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July 22, 2009

Clint Mansell, Union Chapel 20th July 2009

First off, this is going to be the lamest review ever. So don’t get your hopes up. I have never been able to write about modern music the way I can write about games, films or literature. I shy from stylistic parallels (because I don’t hear them) and if there’s a standard vocabulary pack for music journos then I certainly don’t have it installed. I rely on phrases such as ‘‘They’re a fun band. I don’t know much more about them than that’’, and ‘‘Death Cab For Cutie are extremely worth listening to, I promise’’.

I HAVE WAYS OF MAKING YOU TALK MR SLINKY

A week ago, a friend updated his Facebook status thus: “Arfie Mansfield¹ has a spare ticket for Clint Mansell at the Union Chapel on Monday, if anyone would care to join me.” I think of Clint Mansell as a Big. Name. for reasons entirely attributable to the fact that I also think of Darren Aronofsky as a Big. Name..

And sure enough, Aronofsky introduced the concert. I can’t really remember what he said, but he was hanging about beforehand and Andan Danndendund² approached him for an autograph and – I assume – a “I love your work” fan-ey squirt.

I kept drifting in and out of sleep during the concert, but it was the right music to do that to. Dramatic strings juxtaposed with sudden bursts of drums and techno, overlayed over overexposed American home-movie-style 60s (70s?) videos (projected with performers, providing the perfect packdrop) gave the discomfort of squashing my entirely normal-sized frame into a pew (a gig in a Church? Whatever next?) enough musical morphine to make up in some way for the inexplicable two hours of sleep I was attending on.

I’ve said almost nothing about the music.

Hello I am Clint Mansell. Skibbee dooby doo ba baahh!

There was a string quartet, a pianist, an invisible drummer, and the man himself, sitting at a laptop and mic in the middle with right+left hand men (guitarists).

They stopped and he talked about what they were going to play sometimes.

He justified the laptop thing. “I write in 1s and 0s”.

The other members were introduced.

Clint Mansell is a scouser.

The Cellist was a babe.

It was like a poetry reading. Stopping and starting with explanations and insights thrown into the mix.

We arrived at 7:30 and had to wait until 8:45 before it started, but we didn’t care.

There was a patronising standing ovation.

The strings were called Sonus Quartet.

All the old favourites were played, reminding us once again that Mansell must earn about £1million annually from royalties on The Apprentice alone.

And that’s your lot.

By Jim Miles³

¹Name not changed.
²Name changed.
³Name not changed.


December 03, 2006

We Landed On The Moon! (Eponymous)

calender3

We Landed On The Moon! are a quintet from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. We interviewed them a few months ago and their album has maintained on my rotation ever since – it’s a brilliant debut. The album starts with the excellent One of a Kind, crescendoing into full swing as the album goes through Everything is Fine and Simple Steps.

WLotM! display a number of styles throughout the album, with Blondie-style vocals from the lead singer flowing through influences from Blondie, Kate Bush, and the 80s indie-rock scene to create a wonderful mix of pop-rock that is very easy to listen and dance to.

There’s very little to say about the album other than you should go and buy it. Now!

MP3s Expired

Bonus Tracks

We Landed on the Moon! – Everything is Fine
We Landed on the Moon! – Simple Steps

BUY THE ALBUM NOW DAMN YOU

Buy it at CD Baby, and tell them we sent you


December 01, 2006

White Rose Movement – Kick

Well, December has finally arrived, and here at à la discothèque (a secret for you – yes, we know that it should be à and not á, but where’s the wonderful symmetry in that? Don’t tell anyone our evil French literary boo though) we’ve decided that to celebrate 2006 in music, we’ll review 31 albums in 31 days in the style of an advent calendar, as well as keeping up with our usual music tomfoolery. Excited? Good. Go!

White Rose Movement

White Rose Movement are a post-punk/electro band from London, who style their music around danceable, sexy music. I frigging love it. Around about April/May time, when I was first discovering and getting into the whole indietronica/dance-rock scene (Postal Service, Hot Chip, !!!, that kinda jazz) I heard the wonderful Girls In The Back from the RaW playlist. I immediately came home and ordered WRM’s debut album, Kick.

When the album came out, it didn’t go down particularly well – a lot of the music blog fraternity marked WRM as boring and one-dimensional, but personally I think the album’s a bit of class, particularly with songs such as Testcard Girl, London’s Mine and Love Is A Number. The album builds up through electronic/guitar-heavy songs such as Kick and Girls In The Back, very danceable choons, to the more experimental and abstract beats of Deborah Carne later in the album.

