Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Beard Singles Club!

Oh man it's hot today. Almost too hot to write. But enough of my feeble excuses: clap your hands and rustle your giros cos it's another exciting edition of Beard Singles Club. Yay!

National Park
The Only Stars/La Solara
(Yield Recordings)

It's been too long since we last heard from National Park. Never the most prolific bands, they've preferred to maintain an air of mystery, releasing the occasional single and playing the occasionl gig, most memorably on the roof of the old John Smith's book store in Byre's Road.
While his sidekicks Simon Shaw and Michael McGaughrin have gone on to make their own music with Lucky Luke and 1990s, head Park-keeper John Hogarty has been keeping a lower profile, storing up two albums worth of material (oh boy!). The first glimpse of this comes with The Only Stars, a dreamy piece of out-pop. A hypnotic tom rhythm and droney chord progression underpin a psychedelic smear of gauzy guitars, minimalist piano (courtesy of the great Bill Wells) and woozy flute and horn (Sarah Martin and Mick Cooke of Belle & Sebastian take a bow). Hogarty sings softly, the melody recalling Teenage Fanclub at their most reflective, before a more visceral, yet melodic, guitar break emerges from the haze. Far from ruining the song's atmosphere, it reveals the darkness lurking beneath the beauty.
A most welcome return.

Available from Monorail Music (Glasgow)

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Napoleon IIIrd/Pagan Wanderer Lu
Hit Schmooze For Me/Repetition 1
(Brainlove Records)

If you like your pop warped and experimental Brainlove Records deserves a special place in your heart. Like Postcard, Warp or even early Def Jam, Brainlove is one of those little labels that delivers a diverse range of music, yet maintains a strong identity for itself, partly through its artwork but mainly through its comittment to underground pop that's sexy, arty and innovative. So it makes perfect sense that their latest wheeze is a singles club, a series of split 7"s featuring the label's extended family.
The series sets out its stall with afrom Napoleon IIIrd's brilliant one man and his laptop (not to mention his strobing acoustic guitar). I've raved about the Leeds based emperor of the DIY scene before and Hit Schmooze For Me Is no disappointment, immediately grabbing your attention with urgent multitracked vocals.
"This is not my life, it's just a day job that means I can pay the rent" our hero declames. Too many bands are milking the grimy reality cow, but this is several cuts above the dreary likes of Hard Fi. Like many a DIY artist or musician (or fanzine editor!) Napoleon subsidises his creative endeavours with a crap job. So while he's railing against the 9-5 drudge, he's aiming towards the stars. There's a bleary eyed sarkiness to lines like "Was that you that set my alarm to execute this morning". Yup, I can sympathise.
All this is accompanied by battered beats and a splatter of electronic fizzes, swoops and swirls, breaking down at the end to reveal a Kraftwerk-like sequence of insectoid notes and woozy backing vocals. Few artists capture the frustrations of urban life and work as well as Napoleon IIIrd.
Equally good is the contribution from new signing Pagan Wanderer Lu. Tapping into a similar sense of melancholy and frustration Mr Lu, as he shall henceforth be known, sings of jealous lovers and letters never sent over finger-picked acoustic guitars, Casio drones and clockwork beats. Showing a playful approach to arrangement, Lu decorates one verse with jaunty wap wap backing vocals and drops in an 8 bit Nintendo bassline for an instrumental break. Inventive, soulful and witty, this is a superb calling card from Mr Lu. Just don't call it folktronica, alright?


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