Tuesday, October 31, 2006

currently listening to:

1. Art Brut - Nag Nag Nag Nag (where Art Brut have retained the dominant, droll lyrics but done much to beef up their sound; a brilliant single.)
2. The Good, The Bad and the Queen - 80s Life (almost impossible to pick a song from their forthcoming album which doesn't merit a mention, but this is the song that's stuck in my head this week, particularly the lyric, "I don't want to live with war that's got no end in our time").
3. Field Music - In Context (wherein Field Music, if such a thing is possible, get snappier and poppier and more brilliant. Can't wait for the album).
4. Joe Jackson - Fools In Love ("gently tear each other limb from limb")
5. Jarvis Cocker - Don't Let Him Waste Your Time (Jarvis' best song in ages? Got to be! Romantic, yearning, tuneful, funny - excellent)
6. Graham Coxon - What Ya Gonna Do Now? (a hilarious, brilliant, nutty Clash-like rant: enormous fun)
7. Jarvis Cocker - Black Magic (a bit brit-pop-tastic this list, isn't it? Well, another good track from the new Jarvis record - a kind of aggressive Motown stomp with a big wall of voices, and quite ace too)
8. Subtle - The Mercury Craze (enjoying this a lot, mainly by virtue of it being the most insane hip hop record I've come across for a while - it reminds me of Gold Chains, whose 'Rock The Parti' I absolutely obsessed over a few years back)

Monday, October 30, 2006

In The Dock: The Eurovision Song Contest

(If you're wondering what this is all about, click here.)

This week's subject: The Eurovision Song Contest

The case for the prosecution (drmigs)

Eurovision is rubbish. To quote the voice of reason, Jeremy Clarkson, "If you don't agree with me, you're wrong". Cue polemic.

Eurovision had laudable origins. It was a post-war initiative by the European Broadcasting Union to bring some unity to the western countries of a battle-ravished continent. However, unfortunately the current incarnation is a far more cynical affair; it's a media circus for wannabes. Step forward wannabe musicians, step forward wannabe agents, step forward wannabe presenters, and step forward wannabe European nations, Israel FFS!?! Israel doesn't even border Europe. Like Dr Beeching in the 1960s, Eurovision has gone off the rails.

I'll hold my hands up; I'm not a Eurovision aficionado. I've only watched it once, and the only redeemable moment wasn't the Slovenian transvestites dressed as airhostesses, it was my Slovenian friend's face when they walked on stage. This novelty element to Eurovision perfectly illustrates its rotten core. In 2006 it was won by Lordi; Finnish Hard Rockers dressed as trolls. In 1998 it was won by Dana International; a transsexual Israeli selling herself as such. They won because novelty is more likely to win votes than the quality of the music.

The concept of a fair Eurovision is now obsolete. Where once there was (apparently) a contest with countries putting aside politics to foster harmony through friendly competition, now there is a contest of friendly nations scoring cheap political points. The first rule of voting is that if you've got lots of neighbours you get lots of votes. Secondly, political allies vote for each other. If you haven't used up all your votes by now, next come the novelty votes, the mandatory votes for the Irish, and then maybe some appreciation for the music.

Such a voting structure would be offensive if the music were any good. However, the most salient argument against Eurovision is that at present it doesn't have any good songs. A few countries are admirable enough to enter music that reflects their own culture, and get nil point; everyone else enters saccharine middle-of-the-road pop. The music has no merit because the majority of the contestants have no merit. Bands / singers don't enter Eurovision to spotlight their national identity and culture, they enter as a last ditch attempt to fulfil their ambitions of being famous pop stars. Eurovision is a vehicle for self-promotion when you've failed to get notoriety through less desperate means.

Surrounding the desperate and failing musical acts is a circus of limpet agents and promoters sifting for wheat amongst the chaff. Each of these reprobates is ready to use and abuse the naïve dreams of the haplessly deluded contestants in their relentless pursuit of money. It stinks. Moreover, you know that behind the scenes the competition is riddled with primadonnas catfighting for the best contract. This wouldn't be a problem however, if Eurovision were honest about what it is. Instead, Eurovision and the established media attempt to take it seriously. Desperate wannabe presenters yearn for the camera to sell themselves, oh and their country. And all this is presented in the UK by Terry Wogan's laconic fatuousness (don't get me started on Wogan).

Eurovision now only exists because it is a cash cow. But profitability can't justify its existence; if you follow that argument then hell, bring back slavery. In its current incarnation Eurovision will eventually be eaten by its own greed. It has only earned a stay of execution by the proliferation of eastern European countries.

