Archives for category: International Pop Underground

Drahla October 2017“Silk Spirit” is a brand new track from Leeds based trio Drahla, previewed on their Bandcamp page ahead of the release of their first EP “Third Article” on 24 November:

The “Third Article” EP is 4 new songs, available on a one-sided 12″. If you are late to the Drahla party there were two glorious and essential 7″ singles “Faux Text” and “Fictional Decision” released in the past year.

“Silk Spirit” continues the promise of those singles – mystery, noise, melody and another intriguing talk-sing stream-of-consciousness from guitarist/ vocalist Luciel Brown, as if recalling a detailed fever-dream.

Beaches by Darren Sylvester

BEACHES (photo by Darren Sylvester)

Continuing the heavy psych theme, here’s a blissful Sunday Psych-out fuzzfest called “Arrow” from Melbourne five-piece band BEACHES:

BEACHES have just released (September 2017) a double album of ultra-melodic psychedelic rock called “Second of Spring”. Actually, it’s a bit more than *just* psych rock, as the double LP format allows the band to mix their usual 60s/ 70s psych-rock via German 70s experimental motorik and 80s New Wave goodness with even more shoegaze melodic pop stylings to great effect, as “Arrow” here shows.

Some songs may even remind anyone who has established a long-running relationship with Australian alternative guitar music (guilty here) of the fuzzy melodic power-pop goodness of the likes of 80s/ 90s bands The Hummingbirds or Someloves. To my ears BEACHES more natural propulsive and joyful psychedelic stylings are way more preferable than the over-worked self-indulgent noodling of some of their much more vaunted Australian psych-rock contemporaries. Enough said!

BEACHES are Antonia Sellbach on guitar and vocals, Alison Bolger on guitar and vocals, Ali McCann on guitar and vocals, Gill Tucker on bass and vocals and Karla Way on drums and vocals.

They’ve been playing and releasing singles, EPs and albums as BEACHES since 2008. You really ought to dig back into their catalogue for stunning gems like the 2013 release “She Beats” which features even more motorik psych+melodic fuzzrock wonders.

Minimum Chips

Minimum Chips is one of the great band names of the modern era. Fortunately that evocative name is matched to exquisite music. Their label Chapter Music describe their sound as ‘lo-fi jazz pop’ but have a listen to “Jolly Jumper” and make up your own mind.

“Jolly Jumper” is a new recording by the band, and it is included on “20 Big Ones – 1992 – 2012” which celebrated 20 years of Chapter Music, the Melbourne label which brought us the likes of Dick Diver, Bushwalking, Twerps, The Stevens, The Cannanes, The Goon Sax, and… well, the list is quite long. The album was released in 2012 to coincide with the label’s 20th anniversary show and has re-appeared on the Chapter Music Bandcamp page today, which presumably means it has been repressed.

“Jolly Jumper” seems to me to transcend ‘indie-pop’ whatever that is, although it is clearly independent and clearly pop. It is the kind of thing you might imagine in a fever dream involving members of Stereolab and Broadcast forming a secret group and releasing a single on Sarah Records or some other equally unlikely kind of musical fantasy in an alternative universe.

The guitar and organ meander; interlocking, overlocking, unravelling, reforming patterns again in hypnotic and exultant ways. The drums are crisp and adventurous and there is no jazz in earshot, save for some experimental organ chords towards the ending (and what a dramatic ending). The vocals sound distant yet close, the words being sung almost sound French, yet it’s an Australian singing in English. Mystery upon enigma. Of course, I’ll be carefully, patiently discovering the rest of this band’s back catalogue for years now.

There are 19 other songs on the album. They all have their magic and help tell a story of a label giving a voice for over 20 years now to people the more commercially-focused mainstream part of the ‘music industry’ ignores. It’s a good entry point to explore the label catalogue. Chapter Music is a very good musical rabbit hole to fall down.

Chapter Music is a long-standing label established by a then 17-year-old Guy Blackman in Perth in 1992, before relocating to Melbourne. Read more about Chapter Music in interview with Guy here.

