Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Reporting Back on Carl, Belle and Sebastian and Radiohead

When The 405 originally posted news of Carl Barât's new album and tour dates, following the tumbleweed came the comment, "Who's he?"

Carl Barât was the co-frontman of the influential but sadly disbanded rock band The Libertines. After two chaotically recorded albums and a Hell of a lot of druggery, he went on to front Dirty Pretty Things, whose demise was signalled by arguments and a weak second release well before they ultimately split in late 2008. Recently announced a father-to-be of London singer Edie Langley's baby, Carl Barât released a self-titled album this October.

I have to say, Carl is at his best when playing fast, Django Reinhardt-influenced riffs and snarling into the mic like the Angry Young Man he used to be. This album showcases his softer, piano-lead side. Where Pete Doherty, his recognised other half, succeeded with his gentle poetic lyrics and endearingly idiosyncratic inability to sing, Carl appears lacklustre when he's not attacking a fretboard. The whole album is a little hard to get into, and the lyrics try for archaic and often don't quite hit the mark. Plus, the cover image is the biggest testament to narcissism since... well, The Libertines' 'Narcissist'.

It's not bad though, considering a few years ago, Carl hated going onstage alone. It showcases competent songwriting and some enticing listens, like my favourite 'The Fall' (even if it does contain the lines "upon a sticky nightclub floor, a wilted rose I found, I snatched her from the clutches of an evil-smelling boar"). I don't think I was expecting particular greatness despite being a Carl fan, but I reckon Carl Barât's debut needs a Pete, John or Gary, a Didz or an Anthony, just to take that songwriting and bring it to life.

Belle and Sebastian, songsmiths of the twee pop age, have brought out an album recently too. Write About Love doesn't try for anything pretentious, it's that beautifully melodic, glistening pop that it was predicted to be. Strong like 2006's The Life Pursuit, perfectly produced and intensely listenable, I fell in love with Write About Love on first listen. It has a few more dips in quality than their last album, perhaps, but is just as musically adept: they have really developed their style this last few albums, and it's only got more lovable.

My final comment is probably the most filled with passion. In Rainbows. Yes, I'm incredibly late, don't blame me, I've been busy. Gorgeous chords, ingenious melodies flowing over and under atmospheric vocals, edgy drums, compelling lyrics... Radiohead may have made the news for their innovations in methods of release, but they've also made a brilliant album. There is a reason they're one of the most 'listened to' bands on the planet. Below is an incredibly cool video for 'Bodysnatchers' by Glann Marshall.

Bodysnatchers - Zeno Music Visualiser from Glenn Marshall on Vimeo.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

French Music, and Being a Reviewer

Currently, I have an article up on The 405 which I'm quite proud of:

France - Them and Us in Music

While I recommend heavily that you go and check it out if you like foreign language music, or just to learn a little bit about another culture, it serves to make another point. My responses so far have included:
This is an awesome primer.

Anyway, great article!

Thanks to the commenters for those little rewards, because I have to say, if anyone chooses to comment usually, it's to bash me and my opinions. Now, I've had a couple of fair criticisms in my time, where people haven't agreed with my comparisons to other bands or something. Those I can take, because certain areas of pop and folk aren't my forte, and although I do think I write decent reviews, sometimes they're not the most informed.

However, other times I get "F*x!ing b*%£! this review is s$*t, this is the best f%^!ing band to exist ever, you d*£&head." Now, the last of these examples was for a band called Thread Pulls, who, for all the swearwords in the world, are just a bit shit. It thinks itself all very arty with weird titles and strange echoey synths, but the singer can't sing, the lyrics are crap and there really isn't any reason I'd ever listen to it sober.

That is, as I'd admit, only my opinion. Whatever the fans are hearing between the lines that keeps Thread Pulls in bread and water is beyond me, but I'll admit that I could be missing some point or other. Maybe.

But eh, I'm not underqualified just because I don't like it. If everyone 'qualified' likes it, why isn't there hype for this band? I think it's because they're not all that great. They grate at best. Anyway, music is one of the most difficult of the arts to judge on quality alone: personal preferences always make for subjective reviewing.

So for all the haters out there: remember reviews are just reviews. Everyone knows it's mostly opinion, and unless the reviewer has made some unjust factual claims or slandered the band, swearing at the reviewer will only make you (and by extension, all fans of the band) look pathetic. Going by some daft pseudonym only reinforces this image of you.

Friday, 8 October 2010

It's Been a While; Deer Tick

Busy all the time at the moment. However, I need to comment on the brilliance of the band Deer Tick. I reviewed their album The Black Dirt Sessions a few months back, and was very positive, and I've since delved into their back catalogue a little. The singer has a gorgeously scratchy, intense voice, which really sets them apart from other American folk/indie bands of the moment.

