There's a great post on the AV Club at the moment where its writers discuss the things that always make them laugh. And, never wanting to miss a bandwagon, here's my list of nine things that are never not funny to me, each more predictable (or as predictable? No - more predictable) than the last.
Like 90% of the bands who are big on the internet and not necessarily in real life (IRL, sorry), I was aware of Deerhunter without necessarily knowing anything about/by them. But last night they played, for free, walking distance from my house, so I went to check them out. It was in the same ballroom as the Cursive show a few years back, on the third floor of the Union building. First observation: Bradford Cox, the singer and guitarist looked like, as one concertgoer observed, he had been ravaged by consumption. The guy did not look healthy at all. Later he would explain that, indeed, he was quite unwell. No mind, the guys still made a sufficient racket. I must say: in the hour-or-so they played, there was maybe twenty-five minutes' worth of really good music, where they sounded ace. The majority of their set, though, was a mess of feedback, droned-out noise with a krautrock drumbeat keeping it going. You could see people in the crowd looking at each other, going "huh?". I guess there's something to be said for making music that defies expectations, that is different or avant-garde, but we only sporadically saw stuff that fit that category, such as on 'Calvary Scars', which they finished with. Otherwise, for the most part, ho and indeed hum.
The first taster from the new Manic Street Preachers album hit the radio and subsequently, faster than you can say "Does anyone still care?", the internet, yesterday. The album, 'Journal for Plague Lovers', is out in May, and is noteworthy since all the lyrics on the album are missing guitarist Richey Edwards'. Adding to the "old MSP" feel, the album's cover art is a Jenny Saville painting, just as was the case on 'The Holy Bible'. And a quick scan of the tracklisting reveals such gems as 'Jackie Collins Existential Question Time' and 'She Bathed Herself in a Bath of Bleach". Legendary. So maybe this one will be the oft-promised return to their roots.
Difficult one, this. A lot of the correspondence that I've seen about the new Cursive album, Mama I'm Swollen, seems to say "it's way better than Happy Hollow", but I rather liked their last album, and this one just doesn't do it for me. I've given it some time - it's been a few weeks since I bought it from the record label for $2 - but with a couple of exceptions, it's just not kicking in. I think the primary thing that's missing is a unified theme - their last three albums have been about divorce; the ugly, ugly recording business; and a small, conservative town during wartime respectively. Having a theme really held these albums together, and there isn't an equivalent on Mama, I'm Swollen, and that weakens it for me. There's less inward-looking analysis and personal catharsis, which is fair enough - the guy has opened himself up plenty in the past. But it feels like something is missing in the end product, most of the tracks seemed to pass me by. That said, I really like how 'What Have I Done?' builds over a pretty autobiographical exposé to a clattering, thundering finale. "I spent the best years of my life, waiting on the best years of my life" is as revelatory as we get here. Smart choice, too, in putting 'From the Hips' out as the lead single. Did you see them do it on Letterman last week? Very, very good indeed. If the tour brings them this way again, I'll definitely go and see them, but I hope this one just needs to grow on me more.
Last night I read the novel ‘Kill Your Friends’ by John Niven. It’s a book that Lauren won from The Roaring 20s and I kind of brow-beat her into letting me read first. It’s set in London in 1997, at a major record label, and provides an inside-baseball look at how the A&R Department functions. That year was when I started really getting into music, and discovering newer bands, etc, and so the references meant a lot more to me than they would to most U.S. readers. One of the backdrops is the intense bidding war that centred around the mighty Ultrasound, for heaven’s sake. Each chapter begins with a quote from an A&R person talking up their latest signing, with rhetoric like “Gina G will be the next Madonna”. You don’t have to know who Gina G is, to know that she wasn’t the next Madonna.
The view of the industry is unrelentingly grim. The main character, Steven, hates the industry, hates everybody within the industry and hates everyone not within the industry. I’ll tell you what he doesn’t hate: booze, coke and prostitutes. The sentence “Nobody knows what they’re doing” appears on more than one occasion, and the impression formed is that everyone in the music biz, and especially A&R, was looking out for themselves and keeping one paranoid eye on everyone else. And this is in 1997! It’s hard to imagine all the cracks that exist these days.
So far, so misanthropic. There’s some neat dialogue, and the insight provided about the music industry, but I found it a little too unpleasant to really get stuck into. Reminded me of ‘The Bedroom Secrets of the Master Chefs’ in that regard. Towards the end, Steven takes a turn and goes a little Patrick Bateman, which was certainly jarring. There’s a nice guest appearance from James Dean Bradfield, though, so that’s nice.
One thing, though. This is a fictionalized account of the music industry. (I hate how many times I’ve said the word “industry” in this post, but that’s what it’s about.) I’ve always had the impression that in music, the truth is always so mental that fiction becomes redundant. I’ll never forget when I read ‘The Dirt’, the Motley Crue autobiography, and one chapter finished with a bombshell along the lines of: “And then I woke up. My pancreas had exploded”. Admittedly, ‘Kill Your Friends’ may be set in a different world from 80’s hair metal, but I’m sure that true stories from London mid-90s are just as mental. I hope so – I bought Alex James’ autobiography while on holiday.
Like I said before, if you’re not into Britpop and mid-90s indie bands from the UK, then I can’t see too much appeal in this one. As someone that “got” it, I thought it was okay. Got through it in a couple of hours, that’s about it.
