Friday, 30 September 2011

Echo and the Bunnymen @ Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, 28th September

Let's just say it won't go down as one of their better gigs... 1/5

Despite the balmy Indian summer heat, Ian McCulloch sticks with tradition tonight, taking to the stage wrapped in his trademark winter coat. A circular fan placed at the base of his microphone stand regulates his temperature, but not, alas, his temper; by the end of tonight’s alienating shambles, it may well be the only fan left in the building.

Echo and the Bunnymen’s performance is split into two sections: a ‘greatest hits’ set, followed by a run through career highlight Ocean Rain. The first starts unconvincingly, with McCulloch forgetting most of the lyrics to 1999’s Rust – though not, notably, its closing refrain “everything’s going to be alright”, a bitterly ironic promise in hindsight.

At first, any flatness seems attributable to an awkward choice of venue, with an all-seated, no-drinks auditorium significantly curtailing appreciation of a set that, though hardly fulfilling its ‘greatest hits’ billing, features some strong material. But as his ‘banter’ grows increasingly hostile and incoherent, it’s apparent that tonight’s failures lie firmly with McCulloch himself.

If the first set was a solid (if unspectacular) warm-up, the second is a full-on melt-down. What happens in the dividing interval is unclear: give the frontman the benefit of the doubt, and we’re watching a man in the throes of some inexpressibly-deep grief; judge by actions alone, and we’re watching an arrogant and unstable drunk shatter bonds left, right and centre.

Tantrums beget heckles which beget undignified responses from the slurring singer, culminating in a series of walkouts when patience finally expires. Despite the terse atmosphere and depleting audience, the band limp as far as The Killing Moon, at which point the evening takes a further downturn. Those clapping along are berated, bringing the track to a standstill; anatomically-dubious threats are bandied around (“I’ll fucking knee-cap your head off”) and, eventually, McCulloch departs in a strop.

On his return, an insincere apology turns to ash as he resumes his embarrassing display. It’s not just ticket-holders on the receiving end either: band members and crew are similarly mistreated, though most – including a stoic Will Sergeant – opt simply to ignore the petulance. When he storms off for a second time, the exiting string section are given a sympathetic ovation in acknowledgement of their suffering. Again, the band re-emerge, but Ocean Rain is destined to remain unfinished; inexplicably, they restart The Killing Moon, which only compounds the disappointment as it creeps into its fifteenth foul-mouthed minute. After a final, inevitable walk-off, bemusement and anger ripples through the deserting crowd: loyalties questioned, adulation diminished, and money wasted.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

pete and the pirates @ captains rest, 26th september

With seasoned ex-members of Morning Runner at the helm, Glass’s polish garners at least one breathless endorsement tonight (“They blew my mind! I’m worried I won’t like Pete and the Pirates now…” the convert frets aloud). Their solemn, serious indie bears a clear debt of gratitude to Arcade Fire, and while interest flags across their half-hour slot, it’s a solid start.

Pete and the Pirates are blessed with an array of good songs, but troubled by a relative lack of great ones. As such, tonight never quite dazzles, but it’s a pleasing live experience nonetheless. Knots prompts the first big reaction, but otherwise it's their recently released second album One Thousand Pictures that rules over the set’s highlights: Cold Black Kitty stretches into its sinister country gothic aura splendidly; Winter 1 sees the front rows joining in; while Blood Gets Thin makes for a suitably boisterous closer, its bold riffs channelling the B-52s and the Cramps.

The Pirates have diversity on their side, regularly shedding their skins, but it’s Half Moon Street that constitutes the Reading quintet's most successful bid for greatness so far; running a gamut of tenors as it builds in to a soaring and affecting chorus; it's confirmation that major league membership isn’t out of the question.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

three trapped tigers @ captains rest, 21st september

There’s a reason Three Trapped Tigers’ ‘IDM played live’ sound is a rarity: it looks bloody difficult. All three members possess stonking skill reserves, but it’s drummer Adam Betts who commands attention, pounding with precision no matter how complicated the structures. His bravura beats underpin a constantly-inventive amalgamation that encompasses not only stated influences like Squarepusher, but Fucking Champs-style double-tapped guitar shreds, bruising metal-esque riffs, and some kind of knotty, genre-dodging jazz-dance fusion.

If you don’t already know these mini-symphonies inside out, then good luck guessing when to come in with applause; if you do, it’s striking how much more imposing they sound live than on record. The trio’s cool precision means that their set lacks the thrilling unpredictability of, say, Ponytail or Lightning Bolt (with whom the Londoners share a certain musical boisterousness), but the compensation package – an intense smorgasbord of textures and rhythms – is wholly satisfactory.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

are you on facebook? then like our page!

facebook appears to be archiving all the old groups, so we've set up a page, which you can visit here. once there, click like! if that sounds like a lot of effort, there's a wee widget thing somewhere to the right of this message to make the process even easier! here's some music to listen to while you do it.

Friday, 23 September 2011

GFT programme note: Page One: A Year Inside the New York Times

It's another programme note. This time with one important difference: 'Dr Christopher Buckle' at the bottom!


It’s a familiar narrative: the newspaper industry is in dire straits, flanked on one side by growing public distrust; on the other by new media forms poaching readers and revenue. In the US, scores of newspapers have shut down in the face of dwindling advertising sales and declining circulations,[1] and even venerable institutions like The New York Times are argued by some to be on the verge of extinction. From here, new media optimists predict a bright future of democratic reportage, the dinosaurs of old slain by a digital revolution that makes DIY journalists of us all; others retain a more conventional view of journalism’s need for professional rigour, and mourn the industry’s seemingly-eminent demise abjectly.

