pop / other

dance music

the charts

After reading Robin's end of year summation I was tempted to attempt my own version. It's probably going to be a bit longer, a bit more diverse in terms of noises (possibly, or possibly just as diverse but in different directions) and not as amusing. Probably.

On deciding to write this at all then, the first thing that I decided to do was, (rather sensibly I thought), sort out all the records I'd picked up that were released in 1997. As I started this, however, it dawned on me a) just how bad my memory is, and b) just how quickly the years fly past. There I was, happily picking up discs that I was sure I'd picked up in the past year, but upon checking the dates realised I was at least a year out. Sometimes more. Getting old: it's a scary thing.

However, I'm organised now, so where to start? With Pop, because Pop is wholesome and Pop is Fun. Sometimes. And starting with the thing which seemed to aggrieve Robin so... that Barbie Girl tune. See, I'm out of step with Robin on this one because I happened to think it was really rather amusing and Great Pop. Mind you, this was way back in May, several months before the masses in the UK had heard it, and the verdict was based upon amusing, hysterical stories of Norwegian school exchange frolics passed on both by the Duchess and kids alike. So, as is normal, Pop delight based solely upon the madness of personal moments. I also rather liked the line about begging on knees, but hey...

More exuberant Pop that caused a few people street-cred headaches was the Bis LP, 'the New Transistor Heroes' on Wiija. Released in time to catch the music press Bis-backlash, the LP was a monster of Pop hooks and bubblegum grenades. I loved it for five minutes, but I already said that. And hey! the US release was on Grand Royal, so you could keep your street-cred after all.

Careful and regular readers will remember that I also told you about how I thought Grant McLennan's 'In Your Bright Ray' (Beggars Banquet) was making sounds that ring magic through the air. I still think that, and, in the best tradition of the Go-Betweens, this is one of the best but most over-looked records of 1997.

My own favourite Pop album of 1997, however, was the eponymous release on Creeping Bent by Adventures In Stereo. Collecting hard to find singles together on one release was a common thread in 1997 (more on that in a minute), and this was the best of those kinds of projects. At first so squeaky that I actually hated it, the scratchy looped samples of 60s guitar riffs and keyboard noodlings and the voice of, um, the girlie singer slowly seduced me through the year, and it's ended up Top Of the Pops. Who'd have thought?

Still on the collections-of-previously-released-on-difficult-small-labels material theme, comes the Warp issue of the assembled Broadcast works. With the same looping samples concept as AIS, and a similar whispering girlie vocal, I know this pissed a lot of people off for being too 'twee'. Not so here in Tangents Towers, however. Here, for example, we thought the Parisian / Stereolab (there, I said it) swirl of 'The Book Lovers' was just as super sounding as it was a year before when it was out on Duophonic as a single. And 'the Living Room' was of course an apt tune for our own.

Many people bundled the Broadcast sound in the Out Rock / electronica bag, but to me they are always Pop. However, let's move onto Out Rock (thanks The Wire for another snappy genre title) and tying Broadcast and our next title together is/was the embarrassingly hip Wurlitzer Jukebox label, for whom both Broadcast and Mogwai released singles. Mogwai's tracks were collected on the 'Ten Rapid' collection out of the house of Jetset Records of New York, and was proof that the new sound of young scotland was indeed in the ascendant. Further proof, as if it were needed, came later in the year with the release of their full scale debut 'Mogwai young Team' on Chemikal Underground. The story went that the band all shaved their heads to achieve the correct level of spiritual purity in order to make the record, and I hope that's true. It's certainly a great modern soul record in that it's noise has an elegiac quality, and that it has the power to cleanse and inspire. Massive.

Also proving the worth of the new scottish underground were The Arab Strap. Following up their hugely impressive debut LP 'the Week Never Starts Round Here', The 'Strap donated the backing from their 'First Big Weekend' to a Guinness advert, recorded some truly amazing shit for Radio One, and released the best two singles of the year, both for Chemikal Underground, which in conjunction with the Mogwai release make it my own label of the year. I talked earlier in the year about the majesty of the Arab Strap singles, but just in case you weren't listening: 'The Clearing' came with three different mixes, each one brilliant, and included the most ravishing guitar line of the year. Hypnotic and so sexy it hurt. 'The Girls Of Summer EP' had four new songs, including the hilarious 'One Day After School' and the aching 'Hey Fever', which coincidentally featured the delights of Belle And Sebastian's Chris Geddes and Stuart Murdoch. And before we leave the 'Strap, mention must be made of the 7"" on Lissys which collected 'The Smell Of Outdoor Cooking' and 'themetune'. Essential. Obviously.

Anyone who has even cast an occasional eye over Tangents in 1997 will know that Belle And Sebastian have been my major obsession. More so even that Arab Strap, although the 'Strap have been gaining ground these past few months... Belle And Sebastian released three delightfully ravishing Eps for Jeepster in the summer / autumn, and you can read about those elsewhere.

Moving out of scotland, let's move south to the leafy quiet of Devon for more 'Out Rock' from our fine local Exeter band Appliance. Appliance released a brace of material on two 10" singles this year, and proved that they have a very fine future, assuming that either a) the interest in krautrock-influenced sounds doesn't suddenly fizzle out or b) they continue to hone their skills and produce noises that are quirky and individual. The future is as bright as they want it to be.

More Out Rock, of the kind Appliance would appreciate, came early in the year with Trans Am's 'Surrender To the Night' on City Slang. Appreciably better than the eponymous debut, this cut some rug on the noodly electro/rock tangent. Released at the same time and on the same label was 'Veiculo' by To Rococo Rot, a collection of stripped down funking electronica that remained resplendent for the entire year, bolstered as it was by the 'Paris 25' EP late in the summer, which collected remixed versions of LP tracks with two new ones. Doing the same were Thrill Jockey's The Sea And Cake, who took tracks from the criminally under-exposed 'The Fawn' LP and constructed the 'Two Gentlemen' EP. The Sea and Cake continue to produce some of the finest in left-field Pop, yet continue to be as near ignored as makes no difference. Which is fair enough for the fans who can delight in relative peace, but is nevertheless frustrating, especially given the welter of interest given to the other group to which members belong; the ubiquitously name dropped Tortoise. Anyway, for it's peculiarly '80s angle on Pop, 'The Fawn' ties with Grant McLennan for the second most underrated LP of the year. Winner of that dubious award, however, goes to Australia's Apartments who, in 'Apart' on Hot records, delivered a beautifully crafted LP of melancholic Pop. Reminiscent in parts of The Blue Nile circa 'Stay' (both with the vocal delivery and intelligently poetic lyrics), and with a restrained orchestration / instrumentation that is as intimate as, say, the Verve's are overblown, 'Apart' is the soundtrack for broken obsessions and unrequited observations.

And so ends the Pop and Rock section of our review. How about some 'Dance Music'?

Alistair Fitchett. 1997.