September 2009

I’ve been positively inundated with new Radiohead related material recently, and with a new Thom Yorke single out so soon after the new Radiohead songs, it’s just getting better and better! The Feeling Pulled Apart By Horses / The Hollow Earth 12″ was released on the 21st, and the songs will be available for download on w.a.s.t.e. from 6th October.

“Feeling Pulled Apart By Horses” was originally titled “Reckoner” but a coda to the song became the In Rainbows version of “Reckoner” that we know, and I dare say love. This version was played along with Jonny Greenwood, and alternates between echoing, distant drum samples alongside Thom’s swirling treated falsetto and sparse bass rhythms. There’s a very sinister vibe to this track – it’s a long one at 6:41 and it feels like it’s taking its time to get where it wants to go, throwing in odd moments like short pitch-altered samples of speaking that eventually meld and incorporate themselves with the percussion. It then segues into a mass of synth noise, growing in volume before fading again just before you think it might just start leaking out of your speakers.

“The Hollow Earth” is said to have come out of The Eraser sessions, and that seems feasible given its skittering drum beats and the more central role for Thom’s vocals. With looped “oo”s combing with incomprehensible, mashed up samples of Thom’s voice acting as instrumentation in between verses, this is another song to show Mr. Yorke’s brilliant idiosyncracies in all their glorious weirdness – the song sounds like it’s leading us somewhere, until we get to the end where the messed-with high hats and synth drums finally skitter their last and it all ends more suddenly than you’d expect.

So, he’s done it again, and with more solo material supposedly in the pipeline, it’ll be wonderful to see what direction Thom wants to take us next time.

Thom Yorke – Feeling Pulled Apart By Horses (YSI)

It would appear my tardiness knows no bounds. 10 days? I suck, I know, but if you’ll forgive me, I have something important to say. Mumford & Sons’ album, Sigh No More, whilst very, very good, doesn’t quite match up to xx. However, it is unfair to compare the two because they’re  completely different styles of music so I’ll be focusing just on this album for now. There’s always end of year lists to unfairly compare bands anyway!

Mumford & Sons have always been about grand buildups, uplifting harmonies, Marcus’ imimitable, keening vocals and the sheer joy of hearing folk music taken to a completely different place to its usual quiet, reserved self. The album delivers on every front. Drawing from all three EPs they’ve released previously and adding new tracks to the mix, there are parts of this album that feel like old friends by now, anthems (at least in my head) that I’ve learned and loved since I first heard them, whilst the new friends will soon be just the same I’m sure. It’s a perfect mix, not making you feel as though the band have turned their back on their older tracks, whilst showing that they aren’t merely one-trick ponies. Stylistically as well, there’s a nice flow to the album, moving from the sheer gloriously explosions of “The Cave” tempered with more sombre tracks like “I Gave You All”. This is clearly an album that has been thought through and designed with the listener’s experience in mind. The band aren’t afraid to show they can go in different directions either, with “Dust Bowl Dance” wholeheartedly embracing the sheer noise of the electric guitars they introduce, whilst “Thistle & Weeds” almost sounds like a piano-driven Muse track at points.

Overall, this is another assured, and more importantly, fantastic debut album from a band I hope will be around for a very long time. Mumford & Sons have showed that there is a whole other world of folk music to be explored, and with their album, they’ve crystallised their mission statement perfectly, here’s another album you just can’t afford to miss.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t get clearance to post any of the album tracks, so here’s a fantastic session of the title track and album opener, “Sigh No More”

Mumford & Sons – Sigh No More (BBC Session) (YSI)

Well it turns out that I and, more importantly, the hype, was right. The xx are, in fact, fucking brilliant. And that’s official, because I said so. After hearing “Crystalised”, then seeing them live, and finally getting my sweaty palms on a copy of their debut album xx, I’ve questioned whether they can truly live up to the amount of praise they’ve been receiving throughout, but after all bases are covered I’m still convinced. They are amazing.

The album is just ridiculously assured in every area. Musically it retains the air of sparseness, spindly guitar parts winding themselves around the already intertwined vocals of Romy and Oliver whilst the sampled drums give certain songs the simple beats they require, and others the rhythm to spice them up. In the production department, the band’s own Jamie Smith has excelled, and has proved that new band’s don’t need the overbearing hand of some super-producer to produce their hype-albums. The silence, the echoes and every nuance of the album has been thought about and polished to perfection. Equally, there’s no element of the album that seems over-produced, allowing the band’s stated policy of making the record sound as similar as possible to their live performances to be completely true. Finally, the lyrics are perfect; simple, but never cheesy. The theme is almost exclusively love, or at least lust. With beautiful, tense, overlapping interplay between the two singers on “Crystalised”, or Romy’s beautiful lament of “Maybe I had said/Something that was wrong/Can I make it better/With the lights turned on?” and the pure joy of requited love in “VCR” there’s always a flourish or vocal hook to make you sit up and take notice.