Chapter 20

Jane Weaver_Modern Kosmology“The Architect” is the title track from a new EP from UK musician Jane Weaver which follows her essential album “Modern Kosmology” (which also includes “The Architect”…)

If you haven’t heard “Modern Kosmology” – released earlier this year – you really ought to give it a listen. Or just, you know, BUY IT! On impulse. As I did a few months ago.

It was one of those “Hi-Fidelity” moments, although Dave from Relics in Dunedin is no John Cusack. Still, he was playing a promo CD of the album and I ordered a copy of the LP on the strength of a couple of tracks that had been playing.

It’s quickly become one of my favourite albums of the year. “The Architect” here is one of two tracks to feature drummer Andrew Cheetham. The other is the opening track “H>A>K”. His drumming is fluid, loose, and inventive and gives the futuristic electronic soul-funk of “The Architect” a nicely human mode of propulsion.

There’s nothing else quite like “The Architect” (or “H>A>K”) on “Modern Kosmology” though and that’s one of the reasons the album is such a satisfying experience from beginning to end. It’s a special kind of psychedelic-electronic-dream-pop-motorik trip. A journey through the time & space of Jane Weaver’s imagination.

There are moments throughout the album that remind me of the diverse sounds of Broadcast, Stereoloab, Bachelorette, Fast, Neu, Can, Popol Vuh… goodness knows what else. But the key is these are just moments, and there’s also much here that is floating in its own musical universe… making it a contemporary classic album.

Here’s a wonderful 10 minute video documentary about Jane Weaver and the recording of “Modern Kosmology”.



Grant Hart Chicks 2010

Grant Hart outside Chicks Hotel, February 2010.

Grant Hart died last week, aged 56, after a battle with cancer. Through Hüsker Dü, Nova Mob and his solo albums he left an extraordinary back catalogue of songs. Here’s the gorgeous “Morningstar” off his last album “The Argument”, which came out on Domino Recordings in 2013.

“Morningstar” is as perfect as his earlier songs with Hüsker Dü – a simple chord change, a vocal melody that hooks you in straight away, a passionate vocal performance, lyrics combining the personal with the esoteric, that earworm keyboard refrain…

My first exposure to Hüsker Dü was in the 1980s via “Radio With Pictures”, NZ’s Sunday night ‘alternative’ music video show (well before ‘alternative’ was a thing). Specifically this video for “Don’t Want to Know if you are Lonely” which mixes live footage with grainy touring footage.

I remember being fascinated by the power of the song, the the total involvement of singing drummer Grant Hart, and the fusion of punk/ hard rock energy with classic 60’s era style of pop melodicism well before ‘grunge rock’.

I only got into Hüsker Dü from their major label releases “Candy Apple Grey” (1986) and “Warehouse: Songs and Stories” (1987). What stood out then was that Grant’s songs were the ones that resonated most for me. I made a tape of all my favourite songs from “Warehouse: Songs and Stories” for the car. They were all Grant’s songs.

After Hüsker Dü Grant’s solo music and Nova Mob albums made an impact here among those who followed his music. His single “2541” was just as perfect a song for winters in cold houses in southern NZ as it was for Minneapolis, US.

I met Grant in 2010 when I persuaded his NZ tour promoter to add a Dunedin show, by guaranteeing the event (one of a handful of ‘PopLib Presents…’ shows promoted down here between 2009 and 2014). The show – held at a packed Chicks Hotel – turned out to be the best of his tour and he played a 2 hour set, feeding off the enraptured enthusiasm of the audience.

As he was flying out to Australia from Dunedin late the following day the tour organiser asked if I could take care of Grant and his tour manager for the day and deliver them to the airport that evening. I’m always nervous of meeting my heroes – particularly ones with the reputation Grant had, but agreed.

Next day I met him at Chicks and asked what he wanted to do on his day in Dunedin. He had read that Dunedin had one of the best used bookshops in the world – Octagon Books – and he loved books. The older the better. So that was our day – a scenic tour of Dunedin via several 2nd hand bookshops. He loved Dunedin; it’s compact size, old buildings, sedate pace, and low-key, friendly people.

