Friday, 21 November 2008

Deerhunter- 'Microcastle' (4AD)

Mr Bradford Cox is a prolific man. Not content with releasing a solo album earlier this year, or the last Deerhoof album in 2007, he now returns with an album, which comes with a bonus album ('Weird Era Cont.') because 'Microcastle' leaked so early. See, piracy does work.

This beautiful album of dream pop starts with 'Cover Me Slowly' and its conjoined twin 'Agoraphobia'. Guitars seem to shift in slow motion, like seismic plates, or zero gravity drift. In a less pretentious way, it sounds fucking epic. The expansiveness of the sound is contrasted to the vocals, of wanting to hide away and fade. As Bradford says: “I want only to see, four walls made of concrete, six by six enclosed.”

The echo laden guitars also appear on 'Never Stops' where the shoegaze guitars come out to play. And shoegaze seems to be the right word, with effects laden guitars often hiding the pop melodies that lie inside, just like what My Bloody Valentine used to do. Bradford Cox often claims to take influences from doowop and 50s music too, and these can be seen on 'Never Stops', as well as on the casually strummed intro to 'Microcastle' before the fuzzed out guitars join in again.

'Calvary Scars' is based on a delicate acoustic guitar, and a gentle croon, like a sweetly sung lullaby, but without the desire to sleep, just to revel in its languid beauty. And all this despite of lyrics so typically dark of Deerhunter, featuring the sole line “crucified on a cross in front of all my closest friends.” The pop skeleton still shines through, whatever shade is placed to hide it.

Sadly, on an album so full of gorgeous melodies there is the odd moment that drags. One of these is 'Activa', which as pretty as it sounds, meanders too much, even over it's short minute and a half length. Fortunately, the impetus is soon restored with 'Nothing Ever Happened', which starts with a riff that sounds like it was nabbed straight from the Stone Roses before driving guitars take over and Deerhunter reach their most commercial moment. Surprise surprise, it was the first single. Oh, you cynical record label you.

'Saved By Old Times' reveals the one chink in Deerhunter's impressive coat of armour. It is the lyrics. Simplicity is not an issue, but waffling on saying “We were captured by Victorian vampires,
with elaborate designs” is not winning over the lyrics place, sorry. No matter how good the music is, you just end up with a little cringey judder running through your body.

The reverb laden guitar return on 'Neither Of Us, Uncertainly', layers of sound built up into music that sounds simple despite of its elaborate construction. 'Twilight At Carbon Lake', the album closer, starts with a woozy, lethargic feel to its slurry guitar lines, and just adds further to the feeling of relaxation that seeps through 'Microcastle.' But then things get nice and loud, like all final tracks should, as layers build into skyscrapers, drums are (finally) pounded with iron sticks, and all with that shoegaze angelic vocal over the top.

It's a reminder that Deerhunter can do loud as well as quiet. However prolific Bradford Cox is, it seems, unlike some, cough Devendra cough Banhart cough, he manages to keep the quality of his produce at a stratospheric level throughout. And that prolificness and the giving to fans, is what makes Deerhunter one of the most important bands of the moment.

Fight Like Apes- 'Jake Summers' (Model Citizen)

Fight Like Apes do not sound Irish. At all. If anything they sound like they got together to play a house party at college, realised how much fun it was and toured house parties across America. But no, Irish they are. And Irish accents are so nice, too.

The chorus of 'Jake Summers' starts with the lines: “Hey you, what's your face, I got a pocketful of fists you'd better watch your face.” Fight Like Apes are quite literally coming out swinging. I'd watch out, Jake, if I were you. Be Your Own Pet (remember them?) are bought to mind, be it through the bratty female vocals, or the rocked up feel of the track, or the youthful energy. Do you believe in reincarnation?

The Casio keyboards, guitar thrum and rumble of drums combine into melodies that make your heart swoon. Then Maykay lets out a little scream and whether you're on the morning commute or on a sticky dancefloor, your limbs start to pull shapes.

'Corey Pop' takes out the vocals, with the synths dominating instead, sounding like an old arcade game with extra fun thrills thrown on. 'Snore Bore Whore' is much more down key, bemoaning a lost love on maudlin keyboards.

The infectious melodies and great pop vibes on show across these three tracks should be more than enough to drag in rainbow hordes across the country. Join the devoted.

Bjork- 'Nattura' (One Little Indian)

Iceland is not a popular place right now, if you have (had?) any money. But hey, here comes Bjork, trying to perk everyone up. Hey guys! Look, screw money, the environment is going to shit. Buy this song, and we can save the planet, yeah?

OK, Bjork. Deal.

And for your pennies spent on iTunes, you also get some added bonuses. Hark, it's the drummer from metal noiseniks Lightning Bolt. And look, Matthew Herbert on bass. Keep your eyes peeled, and, yes, there he Thom Yorke on backing vocals too. Sweet.

Anyone who understands the lyrics wins a shiny gold star, as they appear to be in Icelandic but the clever money is on some kind of save the planet schtick. Doesn't matter anyways, for your attention is drawn to the big scary drums that pound away in the foreground, and the sinister ambient moans of Mr Yorke that create the swirling the soundscape.

'Nattura' is dark, with a juddering bassline and Bjork's urgent and forceful vocals pushing things down paths through dark skeletal woods and moonlit concrete tunnels. The mix of rattling drums and human howls almost comes apart, but the track remains a curious globule of electronica, and a most wonderful charidee single.

Fucked Up- 'The Chemistry Of Common Life' (7/10/08 Matador)

Who would have thought Fucked Up could get on the cover of NME? Maybe it was cynical, who knows. NME desperately trying to claw back some of their readership as it spills away, or something. Whichever, if people want progressive hardcore, then Fucked Up are seemingly the band to supply it. Destructive and chaotic, an overweight balding frontman, but yet so much more. For one, the album title is based on a 19th century book on narcotics and poisons.

The flute that starts this album on 'Son The Father' does nothing to prepare you for what's to come. Images of a French attic, and a young man pining for his love across the rooftops is soon superseded by the crescendo of guitars. Hardcore riffs appear, and the howl of Pink Eyes screams from the stereo, playing (a very angry) Jesus addressing his daddy. The Evangelists won't be happy with lyrics like these: “the living embodiment of perfect, a reversed Oedipal complex based on power not on the sex.”

The theme is echoed on 'Days Of Last', where Pink Eyes puts the Messiah complex right out there with “Let me re-introduce myself, I am the Son of Man.” The track lives up to its title, crunching riffs over blasting horns adding to a sense of doom that infiltrates the album.

Whether you enjoy Fucked Up or not very much depends on how you feel towards vocals that conjure images of futile teenage rebellion by hiding behind loud music that is supposed to scare the parents. Pink Eyes style is certainly divisive. If you can get past it, however, then joys await you on this record.

The music behind the howl is largely flawless. After the hectic opening salvo, 'Golden Seal' has brass and synths at a languid pace, an instrumental that shows a remarkable breadth of style for an ostensibly hardcore band. Later on, another instrumental 'Looking For God' again supplies some much needed breathing space amongst the noise.

Stadium rock is almost channelled at times on 'Crooked Head', traditional chords layered into the bombast that builds. The reported 70 tracks of instruments can really be felt in the dense treacle feel of the rock out ending. 'No Epiphany' has a similar feel, and could almost be, well, Oasis. Except, you know, good. And not raping Lennon's already sodomised corpse.

The teenage rebellion emerges most clearly on 'Black Albino Bones', where the joys of sex and weed are eulogised. “Squishing flesh together until the magic comes out... Burning plants together until the magic comes out, take it in the inhalate.” Very naughty.

It is one of the rare times that Fucked Up descend to the teenage punk level, with higher concepts, such as those of religion and existence more regularly evoked. These are further expressed in the simple hardcore of 'Twice Born' in lines like “Hands up if you think you are the only one who was left upon the cross like God's only son.”

Album closer 'The Chemistry Of Common Life' sees the riffs at their most triumphant, pounding with a sense of joy hidden until that point, before the flute that started out proceedings makes a brief return. Fucked Up are winners, no doubt.

