Wednesday, 26 January 2011
It’s January, which means it’s time for the annual “BBC Sound of...” pasting to begin. There’s admittedly schadenfreude to enjoy watching shooting stars burn, but scoffing at such lists has become a peculiarly popular pastime. Anna Calvi finds herself in the top fifteen this year, so place your bets: will she live up to industry expectations and shift a shed-load à la Florence, or fumble and fade like Joe Lean?The odds are noncommittal, though it’s heartening that an album incorporating instrumental spaghetti-western fret-work alongside pseudo-Bond themes and Patti Smith-style high drama can be widely considered a strong commercial prospect. The Devil encapsulates her enigmatic style, a ballad balancing on the verge of quivering exhaustion. Sales potential aside, here’s another bet: will Calvi stick to her bombast and potentially consolidate her debut’s considerable promise, or be meekly turning out weak Elton covers by the year’s end? Pray God the former.
Merge and Warp set high benchmarks for label retrospectives last year with their respective 20th anniversary archive-trawls. Thirteen-year-old UK label Rocket Girl proffers 3...2...1... with more modest aims: a reappraisal of the last decade on CD one, with previously unreleased exclusives on disc two. A Place To Bury Strangers appear on both, with debut album cut I Know I’ll See You delivering dark, abrasive noise-pop on the first, and Just Out of Reach adding menace and bite to the second.Other high profile acts include Lilys (whose A Diana’s Diana kicks things off), Ulrich Schnauss (his remix of the Howling Bells’ Setting Sun is a highlight) and Television Personalities (represented by You’re My Yoko, sounding refreshingly simple amidst the dream-pop wash that surrounds it). If you’re fond of synth-lullabies and reined-in feedback, the whole slots into sequence so smoothly you’d swear label-founder Vinita Joshi made the mix-tape for you personally.
The sight of woodland shards in the artwork, and the sound of Maschine trickling into life via stuttering bells, syncopated handclaps and double-tracked vocals, intimate a solid metaphor for Conquering Animal Sounds’ aesthetic: the organic and the electronic coexisting beautifully.
Various comparisons flicker into earshot: Anneke Kampman’s vocals are Björk-like on some tracks, reminiscent of Sally Shapiro on others; the gentle instrumentation has close affinities with Iceland’s Múm or Sweden’s The Deer Tracks throughout; while a domestic thread is traceable from Wild Things’ mechanical wash to Mogwai’s Rock Action. But following such threads never threatens to unravel Kammerspiel’s gracefully busy tapestry of scuffling electronic loops and toy-box tics.It’s difficult to believe this is their first full-length release; all parts interlock with crystalline clarity, the complexity of the whole is secreted beneath precisely-placed layers of sound. For some, this is confirmation of the significant promise demonstrated live; for others, it will be a remarkable unveiling.
Out 7th February
Tuesday, 25 January 2011
“We’re going to start with an a cappella number... so if everyone could...” As Trembling Bells’ Alex Nielson silently mouths “shut the fuck up” to the amusement of singer Lavinia Blackwell, any association between folk and feyness is put to bed for the night. The hubbub subsides once the duo start singing, attentions held even firmer once the full band join the set.Flanked by Zoey Van Goey’s Michael John McCarthy on accordion and a brass section borrowed from The Belle Hops, there are definite echoes of Fairport Convention, but other influences permeate from outside the folk sphere; fuzzy guitar solos and jams on keys suggest Stevie Nicks-era Fleetwood Mac have inspired more than just Blackwell’s dress sense. Towards the end, dance trio The Belles of London City jig through the crowd, decked out like Wicker Man candy canes, but such bells and whistles aren’t necessary: the Bells alone are more than sufficient.
Sunday, 23 January 2011
1. tom tom club - genius of love
2. bright eyes - shell games
3. surfer blood - floating vibes
4. rain machine - give blood
5. twin shadow - shooting holes
6. tom vek - c-c (you set the fire in me)
7. suuns - armed for peace
8. kanye west - power
9. sleigh bells - infinity guitars
10. the fall - rebellious jukebox
11. peter, bjorn and john - breaker, breaker
12. vampire weekend - giving up the gun
13. eux autres - go dancing
14. crystal stilts - love is a wave
15. interpol - barricade
16. shakira - she wolf
17. belle and sebastian - i want the world to stop
18. yeasayer - o.n.e.
