Tuesday, 30 December 2008

TLOBF's Alternative Xmas Crackers

With Crimbo merely a couple of days away, we here at TLOBF Towers have been decking the halls with boughs of holly and roasting chestnuts on a health and safety-snubbing open fire. Of course, no Xmas festivities would be complete without a few tinsel-tingling ditties and, with auditory nerves quivering at the prospect of Sir Cliff and Noddy once again percolating ear canals, we’ve lovingly compiled an alternative list of Yuletide cuts so sharp they’d scythe through the toughest of turkeys. Seriously, with presents like this, who needs an iPhone under the tree? Oh…


Sufjan Stevens – “Put the Lights On the Tree
Aye , it’s predictable but there’s nae doubting Sufjan’s ability to coax out the inner child of Christmases past. Eliciting goose-pimpled skin with a sledge ride of chime and key, the video is a gobsmacking festive ditty that recalls Crimbo morning cartoons whilst eagerly awaiting the unwrapping of presents.

Low – “Just Like Christmas
Forget Wham’s “Last Christmas” – Low’s brilliant sleigh-bell symphony is the perfect hand-clasping saunter for Christmassy couples. Built around beatific, lip-pursed harmonies, this gooey-hearted lament is brimming with the kind of soulful tidings Phil Spector once brought to the Christmas table.

The Bicycles – “It’s a Magic Christmas
Abounding with the antsy anticipation of a Crimbo morn, this all-too-brief instrumental exudes festive cheer with every twinkle-toed note. On top of that, the video’s unifying undertones should make us all step back and think about what’s really important this Christmas – yep, that’s right. Guitar Hero: World Tour.

The Wave Pictures – “I Love You Like Like a Madman
Instrumentally, there’s nowt particularly festive about the London trio’s jangling swoop of guitar and brass. But amidst this tale of awkward family get-togethers, gluttonous overeating and heart-wrenching solitude is a Christmas message everyone can relate to: get pissed, dance and proclaim your unyielding devotion to those you love the most.

Billy Idol – “Jingle Bell Rock
Words can shed little light on the motivation behind the ex-Generation X frontman’s strangely compulsive abomination of a Christmas classic, so it’s best to just sit back, watch the video and be dumbfounded. Remember, kids, this man was once a punk pioneer.

Malcolm Middleton – “We’re All Going To Die
After Mr Idol’s plastic-faced shenanigans, Malcy’s overbearing miserablism is a welcome relief. The curmudgeon Scot’s icy blast of winter doomsaying may not be a breezy festive frolic but, let’s face it, the ginger-topped big man makes a cracking Santa Claus.

The Killers – “Don’t Shoot Me Santa”
Typical of the Killers with its self-effacing verses and life-affirming chorus, this major-key opus sees the Vegas-born quartet making good use of their power-ballad predilections. In all honesty, such overindulgence could only ever be forgiven at Christmas. Hey, at least it’s not the Darkness.

The Raveonettes – “The Christmas Song
Shoegazing and Christmas may not seem like the perfect match – unless it’s a brand-new pair of Jimmy Choos under the tree – but the Raveonettes have somehow created a remarkable hybrid of the two. Brooding with sanguine percussion, the sighing vocal and twitching fret taps transform into a chasmal winterland hymn that’s as luscious as it is haunting.

Ramones – “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want Wanna Fight Tonight)”
A primitive blast of rampant punk-pop, this is Ramones at their finest: throttling, barbaric and gushing with puppy love. Accompanied by a video that will resonate with many a couple at this time of year, “Merry Christmas” is one of the truly great Xmas songs.

Reuben – “Christmas Is Awesome
Awful Christmas jumpers? Check. Miniature instruments? Check. Carol-singing children? Fuck , yeah. Reuben’s apoplectic stab at festive cheer may not be a melodious splurge of singalong glee but, as riotously infectious rock throbs go, it shits horseradish sauce on allcomers with just one line: “We’re sorry about all of that ‘nailed to a cross’ business”. Sheer genius.

Now you’ve seen our favourite Xmas videos, we want to know yours. Why not leave your fellow readers a little something under the tree and drop us a [legal] link below. After all, it’s the giving – not the receiving – that matters…

ALBUM REVIEW: Blackmarket - The Elephant In The Room

Let’s get this out before laser strikes disc: I already dislike Blackmarket. But please don’t assume this is a deep-seated vendetta against an up-coming band, oh no, my disdain’s evolved from a much more honourable predisposition: I can’t stand mainstream chasing Emo ‘Rawk’. In fact, I hate it. From the VapoRub snubbing nasal wails to the vapid chug-chug-chug of guitar, every element of this chart-humping genre sears into me like a ravenous electro-current intent on lobotomising my chin-stroking spirit.

Harsh? I doubt it.

See, if the prospect of enduring Fall Out Boy, Bullet for My Valentine or Plain White Ts for any prolonged period of time doesn’t tauten your neck hairs with a conflate of anxiety and revulsion I’ll, well, I’ll just not believe you. Because it’s impossible to truly enjoy these bands; impossible to etch even a modicum of empathy for their overly preened, baseball cap wearing, Ashley Simpson-wooing Rock-Pop jizz; impossible to feel anything but vehement opposition to a sound that clogs up the airwaves like a Big Mac does arteries. I don’t care how many pseudo goth-kids wail about its meaning, the music’s just just shite. End of.

With rant firmly over, it’s time to get on with the review. So, let the disc spin and the laser burn…

Crass, thrusting and absolutely abhorrent; The Arizona trio’s debut LP The Elephant In The Room stitches together a patchwork of insipidly contrived teeny-Rock that constitutes the very fabric of this scribe’s aural chagrin. The shuddering crossfire of guitar that strikes a light under opening number ‘Magic Tricks’ shoots down any hope of resuscitating my already flagging affections as it shamelessly flaunts a grating dog-whine of a chorus that masquerades like an eyeliner-clad Plug In Baby. Which it’s not. Not even close.

In all honesty, to describe these twelve tracks as silence filling tripe would do a considerable injustice to the blissful sound of absolutely nothing. A prime example of this creative abyss is the laboriously entitled ‘Alibi Can’t Give Me A Place To Go’: a bloated spectrum of drum and riff that becomes so nauseating it could only be enjoyed through the rose-tinted hearing aid of a deaf grandmother.

Left reeling by such a plague of slapstick cranking, ‘Sheila’’s roundhouse blow of excruciating lyrics [ 'Sheila, you look good today'] and ‘Sooner Or Later’’s grunge-sponging uppercut knocks this limp record face first into the canvas, gasping for the air that will give it a bit of life for one final fight. Sadly it doesn’t come but, mercilessly, neither does a swift KO.

Instead, the band Pritt Stick to the belief that rampant, uncoordinated drums and shrieking guitars are somehow a rite of passage to commercial appeal and blindly proceed with the loathsome clutter of instrumentation found pulsing through ‘Permanent You’ and the equally epileptic ‘Drag Addict’. Even ‘White Lie’’s promise of slow-creeping acoustica becomes not so much a pitchfork in the road but a hedge-hiding piss break on the long and dreary highway to MOR Punk-Pop hell.

A sheenful glaze of production at least attempts - and almost succeeds - at washing away the woefully inept song writing but, so linear are the monotonous ‘Ctrl Atl Dtl’ and ‘Out Of Order’, you’d need Phil Spector, a rifle and a shit-ton of microdots to make this record sound halfway entertaining. And, really, that’s my main gripe with the entire septic tank of a genre: There’s no challenge or enjoyment in listening to such sterilised endeavours. There’s just nothing, at all.

20%

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Record Review: Trost - Trust Me

During the sloppy last season of The Mighty Boosh, Vince and Howard find themselves in a sticky predicament. Pushed out of the ‘scene’ by a duo of imposters, the pair earnestly attempt to conjure up a new sound and, as is de rigueur these days, plump for full-on retro-revivalism. Of course, their over exuberant choice of medieval twanging bombs with the Klaxon-humping hoards but - and forgive me for eliciting meaning from this moronic show - the message is plain; even the UK’s hip-shaking fashionistas have limits.

So what will the cheekbone protruding, hair care crew make of Trost’s latest decade transcending genre-hopping excursion Trust Me?

Well, laden with kitsch, slick melodies and contour warping rhythms, the Berlin-born Annika Lin Trost’s sophomore LP could slot seamlessly between Nouvelle Vague and Miss Kitten in the collection of any self-respecting Boho wannabe. Every glacial statuette boldly attempts to balance the perilous dichotomy of substance and style, producing a record that’s razor sharp in execution and unforgiving in smoke ring puffing chic. But underpinning this iceberg exterior is one fatal flaw: It’s much too clinical to love.

Chamber-dwelling numbers like ‘Black’ and the brutal ‘Sans Ta Scie’ reject your advances with the aloofness of a monochromatic actress; wishing you away with a Ray Ban impeded glower of bass and drum while Trost’s whispered, ethereal mew suggests she’d rather be anywhere else. The songstresses sublime rotation of German, French and English does make an alluring proposition - particularly on ‘Cowboy’’s Free Association-like splurge of microdot-popping soul- yet her icy blasts over piano waltzing trinket ‘I Was Wrong’ and ‘In Diesem Raum’’s tundra of guitar rankles as nose-turned elitism.

