Tag Archives: Wales

March 6, 2017 — “Colour/Blind” by Chain of Flowers

Chain of Flowers

If you only listen to one song tonight, make it “Colour/Blind” by Chain of Flowers (2015, from the album Chain of Flowers).

Chain of Flowers is a post-punk/shoegaze five-piece from Cardiff. They formed in 2012 and have released a handful of singles and EPs, and they also put out an eponymous album in 2015. They spent three years working on the record, then they spent 96 hours in the studio recording it. They had already made huge waves throughout Wales, so that album was highly anticipated. It was received well with glowing comparisons to the likes of Joy Division, Eagulls, Ceremony, The Cure, and even The Smiths. While I can’t be completely sure of this, my guess is that the band got its name from The Cure’s song “A Chain of Flowers”, which was a b-side on the 12″ UK pressing of “Catch” (1987).

It’s a loud and intense record. It’s very dense and it’s one of those records that imposes itself in your personal space. You don’t float around with it; it occupies you.

In 2016, the album was repressed and the band went on a massive headlining tour of the UK. Right now, they’re touring the USA, with upcoming stops at the Savannah Stopover Festival and SXSW.

I had never heard of the band until I got something in the mailbag today promoting a bunch of Welsh bands who will be at SXSW. Even before reading the description of Chain of Flowers, I saw a photo of the band and immediately thought that the dude in the shades looks an awful lot like Ian Curtis. Of course the description mentioned Joy Division, so I was already sold before I listened to a note.

I’ve listened to most of the album, and I like everything I’ve heard, but this one struck me more than the others.

“Colour/Blind” by Chain of Flowers

I’m certainly reminded of Ceremony and to a lesser extent The Cure. I’m also reminded a bit of A Place To Bury Strangers. And in a very strange way, the singer’s voice reminds me of Steve Kilbey out of The Church.

The band has announced that they’ll be releasing a new 7″ record later this month, and with all this touring, we might guess that there’s a new album on the way, but we don’t really know.

You can order the Chain of Flowers album on clear vinyl or as a digital download via Bandcamp here.

February 23, 2017 — “5 Flucloxacillin” by Los Campesinos!

Los Campesinos!

Los Campesinos!

If you only listen to one song tonight, make it “5 Flucloxacillin” by Los Campesinos! (2017, from the album Sick Scenes).

Los Campesinos! is a twee pop/indie pop septet from Cardiff. Although they’re based in Wales, none of them is actually Welsh. They also don’t use their surnames in the band. For the purposes of the band they are simply:

  • Gareth Campesinos — lead vocals/glockenspiel
  • Neil Campesinos — guitar
  • Tom Campesinos — lead guitar
  • Kim Campesinos — vocals/keys
  • Rob Campesinos — keys
  • Jason Campesinos — drums
  • Matt Campesinos — bass
  • They formed in 2006 and have released five proper albums and a bunch of other releases. The lineup has changed a bit over the years, but it’s been pretty much the same since founding member Ellen Waddell (bass) tearfully left the band in 2012. The next year, they released a very good album called No Blues, and after a bit of a break, they’re set to release their sixth album Sick Scenes tomorrow via Wichita Recordings.

    For a few weeks now, the band has been releasing songs from the album, and I like them all. It’s all everything that we expect from and love about Los Campesinos!: glorious indie pop with big hooks and lyrics full of clever wordplay.

    Today’s song is about prescription medication, and sometimes the taking of unidentified pills found in the bottom of one’s bag. The title refers to flucloxacillin, which is a type of penicillin. In the lyrics of the song, they name some other medication — salbutamol (for asthma and COPD), sertraline (for depression, OCD, and social anxiety), and tramadol (for severe pain).

    In a nutshell, the song is about how people in their thirties are often heavily medicated and have been for a good part of their lives. And it’s about older people not understanding that.

    There’s also, in the chorus, references to competitive cycling.

