Monday, 30 June 2008

Glastonbury Round-up

OK, so I should write something about Glastonbury this year. I didn't go, although I seriously considered it when the tickets came on sale and then again when I found out they hadn't sold out. Anyway the line-up wasn't inspiring enough, particularly the headliners.

I watched as much of the BBC coverage as I could over the weekend but thankfully a lot of it is on the Internet.

You can see many performances here and watch the TV coverage again (for the next week) here.

The big news of the weekend was the Amy Winehouse set. She seemed to lash out at someone in the crowd while parading in front of the stage for fans. I think the person tried to grab her hair or something. That aside, the set was awful and I can't believe critics are saying how great it was. I'm not the biggest Winehouse fan at the best of times but she can sing and she can perform. But not on Saturday night. She looked ill, disorientated, shaky and unsteady on her feet. He voice was slurred and her timing was off. It was horrible. She was clearly not well but the crowd demanded a freak show and that is what they got.

The controversial Saturday headliner was Jay-Z who kicked off with a very bad cover of Wonderwall in reaction to Noel's comments about the rapper. It was a parody and a piss-take and clearly the man can't sing. But the set was decent enough even if it did get dull in the middle.

I need to catch up on the performances but I thought Elbow really embraced the festival (working the crowd and bringing on Richard Hawley for The Fix and ending with 'One Day Like This' complete with string orchestra - a highlight) and Massive Attack were very good. Duffy gave a very spirited set but looked slightly overwhelmed by the occasion and The Raconteurs were excellent as always, and kicked off with a frenzy of guitars.

Friday, 27 June 2008

Girl Talk

Ok, I must admit I'd never heard of Girl Talk before someone told me that I was simply not cool unless I had the latest album Feed The Animals, particularly as it is another one of those 'pay-what-you-want' Internet albums.

You can get the new album here.

Be warned, however, this is experimental hip hop and not for the faint hearted. It is the funniest thing I have heard in ages. The most amazing thing about it is the persistent and relentless use of samples - from literally EVERYONE. The question I am asking: is this art or a blatant ripoff?

You be the judge.

Crystal Castles - Vanished

Yet another (yes really!) review for The Music Magazine.

This one is Vanished [Radio Edit] by Crystal Castles - an interesting band I have never got into but I managed to listen to their album on the inet. Apparently they replaced a sound chip in their keyboard with one from an Atari games console from the 1970s and that's how they get the retro sound. Genius!

The review:

If ever there is a band who are the antithesis of 'The Ting Tings', it is Canada's electro-art-punks 'Crystal Castles'. From the outside, the duo of Ethan Kath and Alice Glass appear to be all style over substance but real musical genius is there when you look deeper. Think 'The Kills' who like to sit in dark rooms playing retro computer games fused with keyboards.

The single 'Vanished', is not quite taken from the band's eponymous debut album. The track has been trimmed to a svelte three minutes for release, chopping a minute from the album version. Why this had to happen is anyone's guess as it works better as a longer single. Editing aside, 'Vanished' pulses along with an effective trademark Atari keyboard loop and scratchy drum machine. There is so much vocal distortion that the lyrics just become another instrument and nothing more. This is probably the effect 'Hot Chip' were going for. And when the duo sing together, another more interesting entity is created.

'Crystal Castles' make electronic music that is both modern and retro at the same time, something that must be admired. But 'Vanished' is not so much a song as a collection of ideas and the style always gets in the way of the substance. Given that the album is full of interesting and challenging music, this is a tame and slightly dull introduction.
-- CS (for The Music Magazine 2008)

2008 Music Chart - June

New albums this month from Sigur Rós, Spiritualized, Feeder, Aimee Mann, Thea Gilmore, Sara Bareilles, Elbow, The Black Keys and Coldplay. So a busy month...
  1. Ghosts I-IV - Nine Inch Nails
  2. I Want You To Know That There Is Always Hope - I Was A Cub Scout
  3. Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! - Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
  4. Seventh Tree - Goldfrapp
  5. Með Suð í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust - Sigur Rós
  6. Third - Portishead
  7. Consolers Of The Lonely - The Raconteurs
  8. Accelerate - R.E.M.
  9. We Started Nothing - The Ting Tings
  10. Narrow Stairs - Death Cab For Cutie
  11. The Seldom Seen Kid - Elbow
  12. The Age Of The Understatement - The Last Shadow Puppets
  13. Silent Cry - Feeder
  14. Songs In A&E - Spiritualized
  15. In Rainbows - Radiohead
  16. Alas, I Cannot Swim - Laura Marling
  17. Attack & Release - The Black Keys
  18. Liejacker - Thea Gilmore
  19. Do You Like Rock Music - British Sea Power
  20. Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings - Counting Crows
  21. Midnight Boom - The Kills
  22. Elliot Minor - Elliot Minor
  23. You Cross My Path - The Charlatans
  24. @#%&*! Smilers - Aimee Mann
  25. The Slip - Nine Inch Nails
  26. The Hollow Of Morning - Gemma Hayes
  27. Little Voice - Sara Bareilles
  28. Saturnalia - The Gutter Twins
  29. Neptune - The Duke Spirit
  30. Viva La Vida - Coldplay
  31. This Gift - Sons & Daughters

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Sparkadia - Morning Light review

A review written for the Music Magazine website.

