Thursday, 28 May 2009

Kitsune - Maison Compilation 7 (Kitsune 2009)

Uber trendy Kitsune have their 7th Maison compilation out and it doesn’t relent from the chirpy uptempo dance/house/electro with yelping indie twee vocals, songs about love and loss and hipster girls and guys lost in the mire of vice and depravity. Two Door Cinema sound like Born Ruffians gone disco with its liquid searching guitars over throbbing beats. The new sound of this summer’s indie disco has arrived. We Have Band has a shonky Talking Heads type manner about them, shouting and squawking tongue-in-cheek over electronic guitars. La Roux’s In for the Kill gets a LIFELIKE remix, sounding like an electro girl Mighty Boosh pisstake pastiche in its serious and squelchy synths. 80Kidz continue the 80s traditional with clanging synthy Casio keyboard sounds. The album is varied enought o be a good party record and oozes class but lacks any real substance, and most importantly, in these summery months, bass. It’s all high energy 80s triumphant disco electro with androngynous vocals and shouty yelpy power pop voxxxx. The heart and soul got left on the hard drive as the album got programmed to rock. This is for indie kids and hipsters scared of bashments, needing something cleaner, more clinical and synthetically two-step thud-thud to keep the rhythm to. On their own, songs stand up, but in the mish-mash of this oozing trendy compilation, they lack a cohesive sense of passion, they scream trendier than thou, and quite frankly, I’d rather listen to loud bass-filled gangsta rap now the sun’s out.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Nii Ayikwei Parkes - Tail of the Blue Bird (Jonathan Cape 2009)

Is there anything Nii Parkes can't do? Lauded performance poet, celebrated editor in chief of his own independent publisher (Flipped Eye), and now his debut novel on Jonathan Cape. It's a beautiful elegaic poetical dreamy story about the influx of technology and modernity into the more rural parts of Ghana, and the uneasy relationship between science and spirit. Set in Ghana, and mostly occupying a tiny village called Sonokrom, there is a delicate preservation of tradition and culture, through the language and food and drink and the music of the forest, the villagers' only link to the influx of modernity in the bigger city is through a transistor radio. Sinister remains, possibly human, are found in a hut in the village and this brings Kayo, a budding forensic scientist to the scene to discover the truth behind the remains and help advance the career of politically hungry police inspector Donkor, expecting him to deliver a 'CSI-style report' on the mysterious remains. While Kayo tries to decipher what has gone on, and keep the inspector happy, he mingles with the villagers, drinking their palm wine, coveting their woman, listening to their stories and histories and slowly the balance between fact and fiction, science and tradition seem to blur uncontrollably. Western logic and political bureaucracy are no longer equal to the task in hand. Strange boys wandering in the forest, ghostly music in the night and a flock of birds that come from far away to fill the desolate hut with discarded feathers take the newcomers into a world where, in the unknown, they discover a higher truth that leaves scientific explanations far behind. It's a beautiful told story, about the old and new Africa, about changing worlds, told with verve and no cynicism, with heart and poetical syntax dripping from the page, the traditional Ghanaian words and symbols all adding to the belief that while Africa changes and moves forward, it must hold on to its precious past in its heart. It's a heart-warming and funny tale, Parkes is able to balance the mystical nature of the plot playing with the idea of fable and scientific fact, drawing warm rich characters who are three dimensional and engaging, always entertaining and filled with life. Parkes has already done so much for independent publishing and language and hopefully this impressive elegaic debut will mean he starts to reap the kudos he deserves.

