Somewhere along the line the term “pop music” has become a dirty word. I remember when guitar bands blazed an exploratory trail through pop realms as interesting as any keyboard wielding dance groover. But in the modern age the genre seems to be associated with music industry production lines, dance routines and TV talent shows. That’s why you need bands like Talk In Code. For Talk In Code is a pop band in the very best sense of the word, one that can wander from pastoral pop pathways to incisive indie cool to rocked out riffs to dance floor infused beats and back again without breaking into a sweat.
There was a time when videos were merely a marketing tool, a supplementary piece of promotion to help sell the song in question, something to be fun and forgettable. But over the years things have changed, or at least those smart enough to understand the power of the video, especially in today’s distracting and visually driven market, have changed the way they use them. Jonathan Alexander is one of those astute enough to recognise that a song with the right film accompaniment is more than the sum of its parts. Much more.
Proving that pop can talk about the big issues in the world, taken either literally or metaphorically, Pallot’s classic still rings true, discussing the blind faith, greed and divisions in the world today.
Also the album that this comes from, Fires, her second album and released on her own label, is a real gem, mixed with great pop songs such as this, some dreamy and gorgeous atmospherics and deft indie brilliance. It’s also a testament to giving it your all, as she re-mortgaged her house to find the additional money to get the album made, an album which would reward her with a couple of chart hits , went on to put her on the map and secured a career for her.
It isn’t always a groove or a lyric that hooks you into a song, sometimes it can be far subtler than that. On the first spin at least, the most immediate and beguiling aspect of Seagate for me was its textures. There is something really artful in the way a whole range of different styles and sounds have been threaded together into a sort of slick and melancholic pop. Note, melancholic but not maudlin. It has inherent tinges of memory, nostalgia and reflection but only as subtle details, a background vibe, rather than as its main raison d’être. And it is Al Holland’s ability to take various musical threads – shimmering dreamscaping, folky delicacy, electronic motifs and gentle, cinematic pop -and weave them so deftly that they create gorgeous musical vistas that is the real charm of the music.
If for no other reason than I managed to unexpectedly get a ticket to last night’s TC&I show at Swindon Art Centre here’s a reminder of just one of the great songs that XTC were responsible for. With TC&I only having a small arsenal of new material at their disposal, the bulk of the show was obviously made up from the extensive XTC back catalogue. Including this sweet little pop gem.
We Journalists love our genres, our pigeon-holes, our easy handles, but this one has got even me stumped. But that’s a good thing right? If it is easy to pin down then you have probably heard it, or at least something similar, before. Where you attempt to pace Phantom Phunk in the scheme of things really depends on which aspect of the sound you pick up on first. Hip-hop vocals blended with soulful-pop responses, electro-rock back beats, warped indie guitars and a strange neo-psychedelic vibe surrounding everything. Intrigued?
How to feel old in one easy lesson: stumble across the latest release of a band you first heard 37 years ago, a band that you didn’t even know were back making music. I remember being sat in my mate’s bedroom sometime around school being exchanged for college and listening to a song he had discovered and which we proceeded to play to death. That song was Remembrance Day. As far as I was aware B-Movie had left us with a string of singles and one great album as a legacy and returned to the mortal world. So stumbling across this gem of a release, not to mention the discovery that I have two more albums to savour and observe, was a most pleasant surprise.
There is a real skill to being able to make music that simultaneously sounds like you have been listening to it all of your life but also the newest, freshest music to waft through the airwaves and it is a skill that Ed Hale appears to possess in no small amount. I guess it is what happens when you combine a wonderful musical imagination with a template that has served songwriters so well for the past 50 years. But just because someone takes the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix out approach” that doesn’t mean that they can’t give it a fresh lick of paint, re-shape, refine, have fun with and add new and exciting sonic detail to it. And that again is something that Ed Hale revels in. So For Real is definitely a case of evolution rather than revolution.
Summer Flowers kicks things off majestically, a veritable heatwave of retro-pop vibes, a flex of rock muscle and some wonderfully psychedelic moves and it is these corner stones that define the album’s personality. But this isn’t plunder, plagiarism or pastiche, for all its backward glance to past glories, songs such as Gimme Some Rock ’n’ Roll chime in tune with bands such as Flaming Lips or Wasuremono as readily as it does anything from previous generations.
