Saturday, 28 March 2009

10 Songs I Love Right Now - 28/03/09

High time for another of these I think.

Graham Coxon - Freakin' Out

Freakin' Out is possibly the most uptempo song about boredom you will ever find. It's about that month when you weren't going through relationship problems, weren't really in love with anything, didn't need money, weren't recovering from a serious addiction - and the absence of anything interesting was driving you mad. Everyone's felt it. This song captures that, with a fantastic little guitar solo and a catchy chorus. If you want to hear Graham at his most sensitive best, outside of Blur, listen to the beautiful Ribbons And Leaves as well.

Franz Ferdinand - Bite Hard

Bite Hard is the best song on Franz's third album, Tonight, from the gentle but unnerving piano introduction, with unsettling lyrics, to the ambiguous cries of 'Bite hard!', to the fantastic upbeat synth solo. It's perfect to wake you up in the morning, and it's brilliant live, and it encapsulates the singalong silliness of Franz at their best.

The Libertines - What a Waster

What A Waster was not a crap first release. It was not a 'This band have potential, but we're gonna have to wait and see' track. This song, rightfully, gained The Libertines a ridiculous amount of hype as the British front line in NME's 'New Rock Revolution'. This track was, and is, a punk rock explosion of anger and youthfulness, referencing Ulysses and the Beano and the Book of Revelation, shot through with sadness, bursting with expletives and oozing talent...a brilliant song.

Levellers - Before The End

Levellers' most recent release, Letters From The Underground, is an angry, rough record, with guitar solos and fast fiddle sections and political lyrics; it is typical Levellers. This song stands out however as being a bit different. It's sentimental, looking at failing love: 'it's just one kiss to build a dream upon'. It's softer, more thoughtful, and has some lovely melodies.

The Strokes - New York City Cops

Like Last Nite, New York City Cops is a snapshot of a moment in time, in New York City, at night. It opens with Julian Casablancas being daft - "Oh! Haha, I meant: Ah! No I didn't mean that at all." This is endearing, especially with his undeniably sexy voice. For once, The Strokes abandoned their extremely repetitive strum-strum-strum-strum formula (at least on lead guitar) until the chorus. It's a welcome break.

Peter Doherty - New Love Grows on Trees

It is hard to sum up the brilliance of this song in a paragraph. It's beautiful, telling of the foolishness of teen promises and decisions ('If you're still alive when you're 25, will I kill you like you told me to? Well I really don't want to.'), telling of growing up, telling of new love growing on trees (?), all sung in Peter's fitting drawl over ambient electric distortion and acoustic guitar. It's so much more than pretty.

The Hair - Half Cut

The Hair, now Club Smith, are one of the better new bands to make use of the fashion for electronic synths and samples in British music right now, because they combine it with catchiness, great percussion and some really (dare I say it) funky songs. Half Cut is a walk-along-the-road-smiling track.

Sonic Youth - Purr

Sonic Youth are still up there in my favourites, and now I've found Dirty, that's where they're staying. Purr growls along in two-chord sultriness: it's violent, youthful, brilliantly played garage rock. The opening riff is life-affirming and gives me the shivers. The lyrics are simple but definitely thought out. Almost as brilliant are the melancholy Wish Fulfillment and Chapel Hill from the same album.

Maxïmo Park - Wraithlike

A new track from the new album Quicken the Heart, due out in May, Wraithlike has the lo-fi edginess of A Certain Trigger without the polish of album number two. It's a return to their roots, only faster, angrier and with more interesting time signatures.

Peter Doherty - Broken Love Song

Played with 4 guitars onstage live, Broken Love Song is a very pretty track, with lovely lyrics about loneliness and a chord sequence to die for. Nice vibrato on the electric guitar makes this track, as well as Pete's voice, which works very well on this softer album. Want more of Peter being poetic? Try I Am the Rain, it's not as good musically but it's got nice introverted lyrics. Lots of metaphor.

I've been listening to a lot of music this month. Last week told me I'd listened to about 2 full days of music on my iPod and computer alone. Check these songs out, they might do for you what they do for me.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Peter Doherty @ Birmingham Academy, 25/03/09

The first notable thing about this gig was the number of utter tossers in the crowd. I found it almost upsettingly predictable that Pete attracted this type of fan; it would have been nice to have an intellectual, sober, appreciative crowd, but alas, those fans must have stood at the back, or gone to see Metallica up the road instead.

I'll elaborate. You know that one group of lads with their girlfriends who ruin it for everyone by shouting obscenities, throwing beer, making moshpits, deliberately kicking people, smoking and fighting their way to the front? The one group that everyone is trying to ignore and rolling their eyes at? Well, I think 99% of the crowd were like that last night, or at least at the front. I stayed at the front anyway. Peter sauntered out when people were filing in, just after 7, shook hands on the front row and said hi. That surprised everyone.