Tim Clare - We Can't All Be Astronauts (Ebury 2009)

Stand up poet Tim Clare's memoir of trying to write and publish the perfect book, mired by peer-jealousy and depression, is the best possible tool for any budding writer or someone wanting an insight into the creative process. This brutally honest, hilarious and engaging memoir flits between Tim's struggle to edit and mould his tome into something resembling genius while living at home with his concerned but understanding parents, insight into his personality and its traits- how having always found creativity easy he flits between trying and assuming it'll all happen, and descriptions of his jealousy while other friends are published, get paid to be creative, and enjoy themselves. Meanwhile he internally tears himself apart trying to get his book finished. I can relate. Writing my book, watching my friends succeed, waiting for my moment, persevering, fighting for it, dying with jealousy and depression- it's all there, it's all part of the writer's journey. Clare is funny and eloquent with his descriptions, using personal experience and brutally funny and honest anecdote to drive his tale of how he tried to make a career of writing tales. From a weird suicide pact with his dad to begging Jeffrey Archer on TV for money to a strangely conceited and fake Channel 4 show on his trying to find a deal, he muddles through, being his own best promotion and his own worst friend. It's a definite must for any creative person trying to get a deal- be it publishing or music or film or anything, it shows the process, the paranoia, the tender self-esteem, and the humour in becoming self-obsessed, precious and arrogant all in the same stride, and Clare shows himself to be a brilliant writer, laugh out loud and articulate, and I can't wait for him to release his amazing novel about a part-dog adventurer.

Denis Robert - Happiness (Serpents Tail 2009)

Denis Robert's novel, translated from the original French, is an erotic dissection of sexual obsession and passion. A 39 year old writer (probably not dissimilar from the writer of the book) and an art graduate (ten years younger, sexual, willing to be dominated- male fantasy) meet and over the course of 200 pages dissect their intense sex lives that parade their obsessions and fantasies into a powerful mesh of eroticism. Her notes on the affair are on the left hand side and his on the right. It's a quite erotic read that shouldn't be attempted in public. However, it's quite light and never really gets under the surface, never really tackles the married man's lackadaisical attitude to his marriage and the woman's submissive personality, enhanced by her own loveless marriage. It is a tittilating voyage to the centre of fantasy and cruises hotel rooms, balconies, public spaces, cars, sex clubs and dinner tables, fellating the pages with oodles of passion and fierce intense orgasm. It's over before it's started, and though not much happens, it's an interesting dissection of an obsessive affair.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Post War Years - The Greats and the Happenings (Wealth 2009)

The mix of indie and dance has been so seamless now that we’re getting these immense albums that are high on indie radars and low on guitars, like Golden Silvers, The Invisible, Man Like Me, creating a lo-fi electro-pop that is intricate and thumping in the same emotion gauges as blistering loud indie from bands like The Enemy or Dananananakroyd. Add Post War Years, and their great debut ‘The Greats and the Happenings’ to that canon, and fire: BLAM BLAM. Featuring spidery guitars, heavy duty bass and some belligerent electronic samples, they exude style and class, using intricate harmonies and sharp wordplay to create a heady mix of fusion. Opener ‘The Red Room’ is pleasant wonky white boy funk, but it’s track 2, ‘Death March’ with its squelch of fuzzy synths and off-kilter vocal melodies that really set the agenda for this album. ‘Whole World on its Head’ is a Gameboy-lead spacey track with pulsing twittering acoustic drums and a airy feeling throughout. The frenetic live favourite ‘White Lies’ and ‘Latin Holiday’ show off a whirlwind of tuneful handclaps and atmospheric electronic swirls weaving through a sing-along chant chorus. There’s plenty of funk and soul on here, and the intricate way the songs are put together offset a lilting optimistic surging sound that results in some powerful moving music. Closer, the 8 minute epic ‘That’s All’ is a dancey tender ballad oozing with passion and loss, and yet just as lovely as any other song about love out there. The sweet harmonies and the scattering drum brushes add a vulnerability that is only hinted at in other songs. There is a lot of versatility and breath on this album, drowning in its rhythms and bruised by its own intricate layers, definite one of the more interesting debuts this year.


