singles by choice
(albums when it's necessary)
7 April 2020
(listening with headphones)Avid Acutus
Funk F·XRII
Benz Micro LP-S
Linn Kilmax DS (Renew)
TEAD Mastergroove Mk 2
TEAD Vibe Phoenix / Pulse 2
Luxman P-1u
Sennheiser HD800

I want to listen to some records and do a bit of writing. But I can’t get out to buy records at the moment, so we’ll have to use some I already have.

Tonight we’re going to have a run through a Happy Happy Birthday To Me singles club thing from a few years ago. About a dozen records, all split singles, all different colours, but all of the US indiepop in which HHBTM specialise.

Should be fun. For me anyway. I doubt you’ll get much out if it.

They’re not in order, and the first off the queue is number ten in the series. Blue sleeve, blue vinyl, and featuring Cars Can Be Blue. I see what they did there.

All Girl Summer Fun Band do their slightly retro girl-group take on indiepop. Little Bird is about ten seconds of dicking about with the world’s most fuzzed-up guitar and some a capella corpsing. I mention it primarily because there are so many little birds in our garden at the moment. I feel happy that we’re giving nature a little breather, even though I know we’ll collectively start stamping on its throat again as soon as we possibly can.

Cars Can Be Blue sounds like it might be Kim Shattuck. I don’t know if it is, and this computer’s not on the Internet (really – this is my new thing) so I can’t check. I also don’t particularly care. I’m not like those Pitchfork writers, who casually say “…when Skylar Van Allen plugged in a Tascam 238 to record Apoplectic Meat Circus’s Suitcase of Spaghetti in the second week of March ‘85…” and make you feel like you don’t have any right to claim to like music because you didn’t already know that. I’m not that at all. I write vague pointless crap rather than specific pointless crap. If what you have to say is totally unimportant, don’t dress it up as if it’s not.

So. Touch It is a raucous, catchy as you-know-what blast about boys being shit, which they are. Mosh Pit is similar but dialled back a bit and not quite as good. All you need to know, and scores are fine as integers. Easy as that.

Winner: Cars Can Be Blue

4

Brown Bear, brown printing on the sleeve, black vinyl? Boy, I really hope someone got fired for that blunder. The front cover has screenprint of a bear dancing romantically with a fish, and you don’t see that often enough these days. Maybe when we’ve all shuffled off and left nature to its own magical devices, that sort of thing will be commonplace. This is number three in the series.

The Secret Life of Brown Bear is nothing special, but Alone in My Principles (like me) is an absolute belter. The insert tells us that Bunnygrunt had a MySpace page, under the name therealbunnygrunt. I bet there were a lot of fake ones. I had a MySpace page. No, really, I did. Hell, I probably still have.

I don’t know who Phil Wilson is, but he loves Lee Rimmick. (Though I always though she was Lee Remmick.) She is, apparently, a darlin’. Can you say that now? Sounds a bit pre-hashtag-me-too.

Winner: Bunnygrunt, by knockout.

3

I loved The Apples in Stereo, but I’ve never been much of a fan of anything the others have done away from the band. Here’s Dr Professor Sir Robert Schneider delivering a not particularly whimsical tale wherein titular Count moves to California, gets a record deal, and sells out. He knows his way around a tune, but he’s never been much of a lyricist. Also, no need for the language.

I don’t like Casper and the Cookies’ name, and their songs here are only really OK. Jennifer’s House, if you’re wondering, is made of bricks and smells of shit. Huff is the first downbeat thing we’ve had, breaking out the acoustic and going to town on the reverb. I liked it.

Oh, yellow sleeve, pink vinyl, number two.

Winner: Casper and the Cookies, on penalties.

2

Remember when it was cold in winter? I liked that, even when I lived in a shitty, freezing cold house with a couple of hippies. You’d wear your winter clothes to bed in there. (And when it was warm they pretty much didn’t wear any clothes at all.)

I liked Winter Clothes and Passing Ships a lot. I don’t think I have anything else by Velcro Stars, but I might have a look what else they did. They’re capable but pleasingly rough round the edges, and I can’t be certain if the singer is a chick or a dude. (I think the former, but who cares anyway?)

