Go-Kart Mozart - ‘Retro-Glancing’ from ‘On The Hot Dog Streets’
At the half way point in the year (June 25th to be precise) ‘On The Hot Dog Streets’ by Go-Kart Mozart was released. Posted below is what I wrote at the time. It strikes me that there is little to add except that the record has continued to surprise and delight me throughout the second half of 2012 and that I proclaim it to be the most marvellously, naturally strange album of the year.
Doggin' On A Budget (or the triumphant return of Go-Kart Mozart)
It feels as though there has been something of a spotlight on Lawrence of late, what with the ‘Lawrence of Belgravia’ film and various Felt books. I understand there have been several features in the music press too. This is as it should be, for Lawrence’s is one of the great Pop stories; his records some of the greatest, period.
There is something of a received wisdom amongst many that the peak of Lawrence’s creative output is carefully bound within the decade of Felt. I think there’s a mistake to be made there. I should know. I’ve made it myself. For whilst I immediately adored the ‘Back In Denim’ record, it took me a great deal longer to understand the brilliance of ‘Denim On Ice’. The ‘Novelty Rock’ concept was difficult to warm to at first, particularly in the light of the artful legacy of the Felt years. In more recent times, however, I have come to adore the Denim records even more than the Felt ones. If pressed at gun-point to choose between the entire Felt and Denim catalogues I would wriggle, squirm and evade the issue for as long as possible before plumping for Denim. That will sound like sacrilege to some and unreasonably perverse awkwardness to others. True nonetheless.
What then of Go-Kart Mozart in that equation? Well, I admit that with the release of ‘On The Hot Dog Streets’ the position of that particular Lawrence incarnation in the pecking order is far from easy to place. Certainly those who cling to the theory that the Lawrence timeline from Felt to Denim to Go-Kart Mozart is one of diminishing returns will find that ‘Hot Dog Streets’ at least forcibly challenges such a perception and at best turns it, if not on its head, certainly sends it sideways with some quizzical glances.
Personally I think ‘Hot Dog’ is easily the most accessible and accomplished Lawrence record since ‘Denim On Ice’ (the tragically aborted hit-that-never-was ‘Summer Smash’ aside). In its way it’s up there with ‘Back In Denim’ as a peculiar protest record; a collection of songs that exists almost entirely within its own carefully mythologised context. Complete with sleeve-notes.
It is certainly every bit as artful as anything Felt recorded. It just happens to be painted in gaudier colours from an altogether seedier and stranger palette. It’s a Pop Art picture of Dorian Gray that has been caught mid way between glamorous Jeff Koons’ sheen and ruinous syphilitic destruction. By turns euphoric, unsettling, touching and sneering (often flipping from one to the other on a whip-quick whim), the record makes for a peculiarly accurate snapshot of our times that may yet prove to be both as of its time and timeless as The Sex Pistols’ debut was at the tail of nineteen seventies.
Lawrence has (in)famously stated that he always believed he could (and indeed would) be a bona fide Pop Star. So is ‘On The Hot Dog Streets’ the record to make that happen, or will it do little more than cement his already established reputation as something of a cult oddity? In a parallel world it’s of course the former. But then in that parallel universe it’s a moot point because he is already bigger than Jesus. Or at least John Lennon.
Sadly in the harsh light of reality one doubts that ‘On The Hot Dog Streets’ will allow Lawrence to trouble ‘The One Show’ again, but you never know. Stranger things have happened. Most already to Lawrence.
Why did Pants Yell! not conquer the world? Oh yeah, the world is dim and dumb and deaf and blind. Well if you missed on Pants Yell! then make sure you pick up on Andrew Churchman’s CUFFS, for they are equally the stuff of legend. Everything about this record thrilled me when I first heard it, and it simply thrills me still.
Now I like a bit of rough and raw r’n’r from the garage as much as the next person, but I like my edges shaved just ever so slightly. I long for those almost imperceptible spots of Pop varnish to the bare, unfinished timber. This is what CUFFS give me. And how. Drums that tumble and rumble over themselves in their eagerness to get to the end; a vocal that by turns mumbles and yelps, supported by manly ‘ba-ba-ba’s in the background of the bedroom; shattered shards of electricity piercing the skies and rolling under the thunder. There is even a perfunctory, ever-so-slightly wonky tricky guitar solo. Awesome.
Alpaca Sports - 'Just For Fun' from 'Just For Fun' 7" Alpaca Sports - 'She'll Come Back For Indian Summer' from download single Alpaca Sports - ‘I Was Running’ from ‘I Was Running’ 7”
What’s that you say? Pick just one Alpaca Sports song for the Unpopular advent?! Mais, c’est impossible!
Of all the music that was new to me in 2012, Göteborg’s Alpaca Sports were surely the ones who moved me the most; the ones who made me smile so wryly and shyly; the ones who made my heart spin and my head explode.
In case you didn’t already know, Alpaca Sports make the most sublime bubblegum indiepop. It is so difficult to do that so well, so easy to do it so badly. Witness any number of faceless and nameless groups of hapless chancers and charmless dancers. Girl meets boy, so what? indeed.
So why Alpaca Sports? Well I could nod to reference points that should make you swoon: The Field Mice, The Wake, Pastels, Brilliant Corners, Harvey Williams, ‘A Swedish Love Story’ but that would tell only the superficial, obvious story and as mentioned already, there are plenty who you could point to as making such a mess with the self-same touch-stones. I could tell you that they dress so sharp, that they look so young and charming and would break your heart in dufflecoats and summer dresses. I could tell you that they had heartwarming hand-claps and ‘ba-ba-ba’s’ and that they had tambourines tattooed over their tattered hearts.
