Monday, 27 January 2014

january playlist!

1. Boris - Hope
2. The Cars - Good Times Roll
3. The Rogers Sisters - Why Won't You
4. Archers of Loaf - Fashion Bleeds
5. Parquet Courts - Yonder is Closer to the Heart
6. Girls Vs. Boys - Basstation
7. Queens of the Stone Age - Sat By the Ocean
8. Mclusky - No New Wave No Fun
9. Presidents of the United States of America - Lump
10. Los Campesinos - Avocado, Baby
11. Lene Lovich - I Think We're Alone Now
12. Orange Juice - Falling and Laughing
13. The Fall - Spoilt Victorian Child
14. Big Audio Dynamite - E = MC2
15. Magazine - Upside Down
16. Altered Images - Dead Pop Stars
17. The Stone Roses - She Bangs the Drums
18. Pixies - Here Comes Your Man
19. Sleater Kinney - You're No Rock n Roll Fun
20. Girl One and the Grease Guns - Driving Without Headlights
21. Kate Bush - Cloudburstin'
22. Casual Sex - Stroh 80
23. Belle and Sebastian - She's Losing It
24. Teenage Fanclub - Sparky's Dream
25. Tenpole Tudor - Wunderbar
26. DAF - Kebabtraume
27. Chvrches - We Sink
28. St Etienne - He's On the Phone
29. OMD - If You Leave
30. Madonna - Borderline
31. Cyndi Lauper - Goonies R Good Enough
32. M83 - Reunion
33. Arcade Fire - Normal Person
34. Pulp - After You
35. TV on the Radio - Mercy
36. Super Furry Animals - Something 4 the Weekend
37. David Bowie - Shake It
38. The Cure - Just Like Heaven
39. Talking Heads - Psycho Killer
40. Sparks - Amateur Hour
41. Michael Jackson - Black or White
42. J Geils Band - Centrefold
43. Prince - When Doves Cry
44. Peter Gabriel - Sledgehammer
45. Dire Straits - Walk of Life
46. Blondie - Call Me
47. The Flirtations - Nothin' But a Heartache
48. Freda Payne - Band of Gold
49. The Isley Brothers - Twist and Shout
50. Marvin Gaye & Kim Weston - It Takes Twi
51. Spin Doctors - Two Princes
52. Weezer - Buddy Holly
53. Beastie Boys - Intergalactic
54. Huey Lewis and the News - The Power of Love
55. The Penguins - Earth Angel

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

album reviews: Super Adventure Club, Robert Pollard, There Will Be Fireworks

                                                 Super Adventure Club – Straight From the Dick

Super Adventure Club - Straight from the Dick (****)

On their previous album, Super Adventure Club recommended avoiding zombies; now, alas, they’ve become one, with Straight from the Dick arriving posthumously following the trio’s decision to separate earlier in the year. But like a late reel hand grab from the grave, their third album delivers one final (and wholly enjoyable) shock to the system, ensuring that, should the hiatus prove definite, their twisted noise will be sorely missed. 

Opener Hablo Espanol establishes the record’s manic tone, with contorted riffs and barked lines about incendiary breeks establishing SAC’s canny combo of daft lyrics, intricate guitar work and unpredictable rhythms. Few bands embrace their silly side to such a delirious degree; fewer still retain the glint of danger that makes highlights like Dog with Two Dicks so invigorating, making SAC’s demise unfortunate indeed. But there’s enough mirth and mayhem here to feed all relevant appetites, ensuring they bow out on a suitably adventurous high.

Out now

                                               Robert Pollard – Blazing Gentlemen

Robert Pollard - Blazing Gentlemen (****)

Even by his own effusive standards, 2013 has been a busy year for Robert Pollard. Incredibly, Blazing Gentlemen is the Ohioan’s sixth full-length since April (for those keeping a tally, that’s one Guided by Voices album, two from Circus Devils, one as Teenage Guitar, and now two under his own name), yet there’s more to admire here than sheer prolificacy.