An interesting new Australian band with much more to offer. Check out the MySpace site.

The review:

When a band has rubbed shoulders with the likes of Death Cab For Cutie, Ben Lee and Vampire Weekend even before the release of a debut album, we should expect greatness. Sparkadia, a new band from Australia have recently been snapped up by British Ark Recordings and producer Ben Hillier (Doves, Elbow, Blur). The band now release 'Morning Light' from their 'Postcards' album.

It is clear from the opening drums of 'Morning Light' that producer Ben Hillier is heavily involved. Singer Alex Burnett has an oddly British and nonchalant sounding voice as he croons through the verses, lifting into a teasing pre-chorus. But the structure of the song is not the problem. Burnett's voice strains as he sings "Just let go, Just let go..." and after the third time it becomes annoyingly whiny and uninspired. There are better moments of lyrical prowess as the story concludes: "When fireworks punch the sky, sand stuck on my feet so tired. Tried moving them around - but it's midnight here of a new year", but the whole arrangement lacks melody and flow. Some much needed vocal quality is added by Preece and Rabone but it is never enough.

Ultimately 'Morning Light' never reaches the greatness it aspires to contain. Sparkadia have much better songs that this - 'Too Much To Do' and 'Animals' are far superior examples of what the band are made of and what 'Postcards' has to offer.
-- CS (for The Music Magazine 2008)

Monday, 23 June 2008

Radiohead play Portishead

Great video of Thom and Jonny from Radiohead playing The Rip by Portishead.

Find more videos like this on w.a.s.t.e. central

Bowling For Soup - Live And Very Attractive review

Another review for The Music Magazine.

It was a fun review to write as there is a lot to write about. I just wish more of it was about the songs but there aren't enough of them. Instead the DVD is padded with backstage footage of the band - some good and some bad. The band's laid back, funny image is never cracked and we find out nothing new about a band who try not to be emo. The good songs are brilliant but as I said, there are not enough. I would have been disappointed with the gig, even with some of the genuine funny banter and attempts to engage the audience. And who comes back on stage for a one song encore? /sigh.

The review:

Jaret Reddick, leader singer and guitarist with Bowling For Soup, says at one point on 'Live And Very Attractive' that he won't get a proper job as he cannot understand how people work if they are not allowed to drink. An interesting, if slightly irresponsible, philosophy. But this fuels the band's first recorded gig at the Manchester Apollo in the UK, as part of the 2007 'Get Happy Tour'. The on-stage footage is interspersed with 'documentary' of the band's before and after show antics, typically involving alcohol and toilet humour. The DVD package also has an audio only version of the concert.

The Set List

'My Hometown'
'High School Never Ends'
'Ohio (Come Back To Texas)'
'The Bitch Song'
'I'm Gay'
'The Last Rock Show / Punk Rock 101'
'When We Die'
'Girl All The Bad Guys Want'


[b]'Ring Of Fire'

The first highlight is the duo of 'Emily' and 'Almost', after the attention grabbing expletives of 'My Hometown', separated by a brief glimpse of the band sound checking. 'Emily' is delivered well and introduces the band's obsession with audience participation. 'Almost' is a slightly different animal and is complete with the 'big emo breakdown' as Reddick invites the audience to 'sigh for the emo kids'. It is another attempt to shake off the constant 'emo' tag pinned on the band by the media. Before the song, there is footage of fans queuing for a London gig taken with a hand camera from a high window. The band get the crowd to sing a quick preview. The opening songs are among the best from 'Drunk Enough To Dance' and 'A Hangover You Don't Deserve'. Reddick then makes a point of thanking the band's 'support' on the tour - Army Of Freshmen, Zebrahead and The Bloodhound Gang.

From here things get a bit shaky. There is a decent interview, conducted in the back of a car, about touring and the difference between UK and US fans. Then they meet some fans in the street who are typically over-excited and hyped up. Back in the gig, someone throws chocolate on stage for larger-than-life guitarist Chris Burney to eat - which he does, before the band launch into an early song 'Suckerpunch'. Ironically it lacks the impact of the previous songs. 'High School Never Ends', one of the singles from the band's latest and disappointingly average album 'The Great Burrito Extortion Case', continues the slump. If you joined Bowling For Soup at 'A Hangover You Don't Deserve' then you might not be used to the normal punk-pop version of 'Belgium' from 'Rock On Honourable Ones!!'. It is good but works better as a cheesy boy band parody. Reddick again breaks in the middle, this time for a 'drinks break'.

Another great song follows: 'Ohio (Come Back To Texas)' is received with energy and enthusiasm by the crowd who get to sing along again. The band attempt to capture the 'live' section of the studio version with some success and there is an odd ending when they walk off and are replaced by 'another' band for the finish. After a brief, but ultimately tedious, ramble about 'having penis on the brain', the gig continues with 'The Bitch Song' - another early hit. The vocals are starting to get slack, particularly in the 'la la la' mid-section and Reddick makes himself laugh. At least they are still having fun.

