Posts Tagged ‘college rock’

MINUS THE BEAR / VASCO DA GAMA – Liverpool, Kazimier, 28/04/2013

June 4, 2013

Ah, Vasco Da Gama. You have the prescription for the daily blues. Liverpool’s latest progenitors of cerebrally addictive math-pop have something pretty special on their hands: specifically, great songs. ‘Brigadiers’ sees iridescent guitars shooting beams of rippling light across cavernous, rumbling rhythms, while John Crawford’s plaintive keening keeps the glorious mess on an even keel. Meanwhile, the tension-and-release tactics of ‘Them Teeth’ show what lessons can be learned from Faraquet and Tera Melos whilst creating wholly nifty singalongs. It’s all interspersed with charmingly self-effacing banter about watching Top 100 Nu-Metal Anthems countdowns on telly, and is utterly, wonderfully ace. More of this sort of thing, please.

It’s fitting that Vasco De Gama are playing as support to Minus The Bear – anyone remember the Seattle quintet dazzling their way to a certain level of indie prominence ten years ago? Theirs was a veritable ménage à trois between fret-tapping frenetics, glistening electronics and solemnly earnest college rock; manna from heaven for studious indie rock types everywhere. Not that we hear too much of that stuff tonight – ‘Absinthe Party At The Fly Honey Warehouse’ and a stirring ‘Spritz!!! Spritz!!!’ are the only cuts from 2002 debut ‘Highly Refined Pirates’. Understandably, the majority of the set is culled from latest opus ‘Infinity Overhead’, with the likes of ‘Steel And Blood’ feeling rather more muscular under the lights of the Kazimier than on record.

Jake Snider is genial enough, if not overtly communicative, and his understated wail (think Finch from ‘American Pie’ attempting to channel Evan Dando) sure feels impassioned. But he’s largely secondary to the roar of the band, particularly on grandiose slow dances like ‘Diamond Lightning’ and the cut-loose coda of ‘Drilling’. They may no longer be the math-rockin’ scene leaders of yore, but Minus The Bear still add up to a darn good night out.

(Originally published by The Fly, 03/05/2013)

THE BREEDERS’ FAMILY TREE

June 4, 2013

Supergroups, eh? Who’d have ’em? 1989 may seem like a long time ago now, but back then it turned out that a collaboration between two established indie rockers needn’t necessarily be filed under ‘tedious vanity project’. The Breeders were a revelation, conjuring fractious noise and sugar-sweet melody at every available opportunity, and writing some of indie rock’s best-loved classics along the way. A band this free-spirited was bound to be home to restless muses, of course, and with the most celebrated line-up reforming to coincide with the Record Store Day re-release of classic album ‘Last Splash’, this seems like a good time to take a look at The Breeders’ family tree…

THROWING MUSES

It begins here. When half-sisters Kristin Hersh and Tanya Donnelly first began playing together in 1981, they couldn’t have imagined the imminent impact of their fascinatingly fractured post-punk on the nascent indie rock landscape. A blend of unconventional song structures, David Narcizo’s wonky rhythms and hallucinatory lyrics doesn’t look like much on paper, but where their contemporaries sparked fires, Muses songs positively burst into brilliant blue flames. Their early demos eventually caught the attention of 4AD label boss Ivo Watts-Russell, and before long the bemused band found themselves adored by critics and underground obsessives alike. The idiosyncratically talented Hersh wrote the bulk of the band’s material, dazzling and delighting on the bewitchingly batshit albums ‘Hunkpapa’ and ‘The Real Ramona’, but the feline yowl of Donnelly contributions such as ‘Not Too Soon’ suggested there was another significant voice amongst their ranks – one that would soon depart for pastures new.