There are two roads that could redeem Eurovision. Think about it; burgeoning egos, novelty, farcical voting and catfighting. It could take the teenage route, or it could be what it really wants to be, come out, and be the camp fest it yearns to be and promote Gay Pride. I'm astonished to find that the former option actually exists. It's a more appealing format as you'd be able to see that the egos would be a mirror for the parents' ambition, the catfighting would actually be shown, and the sharks would be exposed as a result of the media's two-faced piety. The music wouldn't be any worse than it is now either. I still wouldn't watch it but I'd understand the appeal. The Gay Pride route would celebrate the camp farce of the event. Eurovision would become more novel, but it would at least be marketed as such, and would claw back some integrity.

As it is, Eurovision is a sham; it's a pustulent boil that needs lancing, and I want it lanced.

The case for the defence (Mike)

Right then – let’s get one tedious little issue out of the way before we go any further. If your primary objection to Eurovision is that the music on display is “just” pop music – silly, jolly, trivial pop music, which Says Nothing To You About Your Life – then I hereby give you leave to cast your vote for the Prosecution. Because if you’re going to criticise Dana International for not being PJ Harvey, or Katrina & The Waves for not being Radiohead, then there’s no point in entering into a debate with you.

However, if you’re the sort of sane, well-balanced individual who accepts the need for cultural plurality in music – the serious and the ridiculous, the incisive and the escapist, the realistic and the fantastic – then I see no impossible barrier for you to climb. Eurovision, quite blatantly, is all about entertainment. It’s pop music. It’s spectacle. It’s meant to put a smile on your face – no more, and no less.

But the songs are rubbish and the costumes are horrendous and the voting’s biased and… and… and…

Hold it. Hold it right there. Because I think you’re missing something – and that something has more to do with “indie” notions of credibility than you might imagine.

One of the great joys of Eurovision is its lack of slick, corporatised homogeneity. As far as the major labels are concerned, it’s low priority. As few major international stars have been created by the contest, why should they care? And so they stay away, leaving the selection of the songs and artists, and the staging of the show, to the national television companies of the participating nations. Similarly, the event has never become smothered by sponsorship. Sure, it’s present – but it’s discreet.

Within this comparative marketing void, a strange, self-enclosed world is allowed to develop. There is room here for daft lyrics, wobbly voices, creaking dance routines – and a certain sense of raw amateurishness, which makes for a refreshing contrast with the seamless, focus-grouped, identikit blandness which prevails right across the rest of music television.

And that, when you think about it, is actually rather indie. Like so much great indie music, it’s in the imperfections that the humanity lies. It’s a sign that something “real” is taking place, despite the layers of artifice which surround it. The day that the contest becomes the Pepsi Max Eurovision, hosted by Justin Timberlake and Beyonce, is the day that I’ll stop watching.

What’s more, this is amateurishness with a soul. For somehow – and God knows how this anachronism has managed to survive – the Eurovision Song Contest still adheres to old fashioned, post-WWII-consensus notions of international community and brotherhood. Oh, don’t be misled by the “political” voting – which only a fool (and Terry Wogan) could ever get seriously huffy about, and which has never yet created a winner. As anyone who has ever attended a live final in person will tell you, the competitive element is fundamentally good-natured. Rival delegations exchange flags, cheer for each other, wish each other well. A large number of international sporting events could do well to learn from the Eurovision ethos.

Thus, when the umpteenth dolled-up pop moppet in a row gushes at her press conference about what a great honour it is to be representing her country, there is a large part of her which actually means it, maan – and, in these over-archingly careerist times, I happen to think that’s rather wonderful.

But the songs are still shit, Mike!

Even there, I would disagree with you. There’s an aesthetic at work here which we’re not often exposed to these days. As no Eurovision song is permitted to exceed three minutes in length, and as most of the international audience will never have heard it before, every trick in the book is used to make it stand out. There must be hooks – instant, memorable ones. There must be a kick-ass intro, and a rousing climax – preferably by means of an upwards key change. There must be no room for flab – everything has to be tight, taut, concentrated. Every second counts. It’s as valid an aesthetic as any other in pop, and it’s fascinating to see what the composers and choreographers do with it.

Here are some prime examples of what I’m talking about. Follow the YouTube links, watch the videos – then come back here, look me in the eyes, and tell me that Eurovision entries are all shit.

'All Out Of Luck' – Selma (Iceland, 1999)

'My Star' – Brainstorm (Latvia, 2000)

'Wild Dances' – Ruslana (Ukraine, 2004)

'Boonika bate toba' – Zdob si Zdub (Moldova, 2005)

'Moja Stikla' - Severina (Croatia, 2006)

Boggle-eyed Latvian indie kids? Drumming grannies? An Anjelina Jolie-fied former porn star who rips off her skirt while shrieking “AFRICA PAPRIKA!” Come on, what’s not to love?

