Unpopular Advent 2019 – Day 14

Young Guv – ‘Can I Just Call U’ from ‘Young Guv I and II’

The ‘Young Guv 1’ and ‘Young Guv 2’ sets were released as separate entities a month or so apart, and so it is probably fair to say that this is some kind of conceptual action that would encourage us to NOT think of the entire seventeen song collection as a “double album”. Even though the mirrored sleeve art would suggest that we read it as such and even though it kinda is. Maybe it’s just a way of allowing us to enjoy the pleasures of a double album spread over double the time, a means of pressuring us to make distinctions and to begrudgingly make choices about which of the discs is our favourite.

Of course, thinking about it, this is inevitably how we have always approached “double albums” in the traditional gatefold sleeve and two slabs of vinyl context (even if we publicly proclaim this not to be the case and that we think every moment on The Beatles’ White Album is every bit as good as any other) so perhaps it is a clever conceptual move by Fucked Up guitarist Ben Cook in his Pop persona. We are genuinely fascinated to know if either of these two sets have sold more or less than the other, who made those choices and why. And yes, this is a somewhat inaccurate use of the words ‘genuinely’ and ‘fascinated’. For in the finest spirit of Pop Consumption, we really could not care less.

What we do care about is that ‘Young Guv 1’ certainly serves us sweet slice after slice of euphoric Power Pop that could list its ingredients as being Big Star, Badfinger, Brinsely Schwartz and, to break up this festival of alliteration, Teenage Fanclub, dBs and The Raspberries. The songs swoop past us like hook-laden hoodlums blowing bubblegum kisses and scuffing converse hi-tops on the scorching summer sidewalks. They surge and slink, cuddling us in candy floss and leaving us sticky with pleasure. As it were.

Cook clearly understands the how’s and wherefore’s of Perfect Pop Construction (we understand he has ghostwriting credits for Taylor Swift in his resume) and whilst we can understand critics thumbing their noses at songs like the marvellously sing-song ‘High On My Mind’ and the gorgeously, shimmeringly euphoric ‘Every Flower I See’ and calling them artificial pastiches of past glories we also feel the need to shout ‘ba-ba-ba-ba-babababa’ at the top of our voices and Carry On Dancing Regardless (And as a kinda connected sidetrack let us remember that Fucked Up once covered Another Sunny Day’s ‘Anorak City’ so we should not be surprised to see Cook standing this side of the ‘authenticity’ line, smirking into his acid-laced lemonade).

If ‘Young Guv 2’ deviates somewhat from the blueprint laid down by its immediate predecessor then that’s all to the good. It’s not as though Cook deviates into completely Unfamiliar Territory though, for the threads of (Indie)Pop connectivity are bright and catchy enough to draw our attentions. There are times when we listen to the likes of the funky ‘Caught Lookin’’, ’Can I Luv U In My Own Way’ or ‘Trying To Decide’ when we think we might be listening to Green Gartside fronting The Tough Alliance. This, we assume you all understand, is one of the finest compliments one can receive.

Then, just as we’re about to think there really are enough differences between these two albums to suggest dumping the mirrored sleeve idea and calling them something entirely different, Cook drops the Power (PURE)Pop explosion of ‘Can I Just Call U’ and we’re transported back into those universes of intertwining melodies, harmonies, Cremola Foam guitars and Wiggle Waggle drums. Two minutes and fifty three seconds of Nothing Else Matters. A fraction of our lifetimes captured in a bubble that smells of powder pink and parma violets. A temporary tattoo of Superman saving the world. Always and forever, Amen.

Unpopular Advent 2019 – Day 13

Comet Gain – ’The Godfrey Brothers’ from ‘Fireraisers Forever!’ LP

Before Unpopular there was a webzine called Tangents, and before Tangents there was a paper fanzine called Fire Raisers. These things were important. We once painted ‘Boredom or Fire Raisers, you can’t have both!’ on the wall of a beach shelter in a godforsaken Ayshire coastal town. It burned down six months later (the shelter, not the town). The spirit of Fire Engines channeled through Paul Morley and Max Frisch lit matches, literally and metaphorically. Such things were vital. Such is the story of some of our lives.

How then could we resist a record titled ‘Firerasiers Forever!’? We could not. Particularly one made by a group as beloved as Comet Gain, a group who have never failed to deliver extraordinarily terrific records down the past twenty seven years or so and whose DNA feels inextricably connected to that of our Unpopular universe.

