Monday, 29 August 2011

The Singles Bar - 29/8/11

The last Monday in August is a bank holiday in the UK. That means it’s a perfect opportunity for friends, family and loved ones to convene, to enjoy each other’s company and for summer to have one last hoorahbefore the chilly embrace of autumn intervenes. I spent today sitting in my flat, alone, listening to the new singles that have been made available to buy. This probably says more about me than I’d care to admit.
Anyway, here are the tracks and this week, there’s even a Spotify playlist containing them all to accompany the article. Enjoy!
Owl City – Deer In The Headlights
Owl City have certainly attracted their fair share of controversy on these pages, most notably in AndrewBaer’s review of their most recent album. Personally, I find them too bland to get too worked up about, andDeer In The Headlights won’t do anything to change that. It’s a passable effort that starts off sounding like the 90210 theme tune. It’s a bit Postal Service-lite and the lyrics are a little trite, but it’s inoffensive enough to attract lots of fans. Not for me though, oh, and by the way, the animal you’re looking for is a rabbit, not a deer. 4/10
Cults – Go Outside
Only time will tell if Cults make the breakthrough their critical reception predicts, but Go Outside has certainly been getting a lot of airplay in the UK. It’s a very 2011 sounding record, by which I mean there are elements of shoegaze, dream-pop and a kind of ethereal sheen over the whole thing. It has a strong melody, a glockenspiel prettily echoing the vocal line and is exceptionally catchy. The breakdown halfway through is haunting yet it still retains a sunshine feel. Oddly enough, it doesn’t seem to have any verses. What’s it about? Oh, I’ve no idea, going outside probably. 9/10 – SINGLE OF THE WEEK
The Feeling – A Hundred Sinners (Come and Get It)
The Feeling are another act it’s difficult to have strong feelings about either way due to their sheer dullness. Some of the songs from their first record had a tendency to get stuck in your head but this is instantly forgettable and shows a real lack of ambition. Critics seem to find it easy to put the boot into AOR bands (unfairly, in my opinion), but this is a good deal worse than SupertrampELO et al. The most interesting thing about this song was when my listening was interrupted halfway through by a cold caller. Uninspiring, insipid stuff. 2/10
Panic! At The Disco – Let’s Kill Tonight
I really can’t make my mind up about P!ATD. On one hand, they’re attached to that annoying emo movement, but on the other hand, they’ve written one or two decent songs, and I’m prepared to give kudos to any band with punctuation in their name. Let’s Kill Tonight starts promisingly, with healthy daubs ofelectronica, but the chanting chorus is a little flat. In fact, the electro squeals over the chorus sound like a cross between the guitar solo at the end of November Rain and the music to the Mystic Cave zone from Sonic 2 on the MegaDrive (or Genesis, if you’re one of those American types). No mean feat, but this isn’t quite the track it could have been. 6/10
Cover Drive – Lick Ya Down
Some (very) brief research tells me that Cover Drive are a Bajan group who are on the verge of moving to London having signed a deal with PolydorLick Ya Down is an ill-advised attempt to mix Euro house, Caribbean rhythms and airhorns. There are shades of Rihanna, Ke$ha and Nicki Minaj, but Cover Drive never come close to matching any of that illustrious trio. The message of the song appears to be that they are, in fact, going to “lick ya, lick ya down, lick ya, lick ya down, down, down,” which I’m not really sure I’m particularly enthusiastic about. Incidentally, one of Cover Drive performs under the name of Bar-Man, which is apt as it’s sure to be his occupation in the near future. 3/10
Kaiser Chiefs – Man On Mars
You never know quite what you’re going to get with Kaiser Chiefs. Man On Mars starts with an Asian-sounding riff, sure to herald the start of something big, yet it never quite arrives. There are some nice chord changes, a few soaring moments, but the lack of a killer chorus is the song’s Achilles’ heel. It’s difficult to imagine this is the same group who wrote the raucous I Predict A Riot. Completely fine as an album track,Man On Mars is an odd choice of single and unlikely to win the band many new fans. 5/10
