Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Art Of Noise A-Z Of Music: K

K is for...

… Keith (Jez)

Ahhh, the birth of a boy, the chance to continue the family line. But what do you call the little blighter? Well, the current method seems to be to use as little imagination as possible and name the tiny beast after whoever seems to be enjoying their fifteen minutes of fame. Last year it was probably Leonardo, before that, Brad and so on. Some employ other techniques. Attempting to visualise their sprog as a famous musician twenty years down the line they stick on an exotic moniker. I can’t think of any at the moment but I am just saving my brain from heating to the temperature to hard-boiled eggs. I know one name that it wouldn’t be though – Keith.

Sixty-odd years ago though things were very, very different. If someone says Keith to me now I think of that one in ‘Eastenders’, or every bloke on his own in the pub – ever. Even me. But then, whenever any young Keith who had just developed the ability to speak was asked what they wanted to be, well, it was obvious: a drug addicted, solo loving, chick shagging, TV throwing, fully fledged rock star.

Take a look:
Relf (Yardbirds)
Reid (Procul Harem)
Emerson (ELP and loads of other bollocks)
The first singer in Pink Floyd was a Keith. He was replaced by Syd Barrett and guess what his middle name was.

There are four years between this lot.

Does anyone know if there was a Keith that inspired the naming of this bunch? Surely not Penelope.

… Kentish Town Forum (Pete)

I'll keep this short. Mainly because it doesn't need to be long and otherwise you'd be getting a 400 word post on Kula Shaker…wait! Come back! In any case, I'm saving that post for M (is for Crispin Mills)… only joking.

I think everyone who has been to at least a few gigs has a favourite venue. Although I've been to a few memorable nights out during years abroad, the Forum in Kentish Town (or the Town & Country Club as it used to be) has been venue for quite a few of my stand-out gigs in the UK. It's been a while since I was there; Lemon Jelly back in 2003 was probably the last time. The night itself was enjoyable, although the memory that really sticks out is the 15 minute bingo game before the main act overseen by the Grim Reaper (or perhaps just a man dressed in a black-hooded cape with a scythe).

So why a favourite venue? Well, it's small enough to provide an intimate atmosphere (compared to the Brixton Academy), but big enough to not to feel cramped as the Astoria. Waiting time at the bar usually isn't too long and the quality of bootleg merchandise outside is above average at worst. The bouncers are generally restrained enough to tolerate a bit of crowd-surfing (or at least they were during Supergrass in the autumn of 1999). It also has a balcony, something that always adds to the atmosphere, although it can be more than a little unnerving when you're down the front and the balcony is swaying beneath your feet as it did at the end of the Bluetones gig in 1998.

Looking back, I don't think I've ever seen a bad gig there so. I've seen one or two indifferent performances, but nothing that I could actually describe as bad (Ash at Brixton 2002 or The Coral at the Empire in 2002). So long may its charmed existence continue.

By the way, Kula Shaker are reforming. I'm not joking now.

… Kevin Keegan (Paul)

Well taking a massive liberty, K is actually for footballers and their influence on music.

Kevin Keegan, Glen Hoddle, Chris Waddle, Ian Wright, Paul Gascoigne – all have tried to launch pop careers and all have failed. Generally (and in truth fairly obviously) this is because their talents lie on a football pitch rather than in a recording studio.

Now a record buying public which gladly hands out money to get the Crazy Frog to number one and keep it there for a bloody long time clearly has a sense of humour, but even the masses weren't convinced by the likes of ‘Diamond Lights’ or ‘Fog On The Tyne’.

On a broader level, songs about specific teams have tended to perform slightly better, although teams who've recorded cup final songs have certainly had a mixed response. For every ‘Anfield Rap’ or ‘Ossie's Dream’ there are a thousand songs that mercifully vanished without a trace.

Watching Newcastle United at the 1998 FA Cup final I was astounded to hear some terrible dirge by Sting being played over the Wembley tannoy which apparently was our Cup song. I'd never heard it before, and I've never heard it since, and with it lie hundreds of other Cup songs which were bought by tens of people at the time of their release.

The only lasting success seems to come from songs for national teams. Probably this is because the pool of those prepared to buy the record is significantly deeper – ‘Cheer Up Peter Reid’ may have been the best-selling record in Sunderland a few years ago, but the likelihood of it selling any copies ten miles up the road, let alone elsewhere in the country was remote.

Comparatively, even pretty rubbish records that relate to national sides stand a chance of selling copies in the build-up to a World Cup.

In the unlikely event that a decent song is released, then it has the chance to achieve immortality – wheeled out at every opportunity simply because it stands out as the wheat amongst the chaff, and repeated at subsequent tournaments in the place of whatever the latest official record might be.

In World Cup year it's probable that you'll hear ‘World In Motion’ by New Order, or the 1996 version of ‘Three Lions’ by Baddiel, Skinner and the Lightning Seeds more often than ‘We're On The Ball’ by Ant & Dec or whatever this year’s official record happens to be.

Football's influence on music in a positive manner may have been limited, but when a good one comes along it sticks around for a long time.

Those of you, like me, who revel in such records should always be thankful that of the five footballers who turned up for the ‘World In Motion’ recording session one of them was John Barnes. Despite my love of him as a footballer, it's fair to say the record wouldn't have been half as good if it had featured the dulcet sounds of Peter Beardsley rapping.

... Killing Joke (Skif)

Formed in Notting Hill in 1979, after Paul Ferguson and Jazz Coleman placed an ad in the Melody Maker reading “Want to be part of the Killing Joke? Total publicity, total anonymity, total exposure”, Killing Joke are certainly one of the most intriguing acts to survive, just, from the post-punk era. They have overcome several interesting and trying periods. The press backlash toward their commercially most successful LP Revelations; several acrimonious break-ups; Jazz Coleman quitting the band and going to ground in Iceland in 1983, fearing a worldwide apocalypse; as well as his solo work and time as composer-in-residence with the New Zealand String Quartet.

Seemingly resurgent at the beginning of each decade, they have raised the bar for themselves and others at various points of their fascinating career. Their music has rarely stood still and to experience one “OH!” of Jazz Coleman’s grazed, glottal bark, is to experience life itself. It is a call to action, a call to dance. A ‘Wardance’.

I got my first taste of it thanks to my teenage love of metal and my subsequent subscription to Kerrang!. After being a naysayer to the ways of rock, I was eventually sucked deep in via Metallica, and thus I explored through the glossy tome of rock. The features on Killing Joke were intriguing, Jazz Coleman in his shamanistic outfit and war-paint that made him look like a kind of hybrid of a hobgoblin and a sinister death-bunny. So I checked out Millennium, and it opened up a world beyond the confines of metal’s anti-social grunt. What a record: Geordie Walker’s classic guitar riffs that applied to a deft touch to the heavy; Youth’s electro-ambient underscore, and that voice, Coleman in full command.

