Tuesday, 29 June 2010

reviews: dm stith, kid canaveral, tango in the attic

DM Stith - Heavy Ghost: Appendices (***)

Following emphatic praise for 2009’s Heavy Ghost, DM Stith presents its Appendices – two discs of remixes, demos and covers. Such an extensive document may seem indulgent, but these odds and ends work well enough together to warrant their separate release. With the single-disc review copy shuffling together a random assortment from across the twenty-two tracks, consistency and sequencing are difficult to gauge, but quality certainly isn’t in doubt.

Covers of Diane Cluck’s Easy To Be Around and Randy Newman’s Suzanne are skewed through Stith’s distinct aesthetic, the latter adding ghostly loops and backing vocals to Newman’s twisted narrative. Better still is Be My Baby, delivered with an unsettling Doveman-style minimalism that recasts the lovers’ ode as a stalker’s demand. These help Appendices shrug the yoke of curio and stand firm as a worthy release in its own right, though Heavy Ghost itself remains the newcomer’s first port of call.

Out 5th July

Kid Canaveral - Shouting At Wildlife (****)

Kid Canaveral have four self-released seven inches to their name, lyrics that rhyme Smash Hits with Brad Pitt, and debut album artwork adorned with doodled cute animals. Egads, what twee nightmare lies in wait behind this squirrel sketch? None, silly: Shouting At Wildlife is a thrilling, uplifting and generally all-round spiffing combination of indie-pop skills, lyrical wit, and choruses sung through smiles.

It doesn’t quite manage twelve full tracks of unbroken charm (Her Hair Hangs Down for one is disappointingly limp), but for a good portion of its run time, Kid Canaveral deliver winner after winner: You Only Went Out To Get Drunk Last Night skips jauntily on bouncy backing vocals; On Occasion somehow sounds like a less hormone-led Scottish Blink wan-eighty-too; And Another Thing is the pick of their softer side; while Smash Hits and Cursing Your Apples provide chuckles as well as indie-disco dance floor material.

Out 5th July

Tango in the Attic - Bank Place Locomotive Society (****)

When fresh-faced newcomers identify Paul Simon as a chief songwriting inspiration, cynics might well read between the lines and translate the citation to ‘Vampire Weekend’. For Tango in the Attic, Simon’s influence definitely feels filtered Chinese-whispers-style through the preppy New Yorkers’ recent successes, thinned to jaunty keyboards and the subtlest of afrobeat rhythms.

But this dilution is ultimately to the band’s advantage – let the comparison lie and other textures reveal themselves. For example, accents and a track entitled Whiskey In The Wind are only part of their debut’s Scottish connection, with shades of Frightened Rabbit’s emotional peaks in several choruses. Yet the VW-echoes prove resilient.

This scribe hasn’t been to Glenrothes in some years, but either the dreakit Fife town of memory has benefited from significant, localised climate change or Tango in the Attic are simply very good at injecting sunshine into their melodies. Online weather reports confirm the latter.

Out 12th July

Friday, 25 June 2010

reviews: dead western, holy state, my luminaries

Dead Western - Suckle At the Supple Teats of Time (***)

If I had a name as manly and cool as Troy Mighty, I wouldn’t bother adopting a stage name. But then again, if I had a singing voice as mysterious and ghostly as Troy Mighty’s, I’d have to concede that Dead Western is the most appropriate moniker imaginable. Particularly since Suckle at the Supple Teats of Time proffers lingering, alt-folk coma-ballads not unlike what dead country stars might write after decades haunting ghost town residences.

The music would be broadly accessible were it not for Mighty’s tones, his otherworldly timbre is like a bollard block to a casual listener. He has the androgynous lilt of Anthony Hegarty but dropped several octaves, transformed into a rumbling and ghoulish bassoon that exudes sadness and sinister surrender. Yet it's also the chief point of interest: as his crypt whispers interact with violin and, most unsettlingly, musical saw, the blend is remarkable - if not always entirely pleasant.

Out Now

Holy State - Holy State EP (****)

From the throaty vocals to the stripped rock bite, it’s tempting to suggest the specific Holy State these lads from Leeds are striving towards is Nirvana. Cobain/Hindu philosophy puns aside, it’s a pleasure to hear a Fugazi influence holding sway, with Holy State unafraid to weld grooves to riffs.

