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(When you get to know about a dream-pop band in Tel Aviv because you chatted to the singer in a Philly based garage band, you know the world is a wonderfully small place, at least culturally and creatively speaking.)

I guess the art of making music which falls into the loose and broad realms of dream-pop is getting the balance between blissful transience and an engaging structure just right. Wander too far one way and you are into formless ambience, head towards the other extreme and you end up making washy dance music. It’s about tethering the music just enough so that you have a structure which serves as a place to hang all of your other sonic ideas from. And that is exactly what Screens 4 Eyes manage to do on this latest single.

For the majority of the song a confident yet spacious beat and a grumbling bass line act as the musical spine grounding it and providing a central flame for all of the other sonic moths to flit and flap around. Around this central pulse they weave hazy, half-heard vocals, shimmering synth washes and chiming musical motifs. The result is a song which drives hard when it needs to and floats and fades when the mood takes it.

Screens 4 Eyes has a wonderful track record of walking this middle ground, this place where indie cool and cinematic ambience, free floating musical forms and almost dance inspired background grooves all collide. The band may occasionally wander around the sonic playgrounds once inhabited by the likes of My Bloody Valentine and Siouxsie and the Banshees, Dead Can Dance and The Cocteau Twins but rather than revel in past glories it prefers to paint a picture of the musical future. Or one particular possible version of it at least. And that future looks…well, hazy! Wonderfully so.

2478105220_91eb47aeb1_zI had to make a supply run today, something that used to seem like an everyday chore but which has now take on the frisson of a covert black ops mission. Never has buying wholemeal bread and toilet roll felt so exhilarating.

On the way home I cut across a small area of grass, too small to be a park really, just a green space designed to allow a bit of breathing room amongst the rows of terraced streets and railway era semi-‘s. When I first moved to the area, on sunny days such as today, the place would have been full of the local Asian kids, I live in an area with a modest proportion of Goan families, playing cricket and volleyball which was kind of cool to see.

Over the years the nature of the space changed and the place seem to become the bastion of grey looking people in JD sportswear, swigging out of cans of cheap, strong lager and spitting and cackling like well-cooked pork crackling. Then I started noticing needles lying around the place, smashed bottles, crumpled cans and all the other detritus of lost days. Then I stopped cutting through the area altogether and instead walked the longer way around to get back home.

I walked through today though assuming that it would be empty, and it was. But the space had changed again. With its upkeep now being of low priority for the council teams, presumably, it had gone a bit wild. The normally clipped grass was a lush ankle high sea, dotted with yellow dandelions and white daisies. Cow parsley clumps and clusters of nettle had taken root and various other species which would normally be classed as “weed” where reshaping, recolouring, reclaiming the area. It was glorious.

There is a lot of debate about wild spaces in urban environments these days, I have to admit I don’t know enough about the subject to have an opinion one way of the other (stop press: man on internet saying that he doesn’t have an option about something stuns nation!) but I do know that it was nice to spend even a few minutes there.

 

 

imageThankfully, my work is fairly flexible and although writing about the music and arts side of things has taken a dive, I have picked up a bit more work writing travel site content and particularly writing text for role-playing game and tabletop game components. I guess, certainly in the case of the latter, many of the people designing games are hobbyists and with time on their hands during the lockdown are getting stuck into their labours of love. And when they need ideas for quest cards, read aloud descriptions for dungeon adventures or even whole worlds created they come to people like me. Makes a refreshing change from waxing lyrical about Tel Aviv dream-pop or the latest low slung rock ‘n’ roll crew to be setting Minneapolis on fire.

Thankfully, the one side of my back bedroom empire which still functions okay is buying and selling records, which thanks to the post office still functioning (a massive thank you to them) means that I can still keep a few quid trickling in.

I was out today doing undertaking my early morning quest of dropping post off before hunting and gathering for Camembert, bacon and Shiraz…you know, the essentials…and Commercial Road (pictured) was wonderfully empty. I would have felt like I was in some sort of dystopian thriller if it wasn’t for the traffic wardens! Traffic wardens? Key workers? I guess now that every is parked outside their house, or at least trying to there will be a slew of cars parked in zones which are short stay or for which they have the wrong permit. Nice to see that the council have their priorities straight!

Shuffle 2020 - Mini Shuffle 1 PosterGreetings fellow friends in isolation, we hope you are doing okay and looking out for one another. Obviously there are many more important things going on in the world right now than worrying about a local music festival but it is also at times like these that music, art, creativity in general, helps get us through or at least offers an oasis of calm where we can retreat to and forget the day-to-day worries for a bit. It is for this reason that we bring you news of a lovely little event happening this Saturday.

