Profile: Boys Age

Running this blog, I spend a lot of time looking back. I travel to the 50s and beyond in search of obscurities, collectables and odds 'n' sods. A lot of the music I find has a certain quality to it: an idiosyncrasy characterised by signs of wear and tear and a feeling of genuine substance having been lost in a sea of blink-and-you'll-miss-it zeitgeist hype. But sometimes this music exists in the present, under my nose. There are bands who are currently active that embody said qualities, that inhabit their own sound and style. Boys Age are such a band. I first heard Boys Age when home recording legend and Dig That Treasure! favourite R. Stevie Moore posted about them on his Facebook page. Moore has a habit of playing Godfather to exciting lo-fi protégés, having previously championed Ariel Pink and Keel Her. He's rarely wrong, and Japan's Boys Age are no exception. Although influenced strongly by Yo La Tengo (with Boys Age dubbing themselves the "Sons" of the band), they manage to come off as original in a way that actually justifies use of such an overused word. Maybe it's in Kuzznary Mutow's croaked vocals, or in the band's aesthetic restlessness. Six minute long Fake Gold Pt. 1 includes church bells and screeching guitars, God Will Test You Through The PC Screen recalls wayward 90s rock like Ween and Beck, and Just As Satan Says is a highly textural soundscape with vocals that may as well be those of Ira Kaplan. The song featured in this post, I Wish For God's Sake, is infectious in a way that is both familiar and imaginative. The band are highly prolific, with a Bandcamp page filled to the brim with releases of different shapes and sizes. Spare some time, Boys Age are worth it!

Label: Bleeding Gold, Burger Records, Rye On The All Golden
Genre: Indie Rock, Dream Pop, Experimental, Bedroom Pop

Sally Oldfield - Easy

Sister of Mike and Terry, Sally Oldfield is from a family that isn't particularly obscure or unheard of. Naturally, with a genealogy like hers Sally has been acknowledged on various levels, performing on her brother's über-famous Tubular Bells and scoring a top twenty hit with her 1978 single 'Mirrors'. Yet, in her otherwise coy solo career she's burrowed her name, her art, into a niche of its own. Sally Oldfield is, somehow, a forgotten gem; for years she's been able to quietly release gorgeous off-kilter pop music to a modest, loving fanbase, creating a profile that's more cult than celebrated. Her music is special. There's something to it that's unusual, singular. Her voice is distinctive - in a way not unlike Liz Fraser's - and it sits perfectly over music that is so beautifully coloured and decorated. Easy is her second album, an album on which the title track acts as a centre piece. That track is kind-of-kitsch contemporary pop music that draws from folk. It has this bouncing piano part, a shiny slide guitar and tuned percussion over which Oldfield's vocals - possibly my favourite thing about her music - sit. But they don't sit, do they? They float and flirt. They're idiosyncratic in their manner: like the music, like her persona. It is pure gold.

Label: Bronze Records
Year: 1979
Genre: Pop, Folk, Easy-Listening

Sume - Forventning / Ankomst

Greenland is perhaps one of the last countries whose music I expected to write about on this blog. But, as so often happens with my research and curation for Dig That Treasure!, I've surprised myself again. Trawling the web I stumbled upon Sume, a band whose initial attraction to me was largely based on the fact that they come from the musically curious island of Greenland. However, that's not the say the appeal ended there. An amply-political band with lyrics critical of Denmark's colonial power, the cover to Sume's debut record Sumut depicts the rather magnificent image of an Inuit hunter killing a Dane. Somewhat conflictingly, the band actually recorded Sumut in Copenhagen, but we needn't hesitate over that. The album, seminal in Greenland, was purportedly bought by 20% of the country's population. Impressive? If you consider that 20% of Greenland's population at the time of the record's release in 1973 only equalled a figure of around 10,000 people, everything begins to come into perspective. But you get the significance. And the music? Oh yeah, the music is great. Sume took influence from the progressive rock and hard rock of the United States and weaved that together with Greenlandic vocals and freewheelin' horns. In an upbeat quasi-indie pop track like Forventning/Ankomst, Greenlandic sounds like Welsh and, well, the whole production sounds like Gorky's Zygotic Mynki. Never a bad thing; Gorky's reign supreme as the best Welsh band of all time, a country that appears, like Greenland, invariably wet, cold and dour.

