Sunday, 29 December 2013

The Dirty Dozen: Kid Canaveral review 2013's christmas choons

With their Christmas Baubles jamboree fast approaching, we ask Kid Canaveral to appraise the season’s crop of festive songs, separating the crackers from the crap...

Bright Eyes – God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen [from A Christmas Album, Saddle Creek, Out Now]
The Skinny: This is from their 2002 Christmas album, which has just been re-released on vinyl.
David: It’s a bit… dull.
Rose: But I don’t think that’s their fault – I think this is one of the more boring Christmas traditionals…
 D: Aye it’s their fault – no one forced them to record it!
Scott: I’d give this 6.
D: SIX?!? I’d say that’s very generous…
R: It’s fine. If I had a trendy shop I’d play it.
D: It’s the musical equivalent of having an uncomfortable chat with a distant relative on Christmas Day – unwelcome and boring.
Kate: We’re setting the bar really low. Let’s go 5.

Future of the Left – The Real Meaning of Christmas [from How to Stop Your Brain in an Accident, Prescriptions, Out Now]
D: It’s certainly more exciting than Bright Eyes. They have some amazing lyrics normally – I liked that one 'where were you when Russell Brand discovered fire?' This one could do with some sleigh bells though.
R: Yeah, sleigh bells would really make this…
K: Still, we should go high – 8.

Olaf the Singing Snowman – In Summer [from Disney’s Frozen, in cinemas 6 Dec]
D, watching the accompanying video and looking displeased: Is he drinking whisky? And why’s he not melting?
R: He doesn’t know about melting! He’s never known anything but the cold, and this is his summer fantasy! I imagine there’s a tragic twist…
D: This is making me want to throw up.
R: It’s making me want to cry!
D: It’s fucking horrendous.
R: It’s not – if you were seven years old…
D: If I was 7 I’d still know that snowmen melt!
R: 9?
D: If you give that a 9 I quit the band.
K: I don’t think that can have more than 2 or 3.
R: 5! In my shop I’d have that and Bright Eyes, on a loop. It’s a strange shop.

Erasure – Make it Wonderful [from Snow Globe, Mute, Out Now]
R: There are some big expectations here.
D: Just waiting for a big chorus…
Chorus comes and goes.
R: Well it’s not really reaching lofty heights is it?
D: I really like Erasure, and I think that’s making me sympathetic towards this.
R: I don’t hate it. It might be a grower.
D: They’re just damned by their own back catalogue. Erasure would get a 10, but this… 6.

Sleigh Bells – Bitter Rivals [from Bitter Rivals, Lucky Number, Out Now]
D: That sounded like Limp Bizkit for a while…
R, singing: 'You’re my butterfly, sugar baby.' Sorry, that’s really harsh – no one wants to be compared to Crazy Town…
S: I think that should get 3.
The Skinny: That puts it level with Olaf the Singing Snowman…
R: I preferred Olaf. That had charm.
S: What happened to us being nice?

Leona Lewis – One More Sleep [Syco Music, out now]
R: Oh good, the most boring woman in pop…
D: 'Five more nights sleeping on my own' – is she going to shag Santa?
K: I think this is alright. It has the catchiest chorus so far.
R: But it’s really boring. It’s more clichéd than the Disney song.
D: It makes me think I should be panicking in a supermarket.
K: I think this might be a 5 as well. We have to give it some points for being so Christmassy…
R: It’s so cliched though! Plagiarism should not be rewarded!
D: We’ll say 4.

Eminem feat. Nate Ruess – Headlights [from The Marshall Mathers LP 2, Aftermath/Shady/Interscope, Out Now]
R: Is that Dido singing?
D: I think it’s Dr Dre…
S, noticing how much of the song has passed: Hold on where’s Eminem?
Marshall starts rapping; the band start sniggering.
K: Can we give this 1?
D: No! He loves his mother, you can’t give him 1!
S: I think I’ve heard enough.
R: It sounds like an album track.
D: An East 17 album track…
R: 'Cleaning out my closet' – ah, a reference to another Eminem song. Either that or it’s something he does often.
K: Maybe he does it at Christmas?

Run the Jewels – A Christmas Fucking Miracle [from Run the Jewels, Fool’s Gold, Out Now]
R: Well there’s some jingle bells…
D: 'Doesn’t get his portion' – that can be a problem at tables of large families.
S: It’s definitely better than Eminem anyway…
K: It is better than Eminem, though I think it lulled us into a false security, because it started so Christmassy.
R: I think there should be more songs that mix swearing and jingle bells.
The Skinny: Is hip-hop something you would usually listen to?
D: All the hip-hop albums I’ve got are older ones like Jurassic 5 and The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, so I wouldn’t say I was in touch! Shall we give that 6?
R: I think higher.
D: OK, 7. It had sleigh bells and lots of words. And he was on about Christmas dinner, and that’s tough.

Kurt Vile – Snowflakes are Dancing [from Wakin’ on a Pretty Daze, Matador, Out Now]
D: I like this – it’s soothing. It’s the kind of thing I can imagine lying in the Meadows listening to, trying to block out a djembe player.
R: Yeah this is good. I’d like to listen to the album.
K: What’s our highest score so far? 8? Then let’s give that 9.
D: Now there’s only one place left to go…

AC/DC – Highway to Hell [from Highway to Hell, Sony Music CMG, Out Now]
Playing with decorations, pulling crackers and examining the (rather rubbish) gifts inside...
R: A set square!
D: I’ve got a wee thimble!
K: I’ve got two jokes here. Let’s see… ‘What’s the smelliest animal on the farm?’ This is terrible…
R: Well objectively speaking I’d probably say the cows.
K: The toilet duck!
D: You don’t get ducks on farms! Maybe in idyllic fucking brochures…
K: ‘Why did the onion cry?’
D: Because he was struggling with being a sentient vegetable?
K: 'Because he accidentally cut himself.'
The Skinny, steering conversation back to task at hand: So, any thoughts on the campaign to have AC/DC as Christmas number one?
R: I think those contrarians are trying to steal Christmas out of the mouths of…
D: Jesus?
R: …charity, and they’re missing the point, which is we should be funnelling money into Simon Cowell’s pocket.
D: Maybe he’ll release our next album?
R: Oh, please let us sign to SyCo!
D: You’re only saying that so you can hang out with SuBo.
K: Just give that 8.
The Skinny: Speaking of SuBo…

Susan Boyle and Elvis Presley – O Come All Ye Faithful [Syco, 9 Dec]
K: It’s not a duet with dead Elvis is it? Oh my god it is…
Elvis pipes up.
D: Oh Jesus Christ.
K: I think this might have to get zero. There’s no reason to do a duet with dead Elvis.
R: SuBo can do what she likes!
D: For the record, we love SuBo but dead Elvis can go fuck himself.
K: Definitely zero. I think any duet with a dead person is out.
R: I think it’s realising the dream of life after death, which is what we’re supposed to think about at Christmas…
The Skinny: I’d say that’s more of an Easter theme…
R: In that case it should be Easter number one.                      
D: Can you make sure it’s clear that we love SuBo? Unfortunately dead Elvis has dragged her down…

TRACK OF THE MONTH: Bad Religion – God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen (from Christmas Songs, Epitaph, Out now]
R: Now this is a Christmas cover.
D: I could imagine falling off a table to this.
K: I’d definitely play this album at Christmas. I think it’s really fun.
R: Do you think McBusted will do a Christmas album?
D: I don’t want to talk about that…
K: I think that one has to get 10.

[written for the December issue of The Skinny]

Monday, 23 December 2013

The Skinny's Films of 2013

The current issue of The Skinny includes the film team's top movies of the year - a rather good list if you ask me...

1. Before Midnight (dir. Richard Linklater)
2. Frances Ha (dir. Noah Baumbach)
3. The Selfish Giant (dir. Clio Barnard)
4. Wadjda (dir. Haifaa Al-Mansour)
5. Spring Breakers (dir. Harmony Korine)
6. The Act of Killing (dir. Joshua Oppenheimer)
7. Gravity (dir. Alfonso Cuaron)
8. Zero Dark Thirty (dir. Kathryn Bigelow)
9. Beyond the Hills (dir. Cristian Mungiu)
10. Ain't Them Bodies Saints (dir. David Lowery)

And I wrote a couple of wee right-ups for numbers 2 and 8.