Fathoming pastiche from austere is half the battle. ‘Neonlight Deadland’’s wobbling, vaudevillian groove swings like the enraptured fumbling of a Parisian cabaret show, while ‘Man On the Box’ portrays Trost as a snarling chanteuse trapped amidst a seductive boudoir of rotating guitar and hypnotic snake charmed rhythms. By the time album closer ‘Filled with Tear’’s string-stained toil flutters out of the speakers like a wispy Campbell/Lanegan cast off, it’s anyone’s guess whether her tongue is placed firmly in cheek or seductively in mouth. Either way, it’s tiresome listening.

By creating a stone cold mezzanine of abrasive R’n'B and self-conscious electronica, Trost’s enforced ambivalence has produced a record that’s difficult to embrace and impossible to return to. Despite fleeting moments of melodious industry, Trust Me’s only real achievement rests in disengaging listeners with overly contrived, achingly cool cuts of metallic neo-pop. The sad thing is you know the fashionistas will lap it up.
60%

First published here

Record Round-Up: November (Yes, I know it's December but I've been lazy of late)

Having already served up an honourable leader of the free world and a brand spanking new Guns N’ Roses album, you have every right to expect something a little bit special from The Round Up this month. So, ladies and gentlemen without further ado your friendly, four-weekly record synopsis brings you, erm, The Paddingtons.

That's right, everyone’s favourite Libertine-aping dangleberries who aren’t The View have returned with No Mundane Options [*], the ‘rocking follow up to their acclaimed debut First Comes First.’ Sadly, the hyperbole of the press release translates to 'a pitiful excuse for a record'. Tuneless protestations like “What’s the point In anything new?” rankle alongside droning riffs and plod-a-long drums that only serve to make tracks like Molotov Cocktail and – the ghastly– Punk RIP even more incorrigible than their titles suggest.

Luckily, the belly rumbling clatter of Threatmantics wipes away The Pads’ lingering acidity. Abound with rockabilly jangling and microdot infused breakdowns, the Welsh quartet’s debut LP Upbeat Love [***] is a fun-loving, no-frills stomp of archaic folk that wails to seductive viola strokes and loose-limbed, harrying guitar tempos. For all the throaty joviality of numbers like Big Man and Don’t Care, dark tribal rhythms still embed themselves within the dungeon of bass and chant found in the magnificent Get Outta Town, making for an enthralling - if slightly confusing - half hour of valley-dwelling sonics.

Less robust and much less pleasurable to The Round Up’s ears is the windswept blustering of Rome-born trio Semaphore and their eponymous longplayer [**]. Sitting atop the unbeknown pivot lodged between The National and Crash Test Dummies, this is a record that growls to the sound of ball-busting baritone strewn over a baffling juxtaposition of grating 80s power-chords and mid 80s country pop, depending on which half of the record you’re unfortunate enough to be enduring.

Smothered by more cheese than this lactose intolerant article can take, The Round Up quickly switches discs to find itself staring into Trickbaby’s Chor Bazaar [***]. A pavement-strutting flurry of Middle Eastern rhythms and slinky pop hookery, it’s a sound far removed from The Round Up’s usual snot sniffing predilection. Yet somehow, amidst the chromatic production and bangra-frazzled beats, this is a compelling, noggin-nodding exploration of alternative India. A surefire certainty to fall foul of the myopic record-buying masses, it’s still a fascinating scurry through the unventured warrens of your earholes.

Alas, the terrifically entitled Ox.Eagle.Lion.Man’s Opus 2 [**] etches out a less compelling pathway. With a vocal that worryingly resembles that cunt from The Killers if he'd taken elocutions lessons, the pretentious, over blown introduction of opening number If This Is A Man does little to tantalise the senses. Thing is, the proceeding five tracks barely improve matters. Abound with crumby production and pantomimic horror-schlock, much of this record is Proggish, sky scraping rock a la Muse that broods like Dracula in its nocturnal lingering but is as ghostly as Casper in sound i.e., completely transparent and, well, really rather irritating.

All things considered, The Round Up counts its blessings to find School Of Seven Bells' gorgeous debut Alpinisms [****] standing patiently in line. Blushing with radiant, gossamer pop undertones and transient post-rock dalliances, it’s easy to see why the Brooklyn-based trio have been moistening the sweat glands of high-brow music rags of late. Mesmerising cuts like the steam-engine puffing Iamundernodisguise and the sauntering Connjur blend Atlas Sound’s ethereal synth runnings with the antsy acoustics of Broken Social Scene. A delight to behold, this record may well be 55 of the finest musical minutes left in 2008.

Sadly, Maple Bee’s Home [**] is probably the most insipid 44 minutes of music left in 2008. Rife with glaucoma-inducing beats and sheepish, helium abetted vocals, the emo-styled chanteuse’s sophomore offering is a dreary clutter of drums cloyed with star-gazing synths that are as ineffective as a hooker in an asexual’s undercrackers.

And with that, The Round-up buffs up its credit card, slips on a Santa hat and prepares for the capitalist utopia that is Crimbo.

First published here....



Meursault - Pissing On Bonfires/Kissing With Tongues

Much like the vino of their French regional namesake, Edinburgh's Meursault have been on a lot of lips recently. So, after establishing a fervent following with a string of spellbinding live shows over the past six months, the quartet's decision to give their debut long-player Pissing On Bonfires/Kissing With Tongues another push via Edinburgh indie label Song, By Toad couldn't have been better timed. Knee-deep in folkish narratives, rousing numbers The Furnace and Lament For a Teenage Millionaire are transformed into rapacious tidal waves by the gnarling tectonic plates of electronica that underpin them. A Few Kind Words is an aural minefield and the record's immediate stand-out; laced with bombastic percussion and the screeching banshee wail of frontman Neil Pennycook. Yet, as time flies, it's gentle cutlet A Small Stretch Of Land that springs to the fore as a tortured, weeping lament bound by introspection. Make no mistake, after a spin of this sublime record only one word will pass your lips: Magnificent. [Billy Hamilton]

LABEL FEATURE: One Little Indian

Contrary to popular belief, 1985 was a great year for British music. Amidst a spew of poodle-permed rockers and gak-snorting pop philanthropists (say hello, Band Aid), the remarkable One Little Indian (OLI) was conceived. Founded by various sects of London’s dissipated underground scene – including members of renowned post-punk outfit Flux Of Pink Indians – it quickly established itself as a label focused on providing artists with three special Cs: complete creative control.

“One Little Indian was inspired by the DIY principles and anarchistic ideals of independent labels such as that of anarcho-punk band Crass,” explains the stable’s Digital Manager Toby McColl. “They became so frustrated with the restrictive nature of the music industry that merging the creative aspect with the distributive side of things became the only viable option.”

Video: Bjork - Declare Independence

Twenty-three years on and the London-based label has evolved from its bohemian roots, becoming an influential player on the music industry’s mean streets. Despite this rapid proliferation McColl believes OLI’s remained true to its stoic mission statement: “We don’t look for specific styles or trends with music, we sign bands that we love. So a One Little Indian band has to be a band that we believe in. They could be a metal band or folk, it makes no difference to us. That is why our roster is so diverse.”

And diverse it certainly is. A creative sanctuary for the likes of Bjork, The Shamen and Skunk Anansie during the 90s, OLI currently plays host to Rose Kemp, Minus and the majestic Asobi Seksu. “We have great relationships with all of our artists,” says McColl when discussing the label’s allure. “They are free to do what they want but we put their interests first all the time, and because of that it's really a mutually beneficial relationship... One Little Indian has had a long history; we are very flexible, we are passionate about the music we sign and we stand by our bands.”

With such purist intentions OLI should be tender prey in an unforgiving industry but underneath its innocent exterior lurks the insatiable desire to evolve. Having already welcomed Clean Up, Partisan, Elemental and Fat Cat Records under its expanding umbrella, McColl believes the future lies in self-created opportunity.

Video: Asobi Seksu - Walk on the Moon

“We have some great young people at the label who are very in touch with the latest trends and styles,” he enthuses. “There are infinite new possibilities and companies out there at the moment and it’s our job to find out which of these is going to work best for us and for our fans. We've started our own digital distribution arm, Second Wind Digital, that aggregates digital music, and have begun reissuing a lot of old releases on heavyweight DMM Vinyl. By presenting the music in new, unique formats, we feel our customers are listening.”

Armed with a scroll of effervescent artists, OLI’s quest for innovation ensures the label stands head and shoulders above its rivals. But with the credit crunch gnawing away at record company profits, McColl feels the time is ripe for indies to step up to the play.

“Bear in the mind, the music business has been in its own recession for over five years,” he declares. “One good thing about being at an indie is that we are in a better state to deal with issues than the bigger institutions that take longer to adapt and change...It seems the majors are finding it hard to flex their muscles quite as much in these financially tougher times. [Indie labels] have always been up against it; we are used to smaller budgets and using our heads rather than our wallets all the time.”

