The Art Of Noise A-Z Of Music: C
… Camber Sands (Ben)
(Strictly speaking, perhaps this should have come under A for All Tomorrow’s Parties, but then I make the rules and you don’t. So there.)
Glastonbury mud. It’s legendary. It can be both sloppy and coagulant, but it’s always there. I’ve still got some from this June’s shindig on my as-yet-uncleaned boots. In fact, I’ve probably still got some under my fingernails. The only thing more ubiquitous when the English festival season comes around are bands like The Kaiser Chiefs and Texas.
But if that’s your idea of hell, and the word "leftfield" conjures up thoughts of idiosyncratic and experimental music rather than of being lectured in a tent by a crusty who’s overdosed on mushrooms and Levellers records, then All Tomorrow’s Parties – held at Camber Sands Holiday Centre near Rye in East Sussex since 1999 (when the place was invaded by hairslide-wearing Belle & Sebastian fans for the Bowlie Weekender) – is the festival for you.
Not that living in a chalet rather than a tent constitutes luxury, mind. The year I went (2000), we had no TV aerial for the duration of the weekend, the towel rail came off in someone’s hand and there was a constant procession of ants across the living room floor. Given the chemically-altered state of our party, how they didn’t get snorted Ozzy-style I’ll never know.
Mogwai were “curators” that year. The role involves headlining the event and handpicking not only the acts that play but also the films and documentaries shown on the chalet TV (examples: ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ and ‘John’s Not Mad’, about a kid with tourettes) and helping to write the programme.
The personal highlights of the weekend are almost too numerous to mention, but they included: blagging my way into the photo pit for Sonic Youth’s now-notorious Saturday night set (first song: unreleased, 30 minutes long, labelled ‘New Drone’); being swept up by the majesty of Godspeed! You Black Emperor; accosting John Peel on the way to play football on the beach with a basketball; witnessing Sigur Ros’s debut turn on English soil and …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead’s self-destructive fury; dancing to Jimi Hendrix with members of The Radar Bros; chuckling at Mogwai’s Stuart Braithwaite letting in goal after goal in 5-a-side; chuckling more loudly at Braithwaite’s permadrunk bandmate Barry Burns dribbling into the ear of Mary Hansen of Stereolab; and laughing outright at the joke with which Steve Albini broke the ice during Shellac’s set: “What’s orange and looks good on hippies? Fire…”
In fact, it was so good that not even the spectacle of Newcastle’s painful FA Cup semi-final defeat to Chelsea could dampen spirits for long. After all, Mogwai were going to be bringing everything to a triumphant close a few hours later.
For someone accustomed to returning home caked in mud, it was a pleasant change to be finding Camber Sands sand in my shoes months later.
… Casablanca Records (Jez)
Picture the head of a record company. What does this conjure up? If I give an automatic response to this I’ll say – something along the lines of a politician. Perhaps a background in law, driven by individual needs rather than those whom their actions may benefit, a deep awareness of a marketplace overcoming a desire to produce music with feeling, I could go on but you get the picture. However, if someone had asked the question thirty years ago…
Neil Bogart became the chief of Casablanca Records in 1973 with a reputation of spotting a trend and then running with it. One of his early business partners Art Kass said of him: “If it cost him three dollars to make two dollars, he would do it”. Bogart was not necessarily interested in the music but in attempting to sell it. His faith in himself showed itself when he split with his financiers because they didn’t share his belief in an unknown Kiss.
Casablanca flirted with bankruptcy for a year until it released a compendium of comedy moments from the ‘Here’s Johnny’ section of the ‘Tonight’ show. Bogart promoted this album so heavily that independent distributors ordered massive quantities. The demand did not meet the supply. The record was a huge flop but the company was kept alive because of the huge quantities that had been ordered. It was said to have shipped platinum and come back double platinum.
