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Saturday, 27 October 2012

Grrrls say; Shut up, Griff, we'll take it from here.

OK, so this is a Griff says piece with a difference in that I'm about to attempt to not come off as a patronisingly erudite and all-knowing wank ( Gordon - "Yeah, that'll be the day!"). And the reason for my sudden reticence is that those lovely people at Riot Grrrl Berlin have just released the latest of their wonderful All Free Music Collections (seen previously 'here' on the Streetlamp), with the title of 'Mansplaining on the Dancefloor'.

With that kind of title I'm going to limit myself to saying that this new release contains 35 free riot grrrl/feminist music gems well up to the standard we've come to expect from these Riot Grrrl Berlin compilations. There should be something on this album to please virtually all music tastes and you'd be mad not to download it right now from 'here'.

If you're interested, I've posted below my three current favourite songs from this release.

First up is 'Crayons', a nice piece of angular punk-pop, from South London based all-girl trio Cat Bear Tree.

Cat Bear Tree are guitarist/vocalist Zoe Konez, bassist/vocalist Claudia Mansaray, and drummer/vocalist Sarah Smith. Deriving their name from a kick ass cat and a cowardly bear, Cat Bear Tree formed in March 2011 and and are currently gigging all over London and beyond.

Check them out on their band website 'here' or on their facebook page.

Next up is the muscular, alternative rock tune 'SuperSHE' from G.U.T.S.

G.U.T.S. ( an acroynm of Give Us The Strength) are a Washington DC based, all female, 3-piece indie rock band formed in 2009. The band line-up is Tiik on guitar/vocals, Tina on drums, and August on bass.

Check them out on their band website 'here' or on their facebook page.

Last, but not least, is 'Fast and Frightening', a tasty slice of  post-punk surf-noir from Luise Pop

Luise Pop are a four piece who combine elements of electropop, post-punk and surf music to atmospheric effect. Hailing from  Vienna, Austria, the band comprises of Lisa Berger (keyboard, vocals), Vera Kropf (guitar, vocals), Erin Stewart (bass, backing vocals) and Martin Lehr (drums). 'Fast and Frightening' is, of course, a gloriously unexpected cover version of a song originally written by legendary female rock band L7 (Shit! I've started mansplaining again!)

Anyway, you can check out Luise Pop on their band website 'here' or on their facebook page.


Monday, 22 October 2012

Griff says; It's just Not Right

I came across a Warwickshire punk band recently called Not Right, who have a pay-what-you-like EP for download on their bandcamp page. Their facebook page sees them describing  themselves as:

" ...the lead guitarist who hates to solo, the trombonist playing percussion, the singer who just shouts. We are hatred, we are joy, we are noise for the sake of noise. We are Not Right."


"We are: punk rock attitude, riot grrrl aesthetic, queer feminist rage, the politic of  people before profit."

 Which descriptions, of course, mean that they were sure to find favour here at the Streetlamp. But, to be honest, the real reason they made an impression, among the hundreds of new tracks we listen to each month, was the tone of the lead singer's voice. You see, back in 1981, John Peel championed a late-to-the-party punk band from Stanwell in Middlesex by the name of !Action Pact! (that's right, with prefix and suffix exclamation points for added emphasis). Anyway, the group had contributed two tracks,  'London Bouncers' and 'All Purpose Action Footwear', to the Heathrow Touchdown EP, which John was most excited about. He played the songs many times throughout that year and eventually asked the band to record their first session, which they did in February 1982; recording the tracks 'People', 'Suicide Bag', 'Mindless Aggression', 'Losers', and 'Cowslick Blues'. The resulting demo tape caught the attention of the fledgling label Fall Out Records, which signed the band as the first act on its roster. !Action Pact!'s label debut, the Suicide Bag EP, was released in July 1982.

Now, I have to make it clear at this point that the main appeal of !Action Pact! was the extraordinary vocal talents of teenage singer George. John Peel at the time described her (affectionately) as:

"sounding like a bad-tempered switchboard operator."

