1990s second album is a humdrum affair, similarily pitched throughout and unremarkably strident in its journey towards off-kilter power pop. Featuring a new bassist and a duet with ex-Long Blondes helmer, Kate Jackson, this is a sugary treatise on hope and blind optimism, quite content throughout and never really engaging with you on an emotional level. Opener ‘Vondelpark’ is nice enough with a rousing sustained guitar and more yelpy vocals, that hark back to previous material. Melodic and soaring, it gets proceedings off to a good start. Off-kilter wonky pop with some nice Futureheads-esque vocal breakdowns. ‘I Don’t Even Know What That Is’ is like White Denim covering Beach Boys with its sugary harmonies and plundering gonzo guitar spikes jamming all over the mix. ‘Kickstrasse’ is an ode to Beider-Meinhof and features Kate Jackson, as they sing about capitalism’s inevitable implosion.
The spiky guitars and bang-bang drums drive the songs in a fun and enjoyable, accessible way. The problem lies in its unremarkable delivery and execution. Not much of note happens and not much engages with you in a perfectly pleasant way, just like Mark in Peep Show having ‘a perfectly nice time while you’re all off your faces on drugs’. Humdrum but lovely and listenable. ‘Local Science’ is slower and more poignant with cellos and strings while ‘Giddy Up’ is quite Adam Ant in places. This is like a tribute to the 80s. Certainly not placed in the 1990s I remember. Get your rocks off in a perfectly nice way while everyone else is rocking out to Micachu this summer.
The Virgins’ debut album arrives on a wave of buzz stuck to the bottom of a desk with revoltingly second hand bubblegum (see the front cover). They’re pitched as a poppy 80s-ish Strokes and their new album mentions ‘cocaine brunches’ in the first 30 seconds, meaning they are officially dangerous and not teenagers playing pop punk games with their local vintage shop and Converse sellers. The lyrics about wealthy girls, scandalous love affairs and late night parties soon tire as the inevitable rot of being more driven towards scene-straddling than playing sets in and we wonder if this band was invented for Gossip Girl watchers. The 80s dance energy and sharp guitars and the weird 80s basslines all allude to the 80s club circuit in New York, but summarily, highlighting the emptiness that lay within by standing for precisely nothing other than commenting on coked up girls blowing boys tee hee and rugged t-shirts hoo-haa and dancing all night oh me oh my... the danger, the anger, the horror the horror.
This is supposed to be comment on the rich not an aspiration to walk amongst them as equals, which is precisely where this music falls. ‘She’s Expensive’ ‘Rich Girls’ and the shoulda-been-an-Ibiza-anthem-guitar-led ‘Private Affair’ lay down the conceit that New York is a jungle (heard it), rich girls there like drugs, boys, hedonism and nothing else (heard it), rich people can be mean, empty and self-obsessed (heard it) and wow, look at all these parties I’m not invited to (not interested). The earnest delivery of the lyrics, the lack of subtlety, the lack of metaphor and the lack of care when choosing its targets make for an insipid and creepy foray into 80s power punk pop by numbers... ending with the mysterious and deep ‘Love is Colder Than Death’- like, woah, deep. So yeah, if you’re as empty as these rich girls, if you’re a teen lover with no interest for the little things, the little details... if you like rehashed zeitgeist 80s pop punk by numbers, get this and play it for 6 months till the next buzz comes along. In the meantime, spend your money on an album that’s out this month too and will destroy all the same targets, and properly, like a monolith of RAWK (I’m talking about ‘It’s Blitz’ by Yeah Yeah Yeahs). The Virgins... insert your own joke about whatever you want here, I’ve struggled to write this much about this latest ‘buzz band.’
In Jeffrey Lewis’ strive to document the extensive parameters of his imagination, he leaves nothing to the imagination. Each private misery and pained emotion is documented in his work, from sexual inadequacy ‘East River’ to artistic integrity ‘Williamsburg Will Oldham Horror’. Through 5 albums of sparkling wit and lo-fi invention he has delivered a solid simple set of songs that are infinitely hummable and no less tuneful for his cracked overwrought lo-fi voice. And new album, ‘Em Are I’ is no exception, with its 12 ebullient songs about everything you ever want to know about life. Jeffrey Lewis is adept at finding the bigger picture in the smaller minutiae. Through his cultural references, confessional narratives and lyrics for invented science fiction shows, he is able to make claims to a higher knowledge and a wider field of view. And with his comics ploughing a similar field, the brush strokes reveal hidden details in his meticulously curated life. Look, make no mistake about his, I am one his hugest fans and music reviews just don’t to say this obvious or the earnest anymore, so let me just say at this point, this is easily going to be one of my favourite albums of the year. It’ll duke it out with Micachu later, but in the meantime, ‘Em Are I’ doesn’t stray too far from the formula, but it does give you exactly what you need in spades.
‘Slogans’ blasts this materialistic world of ours, riffing on No Logo’s tirade against brands, this time the effect is more holistic and Lewis is trying to find himself within these constant slews of information, lost in communication breakdowns. ‘Roll Bus Roll’ is a delicate banjo-tinged paean to the life of a travelling musician that sashays with the pull and tow of the bus. ‘If Life Exists’ is an elegant description of searching for true happiness and finding it in the simplest of things, like never getting bored ‘when you find the right two chords.’ The way he describes an increasing list of girlfriends still not making happy is a pivotal Lewis lyric, truly understanding the core of human failure and misery and allowing his description of it to be simple, never overwrought and constantly melancholy. ‘Broken Broken Broken Heart’ is a cracked pop song, uptempo and sad-tempo, with handclaps and a melodious chorus that bursts out of your chest with positivity despite its inherent sadness.
‘To Be Objectified’ takes a simple subject- going bald- and deconstructs it till it becomes about the vain futility of man’s obsession with his appearance despite its lack of importance. The sound effects in the intros create a panoramic view of the places these songs could have been written. And here as the sea roars, Jeff discusses ‘the manliest thing he’ll ever do...’ (going bald) and hopes that he’ll still be attractive. ‘Bugs and Flowers’ is a hippytastic theme tune for a cartoon that hasn’t been made yet, a tinge of sadness as Jeff walks endlessly finding the beauty at the core of humanity, but ultimately feeling loss in his core. ‘It’s Not Impossible’ is a simple melodic-driven lo-fi ebb and flow of travels and world-weariness sleep and hope. The politics of the Crass covers has subtly imparted itself on his palette. Finally, the brilliant and wry pastiche of science fiction ’Mini Theme: Moocher from the Future’ alludes to the best science fiction series ever with its scatological references to themes and events and a back story, and a strong narrative of mirth-inducing hilarity. With her ‘metal front and plastic back’ she messes around with King Saturn, travels through time, destroying her own present with her incursions into her past and future.
The sadness and wryness on these album are completely in tune with the lo-fi antifolk stylings of Lewis and his Junkyard band, all adding subtle touches to the enigmatic voice in their centre. The sound effects and sampled moments all add to the simple DIY sound. This is one of the albums of the year from one of the best lyricists in the world today.
