I’ve given up explaining why I despise Xmas to others these days. I’m not seeking agreement, because I know I’m in the minority, but the worst thing is that so many people seem to think that they can change my mind about it and all I need is some of their dazzling enthusiasm to rub off and I’ll be happier than a dog with Chum-flavoured testicles. It’s like trying to convince a homosexual to try girls for a change because breasts are prettier than willies, so it gets to a point when it’s safer to just return their goodwill with a smile and hope that they go to annoy someone else instead. Yes, I know Xmas is for the kids and they’re welcome to it. It’s simply not for me, and contrary to assurances from dewy-eyed philosophers of the human parental condition, fatherhood has not made a blind bit of difference as I’m merely more practiced at faking it. There’s less Xmas spirit in me than a cheap liqueur chocolate, but I won’t bring everyone else’s buzz down or spoil the magic for the little people, so I’ll pull a cracker, wear a hat and act grateful for the socks when I have to. My heart isn’t in it, but one does what’s necessary out of care and consideration for others, which is the main message behind Xmas I suppose.
Therefore if it truly is the season of goodwill to all, then why don’t people suffering seasonal flu stay at home and phone people instead? No, they insist on seeing everybody “because it’s Xmas” then cough their poxy lungbutter all over people who’re finding it hard enough just coping with the cold and wet. So, two days after being coated in an associate’s globules of gelatinous infected phlegm over lunch, the sickness is coming up tonight like ecstasy’s evil twin and instead of a hard-on I’ve got the shakes, a throbbing head, aching muscles, queasy guts, a turned-on snot tap and I’ve seemingly swallowed a hedgehog, with the joyful knowledge that it’s just for starters and my whole weekend will be spent huddled under a blanket wishing I was dead. Merry Xmas to you too, you thoughtless fucking cunt.

That being said, Spilt Milk are the type of chaps best experienced via a head full of mucus and a dazed brain anyway. It’s another sprouting from the fertile imagination of Gareth Hoskins AKA Mechanical Birds, with a full band this time, almost. Well, the second guitarist is AWOL, but it doesn’t matter a great deal as the overall sound is jolly enough , but after a while it becomes unsettling and edgy, as if Modest Mouse and Bright Eyes collaborated on a druggy movie soundtrack. The resultant jangly, mathy, trash-acoustic pop is wonderfully dysfunctional, with odd xylophone melodies that unbelievably, don’t sound like a gag. Instead, the instrument compliments their bleak nu-hippy laments, making the music teeter between unnerving and playful, as it fills in the missing guitar parts like some perverse melodic cartoon. The effect, in conjunction with Gareth’s whinnying voice and awkward persona, is to make them a curdled post-rock nightmare, which is no bad thing even if they do balls it up.

Technically they’re dire, but what Spilt Milk have done with the materials at hand is create something raw, dynamic and individual that when it works, is absolutely fucking riveting. Let’s hope they eventually convince us that they’re worth crying over.

Apparently, and you have young Baggers to thank for this information, their name refers to a delightful practice involving stamping on the abdomen of a recently murdered prostitute, forcing whatever fluids are in her vaginal cavity to be expelled into the waiting mouth of an accomplice. Combine this with the fact that they’ve had to borrow equipment to play (look fellas, would you turn up to a football match without your boots?) and changed the spelling of their name to something more alliterative AFTER getting their CDs and stuff printed, and you might get an idea of how crap Shicago Street Sweepers are without having to hear them.

But if you insist, those nice guys from Moosefest like ‘em and if punchy, ugly-arsed 3-piece punk is your thing, or you dig bands who try to be wacky but are dreary as tweed, so will you.. Perhaps I would too if I didn’t feel like Satan has shat in my head, and they wouldn’t seem like dull, shrieking, ignorant trash-rock borrowed from bands who were crap to begin with, but I doubt it, I really do.

Assuming that you have appropriately discerning ears though, you’ll find a distinct Presidents-esque shouty, snappy, stop-start, call-and-response thing happening too. Hmm. That makes for an energetic band and tolerable by anyone’s standards, you may think, and you’d be right for five minutes. After that you’ll look tentatively at your watch wondering if any of this tiresome twanging and shouting changes much or even has a point. 20 minutes later you’ll be rewarded with the knowledge that it doesn’t, and if SSS have a purpose, it’s lost on everyone but themselves.

If the public appetite for Gallows or The Horrors is anything to go by, it’s only a matter of time before we need another bunch of oddities and curios to fill ‘cool’ lists. Enter Conor Kiley, shaggy-haired leader of Seattle’s Holy Ghost Revival who’s on a single-handed mission to get 1980s headbangers looking sexy via a chaotic mixture of sordid retro-rock that’ll have gussets frothing from Tonbridge to Tokyo if he has his way. He staggers around the stage, flailing his limbs like some demented Iggy clone, writhing against whatever surfaces or people he can rub himself against, roaring like thunder and terrifying the bewildered to a soundtrack that’s nothing less than an orgy of homoerotic sleaze-glam and unhinged humour. It’s part New York Dolls, part Strokes, part Cardiacs and, well, sorry but you’ll just have to listen and figure it out yourself, because some of us are too busy grinning at them through a haze of snot.

Sure, HGR are theatrically flamboyant. Crikey, we need all the theatre we can get before we forget how it’s done, and HGR are a vaudevillian cocktail of all the things that make rock fun, like dressing up, feckless abandonment, drama, perversity, excess volume, songs that won’t leave your head and a frontman who’ll worry parents. We can only hope that they use it well.

After that, London trio The Draytones almost seem serene, but not for long. Theirs is a different retro headspace, steeped in modish sixties British garage pop and flavoured with something vaguely resembling the twisted clatter of The White Stripes. Maybe it’s mainman Gabriel swinging his massive guitar and squawking like Jack, or perhaps it’s the dumb monotonous drumming, but whatever it is it’s danceable as hell, curiously uplifting and desperately moreish until half of HGR come back onstage to join them in what they claim is an impromptu jam, but actually seems more rehearsed than the rest of their set. Quite why they’ve decided to do this is a mystery as you’d think that following HGR throughout this tour would be awkward enough without inviting them to steal their thunder all over again, but there you go.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, my sickbed beckons.

Paul Mills

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