First published here

INTERVIEW: Ten Kens

2008 was quite a year for Toronto ensemble Ten Kens. Cherry-picked by the trend-inciting FatCat Records, the quartet’s gorgeous, genre-defying debut LP was met by a barrage of superlatives and compared favourably with indie luminaries Arcade Fire, Liars and Black Mountain. So during the band’s inaugural UK tour, The Skinny caught up with laconically worded vocalist Dan Workman for a quick chat about the group’s past, present and future...

How are you enjoying your first trip to the UK?
We're enjoying it so much we don't want to leave. The UK crowds, surprisingly, aren't that different from Canadian crowds, you have to win them over the same way. Everyone comes out to be entertained, and entertain you must. They do like it loud however, abnormally loud. But that's just fine with us.

True, we’re all about the decibels. So how did you guys get together?
Dean [Tzenos – guitar] and I met in art school. We started jamming together, with various musicians in the mix, all the while writing songs. Once we had enough material put together, we broke away and hid out in a townhouse for a year, writing and recording. At the end of that year we had an album...but no band. We rounded up Lee [Stringle – bass], another friend from art school, then held auditions for drummers, which is how we found Ryan [Roantree – drums]. And that was that.

Writing your debut LP in a townhouse sounds a little intense. How much of an impact did that have on the sound?
That situation made the record what it is. Dean and I went completely insane; we lived and breathed the project the whole time we were there. We never went outside. It was a labour of love and madness. It couldn't have happened any other way.

Considering the claustrophobic environment, did you expect to produce a record as wide in scope?
We just wanted to make a cool record, pure and simple. Once we started recording we didn't know what to expect, but we definitely knew what we wanted. All it took was working with the right people and a tremendous amount of patience.

You’ve been compared with a lot of influential bands, but are your role models really that predictable?
I think so. Throw some early nineties bands in there such as Pixies and Sonic Youth, and you've more or less got the bulk of our influences for this record covered. Those comparisons put us in some pretty amazing company, it's definitely flattering.

Are you happy with the reviews you’ve received thus far?
Yeah, we're really happy; most have been super positive. I'd like to say we don't pay attention to the press, but we do. We're so new, even bad press is exciting to us.

Talking of which, do you think the music press is still as influential as it once was?
We don't think you writers are a dying breed, we actually think it's scary how much power you all have. Our good press has already helped us tremendously; I imagine bad press could harm us just as easily.

Considering there's only four of you in the band, the moniker’s a little misleading. What’s the meaning behind it?
Ha, sorry, sworn to secrecy on that one. But by all means, feel free to invent your own, we've heard some very interesting theories.

Okay, if you’re sure. I have a ‘wacky’ Ken Dodd theory. Perhaps not, eh? So, finally, can we expect the next record to be your giant pop opus then?

Um, no. Our next record will be darker, louder and bigger...maybe.

Initially published here

Sunday, 26 October 2008

ALBUM REVIEW: Air France - No Way Down

For a country that’s five times smaller than Blighty, Sweden’s recent output of pretty-pink pop pickers is remarkable. Escaping the mainstream banality of - the hyperbolically bloated - ABBA, gorgeous tunesmiths like Jens Lekman, The Concretes and Peter, Bjorn & John have filtered into the hearts of both snot-nosed musos and tune-hugging mainstreamites with their clutterless, pursed lip melodics.

It’s hardly surprising,then, to find that sky-soaring duo Air France [one part Joel, one part Henrik] are yet another product of this brilliant Scandinavian conveyor belt. Their debut EP - 2006’s On Trade Winds- was a cacophonous masterpiece brushed by Tropicalia and flighty, cloud-bursting grooves. Follow-up EP No Way Down was equally lush; flooded in Casiotoned symphonies and cut-paste-splatter samples that left the palate whetting, desperate for more.

So here it is…Only it isn’t.

What’s served up on No Way Down (LP? Compilation? Whatever…) is an intermittent aperitif intended to capture that attention of the Johnny-come-not-so-latelys. By amalgamating both EPs as one rotating plastic disc Air France are offering a lifeline to those not yet on-board their voyage to widespread populism and if you’ve any sort of inclination for music acumen then clutch it while you can.

Put simply, if No Way Down was an original release it would be record of the year. Soaked in synth-heavy retrospect and enchanting rhythms, each sumptuous cut is a joy to consume. The chasmal bliss of introductory number ‘Maundy Thursday’ initially massages the lugs with a stoic 80s regalia that would have M83 blushing. However, it’s the Balearic quip of follow up ‘June Evenings’ that truly sets the standards for what’s to come.

Plastered with enchanting vocal dalliances and a pushy fanfare of brass, the track’s choleric beats infect the sombrero wearing ‘No Excuses’ and calypso infused ‘Beach Party’ (which brilliantly indulges a sample of Lisa Stanfield’s ‘All Around The World’) like an antidote-less virus. Yet, despite such chill-out protestations it’s The Avalanches that bear most influence; the crimson floating of ‘Windmill Wedding’ and ‘Collapsing At Your Doortstep’’s brick-a-brack samples both aligning with the Australian ensemble’s glue-sticking mission statement.

If one criticism is to be thrown this record’s way it’s that there’s no clear distinction between the two years that separated the release of each EP, with sheenfully produced numbers like ‘No Excuses’ and ‘Never Content’ similarly cloaked in green pasture melody. But when songs are as contagious and uplifting as the - Happy Monday’s lyric lifting (!) - title track, frankly, who gives a damn.

To surmise these 36 minutes of wonderful sonic mastery it’s perhaps best to let the child’s voice on the glorious ‘Collapsing At your Doorstep’ do the talking:

“Sorta like a dream? No, better.”
89%

Originally published here and here's a video of the luscious Never Content




Thursday, 23 October 2008

ALBUM REVIEW: Catfish Haven - Devastator

Ambivalence - it‘s what every musician dreads. There’s surely no more spirit-sapping feeling than having done absolutely nowt to invoke even a modicum of emotion in the perked-up ear sockets of the listening hoards. For sure The Kooks, The Enemy, Pigeon Detectives et al may knee-jerk bowels into the dispatch position but, Christ, at least they’re stirring something deep within; reaffirming music’s ability to unite and segment, engage and enrage, love and detest. To merely stick public opinion in neutral is, quite frankly, unforgivable and instantly forgettable.

Fast forward to the point…

As all budding, ethic-abiding journalists will testify, if you don’t know your subject you’d better swot-up. So, once Secretly Canadian-signed Catfish Haven’s second long-player Devastator plumped it’s spherically shaped self into my stereo I thought it pertinent to crack off a web-based search on this seemingly unknown Chicago trio. But after traipsing through a number of brief round-ups I touched upon something bafflingly familiar: a short critique of the band’s debut record Tell Me typed out by these very fingers.

Sardine-tinned with vertebrate metaphors and overly verbose linguistics, it reads every inch a tooth-cutting whipper-snapper’s puff piece that says little and means even less. But in those few words I can gauge at least one thing: Man, was I bored. Really fucking bored. And sadly, Catfish Haven’s latest venture into fully-fledged album churning is just as stagnant as its predecessor - if not more so.

Bland, sterile, airwave-filling, humdrum, tedious: each one a clinical adjective to be attributed to the dreary cuts caught skulking here. If you’re sceptical of such knife-sharpened evaluations, I implore you to wrap your lugholes around the album’s opening number ‘Are You Ready’ without clutching fruitlessly for the nearest wrap of Kenco-laced amphetamine. Laden with dispassionate pseudo-soul stumblings and Ribena weak lyrics, it sets an un-arousing precedent for the 40 minutes of half-baked Commitments-aping to come.

Thing is, hating this record on face value is nigh-on impossible. Tracks like the all-jangling ‘Set In Stone’ or the romper-rhythmic ‘Full Speed’ breeze through the airwaves, jovially reaching the inner confines of the cranium before skating off as quickly as they fluttered in. Such cushion puffed numbers may appear harmless (shit, some lost souls may even purr warmly during the heart-struck musings of dishwater ballad ‘Invitation To Love’) but to the well-honed senses of discerning musos they’re as meaningful as Madonna’s wedding vows.

This aural ambivalence percolates through every pore - from ‘Valerie’’s lame, key-strewn lament to the irksome baritone during closer ‘Every Day’ - and with each slow-trotting moment Devastator seems further content to linger in the chasm of insipid, chart-hankering Blues-fodder. There’s no doubting Catfish Haven have now rendered themselves a Counting Crows for the Tesco-trotting generation. Mercifully, very few will care.
35%

First published here and here's a video of said 'meh' band. Tell me I'm wrong. Go on, I dare you.




Wednesday, 22 October 2008

ALBUM REVIEW: Peter Broderick - Home

Imagine the scene: By the bar, half-full glasses of cloudy, imported beer clink buoyantly while a rabble of private-school tailored voices pay no heed to the sweet rhythmic simplicity that flickers on stage. From the crowd, an angrily bellowed “shush” forces its way back but so immersed in idle-chatter are the antagonists that these protestations are barely acknowledged. And there he is - a stool sitting Peter Broderick - with only a few fey melodies and a set of hopeful vignettes to conquer those there not only to be seen but also to be heard.

