Tuesday, 28 December 2010

The class of 2010: Review of the Year’s Albums

Surf-pop goes global, a bunch of randy middle-aged sex pests record another album of ‘porn blues’ and a rapper has so many clothes he’s forced to keep some at his aunt’s house. We review what we consider to be the most interesting releases of 2010…

Grinderman- Grinderman 2- Mute

Every middle-aged man needs a hobby. Many take up fishing or golf. Some catalogue their record collections. Others tinker with bits of cars and line up wrenches and spanners they’ll go to the grave not knowing how to use. Nick Cave calls a babysitter, takes his friends on an all night whisky and strip clubs bender and then, blinking into the light of the morning, slams down some coffee and records a second album of horse frightening pornographic trash rock.

Lock up your daughters, Grinderman are back. Second time around they certainly haven’t gone flaccid on us. They still look like a bunch of hairy sex offenders and they’re still churning out the kind of filth that makes you want to cover infant ears, music that sounds like if it wants you, it’ll chase you down an alley, slip some rohypnol into your drink, drag you down and remove your suspenders. ‘Worm Tamer’ which has an industrial metal feel, gives us perhaps the best couplet of 2010- “My baby calls me the Loch Ness Monster, two humps and then I’m gone” while ‘Heathen Child’ and ‘Evil’ sound like a wolf being cornered in a steel works. Even the simpler more downright bluesy numbers like ‘Kitchenette’ grunt along with kraut rock creepiness like the boys are just an erection away from being arrested for perversion. The salty old so and sos.

The XX- The XX- Rough Trade

Ok, so XX was actually released at the end of last year. We're counting it is a 2010 release anyway because 1) it's been re-released and 2) no one had bloody heard of it then. In contrast 2010 belongs to the XX. Wherever they are on New Years Eve they can award themselves a wry smile. After all, this was the year they became the proud owners of 3x Mercury awards and turned on the Christmas lights in their native Putney (and what greater honour?) all because they were responsible for one of the most self- assured debut albums of the century. Seemingly without breaking a sweat.

It’s the simplicity and stealth of XX that makes you love it, and the fact it melts your heart without needing to bludgeon you over the head with complicated rhythms is why it’s an album you’re happy to return to, on a long train journey, sitting in your bedroom smoking a zute, having a picnic, any occasion where you need music to provide a sonic backdrop that’s going to wash over you. For such a young band do release a debut devoid of razzmatazz and trickery, relying purely on stripped back spine chills, shows a level of confidence and maturity that many acts take years to master. While nobody wants to hear the word muzak, it’s not far from what the XX have created- a lush sonic landscape that affects you without you even noticing, crawling under your skin and staying there.

It does this through its mixture of dark and light. On one hand the tender voices, the sense of innocence that pervades, the way the synths sparkle like Cava over everything, the way ‘Infinity’ almost sounds like you could dance to it, in a euphoric ‘Faithless’ hands in the air sort of way. On the other, the mournful noise at the start of ‘VCR’ that sounds like a pinball machine being haunted, the way the whole album, especially the spine chilling ‘Fantasy’ feels like it was recorded in a candlelit chapel, the overall sense of isolation. The combination of the two means that the noise the XX make is something like shoegaze mixed with post- club comedown music. It’s what we imagine would happen if Jesus and Mary Chain collaborated with Massive Attack and it’s a sound that makes us tingle all over.

Their follow up is going to be the real test, but if the XX stick to their guns and keep their trip-hop minimalism on track, they could be turning on the Oxford Street lights next year.

Tinie Tempah- Disc-Overy- Parlophone

What would Kanye West have sounded like if he’d taken the DLR rather than the subway? Step forward Tinie Tempah; real name Patrick Junior Chukwuem Okogwu, a 22-year-old Plumstead native with his eye on replacing West as hip-hop’s Michael Jackson.

There are plenty of similarities. Both men are snappy dressers, sanction the use of big name cameos and vocoders, and have an eye for the ladies. They’re sonically inventive and certain of their visions. They also both have moments of lyrical genius. Who can fail to draw a smile when Tempah rhymes “I’m pissed I never got to fly on Concord” with “I’ve been Southampton but I’ve never been to Scunthorpe”? or lays down his game plan on ‘Simply Unstoppable’ with the fabulously inventive line “I’ve gone pop and I won’t stop. Pringles!”

The difference is that while West’s debut was more straightforward hip- hop (albeit genre defining and experimental), Tempah knows that his album is one for the clubs. As such he keeps it simple with hands in the air dance beats and tunes that sound like getting dressed up, downing apple sourz and throwing your arms round your friends while your high heels burn the soles of your feet.

The fact that these songs have one eye on the charts means that clichés abound. The gorgeous women, cars, and the bling encrusted champagne soirees are all correct and present. But, and this is crucial, there’s also a wide eyed wonder and a British cynicism that undercuts Tempah’s raps that mean he’s still endearing. Your heart is warmed when you realise he hasn’t quite got the hang of this bragging thing as he tells you “I’ve got so many clothes I keep some at my Aunt’s house” and he’s frankly adorable when he raps “I drive past the bus I used to run for” The production is also inventive, a sign perhaps of what we can expect from hip hop in the coming year. Gone are the smooth soul infused beats of old, the noughties sees rap involved in a frantic mix of hardcore dance, breaks and oozing drum n’bass. ‘Disc-Overy’ often sounds like Tempah is playing a ping- pong match with Tron.

This debut has the feel of an album recorded on the cusp of a rollercoaster, just as our hero was plunged into the fame oblivion. It’s not all good; in fact some of it is hackneyed rap by numbers. But, like Okogwu’s teacher probably said, he shows promise. We have the feeling that if he irons out his tendency towards Black Eyed Peas vocoder nonsense he could be a serious contender for Kanye’s crown. All we ask is that he doesn’t go all mental on us and start writing his every waking though on twitter. No one needs that.

