Friday, March 14, 2008

"Hold my hands and tell me that the Fall will never leave me"

There are school nights. And then there are FALL nights.

I'm out with D'Alma, on an ILWTT reunion tip, to see the first two bands we found out we had in common when we first met. (It was in the 1990s, when we'd both just started our first ever desk jobs). We kick off in the Newman Arms, where we got barred a few years later after watching Half Man Half Biscuit at the Astoria. But the old man is long gone, we've matured (marginally), no chairs fly, and it appears we are now persona, er, grata. Disappointed, we move on to the Royal George, where in the past before gigs Mark E. Smith himself has been known to lurk in the corner, sometimes with band, sometimes without - but this time there is no sign (and, rather bizarrely, there appears to be a ukelele convention downstairs). We stand outside, the garish neon of the "G.A.Y" sign flashing above our heads, and those of many other ageing Fallites, as we sink an Amstel or three.

Itching to see band number one, evergreen straightfaced sark-mongers I, Ludicrous, we eventually venture to the Astoria, but there appears to be a no-show from I, L. While it's not exactly unusual for us to turn up to gigs and find out that the band hasn't turned up (hello Deicide, Ice-T, er, Cannonball Jane and now Rakim again), it's hard to think that I, Ludicrous could really cite visa problems, previous convictions, fear of bombs on planes or any of the other usual excuses. But then we remember another reason why bands don't always turn up: because Mark E. Smith has chucked them off the tour. 'Twas a great shame.

(Equally, it's something of a shame, two decades after we first went there, all underage and decidedly green, that the Astoria is to be knocked down to make way for Crossrail. Franz Ferdinand, Kaiser Chiefs, Maximo Park, Jamie T, the Cribs, Jack Penate and loads of students are all very upset about the demolition though, so it can't be all bad).

So, given that band number two, the mighty mighty Fall, aren't going to be on 'til well after 10, that means postponing the sweatfest at the Astoria bar. Time for a swift one at that frankly disconcerting boozer on Tin Pan Alley. And we catch up. D'Alma, like me, has belatedly realised how you can enjoy Slayer without loving Orange Juice any less. We discuss old times. Many things are more important than music, but so often it's the music that brings friends together. We cross our fingers that the Fall, at least, will turn up.

And they do. Driving, I think, is the word. Or maybe driven. The drummer hardly stops throughout, and the bass rumbles up through the floor, summoning heart flutters, palpitations. The usual new, young, band locked almost into a single, rumbling, beautifully repetitious behemoth of a groove. And it's 1983's "Wings" to start: the perfect start. It dovetails nicely with the otherwise recent-vintage set: a single riff, a blank canvas for Smith's storytelling. The newer songs - previews from the imminent album mixed with the likes of "Fall Sound" or "Pacifying Joint" - continue the pattern. By the time the two-note monster "Reformation!" is wheeled out, it has obviously been decreed that one bass player is not enough, and a second duly appears. The intensity is cranked up accordingly, as Red Stripe starts to fall like rain from the balcony.

It's not all textbook - the sound is occasionally a sludge, MES' usually clarion barks veer on the indistinct, a random interloper in a dufflecoat wanders on to replace him on vocals a couple of times, the wife's mic doesn't appear to have been switched on. But overall, they're indefatigable: you know you're witnessing a well-oiled, well drilled, machine rolling incessantly as far away from pop, from Britpop, as you could dream.

Smith batters the cymbals, first with sticks, then with his microphone. His amp-tampering, for once, fits the claustrophobic, bass-heavy haze of the band. It all finishes with the suffocating, unforgiving, fabulous "Blindness" and, it seems, a few cross words onstage. The band minus Smith reappear for an encore. Normally, this heralds some lengthy instrumental noodling before Smith is coaxed to the stage, a couple of standards are dragged out ad infinitum (or at least until everyone misses their trains), and "White Lightning" seals the evening. This time, though, maybe the intensity has got to everyone. For after only a minute or so of glam-racket, with dufflecoat-man shouting "EXPLODING CHIMNEYS!" at us, the rest of the band give up the ghost and retreat. The lights go up immediately. The sudden silence is deafening. But it doesn't take the edge off the night.