    A peloton of (old age pensioners) cycling up behind me
    shouting “step up your paces, we’ve got places to be”
    A pile-on of OAPs crashing in my slipstream
    I shout “shut up your faces, I’m not your domestique”

    I had to look up “domestique”, and it didn’t mean what I thought it might. The domestique is that guy who rides in front of his teammates, setting a pace and creating a slipstream for them to ride in. Eventually, the team, or the team leader, slingshots around the domestique. He works harder than his teammates do, and they get the glory.

    It’s not often that heavy prescription medication and competitive cycling techniques are referenced in the same song. But that’s Los Campesinos! for you.

    This is that song:
    “5 Flucloxacillin” by Los Campesinos!

    The intro sounds a bit like it should be in a beer commercial, but it kicks in at around 0:15 and has the unmistakable sound of Los Campesinos!. To be fair, though, they did have one of their songs in a Budweiser commercial a few years ago.

    Anyway, the structure of the song, Gareth’s voice, the call-and response, the vocal harmonies, the clever and bizarre lyrics. All things that make up the Los Campesinos! signature. You’re not going to mistake one of their songs for a different band.

    There’s also a great video for the song, in which the band members participate in a British game show called “Bargain Hunt”. On that show, teams of contestants buy antiques at shops, then try to sell them at auction for a profit. It’s been on the air for something like 15 years.

    This is that video:

    Worth noting in the video is that Gareth finds a painting of some dude that looks just like him. It’s actually something they worked up for the video. It’s based on “Man Suffering from Delusions of Military Rank”, which was painted in 1822 by the French artist Théodore Géricault. See that painting here. This, by the way, is not a thing that I know. I did some research, including using a cropped screenshot from the video to do a reverse image search of the painting.

    It’s also worth noting that the red team finds a copy of the first Los Campesinos record in a bargain bin. Probably also planted for the purpose of the video.

    Los Campesinos! are touring the US now, and the new record comes out tomorrow. You can buy the album via Bandcamp here.

    July 19, 2016 — “Vital Signs” by Strata Florida

    Louise Trehy (Strata Florida)

    If you only listen to one song today, make it “Vital Signs” by Strata Florida (2016, from a forthcoming album (title and release date TK)).
    Strata Florida is a shoegaze/dream pop duo from Aberystwyth, Wales. Really, though, the project is centered around Louise Trehy. Even if you haven’t read my previous post about Strata Florida, or my Best of 2014 list, in which I named the first Strata Florida record my ninth favourite record of the year, you might still recognize Trehy’s name. She was one half of the marvelous shoegaze/dream pop duo Swallow way, way back in the “golden age of indie rock”. That band’s only record came out in 1992 via 4AD records, and it was probably one of my top ten records of that decade, and remains one of my favourite records ever. It really spoke to me, and I have a lot of fond memories of listening to that record. Unfortunately, things within the band, and things with 4AD both went pear-shaped, and that was the only album we got from them. After that band dissolved, Trehy moved from London to Wales and removed herself from the music industry for two decades.
    After the passage of much time, and after spending some time singing in a choir, and with some trepidation, Trehy re-emerged into the dream pop scene with a new project and a new approach. She tried working with loads of people, and it took some doing, but she finally found a good musical partner in Pete Pavli. They quietly started working together in 2012, and in 2014, they released their debut record Made of Stars via Saint Marie Records. Several months ahead of the album, I got some emails about the new developments, and I was really excited. I heard some of the details, including how much the recording of the album was inspired by the Cocteau Twins record Treasure. The finished Strata Florida product exceeded my expectations. And it changed the way I rated my favourite Cocteaus records.

    A couple of years have passed, and Trehy has continued to hone and improve her skills with the guitar and in the studio. A few days ago, she shared a three song sampler of her forthcoming album. Unfortunately, the release date, the title, and even the label are all up in the air. So far, we’re just hoping that the album will be out this year. Presumably, it’ll be self-released.

    The three new songs are terrific, and you can check out the lot here. Today’s song is my favourite of the group. This is that song:
    “Vital Signs” by Strata Florida

    She told me that this song is about dealing with the death of her ex-spouse. She said it’s about going through grief and simultaneously experiencing some guilt. That’s a tough road to go down, and while I don’t have experience with it, I have friends who have been down the exact same road.

