More Soul Than Northern Soul

We were going on about brilliant 7"s the other day: well, Peel favourites the Stupids have just released one, "Feel The Suck", on Boss Tuneage. It must be their first since... (consults nearby historian)... 1989's "Wipeout". The boys peek out from the sleeve, older but unbowed, grins as impish as ever. And it's ace. Really. Three songs, none lurching too far from what we'd love and expect, all powering along with post-hardcore vim. On pinkish vinyl. And limited, sadly, to 325 copies. But, not content with merely rising from the dead, the Stupids have also got a bundle of re-issues out on the same label, on both vinyl and CD. And the most welcome of these is, logically enough, the complete Peel Sessions.

The role the Stupids played in Peel's adoption of late-80s Brit(ish hard)core should not be underestimated: although their own contributions were essentially s(kate)punky, apolitical teen thrash, it was through their raucous shows that the man himself came across Extreme Noise Terror, Napalm Death et al (the rest is history). And we can all now relive not only the handful of songs from these sessions that had been previously released (like the brace of tracks that appeared on Strange Fruit's seminal "Hardcore Holocaust" compilation LP, sometime during the Paleolithic era) but also remind ourselves of the highs of "Stupid Monday", "Shaded Eyes" and other numbers first heard over the airwaves (in our case, via a battered old Amstrad radio / tape player). And, as with so many bands of that genre and time, the production on the Peel Sessions puts much of the Stupids' other work in the shade.

Buying up all the re-assemblages - "Violent Nun", "Peruvian Vacation", "Retard Picnic" - is probably a little overkeen, especially if you've already got previous CD issues like the 34-tracker of "Peruvian" on Clay Records, but really, "The Peel Sessions" is smart, funny and almost endlessly enjoyable. It's melodic hardcore, it's cute ("John, can you repeat the AC/DC session ?"), it baits the bad reviews ("Mick Mercer, you die"), it even includes the junk food-obsessed sesh they did as their alter ego Frankfurter, so really, what's not to like ? And there was always something fitting about the fact that the last song Peel ever played on his show was by Klute, another nom de plume of Tom Withers aka Tommy Stupid himself. The music might have been different - indeed, unrecognisable! - but the pioneering spirit remained. In conclusion, and as the Stupids would no doubt themselves have had it, "The Peel Sessions" truly maims.

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Peel favourite MC Duke is one of the stars of the superb "Recognition" double-CD compilation, an audio history of UKHH to celebrate 20 years of Hip-Hop Connection, the world's oldest rap magazine (a stat that shows once again how interest in hip-hop on this side of the water is hardly a new phenomenon). Of course, Peel as usual was there even before that - Duke, for example, did his Peel Session in 1987, taking day-release from prison to join UKHH pioneer and Music of Life boss Simon Harris in the Maida Vale studios - but "Recognition" picks up very soon afterward and throbs with classic quality: Duke's own anthem "I'm Riffin'", Hardnoise's "Untitled" (hmmm, have we ever mentioned that tune before ? clue: yes and yes) and one of its progeny, Son of Noise's "Son Of Noise", Demon Boyz' "Recognition" (inevitably), London Posse's yay!-inducing "Money Mad", as well as longtime slept-on stuff like Asher D and Daddy Freddy's "Ragamuffin Hip-Hop" and a neat retro treat in the Hijack-produced "Burial Proceedings In The Coarse Of Three Knights", a vehicle for Huntkillbury Finn, the Icepick and Shaka-Shazaam. Obviously it's a crying shame Hijack themselves, what with being one of the best bands ever and all, aren't represented, nor the other leading lights of Caveman or Gunshot, but we guess technically the compilers needed space for some stuff to represent the last 15 years or so, too. And while this is a compilation well worth getting to relive 1988-1991 alone, there are some decent later moments from the UK scene like Roots Manuva's "Witness", still burning brighter than his singles this year, Skinnyman's still-very ace "I'll Be Surprised", Klashnekoff high water mark "It's Murda", Mark B and Blade's "The Unknown", and right-up-to-date tracks from Million Dan and Blak Twang's new records (though given that anyone sensible will buy Twang's newie anyway, it would have been kinder to let us have something from "Dettwork South East"...)

