Oh My God, Charlie Darwin
At some point in their fledgling careers all 'man with guitar' outfits will have to bear reference to the 'man with guitar' master. If there's one aspect of His Bobness that Bella Union's The Low Anthem emulate, it is the sense of an old 'all seeing' soul in a young man's body. Long before the mundanity of a youth in a simple mining town was discovered by biographers and used against him by 'Judas' shouting fanatics Dylan created a myriad of myths about his upbringing. The 'ho-bo on a train' and 'circus performer on the run' personas that Dylan invented for himself created a mystique that allowed the listener to accept a wisdom that defied his tender years. Though technically 'two men with guitars', The Low Anthem have something of that sort of quality; with a philosophy that seeps from their music suggesting many years on a Kerouacian road. This comforting suspension of disbelief is a joy that makes The Low Anthem so enchanting; it would be a shame if it was shot to pieces by revealing that it is all just cut and pasted by 21st century teenagers with access to folk pages on wikipedia.
In terms of the actual sound and feel of The Low Anthem it is not the original Dylan that springs to mind, but rather the original 'new Dylan'; Bruce Springsteen. One always gets the sense that at heart The Boss is really the boy from New Jersey who got a union card and wedding coat for his 19th birthday rather than being born to run. Its not that The Low Anthem sound like Springsteen rather that they sound what a young Bruce might have sounded like if he had carried on along Thunder Road in search of America rather than getting bogged down with 'debts that no honest man can pay' down in Asbury Park and Atlantic City. Embarking from Rhode Island they must have hit the Midwest built a bonfire and larked about with a banjo, stopped off in the Appalachian mountains for a hill-billy hoe down, howled at the moon like the Boss's hero Tom Joad out on the dusty prairies, soaked up some Blue Grass in the Georgian swamps and been lifted by the sound of Spiritiuals in the deep south. 'Oh My God, Charlie Darwin', The Low Anthem's second album, is all of these things, with moments akin to a melancholic Bruce rocking gently alone on a porch or rollicking good times with the E Street Band in tow.
If your idea of great music is a band in a basement, then I dare say you'll love 'Oh My God, Charlie Darwin' and wish you'd been out on the road with the two men with guitars. If it isn't, then you'll probably be happy to book a last minute package and be glad that at no stage were you subjected to hotel lobby music that sounded in any way like 21st century Americana. The Low Anthem are the latest in a lineage from Woody Guthrie through Tom Waits and the Boss - who all the while manage to sound timeless.Read more 4 star reviews
Bunny Gets Paid
Being that I'm neither of a superstitious persuasion or a 9 year old boy I do not have a favourite number. If I was to do so however it would be 45. Being a history geek it resonates with 1945. It constitutes one half of the beautiful game. But really it is a happy conjunction of the fact that classic albums were moulded for the 45 minutes of space on vinyl and that 45 is the number of minutes it takes for me to walk home work. 45 minutes of blissful private head space and immersion music.
Working as a music reviewer can reap rich rewards and found gems have always rendered the before mentioned 45 minute walk a pleasure. Red Red Meat made it tortuous and tedious in equal measure. Bunny Gets Paid was the third of a trilogy of albums from the Chicago 'post grunge' band, first released in 1995. The omens are good as Sub Pop proclaims it as 'easily one of the high points of the entire Sub Pop catalog'. With stiff competition that is quite some accolade and prompted some excited anticipation.
To my mind it seems there's a perfectly adequate reason as to why Bunny Gets Paid failed to sell first time round. Because it's not that good. The necessary ingredients are all present, with fuzzy guitars and outsider ethos, but it fails to inspire. At the time it would have sounded much like everything else and sadly it stills does. There's no sense of kicking oneself and cursing 'damn how did I miss out on this first time round?'. By some accounts Red Red Meat have turned out to be quite influential but I doubt they will acquire Velvet Underground status as a band feted after the event. To be remembered as significant requires more credentials than that the band were present at the grunge banquet with the obligatory slacker attitudes and a penchant for flannel shirts.
Apparently what makes Bunny Gets Paid stand out is that the band decided to play around with form to create a more loose sound. They succeeded with this, whilst also jettisoning melody and coherence. It sounds like a sound check from when Beck had a devil haircut; a sound check at which he couldn't be arsed to boot. The mid nineties obsession with rejecting over-production means that there is almost no quality control. Main man Tim Rutili recalls of the record "when I bring in a song it's usually not that good until other people fuck around with it, and there was a lot of fucking around this time". Somebody should have pointed out that broths that are stirred by too many cooks get spoiled. Red Red Meat lyrics are oblique, something to normally be encouraged, but instead of prompting intrigue, reflection and personal interpretation just lead to bemusement and a shrug of the shoulders.
Die hard fans will be pleased to know that this release of Bunny Gets Paid is also accompanied by extras- B-sides and out-takes - but passing trade may find it all utterly tedious. I dare say a handful of listeners may love this cult offering but, much as it would pain my 1995 persona to have to hear me say so, I think Sub Pop is wrong. This is not a Sub Pop high point.
The forum of a Chimpomatic review is one that I’ve already used to declare my love for Emily Haines; an ardour born of her anthems as a Broken Social Scene-ster and the achingly beautiful collection of songs on solo project ‘Knives Don’t Have Your Back’. I did however add the caveat that I wished at times the ice maiden might lighten up a touch and with Metric, the third of her musical trinity, she has deigned to do just that; to magical effect.
Like any long term relationship I feared that the passion may be waning and that the fire may just be dying out on first listen to Fantasies; Metric’s first full length album in 4 years. I confess to initially being a little on the miffed and disappointed side. Gripes included; occasionally the lyrics border on hectoring, song progression can feel slightly formulaic (taught tights starts like an a bow being pulled back raising to urgency and then arrow release) the veneer of over polished production threatens to muffle some numbers and the odd tune sounds like they’d been penned for the more intimate and vulnerable solo set only to be shoe-horned into a full band run out with an air of forced bravado. Its not that the criticisms are no longer legitimate it’s just that they are irrelevant and over thought. If one dissects a frog then one also kills it.
A few more listens and the passion roars just as fiercely as it ever did; like wondering how you could have ever thought that the girl next door was ever anything other than absolutely beautiful. As Emily implores ‘watch out cupid’ - the arrow has been shot. The merits of Fantasies, after a fair hearing, blow away any reservations. ‘Stadium Love’ is a manifesto for world domination warning U2 to vacate the stage. ‘Blindness’ is the sound of an Indie Queen on top of her game. I defy anyone not to hear ‘Help I’m Alive’ and not hum it endlessly for the following few days while ‘Sick Muse’ just soars; there’s no other way to describe it.
An ear for a melody, choppy New Wave riffs, hooky synths, no frills powerhouse drumming and a voice that has lived and is still alive all marry together to create a perfect harmony. Love, like faith, grows stronger when tested and I’m still in love with Emily Haines.
Inside My Guitar
Maybe I'm just getting too long in the tooth but I feel like I've been here before. A recession sound-tracked by shoe gazing kids playing fuzzy guitars from behind their fringes. It must be the early 90s again. No its just the debut album of Kent indie foursome It Hugs Back. I don't know for a fact that they have long fringes but I'd bet a fiver in these credit crunch times that they do stare at the floor when playing live. Like I said maybe I'm getting old. To be fair 'Inside Your Guitar' does grow on you with time but then with time hair grows on the back of old men too.
Listening to Inside your Guitar fills me with a sense of turning into one of those 'it wasn't like that in my day' veterans grumpily crossing their arms at the back of a gig I used to mock as a wide-eyed indie 17 year old suffocating against the crash barrier at the front. Dylan summed it up my current dilemma best in my Back Pages with the lament 'fearing that I'd become my enemy in the instance that I preached.' So it is, age catches up with all of us. Melancholic opener Q merely makes me want to patronisingly encourage them to download some early Mogwai to hear just how dark brooding music really can be. 'Back Down' makes me glad that The Jesus and Mary Chain didn't sand paper down their edges. I could go on but then I'd become the enemy preacher.
When It Hugs Back admit to their youth and in throw in a bit of fire and mischief they do show promise and inspire the thought they may be worth persevering with. When they rip up the world weariness that doesn't suit them and plug into the energy of their age Inside Your Guitar has fleeting moments of real joy. 'Work Day' is the sound of escapades on an afternoon bunking college and 'Unaware' is like walking home drunk on a summer's night. They've definitely got potential. I wouldn't be too shocked to discover they release a classic in a few years and look back on Inside Your Guitar slightly embarrassed by just how seriously young men take themselves. Again Dylan's Back Pages springs to mind “ah but i was so much older then I'm younger than that now”. If the boys of It Hugs Back ask the old cynic with arms crossed at the back of their next gig he might just tell them that 'youth is wasted on the young'.Read more 3 star reviews
Its feels like I spent the whole of 2008 blinded by a career blizzard but when the weather did clear and some visibility was possible I did manage to spy a view highlights...
