Sløtface – The Old Queens Head – November 20th 2019

If 2019 has taught me anything, it’s to jump when Georgie, the fab PR person from Propeller Records, sends a recommendation about anything. She promotes a fab range of music, largely from Norway. It’s never failed me yet in terms of quality.

I was going to have a Wednesday in but then got the notice that Sløtface (still pronounced Slutface) were doing a special event at The Old Queens Head. It’s a pub just down the road on the Essex Road, a little over five minutes walk away. Always looking appealing from the outside, now was my chance to see the interior.

There’s a Wednesday celebration going on downstairs at the Old Queens Head. I guess that somebody has just got married. “I said to you in the first year of uni that by the third year I’d be sucking your cock”, screams one drunken casualty. It’s 8PM and I quickly head upstairs, following the printed instruction. 

It’s quite a venue – faux square music hall with an edge of punk spirit. On Wednesday’s The Old Queens Head does cocktails for a fiver. Sadly, it takes a good fiver minutes to make each drink. That leads to queues of nonsense length at the bars. It’s a good job that it’s a midweek session. 

Sløtface are here to excitedly proclaim that their new and second album, Sorry For The Late Reply, is about to launch. The set-up for tonight is announced. We’re going to get a band Q&A with a journalist from the NME before a first listen to the new disc. To round things off, Sløtface will play a short set. The serious fans here whoosh in unified excitement.

It’s hard not to warm to Sløtface. The NME fanboy gets his notebook out and asks his prepared questions. Discussions like this are rarely fun. But, at least he steers clear of questions about the recording process. There’s little more dull than discovering about how an album was engineered. 

We learn that for Sløtface, releasing records is anti-climatic, akin to those birthdays that nobody remembers. The staunchly feminist band rally against missed merch mistakes before revealing that this new record is political but personal not preachy. It still might be categorised as indie pop punk but Sløtface show that their influences range wider; Weaves, Phoebe Bridges and Julien Baker all get nods of acknowledgement. Specific tracks are mentioned. The NME scribe believes that ‘Crying In Amsterdam’ is the album’s centrepiece but the band are less sure. All of Sløtface like ‘Stuff’ because they didn’t much like Haley’s boyfriend who it’s about. “I wanted to call it ‘anti-consumerist love song‘”, says Haley, ever so jubilantly. 

The album does sound ace. Many here must have already heard it because they get up and mingle, talking over the top. I like what I hear. There’s every indication that 2020 could be a major year for Sløtface as their difficult second record lands. 

Gigs in bright rooms put on for fans and press wonks are always odd affairs. But the four members of Sløtface make a better fist of it than most. Tracks from this new album sound impressive and stand up well against the odd old track (Nancy Drew). A break from their current tour with Pup, Sløtface are initially relaxed about our sedentary state. But, by the end, they’re urging us to our feet. Haley stage dives because it’s what she’s done on every night of this tour. Sløtface are a band that could connect with you anywhere. 

The chap from the NME visibly riles Sløtface when he suggests that their mission is to make as many enemies as friends. On tonight’s evidence, the likelihood of more friends is the certainty. 

Spearmint and Piney Gir – The Water Rats – November 14th 2019

I’m none too sure when I first heard Spearmint. It might have been when the much missed ‘Word’ magazine featured one of their tracks, the excellent ‘Scottish Pop’, on their wonderful monthly compilation CD. It could have been as a result of listening to good friend Steve and his effusive praising of the album ‘A Different Lifetime’. 

“It’s got a story running throughout that you’ll definitely relate to”, said Steve. The rise and subsequent fall of relationships was undoubtedly my thing back then. 

Whatever, I’ve been a fan of Spearmint for the best part of twenty years. And, in that time, I’ve never once seen them live. I do remember trying to get my friend Richard to book them for Summer Sundae after I found one of their CDs lurking in the submissions box. “I’ve never heard of them”, he said, promptly putting an end to that plan.

Imagine my excitement then that on a cold Thursday night in London, I’m going to see Spearmint at the Water Rats. The venue is close enough to walk to, just 15 minutes from my new property guardianship. It’s all set up perfectly. 

Water Rats is a fab, iconic venue. I’ve been here years ago but not in the last year since I’ve been living in London. A cosy bar at the front gives way to a back room complete with a decent stage, lighting desk and sound system. It seems better equipped than many of the spit and sawdust gig venues I go to; more upmarket, the place oozes confidence and class. 

Piney Gir supports Spearmint. And makes a bloody good job of it. Piney is dressed in a stylish, 60’s era, black dress with a swathe of green running through it. Her backing singer dresses in identical fashion but the green dash is replaced by red. The backing band dress with similar astuteness. It’s very mod; stylish, cute and kooky with a healthy amount of maraca shaking. “This one was written during a summer when I listened to nothing but doo-wop”, says Piney before launching into a set highlight,  ‘Peanut Butter Malt Shop Heartthrob’. 

Piney’s an engaging raconteur, a bit of a vintage witch and full of ideas about how Spearmint could improve their merch take by selling toothpaste. Most of all though, there’s a smiley joy about this set. Her final song comes with a chorus of ‘I could make you happy every day’ and by the time the song ends few are in the mood to argue. There’s a ton of grinning as we head back to the bar for refills.

