Happily Ever After (Vibro-Phonic; CD)
Rather like a bag of cheesy puffs, Andrew's music is 'quite nice' but 'pretty insubstantial': for a verse or so each song is pleasing, but what little pleasure you had soon dissolves. The '60s pop buff gets it together with Ric Menck and assorted others, but Velvet Crush this is not. Andrew has a sweet voice, the guitars jangle in the right way, and there's even some nice harpsichord, but it's all too predictable and sounds like the kind of stuff Norman Blake could turn out in his sleep.
Ten Of Swords (Evangeline; CD)
The former leader of the critically aclaimed mid '90s band The Hormones has embarked upon a solo career, with exemplary results. Ten Of Swords is a do-it-yourself effort by this talented Irishman, and fans of other D.I.Y.-ers like Michael Carpenter will just love these elegant, introspective tunes. Carroll does all the vocals and plays everything on almost all of the tracks, and his main songwriting gifts are communicated through a striking layering of stringed instruments, particularly his adept use of the mandolin. There's a lot of variety on Ten Of Swords; you get melodic rockers ('Idiot World', 'Weird Dreams'), the jangly pop songs 'Crashpad Number' and 'You Saved My Life (Again Last Night),' Simon and Garfunkel-esque ballads ('Silent And Blind,' 'Falling Into Nowhere'), and traditional British folk ('Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down'). The real masterpiece on the album is its coda, 'Terror And Tired Guns (The Brilliance And Violence Of Vincent Van Gogh),' which is a haunting tale both lyrically and musically. Ten Of Swords is an excellent beginning to what musically erudite pop fans will hope to be a very fruitful career by Mr. Carroll.
THE EVIL THINGIES
New Shapes In Sound (Tear It Up: 10' vinyl)
Perhaps the 'new bands' like The Hives have given labels the idea that releasing tinny fuzz-garage punk may sell 'em records, or otherwise they just do it for the hell of it to support loud nasty music that won't go away. Either way, Tear It Up are laughing as The Evil Thingies have that sound perfected! That sound being two-chord Kinks riffs and two-chord Kinks riffs two-chord Kinks riffs and two-chord Kinks riffs two-chord Kinks riffs and two-chord Kinks riffs! And for those who wanna buy these kinda discs it's here for the taking. But who listens to it? Fuckin' well adolescent 36 year-olds who're fucked-up after a divorce? White-collar workers who've had a bad day selling advertising space over the phone? 'cuz it certainly ain't the kids! And it ain't me! It's terribly contrived and snotty like the best in teen-garage, but it falls a little flat. For one thing the singer just doesn't have enough cock-sure oompthhhh... and man, it's too fast and there's no interesting changes to grab ya!
If, however, it IS angry, trashy garage you're after... here 'tis!
I P Freely
The Fad (Lo Fi Records; CD)
It seems that Brooklyn youngsters The Fad have witnessed The Insomniacs and decided to build their entire career on the bigger boys' sound and style. They do it pretty well too, combing mod, power pop and garage. The playing is tight and they have a good song or two, but they need an identity. Maybe after maturing a bit they'll be able to deliver something really special.
Jon 'Mojo' Mills
Achin' For Summer (Sugarbush Records; CD)
Many moons ago Markus was a teenage member of Robin Wills' band The Fortunate Sons. He went on to form his own power pop band, The Silent Blue. Many of these songs were produced in his home studio as demos for a later incarnation of the band that never really got off the ground. On some of the songs others join him, notably Rick Corcoran, who has produced some classy UK pop as The Orgone Box. Corcoran co-wrote four of the ten tunes, but on others Markus writes and plays everything.
This is a great, unpretentious pop record. Markus probably doesn't want to be told he still has some Fortunate Sons influences after all these years, but it is detectable, particularly in some of the vocals. No bad thing! What Markus does really well is catchy, deceptively simple tunes with chiming Beatlesy guitars and yearning vocals. No flash, no over-embellishment, just good songs, whether up-tempo numbers or aching ballads. I was hooked by the first three songs, 'Little Pretender,'' Blind,' and 'Couldn't Hurt Me.'
Only one thing - when she gets older Markus' little daughter Minnie will be asking 'Daddy, why did you put a girl with an enormous nipple on the cover of your CD?'
