Friday, July 16, 2010

Spare Snare – ‘Victor’

No matter what I did it never seemed enough
He said I was lazy, I said I was young
He said, how many songs did you write
I'd written zero, I’d lied and said, ten

You won’t be young forever
You should have written fifteen
It’s work

(Lou Reed & John Cale, ‘Work’)
It would be wrong to read too much into this, but Spare Snare have just put out their second album in two years. That hasn’t happened since their first two, Live at Home (1995) and Westfield Lane (1996), after which a further three took them all the way to 2004’s Learn to Play. Which is a great name for an album by a decade-old band, and not unjustified by the subtle sound of its contents. I love Learn to Play to bits, but everything they have done since has been a process of unlearning, from the fumbling-acoustic Garden Leave (2006), through the noisier but still sentient I Love You, I Hate You (2009), which actually sounded pretty radically messy when it came out last year, its drums hard-panned like Krautrock, Alan’s bass back from politeness, metallic and super slinky. It was a lot like the thrillingly scuzzy live band who transformed Garden Leave’s quiet contemplation into out and out pop glory when they played in support of it at the end of 2006 and blew it out of the water. Helped a little by a revisited ‘Bugs’ which segued into New Order’s ‘Temptation’ so you couldn’t even tell which was the better song.

Victor ups the momentum and accelerates the decay. Now, Spare Snare never gave a fuck, ever, but this is unbelievable. To ease the listener in gently they begin, at least, with a song which sounds like it was written. ‘And Now It Is Over’ is a fight between Jan’s two-string guitar and Alan’s bass to see who can make the most noise, but it is a fight with rounds and a referee. Beginning: ‘What have we done? / How do you [something]? / How do you [cease? seize?] / You’ve got all that I see / And now it is over / And now it is over’, and though you can’t hear half the words this is solid stuff. Too solid, too sullied. This is a sound you have to climb inside, an agony you want to share. All the tunes of all the parts are such basic units but they mesh and they tighten and they explode. Three quarters of the way through is the sweetest prettiest reverb guitar solo. And then it is over. Except in your head (that solo can echo for days), and you’re drawn back to another play, and the sound, which drives it further home. Very possibly the Snare’s greatest three minutes, right there.

The rest of the album doesn’t even try to live up to ‘And Now It Is Over’. Not in terms of tunes, anyway. ‘Zappa is Sound’ is a sort-of instrumental, a muscular bass riff, textured, whacked out drums and synth blips and splurges, and Jan contributes deadpan ‘Na na na’ backing vocals and close-mic’d vocal sketches for places where words and tunes might have gone, given a bit of honing. ‘Gold in her Hands’ has impressively manic rhythm guitar clanging away stage left, a dead-ringer for Low Life era New Order. ‘All The Little Things’ has more not-quite-finished singing, but in more of a yowling register. The record lurches through these rough sketches which reveal snatches of song only fleetingly, but which build up into a big black storm cloud. ‘Didn’t Know Much’ – which is still really moody – pricks the tension bubble with some ukelele, and paves the way for two songs which share a childhood theme. ‘In A State’, anxious and paranoid, casts its eye on a sleeping child ‘clutching your soft toy, it doesn’t disappoint’, and broadens out to observe ‘people come and go / quiet is not wrong’. ‘My Mister Men’ is one of those split-stereo vocal affairs, with Jan listing Mr Men book titles in one channel, and someone I mistook at first for Paul Daniels talking in the other about how such apparently simple books can provide a challenge to a child’s imagination, though they are limited by their reliance on magic.

‘Excuse My French’ rounds things off nicely, in a purposeful monotone. The cloud has lightened to grey, and the Snare ride off in sou’westers. I don’t exactly know what it is they have done here, and it doesn’t work all the time (which might be part of the point), but I know that it is something which no-one else would even think to attempt. Most unfairly ignored Scottish band of the nineties / noughties? It’s not unfair, they encourage it. Clap your hands. Shake your fists.

Victor is a bit of a bargain at £5, from here. None of it is on their MySpace page.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Tchotchke Table

Last year, as a kickback against all the digital-only music I was accumulating, I began to lay out purchases with a more tangible physical form on a desk. It is so easy now to find music one day, chuck it into iTunes, and forget that it was ever there (note to self: this almost certainly deserves better). The table was a way of creating a visual context. This week I found a name for it that doesn’t refer to coffee, via an article of Simon Reynolds’. Bottom left are postcards from this year’s Duncan of Jordanstone degree show, where the design departments once again had most of the best stuff. If you’re talking chart places, Interactive Media Design were a high new entry, Interior and Environmental Design slipped ever so slightly from the top, and Jewellery and Metal Design were a non-mover at number two. Illustration fell 30 places due to wanting to be Fine Art, and Graphic Design failed to chart through slavishly following uninspired briefs as per usual (the pink postcard is from the exception to this). Against the wall and to the right are, y’know, records. I won’t list them except for Rachel Grimes’ Book of Leaves, bottom right, which is obscured by the only ray of sun we have had all weekend. To the right of that the negative crescent moon is a Peter Parker button badge.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Commercial Alternative, Mono, Glasgow, 4th July

