A revisit to the sacred halls of Redbrick, for a crack at the new Essential Albums feature. It had that classic cinematic One Last Job feel to it, where I got to play the disgruntled vet. With eyes squinted, I sit at a rusty typewriter and begin: “Some bands write songs full of subtext and allusion, pleading for someone to crack their heads open and see just how clever it all is in there. Not the Pixies. Their best songs shoot past at a hundred-miles-per-hour in a cloud of gibberish. All that poncey stuff was left to the listeners and journalists.” And true to form, that’s exactly what I do. Check the rest out on the probably-award-winning Redbrick website.
So it was the last issue of Redbrick I can ever legally contribute to. And they had a redesign and it was largely beautiful and I had a whole page to myself. And, lo!, the page was made of two things 1.An interview with Gareth of Los Campesinos!. I’ve been sitting on this one for a while, now. I bring you this on the weekend I finally got Xiu Xiu, having admitted to Gareth I didn’t get Xiu Xiu. Meeting the lead singer of one of your favourite bands is one of those life experiences that you can only build up too much and as such can only be disappointing. He was, after all, only human. That is the theme of my write-up. 2.A re-do of my old Spotify 2.0 article, rewritten to be accessible to the proles. As such, it’s probably a better piece, as I can only indulge myself 70% of the way. It’s still got the violent imagery, though, you’ll be pleased to know. You sick, sick puppies.
So it’s finally happened. Originally part of my planned Valentine’s related love extravaganza, I let loose about a band I love. A lot.*My words found themselves, dazed and confused, on the page in the esteemed publication Redbrick. You can see the edited-for-paper version at the Redbrick website. And it’s good. I’m pleased with it. But I’m here today to talk about the extended, nearly-double-the-length version that I’ve just unleashed onto the internet. It’s almost dangerously bloggy, but I felt its home remained with Redbrick, not least because it starts: “Los Campesinos! were the first band I ever wrote about for Redbrick, back when my cheeks were rosier and I still believed in Santa. Comparing them to the musical version of fizzy pop, I gave Hold On Now, Youngster… an 8. A couple of years and a couple of hundred listens to the album later: this is a public apology.” And I only get more reverential from there. Find out just how far I’ll go on…well, the Redbrick website again. Everything I talk about in the article is available on Spotify– just be warned of the other, Spanish Los Campesinos! on there. *Both that I love a lot, and that I gushed a lot.
You remember Christmas; you know, tinsel, presents, over-indulgence. When all you could hear were the classic Christmas hits, and the big Christmas Number One. Killing in the Name Of. There’s more to say about the event than even this lengthy article has room to support. Rage Against The Machine getting to #1 with a song that peaked, nearly two decades ago, at #25. Not just that, but to Christmas Number One, the one chart result the whole country is trained to care about. People’s reactions? Well, we’d need a whole new website to talk that one through. All the backlash about “oh it’s still going to Simon Cowell” (not true, the man doesn’t own Sony) or “it’s a silly song” (being honest, 17 years removed, it kind of is) isn’t the point. The point they missed is, do we still care about the Top 40? The music in the is the world to a certain demographic (shudder); the pop-discovering, identity-forming young teens. But the spread of that isn’t top-down, it’s bottom-up: what a marketing person would be able to call viral without having difficulty ever looking their reflection in the eye again. It spreads across playgrounds and the backseats of buses, through word-of-mouth and mostly, through phones. Ringtones; playing a new song to your mates; Bluetooth, if you’re that old-skool. Y’know, for the kids… It’s this kind of able-to-hear-it-anyway method that renders the chart unimportant, I guess. Who needs the public at large acting as a taste-maker, when you’ve got your friends skimming for the best bits and playing them to you? For me, card-holding Indie Kid, this means flicking through blogs and occasionally even traditional magazines with Spotify close to hand, and the recommendations of a few particular friends. I get to choose whose taste I trust and listen to the songs immediately. No more relying on the general public. But us alternative types, the indie kids, the obscurity seekers, we never should have to care about that anyway, should we? But I think the charts are important. As historical record for one. What was it like being young in 1977, really? 