In Galaxy books near the Botanic Gardens a customer and her young daughter were talking to the owner. The girl was carrying a guitar her mother had just bought for her. She didn’t know how to tune it. Grant heard this and offered his help. He tuned the guitar and showed the girl how to form the shape of a few simple chords: “that’s enough for punk rock anyway” he laughed.  Her mother thanked him and asked if he did guitar lessons. Grant laughed and said it would be a long way to go to find him in Minneapolis.

I hesitantly asked about Hüsker Dü as we drove around. There was some resentment about Bob Mould, who had just announced he was writing his memoirs. Grant talked about writing his own so the real story would be told. But Grant seemed more sad that the relationship seemed irreconcilable rather than bitter about Bob Mould. He appeared to be open to talking again – as long as Bob made the first conciliatory approach. He did however have a bit to say about SST Records’ Greg Ginn, and that wasn’t so forgiving.

However, mostly what Grant talked about as we drove around Dunedin, triggered by driving past several Masonic Lodges, was the detailed history of the Freemason movement. He explained these derived from the trade guilds in the Middle Ages which provided the support of collective organisations, independent of the political power of the churches, hence the hostility and distrust from the churches towards Freemasonry. The rituals and symbols we had mocked while growing up in Invercargill and sneaking around the local Masonic Lodges to try to look inside for the supposedly satanic symbols, were initially developed as way of protecting the group from infiltration by spies and saboteurs from the churches he said.  Fascinating stuff, and about the last thing I expected to be hearing from the drummer of Hüsker Dü while driving around Dunedin.

We called in to the University’s Albany Street studio so sound person from the show the previous night could show Grant the studio he worked in. Grant played us the rough mixes of his concept album based on Milton’s “Paradise Lost” in the control room. He talked about how he would love to come back and finish the album there. He had a good feeling about Dunedin; a kind of retreat from the world where he could work in peace.

Before heading to the airport I took Grant to St Clair – Dunedin’s surf beach – where we had a last coffee and watched the surfers. The sun was shining and Grant was smiling. He loved the sea, the motion of the waves, the noise of the surf. He walked down to the railing over looking the steps and listened to the waves breaking against the rocks below. A surfer walked up the steps next to him, recognised Grant and and stopped to talk to him, thanking him for the great show the previous night and for coming to Dunedin.

On the way to the airport I asked him if there was anything I could send to him from Dunedin to remind him of his visit. He knew that Dunedin had woollen mills and explained he was a collector of Canadian Blankets from the Hudson Bay Blanket Company (cue another fascinating history lesson). I later found an old Roslyn Woollen Mill blanket in perfect condition and sent it to him. It was a large check pattern alternating crossed bands of pink and blue. Perfect.

We exchanged e-mails through to the end of 2011 over the album which was eventually released as “The Argument”on Domino Recordings in 2013. He sent me working mixes of the album, discussing plans for completing the final mixes and the difficulties he was having finding a label in the UK to release the album.  I’m glad Domino released the album, doing such a wonderful job of presenting it, and helping get him the attention and respect for the work he had devoted so many years to creating.

Although Grant returned to Dunedin last year and played again at Chicks Hotel – with a band this time –  I didn’t get a chance to talk to him in the crowded venue afterwards. I hope he had time to go to St Clair and watch and listen to the sea again.

When we exchanged those e-mails between 2009 and 2011 he always asked about the surf around Dunedin. He remembered that afternoon at St Clair watching the sea and the surf. His last e-mail to me finished: “THE RATTLE OF THE STONES IS A WILD THING TO HEAR . I WON’T FORGET IT.”

Autumn London“We try to articulate that change in the air that happens when autumn comes. But it’s not a verbal thing; you can’t really express it properly with words. You can express it with music and atmosphere.” Alasdair MacLean – The Clientele

The Clientele are one of my favourite bands. Although I learned the other day they are in fact an art project rather than a band in the traditional rock and roll sense of the word. I thought they had split up several years ago after releasing “Bonfires on the Heath” (2009).

But they’ve found their way back from making a living as normal people in the real world, parenthood, gardening in suburban London allotments, and all that stuff, to make another album. “Music for the Age of Miracles” is out on 22 September and here’s “Everyone You Meet” from it:

Like everything The Clientele have done there’s an autumnal element to this song, which augers well for the new album. Autumn features a lot in the songs and the lyrics.

