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Sunday, 30 January 2011

~Kitten Wine~#24: 'Strawberry Dross Killed The Boss'

Blah blah blah.....Summer of '83....blah blah blah....last days of school....blah blah blah....sensory evocation of lost time....blah blah blah....Marcel Proust.....yada yada yada.....little rooms smelling of orris root....yada yada yada....same old same old.................

Yeah, it must be said that I do tend to furrow the same old groove in these Blogs but, like my literary hero himself, I really don't know of, or have anything else to write about. Sounding totally pretentious, my life really is my art!

And so we find ourselves once again on the streets of Bannockburn under the blood red skies of a Summer's evening. That Summer between school and work was a special time, one that only now I wish I'd kicked back and enjoyed just a little more. All of my friends were, like myself, upon the very threshold of manhood....the 9 to 5, the nights at the pub, the sensible behaviour were what we believed we were heading for, just as our parents before us had. But, as we would soon discover, we were also heading into a time of wild drunken revelry, of the pursuit of that special girl, of playing live concerts with our best friends, of that short period of time when you actually LIVE!
And one band that was special to me in that strange Summer of expectation was The Damned. Now it has to be said that The Damned were a curious band who had arrived on the waves of Punk, but quickly developed their own divine brand of psychedelicized pop-rock. It could be argued that after Morrissey(both as solo artist and of The Smiths), The Damned are the band that I have seen live on most occasions. I've also seen them do randomly massively different shows; from all out Punk thrashalong(Govan Town Hall, Autumn 1988), perfect mainstream pop act(Edinburgh Playhouse, Winter 1986) and curious melange of both(Glasgow Barrowlands, Summer of 1989 with both Brian James AND Captain Sensible on lead guitar duties).
In October 1982 The Damned released what I still consider to be their masterpiece, 'Strawberries', a tremendous blending of psychedelic pop and punk energy. It also came with a strawberry scented lyric sheet which stills smells to this day and which has more of a nostalgic pull than all the orris root in Paris! It was an album I played endlessly, and one which even at the time, I knew I would play in years to come to remind me of those days.
"And always remember// This is the happiest days of your life".
But it wasn't just the album itself that conjured up such an evocative sense of time and place, but some of the ephemera and doodles that accompanied it, so let's take a listen to some of those choice offcuts....that, my friends, is why we're here.
First up is a track from the 'Friday The 13th' EP which consisted of tracks that didn't make the final album cut. Amongst them is one of the most nostalgia tweaking songs I know of; 'The Limit Club'. Beginning sounding uncannily like the theme music to Current Affairs TV programme 'World In Action'(which many people used to believe was performed by Pink wasn't!), the song tells in beautiful psychedelic hues of a love affair being enjoyed as the world heads to an apocalyptic end, "I saw the sun set low on you// In a blood-red suns final rays"....aaaahh, just those lines take me back to that Summer and those last times we would play football until it became too dark to see the ball. What a beautiful piece of music.

At about the same time as 'Strawberries', Captain Sensible was ploughing his own solo field to great populist acclaim, and on his second solo single 'Wot' he included, for the B-side, a small compilation called 'Strawberry Dross' which was demos and short pieces of music that had been intended as rough sketches for songs for the album. The songs are all recorded on a portable 4-track studio with Sensible playing everything and singing. The tracks last between 30 seconds to a minute and are quite indicative of the 60s flavoured music Sensible hoped to include on the album, "Kaftan, grow my hair// I wanna be a Hippy 'cos i really don't care". There are a couple of dreamy little instrumental sketches as well which, for me, are my very own 'Vinteuil's Sonata', dragging me kicking and screaming back to world where strange aches and twinges in your arms and legs would be patronisingly described as 'growing pains'.....

.....which brings me to 'Seagulls'. An instrumental B-side(to the single 'White Rabbit') which again transports me to a world where getting to stay up after 11:00p.m was a result, where we no longer needed a baby-sitter on a Saturday night, where meeting girls from your class out of school gave you weird electric shocks in your chest.
About a year later, the band I was in at the time decided that we would stop all the Punkish nonsense we had been playing and would start writing 'proper' songs. We used this track, 'Seagulls', as the basis of our new sound. Listening to it again here just now I realise we actually didn't just base our sound around it, as rip it off completely. Musical magpies? No, thieving bastards more like!!