THE JIGSAW SCENE
Songs Mama Used To Sing (Vibro-Phonic Records; CD)
Any mama who used to sing these songs was one cool lady. The Jigsaw Scene have been artfully crafting sophisticated power pop for several years, but on this release they have elected to cover some of their favourite songs. There is an unusual and eclectic mix of 60's tunes which doesn't make for stylistic unity but does make for an entertaining compilation.
This album may be a stopgap, because that only five of the ten songs were recorded recently, the others coming from various sessions as far back as 1994. Different instruments give a different feel to a lot of the songs, principally keyboards. I really like some of the stranger choices, such as the Henry Mancini instro 'Baby Elephant Walk,' and a slow, sexy version of Arthur Lee's early nugget 'Lucy Baines,' which is far better than the original. Elsewhere, the Bee Gees ('Melody Fair') rub shoulders with the Yardbirds ('Still I'm Sad') and The Hollies ('Carousel') meet The Kinks. ('This is Where I belong.')
Perhaps new listeners should check out the bands' back catalogue first, starting with the nifty Zenith, but converts will definitely enjoy this.
One of the band probably doubles as a graphic designer, as Jigsaw Scene releases always have classy artwork. This CD is no exception, as the insert shows a 50's piano player and some gorgeous babe dangling her legs over the piano -she sure ain't his mama!
Josiah (CD & LP; Molten Records)
One of the finest pieces of rock trivia must be the fact that a pre-Showaddywaddy Romeo Challenger played drums in Black Widow (album reviewed elsewhere), contemporaries of Black Sabbath and just as fond of a bit of mock-Satanic appreciation. Apropos of nothing, really, except this album really does hark back to ye early 1970s in a big way. But whereas the wonderful WE (reviewed elsewhere on this page) sublimate the riffage in favour of a more psychedelic freakout, Josiah stick firmly to the 'very sludgy, very heavy' ethic. This extends to the titles: 'And Time Melts Down', 'Saturnalia', 'Suspended Revolution Ride'. Waiter, I'll have what these gentlemen are having, please! Nothing groundbreaking in that there are riffs, extended instrumental passages, riffs, solos, and more riffs. 'Change To Come' has quite a groovy Hendrix 'Wind Cries Mary' feel during the middle eight. Something slightly different is a quasi-dual lead vocal on some tracks between guitarist Mat Bethancourt and bassist Sie Beasley (other member is drummer and 'repercussionist' Chris Jones). And it's all gravy. Like WE again, these guys can actually come up with a melody which IS the paramount factor in any good music. They look cool, they have the hair, they have the strides: why haven't they got the attention given to - say - Orange Goblin or Dukes Of Nothing? Who knows. But if you want eight tracks with the quality vibe of Sabbath, Led Zep III ('Gone Like Tomorrow') or even Babe Ruth's heavier moments, forget the aforementioned stoners: this is definitely the stuff to go for.
Flavoured Air (TPWB; CD)
This is cool. Two guys who've spent most of their lives knocking around together both as best friends and musical cohorts finally get it together to make an actual full length album. They've previously produced lots of cassettes-for-mates only ventures as 'Hellang & Halvfet' (Alltall and Halffat, if my Norwegian fails me not...). One teenage venture featuring "out of tune acoustic [and] banging a wooden bat against a metal fence" sounds particularly intriguing. Anyway, they've moved on since then to produce something far more Shindig!-friendly: fantastically tuneful pop/psych/prog awash with vocal harmonies. Opener 'Early Man' is folk-rock, lap steel a go-go. 'Hard Rock Diamond', a clear pointer to some Kiss-circa-1975 influences, is genius, right the way down to the anthemic chorus and fretfrot guitar. 'Childsitter' and 'Warden' are reminiscent of Warchild-era Jethro Tull, but this might be because either Morten or Ola (we aren't told who sings what) sounds at times uncannily like Ian Anderson. But don't let the codpiece snobbery put you off, or the fact that 'Speedy Marie' is a love song to a sheep (Gene Wilder & Woody Allen would be proud). 'Leader Of The Mansion' is total late 1960s Bee Gees. These chaps have killer falsettos. Broadly speaking, the first six songs are more 1960s sounding, whilst the second half of the album shifts into a more early 1970s mode - you could even call a couple of tracks vaguely 'stoner rock' (but in the best possible way). And furthermore, - members of WE, Stone-O-Saurus and the mighty Gluecifer also contribute. So: go seek it out, even unto the heart of the fjords.
