The iJAMMING! HITLIST
JANUARY 2005
"THEY ALMOST GOT AWAY"
the best of the rest of 2004

ALBUM OF THE MONTH

THE SOCIETY OF ROCKETS: SUNSET HOMES (Underpop)

Fans of alt.country/Americana and drone psychedelia alike should put down what they're doing and invest in Sunset Homes now. Seriously. Emerging from the demise of the Bay Area's Shimmer Kids Underpop Association, the Society of Rockets are an altogether more organic proposition, with Joshua Babcock's angelic voice invoking no less a comparison than Neil Young at his Harvest Moon peak, while his eight (count them) band-mates contribute everything from accordion and squeezebox to slide guitar, melodica and space echo. (Not to forget obligatory guitar, bass, drums and keys.) And yet, on a ballad like 'Cure For Cancer', the Society come across as gently as Low on a mellow day. When they do up the tempo – as on 'Untitled' (oh, you rebels) – they rock with the self-assured modesty that was once part of Californian's fertle music space-country landscape.
Highlight: Against a lyrical rampage that recalls Bob Dylan in mid-sixties stream-of-poetic-consciousness, 'Too Many Thorns In Your Bed Of Roses' has the singalong jam session sound that Brits (The Zutons) and Irishmen (The Thrills) have long been trying to emulate.
Quote: "We tried to make a record in the spirit of some of our heroes – Will Oldham, King Tubby, Neil Young…" Any Americana artists who can throw dub reggae icons into the mix are alright with me.
Web Site: Sadly both the label site (www.underpop.org) and the band site (www.societyofrockets.com) are bare bones operations. You can listen to snippets of the album here
Wine? It's too obvious. They're simultaneously delicate and forward. Their music is disarmingly pretty yet almost deceptively complex. They recognize that California is a land both of space (i.e. technology) and country (i.e. nature). And their front man is called Babcock. So sit back (on your porch swing, if you have one) and listen to Sunset Homes with a glass of Babcock Tri-Counties Cuvée Pinot Noir 2002 in your hand, and for a moment, presume that all is right with the world.

ALBUM: TEN FRIENDS ECLECTIC!

JONATHAN BEST – THE M.A.D. LINGUIST (Bubble)
I wrote about my old Food Co-Op co-worker Jonathan Best a couple of years back; I'm glad to see he's staying busy. The M.A.D. Linguist refers not to Best himself (though it could), but to a venue in his new home of Flagstaff, Arizona, where he recorded this album live. That format perfectly showcases his impressive ability to overlap instantly created loops above, beneath and around his jazzy piano playing and seemingly ad-libbed lyrics. A cover of 'Like A Rolling Stone' even manages to breathe new life (and lyrics) into the otherwise tired classic.

THE TELEPATHIC BUTTERFLIES – SONGS FROM A SECOND WAVE (Rainbow Quartz)
Opening song 'Bonhomie' shamelessly cops the melody to the Who's 'Disgusies' – but what a melody to cop. The power trio from Winnipeg, Canada delivers the rest of its second full-length in much the same vein: psychedelic tunes, power pop harmonies, and Beatlesque guitar riffs all writ delightfully large with barely a nod to the new Century.

SCHIZO FUN ADDICT – THE ATOM SPARK HOTEL (Canarsie)
If you like your psychedelia lo-fi, you will love Schizo Fun Adict: they make some of the DIY singles from 1978-79 sound positively over-produced by comparison. (An aural situation only exasperated by pressing this album on clear vinyl.) But there are a couple of lovely Sundays-like pop songs fighting to be heard here, namely the opening version of the title track and side 2's 'Solon' (which you can hear here). A few psychedelic jams and the cheerfully messy rap 'Jellstar' help round out a charmingly chaotic album.

THE OCCASION – THE OCCASION (SayHey)
Think of The Occasion as a (mostly) acoustic Secret Machines, or better yet, as a New York version of Society Of Rockets: there's that same enthusiasm for space-rock Americana, but here it's infused with the claustrophobia of The Big Apple. With a fondness for electric piano and eastern melodies alike, The Occasion grow steadily noisier and more progressive across the course of this debut album, until the the Floyd–like finale 'Annika' itself peaks after eight minutes, turning in on itself with Spiritualized-like intensity, loops of crowd applause and the final chords then forming a rhythmic backbeat to a brand new song… that never quite arrives. A breathtaking conclusion to a highly promising introduction.

