Monday, 28 February 2011

2011 Music Chart - February

New albums this month from Radiohead (The King of Limbs), The Joy Formidable (The Big Roar) and the mighty Mogwai (Hardhore Will Never Die, But You Will). No contest as to who is at number one this month.
  1. Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will by Mogwai
  2. The Big Roar by The Joy Formidable
  3. The Fool by Warpaint
  4. The King Of Limbs by Radiohead
  5. Buffalo by The Phoenix Foundation
  6. Ritual by White Lies

Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross win Oscar!

Nine Inch Nails front man and all round music genius Trent Reznor has reached yet another pinnacle of artistic achievement: he, alongside cohort and stalwart Atticus Ross, have won Best Original Score at the 2011 Academy Awards for The Social Network soundtrack. This is brilliant news. The pair won a Golden Globe earlier this year.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

NME Awards 2011 - The Winners

Congratulations again to Laura Marling who won best solo artist at this year's NME Awards! Best album went Arcade Fire's The Suburbs (they just can't stop winning awards) but the band lost out to My Chemical Romance who won Best International Band and Best Video. And Dave Grohl picked up the Godlike Genius.

The winners are:

Godlike Genius: Dave Grohl

Philip Hall Radar Award: The Naked And Famous

Teenage Cancer Trust Outstanding Contribution To Music: PJ Harvey

John Peel Award for Innovation: Crystal Castles

Best British Band (supported by Shockwaves)
Winners: Muse
Nominated: Arctic Monkeys, Biffy Clyro, Foals, Kasabian

Best International Band (supported by T4)
Winners: My Chemical Romance
Nominated: Arcade Fire, Kings Of Leon, The Drums, Vampire Weekend

Best Solo Artist
Winner: Laura Marling
Nominated: Florence Welch, Frank Turner, Kanye West, Paul Weller

Best New Band (supported by Boxfresh)
Winners: Hurts
Nominated: Beady Eye, Everything Everything, The Drums, Two Door Cinema Club

Best Live Band
Winners: Biffy Clyro
Nominated: Arcade Fire, Foals, Kasabian, Muse

Best Album
Winner: Arcade Fire – 'The Suburbs'
Nominated: Crystal Castles – 'Crystal Castles II', Foals – 'Total Life Forever', My Chemical Romance – 'Danger Days: The True Lives Of The Fabulous Killjoys', Two Door Cinema Club – 'Tourist History'

Best Track (supported by NME Radio)
Winner: Foals – 'Spanish Sahara'
Nominated: Cee Lo Green – 'Fuck You', Gorillaz – 'Stylo', Janelle Monae (featuring Big Boi) – 'Tightrope', Mark Ronson & The Business Intl. – 'Bang Bang Bang'

Best Video (supported by NME TV)
Winners: My Chemical Romance – 'Na Na Na (Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na)'
Nominated: Arcade Fire – 'We Used To Wait', Brandon Flowers – 'Crossfire', Chase & Status – 'Let You Go', Gorillaz – 'Stylo'

Best Festival
Winners: Glastonbury
Nominated: Download, Reading And Leeds Festivals, T In The Park, V Festival

Best Dancefloor Filler
Winners: Professor Green – 'Jungle'
Nominated: Crystal Castles – 'Baptism', Kele – 'Tenderoni', Plan B – 'Stay Too Long', Tinie Tempah – 'Pass Out'

Worst Album
Winners: Justin Bieber – 'My World'
Nominated: Cheryl Cole – 'Messy Little Raindrops', Katy Perry – 'Teenage Dream', Kings Of Leon – 'Come Around Sundown', My Chemical Romance – 'Danger Days: The True Lives Of The Fabulous Killjoys'

Worst Band
Winners: Jonas Brothers
Nominated: 30 Seconds To Mars, JLS, Kings Of Leon, Tokio Hotel

Best Band Blog or Twitter
Winner: Hayley Williams
Nominated: Frank Turner, Kanye West, Lily Allen, Theo Hutchcraft

Best Small Festival (50,000 capacity or lower)
Winners: RockNess
Nominated: Bestival, Kendal Calling, Latitude, Underage Festival

Best Album Artwork
Winner: Klaxons – 'Surfing The Void'
Nominated: Foals – 'Total Life Forever', Gorillaz – 'Plastic Beach', MGMT – 'Congratulations', My Chemical Romance – 'Danger Days: The True Lives Of The Fabulous Killjoys'

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Radiohead - The King Of Limbs (Album Review 2011)