A hypothetical setting this may be but it’s a scenario Broderick’s no doubt faced on numerous occasions. See, the Portland born - now Copenhagen-dwelling - troubadour doesn’t exactly demand attention. In fact so reticent is the sound of new record Home you’re left with the impression a one-punter gig would have this shy-away mewer shaking like a frost-bitten rattlesnake. But what the multi-instrumental 21 year old lacks in fortitude he more than makes up for in charm.

Rather than forcing its way into the conscience, Home slowly glides through the eardrums; fluttering heart strings and quivering neck-hairs on its way to the stomach’s pit where it radiates a warm, omnipresent glow. It’s a record of deep-seated imagination and spark, where bubbling emotions rise to the fore and entangle amidst a ream of melancholic piano chimes and withering string plucks.

Opening gambit ‘Games’ is a perfect introduction to this aural resplendence, resonating like a sweetly intended Chinese whisper imbued with snail-paced folk strums and an incoherent, soothing hymnal chant. Follow-up ‘And It’s Alright’ is equally hypnotic; a trinket of understated delight crafted by cloth-eared percussion and hand-picked guitar that creates a blushing mattress upon which Broderick’s spectral vocal bleeds reassurance.

By now images of the dreary Jose Gonzalez are likely skimming through your grey matter like a dull, leaden rock and, for sure, elements of such picture perfect song-writing lie in the lethargic ‘With Notes In My Ear’. But Broderik’s scope of song and depth of musicianship transcends such limited confines; flourishing in a world where sublime, evocative paean’s like ‘Not At Home’ and - the spellbinding - ‘Maps’ can spiral from brittle folk tip-toeing to texturised thunderstorms of strum and symbol in the blink of a peeper.

Even in his more languid moments, Broderick illicits a dreamy navigation - impaling weeping keys on choral harmonies to startling effect during closing number ‘Games Again’ - and it’s here where parallels between Home and the output of Sufjan Stevens are concreted. For this is a record that proves mere song-penning is not enough for Peter Broderick. Instead, every element, every creaking sonic must lay the foundation for the intricate construction of one glorious, tantalising soundscape. And for that reason, we should all stand up and pay attention.
79%

Originally published here at my new home. Oh and here's a video....




Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Record Round-Up: October

During the wondrous Maple Leaves, jaunty twee-jangler Jens Lekman once mistook a conversation about autumn for Mark E Smith and - overlooking the obvious ‘Fall’ confusion – it’s easy to see why. Both exude bitter Northern blows that send neck quivering chills down the spine whilst drenching you in a storm of aqueous spittle. In fact, perhaps the only difference is that whereas one sheds leaves, the other sheds band members.

It’s fair to say, then, that autumn ain’t The Round Up’s favourite season and it’s even fairer to say The Fall ain’t red-top fawning hipsters The Metros’ favourite band. Not that Smith will be disappointed; the London-spawned quintet’s debut long-player More Money Less Grief [*] is the kind of grubby–pawed "indie" jizz-spurting sure to burst the colons of Pigeon Detective followers everywhere. For the rest of us: it’s a shameful abomination of target-market driven filth.

Fortunately, Woodpigeon’s Songbook [****] is next to enter the Round-up’s battle-hardy airspace and what a delight it is to hear the brittle whisper and fragile strum of one time Edinburgh resident Mark Hamilton. Bulging with Origami-folded laments clustered amidst twinkling, heart-melting harmonies, this is a record imbued with unpolished craft and ethereal dreaminess that recalls the early stool-bound shuffling of Belle & Sebastian and Sufjan Stevens.

Mancunian collective The Travelling Band’s Under The Pavement [***] doesn’t quite hit Woodpigeon’s giddy heights but it’s a cosy, embracive soiree of tenderised simplicity that ranges from country spangled strolling (i.M.E.A.T) to James Yorkston-like understatement (Fragments of Green). Fuller of sound but lesser of interest, French pop-rockers Arther [**] serve up a middling plateful of banal riffage and disinterested rhythms with their eponymously titled debut. Vocalist Juliette’s lingering mew is akin to Beth Gibbons in tone but the lack of imagination in the accompanying strums and strings conjures up a record that fails to break outwith the realms of monotony.

Twinkling all-girl quintet Those Dancing Days have no such issue escaping the mundane. The Swedish ensemble’s inaugural long-player In Our Space Hero Suits [***] is a dashing charge of chest-pounding brass and northern-soul swinging basslines that has The Round Up’s knees-a-knocking to the sound of full-blooded, all-action grrrrll-pop. Aye, it resembles the Pipettes-gone-Blondie but, hey, in these long dark nights everyone needs a little bit of sunshine to warm their cockles, right?

Alas, upon opening the sleeve of Emily Barker’s Despite The Snow [**] The Round Up feels all such thoughts of sunshine slip from mind. A tragic swell of organic folk, the Australian singer-songwriter’s second full-length shares roots with the plaintive storytelling of King Creosote without having the necessary charm to captivate over a stock collection of bleak and often tiresome woodland hymns.

Okay, so are all Emilys handed an acoustic guitar and drip-fed folk music at birth? Perhaps not, but having endured Emily Jane White’s Dark Undercoat [**] the Round Up’s beginning to think so. If you replace ‘King Creosote’ with ‘Beth Orton’ these next few lines of critique would be an almost exact reproduction of the verbiage spouted out about Emily Barker’s record above. So to save you the time, here it is compressed into ten words: organic folk, singer-songwriter, plaintive storytelling, without charm, tiresome woodland hymns.

Feeling like an article reborn, the Round Up decides to have a ‘compressed’ go at reviewing the new Oasis album: Banal Pub Rock Shite. Unfortunately, the ‘pioneering’ Mancs’ new record is yet to land in these grubby paws, so we must make do with the chamber-pop swirling of Ra-Ra-Riot’s The Rhumb Line [****]. Hyped to the hilt they may be but the Syracuse quintet has created a sublime long-player that apes the grandiose melodics of Arcade Fire’s Funeral. Standout number is the frothing Winter ‘05 - a track embedded with wailing viola and a harrowing, soul-plucked vocal - but so full of splendour are each of these 37 minutes it’s almost impossible to dismiss any of the blossoming cuts found spinning here. A contender for album of the year? Most certainly.

Bouyed by the almighty brilliance of Ra Ra Riot The Round Up pitches up at its final record of the month: Uzi & Ari’s Headworms’[****]. A twisting, skewering blend of percussive aplomb, Ben Shepard’s (for it is he who creates all sounds found here) third long-player is blushed with subtle nuances and inventive effect board tweaks that escalate the record from dreary lo-fi limping to elasticised ethereal sprinting. Vocally, Shepard bears an unnerving resemblance to a certain Radiohead luminary, yet so spellbinding are tracks like Patron Saints and the dazed Magpie’s Monologue that listening ears quickly find themselves lost in his hand-stitched patchwork of voluptuous rhythms.

And with that the Round-up ruffles it’s locks, double knots its scarf and braves the cold, cold breeze of Fall. See you next month!

Originally published here

Interview: Frightened Rabbit & The Twilight Sad [pt 2]


In this, the second part of our Twilight Sad/Frightened Rabbit feature, TLOBF moves on from the ‘C’ word filled spewings of Part 1 to chew the fat with Scott Hutchison and James Graham on why both bands were overlooked at T In the Park, where they think their standing is in the current Scottish Music scene and what the pair have planned for the future.

I noticed that at T In The Park you were both in small tents. What did you make of that?
James Graham:
Yip, we were in the Unsigned Bands tent. I was quite happy to play it but I saw it as a kick in the nuts because we’re not unsigned and there were bands on that bill who weren’t where we are and hadn’t put in as much work as we have.
Scott Hutchison:
You feel like you’ve produced good enough music that you could be treated as a real band and not be lumbered into one of those tents. There’s a lot of promoter politics to get a good slot at T In The Park.
JG:
It worked out well but at the time it felt like ‘for fucks sake’.

So will you be looking for a bigger stage next year?
JG:
I’d be happy never to play it again.
SH:
I preferred Belladrum, it had a much more hospitable atmosphere.
JG:
I don’t like T In The Park at all – it’s pish. Connect was good but the line-up’s shite this year as well. It’s really disappointing that it’s gone down that road.
SH:
It’s not really healthy to see your career in terms of the size of the tent, what’s important is who was there and who has enjoyed themselves.
JG:
After we’d done an interview at T in the Park I saw some band on the NME stage and I said to the guy ‘I never want to be like that’. I’d be quite happy to stay on a smaller stage for the rest of my career.
SH:
It’s quite rare for a band that explodes to ever make a long term success out of their career. I’d rather see it as a job. It’s a particularly fun one but it should be work at the same time and I wouldn’t want to have anything that I hadn’t earned. So although I thought we’d earned a stage bigger than what we got at T In The Park, we actually earned an audience there.

It’s rare to see a critical word said against you and you’re pretty well renowned on both sides of the Atlantic. Did you ever envisage this is where you would be when you started out?
JG:
I think there’s an element of luck, hard work and timing.
SH:
I don’t know how this will read when you print it but I knew when we’d made our second album [The Midnight Organ Fight] that it was really good and I expected it to make us more popular. I think you visualise where you would like to be and I’m happy where we are currently.
JG:
I wanted to be doing this and I wanted people to like the band but I just didn’t know whether the songs were good enough. The fact that people are enjoying what we’re doing is amazing. Some more money would be nice. In fact, any money would be good.