It was coincidence that "Falling Leaves" was on the i-pod on the way back, but the line struck home. We'd reflected again, on tipping out into the street, that there shouldn't really be a need for the Fall in 2008, if some of the less superannuated, media-celebrated bands out there would just step up to the bloody plate. But, no doubt too preoccupied with other matters (their haircuts, their soundbites, their dealers), we know they won't.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Serve Tea, Then Murder / Parcels In Her Arms

So we might just have mentioned Hardnoise's "Untitled", their self-produced debut single from 1989, before. And that it then got a re-release on Music of Life a year later. And did we mention how much we love the sleeve ?


Anyway. As you'll recall, Hardnoise followed "Untitled" in '91 with a new 12", "Serve Tea, Then Murder" / "Mice In The Presence of the Lion (Part 1)". And we'd been looking for it for bloody ages, until we finally closed the deal at Record and Tape Exchange by handing over £12 for a secondhand copy (about the same as you'd pay for the "Summershine" flexi in the same emporium). Hard as it is to imagine that any previous owner could have voluntarily parted with it, we're glad they did. In the world of early-UKHH, there's no equivalent to "The Sound of Leamington Spa" allowing heads to get hold more easily of spiderweb-encrusted gems like these: you just have to trawl the racks of London until you got lucky. (An original of "Untitled" would set you back a lot more than twelve quid - a 'fair' copy of the Music of Life re-release is currently going in the R&TE for £28. But, to paraphrase the Fire Engines, we'd rather buy a great fucking single for £28 than a triple album of fucking shit for £1.99 (they were talking about 'Sandinista'). And, even better, you can thankfully get hold of the Suspect Packages 2006 reissue of "Untitled", like we did, for rather less.)

As the title suggests, "Serve Tea" is uniquely British hip-hop which, much like their contemporaries (and Music of Life labelmates) Hijack, is busy, frantic, happily reliant on scratching, and utterly unafraid to eschew American accents, however in debt they may still have been to Public Enemy in other respects. Electric with nervous energy, it presents an utterly apocalyptic year 2000 vision: "Thousands upon thousands / Will burn". It's instructive to see how far hip-hop had travelled in the UK in the few years since Three Wize Men really got us started, although it's probably fair to say that the influence of the Bomb Squad over the water also had much to do with it. Then "Mice", which follows, continues the magic formula of cuts, scratches, colossal "Untitled"-like drums and teamed vocals before it ends all too quickly, with the P.E.-inspired sign-off "This is where I exit" echoing, for a full half-minute, to fade.

And with that, Hardnoise were over and out. Perhaps they already knew, deep down, that this two-piece suite of rap history was basically so impeccable, so untoppable, that their only choice was to decline or disband. They chose the latter, meaning that we never even got a "Mice In The Presence of the Lion (Part 2)": the kind of artistic integrity never shown by all those lesser bands that should never have formed in the first place. Honour can be a cruel thing. The plus side, the only plus side, is that we at least can be smug enough to boast that we've now got the entire recorded output of DJ Son, Nyce 'D' (who, still a teenager, sadly died from sickle cell anaemia before "Serve Tea" was released), T.L.P.1, DJ AJ, Gemini and DJ Mada.

Hardnoise may not have quite reached the heights that Hijack did - not least because, as we've pointed out before, Hijack were arguably responsible for the greatest single of all-time, as well as a number of candidates for the medal positions - but their records have very easily withstood the test, so far, of 17 years. And Hijack were the first to acknowledge that it was other British acts of the time, Hardnoise amongst them, whose very existence was constantly pushing them to keep raising their game, to stay ahead of the pack.