(Oh, I can see you smiling from here. Caught you! Hah!)

All of the best “camp” – that over-used, increasingly devalued concept – has a certain sincerity at its core – and Eurovision has this by the bucket load. Now, if you insist on living in a joyless, colourless, dull and worthy world, from which all such notions have been rigorously excised, then you go right ahead – but you can count me out, and millions like me for whom Eurovision is, from start to end, solid gold entertainment.

As such, I will defend it unto my dying breath, with all of my shiny, superficial little heart and all of my shallow, sparkling little soul. I urge you to do the same.

* * * * *

Thanks to drmigs and Mike. Now it's over to you. Guilty or innocent - YOU decide. The comments box is open and awaiting your verdicts - you've got until Friday to make up your mind...

Friday, October 27, 2006

In The Dock: The Beatles - the verdict

Well, that was quite a way to kick things off - I think that's something at least that all the jury CAN agree on...

The ground shifted a bit (perhaps inevitably from whether The Beatles were any good to whether they were overrated), but there you go. The verdicts are as follows:

In favour of Lord Bargain's case for the prosecution: 7 (Swiss Toni, Damo, Mark (I assume), Ian, Dead Kenny, Martin (I assume), Paul)

In favour of Del's case for the defence: 7 (James, Jonathan, Ben, Dillweed, Mike, Alison, Betty).

And so the inaugural In The Dock ends with a hung jury! RussL - you should have jumped off the fence...

Thanks to Lord Bargain and Del for their contributions.

Coming this weekend: in a change to the schedule, Mike and drmigs will be duking it out over the Eurovision Song Contest.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

k'naan live in brighton

I know that barely a day goes by at the moment without a gig review, so just a quick appraisal of another recently attended show - I saw K'naan play at Brighton's Komedia last week, a crimally underpromoted show by a very underrated rapper. In fact, I only found out about the show a few hours before it began, and given K'naan's rising reputation (his two performances at Womad this summer were widely described as the highlight of the festival) I was very surprised to find that tickets were still available.

Given the brilliance of those Womad shows, where K'naan lifted spirits in the Berkshire rain with an awesome set of lilting African drums, wordy rhyming and electric backing tracks, I knew how good the show would be beforehand, and was far from disappointed. Since K'naan's adoption by Charlie Gillett (not literally) and the World Music community, he seems to have built on the seam of African phrasing and instrumentation evident on last year's 'Dusty Foot Philosopher', which often found him switching between a hard, Eminem-style hip hop production and songs more informed by his Somalian background (he moved to Canada as a teenager). So the first half of his Brighton show saw him eschewing backing tracks in favour of a pared down, minimalist sound consisting of powerful African drumming and acoustic guitar. Even straight hip hop tracks like 'What's Hardcore?', a highlight on the album, got the acoustic treatment, giving even more space to K'naan's wonderful rhymes, which bear repeating:

"We begin our day by the weight of the gun,
rocket propelled grenades blow you away if you front,
We got no police, ambulance or fire fighters,
we start riots by burning car tyres.
They lootin', and everybody start shootin',
Bullshit politicians talking about solutions,
but it's all talk..."

Despite reverting (very effectively) to backing tracks for the middle section of the set, it's the acoustic track, 'Be Free' which is once again, as at Womad, the stand out track. It's neither world music, hip hop, folk or blues, but something new involving hints of all those sounds and more. Weirdly, the song reminds me most of Billy Bragg, something about the prominence and idealism of the lyrics and the simplicity - but beauty - of the music. As always, the song inspires, during its 'la la la la' chorus, a bit of a mass sing along and moments of something close to reverence during the acapella verses. The stand out lyric remains "Muslims, jews and christians war 'til no-one's left to praise the lord", but there are some lovely lines elsewhere, too:

"Then I saw the stars faint,
falling 'dem with heart ache.
Then I felt the earth shake,
trembling for God's sake.
It's like when her voice breaks..."

Really, K'naan has the lot, and it'll be interesting which path he chooses to follow; he's obviously marvellously adept at making memorable, straight down the line hip hop, and increasingly comfortable ploughing his own unique furrow, too. Introducing himself at the Brighton gig he explained that "making music has never been about having fun for me", so I suspect he won't follow the path of least resistence. Equally, I'm pretty sure that whatever he does will be fantastic.

