Call for Book Reviewers and Bloggers

Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Sunday, Oct 11, 2009

If I were to pick a definitive Smashing Pumpkins song, it would be the overlooked nugget “Hello Kitty Kat”, originally released as a b-side to the single “Today” in 1993, and later rounded up as part of the 1994 rarities compilation Pisces Iscariot. To me, the best Pumpkins songs always resembled huge swaths of color. The group was never afraid to be vulnerable or full-on rock monsters, and often did both in the same song, all while constructing walls of melodic guitar fuzz that built up to explosive finishes. “Hello Kitty Kat” is the Pumpkins at their best, incorporating all those factors while firing on all cylinders on a roller coaster of a song until the track practically collapses in on itself.


Speaking of melodic guitar fuzz, “Hello Kitty Kat” is sick with it. It’s no coincidence that frontman Billy Corgan’s best material was written between 1990 and 1996, a period when the man seemed inseparable from his Big Muff guitar pedal. Unlike lesser alt-rock guitarists, Corgan knew how to use the pedal in a way that the tone it generated enhanced his guitar parts instead of overwhelming them. The sounds Corgan coaxed out of his Fender Stratocaster thus served as the perfect missing link between psychedelia and grunge. That’s why I can never get hung up on Corgan’s nasally vocals like many of the band’s detractors do. At their artistic height the Pumpkins’ chief strengths were A) the guitars, and B) the arrangements. The more focus on both of those aspects, the better the song generally turned out.  On “Hello Kitty Kat”, Corgan’s vocals are mixed unusually low, sounding insubstantial next to the architectural wonder he has constructed with his arsenal of guitar tracks.


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Tuesday, Sep 22, 2009

In a recent PopMatters post, I highlighted the importance of the Glasgow music scene – and its historical relevance to the world of music. Like musical hotspots, Seattle and New York—Glasgow possesses the wet weather of one, and the greased-up urban spontaneity of the latter. As such, it should come as no surprise to find that another up and coming Glasgow-based band is rekindling the flame of the 1970s NY punk music scene in 2009.


In particular, I am referring to the quartet, known as Isosceles. A member of the Art Goes Pop music collective, Isosceles’ sound is emblematic of the collective’s moniker. Rickety guitar work is interspersed with a spattering of drums, and lead singer, Jack Valentine’s yelping vocal execution – all of which help position the band nicely between Television and The Modern Lovers.


And just like their forefathers, the foursome is keen to experiment with ironic, self-referential songs. Their second single (and perhaps their catchiest) entitled, “Kitch Bitch” is like a post-modern version of Pulp’s “Common People”, churned out at high speed. While their first single, “Get Your Hands Off’ is a tongue and cheek number that flips the notion that men are sex pests on its gender-bending head, suggesting instead that women are the ones hungry for the bump and grind. However, when Valentine begins to sing, “I said honey, don’t use your sexuality on me”, one starts to realise that his voice is laced with the equivalent of a wink and a snigger. For all of the song’s candour, it is still clear that the boys approach their subject matter with a sense of humour.


Having already supported Scottish stalwarts, Franz Ferdinand on a previous Scottish tour, the boys have already developed a healthy buzz in the area. Personally, my interest in the band grew out of trips to a local coffee shop (referenced in their second single). When I overheard the strapping young gentleman mutter something about his musical career, I felt such a strong compulsion to investigate them. In the year since then, the band have continued to develop their following in the Glasgow music scene, whilst maintaining their humble and erudite personas—saving their energy for their fervent, audience-pleasing shows.



Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Wednesday, Sep 16, 2009

Holcombe Waller is one of those underground artists that doesn’t seem to care about what is happening on the surface of the popular music landscape. He writes songs in his apartment in Portland, he performs (straight-forward performances, fused with a smattering of performance art), oh and he teaches a little too…an elective course at UC Berkeley, to be exact. All of which seems to be executed, and indeed achieved at the artist’s very own creative whim.


How my love affair with this man’s music began, is simple. I discovered him just over a year ago in a back issue of Butt, and from that moment, I felt compelled to ‘discover’ whether Holcombe had the artistic credos to back up his cheeky interview persona.


The quest began with a long wait, for a US import of his release, Extravagant Gesture to arrive to the UK. Once fully loaded and synced, it was only a week, before four tracks off of the album were in my Ipod’s most played list, with the layered, melodic cataclysm ‘Anthem’ taking the prized spot as the number one repeater. At that point, I started to understand why I felt so passionately about Holcombe. Somehow, he had managed to fuse Van Morrison’s lyrical delivery, with a touch of Gospel soul, and cradled that within the airy melodic landscape suited to the The Smiths.