'I'm Gay' is introduced as 'a song about being happy'. Reddick asks "how many people have a lot of fun at rock 'n' roll concerts?" and some unfortunate editing cuts to a nervous young woman in the front row who isn't quite sure. The song is a joke too far and another example of why 'The Great Burrito Extortion Case' is not that great. The combination of 'The Last Rock Show / Punk Rock 101' works well, even with the breaks. This time the band stop for a 'photo opportunity', posing on stage for the crowd to take pictures. Burney treats us to a 'dance' and Reddick reminds everyone that they are still in the middle of a song. The band then finish 'Punk Rock 101'. Reddick gets serious and asks the audience not to make him laugh before the anthemic 'When We Die', an inferior rework of 'Where To Begin' from 'Drunk Enough To Dance'.

The gig closes predictably with the two big singles: 'Girl All The Bad Guys Want' and the fantastic '1985'. The band pull it together for a decent finale even if both tracks are interrupted with more breaks - firstly for an inflatable 'air guitar' rant and then for the final audience sing-a-long. There is another protracted scene when edible underwear is thrown on the stage. Then the gig ends with a mock argument about who farted on stage as the band walk off. The inevitable encore, after the crowd are left to chant 'more' for what seems like hours, is the punk version of 'Ring Of Fire' by Johnny Cash. But not before the guitarists assume each other's places and re-introduce themselves unflatteringly as the person they are not. It is another funny moment of alleged spontaneity. The cover is very good but a one song encore obviously leaves the audience wanting more. A sudden and frustrating end.

Bowling For Soup is a funny band. Or so they would have us believe. They seem to have a natural laid-back, care-free demeanour that must frustrate record company executives as much as it excites fans. How much of their work is meticulously planned only they will know, but they hide it well. But 'Live And Very Attractive' ultimately needs more songs. The 'documentary footage' contains very little substance and usually involves the band making fun of each other, talking about poo (a running theme during the gig is the annoying 'poop counter' which captures the amount of time bodily functions are mentioned), and getting drunk. Reddick is an engaging lead singer, all wild hair and boyish charm, who loves connecting with the audience. If anything, he lets this interrupt the songs too much, spoiling the flow, and coupled with the backstage footage there is a fragmented start/stop feel about the whole thing. It would be good to have a 'concert' only option on the DVD to strip out the often crude, drunken and pointless interludes. As for the version with video 'commentary', Reddick's cynical introduction, the band recording it in a local bar and the complete lack of genuine content, sums it up. Combining music and comedy is a fine art and Bowling For Soup do this well. But sometimes they just need to let the songs do the joking.
-- CS (for The Music Magazine 2008)

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Bowling For Soup - Live And Very Attractive DVD Preview

Bowling For Soup release their first 'Live' DVD and Album next month. Recorded at the Manchester Apollo and part of the Get Happy Tour, it shows the band at their funny, chaotic best.

The set list is:
  • My Hometown
  • Emily
  • Almost
  • Suckerpunch
  • High School Never Ends
  • Belgium
  • Ohio (Come Back To Texas)
  • The Bitch Song
  • I'm Gay
  • The Last Rock Show / Punk Rock 101
  • When We Die
  • Girl All The Bad Guys Want
  • 1985
  • Ring Of Fire
The gig footage is interspersed with backstage antics shot before and after the gig, mainly involving the band getting drunk, acting badly and the odd bits of genuine interview revelation. The DVD comes with an audio only CD of the whole, largely unedited, concert.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Matthew Ryan - New single Hold On Firefly

I have written another review: Hold On Firefly / Jane, I Still Feel The Same by Matthew Ryan for The Music Magazine.

America is full of musicians that only a select, privileged few have ever heard of. Matthew Ryan is one such musician, praised by his cult fans and more successful colleagues while never becoming a huge star. 'Hold On Firefly' / 'Jane, I Still Feel The Same' is a double A-side and first release from Ryan's eleventh album Matthew Ryan vs. The Silver State.

'Hold On Firefly' opens with a tangle of guitars and building drums before Ryan's rasp enters the fray. We are quickly into the upbeat, Dylan-esque chorus: "Hold on to me, hold on to me. You're gonna feel better. You're just afraid to leave". It is a wonderful slice of Springsteen slide-guitar Americana but within the song is a heartbreaking story. "Sugar gets bitter. She knows to watch her tongue. That bastard never hit her in front of anyone". Ryan says volumes with very few words: the mark of a good songwriter.

'Jane, I Still Feel The Same' could not be more different. The song is slower, subdued and much more comfortable for Ryan and his earthy voice; very reminiscent of Johnny Bramwell (I Am Kloot). The first half of this gorgeous love song is just Ryan and guitar but is transformed by chimes and strings which begin to further tug on your heart. "You were a good thing...In a world gone wrong" pours out emotion. He even gets away with "I'm living on Jupiter. I couldn't feel stupider".