Ultimately, even if you count the B-sides of the two singles - the instrumental and acappella of "Untitled", and instrumentals of "Serve Tea" and "Mice" - Hardnoise's entire recorded output consists of less songs than Bubblegum Splash!. But their legacy is no less important.

Right. About the time we were bigging up Hardnoise, we were bigging up Sportique. And, having not indulged in nearly enough public Webster-worship recently, the only way we can take our mind off the apparent demise of the beautiful Sportique is by bathing in the delights of our all-time favourite Gregory tunes. So while, of course, the list changes every day, here's what very nearly fitted on half a C90 today:

Spring 2008: "Parcels In Her Arms"

1. Gregory Webster "Untidy Towns"

GW covering the fine album opener that gave labelmates the Lucksmiths' "Happy Secret" its name. This is the moment - well, the series of moments - that once made a member of our crew fall off his chair in open-eyed delight and sheer, unbridled happiness.

2. Sportique "If You Ever Change Your Mind"

Ah, what a run of singles Sportique had, before they concentrated instead on those equally excellent staccato, punky, knowingly retro mini-albums. From the bassline in, this is shambling, ramshackle indie-pop at its knowing best. And self-deprecatingly funny, too: "And when I ask you out / You reply, "you're not my generation"".

3. Razorcuts "Big Pink Cake"

Stone-cold, nailed-on classic. However um, naif the lyric might be. And despite the title, it's hard to see what is really that timid, or even that twee, about the music - the guitars veritably pile along, just as much as they do on "If You Ever Change Your Mind". Plus, the insert has a great pic of the young Razors, alongside which is daubed, presumably with youthful irony, the word "commercial!" Adorable.

4. Saturn V "Fireball"

And again. You see, if rock was good, it would sound like this. Gregory is making a point: "the happy face of a vacant nation", he snarls, no doubt with one eye on the Horror of Party Beach - and the guitars spin around him in sympathy. This is from their lone LP, "Skyfall".

5. Sportique "Modern Museums"

One of the most addictive songs of the last decade, this was the title track to an album that allegedly lost them a few fans, although it gained them far more. And as for us, it actually dragged us from an initial "not sure" about the new songs they'd been previewing live to "actually, we were idiots, this is amazing".

6. Forever People "Sometimes"

Sarah 54 should never be overlooked: not least given the then-rather less fashionable eco-sentiment involved. "Invisible" was p'raps a little too coy, musically, but "Sometimes" kicks it. Dig it out again, for a treat.

7. Razorcuts "Sorry To Embarrass You"

Our cassette player probably played "Indie Top 20 Volume 1" about a thousand times, frequently rewound to this, before we eventually found it on 12". "Across the space that separates / Your social world from mine...", sings Gregory, and gosh how the memories flood back. The production and ambition take a few steps on from "Big Pink Cake", but lose only a glimmer of the band's rare charm. This is, still, ANTHEM.

8. Sportique "Don't Believe A Word"

At a time when other bands might have run out of creative steam, Sportique were still incessantly churning out amazing 7"s, many of which are in this list. ("Love & Remains" should be too, come to think: we just forgot). May have been their first single with Amelia on board, although they were technically a supergroup already.

9. The Carousel "Locks And Bolts"

We once saw the Carousel album for £3 in the Record & Tape in Camden, but by the time we'd got back with the right coins the copy had gone (the same cruel fate awaited us around the corner once, when we tried to buy Tramway's "Queen of Filton Bridge" from that place on Inverness Street). Luckily, this tune at least later turned up on one of them Vinyl Japan comps.

10. Saturn V "Machine Gun Head"

By way of severe contrast. Rock music, but not as scenester dullards would know it. And neither the v. unsubtle chorus lyric nor the "I can't see past your underwear" line were things we'd have thought likely when the Razorcuts were in their Creation pomp... Think the mix of this on the "Everything tends towards chaos" 12" is slightly different from the one that turned up on "Skyfall".