Ahead of the upcoming run of TC&I shows at Swindon Arts Centre I managed to grab a quick chat with Colin Moulding about recent events, a return to treading the boards and what the future holds. This time last year I had spoken to him and Terry Chambers about the release of their e.p. Great Aspirations, so I was interested to know how we got from that record to full band live shows.
“A few reasons really, all those songs I wrote for XTC, when I had finished recording them I just had to wave goodbye to them and I thought it might be nice to hear them in a concert setting as a lot had never been heard that way. This coincided with Terry thinking shall we play some live shows on the back of these new recordings but of course we only had four new songs. I knew he wanted to get back out and play live, that’s how Terry best expresses himself. I thought, I can’t go the whole hog, I can’t go back to a touring lifestyle, I have commitments but I can go half way and play some shows via a more considered approach.”
To be honest, these daily by-genre posts are really just me working my way through the favourite bits of my record collection, but it gives us something to bond over…or argue over. Indie music of course is a tricky term, aren’t they all, but for a man of my age it is more about an independent ethic which existed in the post-punk era, led to a whole genre being built around the term in the 90’s and which is again in evidence in the modern age with the various D.I.Y and grassroots ways of operating away from the majors.
Also feel free to make suggestions for videos to post in these categories, it isn’t all about me. It is mainly about me though!
There has been a real revival of the glossier end of the post-punk sound of late, I guess a lot of it has to do just with the passing of time. Eighties revivalism has seen slick keyboard sounds and big production move from the old hat category into the vintage section and is thus now cool and referential rather than merely nostalgic and dated. I’m sure films such as Ready Player One has helped things along in no small part. But to be fair to Gunship, they were doing this long before it became a bandwagon, they were frequent fliers to that decade before the movers and shakers deemed it okay to do so.
And that is why as they pile the references on, both visually and musically, you can say that at least they have earned the right, even revivalists can be trailblazers, everything is cyclical and you just have to chose your moment. Musically they opt for a sultry, late night vibe, one that clashes the neon glitz of the down town back streets with the up town glamour as borne out by the sultry saxophone.
Hints of Vangelis’ Blade Runner soundtrack seem deliberate rather than stolen and the visual accompaniment is not only a clear nod to the beach band in the opening scenes of The Lost Boys (plus the video is set in Santa Carla) but goes one step further, the man behind the gratuitous sax is Tim Capello himself. But as always Gunship do it better than most, maybe the art is to just be honest, to put your hands up and say “hell, we love that era so why not revel in it?” And why not indeed?
Drawing the most emotion out of the most transient of sounds is an art in itself, but it is something that Kylie Spence, even at 17, is an expert at. Most people just starting out down such an indie-pop route are all too eager to make themselves heard by throwing everything they have, every sonic trick, ever studio gimmick at their song in an effort to stand out above the background noise of the modern music industry. In a move that belies her age, Spence goes the other way and delivers a song that is so smoke like, so dreamlike and drifting, emotive and intimate that you notice it for exactly the opposite reasons.
She is also not afraid to share the limelight and what stands this already beguiling track in ever higher stead is the blend of voices as the song relieves itself to be a duet, the overall affect being akin to Lisa Hannigan when she used to trade such vocals with Damien Rice and personally there aren’t many higher accolades.
With an EP on its way in about a months time, I feel truly excited to hear what else she has in her musical arsenal as, on the strength of this glorious single, she is an artist I will be paying close attention to.
We have encountered Leah Capelle in full on pop-rock mode and in the case of Better Off trading sweet harmonies in a stripped back duet with Hayley Brownell. Giants seems to sit somewhere in the middle, the best of both those fabulous sonic worlds. There is a delicacy to the delivery, her vocals wandering between defiant and vulnerable, the delivery between angelic and world weary.
But it is also the great use of dynamic within the song that reinforces its passion and panache, the lift into the chorus…”Come On!” as she finally admits to herself that her relationship is about to end and she is forced to confront the issue head on, is ironically euphoric and wonderfully freeing.
To say that Leah Capelle writes merely pop music is to do her an injustice. Yes, her music shares the same values, infectious, straightforward, relatable, but there is an honesty and maturity that goes beyond what most of the genre has to offer and that is exactly why she is going to be around for a long time to come.
