Saturday, 12 April 2008
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.
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
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
... 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
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.
A foolish pre-emptive thought that the fourth floor balcony would somehow make the young ‘uns invisible proved a pointless and futile exercise – what it actually did was turn them into annoying pinheads, instead of varying personified degrees of my own admittedly snobbish ageism. And whilst The Wombats themselves were at best irksome to anyone post-GCSE, the kids’ disrespect was the sole memento to be taken away from the night. A conveyor belt of stagedivers summed it all up really – the crowd were young, fair enough, but surely they’ve got an opinion outside of adherence?
The experience was perturbing, and there’s numerous possibilities of why that turned out to be the case. Perhaps because of my frustration that the audience had entirely missed the point of Glasvegas? Instead, because of their undying and single-minded love of The Wombats and thus no-one else? Maybe simply because they were slaves to the radio and couldn’t possibly appreciate music the way I did? Or even because it meant that I couldn’t listen to The Wombats ever again even on CD, as I’d been irrecoverably tainted by the whole thing. Whatever the reason why, it’s clear that passive factors such as the audience can turn a gig downhill, especially when the artist rises to it. The Wombats did so by ending the set with a cover of Postman Pat sung in Norwegian.
But forget the disappointing gig example, let’s look at the other extreme – the support act that you’re not in the slightest hyped up about who completely blow you away. In early 2007, !!! at Brixton Academy were that very band. I’d given them a casual listen before, but they were simply phenomenal live and really took me by surprise. Sub-tribal drumming, interaction, and that vibe. Ultra-glances between unfamiliar people in the crowd. Extended jubilation. Art Brut at ULU earlier this year were simply mindblowing, but it’s so difficult to explain why. For me, amazing live music needs little justification whereas disappointment seems to initiate an undying rant. Hypocritical of course, but maybe a necessary continuation of wanting to keep your favourite bands to yourself and on the other hand, do all in your power to prevent the spread of something you deem pretty awful.
The mediocre gigs are brushed by the wayside, that’s just one of those things. So to bring together the two extremes, recall once more that familiar post-gig euphoria, limbs akimbo and mind reverberating - there’s no finite list of reasons why it occurs because that would mean that spontaneity played no part. And that’s certainly a good thing, because who wants a contrived performance executed by checklist? What the audience ought to require is a performance oozing with personality; more than just a re-hash of the records; the sense that the artist isn’t doing the same thing every night; a sense of involvement; visible passion; graciousness without extended feedback; the occasional passing conversation with a stranger. So maybe the problem only exists when the audience doesn’t live up to my expectation? How conceited a music snob I am.
The most important point when packing is practicality – only take as many clothes as your luggage of choice will provide a home to. The second most important point is finding the most and the biggest luggages you own – once they’ve been located, fill them all with too many clothes and then go shopping. Fuck carrying it all, it’ll carry itself. At least three outfit changes per day are reasonable – you’ll feel born-again every time you find a new item of clothing you’ve forgotten made the journey, despite the broken back you’ll have acquired from lugging the ‘staple’ backpack through ten fields having already been living at perpetual Pimms o’clock since the extended pre-allnighter began a few days ago. Don’t forget, you’ll need another holdall worth of accessories to match the outfits, and equally or perhaps moreover, the fact that you’ll probably lose half of them/give them away to strangers during the course of the weekend – more is more.
Useful points to note
Bring marshallows for toasting, they’ll make you at least five new friends
Don’t be a fool and buy Stella to almost instantly exchange for cold Carling; it’ll only mark you out as a virgin
Sturdy footwear is essential for tramping your way through inches of excrement
Wet wipes, dry wipes, everything in between wipes…
Hide your bottle of JD in with the tent, they’ll never know
Remember how fashionable ‘organic’ is these days any minute you feel repulsed (or just hungover)
Hats, headscarves a la delectable senior citizen, plastic bags, paper bags, swimming caps – you love it
Bring a seven person tent for three of you – use a third of it as your walk-in wardrobe, the middle as a house for the alcohol, and a small corner for sleeping… might as well be as ridiculous as possible, just because you can
Harbour a cold so you don’t have to deal with the stench. Or alternatively, a clothes peg – yum yum
Eddie Argos is as foppish as he is mindful. Tonight, an entirely befitting brass section is accompanying Art Brut in a mid-size room filled with haircuts, androgyny and the balding in almost equal parts. “Ready, Art Brut?” asks the henchman to his foils. Only if it’s a euphemism for ‘raring at the startline like an ill-accused Mills McCartney’.
A heavenly 19-song set, Art Brut live is a personification of why the current musical landscape is something to be oh-so-ecstatic about. The thrash of ‘Bang Bang Rock and Roll’, the strangely anthemic ‘Rusted Guns of Milan’ seeing our protagonist addressing his minions with an impotence manifesto, the virtuosic ‘Blame It On The Train’ complete with dust and spit visibly permeating the air… On record they’re phenomenal, live it’s the most mind-blowing, touching, awesome, hilarious, proficient, revolutionary experience you’re ever likely to hap upon. Forget TOTP, send them to No. 10.
The brass works so well, especially on ‘Late Sunday Evening’ - the whole band are thriving, subverting the predictable. But the fanfares are only the cherry on top of the sublime anthology – which, accordingly, comprises an amalgamation of rawer than raw on ‘I Will Survive’, demi-God Argos sporadically pogoing on a non-existent trampoline and shortly afterwards being touched up and losing his shoes as he crowdsurfs a wave almost to the back of the room, Ian Catskillin climbing the speakers like a holed up gorilla on played-out finale ‘Bad Weekend’, using the mic lead as a skipping rope, and naturally articulating riotous tête-à-tête such as “it’s about molesting someone in their sleep”, of course on ‘Jealous Guy’. This is not irony, it’s not contrived – it’s a full-on, pull out all the stops revolt. And ‘Formed A Band’? Argos told me to, so alas I shall.
It’s an added bonus that Emily Kane and the Little Brother are both in the room, as the lyrics suddenly become endowed with even more resonance. It’s a weird feeling, sometimes, that everyone around you has taste. That’s an aside, but back to focus, this is a euphoric night and Art Brut have written two albums of songs as universal as ‘Happy Birthday’.
The Duke Spirit never seemed to get the attention they deserved first time around with their debut LP ‘Cuts Across The Land’. Three years later, they’ve gone all soulful and have consolidated their sound with their equally powerful but more wide-ranging second album, ‘Neptune’.High time we had a nice, long catch-up with frontwoman Liela Moss backstage at Koko over an endless supply of vodka and tonics just before the band were due on stage that very night.
noize: Are you excited about playing here tonight?
Liela Moss: I am actually. It’s been a really long time since we’ve done a proper UK tour at this level. We did a tour just before Christmas where we tested the water after quite a long break and that felt really good. The response was good, so I’m not as frightened as I was on the other one because we hadn’t done it for ages then. Instead, I feel a different kind of excitement. Rather than a worried excitement, this one’s like a Christmas morning.
n: Have the live shows changed since the first album?
LM: Yeah. For a start, I threw really exaggerated shapes and ran like I was running a sprint on every song, and I really liked the fact that people thought our live show was great, really energetic. That was what it should be: a spiritual, energetic connection with something, something you can’t describe that goes ‘bang’ in your face. Then, I think when you write more songs, different kinds of songs, you don’t need to do that all the time – in fact it’s harder to concentrate. When you go to see a band, you like it sometimes when they just stand still and deliver a melody. So I’ve realised that, and also I’ve realised that I was doing myself in – I was like a broken person after every gig. And I’ve realised now that what I really like to do is crank it up gradually, deliver some of our favourite songs, and then towards the end put in a few of our favourite songs so our bodies are more used to them.
n: Do you ever get tired of doing the same thing night upon night? How do you distinguish between performances?
