All entries for October 2007
October 30, 2007
Brakes: An alternative view
Union Marketplace, 9th October 2007
There’s a moment during tonight’s headline set when even the pissed-up plebs at the front pipe down and for four glorious minutes the world slows to a crawl. Against a plateau of subtly melodic feedback, Eamon Hamilton’s idiosyncratic wail becomes a sorrowful howl of anguish as he recalls a dying relationship via the incidental drama of rifling through old records. The song in question is No Return, the closing track of Brakes’ superb Beatific Visions LP. An all-too fleeting glimpse of the beating heart behind their peculiar brand of knockabout whimsy, it’s a disarmingly serene interlude in an otherwise sprightly evening’s entertainment.
As one might expect from an act which started life as a side-project, there’s a playful exuberance to Brakes which could only come from the unique chemistry of four mates larking around onstage. Tracks like their wilfully childish ode to U.S. vice-president Dick Cheney (“Cheney, Cheney, Cheney, Cheney / Stop being such a dick!”) come and go in the blink of an eye, dragging the average song-length down to around 90 seconds. It’s a knowing strategy that leaves plenty of breathing space for the band to try their hand at a number of musical styles, with breezy hoe-downs, indie stompers and even a well-timed Johnny Cash cover all getting an airing tonight.
With so much of their output apparently conceived with such gleeful irreverence, it comes as no surprise that the best reaction is saved for the irrepressible inanity of Porcupine or Pineapple?, a song they introduce as a treatise on “animals, fruit and warfare”. While Brakes would no doubt be the first to admit that they’re saying nothing of any import, when a band is this much fun it seems churlish to quibble. Eventually they abandon the setlist altogether and the whole thing degenerates into an impromptu request-a-thon, leaving even the most casual onlooker with their heart stolen clean away.
With sterling support from the Biffy-cum-Get Up Kids clatter of The Xcerts (whose set culminates in their singer wandering through the crowd screaming into a megaphone), this was both a fine start to Warwick’s live music calendar and a much-needed jolt of adrenaline after a week of non-stop partying. Heroic stuff all round, then: if you missed it, you missed out.
Photo: Rob Gilbert
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October 29, 2007
Photo: Rob Gilbert
The Brakes contingent were in good spirits the night of their visit. Unfailingly hospitable, Eamon invited me in to the dressing room and left me sat chatting to drummer Alex pre-gig. Compiling a CD for his girlfriend, he cherrypicked the best tunes from the likes of Tom Waits, Ben Folds, Jeffrey Lewis and Nina Simone, among others, as we remembered the strange stories we discussed on our last meeting. Alex proved the exception to the rule of the good mood, and while not unfriendly, he was somewhat distracted and frustrated. During the show, the monitor fell onto him, then the snare developed a wide gash. He left the stage and the gig ground to a halt. Not the ending we expected, but a cracking show nonetheless. While he smoked at the back of the building, the bands and crew retired to dressing rooms to enjoy the surprisingly lavish rider and a modest birthday celebration. Eamon and I talked classic American novels as I was handed a drink, inappropriate jokes were told, and both Brakes and the Xcerts drew portraits and caricatures of each other on the whiteboards- some of which were amazingly accurate. Eamon, who had slept through the earlier soundtrack, was penalised by the others, who laughed as he was forced to pack up. Leaving with hugs and farewells, the band had words of praise for the Union staff and crowd, and promised to return. They're welcome any time.
October 24, 2007
Kosheen are a group almost destined for obscurity. A quick straw poll of people I know revealed that few, if any, could remember the group- which is some achievement considering their last effort 2003 Kokopelli went Gold in the UK. The years following this saw the band move to Universal Germany-a record label that doesn’t release albums in the UK. A move straight from the Sandinista! school of how to lose money in the music industry. In subsequent years I have to admit being totally oblivious to the need for another Kosheen album, but here it is. The album is a halfway house between the electronica of the bands first album (Resist) and this (the follow ups) commercial edge. The result is a musical anachronism, the sound of the late 90’s, many of the tracks feel as if they would be at home as backing music in an old style 90’s gothic teen drama (Buffy, Angel, Roswell et al) They bring to mind the clutch of Faithless tracks featuring Dido on vocals and musically the best way to describe vocalist Sian Evans emotional delivery would be to imagine a voice somewhere between Dido and my washing machine. The often emotionless vocals are aided by the walls of neutered synthesiser and insipid beats of the other two members of the band, who as far as I’m concerned could well be R2D2 and C3P0 from Star Wars, surely no human could provide such an uninspired accompaniment.
Instead of buying this album, imagine the attempts at baggy/electronica that pepper the first Kasabian album with a hollow drone over the top. The album is also simply too long. At 16 tracks it’s an extremely tasking record to sit through, its worst crime is the mediocrity-some tracks, such as the title track and Wish You Were Here could be fantastic. Instead they simply hint at hidden depths and achingly beautiful song writing white washed by the walls of lifeless grey noise draped over them. This is functional music, music to iron to; music to put in a Natwest advert. It is certainly not music to fall in love to and to carry around in your heart forever. It’s a shame really you feel released 3 years ago half as long twice as raw, this could have been a contender.