Album of the Year - Wagonwheel Blues - The War on Drugs
Though I risked the presence of much egg splattered all over my face by nominating this as album of the year after only a few listens providence has nevertheless confirmed the judgement of my hot headedness. Faith in the Secret Canadian quartet was bolstered by a blistering summer set at Brixton's Windmill. An album of mighty ambitions and glorious intensity it remains an absolute corker.
Gig of the Year - Broken Social Scene at Shepherds Bush Empire
Tunes multiplied by talent to the power ten. I'm not sure as I've ever heard a more haunting live performance than Kevin Drew's solo rendition of Lover's Spit - sublime.
Book of the Year - The Book Thief
Tear jerking yet mirth making, doom laden yet life affirming this is surely destined to be a 21st century classic. Genuis.
Let Down of the Year - Steve Coogan Live
Sure we fans chuckled along and it was great to see my idol Partridge in the flesh but oh dear; Steve you do seem tired!
Moment of the Year - Barak Obama's Chicago Victory Speech.
Like a Marvel comic character, minus the mask and the magic powers, Obama seemed to be the hero the people of the world had turned to as the only one who can save us. Tough kids at my South London school actually cried. Referencing Sam Cooke, with oratory skills from yesteryear, he realised and embodied the soul man's prophecy that 'a change is gonna come'. Let's hope nobody steals his kryptonite!
Time was when I would pool my baby-sitting proceeds and parental pocket money for a once fortnightly trip to the closest thing that a small provincial German town could muster to an equivalent of Rough Trade. Such hard won earnings would be sacrificed at the musical altar of the latest Seattle, Manchester or Boston Gods or perhaps invested in discs born a generation before in New York state country basements or conjured up in a downtown New York lofts. The sounds of yester-year were guaranteed a fair hearing as they would be on permanent rotation acting as a soundtrack to games of Nintendo, occasional teenage fumbles and 'what am I all about?' existential identity crises. Until another shopping trip a fortnight later that is. At least they had a whole two weeks to win me over. But oh, times have changed.
Unfortunately today's new kids on the block have a far tougher task in proving their worth. There is no two week rotation any longer, but in the days of 7000 downloaded songs in your back pocket and the limited airplay of journeys to and from work new sounds have a tougher task to dislodge that which is already tried and tested. Time is not on the side of newcomers. Such is the fate of one of the new generation – The Blakes, a band who (rather conveniently for this particular review) hail from Seattle but recorded their debut album in the same Fort Apache Studios once home to Boston Lemonheaded and Pixied indie darlings.
The self titled 'The Blakes' is an album that back in the day might well have been a slow-burning winner, but alas now it will probably turn out to be a 'life in the fast lane' loser. It is not that The Blakes are an outfit without merit, just that they now have far more competition. 'Modern Man' is all angular guitars and off kilter drumming that makes you want to clap your hands and say 'yeah', while the autistic wailing of 'Two Times' makes you want to climb Australian Vines. Sadly for the Blakes, there are acts firmly ensconced on my playlists that already serve these purposes, and I dare say on other Chimpomatic reader's lists too.
Ironically, the tunes that are most likely to be awarded playlist status - as opposed to cropping up on shuffle - arrive when The Blakes set themselves free of the template set by their Seattle predecessors 15 years before. There is a lack of coherence that counts against this being a great album but at least hints at things to come. With shared singing and writing duties there appears to be something of an identity crisis at the heart of this band. No doubt The Blakes consider themselves edgy outsiders, in the mould of all the other outsiders now in the mainstream, but when they let down their guard they actually churn out songs that demonstrate a talent for finding a groove ('Vampire') and an ear for a pop tune ('Lintwalk') that the sensibilities of their hoped for 'alternative' fanbase might rail against. If The Blakes can sort out their own version of the 'what are we all about' teenage existential identity crisis then they may just produce an album that finds itself permanently rotated rather than just making transient shuffle appearances that are as occasional as teenage fumblings.Read more 3 star reviews
Let's get the negative stuff out of the way first as I have only one solitary gripe about 'Wagonwheel Blues' the debut album from Philadelphia's The War on Drugs. At 43 minutes I just wish that it was longer.
It is oft observed that movies released early in the season miss out on the accolades when it comes to the Academy Awards. 'And the Oscar goes to...' well usually the film most fresh in the memory of the Academy members. With this in mind I shall duly make a note in my diary for December 2008. It will read 'must remember to seriously consider 'Wagonwheel Blues' for my nomination for 'album of the year'. Perhaps I'm being somewhat premature and that in due course another release will yet supersede this – but it will have to be special because 'Wagonwheel Blues' is an absolute corker of an album.
Those things that look so perfect on paper do not always prove to be so in reality. The answer is not always equal to the sum of the parts. The trophy-less years of the Real Madrid 'Galacticos' era are testimony to the difficulty of creating the dream team. It is with wonder then that 'The War on Drugs' have managed to draw up a wish list of sounds which when thrown into the mixing desk cauldron have created the most magical potion. Instead of 'the eye of a newt and toe of a frog' the band have whisked in the following ingredients;
- The Tom Petty drawl
- Choppy Velvet Underground riffs and chiming John Squire licks
- Drums of a civil war army marching into battle
- The bar room good times of Bruce and his E street band
- A Dylnesque way of dressing mystical lyrics as simple nursery rhymes
- The determination of Smog hitting the ground running
- A meandering journey like Talking Heads' on a road to nowhere
- The fuzz of the Happy Mondays at their funky and dirtiest 'Wrote for Luck' best
- The moody but (peter) hooky bass lines of Joy Division.
The resulting 'Wagonwheel Blues' mixture sounds both exactly, and simultaneously absolutely nothing, like this list of luminaries. Where some bands ape and imitate their heroes (yes that's you Explorer's Club) The War on Drugs give a polite nod of acknowledgement and thanks for the directions proffered before independently setting out to explore a path entirely of their own choosing. As the band say they roll like 'a Wagonwheel with a monkey on your back' but then remind the listener that 'there is no need. There is no need for urgency'. This road is littered with escapades that exhilarate as they build but with a tantalising tease so that the final destination remains for ever just over the brow of the next hill.
In case I have been too subtle, and I didn't think I have, then I shall bang you over the head one last time. 'Wagonwheel Blues' is a great album and I encourage you to give 'The War on Drugs' a hearing.Read more 4 star reviews
If there is one thing I've learnt as a deck-hand on the good ship Chimpomatic it is not to jump to hasty conclusions. The case of the Explorers Club is a perfect illustration of this truism. On hearing the opening 'be my baby'-esque beats of 'Forever' my snap assessment was 'some-one should call Phil Spector and tell him that he's been robbed'. Which would have been rather premature. From that moment onwards it was clear that it had been wise to defer judgement. It transpired that if anyone needed to be informed that their genius had been pilfered then the only person who should be called is undoubtedly Brian Wilson. The Explorers Club main man Jason Brewer appears to be on a mission to write his version of the mythical 'lost' Beach Boys' album 'Smile' seemingly unaware that Wilson himself had already re-discovered and polished it down a few years back.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery then if Wilson ever hears 'Freedom Wind' he will be blushing a profuse scarlet colour. Explorer's Club are less influenced by the Beach Boys than their unofficial re-incarnation. Soaring harmonies. Tick. Orchestral arrangements. Check. Lyrics of love and innocence lost. Present and correct. It would be a wonder if Brewer didn't write his songs on a baby grand piano in a sand pit. The Explorers Club are the ultimate in tribute acts, albeit one that puts out records rather than reminiscing on a revival tours. All of which beggars the question 'what's the point?'. If you were too young to camp it up Frieda and Agnetta or sing back 'yeah yeah yeah' to John, Paul, George and Ringo then a night with Bjorn Again or the Bootleg Beatles serves a purpose. But what's the point of listening to Explorer's Club when the authentic original thing is just as easily brought or downloaded? Does anybody buy supermarket own brand cola when the 'real thing' is selling at the same price? Does the coolest kid at school ask his Mum to buy trainers with 4 stripes when the 'brand with 3 stripes' is on offer? No. And I would recommend that if you are not unfamiliar with this kind of surfing summer sound then check out Pet Sounds and Wild Honey before you even think about listening to Explorer's Club (and even then go check out the Byrds or the Mamas and Papas before you do).