The follow-up Democracy wasn’t quite as good, but I remember they had a tour booked and they would visit the 400-capacity Wedgewood Rooms. Myself and others were giddy with excitement at this, only to be dashed by a postponement that, as yet, has not been officially cancelled, but ten years on, I guess I should put hopes of a rearrangement to bed. It took me seven and half years to finally see them live when they made their comeback in 2003. Killing Joke was a decent LP, but more straight with its guitars.

Along with Public Image Ltd, Killing Joke bridged a gap between post-punk and those still thirsty for harder guitars and a cynical outlook. They were keen to experiment with synths and gradually more and more electronics. Millennium was the peak of this development, the LP finishing with the dramatic, inspiring ‘Mathematics Of Chaos’ that makes me tingle just to think of it.

They may not be quite as glorious now, but they are still one of the most important and inventive hard-edged bands this country has produced, and can still startle on the live stage.

… Kim Gordon (Ben)

(I know I’ve touched on them already, but you were going to get a whole post about Sonic Youth at some point – and here it is.)

There are many reasons to love Sonic Youth, and Kim Gordon is just one of them.

The daughter of a UCLA sociology professor, Kim Gordon moved to New York from California in the late 1970s. She was an art graduate rather than a musician, and when she first arrived she began curating gallery shows. Before long, though, she’d become so enamoured with the city’s fertile music scene that she felt compelled to get involved in producing rather than simply consuming. While playing with a band called CKM she was introduced to Thurston Moore, the chemistry was instant and after a few false starts (Male Bonding, Red Milk, The Arcadians) Sonic Youth were formed.

It was a marriage made in heaven. Moore, goofy and wild, was fascinated by punk rock and the nascent hardcore movement, while still harbouring a love of Alice Cooper and Kiss from childhood. Gordon brought a love of improvisational jazz and modern pop art to the table. Meanwhile, guitarist Lee Ranaldo had played with avant-garde guitar noise composer Glenn Branca. And this collision of “high-brow” and “low-brow” took place in the creative cauldron that was New York – a city that had inspired The Velvet Underground and more recently Patti Smith, The Ramones, Television and the no wave bands such as Teenage Jesus & The Jerks collected together on the seminal Eno-produced ‘No New York’ EP. Magic was bound to happen, and it did. A quarter of a century on, and they’re still with us.

Gordon’s distinctive vocal style may be something of an acquired taste, and her dicking about with a trumpet at All Tomorrow’s Parties in 2000 tested even my patience, but her contribution to Sonic Youth has been immense. Perhaps most significant is the political and polemical edge she has given them. Despite her reluctance to be labelled a card-carrying feminist, Gordon has written sharply about sexual harrassment and the objectification of women (‘Swimsuit Issue’) and sensitively about the awkwardness of female adolescence (‘Little Trouble Girl’). She is firmly in control of her sexuality, which is understated and assured but never flaunted or exploited cheaply. And that, inevitably, is part of her allure. Women – and particularly mothers approaching fifty – remain marginalised in the macho male-centred world of rock ‘n’ roll. She has refused to play boys’ games, instead showing it can be done on her own terms without compromise, and as such has proved an enormously influential role model.

It’s no surprise, then, that Gordon is consistently fascinated by female musical icons and their manipulation by or of the media. Her mid-80s obsession with the current Mrs Ritchie led to a song called ‘Madonna, Sean And Me’ and the offshoot Ciccone Youth cover of ‘Into The Groove(y)’; ‘Tunic (Song For Karen)’, on 1990’s major label debut Goo, was her homage to Karen Carpenter, and the band also covered ‘Superstar’ on the If I Were A Carpenter tribute album (“like Darth Vader on helium”, according to one unimpressed Amazon reviewer); and troubled self-obsessed diva Mariah Carey inspired ‘Kim Gordon And The Arthur Doyle Hand Cream’ on 2004’s Sonic Nurse (the song was originally titled ‘Mariah Carey…’ but was changed following threats of legal action).

Gordon has had other musical flings along the way: she’s played with Lydia Lunch, vocalist on ‘Youth classic ‘Death Valley ‘69’, under the name Harry Crews; she’s been a part of The Lucky Sperms and The Supreme Indifference; and in 1992 she formed side-project Free Kitten along with Julie Cafritz (ex Pussy Galore), Mark Ibold (Pavement) and Yoshimi (of Boredoms, and, yes, that Flaming Lips song). As someone with a voracious appetite for all aspects of the arts, it’s unsurprising that playing music hasn’t been the extent of her ambitions: she directed the video for The Breeders’ ‘Cannonball’, set up her own clothing label X-Girl and last year appeared in the Gus Van Sant film about close friend Kurt Cobain, ‘Last Days’.

But it’s as a member of Sonic Youth that she is rightly most well known. I’ve seen them live five times now, the most recent two years ago, and there’s been precious little more memorable than the sight of Kim Gordon, freed from the constraints of having to play bass, prowling the Brixton Academy stage in high heels performing ‘Pacific Coast Highway’, her song about a serial killer picking up a female hitchhiker: “Come on get in the car / Let’s go for a ride somewhere / I won't hurt you as much as you hurt me”…

Kill Your Idols? Little did they know they’d become idols themselves.

… Nat ‘King’ Cole (Del)

There are plenty of Kings in the world of music. Kings Of Leon, for instance. The Kingsmen. Kings Of Convenience. King Of Woolworths. Kingmaker. And, of course, Elvis Aaron Presley: The King. But my vote goes for my Grandfather's favourite singer: Nat 'King' Cole.

For me, he is *the* voice. The greatest. Greater than Elvis. Greater than Bing, Frank, Aretha, John and Paul, everyone. One of those artists whose legacy is so huge, it's almost impossible to make out in the up close and personal noise of pop culture. But pull out and it's there, part of the very contours of the pop landscape. Ask the average person for their favourite Nat 'King' Cole and they'd struggle. But then play even a snippet of 'Let's Face The Music And Dance', 'On The Street Where You Live', 'Unforgettable' or the sheer romantic perfection of 'When I Fall In Love' and their face will light up. Who could resist? The horns, the strings, but more than that, the voice. The voice that no string of superlatives can describe. “Velvet” seems too rough, “smooth” too coarse. It's simply unique.

Many of the arrangements complement the voice so perfectly, it's as if they were crafted in heaven, not a recording studio. 'Let There Be Love' is just perfect whimsical fun. A piano line so cheeky, you can hear the smile in his voice as he reacts to it. 'Let's Face The Music And Dance' is a song you can't help but submit to, muted brass chasing away any disaster! What came first: the saying or the lyric? It's inseparable. But my personal favourite has to be 'Autumn Leaves'. Melancholic strings circling around his vocal brilliance, lamenting a lost love. My favourite season, and predictably miserable. All topped off with the voice. The voice, the voice!

