Foreign Office, Johnny Hates Jazz and Balls The Size Of Citrus Fruit

You have to marvel at the chutzpah of some French bands. Either they have balls – or brains – the size of oranges.

The new Kavinsky record takes all the unwanted bits of dreadful 80’s synth-pop and – via alchemy, magic or satanic influence, I’m not sure – has produced a record of languid, neon-lit sexiness.

Embracing the drab and underwhelming past, as bands like Kavinsky have done, is so utterly daring because the margin of error is so va-a-a-a-a-ast.

And yet, listen – the resultant music is as new and beautifully brassy as, you’d like to believe, music could ever be. Enter, poised, and just at the right moment, Foreign Office.

Their song Leaving The House is the result of what would seem to be suicide mission back to the 1980s of Johnny Hates Jazz and Big Country. Remarkably they emerge not only unscathed, but victorious, clutching a song of unusual charm, wit and splendour.

It must have been a long time since those words have been used to describe a song that brazenly brandishes slap-bass, super-soft synths and oil-slick-shiny production as its weapons of choice.

But they fit – for good reason. Despite evidence to the contrary (see opening paragraph), I rarely consider the testicular dimensions of new bands – but Foreign Office are exceptional. Theirs are large. There. I said it. And in their own way, this song is a minor triumph.

Foreign Office // Leaving The House [Warrior One Remixxx]

That is the Warrior One remix of the song, by the way. Whilst excellent, it conveys literally none of the above sentiment. You’ll have to visit their Myspace page to hear the original version. Such is life.

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>Today’s New Band – The Humms

>Do you wish you’d formed a band? Do you regret that you didn’t? I sometimes wonder, and run through all the excuses – I didn’t know anyone to club together with, I didn’t play the guitar well enough, I was too shy. The truth is more prosaic: the desire just wasn’t there enough.

There’s always been a nagging suspicion that, while being a rock star probably has its perks, an element of boredom might set at some point. You’re midway through a tour, and you’re playing that drab B-side that’s in the set as filler, or because the drummer really wanted to play it, or because the bassist wrote it and wants a slice of the action – and all you really want to do is be in the half-empty audience yourself, watching, admiring. I don’t know – performing is nearly always better than spectating, isn’t it?

Isn’t it? By the sounds of Today’s New Band, The Humms, it’s about a million times better than anything, ever. They’re in thrall to the blitz-to-the-senses that is performing songs like LSD Is Evil, a juddering, quivering mass of foot-stomping excess. Vocals wrench, howl and crackle; guitars strangle nuance and delicacy and replace them with a straight-to-the-point BZZZZZ.

Brown Haired Devil takes a starting point you’ve heard before – and a similar end point too – but winsomely wanders it’s own route in between, all the time assaulting your ears with tinny treble and distortion.

The Humms punch and brawl and get physically violent with Rock ‘n’ Roll. They might win. Listen here!

>Today’s New Band – [INSERT CREDITS]

>If you need any proof that the music business is as box-of-frogs, bat-shit, [insert ‘zany’ euphemism here] crazy as ever, just look at the case of Franz Ferdinand. A few years ago, they were all over the music press like a bad suit. Their first album sold squillions, driven by the neat, catchy singles that kept dropping off it. They could do no wrong.

Except, of course, in Rock Music World, they could. Well, not them exactly. In fact, not really them at all. They made the numbskull mistake of releasing another good album of cleverer, catchier songs. But Rock Music World kept up its relentless, spinning pace, desperately hoovering up the new, the young and the easily fooled, and Franz Ferdinand became one of those bands.

You know, those ones. The ones that you know are bright, sharp, exciting and big – except you’re not bothered enough to buy their album, and really, when was the last time you heard them on the radio anyway?

Today’s New Band, [INSERT CREDITS] can gain comfort from the fact that their down-beat and quirky instrumentalism veers neatly around Rock ‘n’ Roll hyperbole. That [INSERT CREDITS]‘ music isn’t the usual Boards Of Canada/Aphex Twin knock-off is refreshing enough; that their music is funky, new and lithe as well is a minor joy.

The music samples this and that, looping funk stabs with film score swoops – and songs like Steal This Song jog and glide with a confident swagger. Invisible Robots is part 50’s Sci-Fi shocker and part glistening late-night slumber-beats.

Gordon Street has the nerve to sample Lou Reed‘s Perfect Day and Wayne’s World 2, and to turn them into a feedback-drenched freakout. Common Enemy is twitchy and nervous; a strange, theremin-‘n-drums, paranoid, step back in time.

[INSERT CREDIT]‘s Myspace page is crammed full of their songs, and they’re all a trip into the groove-laden Twilight Zone that is apparently hidden in a far corner of our minds. Exciting, weird and inventive. Listen here!

>Today’s New Band – Ono Palindromes!

>Unfathomable Human Brain-Wrongs Number 23,445: I can remember the number plate of my parent’s car that they had when I was seven (CRE 887K), but I just can’t begin to scrape useful information out of my woolly head – is Mother’s Day this month or next? What is my best friend’s phone number? When was Kung Fu by Ash recorded?

Actually, I can answer the last one – it was written on Boxing Day in 1994, and it took five minutes. It was recorded the next day. I read this information from the CD inlay, and it has stuck, forever. Such is the information-absorbing power of the music-obsessive teenage mind. From the excitable sounds of Today’s New Band, Ono Palindromes, they might have similar stories from their own youth.

Their songs are drenched with the love of rock music past and present. This sounds a bit glib – all bands love music, durrrrrr – but there are bands who love music for the beauty of the sound and how it makes you feel, and then there are bands who love music because it allows them to look moody and indulge in dubious sexual encounters in dingy dressing rooms. Ono Palindromes are firmly in the former camp, but I imagine would welcome some of the more mucky outcomes of the latter. Hey – they’re only human.