Page One opens with footage of the mechanics of traditional newspaper production, with rolls of paper hoisted across warehouse floors by automated loaders, while seemingly endless conveyer belts bring fresh print to delivery. It’s illustrative of the title’s brief – we are, in a fairly literal sense, ‘inside’ the Times’ presses – as well as its primary theme: the aforementioned tension between conventional news models and an emergent media sphere of bloggers, tweeters and aggregators. Following the opening credits, compiled footage from ABC, Fox and elsewhere sees network news anchors shrilly bone-pick bankruptcy after bankruptcy, tolling the bell for the entire industry in the process. As the obituaries crescendo, Rossi cuts to the interior of the Times’ New York headquarters: a smart, bustling, modern office, neither fossilised nor limping (as the previous woe-betiding commentators would have you believe). It’s a telling contrast, indicating Rossi’s own stance; to paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of death knells are, it seems, somewhat exaggerated.

Deliberately or otherwise, Page One is structured like a newspaper front page, jumping from story to story, its strands linked not so much by a single narrative but by their proximate occurrence in time: from troop withdrawals in Iraq to Wikileaks, it surveys several of the key events during that year. Rather than orbit a single story, the film, to a certain extent, orbits a single man: while time is spent with several of the paper’s staff, one reporter clearly interests Rossi more than the others. Columnist David Carr plies his trade with a sharp wit and uncompromising opinions; whether ‘vapourising’ opponents in debate or swearing his way through conference seminars, it is immediately clear why Rossi has labelled him the “soul” of the film.[2] In the same interview, Rossi identifies parallels between Carr’s personal history (reformed drug addict turned intrepid ink slinger) and an industry undergoing its own substantial period of transition.

In Carr, Rossi finds his most compelling argument in favour of preserving major newspapers like The New York Times: his maverick professionalism is indicative of a body of experience that the blogosphere is ill-equipped to emulate. Even Jimmy Wales, founder of user-generated encyclopaedia Wikipedia (and therefore someone arguably at the vanguard of new media), agrees, pointing out that, when it comes to the coverage of wars, only major news institutions are likely to have the skill and resources to cover the story from the ground level. This idealised notion of seasoned newshounds shrewdly following stories wherever they may lead is a cinematic staple, echoing the likes of All the President’s Men (Pakula, 1976) and Good Night, And Good Luck. (Clooney, 2005). But Rossi is careful to acknowledge flaws in the model, with reference to both Judith Miller (whose coverage of the build up to the US invasion of Iraq uncritically relayed false intelligence reports relating to weapons of mass destruction) and Jayson Blair, found to have plagiarised and falsified stories throughout his tenure.

Regardless, Page One presents a compelling case against turning news reporting over to the twitterverse, and for keeping it in the hands of the serious few over the frivolous many. Rossi’s admiration for his subject is reflected in the film’s subtle contempt for many of the alternatives challenging print news’s hegemony. comes off as a particularly anaemic alternative, a pan across its biggest stories promising tales of Kim Kardashian having a backstage bust-up with Paris Hilton; topless Helen Mirren photographs; and “condoms with teeth” fighting rape. But Gawker is, by its own admission, a gossip site, with no apparent agenda in the serious news market, something which Rossi perhaps unfairly glosses over. More precise is the film’s criticism of aggregators, such as the hugely popular Huffington Post. Carr puts it best when he takes a printout of such a site’s front page and cuts out all material pilfered from regular news sources; the remainder looks like Swiss cheese. Without professional reporting from The New York Times and elsewhere, what, he asks, is left to aggregate but opinion and hearsay? Hence the film’s tagline, ‘consider the source’, which implores viewers to question not only a news story’s accuracy and veracity, but its origins, maintaining the distinction between original reporting, and repeats and re-tweets.

In his recent Fulbright lecture, Lionel Barber, editor of The Financial Times, discussed why he believes the newspaper industry can prevail. His optimism comes not from nostalgia or “some irrational fondness for dead trees”, but a recognition that “the decline of the newspaper does not necessarily translate into the death of the newspaper”.[3] From paywalls for online content to iPad apps, Page One shows The New York Times with its thumbs in the dike, and with staff like Carr, the film’s verdict is optimistic; fit to print the news for the foreseeable future.

Dr Christopher Buckle

Researcher and Journalist

University of Glasgow

[2] Scott Macaulay, ‘Page One’s Andrew Rossi and David Carr’, Filmmaker accessed at

[3] ‘Lionel Barber’s Fulbright Lecture – Full Text’, available at

Thursday, 22 September 2011

reviews: we were promised jetpacks, the shivers, farewell poetry

We Were Promised Jetpacks - In the Pit of the Stomach

We Were Promised Jetpacks - In the Pit of the Stomach (****)

If you name your second album In The Pit Of The Stomach, anything less than gut-punching is going to disappoint. Opener Circles And Squares is a long way from disappointing: gargantuan riffs clamour over Adam Thompson’s distinctive bellows, before a boldly-conducted coda pushes the track into ‘personal best’ territory.

It’s a gutsy rebuttal to the whole concept of ‘Difficult Second Album Syndrome’ – the first of several confident strides forward for the Edinburgh quartet. Recorded in Sigur Rós’ Icelandic studio, We Were Promised Jetpacks don’t evoke ‘glaciers’ so much as ‘massive fuck-off rock capable of tearing the surrounding landscape a new one’: lead single Medicine and Human Error are burly and bold, repeatedly nudging your hand to towards the volume dial. It’s not quite perfect – a little spark dissipates whenever they take the foot off the pedal – but on those (numerous) occasions where the band locks in and nails it, the Jetpacks truly soar.

