Don't Blink
7" singles reviewed

My guess is that all the hipster indie-children will know all about New York based I Am The World Trade Centre, particularly since one-half of the group (Dan Geller) is also the co-owner of the Kindercore label. Unsurprisingly then, I had never heard of them until this pink and brown sleeved split single from Shirley Bean records arrived in my lap a month or so ago. Apparently the band came about their name in 1999 as a reference to what was then a symbol of the great city they found themselves in. They did change their name to 'I Am The...' after recent events, but have since reverted to the original moniker as a way, partly of keeping the name intact. Which seems pretty reasonable... especially since a portion of profits from their Out Of The Loop LP are going to the September 11th fund. But enough of the name, what about the sound? Well, their track on this split single, 'Loveless Sunday', starts of with a great horn fanfare and a snappy beat, quickly joined by Amy's lazy Sunday afternoon drawl. Before too long the party is joined by some mad cacophonies of what sounds like a mad-cap party in the discarded toy box: one armed monkeys playing out-of-power battery keyboards, headless plastic armies clanging against spinning tops. It all sounds pretty marvellous.

Even better for me though is the flip side, proffered by DJ Paul Barman's Phofo alter-ego. 'Ancient Chinese Secret' is the kind of sample-filled hip-pop that I recall being made so well about four or five years ago by the likes of Le Hammond Inferno, the Experimental Pop Band, or Fantastic Plastic Machine, all of whom released great records on the Bungalow label. And in fact, Phofo sound like they would fit right in with that whole scene, which was, what, lounge-hip-hop-pop-punk? Right. Phofo also remind me of the great days of Depth Charge, although it's really just in the idea of 'Ancient Chinese Secret', bringing to mind those awesome Kane slabs filled with hard rockin' beats and those extravagantly hilarious samples from obscure martial arts movies. My personal favourite was always the 'Silver Fox' single. Wow, what a track that was... that section of dialogue at the end creases me up every time, especially when it goes 'you IDIOT, I suppose I have to do everything myself...' Classic.

But yes... Phofo and I Am The World Trade Centre split single is available on the Shirley Beans label and comes highly recommended for thrill seekers everywhere.

Similarly highly recommended but on a totally different tack altogether is the split single that make up the sixth (and rumour has it, final) release on the Johnny Kane label. Featuring perennial Kane faves the Relict and newcomers Below The Sea, this single continues to explore the kind of melancholic autumnal sounds that Johnny Kane records seem to have made their own over the past few years. Canadian experimentalists Below The Sea, especially, conjure up a drifting, dreamy snow-scape in their 'Pola Mountain', which in fact isn't a million miles away from sounding like their similarly named Australian counterparts Braving The Seabed. Both groups seem to be exploring similar moods and textures, and whilst the Antipodeans have glorious vocals, these Canadians instead prefer, here at least, to rely on the power of the instrumental to paint their Brice Marden type sonic-pictures. 'Pola Mountain' is a beautiful fragment of driving mountain passes in winter sunbursts, snowblind heading for the waters edge. Gorgeous.

As for the Relict track, well, blink and you miss it. One minute and twenty seven seconds of almost unearthly delights, 'Out Of Time' is a simple country-edged affair of pale blue guitar and mauve tinged vocals; cafe windows reflecting passing train tracks, your attention on the cracks in the icicles, and the haunting quality of words like 'the people I've known are only fleeting' which seem to me to cut to the quick, to the core of it all. Whatever it is.

Just don't blink.

Of course there are close ties between The Relict and The Clientele, although for the life of me I cant actually remember what they are exactly. No matter. The Clientele too have been gracing a couple of split singles recently, for a couple of great American independent labels. First up, there's their effort for the sublime Slumberland label which features the Clientele doing more of their astonishingly fragile but immeasurably assured Pop with 'Porcelain'. The Clientele are in the envious position of sounding ever more like The Clientele with each release, and if you don't know what that means, well, maybe you should stay in more. Because The Clientele sound, for me, like the most delicious confection in the box (dark chocolate, of course) of treats that is, well, music that carries the scent of quietly powerful, slow-burning euphoria; the kind of deep burrowing starlight that casts everything in silver. It's the hairs on your arms just brushing against the one you can't look in the eye, that passing momentary instant of... of... sunlight on the waves rippling in the April breeze in the estuary.