At only thirty six Matthew Ryan is wise beyond his years. And he has a great band for the new songs including Brian Bequette and Steve Lantanation from previous band 'Strays Don't Sleep'. Ryan conveys understated emotion and depth in his songs while remaining engaging and believable. Two good songs from a compelling new album.
-- CS (for The Music Magazine 2008)

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Mojo Awards 2008

Yesterday was the 2008 Mojo Awards. Big congratulations to Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds for best album (Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!).

Led Zeppelin got best live act for one show and The Last Shadow Puppets got best breathrough act even though they were formed from two existing well-known bands. Duffy got song of the year for Mercy.

The winners in full...
  • Song Of The Year – Duffy
  • Best Live Act – Led Zeppelin
  • Outstanding Contribution To Music – Paul Weller
  • Icon Award – Sex Pistols
  • Classic Songwriter – Neil Diamond
  • Best Breakthrough Act – The Last Shadow Puppets
  • Best Album Award – Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!
  • Hero Award – Motorhead
  • Hall Of Fame – The Specials
  • Lifetime Achievement Award – Genesis
  • Special Award - Judy Collins
  • Legend Award – Irma Thomas
  • Classic Album Award – My Bloody Valentine for Loveless
  • Inspiration Award - John Fogerty
  • Roots Award - Toots Hibbert
  • Les Paul Award - John Martyn
  • Maverick Award - Mark E Smith
  • Vision Award - Julien Temple for The Future Is Unwritten
  • Compilation Of The Year - Juno Original Soundtrack
  • Catalogue Release Of The Year - Pillows & Prayers Cherry Red Records 1981-1984

New Leona Naess Single on YouTube

This is a semi-live acoustic version of the new single Heavy Like Sunday by Leona Naess.

Monday, 16 June 2008

Coldplay - Viva La Vida (Or Death And All His Friends) Album Review (2008)

After the massive album X&Y thrust Coldplay to the top of everyone’s ‘the worlds greatest bands’ list, it is hard to know what to expect from a new album. Like Radiohead after The Bends then OK Computer, and REM after Out Of Time and Automatic For The People, a band will inevitably crash after a musical high. The rise of Coldplay starts with A Rush Of Blood To The Head, a great album of well crafted songs, lyrics and musical talent. X&Y essentially does the same but in a vast sea of production - every space filled with something…different - fantastic one minute and inept the next. With the release of Viva La Vida (or Death And All His Friends), naturally expectations are high and the musical world holds its breath waiting for a rise or a fall.

Viva La Vida opens with the stirring instrumental ‘Life In Technicolor’ - a brave choice to start an album and, at just over two minutes, ironically, one of the best songs. The band’s characteristic blend of guitar, piano and drums pound out the ridiculously short piece. The only vocal contribution is a very cheesy and brief but entirely effective chorus of ‘ah, oh, oh’. It sounds like Chris Martin and Co. have been listening to the Mogwai back catalogue for inspiration on how to start the album. Five minutes longer and it would have been a fantastic closer.

From this great, teaser of an opening, ‘Cemeteries Of London’ is the first ‘proper’ song. Vocally lead, Martin is in pseudo-gothic mood. Like much of X&Y, for every great moment there is a another of baffling mediocrity. Some wonderful guitar work from Jonny Buckland is coupled with persistent annoying handclaps. There is an uplifting ‘la la la’ chorus and horribly trite lyrics about ‘talking to God’. Once a band who learned how to ‘finish’ songs, now they just add a quiet bit of piano on the end instead of finishing twenty seconds earlier.

‘Lost!’ starts with a great church organ sound but is again plagued by the dreaded handclaps. What is wrong with Will Champion’s drumming? It is stylist and inventive and should be left alone. The pace of the song is agonisingly slow, as Martin delivers more life reaffirming lyrics: ‘Every river that I tried to cross. Every door I ever tried was locked. And I’m just waiting til the shine wears off’. He then goes on to say ’You might be a big fish in a little pond. Doesn’t mean you’ve won coz along may come a bigger one’. This nursery rhyme style does nothing to help the song which never lifts from the relentless plod. Even when Martin changes the mood with ’Every gun you ever held went off. I’m just waiting til the firing starts’, instead of adding depth it feels out of place and awkward. On the plus side, the music is incredibly good - that mix of piano and guitar the band deliver so well.

‘42’ is an odd song. There are three distinct sections so it feels much longer, like a four minute distillation of a twelve minute prog-rock track. In the first section, the Lennon-esque piano is joined by Martin’s Lennon-esque vocals. The soul searching continues as he declares that ‘time is so short and I’m sure there must be something more’. We then get a brief wordless interlude before the song changes completely. Some more great guitars from Buckland threaten to turn Coldplay into Radiohead and provide a moment of genius but then section three starts and Martin crashes in with a curiously jolly vocal, repeating ‘You thought you might be a ghost. You didn’t get to heaven but you made it close’ before finishing quickly as the song began. Ultimately a complete mess.

