31 July 2008

I Wonder Why...

Here's a one from Primal Scream:
"Right now we're playing better than ever"
Er, guys? You've supposedly been to rehab and have been cleared of drugs and stuff for ages. So don't you think that you might be performing better as a result? I like your new song, "Can't Go Back" and "Downtown" sounds good too. Proof that the drugs don't work. Although, Scream have made a few good records. They just don't seem to have got it together very well live - I think we all remember Glasto of a few years back when they were so obviously off their heads that they refused to come off the stage.
In contrast, I read the NME's review of Pete Doherty at the Royal Albert Hall and it seemed like he couldn't pull it together for the life of him. Been to rehab, caught carrying drugs three weeks later. Clean my....

Partie Traumatic

Making it OK to be all cute and stuff

For the last year or so, Black Kids have been touted around as being the next big thing. People became quickly sucked into their world of pop, myself included. The single "I'm Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You" became hugely popular and gave the Florida 5-piece their big break.

A few weeks ago they released their debut "Partie Traumatic". And it's every bit as good as you'd have hoped it to be.

Opener "Hit the Heartbreaks" is a joyful swagger of a song that introduces you to the recurring theme of love and sex. However, throughout the album you never feel that they're doing anything dirty. It's all very sweet, and even "Listen to Your Body Tonight" - despite possibly being their most sexualised piece - has lyrics that tell you not to cheat on your partner and stay away from strange men. Yes, really.

Their latest single "Hurricane Jane" sees lead singer Reggie Youngblood turn into an almost Robert Smith-like figure, with oddly ambiguous lyrics but with a lovely purring voice. "Love Me Already" and "I've Underestimated My Charm (Again)" see them at their poppiest with harmonies and calls and replies that are completely infectious.

There are probably a lot of people out there who think that they haven't lived up to the hype that surrounded them, but for my money Black Kids are the best pop band out there. And this is coming from a person who never listens to pop. Must be good then!

Back. And Q&A

This is just a little quick post to let everyone know that I'm back from holiday and I'm ready to be posting like crazy on both of my blogs (click here) over the weekend and possibly into next week.

On the music front I have decided that some of the money that was left over from my hols should be used to buy up some new CDs. So, expect some reviews of CSS, Ida Maria and Siouxsie and the Banshees (yes, I still haven't got a complete collection) to come your way soon. Oh, and there'll be more from Mercury Month as I go through more nominees and have a good laugh about Estelle's contribution.

Also, many people want to know if I am a musician and how I know about all these new bands. My answer is this: to question one no, but I'd like to play bass because my fingers are a bit too stubby for guitar (I know this from experience).

To the second question, I have my sources, turning up to gigs to watch the support acts is beneficial (this introduced me to, among others, CSS, The Ting Tings, Yeasayer and Delays all well before they were famous. For instance I saw the Ting Tings at a New Young Pony Club gig and banged on about them to my friends who couldn't care less. Skip forward 12 months and I can say that I've seen one of the most popular new bands in the UK live before anyone had heard of them. And knew all of the words to "Great DJ" and "That's Not My Name" at the gig). But the rest is a secret ;)

25 July 2008

Mercury Month: Adele

Who: 20-year-old London-born singer/songwriter Adele Adkins.

What Is She Nominated For: "19", a critically acclaimed set of songs that focuses on hometown life and heartbreak.

Why She Should Win: It's hard for me to say since I'm not a fan but she has achieved a lot for such a young age - everyone knew that either she or Duffy would gain a nomination and Adele probably got the nod because of her youth. Her songs have been described as heartfelt, soulful and down-to-earth.

Chances of Winning: Bookmakers have put her at 6/1, on a par with Burial and Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. The front runners Last Shadow Puppets and Radiohead both have odds of 5/1 so it can definitely be said that she's in with a chance. Personally I wouldn't vote for her; despite "Chasing Pavements" being a hit, it wasn't much of a song. Repeating a chorus over and over again with only one verse and making it sound different by lowering your voice now and then isn't a big achievement. Anyone could do that - and the same could be said for "Cold Shoulder". I think her best song is "Hometown Glory" but the judges will maybe pick her because she seems so innocent.

