Sunday, 22 February 2009

Things I've learned from.... journalism:

(1) Radiohead is both a sacred sheep and a cash cow

(2) James Brown is not the Godfather of Soul

(3) Palms are crossed with silver; words are not

(4) The NME is universally slated, yet everyone secretly admires it

(5) No one cares about consistency, style or grammar

(6) The Fall are better than you think

(7) Bands are not as clever as journalists make you believe

(8) Journalists are not as clever as words make you believe

(9) Some people do really wear sunglasses indoors

(10) Every good question has been asked before, as has every bad one.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

ALBUM REVIEW: Teitur - The Singer

For some, the voice of Teitur Lassen is a grandiose pleasure that hypnotises the eardrums. Yet, for others, his lavender scented tones are as grating as a hangnail on a blackboard. And once the Faeroese singer-songwriter opens up his well-oiled throat you’ll know exactly why: there’s truly no middle ground when it comes to this man’s piercing pipes. But his music? Well, that’s an entirely different matter.

Rich with tenderised symphonies and dashing yarns, his fourth studio LP The Singer is an angelic, prose-heavy effort that can catch the breath with whispered brilliance, yet readily strikes out with stolid flutters of languid, directionless toils. It’s not a torturous affair; merely a frustrating one, destined to gnaw away at the frayed strands of the patience. If ever a record was made for casting a browsing thumb over the ‘Next’ button this is it.

The title-track’s introductory welcome bear testament to such laboured listening. An operatic plead of fine-tuned a cappella, it’s the type of elitist melodrama Freddie Mercury treadmilled at the bookend of his recording career. Narrated by narcissistic chords and self-aggrandising flashes of brass, there’s simply no give to vicariously whined couplets like “I sing about my loneliness and in return they thank me/ I had never meant to be a singer.”

This penchant for self-indulgence shepherds the record into a cluster of nadirs; be it the spiritless fan-boy reminiscing of ‘The Legendary Afterparty’, ‘Guilt By Association’’s laboured Bright Eyes-aping or the monochromatic dripping of ‘Letter From Alex’. Sure, each is a chest-puffing composition bulging with atmosphere, but these quarrelsome tribulations could only resonate with a hermetic teenager’s persecuted mindset.

Fortunately, Lassen encounters greater success when the tempo turns brisk; infusing a positivist feel through his bleak lyrical undercurrent. The Mexicana parps and deep dwelling bass of ‘Girl I Don’t Know’ carry his inclining crow skyward on a canvas of affective melody, while ‘Catherine The Waitress” boisterous rhythm is supplemented by the sort of jangle-happy toe-tapping Stuart Murdoch regularly dusts down his tweeds for.

A hybrid of Lassen’s dual musical predilections, ‘Start Wasting My Time’ juxtaposes tepid verses with a buoyant chorus section that saunters to the rhythmic sway of cocksure percussion and prickling guitar. It’s an extravagant swoosh that perches above much of the record’s all-consuming dreariness, proving this softly worded balladeer has the dexterity to fabricate something more gratifying than a sprawl of diluted arrangements.

While such sporadic flashes veer brilliantly off-kilter, The Singer’s one-geared nature is the making of a man who’s more than happy to play it safe. His voice may fissure opinion, but when it comes to the music Teitur Lassen takes it straight down the middle of the road.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

School Of Seven Bells: Transcripts...

This is the transcript of an interview I recently did with Ben Curtis of the rather magnificent School Of Seven Bells for The Skinny. An amiable, pleasant sort of fella, Ben talked frankly about escaping from old ensemble Secret Machines, his new band’s recent record and the two ladies who’ve put a rather large smile on his face...

Hi Ben, how are you?

Ben Curtis [BC]: I’m very well. I’m at home in Brooklyn right now. We’re on a bit of a break but not really, we’re concentrating on recording right now. There’s not really a break.

Can you tell me how the band initially came about?
BC: The idea was just to make music; it was just a matter of growth and pushing ourselves and appreciating the situation. We met in 2004 when we were all on tour together in other bands and we started chatting about it then. In 2007, I guess, we eventually got round to making music and it was really exciting and had a lot of energy from the beginning.

