Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Love Supreme

[picture: dorset, summer 2010]

And you thought we'd been thorough in our archive raid when we dug out about 30 MR reviews, and the Kosmonaut one. Not to mention our most recent hymn of praise to the label. Well, here are another seventeen snapshots of our Matinée idolatory. Starting with a *gem* (the record, not the review)...

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razorcuts "r is for razorcuts" (matinée recordings)

banda favorita ? probablemente los razorcuts...

on the boy's sixteenth birthday, when he lived sufficiently far from autogeddon to be able to find himself in tidily mown fields within five minutes' walk of home, he took his fragile person, beige anorak and chunky walkperson out west of mountnessing road and spent a cool but bright winter's afternoon listening to his favourite band - luton's razorcuts - music that more than any other seemed to dovetail with his discovery, at that age, of the sheer wonder of nature - torn inside by the notion that the "beauty they're busy killing" all around us had to be savoured, enjoyed, when he still could, and somewhat presciently realising that there was a lifetime beyond it to spend dodging accusations of "are you looking at my pint ?" in smoky pubs. razorcuts (they seemed to hate the "the" with a passion) were the soundtrack to those tender moments of self-discovery, as twelve string guitars strummed out the passion and wonder of the wide world beyond our schools and shops and factories.

slightly scuffed copies of the razorcuts' two albums, "storyteller" and "the world keeps turning", both released to a cavalcade of critical indifference (from the mainstream press) and fawning, sincere empathy (from the fanzine massive) are as we write sat in record & tape exchange notting hill for the best part of twenty quid each. this, combined with the fact that the creation retrospective cd "patterns on the water" missed off many of their best loved tunes (including the gorgeous "sorry to embarrass you" from which its title came), means that matinée recordings are, not for the first time, providing an important public service in tenderly crafting this "tru" greatest hits package and better balancing the early, scrawny, bambino indie pop songs with the later, more refined, pseudo-anthemic releases. in doing so they roll back the years to when every time you did a compilation tape you would put on buzzcocks' "love you more" ("and after this love there'll be no other / until the razor cuts" - stop dead) and then you would just shoehorn in whichever webster / vass composition was giving you goose pimples at that particular time. if you were particularly deft with the pause and rec buttons, it was as if pete shelley was introducing those magnificent first few bars of "sorry to embarrass you" or whatever other poison you'd selected.

as you'll have gathered, it's so difficult listening to this record not to personalise the review - getting "summer in your heart" on to the tape deck at the youth club, being in a band that tried an extremely noisy version of the sublime "mary day" in a vain effort to recapture its very real anger, having a fellow napalm death / joy division obsessive proclaiming that "across the meadow" was "f***ing brilliant", spending a holiday in sunny minehead marvelling at "the world keeps turning" itself, confusing a bloke from down the football by insisting on taping him "i heard you the first time", getting worked up as sounds' ron rom, who harboured an almost pathological hatred of the band, laid into everything they ever did, reserving special opprobrium for "brighter now"... well as you'll have guessed, each of those tunes surface here. the point is that every razorcuts fan from that first time round harbours their own memories, that will be rekindled by the fabulously titled, and it must be added, beautifully packaged, "r is for razorcuts".

the key to whether or not they unlock your heart will, for all the chiming minor chords and roving, melody-led bass, probably be gregory webster's distinctive voice, usually high in the mix (although sportique arrivistes will be disappointed to know that "r is for razorcuts" is free of situationist hollering). his singing seemed so often to fit the sentiments like a glove - phrases like "don't search the sky for rain" delivered in a quivering voice that SO meant it, and that's what put all imitators in their shade. theirs was a noise bred of growing up in an english town, but that sought its ultimate inspiration from the countryside with its endless vistas and possibilities.

and save for some tweaking to ensure that the track listing proper kicks off with razor anthem "i'll still be there" and closes with john a. rivers' flow (sorry) of hammond organ on "the last picture show", things are chronological, neatly following the subway 7" and EP, the single on flying nun and then the two creation albums (with the emphasis very heavily on their full-length début "storyteller" at the expense of swansong "the world keeps turning" ). we want to start with the fresh-faced 1st subway single "big pink cake", which judging from everett true's contribution to the copious sleeve notes, is hugely underrated now; in this should-be karaoke staple, the way that tim vass's effervescent bass and david swift's as ever impressive drums gambol and then brake and then crash in again make it power pop at its very best, guaranteed to make you smile inside, gregory's unrestrainable vocal being the inevitable icing on top. while bona fide classic "sorry to embarrass you", although less rough and more focused, also takes no prisoners with its unabashed sentiments and unapologetic melodies - a fair stab at eighties alternative pop perfection (perhaps this is the place to mention that "indie top 20 volume 1" - 1986, obv - via which it also featured on a nation's cassette players, along with the likes of "throwaway" and "i could be in heaven", was the album that "NME C86" probably should have been....)