Or are they? Their songs are precise wafers of dreamy rock. Surely there’s a computer programme that can do this now. Kitty Magic has the sound of your whole record collection distilled into one furiously exhilarating yelp, and when you’ve stopped blurting out the great songs it sounds like, you’ll realise it’s actually an ace song itself.

The End is a coiling, swishing and foggy dive into the kind of wide, expansive rock sound which rarely works satisfyingly, but Ono Palindromes find the way to make it perky and lush. Beautiful Noise is a song whose title sets itself up for a fall, but struts on fearlessly, starting with a chorus, before launching into another one, and then another, all over a melody that is almost to chirpy for its own good.

Ono Palindromes have just changed their name from Young Sensation. I prefer the new name, for what it’s worth – which is very little, as the only thing that really matters is that Ono Palindromes are a band that’ll make your ears buzz with delight and your mind melt into a warm slurry of happiness. Listen here!

>Today’s New Band – The Paraffins PLUS! "And now, we return to the classics"


Do you know what the best thing about Lou Reed‘s Transformer is? No, not Walk On The Wild Side. Nor that Mick Ronson and David Bowie’s mucky fingerprints are all over it like a cheap, sleazy suit. Not even that the backing vocalists were called The Thunderthighs.
The best thing about Transformer is the first ten seconds of Vicious, the first track, up to the point where the guitar squeals for the first time, just after Lou has drawled his first languidly wired lyric.

It’s possibly the most direct, hit-the-ground-running start to any album, piercing into your mind like a diamond knitting needle. Everything you need to know about Transformer‘s wide-eyed and paranoid brilliance is in those first ten seconds.

If the rest of the album was full of clunkers (and duff songs like Make Up try hard enough), the wonderful statement of intent that is Vicious would still make the album a dazzling classic. That some of the most dreamily gorgeous songs ever written – try to listen to Perfect Day or Satellite Of Love without welling up -accompany it make the album a pristine moment of joy, crystallised forever.
But if it had only had that one opener, it’d still be beautiful. That’s why hearing a new band with only the one good song in their armoury is still reason for celebration. Compilation CDs are full of bands who’ve had one really good song and then never quite managed to best it. Hit-and-miss merchants like Lou Reed should give prospective bands encouragement. He also made Metal Machine Music, remember.
Today’s New Band, The Paraffins, have a couple of good songs, so they’re already ahead of the pack. They’re from a small village in Scotland (with a surprisingly large Wikipedia entry) and create songs that seem to have been scratched together with scraps of this and that, which then suddenly take on a life of their own and become much more than the sum of their parts.
Cardboard Cutout, after a few minutes of increasingly clever polyrythmic staggering, suddenly pops its own bubble and splurges with happiness; allowing itself a few final seconds of unhindered noise.

Guest Haus is another slowly building, give-and-take songs that splits from itself into a house-like keyboard riff-driven songs, albeit one played on a melodica. Mobile phone interference completes its electronically haunted feel.

Something Good bounds along in the manner of an excited puppy, at love with everything and everyone at once. It might even hump your leg if you stand too close.
The Paraffins surprised me. Most bands with their resolutely DIY ethic try hard and end up sounding eager, but often end up falling short because the tunes are missing. The Paraffins have them and know how to use them too. A cut-price ‘n’ classy way to end the week – listen here!

>Today’s New Band – Karma Vision PLUS! Darts! Beatles! Victory!


On Sunday I watched the World Darts Final, where two titans of the ultimate mano-a-mano sport, Ray “Barney” van Barneveld and Phil “The Power” Taylor met, yet again. In the dizzying, enjoyably banal world of darts, the fatter, more lairy and drunker you are, the more closely you can associate with the participants; and while I can’t truely lay claim all of those traits, I gave it a good go.
Phil Taylor used to run a pub within spitting distance from my parent’s house, so I have whatever the darts equivalent of ‘affection’ is for him. In the final, Phil, 14 times champion, walked all over van Barneveld. It was a bit embarrassing, really. He won 7-1.
After the game, Barney said that practising for 10 hours (10 hours! Of darts!) a day wasn’t enough to beat The Power. Poor old Ray. Phil’s un-human dominance made me wonder: has there been a musical equivalent? A band that kept on winning, churning out great song after song, album after album?
In Trainspotting, Sick Boy cites David Bowie whilst explaining that no matter how good you are at your peak, you’ll eventually lose it. This is probably true, as anyone who has heard Bowie’s late-80’s albums will testify. Thinking about it, it’s predictably The Beatles who had that magical hit-rate. Even though Let It Be was a bit of a clunker, you could blindly pick any of their albums and still be flabbergasted with enjoyment.
To move from the Best Band Ever™ to Today’s New Band is quite an unkind leap, but there, we’ve done it. That said, Karma Vision (for it is them) is the kind of name that The Beatles would probably approve of. I think they’d probably also approve of the dreamily reverb ‘n’ tambourine combo that is Teeter Totter, a song that sounds like what your 21st-Century brain imagines the 60’s sounded like, against all the rational evidence saying otherwise.
There’s something very un-now about Karma Vision. On one hand, there’s nothing either old or new about guitars and singing, but then here is a viable bridge between the very specific past and today that isn’t twee, schlock or superfluous.
Rabbit Hole Surf is a lovely, floating song that is a bit earnest, a bit jokey, a bit unhinged but always grinning and happy. It’s a song that ought to be played on a Dansette, as you watch the sun go down from a Californian beach. Clichéd description? Yes. Would you care if you were doing just that? No, and that’s probably the point. Listen to Karma Vision here and feel that orange-drenched sky, man!
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