Saturday, 26 March 2011

The Epstein

Following in the wake of Mumford, Flynn and Stornoway, urban farmer types The Epstein are doing things properly. Their pop-folk EP, ‘I Held You Once’ was formed in cottages, hallways and an old radio concert hall in Bremen, over several pots of tea, while dogs snored, fires roared, and the 16 track whirred in the corner.

Unsurprisingly for a record that has been so spread out, across land and sea, city and country, the sound is as expansive as they come.  Cinematic and enigmatic, it sounds like someone standing on a hill, looking across a valley at the miles of emptiness surrounding them and then, taking a huge breath of air, screaming out their inner most demons. Expelling all those feelings of inadequacy that soak their sheets at 5am.

And what is it that’s keeping them awake? It’s not the sound of sheep bleating, but the city, somewhere between Oxford and London, that they’ve carved out as home. Noisy, light filled, chaotic. If it’s not the bright lights from the airport keeping them up, it’s worries that they’re not going to be heard among all that competition. As they mournfully intone on ‘Another Band Has Gone’- “Will they listen to me in Soho/ Before I head on home for the bedside light?” And that’s if they can make it home on time. They’re also paranoid about missing the ‘midnight ride’. Which isn’t a freight train out of Kentucky, but the last tube.

Not that they should be too anxious. Previous plaudits have included ‘Editor’s Choice’ in Rolling Stone Magazine and BBC Radio 1’s ‘Introducing Album Of The Week.’ And they’re off touring the country and tearing it up on stages at festivals across the land. They’re doing something right, and that something is making heartfelt and vast blockbusters that defy you not to want to stroke their hair, soothing them that everything is going to be just fine. 

Friday, 25 March 2011

Found Sounds: Big Deal

Pay attention! Big Deal are showing us around their record collection...

Big Deal is the duo of Kacey Underwood and Alice Costelloe, East London-based garage wooze-rockers whose twanging guitars (sometimes acoustic, sometimes electric) intertwine over their lazily melodious voices like two birds swooping and soaring over a nest.

Their songs are all about the yoof of today and have snappy titles like ‘Homework’ (“Can’t do my homework, can’t concentrate, it’s ruining my grades, I can’t think straight”) and ‘Talk’. All in a boy-girl Summer Camp meets Tennis style. Whatever the one word ditty, it’s guaranteed to have that simple, cutesy, teen-drama heartbreak thing nailed down.

Here are the tracks that they reckon are a big deal…

Rolling Stones – Wild Horses

Alice and I watched Gimme Shelter recently and the scene with them in the studio recording this stuck with us. They were just so moved by the music they'd just made, which could come across as arrogant or self-absorbed if it weren't so perfect.

Foo Fighters – Everlong (acoustic version)

Better than the original in many ways. The song takes on another life that is much more cutting. His vocals are so tender that it makes you feel like you know him, like a friend is singing to you.

My Bloody Valentine – Sometimes

Heavy without any drum sounds. If you listen closely there is a kick buried in the mix but aside from that it manages to be just as heavy and moving as anything else they ever did, without the full band sound.

Smashing Pumpkins – The Boy

A very MBV-sounding Pumpkins song, taken to a more classic rock/pop place. Simple vocals sang by James Iha with a really interesting chord progression. If we ever get a drummer we want one like Jimmy.

The Velvet Underground – Sweet Jane

Another example of how perfect something can be with such simple elements. I was tempted to put the Cowboy Junkies version instead as it has this great moody thing that comes in at the end, but this one is just so cool. Sounds like the perfect summer day.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

You know what? I fucking love Adele

There. I've said it. I'm not ashamed. I'm not apologetic for the fact that 'Someone Like You' makes me blub. Or that I have a massive fem crush on her because of her lovely skin and way with mascara. Why the hell should I be? GETTHEHELLOFFMYBACKOK?!

Here's a lovely interview she did with USA Today.

Oi!- The Definitive Punk Playlist

Oi! Oi! Oi!-Cockney Rejects

Sound of the Suburbs- The Members

I Heard It Through The Grapevine- The Slits

Jilted John- Jilted John

Six Pack- Black Flag

Turning Japanese- The Vapors

Paranoid- Black Sabbath

Hurry Up Harry- Sham 69

Stand and Deliver- Adam and the Ants

Eton Rifles- The Jam

Sally MacLenanne- The Pogues

Love and a Molotov Cocktail- The Flys

White Riot- The Clash

My Perfect Cousin- The Undertones

Psycho Killer- Talking Heads

My Generation- Patti Smith

Do You Wanna Dance?- The Ramones

Anarchy in the UK- Sex Pistols

Boredom- The Buzzcocks

New Rose- The Damned

Pretty Vacant- Sex Pistols

Denis- Blondie

Oh Bondage Up Yours!- X Ray Spex

No Fun- Sex Pistols

Baby, I Love You- The Ramones

Marquee Moon- Television

Fuck Off- Wayne County and the Electric Chairs

Staring At The Rude Boys- The Ruts

Hong Kong Garden- Siouxsie and the Banshees

Blue Valentine: Review


Q: What’s the opposite of a rom-com? A: Blue Valentine, a saddening divorce-trag about the collapse of a seemingly strong relationship.

Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling play Cindy and Dean, a young married couple whose once exciting relationship has been soured by the mundanity of life. In the early days their courtship was full of spontaneity and romance. They dance in the streets as he plays his ukulele and sings ‘all goofy’. They decide on their song, a soulful number called ‘You And Me’. But that was then. Now, she resents him for never disciplining their child and lacking ambition. He is angry that she never has time for him, either emotionally or physically. As the film develops it becomes clear that while he hasn’t changed, she is unrecognisable from the earlier stages of their relationship. Her roles as a midwife and a Mum completely eclipse her role as one half of a couple, and it almost seems as if, during the films’ myriad of flashback sequences, you are watching two different characters.

An excruciating scene where they try to rekindle their romance with a night in a motel is acted superbly. Previously the couple have merely seemed distant, perhaps because of tiredness. This is the first time that you realise that there is no longer any love there at all. As their song plays, the lyrics ‘You and me... nobody baby but you and me’ become a horrifying message of an eternity spent with the wrong person. As he tries to initiate sex, both in the shower and on the floor of the hotel room it is obvious that any attraction between them has been replaced by a sense of duty that they can no longer hide from.

The final scene uses the flashback to great effect, showing both their wedding day, and the day they decide to divorce. The day of their divorce is grey and mundane. She looks tired and old, standing by a kitchen sink, the epitome of the bored suburban housewife. He is begging with her and seems like a child, which is exactly why she can no longer be with him. Their wedding day is a complete contrast, lit by blinding sunlight, illuminating how full of joy they are. Both scenes show them crying, but while their wedding is tears of joy, their divorce has them crying tears of bitterness. The audience was welling up as well.

Blue Valentine’s closest companion would probably be 500 Days of Summer, but it lacks that film’s humour and warmth. From beginning to end, there is very little hope in the tale of this relationship, despite every person in the cinema was willing the couple to realise what got them together in the first place.

Excellent performances from Williams and Gosling, and the film’s great use of pacing, fail to make it an enjoyable watch. But then it’s not supposed to be. A bit like the central relationship, it’s a largely dispiriting endurance test of a film that will have you clenching your fists in frustration. Especially because, deep down, there’s still a spark there that means you can’t give up on it.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

The Guilty Hands

Bored of surf pop? Us too. Ironic really considering it’s nearly summer, but there you go. We’re contradictory buggers. This week we thought we’d bring you London’s The Guilty Hands who peddle an indie electro sound that will make you want to rip off all your clothes and grab that tall, dark stranger on the night bus. Or is that just us?

There’s a bit of the Bravery in here for sure, and a slither of early ‘Plug In Baby’-era Muse, but the group’s use of instrumentation – violins, samples of Marlon Brando (they take their name from a line from A Streetcar Named Desire) and cluttered hand claps and gasps – takes them into a more experimental territory – maybe a little more Bright Eyes or Patrick Wolf.

‘The Wilder Shores of Love’, with its haunted refrain, “It was just a kiss, I thought you’d understand”, is the most lupine, taking electro-folk and channelling through a story about a woman who is so overcome by ecstasy when looking at a painting that she kisses it. ‘The Collector’ has the strut of Prince and all of his sex appeal (although slightly more white and nerdy). If you thought Rihanna’s 'S+M' was a little bit kinky, then check this out: “I walk the city streets hunting for beauty, I’ve made a deal with the Devil and I can have all I see.” And later: “Keep desire on a short leash, or else I’m coming back for you.” Blimey. We’re hot under our collective collars.

Their fans obviously don’t mind too much. In fact, they’ve financed the group’s album, using the website to buy shares in the recording. It sure shows how dedicated they are. And you should be too, just for the fact that they’re white indie boys doing something a bit different. And there’s not a surf board in sight.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Tom Williams and the Boat @ The Old Queen's Head

See? We told you these guys were ones to watch. Since we last informed you of Tom Williams and the Boat, things have rather picked up over in their camp. They’ve been confirmed for festivals galore, had plaudits from all the right people (and Badly Drawn Boy), and finally got round to releasing their debut album, ‘Too Slow’, which as they rightly point out is “a really, really big deal”.