Monday, October 23, 2006

The Good, The Bad and the Queen at the Cavern Club, Exeter

A couple of days have passed since me and Vic travelled along to Exeter to watch Damon Albarn's new band, The Good, The Bad and the Queen (comprising himself, the incredible Nigerian drummer Tony Allen, Simon Tong and The Clash's legendary Paul Simonen), and I'm still feeling elated, to be honest. The gig - ostensibly a warm up for the band's 'official' live debut at the Camden Roundhouse on Thursday - completely exceeded my expectations. The songs, only one of which I'd heard before, were low-key and dark, dominated by awesome, delicate arrangements (guitars, hammonds, saxes dropping in and dropping out) rathepr than big choruses, but everything was so thrillingly vibrant and full of feeling. Damon was predictably into it, cheerful and proud, and Paul was literally throbbing with a mixture of malice and cool; he is an enormous presence on stage. Tony Allen's drumming, meanwhile, was far from showy but rather jaw-droppingly precise, understated, serene, but always imaginative.

In terms of sounds the songs reminded me of a dubby take on the wistful, yearning stuff on Blur's '13', but where much of that record was a mess of pro-tools trickery, everything in the set feels as if it is in its proper place, nothing unnecessary or uneven. Without knowing the songs well it's hard to tell whether the project is destined to replicate the global appeal of Gorillaz as well as well as garner hyperbolic reviews (like this one), but a few times in the set Damon's phrasing, way with a lyric or ear for melody lifts the tunes well beyond anything his contemporaries are capable of. In 'Green Fields', meanwhile, Damon has written a song which - for the first time in a few years - is as catchy as Parklife-era Blur. What's perhaps most pleasing about the set is the fact that Albarn, who has increasing used his voice as an instrument in recent years, is singing clearly and soulfully again.

Can't remember many more specifics, as by thirty seconds in, pretty much, I was quite unable to hold on to my objectivity or presence of mind. There can't have been more than 100 people in the venue, and everyone seemed to feel the same, inhabited and overwhelmed by the songs.

It was, of course, amazing to grab a moment with Damon afterwards, especially as the room was pulled inward by his short walk from the stage door to the exit. Paul Simonen made a point of making himself available too, sat contentedly in the middle of a group of fans, all of whom appeared to want little more than to sit around him, as if they were children sat round for Jackanory. Shaking hands with him was obviously an immense pleasure. Added to that, Tony Allen was incredibly friendly and conscientous, chatting away with fans and doling out autographs. He signed my ticket and didn't know how to spell my name, but went to pains to get it right - a small gesture much appreciated.

Predictable of me to say so, I know - not much impartiality when it comes to Damon Albarn - but this new project, The Good, The Bad and The Queen, is quite deliriously good. My friends will soon be very, very, very bored of me talking about it, and of my showing them the photos below, taken by Vic - as good a gig companion and chronicler of my hero-worship as can be found...

me and damon

me and tony allen

Sunday, October 22, 2006

In The Dock: The Beatles

The time is nigh for the inaugural installment of the new regular feature here on The Art Of Noise entitled In The Dock.

Each week one contributor will present their case for the prosecution of something (be it a band, album, venue, genre, concept etc etc), while another will offer a case for the defence.

Meanwhile you, readers, are the jury. Have a look at both cases below, and then leave any comments and your verdict - either guilty or innocent - in the comments box, taking into account the strength and persuasiveness of the arguments as well as any particular feelings / prejudices you may have one way or the other.

The jury's overall verdict will be announced every Friday, so be sure to get your individual verdicts in by then.

Right, without further ado...

This week's subject: The Beatles.

The case for the prosecution (Lord Bargain)

I was sitting at a friend's house for a huge family dinner last year where the hosts had been gently ribbing my friend for an hour about her exploits at school and her old boyfriends. It was a bit of light-hearted ribbing, but you could see her getting more and more irritated with the mickey-taking. Eventually, she cracked. She pointed at me and loudly exclaimed, "Well, HE doesn’t like The Beatles!!!"

The room went silent apart from a series of sharp intakes of breath. Tens of unbelieving eyes focussed on me in absolute horror. "I’ll get my coat..."

The Beatles introduced pop as it is currently known. In fact, they probably changed the musical landscape forever. These facts are largely undisputed. However, I don’t like them and moreover I have no idea why they ever had the impact they did.

Lyrically, they made Huey Lewis look like Bernie Taupin. How can you possibly hold them in that sort of esteem with genius like "she loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah"? Or how about "we all live in a yellow submarine"? Or "here comes the sun, and I say 'it’s alright'"? Did they ever write anything lyrically profound? Or a decent protest song? Or anything with any emotional depth whatsoever (and no, that doesn’t include "help me if you can I’m feeling down")?

