Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Track Of The Week #2

Pulp - 'Disco 2000' (7" Mix)

It's been more difficult picking a Track Of The Week this week, because although some pretty decent songs have caught my ear, there's really been nothing that's completely jumped out at me screaming and shouting “MAKE ME TRACK OF THE WEEK, YOU LITTLE FUKCER”. A couple of the aforementioned 'pretty decent' ones are 'Scorpieau' by Chickenhawk who are a bunch of noisemongers featured on the latest Dance To The Radio vinyl (reviewed here) and a solo track from Guillemots' Fyfe Dangerfield who has a solo album due out in January. Said Fyfe song, entitled 'Walk In The Room', is available as a free download here.

Instead, this week's Track Of The Week is 'Disco 2000' (7" Mix) by Pulp. An oldie, sure, but one hell of a goodie. Of course it's TOTW thanks to all of those 'quote twisting' reunion rumours that have been circulating, stating that Jarvis is reforming the band to play Glastonbury next year. As a massive Pulp fan and as someone who's going to Glasto 2010 it's easy for me to state that this would be an awesome thing. At this point you're asked to put aside your snide comments about reunions being contrived and just remember the brilliance of the band.

'Disco 2000' remains one of Pulp's strongest tracks, thanks to the excellent, emotive narrative and the underpinning disco beat, combined with that guitar riff. When watching the Pulp DVD Hits I came across this version that I was previously unaware of. Hearing the 7" Mix reminded me of hearing the track when it was released, as slightly different takes are warrant to, however, it's the brief spoken word segment towards the end which means that this has to be one of the greatest 'alternate takes' of all time.


Thursday, 22 October 2009

R.I.P. The Rakes

Today, after half a decade together The Rakes announced their split. I'm not one to write massive eulogies, but throughout their five years The Rakes soundtracked many a time in my life that it would be impossible no to mark their passing here.

My first encounter with The Rakes was through the singles released prior to their début album. 'Strasbourg', 'Retreat' and '22 Grand Job' were tremendous, attention grabbing shots of post-punk guitars and adrenaline. 'Ausland Mission' also stands as one of the greatest b-sides of the decade. Thanks to the British music press they had an awful amount of hype to live up to and thankfully, in 2005 released the brilliant Capture/Release. As you'd expect it was very warmly received by most critics, blowing the rest of the London rock scene out of the water. Tight instrumentation backed lyrics that detailed the claustrophobia and monotony of everyday lower middle class life in the big city. Closing statement from the record 'Work, Work, Work, (Pub, Club, Sleep)' remains one of the great pop manifestos of 21st Century 'indie' music.

Following Capture/Release the band released a brand new single 'All Too Human', which took the bands sound in a new direction, streamlining it further down a sleek angular route. It was around this time also that I first saw the group at The Leadmill in Sheffield. The place was thankfully packed out, in a way that few gigs these days seem to be and they put on a great performance. The sort that you only see when a great rock band are at their peak.

That's not to say that what followed was irrelevant. Second album Ten New Messages took up where 'All Too Human' left off, and was criticed in some circles for losing the energy that characterised the first album so well. Nonetheless it was a great record with many high points, not least single 'We Danced Together', and 'Suspicious Eyes' which encapsulated the paranoia and tension of post-terrorist attack London whilst introducing us to Laura Marling, as a guest vocalist.

Things went quiet for a while as they recorded their third album in Berlin, hoping to lose their London tag. In the meantime, singer Alan Donohoe managed to make both Groove Armada and Madonna look good by collaborating with the former on a cover of the latter's 'Crazy For You' for a Radio One covers compilation. Said, third (and final record) came out this year, and was entitled Klang. Easily their weakest it's still a charming and scuzzy little rock record, that shows that the group were forging their own path through lo-fi Cold War gutter punk. Seeing as the record sold badly it's no real surprise to see that the band decided to call it quits, claiming that they no longer felt that they were able to give it their all in the live arena in which they excelled.