On his next release, 2005’s Troubled Times, Holcombe seemed ready to tackle a different beast. The self-confessional poetry of his previous effort is still all over the place, except now it is aimed at us with a political undertone. The artist weaves his way through shiny melodies that intersperse tales of war and identity, with stories of powerless lovers in helpless relationships. To the reader it may sound ridiculous, but somehow Holcombe manages to begin with the refrain “Condoleez, baby pleez” (on ‘No Enemy’), only to shift to the nonchalant candour found in ‘You Love Me’, where the singer confesses to his lover that he is going to be “vacationing from pain”. From then on, we assume that the couple are on official ‘break’, when Holcombe suddenly tells him “if I [still] love you, we’ll be fine” (that is, if his lover manages to heat things up in the bedroom, of course).


The rest of the album is equally welcoming. The singer meanders between catchy refrains, where minimalistic lyrics have the power to ignite the imagination. When Holcombe sings on title track: “What you doing, patriot? Come buck-naked dance for free, Watch one-monkey down the last cherry tree”. One wonders whether Holcombe is singing about the brutalities of the Bush administration, or a more personal, romantic war – one that may be tearing the artist up inside.


After all this, I have yet to mention Mr. Waller’s greatest gift, his voice. An astonishing instrument, the singer’s four-octave vocal range veers from a gentle simmer to a pointed falsetto with a beguiling ease and precision. This instrument, coupled with his bare and evocative lyricism suggest that Holcombe is one of the more exciting, (and underrated artists) of recent memory.


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Tuesday, Sep 15, 2009

Retrospective accounts of British alternative rock circa 1991-1992 have it that the domestic indie scene was filled with faceless hordes of shoegazers with no ambition until Suede emerged to kick off the Britpop movement. That’s a bit unfair; while there were quite of few interchangeable UK alt-rock bands at the time that couldn’t hold a candle to top-flight contemporaries like the Stone Roses and My Bloody Valentine, they could still crack out the occasional great song.


Adorable’s “Sunshine Smile” is a perfect example. The Coventry, England group was one of the lower-tier acts on Creation Records wiped off the map in the wake of the rise of Britpop. While now forgotten, the band did manage this fantastic 1992 single that steadily rolls out and envelopes the listener over the course of its five-minute length.


Adorable’s debut single starts out simple enough, with a chiming lead riff that is delivered at a leisurely pace. However, after the first verse the song’s unassuming nature gives way to loud, swooping chords and swirling leads. Throughout, vocalist Piotr Fijalkowski sings the song’s sun-kissed lyrics in a relaxed, contented manner that allows the peaks and the valleys of the music to float around him. The apex of “Sunshine Smile” is its outro, where the group increases the tempo and wraps the tail-end of the song in coils of pedal-drenched melody.


At its core, shoegaze was psychedelic rock reconfigured for a new generation. Adorable did its forbearers proud by crafting this kaleidoscopic pop gem full of lovestruck optimism (and the group earns bonus points for throwing in a reference to “How Does It Feel to Feel” by The Creation). For a band characterized as arrogant in its press interviews, Adorable definitely had at least one thing worth boasting about.


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Sunday, Sep 13, 2009

Sitting in a coffee shop the other day, I heard “Lloyd, I’m Ready to Be Heartbroken” by Camera Obscura, and while I knew the song, I couldn’t immediately recall if it was from a recent listen or something from high school. The song put me in mind of the female vocalists of my youth, all the Clare Grogans (Altered Images), the Hope Sandovals (Mazzy Star), the Margo Timminses (Cowboy Junkies). And I was suddenly seized with a fever to run home and listen to some Shelleyan Orphan Thankfully we live in the age of the internets, so I can just Google them rather than trudge through the milk-crates of vinyl in my mother’s garage, which have no doubt fallen prey to spiders and mildew and Mom’s random Goodwill donation sprees.


It has been 20 years since the release of no-hit wonder Shelleyan Orphan’s shimmering and beautiful album Century Flower. The Bournemouth, England-based duo of Caroline Crawley and Jemaur Tayle made fanciful and complex pop music in the 1980s and ‘90s, and brushed up against more famous shoulders (the Cure, This Mortal Coil) on their road to eternal obscurity. 


Contemporaries the Sundays have “Here’s Where the Story Ends”, Mazzy Star have their “Fade Into You”, but Shelleyan Orphan can’t even hang their hats on a song that might turn up on a show like Nina Blackwood’s New Wave Nation.  It’s a shame, too, because the music more than holds up against any of the floaty, ethereal dream-pop that girls like me listened to back then.


With vocalists like Camera Obscura’s Traceyanne Campbell and even Arcade Fire’s Regine Chassagne sounding so much like Caroline Crawley, I don’t think I’m the only one who has Century Flower lurking in their collection.



Now on PopMatters
PM Picks
Announcements
Win a 15-CD Pack of Brazilian Music CDs from Six Degrees Records! in PopMatters Contests on LockerDome

© 1999-2014 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters.com™ and PopMatters™ are trademarks
of PopMatters Media, Inc.

PopMatters is wholly independently owned and operated.