while in the earlier songs, the pace means that the interaction of bass and drums invariably shape the sound, later on - by the time that they were spending alan mcgee's money on being produced by the aforesaid mr rivers at leamington spa - the 12-string takes centre place and a variety of other variables - strings, trumpet, female backing vocals - are fed into the equation. sometimes the lyrics get a little too rustic even for our tastes ("sitting by the fireside / strumming my guitar", sings gregory on "jade") but they soon redeem themselves ("as we talked about someone we knew / the way friends do"). if we do have a whispered criticism of the track listing it's that the mere 3 selections from "t.w.k.t." are not perhaps the best ones. while ten of these tracks also appeared on "patterns on the water", many of the omissions recur - so it seems that "mile high towers" (it's about us! not in a good way!), the feral "steps to the sea", and the organtastic "flowers for abigail" are destined not to be released on cd again (well, except in the case of the original version of the latter by the television personalities). on the other hand, to be fair our only genuine gripe is aimed at the evil forces of industry, for having invented a format that only fits 70 odd minutes.

for once the coyly entitled "bonus tracks" are a genuine bonus. "sad kaleidoscope" is a bustling, buzzing capture from a fizzing flexi shared with talulah gosh in '86, a song that cartwheels along to those frantic bass and drums before morphing into a pure POP chorus prolonged to the point of delight. we still think there's a case for it being the best song here. "the horror of party beach", meanwhile, is the 'previously unreleased' titbit so beloved of greatest hits compilers: it shows that in 1985 the razorcuts were plying a creation-heavy melange of slaughter joe / meat whiplash / early mary chain (the latter especially when gregory sings "gonna get my gun" (!)). while it may not bear sustained rotation, it's a genuinely intriguing catch. finally, to bring us full circle, we are treated to "i'll still be there" (the version that graced the b-side of "big pink cake", rather than the "remix" that appeared on "take the subway to your suburb"). again, it shimmers with the glory of the young razorcuts at their best, preserving the fearless "ba ba ba's" in particular that were excised from the later re-recording.

when we think of the razorcuts at their brilliant best, we always felt they were somehow part of the reaction against the complacency that crept through every aspect of our cultural lives under thatcherism, and that they owed at least as much to the buzzocks than the byrds. it doesn't matter whether that perception was right, or even forgivable - though it tells you the angle we're coming from - what matters is that's the feeling their records gave us. we do really think you might find them just as enchanting.

(r is for razorcuts, we wrote the words ourselves)

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razorcuts "a is for alphabet ep" (matinée recordings)

we honestly meant to start with something else this month, but it's impossible to look past this ep. there is of course as always a debate to be had about randomly re-releasing 5 classic tracks on a cd single (although to be fair old gold used to do it all the time), especially as we would have had all of them on the recent and humblingly great compilation "r is for razorcuts" anyway. but still we go weak-kneed and swoony again, oddly enough not so much for the re-released john a. rivers-produced jewels "a is for alphabet" (alone of these songs taken from "r is for"), "first day" (which accompanied "alphabet" on their guest ep for new zealand's flying nun label) and "snowbound" (the helplessly romantic wilderness cry from their second and last creation album), but for the two final tracks, "sometimes i worry about you" and "for always" which are unbelievably fragile and beautiful, and which although pre-dating their subway days we believe were premièred courtesy of bob stanley's caff corporation as recently as a mere 10 years ago. "sometimes i worry" is the kind of the thing the bmx bandits were doing a couple of years later, if with less finesse - nervous, perfect, feydom: and "for always" is a soft, restrained, plaintive ballad of winsome force, a lost galleon raised from the ocean bed. when, in the latter gregory webster sings "i think i like you", it's the kind of cuteness that crumples you to tears of joy, and set against the sleeve art of bare branches in the winter forest it's all a reminder of why you fell in love with this band in the first place.

