Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Camera Obscura @ KCLSU

The venue is atrocious, or, rather, the crowd should be ashamed of themselves. They talk all the way through the really rather decent support, Mockingbird, Wish Me Luck, whose orchestral indie-pop is only a tad too twee to command, and then eke their dull murmur for the duration of the headline set. But it all becomes irrelevant as Tracyanne Campbell leads Camera Obscura into a dreamlike segue – one which in part, I don’t want to break down.

But alas, for those that haven’t seen Camera Obscura live, it’s necessary. The band don’t enter the stage until gone ten as there’s some dodgy techery going on – and it takes them around one and a half songs to get into their stride. They don’t look like they’re having fun for only the first ten or so minutes, but after that, the mood soars. It becomes a ‘best of’ set of sorts, tracks from each of their albums getting an airing. Material from Let’s Get Out Of This Country gets the biggest reception, the brush kit and twee march of ‘The False Contender’ and the abundant drums on ‘If Looks Could Kill’ framing the instruments in their most all-out, superlative form.
Equally, the finicky, intricate guitars on ‘Teenager’ impress – not knowing quite what to expect live, it’s a lovely surprise that the rhythms are so free. The feel of the music is, in a way, much more contained on record. Yet on stage, there’s the attention to detail as well as the general tendency to just go with it, let go. Or something.

Be it the tiny inflections and unison handclaps on ‘Come Back Margaret’, or that true sense of warmth on ‘Eighties Fan’, it’s unimaginable to think that anyone here in the crowd hasn’t been reduced to a drooling fangirl by the halfway stage. Traceyanne’s remarks, just after ‘Lloyd, I'm Ready To Be Heartbroken’, that she feels like she’s on a boat – only in the sense that everyone here is part of some overriding, unified sense of presence. The casual fans take heed as soon as the organ chimes begin for that song, a real sense of magic.

Onto the new material – the band have been recording in Sweden, apparently, and if anyone puts the videos on YouTube, they’ll be in for a beating (not so apparently). ‘French Navy’ (“about the colour”) isn’t so much of a departure, more a massive leap forward – the reverie for the past is whipped up with some Orange Juice jangle on this surfy little number. And ‘Swans’ is, quite simply, vintage Camera Obscura – somewhere between a torch anthem and the theme to the closing scene in a B-movie, one to lose yourself in.

The new stuff is extremely exciting, that’s for sure, and save for the mid-set lethargy of ‘A Sister's Social Agony’, it’s a super performance. And the thumping, spasmodic, inner Mogwai creeping out of set-closer ‘Razzle Dazzle Rose’ sets off the post-gig vibrations perfectly – this writer walks away with a romantic fuzz all around her, following her for the next few days and more. A glorious, luminescent romanticism that could probably exist of its own accord, worryingly.

Mockingbird, Wish Me Luck @ KCLSU
The crowd tonight are hellish; completely disinterested, proceeding to talk their way through the whole of Mockingbird, Wish Me Luck’s set.

The Bukowski-inspired Swedish eight-piece try to let their orchestral, handclap-infused indie-pop do the talking, but you can’t help but feel that they need to command the audience – silence them, in a way. But alas, there’s a limit to this.

Their LP, Days Come And Go, has a wonderful knack of framing the fun. And whilst the instrument swapping antics on stage do a little to convince, the songs are crying out for something more shambolic. The music is delightfully twee like some sort of Concretes/Jens Lekman hybrid, all the same – and there’s a Magnetic Fields’ kind of haze glossed all over it.

The trombone adds another dimension to the tweeness, and this lot have certainly got a way with the crescendo – each of the songs build up to a point where the flautist is piping away at a heartier rate, the guitars are denser, and the vocals are more impassioned. They bring to mind Aloha rather than Belle and Sebastian when they do that.

It’s more advisable to buy the record, for now, than see them live. ‘Pictures (Too Big To Fit In A Sight)’ and ‘Let’s Watch The Sunrise’ are both true saccharine delights.

It’s early days, and they all look so young, but there’s certainly a future ahead for Mockingbird, Wish Me Luck – they just need to release a bit more, and get the crowd onside.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Morrissey at Wireless, Hyde Park
Glastonbury’s younger, dwarf-like cousin has upped his bags and moved into Hyde Park for a holiday – bringing with him expensive gifts like super-amazing flushing portaloos. Not only that, but he’s brought with him the sun, and a fantastic line-up.

So, for The Rascals: the performance is a strange contrast between showmanship and technical introversion, almost too precise despite the fun the trio are having. The consistent sense of urgency does the trick in the short run, but it’s an unvaried set at least until Alex Turner makes a cameo on set-closer ‘Is It Too Late’ – which finally feeds the audience some much needed gusto.

Next up on the second stage is Jacksonville’s Black Kids. Their set’s a shambles, or more specifically, a mess of indistinguishable noise. Sure, ‘Hit The Heartbrakes’ wails some on record… but that and ‘I’ve Underestimated My Charm Again’ are reduced to screeching, out-of-tune cringefests live. Frontman Reggie Youngblood tries way too hard to impress, though Dawn and Ali’s 60s girlgroup harmonies do carry off live, redeeming the frontman a little. And it’s way too referential live. Shameful, and surely not down to the soundsystem because the same thing happened at Glastonbury last week.

Following that was Guillemots on the main stage, the diverse setlist taking in everything from the wistful ‘Made Up Lovesong #43’ to all-out dance on ‘Last Kiss’. Sporadic and not at all sitting right next to each other, they’ve a strange way of making it work. How unique a frontman Fyfe Dangerfield is becomes evermore apparent on ‘Standing On The Last Star’ - which is more stunning and skittishness live than can ever be imagined.

It’s now mid-afternoon/early-evening, and lapse ensuing, the PA announcement instructs the audience to “cry milky tears” in preparation for The Wombats’ arrival. Dubious. If dumbed-down, pappy, throwaway, foot-stomping, anthem-by-numbers indie-pop is your thing, then it’s a veritable feast. Doubtful though, with the high calibre elsewhere on this day’s bill. Perhaps I’m just irked about how The Wombats have followed me to every festival I’ve been to over the course of the summer. Against my will, may I add.

Aside, higher aspirations lead to the falafel stand – which sits happily alongside the burgers despite the believable rumours of a meat ban (!) – and then towards The National back on the second stage. Time constraints mean that I miss Beck’s set, which is a shame. But it’s more than compensated for by a fantastic display from frontman Matt Berninger, rich baritone in top form. ‘Slow Show’ is just perfect live, the whole set building and building and building into a giant climax of symphonic hyperbole. Boxer is such a stunning LP, which begs the question why The National haven’t been latched onto Arcade Fire-stylee. Not that the half full tent are complaining.

And now for the Moz; it’s vintage, quite simply. Three costume changes and a load of nipple sweat later, the night escalates into a brilliantly orchestrated 21-song set comprising new material, solo hits, and a select few Smiths’ favourites. With Bush-bashing and Kylie-commendations in almost equal part. Opening with ‘Last Of The Famous International Playboys’, it’s ‘What She Said’, ‘Vicar In A Tutu’ and ‘How Soon Is Now’ that get the heartiest receptions. The comeback era songs like ‘First Of The Gang To Die’ and ‘Irish Blood, English Heart’ come off brilliantly live, as Morrissey transforms into a super-human being seemingly born for playing these massive gigs. There’s even a cover of Buzzcocks’ ‘You Don’t Say You Love Me’, shamefully lost on much of the audience. New material such as 'Mama Lay Softly On The Riverbed' impresses too, with impassioned jangling like any of his best cuts. Forget the ‘depressing’ moniker that’s attached itself to le Moz because he comes across naturally funny, and humbled by the minions. I want to invite him to a private book club, but that’s another story.

In this ever-changing musical climate, Morrissey is the eternal paradigm. And that’s the greatest achievement of them all.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

The Futureheads On... The Music - Part Four of Four

Though the business side of their career courts its own focus these days, it’s only fair that The Futureheads are given the chance to elucidate on that thing they’re known for: the music. Not only theirs, but the stuff they love, hate and love to hate.

I reckon ‘Sale Of The Century’ (on the new album) is my favourite thing you’ve ever done. Really ferocious, very Joy Division.
Jaff: We didn’t even want that one on the album!
David: It was a contentious one, I remember it well.
Jaff: Us two were outvoted. But lots of people are saying that to us about that one.

It does sound completely different to anything you’ve done before.
David: Yeah, you’ve got to take yourself outside of the recording world and let somebody else tell you what’s good or bad.

What are the setlists like now?
Jaff: Seven old, seven new, one from News and Tributes.

Why? Because the fans don’t want to hear the second album?
Jaff: Yep.
David: And ‘cause we can’t play it!
Jaff: It’s too hard.
David: We can play them…
Jaff: They’ve got a million vocal tracks.
David: We found that when we started playing the songs off this album it brought the energy down.
Jaff: They relied too much on precision.David: Like we’d play ‘He Knows’ and then go on to ‘Thursday’, and it was just…

Was it to do with the way the second album was produced then?
David: Yeah.
Jaff: And the way it was written. And the idea we had writing it was to make a record that’d sound good on stereos rather than…
David: …rather than gigs. It was arrogant.
Jaff: Oh aye. We thought we’d get away with that. We did it, and it was hard to do. We’re still very fond of the record but it’s not for live.

Did Youth’s production really change the sound of this album?
Jaff: Massively. He couldn’t really be bothered with fannying about.
David: Doodling, self-indulgence...
Jaff: We’d lay the song up on the morning, work on the bass for an hour – try this, try that – then do the bass, the drumming, the guitars, the vocals, the rest of the guitars, the rest of the vocals…
David: It was very quick.

David: Mostly because of the heat (the band recorded This Is Not The World in Andalucia).
Jaff: Aye, they were long days.
David: I was done by three o’clock everyday, go and have a few drinks.
Jaff: I had to drive.

You were out there in the mountains somewhere weren’t you?
Jaff: Aye, it were brilliant like.

This album feels a lot more, well, technical. Technically put together, structure-wise. I probably haven’t quite got the right word but…
David: No, I know what you mean. The first one was a lot busier.
Jaff: Our third record is a lot more traditional. We couldn’t start a song until the lyrics were finished and the chorus was finished.

Was the album all written before you got to the studios?
Jaff: No, we wrote 20 songs when were out there – it was pretty intense. We were there for three weeks so...
David: …there was time for the beach.
Jaff: Torremolinos!
David: It was brilliant.

Blimey, talk about polar opposites!
David: Yeah!

