Elefant Records release albums from the pick of European Pop

Giorgio Tuma - In The Morning We’ll Meet
Giorgio Tuma - In The Morning We’ll Meet

Giorgio Tuma – In The Morning We’ll Meet

Two years on from his amazing debut (My Vocalese Fun Fair) Italian pop genius Giorgio Tuma unveils his 16-track follow up on his Spanish label with songs in English.

Apologies, I’m writing like you’re in on the secret, but I get the feeling you’re not. Not for much longer, however, for I am about to induct you into the Giorgio Tuma fan club. What can I say? That he’s the biggest talent to emerge in sun-drenched pop since Brian Wilson, John Phillips, Burt Bacharach or Herb Alpert last wrote a decent tune?

Maybe I’m building him up too much? Maybe you should just take a listen in front of a mirror so you can watch your jaw slacken with wonder that someone is still out there writing delicious gentle melodic pop with orchestral arrangements and vocal harmonies that would have done Mr Bacharach & Mr David proud.

One listen is enough to sense that In The Morning We’ll Meet is every bit as good as the debut. Half-a-dozen listens, however, fail to throw up an absolute stand-out in the way that ‘Let’s Make the Stevens Cake’ or ‘Astroland by Bus’ leapt out of the debut. A criticism of sorts, but it all holds together as a coherent wistful work of aural art, just even more languid, ethereal and beautiful that the previous disc.

I’ll go for ‘An Enchanting Blue’ or ‘Oh Marc, Please, Let me Fly with my LV’ with its dreamy trumpet or ‘Innocenza Cetra’ and its gorgeous violins as the highlights. Timeless.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DX08XiHHtaY&feature=related

Very few labels can dare claim that they define a sound; Sun, Tamla-Motown, Stax, 2-Tone and Postcard form an elite crew. The good people at Elefant HQ in Madrid are building a damn good case for membership.

Various Artists – Space Escapade Unit 1 Destination: Pluto Sector 68 (Aventura Espacial)

Space Escapade Unit 1 is the latest of several pop picnics from their overflowing basket. Scouring Europe for the best in pop talent, an ability to commit sunshine to vinyl/tape would appear the common denominator whether the medium is power pop, shoe gaze, C86, Eurodisco or boy-girl Mamas & Papas-style pop. You’ll notice I keep using that word beginning with P. There’s no other word that’ll do. Elefant do Pop and do it very well.

I can’t pretend that I love it all; it’s just that the overall standard is very high. There will be several for you among the 44 track double-disc. I’ll take ‘Lloyd, I’m Ready to be Heartbroken’ by Camera Obscura (though would happily do without their cover of ‘Super Trouper’). Similarly, I really don’t care for the Eurodisco opener from La Casa Azul, but their ‘Bad Guys’, featuring Duglas T. Stewart on disc 2 is pretty dandy.

Fitness Forever (another group who made a great 2009 debut album), The School, Modular, The Carrots (a la Billie Davis – nice!), Serpentina, Nick Garrie, Ibon Errazkin, Les Tres Bien Ensemble and, of course, the assured sounds of Giorgio Tuma all grace the collection.

If none of those names mean anything to you, think of them as cousins of Broadcast, Air, Saint Etienne or Belle & Sebastian; nieces and nephews of the aforementioned 1960s chaps and chapesses.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UbSMmQGerzk

It is worth mentioning too that all Elefant discs, in my experience, are beautifully designed and packaged. It’s important; it shows they care.  Pretty delightful.

For more informatioon visit the Elefant records website.

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Art Brut Live @ The Lexington

Art Brut Live @ The Lexington, London on Friday 3rd June 2011

The soliloquy is a very under used form in the history of pop music. With good reason. It is completely unsuited to a medium where the optimum format is a blast of joyous energy with musical accompaniment lasting a maximum of 3 mins 20 seconds. In the wrong hands it could also prove to be a dire form of entertainment; overblown, pompous and ripe for pseud’s corner.

This worries Eddie Argos not a jot. He has crafted his own stage personna that is barely any different from his off-stage one; funny, witty (there is a difference), larger-than-life (excuse the cliche), talkative, meandering of thought and utterly charming. The fact that he cannot sing doesn’t worry Eddie either; it is a cause for celebration. Imagine being as good a lyricist as he is and then being hung-up by the fact that you cannot sing.