There have been a slew of video posts from friends and favourite artists helping to brighten the place up by sharing their songs from the sanctuary of their own homes so in the spirit of The Shuffle we thought that we would go one step further, assemble a whole bunch of our favourite musical people and put together a virtual mini-festival. A static shuffle if you like. A shufflette. A sonic soiree. And in the total reverse of our normal Shuffle antics, this time you get to stay put and we bring the performances to you.

Just so you know, as it stands we do expect the Shuffle to happen this year, but obviously everything depends on how long restrictions last, so stay indoors and follow the rules people, the sooner we get through this, the sooner we start seeing a bit of normality creeping back into our lives.

So, think of this groovesome gathering of sonic goodness, this front room fusion of music, this collection of cool kids and chipper tunes as a reminder that we will get through this and see each other at gigs again before long and also as something to help keep you sane in the meantime. 

So all you have to do is open our Facebook page here…

https://www.facebook.com/swindonshuffle/

…crack open your favourite tipple, grab some snacks, just relax and watch some familiar faces ply their musical trade. If it goes well, we might even do more.  So join us at 15.15 on Saturday for the Shuffle Lockdown and remember –

“Stay Home, Stay Safe, Enjoy Live Music!”

 

It has always been impossible to pigeon-hole Fassine, not that we really need to but for the purposes of a review it does help if you can introduce a few shortcuts to speed the process along and give the reader something to form their thoughts around. They employ dancey grooves, but I wouldn’t exactly call it dance, there is a strange, hazy ethereality to it without it being dream-pop as such and there is a cold-edged vibe at times but it has more substance than your average chill wave sound. Alt-pop? Who knows? Actually, who cares? Fassine are one of those bands which just show up the limitations of genres and labels.

There are some songs within which are pure pop, such as the gorgeous and graceful Magpie, though it is certainly pop which dances to the beat of the band’s own particular drum, and does so seductively. At the other extreme tracks such as Migraine are more like ambient film scores. Max is a beguiling blend of primal sonics, tumbling beats and half heard voices, siting somewhere between celestial choirs and brooding demonic and Bloom sees them at their most dynamic blending searing guitars and industrial shards of music with understated lulls switching between the two abruptly and almost randomly as the mood seems to take them.

As the sharp end of a back catalogue of album and single releases which both raise the benchmark and widen the sonic palette with each outing, Forge both kicks arse and cuts the mustard. So go ahead, join the smart set, be a better you, start listening to Fassine today, a new life awaits you…or something. I think I may have pushed that line of hyperbole to breaking point. Sorry.

Trepanation opens the album with its most drifting and non-corporeal sounds before A Tribute to Victims hems in those hazy sonic forms with a clinical beat and chiming, minimalist piano lines. And it is such a transition from one to the other which seems to show the processes at work, the use of sonic structures to encompass the space and understatement, a use of music to create mere demarkation between the sound of the natural world and those of the studio. The purposefully created music creates an addictive platform but hat lies between, the rolling atmospherics, the fading notes, the growing anticipations are the real gold here.

From here Underneath Your Skin adds vocals, a rare thing in the Mr Dog The Bear world, affected, disembodied and futuristic, Sunshine is built on drama and dynamic between brooding back beats to soaring crescendos and the curiously name Engineer is a slow burning salvo of post-rock. Things end where they began in the slow, ambient electronica of The Diderot Effect, a slice of Vangelisian cinematics…subtle, filmic, beguiling and gorgeous.

As always Mr Dog the Bear makes music for the sake of it. There is no full band that I know of, no live shows, no genre to stick too, no hidden agenda and seemingly no long term plan. But if these or other tracks from this shadowy outfit ever turned up on the end credits of a cult film or driving the action of a Hollywood blockbuster then far from being surprised by such a turn of events, I for one would be thinking why did that take so long to happen?

vinyls1There have been a few things happening lately that have caused me to reflect on old records and the songs of my formative days. I guess one of the advantages of getting to such a veritable age is that there is more to look back on, more memories to juggle and probably a bigger record collection to jog that memory. And as you get older the more sensory stimuli for joggin’ the noggin,’ the better.

A few weeks before the lockdown came into effect I had decided to weed through my vinyl collection and see if any of it was of any value and pop it onto Discogs and e-bay and perhaps make a bit of extra cash on the side. I’m glad I did as my main income is from writing promotional material for the music scene…so that sort of went south quickly…and picking up a few quid here and there whilst I scrabble around for alternative scribbling work has made all the difference between buying the sort of cheddar which could be used as pungent, industrial building material and the sort of comestible which at a push might be okay for temporary grouting.