After a great gig with Luke Wright, Ross Sutherland, Poeticat and Salena Saliva Gloopy Goddamn Godbless Godden, it was back to London to blog, write my secret book and plan a wedding. It's incredible and incredibly dull, simultaneously, how much time and effort goes into planning one day. It makes me cry. From Friday 7.45pm till Sunday 10pm we talked about it, seemingly non-stop, so much so that I was too housebound to check out my bezzie mate, Mr Lingo's Bass in your Face Bristol rave-scene screamo bass-ment rumblefest. It's taken over my life. The thing we're struggling with as a couple is: on one hand, it's the happiest day in your life- on the other, it's one day in your life. If we worked out how many hours our 00s of pounds was paying for, the ratio would sicken me. Isn't there a recession on? So, we decided to speak to a friend of mine who writes for a wedding magazine. Did he want to cover a multicultural melting pot wedding? A mixture of top hats and sarees, fascinators and turbans? We were the mixed race dream and surely a dream feature ticket? He said fine, so I've been going round offering press coverage in this niche wedding magazine for discounts and freebies.
And I've met with a resounding 'big who cares'. It's not that the coverage in a niche Asian wedding magazine is anything to sniff at. Oh no, that's perfectly fine. It's just they seem to be suffering the same recession as me, and despite everything wedding related being marked up an extra 40%, no one is stupid enough to be having a wedding this year. Right? Wrong, we seem to be doing it. Though, at the rate it's infiltrating all our conversations, who knows where we'll end up.
Things I like:
Jeffrey Lewis and the Junkyard's new 'Em Are I' album Dollhouse and Eliza Dushku The Corner by David Simon and Ed Burns Scott Pilgrim Spotify @azizansari 's bonkers tweets
I may have said this before but Jack White has a lot to answer for. Talent like yours Jack should be harnessed for the greater good. That garage punk lo-fi sensibility he had that became the central conceit of the White Stripes, that one guitar and one drumkit attitude, that punka DIY mentality. So enter Black Box Revelation. Admittedly, they’ve been knocking about for a while with their one guitar one drumkit squawl of noise and blues-rock thrashing. The fuzz pedals are on; the distortion is static-y; the drumming forearms are like Popeye’s, bulbous lobster limbs. So yes, Belgian rock group Black Box Revelation, hello.
We reviewed their EP a few months ago and while the musicianship was pretty damn impressive, felt that it was ultimately unstructured jamming, no hint of songs and sometimes excluding the audience from the navel-gazing. ‘I Think I Like You’ is a storming opener, all bluster and pomp, firmly straddling the noodling punk blues horse with a large cock and massive cojones. By the time ‘Gravity Blues’ arrives you realise that there’s no point listening to the ridiculous lyrics, they’re filler, just a vocal noise to pad out the songs before they hit noodle-solo. ‘Stand Your Ground’ features the immortal advice ‘I got to beat this to see this through.’ Soundbites and snapshots of vaguely political rhetoric are crooner before the guitars get to do their noisy bit. There are two moods to the album, waiting for the chorus and the chorus which involves some admittedly impressive thrashing of the ol axe. It’s kinda empty and boring and never really drawns you in. The vaguely political utterances distract too much. The desperation to sound LOUD and BIG and THRASHING grates after a bit. Jack White, I lay this noodling boredom firmly at your door sir.
Canadian pop quartet Metric are back with a new album that flits between large pop and small tinges of punk. Big choruses dance around vulnerable verses. Metallic drums and thistle guitars push ‘Help I’m Alive’ the lead single and album opener forward in a soaring direction, well upwards in a soaring direction. In 2005, Metric knocked the world for six with the one-two punch of their anthemic single “Monster Hospital” (with its ubiquitous “I fought the war/ and the war won” catchcry) and their critically acclaimed album “Live It Out”. This album is more of the same, ploughing that ethereal and poignant punk pop field that made their name in the first place. ‘Gold Guns and Girls’ seems to be a riposte against the limitations of man with its uptempo skittering drums and synth swells. Lead singer Emily Haines is a decent enough front woman, managing to sound lost and vulnerable but with a degree of power and control at the same time, which despite the contrasting emotions, gives her this position of being able to mould songs into two distinct moods. The workman-like musicianship of the rest of the band provide a backing that is both electronic synths, spiky punky guitars and a mash-up between live and programmed drums that gives them an extra depth. Occasionally, there is a stray into too emo-pop styling, ‘Satellite Mind’ but they manage to pull it back with their quieter more trip-hoppy numbers like ‘Blindness’ and the riot grrl electronics of ‘Front Row’. This is a good album that occasionally strays into forgettably listenable, which is a shame because the talents on display and that have been witnessed in the past could definitely have produced something with a little bit more verve and electricity, however seem to have settled for a sound that emotes well in pivotal scenes in One Tree Hill-a-like shows. Workmanlike and listenable and good but underwhelming on repeated listens.
When he lands in Harare North (a curious moniker for London), our unnamed protagonist carries nothing but a cardboard suitcase full of memories and an email address for his childhood friend, Shingi. Finessing his way through immigration, he spends a few restless weeks as the very unwelcome guest in his cousin's home before tracking down Shingi in a Brixton squat. In this debut, Caine Prize winner Brian Chikwava tackles head-on the realities of life as a refugee. Written in pidgin English and conversationally African, this story is narrated by a storyteller who uncovers a dark history and a darker heart as his desperation and confidence grows. He pushes himself to extremes exerting his power over his peers at every opportunity. Aleck, Tsitsi and Shingi, his housemates soon cower to his power as he strives to shift the power balance. He belonged to the Green Berets before moving to the UK and this scares them. His ambivalence and defence of Mugabe, his clouded politics and his guarded nature all make him an untrustworthy narrator, capable of doing anything to get what he wants, including blackmailing his cousin’s wife to extract money from her when he finds earning money through cash in hand jobs (called ‘graft’ here) doesn’t scale him up the economic rankings fast enough. He slowly uncovers his history in Zimbabwe and his reasons for being in the UK. We are painted a bleak picture of London, similar to the underclass-masterclass of ‘Dirty Pretty Things’. We see squat-living, desperation and the practicalities of refugees and asylum-seekers, vilified at every opportunity by Daily Mail and other papers. Here we see their human side, and there isn’t a human emotion more eloquent and sad than desperation. Chikwava’s style is mystifying in places, all delivered in a pidgin-English lingo that is awkward and clunky and sometimes impenetrable to the point where strands of naarative get lost. It’s a brave device though as you are immersed in the nameless protagonist’s world and oyu have to trust his thoughts, views, stories and justifications for every act he perpetrates to get what he wants. We are given a dark, often hilarious, political and ultimately moving piece of socio-economic writing about London’s underbelly and the asylum-seekers, refugees, immigrants and ethnics that inhabit its bottom rung.
Earlier today, I wondered how many D'Archetypes singles were out and about in the world.
Later on, while reading Edgar Wright's blog I thought I should track down Scott Pilgrim and read it before the film comes out so I can be sniffy about how I was there first. Checking Amazon it seemed volumes 2-5 were reasonably priced, while volume 1 (second hand) was going for a cool hand luke £35.
Then, while reviewing Doves' latest album I wondered why I had taken 'Lost Souls' their inspiring debut album to the charity shop after overplaying it through my final year at university.
I was wondering up Green Lanes in Harringay today checking out estate agents for a possible move. I walked into a charity shop on a whim and what did I find? A D'Archetypes single (okay, this made me die a little inside as someone had discarded my art), the first two volumes of Scott Pilgrim and a pristine vinyl copy of 'Lost Souls' by Doves. Now this may all seem unimpressive and coincidental but sometimes charity shops seem to soundtrack your day in a way that transcends what you can see in front of you. I'm not saying I believe in god, but if I do, she definitely volunteers in my local Sue Ryder Cancer Care shop and is trying to send me a message. What that message is... god knows... and thus is the divine gauntlet laid for me.
This week, I went to a wedding, on a Monday. Afterwards we celebrated with a coffee in Asda. You can't get classier than that.