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simpatico "postal museum" ep (matinee); slipslide "four day weekend" ep (matinee); melodie group "raincoat" ep (matinee); the windmills "when it was winter" ep (matinee)

four new four-track cd-eps from matinee recordings, the current home of softly strummed guitars and unashamed melodies, which between them go a little further towards cementing its reputation as the best of the north american post-sarah labels. pick of the 16 songs neatly arrayed within these is simpatico's "union station", which uses to best effect the field mice-ish stylings of sequencer, rolling, humming bass, charmingly obvious drum machine, and sweet guitars as jason sweeney hangs his moral - "life is cruel to boys like [us]" - on a single tale of lost love. the other tracks aren't too bad either, even if they don't exactly mess with the template: especially "pheromone stars" as it annexes a sweet belle & sebastian stream of consciousness to the drum pattern from the field mice's "sensitive".

the windmills next. roy thirlwall's vocal is a joy - a kind of syphon which sprinkles wry, deep lyrics to taste over the group's neat, stylish (think milan '94) backing in four more inoffensive, gently affecting pop constructions. "when it was winter", to me, benefits from sounding more like [his alter ego the] melodie group's laid back, laconic songwriting rather than the shallower glaze of the windmills' last effort, the "drug autumn" ep, on the same label. most suited to thirlwall's almost casually acerbic tone is the final song "good riddance to bad rubbish", a hymn of hate which, like the best such paeans, relies not on distortion or noise but guitars melodic and timid enough that even lines as hackneyed as "i never really liked you anyway" can emerge with unusual clarity.

after this, four new tracks from melodie group themselves may seem like overload; and it's true that the aforesaid laid back style makes for some very syrupy stuff, the pattern being of repeated lyrics cutting a swathe through more chiming guitars. ironically, lead tune "you've got the whole of the world in your mouth" probably suffers most from being a little too kitsch - in doing so it shares the problems of the windmills' "everything is new each day" (see january review). nevertheless, each track is petite enough not to outstay its welcome, and i grow particularly fond of "raincoat", a delicate homily to effective outdoor wear, perfect for when you've locked yourself out (on the other hand i may have misread the metaphors here).

last, and probably least, although in this company that's not a 100% dis, are slipslide, the latest band persona of graeme elston (quick career resume: the love parade were jangly / ok, pure a brief but compelling pop diversion, eva luna acceptable on both the ballad and rocking out fronts, astronaut pretty terrible and over-wrought). it's best to skip tracks 1 and 3 and head instead to the more promising "unlucky charm" (sort of the lightning seeds doing new order) and "waiting for the call" which, while they would actually profit from slightly less production and instrumentation, show graeme hasn't totally lost his knack of producing effortless, 2:1 level indie pop (the latter features verse chords which confusingly recall billy bragg's "waiting for the great leap forward"). in the company of labelmates as super soaraway as harper lee, "four day weekend" is a game showing and an encouraging start.

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pipas "a cat escaped" (matinée recordings)

"all i see is grey / makes me want to emigrate"

out the same day [as napalm death's "order of the leech"] and similarly good and also in a digipak sleeve, "a cat escaped" is ten songs, twenty minutes of coy lovable pop which could as easily have come from the sultry southern european likes of elefant records as the recently-relocated west coast american matinée recordings. pipas are confounding and perplexing critters - the duo fire, in short bursts, droplets of wryness wrapped in cute basslines and drum machine dynamics and laconic strumming. these purr shyly, emitting fragments of lyric but never quite enough to surmise precisely what they're singing about. they also do that "pink flag" thing of being economical and concise in their expression to a tee, so much so that two of the songs ("the conversation" and "a cat escaped" itself) barely make sixty seconds. which is always a recommendation.

mostly the vocal is handled by lupe, a star of recent would-be-goods live sets, in a stupendously offhand way (which stops the likes of the hint-of-cranberry "old kent road" sounding too mainstreamish) - only towards the end, on "emblematic" does mark's voice (presumably) make a lead appearance following his slots on previous releases. but what we'd really like to hear is some proper duetting: we think they could bounce off each other in a way that hasn't been seen since sonny and cher, or at least since carolyn and caesar on the wake's "crush the flowers"... now onto the ilwtt picks. well, "the witches" features some of the greatest down-to-earth 'street' lyrics we can imagine hearing - "looking for the coffee shop / i couldn't find it / you said it was on the corner, next to the iceland / it was a lie". and "cruel and unusual" shone out from the matinée summer splash lo-price cd sampler (and yes, you should buy that compilation). but for us the stand-out tracks here are "rock and / or roll", which just screams "single!" with its spangly keyboards, and "old kent road" itself, which is so cleverly put together and documents the exigencies of a relationship (er, we think) in a really original way. mind you, there are also enough hooks in both "what nobody does" and "run run run", which bookend this petite treat, to drive you to distraction.

