The Maccabees

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)!

The NME Awards Tour kicked off in Newcastle on Thursday night and I was lucky enough to have won some tickets, so after queueing for an inordinate amount of time amongst thousands of 14 year-olds and being charged an insane amount for two beers the lovely Cat and I stepped into the breach.

First up were The Drums who all looked a picture of completely uninterested ‘New York Cool’ apart from singer Jonathan Pierce who flailed about like an outrageously camp Ian Curtis for the entire set. They’re an odd beast, The Drums – after loving ‘Let’s Go Surfing’ so fervently, each song I’ve heard after that seems a variation on a theme rather than a different idea, and that quickly manifested itself in their set as well. It was samey, not entirely in a bad way, but enough to make you forget which song is which. My main gripe was the fact that they used recorded whistling and handclap sounds from their album tracks rather than actually doing it onstage, which just seemed a bit confusing and lazy to be honest. It was all over rather quickly and the crowd seemed receptive enough, but as far as warm up acts go, they weren’t the best I’ve seen.

The Big Pink were up next, arriving onstage in darkness and smoke to the lilting sound of Cypress Hill’s ‘I Wanna Get High’ before launching into a set at least twice as loud as the previous one, blasting out their 90s rock/shoegaze collage in a haze of panning spotlights and constant UV light. It was certainly quite a show, and bloody fun to watch, but the crowd were really only interested in one song, the rather irritating ‘Dominos’, and after that finished they quickly lost interest. It made me wonder whether when I was that age if I would only care about one song by a band – I really hope I wasn’t that fickle.

After a whirlwind changearound by the roadies, Bombay Bicycle Club shambled onstage, looking more like the crowd members around me than a band that got the reception they did. It might have something to do with their youth, but BBC got a huge reaction from the young’uns, despite not having any obvious hits or street cred. Whatever the reason, the band quickly whipped the crowd into a frenzy, concentrating on their heavier material (‘Magnet’ was brilliantly loud) and amping it up early in the set. The best thing about BBC is just how uncool they are, there was none of the pretense of the last two bands, they made no attempt to have an ‘image’ or to conceal their excitement, when the music got heavier they thrashed around like they were dancing in their bedrooms, laughing and smiling with each other. It’s nice to see a band who just love what they’re doing, and don’t want to project anything else other than that. It also helps when you’ve got a set of brilliant songs, without a moment of filler – ‘Evening/Morning was as spectacular as ever and ‘Always Like This’ worked its dance groove magic on everyone in the place. The band left to huge cheers and with smiles on every face in the room.

Headlining tonight’s entertainment was everyone’s favourite lovelorn rapscallions, The Maccabees, who bounded onstage, took up their instruments and proceeded to prove why they were top of the bill. I’ve watched the band a fair few times now, but this was as loud and energetic as I’ve ever seen them. They seemed supremely confident, knowing that they can use material from both albums and get a good reaction from either. I forgot just how loud and intricate some of their music is too; when three guitars are used at once you can really notice the change in noise, and when that’s further backed up by a mini brass section the sound just gets bigger and bigger. Bouncing between hits from both albums, we were kept guessing what was next. From the sheer speed of ‘X-Ray’ to the glorious high points of ‘Can You Give It’, all the songs we wanted were there. As it turned out though, one of the high points came from an album track I’d not given much of a listen to – ‘One Hand Holding’ helped open their set with an impassioned singalong from the whole band and an energy that characterised the rest. This was a band on top of their game and knowing it, belting out every song with the passion only a true belief in their work can produce, and as they finished their set with ‘No Kind Words’, a cover of Orange Juice’s ‘Rip It Up’ and ‘Love You Better’ they proved to us and themselves that they deserved to be NME’s top choice for this tour.

The Drums – I Felt Stupid (YSI)
The Big Pink – Velvet (YSI)
Bombay Bicycle Club – Magnet (YSI)
The Maccabees – One Hand Holding (YSI)

Here’s the second of my three list posts chronicling the best of this year’s albums in my own humble opinion. Just to make it clear, many of these albums won’t have been reviewed by me at the time they were released, so if you’ve never seen me mention them before, it’s just that I’ve actually got off my arse and listened to these albums for the first time in the past few weeks. Here we go!