I'm in love with Deer Tick's lyrics. Recurring religious and regal themes I can take or leave, but sometimes the singer speaks with such elegance and eloquence that the result is irresistible. "Looks like I relied too hard on a dream, so tell me girl, where have you really been?... I built a kingdom on second chances" he growls in 'Piece by Piece and Frame by Frame'. Enticingly simple words that draw a picture, rasped in his husky tones, over well-played indie-ish acoustic guitar or heavy bass...

It's lovely. They are pensive but often upbeat too, and I'm going though a phase of really liking them. Deer Tick: check them out. I've put a few favourites below.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Sonisphere @ Knebworth 2010

It's been a while since my last post; I've been enjoying the summer for reasons other than music, which is a surprise even to me. Since I last wrote, I've done several musical things, like go to metal fest Sonisphere, get into Bright Eyes, and reboot my dead iTunes.

The most important of those being Sonisphere.

On July 30th, I went to Sonisphere with my boyfriend. If you read any of the posts below, you'll know that metal is not really my favourite genre. I was definitely one of the girlfriends there whose sole purpose was to keep the tent warm - I made myself enjoy it anyway. I only saw a handful of bands: when most of the names are unfamiliar to you, you never quite know where to go.

We caught a few minutes of Gary Numan and Europe on the Friday night, and that was all. For the rest of the time, we explored the campsite and arena. Large numbers of men in tutus and girls in Newrocks wandered the fields, graffiting the much adored 'Pantera' on tents and queuing for portaloos, whose scent defined my weekend.

Alice Cooper was the best on the Friday night. Onto the Saturn Stage he strutted as the sun went down, dressed ridiculously with a myriad of wrinkles criss-crossing his face; he launched into 'School's Out', and the crowd's mixture of amusement and adulation added to the great atmosphere. From there, Alice proceeded to die onstage about five times, kill various hideously made-up humans and sing over his few-chord showman's punk. It was fun, and very tiring.

The first night was soundtracked by random cheers which spread across the campsite like mexican waves, skanky people talking and smoking shit, and the calls and jeers of drunken insomniacs.

On Saturday, we saw Family Force 5 on the Apollo Stage in the morning. They are incredibly scene, described by the term 'Christian Crunkcore' (?) and talking a lot about dancing. And dancing. Wearing lots of leather. That day we also saw Andrew O' Neill in the comedy tent, who definitely topped Tim Minchin, the act he was opening for. Rammstein finished the evening. I've never seen the deal with Rammstein: it's dull to me, repetitive and humourless. I enjoyed the stage show - fire, fire and more fire - but I wasn't particularly bothered when they went off early. A beachball ricocheting off a bald man's head and a mass singalong of 'Du Hast' were my highlights of the set.

On Sunday, my day started badly when my boyfriend's uncle arrived early and had to go back home, meaning we thought we were going to have to get the train home. Not having washed for two days, this seemed a harrowing sentence, so we didn't enjoy the morning. Finally, it was agreed he'd come back in the evening, so we were free to enjoy the empowering reggae metal of Skindred, who were bested only by Alice Cooper's set. Later on, we saw Kylesa, a hard punk band who headlined the Jaegermeister Stage, then Pendulum, and ultimately, Iron Maiden.

All weekend, girls had been baring their breasts to big screens, but it got stupid during Pendulum. There were so many incidents of chest-exposure that even the laddish men in the crowd stopped cheering, and it became a bored expectation of the women on camera. I got pissed off by the misogyny and it ruined Pendulum for me. We went for a wander before Iron Maiden, immersing ourselves in the atmosphere of all the expensive food tents, the legal highs tents, then spending too much on the 10p machines at the amusement arcade.

Iggy Pop was weak. He looked even more decrepit on stage than Alice Cooper had, but unlike Cooper's, the show was without fun, and unless you were in the pit, a mere irritation en route to Iron Maiden. They were also disappointing, for me. Rammstein had burned things. Alice Cooper had died. Iron Maiden didn't do anything fun which a less-metal fan could watch, Bruce Dickinson just talked in clichés before playing the songs, straight.

I think the crowd enjoyed it, though. It's just not my taste. My boyfriend didn't much care for their setlist either however, so we left early and packed up to go home.

And that was Sonisphere. On the journey home, sleeping on Jozef in the car, I had a heavy rock band playing invented songs in my ears, vaguely Metallica, and they didn't go away for days. We were exhausted and disgustingly unwashed, but happy. Very happy. It was my first festival, and I've discovered the charm of a permanent hum of music, overheard comments ("Slayer were amazing. I love my cock."), and nighttime fairgrounds lighting up littered fields.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Renewed Guilty Pleasures

We all grew up on music that we'd later be ashamed to admit we loved. As a young teen and below, one's music taste is often a ramshackle collection of things your parents like, things heard on the radio, and things Aunties bought you for Christmas that you felt obliged to listen to. The minority of people who still like the music they liked at 11 are either very lucky with their relatives' influences, or have really really awful music taste.