The Rakes encapsulated their times in more ways than simply their lyrical dissections of their surroundings. A victim of the hype machine and the build-up/knock-down culture, they rose at a time when guitar music was at the peak of it's popularity and followed its decent into obscurity. As this decade closes, and a new one is due to open we leave The Rakes and hope to hear from their various members somewhere later down the line.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Track Of The Week #1

The Hot Rats - 'Damaged Goods'

It's new feature time at Keep Pop Loud, and seeing as all of the other 'regular' features thus far have been dropped due to either having nothing to talk about or my simply not getting around to writing ideas up I've decided to do something that I can keep an eye on. Therefore it's time for the first ever Keep Pop Loud Track Of The Week'(or KPLTOTW if you're heavily into acronyms).

A quick side note: the songs aren't necessarily ones that are new or due out around the time that they're posted, just songs that are currently in my head or soundtracking something relevant.

I'll try and get the post done for Thursdays, but this may occasionally change.

For the first ever Track Of The Week here's The Hot Rats' cover of Gang of Four's 'Damaged Goods'. As a huuuge fan of Supergrass, this side project from half of the band (singer/guitarist Gaz and drummer Danny) has come as a welcome pre-Christmas treat. There's a full review of the song (and it's b-side) here, at This is Fake DIY, and below there's the video for the song.

For a soundbite: it sounds like Supergrass covering Gang of Four.


Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Criminally Underrated Albums of the 2000's: #01

I've teased it out long enough and so today bring to you the album that I believe is the most underrated album of the past ten years. In doing so it also brings to a close the Keep Pop Loud marking of the passing of a decade. To anyone I've spoken to much on the matter this album may not come as much of a surprise as it's an album that I think has not only been criminally overlooked and underrated but is also one of very few albums that come to mind when I'm asked what my favourite album is.

Maxïmo Park – Our Earthly Pleasures

Our Earthly Pleasures, unlike most of the albums on this list was a big commercial success. It reached number 2 in the UK album chart (kept off the top spot only by Kings of Leon's third album) and on top of this it berthed four singles (three of which made the UK top forty and one the top ten), established the band as top in their class and ensured their long term survival. Despite this, and the fact that the album is beyond brilliant (think somewhere in the region of 12/10), it's fairly difficult to find that much actual love for it.

As usual NME were the worst culprits, saying of Our Earthly Pleasures “a big part of Maxïmo’s sense of mischief has also been stifled: entirely likable songs are slowed down to mid-pace and have had, you sense, had a lot of their more obtuse angles smoothed over”, which to these ears makes completely no sense. Rather, instead of travelling down the same path as peers Franz Ferdinand and taking a poppeir edge with a sohpmore album Maxïmo Park took a subtler and more edgy route, incorporating elements from various areas of credible art-pop to create a full, thrilling headphones album.

Where A Certain Trigger delighted in throwing the listener completely off balance with intellectual word play, jagged angular guitars and the completely unexpected 'Acrobat', OEP uses it's full range to ensure that it's the small changes that count: 'Our Velocity' is so tight it turns on a five pence piece going full throttle into the chorus; 'Russian Literature' pulls out a piano, marries it to Sonic Youth style guitars and plunges the whole song into a wormhole of frantic emotion; the string section in 'Sandblasted And Set Free' carries the songs but is easily put to the back of the mind from the strength of the vocal delivery; meanwhile 'The Unshockable' and 'Books From Boxes' stand out as being two of the greatest art-pop songs of all time, with the latter containing some of the LPs best lyrics: “Night falls and towns become circuit boards / We can beat the sun as long as we keep moving / We rarely see the warning signs in the air we breathe / Right now I feel each and every fragment”.

It's indicative of the British music press that a second album from a band is less well received. And yes, Our Earthly Pleasures may not be the sucker-punch of angular guitars and post-punk rhythms from the dark that it's predecessor was, but the craftsmanship evident, the song-smithery and musicianship means that anything, anywhere similar in vain, has a lot to live up to if it wants to be considered in my eyes close to Our Earthly Pleasures.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Criminally Underrated Albums of the 2000's: #02

Dogs Die In Hot Cars – Please Describe Yourself

It may not have gone unnoticed that I've made you wait for the final two in the series chronicling what I believe to be the most underrated albums of the past ten years, and instead of putting it down to my being busy if we could collectively reason that the gap has been for artistic reasons. To build a palpable sense of tension before discussing what is no less than a tragedy: that Dogs Die In Hot Cars one and only album has been all but forgotten by music critics and list compliers.