For a punk band the lyrics remain strong throughout, talking through metaphors, with a poetic bent that the shouting masks. This, their second album, or fiftieth, or whatever, is their best yet, the band's reach extending out of hardcore and grabbing genres here and there like pick and mix. It's a strange beast, but one that shows precisely where music should be heading.

Times New Viking- Stay Awake EP (Matador)

As ever, the unique Times New Viking sound is in place on this new EP. In case you're new to this malarkey, read recorded from the next room onto a dictaphone in a storm. If you can past the lowest of lo fi feel, then there are nuggets of gold buried in the dirt.

On 'Call And Respond' an oscillating keyboard riff gets scuzzed and rolled under the simple thrash of drums and guitar. The song is ostensibly a pop song, but rolled in tar, feathered, and sent mud wrestling. Dirty pop, if you will. Although there's no Christina Aguilera in sight (thankfully).

Channeling the inner crazy, 'Pagan Eyes' lasts just over a couple of minutes, with almost the only lyrics “Pagan eyes, pagan eyes, everywhere I go there's just pagan eyes.” It is still brilliant.

A flourish of Indian music starts 'No Sympathy', before a tired sounding keyboard gets dominated by lethargic vocals and audio shrapnel conjured from the guitar. These are not criticisms, by any means. The components unite into a cohesive globule of heartbreak.

The production almost drowns out the band on 'Sick & Tyred', the vocals smothered in an extra layering of static hiss. The momentum easily carries them through to the end.

'Hate Hate Hate' whirrs past at 90 miles per hour, all wrapped up in 58 seconds of rapid drumming, shouts and chants. Seven of those precious seconds are a slowburn fade out at the end, a much needed pause for breath.

The joy of the cheap production is that it makes the listener work harder to extract the indie pop melodies they disguise so well. For a band with one guitar, one keyboard and a drummer the songs tend towards simplistic. But there is an honest greatness hidden underneath the one take fuzz of this EP.

The whole 5 track EP will only use up 11 minutes of your busy life. No excuses. Buy it, schmuck.

MGMT- Kids (Colombia)

MGMT, the indie band de jour, release the second best track from Oracular Spectacular. The one that was on Skins, the one all the cool kids like. Yeah, that one.

Well this is the other one, that rattles on about how you should “take only what you need from it” in crypto mythical terms. Much like MGMT themselves, with their ker-azy dress sense. But screw the scenester superiority complex, this song is grand.

The keyboards, and the sweet pop melodies grooving underneath all combine into one of the deserved crossover hits of the year. However much it has been overplayed, it still bops like a muthafucker.

The Soulwax remix on the B side sees the Belgian outfit do their usual spit and shine. 'Kids' turns from a song that works in an indie club to a song that works in any club, anywhere.

Everything is tautened and expanded, vocals pitched up an octave and the keyboards from the original turned into slinky sleazy synthesizers. Elements of the brilliant original filter through the digital haze. Although a different, glitzier beast, it almost works better than the original. Almost.

Friday, 24 October 2008

Gregory And The Hawk- 'Ghost' (Fatcat Records)

Before Noah had his whale, Gregory had his hawk. Or, as it actually is, her hawk. Because Gregory is really Meredith Godreau. Cue confused gig promoters who get a female singer songwriter, when they expected some twee folk boy. Perhaps the point, as Meredith wanted to avoid all the pigeon-holing that females receive at the hands of cynical music journalists. Like me?

Well, no. Meredith has no need to hide behind (admittedly great) monikers. 'Ghost' mixes up folksy guitars and rattling guitars, and then adds her sweet and breathy vocals on top. The swoony brass sways into the chorus, lugubrious and woozy charms on show. The song feels gentle to the touch, but the build up of instruments adds a certain solidity.

On the other side of the CD (but not really, that's tapes) comes 'Dare And Daring', where things are kept much more slow paced. Guitars form a plucked and rolling backing, but the folksy feeling combines with pop melodies into something very pretty. No need for old invisible friends, you don't need him anymore.

Absentee- 'Victory Shorts' (22/9/08 Memphis Industries)

London band Absentee claim to have been bought up on the music of the Carpenters and his honourable Barry 'nose' Manilow. Yet it is little in evidence here, on their second album.

On album opener 'Shared' they channel the spirit of slow paced desert ballads, trying to do battle with the drizzle of English autumns. No 1970s pop here. Vocalist Dan Michaelson sings in a grizzled croon that rumbles and rolls, and sounds not unlike a decent impression of Mark Lanegan. Cooed female backing vocals entwine with the baritone, a contrast that works brilliantly with the lollop of the guitars.

The slow opening is quickly run over by the driving pop of 'Boy Did She Teach You Nothing?' on an album that varies its tone between indie and country, changing and shifting like sands in the desert. Gentle sandy moans are soon followed by the non more traditional rock of 'Pips'

When Michaelson croons “I'm willing you, to make mistakes that suit you, wouldn't have it any other way” the theme of the album emerges. Romance. Sometimes it's unrequited, as on the medical ward plod of 'The Nurses Don't Notice A Thing, where the simple poetry of lines like "the simplest feelings of love explode into the room like cowboys in saloons, I want to clap but it seems inappropriate” spills out like an old soak on too much whisky.

Sometimes it's loss, as on 'Love Has Had It's Way', where the exhaustion of the end of a relationship is captured in the lethargic feel of the track. All spectrums are covered, as the unholy practice thieving of girlfriends is covered on the aptly named 'Bitchstealer.' Sample lyric: “She wasn't yours to take, so just bring her back.”

The cowboy feel of 'Victory Shorts' continues on 'They Do It These Days', with the wobbly piano lines sounding like a saloon bar knees up. Trumpets and guitars climb onto the bar and add to the celebratory atmosphere. By the end of the song the band are proposing a rushed marriage.

One thing that grates like wire wool trousers is the need for Michaelson to sing in a southern baritone. Look at Kate Nash, Jamie Oliver, Jon Culshaw etc etc. Faking your voice annoys people, although an English baritone perhaps wouldn't fit the music so well.

The track most guilty of the crime is 'Spitting Feathers' which sounds like a washed up country singers attempt to win back his lover, with charming lines like: “Your face hasn't changed since the time I slurred.” It even has that twangy country guitar pedal effect so beloved of bootlace tie wearers everywhere.

However, it's a trivial issue, when the melodies tend to be of high quality. Apart from 'We Smash Plates', where the track drags and drags like a weary toddler, the countrified melodies and occasional brass flourished work well. Absentee have comfortably moved out of the shadow of their early Magic Numbers patronage.

The problem remains, however, of how special any of these songs are. Competence is not brilliance. As good as the songs are technically, and however well put together they are, it doesn't mean you'd choose to listen to them. Just cos you can buy flatpack, does it make it better than an antique? Would you choose Absentee, when their area of music has been covered before, and better?

Land of Talk- 'Some Are Lakes' (29/9/08 Indian)

Land Of Talk return, and someone has been feeding 'em sedatives. Gone is the punky exuberance of the debut, with the Canadians stealing valium from the medicine cabinet, all downtempo cruising rock.

It's not surprise considering the topic of 'Some Are Lakes', as it focuses on a parental relationship thwarted by cancer. Land Of Talk have gone very Rilo Kiley, before Rilo Kiley decided that changing their sound was a good idea. The melodies flow like red wine

The B side sees one of the band's earlier tracks, Summer Special rerecorded into an acoustic . The line “Look at those boys, so young, so young still piss their pants” turns from a dismissal into a lamentation of lost youth. The gentle summer vibes work well in the early October gloom, with porches and teenage girls in rocking chairs. A move from their noisy past has been pitched perfectly.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

The Peth- 'The Golden Mile' (1/9/08 Strangetown)

Perhaps this review is more suited for the Heats and the Closers of this world, concerning, as it does, the man largely known as 'Sienna's ex.' If you don't understand that, then good for you, but we're talking Rhys Ifans, he who paraded his pants in front of Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts. It also features Daffyd from Super Furry Animals (a band Rhys was briefly lead singer for, back in the day, fact fans), so, you know, maybe it has some musical merit too?