Stock in the Bauhaus name is riding high at the moment. With one half of the band currently working as Poptone and David J undertaking an extensive world tour with Pete Murphy as we speak, it is certainly the perfect time to re-release J’s sophomore solo album, a record which he describes as “ a personal pastoral favourite” and one “that really set the tone for all my future solo endeavours.” And pastoral is indeed a great word to use even if it is hardly one that you would associate with either Bauhaus or Love and Rockets, the band that he would shortly form.
Crocodile Tears is certainly of its time, it sounds of its mid 80’s birthplace both in style and production but like any album which stays in the collective consciousness long enough to be labelled classic, iconic or influential, and this has been called all this and more, it has survived and transcended fad and fashion. Like black and white movies, favourite shirts and old photographs there is a hint of nostalgia to the songs found here from the point of the listener, how could there not be but also enough time has passed that a whole new generation can engage with it without the baggage that it carries. But you only have to listen to how ahead of its time songs such as Light and Shade are to see why it has survived. I could name 5 modern alt-country bands who would kill to have that on their resume.
Songs wander from the classic singer songwriter such as the folky Justine to the smooth soulful lines of the title track, the Lilac Time-esque fey-pop jaunt of Too Clever By Half to the shimmering sixties vibes of Slip The Rope. It is a vast departure from his earlier, darker band days but to many people, myself included, it was destined for more spins around the house than the more challenging Bauhaus back catalogue. And for those who found this an unexpected departure at the time, hindsight now tells us that a reunion with Daniel Ash in the form of Love and Rockets and all the glitz and glamour, punch and panache which that entailed was just around the corner.
If ever proof were needed that music is a cyclical process, Sharp Divide is that wonderful blend of past and future combining to make something perfect for the present market. The album pulses with a post-punk heart beat and captures that musical innocence that existed back then, when those disillusioned punks took broken keyboards and newly available studio tricks and gimmickry and turned them to their new musical visions. Visions which became New Romantisicm, new wave, new pop, goth, indie-dance and shoegaze. But it also sounds like an album stood in the present day looking into the future of pop music. It’s all about perspective I guess, of where you are stood as the musical wheel turns.
It drips with wonderful dreamstate otherworldliness, it shimmers with indie majesty and crackles with pop energy, the title track itself being a lesson in laidback art-pop, of making music that is both brilliantly languid, effortlessly sultry yet compelling and cool. Bleed Me wanders into later Human League territory, when they were happy enough just to dance around their handbags on the nightclub floor and Losing Our Control is both the most cultish nod to the past and the most confident stride into a commercial future.
If you like dreamy indie music a la early Lush you will love the textures here, if you are a discerning pop picker you will fall for the spacious melodies and even dance fiends will fall for its chilled grace and groove. Perhaps if you go far enough into the future you find yourself arriving in the past and if you are going to try it, Sharp Divide is perhaps the best soundtrack that you can take along for the ride.
Within the first two tracks of this, her 7th album, Amy Loftus signposts the fact that whilst pop music might lie at the core of Sweetest Surrender, there is still much to explore within that broad generic label. Whilst the opening salvo and titular single kicks things off in sassy pop style, a heartfelt love letter to her husband, a thread that runs through the album, Me and You, musically at least, offers up a more sultry pop vision. And it is between these two extremes, the obvious dance floor groover and the less obvious and more intimate indie-dance anthem that the album finds its personality.
There is room for strutting rock drives in the form of Only Human, feel good boogies such as We Have It All and country-pop on the album’s swan song On The Inside. For my money though she is at her best when blending those accessible pop passions with some more mercurial moods. Higher Ground is a gorgeously drifting, sonic lucid dream that matches space and atmosphere into the perfect cinematic soundscape and I Do is a minimalist ballad that has late night radio and chart success written all over it. Story of My Life is a fantastic piece of brooding beauty, its as simple as that.
Pop music doesn’t have to be obvious and pandering, Sweetest Surrender proves just that. It shows that even the most commercially accessible songs can still be built with real integrity, real passion rather than the usual production line, pop by numbers. It also shows that beyond the clean lines and infectious grooves, there is room for enticing and graceful songs, timeless and genre-less pieces that exist only because they had to be written not to serve some higher purpose cash till ring.
Amy Loftus is a triumph. One day all pop music will be made this way.
