Monday, 26 December 2011

Track of the Week: Unextraordinary Gentlemen - Open Arms, Empty Air (2011 Version)

Los Angeles based Unextraordinary Gentlemen are a band that I've intended to feature much more prominently on Keep Pop Loud this year, but have sadly fallen through the net. With this being the last Track of the Week of 2011 now is the time to remedy this and introduce yourself to a really unique act in time for their debut album which I'm hopeful should land in 2012.

Although a post-punk and steampunk tagged act, the UXGs warrant comparison to the violin and electronica textured elements of Pulp's '90s output and the warped storytelling of Nick Cave. There's gothic elements as well as examples of proper pop genius. In short they could be the best band that you've yet to hear.

Originally released on 5 Tales From God Only Knows 'Open Arms, Empty Air' has long been the highlight from their repertoire and this year has seen new life with a fuller sounding re-recording that you can hear above. The steady drum machine is swiped straight from alternative 80s pop music whilst the tension in the narrative echoes that from Pulp numbers such as 'Space' and 'Sheffield: Sex City'.

Where often such high-concept music can seem po-faced the Unextraordinay Gentlemen have a capacity for humour that's witnessed on the b-side to this digital single. 'Goodbye 1870s' reworks the Yazoo song 'Goodbye Seventies' to brilliant effect that contrasts nicely with the more imposing A-side. It retains the sense of fun that you might expect whilst referencing elements from the Gentlemen lore.

A great pair of tracks to end the year with, whether you're doing so hiding from the cold and feeling fragile or celebrating what's passed you can't go wrong here.

(Unfortunately the Unextraordinay Gentlemen are only available in the UK digitally right now, but if you head to Amazon there is some copies of their CDs available on import. Otherwise head to CD Baby to import it yourself.)

See you in 2012

Keep Pop Loud

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Album Review: Emmy The Great & Tim Wheeler – This Is Christmas

Label: Infectious Records
Released: 21st November

It's clear that right from the stringed intro through to the acoustic closer 'See You Next Year' that the sonic template of This Is Christmas is set for the heart of the festive. But despite songs about marshmallows, snow and Zombies it's never naff, never cloying and full of genuine sentiment.

Take 'Home For The Holidays' for example, a track that I've already highlighted as being a standout of not only the album, but the sub-genre of festive pop songs. The heartache and melancholy that comes through is far more festive than anything that's heard on radios over December, and a key reason why someone such as myself who's fairly anti-Christmas has taken this album so close to my heart. It's not the only such moment either; Emmy takes charge on both 'Christmas Moon' and '(Don't Call Me) Mrs Christmas' which reference and expand upon the same retro styling that competitors She & Him specialise in.

The latter of these two particularly is worthy of mention, telling the tale of Santa's wife being left cold and alone in the ice at Christmas whilst her husband spreads joy to all of the other's in the world. One for anyone who feels abandoned this winter. It's not all sweeping melancholy, though. Not with Tim Wheeler on board. He brings the massive pop sensibility of Ash in for anti-festive treats 'Christmas Day (I Wish I Was Surfing)' and 'Zombie Christmas'.

'...Wish I Was Surfing' combines Tim's surf guitars with sleigh bells for a song about escaping somewhere warm, and simultaneously keeps with his tradition of having one song about surfing on each album. 'Zombie Christmas' on the other hand tells of the dead rising over some gonzo pop-punk with a wobbly Peter Hook-esque bassline. No matter how good festive music gets it's going to take something rather special to make a better lyric than “Well, I don't wanna have my last Noël / We're gonna kick those zombies back to hell!”.

Yes it's silly, but so is the whole concept of Christmas. Some might argue that nonsensical 'Jesus The Reindeer' is one step too far, whilst others may say that it's a commentary on the appropriation of the meaning of the season. I just reckon it's a great pop song.

Despite Emmy being an arguably more 'current' artist and the higher profile that Tim has enjoyed over the years, neither one dominates on the album. They receive roughly equal time and both get solo numbers, lead vocals and some time on backing. For Ash fans who needed further persuading This Is Christmas is a further demonstration of why Emmy deserves further investigation. It's a true collaboration and has done wonders already to boost the profiles of both involved. If Ash decide to go back to releasing studio albums, and they're as good as this album then we'll be in for a real treat.

I'm just disappointed that I'm going to find it hard to listen to such a good album in 11 months of the year.

Keep Pop Loud

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Festive Pop Drop

There has been so many Christmas tunes this year that a post hoping to catalogue even a percentage of the relevant DIY-Pop would take until New Years to read. But even so, just covering the Tim Wheeler / Emmy the Great album isn't going to cut it. So without further ado, here's some of the festive pop tunes that have been getting spins at KPL Towers.