1982? Check the charts. Look at freakytrigger.co.uk’s genius Popular, which is going through every British #1 ever since the first (Al Martino’s Here In My Heart, since you’re asking) and writing an essay on each. They’re also important as a way of making music feel like it matters. Giving us a story. You might well have sneered at a sudden Michael Jackson fan produced by his death. But, to go one notch more credible, how much of the Blur/Oasis enjoyment rode on that feeling of being in a gang? Still sneering? Have you ever worn a band t-shirt, liked someone because they liked the same type of music? You like being in a gang, admit it. But ultimately, it’s all just music, right? Sounds that do or don’t vibrate your ear drums the right way to make you feel something. Why should all the trappings matter? Because it makes people interested. Let’s look at the Top 40 right now as I write this (for the blog-o-sphere, now a week ago). Numbers five and six in the chart right now are the same song, in two versions- Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’, the original and as performed by the cast members of American smash-hit TV programme Glee (which I still haven’t seen and am holding out hope will be good, but that’s a mainstream-embracing story for another time). That song has snuck back into the public consciousness loads of late- your university life has probably crossed paths with an anthemic singalong at some point. We’re all just a smalltown girl… It’s the same story as Rage- a third-party makes you suddenly care about the song, and before you know it it’s being thrust to the forefront of pop culture all over again. But those are old songs. The Top 40 is a signifier of the new. Singles are the currency of freshness in music; something new every week please, more and more until I’m full. My esteemed colleague Tom Lowe suggests here that this is a dangerous attitude.But how is this desire any different to the music obsessive’s constant hunt for a new favourite band? Not necessarily following them but being aware of the charts, I have discovered a lot of stuff I genuinely love. It took months of singles for Lady Gaga to click with me and now I celebrate every time I hear Bad Romance (#7) because something so unusual made it through. Weirdness being the lifeblood of pop, the home of the novelty single. The rest of the chart is hit and miss. I hate Iyaz’s Replay (#1), still don’t get Florence or her Machine (You’ve Got The Love, #8). I can’t help but raise an eyebrow at Owl City’s blatant Postal Service rip-off Fireflies (#2, and I implore you, if you like this, to seek out their seminal album Give Up). I probably shouldn’t but I adore Sidney Samson’s Riverside (#3, though it seems much bigger than that) and rather like 30H!3’s Starstrukk (#4) which cheekily combines Katy Perry, a few great lyrics and some good gimmicks to hide the fact that it’s a bit generic. There’s no denying that ‘pop music’ today is an umbrella that covers a whole lot of ground, a lot of it really interesting. Who’d have thought something that sounded like a Death Cab For Cutie cast-off would ever make it to number two? And more good stuff more popular means less overplaying. Only you can prevent another Sex On Fire, kids. …But maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’ve hit that point in life where I mellow out, stop caring about music with the intensity of a teenage zealot. I’m also less exposed to overplayed, overproduced rubbish- I club a lot less these days (getting old), am generally exposed to the radio only for short bursts, and can’t afford music TV. But I think the charts are important- even when […]
“When we’re doing music and stuff, I mean recording, that just feels like you’re doing art. I’m more comfortable doing that. You know, when you’re doing a show, there’s a lot of things that have to go right. And when you’re doing your art in your own space and time, that doesn’t all have to go right. There’s no-one paying money, there’s no-one waiting in the cold. I really care about the people that are coming to the show and I want it to be as good as it can be but there’s a lot of things about it you can’t control. So I stress out about those things. Whereas when I’m doing art, it’s just me doing shit, I don’t care. It’s just me and the guys and it is what it is.”–Wayne Coyne I really can’t believe it took me this long to put this up on here. Probably my top Look-Daddy-I’m-A-Real-Journalist! moment of this year was successfully negotiating an interview with the Flaming Lips. Me and the ever-lovely Erica A Vernon shootin’ the breeze with Wayne Coyne about art, live performance vs recordings and their new album, Embryonic produced, unsurprisingly, one of the best interviews I’ve done. Turns out that Mr Coyne’s a very talkative, polite and wise gentleman (though, it must be said, with quite a mouth on him. My gran had a copy of Redbrick the other day and I could see her being pointed in the direction of my article. A lot of F-bombs in this one. Those rockstars, eh?) Anyway… “We feel like we’re a separate band. We know why we’re associated. But we don’t mind, it doesn’t really bother us. We’re doing exactly what we wanna do, making the kind of music and doing the kind of shows we wanna do. As long as we’re doing that, it doesn’t matter to us who we get associated with.And we love the Flaming Lips, we don’t mind people comparing us to them. It’s cool.”–Dennis Coyne I also met and interviewed the Lips’ support band, Stardeath & White Dwarfs. Again, Dennis Coyne (Wayne’s nephew) was a lovely bloke. It was something of a case of seeing how far I could push a journalistic angle- in this case, being in the Lips’ shadow- without infuriating the interviewee. Decide yourself whether I succeeded. Oh, and bringing together a fair few threads in one neat I-didn’t-write-it package, here’s an interesting Dave Eggers rant on ‘selling out’, taken from some quite scary-sounding interview, and framed largely around the Flaming Lips’ recent appearance on 90210. He’s an eloquent man, is that Dave.