Sadly the thought surfing through my mind when listening to Explorer's Club was of a sit-com I previously thought was rather forgettable. Remember when Nicholas Lyndhurst could walk back in time to the East-End during World War Two? He'd cheekily tickle the ivories of the pub Joanna with Beatles numbers passed off as his own. How we laughed as the regulars marvelled at his ear for a tune and the fresh nature of his music. It seems that Explorer's Club space-time portal has mistakenly jumped forward in time rather than turning back the clocks. Nevertheless they are still trying to palm of music from 1967 as if we'd never heard it before. Except that we have. Consequently in the 21st century these songs about 'going steady' now just sound contrived and slightly ridiculous.Read more 1.5 star reviews
Regular tabloid readers and those familiar with the gossip pages of the free newspapers that litter public transport will no doubt have heard of The Kills. Not because the press have been dutifully reproducing record label Domino’s PR campaign or because the transatlantic duo provide the soundtrack for the 3am Girls wicked whisperings over complimentary champagne. Of course, it is because the Kills’ guitarist Jamie Hince happens to date the supermodel with a thing for scruffy rockers. There is a simple reason why Jamie Hince is better known as Mr Kate Moss and that is because, after the best part of a decade of trying, The Kills just aren’t very good.
It is a pleasure to review music of merit. It appeals to the inner fan who has a chance to wax lyrical and marvel at the kind of creativity a limited axe-smith such as myself can even dream of producing. The task of being a ‘critic’ is less enjoyable. Much as it may pain to stick the knife in; if the Chimpomatic reader wants an honest review then that is what you shall get.
There are two fundamental problems with Midnight Boom. First of all there is a deja vu sense that this has all been done before. Edgy bands with minimal rhythms, choppy riffs and ‘cooler than thou’ vocal drawlings are nothing new. Even if they had managed to master this art, and no doubt it sounds great in the rehearsal rooms, by now it would be met with a shrug. Midnight Boom is offered up with very little panache. It is an album that sounds less like Television and more like the fuzzy sloganeering of the television sets from U2’s early 90s effort Zooropa and less akin to Blondie or Patti Smith and more like INXS straining for cool credibility.
It is this pursuit of cool that is the second of The Kills’ flaws. There is a sense that they know less of who they are and more of who they wish they were. It is a pyrrhic victory for style or substance resulting in an album that ends up feeling calculated and contrived. Songs such as Sour Cherry and Cheap and Cheerful lack any convincing passion or punch. The nagging refrain when listening to these tunes that try so hard to pretend that they’re not trying hard is of Brainstorm. The Arctic Monkeys could have been singing of Hince and sidekick Alison Mosshart when they mocked “top marks for not trying…but we can’t take our eyes off the t-shirt and ties combination.”
When all’s done I can’t help agreeing the Kills’ own statement that “I want you to be crazy, you’re boring baby.” Except for the fact you go out with Kate Moss obviously.
With hazy lyrics, church organs, tambourine and triangle chimes, slide guitars and narcotic vocals the obvious comparison to be made on first listening to Devotion by Baltimore boy/girl duo Beach House is with Mazzy Star. Hand over a basket of dough, cheese, tomato and red meat to an American and they'll cook you a hamburger whilst an Italian will conjure up a pizza. In much the same way Beach House have managed to cook up a sound all of their own even if they have thrown the same ingredients into the mixing bowl. Where Mazzy Star are dusk, Beach House are the dawn. Hope Sandoval sings in tones of a last seduction or a siren calling ships to crash on the rocks but Devotion is the sound of waking on the beach in the moment between sleep and conciousness. The tranquil waves lapping on the shore herald news that the storm has passed.
Mazzy Star might well be the obvious reference point but there are more strings to the Beach House bow. The production on the likes of Wedding Bell is a salute to Brian Wilson and Pet Sounds, Gila is a respectful nod to Mercury Rev's Deserter's Songs and Astronaut has echoes of the Ronnette's singing Be My Baby. Thanks to a frazzled 2007 I failed to contribute to Chimpomatic's 'best of' list for 2007. Had I done so then my nomination for album of the year would have been Can't Go Back by Papercuts. If the bed-fellows are a reflection of the lover then the fact that Beach House are currently on a extensive North American tour with Papercuts comes as the highest recommendation.
If you like this kind of thing then you'll love Devotion, but if it's not your usual bag then it should at least be added to your library for Sunday morning come downs or lazing in hammocks outside your summer holiday Beach House. In a word it is - dreamy.
Stacked at my bedside is a pile of books patiently waiting to be read. The tower shoots up at Christmas and crumbles as the year proceeds. Some I haven’t got round to yet, some I don’t much fancy and a select few will be saved for the summer holidays; page turners of the light and breezy variety who will hopefully be perfect for whiling away spare hours in the sun. Moonbeams by Secret Canadian debutants Throw Me The Statue is the musical equivalent of the holiday read. The first time these particular moonbeams shone down on me was whilst waiting for bus in February’s pre-dawn drizzle prompting an immediate judgement that I can’t stand this. Not now at least. Haiwian guitars and blasts of sunshine blown throw jaunty horns are not meant for winter morns but could be the perfect soundtrack to endless summer evenings. Throw Me The Statue could be worth waiting for though.
If the best way to judge a man is by the company he keeps then Throw me the Statue’s frontman, Scott Reitherman, must be assessed as one who is a savvy delegator with an ear for a talent. Reitherman provides a strong foundation of melodic tunes and wryly observational lyrics but it is his collaborators who lift this group from being forgetful to forget-me-nots. Happiest Man On The Plane suggests that left to his own devices Reitherman might prove to be little more than a poor man’s Willy Mason. If he rejected the ‘man with guitar’ route then This is How We Kiss hints that maybe he would be best pleased peddling Nu-Metal lite. Luckily this is the only song retrieved from Blink 182’s reject bin.
If Reitherman has drawn the outline then it is the rest of Throw Me The Statue who have added the splashes of colour. This is an album packed with beats, synths and horns which could have graced the Lips' Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robot, Grandaddy’s Sophtware Slump or the Super Furry’s Guerrilla. When they lighten up and let the good times roll Moonbeams illuminate the spot. Stupid Stone is the muffled sound of festival stages and tents over yonder, Old Believer should best be heard through the sun roof on a bank holiday drive to the coast and if Lolita doesn’t elevate your summer shin-dig from a civilised afternoon barbie to a swinging all nighter then no song will. Let the sun shine in.
Call to arms for the slacker generation? Coded scientology sermons? Beck has confessed. His mysterious, mystical lyrics from Odelay are just placeholders which he never got round to replacing.
Lynchpin of Canada's sprawling Broken Social Scene, described as indie's wu tang clan, Kevin Drew is a man who evidently has an aversion to pressure. In many ways this mindset has been the essence of the groups burgeoning reputation; but also perhaps provides an explanation as to why BSS have, thus far, failed to progress from a committed cult following and into the mainstream. The reluctance of Drew and co-founder Brendan Canning to seek the limelight is at the root of the collective's organic and diverse sound that invites contribution from a variety of Scene associates and members. BSS are a democracy of stars not a dictatorship or an autocracy. Shorn of the girls (Feist, Emily Haines and Amy Millan) and the brass 'blasters', tonight was very much the Drew show and initially suspicions were that he might not be able to step up to the plate.
Arriving on stage with one hand in his pocket and the other gripping a beer Drew made a little speech which reeked of 'getting excuses in early'. "Stop apologising" he was told by a particularly vocal heckler when observing that 'life is full of pressure. You get out of bed you feel pressure. You cook a meal you feel pressure. There's pressure to get the girl. There's pressure at work. So how about tonight we play free of pressure". Politely requesting the crowd's indulgence he explained the point of tonight's gig was to showcase and trial songs from the forthcoming album 'Broken Social Scene present's Kevin Drew's... Spirit if'. It wasn't the most auspicious start; akin to turning up to see your favourite footy team only to find out that some of the star names had been left on the bench and the rest would actually be playing rugby.
For a man with such a passionate fan base Drew's insecurity was surprising and as it turns out completely unfounded. As promised we were served up songs penned by Drew but interupted by seven of the Scene's stalwarts. Eschewing some of their tendencies towards ambience, balladry or electronica; opener 'Lucky Ones', with three guitars variously take the lead, was a statement of intent. Tonight was about rock. Continuing the earlier theme 'Farewell to the Pressure Kids' cranked up the volume before synth was finally allowed to rear it's head on 'Safety Grip'. Reviving previous obsessions with songs from love's outsiders the gig really kicked in with 'Too Beautiful to Fuck'; a tale of listening to people through hotel walls. Singalong for the fans came in the form of 'Backed Out on the Cocks' which the crowd enthusiastically embraced. Good as his word Drew continued to deliver more new tunes all of which showed potential. Much as it would be marvelous if it were otherwise it just can't be denied that nothing hits the spot in the same way as songs that have already been taken to the heart. After an hour or so the crowd were becoming slightly restless.