And we end with the musical sigh that is 'Life Goes On', one of two vocals that Sensible contributed to 'Strawberries'. And what an aching, poignant, Jack-Daniels-at-4:00-in-the-morning-discussions-on-the-meaning-of-life track it is. Over a bassline that Nirvana stole for 'Come As You Are', Sensible finds himself in disparate, melancholy mood reflecting on the hardships and dreariness of life before jubilantly exclaiming that life is there for the taking, just grab it by the scruff of the neck and make it yours! "And always remember// This is the happiest day of your life".....I remember listening to this line back at school and wondering if they really were. You are always being told that they are, but I wasn't so sure then. I knew they were special but didn't reckon on having to wait over a quarter of a century to find out.

A lot of what I write is about the summoning up of lost memories or treasured experiences through the beauty of my favourite records, and sometimes I find that the deepest memories are evoked by the oddest of records. Can a bunch of unused demos or out-of-character instrumentals really take me back to happiest days of my life?

Damned right they can!!


Friday, 28 January 2011

Griff says; Farewell, My Lovely

I predict that the Streetlamp's Ray, lover of all things twee and poppy, is going to LOVE the song I'm writing about tonight, and he's going to be simply in heaven when he sees the accompanying video. The band, Soda Shop, is that most pleasing of twee-pop combinations, the boy/girl duo. In this case, the boy is Drew Diver of Horse Shoes and the girl is Maria Usbeck of Selebrities. Legend has it that the two met by fate at an Embassy concert in Brooklyn, New York and the rest, as they say, is history.

Soda Pop's debut 7" single, Farewell, is newly released on Shelflife Records and can be ordered 'here'. A free MP3 of the A-side can be downloaded 'here'. The song itself is a winning combination of; 50's mode tightly arpeggiated guitar, light glockenspiel flourishes, 60s girl-group style reverbed female vocals, and the whole is saturated with a bang-up-to-date dream-pop cool. Basically, it's classic early pop meets modern, fey and jangly indie-pop. Imagine The Shangri-Las meets The Softies, if you will. Yeah, I know, sounds amazing already, doesn't it? Here's the video:

Soda Shop - Farewell from Drew Diver on Vimeo.


Tuesday, 25 January 2011

First Degree Burns: The MacDonald Sisters

As it's Burn's Night tonight here in Scotland, I thought I'd celebrate(along with the vegetarian haggis, neeps, tatties, and of course a liberal dram of the Scottish Water) with an appraisal of a long lost Scottish curio....The MacDonald Sisters. A quartet who combined Ronettes glamour with 100% Gaelic singing.
I know what you're thinking....surely this is a 'Griff Says' piece? But no, it really is me who's writing this. I suppose therefore the law of averages suggests that Griff's next Blog will be all about a band who started out on Crass Records and ended their days on Sarah, and almost certainly called The Guermantes Way(and if you spotted that joke.....well done!)
The MacDonald Sisters came to prominence around 1963 and almost immediately won over both the Folk and the Pop music cognoscenti. Their blending of 60s pop glamour with full on Gaelic Folk was an instant success, their Puirt-A-Beul (Mouth Music) stylings in particular being especially spellbinding. Their songs tended to be versions or re-interpretations of Island songs; shanties, songs of the sea and the islanders battles with inclement and ferocious weather etc.
The sisters began appearing on TV shows both north and south of the border to great acclaim, but these tended to be the type of shows that went out live and therefore any tapes that may have existed have either vanished or simply been wiped. One devoted fan was Harry H Corbett of 'Steptoe & Son' fame who, when awarded his own TV special, invited the sisters to appear on his show.

The BBC filmed a documentary on the girls in 1969 called 'A Song Of Crotal And White' which brought one Daily Record reviewer to froth "their voices together got to nerve endings you didn’t know you had"....obviously not Billy Sloan then!
As the quartet's nationwide popularity began to wane, they maintained a constant profile within the Outer Hebrides, especially on their home island of Lewis.

So why the new wave of interest now?
Well, we have both Creation Records and Teenage Fanclub to thank for this.
First off, Finlay MacDonald of The Fannies is the son of Kathleen MacDonald who was responsible for the incredible vocal arrangements and it is he who has compiled a new overview compilation CD, 'Sòlas Clann Dhòmhnaill'(Songs Of Clan Donald) which is being released by PoppyDisc Records, an offshoot of Creation legend Joe Foster's Rev-Ola Records.
Also, back in November, The MacDonald Sisters got together at Glasgow’s top Gaelic nightclub, Ceòl ‘s Craic, at the Centre for Contemporary Arts for their first live performance since 1977. The night also culminated in a showing of a revamped/re-edited version of the BBC documentary(which I'm hoping BBC4 may show sometime soon).
I have to admit that this all may be a bit of an acquired taste and that any one not Scottish may find the whole thing a little bewildering, but dear Friends, you've trusted Griff and I so far, so why not trust us one more time?
Get yourself a good peaty Single Malt, breathe in that sea air, and discover those nerve endings you didn't know you had!