It’s time to face the facts. Radiohead are not the band they used to be. In the nineties the band followed up a solid début with two incredible albums: The Bends and OK Computer, bringing awards (including a Grammy for the latter) and worldwide fame. But after this success the following decade provided only self-doubt and anxiety, both musically and personally for the band. Thom Yorke stated in Q Magazine that Radiohead came very close to breaking up and that he was suffering from depression, and it took three years for the band to return with a new sound: Kid A. After what had come before, to say the album is a challenging listen is an understatement. Bands and musicians reinvent themselves all the time but by anyone’s standards the transformation from OK Computer to Kid A is huge. This move into more fragmented, experimental and tense music is explained by the mind-set of the band at the time, especially Yorke. Kid A and follow-up Amnesiac were as difficult records to make they were for fans and critics to accept. So began the new Radiohead.

At the time it was not obvious but Radiohead had become the band they didn’t want to be. Music history is filled with tragic stories of the price of fame and the pressures it brings but with no demands from a record label and the media fallout of their change behind them, the band settled into their new life. Fans, mainly those aggrieved by the lack of an OK Computer 2 and the complete disintegration of the band they loved, were understandably divided. And they remain divided, five albums on from this musical schism. After the disappointing Hail To The Thief, In Rainbows was released for ‘a price of your choosing’ on Radiohead’s website. This radical and somewhat commercially absurd move gave the band a huge amount of publicity and got the industry thinking – oddly when the album was released ‘properly’ it topped the charts in the UK and the US (it would be great to think that those who got the album for free then went on to buy it). Album number five is The King Of Limbs, a fusion of the reborn Radiohead of Kid A and the focused comfortable Radiohead of In Rainbows.

Much of The King Of Limbs is centred on the cold, clinical electronic sound that has shaped the new albums. Drum machines, clicks and whirs, echoing vocals and short keyboard loops now replace long gliding guitars hooks, conventional bass, and standard verse-verse-chorus-verse rinse-and-repeat fare. A great example of this is Lotus Flower, the song at the heart of the album. A loose but discernible structure mixed with space-aged bleeps and a solid delicious bass line help to direct Yorke’s vocals. The main theme of his lyrics drags up the past and expose his new mentality: “We will shrink and be quite as mice. While the cat’s away we do what we want…” is trying to suggest that the band are now ‘out of sight and out of mind’ to old ‘fans’. And in ten years, Thom Yorke’s vocal has never sounded better than this.

An early highlight is Morning Mr Magpie, a clear euphemism for trying to regain past glory: “And now you stole it, all the magic; took my memories” sings Yorke with more than just a hint of bitterness. Musically the song races along, powered by stabbing guitars and drums, right up to a very downbeat ending. ‘Memories’ is replaced by ‘melody’ to complete the picture. Little By Little continues this theme. Better guitar-work and the rattling percussion are excellent. Yorke is more determined with this catharsis: “Obligation, complication, routines and schedules. Drug and kill you…” and “Never get noticed, never get judged. I’m no idiot, I should look” is straight, no nonsense and brilliant song writing.

One of the only problems with The King Of Limbs is an over-complication of songs that should be simple. Opener Bloom has a disjointed, stuttering, pots and pans backing track that gets even more scrambled at the halfway point. Yorke’s vocals vanish in favour of more chaos in the middle. Feral is the album’s worst moment, letting seemingly random ideas run riot without any control. Even the wonderful bass-heavy last minute or so cannot save it.

It is at the mid-point that the album settles down into stark minimalism for a much better second half. The dark piano-driven Codex, with its haunting effects and equally haunting vocal from Yorke, is a thing of beauty. Give Up On The Ghost’s dual vocal becomes three then four in a choir of wordless loops framed with acoustic guitar, bass drum and snake-tongue percussion. Closer Separator is wonderful and a sure sign that Radiohead is regaining some of their song craft that got them where they are today. Yorke’s vocal arrangement glides neatly atop mainly drums and bass. He ends with “Like I’m falling out of bed from a long and weary dream. Finally I’m free of all the weight I’ve been carrying. When I ask you again, wake me up”.

Radiohead’s past will always haunt them and the success of The Bends and OK Computer is now as much a curse as it is a blessing. Even though the album often feels like therapy, The King Of Limbs is the sound of a contented band but not a contended sound. It is as if they know what they want to do but bridging the gap between the past and the present has not yet happened. The King Of Limbs sounds like an attempt to make a better Kid A – to recreate musically all the newly found inspiration but without the tension and angst that tortured them personally – the songs from the first three albums with the sound of the last three. Radiohead are not there yet. And with eight songs and a thirty-seven minute running time, The King Of Limbs is unnervingly short. Free download single These Are My Twisted Words does not feature and would have made a good addition.