By 1976 Casablanca was having hits with Donna Summer, Village People and Kiss. Its gross revenues had grown to $55 million. Consequently, Bogart decided to move offices and the payroll swelled from 14 to 175 employees. The office interior was modelled on Rick’s Café (from the film ‘Casablanca’) and included a stuffed camel, ceiling fans, palm trees, throne-like cane chairs, Moroccan rugs all to the soundtrack of music that was played at ear-splitting volume. When Danny Davis joined the company after being a promoter with Motown he could hardly believe his eyes. On his first day he took receipt of a Mercedes 450 SEL, just like every other member of staff. At mid-morning (and each subsequent one) he was asked for his drug order for the following day. “On Monday or Tuesday I’d be looking for a secretary, I’d be calling her name. I’d look all over and there she’d be with a credit card in her hand chopping coke on the table. I’d be on the phone with a programme director and Neil Bogart would come in, run around with a golf club, jump on the desk and then swish things off. Then he would take a match and torch my desk”.
Meetings were fuelled by the intake of controlled substances; they would sit there for hours with nothing being done. Neil Bogart died at thirty-nine having almost destroyed a large multinational company.
… ‘It’s A Cool, Cool Christmas’ (Alison)
A Christmas compilation CD compiled by Xfm and Jeepster, just in time for the Christmas season! It’s as if the baby Jesus had planned the alphabet himself!
Grandaddy – ‘Alan Parsons In A Winter Wonderland’ / The Dandy Warhols – ‘Little Drummer Boy’ / The Webb Brothers – ‘Every Day Is Christmas’ / Eels – ‘Everything's Gonna Be Cool This Christmas’ / El Vez – ‘Feliz Navi-nada’ / Morgan – ‘Christmas In Waikiki’ / Drugstore – ‘Maybe At Christmas Time’ / Belle & Sebastian – ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’ / Giant Sand – ‘Thank You Dreaded Black Ice, Thank You’ / The Flaming Lips – ‘White Christmas (demo for Tom Waits)’ / Saint Etienne – ‘My Christmas Prayer’ / Departure Lounge – ‘Christmas Downer’ / Six By Seven – ‘I Believe In Father Christmas’ / Snow Patrol – ‘When I Get Home For Christmas’ / Titan – ‘Spiritual Guidance’ / Big Boss Man – ‘Christmas Boogaloo’ / Teenage Fanclub – ‘Christmas Eve’ / Calexico – ‘Gift X-change’ / Gorky's Zygotic Mynci – ‘Hwiangerdd Mair’ / Low – ‘Just Like Christmas’ / Lauren Laverne – ‘In The Bleak Midwinter’
This album is a little treat. It was released in 2000, with profits going to the Big Issue charity, and I’ve enjoyed it every festive period since. Not that I’m claiming it’s an amazing album, it’s really not. But we can forgive its weaknesses because a) it’s a Christmas album and this means cheese is to be expected and b) it’s a compilation and I’ve yet to come across one where I enjoy all of the tracks.
There’s a fairly splendid list of contributors, with a definite indie theme, and a mixture of re-worked Christmas classics and original contributions. ‘Feliz Navi-nada’ is the perfect soundtrack for Christmas shopping, chuck it on the Walkman (or whichever technology you do) and go get those stocking fillers! It’s such an antidote to the mind-numbing repetition of the traditional favourites we’re forced to endure in every shop from October onwards, it’ll have you upbeat and ready to tackle (literally) the crowds. The Giant Sands song highlights some of the poorly acknowledged benefits of winter weather conditions, and Grandaddy offer an amusing twist on the classic ‘Winter Wonderland’. Some of the artists recycle previous Christmas releases; Low the fab ‘Just Like Christmas’ and St Etienne their charming version of the Billy Fury classic.
One of my favourite things about this album is that there are some really upbeat songs which can be enjoyed on the dance-floor at the work Christmas Do (under the influence of alcohol, obviously), without calling for the always regrettable slow dance inspired ballop-to-ballop contact. Contributions from Titan and Big Boss Man fit the bill perfectly, while the Morgan song is a funk masterpiece.
Then there are the perfect end of the night tracks for those who’ve waited all year for an excuse for close-up-colleague contact; ‘Hwiangerdd Mair’ reminds me of a lullaby, but more phlegmy, Isobel Campbell’s beautiful vocals transform ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’, while Teenage Fanclub offer up the enchanting ‘Christmas Eve’. Finally, singing along to the The Flaming Lips will make the post-party kebab hunt just a little bit more special.