I have my guilty first albums and singles (mostly easy listening, and thankfully no boybands). There has only been one album I've tried and failed to forget since I was 11. This summer, all musical snobbery and shame pushed aside, I found out my For the Love of Him album by Shania Twain, only to discover that is the epitome of good 80s folk-rock.

Unlike the girly country of most Shania Twain albums, For the Love of Him employs heavy guitars and rough edges to achieve a hard-rock sound. Shania Twain's angriest and most powerful vocals ever accompany decent lyrics in perfectly-crafted pop songs. No matter how ashamed I felt when I woke up to them in my mind after years and years, I could never forget 'Bite My Lip' and 'Once Over' - they have possibly the catchiest choruses in my music collection. I tried listening to the album objectively, all prejudices about Shania Twain aside, and the guitars are well-played, the songs well-constructed, the vocals well-sung. There are catchy riffs and quirky sound effects.

So what if For the Love of Him sounds like a parody of the 80s? Shania Twain pretends this album never happened, for the most part: it is her short-lived affair with rock and roll. But it's good stuff.

Just don't blame me if I turn off my last.fm plugin while I'm listening to it. It's a self-respect thing.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Getting into Bright Eyes

Few artists have music so deeply engrained into their being that they can live their whole lives without being lost for chords. Bright Eyes certainly seems that way, putting out music since he was 13, and still going now, almost 17 years later. His music has ranged from bluesy American folk to hardcore punk-rock, but no matter what he was playing, he never let his guitar gather dust.

Conor Oberst

I took 2007's Cassadaga out of the library a few months ago and never really got into it. On it was the brilliant 'Hot Knives', and a few other decent tracks, but it was a bit too obvious, polished. Only on listening to 2002 album Lifted or the Story is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground have I realised that polish was not all Conor Oberst had to offer.

I'm not a clued-up fan. Ask any one of his thousands of obsessives and you could argue over which is his best project, album, song, lyric. All I know is that 'Lover I Don't Have to Love' took me by the heart the moment I heard it, and the whole albums genuine, open lyrics and sketchy but honest atmosphere are definitely an example of how good Bright Eyes can be. I'll be trying to become that clued-up fan over the next few months, I think.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

For When the Sun Comes Out

Ticking along behind the changing music scenes of the last twenty years, a certain breed of pop group has been working to make every moment sunnier. Belle and Sebastian have perfected their charming breed of 'chamber pop', and fellow Scots Camera Obscura have been right there evolving alongside them.

Here is a Camera Obscura track for your delectation: its bitterness and sadness smoothed over the top of upbeat, offbeat pop - summer incarnate. Listen and love.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Ain't No Substitute for the Blues

I love a bit of punk and ska, and when I'm in the mood, a little Britpop is a nice change too. Tango and indie pop and possibly a smattering of harder rock are all on the menu from time to time. But there ain't no substitute for the blues.

With my dad's ecletic (and often eccentric) music taste unavoidable while growing up, blues has featured heavily in my upbringing. Eric Clapton and BB King and The Animals have been there all along, on vinyl and CD and cassette. I've always loved the blues, but I've never explored it: it's 'old' music, it's outside of teenage fashion. One of the BBC's documentaries on it the other night inspired me to get out the parents' CDs, surf the web for more, and I'm so glad I did.

There are so many things which can be said about blues. For one, it's incredibly simple. Blues guitarist and singer Albert Collins said that "simple music is the hardest music to play, and blues is simple music." When you hear 12 bar blues, 1st, 4th and 5th chords, being played by the masters, you can't feel disdain - it's just not in the catalogue of emotions available. A beginner on most instruments can mess around with its structure, and the blues scales, but only the best can turn that messing into Blues.

There's something instinctive in it which cannot be captured in any other form of music. Those notes, those chords, that simple discontent (your girl's left you, you ain't got no money, you're leavin' town), they give blues music power and strength that most other music can barely touch upon. Blues can depress you or fire you up, turn you on or enrage you; somehow, it can do everything barely using more than three chords.

John Lee Hooker made this post happen. Listening to The Healer, one of his most famous albums, I feel whole again for the first time since... well, since the last music I really connected to. I may be a middle class white girl, but there's something deeply affecting about listening to the story of someone worse off, in the mouth of a brilliant singer or from the moans of a soulful guitar, hearing the same primal emotions, the same mixed bag of thoughts and feelings that we all have. Blues transcends cultures, while drawing you into its own like nothing else can.

