Christmas Cheers

Right, that’s me done for the year. I’m taking the last bus out of Blogtown and heading home for the holidays. Hope you and yours have a good one and I’ll leave you with this funky gem from the classic Ze compilation A Christmas Record.

See you in the new year.

Download: Christmas On Riverside Drive – August Darnell (mp3)


That Was The Year That Was

Here I am at 53 years old still writing bollocks about pop music. I have friends who lost interest in new music years ago — except for bands who sound like retreads of what they liked in their youth — and I keep waiting for that to happen to me. It hasn’t happened yet and I still found lots to love in 2015 which I think was a really good year. I assume that one day I will be shouting at pop music to get off my lawn but these records held off that day for another year.

The Shape of Brat Pop To Come – Holychild
I’ve been a Holychild fan since their “Playboy Girl” single last year but I was still surprised how thumpingly great their debut album was. Sounding like Charli XCX covering Toni Basil’s “Mickey”, it was full of brash pop with smart lyrics, fat beats, and cheerleader-worthy choruses. It’s one of those albums where you can imagine every track being a hit — at least they would be in that perfect, alternate pop universe we music nerds dream about. In the real world they’re still a cult crush but hopefully that will change in 2016. The most fun I had on vinyl this year.

My Love Is Cool – Wolf Alice
Wolf Alice must have sat at the front of class in Rock School (the swots) judging by how good they are  at everything from grungy headbangers to fluffy indiepop and ethereal ballads — all of which they played with aplomb on their knockout debut album. But instead of sounding like dilettantes, this eclecticism is a big part of their appeal. The London foursome don’t sound part of any particular cooler-than-you rock tribe because in their world it’s all good, and this lack of cynical attitude makes them seem like a gang we can all join instead of a club you can’t get into. Most guitar rock has bored me shitless for years but their joyful enthusiasm reminds me of the kick I got out of rock music when I was a teenager.

I Can Never Be Myself When You’re Around – Chromatics (single)
Chromatics’ new album Dear Tommy was supposed to have been released back in February but we’re still waiting for it because band leader Johnny Jewel is a perfectionist who marches to the beat of his own independent drum. The long wait has been made easier by the tracks he’s released from it so far (often as free downloads) like this sublime slice of glittery, late-night disco that I found more ravishing than any other single this year. Get your finger out Johnny!

Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz – Miley Cyrus
Miley Cyrus is a more divisive figure than Donald Trump (but would probably make a better President), and judging by the nasty tone of some reviews of her Flaming Lips collaboration you’d think she’d recorded the screams of drowning kittens instead of an album of gorgeously trippy spacepop which she gave away for FREE. A lot of it was pot-addled, self-indulgent nonsense that should have been erased the morning after, but with 22 tracks in all you could easily edit out the rubbish (the joys of digital music) and have more than enough good stuff left over to make one of my favourite albums of the year — God knows it would have to be good for me to get over the fact that it was by Miley fucking Cyrus.

Hairless Toys – Róisín Murphy
Róisín Murphy hadn’t released anything major since her last album eight years ago but still managed to come back from the wilderness with a record that was yards ahead of everyone else. Immaculately cool, with skeletal beats and minimalist synths, it was avant garde dance music that sounded like it had been constructed by funky mathematicians. Introverted and cerebral it might have been but the warm jazziness of Róisín’s voice gave it a human heart and her eccentric inventiveness made it a constantly surprising treat for the ears. Hope she doesn’t take another eight years off because pop needs more artists like her.

Hey QT – QT (single)
One day I’m going to write something about the PC Music label’s output without half-apologizing for liking it or using the phrase “acquired taste.” They’re pushing the limits of how “pop” a pop record can be by pushing the brightness and saturation levels into the red zone, and what I like most about them is that their records sound so thoroughly new, like music from the future. They’re bloody great tunes too, and this was a terrific pop single and an evil earworm — even if it was sugary enough to rot your teeth.

