The Day The Rain Came Down
So, in what some seem to believe is the spirit of the recently dear departed Careless Talk Costs Lives, I'm kicking off with a title reference to an unsuccessful 80s indie band. I had thought of using a reference to a rather more successful 80s indie band, in which the words ´rain', ´hard', ´humdrum' and ´town' all feature, but I thought better of it. Too populist.

Anyway, with the rain falling beyond the window on a late November morning I figured it was a good kind of time for sitting in the warmth of the geek lair listening to a bunch of singles, all of which are naturally by the kinds of obscure bands that in twenty years time journalists will drop references to in hip magazines.

First on the deck is the fourth release on the wonderful Dead Digital label. Another perfectly packaged 7', this one has a neat linear drawing of a chap on a bench, holding a red apple. On the flip side only the bench and apple remain, but the apple has had a bite from it, so it looks like, guess what? The Apple computer logo! Makes me wonder if the two tracks by Escape Pod were recorded on a Mac... they certainly sound like they have the grace and aesthetic sensibility of Mac users, and come across as the kind of hipsters who fill their record collections with sweet ´60s soft pop masterpieces and contemporary electronic noodles. So imagine Broadcast with a breathy male voice, or Appliance with more of a pop sensibility, and you're getting close. It all adds up to another massive hit for Dead Digital (in the geek lair, if nowhere else) who can boast the record of four steps up to plate and four home runs. An impressive result, I'm sure you'll agree.
Another impressive result comes from The Boy Least Likely To, whose second 7' comes sleeved in another scratchy naąve scribble drawing of what I assume is a boy least likely to. Kind of pre-empts my intention to have drawings on Unpopular characters on the labels of my singles, but hey ho, that's for another day. On this single, the enigmatic boy least likely to shows that in fact he's probably the boy most likely to inhabit a world populated by bedroom troubadours swapping dreams of Postcard singles discovered in charity shops for 10p and of the day they took a picnic on Box Hill with St Etienne (on the stereo), with a mint copy of Are You Scared To Get Happy issue 3 tucked in their back pocket. For those of you too in tune with popular culture to understand what those references actually mean, it means that the boy least likely too is all summery sweetness charged with an edginess that's all coy fringes and cloaked switchblades. Oh, and is it just me, or is ´Hugging my grudge' like some kind of maniac inversion of the Etienne classic ´Hug My Soul'? Hand stamped label and nifty typewritten insert on this one too... just like 1986!

More hand stamping on labels courtesy of solution b records, who offer us a split 7'. Sharing duties on this one are Air Formation and Tempertwig. The former actually get a little hand painted watercolour swirl on their label, and it's really rather fitting because Air Formation do indeed sound like washing out your watercolours in the sink; all the colours swirling around and eventually bleeding together to make a kind of impenetrable mist. Their last Ends In Light album was a bit of a treat, and this cut is apparently a taster from their forthcoming third, Stay Inside, Feel Everything (clairecords). Unkind reviewers would bandy around words like Shoegazing but hey! It ain't the early ´90s anymore, so I'm not going to do that. The press release mentions Flying Saucer Attack and Spacemen 3, but I didn't much like either of them. I do, however, like Air Formation, so make of that what you will.

Uh, I never heard of Tempertwig, but apparently Steve Lamacq said they were like Jarvis Cocker fronting Dinosaur Jr. Jarvis, incidentally, was the singer in an unsuccessful 80s indie band called Pulp, who much later became famous for doing something with Michael Jackson. Kids in school used to say I looked like him but they don't say that anymore which is maybe more to do with the fact that the kids no longer know or care who Jarvis is. Or was. Which is a shame because I always rather liked the chap, but there you go. I also quite liked Dinosaur Jr, although only a little and only in small doses and I always kept it quite because in the early 90s it was actually rather popular to like noisy American Rock, and clearly that wasn't going to be good for my image, so I pretended to hate it all. I'm not sure I agree with Mr Lamacq though. I'm with Jimmy Possession on this one, thinking Arab Strap and Tindersticks, or maybe like Animals That Swim when they were doing stuff like ´Chapel Market' or ´Oregon State Fair' on that classic '50 Dresses' 10'. And whatever it sounds like, it makes for a great slab of vinyl that you really ought to seek out.
Okay, I'm getting tired flipping vinyl, so I'm gonna fire up the coffee machine and hit the CD player. First in the tray is a five tracker for Matinee by The Pines. Wasn't there some edict back in the day that said that only records with four or less tracks were eligible for the singles chart? Or am I dreaming? Well whatever, assuming there was, I guess that makes this Pines record not a single, and therefore disqualified from this column... ha ha. But The Pines of course are Pop, and this ´True Love Waits, Volume Two' is finely in the tradition of the great Pop EP, as popularised back in the ´50s and early ´60s by the likes of Rosemary Clooney, Benny Goodman, Les Paul and Mary Ford or Shorty Rogers and His Giants. Not that it sounds like those names from the ark, but rather that the Pines are invested with some kind of shared aesthetic which due to their current context marks them down as strange dreamers; with heads full of high neck dresses and Buddy Holly glasses they deliver gently sharp and smart mementoes of a past they are too young to remember. In this The Pines are like the sadly forgotten Grenadine who similarly gave us a series of genius ´50s tinged records back in the ´90s. So when you're sipping your hot cocoa in front of the fire this winter or sipping cocktails in the twilight digging The Pines, go dig out those old Grenadine records as well. You know it makes sense.

Maybe whilst your there you should dig out your old Sugargliders records too. The Sugargliders of course were another of those unsuccessful indie bands, though this time from the ´90s rather than the ´80s. They were (un)fortunate enough to be wed to the Sarah label in the UK, for whom they made a bundle of records, almost all of which I never listened to. I understand they were highly acclaimed, and had all kinds of people making references to fellow Australians the Go-Betweens, but at the time I was investigating other avenues and just didn't have the time or the interest. I'm kind of intrigued now that I've heard the new EP by the group that they grew into, The Steinbecks. The nicely titled ´Branches and fronds brushing the window' (low transit industries / microindie records) has six tracks of a uniformly high standard that are kicked off with the ace anti-war anthem ´Guilty Spring'. Full of reigned-in anger and vitriol, ´Guilty Spring' treads just the right line of bitter indignation and peaceful protest and sets the tone for the rest of the record, wherein The Steinbecks sound much sharper, harder, more full bodied than I remember them sounding from the only previous time I heard them some years ago. It's a good sound too, like The Lucksmiths with noisier guitars or an early Augie March with more Pop and less Rock. Glorious, either way, and certainly enough to make me want to go and explore those pasts that passed me by.

Also harking back to the ´50s, at least in terms of sleeve aesthetic, are Marriage recording artistes The Music Lovers with their five track ´Cheap Songs Tell The Truth' EP. The Music Lovers tread a strange line, having the scent of Jack about them whilst surrounding themselves with thoughts of old Lilac Time albums. Which is to say they revel in the scent of hair lacquer, French cigarettes and brandy whilst standing on the petrol station forecourt in the rain dressed in an anorak and Dylan cap. So it's all pleasant enough in a decadent kind of way, but it feels altogether too carefully constructed to ring true; more concerned with the music than the feel; more polite and polished than perturbed and pockmarked. They reckon that cheap songs tell the truth, and I think they're right at that. Shame then that they sound like they spent too much on making their songs sound clean and crisp and sterile.

Okay, so the coffee is cold and the sun is now struggling to shine weakly through the cloud cover. Time to stop hitting keys. Time to venture out of the attic and into the world...

© 2003Alistair Fitchett