The first support act were okay, a band named Red Roots. They played reggae indie, with a black lead singer and bassist, and a white guitarist and drummer: harking back to the days of 2tone. It was nice enough but got dull. There was no second support: friends of Peter wandered on and off the lit stage playing short solo sets. This included Drew McConnell of Babyshambles, who played three fantastic songs, one all in Spanish (for us girls) and one with Niko.

Finally when Peter came on, after Music When The Lights Go Out, he introduced Graham Coxon (to the wrong side of the stage, for me) and Drew again. The next few tracks were from the solo album, and though the crowd were rowdy as Hell, they weren't half singing their hearts out. Peter was on form, singing well. It was a good setlist too, though there was nothing from Shotter's Nation or Up The Bracket in it, a disappointment for me. What A Waster was in there though, the end of the chorus '2-bob cunt' sung with enthusiasm by the rough standing crowd. They got more and more drunk and objectionable, threw more and more beer and shoes and whatever else onstage. Graham Coxon smiled away, but all onstage were unnerved by the amount of beer and personal possessions showering their wires and amps (including a bag which Pete rifled through, 'looking for ID'). Drew on double bass was a crowd-pleaser, and he could play as well, wearing a fantastic Dracula-esque suit that I admired very much.

Drew McConnell on cello

The crowd were not going to be moved after Peter went off, singing a Babyshambles riff on repeat and chanting. He came back on, played Time For Heroes, before letting Lee Mavers of The La's come on to sing There She Goes (The La's song, not the Babyshambles song). After this, Peter came out and played Beg, Steal Or Borrow and a glorious rendition of Fuck Forever. He stood on the drumkit and we all chanted along.

Peter in black and white

All in all, the performance was fantastic, but the audience ruined it somewhat, at least at the front of the gig. I like a bit of roughness, rowdiness, or I wouldn't try to get to the barrier, but some of those people were just self-centred gits, really. So, overall, 7/10, I think.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

'Grace/Wastelands', Peter Doherty

Peter Doherty is Mr Marmite. Along the way, he has built up a horde of fans who would pay good money for one of his cigarette butts, who won't hear a word against him and want the world to know he's the Messiah. The same way, he has gained a huge number of haters who think he is a waste of space, and as he states perfectly in Broken Love Song, would love to see him swinging in his cell.

This album does not reinforce either position. In fact, it is hard to believe that the same man who causes such intense feelings in people made this album. It is certainly not bad, not with gems like A Little Death Around The Eyes, but it is, dare I say, a little boring. There are 'skip' tracks: Sheepskin Tearaway and Lady Don't Fall Backwards just can't hold my attention, and I don't have the feeling it's going to be too much of a grower.

Peter has one inexplicable skill, however. He can write phrases which evoke strong emotion. Although New Love Grows On Trees is excellent from beginning to end, most songs don't manage to stir the heart all the way through, but most of them have at least a passage, a lyric or a melody which you can float away on, a moment which truly touches the listener. This would be different for everyone of course, but the skill is definitely there, and is found in a lot of things penned by Peter in the past. 1939 Returning, New Love Grows On Trees, Broken Love Song and A Little Death Around The Eyes are standout tracks because they make good use of Pete's talent for inspiring feeling.

This album is a departure from what Peter has done with Babyshambles and The Libertines. It's a lot more laid-back, thoughtful and it makes use of different instruments, like in the ridiculously old-fashioned but well-written The Sweet By & By (which sounds like it should be on an advert for an old-folk's home, or in a light television comedy-drama, and is definitely about Carl Barât). Stephen Street has done a lovely job of the production too, cleaning things up and getting the best out of Peter's drawl, without killing the atmosphere with polish.

The only problem I have, as I have said, is that the formula for each song gets boring. Sometimes, all you want is for someone to turn up the electric guitar and play a great guitar solo, or for the drummer to stop holding back. It's too mellow, I suppose.

I would give this album 7½/10. It's good, well-written, thoughtful music, what you'd expect to happen when Peter went solo to be honest, but that 2½ it missed out on is for the unreached potential, in the absence of the passion and energy that Pete usually cannot keep out of his music.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Franz Ferdinand @ Birmingham Academy, 8/03/09

I think it is safe to say queueing from 10am for this was worth it. I didn't do it, my friend Nita did, but I joined her at 12 and we had a riot of a time. Okay, it was freezing, but her excitement was contagious. See, she'd been waiting 5 years (though intense prolonged obsession) for this - they've only played once near us in 4 years, and she couldn't go to that, so today really mattered, and didn't she know it!