Take That- Progress- Polydor

As bromances go, the story of Take That has been one of the most touching of the year, proving that friendship (and increased tour revenue) can ultimately conquer any feelings of bitterness and ill will. It can’t have been easy. After all, Robbie comes with enough baggage to fill the lost and found at Heathrow several times over. For every moment of brilliance in his career (Angels, his star turn at Live 8) there’s a litany of disaster (the UFO meltdown, drug and alcohol addiction, the travesty of Rudebox and his ever inflating ego to name but a few) that must have made everyone involved think twice. The sad fact is that for all his super star qualities, Williams needs his former band mates desperately. While this wasn’t the case ten or even five years ago, Robbie’s downward spiral has been the polar opposite of his band mate’s stratospheric achievements. Messrs Orange, Donald, Owen and Barlow have proved that actually they can do just as well without him thank you very much, churning out gold standard pop music like ‘Shine’, ‘Patience’ and ‘Rule The World’. And yet, something hasn’t felt right.

The band now feels whole. Little Mark Owen (who seems like he was probably the most psychologically damaged by the break up) looks constantly relieved that he no longer has to sneak off to take Robbie’s calls, while the others can’t stop beaming at having their mate back. Every live performance looks like it’s about to tip into a homoerotic love in, as the band give up singing altogether and cling to each other among the pyrotechnics, crying and promising never to be so foolish again. Even Barlow doesn’t look too bitter as he lets the fat backing dancer milk it in the spotlight. So Robbie hasn’t quite learnt to share the stage yet, so he’s been given a disproportionate amount of singing time, these wrinkles will iron themselves out. The progress of the album’s title is not only the healing of old wounds, it’s the journey from boy band to man band, a progression they simply couldn’t manage when they were a team mate down.

Fully reunited and gym pumped, the band can now turn over a whole new leaf and this is exactly what they’ve done, moving towards gulp, electro rock, embracing quiffs and waist coasts and sounding like a diluted version of Hot Fuss era Killers. There’s nothing here that’s going to scare their knicker throwing fans, but the fact they’ve pulled away from big ballads to operatic electro rock shows a new found confidence. Let’s hope Robbie’s back for good.

Arcade Fire- The Suburbs- Mercury

A lot of great music has come out of the frustration and alienation that comes with living in the ‘burbs. Bruce Springsteen and the Kinks centred whole careers around being big fishes in tiny ponds where there was nothing to do except get drunk and dream of a time when tramps like you were free to run. And why not? Stuck in a cultural and physical limbo, there’s a sense of isolation that’s unique to a suburban childhood. You’re neither urban nor rural but sub-urban, below urban, below par. It provides the perfect outsider perspective from which to produce art.

Using the alienation of the outer cities as their template, Arcade Fire have made the album they’ve been promising since their 2004 debut ‘Funeral’ They’ve long held a reputation for making epic, life changing songs, but these have always been stand out tracks on largely thin albums. ‘The Suburbs’ packs such a punch because it works together as a coherent whole, each song trickling into the next with precision. Many have commented that the record feels like the soundtrack to a film yet to be made, and it is the sense of cohesion, of a story that is being followed from opener ‘The Suburbs’ to its continuation at the album’s close that enables this. Whether they’re tackling punk rock tales of hope and glory with ‘Month of May’ or gentle but brutal anguish with ‘City With No Children’, no song feels out of place.

The aforementioned sense of alienation creeps in not just through Win Butler’s assured yet hesitant delivery but also through the group’s use of instrumentation. Weighty orchestral manoeuvres have always been their thing, but the band now add rooting tooting Depeche Mode synths to the mix, alongside a dash of Tom Petty Americana and even some sparse Television esque no wave. They’re such skilled musicians that they allow the instruments to do the talking when they can’t, aware that often music without words is the best way of communicating emotions. This is perhaps best demonstrated on two parter ‘Sprawl’ which flourishes with the strings that made their name.

A lot of hyperbole has been attached to the album, with the BBC arguing that is was better than OK Computer and NME deeming it to be “pretty much perfect” but all of this is justified. Arcade Fire have always excelled at making the inaccessible listenable and with ‘The Suburbs’, they’ve brought back the elegance and ambition that has been missing from the heart of pop music.

Tame Impala- Innerspeaker- Modular

If 2010 will be remembered for anything musically, it’ll be the rise of surf pop. Outside it may be sub zero, the news may be dominated by ‘the big freeze’ and idiots making snowmen, but your iTunes is filled with monged out hippies who spend their days making mix tapes, listening to The Grateful Dead and boogie boarding. So it is with Tame Impala and their debut release ‘Innerspeaker’ on which the laid back Aussies manage to make the psychedelic wig out cool again maaaaan.

The band have succeeded where so many others have failed in combining the sex appeal of Hendrix, the harmonies of the Beach Boys, the kaleidoscopic colour of Strawberry Fields era Beatles and the chugging riffs of Led Zep into an imminently listenable sixties infused rock and roll collection. And it is very much a collection. Listening to one song in isolation is impressive but where Tame Impala really succeed is in transporting you into a swirling headfuck wonderland that makes you want to chill out and freak out all at once. This is best done by listening to the album in one sitting, maybe with some narcotics (although, naturally, we don’t advise that kind of thing) View the album like your Dad used to, as an experience, and you’ll understand.