Zero Dark Thirty
Incurring criticism from both ends of the political spectrum, director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal’s forensic dramatisation of the decade-long hunt for Osama Bin Laden proved something of an ideological Rorschach test: torture apologia to some, soft liberal indictment to others. Fittingly, the film’s true character lies somewhere in the murky, contestable hinterland, with more room for debate than either flank of the anti-ZDT pincer allowed, as Jessica Chastain’s hard-nosed CIA agent homes in on her elusive white whale. For all its simplifications and elisions, it’s a marvel of narrative engineering, with years of global turbulence and knotty sleuthing trimmed to fit a thriller format that rivets in the moment but leaves you chewing over its content long after.

Frances Ha
Visiting her former roommate Frances’s new dwellings – dwellings that change multiple times during Frances Ha, as the eponymous 27-year-old drifts across the five boroughs and beyond – BFF Sophie delivers one of the film’s numerous arch zingers: “This apartment is very… aware of itself,” she sniffs. The same could be said, less derisorily, for Noah Baumbach’s seventh feature, which self-consciously offers familiarity in its themes (everyday embarrassment and the quarter-life crisis) and execution (with a monochrome NYC underscoring the Woody Allen parallels). But in the title role, co-screenwriter Greta Gerwig offers something fresh: not that indie staple of a kooky fantasy to fall for, but a gauchely charming hero to root for, with neuroses balanced by a vibrant joie de vivre.  

Saturday, 21 December 2013

our christmas playlist!

Thanks to everyone who joined us for last night's festive bottle rocket - ceilidh dancing to the pogues was a definite highlight!  Here's what we played...

1. Crocodiles - Cockroach
2. T-Rex - Christmas Bop
3. Tom Tom Club - Genius of Love
4. Au Revoir Simone - Fallen Snow
5. Siouxie and the Banshees - Happy House
6. Violens - Violent Sensation Descends
7. Limited - You Must Be Dreaming
8. The Cure - A Forest
9. Depeche Mode - People are People
10. Aztec Camera - Walk Out to Winter
11. XTC - Thanks for Christmas
12. Tom Petty - Christmas All Over Again
13. Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks - Senator
14. Veronica Falls - Waiting for Something to Happen
15. Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin - Young Presidents
16. Okkervil River - Money Changes Everything
17. Low- Just Like Christmas
18. Purity Ring - Fineshrine
19. Femme - Fever Boy
20. Dum Dum Girls - Rimbaud Eyes
21. Kim Wilde - Chequered Love
22. The Ramones - Merry Christmas (I Don't Want to Fight Tonight)
23. Pixies - Here Comes Your Man
24. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Heads Will Roll
25. Chvrches - Gun
26. St Etienne - Join Our Club
27. The Lovin' Spoonful - Do You Believe in Magic?
28. Parquet Courts - Master of My Craft
29. Modern Lovers - Astral Plane
30. The Replacements - Bastards of Young
31. David Bowie - Let's Dance
32. Donna Summer - I Feel Love
33. Blondie - Rapture
34. Future Bible Heroes - Don't You Want Me
35. S'Express - Theme from S'Express
36. The B-52s - 52 Girls
37. Vampire Weekend - Worship You
38. The Waitresses - Christmas Wrapping
39. Janelle Monae - Dance Apocalyptic
40. Suede - Animal Nitrate
41. Idlewild - When I Argue I See Shapes
42. Kenickie - Punka
43. Tears for Fears - Mad World
44. Brenda Lee - Rocking Around the Christmas Tree
45. The Ronettes - Sleigh Ride
46. Marlene Paul - I Wanna Spend Christmas with Elvis
47. Elvis - In the Ghetto
48. David Bowie - Modern Love
49. Billy Idol - Dancing with Myself
50. Ian Dury - Blockheads
51. Rocket from the Crypt - Young Livers
52. Cindy & Bert - Der Hund Von Baskerville
53. Clarence Carter - Back Door Santa
54. Beastie Boys - Intergalactic
55. Sly and the Family Stone - Sing a Simple Song
56. The Velvet Underground - What Goes On
57. Electronic - Getting Away with It
58. The Bangles - Hazy Shade of Winter
59. Maximo Park - Our Velocity
60. X-Ray Spex - Identity
61. The Hives - Hate to Say I Told You So
62. Mariah Carey - All I Want for Christmas
63. Michael Jackson - Beat It
64. Pet Shop Boys - Always on My Mind
65. Nena - 99 Luftballons
66. The Pogues - Fairytale of New York

Friday, 20 December 2013


11pm to 3am, the flying duck, glasgow, awesome christmas party fun!

Thursday, 19 December 2013

album reviews: Shearwater, Destroyer, Adrian Crowley & James Yorkston

                                          Shearwater – Fellow Travellers

Shearwater - Fellow Travellers (***)

Like live albums and B-side compilations, cover version LPs usually occupy a fringe position in an artist’s discography, and Fellow Travellers is no different. But as far as stopgaps go – bridging last year’s Animal Joy and next year’s in-the-works follow-up – Shearwater’s ten-song tribute to/collaboration with past touring partners is more attractive than most. 

Few recordings rival the originals, but usually offer something of interest: for example, a take on Xiu Xiu’s I Luv the Valley OH! doesn’t come close to the original’s intensity, but fashions a more conventional rock song out of the ingredients; similarly, St Vincent’s Cheerleader loses a lot of its poignancy in translation, but at least the gender switch invites new lyrical resonances. Less effective is a cover of Clinic’s Tomorrow, which smudges the original’s cold precision without subbing in any distinct character of its own, making Fellow Travellers a mixed bag in terms of quality as well as source material. 

Out now

                                           Destroyer – Five Spanish Songs

Destroyer - Five Spanish Songs (****)

With Dan Bejar’s piquant way with words a substantial part of Destroyer’s appeal, Five Spanish Songs may herald disappointment for those who don’t share the Canadian’s bilingual abilities. The result of waning interest in English’s expressive possibilities, it sees Bejar sing in the tongue of another in two senses – not only switching language, but covering songs by Seville songwriter Antonio Luque of Sr. Chinarro. 

Still, even a relatively inessential Destroyer release stands head and shoulders above most else, and Five Spanish Songs is no different. Kaputt’s delectable lounge vibe cedes to a greater stylistic variety – from the glam-rock guitars of El Rito to the airy whisper of Bye Bye – and if the EP’s primary goal was to revitalise Bejar’s muse, its collateral pleasures are not inconsiderable.

Out now

                                              Adrian Crowley & James Yorkston – My Yoke Is Heavy: The Songs of Daniel Johnston

Adrian Crowley & James Yorkston - My Yoke is Heavy: The Songs of Daniel Johnston (****)

Four years after its initial low-key release, Adrian Crowley and James Yorkston’s homage to Daniel Johnston is made widely available for the first time. With its parcel-taped sleeve and hand-written inlay, the original run’s presentation (99 CD-Rs sold at Fence’s Homegame festival) neatly befitted the music: eight evocative home-recordings that echo Johnston’s lo-fi tendencies whilst approximating his indelible mix of romanticism, surrealism and wistfulness. 

The re-release may disperse some of that intimate, contextual aura, but otherwise the mini-album’s understated qualities remain sharp. Focussing on the decade in which Johnston’s legend was formed (i.e. the string of self-released cassettes and early studio dabblings produced in the 80s), Crowley and Yorkston imbue their reconstructions with nice atmospheric touches, from the echoes and vinyl crackle of True Love... to the clicks and whistles permeating Like a Monkey in a Zoo. Consequently the songs charm and haunt anew, making My Yoke is Heavy a joy for Johnston fans of all stripes.

Out now

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

DVD review: Gaslight

Upon acquiring the rights to Patrick Hamilton’s play Gas Light, MGM set about wiping the slate in preparation for their George Cukor-directed, Ingrid Bergman-starring 1944 adaptation. Unfortunately, that meant suppressing almost to elimination a British version made four years prior, with this handsome restoration – the first time the film has been available on DVD – only possible thanks to a single print preserved by its director Thorold Dickinson, and later gifted to the BFI.

