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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

McCarthy – I am a wallet (Optic Nerve, reissue)

Thrilling jangle pop with actual political engagement from what seems like another age (in fairness it was originally released almost 30 years ago) from the band that gave birth to Stereolab (kind of).

Providing proof if it were needed that the famous C86 sound could accommodate teeth underneath its smiling face.

The guitar of Tim Gane supplies the chiming hooks but the vocals of Malcolm Eden give great emotional heft, as on the very poignant ‘The well of loneliness’.

They are many, we are few
There’s not much we can do

As it happens, it’s one of the least overtly political songs in this collection but one of the most touching.

Playlist 371 - Sept 29 2015

A few nice pairings in this week's show.

Robert Forster - "my soup-stained vest, my critical eye" Bob Dylan - "God said to Abraham, give me a son, Abe said, God you gotta be puttin me on"

Joanna Newsom with leaping folk singing and a stirring medieval undertow Julia Holter crashing brilliantly through the naff barrier with delicate singing and unashamed sax solos

Leo Abrahams going to town on Brian Eno, who sings guest Brian Eno going to town on 70s pop music Sun Ra going to the future.

More on these pages.

Sept 29 2015 w/ Robert Forster,Bob Dylan,Joanna Newsom,Julia Holter,Sun Ra,Leo Abrahams,Leaf Library by The Underground Of Happiness on Mixcloud

The Underground of Happiness
uplifting pop music of every creed
Twitter: UndergroundOfHappy

Playlist 371
Tues Sept 29 2015
(repeated on Tuesdays 8.30pm)
UCC 98.3FM
listen live on the web at
*listen back to this show here

Tracey Thorn – Oh the divorces
Downpilot – Rosaline
Robert Forster – A poet walks (playing Bush Hall, London, Dec 7)
Bob Dylan – Highway 61 Revisited
Joanna Newsom – Leaving the city (playing Albert Hall, Manchester, Oct 31)
Julia Holter – Sea calls me home (playing Brudenell Club, Leeds, Nov 14)
Shape Worship – Paternoster (Look)
Leo Abrahams - Chain
Brian Eno – Burning airlines give you so much more
Sun Ra & His Arkestra – What’s that?
Titus Andronicus – Dimed out (playing Cyprus Avenue, Cork, Nov 23)
Skinny Girl Diet – Silver spoons (playing Moth Club, London, Oct 20)
Telekinesis – Courtesy phone
Dan Friel - Life (Pt 1)
The Leaf Library – Tilting (playing The Lexington, London, Nov 22)
JR Green – Nigerian Princess (playing King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut, Glasgow, Nov 8)

*next week's show features music from HeCTA, Chloe March, Richard Hell & Gun Outfit, among others

e-mail the show on
or text +353 (0)86-7839800
please mark messages “uoh”

Conor O'Toole,
c/o UCC 98.3FM,
Áras na Mac Léinn,
Student Centre,
University College Cork,

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Robert Forster – Songs to play (Tapete Records)

As you know, Robert Forster was a founder member of The Go Betweens with Grant McLennan in Brisbane. Together they released 6 albums of literate off kilter pop music in the 1980s. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) they did not make the commercial breakthrough achieved by other indie bands of the time like The Smiths and REM. The prevailing consensus goes that McLennan had the better melodies and singing voice but that Forster had the spikier lyrical talent. (McLennan’s style had a more poetic, and often nostalgic, quality.) The band broke up in 1989 and the two songwriters embarked on solo careers. They reformed in 1997, initially to tour, and subsequently recorded three further albums together until Grant McLennan’s untimely death in 2006. Robert Forster then released The Evangelist in 2008, a solo album but which included three songs of Grant’s, so it’s thought of as a de facto Go Betweens album by many. Not surprisingly, most of the reviews so far have painted this first record in 7 years in the context of Robert’s Go Betweens past. There’s undoubtedly some of that in here but mostly I hear it a little differently.

*Cards on the table – I’m a huge Go Betweens fan, also a huge fan of both Robert and Grant’s solo material.

To me, this album sounds like RF picking up a thread from his solo albums in the 1990s, a wonderful run of releases: Danger in the past, Calling from a country phone, I had a New York girlfriend – a covers album – and finally Warm nights which came out in 1996, the year before Robert and Grant reformed. If you tune in closely there are plenty of echoes of those albums here.

