Dead Cities, Alive Ditties

After the extraordinary attempts by Pendentif last Friday, who – by naming a song and a mini-album after themselves  achieved almost meta-eponymity – where can the plucky and bold who follow in their footsteps even hope to out-self-name them?

The answer is: they can’t. Why get drawn into a protracted battle of naming this and that after yourself? Look what happened to The Donnas, who named an album and all the band members ‘Donna’. Each time a front-row drunk shouted something nasty about the drummer, everyone got in a huff.

Dead Cities have a song named – yes – Dead Cities, but in the event, it’s rather incidental, as the song is so overwhelmingly sweet in its sullen optimisim that you just won’t notice.

There are moments of beautiful clarity in Dead Cities, a shuffling, carefully-pieced together song that is deceptive in its simplicity. It bumps and stumbles while maintaining a quiet dignity all of its own making.

The result is a song that happily puffs along under its own steam. It’s gloriously understated – sounding like the welcome result of hours of casual beer-fuelled get-togethers. It probably was.

Assured, simple and with all of the tinkered tunesmanship you’d hope from a Liverpudlian band, Dead Cities – the band, the song, whatever – are a joy to behold.


Robyn G Sheils; The Great Impression

When was the last time you saw a band that you couldn’t quite bring yourself to love until they cast off the knowing self-referential nods that seem specifically designed to appease cool magazines, websites and TV channels?

Bands who do this are either idiots, or sane – but weak – people hedging their bets. Robyn G Sheils, however, hasn’t mucked about. There’s no layers of ironic  faux-nostalgia or self-conscious posturing draped over his songs.

Calling your début EP The Great Depression amounts to nailing your colours to the mast pretty comprehensively. So it’ll be a shock to learn that his songs are actually a bunch of bouncy, 90s-revivalist Gabba, hands-in-the-air floor fillers.

Only kidding. They are, of course, all slightly morose stripped-down laments, albeit exquisitely beautiful ones.

Look What You’ve Done is so affecting that the EP ought to come packaged with a packet of tissues to mop up tears from the inevitable blubbing that surely accompanies his music.

I hope he’s got a few upbeat zingers in his setlist, otherwise his live gigs are going to leave a trail of inert, zombified fans, all pondering the point of it all. Hey – better to have some sort of emotional influence on your crowd than none whatsoever.

On Robyn G Sheils’ Bandcamp page, amongst the usual clutter of snatched studio and goings-on photos, there is one small shot of some graffiti that reads ‘There is no God’.

Bleak, but honest. Just like Robyn’s songs.

MORE: // Photo by Robin Cordiner

Django Django, and Hard Work, Hard Work

Hard work. It’s all about hard work. Repeat that mantra.

Don’t let Keith Richard’s fibs fool you. Perpetuating the myth that he dreamt up the riff for (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction might be his idea of fun, but it’s a cruel trick, and it’s misleading bands everywhere.

Make no mistake, the rise of the Stones, or any other band, hasn’t been down to dumb luck, buzzed dreams or cyphers from the other side. Ask any artist, in any ‘creative field’ and they’ll tell you the same.

It’s about gigging non-stop for audiences that barely care, contacting endless, heartless bloggers who might simply delete your email after only reading two sentences, and refinement, refinement, refinement.

An awkward truth but look: Django Django work their socks off. They gig here, there and everywhere; they write and record neat, chop-n-change songs; and they’re still unsigned.

Django Django // Wor

But just listen to Wor. Just listen to the rockabilly pop, just listen to the way the song builds, teases, gives-and-takes and finally bursts forth. You’re hearing the sound of focus and whittling. The sound of sweat, arguments and roadies misplacing Fuzzboxes.

The sound of temptation to quit and deciding to carry on. The sound of exhilaration when it all goes right, or at the least the promise thereof.

Django Django will make it. They have to. They deserve it.

>Today’s New Band – The Candle Thieves

There’s an inherent problem with the Tweecore musical genre, as spearheaded by tinkly Welsh poppers Los Campesinos. It’s that the word ‘Twee’ hasn’t often been used as a positively descriptive word very often.

Twee songs work for a while, and then become so sickly, so wholesome and so…. twee that you start to feel a bit uncomfortable, like when you’ve eaten too much chocolate on Christmas day. There’s not much room for variety when an artist is constrained by such narrow, wide-eyed and sugary parameters.

Today’s New Band, The Candle Thieves, couldn’t really be described as Tweecore, though they are overflowing with cute melodies, toy instrument sounds and a faux-naif outlook, which perhaps makes them distant Twee cousins.

The Sunshine Song is silvery bright, a slinky jangle punctuated with confused sax squawks, and plinking piano. Sharks and Bears, a small paean to uncomfortable dreams, is light, bright and sincere, even.

I spent a while wondering why I wasn’t connecting with these songs in quite the way I’d hoped. Then I realised: The Candle Thieves make children’s music, as intended for adults. This is a complex dichotomy, though one that probably shouldn’t be thought about too much, for fear of headaches.

