Tag Archive: music


Lesley Gore, a personal reflection from a simple fan

Part Time Pop Star

Lesley Gore (1946-2015)

Like so many kids who were raised on oldies radio, I couldn’t tell you how long I’ve known the music of Lesley Gore. To say “all my life”, while it’s almost certainly an exaggeration, is about as accurate as I can be. My earliest memory of Lesley Gore does not even involve the lady herself, but a performance of “It’s My Party” on this episode of the sadly neglected monument of 1980s children’s television, Kids Incorporated. But even that memory would never have registered had the song not already been a part of my life. I have no recollection of the first time I heard “It’s My Party”, though I can say with as much certainty as one can with early childhood pop culture memories that I knew every word of that song before I could even identify any music actually written during my lifetime. For me, Lesley Gore was never some obscure chronological colloquialism of my parents’ generation. She was a fact—a universal constant—like the speed of light or The Beatles.

No doubt you know her work. A dynamic performer with songwriting chops of her own, her biggest hits have been a part of the musical vernacular for half a century. In the coming days, much will be said about Lesley Gore, her influence over the world of music, and in the world at large. Many will rhapsodize about her proto-feminist anthem “You Don’t Own Me”. Some will lament the label-induced pigeon-holing of Lesley Gore (a lifelong lesbian) as a lovesick, boy crazy teeny bopper. And justifiably so.

But I am not here to justify Lesley Gore. As a straight male born more than two decades after her first hit, Lesley Gore never did anything for me socially. Yes, I do get goosebumps when I listen to “You Don’t Own Me”, not for any altruistic reason, but because it is a brilliant performance of a great song. Growing up in a pre-internet world where everyone I knew was obsessed with Hanson and Smashing Pumpkins, a familiarity with pop star two generations out of fashion (and a girl singer at that!) resulted in a social life that was anything but sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows. At that age, there is no justification for timelessness. These days, there is no need for one.

A few years ago, I sat in an all night diner with Chicago math metal power trio The Cell Phones after a show in Columbus. As it was October, the conversation inevitably turned to their plans for a Halloween gig: a Lesley Gore cover set they had titled Gore. Of course she occupies a great deal of shelf space in my record collection, but I have never known anyone else for whom that was true. So I asked. “We’re huge fans” they said.

Lesley Gore died of lung cancer on Monday, February 16, 2015. She was 68.

MADBOY/MINK, pimping the disco

MADBOY/MINK (if you know who took this photo, let me know)

MADBOY/MINK (if you know who took this photo, let me know)

2014 was the year I gave up on synths. (I know, it surprised me, too.) Five years ago, I lived for synthpop. I put an electronic record confidently at the top of my “best of the decade” list. (I went back and listened to that record again this week, it’s still firmly in the top two.) And yet, for whatever reason, in 2014, I decided I’d had my fill (too much terrestrial “alternative” radio perhaps). It’s ironic, then, that the best record I heard in 2014 was a disco record into which synths and laptops factor heavily. And it wasn’t even close.

For my part, MADBOY/MINK were a complete accident (Indian disco swing doesn’t often find its way into my inbox). Following one of the myriad rabbit holes that dot the internet landscape while reading up on a film featuring band member Imaad Shah, which I had screened as part of a film festival I was jurying at the time (M Cream, an Indian indie certainly worth two hours of your life if you can track down a screening), I came across a Bandcamp page featuring a single five-song EP called All Ball released about six weeks earlier. All Ball is the lone official release from the band, though a YouTube search would indicate that the Mumbai duo have a number of other tricks up their sleeve.

From the moment “Alley Cats” drops it’s first disco-shrouded Old Possum reference into the music hall mix to the bassy burlesque of “Taste Your Kiss”, All Ball swings unrelentingly, a godsend to all who, like me, still consider the Verve Remixed albums to be the greatest compilation project undertaken by a single label. Inject a healthy dose of funk into tracks like “Lemonade”, “Funkenstein” (self-explanatory), and “Pimp the Disco” and you have a debut that mines the best bits from a hundred years of popular music and combines them into something new, never dated, and always filthy (pimp the disco / bring it to its knees / I like my generator with a little bit of sleaze).

MADBOY/MINK are Saba Azad and Imaad Shah. They are based in Mumbai, India. They’re EP is called All Ball. It is on Bandcamp. It is also free (which is about infinity dollars below market value).