From Brain Cave’s Jesus Lizard worship to the gnarled garage punk of Palms, what their latest EP lacks in variety it makes up for by being consistently invigorating. The comparatively clean Skull on Skull lightens the load a tad, but the overall impression is of a band that takes the business of making a racket very seriously indeed. It’s not enough to scar or bruise, but the impression left is indelible.

Out 12th July

My Luminaries - Order From the Chaos

My Luminaries’ debut has been a long time coming. Together since 2004 - and with major label interest piqued from the get-go - the six-year build-up has contained frustrations (their press release hints at dodgy manager misfortunes) and triumphs (festivals and a strong local following).

They deserve credit for persevering, and further kudos for Welcome to the Family’s punchy chorus and lead single Parasol’s catchy calling card. But - and it pains to say this - they might have benefited from heeding the advice purportedly proffered during their hapless major label arrangement.

The tension between paymasters demanding “copycat indie hits” while the band stuck to their guns might have been resolved with more satisfying results if Order From the Chaos contained a few more accessible hooks and a few less po-faced harmonies. Compromise clearly isn’t in My Luminaries’ game-plan - it’s just a shame the passionately protected results don’t carry more kick.

Out Now

Thursday, 24 June 2010

EIFF blog

i've spent a few days over the last couple of weeks enjoying the edinburgh film festival and penning my thoughts for the skinny. most of the reviews won't make an appearance till nearer the individual films' respective releases; till then, here's a blog entry chatting bout four of those films:

Dropping away from suited commuters to enjoy a 9am screening of the blackly comic Gravity carries a curious excitement akin to skiving school. The film delivers unpredictable plotting and excellent performances from Jurgen Vogel (as an ex-con trying to go straight) and buff-Jimmy Carr-alike Fabian Hinrichs (as his bad-influence banker friend, newly embracing the illegal thrills of burglary and hitting people with bats), but as events spiral out of control, the tonal shifts generate some unpleasant amorality. But maybe I’m just grumpy; after all, time is short and I’ve plenty else to see – preferably seated before the lights go down…

While I arrive in good time for film number two, not everyone is as fortunate and the opening minutes of the Lynch-produced, Herzog-directed My Son My Son What Have Ye Done are accompanied by the sight of no less than seven harried writers stumbling and falling while attempting to surreptitiously shuffle to seats. The situation’s sustained absurdity is so bizarrely in-line with the aforementioned filmmakers’ eccentric reputations that it’s easy to imagine Herzog himself as the curled-tight obstacle, mischievously tugging the ankles of tardy reporters. The film itself balances a sense of danger with a sense of humour in a more prolonged fashion, as a reliably unconventional cast brings the true story of Brad McCullum’s murder of his mother (Michael Shannon and Lynch regular Grace Zabriskie, respectively) to off-kilter life. The results convey the barely-suppressed mania of a fever-dream and are twice as vivid.

Speaking of dreams, two films in and the perils of a 7am start and a warm day spent in darkness presents itself: the accursed micro-sleep head-dip. So the prospect of two-plus hours of leisurely crime procedural carries the strong fear of slipping into public snoring. Luckily, The Secret In Their Eyes offers plenty to keep minds alert: intricately drawn characters, a decade-spanning plot filled with love, loss and vengeance, and a goosebump-raising denouement. While still a surprise Oscar winner in a year boasting A Prophet and The White Ribbon, the Academy decision proves by no means a miscarriage of justice.

Entering a fourth cinema eleven hours after the day’s first necessitates a pick-me-up. Coffee does the trick; not through its caffeine-boost, but through the equally invigorating sensation of a clumsily-dropped cup spilling its contents into my lap. While a little more vigorous than intended, the sudden awakening helps focus attention on the beautifully-realised but Bresson-paced The Robber. The tale of a marathon-running career criminal lapsing into old ways starts slow, but it stages its set-pieces – not least a surprise dash from custody that leads to an on-the-lam second half – with expert tension. That said, as the micro-sleeps threaten a reappearance, its conclusion comes as something of a relief. If, as the day’s third film pronounced, the eyes hold secrets, my blackened sink-holes are doing a terrible job of concealing their tiredness.