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Peel favourite Burning Spear comes correct with "Jah Is Real", a long player released by the man himself, meaning that it's only available in the UK on import, grrr. And although "Jah Is Real" finishes with a rather incongrous, if not unsuccessful, drum and bass re-working of "Step It", overall it contains more than enough harmony and repose to offset the typically horrible Oakenfold assault on "Never" that represented Spear's last vaguely successful tilt into remotely mainstream consciousness.

If you'd been wondering what on earth happened to roots reggae, then Burning Spear has obviously been thinking the same thing, as is amply demonstrated by tracks like "Run For Your Life" ("the music business is not like before / distribution get so desperate"), "Wickedness" ("our publishing running their business / our royalties feeding their family") and "Stick To The Plan" ("no worry yourself about big radio"). Still, happily enough "Jah Is Real" represents, however fleetingly, the reappearance of a genre we really rather miss.

Across the album as a whole, the sparing use of brass is just right, there are no tinny keyboards (the bane of many a reggae album) and there are numerous high points: the aforementioned "Run For Your Life", which segues beautifully into a dub version; the uplifting, spry tones of the title track; the world-music tinged paean to "One Africa", the harrowing return to "Slavery Days" in "Grandfather", ("Mr Garvey / break the cycle of fear") and the bare statement of intent, "No Compromise", a theme reflected prominently in his sleeve notes.

While things occasionally wander towards the middle of the road, as religious music - which the core of this undoubtedly is - is wont to do, you'll have seen that there is some real anger directed at some of Winston Rodney's enemies on Earth, especially in the music biz, and even if "Jah Is Real" offers nothing that's truly new, the man still has an aura of righteousness - as opposed to self-righteousness - which demands you treat him seriously. Never forget that this is the artist that brought us "Marcus Garvey" and its mirror / shadow, "Garvey's Ghost": two records that must still look down from very near the top of any sober all-time albums list. Ultimately, as he sings on "No Compromise", "my music - everything be all right music". Exactly right.

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Peel favourites the Jesus & Mary Chain are a band who you know we've got very excited about in the past. And while a huge percentage of their very best tracks were frankly all done and dusted before the end of 1986 (including some white-hot versions of "Psychocandy" songs from their first two Peel sessions, recordings that should be a part of any music collection), they stayed gold 'til the end: if you doubt us, listen to "21 Singles" again, because it works pretty much the whole way thru. Anyway, for those fellow 'til-death JAMC completists, "The Power Of Negative Thinking: B-Sides and Rarities" is released *in days* (pause for cheering) and throws together four compact discs' worth of out-takes and rarities, although before you get too excited, especially in relation to the "early stuff", most of the gold dust (classics like "Head" or "Cracked") was already on "Barbed Wire Kisses". We'll be heading for disc one, where the excitement is likely to be, and are looking forward in particular to acquainting ourselves with "Up Too High", "Ambition", "Boyfriend's Dead" (first digital release, we think), "Walk and Crawl", a demo of the monstrous "Upside Down" and their infamous treatement of "Vegetable Man". And we'll report back. Probably.

STOP PRESS: Shortly after "publishing" this "article" it transpired that the UK release had been put back again, to early 2009. In the meantime we can confirm that it will be worth buying the whole box set simply to get the Mary Chain take on "Ambition", which is happily one of those rare cases of a great band covering a fine tune and rendering it *untouchable*.

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Peel favourites EPMD have a tradition for naming their long-players: just as the Go-Betweens always had a double 'L' in the album title (except, er, that time when they didn't, and then that time again when they didn't), EPMD were normally keen for a certain continuity of titles ("Strictly Business", "Business As Usual", "Business Never Personal", "Unfinished Business", "Out of Business", "Back In Business", you know the score). And like the two Go-Betweens, Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith (the latter as PMD) went on to solo careers themselves. Erick was quite successful, Parrish actually rather good.

Now, having buried any past hatchet, Erick and Parrish return, parading their first album in near on ten years, the inevitably-named "We Mean Business", and hopefully in doing so reconnecting their considerable abilities, reuniting to fight the tide of nondescript, samey, brand-heavy modern East Coast rap that has been allowed to sweep all before it since the days when New Yorkers like themselves, Run DMC, Gang Starr, KRS-One, Eric B and Rakim, P.E., Kool G Rap, Onyx, Big L, Mobb Deep, Biggie, Big Daddy Kane, Wu-Tang etc etc etc etc etc etc x100 squillion ruled the hip-hop roost. Just looking at that list of talent is enough to take us back to the days when we really thought it would never stop. Which is why we miss the old school so... *sigh*.