Label: Demos (DK)
Year: 1973
Genre: Folk Rock, Indie Pop, Progressive Rock

Joe Meek & The Blue Men - I Hear A New World

When writing posts for this blog, I have always been cautious of hyperbole. Sensationalising art, talent or life account is not in my interest, for exaggerative subjectivism provides only a boring tabloid read; one that becomes repetitive and that ultimately undermines subjects that really do deserve particular acknowledgement. In describing the career of Joe Meek I believe it is more simple, more honest, to state that he was a rare case of a musician whose talent was completely unique. In hindsight, his life reads in such a fantastical manner that it seems more befitting of a surrealist b-movie than of actual reality. Having served as a radar technician in the RAF, Meek developed a fascination with outer space that aided his lifelong interest in electronics. He then became a musical engineer and producer later in his twenties, despite an affliction that instantly separated him from normality: Meek was tone deaf. He could not sing, he could not play instruments and, most alarmingly, he could not write musical notation. For every idea he would have, Meek hummed a demo version, tunelessly articulating a melody for a chosen group of musicians to then interpret, clean up, and re-record. His worldwide hit Telstar (written for The Tornadoes) was composed with this method and curiously still reached No.1 in both the UK and the US. After just thirty-seven years, Meek's life came to an end in 1967 when he shot his landlady and then himself in a tragic conclusion to a life of troubled genius. I can't really comprehend his talent, but for in terms of 'outsider art': Meek had the ideas of a genius but lacked ability in a way that screamed naïveté. Art isn't about learned skill, formal education or convention, but rather about the interpretation of one's inner mechanisms, emotions or ideas. And so, despite Meek working in a way that bordered on lunacy, he embraced an unaffected manner that feels rawer than the most articulate and competent of performers. His masterwork I Hear A New World - performed by The Blue Men - blurred reality and fantasy, with Meek taking the listener on a tour of outer space. Recorded in 1959, the album was innovative in its electronic experimentation, although it remained unheard and unreleased in full until 1991. A comparison could be made with the talent of Dan Treacy, the troubled frontman of Television Personalities. Treacy's life of drug abuse, illness and crime runs parallel to a career as a wide-eyed cult hero. It is unsurprising that the title track of I Hear A New World, as featured in this post, was covered by Television Personalities on their record Fashion Conscious.

Label: Triumph / RPM Records
Year: 1959 / 1991
Genre: Outsider Music, Electronica, Space-Age Rock

Dorothy Collins & Raymond Scott - Singin' In The Rain

Raymond Scott is best known as an electronic music innovator - creating and playing his own instruments, and experimenting with electronic methods before electronic music was a major player in people's minds. Aside from that, he was a composer, a pianist, engineer, producer, and bandleader. Here he is as the latter, leading his Raymond Scott Quintette and with his wife Dorothy Collins on vocals. A singer and child star, Collins was vocalist for Scott's band from the age of 15. This recording is very much 'of its time': Scott provides an arrangement more modest than his usual forward-thinking experiments, and Collins provides vocals that are, in hindsight, dated and antiquated. The recording, from 1955, comes only three years after Singin' In The Rain - from the classic musical of the same name - was originally released.

Label: ?
Year: 1955
Genre: Jazz, Broadway

Desalegne Welde - Kale Alegne

Over the course of Dig That Treasure!'s existence, I've played twenty-four different tracks of Ethiopian origin on my Resonance FM radio show, and featured many on this blog, too. Yet none - bar Girma Tefera Kassa's 'Man Neber Yalanci', I think - have been released post-2000. With the very limited information about this artists and songs available online I could well be wrong, but hours of researching suggests otherwise*. This track is an exception - and I have an official release date to assure me of that! Put out on Habesha Poetics, a label that specialises in East African music, this song is a lively cut of modern Ethio-Pop, in a similar vein to Neway Debebe's more recent works and those of the aforementioned Girma Tefera Kassa. It retains elements of traditional Ethiopian music whilst introducing synthetic handclaps and what sounds like subtle autotune.

Label: Habesha Poetics
Year: 2012
Genre: Ethio-Pop, Synth-Pop

(* if I do happen to be wrong, let me know) 

Jun Togawa - Suki Suki Daisuki

Over the course of a year's work on Dig That Treasure, I've been continuously blown away by the quality of the pop music that faded into obscurity in Japan in the '70s and '80s. Pop acts that were a little too edgy, unconventional or experimental for the mainstream slipped into a more niche market. Unsurprisingly, these Japanese artists - forward-thinking but well-informed by the past - are often connected to one another. There is a 'scene', I guess. At the fore were Yellow Magic Orchestra. Massive in Asia and popular worldwide, YMO aren't exactly 'obscure'. Where things get interesting, however, is in the side projects of one particular member: Haruomi Hosono. As well as being a core member of YMO, Hosono played a hand in folk-rock group Happy End and was one third of the supergroup 'Hosono, Suzuki, Yamashita' that put out the mindblowing 1978 record Coral Reef. Hosono - and his YMO bandmates - were also supposedly responsible for writing Tamao Koike's gorgeous dream-pop classic 'Automne Dans Un Miroir'. No surprise then that Hosono is affiliated with Jun Togawa. Although he wasn't involved in this particular song, he did write and produce other songs in Togawa's repertoire. When a friend first played me Jun Togawa's 'Suki Suki Daisuki' earlier this summer, I was a little baffled. But after a couple more plays, that feeling was replaced - this song is joyous. It's witty, it's energetic, it's a little scary and, most importantly, it's catchy as hell. Sure, with a title like 'Suki Suki Daisuki' ('I Love You So Much'), it's kind of a love song. But when the chorus builds into a grating cry of "say you love me or I'll kill you", you realise something's up. That doesn't stop it from being a goddamn great pop song though.

Label: Alfa Records
Year: 1985
Genre: Synth-Pop, J-Pop, New Wave

The Cats - Swan Lake

The Cats were a short-lived reggae group from London who put out five-or-so releases in the late sixties. One of those releases - the first of their short run - was an instrumental reinterpretation of Tchaikovsky's classic ballet Swan Lane. On paper, or, 'on screen', it doesn't seem like it should work. It does. And very well. It begins with a solitary piano playing the ballet's eminent motif before offbeat guitar and other reggae tropes join to provide a timelessly familiar but slightly confusing three minutes.

Label: BAF Records
Year: 1968
Genre: Reggae, Ska, Ballet