Thursday, March 23, 2006

Beaumont "Closer" (from "No Time Like The Past" CD album on Siesta). Forest Giants "Planes Fly Overhead" (Cherryade, mp3 single). First thoughts on new Boyracer ("A Punch Up The Bracket" CD album on 555). And stuff.

Late at night in EC whatever, I find that I have to write about something I actually want to. So here is one more post than I anticpated, for what it's worth, this tax year...

My dossier of evidence as to why singles rule over albums has already consumed much of the forestry of south-east England, but Brighton's Beaumont are the latest exponents of this admittedly least controversial of theories. For "Closer" would be a great single: aching and refined, it's a grown-up popsong of the ilk of "Brighter" or "Night After Night". (And the closing brace of the banjo-panzer "Heartfelt" and the uber-serene "Red Red Petals" are two tunes I wouldn't kick out of the B side). But fine songs can risk getting lost in the fudge of an album, especially when the genre - especially without Keith Girdler's angelic vocal counterpoint to Cath Close's sultry sighs - is basically nu-coffee table. I will always admire Paul Stewart and, I suspect, continue to invest in his discography - witness the beautiful majesty of "Closer"'s orchestration, and the way the piano is as delectably svelte as that on "Clocks", say, is cloyingly nauseating - but, as ever, I think he'd be better served by singles.

Which brings me to Forest Giants, and their download (only) single. I think it's important to keep singles alive in any way possible, much as I wish this was a 7", or indeed anything tangible, but in the brave new world which this 'zine likes to inhabit, I know that labels without promo budgets can't afford singles as loss-leaders. It's not like the majors, who spit out the usual 2xCD single, one with remixes by current press darlings, one with lame previously-unreleased-for-a-reason extra track, plus a limited numbered 7" etc etc yawn, and a few weeks later emblazon "featuring the hit single..." on the inevitably underwhelming LP.

Anyway. One of the best 7"s of this century was, of course, the same combo's "Postcards" (let us leave aside here the technicalities of whether it ever actually got a proper release). That tune demonstrated how the humble single can be more than just an album taster: how the space of three or four minutes can be the ideal vehicle for snatched reminiscence. "…We can watch the planes / fly over Catbrane Hill / coming into land / no, really, it's a thrill..."

More than two years later, the aeroplanes are back in the Filton sky. "Planes Fly Overhead" is a three minute runway of sound: a huge hulking fuzz of reverb, brilliantine keyboards and faintly hazy guitars, anchored only by some staccato Fall riffs and a pacy throb of a bassline, which culminates in an extended fade, hewn from a mazy tagliatelle of frazzled chords and vocal "aahs". Don't get the wrong idea though - this is not the indolent blissed-outness of the likes of Air Formation, where the vocal becomes merely another harmony, another eddy in a wash of wispy psychedelia. Instead, "PFO" is like a marginally more boho younger brother to "Postcards", still identifiably an indie-pop song rather than a head-in-the-clouds shoegaze anthem, mainly thanks to the matter-of-fact timbre of Tim's voice. "Tell me once again what constitutes failure", he asks, possibly mindful of a world in which getting a street team to rustle you up a few thousand downloads might catapult you into the mid-reaches of the top 40 and (ephemeral) success in the eyes of your fickle coterie, whereas simply making great records to fervent but limited acclaim, as frankly many bands are doing on a semi-regular basis, is regarded as something akin to eking out the bins round the back of Sainsbury's.

A word for one of the B sides, too: "Gone Away" is one of those songs where the Giants jettison the noise and veer instead into what can only be described as Galaxie 500 territory. (Not enough bands do this, which is remarkable when you consider the perfect simplicity of "Today", say). Anyway, it's a nicely plain, rolling ballad, reeking of delicate sadness, which plateaus gently from time to time around the chorus rhythm. You find yourself tumbling back awhile, to the moment when you first got the Beatnik Filmstars' "Maharishi" taped for you, and saw it translate the draggy dolefulness of the Galaxies to a Bristol postcode for the first time. In today's fevered pop world you rarely encounter this kind of measured restraint (sigh) - all the young groups now, well, yes, they act like peasants with free milk, but also, they are scared to bare themselves. Here the lyric is someone in awe of their subject: but it's down to earth, no frills, no histrionics - sensitive, without being melodramatic. That is all too rare in guitar bands these days. It's also, incidentally, one of the reasons why the Wedding Present were one of the best groups ever and not, as many would still have it, one of the worst.

