Thursday, 21 August 2014

Late Night Tales: Franz Ferdinand

Franz Ferdinand are here to tell a Late Night Tale.

And where other artists in these series of compilations have a tendency to kick back and recline in the fine company of some chill-out records, the veteran Scottish Art-Rock group have committed to this mixtape the sonic equivalent of being invited back to their very own decadent multi-roomed 'Stately Home'-party.

Picture the scene, perhaps a raucous post-gig after-party has spilled out of the venue’s own late bar, and all the liggers and groupies and hanger-ons and drug dealers are treated to a private performance as Franz keep the night going in spectacular fashion, in the lavishly decorated smoking room you catch the band indulging themselves with a set of eclectic cover versions before you follow the faintly sweet smell that definitely isn't nicotine to the attic full of stoners commandeering an old record player and putting on a lazy, hazy run through of the Beatles 'I'm Only Sleeping' before laying back on their beanbags and floating upstream...

As you shake off the lightheadedness and venture back to the party in full swing you stumble and pass through different rooms and differing vibes, each housing a small soundsystem in full swing, from happy clappy hippies to loud and lairy rock'n'rollers, you throw shapes to funk and reggae, a mixture of seemingly disjointed styles reminds you of drinks you have been mixing all night and into the wee hours of the morning.

You've popped, you've rocked, you've skanked, you've pogoed, you've puked and you've pulled and you've had the time of your life in this maze-like house, but the light has been trying to stream through the heavily curtained windows for at least a few hours, and maybe you should try and get out now, go home, sleep it off.

But with the grand oak front door finally in sight you make your way past that same smoking room from earlier, where Alex Kapranos now holds court over a room of cross-legged or passed-out former revellers, reciting poetry and telling tales and providing the perfect counter to the debauched and divergent party that you thought would never end.

His soothing accent lulls you away from the hectic night and the fuzzy memories of frivolity, it lulls you deeper into the pile rug on which you share with the most fastidious Franz followers, and finally his soothing accent lulls you into errant sleep.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

an appreciation of Justin Bieber like no other....

when posting my first video review last year I have had every intention of making it a regular occurrence...

unfortunately time constraints and the logistics of recording and editing were stretching my capabilities somewhat, I had the ideas but the limitations I bumped up against were outstripping my power to push ahead with vlogging projects.

then 4music's Vlogstar competition came along, a competition that would land the winner a whole new bunch of hi-tech equipment, why not have a crack at it?

in a video of 30 seconds or less you had to deliver upon your full potential, I checked out the other entrants to see the what I'd be up against... and time and time again I found I'd be up against the same things... straight to camera, blah blah blah, thank you...

my first crazy thought was to deliver a metal style review in a slipknot style mask, of course I left the whole thing to the last minute.... no time to make said mask, but i instead went with making a little extra effort, composing an accapella ode to Justin Bieber to be delivered in my best metal voice...

face paints, bare chest, screaming.... all captured through the lense of my smartphone.  It may not win me the prize, it may not even be picked as a finalist, but I'm sure it will stand out against the rest and I had a hell of a lot of fun doing it

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Groundislava - Frozen Throne, album review

the email subject header promises a 'dancehall infused single', it apparently has a video of people dancing to the track on the streets of New York, i download the album and get a few tracks into a safe, and ultimately dreary, female vocalist and multi-instrumentalist going through the motions.  did i hear anything 'dancehall infused' before turning off?

no. i did not.

and on to the next album in my hastily decided upon 'to review' pile.  thankfully it engages almost immediately.

i skim read the premise of this album, in much the same way i skim read the press release of the last.  the terms 'concept', 'dreary world', 'producer' were the initial hooks, enough for me to hit download.  once the music has spoken for itself, there will be plenty of time to go back if i need any more info.

aurally, Groundislava's Frozen Throne boasts results that could have been cobbled together by an on-trend collaboration of Frank Ocean dabbling in production duties for Bastille, sheer gossamer future-pop that rides a wave of current trends without sounding like it tries too hard, a teaming of two 21st century chart-breakers would surely breed this strain of soul-synth-pop magic.

in fact, the collaboration is between the two LA based entities, producer Groundislava and band Rare Times, on 6 of the 10 track set, and the album is furnished with a wonderful eighties sheen that crackles with George Michael-eque big money charisma as it takes the retro sound to tell a tale of a man falling in love with a virtual girl and retools it with a new nobility lifted from beats, breaks and those three dirty letters.... EDM, as we follow the narrative into a digital world, to escape the bleakness of real life and embark into a constructed world that appears to be far more fulfilling.

