Thursday, 18 December 2008

Podcast No. 3 - Christmas

It's cliched to be cynical at Christmas, but that isn't going to stop us. Here's Podcast No.3, cashing in on the seasonal stupidity, if only there was anything to actually cash in. So it's all vanity and bullshit, but it's ours and if you click the right button (that's to say, the one on the left) it can be yours too. And that don't cost a thing (just like our Xmas album, available from here).

1. Arab Strap - "Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)"
2. Galaxie 500 - "Listen, The Snow Is Falling"
3. Favours for Sailors - "Hanging On Your Christmas Tree"
4. The Walkmen - "No Christmas Whilst I'm Talking"
5. Slow Club - "Christmas TV"
6. The Waitresses - "Christmas Wrapping"
7. The Long Blondes - "Christmas Is Cancelled"

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

The Year In (More) Lists

Close friend, long time supporter and Tough Love DJ, Liam P. Manley has been good enough to send me his choices for album of the year. There's a few in the list that I myself managed to miss, but listening to them now (Harvey Milk in particular), I'm wondering just what it was that made me pass them over

Roots Manuva – Slime And Reason(Big Dada)
Rodney Smith stepped back into ’08 with this collection of bangers, bouncers, winders and grinders. Slime And Reason finds him chatting direct over the perfectly skewed production of Metronomy and Toddla T, at once both precise and, in Smith’s words, wonky. At ease skipping between raconteurish lechery (“It’s the whisky man, the frisky man”) and the trials of fatherhood (“you gotta learn, dude/be careful what ya sperm do”), this is nothing less than a triumph of honesty and wit.
Roots Manuva - "Let The Spirit"

The Walkmen – You & Me (Fierce Panda)
Last heard covering Harry Nillson’s Pussy Cats, NY’s finest washed up on shore of this summer, half-smiling, half asleep: “There is still sand in my suitcase/There is still salt in my teeth”, they croaked. Sun-bleached, crumpled and curled-at-the-edges, You & Me amounts to a travelogue of hazy, drunken episodes half-remembered yet lovingly sketched in sepia tones. Singer Hamilton Leithauser’s hard-worn vocals are the ideal instrument to relay these tales, carefully balancing the celebratory moods and their woozy aftermath. Forget labelling them one-hit wonders: hit singles are immaterial when faced with the fourteen sublime chapters presented here.
The Walkmen - "I Lost You"

Cut Copy – In Ghost Colours(Modular)
Summer 2008 will not be remembered as a summer of love, but rather one of tragically dull inclemancy. Regardless of this, these Aussies reminded us of better times: a time when The Pet Shop Boys covered Elvis or sang with Dusty; a time when New Order were arguably the greatest band alive and not just arguing. Concerned first and foremost with the matters of the heart, be it longing ("Far Away") or fledgling romance ("Unforgettable Season"), In Ghost Colours carefully married pure pop with 80’s pre-hyphenated house. P!ss poor weather aside, the real tragedy would have been if nobody fell in love with (or to) this dazzling record.
Cut Copy - "So Haunted"

Fucked Up – Chemistry Of Common Life
Less concerned with burning down churches than the hypocrisy of the pious (be it punk insularity or right wing evangalists), Fucked Up burst through like a gang of punk-rock Richard Dawkins. Bridging post-hardcore elements with Stoogified space rock, they tear up the template, happy to fuse flutes, loops and drones with vocalist Pink Eyes’ invective, like Iggy vomiting lava. The choice is simple: either wait around for the rapture or get Fucked Up and go to heaven (before you die).
Fucked Up - "Twice Born"

Harvey Milk – Life... The Best Game In Town(Hydra Head)
A celebration of mortality where life is for the living and death our reward, Life... came without warning and even less expectation. Equally blistered and blistering, Harvey Milk never once resort to the advocation of lunk-headed hedonism or self pity, preferring instead to wallow in glory and splendor. Ever ambitious, starting with a Christmas choir before unleashing a skip load of sludge and hot tar into unsuspecting ears, you’d be hard pushed to find a more fearless statement than opener ‘Death Goes To The Winner’. Fittingly ended with the theme from Looney Tunes, this is a record determined to die smiling.
Harvey Milk - "Motown"

Friday, 12 December 2008

Records of the Year - Part 4

So, this is my last say on the matter of 2008, but I'll be posting some contributions from others connected with Tough Love in the next few days. They have the gift of brevity, whereas I like the sound of my own voice (even when typing), so will be posted in one sitting. Wow, content!

My four selections will also be published on Rockfeedback on Monday in their annual Best of the Year feature. I'm unsure where exactly they'll be in the list though. Publish and be damned, indeed.

And so...

Silver Jews – Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea(Drag City)

18 years since their debut single, 2008 finally saw D.C. Berman publically realise what the best of us had known since forever: he’s an outright, bonafide superstar. Last year Silver Jews broke their live show freeze-out and Berman began the unenviable task of having to deliver a canon of songs that had for too long belonged wholesale to the fans. And the pressure showed, not least in his tentative stage manner and on the relatively straight-laced Tanglewood Numbers.

But Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea - and the heart stopping, life affirming shows that accompanied its release - was Berman embracing what for so long he had feared. His struggles with the Nietzschian black stuff have been well documented, but having come out the other side, Berman now has wisened perspective to match his always-inventive cryptic word play.

In amongst the twisted narratives of “San Francisco B.C.” and “Party Barge”, this is Berman with his aim set firmly to true. “Strange Victory, Strange Defeat” and “Suffering Jukebox” are perhaps the best double team one-two to ever address the internal paradox of fame and its vicissitudes, while “What Is Not But Could Be If” has Berman enunciating like the University Don he could’ve easily been (just as much as he could’ve be the drunken bar room sage spouting pseudo-philosophical epiphanies into an unappreciative breeze, had events taken a different course).

But it’s on closer “We Could Be Looking For The Same Thing” that the raw humanity of The Joos truly shines through. Sharing vocals with wife and seemingly eternal muse, Cassie Berman, they blissfully chime in unison “we could belong to each other” and it’s pure unfettered Country drama, albeit in a softened new wave skin. This was as direct as Berman has ever been and as gauche as it may seem, if you’re not moved by that, then frankly, you’ve nothing in your hollow chest.

Many silvery moons ago on The Natural Bridge, Berman somewhat disingenuously claimed “now that I’m older and subspace is colder, I just want to say something true”. On Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea, that’s exactly what he did and it was glorious.

Silver Jews - "We Could Be Looking For The Same Thing"

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Records of the Year - Part 3

Hot Club De Paris – Live At Dead Lake (Moshi Moshi)

End of year lists are frustratingly tautological. They’re merely a(n) (in)convenient summary of what’s already been echoed a million and one times that past year and, as such, are mainly in service only to the retail sector and the goldfish among us. But with Hot Club De Paris, there’s (sadly) undue cause for concern on that front. Their second album Live At Dead Lake was released to little fanfare mid-2008 and despite the passing of time, I’ve still yet to work out why exactly, let alone witness anyone try to readdress this critical imbalance.

Musicians from Liverpool tend to fit into two camps: those who love Love and stop at The Beatles, and those who are good. Thankfully and to their credit, Hot Club… (if I may) aren’t interested in exhuming any corpses, although they are distinctly Liverpudlian. Stretching arcs of influence across the Atlantic, they’re clearly tapping into both an American post-hardcore and post-punk lineage, even going as far to wear their hearts on their sleeve and cover the Minutemen. But then Liverpool always has been a port city after all…

But these aren’t strictly pastures new for Hot Club… On Live At Dead Lake they retain the tricky time-signatures and mouthful-of-ideas song titles present on their debut. This time out however they display a seemingly intuitive understanding of space and melody that indicates a band with an enviable sense of invention.

And it’s not just the music that resonates. Lyrically, Live At Dead Lake indicates an affinity with hip hop style wordplay that many of their peers dare not attempt (“ a real swimming-with-sharks type lover tough cookie with the impulsive streak of a streetwise rookie”/ “and that this thing forever seems to last forever if this thing forever’s going to last forever anyway”), twisting syllables and twisted syntax around the most breathless of parochial imagery. And they’re funny fuckers with it too.

Such is the transient nature of the music industry, where Hot Club… go after Live At Dead Lake remains a mystery, but without them 2008 would have been a little more artless and a little less interesting. Let’s not let them become a cult concern. To paraphrase one of their obvious antecedents: memories don’t have to wait…

Hot Club De Paris - "I Wasn't Being Heartless When I Said Your Favourite Song Lacked Heart"

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Tough Love Podcast No. 2

Here it is, the second potentially-award winning Tough Love podcast. If it's half as much fun to listen to as it was to make then it will be OK-to-good. I'll settle for that.


1. Future of the Left - "Suddenly It's A Folk Song"
2. William - "South of the Border"
3. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - "People Aint No Good"
4. Nas - "Queens Got The Money"
5. Jean Grae and the 9th Wonder - "Don't Rush Me"
6. Bricolage - "Turn U Over"
7. The Empty Set - "You're The Top"

Friday, 5 December 2008

Albums of the Year - Part 2

Crystal Stilts – Alight of Night
For Crystal Stilts, nuance is key. From New York and expressing an obvious kinship with 80s Manchester, they sound for all the world as if they’ve never stepped outside of their own. Theirs is a sonic enclave informed by the acerbic chill of first and second wave post punk, alongside the monochrome intensity of Joy Division, Felt and Josef K. Hardly irregular touchstones admittedly, but on Alight of Night Crystal Stilts display a rare aptitude for refinement and subtlety that suggests a distinctive re-imagining of a previously well-trodden path.