I really hope the charity shop has a publishing deal; a brown morning suit and an iPhone next time I head down.
Remember Doves? They wrote modern anthemic indie Northern soul that married rock and dance in sublime ways that were miles away from baggy and full of heart. From ‘Black’n’White Town’s claustrophobia-destroying foot stomps to ‘There Goes The Fear’s triumphant guitar riffs, they have been canny enough to produce music with feeling and intelligence and accessibility, something certainly not to be sneered at. Sometimes they've never been able to match the pace of their knockout singles for an entire album, but this time with 'Kingdom of Rust' they're playing for keeps, sounding focused and consistent. We all know their story (well, if you don’t) from Sub Sub to studio tragedy to workhorse underdogs to now. They’ve cheekily been covering Sub Sub tunes live for a minute now, so it’s nice to hear both influences married together on new album opener ‘Jetstream’ with its dancey reverbed synths ricocheting over guitar-peggios and a housey beat that always threatens to erupt into anthemic status, but sensibly holds back all the way through. Title track ‘Kingdom of Rust’ ploughs that familiar Doves sound, melancholy and triumph, optimism in the midst of pain and tragedy, the suffocation of small towns, the disintegration of society yet striving to find a way out. As ‘blackbirds flew into cooling towers’ Jimi is packing his bags, waiting for you, trying to escape the kingdom of rust over lilting guitars and brooding strings, with an oompa-oompa country-esque bounce. Electronics skitter in the outer frequencies, and the hope shines through the depression and sadness. This is Doves at their strongest, beating the odds, pulling together, fighting dirt with grit.
‘The Outsiders’ is back in that fierce edgy Sub Sub field, all delayed bleeps, uptempo drums and urgent surging guitars. ‘Winter Hill’ seems to replicate Spiritualized’s droned-blissed-scuzzed ‘Electric Mainline’ riff and turn it into something sombre and bittersweet, Jimi pleading plaintively in the centre of its repeated hypnotic rhythms eventually distorted into a stomping Northern Soul banger. ‘Compulsion’ is the other new departure for Doves, with its languid funk and ease of rolling basses, passionate and funky, with a new lease of life for the band, strangely, in party mood. ‘The Greatest Denier’ kicks out, the anthem for the underdog, so completely at ease with itself and beating the odds despite Doves’ finding themselves not being a Mancunian band people remember. Which is a shame, because their superlative songwriting rivals that of one Stephen Morrissey, certainly beats certain Gallaghers for invention, emotion and lack of pretension, and is funkier, groovier, fist-thumpinger and more urgent and better than any other contemporary Manchester band. They are more than a Manchester band. They are a band for the underdog. A band that beats off the sorrow and regret in their lives with fist-thumping, heart-warming, uplifting beautiful music juxtaposing the clash between natural beauty and heavy industry. This is dreamy and panoramic and melancholic yet so utterly beautiful and uplifting.
This is a labyrinthian powerhouse of a release from Glasweigan sextet Dananananaykroyd. Their wit and showmanship is apparent in their name and two-drummer-bashing thunder-beats. Underneath all that screaming and yelping is a sense of humour that lightens the meticulously noisy 12 songs that make up this release. Muscular and pig-headed, they pound your solar plexus with spidery guitars, strained shouts and distinctive stop-start song mutations that bulk up an impressively loud sound. It’s far from contrived, if anything it’s utterly passionate and heartfelt and earnest with a tongue in cheek slant, all at once.
The songs leap out at you from the get-go with ‘Watch This’s screaming banter and cheeky ‘Hiya! Hiya What’s this?’ squeals. And once it’s gone, it carries on like a juggernaut veering towards the edge, all pounding through the fog of lo-fi with a determined clarity and jagged guitar swells. ‘The Greater Than Symbol and The Hash’, ‘Pink Sabbath’, ‘Totally Bone’, ‘Some Dresses’ have all cropped up on singles and EPs through the last year but all sound so fresh integrated with album hits and quieter calmer moments, like the fidgety ‘Black Wax’ which is as angular and yelpy as they get. The noise and scattershot harmonies never detract by the pure sense of melody the band possess, all harmoniously working hard to create a thorough and layered sound that never errs on the side of simplistic or typical; it’s always nervy, stop-starty and deliriously tuneful and hopeful. It’s not quiet or calm for long, as the fiercely manic triptych of ‘Totally Bone’, ‘Pink Sabbath’ and ‘Infinity Milk’ bring the noise back to the furore. ‘Hey James’ seems to be seven songs in one with its fist-pumping melody, dark title-whispering coda and shouty chorus. This is unifying music, music to join a cult for, and with that simple declaration of ‘Hey Everyone!’ the bands’ arrival has been announced.
‘Hey Everyone!’ (exclamation mark necessary) is an unforgettable monolith of a debut, simply put, awesome- always moving forward, always getting louder, always keeping you entertained and never taking itself too seriously. Hooray for a band that sounds like its members are having fun playing together, melding scream, metal, punk funk and good ol workhard indie into a multicultural melting pot of important guitar noise. In a slew of great 2009 albums, this’ll stand up by years’ end as one of the best debuts (they’ll be duking it out with Micachu for that honour) and definitely one of its mostly durable and unforgettable. Who ya gonna call?
Much has been made of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' guitarless return, and 'Zero' weighs in with some cheesy 80s candy synths reminiscent of Frazn Ferdinand's 'Do You Want To' which always reminds me of a Way Out West song, but at the epicentre of the erupting synths is that familiar sneer, yelp, wail and abandoned vocal scree... yes, Karen O- she makes it all worthwhile and she's our tangible Yeah Yeah Yeahs recognisable factor that leads us into Yeah Yeah Yeahs mach 2.0, guitarless, and when 'Heads Will Roll' kicks in with 'Dance Till You're Dead/Off With Your Head's macabre threat, you're with them and what emerges is not Nick Zinner, the amazing spidery punk guitarist, but Nick Zinner, the composer, able to juxtapose Karen O's wild vocals with some powerful candy synths all fluffy and light and yet full of the same intensity that makes the Yeah Yeah Yeahs so durable and electric in whatever they do.
'Soft Shock' returns to the emotive song-based territory of 'Show Your Bones' with the fuzzy synths soundtracking a verse-willing Karen, so beautiful and willful with her childlike bursts of love and electricity falling in love. Here the backwards guitar emerges and you realise that they haven't gone away, they've just been integrated with a fuller sound for the greater good, for the good of an evolving band willing to add to their canon and not afraid to mutate and evolve that which made them so good. 'Skeletons' is a love ballad to match 'Maps' with its gorgeous soft almost-spoken heartbreak and soaring chorus. The synths are somewhere between Madonna and Suicide and in the excessive emptiness of the middle of the songs lies Karen's voice, so beautiful, whispering and crooning 'Skeleton me' breaking your heart. 'Shame and Fortune' is like a Suicide remix of 'Rockers to Swallow' all ticks and stop-starts and fuzzy rumbling basses as the shrieks build over pulsing guitars that eventually erupt. 'Little Shadow' has a church feeling to it, and is most like Karen O's North Korea Rock acoustic band, delicate and reverential all at once. Yeah Yeah Yeahs are firing on all cylinders, pulling out all the stops, pushing their songwriting forward more and more evolving at a larger rate than any of their contemporaries, making their sound so distinctive. It'll be a versatile live show with the thunder and fuzz of 'Fever to Tell', countrified ballad yelp of 'Show Your Bones' and disco-motions of 'It's Blitz.' They're still dirty, sensuous, scuzzy, cool and filled with the bile and bluster of swallowing rockers whole, all with the spirit of the party reigning in their limbs flailing about in the disco lights. 'It's Blitz' is a blitzkreig of bliss and brilliance. Bravo.