Without some dope words to step to.* It’s been my birthday- a week-and-a-bit long extravaganza of partying, consumption of food and alcohol, and occasional self-harm. Which means I’m 21- taking stock of my life time, I suppose. But more importantly, each day flowing into the next and threading an endless canvas of hangover, I haven’t been able to update here. And I’ve got some really stuff kicking around on the internet, and specifically at my beloved Redbrick. First up is (co-produced with beautiful co-ed Erica A Vernon), my 60-minute round-up of 2009’s singles. Generally speaking, the best, but sometimes just the most important-seeming. I say a lot of vaguely controversial things like “DIZZEE RASCAL – DIRTEE CASHYeah, it’s not Bonkers (overplayed) or Holiday (failed single pushed until people believed they must like it). There’s a little something more to Dirtee Cash; the playful Rascal of old striking out at the world at a speed that mean you don’t notice. And that title can be only be a dig at the haters.” Though our photo-collage doesn’t seem to have been put up online, trust me when I say it was beautiful. Read the lot here. (And in the interests of multi-media content, a complete Spotify playlist.) Even more excitingly, our Top 40 Albums of the Decade comes to a close. It kicked off back in October, all the way back here. But if you’re just looking for a quick fix, and find out who was #1, check here. (For anyone keeping track, I wrote #21: The Libertines – Up The Bracket #19: Los Campesinos – Hold On Now, Youngster… #14: Daft Punk – Discovery #4: Radiohead – Kid A) I’m really proud of this list; it had a few WTF moments, I suspect, while the top end of the list was probably a bit generic (which is not to say wrong), but there are some really good you-should-listen-to-this-becauses on there. And you should listen to most of them. *A quick Google to double-check the lyrics (before bending them) proves that this is pretty much the go-to heading for ‘haven’t posted in a while’ blogs. I am no beautiful, unique snowflake.
Welcome to the bi-weekly comeback.I’m posting this from my once-broken laptop. Damn it’s good to have my baby back. As usual, been busy editing the hell out of Britain’s best-looking student paper Redbrick. Still, I’ve had time to write up a fair few things, and now the time has come…to link to them!First up, my visit to Eurogamer Expo ’09 bears further fruit. I equally gush and rant about my look at forthcoming 360 sneaky-shooty-game Splinter Cell Conviction. I’m getting the hang of this preview business… “After a very smooth opening cutscene, showing Sam Fisher interrogating some generic evil-doer by smashing his face into urinals as information gained was projected on the wallls, Fisher runs out into a civilian-packed street. Pulling his gun out causes a panic, people running away and shouting, allowing Fisher in a very Assassin’s Creed-esque moment to slip amongst them unnoticed by guards. The game might have gone “back to the drawing board” a year or so ago, but its certainly kept the initial mission statement, a game about hiding in plain sight.” Spot the internal battle raging, to stop me just constantly repeating the word ‘smooth’ throughout. Read the rest here. Second, a (late, as usual) return to the Moneyless Gamer feature for Gamersyndrome.com. With slightly less immediate enthusiasm than my usual posts, I basically link to experimental weird-out game . The post is probably the most normal thing I’ve ever written, but I’m trying a bit of an experiment (to match the game). Hint: There’s more to come… “Less a game than a mass experiment, Dungeon is nevertheless worth playing. I’m a bit afraid I don’t have the necessary reach here to get discussion rolling the way the game really needs, but there’s no way I can’t talk about it. Created by Swedish one-man prolific indie-game machine Jonathan Söderström (aka Cactus).” If you play it (and I heartily endorse giving it a go), please, post on the article and tell me what you thought of it. Here.Meanwhile, in my other life: The Redbrick Top 40 best albums of the 21st Century (that’s right, the whole damn’ millenium.) It’s starting to get really interesting, as all the classic choices pop up. I’ve even written a few entries for it. Start here, and you should be able to click through to where we are now (#’s 20-16 should be going up in the next day or so).Alternatively, you can pick your starting point by going here. I’ve also argued out the Hot(ish) Topic of band reunions with my co-ed Erica Anne Vernon. She likes ’em, I think they’re a force for evil. FIIIIIIIIIIIIGHT!This post carved out of the very flesh of its brother.