Tonight’s gig at the elegantly peeling Old Queen’s Head is respectably full; one sign of a band building momentum on a day-by-day basis. Even as it’s taking place the numbers begin to swell, and as accomplished as they are, it’s not for the support acts. While the Radiohead-bothering math rock of Look, Stranger! and the jangly Kings of Leon-esque A Life In Film are both excellent, both admit that Tom Williams and the Boat are the alumni from tonight’s line-up who are going to become greats, and there is a sense of expectation building from the start.

As the band take to the stage, it’s clear that Tom Williams is their beating heart. The others look to him for direction, and like all good frontmen there is an aura around him. It’s hard to say what this is, but as his voice cracks and breaks over the Nick Cave-esque dark folk, he already has the poise of the greats. The band’s influences include Springsteen, and there are obviously a lot of debts being paid to the Boss in their chugging, kitchen-sink guitar lines. There’s also a bit of Dylan in there, as Williams blows at a harmonica, cradled in a Bob-style neck harness.

Things are constrained, but only because of lack of space. “Sorry we’re not rocking out,” says Tom. “There’s not even enough room to swing a cat up here. If you did it would probably lose its head or something.” They needn’t apologise though. There is something about being pent up that suits their sound. Its polite folk with broody post-rock feels like it’s about to explode and smash a glass over your head, and is constantly reigning itself in and then uncoiling itself. The fact the band is physically cramped means they play faster, louder, and more furiously than on record.

As they rattle through their set it becomes clear that there's a divide between dark and light within their music. This can be seen just by looking at the assembled band, who all seem as if they’ve stumbled in from different acts (which they pretty much have): violinist Geri Holton could be from a bare foot folk band, all softness and light, while the assembled guitarists and drummer look like the remnants of a '90s stoner rock outfit (except they’re far too young). These varying influences, crashing together are what make the band more than a run-of-the-mill indie-folk act, and is why they’re a group to get excited about.

Keep your peepers peeled, there’s more to come.

Civil Unrest @ Debut

Civil Unrest, part of Coming Up festival has one clear aim – to galvanise political thought through performance, photography, debate and, curiously, food. While it certainly raises a lot of interesting issues, it’s a confusing and messy process that feels, at times a little bewildering.

But perhaps we just don’t have the cajones. On arrival at Debut, there certainly doesn't seem to be any hint of an impending revolution. We're informed tonight’s production has been delayed by half an hour. Do we kick off? Of course not. We chat politely and have a nice glass of wine. The only slight moment of disagreement comes when a man objects, very mildly, to handing over £4 for a beer. He still pays though. No need to cause a fuss.

Things heat up slightly when we’re led through police barricades into a queue for food. To set the tone for the political injustice to come, the filth, who are patrolling the venue, begin kettling us, banging their riot shields and shouting, which is effective until you remember that you’re not actually protesting your rights. There’s not a lot to be upset about when you know you’re about to receive award-winning grub from Street Kitchen’s Head Chef Mark Jankel.

The kettling process also means that the exhibition of protest photography and art suffers. Works are mounted on the chain link fences, but with the surging crowd it’s hard to take it in. A video above us plays footage from the student protests, and there's a charred painting of David Cameron, but it's all but impossible to actually look properly at the display. Perhaps that’s the point.

Sat at long wooden tables in a mock prison canteen, it’s here that the organisers' aims become clearer. Our food is presented in polystyrene trays and my hospitable fellow inmates and I get talking about the issue of prison control, debating with a fervour that the organisers were hoping for. Jankels' meat dish melts away at first touch, the roasted vegetables are tender, and the dessert, a pear cheesecake mousse, is delicious. As the prison guards bring round some Courvoisier punch, I begin to think that life in the slammer might not be so bad after all.

I worry the play is going to be overly earnest, especially as it deals with the politically charged student riots. But the actors' use of space instantly breaks down any inhibitions. They use the scaffolding mounted above us, while the tables we're sat at become beds, pavements and prison cells, as they move around and over us. Riots clash, flares are set off, and the whole thing proceeds at such a pace that there’s no time to feel awkward.

The story involves a family of siblings at each other’s throats about the rights of the police and the protestors. However the story doesn't particularly matter. The characters are merely ciphers, raising different issues. While it is clear that writer Ben Ellis is on the side of the protestors, things are not black and white. Each character, be they police or civilian, is flawed.

Though not as flawed as the event’s supposed highlight – a debate featuring amongst others, Simon Hughes MP. It's ruined by lack of time. Hughes hasn’t seen the play and so tries to use the platform for a speech to press the Lib-Con message, which is met with resistance and heckles of ‘wanker’.

The fact that there is no time for the audience to be heard is perhaps why we leave with a sense that there hasn’t been a chance to tie our thoughts together, but it seems Civil Unrest has at least succeeded in bringing a more vocal audience to this kind of theatre.