With more monikers than a career conman, Daniel Dumile has certainly lived through hip-hop’s greatest feats, from his Zev Love X incarnation that helped make the Golden Age so shiny, KMD gave us optimistic funky and dextrous music that moved us. Their ‘Bl_ck B_st_rds’ album gave us some political rhetoric that was undeniably powerful. After an exodus and family tragedy, he returned as MF Doom and kept his face hidden with a Dr Doom-esque mask, ensuring the focus stayed on the music and the character the sad man bloated with regret and aggression could hide behind. He was Viktor Vaughn, Madvillain, King Geedorah, and now he’s just DOOM (‘all capitals, no acronym’) and he was BORN LIKE THIS. This is DOOM’s first album since 2004’s Mm.. Food. He went through a prolific period, collaborating at the drop of a hat, filling our ears with that familiar staccato raspy flow and there was danger of overexposure/lack of quality control. But he held back. Worked away on his new album, taking in new beats from himself, JakeOne and even posthumously Dilla, and now what we’ve been waiting for has arrived. Sadly, it wasn’t his long promised album with powerhouse Ghostface (also a man hiding behind a mask, monikers and many mirthy metaphors), it’s a solo album. And it’s fucking good.
The thing with DOOM is he has mastered his craft and on form, delivers the best edgy, B-movie-sampling, funked-out, headnodding hip-hop going. When he’s lazy you can hear it, but when he puts his time and passion into it, you can tell he was BORN LIKE THIS. This album is precious, special and never boring. ‘Gazzillion Ear’ erupts like a Madvillain beat with reverberating police sirens and that familiar flow, still spitting lackadaisical insults, villainous rhetoric and metaphors, comparisons and cultural references only DOOM gets, but the way he does it, so calm and gravelly, and with a hint of awkwardness, he sounds electric. The sirens signal a strong start. Then ‘Ballskin’ comes in with its off-kilter synth-scale and evil trade-offs, a stream of consciousness rhymes and internal couplets abstract and yet electric. ‘Yessir’ features a guest verse from vibrant bouncy and yet menacing Raekwon, who cooks up one his finest while a guitar-siren pulses in the background. The downtempo bass and scattering drums all make this a highlight, along with the near-police-procedural drama in ‘Angelz’ an old track featuring Ghostface that finally gets the release it deserves for its James Bond strings and knockout rhymes trading blows with the beats.
The only misfire is a strange unnecessary cuss against fake gangsters which exercises that age-old hip-hop dinosauric conceit of being homophobic, it’s unnecessary and betrays the intelligence DOOM usually places in his rhymes. However, this aside, the rest of the album is fire, firing, moving, grooving and completely utterly brilliant all the way through, able to be funky and threatening all at once, while a vibrant rejuventated DOOM has fun on the mic, throwing out streams of abstract consciousness rhyming intensely, like a dictionary definition of a superior rapper, all personality, attitude and ability, DOOM certainly was BORN LIKE THIS.
Here is a quick interview with Dananananaykroyd where I get something wrong. They are an awesome Scottish band with bright hilarious passionate songs and two frakking drummers. Album review later on today, but in the meantime....
- 'Hello Everyone' is your new album. How would you describe your album to someone who shies away from traditional greetings?
Our album's called 'Hey everyone', you denser. It's a touch more colloquial, so right from the off we're making things that are little bit easier for those who shy away from traditional greetings. Our debut album is one big giant "hello" to the world, with lots of loud, crushing guitars and scottish people shouting and screaming out of your stereo. A sort of "look at us! We're really annoying!" Not really the sort of thing for anyone shy of anything, to be perfectly honest.
- Indie DIY is the way to go for bands today. Yay or nay and explain your workings?
Yay and nay. It all depends on what sort of person/band you are. If you have the sort of money and resources needed to succeed or even exist at a comfortable level where you get to put out records and constantly tour the world, then go for it. It's a fantastic thing to be able to do that off of your own back and, from past experiences, very rewarding. Just because the record industry is in a bit of turmoil just now, doesn't make it any easier for tiny little bands to get noticed though. It still takes a hell of a lot of hard work, whether or not you choose to work with a record label. There's 6 of us and we're all skint, so, well, duh.
- In order to recreate the thundering experience of two drummers on a record, you must.... ?
TURN THE DRUMS UP REALLY LOUD AND MAKE THEM PLAY AS HARD AS THEY CAN UNTIL THEY HATE THE SONGS AND ALSO MUSIC AND THEIR LIVES AS A WHOLE. Well, that's what we did in the studio. At home, listening on your stereo, we suggest turning your stereo up nice and loud, to the point where your mum tells you that, even though she loves you as a mother because she has to, she no longer likes you as a person and you end up growing up all wrong and stuff.
- What's inspiring you right now? Books, Cds, films, art, tea brands etc?
Pink Floyd! I watched a show about them today and it has given me some great ideas. And also my new Playstation 3 is teaching me all about how, if you write silly pop music that ordinary people enjoy, you might get to be on a computer game and then actually make some money from playing music. Very inspirational.
- What's the geekiest thing about each member?
Well, Calum and Duncan are constantly playing WoW. Like, to the point of deep, deep sadness. Laura is constantly just sort of being a general, geek and telling crap jokes and picking things up off the floor and eating them. She also married a rock star, what a total geek! John makes dance music ALL the time. He thinks it makes him cool, but who actually listens to dance music past the age of 15? What a geek. My name's David and yesterday I lay in bed playing Skate 2 for 12 hours straight. Goodbye!
2006's 'Fur and Gold', Bat for Lashes' debut record was a real discovery for me. I heard 'Sarah' at someone's house and further investigation lead me to an album that wouldn't leave my stereo or my fiance's, it became an omnipresent staple in our house with its shamanic naivety and childlike beauty, serene and soothing yet wild with impossible emotion. It's quite a feat considering how much new music I absorb, how long this stayed on the stereo. I was intrigued by Natasha Khan, a beautiful, lithe and quietly kooky woman, completely at odds with fashion and typified female singer-songwriters who were mouthy and sang about al frescos and boys being dickhead. She made songwriting vague again with references to magic and animal totems and the wild possibility of the skies and the simple emotiveness of 'sad eyes.' Seeing her support Radiohead last summer completed my journey to love/obsession where a field of 100,000 people who sort of knew her were seduced and subdued and captivated over a strong 45 minute set. Then the Mercury nomination came along with the Kate Bush comparison bat-lash. Ultimately, she is one of the country's finest songwriters, and now we have a gorgeous new album of hers to absorb.
On first listen, 'Two Suns' seems to be about duality, about spirituality and physiciality, about the sun. Natasha and an inner-child alter-ego, the vacuous and destructive blonde inner-self duel over the course of the album, intertwining and connecting in strange ways, exploring the philosophy of the self and the connectedness of existence. It feels filmic and narrative-heavy yet loses none of the intricate songwriting that charmed us originally. Recorded with members of Yeasayer and featuring Scott Walker on a mesmerising finale, this feels more like a band record, whereas 'Fur and Gold' felt like Natasha, with friends brought in to be orchestrated, this feels more expansive and collaborative, the songs are more ambitious and intricate, swiling and changing and oozing with meticulous power.
'Glass' is about lovers brought together in the city then torn apart and separated like two planets, two entities that belong together. With the bass drum thud and the apocalyptic wail of Natasha, the doom-laden strings and guitars menace and thud creating a sonic soundscape of two extremes.