What I'm Listening To Right Now: "Attention" by The Raconteurs

Thanks to www.banquetrecords.com/graphics for the pic!

24 July 2008

It's Not A Sin

New Young Pony Club keyboard/synth player Lou Hayter has been working with her side project The New Sins for about a year now in-between developing new material for NYPC.

So I've known that this little side-project has existed for some time but never really got around to listening to any of their stuff - but now I am. Right now in fact.

It's safe to say that if you like NYPC then you'll probably like these; "Feelings Have Changed" sounds like NYPC's "F.A.N" but with Tahita Bulmer's immediate, in-your-face voice replaced by Lou's smoother, more poppy and accessible vocals. "It Doesn't Work Like That" sounds a bit more like Neon Neon, with its feet firmly rooted in the 80s. But a bit mellower.

This could turn out to be another great side-project; we're getting a lot of those at the minute. So many that we're a bit spoilt for choice. Then again, next year we'll probably end up swimming in albums from the original bands. Hopefully NYPC won't be any worse for Lou trailing off temporarily and they'll release some new stuff soon. But then again, I'm pretty happy with The New Sins. Do I have to go to hell now?

What I'm Listening To Right Now - "Feelings Have Changed" by The New Sins

Thanks to soundbites.typepad.com for the pic!

23 July 2008

Mercury Month: Neon Neon

Who: Super Furry Animal Gruff Rhys and Boom Pip teamed up to create Neon Neon, an 80s-styled electronic outfit.

What Are They Nominated For: "Stainless Style", a conceptual album about playboy designer JohnDeLorean.

Why They Should Win: They've written such catchy pop-electronica. Some might say that they're not doing anything new, since their style is firmly rooted in the 80s, but in a way that makes them more interesting than some of the other new bands coming out right now. "I Lust You" always ends up in your head whenever and wherever you hear it, and so does new single "I Told Her On Alderaan". Gruff Rhys still shows all of his odd quirks on this album as well, and you've got to love that weird little Welsh pixie really.

Chances of Winning: Well, I think I'll be rooting for them because I love "Stainless Style" - it's one of my albums of the year so far. However, they have a mountainous task to get past Radiohead, Elbow and the Last Shadow Puppets. I wouldn't be surprised if they were one of the dark horses but then people might say that Laura Marling has more of a chance than Neon Neon does. Bet if you're feeling incredibly lucky - you never know, there might be another surprise like last year when Klaxons won against heavily tipped Bat For Lashes and Arctic Monkeys.

What I'm Listening To Right Now - "Paris Is Burning (Gopher Remix)" by Ladyhawke

22 July 2008

Finally Announced

The Mercury Music Prize nominees have finally been announced! And... what were they thinking with some of these choices? Seriously! Here's the list:

  1. Adele - 19
  2. British Sea Power - Do You Like Rock Music?
  3. Burial - Untrue
  4. Elbow - The Seldom Seen Kid
  5. Estelle - Shine
  6. The Last Shadow Puppets - Age Of The Understatement
  7. Laura Marling - Alas, I Cannot Swim
  8. Neon Neon - Stainless Style
  9. Portico Quartet - Knee Deep In The North
  10. Robert Plant and Alison Krauss - Raising Sand
  11. Radiohead - In Rainbows
  12. Rachel Unthank and the Winterset - The Bairns

More Mercury news to come, and I'll probably do a little feature on each of the albums in turn. Don't expect me to be kind to them all though - last year's prize contained a long list of people I liked. This year I might not be so kind.