At the time reviews for Please Describe Yourself were lukewarm. None seemed to want to slate the record (aside from one NME writer who in a review of single 'Lounger' “hilariously” branded the record “dogshite”), yet at the same time most had their minds elsewhere. This was 2004, and as such it is understandable that attention was drawn to Franz Ferdinand and early rumblings of Bloc Party, and the underground being temporarily forgotten (the brilliant Ikara Colt released their fantastic second record around the same time and split soon after). Yet, Dogs Die In Hot Cars were managing to make a small commercial splash. Granted, at this time scoring a UK Top 40 Hit wasn't as impossible for bands as it now is, but this doesn't change the fact that DDIHC and their singles such as 'I Love You 'Cause I Have To' and 'Godhopping' for a brief time intruded on the national consciousness.

Oddly it now seems difficult to find people who remember Dogs Die In Hot Cars, yet those who do have always appeared rather fond of them and of Please Describe Yourself. At KPL towers this is a pleasing fact for the record is ten songs short and with each having a distinctive style and subject matter. Coming at a time before the term 'quarter-life crisis' was being widely used across the internet, Craig Macintosh's lyrics spoke of loneliness, insecurity of ambitions and achievements, of inadequacy and of an attempt to find identity and closeness. 'Glimpse Of The Good Life' is the epitome of this, a semi-sarcastic take on how we're 'supposed' to live, a snarl at those that practice feng-shui that depresses the deep set feeling that actually, we might be wrong after all.

Of course, if the album were all paranoia and insecurity this would be all but untenable. No, Please Describe Yourself sets this to a XTC new-wave bounce and Belle and Sebastian-like acoustic indie shuffles. To call it “satisfying” or “complete” would be accurate but resorting to cliché on my part. Nonetheless not a moment, nor a not or lyric is wasted and the record is essential for anyone who has grown up in the UK in the wake of the “war on terror” and increasing stipulations from up-high detailing what our successes, failures and lives should be measured by. That no follow up came is one of the worst musical happenings of the 2000's.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Criminally Underrated Albums of the 2000's: #03

stellastarr* - Harmonies for the Haunted

Of all of the music press' sales tactics that have been prominently seen through the past decade, I'm going to stick my neck out and say that the hyping up of bands, only to knock them down again has got to be the worst. There's been too many brilliant bands who have fallen victim to this for me to name them all but it has to be said that stellastarr* have suffered most.

Their self-titled first record was warmly received, not least by the NME. Rightly so, as far as I'm concerned and on the back of it's release they managed to bag a support slot with the Red Hot Chili Peppers and make something of a name for themselves. Their second album, which we now concern ourselves with, was released in America a few months before we got it over on these shores and as I was going through a period of enjoying stellastarr* at the time I imported Harmonies For The Haunted. Having lived with the album for a few gloomy winter months I was horrified by the slating that NME gave it when it hit the UK in March.

OK, in honesty it may not be as good as the second Interpol record, which was released only a couple of months before hand and probably suffered thusly. Still, the record buzzed with a excellently executed take on gloom-rock, bassist Amanda's angelic backing vocals giving it a unique slant and the songs proving the title correct. Harmonies For The Haunted not only had a plethora of great songs but provided the basis for many a band that NME would later go on to champion (Editors, White Lies).

Since then stellastarr* have all but disappeared. Their third album seems to be out in the US but there's been no fanfare over it and seemingly no plans to release it in the UK. The real tragedy here however is that on this album there's some fantastic songs, namely single 'Sweet Troubled Soul' and my favourite 'Love And Longing', that simply haven't been heard by anywhere near enough people.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Criminally Underrated Albums of the 2000's: #04

Dan le Sac Vs. Scroobius Pip – Angles

In trying to put the (music) world to rights this one's a little easier. On release people either 'got' Angles, or they didn't. Those that got it made note of spokes-person Scroobius Pip's wordplay, even if they criticised le Sac's lo-fi, scratchy, electronics. Those that failed to 'get' this album slated Pip's skills as a rapper and in some cases bemoaned the fact that he was white.

