The raw and the cooked

November 6, 2008 at 11:44 pm (Uncategorized)

We all know music can elicit reactions from across the emotional palette. What defines how sound your musical taste is usually the comparison between your reaction and mine. If you’re out by a matter of degrees, it’s probably sound. Other end of the spectrum? Well, lets just say there are plenty of other pursuits in life so off you go…

There’s this band called The Script.  Now, Jo Whiley, she of Radio One fame, has willingly put herself out there to try and convince us all that we should part our now more precious cash for the “amazing new album by Ireland’s hottest new band” What follows are clips of a well groomed, distinctive chap, warbling heartfelt lyrics to rock beats (well, what i can only describe as the pedestrian one, two, one one, two type standard that forms the bedding for all lazy rock bands). The ad is all sharp cuts of the handsome one, clearly distressed or pensive over the girl he’s pining for. They don’t show the rest of the band, presumably because they’re all either receding or have crazy eyes, but instead add some slick flashes of the band’s name in case you didn’t hear Ms Whiley the first or second, or third time. 

Now, if you’ve seen this ad be honest. Did your heart leap at the same time that you thought, ooo I’ve been looking for a new band since I wore out my Plain White T’s album. Or was it your stomach doing the involuntary moving?

If you’ve not seen it, click here and be prepared:

http://www.visit4info.com/advert/Sony-CD-The-Scripts-debut-album-The-Script-Sony-Recordings/63090

What gets me is that this band a clearly so so bad that they’ve had to draft in all the tricks to get you to be tempted. Ignore the ugly band members, near black and white shots to suggest a bit of class, slick production moving just quick enough so you can’t dwell and think about how cheesy each shot is, enough music to give the main pop hooks before you have a chance to go (hmmm, haven’t I heard this before), and of course the credibility from the DJ who has done more CD ads than Zane Lowe, Colin Murray and Steve Lamaq put together.

An hour after seeing this, I was at the last regular gig night put on by my friend’s brother, upstairs at a pub on Essex Road called the Old Queen’s Head. The first band on were a 5-piece who looked like they’d forgotten they were playing, and had stepped out in baggy t-shirts and good rain-hardy clothes, hair all a bit well, normal but slightly in need of a cut, but just like, this is how it normally is. Their token effort to try and stand out was to all wear Barak Obama t-shirts as this was the day after the election. Through the course of their set there were guitars, a violin, flute, clarinet, drums, bass, and some pretty bad singing. But not because they couldn’t sing. Just because they’d probably had a few, and it was a small venue where you could hear the voice for real. And they were the first act on so maybe they are just starting out.

They were a bit experimental, in the Vampire Weekend sort of way with the beats and the instruments, but 2 songs from the end they hit a sweet spot and the timing and notes all fell into place. It lasted for a song and a half and then all fell apart again. But there was something very real about it.

I wonder if bands like the Script genuinely ever went through that stage in their local pub, and were picked up by Sony and repackaged? Or whether they were conceived by Sony from scratch? If the latter then that’s a far more insidious product than your standard manufactured pop who many knowingly and unashamedly love for being a product of the pop world. Even if they played for their mates and got local acclaim, it can only be because friends are too polite to tell you you’re crap. And now, having been fully processed and packaged they are ready for consumption in the way that one can feel comfortable. 

But as with my steak, I prefer it (almost) raw.

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Hey hey I wanna be a rock star…

August 14, 2008 at 6:25 pm (Uncategorized)

…or, at least I thought so until I saw who else wants to. Thanks DfS you’ve destroyed my dream.

The world was a happy place when ads for sofa sales showed beautiful people relaxing on beautiful sofas. You could dream about double the discount and enjoy the view at the same time.

I can understand a company wanting to stand out a bit, but the unholy marriage of ‘normal’ people and Nickelback is a step waaaay too far.

If you’ve not seen the ad then damn well stay in until you do – if only for the sake of your sofa. After seeing how other sofas get humiliated in front of millions you’ll promise never to soil it again.

Lets deal with Nickleback first shall we? I first thought it was a cheap tune knocked together for the ad. But no, proper song, probably sold millions.