11. Sportique "The Edgeware Kickback"

In order not to add another dozen songs to the tape, we rather evilly included only one from "Modern Museums" and only one (it just happened to be this one from "Communique No.9"). But you'll know if you're reading this that both albums are absolutely, 100%, guaranteed, cast-iron *RIGHTEOUS* and should frequently be listened to in full.

12. Razorcuts "Sad Kaleidoscope"

Flexi genius, featuring some particularly fine drumming, we think. If you get the great "R is for Razorcuts" comp on Matinee, what's best of all is that you get exactly the same crackle and fuzz that helped make the song so damnedest good for us on first hearing.

13. Sportique "Goldmining"

First off, it's a great tune, a cover of that amazing Visitors song. Secondly, just the way that Gregory intones "VERSION!" as they skank it up a bit makes us want to perform cartwheels all the way down Upper Street.

14. Saturn V "Jesus Stole My Girlfriend"

More of S5's irreplaceable indie-noise fabulousness, again with that slight American-alt rock influence. Ooh, and the J Mascis impersonation is brilliant.

15. Sportique "The Kids Are Solid Gold"

We've run out of superlatives for Sportique's A-sides, but this would deserve any that you might care to lob at it. It even sneaked the Festive 50, you know. "The Kids Are Solid Gold" never failed to make us beam and spring with simply unallayed optimism, even as we listened to it while walking home amongst the estates of Stockwell. When Gregory sang "Tell her how you feel tonight", Stockwell didn't matter.

16. Gregory Webster "Forever England"

Opener on "My Wicked Wicked Ways", this is a kind of halfway house between the Razors' "Goodnight England" and the Jam's "English Rose", but without the workaday clunkage of the latter. It is also one of those songs that continues to grow on us every year: by our dotage it may well be the only thing we ever listen to.

OK. This is where we exit.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

You scintillate today

Outside, it's the usual nr-symphonic scree of sirens and car alarms, the low hum of underground trains shaking deep-lying tree roots, buses' tyres lurching to a halt across heavy tarmac while emitting a familiar, bloodcurdling screech (this is the sound that a bus makes when it's braking, ha). In the flowerbeds of the terrace gardens, little gangs of thugg'd up grey squirrels face-off inscrutable gaggles of wood pigeons, part of an interminable competition for supremacy on the ground, while bemused drunks, benignly cradling cans of Super, look on from their Saturday bench with a kind of wistful detachment. If, as Johnson reckoned, the tavern chair is the throne of human felicity, then the park bench has got to be its chaise-longue.

Inside, it starts with a 2006 revival, of sorts. You may dimly remember 2006 - a long time ago, a time when Tony Blair and Sven Goran-Eriksson were in charge, a time before Lethal had fallen off, a time when Harper Lee were still in business (hell, they still were the business). And it was that same year when we stumbled across Glasgow's twin newcomers Strawberry Whiplash and Bubblegum Lemonade, marvelling mightily at their knowing names and shambling wiles. And now, Matinee. Recordings. Of. Santa. Barbara has put its hands across the ocean once more to embrace both bands. The result is pleasingly symmetrical and tres sympa: a 4-track CD EP from each.

Highlight of the Lemonade's "10 Years Younger" is still probably "Unsafe At Any Speed", their driving JAMC-ish journey down avenues of sixties-tinged indie-pop. Of course, the quality doesn't end there: the EP, taking in the catchiness of its title track and, with "That Thing You Do!", an excursion into covers territory, gently touches on a few different reference points, not least the way "The Tomorrow People" very earnestly shadows Creation-era Razorcuts.

But, of the new Matinee brace, it's Strawberry Whiplash's "Who's In Your Dreams ?" which is the amazingest, we think. Indeed, its fantastic fuzziness and singer Sandra's clipped vocal delivery make us think of another superlative Glaswegian single, Baby Lemonade's "Secret Goldfish", that Narodnik 7" from aeons ago, variously described as "my awakening" (Are You Scared To Get Happy?) and "badly produced" (Woosh!), that got a welcome re-release on CD-R thru Egg Records rather more recently.