I feel sorry for Dave Gahan. It must be hard to try and live down a legacy as long-lasting as Depeche Mode’s when all you want to do is make some decent electronic music on your own steam away from your main band. It must be even harder when someone like Thom Yorke releases something like The Eraser that steals all the best tricks and then lets his band release another stormer weeks before your own. Admittedly, his solo debut Paper Monsters came out first and recent Depeche Mode album Playing the Angel included the rather good single, Suffer Well, one of the few songs written by Gahan that has been released by Depeche Mode. It’s a shame that Hourglass does little to suggest he’s got the material to last a whole album.
It’s by no means a mediocre album; Tony Hoffer behind the desk has ensured that the sounds are there, the beats wholesome, the atmospherics lush and the vocals clear in the mix. The problem is that it’s more electronically orientated than Paper Monsters, inevitably leading to a repetitive slog through similar sounding songs when some different instrumentation might have proved more interesting. There are some misplaced dynamics in this album, meaning a bit of trimming or rearranging could have upped my score a notch or two. Opener Saw Something kicks in four minutes too late and then disappears immediately after. New single Kingdom and Deeper and Deeper fare better with more consistent danceable beats but then the middle section of the album drags horribly with slower tempos and more sparse arrangements (although ‘Use You’ might wake you up, it’s still quite dull). By the time you get to (I hope ironically titled) Endless, there’s no momentum left to enjoy such a slow builder, despite it essentially being a cooler but darker brother to Goldfrapp’s glam stomp stylings on Supernature. Gahan’s lyrics have not improved much either, but as with Depeche Mode, his delivery has always the one of biggest pulls. It’s in full emotive force here, tricking you into thinking lines like "Open the door, it’s only me" (from ‘Kingdom’) actually mean something profound if you’re only half listening.
When the band actually turns up on closer ‘Down’, you certainly think a better album or a brilliant EP could’ve been crafted from this selection of songs, but unfortunately instead we get something distinctly average, if not below.
Think back to the 1990s and the tireless wave of brit-pop acts, albums and bands that bombarded the charts with spirited and political music. Looking around today, it is astonishing how many of them have disappeared from the music scene and embarrassing how many of them have attempted come-backs that have been monumentally disappointing. One band which has always remained on the peripheries but consistently regarded in critical and public opinion is the Furries. This, their eighth studio album in the English language, is unlikely to reach the same chart success as their most popular album to date, “Rings Around the World” but is nonetheless an admirable, eccentric and astounding release.
One thing that I will say against it, which is not really much of a muchness anyway, is how horrific the album art is. There’s not a lot you can say in its defence because it looks like the vomit produced after an acid binge. But please look past it because you will most definitely be rewarded. The quirky intro, “Gateway Song” is almost a throwback to classic 60s rock’n’roll with delightful keys skipping about underneath. The forthcoming single release, “Run-Away” sounds like an homage to the soul singers of the 50s and conjures images of the American diner, jukeboxes and do-whop. In the same ilk, “Carbon Dating” provides one of the highlights of the album, and is reminiscent of an old school slow-dance in the gym, with a delightful melodic warmth and frankly bizarre beginning which sounds like a carousel.
Their first single release was “Show Your Hand”, which sounds like the sweet and feel-good type of song that should underscore a filmic, dream-like sequence where two lovers frolic through rainbows. Entering into the land of the eccentric are songs such as “Baby Ate My Eightball” and “Battersea Odessey” which are so weird and exciting that they cannot fail to charm you. Their more conservative indie-rock songs, like “Neo Consumer” have integrity and catchy rhythms that will literally have you bouncing and bopping in your seat. One aspect of the album certainly doesn’t wash and that’s the idea of its concept. The album apparently charts the events and life-lessons learned during a young girl’s [Venus’] foray into the city. Although this doesn’t really translate, the album still stands as a light-hearted analysis of society with instrumental undertones suggesting danger, violence and passion. Da iawn boys!
- Carys Esseen
October 18, 2007
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October 11, 2007
Offbeat – Warwick's Indie Music Society
Offbeat (www.offbeat.org.uk/forum) is Warwick University’s premier ‘alternative/Indie’ music society. Offbeat functions as a safe haven to all those students whose taste in music is not of the ‘mainstream’ variety. Joining Offbeat will give you the chance to meet with like-minded individuals who share your passion for the music you love. Offbeat does this by organizing socials, where members can mix, mingle and build friendships over shared loves. All genres are welcomed, but fans of Indie, Punk, New-Wave, Electro, Psychadelic, Folk and Post-Punk will find themselves particularly at home. The more obscure and different your taste is, the better. Both through discussions on the forums (www.offbeat.org.uk/forum) and chats in the ‘real world’ (normally over a pint or two) Offbeat members introduce and recommend all sorts of different music to each other!
Offbeat’s socials have become somewhat legendary, and offer students the chance to appreciate good music in great surroundings. In the past, Offbeat have used the Graduate Club (located above the Graduate Bar) to stage themed discos, where the members get to DJ and decide what tunes go on the playlist (so, less Bump’n’Grind, more Paranoid Android!). Previous successful disco nights have included a John Peel tribute disco (yes, we played Teenage Kicks twice!), an all-Radiohead night and an all Smiths and Morrisey disco (with much gladioli swinging and effervesce posturing). We plan to continue that this year, so keep an eye on the website (www.offbeat.org.uk) for more details!