Twenty seven years. One of the most depressing aspects of contemporary life that has fermented over that time, and in the UK at least accelerated enormously in the past five, must be the way in which we are encouraged to be so disparaging about anyone who does not align with our perspective (and let’s face it, that’s everyone to some lesser or greater degree). And if those twenty seven years spent teaching children has taught us anything (and it probably hasn’t) then it must certainly be that positive reinforcement and praise are immeasurably greater tools for generating progress than punitive sanctions and negative labelling (cue ‘track 1, track 2 and track 3’ scene from Freaks And Geeks). Comet Gain kinda get this and kinda too cannot help but rise to the baits and the traps we set ourselves. “WE are all fucking morons” they sing on incendiary album opener, openly admitting to our collective responsibility and communal culpability for all that’s gone to shit in the world whilst simultaneously being unable to avoid pointing the finger. Rage and frustration is fired through ‘Firerasiers Forever!’ and as often as not it’s turned inwards as much as outwards.

They may be raging, but Comet Gain have always been sensitive souls, keenly attuned to the lives of those “lonely tramps and awkward misfits” that Kevin Rowland reminded us about all those years ago. There’s a reference to this in the midst of the claustrophobic psych(o) garage squall of ‘Bad Nite at The Moustache’ where we hear pleas to the “housewives, packers and postmen, plumbers and midwives and drivers, shoplifters, singers and bruisers and anarchists and schemers, day-dreamers…” (they forgot the teachers) not to spend their/our lives on our/their knees. And if that all falls into the trap of divide/conquer (such setting up of lists inevitably leads to lines being drawn and lines that are drawn are always done so arbitrarily and always deflect attention from the problems at the very peak of the triangle) then let us shrug our shoulders to the wheels and remind ourselves these are only songs, this is only music, this is only a record after all.

Except we know it isn’t. And there’s the tension, the inherent contradiction that we need to both embrace and reject. This knowledge, this acute unsettling sensitivity threads through our favourite moment on ‘Fireraisers Forever!’, the tingling sparse sorrow of ‘The Godfrey Brothers’.

Is it ‘about’ the Morcheeba Godfreys? Is it a response to Bowie’s ‘Bewlay Brothers’? Is it neither? Or both? We are not sure we care either way, but what we do care deeply about is the way in which it delicately carves out a surreal (auto)biographical portrait of anyone who ever had a heart that beat UP, love, who ever felt the desolation angels kissing the soles of their shoes and the souls of their very existence. We do not need to live in a West Hampstead room fighting the gloom with five hundred Beach Boys’ bootlegs to know exactly what this means, how this feels, where this goes. Inwards, upwards, outwards and back again. Revolutionary cycles of our lives. Literal and metaphorical, always.

Boredom or ‘Fireraisers Forever!’ You can’t have both.

Unpopular Advent 2019 – Day 12

Mick Trouble – ‘A Council Boy’ from ‘It’s The Mick Trouble LP’

We remember Mick Trouble. Always third on the bill at the Room At The Top but never got a slot at The Living Room because Some People thought he wasn’t ‘authentic’ enough. What a joke.

We remember Mick Trouble. Touting demos recorded in his bedroom, all tinny Dansette vocals and trebly guitars. If we had a time machine we’d probably go back and say he was laying the blueprints for The Wedding Present and The Pooh Sticks or something. We remember the tape had a cover with that newspaper photo of Thatcher sitting with a group of paras, wearing fatigues and getting ready for a drop. If only. We remember ribbing him about it at The Ambulance Station once and he said it was ironical or something. Funnily enough when he spoke he sounded nothing like he did when he was singing. Instead of a Working Class, vaguely Cockney swagger he came over all shy Surbiton. Someone made a jibe about his dad being a company director and his mum a marriage counsellor, said they were called Margot and Jerry. Someone else called him Dick Van Dyke. Mick, that is, not his dad. We never bought his tape.

We remember Mick Trouble. There was talk of Dan Treacy releasing songs from his demo as an LP (or maybe it was an EP) on the Whaam! label, but nothing ever came of it. Then he was too Mod and not Psych enough for Dreamworld and after that he just disappeared. Someone said he’d buggered off to the States to reinvent himself, which certainly made sense of the Dick Van Dyke digs.

We remember Mick Trouble. Didn’t he have that song about ‘Bloody Blighty’? All Modish righteousness and coming on like it wanted to be on a record by The Times. And wasn’t there a number where he did a gag about how Londoners sounded like they were calling the Tube lines ‘lions’? I’m sure we actually DID laugh at that one. Thinking back actually we probably didn’t appreciate the humour at the time. He had a song about the Wag club that we didn’t think was obscene enough in its critique, didn’t he? God we could be insufferably glum and angst ridden bastards back then couldn’t we?

