Autumn

Colder than before, but not yet wintry, and certainly not Christmassy, it can only be Autumn.

Yo La Tengo – “Autumn Sweater”

It’s mindblowing what three talented musicians and songwriters can do with two people hitting and shaking stuff and one playing some sort of magical electronified piano. There are so many reasons to love Yo La Tengo and this is right up there. If you don’t know them, dive in to their back catalogue at any point and feel the quality, or grab a copy of Prisoners of Love: A Smattering of Scintillating Senescent Songs: 1985–2003, which compiles much greatness from the band’s first 18 years in its two or three discs (depending on which version you get)

Teenage Fanclub – “Fallen Leaves”

When you’ve come up with an album as good as Bandwagonesque so early in your career it must be tempting to wonder if the rest won’t become nothing more than an afterword. A good idea, then, almost a decade and a half later to come up with an album – Man-made – and a track – “Fallen Leaves” – that strongly suggest otherwise.

The Clientele – “Harvest Time”

For years The Clientele put out albums of gently reverb-laden beauty, existing in a vague space somewhere between late ’60s beat and the moments of sweet contentment just before those times when you’re falling asleep and reach that near-dream state that makes you say weird things. And for years, more or less, they were ignored at home in the UK, finding more success in America. Harvest Time is just one of many perfect examples of why this is such an unfortunate oversight.

Inspiral Carpets – “She Comes in the Fall”

British language pedants would do well to observe that fall and autumn were once interchangeable. Much like the word “maths” seems to suit the British penchant for pluralisation (see also physics et al and how we talk about entities like football teams and rock bands), where the alternative and once happily used “math” was exported to America and gained popularity, that we seem to prefer “autumn” to “fall” does not make one more correct than the other. Romantic sounding, perhaps, but not correct.

Catchers – “Song For Autumn”

Catchers split after just two (lovely) albums. Both Mute and Stooping to Fit come alive on the vocal interplay between Dale Grundle and Alice Lemon. In 2008 Grundle, recording as The Sleeping Years, released We’re Becoming Islands One By One, and more recently made some old Catchers demos and recordings available on Soundcloud, but

Lambchop – “Autumn’s Vicar”

If I was to recommend a Lambchop album for an “Essential albums you must own, or choose your own collection, what do I care” feature, I would unhesitatingly plump for Nixon (2000). If I was to recommend two Lambchop albums, I’d add its successor Is A Woman (2002). It’s a lengthy effort, tracks repose languorously for five or six minutes, gently fanned by soft orchestration and Kurt Wagner’s croon/growl. A good recent companion piece might be Elbow’s The Take Off and Landing of Everything (2014), in which nothing very startling happens, and where there is much pleasure to be found in the ongoing not-happenings.

https://youtu.be/98qZqj_IuOQ

Now Autumn’s fire burns slowly along the woods and day by day the dead leaves fall and melt.
William Allingham

Foals – Mountain At My Gates

Having already forced the musical universe asunder with “What Went Down”, the title track from their forthcoming fourth album, Foals have released a second taster of one of this year’s mostly hotly tipped and highly anticipated albums.

Paring a shuffling indie disco beat with Yannis Philippakis’ edge-of-a-howl vocal, “Mountain At My Gates” kicks off with a deceptively baggy feel before launching into the kind of huge, cavern-shaking rock that Foals are making very much their home ground. Not in the same visceral league as What Went Down, it is nonetheless a beautiful, fiery combination of the two sides of Foals: the melody and the fury.

What Went Down is out on August 28th, via Warner Music. Pre-order the album HERE.

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The Charlatans – Sproston Green

A new decade
The radio plays the sounds we made
And everything seems to feel just right

So sang Richard Ashcroft on The Verve‘s song “A New Decade”, released in, er… 1995.

A new decade: a time of excitement, anticipation of what might be. But also a time of looking back. Thinking of what might have been. “They’re selling hippy wigs in Woolworths” lamented Danny as his decade of fug reached a close at the end of Withnail & I.

It’s the end of an era.

Madchester was looking good in the late 80s. In the city that had already served up a generous helping of seminal 80s indie – Joy Division, New Order, The Smiths, The Happy Mondays, The Stone Roses – everyone was high on… I dunno I was too young for all that, and anyway with my customary timing didn’t get to the party until it was down to its last bulb… but high on something, let’s say. No matter how underground you start, get high enough and someone will notice. Clubs started closing, authorities starting taking dim views, and didn’t like what they found in murky corners. By the mid-90s, a Conservative government clinging, terrified, to the precipice of power (a MORI poll in August had them 33 points behind Labour), brought in the “Turn that racket down, don’t you lot have homes to go to?” act, which effectively banned young people from cheering themselves up with illegal highs and “sounds wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats” (aka rave).