Indeed 'Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da' was recently voted the worst song of all time. How can you be the greatest band in the world ever and be responsible for the worst record ever made? Any other geniuses of rock on that dubious list? No, I thought not.

Instrumentally they were also distinctly average. If you had to create a supergroup of 1960s musicians, the members of The Beatles would individually get nowhere near it. Any of The Who, The Kinks or The Stones would have taken precedence, never mind the combined talents of, say, Clapton, Baker, Winwood, Davies, Cocker, Morrison or Bevan.

The Beatles were a band waiting for Stock, Aitken and Waterman to happen. Mass market appeal, slick production, image and songs that took less time to write than they did to sing. I don’t really see why they are any different to, say, McFly. Four young lads playing their instruments distinctly averagely but churning out some decent catchy three minute pop records in front of a gaggle of screaming pubescent girls. And yet whilst McFly aren’t going to go down in the rock 'n' roll hall of fame (rightly so) there seems to me no fundamental musical difference between them.

Culturally and socially there is the world of difference, but that’s not what we are talking about, is it? We are talking about the catalogue and output of a pop band which, in The Beatles' case is distinctly average. It has also been elevated to some sort of genius status by thirty years of wannabe musicians claiming erroneously that The Beatles were their main musical influence just because it made them sound credible.

The Beatles invented modern music as we know it, but it strikes me that they fundamentally missed the point. It was left to people like The Stones to take the idea of youth culture forward whereas had it been left to The Beatles, their pappy playground tosh would have died a very quick death. The Stones, God love them, embark on their annual Steel Wheelchairs Tour having not written a decent record in twenty-five years, but how long would the Beatles have lasted churning out their pithy soulless dribble on an annual world tour?

The Beatles were the Microsoft of their era. Lots of better products and lots of better alternatives were available, but they were muscled out of the market by something inferior that offered mass appeal. They were so benign and 'safe', without an ounce of teenage rebellion that parents the world over must have been delighted for their kids to like the Beatles. Inoffensive, unchallenging and vacuous.

The final point is that the vast majority of cover versions are regarded as inferior to the original. With the Beatles, I think the opposite is true. Think Nina Simone’s 'Here Comes The Sun'. Joe Cocker’s 'With A Little Help From My Friends'. Candy Flip’s 'Strawberry Fields Forever'. Let’s be frank, I even prefer Will and Gareth’s 'Long And Winding Road' to the overproduced overblown original.

So, there we have it. I have gone on t'internet and argued that Gareth Gates is better than The Beatles. Right. Perhaps I should get my coat after all...

The case for the defence (Del)

Being asked to defend The Beatles is a bit like taking a penalty into an open goal at Old Trafford. It appears deceptively easy, but you know that one little slip will see the ball fly harmlessly over the bar into a sea of baying Manchester United fans [how did you know Lord B was a Man Utd fan? - Ben]. Not good. So, this is my justification of what I think is the blindingly obvious: that the biggest band in the world ever also just happen to be the best band in the world. Ever.

And the obvious place to start is with the music. I’m not going to bother trying to convince you that The Beatles wrote and performed some amazing songs. You know what they sound like already. You know if you like them. But I will say that I remain in awe of the sheer quantity they produced, and the breadth of styles they covered. Their workrate was phenomenal: twelve studio albums in eight years (one a double album), plus three compilation albums' worth of material released only as singles or EPs. That, in the modern parlance, is a shitload of songs. Even allowing for the longer length of albums these days, and multiformat singles, no-one has since come close to that sort of productivity. They sold a fair few of them, too.

Now, for the content of those albums. Is there anything they didn’t try? Straight up rock 'n' roll and R&B, morphing into psychedelia, soul, blues, avant-garde, rockabilly, folk, surf rock, silly comedy songs, music hall, easy listening crooning (mostly Ringo’s), ill-advised cod reggae (Paul, we’re looking at you), and so on. Actually, that’s not fair, I rather like ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’. But you can certainly like The Beatles and dislike that song at the same time. Hell, George and John did…

Then there’s the experimentation. ‘Revolution No.9’, the freak-out track at the end of The White Album, is the most widely distributed piece of avant-garde art in history. Not bad for a band who were singing "She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah" six years previously, and getting excited about using "she" instead of "I" or "you". They could never be accused of resting on their laurels. The Beatles took risks, but never for the sake of it. They managed to combine forward-looking, experimental writing and recording techniques with a sense of pop that can only be called genius.