Honeymoon – Lana Del Rey
Lana’s third album opens with the line is “We both know that it’s not fashionable to love me” and then proceeds to sound like she doesn’t give a shit about that one way or the other. Existing in a world of her own light years away from current pop trends, Honeymoon is her most Lana-esque album to date. Every song drifts by with the languid air of a gentle sea breeze while she croons about limousines and soft ice cream. It could be a real snooze if her single-minded devotion to her aesthetic of romantic fatalism wasn’t so hypnotic and her voice hadn’t become such a rich instrument on its own. Such a gorgeously swooning record, it made me wish Lana had done the last James Bond theme and not Sam bloody Smith.

Poison Season – Destroyer
Faces – Sydney Eloise & The Palms
Miniskirt (single) – Braids
Girls In Peacetime Just Want To Dance – Belle and Sebastian
Before We Forget How To Dream – SOAK

A Wizzard, A True Star

The first single I ever bought was by Wizzard (the Christmas one) and I had no idea who Roy Wood was at the time. He was just the strange bloke with crazy hair and makeup on Top of The Pops. He looked like a wizard so the band name was appropriate.

Of course I know now that Roy had previously been the founder and main creative force behind The Move and the Electric Light Orchestra and was something of a pop genius. But you never forget your first love, so the honking, Spector-ish Glam Rock of those Wizzard singles is my favourite thing he’s done. This was their first single in 1972 and it still sounds bloody bonkers and marvelous.

Download: Ball Park Incident – Wizzard (mp3)

I Have Twelve Inches

For a few years in the early 90s U2 forgot about being the saviours of rock and roll and remembered that they had once been a scrappy Post-Punk band. Trying to get that spirit back led them to make probably their best album in Achtung Baby and push their own envelope further with 12″ dance remixes of some of its singles.

These came out around the same time Primal Scream and Happy Mondays were mixing Rock with club beats so U2 were maybe bandwagon jumping a bit. The Perfecto mix of “Mysterious Ways” wouldn’t sound too out of place on Pills, Thrills, and Bellyaches which isn’t surprising as Mondays’ producer Paul Oakenfold was involved in it. The Solar Plexus mix is along the same lines but is even better I think — sounds like the drum roll from Steve Miller’s “Take The Money & Run” at the start of it.

Oakenfold also did the knob-twiddling honors on “Even Better Than The Real Thing” which is a more thorough deconstruction of the song, adding a big Rave beat and bringing the backing vocals forward into a euphoric wave-your-hands-in-the-air chorus. This version was a bigger hit in the UK than the original. The Sexy Dub mix is longer and more Rave-y and doesn’t feature Bono at all which may be a bonus for some people.

I know it’s the uncoolest thing in the world to say nice things about U2 these days, but I think they deserve some kudos for being more adventurous through this and the next couple of albums. Better than sticking their heads in the sand and just making another Joshua Tree which, being the biggest band in the world, they could easily have done and still made shed-loads of money.

Recorded from vinyl so forgive any imperfections.

Download: Mysterious Ways (Perfecto Mix) – U2 (mp3)
Download: Mysterious Ways (Solar Plexus Extended Club Mix) – U2 (mp3)
Download: Even Better Than The Real Thing (Perfecto Mix) – U2 (mp3)
Download: Even Better Than The Real Thing (Sexy Dub) – U2 (mp3)

Lucky Dip

Download: Back To Nature – Fad Gadget (mp3)

I had no idea Fad Gadget (aka Frank Tovey) had died in 2002 until I started writing this post. Tovey was an early pioneer of electronic post-punk and “Back To Nature” from 1979 was only the second single ever released on Mute Records (after “Warm Leatherette”). He was a little too experimental for mainstream success though and remained only a cult figure.

He played a gig in the canteen at Maidstone College of Art circa 1983 when I was student there. I didn’t go for some reason and it was apparently a rather mad affair like his gigs usually were. One more on the list of acts I kick myself over not seeing when I had the chance.