While it isn't quite how I would have put it, I will acknowledge that  George's shrieking vocals tended to polarise opinion. You either loved them or hated them -  I, personally, loved them and went straight out and  bought the EP. Interestingly, at that time, the more progressive thinkers of the punk movement had morphed into the post-punk movement and left the field of  'traditional punk' clear to an element that had always existed at the margins of punk. This element was the boorish, macho, Sham 69 type punk who left to their own musical and artistic devices ran straight up the cultural cul-de-sac that was the Oi! movement, where they flirted dangerously with thuggish, fascist imagery before, thankfully, fading away in a cloud of disinterest. Anyway, I still recall that my championing of !Action Pact! at that time brought a few sniggers and sneers from some of these types, as the idea of a punk band being fronted by a shrieking 'bird' who wasn't just there to be leered at was seen as threatening to the lad's club mentality of the Oi! music era. Suffice to say it just made me like them even more.

All of which takes us nicely full circle back to Not Right, as they are a band who too might be expected to fall foul of  current popular prejudice, being fronted as they are by a trans woman named Ruth. Ruth was assigned a male gender at birth, but now identifies as female and it was her raging, screaming vocal performance that really caught my attention when I first heard Not Right. The other compelling aspect of the band are the extremeley honest, overtly political, perhaps even confrontational, lyrical subject matter. Naturally, we here at the Streetlamp, with our long radical and anarchist traditions are happy, no delighted, to be confronted and reminded that prejudice of all types should be challenged and so we're glad to take the opportunity to bring this band to your attention. Here's track 1 from the band's 'Punk Is Not'  EP, Balls:

I hope you enjoyed that as much as we did.  Not Right is a trio and the full band line-up is:

Kirsty Lohman -- Guitar
Ruth Pearce -- Bass, vocals
Richard Snowdon -- Drums

 If you want to know more about the band, they have a very good website 'here'. When you visit please check out their free online zine, which contains some excellent material. Ruth also has an interesting wordpress blog 'here'. Please check the band's facebook page for upcoming gigs.

To finish off, here's 'Suicide Bag' by !Action Pact! for comparison, or just to take you back to the early 80s if you're a reader of 'a certain age'.:

This track was played as song number 48 in John Peel's Festive 50 for 1982.  A free MP3 of this track can be found 'here'.


Thursday, 18 October 2012

Griff says; It begins where the wood ends

Back in March, I wrote 'here' about the release of 'The Woods' EP by talented, English, indie-folk, singer-songwriter Robin Warren-Adamson (above) who records and performs under the moniker Wise Children. In that blog, I also included the Kipling poem 'The Way Through the Woods' and lamented the fact that I had previously used Robert Frost's 'Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening' in a previous blog on Mellow Dramatic Avenue, see 'here', as it would have fitted that piece so nicely.

Anyway, as Wise Children has just released a free (or pay what you want) collection of demos that were written and recorded during the summer of 2011 and didn't quite make it on to The Woods EP I now have a chance to make the Robert Frost/Wise Children connection that I originally wanted to make, as you will see. But first, the music.

The tracks on this new EP, called 'Songs Left in the Woods', are by no means of secondary quality to the ones chosen to grace the original release and they demonstrate a whole range of songwriting forms and production techniques that Robin experimented with during recording. This new release also includes a special acoustic version of 'Artichoke' from Wise Children's 2010 'Absence & Reunion' EP. As a taster, here's track number 1, 'Cold Feet':

I hope that you enjoyed that, and that you check out the remainder of this EP, as it serves as a suitable hors d'oeuvre to 'The Woods' EP which, of course, can also be downloaded from Wise Children's bandcamp page.

Now, to the poetry. I've mentioned before that I have a particular penchant for poetry which uses the imagery of a path through 'the deep, dark woods' as a metaphor for, I suppose, the existentialist crisis. I have two such poems to offer you today, from two seperate but intimately linked poets; Edward Thomas and Robert Frost (yet again).

Edward Thomas is the lesser known of the two, an Anglo-Welsh poet who is often placed into the 'war poet' category; mainly because of his death during the Battle of Arras in 1917 rather than due to the content of his poetry. The poem, to be read and considered as you listen to the 'Songs Left in the Woods' EP, is called 'The Path':

The Path

Running along a bank, a parapet
That saves from the precipitous wood below
The level road, there is a path. It serves
Children for looking down the long smooth steep,
Between the legs of beech and yew, to where
A fallen tree checks the sight: while men and women
Content themselves with the road and what they see
Over the bank, and what the children tell.
The path, winding like silver, trickles on,
Bordered and even invaded by thinnest moss
That tries to cover roots and crumbling chalk
With gold, olive, and emerald, but in vain.
The children wear it. They have flattened the bank
On top, and silvered it between the moss
With the current of their feet, year after year.
But the road is houseless, and leads not to school.
To see a child is rare there, and the eye
Has but the road, the wood that overhangs
And underyawns it, and the path that looks
As if it led on to some legendary
Or fancied place where men have wished to go
And stay; till, sudden, it ends where the wood ends.

