Strawberry Whiplash play Hits In The Car

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

Newes from Scotland

MOPP

Keeping with the “what I did on my spring break” theme, I reckon it’s about time I talk a bit about Glasgow, the sexiest city in the world, where everyone is effortlessly fashionable and Americans confidently mispronounce the name. Given that the Glasgow scene is typically lightyears ahead of everyone else, I figured it was best to pick a club, sit back, and listen. In the end, I spent two nights at Bloc+. Following is a selection of what I heard, in chronological order.

Louise Against the Elements: LAE opened the Slow Club Night (not, to my knowledge, related in any way to Slow Club the band) sporting a stripped down version of their normal set up (which, as I understand it, is sort of the idea of the night). Their sound is oozes American soul and blues rock influences, not that I want to label it an American knock-off (in fact, new research suggests that much American roots music is knock off of Scottish tradition). The music is definitely worth a listen. If I were to offer criticism to the band it would be in the arrangement of the set list. Namely, that it could benefit from some more rhythmic variation among the first few numbers and that they ought to close with “Baby Blue”, which is, by far, their best song.

Closing out the Slow Club gig were The Cinnamons. The magazine I read advertising the gig touted the band’s catchy synthpop. Synthpop, however, does not translate well in an acoustic setting. What does come across loud and clear? These guys can write an incredible hook! I might even go so far as to say that I prefer the acoustic set up—which is not to take anything away from their intended, plugged-in, sound—but the stripped down version makes the band’s uncanny melody-writing ability undeniably apparent. Check out “Analog Man” and “Dead Man’s Shoes”.

The next night was a gig sponsored by Detour Scotland, a relatively new monthly podcast spotlighting the best in Scottish music—with a twist. It is really worth checking out: detour-scotland.com. I’ll embed one of their videos from this particular gig at the end of this post. Detour night brought four bands and more people than fire codes should probably allow. It was hot and crowded, the girl next to me smelled strongly of vinegar, and, in the end, proved to be one of the most memorable gigs of my life, for which one of the acts, MOPP, is more than moderately responsible.

Kristin asked me yesterday what I think the next big thing to come out of Glasgow will be. I’m not sure, really. But I will say that MOPP could likely be the “next to next big thing”(that is, something else will probably crop up before that, but this has staying power). Essentially, it’s 80s-laden, uber-reverbed, monumental pop—everything you love about 80s synth music without all the creepiness of “The Air Tonight” (dear God, I hate that song!…). I hesitate to even attempt to describe it any further. All I will say is that, before the show, everyone I spoke to told me it was going to be phenomenal and, having now heard MOPP, I would have to say that, if anything, “phenomenal” is an understatement.

For those of you who are so inclined, (which ought to be anyone looking for good music) visit MOPP on MySpace. Whilst you’re there check out his remixes at the bottom of the playlist. I am a particular fan of the remix of Oasis’s “Wonderwall”, though there’s a Phoenix remix on there as well for those of you reluctant to venture beyond pre-approved contemporary indie fare.

That’s it for now. I will award 83 Sexy Indie Nerd (SIN) points to anyone who can identify the source of the title of this post (without Googling it). And, if you’ve read it, you can be my best friend and maybe we can make out a little bit the next time we see each other.

As winter gives way.

I have to say, Eric’s trip to Scotland lined up pretty well with Frightened Rabbit’s sophomore album release, Winter of Mixed Drinks.  And since I couldn’t go with Eric to Scotland to see incredible shows and meet wonderful people/be best friends with bands, this is my tribute post, in the form of an album review.  Dear Scotland, your music is really good, great even, and I am pretty happy about Frightened Rabbit, so thank you.

If the word has not lost all its meaning to you by now because of its overuse, I contend that Winter of Mixed Drinks is indeed an EPIC album.  The intensity of the lyrics, the tension in the chord progressions, the slow, measured construction of layers, and the unceasing rhythmic drive demand it be called what it is.  However, I do own a thesaurus, and so the words “monumental” and “colossal” may also be used.  There is not a wasted track on this album; it is perfectly refined without losing its edge.  Not a single song lacks that passion and sincerity that I demand out of a good album; in order for an album to be “whole,” the listener needs to know that the lyrics mean something to the musician.  We don’t want distance.  As a person who lives with fierce emotion, I appreciate hearing that emotion elsewhere, rather than just seeing it in myself.  Affirmation, connection.  Words without a sense of musical genuineness mean almost nothing.  If you can write lyrics, but not music…find a friend.  What I’m trying to say is…Frightened Rabbit has got it right.  They affirm, and to those who aren’t so emotional, they evoke.