In fact, Blazing Gentlemen is notably consistent and crisp, with the economical pop of Storm Center Level Seven, the stuttering guitars of Lips of Joy and the tempo-switching strut of My Museum Needs an Elevator all helping make it one of the most satisfying entries in his solo discography thus far. The only significant criticism is one of context: as his output proliferates, keeping up becomes a challenge only the most devotional can commit to, likely robbing Blazing Gentlemen of the attention it deserves. In all other respects, however, chalk this one up as a hit.

Out now

                                               There Will Be Fireworks – The Dark, Dark Bright

There Will Be Fireworks - The Dark, Dark Bright (****)

Considering how intimately familiar There Will Be Fireworks are with the power of grand crescendos and bristling upsurges, the near silence that followed 2009's self-titled debut has been something of an uncharacteristic anti-climax: almost five years with nowt but a stopgap EP to keep hopes alive that they’d make good on their early promise. The Dark, Dark Bright belatedly achieves just that.

Even before a note is played, the archaic syntax in the title of opener And Our Hearts Did Beat indicates they haven’t lost their high-drama impulses – a suspicion confirmed upon pressing play and receiving a poetic sample, gently strummed acoustic guitar, Nicky McManus’s impassioned vocals and a closing flurry of orchestral noise. If Our Hearts… indicates continuing strengths, River is the first of several to showcase new ones, its maelstrom of fiery howls and icy guitars setting a benchmark intensity for all that follows. Their occasional reversion to tried-and-tested formulas notwithstanding, this is a well-crafted return from a band once feared fizzled out but now burning brighter than ever.

Out now

Monday, 13 January 2014

Thursday, 9 January 2014

The Skinny album of the month: Mogwai - 'Rave Tapes'

Mogwai – Rave Tapes

If Mogwai were a movie, they’d probably be a horror movie. A sense of dread has long stalked the band’s discography, from The Exorcist-referencing artwork of CODY to the werewolves, vampires and skeletons that lurk amidst their irreverent song titles.

Last year the connection tightened with their inspired score for zombie drama Les Revenants – a subtle collection pregnant with menace and melancholia. Now, the band’s on-going appreciation of John Carpenter manifests itself in prominent use of unsettling synths, making Rave Tapes one of their most haunting albums yet.

The creeping electronics of Remurdered sound particularly indebted to the aforementioned horror auteur (with secondary shades of label-mates/friends Errors), while the relentless sci-fi pulse underpinning Deesh adds a sinister edge to the track’s crescendo. Elsewhere, Mogwai’s familiar strengths are present and correct, with Master Card boasting big, choppy guitars and Blues Hour building into heavenly walls of noise before masterfully dropping the decibels (a trademark dynamic yet to lose its visceral impact).

From the brooding, ragged glory of Simon Ferocious to the sad calm suggested by The Lord is Out of Control’s electrostatic percussion and processed vocals, Rave Tapes is filled with expert contrasts, making this a pulse-quickening return from a band that’s still evolving, and still amazing.

Out 20th January

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

DVD review: The Great Beauty

                                                The Great Beauty

In The Great Beauty’s sublimely grand overture, a smiling tourist snaps the Roman skyline then suddenly falls, as if overwhelmed by the splendour of the city before him. A similar awe accompanies a first viewing of director Paolo Sorrentino’s sixth feature, brimming as it is with luxuriant detail and technical bravado. These assets serve a picaresque narrative that delves into Rome in all its contrasts: the young and the ancient, the glamorous and the vulgar, the pious and the profane.

At its centre is Jep Gambardella: a sad-eyed, sharp-witted man-about-town, living la dolce vita among the intelligentsia and glitterati of Rome’s hollow high society. Charmingly played by Sorrentino regular Toni Servillo, Jep walks a tightrope between elation and ennui, the opulent pleasures of each night before giving way to the self-doubts and uncertainties of every morning after. Encounters with saints, sinners and a vanishing giraffe ensue, and the cumulative effect is dazzling.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