First up there's the song that MJ Hibbett & The Validators have recorded for Mr Darren Hayman's Christmas In Haworth advent calender. Entitled 'Thank Goodness For Christmas' it's a bit rough around the edges, but contains the entirely agreeable sentiment that the festive season has appeared just when we need it most - right in the middle of the darkest and coldest time on the calender. Weather or not you agree with seeing corporately coloured Santas and advertising everywhere, you can't deny that sometimes you just need a break from work.

Mr Hibbett isn't the only KPL approved artists to have got in on this advent calender though. Standard Fare's über talented singer Emma Kupa has recorded a song called 'Channua' to tie in with Channuka. Nice and acoustic, it's rare that we get a festive song from a different sphere and any song with Emma's vocal is guarenteed to be worth a listen.

Tellison now. With The Wages Of Fear being easily one of the best albums from 2011, it's good to hear something new from them to close the year. A stipped back recording, there's not an awful lot going on, but Good Luck It's Christmas is a pleasant and tender downbeat song.

On the fuzzier side of things there's 'I Want You Back (For Christmas)' from Dublin based indie-popsters September Girls and The #1s. September Girls (who used to be Talulah Does The Hula) formed from the ashes of incredible forgotten pop band The Chalets and are worthy of note on that basis alone. What's more interesting is that this is a great little catchy ditty that'll be stuck in yr heard for ages.

On a much crisper note, Sunturns have recorded a double A side that's available to stream thanks to the ace chaps at Lazy Acre Records. A Norwegian indiepop gang who are "dedicated 100 percent to the joys and frustrations of CHRISTMAS", have members who are otherwise in groups including mylittlepony, Little Hands Of Asphalt and Honeytraps.
With a busy heart-warming sound and a myriad of influences it sounds just like taking shelter in a really good pub when it's dark and cold outside.

Sunturns - Christmas Is Here / Season Cyclics by lazyacrerecords

One of my favourite Christmas songs now. Covered.
Originally by The Long Blondes, The Vichy Government have had a crack at it, with their trademark spoken word vocals and cheap keyboards. They fit in a cheeky Pulp reference and get a bit aggressive towards the end but is essential Christmas listening and available for free download along a Vichy Government version of 'Stop The Cavalry' and an Eddie Argos/Keith TOTP take on Cliff Richard (as well as MANY MORE) from the Filthy Little Angels site.

And last of all we'll return to Paintings Of Ships. The band gave us an amazing single early in 2011 with 'Love Will Always Follow You Around' and now have a festive track that you can listen to right here. 'Forward Planning' is much more subdued than their previous number but with gentle bells and the bare bones of indiepop it's like sitting by an open fire after a hard day preparing for Xmas. It's good to hear from them again.

Merry Christmas
Keep Pop Loud

Monday, 19 December 2011

Track of the Week: Emmy The Great & Tim Wheeler – Home For The Holidays

With so many new festive tunes coming our way this year it's difficult to know which way to turn. There's a Pop Drop coming later in the week of the ones that didn't quite make this slot, which is to say that this week's top track is what I reckon to be the greatest Christmas track of 2011.

It's not surprising to see that indie power-couple Emmmy The Great & Tim Wheeler have collaborated, the proof that their voices complemented each other perfectly was evident on last year's acoustic version of Ash song 'Tracers'. What is surprising is how good their Christmas album is. There's a full review coming later in the week, but for now the focus in on the utter highlight of This Is Christmas – 'Home For The Holidays'

Without any cloying cheer, 'Home For The Holidays' encapsulates perfectly the Christmas liminal period, where visiting the family provides respite from the hard-ships of the year, but also time to reflect on life going wrong. Through the eyes of teenage sweethearts we see the one who never made it out of the hometown eager to see the one that got away and the pair to reminisce about how it could have been.

Whether or not you've something similar to go home to, it's easy to relate to the nostalgia that comes with taking time out at Christmas, and there's more accurate depiction of the season for the 20/30 somethings in the line “Did you ever write that book? / Did you ever make it out of here?” than you'll ever find in a number by Slade, Wizzard or Wham!.

Keep Pop Loud

Friday, 16 December 2011

Best of 2011 - Top 25 Albums (#5 - #1)

So, onto my Top Five albums of 2011. Obviously I'm wrong and you are right, but that's the point... right? Anyway, these five are merely my favourite albums of the year and they're all pretty much there for different reasons. Either way, I've connected with them all.

If you want to check out the other parts of the End of Year coverage then feel free to at the following links:
Top Five Gigs
Top Five Compilations
Top Five EPs
TheTrack of the Year.