They turned the concept of ‘the song’ upside down, and still had the grans singing along. They reintroduced the drone element of Indian music that had been missing from Europe for, oooh, what, 800 odd years, and stuck it in a song about John having some illicit how’s yer father. (They’d be irritating if they weren’t so bloody good.) They took EMI’s frankly rather crap studios apart with producer George Martin and stuck everything back together in bizarre ways just to create the sounds in their heads. American producers with cutting edge technology tore their hair out trying to recreate the sounds that The Beatles and Martin had created with little more than a few pieces of string and a frying pan, and as such they had a huge effect on the way records were produced. For instance, the recording effect known as "flange" which makes things sound spacey, is so called thanks to a rude in-joke between Lennon and Martin. The filthmongers.

Now, let’s see. Prolific workaholics, check. Musical visionaries, done. Studio avatars, yup. Ah, but in the end, what did The Beatles stand for? It’s a bit much to say that The Beatles were the 1960s, but they represent so much of what we now think of when we think of that decade. Love, peace, freedom, working class ambition, counterculture, and British success. And the last should never be underestimated.

Before The Beatles, British pop music had never really crossed over beyond these shores. When Beatlemania kicked in the doors of America, Japan and the rest of the world, it gave Britain a voice and influence it has continued to enjoy ever since. It showed that British music could sell, encouraging record companies to invest in UK artists and inspiring those same artists to greater heights. If the Beatles hadn’t happened, Britain could have ended up a backwater of musical mediocrity. This, more than the songs, more than the cultural influence, is what every music fan has to thank John, Paul, George and Ringo for, whether you like what they played or not.

* * * * *

Thanks to Lord Bargain and Del. Now it's over to you. Guilty or innocent - YOU decide (to paraphrase some TV show or other). The comments box is open and awaiting your verdicts...

Green is the colour


It's John Peel Day, and the bill for tonight's gig (put on by F.A.G.) is suitably eclectic ie bizarrely but somehow workably diverse.

After a solo performer kicks the night off armed with nothing but her voice and an acoustic guitar, Gender Fascist take to the stage - or, at least, they would have done, if the upstairs room at the Hawaiian had a stage. As it is, they're on the floor, very much in amongst us. "Provocative performance punk terrorists" is probably be the description the twopiece would wish for - the sort of band that the Yeah Yeah Yeahs of yore would have invited to play one of their loft parties.

Certainly, with one member attacking a heavily distorted bass and later a metal bin, and the other screaming vocals whilst beating on a saucepan with a spoon, tunes and talent don't really come into it. But when it clicks - and it does at least a couple of times during the ten minute six-or-seven song set, with the songs about Aberystwyth gay clubs and bicuriosity - it's both potent and fun.

Lily Green is radically different again. Having moved from New Zealand in the summer, Lily is playing her first gig in the UK - and it's immediately obvious this environment is too small for her considerable talents.

A virtuoso piano player with a rich and sensuous voice, she charges the intimate atmosphere with electricity, holding the rapt attention of all those present from the off. Lily's classical training is evident, but her songs are not merely show-off-ish workouts - there is an astonishing force and anger channelled into her performance, and she often seems abandoned in the moment, drawing us into that same abandonment.

The closest reference points I could give would be to Tori Amos and perhaps (when the laptop is brought into play) Bjork, but those comparisons are clumsy and should only really be read as an indication that Lily is (a) female and (b) a musical maverick. Cardiff should just be thankful that this is where she washed ashore.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Some Links

Links to musical stuff extracted from my Linkfarm. I may well do this regularly, since I appear unable to contribute to this blog in a useful manner.

Tangerine is just what I've been waiting for. A Mac app that analyses your mp3s and figures out the BMP. It's still chugging through my music (seems to do one a second on my old G4) but so far it seems very accurate. Also, the BMP-centric playlist window is very cool. (via)

The amusing story of the new Misty's video. In short, Misty's Big Adventure write a song, Fashion Parade, about all the crap bands who sound the same. They then have a crap band supporting them at a gig called The Teats. They put 2+2 together and manage to get said band to perform in their video as the crap band in the song. A little later The Teats realise what's happened and it all kicks off. Yeah, I didn't get it at first either. (via)

Mareva Galanter. Your French/Polynesian electropop 60s covers ukulele songstress for today, courtesy of the mighty World of Kane.

Going Deaf For A Fortnight 2006. Russ L outlines his plans for this year's GDFAF. I will be reporting on his reporting as it happens.

Oh joy - a couple of videos from Suburban Kids With Biblical Names (Myspace). Here's one and here's the other. Me like! (via)

Don't Download This Song. The return of Weird Al Yankovic. Naturally this (actually very funny) song is available to download. Neat video too. More info here.

