Monday, April 02, 2007

"she said, "it's for the rovers"...": usual football digression + singles.

yesterday, we were in wales. simon and claire joined the in love with these times, in spite of these times midcore and 59,000 others in witnessing the rovers of bristol eventually capitulate (a.e.t.) to the rovers of doncaster in the ultra-prestigious johnstone paints trophy final...

*reminisces* there were two gasheads on the terrace with us at the crucial league game v darlo a few years ago who spent the whole 90 mins complaining about all the "glory-hunters" who'd turned up at the mem to swell the gate to five figures: presumably they would by the same token have welcomed the fact that at least one ilwtt-ster that day chose to forsake the alleged glories of watching two fourth division sides go hammer and tongs at launching the ball into permanent orbit, by bailing out to "go shopping" instead (and no we will never let him forget that dereliction of duty).

anyway, those two sensitive souls are likely to have been apoplectic with rage on sunday, given that there were near on 40,000 people supporting rovers at the millennium stadium, about eight times the average home gate: even our mystery shopper deigned to grace the welsh capital with his presence.

but at half-time, after rovers had somehow compounded gifting donny a 2-0 lead inside four minutes by then outplaying them for the rest of the half, all 40,000 of us - fairweathers or no - were slumped in our bucket seats thinking, "why do they always do this to us ?" yet, no doubt buoyed by half-time oranges, cups of tea hurled against dressing room walls, and, we would like to imagine, a team-talk from the spirit of bert tann, the quarters clawed their way back into our affections by clawing their way back into the match: and the millennium stadium - when full of flags, klaxons and whistles, as well as sky sports' amateur pyrotechnics - is a cracking venue in which to witness your chosen fourth division side suddenly raising their game in a last-ditch attempt to become the first club in world history to have lifted the watney cup, the leyland daf trophy and the johnstone's paints.

before we knew it, things were back level and then - for a few fleeting attacks - we had our chances to nick it. haldane had their right-back on toast, walker and lambert were holding the ball up superbly, igoe was a pocket rocket charging through from midfield, and their keeper had to pull off a couple of great one-handed saves to tip goalbound 25-yarders over the bar.

then, looking back, the momentum was lost. the more so in extra time when the tired, cramp-ridden legs of walker and haldane were hauled off, and the black arabs could muster no response once doncaster drove in from a corner with about 10 minutes left. for a short spell after the game we were gutted - in sympathy for the players as much as anything else - but after that, hey, we got on with our lives, we went for a drink, we talked about the records from our last review and the records from our next one. it wasn't a matter of life or death, or the one thing more serious than that, a play-off final.

after all, in reality, 'tis the highs and the lows that make the beautiful game. the high of being a doncaster fan on sunday, or, in the last week or so, being an azeri fan, a rochdale fan, a kazakhstan fan, a southampton fan, a liechtenstein fan (a rare anstalt-like defensive lock-up), an afc wimbledon fan... matched in each case by the corresponding low, perhaps for one game only, of supporting bristol rovers or finland or stockport or serbia or wolves or latvia or whoever...

and just compare our cardiff thriller with the usual dismal showboating earlier in the week from the bored bentley-owning millionaires of team england. three nights after the andorra vs. england match, we watched rhyl draw 0-0 with new saints on the tv and even that, a game so dismal and so abject that the final whistle was less a blessed relief than a spiritual high, had more grace, willing and perspiration than the bentley boys managed last wednesday. in addition, we have developed more than a soft spot for andorra over the course of their two legs against the primadonnas: like red star 1991, but without the skill, andorra have elevated what we used to call football into an entirely new art of damage limitation.

y'know, there was an eight page interview with lilian thuram in france football last week, where he talked about football, about darfur, about the world bank, about assimilation and integration issues in french society: more thoughtfulness and insight in one article than cole or lampard junior managed in their entire ghostwrit hardbacks, tomes that could rival even alan partridge's in self-serving and self-justification: "hear nothing, see nothing, say nothing", to quote one of the best songs ever.

it is in these times, when our apparent national heroes are exposed so routinely as so much plastic, that real football - valuing the game at every level and across every culture, rather than lazily condoning the bling of the bloated few and the endless laundering of champions' league cash for champions' league places - should be treasured more than ever.

real music, likewise. so here's a premise. singles must be kept alive, in any way possible. for both band and for fan (and we "write" always as fans), they are the flag that a 3 minute pop song, or an 8 minute techno 12", or a hip-hop white label or a grime download or whatever is intended to transcend the wadeable sludge of the 40-minute album or the 80-minute mixtape or the 400-minute audiophile wet dream that is the box set and to be instead a perfect or imperfect statement of intent, of the desire of the moment, of one-off communication, of trying to distil the ESSENCE OF BAND into a solitary take. as per previous rants, that's why we're basically down these days not only with the 7" (the daddy, the don) but with any cassingle revival, with 555's lathe-cuts, with download-only singles, with singles clubs, hell - even with 12"s on major labels with one extra track ("i don't wanna be friends with you" ?), if that's what it takes.

