David Woodcock and his English pop masterpiece

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Had your heart smashed to pieces by some cruel, manipulative good-for nothing that you mistakenly assumed to be the love of your life? Well, at least you can console yourself that this summer there are a couple of cracking new break up albums that can help you get over that insignificant other. Pete Fij (him from Adorable) and Terry Bickers’ (once of The House of Love) magnificent Open Heart Surgery is full of sweet, guitar drenched, slow burning Galaxie 500-esque tunes which contain dark and bitter tales of rejection, stalking and technophobia – which are bang on for a rainy Bank Holiday Monday.

And if you are a little more glass half full then you should cock an ear to Southend based piano man David Woodcock who takes a slightly different approach on his fantastic debut album, where over upbeat piano riffs the estuary man tells of ‘37 year single mothers who could teach me a thing or two.’

In fact the whole album, which lyrically documents a wonderfully English rubbish relationship, is a hoot from start to finish. It may be rooted very strongly in the Essex/South East pop tradition with its nods to Ian Dury, The Kinks, Madness and naturally enough Blur. Yet at the same time Woodcock is perhaps our very own answer to Ben Folds, a kind of garage punk Elton John, albeit one with a mischievous glint in his eye and some very quirky subject matter for his tunes.

It kicks off with Same Things, a humdinger of piano driven tune that was for me the single of last summer and the best bit of Britpop since, oooh fellow Southenders Menswear. And then to prove that gem was no fluke Woodcock launches into Open Secret with cascading piano and Mott The Hoople style horn riffs powering another power pop total gem which even descends into a messy psych coda.

In fact there’s not a duff moment here from the hysterical relationship travelogue,The Adventures Of You And Me – surely the first pop song not by the Darkness to mention Lowestoft – to End Of An Era with its Something Else period Kinks style chorus.

And it ends magically too with the drunken sing-along that is I Forgot To Miss You, appropriately enough recorded live in a Southend pub.

So no matter if your are nursing a bruised heart or skipping along Shoeburyness beach with your loved one, David Woodcock‘s debut is an essential soundtrack. English pop album of the year so far? You betcha.

The Sudden Death Of Stars – All Unrevealed Parts of the Unknown

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I feel a little guilty as I have been living with this album for two months now and only just got round to posting a review. So why the self-induced angst? Well I loved the French band’s debut from last year and pretty much anyone with a passing interest in 60s psych who stepped through my door got to hear at least a snatch of it.

But when I first listened to the follow up, All Unrevealed Parts of the Unknown, I was little a underwhelmed. For me the band’s debut worked because of their magpie-esque approach to pinching from their influences and sticking then into their musical blender. So opener Supernovae was sitar-driven Brian Jonestown Massacre influenced drone pop with ace tribal drumming, while the moody organ pop of I’ll Be There recalled Rupert’s People. Sure, much of the album sat within the realms of 60s influenced psych, but you never could guess exactly what was coming next.

For this album TSDOS have honed their sound and in comparison with its predecessor it all sounds a lot more uniform. It is still very much rooted in the late 60s psych tradition, but if anything the band have metaphysically crossed The Atlantic and started channelling more garage psych bands of the type that pop up up on Nuggets and Pebbles comps as opposed to the more Perfumed Garden Brit psych of before. So there’s a lot more Thirteenth Floor Elevators, Strawberry Alarm Clock and hundreds of other band with ludicrous names on this album than the first.

Then after about the fourth or fifth listen this album began to click. The opening track The Void, which I had written off as a slightly dull BJM influenced drone, flowered into gorgeously sweet floaty organ driven tune that I wanted to play again and again. Over The Top, with its manic twangy guitar suddenly blossomed into a minor garage punk classic courtesy of its inventive and rather surprising instrumental break.

What makes this album fun is that pretty much every track has some instrumental flourish that, after a few spins become really rather addictive. So there’s a hint of Eight Miles High in the guitar break of Over The Top while Magic Mirror has a driving guitar riff which then has to battle for your attention with a wonderfully squeaky organ solo.

Best of all is the finale The Love Substitute, which sees the band slow things down, add a touch of something that sounds like brass, and then speed things up in the chorus. It is as smart and as catchy as the records than inspired it and in 2014 there aren’t many higher accolades than that.

If you liked that first album make sure you give this one your fullest attention – it really does massively reward repeat listens.

Incidentally the band’s earliest recordings, Uniform, are also available now too. Track four This Vision Of You, is the one to play first.