I could tell you all those things and then write copious words on how important all those connections and puzzle pieces are. Yet in the end and in truth they matter not in the slightest. Because this is what the best Pop always does - it leaves us breathless and euphoric, exhausted and emotional. It does it without thinking, without resort to reason or to meaning. It just is. It just does.
Cave Cat - ‘The Abject’ from ‘Deception’ 7” Westkust - ‘Surf’ from ‘Junk’ EP
Goteborg’s Cave Cat followed their tragically unsung city-mates Damn The Lion in capturing the ghosts of Bradford and Chameleons in their guitar tendrils. Making minor chord melancholia in the vein of East Village and The Windmills, they gave away two free-to-download singles in the opening months of the year that I for one clutched eagerly to my tatty bruised heart. A perfectly formed clear vinyl 7” followed in October
Label-mates Westkust meanwhile turned in a fabulous 12” EP for the same Luxury label a month or two previously. It’s fizz and burn was reminiscent of Wedding Present playing songs for a fuzzed out beach party, leaving hearts beautifully, blissfully bruised.
Rose Elinor Dougall - ‘The Night’ from ‘The Distractions’ EP Toy - ‘My Heart Skips A Beat’ from ‘TOY’
‘The Distractions’ EP arrived early in January 2012 and fairly lit up those short, gloomy days with shivering Pop sparklers that twinkled and glowered from under heavily eye-lined lids. Oh how we eagerly anticipated a long-player of similarly scorching, soaring sounds, only to be greeted with a damnable echoing silence. The appearance of the debut set by TOY, which in many ways seemed to build on the sonic foundations laid by ‘The Distractions’ was small (but undeniably welcome) consolation.
French for rabbits - ‘A Ghosts Broken Heart’ from ‘Claimed by the Sea’ EP
There is something very liberating about picking up on music from the other side of the world. Unencumbered by the pressure of local ‘scenes’ and who it is, or is not cool to be seen listening to, one can dip and choose on a whim and a prayer. New Zealand threw up lots of great records for me in 2012. The aforementioned Fishrider label gave some delights, as did the always enjoyable Lil’ Chief Records (incidentally, check out the Eversons’ ‘Christmas Suicide Song’ for festive delectation), yet my favourite antipodean artefact of the year was undoubtedly the ‘Claimed By The Sea’ EP by French For Rabbits. That it came in a hand crafted case with a personalised, hand-written thank you note (mine also had a drawing!) would probably have been enough in itself, but the fact that the music was such a glorious whispering iced gem certainly didn’t harm it’s prospects.
So the final Unpopular mix for the year is a Christmas Special. A mix of old and new, bitter and sweet. Grab a glass of christmas cheer here. It'll be empty by Christmas eve.
Little Donkey - The Boy Least Likely To
The Thought That Counts - The Lucksmiths
Spend Christmas Day With Me - Darren Hanlon
Christmas Chimes - The Chills
Christmas in the Country - The Puddle
I Want You Back For Christmas - September Girls & The #1s
Why Should Christmas Be So Hard? - Attic Lights
Christmas in Oakland - Advance Base
Only Dust Behind - Allo Darlin'
Tinsel and Lights - Tracey Thorn
River - Joni Mitchell
Holiday - Julie Byrne
Christmas Wrapping - Summer Camp
christmas peace - Shade tree
Christmas Tears - The Hit Parade
Leaving Christmas Day - Tender Trap
You Trashed My Christmas - The Primitives
I Just Froze - Decoration
A Christmas No. 1 - The Bitter Springs
Merry Christmas To The Drunks, Merry Christmas To The Lovers - Ballboy
The Salvation Army band played in the town hall square
The Puddle - ‘On the Town’ from ‘Secret Holiday/ Victory Blues’
Opposite Sex- ‘La Rat’ from ‘Opposite Sex’
Quite why I did not pick up on New Zealand’s The Puddle before 2012 is beyond me. One of those strange but wholly understandable blind spots caused by a slight case of musical ADHD... Still, one of the positives is that I have thoroughly enjoyed becoming acquainted with them this year, and in particular with 'Secret Holiday/Victory Blues' set on the Fishrider label. Hugely reminiscent of Vic Godard, these songs could easily be from some long-lost Subway Sect album. And if that doesn’t make you want to investigate then frankly I fear for your sanity and your soul.
The ‘Secret Holiday/Victory Blues’ vinyl was made available in the UK by the previously mentioned Occultation label, and in partnership with Fishrider they unleashed the very wonderful Opposite Sex album. A fabulous slice of awkward angles and razorblades lurking in candyfloss, 'Opposite Sex' put me in mind of Look Blue Go Purple playing Pylon songs or of The Mekons flirting with The Raincoats eating chips in the rain in Leigh-On-Sea. Whatever, album opener ‘La Rat’ was a highlight not just of their eponymous album, but of the entire year.
Linden - ‘I Just Wanna Be Here (When I'm Somewhere Else)’ from ‘Bleached Highlights'
Former Groovy Little Number and Superstar Joe McAlinden returned this year with the gorgeous soft-pop-country-rock of ‘Bleached Highlights’ on Edwyn Collins’ and James Endeacott’s AED label. Sleeved in the vivacious (P)op-Art of Jim Lambie’s ‘Vortex’ (and lest we forget Lambie was once a Boy Hairdresser whose ‘Golden Shower’ single will be forever inextricably connected to The Groovie’s ‘You Make My Head Explode’ - in my world at the very least) it proved to be one of the finest comebacks of the year.