LM: You do. Sometimes I’m so tired but honestly, the minute you say even anything remotely negative then doing this - sustaining a career as a band and not doing any other job, just being in a band - you sound like a cunt. As soon as you moan you just think ‘hold on, how can I moan?’ This is the greatest thing ever, and we’ve managed to sustain it for four and a bit years, so there’s never a moment to moan about. Perhaps amongst the band, when you’re at a service station at half three in the afternoon, but that’s a private moan. And then you get to the gig, and it really doesn’t matter – I can be ill, I can be hungover, I can be really aching, but there’s always adrenalin and the connection with people. It totally changes you. And you do it and you feel great – you walk off and go ‘I could do it again now’, which is a strange anomaly of nature but that’s the way it is.
n: How conscious are you of audiences reactions?
LM: Yeah it does. The longer we do this, the more we get used to cold gigs where the audience are nervous and self-conscious. I don’t think we’ve got a political agenda, but all I would ever say is that being in a band is testament to wanting to live outside of a boring, crushing, limiting environment. So if I go ‘I’m in a band, I feel limitless’, then you should feel like that too. Do what you want, punch the air, fucking bang into the person next to you, be joyful, whatever. If people aren’t like that I don’t feel begrudged but I do notice it and we just have to work a bit harder.
n: Going on from that then, how do you react to reviews?
LM: I read some but I don’t read all of them.
n: Did you used to, at the beginning?
LM: Yeah. And you get a bit annoyed when someone says something shit about you, and then someone’ll say something just brilliant. Fucking hell, if you read everything… if you believed everything everybody wrote about you, took all your cues from external influences, then what the fuck would you be? Would you be interesting? Would you be yourself? No. Don’t listen to anyone and do what you think’s right. That’s the best advice I can offer.
n: So tell me about the new album, ‘Neptune’.
LM: I’m so proud of it because it represents that aggressive wall of sound, distorted energy knocking about at your ears and you know deep down there’s some beautiful melodies and harmonies there. I think it best represents us and it’s the kind of album that to me - as a person listening to it not as me but as an entity – indicates where we could go next. Album one, you don’t know – will this band replicate that and do what people describe as garage bluesy rock? I never really thought of us in a garagey, 60s psychedelic way – I could see it but I thought it got mentioned way too much. I couldn’t understand. We had this very European starkness in there, although of course when someone listens to just one collection of songs they don’t get the whole picture. So album two holds up its hands – it’s more spacious, more lustful. A richer sound. And I know that we’re here for the long term.
n: And the recording process must’ve been really different this time?
LM: It was totally fun. You go to this landscape and it’s the desert, it’s ridiculous. You’ve got to acclimatise, you’re with a bunch of Americans who live life totally differently - it was an alien environment but everyone around you is really pleased to meet you and wants to make you feel at home. The studio’s very much a bungalow, an apartment, a casita sort of thing. Patios, drinking outdoors, being outdoors…
n: Do you miss it now?
LM: Yeah I do! I really do. It was exciting to come home after seven weeks.
n: Only seven weeks?
LM: Yeah, it was pretty quick. It’s left a deep impression on us. You talk about things in interviews and it comes across as you talking about your band and your career, but if you took that out of it you’d see what I got to do with my personal life. I got to go to this place and it was a real moving time – you got to see a whole glimpse of something you might not get to see.
n: Like Chris Goss (producer of ‘Neptune)?
LM: Haha, yeah. We had such a laugh. He’s got a great sense of humour and a real campness about him. He’s totally straight and married, but he has this ability to be very humourous and giving and flamboyant in his jokes. If you met him you’d know what I mean! Dave Catching, the guy that owns Rancho De La Luna – you might know him from playing guitar in Eagles of Death Metal and he sometimes plays with Queens of The Stone Age as well – he’s one of their extended family. And that guy has an enormous heart and a very reassuring aura about him. You could be making tea with him, cooking cornbread, or he might be helping you work something out on the piano. All the time you feel like you’ve known him for years.
n: So was the album written before you went out there?
LM: It all was. There was one song we tried out while we were there, and finished off and tweaked – that became an EP track, it’s called ‘A Wild Hope’. It’s on the EP that came out before Christmas. If you’re in Britain and you bought the EP, then I suppose it’s our newest song to date.
n: Do you tend to put mostly new stuff in your setlist?
LM: Yeah. But when I go to see a band, even if I like the new record, I want them to play stuff off the old one where the whole audience know the words. We weren’t a massive band, we haven’t got massive hits – we’ve got two records and we’re still getting there. One of us will think we play a certain song better, another will say ‘no, people love that one’ - it takes a good hour of talking crap to sort it out.
n: Did the tracklisting on the new album cause a similar problem?
LM: The first album we laboured over for the best part of a week. It was really tedious and several of us went ‘I’m never doing that again’. It was ridiculous. Phonecalls, asking your manager, ending up petitioning people on the street! It showed a weakness of character. So this time I was like ‘right, if anyone’s got any strong views then put your strong view forward, and if you don’t care then someone who feels like they’ve got a bit of an intuition about what should be done should do it’. I went ‘personally, I think one, two and three should be this – I’m happy with whatever the fuck you do, I feel quite strongly about that, right let’s stick that in there’. Then someone else went ‘look, I feel really strongly that ‘Sovereign’ should be the last song’ – ok. Then the rest just slotted into place really. So it took about 20 minutes this time!
n: Cool, much better! What influences you, musically or otherwise?
LM: I actually got rid of my TV a couple of months before we were about to record ‘Neptune’ because I had some lyrical blanks. I’d written some words and then I’d fluff a line or repeat myself. I didn’t watch a lot of television but I noticed that the moment I was tired I’d put the television on. I suddenly felt really hostile towards it and went ‘you’re taking my creativity away’. So I packed it up, put it away and finished some books that I’d half started. I finished ‘Tropic of Cancer’ by Henry Miller which is a great piece of literature – the language is insanely all over the place. It’s colourful, the images are great and it’s essentially stream-of-consciousness. It’s about this guy who wants to be a writer who’s skint, fucks loads of whores and gets drunk all the time, but in between that you get passages of thoughts and feelings. I definitely stole the odd little flourish as a homage. Only the odd word or two! I’d see a word and connect it with this other bit of sentence that I had, so there’s definitely a bit of 1930s literature in ‘Neptune’. And I started listening to bands I knew I liked from the past but hadn’t really got my head into – like Roxy Music and Talking Heads. And at the moment I’ve got this thing for African music. I really love the label Soul Jazz, they put out really good compilations and you can really trust their taste and research. They do all kinds of stuff – they’ve got loads of dubstep which I’ve been getting really into which probably has no relation to Duke Spirit apart from a feeling. What’s brilliant is that because you don’t know the dialects and the languages, you just listen to the melody and put your imagination over the top of the words, the consonants and the vowels. I was doing that just before the album as well and it sets your mind free a bit.
n: Moving on, how would you like people to listen to your music – what’s the ideal situation?
LM: Seeing us live has got to be number one. It’s the most honest and the most sincere, it’s most I can go physically and I really want people to be into it. And then after that, I think walking with headphones on. In any kind of environment - a rural ridiculous forest or the back of Euston. Negotiating people, places and the atmosphere and just having a soundtrack. Yeah.
n: Cool. How do you think the industry’s changed since the first album?
LM: It’s definitely disintegrating in a strange way – it’s worrying because I would hate to feel that I was on a label that couldn’t afford to put us on tour, ‘cause as people that earn very little money we couldn’t go on tour by ourselves – we might get paid at each gig but it would only fill our van with diesel. As well as making records and putting them out, we really rely on the label in order to build up the people we’re playing to and they know that too. So on the one hand I see all that collapsing and people running out of money, but what’s great is that we’ve signed a different, more progressive deal where we have a percentage of all our merchandise. When we first did it we had this disgruntled argument with ourselves: ‘I can’t give that away, it’s ridiculous’. But then times are radically changing. I’d like to work with a group of people who are willing to support us, organise shit that I can’t organise because I don’t know how, put in a bit of money at the start, and if they want to get that money back later then that kind of seems fair. They can’t sell a million, trillion records like they used to in the 80s. It’s more about the live promotion companies – who are actually the people who seem to make all the money but can’t necessarily sign bands – you can put an event on and someone from a live promotion company will make a bunch of cash. Well done, but who pays for the band to get here, who pays for the band’s t-shirts, who advertises the gig in the NME, who advertises the gig on the radio, who comes to the rehearsals? The record company do. That’s not right, and ultimately the way I see it is that those companies will morph into record labels. Maybe it’ll eventually level itself out but ultimately, if you’re good live then it’s gonna be alright.
n: Do you wish that The Duke Spirit were around in the 80s then?