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

RIP Zoobombs and a call to bands from the rest of the world

(c) 2012, Eric Robertson

Zoobombs at Ace of Cups, 2012

About a month ago, I read a blog post from one of my favorite bands. Well, to be honest, I read an awkwardly worded Google translation of a post from the Zoobombs website. If I understood it right, the band have decided, after roughly two decades, to put an end to the Zoobombs legacy. With the departure of two key band members, the remaining Zoobombs have decided that it is best to bring this chapter to a close and to begin anew.

I think I agree with them.

It’s never fun to say goodbye to your favorite bands, especially the ones you never had a chance to see in person. But in most cases, it is inevitable, we all know that. (Thankfully, I finally did get to see Zoobombs — about a year ago, here in Columbus — after missing their apparently phenomenal set at Canadian Music Week in 2011. And while the local turnout was, honestly, pathetic, it was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen.) We want to wish all of those Zoobombs the best of luck with their future projects. I have all the confidence in the world that they will be every bit as good as the epic garage-psych freakouts that made Zoobombs’ shows the stuff of legend.

All of which brings me to a second point. This is something I don’t often do, but I am issuing what, in the academic world might be called “A Call for Submissions”. Of course, we’ve always encouraged all bands to send us their music, and we get dozens of submissions every week. But those submissions, not surprisingly, skew toward Europe and North America. And while that leaves us with plenty of good material to work with, I also know the world is a big place and there’s much more out there and I don’t want this blog to remain US/Euro-centric if it doesn’t have to.

I know there’s a burgeoning punk/DIY scene in China (I’m pretty sure I’ve talked about Hedgehog here before) and I know there’s more to Korean music than K-Pop and “Gangnam Style” (remember all my gushing about Vidulgi OoyoO?) and of course I’ve just done a whole thing about Japanese psychedelia. And, for that matter, Tuareg and African blues bands have been experiencing a surge in popularity here in Columbus recently. The point is, I know you all are out there, and I would love to hear from you.

There are a few Korean and Chinese blogs and YouTube channels I catch up with when I can, but it’s difficult to even do that more than once every few months. So, please, email us at the.indie.handbook@gmail.com. We’re dying to expand our horizons.

P.S. Don’t worry about any language barrier. As long as I can hear the music, that is all I need. Google Translate and I will do the best we can with the rest. BUT, when you email, please at least try to include words like “band”, “music”, or “press release” in English in the subject line, just in case they get sent to the spam folder. That way, I will know to rescue them. God only knows how many submissions and press releases I have lost because they were written in an alphabet or character set I do not understand.

We can’t wait to hear from you. (Europe, North America, we still love hearing from you. Keep up the good work. South America, Australia, Oceania, we hear from you on occasion, but we wouldn’t mind hearing more.)

Bill Frisell on playing with Paul Motian: the rest of the interview

Bill Frisell

Bill Frisell

Earlier this year, I interviewed jazz guitar legend Bill Frisell about a memorial concert he was curating in memorial of his longtime friend and collaborator Paul Motian. That concert has long since come and gone, but I’m not sure I ever shared the full transcript of the interview with you. At the time, I remember, I just wanted to play the recording of our conversation for everyone I knew, simply because it was so surreal. The man has been in business for a long time. The stories he can–and does–tell are remarkable. He’s played an integral role in the last 30 years of jazz. There’s no downplaying his experiences or their importance in the oral history of an American art form. And as I sat in my car, engine off, tape running, fingers freezing, praying my notoriously spotty cell phone reception wouldn’t suddenly drop the most interesting phone call of my life, I had to constantly remind myself that this was for real.

Of course, it wasn’t practical at the time, to give you all the full interview. But I think the things he says, especially about his introduction to jazz and that very first session with Paul Motian are just too important to keep to myself. But now, with the news that Bill will bring his Big Sur Quintet to the Wexner Center in Columbus this December, I think this is a good time to bring you the rest of my interview with Bill Frisell.

From an interview conducted in March 2013.

TIH: Yeah. I mean, I read in one interview you gave a few years ago, you described getting that call to play with Paul as being sort of a BAM moment for you…

BF: Oh yeah. It was really huge and not for anything…it wasn’t about…at the beginning, we didn’t even have any gigs, really. It wasn’t about making any money or anything like that, but it was this opportunity for me to really be myself in the music. He was calling me to be—it wasn’t like just another guitar player he was looking for, it was more like a personality I guess he was looking for. And I felt like doing his music, I was able to find my own music somehow.

TIH: What were those first sessions like for you?