LUNA – RENDEZVOUS (Jetset)
Since releasing the superb Romantica two years ago, Luna have appeared to be on a crative roll. And now they've called it a day. There are those who will be confused by this apparent contradiction, but I've always believed in getting out while you're on top. Rendezvous, their swansong, is not as consistent as Romantica, but it has its moments, and even though one of them ('Astronaut') already appeared on the EP Close Cover Before Striking, 'Malibu Love Nest' and 'Broken Chair' find Dean Wareham in his finest voice. And listen to 'Star-Spangled Man' and tell me that the Bunnymen couldn’t play it like 'Bring On The Dancing Horses.'

DOGS DIE IN HOT CARS: PLEASE DESCRIBE YOURSELF(V2)
You can hear XTC and Talking Heads at their most charming (as opposed to their most purposefully obtuse), in this Scottish band's debut – though when they start giving their songs such titles as 'Apples and Oranges,' you wonder if they realize that not only does the song sound like Swindon's finest, but that XTC released an album called Oranges and Lemons, and another called The Apple Venus. Still, every now and then, they make sounds you can identify as their own, too: 'Lounger' and 'Paul Newman's Eyes' have humour and rhythm.

WEST INDIAN GIRL: WEST INDIAN GIRL (Astralwerks)
Somewhere between trip hop, subliminal pop, U2's emotive excesses and the rampant abuse of psychedelics, the nomadic American post-rave duo of Robert James and Francis Ten make beautiful music about 'Hollywood' and the 'Northern Sky' and invite us to join their (road) trip.

DAVID HOLMES: OCEAN'S TWELVE (Warner Bros)
DFA may deride his talent, but they can't deny that former Belfast DJ David Holmes has earned himself a nice little niche in soundtracks. For Oceans Twelve, as per the rest of the movie's team, he repeats the Oceans Eleven formula: newly-created spy-funk/soul by Holmes, alongside obscure renditions of the same by a variety of mostly forgotten artists. As a Back To Mine compilation, you'd never peg it for a soundtrack. Uncredited instrumental loops at album's conclusion raise the question: will he sue if we sample them?

SWAYZAK: LOOPS FROM THE BERGERIE (!K7)
The British team's fourth album of tech/dub/house songs is understated, but far from underwhelming. And though the use of four different vocalists makes for inconsistency, the instrumental textures underpinning it all are sublime. Recorded in the south of France (at a Montpelier house known as the Bergerie) this grows better with age. Listen to it in another three years paired a similarly-aged wine from the Languedoc and I'm sure you'll feel satisfied with your investment(s).

DOWNTOWN – DOWNTOWN (Coup de Grace)
By management's own admission (and maybe the band's?), this might have been more successful as a second or third album than a debut. The Downtown (New York) duo of Robert Kaeding and Eric Brendo make sophisticated psychedelic electronic country of considerable substance – a little like Society Of Rockets with a groove going on. And repeated plays will undoubtedly bring increased rewards. But there's not enough immediate attention-grabbing content to inspire the return visits. As New Yorkers, Downtown must be aware of the modern music fan's limited attention span, and how even those who eschew the mainstream's demand for insistent beats and immediate hooks require some kind of back story to inspire their interest. Sadly, this quality debut may just prove too subtle to cut through the surrounding noise.

MIX CD OF THE MONTH

SANDER KLEINENBERG: THIS IS EVERYBODY TOO (Thrive)

Of all the mix CDs I received in 2004 – and there were a lot less than in previous years, that's for sure – this one got the most play on the home system, portable CD and car stereo. Sander succeeds in building a mood, telling a few stories, and combining many a style (though primarily retro electro and tech-house) while keeping two CDs almost constantly humping and bumping. He does it all without the benefit of well-known artists, relying instead on the likes of The Junior Boys, Infusion, Christian Kleine, Deepsky – and, like all multi-tasking DJs, several of his own cuts too. More mix CDs of this caliber and the genre would not have fallen into disfavor.