I’ve been away awhile but I’m b-b-BACK. Don’t call it a comeback. In that time, I’ve battled a broken laptop, edited the hell out of a few issues of Britain’s hottest* student paper Redbrick, and attended a games-expo. It’s been a pretty fun time. Somehow, during all that, I found the time to write up a coupla articles for y’all.First up, it’s a (late) return to the Moneyless Gamer feature for the lovely yet-MMO-keen people at Gamersyndrome.com. I talk about joyous crayoned-in speed-platformer, Runman, and just why YOU should play it. Because it’s the best, that’s why. “Level names like ‘The Awesome Zone’ reveal exactly what the game is about (apart from having a genuinely funny and warm personality): making you feel damn awesome. The very best sugar-rush speed moments match that of the Burnout games, and as your little yellow mascot cheers encouragement (WOO! OH SNAP!), you’re going to have to smile along with him.” Click here and you can be awesome too. Second, the fruits of my visit to Eurogamer Expo ’09 begin to flower. I write about the PS3’s next-big-thing, point&click thriller Heavy Rain. “The comparison to film is important- Heavy Rain is gaming’s equivalent to the thriller. Obviously so; it wears the trappings of a Se7en or Usual Suspects, but more importantly it captures the central feel of them- the thrill. Until now, games have looked like a thriller- see Condemned for a game example- but they’ve never played like a thriller- Condemned had dark moody atmosphere and the occasional jump, but it was more akin to a survival horror than a true thriller.” Yup, it’s one a’ them there revolutionary games**. Do I crown it gaming’s Citizen Kane, or noble failed experiment? There’s only one way to find out. Finally, I haven’t technically written anything for it yet (I’m the curator), but we’ve got a Redbrick countdown going on, of the 40 best albums of this whole millenium. Where the hell is your favourite? Good question: check it out/complain here. *By hottest I mean most-attractivest. Obv. **There’s a beautiful video of what the game is capable of (or more excitingly, was capable of in 2006) here.
More of my dangerously intimate involvement in the end-of-year issue of Redbrick.Reviews of Patrick Wolf and La Roux gigs. Click for the much-prettier PDF (also here for my official introduction and mourning of my predecessor, written by my fine and above-all-professional colleague Ms. Erica Vernon) or read on for blog-format, with bonus behind-the-scenes confessions. It’s an androgyny special! First up, most famous hairstyle in the Western World, surprising-chart-success, Ms Ellie Jackson and La Roux:“Coming on to stage to alternating chants of ‘La Roux, La Roux is on fire’ and ‘Get your bum out’; it’s almost immediately a case of audience versus band.Singer Elly Jackson, who has pretty much taken on (for tonight, at least) the mantle of La Roux herself, timidly tries to play down the attention. The tunes take a while warming up and for a while the atmosphere struggles.But soon, with the dance-to-me lights and kickin’ bass there to back her up, the crowd obey the command to get their groove on.The gig is a showcase for unheard songs from the forthcoming album, an assurance there’s some range and depth still to be seen. By the time they finally play the hit single In For The Kill, any awkwardness is gone and everyone is dancing.Elly’s even got the balls to not make it the last song. That honour goes to the new single, Bulletproof, which proves to be the song of the night, even though I’d never heard it before. It’s the song everyone goes out, satisfied, into the cold night air humming.” And the picture-of-Dorian-Gray, costume-stylin’ Romantic spaceboy from London himself, Mssr. Patrick Wolf!“Live, you realise how much of an unabashed pop bitch Patrick Wolf is. Coming on hollering ‘Birminghaaam’ into a Britney-esque head mic, he jumps straight into the crowd, interacts, making the most of his wirelessness.Dressed up like a manga character and backed up by an army of synths, it’s clear, live, just how much Patrick Wolf is David Bowie’s love child by some beautiful alien man-woman, now sent to earth to follow in his fathere’s footsteps and save us all.Patrick Wolf is obviously a fully-fledged rock star. Shouting, working the crowd, the whole band jumping up and down during Accident & Emergency.He’s a self-deprecating, confessional acoustic singer-songwriter (the least interesting personal- the most real, most human.) It’s this that struggles to carry him through a couple of slower songs in an otherwise perfectly paced gig.Somehow, live, the songs lack some of the transcedence of the records. But that’s all traded in for Wolf’s showmanship. That unavoidable throughline, his unmistakeable voice is hidden somewhat by the endless variety of songs, clothes, personas on show. The climax of the gig began to reconcile all these fragments, and you can see a charmingly vulnerable boy, at his happiest. Live, Patrick Wolf is everything.” Confession: Most of this was written whilst being bullied by the aforementioned oh-so-professional Ms Vernon. She’s a tickler, that one.
