Luxembourg, The Boyfriends, The Bridge Gang, Robots In Disguise, Morton Valence - Blue Skies Up: Welcome To the New Pop Revolution.
Bill Cummings 27/05/2006
Compilations can be tricky things to get right. The best albums by Various Artists contain a mixture of well known artists with a fair splattering of undiscovered gems for your ears to feast upon. Indeed the best ones can reflect whole scenes or inspire others to start one. The Angular records compilations of a few years ago were like treasure troves full of exciting bands and artists, they led me to discover a whole host of bands (Luxembourg, The Long Blondes, Bloc Party) that I would grow to love in the following years, I wouldn't have heard of most of these without the aid of these rather excellent compilation discs.
So we come to 'Blue Skies up: Welcome To The New Pop Revolution'. A bold title for a rather bold album, the label Dogbox want to represent a refreshing alternative to the dreary corporate pop that currently infects the charts. Following up their crafty download releases from Luxembourg, The Bridge Gang, and more recently Swimmer One and the Sweethearts. They present a brilliant compilation of 16 bands and artists that reflect their aims. Indeed Blue Skies up has a definite sound the production is buffed up to shiny and refreshing, this blend of electro pop and guitar alt pop is well balanced and hangs together well as a running order.
Every great compilation has a good opener, a track that sets the tone for the disc, and 'Blue Skies...' is no exception. Scottish indie electro popsters Swimmer One's 'We Just Make Music For Ourselves is a blinking, Bowie-meets-the-Pet Shop Boys electro tune. A personal and affecting mantra-like manifesto for making music for love and art, not mere success. ("You can spot us a mile off/You even could at School/We don't do this to be different/We don't do this to be Cool/Although it is obviously")
The big dogs of the Dogbox kennel are let off the leash early on, Luxembourg's delightful 'Not My Number' is a shift in gears: If last single 'LuxVsGB' was a slap around the chops then 'Not My Number' is a kiss on the cheek and a wave goodbye, just as excellent but in a different ways. Pulp-esque in its freshness, the trump cards are Alex's dialling keys and David's wonderfully bittersweet vocal: rejection never sounded this good. The Boyfriends are fresh from a tour with Morrissey, here they charm us with a new track 'Remember', probably not their best effort but it's enjoyably summery nevertheless. A wistful yet joyous look back at a relationship ("Remember ways of killing time/ When Time was all we had to spend/When I was yours and you were mine.") Martin's Morrissey-esque vocal walks hand in hand with a clean sixities-ish riff and rhythm.
Later on, we're running with the dogs again as The Bridge Gang weigh in with the excellent metallic punk of 'Sarah's Brother'. Like The Clash grabbing the Libertines round the throat and giving them a good shaking, it's a dark strut about the death of a six year old girl at the hands of the National Front ("navy blue jersey found down by the lake"). If this band aren't big in the next six months there's something very wrong. Up next are Piranha Deathray with 'When Can I Meet Your Parents' which sounds rather like a brill slice of '50s sleaze indie pop, as sung by Bryan Ferry.
Other highlights include the wonderful Planetakis with a spangly English/German guitar pop song called 'Beautiful Today', licked all over by a weaving guitar line, and joyous rhythm, the central melody is quite delectable, take that Keane! ("You look very beautiful to me/ you don't look like that tomorrow.")
There's a wistful heart to much of 'Blue Skies' Leeds' The Lodger sum this up perfectly, they gorgeously build almost early Blur-esque indie pop, its lilting harmonies and bittersweet vocals ("Its all in my hands/You just steal my plans") reach towards something quite special. While The Laurel Collective's sublime multi-layered pop effort 'International Love Affair' is quite majestically life affirming. London's The Bleeding Hearts have been creating quite magical psychedelic indie pop in the last few months and the Suede-ish "Stars" is probably them at the height of their current powers, all cowering shivering Morrissey vocals, and a clawing melody to die for, like staring up at the stars with a tear in the corner of your eye.
The electro side of Blue Skies is equally exciting, the wonderful electro beatboxing and urban skitting of BIB's "Jobs-On-Line '06" manages to subvert the idea that 9-5 alienation at work, is the preserve of Hard Fi and the like. While Robots In Disguise with 'Bedscenes' (quite apart from their Mighty Boosh connection) is all sleazy body popping and female squeals of delight, like a night spent fighting for the sheets with an excitable pair of vixens.
The final track says it all: Morton Valence's 'The Kiss' is a gorgeous parting kiss, in a moonlight cafe, dreamy tinkling keys and stunning male/female vocals, it sounds like the point where Mercury Rev meets Ooberman, and collapses into a warm bed.
This compilation is successful on so many levels; enjoyable to listen to, it's a tracklisting that flows, there's a theme that runs throughout: this is bittersweet shiny pop music that instantly draws you to its bosom. The mainstays are there (Luxembourg, The Boyfriends, Swimmer One, The Bridge Gang) but they're joined by new pups, wagging their tails and eager to please your ears. (The Lodger, BIB, The Bleeding Hearts, and Laurel Collective).
This summer, do yourself a favour: open up the blinds of negativity that took hold of the charts during our long winter, look up to the skies, you might just see the blue skies and hear the sound of the new pop revolution about to dawn.