ahem. for present purposes, our chosen medium is the 3" cd-r, this being the modest format selected by cloudberry records of miami for their limited run singles, and let's face it something similar worked well enough for shelflife's cd-r series (bunny nightlight's acely cute "hail" was a minor classic). cloudberry come to our attention because, in our role as punter, we had made it our quest to follow up brief encounters with horowitz in chalk farm and stoke on trent, and their new release "tracyanne" is the latest and perhaps brightest example of this band's unrepentantly unblinking indie-pop.

as wide-eyed as early buzzcocks, this is the sort of song that would have nestled with supreme snugness on the better late-80s compilation tapes (this is a compliment, this is a compliment) and that, like "i need a blanket", churningly gets*you*right*there from the moment that the drum machine and the happy shambling bass launch and then ian, from deep within a by-now recognisable morass of vocal distortion, sings sthg like "oh it gets me down but i'm so nervy / these social situations make me giddy" (or maybe he says dizzy). anyway, it makes us giddy (or dizzy) too. he sings how he wants to make trayce compilation tapes of loads of bands. and why not - there is no more romantic, or indeed in our experience, more fruitless, gesture.

while we've no real idea (so what's new), we'd hazard that the roots of "tracyanne" lie in many an indie-pop delicacy of yore, from the kensingtons thru to sundress thru to the snowbirds to the applicants to the ammonites or indeed any half dozen wrongly forgotten bedroom-bound bands of your choice, usually equipped with a fuzzbox, that we first heard on an obscure compilation, or bought a tape of at a gig, or excitedly downloaded something by, or were fiercely recommended by a mate.

so there are pavement vs. pastels stylings, there is a bouncing baby drum machine, there is some cracking plinkly-plonk bontempi, there are guitar lines that meander artfully around - a bit like sportsguitar, if you remember them - with extra amplifier oomph for the chorus, and there is the supreme mid90s beatniks / boyracer lo-finess which always makes songs easier to identify with (and which, at the time, helped those bands absolutely murder the britpop brigade). above and beyond all that though, there are golden, catchy as hell melodies.

and "popkids of the world unite", also on the ep and wreathed in shimmering "the last light"-fuzz, has the languorous, decadent feel of those late strawberry story ballads: you know, "the man with the stereo hands" et al, but is worth plaudits simply for imploring us all to "dance to 'yeovil junction'" - for now in the 21st century people can at last dare to speak the truth i.e. bubblegum splash! are one of the best bands ever. period. we used to get gently chided for saying that bubblegum splash! were better than the beatles, the beach boys and the byrds put together, presumably on the basis that people thought we couldn't be serious. so let us be perfectly clear one more time - we were serious. remember that here, you can listen to the proof that we were also right.

horowitz's indiepoptasticness, a little like that of twee titans tullycraft, is of a hardcore, no-nonsense kind (just as sincere and uncompromising as "show us you care" or "only in it for the music") of which we heartily approve, living as we do in a world where gomez, kasabian and the kaiser chiefs are regarded by ppl we mix with by day both as "indie" and "real music" (indeed we were told in the next breath and in no uncertain terms that a colossal and frankly voluptuous king tubby dub then booming from a nearby low-loader was "shit" grrr kill kill kill). but aside from our personal neuroses, "tracyanne" is perhaps the acid proof that, like so many bands who are in it for the right reasons, the single is the format that most truly suits horowitz.

the fall's "reformation!" meanwhile is no less instant a single than "tracyanne": although its delights take a somewhat different form, it comes as close as a song can to packaging the chimera that is ESSENCE OF FALL into one place. as we've hinted before, it is a hulking, bristling monster which basically consists of taking a two-note bassline, and then running with it uninterrupted for the next seven minutes or so. during that period, while guitars twang and crash in and out a little, and mark e. smith esquire (who was 50 last month) interjects the usual series of largely random words. you know the sort of thing - "POST!" "CHEESE STEAKS!" - although our favourites are "ACH!" (an old chestnut, which starred on "hit the north" amongst others), "FALL MOTEL!" (which he seems particularly fond of on this song) and "GOLDFISH BOWL!" (any attempt at explanation would surely just pale).

thirty years of music journalists have often struggled to convey why these unpromising ingredients add up to something so ineffably fantastic, and we are just as dumbstruck. all that matters is that "reformation!" is a riveting, relentless song, and does the mighty fall corporation so much more justice as a SINGLE than as a mere title track to an album which skitters disengagingly from the sublime to well, less than sublime. if the fall were not making mouthwateringly necessary records, i promise you that we would stop boring you all by going on about them: but they are, so we won't.

ACH! (it's catching). so much more to say, but the meter has run out again. "maybe next time..."

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