These aspirational chaps want a tub that fits 10+1, and a bathroom they can play baseball in. Hmmm, I guess they just want to play with each others’ bats and balls.

I’d like to say I’m being harsh and the  song is a critique of rockstar lifestyle, because if they’ve stooped so low as to sell their song to DfS they can’t be doing well at all.  But given the quality of actors on the ad, I’m guessing all the money went on buying the song and that Nickleback do now live the life they sing about.

As for the everyday stars of the ad, I do feel a bit sorry for them. They’re the modern day dancing bears – forced to perform something unnatural. There’s a reason rock gigs are one big mosh pit.

So prepare to cringe as you see a reluctant older woman shaking her (leopard-skin covered) hips, or the bra-less wonder jumping up and down so as to distract you from recognising her in the street.

Worst of all is the middle aged guy doing air guitar. Just as air guitar was having its moment of respectability (world championships/Guitar Hero), this chap has come along and broken all the imaginary strings.  I feel sorry for his kids. Actually, hold on. Dear god, I hope he hasn’t reproduced!

I’m left with a dilemma – it’s so so bad that it demands watching but it’s so so bad that it makes me angry and should be taken off the TV to protect my dickey heart.

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Whitest Boy Alive

August 12, 2008 at 8:43 pm (Beccy S, Beth, Carolyn, Sarah T, Tommy G)

House music will never secure world peace. Erland Øye, however, may just and if he does his particular take will almost certainly have a starring role.

The boy’s a bit special, as a headline slot at Leicester Summer Sundae proved.

Slowly, tribe by music tribe, he’s drawing us in convincing us all that we can feel good inside and happy with life. And I’m not talking the kind of ‘feel-good’ some people get from euphoric house (when the DJ builds it up, up, up, pause then bam, woohoo), or even a night at Mama Mia. No, this is ‘damn that’s good’ faultless lie back and enjoy the long afterglow.

He started off a few years back with the easy win – acoustic guitar, minimalist and sharp. The type of music you can’t but hear every note and understand every word. Drawing in those who devour this music for breakfast and a few enlightened indie kids to boot, as one half of Kings of Convenience.  If you’ve not come across their first album you’re in for a treat if you take the plunge, but try this for starters:

A remix album saw friends and peers add all sorts of twists to the original album with mixed results, but its as his latest incarnation as lead for the four-piece Whitest Boy Alive that he’s appealing to the masses. 

With a live set featuring beat-perfect drumming, tight baselines close your eyes and you could be at any decent club in he land. Yet at the helm is Erland with his geek style and dry humour. My friend Beccy had melted in her seat.

Without wishing to do Jarvis out of the rest of his career, there is a strong contender to his throne…

Recommended for:

Sarah T – better than Hot Chip

Sveta – I know how much you like dancing

Tommy G – convert the Chinese please!

Anna sis – if you’re still in the sunshine, this will be a treat

Carolyn – Test my Jarvis theory…

Steer clear

Beth – Despite the guitars and live music, it sounds like dance music

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Noah’s Lark

August 11, 2008 at 6:37 pm (Claire, Laura, Noah and the Whale, Si, Tommy G, Vicki HF)

The Metro.

It’s not the musical connoisseur’s choice. Its tries to keep it’s finger on the pulse but bands are often in the trend morgue by the time Metro get stuck in. Or don’t even get admitted.

In the space of a three weeks, Noah and the Whale have gone from being a band that my girlfriend’s friend said her friend plays in and that I should check them out, through the next big thing name-dropped by too-cool-for-fools Lauren Laverne, to a full page article in the Metro, East Midlands edition. Not the South Yorkshire music hotbed edition, or London international centre of all new things edition. No, in the edition for the Brummie-lite part of the country no-one pays any attention to unless they live in Rugby, or watch it.

The illuminating thing about the Metro’s article is that they run with a photo of the band, pre-hype. No, photo-shoot styling here. No slick hair, english country gent waistcoats (minus the irony), and hunting dogs (ok, not in any of their pics, but may as well be), but just four lads in casual clothes and unmanagable tangled hair. Maybe the Metro had got in early, but by the time it got round to print the band had got a makeover and more airplay than hours in the day.