While it lacks its Hollywood successor’s budget and glamour, the limitations rather suit the tale’s clammy claustrophobia, as newlywed Bella (a fragile Diana Wynward) is made to question her sanity by husband Paul (a cruel Anton Walbrook). Despite an undisguised staginess and sometimes clunky structure, the material still unnerves, with the abruptness of the opening murder and the mind games of the last act proving particularly effective, making this of interest to more than just film historians.

Out now

Monday, 16 December 2013

this friday!

Right: the tree’s up, the presents are bought, you’ve dusted down your novelty jumper for its annual airing and you’ve made it through the office party unscathed (unless it’s still to come, in which case: good luck!). Next on the big list of essential ingredients for a super-awesome Christmas? Why, it’s a festive bottle rocket of course! 

It’s our first yule party in the Flying Duck’s cosy surroundings, and we’ll do our darnedest to make it a good un, with the usual mix of indie, rock n roll, new wave, pop, post-punk and what-not, plus a liberal sprinkling of seasonal treats.

The bottom line:


Thursday, 12 December 2013

live review: Rocket from the Crypt / The Computers @ The Classic Grand, Glasgow, 3rd December

With image, schtick and sound all displaying a clear debt to the night’s headliners, The Computers tackle their support duties like enthusiastic understudies. Whether clambering up the back wall with mic stand in hand or grabbing hold of crowd members and waltzing them up and down the venue, frontman Alex Kershaw gamely does everything in his power to raise the room’s energy levels. While their rip-roaring, retro rock n roll has a tendency towards the slickly generic, their showmanship is seriously impressive.
Rocket from the Crypt know a thing or two about showmanship themselves. Dressed in matching mariachi threads, the reformed San Diegan rockers are on devilishly fine form, their high-voltage garage punk immune to the passing of time and played as it should be: fast, loud and intense. At their centre, roguish ringmaster John ‘Speedo’ Reis carries himself with a zeal that’s part Vegas hawker, part evangelical preacher, his fanciful metaphors and witty self-aggrandizement making the gaps between songs almost as anticipated as each fresh blast of horn-backed greaser rock.
A mid-set run through Scream Dracula Scream’s opening quartet (from Middle to Young Livers via twin anthems Born in 69’ and On a Rope) garners the most enthusiastic response, though there are plenty other air-punching highlights, from Carne Voodoo’s dirty swagger to Dick on a Dog in the encore (though not, incidentally, theirrecent Baker Street cover, dismissed as “a novelty item”). “We’re pretty good!” barks Speedo in the set’s home stretch, motioning to their sparkly, name-emblazoned backdrop. “C’mon, that’s a pretty good band!” Listen to the man – he knows what he’s talking about.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

live review: The Dismemberment Plan / Great Cop @ Stereo, 28th November

With a Fugazi-referencing moniker and a Hüsker Dü‎ cover centre of tonight’s set, Great Cop aren’t coy about their influences. As interlocking guitars trade tight riffs, the Glasgow quartet’s inexhaustible and trouserless drummer Joe Campbell batters out full-on fills, and the combination rattles the viscera with such force that its recycled nature barely registers.

Shortly before The Dismemberment Plan make their live return, the room goes expectantly still, mistaking last-minute tunings and tweaks for a band ready to start. “Um, we’ll be ready soon” chirps frontman Travis Morrison, gently diffusing the premature hush. But the crowds’ eagerness is understandable. It’s been 12 years since D-Plan last played Glasgow, with this their first post-reformation visit; as such, there’s much to catch up on.

Despite its relatively lukewarm reception earlier in the year, cuts from Uncanny Valley stand up well in tonight’s set. From the giddy loops of opener Invisible to the wonky disco syncopations of Mexico City Christmas, the fruits of their reunion fit in seamlessly amongst the longer-cherished likes of Gyroscope (which triggers the first mass sing-along) and crisp relationship opus Ellen and Ben; in fact, the only jarringly ‘modern’ moment comes in the encore, when a slither of Lorde’s Royals interrupts a noisy finale.

Throughout, Morrison is an endearingly off-kilter performer, ramping up the stuttering madness of Girl O’Clock and grinning away when fans start respectfully shoving his slight frame around the stage during The Ice of Boston. This mix of musical idiosyncrasies and affable charm summarises their cult appeal, and makes tonight a real pleasure.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

live review: Parquet Courts / Eagulls @ Mono, 31st October

Despite heavy reverb obscuring much of George Mitchell’s between-song speech, body language and delivery indicate the vocalist is not in the best of moods. It seems the culprit is a snarl-up on the M6, and as Eagulls kick off their set 25 minutes later than scheduled, the traffic-induced irritation is writ large. But, from a punter’s perspective, the aggravation brings its own silver lining, with Mitchell’s extra-surly demeanour amplifying the palpable tension at the core of the Leeds quintet’s noisy post-punk squall, underscoring its raw impact.

Parquet Courts, by comparison, exhibit a more playful disposition, introducing themselves from behind cardboard emoticon masks. “WOOOooooOOOh! We are a Parquet Courts cover band! Happy Halloween!” the four-piece joke, their faux-ghostly wails subsequently echoed in the copious feedback that judders forth at regular intervals.

A hesitant start aside, the set proves as scrappy and charmingly effective as their lo-fi costumes, barrelling along with rough-edged élan and shout-along lyrical smarts. The lickity split energy of tracks like Borrowed Time receives a suitably enthusiastic reaction, while coupling the deadbeat drawl of N Dakota with its Light up Gold partner Stoned and Starving makes for a dynamic finale. Forget the aforementioned masks: this Halloween, Parquet Courts came dressed as one of the most exciting live acts around, and found the guise a perfect fit.

Monday, 4 November 2013

next bottle rocket............>>>

We like to keep things fresh round BR way, and November's event comes to you with a EXCITING TWIST. Your regular hosts won't be there, so we'll be passing the indiepopnewwavepostpunk baton on to a couple of surprise guest DJs. This means you might get some good music for a change.

Here's the deal:

11PM - 3AM!
FREE! (before 11pm, £5/£3 thereafter)

Sunday, 3 November 2013

album reviews: Son Lux, Chantal Acda, OvO

                                          Son Lux - Lanterns

Son Lux - Lanterns (****)

Some albums wantonly thrust their virtues upon the listener; others guard them like a secret to be teased out over time. Lanterns, Ryan Lott’s third album as Son Lux, achieves both: on first encounter, the melodic intelligence and invention lassos attention, while a dozen listens later there’s still much to discover.

Ascribing genre is next-to-meaningless, though comparisons could be drawn with Lott’s S / S / S bandmate Sufjan Stevens: both are classically trained, and serve their abundant ambition with orchestral flourishes and imaginative, layered production. But Son Lux emphatically takes a path of his own making, mixing up haunted hip hop beats and choral moans on Pyre; offering dystopian-edged mechanical minimalism with a lullaby lilt on Enough of our Machines; and rupturing a hushed digital waltz with heartbeat horns on Easy. In sum, Lanterns is the sound of a maverick talent edging ever-closer to his full, stimulating potential.

Out 4th November

                                            Chantal Acda – Let Your Hands Be My Guide

Chantal Acda - Let Your Hands Be My Guide (****)

Though billed as her first ‘real solo record’ (following a trio of softly sumptuous slowcore releases under the Sleepingdog moniker), Chantal Acda’s Let Your Hands Be My Guide comes courtesy of a raft of esteemed collaborators, including composers Nils Frahm and Peter Broderick and Múm cellist Gyda Valtysdottir – all figures well-practiced in the subtle-yet-soaring arts in which Acda is specialist. 

Her unhurried compositions aren’t afraid to fade to near-silence, exhibiting such gentle poise that listeners would be forgiven for nodding off mid-song – not a charge of tedium, but an acknowledgement of the lullaby effects of Acda’s refined songwriting, with minimalist arrangements allowing her attractively light voice the muted spotlight. Pushed for highlights one might identify the twinkling ether of My Night or the duet at the core of Arms up High, but it’s as a delicate whole that Let Your Hands… conveys its true gossamer beauty.

