Friday, June 24, 2016

“There’s no hope, there’s just despair…”

Hmmm. Proud of Londoners today, at least.

Ignore what any demagogue, armchair pontificator or “pens in the polling booth” conspiracy theorist tells you – this feels like a sad day for the UK, the saddest in my lifetime, and yet it’s felt somehow inevitable, like watching a slow-motion car crash whilst you’re in that car. The referendum has also had the effect of crystallising the reality that, just like the States, we’re split down the middle as a nation, into two almost irreconcilable tribes.

I respect that England voted “out” (our friends in Scotland gracefully resisted, kudos to them). I accept that was the will of the people, perhaps including some of you who’ve stumbled across this catharsis piece. But that doesn’t stop me being ashamed of my country right now, and embarrassed to have had a Prime Minister who thought that endangering people’s futures and livelihoods would be a suitable political stunt. Quite rightly, he’s resigned (though leaving a vacuum which readies us for a right-wing coup of sorts, and so I find myself seeking solace again in “Hope Springs Eternal”, “Election Day”, “Dry Land” and “William Blake”, to name but four of Keris’s most poignant and enduring legacies…) And don’t get me started on him.

The majority of working people voted Remain. The majority of people who don’t work voted Leave, as of course they were entitled to, but it won’t be them losing their jobs or their employment rights as a result, and I hope they can understand the genuine upset and concern for those of us for whom this referendum was about more than sticking a V-sign, Trump-style, to amorphous “elites”, defined conveniently (if somewhat elastically) as the 16 million of us across the country who ultimately voted to stay in the EU, plus all immigrants and refugees (the two terms, of course, conflated, with campaign imagery that would shame Leni Riefenstahl). And I hope they understand how EU citizens, living, working and paying taxes here, not entitled to vote, had been made to feel so unwelcome, even before the result was declared.

And regardless of whether people think this is good for the UK, and even if you believe that some abstract (almost surreally so) notion of ‘sovereignty’ is more important than solidarity, quite why the media should be celebrating the negative impact this vote will also have on the EU is beyond me. The fillip for the far-right across Europe is palpable. And when people here in the UK realise that leaving the EU didn’t address their wish-list of worries after all, we can only fear as to whom they will turn on next.

To dwell on the symptoms of this, and the undisguised glee of the wreckers, and the seemingly complete breakdown of intelligent discourse in this country, could soon tip me into a novella of incandescence, but I’m just tired and hung up on it all right now, so let’s settle for this.

This result diminishes us all. But now it’s happened, it’s time to roll up our sleeves and get on, to start standing up for what we believe in all over again. And to fight even harder for unity and against the attitudes and the personalities and the detachment from the truth and the mendacity that made this result – and the way it unfolded – possible. Three-quarters of young people voted Remain, which holds out hope of better times to come: maybe hope springs eternal, after all.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Hate Week “Nights By The Lake / Blunt Claws / Amplified Heart” (Where It’s At Is Where You Are)

We do love WIAIWYA, and like all “I love you”s, we probably don’t say it enough, because although as a label they’re never all up in yer face (you know, like 808 State, or Paolo di Canio, or the labels that insist on sending us e-mails every bloody day about bands that we wouldn’t touch with the business end of a bargepole), WIAIWYA are always beavering away frantically in the good name of independent music, and they boast exquisite style, and they never tire of rustling up intriguing trinkets, most recently tickling us with Darren Hayman’s inspired “Chants For Socialists” suite, and even WIAIWYA’s occasional clunkers only prove this is a label ever-aware of our long held mantra “when you can’t be good, be different”, and then of course - just every so often - they release a shout-it-from-the-rooftops fine, onion-bag bulging, stonkingly stupendous SINGLE, whether it’s “Queen B” or “Salinger Wrote” or “Promised Land” or whatever, and just as we still beam from ear to ear even thinking about the joy of finding WIAIWYA 4, for example (‘twas Sportique’s “If You Ever Change Your Mind”) in HMV’s flagship place on Oxford Street nearly 20 years ago, liberating it from the racks and feeling the love big time as it hit the Aiwa deck within the hour, we feel sure that we’ll be smiling at the mere thought of this latest 7” in two decades’ time (and yes, it’s conceivable, but on balance unlikely, that by then we might have learned to write in shorter sentences, or to think about what to write before we actually start typing...)