Returning after Girls Names’ set to the corner where S. sat knitting on a sofa, I found her friend D. incredulous: ‘I hate things that inept. Did you find anything musical about it at all?’ he asked, from somewhere up his rock mountain. From the third buttercup on the left in my pop pasture, I conceded, ‘It was a bit things-added-together.’ With a Jaguar guitar hitched high and trouser legs rolled in what could conceivably have been a homage to J. Alfred Prufrock (except Prufrock would presumably have noticed the missing apostrophe in the band’s name), the singer looked as deliberately weedy as Pants Yell!’s Andrew Churchman. He didn’t sound like him though, with a lower voice, channelled through a wind tunnel of reverb, which had the peculiar effect of making him sound like Morrissey. The undercarriage to this mumbled wail was made mostly of Shop Assistants, fast and raucous. Which is why I don’t think the ineptitude charge is fair: they played very well. I think what D. really objected to was the projected, celebrated introversion. And this is the kind of tension which threaded its way through the bill of Mono’s summertime mini-festival, made up of bands skirting the Crystal Stilts / Vivian / Dum Dum Girls axis, and bands with a more traditional / less insular outlook.

Openers Golden Grrrls were on a blissout variant of the pop trail. There were three of them: two grrrls, on mini-keyboard / guitar / vox and drums / vox, and one boy, on another Jaguar. He went reverb crazy with that whilst the other two took turns singing, the other guitarist playing simple, bass-line parts for much of the time. I really enjoyed them. Peter Parker were less talkative than last time (maybe because it was daylight), but I can report that Ros’s bob has become a perm, and that she hasn’t dyed her roots, giving a rich brown / blonde / cherry palette. Jane wore tights that looked like they’d been ripped from the walls of the Alhambra. My favourite of theirs is still the set-closing ‘Once In A Lifetime’. Up next, Astral Planes rocked, and had a high posturing-to-tunes ratio. ‘Mid-period Primal Scream?’ I queried. ‘Suzi Quattro,’ confirmed S. I’m going to lump Remember Remember in with the rock camp too, because they were definitely not going for any kind of honed minimal perfection. Brogues reckoned they were reminiscent of Steve Reich and John Adams, but to me their rhythms sounded lumpy and their loops / repeated phrases lacked any interesting variation or tone, going instead for alterations in volume. Music with drums in it should never swell, how about we make that a rule? 1990s were a million times more fun, and I even liked that song by the drummer which annoyed me when it was on YouTube. Most of the set had a harder edge than that, and Mr McKeown’s soloing on yet another Jaguar (‘How many of them are there here today?’ he wondered, annoyed. ‘Fuck’s sake’) was sharp, effective, and defiantly un-indie.

Things I love about Comet Gain: Realistes!, Casino Classics, Jon Slade when he used to do the Plan B radio show, sounding like he was permanently in his pyjamas. Things I know about Comet Gain apart from that: zip. What are they even called? MySpace offers: ‘D.C. FECK; M.J.TAYLOR; J.W.SLADE; K.ISHIKAWA; R.EVANS; OTHERS’. ‘Feck’? Wow. Is ‘R’ for ‘Rachel’ as in ‘What’s your favourite Hitchcock? / Determines a friend’s real feelings / Strangers on a Train’s mine / But Rachel says that Rope’s got its moments’? Apparently it is. They are so referential and so seemingly hidden that they can be a mysterious bunch. Of course that makes it more exciting to see them. Maybe they are missing a guitarist because they are joined onstage by ‘Jackie McKeown’s twin brother John’, i.e. the chap from The Yummy Fur rather than the very same one from 1990s, i.e. do not dare trying to be defiantly un-indie under our watch, son. A song or two in D. C. (Detective Constable? Comics?) Feck warns, ‘don’t try any of that rock ’n’ roll whammy bar stuff or I’ll kick you in the... dick’, he concludes, tailing off. Looking at the pairing of him and Rachel I can’t shift the impression I’m watching a band fronted by Bill Oddie and Janet Ellis. Jon with his wraparound sideburns doesn’t quite fit, but seems oblivious. Obviously all this is great, I love the fact that they’re visually so ramshackle, so unconcerned, so beige. Rachel is dressed to give a performance review, but is behaving like a shadow boxer. Unconfined by an instrument, she’s jumping and punching and grabbing at the air and she invests the performance with so much energy. D. C. Feck draws on this, as he leans into the mic, his impassioned and cultural words take on urgency through the presence of the dervish to his right. And the songs? There are plenty I don’t know, but a few from Realistes!, most importantly ‘I Close My Eyes to Think of God’, because I love that song, and the implication that a life from which a partner has departed is worse than one without God, because at least the partner was real. They fluff the start of ‘Why I Try To Look So Bad’, which Feck has apparently forgotten all about, but once they are in, the water is lovely if indistinct (the Farfisa organ stage left looks great, but you can’t hear it), but that doesn’t matter at all, and Comet Gain are Comet Gain, there is no arguing, there is no anything except for blind trust.

They slowed things down for the last song, and at first the line ‘Where you been’ didn’t mean much, it could have been anything. ‘Ain’t seen you for weeks’. Oh God, what’s that? On the tip of my tongue... ‘You’ve been hanging out with’ (Of course you have!) ‘All those Jesus freaks.’ Bloody hell. The perfect compliment to the recent Felt celebration fanzine, we got a drawn out ‘Ballad of the Band’, and at the end some delicate slide guitar from John / Jackie, with maybe a little snuck-in whammy bar action.

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