Archive | June, 2009

The Decline of British Sea Power – Classic album review

27 Jun

British Sea Power are the most underrated British band of the past ten years. Their debut set the benchmark for British Indie for the rest of the decade but only now is it being truly recognised as the classic album it is. British Sea Power never have been part of a movement or scene, they are the classic outsiders, one step out of sync with their contemporaries. They have recently been called the British Arcade Fire but ‘The Decline of British Sea Power’ came out well over a year before ‘Funeral’ and it is a different kind of beast.

‘The Decline of…’ is a brief history of Britain in many ways; past, present and future. The songs are mini stories that vividly capture an eccentric British landscape in a way few bands of recent times have done. The Opener ‘Men Together Today’ is a kind of football terrace anthem from a more respectable age, a very English and calm introduction to the album. But there is nothing calm about the storms that brew later on. ‘Apologies to insect Life’ and ‘Favours in Beetroot fields’ are searing and ferocious, snarling indie at it’s most determined.

The album constantly flickers between these outbursts and the completely reserved euphoric songs like ‘Something Wicked’. Musically they occupy a space that is only their own but draw heavily on the songs of Joy Division, Echo and The Bunnymen, Joe Meek and Pavement. It is lyrically where they most impress. Their words are so original and vivid, such as on ‘Remember Me’ which is about an elderly person loosing thier memory, or ‘Fear of Drowning’ which is metaphorically about drowning in a sea of technology. Most startling is when they combine image and sound so perfectly on the 14 minute epic ‘lately’. This is a song about a dieing soilder’s thoughts on a battlefield in world war two. As the soilder ponders over the past, the sound of planes flying overhead and his memories – the listener can hear what he is hearing as well and feel what he is feeling. It builds into a climactic surge of noise and drama with everything thrown in to truely make you feel a part of the scene.

This isn’t even the albuums final track – after that we have one more song, a melodic calm love song about building a wooden horse. This is a relaxed end to a manic album.  ‘The Decline of…’ is truely one of the decade’s best albums, one of the most eccentric British debut’s of all time. The cover art best expresses what the band are about; it is traditional, unusual, unfashionable, poetic and outstanding. The front cover also refers to the album as classic, and time has revealed this to be true.

Michael Jackson – Pop’s greatest showman

26 Jun

I heard about MJ’s passing late last night and was in complete shock at what I was hearing. He had seemed to be in better shape than he had been since the early 90s, and I and many others were looking forward to seeing him In London both this year and next. I don’t want to jump on the bandwagon of people writing about Michael Jackson – The Sadness of his death speaks for itself and I find it hypocritical that the magazines and newspapers that destroyed him are now mourning his loss.

His passing marks the end of an era – Pop’s last great entertainer gone. He was truly the greatest showman of the 20th century and for me his work ranks alongside The Beatles as the greatest pop music ever recorded. He has been my hero since I first saw him on top of the pops in the early 90’s and I have put up with a lot of abuse for even liking him. Now I know the music will survive and all the rubbish that has been written will not. We have to look forward to a release of the material he was working on with the likes of Kanye West and Will I Am. Here is one of my favourite MJ song’s from his late Motown period, ‘Music and Me’.

Today is a truely sad day…

Humbug artwork revealed!

23 Jun

Arctic Monkeys have revealed the artwork for new album ‘Humbug’, due out this August. The cover is the first to feature band members and it was shot by trendy New York photographer Guy Aroch. The photo was taken in Electric Lady studios, NY, and has a washed out retro feel that I think will suit the band’s new sound. It clearly harks back to the 60’s an 70’s as apparently the music does but overall the art, along with the title and tracklisting, has recieved mixed reviews by fans. Only when the album lands in August will we truely be able to judge.

Britpop revisited

19 Jun

Britpop is undergoing a re-evaluation in the music press as of late – and now the people that market nostalgia have moved on from the late 80’s to the mid 90’s and we are about to see a surge of britpop themed compilations. It is inevitable that after a certain period of time has passed, labels will go back and exploit peoples memories of a genre or movement for all it’s worth. The Britpop revival starts here with the first genuine  look back at the period of British music, a compilation called ‘Common People’.

It’s a decent set, whilst they clearly haven’t had a lot of money to splash around (notable omissions include Oasis and Blur, the two biggest acts of the movement) they have compiled a good CD, if one disk too long. I’m predicting that next Summer we shall see even more of these comp’s, maybe the odd documentary and even some throwback bands.

I have both good and bad memories of Britpop. I an remember vaguely the controversy that followed Oasis as the bad boy’s of rock, and songs such as ‘Staying out for the summer’, ‘wake up boo’ and ‘wonderwall’ were absolutely everywhere – even a 6 year old child couldn’t miss hearing them. My main memories though are of it’s decline. I was completely bored by Britpop and now realize I mostly remember it’s dieing years, the Oasis imitators, drab overlong songs and baggy jeans; It was an inescapable culture as much as a music movement. Now I am  discovering earlier gems of the period so I welcome CD’s like Common people which will help me re-discover the music of my childhood.

Below is my ultimate Britpop playlist – 25 of my favourite Britpop songs, one song per band. Some are on the CD but most aren’t. (click to hear)

1. Live Forever – Oasis
2. Trash – Suede
3. Staying Out For The Summer – Dodgy
4. Wake Up Boo! – The Boo Radlys
5. Alright – Supergrass
6. Common People – Pulp
7. Slight Return – The Bluetones
8. Mulder and Scully – Catatonia
9. All you good good people – Embrace
10. Parklife – Blur
11. The Day we Caught The Train – Ocean Colour Scene
12. Female of The Species – Space
13. Just – Radiohead
14. Nancy Boy – Placebo
15. Linger – The Cranberries
16. Brimful of Asha – Cornershop
17. If You tolerate this – Manic Street Preachers
18. Girl From mars – Ash
19. Ocean Drive – Lighthouse Family
20. Tubthumping – Chumbawumba
21. Rotterdam – The Beautiful south
22. How Bizzare – OMC
23. Walkaway – Cast
24. You and me song -The Wannadies
25. The Drugs Don’t Work – The Verve

It would be just as easy to do the 24 worst – but I would rather slit my wrists than hear them all over again! I just hope that there isn’t oversaturation with the Britpop revival, I would hate things to go back to how they were in the late 90’s when the worst of Britpop was everywhere.