What is it about Claudia and Alejandra [Deheza] that twirled your head?
BC: I guess it was the different musicality of it really. It’s weird, I don’t feel like I’m working any differently. I feel like I’m making music the same way and it’s really different because our collaboration is really different. They have really strong musical personalities and it’s very different to my ears. It’s weird, chemistry is a really important part of making music with people and their habits are completely different from lots of people I’ve encountered. Making music is all to do with habit: Your here and you need to go here. Other people’s habits are really backwards but with these two it works.

Do you play off each other?
BC: It’s a contrast but it’s complimentary. It’s a conversation that works.

How different is it working with two pruning ladies compared with two sweaty rockers?
BC: [Laughs]: It’s entirely more pleasant, believe me.

Has it been different recording with them?
BC: We’re all together . We start from the top down: With atmosphere and things like that. We record from our studio at home so we’re really immersed in everything we’re doing and it becomes a real part of our lives. We’re all adding different things to the music. Out of these atmospheres so many songs come out of them.

It's been suggested that you have a non-too-typical approach to song writing focusing on lyrics first before the music. Is this true?
BC: At the heart our songs are songs. You can play them any way you want or you can dress them up any way you want, but they’ll still retain the same inherent personality. I guess the production idea and sound is totally informed by what is happening in the vocal. That’s where it starts because we don’t want those ideas to be limited or serve the purpose of just spicing up some music. We write them and they’re free to go where they want – I think that’s different from how a lot of people write music.

I get the impression that the voice is an intricate part of the melody, as if it’s an instrument itself?
BC: That’s true. A lot of vocals and harmonies and they spend a lot of time on that and the vocal is an arrangement in itself. It stands on its own and a lot of the musical ideas come out of that. It’s a cool way to work, starting from a really human point.

Have you found it tough stepping out of the shadows of Secret Machines?
BC: It’s been frustrating doing something new when everyone is referring to another project - I don’t think people realise that. I made two Secret Machines album. When I started that band that was the statement I made and I did it and I feel like it’s done. And they’re there and you can hear it any time. Now I’m doing this and they’re totally different. It’s weird that there’s a comparison but I think that the comparisons have begun to reduce. There are so many people there right now that have no idea what I’ve done before.

Has the release of the album cut off the past?
BC: For me, it was just something that we did. It was a year and half of touring and writing and fans of the other things we were doing weren’t aware of that at the time. But I didn’t really thing about that at all. I’m not worried about it. I know that I can control how people confuse what I do.

It’s quite tough, I guess, when blogging is so prominent.
BC: Yea, it’s so radical. Music Journalists would write something and that was the definitive word but now any kid in any country can write to a blog and say whatever they want. And this is just some kid who hates his life. We’ve been really lucky though and people have responded so well to it. We’re grateful to get that in such a delicate situation.

How's things been for you since the album's release? It's been picking up a lot of praise. Is it something you expected?
BC: In a way you have to expect that but I know you can’t count on it. We think what we’re doing is great and you really have to think that way. But we really had no idea and whether it was going to be out of step. Sometimes people aren’t really feeling a certain kind of music and it’s really arbitrary in this kind of whim-generation. So we’re really lucky because we believe what we’re doing is really current.

You’re not trying to tap into a scene though are you? This is organic...
BC: Yeah, for real. You can’t really do that. You have to do what you do. I think it’s quite obvious when people aren’t genuine about something and people will pick up on it. You can tell when people are really serious about something and are into what they’re doing. I think what we’re doing is a valid statement. There’s so much music out there that doesn’t need to be made, so I feel good about where we’re going.

Psychedelia /Shoegaze seems to litter the reviews up to now... but I get the impression the album's sound was more organic in creation , in that there was no clear direction from the off. Am I way off the mark here?
BC: Specific genres were nowhere near in our minds when we started off. We can just accept that though because I think people are painting it in a positive way but we’re not trying to achieve those sounds. It’s not really where we’re coming from.