The next two songs on Viva La Vida should be four separate songs. Why they are paired up, only the band will know. ’Lovers In Japan/Reign Of Love’ has another brilliantly soaring opening of piano which perversely is pushed right into the background to make way for Martin and a layer of guitars. Again the lyrics are questionable: ’They are turning my head out; to see what I'm all about’ is typical Martin musing but ‘Soldiers, you've got to soldier on’ is bordering on offensive. Great instrumentation is never matched by the vocal arrangement which lacks coordination and melody. There is a distinct lack of a tune. At four minutes ‘Reign Of Love’ starts (Martin pretentiously counts the band back in) with equally effective piano that is ruined by incessant background noise. It is like they have a need to fill every space and every gap of silence, with something, anything. As long as it’s filled. The song is like a reworking of ‘Kingdom Come’ but nowhere near as good. The lyrics are sparse but effective even if Martin does tell us at one point ‘My knees go praying’.

‘Yes’ is nearly a complete disaster. The band attempt to capture some darkness but more great music is spoiled by Martin’s attempt at a baritone. He is one of the only current lead singers who can do falsetto really well, and his voice has improved massively since Parachutes, but here it is all wrong. There is a great eastern feel created by scratchy violin. Martin finally gets back into his proper tone with the best part of the song: ‘So up they picked me by the big toe. I was held from the rooftop then they let me go. There's only screaming; let the windows down, as I come to the ground’. It is a rare moment of brilliance. Again, four minutes in and a new song starts. And it is genuinely good. This is ‘Chinese Sleep Chant’ and sounds so far from Coldplay that it could be an indie band from 1987. The lyrics are practically non-existent which gives less to complain about and the music just glides and soars as Martin adds an extra instrument: his voice - as it should be this time.Unlike X&Y, the title track on Viva La Vida is actually very good. Martin chronicles the ‘fall from grace’ of a nation within all the pomp and ceremony. It is a wonderfully written pop song, with structure and direction. Martin never sounds better than when he is singing: ‘I hear Jerusalem bells a ringing. Roman Cavalry choirs are singing. Be my mirror, my sword and shield. My missionaries in a foreign field’ over a choir of backing vocals. Yes it is overblown and overproduced but it works, yet echoing the current demeanour of a band running out of ideas.

But ‘Violet Hill’ continues the high standard, in spite of the stupid ’snow, white snow’ lyric right at the start. What other colour could it be? This sets the standard unfortunately as we go from ‘…the banks became cathedrals’ to ’and the fox became God’ and ‘Bury me in armour when I'm dead and hit the ground’ to ’my nerves are poles that unfroze’ (?). It is baffling song writing, inconsistent and at times dreadfully shallow. The line ‘Priests clutched onto bibles, hollowed out to fit their rifles. And the cross was held aloft’ is an attempt at religious controversy but it just falls on it’s face. Lyrics aside, the song is brilliantly conceived. In essence this is a personal song and this is highlighted in the only decent ending - all Martin and a simple piano. ‘If you love me, won’t you let me know?’. He could be asking his audience, in fear of the answer he will get back.

As the album draws to a close, ‘Strawberry Swing’ is interesting song - largely dispensing the big production. Martin is accompanied by a gorgeous guitar arrangement in the album’s only spine-tingling moment, as he sings: ’Now the sky could be blue. I don't mind. Without you it's a waste of time’. Brilliant.

The album closes with ’Death And All His Friends’ (the subtitle track, if there is such a thing). After the last few tracks, and a weak first half, we expect, no demand, a great closing track. The song starts delicately enough with Martin crooning enigmatically but then when Buckland adds a guitar loop, the production takes over and Coldplay turn into Status Quo. The drums crash dramatically, there is a guitar solo, then Martin (and band?) comes back before things dissolve. Only to return with a couple of minutes of space-aged ambience. Martin sings ‘And in the end we lie awake, and we dream of making our escape’. It sounds like a man struggling to come to terms with his predicament: he is trapped within his own band. It is an intriguing ending but ultimately vacuous.

The big problem with Viva La Vida is the complete lack of substance. Just because you add a CD cover featuring the French Revolution and dress in period costume in the iPod video, it doesn’t mean that somehow the songs transform into something poetic and meaningful. Moreover there is a hug lack of big songs. X&Y may be overblown overproduced nonsense but at least it had a few decent tunes. You spend the first half of the album waiting for a ‘White Sands’ or a ‘Fix You’ - that big ‘knockout’ moment of musical excellence. It just doesn’t happen. Only the last few songs really deliver in style.

But Coldplay are incredibly good, especially Jonny Buckland. There is no doubt that the band are a talented group but there is very little on Viva La Vida to do this talent justice. The band have claimed that they have dispensed with dense production and become less restrained. But they don’t seem to know when to stop tinkering and just left the songs speak for themselves. Maybe the addition of Brian Eno has failed miserably. Unlike previous albums, there is less to work with but more could have been achieved by adding less. After the rise of ‘A Rush Of Blood To The Head’ and the slide of ‘X&Y’, this is the inevitable, disappointing fall.
-- CS

Sigur Rós - Gobbledigook Review

Another published review for The Music Magazine.

After reviewing the new Sigur Rós album, I wrote a separate review for the lead single 'Gobbledigook'. The song is not typical of the new album but does capture the feel - more playful and light than 'Takk...'.