My favourite track from this mixed bag is different every year but listening to the album this past week I’ve been loving the Eels ‘Everything's Gonna Be Cool This Christmas’. It’s a really happy, noisy tune with what is surely the best Christmas lyric ever written: “Baby Jesus, born to rock!”
… Clearlake (Damo)
Call them "British made" (they like that). Just don't call them "quintessentially English" (they don't like that). Many interviewers have made this mistake (and it IS a mistake) - the only possible reason I can see is because singer Jason has the temerity not to sing in a fake American accent like so many British bands.
What do they sound like? Well, like many great bands they have influences that are all over the shop, which they transcend to the extent that they sound nothing like any of them. Try this selection for size: bass / drum nutters Lightning Bolt and legendary UK eccentrics Cardiacs at one end, the somewhat more subdued Minnesota trio Low at the other. And a bit of U2 somewhere in there too (former U2 producer Steve Osborne worked on their new record Amber).
One of the many things that endears this band to me is their frequent directness... in the hands of an inexperienced artist, hiding behind metaphors is a way of trying to pretend that they're a great deal more intelligent and / or “mysterious” than they actually are. And so it is here we find that, say, a song called ‘Don't Let The Cold In’ isn't a metaphor for the gradual decline of civilisation as we know it – it's about not wanting to crawl out from under the sheets in the morning.
Above all, what I like about them is that they really strive to do something different and original, but crucially it never sounds like they're trying TOO hard. If there's a string section there, it's because it needs to be there, not because it's the “done thing to do”. They revel in sparsity when it's needed (‘Dreamt That You Died’ is a simple and beautiful song where once again the title tells you what you need to know) and when the kitchen sink is thrown in (‘Amber’, ‘Neon’) it's because that's what works.
What you really need to do is hear some for yourself... there's two albums already (Lido and Cedars); new record Amber (from which the examples in the previous paragraph were drawn) is one of the first things you can buy in 2006 (16th January) - it pushes the “rock” button far more than their previous releases yet is still recognisably them. Use that money you were saving for the Strokes record because let's face it, that's going to be rubbish.
… ‘Climbing Up The Walls’ (Pete)
One of Radiohead's unsung greats. They may well have lost their way a little in recent times, but this gem, stuck a good way into OK Computer is still memorable. It may well have become fashionable to slate the five from Oxford, but if there's one song that sits up and begs for you to give them a second listen, it's this one.
Ok, so it's definitely an archetypical Radiohead song; full of despair and angst, but it has a fair slice of aggression too, something that a few of their songs arguably lack. Like much of their material off their third album (and The Bends too) it has an eerie and haunting quality to it initially. However, the combination of the slow, but steady beat, Thom's voice and the assorted strings, gradually build up to a crescendo of guitar noise that kicks in at 3:09 and the song turns into what must be a very close aural approximation of the feeling that you are climbing up walls. For full effect play it loud. Very loud.
… Coldplay (Swiss Toni)
Chris Martin seems to live in a peculiar world of constant bewilderment, self-doubt and lyrical repetition; things are broken and can’t be fixed, puzzles are missing pieces, lines have been crossed that shouldn’t have been crossed and, of course, everything is yellow.
The man is in one of the most successful bands in the world. He is married to a beautiful Oscar-winning actress with whom he has a gorgeous baby daughter. He is rich beyond his wildest dreams… He should be happy, but still he worries. It’s as if he has ironed out all of the big creases in life and is now fretting over all the tiny little wrinkles.
The scale of their success means that it has inevitably become fashionable to knock Coldplay. When your music starts to reach those masses who only buy two albums a year, you are fair game for the music snobs, aren’t you? Whilst it’s true that in some ways X&Y isn’t everything that it might have been, and that it’s a little too similar to A Rush Of Blood To The Head to really be considered great, I’m not having it. I think Coldplay are brilliant.
