Alright, I admit it. I have cheated this week, enlisting a particularly excitable friend of mine whose favourite musician is ‘Paul McCartneys’. His name is Jem, he is four – sorry, I stand corrected – four and a half years old, and he is helping his Aunty Wendy while I attempt to instruct him in the finer points of alt-hip-hop in the process. He thinks it is crashingly hilarious that anyone should be named ‘Beans’ but has not helped on all the records, because there were some Stickle Bricks which needed playing with. You know how it is.
Single of the Week!
Girls – ‘Hellhole Ratrace’ (Fantasy Trashcan / Turnstile)
On the first listen, I could not get past the fact that Girls’ lead fellow sounds so very much - almost perzackerly - like Elvis Costello. And I hate Elvis Costello because he is such a grump, making me initially rather ill-disposed to Girls. But do not, kind readers, make my mistak. Skip right on over to the second stage of appreciation, which is when you find ‘Hellhole Ratrace’ to be ten kinds of brilliant. For one thing, it has a gloriously simple and beamingly rousing Jason Pierce-style breakdown at the end of it. And though there is something startlingly unoriginal about the words ‘Sometimes you just gotta make it for yourself’ (Money Mark’s ‘Sometimes You Gotta Make It Alone’ & the Stones’ ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’) still this sort of refrain pushes buttons. So by the time we hit the home straight and the repeated plea that Girls ‘don’t want to cry’, their ‘whole life through’ I am utterly entranced with ‘Hellhole Ratrace’s Wall of Sound whirlyness. I also can’t shake the feeling that this would be an extraordinarily good record to do post-break-up, make-up pashing to, partly because it is ages (6:58) long. But also because the broken, heartfelt and yet hopeful thoughts expressed might form a neat counterpoint to all those tears drying while you snog. Naturally I expressed none of this to my nephew, deeming it a rather inappropriate dereliction of my duties.
Anti-Pop Consortium - ‘Apparently’ (Big Dada) Free download, here
This is essentially more of the same. But if you are remotely like me this will not trouble your pretty little one iota. For me, there are too few bands able to make the utterance of one word – in this case, ‘Apparently’ - sound so interesting, especially when the words are surrounded by such Spartan gaps of wire and glass-like production. I have been really missing the literally square-eyed (and man, those are some good glasses) Beans and APC’s refreshingly meagre approach - un-buffetted as they are by flimsy notions of fashion. When I played this to Jem he immediately started laughing, and it was the first time I have ever heard him say ‘wicked’ in the street-parlance sense, which came as a bit of a shock. He said ‘It’s wicked,’ and I said ‘What?’ worrying that he has got this habit from me and might also start calling things ‘dogshit’ as well. And then he said the following things, which I feel are more insightful than any of the above/anything else I might pen. He said, ‘It’s got robots singing. This record is good for robots to listen to,’ – which, let’s face it, is all you need to know about APC’s flow. Also, based on the fact that children will believe absolutely anything you tell them (the power is delirious), I told him about six months ago that I had three Japanese robots living with me. They do all the boring jobs around the house and I put them on the phone when I speak to him. So Jem wants me tell you that if you too have a robot, you must tell it to download 'Apparently'. And if you do not have robots you should make some out of Stickle Bricks and sit them on your laptop so they can hear it, as above.
Lucky Elephant - ‘Edgar’ (Sunday Best)
Even though we were only a few singles down in a sack of squillions, I felt it was important to explain our quest. ‘What we have to do is to explain if something is good or not. Imagine you only had enough pocket money for one record and you read what we’re writing now. People have to know if things are worth going to the record shop and spending money on.’ He looked faintly amused at this, narrowed his eyes and I could see some trouble brewing. ‘So, what do you think of this one?’ I said. ‘It’s very not good because the tune is not good and it’s very good because the tune is good,’ he said, which I explained might be a bit confusing or at least, rather unhelpful. It's also unfair. One, because Lucky Elephant are marvellous, and two, because I had already written a rant about ice-cream for this single. This one:
When I was a bairn we used to go to Wales on holiday. And in Tenby, where we always went, there was one shop which evoked a particular fascination. It was an Italian ice-cream parlour called Fecci’s which had an animatronic fat ice-cream man in the window, and walls, ACTUAL WALLS, of stuff you could put on your sundae. They made rockets out of ice-cream, they made houses with wafer fences, and a ‘Crinoline Lady’ where all the ruffles of her dress were made out of squirty cream and red sauce. So I listened to ‘Edgar’ – or more particularly to the instrumental b-side – and I thought, it should be law for music like this to be played in ice-cream parlours. It sounds like the music from a Charlie Brown TV special, or a Mark Mothersbaugh twinkle from a Wes Anderson film, it is the sound of glace cherries, rice paper roses and hundreds and thousands sprinkled with no stinginess. Delightful.