What are you both listening to these days?
Jaff: Let me try and think what the last thing I bought was… ah, the MGMT record. It’s very good. We just did a little tour with them and CSS.
David: I’ve been listening to The Rolling Stones the whole time. I hated them for years and now I love them. I don’t really listen to new music, can’t be dealing with all that crap.Jaff: Not gonna be as good as ‘Sticky Fingers’ mate, is it?
David: No, nothing can be as good as ‘Sticky Fingers’.

You sound like a 50 year-old man, Dave…
David: Yeah I don’t like any of this nu-rave business, I can’t be arsed with it.

What else can’t you stand?
Dave: Alphabeat!(Jaff gives him a sly look)
Dave: Do you like that one, Jaff?
Jaff: It’s great! It’s brilliant, it’s a classic!
Dave: I think we’re going in different directions…
Jaff: I’m definitely gonna play that one when I DJ, like. It’ll send the pulses up like David Bowie! If I’m gonna be brutally honest, there’s a trend in the UK at the minute for guitar bands. Not only do a lot of dreadful bands get signed, but a lot of dreadful bands get to be quite big. There’s a load of mediocrity on the live scene that’s come from record companies signing guitar bands and trying to make them pop bands. There’s a lot of dreadful ones. They all just write songs like (in stupid voice) “That’s nice/oh my god/got drunk/na na na” – the lyrics just sprawl on and on. There’s no rhythm, no melody, no metre, no…

The Futureheads On... Nostalgia and The Band Dynamic - Part Three Of Four

At this stage in their collective career, it’s inevitable that the members of The Futureheads know each other inside out. Their highs and lows have been most publicly condensed into the past eighteen months, but behind the scenes there’s a whole lot more going on.

What’s been the highest moment in your careers so far?
David: Meeting Dennis Hopper. We did a TV show in LA and he came into our dressing room with his son. He had our album with him and wanted it signed for his son. We were like ‘wow’!Jaff: I think for me it was Glastonbury 2005, when ‘Hounds of Love’ was out.
David: Yeah that was brilliant.

What do you want in the next couple of years?
Jaff: Hopefully me Knighthood. Not really! I guess I just want to see this record do better than the others. I’d like to see it come out and be given a chance. I think it’s really good and I’m really proud of it. I feel like we should be given the chance – I’m sounding a bit emo – I think we’re a pretty good band.

Well yeah, you have come back into favour. It was all a bit unfair after News and Tributes really wasn’t it? How did you feel back then?
David: I can’t really remember it.
Jaff: What you gonna do? You can’t make people like the music, can you? You can’t go away and make an album and say “we’re gonna make a song that people like”. And if they don’t like it you can’t go “oh no” (puts on whiney voice).
David: You just do what you’ve got to do and see what happens.

Has the band dynamic changed?
Jaff: It totally has I think, yeah.
Dave: Aye.Jaff: I think we know each other so well now. We wind each other up constantly - I quite enjoy trying to wind Ross up. I’m probably more miserable than I used to be, I used to be a right laugh!

Today must be a good day then!
David: I think that’s a bit harsh on yourself, Jaff.
Jaff: Er…er, nah.
David: Yeah.

It can’t be completely easy living out of each others pockets on tour and stuff.
Jaff: Well exactly. When you go out with someone you get on amazing for the first year and then start fighting all the time. The fact is there’s loads of testosterone flying about.
David: Recently we had our first big, like, er… (Jaff starts laughing) well our first big band fight. It was over and done and it worked.
Jaff: It was good. We don’t want to get into it.
David: It was our first fight.Jaff: Bearing in mind it was probably my fault.

Was it violent?
David: No, it wasn’t.
Jaff: No.
David: It could’ve got violent!
Jaff: It was good! It was a kind of process.
David: A release.
Jaff: I think there’s a lot of things that people don’t say sometimes and when you see someone for three weeks by the end they’re getting on your nerves, like. The next time it takes two weeks and then next time it takes one week, and you realise you’re all getting on each others nerves and someone will say something and you’ll just snap. I said some things I pretty much regretted straight away, but I felt like I should’ve said them anyway and everyone at least knew what I thought. It was good.
Dave: It was.
Jaff: It was a good little process, pretty mad though.
I shan’t press you on it any more.
David: I remember Jaff calling Barry ‘Barry Mozart’.
Jaff: Ssh!(mass laughter and knowing looks occur)
David: That was pretty much the funniest part. It was very, very funny.

The Futureheds On... Themes and Inspirations - Part Two Of Four

The Futureheads are notoriously difficult to pigeonhole. The lyrics have ranged from being dressed up in frantic barbershop quartet style harmonies (typically on their first album), in sparser structures (on News And Tributes) or in bigger radio rock anthems (on their latest LP). The one thing that’s remained is a general feeling of distance from the world around them, a frustration – even an obsession - with broader issues that are out of their control.

To me, this album feels the most personal. I’m not sure if I’m right on that one?
Jaff: Yeah, I think it is. It came out of a conflict. And when Barry and Ross write the words three albums in they’re not scared to say certain things. They realise it’s ok to have certain ways about you. It’s ok to talk about feelings so long as you don’t use the word ‘feeling’. I do think it’s a lot more personal, you can see into the band’s psyche a little bit more.
David: We’ve got more involved in this album with us doing it all ourselves, like. As far as myspace and getting involved – we do stupid video clips and stuff. It’s something we’ve never done before.

Had you ever contemplated doing that sort of thing before?
Jaff: We couldn’t, we weren’t allowed to.
David: This album’s been fun in that way – we can finally get the fans to observe what we’re about and how we do it. Yeah, it’s a good thing.

I’ve noticed how much time crops up as a theme on all of your material.
Jaff: You are probably the first person that’s noticed that.

You must be joking?
Jaff: No! It’s true - ‘Broke Up The Time’ on this album, half the songs on the first album – ‘Trying Not To Think About Time’, ‘He Knows’, ‘Meantime’… And ‘Everything’s Changing Today’ on This Is Not The World.

Why does it figure so much? It’s a pretty bold, all-encompassing thing.
Jaff: Barry is pretty scared of getting old. Though most of the time ones are Ross’s.
David: Yeah, the ones from the first record.

Do those two come to you with the lyrics then? Do you always know what the songs are about?Jaff: Yeah, yeah we do. I mean, you know what they’re about. That’s the thing about lyrics though – if you don’t know what the song’s about then you can’t relate to it. And if you can’t relate to a song then it’s not a very good song. Why would anyone from Sunderland ever listen to American bands if it wasn’t for lyrics? Our lives are so different. People like foreign music. It doesn’t matter where the people are from, it’s how they write the song.

I’ve noticed that there seem to be a fair amount of external forces you’re switched on to. Stuff around you. What inspires you to fight against them?
David: What do you mean?
Jaff: Like what?

Well of course I mean time as one example, but lyrically The Futureheads are extremely challenging. It’s nigh on abstract concepts sometimes; deep stuff that you don’t really tend to hear from artists that’ve broken into the mainstream.
Jaff: Yeah I think you’re right. We write about things that affect us. Things we care about. I think we are quite easily affected by things. We don’t have to have to have a vision, we comment on things - especially lyrically. Yeah you are right. You’re quite good at this, like! People don’t pick up on this sort of stuff normally.
David: She’s good. She’s very good.
Jaff: We never get asked these types of questions!
David: It’s normally ‘What shoes do you like?’
Jaff: Seriously, you’re right. We do care about things. It’s that observational thing we find interesting.
David: I think Barry and Ross are very aware of not writing about going out on a Saturday night and getting bevvied up and all that crap. There’s no blasé lyric writing.
Jaff: With the first record the lyrics were very much a means to an end, to getting the song finished.
David: Yeah.

Wow, I find that surprising.
David: Aye.
Jaff: The riffs would normally come first.D
avid: And then the lyrics.

‘Radio Heart’ – it’s pretty bold. Do you want to want to change the way people think or is it just an observational thing?
Jaff: It’s observational, yeah. I wouldn’t like the lead quote on this piece to say “The Futureheads want to change people”!

I’ll try rephrasing that question – how about, do you want to make people more aware of the world around them or is it just an observational thing?
Jaff: Better. Yeah, I think that is why you write songs. Though you write songs and you know they’re not listening. You write lyrics ‘cause you want people to notice. It’s all about a point of view.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

The Futureheads On... Being Dropped - Part One of Four

At the end of 2006, The Futureheads were ceremoniously dumped by their label. Relentlessly, they set up their own label (Nul Records), and have just released their third album, This Is Not The World. And here’s Part One of a four-part series documenting Clash’s catch-up session with Jaff (bass) and Dave (drums) in an East London boozer…

What were your initial reactions after being dropped?
Jaff: I think they were mixed within the band – Barry talked about how he was happy, I was worried about how I was gonna pay me mortgage but I was also thinking it was the best thing for the band. I was pretty concerned because I’m the sort of person that likes to know what’s happening in advance. It was a bit of a shock, but artistically it was the best thing that could’ve happened, like. We don’t want to slag major record companies off but they are generally tits. Though they do provide a certain kind of…

Jaff: Yep, yep they do. They pay your wage and they pay for you to go on tour.Dave: But we’ve still got a wage. It never stopped, did it? It’s alright.

There’s a huge sense of defiance on opening track ‘Beginning of The Twist’ but at the same time, it’s very on the edge. Was that related to the stuff that went on with 679?
Jaff: People ask that, but Barry had written that song before we got dropped. The lyrics anyway, and the arrangements came when we were in Spain. I just think it’s a good example of the record as a whole - it’s pretty defiant, it’s pretty rock. It’s upfront and direct, and it’s got that dark twist. The lyrics work perfectly for being first on the album, and as the first single. It’s about mental illness and those hard times in your life. It’s not quite so obvious.Dave: It’s nothing to do with the label.

Do you think the album would’ve gone in the same direction if you hadn’t got dropped?
Dave: Nah, we’d have been miserable.
Jaff: Or we’d have split up.

Jaff: Yeah, we’d have split up. We wouldn’t have had it in us, we couldn’t have been arsed. There’d have been too many decisions to be made. We would’ve have made records.

Wow. Was there ever a midpoint between splitting up and setting up Nul then? Was it going to go this way as soon as you got dropped?
Jaff: We got dropped in October 2006 and then we had a tour in the December which’d already sold out. So we realised it’d sold out and we wanted to do it on our own. We took the Christmas off, and Barry lives in Glasgow. So he came down for Christmas with a bunch of songs and we went from there. We recorded a couple of songs, and got back into it.

