Sunday, 30 January 2011

Funeral Party: The Golden Age Of Knowhere- Review

Picture the scene. You're down at the Horse and Morrissey, your local indie disco. The floors are sticky. The snakebites are flowing. Suddenly, there it is: Love Will Tear Us Apart. Sure, you're drunk. You have a little dance; you fling your arms around your friends and spill rum and coke all over your Converse. But part of you feels disappointed. Has nobody come up with an indie disco hit since 1980? Sure, there's Mr Brightside and Sex On Fire but they lack the punch and let's be honest, the cowbells.

Step forward Funeral Party. On the face of it the California natives don't look like the kind of guys who would get a party started. For one they're named after a wake (think about it), for two they're into metal. And thirdly, they throw mad ass warehouse parties attended by punks, skaters and reprobates. So how have they moved from punk to funk?

Firstly with the help of Mars Volta engineer Lars Stalford. Secondly with the help of the aforementioned cowbells. From the albums opening New York Moves To The Sound of LA the stage is set. The cowbells are being whacked so hard they make a sound like a farmyard run by the guy from Saw, the guitars are being thrashed and phasers are set to !!! via The Rapture. You'll be hard pressed not to start screaming "House Of! Jealous Lovers!" but even so the sound is so much fun that you can imagine it kicking off a thrashing flailing pit in a festival tent over the summer. Finale starts with the kind of circling guitars that mosh pits are made of and builds to a clattering funky-punky beat that sounds like James Brown is throwing himself over and over again into a drum kit. Meanwhile the shouty, echoey vocals sound like they should be being screamed through a megaphone "You are young so am I" is a refrain that's destined to be screamed from the bottom of festival goers' lungs into the balmy Reading/ Glasto/ Leeds night.

The problem is that much of the album lacks the same amount of thrust. Halfway through you realise that lead singer Chad Elliot has the same raspy voice as the Stereophonics' Kelly Jones. Once this has dawned on you every song begins to sound like the 'Phonics embracing a slightly more dancey sound (a bit like they did on Dakota) and this makes the album fall flat. Relics To Ruins is somewhat turgid as a result, and after a while starts to sound like The Script who no one wants to party with. It's like when you go to a really great rave, you're nice and pumped and then someone puts on a really rubbish tune and you suddenly deflate.

Some good moments then, but overall Funeral Party fail to keep the energy levels up. You get the sense that in a live arena they would blow all comers away, but on record there seems to be something missing. If this really was a party you'd probably make your excuses and call a cab early.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Interview: Sea of Bees

Sea of Bees is the moniker of Julie Baenziger a singer- songwriter from Sacramento who's a lot more interesting than that tag makes her sound. You can call her Julie Ann Bee if you like. Or Jules. She doesn't mind. She's just enjoying her new found freedom having escaped from Nowhereville, USA.

Discovered in a café playing one fingered bass in a band, Baenziger then started recording herself singing in the back room at the behest of the owner. The result is a debut that will make fans of alt country, Cat Power style folk and cute voices with a dark story to tell extremely chuffed.

I caught up with her to talk winning hearts, learning chords and harmonising with hot Christians...

Like a lot of singers, you got into music so you could impress a girl...

I thought she sang so beautifully when we were in church that I wanted to harmonise with her.

And that's why you taught yourself to play various instruments. That must have been challenging?

It was so frustrating, but I felt fulfilled when I managed to play a chord after a week. But yes, it killed me at the time.

Did you ever tell her how you felt?

Never. I sort of wish I had though just so I could have seen her face. It would probably have been too weird for her too even conceive. I don't think she would have let herself go and let a girl win her heart. People rarely reject what they know, even if they deny what they’re really feeling inside.

You grew up in a bit of a backwater. Did you have a strict upbringing?

I grew up in a very reserved and conservative place but my parents were really sweet and understanding. Sometimes I hate where I'm from, but sometimes I'm grateful for it, every experience makes you who you are.

You reckon that you'd never heard many of the people you're being compared to. Is it really true you hadn't listened to Joni Mitchell until you were 20?

That's true.

And you'd never heard of the Beatles or the Stones?

Yup, crazy stupid, huh?

What music were your parents playing in the house then?

Christian pop - I knew nothing else.

Have you revisited some of the 'classics' since? We heard your girlfriend was trying to get you into The Kinks...

Yes! And Neil Young!

What else were you doing other than listening to music? Were you creative in other ways?

I was, I would stay in my room and write songs, I kept a journal of all my thoughts and I liked to draw too. I thought of myself as an artist, but I kept it just to myself.