Part One of the Albums Countdown (#25 - #16) is here.
And Part Two (#15 - #06) is here


05) British Sea Power – Valhalla Dancehall (Rough Trade)
In stretching the songs from Valhalla Dancehall into all kinds of shapes British Sea Power have shown how robust they truly are. Complimented by a remix CD, a disc of alternate versions and last years' Zeus EP the fourth (proper) album from one of our top bands rewarded all that kept faith. Obviously not as incendiary as their debut (released nearly 10 years ago), neither do the band tread water. Each song is worthy of exploration. Beautiful and ponderous, 'Cleaning Out The Rooms' is the sort of stately sweep that Elbow would be proud of while 'Living Is So Easy' wears a Pulp influence on it's sleeve. 'Luna' is so good that it's possible to double the length (as BSP have done) without it losing any of it's power. A very singular band solidifying their position is a wonderful thing to come across.

Key Tracks: 'Who's In Control?', 'Luna'
Read the review

04) Tellison – The Wages Of Fear (Naim Edge)
Clean-cut indie rock, with the slightest hint of emo, Tellison could easily be terrible. Instead they're incredible. On the surface The Wages Of Fear sounds like a straightforward guitar driven record, but over multiple listens little bits start appearing around the edges and a long-term appeal presents itself. Still, that's not the reason it's been on heavy rotation this year. Emotive moments and excellent songcraft ('Collarbone' in particular) have provided just the pick me up that's needed by a struggling sentimental such as myself, whilst punchy, heavier moments such as 'Horses' have provided the physical drive for me to actual move on occasion.

Key Tracks: 'Collarbone', 'My Wife's Grave Is In Paris'
Read the review

03) The Answering Machine – Lifeline (Heist Or Hit Records)
The Answering Machine were one of three bands to have released cracking second albums in 2011, only to split soon after. It's a signifier of how it's impossible for underground acts to trully earn a living more than it is a comment on the music. Still, you can't help but feel The Answering Machine would have found it hard to top Lifeline. When 'Animals' arrived at the tail end of 2010 it felt promising that the band had refined all of their impulses into streamlined pop, but with the title track and skyscraping moments such as 'Anything Anything' and 'Video 8' they sounded like they could take on the world. That's not to say that there's no edge to Lifeline; 'Romantic And Square' retains jagged corners and the sadness at the core of 'Hospital Lung' kept this very much left of the middle.

Key Tracks: 'Lifeline', 'Anything Anything'
Read the review

02) The Go! Team – Rolling Blackouts (Memphis Industries)
As great as Thunder, Lightning, Strike was and is, the third album from The Go! Team has got to go down as being their best. Distilling everything that I love, not only about The Go! Team, but about music is damn-near impossible to do, but has been done here. 'Buy Nothing Day' stands out as the prime example of this, but thanks to the cut and paste, magpie nature of mainman Ian Parton all potential areas and sounds were covered without the record descending into a mes. Whatever yr after there's a track on Rolling Blackouts that fits the bill.

Key Tracks: 'Apollo Throwdown', 'Buy Nothing Day'
Read the review

01) Johnny Foreigner – Johnny Foreigner Vs Everything (Alcopop!)
2011 was Johnny Foreigner's own. It doesn't seem that they've seen it that way, after being blackballed by the NME, generally having no money and trying to combat leaks. But against all odds they succeeded and released the album of their career on the best record label in the country. From the numbers that sound like classic JoFo ('If I'm The Most Famous Boy You've Fucked, Then Honey Yr In Trouble', 'What Drummers Get') to completely new territory ('200X', 'Don't Show Us Your Fangs'), it distilled their essence, their combative nature and outsider status into an ambitious and brilliant full length album. An album to get lost in, that comforts and energises. It's one to take right into yr heart.

Key Tracks: '200X', 'New Street, You Can Take It'
Read the review

Keep Pop Loud

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Best of 2011 - Top 25 Albums (#15 - #6)

Day two of the album countdown, and again there's not an awful lot to say really. Again, these are the Top 25 Albums of the year according to myself at Keep Pop Loud. It's a personal opinion, but you knew that already. I'm happy to accept all bile in the comments section.

If you like this list feel free to check out the other End of Year coverage such as the Top Five Gigs, Top Five Compilations, Top Five EPs, and the Track of the Year.

Part One of the Albums Countdown (#25 - #16) is here.