Offbeat is also a keen promoter of live music, and usually tries to stage at least one gig a year, with either the cream of the local crop (such as Honeytrap - www.myspace.com/honeytraponmyspace David Bowie's new favourite band!) or Indie legends, such as Darren Hayman (former Hefner) who played for us at Coventry’s premier indie nightspot ‘Taylor John’s’ (http://www.myspace.com/thetinangel). This year, we gave away a free CD to all new members, packed with the best signed, and un-signed, bands on the local scene such as chart heroes The Ripps (www.myspace.com/theripps) and NME hopefuls, The Sequins (www.myspace.com/thesequinsspace). If you didn't get one, sign up to the forum, and I'm sure we can get a CD to you.
Offbeat is a constantly evolving entity, and keen for new members and new ideas. Please sign up online (www.warwicksu.com/organisation/4200). As a member of Offbeat, you will be entitled to discounts on the Universities new club night, Electric City, gigs and discos, organized by or in conjunction with the society. You will be put on a mailing list and receive regular updates as to what’s happening in the indie/alternative world, in and around campus. Being in Offbeat is a great way to make new friends and to discover some great music- join us now and discover the alternative campus!
Scouting For Girls – Scouting For Girls
Hot on the heels of other summery indie pop bands such as The Hoosiers and Air Traffic, are “Scouting for Girls”, releasing their self titled first album. Following their top 10 single “She’s So Lovely” – a track which sounds just like The Feeling – if they weren’t quite so posh.
These guys have achieved the perfect formula for being just another band that becomes a local radio favourite, the type of band your mum would enjoy on the drive home from work. They’ve got catchy, piano driven songs that make you smile and think “that’s nice”. However, herein lies the main problem, since every song on the album follows this formula, it gets tired and repetitive very quickly.
It doesn’t help that all the songs on this album link back to the same old subject – girls. Songs about girls who have dumped him, songs about girls who have boys, so on and so on. Repetition also sits in every single song; with lead single “She’s So Lovely” being the worst, with the entire chorus being one line repeated seven times.
This album is cheery and probably perfect background music for the summer, however it's still unchallenging, bland and really just shows how lazy bands have become while still being able to achieve success by hopping onto the “remotely Indie” pile. This is probably one for your Mum.
Idlewild – Scottish Fiction : Best Of 1997 – 2007
This new release from Scottish Indie-rockers Idlewild contains 17 tracks spanning all 5 of their LP's but sadly nothing from the 1998 "Captain" EP.
Every Idlewild album so far has had a distinctive sound to it, so the non-chronological track order provides an eclectic and enjoyable experience, especially when the album moves from "When I Argue I See Shapes" from their debut LP "Hope is Important" to "Love Steals Us From Loneliness" from 2005's "Warnings/Promises", where the change in Roddy's voice is so profound that it makes you wonder if they replaced him with a lookalike folk singer somewhere between the two albums. Similarly the production qualities and styles vary so wildly you would be forgiven for thinking you were listening to a Various Artists album rather than hearing a band evolve over the years.
Listening to Scottish Fiction alone you would never believe that Idlewild started off as a punk band with Roddy screaming down the mic, and this is where my only criticism of the album lies. Even though you can immediately tell which era each song is from, the songs that defined the punk/folk periods of their career are missing, omitted in favour of the singles from each album.
So overall whilst this is a great introduction to Idlewild you need to dig a bit deeper to see the whole picture, which is a shame as some of their finest moments have come from the depths of each album.
David Ford – Songs For The Road
David Ford is one of those gems from the troubadour scene with the Glengarry-esque ethic of ‘Always Be Touring’. The past year has seen him make his way from Northampton to
Weighing in at just nine tracks and thirty minutes in length, Songs represents the distillation of two years’ worth of mid-tour compositions from one of the more masterful members of the British acoustic scene. A notable evolution from the Spartan instrumentation of his debut album, Ford has boldly ventured into more epic territory with this release, padding the timbre of the first three tracks with a full string orchestra and even furnishing the album’s title track with an out-of-character trombone solo.
One can understand Ford’s reasoning for beginning his solo career with a more-or-less ‘one-man-and-his-acoustic’ instrumentation, as he had just split from ‘Easyworld’, a band that retrospectively appears to be David going about his musical business with a couple of teenage Smashing Pumpkins fans playing guitar and drums over the top. However, the effect of his recent readiness to work with a full band has given his sound the added sophistication of a songwriter who can competently write a part for a string quartet, such as opening track Go To Hell, without over-crowding the back-to-basics sound that endeared him to us in the first place.
Stand-out tracks on the album are Decimate, a song that was first composed using a percussion loop created by tapping type-writer keys, and Nobody Tells Me What To Do, a rare celebration of the life of the lonely single man. These are also the two songs that fully encapsulate the important effect of Ford’s use of a full band on his new album. Whilst his voice has always been an astounding hybrid of charm and melancholy with a vocal range to make most pop-stars jealous, and his lyrical ability putting him a cut above your average guy with a guitar and a broken heart, it is hard to listen to Ford’s early work without the strange feeling that you’re just listening to the work of a man in need of a hug. With songs such as Decimate however, we see Ford up the stakes somewhat and vie to make us cry and tap our feet at the same time, hitting us with one of those rare hybrids of ‘heartfelt’ and ‘catchy’.
I would recommend this album to anyone who likes Damien Rice but wish he’d just grow a pair of balls and get over it.