The covers album might be a place to start. That featured songs by Neil Diamond and Grant Hart of Husker Du, Bob Dylan, Guy Clark among others, and ‘Echo Beach’, the rollicking 80s pop classic by Martha & the Muffins, on the face of it a perfectly confusing selection. Robert has spoken often of the founding mission of The Go Betweens – an attempt to merge post punk and folk or roots. Or maybe more precisely, that those poles should not be mutually exclusive. So they loved The Velvet Underground and Talking Heads, but also Dylan and Creedence Clearwater Revival. The Go Betweens also always had room for classic pop melodies (‘Right here’, Streets of your town’, ‘Spring rain’).

The melody and delivery of ‘I’m so happy for you’ on this new album have a certain Neil Diamond quality, albeit with the melodrama surgically removed and replaced with wonderful sidelong glances.

‘Songwriters on the run’ has a hushed atmosphere that is quite reminiscient of Danger in the past, although the lyrics and arrangement conjure Dylan in the lovely meandering guitar lead. (In one recent interview, Robert described this as a song that could be imagined as Lennon and McCartney on the run and writing songs for each other as they hide in forests and the helicopters circle overhead, a scenario which might owe a lot to Dylan too.) ‘And I knew’ also has that album’s acoustic guitar and piano (hinting at Lou Reed/John Cale) set up, aswell as its sober air of regret.

The utterly beautiful ‘Turn on the rain’ has an echo of ‘I want to be quiet’ from Calling..., a song of love to a person or maybe a place (Brisbane perhaps, where Forster lives now again).

The overriding sound palette of the album though is folk rock, something which developed through those four 90s solo albums and came to a high point for me on Warm nights.

‘A poet walks’ is probably the best example of this strain, coming on like something from Dylan’s early electric period, with defiant upright piano, mariachi trumpet and thrumming fiddle. It also has one of my favourite lines on the album, as much for the petulant way it is delivered as the words themselves -

There are secrets that I could tell but I won’t

‘Learn to burn’ likewise, a naggingly simple guitar riff paired with a compelling two note rock n roll rumble and swinging country fiddle part. And the gloriously playful ‘Let me imagine you’ which has a particularly gorgeous bridge with Hammond organ calling to mind Highway 61 Revisited or Blonde on Blonde.

The contribution of the band is notable, containing two of The John Steel Singers (who Forster has produced), Scott Bromley and Luke McDonald, his regular drummer Matt Piele and wife Karin Baumler. They provide supple, restrained and sympathetic backing at every step.

I may be biased but this album sounds to me like one of the best things ever done by any Go Between and a wonderful reconnection with Forster's solo back catalogue.

Friday, September 25, 2015

JR Green – Nigerian Princess (from Bring the witch doctor EP, Hits The Fan Records)

A most welcome addition to the canon of foul mouthed folk music from a pair of teenage Scottish brothers.

A rowdy acoustic guitar and an accordion carry most of this but there’s not a hint of The Proclaimers you’ll be glad to hear (in fairness, I suppose the Reid brothers aren’t the worst, but ‘500 Miles’ does still give me the night sweats).

There’s winning melodies at every turn and a great rough croon of a lead vocal but I think what I like best are the fantastic lyrical chops. Take this gem for example -

I’m sorry for my output I’m surrounded by wankers
I’m only 17 and I don’t have all the answers...yet

Yeah, bit of a punk spirit, or “low-fi traditional skronk” as they put it themselves.

Top notch all round and like Frightened Rabbit, who were also launched by Hits the Fan, you wouldn’t rule out stadiums for them.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Chills – Silver Bullets (Fire Records)

One of the more heartwarming returns of recent years in (let’s call it) popular music is the story of Martin Phillipps and The Chills, who are contenders for most cruelly underappreciated band in the history of the world. This piece by Michael Hann from The Guardian last year does excellent justice to Phillipps’ rollercoaster backstory (although the quoted paragraph does contain one glaringly debatable statement which I’ll come back to).

“In the late 80s, the Chills were one of the groups most likely to. After several years of adored singles, EPs and one album on New Zealand’s Flying Nun records – which made the proper charts there, and gained a devoted cult audience in the northern hemisphere – they’d signed to Warner Brothers. Their first album for Warner, 1990’s Submarine Bells, was critically adored, with a single – Heavenly Pop Hit – that was all over radio. But by the time its hit-and-miss follow up, Soft Bomb, arrived in 1992, the musical climate had changed and Phillipps’s careful, earnest, yearning pop had been superseded by grunge.”