15) Dum Dum Girls – Only In Dreams (Sub Pop)
With a full band and melding of Phil Spector and C86 Dum Dum Girls kicked the tinny lo-fi of their debut into the long grass. 'Bedroom Eyes' may dominate for the first few listens, but that's not to detract from the longing of 'In My Head' or the emotionally heavy swirl 'Coming Down'. It's that deceptively simple sounding combination of girl-group vocals and guitar reverb that refuses to grow old.
Key Track: 'Bedroom Eyes'
Read the review

14) Los Campesinos! - Hello Sadness (Wichita Recordings)
There's not a huge amount to say about Hello Sadness that's not already been said. Not quite up to the very high standards of Romance Is Boring, it still packed an emotive punch with the title track and gave them their catchiest ever song with 'By Your Hand'. It's great to see that they can do big pop moments still, and with their productivity rate as high as it is, you just know they'll be building on this very soon.
Key Track: 'Hello Sadness'
Read the review

13) Young Knives – Ornaments From The Silver Arcade (Gadzook)
Coming back to Ornaments... feels like listening to an album made by a band with a theoretical knowledge of pop music, but no first hand listening. In reality it's more of a sideways take on the genre, smoothing off the rough edges and playing with bass synths for a slicker finish but singing about nuns and transsexuals. Still smarter than your average but very fun too.
Key Track: 'Sister Frideswide'
Read the review

12) Dananananaykroyd – There Is A Way (Pizza College)
There's little in music, or life for that matter, that's as fun as Dananananaykroyd. But sadly the Danas split this year just as it felt like they were on the cusp of taking over the world. There Is A Way was much bigger and snappier than their debut ever hinted that they could be and they capitalised on all the record promised with some excellent live shows. They'll be very much missed.
Key Track: 'Muscle Memory'
Read the review

11) Kaiser Chiefs – The Future Is Medieval (Fiction)
Believe it or not, Kaiser Chiefs fourth album is actually rather great. Easily their best since Employment and possibly their career high. More refined and engaging with a plethora of pop sounds, it seems to hark back to what kids born in the '70s would figure music to really be about. Although, if you've already decided against them you're unlikely to change your mind. It's your loss, as this is endlessly listenable.
Key Track: 'If You Will Have Me'

10) Ghostpoet – Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam (Brownswood Recordings)
Although impossible to pigeonhole, most people seem to have settled on calling Ghostpoet 'trip-hop. Whichever way it goes, no other album in 2011 was as good at creating an atmosphere as Peanut Butter Blues. As easy as it is to get lost in, it's perfectly possible to appreciate the record completely just by letting it wash over you. The lyrics resonate deeply with anyone stuck in a difficult place during this never ending economic cluskterfuck.
Key Track: 'Liiines'

09) Pete And The Pirates – One Thousand Pictures (Stolen Recordings)
Pete And The Pirates don't do filler. If they're releasing a song then it's of the highest quality. One Thousand Pictures arrived over three years after debut Little Death and understandably showed us a band evolved. Not beyond recognition thankfully, with the motorik rhythms of 'Come To The Bar' complemented by the heart-in-moth vocal of Thomas Saunders. 'Cold Black Kitty' was more familiar and the album hangs together as a fantastic whole.
Key Track: 'Half Moon Street'
Read the review

08) Arctic Monkeys – Suck It And See / Alex Turner – Submarine (Domino)
They have absolutely nothing to prove now, and I doubt ever will have to again. Older folks may baulk at the suggestion that Alex Turner is up there with Morrissey, Ray Davies et al in the list of greats, but that's their prerogative. The Submarine soundtrack provided a wonderful taster of what was to come on the Monkeys fourth full album but, even so, the band surpassed all expectations, crafting some of their strongest melodies yet. It's been noted that Turner's lyrics are becoming more abstract, but there's not been a line this year as evocative as “She looks as if she's blowing a kiss at me / And suddenly the sky is a scissor”.
Key Tracks: 'That's Where You're Wrong' (AM) / 'Piledriver Waltz' (AT)

07) Yuck – Yuck (Fat Possum)
Not quite the debut of the year, but damn close. From opening radio hit 'Get Away' to closing epic 'Rubber' there's not a moment where the excitement drops. Acoustic numbers are handled as well as the full blow grunge anthems and with 'Georgia' Yuck have one of the purest shimmers of summery indiepop that has ever come this way. It's so difficult to pick a favourite from this album and more can't come soon enough.
Key Track: 'Georgia'

06) You Animals – Crimes, Creeps & Thrills (This Is Fake DIY)
There's an extraordinary hit rate on Crimes, Creeps & Thrills which belies the fact that nowhere near enough people have been getting excited about You Animals this year. On release Keep Pop Loud was quoted as saying “It's brilliance will slay you!”. I stand completely buy that and will guarantee that anyone after pop thrills will not come away disappointed from this record. Fizzy, anthemic and definitely awesome.
Key Track: 'Halfway To Heartbreak'
Read the review

Keep Pop Loud

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Best of 2011 - Top 25 Albums (#25 - #16)

This list pretty much speaks for itself, I believe. These are the Top 25 Albums of the year according to myself at Keep Pop Loud. It's a personal opinion, but you knew that already. I'm happy to accept all bile in the comments section.