"Who's In Your Dreams ?", just like "Goldfish", shambles. Not in an unrefined way, not in a bad way, certainly not in an "underproduced" way: it's just a happy, gargling stream of revivalist ba-ba-ba's, of gargantuan guitar melodies, of Bubblegum Splash-style thudding drum n' bass, which peaks with the marvellous conceit where they use the ba-ba-ba's, instead of the guitars, to do the melody in the break. And all this even before you contemplate the rest of the EP, which includes the wonderful "Factory Girl", where early-Primals guitar stylings elide into a girl-fronted acoustic Mary Chain; the smiling popfulness of "It Rains On Other Planets"; and the shimmers of sunlight feedback on "My Day Today". Not that there's quite enough feedback, of course. There's never yet been a record with enough feedback.

But the real trick, of course, will be if Strawberry Whiplash can follow up this rather spiffing start with something else just as admirable - the way that Baby Lemonade managed to give us both "Secret Goldfish" (cherubim) and "Jiffy Neckwear Creation" (seraphim). If they can, then there's gonna be drama.

2008 gives us a third opportunity to relive a high from 2006 in the shape of Horowitz's "I Need A Blanket" EP, a *free* download from Thee Sheffield Phonographic Corporation, wot you can get here. The title track, commandeered from their "Frosty Cat Songs" opus, is, basically, skill: it's unlikely that we've listened to any single song more in the last year or so. People tend to be using the word "Pavement" when describing it, but - even if we were quite that lazy - we'd go more for "Urusei", or, if you'll let us have it, "Sportsguitar". Even earlier this week, when "INAB" was rubbing up on our current listening mixtape against the much newer and brasher "That's How People Grow Up", it was slaying it.

Horowitz have also made two contributions to the new Filthy Little Angels split 7" with Projekt A-ko (who, while perfectly engaging, are in the Driller Killer role here, we guess). And this is where things get really thrilling, because "Sweetness, I Could Die In Your Arms" and "Hug Target" are just ace. When we first heard a version of "Sweetness" last year, it was an instant revelation - yet another effortless step, jump-up, sea-change, whatever - crucially, showing that even so soon after "Tracyanne", they were showing no inclination at all to rest on their laurels. "Sweetness" is all vibrant Smithsy treble and heart-fluttering, stop-start indie powerchords, somehow rendered even better by the way that Ian puts the emphasis on "could" as he delivers the hook line (Cutting Crew, of course, went for plonking it all on "die", and look where it got them). Just swell. While the short, sweet "Hug Target" boasts feedback, New Order-ish bass and sung-from-a-bunker distorted vocals before it magically coagulates into a particularly joyful instrumental at about 1'14 which makes you want to leap up to the rafters, and swing on them 'til they break.

Next, the better of some new 12"s to get out of the way, not least because that will stop us having to trip over them all the time, and we might even get to see the carpet again. Starting with London's self-proclaimed proponents of "emotronica", Vex'd, whose new single on Planet Mu, a tribute to Joe Corrigan entitled "3rd Choice", is a happy concatentation of dubstep gurgles and splutters that for once outdoes a Loefah remix on the flip. Equally fine is Secret Agent Gel's new "Body" 12" on Low Motion, where some very deep, minimal New York grooves are offset by Jamaica via London's suddenly ubiquitous Warrior Queen (as well as her guesting on The Bug and Skream stuff last year, we think we forgot to max up her appearance on El Carnicero's "The Butcher" EP, which is another one you should get). Being somewhat dozy, it wasn't until we were playing this particularly loud that we realised that the lyrical content is, um, somewhat explicit, so don't play it in front of the kids, grandparents or in-laws. Boxcutter's "Philly" on Hotflush, on the other hand, while a family-friendly instrumental, is only 66.67% brilliant, being one part Hood, one part Squarepusher, and one part that terrible anodyne schlock they seem to play in the bars round here all the time ("Endothermic" on the other side provides a nice contrast, sacrificing "Philly"'s echoey exported-to-the-city Bracken-isms for shimmering keyboards and an altogether ghostlier feel).