Dark blue vinyl, which matches the printing on the (very nice) sleeve.

On the other side, Keith John Adams (figuratively) does Lydia. I had a friend at art college called Lydia. She was lovely, one of those people who are a pleasure to be around. Don’t know what happened to her. Haven’t thought about her in ten years I bet. Hope she’s doing okay.

Keith likes his Lydia, and isn’t impressed with where her life is going. She should give him a go I reckon. He really likes her, and he does indiepop, so he’s probably alright even if he’s likely a bit of a wuss.

Winner: Velcro Stars. (Fatality)

5

Here, the Apples sound like Marbles, and, as I said, I’m not really a fan. You wouldn’t/couldn’t compare this to anything in their proper canon. I guess Robert Schneider had loftier things on his mind, but the later work really feels like spare-time bedroom stuff compared to, say Tone Soul Evolution or Velocity of Sound.

Patience is very underrated these days. Travel, I think, is very overrated. A wise man once said, “wherever you go, there you are”, and he was right. I think I’m lucky (though my wife does not agree) because I don’t need to go anywhere. I live in my head. If I go somewhere else, it’s the same old me in a different place. It makes no difference except I’m probably too hot now, and anxious because I don’t know if I’m supposed to tip someone.

And it doesn’t broaden the mind. I know people who are constantly travelling, and my word they’re dull. They’ve been everywhere, pumped a billion tons of shit into the air, and all they do with it is come back and bore me to tears with endless volumes of What I Did On My Holidays. Stay at home. Think. Think about your place in the world, or about the world’s place in the universe, or the universe’s place in time. That’s what broadens the mind.

Winner: nil - nil draw

2

More Apples in Stereo spin-off. I always liked Hilarie’s songs best, and I thought some of the Secret Square stuff was very good, but I remember being disappointed by what I thought was a one-dimensional High Water Marks album. Their song here is okay. Angular and lo-fi, but not anything special.

Love Letter Band sound like they’re trying to soundtrack every Quentin Tarantino film in a single song. They make the point that however much you protest, you’ll never change anything. This is true. The Internet has given people the illusion of power; the illusion of a voice. That’s why everyone’s mad that they don’t get listened to now: they think that because they can speak, someone will listen. So they speak louder, and the things they say become more extreme, and they just get angrier. We were happier before, when we knew no one cared. It gave us a sense of quiet underdog solidarity, rather than an sense of impotent rage.

Number 12 in the series, and certainly the darkest and deepest so far.

Winner: Love Letter Band

3

This one’s posh. Two colour screenprint (gold and dark blue) on a double-fold card sleeve, and lovely dark marbled vinyl.

oM’s song straddles the experimental/tossed-off-b-side line. It’s a racket, largely electronic, and forgettable. Across the series as a whole, it feels like the less well-known the band, the more effort they put in to their songs. That would make sense, wouldn’t it?

James Husband (wasn’t he in of Montreal?) sounds more like oM than they did, but straighter and poppier. Every time I write James Husband I want to write “James Husband is not my Husband”, which I think I get from “Jim Nabors is Not One of My Nabors”.

Winner: James Husband is not my Husband

3

You couldn’t expect to get through twelve indiepop split singles without Jen or Stew popping up at least once, could you? They get number four in the series: pink vinyl, and a pink sleeve which appropriates the logo of famous NYC clothing vendor, The Ramones.

Now, Boyracer obviously really know their way around this territory, and adroitly blast through three bursts of spikily infections double-time, double chord mayhem. The Faintest Ideas (who made the gloriously titled What Goes Up Must Calm Down), on the flip side, sound not unlike them, but also a little like the singer from out of off of Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci crossed with Robert Smith. Ugh. Imagine anything having to be crossed with Robert Smith.

Winner: Boyracer, natch.

3

Yes, it is that On Tape, and they’re even copying the sleeve of Formula One Generation on the insert. (On Tape wasn’t on that, was it?) But, like everything else these days, it’s all changed. So instead of Songs for Children, he’s got “Roadrunner by the Modern Lovers” (who hasn’t?) and a Darren Hayman solo album. (So what?)