Out 11th November

                                            OvO – Abisso

OvO - Abisso (***)

Halloween may be done with for another year, but there are plenty of long nights ahead; plenty of inky witching hours crying out for a suitably unsettling soundtrack, preferably one with a daft edge so as to keep the demons from taking over. Italian doom-sludge-drone-etc duo OvO are specialists in such matters, and latest LP Abisso proves as dark as its namesake but with moments of silliness that depressurise the oppressive atmosphere. 

Whether the latter trait is wholly deliberate is another matter, though Grand Guignol titles like I Cannibali and a final track of squeals and screeches (plus drummer Bruno Dorella’s tendency to perform wearing a luchador mask) all suggest awareness of the absurdity underlying their ghoulish façade. As on past releases, Stefania Pedretti’s idiosyncratic vocals are key: whimpering, growling, gibbering and screaming, her range stops their simple setup from growing repetitious, though also earns the album its ‘approach with caution’ epithet.

Out 4th November

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Public Images Unlimited: An Interview with Public Service Broadcasting

With a DVD of debut album Inform – Educate – Entertain due shortly, J. Willgoose Esq discusses Public Service Broadcasting’s sounds and vision, and ponders their history-steeped style’s future

Inform. Educate. Entertain. With these three principles, John Charles Walsham Reith laid down a remit for a fledgling BBC that would go on to influence public service broadcasting the world over – and, 90 years later, Public Service Broadcasting, the creative outlet of one J. Willgoose, Esq and his dependable drummer Wrigglesworth.

After some well-received singles and calling card EP The War Room, the band titled their debut album after the Reithian ideals – and entertain they did, with a high-concept, high-impact sound combining motorik rhythms, propulsive, hook-filled melodies and an array of archive-sourced samples. It’s the latter that provides PSB their USP: they’re neither the first nor only band to utilise spoken-word snippets in such a manner (the haunted/haunting work of The Advisory Circle and other Ghostbox artists come to mind), but they’re the only contemporary practitioners to bring these voices from the past to within a hair’s breadth of the top 20. Factor in keen radio support and a strong showing on the festival circuit and the duo emerge as one of the year’s true musical success stories.

This month, the band consolidate their annus mirabilis with a new single (Night Mail) and a DVD originally intended to accompany the album on its initial release, but pushed back when a self-imposed May deadline meant there was “physically no time to put it all together.” Alongside some newly filmed extras (Willgoose in conversation with the BFI, a mini tour diary, live footage) are all of the band’s promo videos and other visuals. Like the music, they’re drawn from a variety of archive material, ranging from US road safety films to 1930s naval newsreel to George Lowe’s 1953 feature documentary The Conquest of Everest, celebrating Hillary and Norgay’s landmark ascent.

The collected clips not only complete an audio-visual experience previously reserved for live performances (where they’re screened on vintage television sets – both prop and authentic – for added retro appeal); they also enhance the album’s charm by rounding out the concepts underlying each track – for instance, the aforementioned Night Mail is made more romantic and rousing by the attachment of footage from the GPO documentary of the same name, while ROYGBIV – an ode to the arrival of colour broadcasting – is given extra sparkle by the accompanying montage of tinted rainbows and flowers in bloom. Additionally, a commentary from Willgoose makes good on those other two legs of the Reithian triumvirate – to educate and inform – by offering details about his creative process, and background to the footage that facilitated it.

“The commentary is basically just me rambling on in a hot room in the summer,” laughs Willgoose, speaking over the phone ahead of this month’s tour, which begins in Aberdeen the day of the single and DVD releases before winding its way southwards. “It’s just to give a bit of context I suppose. I think a lot of people are quite interested in the stories behind [the songs], and with a lot of our stuff actually having quite a definite origin, this seemed like a good way to do that. Most of it ended up being about the footage, probably because the music kind of speaks for itself… but with stuff like the instrumental [Qomolangma], it’s nice to be able to explain what I was trying to do… It’s not intended to ram anything down anyone’s throat or treat people as if they couldn’t possibly have realised it themselves; it’s just nice that it’s on record, as it were, for people who are interested.” Whether pointing out that Lit Up’s borrowed three-note motif spells B-B-C, likening Late Night Final’s closing drum effect to Mogwai, or self-effacingly responding to online complaints about the use of Hurricane aircraft in the Spitfire video, it’s a modest trove of insights that fulfils the self-described brief to “not just whack out 11 videos and say ‘there you go it’s a DVD.’ We wanted to make sure that some time, thought and consideration had gone in to it.”

What the DVD is not intended to do, however, is put the visuals on a level-pegging with the audio. Exempting the trio of clips cut by others (“the best ones”), Willgoose describes the eight self-edited pieces as “very functional. They don’t have a great deal of flair to them.” He names DJ Shadow as an example of someone “doing amazing stuff with their visuals,” but insists the influence there was purely musical – going so far as to label the project’s initial premise “a kind of mini-homage” to the pioneering hip-hop sampler. It was while formulating this homage that Willgoose caught wind of newly available archive footage from the BFI (a purely coincidental discovery – “I don’t have a sort of long-held, burning admiration or love for 1940s documentaries or anything,” he laughs). “The two ideas married together quite well, and it was really once those things were sitting together that the wider concept came in: an album where each song was based on a different public information film. But then the album ended up being something quite different from that anyway, because we used feature films and documentaries and all sorts really.”

While the archive-raiding lends the project its distinctive flavour, Willgoose doesn’t want to become defined exclusively by it, emphasising that the PSB aesthetic has plenty of untapped potential. He takes note of critics that paint the band a one-trick novelty, but argues that “the concept is a lot broader than some people seem to have realised.” Does it bother him when people misread the historical sampling as a gimmick? “I think the novelty thing is definitely something we’re open to as a criticism, or exposed to anyway, just because it is slightly unusual,” he responds. “But I think you have to trust that people have more than one idea up their sleeve. I mean at first it was a bit of a novelty – I was putting songs together without a great deal of thought about the wider concept and what it all could mean and stand for and what we were about. It was only after playing live for a bit that I decided I wanted to write something a bit more hefty, something dealing with a trickier subject matter. And I think with The War Room we took a definite step away from novelty. We showed that we wanted to write music that had depth to it, that it wasn’t just a case of getting some samples and whacking them over any old rubbish.” He lets out a wry laugh. “I mean, some people do think that’s what we do” he sighs; “but they’re entitled to their opinion I suppose…” Their second album, Willgoose promises, will be “a progression, in terms of it relating to a later period – it takes us into the 1970s, so it’s a bit more up to date I suppose. I think if we leapt from this album into contemporary footage it would be a bit jarring, but as long as we consider where we’re going and how we do it, we’re not particularly limited in what we can cover.”

Finally, with several of the institutions exalted across the PSB oeuvre weathering political pressure (the BBC), experiencing severe budget cuts (the BFI), undergoing seismic changes (the Royal Mail’s privatisation) or already dismantled (the 2012 closure of the Central Office of Information, i.e. the agency responsible for all the UK’s post-war public information films), we wonder whether Public Service Broadcasting has a political element. Earlier, when discussing the unsavoury side of patriotism, Willgoose expressed his hope that, despite referencing a certain type of nationalist, stiff-upper-lip British Empire iconography, they always manage to handle the material “sensitively enough and intelligently enough that people don’t ascribe to us political beliefs that we definitely, definitely don’t hold.”
Which raises the obvious question: what political beliefs do they hold? 

“If there’s a political message behind it, it’s probably a rather wishy washy liberal one,” Willgoose replies. “It’s probably about the power of ideas, and the power of people coming together and doing extraordinary things – whether that be coming through times of extraordinary stress in the war, or whether it be conquering Mount Everest, the highest peak in the world.” He pauses. “It’s a positive outlook I suppose, and hopefully not a cynical one. I think when a band call themselves Public Service Broadcasting you can probably tell they’re leaning slightly to the left on most issues – it’s not like we’ve called ourselves BskyB Incorporated or anything horrific like that. But I don’t necessarily think that our political inclinations are that important to the music – it’s more about the spirit of optimism, I suppose. The spirit of hope.” In its sincerity and idealism, it’s enough to bring a tear to a monocle-sporting eye.

