Archive | February, 2012

Arctic Monkeys ‘R U MINE?’

27 Feb

Check out the new single from Arctic Monkeys, it’s called ‘R U MINE?’. The tune’s big on riffage and not so big on subtilty, but it’s great fun. You won’t find this on ‘Suck It and See’ so get downloading.

Rose Elinor Dougall returns…

23 Feb

In 2010, the former pipette, Rose Elinor Dougall released her fantastic debut album ‘Without Why’. The follow-up is due later in the year, but for now she’s made a three track e.p available for download from her bandcamp site. ‘The Distractions e.p’ features songs that Rose recorded a while ago, with her brother (now in hot new band, Toy), but ultimately didn’t put on ‘Without Why’. Says Rose, ‘we thought it was a waste to let them gather dust, so we gave them a little bit of polish and made some little videos for you’. She adds that ‘this is not material off the new record, as since the time of recording, a whole new body of work has been formed that has suggested a different path to me from the one gestured towards in tracks such as these.’ I look forward to her new direction…

Follow the link below to watch the videos, and if you like, then go to her Bandcamp page to download.

http://www.youtube.com/user/RoseEDougall?feature=watch

Lana Del Rey ‘Born to Die’ – Review

22 Feb

David Sneddon won a reality Tv competition called Fame Academy back in 2002. It was a decent show, as these things go, like the Beeb’s answer to X-factor, but with the idea being to nurture the singers rather than humiliate them. It produced Lemar, the only contestant to have any sustained success off the back of it, but the winner was this guy Sneddon. At 22, the scot had a number one single with ‘Stop Living the Lie’. It wasn’t bad – a bit corny and cliched (as these things have to be), but he wrote it, which (according to wiki) is still unique amongst winners of this type of show.

Why am I spending the opening paragraph of a review, of this year’s most hyped debut album, talking about some long forgotten winner of a long forgotten BBC reality show? Because surprisingly (and I can’t emphasise that word enough) one of the songs on this incredibly anticipated album was written by Sneddon. It’s track five, ‘National anthem’, a glitzy, maximalist ode to all things Hollywood. How strange this couple are, Del Rey and Sneddon, seemingly opposed on so many levels – and the partnership has produced a song as awkward and unexpected as you would imagine. But tis sums up the peculiarity of Lan Del Rey.

This is one of many things that are awkward and unexpected about her; a Southern Beauty raised in a trailer park, rumoured to have a small obsession with plastic surgery (a fact that has distracted many short-sighted critics), she made a shelved album with industry heavyweight David Kahne, and had the biggest blog hit of 2011 with an ode to being young, lazy and helplessly in love. She has also been the subject of some pretty hateful, some have said sexist, abuse from all kinds of outlets (most of the criticism has focused on the aesthetics rather than her music). Lana Del Rey is anything but obvious, anything but normal, and so, ‘Born to Die’ isn’t the classic debut album it was obviously going to be, nor is it the complete failure it was obviously going to be (depending which side of the fence you’re sitting on). And yet, she has had more commercial success than anyone could have predicted for such an unusual singer – this is a number one album featuring two top ten singles. All bets are off, nothing is predictable anymore.

At the start there are the established successes; ‘Video Games’ arrives early and knocks the next two tracks out of the ring (the forgettable ‘Diet Mountain Dew’ and ‘National Anthem’), such is its overpowering brilliance. ‘Blue Jeans’ and ‘Born to Die’, the other known songs, are also placed at the front of the pack, which, as you can imagine, makes this a top heavy album. That’s not to say that the second half doesn’t have its delights. ‘Dark Paradise’ is brilliant, as are ‘Summertime Sadness’ and ‘Without You’. Then there’s the sultry ballad ‘Radio’ which would, un-coincidently, sound great on a radio.

If you’ve heard lead single ‘Born to Die’ then you’ll be familiar with the production style of the album. Del Rey combines hip hop (verging on trip hop) beats with majestic string arrangements and then proceeds to belt out over the top. It’s certainly an individual style, and over the course of the record it becomes her trademark. That said, it’s a slightly overwhelming, claustrophobic sound and it definitely becomes too overpowering after twelve songs that, truth be told, sound fairly similar. The only real difference between, say, the title track and ‘What Makes Us Girls’ is the quality of the songwriting, otherwise they are much the same.