What I'm Listening To Right Now - "50ft Queenie" by PJ Harvey

Because of the Times

It seems that the Kings of Leon have grown up a little since their first couple of albums. Maybe they woke up one day to hear the Verve's "The Drugs Don't Work" and thought "you're right, they don't." Perhaps they thought about the mess they were in, went to rehab, had a shave and a haircut and hopefully a bath, before they tumbled into the studio to produce this: "Because of the Times".

But let's not be deluded over "Fans", praised as their best song - it's not. Far from it. I'm not a fan of "Fans" at all, I think it's perhaps one of their dirgiest, plodding songs. No, it's "Charmer" that has me under their spell - there's something quite appealing about Caleb Followhill screaming over a bassline that sets the rhythm to your heart. Yes, really.

You probably wouldn't find me saying this a couple of years ago when I laughed collectively with friends over the fact that Kings of Leon looked like a bunch of seventies throwbacks and sung... okay, they didn't sing. They mumbled. Constantly - so bad was the mumbling that we mimicked them with mutterings that went along with the tunes and then slapped in a couple of words. This was usually to "Molly's Chambers" because we could actually fit the words "Molly's chambers" into the song unlike many of their other efforts. They then started to grow on me a little more by the time I heard "The Bucket" but still couldn't take them seriously enough.

So imagine my surprise when last year they came back with an eerie synth on the opening of "On Call" and lyrics that could be both heard and understood by human ears. It would have been a miracle if it wasn't for Caleb's dodgy haircut. Of course, I was finally won over by their performance at Glastonbury. Good old Glasto, always turning me on to new bands (okay, that's not true but hey... you can't help but try!) "On Call" and "Charmer" are probably the best songs on the album but then other tracks like "McFearless" grow on you like a good rash. The thing is, once you've heard this album once you sort of want to listen to it again and again because it's so infectious.

I think that's what makes this album so much more appealing than other Kings of Leon efforts - you don't feel completely alienated by their boyish lyrics like on "Aha Shake Heartbreak" and "Youth and Young Manhood". Instead, there's something more tender lurking underneath there but without losing their rock credibility. They may be more mainstream now but that's not always been a bad thing.

What I'm Listening to Right Now: "Getting Scared" by Imogen Heap

Consolers of the Lonely

So yes, my growing love for the Raconteurs meant that I went out and bought their second album "Consolers of the Lonely". I'm not disappointed at all, despite what anyone might say about them.

This album was rush-released, possibly something to do with Jack White's cancelled tour with the White Stripes (due to Meg going down with some sort nervous breakdown - my friend will never forgive her for that). Perhaps the other members of the band were just a bit desperate to tell everyone that they weren't dead as well - Brendan Benson hasn't released a solo album since 2005 and the rhythm and percussion section's band The Greenhorns split not long after the Raconteurs released "Broken Boy Soldiers".

"Consolers of the Lonely" is no worse from being released hastily though. Many of the songs still glide by with no problems - from the frenetic, furiously paced "Salute Your Solution" and "Hold Up" to the more contemplative musings of "Top Yourself" and "Many Shades of Black". The latter is completely catchy despite the rather failed attempt at being soulful during the chorus - stick to what you know, guys.

Actually "Many Shades of Black" is a good song to express how they've beefed up their sound. "Broken Boy Soldiers" was quite a quiet album in comparison to this - they've added more bite, like the brass section and making the drums more prominent so they pound long after the song has finished (not literally of course!).

In all honesty the album is a rather random affair - it seems to move from one song to another with little fluidity. I'm not complaining; it's just that this brings out the obvious fact that Jack White and Brendan Benson are two different people with different songwriting abilities. In essence, it's quite easy to tell who had more prominence in writing certain songs. At the same time, their voices are quite different. Jack has no problems getting around some of the faster paced songs, but Brendan feels more comfortable grappling with the slower tracks. Just to reiterate: I'm not complaining!

Perhaps it would be more fair to judge this album against its predecessor but since I can't I'll say this: if you can get past the random way in which this album flows, you will enjoy this album. I'm hooked. I love them more now - please rush release another album guys!