[feature written for The Skinny]

Thursday, 31 October 2013

live review: Suede @ Barrowlands, 27th October

Between the present tour slot and the Bernard Butler-produced debut album due next year, Teleman have been enjoying Suede-related patronage for a while now. Yet the Reading quartet (formed last year from the breakup of Pete and the Pirates) struggle to engage tonight’s audience, with only debut single Cristina generating much above polite applause. There are subtleties to their sound that beckon further investigation, but their qualities are soft-edged and easily lost to the building background buzz.

Of the many reformations to grace stages over the last few years, Suede are part of a relatively small minority to bolster the quality of their discographies as well as the contents of their coffers. Bloodsports was more than just a perfunctory excuse to take the best of on tour: it was a resurgence that scrubbed the band’s pre-split millennial slump from the record, and it rightly takes a prominent place in tonight’s set. After opening with a slow burn Still Life, they plough through Barriers, Snowblind and It Starts and Ends with You with such crowd-pleasing vigour you half expect them to continue on and complete the album there and then.

Instead, they take the excitement up another notch with songs from the peak of their popularity (Film Star, Trash) and critical acclaim (Animal Nitrate, Heroine – the latter dedicated to Lou Reed for reasons that, for those yet to hear of his passing, don’t become clear till later). With his loose-limbed shimmy and wide-arced mic swinging, Brett Anderson remains a magnetic stage presence, and his fervour is reflected in the rows of fans young and old shaking their bits to the hits throughout. Apparently, work on Bloodsports’ successor is already underway – here’s hoping their postscript purple patch continues.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

live review: Marky Ramone's Blitzkrieg @ The Garage, 25th October

While it’s Marky’s name emblazoned in foot-high letters across the stage, ownership of tonight’s beautiful blitzkrieg is inarguably shared with the tour’s guest vocalist. Standing in for Marky’s usual collaborator Michael Graves of Misfits, the galvanic Andrew WK performs with typical enthusiasm, his energy levels barely dinted by a breathless 35 song set in which each “1234!” intro comes piling in on the heels of the last.

Behind the kit, the Ramones’ longest-serving drummer keeps the 4/4 pace without breaking a sweat, steering the set through 20 years-worth of classic punk rock (including plenty from the three albums that preceded his recruitment). And while cynics would have a field day picking apart the reputation-trading nostalgia inherent in the whole affair, they’d also have to concede that pogoing along to Rockaway Beach, Beat on the Brat and The KKK Took My Baby Away is a hell of a lot of fun – as is the mosh pit that forms after the band leaves the stage for the third and final time, in response to Party Hard pumping through the PA. 

The latter (slightly surreal) moment underscores the credit due to WK for tonight’s success: by giving stars-in-their-eyes Joey-mimicry a wide berth and retaining the puppyish persona that’s brought him cult acclaim, the event avoids coming across as ersatz karaoke masquerading as the Real McCoy, and registers instead as an impassioned and sincere celebration of The Ramones’ considerable contribution to modern music.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

reviews: They Might Be Giants, Moonface, Maria Taylor

                                            They Might Be Giants – Nanobots

They Might Be Giants - Nanobots (***)

For They Might Be Giants, conciseness has always been an asset, allowing them to play freely with oddball concepts and simple melodies without allowing their irreverent earworms to outstay their welcome. But Nanobots’ nano-pop arguably takes the trait a little too far, squeezing 25 songs into 48 minutes – including a second-half run of four tracks lasting 48 seconds total, each little more than a witty one-liner and an orphaned melody fragment.

Again, this isn’t new territory for the band, with Apollo 18’s Fingerprints suite the most obvious precursor. But where previously the effect charmed, here it’s a little like channel hopping – distracting and eventually annoying. Luckily, several of the fully-formed offerings – including infectious opener You’re On Fire, affectionate ode-to-science Tesla and the peppy title track – rank among their best work, making this a treat for fans, albeit one that dilutes their comedic and musical genius with a few too many cul-de-sacs.

Out 4th November

                                               Moonface – Julia With Blue Jeans On

Moonface - Julia with Blue Jeans On (****)

On Julia…, Spencer Krug confirms Moonface the most diverse of his storied musical projects. After solo synth-prog debut Organ Music… and 2012’s full-band, rock-slanted Siinai collaboration Heartbreaking Bravery, he could arguably have taken his sound absolutely anywhere, so the decision to contrarily turn inwards and produce a stripped-back piano and voice collection feels instinctively like a stroke of genius – a purified reminder of his core compositional abilities, and a more complete exploration of a side to his writing previously only glimpsed.

With so little adornment, the poetry of Krug’s words (delivered in that inimitably baleful croon) is inescapable. Opening lines are invariably arresting (for example: “And if I am an animal I am one of the few that is self-destructive/ I have chewed through my beautiful muscle/ I have chewed through my beautiful narrative”), and throughout, the originality of his themes and metaphors places him in the upper echelons of lyricists. 

Out 4th November

                                              Maria Taylor – Something About Knowing

Maria Taylor - Something About Knowing (***)

Maria Taylor’s fifth album Something About Knowing is quintessential Saddle Creek: production from label founder Mike Mogis; a musical style that gently browses country-soul and dream-pop; and that warm, familiar voice, recalling past Creek peaks as half of Azure Ray and as backing vocalist on I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning (amongst other things). 

As well as echoes of Bright Eyes’ full-on alt-country period, the work of erstwhile Creeker Jenny Lewis is evoked on a number of occasions, with songs like Folk Song Melody eerily close to her post-Rilo Kiley solo work. Unfortunately Taylor has a more pronounced saccharine streak than either of the aforementioned, and with her young son an expressed influence (“I heard the sweetest voice call me mommy”), you may be inclined to agree with Cyril Connolly’s warning about the pram in the hall as the enemy of good art. Those with a sweet tooth, however, will find much to savour.

Out 4th November

Thursday, 24 October 2013

album reviews: Talulah Gosh, The Spook School, Saint Max and the Fanatics

                                         Talulah Gosh – Was It Just a Dream?

Talulah Gosh - Was it Just a Dream? (****)

Superseding the increasingly hard-to-find Backwash compilation, Was It Just a Dream? is the complete Talulah Gosh: 29 tracks encompassing every EP, single, radio session and demo that the twee-pop icons committed to tape in their brief but influential mid-eighties existence. For died-in-the-wool fans already in possession of Backwash and the 2011 Demos EP, there’s nothing here you haven’t already spun to death; no new archival discoveries to hungrily digest, just a welding of the two into one package.

But for anyone too young or otherwise engaged to have enjoyed the band at the time, Was It Just a Dream? contains compound delights. Tracks like Bringing up Baby wear their quarter-of-a-century so well a newcomer might swear they’d been knocked together moments earlier by one of Amelia and co.’s numerous disciples, and it’s this long-term freshness that makes the album far more than a niche nostalgia hit for the Sarah/K Records appreciation societies.

Out 4th November

                                           The Spook School – Dress Up

The Spook School - Dress Up (***)

If quotes from the band weren’t on hand to guide you toward it, it’d be easy to miss indie-pop quartet The Spook School’s pronounced interest in issues of sexuality and self. Since they occupy a genre long associated with fluid gender identities (see, for instance, twee’s challenge to conventional notions of masculinity), great swathes of debut Dress Up’s lyrical content seems like standard reiterations of well-established themes: fears of fitting in, the messy bits of relationships etc. But songs like Are You Who You Think You Are? or History (“I was a boy or so it’s told”) offer a more considered take of the subjects at hand, supplying grist for a record that could otherwise have struggled to distinguish itself from others of its ilk. Not that The Spook School are as serious as all that sounds: joyously noisy, sometimes silly, and always fun, they’re a must-listen for the indietracks world and worth a swatch for everyone else.