'Sleep Alone' is bat-dark with the processed acoustic guitar riff and off-kilter disco beats. With Natasha's spooky falsetto, this feels like a doomy dancehall while Natasha wails “My mama told me / the dream of love is a two-hearted dream”. The duality theme is explored more here, and as the song reaches its denouement, you see that this disco is empty save for Natasha, alone, fighting to find her other half.
'Moon and Moon' is a sumptuous piano-laden ballad, closest to 'Fur and Gold' with its focal point being the piano and Natasha's vocal. The two twines of the moons, on their trajectory, represent two travelling lovers lost trying to get back to each other.
'Daniel' represents the biggest departure for Bat for Lashes with its hefty electro beat and poppy heart. The synth wavers and tinkles and the beats kick in and suddenly you can see Neo flying through green lines of code in the Matrix, this is film music, this is moving beautiful, powerful heavy poppy ballad stuff. Bravo to Bat for Lashes for hitting the pop parade as, while this is superior 80s electro, is the most accessible song on the album.
'Peace of Mind' is a soothing acoustic ballad with elongated country guitar that builds layer upon layer until a choral chant (an all-black all-gay gospel choir) gaves this song a wave of reverence, a wash of sunniness and burning bright light. Ben Christophers' guitar shine as does the choir that builds and builds till crescendo.
'Siren Song' is our first introduction to Pearl, the destructive blonde alter-ego, lost in New York, a wash of decadence gone sour and loneliness. The delicate piano is played until the pounds and bashes build the song into a towering eruption of emotion and beauty and sadness and wild shamanic screaming looking for a place to fit in. The search for perfect, wholesome and innocent love and the destruction of that love through emotional sabotage builds from a bashed piano into a wall of sound of flutes and strings and drums all clattering and building an impenetrable aural wall.
'Pearl's Song' continues the theme of Pearl feels like Pearl wander around the city lost, an urgent beat throbbing as she swirls around looking for something she's seem in a dream. This is the second most accessible song of the album with the Yeasayer-influenced falsetto chorus evoking both magic and triumph over adversity.
'Good Love' and 'Two Planets' are both beautiful evocations of the stars, with their twinkles and scatter-shot rumbling drums. 'Two Planets' feels like a dance tune while 'Good Love' is a slow ballad'. 'Two Planets' is the album's weak link as it occasionally veers off into a strange out of tune coda that doesn't gel with the entire song.
'Travelling Woman' is a psychedelic desert song, all sun and solitude, Natasha wandering by herself in an expanse, reflective and remorseful. The piano and drums pound a stomping walking rhythm that eases the meditation.
'The Big Sleep' is Pearl's curtain call, a duet with Scott Walker's pain-ridden disembodied voice, almost Phantom of the Opera-ish, as she calls the curtain to close, as she bids goodbye as she hangs up the dress forever, a sad sack of pain and forgotten emotion. A faded star. She is empty now and ready to leave. Spectral and electric, this is a beautiful song, almost heard out of a music box, it sounds so vintage, and as the curtain closes on the reverberating piano, we bid goodnight.
This is one of the year's most special albums, packed with content, packed with moods, a real sense of journey and the pacing of a maestro. It's sad to think that as the album dies, these songs will become disembodied over time as standalone pieces, because together they take you on a powerful emotional ride. This is an album as albums should be made, a real journey that leaves you bereft at the end, having been with it all the way to the end. Bravo Natasha Khan, this is the work of a true genius.
Life's been strange recently. Instead of blogging every excruciating minute piece of banality from my so-called life, I've been writing my new novel. While the industry has been in complete meltdown/downturn, some writer friends and I thought it best to start stockpiling material for when the dust settles the book-market upscales and hey, they need more brown-boy-material to fill the shelves. I've been working on this book in relative secret, only giving out sketchy details about small parts of it. Because I'm still in first draft hell, I haven't come up with the definitive killer sentence to describe it, the one-sell, the 'boy meets girl, girl kills boy, boy haunts girl' type sentence that makes people get it instantly. All I have is this abstract concept about what it feels like, and if anyone asks what it's about it becomes errr ummm errr well it's kinda like about this sort of thingy.
Some amusing and disgusting things recently:
1) Outside my house, an old Indian man is wandering up and down the street slowly, darting back to our house. We're watching him. He's definitely in the weirdo category. We leave the house for dinner. He stops and walks up to me just at the end of the drive.
'Excuse me...' 'Yes?' His eyes are red and tear-strewn, he walks with a lean over to his left side like it's boneless. 'Are you a Gujarati?' 'Yes I am.' 'I'm looking for Ashok Shah's house. He lives in Wood Green somewhere but I'm forgotten where. Do you know where he lives? He is Gujarati too.' 'No sorry.' 'I can't believe I've forgotten. Sorry.'
He limps off.
2) Teenagers are funny. They're so easily offended by some things and so quick to assert their awkward authority on others. I was standing on a crowding train next to two teenage girls who were sneering about their surroundings. They were particularly upset about the train being too busy to offer them seats. One of them became quickly outraged by a non-descript blonde boy on the other side of the carriage wearing one of those 'fashionable' faded vintage Batman insignia t-shirts. He looked bland, unable to carry off a conversation.
'Oh my god,' said the girl audibly to her friend. 'Look at his t-shirt. The Batman one. He's, like, a complete idiot. I mean I bet he doesn't even know who Bruce Wayne is. He's like his alter-ego you dumbarse.'
Weirded comment about a t-shirt ever.
3) Here's some proper ASBO behaviour. It's the last dregs of Sunday morning (11.45am), we're on a train hurtling into London. A man stands over the passengers with his girlfriend, both devouring fried chicken from boxes, daubed with ketchup, oozing grease. He has chicken fat smeared across his face. He keeps steadying himself with his greasy chicken hand, placing it on every handle pole and surface he can find. You're disgusting mate, and you only warrant a mention because that's the filthiest thing I have ever seen and you're the reason our tube is a putrid mess of dirt and annoyance and I hate you.
That's all for now. I'd tell you about the worst gig I had to cancel 20 minutes after its scheduled start and why the venue were pricks for making me turn up even though I knew no one would be buying tickets, but that's one for the memoirs, which I will begin stockpiling now for that inevitable book-upward swing.
Brooklyn noise-pop trio Vivian Girls are drenched in a seductive fuzz of swirling guitars while their muddied shoegazing harmonies sweetly flirt you you over the tops of their fretboards. Gorgeous, grungy and just too damn powerful with the geetars, they fuzz and buzz their way through ten short sharp succint songs. 'Wild Eyes' is the pinnacle of their simple format, naive slightly off-key sweet schoolgirl harmonies while the bass pounds and the drums clatter. The guitar is a heavily distorted flange of fuzzy overtones. They balance frequencies beautifully with high-pitched murmured vocals, middling power chords and the rumble of a tight bass. 'Going Insane' is a dizzy rollercoaster-like song slightly out of time with itself, nearly tripping over itself as the singer delivers slick lyrics about impending insanity. 'Where do you run to' pounds over a repeated riff, slightly road tripish, and trippy all at once, out of sync harmonies ghost over the top of the music. These short songs are tight and well-put together erupting through multitudes of moods and melodies in short bursts of time, desperately scrabbling towards the finish. This is for you, you noise pop shoegaze fan, you girly girl harmony guys, you must own.