LM: If we were around in the 80s we’d be fucking rolling in it. If we were 1994 now, I reckon we’d be a top ten indie band. But I really don’t care! There were a lot of shit indie bands then.
n: But then you wouldn’t have the accessibility that myspace has provided now…
LM: Yeah – that’s a bit of a headfuck. I can’t spend that much time on my computer so I have a limited knowledge of what’s going on and what’s good. People tell me to listen to something and I go ‘alright’ – we have met a few bands via myspace but I’m getting to the point where I just don’t give a fuck.
n: Too much of a good thing, eh?
LM: Yeah, pretty much.
n: So you’ve got your own record label, Velo…
LM: We’ve had it for a little while – we don’t use it often, but we have a logo and we have emails and phone numbers! If we have a little extra time between tours or between records, and we think something’s great, then we’ll put a few pennies together and maybe put out a seven inch and give it to a few good indie stores.
n: Yeah, I’ve seen Congregation, one of your bands, live before.
LM: Well we had them support us here tonight, and we took them on tour last time just before Christmas. We got them a radio session with the BBC up in Manchester. There’s a limit to what we can do, but we were really pleased that we got them a few reviews and a few radio plays and from there, they’ve met someone who wants to put an album out. It’s in the spirit of the 80s and the 90s, like Factory Records where they never signed contracts and just did things in good faith. I feel like we did our little bit and that’ll continue when we can. I can’t really see us doing it in the next six weeks, but in six months we might. Or we might spot someone else and go ‘you’re too good to be doing fuck all, let’s press you some vinyl up’.
n: And you obviously feel a lot more comfortable now on your label than the first time around?LM: I really do. I feel like the notion of an A&R man - I’m gonna say ‘man’ because they mostly are – seemed to be someone who liked your band, gave you compliments, and then you got fucked up with them. You got pissed, you took drugs with them and that was really funny. And then you’d go to make a record and they’d sit in the studio, they may or may not make a comment and it wouldn’t be particularly helpful or relevant. Now, we work with someone who really listens to our demos and will ring up in the middle of the night and go ‘you know that song, you know at 1.30 minutes you bring in that guitar line? Well I’ve been thinking what if you did that and that and that?’. Someone now takes cares of business musically, has an interest.
n: And you want that input?
LM: Yeah. And what’s good is that if you’ve got the kind of relationship that we’ve now developed, you can sometimes go ‘you’re so right – fuck, I couldn’t see the wood for the trees’. Or you can go ‘no, you’re wrong – I really like this bit, sorry but you’re wrong’. Never before did it seem so obvious what other A&R people do, which is basically sign bands that they do like, but don’t really know how to work musically. It’s a bit of a faker’s job, whereas this time we’re with people who we talk in detail with.
n: It’s all pretty comfortable then. So in an ideal world, where would you like to be in a year from now?
LM: I would like us to be playing Brixton Academy and then flying to New York to play some big venue there, and then do a few spot shows in America only to return to Paris, Barcelona, Milan, Rome and Cologne. To be playing the kind of venues you’ve always looked up to bands in. I think it’s somewhere within us but we just haven’t done it yet. I want to be really content with playing big venues – not massive stadiums as it’s not very us, but the kinds of places you go and see bands and just think ‘yes’.
n: Going back, why’s the new record called ‘Neptune’?
LM: It was done accidentally. There were images of water and the sea and maritime connections and of course the power of water and tears – it just kept cropping up. I laughed at first – I wondered what the fuck was going on. There were lots of raw emotions and times I couldn’t hide them – they’d bubble up in your stomach and your head and your ears. I was very much laying it on the line with my words and these lines and I’d imagine this sea god character residing somewhere deep down calling to me, going ‘you can’t ignore me, you’ve got to write about this, you’ve got to write about that’. It was a bit like there was another character that was sort of me but sort of not – and a couple of the band, Dan and Toby, grew up on the coast and had a connection with that kind of thing. I think ships and sea gods are very Duke Spirit material – exactly the kind of crap we talk about. I’m fascinated by mythology so it’s all pretty cool.
n: So how exactly do the songs come about?
LM: I tend to write the lyrics and the melody over a piece of music that someone else has brought in. Sometimes that’ll happen when I’m making a cup of tea. I just sing crap until someone says ‘that’s good’ and I like it too, and then I sit down and focus once I’ve got over those initial few minutes of nerves where I feel stupid because I’m singing out loud and I have no idea where it’s coming from or what I’m channelling. Then I focus, and sing melodies and words – to me, it’s the rhythm that gets the words out. I don’t ever sit down and go ‘today I’m going to write about my friend leaving her boyfriend’, instead I think ‘mnah mnah mnah’ – you know, nonsense words – and then the consonants form. And then the rhythm. The words just come to me and sometimes I’ll quite like the collage and go through it over and over again. And then the picture starts to emerge and what’s funny is that it’s like a little game – you’ve got this picture emerging out of words you’ve got no control over, and then you go ‘ooh, I’m going to talk about that now – this has really been bothering me for some time’.
n: Are there moments where you’re stuck in a rut and can’t write?
LM: What’s really lush is when something drops out of your mouth and you suddenly realise that that’s the best way you could’ve possibly put it to yourself. Something you know you’ve thought about that’s on the edge of your thoughts and you think ‘fuck, I haven’t really said that to myself’ and it comes out all at once. And that’s when I definitely know something’s good. And I know it’s good because other people go ‘that’s a good line’ and I knew it would be because it was so truthful and it came from another place. And the lines that get scrapped are things when I’m trying to be really clever, and ultimately I’m like ‘what a fucking liar, get rid of it, rub it out’.
n: Did you always see yourself in a band?
LM: I really wanted to from when I was about thirteen and first got into music. It was difficult to admit it, because there were loads of boys in bands at my school and they were very arrogant – I played music with them once or twice. They were like ‘you’re quite good but I don’t know about a girl singer’. They were a bit prejudiced and I don’t have a gripe at all because I feel I’ve had a really good experience, but they really put me off. They’re actually some of my best friends now who I’ll look at and go ‘you were a right cunt to me – that weekend that we had a jam, you fucking sod…’
n: They can eat their words now, then!
LM: They’re all really happy, on different paths – but there were moments where I was too scared to know what I might do. This misshaped girl – I wasn’t cool or pretty, I was proper misshaped. So I saved up for years to admit it and then I really wanted to do it.
n: Finally, do you think if you weren’t doing what you’re doing now there’d be another outlet for it?
LM: I’d probably be a good diarist – I’d write lots of poems and diary entries. If you want to write, it doesn’t matter where it’s going to end up. You just want to get abstract notions down so you can look at them as something outside of yourself.
So that was the ever hospitable and flourishing Duke Spirit. The band played a stonking set, where all of Liela’s talk and analysis was as hidden as could be – the instruments fused together so naturally, and the atmosphere of the gig was effortless. Sheer brilliance, arguably.The Duke Spirit are more than just a frontwoman although in Liela Moss, they’ve got a mouthpiece of the rawest, gravelliest, most mesmeric calibre.
It opens like every other band you’ve heard in the recent proliferation, let alone the ‘Eighties-influenced new-wave’ is purports itself to be. Not that that’s a bad thing – it’s just that thinking you’ve got something to make you stand out amongst the endless other bands doing the same thing isn’t exactly a great start.Computerclub’s ‘Electrons & Particles’ is all too derivative, in short. Singer Paul Hampton comes across way too Tom Smith, and the repetitive rest/beat crotchets do nothing to assuage the unoriginality. It’s like Bloc Party without the imagination. Someone stop really this laziness getting any bigger than it is already, more broadly speaking.