Kejje Nagaan / Comin' Home (Tear It Up Records; 45 [silk screened pop-up cover])
Even if this wasn't the only single reviewed, it'd still be the 'Single Of The Month'. Dutchman and beat-obsessive Dave Andriese returns from anonymity with new act The Nederbietels not so hot-on-the-heels of the demise of Shindig! faves The Perverts (see interview in SD#3). Het's classic mod-fuzzer 'Kejje Nagaan' and Sandy Coast b-side 'I'm Comin' Home' are perfectly rendered. Okay, it may be no more than a Nederbeat tribute disc, but it's bloody brilliant! I'll take this any day of the week over the incessant fuzz riffing bands that manage to get records out! So well done Dave for keeping the flame burning! Lenny Helsing will be handing you the award soon! And well done Tear It Up for having the sense to put this beautifully put-together platter out. Now, all buy it!
Jon 'Mojo' Mills
Mink Dress And Other Cats (Timothy's Brain; CD)
There are currently two Plasticland CD anthologies doing the rounds, the other being a best of collection. Of the two, Mink Dress... wins because it draws together many of their best loved and hard to find A&B sides, EP and flexi discs as well as unissued tracks. All this crammed into a mere 36 minutes, but vital those minutes are. Plasticland were probably the first psych revivalists, beginning in 1980 when, as Dave Luhrssen points out in his liners, 'Psychedelia was a dirty word for many musicians and fans as the aftershock of punk rock settled in the early '80s.' Although the trials and tribulations of being first in their field are described in the notes, Plasticland were far from being perilously poised. They were strongly advantaged in being a group of avid record and sixties collectors which provided them with a well informed knowingness of the music they aspired to. That same knowingness also informed XTC's Dukes Of Stratosphere experiments in the mid 80s, but where their work was designed as a kind of sincerely felt pastiche, a tribute to all their fave psych raves, Plasticland used it more incisively to create as well as recreate. 'You Were Such A Bad Time', 'In My Black And White' and 'I'm Gonna Emphasize' kick of this set in fine style which is followed by the four tracks which originally comprised the rare Vibrasonics EP; one proper song ('The Lady is No Lady') and two brief interludes from October '81 originally comprised the freebie flexidisc accompanying an issue of Bucketful of Brains magazine whilst 'The Mushroom Hill', 'Office Skills' and 'Skipping Down The Nature Trail' will be better known to fans. The attention to musical detail and authenticity are balanced by the originality of the compositions which position them as being both of a long gone musical past and yet still of the present, blending Syd era Floyd and cult psychster group July with an American acid guitar sound which in total is a great trick if you can pull it off. This is a welcome and enjoyable collection which makes available again (and possibly to a wider audience than the group would have had in 1984 for instance) another important aural pathway from psychedelia's roots to ourselves.
Who Will Buy These Wonderful Evils (Dolers/Virgin Sweden; 2-CD
Is Sweden the new Liverpool? And is American garage from Detroit the equivalent to the '60s British Invasion? It does seem that music from our brothers and sisters shores is more dangerous and hipper than what we can muster up... Whilst Britain gets even more Coldplay/Starsailor boring, other parts of the World (Scandanavia and the States, in particular) liven up! With the Swedish contingent so far it's really only been the great Soundtrack Of Our Lives, The Caesars and International Noise Conspiracy that have really made any waves on these shores, but there's plenty more out there. In fact, The Caesars' 'Subhuman Girl' doesn't strike me whatsoever and International Noise Conspiracy's 'Up For Sale' isn't by any means bad post-modern garage-ish rock with decent hooks, but there's far better. If The Hives are viewed as the Swede's garage-punk media-darlings they're hiding their real weapon of mass aural destruction. The Whyte Seeds' fuzzy organ led (with a hint of early Doors) '60s styled garage-punk may have a slight post-whatever approach that reflects the current Childish climes (via Headcoatees-type backing vocals) and an almost Mark E. Smith vocal, but this is a minor factor and for stalwart Shindigger types this sounds as if it could easily have been released in '67 or '68. There's less anger and more structure than The Hives, with cool guitar parts, a catchy chorus and an overall 'real song' structure. Great. Watch out for them and check out www.whyteseeds.com. The Grammar School Boys' version of 'It's All Over Now Baby Blue' sounds like The Jesus And Mary Chain at their most melodic, Silverbullit's almost suicidal take of The 13th Floor Elevator's 'I Had To Tell You' and the fabulous Dungen's 'Horizon' all show that the Swedes still have affinity for cool '60s sounds. Dungen notably seems to be a force to be reckoned with. 