10. The Maccabees – Wall of Arms

I was really rather excited about this album when it came out. The first album had sounded like a bunch of excited tykes whooping and jerking about in the throes of romance, all froth and fun. I wanted more. Instead what I got was a band grown up, more expansive, more serious and more melancholy. And I loved it. From album sampler ‘No Kind Words’ onwards I was hooked on this new sound. The Maccabees made an album concerned with retrospect – Orlando sings “Those killer eyes don’t look the same as they used to do/Not like the eyes that I make at you” in ‘One Hand Holding’, looking back on the perfect loves of Colour Me In and seeing them as they’ve become. Their sound too sounds like an echo of what they once were, the same tone and style, but somehow lengthened into shadows of what they produced before, overlapping and slowing down. The Maccabees have made, for me, one of the truest “evolutions” of sound from one album to another, not only developing their style, reminding us not only what they are, but what they were.

The Maccabees – Can You Give It (YSI)

9. Camera Obscura – My Maudlin Career

Camera Obscura’s unique brand of heartbreak twee had passed me by for far too long before I got ahold of this gem of an album, but I won’t let it happen again. Opening with the infectiously joyous strains of ‘French Navy’ and washing over you wonderfully from there, this is an album that flows better than most. What’s most interesting though is how such gentle, smile-inducing music can hide the sadness that seems ever-present in Tracyanne Campbell’s lyrics. Even in the most excitable moments we’re met with “I wanted to control it/But love I couldn’t hold it” – the duality of it all is just perfectly pitched so you get a sense of both sides at all times.  It seems as though final track ‘Honey In The Sun’ points in a different direction though, all trumpet fanfares and quickstep drumbeats as Ms. Campbell says “I wish my heart was cold as the morning dew/But it’s as warm as saxophones and honey in the sun for you”. The real triumph here though is taking such old-fashioned styles and making them sound fresher than any new indie guitar band can manage nowadays – let’s see if that cheers them up.

Camera Obscura – Honey In The Sun (YSI)

8. Telekinesis – Telekinesis!

Michael Benjamin Lerner, with a little help from bandmates and Chris Walla (of Death Cab fame), has created one of the best rock records of the year out of practically nothing. He seems to have taken a few basic instruments, a love for Japan and some analog tape and, with very little effort, made eleven songs that recall the best of Weezer and that stable of American rock. The bastard. From the very beginning, this all sounds like a soundtrack for some fantastic road movie that has yet to exist, with all the required highs (‘Coast of Carolina’) and lows (‘Rust’) and a love interest thrown in for good measure (‘Awkward Kisser’). It’s ridiculously uplifting, not to mention spectacularly impressive.

Telekinesis – Foreign Room (YSI)

7. Mos Def – The Ecstatic

I don’t pretend to know a whole heap about hip-hop. When I enjoy it I can’t look into it as closely as I can with rock, folk or alternative, the whole culture of different producers on one album, guest vocalists and sampling just passes me by most of the time, so I can’t really expect you to listen to me try to muddle my way through tne technical aspects of this album It would be embarassing for us both. What I can talk about is why I’ve enjoyed this album as much as I have. To have a hip-hop album so full of multicultural influences and mercifully free of the ganster mentality that I can’t relate to (I couldn’t sound much more white/middle class could I?) is a genuinely new pleasure for me. From ‘Supermagic’s one-two punch of Middle-Eastern guitar riff and perfectly-delivered refrain to ‘Quiet Dog Bite Hard’s sparse structure and hypnotic rhythms, part of the pleasure is Def’s willingness to let the music work for itself some of the time – the focus doesn’t need to be on him. It’s a refreshing lack of the egocentricity which has become all too common recently, as well as a trust put in the music to carry a song, which in turn makes Mos Def’s own contributions more important and interesting, we want to hear him talk to us.