The next day I add a fifth film to the schedule for good measure. Thank goodness the festival’s only eleven days long…

Sunday, 20 June 2010

june playlist!

here's the run down of last night's soundtrack. it started out quiet, but twas all kinds of ace by the end. as usual, there's probably a ton of mistakes in the playlist below, all of which will be blamed on mike's indecipherable handwriting...

1. scenic square - i don't want to go
2. sad day for puppets - marble gods
3. of montreal - heimdalsgate like a promethean curse
4. the marching band - another day
5. css - rat is dead
6. nirvana - turnaround
7. the human league - (keep feeling) fascination
8. here we go magic - collector
9. arcade fire - laika
10. tokyo police club - big difference
11. the wannadies - hit
12. phoenix - 1901
13. cut copy - lights and music
14. lcd soundsystem - all i want
15. caribou - odessa
16. chuck berry - no particular place to go
17. idlewild - i don't have the map
18. pixies - bone machine
19. broken social scene - almost crimes
20. pavement - debris slide
21. sleeper - what do i do now?
22. architecture in helsinki - red turned white
23. bruce springsteen - born to run
24. the cure - boys don't cry
25. the replacements - i will dare
26. electric light orchestra - don't bring me down
27. the smiths - what difference does it make?
28. magnetic fields - deep sea diving suit
29. abba - lay all your love on me
30. adam and the ants - good two shoes
31. the fall - touch sensitive
32. manfred man - 5 4 3 2 1
33. rilo kiley - portions for foxes
34. everybody was in the french resistence...now! - superglue
35. david bowie - young americans
36. suede - animal nitrate
37. ash - burn baby burn
38. beck - mixed bizness
39. devo - fresh
40. depeche mode - just can't get enough
41. the beach boys - fun fun fun
42. elvis presley - jailhouse rock
43. joe clay - duck tail
44. detriot cobras - leave my kitten alone
45. i have absolutely no idea what mike wrote here... looks like R Fire Fliby, but i doubt that that's correct...
46. altered images - see those eyes
47. men without hats - the safety dance
48. pulp - babies
49. kirsty maccoll - a new england
50. echo and the bunnymen - the cutter
51. the police - i can't stand losing
52. weezer - why bother
53. gary moore and phil lynott - in the fields
54. ike and tina turner - river deep mountain high
55. stevie wonder - uptight
56. beyonce - single ladies
57. kate bush - wuthering heights
58. meatloaf - dead ringer for love
59. prince - purple rain
60. dexy's midnight runners - there there my dear

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

film review: ajami

I saw this at the GFF earlier in the year and it's getting an overdue limited release shortly. i highly recommend seeking it out... (original review at the skinny)

Ajami (****)
A Bedouin thug demands money from a café, so the owner instinctively shoots him; in retaliation, the café is burnt down, and the owner shot. Furthermore, his family are targeted and a young neighbour is killed in error. Thus, in a matter of minutes, Ajami establishes both the cyclical violence oppressing the titular Tel Aviv neighbourhood and the momentum with which the interconnected lives of its Jewish, Christian and Muslim residents are narrated. Its non-chronological segments form a remarkably non-judgemental thriller, a reflection of its makers’ own divide-crossing. Palestinian Scandar Copti and Jewish-Israeli Yaron Shani examine the treacherous allure of vengeance and violence without polemic, establishing a wide cast in broad strokes yet without caricature. While the subtitles carefully indicate switches between Arabic and Hebrew, they cannot capture the furious gaggle of conflict, the muddled squall of ad hoc courts and tragic street tussles. But while details get lost in translation, the visceral tension and pleading humanity translate intact.

Monday, 14 June 2010

reviews: devo, bear in heaven, crowded house

Devo - Something For Everybody (****)
There’s a template reaction to new material from beloved bands of yesteryear: a ‘legacy’ evaluation followed by a damage assessment. So let’s begin: with their first new album in twenty years, DEVO optimistically promise – and near enough deliver – Something For Everybody.