The opening 2 tracks of the album promise much. 'Half A Brain' starts with a slow build of synths, before breaking out into dirty electro riffs, before melding into a chorus that sounds all 70s rock. If the refrain was better, it might have worked. 'Shoot On Sight' works much better, with a strutting bassline and portentous synths creating some truly galactic rock, and easily the best track of the record. '69 Fanny Street' almost matches it, but the melodies just tip the wrong side of the derivative/brilliant seesaw.

Maybe it's the Welsh accents, or the involvement of Daffyd Ieuan, but 'Let's Go Fucking Mental' sounds a lot like Super Furry Animals, but if they were shaved of all the little lumps and bumps that make them interesting. This sets up the theme for the rest of the album, songs that ape their influences successfully, but never surpass them.

'Turbotank' recalls Oasis at their bloated worst, chugging away , a rusty old schooner patched and worn out. The lyrics recall the Gallaghers primary school platitudes with lines like “Zero hero, leading me astray, cos you love me, yeah yeah yeah.” Ifans may be able to act up a storm (ie his Peter Cook take) but get him to sit down with pen and paper, and shit spills out. Witness “talk to me cos I don't understand ya, talk to me from your sunset veranda” that opens Sunset Verandah. The only thing that can be said in that song's favour is that the keyboards in the back of the picture sound a little bit like 'Baba O'Riley' by the Who.

The songs are filled with cavernous guitars, foot firmly pressed on epic, but it just feels like you're listening to the songs through the drug haze that 'The Golden Mile' was clearly recorded through. It's all trying to bring to mind 'Screamadelica', but it all to often conjures up memories of the tedium of slow paced Britpop at its worst, and the lack of ideas inherent in British rock n roll.

One song that manages to bring the fun is 'Last Man Standing', with the great couplets of “If I only had my crackpipe, it just might have kept me sane, instead of picking up the toaster, and toasting half my brain.” The song appears an ode to Ifans's well documented wastrel ways, but the driving riffs and joyous atmosphere don't fail to bring a smile.

“Everything I do you hate it, break me down to almost nothing.” Cough Sienna, cough. “Every day I think about you.” These kind of lines, found on 'Stonefinger', might stuff more evidence into the bag marked 'Rhys Ifans is getting over his ex in a very public way' but the songs seem to suggest more a need to act the rock n roll star. The 'greats' of Britrock are summoned, for better or worse, and as catharsis, who knows, this project probably works. As artistic statement, as something of value outside tabloid interest, it probably doesn't.

Glasvegas- 'Glasvegas' (Sony BMG 8/9/08)

The Jesus And Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine, Spector, the Ronettes etc etc. The influences are written on sleeves, threaded through the tracks, ever present. Glasvegas sound like little else current, but a lot else olden.

This hyped debut opens positively, the big drumbeats and 'whoas' of the background combine with the 'couldn't be more Scottish if it was wearing tartan and eating a battered Mars bar' vocal stylings of singer James Allan on 'Flowers And Football Tops', creating what is at its noir heart, a good pop song.

'Geraldine' maintains the quality, its almost stadium-esque guitars mixing perfectly with an ode of love to “the angel on your shoulder.” The down key nature of 'It's My Own Cheating Heart That Makes Me Cry' almost makes it better, with the 50s influences very much to the fore on a more sombre track.

The terrace chant of 'Go Square Go' bounces along on its apparently meaningless repetition of the title, before descending further into the hooligan anthem, with Allan driving the crowd to a frenzy with his “here we fucking go.” I'm not going anywhere. Sorry.

One plus, or minus, is the clearly defined Glasvegas sound. The 50s inspired guitars, mixed with the reverb and echo of Phil Spector, create a certain sound that no one does any more. The minus is that, despite carving their own niche into the rock, they only have one niche. 'Polmont On My Mind' is evidence of this, dawdling along, turning up the guitars for another big chorus, and clicking on the reverb pedal, with all the passion of a prostitute and a lonesome businessman.

It just makes you all the more grateful when 'Daddy's Gone' makes its entrance. Do any more words need be expended further eulogising this track? Probably not.

Whatever the motives of it, 'Stabbed' just feels like a cheap cash in on tabloid hysteria. It may be relevant to many people's lives, but you just know that if it had been done by on Brass Eye, you'd be laughing, despite the tragedy of the words. The classical piano backing just adds to the heightened sense of ridicule.

'S.A.D Light' makes a nursery rhyme reference, much like 'Flowers And Football Tops', but this time using 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star'. A lack of ideas, or just continuing the childhood references that linger around, of absent fathers, football, and social workers? The simple drumbeat that opens the track is soon overtaken by the broken croons, but remains steady throughout, a concrete foundation. Sadly, little of interest is built on it, just a few breeze blocks.

'Ice Cream Van' is the true let down of the album, the vocals lost in its own echo chamber. It feels like its had its tethers cut, and has started floating through the clouds. It feels distant, remote, and nothing happens in the whole 5 minutes. As an album closer it fails. As a track it fails.

Sadly, Glasvegas don't quite match their Alan McGee spurred hype. Too often the track is one paced and one dimensional. Outside of the blandness of the closer, there is as little variety in style as an emo convention. When they really slot the melodies together, it sparks and spits like little else. Unfortunately, there are just a few too many misfires to make this the classic it could have been.

Bon Iver- 'For Emma' (4AD)

Blah blah... lived in a log cabin... blah blah blah. You know the story. I know the story. We know the story. Squirrels know the story. Can we move on now? Yes/No.

From the electric that sounds like it wants to cry, to a successful use of brass to convey sadness (hard hard hard to do) to the gentle acoustic that underpins the whole pile, 'For Emma' is a melancholy beauty, and further cements Bon Iver as one of the stars of 2008.

The tears are plucked out, as Justin Vernon (playing the part of an ex lover) cries out his dismissal “go find another lover”.

The b side 'Wisconsin' has a different feel to the tracks of the album. Sounding like it was recorded in a church, from far away, on a tape, it is simple and slow. Occasionally the levels rise, but the depressed mumbled vocals and rumbling acoustic soon return.

Bon Iver has heartbreak on tap, the poor old soul, but can find resolve in his brilliance at conveying it, and maki

White Lies- 'Death' (Fiction)

Brandon Flowers is missing his keyboard, by the sound of things. White Lies must have been hanging around by the tourbus, waiting for their opportunity. The whole feel of the single is very Killers esque anyway, from the plaintive vocals, to the 'big chorus'.

White Lies seem to have missed the post punk boat. Going by Black Kids, people are getting a tad fatigued by the whole barrel scraping of the 80s act. Yawns are stifled, and a blasé attitude are hard to contain.

This song isn't going to help that, having so little melodically going for it. It's been perfectly designed, and fits together like a flatpack. It also has about as much soul as one. Everything happens as predictably as a Kate Hudson film, guitars make the noises at the right times. Ticks in its favour? It has good packaging?

Mercury Rev- 'Senses On Fire' (22/9/08 V2)

'Senses On Fire' sees another reinvention from the Madonnas of alternative music, changing the (by then) tired sounding dream pop of 'The Secret Migration' into a new electronic and psychedelic route. And it works.

Synths are thrown in with vocals shouted through walls of distortion. Gone is the delicate falsetto. Gone is the orchestration. Instead, they build it up, build it up, the beeps and drums combining into a driving pulse that sits at the heart of the effects and shrapnel that surround the melody. The beauty of yore remains, thankfully.

The remixes, however, lie redundant at the bottom of a spectral sea. The Fujiya And Miyagi remix just filters and shapes, but leaves the piece largely the same, more of a spot the difference competition than a remix. The Holden Mix, alternatively, decides to do away with the Mercury Rev bits, and turns 'Senses On Fire' into a mangled blitz of computer effects. Its parents wouldn't recognise its caved in face.

The original, though, sees the indie hype zeitgeist successfully channelled, bringing to mind the shoegaze mellow outs of Deerhunter, but with a liveliness that Bradford Cox can only wish for in his glitziest of dreams.