"you forgot so very fast / that you owed me twenty quid"

though there is a subtle "dance" influence throughout, it complements rather than defines the sound: pipas' music doesn't so much make you want to dance as, like the sugargliders sang, "just sway" (and actually, the sugargliders do come to mind at times - it's something about the easy rhythms and the plucked guitar lines). although the cat may have escaped (try looking on strathblaine road, sw11 - there are loads of them there), this is very feline music - bright, knowing, independent and graceful.

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melodie group "updownaround" (matinée): the guild league "private transport" (matinée)

"and they say a solo project makes you blind" - the wake, "solo project"

essex's "melodie group", as you will know by now, are the solo nom de plume of the windmills' honey and gravel voiced singer / guitarist, roy thirlwall, while the guild league are none other than the lucksmiths' tali white and a number of associès. while solo projects are too often urban disasters, as listeners to professor griff or eazy-e's efforts will testify, both da group and ver league have unleashed their own first full-length albums on the matinée roster, so we weren't overly worried that any overpretentious twaddle would have made it through their quality control department in santa barbara.melodie group announced themselves to us with the über-wry "seven songs" set in 2000, and have since seduced small corners of our nation with the "raincoat" cd-ep and last 7" "summerness" (which we had down as one of our singles of 2002 in the rose & crown the other day until a passing fanzine editor reminded us that, along with "sugar mummy" and "emmanuelle béart", it had actually come out in 2001 - we later duffed him up). never mind if you missed it, though, because "summerness" is on "updownaround" too, as its last, and still probably best track. nothing to do with summer but everything to do with autumn, "summerness" follows the melodie group's m.o. fairly well, which particularly from "raincoat" has been to concentrate on repeated musical and lyrical phrases rather than the fuller arrangements of the windmills, and to taper the guitars with a drum machine, usually resulting in shorter and more pared-down tunes. the rest of the album also reflects this pattern.

introducing itself with the slight trinkets of "everybody loves you" and the simpático-esque "hold", which ease us in to the melodie brew of sparse drum machine, dutiful semi-electric strumming and are-they-sarky vocals, it is with "bathtub full of water" that we start to revisit the picturesque territory of "summerness", guided by a curling guitar motif, a so-gentle rhythmic sway, a sudden sincerity and a certain sadness as thirlwall relays his "lonely thoughts" of "killed" love and a "silenced" heart. to follow it, he does a mike flowers and knocks out matt monro's distinctly un-sinister waltz "when love comes along", sadly only proving that being tongue-in-cheek does not equal being good. luckily, returning to his own compositions with "xiao", the situation is rescued as a bass-led tune, lightly caressed by a few electric guitar cries and thirlwall's deep voice, assembles a beautiful melodic darkness, even managing to detour into a swirling, spangly fairground attraction halfway through without losing its place. marvellous.

"tv is broken / i'll get another / to throw at the wall..." - "inner space 1971"

the second half of "updownaround" begins with what we were going to call a cover of music seen's "hairdresser in the sky" (last seen on a waaah! compilation cd of unremembered vintage), save that a glance at the songwriting credit suggests - and we should have known, really - that thirlwall was apparently behind that anyway, with erstwhile songwriting partner in crime abigail pain. the 2002 take is actually even better, being slightly sparklier (the spangly keyboard topping is almost harper lee) while still measured, and it remains a stately, maudlin modern folk tune which by rights should be much more of a standard than "when love comes along"... humph... next comes the louche wah-guitar spread of "inner space 1971", before "i do not not love you", premiered on the "summer splash!" various artists comp. it is a great mix of handclaps and paranoia, double negatives and a false ending (what more could one want) which would also seem rather short if it wasn't for the fact that it's followed by the 49 seconds of "butterfly: tart", which to be fair doesn't justify much longer. and then it's on to "summerness" to close and remind us why there is still a definite place for melodie group in their own right even as the windmills follow a separate yellow brick road to success. hopefully.