As an album, it’s incredibly well put together too. We have quiet, gloomy tracks (“Night Time”), more groove-driven and oh-so-almost dancable tunes (“Islands”), and they roll into one another perfectly, without ever seeming too similar to the last. God, I could wax lyrical about this album for quite some time, but I urge you to buy a copy and just sit in a darkened room and listen, it’s just so perfect. I really can’t see anything topping this as my album of the year, although I do have the Mumford & Sons LP to listen to next, so it could be a close one…

The xx – Islands (YSI)
The xx – Heart Skipped A Beat (YSI)

Some people are just lucky. Michael Lerner, aka Telekinesis, is one of those people. Playing all of the instruments on his debut album, Telekinesis!, Mr. Lerner has crafted an album of such sublime, sunshiney pop-rock that it’s difficult not to smile throughout. It’s an album all about love and location – we find ourselves taken time and again to foreign climes in songs like “Foreign Room” and “Tokyo”, whilst “Awkward Kisser” and “All of a Sudden” take us through heartache and the initial pangs of love. And whilst the words tell us the stories, the effusive, upbeat rock that carries the whole album along makes us feel what Lerner’s trying to say to us. “Coast of Carolina” is power-chord heavy, with honey-dipped vocals, whilst “Rust” is carried by vocals and acoustic guitar until the final stages of the song, bringing across the vulnerability of the lyrics. This really is a beautiful selection of songs, and a wonderfully crafted album, taking us across highs and lows effortlessly, let’s hope there’s more to come from Mr. Lerner soon.

Coast of Carolina – Coast of Carolina (YSI)

God, I’m bloody rubbish at keeping this up regularly aren’t I? Please, allow me to make it up to you with a slice of super-cool rock ‘n’ roll, Brooklyn style (although what in music isn’t Brooklyn style nowadays?) courtesy of the Kilfoyle brothers, aka Calypso. In ‘Casually Sad Mercedes’, all the usual guitar tones, diasaffected drawls and infectious bass are present, but twisted into a kind of early Kings of Leon chunky, chugging chords mould. There’s nothing new about all of this, but there is a feeling of disinterested cool that permeates the whole thing, maybe it’s the fact the song sounds like it’s being played slightly too slow, or that it might all just explode any moment but never does, but it’s brilliant whatever it is. Not only that, but I’m not sure I’ve ever heard two people drawl in harmony before, and that’s pretty excellent too.

Calypso – Casually Sad Mercedes (YSI)

Part of the reason I haven’t updated this for a bit is also that I’ve just started writing at UK indie site, This Is Fake DIY again, and so I’ve taken up a bit of time with that. Luckily, it does mean that good stuff I get through them can go up here, and Black Lips’ new single, ‘Drugs’  is just one of those things. You can read my review here, but basically it’s a yelpy, drugged up 60s surf song that exudes nothing but happiness, and would be perfect party music if the recording quality didn’t make it sound like your stereo had broken.

Black Lips – Drugs (YSI)

And, just because it’s brilliant and it came on whilst I wrote this, here’s an extra little ditty:

Camera Obscura – Lloyd, I’m Ready To Be Heartbroken (YSI)

Now don’t say I’m not good to you. ‘Til next time peeps!

I said I’d never go back, but after seeing Radiohead on the lineup, my girlfriend and I just had to head to Reading just one more time, and I have to say, despite the overt commercial interests, hordes of idiots and general irritating atmosphere, it was a bloody good day. We started at the Festival Republic stage with Bear Hands, who continued my own personal tradition of seeing bloody good opening acts. With the drum and bass volume pushed up high, the band’s shambolic songs were imbued with a sense of power and urgency, and worked really very well. The singer looked either terrified or quite bored, and they didn’t play my two favourite songs, but “Golden” and “Vietnam” were excellent, and translated very well to the live experience.