The Skinny's albums of 2013 #2: Monkey Minds in the Devil's Time

                     Steve Mason – Monkey Minds in the Devil's Time

Across a year of austerity budgets, fracking controversies and seemingly endless state surveillance revelations, the anger and frustration that structures Monkey Minds in the Devil’s Time has rarely been far from thoughts or headlines. With his sails filled by a zeitgeist wind of change, Steve Mason’s follow-up to 2010’s Boys Outside saw the ex-Beta Band frontman bare and sharpen his iconoclastic edge, calling out complacency and corruption and encouraging others to do the same – which, in a popular music landscape largely allergic to explicit political engagement, ensured he spent 2013 proudly standing out from the crowd. Whether turning festival stages into politician-bashing soapboxes or using promotional interviews to expound his thesis of social change via open dialogue, Mason tackled head-on a subject all-too-often viewed askance or bathed in metaphor – in itself, enough to mark Monkey Minds… as one of the year’s key releases. That all this heartfelt polemic came attached to some of the most rousing, refined and inspired music of his career – integrating influences from hip hop to gospel to dub – didn’t hurt either.  

Calling to congratulate Mason on his high placing in our albums of the year poll, he takes the opportunity to recapitulate the record’s impetus and message, whilst reflecting on its reception. When we previously spoke in March, ahead of the album’s release, Mason had noted that political concept albums are “fraught with problems”, remarking that “many have gone down that route before and failed” – he must therefore be pleased, we suggest, at the nimble way in which Monkey Minds… has bucked the trend? “Yeah, absolutely” he replies, speaking from his tour bus on route to his final live dates of the year. “For me personally, making a record after Boys Outside was quite intimidating because I thought that was one of the best records I’d ever made. And once I realised what I wanted to do – that is, make a political concept album – that became a worry in itself, because people have massive preconceptions about any kind of music and politics connection. So for it to be so well received by people who like what I do, from radio stations like 6 Music and independent record shops and obviously magazines like The Skinny has been really heart-warming to be honest. And it’s meant that people have been asking me about my politics, so it’s involved a huge amount of dialogue – which was really the intention of the record anyway: to start a conversation about where we are and what we’re facing.”

While the album’s overtly political elements are first to sear themselves in the listener’s consciousness, there’s more to Monkey Minds… than dissent and agitation, with the visceral, ire-infused likes of Fire (introduced live as “about being invited to Tony Blair’s house and strapping him to a chair and setting fire to him”) and Fight Them Back (a charged call for action against social oppression) only constituting a slither of its full range of emotional registers. Amidst the fomentation lies a softer impulse – optimism, conveyed through moments like From Hate We Hope’s spoken word interlude (“I remember looking at myself and thinking how amazing it is to be human, you know?”) and closer Come to Me’s tentative hopefulness, which ends the album with the words “it’ll be alright”. Such contrasts provide Monkey Minds… its three-dimensionality; not a flat protest placard, but a profoundly human morass of introspection and conflicting passions. “I think the whole thing, from it coming out till now, feels very positive” continues Mason on the subject of the album’s reception. “People have understood it’s not some empty call for a pie in the sky revolution or something like that. They seem to understand that it’s genuine.”

To Mason’s mind, conviction is key. “I always make sure I have 100% belief in everything I put out” he says, identifying the Beta Band’s maligned debut the sole exception. “That’s really, really important of an artist like me, because people expect it. Once artists like me – and I don’t mean just me, there are other artists doing similar things – but once we stop making music, I dread to think what will be left. All you’re going to be left with is people coming out of music colleges and stage schools and all that, and it’s not really art any more, it’s all made by committee. I find most of what I hear now very derivative and full of fake emotion – it just doesn’t feel real to me in any way. So I believe that it’s incredibly important for someone like me to put every single drop of energy and belief into every record that I put out.” With Monkey Minds… as evidence, we’re inclined to agree.

