Why So Blue?

The weather on the East Coast is now in the ’60s, the leaves are changing and Fall’s official start date is Wednesday. Might I suggest Veronica Fallsdebut album as the perfect soundtrack to the Autumn? Minor chords are strummed at a fierce jangle, dark romance sung at close harmonies, and production that sounds alive and full of space.  The album was mostly recorded live over a three day period by producer Guy Fixen, which gives the songs a real immediacy, and shows off the bands chops. And as I said before, there’s a lot of headroom too — it’s a “you are there” sound that really only works if your band can play.

The band get the C-86 tag a lot but, apart from The Velvet Underground (which has inspired 95% of all indiepop), New Zealand seems to be a bigger influence anyway. “Misery” and current single “Bad Feeling” could both be Bats songs. (The Verlaines are a clear influence too, and I bet someone in the band loves The Chills’ “Pink Frost.”) But this is not a band you really sit around playing “spot the influence” to, as you’re too busy swooning to the gorgeous melodies and Roxanne Clifford’s truly lovely voice.

There’s not a dud in Veronica Falls‘ 36 minute running time. New songs (“Misery,” “Bad Feeling,” the effervescent “The Box”) are equals to early singles “Found Love in a Graveyard” and “Beachy Head” which appear here in newly recorded versions that might actually improve on the original versions. Normally I grumble when bands put all their singles (and b-sides) on their album, but the album has very good flow. It works. (That said I hope to hear some new songs next week when they play NYC.) Lyrically, it’s all old school romance: love and death, often intertwined. Sad, but happily so. This is haunted pop, a brisk October breeze that calls for a nice cardigan.

MP3: Veronica Falls – Misery (buy the album)

If you’re on Spotify, you can listen to the whole thing.

And for a little comparison, here’s a classic from The Bats:

MP3: The Bats – Block of Wood (from Daddy’s Highway, buy the album)

Speaking of the The Bats… they have a new album, Free All the Monsters, coming out October 25 on the newly-rejuvenated Flying Nun label that is celebrating it’s 30th birthday this year.  You can stream the title track here:

In addition to the new album, Flying Nun is reissuing some of its classic catalog on vinyl, including The Bats’ Daddy’s Highway which “Block of Wood” is from. They’re also reissuing The 3D‘s 1992 ripper Hellzapoppin’. More titles revealed soon — here’s hoping we’ll get The Chills’ Submarine Bells and The Verlaines’ Bird Dog. And cross your fingers for a Bats U.S. tour, they’re great live.

And speaking of touring — back to Veronica Falls. They’ll be in North America next week. Tour dates are after the jump.

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In the Soup

When was the last time you were knocked out by a record on first listen? It happens less and less frequently for me, but I’m happy to report just such an occurance this weekend upon listening to Happy Soup, Baxter Dury‘s just-released third album.

I’ve been aware of Baxter Dury — yes, son of Blockheads frontman Ian Dury who put Baxter on the cover of his 1977 classic New Boots and Panties — since his 2005’s Floor Show, whose single “Francesca’s Parties” got a fair amount of play on BBC 6Music at the time. That record’s heavy subject matter was matched by some sonic psychedelic sludge nearly as thick as Dury’s Cockney mumble singing style.

Things seem to have brightened for Baxter since then, at least a little, and he’s all the better for it. The record sounds great. The spare arrangements  and production style recalls early new wave/post punk or the vibe of old Studio One 45s, which gives upbeat tracks like first single “Claire,” ska-tinged album opener “Isabel” and the bouncy, infectious “Trellic” real snap. And on more melancholic numbers (“The Sun,” “Hotel in Brixton”), there’s a dreamy warmth. Like his father, Dury is a keen observer and has a way with words — even if they tend to get stuck in his mouth. But that too is part of his charm.

What really makes Happy Soup special, I think, is collaborator Madelaine Hart, whose presence on Happy Soup is so pronounced the album really could’ve been credited to the both of them. Her vocals — vulnerable but clear, not unlike Dolly Mixture’s Debsy Wykes or Electrelane’s Verity Susman — are a perfect counterpoint to Dury’s baritone. Comparisons to Gainsbourg/Birkin (especially on the Air-ish title track) or Hazlewood/Sinatra are not inappropriate. Hart also allows for a he-said-she-said element on the album, which Dury has described as a “candid portrait of romantic failures.” And in that, Happy Soup is a rousing success.

MP3: Baxter Dury – Trellic (buy it)

You gotta buy the import of Happy Soup at this point, no American release as of yet. Also, CD only which is curious. An album this warm screams for vinyl.

Click through for the charming, New Wave-inspired video for “Claire” and an entertaining promo video of the album’s creation.

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I Ain’t Saying My Goodbyes

“Some magazine or website called Tom Vek a “one-man Bloc Party” and that’s a nice opening statement, but he’s actually better than that. We Have Sound is dark, moody, nervous, and groovy from the get-go. What cemented the album in this list was seeing him live and discovering that not only did these songs translate to a live band format, they got better. You just know his second album will be something else.” — this blog, December 2005.

