Manic Pop Thrills 
I’ve known about the How Does It Feel To Be Loved club event for some time. The kids who organise it post on the Belle and Sebastian Sinister list, and really there is a lot that ties them to the aesthetic that seems to have grown in the oh-too-many years since a gang of geeky cardie wearing funsters started posting scary messages about a troupe of gawky Glaswegians with Postcard fetishes. That I’ve never been to an event is neither here nor there. I’m not much one for murky clubs or pubs these days and anyway I never seem to be in London on coinciding dates. My heart, nevertheless, resides there most assuredly. Certainly reading the sleevenotes to their first compilation CD, the very fine The Kids At The Club, feels like a journey into my own past, present and future. They are like those wonderfully silly wee Ink Polaroids that we all used to post to Sinister, and they make me smile almost as much as the sounds collected on the CD, which really is a splendid who’s who of the best in contemporary underground Pop sounds. Tender Trap, Voxtrot, Irene, Language Of Flowers, Fosca, Strange Idols, Stars of Aviation, We’re From Barcelona, Suburban Kids With Biblical Names… I could go on. And if there seems to be a preponderance of Swedish acts in there, then that is surely as it should be, for those Swedes sure know how to make the most delectable of Pop rackets. There is a special CD launch show on September 8th featuring the rather delicious Lucky Soul, who manage to sound like some magical confection that sprinkles Pipettes icing sugar over a fine ‘60s Beat noise meets ‘90s St Etienne soundtrack. Also on the bill will be Language of Flowers, The Gresham Flyers and the very ace Irene from Gothenburg. If it wasn’t the first Friday back at school and the fact that I will likely have a weekend of preparation to attend to, I would be sorely tempted to be there. Hopefully you wont have any similarly flimsy excuses.
I imagine that the Hidden Cameras get played a fair bit at HDIF. I know if I were spinning the discs they certainly would be. Now I remember from the mists of my past that a band once called their record Manic Pop Thrill. It was a great title and it’s the phrase that I keep coming back to when I think of Hidden Cameras. For rarely has a band made me grin and groove so much as when I first heard their explosive ‘Ban Marriage’ some years ago. I’m glad to declare that the same feeling prickles my skin when I play their third album for Rough Trade, the aptly oddly titled Awoo. Lead Camera Joel Gibb has a fine ear for a finely toned tune and a gratifying grasp of the artfully abstract lyric, which means that from the acoustic strum and string seduction of the glorious ‘She’s Gone’, through the reinvention of ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ / ‘It’s The End of The World’ in the rambunctious ‘Lollipop’ to the pebble accompaniment of ‘The Waning Moon’, Awoo is a magical trip along Pop’s surreal highway.

There’s a moment at the start of the opener on Awoo (the gorgeous ‘Death Of A Tune’) when I’m reminded of The Mountain Goats, which is always a good thing. I happen to rate Joel Gibb up there on the top shelf of contemporary songwriters with Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle. I’m not sure if many would see eye to eye with me on that, but it was a thrill that with the release of last year’s MG’s album The Sunset Tree, a whole bunch of people apparently at last began to think the same about Darnielle at least. Joined again by the wonderful Peter Hughes and Franklin Bruno, Darnielle follows that album with the beautiful Get Lonely set that is full of reflective and quiet resignations to it’s predecessor’s cathartic exorcisms. That it works a treat should come as no surprise. This is music that shivers and slips through the night with a cool, measured confidence. It is music that caresses your soul with a radiance that, even whilst bestowing calm, simultaneously casts shadows and doubts. It is just the kind of simple complexity that we’ve come to expect. It’s a treat to be in a groove of Mountain Goats records, and each year seems to bring another marvellous high point. Long may it continue.
There’s a similar downbeat tone to the Sergeant Buzfuzz The Jewelled Carriageway set on Blang records, though fired through with a harsher edge. At times too it is reminiscent of Hefner, and songs like ‘The Television Will Not Be Revolutionised’ and the epic ‘Here Come The Popes Part 1 (1st Millennium)’ are lyrically sharp and smart enough to be rated up there with some of finest Darren Hayman treasures. The latter in particular is an impressively adventurous undertaking ­ parts two and three in the series are apparently already complete, and if a Papal history in song seems somewhat bizarre, then all the better. It’s not unlike one of Jeffrey Lewis’ excellent oral histories, and is wholeheartedly rooted in folk tradition of course. On it’s own the track would be worthy of the entrance price, but the fact that the rest of the album is every bit as fine and intriguing makes The Jewelled Carriageway set to be one of the more interesting albums of the autumn.

