Reviews - Week 36



the sash my father wore and other stories

SL records

I'll let you into a secret. I first heard an album by ballboy after a big change in my life. I had just split up with someone I had been with for a long while. It probably changed my life more drastically and abruptly than any other event in my life so far. I listened to that album a lot during that period of my life and before long it became everything to me. Everything that I'd been. Everything that he'd been and everything I now wanted to become. It ached and hoped and dreamt and wept with a mixture of pain and regret laced with innocence and anticipation.

Not many albums have the power to fill match an emotional time but this did.

But lets not dwell on the past too long. After all, times change, people move on and reviewers remember that they should concentrate on the album in question, rather than idly reminisce. In this case the album in question happens to be "the sash my father wore and other stories", the third full length album by ballboy. It is just as moving and filled with just as much passion as the aforementioned album from my darker days, but it is different. The sound has been stripped down to the bare essentials with the pure clean sound of an acoustic guitar accompanied by achingly beautiful strings providing the basis for the majority of the music.

The familiar wit of the band is present in the quirky upbeat song "kiss me hold me eat me". The concept for this song is based around the astute observation by lead singer Gordon McIntye that falling in love could be a risky business if you are a cannibal.
The poignant line : "I love you more than food and though a king would not taste half as good its love I need you for" says it all really.

The album features various cover versions including "tell me" by Galaxie 500. Vocals echo moodily and while a cello breaks your heart into tiny pieces. The cover of Sprinsteen's "Born in the USA" which the band performed live as an antiwar song at the time of the conflict in Iraq. Many members of the audience had to ask what the song was. This is unsurprising as the tender transformation of the song makes what should be so familiar almost unrecognisable.

Above all though the real power behind this comes from the songs about love. Each written with care and sung with conviction, captures every passion, confusion excitement that come from being in love.

Not many albums have the power to fill match an emotional time but this does.

(Editors note: ballboy are currently touring in the UK. For further details please visit their website)

Rachel Queen





Various Artists

Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before

Rough Trade

This CD has been released to commemorate Rough Trade's 25th Anniversary, and is a retrospective of sorts - 16 covers of songs originally released on Rough Trade, performed by existing Rought Trade artists. This sort of thing could be rather self-congratulatory and dull in other hands, but from a label that has handled the likes of Galaxie 500, Mazzy Star, Robert Wyatt, The Television Personalities, The Smiths and The Fall, and with covers here by artists such as Belle And Sebastian, The Fiery Furnaces, Jeffrey Lewis and The Hidden Cameras, there's potential for something rather special here.

I'm pleased to say the potential is fulfilled. Generally, such collections have a couple of tracks that get you itching for the 'fast-forward' button but this is consistently enjoyable from start to finish - so, to pick stand-out tracks seems almost churlish but I'm going to anyway: Elizabeth Fraser of Cocteau Twins fame contributes a sumptuous, mulit-layered version of Robert Wyatt's 'At Last I Am Free'; The Tyde and British Sea Power capture the beauty and strength of Galaxie 500's 'Tell Me' and 'Tugboat' with gorgeous, largely-faithful covers (why change it too much when the original was so good?); The Delays do something similar with 'Ride It On', originally by Mazzy Star. There are a few unexpected gems - Alasdair Roberts contributes a splendidly offbeat version of 'I Had A Little Boat' by Ivor Cutler; The Fiery Furnaces do their always-peculiar thing with The Fall's 'Winter'; even the (predictable) Strokes cover versions are enjoyable. Royal City and The Detroit Cobras deliver honest, bravado-free interpretations.

There's a mix of genres here. Oneida cover 'Jazz Is The Teacher, Funk Is The Preacher' in the style that the title of the song would imply; The Hidden Cameras contribute their famous Gay Church Music, Jeffrey Lewis and Adam Green represent the anti-folk movement and Belle And Sebastian go D.I.S.C.O. with 'Final Day', originally by Young Marble Giants.
Oddly, given the title, the album is devoid of Smiths cover versions. Perhaps this collection only celebrates those who parted with Rough Trade on amicable terms. Alternatively, perhaps those who contributed simply wished to avoid the cliche. The fact that they did is to be applauded, because the eclectic nature of this selection is part of what makes it so interesting. A Smiths track wouldn't improve it. It is fine just as it is.

Even if you have heard some of these before, ignore the title, don't let it stop you. There is plenty to re-discover. As a retrospective, its great - as an advertisement for Rough Trade's current roster of artists it is also highly successful, showing just what a strong line up the label currently possesses.





BMX Bandits

Down At The Hop

Rough Trade

Hurray! Surf's up! Run out, get your bushy bushy blonde hair-do, your surfboard and some beers, and get READY!