BF: Well, the very first time I went to play with him was in 1981, like January of 1981, and you know, I’d never met him, but the phone rang and it was him and I couldn’t believe it. (laughing) And he said “Hi. This is Paul Motian. Do you want to come over to my house…or, my apartment…and play?” And I was like, “What?!” I could not believe it. So, I go over there and it’s me and Paul and Marc Johnson was there who I’d never met either at that point. And Marc was the last bass player to play with Bill Evans—you know Paul’s history with Bill Evans—and I came in there and they were talking about…Bill had just passed away recently, so they were talking about that. So I was just feeling like, what am I doing here, this electric guitar player, you know? They were trying to figure out what tune to play. And they said, well, let’s play ‘My Man’s Gone Now’, which is this George Gershwin tune that I really associated with Bill Evans.

TIH: Yeah…

BF: It was another one of these kind of heavy moments when I found myself drawn into this sort of unreal, dreamlike..you know, playing that tune with those guys. And playing electric guitar? How am I fitting in with this, you know? I don’t know. He thought it was ok, I guess. We kept on playing and he kept calling me back and I’d go over there every week or every few days even. And sometimes different people, first with Marc Johnson, and then Joe came over and eventually led to what was—the first gig we did was a quartet. It wasn’t until about nine months later that we did our first gig. And a little while after that a European tour and that’s when we recorded. That was the first time I recorded with Paul, as a quintet.

Much more can be found here.

This is Independent, 2013

(c) Eric Robertson, 2013

Independents’ Day 2013, rain delay at Pearl and Broad

I’ve often written in the past about how my particular hometown of Columbus, Ohio is fiercely supportive of our local musicians (even sometimes to our detriment, if I’m being brutally honest). You may even recall a post from a few years titled something like “Columbus Loves Independent Musicians (and I’ve got the scars to prove it)” in which I covered a couple of local music festivals including Independents’ Day. I don’t believe I’ve covered Independents’ Day since that initial post, but I’ve continued to attend every year and this year saw the festival expand to three days (at least in theory, a rain delay led to the cancellation of most of Day One).

I’m not going to try to cover everything I saw at Independents’ Day this year. I saw 20 bands in twelve hours and no one wants to read about all of them. Nor do I want to write about all of them. But a few did leave their mark on me.

(c) Eric Robertson, 2013

Nervosas at Independents’ Day 2013

I think among those few, the one that most surprised me is Nervosas. It’s not that I expect anything more than a top notch performance from Nervosas every time out, especially given the veteran musicians involved in the band. I’ve been following Nervosas from the beginning. In fact, if you follow our YouTube channel, you may even remember this video I shot at Bernie’s way back in 2011 when Nervosas were Witches of Kelso, the night they bolted immediately following their set opening for Wavves to play a show with our old friends The Cell Phones. No, I expect nothing less than the best from Nervosas every time out. What gets me is that they constantly exceed my expectations. They just seem to get better every time I see them. Every set is tighter than the last one and Independents’ Day 2013 was the best I’ve seen. They have been touring around this part of the country a fair bit lately, and if they continue to improve at this rate, who knows if they’ll even be available to play this fest next September.

(c) Eric Robertson, 2013

Cliffs at Independents’ Day 2013

Speaking of improvements, as I left Nervosas, I turned the corner at Gay St. to catch what was left of Cliffs‘ set. I’ll be honest, it took me a while to come around to Cliffs. Mostly, because I’ve known the band members since they were in middle school and I don’t want to look like I’m showing favoritism, but also because I wasn’t blown away by the early demos they sent me. But I eventually caught up with the rest of Columbus about a year ago when Cliffs played an opening slot for Chicago garage punk juggernaut White Mystery. But Independents’ Day 2013 was the first chance I had to see the band play in front of an audience of any significant size. I have to hand it to them, these guys know how to have a good time with their audience. And I must commend drummer Adam Hardy for playing this show with a broken hip. I swear, I never would have known. Word from the band is, the test pressings for their first LP have come back and everything sounds great. Look for that to be out some time around November.

(c) Eric Robertson, 2013

Connections at Independents’ Day 2013

And while we’re on the subject of getting caught up with everyone else, I should say, even I am surprised that it took me as long as it did to see Connections. Granted, I actually saw Connections for the first time a few days before this show, but for all intents and purposes this week has been my first Connections experience, despite the fact that the band (featuring former members of past Columbus bands, including the late great Times New Viking) have been making waves around town for about a year. And here is why I love events like Independents’ Day. Yeah, going to shows in clubs is fun and intimate (at least when you go to the kinds of shows I do) but in a festival setting you really get a chance to see how the concert going public really reacts to them. Not everyone goes to every Connections show, but every Connections fan goes to Independents’ Day. I even paparazzied Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman at the Connections show. I guess even politicians like good solid indie rock.

