Tag Archive: indiepop


Happy Birthday, Matinée Recordings

If you’re a long time reader of The Indie Handbook, then you are, no doubt, familiar with Matinée Recordings. Strawberry Whiplash, a Matinée band, was one of the first artists we ever covered here, way back in the spring of 2009. (I can’t believe I’ve been doing this that long.) Since then, they have continued to release so many great records, that I haven’t been able to cover them all. After all, I can’t let this turn into a Matinée only blog, as easy and consistently good as that would be.

But Matinée reaches a particularly important milestone this month. In November of 2013, Matinée Recordings turns 15! Now that I’ve had some experience running a record label, I can tell you firsthand what a huge accomplishment that is. This business is hard, and to produce a constant stream of high quality records the way Jimmy and the folks at Matinée have over the last 15 years is a big deal (and quite an undertaking). I could learn a lot from them.

Need a refresher? Some of the Matinée bands we’ve covered here in the past include: Strawberry Whiplash, Cats On Fire, Math and Physics Club, and September Girls. You may remember how much I loved Math and Physics Club’s I Shouldn’t Look as Good as I Do and that I am in love with just about everything Strawberry Whiplash have done. But I don’t think I ever mentioned how I fell head over heels for Northern Portrait, just like any good Smiths fan would. It’s an oversight I still regret to this day, three years after I received that first Northern Portrait promo.

Thankfully, hope is not lost. I have been given a chance to redeem myself. In celebration of their 15th anniversary, Matinée Recordings are releasing A Sunday Matinée, a compilation of unreleased tracks, rarities, and exclusives from many of the bands that have helped make Matinée the breeding ground for top class indie pop that it is today. Included on A Sunday Matinée are bands like Strawberry Whiplash, September Girls, Math and Physics Club, Bubblegum Lemonade, my beloved Northern Portrait, and Matinée legends The Lucksmiths and, of course, many more.

Normally, this is the point where I would provide you with a tracklist for the album. But, in this case, we’ve been provided with a Soundcloud playlist and, if I’m reading this email correctly, I have permission to share the whole playlist with you and, let’s be honest, that’s far more useful than a list of band names. I will say, I am particularly enamored of the Northern Portrait and Math and Physics Club tracks, though my Strawberry Whiplash Law of Unconditional Love does hold up through their contribution to this album.

The album is to be officially released on November 12, but it is available now through the Matinée website. So, after you have a listen, pop over to the website, and pick up a copy of the CD so you can pop it in your car stereo like I will, and spend the next four months pretending it’s summer.

OK, fine. I’ll give you a tracklist anyway.

A Sunday Matinée – Various Artists

1. Bart and Friends – There’s No Place
2. Northern Portrait – The Young And Hopefuls
3. Bubblegum Lemonade – You Can’t Be Sad All The Time
4. September Girls – Danny Wood
5. Simpático – The Rays
6. Would-Be-Goods – No More Tearstained Makeup
7. Charlie Big Time – One Step Closer To Enemies
8. The Lucksmiths – When I’m Walking
9. The Electric Pop Group – Parliament Square
10. Strawberry Whiplash – September Saturday
11. Math And Physics Club – I Know It’s Over
12. The Steinbecks – Through The Curtain
13. Pale Sunday – In The Hardest Moment
14. Clay Hips – Someone Who Wanders
15. Melodie Group – Only Forever

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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.

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.

If you take a look back to the glory days of C86 (if a aesthetic so famously and intentionally shambolic can have ‘glory days’), one of its defining characteristics is the consistent lack of LPs—if you stop to think about it, the C86 catalogue is probably 90% EPs and Peel Sessions. It’s a common tale, really, not simply reserved for 80s indiepop (just look at all those now priceless 1960s garage and northern soul recordings, or the Oneders), but it’s long since become a hallmark of the DIY aesthetic. I’m happy to say, however, that it is not a trait that has been passed on to their more recent descendants—a trend most recently defied by Glaswegian pop proponents, Strawberry Whiplash.

Over the last few years, Strawberry Whiplash have released a string of picture perfect EPs on Matinée Recordings, most recently the unforgivably catchy Stop, Look and Listen 7” (December 2011). With nearly every recording a sure pop hit (if, in an autotuned universe, it were actually possible for this sort of thing to become an RIAA-approved ‘hit’), it would be entirely possible for Laz and Sandra to hang their hats on the occasional cluster of fuzz pop gems. Instead, much to my delight, they have released their first LP, appropriately titled, Hits In The Car.