(see, i told you i'd get round to ready the press release properly)

Despite sounding like the plot of an 80's special effects laden cult classic movie, the issues of what we truly perceive as 'reality' in a post catfish-effect world teaming with internet trolls are thoroughly relevant in a time when simply setting up an online profile can allow you to live your life as whoever you choose to be.

Past, present and future stories collide as Groundislava basks in the glory of his own terraformed landscape, welcoming travellers on a pilgrimage for new pleasures, greeting listeners that may have already discovered M83 after cutting their teeth on the familiar top 40 sounds of CHVRCHES, Aluna George and Disclosure.

In an uncertain modern world, Groundislava provides the perfect soundtrack.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Xander Duell - Earth On It's Axis - single review

There are plenty of things that can be said to grab ahold of your attention.

When discussing music,the obvious touchstones of comparisons are usually first and foremost... if you like blah blah you will like so and so, and so on.

But when you have already been alerted to the fact that one line of a song is as follows...

“Then in a drunken haze, stabbed her in the parking lot of a TGI Friday’s”


The shock value certainly worker for me.  I load up the soundcloud link and press play.

Thankfully the song works beyond the initial worm on a hook, regardless of the bizarrely violent imagery 'Earth On It's Axis' oozes well-worn and slightly rag-tag pop, it is utterly dreamy in the most jarring way possible.  A beautiful nightmare.

And it turns out Xander Duell has past form.  His debut solo album, entitled 'Experimental Tape No.2, Vol.1', was apparently a misunderstood masterpiece of musical brilliance filtered through a gritty reality that played out in a New York apartment, where Garage Band captured two years worth of drug damaged confessionals.

The lead single from what promises to be a more approachable sophomore effort smacks of so many fragmented musical geniuses that it is frankly quite embarrassing just reeling off the relevant 'sounds-like's yet there really is no greater praise when trying to put into words why you should spare a little of your time to listen to it if you haven't been convinced already.

It is a transposed 'Life On Mars', infused with a Beach Boys lushness, touches of Mercury Rev and even Blue Oyster Cult's 'Don't Fear The Reaper', entwined with the cracked-pop brilliance of Beck and Eels.  All in one harshly enthralling, brazenly awkward and sublimely offensive song.

It appears that we may have just stumbled upon the Chuck Palahnuik of pop.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

dissecting Body of Songs

Readers of a certain age will have particular memories upon hearing the phrase 'How My Body Works'.  

For me it brings to mind the complete set of educational books, published fortnightly, lined up across my shelf, it makes me think of the pretty rubbish scale model of the human body that came piece by piece with the volumes and included a number of fiddly organs that were liable to fall out from the plastic rib cage that was supposedly holding everything in place.

It also makes me think of the cartoon characters that accompanied the book series, cribbed from the nano-sized bodily based adventures of Once Upon a Time... Life.  Providing an introduction to the battles of the white and red blood cells against nasty viruses that rages inside each and every one of us.

Does Gemma Cairney share these same memories? I'd like to think perhaps it was the introductory priced first volume that inspired her to curate a similarly themed musical project with a part-by-part schedule of releases that will explore the human body, focusing on one organ at a time.

Collaborating with composer Llywelyn Ap Myrrdin and Professor Hugh Montgomery, Director of the UCL Institute for Human Health and Performance, the trio have drafted in artists to contribute a track each to what will eventually form a ten track album due for release in 2015.

Taking inspiration from internal organs was taken several steps further than expected however, meeting with medical experts including pathologists, neurologists, stem cell scientists, patients at varying stages of illness and even facing the organs themselves, the chosen artists formed an intimate understanding of why an organ works and fails and from these experiences ten songs were formed.

Of the collection so far, two tracks have been revealed, with drum and bass stalwart Goldie producing a synapse firing electronic beast of a track inspired by the brain, perfectly encapsulating the chemical rushes of a wired mind, and deep thinker Ghostpoet forgoes his usual style to closer inspect the liver, creating a dark and brooding dub-inflected woozy beat that shuns laid back rap in favour of snatches of sampled medical discussions.

