Friday, 20 July 2012

Glitters Like Gold

Ah, The Cribs. Anyone who's ever been a few pages back on this blog knows of my obsession with the Wakefield punk rockers, and I have to say, unlike some of my other musical passions, my love for this band has remained constant for years. The Cribs are brothers who've been playing under that name since 2001 - their 11-year career has spawned 5 albums so far, each different to the one before, but all sharing the common features that their cult following loves - an underlying punk ethos, idiosyncratic guitars and the edgy, slightly off-key vocals of the twin Jarmans, Ryan and Gary.

The Cribs haven't made many concessions to the modern music industry. There have been no American accents, no fashion labels giving out lanyards at gigs, no abandonment of the bands they professed to love in their teens. Thanks to The Libertines and The Strokes, the early noughties was a good time for The Cribs to launch, as that wave of indie was decidedly in vogue - but they rejected the scene that had adopted them, denouncing the sexism in the lad-rock around them and writing the cutting tracks 'Hey Scenesters' and 'Mirror Kissers' to slate the very people that shouted their lyrics at gigs.

The slightly derisive edge didn't seem to hurt the fans' feelings though - the hipsters probably didn't regard themselves as such anyway. The Cribs were gathering momentum just as that indie scene melted away in around 2008 to make way for singer-songwriters and electro-indie of the sort peddled by Friendly Fires, White Lies and their compatriots. The Cribs released what was probably their most well-known album, Men's Needs, Women's Needs, Whatever during the final throes of this scene, making an unexpected splash with the track 'Men's Needs', an enigmatic attack on misogyny. They'd signed to a bigger label and got Franz Ferdinand's Alex Kapranos in to do the production, but their third album still didn't concede much to pop - the uncompromisingly angry 'Our Bovine Public' is as seething as anything on The New Fellas, and the musicianship was getting increasingly adept, Ryan's lead guitar in particular (though it had been incredibly raw in the first two albums, admittedly).

After this success, The Cribs took on another member - Johnny Marr of The Smiths, one of their principal influences. I still think this was a match made in heaven, though they got some inevitable stick from some of the fans; I saw them live for the first, second and third time during Marr's tours with the band, and enjoyed every performance - he fit right in. I felt that the addition of a second guitar enriched the atmosphere of Ignore the Ignorant too. Though the anti-Marr feeling was oddly strong, I think they came through it unscathed. Tracks like 'We Share the Same Skies', 'Emasculate Me' and 'Save Your Secrets' are as worth listening to as anything of theirs, and much more skilful than early tracks like 'The Watch Trick', which have a certain raw appeal but sound like a load of teenagers messing about with a 4-track by comparison. That's almost certainly what they were.

In the Belly of the Brazen Bull, their newest album, is the one they always wanted to make - through the thick feedback and fuzziness, you can hear Comet Gain, Sonic Youth, The Smiths - all those bands they've loved throughout their career. It may have a Smithsy touch, but Marr departed from the band this year, because - well, who knows? Marr's a musical nomad at the moment anyway, probably scared of commitment after his embittered marriage to Morrissey. The Cribs are a trio once more, and album number five gives two fingers to expectation, in that it's managed to keep the ground-roots style, but it's also got technique and cryptic but profound lyrics, and it still made it into the top ten, even without Marr.

Here's a video of them performing 'Glitters Like Gold', their new single, for Radio 1. I like this version because the vocals are more pronounced than on the recording, and it's organic - they were made to be a live band.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Beautiful Voices

So far this summer, it's been all about beautiful voices. Beautiful for different reasons, but beautiful all the same. I happened across the tunes I am about to recommend for different reasons - the first at several clubs, the second during an iconic romcom I am too ashamed to name, not being a romcom girl, and the third by random chance in the HMV sale.

Arctic Monkeys

There's something compellingly naughty about Arctic Monkeys, even when they're not talking about little books of sex tips - something disobedient and free, even when they're being musically tame. It's got something to do with Alex Turner's voice. The richness of it against the unrelentingly Northern dialect is appealing - he can play with how much of his accent goes into his vocal line, and unlike most indie artists of the same sort, he has the technical skill to mess with the melody. 'R U Mine', Arctic Monkeys' most recent single, is a return to form for the lads. At clubs, it stands out as miles ahead of most other new tracks in that it balances simplicity with perfect production and well-judged instrumentation; it has the raw energy of their first album, but they've grown into a wilder beast since then. The video is laddish but entertaining - they're still arrogant teenagers at heart, and I suppose that's how people love them.

Marvin Gaye

He's quite a jump from Alex Turner, but variety is the spice of life - Marvin Gaye has also been making many an appearance on my iPod playlists recently. Alright, I'll tell you, it was Bridget Jones - the placement of 'Ain't No Mountain High Enough' in that film is epic, in spite of the... y'know, the rest of that film. Gaye's voice alongside that of Tammy Terrell is perfect; it's a real summer song, empowering and perfected by their lovely, smooth vocals. The video for this always cheers me up - they look so content, so relaxed. Voices like these don't need fancy footage to rack up 21,000,000 views.

On the widget below, I've also added 'I Heard It Through the Grapevine' - the Slits cover is brilliant in its own way, but this surpasses it - and 'Sunny', a song my mum used to listen to when I was a child. I heard it again at a cinema, in the pre-show music, and it was so eerily familiar that I had to look it up. Turns out it's a great upbeat song.

Joan Armatrading

The last of my artists is Joan Armatrading - the wonderful 20th century star whose CD I happened upon by chance in HMV the other day. I knew of her so I thought I'd give it a try, and I struck gold. She has moments of brilliance, dipping in and out of genres. The first on the widget below is 'Opportunity', my current favourite, a bluesy number about underhanded dealing. A lot faster and funkier is 'Show Some Emotion', with which Armatrading had a hit a few decades ago. 'Like Fire' showcases some of her raw talent on the guitar - she plays with rhythmic techniques and still manages to sing over the top. As a struggling beginner, I have respect for anyone that can do that. Finally, I've put one of her slower numbers on, 'Tall in the Saddle', mostly for its first lines, and how insanely gorgeous they are against their syrupy backdrop. It breaks down a bit when she starts singing "We had fun fun fun fun", I always think the word 'fun' makes things more S Club than jazz club, but hey, she didn't know about the 90s when she wrote that line.