And then he disappeared. His MySpace stopped getting updated and fell into disrepair. Around mid-2009 mostly I stopped checking for updates and kind of wrote him off. But then a couple weeks ago, like Willy Wonka, the lights in factory mysteriously came back on, a new website went up and with an announcement that his new album, Leisure Seizure, would be out June 6. Tom Vek was back.

But in today’s accelerated hype timetable would anyone still care after a five year absence? Vek’s 2005 contemporaries — Bloc Party, The Futureheads, Maximo Park, etc — may still be around, but interest in their sound has waned, what with garage rock, shitgaze, chillwave, witch house, and what have you supplanting the fashionable post-post-punk of six years ago.

But listening to the fantastic Leisure Seizure over the last couple weeks I’ve come to the conclusion that Vek’s extended break is going to work in his favor. Because he didn’t rush out a second album — and then a third — that sounded exactly like the first (but with not as good songs), we never got a chance to be disappointed in him, like with other bands of the time. And he hasn’t changed so much that people won’t realize it’s still him.

And people do remember Tom Vek, even if they don’t remember his name. I’ve played the album a few times in the video store where I clerk sometimes and ever time it’s on at least one person has come up and asked, “Hey isn’t this that guy who did ‘Nothing But Green Lights’?” or “Who is this? I know this?” And sometimes, “What is this? It’s really good.” Leisure Seizure still sounds like Tom Vek. The cocksure but laid back voice thick with British pronunciation like “you have an unfair advahntage.”* The sparse, exacting sound, never too many elements, slightly chopped, everything in it’s right place, yet not clinical. Imminently danceable. Of the moment.

Oh, and really good songs. I truly hope he hasn’t spent the last six years constantly working on Leisure Seizure but it seems clear Vek had no interest in releasing inferior product. You can get a taste via first single “A Chore” whose video is below. Vek’s style is instantly recognizable but fresh for 2011. (The video winks at Vek’s lengthy gap between albums.) But there are better songs on the record. “Aroused” is built around diced up samples (kind of Art of Noise-like) that come together piece by piece till the giant chorus kicks in and his awesome assemblage skills become apparent.

“We Do Nothing,” another likely single, starts with distant sounding keyboard loop and then kicks in with rat-at-rat drums and has distinct shades of “C-C (You Set the Fire in Me)” from We Have Sound.  “A.P.O.L.O.G.Y.” has ping pong percussion and big funky guitars and an even bigger chorus, and might be the best song on the record. But then again album closer “Too Bad” is up there too, all loping beats and casual disinterest. There’s not a dud amongst Leisure Seizure‘s 12 tracks.

So I was right, Tom Vek’s second album is indeed something else. And while I’d rather us not wait another six years till it comes out, as long as it’s as good as your first two…please take your time.

Hopefully what he’ll be quick about is touring the States. I’m hearing we may see him — in NYC at least — over the summer. Cross your fingers. Some Tom Vek videos — including new single “A Chore” — are after the jump.

“A Chore” is out digitally tomorrow through all the usual places. Leizure Seizure hits stores on June 6. Here’s a track from We Have Sound to tide you over.

MP3: Tom Vek – Nothing But Green Lights (buy it!)

*Though he pronounces “Leisure” in an American way, so it rhymes with “Seizure.”

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Past-Perfect Future: The Soundcarriers


I imagine most people's first reaction to Nottingham, UK's The Soundcarriers is the same as mine. "Is this Stereolab? Oh wait, it's Broadcast. It's not?" The band, who's second album, Celeste, is due out on Melodic on August 2, don't deny their influences. In an essay by BBC 6 Music presenter Justin Spear on Celeste's inner gatefold (very 1960s Columbia Records), he writes:

Here we have another blast of summer flecked sound. Last year's Harmonium found a lush and spiked musical template; music so inspired and languid one's thoughts were drawn to Broadcast and Stereolab and like minded cosmic travellers. Exactly where The Soundcarriers were really 'coming from' was long in debate: Nottingham? The West Coast? Saturn? The sound moves between all three locales. It doesn't really matter where you land, the atmosphere is always perfect.

After a few listens, most of the Stereolab and Broadcast comparisons melt away and the record begins to take on more of a classic late '60s feel. You can hear the influence of Ennio Morricone, and Alain Goraguer's work with Serge Gainsbourg in the pop of the rhythm section, and the groundbreaking work of shortlived The United States of America in the vocal arrangements especially. 

More importantly, the songs are great, from the opening blast of "Last Broadcast" to dreamy rush of "There Only Once," the languid beauty of "Long Highway" and "Rise and Fall" to the acid funk of the title track. Celeste is immaculate without sounding clinical, the musicianship impressive, and the attention to detail spotless — from the production to the lovely packaging of the gatefold double LP.


Of that, if you dig the MP3s below, I should just say Celeste is the kind of record that just sounds a million times better on vinyl. (180 gram vinyl, natch.) Clearly this band are sonic fetishists and this is the intended format. The 12-tracks are spread across three sides, with the last side filled with instrumental versions of four of the album's songs. Hearing it on vinyl made a very good record jump to Best of 2010 status. Get it now.

MP3: The Soundcarriers – There Only Once
MP3: The Soundcarriers – Long Highway

Want another? The Soundcarriers' "The Last Broadcast" is on Summer Fridays 3.2.