The review:

Iceland has always been known for its eccentric musicians and Sigur Rós are no exception. The band's music, defined by the fragile indigenous vocals of Jon Thor Birgisson, has an ethereal alien quality which verges on the epically orchestral while remaining delicate and restrained. This is what made 'Takk...', the band's 2005 masterpiece, such a commercial success.

'Gobbledigook' (the name probably eludes to the band's tendency to sing in their own invented language, Hopelanish) is the first single and opening song from the album 'Með Suð í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust' (translated as 'With A Buzz In Our Ears We Play Endlessly') and is an atypical Sigur Rós song. The band are not known for writing three minute pop songs, but that is what they have created. Opening with a mess of acoustic guitars and la-la-la vocals coupled with tribal drumming, the song quickly takes shape when Birgisson's voice adds structure. Even through the persistent barrage of drums and guitar, there are some wonderful moments and effective use of backing vocal harmonies, especially near the end. Much of Sigur Rós' music relies on rising and falling and intricate arrangements but here it just sounds like a band having fun.

'Gobbledigook' is an interesting single which does little to showcase the album. But it is something different and unexpected even if it does feel 'purpose built'. The alternative is a radio-edit of a much longer song and we all know they never work.

-- CS (for The Music Magazine 2008)

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Sigur Rós - Með Suð í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust Album Review (2008)

When a band create a new language in which to sing, you simply have to take notice. Iceland's Sigur Rós have been creating a blend of other-worldly music and unique vocals since their 1997 debut 'Von'. The band's masterwork 'Takk...' quickly propelled them into the world of adverts and backing music, with every television show jumping on the bandwagon. It is a brilliant and uplifting collection of songs full of soaring strings, stirring piano and Jon Thor Birgisson's engaging voice. So with the release of 'Með Suð í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust' (translated as 'with a buzz in our ears we play endlessly'), Sigur Rós have much to live up to.

Opener 'Gobbledigook', the nearest the band has come to a perfect three minute pop record, is all acoustic guitars, thumping drums and la-la-la vocals. 'Inní Mér Syngur Vitleysingur' attempts to capture the soaring elegance of 'Takk...' but is more understated. The strings are simple and never overwhelming as the song rises and falls only once to rise again at the end when the brass, vocals and piano fill your senses. The delicate vocals of 'Góðan Daginn', coupled with fragile instrumentation, create an ethereal and heavenly experience. The song fades for the last minute only to return for a superb but brief choral uplift.

'Við Spilum Endalaust' opens with more drums before Birgisson's vocals and piano send the song soaring. It is this wonderfully crafted juxtaposition between the sparse and the epic that Sigur Rós do so well. If anything the end arrangement gets too cluttered but the song is a definite highlight. The choral Hopelandish vocals of the gargantuan 'Festival' are astonishing. Birgisson is alone in a sea of ambience for the first half. Drums appear at the mid point, transforming the song completely as the momentum and strings build. It is predictable Sigur Rós trickery but it defines their unique and compelling sound. Multiple layers of vocals assault the senses as guitars and drums build again for a tremendous kitchen sink-esque climax. And, strangely, some whistling...

'Með Suð í Eyrum' could be described as effortless; a piano loop, a rolling scraping drum track and more of Birgisson's angelic vocals. 'Ára Bátur' is another huge piece but a simple arrangement of voice and piano. Thankfully we don't get a repeat of 'Festival'. Instead the piano builds slowly and the transformation is more gradual before a full orchestra crash in for the last minute. The effect is breathtaking. 'Illgresi', in contrast, is more of a folk ballad with Birgisson weaving his voice around the guitars. 'Fljótavík' is another brilliant vocal performance set to strings and 'Straumnes' is a short soft interlude. Closing track 'All Alright' is the only song Birgisson sings in English. His delivery is so delicate that it is hard to tell.

The music of Sigur Rós can be described with one word: Beautiful. And 'Með Suð í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust' is a beautiful album. It has all the majesty of 'Takk...' but is more restrained and elegant, opting for subtly over big piano loops and huge orchestral arrangements. At times the album gets lost in the band's own world and severs the connection to its audience but for the most part Sigur Rós have lived up to our expectations.


-- CS (for The Music Magazine June 2008)

Friday, 6 June 2008

Boys by The Maybes?

Another Music Magazine review.

The Maybes? are an exciting new band from Liverpool who sound a bit like early Razorlight.

The review:

There are a few similarities between Liverpool quintet The Maybes? and the early raw energy of Razorlight. But Nick Ellis, vocalist and lead guitarist with the band, is not just another Johnny Borrell; he has his own unique style and sound.

'Boys', the second single from debut album 'Promise', continues the tradition of great British guitar music. The approach is direct and punchy as the swathe of guitars, drums and vocals quickly blend and intertwine. The band step up a notch on the short but anthemic chorus, as Ellis tells us how "Boys will be boys...and we're lost in the city tonight'. At the two minute mark, the music rises to the definitive high point as the guitars and drums reach a crescendo before dropping away to let Ellis back to finish the story. The song epitomises lad-culture without sounding, well, too much like a bunch of lads.