If you like this list feel free to check out the other End of Year coverage such as the Top Five Gigs, Top Five Compilations, Top Five EPs, and the Track of the Year.


#25) Guillemots – Walk The River (Geffen)
Lengthy shoegaze textured numbers may not have proven to be Guillemots most commercially viable move, but it pulled the band back from the slick territory of Red and gave them a real shot at the long term. With less additional instrumentation than we're used to, Guillemots created huge walls of sound without losing any pop nous that earned them the love and affection they deserve. A rewarding listen.
Key Track: 'I Don't Feel Amazing Now'
Read the review

#24) H Bird – Operation: Fascination (Corporate Records)
Glitter and glamour made Operation: Fascination the sort of surprise record that KPL started up to promote all of those years ago. By mining a pop niche that's completely unoccupied at the moment H Bird found their way onto regular rotation and deserving of infinitely more press than I've been able to provide. Classy and catchy.
Key Track: 'Violet'
Read the review

#23) The Lovely Eggs – Cob Dominos (Cherryade)
Cob Dominos was somehow the album to take The Lovely Eggs from underground curios to indiepop institution. Brilliantly bonkers and completely unique. When they write a song that's over two minutes long you can guarantee it'll make you want to jump around like a lunatic. Plus they swear like sailors.
Key Track: 'Don't Look At Me (I Don't Like It)'
Read the review

#22) Art Brut – Brilliant! Tragic! (Cooking Vinyl)
Four albums in and Art Brut actually evolved in a tangible way. It was to no detriment. Although Eddie does something that more closely resembles singing on side 1, Brilliant! Tragic! was at it's core a disc of shout along numbers. With subject matter taking in rock icons, space travel, off-shore principalities and being sexy it's worth mentioning that absolutely nobody else does this.
Key Track: 'Axl Rose'
Read the review

#21) The Joy Formidable – The Big Roar (Atlantic)
Although perhaps cursed with mainstream over-compression nothing could hide the strength of the songs that The Joy Formidable have got together for this debut. The best moments from A Balloon Called Moaning were present and beefed up with newer tracks adding in an extra dimension. Still, it feels more like the start of something than the peak....
Key Track: 'Cradle'
Read the review

#20) Mazes – A Thousand Heys (Fat Cat)
Although eclipsed by more famous acts mining the same early '90s territory, slacker-popsters Mazes made a real name for themselves with a solid debut of fuzzy, snappy little tunes. Hummable from the off A Thousand Heys should, by rights, be the album you're all seeing on end of year lists and going out to buy.
Key Track: 'Most Days'

#19) Emmy The Great & Tim Wheeler – This Is Christmas (Infectious)
This Is Christmas really had no right to be as good as it is. A brilliant and eclectic collection of festive songs that hasn't been out of the KPL Office stereo all December. From the Ash-like rockers to subtle retro-pop there's a huge heart at the centre and no cloying naffness.
Key Track: 'Home For The Holidays'
Review coming soon

#18) Noah And The Whale –Last Night On Earth (Universal)
Not content with sitting still after masterpiece First Days Of Spring Charlie Fink got his band together and manage to weld Big American Rock to British synth-pop )and the sort of folk that Noah and the Whale made their name with) into one big chart-dominating whole. How they did this I couldn't tell you, but there's really not a duff track.
Key Track: 'Tonight's The Kind Of Night'
Read the review

#17) Slow Club – Paradise (Moshi Moshi)
We need to stop being surprised by bands evolving well beyond expectations. Moving from their ramshackle roots Slow Club broke through and created some of the most subtle and refined alt. pop that I've ever come across. It's proof that Rebecca is a massive pop star waiting to break out and that pop duos need not be refined to electro stuff.
For a bonus, pick up the 2CD edition where ex-Arab Strap men Malcolm Middleton and Aidan Moffat reunite to cover album highlight 'Two Cousins'
Key Track: 'Two Cousins'
Read the review

#16) Frankie & The Heartstrings – Hunger (Pop Sex Ltd./Wichita Recordings)
For any discerning indie-rock fan it wasn't The Vaccines that took 2011 with a cracking debut, but rather the North East's very own pop saviours Frankie & The Heartstrings. With hints of Dexys, The Futureheads and Orange Juice Hunger was a debut that popped and fizzed all over the shop. The only 2011 buzz band left standing from what I can see.
Key Track: 'Don't Look Surprised'
Read the review

Keep Pop Loud

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Best of 2011 - Top Five EPs

As each year passes it becomes increasingly feasible to enjoy, across the spectrum, as an artistic work without having to invest the time in a full album. EPs are certainly the dominant force in the DIY indiepop sphere, and we've seen many bands release cracking little statements of indent that have captivated, intrigued and enthralled. The album is not, and never will be, dead but there's more than one way to go about releasing a cohesive and complete piece of work.