Noah and the Whale win the dubious honour of most underwhelming performance of the day. Their sound seemed dwarfed by the Main Stage they found themselves on, and their new material, live at least, sounded a little too close to the Snow Patrol soft rock style for my liking. Luckily, we had The xx next. Lining up together at the front of the stage, the dark-clad teens found themselves faced with a bigger crowd than any other in the Festival Republic stage (at least until bloody La Roux came on later) and truly lived up to the hype (Machine). I’ve read somewhere that the band chose their distinctive, empty sound partially because they could play it exactly the same live as on record, and that is certainly true. Songs like “Crystalised” and “Basic Space” drew large cheers and already sound like future singalong hits, and the whole set was very cohesive. As well as being generally brilliant, they also win the award for best marketing effort -huge boxes of T Shirts, cardboard X’s and stickers were handed out, and it seemed like everyone was wearing them for the rest of the day (including Rostam Batmanglij from Vampire Weekend during their set).

There wasn’t a lot on for quite a while, so we headed to the Alternative tent for a while and saw some comedy. We saw four stand up sets – Kojo (misogynistic, brash and not very good), Jeremy Hardy (good, but perhaps a little old for most of the Reading crowd), Adam Bloom (good and rather odd) and Brendon Burns (absolutely hilarious, offensive and wonderful). But the real reason we headed there in the first place was for Adam Buxton and his BUG show. An hour (I think) of music videos and shorts interjected by the amazing Mr. Buxton, we were treated to some incredible work by lesser-known directors, as well as Adam’s own brilliant efforts. Two of the standouts were Pes’ “Western Spaghetti”, an animation of making a spaghetti recipe using no food (watch it and you’ll understand) and the video to Wiley’s “Cash In My Pocket”.

Next up were Vampire Weekend, who pulled out a set of their trademark summery Afro-Indie and got the whole crowd dancing to hits like “A-Punk” and “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” as well as playing newer songs like “White Sky”. Yeah Yeah Yeahs bounded on afterwards and were easily my nicest surprise of the day. I do like their singles, but based on Show Your Bones I didn’t think they had much in their locker beyond that. Well, happily, I was proved wrong, with a set spanning all three albums, and an incredible performance by Karen O. She truly is that rarest of things, a real life rockstar. Bounding around, with a strange shrimp-like costume (with detachable headdress and armbands no less), yelping, encouraging the crowd and generally having a bloody good time of it, she took the set to a new level and I was left enthralled. The penultimate band of the day was Bloc Party. My first impression wasn’t of their music, but Kele Okoroke’s Trent Reznor-like transformation into muscliness. But past that shocking revelation, Bloc Party’s third main stage set in three years was very much more of the same, which is never a bad thing. Despite not particularly liking the second album and having not listened to the third at all, they always put on a good show, and songs like Positive Tension and Flux are just excellent anyway.

Right, for the next section I’ll try not gush, but I’m still excited a day later so bear with me. By 9.30 we’d secured a good place at the Main Stage, and stood waiting for the mighty Radiohead to make their entrance. Their technical set up was incredible, a series of what were essentially huge fluorescent lights that could change colour and create effects. For instance, when Thom sang ‘it should be raining’ during “The Gloaming”, it simulated rain, and during “Nude” it looked as though there were floating candles above the band. Eschewing the normal screen images simply of the band playing, each screen was split into six sections which showed oddly-angled images of all the band members playing. I won’t go through every song (as tempted as I am) but highlights included a rare airing, and even rarer opening, with “Creep”, the brilliance of “15 Step”, explosive renditions of “Just” and “2+2=5”, falling in love with “Lucky” all over again, the entire crowd falling silent during “Karma Police”, the sheer incredible scope of “Paranoid Android” and Thom quickly covering Yeah Yeah Yeahs “Maps” before going into “Everything In Its Right Place”. Every band member looked pleased to be there, Thom pulled out some incredible dance moves and it was everything I could ever have wished for for my first ever Radiohead show, I simply can’t state quite how much I loved it, and how good Radiohead are. Anyway, enough of that, here’s the full setlist and some songs. Now excuse me while I go lie down.

The National Anthem
15 Step
There There. (The Boney King Of Nowhere)
All I Need
2+2=5 (The Lukewarm.)
The Gloaming. (Softly Open Our Mouths In The Cold.)
Climbing Up The Walls
Street Spirit [Fade Out]
Karma Police
Weird Fishes/Arpeggi
Exit Music (For A Film)
You And Whose Army?
These Are My Twisted Words
Jigsaw Falling Into Place
Paranoid Android
Maps – Everything In Its Right Place

Bear Hands – Golden (YSI)
Noah And The Whale – Rocks and Daggers (YSI)
The xx – Basic Space (YSI)
Adam & Joe – Ratatouille (YSI)
Vampire Weekend -Mansard Roof (YSI)
Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Hysteric (YSI)
Bloc Party – Positive Tension (YSI)
Radiohead – 2+2=5 (The Lukewarm.) (YSI)