Not simply well-studied appropriation, Crystal Stilts are an immaculately conceived entity, generating an aesthetic filtered through prisms of fractured glass to reveal the sparsest shades of primary colour. As with the post-punk austerity they’re clearly inspired by, it’s the shading that defines them, the minimal shards of light powerful in their economic elegance.

Eponymous opener “Crystal Stilts” is a perfect case in point; all black and white B movie intensity, until (twice) revealing a brief keyboard driven coda that shimmies with a rockabilly abandon. It’s an exercise in understatement typical of a band that clearly understands the distinction between formula and continuity. Take for example the swooning and loping “Prismatic Room” and “The City In The Sea”. While displaying the band’s more soporific leanings, they’re quite obviously the lovelorn cousins of their more kinetic, but never bombastic, counterparts.

Puritanical in its execution, Alight of Night showcases a vision as clear as its creator’s namesakes. Forget the egalitarian realism of much current indie; I want my stars not of this world. In forming their own beautifully nuanced aesthetic, Crystal Stilts understand the form and function of rock mythology and in Alight Is Night, have created a compelling document of why we should value them as such.

POSTSCRIPT: Slumberland really is a wonderful label. You could do a lot worse than invest in their most recent releases (I strongly recommend both Bricolage and Sexy Kids). It's also worth investigating their history too, for it's one that's clearly tied to the development of a particular type of indiepop music.

Crystal Stilts - "The City In The Sea"

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Albums of the Year - Part 1

Oh great, just what the world (not to mention blogosphere) needs: another end-of-year list. I can't justify this with claims to a unique approach, or even if we'll be bucking the critical consensus with our choices. But we are fans of the slow-reveal, so we'll be posting our list of favourite albums over a period of time and in no particular order. This aint a competition, y'know. What anticipation, no doubt...

The Wave PicturesInstant Coffee Baby
(Moshi Moshi)

Music often provides a well-renowned catharsis for those racked with sociopathic impulses and The Wave Pictures are a perfect case in point, forming a distillation of the erudite neurosis of their chief songwriter, Dave Tattersall. By no means a car crash stumbling through illness and destitution ala Television Personalities, The Wave Pictures are a strange amalgam of the joyful and the socially perverse and with Instant Coffee Baby they’ve hit an apotheosis.

The Wave Pictures are driven by the same pop impulses as conceived by Modern Lovers and the Velvet Underground, and channelled by bookish but disarmingly seamy indie icons like Hefner (with whom all three of The Wave Pictures often play). Charged with twisted witticisms and a plague of failed and failing relationships, Instant Coffee Baby is buoyed by a charming power-pop simplicity, offset by an equally soured tongue that’s as sharp as cystitis.

As immediate and affecting as the song writing is here - and they’re certainly a band with the requisite chops, if chops is what you need - it’s the inventive wordplay that truly engages. Tattersall’s shrill whine is an acquired taste perhaps, but it’s pinpoint designed for the tales he weaves. The desperation of each failed sexual endeavour and ridiculous social indiscretion is present in the body of a voice that forever stretches and searches for a note technically better singers find in an instant. And as anyone that has witnessed them live this year will attest, Tattersall is by far the most proficient singer in the band. But it’s in this apparent ‘lack’ that The Wave Pictures shine; virtuosity supplanted (and thankfully so) with a yearning to be heard, suggesting stories that need to be told. It’s pure unfettered jouissance sidled with a literary bent and as such finds itself of a lineage shared with such luminaries as Richman, Bowie and Costello: a heady pantheon indeed.

As Tattersall insistently wails through “I Love You Like Mad Man”, evoking images slightly unnerving for their close-to-the-bone desperation, there’s nevertheless a pervasive and flagrant romanticism that still believes that hearts can be won, broken and fixed through the power of song. And in these cynical times, that’s a belief with which we can all sympathise.

The Wave Pictures - "January and December" (early version of the song that later featured on Instant Coffee Baby)

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Sound & Vision (at last)

Maybe it's a money issue. Or a time issue. It could be a skills issue. Maybe it's an issue of all three. It seems hard to believe and slightly tricky to swallow, but in over three years, there's not been a video associated with one of our releases. It's like the 1860s round here. But just as that ridiculous monochrome train in Back To The Future 3 smashed it's way through parochial 19th Century Wild West life, we've a music video that startles us from our luddite slumber. And about fucking time too.

As with most of our firsts, it's Situationists that lead the way with this immaculately conceived one-shot take video for recent EP lead track "Onwards and Upwards". Directed by Nick Shaw, who's previously worked for both Xtra Mile and Moshi Moshi, I'm starting to think it was worth the wait. You can judge for yourself below actually...

And as if one first isn't enough, there's a second. We've had printed 50 Situationists T shirts, which you can buy from our MySpace now. There's a picture of a beheaded Dan modeling the savvy designs below. As would be expected, they're selling ridiculously quickly and we wont be making any more of this design once they're gone...You know what to do.

Situationists T Shirt