Franz Ferdinand - ‘Can’t Stop Feeling’ (Domino)
If you were going out with Franz Ferdinand - and not collectively as actual men – I mean, if the records themselves were your boyfriend, you’d have been together for 6 years now. You’d have a nice little flatlet somewhere and every now and then you’d go out for dinner somewhere cripplingly expensive. The sex would have tailed off. And it wouldn’t be their fault, but you’d have got to the stage where despite the fact that they hadn’t changed and were still doing the very things you once fell in love with them for, you’d have started to find them a little bit boring. ‘Oh God,’ you’d whisper to your friends, ‘he’s doing that thing where he pretends he wants to dance with me but really he just wants to have sex.’ And they would sympathise, but it wouldn’t make you feel any better so you’d row when you got home. Franz Ferdinand would say ‘But I thought you loved it when I raised my eyebrows and came over all arch! Don’t you love me anymore?’ But it would be too late; you would go and sleep on the sofa. All that said, I like the silliness of the Rhubarb & Custard, wah-wah refrain in ‘Can’t Stop Feeling’ and though the remixes are roundly uninspired, this made my diminutive companion grin and bash the table with his fists. Jem says ‘Its apple good, and apple not good,’ having warmed to his theme of reviews which are in some way linked to eating (his favourite thing) and also designed to be no help whatsoever. And then he looked me in the eye and said, ‘I want The Beatles.’
The Maccabees - ‘Can You Give It’ (Fiction)
‘This is sandwich good and sandwich not good!’ says The Boy. Which was when I realised this whole reviewing-with-four-year-olds thing was not panning out. ‘This child has ceased to be useful,’ I said to no one in particular, as if in a Victorian workhouse and me its fearful proprietress. So while he ventured off in search of something more interesting, I was left to ponder fonts, and why The Maccabees have been packaged in such a bare, stark and inappropriate fashion. I mean, were you to pick up the sleeve to ‘Can You Give It’ - all Helvetica Bold boringness – and you knew nothing about them, you would think this were landfill indie of the straight-aheadest sort. But it is not, it is wavering, quasi-falsetto Grown Up indie made by people with exotically old-fashioned names. Don’t get me wrong, this is a properly good single from a rather interesting band, but I think when you enter the arena they have and make desperate, ambitious rock music, the parameters are wider and grander. The benchmarks are higher. You’re rubbing shoulders with the likes of the Arcade Fire, Beirut, possibly The Dears, and the possibilities are greater. You absolutely have to nail it and I want to feel exhausted after one listen, but I am not. Lovely Highland military tattoo guitars though.
We Were Promised Jetpacks - ‘Roll Up Your Sleeves’ (Fat Cat Records)
I have immediately latched on to We Were Promised Jetpacks delightful Edinburgh accents and tried to imagine if I would like them as much if lead chap Adam Thompson didn’t sound like he (winningly) does. So while I should be describing this record (which comes with a brilliant false ending about three minutes in) and telling you about its (post-punk) influences, instead we will ponder why it is that a regional accent is still a novelty - at least in terms of bands that get mainstream attention. Don’t ever let anyone ever tell you that the London bias does not exist because Lord only knows, I should not be responding to ‘Roll Up Your Sleeves’ by mentioning how he sings the word ‘kidding’ (kid-den) or telling you how pleasing it is to hear something other than Estuary drones.
Dan Black - ‘Symphonies’ (A&M)
I have very mixed feelings about young Dan. I adored last year’s oddly moving re-rub of ‘Hypnotize’, but I can’t bear the posery of his (albeit visually treatsome) videos. The first time I heard ‘Alone’ I hated it, and then it came up on my shuffle the other day and I loved it; was snatching at my bag to find out what it was. I think my problem is either that in some photos he looks like Mika (terrifying prospect), or that he is someone I have to be ‘in the mood for’ (others in this category: Antony & his Johnsons, Bjork, Four Tet, so, you know, good company). Anyway, what happened is that I listened to this earlier in the week on the beach, baked to a high-visibility, near pillar-box pink. And I waded into the sea with my headphones up high. There was a seal about 3 metres away, sticking his whiskers up every now and then to see if I was a lady seal and there were some seagulls watching a tern dive for fish. It was hot. Really hot. My neck was burning. The water was delicious, cool, and I was squealing every time the waves caught a dry bit of me. And in that moment I loved ‘Symphonies’, I loved that seal, I even loved the little bit of sea-weed that kept brushing against my ankle and provoking thoughts of fins, jellyfish and teeth; I listened to it over and over and over. Next week I will probably hate it, so you need to make up your mind if listening to singles when you are already in paradise is really terribly fair or sporting.
As for Jem, he asked to write something himself. He wants you to know that this single is ‘sssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssqxasdwsvwxzxacxzcsxzazcxzxax’. So now you know.
The Virgins – ‘One Week Of Danger’ (Atlantic)
At this point in the afternoon, faced with being abandoned for the Stickle Bricks again, I will admit I was feeding him ideas somewhat. So I asked Jem if he thought we should tell you to buy 'One Week Of Danger' and he did definitely say ‘No, no, no, NO,’ with an absolute minimum of prompting. I posited that The Virgins were ultimately a little bit dull, and so he thought we might jazz things up a bit by telling you a lie. So I will tell you that there is ‘a really good rabbit story in the middle’ of 'One Week Of Danger' and not that it is a bit like ‘Sweet Virginia’ but with none of the authentic, baked-in-Southern-France, ragged swagger. ‘Let’s say they should buy it,' Jem said then, far more charitably than I was feeling. And then he started pretending to play the piano (fingers and toes), grinned like a big naughty and said what he really thought, that this is ‘Definitely, definitely, definitely good’. So that's The Virgins: one out of one four-and-a-half-year olds think they are brilliant. But there is no ‘really good rabbit story’ on this record.
Right, I am off. Later this week, a round-up of the year so far in seven inch bits of plastic - where we shall attempt to right some wrongs and make a proper, actual chart. Those of you un-charmed by other people's children will be pleased to hear that I am writing that one by myself.
Wendy is on Twitter here