Out 3rd October

The Shivers - More

The Shivers - More (****)

Somehow, it’s taken five self-released albums for someone in the UK to prick up their ears and sign New York’s The Shivers. Johnny Lynch (aka The Pictish Trail, aka Fence’s high heid yin) is the good soul responsible for terminating the stalemate, and this sixth full-length is a perfect profile-raiser that should have newcomers raiding the preceding pentad hungrily.

Perhaps the duo aren’t strikingly original – the title track is Stripped Stones, while The Strokes are a frequent influence on the faster numbers – but they more than make up for any moments of déjà vu by being rather good at it all. Beneath nicely-judged orchestral embellishments, Silent Weapons for Quiet Wars carries faint flickers of Devendra Banhart (if disarming simplicity replaced whimsy as his lyrical stock in trade), while Used To Be adds a zesty synth line to the palette, adding up to a rather fine UK entrée.

Out 26th September

Farewell Poetry - Hoping for the Invisible to Ignite

Farewell Poetry - Hoping for the Invisible to Ignite (***)

Oh Farewell Poetry, shall I compare thee to a Godspeed echo? Well, yes – you make it pretty difficult not to, with your serious atmosphere and evocative spoken-word bits: thou art majestic, beautiful and, it must be said, more than a little bit familiar. But this French/English collective are no schmucks: they understand the dynamic intimately (it’s all about contrast, don’t you know), and, when pitched just right, no other aesthetic sets off shivers quite so effectively.

While the obvious checkpoints keep coming – from the typically po-faced name to their use of experimental film online and live – both musical and poetic elements are well-judged, with crescendos in all the right places and turns of phrase like “and the millions suck at my bowels like mice” eliciting unfamiliar emotion. Consequently, Hoping For the Invisible to Ignite gets under the listener’s skin; if not in shards, then certainly in slithers.

Out 26th September

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

review: post mortem

In Tony Manero, a Chilean dancer’s quest to build an illuminated dance-floor was studded with acts of shockingly abrupt violence, to blackly comic and boldly original effect. Director Pablo Larraín’s latest has a less arresting pitch, but is the more complex and rewarding work – an unconventional romance of sorts, played out against the 1973 coup that replaced elected president Salvador Allende with General Pinochet. The sort-of lovers in question are troubled dancer Nancy (Antonia Zegers) and her bland neighbour Mario (Alfredo Castro, who was excellent as the aforementioned Travolta-fixated serial killer), a washed out, barely-there blur as wan as the corpses that rapidly fill the morgue where he works. Amidst traumas both personal and national, Larraín posits moments of deadpan humour (for instance, an itinerary of grisly injury recited by a coroner is rendered farcical by notary Mario’s inability to keep apace on a borrowed typewriter), but any smiles are smartly offset by increasingly unsympathetic characterisation and moral ambiguity.

Monday, 19 September 2011

beat generation: a student guide to music

a couple of years ago i wrote a 'introduction to scottish music' feature for the skinny's annual fresher's guide. i've done the same again for this year's edition - have a wee read if you like...

Writing a guide to Scottish university life is simple: drink whatever’s cheapest, eat whatever revives you after a night spent drinking whatever’s cheapest, and listen to…er, actually, you'd better take a seat.

Obviously, The Skinny will act as your monthly guide to the ins and outs of Scotland’s musical tributaries, but consider this your 101 class. Unfortunately, there are approximately one million billion acts to choose from and only three pages to squeeze them in to, so we’ll stick to those likely to visit your university town of choice in the coming year; the solo artists, DJs, bands and MCs who’ll be sitting right up front in your nostalgia banks when you’re old and boring.

Let’s address the elephants in the room right off the bat: big-hitters like Mogwai, Belle and Sebastian, Edwyn Collins and Sons and Daughters have all returned with new albums in the last twelve months, but you hardly need us to sell their merits (ditto Franz Ferdinand, beavering away on album four as we type). Aidan Moffat’s sharp and maudlin wit is evergreen (most recently demonstrated on his superb collaboration with Bill Wells), while smart money’s on Frightened Rabbit to eventually eclipse all the aforementioned in terms of popularity. The Fence Collective also continue to provoke gushing praise for games both Home and Away, as well as the numerous smaller events staged by Johnny Lynch (a.k.a. The Pictish Trail), Kenny Anderson (a.k.a. King Creosote), and their growing musical family, ranging from James Yorkston to more recent inductees like Randolph’s Leap and The Last Battle.

Of those scheduled to return with new material, we’re most excited about The Twilight Sad’s forthcoming third full-length and the first fruits of Meursault’s new line-up. Already this year, debuts from nifty alt-rockers Copy Haho, skyscraping Aberdonians Indian Red Lopez, moody blues preachers Jacob Yates and the Pearly Gates Lock Pickers, sprightly noiseniks She’s Hit, and glitch-pop duo Conquering Animal Sound have garnered praise in our pages, as have King Post Kitsch’s Kinks-inflected pop-rock, The Douglas Firs’ rustic atmospherics and John B McKenna’s full-band guise Monoganon. Stellar returns from country-gothic troubadours Sparrow and the Workshop, exuberant funky-punks Dananananaykroyd, dubstep pioneer Kode9 (whose Black Sun contains some of the year’s most excitingly abstruse sounds) and sleaze-core misfits Take a World For A Walk Week have had us equally animated for various reasons, while our ongoing appreciation of United Fruit and Found is corroborated by recent covers featuring their mugs.