Monday, 3 March 2014

the further adventures of Terry Emm

when you've been reviewing music for a while, you'll tend to find a number of the same names keep cropping up in your inbox, it is their job after all to push the client that is paying for their services into as many places as possible, by introducing you to new music, hoping you will in turn introduce others to this new music.

so it came as something as a surprise to see Terry Emm's name in the subject field rather than being the sender, as it turns out, around his normal nine to five, Emm has not one, but two musical outlets for his own endeavours that had been brought to my attention, and it certainly seemed to be doing him a great disservice if I overlooked his recent forays.

As part of Select All Delete Save As, a debut single is being readied for March, Modern Life is War is a wide-scope sweep of post-rock with a twist of Americana, serving not only as the next chapter of a developing band formed at university that started recording experimental rock, and now has a surer direction that seems suited to sound tracking that coming of age moment from your favourite hip indie flick.

Despite clocking in at a radio friendly three minute mark, Modern Life Is War feels more like a teaser than a complete song, leaving listeners with the feeling of unfinished business as it builds and sets the tone for the full length Ultra Cultura which is due in April.  And whilst Select All Delete Save As have engaged me and piqued my interest, it is Emm's solo talents that picks at the heart strings.

Clearly preparing for a busy 2014, March also sees the release of Starlight, the title track of an album that is also scheduled for an unspecified release date later this year.  It is a perfectly pitched song that plays out as an ethereal lullaby with a gentle swell of strings adding earthly gravitas, reminiscent of the distinct style that saw the world captivated by Damian Rice, Emm seems to fall fully equipped into a niche for male singer-songwriters that has been left hollowed by strong female personalities when the once burgeoning distinction became fraughtly clichéd. 

Obviously Terry Emm is not putting all his eggs in one basket, so if he doesn't ride a great wave of new troubadours in these twelve months, and a post-rock revolution hasn't gripped us by the summer, at least he's still got his day job.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

scraping the bottom of the reunion barrel?

getting older.

feeling nostalgic.

music obsessive.

self-confessed fan of 'pop'.

despite a cringe-inducing line-up, I could not deny the lure of The Big Reunion when it first hit our screens last year. part of it was pure curiosity, curating a bunch of bands that had been prevalent in my adolescent years and throwing the willing ex-members back together for a 'Big Reunion' certainly caught my attention.

but admittedly, it was the way in which it was done that provoked genuine interest.

sure, on some level it was probably a money-driven attempt to sell the very idea to arenas and maximising merchandising potential whilst back on the road, but it presented itself with more dignity than that on screen. early episodes focussing on the bands involved were rather full-on, warts and all popumentaries that really delved deep into the psyches of those performers that were only ever seen beaming at us from CD:UK and from the pages of Smash Hits.

sex, drugs and promo-pushing meltdowns were all part and parcel of the chart-seeking dream turned sour, forget Motley Crüe or Led Zep's well documented antics, this was the untold story of excess for the SMTV generation.

and as with any cash-cow winning formula, it would be ridiculous to think that the idea could be left alone, but as the format returns to our tellies and the recently reformed line-up was announced, I must admit to feeling disheartened by the news.

they didn't have quite the same 'big league' experience all round as 2013’s show had, the formation of a 'supergroup' featuring a reality tv winner and a faded soap star and the dubious inclusion of the forgotten 'Girl Thing' suggested that the bottom of the barrel was truly being scraped on only the second go around...

but to pay them their dues, one episode in and I'm responding well to it, especially since it's split-focus was on Girl Thing so early on, clearly addressing the obvious issue of reuniting a a band that barely anyone remembers, let alone cares about... indeed, what we got was a blow-by-blow account of the group destined to be 'the next Spice Girls', how millions of pounds was invested in their forthcoming chart dominance and how cruelly they were shrugged aside when the self-fulfilling prophecy remained unfulfilled after just two single releases, no rewritten pop history was needed, theirs is the cautionary tale of exploitation and how even debuting at number 8 in the singles charts is not good enough to seal your fate in the future of scrupulous record companies.

and tongue firmly in cheek, Andi Peter's ludicrous narration proved another winning move in the opening salvo of a series that perhaps knew that, just like Girl Thing, it could not take it's success for granted with its current crop of returned pop refugees.

i'm still unsure of where Girl Thing hope to move on from here once their story has been told and old wounds touched upon and possibly healed, but coming in from a sceptical standpoint that ITV2 may not have been able to deliver upon their promises a second time around, I currently remain suitably hooked on their career-rejuvenating arena filler.