All Blackshirts To Me – Cats on Fire, rekindled

So, from Estonia to Finland, then. Admittedly, it’s not that much of a leap, geographically speaking, but the gap between Possimiste and Cats On Fire is, shall we say, significant – not simply in terms of style, but in identity. While Possimiste finds herself in a place where she could go in any of a thousand directions (and that is an exciting prospect to someone like me), Cats On Fire have been around a while, as documented on their 2010 release, Dealing In Antiques, a collection of B-sides and rarities. And though they’ve been through some growing pains and lineup changes along the way, Cats On Fire (frontman and mastermind, Mattias Björkas, in particular) have carved out a nice niche for themselves in the world of indiepop.

And here, with All Blackshirts To Me (Matinée Recordings), Björkas and the rekindled Cats On Fire are back with their third proper LP, and the most ambitious to date. I remember describing the band’s 2009 LP, Our Temperance Movement, to someone as “a happy version of the Smiths”. And, while I can now safely say that, in those days, I really had no idea what I was talking about, it’s fair to say now that, even had such a description been 100% accurate at the time, such an easy out is no longer justifiable. Sure, the mark of the Smiths is still there, but not to the degree it is in, say, unapologetically jangly Danish labelmates, Northern Portrait.

What we get with All Blackshirts To Me, from the opening singable strains of “Our Old Centre Back” to the hymn-like benediction of “Finnish Lace” is an album which, you might say, occupies more aural space than the band’s previous releases. While “1914 and Beyond”, for instance, is a striking piano-driven history of European affairs, it is followed by a pair of tracks with strong female harmonies—“Well What Do You Know” with its strong singalong chorus, and the jaunty, jangly, and contemptuous “Smash It To Pieces”. And just try to listen to lead single “My Sense of Pride” without a little shuffle creeping into your step.

The new addition of occasional synthesizers and some ambient sounds scattered about here and there, it’s clear that Cats On Fire are not afraid to venture into new territory. And, though a little room to grow is often too much to ask of the most narrow-minded fans, Björkas has earned that privilege and put it to good use here. With dancing melodies, some well-bred earworms, and even a dash of Spanish Flu, All Blackshirts To Me is probably the band’s most ambitious project to date. But, thanks to Björkas’s seasoned songwriting and the band’s deft execution, it is also probably their best.

All Blackshirts To Me is available on CD now from Matinée Recordings.


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.


  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)
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’

Indiepop’d: Los Bonsáis – Noise from Spain

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.

Indiepop’d: Stop, Look, and Listen

It’s time I took a break from dancing with wild abandon to old Alphabeat videos (with moves I learned from 1980 Cyndi Lauper) to post the first dedicated installment in our new Indiepop’d Friday series. And with that, it’s only right that we return to the place that started it all. From the early days when the original C86 tape celebrated the eponymous scene that may or may not have even existed before it was named, Glasgow has been a sort of Fertile Crescent for all things indiepop. Even now, 25 years later, the Britain’s second city remains home to many of the premier indiepop bands, labels, and club nights. And out of that jangly come Strawberry Whiplash.

[DOWNLOAD: ‘Stop, Look, and Listen’ mp3]

Strawberry Whiplash have been featured here a couple of times in the past, so I won’t go into too many details, but for those who were not with us the last time Laz and Sandra made an appearance here (two years ago) here are the basics. Laz plays the instruments. Sandra sings. The rest you can probably guess from that introductory paragraph you read about 30 seconds ago. (Bonus fact: Laz also plays in Bubblegum Lemonade.) If you want to know more, you can go read those old posts or their page on the Matinée website.

And you’ll probably want to be heading over to the Matinée site anyway to pick up a copy of ‘Stop, Look, and Listen’, the band’s new 7” and their third release on Matinée (not including a few compilation contributions)*. While their last release, the Picture Perfect EP, incorporated trace elements of shoegaze alongside jangly 60s guitars, ‘Stop, Look, and Listen’ owes more to the likes of The Shop Assistants and Talulah Gosh than to My Bloody Valentine.

The powerful melodies and whimsically wispy female vocals are vintage C86, but at the same time, this isn’t exactly the amateurish shambling of your parents’ indiepop. This is melodic DIY at it’s best: upbeat, jangly, and unforgettably singable. And how nice it is that now, in the waning days of the year we put the nail in the coffin of indie rock, there’s still a haven for we, the Terminally Uncool, on the periphery of the crumbling Kingdom of Leon. It’s enough to make you want to pull out your best jumper and do that pseudo-running man indiekid dance in the most unironic way possible.

The ‘Stop, Look, and Listen’ 7” is limited to 500 hand-numbered copies on transparent red vinyl and is available from Matinée Recordings as well of several independent record shops around the world (and internet).


1. Stop, Look And Listen [download mp3]
2. In The Blink Of An Eye
3. Luck Is The Residue Of Design

*While you’re there, have a look at their immense year-end clearance sale. There are some fantastic deals to be had. I pretty much bought half the catalogue last week, so tweet me for recommendations.

Indiepop’d Fridays: a flag flying for losers

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.