This writer has always harboured hopes that one day we would hear from There Will Be Fireworks again. So ten years on from their last release the news of a new album was met with a fair amount of excitement – if not a little trepidation. Any fears were unfounded though and Summer Moon – the bands third record – is an astounding return. Emo flecked, skyscraping indie rock with an abundance of heart it will be received with open arms by fans old and new. To celebrate the band’s return we chatted all things music, film and book related with singer Nicholas McManus…
Three favourite albums:
This is an impossible question to answer! But here goes…
The Blue Nile – A Walk Across The Rooftops
The Blue Nile’s music is so singular that it exists in its own timeless world. They made two miraculous albums In A Walk Across the Rooftops and Hats (which I could have just as easily picked.)
This record is wonderful – carefully, architecturally sculpted but always soulful and always human. There are so many beautiful moments: the sinuous bassline of Tinseltown in the Rain; PJ Moore’s arpeggiated Jupiter-8 bleeps and plinks on From Rags to Riches; the swooning chorus of Stay; the perfect stillness of Easter Parade.
But its crown jewel is Paul Buchanan’s voice. That voice. Yearning and romantic, but (almost) always self-possessed and dignified. I think it is my favourite voice ever.
And aside from how gorgeous it all sounds, I love this record for the Glasgow it conjures: a city of cinematic, noirish glamour. Quiet redstone tenements. Fog and streetlights. Railway stations and Sunday clothes. It is a city I recognise.
The Wrens – The Meadowlands
I love records that create self-contained worlds with a real sense of time and place. And as soon as the crickets start up on The House That Guilt Built, I’m right there in suburban New Jersey, with a hangover and a broken heart.
This is the ultimate Gen X end-of-youth/what-am-I-doing-with-my-life record. The Wrens take all their anguishes – break-ups, screw-ups, record label trouble, suburban boredom – and filter them through a wild kaleidoscope of punk, indie and first-wave emo.
Self-recorded in the house the band shared, the whole thing is perfectly imperfect. But that’s not to say it is unrefined: The Meadowlands may be homemade, but it’s never homespun. There’s an acuity to the songwriting and arrangements that only comes from a deep knowledge of the indie music lineage in which the Wrens placed themselves.
And that’s the other thing: the story of the Wrens, the whole oops-we-erased-the-master-tapes mythology of it. On its own merits, The Meadowlands is a classic. But it is also a testament to not giving up on making music. I think that’s why people are so fascinated by the Wrens – the idea that these four mid-30s guys were toiling away in a home studio for years trying to make the best thing they could, for no other reason than because it mattered to them.
I can relate to that.
Guided By Voices – Bee Thousand
Once you stumble into the strange world of Robert Pollard, it’s hard to find your way back out. This is another DIY masterpiece, infamously recorded on four-track recorders in Dayton basements in the early nineties by our beery Ohian savant and his drinking buddies.
There are a couple of specific things which really strike me about this record. Firstly, Pollard has a freakish facility for melody – pure Beatles really – and it was never better than on this record. The songs may be buried under layers of tape hiss and a collage of artfully shonky overdubs, but those melodies always gleam.
Second, of all the GBV records he was involved in, I think this is the one on which Tobin Sprout’s contributions are the most telling. The simple sweetness of his songs – especially Awful Bliss, Ester’s Day and You’re Not An Airplane – provide a quiet balance to Pollard’s braggadocious swagger. They are a big part of the record’s soul.
It also cannot be understated that there is something fundamentally exotic about this record to a listener from – say – the drizzly suburbs of Glasgow. It’s a psychedelic transmission straight from the weird dark heart of America. A Twilight Zone cornucopia of hardcore UFOs, hot freaks, robot boys, 300 pound ghosts and sparkled shiny diners. It’s totally uncanny.
In the end, I don’t think Bee Thousand can really be rationally explained or understood. What possesses a mid-30s maths teacher to earnestly commit to tape the line “Are you amplified to rock?” And how does he sound cool as all hell doing it? What, precisely, is a kicker of elves? Why does a song about a flying car reliably devastate me every time I listen to it?
Who knows? It doesn’t really matter in the end. There was some magic in those four-tracks.
A favourite film:
The Exorcist – William Friedkin
I love horror movies, but I know most of them are basically terrible. The Exorcist is not terrible. In fact, it feels almost unfair to call it a horror movie, because it totally transcends the genre.
The film is so visceral and so shocking – even today, 50 years after its release – that it’s almost easy to miss what it’s about. It’s not really about jump scares or schlocky horror or projectile vomit. It’s about the corrosiveness of evil, the redemptive power of love and (most terrifyingly) one mother’s helplessness in the face of something dreadful happening to her daughter.
An unforgettable meditation on faith, grief and evil.
A favourite Book:
This Is Memorial Device – David Keenan
This novel is so completely weird that there is no succinct way of explaining it. The subtitle does the job: An Hallucinated Oral History of the Post-Punk Scene in Airdrie, Coatbridge and Environs, 1978-1986.
Comprising a series of fictional interviews, it’s ostensibly about a fictional band called Memorial Device and a motley group of weirdos, dreamers and mavericks within their scene in Airdrie, a Lanarkshire town on the outskirts of Glasgow. But it’s about much more than that: hopes and dreams and memory, and all the rest.
It’s probably my favourite book of the last 20 years.
A song that means a lot to you
Over the Wall – Thurso
Aside from being a heartbreaking banger of a tune, my first date with my (now) wife was at an Over the Wall gig in the Captain’s Rest in Glasgow in August 2009. They were a great band and this song was their calling card. The trumpets!
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