Calexico-'Carried To Dust' (City Slang 8/9/08)

From the opening of 'Victor Jara's Hands' you can hear the border town vibes that are threaded through this album like chillis through a burrito. Calexico definitely represent the town they take their name from. The song sets the town for the rest of 'Carried To Dust', full of South American chord progressions and the flaring of mariachi horns. Concerning the murdered political activist Victor Jara, the guitars chug offbeat, and the Spanish vocals intone passion, even if my year of language classes won't help any understanding.

'Two Silver Trees' acts all coy and downbeat, a picked melody, and low murmured vocals adding to a hint of menace. Then an almost 80s style chorus hits, and in its plinks of piano the tension is released in pop burbles.

The problem with too much of 'Carried To Dust'' is that it drifts past, like a tumbleweed. 'Writer's Minor Holiday' and 'House Of Valparaiso' float along like leaves on a river, and just as inconsequentially. Their hushed vibes do nothing to intrigue the listener, and you start to wonder what's on TV.

'Man Made Lake' grabs the ears back in, starting on a sparkling xylophone before epic guitars build it up, crescendoing outwards. The ambiance is perfect, empty towns conjured up out of the ether. Tones are varied on next track 'Inspiracion', where the mariachi horns return. A Mexican style piece, it sounds a lot like 'Latin Simone (¿Qué Pasa Contigo?)' from the first Gorillaz album. This is not a bad thing.

'Slowness' ruins all the good work. You could argue these languid songs have a gentle beauty. And in places they do. But before long your mind is wandering in other fields than the ones they try to evoke. Perhaps a symptom of attention deficit disorder, or perhaps a symptom of a lack of ideas. 'El Gotillo' sounds a little bit Devotcka, and the mix of whistling and Johnny Cash guitars creates a kaleidoscopic desert. The instrumental is one of the highlights of the album.

The flaw with 'Carried To Dust' is that too often it is happy to coast. There are notable exceptions, that manage to raise the listener out of his stupor with creative instrumentation and composition. The songs like 'Red Blooms' appear, and sound like a fade out that never fades, such is the torturous pace. For atmosphere the album is hard to beat, so soaked in Americana vibes is it. For something to get your pulse racing, and fingers tapping, the excitements are few and far between.

Captive State- 'Elmore Grove EP' (22/9/08 Genuine Records)

Do you miss the Beta Band? This might be an alternative for you, as on 'Mona' Captive State create a vibe very very similar to the old Scottish band. Melodies are added on top of melodies, with horns eventually thrown onto the tottering pile, a bed of acoustic rattles and synths beneath. Repetitive vocals create a transcendent feel, like you're floating, the space pop carrying you away. It almost helps you escape the grey skies and rain soaked pavements.

However, the lyrics on 'China White Doll' are like the bad kid at the back of the class, letting everyone down. Dull platitudes about a girl, full of cliches such as years/tears and sun/done and tired metaphors. It's a shame, cos the gentle acoustic lines, and lulled brass and xylophone plonk backing works brilliantly. It would be moving, particularly on the slow piano fade out, but for the stupid words.

Gloom filled electronics take over on 'Weatherman', where synths and bass dominate over the acoustics, relegated to the background. The lyrics continue to fail, with the line “he knew one day he would die” delivered with drama that it doesn't deserve. Like getting Brian Blessed to read out train times.

'Lost' returns to the feel of 'Mona', creating a bookend of intelligent pop songs that show what Captive State do best. When they stick to the bombast of orchestral glory, then the sub par nature of the lyrics can be forgiven and forgotten. Adventurousness should always be encouraged, but not if you forget to pack your backpack properly.

Sister- 'Lovers Of Today' (The Flower Shop)

'Lovers Of Today' brings dark guitars, and gloomy keys, and tries to channel Sons And Daughters and other bands of that ilk. It fails. It feels false, like Sister hired a crack team of rock stars to provide some edge to their music, and they cracked under the pressure. Then, three minutes in, even they get bored, and the track just stops. Dead.

'Down Down' raises standards a tad, and makes like the Velvet Underground on their lullaby moments. Guitars burble and strum in the background, and a xylophone plinks like a music box. Singer Gemma Banks is hushed, and the song soothes like a lover's embrace. Maybe too soothing though. The song quietly nurdles along, but after two minutes your attention is lost. Distracted by a shiny thing, or a piece of torn brown paper on your bedroom floor.

Sister show two sides on this release, a churning guitar led one that doesn't fit them, like a pair of your fat brother's castoff jeans, and a more introspective side, that could work, of there was some jagged edges hidden in the ether of the song.

4 Or 5 Magicians- 'Behind Each Other's Back' (DIY)

There are 5 members of 4 Or 5 Magicians. There could be made some lame joke about the shameful state of numeracy in Britain, but: A- this is not the Daily Mail, and B- you, the reader, and me, the 'journo', are likely the same age as the band.

The opening of 'Behind Each Other's Backs' hits big, twirling guitars added over more layers of guitars, like some tottering wedding cake before it breaks down into vocals that bear some resemblance to the old clatterings of Eastern Lane. It takes the box marked '90s British indie', all a bit Britpop and lovely.

Even better is the B side 'I'm In The Band', which excavates the soggy bags of Pavement's louche charm, the guitar solo played with delayed slackness over the slightly wonky pace that they had so down pat. As a nostalgia trip, it works great. On its own individual merits it rocks out in a lazy manner, spiraling skyward, higher and higher.

4 Or 5 Magicians are on some brilliant trip to somewhere special in the future, around about now. Hop onto their hoverboard... Go. If you want, you can make your own joke about the tracks being 'magic', but we are sooooo above that.

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Port O Brien- 'All We Could Do Was Sing' (City Slang)

The rural pursuits are currently getting a good hearing in indie music. First we had the log cabin hermitage of Bon Iver & the distinctly agrarian feel of Fleet Foxes, and now we have the fisherman antics of Port O'Brien, featuring Alaskan salmon snaffler Van Pierszalowski and friends. What's next? Farmers making breakbeat? A jazz quintet of shepherds? No answers this end, but at least it's getting quieter in the city.

The album starts with a strong contender for album opener of the year, the relentlessly perky 'I Woke Up Today'. Guitars roll along, channeling other young upstarts of the summer Born Ruffians, vocals chanted like mantras.

Following the upbeat intro, things take on a downbeat hue on the next few songs. The nautical elements of the band's origins are brought out on 'Stuck On A Boat', which wins today's 'Ronseal award' for song topic displayed in title, although it is closely run with 'Fisherman's Son', where Van declares he's “doing fine in Alaska”. The ideas of following your family trade that feature in the song take on a sad hue, with the lyrics suggesting a desire for escape, but a hatred of the city. As he declares, “I can never win”.

The more the album plays on, the more the sombre songs take over. 'Don't Take My Advice' carries on the restlessness that inflicts Van, declaring he's “not ready to settle down”. Escape from fishing, escape from the city, the touring life of a rock n roll band seems perfect.

'Alive For Nothing' continues the despair, haunted dreams and depressed minds over cellos and strums. Seratonin seems to be popped for 'Eyes Won't Shut' with chiming acoustic guitars and handclaps , but it's deceptive, with lyrics focusing on relaxing, Van finally settling to “waste this lazy afternoon”.

Then, suddenly, things get stormy. A squall of guitars thrash over the end of 'Pigeonhold', the quiet revelry of the first half of the album replaced with noise and rock. It's out of context like a polar bear in Woolworths buying pick 'n mix, but it makes a brilliant sea change. (Did you see what I did there?)

'The Rooftop Song' has a whirling country strut, before again throwing in duelling guitars before a slow calm fade out, that leads well in to the country vibes of 'In Vino Veritas', a slow burning beauty,

Put me on a boat and cut the line”, Van declares at the beginning of 'Close The Lid' as the song crescendos outwards, instruments added into the sonic blender one by one. The album fades out with the lo fi crackle of 'Valdez', leaving us with a wonderfully understated album that leaves you with a salty tear in your eye at its folky wonder.

Minotaur Shock- 'Amateur Dramatics' (4AD)

Sort of following the lauded/lambasted Radiohead concept, fans of Minotaur Shock pay a varying price for each track of this album, depending on difficulty, fun, whether it made his computer crash and how many extra musicians, amongst others. Attention grabbing. Tick. Clever. Tick. Going to stop kids downloading. Cross. Sad really, because this album deserves the money.