Where most go wrong with Angles is approaching this as a rap album. It's not. It's really not. (Un)spoken word, is what Mr. Pip calls it, but spoken word is probably better. I can understand why it might get mistaken for rap – some of the narration is sped up and is backed by what can loosely be described as beats, but although it's nearest contemporary is The Streets this is something else completely.

If I'm honest, said 'beats' – le Sac's backing – aren't that great. But like Art Brut in their early stages, that's not important, what is important is what's being said. Thankfully what's being said on Angles is poetic, affecting and occasionally hilarious. Housing a hit single ('Thou Shalt Always Kill') could have been a burden for Angles, but there is much more here to carry it past that. One listen to fractured love song 'Look For The Woman', the goosebump-inducing title song, cinematic 'Waiting For The Beat To Kick In...' or 'Tommy C' - a documentation of beauty - should convince anyone with a soul that this album is worth it's time and weight in gold.

As far as pop music goes, Angles is solid gold. Just please, give it a listen.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Criminally Underrated Albums of the 2000's: #05

Belle & Sebastian – Dear Catastrophe Waitress

This should really speak for itself. Great band + world's greatest pop producer (Trevor Horn) + some of the best songs of either's career = great album. Right? Well, for some reason not everyone seems to think so. For a start, those morons at Pitchfork put the follow up to this record, the flaccid and often dumb The Life Pursuit, in their albums of the decade countdown with no mention of the Mercury Nominated Dear Catastrophe Waitress.

I've said before that I've been baffled at the lack of love for some of my favourite records, but with this one it's taken to a whole new level. I honestly think that this album has a shot at being the best in Belle And Sebastian's career (with If You're Feeling Sinister coming a close second), and why wouldn't I? Anyone with a sense of humour should enjoy the Thin Lizzy aping 'I'm A Cuckoo' whilst anyone with ears and a heart should bloody love 'Piazza, New York Catcher' – the groups' greatest song. Elsewhere on the album, tracks such as 'Roy Walker' and 'Wrapped Up In Books' and 'Lord Anthony' encapsulate everything that B&S have been about. Their naïveity, playfulness and schoolboy outlook summed up in one album.

There's not really anything more that I can say about this record. I don't understand why it's so underrated and I have no time for those who wish to slate it. If I were to do a list of albums of the decade for this blog then Dear Catastrophe Waitress would come very close to the top. Utter pop perfection.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Criminally Underrated Albums of the 2000's: #06

Supergrass – Road To Rouen

Supergrass is a band for whom most of its fifteen year career has made an upbeat pop bounce it's trademark. It not really surprising then that Road To Rouen, a record made in the wake of the death of the mother of two members of the band is one that's revisited less in the memory of those talking of the band's cannon. Yet as documentations of loss go this is the finest one that this decade has thrown at us and if nothing else proves the point that great bands make great albums.

Road To Rouen, Supergrass' fifth, heralded the last time the band had a song in the UK pop charts – said song 'St. Petersburg' was a stately semi-acoustic number with a gorgeous uplifting string section that couldn't have been any further from the pop bounce of 'Alright' or the scuzz rock of 'Richard III' that made the band's name yet was still as good as either. Elsewhere on the LP there was the prog-aping 'Roxy' with it's heavier than necessary outro and the heartbreaking 'Fin'. The only upbeat number present was 'Coffee in the Pot'; an instrumental built around an old jazz sample.

However, the musical highlights aren't the reason why I've picked Road To Rouen for it's spot on the list of underrated albums. It's because of the tenderness on display. The fact that this album is utterly peerless, more affecting than the stadium humping giants they'd go on to support and more cohesive than many of their brit-pop fellows, who by this point had either split or slid into irrelevancy.

Ultimately, it may have been a death that gave Supergrass life, and the band searching for their place in the world that made them even better than they previously were.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Criminally Underrated Albums of the 2000's: #07

MJ Hibbett & The Validators – We Validate!