Oh, you want to know about the record itself ? No idea, haven't heard it yet, what with the release date having been put back to deeper in the winter. We just wanted another opportunity to rant about how great the golden era was. Mind you, drawing a veil over that "Run It" remix 12", we'll say that on the evidence of the surprisingly great "Blow" single last yr - quite a tune, almost a return to the storming days of "It's My Thang" or "Headbanger" - this latest EPMD product is bound to be the bomb.

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Returning to records that are already in our vice-unlike grip, Peel favourites HDQ give us two reissues, again on Boss Tuneage: their second and third long-players "Sinking" and the more accomplished, if also more Americanised "Soul Finder". The original album tracklistings are bolstered, as is traditional, by a slew of extra demos and other tasties (in case you were wondering where this leaves their debut LP "You Suck!", that got the reissue treatment years since on Big Beat, along with the tracks from the "Believe" 7" EP).

Featuring a pre-Leatherface Dickie Hammond on guitar, who along with singer Golly was the band's ever-present, HDQ were a Sunderland punk / hardcore powerhouse who, even early on, had a knack of adding tunes into the mix, as well as the ability to inject a certain longing into the lyrics (a trick no doubt learned from the US bands like Dag Nasty who would have been a crucial part of HDQ's musical schooling). And, but of course, there are Peel Session tracks here too (session 1 on the repackaged "Sinking" and session 2 on the redux of "Soul Finder") in addition to old faithfuls from the original LPs ("Towing the Line" instantly jumps out as a favourite from our box of battered tapes of the late-Thatcher era Peel shows). The "Sinking" disc also includes a number of rapid-fire tracks from an earlier demo that only ever got a tape release: starting with a hulking "Positive Attitude", these stand up reasonably well too, far removed from the apologetic kitchen-sink demos that have appeared on some repackages (cf. Heresy, Unseen Terror etc...)

The HDQ reissues remind us, too, that it's been too long since we exalted Leatherface themselves: something we really need to remedy urgently, because, with Dickie Hammond and the inspirational Frankie Stubbs at their heart, they were a combo that had more soul and anguish in their little fingers than many an indie band mustered in their entire careers. But for the time being, this is an opportunity to give HDQ the kind of big-up they all-too rarely enjoyed, some recognition of how their songs so winningly bridged that divide between hardcore noise and tuneful emotion.

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We know Peelie liked Blueboy, because we saw him at one of their triumphant later gigs. And following the desperately sad news of Keith Girdler's death last year, Siesta have released a tribute to treasure, "Country Music", a CD curated by his longtime associate Richard Preece (Lovejoy). There are terrific songs new and old from the likes of TBS (the striking "Soft Evening, Brilliant Morning"), the Would-be-Goods (a delightful "I Believe You Cassandra" - apparently there is to be an LP on Matinee soon!), the Orchids (the only band who can make such grown-up music sound so alive and inclusive), the Wake (a crunchier version of "Crush The Flowers"), Hal (the inclusion of "Down", essential listening for all Howard and Sharkey fans, increasing the amount of Hal releases that have ever seen daylight by a cool 25%), as well as Blueboy covers and other gems from el, Creation and other inspirations, not least Lovejoy re-threading "Melancholia". Things then round off with a gorgeous, and all-too moving, uncredited bonus track.

With profits going to the Martlet's Hospice, deluxe packaging, remarkably powerful sleeve notes and such an enviable cast list, there is every reason for you to buy this, and none not to.

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Peel favourites the Great Leap Forward (aka bIG*fLAME legend Alan Brown) return(s) with a new long-player, "Finished Unfinished Business" (don't be giving EPMD more ideas now), on Communications Unique. We've put our cards in the table before about how Mr. Brown inspired us in day, but he's also been busy in the more recent past, not only featuring in the colourful artpunkpopnoise exploits of Sarandon but also chipping in, along with ex-A Witness man Vince Hunt and Pram's Darren Garratt, to supergroup Marshall Smith's underrated "Colours" album on Euphonium Records.

