Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Summer Memories

Is what sparked Apple Orchard, if I've understood it correctly. Probably the only band ever to name themselves after a Bouquet song. They've never sounded very summery though, despite living in sunny California. And if so it's bound to be a summer shut in a small bedsit, which is where Ryan and Dale recorded their music. The lo-fi character has always shaped their sound.

But now, when I put on their first longplayer Half-Steps Toward Bright Skies (that should have come out over a year ago if you ask me) it's hardly the same band, or rather it is a band for the first time. Apple Orchard have never been brilliant musicians or recording artists, but it was the little peculiarities that made me love them. There's nothing askew about this album though, and don't get me wrong, this is of course a good thing. And the fact that when Ryan starts singing on opening track "Unfazed" I thought it sounded exactly like Trembling Blue Stars will probably make them proud. Apple Orchard aren't trying to be original, of course they want to sound like their favourite bands - we all do - but this is about Ryan's songs - and not everyone writes them quite like he does.

They've really developed the soundscapes. Just waiting around, trying to get the album released, probably left them plenty of time to work on the finish, the mixing and the mastering. It definitely sounds like a record that's been fussed over at least. Some of these songs have appeared elsewhere before, in other guises. I gave up trying to track down all the songs that have, because of the wealth of Apple Orchard material, but at least I think I've heard "Unfazed", "I Can't Feel Sorry" and "The Saddest, Perfect Ending" before. And of course "Midnight Stars and Kisses" is a re-recording of the b-side from their first single - the brilliant (and still available) "A Hiding Smile".

The new sound is also an effect of more prominent keyboards on most songs, which give the whole record a languid, warm feel not dissimilar to that on California Snow Story's record from last year. And the odd guitar jangle here and there is always appreciated, especially now that you can actually hear that Ryan owns a Rickenbacker! These new horizons of course leave me wanting to hear more of those old songs in high fidelity... But the fact that the album is made up mostly of new songs is a sign of integrity more than anything. Apple Orchard had some great upbeat tunes, like my old favourites "Don't Pretend" and "Bed & Breakfast"! Here, mid-tempo is the most we're treated to and my favourite on the record is "Dreaming (As the Summer Fades)". You'll find that below.

And naturally I should say that you can buy the album from Haymarket Recordings, their new self-run label and the reason for the record's long delay. Now maybe that compilation they had planned is up next?

Monday, April 28, 2008

Building Castles In the Shifting Sands

The new album from the Leaves is simply unbelievable! And it continues the tradition of interesting artwork with a brilliant art nouveau sleeve. In fact, it's as good as their first album which is already a classic in my book. Treats and Treasures had some real stand-outs in "When I Close My Eyes", "The Summer's Gone" etc, and although nothing on Long Lost Friend reaches quite the same heights, the lows are non-existent. On the whole, the music is a notch softer and leans more towards the jangle end of the folk rock spectrum, where the debut had a bit more of a garage punch and some psychedelic flourishes. I'm not kidding when I say this is the best janglepop since East Village and has as justified a claim to the Best Album of the Year So Far title as The Airfields' cd. There's more Rickenbacker and acoustic 12-string in these 36 minutes than what is officially healthy!

The record leads off with "Lighthouse" (that you can hear on MySpace) - an instant classic and one of David Beckey's finest compositions. Guitarist Jon Hunt (almost John Hunt's namesake!) has contributed the next one called "Summer Sunshine Girl" which made for a perfect soundtrack to a cuppa coffee in a sun-drenched backyard earlier today. Reading the songwriting credits is actually rather interesting as they're just vague enough. E.g. the backwards five-second intro "Emo Texan" is credited to Yekceb (read it backwards!). If you didn't know already, you'll learn that "In the Morning" is a Bee Gees cover. Given a beautiful treatment here with harmonies and banjo-style Rickenbacker picking. And I tracked down "You Can't Be Serious" as a 1966 b-side by British pop-sike group The Mirage. That's the one song that sticks out in the set, because of its raucous vocal - I'm guessing it's Keith Patterson singing... just because he plays such a mean-looking Burns Bison bass! "Wintertyme Joy" is the only psychedelic song this time around and can also be found on MySpace, along with the laidback title-track. "Make My Move" doesn't exactly suffer from having almost the same melody as "The Rollercoaster Ride" by Belle & Sebastian, and "Back to Me" has a very Felty guitar line (including a solo that even Lawrence ought to dig). The closing track "Bonfire In the Sand" connects with the heathen theme of the artwork, thanks to some freaky vocals and chuckling goblins.