Is religious music or religion still a part of your life?

Both were a huge part of my life growing up, but not anymore. At the moment I'm listening to Bright Eyes, Jonsi, Feist and Beach House.

How do you write songs, can you read music or is it more by feel?

It’s more by feel, I hear a melody, then I start to sing what I feel.

What feelings have influenced the songs on your début album 'Songs for The Ravens' ?

Many things really. My mind takes all sorts of things; friends, loved ones, memories, even colours and shapes, and mashes them together.

Tell us a secret...

I wanna make out.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Swing Dancing @ Cafe 1001

I've never met Olly before but already we're holding hands and preparing to swing. I'm nervous, he's trying not to tread on my toes, and it feels like it's the first dance at our wedding. Except we don't know anyone here and we're being barked instructions at by our extremely perky Australian teachers 'Ben!' and 'Genn!'...

Before today I'd never even heard the words 'swing out' but now it's my favourite thing ever. It basically involves two-stepping away from your accomplice while they swing you round and around. Olly, with his tight grip, is brilliant at it and as I gaze at him I realise that 'L' is for the way he looks at me. As I breathlessly thank him for dancing with me and move on to my next partner (victim?) I feel a pang as if I'm cheating on him, but as soon as I'm being sped about under Maz's commanding arms with gay abandon I forget all about it. I'm fickle like that.

We're all here (about 30 of us) at Café 1001 in Brick Lane to learn how to dance in a day. Supposedly. Mostly I've learnt that I have zero sense of rhythm, limited sense of timing and a complete inability to follow simple instructions. The day is divided into three sessions of an hour and a half each, with a half-hour break between each during which I lay on the sofas in the corner trying to drink enough Lucozade to keep myself going.

Firstly we tackle the 1930s Charleston which looks nothing like the Charlestons I've seen before and involves plenty of flicks and kicks and a neat side-by-side hand-holding move that would be lovely for some old fashioned turtle dovin'. The next session is my favourite as we take on the slightly easier six-beat lindy hop that involves plenty of fast between leg kicking (mind your toes) and a move that requires me to push against my partner's chest and then spring away from them, which is indecently good fun.

By the time our final session rolls round I'm knackered and though the eight-bit lindy hop is slower it involves a whole series of complicated moves that I'm too tired to master. The session is overly long but although I flag I'm never clock watching. Had I done five hours at the gym I'd want to throw myself under a stairmaster, but I've lost about a stone in sweat, met some cool new people and had a laugh learning a vaguely impressive skill. This is my kind of exercise.

I may have been a little more Anne Widdecombe than Erin Boag but it was such good fun I'm considering starting weekly classes. I'll be a swing queen yet.

London Landmarks - Madame Tussauds

Value: 3
Queues: 5
Shop: 3
Family-friendly: 9
Enjoyment: 10

Total: 30/50

When you stop and think about it the idea of Madame Tussauds is pretty bloody weird. Gawping at famous people made of wax? Maybe that's what passed for entertainment in whenever the hell it was when Mrs Tussaud first started melting down candles, but nowadays we have iPads and QVC and Noel Edmunds (coincidently not featured). Surely we're above all of this? Outside, the hoardes of tourists queuing for a chance to eyeball The Beckhams are a visual representation of the fact that no, we're not.

Inside excitement is at fever pitch. Is that Liza Minelli? Isn't that the bloke from Pirates of the Caribbean? Get me next to Tara Palmer Tompkinson (who has rather bizarrely been placed in the A-list room. Surely some mistake?) A slightly boozier lunch than planned means that my excitement levels are also riding the crest of the wave. Sadly they don't quite match up to my reflexes, which seem to have plummeted. As I move in for an enthusiastic hug with Lady Gaga – the first figurine I've encountered – she starts to wobble alarmingly. Clearly I haven't worked out the correct pressure to apply to wax figurines yet.

My over-eagerness sees that I've used up the entire film of my disposable camera by the time we've got to the world leaders' room, meaning that from then on photo opportunities have to be rationed (sorry Mugabe!) Still, looking at wax turns out to be a hell of a lot of fun. Some celebrities are spot on (Helen Mirren and Angelina Jolie) Others look horrendous and provide plenty of laughs. The Beatles are almost unrecognisable and Marlon Brando looks like he has Bell's palsy.