Ultimately there is more to life than music. The fact that Radiohead are still around and still making music is a very good thing. The alternative could have been much, much worse. And the way in which they are now doing this has much to be admired. Music should be challenging and engaging – pulling you in one minute and pushing you away the next. And the fact they are making the sort of music they want to make is part of the process. Finding the balance between self-satisfaction and giving the people what they want is hard, and if you are not comfortable in your own skin only you have the power to change that. So that is what Radiohead have done, to stay together, to survive as a band, and to keep making music. For good and for bad.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Mogwai - Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will (Album Review 2011)

It is not every generation that a band can make albums with such regular and consistent quality, and sheer musicality, that it can bring you to tears. In 2003 post-rock quintet Mogwai began this quest for perfection with Happy Songs For Happy People, full of delicious melodies and swirling guitars – a distinct progression from their third album Rock Action some two years earlier. It took three more years for Mr Beast to arrive – a much harder, darker venture into the Mogwai psyche and the best album the band had made, until the follow-up The Hawk Is Howling went one better as a supreme blend of textured sounds and arrangements. The album remains a perfect example of how to make music.

So it is expected that Mogwai’s seventh full-length album Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will has to live up to such high standards. It is expected that by now the band understand what to do and deliver it perfectly. And it is expected that they make The Hawk Is Howling sound like the last McFly album. Ok not quite. What Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will does is reaffirm the concept that after making such a great trilogy of albums, shifting sideways is always a better option than slumping backwards. And importantly, remembering where it all began is just as crucial as smart self-awareness.

For the first fifteen minutes, Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will delivers three five minute pieces that immediately satisfy. From the shimmering fuzzy guitars and jolly keyboards of White Noise through the robotic super-highway of Mexican Grand Prix to the grinding pulsating spectacular of Rano Pano, it is clear that this is Mogwai’s lighter side emerging from the moody seriousness of the last two albums. But things really take off with Death Rays, easily matching the beauty of Friend Of The Night and Kids Will Be Skeletons – in six minutes the song rises from quiet beginnings into an explosion of buzzing guitars, sky-reaching keyboards and crashing drums. This leads neatly into the positively poppy San Pedro, the closest thing Mogwai have to a three-minute radio-friendly masterpiece. Superb.

Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will delivers a gorgeous piano-led ballad with Letters To The Metro recalling the delicately poised Kings Meadow. The guitar work, especially in the second half, is wonderfully controlled. George Square Thatcher Death Party, making the band’s political views very clear (or simply a well-crafted observation), takes things up a level fusing 80s Poll Tax angst synths and big-hair guitars with thumping drums and robotic vocals. The whole things sounds like Moby collaborating with Jean Michel Jarre on a Ben Elton biopic. But the album’s second highlight is the magnificent How To Be A Werewolf – blending delicate guitar-work with a sublime arrangement. At the halfway point, the music lifts and deepens but never gets too heavy or too complex. A second guitar layer is added to augment the sound, ending in a whirling squealing solo amid the relentless bass-driven percussion.

After a somewhat sedate and upbeat start, Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will ends with two huge grinding guitar-led tracks. Too Raging To Cheers (possibly the most obscure Mogwai song title) is the first of two songs of two halves, all fragile keys, cymbals and exquisite strings in the first and then, after a brilliant mid-point, a lumbering behemoth of an ending. This is a great prelude to closer You’re Lionel Richie (another intriguing title) which again starts as an elegant ambient guitar piece and the best guitars on the album for the first four minutes. A second half pounds and grinds like industrial machinery fighting to be heard over stampeding buffalo in a chainsaw testing factory. A satisfying finale to one of the most varied Mogwai albums. For the chosen few, Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will closes with probably the most ambitious single piece of music Mogwai have made. Music For A Forgotten Future is a twenty-three minute soundtrack for Scottish artist Douglas Gordon, the band’s second after Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait in 2006, and a great addition to the album.

Mogwai continue to do what they do so well and with such consistent superiority not by keeping it simple, that would be belittling the complexity and intricacy of their music, but by having a plan and sticking to it. They know exactly what they want from an album and how to convert thoughts and ideas into great art. Composition is a delicate balance of conception, realisation and execution. The band is getting better with age; more focus, more careful consideration of when to explode and when to settle, and more life to draw upon. Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will is full of floating liberation and freedom one minute and delicious twisted constraint and restriction the next. It is not a complete triumph or a crushing disappointment but instead completes a circle started ten years ago, pulling in all the knowledge and experience and lessons learned from a glorious decade of music.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Brits 2011 - The Winners!