Chuck Palahniuk - Pygmy (Jonathan Cape 2009)

It’s been less than a year since we Geek Pied about Chuck Palahniuk’s ‘Snuff’, which was a quick brutal look at the porno industry. So prolific is he that we’ve entered a stage where every other Palahniuk book is good and considered, while the rest are turning out to be good ideas quickly realised. Unfortunately, ‘Pygmy’ falls into this camp of good idea half-realised. Written from the perspective of a terrorist sleeper cell operative infiltrating a host American family on a pretend foreign exchange, really a cover for Operation Chaos, the pygmy of the title ingratiates himself into society and somehow misunderstands (often ‘hilariously’) suburban American life. He is from a non-specified origin, somewhere in South East Asian, somewhere almost fascistic and Draconian and evil. He writes in impenetrable diloague that seems to have been translated a few times and written using an internet programme like Babelfish or Google Languages. I get why it’s written the way it is, and it’s consistent for much of the way, but this makes it near impossible to read and to follow. God forbid putting it down and coming back to it the next day, you lose the sense of rhythm and association a good session with the book eventually develops. But this is the programme, its lack of accessibility means the message gets lost. Also, while moving away mostly from Palahniuk’s usual dysfunctional family models scenario (even though taking place in a middle America family as fucked up as any of Palahniuk’s other family trees during the years), it hits pretty obvious targets like American crassness and ignorance, arrogance, high school hijinks, trenchcoat mafias and closet gay bullies. It seems to be a filtered dubbed version of Saved by the Bell showing in a foreign country. But this means that ultimately there’s no point agonising over trying to decipher the way it’s written. Underneath all the verbless sentences and strange syntax ticks, there’s a bogstandard novel there, lacking all of Palahniuk’s usual dynamic spark, wit and invention. It’s disappointing that it’s not worth the effort to muddle through and I confess, I couldn’t finish it, I couldn’t be bothered to invest that time because I cared so little about Pygmy, the title character, a vain passive aggressive sociopathic terrorist.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Dub Pistols - Rum and Coke (Sunday Best 2009)

Dub Pistols are an interesting proposition- a collective of dance-orientated dub heads with a love of hip hop. Live, they’re such a good time band, it’s like they were invented for a Saturday late afternoon set as the sun sets and a chilled can of Red Stripe is thrust into your hand and the live trumpets are creating klaxons of joy and unity and the steady thumping beats are pounding your feet into a rhythm. Time and again, this formula, this festival perfect set-up has been near impossible to translate into a studio album that is consistent and carries the oomph and impact of a live version. Unfortunately, I’ve always felt this about Dub Pistols’ albums, and ‘Rum and Coke’ is no exception. On Rob da Bank’s decent Sunday Best label, it’s pretty much a tighter, more honed version of the sound they’re known for. Dance, carnival vibes, Rodney P’s slurred effortlessly brilliant ragga-rap flow, the dub basslines and some tight drum production. With turns from Beats International’s Lindy Layton and Freak Power’s Ashley Slater (on 3 tracks) it feels a little staid in places. The stronger tracks are when the dub fires up the ire and Red Star Lion and Gregory Isaacs bring the vibes allowing Rodders to be the ultimate Riddim Killa, one of the UK’s best MCs and hosts. It’s weaker when it dissolves into acid jazz-esque numbers. Songs like ‘Ganja’ sound immense live and great recorded. ‘Peace of Mind’ is joyous’ and ‘Six Months’ features legend Gregory Isaacs is class, sophisticated and oozing with summery lover’s rock uptop skanking. It’s a shame that the songs that sandwich these pearls are quite mediocre, and sometimes painfully MOR. Dub Pistols bring it live though, and if you want the definitive band experience, chill some Red Stripe and head down to any number of festivals they’ll be at, setting suns perfectly.


My Toys Like Me - Where We Are (Dumb Angel 2009)

