Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Volume 15 Side 3 - Levitation, Captain America, Midway Still, Family Cat, Wonky Alice

1. Levitation - World Around (Rough Trade)

"Levitation dive into a pool so deep they might never hit bottom, but they are sending back postcards from the edge that makes it sound like a weird and wonderful place to be".

"World Around" is a relatively accessible piece of work by Levitation's usual standards, laced with irate stream-of-consciousness lyrics. Had Billy Joel's can of Coke been spiked with a particularly powerful tab of acid prior to writing "We Didn't Start The Fire", he too might have come out with an agitated list of unconnected things such as "Running into brick walls sow's ears pitfalls covered with flies/ Green so green so paint the world green we've got a new machine/ it'll burn out your eyes!" But nobody tampered with his soft drink, so he didn't.

Really though, "World Around" consists on the one hand of bonkers, jagged, stream-of-consciousness ranting, then the comparatively blissful, twanging chorus on the other, and the two elements work incredibly well together. If Levitation were occasionally guilty of drowning in their own indulgences, "World Around" is proof that when they held back a bit and offered easy points of access, they actually could create mad and pleasurable pieces of progressive pop - this has it all, from an unexpected string section right through to hard, angular riffing.

There are even slight traces of Julian Cope around the edges of "World Around", and its manic power makes it compelling and exciting. Certainly, this is more enticing than anything House Of Love were churning out at the same time.

2. Captain America - Flame On (Paperhouse)

"After exploding on to the independent scene at the start of '92, Captain America have gone from strength to strength, despite almost being taken to court by C&A over the design of the front cover of their 'Flame On' single. Captain America are undeterred by all this trauma and look set to take the world by storm when their eagerly awaited long player is released towards the end of this year".

Cuh! C&A! D'yer remember them, eh? C&A! Clockhouse clothes, what were all THAT about? I shouldn't have thought they had enough money in their coffers to legally challenge even a Scottish indie band by this point, though - by 1992 they were doomed as a High Street clothing brand, and close to going under in the UK. Interestingly, though, you could at least buy tie-dye tops cheaply in their outlets by this point, just in case you wanted to pretend to be a Levellers fan while actually buying your clobber off the High Street.

Anyway, where were we? Ah yes, Captain America. "Flame On" enters the fray with screeching Teenage Fanclub styled guitar riffs, but steadily throws itself in the mud and dirt. Low down grubbiness is the order of the day here, with Eugene Kelly's vocals groaning in the ditch alongside rough and ready guitar sounds.

It's actually been years since I've revisited this, and it's an incredibly pleasant surprise. Crashing cymbals chime in with pounding drums, a melancholic chorus meets propelling verses, and powerpop riffs meet distorted grungey guitars. It really shouldn't work, and should be a total mess, but the whole thing is a pleasing concoction and arguably the finest piece of work by Captain America (aka Eugenius). Like The Pastels trying to rock out, it stumbles and slips along down its own muddy path, kicking all obstacles out of the way in a dirty great huff - a furious sulk of a record.

3. Midway Still - Better Than Before (Roughneck)

"After the critical success of their first two EPs 'I Won't Try' and 'Wish', Paul, Jan and Declan took a brief holiday before launching themselves into the recording studio for their debut LP. After ten days in a London Docklands studio with the irrepressible Don Fleming, Midway Still produced the wonder that was 'Dial Square'. 'Better Than Before' became their third single in March 1992 and captured the boy's soulful cranked up pop at its best".

If "I Won't Try" and "Wish" showcased Midway Still's slightly moody, melancholic side, "Better Than  Before" saw them put their feet down on the accelerator to growl their way down the indie highway. It's the strongest single of the three, seeing them bouncing off the walls as soon as the chorus peeks into view.

In fact, the whole thing rushes along so urgently, pulling you along as it goes, that it's easy to miss that it's actually a simple, uncomplicated piece of work, akin to their other efforts. Midway Still obviously weren't going to do such a thing as "progress" or "mature" for their debut album "Dial Square", and had no desire to present themselves as anything than an uncomplicated, modernised take on rough and ready power pop, rather like The Lemonheads across the pond.

4. The Family Cat - Steamroller (Dedicated)

"Formed at the start of 1988, Family Cat are the band who seem to be living all their nine lives at once. Following a handful of critically acclaimed records and a change of record company, The Family Cat are finally on the edge of greatness. 'Steamroller' is their debut single on Dedicated and is featured on their debut full length LP 'Furthest From The Sun'. The Family Cat are definitely in 'The Purr...Suit of Excellence'".

This was a surprise, though all the signs were there that it was coming. Whereas their debut single "Tom Verlaine" was a charming, scratchy lo-fi exploration of a skint young relationship, and other singles were simple slices of indie rock, The Family Cat had always had a slightly showboating, anthemic element to their sound - "Remember What It Is That You Love" sounds, in retrospect, like a slightly clumsy attempt at that.

"Steamroller", though, is utterly unashamed, featuring sweeping guitar work, stomping rhythms, and the line "The Saints are playing at home today". It's far closer to eighties era Slade or Big Country than it is nineties indie rock. The chaps sound as if they've got their football scarves round their necks, their glittery DMs on their feet, and are fantasising about waving giant flags around an arena stage. This is so lacking in subtlety it's actually quite astonishing.

What's more surprising is that they do pull it off. This isn't entirely to my taste, but sounds like a possible hit single. The group sound muscular and unstoppable, powering their way through a fist-punching anthem as if a corner was being turned in their careers. It really wasn't, though. "Steamroller" made no commercial headway, and I have to wonder if all their fans really wanted or "got" it. It sounds more like a cunning ploy to break through to the mainstream on a new record label than an attempt to cling on to any indie credibility, but that's possibly not the case... it may simply be that with a higher production budget suddenly at their disposal, the group suddenly found themselves in a position to act out their lighters-aloft fantasies.

5. Wonky Alice - Sirius (Pomona)

"This is Earth calling Captain Wonky. You've really made the grade this time. 'Sirius' is a blinder which will see Wonky Alice orbiting your stratosphere any time now".

If their previous "Indie Top 20" appearance with "Caterpillars" was clean and jangly, if incredibly wobbly and capital "q" quirky, "Sirius" takes on a much darker post-punk sound infused with streaks of psychedelia. Rushed, frantic spy theme guitar riffs collide with pounding drums initially, but then the song veers all over the shop, taking strange atmospheric detours when you least expect them. As unabashedly psychedelic as Gorkys and Super Furry Animals were when they arrived a few years later, Wonky Alice unfortunately found themselves landing into a 1992 environment where being a bit trippy meant being very, very serious about your lysergic visions. The group instead opted to sing tunes about outer space and "cracking the genetic code". How sci-fi and uncool.

"Sirius" is a bit of a lost gem of this period, though. Like Pulp at their most space-age, the band verge very close to affectionate pastiche, as well as delivering a skipload of interesting ideas of their own. It sticks out like a sore thumb by the standards of this era, but there's a strong chance that if Wonky Alice had formed slightly later in the decade, they may have gained themselves a much larger and more appreciative audience.

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