August 2009


Modern populist dance and pop music makes me very, very angry. It tends to follow set trends, where one artist or producer (*coughTimbalandcough*) will innovate just a little bit, then the whole damn world will copy them and make their innovation incredibly boring and derivative. Couple that with heartless, emotionless lyrics written by music industry slave songwriters and musicians chosen for their style over substance, and we have a whole section of the music industry that just sucks up all the wealth, despite it displaying all the worst facets of music.

But out of this mire of awful, awful shite come WHITELODGE/blacklodge, a pair of brothers from South Dakota who, as a side project of their more traditional band The Kickback are subverting almost every tired old convention in modern pop music and making something, well, good out of it. They’ve only released three songs so far, but each one has something a little special about it. “Little Teach”, for a start, actually makes me like an autotuned voice for the first time, the vocals having enough passion to render the autotune just a vocal effect, not a soul-sucking musical contraption designed by Beelzebub to let Lady Gaga profit from her sonic effluence. The refrain of ‘You don’t belong!’ and the simple synths backing the whole song up are really very catchy. “Trainwreck”‘s synth laments are more emotional than most electronic music can ever muster, and the quiet break into  just echoing vocals and an organ is a nice touch. My favourite however is “Kid Dynamite”. An ode, or ballad (or whatever) to Mike Tyson, its growling bass noise, hip-hop ‘Hey!”s and the sections where it sound like an electronic African folk song make this not only brilliant, but different to anything else out there right now.

As far as I know, the brothers will be releasing one track a week for the foreseeable future, so keep an eye on their Myspace page to find out what else they have in store for us, and for now just revel in the fact that someone, somewhere, cares what their pop music sounds like.

WHITELODGE/blacklodge – Kid Dynamite (YSI)
WHITELODGE/blacklodge – Little Teach (YSI)

You know that really shiny bit of the year, the bit where stuff looks better, that bit that rarely happens in England? Summer? Yeah, well it just officially started for me. It took me a whole year, but I finally found an American seller who shipped to the UK and wasn’t going to charge me $50 for This Is Ivy League. A side project by two members of the frankly abysmal Cobra Starship, this is an album absolutely chock-full of summery, Simon & Garfunkel-esque pop tunes that make you smile, make you dance and make you appreciate every bit of sunshine you’re getting that little bit more (appropriate, as today is uncharacteristically boiling).

From my favourite summer song of last year, “The Richest Kids In Town”‘s super upbeat guitar strums, to the more melancholy echo-heavy vocals of “Viola”, here’s an album that pleases with every song, and whilst it doesn’t vary a whole lot, I never found myself caring, because I just wanted more of each song, and if there wasn’t any more, then the next song would duly oblige. This is perfect summer fare, and I’m sure I’ll be playing it well into the winter too, just to keep my spirits up.

This Is Ivy League – A Summer Chill (YSI)

And just to keep the vibe going, here’s another posting for my favourite summer song of this year:

The Drums – Let’s Go Surfing (YSI)

Remembering those hazy days of the revival of British indie, I remember being excited by almost every band that did something even a little different to everyone else. But after that initial flush of ridiculous over-excitement, I narrowed my interest to three bands, an indie triumverate if you will. The Maccabees have of course gone on to release two excellent albums, Pull Tiger Tail have been through some shitty label-based troubles, but are finally releasing their debut album, and Good Shoes released a brilliant first album, Think Before You Speak, before, well, disappearing.

In the intervening time, it seems like Good Shoes have not rested on their laurels though. After the departure of their bassist, Good Shoes have been working hard on new material and have got a national tour lined up (including playing at evil corporate club, Digital in Newcastle which I’ll have to endure to see the band). And so, finally, they’ve released a free download for us all to sample entitled “The Way My Heartbeats”. It’s a frenetic affair, sounding like a song from the first album but played at double speed, whilst Rhys Jones’ strange, moaning vocals shout their way all over the whole thing. There are some drops in pace scattered around, and even a synthy middle eight, but it always returns to that breakneck-speed verse. And what’s more, it’s bloody brilliant. It retains everything I liked about the band – Rhys’ vocals, the jangly guitars, lovelorn lyrics, it’s all there but with a sprinkle of something slightly different just to get you excited for the rest of the new material. Welcome back Good Shoes, you were sorely missed.

Good Shoes – The Way My Heartbeats (YSI)

Glassbox2

Since their unbelievably good debut last year, I’ve been waiting for new Meursault material with baited breath, aching to see what Neil Pennycook and co can produce again. Well their beautifully illustrated new EP, Nothing Broke, has satisfied my cravings and then some. Gone, for now, are the harsh, brilliant synth sounds of the album, this is just folk instrumentation and Neil’s inimitable vocals. But whereas the less electronic ventures on the album were sparse affairs, the EP takes them in a different direction, bringing a far fuller sound to the mix, this is the whole band having a go at something a little more traditional, and doing it wonderfully.

The title track keeps the vocals muffled behind the more prominent instrumentation, a slow-burning but expansive melody that needs to be listened to with your eyes closed to really feel what it does to you. “Red Candle Bulb” is almost a ditty, where Neil’s words take a far more frontal role, with the beautiful lyric “Well fuck this shit/I don’t need the stress/If I think I’m gonna fail/I won’t show for the test” and leads wonderfully into “Love or Limb”, a harmony-laden lament full of echo. The EP’s rounded off in suitably excellent fashion with “William Henry Miller” parts one and two, the first part full of handclaps and catchy melodies and the second full of aching howls and stumbling instrumentation, with guitars and banjos being played at what sounds like half the speed they should. As you may have guessed, I think Meursault have made another perfect piece. I still haven’t heard a song I dislike by this band, and they create albums and EPs as full works, not collections, something so few artists seem to get right nowadays, so if you want the full experience, go and buy their material, they really do deserve it.