Something somewhat different today, you see, We Validate! isn't so much underrated as it is completely under the radar. As well as being one of my favourite singer-songwriters MJ Hibbett is the sole decent musical export from my hometown of Peterborough and has amassed quite a large and brilliant catalogue of albums and EPs over the years.

Of these, We Validate! is Hibbett's strongest release and is one that features his regular backing band, The Validators. Not only are said band great (if somewhat understated) but every single song on this record is superbly written and full of wisdom. It seems archaic to say so, but if nothing else We Validate! proves that it's still possible to turn to pop music for advice and comfort.

Put this against all the “haircuts from the corporate indie scene” whom are riled against on 'Tell Me Something You Do Like' and it's obvious who comes out on top. Where many bands have been content in recent years to sing only about girls and nights out, MJ Hibbett has some genuinely interesting and fresh topics to discuss. The aforementioned 'Tell Me Something...' begs groups to discuss things they actually enjoy (suggestions include: Dr. Who, the feel of envelopes or LEGO bricks), the self explanatory 'Quality Of Life Enhancement Device', Thatcher-baiting 'The Fight For History' or the exquisite love song 'Better Things To Do'. And that's before we mention the epic 'Only Ever Meet In Church'.

If you don't own any MJ Hibbett (with or without The Validators) then this is the best place to start and can be bought over here. It's a classic indie record, how it's supposed to be done.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Criminally Underrated Albums of the 2000's: #08

The Bees – Free The Bees

The wave of popularity that The Bees had rode from their Mercury nominated debut album Sunshine Hit Me left them in good stead for their second. Surprising some that album, 2004's Free The Bees completely blew it out of the water. Whereas Sunshine... was an oddball amongst oddballs, trailing hints of brilliance Free The Bees was a fully formed barn-storming '60's tinged masterpiece. Right down to the fantastic artwork (the whole booklet needs to be seen to get a full idea of this) not a foot was put wrong. Thankfully at the time, most people realised this.

Fast forward half a decade and The Bees buzzing has all but died down. In end of decade lists and reminiscing it's the more 'forward-thinking' music that's been praised, where records such as this – fully formed albums using a variation on traditional rock instrumentation – have been consigned to the mists of time. It's a shame as one listen to this and so many things immediately jump out, the Led Zeppelin via Isle of Wight guitar on 'No Atmosphere', the quirky trumpets on instrumental 'The Russian', the almost silly childlike lyrics of 'Go Karts' and of course the cheesy rock 'n' roll number 'Chicken Payback'.

Really, words cannot fully describe the feel that comes from this record any more than dancing can describe architecture (if you'll forgive the cliché). I can throw around words such as 'summery', 'blissful' and 'timeless' but still the full picture won't be there. In a decade where the disposable nature of pop has increased I would have thought that a record that honestly sounds as though it could have been recorded at any time in the history of popular music would be something that many of the critics would latch onto and say: “Look, bands! This is how music should be done”. Ability. Heart. Soul. Check. Check. Check.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Criminally Underrated Albums of the 2000's: #09

Delays – You See Colours

Delays' debut album, Faded Seaside Glamour, was a dreamy pop masterpiece with it's soundscapes and vocal harmonies recalling a lost English glamour. It was stately and serene and beefed the hell up for this, it's follow up. Sure the falsetto vocals and lush harmonies were retained, but here they were paired up with disco beats and snyth flourishes. This was dance-pop in the days before Klaxons came along, adding bullshit mysticism and 'psychedelia' to essentially the same blueprint.

You See Colours, however was the most consistent and the most remarkable of what this sub-genre of indie-pop would become. Lead single 'Valentine' was easily the greatest pop song of 2006, impossible not to dance to and where lesser songs would peter out achieves a second gust of wind, seemingly destined to trigger a thousand strobes. And this didn't have that much over the rest of the record: 'You And Me', 'This Town's Religion' and 'Winter's Memory of Summer' were all top 10 singles in alternate (better) universe.

Thankfully You See Colours sold moderately well and managed to secure the band their own niche in the pop landscape and a cult fanbase. They even put out a rather brilliant third album (Everything's The Rush) last year, but despite their grand sense of scale and ear for melodies that could slay even some of the UKs best bands there's a disappointing amount of critical love or remembrance for You See Colours as the decade ends.