Their songs are sweet, short and simple. Oh, and then sweet, again. Individually, their songs are a sugary treat. A whole album might be saccharine overload, but that’s what happens if you eat the whole bag of Haribo in one sitting. Listen here!

>Today’s New Band – Robert George Saull & The Purgatory Players


Maybe you’ve never been tempted to ditch the job, the car, the house and your world possessions and travel haphazardly around Europe until what little money you do have runs out and you return home worried and trembling, like I was. I don’t expect any posts, hastily typed on on a recalcitrant laptop in a tent in the Pyrenees and then shoved onto a music website, to necessarily change your mind.
But just in case: here’s the best thing about ditching the job, the car, the house and your world possessions etc etc. The people – all the people – you meet en route are just lovely.
In Spain, they practically beg you to eat, live, and if you’re lucky, sleep with them, and in France, the endlessly happy population is hell-bent on proving that the grumpy-Frenchman image is a tissue of lies.
As further proof, before I’d even set off, two previous New Bands – old friends The Alibies and delightful Euro-guitar-poppers Daisy Godzilla wrote and said that I could visit them. At the time, I was taken aback by their upfront generosity, and now I still am, but without the surprise. Come to continental Europe and have your pants charmed right off.
I really ought to have featured many more bands from foreign countries, as the subsequent invitations may have made travelling so much cheaper. Unfortunately, forward planning never has been my forte.
It would have been perfect if Today’s New Band, Robert George Saull & The Purgatory Players were based somewhere on the Adriatic coast, because maybe I’d have eagerly made a detour their way. Alas: they’re from Sheffield – a lovely city, but not on my route.
Fer Elsass – a lament for the decline of artisan living standards in and around Strasbourg – is, from the very core of its being, unusual. It lingers, insouciant and grumpy, smoking Gauloises. It is the recording of a rainy, grimy, glum day in Alsace. It is sung in a manner suggesting an interest in the quixotic and sung using words that almost have the wrong meaning, but not quite. It is recorded by young men in very normal clothing from the north of England.
Something doesn’t make sense, but why spend too much time puzzling over it? Robert George Saull & The Purgatory Players’ songs have whimsy without annoyance, weirdness without pretence and are so decidedly skewed against the grain, it’s hard to escape their charms. So why bother trying? Listen here!

>Today’s New Band – Felix Wickman

>Most of these current posts were written over a month ago, while I was still entrenched, for better or for worse, in city life; the rain, the buzz, the estate agents with £100 haircuts. Right now I’m on a train, zipping through wet green fields towards Manchester, but in real terms, I’m actually somewhere on Mainland Europe, struggling to erect a recalcitrant tent.

This whole exercises has proven the folly of trying to plan too far ahead, or worrying about what might happen. I’d like to think that a scantly-planned low-budget European jaunt will open my eyes and communicate with my soul, maaan – but who knows. I might hate the Euroeality of good bread, great wine and fabulous weather, though that seems like a long shot.

As such, these posts are time capsules, and are from a time when my situation was very different. It’s probably only of real interest to me, but if you can’t indulge in cod-self-psychoanalysis on a blog, where can you?

Take Today’s New Artist – Felix Wickman. Songs like The Stage would suggest a maudlin soul, but perhaps he was merely experiencing a little light glumness on the day he wrote it? It’s certainly a delicate and sweet ‘n’ sad ballad; bleakness is the one note played loudest here. Impressively, even the use of what sounds like a saxophone can’t damage the song’s downright wallowing nature.

If Mauro The Clown is about a real clown, cower with fear if he’s booked for your child’s birthday party. Clowns often have sad face-paint, but from the sounds of it, Mauro’s face would be 90% bright red frown.

Fabulously, Felix Wickman is signed to the brilliantly named Waggle-Daggle Records. Maybe the man is a knock-about laugh-riot after all. Or not. But do listen here and mourn, baby, mourn!

>Today’s New Band – The White Noise Supremacists


Unable to resist taking a trip for the umpteenth time to the Fountains Of Pun, we valiantly returned with Today’s New Band, The White Noise Supremacists. Like me, you’re probably unable to shake the image of skinhead thrash metal from your minds. Good – their music will do that for you.
So, the unexpected: These Walls Will Burn and Splinter, sweeter and softer than marshmallow, is a bit tender, a bit gentle and a bit lovely. Meant To Be is similarly sad, drowsy and raw, coasting easily along a line that is often abused too create bland rock, and instead making something pure and good. She’s Soft Inside is tough and brittle and rounded.
The White Noise Supremacist’s name is part funny-ha-ha, part stroke of genius; jilting your expectations so hard that when you actually hear their songs, it’s with the freshest of ears. Clever devils. Listen to them here!

>Today’s New Band – Debt Collector

>Last week, in the Grand National, I placed my annual horse racing bet, along with every other doomed once-yearly punter. And like every other once-yearly punter, I pick my horse by going for the ones with the best names, not the one with the best chance of winning.