Hard–Fi – Once Upon A Time In The West
I’ve always struggled to pinpoint Hard-Fi’s appeal. I mean they’re a band with a pretty shabby name and the sort of image that even Marks and Spencer wouldn’t touch.
I’m going to make a conscious effort to avoid the ‘difficult second album’ tag and the fact that Hard-Fi are a rather poor live outfit.
Nevertheless, the boys are back with another forty minutes worth of bold, cocky, and stomping tunes. Suburban Knights isn’t bad at all and is even now a regular feature in Evolve’s ‘indie’ room on a Thursday. It's followed by I Shall Overcome, a song with a pathetic chorus yet a rather charming chorus.
Lyrically there’s no real progression. Richard Archer is once again falling for strangers and then singing about it in a very bitter manner from start to finish.
Recent single Can't Get Along (Without You) being the perfect example. Let’s just hope Archer has some strong friends to see him through his constant heartache.
The perennial Hard-Fi background harmonies haven’t gone anywhere and neither has the brisk guitaring that was key to the success of debut Stars Of CCTV.
My housemate has labelled Television as genuinely the worst song he’s ever heard coming from my room. Jonathan is not a Hard-Fi fan. Unfortunately for the lads from Staines it’s probably one of the more memorable moments from the record.
It’s safe to say, however, that the powers that be at mainstream radio will love this collection of gritty, wishy-washy indie rock’n’roll songs.
In truth it’s the job of the slow ballads, Help Me Please and Tonight, to save the album from mid-top forty obscurity. The band are clearly capable of some thoughtful song writing which will no doubt lend to their accessibility.
Having spent a fair bit of time living once upon a time on a train with this album i hard not to think that the band could have, and really should of, delivered a more convincing effort.
Once Upon A Time In The West is also an incredibly hard album to place in one’s life. It’s certainly not the best going out music; neither are the band suited to library time.
Watch Me Fall Apart is quite a pleasant little song but only goes to further illustrate the tediousness of the Archer anguish.
Likewise, We Need Love, will no doubt soon hold a special place in the hearts’ of middle aged singletons everywhere.
This is a musically competent album and not an entirely bad effort. I know this sounds like a sixth-form Geography report but there’s not an awful lot more to say about this lot. I’ve often wondered if anyone actually missed Hard-Fi during their absence? Anyone?
I’ve since discovered Hard-Fi to be the perfect band to have to perfect shave to.
My copy has already been handed down to my little brother. So thanks, but no thanks.
Sum 41 – Underclass Hero
I must admit, Sum 41 are a guilty pleasure of mine. I enjoy nothing better then throwing on “All Killer No Filler” and reminiscing to the days when I was a tiny, spiky haired 14 year old.. In reviewing this album, I was hoping that losing their guitarist, taking a political stand and marrying Avril Lavigne had not caused Sum 41 to lose their spark.
Opening track "Underclass Hero" immediately jumps into All Killer No Filler mode, Donning baggy shorts and jumping in the air to something that sounds suspiciously like Fat Lip. The rest of the album though, sounds as if Deryck Whibley has been listening to his pop-punk contemporaries a bit too much. “March of the Dogs” and “Walking Disaster” wouldn’t sound out of place on Blink’s last album, and the political messages that constantly stand out scream “American Idiot”.
The melodrama that accompanies this album drags it down, and while previous album Chuck had slower ballads to intervene and break up the faster songs, this record leaves me waiting to throw my fists in the air and pump my fists.
The most disappointing thing about this album is that while their sound has obviously matured, they’ve lost what made them stand out in the first place, with only tracks like Underclass Hero and King of Contradictions sounding like Sum 41. It's just all been done before, and done better as well.
October 10, 2007
Diary of a Festival Virgin
When you think of Leicester, the first things that come to mind are not big name acts, camping or sunny weather, however for three days this year Leicester became a font of talent and entertainment, or at least a very big park in the centre of Leicester did. Now this was my first festival, and seeing as when I told people I knew that I was going to the Summer Sundae I got a lot of confused looks, I was unsure what to expect. So armed with my press pass, couple of cans of cider, some basic camping gear and my good (and moderately emo friend) Luke, we ventured into the grungy depths of Leicester. We got there late but luckily the site of the festival was only a short walk from the train station, and the off licences were in good reach so that was a good start, however putting your tent up in the dark: not so cool, but pretty funny.
Saturday morning we woke up feeling a bit groggy, the campsite was pretty nice, showers, toilets and recycling were pretty much everywhere so that was a bonus. So having had a snickers and some wine for breakfast and then we went to see what was going on. It was warm and sunny, which was a relief after the summer we have had. In the day the acts were alright, but mainly filler in my opinion but this is where the cabaret tent showcasing different comic talents came in useful. In the evening there was Sophie Ellis Bexter, for my sins I think she is gorgeous, so that made the set all the much better, but her act was very good and got the crowd rared up for a good night, then came the magic numbers and they were fantastic, even if they all do look the chubby differently sexed versions of each other. The finale on the Saturday evening consisted of all the acts of the day along with blow up versions of the magic numbers, trippy but a pretty damn good finish to the day.
Sunday was all sunny again, another great day to be at a festival. We started with the pidgeon detectives who were great, lead singer was very energetic and started shouting “get your owl out” which never ceased to make him chuckle apparently. And went on to an evening of Echo and the Bunnymen, which was alright, but not my cup of tea apart from the classic killing moon (any fans of Donnie Darko will know this one).