PIXIES

There’s little to be said that hasn’t already been written about the influential screech of this Boston quartet, although it’s worth noting that their big break arrived when Fort Apache’s studio manager saw them supporting Throwing Muses. Before long they too had signed to 4AD, going on to record landmark debut LP ‘Surfer Rosa’ with the legendarily acerbic Steve Albini in 1987. Unimpressed by the Pixies’ screamily masochistic surf, the Big Black frontman famously dismissed them as “blandly entertaining college rock”, but regardless, the album was swiftly acclaimed as a classic. One particular highlight came in the relative anomaly ‘Gigantic’, sung by bassist Mrs John Murphy (aka Kim Deal) and soaring on a chorus so big you could stick a flag in it and legitimately claim to have discovered a new country. Tensions built between Deal and chief songwriter Black Francis, but the band soldiered on through another majestic album (1988’s sublime ‘Doolittle’) before eventually seeing their collective arse and temporarily disbanding.

THE BREEDERS

Kim Deal and Tanya Donnelly first discussed the idea of forming a new band when Throwing Muses toured Europe with the Pixies, eventually performing together under the clunky but refreshingly straightforward moniker ‘Boston Girl Super-Group’. One shit-hot demo later, they settled on The Breeders and signed to 4AD, recruiting English bassist Josephine Wiggs to accommodate Deal’s switch to guitar. Slint sticksman Britt Walford agreed to become a recording member under the pseudonym ‘Shannon Doughton’, and with Steve Albini at the helm, the fledgling band decamped to an Edinburgh studio. The resultant collection ‘Pod’ proved breathtaking: songs crawled out from under the horizon uttering otherworldly howls, punctuated by guitar lines that you could quite reasonably call ‘angular’ without having to look too shame-faced about it. The two songwriters meshed perfectly, and the album was simply stunning.

With Deal returning to the Pixies later that year, The Breeders became inactive until 1992 when they recorded the ‘Safari’ EP. Shortly thereafter, Donnelly left the band to pursue her own vision, and Deal asked her twin sister Kelley to fill the void – undaunted by trivial matters such as ‘not actually being able to play the guitar’, Kelley duly accepted. Following the addition of full-time drummer Jim Macpherson, this new line-up set out on the road with Nirvana before commencing work on their biggest commercial success: 1993’s ‘Last Splash’. Chiefly famous for the bouncing buzzsaw pop of lead single ‘Cannonball’ (and its attendant video, co-directed by Spike Jonze and Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon), the record added irresistible hooks to the addictive wonders of their debut, and cemented claims that The Breeders were a serious force to be reckoned with.

BELLY

Following the first Breeders album, Tanya Donnelly officially and amicably left Throwing Muses, taking bassist Fred Abong with her to form a new outfit. Fleshing out the lineup with ex-members of hardcore punks Verbal Assault, Donnelly chose the name ‘Belly’, since the word itself was “both pretty and ugly” – the perfect encapsulation of their ethereal, folk-tinged alt-pop. The MTV-slaying single ‘Feed The Tree’, a sumptuous piece of off-kilter jangle, led 1993’s debut ‘Star’ to be nominated for two Grammys – a success which could not be replicated by the more rock-orientated rumble of follow-up ‘King’. In retrospect, the album rules as hard as anything else surfacing from the American underground in the mid-90s, but sterling anthems like ‘Now They’ll Sleep’ somehow failed to capture their audience’s imaginations as intensely as ‘Star’ had managed two years earlier. Donnelly’s first solo effort appeared in 1997, picking up where Belly left off, before her increasingly sporadic output softened steadily, as family life became her main priority.

THE AMPS

Kelley Deal’s heroin addiction was far from secret, and she entered rehab following an arrest for possession in 1994, thereby forcing The Breeders into a period of hiatus. Kim reacted with a solo project entitled Tammy Ampersand & The Amps, before shortening the name in time to record their sole LP, ‘Pacer’. Originally intending to play every instrument on the album herself, she moved to retain Jim Macpherson’s drumming talents before enlisting future Guided By Voices guitarist Nate Farley and Luis Lerma to complete the lineup. ‘Pacer’ built on the pop hooks of ‘Last Splash’ to create deliciously garagey bubblegum pop – ‘Empty Glasses’, in particular, sounds like its spent hours siphoning petrol from parked cars to spit on bonfires – but positive critical reaction didn’t translate into sales. In mid-96, the hard-touring band folded when Kim decided to gather a new lineup of The Breeders – which, inevitably, was short-lived.