Blue Roses is actually Laura Groves, a West Yorkshire-bred acoustic female singer-songwriter with a voice pitched somewhere between Bjork and Joni Mitchell, and a delicate instrumental touch pitched between Simon & Garkfunkel and Joanna Newsom. Her little-girl-lost voice soars over carefully picked acoustic guitar melodies, while the occasional flurry of piano or maracas and other percussive engines push the song past the acoustic singer-songwriter post. His ghostly folk consists of found instruments complimenting the omnipresent guitar, adding a fragmented spectral layer to the music, an alabaster texture of purity. She sings about love and loss and all those other staples of the acoustic female singer-songwriter, lacking the vision and attention to detail of someone like Emmy the Great, but makes up for it with the impressive range of her voice and how she is able to harness harmonies and melodies out of disjointed vocal arrangements. ‘Doubtful Comforts’ is evidence of this melancholy medley of sounds working together as an aural collage of beauty and quiet serenity. The kalimba tinkles and slides around your ears like falling coins, persuading your swoons to induce themselves. It has an eerie sound quality. Elsewhere, on songs like ‘Does Anyone Love Me Now?’ her emotions are kept in check by a steadily plucked guitar and impressive vocal falsetto eruptions. Where most songs bleed into each other, these two stand out, as do others where harmonium and harmonica duel or where the textures laid down by the found instruments bolster up the sound beyond simple standard fare. This is impressive stuff from a prodigious talent with still a lot left to give, and as she grows so will the sound. In the meantime, this is a great introduction to a soon-to-be force to be reckoned with.
Black Lips toe the line between chaotically unpredictable and comfortably predictable with wild abandon. You should expect them to snarl, piss in your mouth and get their clothes off, especially if it isn’t appropriate. Their recent gigs in India resulted in nationwide scorn at these Georgia-based punk rockers. Maybe it was excessive in a country that is still struggling to reconcile its traditional values and cosmopolitan future but maybe that’s why the world needs Black Lips. Musically, you can rely on them to produce wild thumping lo-fi 60s garage punk-influenced badass songs that all reduce the listener to a sweating spitting headbanging disciple of the Lip-i-festo, counting 200 million thousand strong as their legion, or something. The new album, then, is a rip-roaring feat of derring-do, similar in feel, tone and recklessness to ‘Good Bad Not Evil’ and containing catchy snarling uptempo 3 minute pop songs that veer wildly to strange proclamations (‘Big Black Baby Jesus of Today’) to paranoid delusional drug-induced ramblings (‘Drugs’). There’s also their tender side, that still moment of the night where the Lips reflect on the chaos trail they’ve blazed and deliver undeniably moving yet slightly unhinged slowies in the guise of love songs, which is where the sweet and tender ‘I’ll Be With You’ comes in, skipping along with a 50s ‘Earth Angel’ vibe. You can imagine George McFly trying to impress his future wife to this one. ‘Big Black Baby Jesus of Today’ has the spit and sawdust aggression, beating you with pool cues and slow threatening slurred lyrics over thudding guitars. Influences 13th Floor Elevators and New York Dolls prevail on these 14 snarling lo-fi mumble songs all about fucking, drugging, punching and loving- so base and simple, so primal and urgent, all fierce and pure in their catchiness. The guitars all fire in that scattershot post-flower-power garage sound, berating the listeners with their rhythms. Ultimately, Black Lips are a con, they play the punk game, but underneath they’re sweet and sound and loveable rogues and that’s all you want in a 200 million thousand strong legion of fighters all flying your flag. More of the same but when it sounds this good and this powerful and this headnoddingly infectious, I could suffer more albums in the same vein. Never lose your edge boys; never hit the big studios and never turn the fuzz pedals off. Keep it going, take my heart.
Fake Problems' new album really sells you with the title, which they deconstruct over the course of twelve songs, sometimes ridiculously optimistic, and at others mocking themselves or just striving to triumph over adversity. Recruiting a horn section, the band give the songs a liver feeling, something bouncier and more joyous. The guitars still squelch and induce ticks and huzzahs, but it's in a rejuvenated bass and new horn section where the songs find a backbone bopping its way through the spine of the song. Chris Farren's lead vocal is heartfelt and soulful and playfully enunciates the intentions of the band as they course through the songs with good humour. There's still a punk rock core at the centre of proceedings, like on the bouncing flouncy 'Diamond Rings.' 'You're a Serpent, You're a She-Snake' operates on a sinister shuffle andwail, and the mourning 'Tabernacle Song' is orchestral and lush. There is never a dull moment and it keeps its heart pretty versatile throughout. Lyrically, they appreciate life and examine ambition and identity, and despite an underlying tinge of sinisterisms, the majority of the album operates on an optimistic course, trailblazing itself through the Nebraska landscapes that spawned it, all with a bit heart full of joy and ultimately optimism for the future.
The debut album from London scum, Video Nasties, is an aggressive buzzard of an album, gnawing and chomping like a mixed-animal metaphor breaking free of the shackles of its captors, a stodgy heavy punk-assault on your emotions. Potent and aggressive, their line of searing boisterous and down right disturbing punka guitars give you an uneasy fuzzy journey into the abyss. Willing you into submission are singles 'Albatross' an animated tome of death and destruction and bile and spit that pounds and thuds with every bass drum boom and the acetate bliss of 'Dead Again' an all-punching all-kicking riposte to doubters. Menacing and compelling future single 'Jellybean' is an uneasy journey through thrash while 'Rolling' shows a potential versatility with its lullaby-like charm. Full of personality and oozing with threat, this is a thundering debut.
Remember when Pete Doherty made music? Well, he finally has. Ha- hilarious tabloid joke over and done with, what else to update you on the Doherty press machine? Well, to separate himself from Pete Doherty=junkie, we get PeterR Doherty=troubadour. This is PeteR Doherty’s first solo album, a collection of songs that have been knocking about for years for the discerning Doherty curator. They’ve now been recorded proper-like, away from the hiss and crackle of the Dictaphone, by Stephen Street and Graham Coxon weighing in with some delicate guitars and flourishes that bring the songs out from their lo-fi beginnings. This is PeteR Doherty playing for his fans, knowing he’s given them a rough ride the last few years, becoming a superstar for the wrong reasons, gravitating away from the people’s hero that rose to giddy heights helming The Libertines, which was a band for the fans, happy to engage and interact and honour their diehard core army. These songs have been knocking about for a while, and so, given the studio treatment, they become PeteR as the fans want him, mostly intimate and acoustic and mournful, whipping them up into delirious fervour with his every emotive drawl. This won’t be the cross-over album that endears him to a press that vilified him. Instead, it gives his fans little more than a thank-you. Many songs are all set at plod-tempo, or ‘mournfullo’ (meaning ‘slow enough for long drawn-out vocals and quiet instrumental breakdowns for full emotional caterwauling’. Songs that don’t play mournfullo hit novelty tempos, with some forays into white boy reggae, and gypsy jazz. For all PeteR’s heartwrenching, he hasn’t lost his wry sense of humour or melody. The lyrics vaguely celebrate all PeteR’s favourite topics, decadence, freedom, libertines, lost love and outsider-status. There is a deep swooning romanticism on show here, poignant and fun and beautiful all at once, as PeteR now sounds fragile, the morning after, full of sorrow and regret. The acoustic guitar shimmies and canters like ‘Radio USA’ from the first Libertines album, the melodies veer between mournful folk and Kinksy fun. Single ‘Last of the English Roses’ builds a beautiful pace with lilting strings and an almost dub-like explosion of sound twinkles in the background, as an off-beat skank celebrates a bubbling beat. This is an album for the fans, one that redeems him, ultimately it’s a curate’s egg, a bit like ‘The Watchmen’ film- one for the fanboys who have scoured the internet for every crackly half-arsed mp3, who finally get to hear the finished studio version, which in effect neuter’s the thisness of the recordings, but at least Doherty’s back on track and has finished up his half-arsed body of work since he left the Libertines, and hopefully his next one will be the one.