Altogether the album holds up well, and has stood well against the test of time. Here’s some tracks to enjoy:

MP3s Expired

Buy ‘Kick’


September 05, 2006

Modern Times: First week's listening

Right. It’s been over a week since Bob Dylan’s Modern Times was released. I was going to do a review on the day it came out, just to be flashy, but I didn’t have the time. Now I’ve had a better listen anyway.

Tracklisting
1. Thunder on the Mountain
2. Spirit on the Water
3. Rollin’ and Tumblin’
4. When the Deal Goes Down
5. Someday Baby
6. Workingman’s Blues
7. Beyond the Horizon
8. Nettie Moore
9. The Levee’s Gonna Break
10. Ain’t Talkin’

Can’t be bothered to put the times for you, but it’s 63 minutes over 10 tracks, so.
This album is not a terrible disappointment. Neither is it overwhelming. As suspected, style-wise it is very close to his last two albums, in that the sound is Roots Rock & Roll all the way. People are already saying that this is the third installment of a trilogy with Time Out of Mind and Love and Theft. Dylan himself says that if anything, the trilogy starts with Love and Theft.

Modern Times opens in a, how shall I put it, grandiose way, as if to say “My last album was a masterpiece, it’s been 5 years, I’m back, look at me!”. To great relief it very quickly calms to a rolling blues jam session. Talking about about Alicia Keys in the first verse didn’t impress me at all. “Have more taste”, I think to myself. Other than that, the lyrics are up to Love and Theft standard on Thunder on the Mountain, and it’s actually a better opener than Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum.

On first listen the stand-out tracks are Spirit on the Water and Workingman’s Blues #2. This remains true. I’ve heard that an early reviewer remarked that there were “at least 3 masterpieces” on Modern Times”. These two, with the addition of Nettie Moore must be what he’s talking about, no others could be called masterpieces.

Spirit on the Water comes in just like Mississippi does on Love and Theft, a slow number after a brisk opener, and as soon as Dylan’s voice comes in, you know it’s going to be a classic love song. They share similar themes:
“All my powers of expression, I thought so sublime, Could never do you justice, in reason or rhyme”
vs.
“when you’re with me, I’m a thousand times happier than I could ever say.”

One thing to notice about this album, it’s much more piano driven than Love and Theft or Time out of Mind. Gone is Hammond man Augie Meyers, truly worthy of Al Cooper’s mantle. I don’t know why Dylan has made this decision, perhaps he now wants to recall artists from before the electric organ was around. Though “Spirit on the Water” is a stormer, it’s certainly not helped him throughout the album.

The intro lead guitar on Rollin’ and Tumblin’ actually hurts my ears. Though Dylan, once again, redeems himself by churning out a decent song by the end of it, the lead guitar track is never attractive. Apart from that, I think the levels are a bit awry on this one. It’s self produced, maybe that was an off day, maybe the engineer was out to lunch. It’s a sure rip straight from Muddy Waters in title, music and lyrics; it’s essentially a glorified cover, except Muddy Water’s song felt somehow more natural. God, that guitar track, what was he thinking?

Lyrically, the album pretty similar to Love and Theft,but with considerably less literary and other references (how could it fail on that score?). One I notice is “I sleep in the kitchen with my feet in the hall” which is an excerpt from an old folk song called Take a Whiff on Me, “I got a woman, six feet tall, sleepin’ in the kitchen with her feet in the hall”. Elsewhere, stories within stories abound. On the gorgeous ballad Working Man’s Blues #2, it starts out quite political, about low wages and “competition” in the veign of North Country Blues or Union Sundown, then two thirds in he infuses some love-centred lyrics, then slips in and out of the two stories. He mentions the “place I love best”, which I assume to be a reference to Minnesota. It certainly fits with the blue-collar imagery of the song. The rythym guitar on this track, all on-beat muted and choppy is a the centrepiece of what is a rare example of this band reaching the heights of the 2001 touring band. Overall, they’re nowhere near as interesting. The double-bass playing is fine (oh! just happens to be the only one who appeared on Love and Theft) but I yearn terribly for Meyers and Campbell and Sexton.

The title and first line of the chorus of “Nettie Moore” is apparantly a rip-off of a 40s song. If the title of Love and Theft expressed his love for Roots and the admition that on that album he was stealing a lot, the title of this album must be piss-take. Modern it is not. Nettie Moore is a soft song, minimalist percussion, and perhaps his finest vocal and lyrical performance on the album. Here lies the funniest quip on the album, “I’m in a cowboy band”, and a menacing “before you call me any dirty names, you better think twice” and “when I’m through with you, you’ll learn to keep your buisiness straight” reminiscent of his “I’m not quite as cool or forgiving as I sound” on Floater, that was lifted from an obscure Japanese book about a former Yakuza boss.

