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

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

GFT programme note: Hannah Arendt


Great minds don’t always make great cinematic subjects. Not only do the time pressures of the form – which by convention must get from setup to conclusion in a reasonably brief period – somewhat preclude the kind of complexity inherent in any suitably developed philosophy or theory; but, equally importantly, the internality of thought is not a natural fit for a visual, narrative-driven medium. This is the conundrum at the heart of Margarethe von Trotta’s biopic of German-American political theorist Hannah Arendt (played by von Trotta regular Barbara Sukowa). While still in post-production, von Trotta summarised the issue in interview. ‘How does one use film to describe a woman who thinks?’ the co-writer and director asked. ‘That is of course the big challenge when making a film about intellectual personalities.’[1]

From the finished film, it seems part of the solution was to narrow the focus; to resist the urge to survey a life in its totality and select with care only the most pertinent slice. ‘We considered starting with Arendt entering Heidegger’s seminar in Marburg [in 1924] and going up to her death [in 1975], but we realised it wouldn’t work,’ von Trotta explains, ‘because to make a film about a philosopher you have to deal with her capacity to think, not simply jump from one event in her life to another.’[2] So while the script includes flashbacks to key moments in the early development of Arendt’s political thought, the plot is otherwise restricted to just a few years in the early sixties, when her reportage of the trial of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann – initially for The New Yorker and later collected and published as Eichmann in Jerusalem – ignited a fierce controversy on two fronts: first, in response to her accusations of complicity on the part of Jewish leaders; and second, surrounding the term ‘the banality of evil’ – a phrase inspired by her impression of Eichmann as emphatically ‘ordinary’ despite the immensity of his crimes, which has since acquired a kind of banality of its own through regular re-application to events from the Rwandan genocide to Abu Ghraib. The first charge drew angry denouncements labelling Arendt a self-hating Jew, while the latter was interpreted in some quarters as either a trivialisation of the suffering in which Eichmann was intricately involved, or an attempt to defend the un-defendable by diminishing his personal responsibility. Standing against such acrimony were those who saw in Arendt’s writing a then-radical prospect: that evil is not only the preserve of the diabolical, but the mediocre; that a failure to think could facilitate unthinkable deeds. ‘Nearly every major literary and philosophical figure in New York chose sides’ writes Roger Berkowitz in a recent opinion piece for The New York Times,[3] going on to reference Irving Howe’s 1982 caution that ‘such controversies are never settled. They die down, simmer, and erupt again.’[4]

Indeed, the debate’s sediment has recently been stirred – not only by Hannah Arendt, but by another film to premiere in recent months. Based on interviews made around the time of his landmark documentary Shoah (1985), The Last of the Unjust is, according to reports from Cannes, director Claude Lanzmann’s repudiation of accusations of Jewish collaboration. It consists of lengthy discussions with former Jewish Council President Ben Murmelstein, who presided over the day-to-day workings of Theresienstadt concentration camp and reported directly to Eichmann. To Lanzmann’s mind, Murmelstein was anything but a weak or deplorable participant in the annihilation of his own people, but rather someone ‘crushed by a hellish system… the victim of savage contradictions’;[5] Eichmann, meanwhile, ‘was no mere bureaucrat!’[6] Though the interview transcripts have been available for many years, the documentary’s near-contemporaneous arrival with Hannah Arendt has, for some, made the latter look insufficiently critical of its subject’s less successful arguments.

There is perhaps a ring of truth to charges of hagiography. Throughout the film, any sympathetic supporting characters (including novelist/confidante Mary McCarthy and poet/husband Heinrich Blücher) are afforded sensitive portrayals, but outspoken critics like Norman Podheretz (who famously penned a riposte subtitled ‘A study in the perversity of brilliance’) are reduced to broad caricatures, even robbed of a surname in the credits. This not only confirms on which side of the fence von Trotta stands; it arguably manhandles the audience into sharing it, rather than allowing them the space and balance to draw their own conclusions.

The exception is its representation of fellow philosopher Hans Jonas (Ulrich Noethen) – a close friend of Arendt shown to bitterly reject her arguments. He is the film’s most developed voice of opposition, and though his screen time is slight, the placement of his scenes emphasises their impact. For instance, while focussing on this single episode in Arendt’s life sees the film venture close to one of the biopic genre’s most overused clichés (namely a narrative arc in which a forward-thinking subject produces their seminal work in the face of opposition), the semi-victorious finale in which Arendt passionately defends her work before students and peers is emotionally undercut by the scene immediately after, in which Jonas expresses his continued hurt and anger. Jonas, not Arendt has the final word, revealing a greater dialecticism than the film’s most emphatic detractors have recognised. Indeed, the fact that this climax effectively consists of a lecture-hall question-and-answer session evidences von Trotta’s express efforts to not only depict concrete actions, but to expound as much as possible on abstract ideas; ‘to describe a woman who thinks’ by presenting not only the woman, but the thoughts.

Christopher BuckleFreelance researcher and journalist
September 2013

[1] Thilo Wydra (2012), ‘Margarethe von Trotta on Hannah Arendt: ‘Turning thoughts into images’’, Goethe Institut, accessed 23/09/13 at

[2] Graham Fuller (2013), ‘Q&A: Margarethe von Trotta on Filming Hannah Arendt’s Public Ordeal’, Blouin Artinfo, accessed 23/09/13 at

[3] Roger Berkowitz (2013), ‘Misreading ‘Eichmann in Jerusalem’’ The New York Times, accessed 23/09/13 at

[4] Irving Howe (1982), A Margin of Hope, extract accessed 23/09/13 at

[5] Agnes Poirier (2013) ‘Claude Lanzmann returns to the Holocaust’, The Guardian, accessed 23/09/13 at

[6] Joan Dupont (2013) ‘Claude Lanzmann’s Postscript to ‘Shoah’’, The New York Times, accessed 24/09/13 at

Out now on selected release