Episode 21 - Sheffield

I don't know as much about Sheffield as I should. There was quite a good novel about the miners' strike, inter alia, called The Northern Clemency by Philip Hensher which I can mildly recommend. It's the tallest city in Europe (I think). My football team travelled there in the quarter and semi-finals during our triumphant F A Cup run of 1987, just two years before Hillsborough became synonymous with tragedy.

Musically I did once travel to Sheffield after work (I was in Coventry at the time) to see The Teardrop Explodes at the university. Travelled back after the gig, got back home at 3 a.m., then showed up for work, no problem. 

Musically there's an electronic post-punk thread in the experiments of early Human League, Heaven 17, Cabaret Voltaire and Clock DVA (the latter of whom time did not allow to be featured). Then the idiosyncratic twin peaks of Pulp and The Arctic Monkeys (plus Alex Turner's many other projects). All very fine music, and enough to organise any episode around.

But researching this programme I came across a slew of hidden gems including two excellent featured tracks from Chakk and They Must Be Russians, indicating a very vibrant local scene, overshadowed perhaps by Manchester and Liverpool's reputation as musical epicentres to the west. There is a host of other post-punk bands which would merit further exploration included in the book/CD Beats Working for a Living: Sheffield Popular Music 1973-84.

And, on a personal note, Into The Garden by Artery is one of those tracks that, once heard, has stayed with me for life.

Here's the tracklist:- 

Help the Aged, Pulp

Being Boiled, The Human League

(We don't need this) Fascist Groove Thang, Heaven 17

Where have I seen you, They must be Russians 

Into the garden, Artery

505, Arctic Monkeys

Just Wait, Chakk 

Separated by Motorways, The Long Blondes

Sluggin fer Jesus (Part One), Cabaret Voltaire

Baby You're My Light, Richard Hawley

Standing next to me, The Last Shadow Puppets

Total War, Comsat Angels

Radio Protector, 65daysofstatic

Episode 20 - Dream Pop

Without really thinking about it, I seem to have been a big fan of Dream Pop since it was invented.  And before that, with my copies of early Durutti Column albums which I played to death through lazy sunny mornings in the 1980s and beyond. Why would I ever have fought shy of the genre?

Firstly, because it's got the word 'pop' in it, and for slightly tedious and altogether snobbish reasons, I don't really like thinking of myself as someone who likes 'pop' music. And yet, after all, why not? Am I too good for things that other people like? It doesn't pay to be elitist. (There are good reasons for not liking 'pop music' as an idea, in fact. But they're more to do with commercial manipulation. I'm happy to say that none of the artists featured in this episode can be classified under that banner).

Secondly, because I lived in England most of my life, dream pop, although coined by Alex Ayuli of the thoroughly English and criminally overlooked band A R Kane, is not a term in highly frequent currency in that country. Shoegazing became the rather comic term, although in practice the two have become somewhat interchangeable over the years. And I do feel a little ambivalent about the shoegazing term as it seems too heavily invested in the process and production rather than the consumption and enjoyment. Ahem.

It's helpful to define terms. That's what academics like doing, and I still have some affinity with academia, although too much of a dilettante to make a career out of it. (And too interested in income). Wikipedia to our aid. "The Guide to Electronica defines dream pop as "an atmospheric subgenre of alternative rock that relies on sonic textures as much as melody". Common characteristics are breathy vocals and use of guitar effects, often producing a "wall of noise". Dream pop tends to focus on textures and moods rather than propulsive rock riffs. Lyrics are often introspective or existential in nature. In the view of music critic Simon Reynolds, dream pop "celebrates rapturous and transcendent experiences, often using druggy and mystical imagery". According to Rachel Felder, dream pop artists often resist representations of social reality in favor of ambiguous or hallucinogenic experiences.

This episode's tracks don't always correspond to these definitions, though many do. This then is Sombrero Fallout's version of a Dream Pop world, and you don't need drugs to appreciate it (though the choice is yours). Here's the tracklist. 

Iceblink Luck, Cocteau Twins 

Strange, Galaxie 500 

Walk in the Park, Beach House 

Lose my breath, My Bloody Valentine 

Snow joke, A R Kane 

Tonite it shows, Mercury Rev 

Fade into you, Mazzy Star 

Jewel, Cranes 

Sketch for Dawn, The Durutti Column 

Staralfur, Sigur Ros 

Sunset, The xx 

 

Episode 19 - Male Songs, Female Covers

The art of the great cover version lies in making the song your own. That could mean a fairly straight or faithful rendition, which might work if your vibe is close in spirit to the original artist's. But it's usually more intriguing to hear radical reinterpretations of familiar songs. Or alternatively, for obscure original material to receive some populist treatment. This episode has a look specifically at female takes on traditionally male songs.

S Etienne's 'Only love can break your heart' and The Slits' version of the Motown standard 'I heard it through the grapevine' are both triumphs of migrating a strong original into a different genre. Broadly that's a dub universe on both occasions, but one is from the dub dance days of the early '90s and the other from the jerky post-punk era of the late '70s. Both stand up exceptionally well, with the added slant while The Slits' radical feminism renders them more relevant to these diverse times. For another great early Slits' song, Episode 1 features their classic 'Typical Girls'. 'Sylvie' by St Etienne appears on the Sisters and Brothers episode.

A couple of artists noted for over-indexing on testosterone and taking a strong masculine line are The Stones and Black Sabbath. But in the hands of The Sundays ('Wild Horses') and Sweden's Cardigans ('Ironman') what once was cock rock becomes anything but: floaty, ethereal, dream-pop renditions of the old male standards, and all the better for it. Frente ('Bizarre Love Triangle') and Yo La Tengo ('Needle of Death') also bring the gentler hand of a feminine sensibility to bear, but over a less gendered blueprint.

It's harder to find beefed-up versions of male originals, of course - although to hear a rather cartoony scream of a song have a listen to Babes in Toyland 'All by Myself', not featured here. On the other hand The Dum Dum Girls produce a wonderfully powerful rendition of The Smiths' classic 'There is a light that never goes out' without losing sight of the empathy in the original.

One track you must hear: Marcy Mays of the band Scrawl was bought in by Greg Dulli to sing 'My Curse' for his group The Afghan Whigs. It was a brave decision, but she produces a jaw-dropping performance of a difficult but visceral song. Tracklist:-

Only love can break your heart, St Etienne (orig: Neil Young)

Black Steel, Tricky (orig: Public Enemy) 

I heard it through the grapevine, The Slits (orig: Marvin Gaye)

My Curse, Afghan Whigs 

Ironman, The Cardigans (orig: Black Sabbath)

There is a light that never goes out, Dum Dum Girls (orig: The Smiths)

Mr Blue Sky, The Delgados (orig: ELO)

Bizarre Love Triangle, Frente (orig: New Order)

Needle of Death, Yo La Tengo  (orig: Bert Jansch)

Hanging on the telephone, Blondie (orig: The Nerves)

Dear Prudence, Siouxsie and the Banshees (orig: The Beatles)

Wild Horses, The Sundays (orig: The Rolling Stones)