Meursault – Red Candle Bulb (YSI)

PS. I’m really, really sorry about the title of this post, but I just can’t resist a shit play on words when I see one.

This is going to have to be one of those bandwagon posts I’m afraid, but with very good reason. The xx have, at least in my eyes, come out of nowhere to take the world (of blogs) by storm. Amongst last year’s NME-fuelled explosion of “Gloom-Rock”, we were subjected to hateful platitudes towards copyist bands like White Lies and Glasvegas, both with only one or two really good songs between them. But their brand of gloom was overblown, pushed forwards by booming bass and anthemic choruses, and if you really think about it, is that what “gloom” sounds like? The xx are the ones to really nail it for me. Sparse arrangements, whispered vocals and silence add up to make up for not only gloomy, but really freaking brilliant pop songs. My favourite at the moment is the band’s debut single, “Crystalised” with its interchanging boy-girl vocals that never become twee, its ever-increasing sound and the eventual culmination into a brilliant verse of two separate vocal tracks on top of one another before a gradual slow down of everything draws it to a close. With talk already of an album to get into everyone’s “best of” lists, The xx have certainly charmed the bloggers, and will hopefully manage that with everyone else too before long.

The xx – Crystalised (YSI)

Well today I have a whole three things to talk about regarding Radiohead, lucky you! I’ll start with the most important first:

It seems in this world of instant news we live in nowadays, any throwaway comment can become a media furore instantly. So when Thom Yorke said “We can’t possibly dive into that again. It’ll kill us” about the possibility of a new album, the whole internet music community went a little doolally. Of course, this isn’t a particularly good sign for us RAdiohead freaks who can’t possibly imagine a world without the hope of a new album around the corner, but no interview is one line long, and this one was no exception. For a start, Thom is also quoted as saying, “None of us want to go into that creative hoo-ha of a long-play record again. Not straight off.” That seems something of an indication that this mindset is only a current one doesn’t it? And even if he did mean that Radiohead wouldn’t want to make another whole album, he also indicated that EPs were a direction being thought of. It’s not as though Radiohead are a band famed for their singular approach to music, and with the amount of ideas that they seem to have, both musical and otherwise, EPs could serve as a perfect outlet for the band to create shorter bursts of idea-centric music (not to mention there would probably be more frequent releases, something I would defin itely not be averse to). And even if neither of these things happen, there’s always the fact that anyone can change their mind, it’s not as though Thom Yorke’s word is gospel. Although it should be. So anyway, let’s all stop worrying and let the best band in the world* get on with what they want to do, shall we?

Right, now that that’s finished we can talk about “These Are My Twisted Words”. Having mysteriously ‘leaked’ earlier in the week, a fair bit’s been said about what’s happened here, and what the .nfo file that csme with the original download meant. If you haven’t heard about it, there was a cryptic message included with the file, as well as a date which some people have speculated is a release date for new Radiohead news/material (the date being 17th August, two days time!). Now if this is an official Radiohead ploy, some underground, viral marketing, or a test to see how quickly the internet will react to new Radiohead material, then it’s been pretty successful, and if it isn’t then who knows where this material’s come from (what I don’t want to believe is that this is Thom’s supposed contribution to the new Twilight film. Urgh). But amongst all this, what hasn’t been talked as much is what the bloody song is like. Well, allow me to address that issue. For a start, this is classic Radiohead – dark, introspective and wonderful. We start with simply downward spiralling guitars and a cymbal driven drumbeat, constantly shifting but retaining its form, and just as we think it’ll be an instrumental track, Thom pipes up and warbles his way beautifully over the rest of the track. It’s all rather understated, but somehow menacing with the constant use of the guitars overlapping and joining in with one another and despite it being over five minutes long, it’s gone in a flash, with the end appearing so abruptly you’re likely to miss it. This doesn’t seem an indication of any new direction, but it certainly shows that the bad are still honing their craft, and doing bloody well at it too.

Radiohead – These Are My Twisted Words (YSI)

Oh and my third point is just a bit of admin really. I’m trying to get hold of a Sunday Reading ticket to see Radiohead, so if you could all stop bidding on them, that’d be just dandy. Cheers!

I’ve just watched Anvil! The Story of Anvil, and I don’t think I can remember another documentary I’ve ever enjoyed so much, let alone a music film. I’d heard so much praise for the film beforehand, and every bit is true. This is like a real-life Spinal Tap (the drummer’s called Robb Reiner for a start), with hilarious interplay between the band members, be it finishing each other’s sentences, fighting or even a dial in a production suite that gets turned to 11. But along with all of this, there’s a beautiful underlying story of following your dreams – these are two 14 year old kids who decided to rock forever, and have kept that promise to each other through thick and thin, and that totally comes through in the film. But by far the truest piece of criticism that I’ve heard regards who this film is for. Whether you like metal or not, whether you care about the music or not, it doesn’t matter, this is a story about the people behind the music, and their lives are every bit as interesting, saddening and hilarious as  a character you’d expect from any “reach for your dream” piece of Hollywood schmaltz, without making you want to throw up. Overall, it’s an incredible document of human tenacity and childlike dreaming that just happens to be based around a metal band that’s been around for over thirty years, and it’s that feeling of watching people who never gave up that makes it quite so special – I can’t recommend it enough.

Tenacious D – The Metal (YSI)
Mumford & Sons – Hold On To What You Believe (YSI)
Anvil – Metal On Metal (YSI)

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