RETROSPECTIVE OF THE MONTH

22-PISTEPIRKKO – THE NATURE OF 22-PISTEPIRKKO 1985-2002 (Bare Bone Business)
No, I hadn't heard of them either. But here's opportunity for us all to catch up. Long before Scandinavia came into garage rock vogue, this Finnish trio were knocking out superb singalong retro anthems highlighted by a spectacularly cheap Farfisa organ sound: the first CD here is chock full of such minor classics. (I particularly love 'Hong Kong King.') Then they bought MIDI equipment, a beatbox and began to experiment: the second CD finds them getting remixed, moving into soundtracks, taking on a continental European ambient/trip-hop vibe and ending with proper post-rave dance on the track 'Rally Of Love'. So many sounds from one unknown band. And so good, too.

EPs: THREE FRIENDS ECLECTIC

THE SOFT EXPLOSIONS – EP (canarsie)
The record label – named for its Brooklyn base community – describes the band as "like Steppenwolf meets The Flaming Lips with a female Hendrix on guitar." I hear a heavy dose of baggy shoe-gazing psychedelia in here too, especially on the songs 'Desert Gold' and 'Reverberate.' That might just be because band members came down to my DJ gig at Atomique a coupla months back and displayed enviable knowledge of all things Madchester.

THE DEARS – PROTEST (AceFu)
"This is the summer of protest," they sing, somewhat after the event. It's certainly the winter of this content: The Dears sit (un?)comfortably alongside other acts on this page with dreamy, experimental, psychedelic space rock that soothes even as it soars – and placates even as, per the title of this four-song, thirty-minute EP, it protests.

LANSING-DREIDEN – A SECTIONED BEAM (Kemado)
The oddly-named Brooklyn collective produces visual art as well as psychedelic music, offers no individual identities, conducts no interviews, list its tracks by Roman Numerals, and proclaims online that "All Lansing-Dreiden projects are fragmentary, mere stones in a path whose end lies in a space where the very definition of “path” paths." Pretentious? What, them? Hey, at least the music's good. This three-track follow-up to last year's debut full-length, A Sectioned Beam, is surprisingly cheerful for such an icey combo, and what it lacks in hooks it makes up for in texture. Still, take a chill pill, eh fellas?

HUMOROUS PRESS RELEASES, TOPICAL SONGS - AND GOOD MUSIC IN THE BARGAIN

Unless you work as a music journalist, you have no idea how tedious are most press releases. Not so with 'Former Sparks, Jet and Radio Stars composer/bassist Martin Gordon' – who could, admittedly, do with a more contemporary headline than one which exclusively references his 1970s resume. Still, once I got stuck into his biography, I couldn't help but admire his self-effacing cynicism. "Upon his return to the UK," it states, "he hit upon the considerably more lucrative concept of working for other people." (The names are published with the witty run-on, "the list is interminable.") After a detour with Boy George to India and Sezen Asku to Turkey, Gordon "provided bass for the 90s revival of semi-legendary proto-punks John's Children, until they recently embarked upon the inevitable, slow walk back to the pavilion." After which, in what must surely be his fifties, Gordon finally hit upon the novel concept of a solo career with a 2003 album called The Baboon In The Basement.

So, ok, he's a little old to start in on solo pop stardom. But his new album The Joy Of More Hogwash is nonetheless a garden of perverse delights. After all, has anyone half his age had the smarts to write as catchy a song as 'Oh No What Shall We Do (Daddy Lost His Head In A Coup)' about the 'Nigerian Internet banking scam' we've all been subjected to in our In-Boxes (several times over)? Does anyone else have the balls to cover the purposefully bad 'Love Power' from The Producers? And is there anyone else out there using former John's Children and very occasional Keith Moon stand-in Chris Townson as his drummer? As with all slightly pompous, psychedelic, power pop music that tells humorous stories (imagine John Otway fronting Queen in relaxed mood and you've got an idea of what's occasionally in store; otherwise the song 'Cheap Trick' provides a clue), the concept frequently sounds better than the reality, but still I can't help singing along to 'Land Of Nod' and 'Her Daddy Was A Dalek, Her Mummy Was A Non-Stick Frying Pan.'

Martin's website contains enough additional useless information – about Sparks, Radio Stars, John's Children and moles (the animals, not a band) – to keep you occupied for hours while you search fruitlessly for a free MP3 and an opportunity to actually buy the album.


iJamming! Site Copyright Tony Fletcher 2005




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