Saturday, 24 March 2012

NSBM: The Bad, The Bad and The Ugly

Please see the updated and improved version of this article here!

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Perfect album for Spring...

Flipper’s Guitar
“Three Cheers For Our Side”
Polystar Records, 1989

The influences behind this charming, summery, semi-twee Japanese Shibuya-kei guitar-pop album are pretty clear from the lyrics to ‘Goodbye, our Pastels Badges’, which alongside the Pastels, namechecks Scotland’s Postcard Records, with specific reference to Orange Juice and even more specifically, James Kirk’s fringe.

Despite the twee tag, Flipper’s Guitar have nothing to do with the kind of lo-fi ramshackle approach of The Pastels; Kenji Ozawa’s guitar playing is fluid and precise, and the band’s tunes are clever and atmospheric. There isn’t a bad song on the album, and the oddly wistful Gallic tone of ‘Boys Fire The Tricot’ carries through the whole record. As an album it’s both diverse and strangely complete, the surf-pop of ‘Samba Parade’ sitting comfortably alongside the peculiar Red Flag on the Gondola’ which puts together the communist anthem ‘The Internationale’ with an obscure lyric, partly in French.

Flipper’s Guitar had a fairly short career in which the band evolved strangely, although still mainly influenced by the UK indie scene, as showcased in the early 90s remodelling of one of the album’s tracks, ‘Joyride’as ‘Joyride To Madchester’, complete with wah-wah guitars and bowl haircuts.

Lead singer Keigo Oyamada was to go on to have a more experimental, electronic career as Cornelius and recently contributed a song to the excellent soundtrack of Scott Pilgrim Vs The World.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Looking back: Eistnaflug Festival 2011

Eistnaflug Festival
July 2011
Neskaupstaður, Iceland

A peaceful village alongside a beautifully tranquil fjord is the somewhat unlikely setting for some musical brutality; it’s fair to say that despite a very varied bill this three day indoor festival is not a sedate affair. Despite the presence of a few very classy international acts, the real charm of Eistnaflug is that it serves as a showcase for the surprisingly vibrant Icelandic rock and metal scene.

Iceland isn’t all that far away, but in terms of getting there it feels a bit remote; for me the journey was from Fife to Edinburgh, from there flying to Gatwick, from Gatwick to Reykjavik, then from the city centre by bus to a smaller airfield, where, there was another flight to the other side of the island. Then a bus journey to Neskaupstaður; the plus side of all this is of course that Iceland is stunningly beautiful.

Having missed most of day one (the buzz being that Atrum and Hamferð were among the highlights), the festival atmosphere is immediately established by the rapturous welcome for local heroes Sólstafir. With their fourth album about to be released, the band (difficult to classify but extremely atmospheric psychedelic metal with some black metal-ish elements) play an immense set that wouldn’t have been out of place in a huge arena show and utterly destroys the medium sized venue; no wonder around one in four festivalgoers are wearing a Sólstafir shirt. They prove a slightly tough act to follow for Secrets of the Moon, who are minus their usual bassist (Triptykon guitarist V. Santura stepping in) but still end the night with a razor-sharp performance of thrash-edged BM to a sadly not-quite capacity crowd; still, pretty triumphant for a Thursday night. SotM benefit from a great sound and it’s notable that throughout the festival the technical issues that seem to be endemic at these kind of events are notable by their absence. On Friday the atmosphere really steps up a gear and the afternoon starts with a blistering performance by the unfeasibly young-looking local death metal band Offerings, who blast through the mellow alcoholic torpor of the venue with aggression and enthusiasm. There is a definite blackened edge to Offerings’ material, but the energy and aggression of their performance puts them very much in the death metal camp and those who turn up are blown away. A large part of the early evening drones and sludges pleasantly by with Plastic Gods standing out from the crowd by virtue of their varying tempos and memorable tunes. Celestine too are impressive, but a change of tone seems due just as Skálmöld take to the stage to give one of the performances of the festival. From start to finish, they play a high-spirited and utterly assured show, full of powerful Viking metal, alternately melancholy and rousing, thankfully lacking both cheese and humppa-style drinking songs. With their first album already successful at home and about to be released internationally through Napalm Records, Skálmöld are in high spirits and the crowd love them; a perfect festival band. Gone Postal had the unenviable task of following them – and did a good job; their brand of death metal with blackened edges is skilful and powerful, although a little dour as a follow-up to Skálmöld.