The highlight of the entire day is the 'Spirit of London' ride which I get so into I make my brother go on twice. You take a tour through London history in a black cab, which is ace in itself, but the not-really-in-the-textbooks renditions of our history are a laugh a minute. The Great Fire of London and the Plague receive plenty of coverage, but, I would guess in an effort to be inoffensive to European tourists, the Blitz is represented by a slightly untidy looking house. The crowning glory is a 'Best of British' carousel featuring a cockney photographer, a good old fashioned bobby and Barbara Windsor and David Jason waving merrily. Binge-drinking, obesity and cynicism must be hard to represent in wax.

Other high points include the chamber of horrors representing the glories of the French Revolution (where I bump into an old school friend who now has a job playing a corpse), a 4D film about superheroes and the X-Factor Experience, in which you sing karaoke and are played clips of the judges comments. Predictably only Cheryl liked our rendition of Dolly Parton's 9-5. All in all a very fun and, at times, unintentionally hilarious day out.

Last FM Festival @ HMV Forum

“Do you scrobble?” shouts the screen above the stage. I blush. Only on special occasions. And with adequate protection. Actually, it's none of your business. Last FM are obsessed with how much I've been scrobbling. They keep bombarding me with facts and figures and suggestions until I can barely bear to look. It's like being programmed into the matrix, if the matrix was a boring marketing nerd who spent the whole time yapping on about how Futureheads are totally trending right now.

If this was a seminar about raising brand awareness then these guys would get top marks. But it's not, it's a festival and among all the marketing hype – “Last Fm festival T-shirts are available at the merch stand guys” – everyone's favourite radio station seems to have forgotten what they're all about: helping people find and champion new music. The line-up tonight is all bands you've heard about and largely forgotten. Where are the new bands? Where is the buzz of discovering your new favourite person ever that the Last FM crew are normally so good at delivering?

This feeling is especially prevalent when we're standing listening to Young Knives, and I have to pinch myself in order to be reminded that, no, it's no longer 2005. The nerdy guitar wielders have made absolutely no effort to move with the times. Not for them chillwave or surf pop or even dubstep. They wouldn't know power pop if it came and smacked them round their smug faces. Instead their sound, as it ever was, is generic indie disco lad rock played by librarians. Music for people who think a Topshop polo shirt makes them alternative and downing apple sourz and fingering girls to the Wombats is a great night out.

I had forgotten that their bassist, who looks like the slightly less nerdy one from Big Bang Theory refers to himself as 'The House of Lords' but as soon as I remember I am filled with indignant rage. The lyrics are so gratingly simple that even someone in a coma could pick them up. Rhyming 'Drinking Evian' and 'It wont be long' doesn't even work. And 'I love My Name''s refrain of “I have a name. I love my name” makes me want to ram my fist through the speakers. How dare they presume that they can just stroll onto the stage and pretend like the last five years of music never happened?

Especially when they've been preceded by the always assured Chapel Club whose '80s kitchen sink minimalism makes me realise that music can be uplifting and terrifying all at the same time. Underlit by stage lights, surrounded by dry ice, singer Lewis Bowman is a calm and collected presence even under the fire of wife-beating drums and lyrical content like “Bodies swinging in the sycamore tree/ Dream a little dream of me”. Dreamy.

Earlier on we've enjoyed the '90s rock stylings of Bones, who have a bit of a drive-time Garbage thing going on. Chugging guitars and heartbeat-altering drums hint at Pavement influences while the raspy blues vocals tell us that lead singer (black beanie hat, ripped black tights and attitude) has been spinning a bit too much Etta James. My companion noted that she looked as if she'd been hurt. I felt she looked like she'd know how to throw a TV out of a window and where to score good blow. Scary.

Headlining tonight are the Futureheads: once again a slot that could have been given to someone more boundary pushing, but at least it's not humourless. In fact it's full of fun and frolics. 'Hounds of Love' is always good for a laugh and I'd forgotten quite how perky 'Decent Days and Nights' was, while newer material like 'Your Heartbeat Song' leads me reaching for the Strepsils after I scream too loudly. While the group slightly overstay their welcome, coming on for a dreary encore of what they deem 'vampire-themed sex music' they manage to wipe away the cobwebs of their predecessors nicely. A mixed bag then. More mixed than you would have expected from Last FM. But not bad.

Asobi Seksu: Flourescence - Review

Four albums in and Asobi Seksu are pretty much sticking to the old adage 'if it aint broke don't fix it'. When you've got a good product to start with, it's not a bad mantra to have.