If this all sounds a bit wanky and Dark Side of the Moon then don’t worry, it isn’t. The group’s greatest strength lies in making the whole experience unpretentious and therefore listenable. They do this by playing with a sense of humour (there is a fair bit of Happy Mondays psych-dance in here as well) that has the added bonus of making the songs sound modern. Despite shoe horning the aforementioned influences into the record, it feels like an album that could only be made with the archness of the 21st century. It’s lack of naivety, the fact that it’s aware that a lot of it’s flower power motifs are bullshit and the way it doesn’t really care if you call it a slacker means that it sounds as if it could only have been made in 2010.

It sort of feels like this is as good as it’s going to get for these guys, but the fact they’ve managed to make us listen to, and enjoy, an album that should only work during the summer in the meanest bowels of winter means that we owe them some respect (and maybe a bag of skunk) Gnarly.

Sleigh Bells- Treats- Columbia

If we’re honest, we never really got Crystal Castles. Yes, yes, all the hipsters loved them, but they made us feel pretty uneasy. All that 8 bit feedback and screeching. Yuck. No thanks. This being the case we’re a little perplexed as to why we enjoy Sleigh Bells so much. Maybe it’s because they’re in bed with M.I.A and we love her and want to lick her feet. Maybe it’s because for all their amp shredding metal nightmareishness they’ve made an album that you can kind of party to (especially if you’re on shrooms and your idea of dream collaboration is Katy Perry and Motorhead. Which ours totes is), an album that combines dance, rock, pop, hip hop and heavy metal into one sluggish but delectable soup. If you were to picture the kind of album an ex member of Poison The Well and an ex child star studio singer would make together (for such was their employment before Alexis Krauss and Derek Miller met each other) then this is exactly what you’d conjure up. Terrifying, maddening and spine tingling in equal measure.

So yeah, we very much enjoy Sleigh Bells. ‘Rill Rill’ is their most well known, but it’s also their gentlest, sounding a bit like a slightly robotic Shirelles. If you’ve come to ‘Treats’ expecting more of the same then you’re going to be left largely disappointed. Opener ‘Tell ‘Em’ sets the pace, sounding like a Slayer riff being chopped in half by a lightsaber, this is followed by ‘Kids’ which makes a sound like Nicki Minaj being photocopied by a malfunctioning fax machine and the madness continues with ‘Riot Rhythm’ which does pretty much what it says on the tin plus a mariachi band. The sense of menace and supercharged fizzing excitement doesn’t let up until the very last bar, with the eponymous closer packing riffage so heavy that a forklift would have a tough job handling it. If Metallica came out and shredded your face with music like this, you wouldn’t ask for your money back. For all the whiffs of polite pop about the place, the overarching theme is one of good versus evil, of a cage fight between heavy metal and a pretty, smiley-eyed girl band, a tune we can all dance to.

As for the production values- there are none. The whole album has a fuzzy shakiness that makes you imagine the entire recording studio quaking, spilling coffee and recording contracts all over the extremely proud M.I.A. After all, her protégés have taken her experimental elements and then given them a darn good kicking, unleashing into the world a rabid mongrel of an album, with all the kind of unconventionality she enjoys. For sheer balls alone, ‘Treats’ deserves to be one of your albums of 2010.

Warpaint- The Fool- Roughtrade

They’re girls! They’re girls and they’re in a band! Playing instruments! Singing! With all the brouhaha caused by Warpaint this year, you’d have been forgiven for thinking we were back in 1950, not living in the supposedly more enlightened noughties. No review or interview with the spooky shoe gazers could help but mention that OMG they’re totally all women, as if we we’re expected to applaud them for dragging themselves away from the stove. 2010 was also heralded as ‘The Year of the Women’ for the simple fact that Best Coast and girls Vivian, Sweater and Dum Dum had all managed to churn out Eps. This was seen as some kind of achievement, as if the fact these bands had singers with ovaries made their releases in and of themselves important, rather than because they were just making bloody good music.

It’s all the more annoying because Warpaint are not a band that has overtly used their sexuality. In fact, they seem like they’d be skin crawlingly uncomfortable in anything skimpy. Their style is much more unkempt brows and doctor martens than glammed up pop princesses. It’s an image that co-incidentally sits perfectly with their sparse, echoey and reverb heavy no wave.

It sounds something like a duck gliding along water. On first glance everything seems to be ticking along calmly. Breezy vocals blow over the shoegazey beats and the harmonious and monotonous drone of instruments lap around like breaking waves. A closer inspection though reveals a band working very hard indeed. Their shimmer pop is hook laden and beat heavy and the fast-slow dynamic builds up the bewitching full moon vibe to the point where you feel the band are about to rip off their clothes and go howl at the midnight sky. By the time ‘Composure’ comes around and they’re chanting, “How do I keep my composure?” you’re pretty unsure how to console them.

We can safely predict you’re going to hear a lot more of Warpaint and their ilk in 2011. Just don’t expect them to smile about it. And don’t call it girl power, mmm’kay?

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

R.I.P Captain Beefheart

It is with extreme sadness that we announce that another interesting person from the world of music has popped his clogs. Captain Beefheart, real name Don Van Vliet, was a visual artist and strange rock pioneer. He died aged 69 from complications relating to multiple sclerosis, only a few days short of his 70th birthday.

Whilst Beefheart's unrestrained music was not to everyone's taste, it's use of the avant- garde (mixing blues, jazz, rock, and extreme hallucinogens) influenced his good friend Frank Zappa as well as a whole raft of so called alternative musicians including David Bowie, Tom Waits, Throbbing Gristle, The Velvet Underground, PIL and The Klaxons. According to John Peel, "If there has ever been such a thing as a genius in the history of popular music, it's Beefheart... I heard echoes of his music in some of the records I listened to last week and I'll hear more echoes in records that I listen to this week."