"But most of all, please, let there be love..."

Ladies and Gentleman, the King.

... Kula Shaker Kings of Leon (Swiss Toni)

You really couldn’t make up Kings of Leon, and I’m not sure that anybody would believe you even if you tried. For the record though, let it be stated that Kings of Leon consist of three brothers (Jared, Caleb and Nathan) and their cousin Matthew (with their other cousin, Nacho accompanying them on tour as their technician). The brothers are the sons of an alcoholic, itinerant Pentecostal preacher, and they apparently grew up roaming the Southern States of the USA, spreading the gospel and living out of a car.

No. I’m not sure I believe it either.

They come from a long tradition of Southern rock bands, and if you were being harsh, you could probably describe them as little more than a Lynyrd Skynyrd or Allman Brothers covers band. They certainly look a lot like they stepped out of the 1970s, with their flared jeans, tight T-shirts and flowing hair. Sadly, some of the more ridiculous facial hair from their debut album (Youth & Young Manhood) has now gone, but they all still sport fairly silly haircuts, and Nathan the drummer is hanging onto his straggly beard for dear life (apparently it’s a hit with the ladies, so maybe he’s reluctant to get rid of it for fear of losing his powers).

They’re sometimes called “the Southern Strokes” by lazy journalists looking to categorise them, but for my money they’ve always been better than that insubstantial bunch of New York poseurs. Unlike The Strokes, Kings of Leon look like the kind of band who aren’t afraid to get a good sweat on when they rock out in front of a baying crowd, and you have to love them for that.

I’d love to tell you what the songs are about, but I’m afraid I can’t understand a word that Caleb Followill is singing, except that he sounds as though he in great pain. What I do know though is that they rock a fat one and are absolutely exceptional live – their gig at Nottingham Rock City in December 2004 being a dead cert for my notional list of all-time Top Five gigs…

… actually, now I start to think of it, much of the second album (Aha Shake Heartbreak) is about life on the road, groupies and all, so perhaps I could hazard a guess to the meaning of ‘Pistol Of Fire’…?

Perhaps better not to dwell on that thought though, eh?

… The Kinks (drmigs)

To achieve clarity in anything is an achievement. Whatever your art form, and whatever your profession, if you can make point or argument clearly and accessibly, then you've done your job well. And it is clarity, amongst many other features, that defines the songs of The Kinks.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to say that all songs must have a descriptive narrative. Far from it. What I'm saying is that art has to say something. Some music works because it communicates the angst and uncomfortable-ness of the emotions that it is trying to portray (were back in Radiohead 'Creep' territory here), and with such songs the clarity comes through the reproduction of angst in the song. The clarity in The Kinks songs also relates to the ease with which you can empathise with what they are singing about.

The Kinks songs follow the principle: “Do all that you need to do, and no more”. Typically, this consists of well-crafted lyrics over simple melodies. And this works because it complements their subject matter; songs of affectionate fondness towards innocent and happy times. Indeed, it is no coincidence that their music is resonant of the Swinging Sixties (for example, there's every bit of the Kings Road Dandy in 'Dedicated Follower Of Fashion'). The backdrop of their music is a world where the Baby Boomer generation is busy spending their days and nights liberating themselves and each other. However, the skill with which they portray these feelings has left songs that feel as relevant now as they must have done then. There's certainly been times that I've felt 'You Really Got Me', 'Dead End Street' and 'Everybody's Gonna Be Happy' could have be written for me.

This accessibility in their music is undoubtedly why they've been major influences to many subsequent musicians. None more so than Damon Albarn. For me personally, I'll never forget the Ray Davies / Damon Albarn duet of 'Waterloo Sunset' on Mark Radcliffe's White Room. It was stunningly good. No only did it sound good because both Ray and Damon sung it with affection, it sounded good because the song works as well today as it did when it is written. And that's just it you see, when you write with such clarity, and make something so coherent, it'll always be good. Be it an industrial landscape by LS Lowry, a tragedy by Shakespeare, or 'Waterloo Sunset' by The Kinks.

... Kraftwerk (Caskared)

Art pop synth experimental rock, at times difficult to listen to, but always challenging, and we need them. Kraftwerk are decidedly Deutsch, clinical and ordered. Their sound has pushed beyond the vanguard and dragged everyone along with them. Their records have titles like Autobahn, Expo 2000, The Man Machine, Pocket Calculator and Computer World. The titles are delightfully dry, but the music is not. It is sometimes cold, but ripples like Glass.

Kraftwerk were formed in the early 1970s and the line-up has shifted slightly throughout the years. Previously two of the founding members had recorded with a band called Organisation, whose name is verging on parody, and later another combination left to form Neu!. Throughout their lifespan, Kraftwerk have experimented and pioneered new technologies and approaches to making music. Often their work crosses into the realm of sound art, with pieces like ‘Autobahn’. The 22 minute piece aimed at capturing and transposing the monotony of journeys up and down the German motorway; an edited version of Autobahn reached the charts. Monotony is a key word – it’s not easy music despite often being paired down, it is experimental. Unsurprisingly their influences are cited as being the likes of Karlheinz Stockhausen and Tangerine Dream and there are legions that rate Kraftwork from David Bowie to Afrika Bambaataa to Depeche Mode. Kraftwerk have been remixed by Orbital, DJ Rolando and UR Infiltrated amongst others who hook onto the hypnotic relentlessness of each piece.

Their most accessible hit, and one where the word ‘song’ is most easily applied is The Model, yet it is dispassionate with metronomic precision. Many of their songs feature heavily effected vocals, or vocals emanating from a Speak and Spell programme. Playing live might seem like an oxymoron, but the legacy of their training in improvisation and soundscape shape their performances, although it is perhaps not visually obvious from the sight of four middle-aged German men standing still behind laptops.

Their website embodies their ethos – it’s interactive and intelligent, and aims for a purity. They have lasted because they continue to experiment and embrace each new technological advancement. Their graphics are part of their pared-down art, super-stylish and using a retro chic that neatly acknowledges where they have come from.

* * * * *

Well, readers, I think it's safe to say we've got off lightly - not one but two contributors threatening to write about Kula Shaker...

Thanks to Jez, Pete, Paul, Skif, Del, Swiss Toni, drmigs and Caskared for their contributions this week.

Animal instincts


I honestly wish it wasn't the case, but there are just some bands that invite and compel me to make critical and snide commments. Delta Red, bless 'em, are just such a bunch of unfortunates.

For many of those assembled, there's nothing whatsoever wrong with what they're selling - neat, tidy and predominantly upbeat indie of a distinctly Mancunian variety. Me, I fucking hate The fucking Stone Roses and The Bluetones and think any individual or band who adopts that Liam Gallagher / Ian Brown upwards singing pose when stood behind a mic should be stoned to death. I gnaw on my fist silently to one side of the stage. "Where did all the good times go?", they ponder. Well, I can feel myself getting older and more terminally bored by the second.