Out now

                                         Saint Max and the Fanatics – Saint Max is Missing and the Fanatics are Dead

Saint Max and the Fanatics - ...Are Dead (***)

A little over a year since their inaugural gig, Saint Max and the Fanatics deliver their full-length debut – a celerity that screams confidence and an end product that just about justifies it. Incorporating starter pack influences from across British pop history – Madness’s bouncy rhythms; Kevin Rowland’s young soul rebel horns; The Libertines’ ramshackle mien; a singing voice part Morrissey, part Neil Hannon – the stitching shows but the patchwork is nonetheless effective, marking out 18-year-old frontman Max Syed-Tollan as a song-writing talent to watch.

Only occasionally are the echoes a little too on the nose, as on the Hawaii 5-0 brass of Afraid of Love or Conduit’s Molly’s Chambers-esque guitar line. But the lapses are forgivable when taken alongside such spritely gems as Soul Surrender’s convivial welcome or the vintage indie-pop of T-Shirt – neither likely to trigger full-on fanaticism just yet, but enough to keep it on the table for future.

Out now

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

live review: These New Puritans @ Oran Mor

Earlier this month, These New Puritans’ Jack Barnett apparently called time on his band’s future touring prospects. “By my calculations this week will be our last UK tour, so come,” he posted across their social media feeds, prompting ripples of concern amongst fans. But if it was a vaguebooking-style effort to spur concern from those unwilling to cough up the (admittedly steep) ticket price, it’s failed. Standing in a quarter-full Òran Mór, the disconnect between the astonishing sounds emanating from the stage and the scarcity of people on the receiving end makes the viability of taking such ambitious music on the road seem bleak indeed.

None of which matters too much to first-on East India Youth (aka Bournemouth-born William Doyle), who gives a sterling account of his own considerable talents. Comfortable with a range of styles from blissful synth-pop to full-on techno breaks, his set peaks with Hostel EP highlight Heaven, How Long – several minutes of emotive electro tailed by a euphoric coda.

But while under-attendance is de rigour for support acts (and possibly aggravated by the dreich weather outside), the partial emptiness during the headline slot is more bothersome. Not that the band let it affect them, filling the room with unorthodox, inventive symphonies mostly drawn from Field of Reeds. With Elisa Rodrigues reprising her vocal parts and brass boosting the orchestral sweep of tracks like Spiral, the innovative results are spellbinding throughout. Particularly hypnotic are the loops of Organ Eternal and the cinematic slow-build of The Light in Your Name, while well-positioned Hidden cuts up the pace at all the right moments. That more don’t witness it is a shame; that they may never get another opportunity makes it considerably worse.

Monday, 21 October 2013

October's splendiferous playlist

1. Guided By Voices - Big Boring Wedding
2. Sebadoh - Can't Give Up
3. The Fall - Pasts and Futures
4. Future of the Left - Johnny Borrell Afterlife
5. Magik Markers - Taste
6. The Dirtbombs - Sherlock Holmes
7. Sleigh Bells - Crush
8. The Raveonettes - That Great Love Sound
9. Jesus and Mary Chain - Happy When it Rains
10. Suede - Snowblind
11. The Ramones - Poison Heart
12. Imperial Teen - Runaway
13. Del Shannon - Runaway
14. Arcade Fire - Reflektor
15. Talk Talk - Life's What You Make It
16. Friends - Friend Crush
17. The Flatmates - Shimmer
18. The Housemartins - I Smell Winter
19. The Cure - Inbetween Days
20. Belle and Sebastian - Me and the Major
21. Lloyd Cole - Perfect Skin
22. The Fall - Totally Wired
23. Gang of Four - Natural's Not In It
24. XTC - Science Fiction
25. Richard Hell - Love Comes In Spurts
26. The Rezillos - 2000 AD
27. David Bowie - Cracked Actor
28. T Rex - Get It On
29. M83 - Midnight City
30. Sparks - Academy Award Performance
31. Chvrches - Lies
32. Depeche Mode - Enjoy the Silence
33. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Heads Will Roll
34. OMD - Electricity
35. New Order - All the Way
36. The Cars - Magic
37. Prince - Sexuality
38. Public Image Ltd - Rise
39. The Stone Roses - Elephant Stone
40. Iggy Pop - I'm Bored
41. Faith No More - We Care a Lot
42. Idlewild - When I Argue I See Shapes
43. The Cramps - Garbage Man
44. Devo -
45. Yazoo - Situation
46. Prefab Sprout - King of Rock and Roll
47. The Smiths - Big Mouth Strikes Again
48. Pavement - Date with IKEA
49. Black Kids - I'm Not Going to Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance With You
50. Beck - Loser
51. Wu Tang Clan - Gravel Pit
52. The Muffs - Kids in America
53. Weezer - Why Bother?
54. Franz Ferdinand - Darts of Pleasure
55. The Isley Brothers - Stop in the Name of Love
56. The Four Tops - Reach Out I'll Be There
57. Elvis - Hard Headed Woman
58. Haim - Don't Save Me
59. Fleetwood Mac - Little Lies
60. The Police - Roxanne
61. Britney Spears - Toxic
62. Janelle Monae - Tightrope
63. The Beatles - Taxman
64. Beastie Boys - Sabotage
65. Talking Heads - Girlfriend is Better
66. Madonna - Papa Don't Preach

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

review: Captain Phillips

Dramatising the real-life hijacking of an American freighter by Somali pirates, Captain Phillips sees docudrama master Paul Greengrass occupying safe creative waters. Of his previous work, there’s a particularly close resemblance (in both style and structure) to 2006’s United 93 – another moment-by-moment recreation of recent history that balanced macro geopolitics with close-framed, claustrophobic terror.

But where the earlier film presented a fated collective, the title of Captain Phillips indicates a more conventional focus on a single, heroic individual – making the lead character’s casting as vital to the picture’s success as Billy Ray’s taut screenplay and the director’s kinetic flair. Thankfully, a bearded and Bostonian Tom Hanks has rarely been better, his everyman persona perfectly suited to the material and his escalating desperation reaching unbearable levels at the climax. Indeed, the closing scene’s visceral impact is so pronounced that the film’s less successful aspects (in particular, some unsubtle attempts at socioeconomic commentary) retreat from mind like backwash from a hull.

Out Fri 18th October

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

October skinny

In Scotland, this is the cover yer after...


On this occasion, contributions from yours truly number 10:

- Field Music: An Interview with Jack Barnett of These New Puritans (read here!)
- David Byrne & St Vincent live review (read here!)
- Future of the Left - 'How to Stop Your Brain in an Accident' album review (read here!)
- The Grand Gestures - 'Second' album review (read here!)
- Your Loyal Subjects - 'Austerity Measures' album review (read here!)
- Young Aviators - 'Self Help' album review (read here!)
- Islet - 'Released by the Movement' album review (read here!)
- The Spook School - 'Dress Up' album review
- The Pure Conjecture - 'Gendres' album review (read here!)
- 'Pieta' DVD review (read here!)

Monday, 14 October 2013

live review: The Mountain Goats @ The Arches, 10th October

Under his Mountain Goats moniker, John Darnielle has produced an inspiring body of work, and he’s on engaging form tonight – joking with the audience, telling stories, and visiting just about all corners of his voluminous discography. Yet a mild disappointment colours the evening – or perhaps it’s a feeling of opportunities lost. 

For one thing, The Arches proves ill-suited to an all-seated, acoustic gig in which there are few sounds remotely loud enough to disguise the rumbling of trains overhead (though this does produce one nicely atmospheric moment, adding dramatic backing thunder to Ezekiel 7’s stormy narrative). Then there’s the brevity of the performance: with a corpus as rich as Darnielle’s, wrapping up the encore by 9:45 seems miserly. Still, with heart and soul bared on peaks like You Were Cool and No Children it’s easy to look past the frustrations, ensuring we leave with a lump in the throat rather than a bad taste in the mouth. 

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

DVD review: Pieta


A divisive winner at last year’s Venice Film Festival, Pieta features an unpleasant protagonist who has unpleasantness revisited upon him, with onscreen emotions twisted and scarred with all the delicacy of a flame held to an open nerve. Be warned: with mutilation and humiliation throughout, the film’s pervasive cruelty makes for a challenging watch, as debt collector Gang-do (Jeong-jin) ensures defaulters square their balance sheets even if it literally costs them an arm and a leg.