Slàinte mhòr!!


Friday, 21 January 2011

Where Is The Soundtrack continued; 'In The Name O The Wee Man'

'In Nomine Patri' by The Alternative

As I stretch myself out across the chaise longue, sweet sherry in hand, I find myself once again reflecting back on my last days of High School; the rolling, sun dappled Balquiderock hills, my pressed linen shirt, my white sta-prest, my tennis cardigan draped over my shoulders, blonde fringe flapping in the breeze as Sebastian puts some Lotus Eaters record on the Dansette....and then I realise I'm mixing up a romanticised version of my last school days with an old episode of Brideshead Revisited!

But in truth, I WAS thinking back to final days at High School recently as Griff and I had been discussing writing more about the *ahem* 'angrier' music we used to listen to, and not just sticking to the Twee/Folk/Acoustic blueprint we had been following so far.
I was compiling a list of tracks to write about and noticed that they all seemed to come from around the time that I was finishing school, and I was somewhat shocked and surprised to realise that in those last days at the old school, my favourite song at the time was 'Antichrist' from The Alternative's 'In Nomine Patri' EP.
It has always troubled me, especially of late, that my last school days weren't the romanticised pastel hued remembrances of say, 'The Catcher In The Rye', Christopher Isherwood, 'American Graffiti' or even 'Dazed And Confused', but were in fact thuddingly underwhelming uncool days of badly dressed faffing about in a schoolboy Punk band. Good at the time....not so good to look back on whilst trying to crochet some Evelyn Waugh-meets-Él Records re-imagining, or reconciling one's self that Arthur Rimbaud had written Une Saison en Enfer by the time he was 16!

It was a strange time those last days of school; not only was the glue that had bound everyone I had known since the age of 5 coming undone, casting us all to the winds, some never to be seen again, but even the aforementioned schoolboy Punk band I spoke of earlier, The Cakes, was starting to unravel, almost as though the onset of serious puberty was causing a diastrophism amongst longtime friends.

As for my musical tastes of the time, they seemed to hinge around The Damned, The Dead Kennedys, Crass, The Passage, Cabaret Voltaire, The Stranglers, The Birthday Party and a few bands who only released one or two records; The Paramedic Squad, The Scrotum Poles, Surface Mutants, Diagram Brothers and so on. Things would change pretty soon, slowly at first thanks to Cherry Red's 'Pillows And Prayers'(of which a full blog will follow soon) which Griff and I latched on to passionately, and both The Smiths and The Fall were lurking just out of sight, waiting to strike and change my life(and my listening habits) in perpetuity.

But before all of that seismic shifting of lives, friends and tastes, all I would rave about was 'Antichrist' by The Alternative. It seems insane now, but I had forgotten all about it until I started researching this Blog. This was a song whose praises I hollered from the rooftops at anyone who would listen....which was often nobody. I was mesmerised by this song; by it's squalling atmosphere building intro, to it's snarled Scottish accented opening salvo, to it's cavernous drum heavy pounding rhythms and raging vocals....the kind of thing you REALLY wished U2 would do until you realise that what you actually wish is that U2 simply didn't exist!
I think the word for this song is 'blistering'!