Surely you guys aren’t doing too badly cash-wise?
JG:
I’ve been on and off the dole for the past two year – mostly because I haven’t signed up for the PRS or anything like that.
SH:
Well, that’s your own fault isn’t it?!

So did you guys know each other before ‘the fame’?
SH:
I definitely knew who they were when they were at demo stage because I was playing them to everyone.
JG:
Aye, I would go round to his house and play him our demos and he’d play me his – [laughing] it was quite gay actually.
SH:
Ahh…memories. But – and this is going to sound really bummy - I actually don’t think there’s a band I enjoy listening to and enjoy spending time with as much as them. I don’t know if it’s because it started happening at the same time for us both. I remember when Alex from Fat Cat told them that Frightened Rabbit were playing at the old Stereo [Glasgow venue] and they came down to see us. Afterwards there was this group of drunken lads talking to my girlfriend and I was saying ‘what the fuck are you doing? Who are you?’
JG:
We were like [Swings arms in air and puts on a particularly impressive drunken slur] ‘Alex fae Fat Cat said we’ve got the same spirit’.
SH:
Aye, from then on we just went to each other’s gigs and I don’t think I missed a show until they fucked off to America. I don’t think I’ve heard a Scottish record I’ve liked as much since they released [Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters].
JG:
Cheers. It’s the same for us. This is a bumfest isn’t it? You do know we’re going home together after this gig?
SH:
We’ve already spooned.
JG:
[Cracks up] Aye watching The Bodyguard drinking mouth wash.
SH:
[Almost choking with laughter] Can I get a gammy?

Erm..moving on then. Do you think the spotlight is too heavily focused on the Glasgow scene, almost to the detriment of other areas in Scotland?
SH:
No, I think it’s a good thing. It’s the one place that’s constantly maintained a presence with its music scene. Y’know Dundee came and went with The View and Aberdeen never really happened either. Not too slag Aberdeen off, it’s a nice city and all that.
JG:
I’m a shareholder at Aberdeen football club.
SH:
[Shocked] Are you? Really? And you’re complaining about being poor?
JG:
Oh aye, the champagne’s on me. I’ve also got shares in Euro Disney as well.
SH:
What the fuck? Check out stock market boy. [Mimics James’ accent] ‘Oh I’ve got nae money but I’ve got shares in Aberdeen Football Club and Euro Disney’. You’ve probably got some sitting in Microsoft too.
JG:
[Laughs] I wish!

I’ve interviewed a number of new Scottish bands recently and they’ve cited you guys as the main influences in their sound. It must be quite flattering to have taken the reigns from Franz Ferdinand and stopped the glutton of slanty-fringed guitar bands we had a few years back?
JG:
I really don’t think anyone should look up to us at all. We’ve only released one record and that’s nothing really.
SH:
I mean it’s very flattering and I think it’s a more substantial well to drink from than Franz Ferdinand. I don’t really hear the influence in these newer bands - it must be very subtle - but it’s a nice shift in the way things sound and bands like El Padre and We Were Promised Jetpacks are pushing that forward. I feel like Glasgow has a bit more romance now and [looks lovingly at James] we’re part of that.
JG:
Well there’s a lot more spooning going on. Go to [Nice ‘n’] Sleazy’s one night and you’ll end up going home with someone and spooning.
SH:
[Despairingly] This is going nowhere… move on please. Please.

Have either of you noticed a change in the grassroots of Scottish Music since you set out?
JG:
We didn’t really gig about a lot so I couldn’t tell you. I’m not really sure what it was like to begin with.
SH:
I think it sounds a bit different. There was a lot of electro and twee going on and I think that….[tails off]. Actually I don’t really know what’s going on in Glasgow these days, I’m rarely out.
JG:
I couldn’t tell you what Glasgow was like but I could tell you what the scene is like in Banton [small town outside Glasgow].
SH:
So what’s going on in Banton then?
JG:
Well we’ve got a jukebox in the Swan and our drummer used to be in a band called Stone Whisper. They were amazing.

There was a lot of pressure on Scottish bands to move to London a few years back…
JG:
S-H-I-T-H-O-L-E: Shithole.

…I take it that’s not something you’re going to consider in the future?
JG:
Nah, I’d rather be miserable up here than down there.
SH:
I don’t think it’s the centre of the universe and there’s a lot of…
JG:
Arseholes?
SH:
Aye, but there’s a lot of arseholes everywhere. The difference between the arseholes up here and those down there is that they don’t see anything outside of their big, huge playground. You do put a lot of pressure on yourself when you first play down there but I would urge new bands not to consider London as the end of the yellow brick road.
JG:
I just get really stressed there.
SH:
We were playing that White Heat and I never knew the audience but the moment they walked in they oozed were proper hipness.
JG:
Like Nathan Barley?
SH:
Aye, exactly like that.
JG:
I just end up sitting in the corner trying to avoid eye contact with people when that happens.
SH:
Places like Leeds – that’s my favourite city to play in the world I’d say – have much more atmosphere and the crowd are with you constantly.
JG:
Aye, the first two rows in London are like that [wildly waves arms in air] while the back rows are just looking at you like [sits perfectly still]. Christ, I don’t know how you’re going to write that up.

Aye, I’m starting to wonder. Now you’ve grown in stature, what’s the craziest commercial offer you guys have had.
JG:
Naebody’s really offered us anything yet.
SH:
Well we had Hollyoaks and the one that’s coming up that’s really fucking big [TLOBF has been sworn to secrecy].
JG:
Nobody likes us; they’ve nae offered us anything. Nae tampon adverts or sexual favours. Although our bass player does offer them out.
SH:
All we do is sit about and say ‘Ah my life’s shite, naebody comes on to me. May as well go and write another album’. So going back to the start, that’s where the misery comes from.

What would it take the for you guys to produce a chirpy, up tempo pop song?
SH:
I would say that ours are poppier than theirs. I wouldn’t class them as pop but if you take the words away they’re definitely a bit poppier.
JG:
We definitely won’t be writing one.
SH:
He and I are going to do something together when we get a bit of time. We’ll try and take each other out of what we’ve been doing; removing me from lyric writing process to concentrate on the music, whereas he can concentrate on writing music that’s a bit quieter and a different background for his voice. That could be a pop sensation.

Is this definitely going to take place?
SH:
I’d like it to happen. My mate has a place up in Fife which is always empty so hopefully we can sort something out.
JG:
I’m up for that.
SH:
I’m up for it as well. It’s just a nice holiday for us.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Interview: Frightened Rabbit & The Twilight Sad

If you haven’t noticed, the Scottish music scene’s thriving. There’s a new sense of worth emanating from the nation’s sweat soaked venues and acts like We Were Promised Jetpacks, Broken Records and El Padre are creating sounds with the potential to shoot beyond the country’s towering trajectory and out over the Atlantic. And the reason for this tartan-clad revival? Well, there’re two: Frightened Rabbit and The Twilight Sad.

Over the past twelve months the uniquely home-grown sonics of the ‘Twilight’s magnificent Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters and Frightened Rabbit’s equally elegiac The Midnight Organ Fight have pulled relentlessly on the UK public’s heartstrings. Forget the grating art school chic of Franz Ferdinand, these acts truly encapsulate the sound of modern Scotland: vehemently sarcastic, bitterly morose and absolutely, unflappably honest.

So in the first of a two part interview, The Line of Best Fit caught up with Frightened Rabbit’s Scott Hutchison and The Twilight Sad’s James Graham before a gig in Edinburgh during the Fringe to discuss their morbid disposition, the increased popularity of the Scottish brogue and, of course, Gwen Stefani…

Well, we’re in Edinburgh and it’s the Fringe Festival. Have you had any chance to see shows?
James Graham:
Nah, I’ve no money at all.
Scott Hutchison:
I went to see Limmy last week.

Who?
SH:
You don’t know Limmy?? Aw man, where’ve you been? If we’re talking about Scottish stuff he’s the funniest guy about at the moment. He’s got a website and he does all these podcasts and videos. It’s just wee characters that you’d definitely know if you lived in Glasgow or anywhere in Scotland really. He’s got this one character whose an ex-junkie called Jacqueline McCafferty.
JG:
[shouting in coarse Glaswegian accent] Jacqueline, Jacqueline McCafferty.
SH:
And he’s got another character called John Paul the Ned who’s brilliant. You should definitely go check him out.
JG:
I can’t afford to.
SH:
I’ll take you as a wee treat then.
JG:
Aww… thanks.

Do you need to pay? Can’t you guys play the ‘don’t you know who I am’ card and stroll in to anything you want these days?
JG:
They’d probably just laugh us away.
SH:
Have you ever tried that? I mean, it’s easy to get on guestlists but have you ever actually rocked up to somewhere and tried it?
JG:
Nah, I’d be too embarrassed – it would be awful. There was a guy going about in Glasgow saying he was our manager at one point and getting into places. Why would you even say that? You wouldn’t get in anywhere. I think the doormen just laughed at him.

