March 2010


I’m a little tardy to this particular party, but if you don’t already know BBC 6 Music (and the equally important BBC Asian Network) is being closed down, and if you don’t already know, it must be saved for the sake of the British public’s ears. There are hundreds upon hundreds of intelligent thinkpieces on this issue already, and I fear I can’t muster up anything more eloquent or effective than what’s already been said, so instead I’ll just tell you how you can help.

Sign a petition.

Join a Facebook group.

Write to the BBC Trust.

Get a Twibbon.

Write #save6music on many, many tweets.

Listen to the bloody thing!

The other day I turned on my DAB to hear the wonderful (and really rather attractive) Lauren Laverne introducing a Radiohead B-side during primetime. I’d like that to continue, so could we all just stop the BBC from making the mistake they’re on the the route to making. Please?

Radiohead – Killer Cars (YSI)

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To be honest, this video speaks for itself. Peter Serafinowicz has proved he’s a comic genius once again, Hot Chip have convinced me that they are pop genii. Good work all round I say!

Hot Chip – I Feel Better (YSI)

Glo-Fi and Dream Pop are not two genres I knew before the end of last year, never mind the bands who operate between their murky, sleepy boundaries. When I did learn what those terms meant (sort of, they seem both interchangeable and distinct depending on where you read about them), I wasn’t particularly impressed by what I heard about them – it all sounded a little too dull, a little too artificial. But as the praises were rolled out and the end of year lists were tallied up, I thought I owed it to the music geek inside me to have a little listen. Lo and behold, I was too quick to judge yet again – the two bands I heard hyped most, and who I’d ignored most as a result, turned out to be as good as everyone had been (indirectly) telling me. Duh.

In Glo-Fi’s corner, we have Neon Indian, whose glittering synths, weighty beats and treated vocals charmed me immediately. There’s something about this mix that seems perfectly blissful whilst actually being really quite loud. For Dream Pop I refer you to Beach House, who manage a beautiful union of silky melodies and just enough oddity to make for the most intriguing of listens. I won’t pretend to know much more about each of these genres, bands or scenes beyond what I’m telling you now, but if you’ve treated them with as much suspicion as I did until recently, just give them a quick spin – you might surprise yourself.

Neon Indian – Psychic Chasms (YSI)
Beach House – Norway (YSI)

My god I’m poor at keeping this blogging lark. And I’m sorry. So sorry in fact that I will give you all my favourite things to listen to at the moment. I love you.

The song I have been playing most recently is, by a country mile, The Low Anthem’s ‘Charlie Darwin’. I don’t know why I haven’t heard this track, this album, this band yet, because by the sound of this one sample, they’re fucking beautiful. There sounds as if there’s so much to this track, but it’s really very simple. Just acoustic guitar, backing vocals, occasional harmonica and Ben Knox Miller’s incredible falsetto. And oh, the lyrics! ‘Who could heed the words of Charlie Darwin/Fighting for a system built to fail’. Please, just download it and stop reading me write about it.

The Low Anthem – Charlie Darwin (YSI)

Part of the reason I’ve not posted on here for a little while has been because I’m tasked with making a short documentary for part of my degree, and a lot of my recent time has been spent trying to find the perfect soundtrack for said doc. The whole affair is based around my annoyance with Hollywood romance, and how love is reduced to a series of grand gestures. All we’re shown in movies is people doing incredibly romantic things and expecting everlasting love, so I tried to find a song that would help convey what I think love is really about it. And I went for King Charles.

King Charles – Beating Hearts (YSI)

But I nearly went for this lovely little ditty:

The Maccabees – First Love (Acoustic) (YSI)

I don’t know if you’re like me, but I have an irritating habit of filling up playlists with hundreds of tracks I don’t listen to for a very long time, and then feel like I missed out when I realise some of them are brilliant. Just such a thing has happened to me, again, with Gigi’s ‘The Old Graveyard’. It reminds me of the kind of retro piano-led pop song Belle & Sebastian are so fond of, but with a punchier aesthetic. It’s lovely, and it deserves listening to (if all the other favourable reviews hadn’t already convinced you)

Gigi – The Old Graveyard (YSI)

That’s all for now homies, more again soon(ish)!