The only thing preventing opening track Fresh from living up to its name is the sheer number of fan-bands the new wave icons have indirectly birthed in the last two decades, with The Futureheads the first of many to be identified by aural paternity testing. “What we do is what we do, it’s all the same, there’s nothing new” they proclaim next, suggesting their self-aware sense of humour hasn’t diminished a jot – a speedily delivered “eenie-meenie-minie-mo” pseudo-rap confirms as much.

Ultimately – like contemporaries Sparks – DEVO have stayed sharp by tweaking their trademarks rather than trend-chasing, and remained oddly fashionable regardless. Verdict: no damage done. Far from it.

Out Today

Bear In Heaven - Beast Rest Forth Mouth (****)
Just as ‘Hollywood’ no longer refers solely to a geographical place but an idea or style, ‘Brooklyn’, in music, has become a state of mind rather than a zip code. You don’t have to be born and bred there to ooze hip noughties Brooklyn-ness, as Yeasayer (Baltimore), Animal Collective (likewise), Dirty Projector David Longstreth (Connecticut), and now Bear In Heaven (Alabama and Georgia) testify.

The latter carry shades of each of the aforementioned: the repetitious urgency of Wholehearted Mess echoes Yeasayer; You Do You’s prog-bubbles recall a less eccentric Panda Bear and co.; while the unpredictable structures of several compositions share an affinity with Bitte Orca.

Superficial scene-similarities notwithstanding, Bear In Heaven are, in keeping with the Brooklyn boom’s established tendency, more marked by the inventive way they subvert norms rather than define themselves by them. Yet despite their broad palette and ambling curiosity, they maintain a firm sense of harmony throughout.

Out Now

Crowded House - Intriguer (***)

Crowded House are perfect candidates for achieving the successful reunion. With a legacy based on good, but not era-definingly great albums, the threat of tarnishing their reputation with sub-par material is diminished. It helps that Neil Finn is a career songwriter in the truest sense – his material may not always ignite fireworks, but he could knock out a catchy middle-eight in his sleep.

That’s not to say he isn’t prone to laziness: Amsterdam is an awkward low (the title city rhymed with “nearly fell underneath a tram”) – a travelogue as meandering as its protagonists, with flatness typical of this second post-reformation album’s other weaker moments. Finn’s best work always offered more than a pretty, easy-listening chorus, but inspiration now feels relatively thinly spread. Archer’s Arrows, however, is a highlight in the old-school House mould, and it has just enough contemporaries for Intriguer to at least live up to its name.

Out Today

Friday, 11 June 2010

So I was thinking to myself: “how on earth can I make the blurb for this month’s bottle rocket superwicked and ultrainteresting, like what we usually do?” And I decided: “give it a rest man - just Dragnet it, twill be fine”. So it’s just the facts, maam:

Bottle rocket dancing party!
A night for dancing!
We’ll play music and you’ll dance!
Rock n roll!
Other things that sound good!

Saturday 19th June
11:30pm – 03:00am
£3 entry (or free before 11:30pm)

If you’ve requests, the event page on facebook is the place to stick em.

(and if you aint a friend of bottle rocket yet, you can rectify things by clicking here)

Thursday, 10 June 2010


oh well...

on arriving at the subcity building today, bottle rocket found both the studio and the office next door locked up tight, forcing me to bail on the show. and with that, bottle rocket radio shuffles off the mortal coil with a whimper, irritated but not bitter. if you wanna hear any of the old shows, they should stay up on the subcity servers over the summer, but as far as new stuff goes, that's all folks.


Wednesday, 9 June 2010

review: teenage fanclub @ abc, 2 june

With ex-members of The Royal We and Sexy Kids at work, you’d expect a level of song-writing a notch above the average new-start. Expectations are met: from doo-wop to C86, Raveonettes to Breeders, Veronica Falls are evocative without being defined by their influences, and promise a heck of a lot.