So thank fuck for Lovemat, who, having escaped the asylum their native North-East for three days, are hungry for blood. The venue couldn't be much more suited to them - a few doors from Rock City, the Horn In Hand is also aptly named in that Lovemat come on like priapic werewolves intent on impregnating some of the local maidens.

Buoyed by the evening's football result and relieved at the lack of sound and electricity problems that blighted last night's set in godforsaken hellhole Mansfield, the Geordies set about their task with relish. New single 'Between The Lines' - salivating with disgust, propelled by a splendid riff - opens proceedings, with much of the debut LP The Fearless Hair Days Of Youth following. There's a local flavour to 'RSVP' (about Newcastle's Bigg Market) and 'The Battle Of Falcon Hill' (about their home town - "Small song, small town", vocalist Paul Kell says). You wouldn't want to taste these songs, though - you don't know where they've been. Or, rather, you know EXACTLY where they've been.

While guitarists Frank Major and Kenny Luke are by and large a picture of cool restraint holding things and themselves together, bassist Danny Bray and the hyper-animated Kell fling themselves about with abandon. Drummer Chris, sporting a superb handlebar moustache, begins dressed like a dapper Victorian gent in shirt, tie and waistcoat (only the pocket watch is missing) but by the time he's gurning his way through set-closer 'Lost In The City' he's partially stripped off and punching the cymbals like the same gent after an all-day session in an illicit booze den drinking absinthe and listening to Slayer.

A shame I couldn't stay for headliners Hinterland - the song they soundchecked with hinted at Mclusky and Shellac - but, as for Lovemat, they came, they saw, they conquered. I doubt if it'll be too long before they're back. You have been warned.

Monday, February 20, 2006

American beauty


An unfamiliar city (Cardiff), an unfamiliar venue (Chapter, or more specifically one of the two theatre spaces therein), an unfamiliar crowd (mostly middle-aged and seated, and sufficiently sizeable for Pete and I to contrive to miss each other) and unfamiliar artists. This is stepping into the unknown.

First up is Danny George Wilson of Grand Drive performing solo. Bounding up to the microphone wearing a bright red shirt and a broad cheeky grin, he looks every bit like a stand-up comedian. What follows, however, is not a torrent of one-liners but six neat but slight acoustic songs - which would be fine were it not for one incessant niggle: authenticity. (Yes, that old chestnut - but, given that we're firmly in Uncut territory here, I think a little bit of rockism is excusable.) There's just something jarring about an Englishman singing about BMXs and boy racers in an American accent and to a very American musical style. Mojave 3 were much the same - remember them? Sounded like they were from the dustbowls of the American Midwest, when really they were indie scenesters from North London.

After an interval of no more than five minutes, headliner Neal Casal takes to the stage - such are the joys of seeing a solo acoustic performer follow a solo acoustic performer, even if it does preclude disappearing for another swift pint. Last time he was in Cardiff, in the summer, he was playing with Johnathan Rice in front of thousands as the opening act on the REM tour when it called at the Millenium Stadium. The time before that, playing on his own at the Barfly, the set was interrupted by some drunks clowning around with an umbrella. There's little chance of a repeat tonight - the crowd is impeccably behaved, aside for the odd undignified whoop here and there. One chap even goes so far as to volunteer to venture downstairs to the bar and thereby miss out on a couple of songs in order to bring Casal up some much-needed liquid refreshment.

Much-needed a drink of some description may have been, but alcohol perhaps isn't quite what Casal needs. Between songs he appears tired and jaded, losing track of what he's saying in his New Jersey drawl. At one point he refuses to play certain old songs requested by audience members because they're "too depressing" - one gets the impression that if forced to do so he'd crumple up in a heap mid-song and curl up foetus-like on the stage.

And yet Casal is often witty, and, when playing, utterly in command of the room. There are no mobiles chirruping, there's no irritating chatter around me, stood at the back. The audience seem to be asking him silently to do as one bloke at the front blurts out aloud and somewhat embarrassingly: "Go on Neal, cast your spell".

As one might expect of someone compared to Gram Parsons and Gene Clark who has toured with Ryan Adams & The Cardinals, Casal deals in exquisite Americana, his gorgeous lovelorn songs evocative of dusty shoes, open highways and distant mountains. His guitar playing is sublime, and his voice even better.

But the problem with Americana, for me, is that everything's about loss, about how things used to be "in the good ol' days". It's about living in the past - lyrically and, it has to be said, musically. There's an inherent denial that the future, or even the present, could be as valuable. And as such, touching as it can be, it just doesn't excite.

I come away feeling that I've been entertained, but that I'm not ready for that subscription to Mojo just yet.


Pete's review of the gig

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Art Of Noise A-Z Of Music: J

It's back! And not before time...

J is for…

… James (Swiss Toni)

At the risk of going all Nick Hornby on you again, I would say that this was definitely one of my All Time Top Five gigs. It’s right up there on the shorlist with Metallica, Queens of the Stoneage, Coldplay, Kings of Leon, Interpol and Morrissey*… but I’m getting ahead of myself.

It is Thursday 25th June 1998, and James are playing a “secret” warm-up gig at Oxford Brookes University in preparation for their slot at the Glastonbury Festival the following night. James were absolutely fantastic; it was one of those rare gigs where everything goes right, where the stars and planets align, and where band and audience are both on absolutely tip-top form. To be honest though, the band themselves are only a part of the reason that this gig stands out in my mind. With the passing of every year, the memory of this concert is becoming ever more sepia-toned. This was a time in my life when I was starting to earn some real money for the first time, but was still young enough and impetuous enough to act on the spur of the moment and attend a concert 100 miles from home on a work night. It doesn’t sound that far (in fact, I think I’ve travelled further to a gig since then), but at the time it felt like a real journey just to act on a whim and to indulge my burgeoning love of live music.

I’m hard to please. I don’t know about you, but everything has to be “just so” for me to unreservedly say that I have enjoyed myself at a gig. I have seen some bands put on a fantastic show, but I have been vaguely unhappy because the girl standing in front of me kept pushing back into my personal space, or because those two idiots next to me kept talking throughout, or because it was a bit smoky, or because I was worrying about something or other. It is very rare that a show itself is so good that I will be able to put these other things out of my mind and just enjoy myself. Even some of my shortlist for the Top Five have are overcoming some pretty serious handicaps to make the list: Metallica were so good at the Milton Keynes Bowl that I now choose not to remember the hours I spent sat in the queues for the car park, and I have ALMOST completely forgotten about how Coldplay’s landmark set Glastonbury in 2002 was nearly ruined for me by those drunken irritants talking loudly about how they should go back to their tents and get wasted …

James were perfect though, absolutely perfect. I had worked all that Thursday, driven the 100 miles to Oxford to hook up with my mates, watched the gig (James were backed by theaudience, a half-decent indie band featuring Sophie Ellis-Bextor on vocals), had a quick beer and then driven the 100 miles back to Nottingham.