'Zookeeper' starts off with an out of kilter piano, adds cello and some drums, then puts more instrumentation over the top, before returning yet again to the piano run, like a dog back to its vomit. Except not, cos it's brilliant.

'Am Dram' carries on the odd electronic feel of the album. Handclaps rub along with a churning synth which rubs along with woodwind playing out the melody. The electronic elements start to take over on 'This Plane Is Going To Fall', gradually replacing the human with the machine, burbles and whirrs erasing the natural. Disembodied voices make their first and only appearance, ghosts in the machine.

The human has been completely erased by 'Jason Forrest', where clashing keyboards create the most danceable moments of the record, bass heavy and flowing. It sounds like a rave up in a club decorated with branches and leaves, a rainforest atmosphere. The pace is disorientatingly slowed on 'Two Magpies', as woozy beeps shiver into fading violins, all melancholic and cute.

Patrick Wolf is almost channeled on 'My Burr', his technicolour dress sense just visible behind the keyboard gurgle and descending strings. 'BATS' sounds the only downpoint of the record, a dirty beat meandering for far too long, with the melodies that dominate through the circuit boards forgotten temporarily.

'Snapdragon' then throws the creeps and the night horrors onto record, slightly off key pianos and spooky strings, shifting tempos and an eerie overlay of static. It's enough to make someone scared in the middle of the day, in a room full of people, let alone at night in a foggy village.

'Buzzards' does not sound like the birds of prey of its title, and more like motorway driving, Kraftwerk like. The pushing drums and trumpet stabs create a feeling of motion and isolation, and the track works brilliantly.

Album close 'Beekeeper' is slippy slidey, moving from electronics into entwining snakes of chimes and strings and trumpets before it all comes into focus, a gorgeous layered image. 'Amateur Dramatics' is great, an album that has a heart under its metal skin, strings and brass mixing with synths and computers to create deliriously danceable ditties.

Grammatics- 'New Franchise' (Dance To The Radio)

Apparently Grammatics are opening a 'New Franchise.' So says the first line anyway. What is the new franchise? Subway? Some novel Dragons Den product like cheese slippers? Shimmery complex pop songs? The latter seems the most likely, based on the evidence here.

Pieces build up, cellos layered over propulsive drumming, synth noises, vocal layers. It topples over at the end into plain vocals and then it's gone. It is brilliant in places, layers meshing together in perfect unity.

The problem is that something about this song just doesn't seem to gel to these ears. The parts are all lovely, things go tinkle in the night, pianos create a slightly eerie atmosphere, like an empty city covered in rain, but somehow it doesn't quite work together. The engine is nearly assembled, it's just missing a few pieces. It keeps switching gears when it's not quite ready. (To stretch the metaphor further) bit more time in the garage needed.

Birdpen- 'Breaking Precedent EP' (Believe)

Don't keep birds in a pen. Waste of time. Like herding cats. They'll just fly out of a pen. Unless they're emus. But who keeps emus? Wittering aside, first track 'Breaking Precedent' sounds a lot like Interpol. An awful lot like 'em. Someone probably will (not) sue, but it's good none the less. It has that slightly quivered moody vocal, and the dark guitars. It also bears hints of the National, speckled over its feathers.

'Machines Live Like Ordinary People' changes the mood. Industrial beats come in, and in a clever 'look at us we're referencing the title in the style of music' (or vice versa) way heavy synths whizz in the chorus. Sci fi doom hangs over your head. It's a bit pompous, and a little bit silly.

The seriousness returns on 'Man The Thinker', which has a rolling piano and sound effects rolling over the top. Once it gets going it has a vague funky feel, incongruous like someone in rainbow tie dye watching Editors, but it just about works. 'Implode And Fold' has a kind of lazy majesty about it, a gentle strut in its strumming, piano and whirrs.

It now comes time to make a pun about setting these birds free. But we won't (or we just did) and leave it that this EP makes promises of gradeur, and largely keeps them, bar stupid tracks about machines. Its beautifully mellow indie, like Elbow, but Elbow if they forgot to take their prozac, or saw a puppy get run over.

Micachu- 'Golden Phone' (11/8/08 Accidental Records)

Micachu is a name that cannot fail to conjure images of a small yellow furry head of a major marketing machine. (This is your 2 second weak pun alert) No, not Paris Hilton, silly! We're talking Pokemon, obviously. But that

The elements of 'Golden Phone' are simple. A few note guitar riff. Disco handclaps. Broken synth runs. A few percussion rattles. The Lego pieces build into a tower of glee, slightly twee and danceable, before toppling down in synth reverb. It's brilliant, a promising note of differentness in British music.

The B side 'Turn Me Weller' sees some Henry the Hoover abuse (which a visit to one of the groups gigs will have confirmed. Someone start a campaign. Get Judith Chalmers involved. Perfect) Besides the domestic appliance innovation, the song mixes the tired sounding vocals with the elements of the first to make a stuttering electronic pop song. Almost as cute as the namesake, but much less, much much less, annoying.

Asilentfilm- 'You Will Leave A Mark' (Xtra Mile Recordings)

The title 'You Will Leave A Mark' sounds like a squawked admonishment from a mean aunt, as you place your glass of orange squash directly onto her mahogany side table. Yet the track couldn't be further from this pettiness.

It aims at epic indie, with its rifle loaded with bullets of pianos and driving guitars. The target is missed. 'You Will Leave A Mark' (fortunately) manages the trick of sounding both happy and grand, a difficult task, admirably conquered. The epic is missed, but is replaced by a pulsing beat, the music forced forward with urgency.

The main weakness, like a rusted joint in a steel girder tower is the vocals, which, although perfectly in tune, seem incapable of emotion, a distant father. The spiralling pianos are bleating out for some passion to overlay their keenness. The production, however, is great, the texture perfectly balanced on a track that has promise spilling over the brim like champagne bubbles.


James Yuill- 'No Pins Allowed' (Moshi Moshi)

'No Pins Allowed'. Hmmm. Why the pin hatred. The little metal pin is so useful. Securing notices to trees, lost kittens can be found again, notices of your gigs, YOUR gigs James Yuill, can be pinned on top of layer upon layer of older gig notices.

On 'No Pins Allowed' goes for the Patrick Wolf route of covering a simple guitar part with a layer of synth fuzz and backing with drum machine buzz, but ends up at the more downtempo Postal Service, before spazzing away on it's own bleeps.

Is it ever a good idea to cover Radiohead? The answer still remains 'no'. When the band in question has already made the perfect version, then trying to turn the brilliant 'Packt Like Sardines In A Crushd Tin Box' into some kind of uplifting disco remix just does not work. That James Yuill sounds a bit like Chad Kroeger if he had a few Strepsils makes it even more off putting.

If you like your pop wrapped in fluff and pink, then 'Breathing In' will suit you. To call it boring is akin to calling a cyclone a breeze. This is a tornado of tedium, a song so gentle that it falls over with a slight nudge, its face ground into the dust and dirt. The inconsistency demonstrated is worrying- 'No Pins Allowed' is good, but the rest make you weep all over your speakers.

The Dodos- 'Visiter' (Wichita 14/7/08)

SXSW is the event that probably bears most influence over what happens in indie music for the next 6 or so months, arguably the whole year. Tastemakers suddenly discover a tour bus full of skinny white boys to spit hyperbole over. Sometimes it all comes too soon (my finger is pointing at you, Black Kids) but here the Dodos are, trying to prove that they deserve the words flung their way.

'Visiter' starts gently, with 'Walking' a simple folky song, backed by a wheeling banjo line. It bears little resemblance to the track that follows, as the Dodos channel 'Feels' era Animal Collective into 'Red and Purple' as a clatter of guitars and percussion build up. These contrast perfectly with the smooth vocals, and the plink plonk of glockenspiels that filter through. Combining inventiveness with pure melody makes for a great track, and a grand statement of intent.

