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

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

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).

Tracklisting:

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.

A Picture Perfect EP from Strawberry Whiplash

Picture Perfect EP - Design by Jimmy with image from Gordon
Picture Perfect EP - Design by Jimmy with image from Gordon

Once upon a time, I told you about a band from Glasgow. No, not that one. Not that one either. This one. At the time, Strawberry Whiplash were coming off the release of their debut single “Who’s in Your Dreams” on Matinée Recordings. With it, Sandra and Laz (the same man behind Bubblegum Lemonade, also on Matinée), found an audience well prepared to be seduced by their brand of fuzzed-up C86. And now, this month, Strawberry Whiplash are back with their follow-up, the Picture Perfect EP (and, dare I say it, it nearly is).

Strawberry Whiplash reach a degree of excellence in the opening measures of this EP that few bands can even dream of and, even more impressive, manage to sustain it throughout all four tracks without ever becoming pretentious. Sandra’s vocals are hypnotic and intoxicating; delivered with such a straightforward, unassuming sweetness that the listener would certainly feel like the scum of the earth for turning a deaf ear. And yet, the fuzzy (at times, even crunchy) sound of Laz’s guitar, keeps things from ever turning saccharine.

And the Picture Perfect EP has the sixties stamped all over it. The title track features the perfect simple sixties drumbeat, reminiscent of just about every good song released from 1961-1965, whilst “Celestial” betrays shades of Strawberry Alarm Clock in between bursts of organ, a la The Doors. “Hay in a Needlestack”, with the prominent pairing of a glockenspiel doubling Sandra’s vocals on the refrain, is by far the pinnacle of sweetness on this EP. The EP closes with “Falling Through”, which is, quite simply, quintessentially Strawberry Whiplash.

I’ve been spinning this EP since Saturday. I must have listened to it about a bazillion times by now. At 11 minutes, this is not a difficult feat to accomplish, made all the easier by the fact that the band’s trademark brand of shoegaze-y C86 is particularly easy to swallow. My only issue with this picture perfect EP is that I wish it was longer; now that would be even perfecter.

You would be well advised to head over to Matinée and make your purchase as this release is limited to 1000 copies. However, if you’re the sort of person who likes to try before you buy, you can download the title track, “Picture Perfect”, here.

MP3 – Strawberry Whiplash, “Picture Perfect”

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).