Other names to watch out for include tipped instrumentalists Lady North, and the unassumingly-monikered Stanley Odd: if you crave hip-hop featuring lassies rather than hos and rhymes about Snapfax deals rather than crunk juice, they’re the MCs you’ve been looking for. Elsewhere in Scotland’s nascent hip-hop scene, Church of When the Shit Hits the Fan are an altogether darker beast, with a tendency to unsettle the unwary.

If you like your live shows sweaty and heavy, Holy Mountain serve up Sabbath-sized riffs, while Bronto Skylift interject a more experimental bent that’ll keep you on your toes whilst leathering your eardrums. Ultimate Thrush will have you struggling for air and sanity as you dodge human projectiles in the pit, while Streets of Rage’s intense digital hardcore and Divorce’s metal racket also get a firm seal of approval. If you’re looking to go heavier still, Cerebral Bore’s grindcore squall has impressed those in the know, but all that aggression isn’t good for you; balance it out with something twee and cheerful, such as loveable scamps Zoey Van Goey, or Spector-styled girl group revivalists The Belle Hops.

When it comes to clubs, don’t put your faith in the university union to lay down beats or you’ll end up suffering endless cheesy pop. Though their Sunday residency at the Sub Club has been retired, Wilkes and Twitch continue to mix as Optimo, while Taz Buckfaster’s adventures in bass are garnering ever-growing buzz. Also inspiring dance breakouts, Ben Butler and Mousepad present eccentric synth-based fusions, Dam Mantle specialises in wonky, syncopated collages, while Rustie’s arrival on leftfield music mecca Warp (along with Hudson Mohawke) confirms Scotland’s producer pedigree.

Our page space is almost exhausted, and we’ve still to mention Withered Hand’s tragi-comic alt-folk, Remember Remember’s prog symphonies and Wounded Knee’s loops and drones, but nonetheless we’ve made our point: whatever you’re in to, there’s much to discover. Enjoy the journey.

Always read the label

When you’re not busy gigging and clubbing, you’ll need some home-listening – here are five of the best local labels.

Chemikal Underground

Launched in 1994 by the sadly-separated The Delgados, Chemikal Underground boosted the careers of Arab Strap, Aereogramme and Mogwai amongst others, with its founders’ own The Great Eastern the jewel in its impressive roster.

Try: The Phantom Band – The Wants

Song, By Toad

Edinburgh-based blogger Matthew Young projects a pleasingly-meritocratic attitude towards running a label, putting out whatever takes his fancy regardless of commercial appeal. Or, indeed, geographical origin, with the likes of Montreal’s Trips and Falls sitting alongside Auld Reekie’s finest.

Try: Inspector Tapehead – Duress Code


When Autechre, Squarepusher or Modeselektor come to town, Numbers invariably play host; but they’re more than just top-class promoters, with the label wing dropping tracks by Ill Blu, Jamie XX and Hudson Mohawke.

Try: Hudson Mohawke – Oops EP

Winning Sperm Party

Winning Sperm Party has hosted DIY releases from Triple School, Blue Sabbath Black Fiji and Ultimate Thrush amongst others, many of which are free to download from their website; just be sure to attend a show or two in return.

Try: Eternal Fags – Eternal Fags

Fence Records

The Collective has never limited membership to its own signings; in fact, many of the big names associated with the Fife label – James Yorkston, even King Creosote – reside elsewhere for the most part. But their exalted reputation means that an endorsement – such as re-releasing Kid Canaveral’s debut – goes a long way.

Try: Kid Canaveral – Shouting at Wildlife

Sunday, 18 September 2011

september! 2011! playlist!

hello! after a week spent swanning about on holiday, it was nice to come back to such a busy and just generally lovely bottle rocket! here's what we played...

1. club 8 - dancing with the mentally ill
2. princeton - clamoring for your heart
3. male bonding - tame the sun
4. css - hit me like a rock
5. yo la tengo - river of water
6. abc - poison arrow
7. the b-52s - private idaho
8. wild nothing - summer holiday
9. the pains of being pure at heart - young adult friction
10. shout out louds - tonight i have to leave it
11. prince - i wanna be your lover
12. dum dum girls - bedroom eyes
13. los campesinos - by your hand
14. the wannadies - you and me song
15. twin shadow - changes
16. future islands - balance
17. bombay bicycle club - shuffle
18. xtc - no thugs in our house
19. the rolling stones - harlem shuffle
20. 1990s - you made me like it
21. wake the president - she fell into my arms
22. guided by voices - not behind the fighter jet
23. okkervil river - unless it kicks
24. rem - little america
25. bruce springsteen - thunder road
26. sparks - something for the girl with everything
27. joan jett - aint no cure for the summertime blues
28. the ramones - i wanna be sedated
29. television - see no evil
30. kate bush - running up that hill
31. belle and sebastian - i could be dreaming
32. camera obscura - eighties fan
33. blondie - sunday girl
34. tom jones - stop breaking my heart
35. edwin starr - stop her on sight
36. otis redding - i can't turn you loose
37. jane wiedlin - rush hour
38. roxette - joyride
39. mgmt - destrokk
40. new order - ceremony
41. heavenly - c is the heavenly option
42. weezer - tired of sex
43. the clean - tally ho
44. the futureheads - hounds of love
45. the royal we - 2 is company
46. abba - on and on and on
47. iggy and the stooges - gimme danger
48. the housemartins - happy hour
49. the go-betweens - right here
50. fleetwood mac - little lies
51. banananarama - really saying something
52. altered images - see those eyes
53. devo - turnaround
54. pet shop boys - west end girls
55. bon jovi - bad medicine
56. sweet - blockbuster
57. hall and oates - you make my dreams come true
58. david bowie - modern love
59. pixies - here comes your man
60. duran duran - hungry like the wolf
61. spandau ballet - cut a long story short
62. the supremes - you keep me hanging on
63. bill haley - see you later alligator

nae too shabby

Friday, 9 September 2011

another new poster? YES.