We can’t find much divulged about WIAWYA’s latest discoveries, Hate Week, on t’internet, which is nicely surreptitious, and takes me back to the days of reviewing records when you had nothing to go on but the sound and the sleeve and your journalistic instincts (ha), and that lack of any dino-size online footprint pleasingly removes the dread hand of marketing and social media onslaught from the whole enterprise, and in any case it’s not actually too taxing upon ear-devouring this ace little disc to discern that the Week must be descended in some serendipitous way from one of Sweden’s finest exports this century, the ever-mighty Faintest Ideas (a combo whose swansong left us feeling “both churned-up and ecstatic”, a feeling we find flooding back to us now). The vinyl itself is smartly housed in one of WIAIWYA’s rather winsome wraparound air-mail style stamped sleeves (literally stamped – a 2nd class Queen’s head plus 5 centime timbres, philately fans) and its contents, when lovingly de-sheathed by our fair hands, unfurl an A4 pic of three smiley-looking chaps just hangin’ out, underneath a massive and improbable mural of a sprinter with an undone shoelace, together with the revelation that this was recorded by “Daniel, Joel and Markus” (presumably the said three chaps) in Gothenburg, and that it was Daniel wot wrote these everything-affirming songs.

“Nights By The Lake”, which is stretched across side A must, we think, be the pick of the EP: it’s wiry and edgy and tense, yet there’s more space in it than yr typical buzzsaw F-Ideas hayride, with a touch of early Cure in the plaintive vocals, and pacy guitar lines that lay a line of little UXBs across your heart as Hate Week entice and entreat and stretch every sinew to pluck out vivid memories of the things and the people and the music they’ve loved, and they worry about whether that love was in vain. Then, just as the song seems to be reaching a triumphant if harrowing crescendo, it splutters and collapses across the finish line instead, as a song so full of regret and fidgety nervousness and gut-wrenching anxiety just SHOULD, so absolutely should.

On the other side, “Blunt Claws” feels more squarely cut from Faintest cloth, but is still nearly as sky-bracingly brilliant as “Nights”, with its skittering and crashing guitars soundtracking another theme of desperation, of grasping to survive the present even as time and opportunity slip from your grip to leave nothing but a trail of bittersweet memories in your wake. Somehow, the music both soars divinely and shambles precariously - sometimes alternately, sometimes simultaneously - & in doing so perfectly captures what Hate Week do so well: walking a tightrope between indie-pop optimism and punkish hunger. By the time third tune “Amplified Heart” - a flat-out sprint to the finish which apes the simple brevity of Boyracer’s run of (sadly alternative universe) smash hits - stomps over the white line on to the dewy turf, you’re in no doubt that this is a very special record, a record destined to be ignored by the tastemakers and the twitterati and the general populace, but one that we’re more than prepared to cleave to our own silly, soggy little hearts.

Today, if we retrace our route to nabbing WIAIWYA 4 all those years ago (from a Baron’s Court bedsit to Leicester Square on the Piccadilly Line, before the traditional zigzag pilgrimage on foot via the variegated vinyl emporia of Berwick Street), we’re no longer ushered into the Aladdin’s cave of His Master’s Voice but instead confronted by the brutalist stare of Mike Ashley’s hangar-like Sports Direct (*sigh*) but however much that throws us, and however transient record shops always prove, we know that wares we once bought there continue to thrill long after the bricks and mortar have died a thousand deaths by refit. And we know that in these rushed paras we’ve projected our own emotions onto somebody else’s songs, and so we’re guilty of moulding Hate Week and their lyrics and their themes into what we want them to represent, to reflect our own private idiosyncrasies and wiles, but isn’t that what all of us do with the artists that we fall for? What matters is that, in Hate Week, we’ve stumbled (thanks to WIAIWYA!) across a band that can *fire* our febrile imaginations so.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Math & Physics Club "In This Together" (Matinée Recordings)

Math & Physics are BACK, if on a retro tip (but with some added newness for extra spice). This chocolate box – a glorious confection spread over sixteen tracks - whirls us back through time right from fresh-for ‘16 cut “Coastal California, 1985” via a heavenly host of mislaid M&PC rarities through to stunners from their very first Matinée Recordings EPs, delivering a stern reminder that this is a band who have been wowing the zowee out of us for more than 10 years now. And hell, we’re always happy to succumb, because in our humble opinion, nobody does this kind of thing better.

"Coastal California, 1985" starts as "Jimmy Jimmy" (had a Polaroid?) but soon assumes a typically charming janglist mantle. It's one of the Club's finest compositions yet, transmuting into an unapologetically wide(r)screen sound and a refrain you'll be humming for days on end, feeling PROPER West Coast even as you traverse the paltry glamour of the Balls Pond Road in the drizzle. Had it been a single, it would be one of this blooming year's best.