What I'm Listening To Right Now - "Hairy Trees" by Goldfrapp

Proof Of Youth

There's no denying that The Go! Team are probably one of the happiest, bounciest bands around. Their debut album "Thunder Lightning Strike" was Mercury nominated and with good reason - their catchy pop tunes were fresh and inventive, with "Ladyflash" in particular being a stand-out track.

Move on a couple of years from "Thunder Lightning Strike" and The Go! Team released "Proof of Youth", which is essentially the same album but maybe a bit grittier and more understandable.

An explanation is due: many of the songs on "Proof of Youth" have more recognisable lyrics, so Ninja's vocals aren't being swamped so much on this album. However, the arrangements of the songs are pretty much the same as "Thunder Lightning Strike". I'm not saying this is a bad thing at all - we could all do with some happy, dancey pop blasts at some point in time.

That said, "Grip Like A Vice", the first single that was lifted from this album, does show a slight change in direction. There seems to be more focus on the vocals here, rather than the beats and synths underneath. This mantra of giving some space to the singers goes out of the window come track two though, the wonderful "Doing It Right".

Perhaps the only song that feels a little, well, odd is "Flashlight Fight" which has Chuck D doing a guest rap slot. I think he is a little out of place against Ninja's style of singing - they clash rather than mix together nicely.

Placed next to "Thunder Lightning Strike", "Proof of Youth" can be seen as an inferior imitation. Perhaps the fairest way to place it though is that The Go! Team have attempted to put together a different album without losing any of the ideals of their debut - which is a goal they achieve successfully, if not for that one slight slip-up. Their new single "Milk Crisis" is probably a better indication of things to come - the emphasis there is more on guitarist and vocalist Kaori and it has a more distinct rock sound in comparison to most of the songs on "Thunder" and "Proof". Definitely not a bad album by anyone's standard - just don't expect to find anything radically new.

14 July 2008

Not A Load of Cocknbull...

So you might have noticed that I've been enjoying the funky stylings of bedroom boffin The Cocknbullkid. She's from London and sounds homemade but in a good way with a lovely soulful voice.
Her single "On My Own Again" has been touted around as pretty good, so I thought I'd check out her MySpace page. Her voice sounds like that of Basement Jaxx's Vula on this track there's a brilliant electro interlude halfway through the song that sounds as if its been lifted straight from one of the retro Sonic the Hedgehog games. I prefer "Dead" though. While you can tell that she's been inspired by pop artists like Beyonce and Madonna, you can hear other more indie influences coming through. Which is probably why I like her blend of soul, indie and electronic. I'm hereby creating a new genre, called "selectrindie".
Okay, that was a bad idea. Still, being inspired by Yeah Yeah Yeahs, LCD Soundsystem, White Stripes and The Prodigy alongside your usual pop people must mean you've got some musical sense. And it shows.
Thanks to farm3.static.flickr.com for the pic!

T: Bits and Bobs

Bits, bobs and other things, just like I did at Glasto! So here's some people that I caught briefly. Sometimes very briefly.

The Zutons: Thank god they ditched Ronson. Actually, I'm glad I didn't see the performance of "Valerie". People only know the words to that song now because of Amy Winehouse.... But, going back to this performance, they always sound better live. They've never particularly excited me, and they've got a saxophonist which is always a black mark against a band's name in my opinion. They always go into this kind of prog-rock, Led Zep-esque bit at the end of each of their songs live that could be annoying, but it acutally makes me want to watch them more. Suddenly their songs change from slightly dull indie to more exciting retro rock. Nice.

Pendulum: I know a lot of people who are really into these D'n'B people. And I mean scarily into them, to the point where if they hear even a single note of one of their songs, they scream "Pendulum!" really loudly. What is the fuss please? It's like if Slipknot went electro, which isn't a pretty thought. I don't understand the appeal of some thirty-or-forty-something men thinking that they're "down with the kids" and thrashing guitars around, pretending to be cool. Oh, and if you heard it you might think that their single sounds ever so vaguely like "Live and Let Die". Super scary.