Do you think you’d have ever been able to get to where you’re at now without having been signed to 679 for two albums?
Jaff: Nah. And I’ll tell you why – essentially, Warner Bros (owner of subsidiary, 679) had spent about £700k on us. And that’s the kind of thing you can’t equate with really when you start doing it yourself. The capital they put into bands to start with… they were crazy to drop us. They put so much money in.
David: Yeah.
Jaff: They could’ve signed three bands with the amount of money they put into us – they should’ve given us another chance. But I’m so glad it happened – now we don’t owe them anything and all the money we make’ll be ours. We’ll get more money and make more music.
David: It is more about the music than the money.

Are you sick of talking about the industry side of things yet?
David: Yeah, I’m bored! Nah, joking (he pats Clash on the back to clarify how much fun he’s really having).
Jaff: I love it.
David: We let ourselves in for it really; we’ve been championing ourselves for a few months now. We’re doing it all ourselves. Though I don’t really have a clue about what’s going on on the business side – the others are pretty clued up though.

What’s the day-to-day involvement?
David: We’ve got people doing the everyday stuff. We do our job, they do theirs.
Jaff: It’s the four of us in the band and two managers that set up Nul. We split it all six ways, it’s good.
David: It’s working really well.

What could you offer in terms of advice to new bands? How are they supposed to get the best result from the word go?
Jaff: Just get a good lawyer! It’s different now though - it’s easier to market your music via myspace and things like that. It’s easier. You can get a fanbase without spending money. But it’s hard too because everyone sets the example of the Arctic Monkeys.
David: I don’t think anyone should look at the example of the Arctic Monkeys and say “right, that’s where we’ll go” because it’ll never happen. They sold more copies than The Beatles in the first week their album was released.

Yeah, it’s not a realistic target.
David: It’s cool though. It’s great.
Jaff: They’re a good band but it’s not the norm. I mean, how many bands have myspace sites? Loads.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

The Futureheads at Camden Electric Ballroom

The Futureheads are currently playing like it’s their last hour on the planet – a fact (well, it’s as objective as I’ve ever tried to be) which surely can’t invoke anything other than histrionic praise. It’s a truly mind-blowing set where I marvel in the wonder of just where the undying fervour and force comes from. The stream of anthems emitting from the stage is endless, each one having its own matchless characteristic - from the “ooh-ooh-ooh” punctuating ‘Carnival Kids’ to the instinctual, homely beat holding together ‘Area’. And the tempo keeps building throughout, almost of its own accord.

They’re on top of their game, be it via straight-up stormer ‘Everything Is Changing Today’ or the frenetic syncopation of ‘Man Ray’. Only ‘Hard To Bear’ allays the undying pace, and it’s placed at exactly the right moment – the guitars chug like steam engines and the drums enter a quasi-tango phase, sometimes. It comes across so tender because of the preciseness of the performance - the contrasts are amplified as each bass flinch, each syllable, each uplifting coming together of harmony is put out there on a limb. Such a distinctive blend of sounds, another the reason this lot impress so much is their passion; simple, old-fashioned showmanship where the crowd are mere foils. It’s essentially four huge personalities buzzing off of each other into a mix of sound which is never contained. Back to the way that every little nuance exemplifies itself, the jostling interplay and sparser downbeat of ‘Skip To The End’ showcase the ambition of the band to prolific effect - especially when placed in a set of mostly feverish snatches.

A huge sense of self-assertion has encircled the band since I last saw them around the release of News and Tributes – there’s a new warmth to their once ramshackle, throw-it-all-in dramaticism. It only takes a glimpse at the contrast between ‘Broke Up The Time’ and ‘Stupid and Shallow’ – there’s warmth and humanity at one end, and abstract anecdotes at the other. And from that, there seems to be a sense of pride growing within their performance. The loudness and the fastness remains, but the guts behind it have undergone a change in substance. Each snatch is played out with swagger, framing the observations in protagonist-led social scrutiny.

It’s an absolutely perfect set, with the band’s relatively pared-down moments (notably, most of the second album) foregone in favour of a 15-song set of impossibly tight harmonies, spat out nuances and frenzied emotion – and that’s the master stroke, to be quite honest. For what it’s worth, ‘Sale Of The Century’ and ‘Alms’ are my choice Futureheads songs – but they just wouldn’t work in this context of full-on vigour without a let up. The only problem now is that every time I listen to the records I’m going to wish they were performing it before me instead. Kudos to the sound and lighting people too – it’s spot on, particularly the moments that feel like I’m watching the band through a red tint. Brilliant, symbiotic almost.

Where the heck to go next? Who cares. For now, this is a supreme masterclass in itself. Maybe one of these days I’ll choose to review a gig for DiS that’ll disappoint me… I’m not easy to please, promise.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Lykke Li - Youth Novels

Coming in at fourteen tracks, this album would have benefited from being a few tracks shorter. All the same, it’s a remarkably different debut; the vocals are fragile, the variation knowing. There’s an underlying - even superseding – minimalism that holds the songs together. And that’s why some of the offerings are so astonishing. The emotion is raw and fragile but the high, saccharine register gives it a confusing sugar-coating.Opening with Kraftwerk-meets-Madonna spoken-word mantra ‘Melodies & Desires’ isn’t the best idea – it’s overly pretentious, too consciously zen. “You’ll be the rhythm and I’ll be the beat/And I’ll be the rhythm and you’ll be the beat” sings Sweden’s Lykke Li; it’s certainly a fitting introduction to the key dichotomies throughout, but it’s also a false lead.

The album progresses rapidly through the twitchy, minimal tribalism and cowbell vacuum interludes on ‘Dance, Dance, Dance’; the flinches of bizarre percussion, comforting repetition and yo-yo vocals on ‘I’m Good, I’m Gone’; and the beat-led, syncopated snatch ‘Let It Fall’. Throughout this strong and varied series of songs, one thing remains - a very slightly flat vocal which turns out to be a laudible stylistic trick. But that same flatness grates in parts as despite everything around it changing, it remains. It’s immovable and extremely out of place on more twee takes like ‘Hanging High’.

As the album continues, it begins to tire a tad - ‘Tonight’ feels too overwrought, ‘The Trumpet In My Head’ strangely evoking Sting. To elucidate, it’s because there’s a fine line between insubstantial and minimal. ‘My Love’ dances the line, veering towards the more favourable side of it after repeated listens. The Bossa rhythms and drifting harmonies are easy on the ear but it lacks immediate direction - albeit the song’s about waiting for a lover in a state of stagnancy, so it’s probably justified. So that’s a pretty circular point, but it’s fairer to say that the structure of sparse verse/broad-spanning harmony-punctuated harmony feels all too predictable five tracks in.

The song that got Lykke Li noticed, ‘Little Bit’, is of course a snippet of brilliance. It combines tropicalia, electro and low-slung folk with a shudderingly sexy vocal – it showcases just how emotions are laid on the line throughout this album, but more to the point has something extraordinary; a really special hook that lodges itself in the brain by reflex. And then there’s ‘Complaint Department’, the starkest contrast yet to Li’s syrupy vocal timbre – the words remain soft but the loops are bleak and damaged. It’s difficult to warm to though and despite the album never once staying in one place, it feels strange that this track has ever found itself here. It’s admirably followed by the nursery-rhyme feyness of ‘Breaking It Up’, with sounds of a children’s choir and all. Which is crying out for a Metronomy remix, may I add.

The closing three tracks don’t go down a treat, to be frank – the bare emotions are on display as ever, but without the idiosyncrasies El Perro Del Mar does a better job. ‘Time Flies’ equally lacks the contrasts found elsewhere but it’s still an admirable offering considering that this is a debut record - Björn Yttling’s production is top notch too, making every uber-vibration count.
The hard-hitting contrasts between songs may prove isolating at first but if you give Lykke Li the chance, you’ll fall for her. The songs are dainty, sure – but there’s a sandpaper-rough edge around every note’s perimeter. Let’s hope she remembers the quality control button next time around – if she’d done so this time, this album would be a pop phenomenon of the finest calibre.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Sunset Rubdown at Kilburn Luminaire
Sunset Rubdown began in 2005 as a Spencer Krug (Wolf Parade, Frog Eyes, Fifths of Seven, Swan Lake) solo affair. On record, it’s a haunting, aesthetic vocal with some sublimely complex synthship – and by heck, does it transfer to the stage in the band’s first ever UK tour.
Beyond even the most heightened expectations, which are inevitably present. It’s far from a solo project now and this intimate gig unravels into one of the most brilliant experiences/displays of inconceivably amazing music likely to be witnessed this year, if not ever.

The tightness and focus of the band (and particularly the second drummer) is simply astounding – it’s joyous, manic and draining all at once. And there’s a divergence too, as what they’re emitting alone are completely distinct components. The textures seep into a technicolour tornado; a genre-confounding, epoch-defining display. The room falls into a scholarly silence amidst songs such as ‘Winged/Wicked Things’ and ‘Trumpet, Trumpet, Toot! Toot!’ – and the setlist is structured to perfection, keeping the audience engrossed in a mesmeric gaze of sorts.

Krug perches on a stool occasionally, mostly leaning into his synth as if spellbound by it. The guitar work is feverish and precise, the sound as a whole a vapour of nervous energy. Appreciation is rife, with never-ending applause and gratitude, and the whole band seem genuinely surprised by just how well they are received.

From the schizoid sonics of closing song, ‘The Mending Of The Gown’, to the insistent, instant epic quality of ‘Up on Your Leopard, Upon the End of Your Feral Days’, this is certainly a show. It’s endearing just how anxious they appear between songs too. The repertoire as a whole feels harder than it can convey on record, particularly ‘Shut Up I Am Dreaming of Places Where Lovers Have Wings’ – and it’s due to the huge variation in sound between songs, some expert timbral movement and a perfect fit of astounding musicians.

Some new songs are debuted too, giving as good evidence as any that the next studio output from this marvel of a collective is going to be as spectacular and expansive as anything they’ve done before. Truly an incredible “you had to be there” experience, a shame than only 200-odd have the privilege. Guess the masses had better get in there quicker next time…

Friday, 23 May 2008

MGMT at The Astoria

Florence and the Machine thrive on a seething Astoria – the vocals sit somewhere between Laura Marling and Mirah and her persona is a far giddier and more excitable swirling, saccharine affair. Opening with a cover of Cold War Kids’ ‘Hospital Beds’, they play a short set including ‘Girl With 1 Eye’ and ‘Kiss With A Fist’; it’s a delight to the ears and eyes for the half hour it’s on, but it ends at the right moment. Captivating, never whimsical and with a set of lungs to rival Shirley Bassey, it’s certainly an impressive showing. Unfamiliar songs begin to blur into each other too much after a while, as the one (albeit quite lovely) trick begins to tire. All the same, the set is played out by Florence Welch with the energy of a child trying to impress – it’d just sit better in a smaller venue. For now.

