Monday, April 18, 2005

Forest Giants "Beards" (from "UFO Stories" EP on Breaking Down): Lovejoy "Sid Vicious" (from "Everybody Hates Lovejoy" CD on Matinee Recordings)

Quality, not quantity. It's a truism, but it really should strike a chord more often. I remember Paul Morley's interview with the Fire Engines, "notorious" for their 15 minute sets, and it was an aphorism they spat back at him. They'd rather pay a fiver for a "great fucking single" than £1.99 for a dodgy treble album (this was "Sandinista!" time, remember). These days, of course, everything is too long. Set lists go on for ever, and encores are the norm. Even the best bands seem to forget the art of leaving you wanting more. And CDs are 78 minutes long, so all of a sudden people are making albums that last for an hour or more, ignoring the fact that the 78 minutes was designed to cope with the carefully nuanced orchestral sweeps of the baroque composers: and, incidentally, it's a fabulous medium for them. This either means that "pop" albums are full of overlong, indulgent experiments; or packed with fillers that would previously have been out-takes; or both. Bands were spreading themselves thinly enough due to their contractual obligations (another year, another album) even before the pressure to do 16 or 18 songs at a time started ratcheting up. And that's even before taking into account of the reality of life these days, that there simply isn't time to wade through such dross (hip-hop albums often being the worst exponents): I can only think of a couple of albums ever made on which every single track is outstanding. If you're going to do an LP, make it less than 20 minutes long if at all possible - it's worked to produce blinders like "Leaders Not Followers", "A Cat Escaped", "Communique No. 9" and even "They've Scoffed The Lot", if you want to count comps.

So one of the reasons my love for music has come back to life in the last year or so has been realising that singles, not albums, are where it's at (and must be). Everything - the packaging, the production, the playing - channelled into, and based around, a single tune, or at worst a focused EP. No need to skip the less scintillating tracks in the search for an adrenalin rush. And the fact that I have belatedly realised that paying £6.99 for a single (not uncommon now, unless you're buying a new-release chart-destined CDS...) is usually much more worthwhile than, say, £11.99 for a CD or album containing a couple of great songs and a dozen merely okish ones. The corollary of all this is that when a band comes up with a truly superb tune, whole mountain ranges should be moved to get it out there as a single. Clutch the disc with care, running all the way home from the record shop if need be, stick it on the turntable. A few minut es of wonderment. No encores, no filler - the curtain goes down when the needle goes up. The show is over, everyone has got their money's worth and nobody need gripe about expectations unmet. The great feeling I've got from a million singles (although, truth be told, the paradigm for me was "Sensitive", where the feeling I've just described seems to persist no matter how many times I recue the record). But sadly, the better indies, and the hardcore / metal labels, neither of whom tend to be releasing singles much, are now getting my attention less than the grime / hip-hop / techno boys and girls, who are chucking out runs of 500 all over the place, if only as flyers for their (less compelling) long players.

But these are two songs, two should-be singles, two wish-they-were-hits (and from the indie stable), that deserve much better than to be half-mentioned in my usual slew of disparate record reviews. There are other great songs on both these releases, but sometimes one should reserve one's awe for the most precious moments. And I know that I am being too romantic and snobbish and precious about formats and that real life dictates that you have to get product out there anyway you can and not expect labels and artists to limit their range or accept their losses, but this is my blog and my secret world and I can therefore dream and say that it shouldn't take me to have to pick out these pearls and say, "you must hear these". Although you must hear these.

With "Postcards", Forest Giants had a tune of the sort I described up there - where the stylus going up was like Forster and McLennan's "lip lifted from a lip". And you could get it on 7", which made everything taste seemingly even sweeter. "Beards" is the lead track from their new EP on Breaking Down, and it happily tracks similar territory, and in doing so helps to act as a magnet to pull you several steps back towards guitar music - even though every time you hear Razorlight or the Subways you feel like running as far away from it as you can. There's a little bit more ambient about the guitar noise here, an almost ethereal weave of keyboards, and the song culminates in an overhasty fade rather than the bravado finish of "Postcards", but emotionally we are still in the same place, a desperate acknowledgement of time having slipped past altogether too quickly ("everything's upside down... the future's upside down" laments Tim), arranged around a neat conceit that as the years went by, yes some of those ex-friends have sprouted facial wigs. There aren't that many chords, and nobody tries anything too tricky with the playing: but there are a few picked, crystalline guitar lines that pick up where "Postcards" left off, and tiny embers of feedback buried at the back of mix that help make the music a little more dense, suffocating. It's just delicious.

"Sid Vicious", from Brighton collective Lovejoy, does the same, albeit that the edges are a little cleaner. It intermingles the same regret and longing, at the same time making you think back to the records you loved in this way when you were 16, 17, 18, 19. It screams "fall in love" at you. It has a Wake-ish feel, a little "Crush The Flowers". Again, it's not flash: it doesn't rush - instead, it has that TV Personalities trick (at their very best) of simply sucking you in, identifying with the feelings on display... this time it's Dick Preece, introducing himself plaintively with "I don't believe this / another place where I don't fit..." and from then on in the tale just winds its way around you: "I've never been so alone", he admits as the first chorus closes, and you're plunged back into the weave of guitars - at times "Sid Vicious" makes me think of Ego, the band from Montpelier who issued a brilliant album on Lovejoy's Matinee label before disappearing off the face of the earth. And could there be a greater symbol of unfulfilled potential, or at least wasted youth and disappeared memories, than Sid himself ? Regardless of whether you share Lovejoy's nous for musical nostalgia, this, too, is a wonderful song.

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