Formed in New York and formerly known as Sportfuck (a name they readily admit they outgrew), the group have been busy releasing albums at a rate of knots and providing soundtracks for all sorts of leftfield TV programmes and films. If you need a band to provide the backdrop to a self-conscious teen party or a nightmarish experience with too much ecstasy and your first lesbian kiss, you need to get them on the blower. Not that all this hard work has diminished their innate cheekiness. Their sometime-'new' name is a Japanese slang term for playful sex.

It's this kind of naughtiness that kept them going through the dark days of 2006 when music was all about guitars and they were about as relevant as a cocktail bar at an AA meeting. It's also the reason they don't feel bitter about the fact that nowadays every Tom, Dick and proverbial is pedalling the same kind of fuzzy dream pop. In 2011 you're nobody unless you sound like Abba examining shoelaces, but that's cool with them. They just got to the party a little earlier than everyone else and started warming everything up. Preparing the 'shrooms. Building up walls of sound for people to knock right back down. Dusting off the old vinyl; The Beach Boys, Phil Spector, Pavement, Fleetwood Mac, The Shangri Las, The Shirelles.

So, these are the glory days for Asobi Seksu. Right place. Right time. Right album. And it all sounds like a hell of a lot of fun. Any kind of music that makes you smile is in here, though it's not music you can dance to. It's music that washes over you, music to sit and smoke a zute to. Music that makes you want to have a picnic and lie on your back squinting into the sun. Music that makes you want to close your eyes and watch those weird blotchy bits of light dance under your eyelids.

Joyful and experimental in equal measure, Fluorescence is an album that challenges you without you even realising. Lead single Trails sums this up perfectly, creeping up on you with heavy shoegaze feedback and then obliterating you with merry go round pop that makes you want to move your feet and have a little sit down all at the same time. Vocals that are shrill and yet commercial, guitar parts that could be on a Katy Perry single and yet sound like something from another planet. Warped and wonderful synths that are part James Blake, part Emerson Lake and Palmer and part MGMT. These guys have got all the ingredients to make even those who are tired of dream pop break out into a grin. And always they have that cheekiness. Asobi Seksu may have been first to the party but don't try and call them a cab. They're just getting comfortable.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Daniel Martin Moore: In The Cool Of The Day- Review

A bit like a charter mark, the fact that an album is stamped with the Sub Pop logo is usually a sign that you're going to get a quality record. Chickens know eggs, bakers know bread and Sub Pop know people like The Vaselines and Dum Dum Girls. These dudes know what they're doing.

The effect, therefore, of picking up such a distinctly un-Sub Pop record as In The Cool Of The Day is a bit of a sucker punch. Listening to Daniel Martin Moore's latest release is a little like being given an ill-fitting jumper by a relative who usually nails your gift. You're left confused, a little angry and wondering what has happened to their previously faultless judgement.

It's not that In The Cool Of The Day is a bad album, just that it doesn't seem to know what it wants to be. Opener All Ye Tenderhearted, just Moore's breathy vocals and the gentle strums of a banjo, sets the tone for pretty boy folk a la Mumford And Sons, but this is followed by the cloying Dark Road, an anaemic country pastiche that feels like Ryan Adams is lurking. Later on in Up Above My Head, Moore becomes Michael Bublé with a fiddle, his vocals sounding punchably smug and so jazz lite that you can practically hear the after eights being handed round. Softly And Tenderly starts off with a gentle piano tickle that sounds like Billy Joel's Always A Woman, but then becomes a vanilla flavoured gospel sludge. The overall feel of the album is of an experiment too far, centred around someone who doesn't quite have the va-va voom to pull it off.

The whole project is overproduced and overly slick, stripping the nuance out of the hymnal nature of the music, music that should be allowed to breathe so that it can shine. While the press release talks of the fact the songs are a personal journey for Moore, there is no sense of that here at all. The singer-songwriter seems distant from the material, as if he is singing from another room (and not in an ethereal way). While hymns and spirituals should be earthy and uplifting, making the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end, here they are sentimental and cloying. The sense of the personal has removed any sense of the universal, which is exactly what these songs need in order to thrive. It feels like Moore doesn't believe, and therefore neither can we.

Sub Pop have obviously seen something here, and who are we to argue with a label that has produced such greats as Nirvana? It just feels like an album that's not so much a labour of love but a lumber towards the mainstream. If you want gospel re-imaginings and alt-country then listen to Seasick Steve who does this kind of thing with much more honesty and humour. And in future, maybe have a think next time you see that Sub Pop label. Like Mother always said, never judge a book by its cover.