Are you Komfortable?. An hour long podcast from The Orb is a very welcome thing. (It's an m4a file with "chapters" which I think makes it iTunes only, but it is free) (via, I forgot)

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

postscript: British Sea Power live

Oh, and a quick update on another gig I saw recently - me and Anne-So went to see British Sea Power debuting a raft of new material at The Pressure Point last week; and witnessed a really tremendously satisfying set by a band that seem to delight in provoking contrasting feelings in me - I've seen them six or seven times now and I tend to love them one time and feel really disappointed the next. This was definitely one of the former occasions, the band sensibly dropping most of their last album - which I initially really rated, incidentally - to concentrate on the more agressive, frantic stylings of their first, and a bunch of new songs which, tellingly, hark back to their early stuff too.

That's not to say that they've fallen into the trap of recycling old material, but they've perhaps realised that when they're playing their hard, dark and fast stuff they sound like one of the best bands on the planet, whereas the rest of the time they sound like an average indie band. So the new stuff, much of it led by Hamilton's endearingly thin voice, utilises pounding rhythms, speedy basslines and razor sharp guitar sounds, and is - frankly - brilliant, and bodes well for an excellent third album. If they can just eradicate their occasional propensity for duff live shows then they might just fulfill all that early promise and fascinating imagery.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Younger Knives

I saw The Young Knives for the third time this year last night - another cracking gig, and quite amazing to see how their appeal has broadened into the intervening months. The first time I saw them - at the Ocean Rooms - they were tremendous, but the audience was small and a long way from being groomed or stylish (myself particularly, I admit). At Audio a couple of months later there was a bit more of a buzz but it was still pretty sedate. Last night, however, I realised how quickly they've come on (and how poor the Concorde 2 is at checking its customers' ID) - the growd was a riot of youthful, dressy, slanty-haired teens with cloudbursts of mascara and low-slung belts. They danced arhythmically and clutched glowsticks (the DJ, noticing the mood, cued up Shitdisco and The Klaxons) before the band came on.

And then they leapt and moshed and sashayed their way through the YK set, singing along with every word. Was surprised and amused and pleased. I would never have said, before, as much as I wanted it to happen, that the Knives would really breakthrough into the mainstream. I think I might have been wrong, though.

The band, as brilliant as ever, seemed to recognise this, too - regularly sharing raised eyebrows as the crowd before them threw themselves around with naive abandon. Unfortunately, an album-heavy set clearly focused on raising the temperature meant there were no airings of 'Guess The Baby's Weight', 'Worcestershire Madman' nor the brilliant 'Current of The River'. But riotous run throughs of 'Kramer Vs Kramer', 'She's Attracted To' and 'Elaine' more than made up for that. Best of all was a lovely, slight - and rather rare - attempt at 'Tailors' - during which I marvelled at the ingenuity of a young crowd so enthusiastic that when Henry sang "Tailors are the best, see them running with their brollies" a whole subsection of the mosh pit stopped swaying and mimed the opening of a dozen imaginary umbrellas. Awesome.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

And in the red corner...

With nearly four months having passed since the final installment, the dust has well and truly settled on The A-Z Of Music series. So it's about time a successor was named, don't you think?

Well, fear not.

Starting next weekend is a series which will see two people slugging it out over a contentious subject every week. Most of the contributors were involved in the A-Z, but we've also got some fresh blood. You the reader will then get the opportunity to give your points verdict.

Of course, this extended boxing metaphor is a bit of a red herring given the feature is called In The Dock...

Anyway, make sure you pop by this time next week, when Lord Bargain and Del will be doing battle over the relative merits (or otherwise) of that most sacred of cows The Beatles. See you then.

A Field of their own


"We'll be playing for about half an hour. You're missing 'Extras' for this. "We" being The Keys - not the American swamp-blues-revivalist duo (that'd be The Black Keys) but the psychedelic-garage-revivalist fourpiece from the Valleys. One of them used to be in Murry The Hump and they've put out a single on Too Pure, you know.

On occasions it's difficult to see quite what Too Pure heard in them - those occasions, such as the song I presume from its mantra-like chorus is called 'Eyes Of The World' - because they come across as a lethargic Oasis covers band. But at their best, they're like Spiritualized or The Brian Jonestown Massacre covering The Kinks - in other words, quite a prospect. 'Bad Dreams' (which you can download here) brings the set to a particularly satisfying conclusion.

Like 'Extras', then - a bit inconsistent. But, unlike 'Extras', more good than bad.