'The Alternative Hero' is the story of my teendom, an account of obsession and pop culture meaning more than life itself, of bands and their cults and the blood sweat and tears poured into rock'n'roll as a movement, as a punk barrage of unity. Clive Beresford is 30, working in a dead-end job and still obsessing about music, in particular the band that changed his life 'Thieving Magpies', who were the alternative's saviours before Britpop arrived and they imploded under the weight of expectation and an apparent meltdown by the lead singer, the enigmatic Lance Webster. Clive still obsesses over their every moment and minute and while his friends have all moved on and gone on to successful jobs and well-adjusted lioves, he's still caught in the nostalgia of fanzines and rare import-only seven inches and the scrawl and sprawl of his teenage years. The book zips between his recollections, articles, earnest fanzine rants and reviews and memories.
One day Clive notices (*plot contrivance alert*) that Lance Webster, now seemingly retired from making music, lives on his road. What follows is an earnest uncomfortable stalker fantasy plot where Clive seeks to befriend his alternative hero, who meant more to him than life itself, find out what exactly went wrong and restore Lance to the rock’n’roll museum. Though written like an excitable teenager’s diary, it manages to messily saunter through a series of clunky plot contrivances to make it work. Clive’s relationship with Lance, built on a lie, is uncomfortable and funny yet slightly tragic in its highlighting of his arrested development. Somehow Lance Webster remains elusive, an overriding figure in proceedings yet never quite engaging with the action, knowing what he does. The coverage of indie music and rock’n’roll is nostalgia-inducing and the helpful recommended listening are certain cause for reaching amongst your CDs and dusting of those gems that meant so much to you years ago. As the impending doom of Britpop approaches, Clive and his hero achieve some sort psychic connection that spiritually intertwines them forever. Clive is certainly the only one who cares, and as he tries to befriend the impenetrable hero we watch that age-old adage that one should never meet their heroes unfurl in awkward horror. It’s funny, easy listening with a distinct ear for music, but alas, it works if you can suspend your disbelief enough to get past some clunky exposition. Relating to the main character is easy enough as a music lover, but this would leave anyone cold who either wasn’t there or doesn’t hold any of the bands in reverence. Also, the tendency to write the whole thing in gushing fanzine language, relying too easily on pop culture similes to make points means that this has a limited appeal and is unpolished. However, as a debut novel, it shows promise and man, Thieving Magpies certainly remind me of some my favourite bands,
Does the world need another Gomez album? 'Bring It On' and 'Liquid Skin' ploughed the breezy acoustic soul and blues and quirky electronica ticks so brilliant around ten years ago, and while the rest of the world moved on and moved forward, Gomez continued to mine similar caves with varying success. 'A New Tide' promises a return to their 'freewheeling and experimental roots' yet in actuality delivers something quite polished and devoid of their distinctive voices and breezy harmonies. This is almost serious. This is not from the students who brough us the gravelly 'Tijuana Lady' and the wonky endearing 'Whippin Picadilly'. The boys have grown up, left university, travelled the world and we're left with that post-student daze, one where the twilight twinkles for serious folk. While listenable and occasionally beautiful, 'A New Tide' sounds like it should be soundtracking ponderous moments in American teen dramas. You can imagine 'Little Pieces' and its country-fried rock incidentally honing the gamut of Pacey's emotions as he looks out on a serendipidous sunset over the creek. Only 'Win Park Slope' and single 'Airstream Driver seem to shine through with their whirling psychedelia and quirkiness intact. Much is made of this album being put together online from disparate members separated by the world, and therein lies the inherent problem with it, they don't feel like a gang, they don't feel together, they lack that summery universal vibe that made their first few efforts such a triumph against the odds. They were all together and they shared the same 'last gang in town' mentality as The Clash or The Libertines, despite their different approach. So, what we're left with is a nice mediocre album with some nice ditties about vague emotions, polished and processed and aiming for the college rock ears of American audiences. Gomez have grown up, which is far enough, but with age, they've lost their edge.
The Wave Pictures' sophomore album is a heart-warming collection of shanties and ditties, all warm and fuzzy and imbued with the spirit of liveness, thisness and moment-capturing. Eschewing the more produced electronic production that gave their 'Instant Coffee Baby' album a more processed sound, they're stripped back, filled the frequencies with gorgeous finger-picked guitars, and Stanley Brinks' emotive horns. This collection of songs is more story-based. With its folkish harmonies and thumping brushed drums, 'My Kiss' tells a dreamy tale of an awry kiss, while 'Bumble Bee' has a fantastical Lewis Carol quality to it. Singer Dave Tattersall has a charming quality to his voice, halfway between bluster and self-conscious, his wavering melodies and confessional tone make for a beguiling and engaging set of songs, all celebrating warmth and love and the point at which fantasy and reality duel with each other. His wit and image-invention is well-worn and well-honed, erudite and most of all relatable in its dreamy take on reality. The album was recorded in one twelve session and you can hear the journey the band takes you on throughout, there is a live feeling to proceedings, a celebration of the thisness of capturing a moment. Along with Emmy the Great, this is proof-positive that British bands can capture a beautiful and engaging folk sound so well.
London's The Invisible bring another one of those 'indefinable sounds' to the pallette, sounding like Radiohead, Elbow, TV on the Radio, Queen, Bugz in the Attic and Prince all in one go, yet managing to be a diminished sum of their influences, pitched as some sort of style mash-up, yet managing to not be terribly interesting, despite the kudos of their obvious influences. Sung as Guy Garvey (Elbow) singing Prince-style falsettos, there is a strange moroseness to these heavily bass-driven songs, where the low notes drive you up and down on their tripwire electric funkiness. Opening with the Jack Johnson-esque 'In Retrograde', you're misled into thinking they're just an acoustic singer-songwriter combo, however 'Constant's jagged razor-sharp Kid A-era Radiohead guitars (when there were guitars on Kid A) give you an off-beat James Bond lite theme. 'Jacob and the Angel' manages to sound poignant and funky all at once. 'London Girl' the lead single is funky and oozing with bass, yet seems like a diet twisted funk song. The singer's lack of personality and charisma make the the music dull with his input, which is a shame as these tracks in the hands of someone like Saul Williams or Tunde from TV on the Radio would really shine. It's a shame that it smacks of mediocrity in places as they could shine. Insert your own 'Invisible' pun here.