It was brilliant.

Nowadays you’re lucky if I’ll venture out much further than my living room on a school night… But back then I was young and reckless, and the pleasures of staying in and re-organising my record collection would remain undiscovered for a little while yet.

* Not that I am an obsessive, but you do realise that I am now going to have to spend my evening working out who actually makes the top 5? I’ll probably wake up in a cold sweat in the night having remembered another gig that I couldn’t possibly leave out…

… Little Jeff (Paul)

For the last twenty years, one man dominated the Newcastle rock scene like a colossus. All the more impressive when you consider that he was barely five feet tall.

That man was Little Jeff, and he was THE rock DJ in Newcastle.

Formerly the resident disc jockey at the now dearly departed Mayfair, Jeff was about as far from your stereotypical DJ as it was possible to get. Short of stature, and long of hair, his little legs would see him waddle around, be it on the way to see Newcastle Utd play football, or simply to get another bottle of Newcastle Brown Ale from the bar.

For Jeff it really was all about the music, and he eschewed such ideas as cross-fading or cutting a track short. He just played records. In their entirety. Announcing them all in his broad Geordie accent as they came along and not caring that the dancefloor would often empty in the silence which followed the latest record, before the crowd swiftly surged back on to lap up his latest offering.

My favourite anecdote about Little Jeff, which typifies his approach to life and music is this account of one of his introductions to the next record:

"Would so-and-so go to the foyer – your friend has been hospitalised, they're not very well! Here's Metallica!"

Unfortunately for Jeff, and despite his protestations that "the bastards will never tear this place down" the Mayfair lost its battle to remain open, and is now the site of a shiny new cinema and Tiger Tiger nightclub.

Thankfully, that didn't stop him from carrying on, and the Newcastle metal scene followed him around the city, like children following the Pied Piper of Hamlin (if the Pied Piper had worn black, and played Korn for “aal the radgie bastards out there”.)

Sadly Little Jeff died on 19th July 2005 following several years of ill health. In his honour, a minute's noise was played at his most recent musical home Legends, and the night ended in typical fashion, with a piece of music wholly out of keeping with what had gone before.

‘Nelly The Elephant’ may well have come a-calling for Little Jeff, who presumably now DJs in a ghostly Mayfair in another realm, but his legacy in the North East lives on.

… ‘Jerk It Out’ – The Caesars (Pete)

Once upon a time I used to DJ in the best city in the world. And I played this song. Before I go any further, I want you to banish any thoughts of ads for iPods, or heaven forbid, shampoo. Back in the autumn of 2003, this song was pure class.

Back in the days when life was a bit more carefree, thanks to regular attendance at the indie night at Sophienclub in Berlin (every Tuesday night in case you were wondering) I somehow managed to wangle playing a set there. I should explain that this club night, run by a German chap called "Spencer", has been Berlin's mainstay indie night for at least 15 years.

I'd already played a few sets by the time I got hold of 'Jerk Out It' via compilation from my mate Andy. I'd heard the song a few times before in various club nights beforehand, along with some of the crowd. So when the time came to slip it into the set around 1am after a decent build-up including The Charlatans, Kula Shaker, Primal Scream et al, the crowd went ballistic to 3 minutes 17 seconds of infectious guitar pop with an unforgettable hook. Admittedly, this entry is a bit of a pat on my own back, but seeing over a hundred people going completely mental to a song you've chosen to play sort of sticks in your mind. Happy days indeed.

… journeys down memory lane (Caskared)

The Jennifers – the first really valuable record I bought from the vinyl store on the indoor market. I was trying to buy the most obscure and therefore brilliant thing I could. It was a fun piece of indie prog and I later found out that The Jennifers became Supergrass. A boy with an Inspiral Carpets haircut at college offered to buy it from me for £20 but I declined thinking it would go up and up in value. I think I missed a window.

Johnny Cash – the first time I really listened to Johnny Cash I was helping install an exhibition in Norwich. One of the artists was making a crazy Bavarian Behemoth of a piece and he brought his CD collection of rumbling low-voiced men with him including Johnny Cash who sounded so fresh and drew me in.

Joni Mitchell – the first folk for me was Joni Mitchell in a doctor friend’s house. It was a turning point from having just jangly music to something crafted in a different mellow meld. Incidentally it was also the first time I ever sat through an entire episode of ‘Top Gear’, so the two are inextricably linked to me. I wonder if there are any other ‘Top Gear’ / Joni Mitchell links out there?

The Jam – was what all of the Mods in my home town wanted to be. They wore synthetic fibre suits and kookie haircuts under giant khaki parkas. We would dance like jitterbugs to The Jam in fields or friends’ front rooms while stifling giggles at the mockney accents pouring out of nice middle-class Midland boys.

Johnny Mercer – “You’ve got to ac-cent-tchu-ate the positive, you do”. It’s on the ‘LA Confidential’ soundtrack and it is impossible for me to listen to it and not beam from ear to ear. I was introduced to it in my first student flat. My reaction to the film and the soundtrack, I later found out, was a test by the boy who became my man.

Jackson, Michael – Bad was the second album I ever bought myself. Every song a classic and had me singing along in the back of my mother’s car when I listened to it on my Walkman. I listened to it solidly during a trip to Peterborough. The cathedral was accompanied by ‘Liberian Girl’, the botanical gardens by ‘Man In The Mirror’.

… joy (Ben)

joy n. intense gladness; rapture; delight; rejoicing”. Thus quoth the dictionary.

But does that bring us any nearer to understanding what joy is, what it feels like? Can it be put into words? I doubt it.

And yet we are all of us able to experience and recognise joy. It’s a feeling inspired or triggered by all manner of things – including music. The capacity to stir and intensify the passions of the listener is one of music’s most distinguishing characteristics. (Which is why, incidentally, so-called “chill-out” music is generally so repugnant to me – working (sometimes calculatedly) to dull the emotions by a gradual process of aural osmosis rather than stoking the fire.) And few emotions are intensified more dramatically by music than joy.

Forget dictionary definitions. Joy, for me, is the feeling I get when I hear the opening of Abba’s ‘Waterloo’. Or Franz Ferdinand’s ‘Take Me Out’, as it slows down into that glorious stomp. Or the riff in PJ Harvey’s ‘Big Exit’. Or the chorus of Weezer’s ‘Buddy Holly’. Or Dave Grohl’s drum breakdown in QOTSA’s ‘No-One Knows’. Or the solo in ‘Last Nite’ by The Strokes. Or the point at which Beastie Boys’ ‘Sabotage’ kicks in again. Or the entirety of The Futureheads’ cover of ‘Hounds Of Love’.