Edward Thomas

As you can see, this poem makes a wonderful companion piece to Kipling's 'The Way Through the Woods'.

Now, for a bit of background to the relationship between Thomas and Frost. Firstly, and this is difficult to credit given his subsequent prominence, but Frost's early carrer was not at all successful and, in 1912, he had moved his family to England in a bid to relaunch his stalled literary career. Then in his late 30s, and a father of four, he published his 1914 volume 'North of Boston', which was championed by Thomas, then working as a literary critic in London. As a result, the two men became great friends, and regularly took long walks together in the English countryside, their conversations ranging over wildlife, poetry, relationships and the ever-looming war. Indeed, so close was the friendship that had developed between them that Thomas and Frost even planned to emigrate together, with their families, to America, where they would live side by side, writing, teaching and farming. Meanwhile, the friendship with Frost had revitalised Thomas's own muse and, almost suddenly and relatively late in life, he became prolific, writing 75 poems in the first six months of their friendship alone. Unfortunately, fate was about to intervene.

In late November 1914, Thomas and Frost were strolling in the woods behind Frost's cottage when they were intercepted by the local gamekeeper who brandished a shotgun at them and told them, in no uncertain terms, to clear off. Frost, although unarmed, bravely faced up to the gamekeeper and was persuaded to back-off by Thomas. However, as they walked away, the incident rankled such with Frost that he insisted that they return to the woods and track the keeper to his cottage. Once at the cottage, Frost boldly confronted the gamekeeper once more and,as on the previous occasion, the keeper responded by threatening the men with his shotgun. Although Frost was not intimidated, Thomas was, and he dragged the indignant Frost away to safety. However, later reflecting on his own behaviour on both occasions, Thomas felt that he had shown himself to be cowardly, and suspected Frost of thinking the same. Not once, but twice, he had failed to stand his ground, while his friend had no difficulty standing his.

The night's events began to haunt Thomas and he felt that his fear and cowardice, and his inability to control them, had led him to let down the greatest friend he had ever had. Frost later said of the incident "That's why he went to war". However, there's something more to it than that and, unwittingly, Frost himself played his part in sending Thomas to war. And he did so in the most innocuous of ways - by writing a poem. That poem was Frost's greatly celebrated 'The Road Not Taken'. Here it is, below:

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— 
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost

As you can see, it is yet another of those poems which make use of the 'path through the woods' metaphor and, while beautiful and profound, it seems to be an unlikely cause for a man's death. So, how did it contribute to the death of Edward Thomas?

Well, for Thomas, the poem carried an uncomfortable, personal message. During their many walks together, Thomas would confidently guide Frost on the promise of wonderful finds, such as rare wild flowers or birds' eggs. However, as often as not, he would find himself disappointed, and would severely rebuke himself, when the path he chose revealed no such wonders. Frost was gently amused at Thomas's inability to satisfy himself, and chided him;
"No matter which road you take, you'll always sigh, and wish you'd taken another."

This innocent comment pricked at Thomas's conscience and he felt that his lack of direction, in poetry and in life, was a sign of his weakness, cowardice and indecisiveness. To be reminded of this by the man whom he most admired and whom he felt knew him best was a devastating blow. Thomas, who had despised the racist, Imperialist, jingoism of the war-time press and who as, an anti-nationalist, refused to 'hate' the Germans now made an extraordinary decision - in July 1915, despite being a mature married man who could have avoided enlisting, he enlisted in the Artists Rifles. In Easter, 1917, a little over two months after arriving in France he was killed on the first day of the battle of Arras. He is buried in the Military Cemetery at Agny in France (Row C, Grave 43).

In a letter to Edward Garnett (who was also a friend of Thomas) after Thomas's death, Frost wrote:

"Edward Thomas was the only brother I ever had. I fail to see how we can have been so much to each other, he an Englishman and I an American and our first meeting put off till we were both in middle life. I hadn't a plan for the future that didn't include him."

And the final words on this tragic story of two poets? Let them be from Frost's poetry. In 1920, he published this poem:

To E. T.

I slumbered with your poems on my breast, 
Spread open as I dropped them half-read through
Like dove wings on a figure on a tomb 
To see if in a dream they brought of you,

I might not have the chance I missed in life 
Through some delay, and call you to your face 
First soldier, and then poet, and then both, 
Who died a soldier-poet of your race.

