Sad Is Sometimes Lonely
Another recent listening mix 
Prelude - Hacia Dos Veranos

I had to start with this if only for the title, which seems custom made to kick off any mix. The fact that it’s a perfectly formed piece of post-rocking, Felt inflected instrumental bliss just helps make it even more perfect. Currently available on a demo CD, this arrived on my desk after Alasdair Clientele (who have used it as pre-show music at recent gigs) recommended the Buenos Aires trio get in touch. I’m so glad they did. The track actually kicks off a three part classico-rock symphony called Fragmentos de una tarde somnolienta, which is every bit as good as this lead track suggests it might be, and if all goes according to plan it will be available early 2006 as a 3” CD on the I Wish I Was Unpopular label. Well worth looking out for.

Silk As Her Era ­ Pellumair

I mentioned Pellumair's Summer Storm album from which this exquisite single is taken last time out, so I’ll not say too much new here, apart from to stress that this really is one of the most deliciously melodic and breathlessly soft records I have heard in a long time. There’s something of a Sundays morning feel to this that makes me go weak at the knees, and you know that’s strange because aside from their glorious opening salvo of ‘Can’t Be Sure’ I never really dug the Sundays at all. There are also echoes of Red House Painters, which is always a grand thing, and for some reason I can’t stop thinking of the Cocteau Twins in their pearly dewdropping daydream era when the chorus kicks in and the words all slip sweetly into each other in alliterative bliss. All of which means that this is the song I have had on repeat every morning over breakfast for a fortnight. And still it breaks my heart.

On A Tuesday - The Loft

This breaks my heart too. It’s the sound of the blueprint for Pop as imagined in the early to mid 1980s, before the concept of indiepop became soiled and sold down the river for a pocketful of empty promises. It’s the sound of spectral cities in the rain glimmering in the lamplight, glimpsed from the windows of the nightbus. It’s also the sound that McCarthy made their own on their early singles ‘Red Sleeping Beauty’ and ‘Frans Hals’ (never were politics and Pop so bittersweetly wedded as on those shimmering, shivering singles) and I stongly suggest that whilst you are picking up the Loft collection you track down a copy of the That’s All Very Well But compilation of McCarthy gems.
Apathy! - LD & The New Criticism

Some of you may know and cherish LD Beghtol from his chamber Pop band Flare. Others may be aware of his work with The Moth Wranglers, and more will no doubt be familiar with him through his involvement on the mighty 69 Love Songs set by the god-like Magnetic Fields. Well, here he is with the New Criticism, offering up a set of tunes under the title Tragic Realism that are as fine as anything he’s been involved with before. If you’ve any idea of what LD’s aural aesthetics in the past have tended towards, then this should come as no surprise; it’s more of the same Gothic Rococo Country Pop melange. And it’s ace. In fact, this may well be my favourite of all of LDs records to date. There are numerous darkly hilariously moments, both musically and lyrically, not least of which is the terrific line in this track that goes “best learn to grin and bear it, or write songs like Stephin Merritt.” In the midst of a song of richly comic despair that also includes the line “deep down inside you know you look like Howdy Doody”, it’s a moment of delicious, knowing wit that’s both mocking and celebratory all at once. And really that’s the key to the brilliance of this whole album. Because as Mr Merritt has so perfectly proven time and time again, intelligent Pop need not be dull and merely worthy. At its best it can be frivolous and frightful, salacious and suicidal, knowingly referential and gnawingly grim (usually all in the space of the one song). And The New Criticism is certainly all of that and more. One of the freshest delights of the year for sure.

That's Because You Drive Me - Acid House Kings
Slumber Party - Cannonball Jane

Another fresh delight is the Sing Along With The Acid House Kings set, from which this album opener comes. With it’s ‘Dog On Wheels’ groove and its smooth St Etienne suburban aesthetic, this is the sound of Swedish Pop at its finest, which is to say very fine indeed. Now The Acid House Kings are something of a Swedish Pop fixture, and thank goodness for that, because as well as turning out perfectly formed records that positively gleam with the sheen of soft pop daydreams, they also head up the Labrador label that’s been responsible for showcasing loads of other amazing pure Pop sensational sounds (Wan Light, Suburban Kids With Biblical Names, The Legends, Laurel Music, The Radio Dept, Club 8, Southern Ambulance… the list goes on and on). Labrador is the kind of label that makes me weak at the knees, and The Acid House Kings are the kind of band who make me weep tears of quiet joy.