I remember putting it on EVERY mixtape that I compiled for people that Spring, and whenever friends came round to the house I would play it to them, insisting that this was the greatest record ever made....and it was by a Scottish band! Hurrah!!
But nobody ever took any notice. Most sat there with glum bewilderment as I sat forever enthralled by such an exciting piece of music. Why didn't they get it? Why didn't they share my ferocious enthusiasm? It WAS good, wasn't it? was BRILLIANT!! But only I seemed to get it.
The Alternative came from Dunfermline and their first release was on one of Crass's 'Bullshit Detetctor' albums. Now usually these albums were simply unlistenable but on this instance the track by The Alternative is far and away the best thing on it.
The 'In Nomine Patri' EP followed, again on Crass Records. In fact it could be argued that The Alternative followed the Crass blueprint a little too closely; Crass had the Dial House commune, The Alternative had it's own communal dwelling known as The Pad; Crass had the motto 'Anarchy & Peace', The Alternative had the motto 'Autonomy & Peace'....see what I'm saying?
Nearly all of the 'Bullshit Detetctor' albums are rubbish, but a lot of records released on Crass Records by other artists were often very good indeed(more of which in later Blogs), and for me 'In Nomine Patri' was the best, and 'Antichrist' it's standout track. Listening to it now I still get a bit of a shiver at it's immense power, especially in the early section(a warning to anyone listening for the first time, you really have to get beyond the opening minute of build up to appreciate the actual song it's self), and it feels right that I should be using the ~Streetlamp~ to shout it's praises all over again.

Now if only Sebastian would put some Poison Girls on....the scones and cream are beginning to hum in the mid-day sun.


Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Griff says; The best of all possible worlds?

Last year Meg Hentges (formerly of Two Nice Girls), along with her partner Jude O'Nym, delighted me, and hopefully you too, by releasing, to absolutely no fanfare at all, the amazingly good track 'Think Big, Henry'. I featured it 'here' on The Streetlamp and was so enamoured of it that I also included it in my 'deal breaker' selections for our 2010 Streetlamp Festive 30. That track was released last July and I had high hopes of many such treasures following but, disappointingly, heard absolutely nothing. Then last week, Meg got in touch to let me know that she had a new song posted to bandcamp. I eagerly scooted across to the Hentges/O'Nym page and the reason for the delay between song releases became immediately apparent. The statement accompanying new song Parallel reads;

"I expected this site to be full of music by now, but a diagnosis of cancer in August has taken the wind from my sails.

Parallel was recorded in small pieces between rounds of chemotherapy- a few hand drums, guitars, jude's bass and a delay pedal.

More sad songs to come."

To further press the message home, the cover art for Parallel features an ultrasound image of a breast lesion, featuring two intense and menacing Doppler vascular signals, pulsing like twin malignant suns in a distant galaxy. I was genuinely jolted and dismayed to see and read this, and I'm sure that you will join me in wishing Meg a safe and speedy recovery. I also would like to, at this point, express my admiration at Meg's frank and honest courage in revealing so much of herself within her art at a time when she must feel understandably sensitive and vulnerable. This new song, Parallel, is absolutely superb. It has a stripped-down, almost bare, arrangement and a brooding, perhaps even pensive, inclination that presumably captures Meg's mood perfectly. The lyrics make a thoughtful and clever comparison between the parallel universes theory (many world's interpretation) of quantum physics and the cell division process of the cancerous cell. As each (the cell or the universe) splits, or doesn't split, it can create a better/worse world with which each person must come to terms. What can I add? This is a true and moving piece of art and incredibly generously it is avaialable as a free download at bandcamp.

I'd also like to take this opportunity to re-post Meg and Jude's song from last year; 'Think Big, Henry'. For those of you who are not such political anoraks as the current writer, the phrase 'Think Big, Henry' is a quotation from former US President Richard Nixon, which was revealed within the infamous Nixon/Kissinger phone tapes. The context of the remark can be seen in the following partial transcription of that conversation;

Nixon: I still think we ought to take the North Vietnamese dikes out now. Will that drown people?
Kissinger: About two hundred thousand people.

Nixon: No, no, no, I'd rather use the nuclear bomb. Have you got that, Henry?

Kissinger: That, I think, would just be too much.

Nixon: The nuclear bomb, does that bother you?...I just want you to think big, Henry, for Christsakes.

Outrageous, isnt it? For those of you unfamiliar with the character of Nixon, a quick look at his Wikiquote page should soon inform you of the paranoid and corrupt administration which he led, and also reveal his own astonishing penchant for casual sexism, racism and anti-semitism. Frightening stuff indeed, and a timely reminder that we should remain suspicious of those in Western governments who seek to cover up the truth and who attempt to silence sources who can reveal them for the undemocratic, perfidious and self-serving elites that they really are.


Sunday, 16 January 2011

~This Elegant Chaos~#7: Evening Lights

Evening Lights.

Evening Lights!