THE KELLEY DEAL 6000

Upon leaving rehab in 1995, Kelley Deal elected to form a new band, pulling in favours from friends such as Jimmy Flemion from notoriously controversial slopsters The Frogs. First opus ‘Go To The Sugar Altar’ proved to be an unexpected treat, rich in gleefully shambolic experimentation and soaked in the sort of effortless melodicism that made ‘Last Splash’ such a universally instant favourite. Two years later, the band attempted to repeat the trick with ragged follow-up ‘Boom! Boom! Boom!’, but their moment appeared to have passed. Commerical and critical indifference consigned the album to the bargain bins, and The Kelley Deal 6000 slowly evaporated.

THE JOSEPHINE WIGGS EXPERIENCE

Hertfordshire-born Josephine Wiggs didn’t exactly rest on her laurels following the dissolution of The Breeders. She embarked on a series of projects over the next few years, attempting to make her own mark with the ‘Bon Bon Lifestyle’ LP, released through the Beastie Boys’ Grand Royal stable in 1996. Featuring former Spacemen 3/Spiritualized percussionist Jon Mattock – who also counted amongst Breeders alumni thanks to his contribution to the ‘Safari’ EP – the album drew from similar dreampop sources to Donnelly and the Deal sisters’ various outlets, and attracted reasonable reviews. But if ever a musical endeavour seems doomed from the get-go, it’s a bass player’s solo effort (notice how the heart sinks upon reading that phrase), and this was sadly no exception. Wiggs’ name simply wasn’t as recognisable as Kim or Kelley’s, and album sales reflected that anonymity. Shame.

AND THE REST…

At the turn of the millennium, the Deals formed a new line-up of The Breeders with Face To Face drummer Jose Mendeles and bassist Mando Lopez, resulting in the strange, sparse magic of ‘Title TK’ in 2002 and the poppier ‘Mountain Battles’ six years later. Factor in the reunion of the ‘Last Splash’ lineup and we’re just about up to speed, but there’s a handful of other acts worth mentioning since they form smaller branches of The Breeders’ family tree…

THE PERFECT DISASTER

Mining a similar source of Lou Reed-inspired pop to 80s acts like The Go-Betweens, The Perfect Disaster had been kicking around London in various forms before Josephine Wiggs joined in 1987. She stuck around long enough to play on the ‘Asylum Road’ LP and support the Pixies, which led to Kim Deal inviting her to join The Breeders in 1989.

GUIDED BY VOICES

Longtime friends with the Deal sisters as fellow natives of Dayton, Ohio, the terrifyingly prolific Guided By Voices appeared in the video to The Breeders’ cover of their own ‘Shocker In Gloomtown’. After the split of the (recently-reformed) ‘classic’ lineup, singer Robert Pollard made one album with the backing of Cleveland rockers Cobra Verde, before snatching up former Amps Jim Macpherson and Nate Farley for a lesser-regarded but still shit-kickin’ GBV in the late 90s.

DUSTY TRAILS

Another of Josephine Wiggs’ various outfits, Dusty Trails was a collaboration with Luscious Jackson keyboard player Vivian Trimble. Self-described as ‘mood music’, the band’s self-titled debut drew comparisons to French and Brazilian pop of the 1960s, and featured the vocal talents of country titan Emmylou Harris. Not quite ‘Cannonball’, then, but rather lovely nonetheless.

THE LAST HARD MEN

With the 6000 finished, Kelley Deal once again hooked up with Jimmy Flemion to form this hard rock supergroup, alongside Skid Row vocalist Sebastian Bach and The Smashing Pumpkins’ Jimmy Chamberlin. An album was recorded for Atlantic in 1996, but the label rejected the finished article, leaving Deal to release a limited pressing on her own Nice Records in 1998.