The party mood returns with a vengeance with the appearance of the godfather/grandfather of Icelandic heavy metal, Eiríkur Hauksson (and half of Skálmöld in his band). Hauksson is a singer in the classic Bruce Dickinson/Geoff Tate mould, and for those not familiar with his greatest hits, he also sings covers of classics by Judas Priest, Metallica and other such gods. His version of ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’ would be completely cheesy were it not for the immense happiness and goodwill he generates in the crowd. His voice remains impressively clean and strong throughout a strenuous hour long set. By complete contrast the opening fanfare of ‘Donald Where’s Your Trousers’(sic) – I do realise, as the singers on the intro tape seemingly don’t, that it should of course be ‘troosers’) is the only lighthearted moment of an immense and crushing performance by classy Dutch death metallers The Monolith Deathcult. The sound is huge and gut-wrenching and the band projects a very un-Dutch aura of claustrophobic intimidation. They play with breathtaking power and precision and somehow manage to utterly change the mood of the show without losing the crowd’s enthusiasm.

All I can say about Dr Spock is I don’t get it; what seemed to me an unwelcome clownish-yet-unfunny punk novelty act (complete with elephant masks, funny clothes etc) was wholly embraced by an ecstatic crowd and is apparently something of an institution in Iceland – fair enough. It’s at this point that the 24 hour daylight and cool night air with beautiful misty fjord landscapes becomes more than just a bonus. Walking out of the venue into the mass of friendly, inebriated Icelandic youngsters is a unique festival experience that should not be missed. By comparison with a British crowd the Icelandic festivalgoers are incredibly pleasant, welcoming and peaceable, though just as ready to go ballistic for a great band.

Day three has, if anything, an even more varied bill, although the first few acts (beginning at 3pm) had a tough time fighting through the hungover torpor of the crowd. Icelandic newcomers Witches impressed with some promisingly non-shit female-fronted gothic metal, but a later slot would have served them better. The same goes for Chao, who were barely visible by candlelight (until anyone opened the outside door) and played some excellent, completely non-innovative old-school black metal with passion and disdain. Another too-early highlight is Beneath, who play an energetic, charismatic set of brutal ‘what’s-not-to-like’ death metal with some anthemic blackened moments (‘Sacrificial Ritual’ standing out) and excellent musicianship. Just as the crowd started to gather, the mood changed sharply with Mammút, a very likeable but not hugely dynamic pop-rock band who seemed a little lacking in confidence in their heavy surroundings. The next standout was a great set by Momentum, an extremely tight and ambitious prog/psych metal band, alternatively soothing and riffy, their vast music perfectly capturing the festival atmosphere. Later, Brain Police played a feelgood set of stoner rock ‘n’ roll, marked by extremely good songs (not necessarily a feature of lots of good stoner bands). Brain Police are pretty well known in Iceland, but it’s hard to imagine their show not going down well anywhere – a great performance and top-class, memorable material.
Before their show, there is a certain amount of trepidation regarding Triptykon – although Tom G. is palpably excited to be in Iceland, a lot of the kids don’t seem to be all that aware of their material or heritage and their set is placed between two very popular Icelandic bands, Brain Police and Ham. Within seconds of taking the stage, all doubts concerning the band are blown away. Triptykon are visibly enjoying themselves(!) and play an immense, intense show, almost equally divided between highlights of Eparistera Daimones and classic Celtic Frost material. The band’s power and charisma (bassist Vanja Slahj is probably star of the festival for me) effortlessly win over the crowd as they play masterful versions of epoch-making metal anthems like ‘Dethroned Emperor’ and rarely does a crowd go as apeshit as Eistnaflug did for ‘Circle Of The Tyrants’. For non-Icelanders it was the perfect end to a great festival. Local rock/metal legends Ham actually brought proceedings to a spirited end, but without the benefit of nostalgia their catchy music felt a little hollow after Triptykon. All that remained was to drink beer and watch the crowd dancing at a fun but slightly desperate disco where Slayer and G’n’R rubbed shoulders with Madonna and an Icelandic-language version of Chubby Checker’s ‘Let’s Twist Again’. Eistnaflug may seem like an out-of-the-way detour in your festival diary, but it’s a unique experience – try it if you get the chance.