Everyone wants to be the first to say I was there before they were famous, and when that’s not possible, they want to be the first to provide a true insight, to differentiate themselves given that everyone is giving their ten pence worth. Noah and the Whale already appear to have been crushed by the stampede.

One insufferably repetitive wet song later  and there’s a clamour to acknowledge that 5 Years Time isn’t typical of their approach, and that actually the lyrics are much darker. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T8YCSJpF4g4 in case the video above doesn’t work).

Unfortunately, their ubiquitous song is a millstone already. Apparently is was meant as a low-key simple song, which it is. Yet after a few listens you’ve worked it out and it’s no fun anymore (if indeed it was in the first place).  It doesn’t have to be this way. Take the same basic building blocks, call yourselves Eels and create an enduring gem of a song.

It’s fitting that lyrically 5 Years Time dwells on the wonder of the moment. Whatever lies at the heart of their tunes, I can’t help but feel that they are either victims of an unstoppable movement, or have things so perfectly lined up in marketing terms (previous collaborators/music and media contacts with influence etc). that this explosion of interest has been created with precision timing.

I fear the latter.

However, I saw their acoustic set for 6 music (http://www.bbc.co.uk/6music/events/summersundae2008/hub/) and having missed half of their main set (queues for the toilets if you must know) feel I need to give them more of a chance. If only to know whether the ark was ready for the flood.

More from the festival soon…

P.S.  Did you spot my long lost twin in their video?

Recommended for:

George – I think they are following a style you created a while ago!

Claire – It’s all part of your southern education. A twee contrast to northern grit

Laura – Because Birmingham is sunny too

Tommy G – You seem to be loving China, so this shouldn’t spoil things.

Steer clear:

Vicki HF – There was plenty more promising material at Leicester Summer Sundae

Si – I’m guessing you’re sick of the song already and imagine you’d want to throw things at them if you saw them across the street.

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Hypewatch – Lykke Li

August 11, 2008 at 5:10 pm (Andy Brown, Bev, Lykke Li, Noah and the Whale, Tommy G)

You may think Noah and the Whale are the hottest indie property right now, but the difference between them and greatness was demonstrated this weekend in an effortless and startling burst of rap by a petite swedish blonde with a cutesy voice.

It’s rare to walk away from a festival set and think you’ve just seen something quite special. But in the midst of an indie-pop performance laced with attitude and fun were moments of genius.  It takes some audacity to attempt a cover of a song that has only just found its way into the hearts of the indie masses, but her take on Vampire Weekend’s Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa was enchanting, all the more so as she delivered with nonchalance.

It was only when I heard Little Bit did I realise that she’s already had her own hype over here, so you should have heard her before:

It was her encore, however, that set her a class apart. Remember a Tribe Called Quest?

She turned their hip hop anthem into something unique, delivering a word-perfect brash rap, wrestling with the lyrics and overpowering the beats to create a soothing come-down.

When I see Noah and his crew deconstruct, say, Daft Punk, live, and with humour, then I’ll believe the hype.

Recommended for:

Tommy G – there are traces of Far Eastern influences

Andy B – Go catch her live if you can

Steer clear – Bev – Wouldn’t make for a happy birthday!

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Happy camping

August 7, 2008 at 5:47 pm (Uncategorized)

Tomorrow I’m off to Leicester Summer Sundae music festival. It will rain, and yes I will have smug faces to deal with when i get back – those who turned down the invitation to come to this gathering. 

So instead of bitching about music I’ll be getting stuck into the real thing.

Rest assured I’ll return having cast a critical eye on bright young hopes such as Noah and the Whale, underrated talents including Camera Obscura, veterans such as Supergrass and a festival curveball in the form of Macy Gray. I want a straw poll in the form of comments on whether I’ll rate or slate Ms Gray.

Thanks for all the snob love recently – it helps deal with the abuse from some less enlightened “friends” (Dave, Claire)

Back next week!

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For whom the (wedding) bell tolls

August 5, 2008 at 2:40 pm (Uncategorized)

My friend Dave is getting married…

Now, weddings are stressful enough without having to choose the music (celidh or covers band, pro DJ or your mate Disco Jim?). And then there’s the first dance. That moment where you finally make your most private song public. In front of your nan. I don’t think she’d approve of Madonna and her Hanky Panky now.