 

Spearmint take to the stage on the dot of nine. They’ve got a lot to get through. Mr. Shirley Lee wears a smart dotted shirt and a skinny red leather tie. It’s almost as if he’s come straight from work. The bulk of tonight’s set draws from Spearmint’s recently released album, Are You From The Future?. And I don’t mind this at all seeing as it’s been on regular repeat since I received a copy. It’s a fine work and, in the live setting, the songs come alive even more. The electro-pop urgency of ‘St. Thomas In The Darkness’ sounds nothing like Band Aid’s ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ but we still laugh at the observation made by an American journalist in interview. 

Of the new album tunes, ‘Fireflies’, all about the reliability of memories, really hits the spot. ‘Pick The Paper Up’ sees Spearmint firmly nail their colours to Europe and we all love them the more for that. They’re a band of vintage and they use this experience well. You can’t help but gulp in awe when the gently subtle harmonies between the band come to the fore. 

A sprinkling of older tracks are mixed in to keep the nostalgia-heads happy. I guess I’m one of them. I cannot even explain the all-encompassing joy I feel when hearing the likes of Julie Christie, Scottish Pop and The Flaming Lips played live. They are stupendous indie-pop songs. Tonight provides the perfect release from the daily grind. 

It all comes to an end far too quickly. The world would clearly be a better place if more people knew about Spearmint. 

 

HelloLisa – Hundred Lives

I’ve always enjoyed E-mail conversations with Pat. Pat is the drummer turned guitarist in HelloLisa, a French band that I featured on Sonic Breakfast (here) back in the day. 

His E-mails are warm, chatty and convivial and when he got back in touch weeks ago to enquire if I’d be interested in reviewing the new HelloLisa record, I jumped at the chance. They’re a bright and breezy indie-pop band able to write magical tunes. The release of ‘Haunted Strange Parties’ in September had passed me by, gone under this radar, and Pat told me why. 

‘The saddest thing is a catastrophic sudden death of Julien, founding member of the band and co writer, co singer of the band at age 42, on July 22 just few days after we get our boxes of this LP from the factory. This is the main reason we didnt communicate so much on the release of this new album because we were in shock and we still are. After weeks of pain and questioning, we decided to continue the band.’

I sat and read Pat’s E-mail as a cluster of thoughts swelled. I didn’t know Julien aside from his art on record and yet still a morbid sadness descended. 42 – no age, younger than me, distinctly horrible. Revealing new material for any band has to be one of the moments they live for and, yet here was an example of extreme sorrow. 

Curiosity abounded (and I didn’t like to ask Pat) so I searched the Internet. To discover that Julien had had a cardiac arrest, that he’d left a young, grieving family just made matters worse. 

If I was feeling a certain shock for this remote loss, goodness knows how people much closer must be feeling. 

Tentatively, I began to listen to the record. It’s a masterpiece, the work of a band at the very top of their game. Lyrically, there are songs that hark back to our younger days; joyous day trips when we were half our age in cars that have long since been consigned to the scrap heap in the sky. It’s an album that grabs middle-age by the scruff of the neck yet makes you all fuzzy about what used to be. 

Clumsily, I cobbled words together to let Pat know how sorry I was to hear the news. I knew I was going to feature HelloLisa again. ‘Haunted Strange Parties’ is a quite remarkable record; one that makes reference to Neil Hannon and The Divine Comedy’s ‘Tonight, We Fly’ in opening track ‘First Black Bike’.

Yesterday. Pat sent me a video for ‘Hundred Lives’, one of the album’s stand-out tracks. It’s only recently been pulled together, a montage of video clips from the 1980’s featuring Toni Basil’s ‘Mickey’ prominently. The song, a nostalgic nod back to your early twenties when optimism is rife about what’s to follow, fits in with the images with eerie perfection. 

I feel so humbled that HelloLisa chose to share this with me. As awfully cliched as it is, life really is for living. We never know what’s around any corner and to not embrace it with every sinew seems like the most awful of cop-outs. 

It’s time to fall in love (again) with the joyful sounds of HelloLisa.  

Xuan – Sheila

I woke early yesterday. It gave me chance to write up a couple of outstanding (as in overdue) articles whilst the villa remained cool. The night had dipped below twenty degrees for the first time in months. My head, for so long a fuzzy mess in this heat, yearned for a return to routine. 

So, once the articles were done and dusted, I turned to what I know and love best. And spent most of the day scouting around for new music. I was stumbling over so much that I enjoyed. Some of it made me cry; some of it made me laugh; some of it was clearly great art but pretty unlistenable all the same. 

Before long I had a list as long as my arm of acts that I wanted to feature on Sonic Breakfast. It’s fair to say that I’d had a productive day. Music can make you feel good. Out here in this remote space where it’s entirely feasible that I won’t speak to actual live humans for days on end, music had again been my companion and friend. 