'Fools' channels the zeitgeist by sounding a fair bit like Fleet Foxes, but with less of the laconic, and more energy, with a scratchy guitar solo. A melancholy note is lulled on 'Joe's Waltz', all downtempo guitars and sombre vocals about having “no more patience”. It's quietly devastating.

The inevitable weak song comes from tracklisting more than anything. Following the majesty of lost love paean 'Winter' with 'It's That Time Again' fails. Massively. The tragedy of lines like “your love was such a heavy, heavy blow” is followed by the weakly funny line of “it's that time again, you want to leave”.

'Paint The Rust' finds the band channeling some delta blues spirit, with razored guitar lines battling thumped drumbeats, with the chameleon spirit further evidenced with 'Park Song', a sparse oscillating guitar line and almost spoken vocals.

A certain guitar rhythm, uniquely of the band, dominates, and is to the fore on 'Ashley', a song of longing and dreaming of the girl of the title. The album, perhaps, goes on a little long, and would have benefited from having a surgical amputation of a few tracks. The themes of love, loss and desire that run through the album are epitomised near the end on 'Undeclared', am acoustic lament.

In summing up, do we fall into the trap of making some dodgy pun based in the extinct nature of the bird they reference, an elephant trap most have fallen through? No. 'Visiter' is a great album, flitting styles like bees from flower to flower, gathering sweet (musical) nectar. The Dodos. Are. Pretty. Darn. Good.

Sneaky Sound System- 'Pictures' (Whack)

Sneaky Sound System are the soundtrack to a thousand night clubs. The lad who's scrubbed up for the weekend, stripy shirt undone to the chest. Black shoes polished. Hair gelled into an attractive spiky arrangement. He's making his move. He's looking his intended up and down with a 'sexy' leer.

This is the sound playing in the background. Bleeps, disco guitar, some women blathering on about some extended 'picture/projector' metaphor for sex and a synth buzzing away. It is every bad dance tune ever. It is awful.

With all the exciting things going on in dance music- Hot Chip, LCD Soundsystem, The Knife, The Go! Team etc etc etc you would have though that this kind of rhubarb had scraped the barrel into non existence by the end of the 90s. But, here we are, with Sneaky Sound System adding their rubbish to the bonfire.

Are you a fan of I-beee-faaa? Do you like foam parties? Sex with randoms? 'Pictures' may well be the soundtrack to your summer. The best summer ever ever ever. For the rest of us, who can identify the aural abomination this is will just slowly weep into our cornflakes, soaking our faces in the orange mush.

'Boys And Girls In America' blasted the Hold Steady into stratospheric blog hype, many charmed by the Kerouac referencing lyrics and classic rock bluster. Some remained unconvinced, feeling the lacking in the music to be unduly overshadowed by the lyrics. School report says “room for improvement”.

The album gets off to an inauspicious start. 'Constructive Summer' and 'Sequestered In Memphis' both continue the boring bluster of 'Boys And Girls...' In these post modern times you'd think that the wheezing 80s dinosaurs of rock would bear no relevance any more.

Their (welcome) experimentation with different styles is finally demonstrated on 'One For The Cutters', which rolls along on its harpsichord bed, before pianos meld in. It shows where the band could go if they didn't rely on their tiresome blasting guitars. Drama fills the chords, as instruments stack up into a song that shows the progress since the last album. The more diverse instrumentation is continued on 'Navy Sheers', with synths deployed to great effect, sounding not unlike wurlitzers.

The tone is rapidly lowered with 'Lord I'm Discouraged', a track that scores a distinct 'D' for melody, a mid paced exercise in muscial sedation. The guitar solo vomits up the worst excesses of 80s fretwork. If it was a parody it would be funny. But it's not. You can imagine the guitarist pulling earnest orgasm faces in its particularly fiddly bits. It undoes all the good work done earlier in the album.

Too many of the tracks work on the 'let's build the track to a loud conclusion' principle. That's you, 'Constructive Summer'. That's you, 'Yeah Sapphire'. 'Both Crosses' creates a kind of desert blues feel, adding banjos and Bible references into the mix. It shows that when the Hold Steady reign themselves in a bit, the music can breathe properly, no longer strangled by Hammond and guitars.

Saying that, 'Stay Positive' manages to show, when they try the Hold Steady can rock, sometimes. Organ, guitar, vocals and backing come together better than they do anywhere else on the album. Another weak link in the fragile chain is added in 'Magazines', a track that goes nowhere, filler as horrible as crab paste.

Final track 'Slapped Across' also succeeds in reaching epicness without descending into power rock cheesiness. The production sounds muddy but the fade out into choral ending works well.

The problem with The Hold Steady was that, bar the lyrics, were they any more than a glorified pub rock band? The greatness of the lyrics has been overhyped, like any thing which gets the attention of over enthusiastic teenagers with internet access. Craig Finn is good, but he's no Yoni Wolf. The music, however, is much improved, a wider selection of instruments grabbed out the music cupboard. Unfortunately it doesn't always come off right on 'Stay Positive', leading to an inconsistent mixed bag of an album. Plenty of jelly babies, but the odd aniseed ball thrown in to ruin things.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Latitude Day Three

The morning is sunny. On past evidence, this means nothing. The shorts remained balled into the bottom of the rucksack. We perambulate over to the Obelisk Arena, for a very special guest is to play. Who is the special guest? Joanna Newsom, that's who.

If one word could describe the set, it would be enchanting. Within a few minutes she has the whole of the field charmed by her naïve sweetness. Mixing hits from her past 2 albums with new songs, she seems nervous from the off, further ingratiating her with an audience who long for her sweetly plucked melodies. 'Bridges and Balloons' opens the set, her first solo for a fair while. Half of the set we are treated to new tracks, which seem to be piano based, Joanna on the joanna. The support she wins is shown when Newsom suffers complete mental shutdown during the labyrinthine lines of 'Sawdust and Diamonds'. She looks distraught at her feelings of letting the audience down, but she is cheered, massively by the largely seated crowd before finishing with the joys of 'Peach, Plum, Pear'.

After such a magnificent performance, Fields can only hope to do their best, which the manage admirably, although, like a few other unlucky bands, are let down by their poor sound. They also seem to catch Joanna Newsom's disease, and forget the words to one song. Jeremy Warmsley brings the sweet pop melodies to the Sunrise Arena, drama filled and promising for his new album.

These New Puritans provide one of the disappointments of the weekend, their existential art rock losing much of the crowd in pretentiousness. The tunes underneath the shrapnel do not emerge. They are out of context in a field, an elephant in a board meeting. The quality is raised again by frYars's display of electropop in the woods. Talking of a “poo on toilet seat” drama just before he comes on stage, his selection of songs from his EPs includes “crowd pleaser” 'The Ides' and finishes on the aptly titled 'Happy'.

Like Fields, alliteratively, Foals also suffer, the spiky interlocking guitar lines mute underneath heavy bass and drums in the mix. They admit their tiredness, partially from Yannis's involvement in Lydongate, and dedicate a sing to “Johnny Rotten and his meathead friends”. George Pringle's poetry creates thoughts and beauty, although the artiste seems surly and disinterested. Grinderman scares the children before a bad choice is made.

Latitude. Oh, Latitude. Why, oh why, do you put Blondie, one of the greatest pop bands ever, on the second stage, with Tindersticks playing above them. Not everyone, including us, can get into what we are reliably informed was one of the best sets of the weekend. Useless organisation from the festival, poor planning by us. Oh well, it meant that we got to see the charms of the Wave Pictures, whose self deprecation (“people have often said I'm a male Debbie Harry”) and antifolk whimsy win the small audience on side.

Up the hill, and it's time for the final band of the weekend, Interpol. A gloom pervades, the drizzle appears, the ambiance is right. The doom guitar line of 'Pioneer To The Falls' starts up. Mixing in 'Evil', 'Slow Hands' and 'NYC' mean the band effectively play a best of set, and one of the surprises of the weekend. Hands up who thought that Interpol might not make the best festival headliners. Only me? Well, anyway, that their moody epics make such a great choice is a welcome surprise, although they don't quite match the celestial heights of Sigur Ros the night before.