Thankfully, there are people who can help:

http://www.uk-disco.co.uk/articles-public/29_08_2006Top-10-First-Dance-Wedding-Songs.asp

Oh, what an insight into our music tastes. Really, who sits down with their partner and in a sincere moment says “I love you” with Shania Twain barking in the background?  So it’s certainly not acceptable to carry out this act in public.

Now, apparantly “cool couples” are choosing Snow Patrol or Jack Johnson, because of course the term “cool” is still cutting edge.

No-one openly enjoys their first dance. You’re slightly embarressed at everyone watching you dance to a soppy song, but it’s a special moment for you and your incumbent. So I say scrap it and give people a taste of how it feels. Get everyone to participate in a Bollywood dance instead. That way all your friends can feel embarrassed but secretly enjoy themselves.

Friends with weddings please note the above – if I don’t get a Bollywood dance by the end of the year I’ll be most disappointed

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Hypewatch – Vampire Weekend

August 5, 2008 at 12:22 pm (Anna Sis, Carina, Caroline, Danie, Justin, Nick, Paul Simon, Russ S, Sarah T, Sting, UB40, Vampire Weekend)

Now, when indie bands try to import traditional African sounds and beats (I’m keeping the term continental as it’s not my area of musical expertise), and the music press start getting all excited I can’t help thinking that a trace of colonial guilt is being expressed. In place of decent musical critique you get uncomfortable righteous fawing. It’s not normal guitar band territory but 1.2 million listens on myspace for one song – either they’re bloody good or that’s a lot of guilt.

Press reaction aside, my problem is usually with bands or artists taking on this musical challenge. Its not that I don’t think that bands might be genuinely trying to create great music from a new influence in their lives, it’s more the fear that they’re not good enough to do so. What you’ll get is the bastard child of UB40 and Paul Simon.  Or even worse, Sting. Rather than fusing the sound into something genuinely innovative, they’ll effectively create the musical equivalent of a kid copying all dad’s moves. Nice try son…

So I’ve approached Vampire Weekend with some trepidation after hearing Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9wHl9qRsMzw). Recommended by Beth, Mick and my cousin Brenda out in California, and championed by NME they certainly qualify for Hypewatch attention.

We are all guilty (well, except me) of reacting to the boredom of everyday life by doing the complete polar opposite. NME have this lot as the band to go for if you fancy a break from crazed neon kids or mascara-heavy EMO bands

In Vampire Weekend you are taken on a journey into the world of preppy American under-grads, whose eyes and ears have just been introduced to a new musical world. The result: stories about preppy life set to an orgy of instruments with classical, rock and african continental heritage.

NME see this as something to make us feel very humble. On ‘Oxford Comma’:

“The prim choirboy harmonies – amplified by school-hall echo but without a hint of macho distortion – conceal an irresistible geek-pop tune played out over a delectable starched-collar groove. And have you ever before heard a lyric that elegantly rebukes grammar snobs and gives you a lesson in Tibetan geography before ultimately deferring to the wisdom of crunk rapper Lil Jon? “ 

You wouldn’t want to get stuck with these guys at a party.

It simply suggests the boys are confused. All very well showing off your sweeping knowledge but there’s a difference between cherry picking references and casually dropping them in conversation, and hoovering them up and spouting them at every opportunity to make you appear intelligent.  

The confusion reigns through the music as well as the lyrics (Walcott being an example). Classical strings with african drums? Perhaps the bands name sums up the confusion – I was expecting something a little darker…

But actually, it is a promising debut. Musically, I have to single out A-Punk as the one song that gets things spot on – mixing influences strikingly well yet creating the essence of more recent New York sounds with its tight baselines, stand out lead guitar and masked vocals and in a stroke (pun intended) creating a great indie pop song.