Teenage Fanclub have one of the finest musical portfolios compiled in living memory. It’s a bold claim, but re-visit anything from Bandwagonesque to Howdy and you’ll search in vain for evidence to the contrary. So why does tonight feel pedestrian? Fickle affections don’t help, as large sections of the crowd eagerly clap conclusions when moments earlier their focus was conversation (the hope that this was a fringe-only phenomenon is dashed when careful repositioning brings fresh voices but zero respite). While sympathetic to relative disinterest towards the new material (though not the smashing Baby Lee), it isn’t as simple as sticking to the hits - even The Concept can’t command full attention for more than a verse. But a relatively weak showing from Teenage Fanclub still features magic - Sparky’s Dream closes the main-set wonderfully, while a second encore of Star Sign confirms the band’s own enthusiasm is unquestioningly strong.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

gadzooks, it's the final bottle rocket radio show (ever?)

yep, this thursday's bottle rocket radio will be the final show of the term. and since the future is unknown, there's a good chance this will be the final bottle rocket radio show EVER. gulp.

in the final show of last year's run, bottle rocket tried to only play bands that had never been played on any subcity show before (or at least not in the last 2 years). pizzicato five, superchunk, the field mice and the gothic arches all got their subcity debuts as a result. but to do the same again would feel like a concession to the runners up - if they didn't qualify last time round, why should we dedicate the final show of this year to them? that's right, we shouldn't.

so instead i'll make things a little more introspective: this thursday, bottle rocket will hunt out 10 to 15 acts that the show has somehow skipped over in its two years on the air - acts that bottle rocket personally has never got round to playing for one reason or another. call it a stocktake before we shut up shop for good.

emotional stuff, eh?

12-1pm, subcity.org

Thursday, 3 June 2010

well there's nothing to lose and there's nothing to prove

bottle rocket radio today was a straight-up pop riot. it began with a nod towards university graduation, then became a practice session for this evening (when bottle rocket will be in charge of the music at a grad ball). it sounded like this:

- new order - ceremony
- lcd soundsystem - all i want
- the go team - huddle formation
- pixies - here comes your man
- del shannon - runaway
- chairman of the board - give me just a little more time
- tv on the radio - wolf like me
- david bowie - modern love
- bruce springsteen - glory days
- le tigre - deceptecon
- billy joel - we didn't start the fire
- talking heads - psycho killer
- the virginia wolves - stay
- devo - fresh
- france gall - poupee de cire poupee de son
- chuck berry - johnny b goode
- generation x - dancing with myself

you can listen to it here.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

edinburgh international film festival preview

so the EIFF gets its full announcement today, which is awfully exciting for folks like me. this year's retrospective revives lost british films in a strand called... well, you can read about it below, in a preview piece written for theskinny.co.uk


This year’s EIFF retrospective attempts to fill in some gaps in the history of British film with a strand entitled After the Wave: Lost and Forgotten British Cinema 1965-1979. It proffers rare prints of undervalued works that failed to breach the canon first time around, including efforts from the likes of Stephen Frears and Ken Russell. By reviving such infrequently-exhibited films, the retrospective helps reframe a period of British cinema often overshadowed by more glamorous, contemporaneous movements in Germany and the US, or glossed over entirely in accounts that leap from the sixties’ kitchen-sink realism of Karel Reisz, Lyndsay Anderson and Ken Loach, to the hyperbolic ‘the British are coming!’ 1981 Oscars (with the years in between abbreviated to bawdy comedies and Hammer Horror’s decline).

Seeking to readdress the balance are Stephen Frears’ debut feature Gumshoe (1971) starring Albert Finney as the titular bingo caller turned private eye; freshly-topical political satire The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer (1970) which charts the ascent of Peter Cook’s Tory pollster; and John Mackenzie’s pre-The Long Good Friday drama Made (1972) about a single mother’s relationship with a rock star. And if you crave something self-referential try Maurice Hatton’s Long Shot (1978) which was filmed at the Festival in 1977 and features cameos from Wim Wenders and John Boorman. It tells the humorous story of two ambitious filmmakers attempting to pull together the means to make a movie.

EIFF’s promotional posters ask ‘2010: What Will You Discover?’ beneath a formidable list of past premieres: Manhattan, Wild Strawberries and Fitzcarraldo amongst others. With such a strong mix of curios and cult classics on offer in this year’s retrospective, perhaps the EIFF should reframe their question: In 2010, What Will You Re-discover?