And so sorting through these records, many of which I have carried with me from house to house for almost 40 years, has been a wonderful experience. There are some bands which I know I will never part with, The Waterboys, Blyth Power, Thin Lizzy, Sisters of Mercy, music which has been around me for so long it has sort of become part of my DNA. And some I forgot you even had, The Boys Next Door, who later coalesced into The Birthday Party who in turn became Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds, and I even found a few long forgotten Lilac Time albums which I have been playing incessantly.

And since the lockdown, in an effort to keep each others spirits up, there has been a rash of music sharing, top 10s and influential artist type posts, and, under the orders of David Rose, serial gig go-er, blogger, unashamed dad dancer and all round good egg, I have dived into that too with my first two influential albums being Ghost of Cain by New Model Army and Alnwick and Tyne by (“the mighty”) Blyth Power.

And I guess all of this proves one important thing. Music isn’t really about what other people think about your tastes, it’s about what works for you. I can be the most elitist person going when it comes to judging others music tastes but then just because I favour listening to The Alarm’s anthemic, windswept wail and unnecessarily big hair (which you can sometimes hear on record due to it being so tall it was picking up Radio Wales) whilst you prefer Nicki Minaj singing about …well, god knows what…doesn’t mean I should judge you unfairly. I mean, I will because I am an imperfect being and totally set in my ways, but the point is I shouldn’t.

As L. P. Hartley famously said in The Go-Between …oh, another cool band reference…The past is a foreign country…but my own particular past is littered by some great music and no-one can take that music nor the memories of people, places, gigs and parties that goes along with it, away.

But I digress…Stay Lunar are one of those bands who seem to carry a bit of a torch for the decade, but everything is cyclical, the cultural wheel seems to turn on a 30 year or so cycle, so it is only to be expected that the lush synths waves and perky pop-ness of that era are doing the rounds again. But Stay Lunar are certainly a band of their own time too, weaving cool modernity and soulful indie grooves through the musical landscape that they create. There is a glossiness to their music, not only from proper production but through the way they wield their instruments. The guitar sticks to its melodic brief allowing keys to wash through creating a lush, shimmering sheen whilst the rhythm section make deft and understated choices and just serve the song.

They are also a wonderfully literate band, in a down to earth and slightly romantic sort of way, and the result is a bit like if The Lilac Time had been hot on dance remixes or perhaps St Etienne had favoured guitars a bit more. Dreaming That I’m Not In Love is just another great rung up the ladder for the band and shows their ability to mix underground cool with mainstream poise. And that, is the perfect place to be if you ask me. And as you have read this far, you kind of did.

beatles-abbey-road-social-distancingSuch anxious times bring out both the best and the worst in people. People who like to use such jingoistic rhetoric keep banging on about the Blitz spirit, but it has to be remembered that it wasn’t all about communal singing in the Aldwych tube station to keep Peters up, there was some pretty opportunistic naughtiness going on in the back streets too.

That said, I like to think that people are essentially good, you have to really else life would just be too bleak. And on the odd occasion when I leave the house to go hunting and gathering like my primitive forebears, laying in wait in the fresh produce aisle to ambush fresh basil or running to ground a couple of bottles of tonic water, the people around me seem pretty friendly.

There is something really good natured about the wobbly logistics that we find ourselves undertaking to keep our distance from each other. Each swerve and meander accompanied by a smile or a mouthed “sorry” as we silently communicate the sentiment “it’s not you, it’s me” whilst thinking “it’s definitely you almost-zombie.”

Of course there have been a few who ruin it a bit, a wandering chav who still doesn’t understand that spitting on the ground is ghastly under any conditions and the woman outside Aldi who thinks that queuing is for other people.

Of course the worst of the worst came out last night when a woman was videoed by CCTV apparently stealing from here neighbours. A despicable thing to do at the best of times but taking advantage of the fact that many packages are being left outside houses to reduce the contact between doing delivery jobs and those who are anxious about or vulnerable to, the virus. Now ranking somewhere just below Genghis Khan and that woman who put a cat in a bit a few years ago, imagine when things return to normal and  she has to have normal contact with her neighbours again! I think she will understand the true nature of social distancing then!

 

talkincode-featured01Managed to get the latest Talk in Code release some room in NYC’s prestigious Big Takeover magazine. Read the whole review at the link below.

“Not only has Talk in Code always had a way with a great pop tune they have also always been smart enough to move with the times. I remember watching them in their earliest incarnation where they could easily have been found on a bill opening for the likes of Coldplay or Travis, which was exactly right for those times. Talk Like That is exactly right for these times. It’s still pop…”

Read the full review HERE