MGMT, on the other hand, invoke something completely different. Their debut album 'Oracular Spectacular' is chocka with dazzling hooks; truly one of 2008’s essential albums. It’d be impossible to moniker their songs “to the point”, but they’re certainly a unified call out of hyperbolic-scale electro. Very together, always pushing forward. Live, it’s like this: the conciseness is reduced to an unstructured mess of rehearsal room jamming where the band completely forget that there’s an audience there watching them. The “set” is shorter than the “encore”, the latter being longer in time than the former and consisting of some very strange occurrences – there’s unintroduced songs that feel like they’re being played for the first time, a strange caterwauling noise sporadically making itself known and the general feeling of an overdrawn, pretentious mess of noise. And the weirdest moment yet occurs when the touring members of the band disappear from the stage and ‘Kids’ suddenly starts out of nowhere – funnily enough sounding exactly like the version on the album. It turns into just that, a backing track being played to a still up for it crowd and at the end, the drum machine being politely battered with a guitar solo laid over the top. They keep talking about wanting to “fuck around” and arguably, that’s what they do – the album track plays out with WynGarden and Goldwasser undulating on the floor somewhere. What even is this? Is no-one else wondering whether we’re part of some sort of Beadle’s About 2.0? Everything that could be augmented is, over and over – they run way over their 11pm curfew in fact. But the crowd lap it up, all the same.

Aside from the jam-type mass, ‘Electric Feel’ storms the room, as do ‘Pieces of What’ and ‘The Handshake’. But the fact that they’re sandwiched somewhere in between a 1:9 ratio of killer: filler makes the idea of them bothering with the “songs” feel like a complete waste of time. Even the song, ‘Time to Pretend’, loses its strength with the keys up too loud and the opportunity for a pre-, mid-, in between- and post-song jam wrongly seized yet again. The solos prove uninspiring, cheap and devoid of likeable quirk.

It’s certainly unlike any other live show going but it completely fails to do justice to their excellent album. Credit for having the balls to do something this bizarre but there’s still the overwhelming notion of an endurance test where the audience filters out and only the strongest win. But those who stay until the never ending song ends don’t really win, per se – all they get is a massive sense of excitement when a familiar song makes it structure known. The weirdness is too knowing live, that’s part of the crux – and the self-obsession/overdrawn jam conceit needs to be sorted out for this Brooklyn assortment to prove themselves live, unless festival season somehow manages to force them into a set with a time limit.

There are moments when the audience seem to drift off into an alternate universe only to open their eyes and realise that MGMT are still playing. But don’t let this put you off - there are many positives, like the fact they’re only on album number one (which, once again, is a fantastic record) and like, the nice dress and stuff. Shame about the indulgence, mind.

Monday, 19 May 2008

Islands - Arm's Way
Canada, home of many brilliant things: maple syrup, Spencer Krug, that almost British wryness, and, er, Conrad Black, Celine Dion and Avril Lavigne. But of course, Islands are the most relevant right now. Just over two years ago they released their debut LP, ‘Return To The Sea’ – it was full of a strangely quaint grandeur. Infectious, broadly influenced, rich, melodic and dead-on smart too. It’s not to be forgotten also that Islands formed from the ashes of The Unicorns, but it’s increasingly irrelevant now as original Unicorn/Islands co-founder Jamie Thompson (aka J’aime Tambeur) has departed. Confused much? Nah. The fact is thus: the darkness has been honed in on here to the point of no return, and the vague tweeness has been viciously disposed of in Islands’ ambitious quest towards a journeying masterpiece of a second album.

Where previous takes like ‘Don’t Call Me Whitney, Bobby’ held their genius in how gathered their wit was, this album is stark in comparison. It’s a larger-scale mess of noise with more strings, higher emotions than ever, and frequently epic and persisting mood swings. Opener ‘The Arm’ is dark and broody, with a stunning vocal performance – it’s far from surprising that it was written after Nick Diamonds got caught up in a thunderstorm. It’s got more menace than anything they’ve done before and sets up Arm’s Way just perfectly.

‘Abominable Snow’, on the other hand, is the band’s most tender moment yet with massive orchestration and the sense of brooding that many can only strive towards. But the fact that this is placed directly after ‘J’aime Vous Voir Quitter’ is a statement in itself – ‘Jaime…’ is Ted Leo-ish, open-sounding punk. It’s alliterative, dynamic and also kind of conga-recalling. It’s bitter and ferocious and has a lot to give - but it also contains a huge sense of grief. These two songs hit home as if two completely distinct entities within their own mindspace.

Yet his album makes up a massively coherent whole. It’s conclusive, open, abstract and pinpointing. It's everything, the whole works. And Islands have set the standard damn high for so many of their counterparts. Why? Because it’s got one underlying theme – pain. Is that all? No, it’s of course the way they attack their focus. Be it ‘Pieces Of You’, based on a series of brutal murders that occurred at Diamonds’ school, or the way the closing eleven-minute opus ‘Vertigo (If It’s A Crime)’ retreats and recoils within itself until it dies a minimal, dark death.

The one semi-weak moment is ‘Kids Don’t Know Shit’ which offers much promise with its Aztec Camera opening, but ends up feeling almost too extravagant despite the astounding vocal work contained within it. It’s more than made up for by the broad-spanning ‘We Swim’ and the refreshing jam in ‘To A Bond’. The foreboding, skeletal funk of ‘Creeper’ ain’t half brilliant too. This album’s heart is seeping blood and descending deeper and deeper into itself. It’s bold, striking and without apology – a draining symphony which requires persistence to untangle. Just hold on in there and it’ll reveal itself, all on its own.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Yeasayer at ULU
Once upon a time (only a nano-second before this here summation made it to the pages of DiS), searching Google for “Yeasayer + ‘tribal psychedelic folk’” returned nothing. But it’s so damn obvious – the four-piece project it, ooze it, live it. Whilst I’m here, I might as well add ‘tribal psyche folk’, ‘tribal psycho folk’ and ‘tribeadelic folk’ to the mix, just for the sake of semantics. But that’s beside the point – seeing their material expedite live is like simultaneously existing in a state of zen at one end and manically free love at the other. All Hour Cymbals (review) in your eyeballs as well as your eardrums is an astonishing prospect - it made me want to instigate a larger scale, even more extended and pluralistic Peter Gabriel/Kate Bush embrace. On a trampoline the size of Brooklyn, or something.

Though your being here reading this partially disqualifies the need to go on, I’ll carry on mostly unabashedly. The fact is thus: no amount of nauseating graphics can take away from just how involved Anand Wilder, Chris Keating, Ira Wolf Tuton and Luke Fasano are in their own right as well as as part of a conjoined entity. The ethos is akin to that of a call to arms - an immersing, convulsing, intricate yet still loose sense of desperation. And when Yeasayer take to the stage, aural gravity is defied.

Unlike the album’s psyched-up/head-first/spaced-out ordering, the live performance re-jigs the tempo and dynamic in the only way it sees fit. Which almost inevitably shows up just what makes Yeasayer so marvellous. Disjointed? Yes. A shambles? Far from it. ‘Forgiveness’ comes directly after ‘2080’, turning the album’s vigour on its head. The sense of invigoration runs clear throughout but it’s more than that, far more. There’re imperfections, sure – like how invisible Ira Wolf Tuton’s bass feels quite a lot of the time. And just how much reverb the sound engineers splice ‘Red Cave’ with, or equally how little is made of those haunting lower synth drones on ‘No Need To Worry’. But the flaws are exactly what makes this performance so special – the flaws and the dichotomies. The lyrics dance the fine line between icily pragmatic and warmly embracing; the visual clash between Chris Keating’s tic-infested, almost collapsing performance and Luke Fasano’s Tarzan-evoking drumming should be too polarising. But the crucial fact is that it’s exhausting rather than exhaustive, a jubilant aural collision.

In terms of where they sit amidst the currently mindblowing Brooklyn output, Yeasayer are less all-out than MGMT (an oxymoron of sorts, if I’m preaching to the converted) and denser, warmer than Vampire Weekend. In terms of aural counterparts, they lie somewhere between Panda Bear, The Incredible String Band, Fleetwood Mac, Talk Talk, TV On The Radio and Pink Floyd. Isn’t that enough? No? Well here’s yet another crux – the songs are very together and oh-so-separate at the same time. Like the best football teams. They stop, start, stop, briefly regain focus, start, talk only on a rare occasion and end. Both within themselves and within the set, if you get the drift.

You know what else is even more exciting? The fact that this is only an album’s worth of gig. At the risk of not accepting things for what they are, it’s got to be acknowledged that in a few years time, Yeasayer are going to be boundlessly prolific. I reckon what they mean by 2080 may just be brought forward a few years if they have anything to do with it – it’s their future and we’ve been born into it. Don’t sleep, savour the marvel.

Friday, 9 May 2008

Pet Hate #1

Perhaps the first in a series, perhaps not. I don't need to tie myself down but at least I'll know I've set up a place to express stuff that ain't that great, not that the world around me stops me doing that or fails to find a natural compartment for it to reside in.

So - number one. It's not in order of importance, or chronology, or all that much. And it's not soap operas, in spite of my initial leanings. The moniker for this blog is purely circumstantial/parodical/necessary (delete as appropriate).

What is it then? Why of course, the live recording. The infamous holy moly inhabitant of the end of the CD, the B-side, the special edition digipak or whatever.

If I want to see the artist live, then I will; if I want to remember what they were like, I'll use my memory; if I want to listen to other people getting excited I'll , er... ok pass, maybe I'll just not really want to do that.

The purpose of issuing a live recording? Dunno. For completion's sake, perhaps - but B-sides/demos/remixes (dependingly) seem so much more productive. I'm on auto-pilot to skip the live recordings on any 'bonus edition' type thing, it's an auto-synapse of sorts.

Maybe it's because I want to get involved - not many people seem to agree with me, so does that mean they're happy not even being there? I don't want to get involved enough to be on the stage myself. Well, at least not on their stage (fuck, this is circular).

Ok. Take five.

"I don't like live recordings, they make me wince/I need to know if that is just... arrogance" So there.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Envy and Other Sins interview

Envy & Other Sins, then - remind us again why exactly it is that they're not all over the radio, billboards, the charts, medium-sized venues, your minds, your eardrums. Their music is infiltrating hooks warped to within an inch of their lives. Downright brilliant lyricism is their thing – on '(It Gets Harder To Be A) Martyr' they muse like they're at some midpoint between C.S. Lewis and Gruff Rhys.

So why is it then that they're going by mostly unnoticed? Maybe it's something to do with the preconceptions people have from the fact that they won a T4 talent contest to get their record deal. Just maybe. But with four years of gigs and demos behind them, it's somewhat of a false lead. In a recent interview the band revealed their discontent at the poor scheduling of their releases, the lack of press and where the '£1 million deal' seems to have disappeared to.