A band out of time, that’s undoubtedly the case, whose face just didn’t fit by the mid 90s. I’d have to disagree about Soft bomb which is one of my all time favourite albums, more a string of heavenly pop hits than hit and miss, one inspirational enigmatic pop tune after another, certainly superior in my mind to Submarine Bells.

And if Soft bomb was the extraverted slightly pushy one, this studio album 20 odd years later comes on like the shyer lower key cousin. Suggesting shaded nuances. Hidden depths. Handsome as anything. And with a lyrical and heartfelt songwriting style.

“You broke my night with your dawn Safe in your warm waveform”

Here are some other personal highlights from this album -

The cascading jangle pop of the title track. There’s even room for a surf synth interlude.

The sublime downturn of ‘Underwater wasteland’, all meditative meandering guitar lines until the mission statement chorus coda.

‘America says hello’, more thrilling jangles rattling along at a terrific pace with the addition of that other Chills trademark, the unforgettable refrain – “a rocket attack and a property boom”.

The superb ‘Pyramid/When the poor can reach the moon’, a two-song medley beginning with a pleading tune taking aim at human greed and apathy, then managing to keep hold of a perfectly judged bittersweet tone for the second half uplift. You might call it satire except Phillipps doesn't seem to have a cynical bone in his body.

‘I can’t help you’, another lightly-worn power pop belter sprinkled with more instant pop classic stardust.

Although 20 years older, Phillipps’ voice seems unchanged. It still sounds vital, like a clarion call to action. To wake the fuck up, though politely, sort of. And still earnest and yearning.

Great great pop music.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Playlist 370 - Sept 22 2015

Some notable new music this week from -

The Chills, 1st studio album in almost 20 years but sounding as vital as ever
Deerhunter, from the new album, gorgeous prismatic psych pop
The Drink, 2nd album also upcoming, wonderful skewed guitar pop.

Then somewhat of a glorious vocal interlude midway featuring -
The Lewis Sisters, bringing jazz standards into the stratosphere
The Free Design, sunshine, baroque, lysergic vocals intertwined
Stereolab, taking on the thread with added monster motorik grooves.

And HeCTA, great cut up electronic dance music.

More on the blog.

Sept 22 2015 w/ Blank Realm,The Drink,Free Design,Stereolab,Chills,HeCTA,Deerhunter++ by The Underground Of Happiness on Mixcloud

The Underground of Happiness
uplifting pop music of every creed
Twitter: UndergroundOfHappy

Playlist 370
Tues Sept 22 2015
(repeated on Tuesdays 8.30pm)
UCC 98.3FM
listen live on the web at
*listen back to this show here

Blank Realm – Costume drama (playing Workman's Club, Dublin, Sept 27)
The Drink – Roller
The Chills – Silver bullets
Paperface – Out of time
Close Lobsters – Just too bloody stupid
Deerhunter – Breaker (playing Button Factory, Dublin, Nov 1)
The Lewis Sisters – What is this thing called love
The Free Design – Make the madness stop
Stereolab – Wow and flutter
Laura Cannell – Two winters
The Clientele – I can’t seem to make you mine (playing Islington Assembly Hall, London, Oct 23)
Deradoorian – A beautiful woman
HeCTA – We are glistening
Tortoise – Almost always is nearly enough
This is the Kit – Earthquake

*next week's show features music from Tracey Thorn, Downpilot & JR Green, among others

e-mail the show on
or text +353 (0)86-7839800
please mark messages “uoh”

Conor O'Toole,
c/o UCC 98.3FM,
Áras na Mac Léinn,
Student Centre,
University College Cork,

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Kodiak Deathbeds - Kodiak Deathbeds (Affairs of the Heart)

Elegaic collection of late night love songs from a duo made up of Amber Webber (Black Mountain, Lightning Dust) and Derek Fudesco (Pretty Girls Make Graves, The Cave Singers).

Barely strummed guitars and Webber’s soft world weary vocals make a great match in songs taking stock of life with a bittersweet but quietly determined eye.

It’s hard to beat the slow building emotion of the opening pair of songs, ‘Never change’ and ‘Wild hearts’.

The first in particular digs deep into the end of a relationship with raw details underneath the brilliantly unshowy vocal harmonies – “this is lasting too long for me, being around to see your fading words, stare out windows when it’s pouring rain, we’ve got our histories to blame but they’ll never change”.

The latter introduces a startling harmony which throws a gorgeous gospel hue over the country stylings.

A deceptively low key and beautiful record.