Just one problem...or two...this is Glasgow, its November, you're too old to be bleached and the only six-pack you've seen in recent years is the Special Brew in your hand.

Oh, and you can't surf. Partly because you're miles from the sea.

May as well drink the beer, though. And take off that ridiculous wet-suit.

Such is the effect that BMX Bandits have. The sun-drenched harmonies, Surfin' Safari style chords and jangling guitar riffs just scream Carefree! Summer! Beach! Album! Odd, then, that they chose to release it in Autumn.

Odd, until you look a little deeper. BMX Bandits pull you in with the gorgeous sounds, reminiscent of the Beach Boys and Teenage Fanclub and then deliver the punch-line.

The punch-line in question being that life, real life, isn't quite so sunny.

The album's opener, 'Love At The Hop, sounds superficially like a Rock-n-Roll love song but, ultimately, its a song about a middle-aged man abusing his position as a star to pick up a school-girl (actually, that IS pretty indicative of Rock-n-Roll but that's a different matter) and then being wracked with guilt about it. The repeated refrain 'You were so young/ Did I do wrong?' is utterly hummable, and the sort of thing you could expect to hear in so many similar songs - only here the fact of her youth is made painfully apparent.
As for him: 'I was one of the stars and my flash car seemed to distract you from my thinning hair' says it all. As an opening track it is perfect, the ultimate anti-love song and a reasonably good idea of what is to come.

Following this, we have a few ditties that feel distinctly novelty-esque. A song about a man who wishes his girlfriend was more like a cat, a boastful song about being in good physical shape and a love song to Miss Nude Black America. On one level, these are just quirky ditties - and it would certainly be a mistake to take some of them too seriously - but they do assume another significance when you listen to the whole album, as pictures of either sad or too-slick characters, objectifying others or being treated as objects themselves. There may be sex in 'I'm In Such Great Shape' but (at the risk of sounding like the Black Eyed Peas) where's the love?? The narrator of 'Nude Miss Black America' turns out not to be singing the love song directly to the object of his affections, but to the unattainable woman on a repeatedly-watched video tape.

Like I said, its a mistake to take some of these songs too seriously. Take the above comments with a smile, and a flippant remark but be aware that in those quirky songs is a deeper, darker side. The ultimate example of this happy surface and devastating reality comes with the next song, 'Death And Destruction', with its chorus 'A little bit less crazy now/ Still thinkin' bout death and destruction'. I've never heard such a happy sing-a-long about mental illness.

Some of this may sound a bit crass, but it isn't that sort of album. There's a sensitivity and a longing here that underpin the dark, twisted sense of humour. This isn't musical prozac, its music on prozac. Or, perhaps, music on prozac-withdrawal. The mania and the sunshine are still in your system but every so often reality hits.

'The Daughters Of Julie Evergreen' has more ramblings of lust for teenage schoolgirls sset to a vaguely easy-listening theme, with soaring organs - a heterosexual Hidden Cameras meets Scott Walker, and 'The Road To Love Is Paved With Banana Skins' is another utterly catchy feelgood song about how things can go wrong. 'Silly Boy' is about not being able to keep her, and not really trying, then regretting it.

So when 'Back In Her Heart' comes on, all Christmas-surf style, you're waiting for the catch - 'The skies are grey, but its a sunshine day now I'm back in her heart'. It seems that they're finally doing what they've been itching to do all along - written a happy love-song. Its gorgeous. I'll let you find out what the catch is for yourself. The most upbeat song is 'Back In Your Arms' - my favourite track on this record. The Teenage Fanclub influence (Norman Blake used to be a member, and guests on this album) is evident and it is as good (ooh...this'll get me in trouble) as anything the BMX Bandits' more famous compatriots have produced: a perfect pop song - it even fades out and returns in just the way that such a song should. Of course things get dark again. 'Hungry Man' isn't just about wanting food, and the record closes with 'The End Of Time' a cheerful (really) little ditty about armageddon. It is rather unsettling to be waving your head to the lyrics 'Kids, watch what you are saying/ I hear your parents praying'. As an end to the album, it is a plea to work out what is important in life.

You could ignore all of these undertones if you wanted. Taken at surface level this is a collection of happy songs, the Beach Boys with an indie-spin, and it would work just fine that way.
You could take the album like that, but you'd be missing a great deal. It has been seven years since the last BMX Bandits album and this new offering has the stamp of a songwriter that has seen life. If you feel like you've seen a bit of it yourself, you might appreciate that, and smile in recognition as you're tapping your feet and waving your arms. And you WILL be tapping your feet and waving your arms, at the very least.

Still got that Special Brew? Pass me a can.... Who needs to surf anyway? You know the waves are full of sharks.
And the sunset over the housing estate looks beautiful.

An album to make the drizzle feel good.

Ian Anscombe




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