Not that there was ever any doubt, but the fact that Palm Rose choose to open this debut e.p. with a song built of transient grace and gentle drifting qualities, proves that they know just how good their songs are. They are probably too modest to admit it but deep down inside they know. Most bands would go in big, play the obvious single, get the listener fired up, make a big impact and then try to ride out the wave of enthusiasm before it peters out. Not Palm Rose. No sir. Even when they are doing nothing more than delivering simple but soaring vocals over a musical dreamscape wash, they do so with more poise and integrity than most of the bands on the contemporary alt-pop scene.
It is this ability to use minimalism to maximum effect that means when the chiming guitar tones and understated grooves of Where Are We Now kick in, it sounds like the biggest song in the world. It’s all relative… relatively speaking. And that is the great thing about the band, that they understand space and atmosphere, how to build anticipation and allure through what is not being played, which means that even the gaps between the notes and the pauses between the lyrics become powerful musical tools. Not an unknown concept but certainly a much overlooked one.
Move Slowly captures a slight Morrissey vibe in Adam’s voice which, twenty years ago would have been a talking point, now it is best to gloss right over and Tender Crush/Heartless Love is a wonderful slow burn running between atmospheric pop and shimmering shoegazery. The swan song of the collection, Daydream in C is a perfect coming together of the bands ability to write pulsing bass hooks and infectious riffs, of soaring majesty and widescreen cinematics. Perfect.
If you took almost any current indie-pop album, folded it up, took a pair of scissors and cut out shapes of little people so that when you opened it out again you had a row of joined dancers…well, I suppose that you wouldn’t be able to play those albums again! If, whilst wondering why you did that in the first place, you put Daydreams on they would probably all start grooving around to the music. Or something about leaving gaps in music, or less being more….I don’t know, I’m not good with analogy!
Lights on Moscow is a collaboration between Justin Lockey (Editors/ Minor Victories/ Mastersystem) and Hazel Wilde (Lanterns On The Lake)
The pair were living near one another in Newcastle when the songs took shape. However, the creative journey they shared began years before, where the duo originally performed the songs during a trip to New York. In the intermittent years, neither were in the right head space to release the music. Only now, years later do they feel comfortable sharing their music with the world.
“It’s strange how the timing of something can make a difference. We always knew it was something we’d come back to. And now we have” says Wilde of the project. The idea of ‘waiting’ is certainly at odds with an industry obsessed with speed and the present – but the single highlights a timelessness in-keeping with the ethos of the project.
I’m not for a moment suggesting that John Andrew Fredrick is set in his ways but even he would be the first to admit that after fifteen albums he has a certain musical signature. How could he not, all artists have one. It’s the sound of the artist’s personality coded into their songs, their subconscious essence binding with the DNA of their music so much so that the two become, to a degree, synonymous. And, knowing this, it is exactly why the illustrious Mr F. made a conscious effort to record an album of music which deliberately moved away from the path so deftly travelled so far.
A dance record with minimal drum beat drive? Syd Barrett fronting New Order? A move away from the unexpected commercial viability of previous album The Gospel According to John and a return to more obscure or at least less obvious roots? It runs with all of these pre-planned considerations but like any good album, and this is indeed a great album, it is more than the sum of the predicted parts. And whilst it certainly has a bounce and buoyancy at times, as always, things are not quite that simple.
There are a number of central themes to these intricate pop songs, magic for one, but not magic as some mysterious otherworldly power but more magic as an ingredient to a happy life, the glue that makes relationships work, the magic of the unplanned, the mystical energy that makes things complete.
Some songs live up to the dance vibe that is cast loosely over the record, Georgette, Georgette being a groovesome beast, 80’s vibe post-punk/new pop but given the passage of time feeling totally at the edge of a whole new wave of musical reinvention as well-rendered pop once more takes on the fickle fad and fashion of the status quo. From Hampstead Heath is a dreamscape of delicate and resonant picked guitars and Graymalkin Comes picks up on the early Syd qualities as intended.
Talk has surrounded the question of where next for John Andrew Fredrick as he has occasionally hinted at a move away from the music making side of his creative life. On the strength of Witches! it is obvious that he would be sorely missed. That blend of the obscure and the accessible. The intricate and the melodic. The direct and the textured. The cool and the cultish. The backward-glancing and the forward-thinking. All of those mutually exclusive ideas and dozens more beside inhabit his songs in a way that is rarely seen and I for one am not ready to see such wonderfully mercurial oxymorons slip into the back catalogue of musical history just yet.