Whilst his musical experiments have been heralded, he won less favour from his band who he was apparently physically and verbally abusive to. In his 2010 memoir 'Beefheart: Through The Eyes of Magic', Van Vliet's drummer John French recounted being "screamed at, beaten up, drugged, ridiculed, humiliated, arrested, starved, stolen from, and thrown down a half-flight of stairs" by his employer. He also stated that the unscrupulous contracts drawn up by Beefheart left him essentially penniless. He was paid nothing at all for a 33-city U.S. tour in 1971 and a total of $78 for a tour of Europe and the U.S. in late 1975. Other members of the band have talked of having to deal with Beefheart's incomprehensible instructions. During one recording session he asked the Magic Band (for that was their name) to "Play it like a bat being dragged out of oil and it's trying to survive, but it's dying from asphyxiation."

Despite all the madness and the fact that many of his albums were someway between a musical litmus test and water torture, the sheer insania of Beefheart is in many ways what's missing from the world of popular music today. When a third of the UK population tunes into the X Factor, there's something to be said for a man who never courted the mainstream and who, right up until his death, remained focused on making as many strange noises as possible. Rest in peace you crazy beautiful old bastard.

Monday, 20 December 2010

2010: Single Reviews

A collection of all of my single reviews for Spoonfed from 2010. Don't say I don't treat you, you lucky buggers.

Esben And The Witch – Marching Song
- Matador Records

A year ago if I'd said that Ebsen and The Witch had the potential to be huge, you'd have looked at me like the nutter I rightly was. Well, we live in different times my friend. If the XX can win a Mercury for their self conscious bewitched-rock then being weird is officially mainstream.

‘Marching Song ‘ is a case in point, with its bubbly, underwater sounding reverb and its ghostly build up that is the aural equivalent of waiting for a panic attack that never comes, 'Marching Song' could be the sound of E&TW going places. 4/5

Panda Bear – Count On Me- 
Domino Records

It feels like a billion years since PB started touring songs (including this one) from his forthcoming album 'Tomboy'. Count On Me is not new then, but it's still impressive.

The fact that Mr Bear (or Noah Lennox to his Mum) manages to create clappy Beach Boys harmonies all by himself, with just the help of some synths and samplers is very cool. If he's capable of this, he may even be able to turn water into wine. Probably not though. 4/5

Rihanna – Only Girl (In The World)- 
Def Jam 

Produced by Stargate, the new single from Ri-Ri has all of her trademarks – sullen sex appeal, hands in the air choruses and the words 'THIS WILL BE NUMBER 1' stamped all over it.

Clearly she's been spending a lot of time with BFF Katie Perry, whose electro pop sound has seeped in enough to bring out Rihanna's fun side, a departure from her more recent mean and moody output. Expect this to soundtrack your Saturday nights until further notice. 3/5

Diana Vickers – My Wicked Heart- 

Apparently the Red Hot Chilli Peppers are considering bringing legal action against Vickers because they reckon that the chorus to her new ditty is a little too much like 'Under The Bridge' for their liking.

For my money, DV sounds like nothing else on earth (and not in a good way) With vocals that are so unintelligible they sound as if they're being delivered through a mangle, the Chillis might not want to admit anything to do with this disaster. 1/5

Gruff Rhys – Shark Ridden Waters
-Self Release

Gruff Rhys just doesn't give a flying one. He releases an album of acoustic folk. But sings it in Welsh and Spanish. He forms an electro outfit. He gets bored. He makes friends with Gorillaz. Snooze.

Now he's released a kaleidoscopicy, loungey, acidy track that shimmers and glimmers with all the joys of pop and feels like having your hair gently stroked in a jazz club. Yawn. He's probably already moved on and is planning a concept album about Jedward. 3/5

Tame Impala – Sundown Syndrome/Remember Me- 

If these songs were in a film, they'd soundtrack the bit where the protagonist takes their first naïve hit of psychedelic drugs and subsequently comes of age, their mind finally opened to the possibilities of peace, love and tranquillity, maaan.

As the action bursts into technicolour, TI's LSD-drenched harmonies (think 'Strawberry Fields' era Beatles) would gently caress them. Then, as they sunk deeper into previously unexplored realms of their psyche, the song's Hendrix guitar would engulf them in a bubble they never wanted to leave. 5/5

Eels - Baby Loves Me-
E Works

Apparently the video, which features a tiny E in a toy town, is his way of saying "Thanks for making me feel bad by accusing me of being a terrorist in Hyde Park this June. I'll show you. I'll make your city look like a toy." Make of that what you will. And the music? Paranoid synths, rowdy guitars and a vocal that threatens to burst out and deck you one. Madness. “My baby loves me/Unlikely but true”. Need a hug? 3/5

Carpathian – Wanderlust-
Deathwish Inc.

The student protests still haven't got a theme tune, so I'm going to put this bad boy forward. The Smiths might be all 'Come on disaffected students! Join hands and sing 'Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now!' but what we really need are some angry Australians screaming incomprehensibly. 

'Wanderlust' makes me feel a little bit motion sick, it has thrashy guitars and it sounds like someone screaming down your ears. Which is great. Remember kids, if you're going to be kettled, keep it metal. 3/5

Train – Shake Up Christmas- 

Suffering the effects of the global recession? Don't worry, Train will cheer you up! They've got sleigh bells and ho-ho-hos and a non threatening electro pop tune that's all about spreading joy in tough economic times. Awww. 

Wait a sec...isn't this the song from the Coca Cola advert? A cynically released Christmas cash in to ensure that singer Pat Monahan has a big fat goose adorning his festive table? Ah, so I guess we're not all in this together then? Thanks for killing the spirit of Christmas guys. 0/5

The streets are ours...

Fishermen know fish. Butchers know sausages. So who better to ask what 2011 might hold musically than the people who spend all their waking hours among London’s hottest records?