As the title suggests, "Finished Unfinished Business" represents the completion of a number of long-dormant GLF numbers, meaning that despite the gap in time, it still operates quite nicely as a formal follow-up album to 1989's landmark "Don't Be Afraid Of Change". Indeed, it starts almost literally where GLF left off, the title of opener "Tolerance and Respect" (which might have been a shelved single) harking back to the sample that ran through the powerful, even chilling "Weddings, Parties, Anything..." like a stick of rock. GLF are certainly still "indie", and still have a grasp of, even a flair for, the "pop" dynamic, but "Finished Unfinished Business" is nowhere near being 'indie pop': instead, like the previous solo outings, the songs are polished, spattered with samples, keenly political and not infrequently funky. This is all nothing less than you'd expect from the man who authored "Who Works The Weather" and the still-delicious "May God Forgive Us For We Are But Women". (There's also, endearingly, a tribute to Doncaster Rovers' promotion to the second division: we went to see Donny play Brighton at the "Fans United" day in Medway in '98, at a time they were drifting unstoppably out of the league, and if you'd told us then the next time we watched them they'd be upwardly mobile once more and winning at the Millennium Stadium, well...)

The CD package is as thoughtful and well-designed as its contents, boasting a booklet with the lyrics and some dissection of the subject-matter. It would be interesting to know how far "Finished Unfinished Business"'s lyrical themes have had to be updated in the decade or two since the songs' inceptions: but the depressing truth is that they're as pertinent today, whether talking about (un)sustainable farming, the creep against civil liberties or the insidiousness of the capitalist work ethic. The legacy of Thatcher and Reagan still dominates on both sides of the Atlantic, even if we're cute enough as a society to have developed just enough nous (or spin) to pretend that it doesn't.

Anyway. If, like us, you still hold a fLAME for Great Leap Forward's "Don't Be Afraid Of Change" (we'd have it in our all-time albums top twenty, along with "Marcus Garvey" et al), then you shouldn't hesitate to get hold of this one. And while we can remember the days you could buy GLF records in Our Price, the reality is that those days are gone: so here's possibly the place to start. As for Mr Brown, well he's still our hero.

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Peel favourite Marley Marl (did we mention how we missed the New York old school ?) is back with his ex-Juice Crew collaborator Craig G to bring us "Operation Take Back Hip-Hop", a no-frills retro set aimed squarely at grumpy old men and women like us who will never tire of tiring of the appropriation of hip-hop culture by junk capitalist anti-culture. And the album is more than just a nostalgia t(r)ip: it's actually very nearly just as good as the title suggests.Yeah, it probably is a sweeping indictment of all sorts of things that one of our favourite albums right now is by a couple of guys who were most stellar back in the 80s, going on about how brilliant hip-hop used to be, how rubbish it is now and how much better things were in their day, but given that they're 100% on the money, Marley's beats are a dream throughout, the first seven tracks - including both sides of the "Made A Change" preview single - are pretty much flawless and even the much-maligned Craig G arguably delivers his most consistent performance ever over a full-length album, we think it's well worth celebrating the record rather than carping about its context (as well as admiring the fact the sleeve design isn't photos of artists in their own-brand leisurewear, or posing with a Benz: it's a montage of cassette tapes and inlays, labelled with *love*). How indie is that ? And in the meantime, let's *stay angry* about the fact that what's happened to above-the-radar indie music (i.e. it's been fucked) has also happened to above-the-radar hip-hop.

There's no sensible reason why Marley's, Onyx's or Cube's new albums should be better than many from the newer kids on the block, but they are. It never used to be this way. Surely it doesn't always have to be this way ?

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Maybe there's an answer courtesy of Peel favourites the P Brothers' new LP on their own Heavy Bronx label, "The Gas" (a title guaranteed to get Rovers fans into their good books). If the Notts duo ring a bell with you, it's probably thanks either to their "Live Hardcore Worldwide" CDs (one of which, of course, featured an intro from Peel himself), their sterling work on Cappo's increasingly seminal "Spaz The World" LP (um, also, in other news, please note that in advance of an upcoming 12", Caps has issued a ten-year retrospective mixtape, "The Director's Cut", boasting a fair few exclusives as well as a veritable host of his past tunes from singles, etc that have been raved about on these very pages) and for some of their block-destroying 12"s since, which they'd started to use as vehicles for introducing us to top Stateside MCs (yes, they exist) like DITC affiliate Milano, Queensbridge's Imam T.H.U.G., and Bronx old-stager Smiley da Ghetto Child (y'know, him that did "Wordz From..." with the great Gang Starr).