I meant, you meant, that nothing should remain 
Unsaid between us, brother, and this remained -- 
And one thing more that was not then to say: 
The Victory for what it lost and gained.

You went to meet the shell's embrace of fire 
On Vimy Ridge; and when you fell that day 
The war seemed over more for you than me, 
But now for me than you -- the other way.

How over, though, for even me who knew 
The foe thrust back unsafe beyond the Rhine, 
If I was not to speak of it to you 
And see you pleased once more with words of mine?

Robert Frost


Monday, 15 October 2012

Getting My Five A Day: My Top 5 Morrissey Solo Songs

After my look at my Top 5 Beatles songs, my plan was to follow up with a similar list of songs by The Smiths. However, trying to isolate 5 tracks by The Smiths is like trying to choose my 5 favourite heartbeats, or my 5 favourite breaths.....simply a task too far. So I've decided instead to attempt  a scrutiny of my Top 5 songs from Morrissey's solo years to date. Whilst only marginally an easier task (I've already changed the list three times), it's fair to say, and with no disrespect meant to Morrissey, that his solo output has never had the mercurial, life altering wallop of his previous muse.
Whilst The Smith's oeuvre can clearly be seen as one whole, Morrissey's solo work is altogether fractured, bewildering and yet still magically powerful and compelling.
Once again, the songs are not in list of preference, but purely in chronological order.
And we begin with one of his most obscure tracks of all....

'Tony The Pony'(1991)

I've never understood Morrissey's choice of singles, especially while studying what he puts on the B-Sides. All the way back to the earliest days of The Smiths he's put spectacular songs on the flip of an underwhelming A-side; the most obvious case in point being that he put both 'Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want' and 'How Soon Is Now?' on the reverse of the decidedly average 'William, It Was Really Nothing'. Seriously?? Or 'Rubber Ring' and 'Asleep' on the B-Side of the lumbering 'The Boy With The Thorn In His Side'!
And so it continues into his solo career, and from the troublesome 'Kill Uncle' period he shoves one of his best songs on the B-Side of possibly his ropiest ever single, 'Our Frank'.
I've always felt that 'Tony The Pony' was something of a kiss-off to The Smiths. It would be the last time he would release anything that sounded like The Smiths, or upon which he sang like 'Morrissey Of The Smiths'. With 'Kill Uncle', Morissey had never sounded so out of step with the rest of Pop music. As Baggy melded with Dance music, and Grunge seeped across the ocean, an air of communal hedonism prevailed. Hardly a time for Morrissey to release an album that conjured up George Formby, Ealing comedies and 1970s cultural traits. It was an album that finished off a large number of his less devoted fans, yet oddly it has grown in stature now we are 20 years on since its release.
Hidden away as the extra track on lead-off single 'Our Frank', 'Tony The Pony' is a pure slice of what Morrissey does best; over a Smithseque shimmer, his voice captures that melancholic twilight feel that made The Smiths eponymous debut album a thing of great beauty. Still seemingly harking back to his adolescence("Still drinking on the corner// Well, just don't say I didn't warn ya// Always nagging big brother// He's only looking out for ya"), the song is bathed in the gloaming light of late teen years, and the mix of sighed vocals coupled with the occasional lapses into falsetto remind of why I fell under Morrissey's spell at such a transitional age.
The song also contains some of my favourite moments in Morrissey's solo work; "You're drunk quicker// And you're sicker even quicker// Well something heavy is gonna fall on you//Aaaooooo//Aaaooooo", and the hilariously drolly sung "I will never say I told you so// Oh how I knew that something bad would happen to you// I don't wanna say I told you so// Oh but Tony.....I TOLD YOU SO!"
The song also marks (as far as I'm aware) the only time Morrissey has used the F-Word in a song("There's a free ride on fucked up Tony"), and yet coyly he still distorts his vocal to make difficult it to hear!
A triumph then....and the last time he would ever sound like this.....