Talking of japes, why do so many Scottish bands – and I count both your groups in this - have such a morbid sense of humour when it comes to lyrics?
SH:
I think Scottish life can be a bit dark and miserable. I mean it’s not California here and I think it’s been bred into us. I’m always asked if I listen to Arab Strap records in my room all my time but I’ve never listened to an Arab Strap Record all the way through.
JG:
[genuinely stunned] Honestly?
SH:
I’m not kidding, I’ve listened to about three songs.
JG:
Christ, I listened to one the other day.
SH:
Aye, it’s not that I’m not interested in them but I think it confirms that it’s an innate Scottish quality to look on the bright side of darkness. [Looks at James] But you’re not very funny.
JG:
I’m not funny – there’s nae uplifting parts to me at all.
SH:
I went round to his house the other day and it was a beautiful summer day - one of the hottest of the year - and James was sitting by his laptop in his bedroom with the blinds down and one wee lamp on. I think he’d just closed a very rude window as I walked in.
JG:
Aye so it was: YouPorn.com, I think. But I don’t really like hot weather so that was why I was sitting in my room in the dark. I just fucking hate the summer.

I hear you, especially in Scotland: a combination of pissing rain and sweaty buses equates to an omnipresent stench of wet dog.
SH:
I know what you mean. You know those t-shirts you forget to wash after a particularly stinking day and then when it rains a few weeks later the dog smell comes back?
JG:
I’ve nae idea what you’re talking about.
SH:
You’ve never had that? I guess that’s because your mother does your washing for you.
JG:
[Sarcastically] She does, aye.

Right, back to the topic fellas. Why do we Scots write such morose songs?
JG:
I dunno, I just don’t like happy songs so I wouldnae write any. I hate happy people who go about smiling all the time, pretending that life’s great. That’s just not me and I don’t think many people are like that either – the Scots are just as miserable as fuck.
SH:
I think the dark side is more interesting; no-one likes people who think everything is great.
JG:
Like that woman from the T In The Park coverage, the one who used to be in El Presidente. She spent the whole festival saying: “amazing, amazing, amazing”. Fuck Off.
SH:
Aye, amazing as a word should be used considerably less than it is at the moment. Not everything can be amazing.

There’s a fair amount of brutal colloquialism in your lyrics – I’ll use ‘puttin’ the boot in’ and ‘kicking your cunt in’ as prime examples. How does that go down outside of Scotland?
JG:
In America it worked just as well.
SH:
Yeah but your ‘cunt’ [in That Summer At Home I Had Become The Invisible Boy] is quite a subtle one.
JG:
We also got away with it on the Gideon Coe session during the day. Nobody noticed at all.
SH:
We’ve got one of our songs coming up in a mainstream American TV show that has a cunt and a shit in it and they’re playing it whole. I don’t know how it’s going to work, I don’t know if they’ll voiceover it with ‘jobby’. They really hate ‘cunt’ over there and when I use it they think I mean kicking a woman in a vagina or something equally as horrid; yet over here it’s acceptable.
JG:
My mum and dad asked me about the lyrics but we’ve just never, ever spoken about ‘that’ lyric.
SH:
So, is that ‘cunt’ someone I know?
JG:
[Laughs] No, it’s a generalisation that signifies a whole lot of people.
SH:
You mean it’s an umbrella over one person so they can’t be identified?
JG:
Aye, a cunt-brella.

Have you ever seen the American website that tries to decipher your lyrics James?
JG:
Oh aye, it’s amazing. It’s a shitty website that someone’s made up and it’s got stars and shit all over it.
SH:
Is it that one that looks like a My Little Pony website or something. As if they needed to say ‘Unofficial Twilight Sad website’ when it’s covered in stars and glitter. Although, it might have been Andy’s doing.

With the brogue being ‘in vogue’, so to speak, I take it you see it as a good thing that folk here are singing in their own accents rather than using that faux-American drawl bands used to put on?
SH:
I don’t sing in the same strength of accent as [James] does but I find that when I’m singing one of their songs I start [puts on his finest Weegie accent] strengthen’ it up a wee bit, eh. But I think there’s no other way of singing [The Twilight Sad] songs than like that.
JG:
I do roll my r’s a wee bit but I never really think about it.
SH:
You know there’s these American bloggers out there who call him Groundskeeper Willie?
JG:
Aye, Groundskeeper Willie – fucking brilliant eh? But I’ve never really thought about singing in an accent.
SH:
I don’t know why I sing with an accent either - I’d never heard his band before I started Frightened Rabbit and I’d never hear Popup either.
JG:
Nah, I’d never heard Popup either, in fact I don’t think I’ve heard them to this day. Or have I? I think we’ve played with them…[ponders this for a minute].
SH:
Anyway, moving on…If I’m singing about things that are happening in my own life then there’s no way I could be honest about it if I’m singing in another accent. If I put on an American accent then it wouldn’t work at all and people wouldn’t believe it.
JG:
Aye, these songs are about us and there’s nae point in trying to do it any other way.

It’s well known that The ‘Twilights’ rose to prominences in the States before being picked up here, whereas I remember seeing Frightened Rabbit a multitude of times in various venues over the past few years. Considering your pathways, is it strange you’re now both on an equal par now in the States?
JG:
Aye we had an American release out before we’d put anything out and then we toured there for a bit and then we came here. I quite glad we did that in many ways.
SH:
It’s kind of unique to Fat Cat to be honest. So many labels think you have to work on the UK before you have a chance of making it in the States and that’s why you have the stupid pressure of cracking America or whatever. If you just go there and work like you do over here it’s probably going to happen – they fucking love Scottish music, in fact they love Scottish ‘things’. [James laughs] They do man, they love everything about Scotland.
JG:
The thing is; if there’s a buzz about a British band in Britain the American’s don’t really give a fuck. But if there’s a buzz about a British band in America then it all filters back.

You mean like Bush?
JG:
Aye, we’re the new Bush apparently. [Raises fists in celebration]Yes!

Could be worse, I’m pretty sure most folk would be chuffed waking up to Gwen Stefani in the morning.
SH:
[Laughs] I had to do this blog thing on the Guardian and I talked about pumping Gwen Stefani from behind. I’m not sure it will ever be published.
JG:
We had to do a single review column for The Skinny [local culture magazine] and we gave Bush’s new single five stars for boabin’ her and two for the song.

Okay, I’m sure Gwen’s getting the divorce papers sorted as we speak. So, how different are the American crowds to those in the UK. I’m assuming Frightened Rabbit don’t quite have the same scale as the Twilights just yet?
JG:
Nah, they’re much bigger than we are over there.
SH:
We sell shows out in the States all the time but I don’t think we’ve sold one show out over here. So, yeah, we’re doing pretty well over in America.
JG:
We haven’t been out there in a while so I really don’t know. I think the only significant thing for us, was playing the Pitchfork festival. All the other shows were pretty small, at about 200 – 300 people.

That’s still pretty good I’d say, considering I saw The Ruby Suns over there and there must have been about twenty people. It’s odd they don’t seem to support their own, don’t you think?
SH:
Yeah but it can be really random as well. There were some pretty dead shows initially.
JG:
Aye, you have to get through the shit to get to the good.
SH:
People over there find music a lot more independently than they do here - there’s not quite so much external influence. I find the NME governs what people think all too much here and they don’t really have that in the States.
JG:
They’ve got Pitchfork but quite lot of people look down on them for being cuntish to bands. They’ve been really good to us but I think there’s a lot of negativity towards them because of how harsh they can be. If you look at the Black Kids review or even the Jet one where a monkey was drinking its own piss – it’s pretty funny but if it was your band you’d be like [puts on mortified expression].
SH:
Pitchfork are capable of ruining bands careers.
JG:
Aye they are: British Sea Power got U.2 for their new album. I really think that’s worse than a monkey drinking its own piss.

Look out for part two of the interview next week.

First published here at my new home...

Sunday, 7 September 2008

David Holmes - The Holy Pictures

David Holmes struck oil with Ocean’s Eleven. Prior to his silverscreen sound-tracking, the Belfast-born DJ was better known as a cultural cut ‘n’ paster who produced magnificent 90’s floor-filler My Mate Paul. Yet with Holmes’ stock escalating meteorically on Hollywood Hill it’s difficult not to question whether his instant celebrification has filtered its way into new LP The Holy Pictures. In short, his fourth ‘proper’ outing is a disappointment: Lets Get Killed's street-smart huffing and puffing has been replaced by the humdrum shoe-gaze of Story Of The Ink, while Bow Down To The Exit Signs’ soulful gloss has evaporated in Kill Her With Kindness’ desert of myopic, synth-spangled ambience. Opener I Heard Wonders at least injects a little pace into this tortoise-like affair but little else has the capacity to intrigue with such conviction. The oil may be flowing but David Holmes’ own energy levels are diminishing fast.