That's almost all the tracks and they all deserve to be mentioned, honestly, because even the ones I left out are brilliant. More brilliant American pop is on If Things Were Perfect, in the shape of a rare Honeybunch flexi track.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Meat Lemonade

Friday was double fun as we had both The Orchids visiting Lund and Meat Whiplash's old Peel session on BBC6. Marc Riley's got a 'Peel By Request' feature on his Brain Surgery show, so I wrote in to request the 1985 session for which they recorded four tunes that never got released. The session was on the old Perfumed Garden blog, but the sound quality was very, very bad. So Riley played them all except for "Eat Me to the Core" (he didn't have enough time play all of them) and deserves a pat on the back for being perhaps the first Brit to pronounce my name correctly, and for doing some background research on the band. E.g. I didn't know they were supporting JAMC on their now legendary gig-turned-riot! You can listen to the show on the BBC iPlayer until next Friday. I recorded the songs from the stream, but if anyone managed to actually record it from radio please let me know.

The Orchids played to the, now usual, sparse crowd of drunk students at the Indigo student night in Lund. Two people in the crowd revealed completely new ways of listening to gentle Sarah pop! "So you wanted to dance, make a fool of yourself" indeed. The set was a bit more rocking than what I remember from seeing them before, or maybe it was just a bad influence from the people who thought they were watching Guns 'n' Roses! Still very touching though. But the encore felt slightly misplaced as the people cheering them back on had heard neither "Apologies" or "I've Got a Habit". Anyway, they did play both of them but the former didn't sound half as divine as at Indietracks and the latter was barely recogniseable.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Piano Overhead

You've almost forgotten about Keith Girdler, haven't you? At least I had. It's almost a year since his tragic passing now. Recently I heard an old song by his first band, Feverfew, and as it's the best one I've heard from them I thought I should share it with you. It's from an old compilation tape from 1990 called Mind the Gap. Because we all love Keith.

Because I need your love, even in the next world

Monday, April 21, 2008

Indelible Inedibles

Have you got it yet? Wake the President more than make up for the dodgy-looking covers of their first two singles with the new split-single! Well, it's really Aufgeladen und Bereit's sleeve design that does it. Backed with fellow Glaswegians The Kingfishers' take on Godard's "Make Me Sad", "You Can't Change That Boy" raises the bar for the band's studio accomplishments. Now produced by Paul Savage (The Delgados), they're closer to reaching their true potential than ever. They CAN sound even better though, so it'll be interesting to hear how the upcoming full-length turns out!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Rien pour les renards

Just returned from a brief sit-in at Jonathan's new pop night at Golden, which is called L'oiseau et le chien. They played some great stuff and I felt a bit bad to leave while Bad Dream Fancy Dress was sounding from the tiny speakers. A nice, unpretentious night, which is probably necessary when they have it every Wednesday. I also learned today that the cover of the Garlands ep was done by a friend of mine! It's out already, so if you haven't ordered your copy yet Cosy Den or Cloudberry will see to your needs promptly.

Today I also got Arthur and Martha's debut single in the mail. It's called "Autovia" and this 45 is out on their own label Happy Robots since a couple of weeks. Arthur is actually Adam from Saloon, and Martha is Alice from The Duloks and The Seven Inches; sometimes things can be a bit misleading. Good thing then, that the two sides are straight-ahead synthpop that won't have you bury your head in your hands in existential angst! "Autovia" is an instant hit, with it's persistent Kraftwerkian beat. The most impressive feature is Alice's voice though, which is suitably suave and classy. Support their humble cause here.

The debut album from Sweden's Action Biker is also out, as of today I think. It's called Hesperian Puisto and naturally it's released by Friendly Noise. I haven't got that yet but judging from her set at Rip It Up last year (the first we got to hear of her new material) it's going to be brilliant.

Another item you need to pick up as soon as possible is the split-7" with Wake the President and The Kingfishers, on German label Aufgeladen und Bereit. I just ordered it from Norman! WTP's contribution is called "You Can't Change That Boy" and I think I've increased its play-count on MySpace by at least fifteen (deliberately, that is).