Lyrically, Del Rey’s main preoccupation seems to be with the Male equivalent of a Femme fatale (whatever that’s called!). Last year there was some discussion as to whether the lyrics to ‘Video Games’ were being sung ironically or straight faced, but in the context of the album it’s now evident that Del Rey is far from being ironic. She is a woman in rapture, a woman addicted to a man and literally willing to do anything for him. Other women become ‘bitches’ who try to steal him, and time spent not in his company is time wasted, even if that means just lazing about doing jack all. The man in question is consistently refered to as a ‘bad man’ who is up to no good. There are numerous references to drugs, alcohol, money, gambling and all sorts of other vices. Del Rey goes back to him because, apparently, she can’t ‘deny the way he holds my hand’. The devotion unfolds and breaks down in several despairing moments, and unravels into pure heartbreak on songs like ‘Without You’. In her bleakest moment she moans ‘I wish I was dead’.

From the bliss of ‘Video Games’ to the sadness of ‘Dark Paridise’, Del Rey is at her best when she is confronting her inner demons. She is less effective when she steps into the third person as on ‘Carmen’ and ‘National Anthemn’, where she takes on the role of a storyteller. That said, she’s accomplished at crafting emotive lyrics that feel heart wrenchingly honest and completely fictional at the same time. She twists old Hollywood cliches, and describes everything in vivid shades of detail. On one song she describes the ‘Swimming pool glimmering, darling/ White bikini off with my red nail polish/ Watch me in the swimming pool bright blue ripples/ you sitting sipping, on your black Cristal, yeah.’ This displays the knack she has for creating beautiful images, using adjectives and sibilance to great effect. Her voice is able to bend to suit the needs of the song, whether that means crooning in falsetto or stabbing syllables in a rhythmic fashion. She is versatile and she knows it.

Del Rey refers to herself as a ‘starlet’ on the album, and ‘Born to Die’ confirms this to be the case. She has the glamour, the voice, the personality, and most importantly she has the songs. On ‘Diet Mountain Dew’ she rhymes the word ‘Starlet’ with ‘Harlet’ displaying the uncertainty that lurks beneath her confidence, the self-loathing lyrics that lurk alongside the ambition. It’s this tension, the combination of old school 1950’s glamour, heartbreak, melting string arrangements, that velvet voice, and 21st century hip hop production, that really captivates here. It may not be perfect, but ‘Born to Die’ certainly grabs your attention for a number of reasons.

So Independent on Sunday, with your score of ten, and Tiny Mix Tapes, with your score of zero, you’re both wrong. There are some classic knock out songs on here, and there are some duds, but overall this is a far better than average debut that bypasses the hype and the controversy – and is undoubtedly, a hit.

7.5/10

12 New Acts For 2012!!!!!

14 Feb

For the past few years, every January, I have gone on a trawl through the internet to find the best new music being made. This year the search has been considerably more treacherous than in years gone by (hence the delay in me putting this list online). Vines have strangled the stumps of rock n roll, the electro river has well and truly run dry, and the heavy quick sand that they call dubstep (but isn’t the dubstep I remember, and liked) has claimed mainstream pop as its biggest victim yet. All in all there seems to be a lot more waste and a lot less gold.

I must have listened to close to 150 new bands over the past month (no exaggeration) and much of that times was spent getting thoroughly depressed. Maybe the bands I heard were really good and I’m just getting increasinly old and out of touch. But Surely not?! Maybe it’s me, or maybe, just maybe, it’s the current state of music. Still, there are some lights in the dark, and the 12 most promising acts are presented for you here.

I’m expecting big things from all these artists, but obviously it’s far too early to tell just how good (and popular) they will turn out to be, as many of them have only released a couple of limited edition 7 inchs. Some of the acts I put on this list two years ago STILL haven’t released their debuts (those bands are Kindness and Egyptian Hip Hop club, who, they assure us, will be releasing albums, at last, this year). So, early days, but last year my top acts were The Vaccines and James Blake, both of whom had spectacular years. Lets hope for similar success for this year’s acts.

12. FACTORY FLOOR

Ok, Factory Floor aren’t really a new band (they released their first e.p a couple of years ago), but they’ve been away for so long, and their sound is so radically different (and improved) that they may as well be a new band. They’ve gone from noisy post-punk irritants to a slick, DFA produced dance act. There are still hints of the band they were, especially in the twisted basslines and eery vocals, but their sound is more accomplished and way more fun. Factory Floor make direct, well produced dance music for 2012 and a full length release should be out fairly soon.

11. Little Racer

Lo-fi surf guitars, lyrics about heading for the coast and pretty girls – Little Racer are hardly the most original act on this list, but there is something irresistible about them nonetheless. They remind me of The Drums, when they were still singing about summertime and surfing, but without the hype and the distracting obsession with aesthetics. Their debut single ‘Split For the Coast/The Town’ was released in December, and it’s bound to be followed up in the coming months.