As a side note to this: You See Colours is one of my favourite pieces of album artwork from the past decade. At one point there was temptation to run a list chronicling these but I abandoned it on the grounds that such a complication would take more time than I had to get such a list correct.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Criminally Underrated Albums of the 2000's: #10

William Shatner - Has Been

An odd way to begin the list maybe, but it's my view that Has Been has not only been underrated but also highly misunderstood. With the lead track off this album being the high camp, novelty cover of the Pulp classic 'Common People' most have assumed that the rest of the record follows suit. Strangely for a man that's long been regarded as a joke, what's actually delivered is a tender and affecting record, with the punchline that after all that's been said – Shatner can act.

It only needs one listen to songs such as 'That's Me Trying' and 'Real' to realise that the piss isn't being taken here. The humour that's on show is just another side to the man, it's not gaudy or showy; it's just human. Admittedly it's not William 'Captain Kirk' Shatner that's the real genius behind this album's construction, not that it detracts. Producer/songwriter Ben Folds ensures that the hooks are present enough to make this an unashamedly pop record, whilst Lemon Jelly (on 'Together') bring the atmosphere and sense of collaboration.

That Shatner's method of delivery is, as it always has been, a slightly ham-fisted spoken word style, with (historically) terrible Shakespearean style over-dramatics has certainly thrown many off the critics from Has Been. This in itself isn't surprising really, as it's hard to take seriously something that's been so widely parodied (Futurama's Zap Brannigan being possibly the most notable example), yet here it's done not only knowingly, but so well that it manages to rise above itself and it's critics.

As the Rick Rubin assisted American Recordings turned a certain Johnny Cash from a country has-been into a timeless musical icon, Has Been should have certified William Shatner's place in pop cultural history as humorous and flawed yet decidedly brilliant entertainer

Friday, 2 October 2009

Decade: Introduction

After a pretty decent list of 500 songs, the Pitchfork 'Albums of the Decade' list concluded today somewhat disappointingly (Radiohead's Kid A at the top). I should probably take pains to say that normally I stay clear of reading Pitchfork but the prospect of such lists lured me in. Lists have a tendency for doing that. In the wake of this 'P2K' saga, end of decade countdowns are cropping up across the net, as indie boys rush to their blogs with posts essentially repeating the Pitchfork lists but in a different order and without the rap.

I'm not joining in that rat race.

As most of my musical discovery has occurred this decade any list would be arbitrary, excluding music that I have (comparatively) recently discovered just because it fell on the wrong side of the decade divide. Take for instance the discography of Pulp: aside from the major hits I've only come to know the band this decade and being able to include 'Sunrise' (2001) in such a list, but not the slightly superior material from This is Hardcore (1998) nullifies it somewhat.

If it's essential for you to have a completely arbitrary selection that can be called Keep Pop Loud's album of the 2000's then it's quite simply Franz Ferdinand. That's not to say it's my favourite album of the decade necessarily (although it's certainly one of them!) but to say that it's the one that's had the most impact on me. Introducing me to a world of music that I'm still exploring and giving the passion to actually seek out music rather than letting it find me.

As for songs... A Top Three: ThreeTwoOne

Now seeing as I've got that out of the way with, hopefully, as little ceremony as possible, here's the plan for KPL's marking of the passing of the decade. In contrast to the self-celebration of certain (aforementioned) websites and their I-told-you-so's I'm giving you a list, in rough order, of albums that have passed critics and/or consumers by from the past ten years. I'm not doing this to provide a comprehensive list of under the radar albums and similarly it's not supposed to be a hipper-than-thou list of obscurities. Instead this is a catalogue of ten albums (starting on Monday and going for approximately two weeks) that I've loved and that have failed to set the world alight critically, or that have disappeared from collective memory.

These are records that have been absent from the 'End of Decade' lists, but hopefully are lurking around in some of your collections somewhere. Hopefully this will encourage some re-visits and if it points some of you towards things that hadn't been considered before then all the better. This will be the 'Keep/Pop/Loud List of Criminally Underrated Albums of the 2000's'.