Blues is a healer, all over the world.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Three Artists You Should Listen To

1. Reuben. Oh come on, do I need to plug them any more than I already do? Explosive guitar riffs, life-defining atmosphere, brilliant lyrics sung brilliantly over brilliant chord changes, expression I could only dream about, muscular power and sensitivity in perfect balance. Just do it. Please.

2. Belle and Sebastian. If you're inclined towards the indie end of pop, twee, light indie, anything like that, then you've probably heard Belle and Sebastian already. They're elusively ubiquitous, managing to tiptoe through the lives of so many, enchanting them, entrancing them, but staying out of the hype machine which rules the music industry. They plaster the summer straight over the top of this long British winter; they are a billboard advertisement for summery cocktails or The Seaside. The wry wit and tongue-in-cheek lyrical edge in many of the tracks counteracts the twee melodies and enhances the charm of the albums. I'd highly recommend them, even in winter.

3. Julian Casablancas. I like his dirty electro, his monotonous growl of a voice, the lyrics which catch the ear, the complex games he plays with the chromatic scale. But most of all, however bad I feel for it, I like his photos.


Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Jamie Lenman Interview and Update

Writing for The 405 gave me a viable excuse a few weeks ago to email illustrator, musician, and all round Great Guy Jamie Lenman, lead singer of Reuben. He agreed, and right now, I have 2 items on the home page of The 405, an interview with Jamie and a review of the tUnE-yArDs' new single, Real Live Flesh. My, unnecessary capitalisation pisses me off. It's hard to type, and if they thought it would make the name memorable, they were frankly wrong. I can never remember it. It's a good job the single is worth a listen, really.

Jamie Lenman

My friend brought up an interesting point the other day. Should music criticism be as huge as it is now? Being a voluntary music writer, I tilted an eyebrow and rushed to the defensive guns of "Of course, then how would you ever find out whether music was worth listening to or not?"

But if that was my main argument, I was struggling. To be told what you like and dislike in music is the easy way out, and it's part of the reason why fashions still have their cold fingers laced around the ventricles of the modern music scene. (To reiterate: music isn't good because it sold well in your peergroup, or simply because it's new, and that's what fashion dictates.) Other arguments for music criticism are forced: if there were no reviews, there would still be adverts, the radio, sites like last.fm and Spotify, articles on new music... so you can't say that it is our only gateway to music.

What other arguments are there for music criticism? It's always irritating to hear our favourite artists being slammed by critics who we would usually respect, (or not), especially as every sensible person knows that while there are technical qualities to albums, most of our judgment of music is subjective. Music criticism can make or break careers, and most of it is guided by peer opinions and personal prejudices anyway.

Then again, my best retaliation came with the argument 'there has to be a filter in the music system'. In businesses, there are promotions up for offer, you get increasing salaries and responsibilities and jobs with each step up. You could not impose a system like that on the arts. Criticism, however harsh and demoralising, can give a band the boost it needs to get onto the (albeit unevenly runged) ladder, and then offer educated opinions on what should and could do very well. As long as the reader can identify whatever spin has been put on the article, and can think for themselves, criticism can be the most helpful way to separate the cream from the milk. And the off milk from the good milk...

And of course, everyone wants to do it. Most people who love music have sneaky reviews somewhere in their computer, or in their minds, ready for conversation; many write online, or for magazines. It's a natural urge, putting into words what music makes you feel, think, do.

Music can change lives, and the kinder end of crit acknowledges that.

Have a read of my items on The 405 anyway (or not); I'm really glad the website's taking off. I'm not just spouting spiel when I say it's an exciting thing to be part of, as it's growing so fast, getting so much more professional and organised. If you can get yourself to any of The 405 nights in London, I'm assured they are amazing nights out, and Oliver Primus would appreciate your company!

Sunday, 24 January 2010

New Article at The 405

A few days ago, I had the feature space on The 405 homepage with my rather short article on Crossover Artists. You can read it here, at The 405, or hold on for my most recent review in a couple of weeks. Finally I've got an album worth reviewing, LoneLady's new release Nerve Up, so that will be going up at some point. Hopefully, I'm starting my Guide To: Sonic Youth once I've given Confusion is Sex and Experimental Jet Set, Trash & No Star proper listens, and read the biography.

I'm shameful to announce that I do not have any more gigs booked at all. I've been waiting for The Strokes/Carl Barât/Belle & Sebastian/Sonic Youth to tour Britain for a long time, but I've been unlucky, it seems.

The Libertines' fanblog 'Breck Road Lovers' seems to have gone dead since Christmas. I hope the woman who runs it is okay, and coming back soon: she fueled my obsessive following of Carl & Pete with daily titbits for about a year, and it would be a shame to lose that reliable and eclectic news source.