I get the whole slab of concrete, high-rise ten-storey metaphor for the one long stream-of-consciousness paragraph that constitutes this book and much as there are those who will applaud the invent lack of punctuation, I found it impenetrable and slowed down what had the tenets of a great book. The arduousness in ploughing through thick concrete slab pages made the quick-fire wit and ‘Trainspotting’-esque inventive fast ticks and flashpans and drug-hysteria slow to a dull throb. Which is a shame because it had the makings of a great book. The characters are certainly colourful enough and rich with detail and enough pathos to represent the bottom of a nasty underbelly in a rough housing estate in Middlesborough, but they get lost in the dreamy acid-trip stream of consciousness. Bobby the Artist is an idiot savant artist, great with paints and hippish in his pursuit of hedonism, he excuses his need to get off his face at every opportunity with the love it brings him towards everyone. He loves Georgie, desperately, a drunk working girl who doesn’t see why anyone would go on the dole when it’s easy to earn minimum wage in a shitty job. Johnnie, the local dealer/pusher/bully, is a violent and jealous sweetheart with a soft spot for his gran and for out-of-his-league Ellen, a nymphomaniac he just can’t make cum because he thinks all girls wanna fuck like they’re in a porno. While Ellen loves Johnnie/fears Johnnie and after what he did to the last guy she fucked around with just for the sake of an orgasm is treading lightly around him. Meanwhile, Alan Blunt the Cunt is a racist paedo clambering his way towards a much-needed race war, one headline at a time. All these wonderfully colourful characters intersect in the busy traffic of a council estate block, all desperate and alone and needing human interaction, wanting to make it and for everyone to make it, and in their fucked-up dysfunction, they seem to form the perfect model family of down-and-outers. When Bobby the Artist’s crazed artwork finds itself under the coked-up nose of a dodgy arts dealer from the big city, the possibility of his impending fame and how it’ll elevate him and Georgie out of Middlesborough into high intensity of London, a trail of violent events is unleashed that zip our character along to a dramatic climax. It’s well written and the characters are constructed with imagination that it’s a shame the pace isn’t matched by the way it’s written. I don’t want to labour the point of it being written as one paragraph but it really does slow the book down, which for all intents and purposes, with a few chose line breaks, could have been brilliant. There are some raucous laugh-out-loud moments and moments of real pathos, sadness and melancholy, as well as blissed-out off your face hedonism. Richard Milward has the makings of a brilliant author, and at his young age has said more for Britain’s working classes than many of his writing peers. If you can spin your head past the concrete slab of text, underneath lies a book thick with hilarity, nuance and complete filth.
Before The Wire’s graphic depiction of poverty in America and in the predominantly black ghettoes of its major cities, Sudhir Venkatesh, a budding socialist decided to get in with his tutor by helping out on a project exploring poverty and the ghetto in Chicago’s worst housing estates. In 1990, he went round a dangerous piss-strewn estate asking the wrong people, ‘How does it feel to be black and poor?’ They didn’t take too kindly to this long-haired brown boy from middle-class America asking them about their daily lives and how they felt about being doomed as a race in a country that kept them in the lowest income brackets. They held him hostage overnight. He feared for his life. But felt he had a moment with their ruthless leader, J.T. who explained to him that if he wanted to know how it felt to be black and poor, he should take the time to get to know his subjects instead of asking them stupid questions. The next day, instead of running away, he returned with a bag of beer and the intention of immersing himself in the gang life, so he could get to the core of their hopes and dreams.
Sudhir ended up spending four years immersed in this gang, The Black Kings, in the Robert Taylor homes in Chicago (so bad they were eventually torn down during the tail-end of Clinton’s run), watching how they dealt with the community, each other, and effectively acted as pushed and protector to a portion of society the police had no interested in supervising anymore. It’s a startling journey, true, sad and funny all at once. Despite the clunky inappropriateness of his field research and getting too close to his subject, and occasionally falling back too much on his internal journey rather than really getting under the skin of his subjects (in some cases out of fear for his life and for cloudy ethics given this was a violent drug gang) and the fact that he never really witnessed much illegality, just the rosy side of gang-life, it’s still a fascinating study of the oppression of an underclass, one that has only ever been adequately reflected in ‘The Wire’ and David Simon’s other work around the Baltimore slums.
Once he has convinced gang leader J.T. he is writing his autobiography, he is given unprecedented access into gang life and gang economics, how the money is structured and spent and accumulated, from taxes for protection and territorial privileges, to straight-up drug-selling. Part of this research ended up in ‘Freakanomics’, but here we meet the gangsters, like T-Bone, who is desperate to get back to school and become an accountant and leave all this behind; C-Note, a tragic old man going straight after years of drug-abuse, trying to make his way in life without crossing the lines of territory with the gang; Ms Bailey, who is the community liaison to the gang, who protects and provides, runs the community and ensures she gets her cut; and J.T., charismatic, realistic, yet delusional and obsessed with respect. These characters paint a fascinating portrayal of the realities of what it is to be black and poor in America. As the gang life changes and the territory evolves, so do the gangs and they evolve and mutate to reflect societal changes, and their entrepreneurial spirit means that they could be hustling in the street or in the boardroom but they’ll always provide for their dysfunctional gang family, because they have to, they have no choice. If you have the choice of going to school or selling drugs and paying for food for your hungry brother, what are you going to do? The most heart-wrenching parts are when you see ordinary people, not in gangs, try and provide, going to extraordinary lengths to make money, or those who exploit their communities in ways other than selling drugs, be it selling sweets to hungry children, or redistributing crack money, or allowing your kitchen to be used as a production factory for the huge amounts of narcotics flooding through the buildings.
This is a fascinating brilliant yet flawed and at times naive and shallow study, but is well-written, though sometimes too one-note, too in Sudhir’s head, it is best when objectively commenting on life, and more than adequately surveys a section of American society that is marginalised and stereotyped in the media, one than is as human as you or me. It’s a good companion to the superior Wire, and once Canongate reprints ‘The Corner’ in April, will be less relevant but till then, enjoy an absorbing story.
The Death Set, born in Syndey and honed in McNulty country (Baltimore), can accelerate your heart-rate. Fact. I jogged listening to their debut energising album, ‘Worldwide’ and I crawled into a fast K-hole of dark gritty streets of death and destruction, where on each corner kids in hoodies playing Gameboys on endless loops. I nearly ran myself off the end of a cliff by album’s end, and there was a satisfying lurching moment as I waited for the next beat to kick and it stopped suddenly, giving my stomach whiplash. I crawled home on hands and knees begging for mercy. ‘Worldwide’ is a passionate, insanely melodic and thrashing death race through post-punk thrashed guitars and scream-o lyrics (you WILL find yourself screaming ‘THE MOTHERFUCKING DEATH SET’ on a crowded train listening to this), lo-fi Casio drum loops with the muffler on, and weird Nintendo bleeps, bloops and melodious computer synths. The songs are either fast and short or a little slower and a little shorter; the Death Set have two moods, energetic and life-affirming fist pumping punka (‘Intermission’) or melodious (‘Cold Teeth’). Le Tigre/Bikini Kill-esque riot grrl lyrics are shouted and screamed at you, heavily affected but funky and riotous all at once. ‘Moving Forward’ approaches emotive with tinges of acoustic guitar, before heading into uptempo frenzy, it’s almost a love song, almost sweet, but contains enough attitude to enduce whiplash. Closer ‘Selective Memories’ is the least lo-fi of the numbers, with the muffler moved up to halfway, all harmonies and punk sensibilities as the melody breaks sticks over your back willing you to submit to its infectious haze of pure emotion and complete disarray. This album is incredible, so life-affirming and infectiously uptempo, it never bores you, never outstays its welcome and always threatens to break your neck through throbbing pulsing verve.
Hello and welcome and yeah... in an oversaturated blog-o-glob... we throw our 2 dubloons in.
Avocado Picker: 28, author, journalist... specialist subjects include: the Wire, the post X-Files career of Agent Scully, Bollywood music 1950-1970, Spider-man, Dare Devil, The Sopranos, British comedy 1990-present, the complete works of Chuck Palahniuk and Aniruddha Bahal, Arnie films pre- True Lies, and different uses for cheese in culinary situations.
The Mystery Voice: 30, software engineer, time waster... specialist subjects include: Linux (etc), C++ & PHP (and other animals, yawn), Physics (blah), British comedy past and present (yay), grand master Mornington Crescent (huh?), the incomplete works of Douglas Adams and Bill Bailey (wtf?)