'I've Changed My Plea To Guilty'(1991)

In the immediate aftermath of the critical mauling dealt out to 'Kill Uncle', Morrissey ditched the session musicians and roped in ex-Polecat Boz Boorer to whip up a touring band to get back on the road and re-connect with his audience. In 1991, it was five years since he had last toured and the cabin fever was beginning to tell.
Early fruits of the new band were passable to say the least. First single 'Pregnant For The Last Time' was okay, but 'My Love Life' saw a familiar pattern arising where Morrissey seemed to believe that simply repeating the title of the song over and over again somehow counted as lyrics (see 'You're The One For Me, Fatty' and 'We Hate It when Our Friends Become Succesful'). But once again Morrissey put a fantastic song on the B-Side of a very average single!
'I've Changed My Plea To Guilty' is one of the best songs from that whole troublesome period where he seemed musically and culturally out of step. And's not actually the officially released version that I've come here to praise. No, for me the best versions of this song are the live versions from the time. Probably my favourite version of the song is the one found on the 'Higher Education' bootleg album which is a recording of a concert in Utrecht. There's a moment in the second verse, during the lines "Outside there is a pain// Emotional air-raids exhausted my heart", where, just after the word 'pain' he does this kind of two second melodic hum, and it's tiny moments like that which he actually dots throughout all his live concerts, that have kept me collecting bootleg recordings of his career for almost 30 years now. These little inflections, that he somehow refuses to do on recorded versions of the songs, accentuate the emotional punch of the songs and are what makes listening to his live work (regardless of how badly recorded) so compelling.
Unfortunately, I couldn't find the Utrecht version online to demonstrate what I meant (although the whole concert recording can be found on Youtube), but this version from an appearance on an old Johnathan Ross show will suffice. And, while people still bang on about his matinee idol good looks today, it's almost shocking to see that he was once this beautiful! (Griff: Are you sure you consider your status to be 'happily married'??)

'Lifeguard Sleeping, Girl Drowning'(1994)

One of the biggest criticisms I've always heard against Morrissey by non-believers is that they can't stand his voice. Many see it as flat, droning and (yawn) depressing, and part of that stems from the fact that he doesn't seem to like recording his vocals. In concert he always seems much more vocally animated and seems to actually enjoy singing. Not something you always get from the records (take the "In my life" lines from 'Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now' as a case in point....notoriously flat on the record, sparkling on any live version!).
So when Morrissey deliberately alters his voice, or sings in an atypical style, the results are often startling. None more so than on this under-appreciated gem from the 'Vauxhall & I' album.
Morrissey's voice on 'Lifeguard Sleeping, Girl Drowning' is so far removed from his usual practise that it's positively miraculous. Against a similarly atypical backdrop of Jazz bass and woodwind, Morrissey's voice hovers like an argent cloud, like someone trying to whisper a scream and illuminates beautifully the tragic tale unfolding in the lyrics.
A young girl, desperate to catch the attention (and heart) of the handsome lifeguard, swims too far out and slips beneath the waves while the lifeguard dozes unknowingly.
Morrissey's solo career has often been criticised for never being overly adventurous, and when you hear a track so against the norm as this, you can merely concur....

'It's Hard To Walk Tall When You're Small'(2004)

After back to back underwhelming albums ('Southpaw Grammar' and 'Maladjusted'), 1997 saw Morrissey begin seven years of silence. That's even longer than John Lennon's legendary 'Lost Weekend' or the wait for The Stone Roses' second album. Thankfully his profile was kept high by both the Internet and his decision to keep playing live, despite no new product to promote.
When he returned in 2004, new album 'You Are The Quarry' was hailed as a critical and commercial success. But for me it still wasn't the real deal....not only were there too many plodding, dull tracks('The World Is Full Of Cashing Bores', 'How Could Anybody Possibly Know How I Feel'), but also, and stop me if you've heard this one before, he was putting out superior songs on the B-Sides of the accompanying singles! When he sang 'Oh Well, I'll Never Learn' on the B-Side of 'Suedehead', I didn't think he meant it literally.
There, on the B-Side of lead off single 'Irish Blood English Heart' was another hidden classic. 'It's Hard To Walk Tall When You're Small' kicks off sounding like it's going to be The Clash's 'Tommy Gun' and then features a guitar run that sounds not unlike 'Babylon's Burning' by The Ruts. Morrissey has often been seen to attack Smiths drummer Mike Joyce both in print and in song, and this looks like it may be another dig at his former bandmate. The whole lyric is about someone not having enough clout to mix it with the big boys, and the refrain "Hey Ringo, It's sad though" seems a blatant reference to his ex-drummer.
I've always loved Morrissey's use of falsetto in his songs, all through his career, and this song is no exception; "I burst into public bars// And I throw my weight around// (falsetto)And no one can even see me// No one can even see me", and then in the breathtaking finale, working himself up into a frenzy, "So compadre please do this for me// Compadre please weep for me// Compadre, compadre// Please....weep....for me!"....

