Saturday, 8 August 2020

The Lightning Seeds Dizzy Heights


The Lightning Seeds Dizzy Heights

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Released following the number-one success of "Three Lions" -- the official song of the England football team's Euro 1996 campaign (written with comedians Frank Skinner and David Baddiel) -- Dizzy Heights was the product of an artist whose stock was running unnaturally high. As a result, it could boast three Top 20 singles: "What If...," "Sugar Coated Iceberg," and "You Showed Me." But guess what -- this album sounds just like all of main man Ian Broudie's other creations; it has that same obsession with the perfect '60s melody, polite guitars, and saccharine vocals on an endless quest to rewrite "Unchained Melody" for the '90s. Too many plays will send you running to the dentist, or back to your Iggy albums at the very least.

Wednesday, 5 August 2020

Shed Seven A Maximum High


Shed Seven A Maximum High

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Shed Seven were one of the leaders of the secondary Britpop brigade, which featured the likes of Suede, Gene, Echobelly, Geneva, Dubstar... Pretty much any of the Britpop bands that took The Smiths as their main influence. That said, Shed Seven was always notable among that group of bands for fusing their Morrissey driven influence with the more popular, 'Laddish' culture promoted by genre leaders like Oasis and Blur. 'A Maximum High', Shed Seven's 1996 sophomore LP, showed the band at the peak of it's popularity. Most of the band's biggest hits reside here, such as 'Going For Gold', 'On Standy', 'Bully Boy' and 'Getting Better'. But more than just being a singles album, 'A Maximum High' also ranks as Shed Seven's best overall record. The album's sound is a very basic but satisfying one, combining The Smiths' jangle pop with scuzzy guitar and sing-along choruses. Except it's more than that. You see, the guitarist of Shed Seven (Paul Banks) is an absolute genius. Seriously.... The man has so much melodic talent that pretty much every note he plays on this album is awesome. So much so, in fact, that any faults that this album suffers from can all be attributed to Rick Witter, the band's frontman. That's a harsh statement, but the fact is that the only two weak tracks on the entire LP both stem from Witter-related problems. The lovely mid-album acoustic country strum of 'Out By My Side', for example, is pretty much murdered by Witter's out-of-key vocal line, which sounds like he's going through puberty. The other mis-step is the epic seven minute closing track 'Parellel lines', which sees Witter mercifuly drowned out with explosive distortion, but only after an agonizing build-up which puts the vocals into sharp focus over quiet, clean guitars. Witter's lyrics on on the latter track also factors in it's downfall with the likes of "I could fax you at work / Pick you up in my merc / Dig deep in your dirt / It's the in thing to do" being particularly cringe worthy... And that's such a shame, because the epic backing composition by Banks is flat out brilliant. But elsewhere, Rick Witter is on top form, producing a set of excellent lyrics ("We went to the early learning centre / With the money that I lent you / It's the price of an education") and catchy vocal lines. The best cuts are, of course, the singles with the towering ballad 'On Standby' being perhaps the best Shed Seven song ever recorded, with it's aching chorus of "It's like I've never been born / We concede in the allyways" feeding off an impassioned vocal performance that quickly pushes the singers flaws into the background. 'Where Have You Been Tonight?' and 'Getting Better' are the pogo-pop classics of the bunch, with punchy distortion and strident anthemnics lending the tracks a growling, psudo-punk presence. The jangle pop angle is also well covered by the remaining two singles; the trumpet emblazoned hit 'Going For Gold' and the distinctly Smiths-esque 'Bully Boy', with it's rousing refrain of "I'll fight you to the death!" making for a wonderful sing-along moment. Other album tracks also keep the quality high, with the Stone Roses aping 'Lies' retaining the epic catchy feel of the singles. Electro-acoustic pop ditty 'Ladyman', meanwhile, goes wholeheartedly into The Smiths territory ("I'm a lady / I'm a man / Doing the best that I can") with it's trans-gender lyric sounding very much like it was penned by Morrissey, even including the line "I'll die for my pride / My bones are burried alive"... But despite it's blatant theft, it's yet another fantastic track. The remainder of the songs are also good, with 'This Day Was Ours' having enough glitter guitar pomp and interesting lyricism ("I'm in the dark all the time / Of that I must be king") to make for an energetic addition, whilst 'Falling From The Sky' has a great swaggering riff that catches the ear and doesn't easily let go... But the best of the album-only bunch is 'Magic Streets', with it's excellent stuttering indie guitar framing a fantastic lyrical ode to the seedier sides of northern England, taking a tounge-in-cheek snapshot of a town overrun by dirty drug abuse, trannies and nefarious men in 'anaraks'. Lord knows why it wasn't a single... Perhaps a little controversial for the time?

