The Sound Of Music
I was asked during the week where I find the bands that feature in this column. Well, that's not strictly accurate - I was actually asked why I didn't listen to normal music that people have actually heard of, but I'll choose to ignore that comment.
As I've mentioned before, I do some of the research for this column on MySpace. Every musician in the Western world appears to have a page there and it's an excellent calling card, if a little constrained (and sensibly so) by the common format. The site is designed for for social networking, or stalking as my probation officer calls it.
You can view the homepages so lovingly assembled, peek at chatty personal messages left by people's friends and see who they think are their absolute top best favourite friends are. Those cruel of mind can click through to the friend's own homepage and see if the feeling is reciprocated. Witness the Johnny-No-Mates with no friends. Witness the socially desperate trying to attract a million firends as if it'll prove their worth in society or in fact means anything at all.
Anyways, besides the needy and the nerdy you find musicians. You can ask them to be your friends just as readily as flirty 20-year old Amsterdam-based goth girl xXx_SnookyHeart_xXx (in reality a 45-year old truck driver called Steve in Gateshead or maybe a 15-year old schoolgirl in Coleraine, who knows?). This inter-connected friends network lets you hop from cluster to cluster, practising the game of Six Degrees Of Separation in reality for yourself. Bands looking to promote themselves can use this self-idenitfying herding instinct as a marketing tool. Find a band that sounds like your band and invite all of their friends to be your friends too. Doesn't mean a whole lot, but some of them will stop by your site and listen to your tunes, maybe just maybe, becoming a fan in the process.
While playing the role of MySpace stalker, I noticed that I was visiting a lot of the same homepages as a character called The Shoegazing Collective. This punter not only had a lot of friends who were in what I regarded as interesting bands, but hilariously had a few who had sent in add requests because they liked shoes and were surprised the homepage didn't feature more Blahniks....should have visited the site before typing in an application!
Anyways, I started listening to the music on the homepage and liked it. It would appear that The Shoegazing Collective is some kind of low-key alternative identity for The Sugarplum Fairies (not that you need an unobtrusive stage door to slip out of on the internet). The Sugarplum Fairies are comprised of vocalist Silvia Ryder and husband ben Bohm. They work out of Los Angeles, but hail form Vienna. Congratulations! You now know the name of an Austrian musician other than Mozart and Falco. Some day this will come up in a pub quiz and you will thank me.
The tunes bounced around in my head for a while (a good sign - I always try to pay attention to the voices in my head) and I decided to make Starfish Records thirty dollars richer and whipped out my credit card.
For my money I got two albums, Student Introspective Music from 2004 and the current release Country International Records. I was intrigued by the cover of Country International Records which features a young lady seated on a sofa cradling a glass of water (an Irish girl to judge by the shape of her legs, I'm guessing) and incongruously a dwarf deer. Stylish, retro and slightly weird. Right up my street. There were more student bedsit photos in the inlay card but most hilariously of all, the CD itself was decorated with a MDF-style wood pattern - slightly faded as if exposed to passing sunlight for many years.
The music however, turned out to be spot on. There's a pattern I've observed with good bands - the first album has a sound, a style but is derivative and uncertain. The second album has a more assured, polished sound and is more accessible (bands that onlhy have one album in them and aren't going to last the distance start off stong and then fade alarmingly, having used up all their good ideas for the first album).
The Sugarplum Fairies aren't like this. Their sound is equally well developed across both albums and yet surprisingly non-agressive. Not that these guys can't do boppy. Mrs. Webmaster once remarked that this band couldn't sound less like the Sugarplum Fairy of yore if they were performing Smoke on the Water. But they're not loud and agressive. True to their shoegazing indie roots, they're just there - unintrusive, yet melodic and capable. Soft and gentle. Music for long journeys. Music to fall asleep to. Music to live your life with. If I were to try and put a label on it, I really couldn't do it justice. Others have mentioned Mazzy Star (but cheerier!), The Cowboy Junkies (but cheerier!) and the Velvet Underground with Nico (before Andy Warhol got his mitts on them and they went all dark and dissonant).
There's no obvious stand-out track, no chart-topping single. It's just there, but it's all good and life is good. So relax, breathe deeply, give thanks for the gift of life, listen to the music and get on with your day.