'Life Is A Pigsty'(2006)

Quite astonishing! An incredible EIGHTEEN years into his solo career and he releases, for me, his greatest ever solo song!
'Ringleader Of The Tormentors' was everything I had hoped 'You Are The Quarry' would be, and I think it may be his greatest solo work. At the time, Morrissey had decamped to Rome and the influence of the city and of film director Pier Paolo Pasolini is all over it. On first single 'You Have Killed Me', Morrissey even claims to be Pasolini, although why he would feel any affiliation with a homosexual Marxist I'll leave up to you, dear reader. There's also the fact that sometime Pasolini collaborator Ennio Morricone arranges the strings on 'Dear God, Please Help Me', and then there's 'Life Is A Pigsty', possibly referencing Pasolini's 1969 film 'Porcile'('Pigsty') which features a young man who kills his own father. The album has a song called 'The Father Who Must Be Killed' .

Like the film 'Pigsty', 'Life Is A Pigsty' is split into two sections. The first is a lumbering, pulsating groove coated in artificial rain which features one of my favourite opening lines of his entire output, "It's the same old S.O.S// But with brand new broken fortunes// And once again I turn to you". This continues for a few minutes before the song slows down with only keyboards and the rain, and then a strummed guitar ushers us into the next section with Morrissey repeating the song's title with increasing drama. Then the song builds upon crashing cymbals as Morrissey declares his undying love before crying out in a voice at the zenith of it's emotional power, "I can't reach you// I can't reach you// I can't reach you anymore!" The whole effect is startling, and when Ray and I went to see him at the Albert Hall in Stirling on that year's tour, this was the undoubted highlight. I'd go as far as to say it was the highlight of his now 24 year solo career.
For me it was a valediction, proof that despite a few mis-steps, Morrissey still had the gifts to surprise, enlighten and move me. Proof that he was THE songwriter, not just of my generation, but of my lifetime. And while I admit that I tend to slip into 'gush mode' when discussing Morrissey (Griff: To put it mildly!!), then I offer no apologies but find myself wondering if Bono or Chris Martin elicit the same emotions from their listeners.
Somehow I doubt it!

Choosing 5 Morrissey tracks wasn't quite as hard to do as I imagined, as the 5 songs I've chosen I do view as the high-water marks of his solo years. The songs practically chose themselves. And while I appreciate that there are a lot of fine songs I've left off the list, these 5 are the ones I simply couldn't imagine life without.
And the good thing is that 'Life Is A Pigsty' proves he may yet have more classics up his sleeves to come!
One can but hope.....  


Sunday, 14 October 2012

Griff says: Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? Yes, we will!

It seems that I've been neglecting the music a bit. A Streetlamp reader mentioned casually to me recently that they were enjoying the increased visual art coverage and even coping with the metamorphosis into a free anarchist bookshop but that they "wished we could post more free, new music like we used to do". Well, of course, we still do post free, new music but we probably have done so less this year than in previous years so I'd like to make up for that right now by offering a bumper crop of the sort of thing that I like to listen to myself. And, no, it's not hip hop or indie-folk but belongs to that other strand of music to which I continually return - the girl group. Obviously, girl groups can, and do, make music of all genres so I should specifically state that what I mean here is the original girl group sound, as made popular in the 1960s. Basically, this is a fairly primitive pop/rock'n'roll hybrid with close vocal harmonies, extensive backing vocals, handclaps etc. This particular pop template has really been reinvigorated in indie music over the last few years and along with its cousin, the 60s surf-pop sound, is increasingly being mined to good effect. Other related early pop music styles, like doo-wop and garage can also be heard regularly in the current indie-pop output and are often fused with tweepop and/or punk influences to produce a ragged or aggressive production style which contrasts nicely with the simple pop melodies and structures.
To illustrate what I mean by the above, here are three bands who are currently on the playlist at Streetlamp HQ:

First up is The Velveteens who released a 9-song, homemade, DIY cassette album, available too as a digital download on bandcamp, earlier this year. This song features clever song-writing which touches on the typical girl group tropes, such as star-crossed lovers (particularly those thwarted by age difference), the ghost/dead lover, the lover from the wrong side of the tracks, unrequited love, school-related songs etc etc. The spin The Velveteens give these well-worn topics is to write them with a sense of knowing irony and to perform them in a ramshackle, lo-fi, garage style that sounds like The Raincoats playing the Shangri-Las greatest hits. Now, for someone like me that description comes somewhere close to musical heaven. Here's the song 'Chico' to give you a taster:

If you liked that, visit their bandcamp page 'here' for more.