the guild league's album is very different in style from thirlwall's lower-key experimentation, featuring a cast of thousands creating a uniformly outward-looking concept album about international travel which immaculately blends strings, brass and a number of styles. in this respect, taster 45 "jet... set... go!", an uptempo indie-popper which attempts to circumnavigate the globe in three minutes and starts the album is not necessarily representative: elsewhere there is ample demonstration of tali white refining his talent for the blissed-out ballad (the handily breathy "dangerous safety", the kettle-led softness of "balham rise" or the lachrymose "what adults do"), a chance for a choral piece arranged for several mouths and strings ("a faraway place"), and even a tentative venture into the world of rapping - admittedly more mc john barnes than 2pac - in "siamese couplets", which delightfully seeks to capture the flavour of travelling in asia and tali's weakness for the "liquid horizon". but if you are going to force us to pick a special best favourite, well we mustn't look further than the fabulous "cosmetropolis (london swings)". not only is it a 24 carat jewel of bounding guitars, brass parts and piano, but it is a perfect example of white's lyrical dexterity - dozens of episodes, places and themes crammed into a song without interrupting the flow at all - and as good a summary of the city we all bore you about as we can imagine. the way he sang "hard voices ring out along tenement streets / that are harsher than hail and sharper than sleet" as we ventured east out of london bridge's dungeon station on a freezing night seemed to fit our surrounds perfectly... indeed the lyrics throughout are sleeping bag-snug to the songs, and are especially evocative when they deal with the cold of railway platforms or the unfulfilled dreams of autumn, as in the sublime (if cringingly entitled!) "a maze of greys"...

even aside from the words, we also need to mention that craig pilkington's trumpet on "balham rise", pete cohen's double bass on the luscious "the photographer" or tali's own piano playing amidst the strings on the terrific instrumental "baggage handling" (as cultured but somehow vulnerable as some of those fine blueboy instrumentals) are all pieces of art in themselves. an admirable way to start the new year.

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various artists "matinée 50" (matinée recordings): airport girl "do you dream in colour ?" ep (matinée recordings)

ooh, it's all good this month. although not wishing to reopen fruitless "is matinée the new sarah ?" debates, it is at least worth leaving the door ajar, for despite all the palpable differences between the labels (not least the fact that sarah was a punk label) one of the "givens" with sarah was demonstrable strength in depth, almost a kitemark of quality (in contrast to subway or creation where the sublime and ridiculous mingled without shame). matinée 50, a maxi-compilation of 20 matinée bands covering 20 others, brings home that in this respect they are treading similar ground to sarah - more or less every song, and artist, are gratifyingly recognisable, and if the idea is for listeners to this compilation, perhaps new to the territory, to become intrigued both with the covering artist and the original song, then the conceit works marvellously.

we are not exaggerating when we say that one in love with these times in spite of these times contributor fell off his chair when disclosed the tantalising tracklist to this record. suffice it to say that you will collectively be toppling from your bar stools no later than track one, for it is gregory webster giving the "razorcuts" treatment to the lucksmiths' mighty "untidy towns", and trust us it virtually justifies the admission alone. and yet there is more. of the bands that shed the kid gloves and decide to playfully duff the originals up a bit, the highlights are the snowdrops' deconstruction of melodie group's gorgeous "summerness" single, pale sunday's surprisingly convincing shoegaze reworking of sportique's jolly "just friends", the liberty ship's electro cover of kosmonaut's recent 45 "desert song" and kosmonaut returning the favour by taking the liberty ship's last single "northern angel" (btw please ignore the insane review of this record in the otherwise true-to-da-game tasty) and giving it a treatment equal parts my bloody valentine, revolving paint dream and big beat. if they could persuade dennis bovell or someone to turn up an orchestrate a dub version, we would all be rocking - perhaps a matinée dub album can be the next label project ?

on the other hand, there are tracks that are just, hey, great bands doing great songs - slipslide take melodie group's first ever number for the label, the irradescent "wildest dream" and enhance its classic credentials further, while just the sound of keris howard's voice leads harper lee into a near-perfect and slightly simpático (in all possible senses) rendition of monterey's old skool delight "motorway". it is a compliment to matinée that many of the bands find themselves taking on originals so stormin' that matching them is virtually impossible - sportique's skanked up "goldmining" could never compete with the visitors' sublime mesh of pop yearning (although when gregory shouts "version!" as if he thinks he's u-roy, that's entertainment), simpático's tender take of "train not stopping" could never be more than a valiant attempt to re-style harper lee's original and the visitors, no strangers to classic flexi-discs, confront themselves with an all-time generational classic in the razorcuts' "sad kaleidoscope". to whet your appetite further, we think we've just time to mention the fairways doing edson's "sunday lovely sunday" in the style of beaumont, the pines doing the fairways' "darling, don't you think" almost as a field mice song, which is intriguing in itself, and the would be goods come out smelling of roses too - both on the receiving end of melodie group's unabashedly glammed-up "emmanuelle béart" (another chance to savour the "salade niçoise" / "gauloises" rhyme) and in performing their own pulchitrudinous revival of the lucksmiths' "southernmost". if you have liked anything you've heard on the matinee roster, this release is absolutely compulsory.