Bringing Sexy Back: I Am... Stevie Simmons

I Am... Stevie Simmons (2012)

Dir. Jamie Stewart
Starring; Jamie Stewart, Angie Kay, Chris Stephen, Alan Smith, Kim Jardine, Ian Stobbie

The latest film from Double Offensive Comedy Films, I Am... Stevie Simmons, revisits the loveable central character of the group's earlier The Life And Times Of... Stevie Simmons with a more focussed approach.

With a deadline looming and no work done, a group of film students approach a hapless passer-by (Stevie Simmons, played by Jamie Stewart) and ask to film his life, unaware that it will have far-reaching consequences for them all. Despite this description, I Am... Stevie Simmons avoids the many clichés of the ‘mockumentary’ genre, instead focussing on the relationships between the film crew and Stevie himself, as he performs for the camera and gives occasional glimpses into his surprisingly sensitive inner self.

The comedy ned may seem like an easy target, but unlike the larger-than-life caricatures of British TV, Stevie Simmon’s chavhood is almost incidental; the comedy and pathos comes from the character’s individuality, not from his class or background. Similarly, although there is much to pity or to ridicule in Stevie’s low status and dysfunctional background, Stevie himself mostly remains an optimistic character; even when visibly upset about the relationship between his ex-girlfriend Tracey (also played by Jamie Stewart) and best friend Dougie (Alan Smith), Stevie’s response is to hide his reaction behind onion-induced tears, partly for the expected macho reasons, but also because he (mostly) sees himself as one of life’s winners and not the pathetic figure the film crew perceives him to be. From this description, I Am... Stevie Simmons may seem like a straightforward character study, but in fact the film’s narrative subtly develops, the relationship between the film crew and Stevie evolving and building to a surprising and (in some ways) uplifting climax.

In the end what makes I Am... Stevie Simmons so funny is the clever stupidity of the script and the excellent performances of the entire cast. Stevie would be funny on his own, but the contrast of his character with the scheming and troubled film crew (whose own relationships are easily as problematic as Stevie’s) make this both hilarious and strangely moving and in every way superior to Double Offensive’s previous films.

(genuinely) an unheralded masterpiece

Air Doll (2009)
Dir. Koreeda Hirokazu
Starring; Bae Doona, Arata, Itao Itsuji

This beautiful, melancholy film is a modern day fairytale with elements of romantic comedies like Splash and Mannequin (not to mention Pinocchio), but although it has funny moments it’s far closer in its tone to Ridley Scotts’ philosophical sci-fi classic Bladerunner.

The story concerns a sex doll called Nozomi (an amazing performance by Korean star Bae Doona, best known in the west for Sympathy For Mr Vengeance and The Host), who comes to life when her lonely, middle-aged ‘owner’ is at work. During the day she learns about humankind by exploring the city (unusually Koreeda chooses to focus on the quieter, less obviously metropolitan areas of Tokyo)
and even getting a job in a video shop. Eventually, she seeks out her maker and forms a relationship with a co-worker, with tragic consequences.

The film is beautifully shot, perfectly acted and has a lovely, atmospheric soundtrack by Katsuhiko Maeda. At first it may seem like Doona’s performance is remarkable mainly for the convincing way in which she(aided by excellent makeup) represents an inanimate inflatable doll come to life, but in the end it is the depth of emotion she succeeds in transmitting despite the mostly minimal facial and vocal expression she allows herself to use. Compared with the human characters in the movie, Nozomi (like Roy Batty in Bladerunner, but in a far less sinister way) is far purer in her motives and highlights the gulf between ‘life’ in all its beauty and life as it is lived.

Sadly, Air Doll seems not to have had a UK release, but subtitled editions are fairly easy to find on DVD.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

eleven underrated albums...

In no order, here are 11 (10 would be obvious, but equally random) albums worthy of anybody's attention:

1. Trini Lopez - 'The Whole Enchilada (1969)

There are lots of reasons this shouldn't work - most obviously because it is the work of an old fashioned showbiz type entertainer trying to hijack the youthful zeitgeist of what was already a bygone era. But when Mexican-American folky cheesemonger & guitarist Trini Lopez (best known for his 1963 version of the irritating 'If I Had A Hammer') decided to get in with the flower power generation, he teamed up with Monkees producers/writers Boyce & Hart, with excellent - if not commercially successful - results.
The album sees Lopez ably trying his hand at soul, psychedelia, folk and Merseybeat, and if the album isn't free of cheesy moments it's still (like Scooby Doo) a charming and soulful relic of the era when mainstream showbiz tried to catch up with the younger generation.

