The first thing I noticed about Finnmark! when listening to their debut album Things Always Change was how much the first song on the album Can’t Go On reminded me of Synchronized Sinking by the Lucksmiths. The second thing I noticed was how much better recorded it was than their EP from a couple of years ago. Then I noticed that beneath all their Scandanavian imagery the group are from Leeds in the UK. Apparently the band was started in a kitchen in Gothenburg. No information what they were cooking at the time.
The album has an austere wintry feel to it that feels a little bit like Cats on Fire and sometimes like Wild Swans. Singer Edward Forth has a friendly melodramatic baritone that brings the sparse arrangements to life. On upbeat songs like Transpennine Express and Cardigan Fields the guitars jangle enough to make you move your feet. On Losing My Style they even get a little rowdy and trash someone’s kitchen at a party. The songwriting is top quality throughout the record. The minimalist Northern Coastline is a favorite of mine. Forth is accompanied by an acoustic guitar on this ode to isolation and death that recalls Morrissey’s Everyday is Like Sunday. The only (slight) misstep was the inclusion of a cover of Guided By Voices’Jar of Cardinals (from Vampire on Titus). It’s a good version in that it takes the lo-fi tape hiss of GBV and adds some organ to make it sound almost lush, but their originals are better in my opinion. If you are in the market for one of the best indiepop album of the years you should notice Finnmark! too!!
Do any pop bands write political songs anymore? One might think that in this day and age there would be at least one or two new Billy Braggs with the ability to mix pop and politics. Is everyone afraid to take a trip down the Che Guevara Highway for fear of not selling records in red states? Surely there are a few singers still out there that have an opinion and enough conviction to sing about it. Well, there’s at least one. Finland’s Cats on Fire return with their third album and on it is one of the best political songs I have heard since the Great Leap Forward. 1914 and Beyond chronicles Europe beginning with World War I to the continent’s current state and the European Union’s present-day near collapse. It is set to sad waltzing piano with clear lyrics set to just enough melody to get your attention in case you weren’t paying attention. Once you are, it gets dark, very dark, but it’s totally appropriate for theses tough financial times when old prejudices and hatreds come to a boil after the good times come to an end and money runs out.
All black Shirts to me is not all political, but its title indicates singer Mathias Björkas dour outlook. He’s often been compared to Morrissey, and he still has a delivery that recalls the Moz, but he also has a melancholy that brings to mind Terry Hall and some of the spite in his voice that reminds me of the Auteurs‘ Luke Haines. He certainly knows his way around a melody like those fellows. Songs like It’s Clear Your Former Lover, A Different Light and first single A Few Empty Waves are seemingly delicate things, but show their strength on repeated listening.
Björkas is the focal point of the band, but this album also sees the band expanding its sound. They’ve added a fifth member Iris Viiljanen on Keyboards and have a new drummer in Yrjö Ylijoki. The keyboards add a subtle new dimension and while there really aren’t any upbeat songs as on previous albums, the arrangements are much more lush sounding and interesting which makes All Black Shirts To Me a real winner and possibly Cats On Fire’s finest record yet.
It seems like nine times out of ten, I end up buying a CD at import prices because I can’t wait, or have doubts that it will ever get released domestically. That is not the case with two excellent new albums that saw the light of day earlier this year over in old Europe. Patience has finally paid off with Cats On Fire and Wake the President making their domestic appearances this week. Is it serendipity or just dumb luck? No matter, we have two stellar west coast indies to thank for this godsend. So if you live in the US and had the restraint or foresight to not buy these at import prices, you are now presented with the perfect opportunity to get two great albums at domestic prices.
I remember during the presidential primaries, the question that Hillary Clinton posed to try and differentiate herself from Barak Obama was: Who do you want to take that 3 o’clock in the morning call? The answer of course is Wake the President. Fronted by twins Bjorn and Eric makes them doubly capable. Portland’s Magic Marker records has provided the fix that all Orange Juice fans need by putting out Glasgow’s Wake the President debut album, You Can’t Change that Boy in the USA. The album was released earlier this year on Electric Honey Records which you may remember as the student label at Stow College in Glasgow that discovered Belle and Sebastian. How’s that for pedigree?
You may think that Cats on Fire is kind of a bad name for a band, but since I don’t speak Finnish I’m giving the benefit of the doubt that there was something lost in translation in the name of this Finnish band. If you are one of those people lamenting the fact that Morrissey has finally gone off the deep end with his worst album ever, then Cats on Fire will be a refreshing breeze on your uncompressed pop sensibilities. Incorporating rockabilly, janlgy guitars and delicate smooth voice of Mattias Björkas, then Cats On Fire are going to be your cup of tea. The first Cats on Fire album, The Province Complains came out on German label Marsh-Marigold and was relegated to import status here in the States. That is no such problem with album number two, Our Temperance Movement. Matinee, will be doing honors of putting out the album at very reasonable price. Cats on Fire will also be at the NYC Popfest in May for the second year in a row, if you are so inclined.
Just what the world needed, me talking about music, instead of writing about it. For some sycophantic reason, I’ve been wanting to do a podcast for a while and well, I’ve finally I gone and done it. It’s racked with uhms, ahhs and mistakes, like when I say that the British Sea Power brothers are in the Brakes. I’m too lazy to go back and fix it to say that it’s the Electric Soft Parade Brothers. I’m sure you guys could care less anyway, mistakes are punk rock, no? We’re keepin’ it real and raw, no second takes going on around here! This was done in the basement of my house and you can even hear the furnace coming on in the background! So without any further hemming and hawing here it is, the basementcast. Feel free to fast forward.
Robyn Hitchcock – What You Is
Brakes – Crystal Tunings
Tacocat – Leotard
Bratmobile – Kiss & Ride
Dum Dum Girls – Hey Sis
Surf City – Mt Kill
Clean – Beatnick
3D’s – Outer Space
Crayon Fields – Mirror Ball
Erik Blood – These Days
Mayer Hawthorne And The Country – Just Ain’t Gonna Work Out
Whitest Boy Alive – Promise Less Or Do More
Del Amitri – Sense Sickness
Fanfarlo – Pilot
Hotels – Hydra
Say Hi – November Was White
It Hugs Back – Work Day
Cats On Fire – Letters From a Voyage to Sweden
Bubblemen – The Bubblemen Are Coming