Everything went right. We met their manager Parker and got to hold Alex Kapranos' guitar case, and at about five, Franz arrived in a little silver van and Nita followed them right into the ''No Entry" depot and spoke to Alex. We all got pictures, and she was surprisingly composed.

We went inside at 7. We managed to get to the front, centre, which was excellent, but there was a full hour wait until the support act The Soft Pack came on. I've never seen a band only have one support at the Academy, but it was so, and they were very good. They were all talented players, but the sound had been set up wrong and you couldn't hear the vocals (and the lead guitar was deafening). They also lacked stage presence, though I've seen much worse in that respect, and generally I was impressed and will be finding out more: talent, catchy tunes, great guitar sound. It was another half hour or more before Franz came on, but I liked that there wasn't a second support - there was no faffing, no aching feet and no prolonged waiting after waiting all day.

Franz Ferdinand were amazing. They put on one of the best shows I've ever seen, with official videos, other videos, even videos of the stage from weird angles coming up on a screen at the back, and a light show to die for. There were some real 'wow' moments, like in Outsiders during the encore, where all of the band members and a roadie gathered round the drumkit and played a drum penta-solo. They had the balance just right sound-wise, and they seemed very pleased to be playing, Alex smiling away and making eye contact with the lucky (oh so lucky) front row. I was glad it sounded very guitar-based live as well, much more so than the album.

From what I can remember, they had all the expected in the setlist, including Michael, which they opened with, No You Girls, Bite Hard, Take Me Out, Twilight Omens, Matinée, Do You Want To, The Fallen, 40' (which I was very happy they played - I sank into bliss when I heard that intro), Turn It On, Walk Away, Lucid Dreams, The Fallen, What She Came For and Ulysses, though not necessarily in that order. In the encore they played Jacqueline, Outsiders and This Fire (though I seem to remember there were, I don't know, my brain was more occupied with having a great time than recording the setlist.) The only fault I could possibly find would be length of setlist, even though it was decent - who wouldn't want a great band to play a few more songs?

After the gig, they had to rush off to London, so they were out in 5 minutes carrying all their bags. Nita got the setlist (that I'd caught and kept for her) signed, and a poster signed, and another gazillion photos of Alex's back. Nick had seen her there on the front row, and he told her she was amazing and kissed her on the cheek. They made her life.

There was an unusual bit of merchandising too - a CD of that night, pressed straight to disc, which you could buy for £15 to have a copy for yourself. I think you can also obtain a copy of the recorded gig here, for a slightly higher price, but it's a decent idea anyway. Exellent gig, it should sound fabulous on recording.

9/10 I think, for Franz, 11/10 for the whole experience!

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

A 'modern music' observation

I haven't been on the scene long enough to have seen changes in musical fashion over and over again, though I know they have happened, but recently I'm really noticing a change in what is fashionable and it became noteworthy when Franz Ferdinand changed direction seemingly to go with this new tide, with the release of their third album, Tonight.

A few years ago, the rise of 'emo' came about in the hardcore scene, where all the cool kids who wanted to listen to metal but couldn't stomach it started listening to pop, disguised under metal overtones and dyed black hair. That was the fashion when I started really listening to music. I didn't listen to that music, as you can tell from my apathetic description, but I didn't see that three years later, those same 'emo' kids would be listening to electronica-pop disguised as indie under indie-style haircuts and skinny jeans.

I wouldn't have a problem with it if that fashion didn't interfere with what I listen to. However, Kaiser Chiefs and Franz Ferdinand, being 'indie' (in the loosest way possible), have decided to buy in on the electronic dance side of things. I suppose, first Klaxons, CSS and New Young Pony Club happened, and proved to be the cutting edge for a while, so a couple of years later, a less cult form of their music emerged, with a more disco-retro feel, seen in Black Kids, Ladyhawke and MGMT, Vampire Weekend, Friendly Fires and Late Of The Pier. This music is not in itself offensive. But seeing their success, bands like the Chiefs and Franz inadvertently (or not) changed their direction and both their third albums are dancefloor records. They also seem to be adopting dance support acts.

It's not a travesty. I'm not a 'good old days' kind of girl. However, I did like the feeling of music post-Libertines, that guitar sound and raw edge that Franz Ferdinand managed so well in album number 2. It seems to be fading into the background for a while, making way for synthesisers, sharp production and sparkly costumes.

My observation, minus opinionated bullshit, is basically: everyone's going electro. Fashion shifts suddenly and irrationally and with a great deal of hypocrisy. But I bet you knew that.