All in all the Summer Sundae was a brilliant festival, great mixture of styles and tastes as well as unsigned artists and headliners, not to mention good comedy and a vibrant atmosphere all helped with the fortuitous sunny weather (and the Oxfam party I crashed). Its location was right in the heart of a city which made it great for getting around, and festival goers can sleep easy as this was the only festival to be carbon negative. Next summer keep this festival in mind. For more information check out www.summersundae.com
The Rumble Strips – Girls And Weather
After a somewhat unsuitably long wait, indie festival darlings The Rumble Strips have finally dished up their long awaited debut album ‘Girls and Weather’, and it is, well, not bad. The thinking man’s Ordinary Boys, the Rumble Strips’ brassy, ska infused Northern Soul is certainly fun, but is somewhat throwaway. Belting opener ‘No Soul’ and follow up ‘Alarm Clock’ more than prove that front man Charles Waller – formerly of Vincent Vincent and the Villains – is capable of conjuring up a cracking melody, but they don’t do a great deal more. Do we really need another track detailing the hardships of working life as ‘Alarm Clock’ does (Albeit with a clever metaphor)? Surely Hard-Fi laid this tiresome subject to rest long ago? Singles ‘Motorcycle,’ with its fabulous Bees-esque instrumental and ‘Girls and Boys in Love,’ are the standout tracks, and ‘Cowboy’ is certainly worth a mention, yet ultimately there is little to distinguish one track from another. Its when the band show their melancholy, vulnerable side on tracks like these and ‘Hate me (you do)’ that you can really relate to the West Country foursome, yet moments like this are few, and its far too easy to grow weary of the incessant horns that plague a record with otherwise good potential. At its worst, ‘Girls and Weather’ could be the soundtrack to a teen-flick prom, at its best, it has a great chance of reinventing an ageing genre and bringing it into the 21st century with a twist. Let’s have more of the latter please.
Turin Brakes – Dark On Fire
This album showcases an attempt at instrumental and stylistic experiment with an aim, so the press release says, to uncover the true purpose of making music. Well, the wanky preface to the record was helpful in so far as I knew straight away to expect pretentious lyrics and over-production – unfortunately that is exactly what I got. The title track “Dark On Fire” is haunting and floaty but lacks the lyrical and emotional substance to evoke even the same dramatic ethos as the album art. The instrumentation is disappointing and relies too heavily on glib, 90’s style guitar and drum patterns that are unexciting to say the least. There are, however, a couple of instances where they get it right. Track eight, “For The Fire”, will stay with you thanks to edgy rhythms and a stellar chorus and, in another vein, the sweeter sound of “Here Comes The Moon” provides a reminder of the beauty of Knights’ voice with a unique instance of perfect levels of instrumentation and chiming percussion. This album really cements Turin Brakes as the ‘lost boys’ of pop and, for the sake of their talent, I hope they find a credible sound. Soon.
October 09, 2007
Black Francis – Bluefinger
Hey Francis, how long has it been? Five, ten, fifteen years? Maybe not so long, but it’s the neck end of a decade since we bid adieu to the fat bloke who inspired Stiltskin or something. This rebirth of alt-rock’s favourite son has been much touted, but with good reason. You know how Pixies records have that timeless feel to them, they could never date badly. They will never date badly…well Bluefinger is just the same. The surf edge has gone but the Hispanic licks, psychotic vocals and off kilter humour remains – ‘He played piano really fucking good’.
Bluefinger could be the soundtrack to a spaghetti western, not just any fly-by-night cheese fest though, one that even big Duke Wayne would star in. It’s an erratic tongue in cheek trip to yesterday but you know the best part? Good ol’ Blackie is having a ball, and because Francis is having fun you can have fun. It works.
Lyrically it’s the same affair, deadpan, austere, surreal. Although a never ending stream of adjectives could not help but fail to describe this record. Whilst this is not a retread of Pixes albums it would be fair to say that there is a hint of familiarity in the sound of Bluefinger; both from the 4AD days and the Frank Black years. From the psyched out rockabilly punk of opener ‘Captain Pasty’ (that’s Paste-y not pasty) through to the soiled farewell of title track ‘Bluefinger’ the record radiates Francis’ talents and reminds you that whilst he may forever be associated with the Pixes he is so much more than that.
Whilst ‘Threshold Apprehension’ celebrates the past with a great sense of majesty tracks such as ‘Lolita’ emphasise the path of Black Francis as a solo artist, it’s nothing as drastic as a departure from the favoured stance but it’s a different take and as tongue in cheek as ever. Tongue-in-cheek is perhaps an apt description, especially lyrically. Titles such as ‘Tight black rubber’ and ‘Threshold apprehension’ are more than mere suggestion: ‘She bit me and I just filmed her’ and from ‘Angels come to comfort you’ is perhaps the best line on the entire album ‘He ain’t no saint/but he was Dutch’.
The crowning glory of this record is the syntax, or lack of it. Each song manages to lean on its successor but not out of dependence, more a general malaise. The frenzied punkabilly moves of the opening tracks soon collapses into moonshine and spittoon type grooves complete with harmonica and sleepy rhythms. The ever changing pace, humour and appeal of Black Francis has once again endured. If you can’t bring yourself to like the Pixies, do us all a favour and love Black Francis. Failing that just keep your opinions to yourself and I’ll make sure all toddlers are returned unharmed. Honest.