'Boys' is a wonderfully crafted guitar pop song and will be a great addition to 'Promise'. Liverpool seems to produce great guitar bands - let's hope The Maybes? are destined to be one of them.

-- CS (for The Music Magazine)

I Was A Cub Scout Split

It isn't every day that a new band have such an impact and then decide that enough is enough. Yesterday I Was A Cub Scout posted this on their MySpace page:
"Hello friends, here goes. Tonight (June 5) we have decided that I Was A Cub Scout has and must now come to a close. We have had countless problems over the past year or so and with yet more occurring we it best to end on what would seem like a decent note. We will be honouring all of our UK shows of which we have confirmed, with the iTunes festival at KOKO with Death Cab For Cutie on July 14 being our last. We will speak more of it all soon, but for now we must tour. It is a very sad day for us."
The band's debut (and now only album) I Want You To Know That There Is Always Hope is one of my top 5 albums of the year. Such a shame that a promising band have split but they have there reasons.

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Music News for June 2008 - Feeder and Sigur Ros

New album from Feeder! Released on 16th June, Silent Cry sounds a lot more heavy and edgy if new single We Are The People is anything to go by. The anthem-like quality is all there which is a good sign. The spooky video for the single is below.

Sigur Ros have a new album, titled 'með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust' (with a buzz in our ears we play endlessly). The band played a five set preview for Colin Murray on BBC Radio1 (probably the best show on Radio 1 now - RIP John Peel and sorry Annie Nightingale). The new single Gobbledegook (a joke title based on the fact the band sing in their own invented language). It is a slightly different sound than the last few albums - more acoustic, less strings and stripped down. You can download is for free at and watch the new ‘adult’ video. You have been warned!

The Ting Tings - We Started Nothing Album Review (2008)

One band has been on everyone’s lips since the end of 2007 - The Ting Tings. Tipped for major stardom by fans and media alike, when the band finally re-released the single That’s Not My Name, it went straight to number one in the UK singles chart. They have appeared in an iPod advert with Shut Up And Let Me Go, were invited to perform on Later…with Jools Holland and headlined the NME awards tour. But can the stylish duo, the enigmatic Katie White and Jules De Martino, live up to the continuing hype machine?

We Started Nothing is stacked to the front with the band’s best known songs. This isn’t such a bad thing as it leave the second half of the album open for new ideas and a chance to try something different. The album kicks off, in less than overwhelming style, with Great DJ. From the dour guitar opening to White’s disinterested vocals, highlighting the folly of a nine to five existence, the song finally gets going. The sparse lyrics of the chorus are brilliantly stretched out to twenty five seconds thanks to a few As and Es and White repeating ‘drums’ over and over again.

Big single That’s Not My Name is nothing short of pop perfection. Even at five minutes running time, it does everything. White’s opening ramble sounds completely improvised, as does the instrumentation, all drums and hand claps. But again the band’s knack for catchy choruses gives everything a lift. Again White sounds bored but bitter at the same time. When the duo struggled in their own bands before finding each other, the whole torrid experience left them alienated and frustrated with the music scene. And this seems to be the result. De Martino adds some great backing vocals, barely audible. White goes on to ask “Are you calling my darling? Are you calling me bird?” over some interesting guitars before the main vocal stomp in again. This must be a nightmare to perform live, particularly when a fourth vocal track emerges. It is a wonderful effect thanks to modern technology. De Martino gets the last word before a rather uninspired, but entirely appropriate, ending. A great song.

Fruit Machine, predictably full of quirky electronic samples, beeps and jangling coins, is a completely different formula. The verses are punchy around a slightly vacuous series of ‘ka-ching’ moments. Again White provides her own backing vocals, so the duo sound more like a band full of shouty teenagers. But the pace is relentless, even through the guitar break and White’s closing vocals. Yet behind all this quirky exterior is a cleaver song trying to get out. Lyrically “You hit the button one hundred times before. Now feel the fever as I leave you wanting more” and “hold me, nudge me, spinning me around. Where’s the money, can’t hear that clinking sound” add to the metaphor as White tells us that money can’t buy her love, and even then it’s a gamble. More signs of the band’s contradictory brilliance.

Traffic Light could be a completely different band. White’s vocals are light and airy and this time the subject is wrapped up in a road themed nursery rhyme: “Don’t you be a roundabout, not another roundabout. We’ve come this far yet back to the start. Don’t you be a roundabout”. It almost works. But there are too many musical gaps that sound like someone left a Casio keyboard on demo mode. White’s closing vocals (again layered) are great, as are the strings but it’s an idea stretched.

The final song of the first half is arguably the best musically. Shut Up And Let Me Go, with its funky guitars and crackly electronica, introduces White back to familiar vocal territory. Again, at times, it sounds like several layered vocal tracks, especially on the punchy chorus. There are more great lyrics within a seemingly air-headed delivery. “Holding me, I’m not containable. This time love is not sustainable” and “Moving on you’re not adorable. I want something un-ignorable”. Apparently they are smart enough to invent new words.