Moving from 45s to 33s - well, sort of - I am, slowly, getting used to the new Boyracer album. I just don't quite feel it yet, somehow. Certainly the lyrics are as equal turns corruscating and evocative as ever: as Father Ted once said, "there's nothing wrong with the lyrics". But for some reason, even though the music is still pacy and anxious, there is more space in here, less of the essential Boyracer claustrophobia. There's still plenty of very welcome noise and feedback - but more of it sacrificed to poppier keyboards, and echoey and slightly clattering drums. I'm only six or seven listens in, but at the moment, the greatest trax seem to be the turbocharged punk bulldozers - like "Stand By Your Words", which sounds like a scrap in a hardware store, or the edgy sentiment of "Yr Love It Lies To You": though I'm quite taken with the deliriously hook-filled "Contradictions", the mid-80s evoking "Secondhand Youth", and the slower "The Toilets of Northern Europe", which has a "Songs of Frustration and Self-Hate"-era feel. I reserve my most sneaking fondness for "Kids Don't Follow", which with its scratchy early-Wedd Pres plectrum-flaying goodness makes up for the marginal disappointment of not being encrusted with as much screaming amplifier hum as earlier outings (including 2004's marvellous "Absence Makes The Heart Grow Harder" set).

From Wedd Pres to Dead Prez, who team up with some more gnarly C86-era old timers, namely Public Enemy, on the latter's collabo with Paris, "Rebirth Of A Nation". Now even I, who still count "Apocalypse '91" and "Greatest Misses" as quality outings, am under no illusion that PE haven't really delivered since, but as with "New Whirl Odor" a few hours (well, ok, months) ago, there is usually a track or two worth minuting. This time, it's "Can't Hold Us Back", in which the Dead Prez and Paris presence gives proceedings a darker, tougher edge than normal ("you'll have to pop me to stop me") and counterpoints the increasingly cartoonish roles of Chuck D (hard rhymer extraordinaire, all-round good egg) and, of course, Flav (Channel 5 reality star with attention deficit disorder)...

Other listening right now includes:

Chas and Dave "Ain't No Pleasing You" (Towerbell, 7"): The second greatest chart conspiracy of all time was when the BBC and the forces of law conspired to keep "God Save The Queen" off the top spot in silver jubilee '77. The greatest, however, was when MI5 and other agents of darkness and anti-Rockney agitators saw fit to relegate this particular crowdpleaser to no. 2, when everybody knows it was flying out of record shops left right and centre. And, as anyone who saw them play this at the 100 Club last month knows, they've still got it...

Taskforce "3 Fingers" (from "Music from the Corner Volume 4" CD on MFTC): At last, a new street anthem for London's dispossessed... I'm really glad I've given this LP a few listens. If you loop this with Lowkey's "London", you get the sound of this city at the moment, and that's dark, cold and defiant.

Life "You Know Who" (from "Realities of Life" CD on Zebra Traffic): While "What Our Estates Have Become" is still the highlight (and goes very well with the TVP's "All The Young Children On Crack..."), the trilogy of battle raps, "You Know Who", "Come On" and "Rebel Soul" are all really strong, even inamongst all the conscious choons. A big album from the Phi Life Cypher lynchpin.

NineHundred and 9 "X-Force"(new 12" on Powertools): Was all set to tell you this was merely very promising, bassy, playful stuff from a newcomer, but surprise surprise it is apparently none other than a pseudonym for an artist I already bore you about at great length (as if that narrows down the field). Anyway, this joins "Part Of The Union" and the new McAffer / Syber Symon record on RAW in the early medal contention for 2006's London techno olympics.

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