NYC’s Future Generations have shared a new single “Suddenly.” The track is off their upcoming new album Landscape (Frenchkiss Records) set to be released on September 14. Of the single they note, “Sometimes things just happen the way they are supposed to and they happen all at once, but it takes a bit of patience leading up to it. Suddenly encompasses that message both in its lyrics and in the way it came about. After a bit of a writing slump, we wrote and recorded it in one day and didn’t touch it again until we mixed it with the rest of the album.”
Produced by Justin Gerrish (Vampire Weekend, Hamilton Leithauser), Landscape is the first release from the band to feature their full lineup of Eddie Gore (vocals) Mike Sansevere(synthesizer, guitar, percussion), Eric Grossman (guitar), Devon Sheridan (bass), and Dylan Wells (percussion). Of the album’s title, Gore notes it “came from ending the first significant relationship of my life. And with the band’s move to Brooklyn, we were all put into this world we’d never experienced—living on our own and navigating the landscape of being in New York City.”
Well, this is just lovely isn’t it? You can’t knock a euphoric, upbeat, summer song, one built of wonderful loud-quiet dynamic, sing-along choruses, one that just oozes fun and joyfulness, can you? It’s Our Time is all of that and more. It feels light and floaty but soon builds up those textures into something more substantial so that the end result is the equivalent of being knocked over by a whole pile of silk scarves…probably paisley patterned.
This is the end of modern indie music that I have the most hope for. Forget the identi-kit indie-rockers with their fashionable jeans and complicated hair, give me indie music that skirts the realms of dream-pop, afro-beat and folk music any day of the week. The Light The Heat are definitely ones to watch.
Heroes come in many shapes and sizes. I’m not sure if too many young musicians would see Richard Branson as a hero but I guess if you look at all the things that he is done, all that he has achieved, his use of fun, adventure and business as a force of good (glossing over him suing the British NHS for £2 million) there are worse people to look up to. Clark Twain certainly thinks so and Fly High, as the subtitle suggests is dedicated to Old Tidy Beard himself.
It is a song that is wonderfully difficult to place, generically it is brilliant pop with just the right amount of rock muscle, but beyond that it could fit into almost any era of contemporary music. It has the smoothness of the 60’s fledgling pop sound, the edge of New Wave, the underground vibe of the 80’s new pop sound and fits effortlessly into modern indie and pop movements. If that isn’t a definition of timeless music I don’t know what is.
PS: Award yourselves extra points if you recognise the song that this morphs into at the end and what the connection is with the aforementioned Mr B.
Those of a certain age, myself included, remember a time when the first wave of bands emerged wielding the newly accessible synthesiser rather than the more expected guitar and the death of music was heralded in certain quarters. But what those rock classicists and pop purists couldn’t have predicted was that far from burying music, the new technologies saved it, to a point now where whole sub-genres in their own right and pop music in a more general sense sound they way they do today largely due to this change. How boring would the state of the music world be if we still thought that guitar rhythms and full kit drums were the only option. The world would be a much emptier place, for a start we wouldn’t have Temporary Hero’s deft and dulcet tones to revel in.
Firstly, it is worth pointing out that Jonah Bell, the man behind the moniker, is as much an eclectic warrior as he is an electric one, releasing everything from high octane dance hits to tribute albums to the likes of Bing Crosby and Chet Baker in his own inimitable way. To Bell there is no underground or mainstream, no generic demarcations, no tribal music affiliations, nowhere that is off limits for him to explore. There is just music to be made, music to be celebrated.
What You Wanted, the latest from his very busy release schedule, is an album of chilled dance creations and indie-pop wandering between sharp clubland sounds and spacious ambient vibes. At one end of the sonic spectrum there are songs filled with sultry grooves such as opening salvo Suitcase, the dynamics and dance floor hustle of I Didn’t know What I Was Doing and even some rock riffs blending with the late night chill of Consequences. What You Wanted even collects some sassy jazz-soul sounds and puts them to a compelling and minimalist beat. Elsewhere songs such as Sacrifice are built on more brooding tones wandering between slick beats and dark reflection and Fear is an intimate and emotive torch song built on vocals and a plaintive piano before heading towards a restrained crescendo…if there is even such a thing.
