I'm not entirely happy with this month's selections. The songs are fine, but (a) I have had a bugger of a time fitting them into any kind of playable sequence, and failed; and (b) I have a sneaking suspicion a few of the songs that were jettisoned along the way may have been better than some of the ones that snuck in. C'est la vie.
"Where Were You?", by The Mekons. So, let's start off with a classic example of a pop song, by alleged "punk" combo The Mekons, who later mutated into a lot of different things but somehow always remained true to themselves, and miraculously are still a going concern. The vocal inflections give it away as 1978/9, as do the chord changes, but really this is such a timeless example of good pop songwriting that it could be reworked to fit into any part of pop's rich tapestry. The violin is somewhat unexpected.
"Dancehall Domine", by The New Pornographers. More pop. The New Pornographers tend towards maximalism. This can be a bit overwhelming at album length, but a song at a time they are largely unbeatable. This song is written by A C Newman, who knows a thing or two about pop songs. Don't forget to watch the video.
"Red", by Hyuna. Of course, if we're going to talk about maximalism in pop, you can't get much more maximal than K-pop: nothing exceeds like excess. I am linking to Soundcloud because the song's video is a bit, erm, awkward. You have been warned.
"Let's Have a Party", by Geraldo Pino and The Heart Beats. We can wind things back a little bit here with some Hammond-led funky beats from 1970s Africa. Is Geraldo Pino the African James Brown? Well maybe, but that is a kind of stupid question.
"Blo", by Blo. Come for the bass. Stay for the two guitar solos, the second of which would make Eddie Van Halen sit up and take notice.
"Fanta", by Group Lewlewal. An entirely different strain of African music, which maybe puts paid to the notion that "African music" is even a thing, comprises contemplative guitar and/or kora playing, where not a lot happens, but does so exquisitely. Best heard recorded outside, as is the case here, rather than in a recording studio. If you are familiar with the work of Ali Farka Toure and Toumani Diabate, this is for you.
"Smile", by Ural Thomas. Fragile. Gorgeous. Here you can read about it, and the download link may well still work, too.
(Bonus: album cover of the month.)
"Baby Let Me Take You (In My Arms)", by Detroit Emeralds. Think you've heard that opening guitar lick somewhere else? Maybe you have.
"I'm Not Satisfied", by Betty and Karen. The only way this could be improved is if it was by Betty and Veronica. (Kidding.) We are in sixties girl group heaven here. The Internet told me that it has been covered by The Go Team. My heart momentarily stopped until I realised it wasn't the Calvin Johnson Go Team but the other, more recent Go Team. (Whose first album I quite liked but that's another story.)
"Seven Bridges Road", by Steve Young. It's crying-in-your-beer hour. The best known version of this song was by a group who I like to pretend did not exist.
"Sweet Mountain", by Spring. Well, if this song does nothing else, it makes clear that at least someone was listening to "Pet Sounds" in 1972. Even if it was Brian Wilson's then wife and her sister. Oh, and Brian Wilson (who co-produced the album from which this song is taken, and co-wrote the song). Speaking of "Pet Sounds", we watched the new Wilson biopic, "Love and Mercy", the other day. The reconstructions of the making of "Pet Sounds" and "Good Vibrations", while presumably taking some artistic licence, are nevertheless fascinating insights into how Wilson went about trying to reproduce what he was hearing in his head. With "Pet Sounds", he managed it. With "Smile", maybe, what he was hearing was a step too far. It is a terribly sad story, inevitably, but it is also a celebration of what Wilson has achieved. Which is firmly in "We're not worthy" territory.
"What Game Shall We Play Today", by Chick Corea. Chick Corea played with Miles Davis in some of his more out-there endeavours: "Bitches Brew"; the Fillmore concerts. (He also played on "In A Silent Way": is that the greatest Miles Davis album as well as one of the great jazz albums? For now, let's just say it has aged well.) He then, in the early seventies, as if working with Miles hadn't pushed things far enough, formed a group that included Anthony Braxton. This song, though, is from his first solo album, called "Return to Forever" (released on ECM), which became the name of his next band. Thus was born the hated concept of "jazz fusion". On listening to this song (and yes, it is a song, not a "jam", not a "track") it is difficult to hear what all the fuss was about. Although maybe that's not true: it is certainly the opposite of everything Miles and other future-jazz spelunkers were reaching for. So if "nice" for you, in terms of the state of jazz in 1971, was a dirty word, you were probably going to interpret this as a shot across the bows. You may even have been heard to call out "Judas!", had that not already been done. But time, they say, heals all wounds, and 40-odd years later we can (can't we?) accept "What Game Shall We Play Today" on its own terms, as the quietly sublime pop song it undoubtedly is.
"The Rose Explodes", by Dream Boat. You could, without too much effort, draw a line from "What Game Shall We Play Today" to this song. As with the latter, this is, on the surface, a light-as-a-feather pop song where, the more you dig beneath that surface, the more complexity you will find. But you can just as easily enjoy it without all that nasty digging.
"Wordless In Woods", by Tara Jane O'Neil. Everything, as I have said before, sounds better with reverb. Beyond that, I'm not going to say anything at all, because, as the title of the song suggests, words sometimes only get in the way.
"All The Rays", by Grumbling Fur. I hope they won't take it as other than a compliment if I suggest that this song satisfies that particular itch that we all have from time to time, where what we really want to hear is a Depeche Mode song from that precise point where Depeche Mode shifted from being pure synth-pop teasers to being heavily overcoated electro-goths.
"Girl Drop", by Lee Gamble. I know I shouldn't just say "this sounds like X crossed with Y" but, well, sometimes it does. The ingredients here are the overwhelmingly emotional chord changes you hear in a Burial record, and the beatless, weightless but nevertheless inexplicably propulsive trajectories of The Field. You may need a lie down afterwards.
"Dexter (Two Lone Swordsmen Remix)", by Ricardo Villalobos. Imagine if Villalobos's already outstanding "Dexter" were reimagined as an instrumental track inexplicably left off The Cure's "Seventeen Seconds". Only, you don't have to imagine it: it exists.
"Crying In Your Face", by AFX. September 2014 was around the time Aphex Twin finally came out of hiding, so it's not surprising that I had reams of older Aphex tracks to choose from. This one impressed me the most, largely because it seems to have pre-dated the so-called cold/minimal-wave revival by some five years. The acieeed squiggles over the top are a nice touch, too, but it is the song's foundational garments that do all the heavy lifting.