Field Music were responsible for one of my favourite albums of last year, but they and their self-titled debut remain criminally underappreciated. One suspects that they're sick of reading about their "connections" - for the record, Peter Brewis used to drum for The Futureheads, whose Barry Hyde was once a member, while Maximo Park's Tom English has also filled in on drumming duties on occasion - because they're very much their own band.

Rather than limiting themselves to the jerky, juddery post-punk palette, as their North-Eastern associates tend to, Field Music use those same colours in a more creative way, painting prettier, poppier pictures.

Tonight the core trio of Peter Brewis and his brother David, who switch between guitars and drums, plus keyboard player Andrew Moore begin with four unfamiliar songs on the bounce, all presumably taken from new album Tones On The Town which is due for release in January. While recognisably Field Music tracks, they don't seem to have the same lushness and sparkle in the eye - but then that's quite possibly owing to their unfamiliarity.

(Incidentally, is it just me who feels a little guilty at that rush of relief that comes when a band plays something you know? After all, a good live set isn't necessarily one which is stuffed full of crowd-pleasers - why shouldn't bands try out new or different things?)

When the old material does come, the likes of 'If Only The Moon Were Up', 'Shorter Shorter' and set-closer 'You're So Pretty' are welcomed enthusiastically by those of us who've heard it - but there remains a nagging feeling that live the songs don't quite match up to their recorded counterparts, a sense that - as good as it is - they can't quite do justice to the melodic, clever and artful pop of their debut.

It doesn't help that new single 'In Context' has to be aborted when the bass decides not to work, but no matter, the band seem to be enjoying themselves anyway, all smiles when performing an impromptu rendition of 'Happy Birthday' Brian May style on request, and claiming Clwb is the best venue of the tour so far because "we've got towels".

It's a travesty that a band of their originality should be grateful for the supply of such mundane things as towels, but unfortunately that's the situation in which they currently find themselves. This live performance may not have been wholly convincing, but hopefully the new album will help to get them the popular acclaim they deserve.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Obscure delights

Short post, just wanted to direct everyone to three rather nice articles in today's Guardian. Musician's favourite obscure albums, Britain's best independent record shops, and an interveiw with Mark Linkous just after the release of Dangerhorse Sparklemouse Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

the cream cannot help but always rise up to the top...

I think I've just heard the song that best describes the way I currently feel about the world.

That man Jarvis, he speaks THE TRUTH.

click to view.... I guess probably NSFW

I don't know if The Man is scared that The Kids will hear someone telling it like it is or what, but I think it's a fucking disgrace that they won't play this song on the radio....

It's good to have him back, isn't it? We need more people like him wafting their arses in the face of the absurdity of the world.

Judging by last week's NME though, he does have terrible Old Man Hands.


On a slightly different (but equally musically related) note, Pynch mentioned "Paperback Believer" over at his the other day. It's a mash-up of "Daydream Believer" by the Monkees and "Paperback Writer" by the Beatles, and sounded interesting enough that I looked it up.

I found it. It's ace.

"Go Home Productions" is run by a guy called Mark Vidler ("producer / remixer / DJ") and it contains a whole lot of cool MP3s that you can download.

Destiny's Child & Thin Lizzy? Check.
David Essex & The Doves? Check.
"Daytripper" and Michael Jackson? Check.
The Chemical Brothers & The Velvet Underground (with a touch of U2 for good measure)? Check.

There's loads more too, so go lookee (or am I just the last man on Earth to find this stuff?)

Oh, and whilst you are at it, check out Del's mash-ups too. Also ace.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Fighting the good fight

The Guardian's Laura Barton profiles twenty of the best independent record shops in Britain. No surprise to see Rough Trade heading the list and Monorail and Avalanche also featuring, but from a personal perspective it's good to see three of my favourites merit a mention: Sister Ray in Soho, Selectadisc in Nottingham and Spillers in Cardiff.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

in fact it's a gas...

I was listening to my iPod on shuffle in the car on Friday night when "Jumping Jack Flash" came on and that unmistakeable intro kicked in. It's a simple little riff (the best ones always are) and it's maybe been dulled a little by over-familiarity, but 38 years after it was first written, it's still a great song.

This got me thinking: has anyone in the history of music played a single riff more times in front of a paying audience than Keith Richards has played that one?

You'd think he'd be heartily sick of it by now. That same simple little riff picked out every bloody night since 1968? I suppose that the millions and millions of pounds he must have made out of it (and continues to make out of it) must be some consolation as he turns to the camera and mouths "I love this job" for the benefit of those fans watching the gig in the next postal district on the big screen.... every. single. bloody. night.

It's a gas, gas, gas.....


New blood

A belated welcome to new permanent contributors Swiss Toni and Caskared, both veterans of the A-Z Of Music posts.