Superficially it’s all about Chris Martin’s piano and his delicate falsetto, but dig a little deeper and you see a band that have come on in leaps and bounds musically since their debut. Listen to the pounding drums on ‘Speed of Sound’ or the soaring, stratospheric guitar on ‘Talk’, and compare that with the gentle strumming of ‘Parachutes’. This is the sound of a band steadily growing in confidence, a band with the potential to produce a really great album. If Chris Martin can escape his little book of lyrical clichés, then their next album should be really something to hear…
Coldplay really strike a chord with me. This is music that affects me on an emotional level. Perhaps it is because I share a similar background to Chris Martin - public school education, bit shy, losing my hair, late-starter with girls, prone to a bit of insecurity... that kind of thing. For all that he has achieved, he doesn't seem comfortable in his own skin, and I can relate to that.
Even when I'm not sure what Chris Martin is singing about, or whether it actually means anything, it still TOUCHES me. So much yearning. So much wondering... and amidst the wreckage of our lives, and the mess we've made of the world we live in – so much hope:
”And we live in a beautiful world / Yeah we do, yeah we do / We live in a beautiful world”.
Repeat it until you believe it.
… The Concretes (drmigs)
Very occasionally, or very very occasionally if you're me, you discover a band early in their career, and have the pleasure of seeing them gaining exposure and notoriety. For me, I've had this pleasure with The Concretes.
I first heard The Concretes last year on a web-stream of The Blue Room. Three weeks in a row a tune of theirs was played, and eventually I could hold out no longer, I just had to have more. Two seconds on Google lead me to their excellent, if dubiously named, website Licking Fingers. Sadly at that stage, the only outlet to buy their eponymous album was in Canada. So some transatlantic plastic flexing later, 'twas imported. Why is it so much more exciting buying music from overseas? The only other time I've done it was for the Japanese import of The Flaming Lips short album Ego Tripping At The Gates Of Hell, which was also worth the effort. Anyway, back on message...
Their album arrived with a note along the lines of "Enjoy the tunes Brit dude", and went straight into the CD player. It's been back in there many times since. I've also noticed it slowly permeating into the CD collections of friends, and haven't seen anyone disappointed with their purchase yet. So what's so good about them? I think it's probably their freshness. Their music is clean and immediately accessible, mainly due to the excellence of their song writing. They also do a mean video too. Check out the .mov file of 'You Can't Hurry Love' on their downloads page. It's just err... really really nice - and a bit cheeky to boot.
I've tried to think who, or what sort of sound, they remind me of; the best I can do is that their vocals are reminiscent of the narrative style of St Etienne (well a Swedish version of... with a more acoustic microphone), and their sound is almost Velvet Undergroundy - I'm thinking in a 'Who Loves The Sun' / 'Satellite Of Love' kind of way. So image that if you can. And if you can, I think you'll like it. Purely on the rationale that you probably like the above if you can bend your head around the simile. So having made their sound in your head, you'll have now appreciated this ain't rocking stuff. It's music to listen to in the small hours, with a pair of warm socks on, whilst nursing the dregs of a bottle of something strong. Bascially, it's Scandinavian indie pop.
This was the bit where I was going to say: “So their first album is great, let’s hope they follow it up with another soon”. But they already have, I just hadn't noticed it. Needless to say a forklift truck in the Amazon warehouse is organizing a delivery to me as I write. Layourbattleaxedown can't come soon enough. If you are already converted, they are supporting The Magic Numbers tour next year. Should be a corker. I think this lot are going to be big.
… crowd-surfing (Paul)
Synonymous with the memories I have of going to gigs as a teenager is the memory of fat bastards’ boots clouting me on the back of my head as they surged their way towards the front of the stage and the welcoming arms of the security, whose sole job seems to be to hand water to the people getting crushed at the front, and to catch those who emerge from the gloom riding on the hands, and heads, of the packed crowd.
Videos and broadcasts of concerts that I had seen in my early adolescence had always filled me with a sense of curiosity as to the thrill of riding atop a horde of people, reaching out to the guitar-strumming legends on the stage, and now that I was part of the horde, the annoyance which greeted every accidental kick in the head made me slightly resentful of every crowd-surfer who came my way.
