Monday, 31 August 2009

Music Chart 2009 - August

A small but mixed bag for August: the brilliant Dawn Landes, the hopeless Jet, and I finally got the new Yeah Yeah Yeah's album (which is good. Updated positions for Bat For Lashes and Wintersleep (technically not a 2009 album but hey...) - both excellent albums.
  1. Horehound - The Dead Weather
  2. To Lose My Life - White Lies
  3. Two Suns - Bat For Lashes
  4. Wait For Me - Moby
  5. Welcome To The Night Sky - Wintersleep
  6. We Are The Same - The Tragically Hip
  7. Sweetheart Rodeo - Dawn Landes
  8. Yeah So - Slow Club
  9. Scream - Chris Cornell
  10. Battle For The Sun - Placebo
  11. Hands - Little Boots
  12. Dark Was The Night - Various
  13. Alpinisms - The School Of Seven Bells
  14. Sea Sew - Lisa Hannigan
  15. It's Blitz - Yeah Yeah Yeahs
  16. 21st Century Breakdown - Green Day
  17. The High End Of Low - Marilyn Manson
  18. Kingdom Of Rust - Doves
  19. Fork In The Road - Neil Young
  20. Not Without A Fight - New Found Glory
  21. Riceboy Sleeps - Jónsi and Alex
  22. Fortress 'Round My Heart - Ida Maria
  23. Nonsense In The Dark - Filthy Dukes
  24. West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum - Kasabian
  25. Lovethief - Lunic
  26. Hey Everyone - Dananananaykroyd
  27. The Airborne Toxic Event - The Airborne Toxic Event
  28. Rockwell - Anni Rossi
  29. Shaka Rock - Jet

Thea Gilmore - Angels In The Abattoir Update (August 2009)

It's the second month of Thea Gilmore's Angels In The Abattoir and this means another new song (just the one this time after the double debut for July!).

This month is 'old' lyrics set to a new song, How Will You Know.

Thea found the lyrics that were written around 2004, so that was just after the release of Avalanche, and began setting them to new music. It was recorded last week using a bass borrowed from Ian McNabb, the vocals 'nailed' in one take. And very good it is too, having a very Avalanche-ish vibe. Maybe my question about making another album full of swirling space-aged electronica has had some impact - even though Thea said she is not a Muse fan so a collaboration of 'epic' proportions has been well and truly ruled out...

As for the song, the chorus is magnificent with more great vocals. It has a "dreamy shoe-gazy vibe" that's not quite The Jesus And Mary Chain and shimmers with spiky sampled percussion. It starts washed in melancholy before the chorus breaks through the dark clouds.

In her own words...

"So there it is. A little Thea 4 chord trick, with a title one word away from being confuse-able with a perky Whitney Houston classic. Well come on what were you expecting me to say? That it's an existentialist whimper from the foggy realms of self doubt where personal and professional identities become scrambled? Cos I'm not going to."

The hand-written lyrics are being shipped in a few weeks!

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Dawn Landes - Sweetheart Rodeo Album Review (2009)

The wonderful follow-up to Fireproof from Dawn Landes is a near-perfect example of how to make an album. From an artist who knows her way around a recording studio, has worked as part of a band, as a producer and as a solo artist with a band, Landes weaves stories and tales into subtle vocal melodies and delicate arrangements.

My review for The Music Magazine.

With many well established genres, there are musicians who flirt with the accepted formula. They pick at the edges and circle around trying to find an angle, and when they find it they dip in and out but don't embrace the sounds and textures with full commitment. Country is one of those institutions. And Dawn Landes is one of those musicians. Like the music of Ryan Adams and Josh Ritter, this is the acceptable sound of a genre so sacred that it has nations divided as they choose between Johnny Cash and the Dixie Chicks, while stalwarts ignore the modern world and put on another Hank Williams single, as dusty and crackling as a slowly fading history. You don't mess with tradition. But it's okay to let it steer you in the right direction.

Sweetheart Rodeo is the follow-up to the brilliant Fireproof. Easily the best song from this album is the astonishing Bodyguard. Nothing on Sweetheart Rodeo comes close but as a complete body of work it is better than the spiky and often dark nature of Fireproof. Landes is much more light-hearted and reflective here. This is the general vibe of the new album and with her sultry vocals, somewhere between the hard directness of Suzanne Vega and the floating softness of Laura Veirs, Sweetheart Rodeo is a pure joy.

Opener Young Girl has a 60s feel, very reminiscent of The Raveonettes, shimmering and dancing through three minutes of slightly uneasy dark overtones. An excellent introduction. Romeo takes a whimsical turn, weaving a nursery rhyme melody through a basic percussion and piano backing. Into the last minute and the lyrical structure descends into a brilliant section of backing vocals and day-dreamy musing. Money In the Bank kicks off with "Money in the bank, the night before you die, what are you gonna buy?" starting the bitter-sweet tale of anti-capitalism. The use of brass and the delicate two-part chorus is simply wonderful.