Guitar, double bass and drums. It’s referential though – the same sort of watered down folk-pop that brings back memories of summer 2006. Sure, it’s pleasant, but who wants pleasant? ‘If You Find Love’ is radio-friendly “doo doos”. It’s simple catchy dirge.And B-side ‘Tralfalmadore’ is more Kooks than an Urban Outfitters straw hat in the Winter. That delayed guitar, the subtle syncopation… it’s disappointing that the usually more ambitious Young & Lost label have taken a shine to this MOR strum. Maybe it’s the fault of the playlisters that this even exists? Bah humbug.
There’s ways and ways of doing social commentary. It’s probably best to listen to this as if it were a limerick so as not to hand it on a plate the clearest evidence of a lack of quality control caused by the internet: “He would love his brother if his brother weren’t a spazz/He would love his mother if she weren’t so fucking fat”. Hilarious stuff, isn’t it.See the thing is, the expiry date on this sort of half-arsed ‘punk’ backing was way back in the aftermath of ‘Never Mind The Bollocks’. Who says that you need to back up opinion with such dross? Isn’t it a given that providing air space to the brandings in society is so as to entrench them, and to further deep-seat your own so-called minority idiosyncrasies? Note to Ste McCabe: ‘If you want a more egalitarian humanity, maybe it’d be a wiser idea to stop with the constant labelling. Sensational isn’t it that you’re gay? Wow.’ Get over yourself.So: this is not a statement. It’s not funny. It’s a series of irksome clichés It’s Green Day and Blink 182 for the even more socially inept. Anything else? Oh yeah, and it’s cringeworthy rather than snarling. McCabe plays the victim, telling us all something we already know in a gratingly insatiable way. Avoid at all costs.
Woo, here’s more pensive and tuneful detractions from the darling Indelicates. ‘America’ is a snapshot of their debut album, ‘American Demo’, and causes you to wonder why this ever intelligent band are so obscure.Julia and Simon’s lyrics are so switched on, and for some excellent reason, the by-product is that they hide behind completely essential, all-out pop. ‘America’ is about dichotomies, hypocrisy, and deep-seated spinelessness, and uses the image of “smoking fair-trade coke in parks” to show it all up. This is a snarling, upbeat, rhetorical and opinionated singalong – it’s got it all, it’s sublime.The B-sides are equally marvellous. ‘No Religion’ appears part-Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ pastiche, in its step-back from society and subsequent analysis on the lack of platonic good or evil in our world. ‘The Last Bombed City’ is well executed, sprightly led piano, Julia and occasional fugal harmonies, but yet again, the subject gives it so much more. The Indelicates will make you expect so much more.
The Leeds band’s latest single is a sprightly slice of pop, with super-jangly steel guitar alongside a balanced structure and much-welcomed lyrical simplicity. The elements complement each other to a tee, evoking Orange Juice as much as Duran Duran.It’s a real grower too, by the fourth listen leaving no choice but to constantly grin and twitch your head for three and a bit minutes, waiting for the movements into the funkier bridge, the stripped back coda and just taking in the sound of effortless perfection.The remix by The Slips on the B-side unfortunately loses the fun, but in the process turns the track into cold as ice electro slash, wondrously adding angular synths loops and completely changing the sound of the track from the A-side. Flipping excellent stuff, all in all.
Comprising three sub-seven minute epics, an ex-member of Foals in the band’s frontman Andrew Mears and moreover, an amorphous yet carefully planned out variety of styles, ‘Good Nature’ is certainly one of a kind. More charisma and feeling than their peers, Youthmovies not only float between genres on the album as a whole, but even within individual songs – see ‘Soandso & Soandso’ for the best example of this, moving from brass-infused nautical folk to thrashy guitars, then to atmospheric prog and back again.So seamlessly are genres touched upon and moved between that it’s impossible not to appreciate the skill of this Oxford band; wide-ranging though the influences and end-product may be, Youthmovies are both grounded and proficient at everything they turns themselves to. The one moment on the album where it feels a tad strained though, is ‘Cannula’ – it’s the first time where a song feels almost directionless and stuck in a moment. Such a superb standard elsewhere means that a small lapse is entirely forgiveable, and perhaps even welcomingly human.Here’s some more brief synopses: ‘Ssh You’ll Wake It’ is majestic bliss, opener ‘Magdalen Bridge’ a slow-burning marathon of incrementally building textures and ‘Archive It Everywhere’ is the perfect showcase for Mears’ charming and sharp utterings, let alone soaring harmonies and . The relationship between frontman and music is largely one of interdependence, of perfect foils.This album is one to fall in love to, even if Youthmovies have spent hours deliberating over just how and when you will do so. And that’s the reason why ‘Good Nature’ is so challenging, exciting and compelling.
"Why does it take a war to find ourselves bristling?" asks The Smitten King himself on opening pre-amble 'An Unhappy Fish'. The line "two spiders they were hurting in the same web/trying to freak each other out by wearing fake fly heads" is the earthier, real beginning on second, lengthier track 'I Spy The Spider', an exposition on a theme of a spider trying to be a fly only to be met with laughter and perception from the flies. The lyrics are flowery, gauche, bleak and oozing with wonderful descriptions and metaphors. Without doubt, Simon Breed has a unique way with words, creating little epithets from his ultra-observations, but not only that - his music is touching, delicate and unfeigned. His voice has an emotional gruffness in parts which is the perfect foil for his eloquent, verbose narration.Little twinkles and occasional sparks of woodwind scatter themselves unexpectedly between the prose, as it becomes clear with repeated listens that Breed's second album 'The Smitten King Laments' is an admitted self-contradiction of perfect flaws, deserved of the Nick Cave approbation. In fact, Breed and Cave share more in common than at first glance. The tone is mystic and opulent and the backdrop is one of gilt-tinged folk, making the singer/songwriter label that will inevitably attach itself to Breed off-putting and inaccurate, as not only does he offer more than just skill as a lyricist, he offers individuality, ambition and menace. 'No Wandering' comes over all yearning, Patrick Wolf-style, showing off Breed's talent for getting across what he wants to say in the most fitting way every time, with 'Finish My Book' a suitably plodding troubadour's effort to represent movement, travel and journey, calling to mind Arcade Fire's 'Rebellion (Lies)'. 'The Golem vs. The Gentle Giant' is an evocative image, and its minimalism, characterisation and once again stunning wordplay, makes it the highlight of this consistently impressive offering. Breed sets up a protagonist, places himself somewhere on the sidelines, and offers a commentary unlike any other. It's clear that the main attraction of Breed is his words, but that's not to say the music doesn't offer surroundings bereft of purpose. In fact, it's entirely the opposite as the music itself has found the perfect balance between taking a supporting role and being a foil. An absolutely superb album.
First appearing in November 2006, the re-release of electro-emo (elemo?) 'Pink Squares' means that this mediocrity is once more inflicted upon what'll surely be an indifferent public. There's many influences on this song, but for each one, there are others who do it so much better. Like Depeche Mode, Q and Not U, or The Faint. The gormless vocals and general inoffensiveness are never going move people – even with an added dose of parody: "oh oh oh am I in trouble/then darling I apologise/I miss you more than anything/please don’t ever leave my side". Hints at thrashiness and synth soundscapes are promising and if the more obviously dramatic moments are built upon, it would give duo I Was A Cub Scout a stronger chance of standing out amongst the many peers who fuse styles on their sleeves with a hint of passé – and that classification isn’t a stigma – because right now, this is just average.
It opens all Editors, with pounding guitars, yearning vocals, quaver drums, and all the frills - then in parts it gets quite heavy, at other times sounding decisively obtuse. Turncoat are new and exciting; they've got enough feedback to give them an edge, they've got chromatics and blues maybe without even realising it. 'Wasted On You' is a solid effort - like Brakes without the sense of humour. Halfway through, there's a brief ponder that perhaps sounds a little too calculated as it goes through its moods, but that's only a default reaction, or a denial. This track contains so much content without sounding unstructured or awkward. Ending with a lovely slow-down, it's clear that a cynical ear isn't welcome – and the b-side 'There Must Be Something' is as impressive, adding some understated synth. Turncoat need to make the leap into the public's consciousness, because this is marvellous.