as well as his nifty design for september's bottle rocket, dan burgess put together this rather nice poster: you may gaze admiringly for as long as you wish.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

dvd review: my voyage to italy

Martin Scorsese’s four-hour expedition through Italian Cinema 101 is well-motivated, with the director and renowned cinephile aiming to redress the Hollywood hegemony that threatens to render all other national cinemas secondary. Unfortunately, the resulting documentary manages to be both overly restrictive and tediously excessive in different ways. By sticking to works by a canonical quintet of Vittorio De Sica, Roberto Rossellini, Luchino Visconti, Federico Fellini and Michelangelo Antonioni, Scorsese’s archival intellect is circumscribed at the expense of other, unsung filmmakers: you’ll discover a new title or ten, but only from the usual sources. The second flaw in the format is more damaging: if you’re familiar with any of the films in question, the commentary is too sparse and light to add much to your appreciation; if you haven’t, Scorsese’s tendency to synopsise entire plots will frustrate. By being neither an illuminating educational lecture nor a piece of entertainment in its own right, Marty’s passion is rendered a chore.

Out 26th September

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

next bottle rocket is going to be totally mantle

We’ll drop the waffle and cut to the chase this month: we promise to play awesome music (TALKING HEADS! PULP! WE WERE PROMISED JETPACKS! JENS LEKMAN! NEW ORDER! LES SAVY FAV! IDLEWILD! ELVIS! XTC! THE WANNADIES! THE CLASH! TALK TALK! PRINCE!) if you do your darnedest to join us on the dancefloor. What a combination we’ll make.

11:30PM – 3:00AM!

And requests belong on the facebook wall, where you can also rsvp if you like!

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

september skinny

The Skinny

Have you picked up your copy of Scotland's Best Print Publication yet?* you really should, it's full of goodies. Here's a list of my contributions...

- shonen knife live review (read here!)
- jello biafra and the guantanamo school of medicine live review (read here!)
- chad vangaalen live review (read here!)
- chad vangaalen does the dirty dozen (singles reviews - read here!)
- nurses - 'dracula' album review (read here!)
- farewell poetry - 'hoping for the invisible to ignite' album review
- waters - 'out in the light' album review (read here!)
- trips and falls - 'people have to be told' album review (read here!)
- peter wolf crier - 'garden of arms' album review (read here!)
- shimmering stars - 'violent hearts' album review (read here!)
- molly wagger - 'flambeaux' album review (read here!)
- cant - 'dreams come true' album review (read here!)
- the shivers - 'more' album review
- the green wave film review
- my voyage to italy album review

anything not yet on the blog will be added in the weeks to come!

* though it's not clear quite how much of an honour the Scottish New Music Awards gongs are having read The Pop Cop's cutting assessment...

Monday, 5 September 2011

have an award!

So it was the inaugural Scottish New Music Awards the other night, and would you believe that The Skinny won both best print AND best online publication! wowzer! As a regular contributor, it makes me feel all proud inside so it does...

here's a twitter update to prove it!

(by the way, the full list of winners is a bit odd - sandi thom crowned artist of the year??? - but it's a nice acknowledgement nonetheless!)

Sunday, 4 September 2011

reviews: trips and falls, molly wagger, astrid williamson

Trips and Falls - People Have to Be Told

Trips and Falls - People Have to be Told (****)

Managing Trips and Falls, Preventing Trips and Falls, Avoid Trips and Falls, How to Reduce Trips and Falls… a cursory googling and it appears the whole world’s trying to bring this under-the-radar but ensconced-in-our-hearts Montreal mob down. Consider this review a counter volley: superb debut He Was Such a Quiet Boy was woefully underappreciated, and People Have to Be Told manages to better it.

Opener I’ll Do The Dishes, You Do The Laundry evidences their ear for a good song title, but they’ve more than wit to recommend them. This Is All Going To End Badly is a late stage highlight thanks to the delicious interplay between Jacob Romero’s inimitable croon and Ashleigh Delaye’s lush backing vocals, but picking favourites is impossible. They bob and weave around expectations, but their quirks are never extraneous; they’re too blooming smart for that. Take the album’s message to heart, kids: tell your friends.

Out 26th September

Molly Wagger - Flambeaux

Molly Wagger - Flambeaux (**)

It’s difficult to get a handle on Molly Wagger: an ‘alternative space rock’ outfit signed to a label known predominantly for disco and electronica, the Edinburgh quartet are folky one minute, glitchy the next. The problem with terms like ‘space rock’ is that the acts to which it tends to be assigned – Molly Wagger included – rarely live up to its cosmic promise, their ideas of the future usually rooted in dusty psychedelia.