Love is an odd experimental fusion of sparkling psychedelia and pumping bass, disintegrating into a squeaky mass of sounds and howling vocals. An interesting diversion from the formula. Sweetheart Of The Rodeo is the unofficial title track, a full-on rock song swathed in acoustic instruments and startling harmonica with one of the best string-picking 'guitar solos'. Clown is another slice of fun, underpinned with a bontempi 'demo track'. This leads into Wandering Eye, a great example of how vocal melody can augment a simple idea. More harmonica fills the spaces between Landes listing American landmarks and more: " Atlanta and Texarkana, Alabama and Texaco, Mexico and al-fresco...".

Little Miss Holiday is gorgeous story telling of female companionship. "If I'd have known her better, I'd have wrote her name in a little letter, tied some hundred dollar bills together, sugar and spice don't stick together, like girls, working girls, two working girls...". The pace-change in the chorus is a sudden attraction and there is more subtle use of exquisite bass. Dance Area is just over two minutes of vocal perfection and Brighton soars with understatement. The album closes with the short and sweet All Dressed In White, again mixing artificial backing with traditional melodies and wordless vocals.

Sweetheart Rodeo is not as much of a country album as the name would suggest. The misconception also come from the labels provided by the popular press, branding Landes as one of 'the grand old dames of country' which is yet more pigeon-holing for the masses. Sweetheart Rodeo is American through and through but it escapes tags and labels used to explain it's roots thanks to a wonderful modern interpretation of an old-fashioned world. Dawn Landes is a constant revelation and has made another masterpiece of theatre, landscape and storytelling.

-- CS (for The Music Magazine)

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Noel quits Oasis

The inevitable has happened, Noel Gallagher has left Oasis because he can no longer work with his brother Liam. He announced the 'split' on the band's website.

"People will write and say what they like, but I simply could not go on working with Liam a day longer."

The band are (or were) in the middle of a tour and Noel apologised to fans who have tickets. Earlier the Paris gig was cancelled due to 'an altercation within the band'.

So what's my take on all this? Does this mean the end of the band. Yes it does. Everyone knows that the combination of two brothers is cohesive and inspiring but also volatile and highly strung. Oasis always had problems and we all knew, thanks to Noel's honesty and Liam's wild-lifestyle persona and his reactions to the media. The relationship has always been fractious.

As the moist-eyed nostalgic I am, I will remember listening to Definitely Maybe over and over again, hit after hit from Live Forever to Columbia to Up In The Sky to Slide Away. It's a fantastic guitar-fest brimming with attitude, swagger and wide-eyed optimism. I admit that I fell out of love with the band after Be Here Now and with only The Masterplan to ease my woes, the music and the success-story ran rapidly downhill...for me anyway. The retrospectives (and there have been a few already), playing the 'hits' have been focusing on the early years. And rightfully so. Don't Believe The Truth and Dig Out Your Soul have been brave attempts to get back to the highs of the late nineties but nothing in the last ten years is anything worth talking about.

So I'm sad about this but like Michael Jackson, the best of Oasis has always been in the dim and distant past. Back when the band worked through trials and tribulations, arguments and friction, there was always great music. That ended a long time ago for me.

The media are reporting this not as a split but as Noel quitting. Can Oasis go on without Noel? I think the lyrics to Acquiesce sum things up...

I don't know what it is that makes me feel alive
I don't know how to wake the things that sleep inside
I only wanna see the light that shines behind your eyes
I hope that I can say the things I wish I'd said
To sing my soul to sleep and take me back to bed
You want to be alone when we could be alive instead

Because we need each other

We believe in one another

And I know we're going to uncover what's sleepin' in our soul

Because we need each other

We believe in one another

I know we're going to uncover what's sleepin' in our soul

What's sleepin' in our soul

There are many things that I would like to know

And there are many places that I wish to go

But everything's depending on the way the wind may blow

I don't know what it is that makes me feel alive
I don't know how to wake the things that sleep inside
I only wanna see the light that shines behind your eyes

Because we need each other

We believe in one another

And I know we're going to uncover what's sleepin' in our soul

Because we need each other

We believe in one another

And I know we're going to uncover what's sleepin' in our soul

What's sleepin' in our soul

As for the future, see you all at Glastonbury 2012, the summer of the London Olympics, and the big reformed Oasis headline gig...

What Blur can do, Oasis can always do better.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Bob Dylan 'Christmas In The Heart'

Bob Dylan is releasing a Christmas album, Christmas In The Heart, on October 13th this year.

Songs will include covers of Winter Wonderland and Little Drummer Boy with all proceeds going to the Feeding America charity.