Ah, and the heavy Heavy Bronx sound of Notts' P Brothers is back: just as Smiley da Ghetto Child, Milano and (soon-to team up with ED209) Imam T.H.U.G. lit up their past post-Cappo efforts, the brothers' new single teams up more New Yorkers - crews rather than MCs - in the shape of New Rochelle's Ress Connected and South Bronx duo Boss Money. Ress is best, on this occasion - "Shoot 'Em Down" boasting a slightly more elephantine hook - but both sides bring a welcome injection of East Coast street menace (well, we've missed it) to our current listening, given that most NYHH fell-off big time once the bling took over. (As an aside, for aside fans, the reformed EPMD's recent "Blow" record is surprisingly tip-top). Be warned though: there are a few moments, as always, when the MCs' flow is almost crushed by the brothers' typically drum-heavy, take no prisoners production.

Fanzine favourites (well, favourites of this fanzine) Hoodz Underground have seen fit to lift a couple of the newer tunes from their "Bringing It Back" LP onto single format: on the jauntier "Iron and Steel" they team with Ironbridge (the Essex MC, not the Shropshire town) for some Sheffield-Southend verbal jousting, while "Home of Da Streets" takes harder-hitting lyrics (the last couple of verses especially on-point re both youth violence and the continuing creep of the BNP) and smacks them with some top-end Harry Love production. Great stuff - this 12", like their other ones, is on their own Trackshicker label.

Now, how about this for the definition of a red-letter day: when you get the new I, Ludicrous and Pocketbooks singles arriving in the post at the same time ?

The Ludicrous boys warm up for their imminent Fall support in typically wry style with the five tracks of "Dirty Washing", their first release since Sanctuary gave us the "20 Years In Show Business" collection last year. Lead tune, "Argument In The Launderette", is classic I Ludicrous: a simple keyboard motif, some busy drum machine and Will handing down pearls of wisdom as he recounts the etiquette of the launderette, without being able to resist rhyming those two words into the bargain. There's also a particularly enjoyable / excruciating pun halfway through, a trick learned so well from key inspiration Mark E. Smith, which we will leave you to discover. After snapshot profiles of Ruby Wax, Jeremy Kyle ("dirty washing makes good TV") and, to best effect, the constituent clubs of "The Highland League" (another winsome documentary tune in the mould of "Three English Football Grounds"), the EP winds down with the jangly "Finding Things Out About John", a kind of reflective, fireside Preposterous Tales, albeit two decades on, imbued with warm melancholy and not a little darkness ("He voted Tory at the last election", observes Will matter of factly, as John faintly protests: "you've got it all wrong").

We still can't hear the name Pocketbooks without hoping that they named themselves after those lines in Biggie's "Ready To Die", about "doing whatever it took / from snatching chains to pocketbooks..." I mean, we know they didn't, but if they did they would be even more amazing. Anyway, Pocketbooks single #2 is a four-track EP, and in patches, yes, it does sound a little like it was recorded in a church hall, but nothing can detract from the skill and care in the arrangements, the palpable ambition, and the terrific, nuanced songwriting (and here, we mean songwriting in a good way - much as we know that songwriters and musicians are usually the twin nemeses of good music) not least those already-trademark lyrical flourishes we went on about last time.