That all changed when I was 17.
Caught in the seething throng who had packed out Newcastle Uni Students Union to see Terrorvision I had, through a combination of subtlety and brute force, managed to squeeze my torso down to within a handful of rows from the front of the gig. There, by chance I met someone I knew who put his hands together and offered me the chance to launch my 6’ 5” frame over the top. With a cocktail of adrenaline and alcohol coursing through my veins I thought, “Why not?” and so began my love of crowd-surfing. Whilst I only travelled about 6 rows forward before landing in the welcoming hands of the pit crew it was a magical couple of seconds, and one which I repeated approximately ten minutes later as the gig reached a glorious climax.
For whatever reason, I had always been reluctant to seek to repeat my experience of that night. As my consumption of beer increased during my university years, the accompanying weight gain always made me wary of being dropped – a fate I’ve witnessed on far too many occasions, normally when over enthusiastic teens try to crowd surf from too far back.
Then, watching Bellatrix at Reading in 2000 the urge to crowd-surf rose up inside, and I managed to convince a fairly weedy bunch of youngsters to launch me skywards once again. This proved slightly more of a struggle than the Terrorvision gig those years before (hardly surprising given my intervening years of beer consumption) but I was soon up again, and lurching forward.
I have no idea how many people I kicked in the head along the way, and frankly I don’t care. The look of fear in the pit man’s eyes, as he summoned colleagues to his aid as I loomed out of the darkness of the tent remains a fond memory, and the thrill of the ride made all those previous kicks to my head worthwhile.
...Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! (Jonathan)
The odd thing about any band becoming famous is the way they drag other bands into the public consciousness; as if the joy of discovering a Blur or a Travis or a Libertines is nothing without the Elasticas, Coldplays and Arctic Monkeys which follow them through the gap. The recent arrival of that latter band makes it a bit early for Post-Arctic Monkeys bands to break through, but one band who have been dragged surprisingly into the spotlight since the Monkeys shot so suddenly to number one, is the New York band Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, who share fairly little in terms of sound (although both bands share The Libertines' instinct towards joyous, shambling takes rather than impeccably produced mixes) but both can claim to be 'broken' by the internet.
The Artic Monkeys story is not so very odd; a bunch of enthusiastic kids make decent indie pop records, get other kids to embark on mass marketing drives on myspace on their behalf, and then sign up with a record company when they make enough of an impression. Then it's straight to number one. Initially the Clap Your Hands Say Yeah story was similarly unremarkable; young, talented band makes wonderful debut album which blends the oddness of Arcade Fire and the excitement of Talking Heads with the basslines of New Order, and decides to self-release it. Lots of bands do that.
Thanks, however, to a couple of ecstatic reviews from hip websites and blogs, CYHSY managed to do what was beyond the Junior Boys when the same thing happened to them a couple of years ago; they started shifting CDs - over 25,000 direct from their website, remarkably enough. The CD itself, now available on Wichita in the UK, is a beautiful, odd record, containing a couple of songs ('Is This Love?' and 'The Skin Of My Yellow Country Teeth') which make most tracks released this year seem utterly bland. What's really interesting, however, is the nature of the deal.
Having proven that they can sell records off their own backs, the band have sensibly decided that instead of signing to a record label, they are only willing to license the album to a record company. In other words, no 4-album deal, no advance, no handing over of copyright, no record-company bullshit. When Wichita, who the band ultimately went with, have promoted the album fully then the band can start the next project under their own steam. They've not signed away anything, and can license the next record to whoever they like. If Witchita do a good job maybe they'll get another bite of the cherry. Either way the band have stumbled upon a revolutionary and incredibly modern model for record distribution. Very exciting to geeks like me.
Maybe the best album of the year, too.
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Thanks to Jez, Alison, Damo, Pete, Swiss Toni, drmigs and Paul for their contributions this week.
(If you’re interested in becoming a regular contributor to this feature, drop me an email at silentwordsspeakloudestAThotmail.com and I’ll get back to you. Cheers.)