Often there’s no correlation between the lyrical subject matter of a song and the emotion it gives rise to – which is why I feel my heart lift whenever Joy Division’s bleak masterpiece ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ comes on a pub jukebox.

There aren’t many what you might call “conventionally joyous” records in my collection. “Sad songs remind me of friends”, Mogwai’s Stuart Braithwaite sang on ‘Cody’. For years I thought the line was: “Sad songs, my only friends”. And I understood the sentiment. Sometimes wallowing indulgently in self-pity to the accompaniment of depressing records – a kind of reverse psychology – is comforting and even strangely joyous. Many a time I’ve found myself reaching for the old favourites, Radiohead’s The Bends and Frigid Stars by Codeine. And the perverse pleasure derived from listening to downbeat records can be a communal experience – thousands of people stood in a field singing along to ‘Everybody Hurts’ with Michael Stipe, for instance.

But then ‘Everybody Hurts’ does have a refrain which exudes stoic determination and even a glint of optimism: “Hold on”. Perhaps the most surprising records are those which, against all the odds, prove to be above all else fundamentally joyous from start to finish. Both Eels’ Daisies Of The Galaxy and The Arcade Fire’s Funeral might be the product of dark days for the bands concerned, beset by the deaths of loved ones, but misery is by and large banished or, rather, transcended. It’s impossible to listen to either without feeling stirred, roused - joyful.

… jugs (Skif)

F’narr. Or, more accurately, jug and spasm. F’narr f’narr. Before the arrival of the sock-embellished world of cock-rock, this was possibly the most lascivious genre term musical history could provide. Yet, like the 50s skiffle music to which it is closely related, it was an entirely innocent style and prior to the Great Depression was THE music of the United States’ rural south.

Around the turn of the 20th century, stylistically catholic “jug” bands began to crop up in Louisville, Kentucky and were a tremendous spectacle that quickly garnered momentous success playing the full gamut through country, jazz, Ragtime and pop styles. Early jug bands were usually manned by African American vaudeville players, and as such Appalachian styles also featured and Memphis Blues, before it was known as such.

The first known recording, in the early 20s, captured Earl McDonald’s Dixieland Jug Blowers and while the style was largely killed off by big band and swing in more affluent times, jug bands continue to exist, such as the Juggernaut, Federal Cigar and Curbside Jug Bands. Indeed, an annual JugFest is held each October in Sutter Creek, California with “jammin’ and juggin’”, of course, a prominent feature of these gatherings.

The origins of the jug came from the spasm bands of the late 19th century. Spasms bands performed on the streets often using homemade instruments, one notable figure of this time being Ironing Board Sam. Other instruments regularly found in spasm bands were kazoos, whistles, harmonicas, mandolins, “bones” (spoons) and washtubs. The jug, the “poor man’s tuba”, was often called upon to make up part of a rhythm section, although players have apparently been known to break out into jug solo. Prior to banging on Placebo in an early-noughties indie-club, this was probably the most effective floor-clearance technique known to music.

To play a jug, you buzz through pursed lips over the mouth of the jug, this giving its distinctive hollow bass tone. That’s all there is to it folks, now you’re ready for a rigorous hoedown. Indeed, it is the ease of this, and the ready access to the apparatus, that makes jug and spasm so significant.

Jug and spasm bands had precisely the same effect on US citizens of the late 1800s as the skiffle boom had on post-war Britain, democratising music, making it accessible, allowing music appreciation to be more than a passive pursuit. So then, from jug and spasm we got the blues which, of course, begat rock ‘n’ roll and is therefore to blame for every single musical note you love today. How’s that for a sweeping statement? I’m glad no-one’s claiming this ad-hoc encyclopaedia to be in any way definitive.

Besides, music was invented in the early 60s wasn’t it?

… juniors (Jez)

Fishmongers, butchers, greengrocers etc. Tradition dictates that a family business passes through generations until a hypermarket crushes local trades like an elephant stepping on an acorn, or the eighteenth in line announces a love of musical theatre and rushes for the greasepaint of Broadway - or the monthly am-dram in the church hall. So it’s only fitting that the same should go for musicians.

But therein lays a problem. The beauty of our musical heroes relies on them breaking the mould. But unfortunately the industry isn’t run by philanthropists, just some blokes trying to make a quick profit by whatever means possible. Easy marketing ploys mean the juniors will always get a crack at pop stardom through need for very little capital outlay. Just a few who have given it a go: Ziggy Marley, Julian Lennon, Marc Bolan’s boy who was so talentless he didn’t even have a first name.

Of course some buck the trend. The Wainwright clan write beautiful songs about how deeply they hate each other, and the sadly departed Kirsty MacColl would’ve made her Dad proud.

However, have sympathy for the likes of Zowie Bowie. Watching your old man dressing up as a Nazi, while conducting drug fuelled bisexual affairs, after pretending to be a goblin, all the while having Jonathon Ross trying to stick his head further up his Dad’s arse – well, it’s enough to make you want to become a tradesman.

… Junior / Senior (drmigs)

Every summer has its media anthem. By this I don't mean the great song of the summer that we all whistle and hum; I mean the song that every black-rim-bespectacled media flunky uses to trail their extremely average Channel 4 reality TV show, or BBC2 home improvement show. In 2003 this song was 'Move Your Feet' by Junior / Senior. Now whilst I don't hold any particular torch for this tune, I will forever hold Junior / Senior in my respect. Why? Well it's like this.

More often than not the summer media anthem is selected during the moneyed urbanite's late spring pilgrimage to the vogue hedonistic party island of the time. A previously small band gets parachuted to notoriety, and huge wads of cash either go up the band's noses, or into their wardrobe. As the money rolls in, their egos boom, and it's a fast track to Monte Carlo, or more commonly bust. Junior / Senior, however, maintained some grace.

My personal recollection of the song was that it was initially crap, then really irritating, then fleetingly I wondered if it was OK, until I came around to the “just irritating” conclusion. The public however thought differently, and the juggernaut that is the music establishment crunched through the well-practiced gear changes to make it ubiquitous. Hence come Glastonbury, their presence was assured.

As per usual they turned up looking like members of Weight-Watchers trying to recreate the 'Anfield Rap' look (complete with wonky baseball, ‘tache and phat gold chains). Not normally an outfit to endear charm. However, the post-set interview with Jo Whiley was memorable for its humility. When asked how did it feel performing at Glastonbury, they meekly responded by saying how they were really nervous because they didn't feel as though they had the musical calibre to perform there. Particularly citing that just because their song had been received well on the clubbing circuit, they didn't necessarily think they had a place at Glastonbury. They were reassured that their set had gone down well, which it had, and were invited to do a live backstage set for the BBC coverage (and probably Jarvis Cocker, Cerys Matthews, and whoever else was propping up the free bar).