Another night in Cabaret, and Lenny Beige and his band entertain. Who is Lenny Beige? You'll know him as the bald one in the Orange Wednesdays advert. After a quick game of 'Jew Who' it is off to sleep, for the legs have collapsed and the back aches and the eardrums are wrecked. Old age has extended its crippled claw already.

So, Monday morning and home. To reflect on... How did we not see the Arctic Monkeys wandering around? Or miss every one of the many, many sets of Robin Ince's book club? What do you dye a sheep with?

Whatever the answers may be, Latitude remains the most fun you can have with £130, legally. The balance between music, theatre, comedy and performance is pitch perfect, the only addition needed being some bigger tents. The highlights- Sigur Ros and Joanna Newsom. The lowlights- missing Blondie and a lacklustre Franz. We'll leave the general gripes to people who like discussing the weather and fiscal policy, as traffic moaners can go off and cry into their latte macchiatos.

Ross Noble provides one final moment on Monday morning by crashing his motorbike in front of us whilst we wait for the shuttle bus. Here you could make some kind of apposite comparison between a bike crash and the festival, but it just does not work, with Latitude seeming to have provided almost the perfect festival weekend. Don't change, me lovely.

Latitude Day Two

After a lay about in a hot tent, sunshine bringing the enclosed space to furnace temperatures, it is time to wander through the gorgeous site and watch some acts. The comedy tent is full, the outside of the comedy tent is full, so there's no point trying to wait around for Tim Minchin, leading to a reroute to the Cabaret tent for 'Learn To Play The Ukulele In Under An Hour (How George Formby Saved My Life)'. Sam and Donal tell a good tale, although the jokes sometimes fall flat. Their depression led them to a visit to a George Formby Society convention, and an attempt to bring it down. A bizarre start to anybody's day.

The first musical interlude of the day comes in the form of the majestic Wild Beasts, whose ghostly wails haunt the Uncut Arena. Hayden Thorpe has 'that' voice, transforming from falsetto to growl to falsetto from moment to moment. Brilliant guitar work gives an eerie aura to the tent, and an early highlight to the day.

Poetry, the often derided younger brother of literature, is further insulted through Teen Angst, a half hour of really bad poetry. Of course, this is all part of the ruse, as it celebrates the awful emo tinged nonsense we write as teenagers about parents and girls and sex and so on. The audience giggles with communal embarrassment at obvious rhymes and immature feelings, an act as funny as the best comedians.

Speaking of good comedians, the next few hours are spent in the Comedy Tent, managing to get under the canvas just before another torrential downpour, firstly in the company of Jeremy Hardy. His largely political set draws on his socialist past, fatherhood and general Daily Mail baiting. The jokes are good, but sometimes it feels a little too much like a lecture from a clearly passionate man.

Miles Jupp, best known as Archie the Inventor in Balamory, performs a brilliant set, playing a self parodying arrogant toff. A great joke about being mugged, but having all his money tied up in land, works particularly well in its context. As brilliant as he is, it is as funny as cancer compared to what comes next. Rich Hall tells a few entertaining stories, going nowhere (like the queues for the shuttle bus the day before), but ramps it up with some crowd interaction. When a couple tries to leave, he hectors them until the girl stays. With the boyfriend leaving, Hall's improvisation just grows and grows until all too soon he finishes.

Eventually we go back to the music, starting with some Elbow. Guy Garvey and his friends are quickly turning into (for some, have been for a very long time) THE festival band. Mixing up material from all the albums, with an obvious focus on the Mercury nominated new 'un. 'Newborn' is as devastating and emotional as ever, Garvey's voice cracking in the intro. A poised 'The Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver' is full of grandeur and a highlight of the set. The only downpoint is that the sparkling between song chat is missing.

We pop our heads into the Mars Volta tent, saxophone, keyboards and guitars creating the swirling density of the records. The riffs are there, and it looks worth watching, but the choice has been made. Sigur Ros have been picked out of the line up instead. Sorry Cheek Cheeky and the Nosebleeds, not you this time.

Opening with 'Svefn-G-Englar' the mood is set. The sound is near crystal perfect, with Jón “Jónsi” Þór Birgisson's voice ethereal and angelic, tears brought to eyes. The staging is great, giant lampshades hang from the rafters as a marching band join in part way through, a trio of trombones amongst them. Sigur Ros produced the set of the weekend, mixing hits old and young, and pleasing all the middle class families by playing the one they know (Hoppipolla).

After popping our collective heads back into the Mars Volta and viewing a rattling crescendo followed by a weed request, off to Cabaret yet again, where Elephant Man Elvis is exactly what you'd expect (one joke, not very funny), and Miss Cherry White, a vertically challenged tap dancer, is pretty darn good. But the bed/uncomfortable sleeping bag is calling our names, and homeward we go, after a few jigs outside the Disco Shed.

Latitude Day One

Somebody, this weekend, referred to the festival as Glastitude.

This writer has never been to Glastonbury, but Latitude definitely seemed to match the mythical heights of Worthy Farm at its best. Over a weekend where the weather changed faster than, well, the weather changes in the British summer time, bands played, comedians talked, poets read, plays were acted, the Disco Shed was danced by.

Latitude has the tagline 'more than just a music festival'. As a result, music was not the sole focus, and the comedian Robin Ince was the first act watched. Referencing astronomers, the Daily Mail, elk, and US foreign policy sum up to a fine show, peal upon peal of laughter wreathing the (far too small) comedy tent.

Bellies ache on a short trek through the woods that lead to the Sunrise Arena, and Broken Records, who conjure the much missed spirit of Hope of the States, their guitars and violin duelling, epic noises echoing around. The hype surrounding them seems justified, already sounding fully formed. Slow Club quickly follow, the boy girl duo charming the crowd with their earnest enthusiasm and Tilly and the Wall esque melodies.

After spotting a man wearing an 'I Hate Hats' hat Bearsuit appear, be-caped and noisy, a splurge of bleeps from their keyboards, and guitar up a little too high. Their twee melodies win through, however, largely playing hits from last record 'Oh:io'. And somebody bought a panda costume for the occasion. What a joker.

One of the biggest names in tangental comedy appears- Ross Noble. Comedian, or performer. Difficult to tell today, as the punchlines involve handing Red Bull to the audience before leading a sing along of Bohemian Rhasody. How “random”. This is all rescued by the conga line/stampede. Noble, followed by a thousand others ran round the site before pitching up at the veggie food stand, with the comedian carried aloft by his devoted followers, looking like a portly Jesus. A lot of fun, but funny?

Black Kids attempt to get the party started, but their lack of material outside the singles gives more kudos to the thought that they were rushed to the big time to cash the big hype cheque. Up the hill at the Obelisk Arena, and the tail of British Sea Power's set fails to set the world alight, ending, as is tradition on 'Rock In A', 10 minutes of noise and larking about.

The tempo, the energy, the sweat level; all are raised by Johnny Foreigner's set of vim and vigour. Alexei combines rapid fire spindles of guitar with screams and shouts, as the crowd jump around, charmed by the band's sincerity and brilliance.

The Go! Team act like Ronseal, do what they say on the tin and get the crowd into the Friday feeling. Ninja should release some kind of exercise tape for indie kids, she burns that many calories. Like true crowd pleasers they play Ladyflash so everyone can go home happy. Crystal Castles carry on the theme, but with 60% more bleeps, covering the woods in layers of screams and synths. In darkness it would have worked perfectly.

And so, on to the headliners, Franz Ferdinand. Opening with 'Michael' they remind the forgetful just how many good songs they have, in a slick set scattered with new songs. 'Take Me Out' and 'Matinee' get a look in too, but, there is something lacking. For one, the band don't look to bothered to be playing, nor bothered who is watching them in the persistent rain. There is none of the passion that almost all the other bands that played seemed to have. It was a wasted opportunity. The Scots shortcomings are quickly made up for by the Fellows comedy toff rap in the Cabaret tent to leave the day on a high. “What ho” indeed.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

The Presets- 'Apocalypso' (Modular)

The design brief of this album was undoubtedly to create something to be played in clubs, loudly. Bass rattling in your chest and synths moving the muscles as your feet tap and arms flail. As a statement of intent, opener 'Kicking and Screaming' fulfills the brief perfectly. The computer beats churn and the shouty vocals create a good sense of narrative, something too often absent from electronica.