He steps out into the audience mid-song (‘Modern Art) having calmed the band to a whisper and proceeds to narrate a dream. Except this is not a real dream, just something he’s making up on the spot, for effect; like the kid in the playground angling to be the centre of attention; or is it a technique to disarm the bully from stealing his bag of rhubarb and custards? Perhaps more Ronnie Corbett than Bill Wagstaff, Eddie’s soliloquy (or shaggy dog story) of his visit to the Van Gogh museum (he rightly asides that “it is pronounced Van Goff”), goes on and on. In doing so, he gets every member of the standing audience to sit on the floor like it’s an infants’ school assembly.

The story winds up with the mantra “I will buy an Art Brut t-shirt.” It’s a masterclass in crowd control (and mind control?) and is both oddly compelling and very funny.

Eddie has altogether different worries on his mind that he has shared with his devotees over the course of four albums of exuberant power pop. Anxieties that include unrequited schoolboy crushes, that haunt him two decades hence; why complete berks always get the girls he fancies; even when you get the girl there is the fear or danger of sexual impotence; there’s not having enough pocket money; and what will his parent’s think of all this i.e. not having a proper job, and living off Tesco’s Value noodles at the age of 31.

This is his current dilemma; His band have not had so much success that the cash has rolled in, so that they could all do as they please. Neither have they been shit and completely ignored, in which case by now they would have given up the ghost (I can tell Eddie that this is not necessarily the case. Just don’t ask me how I know). No, Art Brut remain somewhere in a misty middle ground; being mildly popular; popular enough to persuade them to keep going, to stave off the horrors of a day job, but not enough to earn a living wage.

Anyway, tonight is the fifth of a five-night residency at London’s finest small venue. I have it on good authority that the set list (and jokes) have been different each night. With four albums under the belt (spoken word versions of Buzzcocks’ Love Bites is my cack-handed idiot’s guide to the uninitiated) half of tonight’s set is taken from the stunningly good 2005 debut Bang Bang Rock ‘n’ Roll; starting with the awesome album opener and breakthrough single, ‘Formed a Band’, (ever so slightly lacklustre tonight) and encoring with the aptly explosive title track (which was absolutely wonderful).

Yep, it took two or three songs to really get going, but boy, when they did…

A mere three songs are showcased from the new Brilliant! Tragic! album. As with the second and third albums, Art Brut’s buzzsaw sound has barely evolved at all (and why should it?), but Eddie’s not lost any of his peculiar magic with a lyric. He was witty and insightful on the debut and remains so. Witness one of the newies played tonight, ‘Martin Kemp Welch 5-a-side Rules’;

“I still see every schoolboy crush as a missed opportunity. I want to turn up at their houses, see if they remember me… Self portraits drawn in charcoal and chalk. A wavy line where I tried to talk.”

You can keep your Morrissey, I’m with Argos.

Second and third albums, It’s a Bit Complicated and Art Brut versus Satan, were both under-represented, my own favourite ‘Pump up the Volume’ failed to make the cut, but most of the fans’ favourites got an airing; ‘Rusted Guns of Milan’, ‘Good Weekend’, ‘DC Comics & Chocolate Milkshakes’, ‘Direct Hit’ and, inevitably, ‘Emily Kane’.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6JMFoOtOHHw

Art Brut are one of the most exciting and vibrant bands I’ve ever seen and have been so on all three occasions I’ve seen them; two of which have been in tiny venues. All five Bruts play with verve, energy and big smiles. Stand-up drummer Mikey Breyer must have steam-powered pistons for arms and legs; he is a mighty fine drummer.

Bassist Freddy Feedback, in fifties polka dot dress, her smile never once slips as she mouths every word and I’m delighted to see that the rumour that Jasper Future had left the group (I think I started it – got the wrong end of a Facebook bulletin) proves erroneous. He and other guitarist Ian Catskilkin throw rock star poses throughout; not entirely ironic, but not quite Rossi-Parfitt either.

Despite Eddie’s tales of the lovelorn schoolboy, written in a poster-bedecked comic-strewn bedroom, conveying a certain joie de vivre is what Art Brut do best and none do it better.

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Dissidents & Dancers by The Method, album review

Dissidents & Dancers by The Method is released on See Monkey Do Monkey Recordings
Dissidents & Dancers by The Method

With post-punk’s fragmentation into a hundred sub-genres around about 1982 there was a short-lived revival in psychedelia. You couldn’t  get the proper clothing, but drainpipe cordrouys, Levi jackets and button-downs would suffice. You might even find a knock-off pair of Roger McGuinn shades if you were lucky. After a couple of little features in the NME and The Face, the movement died out.

Except, of course, it didn’t. It was just that the High Street never latched on and the modish types continued to spin ‘I Had too Much to Dream Last Night‘ or ‘Incense and Peppermints‘ in rooms above pubs until it was time to hand on the baton to the new generation.