Where most of the best albums in 2011 came from better established or more successful acts, this list of EPs acts as a showcase for some of the newer and more underground acts that have soundtracked 2011 at KPL Towers.

#5 Johnny ForeignerCertain Songs Are Cursed
It would get a placing on this list if only for coming on a frisbee. That its the perfect precursor to JoFo's most ambitious album yet ensures that the songs live up to the format of its distribution.
Key Track: 'Johnny Foreigner Vs You' (Cursed Version)
Read the KPL Review
Frisbees are Sold Out. Buy MP3s from Alcopop!

#4 Among BrothersHomes
The first KPL review of the year and an introduction to Barely Regal Records. Among Brothers even landed a slot on the KPL CD. This EP is a remarkable achievement and a very promising start to their career.
Key Track: 'Bare Teeth'
Read the KPL Review
Buy from Barely Regal

#3 The Half RabbitsOptimists
Another unbelievable find, Optimists breathes fresh life into 2011 post-punk. Smart and arty and with tunes to spare, it needs to be heard. Another band that was snapped up for the Keep Pop Loud compilation.
Key Track: 'Gasoline'
Read the KPL Review
Buy from Bandcamp

#2 Katie MalcoKatie Malco & The Slow Parade
Just missing out on the top spot to another Alcopop! release, Katie Malco & The Slow Parade only really suffers in comparison to #1 from being much newer, and therefore having less time spent with it. A great talent.
Key Track: 'Sad Eyes'
Read the KPL Review
Buy from Alcopop!

#1 ElephantsI Won't Forget You, You Won't Forget Me
As the title suggests, this closing statement from the Alcopop! band is unforgettable. I've been returning to it all year and will continue to do so. I've nothing more to add than I've already said.
Key Track: 'Little Thoughts'
Read the KPL Review
CDs are Sold Out. Buy MP3s from Alcopop!

Keep Pop Loud

Monday, 12 December 2011

Track of the Year: The Go! Team - Buy Nothing Day

(There will be no End of Year list of tracks/songs this year due to the release of a compilation on Keep Pop Loud Records and the conflict of interests that could be assumed)

The fifteen songs from the Keep Pop Loud CD aside there has been three songs this year that have really stood out as being both the highlights and the soundtrack. The first of these was a Track of the Week in November 2010 when it was originally released as a single (Read: Tellison 'Collarbone'). The second I have already written at length about (Read: British Sea Power - 'Who's In Control?'). But even so, of the three 'Buy Nothing Day' by The Go! Team comes out on top.

The Go! Team released their third album Rolling Blackouts right at the beginning of the year, and it was clear from even first listen that 'Buy Nothing Day', with vocals supplied by Best Coast's Bethany Cosentino, was the highlight. Nothing could more sum up what I love about and want from pop music. In truth there has never been any doubt that this would end up as the Single Of The Year.

Despite many layers and noises, it's distinctly a pop song. Beth's vocals lending it a '60s pop feel, whilst the guitars recall underground noise-pop artists. The jangles and cymbol splashes mean that it feels slightly wintery, but in such a way to make sense in the height of the summer. The melody is fantastic and the recording flawless. Just a perfect song really.

Keep Pop Loud

Friday, 9 December 2011

Best of 2011 - Top Five Compilations

Whether it's a 'Various Artists' mixtape or a 'Best Of' CD from a legendary band, I've always found that the best way to find great songs is through compilations. Even with any song that we could possibly want at our fingertips, having a collection of songs put together by someone as an endorsement still means something to me. That's why I went and put my a Keep Pop Loud compilation CD out this year. Obviously, I think the Keep Pop Loud CD is AMAZING. That's why I put it out. It's not on this list though. You'd think me biased.

#5 Big Scary Monsters - 5-a-side Football Tournament CD

Rarities and whatnot from the Alcopop!/BSM stable. Johnny Foreigner, Stagecoach, Tubelord, Tall Ships, Talons etc etc. And all for charity. Couldn't ask for anything more really.
Key Track: The Xcerts - 'I Am Home'
Read the KPL Review

#4 Franz Ferdinand - Covers EP

If it ever needed proving that Franz Ferdinand are an incredible pop band then this did the job. With everyone from ESG to Stephin Merritt doing (fairly faithful) renditions of tracks from the least-favoured FF album, they showcased the breadth of its songcraft and influences.
Key Track: LCD Soundsystem – 'Live Alone'
Read the KPL review

#3 Art Is Hard Records - Dry Route To Devon

The map that this compilation came on provided us with a literal overview of what's going on in Devon right now. There's not a duff track and it introduced us to Hysterical Injury, Gorgeous Bully and of course, Big Wave
Key Track: Big Wave – 'Wild Strawberries'
Read the KPL review