When a woman (Min-soo) arrives at his door claiming to be the mother who abandoned him at birth, it triggers a bleak (but also rather silly) oedipal revenge drama that, while too neatly circular to be plausible, uses its third act to dissect themes of guilt and retribution in a more nuanced way than its most histrionic moments might imply. Violence and redemption (or just as often, the latter’s impossibility) are familiar territories for writer/director Kim Ki-duk, but rarely are they proffered so confrontationally, with semi-vérité camerawork purposefully underscoring the ugliness.

Out 14th October

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

next friday: bottle rocket!

Bottle Rocket presents: Bottle Rocket October, an edition of Bottle Rocket taking place in October. Expect thrills and spills and all manner of danceable delights in an indie-pop/new-wave/post-punk/rock-n-roll/soul sort of vein. It’s really rather fun, honest.

When? FRIDAY 18TH OCTOBER, 11pm – 3am

So put on your red shoes and dance the blues, bud.

Monday, 7 October 2013

The Skinny album of the month: Future of the Left


Future of the Left - How to Stop Your Brain in an Accident (*****)

“The music industry is lying to you” preaches Andy Falkous on serrated satire Singing of the Bonesaws, chiding listeners for “[confusing] excitement with the fear of missing out” before venturing down some dark recesses involving Kim Kardashian, a masked bear and self-inflicted ocular mutilation. It’s one of several tracks on Future of the Left’s fourth album to provoke nervy laughs, with Falkous again proving a peerless lyricist: incisive, articulate and pulling no punches as he eviscerates targets from Christmas to record labels.

On the latter note, the PledgeMusic-financed How to Stop Your Brain… is a paragon example of crowd-funding done well: rawer, heavier and angrier than ever, it distils the band’s abrasive appeal, and as such should leave no pledger disappointed. Furthermore, tracks like French Lessons advance the quartet’s less-frequently celebrated (but also rewarding) capacity for restraint, with Falkous’s barbed sneer replaced with a precarious melodic croon (though with the opening line “they say the price of love is a black hole”, its curbed aggression shouldn’t be mistaken for softness). From the growling bass of Bread, Cheese, Bow and Arrow to the unhinged howls of Why Aren’t I Going to Hell?, it’s quite possibly their best work yet – so whatever Falkous says, don’t miss out.

Out 21st October

Sunday, 6 October 2013

film review: The Pervert's Guide to Ideology

A semi-sequel to The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema, The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology sees cult philosopher Slavoj Žižek lecture on the ideological constructs that have shaped history, and which continue to shape our dreams and day-to-day decisions. Director Sophie Fiennes repeats the aforementioned documentary’s style, keeping things visually as well as intellectually interesting with film extracts, archive footage and clips of Žižek pontificating in themed locales – the latter a still-amusing conceit that inserts the theorist into various texts just as ideology, he argues, inserts itself into us.

As he hops from Travis Bickle’s bunk to Leni Reifenstahl’s aeroplane to a booth in the Korova Milk Bar, his arguments stay accessibly salient despite a formidable vocabulary of interpolation and the like, largely thanks to an idiosyncratic intellect that draws examples from across the pop culture spectrum. Only Žižek could so convincingly transition from Cabaret to Rammstein, or flow from The Sound of Music to Kinder Surprise to Beethoven’s 9th, and while a mere 130 minutes can’t do justice to the reams of theory underpinning it, its nonetheless hugely engaging.

Out now

Friday, 4 October 2013

Field Music: An Interview with Jack Barnett of These New Puritans

Ahead of this month’s tour, we talk to These New Puritans’ Jack Barnett about their visionary, Elton-praised third album Field of Reeds

“This music’s symbolic,” sang Jack Barnett on These New Puritans’ debut Beat Pyramid. But while there were obscurities and tensions to sink into and unpick from the start, it wasn’t until 2010’s Hidden that the symbolism and complexities truly began to take hold. As taiko drums confronted children’s choirs, lyrics spun riddles of Egyptian gods, swords and labyrinths, making an open mockery of early, confused efforts to align the band with the transitory pleasures of nu-rave.

On tracks like We Want War, Barnett embarked on psychogeographic tours that evoked Sebald, Keiller and other chroniclers of the British landscape as much as any musical points of reference, resulting in an album of striking ambition – the sort of grand project that can see lesser acts flounder in a mire of self-importance, but which, for These New Puritans, evidenced a conceptual, compositional intelligence unafraid to challenge its listeners without severing all tethers to the mainstream.

“We don’t fit easily into certain brackets,” says Barnett, speaking over the phone in-between legs of an extensive tour that’s seen them collaborate with avant garde vocalist Salyu in Tokyo and support Björk in Los Angeles, and which this month takes them around the UK. “I like the fact that we do that, because we always have one foot in popular music, or with a popular music audience, whatever that might entail. I like that it’s not exclusive.”

This balance between experimentation and accessibility continues with recently released third album Field of Reeds [review here], which ditches the militant percussion and mantric vocals of its predecessor in favour of a quieter, more pastoral tone. While much has been made of the album’s more esoteric aspects – the arrangement of tracks into extended suites; the estuarine topography traversed by its lyrics – it’s not as opaque as the sum of its parts, which incidentally range from a prototype Magnetic Resonator Piano to a hawk taking flight (together, a neat representation of an album with its roots in nature and its sights future-facing).

"There are very few bands in the world who have the level of autonomy that we have" – Jack Barnett

To Barnett’s evident chagrin, the hawk recording has been a conspicuous focal point in recent interviews (“music doesn’t lend itself well to being talked about – there isn’t a good vocabulary for it really, so for that reason everyone has to talk about everything other than the music,” he sighs), but he volunteers background information for the other piece of kit, which uses electromagnets to warp the piano’s string vibrations into something straight out of the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop. “Most of the time it’s obvious to me when I write a piece of music what instrument should carry a part or roughly what the sound should be,” he explains. “Because of the way we work, with lots of instruments, we can’t muck around in the studio – we kind of have to plan every hour precisely. But there was one sound on the album where I didn’t really know how we’d get it. We called it an ‘un-organ’ – a kind of organ sound, but something else. It was the last piece in the jigsaw. I thought I was going to have to sound design it, to fit this particular role, and then purely by chance we got a phone call from someone who had seen a demonstration of this instrument that had recently been invented. So yeah,” he deadpans, “that was a bit of luck.” It’s the first time the piano’s otherworldly timbre has featured on an album, but you don’t doubt for a minute that novelty played little part in its inclusion.

When even the piano sound comes with a layer of mystery, it’s clear why These New Puritans attract active, investigative listeners. With recurring motifs and repeated imagery, their music offers a rabbit hole down which to get lost, seemingly filled with immeasurable meanings that beg to be deciphered. “Our music does seem to invite a lot of peculiar interpretations,” Barnett agrees. “It reminds me: I recently got a letter from a molecular biologist who was saying that Hidden was all to do with Christian symbology. That was quite an interesting read.” Not only does the example indicate the intellectual calibre of the average piece of These New Puritans’ fan mail, it also makes clear the breadth of interpretive possibilities. “A lot of interpretations seem to say and write that it’s really ominous and dark music,” Barnett adds, “but for me, quite a lot of the songs are quite hopeful. There’re bits of darkness in them and bits of lightness.”

The other key narrative to have affixed itself to Field of Reeds is Barnett’s Kubrickian desire to get things absolutely perfect, Working Time Directive be damned. For Fragment Two, it reportedly took 76 takes for twin brother George to nail the drum sound the band had in mind. “The process of making this album necessitated inhabiting this very insular world,” Barnett reflects. “I think a lot of people got sick of us because we were determined to get it right at all costs. It’s quite a difficult mindset to get out of actually – I remember a couple of weeks after we’d finished the album I went to buy a pair of shoes. I don’t care about shoes, it’s not something I think about, but I ended up taking them back and getting more, then taking them back and getting more until they were exactly right. I think we had to be a bit rehabilitated.”