The sound of The Method is rooted in this 1980’s garage-fueled psychedelia rather than the 1960’s original. With close-on a further quarter century of pop culture to draw on, this Welsh five-piece brew up a cocktail that bears traces, at various times, of The Coral, The Teardrop Explodes, The Monkees, Captain Beefheart, Question Mark & the Mysterians, Echo & the Bunnymen, The Action, Happy Mondays, and a thousand others. All of which is absolutely fine with me, as is their use of a full-time horn blower.

I’m very partial to trumpet in my music, whether it be Love, Dexys, the Tijuana Brass, a groovy instrumental from Alan Hawkshaw and his ilk or the aforementioned Teardrop Explodes.

As with any psych worth its salt, the songs are guitar and keys driven and you wouldn’t get anywhere without a decent singer. This they have in Richie Hayes’ throaty and soulful, though more Ian McCulloch than Steve Marriott, vocals.

Stand out tracks are the northern soul stomper of a title track, with a riff borrowed from the Captain’s ‘Zig Zag Wanderer‘ and an exhilarating chorus that I can’t quite put my finger on, the single ‘Whip Around‘ and the Nuggets-esque punker ‘Consider This Your Warning‘.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0pn-YEZh550

With cover-art a supposed lost craft in this digital age, these boys have paid homage to (or is that stolen from?) the great Saul Bass (Google his delightful and iconic work for cinema) for their eye-catching sleeve.

It amounts to a promising, rather than sensational, debut. On reflection, make that highly promising, and probably worth putting yourself out to see them live.

For more information visit The Method website.

Dissidents & Dancers by The Method is released on See Monkey Do Monkey Recordings.

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Vic Godard & the Subway Sect – We Come As Aliens – album review

We Come As Aliens by Vic Godard & the Subway Sect
We Come As Aliens by Vic Godard & the Subway Sect

We Come As Aliens by Vic Godard & the Subway Sect and is released on CD & vinyl.

The number of true masterpieces made since the 33& ⅓ took over from the 78 are few. We can’t all be an Arthur Lee, a Marvin Gaye or a Joy Division can we?

Vic Godard
is one of the few. The problem is no-one has ever heard his masterpiece. It was made 32 years ago and the literally ‘lost’ album has become one of rock’s, and certainly punk’s, holiest of holy grails.

That we know it was a masterpiece is based on the evidence of two awesome singles (‘Ambition’ and ‘Nobody’s Scared’); a clutch of great songs demo’d around the same time; a few minutes of the grainiest of live and documentary footage; plus eye-witness accounts from those early 100 Club days.

Legend has it that they were the best of all. Best in that the Subway Sect summed up punk’s DIY ethos and couldn’t-give-a-toss/can’t-be-arsed attitude better than any of those who might later be exposed as wannabe millionaire celebrities. Apparently, they looked the part too, in their white shirts and grey v-neck pullovers.

Die-hard fans of Vic Godard cling to the hope that his former manager Bernie Rhodes has had the tape all along and will one day put us all out of our misery. Of course, it could be in landfill, alongside the full-length cut of the Wicker Man.

Vic Godard even ‘remade’ the disc two years back. ‘1978 Now’ was a pretty good album; a tantalising glimpse at what might have been if you could imagine the same songs played by 19 year olds. It was Ray Davies who once said something along the lines that ‘it’s never as good once the original band has split.’ Godard is a great, perhaps under-fulfilled, talent who has never quite shaken off the loss of that original band – particularly bassist Paul Myers and the ferocious, magnificent guitar playing of Rob Symmons.

But what can a poor boy do…?

You either give it up or soldier on. He’s dallied with both down the years, but thankfully, at the mo he’s doing the latter. Godard is too unique and great a talent to keep solely to the day job.

His newish band, assembled over the last three years, expertly embellish his wonderful lyrics (check ‘Somewhere in the World’, where Vic Godard rhymes papier mache with [Shirley] Bassey) and idiosyncratic vocals (I think he puts the God in Godard, but fully realise his whine ain’t going to be to everyone’s taste).

I must declare an interest here that my best pal is in this line-up of the group, but will qualify this by saying that I fell in love with Subway Sect upon hearing Parallel Lines for the first time as a 15-year-old in 1981. I am one of those who has kept an admiring eye on Godard ever since.

Now, ‘We Come As Aliens’ – is it any good?

At the risk of sounding like a hack reviewing a new Bowie album – it is his best for thirty years. Actually, ‘We Come As Aliens’ is very close in feel to Godard’s ‘real’ debut album, 1980’s excellent (just not quite a masterpiece)‘What’s the Matter Boy’.