2. Absentia Lunae - In Vmbrarvm Imperii Gloria (2006)


Black metal that tackles the modern and urban is now almost a sub-genre in itself, but few albums can match the despairing intensity of Italy's Absentia Lunae, and for me this is their greatest work so far. It takes the approach that Mayhem had with the insane Chimera and adds something that was sadly missing from that album; great tunes. The vocals are noteworthy too; few BM vocalists are as varied and expressive as Illdanach is here. A grim masterpiece.
3. De La Soul - Buhloone Mindstate (1993

Although it didn't capture the times in the way that 3 Feet High and Rising did, or (at the time) get the acclaim or sales of its predecessor De La Soul Is Dead, the reputation of Buhloone Mindstate has steadily grown over the years - and for good reason, it's probably the band's most consistent album - no coincidence, as throughout De La Soul declare their determination to stick to their style no matter how unfashionable it becomes.

4. Kiss - Unmasked (1980)

Many people (including Kiss themselves) see Unmasked as a weak, pop album, lacking the fire of 1982's 'heavy' comeback Creatures Of The Night. While it's true that Unmasked is a lightweight album, that only really matters if you see Kiss as a heavy metal band, which they arguably never were. This has some of the bands best pop-rock songs, along with perhaps Gene Simmons' best vocal performance on cheese-rock classic 'Naked City'.

5. Eartha Kitt - Not So Old Fashioned (1970)

In a similar move to Trini Lopez (see above), feline crooner Eartha Kitt tackles more modern material than usual (notably songs by Donovan) on this album. It's not all great, but it's nice to hear Eartha backed by a band rather than an orchestra, and her unique voice gives a spooky quality to 'Wear Your Love Like Heaven', and her version of 'Catch The Wind' is lovely.

6. Black Sabbath - Technical Ecstasy (1976)

It's often said that Ozzy's later albums with Black Sabbath are weak, tired and uninspired, but while (title track apart) I'd say that's true of Never Say Die!, Technical Ecstasy is for me up there with their best, and a possibly even an improvement on its (very good) predecessor, Sabotage. Okay, the songs here are more catchy and 'pop' than early Sabbath, but with tunes like 'Gypsy', Back Street Kids and (best of all) 'You Won't Change Me' (on which Tony Iommi's soloing sounds almost like an evil Brian May), that's no bad thing. Bill Ward's 'It's Alright' adds a touch of variety and manages to do so without lowering the quality.

7. Jay Berliner - Bananas Are Not Created Equal (1973)

Jay Berliner is mainly known as a backing musician who has played guitar with jazz greats like George Benson (as well as backing calypso superstar Harry Belafonte on many of his hits), but in 1973 he released this great instrumental album, which seems to have been influenced by the kind of funk/jazz now associated with 'blaxploitation' movie soundtracks. It's pretty much all good, but opener 'Getting the Message' sets the scene and is as good as anything that follows.

8. The Beach Boys - Wild Honey (1967)

Pet Sounds is considered a masterpiece, follow-up Smiley Smile is famous for not being Smile and Friends is seen as a return to form, but between them came probably my favourite Beach Boys album, Wild Honey. At the time, the group thought it was fatally 'underproduced' but in comparison with the lushness of Pet Sounds and the all-over-the-place-ness of Smiley Smile, the album's minimalist sound (like a rock band rather than an orchestra) is hugely refreshing. But a nice production would be nothing without the songs, and Wild Honey has not only the great title track and hit single 'Darlin'', but also two of the bands nicest but least cloying songs, 'Aren't You Glad' and 'I'd Love Just Once To See You'. Plus, Carl Wilson covers a Stevie Wonder song without embarrassing himself by comparison; no mean feat.

9. New England - New England (1978)

Post-Glee, it's hard to remember how deeply unfashionable melodic soft-hard rock like Journey used to be. Somehow New England failed to have a hit with this near-perfect album even when melodic soft-hard rock was the radio music of the US. Even a production credit by Kiss' Paul Stanley couldn't help this, despite the fact that virtually every song is a gem of its kind. New England did a couple of other albums, but I don't really want to hear them; this one is enough.