BBC link.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Jet - Shaka Rock Album Review (2009)

The new album from Australian rock band Jet. A review for The Music Magazine.

Oh Jet, how we have missed you. Has it really been three years since the last album? After a decent debut (Get Born) and some solid singles (Are You Gonna Be My Girl and Rollover DJ), Jet brought an acceptable level of 70s influenced rock at a time when indie was dead and Oasis were growing up and getting boring (see Heathen Chemistry). The band shook things up and reminded us of when The Rolling Stones were good (ironically the band ended up supporting The Stones on tour which must have been a joy for all involved...). And the band never looked back, or forward, as the new album shows. Some music is beyond analysis, so much so that no manner of critical dissection and scrutiny will uncover anything more than first impressions reveal. Shaka Rock is just not very good.

The biggest let down is the lyrics. Unintelligent and obvious clichés mix with trite pseudo-rhyming and truly horrible scansion on every track. This is beautifully demonstrated on big opener K.I.A (subtitled Killed In Action just in case you don't know what the acronym means): "I live in the middle of a combat zone, I'm too scared to pick up the phone; I went to the market to fill up my heart, now I'm in a coma; state of the art". As an opening line it's pretty terrible and things don't get much better. Musically it's not bad and the chorus packs a punch even if Chester is singing about supermarkets, 4x4s and ditches full of VCRs.

When Shaka Rock is bad, it's really bad. Beat On Repeat is The Clash taking the piss out of LCD Soundsystem. Black Hearts (On Fire) goes from limp-wrist to disjointed hopeless mess. Seventeen doesn't know what it is, a mixed up fusion of laboured guitars, lame chorus and relentless pounding piano. But La Di Da sums up the approach perfectly. It starts ok, all spiky guitars and spitting lyrics, until we get the line: "I don't know anymore what I need and what for, all I know is there must be something more". Stop wondering and find it! Onward, Walk is astonishingly awful, blending the stylised swagger of Kasabian with the vacuous nonsense of PJ and Duncan. Times Like This reworks The Doobie Brothers and has the most bizarre shouty chorus. "From the Hollywood Hills to Ecuador, everyone's the same when they hit the floor". Again, another apt line. "Times like this, you need your rock 'n' roll" will have you reaching for the latest Dance Anthems compilation. If there is a better Bryan Adams rip-off this century than Let Me Out then it's not worth hearing.

Shaka Rock has it's moments. She's A Genius kicks off like The Black Keys. Fantastic! But the cool muddy guitar riff is the only redeeming feature. Chester's over-the-top vocals vomit over everything and leave your pounding hangover aching for something stronger than codeine. The final minute is a master class of simple, full-on, in-yer-face pop-rock. Goodbye Hollywood tries so hard to be good but ends up a bad Counting Crows imitation. Even when the band escape the shackles of the past, they just move a bit further into the recent past. The song concludes with another decent last minute; free flowing and genuinely good. Start The Show will be the new gig opener - it's that obvious. All but the last minute (that's three decent minutes!) is horrible before a massive guitar ending kicks in. You can almost picture the accompanying light-show.

Shaka Rock ends well but it's too little too late. She Holds A Grudge is an honest open-hearted love song and the best writing on the album. Within the pseudo-country backing is a proper song trying to escape a band that are painfully out of ideas.

But one thing remains the biggest dividing line: lead singer Nic Chester. He is both the driving force of the band and the constant irritation bellowing the vocals when a more subtle approach is required. Even in the quieter moments, Jet's vocalist turns it up to eleven and then finds one more notch on the amp. Chester's voice is a constant and nagging problem. So is the band's reluctance to move forward and stop recycling the past. Retro is great if you turn it into something new and interesting. It's a shame then that Shaka Rock tries so hard and does too much. Call it irony, call it having fun, call it retro-rock-chic (actually, probably not), it doesn't work unless the songs are good. Sadly, predictably and ultimately, they are not.

-- CS (for The Music Magazine)

Monday, 17 August 2009

Radiohead - These Are My Twisted Words

The Radiohead PR continues and in anticipation of a new EP, an unreleased song was leaked onto YouTube last week. Now the band has officially posted the song These Are My Twisted Words on the Radiohead website Dead Air Space.

After the dreadful, but perfectly well intentioned and generous, Harry Patch (In Memory Of), this is a proper song with echoes of a band full of inspiration and incredible talent. After a dark, yet urgent, build-up of rolling guitars, bass and drums, it sounds like a reject from the Kid A recordings. The atmosphere is wonderfully industrial with Reznor-esque edges. Yorke joins in after almost three minutes, this time clear and coherent and with purpose.

A delicious combination and hopefully a portent from a future in which Radiohead return to the days of making decent music; now the band has a solid business model as even better it is free on the website.

You can download it (and new artwork) here.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Them Crooked Vultures

It's not just Jack White who can form a new band every five minutes...

