You can always tell when Autumn’s arrived, apart from the nip in the air and the golden landscapes, suddenly there’s no shortage of great music to tell you about.
Hit Squad (Woronzow)
The new Bevis Frond album, Hit Squad (Woronzow) arrived with a press release so spectacularly lacking in information, it’s forced me to listen to the record before reviewing it. Shocking! Still, no great hardship because it’s another fine release by the East London band, led by psychedelic arbiter and quiz show champ, Nick Saloman. Over the years the ‘Frond have walked very much their own path, releasing an abundance of albums over the years - I’ve really no idea how many - and generally sounding like a band out of time and place, throughout. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Sure, they’ve avoided mass appeal, as have most of the finer bands of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, but they’ve a cult following that feels like a family, and a legacy that includes the mighty Terrastock festivals. Hit Squad continues the trend of recent albums, with an open, more accessible sound and some virtuoso musicianship. The trumpet in “All Set”, the eloquent, sinewy guitar in “Crumbs” and the bass / drums combination in “Mission Completed” all provide musical highpoints. The songs though, still teeter on the edge, touching cautiously upon subjects that fall on the darker side of human existence. At times, Saloman sounds bitter, almost disappointed with humanity and the culture around him but, as the saying goes, we live in interesting times, and if our songwriters don’t or can’t reflect what’s going on in the world, what chance have we got? For now, my favourite cut on the album is the diaphanous epic “Fast Falls The Eventide”, an atmospheric shimmer of a song, wrapped up in dark religious imagery and a London which perhaps only exists where and when we’re not looking. An epic song to end an epic album. Don’t be put off by a back catalogue that rivals in quantity The Fall, or Guided By Voices. Jump in, buy Hit Squad today, then spend a leisurely decade or so finding out what you’ve been missing.
You Live And Learn... (Apparently) (Lost Marble)
The new Django Bates album, his first for six years, is something of a cause for celebration. Bates approach to jazz rivals Beefheart’s take on the blues; both artists - Beefheart then, Bates now - dissect then reconstruct their chosen genre, before doing the last thing that’s expected of them. That shuffling sound is probably the trad jazz fans getting their coats, making their excuses and leaving to catch the last bus home, and rightly so, but for the rest of us, we may not get the joke completely, hell, I’m not even sure if there’s a joke in there, but we’re howling like banshees anyway. The first thing you’ll notice on You Live And Learn... (Apparently) (Lost Marble) is the three covers: Bowie’s “Life On Mars” wanders ‘round the universe, with Josefine Lindstrand’s vocals just keeping up, but never really asserting themselves. Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Alone Again (Naturally)” is subjected to a smattering of genuine grandeur, which is as welcome as it is unexpected, and Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” is a car crash, limbs are trapped, the gas tank’s been punctured, and the whole band’s smoking.
Dead Gone (Double Dragon Music)
I thought bands from Oxford were supposed to have good manners and either sound like Radiohead, if they were anal muso types, or Supergrass if they were still learning to play and occasionally enjoyed the company of their bandmates. Winnebago Deal don’t seem to have any manners at all, don’t sound anything like those bands, and appear to have an utter disrespect for the musical heritage in which they’ve been born into. Phew - that’s good! Their debut album, Dead Gone (Double Dragon Music) is a full on guitar rock ‘n’ roll record with a nasty attitude and an opening track, “The Line-Up”, which clocks in at under a minute. Interestingly, for all their Black Flag and Stooges moves, Winnebago Deal aren’t strangers to tunes. They’re the sort of tunes that pin you in the mud and dribble on your face until you dis your mama, but they’re tunes all the same. Specifically, “Cobra” got me shimmying dad-style across the room, and the eight-minute instrumental title track left me with a dangerously raised eyebrow.
When I Said I Wanted To Be Your Dog (Secretly Canadian)
After three stunning EPs, the debut long player from Jens Lekman is finally with us, and it’s making my leg twitch like a horny hound who’s just spotted a drunk one-legged man. When I Said I Wanted To Be Your Dog (Secretly Canadian) might make reference to The Stooges in it’s title, but I suspect it’s to Scott Walker and Harry Nilsson that the young Mr. Lekman owes his allegiance, and why not--those guys wrote better tunes than Iggy’s band, and were spat at far less. The 23-year-old Swedish singer-songwriter is big on tunes, but it’s the overall honest-to-goodness feel of this surprising little album which is the real triumph; luscious orchestrated pop which retains its lo-fi, indie credentials, and a lyrical bent which is more than likely to bring a smile to the lips, than a tear to the eye. His most immediate contemporary songwriter would probably be Neil Hannon, though he doesn’t apply the same amount of whimsy that can taint The Divine Comedy’s lighter material. Instead, we’re treated to kitchen sink production, an a-capella song about the Gothenburg riots, lots of piano-propelled soft pop and lashings and lashings of morose charm. Frankly, I can’t stop playing it - there goes my leg again.
Me Too (LoJinx)
I’d only played Farrah’s second album, Me Too (LoJinx), a couple of times and it immediately sounded like a classic. Half a dozen spins later and it’s still sounding like an impeccably composed, power pop masterpiece. I’d only heard odd tracks from their debut, and had been impressed, but hadn’t investigated further. Judging by the strength of this release, I think I’ve made a bit of a blunder. Me Too is overflowing with beautifully arranged, hook heavy, three minute pop songs. The Beatles, Beach Boys and ELO all provide inspiration, though I don’t think any of those pop giants managed to work a hemorrhoids reference into the opening line of a song (“Daytime TV”), which is a shame. Not that Farrah doesn’t take their pop seriously. Opening cut, “Tongue Tied”, is as sharp as a tack, with a choppy rhythm guitar and an archetypal pop lyric - about a girl, of course. Radio favourite “First And Last” is riddled with heartbreak and regret, and okay, it’s another song about a girl, but it does send shivers to various (upper) body parts. As for their version of Joe Jackson’s “It’s Different For Girls”, (I think there might be a pattern emerging here...), I’m overwhelmed. Slowed down and accentuated, it might just be pop perfection.
On The Other Side Of Mad (Self-Released)
So you think you like The Byrds? Let me tell you, Starbyrd really like The Byrds. Their debut album, On The Other Side Of Mad (Self-Released) is so infused with Roger McGuinn’s classic Rickenbacker jangle that, at a distance, you’d have trouble telling the two bands apart. Their album, recorded in the UK and Germany, via e-mail, includes a version of McGuinn’s previously unreleased “The Tears”, together with a cover of the Traveling Wilburys’ “Handle With Care”, though played in a Byrds style, of course. It’s a true fan’s album, recorded as a tribute to their favourite band. Desperately derivative, to be sure, but a lot of fun, and if you’re as big a fan as these guys, you’ll get a lot of pleasure strumming along on your twelve string tennis racket.
Other reviews by Our Man of Pop in the UK:
UK Dispatch: September, '04
UK Dispatch: August, '04