The drums are mainly done with brushes on this album. It’s certainly rocks less than Love and Theft. I hate to think he was losing any energy. I was thinking the other day, and a friend pointed out that Dylan is still only 65, 10 off of expected age. There’s a possible one or two albums left in him if he decides to do it. I’d be very surprised if he decided to change styles now. For some reason I really thought Love and Theft was going to be his last album. I’m glad it’s not. This is certainly worth having.
It’s three and a half stars out of five, a 7 out of 10. No more. It’s a more consistant album than Time out of Mind (Time out of Mind had way too many of what I would call “average blues-rock, and an awful closer), but then again has nothing to compete with Not Dark Yet (even the casual listener has noticed that until the overdone Make You Feel My Love, every odd numbered track is excellent, and every even numbered track is average) . As for Love and Theft, comparing these two in terms of quality is madness.

Your standouts are:
Spirit on the Water
Workingman’s Blues #2
Nettie Moore
Ain’t Talkin’

Your average Blues-Rocker are:
Rollin’ and Tumblin’
The Levee Gonna Break
Someday Baby

Your over-sentimental pap is:
When the Deal goes Down


July 11, 2006

Thom Yorke – The Eraser, Review

Music front cover
Title:
The Eraser
Artist:
Thom Yorke
ASIN:
B000FPYNR6
Rating:
4 out of 5 stars

Thom Yorke

I often wonder about what it would be like if I met Thom Yorke. Here we have someone who has made such a profound impact on music as the lead singer of Radiohead, placing them in an alternative genre of their own with experimental, wonderful sounds that assault the ear drums. I've loved Radiohead since OK, Computer, and I downright wish I'd listened to them more before then, but now I'd have to say they're probably my favourite band. However, if I met Thom Yorke, I think I'd find him quite disturbing.

Of course, this isn't a new feeling. Thom Yorke is probably the main creative force behind Radiohead, and so you could expect a "solo" album to lend much a similar sound, and it shows through. The Eraser would not sound out of place somewhere inbetween Kid A and Amnesiac, not quite getting to the rockier stages of the latter but with a more refined, creeping sound than the former. This is, of course, not a "solo" album, but the result of Thom Yorke sitting for a day with his laptop and a whole bunch of samples from Radiohead's sessions over the past few years and thinking "Yeah, I should probably use this to do something wonderful".

Except Thom Yorke wouldn't think that. He'd think "Fuck Bush", or something.

And yet, this album somehow doesn't reach the eclectic heights of Kid A, and you struggle to put your finger on why. There's something missing that would put this in the As Good As Kid A category, and maybe it is the rest of the band's influence that is shining through. The one thing you wouldn't expect from a Thom Yorke record would be for it to sound nervous, but it does seem that way.

You can't really take each track on its own though, you have to sit back, take a cup of tea in hand and just let it wash over you a bit. Whereas other albums demand to be listened to over again, this begs for background, atmosphere, and if you take it in that way, it's simply wonderful. The first single will be Harrowdown Hill, according to Yorke, but it seems so undignified to remove it away from its home on the album. If you don't have 40 minutes to sit and listen to it all, then I'd say don't start - there's no Everything in its Right Place here to save you.

If you loved Kid A, you'll love this. If you didn't, you won't, but if you're undecided, then don't expect this to be an effortless listen – you have to treat it carefully and give it a chance, and it'll pay you back double when the brilliance shines through.

8 out of 10

The Eraser was released yesterday (10th July), stupid.

Tour Dates

Radiohead are touring at the moment, but if you don't have a ticket, don't expect to get one now…

Radiohead Tour Dates

Buy

The Eraser was released Monday, July 10th in the UK.

Samples
The Eraser MP3 Expired
And It Rained All Night MP3 Expired
Harrowdown Hill MP3 Expired
Links

July 02, 2006

Muse – Black Holes and Revelations

Music front cover
Title:
Black Holes and Revelations
Artist:
Muse
ASIN:
B000G09OEC
Rating:
4 out of 5 stars

I think it was fair to say that on the first listen to Muse's first single from their new album, Supermassive Black Hole, everyone was a little worried that Devon's best space rock group had lost the plot a little bit and gone a bit mental as they matured to their fourth studio album. Sure, SMBH was good, with the Prince/Franz Ferdinand inspired disco funk combined with Matt Bellamy's falcetto tones, certainly a track that fulfilled Bellamy's promise to release material that "would make girls want to get up and dance", but at the same time fans wondered whether it signalled the end of the epic stadium rock that had been the cornerstone of Showbiz, Origin of Symmetry and Absolution. However, with the release of Black Holes and Revelations, it all becomes clear that any worry that the Muse of old were dead is baseless.