Xuan (pronounced ‘swan’ apparently) was one such act that made me smile. This young woman from Dallas, the daughter of Vietnamese immigrants, is releasing an album, ‘Have Some Fun’, in November on Palo Santo records. On the evidence of the two tracks I’ve heard from it, there’s no misnomer here. 

Regular readers of ‘Sonic Breakfast’ will know that I’m a sucker for a bit of indie bubblegum twee. Initial single release, ‘We Were Just Talking’ ticks those boxes as it playfully sets up the tried and tested girl-meets-boy / girl-misses-boy story. Xuan’s voice, deliberately innocent, gives the sound some extra chewiness. Let go of any cynicism you might have and I’ve no doubt you’ll find charm within. 

Xuan has just released a new video for another song from the album ‘Sheila’. It’s another belter of a tune. On the surface, it appears to be about an old classic car but dig beyond that and there’s a wider metaphor at play. This is about classic friendship and fun times. 

I’ll be looking forward to more music-listening fun when I get to hear Xuan’s full album. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Joe Innes And The Cavalcade – Moscow

Imagine waking up one morning having dreamt that the love of your life is leaving you. And, they’re not leaving you because they’ve fallen in love with your best friend (which would, of course, be tough enough) but because they’re off to a cold, unfathomable place.

That’s the dream that Joe Innes emerges from in his wonderful new single, Moscow. Clearly, Joe is very much in love with the person who’s making plans to leave and yet that brings up all sorts of moral dilemmas. Do you accept their decision passively without trying to persuade them otherwise? Or do you run the risk of being labelled a controlling bully by pointing out the stupidity of their actions? 

(Click on page 2 for more about Moscow)

The Watanabes – Over Romantic

“There’s no point looking back when it’s an insult to the present. There’s no point looking front when it might never happen.” – The Watanabes – An Insult To The Present – Spoiled And Nostalgic EP – November 2016.

When I started Sonic Breakfast, I had no ambitious, blogging master plan. I never thought that I might travel the world on money made from it, get rich quickly or live happily after. 

I’ve not been disappointed.

But, undeniably, unearthing new acts to write about has given me many pleasurable moments; e-mails of thanks received from bands living all around the world who I might have stumbled across in late-night listening sessions and simply had to feature.

That was definitely the case with The Watanabes. I can’t quite recall when I first saw the video to ‘Yuriko Yuriko’ but I knew I had to write about it (here). I remember how exciting it was that other readers of Sonic Breakfast seemed to agree that this was something special. 

Last week, a new E-mail from Duncan (of The Watanabes) popped into my mailbox. He has a generous writing style and is clearly a very decent human being. I was pleased to discover that The Watanabes are releasing a new EP, Spoiled And Nostalgic, at the end of November. I was even happier to discover that the lead single from it, Over Romantic, is already in circulation and has a video to go alongside it. 

This is a band that can do no wrong in my eyes. Or at least, the only wrong that they can do is to wear their hearts a bit too much on their sleeves and possibly over-complicate their romantic liaisons. And that’s OK in my book. From the opening acoustic flourish that leads into the confession that ‘I’ve got myself into a bit of a fix‘, this is a tune that draws you in and then holds your interest as it builds and builds. It has a beautiful, forlorn resignation within, a positive kind of melancholia and a video that I can’t help but keep watching on repeat.

The other three tracks from the EP grow on you in similar ways. In my favourite, ‘An Insult To The Present’, we find The Watanabes in reminiscent mood, thinking back to days gone by and wondering if the dreams of those times have been achieved. They conclude in the only way possible to live for the moment.

I think Sonic Breakfast readers will like this. 

 

 

 

 

Scam Avenue – Sailor

Sometimes, it pays to check your junk mail. 

 Every now and then , I open the folder within my google mail account. Mostly, I’m greeted with odd looking offers telling me that my cheque is waiting to be cashed or that I’d be a fool to miss out on my final-ever opportunity to take advantage of a great deal – the text of which looks remarkably similar to a mail that surfaced within the junk mail folder just a week before. 

 Sometimes, a female with a voluptuous sounding name (often Russian) wants to become my bride; at other times (and perhaps in anticipation of me taking up succulent Svetlana’s offer), I’m offered help with some sort of penile dysfunction.

 You can perhaps understand why dipping into my junk mail folder is a thing to do fleetingly.

 But, yesterday I was glad that I did.

 Lurking in that box was an E-mail from a PR company that I’ve got a fair bit of time for. Quite quickly it became obvious why filters had worked in the way they had for this was promoting a video from a band called Scam Avenue. Entirely new to me, I had a watch and a listen. 

 There’s no getting away from the fact that the video verges on the creepy. A woman in a zombie-like trance being followed down a dark street by man in a similar trance-like state can be nothing but. I guess that’s the overall point though? For ‘Sailor’ seems to be about confronting fears head-on in order to achieve something on a different, higher level. 

 It’s the exquisite indie-pop charm of the music that really appeals within this though. The male and female vocal lines might take influence from some fine pop from the 1980’s and the relaxed electronica some of St Etienne’s  better moments but the overall sum becomes something quite new and exciting. 

 This track, Sailor, appears to be the first release from a forthcoming EP of the same name. I’m very glad that Scam Avenue found their way from my junk.