So, reader, if you were to re-write On Tape, what might you want to mention you have? If, like me, you haven’t got anything at all on tape, you could list records instead. So: “I’ve got both Cactopus singles”. Or “I’ve got the AIDS Wolf/Satanized split single. Original Badmaster issue”. You get the idea.

The Tullycraft dude’s also got a Smittens EP, and they’re on the other side. Pretty flipping meta, right?

About those Smittens. Twee as the proverbial eff, but cool. Handclapping, keyboards, girl singing, sort of mechanical. Very pleasant.

Winner: The Smittens. (On vinyl.)

4

Green vinyl, green sleeve. I don’t like the artwork very much. It’s psychedelic, and I don’t care for psychedelia. I think this is a hangover from being in the sixth form, when pretty much all my friends decided maharishi-era Beatles was the cutting edge, started calling each other “man”, and spent a third of their time taking acid, another third talking about the last time they took acid, and the final third talking about the next time they were going to take acid. Very dull.

Andy From Denver is/are more polished and sophisticated than most of what we’ve had so far. It has harmonies and everything. Quite a complex song, interlocking, overlapping, and for reasons I can’t explain, it makes me think of early Level 42. Not very psychedelic.

Fortunately, Red Pony Clock bring some Elephant 6 style psych to save my face. The arrangement is of the “I know a guy with a trumpet” / “Cool! Bring him down and he can play something!” school. It’s all a bit of a mess, but not in a particularly good way.

Winner: Red Pony Clock, but it’s hollow.

2

Assuming I was right earlier about the less well known bands having better songs, this should be an absolute belter. It’s number one in the series too, and you wouldn’t start off with rubbish, would you?

Fishboy sounds a bit like he’s on the wrong speed, and he sings about animals, generally stealing things off one another. It made me sadly nostalgic for my childhood. I’ve no idea why. Nostalgia is supposed to be sad. Supposed to be pain. The clue is in the “algia”. It’s a more sophisticated concept than liking Ferris Bueller.

Baby Calendar also sound a bit like they’re going too fast. Musically their song is like a twee DIY version of an early Throwing Muses track, but the vocals aren’t like that at all. Man, those hi-hats are forward in the mix. You wouldn’t get that on a Muses record either.

Winner: Baby Calendar, on points, split decision

4

Cars Can be Blue got the blue vinyl, but Always Red Society get grey. Or gray, I suppose, as it’s american.

This is the first 33rpm-er of the series, which is fair enough as there are nine songs here.

Always Red Society have a lot of tape hiss. First they do a twin-guitar instrumental. Then a proper, slightly Neutral Milk Hotel-ish song. Then a sort of hamfisted, half-arsed doodle. Quick blast of Ween. Another nice bit of guitar noodling, and they’re done. “Interesting” would probably be the word. Had that Olivia Tremor Control “we could do a cracking pop song, or we could just dick about with a tape recorder for ten minutes” vibe.

More Apples in Stereo affiliation on the other side, with Sunshine Fix. Again, they try to be awkward, buggering about with the tape speed, overloading everything, and all of that, but there’s no hiding good songs and a great voice.

Winner: Sunshine Fix

3

Poison Control Center did one of my favourite songs. It’s called All Summer Long, it’s on a HHBTM compilation CD, and it’s about eighty seconds of pop perfection. Their effort here, with its shambling, shuffling drum beat, spotty bass and general off-centeredness reminds me of, if not New Bad Things, then one of their spin-offs. Wallpaper, maybe. Or Awesome. It’s pretty good. But not exactly Awesome.

Ideal Free Distribution are straight outta the 1960s. They do an irresistibly upbeat summer pop song. It’s been a beautiful day here today. I spent all day in the garden building some steps, and my face got a little bit sunburnt.

Holiday was a great way to finish (even though the Sunshine Fix record was actually last in the series). I enjoyed them all, and they’re all back on the shelf now, in the correct order. Harmony reigns.

Winner: Ideal Free Distribution, but it’s close

5