Them Crooked Vultures is the latest 'supergroup' this time featuring Dave Grohl (Nirvana, Foo Fighters), John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin) and Josh Homme (Queens Of The Stone Age).

Turning his back on the day job, Grohl told Mojo Magazine in 2005 "The next project that I’m trying to initiate involves me on drums, Josh Homme on guitar, and John Paul Jones playing bass," he explained. "That’s the next album. That wouldn’t suck."

And it now looks like the collaboration is happening. And the rumours were confirmed by Jesse Hughes from Eagles Of Death Metal (according to BBC 6music) who let it slip that "He’s doing his supergroup thing with Dave Grohl and John Paul Jones." and when asked if Homme was on tour with them, said"No, he’s actually with the Crooked Vultures."

This looks like an interesting new band who now have a MySpace page and a Twitter account . No music though and it's all very cryptic :(

Laura Marling opts for more not less

After her impressive debut Alas I Cannot Swim, Laura Marling told the world that she would go even more folk with her second record. She has now reversed that decision...

Laura Marling told BBC 6music that her plans to go 'medieval' with a follow-up were realised during a run-through of the new songs to producer Ethan Johns. It was definitely the right direction, she said. But this sudden epiphany quickly passed by and Marling says they came to their senses and opted for more instrumentation. Her current band, including musicians from Mumford & Sons and Tom Fiddle from Noah And The Whale, influenced her into a bigger record.

"The vibe of it is pretty different to the old stuff," she explained. "There's a lot more instrumentation. There's still a few solo songs but it's different."

"It's pretty traditional," she added. "We went and just rehearsed it for two weeks and came up with all the arrangements, the band and then myself and Ethan [Johns], so it is a lot more band-based than the last album."

So we could yet get a great follow-up to Peaceful, The World Lays Me Down by Noah And The Whale? A big tour is planned next year to promote the new album which is out in February 2010.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Radiohead reject the 'album'

It's a sad day when a band like Radiohead ditch the album in favour of internet released singles.

A few days ago, and inspired by the death of World War One veteran (in the true sense of the word - he was 111) Harry Patch, Radiohead released a tribute single with all of the proceeds (£1) being donated to The Royal British Legion. A noble and honourable gesture. But a horrible song, more a barely audible poem set to a trite orchestral backdrop. You have to admire the band's generosity, but also their timing and PR potential.

Returning to the subject, Thom Yorke and the boys have decided not to release any more albums. After In Rainbows I'm not surprised. It is clear from the songs that it was a painful process for everyone involved and they don't want to go through it again, in spite of words to the contrary declaring that a clear direction (the fixed idea about where they were going) got them through it.

Knowing Radiohead this could just be more PR, or a hissy fit against the establishment and more anti-conventional music industry rhetoric. Whatever, one band won't destroy the album. It’s a shame for them to think there is no artistic merit in composing and constructing an album – as a solid body of cohesive work and not just a random collection of songs. But that’s what the band thinks we are happy for them to drip feed us in the future.

Point is…albums get you noticed, and good albums get you fans. That’s how it is, how is was, how it always will be. I’m a huge fan of the album, connecting songs and telling stories. Random singles released on the internet just doesn’t inspire me. Call it the future but I want no part in it…

Monday, 3 August 2009

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Cambridge Folk Festival 2009

This year's Cambridge Folk Festival has passed me by this year. With not much on the BBC in spite of claims that BBC Four are broadcasting sets. But not until next month :(

"Also, on television, BBC FOUR will be broadcasting sets from some of the top acts featured at the festival."

"The series of three half-hour programmes are currently scheduled to transmit on BBC FOUR from Monday 14 Sept at 1930 and will also be available on BBC iPlayer for seven days after transmission."

Radio 2 have a highlights show broadcast on Saturday - obviously the Sunday line-up doesn't count, I will have to wait for Mike Harding on Wednesday for an update.

So who is playing this year? The full line-up is here.

Like most festivals these days, and I for one think that Cambridge would be exempt from this due to a small (in comparison with say Glastonbury) and eclectic loyal group of festival-goers, Cambridge is continuing to attract diversity. And I'm not talking about The Zutons who headlined Friday night. There seems to be a tradition of encouraging more mainstream 'pop' and 'indie' acts to pick of acoustic instruments and have a go. Some bands can adapt to this very well.

Booker T. played Saturday night and Los Lobos headlined. But the big names of Lucinda Williams, Martin Simpson, Jim Moray, The Watersons etc are always a good draw. Predictable shows from Eddi Reader, The Saw Doctors and Beth Nielson Chapman are mixed with turns from Imelda May, Cara Dillon and the always entertaining Hot Club Of Cowtown.

Cambridge is continuing to be a decent mix of old and new, keeping 'folk' alive at a time when everyone seems to be trying to reinvent it.