Saturday, May 2, 2009

New Irish Music: So Cow, Halves/Subplots, Cutaways

So Cow - 'Casablanca' (vinyl rip)

So Cow - 'Shackleton' (vinyl rip)

So I picked up So Cow's self-titled/'greatest hits' LP last week in Road Records (I would have got it there on Record Store Day, but I couldn't get in the door) and it's really rather good. A little less than half the tracks are from his 2008 album, I'm Siding With My Captors, and the rest are from his send-off-money-to-my-myspace-practically-self-released-CD first album, These Truly Are End Times and possibly also his homemade, stapled-together, super-limited ep. Some of them I know from the WFMU live session, especially the opener 'Casablanca'.

While the best songs - 'Greetings', 'Shackleton', 'One Hundred Helens' - are from the second album, all the of them fit together quite well. There is some interesting, quirky stuff like 'So Cow vs. the Future', 'League of Impressionable Teens' and various Korean-titled tracks ('Choh Ah' and 'Ja Ju Ah Pa Yo', as well as 'Moon Geun Young'). Obviously it doesn't supplant I'm Siding With My Captors, but it's great to have all these songs together and on a properly retro-progressive format. Speaking of which, the cover drawing really needs to be seen in its full size to do it justice; and the record label has got that old school gradient thing going on as well.

(the So Cow LP is a US release and can be bought direct from the label, Tic Tac Totally! Records)


Halves - 'Blood Branches'

Subplots - 'Leech'

This split 7" by two Irish bands, both on the sort of post-rock-y spectrum, is an interesting idea. Not that it's a totally novel idea for here - most notably two Cork bands climbed Ireland's tallest mountain, Carrantouhill, to record a split 7" single entitled 'The Highest Bands in Ireland' - but it's unusual enough. The 7" is enjoying a renaissance in indie/alternative music in general, especially with bands releasing material solely on 7". Another Irish example of this is the brilliant Hooray for Humans blue 7" of 'Already Sleeping', mentioned in an Irish Times article on the resurgence of the format. It's a similar deal with this record, except it comes with a download for the mp3s of the songs. People say that people buy these 7"s without having a record player, but that just seems a little weird for me to understand. In any case, if they do, their money won't be totally wasted, as they can get a good digital copy alongside the slab of useless vinyl.

Anyway, on to the music. Halves are a mix of Explosions in the Sky and Sigur Ros-type post-rock sounds, which they do very well, but usually in the framework of a lengthy 'EP' (Haunt Me When I'm Drowsy is 32 minutes long with 7 tracks, including an intro). One side of a 7" seems rather short to adequately present their sound, although that said, it is a good song. Subplots are a band of whom I've heard a fair bit, but this is the first time I've heard them on record. To my ears, it sounds quite like Radiohead, whom I have a mixed feelings about, but again it's a pretty good song. Make up your own mind, anyway. At least the artwork for each band is excellent, and as this was quite pricey for a 7" - €5.99 in Tower - hopefully the record will be a grower.


Cutaways are a "synth-driven indie-pop trio" (i.e. guitar, keyboards, drums) from Belfast that I think are pretty neat. Without going into all the socio-political history of this island in the 20th century, I don't know that much about bands in Northern Ireland. Of course I'm a big fan of the classic punk bands the Undertones (Derry) and Stiff Little Fingers (Belfast), but in my opinion the Radiators (from Dublin, and/or Space) were just as good if not better than either of them. Anyway, at the moment there's even a specific collaboration between indie magazines AU (for 'Alternative Ulster') and the Dublin-based State to bring bands from the South up North, and vice versa.

Hopefully Cutaways might be brought into one of those line-ups, because without actually calling them 'the next Fight Like Apes', they should fit very well into the Dublin indie scene. Even more than Fight Like Apes, they remind me a lot of Grand Pocket Orchestra (a minor-key, even quirkier version of the former) and the male/female vocals of Hooray for Humans, and even with a bit of jarring, Bats-like bounce to them. Outside of Ireland, in the mainland UK scene which I know even less about, Danananakroyd seem to be doing a similar sort of aggressively quirky indie-pop. But apart from all the comparisons, this band have really strong songs. I've listened through the full stream of the album Earth and Earthly Things (see below) several times, and it's strikingly attention-inducing, varied, and downright fun.

Promotion for Cutaways is done by Nick of Penny Distribution, which I mention because he writes a very good blog on how the music business, particularly in the case of independent artists, works - or should work - with the internet and the music blogosphere. Cutaways are using the Bandcamp service, which means you can listen to their whole album there or, well, here:

<a href="">Milo of Kroton by Cutaways</a>


(gratuitous picture of the So Cow LP on a duvet, with hat-tip to Those Geese Were Stupefied)

So Cow - 'To Do List'