Mos Def – Supermagic (YSI)

6. The Horrors – Primary Colours

I have to admit, I was never a Horrors-hater. I quite enjoyed the whole gothic Vaudeville act they put on, ridiculous costumes and all. I never thought it was a particularly serious attempt to convince us that they were Victorian Undertakers making garage rock; rather that they enjoyed a sense of the absurd in their music. The audience that took to them however was unfortunate, a group who never saw the irony as anything more than a fashion to follow, which made the whole affair a little less entertaining. It seems that The Horrors themselves saw that, and their subsequent change surprised everyone from fans to the derisory of their critics. The far more measured pace and reliance on distortion as an instrument on Primary Colours remade The Horrors as enigmatic musicians rather than the exhibitionist actors they once were (hell, even the album cover is essentially a blurred, coloured version of the first Strange House‘s band shot cover). Melody overlaps with discordance throughout the album, making the opening of the upbeat ‘Three Decades’ far more spaced-out than it could have been, and obscuring the malevolence in ‘New Ice Age’ and there are far more songs now – ‘I Can’t Contol Myself’ is a laid-back, almost surf-rock ghost train, and ‘Do You Remember’ recalls some of Joy Division’s best moments, making the most important part of this album (and the most impressive) that these are songs you will remember as tunes, not performances.

The Horrors – I Can’t Control Myself (YSI)

Tom Williams/The Maccabees

Well, I’m stuck in an airport in Turkey waiting for my flight that’s been delayed for 7 hours, so what else to do but show you all a couple of lovely little covers, taking songs I really don’t like and giving me a new found appreciation of them:

My ever-increasing love of Tom Williams & The Boat took another jump up the other day upon receipt of an email from the man himself. Turns out not only can this band craft beautiful works of art, but they can perform some kind of musical alchemy – they’ve taken the good-tune-awful-vocals turd that is Dizzee Rascal’s “Bonkers” and turned it into a golden folky hoedown capable of whipping a smile onto my face faster than you can say ‘Van Helden’. And it got them some more (and much deserved) airtime on Radio 1 courtesy of Huw Stephens playing it twice in a row. Excellent work!

Tom Williams & the Boat – Bonkers (Dizzee Rascal Cover) (YSI)

What happens when you take the quiet, menacing tone of The Maccabees “No Kind Words” to an autotuned, run-of-the-mill 2009 pop hit like “Boom Boom Pow”? Well, it seems like it turns into a chilled out, slow burning piece of loveliness, that, if it weren’t for the lyrics and Orlando Weeks’ struggle not to laugh throughout, it might not have seemed out of place on the last album.

The Maccabees – Boom Boom Pow (Black Eyed Peas Cover) (YSI)

PS. A great many thanks to real Horrorshow tunes for The Maccabees cover, you’re probably the best!

Glastonbury Day One

I would apologise for my long absence (again) but frankly I have a pretty good reason this time – I was at Glastonbury, and then spent a few days recovering from the pure psychic shock of how unbelievably awesome it was (or just moving house, whatever you prefer). So without further ado, here’s my review of the best festival in the world.

I could start with what happened on Thursday, but not a lot did to be honest. After a gruelling drive, followed by a gruelling walk, followed by a gruelling tent building session, we were ready to rock on Thursday. Unfortunately, it was rather late and we were all very tired, so we caught the end of the brilliant Metronomy and went to bed. The End.

So, determined to be far more productive, we awoke on Friday and got to work. I started with Regina Spektor on the Pyramid stage, who, armed with a grand piano (which I kept wondering how she got into a field in Somerset unscathed), a violinist and a cellist managed to wake everyone up with her own brand of beautiful music. Whilst maybe not suited to such a big stage, she got a great reception from the crowd, and songs like “That Time” and “Laughing With” were positively lovely.

Making our way to The Other Stage, we saw The Maccabees next. I’ve never failed to be impressed by the band, and this time was no exception, their show is just so tight, so joyful and so brilliant time after time. Playing a perfect mix of their brilliant new material (new single “Can You Give It” seemingly brought out the sun over a cheering crowd) and their brilliant older material (“First Love” as always got the biggest cheer of the set, and rightly so) they charmed the crowd into dancing, smiling and admiring continuously.

Running back to the Pyramid to catch Fleet Foxes, we caught the end of N.E.R.D., one of the special guests who were, frankly, a little poor. In fairness, they were faced with technical difficulties and a shorter set, but apart from their singles, which I do like, their album tracks all seemed a little samey. So thank god for the timely appearance of Fleet Foxes who weaved their harmony-drenched folky goodness all around us, and soothed the atmosphere of the whole field. I thought throughout, “this is the music Glastonbury was made for”.