So here's an insight into the world of Victorian grandeur and discontent – a catch up backstage at Bush Hall with Ali (vocals, guitar), Jarvey (keyboards, vocals), Mark (bass, vocals) and Jim (drums), and a chance to delve into the minds of a band that the masses should be all over by now.

So the studio stuff's been done - what happens after the tour's over?
Jarvey: It's not over yet, so we're really just enjoying it - it's going great. And beyond that, we'll release more singles and get back in the studio. We're planning a load of YouTube films, that's what we’re gonna do.

Is that your own idea?
Jarvey: Er, yeah. [mass laughter]

Well that was a way of evading 'did the label encourage you with that'!
Jarvey: We've got a video camera on the road with us.
Ali: We're gearing up little bits of video promo to support the music we've been recording. We're planning for the next single even if we haven't had it confirmed. [cue mass deep inhalation of air]

Let's talk about the lack of radio airplay 'Highness' got. Is that a major thing to you?
Ali: Jo Whiley [one of the three judges on T4 MobileAct Unsigned] played it once.
Jarvey: She doesn't get a lot of choice on what gets played on her show, not a lot of them do on Radio 1.
Mark: You have to be their favourite band of the year to get played.
Ali: They're not playing as many bands recently just generally, and our back story didn't help. But at the same time it's very hard to get on the radio anyway. We're not that kind of band at the moment.

Do you think that's one of the reasons why the single didn't do as well as it should have done?Jarvey: It's funny because the goalposts have moved hugely. We were planning our own releases before we got involved in all the TV stuff and we were only going to do 1000 copies. We didn't expect to sell 1000 in a week! And by the sounds of it we did 2500 - nearly 3000 - which is amazing. For us. But if you're a major label band, then...

How do you feel about your album 'We Leave At Dawn'?
Jarvey: Making the album's probably the biggest buzz out of the whole thing. We got to make the album we've been working towards for four years. And we got to make it as well as we could possibly make it in a beautiful studio, with a really good producer [Danton Supple] and we just went for it. So we're all pretty proud of what we've done.
Ali: For ages, we primarily gigged. We rehearsed material because we couldn't afford to fund a release. We were bemoaning the fact that we couldn't get our music to people. Now, we're doing gigs where people have got the album and they come in and sing the words back - it's great.
Mark: Friends have been texting us saying "wow - we thought you were alright but we didn't expect you to make an album that sounds this consistent or as good as this". People are remarking on how they really like every song.

Next up, I'm going to quote Jarvey, the last time I interviewed you guys.
Jarvey: Oh dear.

"B-sides are a bit of a funny one at the moment because we haven't got any time to do anything new so we're just using our own recordings and stuff like that". And then you had to record the theme tune to the V show, 'You've Got Something'?
Jarvey: We did, yes.
Jim: It took about twenty minutes!
Ali: We did it once in the studio initially. We did a reggae version with Mark doing the lead vocal, but we did alter the lyrics ever so slightly so that it wasn't a song about winning against the odds. It was more a song about having something in the first place. They weren't too keen on that! We had to do it again and they sent us all the lyrics.
Jarvey: Anyway, that particular B-side is hidden away on a vinyl. It's not so painful that way.
Mark: How many did we do? There were three B-sides weren't there... And considering the song, Ali did a wicked job on it!
Jarvey: It's the second track on the B-side! Unless you're a really committed fan, you probably don't know what the B-sides are anyway. I remember when I was a teenager I'd buy every single release by a band I like just so I could have all of the B-sides. I hope that in the future we'll be able to put all of the B-sides together in a collection.
Jim: That'll be the title track for the B-sides collection - 'We've Got Something'.

So, what would make you happier – loads of bad press or none at all?
Mark: Depends how aggressive it'd get.
Jim: You're always told not to read it anyway. Bad press is good press.
Ali: I think you've misinterpreted that a little bit!Jarvey: He means any press is good press!Mark: Or good press is good press?
Ali: It's probably better to be in the public eye in some form than not at all, I guess. If you could go back a year, knowing what you know now, would you have still entered the competition?
All: Yes!
Ali: We're certainly in a better position now than we were a year ago, so I think so.
Jim: When we sit down for five seconds we realise that this is our job now – when you put it in perspective it's a really positive thing that's happened, it's just a very odd thing that's happened as well.
Mark: If we're gonna drive the band forward as we were going to before, then we're now in a better position to launch it from than we were a few months ago. You can't really argue with that.
Ali: As long as we get time to carry on writing and getting new stuff through. We've given up our day jobs, but our days a filled with loads of other things now, especially because we do so much ourselves. As long as we get time to write, rehearse and get in the studio then we'll be happy.

Do you think you'd have dealt with the show any differently? You seemed to have been cautious anyway with the contract and the formalities.
Jim: There were things we didn't have a choice with. And if we did it again, we still wouldn't have a choice. At every stage of the competition, we did what we thought was the right thing to do.
Jarvey: On the contrary to what people might think, because we're a poppy sort of band, we're quite principled. When we did the TV show, like you say, we didn't really do anything that was too grating for us.
Ali: That's probably the reason they booted us off in the first place.
Jarvey: There's been a couple of things since that we haven't been very keen on, but we've made it as clear as we can. We're pretty honest and people know that.

Is your patience going to run out?
Jarvey: We can't really answer that.
Ali: Whatever happens, it'd be really nice to find a way into the studio again before next year. Jarvey: We haven't really been able to sit down with anyone and have an interview, and just talk about music. And that's the thing we're most passionate about. That's why we're in a band. We love music, we love making it. As long as we get to carry on making music, one way or another – and we will find a way to do that whatever happens – we'll be planning on doing our own thing and there'll be more music coming out. However it happens to come out.

Going back again, in spite of what you've just said, do you find it difficult responding to these type of questions without sounding hard done by?
Ali: Definitely, because we're not - we've got a record deal, we're not going to work tomorrow because we've got another gig, and that's what we want.
Mark: It is very difficult to talk about it without sounding hard done by.
Ali: At the end of the day, that's the stuff that people want to talk to you about. There are a lot of positives – we're doing a tour, we're playing to loads of people, we've got our album out... going back to our old demos, the old recordings don't capture the songs the way the new ones do. It's so much better now.

On a lighter note, if you could structure your own interviews, what would you want to be asked instead of all this?
Jarvey: Cookery, Maths.
Jim: I'd talk about physics all day.
Mark: We'd all talk about what Jim wears.
Ali: Jim's tie collection.

And in the longer term, where would you wake up in a year?
Jim: We'd have a second album, people'd be buying our first album in droves and go "what the hell were we thinking – they're musical genii".
Ali: A Mercury Music Prize for the first album so the label keeps us on, invests more money and everything's hunky dory. That'd be good.
Jarvey: Realistic goals. Hopefully people will listen to the album and then all of this other stuff will fall behind. Because that's what it’s all about. We just need to keep going, keep playing to people, make sure that people are still listening to the record - and it'll spread. Because we know we've made a good record.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Metronomy, Junior Boys, Kelley Polar, Prinzhorn Dance School at IndigO2

Eat Your Own Ears has taken over future spatial zeitgeist of a venue IndigO2 for a night of flailing arms and neon/neo-techery – and the damn fine soundsystem is a point to note for the cynical traditionalists out there. It’s shameful that the London masses haven’t been whipped into a sell-out, but hey ho, all the more room for dancing.

Opening is DFA’s Prinzhorn Dance School - take a lucky dip in the following melting pot for an accurate description of the by-product: fourth-rate Kills, static, lacklustre, asymmetrical, soulless, unvaried, incomprehensible, unmelodic, sack of shit. Nice try at the polar opposites of precocious and unaffected, then.

Restoring faith in humanity is Kelley Polar (pictured), who morphs pseudo-trippy loops into ‘70s funk on opener ‘A Feeling of The All Thing’ which is as much Autechre as it is Shostakovich. ‘Entropy Reigns (In the Celestial City)’ takes the disco superscriptions a step further and ‘Chrysanthemum’ gives little choice but to stare at the ceiling and wonder where all of these conflicting, intricate, breathy sounds are coming from. Theatrical falsetto punctuates driving beats, isolated timbres and detached, sporadic strings into a tumbling blend of verdant self-assertion. Not to mention Polar’s frankly creepy fixed gaze. This is the sound of an alternate universe, and dare we say innovation. Natch. Now go and buy the album.

Next up is Canadian ice-kings, Junior Boys, who unfortunately prove visually and aurally stagnant. Cuts from Last Exit and So This Is Goodbye fail to kick themselves onto the forefront of their own accord, and Jeremy Greenspan’s dancing on the fine line between aloof and a whisper drags the whole affair into stoicism. The jarring goes down a treat with the majority nonetheless, but for this writer, it feels oomph-less. Timbrally tense, lyrically inviting and well-enunciated on record, it may have been an off night but the overriding feeling is one of routine – even on finer moments like ‘Birthday’.

The night starts all over again when Devonshire whiz-kid Joseph Mount, a.k.a. Metronomy, takes to the stage. The live show is abstractly euphoric with synchronised salutes and the customary black t-shirt/£1 push-light ‘uniforms’. ‘Radio Ladio’ is the most pared down example of Metronomy’s bleepy goodness, which says it all really – clinical through headphones but never more involved in person. The in-between song banter’s as twee as the fans’ groundings, but it’s all superlative as the music is candidly muddled, developed and efficient. With Oscar Cash and Gabriel Lebbing on the periphery, it’s one of the most spectacular live shows going, chomping away at the doubters and luring them into the cataclysm of ‘My Heart Rate Rapid’ - a dizzy, fizzy take on four to the floor. All in all, it’s what Devo would sound like in the current clime wearing trousers three sizes too small. Sublime.

Prinzhorn Dance School - 3/10
Kelley Polar - 9/10
Junior Boys - 5/10
Metronomy - 9/10

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Mystery Jets at Scala

It’s one thing noting the wonder of Mystery Jets’ second album through headphones; dazzlingly immediate choruses, complex arrangements and some damn fine lyricism. That’s not to say the hotchpotch eclecticism of 'Making Dens' has been lost, it’s just grounded itself a mite. At the sold-out Scala tonight, the band play a ‘Twenty One’ heavy set with niche zeitgeist Henry Harrison making an appearance in the encore to rapturous applause. Chants for ‘Zoo Time’ materialise sporadically – but the second album is a far more exciting prospect live even for the band’s undying hardcore, meaning that even when the chants are met it doesn’t feel like the end.