My next recommendation is La Luz from Seattle, US. This four-piece only formed in the summer and  released their debut recording, the Damp Face EP, just last month. La Luz have a cleaner, more polished sound than The Velveteens and borrow more explicitly from surf-pop than from the girl-group genre but they are equally as exciting. Just have a listen to the amazingly beautiful 'Easy Baby':

If you liked that, visit their bandcamp page 'here' for more.

Last, but not least, is Silkies from Austin, Texas who take the basic girl-group pop sound and thoroughly scuff it up with some fuzzed-out guitar and punk/garage sensibility. Silkies have just released the second track off their upcoming Like One EP, which will be available as a digital release on Young Latitudes and as a limited release tape from Heart Throb Records on October 29. Here is the first single release from that EP, 'Like One', which is available as a digital download on a name your price basis:

If you liked that, visit their bandcamp page 'here' for more.

So, there we have it, three bands who all take the late 50s pop sound/early 60s girl-group sound and then give it their own individual spin to great effect. I, personally, think all three bands are superb and I'm sure that the Streetlamp readers will find at least one who is to their taste.


Thursday, 11 October 2012

If you don't like the world we live in... you must invent your own

I recently stumbled across an underground, mixed-media, performance art piece called The Alchemy of Light by an artist calling himself 'a dandypunk' and I knew I had to bring it to the Streetlamp. You see, despite our often quite different tastes in art, one of the things that unites me, Griff and Gordon is that we are all fascinated by any artist who creates, and is contained within, their own unique stylised world, with its own conventions and internal logic. Gordon, in particular, is drawn to this type of artist, especially those who invoke the world of dreams, nursery rhymes and fairytales, as can be shown in this quote from his piece on the 19th-century inspired, weird-pop band Ödland:

"...but what we also like is musical collectives that create their own little worlds....worlds that are unique, worlds that are aesthetic, worlds that are always beautiful."

Griff too, as regular readers will know, has his magical, mystical side, seen most recently when he invited us into the "strange and exciting world" of Violeta Päivänkakkara where the "magical ambience" was such that he claimed that she:

"...makes music of such a delicate yet contrary and spectral stripe that it reminds me of something half-heard in a dream;"

So now, in the shape of the world of 'a dandypunk', it's my turn to onvite you into another new world; one of darkness and light, magic and mystery and, sometimes, just outright weirdness.

The most recent work by 'a dandypunk' is, as I mentioned above, is called The Alchemy of Light and is a one man live performance piece which combines projection mapping and choreography to travel through various fantastical worlds, interacting with strange characters and treacherous landscapes, in the hope of unfolding the secrets and learning the techniques from the ancient book of 'The Alchemy of Light'.

Here's a short video excerpt:

Projection mapping live performance art - The Alchemy of Light by a dandypunk from a dandypunk on Vimeo.

Isn't that truly breath-taking?
The direction, illustration and animation, as well as the performance of all characters is by 'a dandypunk'.
The Sacred Geometry is by Grahame Gardner at
The Tentacle animation is by RUBBISHBELT.COM
The falling silhouetted man is performed by Roger Fojas

I should inform you at this point that 'a dandypunk' is a character created by artist/performer Joel Sebastian. As a professional dancer/acrobat, Joel is a cast member for Cirque du Soliel but the 'a dandypunk' solo work is a personal outlet designed for himself and others to inspire and motivate creativity, non-conformity, whimsy, intense curiosity and everyday eccentricity in everybody.
Born from the “do it yourself” punk mentality, the project takes elements of street-culture, such as graffiti, freerunning and hip hop and fuses it with elements of Victoriana, Steampunk, psychological horror and Gothic Lolita fashion to create an instantly recognizable and original style that is harmonised into a beautiful, seamless whole. This is unsurprising really when you consider that Joel is a virtual one-man theatre company, providing his own illustrations, animations, set-designs and choreography as well as performing and directing each piece. This over-arching control of his art allows his vision to be reflected within every element of his work.

The 'a dandypunk' philosophy is best understood by watching the following video, the first 'a dandypunk' video on his vimeo channel, released at the end of last year:

A dandypunk - inspiration from a Cirque du Soleil artist from a dandypunk on Vimeo.