Saturday, 30 August 2008

Ballboy - I Worked On The Ships

Justify FullBallboy must be sick of living on the edge. Since 2001, the Edinburgh quartet have established a cult-like following – the late John Peel was a staunch advocate of their jaunty twee-isms – without ever striding into the public’s conscience. It’s unsurprising then to find that album number five, I Worked On The Ships, looks set to continue the group’s trend of garnering chin-stroking acclamation. That’s not to say this is a disastrous record, far from it. Cuts like The Guide To The Short Wave Radio and A Relatively Famous Victory are beatific paeans, shivering with introspection and gushing melody. Yet for all the heart fluttered grace We Can Leap Buildings And Rivers' happy-clapping pop brings, this delicious long-player will merely rekindle wanting desire in long-term lovers, never eliciting the advances of fresher faced admirers. One day Ballboy may finally make their move but, for now at least, the periphery’s all they’ve got.

The Foundling Wheel - S/T

Sometimes words are just not enough. Sure, the following congregation of sentences may have lips-a-licking and sweat-beads-a-dripping but no amount of verb spouting can convey the euphoric shudder of The Foundling Wheel. A one man wail of screeching banshee sonics, San Francisco-born Ted Koterwas’ debut LP fucks and sucks its way into the skull’s decomposing grey matter; braiding chromatic sheets of singeing electro-bending between frayed laces of gleaming melody. The discordant Slingshot and It’s A Nice Place’s abrasive cliff-drop feel like the fist-clenched blows of cyborg-punk so fuelled by bile-swilling aggression are they. Yet, despite such machine-gunning spasms, it’s a record embedded with brazen pop sensibilities, wafting glutinous synth bubbles over the gorgeous Not What I Meant and the equally magnificent Mixed Mind And Missteps. But these are mere words - nothing can prepare you for the chaos that lies here. For that, you have to experience The Foundling Wheel for yourself.

We Were Promised Chit Chat With Yer Jetpacks

Since the razzmatazz revival of modern-era Indie™, the guitar-clutching tune smuggler has become a fucking nightmare to interview. Armed with pursed-lips aplenty and the obligatory quota of well-oiled retorts, a chat with today’s leather jacket adorning chancers tends to mirror their assembly-line melodies. It’s difficult not to feel short changed when every question is met with an ambivalent, numbskulled response and – despite what P45-avoiding scribes may protest - the thought of waxing lyrical with “the next Kooks” is as inspiring as a cheese-grater to the genitals.

It’s with a degree of scepticism, then, that I meet and greet with Glasgow-dwelling indie-pop ensemble We Were Promised Jetpacks. Sure, the quartet are blessed with a magnificent, dreamy-eyed moniker and exhale the type of fleet-footed songsmithery that led Kapranos and co catapulting up the charts, but such virtues don’t necessarily go hand in hand with an accommodating chit-chat. In fact, so concerned is The Skinny that our rendezvous will hit a dead end that I’ve scribbled down the token silence-filling contingency of every music journalist: “Describe your sound in three words”.

I should have saved the ink.

Huddled tableside in the pit of a sun-soaked Edinburgh tavern, Adam Thompson [Vocals/Guitar], Darren Lackie [Drums] and Sean Smith [Bass] are a breath of fresh air. As loquacious and antsy as a gaggle of primary school freshmen, the trio complete each others sentences and continuously answer questions before they’ve been fully put – particularly when discussing a certain blast from the past:

“We told a guy about it once and now it’s what everyone asks us,” interrupts a riled Adam as I enquire about an infamous and ultimately unsuccessful Battle Of The Bands competition where the group reinterpreted Jet's woeful dirge Are You Gonna Be My Girl. “We had two of our own songs played as well, it wasn’t just a Jet cover. It was one of our first shows and we tried to secure victory with our own stuff but we had our set cut short.”

They may still be reeling from this fledgling defeat but the Edinburgh-born group have certainly raised their game since moving to Glasgow three years ago: “I think there’s a lot more maturity to the songs now,” says Darren, only recently returned from a four month trek to Germany. Sean agrees: “Before, we wrote three minute pops songs but I think what we’re producing now is a lot more intense. When we started out we all liked things like Franz Ferdinand and Muse but now we’re listening to bands like El Padre – they’re amazing.”

Definite stamps of Franz-styled angularity can still be found in the jerking revs of Roll Up Your Sleeves but the thrill of sprightly jangling is beginning to wear off on the WWPJ boys: “When Darren was away we did a few low-key acoustic shows where we played different versions of our songs,” says Sean before Adam interjects: “We ended up having more people in the band than we normally do. We’ve introduced glockenspiel, organ, violins and bells – we’re trying to become a little more expansive.”

With such a sci-fi loving appellation are We Were Promised Jetpacks looking for lift-off into the charts? “We’ve not really thought about [mainstream success],” says Adam. “I don’t see us as an indie band and there’s nothing particularly experimental about us so I’m not sure where we fit in.” Sean continues: “The worst kind of question is ‘what kind of music is it?’ Especially when someone doesn’t really know what to compare it to.”

Sensing I'll never get a better opportunity than now, I make a play for those three eternal adjectives. Eyes are rolled and cheeks are puffed before a well-primed response is delivered: “Loud. Full. Fun”. Nae quite a bravado-packed statement of intent but, then again, did you really expect anything else?

Published in a different form here

Thursday, 14 August 2008

ALBUM REVIEW: The Great Depression - Forever Altered

You should never judge a book by its cover. But in the musical world, where reality is skewed by hyperbolically-fed Jesus complexes, the band name's an integral part of the deal. Take Battles for example. You think they'd be everyone's favourite grey-matter pummelling math rockers if they were called The Bunnyfairies? Me neither. Fuck, they'd be lucky to broker a gig here in beer-swilling Blighty with a meadow-skipping moniker like that.

Likewise Liars, Hella, Fucked Up and The Brian Jonestown Massacre (perhaps more in spirit than in sound) are all perfect examples of modern day tune-churners whose choice of appellation epitomises their enticing aural arrangements. And kings of the ID-wearing musical miscreant? Stand forth, the UK's most effective Roland Rat impersonators, The Enemy (yeah, yeah, easy target).

With such name-tagged notions lodged firmly in mind, the prospect of The Great Depression's third LP Forever Altered doesn't exactly fill me with hopes of major-key whirring pop ditties played in the sun-blushed styling of Sweden's I'm From Barcelona. I don’t think I’ll ever understand what's so great about depression - economically or emotionally - but it's fair to say I’ve grasped the idea that any band that so openly dips its toes in the dank cauldron of despondency ain’t gonna produce a spirit-lifting collection of choons.

And sure enough, the instant a swarm of chasmal chimes and slumping drums creeps across the title track's opening notes it's clear this is going to be a suffocating affair - just perhaps not quite in the manner the Denmark-dwelling American quartet had envisaged.

See, Forever Altered’s a record best suited to the house-warming chitter-chatter of a 30-something couple who’ve transcended beyond the first notch of the property ladder. It’s music that's perfectly composed and beautifully executed but somehow floats benignly from the speakers, neither heightening states of consciousness nor submerging mindsets in the depths of despair - in other words, it’s utterly futile.

Tracks like ‘Holes In All Your Stories’ and the achingly stewed ‘A Pale Light’ are the sonic equivalent of an obedient employee whose been tapping away at the same desk for 30 years without once deviating from their comfort zone, continuing eternally on a linear trail of monotony. Yeah, every chord’s struck perfunctory, every harmony executed with a deftness of touch, and every warbling note’s scaled immaculately, yet there's no tingling nuances or jinking explorations to allow these numbers to spring out as throat-lumped show-stoppers.

With the seconds ticking drearily by, the record’s lack of stomach grows ever more intolerable; embedding itself throughout the melodramatic opus of ‘Stolen’, into ‘Throw Me Ropes’’ weeping chromosome of string-swept whispers before mercifully resting by the padded wall finale of ‘Colliding (into what might been)’ for a bluster of soaring key-speckled reflection.

Ultimately, such a shimmering climax is what grates most about Forever Altered. This could have been a collection of wondrous, tear-duct seeping soundscapes, but all that’s evolved is a record so stagnant it would spawn a million malaria-spreading mosquitoes were it to be liquidised. Sure, The Great Depression may appeal to the more mournful of heart, but what lies beneath Forever Altered’s cover is a set of tatty pages with very little content.

Saturday, 9 August 2008

DiScover: Maps & Atlases

According to recent reports, we Brits are not only useless at mathematics but openly proud of our woeful inability to simplify a complex fraction. It’s a slightly perplexing position to uphold, particularly if you consider that physical impotence is something we’re not all too comfortable discussing, yet when it comes down to our innumerate brewers-droop we readily declare it like a nerd-repelling badge of honour.

Given the UK’s rebuking of Pythagoras theorem then, it seems almost contradictory that its music loving masses so willingly embrace the algo-rhythmic sounds of math-rock. The complex dissonance of Shellac, Slint and Don Caballero is revered by those with a predilection for challenging sonic arrangements, and with a plethora of newer acts likes Battles and Foals polishing up the genre's more abrasive edges math-rock looks set to continue burning a pathway through the country’s musical landscape.