19. sambassadeur - that town
20. yo la tengo - sugarcube
21. new order - regret
22. the pipettes - pull shapes
23. the beastie boys - sabotage
24. gang of four - damaged goods
25. queen and david bowie - under pressure
26. as mercenarias - me perco
27. dead kennedys - california uber alles
28. ash - kung fu
29. los campesinos - we are beautiful, we are doomed
30. the decemberists - this sporting life
31. guns n roses - it's so easy
32. madonna - holiday
33. robyn - dancing on my own
34. janelle monae - cold war
35. bow wow wow - i want candy
36. buzzcocks - promises
37. helen love - shifty disco girl
38. adam and the ants - goody two shoes
39. mgmt - kids
40. altered images - happy birthday
41. the primitives - thru the flowers
42. the ronettes - be my baby
43. sons and daughters - taste the last girl
44. yeah yeah yeahs - sheena is a punk rocker
45. the smiths - the boy with the thorn in his side
46. zz top - gimme all your lovin
47. bon jovi - bad medicine
48. kiss - crazy crazy nights
49. robert hazard - girls just want to have fun
50. franz ferdinand - michael
51. pulp - babies
52. ted leo and the pharmacists - ballad of a sin eater
53. ike and tina turner - river deep, mountain high
54. the magnetic fields - desert island
55. fleetwood mac - little lies
56. teenage fanclub - sparky's dream
57. pavement - gold soundz
58. blondie - atomic
59. stereolab - french disko
60. billy idol - dancing with myself
61. melanie - look what they've done to my song, ma
Friday, 21 January 2011
Here's a review of a recent Celtic Connections gig written for The Skinny...
Pairing Cameroonian sawa-blues with traditional Scottish folk, Celtic Connections again takes roots music and unearths its global interlinks. Muntu Valdo’s up first, using loop-pedals and a warm personality to fill an otherwise empty stage. On the opener, he conjures a choir from a single larynx; later, an entire band is invoked from one guitar. Both tracks appear on album The One and the Many (“that’s what I’m using” he explains, indicating his crowded pedal board, “my sorcerers and me”), and his expressive vocals ensure that, though the storytelling is lost in translation, our attention is not. “Good encounters bring good stuff,” he smiles after a collaboration with headliner Roberts: a motto for the entire festival.Alasdair Roberts begins his own set by inviting back his “fairly new friend”, Valdo’s harmonies lifting Babylon’s dark content. A rendition of the macabre Long Lankin ups the body count (infanticide followed by nurse-burning), its sinister lyrics reflected in the band’s woozy recital. Roberts plugs gaps given over to tuning with background notes to certain songs, but there’s less inspiration on display tonight than is found across his recordings. Seems Valdo has no manners – Roberts’ new friend just stole the show out from under him.
Thursday, 20 January 2011
‘He lay in his bed without moving, as though he were not yet quite certain whether he were awake or still asleep, whether all that was going on around him were real and actual, or the continuation of his confused dreams’1
The Double, Fyodor Dostoevsky
The script for Darren Aronofsky’s fifth feature has conceptual roots in Dostoevsky’s 1846 novella The Double, in which clerk Yakov Petrovich Golyadkin is driven insane by sightings of his doppelganger. Golyadkin becomes obsessed with his uncanny twin, imagining himself surrounded by replicas with sinister intentions, his own sense of identity coming irrevocably unstuck in the process.
Like The Double, Black Swan (2010) opens with its protagonist waking from a dream, and neither character nor audience is ever certain to which realm all that follows belongs. Cast as the lead in a new production of Swan Lake, the cygnine Nina (Natalie Portman) performs the innocent, vulnerable White Swan naturally but finds the seductive qualities of the Black Swan more challenging. As she struggles to embody the role’s dichotomy, Nina, like Dostoevsky’s haunted clerk, catches increasingly frequent glimpses of herself; first in window reflections, later in the faces of others. Throughout, the film teeters on the verge of hysteria, but appropriately so. Like its troubled protagonist, Black Swan has its feet only lightly grounded in a fragile en pointe, and when the bottom falls out in a frenzied final act, it does so spectacularly.
Aronofsky has long concerned himself with the twin themes of excess and obsession, from the mathematician searching for God in debut Pi (1998), through the addicts of Requiem For A Dream (2000), trying to escape desperate existences whilst plunging ever further from salvation, to the trio of Toms (conquistador, scientist and space-buddha) played by Hugh Jackman in The Fountain (2006), each seeking immortality, and colliding across space and time in a moment of mutual epiphany (for the characters at least – audiences were generally less clear as to the nature of the revelation). 2008’s The Wrestler sidestepped such elaborate staging without dropping the aforementioned keywords, with titular sportsman Randy physically and mentally enduring all that life throws at him (which in his profession includes planks wrapped in barbed-wire), fatefully extending his career beyond its natural lifespan with only steroids and desperation as fuel.