Athlete – Beyond the Neighbourhood
Album number three was never going to be easy for the indie popsters from Deptford. Still living in the shadow of older siblings Coldplay, and after an absence of almost three years, expectations were high for both me and my mother. If 2003’s Vehicles And Animals provided the dream start, clumsy second album Tourist was more full of holes than Tottenham Hotspur’s defence has been of late. Opening instrumental, In Between 2 States, is, quite frankly, rubbish. Thankfully for Mr Joel Pott, the combination of Hurricane and Tokyo saves the first third of the album from obscurity.
Its Not Your Fault represents the record’s strongest song and sees Athlete at their jauntiest best. It’s the kind of sustained quality of tune that the band need to master to make the step up from festival opener, to festival closer. Echoes of “Oh my God, what the hell just happened?” have already become a live favourite feature of Athlete shows since their live return to London’s Koko back in July. The excellent up-tempo In The Library is set to be the song that sees me through the summer exam period. Who would have thought that Athlete would ever write songs about swimming around academic institutions in far off fairytale lands? Not me.
Of course, Beyond The Neighbourhood would not be an Athlete album if it wasn’t scattered with the odd mediocre song and there are plenty of them here.
Flying Over Bus Stops sees the bands infatuation with travelling and all things holiday continue in a rather poor fashion. Its also the hardest Athlete song to sit through since the wonderful Westside brought the band the attention they’d craved since their amalgamation back in 1999. We’re even subjected to listening to Pott lament about the sound of his own voice during the album’s closer This Is What I Sound Like.
Pott, Willets, Roberts and Wanstall have always been ones to end on a low and this latest moan joins Le Casio and I Love in the Athlete slow-album-ender hall of fame. Nevertheless, the wagonwheel of further success could be round the corner with everyone from MTV2 to Hello magazine rallying round this, Athlete’s second best, or second worst album to date.
Pott’s voice has always had an element of marmite to it. More charisma than Chris Martin yet lacking the originality of Alex Turner. Its also a sad fact widely known that Athlete will never enter the same musical bracket as Coldplay, nor Arctic Monkeys. And yet even some of the weakest songs on the album hold a certain element of charm to it. I was even convinced that Best Not To Think About It was written about me for the best part of a week over the summer.
If you’re yet to enter the world of Athlete then Beyond The Neighbourhood is not a bad place to start. The foursome have matured over the years and even acquired a love for the unspoilt British coastline along the way. The band has certainly put up a good challenge to capture the mainstream market. Memorable choruses and artwork strangely reminiscent of X&Y just might do it. Come the summer the big festival fields will be calling yet its unlikely that the sun will have gone down by the time countless numbers of middle-aged couples start singing along to Wires.
Athlete’s trademark sound of wholesome lyrics, complacent percussion, vaguely anthemic choruses and experimental keyboards look to have firmly established the group in the British indie-pop industry.
This review appeared in Issue 1 of the *Warwick Boar*
The Go! Team – Proof Of Youth
Staring blankly at the fresh Microsoft Word document intended for my journalistic debut in the Warwick Boar, my mind wandered to the same thought that every Fresher will muse upon at some stage during their first year at university. At what point does borrowing for creative inspiration become plagiarism? It’s an important distinction to make, and having convinced myself that quickly flicking open the NME to read their opinion of The Go! Team’s second album, ‘Proof of Youth’, was perfectly acceptable in the eyes of the powers that be, I came across the following sentence: “Unsurprisingly, the most thrilling moments are the most genre-schizo.“ I feel it’s important to be honest at this point. I have absolutely no idea what that means. Yet, for some reason, that feeling of bafflement gave way to one of comfort. I was at odds with the NME. I’m pretty sure I heard on the news that this was the currently the cool thing to be. I’m anti-anti-establishment. But why should this matter to me, or indeed, anyone else? Are we now so convinced by style that we ignore substance? As a huge fan of The Go! Team’s acclaimed first album, ‘Thunder, Lightning, Strike’, it was with this question in mind I ventured to the Camden Electric Ballroom to hear their new material. And it was just as I had remembered it. Pure pop brilliance. People of all ages, dancing around like small children high on blue Smarties, responding to the warmth and sincerity of the assembled multi-talented musicians. It’s unfortunate that they’re never going to be classed as a “cool” group, and that’s probably the reason, as Ninja, the lead in the band, put it, “you’re not likely to have heard of us before”.
The pick of their new songs are the instantly recognisable Grip Like a Vice, the Chuck D inspired Flashlight Fight and the effervescent The Wrath of Marcie, but much like their debut album, every tune will create a connection and get your feet tapping along with the bouncy rhythm and lively tempo. They also develop a more restrained sound than we’ve seen before on My World and I Never Needed It Now So Much, which adds a new dimension to their live performances where you can take a break to simply enjoy the craft and talent of the individual members of the band (six in total). In summary, it’s as much fun as you’re likely to have had since you first discovered the sheer brilliance of bouncy castles as a five year old. If there was any justice in the musical world, they’d be at number one in the charts every week due to their hugely wide-ranging appeal, but, till such time, you’ll have to make do with seeing them at Warwick on Friday Week 1 as part of the NME Freshers Tour. Just leave your musical ego at the front door.