So about these lyrics.  Painfully romantic homages to loneliness weave through every track, gushing with confessions of loss and weary coping.  The imagery moves from dynamic, almost frantic on tracks like “Swim Until You Can’t See Land” and “The Loneliness and the Scream” (It wasn’t me, I didn’t dig this ditch, I was walking for weeks before I fell in) to stagnant exhaustion on “Skip the Youth” (I would but I am so tired, if I can’t shake myself I can’t dance with you)Winter of Mixed Drinks tells of heartbreak with little hope, and I have to think of “Living in Colour” as the light, hoping that based on the title, the listener knows that life moves in seasons, and the winter of mixed drinks, the season of despondency, is not eternal.  Force the life through still veins, fill my heart with red again.

I will touch the harp-strings of my voice to see if it can fashion a little song for me.

(I promise, unlike Friday’s post, this one is about music.)

There is an elegance about the Gaelic language – a certain tactile satisfaction that lingers on the tongue after forming the words – that purveyors of such a vulgar language as English more than likely have difficulty understanding (I should know, I used to be one). So I was understandably offended when I read today that Highland councillor John Rosie called the establishment a Gaelic development officer for Caithness an attempt to “impose” upon the citizenry “an alien language, of no value to them”. Even more ironic is the fact that I first learned of this on the official release date for Uam, the third solo album from Julie Fowlis who, at least in my circle, has done more to spread the beauty of Scots Gaelic abroad than any other person.

If you are familiar with Julie’s other two albums, Mar a Tha Mo Chridhe and Cuilidh, you more or less know what to expect from Uam, though a few things have changed. Most notable is the presence of English, be it only on one track and used with interesting effect (more on that in a moment), it certainly stands out in context. Uam again features several songs native to Julie’s home island of North Uist (in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland) and Barra (to the south), but also includes a Breton song (“Rugadh mi ‘n teis meadhan na mara”) and one Irish-American tune (“Wind and Rain”). Somewhat less important, though still interesting trivia, Chris Thile doesn’t play on any tracks. As whole, Uam is a beautiful album rivaling in cohesiveness Julie’s hugely successful breakout album Cuilidh.

The first two tracks, “M’ fhearann saidhbhir”, a set beginning with a traditional waulking song followed by three tunes (two recent compositions and one traditional Highland tune) and “Bothan Àirigh am Bràigh Raithneach” (a slower piano/vocal number featuring lush three-part harmonies) set the tone for the whole album: an album that (thankfully) never settles on one style or tempo for too long. Still, this album is full of stunning moments, the most immediately captivating (at least for me) being the pairing of two songs recounting the story of “The Jealous Sister” (a story which has been dated as far back as the 16th century). The first song, “Wind and Rain”, of Irish-American origin, is performed here (partially translated into Gaelic) as a duet with Eddi Reader. This comes across as, more or less, typical Celtic festival fare, but the ensuing Hebridean take on the same tale, “Thig am Bàta”, is absolutely arresting. Featuring only Julie’s vocals and Martin O’Neill on bodhrán, it is highly percussive, rhythmically intoxicating, and easily the coolest song I’ve heard in months.

Of course, if there is one thing Julie Fowlis does well (and there are actually at least a dozen), it is to bring an album to a memorable conclusion. Whether it is “Moladh Uibhist”, the haunting ode to Uist that closes out Mar a Tha Mo Chridhe or “Aoidh, Na Dèan Cadal Idir”, the a cappella lullaby at the end of Cuilidh, they are without fail, the most charming, organic moments of their respective albums. The case with Uam is no difficult. Allan MacDonald and Mary Smith join in with striking parallel modal harmonies on “Hò bha mi, hé bha mi”, a night visiting song with the most beautiful, lingering lyrical image of the album: “’Cò tha còmhl’ riut, a Sheònaid? / A bheil thu ‘d ònrachd a’ bruidhinn?’ / ‘S làbhair Seònaid ghrinn uasal / Air uachdar a cridhe / ‘Barail leam gur e bruadar / A ghluais sibh nur dithis’.” (“’Who’s with you, Seònaid? / Or are you talking to yourself?’ / And noble, beautiful Seònaid / spoke from her heart. / ‘I think it was a dream that roused the pair of you’.”).