From the lithe opening piano of the title track - already one for the classic intros round as far as we're concerned - the EP is a treat, a freewheeling bicycle ride on a beautiful clear day: "Waking Up", fuelled by a perfectly weighted vocal performance from Emma; "Falling Leaves", with its Sunny Intervals vibe, bringing in Andy's delicate, wavering voice; the serene, more mannered "Love Is The Stick You Throw", which brims with a more grown-up feel (we would say a much more "adult" feel, but that could invite inaccurate and frankly inappropriate comparisons with the Secret Agent Gel record) and "Don't Stop", which rounds things off by conspiring to be upbeat, thoughtful and inspirational all at once, a kind of noughties take on the Gain's "Casino Classics" which does start to suggest that Pocketbooks really might prove to be a band in a million (and nine). Wow, that chorus.

And all too late, we're reminded that it's not just our postman that provides a link between "the" Ludicrous and *THE* Pocketbooks. They share a welcome lyrical emphasis on the inanities and mundanities of everyday London living, whether Oystercards, library cards or cashpoint cards, with which we the listener identify, and from which wider life lessons are drawn. They're a marker that tender observation can still happen, can still work. And they're a joint demonstration that the art of good storytelling in song isn't confined to the Fall.

Now last year saw the fledgling Atomic Beat label's twin single triumphs from the sparkly one (Mr Green) and er, the sparkly five (the 'books). Atomic Beat's latest offering, the split 7" ABR 003 has therefore been eagerly awaited - not just by us - and now sits resolutely on our turntable, facing off any attempt to replace it. One suspects that the Pains of Being Pure of Heart's side, "Kurt Cobain's Cardigan" (like Little Dee, and just as sincerely, they sing about their "young lives"), will properly be fending off plaudits from all sides already, so we thought we'd try and flip the game for once and dive straight into the Parallelograms' side - more particularly, their track "1, 2, 3, Go!" - instead.

Taking off where the Fucking Rosehips left off (and given that the Fucking Rosehips had taken off where no less than the Rosehips themselves left off), 123G! is boundlessly amazing, the more so because, on the face of it, there's not much to it - a simple celebration of 1986 that namechecks as many bands of that era that scan or rhyme, whilst the guitars pay due deference to early Rosehips or the noisier Talulah outings. You might say it's unremarkable. But there's something about 123G! - just in the same way there is something in "Sweetness, I Could Die" - that transcends glib analysis and demands that we simply celebrate its effervescence. A little like the feeling we had when we first heard the Rosies' "Something Happened", and realised that there was no point thinking too hard about something so enjoyable: so much goodness is ephemeral, we could walk under a bus tomorrow (even if these days we might hear the brakes first) and we should simply listen to it as many times in a row as we could, while we still could. 123G! has settled snugly into that role.

Finally, the first great album of the year comes from the Airfields, with "Up All Night" (we're expecting that the second and third great albums of the year will be from Riko and Trim, which we've got on pre-order). The first minute or so of "Up All Night" is dazzling enough, "Prisoners of Love" chimingly resonating with midperiod Wake-isms before it opens out and the first of many fab little guitar runs is delivered, but as the album skips by, topped off with harder, fuzz-filled passages echoing just-signed to Creation-MBV, and as ghosts of Sarah and Factory past flit in and out, the Airfields manage to touch every er, touchpost you could sensibly want them to (we thought of the Field Mice, early Smiths, and even Gentle Despite in some of the vocals).

We also reckon that our past Airfields-14 Iced Bears analogy is sustainable (so there), simply because of the blend of fey-melodic indieness and unrepentant fuzz noise that gives "Up All Night" its distinctive pattern. There are fine versions of all three songs from the bravura Cloudberry EP - the title track of that, "Yr So Wonderful" being a foggy, blissful Secret Shine, while we all know that "The Long Way Home" is just a stunning indie-pop song with, yes, probably the best of all those many fab little guitar runs. And there's the thumping "Never See You Smile" and the sumptuous "Happy & Safe". But it's "Love Tariffs" where everything really comes together - seductive guitar distortion caressing a lonely vocal and shining melodies. It comes from the same place as AR Kane's "When You're Sad", and as you might appreciate, that's a gorgeous place.

Talking of which, we're off to Millwall.