October 2011

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This is a week late, but technically it doesn’t matter because my computer exploded violently this week and so I didn’t do a show. There are a fair few new bands’ tracks on last week’s show and, whilst I urge you to listen to me talk about them, I thought I’d give them some extra airing as the appendix to this post. As such, I will only be offering blanket criticism to all of them, and in order to learn more about my thoughts, you have to listen to this week’s show. Clever, eh?

All of these tracks are “well good”.

Howth – Deep In Your Heart (YSI) [Bandcamp]
The Skeleton Dead – Drifting Into the Unreal (YSI) [Bandcamp]

Bird – Phantoms [Website]

Sound and the Urgency – Harrowdown Hill [Bandcamp]

Netherlands – Something or Nothing [Website]

I recently had a little moan about bands who are getting dream pop ALL WRONG and, more specifically, how Still Corners were the perpetrators. Now obviously there’s an element of hyperbole hidden somewhere in that last sentence, but my feelings stand. Perhaps it’s the creeping influence of “chillwave” or those most laid-back of dream pop-eers, Beach House, but somewhere along the way the genre’s characteristic foggy haziness has been substituted for something approaching fuggy laziness (I am very pleased with that phrase, by the way).

As far as I’m concerned, if you’re simply making one-track, wispy, contemplative music, you’re not fulfilling the remit. Beach House might be quiet, but they also utilise catchy hooks, soaring vocals and forthright percussion. M83 might be described as dream pop, but if you listen to ‘Midnight City’ it’s pretty loud in general. There’s a saxophone solo in it for god’s sake (something I may disagree with on a moral level, but helps to illustrate my point). These are both dream pop bands, and yet they trade in something beyond the base level. Still Corners, on the other hand, have made an album that assumes its perceived dream pop status by paper-thin vocals, gentle organs and reverb-slathered drumbeats – all well and good in and of themselves but the problem is in assuming so many characteristics, Still Corners’ own character seems just as washed out – technically invoked but not emotionally earned.

They could learn a thing or two from Mint Julep who, in my opinion, have confirmed their status as a great dream pop band in one song, as compared to Still Corners’ ten. With Keith Kenniff, a man described by his PR as “the brains behind dulcet ambient/electronic practitioners Helios and piano minimalists Goldmund”, at the helm, you might expect something similarly low-key. The first twenty seconds of ‘Days Gone By’ prove that theory dead wrong. A flat, powerful beat precedes a pulse of snarling, distorted guitar which themselves precede Hollie Kenniff’s gracefully echoing vocals and stadium synthwork. Embracing the pop as much as the dream, this is a perfect example of a band unafraid to be loud as well as conceptually interesting – an impulse all too uncommon at the moment.

I never fully understood the appeal of the whole R’n’B revivial that’s been going on in the last few months. Between the likes of Drake and The Weeknd, the impetus seemed to be on taking a genre I’d never been interested in (apart from Wayne Wonder, obviously) and making it slightly less accessible. The “dark”, “sexy” aesthetic did nothing for me except make music that, as Daniel Kitson so eloquently made clear, “legitimates countless cases of statutory rape” slightly more sinister.

Then I heard Wise Blood’s ‘Loud Mouths’, a song that does everything that this new strain of R’n’B should have been doing all along. Whilst retaining its characteristic groove, ‘Loud Mouths’ throws in esoteric production, falsetto vocals Prince would be proud of and, most importantly, pays homage to the genre R’n’B acronymically ripped its title from by working around a piano sample that calls back to another musical era altogether. It’s a glorious pastiche that sounds old and new all at once. Time will tell whether Wise Blood can pull it off again, but as an opening statement, there’s not been many better in the last few years.

PS. That voice saying “scream… again” at the start of the song sounds unnervingly like me.

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You have had to deal with ten of these now. They ain’t stopping.

Beirut – Untitled 10 (YSI)

I’ve always enjoyed mash ups, but most often for their comic value. Being with friends and exciting them with the promise of something excellent like ‘Seven Nation Army’ or ‘Let It Be’ only for it to resolve itself into, let’s say, a mash up with Backstreet Boys or Shaggy respectively (yeah, I have those tracks)  is exactly the kind of cruel musical trick that makes me giggle like a fool – particularly if it really annoys someone who thinks mash ups are terrible. The thing is, because of my lowered expectations, finding a really well-executed, creative mash up is therefore a particularly enjoyable experience. Max Tannone‘s Jaydiohead project was an example – not only was he utilising songs I deeply love as excellent backing tracks, but his actual musical talents were on show (his re-engineering of ’15 Step’s troublesome time signature the most obvious standout for this).

It seems strange then that longtime favourite DJ Lobsterdust, a man, woman or sonically-gifted A.I. platform who has mixed Boston with the Black Eyed Peas and Nirvana with Wild Cherry could have made something as interesting, well-thought-out and unequivocally good as ‘Shutterbugg Yrself’. It seems obvious once you’ve heard it, but the bombastic approach of Big Boi’s vocal tracks is matched unexpectedly perfectly by the sparse percussion and synths of LCD Soundsystem, making for a track that swaps the  explosive braggadocio of the hip-hop original’s production for something that seems like it could have grown organically out of a freestyle. It’s a great example of the merit of mash ups, and the sheer scope for musical experimentation they offer. But keep the hilarious ones coming, too. What about Lou Reed and Metalli- Oh.

Big Boi vs. LCD Soundsystem – Shutterbugg Yrself (DJ Lobsterdust Mash Up) (YSI)

“Pardon me. It’s very rare to see… real magic.” – Some dude in The Prestige (which is really good and is where the picture of that handsome devil above comes from)

As I’ve made clear in some relatively recent posts, I had rather fallen out of love with the process of actively searching out music. The (self-imposed) pressure of always being on the lookout for something new and exciting meant I had very little time to really listen to things, get to know tracks and albums like I did when it wasn’t such an active concern. So much of music is a passive experience – we use it to fill in silence or boredom or soundtrack films; the actual activity of listening to music is rarely the only thing going on at the time and in forcing it to be a solitary experience, I made myself resent it a little.

Which is why finding two genuinely exciting songs in one week has made me a very happy indeed. Both of these tracks hooked me, jolted me out of whatever else I was doing and truly forced me to listen – the effect all great music should have. I’m not sure I want to say too much about both of them, sufficed to say they’re both forceful, immediate and quite unlike one another. I feel about as excited as I have done in quite a long while about this stuff and, whilst I’m still working my way back into truly, completely caring about that search, this is a good sign.

Gross Magic – Sweetest Touch (YSI)
Sons of Joy – I Wouldn’t Mind Dying (YSI) – my thanks go out to the superlative Matthew at Song, By Toad (again) for this one

PS. It only occurred to me after I wrote this that Gross Magic also fits into the Prestige theme of this post. I’m a genius!

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Today I deal in facts. This is the ninth episode of my radio show, The Folk Bloke. It is one hour, one minute and forty-six seconds long, making it the second-longest episode I have broadcast (trailing behind the grotesqueries of the one hour, three minute and eighteen second long travesty that was Episode Five). In it I discuss the dullness of The Vaccines and the stupid manifesto written by new band Sons of Joy. I like it. I like you. I miss you.

Avi Buffalo – Truth Sets In (YSI)

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