Although considerably younger than Rourke’s ‘old, broken down piece of meat’, Black Swan’s Nina is also plagued by fears of being rendered obsolete due to advancing years. Pregnancy ended the dancing days of her pushy parent (Barbara Hershey) but in the heat of an argument, Nina suggests the curtain didn’t fall as prematurely as her mother would like to think. ‘What career?’ she asks. ‘You were twenty eight!’ While Nina’s exact age is never confirmed, Natalie Portman was twenty-eight at the time of filming; a 2009 report in The Telegraph placed the average retirement age for ballerinas at twenty nine2. Such short-term disposability is represented by the character of Beth (Winona Ryder), the prima donna rejected as ‘past-it’, yet still infantilised by director Thomas (Vincent Cassell), whose pet-name for her – ‘little princess’ – is both paternal and possessively predatory.
Amidst imaginatively outlandish transformations (arms metamorphose into wings; legs crack and buckle in a grotesque reverse plié), there are images of decay that indicate a more literal preoccupation with the impermanence of youth – a hellish hangnail extending halfway up a finger; toe-nails splitting from unnatural exertions. Nina’s body is untrustworthy; not only doubling itself but crumbling to be refashioned anew. Associations with notions of youthful feminine beauty are further suggested by the nascent feather plucked from Nina’s back, the short dark bristles resembling the head of a mascara brush.
The idea that Nina is already facing her ‘last chance’ is made all the more unsettling by the perpetual infancy she, like ‘little princess’ Beth, otherwise occupies. When cast, she calls home to giddily exclaim ‘he picked me mommy!’, resembling in both tone and manner a child selected for the school nativity. Mother and daughter celebrate with an extravagantly iced cake, eaten by Nina from her mother’s finger as if it were a teat. Nina steals lipstick from her predecessor’s dressing room, guiltily applying it like a toddler playing dress-up. Her mother undresses and tucks her in at night, and attaining privacy involves rebelliously barricading bathroom and bedroom doors. When pressures mount, Nina finds solace in a ballerina music box, a prop which also serves to underscore the unchallenged central role that ballet occupies in her life.
There is also the suggestion that Nina is a virgin: she responds to frank questioning from Thomas with embarrassment, and an unusual homework assignment (‘Go home and touch yourself. Live a little’) is undertaken amidst an array of soft toys. A subsequent sex scene with mysterious rival Lily (Mila Kunis) is cast in a new light when her lover’s face changes mid-coitus; Nina’s climax is a symbolic act of self-copulation that constitutes the tipping point in her loosening grip on reality. The equation of female sexuality with evil and insanity is awkwardly retrograde but the union between Nina and her double is inarguably consistent with the film’s gothic excesses.
Early in Black Swan, Thomas criticises Nina for never ‘losing herself’ in the moment, to which she meekly replies ‘I just want to be perfect’. By the end, she has lost herself absolutely but in the process attained the perfection she so desperately craved. Whether the rapturous applause is literal or a subjective projection is, like so much else, impossible to gauge. Like Rourke’s wrestler, ambiguously frozen mid-leap, Nina is tragically victorious, triumphantly defeated. In contrast with Dostoevsky’s Golyadkin, who ends the novella with a tortured howl, Nina’s corruption instils serenity. Like the self-trepanned Max in Pi or the electro-shocked Sara in Requiem For A Dream, she finds peace in her self-destruction.
Researcher and freelance writer
University of Glasgow
1 Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Double (Dover Thrift Edition) (Dover Publications, Toronto, 1997), p. 1
2 Richard Johnson, ‘Ballet: The Secret Lives of Dancers’ The Telegraph, 29th June 2009
Thursday, 13 January 2011
- anna calvi - 'anna calvi' album review
- various artists - '3...2...1... A Rocket Girl Compilation' album review
- stone ghost collective - 'unrequited lovesongs' album review
- ensemble - 'excerpts' album review
- suuns - 'zeroes qc' album review
pick it up unless you're RUBBISH.
Wednesday, 12 January 2011
The first bottle rocket dancing extravaganza of 2011 is the 22nd of January. I know what you’re thinking – “wha-wha-WHAT? But bottle rocket is the third Saturday of the month, not the fourth! What’s the meaning of this?”. Put your monacle back in grandpa, it’s only temporary – by February the rota will be back to normal.