I feel kind of sorry for any band having to share a single with The Clientele because, for me at least, they are always going to come off second-best. To their credit then, Saturday's People only just fail to force a tie on this single. With its breezy '60s beat-groups meets '80s indiepopsters sound, 'Grace' sounds like some cousin of, say, Jesse Garon and The Desperadoes gone to reside in San Francisco. It's all rousing stuff, and whilst it's enjoyable, somehow I cant shake the feeling that it just doesn't quite make it... that next to what The Clientele are doing in making a remarkably different, individual sound from similar sets of sources, the Saturday People sound, well, just a little bit obvious.

Meanwhile, over on Drive In Records, the Clientele take part in one of those playful ideas that small labels like to throw out every so often: bands swapping songs. I remember Buddha On The Moon and the Steinbecks doing this to great effect a number of years ago, and now it's the turn of The Clientele and Clock Strikes Thirteen to play the same game. The Clientele do their American colleagues 'The Six Foot Drop' and make it sound just like you know the Clientele would make anything sound: Fantastic. It's more of the above really, but heavier, or lighter, if you prefer, on the soft touches, the blurred focus. Essential, naturally.

Less essential is the other side of the coin, since Clock Strikes Thirteen, unfortunately, don't do as much credit for the Clientele's 'We Could Walk Together'. One of the Clientele's oldest songs, this is the one that appeared on the 'Cry Me A Liver' compilation single on Fierce Panda all those years ago, the one that marvellously rhymes 'England's green' with 'amphetamine'. Clock Strike Thirteen here sound out of sorts, unable to get their head around the song, trying so hard to make it sound unlike the original that they end up with it sounding like not very much at all. My advice: Buy the single for the Clientele and put a big scratch across the other side. You know it makes sense.

Pam Berry once sang on a Clientele single (split with the Relict, as I seem to recall), and as regular readers will no doubt know, Pam has the voice of an angel, which is something I've said before and will no doubt say again. I'm saying it now because I'm listening to the new single by Pam and Joe Brooker's current project The Pines. Coming on reassuringly hefty vinyl, this four song EP on Becalmed Records, is another fine snapshot of Pam and Joe's marvellous sonic chemistry. Writing and performing sweet, simple Pop songs, The Pines are an exquisite Pop-Artefact, a glance over your shoulder at marvellous melody and right-to-the-point lyrics, shimmering like an iced-gem levitating above a London sidewalk. The Pines are in love with the subtle power that lies in pure acoustic Pop, and you should in turn be in love with The Pines. It's that simple.

I don't know anything about Pipas, except that they share space on the Long Lost Cousin website with the Pines, and a group called, bizarrely and rather brilliantly, Biff Bang Powell. There are doubtless all kinds of connections between all the groups; they probably all hang out in the same pubs and talk about obscure indie records for all I know... it doesn't matter a bit of course. Because what I do know, and what really matters, is that Pipas have made a single for Matinee that sounds just like Pop singles ought to: short, sweet, to the point, no pissing about just, excuse me here, biff, bang, pow. Straight to the heart. 'A Short Film About Sleeping' is especially perfect, coming off a bit like Stars at their bouncing best, and being the best song ever to mention Cassavettes and Passolini.

Finally, there's would-be-goods, whose 'Sugar Mummy' single has been out on Fortuna Pop for a while now, although I admit I've only just got around to listening to it. I was always wary of would-be-goods in the past, back in the '80s when they were on El (weren't they?), which was a label I never really took to, despite the fact that they put out the final Felt album. It was all a bit arch for me, seemed all a bit fashion conscious, a bit beautiful and precious. Whatever. The current would-be-goods records, however, sound pretty good, especially on the lead track of this single. 'Sugar Mummy' has great guitars going stabbing and slashing through the fabric of Jessica Griffin's oddly Franco-inflected vocals, like an echo of when Stereolab made such great euro-Pop-rock records that relied more on the dynamics of the guitar than the moog. It's a fine single, and a great taster for the forthcoming Brief Lives album, which in fact might be out by the time I have this written, but there you go.

© Alistair Fitchett 2002

The Relict / Below The Sea is on Johnny Kane Records, available direct from the label for 3.50. Cheques payable to J. Hyde. PO Box 52, Windermere, LA23 2YB, UK. Email for more details