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Friday, Jan 22, 2010

One of my more idiosyncratic musical interests is exploring the countless faceless indie pop hordes that littered late ‘80s British alternative rock.  Largely forgotten except by specialist bloggers and people who dig into musty record stacks to pull out import singles that haven’t been played in 20 years (i.e. me), these sorts of mid- to lower-tier British alt-rock bands were quite common on the UK Indie Charts at the time, in addition to taking up residence in the late night environs of famed BBC Radio 1 DJ John Peel’s underground-friendly program.  The average sound of these groups was jangly/distorted ‘60s-infused guitar pop, performed with a ramshackle amateurishness that betrayed their lack of technique.  To be blunt, there was no mistaking these guys and gals for ‘80s Brit alt-rock guitar icons Johnny Marr or John Squire, much less any more conventional axe heroes.  Sure, the majority of these bands weren’t even close to filling the paisley and anoraks of top-flight contemporaries like the Stone Roses and the Wedding Present, but for me, their charm comes from their simple, almost instinctive melodicism and song structures—simple pop hewn out of rough bits and unassuming bobs.  Oh, and I always get a kick out of their affinity for bowl-fringe haircuts and leather jackets.


So: the Popguns. Hailing from Brighton, England, the Popguns featured among its membership former Wedding Present drummer Shaun Carmen and jazzy-voiced singer Wendy Morgan.  From an instrumental standpoint, they weren’t terribly distinctive: ringing chords, guitar fuzz, and a rhythm section fond of throwing in numerous fills in order to liven up otherwise straightforward grooves.  Excuse me while I dig for this exact same thing in the Creation, 53 & 3rd, and Sarah Records back catalogues (hey, I like this sound, but it was certainly ubiquitous to the point of being cookie-cutter). 


What really makes the group special is Wendy Morgan’s keening voice, which infuses each track with a wistful sepia-toned longing that nevertheless sounds filled with hopeful possibilities.  Coupled with the music, you get a very plausible sonic template for American East Coast indie Anglophiles Velocity Girl.  Beginning with their 1988 debut single “Where Do You Go?”, the Popguns put out ten singles and four albums on a slew of indie labels, including Medium Cool, Midnight Music, and Third Stone, over the course of a decade.  They seem to have dropped off the face of the earth after the release of A Plus de Cent in 1996, which is a shame considering indie-inclined music critics have a soft spot these days for noise pop bands like Vivian Girls, whom I’m certain have been listening to the exact same British indie records I have been for the last few years.


How about a taste of the band’s output?  Here’s a video for the Popguns’ second single, “Landslide”:


Next up is what is possibly the band’s best song, “Waiting for the Winter”.  I first heard this on the Rough Trade Shops: Indiepop 1 compilation, and it kills me every time with its urgent hooks and energy.


And from the group’s second album Smog (1991), here’s the single “Still a World Away”:


 


Tagged as: the popguns
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Thursday, Jan 21, 2010
With their third album of eclectic cover songs out recently, Nouvelle Vague's mastermind Marc Collin talks to PopMatters about his love for David Lynch films, classic video games, and French post-punk bands that deserve a second chance.

Marc Collin has made a remarkable career out of covering other people’s songs, largely because few people can contort a tune’s subtext in the diabolical way that he can. 


Along with Olivier Libaux, Collin’s band Nouvelle Vague have achieved quite a bit of notoriety since their eponymous 2004 debut. By taking classic pop songs and redoing them in a unique bossa-nova style, Collin and his rotating cast of female vocalists were able to find surprising emotional underpinnings in tracks like the Dead Kennedy’s “Too Drunk to Fuck” and Billy Idol’s “Dancing With Myself”, leading all the way up to this year’s Nouvelle Vague 3, which serves as somewhat of a departure for the group.


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Tuesday, Jan 19, 2010

When an entertainer dies, it’s always a strange event. Suddenly, millions of strangers mourn the passing of someone they never knew, simply because they made a few movies, starred in a TV show, or cut a few albums.


I never “got it”. Until a few days ago.


“The most devastating entertainment death of my life” was the text I sent to a friend when I heard of the death of Jay Lindsey, a.k.a. Jay Reatard. Only four days ago, early Wednesday morning, Jay Reatard, age 29, was found dead in his Memphis home. When I read the news late that night, it took a few seconds longer than usual to process what I was reading.


Jay Reatard was dead.


Tagged as: jay reatard
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Monday, Jan 18, 2010
Artist/producer PC Muñoz mines for gems and grills the greats.

Over the past 20 years, dream-pop/spoken-word artist Ingrid Chavez has quietly and powerfully carved a unique path and place for herself in the world of music. Many music fans first encountered Chavez as the angelic character “Aura” in Prince’s 1990 film Graffiti Bridge. Pop and dance fans may remember her as the author of the words to Madonna’s erotic mega-hit “Justify My Love”, and R&B fans likely recall her groundbreaking 1991 Paisley Park release, May 19, 1992, which was packed with dancey grooves featuring both spoken poetry and spirited, sung vocals. Sonic adventurers of all stripes may also know her as a guest vocalist on recordings by composer Ryuichi Sakamoto and maverick recording artist David Sylvian. After taking some time off to raise her daughters and limiting her music output to a few sporadic guest spots, Chavez is now back with a highly anticipated new album, A Flutter and Some Words, which effectively coheres her diverse background and particular set of influences into an enchantingly fresh sound.


A Flutter and Some Words is a collaboration with a duo of super-talented Italian maestros, Lorenzo Scopelliti (co-writer, multi-instrumentalist) and Alessandro Mazzitelli (recording and mixing engineer). Recorded mostly in Italy (save for some production work on the title track by longtime friend/collaborator Richard Werbowenko) the 14-song collection is a treasure trove of sonic delights: an earthy mix of lovely organic textures, otherworldly soundscapes, found-sound percussion and traditional string and wind instruments, with Chavez’s exquisite voice and words holding it all together.


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Sunday, Jan 17, 2010
This rising Canadian quintet has developed quite the unique indie-rock sound, getting an assist from Broken Social Scene's Kevin Drew while also expressing their desire to witness the dinosaur fight to end all dinosaur fights.

Still Life Still waited awhile to put out their debut album.  In fact, they waited for more than a decade.


This Canadian five-piece formed in East York (a Toronto suburb), initially just as barely-teenagers with a passion for music, but as the years have gone on (and the lineups and band names have changed), Still Life Still have persevered as a group of lifelong friends whose love of infectious indie-rock isn’t too far removed from that of fellow label-mates Broken Social Scene (whose Kevin Drew co-produced their debut album Girls Come Too).


Marrying catchy guitar riffs to cryptic, sometimes blatantly dark lyrics (the climax of “Planets” is “it’s a family of wolves out there / yeah they bury their young”), the group is able to balance pop immediacy (“Kid”) with full-on rock squall (album opener “Danse Cave”) without so much as batting an eye, something that’s best exhibited during their energetic, participatory live shows.  To top it off, the band have garnered quite the reputation as road trip pranksters, once apparently slinging an entire meatball sub at the van of tour/label-mates The Most Serene Republic while driving. 


After opening for the Hold Steady during the Canadian stretch of their latest tour and with Girls Come Too still garnering lots of acclaim, drummer Aaron Romaniuk sat down to participate in another fantastic installment of PopMatters’ 20 Questions, here declaring his love of dinosaur fights, his true feelings towards Jingle All the Way, and reminding us all what the greatest album of all time really is ...


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