10. Bleeding Knees Club

Bleeding Knees Club are one of several Australian bands making frantic and fantastic garage rock in 2012. I could easily have chosen DZ Deathrays or Step Panther, but Bleeding Knees Club make it above them, simply because they are funnier. They make direct garage-punk songs that have catchy melodies and focus on classic teenage obsessions; Their e.p is called ‘Virginity’ and their songs include ‘Teenage Girls’ and ‘Have Fun’ – you can kind of work out they’re all about. Listen to this band and you certainly will have some fun.

9. Toy

This next band have certain connections; two members used to be in the mocked ‘indie landfill’ group, Joe Lean and the Jing Jang Jong (who were much better than they were given credit for); Lead singer Tom is the brother of the wonderful Rose Elinor Dougall; The Horrors and Mojo magazine are massive fans already. These things could be beneficial for the band or they could be a curse, either way these soundbites are likely to dominate early discussion of the group. Once you move on to the actual music you realise that Toy don’t need to rely on these connections to get by, they are a group with their own identity and sound (although they are still very much in development). They push boundaries visually as well as musically, putting on strange light shows at their gigs that compliment their psychedelic sounds. Expect to hear more from them in the coming months.


8. Lucy Rose

Lucy Rose’s voice may be familiar to you; she lent her vocals to Bombay Bicycle Club’s excellent 2010 album ‘Flaws’. There her harmonies added depth to the group’s laidback acoustic tones, and here she goes for a similar sound whilst thrusting her own voice firmly into the foreground. And it really is this distinctive voice that’s her main calling card. The songs are simple and unfussy, mainly acoustic, with some sparse folky instrumentation as back up. An album is being recorded at the moment, which is sure to include early fan favourites ‘Middle of the Bed’ and ‘Red Face’.

7. Willis Earl Beal

Willis Earl Beal is soulful, street-wise singer from the Chicago, who joins The Weeknd and Frank Ocean in this year’s unexpected r&b revival. Beal’s sound is less radical and more bluesy though; the songwriting is tender and honest, and the songs were recorded onto a cheap cassette years ago; his label (no less than XL, probably the biggest and best indie label in the world right now) have no intention of making him re-record. His debut album, ‘Acousmatic Sorcery’ is out later this year and if it’s as consistently good as his debut single, then it’s one to look forward to.

6. Being There

Being There have released a single on the influential label Lost and Found Club, and they’ve just completed a fairly big tour supporting Noah and the Whale. Despite this, it’s not hard to notice that they are fairly fresh-faced, and still very much finding their feet. Their sound is a bit rough around the edges, a bit predictable, and a bit too twee, but on the strength of these songs I predict that they will mature into a great band. They pay homage to 80’s indie pop and college rock, fusing influences like R.E.M, Field Mice, The Wake and early Primal Scream into condense 2 and a half-minute pop songs of some depth.

5. Friends

Remember Black Kids? They had a couple of big hits a few years ago, and then got eat eaten up by hype and spat out into oblivion. Friends are in a similar position to the one Black Kids were in at the beginning. Both trace a line between funk, indie, and r&b, and like Black Kids, Friends are in danger of being overwhelmed by hype. Early singles ‘I’m His Girl’ and ‘Friend Crush’ have been getting some serious attention from blogs and Radio 1, and with good reason, they are extremely catchy songs. That said, they are not the second coming, they are just yet another exciting new group coming out of Brooklyn. So get ready but don’t get carried away.

4. Michele Stodart

Michele Stodart is 1/4 of Magic Numbers; I adore this band but they seem to have gone a bit off the rails recently. Their last album ‘The Runaway’ was a disappointment, and recent live reviews have been mixed. I was therefore excited but slightly skeptical about hearing new solo material from Michele, the bass player. This project has been in the works for years (I first recall her mentioning a solo album in 2008) and at long last the album will be released in 2012. I needn’t have been worried; I always knew Michele could sing but now she has the opportunity to take lead it’s obvious just how good she is. The poppy and infectious first single, ‘Take Your Loving Back’, could easily have fitted onto Magic Numbers debut album, whilst other songs sound quite different and unexpectedly folksy. It’s subtle and inoffensive but as a big Magic Numbers fan this is right up my street.