10. Michael Nyman - Gattaca soundtrack

Much as Vangelis' Bladerunner soundtrack encapsulates the atmosphere of the film - grim, futuristic and full of a sense of yearning, Michael Nyman's beautiful music captures the glossy perfection of Andrew Niccol's (also underrated) film, and the loneliness that lies at its heart. Gattaca is so pretty that bits of it crop us as incidental music on TV all the time - but that doesn't spoil it.

11. Geto Boys - Making Trouble (1988)

Geto Boys were not as good as NWA; but although this album isn't in any sense as good as Straight Outta Compton, it was released a few months earlier than it and so is (unlike most gangsta rap post-'88) refreshingly uninfluenced by it. The fact that Geto Boys were based in Houston and not LA, and the fact that this album is more influenced by Run DMC than anything else makes it a unique bit of rap history even though some of the lyrics are not entirely free of clichés, to say the least.

No doubt there will be more of these to come

"Cheap Turd" : the mysterious charm of Valet Girls (1987)

Please check out the updated and improved version of this article here!

(not) an unheralded masterpiece...

Less Than Zero (1987)
Dir. Marek Kanievska
Starring: Andrew McCarthy, Jami Gertz, Robert Downey, Jr., James Spader

First things first - Less Than Zero is most definitely a flawed (indeed, in some ways quite a bad) film, but it is also misunderstood. Probably the biggest reason that it  failed to gain any kind of commercial or critical success at the time is because it is (like Bret Easton Ellis’ novel on which it is based, and American Psycho after it) first and foremost a period piece, something that couldn’t be obvious until later. In this sense the casting of Robert Downey Jr and James Spader (who give two of their most underrated performances) is good, but that of the top-billed Andrew McCarthy and Jami Gertz (neither of whom is as bad as is usually supposed) is inspired.
However posterity has evaluated him, Andrew McCarthy was above all an 80s actor, making his name in some of the most 80s of 80s movies; St Elmo’s Fire, Pretty In Pink and Mannequin among others. 
 Jami Gertz had a similar pedigree (and is actually mentioned by psycho Patrick Bateman in the novel American Psycho ), appearing in The Lost Boys and John Hughes’ Sixteen Candles as well as one of the era’s ('the era' = from the dawn of time until the present day) worst movies, the sci-fi/rollerskating drama Solarbabies.

Although Less Than Zero tones down some of the features of the novel (notably the homosexuality) and reduces the story into something more linear, the atmosphere of 80s drug-fuelled decadence is captured perfectly, and in fact heightened by some of the film’s worst aspects; like the glossy, empty stylistic cheesiness (the McCarthy/Gertz sex scene in particular, is spectacularly dated), the lamely staged night clubs and the TV movie-esque incidental music. The DefJam records soundtrack on the other hand (featuring LL Cool J, The Bangles, Poison, Slayer and Roy Orbison(!)) is mostly excellent, if equally dated, making Less Than Zero an imperfect but strangely immersive viewing experience.
 If McCarthy and Gertz are adequate, Robert Downey Jr gives a performance as the self-destructive cocaine addict Julian that was at the time, revelatory (his movie career to date had featured one leading role and a couple of smaller appearances, all as cocky, cheerful teenagers) and unfortunately proved to be prophetic. James Spader excels too, as slimy drug dealer Rip, one of many obnoxious yuppies he was to play in his early career.

Although in some ways Less Than Zero is less satisfying as a film than later Brett Easton Ellis adaptations like Rules of Attraction and American Psycho it is in many ways the most authentic recreation of the milieu that Ellis’ work was commemorating and it can also be seen as the dark side of the 80s teen movie – not, (like Heathers), a satirical attack on the teen movie, or (like the excellent River’s Edge), a serious indie movie disguised as a teen movie, but simply a glossy Andrew McCarthy vehicle that doesn’t shy away from the darker implications of the privileged lifestyle of its fashionable youngsters -  no bad thing.

arguably the band of the decade (and beyond)...