 

The Junipers – Paint The Ground, a review and an apology

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I think I owe the Junipers something of an apology. A couple of years back a friend of mine raved about the debut album, so I bought the CD and played it – probably only twice. Then a little while later I saw the band supporting Spearmint at the ICA. Except I didn’t pay them a great deal of attention as I was busy propping up the bar.

So I was more than little surprised when I got sent the band’s latest EP, the marvelously titled Euphonious Trolley, to review for a magazine and feel head over heels in love with it. While it is heading for pastiche territory – which is why perhaps the band chose to issue it kind of under pseudonym – the quality of the songs is incredible. And In My Dreams, which kicks off with a lovely Revolver style guitar burst sounds so good it could be an outtake from the first Orgone Box album, while Oh Gilbert, I Need Help, (I want to write a song like Jet) is as perkily tuneful as many of the songs it musically (and lyrically) references.

‘Maybe they should shelve their serious stuff for a while and focus on this – it is what they were clearly born to do,’ I wrote.

Except that after writing the review I went out and checked out their second album Paint The Ground and immediately felt like a bit of a chump.

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Originally issued as a download, though it has just come out on vinyl courtesy of the fine folks at Sugar Bush, Paint The Ground isn’t just The Junipers’ masterpiece, it is one of the best psych albums issued in this country in the last decade. If you ever loved the more gentle side of The Teenage Fanclub, or maybe even Shack and especially their Here’s Tom With The Weather classic you will find so much to swoon over here.

It starts innocently enough with a slightly throwaway tune called Look Into My River, but then comes the first nugget the stunning Dandelion Man. By the time you get to track three though Willow and the Water Mill, the band have packed their picnic headed off into the English countryside and crafted a gorgeous piece of pop that’s part English folk and part the autumnal early 70s stuff that pops up on some of the Fading Yellow compilations. Accordion intro, gentle acoustic guitars, whispered vocals it really is stunning. If anything, In My Reverie which follows is even more fragile. That is until a striking guitar break and some heavenly harmonies in the fade.

By the time you hit side two (that sounds so good doesn’t it!) there’s a semi-instrumental track called Antler Season whose wistful guitars recall both The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band and the contemporary band most indebted to them The Clientele.

Gem after gem follows until the needle hits the run out groove after a Notorious Byrd Brothers inspired finale Pearly Home. If you like The Byrds, Shack, or the gentler side of psychedelia you really have to hear this.

Here’s hoping it won’t be too long before they deliver a follow up.

Get the vinyl here.

Four ace new Aussie psych bands – Black Springs, Frowning Clouds, Violet Swells and Wheat Fields

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Back in the 80s you could make a case for Australia being the home of psychedelia. Unfettered by the musical trends that dominated the airwaves in the UK and US and with a very real garage band heritage (Easybeats, Masters Apprentices) the Aussies gifted us perhaps the 80s most archetypal psych band in The Church along with maybe the decade’s best rock and roll album in The Hoodoo Gurus stunning glam meets garage meets old school punk of Stoneage Romeoes. Then there was the sensitive brittle pop of The Go-Betweens, the widescreen musical vistas of The Triffids and hundreds of other also rans from The Crystal Set through to the Ups and Downs and The Hummingbirds.

And it seems that Australia is once gain restating its case to be space pop’s final frontier with loads of excellent new bands – many of which have been first picked up by Nathan at the Active Listener in (Coughs) nearby New Zealand.

Tame Impala you know all about, Jaguar Ma played at just about every British festival last summer, but here then a few more to listen out for.

Black Springs

This Sydney band have been around a few year and already have an excellent digital mini album Sunrise. But as good as the album’s title track and they Byrdsie jangle of Temple Songs are they have clearly upped their game with their latest recording Silver Ship which has just landed in YouTube. Sure it is pretty clear that they have been listening to a few Brian Jonestown Massacre albums but this is a glorious tune that climaxes with an absolute killer dreamy guitar solo. Really looking forward to album number two.

Wheat Fields

I am not sure exactly what the band, who hail from The Blue Mountains to the west of Sydney, is up now but their digital EP from last year Saturnalia, was a wonderful mix of dreamy 60s psych and gentle electronica of the type peddled by Stereolab and The Soundcarriers. The title track is the place to start, but the bluesy stomp of Let’s Play runs it close. Hope they have new stuff soon.

Violet Swells

With the grand ambition to mix the pop symphonies of Brian Wilson with the space Rock of Pink Floyd is Violet Swells a new-ish band from Hobart Tasmania. Helmed by Ben Simms the band released an absolute corking psych pop double sider in January with the superb Jupiter’s Garden sounding like a tougher version of Jacco Gardner (but with a telstar Jo Meek-esque ending), while the flip Only is a really sweet waltz with a grand psychedelic finale.