Flambeaux initially promises a veritable constellation of possibilites, then stocks whole sectors with tired meanderings and sub-Huxley pseud-guff (“I had a dream about a girl with an eye on her forehead” indeed…). But there’s a surface scattering of genuine innovation, coaxed out carefully by producer Sam Annand of Architeq. Opening mini-opus The Weight indicates what they’re capable of when their creative stars align – more like that in future and they’ll really take off.

Out 5th September

Astrid Williamson - Pulse

Astrid Williamson - Pulse (**)

Judging from the level of input he's credited with, Pulse may be more equitably attributed to ‘Leo Abraham and Astrid Williamson’; the former’s influence is apparently key to the top-lined singer-songwriter’s makeover. Abraham has described Williamson’s past work as “knowledgeable” and “literate”, and the word choice is telling; not “passionate” or “inspired”, but something more detached.

Pulse is therefore aptly named, being her first record to exhibit clear signs of life: as inspiration, coach and collaborator, Abrahams has helped Williamson overhaul the functional but frumpy sound of previous releases for something more interesting. Her voice maintains its beguiling lightness (broadly similar to Cat Power’s whisper), but interesting textures now ruffle her compositions (for instance, the Portishead-style industrial percussion that interrupts Husk’s airy atmosphere). Yet, despite the best efforts of all involved, a residual disconnect remains, and only last-minute highlight Paperbacks counters accumulative disinterest.

Out now.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

chad vangaalen does the dirty dozen

so i met up with mr vangaalen last month and played him a bunch of songs - the idea being, he'd review them for the skinny's singles column. here's how it turned out!

Coercing Chad VanGaalen into dissecting the month’s singles is no easy task. Not only is he less than thrilled at the prospect of passing judgements from the gut, but there are also sound checks and food orders competing for the amicable Canadian’s time and attention. But with steely determination we plough forward, diving into the promo pile feet-first.

“It’s crazy that you have all these on CD! I haven’t seen a pile like that for years,” he exclaims as we settle into the quiet confines of his tour van and begin. “Sorry in advance if I’m, like, the worst music critic in the world…”

Anna Calvi – Suzanne and I (Domino, 12 Sep)

After moody drums and string bends set the track’s timbre, Calvi muscles in doing her best Shirley Bassey impression.
Chad: Are these guys from here? She sounds Scottish, no? Maybe not…
The Skinny: How does her high drama style sit with your usual tastes?
C: To tell you the truth, I don’t even listen to that much music. I mean, this sounds good – I can understand it – it’s got big production, and it sounds like they spent a lot of money. I like it – it’s definitely not bad.
S: Marks out of ten?
C (after much contemplation): 9.9

Make Sparks – Your Heart’s on Fire (Mountain Halo, 5 Sep)

C, clearly unimpressed: Are all of these going to be indie bands? This is pretty big production as well, but it’s a bit too… orchestrated. It feels horrible to judge though - I don’t know if I feel comfortable with this. I mean, I’ve already forgotten the name of this band, and I’m giving their song 1 out of 10…

Warpaint – Billie Holiday (Rough Trade, 19 Sep)

C, seconds in: Yeah, I like these guys, these guys get 10 out of 10.
S: Do you already know them?
C: No. I mean, I’ve heard of Warpaint but I’ve never heard what they do. But yeah, these guys are good, 10 out of 10. Right, what’s next?

Teeth – Flowers (Moshi Moshi, 5 Sep)

C, barely a minute in, his binary scoring system now locked in place: Yeah, ten out of ten.
S: What is it you like about it?
C: I don’t know, it just sounds good. They sound like they got robots to make the song, but whatever man – you do what you've got to do.

Cymbals Eat Guitars – Keep Me Waiting (Memphis Industries, 12 Sep)

C: Woah! These guys are good. It’s nice that they’ve got a bass player – 10 out of 10. Next!
S: Would I be right in guessing that nothing we’ve heard so far would be the kind of thing you’d usually listen to?
C: Honestly man, I listen to what my daughter tells me to and that’s about it. When I’m at home, I listen to drone music and Abba, seriously. I’m absolutely the wrong person to criticise any band. Especially when you don’t know what motivates someone to do a particular style of music – it’s hard to criticise someone when you don’t know what they’re aiming for. I have no common sense when it comes to that.

Sarabeth Tucek – Smile For No One (Sonic Cathedral, 12 Sep)

C: That better be a real fucking piano, that’s all I can say.
Passing band member: He gets angry when it isn’t a real piano. Then he pisses himself.
C, after careful consideration: Yeah, it seems like everybody knows what they’re doing.
S: That’s pretty faint praise…
C: I guess… OK, 1 out of 10. I think I’ll go full asshole – everyone’s going to hate me.
S: Your scores are all or nothing, full marks or one. Apart from Anna Calvi’s 9.9 that is…
C: Yeah, about that – I’d like to change her score to a ten as well.

Austra – Spellwork (Domino, 5 Sep)

S: Austra are nominated for this year’s Polaris Prize…
C, after a sharp intake of breath: 1 out of 10, we don’t even need to hear them. It’s automatic. (Chad’s been nominated twice without a win, while latest album Diaper Island didn’t make this year’s shortlist) Seriously, I don’t want to hear it!
S: Don’t take it out on Austra…
C: Ok, fine, I’ll hear it… (thirty seconds later) Oh, I like that… I’d vote them down from the Polaris nomination though. They really like their fart-synth sounds. It sounds like British electro. 10 out of 10.