(c) Eric Robertson, 2013

Lydia Loveless at Independents’ Day 2013

One final thing that’s long overdue, and those of you who remember that first Independents’ Day post from a few years ago may know where I’m going with this. Way back in 2010, I wrote about how I’d heard countless good things about Lydia Loveless, but just barely missed her Independents’ Day set. (Lydia even emailed me later to assure me that satisfaction was guaranteed.) No worries, I did finally see Lydia perform not long after that near miss, and several times since then (some of you may even remember a photo set from a couple of Record Store Days ago). But I finally made up for missing her 2010 set this year, planting myself front and center this year for a set consisting almost entirely of new material. Which has left me very excited for her pending releases.

In my mind, Lydia has long since taken her place in my mind as the best act in Columbus. And I’m only slightly saddened by the fact that her contract with Bloodshot Records takes her away from us and out on the road as often as it does. Though, I must say, I do enjoy the messages I receive from friends around the country after Lydia plays their hometown, telling me how lucky I am to live in Columbus. I didn’t always agree with that sentiment, but I’m starting to come around to that idea, too.

 

I love the dusty shelves of forgotten books you find in the darkest corners of musty libraries and those crates of “worthless” old 45s you find in every junk shop. I can’t help it. There must be dust in my blood. I even worked in a music archive for a year after university (it’s still the best job I’ve ever had). I guess that makes me some kind of amateur cultural archaeologist.

Of course, you and I know those neglected 45s are far from worthless. There are so many great songs languishing in those cardboard dumping grounds. And sometimes, of course, I’ll find something that I really wish I could share with people only to discover that even the seemingly infinite YouTubes occasionally come up short. So, I’ve taken it upon myself recently to fill some of those gaps. And since, these are obviously the sorts of things I wish other people could hear, I’m going to start posting about them here from time to time—one of those times being right now.

Given that her early records were released on Chess, it’s surprising to me that Jan Bradley’s recordings are so difficult to find online. YouTube only has a few of them (Spotify only turned up one). As the story goes (read: according to Wikipedia) Bradley was discovered at a high school talent show. A while later, after auditioning for Curtis Mayfield, she would go on to have a regional hit with “We Girls” and nationally with “Mama Didn’t Lie” (both written by Mayfield).

The current track “The Brush Off”, appeared on the flip side of “I’m Over You”, a minor hit (#25 on the R&B chart) from early 1965. Both feature that unmistakable Chicago soul sound, and though there are a couple of videos floating around for “I’m Over You”, I was unable to find anything for “The Brush Off”, which is a shame, because it’s a smooth and easy bit of Northern Soul that deserves to be heard. So, I made one.

Here it is. And, apparently, Ms. Bradley (I don’t know her married name) still lives somewhere in the South Suburbs. So, if you happen to encounter her singing with her church choir, please, pass on to her my sincerest appreciation for her all-too-brief career.

(Here’s the Billboard review of the single from January 2, 1965. Also, this guy has some good info on Jan Bradley.)

I don’t know how many of you were listening to Amazing Radio on Sunday afternoon. If you were, and you happened to catch the second half of Bethan Elfyn’s show, you may have also noticed the part where Beth took a break and some weird guy started talking about Dutch indie music. Well, I was that weird guy. In case you missed it and would like to hear it for yourself, you can listen again on the Bethan Elfyn Show page on amazingradio.co.uk (I start talking just before the 96 minute mark).

On the show, I covered some Dutch indie bands and one of my favorite Dutch labels. I only had time to talk about two bands, but if any of you remember our Dutch Week we had here a few years ago, you probably also remember that there are far more than two good Dutch bands. So, I promised I would write a post to highlight some of the other artists who, sadly, had to be left out of the final broadcast.