“But seven [additional] days is too long, without you baby, come on back to me” i hear you cry. We will, we will, don’t get all Dexy’s on me. It’ll be worth the week’s wait, i promise. Cos boy oh boy oh boy do we have some awesome music to play, thanks to the twin figureheads of capitalism: Santa Claus and Sales. Aside from the date change, it’ll be business as usual:
11:30pm – 3:00am
£3 (or free before 11:30)
Nice n Sleazy (downstairs)
rock n roll + new wave + pop of the indie, electro and straight-up variety
requests, as always, belong on the facebook board.
Tuesday, 11 January 2011
Released as part of the cassette-only Krapp Tape series from Wounded Knee (whose sonic experiments are effortlessly accessible by comparison) Fordell Research Unit fill side one of Heavy Petting with testing, nauseating noise. The dense feeback is slowly penetrated by a gentle guitar mantra, and for a moment it seems its tuneful loop will tame the track, but the noise proves relentless and oppressive to the end.Side two brings a degree of relief, its sound clouds less abrasive but similarly avant-garde. It’s possible to interpret the Beckett allusion as a conceptual statement rather than mere pun (the press release is a cryptic pictogram, while online information is minimal, so either interpretation is surely possible), in which case repetition and deterioration are not just unpalatable, but key. If the riddles hidden in din excite, FRU will reward your attention, but others be warned: this may bring only displeasure.
That the press release for Unrequited Lovesongs can claim it mistakable for “an obvious and predictable grab for acceptance” reveals something of its creator’s usual idiosyncrasies. First, Dawn of the Replicants built a solid reputation for odd-pop experimentalism, now ex-guitarist Mike Sorensen Small’s Stone Ghost Collective embark on further musical adventures, including a forthcoming third album (also due in 2011) of “Pagan, indie-folk oratorios.”
In context, this is indeed relatively straightforward, but remains far from humble: She Doesn’t Care combines autotune and harpsichord for perhaps the first time, while The Saddest Truth swoops on sighing strings. When it strikes the correct balance, it’s eye-opening, but it often occupies an unforgiving hinterland – either too conventional to excite or too self-conscious to provoke a purer pop sensation. It’s not often such things can be said, but perhaps Pagan indie-folk oratorios will prove a more natural fit for Small’s intriguing talents.
Zeroes QC is the first full-length from Montreal kraut-prog quartet Suuns, and they’re already out exploring infrequently charted waters. When entering the studio, the band reportedly wanted to avoid anything that might be tagged simply as ‘indie-rock’, a mission they’ve accomplished with conviction. There are similarities in scope to Battles’ Mirrored, another debut that felt like the product of a much older band operating with the hindsight of decades spent engaged in studio experiments.A motorik beat underpins most tracks, with hints of Clinic on Up Past the Nursery’s sinister groove, but elsewhere they’re operating more singularly. The opening Armed For Peace ticks along 'til thick guitars crunch in and upend the mix, while Marauder resembles Rage Against the Machine if designed and performed by an actual machine; mechanical and prone to eye-opening direction-changes, a description both apt and yet utterly inadequate in attempting to summarise this startlingly assured calling card.
Monday, 10 January 2011
well check this out:
now that's what i call an exciting 2011!
(disclaimer: we're not all that interesting. follow andrew wk instead. now that dude knows how to party)
Friday, 7 January 2011
so this isn't a list of every album i liked in 2010. it's not a list of the 'best' albums of 2010. it's a list of my own favourites, a list i'll undoubtedly look back on this time next year with shock and horror as my tastes continue to fluctuate. what a fickle so-and-so i am.
nae commentary this time, just some lovely music from each of the top 10 to enjoy.
25. the tallest man on earth - the wild hunt
24. the phantom band - the wants
23. big boi - sir lucious left foot...the son of chico dusty
22. best coast - crazy for you
21. ariel pink's haunted graffiti - before today
20. women - public strain
19. sufjan stevens - age of adz
18. flying lotus - cosmogramma
17. robyn - body talk
16. shugo tokumaru - port entropy
15. marnie stern - marnie stern
14. the vaselines - sex with an x
13. deerhunter - halcyon digest
12. meursault - all creatures will make merry
11. four tet - there is love in you
10. twin shadow - forget
9. jonsi - go do
8. trips and falls - he was such a quiet boy
7. lcd soundsystem - this is happening
6. janelle monae - the archandroid
5. caribou - swim
4. sleigh bells - treats
3. surfer blood - astro coast
2. joanna newsom - have one on me
1. the national - high violet
Thursday, 6 January 2011
by waiting a few extra weeks, some gaps were plugged: christmas gifts filled in a few personal blanks, while christmas and new year allowed me to spend a bit more time with some of the contenders for these lists. i'll post my top 25 of 2010 tomorrow; first, i thought i'd focus on bands from this wee nation. this isn't some patriotic willy-waving thing - when reviewing albums for the skinny, i tend to get a lot of 'local' bands to write about, so i feel like i get exposed to a disproportionately high number of scottish acts, compared to new music from the rest of the planet. so this allows me to give a thumbs up to a bunch of records that i like quite a lot that might not otherwise have appeared. indeed, having now finished both lists, only the top 3 from this list appear in tomorrow's top 25, but that still seems like pretty good going if you ask me.