The tracklist then scatters lost gems everywhere, pearls like "It Must Be Summer Somewhere" (from a Dufflecoat/Jigsaw split 7" with Monnone Alone, it irresistibly tangles early St. Christopher with the equally wet-behind-the-ears McCarthy circa "I Am A Wallet", albeit that Malcolm Eden never sang about girls in bikinis, unless I missed something seismic); the pint-sized pulchritude of "The Sound Of Snow" (as if Morrissey & Marr wrote a ballad for the Pines); or the delectable, Field Mice-confessional of "Our Own Ending".

Listening to the full decade of M&PC arrayed within these grooves, albeit a selection that eschews their excellent trio of full-lengths, it feels like the frequent early Smiths influences subside a little in their later music, but there is still a gorgeous constant - right from the first - and that's their SOUND - oh, "that smooth, sultry Seattle sound" as John Peel would have called it with a grin and a glint in his eye, had he only had the opportunity -  a great, crisp wave of POP, of guitar chimes weaved with cascading melodies and brocade embellishments, repped here not just by the terrific A-sides of "Movie Ending Romance", "Baby I'm Yours" or "Weekends Away" (yup, "you've got your baggage / and I've got mine" still sounds so sweetly sinister to our ears) but by the soothing tones of the songs that surrounded them, equally deft trinkets like "Nothing Really Happened" or "When We Get Famous". Not to mention that softest of soft spots that we will always have for "Love, Again".

Indeed, our only reservation about "In This Together" is that we always get a bit worried that comps like this might herald a band break-up; signify that moment when our heroes start to go all "retrospective" on us, (ooh, but for good measure, here's a retrospective we did on them) as a way of closing the chapter before they disband and go solo / become hermits / get into drum & bass instead / go off to run ostrich farms (although in fairness, that was only Terminator X). Please, please, please (as another combo might have had it), let that not be so. Guys, don't you leave it there - we'll follow you almost anywhere.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Fireworks “Black & Blue” EP (Shelflife)

The Fireworks, since they burst on to the scene, have already done their damnedest to exhaust our vocabulary of superlatives, and ransack our store of synonyms for fizzing or fuzzing or fresh or feral or fabulous (yes, there’s also been a run on alliteration).

The fact we’ve said it all before (hmm, more than once) should allow us to adopt a leaner approach to their new four-track 10” EP, although we’ll dwell long enough to opine that taken as a whole it’s probably a more muscular affair than past outings, if still draped in comforting swathes of reverb and candescent melodies…

Verily the galloping opening tune “All The Time” spits shards of rumbustious irresisti-POP noise, in the vein of past should-have-been hit singles like “Runaround”, but there’s then a change of mood for the more contemplative “The Ghost Of You” – well, the ghosts of a young Tim & Gregory – which infuses seductive tricklings of amplifier hum with chiming Leamington Spa guitars and gently familiar chord sequences and which could be a great lost track from “C87”: indeed, we’d posit that it’s superior to much of what landed on the C87 track listing in the end (though don’t get us wrong, you *must* still buy C87, if only for the first-ever digital outings of “New Breed” and “Tried And Tested Public Speaker”). Yes, the Fireworks have got the blues, and oh how sweet it sounds.

Meanwhile, over on the other side of the 10”, proceedings tilt towards the black, and that visceral caress of the early Slumberland sound. “Bury Me” is powerful, Charlottes-like noisepop, arrayed with proto-shoegaze distortion: in its wake comes the deconstructed shambling of the chugging “Goes So Slow”, which fizzles out into looped violin drizzled in sweetly spinning feedback, as if Isnaj Duj were playing Metal Machine Music. Mmmm.

And in my dreams, I hear Meat Whiplash playing Seamonsters. I see the Rosehips checking into the Chelsea Hotel, whilst I sup a sherbet fountain at the bar. I sense Albini readying all things analogue, and seeking to entice the Fireworks into his studio. Things are *happening* right now, my friends, good good things...

Um, yes. Sorry. It’s just that old equation, again: boy likes band, band has new record out, band’s new record makes boy happy, boy "writes" "review". For “Black & Blue” is as dependably ace as the Fireworks’ previous releases (an achievement in itself). In a world that is slowly but surely going fucking mental (not least in the scept'rd isle from which the band and this fanzine both hail), such surefire pick-me-ups are welcome, welcome respite.