and “Where Does Your Heart Belong?”, trumpet breaks prevail in such a way that will no doubt please fans of early Belle & Sebastian. One of the biggest, and most pleasant surprises here, however, is the melodic, bass-bolstering baritone sax on “The Grass Is Always Greener On The Other Side”, a driving number with such a firm grip on the Motown sound you’d think Mr. Gordy himself had a hand in it. The same could be said for “Stop That Boy” which, at least in my mind, evokes frequent flashes of early Supremes.

As a band, The School are living proof of the enduring relevance of that first decade of rock ‘n’ roll. More importantly, Reading Too Much Into Things Like Everything, makes a strong case for the belief that a good beat and strong melody can get you anywhere, even if the place you want to go is 50 years in the past. Listening to it, you may as well be cruising down Route 66 in a ’59 Impala. It’s just a shame Dick Clark couldn’t be here to see it.

Reading Too Much Into Things Like Everything is available now on LP and CD from Elefant Records.

Indiepop’d: Back to School

I’ve been hearing rumblings about new music from my old friends The School for almost a year, and now, finally, the time has come. A single, along with a whale of a cover designed by drummer and Bubblewrap Collective-ist Rich Chitty, is due out from Elefant Records on 26 March. Over the course of four brand new tracks, we find the band, still champions of the piano-driven 60s pop that dominated their 2010 debut LP, Loveless Unbeliever, exploring new sounds which build brilliantly on the aural textures established in their earlier releases.

These added dimensions are most prevalent on the A-side, “Never Thought I’d See The Day”, in which a digital organ takes up where the piano left off, a move that will please fans of Hollows and The Like. The organ gives the song a more full-bodied feel, while danceable rhythms and Liz Hunt’s usual breathy vocals keep the track firmly planted in the indie pop world without going the full garage. “When He Kisses Me” and “Where Does Your Heart Belong” are more reminiscent of the Loveless Unbeliever days, though a recorder makes an appearance on the latter where, likewise, the trumpet is used to great effect (think Tigermilk-era Belle & Sebastian), while “I Wouldn’t Know What To Do” is a stripped down ballad that relies heavily on acoustic guitar and glockenspiel. Overall, “Never Thought I’d See The Day” sees The School moving ever-so-slightly in a new, you might even say more mature and cohesive, direction, which is a promising development for band and fans alike.

Tracklist:

  1. “Never Thought I’d See The Day”
  2. “When He Kisses Me”
  3. “Where Does Your Heart Belong?”
  4. “I Wouldn’t Know What To Do”

Speaking of which, you all know The Primitives are a thing again (and have been for a couple of years), right? Which is a good thing for me, because I’ve been spending a lot of quality time with their first two LPs lately and my list of indiepop bands who were dead before I knew them has grown so long, it’s a great feeling to finally be able to strike a name off that list. In April, the Primitives (now part of the Elefant roster) will release Echoes and Rhymes. The album, featuring 14 covers of somewhat obscure female-fronted acts from the 60s will be the band’s first LP in over 20 years. If you’re a longtime fan, then no doubt you’re already feeling a twinge of excitement. But if you’re new to the Primitives, pick up their RCA LPs if you can find them (they are, I believe, out of print now, but I see affordable used copies of Lovely and Pure pop up now and then in the better indie record stores).

Either way, get listening because (and this is the best part) The Primitives and The School, will be playing a handful of UK dates together this spring. And I think we all know how great those are going to be.

The School + The Primitives, UK tour dates:

17 May: Brighton, The Haunt

18 May: Leicester, Lock 42

19 May: Wakefield, The Hop

21 May: Wolverhampton, Slade Rooms (Little Civic)

22 May: Manchester, The Ruby Lounge

23 May: Liverpool, Lomax

24 May: Doncaster, The Leopard

25 May: London, Borderline

Further details and ticket links can be found on the Elefant site.