A horse called Offshore Account took the brunt of my massive cash investment (a shiny £1 coin), its topical name catching my eye. Offshore Account spent most of the time leading the race, until, exhausted under the weight of a gamble that would never pay off, plummeted down the field, never to be seen again. This was a horse acutely aware of its own metaphorical existence.

Today’s New Band were picked because they sound good – but their name, Debt Collector, might be a little too close to home for some people right now. Perhaps they changed their name to fit in.

Songs like Well Sprung are world-weary and tired; the instruments only just dragging in time and dribble with lethargy. In comparison, Anxiety leaps out of the stalls, nimble and almost chipper – but not quite. These songs are enjoyed because of their slow gestation and sparse serving, like a good ragu.

Debt Collector – a glum reminder of financial ruin or a sweet ‘n’ lo-fi soundtrack to a slacker’s daydreaming? The latter rings truest. Listen here!

It’s Easter weekend now, and even bitter atheists will leap at a chance for a holiday. So we’ll be back next Tuesday with a bowel-tremblingly exciting week of ANBAD’s 1st birthday celebrations! Hooray!

>Today’s New Band – Goodbyehome PLUS! Reform or New Forms?


Did you know The Only Ones are reformed and gigging again? No, me neither. They split in ’82. If their name doesn’t ring bells, their ace hit Another Girl, Another Planet will – which is, as you’ll now remember, about as good a power-pop-punk song as has ever been written. Still not sure? Listen to it once and the song’ll still be pinging around your head when you go to sleep.
Re-forming is a bit of a tough decision to make for any band – Rock ‘n’ Roll isn’t about steering towards a pension at the end of it all, it’s about going down in a blaze of messy glory and fond memories. It’ll either be one last hurrah or one more drudge in front of aging fans from the old days.
I like to think that when faced with the possibility of seeing a reformed band, I’d dismissively murmur “Don’t look back”, in a smoulderingly pouty way. But then in the last 18 months, I’ve seen My Bloody Valentine and Bis (see previous posts ad nauseum) and have raved endlessly about both. And then look at it this way: If The Smiths reformed, who wouldn’t sell the family silver for a ticket?
Even so, there’s usually more compelling reasons to see a new band than an old one. You might catch them in a breathless, excitingly embryonic stage, which is kind of where Today’s New Band, Goodbyehome, are at. They’re from Chicago, and have that rare folky wistfulness that makes your heart soar and drop simultaneously.
Why I Never Run aches with loving tenderness. The guitar and strings soar over each other, weaving a sound so happy-sad that you might even miss the fact that the vocals do exactly the same thing in exactly the same way. Chemicals and Compromise has the kind of rambling rambunctiousness that’ll grab you by the lapels and pull you onto the dancefloor.
Goodbyehome make the music that would accompany sad, fond memories of a roadtrip where, after driving for hours in the wilderness, you met a beautiful girl at a bar in the middle of nowhere, and spent your whole night with her, knowing you’d never see her again. Sob. Sit at a lonely bar, nurse a beer and reminisce with them here!

>Today’s New Band – Rob St. John PLUS! Glumness! And more glumness!

>It goes without saying that It’s Grim Up North this time of year. In fact, it’s been grim up here for pretty much the whole of this year, but let’s not dwell on that now, in case the uncontrollable weeping starts again. When this particularly northern grimness overwhelms one’s soul, there are only two viable musical courses of action.

Firstly, the default option of Just Cheer The Hell Up, Saddo, which is initiated by the liberal application of Gabber (thanks, Holland), or spinning a couple of BONKERS! Happy Hardcore CDs (preferably in a souped-up Vauxhall Nova), or maybe just the sensible option of listening to Happy by the Stones.

That option is diversion therapy of sorts, and an entirely normal approach to life. Well, except maybe listening to Gabber, which I believe is usually seen these days by doctors as a diagnosis of mental illness. The second option is just to wallow in that miserablism and just luxuriate in that gloominess. Don’t knock it – Morrissey got two whole careers out of doing just that.

Inevitably, this brings us to Today’s New Band. I’m sure that Rob St. John are actually an entirely upbeat bunch, and their hobbies may well include gaily skipping through fields, making daisy chains and excitedly squealing whilst feeding baby animals, but their music is glummer than listening to Leonard Cohen reading Kurt Cobain‘s diaries out loud. (Note to self – patent that idea double-quick, there’s big money to be made there)

Kurt said there was a “comfort in being sad”, and that lovely, skewed approach permeates Rob St’ John‘s songs. Paper Ships is six-minutes of desolate sadness which also manages to be warm, gentle and uplifting despite the seemingly end-of-world feeling. A Red Heron is as close to upbeat as the band gets – tinkling sweetly like a music box, and slowly growing into a big, black, campfire song.

Rob St. John might just cheer you up, if you need it, or they might make you feel more gloomy than before. Whichever outcome, your soul’ll be stirred, and that is a rare thing indeed. Listen here, and then come back tomorrow, when everything will be much less miserable, I promise.