Speaking of St Etienne, this Canonball Jane cut has a vibe that’s right off Fox Base Alpha, which is no bad thing of course. ‘Slumber Party’ is the opener on the Street Vernacular album which is being released in the UK by the ace people at Fortuna Pop, and once again they prove they have a fine ear for quirky, infectious Pop. Made by an elementary school music teacher, this is the sound of a world where the Honeys meet hip hop and electropop, and man, that’s a world I want to live in for sure. This track also makes me think of the glorious Sophie and Peter Johnston and for that we should all be grateful, for Sophie and Peter are surely one of the late ‘80s great lost Pop acts. Their eponymous 1988 set must be ripe for a salvage operation. Meanwhile, treat yourself to Cannonball Jane.
Travelling Light - Drunk With Joy

It seems this duo are currently based down here in the South West, and the Sound Living set that this track opens is out on their A Maze Records, which has an Exeter PO Box address. Not that such things really have any effect on me. I’ve never been one for local scenes or supporting local bands for the sake of it, and it’s been a while since I was aware of anything remotely interesting from around these parts. It’s all Emo Goth Punk rubbish, innit? Not so Drunk With Joy, however. Well, maybe a sprinkling of the Goth, though that’s Gothic in the classic sense of the word; as in dark and forbidding and a little bit spooked. Imagine Portishead or Beth Orton with a love of Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley atmospherics and you’re getting close.

This Town - The June Brides And Phil Wilson

I admit it, I snuck this track on in order to remind you that Cherry Red’s exhaustive collection of Wilson/Brides material is most assuredly now available, poised to scratch and soothe your soul by turns. This particular moment was always one of my favourite June Brides singles and I need no excuse to listen to it once more. The sound of yesterday’s tomorrow today. Or something.

New Southgate Love Song - The Singing Adams
Giraffes No.1 - Chris T-T
East St O'Neill - Animals That Swim

I stumbled upon The Broken Family Band earlier this year via their rather wonderful Welcome Home Loser and Jesus Songs sets. I was instantly seduced by their neo-folk country leanings, and the fact that frontman Steven Adams reminded me of Clem Snide’s Eef Barzelay only added to their appeal. With his Problems set, from which this track comes, Adams has embarked on a solo outing that is equally captivating and heartfelt, full of bittersweet songs of deceptive simplicity and charm. With a sleeve drawn by the awesome David Shrigley, the record evokes an atmosphere that Shrigley’s drawings often share; a quirky knowing naiveté that belies darker undercurrents and imagery. There’s a lot of London in the record too, and it’s good to have a record that manages to juggle a London-centricity that avoids the obvious clarion calls and sonic sterotypes.

Now when Chris T-T played recently in Brighton alongside Brakes, he had Steven Adams strumming banjo alongside him. So what more excuse do I need then to follow up his ‘New Southgate Love Song’ with this peach of a tune from Chris’ brilliant London Is Sinking set? A song about the Giraffes of England (there are 320, apparently), this is classic Chris T-T, full of wit and wisdom (“stick your neck out, stand up taller, don’t look down”) married to a storming Pop soundtrack that sticks in your mind for days on end. If you haven’t already tracked this album down, or his most recent Nine Red Songs set, you are surely missing out on some special treats.

I’ve said already elsewhere that Chris T-T reminds me of the great Hank Starr from the much missed Animals That Swim, so it seemed a good point to remind myself (and your good selves) of that particular spark of genius. Now ‘East St O’Neill’ has always been one of those songs that can leave me breathless, that can leave my eyes tearing and my heart breaking. It’s not just the content (ghost of shooting victim visits narrator in his kitchen) or in the lyrical purity (there’s something painfully, sweetly spiritual in a line like “he’s not grey nor wraithlike, but bright and solid like a new bike”), but in the way everything comes together in a gentle cacophony of sweet soul music. Horns cascade, pianos pound and tinkle, guitars strum and drums pierce the skies whilst a voice just tells it like it is. Some days I need nothing more from the world. I can play this song and everything both makes no sense at all and makes the only sense possible. And that’s the magic of Pop.
Girl On The Train - Liverpool Echo
Color Of Your Eyes - Shaun Harris
Over And Over - Twiggy