The Stone Roses still hadn’t released a second album. The Happy Mondays were probably still crashing golf carts on Barbados.

The Charlatans – probably the best Manchester band not to actually come from Manchester – had released three albums by mid 1994. The run started with Some Friendly, which went straight in at number one in the album chart. The pressure, or the glory, or something must have gone to their heads by the time they went back into the studio to record its follow-up, the mostly mediocre Between 10th and 11th, but partial redemption came in the form of 1994’s Up to Our Hips.

Two tracks from Some Friendly found their way onto two 1990 compilation albums of very different quality, both of which found their way into my music collection. Let’s get the less good of the two out of the way first.

Rhymes with Hit Pack

The Hit Pack was a 1990 compilation album that moves from the sublime to the utterly ridiculous in 24 chart hits. 24 because I bought the luxury cassette version with its extra tracks, and not the CD version, which was limited to 21. It starts promisingly: Deee-Lite‘s “Groove is in the Heart” takes Herbie Hancock‘s Bring Down the Birds and makes popsicles out of its bass riff. It’s largely a downhill journey from there, with everyone’s second favourite Black Box track, Fantasy, and everyone’s second favourite SNAP! track, Mary Had a Little Boy starting the ride.

Various Artists - The Hit Pack

The Hit Pack meanders around for the rest of its tracklisting without settling on any genre. I say meanders, but the transition from 808 State (“Cubik”) to Aztec Camera (“Good Morning Britain”) is not as bucolic as all that, while following “Show Me Heaven” by Maria McKee with Berlin‘s “Take My Breath Away” is as much of a transition as a non-committal step forward in quicksand. The standout track was “Then” by The Charlatans, with its baggy backbeat and Tim Burgess singing just outside the intelligible range of my tin ear for lyrics (the opening line is “I want to bomb your submarines”, apparently).

The worst is saved for last, however, with the unspeakably dismal “Fog on the Tyne (revisited)” by Gazza & Lindisfarne.

Skool Daze

Various Artists - Happy Daze

Let’s talk Happy Daze (Volume 1) before I start feeling retrospectively violent. In the words of Gary Crowley’s liner notes:

We feel it sums up the year the Indie Guitar Pop finally left the bedroom, hooked up with some strident dance grooves and had one hell of a bender / night out!

Not a bad summation. Apart from the curious selection of “Hippy Chick” by Soho, and the inclusion of a remix of “Circle Square” by The Wonder Stuff, it is for the most part a solidly danceable indie-dance collection. At the time it was my introduction to Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine (“Sheriff Fatman”), Ride (“Taste”), and the splendidly named New Fast Automatic Daffodils (“Big”). The Charlatans track on offer was “The Only One I Know”, which lifted lyrics from The Byrds’ “Everybody’s Been Burned” and swirled them around in a big baggy Hammond organ soup, with a strong bassline for a ladle.

I Know I’m Too Necessary

“Sproston Green” is the last track on Some Friendly, and was said to be lead singer Tim Burgess‘ favourite Charlatans song at the time. It’s the kind of song that sits up and begs to be played at a neighbour or parent-offending volume, and that’s generally how I listened to it. It’s one long groove driven by sustained chords and that insistent Hammond. Or, in the words Ian Gittins of The Guardian, it is “leaden psychedelia”. Listen to either the album version here, or the live version back up at the top of this page, and make your own mind up.

http://youtu.be/GgyS74IKxAE

The Charlatans – The Only One I Know

The Charlatans (or Charlatans UK if you’re reading this in the United States) are one of indie rock’s great survival stories. Formed in the late 80s, they started out pretty baggy, and have constantly re-invented themselves with each album since 1990’s Some Friendly to their 11th studio album Who We Touch twenty years later.

As well as surviving baggy, indie, britpop and two decades of changing tastes, they’ve dealt with personal tragedy, losing keyboard player Rob Collins in a car crash while the band was working on their fifth album Tellin’ Stories.

Back in 1990, as I was dabbling with the dark indie arts, I made Some Friendly my first CD purchase (long before I even owned a CD player, mind), having fallen in love with “The Only One I Know” from the legendary Happy Daze compilation, and “Then” from the less legendary Hit Pack compilation.

I know it’s now 24 years later, but to me this still sounds fresh and exciting, and it doesn’t take much to realise what drew me to it, and why I felt it would be such a strong signifier that I wanted to be seen as a little bit different when it came to music taste: what are these lyrics? (actually, some of them are lifted straight out of The Byrds’ Everybody’s Been Burned)

Where is the chorus?

What do they look like?

Exactly… exactly.