The first track I played was “Destroyers of Worlds” by The Sugarettes. Some of you may remember The Sugarettes from Dutch Week, at the time, they were pushing their first LP on Subroutine Records call Love and Other Perversities (a good album, which I still own, and one you should pick up). Earlier this year (March, I believe) The Sugarettes released a new LP, Destroyers of Worlds, which I’ve been listening to constantly for a couple of months now. If I were to pass judgment on it (which I will), I would say it’s a more mature work than Other Perversities was. They’ve really got the girl-fronted nerd rock thing down, and it’s working out nicely for them—kind of like if The Coathangers formed a Blondie tribute band. And if this sort of nerdy indie rock is your thing, you’ll definitely want to check out the various other projects The Sugarettes are involved with. Joep van Son has a few of them. We covered the boy-girl indie rock of The Very Sexuals a few years ago, but Joep is also a member of Nikoo a noise pop ensemble. He has also recently launched Waste No Fun, a collaborative indie pop project with Sydney-based illustrator Bas van Genugten, releasing a free lo-fi single every six weeks, which also offers limited edition prints of the artwork. The Sugarettes’ lead singer Mariska Louman also has a shoegaze-inspired band of her own called Iskaa and the Red Cars, who just recently released their first EP.

And while we’re on the subject of Subroutine Records, they have recently released the first LP from noise rockers Space Siren. When I first heard Space Siren a couple of years ago, they had only ever released a seven inch, and that several years before I heard them. I just assumed that they had disbanded. I never expected to see an LP from them, nor did I expect it to be so well-worth the wait. The band’s debut LP, Mr Wagner, Please Give Us A Call, is on the noisier side of the Subroutine spectrum, certainly more so than The Sugarettes, but it’s far from being noise for the sake of noise. There is almost a sort of shimmering violence with a glamorous tinge about the ten tracks that make up Mr. Wagner, which is apparent in the video for the single “Oh My God, Someone Killed Kelly”, for instance. It’s sort of a shoegaze ethos with a post-riot grrrl attitude (think My Bloody Valentine covers “I Think I’m Paranoid” by Garbage).

Of course, it’s an unfortunate reality of the guest appearance business that you never have as much time as you want (or even need), especially if you’re as prone to enthusiasm as I am. (Seriously, I’ve written 600 words so far, and only really talked about two bands.) And one of the most heartbreaking cuts I had to make was an entire label, namely Snowstar Records. For those who prefer the softer side of DIY, Snowstar is a great place to look (though not always—you’ll also find things like the mid-’90s inspired indie rock of Lost Bear). We covered the lo-fi electronic folk of The Secret Love Parade a couple of years ago. Since then, in February, the girls released their second LP on Snowstar, Mary Looking Ready, which builds promisingly on their previous work, achieving a fuller and more singular sound than ever before while still maintaining the relaxed, almost conversational feel of their self-titled debut LP.

Also on Snowstar, you’ll find the frighteningly prolific and equally talented I Am Oak, who seems to have a new single or album out every time I check the label’s Bandcamp page. Usually, turning out music at such a pace would send up red flags all over the place, but there’s something about I Am Oak that keeps me coming back for more. Maybe it’s the melodies and sparse textures. Or it could be the harmonies and haunting vocals. Very rarely do you see someone do so much with so little. Here is a the first I Am Oak track I ever heard, “Gold and Porcelain”, which you can find on this free Snowstar compilation:

Which brings us to Kim Janssen of The Black Atlantic, whose most recent solo record, a beautiful folk concept album called Ancient Crime, which draws on the character and ethos of the northwest of England, was released on Snowstar Records in March of this year. And, speaking of The Black Atlantic, I have to come clean and admit that they released a new EP on Beep! Beep! Records early this year which I have failed to review here or even make sufficient public mention of. Which should not, in any way, be considered a reflection of the EP itself, which is, in fact, absolutely gorgeous. If you were listening to the Bethan Elfyn Show when we played the title track “Darkling, I Listen”, you have, most likely, already figured this out. If you missed it, head over to amazingtunes.com or to the band’s website. You can listen to the whole thing there and it’s well worth your undivided attention. The five tracks on Darkling, I Listen fit together so seamlessly, they function best as a single piece of music, featuring all of the lush harmonies that were the hallmark of the band’s Reverence For Fallen Trees, Geert and company also make fine use of the sort dramatic, subito dynamic changes that characterize the longer form choral works of Arvo Pärt, for instance, and which jar the listener to beautiful and hypnotic effect.

I should probably start wrapping this up. Congratulations if you’ve managed to read this far. You actually have an attention span, which is an increasingly rare thing. (You’re practically a collector’s item!). There’s plenty more to cover, but I’ve already kept you too long. If you’re curious, go back and read some of those old Dutch Week posts. There are a whole lot of other tips and leads in there that I didn’t even bother to rehash in this post (as much as I would have liked to). But as it stands, I’ve already given you about a day’s-worth of music to check out, and that’s enough for one night.

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
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