We remember Mick Trouble. Had a song about Hank Marvin years before Uncle Bob Stanley made it all trendy to dig Cliff and Shadows and all that. And one about a ‘Second Sky’ that was same name as a fanzine he wrote. Or are we confusing that with Kevin’s peerless ‘The Same Sky’? Whatever. We certainly saw Mick wearing his John Lennon cap and reading ‘Hungry Beat’ on the Northern Line one night after a Minks’ show.

We remember Mick Trouble. Back To The Future in a time machine built in an Austin Allegro. Bloody Blighty indeed. Bleedin’ marvellous.

Unpopular Advent 2019 – Day 11

Jeanines – ‘Winter In The Dark’ from ‘Jeanines’ LP

Sixteen songs. Twenty Five Minutes. The way Pop albums should always be. Except when they aren’t, which is implicit in that statement anyway, so, parenthetically speaking, this sentence is an irrelevance. Jeanines are a glorious irrelevance too, and this of course is also implicit when we talk about Pop: The magnificent contradiction of something that means everything yet simultaneously nothing at all. Our lives depend on it. Our lives are nothing at all without it. Our lives are nothing at all in spite of it.

But Jeanines, eh? Blimey. Like Tiger Trap trapped in a time-travel portal. Imagine that. Like Aislers Set in a kaleidoscope world of candyfloss ecstasy. Dum Dum Girls in a mirror scrawled with ’Siddeleys’ in lipstick smears. Marine Girls soaring on thermals of melting Popsicle perfume. You get your ideas.

Breathless. Limitless. Atrociously, amateurishly limited. Limitless exactly because of those limitations.

But ‘Jeanines’, eh? Blimey. The way Pop albums should always be.

Unpopular Advent 2019 – Day 10

Elizabeth – ‘Meander’ from ‘The Wonderful World Of Nature’ LP

Long(ish) term Unpopular readers/listeners will have heard Elizabeth Mitchell before, in her guise as part of the Melbourne group Totally Mild (four appearances on Unpopular mixes, dating back to September 2015) and I’m sure will have picked up on this first solo set with eager delight.

‘The Wonderful World Of Nature’ sees Elizabeth very much taking similar paths to those followed by Totally Mild, mining veins not dissimilar to those explored by the likes of, say, First Aid Kit and Tiny Ruins. Which is to say that it inhabits a landscape of vague melancholy and minor aching polished with a sheen of candy-coated vocals that slip over our throats like silk scarves dipped in honey. It’s all a bit like Princess Chelsea starring in a Sofia Coppola movie, and there is nothing wrong with that after all.

If we were being extraordinarily and unseasonably harsh we might suggest that for an album which carries itself at such a consistently demure pace for the entirety, ‘The Wonderful World Of Nature’ may be just a shade overlong, but this would be us being unduly picky. For really Elizabeth’s delicious voice does carry our attentions for the duration, teasing us forwards with rich timbres and easing us upwards with effortlessly soaring slights of hand.

It is never better than on the mellifluous ‘Meander’, in which Elizabeth takes us for a three minute and twenty second stroll around the river bank, holding hands, feeding ducks and wishing we were far away. Lit in a violet hour glow ‘Meander’ slinks deliciously past us in a vaguely post-Shoegaze fuzz, not unlike Drugstore shot through a diffusion filter. It’s a number that knows when to lift and when to ease and Elizabeth teases us with perfect timing. When her voice surfs up when the heat moves on you can hear the spirits evaporating in a delicious mist of pleasure. These fleeting moments we treasure and revisit in our memories. Me and her. Timeless. Priceless.

Unpopular Advent 2019 – Day 9

Lloyd Cole – ‘Night Sweats’ from ‘Guesswork’ LP

Since our 2013 reawakening to the excellence of Lloyd Cole records post-1985 it has been a fairly nailed on certainty that any new album would be welcomed with open arms; a table marked ‘Reserved’ in the Unpopular Advent series all but guaranteed. No surprise then to see ‘Guesswork’ slotting neatly into our daily episodes of reflective navel-gazing.