    As is par for the course, her dreamy vocals are treated in such a way that the lyrics are nearly impossible to discern, but I’ll take her word, and you’ll have to take mine. Despite the theme, there’s a certain brightness to this, and you can definitely tell that she’s a huge Cocteaus fan. There’s a lot that reminds me of “Lorelei”, off of the aforementioned Treasure.

    Once again, the forthcoming album is sort of up in the air, but you can get the first Strata Florida record here, and you should absolutely get the magnificent record by Swallow here. Blow is seriously one of my favorite records ever.

    11.29.2015 — “Song To The Siren” as covered by Lights That Change

    Lights That Change

    If you only listen to one cover song today, make it “Song To The Siren”, as covered by Lights That Change (2015, from a standalone single). The song was originally done by Tim Buckley on his 1970 album Starsailor. Obviously, though, today’s cover is based on the cover done by Elizabeth Fraser and Robin Guthrie (Cocteau Twins) on the first This Mortal Coil album (It’ll End In Tears, 1984).

    Lights That Change is a dream pop/ether wave/shoegaze band from a small town called Mold in county Flintshire, in the northeast part of Wales. The band is really the project of Marc Joy, who was a longtime producer before launching the Lights That Change project “many years ago”. He makes no secret of the fact that he’s heavily influenced by Cocteau Twins and the rest of the 80s and 90s 4AD roster. I’ve written about the project once before, when Joy was aligned with a different singer. Lisa Von H was the vocalist for a couple of releases, and now he’s got Mandy Clare on board. I don’t know what her pedigree is, but she’s done a marvelous job with this.

    Tim Buckley’s son Jeff turned Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” into something infinitely better, and made it his own. That version is the one that people do covers of now. In a similar fashion, Fraser and Guthrie turned Tim Buckley’s song into something infinitely better, and it’s the version that everybody knows. I’ve heard other covers of the Fraser/Guthrie cover, but I haven’t heard any good ones. Until now. I really, REALLY like this.

    This is like mashing up the Cocteaus and the Julee Cruise song “Falling”.

    “Song To The Siren”, as covered by Lights That Change

    I love the delay on the vocals. I love the eerieness of it. I love the effects and the electronics. The old-skool drum programming. It really sounds like something in a dreamscape.

    It’s important to note that the Fraser/Guthrie version changed Buckley’s lyrics just a bit in a couple of places, and that this cover strays from that a little bit.

    In the Buckley original, there’s a line in the second verse that goes

    Did I dream you dreamed about me
    Were you hare when I was fox

    In the Fraser/Guthrie version (and in this one), that line got changed to:

    Did I dream you dreamed about me
    Were you here when I was full sail

    I like that change because it fits right in with the mythology of the sailor and the siren in the rocks.

    In the Buckley original, the third verse starts out:

    I’m as puzzled as an oyster
    I’m as troubled as the tide

    while the Fraser/Guthrie cover changed that to:

    I’m as puzzled as a newborn child
    I’m as riddled as the tide

    I like that change simply because it makes sense for a newborn child to be puzzled. I don’t know what it means for an oyster to be puzzled. Is that a vernacular phrase somewhere in the world? I don’t care about changing “troubled” to “riddled”.

    In the Lights That Change version, they totally omitted the third verse and the third chorus, but it doesn’t suffer at all.

    For good measure, and because it’s brilliant, here’s the official video of the Fraser/Guthrie version:

    I’ve always hated that spiky blonde hair look on Liz, and I was always really partial to the Heaven or Las Vegas-era wavy brown-haired Liz. That was smoldering. To be fair, though, even with the porcupine on her head, she always looked amazing, and she still looks amazing in her early 50s with her fully grey hair. And those eyes. Holy smokes, those eyes. Those eyes could end wars.

    I could go on and on for hours about the brilliance of Elizabeth Fraser, but this is only tangentially about her.

    You can grab the “Song To The Siren” cover via Bandcamp by naming your price here. While you’re there, you should just grab the entire Lights That Change catalog for the low price of £4.47 GBP, which comes to something like $6.75 USD.

