by / October 14th, 2011 /

Top Story: State’s Office Stereo…underrated, unsung and unheard

A regular feature in which our writers and photographers share their favourite tracks on a certain theme. This week, they pick the songs that you might have missed…

Pavement – ‘Strings of Nashville’ (chosen by Daniel Harrison)

The B-side to 1994’s ‘Gold Soundz’ single, this is one of the hidden gems in Pavement’s back catalogue. Malkmus and co often tended towards irreverent, tongue-in-cheek lyrical wordplay, but ‘Strings of Nashville’ shows the more melancholic side of the band, a quality also evident on other rarities such as ‘Ed Ames’ and ‘Secret Knowledge of Backroads’. Gone is their trademark mix of guitar jangle and lo-fi squall, replaced by a desolate, windswept arrangement; Malkmus’ world-weary, almost-whispered vocals departing from the laconic, wry delivery listeners were more accustomed to. The results are stunning: a masterpiece of 4-in-the-morning Generation X blues.

TV Girl – Benny & The Jetts (chosen by Phil Udell)

A trio from San Diego, TV Girl have been all over certain parts of the Internet this year (and have a guess which parts) but are too good to be kept a secret for much longer. ‘Benny & The Jetts’ is just one example of their sunny, sampled based sound – an infectious pop tune that has more in common with the Elton John original than you might think. Get it on TV Girl’s Facebook page.

Johnny Cash – ‘God’s Gonna Cut You Down’ (chosen by Ian Keegan)

“You know, Johnny always wore black. He wore black because he identified with the poor and the downtrodden…”

I always felt that this track never got enough airtime…it’s gritty, the video is genius and it comes from the brainchild of singer/actor/dancer/producer/clothing designer Justin Timberlake (for a moment there I thought I was gonna run outta space). Timberlake went to Rick Rubin, producer of Johnny’s American series and pitched to him the idea of having 36 celebrities appear in what can only be described as a black & white music stills video, in homage to the Man in Black. Rubin asked his friends to compile a list of the world’s top ten coolest people. This was the outcome.

The Plague Monkeys – Surfacing (chosen by Simon Roche)

Through a scratchy video on Dineen’s No Disco many years ago I heard a sound that got to me instantly. It was a song called ‘The Plague Monkeys’, by a Dublin band of the same name. A while later they would put out a four-track ep (Navigator) followed, in 1998, by what is still one of my favourite albums ever, ‘Surface Tension’. It was packed like a picnic basket with songs about falling in love with Joycean students, about the dignity of the lighthouse keeper, about the quest for the North Pole. Soaked throughout every song, Carol Keogh’s intricate lyrics were often laced with science and two or three possible angles to each observation. As rich as the lyrics were Donal O’Mahony’s lush, but yet minimal music and Thomas Haugh’s even more minimal and fantastically creative drums. These Dubliners were at the beginning of music digitally recorded in your bedroom being, and sounding so much more than the same old tread of singer songwriters. One of the finest tracks on the album is ‘Surfacing’. First thing that comes to mind are some of the lines such as “I remember I saw God in an optic.” Keogh sings “this damn building” but it could be “this dam-building” which spins off into another thread about the tides and time. It’s so rich that there’s no point in explaining this way when you can listen to it below. Incidentally, after The Plague Monkeys, Keogh and O’Mahony became two-thirds of The Tycho Brahe who put out what at the time was perceived by a handful of us to be the very first Irish studio-recorded double album, Love Life. Never got to the bottom of that one, but I’d like to believe it’s true.

The Plague Monkeys – Surfacing by Simon Roche

Ben Howard – ‘Keep Your Head Up’ (chosen by Lisa-Marie Cunningham)

Ben Howard is a Devon born singer- songwriter whose delectable sound is similar to Xavier Rudd, Laura Marling, Bon Iver and Mumford and Sons as he merges folk with country in a euphoric medley of songs. ‘Keep Your Head Up’ is a vivacious track which weaves a tale of life’s realities and hardships and intermingles them with nature. Confused? Well take a look at the video below which is a perfect antithesis to this track.

Gene – ‘Olympian’ (chosen by Anna Forbes)

On reflection, Gene had an awful lot stacked against the possibility of long term success. Lumped in with Brit Pop, they were a media flavour of the month for a while but floundered when that attention turned elsewhere, and often found themselves dismissed as mere Smiths’ copyists – an accusation not exactly countered by Martin Rossiter’s distinctly Morrissey-esque vocals. Despite all that, their debut album Olympian was an impressive piece of work and this, the title track, was a genuine heart melter…

Axel Boman – ‘Purple Drank’ (Chosen by Darragh McCausland)

Okay the weird thing about this song is that it is most definitely not underrated. In fact, the major dance music oriented websites all had ‘Purple Drank’ in the nosebleeds for their track of the year in 2010. Yet, it is not widely heard outside of its genre (techno/dance/electronica/woteverica). Indeed, it was notable by its absence on indie music website reviews of the year in music 2010, while dreary workmanlike music by old steads such as the Arcade Fire were dispassionately slotted into their appropriate places. I want people not typically into techno to listen to this track, to admire its ferocious deep-as-a-Chilean-miner-trench bass-line, before pausing for thought and saying to themselves “I never knew my headphones could pull this sort of luxurious sounding shit off”. Job done.

The Monochrome Set – ‘The Monochrome Set (I Presume)’ (chosen by Dara Higgins)

With a multicultural cast, a Canuck on guitar and Indian born Bid on lead vocals, the Monochrome Set were anything but monochrome. Simple, classy guitar hooks and deadpan sangfroid, the Set were a kind of effortless, nerdy cool, unwittingly much aped by acts since. They’ve influenced the groups who have influenced the groups, the cocky snook behind the mannerisms and riffs that made Franz Ferdinand or the Smiths popular. There’s no better introduction to their oeuvre than this little number, the marvellously infectious ‘The Monochrome Set (I Presume)’ taken from their first album, 1980’s Strange Boutique. It’s an instant mood lifter, a song who’s tickling rhythm is difficult to repel, although it’s hard to imagine lead dude Ganesh Seshadri (as he’s known to the tax man) dropping his cool for long enough to engage in anything as uncouth as dancing. Don’t let that stop you, though.

PJ Harvey – ‘Memphis’ (chosen by Hilary A. White)

Before wearing dead crows on her head and singing about the Battle of the Somme, PJ Harvey rocked harder than most of her male contemporaries, most accessibly around the time of irrefutable 2000 LP Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea. She was collaborative too, striking up associations with Nick Cave, Josh Homme, Thom Yorke and Marks Lanegan and Linkous. If this determined-sounding, darkly jangling telecaster paean is anything to go by, Jeff Buckley was obviously very dear to her on some level. Although the iconic Buckley had drowned three years previously, his loss was still resounding around planet rock. ‘Memphis’, which incorporates lyrics from an unreleased Buckley track, was her tribute and slipped under the radar as a B-side to the Stories… lead single ‘Good Fortune’. It always amazes me how many serious lovers of Harvey, Buckley or both have never heard it before.