This trio of tracks come from a brace of reissues from the ever-reliable Rev-Ola and El stables. The Liverpool Echo cut is from their eponymous 1973 set, and features ex-Mandrake Paddle Steamer’s Martin Briley and Brian Engel in action alongside session aces Herbie Flowers and Clem Cattini. It’s good fun power pop from ahead of its time, but I have to say I prefer the spiky psych charm of the Mandrake material. The Twiggy track meanwhile comes from the Snapshot Of Swinging London collection that she shares with Linda Thorson (of Avengers fame). Some of the tracks have already been featured on the Dream Babes series (notably Thorson’s fantastic ‘Bad Time To Stop Loving Me’) but it’s good to have them all in one place, and for an evocation of a time and place, it’s hard to beat. Best of all though is the eponymous Shaun Harris set. The former singer, bassist and founding member of groundbreaking psych outfit West Coast Pop-Art Experimental Band originally released this solo set in 1973, and at the time it was promptly ignored by the masses in favour of the lumpen likes of Pink Floyd’s terminally dreary Dark Side Of The Moon. Well I know which one I’d rather listen to. ‘Color Of Your Eyes’, like the rest of the album, is a sweet soft sensation laden with strings and a gentle baroque psychedelic vibe. Lovely.

Leaving The Frozen Butterflies Behind - The Left Outsides

Isn’t it great when unsolicited demos and records turn out to be delicious morsels? I have to admit it’s what keeps me going sometimes through the mounds of material that pile higher and higher on my desk and shelves. These flickers of light offer immeasurable pleasure, and I must say that The Left Outsides have left me thrilled with this piece of frosty moonlight caught in a jar. Featuring Mark Nicholas and Allison Cotton (currently a member of January and viola player on releases by the likes of Tompaulin, TV Personalities and Comet Gain), The Left Outsides sound spare and cool, with a crafty, folksy psychedelia underpinning their core. It’s the sound of a shadowy Dottie Holmberg, of Tibi Lubin in a crypt: darkly divine and more than worthy of investigation.
Sad Is Sometimes Lonely - Robyn G Shiels
Dance Scene - Ted Barnes
Goodbye - Puerto Muerto

From his A Lifetime Of Midnights set for No Dancing Records, ‘Sad is Sometimes Lonely’ is such a beautifully aptly titled song it hurts. Full of the pained pull of early Red House Painters and the cracked, quiet chaos of Will Oldham, it’s a deliciously bleak record that balances precariously on the edge of eternal darkness, with only the pinpoint light of delicately balanced instrumentation preventing it from falling into the abyss. Well, that and a voice that quivers like a Derry born Elliott Smith. Just the thing for blowing away the spectre of James Blunt banality sucking the soul from the very concept of folk.

Ted Barnes, meanwhile, continues the dark mood admirably with this gorgeously succinct and evocative track from his new Underbelly album. Originally planned as a score to Shane Meadows’ Once Upon A Time In The Midlands film, Barnes work was apparently ditched in favour of a ‘named’ composer in order to secure more funding. And whilst that’s a shame, it was also perhaps a blessing in disguise, as it allowed Barnes to work up those tracks into the songs that populate this gloriously downbeat and compelling album. Dusty and forlorn, like a walk across attic beams with winter sunlight creeping in through cracks in the roof, this is an immersion in an imagined world that’s all too real and soaked in the poetic sadness of loves once hoped for slipped through fingers, but hoped for still nonetheless. It’s the sound of love and optimism emerging from the cocoon of loss and sadness, blinking and unsure but faintly glowing all the same.

And finally, how could anyone resist a track called ‘Goodbye’ to close a mix? This one comes courtesy of Puerto Muerto from their fourth album Songs Of Muerto County, an album that creates a ‘lost’ soundtrack to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Now that’s not exactly my kind of cinema, but this record is pretty fine, and as John Carney recently said, it’s good to see people writing soundtracks for real films again, rather than imagined ones. Without having seen the film (and no, I don’t really want to, thanks all the same) it’s impossible to judge on the success of the project as a soundtrack, but I do know that the record is thankfully not full of bass rumbles implying impending doom, nor of screeching blood thirsty strings. Instead it is dark and creepy in a gothic western sort of a way, and in that it reminds me of the best bits of Giant Sand, which is naturally a bonus.

© 2005 Alistair Fitchett