This is a collection of lush and endless immersion in different sections of the muso's brain - experimental jazz, prog, electronic, mono, pastoral lo-fi, folkcore - if such a word exists. 'Three', the third album from Southend-on-Sea collective Junkboy, reads like a checklist of everything that's unpopular, inaccessible, and indirect. The result of this is a mish-mash of background fuzz, which due to convention and something even more intrinsic, can’'t ever be much more than that. But why? With more beats, 'There Is Light' would be as infectious as Hot Chip in its harping on a chord, floating around it, and subsequent skating on its grave - if it ever stepped out of itself. With more offerings like the dirty, self-contained 'Seconds', the album would sit more happily between Wolf Parade and Smog. And with a tad more footing – yes, an unusual request – Junkboy would situate themselves in a place more homely, and less sporadic. The superseding theme is that of the post-rocker - the shoegazer stuck in their inward logic. This in itself isn't a bad thing, more the fact of an opportunity lost in more places than gained. 'Volcano Mono' works in parts, but at 8:38 long doesn't have the same power of engagement as Neutral Milk Hotel's longer expositions. Moments like 'Red Firecracker' seem inconsistent with how underdeveloped and downplayed the rest of the album sounds on first hearing - looked at individually, the songs are mighty fine. It's doubtful that Junkboy want to infiltrate the mainstream, and the obsessives will mostly love this. It's as far away from the gormless immediacy of the masses as is physically possible, and for that alone it warrants praise. It also entirely lacks the pretension of anything usually inflicted with the 'post-' prefix. All in all, it's well worth repeated listens so long as you're in the right place.
A four track taster for new album 'Get Awkward', the Nashville young 'uns provide more snippets of the ADD punk that's come to be expected from them. The tracks here are catchy, ranging from the abrasively barked out 'Super Soaked' to all too harsh garage that's become tiresome by 'Food Fight'. 'The Kelly Affair' sees BYOP on top form, however, with Jemima Pearl snarling for her life on the subject of parties and high school cliques, and the music itself is agitated, sardonic and tuneful. The band are best when they tone it down a tad, which is the reason why this EP is a bit hit and miss – 'Black Hole' feels all too done before, all too disposable. They've retained their identity, but it feels like there's further for them to go.
Hot new band alert - this is a stand up and get noticed introduction to the Montreal trio for those who've not been converted/exposed yet. Lizzie Powell's vocals are like a more riot grrl Liela Moss fronting Dinosaur Jr, and that's not crazy derision. It's part-raucous, part-deadpan and then there's the pulsating drums and the feedbacky, punctuating guitars. 'Speak To Me Bones' is immediate, harmonically complex, all-out thrash in parts; it's like Land Of Talk have cut the filler out of PJ Harvey's best and condensed it further into three minutes of channelled anthemic splendour. This track is pleadingly heavy, stylised in its more rhythmic moments, nagging – hell, even foreboding – and is one of the best offerings that 2008 has provided us with thus far.
The debut album from the Australian teens is surprisingly not completely unirksome, mostly because Sarah Gardiner's synth counter-melodies add something different to the ever abundant amount of 'new indie' out there. They don't sing beyond their years, they instead go for the attack, the refrain, the hook that infiltrates. 'Just A Song About Ping Pong' is a shoe-shuffling alliterative jumble sale of a pop song, and if you don't think so, it's time to rethink your take on life. On the playback of the whole LP though, Operator Please are unfortunately just another addition to the Topshop school of barely nubile brats, and whilst this album isn't going to change your life, it's awareness of that fact does make it all the more fun. The songs here are mostly high-octane, frantic slabs, and it has to be said that a whole album of such raucousness grows tiresome quickly, especially when backed up by such an uncynically emo setting. The lyrics are what you'd expect from hyped up teenagers, as is the album – and whilst that's not enough to knock it down, you are left to wonder just how this album is going to sound once they've been given the chance to grow up. Not that Operator Please care about permanence, when they're so focused on their fluorescent brand of menace. It's difficult to criticise a teenage band for being teenage, although it's even more difficult to avoid it when they don't seem to find room to reach that higher gear despite the songs each having their own aural identity.Rave-up 'Cringe', however, is a true gem; perfect for pogoing your way around the dancefloor to in its monosyllabic straight-forward delivery. But when the album moves into borderline annoyingly Avril Lavigne saccharine on 'Two For My Seconds', it's impossible to compare vocalist Amandah Wilkinson to a Karen O type anymore. Unless they get better in time for their second album, there are not enough positives to carry them through.
"We're gonna get ourselves in a real fight/we're not following any more orders/everybody get up off your knees". This supposedly instructive backdrop for that great buzzword 'war' is at odds with the one-dimensionality of not only the vocal tone, but the whole mood of 'A-Z'. You can completely predict where each note begins, ends and resolves."I'm not joking anymore" he sings – well, depending on when Chris T-T had that realisation, this song can either be dismissed as a load of uninventive tosh or the embodiment of a faux-funnyman seeing how many sheep will fall for the referentiality.
The Coral are perpetual, with a consistently sprightly output. The fourth single from 'Roots & Echoes', this song does what its title suggests – for a second, the arpeggios and simplicity make you think you're sitting back in a deckchair with your sunglasses on, and a travel book in one hand and a cold beer in the other, whilst taking a leisurely stroll along the Mersey. Certainly it's light 'n' breezy, but that sort of MOR isn't going to change the world. It’s quite difficult to have any sort of reaction to this, in honesty - apart from that it's, well, nice. 'Put The Sun Back' is amiable, like an unirksome, dependable fair-weather friend. It's no 'Pass It On', and despite being a decent strumalong of sorts, it in fact neither possesses memorability nor merriment. It makes you wish The Coral would let loose and go a little crazy – or at least get up off their armchairs. The b-side is an instrumental of the track which is, unsurprisingly, even less enthralling.
Not as soaring as her debut single, number one single 'Mercy' nonetheless is an apt showcase for Duffy's simple, smoky tones. Duffy has been adorned with the most superlative hype and though it's a mite single-minded to continue to bring to mind a comparison with her own song, this offering is directionless and flat in comparison to the ascendance of 'Rockferry' - mostly because the South Wales lass peaked too early. The soulful backing vocals and the bluesy, less-than-exultant organ chords are there in droves; the vocals aren't so much retro but instead completely out of their time. The production is suitably polished, but without the stripping glaze on Adele's album - Americanised vocals aside, this is a solid and promising song welcomed with opened arms into the airwaves of the populate.
It opens like 'My Sharona' meets The B52s, with a not quite raucous synth, octave harmonies, and beat-heavy oomph. 'Animal Sounds' has interesting artwork, with a photo of various limbs attached to a mantelpiece in a backdrop of semi-normality. Aside from that, this is certainly well-produced stuff – it's kept the muddiness of the electro and balanced it out rather well with minimally and slowly building textures. It's brooding and charming, well crafted and polite, but as the expected calibre's been set so high by Maps et al, it falls flat at its lack of personality. The Fear Of Theydon remix pads and puffs it out a bit more with denser beats, and a choppy staccato part gives it a bit more edginess but all the same, it's still too derivative of the Depeche Mode school of electro-pop. Nevertheless, it's a rather stylish and respectable attempt, so don't dismiss it just yet as there may well be more where this comes from.
Following their superb debut single, 'Joni', this is more than just Franz Ferdinand drummer Paul Thomson's side-project. This is no angular art-rock - 'Do It Better' is an astounding post-punk beast, with fervour and more hooks than a huge pair of curtains - thoroughly engaging stuff. Danny Saunders' lyrics are empathetic without being dumbed down, and this is an unashamedly simple, memorable going over of how to, in fact, do it better. It's just so obviously human. B-side 'The Plan' isn't so amazing, though – too haphazard, a bit clashy and not as instant – though the rawness and the lack of gloss is why this band are so refreshing. Dismissing Correcto as a supergroup (they have former Royal We bassist Patrick on board too) would be Incorrecto - they produce timeless, structured music to make you move.