The very name conjures up a dreamy hinterland of teenage twilights. You see, we've said it before and we'll keep on saying it, but evenings, especially Summer evenings, sum up what we (as in the Blog, ~Sighrens~ etc) are all about. It was Summer evenings that begat both ~Sighrens~ and the ~Streetlamp~ and evenings play a major part in all our greatest memories and experiences.
Whether it be our teenage wanderings under the orange phosphorescence of the streetlamps of Bannockburn that Griff Proust captured so eloquently in one of our earliest songs, 'Last Of The Lights', or those magical endless evenings when you stay out to all hours, arm in arm with the girl of your dreams.
Sitting here on a miserable cold wet January night I long for those hazy, heady Summer evenings, both of my youth, and of those still to come.
Thank goodness then for Evening Lights, for their music so perfectly captures that woozy intoxicating feeling of stepping out into the warm night air, your head like a sponge aching to absorb new memories and emotions. Have a listen to the track below, 'Are You Listening' and tell me I'm not wrong!

I love it when a band gets everything, from the name inwards, absolutely spot on. The music of Evening Lights is so evocative, so immersive, so perfect that it makes me want to cry, laugh, fall in love, and have my heart broken all in the one 3 or 4 minute phrase. Just listening to, say, 'Starless'(which sounds remarkably indebted to my favourite Smiths song 'Well I Wonder') I feel that giddy rush of youthful expectation when you finally feel that THIS is your moment. There's a dreaminess within this fantastic music that many strive for but just fail to achieve. Evening Lights hit the bullseye!
When I listen to 'Landscape' I am lying across the back seat of Griff's car as we drive back from the Glasgow Film Theater, wondering if SHE is going to call me tomorrow so we can just wander the country lanes illuminated by the sunset.....starting to get the picture?

So who are Evening Lights?
Well, sadly, it's more a case of who were, as they only existed between 2002 and 2004. They hailed from San Francisco and only managed one 5 track EP, most of which you can download for free from their page here.
The band comprised of An Yu on vocals, Ed Mazzucco on guitar, Jon Chaikin also on guitar, Matthew Bice on bass and Laura Watling on the drums. Of course Laura Watling would go on to acheive success as an artist in her own rights, and thankfully the ethereal lush tones of An Yu can now be heard in the band LoveLikeFire, whose magnificent song 'William' can be heard below accompanied by an absolutely beautiful video.

I hope you'll take a little time to listen to the songs featured, and I'm pretty sure you'll want to download the songs to soundtrack those late walks in the Summer sunsets.

Get yer boots on.....we're going!!


Saturday, 15 January 2011

Griff says; The Odd Angry Shot

Prepare to be amazed. Not just by the excellent music that I'm about to unleash on you but by the fact that I'm about to write about a hip hop band. Yep, a 'Griff says' piece about hip hop and not a mandolin or ukulele in sight; whatever next? Still, it is a Scottish hip hop band so it's not quite going to be NWA, thankfully. But before I begin I'd like to just establish my (ahem) hip hop credentials. 'What credentials?', I hear you snigger as you mentally run through the Griff back catalogue of 'the whitest music imaginable'. Well, although I concede that my musical tastes now seems largely to consist of twee-pop and indie-folk it wasn't always thus. You see, Gordon and I were young and happening during the 'Golden Age of Hip Hop' in the late 80s and naturally we did take an interest in, what was undoubtedly, the most creative and influential music form during this period. Like most music fans at the time we were at first intrigued and then excited by the angry and cerebral street-music of Public Enemy with its overt political, social and cultural themes. At the other end of the scale I, in particular, loved the psychedelic, jazz influenced music of De La Soul, which was gentler but no less intelligent. Hip hop at that time was so innovative and and creative that it looked like it was going to sweep away all before it. So what happened? The crass violence, homophobia and misogyny of Gangsta rap happened and any wit, quirkiness or earnestness was suffocated under a tide of exaggerated, comic-book, thuggery and sexual boasting. Goodbye art, Hello commerce. The intelligent and discerning music fans were, thus, largely lost to the genre and have never returned.