The Scottish Enlightenment - St. Thomas
i reviewed this for the skinny back in november, saying that they "echo winter well, with skeletal guitar lines as brittle and bare as tree branches and a settled pace as quietly insidious as snow fall. They won’t change the world like Hume and the gang, but they’ll soundtrack many a crisp walk, ensuring every footstep quivers with drama."
Belle and Sebastian - Write About Love
I'm not sure why, but i felt quite apathetic about this on release. even seeing them at all tomorrow's parties in december didn't quite kick my excitement into gear, though it did make me realise that, despite relatively luke-warm reviews, this would be worth a listen or two. turns out it's worth a lot more than that. few of its tracks will end up muscling into the bottle rocket playlists with the same frequency as i'm a cuckoo, a century of fakers or the boy with the arab strap, but there's no shame in that.
when i first heard azak, i was confused, and not all that bothered about hearing him again. then i saw him live, and, though still confused, i was also newly interested in his peculiar style. with every fresh encounter i found myself liking him a little bit more, until this came through the door for review. "if this debut album is your first Azak experience" i wrote, "his odd cadence and wheezy timbre might still surprise, but the songs herein are the finest, most accessible tracks he has thus far committed to tape. Strings are used more extensively than in the past, while structurally, Azak’s grown incrementally more conventional, with verses and choruses where once there was mist. But such refinements are always to his credit."
Another skinny review: "It seems lazy to automatically align any act with prominent brass and a Celtic swing with Dexy’s Midnight Runners, but sometimes knee-jerk comparisons are revealing. Along with a motley bunch of young soul rebels named the Fistful of Fivers, he projects a laddish swagger on hoedowns like Besides the Point, but reins it in on their full band debut’s more sensitive numbers."
and another skinny review: "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."
Back in March i proclaimed this just as exciting as The Delgados were at their peak. My enthusiasm isn't quite as high now, but this record is still bloomin marvellous.
While I loved this record on first listen, it took hearing the songs live at all tomorrow's parties to cement how brilliant Collins remains. With Teenage Fanclub as backing band, and with both Franz and Cribs-collaborators on stage to play their parts, it was possibly the weekend's finest set.
...and here's why it was worth my while holding off putting this list together. i liked checkmate savage. i've raved about the phantom band's live sets in the pages of the skinny on more than one occasion. and i thought the wants sounded pretty decent, based on a single cursory listen. then i forgot all about it, until it started cropping up on numerous 'best of year' lists. father christmas gave me the opportunity to give it a more committed listen, and though it's had to fight for space on my CD player with various other musical gifts, it's won out on several occasions, and i expect it to win many more times yet.
A twenty year gap between records is rarely a good omen. Yet The Vaselines' returned as "recognisably the same band, yet far fresher than might have been expected". As i concluded in my skinny review, it makes "the prospect of another double-decade hiatus is hard to bear."
Sunday, 2 January 2011
so NYE was pretty darn awesome. once i'd got used to djing on the end of the bar - no easy feat when your decks are raised high and you're only a short-arse - it was plain-ish sailing (biggest hiccup was probably the fact that five different watches all gave different times for midnight, so everyone seemed to be celebrating invidually - woops...).
strangely enough, bottle rocket's usually carefully compiled lists went somewhat out the window, though from amongst my pickled memory i can recall playing aztec camera, tom tom club, suuns, prince, clinic, blue oyster cult, georgie fame and the blue flames, holy fuck, pulp, melanie, terrorvision, bruce springsteen, the four tops, generation x, janelle monae, mudhoney, black sabbath, big boi, ac/dc, omd, rem, the organ, pixies, alice cooper, new order, dananananaykroyd, super furry animals, meursault, the beastie boys, triple school, devo, sleigh bells, manfred mann, nena, iron maiden and the spencer davis group. fielding played some awesome music whenever i wasn't (in a far more professional and composed manner it must be said) and holy mountain were fucking awesome. i only caught a small bit of the festivities downstairs but i've no doubt it was splendid as well.
now let's get on with 2011 shall we? first bottle rocket of the new year is 22nd january (a week later than usual so stick it in your brand new diaries). see you there!