15. Smith Westerns – Dye It Blonde [US]
“Fuzz band goes clean on second record” is the new “female celebrity gains/loses weight”, but I can’t stop mentioning it. It’s especially fun with Smith Westerns because they’re not surfy or garagey. With the curtains thrown open, they are essentially Mott the Hoople, which has strange connotations for their indie rock critical Venn Diagram. Glam rock is not really something that people attempt successfully in an indie rock milieu. And to do it without the glamour? With just the Mick Ronson riffs? It’s weirder than it gets credit for, weirder at this point than the willful sonic messing in the genre that ‘experimental’ is turning into. Fuck, like, Smith Westerns like Oasis. How do they manage to stay good, and avoid being the most annoying thing since… Oasis? If you’ve read anything written on this blog about indie pop since about 2009, you’ll know the justification about to be dropped here. SONGS. Still New is like a version of All The Young Dudes for 2011, except it’s not even for 2011. Dye The World is one of those TOTP 1970 compilation anthems where the lyrics are about what ‘we’ should do to ‘the world’ to make it cool for the teenagers as opposed to lame parents who went to war and want you to finish your dinner. Weekend is just riffs. We like that type of thing around here, songs you just already like and then have to describe in stupid-sounding terms.
A short interview transcript from this blog, where I ask dude if he genuinely, seriously likes Oasis and the HRO post with a (taken down) video by a girl who stalks Smith Westerns, where I got my only ever first comment.
Smith Westerns – Dye The World
14. Pains Of Being Pure At Heart – Belong [US]
When I originally reviewed this for Totally Dublin in March, I ended the 75 word piece with the following sentence: “There’s no doubt that they lay the emotion on thick, but they’re good enough at it to make a certain type of person cry.” The problem with that, if you’re into the rough approximation of theory that exists for music criticism, is obviously that it’s an uncomfortably subjective way of appraising a record. Still, I knew I liked the record, and I knew that if I didn’t admit that sort of subjectivity into the review, I’d end up tearing it apart. Belong is like the injured faun of albums, from a critical perspective. There’s a huge list of things you could complain about. Homage to the point of pastiche or even plagiarism. Americans doing Sarah Records-type twee emotion, with all the problems that entails. An extremely conscious ditching of the 80s pastiche lo-fi sound that took some defending in the first place for an 80s pastiche hi-fi sound. But if you want to like this (and it is an excellent record), you need to just accept all that. Allow yourself to be sad alongside some of the best things to be sad with. New Order drums, reverberating guitars, high, glassy synths and simple boy-girl lyrics delivered with the utmost whispery sincerity. If tambourines and big slow guitar strum swells sicken you rather than fill you with feelings or whatever, you’re probably safe sticking to Untrue. But Belong has an aesthetic, and within that aesthetic, it has some great music. The title track could be used in schools as an example of a perfect soft rock song. Anne With An E is Galaxie 500 level hopelessness-of-all-your-endeavours mournful love music. Belong is a good record.
A video of dogs hanging out of cars, Pains doing a live thing in my friends’ apartment courtyard and my interview with Kip.
Pains of Being Pure At Heart – Belong
13. Vivian Girls – Share The Joy [US]
Hey, it’s those three girls that are bad at playing their instruments in an endearing way. It seems to be getting less endearing to a lot of people. Share The Joy’s not exactly a critically acclaimed record, and one of the things I found interesting from reviews is that Pitchfork mentioned a song that “never really builds toward much of anything”. That’s surely a flawed understanding of the point of a Vivian Girls song, like complaining that a Daniel Johnston song is too naïve or a Dragonforce song is emotionally heavy-handed. Build and release isn’t the only way to make rock music and, strangely, the song in question, The Other Girls, does actually go somewhere. But still, the perceived ‘loss of immediacy’ from previous records is symptomatic of focusing on the wrong thing to like. Share The Joy is, as far as I can tell from my scientific experiments, based on a construction of a false past. They’re the kind of simple melodies, both the sung ones and the one-string guitar ones, you pluck out in a teenage bedroom, except the teenage bedroom Vivian Girls built isn’t real, and it’s not even a real simulation of a 50s or 60s one the way some garage bands’ garages are simulations. It’s a selective remembering, and the whole point is the projected innocence, the not-knowing. Teenage feelings with all of the missing context that implies. Dance if you wanna. Don’t be like the other girls. Stop freaking out over that dude or whatever.
Doing oohs down the phone. Also, r u fallin in ❤ with Kickball Katy? (A: Yes)
Vivian Girls – Dance (If You Wanna)
12. Rustie – Glass Swords [UK]
“Having a good night, man?”
“Yeah, it’s good craic, yeah.”
“This tune’s a fucking ripper isn’t it?”
“Yeah it’s fucking class, man.”
“Just on the drink yourself is it?”
“Oh you dropped did you?”
“Yeah, I did yeah.”
“Yeah a while ago now, yeah.”
“Are you feeling it yet, no?”
“Fucking flying, man.”
“Ahhhhh, good man! Not bad are they?”
“Yeah they’re deadly, man.”
“Gonna stall it in and have a bit of a dance are you?”
“Yeah fuck it yeah, let’s stall it.”
“This is a fucking RIPPER.”
A summer mix by Rustie for NPR and a real old Jamie Lidell remix that’s still deadly.
Rustie – Ultra Thizz
11. Tune-Yards – Whokill [US]
Whokill is effectively a recasting of the forms of past music, which is what everyone does these days. In this case, it’s in the form of taking the shape of a jazz rhythm and replacing the parts until it’s still in the shape of a jazz song but isn’t a jazz song any more. To dismiss it as knowingly clever, glib genre tourism (or “Guardian music section bullshit” as one of the critical discourses I regularly engage with calls it) is appealing but pointlessly reductive. There’s nothing functionally different about Tune-yards using a reggae or jazz rhythm than a wonky song being built around one, and it’s about what you build with the plans anyway, not the plans themselves. There’s also an appealing indifference towards sanding down the edges, but in what sounds like a deliberate and studied way, like a version of Dave Longstreth that is willing to countenance the idea that it might be enough for music to just be fun. It might be cynical to ascribe all the talk of “politics” to the fact that Merrill Garbus is a woman with a moustache, so I’m not going to do that. Thinking about this as a political record is about as useful for your own sanity and enjoyment as thinking about E-40 as a Christian Rap artist though. What’s good about Whokill comes from the interlocking melodies, the scrapbook borrowings, the parts where things intentionally don’t fit so that you can’t switch off mentally while you listen. The way it’s built, the little weirdnesses, are the makings of real immediacy, a Deerhoof-type ability to use things that are most definitely not the stuff of pop music to create something that is as straightforwardly pleasing to listen to as pop music.
Mark Richardson interview at Pitchfork and a song live, looking like fun festival music.
Tune-Yards – Es-So