This review first appeared in Issue 1 of the Warwick Boar
M.I.A. – Kala
I really should have learned by now not to avoid an artist simply on the basis of a couple of tone-deaf televised performances. Unfortunately, that’s what I did with M.I.A’s previous album, Arular, and on hearing the follow-up, could kick myself. Kala is ridiculously good – a bona fide iPod pounder packed with heavy, energetic beats and primal sounds. Previously a visual artist, Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasam draws on her Sri Lankan heritage and many years spent in London in her effortlessly cross-cultural musical offerings. These are songs that could probably sound strangely at home in both Fabric and her native homeland.
The different sides to M.I.A. meld seamlessly throughout Kala; on the one hand, there are lyrics about shanty towns and border conflict, vocals in unfamiliar tonalities and tribal, militant beats. On the other hand, we have slick production and studio trickery, with mention of Roc-a-Wear models and such. Held taut together, all these elements make perfect sense and whereas on other albums the introduction of Bollywood strings would be the final nail in an overly-wrought coffin, here there is absolutely no cause for raised eyebrows. Next single Jimmy is a cover, apparently, of a soundtrack piece from the 1982 Bollywood film Disco Dancer. My knowledge of Bollywood being extremely limited, I couldn’t even begin to tell how different M.I.A.’s revisioning of the song is from the original. Suffice to say that it provides one of the many golden moments on the album – a track that I could listen to “time and time and time again”.
East meets West in every song on Kala. The album kicks off with Bamboo Banga, a relentless beat onslaught, featuring vaguely-tuned vocals with lyrics that bear more than passing resemblance to Jonathan Richmann’s US-punk classic Roadrunner. Elsewhere, $20, with its chorus of “with your feet on the air and your head on the ground” borrows fairly liberally from the seminal Pixies track Where Is My Mind?, but adds mesmerising vocals and synths that plough deep furrows through the song. An inescapably political album, here M.I.A. asks: “Do you know the cost of A.K.s up in Africa? $20 ain’t shit to you, but that’s how much they are”, where on Hussel, Afrikan Boy repeats “You think it’s tough now-ow-ow-ow, come to Africa” before going into more detail about the hardships of life in the economically developing world. It’s half a world away from the slick and superb, but somewhat less socially conscious, music of the Timberlakes & Furtados. However, producer extraordinaire Timbaland lends his Midas touch for final track Come Around, an insanely catchy slice of daft vocalising, warping flourishes and the obligatory call to “bounce”.
Mango Pickle Down River is probably the most multi-layered song on Kala – the one that takes several listens to penetrate its meaning. With a background of didjeridoo and drums, M.I.A. raps about life by the river, joined by an Aboriginal youth project under the name of The Wilcannia Mob. Distracted by the hypnotic ‘didge’ at first, the kids’ lyrics can take longer to really notice. One boy tells the listener: “I’m with a gang and I’m almost 10” in an accent virtually unheard in England. This song, possibly more than any other on Kala, illustrates the inventiveness of Maya Arulpragasam; searching outside the automatic musical comfort zone for inspiration in different lifestyles, continents and philosophies. I defy you to feel bored while listening to M.I.A.
This review first appeared in Issue 1 of the Warwick Boar
Armed with the obligatory supplies of wet wipes, pretentious cowboy hat and spotty wellies, I was confident that after surviving 3 previous Glastonbury festivals, I would be ready to join 120, 000 other revellers in what bizarrely becomes Somerset’s largest metropolis for one weekend only. As I arrived on site on a decidedly old school shuttle bus from the train station, I realised that this year may be different. I looked down through my oversized sunglasses (which remained attached to my face for the entire weekend) to see that my white top and handbag were already sodden and splattered with mud and the absence of “sensible waterproofs” would prove to be my fatal error. Of course, that didn’t put a stop to the festivities, but it dawned on me that I may not be the seasoned camper that I used to be.
By Friday night, some of the more hardcore attendees had already been in the wondrous Pilton for 48 hours so events were certainly in full swing already. With my almighty, shiny press pass, I had the privilege of access-all-areas so I quickly tried my luck at getting into the VIP compounds and realised that no one is remotely recognisable whilst caked in earthy residue. I made a decision to try and see as much as physically possible and to attempt to get around to the headliners as well as the lesser known but equally talented acts. Earlier in the day, Scottish pop rockers The View were bright and breezy but still retained that it is rock and roll to have “the same jeans on for four days now”- they obviously aren’t too familiar with students and definitely weren’t quite understanding the environmentally friendly washing habits of much of the Glastonbury crowd! Amy Winehouse was pre-“major front page scandal”, Joss Stone was unpublicised yet heavenly in the Leftfield and The Magic Numbers, Bloc Party, The Fratellis and Kasabian all provided impressive performances leading up to the Friday evening finale from Arctic Monkeys which was sadly plagued by technical sound errors. Despite this, their cover of Diamonds are Forever was surprisingly palatable for those of us who are less fond of Shirley Bassey (comically referred to as “Our Shirls” by the one and only “Denim Brian” in my quaint local Devon pub). Meanwhile, Bjork made a much awaited sensational come back on the Other Stage to follow highlights from The Coral and Rufus Wainwright. Elsewhere in the mysterious depths of once green pastures, acts such as Chumbawamba (yes, they do still exist after the infamous “Tubthumping”), Simian Mobile Disco, Kate Nash in Emily Eavis’s brand new Park area and Fat Boy Slim ensured that the opening night of Glastonbury 2007 was one of the best ever.