Sure, Muse have matured as a band. Gone are the pianos that were so loved, and most of the thrashy riffs are gone too, but in is the funk and electronica that inspire people to get up and dance where before they would've moshed, yet still maintaining the air guitar lovers' need for the epic guitar solos. This album could well turn out, looking back, to be Muse's magnum opus, where they have matured, like a fine wine, to near–perfection, mixing Soulwax, Franz Ferdinand, Prince and Rage Against the Machine into their influences for a tour–de–force album.

Proceedings begin with Take a Bow (see below for sample), an epic, classic Muse track that settles the nerves of all the doubters who believed that they might have descended into madness and abandoned their former fanbase. But beneath the surface lies a further beat, less a rock drum beat as a disco drum beat that inspires the listener to bop away. This then fades into Starlight, not a classic track but with the classic vocals of Bellamy. It all seems like it's building up to something, something special…

Muse

Suddenly, the synth–disco–rock of Supermassive Black Hole kicks in, pulsing away as a completely new sound from Muse's point of view, repetitive lyrics were never the bed of Bellamy's music but they seem to work for this track, one of the strongest of the album but going into perhaps the strongest track on the album, Map of the Problematique, continuing along a similar road of funk–rock, but this is more the Muse we know and love… long, searching vocals but with a dance beat to the back to it, still dancey but with an edge.

At this point, the album gives the listener a breather, helping the transition from the funk–induced, dancefloor–filling Muse to the more epic, stadium–space rock that older fans enjoy. Soldier's Poem and Invincible are both slower songs, breathers, reminiscent of Unintended and with beautiful lyrics. Following this though, a resurgence takes place. Whereas Absolution gave the air-guitar thrashing, moshing Muse fan Hysteria, this album gives them Assassin (see below for sample), a heavy drum beat and thrashy guitars - the Muse we know and love. Following this, Exo-Politics continues onwards, suggestive lyrics, Bellamy's attack on Bush. Everything is wonderful on Exo-Politics, a wonderful, wonderful track, the highlight of the album…

Another transition takes place as the equivalent of Stockholm Syndrome rears its head in the thrashy City of Delusion, giving the transition strength into the climax of the album, which begins in Hoodoo. Hoodoo is a strange track in many ways, it begins as a slow, climactic, beautiful, string-induced sojourn into Bellamy's mind, before springing to life with a heavy end as a prelude to the epic finale. Knights of Cydonia (see below for sample) begins with the sound of hooves (presumably the four knights - the Horsemen of the Apocalypse), and then transforms into a pressing, searching track not heard from Muse since the likes of New Born - and that is the only track that can really compete with Knights of Cydonia for the kind of wonderful sound that completes the album. Pushes Exo-Politics right to the wire as best track of the album, with a wonderful sound that lends itself only to a last track or a first track.

All through the album, Bellamy's lyrics supplement the sounds beautifully. On Knights of Cydonia (Cydonia is a reference to the area of Mars where many believe there used to be life, and presumably the Knights refer to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse), Bellamy screams "No one's gonna take me alive, the time has come to make things right, you and I must fight for our rights, you and I must fight to survive" in a way that will almost definitely fill dancefloors soon enough, building to a crescendo and the end of a superb album. Supermassive.

Black Holes and Revelations is released in the UK on July 3rd and the US on July 11th.

8.5 out of 10

Tour Dates
  • July 2nd – Eurockeennes de Belfort, Belfort
  • July 7th – Stockholms Stadion, Stockholm
  • July 8th – Quart Festival, Kristiansand

From July 18th onwards, Muse begin a US tour, but return for the UK stadium season:

  • August 24th – T on The Fringe, Edinburgh
  • August 26th – Reading Festival, Reading
  • August 27th – Leeds Festival, Leeds
Buy

Black Holes and Revelations is released on Monday, July 3rd in the UK.

Samples

MP3 Expired Take a Bow

MP3 Expired Assassin

MP3 Expired Knights of Cydonia

NME are currently hosting all of Black Holes and Revelations for streaming here

Links

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