Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Ce n'est pas une image juste, c'est juste une image

I'm sitting here with Cocoanut Groove's Madeleine Street lp (yes, it's only available on vinyl) from Fridlyst in my lap, thinking it could've been the best Swedish album of this year. For a few reasons it is not, and I'll tell you why in a minute. The single that came out earlier this year on Phonic Kidnapping and the gig at Rip It Up led me to think it was going to be an upbeat sunshine pop record. I expected more songs like "Midsummer Dreaming" that I posted about before and "A Gull's Wing" from the A Grood Crop compilation.

Madeleine Street is quite a melancholic album however. And there's too much reverb on everything for it be sunshine pop proper. Though by all rights it was recorded a long time ago now and perhaps isn't an accurate representation of what they sound like now. It doesn't sound like Olov had the acoustic 12-string he played at Rip It Up when these songs were recorded, it's mostly classical guitar on here. And there's not a great deal of his excellent electric guitar picking either. The Clientele played at the same festival and I know that they like each others' music. There's definitely an influence from McLean in Olov's guitar playing, the tremolo-laden guitar sound and his very convincing British accent. And I think 'August skies' are mentioned in the lyrics at least twice! Another song mentions a lily pond, which made me think of Vashti Bunyan's song ("in a lily pond I lay, all upon a summer's day") and actually it's a good reference point since the in Sweden oft mentioned 'Northern gloom' is quite prevalent on this album. But I've always believed that's more to do with a remnant of Swedish folk music and melodies, e.g. in the output of an influential Swedish indie group like Bear Quartet. And yes, there is some mandolin on this lp.

So what have we got so far? Roger Nichols, Vashti Bunyan, British popsike (or British popsike via The Clientele) and that makes for a fantastic album. But one of the things I'm not entirely happy with is the artwork. They've settled for something passable when they had a great opportunity to get a cool sunshine pop look. Now it's just three photographs and a not very good typeface. The front cover's reference to Henri Cartier-Bresson's most iconic image is its only justification. Another thing is that both sides of the preceding 7" are included here although the band don't seem to have a shortage of songs. You should never release a song twice unless it's out of print, if you ask me.

If we consider the songs, I think the poppy ones with more fleshed-out arrangements work best. The 'Left Banke'-scented "The Castle" is my immediate favourite and it also got a spin at Don't Die On My Doorstep last weekend. The lyrics are good and works mainly through evocative imagery, but accompanied mainly by acoustic guitar as they are on a few tracks it is apparent that Olov's talent is first of all for melody, arrangement and guitar technique. Another tasty one is "The Looking Glass", whose trumpet melody I remember from Rip It Up. It's on the sidebar player now, along with Would-Be-Goods and something from The Move. The best of the acoustic tracks are "Lately", which could almost have been a cover of the Vashti Bunyan song.

I know it's unfair, but I played Billy Nicholls' Would You Believe after this, which probably affected this post since most albums pale in comparison to such a masterpiece. It's not entirely implausible that Cocoanut Groove will produce one of their own in the future though. Like Olov, I'm just relieved that Madeleine Street finally came out.


Anonymous said...

I have to disagree with you on this Cocoanut Groove album not being the best Swedish album of the year.
I agree that it might not be an upbeat sunshine pop album (which one might have come to expect from listening to the single), but Olov does melancholy soooo great, my heart skips a beat whenever I listen to a song like "lately" or "humming".
I keep coming back to this album (and I must admit I had it for months before it's initial release so I was priviliged)and I never seem to tire of these songs.
I might be a hopelessly melancholy romantic and maybe that is why I love this record soooo much (it reminds me of my lost youth, first love).

By the way, I think your blog is life-affirmingly great and I usually agree 100% with what you write, but this record is sooo close to my heart I will defend it like it was my own child !

lots of love love love and have a fab Xmas and a sparkling New Year !


Dimitra Daisy said...

I have to agree with Bart on this one. Well, sort of -- I have no idea whether this is the best Swedish album of the year or not, seeing as I probably haven't heard any other. But it is a beautiful album. I was negatively predisposed after reading your review, and I was pleasantly surprised by it.

Sunshine pop it is not, but it is quite wonderful for what it is -- and quite unprecedented in recent indiepop, too. I agree that there are echoes of Vashti Bunyan in there, but I also heard Leonard Cohen and Simon & Garfunkel and Jens Lekman, and I don't think I've ever namedropped all those in one sentence before. It's not really my kind of thing, not by any stretch of the imagination, and yet I am quite struck by it.

All I'm trying to say is that if they can be even better than this, well, that's absolutely brilliant -- but this is pretty good in itself, and I'm glad I got to listen to it.

joe said...