What is clearly a surprise to many is Mr Cole’s preference for predominantly electronic/keyboard/sequencing instrumentation on ‘Guesswork’, something that we understand many long-term ‘fans’ have voiced distaste at. It reminds us somewhat of the confusion caused when Everything But The Girl ‘went Disco’, but like that particular reference point it is something that we have found to be an unqualified success. This isn’t to say that ‘Guesswork’ is in any way an up-tempo record designed for the dancefloor, and one would certainly struggle to consider Lloyd Cole ever ‘going Disco’, but ‘Guesswork’ is a musical tangent that, whilst being stylistically audibly different to anything he’s done for a while nevertheless retains a spirit that is ineffably Cole. Perhaps it is in the overall pace of the record, which is almost uniformly downbeat and somewhat forlorn. Perhaps it is in the prose that treads the fine line between profound and excruciatingly purple (there is something in the lines about missiles, windows and a mother and child that inhabit the epic seven minute minute ‘Violins’ that feels painfully sixth form, to these ears at least). Perhaps too it is in the delivery of those lines, so laconic and world weary, so recognisably Lloyd, ready and willing to be heartbroken.

Picking out highlights feels almost insolent in a record where the flow feels so important. Each piece feels mutually supportive of the next and to the previous. Yet we find ourselves returning more often than not to ‘Night Sweats’, perhaps because it is the number that bristles most cussedly and yet also simultaneously soothes the brow with the balm of tenderness. Then again perhaps too we love it most simply for the audacity of writing and delivering a line where Cole admits he is “thinking about rhyming ‘righteous’ with ‘might just’” and then immediately follows it with just that.

It is unfortunate that the song blips into life in an awkward manner with a synth refrain that rather recalls’ Aneka’s ’Japanese Boy’ (we admit that might just be a peculiarly Unpopular nervous tick) but it is certainly the number on ‘Guessworks’ where any guitar obsessives might find a sliver of relief, for there are Fender squalls (one assumes they are Fender generated but not being a guitar aficionado I would not really know for sure) blowing in to unsettle those blips and bleeps before we surf out on waves of (synth?) strings and into ‘Violins’. There are moments of amusingly blunt (one assumes) self-critique (who amongst us can claim to have not self-deprecatingly accused ourselves of being “a complicated motherfucker” at some point in our lives?), and the song certainly cuts to the quick with statements about declining notions of moderation. Yet it is the counterpoint to all this that really makes ‘Night Sweats’ so compelling. It is the simple thought that there is someone to calm us in those moments of doubt, in those episodes of extreme anxiety. That there is someone to share our lives with.

Importantly, and this again may be a peculiarly Unpopular reading of the text, this someone may indeed be ourselves. That part of our self that we accused of being the “complicated motherfucker” that yet also consoles us and talks us down and around. We hold ourselves close and we might just make it to the morning.

Righteous indeed.

Unpopular Advent 2019 – Day 8

Lispector – ‘The Actress In The Background’ from ‘Small Town Graffiti’ LP

We cannot quite believe that it is seventeen years since we first told the world we were in love with the sounds made by Julie Margat/Lispector. In those intervening years she has made multiple solo recordings and been an invaluable contributor to the Go! Team and Whyte Horses gangs (amongst others), but never has she sounded quite as wonderfully WHOLE as on ‘Small Town Graffiti’. The songs remain as peculiarly infectious as ever, but whilst we can still feel the raw, rough edges of the assemblages, there is now an ever so slightly smoother surface that reflects our wrinkled crows feet. It’s not polish exactly, but rather a deeper patina of burnished experience showing through. We look in these mirrors and wonder who this is looking back at us, even as we recognise the nooks and crannies of our very souls.

There has always been something gently, naturally and oddly psychedelic about Lispector records and it’s very much visible on ‘Small Town Graffiti’. This is a world in which we paint our picket fences purple and pink, in which we trim our candyfloss bushes with nail scissors made from bubblegum. No doubt this is a reason why Dom Thomas recruited Julie into the Whyte Horses fold early, and there is a super reproduction of ’Astrologie Siderale’ (first heard on ‘Pop Or Not’) on here that is splendidly frenetic and marginally unhinged.

It’s ‘Actress In The Background’ that we keep coming back to, however, with it’s list-type song structure through which Julie seems to look at herself in that aforementioned mirror in an attempt to make some sense of her/our world. For a French artist named after a Brazilian author singing in English then it is a marvellous encapsulation of identity… well, not crisis, and certainly not confusion, but more diffusion… It’s a song that deftly taps into contemporary questions of identity and reality, gently questioning notions of self and society perception. The song has no answers of course, and instead slips slowly into a surreal blend of language (“I am the actress in the omelette”) which is in itself a neat summation of Where We Find Ourselves In 2019. It’s a dedication to natural diversity; a paean to the overlooked, forgotten and ignored; a hymn to the Unpopular outsiders, happy in our isolation.