    03.25.2014 — “Take Me Out” by Strata Florida

    Louise Trehy (Strata Florida)

    If you only listen to one song today, make it “Take Me Out” by Strata Florida (2014, from the album Made of Stars).

    Strata Florida is a recording project centered around Louise Trehy. 22 years ago, she was one half of the 4AD dream pop band Swallow, whose star shone very brightly but also very briefly. Their one album Blow (1992) was one of my very favorite albums of the year. It remains one of my favorite albums not just of that year or of that decade, but one of my favorite albums ever. While this isn’t really about that, you should either dust off your copy of Blow, or buy one right away. In 1994, the band (which was also a romantic partnership) split after they left the 4AD roster. While Mike Mason (the other half of Swallow) remained in the music business as a video director, Trehy sort of dropped out of the scene entirely. She moved to Wales and led a quiet life for the next 18 or so years.

    Last spring, I got an email out of the blue from Trehy letting me know that she was emerging from her hibernation. She said had been singing in a choir and really missed being in a band. She tried working with a few different guitar players, but things weren’t working out. Then she found this guy named Pete Pavli, who is a classically trained cellist and violist. He was also a frequent collaborator with former Hawkwind member Robert Calvert. Together, Pavli and Calvert were in a couple of early 80s avant-garde bands. One of the more bizarre Pavli/Calvert collaborations was a 1981 stage play called “The Kid From Silicon Gulch: An electronic musical for the cybernetic age”. It had private detectives, murderous computers, bad avantgarde “futuristic” music that was “sung” by the aforementioned murderous computer. Everything. Anyway, in the present day, Trehy found this guy Pavli, who had also been out of the music business for a long time. When they started working together, they were both sort of secretive about it. She was saying that she was working with “a viola player”, and he was saying “I am currently working with a talented female singer/songwriter who has sworn me to secrecy…”.

    When I got that email from Trehy, she had three songs that were in demo mode. I featured one of those demos almost exactly a year ago. At the time, she wasn’t really planning on releasing an album. Maybe an EP, but more than anything, she just wanted to get back to creating music. But things happened. She ended up signing on with Saint Marie Records, which is one of my favorite labels. She named her new project Strata Florida, which is Latin for “Valley of Flowers”. It’s also the (English) name of a historically significant 12th century abbey in midwest Wales. The Welsh name for the abbey is Ystrad Fflur. And that brings us up to date.

    Today, finally, is the release date for the first Strata Florida album Made of Stars, and this is one of my favorite songs from the album:

    “Take Me Out” by Strata Florida

    There’s a lot of tremolo and flanger on this song. It’s a common thread running through the album. Not necessarily in a way that makes the songs sound same-ish. Just that they sound like they belong together. That’s one of the things that I really love about this album. It sounds like an album rather than a collection of songs that were just piled together. One song flows into the next, and it’s very much on purpose. Trehy listened to the Cocteau Twins’ masterpiece Treasure a bunch of times while she was putting her album together. What she was paying specific attention to was the way Treasure uses the fades and the spaces between the songs as connective tissue. She was looking to accomplish the same thing with Made of Stars, and I think she has.

    Trehy’s nearly whispered angelic vocals are again the highlight of the thing. There’s something comforting and mysterious and, of course, sexy about that technique. That school of Bilinda Butcher/Rachel Goswell fame.

    As good as each of the songs is, I strongly suggest listening to the whole album in one sitting. Listen on big speakers through a proper stereo setup. Listen on a good set of headphones. Whatever. Just listen to the whole thing. And not through your laptop speakers or a cheap set of earbuds.

    While I was certainly anticipating the album very much, I knew that sometimes this leads to disappointment. I got an advance copy of Made of Stars a couple of weeks ago, and I’m really happy with the album. I’ve just been waiting for the rest of the world to finally be able to get their ears on it.

    You should buy a CD copy of the album from the Saint Marie shop. There should also (eventually) be digital copies in the SMR bandcamp shop, but for now, you can get a digital copy via Amazon.

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