You have made a record that doesn’t give any indication of where you’re going...
BC: Yea that’s the kind of band we wanted to be. We were worried about genre definition: we wanted to be open-ended. We don’t really want to make the sort of music that alienated people. But we have no idea what we’re doing next. It’s exciting and terrifying. We’ve been doing some new tracks and remixes for people and it all sounds so different – we really have no idea where we’re going to go.

You’re playing with Bat for Lashes in the UK soon. Is that one of the artists you have an affinity with?
BC: It’s one of the bands that we like. I’m not sure how much affinity we have with them but we’re lucky we can play with so many different bands that are all going to be a little bit relevant. BFL is great she’s really amazing live.

How does the sound transfer in the live environment?
BC: It’s just the three of us. The beats are all electronic and it’s just the three of us playing instruments so it’s great. It’s a little bit more muscle in the live setting so there’s a little more energy. We didn’t write the record with thoughts of live performance at all, it was really playing music and making songs so it’s a great coincidence to be going out and touring the record.

You sound like a content man. Has this given you a new lease of life?
BC: It’s reassuring to know that I can do something like this and it works and it’s going to be a constant. And this collaboration is amazing and really satisfying. I’m totally happy, as you can tell.

So, how far do you think you can take this band? Is it a long term project?
BC: For sure.. .it’s a long term project. It’s very much collaboration however, when we make this music something mysterious happens and it totally works. We have no intention of making metal machine music any time soon. I mean, we write songs and that’s what we do. As many people can experience it and love it – or not. We don’t have a ceiling or anything, we want it to remain open-ended but we’ve really not thought about it though. Maybe we should discuss it...

Finally, what’s the best thing about being in SOSB?
BC: Hmm.. I dunno. I guess it’s great to develop relationships with people, working and living with them. I don’t envy the people who are making music on laptops at home. It’s probably great but doing something and making a piece of music then someone else adding something on is a really great, great feeling for me.

Related feature can be found here

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

RECORD REVIEW: Wavves - Wavvves

As one man bands go, Wavves is up there with the loudest. San Diego slacker Nathan Williams’ almost-eponymously titled (check the extra 'v') sophomore LP may not allure those of sensitive eardrums, but for everyone else it’s half an hour of rapacious, temple-pounding sonics.

By swilling together fuzzy clutters of guitar and percussion with swooshing melody, Williams' annexes depth and dimension to Times New Viking's 2-D blueprint of N-O-I-S-E; adding sensitive, humane flushes to the trash punk decibels and skeletal riffs of Get In The Sun and So Bored. Record highlight is the chronic dirtbox scuzz of No Hope Kids, yet more chasmal cuts like the coruscating Killr Punx, Scary Dem or the infested lair of drum that is Sun Opens My Eyes suggest Williams has both the scope and range to escalate beyond these myopic throes. Not quite a masterpiece then, but pretty soon these Wavves will come crashing in.

RECORD REVIEW: Beirut - March Of The Zapotec/Realpeople: Holland

Up until now, Zachary Condon's never been one to do things by halves. Abound with voluptuous mariachi sways and waltzing European melodies, previous Beirut releases were unrepentant stomps that left no doubt as to their creator's stoic intentions. March Of The Zapotec/Realpeople:Holland is an entirely different proposition.

Part one of this dichotomous affair finds Condon mounting the uncultivated, if familiar, climes of Mexicana folk; where triumphant, parping brass exhales over rippling percussion and mandolin while he warbles staunchly against these gales of instrumentation. By part two he’s crept into the unknown: the synthesised world of glitchy electronica. Disappointingly this new domain fails to fan his creative sensibilities, with No Dice and My Night With The Prostitute From Marseille resembling tiresome Hot Chip cast-offs- less dancefloor filler, more lughole chiller. He may have got half way there but, for once, Monsieur Condon misses out on the whole shebang.

RECORD REVIEW: Andrew Bird - Noble Beast

Andrew Bird’s always been a bit of a mystery. Capable of delivering both oddball verbosity and tailored elegance in one fell swoop, the Chicago-born troubadour cuts a nomadic figure when traipsing through the industry’s unruly queue of PR skirt-chasing. Yet he consistently produces the sort of ditties slobbering A&R toads sodden their tighty-whities over: innovative, consuming melodies with the dexterity to moisten tear-ducts or flutter the strings of the soul. A sure-fire cash cow in many worlds. Not Andrew Bird’s.