One band standing by, gas-canister and a box of matches already to hand, is Chicago-based ensemble Maps & Atlases. The quartet’s debut EP, 2006’s exhilarating Trees, Swallows, Houses, skewered the discordant crepitating of home town leviathans Don Caballero with wheezing melodic splutters and elasticated yelps. They’ve since returned with follow-up EP You And Me And The Mountain, completed a stateside tour with Foals and will embark upon their first-ever jaunt to the UK this autumn.

So, in eager anticipation of the band’s venture across the pond, we caught up with guitarist Erin Elders before a show in Nashville, Tennessee to DiScover whether Maps & Atlases’ numbers really do add up.

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Video: Maps & Atlases, ‘Songs For Ghosts To Haunt To’, live


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Evening Erin. Whenever I see the name Maps & Atlases it’s almost always followed by two words: ‘math’ and ‘rock’. Is that frustrating at all?
Erin Elders: I think we have definite elements that could be described that way, especially when compared to other math-rock bands, but we’re much more comfortable with being seen as a progressive band. We try not to see our music like that; we don’t sit down when we’re writing a song and think, “How are we going to make this more Math?” But I think because we include elements like time signatures you can see how people would consider us more of a math group.

So you don’t feel burdened by being tagged as such?
EE: No, not really. There’s always a lot going on in our songs so I suppose that’s why people see it that way. I think we get lumped together with other math-rock bands because of the techniques we use.

Talking of fellow math-rockers, I believe you recently toured with Foals across there in the States. How did that go?
EE: We did a bunch of West Coast shows with them a couple of weeks ago and I think we’re going to be doing some more together in the UK soon. The shows here were amazing - they’re a band we really respect. We’d heard the record though we didn’t know much about them, but from the first shows we hit it off with them straight away. They were the sweetest, most kind-hearted people and it was the first time we’d toured with a band we had a great connection with. It seemed like we were playing from the same page and I feel like our two bands really compliment each other.

Musically, I think it's fair to say you guys are kindred spirits. The last time I interviewed Yannis [Philippakis, Foals frontman] he told me his band were exceptionally precious about the process of recording music. Is that something that’s applicable to Maps & Atlases?
EE:
Yeah, I can definitely see where he’s coming from. Some of the songs took a really long time to write on You And Me And The Mountain. When we first sit down to start writing we try to figure out the best relationships between each part. It’s almost as if we’re overly critical of ourselves during the writing process because we really want to make the best songs we can make. If we put out a record we want it to be representative of ourselves as it’s an important thing for us. Other bands can just make a record and whatever happens happens, but for us each element goes through a long process where we’re almost building something up just to tear it down again.

Hmm... sounds like your band's the musical equivalent of the British press. So do you deliberately set out to make songs with as much scope and depth as those on Trees, Swallows, Houses?
EE: Definitely. A lot of the songs start as an idea that Dave [Davison, guitar/vocals] has and then we’ll flesh out the structure by bringing it into a band setting where we layer things on top and figure out the drum part, then look at the relationship between the bass and the drums, the guitar and the drums and so on. We look at each instrument and how every one fits together - it’s like a puzzle of some sort.

It sounds like a laborious process.
EE:
Yeah, it is but I feel like the longer we’re in the band the more we’ll figure out our songwriting process.

Having spawned bands like Shellac and Don Caballero, Chicago has form for math-rock. Just how much of an impact has the city had on your sound?
EE: When we started out you could hear a lot of elements of Chicago-based bands like Shellac, but now I’d like to think we’re reaching out in different directions a little bit with this record.

There’re obvious similarities between your band and the aforementioned Don Caballero, particularly in the two-handed tapping guitar technique you use. What is it about that style of playing that appeals to you?
EE: I think what appealed to us initially was the percussive element to it. In the songwriting process we’re a band that thinks with a certain sense of percussion behind all of our parts. We found it was really easy to emulate different percussive sounds with our instruments by using tapping techniques, and that’s really where it all started. We went crazy with it on our first EP, but now we’re trying to find ways of getting out of that pigeonhole.

Is You And Me And The Mountain an attempt to step away from the math-rock stigma, then?
EE: That was really the idea with this record. As a band, you make your first record and then think, “Where do we go from here?”. We wanted to achieve the same level of intensity as on the first record, but we didn’t want to make just another mathy record. We wanted to figure out ways to branch out melodically and we feel like we’ve made a Jethro Tull record with this new one.

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Maps & Atlases shot by Ryan Russell
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If Don Caballero has been the obvious influence, what other sounds have inspired you that people perhaps wouldn’t consider?
EE: We really like older progressive bands, but you could also argue we use elements of The Beatles’ Abbey Road. One of the things we wanted to do was pull out a lot of old soul melodies - not that we’re looking to do a Sam Cooke record or anything, but there’s definitely more of a combination of soul and folk in our sound now.

The vocals feature quite prominently on your records but I’ve always thought they seem to exist more for the purpose of sound rather than meaning. How much emphasis do you place on the lyrical substance?
EE: On a lot of the songs Dave will have put together almost the entire song on his guitar and we’d tape the vocal melody without really thinking about the lyrics for a while. But then sometimes it works out the other way round and we’ll come up with the lyrics first and then Dave and I will come up with the melody to complement it.

It seems like you’ve got an organic ethos to creating music.
EE: It’s not like we’ve ever set rules for ourselves, but we’ve always tried to make something interesting from regular instruments that haven’t been digitally manipulated. We’ve always liked the idea of at least trying to make sounds that are as organic as possible. But we’re not going to limit ourselves where we can’t do something because we want to keep it organic.

Your debut EP, Trees, Swallows, Houses, is a labyrinth of sound that’s almost impossible to escape from. Have you ever consider stripping it down and making a play for the charts?
EE:
Oh, definitely. Outside of the music we play nobody really listens to math-rock. For this whole tour Dave has been listening to Bruce Springsteen. We would just love to make a pop record and strip all the math away, but we’re hesitant to do that because we don’t want to lose the intensity that is our band. We’ve got some songs that haven’t worked out with the style we have, but maybe we’ll try to do that on another project sometime in the future.

There seems to be a lot of blog buzz about you guys but a severe lack of press coverage, which is surprising considering a band like Foals are on the cover of every rag over here. Why do you think that is?
EE: With the last record it was a really slow and organic development and we didn’t do much press. We put out our first EP initially by ourselves and then we did as much touring as we could. After we sold out our first pressings and re-released the record there was a bit of press, but by then the record had been out for a little while so there wasn’t really a big campaign. The thing is we’re really impatient and we don’t want to sit for four months waiting for our record to come out just because we’ve got press to do.

With the influence of the internet these days I guess you don’t need to rely upon gushing praise from us two-bob hacks, do you?
EE:
Yeah, I mean the interesting thing on this tour has been that we’ve played a load of shows in places we’ve never, ever been to before, but there’s still people there who’ve heard the records and are singing back the words to all of our songs. It’s weird because we think of ourselves as a touring band, so for people to get into us through the internet still seems really strange.

You’re touring the UK in autumn this year, are you looking forward to it?
EE: It’s the first time we’ve been anywhere out of the country and we’re really excited about it. It will be interesting because Foals are absolutely huge out there, aren’t they, so it will be fun to see what the crowds are like.

Ah... so you’re still to discover what it’s like being covered head to toe in lukewarm ale – lucky you! So how does the sound of your records transfer to the live environment?
EE: Obviously we started playing shows before we made the records so we consider ourselves to be a live band first. Of course, the records are a little more polished where we’ll add some guitar noises and a few slide parts but I think they’re pretty similar. If anything the live shows are a little more intense because of the crowd’s energy but I don’t think there’s too much difference right now. We’re trying to figure out how to make the live shows different to the record.

Thus far you’ve recorded EPs, but when do you plan to start working on an album?
EE: We have some songs that we’re working on at the moment which we plan on putting on full-length and we’ve got some that we’ll use for other ideas. We’re also hoping to run a series of digital singles or 7”s, so when we get back from Europe we’ll do those and start a full-length.

And finally, all the press shots I’ve seen with you guys have you sporting some rather delightful facial hair. How’s that going?
EE:
I think Shiraz [Dada, bass] has the makings of a pretty good beard as do I, whereas Dave has the full sideburns/moustache combo going on. By the time we make our way over to the UK we’ll have some full-on facial hair going on.

Well, I suppose if you’re going to be in the math-rock club you’ll need some face fuzz.
EE: That’s true. I’ll try and grow my beard out as much as I can before I get over there so I can look like some sort of sulking outsider.

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Video: Maps & Atlases, ‘Every Place Is A House’, live


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Maps & Atlases play a number of headline dates in September and October as well as a good number in support of Foals – details below. Find the band’s MySpace page here

September

27 Aylesbury Civic Centre with Foals
28 Cardiff University with Foals
29 Norwich UAE with Foals
30 Nottingham Rock City with Foals

October
1 Leeds Brudenell Social Club headline
2 Hull University with Foals
3 Liverpool Academy with Foals
4 Aberdeen Music Hall with Foals
5 headline date TBC
6 headline date TBC
7 Newcastle Academy with Foals
8 Glasgow Captain’s Rest headline
9 headline date TBC
10 headline date TBC
11 Exeter Cavern Club headline
12 Brighton Engine Room headline
13 Oxford The Regal headline
14 London Bardens Boudoir headline