Let’s start from the beginning - the four/five-piece are fresh, uplifting and a joy to the ears if not necessarily the eyes. They open with ‘Hideaway’, contented grins and knowing nods abound. It’s the higher octane tracks like this that transfer best. The Aztec Camera pop of ‘Young Love’ without Laura Marling feels depleted, but the chugging drums predictably salvage the song from timbral repetition. They strive for Masters of the Slow-Build on ‘Behind The Bunhouse’ and ‘Veiled In Grey’ but the tenderer moments don’t quite carry through live. It’s difficult to pin down why this is the case - other than that the lack of less sparseness shows up just how Blaine’s vocals waver towards a whine (especially on the verses of ‘Hand Me Down’ live), and their use of the sampler isn’t quite on tip top form enough to meet the expectations of the new album.

As much as ‘The Boy Who Ran Away’ contains itself to the summer of a couple of years ago, it still has the unsullied energy it invoked upon first listen. And it feels so much sweeter aside Suede-gone-stadium anthem ‘Flakes’ and the glittering 80s ransack masterpiece ‘Two Doors Down’. On the latter, Mystery Jets encounter a few technical difficulties, false starts and a loss of momentum – which is just about overcome by the song rather than the band. But can the two be separated? It’s difficult but this seems to be the crux of reflection - the songs are joyous, undying, and never a truer purveyor of eclecticism. The atmosphere is buzzing; a saxophonist makes a cameo to prove it. But it feels like the band are playing catch-up with their boundless creativity, never quite running at the same speed. Perhaps if it was any other way they’d be needing tranquilisers, and it’s far from a disappointment, just a case where the criteria don’t lead up the result expected.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Los Campesinos! at Brixton Windmill

Los Campesinos! @ Brixton Windmill, 14/4/08

Upon arriving at the tube station, I braved the streets of Brix-ton and eventually made it up the hill (alive) to the tiny pub in the middle of a residential street where Los Campesinos! and friends were patiently awaiting them. So in I went, to the sounds of opening act Lovvers and shortly after, the main support act Sky Larkin. Both were delightful.

But now onto the focal point – from previous experiences of seeing Los Camp! live, they’ve consistently teetered the line between imperfection and shambles; always on the verge of greatness. Tonight, however, the iceberg is all and for once overcome – a piece of magic occurs before our very eyes, just not quite in the way I expected it. Aleksandra, Ellen, Gareth, Harriet, Neil, Ollie and Tom took off their masks (yes, literally) and revealed their true identities. It may be hard to believe, but the fact is thus: they are all in fact middle-aged accountants, living their dreams. Well, to an extent anyway – the music that they have been ‘performing’ is in fact nothing to do with them. They’re mere mime artists who can’t play any of their instruments, just like Milli Vanilli; and prosthetics these days can be truly convincing. ‘Don’t Tell Me To Do The Math(s)’ was inspired by purchase ledger, it’s later admitted.

Tonight is the night that they finally tire of the charade and confess that in fact they haven’t the foggiest idea about the back catalogues of Pavement, Beulah, Xiu Xiu, Casiotone For The Painfully Alone or bis and in fact they far prefer listening to Jameses Morrison and Blunt, KT Tunstall and The Feeling. At first, the audience almost uniformly faint in disbelief. But then they realise that what they are witnessing is a true one-off event, the unveiling of the self in a post-Freudian world – the pastiche to top all pastiches, accompanied by one thing remaining relentlessly consistent throughout - yes, that’d of course be the handclaps and manic dancing. What else is there to do in a situation so bizarre?

It doesn’t matter what Los Campesinos! really look like anymore as they launch into their fantastic cover versions of ‘Fill My Little World’ and ‘You’re Beautiful’ with the help of just a CD backing track – they almost blow the roof off of the venue when the crowd yelps along to the performance of Paolo Nutini’s ‘Last Request’. Los Campesinos! may not be from Cardiff or write their own songs but tonight they prove themselves to be more convincing than anything seen this century. It’s a sonic revolution. And we, for one, can’t believe that the songs that they are covering somehow escaped us the first time around. ***

*** The above review is entirely fabricated – at the height of the gig’s climax, the band made the audience form a pact, swear an oath or something of similar ilk not to blog or review the festivities. Though who can tell whether we’re bluffing, double bluffing or giving you a true recollection after all… that’s the joy of Los Campesinos! We’ve even got the setlist sat right in front of us, but we’re not ones to go back on our word. Though all I can tell you is that the word “dichotomy” figured and we overheard a less knowledgeable (well, clearly) gig-goer enquire whether its definition was “some sort of operation”.

Crawling It: The Camden Crawl 2008

A crumpled melange of beer cans and fag-ends led the path to The World’s End. It’s just before 3pm and I’d rather not get a feel for the atmosphere in the streets just yet; I’d much rather choose The Bad Robots and a warm pint. Here’s the brief: “State your lazy list of influences and mimic them”. They accordingly and incoherently concur, around forty years too late to be revolutionary. ‘Just Shut Up’ is aptly the name of one of their songs. Alas, off I went in search of something more desirable (or at least less derivative), capitulating my pursuit at the back of a yard hanging out with the older, more embarrassed folks waiting for Hadouken! Something like this, is requested: “If you’re a Hoxton Hero or an Indie Sindy, show your hands (innit)”. Is it etiquette to question the ridiculousness of them trying to pass this off as post-ironic? It’s like an episode of ‘Skins’ without the rhetoric.

Back to the pub for some solace which isn’t nearly met by Coral/Cast/sub-Beach Boys hybrids, The Standards. It’s a catalyst at least; an epiphany where I realise that the Crawl is a double-edged sword where the poor man’s Oasis (er, a squatter that’s been robbed then?) become God’s gift for the day. So defiantly I tell them to shove their guitar bands – especially when Sam Sparro’s only a sandwich pitstop away. This divine event could also be monikered “the nearest you’ll ever get to seeing Prince in Camden” (well, since his KOKO show last year). Holographic leggings, white-rimmed sunglasses, a kaftan, some slick lighting, and a warbled pre-amble to a song about “beating the shit out of your significant other” – affirmative, there’s movement! A shuffle, a head-sway in the line of the strangely familiar. His musings on songs like ‘21st Century Life’ are a tad trite but they’re clothed in gloriously fizzy synth enough to negate them.

Next stop, Tronik Youth - at a sparsely populated Dingwalls. It’s not fair to the poor bloke that the punters are queuing outside much smaller venues; it’s definitely a misplaced scheduling. His loops are caustic and Krautrock-recalling enough but he looks a tad lost in the middle of the stage all on his lonesome. Esser fares better by resembling a forest (on the upper half of his head). He’s got intricate, Jamie T/Hot Chip pop to boot – certainly the most memorable hooks thus far. The audio’s a tad muddied which lets him down, though I’m re-renewed once more.
And the glee continues with its necessary counterpart, the backache, as I brap (yes, it’s a verb now) my way through The Black Cap to see where the grindie schmindie’s coming from - Toddla T, as it turns out. I’m actually here for he tiny blonde elf-like creature also known as Lykke Li, who enters the equally tiny stage accompanied by tribal rhythms in a sea of electro-folk. It’s nothing new, and her knowing eyes veer towards a pedestrian performance. The crowd’s heaving but I’m left cold other than by ‘Little Bit’ which given, is rather pretty.

The sun’s set and I’m sick of the politeness. So it’s all about the audience? Not really. Future Of The Left do the trick nicely, offerings like ‘Manchasm’ the highlights of a breakneck sprint of a performance. The ‘pit’ smashed each other up whilst I got my voyeuristic thrills, standing in the corner watching events unfold. The performance itself was spirited, witty, powerful and restoring. Their twisted words aren’t anywhere near as self-conscious as Mclusky, and their more delicate moments are far more pensive.

And on with the chronology as Friday draws itself to a close against my will. I’ve scheduled in around eight hours of that requisite activity known as sleep and then I’m ready to go again, ears still ringing, mindspace still mostly akimbo. This non-festival ain’t no smorgasbord unless you read outside of the guide and go a-wandering. I’ve realised this halfway through, so it’s about time I get on the adrenalin kick and see as many acts as physically possible.

Some geezer’s faux-busking in The Camden Eye, what a crock of shit. Faux-busking? As in organised busking? Inside? It’s all in a name but it’s got my goat. I gravitate back towards The World’s End to witness the last bits of LR Rockets’ set – the singer’s halfway into the audience by now and the rest of the band seem intent on following suit. That trick’s been pulled before but the stench of perspiration suggests they mean it. The music fared far better than the smell – a glam Young Knives. I could’ve stayed but the drizzled pathway to the Roundhouse glared at me oh-so-temptingly. On the way I ran into an impromptu, never-ending set on a street corner from Chalou St Jude. It was about the fiftieth time I’d heard that post-’12:51’ background riff, and to further detract, featured possibly the only vocalist ever to intentionally mimic Johnny Borrell and at the same time try to score cool points for putting on a guerrilla gig. High praise indeed.

In a battle with myself, my more tasteful persona won and entered the plush surroundings of The Roundhouse for the first time for Joana and The Wolf’s set as part of the fringe event, Futureshorts. Can’t get more pretentious (or precocious, as it turned out) than the rescoring of a series of short films in a dark room of people sitting down on carpet almost in rows with a huge plasma screen on the stage and the band containing themselves either side of it to showcase their ‘study’. And oh me, oh my – it happens to be the most intense, grandiose, piercing, all-consuming performance this side of the Northern line. Elements of Chan Marshall’s ferocity hit at first, the aftermath bringing with it the realisation that this is the first band I’ve ever seen who recall Life Without Buildings. That is really something. It’s really all about the vocals, but the band is fine too- Shoegazey guitars, cascading and sinewy bass, punchy and thumping drums – it’s worth £49.50 alone. The shrillness is mesmeric, boundless and schizoid. It’s not a sound for the faint hearted, but who cares for the weak anyway. Must say, plaudits to the sound engineers too – it’s a top notch setting.

I draw myself away, buzzing, and hap upon One Night Only in a record store. I can’t see them from the back, nor do I care to. And there’s a time when no words are necessary, although I’ve defeated my purpose by saying that. These are words just to sketch around the point, rather than to dance upon it. I briefly stare at a pub by the name of Tommy Flynn’s before entering to find quite excellent Stockton-on-Tees four-piece The Chapman Family. Think Futureheads or original post-punkers Wire or Gang of Four; they’re a snapshot of raucous, crotchety, call-to-arms guitar pop. A pleasant interlude.