Saturday, 1 August 2020

Smog Knock Knock



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Smog's seventh full-length album, Knock Knock, proves to be singer/songwriter Bill Callahan's subtlest collection of songs yet. Indeed, one of the album's greatest accomplishments is its gently optimistic tone; if his other albums made a deadpan joke out of misery, on this album Callahan delivers the punch lines with traces of a grin. It's a moving album on many levels; not only do the songs have Smog's usual emotional intimacy, their subjects move away from difficult, claustrophobic situations toward maturity and acceptance. "Let's Move to the Country" and "I Could Drive Forever" are all about escape, whether it's from the rat race or bad relationships -- "I feel light and strong," Callahan sings on "I Could Drive Forever," summing up Knock Knock's lyrical tenor. But moving also implies distance. As the album travels the emotional spaces between people, Callahan himself seems more removed from these songs; more than ever, his songs read more like short stories than diary entries, particularly on "River Guard," about a warden watching prisoners swim, and the enigmatic "Sweet Treat." "Cold Blooded Old Times" and "Teenage Spaceship" capture the awkwardness of youth, while "Left Only With Love" accepts a lover's departure in stride. Musically, Knock Knock builds on Red Apple Falls's folky, flowing sound, but throws in twists like drum loops, electric guitars, and, surprisingly, a children's choir. "Hit the Ground Running" combines all three elements, driven by rolling guitars and accented with strings, with the children's choir urging Callahan on his way. "Held"'s drum, guitar, and feedback loops take a collage approach to a classic rock sound; along with "Cold Blooded Old Times" and "No Dancing," it's one of Callahan's most up-tempo songs since 1995's "Wild Love." Over time, Knock Knock reveals itself as one of Smog's finest moments

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Sparklehorse Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot



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Sparklehorse's 1996 full-length debut, Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot, has even more sad, beautiful, weird moments of spacy, rural folk-rock than it does letters in its name. Primarily the project of singer/songwriter/guitarist Mark Linkous, Sparklehorse's sound embraces impossibly frail, cobwebby ballads like the album opener "Homecoming Queen," "Most Beautiful Widow in Town," and "Heart of Darkness"; sun-drenched, noisy pop like "Rainmaker" and "Hammering the Cramps"; and noise blasts like "Ballad of a Cold Lost Marble" and "850 Double Pumper Holley." The album's most powerful moments borrow from folk and country traditions, alluding to their universally understood poignancy, while updating and personalizing them with spacy arrangements, distorted vocals, and slivers of feedback. "Heart of Darkness" and "Homecoming Queen" in particular have a woozy, late-night sweetness that conveys a touching, if unstable, honesty. The single "Someday I Will Treat You Good" molds this vulnerability into a radio song, with catchy and affecting results, but it's the shambling, understated songs like "Saturday" and "Sad & Beautiful World" that define the group's down-to-earth melancholy. Despite covering some expansive musical territory, Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot doesn't sound scattered so much as spontaneous, reflecting the happy, sad, noisy, and quiet moments in life.

Saturday, 25 July 2020

Various Shadow Factory



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The first Sarah Records' singles compilation does an excellent job of efficiently encapsulating everything the fledgling label was then about -- "no unreleased outtakes or bonus mix cons, just an honest old-fashioned something we're proud of, a statement of faith in all sorts of futures tomorrow" read the liner notes, and without a doubt contemporary pop music doesn't get any more old-fashioned, dewy-eyed, or heart-on-its-sleeve than this. (The title of Another Sunny Day's "I'm in Love With a Girl Who Doesn't Know I Exist" is alone a primer in pop-kid angst.) The 16 singles that comprise Shadow Factory hardly represent the creative apex of Sarah's output, but few labels have begun with so much promise -- the prodigious talents of bands like the Field Mice ("The Last Letter") and the Orchids "Underneath the Window, Underneath the Sink") were obvious from the outset, but it's melodicism and underlying wit common to all these songs that is the most persuasive testament to why the label still enjoys such a rabid cult following to this day.