Frowning Clouds

Melbourne’s Frowning Clouds issued their second album at the tail end of last year and it has been on repeat play at PopJunkie towers since then. It is a compelling mix of perky folkish garage pop like the opener All Angles, moody garage pop like Mayan Calendar Girls and kaleidoscopic Syd Barrett-esque oddities like Beetle Bird and my favourite the Sufis-esque Product Of The Peanut Butter Company. It is a really strong, and very varied album. And it comes on vinyl too.

Sleeve Selfies – a couple of my favourites and a Teac record player up for grabs

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Just to draw your attention to the Sleeve Selfie Tumblr that a certain Becca Caddy and me put together last week.

It features some wonderful attempts by people to take selfies but with their faces obscured by record sleeves.

There are some wonderfully inventive ones like these two. If you want to have a go there’s a competition, which runs until mid-April, at this blog. Top prize is £350 worth of Teac record player/tape deck/CD burner/Bluetooth system.

The Tumblr is here

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linda selfie

New Soundcarriers album coming in May

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I am about half way through a feature about great bands who really need to pull their finger out and get us some new material – step forward Cat’s Eyes and The Shortwave Set! Anyhow very high on that list were the wonderful Soundcarriers whose two albums are a veritable of cocktail of psych, easy listening, gentle funk, Kraut Rock grooves, David Axelrod and weird jazz – that eclectic enough for you?

Yet I am hugely happy to say that I have had to remove them from my rollcall of slackers for after working on an album for what seems like an eternity (their last album Celeste came out in 2010) it is finally going to get a release in May. I am of course being rather uncharitable to the band by insinuating that they might be a little on the slow side at producing new material. After all last year they issued a new single in Boiling Point and a genius album of instrumental versions of songs that are working on for the new record. The Other World Of The Soundcarriers not only had some wonderful driving instrumentals like Entropicalia and This Is Normal, but came in pink splatter vinyl and arguably the best sleeve of last year.

Word is that the new album is excellent and is touch funkier and looser than previous recordings. Hope they manage some gigs too.

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Michael Head and The Red Elastic Band – Union Chapel March 2014 review

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It was kind of appropriate that the gig was in a church for Michael Head certainly attracts his fair share of devout believers. These are the faithful ones who remain fully convinced that Head and his cohorts in their various guises (Pale Fountains, Shack, Strands etc.) have consistently delivered the sparkling classic 60sish pop songs that the La’s and The Stone Roses never quite got round to.

Head keeps on giving too. An EP, which sneaked out at the tail end of last year, boasted several rather stellar tunes that highlighted that the man has been spinning Forever Changes rather a lot on his stereo recently – no bad thing.

Back to the night though and Paul Orwell had kicked off the evening with his acoustic tunes. Orwell is so much more than just perky mod pop. Got to love the fella’s enthusiasm and his tunes. Big thinks are expected. This is great.

Next up was Bill Ryder Jones, once of the Coral now established as solo artist. His album last year hovered somewhere between the confessional tales of Elliot Smith and the swooping orchestration mid period Bunnymen. To his credit, along with his drummer, he played a version of Ocean Rain that did the original justice but didn’t dwarf his own excellent compositions like He Took You In His Arms and There’s A World Between Us. A cheeky finale of a cover of Shack’s Neighbours went down rather well too.

I had been warned about the shambolic nature of some of previous Michael Head gigs, which at least one person described as being like The Brian Jonestown Massacre on bad night but without the fist fights. Nevertheless, the odd bit of tuning and banter apart he remained pretty focused throughout.

And the tunes – well the tracks from the recent EP sounded just fine especially the gorgeous waltz of Cadiz and the more strident Forever Changes style pop of Newby Street.

Although head plundered most parts of his back catalogue for me it was the tracks from the seminal Shack second album Waterpistol that worked for me. No one has written a better ba-ba-ba song than Neighbours and London was both poignant and uplifting. Flannery was wonderful and the Something Like you which featured Head with Ryder Jones on his accordion was strikingly beautiful. And how I wished those instrumental flourishes on Meant To Be, for me the stand out from the Here’s Tom album, were minutes longer.

By the end emotions were clearly running high. The love and respects for the congregation was almost overwhelming. Here’s hoping that Michael Head channels that devotion into yet another gem of an album.

There are lots of much better pics, and some great vids too, over at the Shacknet Facebook page.