Hits In The Car is a collection of 13 mostly new tracks that tell the story of a relationship from the initial spark of attraction to the eventual decay and dissolution. I say ‘mostly new’ because, tucked in among a baker’s dozen sparkling fuzz pop gems are some tracks from previous EPs, like the aforementioned ‘Stop, Look and Listen’. They serve, of course, to further the narrative, but hearing the irresistible melody of the once eponymous ‘Picture Perfect‘ in a new context also serves as a pleasantly unexpected reminder of just how much you’ve always loved Strawberry Whiplash.

[Download: “Stop, Look and Listen” mp3]

Alongside the classic Whiplash are several others destined to assume their rightful place in the cannon. The opening one-two punch of ‘Do You Crash Here Often’ and ‘Everybody’s Texting’ offer the perfect hybrid of late 70s post punk and the shoegaze classics of the late 80s, while the crunchy guitars of ‘You Make Me Shine’ set up what proves to be a glistening duet between Laz and Sandra which includes a short but oh-so-sweet solo guitar bridge. The pivotal point in the album narrative, ‘What Do They Say About Me’, is the sweetest bit of paranoia you’re likely to hear on a pop record, and, like all good forms of doubt and suspicion, it’s infectious. The penultimate track, ‘Sleepy Head’, once again sees multi-instrumentalist Laz McCluskey assume lead vocal responsibilities. It is also, fittingly, a far cry, stylistically, from the vast majority of Strawberry Whiplash tracks, being driving, dissonant, hard-hitting bit of shoegazing and the perfect foil for Sandra’s resolute and oddly soothing closer, ‘First Light Of Dawn’.

Strawberry Whiplash could have easily contented themselves with being a phenomenal singles band like so many of the acts from the flash-in-the-pan scene whose torch they bear. And, up to this point, they have been. But with Hits In The Car, the band have proven that they can be—and are—so much more than that. This blog has, in many respects, grown up alongside Strawberry Whiplash, so they will, of course, always have a special place in my heart. But with a band so consistently easy to love, I suppose it was bound to happen.

Hits In The Car is available on CD from Matinée Recordings.

Tracklist: Hits In The Car

  1. Do You Crash Here Often?
  2. Everybody’s Texting
  3. Now I Know It’s You
  4. Picture Perfect
  5. You Make Me Shine
  6. Looking Out For Summer
  7. What Do They Say About Me?
  8. Dining Out In Paris and London
  9. Stop, Look and Listen  [mp3]
  10. Another April
  11. It Came To Nothing
  12. Sleepy Head
  13. First Light of Dawn

I’m gonna make this quick. It’s almost irrelevant already, but you deserve a chance to get in on it while supplies last. Soft Power Records, the tiny Scottish indiepop label I mentioned a few months ago have a new release out. The band is Dublin garage pop outfit September Girls and the release is “Wanting More”, a super-limited 2-track cassingle (for those who don’t know, that’s a cassette single).

September Girls are the first all-girl band to be released on the Soft Power label. The guitars are dirty and noisy. The harmonies are sweet. If the Crystals had been a garage band it would have sounded like this.

Fans of Phil Spector and the fuzzier side of indiepop will love this. And those of you who do, had best get on top of it, because this Soft Power release is limited to 100 copies (30 in yellow, 70 in blue). Of course, you can’t get the yellow ones anymore. They sold out on Monday, the day of the release. But, last I heard, there were still some blue ones left. Pick one up, while you still can, from the Soft Power store. And, for those of you bound for Indietracks this summer, the good news is, September Girls were recently confirmed to play.

EDIT: A few hours after posting this, the Soft Power store sold out of September Girls cassettes. The remaining copies can be found at: Rough Trade, Norman Records, Monorail Music in the UK, and Big Love Records, and The Stone Records in Japan. Good luck.

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.

Indiepop’d dance party

I’m out of town right now on a whirlwind trip to Chicago and don’t really have the time to write a real post. So here are some videos to keep you entertained until I can sit down and write some of those year-end listy things that people like because they’re so easy to argue with.

‘Chicas De Oro’ is a newer one (November) from Guatafán, taken from the eponymous limited edition 7″ (another contribution to Elefant’s fantastic New Adventures In Pop series, which you may remember from last week).