Barnett credits the process of rearranging songs for live performance with “bringing the pieces back to life” again after the precision engineering of the studio. “It’s a process I’ve enjoyed quite a lot for this album,” he says. “When you’ve been working on the music for a long time, getting it to its final state…” he pauses. “It sounds a bit like a bullshitty artist thing to say, but I’ve lived very close to this music and given so much for this album that it was difficult. I don’t like listening to things after I’ve finished them, because I think too much about what I would change. But when you’re reinventing the music live, you make it different every night and add different things. I think this band generally is probably the best we’ve had. We’ve a seven piece-band – small enough that we can have agility and big enough that we can bring a lot of different sounds. Plus we’ve got Elisa [Rodrigues, Portuguese jazz singer who appears on several Field of Reeds songs] singing with us, which is pretty fun because she can do her 50 per cent and I can do my 50 per cent. I don’t have to try and do everything – we can specialise a little bit.” And it’s not just vocal duties that are divided 50/50, with Barnett promising an equal split between Hidden and Field of Reeds material at the upcoming shows. “It gives us a big range of contrasts,” he somewhat understates. “It allows us to do a lot of stuff.”

This freedom to ‘do a lot of stuff’ is not one Barnett takes for granted, noting that “there are very few bands in the world who have the level of autonomy that we have.” Indeed, These New Puritans seem to occupy a blessed middle ground where they have the time and budget to, for instance, set-up 28 Thai gongs or spend a day recording the sound of smashing glass (both features on Field of Reeds), despite the decidedly un-commercial end results. Barnett has also recently become more involved in the band’s visuals, scripting a ten-minute animation for V (Island Song), due later this year. “Up to a point any idea is just as expensive and time-consuming as any other idea, they just have to draw it. So it’s amazing what you can do, in terms of the range of ideas you can use,” he enthuses.

We end by asking about a tweet (“not ‘industry’ enough”) made the night of the recent Mercury Music Prize shortlist announcement, for which Field of Reeds was submitted for consideration but not chosen. “People had said to me ‘oh no, that’s so disappointing,’” Barnett explains, “but I never expected to get it. I just don’t think it’s the kind of album that would go on,” before noting that he’s “not deadly serious all the time” and drawing attention to the tweet that followed in order to prove it (“Maybe it’s the fact that we’re touring with the Operation Yewtree Roadshow as support act”).

When asked more generally if there are any accolades that mean something to him, Barnett's pensive interview manner suddenly becomes animated. “Yeah, yeah!” he replies. “In today’s Guardian, Elton John said he loves the arrangements on Field of Reeds. I genuinely think he’s an incredible songwriter, so that’s fantastic.” But, he adds, the most satisfying feedback comes from less starry quarters. “It’s more important to me when people come up to me and say things like ‘this album changed the way I think about music,’” he concludes. “That’s a wonderful thing to hear.”

Article written for the October issue of The Skinny

Thursday, 3 October 2013

live review: Manic Street Preachers, Public Service Broadcasting @ Barrowlands, 29th September

With prop televisions screening cut-and-paste newsreel and a sound that marries krautrock jams with clipped RP samples, Public Service Broadcasting’s high-concept, wartime arts-and-Krafts-werk schtick sees this evening off to a spiffing start. Clipped talk of planes, trains and automobiles is reflected in the dynamic momentum of tracks like Signal 30 (invigoratingly noisy), Theme from PSB (more playful, with banjo augmenting the various electronics) and other picks from their archive-raiding debut – the title of which (Inform – Educate – Entertain) could stand as a manifesto for tonight’s headliners.

Indeed, James Dean Bradfield makes it clear that information and education still spur Manic Street Preachers 21 years after their debut’s righteous, erudite bravado. “I wish a younger band would try and write a lyric like this,” he bristles, “the lazy fucking gap year bastards…”, introducing a song (30-Year War) that references the Battle of Orgreave, L.S. Lowry and “the endless parade of old Etonian scum [that] line the front benches” – proof that while Rewind the Film may be their acoustic album, it hasn’t quietened their political ire.

Said album furnishes their set with another five tracks, from single Show Me the Wonder (dedicated to tonight’s crowd for making “a Sunday feel like a Saturday”) to the folky feel of This Sullen Welsh Heart. The latter forms part of Bradfield’s customary mid-set solo section, which culminates in The Everlasting – sung back in full, dodgy pronunciation and all. With their other millennial hits also accounted for (Tsunami, You Stole the Sun, If You Tolerate This), this alternation between unplugged and commercial-peak anthems risks overlooking other (often more interesting) corners of their discography, with whole albums unrepresented and others given only cursory visitations.

But if the song choices seem uninspired it’s only in comparison to past visits – and in terms of execution, there’s little to criticise. Furthermore, although loaded with songs from the softer end of their output, they keep their big guns close at hand: the iconic riff of Motorcycle Emptiness opens proceedings to ballistic effect; sole Holy Bible-offering Revol forms a fitting Richey-tribute; while Motown Junk sounds as fiery and fresh as ever. But some of the loudest cheers of the night come from “fuck-up of fashion” Nicky Wire’s announcement that they’ve already got the Barrowlands booked for April next year, coinciding with ready-to-go 12th album Futurology. Judging by the high-emotion of finale Design for Life, there’ll be more than a few here choosing to repeat the experience.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

reviews: The Pure Conjecture, Young Aviators, Your Loyal Subjects

                                                              The Pure Conjecture – Gendres

The Pure Conjecture - Gendres (****)

With its electric pink colour scheme and handwritten font, one would be forgiven for approaching Gendres with thoughts of Kavinsky and satin scorpion jackets in mind. If so, you’d be advised to quash such wayward associations, for The Pure Conjecture offer retro pleasures of a very different fashion. This is sophisticated, soulful night music in which lush production and bandleader Matt Eaton’s measured croon evoke everyone from The Zombies to Curtis Mayfield to Teenage Fanclub.

As on debut Courgettes, Eaton’s backed by a raft of musicians including fellow Armellodie artist Johnny Lamb (Thirty Pounds of Bone), plus members of British Sea Power, Electric Soft Parade and The Hazey Janes. Together, this super-ish-group provide a rich array of instrumentation, with cinematic strings, warm brass and some gorgeous glockenspiel lines all bubbling up at different junctures. Thankfully, any potential for a broth-spoiling surfeit of cooks is nimbly avoided, with subtlety reigning throughout and all elements balanced beautifully.

Out 7th October

                                                           Young Aviators – Self Help

Young Aviators - Self Help (***)

Born in Northern Ireland but embraced by their adopted home of Glasgow to the tune of a place on the Electric Honey roster, Young Aviators offer strong introductions on debut Self Help. Stow College’s student-run label has a decent ear for commercial prospects, and though stylistic similarities are slight, you wouldn’t discount Young Aviators following past signees (and fellow Irish émigrés) Snow Patrol into the big leagues, with their catchy choruses built to fit larger venues than those they currently inhabit.

While their default position is upbeat and bouncy, a couple of more sedate numbers (namely apocalyptic ballad Deathrays in Disneyland and AOR finale Sunset on the Motorway) introduce pleasant contrasts; there’s enough lyrical finesse, meanwhile, to add depth to the evident surface pleasures. Running to just nine tracks (including a semi-reprise) it remains to be seen whether Young Aviators have the legs for the long-haul, but for now they’re flying.

Out 7th October

                                                          Your Loyal Subjects – Austerity Measures

Your Loyal Subjects - Austerity Measures (***)

Led by guitarist and vocalist Doug MacDonald, one-time duo Your Loyal Subjects return 50% larger, using an additional six-string to open out their sound. Their interest in dynamic riffage remains (as does their eye for a striking sleeve design) but otherwise second full-length Austerity Measures evidences a diffusion in MacDonald’s musical interests, offering considerable variety across its 10 tracks.

Arguably, the band’s principal selling points are technical, with MacDonald and cohort Benn Smith equally comfortable whether tackling crisp afro-beat grooves or crunchy metal-tipped fretwork. Behind the kit, meanwhile, Kirsty MacConnell proves similarly versatile, her restless rhythms enlivening standouts like Hypersleep. Less distinguished are MacDonald’s vocals (more than passable in a live context but blighted by limited range on record), while errant quality control means it’s not only genre that varies from one track to the next. Consequently, while Austerity Measures is frequently exhilarating, it ultimately falls short of the heights it hints at.

Out 7th October