after all that, the latest single release from matinée is airport girl's much-delayed "do you dream in colour" ep , memorable chiefly for the first two tunes - the title track, which acknowledges johann pachelbel's canon in D (despite its overexposure, still a triumph of classical arrangement) but which with rob price's homely voice comes across as a beauteous post-cinerama late night classic and one of the best modern treatments bestowed upon johann, and "when you fall" which mixes moments of high-octane motown homily with go-betweens hooks and, at times, almost bodines-like shimmering guitars, plus a terrific lyric which soars towards each chorus before landing with a telling "promises are things you keep". note also that the windmills do airport girl's "striking out on your own" on matinée 50, too, in a swap deal for the airportsters bravely embarking on the windmills' own "360º" - it's been too long since we last heard from airport girl, but perhaps the renaissance can start here.

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the liberty ship "tide" (matinée recordings): various artists "romantic and square is hip and aware" (matinée recordings)

another band we fondly fête are the liberty ship of nottingham england, one-half (alongside kosmonaut) of matinée's post-bulldozer crash phalanx. "tide" is their first full album, following a 7", a cd single and a mini-lp over the last couple of years, the latter on their former b.c. home of sunday records. while nobody in the sane world is going to doubt the liberty ship's songwriting abilities, the one worry we did have was whether over twelve tracks the dogged pursuit of melodic highs could transpire to make the record too one-dimensional. yet happily, despite its rather modest sleeve, "tide" has soundwaves of every description crashing against pure shores, from the great, powering swathes of guitars that wrap around "precious time" through the unabashed semi-acoustic eden of "chords drag you down" (a torch song cast around flickering electro beats which takes us back to the campfire analogies we drew about earlier tunes back in the day) to the bubbles of reverb that appropriately ensconce the final tune "yuri gagarin" - another "kosmonaut" link and best yuri-tune since saturn v's "red star" - as it serenely orbits our respective bachelor / spinster pads. plus, to be fair we had already been vastly encouraged by the preview of "baseball caps and novas", a cracking popsong that premièred on the increasingly seminal "matinée autumn assortment" collection and justifiably pours scorn on "right-on" snobs like us (we're afraid that lines like "thinking of all the times / you feared assault and petty crime" are a fairly accurate description of when we lived in the liberty ship's home town, but we are more than prepared to accept that was probably just horribly unrepresentative...) the other thing that strikes you very quickly is some superb arrangements. as revealed in this interview with a downmarket e-zine, the liberty ship are willing students of hallowed names from the beatles through to xtc and the smiths (see below!), and songs here like "finer feelings" and "cabin fever" have really developed from their initial demo versions, "finer feelings" transformed from being "just" an extra-strength jangler into a luscious and more layered confection (harmonica and extra melody in the chorus, great backing vocals from rachel eyres, guitars set at just the right level of mild distortion, and marc's voice racing away towards the end as the 'ship do their old trick of kite-chasing: then it all hits the three minute mark and graciously implodes). similarly, "cabin fever" assumes new proportions, with plenty of strata of guitar, the pulse rate quickening as drummer steve mietlinski ups the bpm for the chorus and in doing so completes its transition from amenable folk song into indie-pop classic. and you'll recognise "final kick" from the last ep: a chime-ridden janglethon led by rachel's warm voice: she also takes the lead elsewhere, markedly with the splendorous "stars above". so, while the production throughout is not always exactly dre, and there are a couple of songs we don't feel too guilty about skipping, the quality on show here means that "tide" can not only withstand the absence of that last tour de force single "northern angel" but also the non-appearance of the great "don't react", which you will need to buy matinée's "summer splash!" sampler to get hold of, but don't worry this should not prove to be too much of an ordeal. ooh, and one last thing - while it is hopefully not accidental, the last minute or so of this album is a ringer for joy division's "incubation". somewhat inevitably therefore, the liberty ship tear us apart.