This masterful mythological creature is the alias of Brooklyn producer Andrew Butler, who's roped in Antony Hegarty, Nomi and Kim Ann Foxman to create a long player of aural polarisations – warm and cold; minimal and all-out; free and constrained; soft and harsh. Antony's vocals suit the throb of opening track 'Time Will' unimaginably well, with just enough vibrato to send the listener into a tizz. 'Hercules Theme' combines 70s disco with symphonic aural erotica and whisks it up into an incrementally building sparkle.Superb production throughout this diligent offering means that the disco revival spearheaded by Hercules And Love Affair, alongside Glass Candy and Erol Alkan, is going places, and fast. Not only that, NYC has been given a warrant - to become fashionable and innovative once more. As the album progresses, it moves into Yazoo territory – 'You Belong' is a timbral feast, incongruous, ecstatic and effortless all at once. 'Blind', the undoubted highlight, is a euphoric blend of romanticism and raw emotion, a tight and slinky all-encompassing temporal beast ranging from astrological naivety - "when I was a child I knew that the stars could only get brighter" – to old-fashioned, hard-headed pragmatism - "they are near/but they will not present my present".'Iris' is understated Giorgio Moroder funk, 'Easy' coming over altogether more tensile and less immediate. 'Raise My Love', on the other hand, is like a synopsis of the album that's come before it as it combines synthetics with groove, funky bass with spine-tingling vocal and vibe with isolation - it's a treat.This is the real deal, but whether or not the mood's been overthought in a quest for perfection is irrelevant, because it sounds so unrehearsed. Using words to describe this masterpiece is a pretty futile exercise when it's readily available for all to hear – so don't let this one pass you by.
Adele may only be 19, but her voice sounds like it belongs in a way-gone decade. Too much hype can often cause resentment, but that's not enough of a justification for why this doesn't rise to the occasion. The lyrics verge on trite and anodyne, and the lack of life experience can't even be cancelled out by her admittedly dexterous vocal talent. These two facts aren’t compatible – they cause an uncomfort, a fakeness. 'Chasing Pavements' undoubtedly has a chorus worthy of fanfares, and it's certainly better than the rest of the radio-hoggers out there - even though an album of 'Chasing Pavements' (which is not what '19' is, fortuitously or otherwise) would be weary.Unrealistic Winehouse-pigeonholing is irksome, and calling comparisons with The Beehived-One undeserving would be to give the link weight – there are no similarities at all. But – and a huge but - the plaudits are hyperbolic to the extreme. 'Cold Shoulder' is the only very slight evidence of soul, at least musically, but it's impractical to think that that alone is enough to carry Adele through to super-stardom and/or credibility.Vocal gymnastics here and there, notably on 'Crazy For You', reek of desperation where there should be subtlety. The bossa-lite of 'Right As Rain' evokes something similar. Point to note: that unedited, recurring squeak/squawk on 'Melt My Heart To Stone' is not convincing. Even Eg White and Mark Ronson can't hide the fact that Adele's voice and her songwriting aren't a match made in heaven. The lyrics are exasperating, mostly: "My oh my how my blood boils/It's sweetest for you/It strips me down bare/And get's [sic] me into my favourite mood". The grammatical typo of "get's" on the sleeve is more significant than it seems – it's a symbol for the rush job that must have been getting this album out there whilst the wonder-kid was at the height of the hard sell. Adele's become a victim of her own hype. All of this said, highlight 'Hometown Glory' being situated right at the end of '19' leaves you wondering whether with less pressure, this Sarf Londoner could create something equally earnest but less asinine.
2003's not quite golden child returns with some assistance from Danger Mouse and RHCP collaborator Josh Klinghoffer. Teasing bass runs, unobtrusive synth and cascading drums are teamed with nostalgic, sweet vocals, and the by-product surprisingly makes for a chunk of pretty unmemorable MOR. The former Tricky vocalist's latest single just doesn't seem to go anywhere – the harmonic structures are too predictable, and the lead up into the chorus culminates in an almighty let down every time. The knowing high notes are supposed to make up for this, but apart from the euphoria at the moment of their first appearance, they're as predictable and placed as the choruses. It's a shame that this feels so underdeveloped - a huge let down following her genre-hotchpotch and Mercury nominated debut album 'Quixotic'.
'Photosynthesis' is a confident, folky taster for the former Million Dead frontman's second album, 'Love Ire & Song'. A universe away from the post-hardcore of his old band and a fair few planets away from his earlier solo stuff's meandering MOR, this track calls to mind the good old acoustic troubadour - just like most of the current sheep-like Billy Bragg namedroppers. The lyrics are a tad unambitious and repetitive mostly, and let the plod (and the plot) of the track down somewhat, but there's a certain looseness which holds your attention and leaves you wanting to hear more of the Irish jig that's lurking and trying to creep out. An affable stab at better-than-Peñate-at-social-commentary-core, that much is for sure.
Perfidy's four tracks appropriately have themes running throughout them - betrayal, revenge and the blackest of black intellect. frYars, aka 18 year old Ben Garrett, is on fine lyrical form. 'The Novelist's Wife' contains this gem: "Now you can see there's a mess you're in/ no problem's solved without ketamine/and its probably best that you stay in your hole/ for I'd rather stick to my ethanol". That's just a snippet of his way with words, twisting situations beyond conception. Musically, this self-released EP combines wall of sound, loops and fey yet ethereal vocal spook. It's fair to say that frYars' has cut a niche for himself but, for all the praise, only 'Olive Eyes' and 'Benedict Remixed' have the feeling of the finished product. Accessible like Hot Chip, warped like Patrick Wolf and interspersed with watered down blips perhaps catalysed by Luke Smith of the now disbanded and once sublime Clor, the tracks shimmy along nicely. The real focus however, is the lyrics, making this EP a consummate extraction beyond Garrett's years.
Whether you pronounce their name "Em Gee Em Tee", "Management", "Mugmut" or otherwise, the Brooklyn band have here 2008's first truly essential album. The songs take a while to sink into the brain, and may initially slip through as 80s referentialism, but when they kick in, boy do they kick in. The charm spreads and the trappings in disco, hyperbolic-scale electro and grandiose melodies leave the listener defenceless. There's so much going on in each song, be it the Elton John gaiety and less obvious spiralling keyboard line in 'Weekend Wars' or the abundant counter-melody in the relatively downplayed 6/8 of 'The Youth'.And who wants instant anyway; where is there to go when music smacks you hard in the head and leaves you concussed? Whilst MGMT's aims are nothing new, the whole album sounds astoundingly fresh. Another thing which may not be noticed at first is the eloquence of the narrative - tales of excess, birth, death, humanity, and irrelevance. 'Of Moons, Birds and Monsters' is as fluent and verbose as it gets in its Kevin Barnes style of attack: "Even a bird would want a taste of dirt from abyssal dark/The prick of a feather could make a kingdom burn and the bloodshed start".Flaming Lips producer Dave Fridmann has done a fantastic job, bringing out the subtleties and augmenting the dazzle. 'Electric Feel' is a mindblowing track, and perhaps the most direct of the ten on offer – the supple falsetto on a backdrop of funk hits surprisingly hard and transports direct to aural heaven. The psychedelia of 'Kids' evokes Of Montreal once more, circa 'Sunlandic Twins' this time around. The electro sensation of opening track 'Time To Pretend' drenches itself in a resonance of gluttony, weaving in and out of synth semi-grandeur via colossal hooks – it is simply sublime. All told, with the benefit of a few more months' company and a load more plays, it could be verging on a perfect rating. This is absorbing pop music at its best.
Racial undertones aside, Erlend Øye of Kings Of Convenience fame has stripped everything back, added a funky bassline, simplified as far as possible, and come up with a delightful four minutes worth of brisk intimacy. The beat on 'Golden Cage' has a laidback Seventies groove to it – it's like The Boy Least Likely To discovering disco and abandoning the Belle and Sebastian reverie. The track gets better with every listen, possessing a warmth unusual to that feted genre of 'stuff made for the chill-out room'. But for all the live and un-multitracked recording of the lead track is worth, the remix on the flipside by some dude called Frek Falke sounds even better than its bare bones forefather – it fills up the extra four minutes with some garish synth, ricocheting vocals and more than a hint of vocoder. Perhaps organic isn't the way forward after all?