'Horizons' has complex structures and stoned, but sweet, harmonies, and is perhaps the best 'new' song I have heard this year! It's pretty purist when it comes to Shindig! music, but plays in such an invigorating manner that winning over a mass audience ala TSOOL isn't out of the question! Ebbott and crew have always made me think of frozen landscapes, and Hakan Hellstrom, and Sagor & Swing further the Scandinavian imagery. Hellstrom's 'Den Fulaste Flicken I Varlden' is a fragile, multi-layered Swedish folk-tinged number and Sagor & Swing recall Bo Hannson's Lord Of The Rings with their heavenly organ led instrumental 'Flicken Och Jatten'... run Frodo, run!!! Jose Gonzales further reinforces the blissful mellowness of the countries current output with his gentle acoustic picking and hushed vocals on 'Deadweight On Velveteen' which reflects late '60s UK acid-folk. Hearing TSOOL's epic 'Jehovah Sunrise' here is both a pleasure and an insight to how these guys have turned Sweden on! Their influence can be heard throughout. Although of course this being a post-modern clime where 20-somethings dig synth-pop as much as Nick Drake there's inevitably some shit included: the beautiful Paola unfortunately sings some bland '80s Kim Wilde styled girl pop, Franke's Stone Roses wannabe-ism and Hello Goodbye's dire punk are all incredibly forgettable However, there are some major discoveries to be heard here, proof that Sweden's current accolades are genuine rather than fabricated!
Disc two focuses on the '60s pioneers of Sweden's coolness status. And of course, we all know how much amazing material came from the country during the glory years, and that Sweden has been a hip place for way longer than the NME has been telling the kids! And when they hear this, they too will understand. The 17 cuts are a perfect selection of post-'66 clever pop and psych that will amaze! (But you'll know most of it already!) I for one can never handle too much beat/r&b, from whatever country, as however good it may be it's just the yoof of the day aping the Stones or Pretties... Anabee-Nox were okay in '64, but by '68 they were creating some truly interesting psych-pop. 'Always On My Mind' the flipside of their final 45 is a stand-out! The Shakers' weirdly appealing 'Who Will Buy (These Wonderful Evils)' gives this interesting set its title, The Wizards' 'See You Tonight' shows how Sweden could play UK style mod power-pop as well as the Brits and The Jackpots' 'King Of The World' is a splendid slice of commercial harmony pop as is The Tages post-beat psych offering 'Fantasy Island'. Now okay, the Dutch Outsiders were the kings, but their Swede namesakes (without the 'The') took Hendrix and punked it up for the emerging liberal 'drugs' and 'sex' Swedish youth scene. Third single 'Inside Of Me' is a Bacchanalian freak-out! In a similar way The T-Boones take the Blue Cheer root with The Troggs' 'I Need You', and substantially punk it up. Altogether mellower is Charlie Och Esdor's 'Dagen Ar Over', which is a nice commercial sitar-dominated dose of hippy pop from 1970, and I take it that the Dungen boy is a huge fan
17 tracks that neatly sum up Sweden's supremacy in the second half of the decade!
This double CD has everything except pickled herrings.
Jon 'Mojo' Mills
Dinosauric Futurobic (Black Balloon; CD)
Unlike a lot of bands that nominally fall into the 'stoner' category, WE have managed to ditch the bong long enough to write a clutch of memorable tunes. It ain't just 'riff riff riff jam jam jam'. Which is nice, because that's why Black Sabbath's stuff worked so well - a lot of their influencees seem to miss the point that including a melody in a song is not actually anathema to rocking out properly. WE also display wider influences than classic rock: they've clearly been listening to Can, Faust, Arthur Brown and late 1960s psych as well as anything that came out on Vertigo in 1973. Plus the words are interesting: a lot of bands whose first language isn't English (WE are Norwegian) seem to be more adept at writing entertaining lyrics (The Hives and Soundtrack Of Our Lives spring immediately to mind) than the lazy attempts of native speakers. Anyone that can write an (excellent) song seemingly on the topic of toothache ('Toothgottago') should earn our undying admiration. And is that a nod to Mark E. Smith on 'Organic Room'?! So in short: this is a great album, and as WE have been around since 1993, there's a whole load of back catalogue to check out too. Which is what I plan to do, pronto.
(www.blackballoonrecords.com or www.bennis.no)