My Toys Like Me is a strange hybrid of disco, dub, house and trip hop. It seems that in today’s misery of diminishing genre returns, the only way to stand out is to mix as many sounds together as possible, throwing in your entire record to the mix, meaning that every new record these days seems to be ‘eclectic.’ My Toys Like Me are an interesting proposition, despite the unnecessary many ways people try to describe them. Imagine ‘Ponderosa’s Tricky trying to make a dance album with Martina Topley-Bird still doing vocals for him and you get an idea of what My Toys Like Me are like. ‘Superpowers’, their single, skitters along witha two-fingered instinct, pumping and off-kilter with child-like lost vocals of singer Frances Noon. ‘Sick Couple’ contains some evil violin following a couple falling out of love through alcohol. It clitters and threatens to lift off. ‘All Over My Face’ has the smooth feel of trip hop and the bounce of goodtime Bristol music, slightly mariachi in its dub threat. Enough interesting things happen on this album to keep you interested throughout, despite it never really realising its full potential in pace and power. It’s good, catchy and as endearing as Martina Topley-Bird once was on ‘Ponderosa.’ An interesting and playful debut showing British music to, once again, be the sum of a lot of parts and influences, a brave attempt to create a boisterous mix.


Friday, 8 May 2009

Blank Dogs - Under and Under (In the Red 2009)

Blank Dogs are actually one dawg, Mr Blank Dog, who effortlessly fuses uptempo programmed drums (mixed to give you the rush not the pound), Cure-esque bouncing basslines and searching power guitar licks, creating a grimy lo-fo electro-rock, full of DIY ideas and punk aesthetics. ‘Under and Under’ is 15 songs of pulse-raising ire-dictacting melodic grime-punk. ‘No Compass’ is a powerhouse opener, bouncing and scittering along on a sweet two-note guitar riff. ‘L Machine’ switches between synth-fuzz and acoustic battering ram strums. There are moments of brutal new wave, all filtered through Cure synths and guitars heavily filtered and processed, and a weird distorted macabre vocal reminiscent of Joy Division. It’s certainly noisy and full of brash ideas, unafraid to get extreme. Songs do tend to merge into one and picked out of the whole of the album lose their impact. It’s a strong album with moments that feel till they’re approaching a tipping point. With contributions from Crystal Stilts and Vivian Girls, there’s definitely a collective of dusty strange lo-fi fuzz-kateers power-punking their way through Brooklyn, New Yoik.

Blank Dogspace

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Broken Records - Until the Earth Begins to Part (4AD 2009)

Gravitas, that’s what Scottish seven piece Broken Records bring to the party. Swirling orchestras, pounding pianos, mournful vocals and a hint of glockenspiel all add to the weighty mix that comprises Broken Records. Their debut album ‘Until the Earth Begins to Part’ sounds like that moment in a film like Armageddon where all hope seems to be lost and there are yearning goodbyes and painful realisations of mortality before an explosive heroic act/dues ex machine triumphs and wins the day in a dramatic and bittersweet way. Such is Broken Records’ music, swirling paeans to triumph over adversity. The brooding cellos and the pounding piano and lead vocals embittered and indelibly inked in pain all create an epic swirling and mystifying sound, with a warm passionate heart beating, and the thump of interesting little flourishes like glockenspiel and accordion and trumpet to round out an impressively bursting sound. ‘If Eilert Loevborg Wrote a Song, It Would Sound Like This’ is a fun calamitous accordion-filled yearn to a married woman and to art and to love. ‘Ghosts’ is a quiet and simple haunting that builds in sweet falsetto and spectral guitars. Album closer ‘Slow Parade’ starts inoffensively before building into a thundering crescendo of emotion and intense piano. ‘Until the Earth Begins to Part’ is a curtain call to the world as it implodes then explodes in a big bang of disappointment and lost love. Broken Records have the ability to harness emotion and translate it into the fury, intensity and delicateness of love and lust, creating musical palettes that tug on your every heartstring. If Coldplay can rule the world with insipid vague stabs at emotion, then Broken Records deserve a decent stab at stealing that crown and title with their world-beating expansive sound.


Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Mika Miko - We Be XUXA (Post Present Medium 2009)

Mika Miko’s second album, the cryptic ‘We Be XUXA’ is a rattling thunderdome of short snappy shouty riot grrl LA punk. 23 minutes of exhilarating powerhouse guitar punk pop with only one song staggering into classic pop song status by being just over 3 minutes. Though still lo-fi and loose with their playing and singing, the production values seem to have increased since their scattershot debut ‘CYSLABF’. The songs seem to revel in their own banality, with subjects flying about from listening to jazz while having sex (‘Sex Jazz’) or eating turkey sandwiches (errr... ‘Turkey Sandwich’). This gives the album a breezy feel, relying on electro-shock spider-guitars and thumping one-drop drums, simple but pounding. ‘Totion’ is a post punk floorfiller, all death disco beats and elastic bass, while vocalists Jennifer Clavin and Jenna Thornhill yelp at each other from across the speakers. It sounds tense and brooding, ending as songs should, with a mass explosion. The influence of The Slits and LA punk bands flits across the vocals and the powerhouse guitars. It’s all very breezy and almost lackadaisical in execution making you wonder how long you’ll find yourself listening to it, but those first two listens reveal an arresting energy that is lacking in loud thrashing punk these days, a style and emotion you’d think would render punk redundant by its absence.


Wavves - Wavvves (Bella Union 2009)

Three things stick out about Wavves’ debut album: 1) He’s so young it makes me sick. 2) He’s obsessed/got a bugbear about Goths. 3) This album is the literal translation of the following vague descriptors: mind explosion; audio clusterfuck; brain-melt; aural destructorcon. Forgive me for only wanting to really blog about things I like instead of getting sniffy about things I don’t, but this album is amazing. There, I said. Whatever. I like it, I’m in a minority of music journalists who like the things they review and review the things they like. So, yes, go and own the album. It’s the closest we’ll have to our generation’s Sonic Youth? Wait, no, I’m old... I have My Bloody Valentine. You... you youth, you sickening bloodythirsty children... Wavves is your Sonic Youth. He’s a maverick and he’s only 22. God it makes me sick how much time I squandered in pubs of varying descriptions when I was 22. This guy has spent his time obsessing over Goths and crafting a sonic, youthful (geddit) clusterfuck mind explosion of an album, and you need to own it. I’m serious about the Goth thing. Though the lyrics are intelligible machines for adding another layer of LOUD NOIZE, there are 5 songs about different types of goth (‘Goth Girls’, ‘California Goths’, ‘Summer Goth’, ‘Beach Goth’ and ‘Surf Goth’- all variations of the same type of Goth surely Mr Wavves?). The album itself (oh yes, there was some music in here somewhere) is a sun-drenched amalgamation of sunshine pop, slacker fuzz, surf rock, teenage punk and crackling lo-fi, all told through the wide-eyes of young Nathan Daniel Williams. The sonic assault starts with the thumping ‘Rainbow Everywhere’ and the blister-bursting ‘Beach Demon’ which will cause a rush of blood to the head. By the time, the slower thunder-rumbling ‘Sun Opens My Eyes’ arrives, all sustained dischord and oooh-wop melodies, you’ll be happy for the break. ‘Gun in the Sun’ surges under a vocal dissected through a flanger. ‘So Bored’, an early single, is a riotous call to arms that Thurston Moore would be proud of, a celebration of feeling something, a celebration of getting up getting out and doing something. The Goth songs tend to be the most difficult, nearly instrumental cacophonies surrounded by discordance and paranoia thrashings of the fuzz pedalled-guitar. ‘Killr Punx Scary Demons’ is a horror-tale of pianos out of sync, woeful and sad. Then ‘Surf Goth’ finishes us off in melodic off-kilter style. The guitars all swirl and wail around each other like a parapet of cacophony. The heart of the album is sunny and this is a blissfully optimistic album underneath all the drone, fuzz and flange, it is boyish in its charms and has moments of reflective nostalgia. It’s fucking powerful. Go and seek.


Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Speech Debelle competition

Speech Debelle - Album Launch - Madame Jojo's - Thursday 28th May - 8pm Set Time
Fresh from causing all kinds of fuss amongst the ladies and gentlemen of the press, Speech Debelle will be celebrating the release of her debut album ‘Speech Therapy’. The party will take place at Madame JoJo’s on Soho’s Brewer Street on Thursday 28th May. There are rumours about special
appearances from album collaborators as well as DJs and guest vocalists, and Speech will be playing a full live set with the band some call The Therapists.

