"Happy, here in the half-light…": a January tune
Now. Back in the halcyon MF day (you know, the early 00s, when we used to do whatever it took, from half-inching chains to tea-leafing pocketbooks) we'd endeavour to update our website at the end of every month, give or take. We can't remotely promise that our current plan to revisit this approach will sustain itself, but let's see.
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The main event this January (red carpet, Leicester Square première etc) was of course Math & Physics Club's fourth album: only 27 (or possibly 28) long-players to go until they overhaul the subject of our last post. “Lived Here Before” – a shared release between Matinée Recordings and Fika Recordings - comes hot on the sprightly heels of "All The Mains Are Down", the taster single that managed to knock off your cotton popsocks at the same time as nicely summing up the um, entire situation of the world.
You might have been expecting - given the bounding harmonic singalong goodness of 2016/17 should-be-karaoke standards "Mains" and "Coastal California, 1985" - that this new record would simply see the Pacific Northwest's finest leaping, salmon-like, into the mainstream pop firmament. Actually, however, it does something slightly different: this is subtler, the sound of a band revelling in the chance to engage with a wider palette.
And while the press release shouts for early REM are not a bad call in a few places (and on slower songs we would throw in Joe Brooker's bands over the years like the Arc Lamps, the sadly overlooked Foxgloves, and Matinée labelmates the Pines), for the most part M&PC have rather outgrown many of the early comparisons (the Smiths, for one). Now they have their own sound to hone.
There's nothing in the opening triptych of the poignant "Threadbare", the pristinely jangling "Marblemouth" – complete with beautiful, vaguely Harper Lee-ish instrumental - or the math(s) and physics-related confection "Broadcasting Waves" that challenge the template too boldly: these are complete and lovely popsongs of varied and varying tempo, which trade melancholy and flair in typical Math & Physics fashion.
However, the next two songs usher in a more contemplative second Act to this album, as the band gently press the collective brake pedal. In “The Pull Of The Tides” and "Like Cinnamon", lyrical shadows recede before an ocean sweep of closeness and contentment; a kernel of satisfaction amidst sadnesses elsewhere. Indeed, the minor key caresses of "Like Cinnamon" are the real centrepiece of the record. Here, those normally chiming M&PC guitars start to really *shimmer* instead: but this is no ordinary shimmer, it’s a shimmer that almost scalds, like the heart-clutching sparks of first sunrise over Coniston Water or, for the older amongst you, “a firefly burning bright” (M. Whitehead, after William Blake).
And, with the band having caught the listener a little off-guard, they press home their advantage before half-time by deploying the petite instrumental "Falling For It", all Oriental swing and what sounds like some lovely tabla playing. Cheeky.
Next, “Dear Madeline” documents a sob-choked separation, with initial bitterness seeming to give way to regret as the instrumentation gathers and the narrator gets into his stride. From here, the band up the tempo once more, into the record’s Act III, as “Take A Number” corrals a catchy, staccato verse into an adroitly unfurled chorus that lays bare its topic of industrial decline and suburban flight. This mini-parade of breezier tunes continues with “Past & In Between” – a becomingly modest indie-soul stomper, the sort of tune that you could thrill to at How Does It Feel To Be Loved? – and of course that absurdly strong single “All The Mains Are Down”, which still knocks the ball out of the proverbial park. Both songs dig deep as they wrestle wistfully with the theme of our myriad failures to communicate. Curtain falls on Act Three. Rivals exit stage left, and swiftly.
That leaves just time for the epilogue. “Drive To You” switches down the pace again, closing the album on a sincere, optimistic tone. It’s an elegant way to finish (realistically, the only way you’re going to follow “All The Mains”): as the final embers circle, Charles sings “the closer I get, the faster I drive to you”. (But still well within all applicable speed limits, obviously). And the show is over.
"Lived Here Before” is introspective, thoughtful and eloquent, but never less than winningly melodic. In places it exudes an aura of real vulnerability - and the threads of relationship breakdown, separation and human frailty are never far from the surface - but there are enough twists and turns to feel by the end that you’ve joined M&PC on a rewarding little journey, and to make you pleased to have been there to witness the spreading of their wings, to feel them brush against you as they lift.
We’re not going to rank it against past outings like “Our Hearts Beat Out Loud", or “I Shouldn’t Look As Good As I Do”: that would be comparing apples with oranges, or at least satsumas with clementines. Instead, we’ll just reflect on the fact that not so long ago, we were worried that the band might be ready to call it a day. “Lived Us Before” demonstrates what the world would have missed had we been right.
It’s lucky that we're hardly ever right.
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Aside from all this M&PC-related excitement, what else is new in 2018? Well, there’s The Total Rejection for starters, a new combo featuring dependably prolific Bristol songsmith Andrew Jarrett in cahoots with Tom Adams (Beatnik Filmstars, Secret Shine and more) and (drum roll please) “an ex-Rosehip”, which is an exceedingly tantalising description given our longtime and continued love of that band).
Mention of the Rejection’s very name gave us an immediate earworm (“what a shame, it’s in vain, total rejection”) which was *so* catchy that we initially thought it must have been something by Andrew’s own Groove Farm, and then we wondered whether it was perhaps their spiritual mentors the Buzzcocks, but eventually we tracked down the source: twas the Undertones’ “My Perfect Cousin”, as you’ve no doubt already surmised.