Citing a band as unfashionable as The Police may well alienate a whole loads of potential listeners, but it didn't stop The Hoff attending their gig at Koko or Dave Allen (The Cure, Depeche Mode) producing the Greenwich quartet's debut. It's impossible to launch into a review of this album without a brief overview of The Alps - the record has been entirely funded by fans, after the band set up a page on www.slicethepie.com, a website which aims to compete in "a climate of poor major label hit-rates and roster downsizing" by allowing its visitors to donate money to bands they like the sound of. The Alps managed to acquire £21,000 from effectively turning themselves into a plc where fans buy a share in them - was it worth the sell out?The sound on offer is one of surfy harmonies, bright and confident generic 'oh ohs' and an overriding sense of affability.For those very reasons, it's simply too mild-mannered and derivative to temper its radio-friendliness; where bands like Good Shoes and The Rifles add an edge, The Alps fail to go beyond third gear. It's certainly been produced and there's even a degree of soft focus, but songs like 'Obstacle Race' and 'Goodnight Vienna' show a lack of variation in repertoire. Each track opens with eight to twelve bars of guitar-led introduction before veering into indistinct and melancholic verses, then towards louder more anthemic choruses and back again. The rhythms are hazy, the textures too much of a Britpop spin-off. In fact, not even once does 'Something I Might Regret' veer into polarising territory - it's far too unambitious for that. Content to remain in the middle-ground, The Alps are going to have to think harder if they want to merit their funding. Try harder next time, boys.
Chandeliers, mirrorballs and plush velvet curtains adorn the muso's haven that is Bush Hall as tonight's nomads sit themselves down on the carpet with pinot grigio in one hand and their partner's hand in the other.Brighton's Sons Of Noel And Adrian open proceedings, the ten of them cramming themselves onto the tiny stage. Their music is orchestral, filled with glorious suspensions and incrementally building textures amidst a pounding beat and the same mysticality expounded by Beirut. The unusual vocals are a quasi-Elvis drawl/lisp, and the multi-piece display romanticism, choral timbres and a convulsing nautical beat. Next up is blues folk duo Congregation. Victoria Yeulet's yowl sounds like an oboe, at times making the songs hard to stomach – that eccentricity isn't enough, as the lack of vocal range makes the songs fuse into one another. The two-piece are so far away from the New Cross scene they originate from, but the music fails to impact. There's little interaction between Yeulet and guitarist/bass drum purveyor Benjamin Prosser, and it feels too focused, until the closing song, which sees Yeulet more relaxed and less 'heads down'. The act everyone's here to see is Seattle's The Cave Singers - they do not disappoint. Pete Quirk's post-folk vocals are brooding, nasal and entrancing. The set takes a trajectory of desolation - infectious harmonica, the right amount of between song chit-chat, and an unassuming soaring quality. The drumming is ferocious in parts, proving that power doesn't only come from supposedly 'heavy' music – and ex–Pretty Girls Make Graves bassist Derek Fudesco is the lynchpin to the versatility of the band's sound. It is difficult to pigeonhole, but if forced then the best way would be to recall Tapes 'n Tapes' 'The Insistor' without the hoedown. The vocals are haunting, and there's a sense of foreboding resolve in the hammering out of each of the very different songs. The set ends on a climax with 'Dancing On Our Graves'; maracas are hit on a synthetic instrument case, and the drumsticks on a metal board – The Cave Singers are on raucous form, and their dark yearnings are a welcome addition to the sane person's eyes and ears. By the time Japanese experimentalist Tujiko Noriko heads on stage, the room is half empty once more. Nonetheless, her and her laptop provide choral electronica - metreless, passive blips. Her avant-pop is at times spasm-inducing, and lies somewhere between Mogwai, Björk and Boards Of Canada – it'd be nice to have the foggiest idea what she was singing about.
Without the exposure Envy and Other Sins found themselves swarmed in, the Midlands lovelies would’ve still been slaving away in their day jobs. The TV contest they won was unfortunately targeted at the wrong audience and the promotion for their storming single ‘Highness’ was pretty non-existent – resulting in it missing the Top 40. The band are stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea – supporting The Hoosiers at one end, unable to be playlisted on Radio One due to Jo Whiley’s conflict of interests at the other. They’re filling the small venues they once only attracted a few people to, but surely the thousands of people watching the programme should have made for a more market progression? And equally, the endless assault of disheartening put-downs they face can’t be all that much fun. In ‘We Leave At Dawn’, they forget the backlash and provide us with a selection of intricate, well-crafted, reflective snippets. This is pop music with heart, intricacy and subtleties – a self-justification of sorts.
It’s a record best listened to with headphones to pick up on the crescendos and the way the elements are carefully knitted together. Megastar producer Danton Supple’s efforts on ‘We Leave At Dawn’ give the album a finish which verges on over-polished – the instruments are a tad too crisply separated, or in the extreme, too hazily fused. Regardless of that negative, the four-piece continue to write lyrics far cleverer than your average indie-pop fare – they’re pacey and idiosyncratic, complementing the sweet little ascending vocal runs that frame them in songs like ‘Almost Certainly Elsewhere’.
It’s refreshing to listen to music so unpretentious and naturally memorable which retains its quirks even after repeated listens – it can feel too familiar on the first play, but the knack for telling a story and pushing out cute hooks and rhythms far overrides any cynicism that may be trying to creep out. ‘Morning Sickness’ is a timely blend of Casio arpeggios, homely yet unsettling bass and challenging tonality. ‘Step Across’ is an ecstatic escapist mish-mash of piano hammering and scattergun syllables – the most complex and involved offering on the album.
Next single ‘Man Bites God’ is oh-so-contagious: “We’re rotten to the core, we’re all the same/we are scu, you were like us/but when did you become so righteous?/Let’s do a roaring trade, ‘til the day the Messiah comes/And stops us having fun” – it’s rollicking, knowing, and proof of Envy and Other Sins’ highs and low, sidesteps and backsteps, devious sneaking in of a bar in 6/4… it’s a song which should be loved by millions. Though ‘Don’t Start Fires’ is the album’s highlight; it’s so simple and unfussy yet its soaring melodies make it epic in the same vein as Doves, with a huge-scale sound that the stadium bands aspire towards, not to mention a damn fine effort on the drums. The nigh on falsetto of the album-closer ‘Shipwrecked’ shows off a more spacious, nautical sound which touches on a new-found viciousness, something which should be more evident in other places on the album but is somehow passed by.
Ali’s fey vocal is something which usually provides a contrast rather than a weakness, except on ‘The Company We Keep’ – it possesses the deft chord progressions and syncopation we’ve come to expect, but feels the least substantial due to the anonymity of the otherwise flourishing bass. And ‘(It Gets Harder To Be A) Martyr’ has got the charm but lacks the plentiful core of the album’s best moments.
Although a lovely pop record, we can’t help feeling that the four-piece capable of more, going on the basis of how much fun their live shows are and how much they put into their music. It’s a shame that the production has dumbed down their Victorian leanings, although maybe we just expected perfection… let’s hope Envy and Other Sins get the attention they deserve very soon.
Future Of The Left promise to eschew the genres in the same way that Enter Shikari and Klaxons hurdle over them. And they’re certainly razor-sharp smart, in the same vein as Shellac and Mclusky. The lead track has keyboards – woo – which set it apart from its peers, though. And strangely idiosyncratic chants and rounds, from “Colin is a pussy” to “all he ever wanted was a detonator”. And ‘Suddenly It’s A Folk Song’ on the flipside is even more phenomenal with its dense harmonies coming out of nowhere. This lot rip up rock in the same way that Art Brut piss all over schmindie – it’s a real belter.