Some months back, the Brothers issued a taster for "The Gas" in the shape of a double A-side featuring Boss Money (who hail from actual, as opposed to Nottingham, Bronx) and Ress Connected (New Rochelle): we think you'll be interested to know that, if anything, the standard of the whole album is even higher than that 12" promised, as if they've demanded only songs that would justify single release in their own right. The four Boss Money tracks are outstanding - "Cold World" and "Blam Blam for Nottingham" especially maxing on a lowdown rustle of beats and supersparse, laidback rhyming - but there are also contributions from Milano (including the satisfyingly old-skool "In A Zone", erstwhile single "Got It On Me" and the faintly Numanesque "Digital B-Boy"), Long Island's highly rated Roc Marciano (a past Busta Rhymes collaborator, we think), and a lone, rather laconic cut from $amhill (of BDP's own South Bronx), which all seam into a coherent whole. Coherent because the P Brothers still insist at all times on (a) the beats being rough, ready and hewn purely from granite; (b) the samples being tried and tested old soul gold; and (c) plenty of space in their productions to allow the MCs to relax and get on with expounding their largely bleakish, street-corner visions, unhindered by climactic choruses or distracting musical gimmickry. "The Gas" does for the New York now what "Live Hardcore Worldwide" did for early-century Notts, and as you'll have guessed, that makes it just what we've been looking for.

In fact, let's cut to the chase. You know that "real hip-hop" that every mother's son claims they make ? Well, Paul S and Ivory actually do make it. And if you'll just indulge us one more second and allow us to remind you of that T&F definition of "soul music", then listen to the MCs on this and then try and tell us that this isn't that, too.

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Peel favourites Comet Gain - who we'd also mentioned in that 'soul' discursion - are, we would hope it went without saying, one of the world's best, ooh, five recording artistes of the last decade or more: so it's handy that, like Cappo, they've just put out a '98-'08 assorted compilation, "Broken Record Prayers", on Milou Studios. It gives you the utterly stunning "You Can Hide Your Love Forever", their one 7" on Fortuna Pop! (according to some chancers, once: "they've done it a-gain... a splendid synthesis of 60s pop sensibilities with the acoustic movement of the 80s and some of the shambling that subsequently emerged when indie kids the first time round attempted to subvert the classic song form by the injection of punk - or at least d.i.y. - sensibilities.... a gorgeous melting pot of moving lyrics (boy sends girl tapes, girl loves his letters, boy and girl fail to admit mutual affection) and a mid-paced, warmly produced arrangement. driven by a roaming, booming bassline which throbs in and out of early tim vass territory and buttressed by trebly guitar conceits, the echoey drums picking up the pace both for the verse and the anthemic chorus (which rachel evans pops up from nowhere to join in with, as if things couldn't get any more succulent), it is both recherche and rococo and romantic. "say yes!""), half the tracks from the "Jack Nance Hair" and "Orwell Liberty Dance" 7" EPs, not least their excellent title tunes, as well as their disarming and ace "If You Ever Walk Out Of My Life" cover, a trio of Peel sesh numbers and a host of other goodies including both sides of the new What's Your Rupture ? 7" "Love Without Lies". The latter, incidentally, is a raw, "Realistes"-ish blast of garage / punk / soul only bettered by the sweet, post-"You Can Hide" melodies of "Books Of California" on the other side.

For completeness, please note that "You Can Hide Your Love Forever" also turns up on Peel favourites Fortuna Pop!'s "Be True To Your School" compilation: a ridiculously-underpriced thing that flicks multiple V-signs at the credit crunch, jampacked as it is with 25 songs from the Streatham empire's admirably prolific vaults, the bulk of which we've reviewed (or purported to) with no little admiration over the years: plus frighteningly-detailed, thoroughly entertaining and on occasion commendably frank sleeve notes from Suge himself. You should be especially tantalised not just by the Comet Gain tune but also the easily-worth-five-quid-each pocket rockets from those Butterflies of Love, Bearsuit, the WBGs, Tender Trap, Spraydog, Micktravis, the Lucksmiths, THE WIMPSHAKE and the Aisler's Set... ooh, and the um, excitable guitar bit that makes the rather green Taking Pictures song... and all that literally ain't even the half of it. Rather fittingly, given its bright eclecticism, "Be True..." is a set expressly dedicated to the one, the only (you guessed it) JP. So, especially if you have little or nothing of the FP! catalogue, then we can't really recommend it highly enough.