Buoyed by the mainly positive reception given to the new material the pressure now seemed to be off so that Drew and the boys began to relax. Rewarding the followers for their patience they stomped through 'Super-Connected'; just one of the winners the crowd had come in hope of hearing. Now on a roll 'Major Label Debut' was rattled through giving a delicate tune a new bouncy feel. Such was the reaction of the congregation to hearing the sermon that they'd yearned for from the cult leader there was still a nagging feeling that this was what the Broken Social scene can really deliver. There was a prevailing sense that tonight's show could have been something really special. Closing the set Drew was reconciled with his most fervent heckler inviting him onto the stage to waltz through the closing of 'Lover's Spit' a song so lush it could have filled the Royal Albert Hall several times over let alone a sweaty Scala. Revitalised by the crowd's enthusiasm for old favourites and now well and truly warmed up the Scene didn't want to vacate the stage but had to confess they had nothing more rehearsed. A quick conference was held to find out who knew how to play what while Brendan Canning stepped forward to point out; 'we're not going to cure any diseases tonight but we'll try to play you a song'. And what a song it was with 'Cause=Time' elevated to a tour de force.
All bode's well for the 'Spirit If' project and in fairness the Scala performance was a success but ultimately the sense was that this was a taster of what could have been. My own regret at illness forcing me to miss out on a performance last year of the whole BSS ensemble was only deepened. To slightly miss-paraphrase Smokey Robinson, sometimes a taste of honey can be worse than none at all.
Tasked with reviewing Young Marble Giants I approached the commission in just the same way as has served me well so far in my short chimpomatic career. For the uninitiated it should be explained that as well as being provided with the album the record company's PR people often forward info and biogs of the band to provide reviewers with the bigger picture. Personally, I only check the PR once I've listened to the album a few times preferring to approach it with fresh ears and guard against believing any hype. Such a tactic seems to have paid off thus far. After drawing my own conclusions I'll check for any extra detail that might explain any mysteries or ambiguities in the music and I might do some internet research checking for some kind of back-story which might put the the whole project in context. Usually it is a process that confirms initial impressions. Not in the case of Young Marble Giants.
Until I read up on Young Marble Giants I was set to say something along these lines......I've listened to Colossal Youth several times now and though its generally been an enjoyable listen I can't really see the point of them . There are a few stand out tracks such as 'Constantly Changing' and 'Music for Evenings' which with their controlled choppy riffs, aloof vocals and edgy bass showcase the groups understated and spare sound. But I'd now find it difficult to hum a single tune or recall any words. The general feel of Colossal Youth is of an early morning deserted town centre in the twilight period when revellers have headed home and the milk float and postman are yet to start their rounds. Its all a fairly solid package but nothing outstanding. It's moody but nothing on say Tricky. Its atmospheric but not in the league of Portishead. Dark but not as haunted as Joy Division. You want minimal stick with Kraftwerk. You want drum beats programmed through a synth then check out Boards of Canada. If you're after a female voice with some attitude then don't give up on PJ Harvey....you want a drone then look up Tram..... you want to be soothed go back to old school Mazzy Star or even Drugstore....you get the picture. It's hard to see how Young Marble Giants fit in and what their purpose is. I'd give it a 2 and half.
Having read up on them I now feel that I would have done Young Marble Giants a serious dis-service. It turns out this isn't new but a release of the only full length album the Welsh outfit released, all packaged in conjunction with an EP, a couple of singles and out-takes as bonus tracks. Not only that but it was all released over a quarter of a century ago. Though never popular in the mainstream these guys were a seminal act credited with influencing a generation of musicians and at the time possessed a small but dedicated and fanatical cult following. It all makes sense now. In this context Young Marble Giants are something of a revelation producing sounds so at odds to their punk contemporaries and providing a blue print for all the acts already name checked here. At the time it must have seemed that they were from another aural world and should be saluted for being so visionary. I stand by my assertion that they pale in comparison to those who have succeeded them but deserve their reputation and if you're looking for the roots of some of your lo-fi heroes then Young Marble Giants are well worth checking out.
Hallam Foe - Original Soundtrack
Film maker David McKenzie wanted to free himself from the convention of composing an original score as a sound track to his forthcoming film Hallam Foe. Discouraged by the prohibitive costs of forking out for already licensed published source music McKenzie decided the best avenue to pursue this would be to approach a record label about buying up a job lot. It was a move that evidently paid off with McKenzie and Hallam Foe winning this year's Best Music in a Film Silver Bear award at the prestigious Berlin Film Festival. McKenzie's master-stroke was plumping for Domino as his label of choice. Who better to paint the aural landscape of a coming of age tale set in contemporary Britain than Domino? With the exception of the title track by label luminaries Franz Ferdinand, not a single song in this collection was commissioned for the film but instead the whole Domino archive was trawled for appropriate tunes. It's a deal that pays off for everyone because Domino have the opportunity to showcase some of their lesser known talent. And what a stable of talent it is too. As much as a film soundtrack this is a chance for the label to say 'meet the family'.
Listening to the Hallam Foe reminded me of those big occasions when one meets a whole new family, perhaps the in-laws or a new step family for the first time. In this case the Domino family. Like all family do's it is a gathering of quite disparate characters who all have little more than a name in common. Like a family from a Mike Leigh film, or Jonathan Franzen novel there are inevitably secrets. The Domino's are no exception and provide a soundtrack populated by acts who all have a role to play.
Opening the album is 'Blue Boy' by Orange Juice, with Edwyn Collins in the role of the family hatchback driving Uncle reminding all that he once zipped around on a scooter and chopped out songs with military beats and Clash riffs. King Creosote discloses the discovery of an extra marital affair that everyone pretends not to know about in 'The Someone Else'. Rebellious cousins have shown up with Clinic's 'if i could read your mind' snarled out like Jonny Rotten singing a Smiths song and U.N.P.O.C screeching 'here on my own' like Frank Black attempting a Talking Heads number. Pssap is the cute little niece playing kazoo and singing about their Tricycle. The role of exotic wife of the uncle who made all the money is played by Juana Molina with a sultry seductive voice. Franz Ferdinand are the golden boys who have been overindulged and fail to entertain. The sister who's been damaged by a broken heart comes in the form of the sweet and sensitive 'I hope that you get what you want' by the soothing Woodbine and all the teenage heart break is narrated by James Yorkston with the wisdom of an 80 year old granddad. The gathering is completed by a couple of annoying younger brother's, in particular Double Shadow with their pretentious sub Prince effort and Future Pilot AKA who linger with a brooding air of menace.
Like any big do, it's not possible to remember all names and recall all the characters, some just add a background hum to the atmosphere of the Hallam Foe affair but on this one meeting alone the Domino family are ones that I'd definitely like to spend more time with.
What do you get if you cross a wailing voice, a banjo and a fiddle? This isn't a joke. Country music right? Well normally yes but in a parallel, and slightly perverse, universe the outcome is O'Death.
Listening to O'Death I'm reminded of the scene from the Blues Brothers where the band reform and secure a gig at Bob's Country Bunker. 'What kind of music do you usually have here?' asks Elwood and the response is "we have both kinds; country and western" whereupon the band are forced to launch into Stand by your Man and the theme from Rawhide before a riot ensues. To me this has always summed up country music. As an outsider it has always seemed to be something of a closed shop existing in a vacuum that fails to acknowledge or incorporate any other form of music. Those on the inside appear to know the ropes and stick to the formula - it's either plaintive songs of heartbreak of the 'stand by your man' ilk or sing-along hoe downs from the Rawhide vein.
O'Death are the outsiders who don't play by the rules, they've left the country bunker and discovered a whole other world out there. Now there is another suffix to add after country; it's not just 'and western' because to the musical lexicon O'Death have introduced 'country and gothic punk'. Based in New York, these are rural boys embracing the attitude of the big city. Theirs' is a sound not so much for barn dances on Walton mountain but mosh pits with the characters from Deliverance on the Texas Chainsaw Massacre farm. This is the riot at Bob's Country Bunker in musical form.
It is an edgy and at moments slightly disturbing journey but O'Death is a travelling carnival of infectious energy. Their relentless refusal to charm is charming in itself and if you get it then it rocks! Melody is certainly not sacrificed. Most tunes being of the foot stomping variety rest on beats that recall Iggy and the Stooges. These songs could've been penned by Tom Waits imagining them being delivered by a voice that at times could belong to either Frank Black, Jack White or Neil Young. At the end of this barn dance you can imagine that someone has spilt volatile moonshine over a hay bale. A stray cigarette thrown away by the fiddler has caused a fire and the band have to make a sharp exit on the back of a pick up truck. The locals elders are up in arms bemoaning the trail of destruction but the kids have had their eyes opened and will never be the same again.