So, why am I telling you this? Well, lately I've become aware of a Scotish hip hop band 'Stanley Odd' (pictured) whose music reminds me of all that I liked about hip hop around about 1989. The rhymes display the sort of wry humour and clever wit that I would associate with a band like The Just Joans. That's not surprising, I suppose, when you consider that lyric-writer and rapper, Solar Eye, hails from the same gritty Lanarkshire heartland where, I suppose, a certain cheeky gallusness is de rigeur. The band also diplay a refreshing sense of being 'outsiders', which is well summed up in this short 'manifesto' from their Youtube channel:

"Music for people that get tongue-tied talking to girls; clumsy people that dance awkwardly in their bedrooms; people that are generally uncomfortable in social situations; those for whom fashion-sense is an oxymoron; avid readers of science fiction and comic books; girls who drink tonic wine; anyone who prefers literary figures to viewing figures; disciples and architects of counter-culture. Stay Odd. "

Ah, yes; they're definitely talking to me. This droll, dissident attitude can be found too in their lyrics. Here's a sample from the brilliant 'Ten to One', track 1 of their debut album, Oddio, released last year in the UK on Circular Records:

"I make rap hits for fat kids
And awkward cats with bad skin
And no sense of fashion.
I rap for asthmatics
with hand me down gym-kits
and NHS glasses"

Oddio really is very good; fresh, playful and stimulating by turns; and I suggest that you purchase a copy of it to see what I mean. If you need further convincing, you can download an MP3 of the song mentioned above, Ten to One, 'here' courtesy of The Streetlamp. I'm making this available for promotional purposes as the Stanley Odd free downloads on bandcamp, which I intended directing you to, seem to have reached their limit. I hope you'll like it enough to support the band by purchasing the music or going to see them live. They gig regularly in Scotland and are playing within the next week at both King Tuts in Glasgow and Duke's Corner in Dundee. See 'here' for more details.
The other appealing aspect of Solar Eye's lyrics, which is continually bubbling under the surface, but which I'd love to see made more explicit, is a vein of social, and dare-I-say it political, commentary. I mentioned in a previous Streetlamp blog 'here' that perhaps the music which was really documenting the social and political unrest in the country at the moment was happening away from my gaze in the world of hip hop and other urban music forms. I'm beginning to think that I may have been correct in that assumption. To see what I mean check out this cracking video, a parody of a news report, made for their song 'The Oddyssey', a track from the band's forthcoming EP 'Pure Antihero Material', out February 2011. Check out the band website for more info.

Stanley Odd have strayed into this sort of territory previously. Here's a sample of the lyrics from 'Get Out of Bed', track two from Oddio:

"Anyway, until my shelf-life expires,
I'm gonna do my best to help light some fires.

All those corporations think that they can buy us,

Seems to me this country's being run by low-lifes and liars.

Change gonna come let me tell you this,

I'm gonna raise my fist and stay rebellious,

I need to get up, get out and do something,"

I may be barking up the wrong tree here but I get a sense that it's precisely music like this; contemporary, street-smart, invigorating and a little bit unconventional that could provide the perfect soundtrack to 2011. And if the worst happens, well, we won't have a revolution but we will get to dance. Brothers and Sisters, prepare to mobilise!


Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Griff say; Death to Poshlost! Da zdravstvuet Luna Moth!

Avid readers of 'The Streetlamp' will by now have noted Gordon's repeated attempts to shoehorn in references to the European canon of classical literature, and my own oft-expressed wish to include more visual artists/musicians ( à la Colorform and Top Montagne). Happily, today's article hits both targets squarely.
Hopefully, you will remember when I wrote enthusiastically, last year, about El Vagabundo de Quetzalcoátle by Luna Moth? You may also remember that Ray provided two Mexican-themed videos to accompany the piece. That album, released on CLLCT, contained 10 lo-fi, acoustic nuggets, which were heavily influenced by Mexican indigenous and traditional music, in line with where Luna Moth singer-songwriter Joey (pictured) was in his life at the time.

Since then, Joey has maintained his prodigious rate of output and has released the noisy, garage-rock influenced Shamanic Youth album (released last summer but a little raucous for a 'Griff says' piece) and last week gave us the latest Luna Moth album; Russian Novels. As usual, this is exclusively available and, of course, freely downloadable 'here' on CLLCT. Russian Novels is an altogether more restrained affair than Shamanic Youth and Joey says of it:

"I wanted to write something a bit more subdued after the 'Shamanic Youth' freakout, and the result is 'Russian Novels'. These songs came to fruition during the autumn, which was quite conducive to the more introspective and reserved feel that I was going for."

Interestingly, the album was recorded as a collaboration with talented young artist Sarah Capshaw of Norman, Oklahoma, US. Joey had originally approached her to provide the cover art (above) and, not only did she agree to this, but entered so enthusiastically into the project that it became a fully collaborative process in which the songs themselves influenced the artwork and vice versa. Of this, Joey says:

"Sarah was the first person to hear these songs in their embryonic state and the first to hear them upon completion. I was, as well, able to witness the painting as it became ever more layered, complex, and dreamlike throughout its stages of manifestation. It was a very illuminating process, and I felt that it added a welcome new dimension to my own creative process as well."