3. Azelia Banks

Azelia Banks is funny, rude, a skilled rapper, decent singer, and according to NME the coolest person on the planet. All of this is confirmed by her debut single ‘212’ which, as far as I can recall, is the best song by a female rapper since Missy Elliot released ‘Get Ur Freak On’. It really is hard to express just what a great tune it is, but anyone whose heard it will be sure to agree (I must have listened to it thousands of times now, in all kinds of situations, and it’s yet to lose it’s appeal). That Banks has nothing else close to matching it, that I’ve heard, is no real surprise, but songs like ‘Liquorice’, ‘Runnin’ and a cover of Interpol’s ‘Slow Hands’ suggest there is a lot more up her sleeve. Recently signed to Interscope, a debut album recorded by recent grammy winning producer Paul Epsworth (Bloc Party, Adele, The Rakes, The Big Pink) is  being worked on at the moment.

2. Citizens!

I don’t know much about Citizens, but that doesn’t matter; this photo tells me 90% of what I need to know. These guys are seriously stylish. They cite Michael Jackson as an influence. They aren’t afraid to dance. Their debut single was produced by Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand. They have a video directed by the High 5 Collective. The are signed to Kitsune. This should be enough to tell you that Citizens! are going to own 2012. In case it’s not enough, check out their singles ‘Reptile’, ‘I’m in Love With Your Girlfriend’ and ‘True Romance’ and that should seal the deal. Amazing.

1. Spector

How nice it is to hear a band with choooons! It’s an increasingly rare thing these days; I mean as good as Toy and Factory Floor are they aren’t going to get you whistling along to any of their songs from dusk till dawn. No other act on this list has a choooon to rival Spector’s ‘Chevy Thunder’, let alone ‘Never Fade Away’ or ‘What You Wanted’. The band are a throwback to 2004, when groups made shiny indie-pop songs that penetrated the top 5 and got played on daytime radio. Spector aren’t the coolest band on this list, nor are they the most innovative, but they are the most likeable by a country mile, and they have charm and style by the bucketful. They top this list because, right now, they are the hottest new band on the planet. The debut album is out on Fiction at the end of April.


The Maccabees ‘Given to the Wild’ – Review

6 Feb

I feel a bit sorry for bands that release albums in January. At the time they get critically lauded and often sell a reasonable amount, but this is often only because so very few artists release records in January. This simple fact explains how groups like White Lies and Delphic have had top five albums that are forgotten by December, list season, and rarely sell more than a few thousand in the long-term. There are odd exceptions though; some acts use the lack of big releases to great effect, and the likes of Arctic Monkeys, Vampire Weekend and Adele have had massive hit albums in January that benefited hugely from lack of competition. This is why Fiction have released The Maccabees third album this month, in the absence of any competition from other bands.

And fairplay to them, it’s worked; ‘Given to the Wild’ reached number 5 in the chart. Ok, that’s a bit misleading, fewer albums were sold this January than in any other month on record, so it can’t have been hard for a moderately established group to break the top ten. That said it’s still a well deserved reward for a group that have been steadily touring and making music for half a decade now. They’ve followed a similar path to another modern indie band, The Horrors. Both groups went from underrated and misunderstood debutants to critically acclaimed but commercially troubled second album contenders. With album number three both groups have gone even further down unusual avenues with much greater success commercially but with albums that are more difficult to love. Overall ‘Given to the Wild’ is ambitious, hit and miss, and slightly underwhelming.

The Maccabees sound as if they’re playing in the middle of a desert or field on a hot summer’s day, perhaps like the one on the cover. The sound is soaked in reverb, the mix is spacious, allowing every instrument room to breath, and nothing sounds rushed or busy. Because of this production, ‘Given to the Wild’ is an atmospheric record that does a fantastic job of showing off Orlando’s increasingly stunning vocals (check out his angelic tones on ‘Went Away’). However, before you get too excited, you should be warned that he doesn’t have a lot of note to say with that wonderful voice.

Or rather, he doesn’t quite know how to express exactly what he wants to say. I know from interviews that, to Orlando at least, this is an album about growing up; all his friends have been getting married and having babies, which has made him reflect on the past, as well as the present and his future. These themes are occasionally evident  in songs like ‘Grew up at Midnight’ and ‘Feel to Follow’, but too often the lyrics are vague and oddly cryptic. I heard that they wanted to make the British version of ‘The Suburbs’, an album by a band (Arcade Fire) concerned with almost identical ideas, but a band that is able to articulate them in a much more emotive and detailed way.

But it’s a shame to be quite so negative from the off. This is a lush album that is rich in musical detail and brimming with well-meaning ideas. The harmonies are consistently impressive, particularly on album stand out, and first single, ‘Pelican.’ I was a huge fan of the group’s furious and fun debut, as well as their slightly awkward but interesting second album ‘Wall of Arms’, but the progression from those records to this one, in certain respects at least, is quite astonishing. They’ve really matured from post-Arctic Monkeys wannabees to genuinely innovative and thoughtful musicians.