And, despite all the above the album does grow on you after a while, but it’s taking me far too long to figure out. I currently have the musical patience of a hutch-bred boy rabbit being introduced to a field full of lady rabbits. So please, take your time, see what you think:

http://www.vampireweekend.com/music.php

Verdict: Have the ability but need to focus

Recommended for: Russ S, Carina, Laura S, Sarah T, Anna Sis, Nick

Steer clear: Justin, Danie, Caroline  

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A slight diversion…

August 1, 2008 at 3:42 pm (Musicals)

When I have kids I hope they appreciate what a stunning musical education they’re going to get.

My French-speaking dad had a brief obsession with the French version of Les Miserables soundtrack. Last night I was treated to a surprise trip to the West End to see the real thing, with scant knowledge of the story but a memory full of grand French choruses ready to burst back into my consciousness. 

To my horror, I was confronted with nothing short of the Disney stage version. I knew it was going to be in english but I was not prepared for the travesty that is currently on show in London.

Its been a while since I’ve been to the West End for a good musical, but it seems the producers of this version have come over all Simon Cowell and ended up one bar short of a chorus. 

Unlike opera singers or stage actors, actors in musicals have to be true all rounders – singing solo, harmony, dancing, acting, so I accept there are bound to be weak spots. But communicating the story is fundamental, and for the English musical version of a French novel set in the time of the revolution, you simply shouldn’t get the accents wrong. Sadly, what we got was an unholy mess of Mary Poppins awright guvner and Lloyd Grossman posh american english, with the lead as the main culprit. Just because the audience is made up of crass American tourists, doesn’t mean you have to ditch the integrity of the historical dream. My mind kept switching between Bart Simpson and the boy Grossman and as a result I couldn’t take it seriously.

Which is a shame, because when the choruses do kick in they’re powerful. The early story is the most interesting, but with the following link you have all of that in 4 and half minutes along with the best number of the night http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u_04HBYmZJo&feature=related

Criminally, they skipped past all this to focus on the sugary solos and getting the whoops and applause for the solo spots for each character and in particular the little urchins. Am I the only one who thinks that child actors should be banned in professional theatre?

The other development in musicals is the use of microphones.  You don’t get to hear the chorus in pure form, you hear it through the speaker above your head. Which makes you wonder if they’re miming. Having heard classical choral music at its most powerful (when I had no idea I was at a choral music concert, yep only I could manage that), this was never going to compare and in then end i could have been watching it on DVD and had the same experience.

Consequently, by pandering to the trends of Broadway, There’s Something Wrong with Maria, modern technology, and the base musical intellect of the tourist flock, what should have been a compelling story enhanced by a passionate multi-talented chorus, ended up like an extended version of an evening with Peabo Bryson.  

Whole New World: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E2CVLWOoNsY

To keep things light-hearted, here’s one of the happier numbers. Master of the House: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gdavdTKfCo4&feature=related

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Catch the hobbit

July 29, 2008 at 11:33 am (Jamie Cullum)

Ok Cullum it’s show down time. And I recognise that I’m not going to win unless I deal with any accusations of jealousy at the fact that you have made millions no doubt, have a rather gorgeous woman hanging on to your arm (no matter that your arm has to be above your head height for her to do so), you get to tour the world, and that you are clearly handy with your fingers.

We’ll come back to that.

It’s the exuberance. It’s just not British. And in fact, it makes me suspicious. All that piano slapping nonsense, woo hoo! You seem to have a family of ferrets down your trousers too.  It’s times like this I wish I were a Yorkshireman. I’m certainly not Geoffrey Boycott’s number one fan but I bet he has the put-down I’m looking for.

Music. All those dischords and effortless augmented 7ths. Or did you just hit the wrong note? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TWTEfhhZXK4

It also seems to me God was having an off day when dishing out the talent. His mind was elsewhere (possibly dealing with the John Squire related fall out from the resurrection). He was meant to give you some pointy ears and the guy behind you was supposed to get the voice. Instead, you got it and as though you couldn’t believe your luck, you’ve been hopping around every since. 

I wonder sometimes if I am being a bit harsh, that maybe it’s my aversion to Jazz and Swing and the people that get excited about it. But really, watching you perform even just on YouTube is unbearable. There’s enough slapping going on to concern even Max Moseley (allegedly).

Thinking about it, I’ve not heard a peep from you in a while. Lets keep it that way eh? Lovely.

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