Monday, September 16, 2013

Seabirds "Real Tears" (Matinée Recordings): The Flatmates "You Held My Heart" (Archdeacon of Pop / Local Underground / The Subway Organization): Carcass "Captive Bolt Pistol" (Nuclear Blast)
The kettle's on: time to round up three neat new 7"s.
As you may have gleaned from our trifling contre-temps in the White Swan the other night, we don't necessarily share the increasingly fashionable view that the indie-pop scene of 2013 is rosier than that of say, 1987. Revisionism, it seems to us, cuts both ways. Nevertheless, little gladdens our hearts more than the raft of sparkling, new British bands (see also the Hobbes Fanclub, the Fireworks) who have picked up their cudgels to conscientiously dig the foundations for some kind of new indie-pop order. And Nottingham's Seabirds join that club with this, a positively shimmering, blue-vinyl first 45, housed in a great sleeve that brings to mind those lino-cuts you used to do at primary school, albeit rather more elegantly executed.
"Real Tears" presses most salient buttons, starting with butter-wouldn't-melt jangling chords yet ending in the stark, zero-bpm half-light, imploring usto "sing about death". In between, this disaffected distant cousin of B&S nonchalantly swigs a premium-strength brew of Butcher Boy, Tompaulin and approx. 92 of this fanzine's Scandinavian pop heroes, boasting appropriately dewy and glistening verses, an unassailable boy/girl chorus and, just so you don't get too comfy, a slightly unexpected, skanking instrumental - lifted by a seemingly improvised guitar part - before they take a second or two to work out how to make it back to the chorus again. There are also, rather terrifically, lyrical references to vampire bats, which we'll need to get the bottom of.
The song reminds us about the shock, the power, of *actually* crying. We're so used to tearfulness as a metaphor, or as the currency of every soap opera and every other pop song, that we forget how physical, how palpable, how rare - in every sense - it can be in adulthood: Seabirds subvert such clichés with no little style. (This may be no surprise, given the apparent personnel connections between Seabirds and former Fika signings, the gently-swaggering, got-soul Red Shoe Diaries). And, in keeping with the visceral theme, this lot are happily unafraid to let their electric guitars actually *sound* like electric guitars, always a pleasant surprise in this tediously 'stripped down', mobile phone ad-friendly day and age.
Although we refuse to condone its pun-tastic title, B-side "Oh Buoy!" lets you feel the burn too, unveiling more chords which tangle and chime, and unfurling a fluttering butterfly metaphor to reveal a "beauty I never knew". It's fair to say that the butterflies, the bats and the 'birds all meet with our seal of approval.
After the thrill of new blood, our remaining 7"s presage comebacks by two once-celebrated combos whose records we once sought out religiously, usually after hearing them during Peelie's 10 to 12 slot. The New Flatmates (live review here) return on a seeming slew of labels, with their first single in twenty-five years, a brace of freshly honed two-and-a-half minute pop songs, dashed with the rugged and ragged charm that defined their original run of hits, if not, for our money, managing to improve on them. (Which returns to our original theme, I guess). Lisa Bouvier's "You Held My Heart" is high-speed, stoutly enjoyable and ever-so-slightly shouty indie fare shot through with myriad hooks, reminding us a little of We Are Going To Eat You in their prime, but Martin Whitehead composition "One Last Kiss" on the flip is possibly even better, starting with the familiar drum-intro thump of the old-school Flatmates before nicely blending smart classic pop action, cast from the mould of "Tell Me Why", with politely slurred guitar distortion. Majorly bad sleeve, though.
As for the indomitable Carcass, "Captive Bolt Pistol" (on grey vinyl!) is a first single in 19 years, and immediately recognisable as the handiwork of Liverpool's one-time gods of grind, rhythmically fusing Bill Steer's gnawing cascades of gnarled guitar and Jeff Walker's petrol-slurping growl. The verses, in particular, provide a haven - a veritable sunken garden - in which to swoon and reminisce about the band in their prime, but the song's arrangement seems a little perfunctory, to lack a little personality, notwithstanding the sumptious glaze of guitars which appears late on. In truth, grunted vocals aside, "Captive Bolt Pistol" is musically clean and almost commercial, the production sharp and aerodynamic: it's pitched midway between "Heartwork" and "Swansong", a thousand spinning galaxies away from the claustrophobic mud and quicksand of their first album. It's great- it's Carcass, how could it not be? - but, like "You Held My Heart", this is a new outing that can't scale the band's past, Himalayan peaks (the second album, the Peel Session) but that instead hovers, proudly enough, at base camp.