I’ll admit, I am one of those terrible people who finds it hard to like a band as much when they get big. After seeing Mumford & Sons play two very small shows, watching them at a larger venue seemed sort of wrong, and I’m not going to lie, I went in with something of a negative outlook. And for a while I was proved right. Newcastle Union is a shit venue for a start; its acoustics aren’t particularly good and there are two rows of pillars either side of the stage, meaning the size of the venue is effectively halfed immediately. Unfortunately, they don’t take that into account when they sell the tickets, meaning the centre of the room was uncomfortably tightly packed (I know there’s all that shit about essential support, and making sure the basement roof doesn’t fall and crush everyone inside, but that’s just being picky). Not only that, but they’d rigged the sound up as if it was a rock gig meaning the drums tended to muffle any kind of quieter instrument being played. Finally, my friends and I were flanked by drunken twats, knocking into everyone around them and football chanting to any kind of anthemic song they knew and talking their way through the quieter or new songs.

I was in a bad mood for a little while. Soon though, they got the sound right and the twats moved away after a few songs and we were left alone (if tightly squeezed together) to just watch the band, and from that point on the gig became very good indeed. You see, no matter how big they get, I can’t this band losing the charm that made them so much fun in smaller venues. They graciously thanked the crowd, made small talk about the city and just had a ball onstage, throwing themselves wholeheartedly into every song and never allowing a dull moment. They were clearly bowled over by the sheer size and noise of the crowd who absolutely screamed after every song – and so was I really. It’s amazing how small things can affect your view of a gig; once the twats had left, I suddenly had a new-found appreciation for the varied crowd.

The set was what could be expected of a band still advertising their debut album – mostly made up of album tracks and singles with a couple of newer songs thrown in for good measure. But that’s not to say it wasn’t good, these are tracks that have clearly been honed until they’re played right every single time and songs like ‘The Cave’ sound absolutely magnificent nowadays. The harmonies were absolutely perfect, the instrumentation was worked together beautifully, even when some of the band members had to switch halfway through. There’s a reason Mumford & Sons have risen above their folky peers in sheer popularity; almost every song is a crowd pleaser, and judging by the new songs that’s not likely to stop just yet.

Setlist:

1. Sigh No More
2. Winter Winds
3. Roll Away Your Stone
4.White Blank Page
5. Untitled New Track (Similar to first album tracks – all about the build up)
6. Awake My Soul
7. Little Lion Man
8. New Track (All electric instruments, loud crescendos but more indie than folky)
9. Thistle & Weeds
10. Timshel
11. Dust Bowl Dance (YSI)
12. The Cave

Encore:
13.The Banjolin Song
14. New Track (Electric instruments again, but more of a hoedown feel)

It’s clear that Metronomy have an ear for a good tune. Just listen to some of the singles from Nights Out – ‘Radio Ladio’ sounds like it’s been scientifically engineered to get awkward kids dancing, ‘A Thing For Me’ sounds like a warped, computerised soul record and ‘Heartbreaker’ makes a squeaking door sound like a viable element of percussion. But looking past all the brilliance of their instrumentation and songcraft, the real heart of Metronomy is their unwaveringly British sensibility. Each of these songs takes that peculiarly British sensation of the lovelorn lead singer and rams it stright into the dance scene it never wanted to be a part of. What we’re left with is twisted dance songs with mournful, danceable vocals.

I’ve only just got round to listening to the band’s Not Made For Love EP and whilst a fair few people I know were quite sniffy about it, I think it’s really rather nice. The three non-remixesa all sound as though Joseph Mount wanted to sideline the big dance tunes and just make electronic indie. What we get is all of Metronomy’s electronic quirkiness, just toned down and made secondary to Mount’s beautifully understated singing style. Of course I hope the band will go back to their dancefloor ways, but this little sideline proves that Metronomy’s broken heart is what makes the rest of their wonderfully ramshackle body of work keep moving in its own special way.

Metronomy – Not Made For Love (YSI)

I’ve been to Newcastle’s fantastic bar/restaurant/venue The Cluny a fair few times now, but I’d never yet ventured to the far end to have a look at Cluny 2, the newly added extra bar and venue space. Well, not only did I get to have a good look round on Saturday, I also got to see the magnificent Johnny Flynn as part of the bargain. And not only that, this was the first gig I’ve been to for a long time where the support bands have been any good at all – and these two were both pretty wonderful.