My Little Airport
For those yet to experience them, My Little Airport are a somewhat lo-fi indie band from Hong Kong, consisting of core members  P. (most instruments and male vocals) and Nicole (lead vocals and occasional keyboards) who have released a fairly steady stream of records since 2004, all of which are worth seeking out. Their music transposes the delicate, somewhat ruralified sound of 80s UK indie bands like The Field Mice (well, to me at least songs like 'Let's Kiss & Make Up' and 'Coach station reunion' have a small-town kind of atmosphere; possibly I'm projecting) into an urban Hong Kong setting with extremely affecting results. In addition to this, the artwork of the band's albums has created an identity of sound and image as individual and recognisable as The Smiths.


Fragile love songs with long, humorous titles, often reflecting the HK’s unique position as a place of business for both the west (‘Victor, Fly Me To Stafford’) and east (in ‘When the Party’s Over...’ P. laments that his ‘dear porn star’ has gone “back to Beijing”) make for a unique atmosphere and piquant songs evoking the urban landscapes, shops and parks that make up modern Hong Kong. Sex is another fairly frequent theme, through characters like the aforementioned porn star, or in apparently comical (although atmospherically indistinguishable from MLA’s love songs) songs like ‘I Don’t Know How to Download Good AV (adult video) like Iris Does’.  My Little Airport’s career to date consists of five excellent albums and a handful of singles that make up a unique and vibrant oeuvre. As far as development goes, they seem to be moving away from the mainly English-language, mainly romantic approach of their early work; a shame for listeners in the UK as their sound has lost none of its heart-tugging quality, but their endearing lyrical approach has become more opaque to non-Cantonese speakers.

The Okay Thing To Do On Sunday Afternoon Is Toddle In The Zoo (2004)

The My Little Airport sound arrived fully formed on this, their first album. Opening song ‘Coka, I’m Fine’ showcases everything the band would stand for – amusingly titled, strangely fragile, lovely, hushed and catchy songs - and the album features several of the band’s best-ever tracks, including the melancholy ‘Victor, Fly Me To Stafford’ and ‘Edward, Had You Ever Thought That The End of the World Would Come On 20.9.01’ that would also be included on the Elefant  Records  compilation Zoo Is Sad, People Are Cruel in 2007. The album also features some of their loveliest Chinese-language songs, like ‘Walk In the Zoo Is A Decent Thing’ and ‘Faye Wong, Concerning Your Eyebrows’.
Lo-fi in its basic elements (bontempi organ, simple guitar  & sometimes-wobbly vocals) and owing much to the more twee end of the UK indie scene such as the Sarah records bands (notably the Field Mice, as made explicit in the lovely ‘When I Listen To The Field Mice’ on Zoo Is Sad...) The Okay Thing To Do transcends its influences by the quality of its tunes and is an altogether superlative debut.

Becoz I Was Too Nervous At That Time (2005)

Becoz... basically picks up where The Okay Thing... left off, opening two of MLA’s most perfectly realised songs; the short, perfect ‘Gigi Leung Is Dead’, a song which exemplifies the wistful/romantic/funny/sad/happy/naive atmosphere that is MLA’s trademark and ‘I Don’t Know How To Download Good AV Like Iris Does’, a funny song which again somehow manages to encapsulate the many conflicting moods and feelings that the band excels at. The album also showcases the (relatively) more rock side of the band’s repertoire with punky guitar-riff based songs like ‘Song Of Depression’ and one of the songs sung by P, titled (depending where you read it), ‘Take Me As Rucheng Zhang’ or ‘You Can Say I Am Cheung Yu Shing’. The album also features some of the band’s most affecting moments, such as the somewhat desolate atmosphere of urban, commercial Hong Kong  on ‘Pak Tin Shopping Centre’ and the heartbreaking ‘Leo, Are You Still Jumping Out Of Windows In Expensive Clothes’, without a doubt one of the band’s finest songs.

Zoo Is Sad, People Are Cruel (2007)

Although most of the material on this excellent compilation appears on the band’s first two albums, it’s worth having for the 2005 single ‘When I Listen To the Field Mice’ and the peculiar ‘Mountaintop, Doll, Lollipop’. Oddly, one of the band’s most affecting songs, ‘Tim, Do You Really Wanna Make A Film?’ isn’t included on this, or indeed any of MLA’s albums.