An amazing thing happened last night at the Brit awards. Some talented musicians actually won!

 First up is the wonderful Laura Marling who won Best British Female against pop-princess Cheryl Cole and radio-favourite Paloma Faith and very much an anti-establishment outsider. An excellent second album I Speak Because I Can is worthy of an award that normally goes to the likes of Amy Winehouse, Dido and Annie Lennox.

Just as surprising is British Album Of The Year which went to Mumford & Sons for Sigh No More (yes, it came out in 2009 but only fifteen months ago so it was still counted). A brilliant album from a wonderful band.

International Group and Album went, unsurprisingly, to Arcade Fire who simply cannot stop winning awards. The Suburbs is still an engaging listen and continues to delight.

Lastly Take That bagged British Group, an award that would have gone to Coldplay or Radiohead if they had been around. Only Mumford & Sons provided any meaningful competition but Robbie and the boys need the publicity.

Those winners in full:

British Male Solo Artist

Mark Ronson
Paul Weller
Plan B
Robert Plant
Tinie Tempah

British Female Solo Artist

Cheryl Cole
Ellie Goulding
Laura Marling
Paloma Faith

British Breakthrough Act

Ellie Goulding
Mumford and Sons
Rumer Warner
Tinie Tempah
The XX

British Group

Biffy Clyro
Mumford and Sons
Take That
The XX

British Single

Alexandra Burke featuring Pitbull - All Night Long
Cheryl Cole - Parachute
Florence and the Machine - You've Got the Love
Matt Cardle - When We Collide
Olly Murs - Please Don't Let Me Go
Plan B - She Said
Scouting for Girls - This Ain't A Love Song
Taio Cruz - Dynamite
Tinie Tempah - Pass Out
The Wanted - All Time Low

British Album of the Year

Mumford and Sons - Sigh No More
Plan B - The Defamation of Strickland Banks
Take That - Progress
Tinie Tempah - Disc-­Overy
The XX - XX

International Male Solo Artist

Bruce Springsteen
Cee Lo Green
David Guetta
Kanye West

International Female Solo Artist

Alicia Keys
Katy Perry
Kylie Minogue

International Breakthrough Act

Bruno Mars
Glee Cast
Justin Bieber
The National
The Temper Trap

International Group

Arcade Fire
Black Eyed Peas
Kings of Leon
The Script
Vampire Weekend

International Album

Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
Cee Lo Green - The Lady Killer
Eminem - Recovery
Katy Perry - Teenage Dream
Kings of Leon - Come Around Sundown

British Producer

Ethan Johns
John Leckie
Markus Dravs
Mike Pela
Stuart Price

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Moby - new album and book Destroyed

Moby has announced a new album out this year (May 17th) with a book of photographs. The project is called Destroyed. Read about it on Altsounds.

Death Cab For Cutie - Codes and Keys announced

Death Cab For Cutie will release new album Codes and Keys this year on May 31st. The album is produced by Alan Moulder (Nine Inch Nails, The Jesus And Mary Chain, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs etc) and Ben Gibbard has described Codes and Keys as 'a much less guitar-centric album'. Hopefully this will live up to the magnificence of Plans after the hit-and-miss Narrow Stairs.

Can't wait.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards

Congratulations to Eliza Carthy, Norma Waterson, Chris Wood and Bellowhead who all won at the recent BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. Veteran Donovan was also given the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award. The daughter and mother pair of Carthy and Waterson won best album for Gift and traditional song Poor Wayfaring Stranger. Chris Wood won for song Hollow Point from the brilliant Handmade Life, and he is also Folk Singer Of The Year.

Bellowhead were best group and best live act, surprisingly beating the wonderful Unthanks. Bizarrely two of the best folk singers making music today, Kate Rusby and Laura Marling have been woefully overlooked. Why Rusby's Make The Light wasn't even nominated I will never know. Likewise, while not rooted in the same folk traditions, Marling was nominated for Rambling Man but not her exceptional second album I Speak Because I Can. Proof that those on the edges of tradition are still not traditional enough.