Keep Your Head starts the unknown and new part of the album. It is more 80s pop than anything before and White is superb, newly enthused as if performing new songs is something of a release after a set full of over-used back catalogue. White is now singing about the loneliness of fame and the emptiness of life beyond performance: “You know it’s over but you just can’t sleep. You’ve gotta face it - gotta go outside and do the day walk. Living with the lights off - Ain’t nobody home”. At just over a minute to go, the synths and (now) trademark layered vocals come back in.

Be The One is more of the same with White in more subdued, reflective mode, very reminiscent of Kathryn Williams. The production is also a lot softer. The band seems to have discovered a more complete sound with some gorgeous instrumentation as White asks “What you gonna offer now?”. They continue the art of finishing songs on style with some great strings and yes, layered (yawn) vocals. But it works so why change it?

We Walk starts with a delicate piano intro. Everything has suddenly got serious…then White comes in with breathy sultry wordless vocals before starting the song proper. This is a lot darker than the big ’hits’ but just as effective. The opening verse sums up the band’s position, in reaction to the current ’hype’: “You never alter. You’re always you. Everything’s breaking but I don’t care. Smash the rest up. Burn it down. Put us in the corner ’cause we’re into ideas”. This is the most sensible straight-forward song on the album. Excellent stuff.

Impacilla Carpisung is a strange song. White’s vocals are barely understandable, a mixture of English and gibberish. Maybe that is the effect the band were going for. Musically too it is a hotchpotch of ideas and styles, a thumping bass line, airy drums and some synths. Given that the band were showing some substance this feels like a step backwards.

The title track of We Started Nothing appears at the end of the album. At just over six minutes, it is a musically odyssey that will have Mark Ronson spinning in his one-dimensional talentless grave. A wonderful guitar loop forms the structure of the song and White’s voice is up a notch, more reminiscent of a female James Murphy (LCD Soundsystem). As the song progresses, the brass section emerges, a great addition - never overbearing and simple. It makes a great musical outro to the song and the album, leaving you wanting much much more. The closing lyric “All you know, ice is just a face skin deep” is intriguing.

We Started Nothing is an interesting album title - immediately suggesting that none of this frenzy and hype is anything to do with the band. They are not trend setters but genuine musicians to be taken seriously. Within a quirky indie-pop sound is real substance. There is no argument that White and De Martino are talented and this is a great debut. De Martino’s production may be a little one dimensional at times, relying on the same tricks, but it is never heavy-handed. It is an album split between the past and the present. Once the ‘hits’ are over with, a new sound develops. If anything, because of the expectation and pressure, the second half of the album is better than the first. As for the hype? Sometimes it is worth believing.

-- CS

Monday, 2 June 2008

Music Magazine Review - Neon City EP by The Exits

My first published review for The Music Magazine is Neon City EP by The Exits :)

The Exits are a new band from Portsmouth. Check them out if you like bands like Kasabian, Primal Scream etc.

The review:

The Exits are a four piece from Portsmouth (UK), formed in 2005 and making their recording debut with the four track EP, 'Neon City'.

'Neon City' opens with the title track, a pulsating wave of oscillating synths introducing singer Ray Charlton, part Ian Brown, part Tom Meighan (Kasabian). It is clear that the early days of playing Oasis covers in pubs is still present in his vocal delivery as he howls through the distorted microphone. The song takes shape as the rest emerge, guitarist Mike Keating adding a simple effective loop through frantic electronic beats, driving bass and drums. Charlton does very little with sparse lyrics, more style than substance. The line: "Neon City does sound pretty, got my friends, got my lover, come out at night you better run for cover" will not win many awards. The song then descends into emo-metal shouting and some very lazy guitars.

'Three Minute Warning' starts predictably with a chorus of wailing sirens leading into some great stomping electronica and crashing drums. There are more echoes of Kasabian in Charlton's opening vocals, this time the lyrics are a more dense stream of consciousness with lines like: "She cuts me down with her poison tongue as I try to run, it's far too tough and I will lie down but I won't die young but then all I've done is never good enough". At the three minute point, when by rights the song should be over, a brief respite (more sirens and some very laboured drumming) brings back more electro-bass and synthesisers. What would have been a promising climactic instrumental outro ends up a mess of vocals and lost ideas.

The start of 'You Gotta Help Me Out' is a misleading mess of fuzzy synths, quickly forming into a wonderful fusion of guitars and beats. Charlton is much more controlled and focused in his vocals, a steady force amid the frantic instrumentation. After an unsteady start, the band finally deliver a fine pop song. The final track 'Fever' is just as accomplished. Keating's guitars are sublime and Charlton shows more of his great voice. The lyrics are much more personal: "Wake up in the morning and I can't move. I get tired of thinking but what can I do? Take a look in the mirror, what do I see? Twenty five years old - what's wrong with me?". Youthful angst or anti-emo irony?

'Neon City' plays like a chronology of a band trying to find their own distinctive sound. The second half proves that The Exits can mix confident style with a blend of indie guitars and dance based electronic beats. A promising start.
-- CS (for The Music Magazine 2008)