What You Wanted proves that the broad field of pop music has room to accommodate many different styles, that it isn’t always about obvious dance floor instant hits, although this album has its fair share of those. But the charm of the album, for me at least, is what is happening between those more obvious musical outings. The use of space, the dynamic twists and turns, the gentle merging of styles, both from within the dance world and beyond. It also reminds us that electronic music is a technique rather than a genre, a tool rather than the finished artefact and you can use those same technologies to explore any and every corner of the music spectrum, that confining yourself to the traditions and heritage of clubland is a step backwards. What You Wanted is not that, this is definitely a bold forward step. It is the path pop could have made if it had decided to explore more serious territory, it is indie music that doesn’t merely follow the latest fashion. It is indie-pop music in the truest sense of the word. It is exploratory, generically shifting, dynamically clever, mercurial and unexpected.
In fact if one track sums up the album as a whole it is, perhaps unexpectedly, Natural. Musically it is chilled yet groovesome, full of space and restraint, it seems to hang just out of earshot, distant music coming from somewhere just out of reach. Lyrically it is beautifully romantic, a far cry from the clumsy lyricism, if it can even be called that, which passes for pop-dance lyrics these days.
Dance music for the future? Alt-pop for the underground? Mainstream music for the discerning listener? Stylistically shifting tunes for the post-genre word? Yes, yes, yes and yes, it is all that and more.
There are a lot of ways to make an impact with the opening salvo of a record. Many take the obvious and over done step of coming out with all guns blazing, of taking the more is more approach and shooting their musical load in one embarrassing opening act. Catgod are smarter than that, but we’ve always known that, and they chose to offer a heart tugging, slice of chilled pop as their opening gambit. On the titular track Cat’s voice is the perfect blend of ethereal and emotive, soaring yet lyrically delving into deep rooted inner feelings as the music – tinkling pianos, gentle harmonies and subtle beats – build around her poignant pleas.
Let Go wanders similar spacious, dream-state pop pathways, vocals contrasting and then combining as they build a lulling, soothing musical cocoon out of gossamer sounds and sonic haze and Keep My Promises weaves arabesque vibes through alt-popness. Owing You wraps the e.p. up, a shimmering gathering of soft spoken word, lush harmonies and meandering music occasionally cut through with electronic shards as it builds towards its crashing crescendos.
If you think that pop music needs new places to go or to further explore until now suppressed elements of its own make up, then Heartbeat in My Hand is for you. If you are looking for an alternative to the production line pop-pap but still crave accessible and commercially viable music, again this is something that you are going to check out. If you crave the fledgling days of dream-pop or just hold that music should value beauty as much as success, that something can find a sizeable audience without necessarily pandering to the fickle finger of fashion or merely re-inventing the wheel, again Catgod is your go to band. In fact, it is hard to imagine who would not find much to love in their lush and deftly crafted musical halls.
I was doing a spot of research whilst writing about a band with some old-school sounds and post-punk connections and found myself , as you do, on Andrew Eldritch’s Wiki page. It was there that I found out that he had been wonderfully referenced in a song title and I thought I’d check it out and this is the result.
Okay, it isn’t too much of a blast from the past, only being from last year but The Mountain Goats have been making cool music since the early nineties, it would seem. But it made me chuckle and as quirky little indie pop songs go it’s great and it is that one line, the titular refrain that makes me smile every time it gets dropped into the delivery.
Looks like I have missed out on a great band but am making up for that now and can highly recommend Goths, their most recent album that this comes from and also am really enjoying Black Pear Tree which sees them collaborating with Kaki King.
As a person who plays with words all day, inventing imaginary genres and often meaningless soundbites, I always appreciate a good turn of phrase, especially if it comes from a band themselves looking to find tempting labels for their music. “Sun-damaged American music” sounds excellent even before you have matched it to any music. It conjures images of music warped and twisted through too much exposure to the heat, broken yet exuding warmth, light and cracked, torn and crumbling, breaking apart through being handled too incautiously. That sounds like something I would like and as it is main man Joseph Lekkas summation of Palm Ghosts music, I find myself braced and ready for a sonic treat.
And a treat it is too. A blend of gorgeously cinematic, dream pop meeting a more structured indie ethic of the sort that cool and imaginative left field musicians have been making from Cocteau Twins to Alvvays and at every point in between. Throw in some wonderful vocal textures and an occasional wander into darker pop territory and you have an intriguing and beguiling proposition. The Crown and The Confidant in particular runs along the same mercurial commerciality that saw the likes of The Cure move from alternative, arty upstarts to arena favourites, The Hound takes more brooding ambient routes and Rhythm To Rage matches dance floor finesse with indie otherness.