We took to the streets (in the non-hooker sense, we’ll save that for after Christmas) to round up what London’s music mafia are rooting for in the year to come…

Kelly– Rough Trade East

Who's going to be big in 2011?
I really like my indie pop. There's a Swedish band called Museum of Bellas Artes who I think are going to be big, and there's a lot of good stuff coming out on Transparent. This year I've been working with a label in New York called Captured Tracks who are doing some interesting things. Grass Widow especially are really cool: a mixture of the dark, edgy pop that's big at the moment and the new indie wave. I also really like Becoming Real.

Where do you think music is heading in 2011?
I think there's going to be a real mix of dark and light. The nineties are coming back and I'd like to see some guitary brit pop making a resurgence. I'm also into the whole drag/witch house thing and I'd be quite interested to see where that genre heads next.

Any trends you hope get left behind in 2010?Shit X Factor pop.

What would you like to happen musically in 2011?
For my band The History of Apple Pie to release an album. Yuck recently put us on their blog after they heard our double release EP with Sweater Girls and since then it's gone a bit crazy. We've literally just got some management and we haven't even played a gig yet.

Doran from Weird Dreams – Beyond Retro

Who's going to be massive in 2011?
Not Cool, Colours and Mazes.

Any crazy collaborations you'd like to see?

I think it would be good if Smith Westerns played with Fresh and Onlys.

Joseph Pilgrim – loiterer on his way to get his haircut, Bethnal Green Road

Who are you excited about for 2011?
Wretch 32 for grime, although he's probably going to get more commercial and Wiz Khalifa for hip hop. “Black and yellow, black and yellow...”

What music genre don't you want to hear from again in 2011?
I'd be happy for drum 'n' bass to get left behind.

Rock Pete – Out on The Floor Records, Camden

Who's going to be big next year?
It's obvious the Vaccines are going to be. Harlem from the States are fantastic, they make what I call 'C 10' rather than 'C86'. The Bon Vivants are the best band from this area.

Any trends you predict for next year?
It becomes very hip to move to Peckham.

Matt – publicising his band Black Vox on the streets

Anyone you rate for next year?
I'm off to see a band called The Heartaches tonight. I reckon they're going to be huge.

What events are you looking forward to in 2011?I always look forward to the Camden Crawl. It's all about proper, local, unsigned music with bollocks.

What do you hope to see next year?
I'm hoping for something a bit more interesting than what's around at the moment. There was a really great period back in 2001 when the Strokes and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Bloc Party came out and those bands are still great, but since then it's all been a bit wishy washy. It's ten years on and I think we're due for a bit of a resurgence. I'd also like to see White Lies and the XX playing a huge stadium tour together.

Will – Jazz Cafe employee

What music are you going to be listening to in 2011?I've not had internet for the last few months so I've been in a bit of a musical bubble of my own, listening to '90s grindcore and jumped up Balkan stuff. I suppose that's the good thing about London; you don't have to follow a particular scene. I'm not that great on new bands to be honest. You should plug Shield Your Eyes though. They're from London and they sound kind of like Fugazi but a bit more math rock, if that makes any sense?

What's coming to the Jazz Café that we should be looking forward to?
Lee Scratch Perry will be awesome, Polar Bear who make nu-jazz are fucking incredible.

And anything else you want to happen musically next year?
There's a band called Irepress from the States who I'd love to see come over here and tour. They play an instrumental mix of post rock and metal, sort of like Explosions in The Sky.

Anonymous worker – HMV, Oxford Street

Who's going to be big next year?

Devlin is doing well, I think he'll go from strength to strength. Everyone's going crazy for Jessie J as well. I'd also look out for Franklin.

What scenes are going to be big?It's hard to say. A lot of scenes are merging together now, I think there's going to be a lot of fusion.

What music don't you want to hear again next year?
Nothing. As long as it sounds good to you, go ahead with it.

Can we have a picture?
No. My boss is lurking and I'll get in trouble for talking to you.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Tom Williams and the Boat: Interview

Nestled under a stained glass window, satsumas in hand (Tom had tweeted earlier requesting them for the band's rider. He's getting a cold poor love.) we spend a night in the rather atmospheric St Pancras Old Church, getting to know the eponymous Tom Williams of 'and the boat' fame. Hailed by Lamacq, beloved by fans for their hands-on approach and more ubiquitous at this year's Glastonbury than Home Counties girls in angel wings, TW&TB are one of our tips for keeping your peepers on in 2011. Don't say we didn't warn you...

For those who don't know you, who would you say influences your music?

Bruce Springsteen, Pavement, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Nick Cave, Tom Waits. The last supper of musicians.

You started as a solo singer. Why did you choose to form a band? It's a reverse of what normally happens...

It was mainly borne out of the fact that I didn't want to be that singer-songwriter guy, but I also wanted the chance to make people dance.

This church is pretty atmospheric. Is it the strangest place you've ever played?

At Glastonbury we ended up playing a massage tent, a café, and a place that had to be powered by bicycles. The only people there were the people on the bikes who got up and left halfway through, so two of our band members had to stop playing and start pedalling so we could power the PA. And our local venue where we started out is a toilet. Literally. It was an old toilet that was bought by the council and turned into a venue.

So you started out in a toilet and ended up at Glastonbury?

From a toilet to Glastonbury – the story of the boat. It could be the title of our next album.

You're good at having back and forth with fans, sending out free EPs, retweeting etc.. Is that important to you?

I really enjoy it. You can get down between gigs and you can feel low between campaigns thinking that people have forgotten about you, but if you keep it going then you keep those relationships alive.

Tell us a bit more about the upcoming album...

It's out on February the 21st. We've been recording it over two years but we've only actually managed eight days in the studio because we've had so little money, so it'll be nice to get it out the way. We're also releasing a single in April which will bring us into the festivals and we're hoping to record the second album over the summer and have that out hopefully by the end of the year.