Too peripheral and chocka for longer than one set all the same, I’m quickly off to a packed-out Koko for Los Campesinos!; it’s a marvel that “decorating envelopes for foreplay” has managed to fill the Crawl’s largest venue. From Architecture In Helsinki comparisons to string-led beauty, it’s always a cacophony. Gareth manages to break the band’s £55 keyboard somewhere along the line but songs like ‘International Tweexcore Underground’ and ‘You! Me! Dancing’ still sound on top form. Their idiosyncrasies are slightly lost in the large arena, all the same.
Official Secrets Act take to the stage across the road at the Purple Turtle with four-part harmonies, homo-erotic jostling (perhaps I read that bit in), and more to the point ridiculously tight, taut and stern-faced. ‘The Girl from the BBC’ is the highlight, if you like your guitar-pop somewhere between XTC’s stop-start, Good Shoes’ intonation, Maxïmo Park’s exultant organ chords and Placebo’s foreboding. Faith in has been restored amidst a stream-of-consciousness featuring concerns such as: (a) why The Fratellis are headlining; (b) why so many people like them; (c) why listeners don’t, in the majority, want more than a carbon copy of something that was never great in the first place; (d) whatever happened to the notion of a varied repertoire, and (e) why The Fratellis are headlining. Not that anything today brought that thought process on, mind.

What tense am I in? Past, now. It’s only because Ipso Facto weren’t great that they’re recalled as a distant memory. Four Karen O bowlcuts dourly repeating two bars of ‘Tainted Love’. Ouch? Yes, especially as on record it’s less knowing. I stayed two songs and drifted towards Pull Tiger Tail mid-set, because I could. Yup they’re still gigging, whiney vocals an’ all. Time for some respite and the nearest toilet happened to be in the Electric Ballroom, where White Lies were about to begin. Press passes don’t allow for WC queue-jumping apparently (nor at bars) (and yes, back to present tense and happier again), so I only had time to see one less-than-astonishing song. It situated itself somewhere between Simple Minds and The Kooks, for convenience’s sake.

Wild Beasts are a funnier bunch, far more exciting. All of this “like x fronting y“ nonsense above is just a way of demarcating potential listeners really, except when I’m being deadly serious like now. So here it comes, no more hyping up apart from the punchline: they are Freddie Mercury fronting a C86 band, ‘tache included. A band like Kendal’s Wild Beasts only comes around once in a lifetime, and it’s a huge surprise that their falsetto/baritone/tenor triple-vocalled jangle-pop hasn’t attracted them more acclaim just yet. It’s a strangely refined catcall with epic highs and lows within each song. ‘Assembly’ and ‘Through Dark Night’ are stark, polarising and more to the point – simply magnificent.

It’s almost the end of the billed entertainment and who can provide a better conclusion than Crystal Castles. Sure enough they’ve not a clue what the heck they’re doing, and there is that one “rarrrrrrh” sound running through the whole repertoire but it’s a damn good sound. Alice Glass is being touched up by hoards of today’s inebriated youth and the regular world is way more than a thought away as every orifice/wall/limb shakes involuntarily to the blips and beats of ‘Crimewave’ and ‘Alice Practice’. It’s an indomitable attack upon the surrounding arena, a pulsating quasi-rave to the point of exhaustion.

And the rest of the night scales into a mess of indie celebrity spotting and too much Red Stripe. That’s the way to do it. Thanks Camden, I’ll surely be back soon.

Friday, 18 April 2008

The Envy Corps - Story Problem

Everything’s in place at the most suitable moment, with the right amount of quivery vocal amidst unabashed arena dreams. This is daytime radio fare which crescendos into a cacophony of “la la las”, but at the cost of sounding pedestrian and devoid of thrill. The vocals are whiny, and it feels like a huge opportunity missed. The Charlatans meets Modest Mouse quirk is waiting to jump out from the Iowa band’s shadows, but for now it’s being held back by dumbed down blues and Americana undertones.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Essie Jain - We Made This Ourselves

Essie Jain is an Englishwoman in New York, and her debut album is most obviously inflicted with that ageless stigma – the ‘earnest’ pigeonhole. But does that equal ‘a second rate Joni’? The only real answer is one reasonably akin to sometimes yes, sometimes no. ‘We Made This Ourselves’ is melismatic, minimally scattered orchestrals, a bit of well-executed vibrato here and there and an occasional Baltic flair, seen clearest on ‘Talking’. And talking of the confines of labelling a new artist, the following words also come to mind: delicate, sombre, subtle, understated - but Joan As Police Woman’s ‘Real Life’ seems to work it a whole lot better in just under five minutes than this album can aspire to. There’s nothing wrong with Jain’s folk, it’s just not life-changing or even that affecting, despite the undeniable honesty – most notable on paean to the battle between alcohol and a partner, ‘Loaded’. The butterfly infused artwork says it all for mediocrity. The simple waltz metre of ‘Disgrace’ is impeccable and the vocals consistently wistful – but it’s just not engaging. And minimalism can also go one of two ways: beautifully built up intricacies, or something like a drone. Suffice to say, this is the latter, less varied, more self-resonant interpretation. Introversion aside, there’s no Joanna Newsom duck-like vocal quirk, nor can there be any valid claim that a Vashti Bunyan purity’s enough – because the listener wants more now, or at least this one does. Blame it on Cat Power. NS

Hush The Many (Heed The Few) - Revolve

A beautiful male/female vocal combination encased in a hand-stitched cloth CD case - it's dreamy, poetic and slow-building. Brown's tones are esoteric, beatific and when combined with Nima's darker, more brooding milieu, bring to mind the good old Win and Regine formula. The song is so beautifully crafted, and stylishly conventional at that – it hints at Angus and Julia Stone's homely yet delicate folk, then moves forwards into eloquent urgency and back again.

It's like three songs in one; each exceptional alone but together a marvellous and original combination of both technical and purely aural excellence. Eloquently orchestrated, infectious in its crescendos and stark and piercing in its contrasts – songs like 'Revolve' don't come around very often.

Jonjo Feather - I Suppose

Jonjo Feather is a multi-instrumentalist hailing all the way from the depths of Yorkshire. His vocals are made of the sternest nonchalance seen since Adam Green forgot to switch on the quality control button a few years back. 'I Suppose' is a wonderful counterpart, mixing handclaps and nigh on Northern Soul backing vocals with the right amount of fuzz, breath and menace. It's a blinder of a track – timeless, spacious and purposeful. Give your ears a warning by thinking along the lines of Richard Hawley meeting My Bloody Valentine in a scene of downplayed jubilation.

Feather excites in just over two minutes, and if this offering is anything to by then he's definitely one to watch. The B-side 'Your Face By Your Window' certainly suggests so, with a further downplayed, gentler combination of feedback, reverb and psychedelia.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Various Artists - 'The Bees - Sound Selection'

The concept of reviewing a compilation is a strange one – it’s either going to be self-congratulatory (because after all, I’ve got some knowledge of Can, Staple Singers and De La Soul), completely uninformed (well, have you heard of Redbone?) or some sort all-seeing explanatory eye for why its makers sound the way they sound (see Muddy Waters and Dungen for that).

So now that the technicalities are over and done with, it should also be mentioned that ‘The Sound Selection’ contains a stunning dub-infused remix of The Bees’ own ‘Left Foot Step Down’ from latest album ‘Octopus’. It’s simply wonderful, and would convince an alien that the Isle of Wight is in fact scattered with palm trees and pina coladas. And this isn’t to mention the new Bees track, ‘Papa Echo’ – whilst some may criticise them for not merely nodding to the sixties but moreover, consistently simulating their chosen decade, the whole thing makes a lot more sense when surrounded by the music that the band adore.

So what of the rest of the songs? There's a smidgeon of gospel, a large serving of soul, a quota of rap and a little bit of Brazilian bossa nova. The choices are inspired, such as ‘Roda’ by Elis – the rhythms on that track are shoe-shuffling enough to take your troubles away. Dungen’s ‘Plagor Jamna’ is a delight too, a slice of tropical euphoria. The Bees’ Aaron monikers himself Fatty FLX and provides a pretty superfluous remix to Ghosts, but it’s nice enough and still fits pleasantly into the CD as a whole; the LP gives The Bees’ back-catalogue grounding and context. It’s a nostalgic, chronological, and altogether trouble-free listen.

It’s a weird and wonderful selection of tunes which deserves its own DJ sets on a remote island inhabited only by people who can pass a stress test. And they get a bonus point for their inclusion of Donovan’s ‘There Is A Mountain’ – it’s the cherry on top of, indeed, a wonderful sound selection.

Saturday, 12 April 2008

Holy Fuck - Lovely Allen*ck--lovely-allen

The lead track glitters with lilting inflections, and all-out explosion. It doesn’t feel like the noise jam it is, because it’s got emotion. How? Well, I don’t quite know. But it does. And then there’s the studio recording of ‘Super Inuit’, only previously heard live on the second LP, 'LP' - it howls with more passion than most. The three ‘Lovely Allen’ remixes are pretty superfluous, but who cares when you’ve already been won over. In hindsight, maybe it’s the way that Holy Fuck create something so visceral yet frenzied amidst their mathtronica. Phenomenal.

Sea Wolf - Get To The River Before It Runs Too Low

LA’s Alex Brown Church offers five tracks of diluted folk and predictable chord structures, each with their own take on sorrow via a breezy lack of build-up that mostly disappoints each time. It’s not that lack of originality always makes for an opportunity wasted, more that songs like ‘I Made A Resolution’ don’t possess the lyrical deftness of someone like Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy. There’s moments of slow build which gather excitingly like Arcade Fire, but they’re too few and far between – and way too much time is spent setting up and establishing the humdrum rhythms.

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Tapes 'n Tapes - Walk It Off

2006's 'The Loon' was nothing less than a masterpiece. Its highlights - 'Just Drums', 'Manitoba' and 'Insistor' – were skewed, staggering, wailing. They made mincemeat of the cynics by combining hoedown, lowdown and comedown. It was a case of the hype being nothing more than a pre-amble to a hyperbolic stream of consciousness. So how the heck are they going to follow that up? The process begins by drafting in Dave Fridmann's oh-so-expansive production, middles in a scuzzier, fuzzier, messier sound, and ends disappointingly on the reflection that Tapes 'n Tapes have become less unique, and dull and dreary.

Opener 'Le Ruse' is a generic take on Wolf Parade/TV On The Radio reverie, an inward-looking all too studied exposition on betrayal. 'Time Of Songs' continues on the wrong note – it inconceivably manages loses everything that veered the four-piece towards the edge of aural breakdown. Sure enough, Josh Grier's vocals are still sporadic and conflict-ridden, and Jeremy Hanson's drums provide the plod that Tapes 'n Tapes' listeners have become used to.