R. RING

Kelley’s latest project, a collaboration with Ampline’s Mike Montgomery. Debut 7” ‘Fallout And Fire’ was a scratchily lo-fi lullaby composed of sparse acoustic guitars and tinny electronic hums; as gorgeous and moreish as The Breeders’ more subtle moments and utterly charming with it. More please.

(Originally published by The Fly, 19/04/2013. At the time of writing, I was mistakenly under the impression that the reissue was related to Record Store Day 2013 – seemed pointless to correct the mistake here though, given that it had already been published)

“Don’t Call It A Comeback…”

September 27, 2010

Boy, it’s been a while since I last posted. But now all those barriers between me and the keyboard have been knocked down. Once again, I’m ready to pour boiling hot liquid inanity onto the calloused dead skin of the blogosphere. Let us continue.

It may come as a surprise to some of you to learn that WHTB is no mere receiver of signals from the great pop satellite (Laboured Metaphor Watch: 2 contenders thus far). No, your humble correspondent also likes to crank out the ol’ six-string and attempt to shred the eardrums of disinterested gig-goers up and down the length of this island. I’ll not sully the band’s reputation (cough) by having their carefully-crafted rock behemoths associated with the wibblings of some gobshite on the internet – they don’t deserve that. So we’ll avoid mentioning the sounds of my beat combo, unless I change my mind or someone asks. In the meantime, I’m going to witter on about my favourite bands that we played with on our recent UK tour. So in other words, that’s ‘some new (to me) bands that I like, linked by a theme that’ll mean nowt to you’. Ah well.

1. Brothers

…or ‘Brothers of Exeter’, if you like. And I certainly do. On the surface, this boy-girl-boy trio deal in good ol’-fashioned seething garage rock, but they sabotage your feeble ideas of straightforwardism by throwing in bubblegum pop harmonies and complex rhythmic breakdowns. After watching them once, I was pleasantly surprised. After a week of seeing them every night, I was a convert. It’s dirty and brutal, even when they’re cooing sweet nothings over the top of it. As our American friends would have it, they kick ‘ass’. And they kick it HARD.

2. Porches

Right now, there are hundreds of bands across the UK trying to rip off the gruff stylings of Gainsville, Florida’s punk scene. Some of them are even really good at it, but the sound becomes tiresome after a while. Cheers, then, to Dorking’s Porches, who manage to do this shit without boring the fuck out of all present… and indeed are actually pretty darn good. Sure, you can hear the omnipresent influence of the No Idea Records sound, but they cover it in pop slop and take it to the bar for vile-coloured shots, before going outside for some sick and then coming back in to party on. Garage gruff, or something, and thoroughly good fun to boot.

3. Bedford Falls

OK. They’re not particularly new. Not if you’re going for an authentic definition of the word, like you’d find in a dictionary. But I’ve just discovered them, and great mother of crap, they’re ace. Early 90s indie/college rock seems to be rather in vogue at present, which is a little disarming for the enthusiasts amongst us who’d grown accustomed to it being ‘the sort of thing that no-one likes any more’. In any case, Newport’s Bedford Falls have been doing this shit for a while, and they’re bloody brilliant at it. Would it be unnecessary to label them ‘the Welsh Buffalo Tom’? Possibly, and it would also sell them short. Just click on the link above and listen to Paperbacks. Then order their split 7″ with Failures’ Union and realise that Wilmington is possibly one of the best songs ever written by anyone ever. FACT. Hyperbole schmyperbole.

Anyway. That’ll do for now. More mumblings about indie rock to follow, probably. And mix tapes. And I’d like to have a ramble about Alan Moore’s sterling Dodgem Logic mag at some point too. Don’t let me forget, y’all.

Peace.

WHTB x