Gigwise got the chance to catch up with Guillemots in the comforts of Guillemots HQ, aka a converted synagogue in the depths of East London. A quick glance around the perimeters of the building resulted in the location of a seemingly defunct pinball machine, a large metal guillemot currently wearing singer Fyfe’s bowler hat, a small cupboard where some of the second album was apparently recorded and other such gems. Guitarist MC Lord Magrão is hanging around the place having woken up five minutes earlier, and drummer Greig’s taken the day off sick, so here’s what Fyfe and double bassist Arista had to say.
How did the live shows go this week?
Fyfe: “They were good. We were really out of practice – we hadn’t played live in ages so we did a lot of rehearsing.”
Arista: “We tried to do a lot of rehearsing… the amount of rehearsing we actually did was quite minimal, so I think they went quite well considering.”
The press release for ‘Red’ mentions “the sense of something not being quite right” – is that in general or is it specifically pinpointed to certain parts of life?
Fyfe: “It runs through the record. It’s quite ‘up’ sounding, but there is a feeling in quite a lot of the tracks of someone on the edge of a breakdown. I don’t think the world today’s the most happy-go-lucky time to be alive.”
Do you think you’ve changed as a band since the first album?
Fyfe: “Not hugely. We’ve been writing stuff together, improvising and making songs out of that from before we did gigs, so it was just an extension of things really. It seemed like the natural thing to do. Each of us has learnt when to keep our mouths shut and when to leave.”
So tell me about that advert on Myspace for a new singer…
Fyfe: “It’s sorted! It’s just for live. Here there’s just the four of us but live there’s always been something extra – before we had two saxophonists to fill out the sound a little bit, and one of them’s really busy at the moment but we’ve found a girl who plays saxophone.”
Did loads of people reply?
Fyfe: “Yeah, quite a few. We got to hear some mad stuff…”
(Arista starts cackling)
Would you like to expand on that?
(More laughter from Arista)
Fyfe: “Well, no-one seemed quite right.”
Arista: “It’s hard to have a new member in your band especially when you’re on a bus together.”
You met loads of people then?
Fyfe: “Well this is the thing. I was terrified of having an audition day, and it was getting to the point where we were going to get the best few and invite them to the studio, and then a friend of a friend turned up and…”
Arista: “She’s just perfect.”
So aside from all that, how do you feel about ‘Get Over It’ making Radio 1’s A-list?
Fyfe: “I’ve never understood that ethic of making music and being worried about being on the radio or having singles do well, but I don’t think that accessibility and integrity have to be mutually exclusive. With the single, we put loads of time in the mix making sure it sounded really alive and electric, overloading the drums, distortion everywhere, really pushing ourselves. That’s exactly the sort of thing going on Radio 1 daytime and it’s a really nice feeling when something like that happens.”
So, I read something interesting about Fyfe using a bat detector on the record. Anything else bizarre going on?(At this point, Gigwise is shown the very bat detector used on ‘Big Dog’ on the album)
Fyfe: “Bits and pieces, bits and pieces. We’ve got really short attention spans so sometimes we need something better than a snare drum or a guitar. And it’s about amusing ourselves, I guess – when you’re making a record it’s quite funny recording a little bat to make a beat.”Arista: “And there’s recorders on ‘Big Dog’ too… three or four of them.”
What with all the different instruments featuring on ‘Red’, do you think you’re meticulous?(furious shaking of head by Fyfe ensues)
Arista: “It’s a random sort of meticulous.”
Fyfe: “The more interviews we do, the more we understand and find ways of explaining things. The record’s made up of loads of moments of spontaneity, but there’s days when you’re really struggling…”
How do you get around it?
Fyfe: “You work through it. Some days, it’ll be four in the afternoon and you just go home. It doesn’t help when you’re not in the right mood but there’s other days when you wake up and instantly feel great. There’s not really any logic to it. But most of the good stuff comes about really quickly.”
Arista: “There’s moments we all agree on. Some days there’s three people who really hate a part and the next day they all like it, and the person who liked it doesn’t anymore. It’s difficult to trust when it’s actually any good.”
Did loads of songs not make the album?
Fyfe: “No. We had a few weeks at the start where we wrote a load of stuff but in terms of recorded stuff there were only two other tracks. One of them was a song I’d written, and the other’s a ragga, kind of R‘n’B type thing. We’re thinking of finishing it as a demo and selling it, taking it to a publisher and getting someone to sing it.”
Arista: “Sean Paul or Whitney.”
Wow! So how about the order of the record – was that more troublesome?
Fyfe: “I was on a train going to Birmingham, listening to the mixes we’d got so far, playing around with the order on my iPod and I’d got this one order I thought was great. I texted everyone and they all thought it sounded good, so that meant that two or three months before we finished the record the order was complete. There’s a track on ‘Red’ called ‘Cockateels’ – if it was in the wrong place it could sound really overly twee, and weirdly putting it after ‘Last Kiss’, because it’s so different, it makes ‘Cockateels’ sound better because of the variety. “
How do you feel about reviews - do you find it hurtful to read something you don’t believe?
Fyfe: “I think we’re getting to the point where we’re not so bothered by it – you’ve got to be thick-skinned. We knew the NME were going to be like that because we’re not a cool band, it’s just one of those things. It’s a gossip magazine and it has been for quite a long time. Though getting a two star review from Uncut though – I was like ‘fuck, it’s a good magazine’. It’s one person’s opinion but it was quite shocking. It’s been the same with the live shows – in the Guardian we got a two. Were they even there? They said ‘Get Over It’ left everyone bored but everyone was loving it so I don’t understand.”
Arista: “With the last album I read everything, but this time round I haven’t paid it any attention. I feel a bit cut off but ultimately we’re not going to stop doing what we do because of what some people say. What’s the point in making your life miserable for no reason!”Fyfe: “Reviews are funny things as well because even with the good ones, they look at things in such an analytical way.”
Do you wish that you weren’t written about? Obviously people do have the opportunity to just listen to your music, but do you sometimes wish the middle man was cut out?
Fyfe: “I think the nearest thing is if your girlfriend says ‘why do you love me?’ – you can’t really…”
No, you don’t need to…
Fyfe: “You can’t really list things or go anywhere near explaining what you feel. And the same when you hate someone. It’s like that with our record. We’re a bit of a mismatch as people and influences, and if you add it up mathematically it won’t work. And I reckon a lot of reviewers have only listened to it once.”
That’s not enough.
Fyfe: “You can’t get it after one listen. Most records that we like you don’t get after one listen. There’s some that you do, but generally speaking, most records I think are amazing first time aren’t the ones I come back to. Whereas Neil Young, Bob Dylan, The Fall or Tom Waits – the first time there’ve been one or two tracks I’ve liked, but there’s been something that makes you want to listen again and by the fourth listen, you’re obsessed with it.”
Changing the subject, what are the plans for the next single? How do you intend to get across the diversity on the album?
Fyfe: “It’s going to be ‘Falling Out Of Reach’. There’s a side of us that wants to put out the most experimental tracks, but everyone from radio to our record company really likes it. And we’ve got a really exciting video being planned for it which we’re keeping under wraps.”
And why’s the album called ‘Red’?
Fyfe: “Partially because we couldn’t think of anything better.”
Is it to with the colour of the sound, in an LCD Soundsystem or Beatles kind of way?
Fyfe: “It does feel like a red record, yeah.”
In what respect?
Fyfe: “Well red’s very in your face, it has connotations of lust and greed and warmth, all these things on the record. There’s a sense of stop and start – red can mean stop at a traffic light or in recording it means ‘go’. It wasn’t those reasons though, it was instinctive.”
And finally – is there much common musical ground between the four of you?
Fyfe: “There are things. It’s hard to find, but that’s why the band exists. Because that’s how we make our common ground in a way. There’s a certain type of music that we want to exist, and none of us really had those records. So that’s why we try and make stuff – to try and make that record that all of feel is missing in our collection I suppose.”
That was Guillemots. And after about five listens, ‘Red’ is thankfully more than living up to Fyfe’s ramblings – in fact it looks set to be one of 2008’s great pop albums, whatever pop can be deemed to constitute these days. And despite the ‘eccentric’ moniker that’s permanently attached itself to the band, today they’ve proven themselves down to earth, frank and oh so humble. Now to make it back to the train station without getting run over…