The Scent Of Spring
It’s amazing how a bit of sunshine and unseasonable warmth can lift the spirits, isn’t it? So it makes people drive cars in an erratic manner. So it forces people into unwise fashion choices much too early in the year. So it makes the Geek Lair feel stuffy and claustrophobic like it was High Summer. Do I care? Do I heck. And so, in the spirit of these sunkissed days, here’s a jaunty look at some of the recordings that have been falling into my hands of late and spooling out of my iTunes.

Kicking off with Vancouver’s ace all girl group The Organ simply because, well to be frank simply because The Organ are almost illegally good, and their Sinking Hearts mini album on the Sink and Stove label is the kind of record you run around clutching to your heart and sticking on repeat for days on end. 6 tracks, 14 minutes, all of it immeasurably Great Pop that gazes at stars and kicks through dunes with the sweetest smile of dark hearted romantic teenagers walking home at 3am. Some will fish around for reference points and will lump them in with a post-punk scene, but they will be wrong, just as they were wrong to consider Blondie as being New Wave when they were clearly just Great Pop. And we should never make excuses for saying something is Great Pop.

The Organ remind me of Blondie more than they remind me of, say, Throwing Muses, though I suspect that most will mention Throwing Muses more than once in relation to The Organ in coming months. It is a fair reference, mind, but remember please that whilst Throwing Muses might have been barmy arty fuckers, they were also a Great Pop Band. Witness the impossibly infectious ‘Dizzy’ for proof, though you could point to any number of other songs as evidence.

More than anything though The Organ remind me of Pauline Murray And The Invisible Girls; an age old reference that will hopefully have people searching out some records as much as scratching their heads in confusion. Murray of course was the voice in classic Northern England punk act Penetration, whilst The Invisible Girls were a legendary ‘backing band’ who performed on nearly all of John Cooper Clarke’s albums and who featured in their line up the legendary Martin Hannett as well as Steve Hopkins and Buzzcocks drummer John Maher. When you consider Pete Shelley was also a some-time member, you get some idea of their collective genius (though lets conveniently forget that Wayne Hussey also cropped up on the ‘Searching For Heaven’ single).

Not that The Organ really need all those reference points, and in fact all I need have written were the first two lines of this review. Because when it comes down to it that’s all you need to know about any record; all you need to know about any band. Since the original 2002 release of Sinking Hearts they have a full length set called Grab That Gun which has yet to see the light of day outside North America and a forthcoming 7” called ‘Let The Bells Ring’ that I am desperate to hear; desperation being one of the painful parts of obsession, and obsession of course being one of the crucial elements in Great Pop (we can’t say it enough). They tour the UK in March and April 2005. Be sure you check them out.
Be sure to check out too the debut album by My Teenage Stride. Major Major (on Becalmed) is a collection of glorious songs that blend a passion for late ‘60s Soft Pop with a love of late ‘80s indiepop, all of which adds up to a sound that’s strangely timeless and timely all at once. Highlights? Quite a number, but how can I pass up the chance to tell you about the ace ‘Happy Holidays’ with its lines about The Happy Mondays and The Sundays? I don’t know who the song is aimed at, but I must admit I’m on their side. I wouldn’t want to do a thing when someone puts on The Sundays either. Except maybe fall asleep. And what about ‘Carry On Cassidy’, or ‘It’s Fair That You Should Follow Me’? Catchy just isn’t it, and I swear if they had been recorded by the likes of The Yellow Balloon or The Sunshine Company there would be a million posts on the Rev-Ola mailing list calling for a guns blazing reissue series dedicated to the group. Make sure you don’t have to wait another 25 years for a salvage operation though, and catch My Teenage Stride in their rather magnificent prime.

Now, I’m not normally one for reading much of press releases, but there’s an amazing paragraph on the one for War Against Sleep’s Invitation To The Feast (Fire Records) that really made me sit up and take note. It’s the kind of Pop Art prose I sometimes think I perhaps once wrote when I was younger, but I don’t know… “The Casio-psychosis of a moral dyslexic squeezing out songs like glue to hold himself together. The act of picking cigarette ends off the floor because you like the taste of cheap lipstick. Love crafted from a night in with Teletext and Benylin.” And that’s just the first sentence.

I’d have been intrigued to hear the record on reading those words alone of course, but when I discover they were penned by Gravenhurst’s Nick Talbot (and indeed Nick appears on the record alongside a gaggle of other musicians ­ including Moloko’s Roisin Murphy - to colour in the songs of Duncan Fleming) you can maybe see why I was starting to froth at the mouth in anticipation.

Even better, that anticipation is largely rewarded with a record of twisted folkPop that bubbles with the inventiveness of Brian Wilson and Ray and Dave Davies, coupled with a dark undertow that often recalls the uneasy sound of Charles Manson’s Love And Terror Cult. Throw in a penchant for Gainsbourg / Cave melodramatics and you have a contemporary Psych record of the finest sort: the sort that takes the benchmark of great psychedelia as ‘Good Vibrations’ and The Millennium as opposed to ‘Purple Haze’ and Cream, and applies that blueprint to a new, ahem, millennium. So it’s an album shot through with references to catch the attention of us old fuckers, but that’s thankfully never studied and smug. Strange and salacious, spooked and spacious, unsettling and uptight. Or, in the words of Mr Talbot again: “Hysterical, literate, blackened by the sun.” Either way, it’s bloody marvellous.

On further study of the press release I notice the album isn’t actually released until the 2nd of May, so please make a note in your diaries or your iCals or your PDAs or your phones or whatever the hell you use for such things, and remind yourself to make a lunchtime trip to the record store.
Much more traditional US folk / country is provided by Boston based Josh Lederman Y Los Diablos on their It’s a long and lonely time until the train will bring you home set on Nine Mile Records. Imagine an urbane Americana Pogues, or a more obviously folkified Uncle Tupelo and you’re getting close. If you were feeling cruel you could say that it’s the kind of thing that’s pretty much a dime a dozen; the kind of thing you’ll probably find playing most nights in any bar in the US. Bit it really matters not a jot. Or, at least, not a lot of jots.

Finally, some electronic oddities… Omega Point Records keep sending me stuff. Recently it’s been sets by Uber Kung Fu and The Mystechs. The former make an occasionally infectious noise that’s part ‘80s electro pop, part Goth gloom. Key cut is the actually rather fine HI-NRG ‘Tonite’. On the cover of their sixth album meanwhile The Mystechs look like extras from the Beastie Boys’ ‘Sabotage’ video, whilst on the record they throw just about any genre you can think of into the mix. I’m not convinced it works, or at least I’m not convinced it’s really my bag. With a stupidly eclectic spectrum and a multitude of cultural reference points, it sounds like Post-Modernism gone mad, and maybe that’s their point. If it is they’ve made it well. If not, well, put that CD back on the shelf.

Over in Europe, meanwhile, we see that track four of Maja S.K. Ratkje and Lasse Marhaug’s Music For Faking is called ‘how much noise can we make? (let’s find out)’. The answer, as it turns out, is “quite a bit”; all of it utterly mad and thoroughly in debt to the similarly kind of bonkers Euro Hardcore electronic mayhem that Alec Empire has hurled our way in the past. If the sound of petulant electronics spewing their guts up over a bedrock of white noise is your idea of A Good Time then check this out pronto style. If not, erm, then don’t.

Now, what are we all doing cooped up in front of computer screens anyway? Let’s get out in the sun and soak in the scent of spring’s teasing rays.

© 2005 Alistair Fitchett