It's going to be a busy year then?

We're really keen to keep the momentum going because we figure that the upside of being our own bosses is that we have the freedom to release as much as we want. If we were signed to a major they'd only let us put out a record every three years so if we're going to be penniless and poor we might as well get the drip, drip, drip of material out there. When you hear a band for the first time you don't go and see them straight away. It's after you've heard them five times and your mates have mentioned them and then a ticket comes up. It's all luck. You could like a band and never see them live, so I think the constant drip, drip of material is very important in terms of getting us out there.

Time for some boat questions.... If you were a pirate, who would you pillage?

Is that a sexual term?

It could be if you wanted it to be...

Well in that case I would pillage Bruce Springsteen, his talent and his body.

Who would you least like to go on a cruise with?

Ke$ha. She looks so dirty, like she should be in those NHS adverts where the people are wearing those pants that say Gonorrhoea.

Who would you like to take for a ride on your loveboat?

Well that definitely is sexual. I guess Jeff Buckley. When he was alive though. I'm not into dead people...

Johnny Flynn @ Shepherd's Bush

You know you're old when you're standing in the queue praying for a seat. In my defence, it's been a long and hangover-inducing week and I'm spent. Anyway, Johnny Flynn, God love him, is hardly the sort of performer who's enhanced by standing. It's music to sit down and read the Guardian to, maybe after a bracing country walk. It's pretty much a relief then, when I'm ushered into my squishy Shepherd's Bush chair. Happy as a pig in the proverbial, I sink in, G&T in hand (another sign that I'm secretly middle-aged) ready to party in as mild a way as possible – it's way past my bedtime.

Good job Johnny is in a far less weary mood, striding on stage beaming at the screams of adulation he's receiving. The girls love him and boy are they making it known, screeching so loudly that they've left behind 'loud' and entered into 'Beatlemania' decibel levels. It's like he's Matt blimmin' Cardle or something. Frankly, if they'd remembered to bring a spare pair of knickers he'd be swimming in them right about now. Not that he's a traditional sex symbol. Don't get me wrong, he's a real cutie, (all lantern jaw and Royal Family-style ruddy cheeks) but tonight he's unassuming, hiding behind slightly longer floppier hair than normal, dressed down in casual checked shirt and jeans like a grungy Kevin the Teenager. He's even bought his younger sister and band member Lily along for moral support, and as they hug and he introduces her, every woman in the place has the same thought – wouldn't he make a great father?

Certainly his progeny would inherit enough musical talent to drown a bag of kittens. As the night progresses he moves seamlessly from guitar to banjo to violin before whipping out his trumpet (easy!) to get a bit New Orleans swing on us. In between there's that voice, which he uses as an instrument in itself, wobbling it up and down the scales to communicate the emotional punch of his lyrics. Previously a touring Shakespearean thespian, Flynn has an actor's gift for timing, using dramatic pauses and stop-start vocals to emote his delivery in Oscar-winning style. Between songs though, he's less accomplished: shy, nervous and continually thankful for being allowed to play such a large venue. Perhaps he's happy that there's still a place for him in a world where the Mumfords have rather stolen his indie-folk crown. In his absence over the last few years, they've rather left him eating their dust. Still, no hard feelings; he invites Mumford's missus and his BFF Laura Marling on-stage for a collaboration.

Despite this, he seems to be keen to distance himself from their radio-friendly nu-folk. As a result, Flynn has gone more traditional with his new album and also slightly darker. Many of the songs sound like Neil Young plugged into 'rock' mode. Others go pretty old school and sound like something you'd hear at a crusty cider and folk festival in a tent that smelt of organic sausages and farmers. While the oldies are received with the loudest cheers, there is a sense that new tunes 'Kentucky Pill' and 'Barnacled Warship' could yet become classics. Those in the audience tonight seem keen to embrace the authentic side of folk and pretty much wet themselves any time one of the band picks up an obscure mandolin-like instrument. As the encore 'Tickle Me Pink' rolls round, I feel energised, the transformative power of folk whacking me round the chops and dragging me out of my stupor. I'm even bopping my head slightly. Who's ready for an after party?

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Another Rock n' roll Christmas....

Christmas comes but once a year, which is good because any more than that and you'd probably want to punch a kitten in the kidneys. Seriously, enough already. Before you get shitfaced, scream at your Nan and fall over the Christmas tree, listen to our pick of the best Yuletide songs of all time ever ever ever. It might help you feel a little less Grinch like.

This song, like all Gary Glitter songs, pretty much kicks ass. OK, so you might baulk a bit at the line "I love to hear the children sing" but god damn it, it's Christmas. Good will to all men and all that. Guys? Guys....?

Possibly the coolest Christmas song ever. It's got a Blondie vibe, plus it has the feel of all those cool 90's surf girl bands (hello Sleater Kinny) and a lovely wailing sax. Incroyable.

p.s only the original Waitresses version is acceptable. The Spice Girls version can fuck right off.

Yeah it's a cliche, but it's still fucking awesome. The video is brilliant (and has Matt Dillon in it fact fans) and the mix of Kirsty's lilt and Shane's drunken drawl (that you can almost smell the whisky on) produces, as the X Factor judges would say, 'musical magic'.

The trombones that sound like someone creeping, the perfectly executed rat a tat of the drums, Louis' wonderful gutteral howl, the excellent sound effects (whistling wind! bells!) This song is perfect.

It's not exactly a classic Ramones track, but for the simple fact that it's a Christmas song by a punk band and that it doesn't have a shit Christmas sleigh bell sound effect over the top, it gets my vote.