Ian Brown: What the...? Somebody turn down his microphone! Either that or he was holding it far to close to his mouth. Either way, he sounded terrible which was a bit of a shame because his backing band were perfect. Funny how if someone or something goes slightly wrong, the whole dynamic of a set can go out of the window. I'm sure it wouldn't have sounded so bad if you were actually there but being stuck at home watching a strange, hopelessly muffled version of "F.E.A.R" really does put the fear into you.

More bits and bobs to come later on....

What I'm Listening To Right Now: "Get Innocuous!" by LCD Soundsystem

Thanks to www.ticketsources.co.uk/images for the pic!

T: Kaiser Chiefs

Ahh, Kaiser Chiefs.... King of the "ITV Rock" movement. I will admit to having bought their first album "Employment" but I was totally lost off by "Yours Truly, Angry Mob". I thought that was with good cause, since "Ruby" - their anthem - and "Angry Mob" were both bland and mystifying. The Kaisers? Angry? Surely not!
But hey, this was the best Kaiser Chiefs' performance I've ever seen! Ricky Wilson still works the crowd a bit too much, expecting them to sing along to nearly every single song. Just leave it to "I Predict A Riot" Ricky, then leave them be. They even performed some new songs, one of which was absolutely hilarious. "We Want History" is a strange song, especially since the chorus says, "History, it's a mystery". Hmmm, yes. I can see they were up all night thinking of that line.
But the crowd love them and I suppose if you didn't like the look of Rage Against The Machine and Ian Brown then these were a fun alternative. I'm still not won over and I probably never will be. On a purely performance level, they had a good light show and the songs were performed well. Bravo on that level.

T: The Raconteurs

You know, the more and more I watch The Raconteurs, the more and more I like them. I was never sure of them, and I'm not really a White Stripes fan so maybe I've surprised myself at the fact that I'm starting to fall for Jack White's other project.

Well, from what I saw (which didn't include most of their singles, which was a nice bonus) they were on good form. I enjoyed the album tracks which are much more melodic than the frenetic guitar thrashing of songs like "Salute Your Solution". I like a bit of melody, even Muse have that and they mostly just favour a wall of noise!

So anyway, it's too bad they didn't show more. It was probably a performance where I thought I could have sat quite happily all the way through and not complained once. Unlike a lot of the other people I saw this year at T - they're on to a winner.

What I'm Listening to Right Now - "Dead" by The Cocknbullkid

Thanks to weeklyvolcano.typepad.com for the pic!

09 July 2008

All Hour Cymbals

Seeing New York band Yeasayer on Later... earlier this year didn't inspire me with much confidence in the band. While clearly the audience there seemed to think they had something going on, it wasn't evident from the TV performance as "2080" seemed weak and lifeless; I didn't even watch the rest.

Skip ahead a couple of months and here I am saying that their debut album is brilliant - what a difference a live performance supporting Beck can make.

After coming back from Manchester and browsing around for The Go! Team's second album, I found Yeasayer's "All Hour Cymbals", or rather what seemed like a few thousand copies of it lying neglected in a dark corner. Remembering how much of an impression they had made on me, I instantly picked it up, brought it home, and listened to it intently.

I haven't been disappointed. While live they seemed like much more of a rock band, on CD they draw on influences from all over the world while not sinking into obscurity and keeping their western arrangements and quite a lot of their rock credentials. Opener "Sunrise" is probably one of my favourite tracks on the album, with its almost tribal call at the beginning fading into simple yet highly effective drum beats, basslines and a slinky, sexy synth over the chorus that sticks in your head for ages. You know a song has to be good if it does that. "Forgiveness" is also a particularly catchy tune that shifts from dark and menacing to light and airy quickly but wonderfully.