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Peel favourites Boyracer have released their *final* album. Yes, it seems that this fantastic, prolific, ever-exciting, lyrically sublime band has run its course. The record, "Sunlight Is The Best Antiseptic", is a suitably golden farewell.

In contrast to pretty much all that has gone before, "Sunlight" has a mere dozen songs, making it maybe Boyracer's most succinct as well as most succulent record: and being a vinyl-only run of 100, surely even for them one of their rarest. Indeed, probably scarce enough that the novella-length review we want to give it would surely be redundant. So we'll try to restrict ourselves to a mere smattering of words.

"Sunlight" bounds into life with "The Heartbreaker", which ranks as one of their greatest songs, as spiky and catchy and scratchy as they've ever sounded. Hot on its heels come "Claire Likes Girls" and "80s Nottingham Grindcore Scene", two more powerpop bullets (and songs originally recorded and released on the mighty compilations "Your Cassette Pet" and "Honey, The Dog's Home" respectively). As you'd expect from the recent split 7"s on which Boyracer have appeared, the muse hasn't dried up one iota, even if there are plenty of themes which will be familiar: "North Yorkshire Coastline" a sweet evocation of the handful of things that Stewart Anderson still misses about the country of his birth, "Amateur Traumatics" - co-written by longtime Racer mainstay Ara Hacopian - blisteringly mixing bittersweet personal observation with untamed guitars. Arguably the only song that slightly jars - good as it is - is the versh of Urban Slake's "So Fucking Swedish" which ends the first side: for while spirited covers have increasingly been a crucial part of the Racer repertoire, their own songs on this release are so focussed, so plaintive, so radioactive with fuzzy emotion, that any deviation can't help but disrupt the atmos a little.

We've already said most of the things we wanted to say about Boyracer, which will kind of explain why we'll miss them so, but it's hard to believe they could have gone out any better than this. And the closing song "The Last Word" is at once, as Mr A's alter-ego Steward once had it, a kind of "goodbye to everything you love" and a letter to his loyal band of listeners. Building on the barenaked honesty of the last album's dewy-eyed "In My Previous Life", it's one of the most elegant, eloquent songs he has ever written. The perfect full stop.

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It's not just Boyracer to whom we have to wish a tearful if fond farewell. Northallerton's pop royal family, Peel favourites Strawberry Story have just released their last ever single, "Summer Scene", on the French label Anorak (as in 'Vidocq et l'anorak jaune', fellow old-school GCSE-rs). And, like the Stupids single, this one pretty much rules. The title track itself suggests that the band have come full circle, because it's as raw and addictive as their very earliest forays, skipping through meadows of guitar fuzz from which Hayley's voice leaps out as if she was still yelping along with "Tell Me Now". And, musically, there is definitely something of the Milky Wimpshakes about it. The EP as a whole, however, is actually more nuanced (rough translation: the "slowies" outnumber the "fasties" three to two), with the closing song "Kiddie" a sleekly touching way to go out. Definitely recommended for anyone who's ever fallen under their spell.

Plus, like the Stupids and HDQ, Strawberry Story have been getting the re-re-issue treatment: this time thanks to Vinyl Japan knocking up "Clamming For It Plus", a souped up version of the original "Clamming" comp CD which - in addition to the original 16 tunes spanning a welter of their original flexis and 7"s - now has all the tracks from the two later EPs that got a compact digital release, "The Man With The Stereo Hands" and "Lucky Aubergine" (although oddly, the lead tune on the latter, their final pre-reformation EP, was "Well What Do You Think Of That Then, Paddy ?", a mainstay of the "Are You Ready ?" tape compilation many years before). True fact: in day, a band which featured now-members of the in love with these times, in spite of these times cliqua actually shared a couple of compilation tapes with Strawberry Story, but luckily we have forgotten the name of said combo, and yes we have destroyed every single thing it ever recorded...