More of Sarah's artwork can be viewed here and throughout this article. Also, Ray has produced a video ( see below), which showcases the talents of both artist and musician rather nicely.
I asked Sarah how the creative process differed from usual when making visual art in conjunction with a piece of music. She replied:

"I'm unfamiliar with indulging in a creative process without music. Something is almost always playing when I work; in this way it is easier for me to paint, because I can block the distracting, pesky parts of my thinking and typically (hopefully) channel something "pure"... if the music is right."

Obviously, in this case, it was. Russian Novels ranges from gentle, folky pieces like 'Some Birds Sing' to more experimental and intense pieces such as 'Nikolai Gogol'. I asked Sarah what feelings Joey's music evoked for her. She replied:

"Many of Joey's songs made me want to drink tea and go outside and fall in love and nap under a tree, all at once. I think he sings about all of those things in one song, maybe? And some of them are creepy and playful and groovy."

I can understand her difficulty in defining the Luna Moth music as it does encompass a broad range of sounds and emotions. My own personal view is that on Russian Novels, and in particular on 'Nikolai Gogol', Joey occasionally introduces an almost aggressive energy that's quite unlike the feeling his songs usually convey. I asked him where that had come from. He replied:

"I think the tense energy in 'Nikolai' is more vicarious than anything else… I wanted to try writing a song from the perspective of an actual historical figure. Although I’ve probably embellished and mythologized his story quite a bit, If you are familiar with Gogol’s life, it was quite intense. He was a genius and a satirist, and like all truth tellers and exposers of hypocrisy, he was alienated, shunned, and ridiculed by his society and finally exiled by the country that he loved and called home. He ended up burning most of his life’s work , going insane, and starving himself to death. I wanted to convey the sense of impotent frustration that he must have felt in that situation."

I also asked Joey where the interest in Russian literature had come from. He replied:

"My interest in Russian literature is just one facet of a search for something more meaningful and substantial in the intellectual desert of our shallow consumer culture. In their quest for truth, the Russians always seemed willing to dig just a little deeper than most, even to a level of discomfort. They of course felt nonplussed by the hypocrisy of their own society as well, and their words conveyed this in such a way that their intended meaning has retained its moral power to this day. This is what I’m referring to when I sing that ‘Tolstoy is a gold mine’, in 'Pseudo San Francisco'."

Keen readers will recognise the sentiments above as being something with which I can heartily agree. So, if you want to indulge in something more meaningful than the commerce driven pop-pap fed to us by the record industry, I suggest you go to CLLCT and have a listen to, and download, Russian Novels. Also keep an eye out for the work of Sarah Capshaw. Dare I suggest that now might be the time to snap up an 'early work'. To whet your appetite, Ray has provided the following two videos for 'Nikolai Gogol' and 'Charlotte Wears a Scarf' respectively. The images in the 'Nikolai Gogol' video are Marc Chagall's illustrations for 'Dead Souls'. Enjoy!


Saturday, 8 January 2011

Where Is The Soundtrack? continued....'Toxteth Ablaze'

So we find ourselves in a new year, but let's begin with one last reflection on 2010.

The nice thing about this Blog is that it has grown organically, from what started out as a way of sharing new and well-established Indie Pop and our hopes of creating music videos for new artists or for our favourite older tracks that had never been blessed with any kind of visual accompaniment, to our eventual dream that we may even one day become a Record Label of sorts. And on that sunny, warm April evening when we plotted the creation of the ~Streetlamp~(which on this snowy, freezing night seems another world away) we never really though of any kind of political stance shining through our writing.
But things change....
And the gloves are off!!

It must go without saying and must be obvious to anyone who reads our meanderings that the one recording that shook us to the core in the first year of our Blog was 'The Flats' by Mariel McCormack and Marie O'Hara a.k.a. Botched Fairytale. Like the greatest records we've heard in our lifetime, it didn't just entertain us, it moved us, it motivated us, it reinvigorated us, and it awoken within us a political passion that we hadn't felt in a long time.
Back in the halcyon days of, say, 1979-1984, nearly all of the music we listened to, in fact nearly all of the music released, had some kind of political bent. In the immediate post-punk days it was practically bespoke to have some kind of political agenda within your pop music. Look at Madness. Look at The Specials. Look at Dexys. Look at virtually ANY Indie or left-field recording artist of the time and you'll see it's all there. For these were difficult times and a new Right Wing poison was seeping through the nation at the time. It shaped the political landscape and in turn the musical landscape.