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

You Took My Daydream Away

Need I say more? Probably that Brittle Stars' only album has finally been reissued! If you read my old blog you should be familiar with one of my favourite bands, who are re-uniting for a gig at Pop Mayhem! in Gainesville, FL in May. It's their 10th anniversary, so reason enough for Estelle to get a plane from Isreal. The reissue is on Ruined Potential and is available on three different-colour 10"s, with different sleeves as well. I got the one called 'Gregory go boom' in clear marbled vinyl! And I got a free split-7" as an extra treat, featuring Ola Porida and XOXO, Panda in a similarly exclusive package (maybe inspired by that Section 25 lp on Factory?). The 7" is probably more along the lines of the label's usual output, as they've also put out American Analog Set and Songs of Green Pheasant.

The bonus 7" was very warmly welcomed in fact, as the postage was ridiculous! It arrived super-fast though so maybe it was some sort of special delivery. You might be able to get the 10" from Tonevendor too, if they get more copies in. But they're only selling the blue version!. Or, in case you're not a vinyl fetischist, just hold on for the complete retrospective (i.e. also including the Garage Sale EP) on Clairecords, which is run by former BS members. Estelle now plays in a duo called Elephant Parade, and prior to joining BS she was in Crush 22 together with drummer Joshua. Their song "Wrap Around" is in the sidebar.

In other Clairecords news, the Tears Run Rings debut album Always, Sometimes, Seldom, Never is just out and it's truly brilliant. It's one of the best shoegaze records I've heard. The band includes members of Evening Lights and The Autocollants and first appeared on the scene last year with an ep on Swedish Lavender Recordings (split with Disaster Club Records in the US, to be exact).

EDIT: I just found Crush 22's Myspace page, from where you can download four of their demos!

Friday, April 11, 2008

How to Be Small

After Slumberland posted that fabulous unreleased Honeymoon Diary song on their blog, I have to let you hear their only released recording, as far as I know. It's called "Drive" and is from a compilation on Kittridge called Homemade Hits, Vol. 1 (the same comp that has the Honeybunch track I mention below). Honeymoon Diary was originally started by Jennifer and Leonard after Bella Vista split. The name is appropriate as they later got married! If "Baby" sounds like Bella Vista covering The Carousel while paying tribute to Black Tambourine, "Drive" has the more typical Bella Vista sound and is even clocks in at just over average Bella Vista song-length (about 60 seconds). I hope all this attention is enough encouragement to get some more songs out there!

CLOUD 51 Honeymoon Diary - Drive

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Armstrong's Revenge

A Smile and a Ribbon have some new dates in the UK coming up! Might see you at one of these:

Wednesday May 7th
Sunny Inside presents
The Bandstand, Stoke-On-Trent
Doors 8pm

Thursday May 8th
A Layer Of Chips presents
Lee Rosy's Tea, Nottingham
Doors 8pm
£4 on the door

Friday May 9th
Twee As Fuck presents
The Buffalo Bar, London
Doors 9pm

Saturday May 10th
Popklubb presents
Retreat, Newcastle
Doors 8pm

Sunday May 11th
Music Is My Girlfriend presents
The Goat, Glasgow
Doors 8pm
Free entry

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Drinking Soda To Make Music to Drink Soda to

The last thing we need right now probably is a song about autumn, but here is one anyway. Try to see it from the bright side, autumn couldn't be further away at this time of year! You might have heard "The Fall" already if you've been keeping up with Soda Fountain Rag's new tunes (as you should), that are continually uploaded to their profile on Norwegian radio's website. Even before they are released - such as this song and "Yesterday" that Skatterbrain wrote about a while ago. "Yesterday" is actually their best song so far, I think, and sounds closer to what seeing them live is like. You had an opportunity to see them in Copenhagen only yesterday (at the same venue were Amor de Dias debuted last month!), and they visited London for the first time recently too. That's farther than April Skies would have got them (the band Ragnhild and Anders were in before)!

The band's latest release is also their first proper cd longplayer: It's Rag Time on Irish label Yesboyicecream - the previous ones have all been cdrs. There are a few new songs on it which makes it worth buying, but as I said this song is not on it.

CLOUD 49 Soda Fountain Rag - The Fall

Honey For the Prince

- She's retarded, your majesty. Definitely what you'd call retarded.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Tell Me My World Is Pink, Not Blue

STOP! Don't read any further. Not until you've bought this beautiful artifact - the first ever single by The School. You can download "All I Wanna Do" from Elefant and both sides are playing on their MySpace.