Two amazing versions of one classic hit for you. The first by Grace Jones manages to make a song about a little boy and his drum into an utter electro sleazefest which makes us feel dirty, a bit like getting a vibrator from Santa. The second is a masterclass in why talking should never, ever be used in songs. "Do you go in for any of the traditional things in the Bowie household at Christmas time?" "Oh yeah, most of them really, presents, trees, decorations..." Bing and Bowie work wonderfully together when they're singing but their stilted banter makes you want to hide behind the sofa and drill pencils into your ears, reminding you as it does of the most awkward date you ever had, multiplied in awkwardness a million fold. Jeepers.

Patrick Wolf @ Bloomsbury Ballroom

A stranger bunch of people you've never seen – green ink writers the lot of them. There are middle-aged women practically wetting their Tena Ladies with excitement, several people of indeterminate sex, a girl with sparkly silver pipe cleaners for eyebrows and two guys who look like they've just rolled up from the best acid rave you've never been invited to. Next to them stands a smartly dressed man in his sixties while behind him two dudes with glittery black trousers stand chatting to a woman who manages to have red, purple and electric blue hair all at the same time. And she's wearing a clock.

Roll up, roll up for the Patrick Wolf circus. The venue is pretty odd as well. Bloomsbury Ballroom evokes images of Regency glamour, maybe of Virginia Woolf and E.M Forster hosting scandalous parties. The reality is a little more tired: it's peeling a bit around the edges, the carpets in the bar need a going over with a hoover, and the music over the PA is a 'best of' garage and funky house mix tape. Yuck.

Thankfully Wolf lends an air of extravagance to the occasion, as we are ushered into the ballroom proper to be greeted by his band – a mix of the orchestral and the electronic – and the glamorous singer dressed in a red suit, accessorising with a jaunty red corsage. Maybe it's one too many shandies but the velvet curtains suddenly look hopelessly romantic and glamorous. Once the lights are lowered, you can almost convince yourself that you're on the set of Strictly Come Dancing and while nobody is going to be attempting a rumba tonight, the gig has an instant celebratory atmosphere.

After all, a lot has changed in Wolf's life since his last release 'The Bachelor'. He's now in a long-term relationship, has seemingly finished battling depression, and seems to be a thoroughly happy chappy. The difference in sound is evident. Songs from his forthcoming album (due for release in Summer 2011) are chirpy affairs, with lyrics about survival, hope, and keeping the flame alive. He has described them as “music for your first kiss” and “not cheese but happy, pornographic music”.

He's not entirely right. They are a little bit cheesy. But they're also extremely loveable. He's the kind of guy you want to do well, even when he extends a clenched fist into the audience and closes his eyes while singing, suddenly becoming a bit Michael Bolton (to squeals of delight from the crowd). When he warbles about finding “the greatest peace you'll ever know” with his rich caramel voice, and intones that he “won't back down any more”, your heart skips a beat and your brain gets that same mushy feeling you get when you sniff a baby's head. Or maybe that's just me.

Newbie 'The City' – featuring the refrain “I won't let the city destroy our love” – is an ABC-aping anthem about keeping a relationship going during the credit crunch and perhaps best sums up the electronic troubadour's new direction. It's markedly different from 'The Libertine', a protest song featuring lyrics like “The hitch-hiker was bound and gagged, raped on the roadside”. 'The City' is also sort of a protest song, but it's a protest that's nowhere near as angry or bitter: basically it admits that there's nothing that's that worth getting too worked up about if you have someone to snuggle with on the sofa. “I'm sorry, but I just love this song. I could play it for hours,” says Wolf as he goes in for another chorus and the 'Lexicon of Love'-style sax solo wails up again.

Nobody's stopping him. Frankly, he's given us all something to smile about. Even me, bitter, alone and Bridget Jones-esque as I am, find myself smiling at strangers on the tube on the way home. Sadly, they edge away and bury their heads in the Standard.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Dave Brubeck and the Expanding of Horizons

A couple of nights ago on the One Show there was an item about how the English language has changed over the last 60 years or so. The usual Daily Mail nonsense about how we're all going to hell in a hand basket because we use Americanisms and how the purity of British speech is being diluted and blah blah blah. Leaving aside the fact that there are hundreds of foreign words in our vocabulary- bungalow, cul de sac, avocado, you've got to wonder why people really care? Does it really matter that some of us say train instead of railway tracks or sidewalks instead of pavements?

The whole point of language is communication; communicating a thought or an emotion or a warning. As long as you're able to understand what is being conveyed, it doesn't really matter what words you use. If you're the kind of person who gets their knickers in a twist about 'correct' manners of speech then you clearly fail to understand the concept of language as something beautiful and nuanced. Only a slabbering moron would want to limit the number of words in use, for they then deny themselves the pleasure of using language to the full. New words keep language relevant and engaging. People would look at you like you were insane if you started speaking in Chaucerian English because it's no longer relevant. Language is a living, breathing organism that is constantly being developed. You have to move with the times and keep innovating or you might as well give up.

Which brings me neatly to the subject of Dave Brubeck, who I had the pleasure of watching a documentary about on BBC 4 later that night. Brubeck was a man who was constantly experimenting- playing with time signatures and encouraging his drummer to lay down wildly chaotic beats while his saxophonist swirled round and in between with a beautiful crisp reediness. All the while he kept the pace going as he gently stroked the keys of his piano. He was greatly influenced by modern art and featured famous works and sculptures on his album covers. Listening to his music sounds a lot like being trapped inside a Miro painting. He was one of the first to see jazz as a mainstream pursuit and to take it out of the seedy nightclubs and into the concert halls, whilst still remaining wildly avant garde. He did this by garnering the support of students, taking his band on tours of campuses. This led to him being featured on the cover of Time magazine, the first jazz artist to win the coveted slot.