Jack Penate, ‘Everything is New’ – Review

15 Jun

Poor Jack Penate was given somewhat of a hard time when he released his (by most accounts) underwhelming debut album ‘Matinee’ in 2007. The publications that had praised his early exuberant singles turned around and gave him a cold and harsh slap across the face, pairing him up with fellow pop lightweight Kate Nash. It’s hard to feel sorry for someone as unashamedly hip and annoying as Jack Penate though, whose upbeat melodies and bizarre dancing have made him an intriguing live act. Truth be told ‘Matinee’ was a decent pop album, held back by the brilliant singles and weighed down by expectations. Most thought he was a one hit wonder, few thought he could better the album – all the best songs were years old – he had had lifetime to write a few classic tunes and some mediocre ones, how could he possibly better it in a couple of years?

Well his first step was to hire influential producer Paul Epsworth, the man who more than any other was at the helm of the indie bandwagon of 2004/2005, and responsible for the likes of Bloc Party, The Rakes, The Futureheads and Maximo Park. Epsworth always manages to create a polished and contempory sounds whilst layering songs in an intresting way, I don’t think hes produced a dud yet and he certainly ranks as one of today’s most influential producers. Here Epsworth’s job was to get Penate to diversify, he had crafted the perfect pop song on Matinee and it was obvious any attempt to repeat old ground would be the end of the road. Thankfully he has done exactly the right thing and the second album is an eclectic bunch of well chosen songs, glimmering with sounds from far of places – Particularly sunny  beaches.

World music has certainly played a part here, most tracks feature complex rhythms, spiky guitars, echo, and at least a couple of unusual instruments. Dancehall and Brazilian music are clear influences, the album has a party vibe that runs throughout all nine tracks, even the slower ones. Late 80’s, Early 90s soul and britpop also has been largely influential, as was obvious on the debut. Simply Red and The Stone Roses are two unexpected acts I’m reminded of throughout. That it’s all been crafted into a sound that is still recognizably Jack Penate, is largely down to the producer who helped develop the songs on the album from an early stage. The tracks have been well ordered and well selected, the fact that they chose to include only nine songs should be applauded as too few modern acts appreciate the phrase ‘all killer no filler’ and whilst I wouldn’t say this is all killer, it’s hard to signal out a bad track.

Highlights include new single ‘Be the One’ and ‘Give yourself away’, both have a high tempo, dance feel whilst sounding pure pop at heart. First single ‘Tonight’s today’ is another stand out although it never really caught anyone’s attention in the way singles from matinee did. I think that is one problem with ‘Everything is new’, it doesn’t feel as immediate as Penate’s debut did, there aren’t any classic songs on here, rather the album as a whole is more important than any of the individual tracks that make it up, which is perhaps no bad thing. But at the same time this doesn’t sound like the classic album Penate clearly is desperate for it to be – from the classy album art to the intelligent tracklisting – Jack is trying and it shows.Even over nine tracks the album feels a little samey, the sounds are varied enough and the differing influences are obvious, but ‘Lets all die’ doesn’t really sound any different to ‘Everything’s new’, in fact it all kind of blurs into one.

Overall this is a well thought out and brilliantly crafted album (and album is the important word, this is an album in the traditional sense of the word). Penate has clearly proved any doubters wrong with ‘Everything is new’ and now I am truely excited to see where he goes next.


Amazing Baby, ‘Rewild’ – Review

14 Jun

MGMT didn’t create Neo Psychadelia but they certainly set the current benchmark with Oracular Spectacular. Most acts of the same genre seem to be leaning towards the pop side of things (such as Empire of The Sun) so it’s nice to see a band like Amazing Baby unafraid to tackle the more freaky side of the coin.

Their debut album ‘Rewild’ is a brave and confident first record, it attempts so much and even if the band don’t always succeed, it is nice to see a new band not scared by embarrassment. Songs such as ‘Bayonet’ and ‘Headress’ are adventurous and intresting, whilst even less succesful tracks such as ‘Old Tricks in Hell’ are noble and well meaning failures. Only when they seem to be taking on Kasabian do they truely bore as on the yawnish ‘Dearriper’. Also In future they should be more carefull not to fall into pastiche as they do on ‘The Narwhal’ – Is it great or cringy?

Occasionaly they veer towards prog rock, mid-era pink floyd at times, which is quite unusual and welcome these days. However they thankfully keep the album trim and tidy, never really loosing sight of their goals as too many modern prog bands do. But Amazing Baby aren’t a prog band, they are too exciting to be such. Overall an intresting debut and a band to keep an eye on this summer.



11 Jun

Fans of The Horrors fantastic new record ‘Primary Colours’ would be well advised to check out London’s S.C.U.M, a band playing the Isle of White festival this coming sunday. They are a band undoubtidly in their infancy but already showing great promise, easily one of the most inteligent and talented new bands I’ve heard in ages. Feedback and wierd noises are their freinds (as are Joy Division’s albums no doubt) but they have a very 21st century element as well. They will carve their name onto 2009’s musical landscape with their sonic wall of sound, so get their debut single ‘Visions arise’ if you can find it anywhere, otherwise check out their myspace below.