Wednesday, 22 July 2020

Brighter ‎Singles 1989 - 1992


BrighterSingles 1989 - 1992

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Ah, Brighter. If you needed melancholy, intimate, gently heartbroken indie pop to keep you company as you curled up under your blankets and felt blue, they would never let you down. Their brief catalog is sad and blue from start to finish. An apt comparison would have to be the Field Mice if you took away any glimmer of happiness and that band's willingness to experiment. Brighter were mostly content to stay within the bounds of the sound they sketched out on their first release: ringing guitars, drum machine, melodic bass, and above all Keris Howard's almost painfully personal lyrics and bedsit perfect voice. Matinee have done indie kids everywhere a big favor by rounding up the band's three singles and one 10" EP they recorded for Sarah between 1989 and 1992. (The group also released two flexi-discs that sadly don't appear.) Each song is a steady stream of sadness, but the standout songs are the epic "Noah's Ark," the almost peppy "I Don't Think It Matters," and their musically sunniest song, "Poppy Day," which ironically boasts the lyrics "The sun rarely shines without you." You know from the resignation in his voice that the sun hadn't shone on Howard for quite a while. Oh well, his sadness is indie pop fans' gladness, and this collection brings a feeling of warm nostalgia for the old-timers who lived through it and a feeling of happy discovery for those who enjoy the bands that Brighter influenced (like most of Matinee's early-2000s roster, especially Keris Howard's group Harper Lee). 2002 brought Matinee's great Razorcuts retrospective, and then 2003 brought this superb collection, making you wonder what 2004 would bring. Maybe an Orchids box set? A Harvey Williams retrospective? Once again Matinee proves itself to be just about the best pal an indie kid could have.

Saturday, 18 July 2020

BMX Bandits Gettin' Dirty


BMX Bandits Gettin' Dirty

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The fourth BMX Bandits album, 1995's Gettin' Dirty, breaks with tradition by finally establishing a fully fledged band who contributes to every track instead of gathering a nebulous collection of friends surrounding singer/songwriter Duglas T. Stewart. As a result, Gettin' Dirty is the first BMX Bandits album with a consistent sound and feel. Stewart and guitarist Francis McDonald (moonlighting from his regular gig in Teenage Fanclub) wrote most of the songs together, with Stewart's lyrics complemented nicely by McDonald's Big Star-derived melodic sense. While none of the tunes are as completely swell as "Serious Drugs," the highlight from the previous year's Life Goes On, there's also a refreshing lack of the half-baked filler that marred previous BMX Bandits efforts. Highlights include the title track, a downright sweet reverie about the joys of showering with your significant other, and the Phil Spector homage "Come out of the Shadows," but Teenage Fanclub fans will be most intrigued by the McDonald-penned "No Future," which is a companion song to "Tears" from Teenage Fanclub's Grand Prix: the two songs are musically identical, with two sets of lyrics written from opposing viewpoints of the same romantic situation, an interesting conceit that also works as a pair of great pop songs.

Wednesday, 15 July 2020

Various CD86 48 Tracks From The Birth Of Indie Pop



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In 1986, the British music weekly NME issued a cassette dubbed C-86, which included a number of bands -- the Wedding Present, Primal Scream and the Pastels among them -- influenced in equal measure by the jangly guitar pop of the Smiths, the three-chord naïveté of the Ramones and the nostalgic sweetness of the girl group era. Also dubbed "anorak pop" and "shambling" by trainspotters, C-86 quickly emerged as a cause célèbre within the hype-fueled Britsh press, and though the music's moment in the spotlight proved short-lived, it influenced hordes of upcoming bands on both sides of the Atlantic who absorbed the scene's key lessons of simplicity and honesty to stunning effect. While the two-disc compilation CD86 fails to reprise the original C-86 cassette in its entirely, this is nevertheless a vital and far-reaching overview of a singular moment in time when boy-girl harmonies, lovelorn lyrics and infectious melodies were again paragons of hip -- and unlike so many other flavors-of-the-month, the 48 songs here still sound fresh, even timeless in their unaffected and unadorned brilliance. Highlights include the Dentists' "I Had an Excellent Dream," the Sea Urchins' "Pristine Christine" and Talulah Gosh's "Talulah Gosh."
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