A fantastic slice of all things that sit on the border of cultish and commercial, cool enough to appeal to the discerning tastes of the underground and hot enough to sell to the masses. Not only does that blend not come together very often, who’d have thought that you’d find it in the alt-country confines of East Nashville.
Last time we checked in with Djo Life he was cosying up to an elegant French girl in the sumptuous surroundings of a Parisian Bar, or perhaps a sumptuous French girl in and elegant bar, I forget but the result is the same either way. This time he is setting his sights on love of a different kind. If French Cigarettes was all about intimacy and empathy, Machine truly is a love song for the digital age. This time he has fallen for the remote and unrequited image of a girl on a screen far detached from his life, a broadcast and nothing more. But as a concept it neatly gets to the heart of much of what is wrong with the world today, or at least what is wrong with the way interact with technology and media. When viewed back to back with the previous single, it also shows us how far we have wandered from reality in such a short period of time.
Musically, it reflects that change too. Before he was happy to rustle up a cool indie-pop paean to beauty, a celebration of the girl in front of him. This time there is the sound of cooler clinical electronica which wanders through below the guitar and something in the nature of some of the vocal deliveries, perhaps a whiff of detached desperation, that reflects the world he now finds himself in. It is a fantastic track, still revelling in that great pop and commercially viable sound he brings to it but which at no time panders to fad or fashion and laced with a gentle warning.
Both this and French Cigarettes are love songs. It is just that whereas the former is a romantic, chance meeting, a blissful memory of the one that got away, Machine is a starker warning about the one that you were never going to have in the first place.
Indie has been all things to everyone at some point. It has been the cultish underground it has been the cool mainstream, it has been rock with less testosterone and more integrity, it has been pop with a bit of muscle. It is a term so wide it almost doesn’t mean anything. I would say though if you are going to enter the indie arena then you might as well do something like Blue Apollo. Okay, its familiar territory but it is ultra modern, wonderfully groovesome and it shimmers and a dream state haze.
Okay, it still sounds like we have been here before. And we may well have but few in the annals of indie have simultaneously out popped pop music, out grooved dance music or just made music so clearly and cleanly defined, so wonderfully transient and translucent without being few and fickle. To those like me who have been a round the block a few times listening to Blue Apollo is like discovering The Lilac Time all over again, to those with youth on their side (pun intended) it will sound like a whole new movement just pulling its musical boots on…cool looking Chelsea boots at that!
There are some bands that make music which sits in a wonderfully, non-generic middle ground. I don’t mean that in dismissive way, suggesting perhaps there is something middle of the road or predictable about these bands. Quite the opposite. I’m talking about bands whose sonic creations seems to touch a wide range of genres without fully committing to any one, who’s songs seem to be more about the art of songwriting than any generic gimmickry or playing to the gallery of the devoted. Ultratone is just such a band.
A Dream skirts pop pastures and indie coolness, generously tipping its hat to them but never fully joining the club, it blends in dextrous classical guitar passages, Beatle-esque stomping beats and a general west-coast haziness, in that Paisley Underground revivalist sort of way. It draws lines linking Pink Floyd with Arcade Fire, Wilco with The Lilac Time, Flaming Lips with The Church,with the connection not being so much to do with the style of the music but the feel of it, the quality and the deftness of its creation. Genres, who needs them? Not Ultratone, that’s for sure.
It’s all very well making music which is intricate and introverted, dense and technical, big and clever but some times you just want a song which is, well, fun. It sometimes is that straight forward, and the music and especially the accompanying video for West Coast is just that. One part pop vibrancy, one part indie cool, it’s a well constructed, direct and delicious, chart and radio friendly track. Unashamed, unabashed, uncomplicated and wonderfully memorable.
But of course direct is not the same as simple and there is an art to writing, honing and editing an idea down into a clean-limbed and well-toned song. Every line, every sentence, every beat has to be there for a reason and West Coast is a classic example of this at work. Every note, riff and melody serves a purpose and if something is surplus to requirements then they understand that you should run without it and let the spaces that this creates fill up with atmosphere and anticipation, let words have room to hang and notes space to fade.
The result is a groove fuelled and brilliantly effective song built for accessibility and with summer chart hit stamped all over it. West Coast is proof that you don’t have to over complicate things, that the right few musical ingredients blended well are much more effective than a stodgy, overloaded and unnecessarily weighed down concoction every time.