Snow Patrol – Called Out In the Dark (Fiction, 4 Sep)

S, while cueing the track: Are you familiar with this band?
C: I’ve definitely heard of them but I don’t know whether they’re known in Canada really.
The song begins…
C, instantly: No, no, no. No. No, 1 out of 10. His voice, oh man… 1 out of 10, turn it off.

Pusha T feat. Tyler, the Creator – Trouble On My Mind (Decon, 26 Sep)

C, scanning the sleeve: I don’t even want to hear this one, it already gets 10 out of 10. Seriously, I don’t want to fucking hear it, just looking at this picture I know it’s 10 out of 10. He’s there, doing stuff… getting high on jenkem or something (Wikipedia: “a hallucinogenic substance created from fermented human waste”). He’s a jenkem addict, so 10 out of 10.

The Duke Spirit – Surrender (Fiction, 12 Sep)

C, miming and singing bass riff: Bam, be-bam bam - can I give this 1 out of 10, and 10 out of 10 please?
S: Only if you can explain why…
C: But I don’t know why… It’s like, I like that bass line, but maybe I’ve heard it too many times or something. I like it, but maybe, like, Soundgarden did it, and then Nirvana did it, and so on, y’know?
S: So is it a 10 for the bass line and a 1 for everything surrounding the bass line?
C: Precisely.

Martyn – Masks/Viper (Brainfeeder, 19 Sep)

C: This is good, 10 out of 10 again. Actually, this one’s really good. Minimal techno… I like it.
S: If there’d been more of this kind of thing do you think your scores would have been any different?
C: I doubt it – I’ve already given out a lot of 10s…

The Twilight Singers – Blackbird and the Fox (Sub Pop, 5 Sep)

C: This is pretty classy. Yep, 10 out of 10 for this too.
S: Usually it’s easy to identify a single of the month, but you’ve given just about everything full marks…
C: Well, I really liked the Martyn one, but I’m going to go for Warpaint. I like the Martyn one a lot, and can appreciate where it’s coming from, but Warpaint seemed more original. Sorry, I was the worst critic in the world, wasn’t I?

Friday, 2 September 2011

reviews; peter wolf crier, water, nurses

Peter Wolf Crier - Garden of Arms

Peter Wolf Crier - Garden of Arms (****)

Peter Wolf Crier’s rustic debut drew comparisons to For Emma, Forever Ago, partly for some slight aesthetic similarities, and partly because the back-story (“born on a single summer night” by an inspired Peter Pisano) struck the same romantic nerve as the whole cabin-in-the-woods thing. To parallelise further, Garden of Arms, like, Bon Iver, carves new crannies in which to play with expectations, with the Minneapolis duo confidently dressing folk-pop bones in added finery.

Right Away is enlivened by errant percussion; Krishnamutri features an Eastern influence (but thankfully wears it lightly); the ornamental rhythms underpinning Hard Heart recall pre-mash-up era Soulwax; while back-tracking tapes on both opener Right Away and the closing Wheel suggest someone’s been giving their Radiohead albums a re-spin. Yet they’re not above a bit of undiluted sentiment: Never Meant to Love You, for instance, is nicely old-fashioned; straightforwardly staged, and all the better for it.

Out 5th September

WATERS - Out in the Light

WATERS - Out in the Light (***)

When Port O’Brien severed ties earlier this year, ending a solid (albeit unspectacular) run, Van Pierszalowski wasted no time upping sticks to Oslo, recruiting a band, and chucking together Out in the Light in a ten day burst.

WATERS (the caps are important, apparently) is broadly stabled with Pierszalowski’s past work, but with extra bite: invigorating opener For the One’s fuzzy punch recalls the much-missed Jay Reatard, while Brendan Benson flickers through the crunchy power-pop of Take Me Out to the Coast.

The latter's title indicates an occasional lack of imagination (see also: San Fransisco, Back to You) while the falsetto refrain in closer Micky Mantle is annoyingly mawkish, but they don’t upset a solid introduction. Out in the Light feels like a transitional record – a testing of the WATERS, so to speak – but find a patch of sunshine to sit in, and it’s just the ticket.

Out 12th September

Nurses - Dracula

Nurses - Dracula (***)

If you find Animal Collective awesome in theory but too obtuse in reality, Nurses offer a safer, less pioneering alternative. They specialise in dub-psych doodles you can whistle along to; swirling exercises in immersive production, but with definite songs at the core. This is both their triumph and their shortcoming; they’re too conventional to astound by dint of experimentation alone, while their prickly sonics thwart gut-level love, resulting in only partial success at each pole.

The band apparently constructed Dracula by “adding one idea on top of another until the sounds became songs”, and perhaps a little subtraction amidst the amassing would have benefited the finished article, with several tracks left to stew in their own liquor. But regardless, there’s much to keep fans happy: the appropriately-titled Fever Dreams sets the tenor with its heady reverb infusion, ensuring Dracula trots a winning furrow in part if not necessarily in whole.

Out 19th September

Thursday, 1 September 2011

GFT programme note: The Hedgehog

The Hedgehog is playing at the GFT and elsewhere from tomorrow and it's, er, ok. It's safe to say I wasn't bowled over by it, but I found enough worth saying to write these here programme notes...