It deserves to be noted as well what a pleasure it is for me to once again hold an actual CD booklet in my hand as I listen to this record, especially one with real, substantive liner notes. The texts, translations, and detailed song histories are an integral part of this album, of the culture, and of human history. I read somewhere once that people of Scottish decent, no matter how distant, can feel the tug of the Highlands and Islands pulling them gently toward home. Had I never read that, I would still attest to the strength of that call. I’m a little fuzzy on the details, but a great many of my clan had already settled in the Americas by 1745. And even now, 250 years removed, listening to Uam (or Mar a Tha Mo Chridhe or Cuilidh for that matter), it has taken all the pragmatism I can muster not to drop everything and move to North Uist or Perthshire (where the Robertsons come from) and learn the (“alien and [useless]”) language and spend a few years studying this music – my music. (If anyone knows how I can do this, or can introduce me to someone who can help make it happen, and I mean this in all seriousness, please email the.indie.handbook@gmail.com. Let’s talk.)

Two reviews for the price of one, which is free

Regina SpektorFar

Regina Spektor is back with a new album (her third or sixth, depending on whether you can count or not). There are a lot of things to like about Far, the new album, out on Tuesday. People who got all pissy over the Begin to Hope, will like that this leans more in the direction of her older albums on this record, while those who loved the last album will be happy to know that, while there is a lot to think about in this record, they don’t have to think about it unless they want to. (Read the rest)

God Help the GirlGod Help the Girl

It’s not unheard of for a band to provide the soundtrack for an album and history would indicate that it is really something of a hit or miss experience. Think about it. Where would we be if Once had not launched The Swell Season into the spotlight? Then again, Björk’s soundtrack for Dancer In the Dark (a sickeningly brilliant film by Lars von Trier) was a major disappointment, if only because the other actors who sang with her could not begin to approach the shear drama and power packed into every pitch she produces. God Help the Girl is, in a way, a soundtrack as well, but one accompanying a film by Stuart Murdoch that does not quite exist yet. So we have to begin the review process at a loss. (Read the rest)

This is the International Tweexcore Underground

In many ways, the city of Glasgow is a driving force behind The Indie Handbook (and not just because I am of Scottish descent and not-so-secretly wish I could live there)–it is also the home of indie gods Belle & Sebastian (and one of my celebrity crushes, Isobel Campbell). No, this is not about Belle & Sebastian, seminal as they may be, you already know how fabulous they are. This is about fellow Glaswegians, Strawberry Whiplash, a band with one of the best names I have ever heard.

Strawberry Whiplash are Laz McLuskey (who writes the songs, plays the instruments, and also records as Bubblegum Lemonade) and someone named Sandra (who sings the songs that Laz writes). You probably wouldn’t actually have to listen to Strawberry Whiplash or see a list of their influences to have an idea what to expect, a photo of Laz with his classic red Rickenbacker would be sufficient. But for those of you not as presumptious as I am, think of that jangly C86 guitar sound with a Velvet Underground fuzziness (see also: “Factory Girl”, a musical homage to Warhol’s “poor little rich girl”, Edie Sedgwick).

The band is part of an impressive lineup on Santa Barbara’s own Matinée Recordings (including Bubblegum Lemonade, Cats on Fire, the Electric Pop Group, and the Hermit Crabs). I will probably refer to this roster a lot in the future. But right now, I am only concerned with the distinctive, cutting Rickenbacker jangle and Isobel Campbell-like vocals of Strawberry Whiplash. They have released one EP, Who’s In Your Dreams, all of which you can hear on their MySpace.

My favorite thing about Strawberry Whiplash: they are self-defined “part-time indie popsters” with real jobs, like we are, but we (much to my dismay) do not live among the Scots (and their intoxicating accents).