The music accompanying the above is a dubstep mix of the theme to the classic movie A Clockwork Orange by the musician Jon Caton (pictured). If you want to hear more of Jon's work, and I suspect that Griff definitely will as he loves a bit of dubstep, visit his soundcloud page where a number of his tracks are available as free downloads.

Don't Swim In The Mainstream,


Monday, 8 October 2012

Griff says; Allo Darlin'

This is quite extraordinary - when I sat down to start writing this I thought I would begin by saying; Allo Darlin' need no introduction to readers of the Streetlamp, having featured before in...
and that's when I realised that we've not written about them before.
This seems like an extraordinary oversight as they tick all the Streetlamp boxes - you know, twee jangly indiepop with explicit overtones of C-86, early Creation, Sarah Records, Postcard Records etc. Basically, all of the things that saw our Gordon through the 80s (well all that and lots and lots of red wine). I also know for definite that Ray is a fan. Anyway, for some reason we've never written about them before, so I'm going to remedy that right now.

Allo Darlin' are a London-based four-piece led by smart and quirky Australian song-writer Elizabeth Morris, who also plays the guitar and the ukulele and sings. The remainder of the line-up is:

Michael Collins (not that one obviously, Irish history fans) -  plays drums and sings

Paul Rains - plays guitar and lapsteel and sings, and

Bill Botting -  plays the bass and sings

The foursome got together at the beginning of 2009 and released their first single, the magnificent, and magnificently-titled, "Henry Rollins Don't Dance" on WeePOP! Records that summer. They were signed to Fortuna Pop! shortly thereafter and their self-titled debut album was released in June 2010. They spent much of 2010 and 2011 on the road in the UK, Europe and America before releasing their second album "Europe"  in May of this year on Fortuna POP! in Europe and Slumberland Records in America. This week sees the release of the third single from that album, the quintessential Allo Darlin' jangly pop singalong Northern Lights. Have a listen:

Allo Darlin' - Northern Lights by Slumberland Records
As you can see, Slumberland Records are offering a free digital download of the track but I hope that you'll like it enough to check out the band's two excellent albums, which are available from either the Fortuna Pop! or Slumberland Record sites.

To finish off, and especially for our Ray, here's the aforementioned Allo Darlin' twee-pop classic Henry Rollins Don't Dance:


Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Griff says; All roads lead to Noam

I hadn't planned to write about Noam Chomsky this week but then a friend asked to borrow some of his writings at the end of last week and I gave him 'Chomsky On Anarchism', a collection of his essays and interviews on the subject of libertarian socialism, which seemed like the best place to start. If you're not familiar with Chomsky, and if you're reading this then that's perhaps a little surprising, then all you need to know is that he is the very definition of a polymath having gained respect and recognition as a linguist, philosopher, historian, political theorist and social activist. Ask any group of random Western people to name a celebrated public intellectual and in with the suggestions of Stephen Hawking, Camille Paglia, Umberto Eco etc. you'll get your fair share of Chomskys, particularly if you're asking any group of people who lie on the left of the political spectrum. Yes, indeed, at the beginnng of the 21st. Century, Chomsky is the closest thing to a living saint for anyone who defines themself as a socialist - he is an inspirational and frighteningly cerebral figure whose awesome shadow falls heavily across most other Western political activists.

Anyway, enough of the fanboy praise, as the Streetlamp seems to have transmuted recently from a music blog into a free anarchist library, I decided to give you all a chance to enjoy the wonderful Chomsky for yourselves via a free pdf of the above-mentioned 'Chomsky On Anarchism', which you can download 'here'.

The subject of Chomsky also gives me the excuse to bring your attention to Bristol-based, country-tinged, alternative rock band The Hinkley Veltones who released the single Noam Chomsky? earlier this year. The song, as well as name-checking a Streetlamp hero, is a wondefullly atmospheric blend of twangy, countrified surf-pop and Lynchian cinematics; imagine Duane Eddy produced by Angelo Badalamenti and then reverbed to the max. Have a listen:

The Hinkley Veltones - Noam Chomsky? by ourvinyl

The song, as you can see, is available as a free download. After you've done so, you should really check out the rest of the band's oeuvre. The baritone vocals and dark, haunted country-rock will definitely please fans of Nick Cave or Leonard Cohen. And that's about as high praise as the Streetlamp can give!