There are a very limited number of tickets available for this event, and Big Dada are running a competition to give some of those away to deserving fans. All you have to do is email and complete the following line from Speech's debut single, 'Searching.'

'Who made these rules? ..... ..... ..... .....'

Please use the subject line 'Speech Debelle competition.' Good luck!

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Daniel Davies - Isle of Dogs (Serpents Tail 2009)

Daniel Davies' nod to sexually transgressive culture, in this case dogging, is essentially a morality tale about broken Britain in the suburbs, poking at the CCTV culture that pushes certain lifestyles into the fringes, with bubbling paranoia and a lack of understanding/compassion being the ultimate fallout. 'Isle of Dogs' features a frustratingly rubbish beginning and ending featuring the author 'breaking the fourth wall' and claiming to have cobbled the novel together through the diaries and emails of the protagonist, Jeremy Shepherd, that is incredibly clunky and unnecessary and means that it begins and ends in underwhelming fashion, a shame because the main action is so satisfying.

This is a dark morality tale about Jeremy Shepherd, one of those London pricks you always hear about, good media job, misanthropic, laddish and promiscuous to a fault, bordering on a narcissistic nymphomania. He quits his job when he realises how futile and shit it is, ending up living with his mum and dad in the home counties, working a dead end civil service job where the biggest excitement is arranging meetings in order to arrange meetings. Bored and tempering his nymphomania, he enters into the car park world of dogging to satisfy his needs amongst fellow consenting adults, while the small town society around him fails to understand. Clunky depictions of racial violence and attitudes to perversions fly off his cold hard exterior. He doesn't feel anything and what we get is a 'Crash'-esque cold depiction of the scene, methodical and meticulously drawn, describing how dogging operates, how people connect and communicate, how they protect themselves from the law and from the all-seeking CCTV and the codes and ethics that make up the scene, from signals that you can participate to the etiquette of what doggers should bring to the party. It's a fascinating insight into a subculture that is both mocked and feared by red-top papers. Davies is clinical in his depiction of the action and ultimately, the consequences of engaging in illicit sex all around us. The book is short and zips along, never quite getting under its protagonist's skin, instead choosing to be a dogging bible. We see how relationships and webs develop and the intrusion of the press when it's discovered that one of the doggers is a minor celebrity. We see how people temper love and lust and actual interaction. But we never get to really see Jeremy Shepherd, and during the final violent climax we see the acts are misunderstood by locals. Ultimately, what we learn that this is happening everywhere, probably round the corner from us. In the awkward epilogue we get a strange coda to the action that manages to undo all the work the rest of the book has done. It's two word ending will either make you tut loudly or laugh at its ridiculousness but it is neither realistic within the universe created nor funny.

Otherwise, a solid depiction of an activity made famous by Phil Mitchell.

Jim Dodge - Fup- a modern fable (Canongate 2009)

'Fup' is a modern-day fable (though written a while ago so not so-modern for its reprint with effortlessly modern Canongate) by professional loner and gambler Jim Dodge, a remote tale of farmship and the strained love between grandpappy and grandson, between whisky and eternity, between a shotgun and a silent vicious boar, and a hard-drinking fussy duck called Fup. Short and peppered with the kinda language that'd turn your tongue purple, the book is a sleepy take on strangers in their own family all believing too much in the healing power of different vices. Grandpa Jake sips 'Ol Death Whisper' a whisky reciped by ancient Indians supposed to bestow eternal life on its imbiber. Tiny, his grandson, builds fences as an emotional crux to keep the bad dreams at bay, and to keep the bad people away and to focus his orphaned mind against the elements. One day they meet Fup, a duck who manages to change their lives and bring them closer together, but not before it nearly drinks up all their reserves of Ol Death Whisper. It's a funny little book, dark and light and full of quips and mediations on remote country life in the heart of America's south. Featuring newly commissioned artwork from Emma Dibben and featuring a feel-good all-star cast of weirdos and freaks, this is a heart-warming tal dipped in whisky and set fire to.