Cluny 2 used to be (and I think, still is) a theatre space, meaning the stage is placed amidst seating, and there are balconies overlooking it all, meaning it’s pretty intimate to begin with. As we walked in, we realised that the audience didn’t believe in personal space and had stood right next to the already enclosed stage anyway, so taking our position we watched the first act, James Mathé. A permanent part of The Sussex Wit himself, Mathé played rickety old keyboards and sang whilst Mr. Flynn himself took turns providing backing vocals and violin accompaniments. What we heard was a beautifully stripped down set of folktronica at its purest – folk melodies and styles set (mostly) to electronic instrumentation. Mathé’s voice is usually restrained and slightly affected (think a more downbeat Alexis Taylor), but at its wildest grew into a heartrending keen as he put his whole body into singing out what he had to say. It was a lovely start to the gig – as Mathé himself put it, ‘it isn’t music to dance to’, but it’s music to relax to. His Myspace offers a few tracks that seem further fleshed out and more obviously indebted to electronic and pop music, but it’s still lovely – ‘Bloodline’ in particular is a masterpiece of laid back heartache pop. I can’t offer any tracks as yet, but hopefully some will be forthcoming.

Next up was Anna Calvi who I understand has garnered the affections of Xfm legend John Kennedy and a certain Devonté Hynes (aka Lightspeed Champion), and based on this performance it’s perfectly understandable why. She opened with a virtuoso solo performance on her guitar, alternating between furious picking and harplike strums before segueing into the first track, fixing the audience with a steely glare and billowing her deep alto vocals as her bandmates both provided the percussion for her wild guitar work. The immediate impression was one of amazement – it’s unfortunately rare to be met with a new artist so accomplished at their chosen instrument. The set continued in a similar vein, full of tracks that oscillated between the ‘silence as instrument’ aesthetic championed by The xx and the pure overblown guitar theatrics of Showbiz-era Muse. Calvi seems completely unlike any artists in the current scene – completely comfortable in her own skin and with her own skill. But it’s her bandmates who make Anna Calvi as good as she is, providing the perfect, restrained accompaniment, keeping her in line and grounding her but letting her soar when she needs to. She truly is quite special, and the demos on her Myspace page help prove that with ‘Blackout’ a highlight of both that page and the set.

After two such good support artists, I’d almost forgotten that we’d come to see Johnny Flynn, but sure enough he appeared, bandmates arrayed around him to the screams of the strange group of folk groupies that seem to have sprung up from the depths of Newcastle. Before I go on, I’d like to mention these idiots. As talented and good-looking as Johnny undoubtedly is (my girlfriend didn’t stop telling me so for a fair while afterwards), when your inane screaming of his name is clearly making him nervous and uncomfortable onstage, and therefore disrupting the gig, maybe that’s a signal that it’s time for you to grow up and stop acting like a tween at a Jonas Brothers concert. Just a thought. Anyway, aside from half the crowd acting like braying twats, Johnny and his Sussex Wit played a fucking blinder of a set all in all. Opening with ‘The Box’, he was immediately met with singalongs and a full-on hoedown which more-or-less continued throughout.

Brilliantly, the band opted to alternate between songs from the first album and new tracks from the forthcoming sophomore effort, meaning the crowd’s interest neevr waned, but we were all treated to tasters of what’s to come. And if the gig was anything to go by, the second album will be just as good as the first. Sounding, literally, a lot more rhythm and blues than A Larum, the new songs see Johnny playing his usual dobro alongside banjo, trumpet, violin and god knows what else whilst his band sound far more amped-up and foregrounded than before. The older tracks sounded better with live experience too with ‘Brown Trout Blues’, ‘Cold Bread’ and my personal favourites ‘The Wrote and the Writ’ (which I have written about elsewhere as being pure poetry set to music) and ‘Tickle Me Pink’ (the first Flynn song I heard) receiving a hugely warm reception. It was a stunning set and performance, and judging by the extended cheers and applause of the crowd afterward, one I wasn’t alone in wishing it hadn’t ended when it had. Oh, and new-folk fans, there’s a confirmed Laura Marling appearance on the new album. Be excited.

Anna Calvi – First We Kiss (Demo) (YSI)
Johnny Flynn – Brown Trout Blues (YSI)