What followed, was the like watching the scrawny kid who gets bullied come off the bench in an under-15 football match and score a penalty in the final minute. They nervously tuned up, played 'Move Your Feet' with everything they had, and then appreciatively shuffled off to sincere applause. Whatever your opinion of their music, you have to respect their integrity.

A glance at their website indicates that they're still going strong. And although I might not be buying their music any time soon, I wish them the very best of luck. Sincerity like that deserves reward.

… Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu (Del)

They're justified and they're ancient, I hope you understand.

The Timelords aka The Kopyright Liberation Front aka The Forever Ancients Liberation Loophole aka Rockman Rock and King Boy D aka Jimi Cauty and Bill Drummond aka aka The Jams aka The Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu.

Ok, here we go, time to push the boat out. I believe The Jams are the greatest punk band ever. There. Said it. Done.

"What?" I hear you cry. "They made cheesy dance records, and pratted about. What are you on about?"

Well, it is, of course, not as simple as that. Here were two music industry stooges who were sick of the whole affair. Bill was a former member of Big In Japan (along with Holly 'FGTHollywood' Johnson, Ian 'Lightning Seeds' Broudie and Dave 'Country House & Teardrop Explodes' Balfe). He managed Teardrop Explodes and Echo And The Bunnymen. Jimi was a veteran of Stock Aitken and Waterman makeweights Brilliant. They had grown sick of the music industry. So they took the piss and turned on their masters, creating KLF Communications, their own label, their own terms.

They formed The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, and released a twisted hip hop record full of uncleared samples and Bill's Scots rap rants, 1987: What The Fuck's Going On?. It was political, angry, hilarious, shambolic and in places genius. It had haunting African vocals, raps on Aids and the monarchy and bits of The Beatles, The Monkees, Stevie Wonder, Hendrix, The Pistols, Samantha Fox and Julie Andrews. They only cleared one sample on the whole album (courtesy of The Fall) so it was just asking for litigation. Abba threatened to sue over the use of ‘Dancing Queen’, so The Jams had little option but to pull the album. But – and this takes real cheek – they reissued it, without any of the offending samples. So most of the record was just yawning silence. But there were full instructions on how to recreate the record in the comfort of your own home.

Then they released "the most nauseating record in the world". A mash-up classic. The Sweet's 'Blockbuster', Gary Glitter's 'Rock ‘N’ Roll Part 2' and the ‘Dr Who’ theme, contorted into a pissed up dancefloor anthem, it hit #1. Then they wrote a book, ‘The Manual’, detailing how they did it, and therefore how you could too. One band made the Top Ten in Europe by following it to the letter. Edelweiss - 'Bring Me Edelweiss' reworked Abba to more ridiculous extremes. But they actually bothered to get

Then come The KLF years. Most punk bands rely on three chords. Acid house anthem 'What Time Is Love' only bothered with three notes. And was rereleased approximately six times, along with an album of "cover" versions, all of which were actually done by... The KLF. They also rereleased ‘3am Eternal’ in five or six different incarnations. The same with ‘Last Train To Trancentral’. And ‘Justified And Ancient’ was five years old by the time it hit the Top Ten. If it ain't broke... They invented ambient by accident with their piss-take-yet-genius Chill Out LP.

Their biggest album, The White Room, was a remixed version of an unreleased album soundtracking an unfinished movie from two years previously. And by 1992 they were the biggest band in the world, almost completely by accident, recording techno records with the first lady of country, Tammy Wynette, and dancing around dressed as ice cream cones, playing inflatable guitars.

Then they looked in the mirror and released they had become everything they hated. It wasn't fun any more. So, at the 1992 Brit Awards, they performed ‘3am Eternal’ with hardcore metal group Extreme Noise Terror, and machine-gunned the audience of industry types (with blanks, but they didn't know that at the time...). They sent a motorcycle courier up to collect their Best Band gong. They dumped a dead sheep outside the aftershow party. And then they deleted their entire back catalogue. No more KLF records. Ever. Quite frankly, it makes The Clash's 'Complete Control' rant against the record industry sound like the next Ashlee Simpson single. One music journalist said that deleting their back catalogue was the equivalent of burning a million quid.

So they did.

And as an act of nihilism, a complete rejection of society's values and everything it holds dear, nothing beats burning a million quid. It was dirty money, tainted by the way they'd earned it, as slaves to the industry machine. They wanted to reject the hold of money, the whole idea of the hollow dream of being a millionaire. They were also, of course, completely insane. So they burnt it all. They were first ever to do such a thing, and probably the last. You want punk? The Sex Pistols put a safety pin through the Queen's nose. The Jams stole someone else’s music to ruthlessly satirise the monarchy and then burnt her portrait on bundles of £50 notes that they'd earnt from an industry they despised.

Kick out the Jams, motherfuckers!

* * * * *

Amen to that!

Thanks to Swiss Toni, Paul, Pete, Caskared, Skif, Jez, drmigs and Del for their contributions this week. See you here same time next week for K.

Friday, February 10, 2006

new graham coxon album

It never pays to laud a record too early; two things can happen - the first is that you marvel on first listen, get all evangelical and then never tune in again. The second is that you set a precedent for objectivity which looks increasingly stupid as the month goes on. It's a bit dangerous giving a record 10/10 in January and calling it the best album of the year when a better one could very easily come along a week later. It's especially daft, thinking about it, to call a record the '5th best album of all time' the week it is released, as the NME may one day find when they look back on the fact that they awarded the Arctic Monkeys record that same accolade a week or to ago.

I'm not trying to undo the deserved praise which I handed out to Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I Am Not; I still think that's a great record. But I've spent the last couple of days immersed in Graham Coxon's forthcoming Love Travels At Illegal Speeds and - again, I'm wary of making claims for it which I'll regret later - it's on a whole different level to the Monkeys record. Granted, this is Coxon's 12th album (he's racked up six solo records a lot quicker than Blur managed their first half-dozen) and so you'd expect him to have nailed his sound and grown enormously as a songwriter. But then how many artists can make an record 11 albums into their career which sounds as fresh and energetic as anything a bunch of 19 year olds can manage?

Love Travels at Illegal Speeds is an absolute joy. Each Coxon record has been a progression from the last, but most have been dizzily eclectic and varied - only on 2004's decent Happiness In Magazines did it sound like he was moving towards a level of consistency. But this time round all 13 songs are both tremendously self-contained and perfectly in sequence. Ostensibly an album about the many colours of love, here Coxon focuses on two approaches; fast, snotty power-pop which references the Buzzcocks and The Who, and gorgeous, melodic melancholia which recalls nothing so much as, well, Blur.