Bonde Do Role With Lasers
Describing Bonde Do Role is tricky. Theirs’ is a brand of ‘baile funk’, originating from Brazilian ghettos as espoused by current indie darlings CSS. Describing ‘baile funk’ is also tricky. Perhaps it is easier to utilise the words of Pedro D'eyrot, one of Bonde Do Role’s MCs. He explains that ‘baile funk is “like hip hop gone punk. We have a word for it in Portuguese which is ‘rebola’ and it means dancing with your hips. Basically, it’s booty music with people screaming over it and lots of energy.” That’s about it, and very catchy it is too.
‘With Lasers’ is an album influenced by a list of genres as long as your arm. D’eyrot says that it is like ‘digging through the garbage in Brazil and using the pieces to make a club mess’. By my reckoning this must mean that the bins in Brazil do not just contain household waste and beer cans but a myriad of different vibrant sounds. There are pre-grunge guitar riffs, beloved of air guitarists Bill and Ted, galore. There are chants that remind me of primary school skipping games the girls used to play. Mix these in with rhythms that could shake Brazilian football stadiums and beats that shake the bootys of Carnival dancers. Throw in some samples lifted from obscure Latin American cartoons and sound effects resurrected from some long forgotten Super NES or Sega Megadrive games. Amongst all this supposed garbage will also be found synth loops associated with provincial German discos circa 1987, Portuguese cheerleading and some primitive rapping. It’s a hell of a mixture which leaves quite a cluttered sound. Clutter can be bad buts it’s more akin to a second hand shop full of gems rather than the contents of a Granny’s house clearance.
The whole mixture is held together by the MCing which is of the primitive variety reminiscent of the 80’s when everyone from Blondie to John Barnes tried their hand at rapping. The fact that it is delivered in Portuguese gives it an exotic and beguiling air which the lyrics may not warrant. The female MC sounds a bit like Black Eyed Fergie but as she’s singing in a foreign language I’m not quite put off by her rhymes which could just be about London Bridges and Lady Lumps for all I know. When she throws in a few grunts, groans and sex noises here and there it all becomes more alluring than inane.
All in all Bonde do Role’s debut album does have something of a disposable feel to it – much like the contents of a Brazilian bin no doubt – but like a cheap toy its fun for now. The album is full of infectious energy and insistent beats that’ll get you in the mood for dancing with your hips. Sophisticated it is not but then who cares? Pedro D’eyrot doesn’t. “For us it's all about the fun, and if it's not fun it's not worth doing. People can think whatever they like about us, but I'd like them to listen to Bonde Do Role in 10-15 years' time and laugh their asses off.” He’s probably right, we probably will laugh in 15 months let alone 15 years. But for now I hazard a guess they’d be worth seeing live and you might just well play this at every party you host this summer, shaking your booty with people screaming over the top.
Roaring The Gospel
The Stones once sang that you can't always get what you want but sometimes you get what you need. But such sentiments were written in the days before globalisation and rampant consumerism. These days you can you usually get what you want even if it's not strictly what you need. Our local high street doesn't need a new branch of Subway, JJB Sports or Nandos but that's what we're going to get because apparently that's what the punters want. In 2007 when everyone seems to have a voracious appetite for musical consumption one thing we definitely don't need is another singer-songwriter out of the folky troubadour mold. Another one just isn't needed. There's plenty to cater for our needs already. Where-ever one stands on the spectrum it seems your needs are catered for; from the Magic FM listening tweeness of the likes of James Blunts to the indie kid loving Bright Eyes of this world. So we don't strictly need James Yorkston but he is what we should want. When it comes to sorting the musical wheat from the chaff this boy would be top of the pile ready to be sacked up and sent to the mill.
Where many of these troubadours subscribe to the notion that 'imitation is the sincerest form of flattery' and make little effort to disguise the fact that they have just re-hashed the winning formulas tabulated by the likes of Bob Dylan, Nick Drake, and Neil Young, 'Roaring the Gospel' shows that Yorkston’s influences are wider and deeper than that. Yorkston is a protege of Bert Jansch and I'd hazard a guess that in addition he is not only familiar with Dylan’s back pages but also knows every nook and cranny of such albums as Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks, Love’s Forever Changes and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s Deja Vu. 'Roaring the Gospel', his fourth album, cherry picks some of the finer moments from his heros and blends them together to tasty effect. Add to this mixture lyrics and a voice that seeps celtic folk traditions and the brew is quite potent indeed. It might not be entirely groundbreaking but it is an approach that provides Yorkston’s tunes with a character and identity which is very much distinct from his contemporaries.
It is not just the range of influences that ensures Yorkston is sacked up as wheat rather than discarded as chaff; it is also his refusal to follow the route of many of his competitors who feel the need to return to a back to basics style orthodoxy of 'man with guitar recording songs in the solace of his room.' As a result he has avoided the pitfalls of introspection and melancholy which some manage to make appealing but most don't. The range of instruments utilised in the pursuit of a sound that is warm, rich and charming is both daring and dizzying. Yorkston adds colour to his tunes with the odd unexpected flourish. On 'The Lang Toun' the humming presence of bagpipes is inspired. Accordions don't often make an appearance in modern music but add a certain panache to 'Sleep is the Jewel.' And when was the last time you heard an oboe used in tandem with a banjo, let alone to used to such magical effect as on 'Seven Sirens'?
I hope James Yorkston has sharp elbows because he really needs to be pushing his way to the front or he'll be lost and dismissed amongst the crowd of all the other singer-songwriting troubadours we don't need.
Knives Don't Have Your Back
As a fervent fan of the Canadian collective Broken Social Scene I've been an admirer of Emily Haines for some time. In her BSS guise she makes me swoon. Every time I hear 'Anthems for a Seventeen Year Old Girl' from the album 'You Forgot it in People', (the stand out track from an album packed with potential stand out tracks) I wonder why they don't make more use of the mercurial Ms. Haines. Her sporadic presence in BSS always reminds me of a skillful winger stuck out on the sidelines away from the action. As an example 'Anthems for a Seventeen Year Old Girl' reveals all that needs to be known of Emily Haines. Its all about the voice; one that makes me fall in love, believing she must be both beautiful and cool. Beautiful, because she sings like an ethereal siren. Cool, because when she sings of how 'you used to be one of the rotten ones and I liked you for that' she epitomises the existence of everyone who is, or ever was, a bona fide indie kid the world over. 'Knives Don't Have Your Back' explains why sometimes it's not always completely fulfilling to fall in love with the coolest girl around.
Some will know that Emily Haines is not only a sometime contributor to the Broken Social Scene but also the front woman of Metric, a more dancey and punky outfit which took London by storm with their live shows earlier this year. 'Knives Don't Have Your Back', her debut solo album backed by her band the Soft Skeleton, offers a collection of songs that one senses she has longed to reveal away from the limitations imposed by her alternative roles. It is essentially a series of confessions and tales of loss eeked from her soul via the conduit of a piano. This exposure is simultaneously touchingly tender and achingly painful. The obvious comparison to be made, based on fragile sentiments and confident piano loops, is with the early material of Tori Amos; though minus the melodrama. But more than any other act it is the Velvet Underground that springs to mind on first listen. Its not so much the music or attitude of Lou Reed and John Cale that this album recalls but it is the qualities, if not the actual tones, of the two female Velvets that haunts from the grave. 'Reading in Bed' and 'Our Hill' exemplify the manner in which Mo Tucker, on songs like After Hours, manged to display a femine vulnerability while 'Doctor Blind' and 'The Lottery' are reminiscent of Nico's brooding sexuality.
Just as the Velvet Underground were shot through with the energy of New York, Sigur Ros encapsulate the sound of Icelandic fjords, or the Beuna Vista Social Club are the essence of Cuba, the sound of 'Knives Don't Have Your Back' mirrors the geography of Emily Haine's Canadian homeland. The songs are so evocative of skating on frozen ponds with wintery skies and endless horizons. There are moments of absolute sublime beauty; 'Winning' and 'Nothing & Nowhere' are songs that can break your heart and then mend it in the space of just a few minutes. If you had your ipod set to shuffle and any one of these numbers came on randomly you would think that if this chosen song was representative of the whole album then 'Knives Don't Have Your Back' would warrant a rating of nothing less than 5 out of 5. There are no problems with any single one of the songs individually. They are subtley crafted with heart wrenching honesty in isolation, but stacked back to back they can leave one feeling a little cold. There is a longing for some comfort and warmth just as I imagine there would be if one fell through the ice of a frozen Canadian pond. Perhaps she is aware of this; on 'Reading in Bed' she asks 'after all the luck you've had, why are your songs so sad?' I'm still in love with Emily Haines but she's perhaps just a little bit too cool - no matter how beautiful a crisp winter morning is sometimes you just wish for the advent of some spring sunshine.