The rest of the weekend upheld this standard- I missed the morning as I attempted to paddle in my flooded tent but the bargainous Yeo Valley delights of the yoghurt variety gave me the energy to embrace the day. I proceeded to the aptly named “press pit” which sounds great but in reality means being despised by the die hard fans at the front of the barriers who would sell their toes to be closer. Lily Allen was her charming cider toting self and did not disappoint and The Long Blondes lead singer Kate Jackson joined The Brakes for an exclusive collaboration before their set on The Other Stage. I joined some fellow Warwickians to see The Bees at the Jazz World Stage and was suitably impressed by their upbeat presence. Later in the afternoon, my companions and I stumbled upon the saloon area and decided to let ourselves be persuaded by the gingham clad performers to take part in a spot of country dancing. After a round of dosy does and galloping, I concluded that this is what Glastonbury is really about- unashamed tomfoolery with the unsung heroes who bring the quirky atmosphere that no other festival holds.
After a fantastic performance by Mika- complete with “Big Girls” and a giant chicken- I made a small mistake by deciding that I needed to see The Kooks and The Killers again. Both performances were breathtaking (albeit Brandon Flowers’ scarily tight sparkly attire) but it was here that it dawned on me that fellow audience members have a strong influence on the enjoyment factor as my friends and I were sandwiched between 14-year-old, definite first time alcohol consumers, singing the wrong words and thrusting their skinny fit jeans and studded belts in a dire attempt to crowd surf. A late night in the cider bus and dinner with a random Irish man put this right and as the Sunday finale loomed, I became resigned to the mud and abandoned all hope of remaining clean as the festival spirit was upon me.
Oversleeping once more on Sunday, I was late for breakfast with Warwick University’s very own previous president Mr Brian Duggan but we caught up in The Glade Cafe eventually. Brian was very much into the festival morale and was sporting mud soaked attire like the rest of us. Jerk chicken was his favourite festival food and Bjork had been the highlight so far, so in a quest to find Brian’s recommended cuisine, I set out for the very last time to soak up the sounds, sights and pungent smells of the festival. I was entranced by the soothing spicy aromas of the chai tent where we took part in a beat boxing workshop (where a lot of saliva was expelled) and then one of the most comical parts of the weekend where a Lily Allen wannabe sang of her failed date outside Topshop, how mean her Dad was for not giving her more money (brat) and about a girl at school who had lied. Sadly, this was an example of the lesser talents of the UK but it provided brilliant entertainment for a Sunday afternoon. Then came my personal highlight of the entire weekend which proved that the best things are stumbled upon and not ruined by extensive planning. The Marley Brothers presented a 30th anniversary revival of Exodus on the Pyramid Stage and the sun had finally started shining. Everyone was relaxed and cheerful and the more spacious surroundings, away from the front of the stage, were still an excellent viewing point because of the large screens. I discovered my brother and his inebriated friends by identifying their Tibetan flag (now a Glastonbury veteran itself, identifiable on much of the footage!) and was plied with hot cider (strangely delicious). The stress of jostling for somewhere to stand had fizzled and the reggae from Damien and Ziggy was unforgettable.At this point, I debate whether to report the reviews from others and pass them off as my own or to tell the truth. As I am a terrible liar, I think that the latter would be more appropriate. I was greeted by the prospect of another night in a wet tent followed by joining the 120, 000 others trying to return to global locations all through the same 2 platform train station. Alternatively, I could leave and get straight on a train followed by a hot shower, lots of food which hadn’t been at a festival for five days (like the powdered mashed potato that offended my taste buds earlier in the day) and a warm bed which was moisture free and void of festival remnants. My choice was rather wasteful yet I still concur that it was the right decision. Yes, I bailed and said goodbye to the masses after grasping some snippets of The Rakes, Mark Ronson and Vitalic. Of course, I was determined to exploit my press privileges so I made a final visit to the backstage areas and was assisted by a celebrity obsessed acquaintance who helped to make this my most successful mission yet. I pounced on Zane Lowe, Donny Tourette, Matt Prichard from Dirty Sanchez and James McAvoy from Shameless- all of whom were surprisingly charming, particularly James who did an extremely long but incoherent interview with me while pretending to be a lead singer of a rock band.
As I got closer and closer to our beloved Royal Leamington Spa, the numbers of fellow festival goers dwindled and my now brown wellies and cowboy hat seemed less and less normal. Hundreds of pairs of wellies were dumped at Castle Cary train station to leave a symbol of the mass exodus.The locals gave me inside information and told me they’d sell all of them back to us on arrival next year; it seemed rather ironic but amused me to think that this would be the only rural venture of the year for many. It was a relief to be back in my humble student abode but the weekend had still been fabulous and I would recommend Glastonbury to each and every one of you. My main pieces of survival advice would be don’t wear white unless you wish to receive a catalogue of stains, take waterproofs to stop everything you own experiencing osmosis and bring wellies to prevent utterly gross outbreaks of trenchfoot. Also, painted nails hide the dirt and sunglasses make you feel more acceptable to the unforgiving public. As for the festival experiences, the best bits come when you least expect them to so steer away from the mainstream and seek out the most unique bands and events- bring on the transvestite circus!