...but still leading us nicely into our final item 2night, matinée records' "romantic and square is hip and aware" smiths tribute compilation. the title, we think, was morrissey's (deliberate) misappropriation of a john lennon quote, immortalised for our purposes by being scratched into the run-out groove of "william, it was really nothing" (god how we miss vinyl). and herein, matinée recordings ups the levels of heresy displayed by previous releases (the "a smile took over" sarah tribute and the cosily incestuous but indubitably toppermost "matinée 50" compilation) and decides to give us a cd of cover versions of what they rightly acknowledge as the greatest band of all time - for a tiny signal of our agreement check out our title page photo - more than twenty years after "hand in glove" first ran up and down our spines, giving us first-kiss shivers and tingles like no other group could. now nobody in this particular bitch is going to pretend that any of these songs are up to the originals. but but but those are not the standards by which albums like this should be judged (if they were, there would have been approximately no albums worth hearing since 1987) - any more than when you listen to discharge tribute albums (come on, we all do) any of the contributors can really hold a candle to the originals. inevitably some play it straight - the lucksmiths, after their own "there is a boy that never goes out" on last year's "naturaliste" lp, see fit to reinterpret "there is a light", fairly smoothly and with a helping hand on vocals from karen morcombe; slipslide unimpeachably crown "please please please let me get what i want" as the most uncynically bounteous of pop ballads; and the liberty ship's lively rendition of morrissey's comment on crime and punishment, "sweet and tender hooligan" is the rockiest effort on here, although there would still have been room for a little more feedback and perhaps turning the amps up to eleven: indeed, a shame that sportique weren't up for this particular jamboree, as they would no doubt have added a dash of abrasiveness and a little less reverence. in bravery corner, meanwhile, pale sunday open themselves up to all sorts of obloquy from smiths devotees by even daring to perform "i know it's over", but with luiz gustavo's cute almost-vocoder vocal, some snug bursts of shoegaze guitar and inexpensive drum machine bossanova, they just end up cuddling the song and taking you with them. and tali white's the guild league bound through a jovial, reasonably heretic and not unannoying "panic" as hopes continue to spiral up through the grasmeres. however, where things get really great for us is the hat-trick of tracks that starts with pipas subverting "this night has opened my eyes" and lovejoy taking on "girlfriend in a coma" (both rourke-tastically dub up the bass - perhaps reggae isn't so vile after all, eh, stephen ?) and then in not inconsiderable contrast sees the would-be-goods' jessica griffin delicately re-decorate "back to the old house": not far behind is the way that the pines rearrange "ask" to make it a delicately arranged mini symphony that is both less compact but also less cloying than the original, and in doing so create a strong companion piece to the would-be-goods' gentle prompting. it is in these tracks that the raison d'être of this particular vanity project becomes most apparent and its success most complete. this record is a present. it has been put together with love (unlike all those discharge tributes, they haven't just lobbed on any fourth-rate band that's ever sent them a track!) and yes it will also send you scurrying back to your smiths records and if you think that's a bad thing then there is little we can do for you. with valentine's day fast approaching, you may find once again that these songs will save your life.

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simpático "club life" (matinée recordings): the liberty ship "northern angel" (matinée recordings)

so it's a single of the month face-off, with santa barbara's matinée providing the head to head: even at our age there is a joy in getting hold of records and then wanting to ensure you can listen to them without any distraction: unplug the phone, disable the doorbell and let focused melancholy wash over you...