This was meant to come out on Valentine's Day originally and that's why it's pink I guess (perhaps with "Valentine" on the a-side?). Hmm... didn't The Pipettes do a pink 7"? Who cares, it wasn't this good-looking and I'm even more obsessed with The School than I was with The Pipettes three years ago! You can't believe how satisfying it is to see All I Wanna Do printed below "A SIDE" on the label centered on this pink slab of vinyl. At least not until you've bought it.

After listening to the demo so many times over it's fantastic just to hear this new recording, done in London with Ian Catt behind the controls. Liz has been talking about how he claims to do "pop - not indie" and he's really given both songs a pure, timeless production that wouldn't be intimidated placed next to the Cookies 45s in your collection. And Liz's vocals are sweeter than ever. I only wish Let It Slip would be released tomorrow and not in another couple of months...

My Contribution to the Underhill Effect

I can't believe no one talks about Honeybunch anymore! Even their website is gone. And there are no pictures on the whole of the web, except from the blurred ones on Bus Stop's site. So I had to take one myself... and say something about them myself. Honeybunch was started by Jeffrey Borchardt (aka Underhill) before he became one third of The Velvet Crush - who never reached the same heights, I think. Claudia Gonson, later of The Magnetic Fields, played drums for them live.

Underhill's music seems to lack reference points completely, at least it must have done in 1989 when it was first released. Of course there are similarities to The Choo Choo Train (as the other two future members of Velvet Crush called themselves at the time), but the songs seem to tie into an even more timeless American tradition - going past Big Star to The Band even. And their unique sensibilities weren't matched again until groups like The Fairways (and later Pants Yell!) arrived. It would seem to me Brent Kenji owes a great deal to Honeybunch, both in his songwriting and his vocal style. Both bands have the same pristine sound and play with effortless skill, and they are both among my favourite groups ever.

However, where The Fairways have a much softer sound anchored in 60s jangle and soft rock, Honeybunch have a more garagey twang and a sort of wooden, less studio-clean sound (maybe a tinge of country rock there?). The songs are almost instantly recogniseable and very varied in pacing, structure and feel. The first time I heard "Always Someone Else's Shadow" I could swear I'd heard it somewhere else before!

But wait a minute, you say, hasn't that Summershine retrospective been sold out for years? Well, Spanish label Elefant issued it in Europe the following year (1997) and that's been in stock ever since. In fact, it can be had for a shocking 2€ from Elefant at the time of writing. Time Trials includes everything the band had released (on vinyl) at that point plus unreleased treasures (thus not the 2003 comeback ep on Bus Stop, which is again still available). The reason I write 'on vinyl' is because it sadly doesn't include the flexis "Crooked Mile" (one of their best recordings) and "Nothing But Trouble" (I haven't got that, so if someone does please share it), nor "Humble Dream" from the Heol cassette compilation. I think I do have the latter - the mp3 is labelled "You're Killing Me", but that title is not in their discography plus it sounds old and like it's been recorded from a cassette. Not in the Bus Stop discography either, are two newer songs "All That's Left of Me Is You" (a reworking of "Always Someone Else's Shadow" from the Homemade Hits, V.1 2004 comp) and "Everything to Everyone" (which I don't know where it comes from).

That's enough of the details and time to prove my seemingly daring claims are justified. Listen to "Candy Breath" from their second single and tell me I don't know what I'm talking about!

The sparkle in your eyes
still takes me by surprise
If it's nothing as you insist
it's still more than you realise

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Let's Dissolve

I should thank Brogues for finding a Juniper 7" in a record store this weekend and telling me to buy it, even though he later found out he didn't own it himself! Had I seen it I would have bought it anyway, just because it's on A Turntable Friend. I've been doing some research about the band in the Indiepop List archives and this is what I've found out so far. The band was started by a Jennifer Taylor in Washington DC in the mid-90s. They released three singles in 1996 and 1997, the other two on Fantastic and Orange Peel. The band plus Mike from The Ropers (Jennifer's boyfriend) undertook a tour across the continent, using only List contacts, with the intention of staying in LA permanently. Some of the members moved back soon though, and Jennifer, Mike and Doug formed Mondo Crescendo instead. Their music is reminiscent of The Aislers Set and The Ropers. They've also been compared to Poastal, but I haven't heard them myself. Both sides of the 7" are great, as is usually the case with ATF releases! Here's the b-side.