Favourite Worst Nightmare
Last month in the sweaty temple of music known as the London Astoria I worshiped at the altar of the Arctic Monkeys. Their performance was a revelation that mugged me of my considerable cynicism regarding the copius plaudits given to these whipper-snappers from Sheffield. My account of that experience was the review equivalent of Belushi back flipping down the aisles when the Rev. James Brown asked of the Blues Brothers congregation 'do you see the light?' Yes, I saw the light. And like all new converts I felt an evangelical duty to spread the word. The word was that the Arctic Monkeys are the real deal. So it was with some trepidation with which I approached listening to 'Favourite Worst Nightmare.' Having become such a public zealot would I now be left with a considerable amount of egg on my face? Thankfully the answer is no. Like any belief that is successfully put to the test my faith has been affirmed and strengthened. Though this may not be their masterpiece I stand by my assertion that the Arctic Monkeys are the real deal and, so long as they remain so, it is my mission to convert every Doubting Thomas.
The difficult second album. Many a lauded and applauded act has struggled with this one. A variety of approaches have been taken in pursuit of delivering the second coming. The Gallagher approach was to give an airing to the left overs deemed not quite good enough for the debut album. Some, such as the Strokes, take a laissez faire 'if it aint broke, don't fix it' approach. The Squire and Brown tactic was to take previous success as a license for self indulgence. Others, thinking of the La's, just wilt from the pressure. Luckily, the Arctic Monkey's have avoided the pit falls that litter the paths taken by these forerunners. Their sound maintains an energy and freshness which dispels fears they may have rested on their laurels. This is a collection that varies the pace and tone to suggest that they are more than just a one trick pony while the retention of economical 3 minute songs has guarded against any over indulgence.
Just in case the listener is in any doubt about the Arctic Monkey's musical direction they deliver hellos and goodbyes which make their own intentions absolutely clear. Album opener Brianstorm offers reassurance that they won't entirely turn their backs on the floor filling anthems with which the myspace kids first fell in love. Also reassuring is the proof that their heads haven't been turned by fame; preferring to mock boys in 't-shirts and ties combinations' and girls in jacuzzis who 'lay it on a plate' rather than deigning to join them. 505, the final song of the set, however leaves the listener with a reminder that the band intend to let their sound evolve even if outright revolution isn't on the cards. The signs point to the emergence of a more measured less frantic approach. Less brash and more sophisticated. Less about bravado but more confessional. All without discarding what made them special in the first place.
Where 'Whatever You Say I Am' was all about the possibilities of the night ahead, the soundtrack to an evening of escapades on dance-floors, Favourite Worst Nightmare is the journey home. Stepping off the nightbus the streets are empty except for neon reflections in dirty puddles and the rattling sound of the kebab shop shutters being pulled down. There is an air of menace that permeates throughout. It is an album that forces you to look over the shoulder to find you're being followed by edgy riffs, eerie organs, frantic drums, aggressive bass and tales of jealous boyfriends, daggers drawn and noses broken.
The strength of the Arctic Monkey's is that there is no evident bandmaster. They are a collective or gang who back each other up and allow all members a moment in the limelight. All have a chance to shine and impress. Alex Turner is a great chronicler of our times and certainly knows how to deliver a tune but that doesn't mean the rest are his backing band - far from it. The band was famously formed after they were given guitars for Christmas and surely Santa must have also delivered a bumper book of rock n roll riffs too. The versatility of the guitar parts is dizzying; ranging from Jack White-esque axe-smithery to delicate moments like riding the surf with the Beach Boys. The rhythm section play their part too. The bass veers from bullying on 'Teddy Picker' to bouncy on 'Flourescent Adolescent' and everything is held together by drumming alternating from powerhouse to shuffling in a manner which even Remi would be proud. Fortunately when they all raise their game simultaneously such as on 'Balaclava' there is no sign of too many cooks spoiling the broth, on the contrary the mixture of ingredients is magic.
I'm not preaching here in hope of convincing you to pay alms to the Chimpomatic church only to find that I shall later misappropriate these funds for a new life in Rio. It is not an album completely immune from criticisms, though in truth this is knit-picking in order to demonstrate that I'm not just pretending that the Emperor is wearing clothes. Very occasionally as on 'If You Were There, Beware' or 'Do Me A Favour' it is easy to predict the 'here comes the rock out' bit that characterises 6th form bands. Maybe sometimes the band have taken this commission too seriously. The likes of 'The Bad Thing' and 'Flourescent Adolescent' offer a too rare glimpse into the fun that it's possible to have when you're young and in a top rock n roll act. Expectations are high and perhaps Turner over-extends himself when he ventures beyond story telling to message giving. He doesn't need to try to be the spokesman for a generation, he can afford to leave that to someone else. But seriously, that is just knit picking.
So will the Arctic Monkey's prove themselves to the doubters with Favourite Worst Nightmare? Perhaps. Is this a great album? Maybe, though not definitely. Only time can hand out such accolades but respect and kudos needs to be awarded for giving it a valiant try. Are the Arctic Monkey's a great band? Again only time will tell but Favourite Worst Nightmare at least proves that they have the nous, talent and balls to one day deserve to be heralded as such.
...And The Norfolk Downs
Being a paid up member of both fraternities I see certain similarities between the lot of a music fan and a singleton on the dating scene. Having fallen head over heels before both are ever optimistically on a quest for new loves. Each new date or act that comes by could be 'the one' but even if not hopefully there will be some fun to be had along the way. And all singletons know that to find the 'one' it is necessary to kiss a few frogs or spend a few nights on mattresses rendered uncomfortable by the strategic placement of a rock hard pea. Listening to Dave Derby reminded me of blind dates, and in particular ones that were not very successful. Dave Derby is not a prince dressed up as a frog, he's just a frog.
As with any blind date the agreement to listen to Dave was undertaken in good faith. Aside from getting the gender wrong in this case I decided to proceed on the basis that the match making skills of the Chimpomatic machine have served me well in the past. The prospects of a suitable hook up were not harmed by pre-date reports that Dave Derby was akin to Ryan Adams, a man who's music is often hit and miss but can verge on the sublime when it hit mode. The date had a promising start too. The introductory seconds of opener 'Come on Come on' echoed Neil Young's 'Out on the weekend' - the beguiling introduction to his classic album Harvest. The initial mood lulled me into believing that maybe Dave Derby could be the one, it had something of the sweet melancholy of Beck's Seachange about it - promising as this was one of my more recent loves. So like a date, where the mood is right, the introduction reliable, the venue cool and the company looking good I was confident this could be a night to saviour. That is until Dave opened his mouth.
The problem with Dave Derby is that his voice is rather middle of the road and consequently boring - after a while it becomes something of an endless drone. It is the musical equivalent of glazing over the eyes and hearing almost nothing said by your dinner companion. Even when the effort is made to tune it to what is actually being spoken the lyrical rhymes are lazily predictable ("baby what am I gonna do, I just don't know how I'll get over you"). Though he tries to be edgy and left-field the prevailing sense is of a sentimentality typified by 'You Got to Go' that would be a little to syrupy for Jack Johnson or even the Lighthouse Family. It all just reminded me of a date with no passion or spark. OK, so love may not be on the agenda but a little adventure wouldn't go a miss. If only I had thought to arrange a call from a friend giving me an 'escape early' get out clause from this bad date.
After a full listen to '...And the Norfolk Downs' I assessed the album as one does after a bad date. Maybe the problem wasn't with them, maybe it was me, perhaps I was in the wrong frame of mind, or maybe I just didn't give them a fair crack of the whip? After all it would be harsh to say Dave Derby was entirely without charm. The drumming on songs like 'Albuquerque' has a languid almost lazily hypnotic feel. The hammond organ on 'Baby' briefly does its best to brighten things up. And occasionally, such as on 'My Back Issues', Dave is canny enough to know that he wants to sound like Willy Mason even if he doesn't quite know how to. So being the fair minded type I am I gave Dave another chance, and, in the interests of reviewing accurately, a few more chances too. But as with dates, I should've trusted my gut instinct rather than give into eternal optimism. Dave Derby is still a frog and won't turn into a prince no matter how many times you kiss or listen to him.