The Stone Roses – I Wanna Be Adored

As word gets round that The Stone Roses are to split again, it takes me back to when The Stone Roses was regularly topping bestest album of all time polls in the NME and elsewhere, I would nod sagely: this was it, we’d found a winner, the album to end all albums, no need for a recount, no need to run this poll again thank you.

It might have occurred to me that it wouldn’t last forever, that something would come along and oust The Stone Roses, or that – forfend! – tastes would change, but I might not have considered it for too long from inside my cosy bubble. I was indie forever.

Then came the legal disputes, and – worse – Second Coming. Lead single “Love Spreads” was a canny move, allowing The Stone Roses to say they hadn’t lost it during their years of legally enforceable silence, but its groove was an illusion: opening track “Breaking into Heaven” illustrates most of what was wrong with the album, taking over eleven minutes to deliver one sumptuous chorus melody. The rest of it is solidly rocky, but all too often uninspiring. Only “How Do You Sleep” really harks back to the infinitely superior debut, and even then only by demonstrating what a remarkable moment of creative coalescence that first album was.

The Stone Roses are one of those groups that even though I rarely listen to them, will always be a welcome sound on the radio, in the pub, in the club(!), wherever. “I Wanna Be Adored” will always be one of the most glorious statements of intent made by any band at any time: as a song it’s irresistibly cool, perfectly pitched to squeeze maximum swagger out of lead singer Ian Brown, while John Squire on lead guitar quietly goes about his business with the riffs and twiddles.

Inspiral Carpets – Caravan

Oldham’s Inspiral Carpets were one of those classic 80s/90s indie bands who came out of the North-West. Along with Happy Mondays, Stone Roses and others, they fused the original brit-rock and indie-pop influences that created their guitar-band sound with a house or disco vibe (and signature organ sounds in the case of the Inspirals) to create what became known as “baggy”. Manchester became “Madchester”, its underground rave scene exposed to the world, its indie music scene ready to take it over.

Starting out as the meant to go on, with their ‘Cool as f**k’ logo, their first EPs in 1988 and 1989 didn’t chart, but they hit the Top 20 in 1990 with “This is How it Feels”. In 1991, “Caravan” – from their album The Beast Inside reached number 30. Inspirals followed it with a further 11 singles, never quite managing to breach the Top 10.

Inspiral Carpets Cool As

There are two reasons I can think of why Inspiral Carpets are so low on my list: firstly, they are something of a nostalgia band for me now – if a track came on a 90s radio station I was listening to I would grin and turn it up, but I can’t remember the last time I picked out a whole album of theirs to listen to; secondly, going back a few years to when I bought their Cool As box-set, which contains greatest hits, rarities, and a disc of videos and live performances, it’s a fair bet that it would have been played mostly as part of a late night CD collection treasure hunt, sifting through all the old classics looking for something to accompany a cheeky late night ale.

Inspiral Carpets – Dragging Me Down

Their biggest single, and the closest they came to the top 10, peaking at 12. At no point did it ever occur to me, or perhaps to anyone, that this indie disco delight was inspired by the Gulf War and the William Golding novel Pincher Martin, or that the beat, according to lead singer Tom Hingley, is “Stetsasonic-style…from “Cross The Tracks” by Maceo & The Macks”.

Cool as.

The Mock Turtles – Can You Dig It?

This is very, very 90s. Very 90s indie, anyway. Well, very 90s indie baggy at least: a proper indie guitar sound, a solo that goes nowhere, a baggy rhythm section, and that’s Steve Coogan’s brother on vocals, no less. The Mock Turtles deserved better than to wind up in a “One Hit Wonders” section on VH1, but their next single, “And Then She Smiles” didn’t quite break into the top 40, and they never recovered from that.

Apparently “Can You Dig It?” was recently used in an ad campaign by Gala Bingo. Is nothing sacred any more?

The Stone Roses – Fool’s Gold

Home Taping is Killing Music

That’s what they told us in the 80s. They were, of course, so very wrong. What they meant to say was: “Unfeasibly one-sided and punitive contracts designed to line the pockets of record company executives are killing music”. Or perhaps, “Indie label heads: their hearts are in the right place but they have less than no business sense, and they’re killing music”.

One, possibly two, but not all three of the above statements explain how The Stone Roses went from creating a series of singles and a debut album that took the indie guitar template, and funked with it, creating an unlikely but entrancing crossover that allowed scruffy indie urchins to feel like dancing (if you can call the “left foot forward, right foot forward, left foot back, right foot back” swagger dancing), to spending their days thumb-twiddling in the offices of record company lawyers, and gradually losing their madchester muse.

Regular poll-topping debut album (until Radiohead crashed the party) The Stone Roses still sounds fantastic, follow-up Second Coming still sounds, with the exception of one or two tracks, crushingly disappointing. Ian Brown still cannot sing (his miming might have improved over the years, though), but that was never really the point, was it?