Friday, March 10, 2006

Lowlife, the pitch, and other things

During a mid-1980s interview with music journalist Thomas Lappin, Will Heggie and Grant Macdowell -- one-half of the dream pop outfit Lowlife -- confessed to being fans of the English football team Preston North End, mainly on account of the Lilywhites' status as one of the worst squads in the country.

It was a fitting choice, really, seeing how a few parallels could be drawn between PNE and the band. Following the release of their 1985 EP, Rain, big-time success was alluding Lowlife; same for Preston North End, which was relegated to England's Fourth Division following the 1984-85 season. Meanwhile, during that same time frame, a rival of sorts was tasting success. In the case of Lowlife, it was Cocteau Twins (they were Heggie's former band, after all), which released the critically acclaimed Treasure; for the Lilywhites, it was nearby Blackpool, which nabbed the runner-up spot in the Fourth Division, thus earning promotion.

(Okay, so maybe this little exercise was just an excuse to chat about sports. So sue me.)

Football teams aside, Lowlife crafted some terrific dream pop in the mid-1980s. Built around Heggie's moody bass lines and Craig Lorentson's dry vocals, the music combined the forlorn themes of Joy Division with the atmospheric renderings of The Chameleons. Actually, "dream pop" may be a misleading misnomer, as Lowlife's music often took on the soundtrack for a night terror.

"Cowards Way" is a perfect example. It's moody, it's murky, it's a jittery treatise on sheer despair and the soul-tearing contemplation that precedes a suicide. "My life has got a hold of me and it will not release," Lorentson laments. "If only I could break away and lay myself to rest."

Heat it for yourself. Download: "Cowards Way" by Lowlife.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay

A punk band that's pissed off and . . . middle-aged?

Okay, it's an unusual combination, seeing how the "youth" part of the equation is absent, but then again, The Zips are an unusual band. Formed in Glasgow in 1978, the quartet were just a blip on the U.K. punk radar. Their eponymous EP was released in April of '79, with the "Radioactivity"/"I'm Not Impressed" single coming one year later. By the close of 1980, guitarist Brian Jackson -- who had initially helped bring the band together -- had packed his bags for Australia and The Zips were finished.

Then something a bit remarkable happened: After a 21-year hiatus, The Zips reformed (with replacements for Jackson). And much to their fans' satisfaction, the most recent tracks have as much bite as their previous material. The group's 2004 Dumbstruck EP features songs with politically charged titles such as "Govern Meant," and dishes out criticism towards Messrs. Bush and Blair.

So yes, pissed off and middle-aged. And for the moment, it works for The Zips.

The track listed below, "I'm In Love," was off their self-titled LP, which was released by Detour Records. According to the band's web site, it was cut during a November of '78 recording session at Burns' Howff, a popular Glasgow nightspot. Funds for the record came from a local record shop owner named Charlie "Hannibal" Hayes, a name and face lost in the annals of Scottish music history.

Ultimately, the song and the EP became a hit: renowned DJ John Peel expressed his fondness, while the initial press of 500 copies sold out quickly.

Hear it for yourself. Download: "I'm In Love" by The Zips.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Toasting Restricted Code

He once traveled throughout the U.K., his band doing opening gigs for synth pop superstars The Human League. Today, as his web site puts it, he "travels to Bordeaux, and the magnificent Chateau Beychevelle, to taste through 50 years of wine history."

During a March of '81 Peel session, he busted through a rendition of "Yakov Bok," a song that takes its title from The Fixer, a novel about a rural Ukrainian handyman jailed for a crime he did not commit. Now, he's tasting (and writing about) wine such as the Ukraine's Massandra Pink Muscat.

Yeah, Tom Cannavan has come a long way since his days fronting the Scottish post-punk band Restricted Code. He's since put away the guitar and departed the indie music scene. (Though he is still listening; his "Best of 2005" picks listed Antony & The Johnsons' I Am A Bird Now as his favorite "thing" from last year.)

Today, Cannavan dedicates his creative energies to wine, which he admitted has been a fancy of his since his school days. He's been running since 1995, making it one of the Internet's oldest wine sites. He's editor of Fine Expressions, a bi-monthly magazine dedicated to wine and other spirits. He's also penned a book.

The song presented here is "From The Top," which was Restricted Code's first single on Bob Last's Pop: Aural label. It's a danceable number with a robotic-sounding bass and bursts of jangly guitar. Think latter-day countrymen APB, only with darker tones. Of course, one can't help but wonder what wine Cannavan would suggest to compliment it.

Hear it for yourself. Download: "From The Top" by Restricted Code.