Friendly Fires came next, and presented me with something of a conundrum. On the one hand, their live show is bloody amazing, and I’ll always be a little biased because it’s nice to see people from my school playing Glasto. On the other hand, the singer, Ed Macfarlane seems like a self-righteous, self-aggrandising cock who dances like an arse. After announcing, seemingly without humour, that the sunshine was down to him alone, followed by not smiling during the entire set, not in a cool Will Self miserablist style, but an almost uncaring way, I felt a little like I was meant to be impressed. In fact, I was  impressed by the rest of the band and their amazing musical skills. Ho-hum.

My final musical act of the night was the best of Friday, hands down. The newly-reformed Specials walked onstage to an absolute explosion of noise, and proceeded to play a set that matched the crowd’s expectations and then some. Never shying away from their hits, and with Terry Hall and Neville Staple whipping the crowd into a frenzy in their own ways, they lit up the Pyramid stage and immediately turned me from a casual fan into someone who wants to listen to everything they’ve produced. It was an absolute revelation, and if you get the chance to see them I urge you to do so.

Now, it may seem a little like evil, but I then missed watching Neil Young to go and see some comedy. But honestly, the difference Glastonbury (and therefore an abundance of drugs) makes to comedians is hilarious. Some, like Matt Kirshen and Tom Stade, become incredibly good, others, like Glenn Wool, essentially have breakdowns on stage and don’t stop talking about their divorce. Still more, like Andrew Maxwell, take their shirts off and shout at breakdancers to go faster. It’s really very interesting. Anyway, that’s Friday done, and I’ll post up the second part of the review tomorrow, for now, enjoy some choice tracks from the day:

Regina Spektor – That Time (YSI)

The Maccabees – William Powers (YSI)

Fleet Foxes – White Winter Hymnal (YSI)

Friendly Fires – Skeleton Boy (Single Version) (YSI)

The Specials – A Message To You Rudy (YSI)

Having a birthday is always a good way of acquiring new music, and my latest one proved no different. My lovely girlfriend splashed out and, amongst other things, got me not one, but two albums I’d been awaiting with baited breath. Here’s the first:

The Maccabees sophomore effort, Wall of Arms has been something I’ve been waiting for since the debut came out, and I’ve been excited for since I first heard the brilliant “No Kind Words“. After a few listens, I can tell you it was well worth the wait. This is the best kind of evolution a band can have for that “difficult second album” – enough of the original sound remains while enough invention and improvement has gone on behind the scenes to give us something new to listen to.

The initial shock of the dark, brooding and afore-mentioned “No Kind Words” is tempered by the amount of upbeat tracks and lead single “Love You Better” sets the tone perfectly. Orlando Weeks’ voice shines through as always, but there’s a more interesting instrumentation going on here, full of stabs of guitar and echoey background vocals. Title track “Wall of Arms” starts louder than any other track but lulls into a beautiful little ditty and “Can You Give It” is full of guitar hooks and completely uplifting vocals. The second half of the album does drag a little more than the first half and “Bag Of Bones” really isn’t the most interesting way to finish the album, but on the whole there’s very little to complain about. More than anything else, this album is more of a relief than anything, it proves The Maccabees aren’t a one-trick indie pony, but a fully fledged band, ready to progress and keep enthralling us.

The Maccabees – Can You Give It (YSI)

Summer Bands

Well I’m set up and ready to go with this WordPress lark, and frankly after my experience with Blogger, I’m hoping for a better experience. I’m currently on a train speeding back up to Newcastle for the third term of uni, listening through the inordinate amount of albums I’ve bought recently (currently Cold War Kids’ Loyalty To Loyalty) and I think I’ll repost all those tracks that got taken down in last few days. The picture also took me ages to make (I’m a very poor photoshopper you may have noticed), so that’s what’s heading the post. I’ll return to normal service soon, I promise.

The Maccabees – Love You Better (YSI)
Magistrates – Make This Work (YSI)
Hockey – Learn To Lose (Xfm Session) (YSI)
Bombay Bicycle Club – Always Like This (YSI)

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