‘Chicas De Oro’ limited 7″ (white vinyl, 500 copies)
Tracklist:
1. Chicas De Oro
2. La Vida Me Sonríe
3. Examen Sopresa
4. Un Día De Verano

I think it’s fair to say that Vidulgi OoyoO are one of my favorite bands in the world right now (top 5, easy). They’re more of a rock band than most of the artists who usually end up in these Indiepop’d posts, but they still land firmly in that dizzying whirl of  shoegaze and dream pop, so they still qualify. According to this Chinese blog (which is quite good and [mostly] in English), they will often play full hour-long sets straight through without a single pause (though I cannot personally attest to this since a scheduling conflict prevented me from seeing them at Canadian Music Week). Until they come back to this continent, though, I guess I will have to remain content to lose myself in their many live performance videos on YouTube. Though, the more I listen, the more I think Vidulgi OoyoO may be enough of a reason for me to justify a trip to Korea.

And another Vidulgi OoyoO video, because I just can’t get enough.

This week, I was also introduced to the Girls In The Garage compilations. I don’t know why it has taken me this long to start exploring the long lost world of all-girl 60s garage bands, or even to realize that that sort of thing existed back then. But, if you’re like me, you know that it’s nice to be reminded that there are still all these amazing pockets of brilliant music you haven’t even explored yet. And to know that these girls could produce great songs without Phil Spector’s help is just an added bonus. So we’ll wrap things up with a couple of my favorite tracks from Girls In The Garage, vol. 1

The Chymes – ‘He’s Not There Anymore’

The Blue Orchids – ‘Oo Chang-A-Lang’

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.

Sweden Calling

Mire Kay

This past weekend, I dropped by one of the local bars to hear one of my favorite French bands The Limiñanas (whose 2010 debut on Trouble In Mind is a must have for fans of Serge Gainsbourg, French psychedelia, or the idea of Jacqueline Taïeb on acid). And while I gave my usually stifled inner Francophile a chance to get out and stretch his legs a bit, a friend introduced me to a friend of hers and we had a nice chat about Ingmar Bergman and is Lars Von Trier a creative genius or a sadistic nutcase, etc. Which is to say that, at one point, they mentioned they were thinking of traveling to Sweden in the next year and did I know any bands they should check out while they’re there.

It’s a question which is, as most of you know, nearly impossible to answer. Yes, of course there are good Swedish bands that everyone should check out. There are hundreds of them. It’s probably not far from the truth to say that you could walk into just about any club in Stockholm or Gothenburg or Malmö on just about any given night and you’ll probably hear something good. Some cases in point:

It’s actually been several months since Lissi Dancefloor Disaster contacted me. And, unless you followed the TIH Tumblr for those two weeks or so that I actually made an effort to keep it updated, then I’ve been remiss in sharing their music with you. And, in all honesty, I’ve kind of been beating myself up over it since then. From the moment I began playing the video for “Glowing Hearts” (the single at the time), I experienced a sense of instant familiarity. And by the second video – “Oh My God” – it was as if I’d gone back to the endless stacks of albums in my library and pulled out a long forgotten favorite, only to rediscover (as I have so often done) why I loved it so much in the first place. Check it out. You’ll see what I mean. And, while you’re there, give their remixes a spin as well.

It isn’t quite right to call their music electropop – it’s really more like electronic indiepop (or, as one of their tracks—my favorite—is labeled on Soundcloud: “electropopdancewhatever”). One thing is for sure, if listening to these songs does not make you want to dance wildly about the room, it’s probably because you know you’re surrounded on all sides by high voltage invisible electric fences.

And on the other end of the spectrum, there’s Mire Kay, an indie folk duo featuring Emelie Molin and Victoria Skoglund, formerly of the band Audrey. It’s understandable if listening to their ethereal, effervescent debut EP Fortress, calls to mind our old friends (and recent Swedish breakout duo) First Aid Kit. After all, their new video for “So You Learned” was directed by Mats Udd who’s also done videos for First Aid Kit (not to mention the video for Those Dancing Days’ single “Fuckarias” [swoon]). But, if you listen closely to the vocal delivery, especially on tracks like “Sea Monster” [free download on Bandcamp] you might pick up on traces of Emiliana Torrini – as if someone had gone in and removed all the electronics from Love in the Time of Science. With the elegant richness of their standard guitar and cello instrumentation bolstered occasionally by banjo and bare bones percussion, Mire Kay have crafted a hypnotic, enchanting debut that beckons the listener away – much like the video below – to the water and wild to be willingly lost forever.

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