Lead track 'Hang Them All' tries to revert to the band's previous offbeat, the disconcerting sound of instruments timbrally and rhythmically at odds with each other, but it feels less crisp and a tad stale amidst a sea of all too muddied production. 'Conquest' is more predictable than any of the band's previous output, and whilst it would've fitted nicely into a small gap on 'The Loon', crying out for balance, it serves only as a plodder here. 'The Dirty Dirty' tries for a garage sound that the band haven't previously attempted, but it's way too sludgy – though it's the first hint at the band actually possessing new ideas, so has to be praised a little bit if only for that. "Where did all the money go" the band repeatedly pose – they may not even face such a dilemma this time around.

'Headshock' plods along way too amiably and feels lacklustre until the admittedly one-dimensional chorus hits home – the problem is that there's no 'in between' - the sound is all or nothing. This is the problem that screams "woah, stop" when anything on 'Walk It Off' even threatens to sound slightly snappy – 'Say Back Something' is most faithful to the more played down moments the band were so prolific at, but it feels depleted and remains in first gear without possessing the tenderness or the minimalism enough to carry it through.

'Demon Apple' is the finest moment on the album, recreating the Pavement riffs of Tapes' finest moments. It hits the nail on that 'strange' tag that the rest of the album aspires to, and feels cleaner than the songs surrounding it. But coming in just over halfway through the album, it's a true test to the listener to get that far in. 'Blunt' is one of many anonymous yet beefier selections which with repeated plays may just bring out the subtleties, and 'George Michael' is so Modest Mouse it hurts. 'Anvil' is the worst moment yet, passing by without even so much as a whimper and setting in stone the frustration that is, dare we moniker, Tapes 'n Tapes' 'difficult second album'.

In short, 'Walk It Off' is unlikely to convert the unconverted and likelier to segregate the faithful. Although the amount of comparison to 'The Loon' may seem a bit unfair, it's simply a huge disappointment when the debut sits so comfortably on the pedestal it created for itself. It's angsty, anxious and consuming, but what it is lacking proves fatal – there's just no hunger.

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

I Like...

... Jangle. Personality. Anachronisms. Infinity. Heroes. Weirdos. The ruse that is 'effortlessness'. This is not all.

In other news, I seem to think I live in myspace profile filler. In truth, I just wanted something a bit lighter going as the first entry on the old blog's a bit of a pseudo-intellectual meander (perhaps misleadingly so - or arguably perhaps not). As fascinating as objective musical goodness is, it's certainly going to polarise. If anyone's here in the first place, that is - HELLOOOOO ARE YOU THERE? Nope, nothing.

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Is there such thing as objective musical goodness?

The difficulty is that the any conception of Good necessarily contains a subjectiveness – even the open-eared draw the line somewhere. Although by some sort of standards drawn perhaps out of thin air, it must somehow be possible to be able to dismiss some conceptions of Good that I deem to be without valid justification. For me, goodness contains and requires so much (though of course not finitely, for after all that would be going too far in the way of objective and crossing the line towards overly-forumlaic): lyrics, texture, structure, elucidation, instrumentation, melody, harmony, performance, narrative… perhaps even being memorable. But if one or more of these elements is absent, it does not mean to say that failure to tick a box has a necessarily conclusion of failure to pass the non-test. It is moreover the fact of reference to some justificatory criteria which will persuade me to accept other peoples' tastes - and this is where the crux lies. Without even an attempt at subjective reasoning, I fail to objectively (subjectively objectively?) see how a person's taste can withhold even their own testing. Given, not everything needs a reason, but here I feel that music is something which stands weaker alone than with benefit of being backed up with an interpretation of some sort, something which is linked. Although is ‘linked’ not subjective? There are many hurdles. So this is where I see the anomaly in 'fans' of music I deem as having no objective good. Perhaps here now I can identify another common connection (or lack thereof): I see no possibility for objective good in music performed without feeling. Feeling, accepted, is on my interpretation, but I think it unmistakeable that there is an objective level of feeling forming a dichotomy with automatism (not acquiescence). I suppose I could be seen as a hypocrite for having listened to 'pop', performed by artists other than the songwriters, but then again I see no harm in separating my musical experiences into different whys, wheres, whos and hows. And what for a band whose drummer writes the lyrics? Forget that, let’s go one step further: I can appreciate Girls Aloud on a completely different level to how I appreciate Life Without Buildings. The same applies to any attempted distinction between Cat Power and Madonna. So I've ended up switching the focus from my interpretation of music, to my interpretation of the performer, somewhere I didn't really foresee the argument going. In returning back to the question of whether there is some objective level of musical good, I think there is another strand that has been left out - I do not feel that on a mere couple of listens to a track that music can be fully appreciated. Is this objective? Well, the casual listener's argument of subjective good can, in my mind, be superceded by that of the listener who has seen the artist live, listened to the songs repeatedly, built up their back catalogue, listened carefully to the lyrics (these are all just examples of what comes to mind when recalling my connection with my favourite artists) – and referring back to a previous point, a consumer (if that’s the most appropriate moniker) has an objectively better case to argue for an artist whom they’ve partaken in these activities with. But is that fair? Whose fault is it that person x’s favourite band are an Icelandic hip-hop collective they’ve no hope in hell of ever seeing live, let alone listened to interviews with. This is highly contentious as well, but I reckon that y’s appreciation based on the one single they’ve heard on the radio can’t objectively be as convincing a case as z’s, who’s actually bothered to read about the band, listen to more, and generally be more pro-active. There are two further qualifications though:
1. How much can you ever find out about an artist without knowing them personally? Or further, without actually being them?
2. Whose to say that such self-important attitudes as my own regarding music appreciation and the utilitarian desire to spread the word are the way forward? Well, certainly me but that’s not everything.
Aside from the aside, to say that this is all just opinion would be weak at this point but to an extent I must return to that perspective because with the plethora of 'good' music available these days, it is not possible for every 'valid' fan to listen to it all. But I still hold that there lies an impermeable membrane between the objectively good and the subjectively good somehow although I’m ever unsure why. How can anyone argue the case for Mika over Kate Bush? Green Day over Funkadelic? Wagner over Debussy? Why do I feel like I’m being more controversial when I bring to mind the last comparison? Is it any less dichotomous to anyone other than myself? Maybe the whole thing’s just a defence mechanism kicking in instead of accepting the reality that humanity is gullible, disappointing and surprising in equal measures.
It is not the use of my particular criteria which I feel distinguish the credible from the not-so- (for lack of a better turn of phrase), but instead merely the reference to criteria as opposed to none at all. This is true for any argument - a means of persuasion has greater strength by reference to commonly held principles than one based on mere instinct. I realise I may be contradicting myself in part, but I think that is because of the amount of time I have spent thinking about this - and it is undoubtedly positive for me to be questioning my own perceptions.I think I agree that subjectiveness is always the default, but for me the problem with this is that it deems all music reviews of little worth. Perhaps this is the case though? Regardless, I tend to return to ‘the criteria’ when listening to music I deem 'not good' - I reason in my own mind why it lacks the qualities that my favourite music possesses. And I return to the same theoretical approach too, but with a greater focus on looking at similiarites and differences across a repertoire of an artist. This is mainly why I respect The Beatles; I think no other band has or is likely to compose such a hugely innovative and varied back catalogue, yet sound so distinctly idiosyncratic. Given that history is on The Beatles side, and if they had never happened some other band may have come along and used the same recording techniques used in A Day In The Life but looking at the music industry now it is clear to see how that song really did break down boundaries. This is not to say that musical goodness is synonymous with the quantification of how many current artists were influenced by the original artist - in fact, far from it. Again this returns to the point I made earlier, that it is not certain criteria which comprise 'goodness', it is instead merely the reference to some criteria. It's ok to like whatever you want to like, provided you actually like it. But there’s yet another proviso – why does ‘like’ necessarily go hand-in-hand with ‘think’? For me, that’s because it does. But for others? That can’t be objective.
As a sidenote, I think that 'good' is a weak description but instinctively, we use it merely to separate the music (or anything else) we like from the music we don't. It's an easy operator, but moreover, a comparator.The intentions of the music have to be important too, regardless of whether I’ve convinced myself out of the case for the objective good - and I think with great pop (what even IS pop?), there's nothing wrong with listening to it. I’ve said it once with Girls Aloud, but some of the latest album is pretty challenging structurally and in its harmonies. Not so with the Spice Girls, but is nostalgia objective? This is brain-frying, ultimately. On a very basic level, something which I have only touched on so far is the importance of whether the performer is also the songwriter - and it is clear to see that this is the main reason why 'pop' (i.e. commericial music making the top 10 and appreciated mainly by tweenies) is so easily and often dismissed, and I've been thinking about the concept of lyrics 'intentionally made simple'. Whilst I think that it detracts from the possibility of the song being deemed 'good', I also wonder whether by default (or necessary antithesis), musicians who calculate every minute detail of their material could also be guilty of the same thing. For me, Field Music are one of my favourite bands, producing Tones Of Town which I consider one of the finest albums of this century. However, it is immediately obvious to notice that every note, every chord, every change in time signature, has been done for a reason. I suppose this is different in that the reason it has been done is for exactly the opposite reason as that of the 'over-simplified lyrics' example, but playing devil's advocate, who is to say that the manipulation is of any greater worth? Both are acts involving the demarcation of an ideal listenership. Thus I think it does come back to the same thing - whether the performers have had anything to do with the writing process. And my manipulation point links back once again, as if the listener/consumer/audience can see that the performer has been manipulated (again though I question whether there is a degree of this everywhere in the self-manipulation of performance), then that would provide some instinctive basis against a high 'goodness' score.So I think this comes down to something very similar to 'the social function' of the artist, creating something fairly akin to a presumption that 'pop' has to 'do' a lot more in order to gain respect, whereas music consciously and intricately written almost sets out on the other foot, creating expectations of high 'goodness', but perhaps facing harder critique because of this.
I think that my motive for this thought process is that I am not purely entertaining myself, but instead, I am doing so to try and affect people who I deem ill-educated in their tastes. So this goes back to the self-obsession point. And again, the more I think, the more I seem to theorise - the concept of a 'goodness' score also is something that I have trouble with, but this has made me think a bit deeper still, as who is to ever say that anything can ever be marked by anything other than subjective criteria? This is because I have just thought about music which technically possesses all of the criteria I deem as facilitating/constituting 'goodness', yet for some unattributable reason, I do not deem accessible or enjoyable. Equally, fitting new music into existing definitions of what one likes can potentially keep a person from hearing extremely difficult, yet wonderful, music, or can keep one from enjoying a simple, stupid, (yet fantastic) pop song. That’s the necessary antithesis of the whole criteria thing too though. It’s one hugely vicious circle.