But if you're looking for a good place to start then maybe you should try "Wait For the Summer", with its, er, coincidentally summery feel that transports you to a sandy beach on a hot day - nice when you haven't actually felt warm sunshine for ages. "2080" is perhaps their most commercial jaunt, with some chanting and jangly guitars thrown in for good measure. This is the song that had no effect on me a couple of months ago - now I want it on my iPod constantly.

The world must be getting smaller. Instead of becoming a standard rock band Yeasayer have done more and blended in influences from all over the world to make "All Hour Cymbals", an album that is compelling and hypnotising, standing out from other new bands coming from NY right now. Why on earth this album was painfully neglected in the store, I have no idea.

Thanks to modestamusicamoderna.files.wordpress.com/2008 for the pic!

04 July 2008

Beck Review

Manchester Apollo Theatre
2nd July 2008

If people think about what a gig by Beck is going to be like, they might think of puppets or elaborate costumes or suits. They might also consider ditzy electronic beats and an electronic brass section, as he is well known for creating unusual yet highly funky arrangements.

It is strange then to see Beck turn up on stage looking more like a taller, thinner Kurt Cobain with no sign of any mini-me style puppets. His more laid-back appearance is accompanied by a full-on, classic rock concert with hardly any breaks in-between the energetic songs.

Starting with “Devil’s Haircut” from his seminal album “Odelay”, it is obvious that he just wants to bring the house down with some classic rock tunes. Nothing seems to stand in the way of him as he does this, hardly ever addressing the crowd and concentrating on playing as best as he possibly can, particularly through “Minus”, perhaps one of his hardest rock moments.

He played many songs from his new, critically acclaimed album “Modern Guilt”, which are short but fresh and still carrying the Beck insignia of unpredictability. It was definitely interesting to hear more of the new material before the album is released, and current single “Chemtrails”, a 60s inspired blast of psychedelic rock, sounded better live than it does on record.

A lightshow is the last thing on anyone’s mind, as the basic lights and simple black background stand in contrast to his previous incarnations, just adding to how much of an old-school show it really was.

You’re never quite sure what you’re going to get from a Beck album but one thing’s for sure: you’re always going to have a good time at one of his concerts.

02 July 2008

Goldfrapp Review

Alison Goldfrapp and her band have a chameleonic nature; one minute they’re being minimal and almost ambient, the next they’re belting out attention-grabbing glam rock and now they’re capturing hearts with bittersweet, modern folk. Alison has even tried her hand at trip-hop, as a guest on Bristol artist Tricky’s first album, Maxinquaye. This unpredictable nature was well and truly shown at the Sage last night.

The stage was adorned with stuffed animals and antlers while fairy lights and flags draped from the ceiling. The band was all dressed in white but Alison Goldfrapp walked on in a shocking pink, short smock that made her stand out from her backing group.

The set borrowed heavily from their latest album, Seventh Tree, but they still found time to fit in songs from all of their previous three albums, starting with the minimal “Paper Bag” from Felt Mountain. It took a while for the group to break out into the glam songs that made them famous but the crowd went wild for “Number 1” and “Ooh La La”, both from the storming, chic Supernature. During “Little Bird”, psychedelic 60s animations and images were projected onto the wicker background.

It wasn’t until she breaks out tracks from Black Cherry, though, that the crowd really get into their stride and start to become more animated. “Train” turns out to be ten times more powerful live than it is on record, with the drums pounding through the hall and bouncing off the walls, and the bass sends reverberations flying through people.
Despite “Train” looking to be the song of the night, it was undoubtedly “Strict Machine” that stole the show. With hyperactive, flashing lights blinding the audience, Alison Goldfrapp belts out her signature tune wonderfully and despite generally not being a very animated character, she danced her way through with flair.

Last night, Goldfrapp went through their various guises with elegance and chic style, proving that sometimes being shape shifters can be a incredibly good thing.