#2 Alcopop! Records - We Were Raised On A Diet of Jurassic Park and Sensible Soccer (and all we have left is this lousy record label)

A summary of five years worth of incredible indiepop. Ute cover Elephants who in turn provide the unofficial World Cup anthem of The Ivory Coast. There's a newbie from The Attika State and a gem from My First Tooth. An oldie from Johnny Foreigner and the PoP 3” CD from long lost Encyclopedia. Endlessly playable. Mighty fun.
Key Track: Stagecoach – 'We Got Tazers'
Read the KPL review

#1 Manic Street Preachers - National Treasures – The Complete Singles

The Manics may have an unfair advantage here, thanks to soundtracking most of my life, but thanks to their recent purple patch I'll take any chance to give them the credit they deserve. Across the two career-spanning discs there's everything on National Treasures from the decade-defining anthems to the classy numbers rescued from mis-firing albums. All are superb on some level and imbued with a level of magic and glamour that is never seen in the modern pop charts. On top of this (and the stunning artwork) there's also the feeling that the title was an attempt to be self-aggrandising or confrontational. Wonder what it must have felt like for them to have been repeatedly told that they've under-sold themselves.

Key Track: Any

Keep Pop Loud

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Best of 2011 - Top Five Gigs

It goes without saying that all 'End of Year' lists are a) subjective b) published too early. And none more so than this one.

These five gigs are merely the five from this year that stand out the most in my mind. It is of course only personal opinion and my memory is not perfect. There's still gigs to come, and I've not been to every event this year. (Obviously)


#5 Art Brut, The Plug, Sheffield (Thursday 6th October)
There's no reason why being solid and reliable should mean that bands fall off of these lists. Art Brut are always amazing live, and even if the crowd was smaller and less jumpy than in the past the set-list and Eddie's on stage banter speaks for itself. Four classic albums and Art Brut are a proper indiepop institution.
Read the KPL Review


#4 Best Coast, The Queen's Social Club, Sheffield (Thursday 28th April)
Although Mazes and Spectrals supplied VERY strong support, it was Best Coast and Bethany in particular that dazzled the old working mens' club. They played so many songs and all of them were great. The sort of gig that moves a band up from a 'like' to a 'love'.
Read the KPL Review


#3 Alcopopalooza III, The Windmill, Brixton (Saturday 09th July)
A celebration of all things Alcopop!. I may have primarily travelled down to London to watch the AMAZING Johnny Foreigner, but it was Katie Malco who left the most impact. Unforgettable even before we mention The Attika State, Jumping Ships, Delta/Alaska, LightGuides and My First Tooth. Phew!
Read the KPL Reviews: Part 1, Part 2


#2 Tramlines Festival, Sheffield (Thursday 21st – Sunday 24th July)
Ash having support from The Futureheads, Johnny Foreigner and The Crookes. Los Campesinos! headlining above Dananananaykroyd. Guillemots playing at the Leadmill. It was as if the Sheffield festival was catered to Keep Pop Loud. With local stars Standard Fare, Screaming Maldini, Kate Jackson and Nat Johnson also making appearances Tramlines stamped it's undeniable mark on 2011. And it was ALL FREE.
Read the KPL Reviews: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3


#1 The Darkness, Sheffield Academy (Monday 21st November)
Despite The Darkness being, in many ways, everything that I should abhor they were one of the formative musical experiences of my youth. Their live set this time around was flawless and so much fun to watch. Other gigs may have had more great acts, but nothing else this year had The Darkness, and that counts for a lot.
Read the KPL Review

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Monday, 5 December 2011

Track of the Week: Darren Hayman - Photos Like Postcards

It's been a incredibly prolific year for the former Hefner frontman. With a song a day in January, full length album The Ship's Piano, working with The Wave Pictures and curating this advent calender, it's a wonder he's had the time to sort out a reissue of his old band's last album and get together an EP of Christmas themed songs.

It's from this EP, Christmas In Hawoth, that 'Photos Like Postcards is taken and is, in my opinion, the highlight.

As the video below suggests, whilst there is a Chrismassy feel to the gentle track, the overriding imagery is focused on the harshness of the winter months and beauty that it can bring with it. By not being explicitly about Xmas it has a much longer and wider appeal and makes me simply want to curl up in front of the fire. It's just gorgeous.

Photos Like Postcards from Darren Hayman on Vimeo.

You can purchase the EP from BandCamp on one of my favourite formats - 10" vinyl. As well as coming with a download code there's a recipe for Christmas Cake and "a tea bag of loose leaf lapsang souchong" that comes with it. But you'll have to be fairly quick as the run is limited to 300 and they're already mostly gone.