All of this comes at  a price though. Despite being a beautifully produced album, with stunning vocals and intricate arrangements, ‘Given to the Wild’ suffers from a simple but devastating flaw – it’s just a bit boring. The Maccabees are a great band and they display all the signs of having a great album in them, but ‘Given to the Wild’ isn’t it; it just takes itself far too seriously. Where is anything as catchy as ‘Toothpaste Kisses’? Anything as infectious as ‘Latchmere’? Anything as anthemic as ‘Love You Better’? Far too often these songs melt into the background or drift into the realm of ambience, which is surprising as one thing The Maccabees have never been is yawn inducing. Still, overall, ‘Given to the Wild’ is filled with promise, and it does nothing to change my mind in one respect;the best is yet to come from this band.

6.5/10

Howler ‘America Give Up’ / Tribes ‘Baby’ – Reviews

3 Feb

America Give Up by Howler

Howler are nearly as desperate to be the new Strokes as Rough Trade (who flew half way around the globe to sign them after hearing a demo) and NME are for them to be the new Strokes. As The Flaming Lips once sang ‘It’s a good time for superman’ and right now, according to some, Howler are the best fit for that costume. Except they aren’t. ‘America Give Up’ is a fun album but it isn’t going to change anyone’s life – it simply isn’t good enough. Singer, Jordan Gatesmith, has a grating, nasal voice and it’s given far too much room in the mix. The songs are almost all decent but rarely anything more than that (although rarely anything less either). The production is shambolic but in a controlled way – organized chaos, etc. Still, ‘Back of Your Neck’, ‘Beach Sluts’ and ‘This One’s Different’ make this a worthy listen. In these moments the group’s buzzsaw energy makes for an infectious and likeable debut. Is this it? no it isn’t. America Give Up? Not quite yet. However – Howler will keep you happily distracted for half an hour, and that’s enough for the time being.

6.5/10

Baby by Tribes

Tribes first came to my attention nearly two years ago, when some seriously lo-fi, mostly acoustic, demos appeared online. I was very excited. These were emotive, powerful and dangerously catchy tunes. Last January, in the band’s first interview with the NME, they said they were desperate to sign to a major label. They craved success. They wanted to be stadium sized. Therefore, the first two tracks on this album are the very same songs that first grabbed me by the neck eighteen months ago, only they’ve been given a big budget, widescreen makeover. Sure, they aren’t as good as the original versions, but ambition is not something to be ridiculed, and the versions that appear on ‘Baby’ still sound brilliant, and now, spectacularly epic.

‘Whenever’ and ‘We Were Children’ are the songs in question, both odes to growing up, that hit the nail on the head in more than a few instances (‘If you forgave me I could sleep at night, knowing I’d lived a good life’ or ‘these things happen, we were children in the mid 90’s’), and here they introduce a remarkably solid run of songs that are as self-assured, hard rocking and anthemic as anything released over the past twelve months. This is how they made debuts in the decade referenced above.

The album can be divided into two halves; slow songs and fast songs, and there really isn’t much else in between. This means that ‘Baby’ is a slightly two-dimensional album – but then some of the greatest pleasures in life are two dimensional, so there is nothing wrong with that. Of the faster songs, the two recent singles ‘Sappho’ and ‘When My Day Comes’ shine brightest thanks to their hummable choruses and guitar hero theatrics. Of the slower songs, ‘Nightdriving’ (an emotional ode to a childhood friend who committed suicide) hits hardest, whilst ‘Corner of an English Field’ is a smile inducing homage to britpop. Best of all perhaps is ‘Himalaya’, a song that takes a fine stab at being a power ballad and just about pulls it off.

Things tail off slightly towards the end; ‘Alone or With Friends’ is a bit of a non-event, and ‘Bad Apple’, the weakest song on the album, makes for a bit of an anticlimactic ending. But front loaded or not, ‘Baby’ is a very impressive debut that by rights should (but almost certainly won’t – not your fault guys) send Tribes crashing into the big time. Ok, this is an old-fashioned record that occasionally plays it a bit too safe, and maybe it is as cliched as its title, but we need this band; see how they strut about on stage in ripped jeans and make up, see how the guitarist dates supermodels and Scarlet Johanson, see how they live every cliche and love it – they are traditional rock stars, and in 2011 there are very few of those about.

8/10