[written for the December issue of The Skinny]

(incidentally, the Skinny's top 25 as a whole looked like this:

1. Fuck Buttons - Slow Focus
2. Steve Mason - Monkey Minds in the Devil's Time
3. Factory Floor - Factory Floor
4. The National - Trouble Will Find Me
5. Chvrches - The Bones of What You Believe
6. Hookworms - Pearl Mystic
7. Frightened Rabbit - Pedestrian Verse
8. Boards of Canada - Tomorrow's Harvest
9. Future of the Left - How to Stop Your Brain in an Accident
10. Run the Jewels - Run the Jewels
11. John Grant - Pale Green Ghosts
12. Jon Hopkins - Immunity
13. Foals - Holy Fire
14. Queens of the Stone Age - ...Like Clockwork
15. Autre Ne Veut - Anxiety
16. My Bloody Valentine - m b v
17. Daniel Avery - Drone Logic
18. Darkside - Psychic
19. Yo La Tengo - Fade
20. Low - The Invisible Way
21. David Bowie - The Next Day
22. Tim Hecker - Virgins
23. Savages - Silence Yourself
24. Laurel Halo - Chance of Rain
25. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - Push the Sky Away

... and i'll post my own list sometime soon, probably...

Monday, 6 January 2014

The Skinny's albums of 2013 #4: Trouble Will Find Me

                   The National – Trouble Will Find Me

When his wife Joy Davidson died after three years of marriage, C.S. Lewis recorded his grief in a series of journals, published pseudonymously in the early 1960s. In the fourth and final diary dedicated to the subject, Lewis wrote on the immensity of his theme and the depths of its reach. “I thought I could describe a state; make a map of sorrow” he reflected. “Sorrow, however, turns out to be not a state, but a process.”

The quote came to mind in May 2013, when The National set up their instruments in New York’s MoMA PS1 gallery and proceeded to play the same song – High Violet’s Sorrow – for six hours straight. Over and over and over they struck up the same beat, the same chords, the same sadness, as if picking a scab or etching a deeper and deeper trench. More than 100 times, vocalist Matt Berninger repeated his weary mantra: “Sorrow found me when I was young / sorrow waited, sorrow won.”

A fortnight later, Trouble Will Find Me was released. You don’t have to dig deep to hear echoes of that same stinging emotion, with Berninger intoning “I didn’t ask for this pain / it just came over me” on Pink Rabbits; declaring “I do not know what is wrong with me / the sour is in the cut” on Graceless; threatening “If you lose me, I’m gonna die” on Heavenfaced; and so forth. It seems that, whatever the intentions of the Sorrow-full marathon, scouring the slate wasn’t among them, with familiar themes revisited across the album: regret, self-doubt and melancholia, but also hope, tenderness and lust.

But then The National have always been a band of subtle revelations, with each new release a refinement of the last rather than a sudden shift in gears. Their sixth album sticks to this tradition: it softens its immediate predecessor’s more brazenly anthemic urges, but retains – perfects, even – the core qualities that have brought them to this point. The results are understated but profoundly impactful – see, for instance, the shimmering guitar that climaxes I Should Live In Salt’s penitent pleas, or the way Berninger’s baritone is buffeted by Bryan Devendorf’s pitter-patter drums in Demons’s one line chorus. Despite confessions of awkwardness and discomfort in the lyrics, Trouble… is the sound of a band with confidence in spades, and the courage to keep picking at the things that hurt to see what’s underneath.

[originally written for The Skinny]

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Last month's skinny...

Yeah, yeah, old news... But anyway, if you happen to have a gander through the December issue of The Skinny, here's the bits written by yours truly...

- Albums of the year #4: The National - 'Trouble Will Find Me'
- Albums of the year #2: Steve Mason - 'Monkey Minds in the Devil's Time' (interview with Steve Mason)
- Films of the year write-up: Frances Ha and Zero Dark Thirty (read here!)
- Suede / Teleman @ Barrowlands live review (read here!)
- Adrian Crowley & James Yorkston - 'My Yoke Is Heavy: The Songs of Daniel Johnston' album review (read here!)
- Robert Pollard - 'Blazing Gentlemen' album review
- There Will Be Firewords - 'The Dark, Dark Bright' album review
- Super Adventure Club - 'Straight from the Dick' album review
- Dirty Dozen Xmas: Kid Canaveral (read here!)
- 'Gaslight' DVD review (read here!)