The Kissaway Trail
It is a phenomenon of the music business that for every great band they discover music lovers have to suffer a wave of mediocrity trailing in their hero's wake. For every Stone Roses there is a Flowered Up, for every Oasis there follows a Northern Uproar, for every Blur there is a Menswear swimming in the slipstream, for every Nirvana a Stone Temple Pilots, for every Kylie in the spotlight there lurks a Lisa Scott Lee in the shadows…. you get the picture. Is it that these bands strive to replicate a formula that is proven to bring success and acclaim or just that record companies actively seek out sound-a-likes of the big buzz band of the moment? I’m not sure, but we can all recall the process; the NME big up this new band and mates pass on a copy of the album like pushers of illegal substances. ‘Go on, you loved Nirvana/Oasis so you’ll definitely love these lot, go on give it a try, go on.’ You’re initially willing to believe that these new lot will be the bona fide real deal before the excitement of the scene dies down and time confirms that they are little more than cheap tribute acts. To the pantheon of such acts can now be added the name of the Danish group The Kissaway Trail. This is a band that will be pushed to you on the basis that ‘if you loved Arcade Fire, you’ll love this lot, go on give it a try, go on….’
Except here’s the thing, The Kissaway Trail are not Arcade Fire. That’s all well and dandy of course, lots of good acts aren’t but the problem lies in the fact that though they may sound similar to the Canadian maestros of the moment, the album they’ve produced is just not particularly good. The Kissaway Trail certainly check all the right boxes. Urgent percussion, tick. Lush strings, tick. Soaring choruses, tick. But they don’t work together in a way that one would expect. It is like mixing ingredients in a bowl and expecting to pull a nicely risen wholemeal farmhouse loaf from the oven only to find that it is actually white Nan bread. Maybe for a debut album comparisons with established acts are harsh but as the Kissaway Trail are trading on them it is only fair to make a few. Tracy with its premature climax lacks the stamina and passion of Arcade Fire, Smother+Evil=Hurt fails to reach the dizzying heights of euphoria the Polyphonic Spree are tuned into and La La Song could do with an extra sprinkling of the Flaming Lips genuine, rather than expedient, eccentricity. This collection of songs all feels just a little too contrived and frankly boring.
Word is that the Kissaway Trail rock on stage, and they certainly have a few tricks up their sleeve offering some promise of a bright future if only they can find their own distinct sound. They certainly aren’t as lame as Menswear or desperate as Lisa Scott Lee but though the NME might currently tell you differently the fear remains that the Kissaway Trail could end up being remembered in the same bracket as Northern Uproar, Stone Temple Pilots and the like.
Does it actually matter what I report here? Every self respecting music buff already has a stance on the Arctic Monkeys and I'd bet my mortgage on the fact that whatever you read about them your opinion is already set. Word on the street was that touts were flogging tickets for a mere couple of hundred quid for tonight's performance at the Astoria. Temptation was to sell up my Chimpomatic soul, take the cash and run. Either I could have insisted that the lucky recipient write a review for me or I could just make it up .........after all, don't we already know all about the Monkeys from Sheffield?
I'm reminded of my teaching days when a fight in the corridor, snow in the playground or the last day of term ensured that whatever I said was destined to go in one ear and out of the other. For such moments we were advised to leave the kids with 'a golden nugget,' even if everything else was a meaningless drone they should at least remember one key point. But more of that later. No doubt you could join the dots in the Arctic Monkey's story between the following key phrases; 'myspace', 'best selling début', 'Gordon Brown', and 'Brit Awards'. And no doubt you've made your mind up which camp you belong to. Either your one of the tribe who shrug that they're a band with 'a few good tunes but not worthy of the praise, a band for skinny jeaned kids who missed out on Nirvana, the Stone Roses or even The Strokes for that matter' or they are 'saviours of rock n roll purveying witty vignettes on 21st century Britain'. Prior to tonight my mind was made up, I was firmly in the former camp.
So now for the part where I stand in front of the class who prefer to gaze out of the window or write notes or carve messages into the table taking no notice of what I say. On the basis of tonight's performance I am a convert, I get it and I now understand the hype. Whatever it is (its surely time to reclaim the phrase 'X factor' from ITV tea time telly) these boys have definitely got it. It is something that in all my years of gig watching I've only witnessed in a very select few. There's nothing ground breaking - its a set of basic lighting, no pyrotechnics, not much banter, and few histrionics. There seems no need for razz-mattaz when music can speak for itself. With the audience in the palm of their hand the enthusiasm is sucked up and thrown right back. Assured, controlled and confident their sound is full of an energy that makes one feel they've been struck by lightning. Tonight's real revelation is the rhythm section that recalls Reni and Mani in full flow, all tight, funky, rumbling, rockin....... I could go on but I expect you won't believe me.....
These boys are unfazed by the expectations, they know they've got it and it's apparent that they are absolutely buzzing. Not yet have they become wearily complacent or developed a cock-sure swagger to alienate all but their hard core fans. On the contrary, they're eager to please, they're the kids at school who really do want to throw the best party possible. 'Come on Alex' shouted one skinny jeaned fan and the Monkey's leader visibly grew in stature 'thanks very much, encouragement is always welcome'. Crucially they never surrender control. The exuberant crowd chanted for Mardy Bum so the band cheekily struck up the opening riff before launching instead into I Bet You Look Good On The Dance Floor; the fans were ecstatic and the Monkeys confirmed that they still call the tune.
So can they keep it going? Can they resist the mass sing-alongs, or translate some of this magic to record in order to convince the doubters? I don't know. A number of new songs from their soon to be released album 'Favourite Worst Nightmare' were showcased tonight suggesting a more muscular, bluesy sound which dares to seek out a different tempo. The crowd lapped it all up even if their toes didn't tap as furiously and the choruses were as yet too unfamiliar to chant along. Contrary to the advice espoused in Fake Tales of San Francisco I'm jumping on the bandwagon.
The bell is ringing and its time to run out of the classroom to resume the fight, play in the snow or head home for the holidays. So what is the golden nugget that Mr Muxloe wants you to take with you? It is this - forget your preconceptions and go check these boys out. Preferably you should do it while they still have a wide eyed wonder at the beauty of simple rock n roll, before they get lazy on the decadence of success and before they starting writing bloated songs about 'woe is me, no-one understands me now my days consist of drugs and super-models'. I'm not telling you what to think just saying 'please think again'.
Proud Galleries, Camden, London
The tradition of live music in art spaces is a cool one that dates back to the Exploding Plastic Inevitable when the Velvet Underground showcased new tunes to the freaks and beautiful people of Warhol's Factory crowd. The Proud Gallery in Camden with its tardis-esque roof space is certainly a cool venue and perfect for such a balmy evening. But don't the patrons just know it. Cool enough to attract the beautiful people that's for sure but the only freaky thing about them was their preference for supping overpriced bottled beer rather than enjoying the bands on offer. A fear that this may be a night of style over substance was fuelled by the furniture on terrace. The canvas deck chairs displayed pictures of such icons as Marc Bolan, Jim Morrison, Gene Simmons and Pete Doherty – the impression was that the likes of Pete Townsend, Angus Scott or John Cale would not have been fashionably stylish enough for parking the posteriors of this crowd.
Such suspicions threatened to be confirmed by night's first act - Tiny Masters of Today. The guitarist wore a t-shirt emblazoned with a large number '12' which neatly worked out to be the average age of the bands stars, 11 year old Ada and her brother 13 year old Ivan, endorsed by such luminaries as Bowie and Karen O. (The trio was completed by Russell Simins, drummer from the John Spencer Blues Explosion.) Initially it was hard to decide if this was a grotesque gimmick or an inspired vision of the future. Considering that they hail from Brooklyn and were playing to a room full of Camden Trendys at least twice their age, the assertion of one chorus that 'all my friends are here with me' seemed a little bit weird and sad. But fair play to Tiny Masters of Today they proved themselves to be more than just a novelty with a tight live act and a couple of joyously rockin' tunes. Their finale of a cover of House of Pain's Jump was anything but grotesque and did indeed border on inspired. Ada even told us that 'this is a real song' as if the Camden crowd didn't know it.
Next act The Invention, fronted by a singer my companion described as like Eddie Vedder on speed, gave their all for a dedicated following. Most couldn't be drawn away from their lime topped beers but the committed fans didn't care singing along to all the songs and while not exactly liking to shoot guns nevertheless showing themselves to be pretty dangerous with flailing elbows.
And then there were the Desert Hearts. The faces of Ada and Ivan might one day feature on art gallery deck chairs after pricking the top 40 a couple of times, but one imagines that even with sales outstripping Elvis the Desert Hearts with beards and grungy cardigans will never be icons to the beautiful people. In any case they'd be wasted on this bunch. After a frantic opening they asked of the smattering of people bothered to take an interest in them 'so is this how it is in London?' - the answer was muted silence but should have been a reassuring 'no this is how it is in an art gallery in Camden'.