The album opens with Coxon in a familiar frame of mind, observing 'a thousand grey waves breaking over me'. But lead-off single 'Standing On My Own Again' isn't a slice of dreary self-pity but rather a 'Freakin' Out' style burst of adrenelin, a propulsive bass line and coruscating riff matched by a snotty, confident vocal. If McFly recorded this it'd be number one forever. 'I Can't Look At Your Skin' is even better, a hilarious, angsty slice of punk-pop which finds Graham yelping "I can't look at your skin / 'cos it's doin' me in". From that point on the album is packed with lovely, biting pop music and Coxon's naive and lovelorn vocals documenting what sounds like the theme music to Tucker's Luck. Considering he's 36 it's incredible what an ear he has for 'teenage kicks', even if it's all rather nostalgic.

The first two tracks, along with 'Tell It Like It Is', 'You And I', and a handful of others scarcely deviate from the snappy Buzzcocks meets Pete Towsend template, but each and every single one features brilliant guitar playing, a fantastically melodic chorus and a short and fizzy guitar solo. Everything here is brilliant.

The first track to deviate from the template is 'Just A State Of Mind', which sounds like one of Damon's bleak mid-90s ballads; "First time I saw you", Coxon sings, "teeth squeezed my lips". The song shimmers with pretty melodies and a beautifully executed vocal - not something anyone expected of Graham a few years back. At one point he sings "Just be happy, you are strong now / it's so lonely to love someone" before a gentle explosion of guitars gives way to a three second pyschedelic interlude. This in turn melts into a fuzzy guitar solo which recalls The Pixies at their most lovely. It's a staggering ten second sequence and completely unexpected.

'Gimme Some Love' is the best of the Pete Shelley homages, Graham refixing 'What Do I Get', his vocal clipped and bright, his guitar line conjured up with all the restraint, bite and finesse of his best work, on Blur's Parklife. 'I Don't Believe Anything I Say' could be straight off that record, with it's perky bassline and lovely farfisa melody. Again, the guitar is exquisite and the vocal performance incredibly accomplished. On 'Flights In The Sea' we see Graham's skill as an arranger, blending stately acoustic guitars with fizzing electrics, tinkling pianos and dramatic wind instruments. On 'What's He Got', meanwhile, he manages to come across as a meeting point between Magazine and Steely Dan. 'You Always Let Me Down' is back to The Who, but recalls the Stones, too - possibly the first time I've heard that influence on a Coxon record.

By now it should be clear that we're talking about here is a gloriously sustained sequence of mini-classics. It's hard and perhaps unnecessary to separate the body of work which has emerged from the original Blur line-up, but it's obvious fairly early on that this is up there with their very best work. Final track 'See A Better Day' illustrates, despite the stong influences apparent in his work, how recognisable Coxon's writing and playing have become - within ten seconds it could only be him. And where he used to illustrate his insecure love songs with mumbled, hesitant tones, now he has the confidence to explore the full colour of his palatte; the result is remarkably uplifing and charming.

Taking Damon's Think Tank and Demon Days on the one hand, and Coxon's spectacular pyrotechnics on Love Travels at Illegal Speeds on the other, it's pretty damn clear that they're in a league of their own when it comes to creativity and progression. One wonders if it might not be a cause of celebration, rather than regret, that Britain's best songwriters and musicians are working independently rather than together. Both, astonishingly, just keep getting better and better.

A real ten out of ten record, even if it is only February.

-originally posted here-

oh, alright, i like the arctic monkeys

Always one to follow fashion, I've been listening to the new Arctic Monkeys album, 'Whatever You Say I Am, That's What I'm Not' and - although I was prickly and dismissive of the Monkeys when I first heard them - I have to admit to being impressed with the record. I keep reading reviews which hurriedly sum the band up as saying they cherry-pick from The Who, The Kinks, The Jam, The Smiths The Strokes, The Libertines etc, which I find pretty lazy. It's shorthand I suppose for saying that the album is not fantastically original, but that's a curious allegation to level against a band of 19 year olds making their first LP, especially in an area as conservative as indie rock. Like most guitar records you'll hear this year, the Arctic Monkeys sound a bit like a few other people. But they also sound much fresher and more interesting than I'd given them credit for.

The first thing of note is the guitars; nice loud crunchy guitars which are at times more reminiscent of the full throttle Mudhoney than the tinny, ramshackle Libertines - it's nice to hear a production job which doesn't follow the brittle post-punk blueprint and instead goes for volume and effect. Alex Turner's vocals, meanwhile, unlike Doherty's, are more than strong enough to punch through the sound, as he does to such great effect on 'I Bet That You Look Good On The Dancefloor', which is great apart from the horrible backing vocals. Elsewhere, there are a couple of really quite decent tracks ('When The Sun Goes Down' and 'From The Ritz to the Rubble'), a bunch of stompers (if Pete Doherty had the nous to write 'Perhaps Vampires Is A Bit Strong But..' he wouldn't be in this mess) and at least two tracks which are amongst the loveliest I've heard all year (and last year, I guess).

'Mardy Bum' is the most immediate; one of the best examples of Turner's really quite impressive lyric-writing skills. It's all about a relationship pock-marked by arguments - something most of us know about - but carried with a maturity well beyond his years. "Now then Mardy Bum", Turner sings, "Well, I'm in trouble again / Aren't I? / I thought as much / 'cos you turned over there / wearing that silent dissapointment face / the one that I can't bear" - all of which is well observed enough, but he gets it absolutely spot on when he sings

"Yeah I'm sorry I was late.
Well, I missed the train,
And then the traffic was a state.
And I can't be arsed to carry on in this debate
That reoccurs, oh when you say I don't care.
Well of course I do, yeah I CLEARLY DO!".

Even better is Turner's take on youth culture in the marvellous, closing 'A Certain Romance', which is a really lovely, neo-Jarvis Cockerian rumination of adolescent frustration on the streets of Yorkshire. "Well oh they might wear classic Reeboks", the song begins, "Or knackered Converse / Or tracky bottoms tucked in socks / But all of that's what the point is not / The point is that there ain't no romance around there". What's really charming about a band of teenagers singing about teenage life is that they really know what they're talking about, and Turner doesn't bother castigating or celebrating his contemporaries. "They'll never listen", he sings, "cause they're minds are made up". But he brilliantly adds "and of course, it's okay to carry on that way", which is a delightful display of nonchalance and beautifully delivered.

The entire lyric bears reproduction, to be honest, from Turner noting that there's "only music so that there's new ringtones" to observing that "just cause he's had a couple of cans / he thinks it's alright to act like a dickhead". The best lines come at the end, when he sighs

"Well over there there's friends of mine,
What can I say, I've known 'em for a long long time.
And yeah they might overstep the line,
But you just cannot get angry in the same way"

I don't think the Arctic Monkeys are the best new band in Britain or "the band of your generation" as the NME put it last week or anything like that, but on the evidence of 'Whatever You Say I Am, That's What I'm Not' they're uniquely timely and expressive. I'm seeing them on the NME tour in February with Maximo Park, the Mystery Jets and We Are Scientists, and I'm really looking forward to it now.

originally posted here, sorry for the delay in switching over...