The standard is immediately lowered on 'My People', the equivalent of the sound of a drunk man shouting in your ear about how good the music is. 'A New Sky' is much better, the choral intro working well, before the buzzing synth lines kick in and the song takes flight as it builds.

You remember that echo laden piano that was rife in early 90s dance music? Well it makes an appearance on 'This Boy's In Love', a track you can imagine soundtracking a poignant moment when a film is moving the plot on through a car journey through a moonlit city.

'Talk Like That' samples those horrorshow organ chords before breaking it down into dirty bassline with great little chord changes. 'Eucalyptus' changes the horrowshow to the chase scene, the synths buzzing away like hornets.

The tone is lowered for about the only time with 'Together', all off key sounding synths, and a bellowing vocalist who wants to be “together forever”. If I were his intended, I would get a long way away from this. Whilst criticising dance for being repetitive is like criticising cheesecake for being magnificently yummy, 'Together' takes repetition into some new realm of annoyance.

It is quickly followed by 'Aeons', which does some keyboard pootling, but is all a bit low key and quiet to fit in with the rest of the record. A downbeat note is sounded at the album's end, with 'Anywhere' tinged with sadness and plaintive vocals.

The PR blurb claims them to be “global pied pipers”. This music is bound to lure people into clubs like strangers lure kids with lollipops, a record of beats that cannot fail to make you want to cut some shapes. The flow is uneven, unusual for a dance album, but this flaw can be largely overlooked in favour of the majestic music on show here. Design brief filled.


Eliza Doolittle- 'Piano Song'

Eliza Doolittle, is a character from George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion, a cockney flower girl who has to pass herself off as a high society girl. In this case Eliza Doolittle is a girl from London, trying to pass herself off as a 1960s soul singer.

'Piano Song' is an apt title, as the old joanna features heavily throughout, playing the same rhythms that hundreds of Motowners have done already. You know it, even if you think you don't. The songs you hear in a movie scene where a couple are being all romantic around Christmas time.

Eliza has a lovely voice, but then again so does everyone in these days of X Factor and all the other glorified karaoke competitions. Sadly, as nice (in the best and worst connotations of that word) 'Piano Song' is, it doesn't do anything that wasn't done a hundred times better 40 years ago. If you've got nothing to add to the heap, don't dump your track on it.


Mechanical Bride- Black Skeleton Key EP (Transgressive)

Like her haunting cover of 'Umbrella', 'Seaworld' continues the sparse and ghostly feel that she has demonstrated to such great effect. A xylophone gently tinkles away , reminiscent of lullabies and nursery rhymes, whilst Lauren Doss warbles away beautifully.

The lyrics to 'Shuffle' articulate the sinister ambiance, crooning about the “bad dreams that haunt you” over off key guitars. The arrythmic melodies add to the sense of unease and dread. Images of Tim Burton movies are conjured.

The last track, aptly titled 'The Final' is the most conventional of all the tracks, the minimalist feel of the earlier tracks abandoned for a sombre oscillating piano thread running through the sad vocal tapestry. It's more traditional melodies make it sadder and prettier, and more than equal to the other tracks.

Mechanical Bride are like a slightly less quirky Cocorosie, or Laura Marling's maudlin sister. Not music to listen to on dark and stormy nights, or bright and sunny days, but those times of longing and sadness as you stare out of a rain spattered window.


Ladyhawke- 'Paris Is Burning' (Modular)

Gary Numan should be very upset. Very upset. On hearing the bassline of this song, if you don't start singing “Here in my car, I feel safest of all” then you're a better man than I.

“Paris Is Burning” is the sounds of an 80s child who was locked in an 80s bedroom, tied to an 80s chair, forced to listen to the 80s radio for 24 hours a day in some kind of gross human rights abuse. If you didn't get it from that overlong metaphor, this song is very 1980s.

This is most definitely not a bad thing. As cheesy as the chorus sounds, and it whiffs of mature cheddar, it is very catchy, and very lovely. A pastiche it may be, but it is pastiche at its very very best. A glorious unashamed pop tune of the highest order.


Monday, 30 June 2008

prowling the dust- Cut Copy- In Ghost Colours (Modular)

Cut. Copy. Paste? If any glue is being used here, it's 80s neon, sticking the beats together into nostalgic bliss like Lego blocks built into a model of a square edged disco. Hype hype hyped on the blog assembly line, do Cut Copy have the songs?

The opener, 'Feel The Love' seems to suggest so, as it opens the album with a summer shimmy, doing a robot dance off your speakers as it jives around the dance floor. Keyboards plant butterfly kisses, little flourishes in the background as the vocals get ever more treated. 'Out There On The Ice' has sampled 'do do dos', as singer Dan Whitford does his best to do his ultimate Depeche Mode impression.

A hitch is soon hit, however, with 'Unforgettable Season', with vocals so like Johnny Borrell that the twat meter on my hi-fi broke. The mid paced track parambles round your ears going nowhere fast.

'So Haunted' marks the first proper appearance of guitars, as rare a sighting as a jackalope in this territory. The computers have largely taken over, destroying all things wood and string as best they can. Circuit boards reign supreme in this kingdom.

If you like your mid 90s trance in its worst excess, then check out 'Hearts on Fire', a track you just know Judge Jules thinks is 'banging' or an 'anthem' or some other filthy DJ word. It has even got that shimmering synth sound so that it sounds good when you're gurning around on E. Ick.

The quality is quickly brought back up with 'Far Away', channeling the melodies of great pop music with churning keyboards, funneling it all back into majestic dance music. 'Strangers In The Wind' brings to mind Hot Chip, just without the wry lyrics, the fault of inferior tribute that runs through this album. It might be good, but it ain't LCD Soundsystem. The influences have taken over that bit too much. Although 'Nobody Lost, Nobody Found' gets pretty close to overcoming the metaphorical hurdle.

This, the second album from Cut Copy, has a blueprint for great dance music stuffed into its back pocket, and shoves it in your face at will. Sadly, it just doesn't do it often enough. The computer overtones of the band name are reflected in the music, the record a cold blooded dance machine, its metal heart solely designed to get your body moving. Unfortunately, this lack of humanity leads the album to sometimes simply meander into synth burbles and generic dance clichés, its influences weighing it down like lead boots.


prowling the dust- Sunny Day Sets Fire- 'End Of The Road' (Brik A Brak)

Global warming and all that malarkey. The end of the world? The end of the world as we know it? Meh, who knows, but if it is, Sunny Day Sets Fire are partying like climate change is just a tiny cloud on the growing horizons of a knee high to a grasshopper Al Gore. Basically, this song is retro.

Starting with a surf tinged guitar, like a party scene in Heartbeat, the diverse nationalities of Sunny Day Sets Fire slowly bring the sixties pillaged riffs chiming into the background, just like the Coral used to do. Melancholy tinged, but a perfect tessellation of all the components that make sunshine skiffle pop. Beat, tremolo, stab chords. Like eating a sunbeam, but less dangerous.

'Lack Of View' replaces the upbeat with the down, a watercolour wash of summer sadness, a raincloud over your picnic. It meanders, a lazy river, before it flows into instrumental ocean crescendos and lullabies. Sunny Day Sets Fire to your heart. Swoon.


prowling the dust- The Lodger- 'The Good Old Days' (Bad Sneakers Records)

The good old days. Bobbies on every corner/used to leave your door unlocked/helping grannies cross the streets/casual racism/sexism/homophobia. Nostalgia for times just as broken as these. Whatever. The Lodger only seem to care about them in a 'I want you back' way.

Disco flecked, strutty guitar and all, but ultimately yawn inducing. “I have been so lost and broken, I have been so nasty to you.” The sounds of a wet blanket turned human and tapping at your window with a chewed up corner, trying to say sorry through the manly tears dribbling down its woolen face.

This song is like a Saturday Night Fever Coldplay, upbeat guitars and soppy lyrics, a sodden mess of a song bleeding its broken heart all over your speakers. I'm not crying with you, I'm crying for you.