Lyrically, the single laments the maltreatment of animals (it's a rather forensic description of the weapons used to stun cattle in the slaughterhouse - "Hilti DX-750 / Low-velocity recoil, lock and load") and, together with the self-explanatory "Intensive Battery Brooding" on the other side, is a welcome reminder of the ethical credentials that always underpinned Carcass and their oeuvre: getting exercised about animal cruelty seems to be viewed nowadays as a bit "1980s", just as having any kind of social conscience is generally regarded as passé, but Carcass are rightly still unfuckwithable on these issues. We can't help ourselves from looking forward to the LP.
Right. Tea.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

When Routine Bites Hard: Dagenham & Redbridge v Bristol Rovers, 14 September 2013
First things first: the London Borough of Barking & Dagenham Stadium at the end of Victoria Road, just off the A1112, is a convivial enough place. One of our favourite away grounds, despite the club's complicated, perhaps even chequered history. They give visiting supporters the Traditional Builders stand, by far the grandest in the ground, when other clubs would surely donate only the rickety uncovered end directly opposite. They acknowledge the bleakness of a fourth division match on a chilly autumn day in the grey wastes of ungentrified east London by playing "Love Will Tear Us Apart" as the teams finish their on-pitch warm-ups. They serve tea and snacks in a friendly, no-frills way, and beer at half-time, with a couple of TV screens to show the latest scores. They have Dagger The Dog, a man dressed as a mutt who hurls sweets into the crowd (a good idea in theory, but the only Rovers fans within throwing range were beery middle-aged men, rotund enough not to need the extra E-numbers, yet who didn't seem to be inclined to actually let any of the kids in attendance have the sweets instead). Best of all, this is the only away fixture I can think of where there isn't a sizeable section of the home crowd who spend the whole game facing the away fans, baiting them. In part, that's because the attendance here is too sparse, but even so it's another plus in the Daggers' favour.
For all that, for *all* that, it's depressing coming here as a Bristol Rovers fan and watching one of the best-remunerated teams in the division being thoroughly outplayed by the home side, in front of a well-meaning but hardly atmosphere-building crowd of just 1,400. It's tiring sitting, yet again, above the 'action' and watching the pointless hustle and bustle, the lack of urgency, the absence of *thought*, the draining of confidence, the defensive sloppiness, the inevitable penalty miss, the fans' deflection of blame onto an admittedly incompetent, but not actually partisan, referee. Waiting impatiently yet impotently, at 2-0 down, for the game just to end as Rovers, in dire purple and black striped garb, fall to a sixth defeat in the nine games of the season so far. Hearing the final whistle, and like everyone else, feeling too disaffected and fidgety even to *bother* booing. Instead, an eerie silence descends upon the Traditional Builders'. (Quite different from the last time we were here, then.*)
*RFQ: "Cannot divide by zero"
Much as I've spent - and fully intend to continue spending - swathes of my life mocking the armchair supporters who fix their sights on Madrid, Manchester or Chelsea and refuse even to acknowledge the other hundreds of thousands of teams out there, it's not impossible to have sympathy with such calculated laziness right now. Rovers fans - most much more than I - have put up with a lot, have stuck loyally to their club, have spent money on replica quarters instead of Premier League merchandise, have tolerated several slides to the bottom of division four from a team that, until the 21st century, had never fallen into that league, and that usually features amongst the pre-season favourites for promotion (it's not the 'not knowing' that kills you, it's the HOPE). Oh, it's not been without highs: many fans of top-flight clubs would have envied our 2007 double of 'gracing' Millennium Stadium and Wembley finals. And, deep down, yes I *know* that it's swings and roundabouts, that the highs balance the lows, that even when they don't, that just makes the few highs there are seem higher. And we love real football so much that we even smiled our way out of embarrassments like this one.
But it's still all been part of a 20-year journey from second division journeymen to fourth division underachievement. And sometimes you do feel, *why* support a team who are usually amongst the best-paid in their league, yet so consistently give nothing back? As we file out towards the car park - this is pretty surreal, but sadly true - Bernard Shaw's words describing the closing agonies of Joan of Arc come to mind, completely unannounced. I swear I hadn't encountered them since school, so I must be feeling pretty despairing.
"O God that madest this beautiful earth, when will it be ready to receive Thy saints? How long, O Lord, how long?"
Funny what football does to you.