Digressions aside, any excuse to plough through the Story oeuvre again is welcome, even though there is still unsettingly no place for the surely-tautologous "Teenage Romeo". So if you're lucky enough to be a teenager yerself, maybe, and their Cloudberry single "Sci-Fi Guy" was your first exposure to the Story in real time, then you can double your luck by getting hold of "Clamming For It Plus" and "Summer Scene", putting yr hands across the generations to complete more or less all of the scrummy SS jigsaw.

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Now. According to no less an authority on these matters than Stewart Anderson, the "greatest UK writer of pop songs" is Andrew Jarrett, of biiiig Peel favourites Beatnik Filmstars. And the trusted indie-powerpop axis of old is really spoiling us in 2008, because "Fez '72", as we'll call it for now, is an exquisite album that proves it.

A distant cry from the fractured lo-fi brilliance of reams of the Filmstars' output right up to last yr's sporadically marvellous "Shenaniganism" set, not only is it Jarrett's most measured, shimmering work since the Bluebear's "Food Fight At the Last Chance Saloon", but for the wider populace it displays those popsong writing skills more vividly than ever before. "Fez '72" is a fifteen-song weave of twang, Americana, indie-guitar and alt-country, a melange of lyrical sadness and inherited loss, a mingling of mournful guitars and aching keyboards. From the moment that thoughtful opener "Animal Crackers" ambles louchely from the speakers, it's clear there's a real warmth to proceedings: the arrangements and instrumentation are understated, rather than lush, but seem so well suited to the album's reflective style. So the occasional backing vocals work, the harmonica works (we don't often say that), hell, even the whistling works. And while it's certainly a very different record from most preceding albums - a sea-change akin to Sportique's jump from "Black Is A Popular Colour" to "Modern Museums", except maybe this time the leap is in the opposite direction - there are still echoes, for example in the jets of skyrocketing guitar interspersed through "Scrabbling", of the powered-up glories of past work like "Laid Back And English".

Jarrett describes himself on this record as both "cynical pioneer" and "pessimistic optimist", and each phrase rings true: he can always temper the downbeat turns of phrase with a swoonsome tune or hook, which makes for a winning combination. There are very few writers in circulation who could pen songs as strong as "Grim Cosmic Joke", "Kittens and Cats" or the stunning "Hospital Ward", but the Filmstars even manage to tailor an epic album centrepiece, pulsing with yearning, from the distinctly unpromising title "Nurse My Head (As The Actress Said To The Bishop)". They bring the curtain down in style too with "Home", a ballad that carries echoes of some of Kyoko's smartest moments. The only possible mis-step is "You Never Hear A Good Song Coming From A Car Window", which takes us little further than its title (the premise of which is incorrect anyway, not least because when we used to roll in our 1.6, we forced the British pedestrian within earshot to listen to "New Boyfriend And Black Suit" and "Bigot Sponger Haircut Policy" at maximum blast).

As you can tell, we've replayed and enjoyed pretty much every Beatniks outing to date, and lapped up every last dollop of their rickety, fuzzing short-burst lo-fi brilliance over the years (culminating with last year's careering "Curious Role Model" single). But, of all their albums, it's quite possible that "Fez 72" will turn out to be the most complete.

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Finally, Peel favourites Bolt-Thrower are releasing absolutely *nothing* this autumn. The reason ? Pay attention, all other bands: it's because while recording what was going to be their 9th album, they realised it wasn't going to be able to match up to the last one, WW1 epic / tribute "Those Once Loyal", and they decided they weren't prepared to foist anything sub-standard on the rest of us. Now *that's* integrity. It's also frankly a bit annoying, because from "In Battle There Is No Law" onwards, every Bolt-Thrower record has more than justified repeated revolution, and to be honest we'd happily snap up an offering that was only half as good as "Those Once Loyal" (it really was one of the finer albums of 2005, and one that's aged better than many others of that vintage). Still, we can only thank them for their honesty, and perhaps hope that someone's sneaked some bootlegs out of the studio anyway, because it's hard to face the idea of a future without new Bolt-Thrower material. Or, at least, more Bolt-Thrower gigs.

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Yeah, today is the (4th) anniversary of John's death. We miss him more with each passing year.

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