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As a side note: if more artists and bands operated like Darren Hayman in terms of productivity, creativity and in interacting with his fans then we'd soon stop hearing about the "Death of CDs/music/etc".

Friday, 2 December 2011

Album Reviews: Los Campesinos! / Wild Flag / Future of the Left / Dum Dum Girls

Los Campesinos! - Hello Sadness (Wichita Recordings)
Four albums in as many years is impressive no matter how you look at it. The fact that Los Camp! are yet to put a step out of place gives them bragging rights as one of the best bands in the country. The straightforward pop of 'By Your Hand' is easily their catchiest number yet and the title track ranks up their with their most powerful, emotive moments. Initial listens suggest a dip in the middle, but these songs come into their own after a few listens, with 'The Black Bird, The Dark Slope' being a particular highlight. It's safe to say that they're tighter and more guitar focused than ever, but they're still Los Campesinos!

Wild FlagWild Flag (Wichita Recordings)
Although standing up very well to repeated listens, it's still lead track 'Romance' that's the most memorable moment. It's something of a surprise, given the pedigree of the women involved, how conventional many of the tracks on Wild Flag sound, with tracks such as 'Boom' being just ace little rock numbers. The musicianship is ace (check out the drumming on 'Electric Band') the tunes are awesome and it's played to have a sonic impact. There's much worse that'll appear on end of year lists this year.

Future of the LeftPolymers Are Forever EP (Xtra Mile Recordings)
It's always good to have Future of the Left around. Not only is their spiky rock an antidote to everything that we're force-fed, but the very presence of Falco means that there's someone out there who's not afraid to hold us all to account. The new line-up means that there's more keyboards than we heard from the band on Curses, with the title track being closest to 'Manchasm' than anything else in their repertoire. 'My Wife Is Unhappy' is enjoyably menacing, whilst 'With Apologies To Emily Pankhurst' bridges the void between FotL and mclusky.

Dum Dum GirlsOnly In Dreams (Sub Pop)
With many of the songs on Only In Dreams being so classic sounding, as to be almost familiar, it's easy to take the album for granted. We shouldn't however, as it's one of the real surprises of the year. A mile away from their fuzzy lo-fi debut this is luscious and stunningly crafted. 'Bedroom Eyes' is one of my personal songs of the year and lyrics from both 'Heartbeat' and 'In My Head' deeply resonate. That's before we even get to the swirling late-night feel of 'Coming Down'. Simply excellent.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

EP Review: Big Wave – Another Year Or Two

Released: 25th November

Fresh from featuring on the Art Is Hard Dry Route To Devon compilation/map, Big Wave have managed to nab a support slot with this year's crossover stars Metronomy at their homecoming show. With this new three-song EP available to stream it's easy to see how the two bands both compliment each other.

Whilst on The English Riviera Metronomy have captured the long faded glamour of the South Coast, Big Waves music feels more like an encapsulation of the last of the halcyon days of the English seaside. It's as though their music comes on a dusty postcard from the tail end of the '60s showing young families and couples enjoying the late afternoon.

But I won't say 'borrowed nostalgia', because Big Wave are at least a thousand times better than even the best of your 'chillwave' acts. Their perfectly crafted, sweet little pop tunes may be completely unseasonal but everything about them is completely heart-warming and endearing. Take 'Wild Strawberries', for example (track three here and the one from the aforementioned map) with all of it's “ba-ba-da-ba”s and jangly guitar. It's a perfect example of how indiepop continues to appeal while providing a individual and geographically unique twist on what the listener might expect.

Although it's safe to say that 'Wild Strawberries' stands out through familiarity, the two new numbers, 'Another Year Or Two' and 'The Rosenbergs' are easily as good and ensure that the EP feels balanced and complete rather than just the first three songs that the band had ready. The title track should please fans of She & Him, with Ella's lead vocals out in front and a classic indiepop chorus. Of course, fuzzy guitars lead the chorus (but unlike their '80s counterparts this feels deliberately restrained rather than weedy or tame) and are pulled back for the keyboards to provide a sumptuous melody in the verses.

'The Rosenbergs' is, of the three, the least instant. Jesus And Mary Chain-eque reverb claimes Big Wave's place in with more established contemporaries such as Dum Dum Girls and Veronica Falls, whilst the prominent and steady drumming sits this more in the indie vain than the other more pop indebted numbers. That it sits in between the others on the tracklisting means that the EP flows better and better demonstrates the talents of the group.

Aside from saying that Another Year Or Two is an absolute gem of a find, and that Big Wave are one of the key indiepop acts to look out for in 2012, it's worth mentioning how great this actually sounds. Wonderful and spacious it even sounds good on my crappy laptop speakers.

It seems that you can have everything.

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