Never heard the band, don't know why they spell their name the way they do.

What is 'British popsike'??

'You should never release a song twice unless it's out of print, if you ask me'. Are you serious?? The entire history of pop consists very largely of tracks being released on different records. Do you think that the Rolling Stones, having made Between the Buttons and Beggars' Banquet, should not have been allowed to release 'Ruby Tuesday' or 'Street Fighting Man' on The London Years? Do you think that having released 'The Boy With The Thorn In His Side' as a 45, the Smiths were out of order in including it on The Queen Is Dead?

The Boy and the Cloud said...

popsike is vernacular for pop-psych.

according to wikipedia, the initiative to release 'the london years' did not come from the rolling stones, but former manager allen klein. "ruby tuesday" was not on the uk release of 'between the buttons' so that's ok, but if "street fighting man" was on 'beggar's banquet' perhaps they shouldn't have released it as a single in the first place.

if "the boy..." came out prior to 'the queen is dead' then it sounds like a way to promote the forthcoming album. i share the band love dance's belief in promotion through quality.

perfect albums, say 'if you're feeling sinister' e.g., would have lost some its aura if b&s had released a single from it. similarly, 'this is just a modern rock song' would not be as essential if one or more songs had been on 'the boy with the arab strap' as well.

joe said...

'This is just a modern rock song' is very bad by the standards that B&S had set up to that point. When I heard it was coming out as a 45 (or an ep's lead track) I was almost literally shocked. In fact one could perhaps trace the band's decline from that moment, if one wanted to try to do such a thing (one might not).

This is one reason why I don't think of that ep as very 'essential'. I don't think most of the tracks on it are at all good by the standards B&S had set at that point.

I don't see how Sinister is a 'perfect' album. I like a lot, but I don't like everything on it equally. That goes for most records I like - even, say, Reading, Writing & Arithmetic.

If you really think that an LP can only have an 'aura' if no 45s are released from it then that rules out most LPs, including, I suppose, most of the best LPs.

The Smiths 45 came out in 1985. It *was* a little odd that the LP then followed so long after it, but that was largely, I think, because it was artifically delayed and not released till June 1986 -- this was the record Marr tried to break into a building to steal the master tapes of, such was the frustration over this.

All the Smiths LPs (not just the ones that were in effect compilations) had 45s off (generally preceding) them: eg What Difference Does It Make? (1984), That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore (1985), Bigmouth Strikes Again (1986), Girlfriend in a Coma (1987). I'm not aware that anyone ever thought this was irregular or improper (though maybe some hardline fanzine nuts at the time did) - it's never mentioned in anything I've read about them. Unlike many bands now, they of course had a prodigious workrate and did release several other 45s that were not on those LPs, which is more to your taste. They also, of course, collected those on compilation records. It sounds as though by your lights, even a masterpiece of a compilation like Hatful of Hollow should never have existed. That is not a view that any Smiths fan I have ever met has ever echoed.

I don't know who Love Dance are, but I doubt - in fact I feel certain - that whatever quality they may have or have had was or is better than that of the Smiths.

It sounds as though you don't particularly think The London Years should have been released. I, on the other hand, am glad it was: it's the best Stones compilation, in a sense the best Stones record, I know of.

The Stones made the tracks that went on Beggar's Banquet so I think if they wanted to release one or more of them as a 45, that's up to them (though I'm sure other people, management etc, also contributed to such decisions).

Your views on this particular issue, as expressed here, verge on the quixotic. Yet I don't want to give the impression that I find them utterly alien. It *is* true that eps or 45s that don't appear on LPs have some kind of charm (though apparently unlike you, I'm happy for those tracks then to appear on compilations, best-ofs or whatever). And there must be a kind of neatness, an appeal to tidiness, in the idea of tracks only being released once. But this idea seems to me to contradict the vast majority of the history of pop music, including most of the artists who mean the most to me.

The Boy and the Cloud said...

i think perhaps what we disagree about is the very reason for releasing music.

some artists make music wholly for themselves, without any intention of releasing it onto any form of market.

others make music because they like the thought that other people will hear and perhaps enjoy it. to them, the more people who hear it, the better it is. in this case it's not hard to justify releasing a song many times over. perhaps there's even a monetary reason!

the first category might still get the idea to release a record however, if simply for the satisfaction or feeling of accomplishment that having a record out may bring. "to see your record on the shelf". it would make no sense to release a song twice though. these people don't care about sales, and in this digital age, will probably happily share their music as mp3s.

'the london years' probably is essential, as those singles were no longer available.

i don't think my opinion is any stranger than disapproving of the same tracks appearing on more than one album.

you seem to have got my point about love dance though :) if you should think their music have no quality, why would you want them to promote it?