ex-sweet william geezah jason sweeney reappears for the first time since "the difference between alone and lonely" album with a new ep detailing dysfunctional romance on the streets of melbourne, and whereas the album concentrated on the hanging thoughts and claustrophobia of the sweetest ache, "club life" owes its greatest debt to the field mice: meaning that while the depictions of the betrayal and fear that surround the heart of human relationships remain clinging and powerful, the music is dancier, even bouncier, if still lacking the echoing desperation of his magnificent matinée debut "postal museum". so there's the title track (scientific demonstration that emptiness inside translates well to simple major to minor guitar over sparse but paced beats, as jason asks "couldn't he see that i was upset ?" of a past amour); then "inseparable" spins a web of drum machine and sarah guitars halfway between "let's kiss and make up" and "white" before a spoken word segment, which may or may not be your jump-off, gives way to an unutterably field micey soundclash of tinny drum machine and swirling woolworths guitars - quite brilliant; "garden greene" again works up to a swirl of keyboards, echo and drum machine with the field mice (in "here comes everybody"-time wake tribute mode) as its nearest reference point; "your first and last warning" showcases more sweet aches and soft radiance as lines like "this kind of dream is not easy / for the likes of you and me" almost reprise the "life is cruel to boys like me...and you" of "union station"; and the last song, "self-conscious" takes its indubitable field miceness from the latter's "triangle", even down to the hummed "aa-aah" sounds that hover amidst the sequenced delays towards the back of the mix. over the twenty minutes of "club life", even though there are elements of electro frippery (carefully sequenced sounds flying in and out) it is still identifiably heartrending indie-pop. but the best thing about this ep is that, like the album, there is no padding whatsoever - if you like the sweeney thing, then every song will merit being put on yr headphones and listened to in bed while the night sky tries to fight off the street lamps and car headlights.

back in t' other hemisphere, "northern angel" is obviously not about london's deepest tube line or the islington station with unfeasibly broad platforms that stands upon it, but a hymn of sorts to antony gormley's imposing motorway-side sculpture "the angel of the north", which stands on a former colliery site acting as a gateway to gateshead, england. while it's true that the liberty ship are influenced by rubbish bands like the byrds, and the beatles (yet only ourselves and the magnificent tasty zine, much to singer marc elston's chagrin, appear to have the guts to point out that most bands on matinée would walk all over the beatles) "northern angel" is simply a great A side, full of shambling drums, harmonica and, in its chorus, warm go-betweens guitars: wide-eyed in admiration for its subject, packed with hooks that make it the natural successor to last year's freewheeling "don't react", and ending with a delicious coda, introduced by the subtlest touch of feedback. it is without doubt the standout track on the cd-ep, but if that wasn't enough, "final kick" sees rachel eyres lead a smiths-like, beautifully sung jangler that glows like the softer tunes off comet gain's "casino classics" before rounding off with a very bulldozer crash-style guitar line towards the end. and the closing "small lives" is unbearably sad, its lyrics and longing respectively reminding us of b.c. (again) and hood, but as the rain tracks the tear stains there is, one trusts, some hope somewhere. of course the liberty ship don't sound anything like simpático - since when did that have relevance to a joint review on in love with these times in spite of these times ? - so when it comes down to it, we find it hard to choose between these records. but at a few euros a throw, and with us still quite content after fifteen to twenty listens, isn't it worth taking the chance ?

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the windmills - drug autumn ep (matinée)

the latest offering from the unlikely jangle-pop breeding ground of yes, southend, this kicks off with "everything is new each day", a faithful stab at the 'perfect pop song' which falls down on that front by being a little too cloying and a little too clinical. they've selected all the usual items from the "perfect pop song" drop-down menu - "la la la's", lyrical wide eyed wonderment and a soft landing after two minutes; the end result is very palatable but strangely unsatisfying. a neat little tiramisu of a song, then."drug autumn" itself swells into four and a half minutes of reminiscence - even though singing about drugs is usually even more boring than talking about drugs, the tone is nicely unspecific and self-conscious. "are we still where we were ? " chimes sweetly to no particular effect, so it falls on closer "want" to provide my favourite slice of the ep: apparently from the last album, it jangles and oozes a warm, laconic charm, much more in the mould of singer roy thirlwall's melodie group project.

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pale sunday "a weekend with jane ep" (matinée recordings)

pale sunday's fatal but understandable faux pas is being from brazil in 2003 rather than bristol in 1986, but they overcome this gamely with our joint favourite single from this mass of 45s. their first outing for matinée is actually tight, focused, jangly indie, drawing much from the pristine international tradition of compatriots brincando de deus as well as the european likes of brideshead and aerospace, and bookended with the two best tunes, a title song that skips tunefully and daintily through sunlit streets before one of those great two-note closing guitar lines, and the final track "the girl with sunny smile" which is a storming indie pop number, made by the second guitar part which curves into the chorus and smilingly deployed "sha-la-las", turning this reviewer for its duration into the boy with sunny smile. if you're looking for something with a bit of edge, pale sunday may be unable to provide it, but otherwise you are unlikely to have any complaints to the management.

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We still know - for sure - that there are other ancient in love with these times, in spite of these times reviews of this splendid little label out there. We'll post them up in due c., should we ever find them.

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