Sharing a producer on their most recent album Hotsy Totsy Nagasaki with Mogwai and Arab Strap, the Desert Hearts can be seen as part of this Celtic lineage. Where Arab Strap might be a contemplative sulk and Mogwai the pre-row brood on tonight's performance Desert Hearts are the tantrum and argument itself. They wanted to play a laid back set, explaining this was because 'we're fucked' but instead delivered a 'rifftastic' set of urgent guitars and driving drums which shook the stage if not the whole venue. By the end of their set the crowd had swollen by the passionate sound of the Desert Hearts but still many of the beautiful people drank their cocktails on those deckchairs. For those freaky enough to enquire what was going down on stage it was a triumph for substance over style.
Can't Go Back
Commissioned by the Chimpomatic Masters to review Can’t Go Back by Papercuts, released on Devendra Bahart's new label Gnomonsong, I dutifully loaded the album and listened to it at my first opportunity. I was damp from a morning walk in the drizzle, there were no spare seats on the train and the girl who I'd coyly spent the week playing eye tennis with was facing the other way. Papercuts didn't help to lift my mood for a day of temping ahead because to be frank I didn't really get it. Imagine that the Lovin' Spoonful had been shown a vision of life 40 years into the future. No longer would they want to sing songs of daydreams, believing in magic or dancing all night to escape the summer in the city. Instead the 60’s free love and ‘tuning in and dropping out’ would have given way to failed office romances, tales of listlessly stoned teenagers and dumping your girlfriend by a 'dear john' letter for the 277th time. Sure 1967 dressed up as 2007 sounded good but I was left wondering – what’s the point?
Fast forward 24 hours to the weekend and Can’t Go Back began to make perfect sense. The sun was shining, the cherry blossom in bloom, contact had been made with the girl with the eyes and I couldn’t care less for the dues they say I’d got. Papercuts were a revelation; providing the dreamiest of soundtracks for a daydreaming boy all set for a day of, well as the Lovin' Spoonful might have said, 'day-dreaming'. Papercuts are a band for moments when time is most definitely on your side. Shut your eyes and you'll be transported back to endless summer holiday evenings of climbing trees and chasing girls, you might imagine lying in the Glastonbury stone circle watching clouds float over head or picture yourself with bare feet in exotic sand. John Brown chugs and lopes like Luna in lustful mode, tripping through daisies and dandelions with the Jesus and Mary Chain might sound like Unavailable and The World I Love wistfully recalls Mazzy Star.
If musical daydreaming is not your bag then Papercuts probably won't win you over. If, however, it is your usual cup of aural tea then I hazard a guess that Can’t Go Back may just be the soundtrack to your summer of 2007. Lovely stuff.
Puddle City Racing Lights
Judging by the longest losing streak in betting history Grandma Muxloe’s tealeaf reading powers of prediction seemed to have passed me by. Future forecasts are not my strong point. But I can already guess with confidence your first two thoughts on listening to Puddle City Racing Lights, the debut album from Windmill.
First up will be the question ‘haven’t we already heard this before?’ You might wonder if this is perhaps an album mislaid by Mercury Rev at some time after Deserters Songs but just before they lost themselves in a haze of pomposity. Or maybe you’ll think to yourself ‘cunning, this boy Windmill stumbled on a stash of out-takes from Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush sessions and has added some 21st century beats to pass them off as his own’.
Secondly you’ll have to make a decision on Windmill’s voice. It’s a transatlantic lilt, failing to reflect his Welsh origins, which is delivered in a pitch which some might laud as ‘soaring’ but others might deride as ‘grating’. Its not one for the tabloids to seize on in the manner with which they ripped apart Joss Stone for dropping Devon in favour of LA but it might strike you Indie kids as being an indicator of a possible lack of veracity in Windmill’s credentials.
On both counts my advice would be to ‘get over it’. Sure, Windmill has worked with a template laid out before but give him a chance because he’s added splashes of new colour to bring it all to life once more. It's like Warhol screen-printing over familiar images – they might be the same but they are also so very different. As to the voice, it may be an acquired taste but it shouldn’t be enough to put you off. If it does then you lose out in the way that you would if you turned down Sienna Miller or Daniel Craig (depending on your preference - Muxloe is an equally opportunities reviewer after all) on the basis that you don’t usually go for blondes - some people will just never be satisfied.
Rather than set his sails to capture breezes blowing down from Liverpool and Manchester or gusts up from Bristol and London, Windmill has unashamedly located his mill facing westward to America. But that’s no bad thing as the winds whipped up across the Pond have provided more than enough energy and ideas to power a dynamo of a debut album. The key to his appeal is that, admirably backed by The Earlies live band, he has created sound-scapes so vivid that they suck you right in. It’s not so much like watching a film but more like slipping on a virtual reality headset. By the time the album finished I needed to be reminded that I wasn’t actual an asthmatic Model’s Agent caught up in a Tokyo car crash. Big things, and even Mercury Prizes, have been predicted for Windmill. I’ve checked the tea leaves but have not the faintest clue what they foretell so will not be joining some of these wilder soothsayers. All I will say is that the boy Windmill has made a cracking start and deserves whatever plaudits come his way.
Goliath, I'm On Your Side
Its little wonder that Hotel Alexis declare in the title of their second album that they are on the side of Goliath. The impression is that they've staked their money on the odds on favourite, preferring the safe option and letting someone else fight their battles for them. They'd be wise to take a leaf from David's book by showing just a little more of the biblical underdog's courage, conviction and cunning.
Singer/songwriter Sidney Alexis wears his influences on his musical sleeves but in trying to emulate his heroes he fails to find his own voice. It takes more than slide guitar to sound like Americana idols Sparklehorse. A 19 minute meandering drone doesn't confer Velvet Underground status. And a sense of melancholy needs to be matched by a confessional intimacy to leave an impression like Leonard Cohen, or even Bright Eyes.
All in all it's a great shame as if Hotel Alexis revealed more of themselves rather than just hinting at what's catalogued in their Itunes library they could really be something. The textured arrangements of brushed snares and folksy picking combining with studio experimentation occasionally pays lush and atmospheric dividends. The deserted funfair feel of 'Our Good Captain' is intriguing while 'The Devil knows my handle' has a 'down home' ambience masking a bleaker message but these are fleeting glances at what could have been.
At 19 minutes long 'Hummingbird' is the centre piece of this album recalling a long journey where the scenery is pleasant, as is the company, but you just don't seem to arrive anywhere. Its certainly not a road to hell but neither is it a magical mystery tour. If only they'd been brave, or curious, enough to veer off the beaten track.
On 'I'll arrange for you to fall' Alexis asks “what went wrong, what went right?” Actually referring to a name change he could have been asking for judgement on this album. The answer would have to be a bemused shrug of the shoulders. If they grow some balls like David then Hotel Alexis could be onto a winner.
If it were possible to capture the screech of the last tube train on a Saturday night grinding along the rails and then morph it into an urgent melody you’d probably end up with a sound similar to Maps - support act for The Earlies’ Scala show. You’d probably be mighty glad you caught that musical tube too revelling in the cacophony rather than bemoaning Mayor Ken’s extortionate price hikes. All of which acts as a rather neat introduction to The Earlies.
Anyone familiar with the ‘sardines in a can’ closeness of commuter’s bodies on a rush hour Victoria line train will have recognised the tight squeeze of fitting 11 members of this Anglo-US ‘prog-rock-folk-psych’ combo and their various musical instruments on the small Scala stage. But rather than whinging about having someone’s arm pit in your face, ruing the look you know your boss will give you for being late or imploring the girl listening to James Blunt too loudly to turn it down this journey is nothing but a pleasure.
The stage might be small but the sounds, and the Earlies’ ambitions, are big. This lot don’t do things by halves. Why have one drummer, flutist or melodica player when you can have two? Where other acts might drown each other out or trample on each other’s toes the Earlies just egg each other on to better things. They’re like kids daring each other to jump from an ever-higher branch of a tree. And all this is delivered with such child–like earthy warmth; introducing No Love they announce ‘this song is about love and shit’. No need to apologise for the ‘shit’ when love is expressed as sweetly as this!
The sound, and indeed image, of The Earlies is of an overgrown school orchestra. The music teacher has nipped out into the corridor to sort out a fight and so left to their own devices the kids rock out to the sounds that please them most. Think of the opening to The Simpsons – the part where Lisa stuns the rest of the orchestra to silence by veering off into a freeform Sax solo. The Earlies are only the orchestra that Lisa deserved. They would have had the gumption to stick with her, providing the accompaniment to whatever musical imaginations she might have conjured. Singing ‘it’s alright to let yourself down tonight’ your reviewer was tempted to reach out to tap the ‘fists aloft’ guitar player on the shoulder and say ‘don’t worry mate, you’ve no let anyone down tonight’. Check em out, you won’t be disappointed.