Here we get equally adroit wordplay, occasionally unreadable as poetry until you hear how Godard mangle-wurzels the words into his songs. And the album warrants listening whilst reading the lyrics, to let light in upon his magic.

The album kicks off with a cracker – ‘Best Album’ – and follows it with another – ‘Takeover’. Godard’s penchant for, or past dalliances with, swing, crooning, northern soul and music hall all reappear on various tracks.

Same Plan’ (possibly the closest to anything from ‘What’s The Matter Boy‘), ‘If We’d’ve’, ‘Rhododendron Town’ and ‘Somewhere in the World’ get better with every listen. Also included is a nicely ramshackle cover of Francois Hardy’s ‘Et Meme’, plus Sex Pistols drummer – Paul Cook.

The highlight of the album is the achingly beautiful and mournful ‘Ne’er’ dedicated to Vic Godard’s pal, the writer and long-time Subway Sect fan Paul Reekie. “Ne’er  never thought it could’ve turned out quite like this Mum. Oh ne’er, all I ever wanted was my own little niche out there.”

Not being a masterpiece, it’s not all great. I’m not too enamoured of ‘That Train’ or the closer ‘Music of a Werewolf’. Oh, and the album cover is pretty cacky (as you can see), as is the band pic inside. A shame, because it may deter some from taking a listen (or buying it).

I hope I have persuaded you otherwise.

Vic Godard & Subway Sect play St Aloyius Social Club, Euston, London on Thursday 14th October (official album launch gig) followed by a short tour of Germany in November.

Ivor Cutler & Linda Hirst – Privilege

Ivor Cutler & Linda Hirst - Privilege
Ivor Cutler & Linda Hirst - Privilege

Originally released on Rough Trade in 1983 by a 60-year-old Ivor Cutler, Privilege is a highly enjoyable 45 minutes in the company of one of modern culture’s true outsiders.

A one-man conundrum occupying an unlabelled category of his own somewhere among Surreal Folk, Nursery Rhyme, whimsical Sea Shanties and Lullabies, this is the only album where his distinctive Caledonian brogue is accompanied by another voice, that of Linda Hirst, a young, classically trained vocalist, now vocal professor at Trinity College of Music.

How does one review an Ivor Cutler album? Is it suffice to say that if you are a fan then this collection of words and music finds our man on top form, in a light, playful and almost jolly mood, lacking the darker side to which he was occasionally prone? For those unfamiliar with his world, for he did create his own world, you can find ditties, odes and tales of insects, donkeys, killer bees, piranhas, an embarrassed eagle, a blue bear, sticky trees, creamy pumpkins and picnics. The only comparisons I can make with his music are the songs from Trumpton and Camberwick Green or those from the works of Oliver Postgate, but given a bizarre, surreal (that word again) twist.

Championed by the likes of John Peel, Robert Wyatt, Alan McGee and Paul McCartney, the late Ivor Cutler was also a hero to a pal of mine, Gerald Diffey, who once ran a café named after another Cutler album – Gruts. Here I must apologise to the Cutler family, who have reissued this album, as I was due to write this review two weeks ago. The reason for the tardiness is that I was in Australia visiting Mr Diffey. I took Privilege with me, thinking that he may enjoy it.

He not only knew the album from its original release, he sang along to the wonderful ‘A Doughnut in my Hand’ and told me the following story:

Gerald found himself in America in 1984 to work as a Summer camp teacher. His pal, a Scot by the name of Eric, got himself a job to deliver a brand new Oldsmobile from Washington DC to Houston, Texas, a journey of some 1200 miles. Eric, however, set off due north to pick-up Gerald from New York and the two of them embarked on an adventure, living in the vehicle, and listening all along to a cassette of this album;

“I need nothing, I’ve everything I need,
I walk along the dusty road, A doughnut in my hand.”

Alas, although the Oldsmobile was hit by another car on one occasion and vandalised on another, the crimes could not be reported, as they were way off their approved trajectory at the time.

Eventually they made it to Houston. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that the car resembled Withnail’s sorry Jaguar, with around 2000 miles on the clock, so Eric set about readjusting the tachometer. However, it is not an exact science, and when the car was finally delivered it had fewer miles on the clock than when it left Washington DC. Eric was last seen fleeing the country in a shifty manner at a considerable rate of knots.

Whether Mr Cutler would have been amused or appalled by the idea of his songs being used as backdrop to the fiendish deeds of a pair of desperadoes, I cannot say.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lvco80gHaBw

Ivor Cutler & Linda HirstPrivilege is released on Hoori House Records