His most famous song 'Take 5' is written in 5/4 time, which gives it a fabulously jittery edge. Although it seems cool (if it was a colour it would be the bright white of the arctic snow), it's far from mellow. For one of the highest selling jazz records of all time, it's pretty out there and yet it's all delivered with such precision that you barely notice how radical it is. It perfectly sums up the Brubeck sound- a mixture of the familiar and the what the fuck?

Still going at 90, he isn't a man who is short of ideas. He regularly composes songs dedicated to his fallen idols and in the last few years has written music for the Pope, conducted choirs and had a go at penning arias and hymns, as well as continuing touring with his jazz band and recording songs with legendary blues and classical composers and artists. He's never stopped toiling at trying to remain fresh and, most importantly, he still looks like he's having a bloody good time even though his fingers are stiffened with arthritis. His message should be one we take on board- don't become someone who is annoyed by change (whether it's musical, linguistic or social), but enjoy it for the excitement it can bring.

All hail Brubeck- a man who wouldn't give a fuck how you pronounced the word 'scone'.

Friday, 3 December 2010


Recently it seems to have been all about America, especially the West Coast. Admittedly the new penchant for surf rock doesn’t immediately make you think of Blighty. The Drums might have been put off surfing if they’d have had to contend with the artic North Sea. Good on Fiction then for reppin’ our ends and showing that while we might not be able to get anywhere because of snow we can still do the tropical thing as well as those Yanks.

A London-based four piece who've recently jumped off the Warpaint tour bus, Fiction set tongues a wagging and feet 'a grooving when they played at Offset Festival a few months back. They make music that combines delicate vocals with off kilter percussion just as well as any of the greats. Listen to their upcoming single ‘Big Things’ and you can hear the reverb tropical-punk of Talking Heads, XTC and Yeasayer, but really it’s tropical in the least tropical way possible. These guys take the tube to work, not a surfboard, and so they also stir a very British mean and moody synth pop into the mix. ‘Phyllis’ is definitely at the Maccabees end of the dance-punk spectrum while elsewhere you’ll be reminded of Joy Division. Although, as they point out, every band in the world is influenced by Joy Division so that’s a bit of a lazy comparison.

The band obviously have their quiffs set to stun and their hearts focused squarely on the big time. They’re full of grand statements about how they plan to revive music, and we blimmin’ love that. After all, if you’re going to make it, you’ve got to have a bit of bravado about your mission statement.

In fact, Fiction are already working on their own mythical status. Living up to their name, bassist Daniel Djan told NME journalists that he wears a key round his neck because “My grandfather owns a castle in Germany and I’m just waiting to find that castle. I keep trying with every lock when I go on holiday.” We're expecting to be seeing this on every press statement issued about them from now on.

Fiction then, you might not believe their tall stories but you should believe in them. These guys deserve to be big.

Kano: Interview

A lot of reviews have said that ‘Method To The Maadness’ is your most dancey record to date. What do you reckon? Is it an album designed for the clubs rather than the underground?

There are tracks for the clubs like 'Get Wild' and 'Crazy' but it's not a dance album in my opinion.

What do you dance to in a club then?

Possibly House Of Pain- Jump Around. But for me right now it's Rick Ross- BMF. That always gets the party started.

Any of your new tracks that you're particularly excited about?

I'm really proud of 'Get Wild' and 'Spaceship' but it's a complete body of work really, every track is from the heart and so unique.

You’ve previously spoken out about artistic integrity. Why is that so important to you?

If you are a true artist then you will always try to remain true to what it is that you do. I can't make music I hate, but I think the masses will love. Or music somebody tells me to make or worse, makes for me. I'm not a puppet, but there's a lot of them out there right now...

Jay-Z obviously thinks you're doing something right. He recently gave you a shout out on radio, that must have been quite an honour...

Yeah, it was. I really respect him as an artist and value his opinion. It's nice to see someone of his stature taking notice of what we're doing over here. He basically lives up there in the clouds so to be on his radar means you're standing out from the crowd.

He caught you on the Gorillaz tour. How has that been?

The tour's been great. It's my first time spending so much time in America and I've been playing in arenas every night. I can't complain. To be part of a show with a group of people that would never have normally got together is amazing. A real life changing experience for me. A world tour! It's been crazy.

And how has it been working with Damon?

I will always work with Damon any chance we get. We've done about three or four songs together now and it's always a new vibe with him. We're always thinking how can we push it further, whether its musically, lyrically, or whatever. We always want it to be different to what's out there at the moment and what we've done before.

The tour has given you the chance to collaborate with some amazing people. Anyone else on your wish list?

I'm blessed to have most of my favourites on 'Method To The Maadness' - Vybz Kartel, Wiley, Ghetts, Damon. I just missed out on Mos Def but hopefully that will happen at some point soon.

You distribute music via your own record label. Why did you decide to do that?

Just to have full control of the music I put out. Obviously when you sell records you make more money than you would otherwise too, but it's more about what suits me creatively at this moment in time.

Was it partly a reaction to the way the music industry is going?

Well, I think major record companies are gonna be in big trouble over the next few years. They know that too. They're not stupid. But their way of dealing with the immediate problem is by taking from the artist even harder than they were before. I think that's a bit wrong, but I get it. The thing is people will always need music. They've just got into a habit of not buying it.

You’re beloved by indie hipsters as well as hip hop heads. Why do you feel that is?

I don't know. They have good taste?! But really, all my albums have been diverse and so have the features I've done, from Gorillaz to Shy FX to Chase & Status, so its not surprising when I play a gig and the audience reflects that diversity.

What can we expect from you in 2011?

Another album. Maybe mix tapes too.

Finally, what do you want for Christmas?

A fucking present for once!