We were too young to fully appreciate the bolt form the blue that was 'Anarchy In The Uk'; we were also still a little to young to fully understand the relevance of 'The Feeding Of The 5000', but by the time bands like The Redskins told us to 'Kick Over The Statues' or 'Bring It Down(This Insane Thing), or The Newtown Neurotics suggested we 'Kick Out The Tories'(see Griff's Blog) we got it completely and records became missives from the frontline.
Many songs, even ones like 'This Charming Man', became clarion calls to arms as we forged our own identities and standings. It could even be argued that Sarah Records made political statements; check out Matt & Clare's sleevenotes and fanzines, or the sleeves of any record by The Orchids which were usually draped in anti-Thatcher, anti-Poll Tax rhetoric.

But where has it all gone?
Who is making the statements now?

Some may argue that the likes of Radiohead or Coldplay fight the good fight....pffftttt, my arse!! It took Thom Yorke to make a solo album(the remarkably good 'The Eraser') to make any outright political comment. And as for Chris Martin's pseudo-bollocks lyrics and scrawl all over his me a favour!!
There just doesn't appear to be anyone, especially on any kind of major label, who are willing to take any kind of stance. Griff has already posted two Blogs asking where the soundtrack to these uncertain times is. Who will step forward? Who will speak out? Who will take arms against a sea of coalition troubles?

And the music doesn't necessarily need to be overtly aggressive. Take the piece of music I have come here to write about tonight....'Toxteth Ablaze' by Martin-A-Mel-O-Tone.

Now Martin-A-Mel-O-Tone is in fact Martin Dempsey, veteran of the Liverpool Post-Punk era, and as his nom de plume suggests was once a member of The Mel-O-Tones who recorded John Peel favourite 'I Walked With A Bugs Bunny Bendy Toy'. The track we've chosen to feature here was a track he gave away to the 'Raging Sun' compilation album in 1985. It's actually a piece of ambient music(no....wait...come back!) over which is a sound collage from the Toxteth riots of 1981. Despite it's ambience, this is one of the angriest sounding pieces of music I've ever heard and it gives me goosebumps listening to it. We also made the video that accompanies the track here.

So who's up for it? Who's up for soundtracking these times?
We need the anger and the unrest back in our music!

Is there anybody out there?


Thursday, 6 January 2011

Griff says; Get on board with Doble Pletina

I hope you've all had a nice break; I have, and I've also got something rather special for my first Streetlamp piece for 2011. The band is called Doble Pletina (Double Deck) and is a boy girl duo, Laura Antolín and Marc Ribera (pictured), from Barcelona, Spain.

The duo have newly released a freely downloadable 6 track demo album on bandcamp and when afficianados of these 'Griff says' articles hear it they will recognise just why I'm so excited by them. First of all, the music is the perfect blend of lo-fi, twee, acoustic pop much favoured by this writer. Secondly, there is the sweet boy/girl vocal combination. And lastly, and by no means least, they are purveyors of an instrument I have rhapsodised about previously on these pages; the wonderful, and sadly neglected, musical saw!
The band also do a nice line in lo-fi but effective home-made videos. Here's the video for track two on the album, Aftersun. When I first heard the combination of the bossa nova rhythm and the light and dreamy female vocal I knew I was in love!

Doble Pletina - Aftersun from Doble Pletina on Vimeo.

Rather fine, don't you think? This next video is for track 6, Guadalajara.

Doble Pletina - Guadalajara from Doble Pletina on Vimeo.

The driving drum beat and the strange, reverb-laden, electronic 'plinks'on this rather remind me of a Joe Meek production. The Spaghetti Western style backing vocals are also a nice touch. I've a feeling that Gordon might warm to this track as, despite our many differences, we're both absolutely agreed on the sheer magnificence of both Joe Meek and Spaghetti Western music.

To further illustrate the Joe Meek-style, outer-space eccentricity of Doble Pletina, and to demonstrate the spooky magic of the musical saw I'll leave you with Gravedad Cero (Zero gravity)a track from the band's En El Spacio demo single, released on bandcamp in November of last year. Enjoy!