Originally published on Music OMH

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Interview: Tennis

Indie’s cutest couple Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley have our favourite rock back story. Better than Mick and Keef meeting on Dartford train station and bonding over Chuck Berry records. Better than the time Paul McCartney cleared his throat and went over to shake hands with the infinitely cooler John Lennon.

The Denver natives clapped eyes on each other, fell in love, married and undertook a seven-month sailing expedition that inspired them to record an album of wistful sepia-tinged pop. We caught up with them to talk sea shanties, navigating and throwing each other overboard…

Your back story is like something out of a fairytale. How did you first get together?

We met as philosophy majors, which tends to be an isolating discipline so we both appreciated the ability to share that side of ourselves with each other. That, and most philosophy majors I met had a bad sense of didn't hurt that I thought Patrick was well dressed.

And you then decided to take to the waves. Do you feel you would have made the same kind of album without having done this?

Never. We’d never have written music if we hadn't lived at sea first.

What was the most important thing you discovered about yourselves while out at sea?

This will sound silly, but that we can do anything we commit to doing. There was one occasion where we were about to make landfall in the Bahamas, and the seas were huge and Patrick was too sick to navigate, so I found myself plotting our course into a foreign inlet, on a paper chart with no one to check my work. I never saw myself doing something like that, but there I was, leading us safely in from sea. That was the first time I realised that I had a tendency to underestimate myself.

Did you learn any good shanties?

Not really, no sailors we met were very musically inclined. We made up our own though, especially when we were scared.

Didn't being together all the time make you want to kill each other?

Not kill each other, but maybe shove each other overboard. Only for a moment though, and then we forget what we were mad about. Luckily he'll never kick me overboard, because I can't swim.

How did you keep the romance alive?

Just taking care of each other. Nothing is more romantic than going to sleep at sea knowing that the person you love will watch over you.

Has it inspired you to do another trip?

We've just decided to do a sailing trip around the Caribbean. We want to go to Cuba, and also attempt some longer ocean passages.

You've been lumped into the whole 'surf pop’ scene but you don't seem to exactly be a comfortable fit there. How would you describe your sound?

We describe our music as "vintage pop” but it's always hard to categorise your own music. You never know how self-aware you actually are when it comes to your own art.

Why do you feel there has been such a raft of joyful pop being produced over the last few years?

We can only really speak for ourselves but I guess that a lot of our time at sea was really hard, or terrifying. That was why we wanted to listen to happy, poppy love songs. We wanted to be uplifted, and take our mind off of things. Choosing the style of music we did probably had a lot to do with escapism.

Finally, promise us you're not going to get divorced and record a bitter 'Rumours' type album about the break-up...

Haha, not a chance. We already tested our relationship before we started Tennis. It would take a lot more than touring to break us up!

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Io Echo

Io Echo have exactly the sort of names you want your sallow goth rockers to have. These guys have monikers that literally make them sound like characters from Interview with a Vampire or long dead Austro-Hungarian nobility. The girl one is called Ioanna Gika and the boy one is called Leopold Ross. I mean, how much more gothic do you need?

It gets worse, though. Not only are they full of talk about how their uncle is Vlad the Impaler and how their clothes are held together with black duct tape, they are also in the sort of White Stripes- two peas in a pod – relationship that makes you wonder if they are a) brother and sister, or b) boning each other. Possibly they’ve sired each other in some kind of dark ritual.

Whatever the truth they both look in need of a good bath and maybe a quick blast on a sun bed. For a band based between London and L.A, it’s clear to see where most of their hours are spent. Perhaps this is why there is such a British sound to their music. You could happily file these guys next to Echo and the Bunnymen and Siouxsie (especially the songs ‘Shanghai Girls’ and the rather spectral ‘When the Lilies Die’), but then again, they could as easily squeeze in next to Everything But The Girl.

Although they look pretty dreary, they actually make the kind of music that you can imagine hearing on the sound track of a Tim Burton film about a misunderstood monster with a Ghost World lunch box. In other words, while IE’s music rumbles along like the orange blossom special, it never becomes so sludgy that it loses its pop factor. It remains fun and colourful and by being heavily synth driven, it stays catchy.

They’ve recently toured with the Drums, which shows how they’re angling their drone pop to the mainstream, and if domination wasn’t top of their wish list for 2011 they’ve got a funny way of showing it. Since they opened Nine Inch Nails’ last ever show, they’ve been jumping on and off the tour buses of Florence and the Machine, La Roux and the Big Pink. This from a band whose live shenanigans include throwing up on-stage. You’ve been warned. If you do manage to catch them, make sure you don’t slip on any barf.