The Clientele has always seemed to me to be like a musical way of representing personal experience and feelings about the natural and human environment, ghostly imagery of landscape paintings, old photographs, literature and poetry, in the form of contemporary pop songs.

Here’s what songwriter, guitarist and vocalist Alasdair MacLean had to say about The Clientele in a 2015 interview  in answer to a question about refining the sound of The Clientele over 5 albums, which some listeners may view as rehashing old songs:

“I think that I completely understand why people would say that about The Clientele, as they’re viewing us in 2015 as a Rock ‘n’ Roll band. The kind of rock band that has to focus on reinvention, this Miles Davis or Picasso styled reinvention. But in 2015, Rock ‘n’ Roll bands don’t mean anything and The Clientele isn’t one; they’re an art project. Again I know that sounds aggressively pretentious.

What it is it’s a refinement of a certain idea and it’s something that’s lasted a couple of decades and a lot of people have contributed to it. So you shouldn’t expect a Kid A from us or a Screamadelica. That’s all bullshit now anyway. I don’t think it matters now, I don’t think it has any meaning anymore. What we’re doing is just rumbling on with this art project that’s been going on since the ’90s.

Our whole aim and our whole methodology is separate from what they’re looking at, what their expectations are. We don’t have that idea of the difficult third album, that’s foreign to what we do.

When The Clientele stopped making music, around Bonfires on the Heath, it was because I felt like it had gone out of control. It had gone from being this interesting, heartbreaking art-project to starting to threaten to sound like a normal band and I really didn’t want to be a part of that, so we stopped it. That was just one of the many reasons.

For me it has to not sound like a normal band, it has to go back to the vividness and the inspiration of before. And actually what we’ve done does sound like we have that. So as long as we carry on having that, we’ll carry on and make another record. If not, we’ve made five records and five records is enough for any band really. Unless you’re Robert Wyatt.”

Sachet Portion Control Front_Back_LPHere’s another song from Sachet’s excellent first album “Portion Control” – the fuzzy “Neenish Tart” which ends side one of the LP, which arrived in the mail last week from Sydney label Strange Pursuits.

“Neenish Tart” evokes strong memories of two very favourite (and related) Scottish bands from the mid-1980s – The Pastels (from Glasgow) and Shop Assistants (from Edinburgh).

It’s probably infuriating for new bands for a comparison to be made between a song they released in 2017 and the music from 30 years ago of some bands they may never have heard of. However, there are thousands of fans of those two bands who have never heard of Sachet who would love this song and album if they knew about it… so here we are.

Sachet represent in 2017 the spirit of the DIY 80s when “indie” was really independent pop music. Self-recorded, unapologetically under-produced (that’s a good thing), self-releasing through their own label (which also releases a few other excellent bands), and largely overlooked, unseen, unheard by an audience who would appreciate their music if only they knew it existed.

The Pastels and Shop Assistants were around in the era of vibrant music print media and influential radio shows. They were written about (and mythologised) with the help of grainy photos in newsprint weeklies, in fanzines and in glossy music monthlies. The only places you could hear their music were a few BBC radio shows hosted by independent DJs, which anyone who wanted to hear the new sounds of the Pop Underground would listen to if they could (even around the world by exchange of cassette tapes).

Sachet exist in the era of information overload and perhaps even new music overload, where visibility across the thousands of websites depends on a budget for a PR campaign that a self-funded DIY label like Strange Pursuits can’t afford. Visibility today, even once obtained, is fleeting; quickly cached into online – and human – memory.  It’s a shame really, as Sachet – as with Lani & Sam’s previous band Day Ravies – represent a strong a pulse within the still-living International Pop Underground.

If you were wondering what a Neenish Tart is… according to Wikipedia it is an Australian invention (yeah, right. cf: Pavlova) but “the lemon-flavoured version of the tart most familiar to New Zealand residents is found in the Edmonds Cookery Book. It includes a filling made from butter, icing sugar, sweetened condensed milk and lemon juice in a flour-based pastry base topped with half standard white icing and half chocolate (cocoa added) icing.”