We Can’t Stop Smoking In The Vicious And Blue Summer (2007)

As the compilation Zoo Is Sad, People Are Cruel introduced the wider world to My Little Airport’s sound, the band released We Can’t Stop Smoking..., possibly their least accessible album. Although the melodies are as pretty as ever, the kind of pang-filled love songs that littered their first two albums are thin on the ground here, replaced by less immediate but clever tracks like ‘Japan Real Melons’ which basically does the same thing but without the endearing directness they had before. In fact, We Can’t Stop Smoking is notable as the only MLA album without any really outstanding songs, though the quality overall is high. It does feature their most rock song to date, the riff-laden ‘Let Me Take The Plane to Explode a group’ (if that’s how it is supposed to translate).

Poetics – Something Between Montparnasse and Mongkok (2009)

There is a noticeable change of atmosphere, if not sound (although the album is notable for its louder, more modern drum sounds), on Poetics... In place of the fragile love songs are equally wistful and humorous songs about politics in Hong Kong.  If that sounds less than appealing, the melodies are often better than ever, and the satirical ‘Donald Tsang, Please Die’ (sung in P’s most deadpan manner, and with guitars on the verge of being out of tune) is a superb piece of serio-comic polemic in the mould of Morrissey’s ‘Margaret On The Guillotine’. In fact, Poetics is something of a step forward for P the performer, as two of its standout tracks, ‘Donald Tsang’ and the lovely, funny ‘When The Party Is Over I Miss My Dear Porn Star’ are sung entirely by him. One of many other highlights is ‘Wet Dream’ sung by both Nicole and P, a slightly fuzzy, guitar-based song but with a retro, 60s feel and ‘Romance In Kowloon Tong’ a sweet duet which feels like a throwback to the romantic longings of The Okay Thing to Do... Overall, if not their most accessible album to foreigners (at least half of the tracks are sung entirely in Cantonese), Poetics... is easily the equal of any of their albums, the more so for pushing the boundaries of their subject matter.

Hong Kong Is One Big Shopping Mall (2011)

This album is slightly frustrating for the non-Cantonese speaker; musically, it seems to be revisiting the wistful, romantic themes of the band’s early work, but as there are few English language moments throughout the album it’s hard to say. Nevertheless, it features some of MLA’s most affecting tunes to date, such as the lovely (presumably a bad translation) ‘The Charming Scarf’. There is also a departure from the band’s usual sound in the very Cranes-esque grand piano and narration that is according to Google translate called ‘Pigs one by one disappeared in the city.’ More typically MLA is ‘Terence...’ (the rest of the title is in Chinese characters), a catchy, twee tune which soundwise could be from ‘The Okay Thing To Do...’ The one English lyric on the album is, in its entirety; ‘If you bring me once more to the party, I promise that I’ll behave like a lady. I understand I’m no longer twenty, but I still wanna try the sweetie.’ The song itself is multilayered by the band’s standards, with cheap-sounding organ, piano and guitar creating a lovely atmosphere.
But although when examined on a song for song basis, the album is the equal of any of the band’s work, it’s hard not to mourn the lack of either romantic or satirical English lyrics, which sadly makes Hong Kong... less memorable than its predecessors at least at first.

Lonely Friday (2012)

My Little Airport are one of those rare bands (like AC/DC or the BMX Bandits) where what one wants is not something innovative or different, but a new set of songs that somehow repeats the 'formula' without it feeling like a formula. Thankfully, Lonely Friday does just that. Although the album is closer to Hong Kong Is One Big Shopping Mall than their earlier works in that most of the 17(!) songs are sung in Cantonese, the strange, lyrical atmosphere of urban melancholy that made their earlier works so special is stronger than at any time since Becoz I Was Too Nervous... A case in point is the  romantic longing of the jointly sung ballad called (according to google translate) 'Romantic' which is full of the romantic but earthy yearning of many of their greatest songs. Of the English language songs, Love Is Not A Romantic Song is a fragile, half whispered lament and 'How Can You Fall in Love With a Guy Who Doesn't Know Gainsbourg?' is self-explanatory - a great single, if not one of their absolute best (title's a bit long to fit a tune very easily). The sound of the album is that of the relatively more polished Hong Kong..., that is, lo-fi but ambitious, rather than simply lo-fi. The cover, silly and somehow sad, is one of their best, and if Lonely Friday isn't exactly an advance on their work as a whole, it strengthens their discography rather than the opposite.