All happy families are alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.[1]

Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy

The Hedgehog focuses on two unhappy residents of a French townhouse, each unhappy in her own way. Eleven-year-old Paloma (Garance Le Guillermic) vows to avoid the pointless monotony of life in what she terms the ‘fishbowl’ – ‘a world where adults bang like flies on the glass.’ She decides to escape this dreaded fate by killing herself on her twelfth birthday, documenting her final days on a borrowed camera, into which she freely philosophises with insight beyond her slender years. Two floors below in la loge, concierge Renée Michel (Josiane Balasko) intentionally sequesters herself from those she serves. She conceals her formidable intelligence behind a surly demeanour, so as to conform to the ‘consensual cliché’ assigned to her lowly social status: uneducated, uninterested and uninteresting. When one of the building’s tenants dies of a heart attack, Japanese widower Kakuro Ozu (Togo Igawa) takes occupancy of the vacated apartment. His arrival perks up both troubled souls: Paloma is keen to show off her Japanese vocabulary, while Renée wonders whether he is related to Yasijirô Ozu (one of her many clandestine cultural passions). When they are first introduced, Renée accidentally half-quotes Anna Karenina’s opening lines regarding the inter-changeability of happy families, affording Kakuro a glimpse behind the closet scholar’s brittle shell. What to others seems ingrained misanthropy is to Kakuro a coded expression of Renée’s concealed sophistication; an insight into a private existence enriched by literature, cinema and philosophy.

As the above references to Tolstoy and Ozu indicate, The Hedgehog does not share Renée’s coyness when it comes to making cultural allusions: a copy of Jun’ichirõ’s In Praise of Shadows is an early clue to Renée’s secret identity, while passing references are made to 14th-century Franciscan friar William of Ockham (he of the razor principle) and mountaineering manga The Summit of the Gods by Jiro Taniguchi. Muriel Barbery’s source novel The Elegance of the Hedgehog packed in further intellectual touchstones still – Roland Barthes, Immanuel Kant and Edmund Husserl, amongst others – yet nonetheless achieved mainstream popularity, spending 102 consecutive weeks on France’s bestseller list. The New York Times, amongst others, attributed the novel’s success to its accessibility, with its meditations married to a relatively straightforward tale of disconnected outsiders finding solace in art and, subsequently, each other.[2]

Against charges of heavy-handedness (or worse, pretentiousness), Barbery argues that the novel’s highbrow veneer is merely an expression of her personal passions, claiming she was ‘just creating characters who love the things I do, and who allowed me to celebrate that through them.’[3] For a former philosophy teacher, born in Paris and now living in Kyoto, this equates quite logically to existential introspection and a celebration of Japanese culture (from games of Go, to meals of gyoza and sake). Inadvertently or otherwise, director Mona Achache follows Barbery’s example, skewing her screenplay towards the artistic endeavour closest to her own heart: namely, filmmaking itself. While the novel alternates the role of narrator between Renée and Paloma, Achache’s adaptation irons out the narrative’s kinks, placing the emphasis (initially at least) on Paloma alone, as she incessantly films the daily activities of the building’s occupants. Her commentary-to-camera preserves some of the novel’s subjective narration, as she precociously denigrates what she considers to be the empty bourgeois lives surrounding her, from her father’s preoccupation with work to her mother’s dependence on psychoanalysis and antidepressants. But the parallels between director and character only extend so far: while Paloma aims to capture life’s inescapable absurdity, The Hedgehog uncovers its inherent value; life, it concludes, is worth living. Despite her suicidal intentions, Paloma herself gives expression to this simple (but profound) ideal when she declares early on that ‘what matters isn’t the fact of dying or when you die, it’s what you’re doing at that precise moment’ – a paean to living every moment as if it were your last (albeit one delivered by a pre-teen wallowing in premature fatalism).

Paloma may be the voice of The Hedgehog, but Renée is its heart; indeed, she is the subject of the title’s metaphor – ‘prickly on the outside’ but, beneath the quills, ‘as refined as that falsely lethargic, staunchly private and terribly elegant creature.’ Initially, she is self-consciously confined to her own version of the fishbowl – not the deadening stupor feared by Paloma, but a hidden sanctum filled with leather-bound books, from which she is gradually coaxed by the perseverant Kakuro. Renée’s feline companion Leo (named, naturally, after Tolstoy – pointedly, Kakuro’s cats are named Kitty and Levin) is the first to fly the coop, darting into the stairwell when Renée’s back is turned, thereby initiating his owner’s tentative steps away from hermetic isolation. In addition to their respective choice of pet, Kakuro and Renée discover further overlapping interests, and while their burgeoning friendship/courtship involves predictable culture clash jokes (‘It’s a Japanese thing’ Kakuro explains when Renée is sprayed by his Mozart-playing toilet), there are also moments of calm connection, notably a screening of The Munekata Sisters (Ozu, 1950) during which the unspoken love onscreen acts as a conduit of sorts for its audience of two.

Twenty-five years ago, Anna Karenina inspired another, very different, tale of unhappy families. In Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), Woody Allen borrowed an aphorism from Tolstoy to support his pessimistic perspective on the human condition. ‘The only absolute knowledge attainable by man,’ one of the film’s inter-titles reads, ‘is that life is meaningless.’ The Hedgehog begs to differ: absolute knowledge may be elusive – no matter how many books one reads – but as the sum of our relationships, daily reminders of life’s meaning exist all around.

Christopher Buckle
Researcher and Journalist
University of Glasgow

[1] Leo Tolstoy (2003 edition, tr. Constance Garnett), Anna Karenina (Barnes & Noble Classics, New York) p. 5

[2] Caryn James, ‘Thinking on the Sly’, The New York Times, 5 September 2008, accessed at

[3] Bruce Crumley, ‘Muriel Barbery: An Elegant Quill’ Time, 27 August 2008, accessed at,9171,1836659,00.html