All the details are here.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

The Joy Formidable - The Big Roar Album Review (2011)

A debut album from an exciting new British band is always cause for celebration and the Welsh trio of The Joy Formidable certainly are no exception. With just one EP and a handful of singles behind them, at last they release The Big Roar, a ‘proper’ album that is brimming with creativity, energy and ideas. Taking the best of the band’s early singles and the foundations of their first EP: A Balloon Called Moaning, The Big Roar is the perfect follow-up.

From the outset it is clear that nothing is ever predictable with The Joy Formidable. The Big Roar opens, as you would expect, with a perfect closer. Maybe the band did not want to kick off with the same song that opens their former EP, the next obvious choice for first song. So The Everchanging Spectrum of A Lie begins with a curious collection of bangs as balloons are puffed and then popped, before the swirling guitars of the intro come shimmering and gliding into life. Then the gorgeous tones of lead vocalist Ritzy Bryan bring the whole sound to life. At the three-minute point, the rambling chorus brings in an almighty crash of drums into a sedate multi-layered vocal mid-section before the final three minutes of churning guitars and percussion. Seven minutes and forty-five seconds of thrilling pulsating brilliance.

At their best The Joy Formidable echo the raw pop of early Feeder, combining unrestrained power with uplifting melody. The Magnifying Glass is a perfect example of this: punchy, direct, guitar-driven and relentless from start to finish. I Don’t Want To See You Like This opens up into more expansive territory, still with the driving guitar-work and thundering drums but with Bryan showing just about every style of vocal: sultry one minute, then operatic, and powerfully gritty the next. And early single Austere, with odd vocal backing and buzzing guitar riffs holds the same presence. The last minute is a breath-taking concoction of sound.

A Heavy Abacus is a delicious combination of Bjork and fellow Welsh giants Lostprophets at their melodic best. Easily the highlight in the first half, this soars and glides with enthralling exuberance into another early single Whirring. The twin songs are perfectly aligned, the former an ideal introduction to the latter. A great musical interlude at the mid-point is a calming minute before a twisted darkness descends and a new world of prog-grunge is born. Guitars frame the machine-gun drums into a riotous finish. As fallout of this, the slower dreamy start-stop psychedelic Buoy forms a wonderful trio in the middle of the album. Superb.

Maruyama is the short trippy gothic intro to brilliant pop single Cradle, another rampant slice of noise-pop, before Llaw=Wall. The only song fronted by bassist Rhydian Dafydd shows more versatility at ever opportunity. The final three songs on The Big Roar could be a compilation of three different bands with different sounds but the same ideals as Chapter 2 is post-grunge punk meets early Brit-pop. Closer The Greatest Light Is The Greatest Shade, the album’s third ‘epic’, from buzzing guitar intro to circling vocal outro, is an astonishing five minutes of textured layered noise around a beautiful vocal centre.

If you are a fan of The Joy Formidable from the ‘early days’ then you may, after a first listen, feel cheated by The Big Roar. The album contains three out of four previous singles (only Popinjay is omitted) and the best songs from A Balloon Called Moaning. So even though fewer than half the songs have been released before, much of The Big Roar sounds very familiar. That said, at just shy of fifty minutes, there is plenty of new material and the ‘old’ blends perfectly with the new to create something fresh, vibrant and interesting. The Joy Formidable is a breath of fresh air in a stagnant world. It is rare these days to find a new band sounding so full of musical expression and knowing exactly how to express it.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Gary Moore RIP

Just heard Gary Moore has died, aged 58. Although I wasn't a huge fan, he was an expressive and engaging guitarist. Here is a youtube video of my favourite Moore moments. RIP.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

The White Stripes 1997-2011

The White Stripes, aka Jack White and Meg White have announced they are no more. Six albums and two side-project bands for Jack White (The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather) see an end to a musical legacy that breathed a breath of fresh air into raw guitar-rock. The band denied any musical differences and health issues and quoted "a myriad of reasons ... mostly to preserve what is beautiful and special about the band".

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Thea Gilmore - Angels In The Abattoir (January 2011)

A new song for the new year from Thea Gilmore to all her lovely Angels In The Abattoir. This month is the American Presidential Election inspired Inch By Inch. Written on the eve of Obama's historic win and seeing Thea on an honest political stance - something she does perfectly but sadly not too often in recent years. The vocals, particularly in the second half show amazing range and depth. Great writing as always.

Like much of the music provided by Thea at part of the Angels In The Abattoir, the songs feel like they would benefit from just a few more hours work, a bit more production and a better mix. The songs, for the most part, are great but lack a certain album-quality polish. That said, the raw nature of the vocals and stark unmanaged piano and guitar accompaniment is brilliant and effective when required. And this is one of those times.