It pays to check out your Twitter followers (and I don’t mean that in the police state paranoia way or creepy leering sense). But, really, it’s not a bad idea. Not only will it save you from a robot army wielding free iPads, but sometimes it puts you in the path of Spanish shoegazers brandishing guitars and powerful fuzzboxes.

Such is the case with Los Bonsáis. It only took about 30 seconds of “Es Mejor” for me to know that I had stumbled onto something I really loved. With their subtle, melodic vocals, it’s easy to place Spanish duo in the same camp as My Bloody Valentine and their variously fuzzy descendants, but the 60s surf inspired-inspired rhythms also owe a great deal to the noisier side of late 80s indiepop, like The Fizzbombs or Meat Whiplash/The Motorcycle Boy—or, in more directly relevant, contemporary terms: “like a Spanish Raveonettes” as a friend from another blog described it.

Head over to Bandcamp to check it out, I think you’ll see where we’re coming from on this. (You can also download the “Es Mejor” b/w “Un Instante” single for free there.) Of course, if you’re anything like me, you are probably thinking something along the lines of “I’ll bet they sign with Elefant soon”. I was when I listened Sunday night. I spent a good amount of time this week thinking of all the arguments I was going to make in this week’s Indiepop’d piece for why Los Bonsáis + Elefant Records is a match made in heaven only to plug this post from the band’s blog into Google Translate and find that my revelation had come to me a few hours late.

So the good news, for those of you digging the sweet noise of Los Bonsáis as much as I am, is that there will soon be a new 7” EP released as part of Elefant’s New Adventures in Pop series and one more disc to spin at your respective indiepop club nights. It would be redundant, at this point, to predict that “match made in heaven”. But it is never too late to celebrate a match well made.

Loveless Unbeliever

Score: 99

I find it ironic that Loveless Unbeliever, the debut LP from The School, begins “An apology for today, an apology for a lifetime”, because I feel I owe them an apology. I recently discovered that, in my first posts about them (over a year ago, now), I called The School “twee”. I was young and new to this business, but now that I know better, it is only fair that I admit my mistake.

There’s more to The School than twee, of course. They’ve carved out a niche in that sliver of sixties throwback between Camera Obscura and The Pipettes—and what a home they’ve made there! For my money, no one embodies the golden age of pop music better than the kids from Cardiff. Loveless Unbeliever is replete with all the memorable hooks, striking melodies, and tasteful orchestrations, and Liz Hunt’s vocals are nothing short of intoxicating—I still get chills every time I listen to “I don’t believe in love” (also featuring former drummer Rob, now of Voluntary Butler Scheme).

The long-awaited LP includes most of The School’s hard-to-find early material (it’s missing Christmasy songs, including my favorite “Kiss you in the snow”, and “And Suddenly”, a Left Banke cover). And it’s a good thing the old releases have been included, because amongst them are some of the band’s best songs, such as: “Let it slip” which is essentially a perfect pop song, and “I don’t believe in love”, with a melody as sweeping as the lyrics are heartbreaking. And, lest you get the impression that this is an album built on the strength of recycled material, the seven new songs are every bit as memorable as the old stuff. The first single, “Is he really coming home”, picks up right where the Let It Slip EP left off, whilst “Can’t understand” and “Hoping and praying”are two of the most unabashedly fun tracks on the album.

Loveless Unbeliever has been a long time coming. The School were signed to Elefant Records in 2007. In the meantime, there have been some lineup changes and a quite a fuss over their early EP and singles—no doubt all contributing factors to the long wait for this album. Then again, maybe that’s just how long it takes when you set out produce an “album…full of pop hits”. Regardless, there is no filler on Loveless Unbeliever, only 37 minutes perfect indie pop that will spend weeks at a time in your stereo (personally, I’ve just reached the one month mark). Hopefully, we won’t have to wait another three years for The School’s next LP, but, if it’s even half as good as this one, it will have been well worth the wait.

[For more, read our interview with The School]

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