I had a lot of time for D.W. Holiday’s 2004 set Technical Difficulties, Under The Influence, and I’m pleased to say that the follow up is every bit as good. Fish And Flying Creatures (Three Ring Records) takes the space rock Lunascapes of its predecessor and, if anything, spooks it out even more. Not unlike Testbild!s merging of acoustic textures and experimental electronica, D.W. Holiday make sounds like Plaid on an Eagle lander listening to crickets frying on a Death Valley rock whilst Sonic Youth tune up in the background. Pick of the fine bunch of tunes for me is one called ‘Reagan’ which mixes spry and edgy guitar shards with some lush Orange Cakemix-esque techno textures to make something that bristles with aching lost memories of the past, like watching degraded VHS tapes slowly filling up with snow.

Speaking of aching lost memories, I have some very vague recollection of a group called Pandora’s Lunchbox who were around in the early 1990s. I have one of their stickers on a storage box though I struggle to remember what they sounded like, their cassettes being from troubled times of Jack Daniels and cold Devon terraced cottages with ceilings so low I seemed to walk with a permanent stoop. It’s odd then to be reminded of those times by the appearance of the Schizophrenology album by Majestic Twelve. Now Majestic Twelve is the new band of former Pandora’s mainman Kenyata Sullivan and this, their second album, is a treat of edgy politically charged Pop noise. Songs like ‘Condoleeza, Check My Posse’, ‘Are You Ready’, ‘American Rage’ and the excellent ‘Thank God Everything On TV Is A Lie’ are intelligent political barbs, often fuelled by an ironic standpoint not unlike that utilised by McCarthy in the ‘80s on songs like ‘Antiamericancretin’. With connections in the current line-up out to the likes of Ryan Adams, Superchunk, David Byrne and Joe Ely, Schizophrenology has the potential to be one of the surprise hits of the year and you would do well to check it out (and with free album download from their website, there realy is no excuse)
There’s more politically charged memories courtesy of the fabulous Punker Than You Since '92 collection of Boyracer singles and assorted rarities courtesy of 555 Records. I always had a soft spot for Boyracer, ever since hearing their first single on Sarah all those years ago. I loved how they were so unlike the stupidly accepted notion of how Sarah bands should sound, but it did little to change the media opinion of the label. And anyway Boyracer were always so rabidly independent that they never became associated with any one label (except perhaps their own 555). Instead the group made a dizzying amount of records for a multitude of small labels, each of them united by their resolutely DIY stance. And even though I bought only a few of those records myself, it was always somehow comforting to know that Boyracer were out there, making their racket and inspiring whole new generations of Punk kids to get out and make their own noises, put on shows, release records, whatever. Of course this was all a million miles from what came to be recognised as the mainstream notion of Punk in the late ‘90s and early 21st Century. No jaunty clean powerpopping anthems of pretty Boy Band troupes dressed up in teenage loser angst outfits for Boyracer. Not that Boyracer didn’t make great Pop records though. They most assuredly did, it was just they were altogether more raucous, genuinely howling, aurally argumentative and all the better for it. This copious collection (seventy five tracks on two discs!) is a real treasure trove, and with suitably succinct notes by Stewart and Jen is a must have compilation for old and new fans alike.