An extraordinarily busy week at Redbrick for the last issue of term led to a music section half-written by me. Here are the results, in installments. First, an interview with the surprisingly lovely unsigned-band Chapman Family. “The Chapman Family are, in some ways, a band of contradictions: tonight, they’re playing to a young, impressionable, NME-reading audience, here to see La Roux.The Chapman Family: a self-described ‘fuckin’ miserable band’. Their set is a whirlwind of smashing guitars, strangulation with microphone leads and aggressively noisy music with some very naughty words in.The Chapman Family- a band that made a girl in front of me swoon, with her hand to her forehead like a character in a Jane Austen novel. Clearly believe in the legend, the spectacle of rock & roll. But their ferocious maltreatment of the guitars is a ‘treat’ with a very mundane flipside:‘I need to save one; I can’t just break ’em every night ‘cus I haven’t got enough money… When we’ve had two days off, I’ve basically fixed two or three guitars. The ones I’ve got now are cobbled together from bits ‘n’ bobs.’The band are unsigned: ‘No one else [on the tour] is unsigned… We’re used to playing gigs for free. Being surrounded by crew who carry our stuff in was an absolute revelation.’A lot of their opposing lead singer Kingsley is a down-to-earth, often self-deprecating gentleman, while bassist Pop (self-proclaimed ‘half the talent in the band’) is a little more aggressively opinionated.Kingsley takes comparisons to Maximo Park and Futureheads in his stride. It’s unfair and lazy, based on a shared Northern accent:‘No one goes to [wonderfully-named girl-goth band] An Experiment On A Bird In The Air Pump, ‘you sound like The Libertines, just ‘cus they’re from London.’There’s a clear common ground in the distaste for bands of ‘local people with fake cockney accents’ and Kinglsey admits playing tribute to those bands:‘First year we played, fair enough, we probably ripped off Maximo Park and Futureheads more than anyone else.’But the band are much dirtier, much louder, more rock & roll than that. And there is an infuriating coincidence with Maximo Park’s single Kids Are Sick Again being released close to their similarly-titled Kids (Are Alright).Meanwhile, Pop’s opinion is a little more straight forward: ‘They can fuck off back down the hole they came from.’Pop Chapamn is given to the kind of hyperbolically impassioned statements that make my heart melt. He casually announces Roxy Music’s Do the Strand as featuring ‘the best lyric ever written by any human being’.Pop joined the band after they’d been together for a while, bringing to the table ‘a lack of musical knowledge… and a box of distortion pedals.’The two play off each other, debating and squabbling about celebrity adoption and the best beers (the tequila-infused Desperado) as much as selling-out and The Horrors model of 20-minute sets.It’s an odd thought, but they seem a willfully small band, massively DIY. Kingsley ‘used to do T-shirts that I’d paint myself. People are still fucking getting in touch with me and going, like, can you do the painted ones? ‘Cus I preferred them.’They’ve played gigs ‘for two people.’ Their solution? ‘Play as hard as you fucking can… One of those people might really like it.’ But now their moment might be coming, and there are already accusations of being ‘sell-out bastards… Purely because we managed to get on MTV.’The Chapman Family are a band whose, in Pop’s words, inspirations include ‘the size of boobies, a drink of beer’. They’re a band waiting for a cult of manic devoted fans. If they get it, it’s reassuring to think they probably wouldn’t abuse it.Even if they are sell-out bastards.” You can listen to the Chapman Family (and read some of the quite impassioned rants that inspired the majority of this interview) at their MySpace. Confession: I’m a bit worried that ending didn’t come off quite as ironic as possible. And, rereading, can’t believe I couldn’t fit the actual Roxy Music lyric in: it’s “Rhododendron is a nice flower”. Which very possibly actually is the best lyric ever.