However, there is a Groove Farm link, even aside from Mr Jarrett’s participation, because the house label Raving Pop Blast! has been resurrected for a TR album called “Wrapping Yourself In Silver Foil Won’t Save You From The Blast”, launched with a fuzzy slice of pop boasting the similarly unselfconscious mouthful of a title “The Legendary Orgasm (Everything In My Mind Is Groovy)”. Groove Farm and Tricia Yates Fanclub aficionados alike will dig the hooks, whilst the Rejection throw in a froth of psychedelia and a pinch, no more, of krautrock buzz. It’s all a long way from the drizzled gorgeousness of the Beatniks’ “Hospital Ward” or the sadly undervalued Our Arthur project, but in all fairness it’s probably more likely to get your toes merrily tapping.
Elsewhere, DJs Trends (from Oxford, who may be the city’s best musical export since Saturn V and Cody) & Boylan have just enlisted Riko Dan to lord it over their “Krueger” 12” on Mean Street (it’s mean, moody, maleficent and mighty in vaguely equal measure, so don’t sleep); the marvellous Sven Wittekind has slipped out a new single, “Artefacts” on Driving Forces which kicks off 2018 nicely on the German minimal techno side; and, heading back across the water for a sec, I think we’ve also just time to give a shout-out to Portland’s A Certain Smile, whose “Mexican Coke” thunders along in pure early-90s melodic-noise indie style, an easy win for fans of the Hobbes Fanclub, Seafang, Sugar or the Edsel Auctioneer.
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But before we leave you this month, this post has its own third Act, as we go retro to the year that was… two thousand and seventeen. After all, one of our longstanding new year traditions here at château d’in love with these times in spite of these times is that around the same time we take down the Xmas decorations, we suddenly alight upon a truckload of amazing records that were released stealthily during the previous one, and that would have soared into the upper reaches of our year-end thingy had we managed to be aware of them when composing it.
One such for 2017 is A New Line (Related)’s “Reverie(s)”, a 5-track 12” on Chicago’s Kimochi label that is pretty much a must if you stayed up late for “Our Lady Of Perpetual Fucking Succour” or “Vote Malcolm Eden”. In particular, the serpentine throb of “Do Let Our Youth Goes To Waste” shows not only Andrew Johnson’s consummate skills as a producer, but how he refuses to compromise his love of wordplay.
Another – although as it came out on Boxing Day, we feel we can be forgiven for overlooking it come New Year’s Eve – was a hidden gem from Sweeney (yes, that’s a certain J. Sweeney Esq of Adelaide, South Australia aka Other People’s Children, Simpatico and much else of goodness), a CD-r album called “Middle Ages” on Greek boutique label Sound In Silence. More song-based than his recent and equally impressive “Quiet Ecology” set (under yet another of his pseudonyms, Panoptique Electrical), it’s a chance for us all to catch up with how his dulcet tones have matured since he starred on those early Matinée favourites, and a smile first took over. Try “Oh Goddess” to start.
And, just days before that, it turns out that another of our all-time favourite artists, drum and bass deconstructionist Downpour aka Chris Adams, spat out a bandcamp EP called “Shadows Of The Short Days”. The thing we love about the Downpour project is how it showcases proper musicality, but without ever sacrificing proper mentalism, just like early Squarepusher or something. Ideally of course we’d have liked it to sit on a silky little seven-inch single, but given that the four tracks embrace a generous 27 or so minutes, I guess that would probably have never worked.
The most instant of the quartet is “Culled From Four More”, which even weaves some “ba ba ba”-ing into its silky madness (Downpour’s own “We Put The Pop Into Popular”?) but it may be the, erm, robust opener “We’ll Burn That Bridge When We Get To It” that proves the real stayer, erupting as a demagogue shouts violent threats from the back of mix. A shout out, too, for the rather pretty piano motifs that make the epic “Apricity” another worthy addition to the back-cat: its last few minutes are a perfect fusion of rhythm, echo-bled piano and dappled feedback.
There were also a few things of a more metallic ilk that we overlooked last year. There’s another Violent Opposition set (“Utopia/Dystopia”) which is a tad too metallic for our bourgeois tastes, and sounds like a different band from the Violent Opposition who, their powerviolence wiles pumped up on the spirit of punk, brought us the blistering/ace “Courage & Conviction”. Props to their versatility, at least.
However, there was better LP news last year (sorry we slept on them all) from O.C. legends Phobia (whose “Lifeless God” laces a brimful of righteous anger over 17 old-school tracks, identifying very firmly with grindcore over powerviolence and peaking with the satisfying, self-explanatory bile of “New 4th Reich”), Hummingbird Of Death (their “Forbidden Techniques” sounds more like Violent Opposition than that new Violent Opposition LP does, and must be the Hummingbird’s best work yet: thoroughly listenable powergrind bursts like “Casual Stupidity” show how they’ve really come on, but they can still roll with humour and great track names like “I Think I’m On A Roll, But I Think It’s Kinda Weak”) and shouty Dutch riff-mongers FUBAR (their grindcore-rooted “Weltschmerz” is not all plain sailing, but certainly has its moments, and there’s nothing to find fault with on some of the shorter tunes like the coruscating “Storm” or “Tombs”).
And that’s all for January. See you next month, perhaps.