Now the prize for most played four track CDR in the past few days has to go to Washington DC’s The Positions. Lead track ‘Summer Nights’ in particular is a gem. With perky horn blasts and a sugar Pop rush that comes on like Belle And Sebastian on a restricted diet of sherbert and jelly babies. It comes as no surprise then that this was produced by Archie Moore of Velocity Girl, Heartworms and Saturday People fame. That the Positions are firmly in the tradition of those groups should be mighty recommendation indeed, and whilst their Bliss! set has apparently been out in the US for a while now, it’s imminent release in the UK on Yesboyicecream (the label who released the excellent Still Unravished tribute to the June Brides) should surely be met with yelps of excitement. Guaranteed to have even the coyest of indiekids shaking their hips on the dancefloor. Possibly.

Of course if I were making a mix, I would be sorely tempted to follow The Positions ‘Summer Nights’ with the Olivia Newton John and John Travolta smash from Grease. Or, even better (perhaps), what about the Sarah And The Johnsonauts cover version from the truly bizarre Down To Grease On Holiday download only album from the Filthy Little Angels label? Twenty four tracks from the original Grease soundtrack covered by a multitude of bands the hippermost of you will no doubt be familiar with but which to me are all but unheard of. Which makes it all the more exciting whilst investigating.
And then of course there is also a Grease cover (the gorgeous ‘Hopelessly Devoted To You’) on the BMX Bandits’ new My Chain album for the NOW sound of Rev-Ola. I lost sight of the BMX Bandits very early in their career, which is perhaps something of a shame. I had been quite taken by a lot of the Glasgow scene of the time, and I was at Art School there in the mid ‘80s when a lot of the groups like the Bandits, Pastels and Soup Dragons were starting out. I remember buying loads of fanzines and being particularly taken by a piece written by Duglas about Rosemary Ledingham. It was a lovely piece, full of the fashionable naiveté of the time but shot through too with the kind of innocent longing that you could hear in the likes of Jonathan Richman songs. It remains one of my favourite fanzine pieces, and if memory serves correctly it was thrown into such sharp contrast by an interview in the same ‘zine (was it a Coca-Cola Cowboy?) with The Boy Hairdressers which was intentionally sexually provocative and base. Maybe because of this, the BMX Bandits song of the same name is still my favourite recording of theirs, and didn’t some of C’s friends later latch onto that song too and name a (secret?) goldfish after it? Strange the things you remember.

But I lost track of the Bandits and of all the Glasgow scene quickly. In part because of the horribly impenetrable cliques that formed and in part because things were going too far in the direction of Rock orthodoxy. At the time those things seemed to be so important.

Coming back to the BMX Bandits now then feels strange, and even their fine 2003 Down At The Hop set seems like a lifetime ago already. My Chain though is a lovely record of rare maturity, made all the finer for the addition of Rachel Mackenzie on vocal accompaniment to Duglas. The songs still show a love of Richman, soft pop and the Country Folk Rock of, say, Mike Nesmith which of course is something to relish, but there is also a more orchestrated feel which brings to mind the great Michel Legrand albums that Cherry Red has been releasing recently via El. All of which conspires to make My Chain a record that we ought to cherish.

I like the way too that this feels like a peculiarly Glasgow record. I’m not sure if that will translate to many other people, and I’m not even entirely certain what I mean by it, but it’s there nonetheless. It’s something to do with a cool warmth that reminds me of the patina of red sandstone so prevalent in many of the city’s beautiful old buildings, and it’s something to do with the casual, tossed off the cuff harmonies that blend with a half-amused self-depreciating sense of humour which make me think of clouds reflecting on the Clyde and tears falling on Glasgow Green. It’s to do with a complex simplicity that’s at the heart of the record as it has always seemed to be at the heart of the city. Of course, not having been there for the majority of the decade since the first BMX Bandits single ‘E102’, that’s probably my misty eyed nostalgia at work.

But enough rambling. Here’s the bottom line: My Chain is a sparkling gem of a record filled with an unprepossessing honesty and charm that would be essential listening regardless of its bands’ historical back-story. Get it now.

© 2006 Alistair Fitchett