Thursday, February 16, 2006

An old picture with a new Frame

"The sensitive young man with the fringed jacket." That's how East Kilbride's Roddy Frame once described himself.

And on a track like "The Boy Wonders," the second on High Land, Hard Rain, the debut album from Frame's songwriting vehicle, Aztec Camera, that sensitivity -- that innocence, that vulnerability -- is clearly evident.

The song opens with the drunken revelry of the Scottish New Year: "So come Hogmanay when love comes in slurs/Resolutions I'll make and you can label them 'Hers.'" According to Hogmanay tradition, a new year will be a prosperous one if, at the stroke of midnight, a "tall, dark stranger" appears at the door with a lump of coal for the fire. In "The Boy Wonders," Frame is that "tall, dark stranger," only he's toting fuel for fires of a different variety.

His affections are strong, but those ancient insecurities are too; doubt is already creeping into our smitten hero: "Now this boy wonders/Why the words were never worth the wait." Then, and not surprisingly, our seemingly autobiographical tale of young love (Frame was just 18 at the time of this album's release) plays its coda -- over before it even really began. "And my traveling chest will be open to you," Frame sings. "And boy will you learn that you haven't a clue."

What makes this woebegone jaunt so easy to stomach is the sweet, jangling guitars. It's hard to get teary for Frame when he's strumming away so joyfully. Balancing aching lyrics and a honeyed sound . . . well, that's part of what makes Frame so damn terrific.

Hear it for yourself. Download: "The Boy Wonders" by Aztec Camera.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

An Olympian artist, song, post

So forgive me: I'm having a rather difficult time picturing it.

A furtive, crepuscular art-rudeboy (someone else's words, not mine) doing something as pedestrian as being glued to the idiot box. An artist deft at crafting cracked, morally provocative sketches of everyday life captivated by figure skating?

Was he one of the 24 million folks, Valentine's Day 22 years ago, watching intently as the former policeman and insurance clerk took to the ice? (Remember, this is an individual the NME's Betty Page once equated to a mussel: "It tastes good when swallowed whole, but examine it too closely and it looks as disgusting as a shriveled, unidentifiable piece of sexual organ. Spit it out immediately.") So was he actually taking note of what transpired that day? A sensuous free dance performance of Ravel's Bolero, followed by a storm of flowers and a raucous standing 'O' from the 8,000-and-change on hand? Nine perfect scores for artistic impression, Soviets named Andrei and Natalya bound for a Gulag, a pair of gold medals?

(Wait. Did I just dedicate an entire graph to ice skating?)

Okay, so maybe Paisley's Momus (née Nicholas Currie) wasn't captivated by the gold-medal performance of Brits Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean at the 1984 Winter Games in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia. But he was paying attention.

"Love On Ice" -- from the his acclaimed third album -- twists and perverts Torvill and Dean's figure skating fable in a way only Momus can. The track deals with sexuality and its divisive position within common culture (the protagonists are closet homosexuals), as well as the public's penchant for the glorification and gutting of its icons (the duo are crucified in the tabloids following their defeat).

"But the ice is a mirror in which people see," go the words, "their nation and their sexuality/And now we've come out of the closet." It's stark, it's honest; it's Momus at his most challenging.

Hear it for yourself. Download: "Love On Ice" by Momus.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Think Mink!

"Haud yer wheesht!" was shouted on more than one occasion.

Okay, so we don't know this for a fact, but we can assume it must have been. How else would you tell the choob you share a place with to shut the fuck up? You know, the one who insists on tooting his braying trumpet several hours a day, honing his chops to The Jasmine Minks' "Think."

Eventually, said choob, Derek Christie, perfected his technique -- and bolted. He thumbed his nose at his flatmates and then thumbed more than 500 miles from Aberdeen to south London. Didn't put his small bag and trumpet down until he was ringing the buzzer to Jim Shepherd's flat. For you see, Christie and Shepherd were school chums, dating back to childhood days spent among the sparkling granite of Aberdeen; the latter was also the singer/main songwriter of the aforementioned Jasmine Minks, one of Creation Records' most overlooked (and first) bands.

A few hours after arrival, the requisite reminiscing out of the way (Shepherd had memories of Christie being a garden-variety cornet player), the pair started hammering out trumpet parts for songs. "I had been writing a new tune," Shepherd explained on the band's web site, "and Derek just started elaborating over the top of the melody like a mad backing singer." The choob was now an official member of one of the 1980s' most infectious, soulful guitar pop bands -- and helping to broaden the band's still-developing sound.

The lesson? Turning one's flatmates into lifesworn enemies isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Hear it for yourself. Download: "Cry For A Man" by The Jasmine Minks. A track that builds with some catchy bass and simple drum fills, until the tension is released with a frenzied, horn-driven, power section.