You see, his senses are swayed by more extraordinary pleasures; be they Weather System’s neo-jazz swings [2003], the esoteric monologues of The Mysterious Production Of Eggs [2005] or Armchair Apocrypha’s [2007] pensive collusion with science. Whatever the guise, his typicality has always been untypical of us, the everyday punter. While we steadily progress on our linear, predefined routes, Bird’s pathway zigs, zags, pirouettes and rotates before reaching its destination, armed with the allure of both story and song.

Weighing in at six-minutes shy of an hour, Bird’s fourth studio album, Noble Beast, should feel more journeyed than the shorter endeavours folded away in his, now bulging, archive. Instead it’s lighter, daintier even; as if shorn of responsibility and obstruction. The quilt of melody upon which his crooning tones once laid have been replaced by a brittle, straw packed under-sheet that takes time to embrace but, after a few restless nights of tossing and turning, grows as a soothing comforter for the soul.

Introduced by the pursed-lip blows of Bird’s familiar meandering whistle, inaugural number ‘Oh No‘ begins with a massaging palm of string and drum. Arrangement-wise, it’s characteristic of the man’s past glories- swooning, bulbous chorus preluded by slinky violin fanfares - yet, such is the willingness of tone, it rubberstamps a definite shunt forward in expressionism, even if a curious glee is induced by his pledges of being at one with “the harmless sociopaths”.

Delivering on this early promise, the advancing numbers of Noble Beast congregate as an organic array of tune that beams beyond Armchair Apocrypha’s dense aural midst. The touching ‘Masterswarm’ sets out with a slowburning contortion of brittle fret plucks before sparking kinetically into blizzards of instrumentation and diction. Likewise, doom-laden canticle ‘Effigy’ arrives under cloaked fiddle strains, slowly unravelling as a purposeful sway that has Bird agonising over his own insularity.

Of course, the linguistic acrobatics remain as impressive as ever; his recital of tongue-knotting stanzas during ‘Tenuousness’’s harpsichordal flurry is executed with such rapidity they hum like a voluptuous musical accompaniment. But this is not a habitual collection of inner-monologues scattered bare across fully developed euphonies - there’s less bafflement to these tales. The mesmerising ‘Anonanimal’ may be rife with dramatic vicissitudes of guitar, drum and key, but his words are non-conflicted and the production bleeds purity. It’s the sound of a man coming to terms with the contours of his own skin.

Yet, Noble Beast is not without flaw. In fact, imperfections are bruised across the record’s spine like blows from a cracked whip. The laboured ‘Fitz & Dizzyspell’s conduces heavy eyelids with its dreary, poker-faced gushing; ‘Nomenclature’’s cumbersome strains leave its final crescendo blunt and withered, failing to emerge from the tedious slipstream; and ‘Natural Disaster’’s creeping strings and arid backdrop do little to rescue what is, in essence, an undeveloped, shovelled-up lament.

Sadly, these lulls rein in an album threatening to take flight with two cuts that prove Bird’s lost none of his idiosyncratic mastery. ‘Not A Robot, But A Ghost’’s twitching, saw-buzzard backdrop transcends into a thrill of experimentation, with glorious robotic Tropicalia glazed atop the grimy canvas of looping, gyrating effects. A startling moment, for sure, but it’s surpassed by the magnificent ‘Souverain’. Easing in with a mournful Spaghetti Western whistle, it develops as a hopelessly contradictory ballad - both downbeat and lustful - that swells with orchestrated hooks and ponderous wordplay.

Perfectly poised, this elegant, heart-pumping climax brings an often luscious, sometimes languid, record to a fitting conclusion. Far from refuting suggestions of esoteric sauntering, Noble Beast’s quirky trove lends itself to a man playing ball in an entirely different court; one without structure, boundary or cash-money ambition. But, hey, you know Andrew Bird - he wouldn’t have it any other way.