As you may remember, I thought the last Super Furry Animals album 'Hey Venus!' was pretty good, but all-too-often lapsed into what I called "pretty-but-slow" territory. So, when they announced that for this album they'd be leaving the slower songs behind, I was over the moon. So one 204MB download later, let's do this thing...
Crazy Naked Girls: Reminds me of that Beck album where he went all Prince. Midnite Vultures? But far more weird. Not a bad start at all. Mad, psychedelic, falsetto, with some crowd noise, chunky guitars. Welcome home, SFA.
Mt: They already have a show-stopping song about mountains, but this one is worthy addition to the canon. Sounds like Bunf on lead vocals - strings, simple melody. And welcome, profanity!
Moped Eyes: A little more gentle. Didn't do too much on first listen, but that's okay.
Inaugural Trams: Heard this one before, features a rap in German from one of Franz Ferdinand. Upbeat, light and very fun. "They say the future of cement is set in stone". [listen]
Inconvenience: Yes! Finally, a heads-down, no-bullshit rocker. "Tory scum / Stole my fun". Something about "holy wars". Starts and stops. Singalong chorus. SFA of old peeking through for the first time.
Cardiff in the Sun: Lots of filters over the vocals, Krautrock drums, echo chambers. Can't make out a single lyric, but the crescendos are kickin'.
The Very Best of Neil Diamond: First ten seconds - Sounds like a sitar? This is terrific! A mention of a "crystal skull". Song goes in a few different directions, but I like them chaotic.
Helium Hearts: If this was a band that cared about singles, this song would be one. Does the guy from High Llamas still do their string arrangements, because these are outstanding. I'm sure Gruff just sang "Get drunk and taste the Vegemite". Another great song: short and catchy.
White Socks/Flip Flops: Most assuredly not channeling the Velvet Underground. Bunf singing again: "I look like a loser coming from the gutter". Actually, this does sound very 70s. Chuggin'. Some nice hey-hey-heys.
Where Do You Wanna Go?: This one is okay. A little lightweight. But pleasant enough.
Lliwiau Llachar: Even though this song is in Welsh, I'm sure I picked out the phrase "Howard Devoto" in there. Maybe I'm wrong. Good song, though.
Pric: Mostly instrumental, very layered. Definitely a head-shaker. Loads of sounds on top of each other. Recalls 'Shoot Speed/Kill Light' as a great album closer. Cian brings out all his electronic toys towards the end.
All in all, it's solid, more upbeat and will almost certainly be played to death by me. Hooray!
See that guy there? His name is Mat Horne. My American readers would be forgiven for not knowing who he is. Those of you in the UK, however, and particularly London, where I was for the last week, may be very familiar with him, because, you see, like commas in this sentence, Mat Horne is fucking everywhere.
He's become famous through the sitcom Gavin and Stacey, which I confess I've never seen, though I've heard good things. All I knew about Mat Horne prior to last week was that he recently shared a "look of despondency" with Martin Freeman on Nevermind the Buzzcocks. But apparently, he's now all over the place. Not that long ago, he co-hosted the Brit Awards with Kylie Minogue (!!!) and his TV co-star James Corden. With Corden, he has a new sketch show that just began and is advertised on many double-decker buses currently doing the rounds in London, so we saw a series of his faces whizzing around at all times. If you believe Mark Kermode, the sheer fact that it's being plugged on buses suggests that it must be rubbish. What's more, Horne and Corden appear in a film that's coming out soon, which you might have heard of, called Lesbian Vampire Killers, the poster for which appears on every single phonebox in central London. Finally, he's currently appearing in Entertaining Mr. Sloane, opposite
Dolores Umbridge Imelda Staunton, so there are posters with his face up all over the Underground. So on escalators, buses, phone boxes and train platforms, Mat Horne's face is there to behold.
As if that all wasn't enough, we got to see him in person. Kele Okerele and the Mystery Jets all pulled out last-minute from DJing at Propaganda in Camden - cheeky bastards - and guess who the organizers brought in, on very short notice, to replace them. Not an arbitrary decision: in addition to all aforementioned pies, Mat also runs a club night in London's trendy Shoreditch every Thursday night. So there he was, onstage in front of us, giving it some Strokes, Killers, Cribs, etc.
Like a good episode of 30 Rock, everything seemed to really come together in the end. I would say "Keep an eye out for him", but if you live in London, you don't need to even do that.
There are some who might argue that, since The Phantom Band are from Glasgow, are signed to Chemikal Underground Records, and had the delgados' Paul Savage produce their debut album, all they really needed to do was record a dog taking a shit into a trombone, and I'd give it a fawning review. This would be entirely justified, so I'll try to be objective here.
'Checkmate Savage' is a little uneven - there are a couple of songs that don't quite do it, like 'Crocodile' which is noisy but in mitigation, involves bagpipes. Not shockingly for a band that describes itself as "Proto Robofolk," it’s an eclectic affair, with consecutive songs, and often parts of the same songs, veering off into different directions, sometimes more jarringly than others. This makes 'Checkmate Savage' a difficult album to fall for, but it's worth the effort.
'Folk Song Oblivion' is ace and sounds like Kraftwerk and at the end it sounds like Michael York is singing. New single 'The Howling' is equally epic and driven by a killer beat, which is sustained throughout the record. 'Island' calms things down a little and is very pretty. 'Checkmate Savage' is not for everyone, but if you're up for it, you'll get something out of it.
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