Bruno Mars – Marry You
As Bruno Mars is responsible for The Lazy Song – possibly the first song it took less time to write than it does to listen to – my hopes weren’t high for this. Although I like Mars’ description of alcohol as “dancing juice,” Marry You is far from recommended. Despite strong vocals, there’s a lack of spark in the production, and the inclusion of church bells is disappointingly predictable. However, when all’s said and done, Bruno Mars has now released four solo singles, and this is the least murder-inducingly irritating of the lot. 4/10
Theme Park – A Mountain We Love
I don’t know about you, but if I were starting a band, I’d make sure I picked a name which was distinctive and likely to make my group come top in any Google searches. London quartet Theme Park have, however, eschewed such common sense, the scoundrels. A Mountain We Love wastes no time getting started, and is a head-nodding slice of new-wave electro that proudly wears its 80s influences on its sleeve. There are interesting sounds dotted throughout the track (including a kind of synth steel drum) and the twin lead vocals really work well. It could do with being taken up a notch – there’s little change in the song from start to finish – but it’s a pretty damn good effort and certainly worthy of your time. 8/10
Nicole Scherzinger – Wet
On Wet, Nicole Scherzinger sings, “Let’s get a little wet, I like the way you work it,” “If you touch me there, please beware, you can start up a fire” and other not-at-all-disguised sexual innuendos. Actually, to call them innuendos would be to credit the lyrics with some sort of invention, which would be wrong. This depressing slice of porno-pop sounds like a barrel is being scraped, which is apt as it’s the fourth single from her debut album and the well of inspiration looks like it’s run dry (unlike Scherzinger herself, it would appear). Earlier singles like Poison and Don’t Hold Your Breath are infinitely better than this tired attempt at dance. If you’re planning on drinking too much and cavorting with a stranger in the suffocating atmosphere of a club, there are far superior soundtracks. 1/10
Katy B – Witches Brew
I’m a big fan of Katy B and her debut album, On A Mission, but I question the logic of releasing a sixth single from it. Presumably it’s a final promotional push before next week’s Mercury Prize, for which On A Mission has been nominated. From the brilliant punning title onwards, Witches Brew is a fantastic track - a stunning mix of pop and dubstep, with bonkers production and an electrifying chorus. Back in April, Ipredicted that Katy B had made the pop record of 2011 and it’s tracks like Witches Brew that back up such a claim. It’s just a shame that the record’s been spliced apart; half of the tracks are now available as singles. This is an odd one really – a fantastic song, but one that should never really have been a single in the first place. 8/10
Jessie J – Who’s Laughing Now
The answer to the question posed in the title of this track is presumably Island Records, who have seen Jessie J’s album, Who You Are, go double-platinum in the UK. The start of Who’s Laughing Now is similar to Snoop Dogg’s Drop It Like It Hot, but it soon transforms into a grating, solipsistic car-crash of a record.Who’s Laughing Now is smug, whiny, soulless, disposable music, engineered with the sole intention of commerce. It also contains a horrific rap which features the line, “Oh my God, babe, your voice is, like,wow.” I’m a mild-mannered sort and have nothing against Jessie J personally, but I despise everything about her music and everything she stands for in an artistic sense. Thanks to that internet thing, I understand Jessie J performed at the VMAs last night. I’d like to say that, America, on behalf of the UK, I sincerelyapologise. And while we’re on the subject, sorry about Piers Morgan too. 0/10
Ed Sheeran – You Need Me, I Don’t Need You
What is it with UK artists being confrontational and hell-bent on proving their “realness.” There’s the aforementioned Jessie J, Cher Lloyd confronting “haters” on Swagger Jagger and now Ed Sheeran, who’s very keen for us to know he “didn’t go to BRIT School” and, slightly more bafflingly, that he’s “not fake, don’t ever call me Daisy.” If you didn’t hear Daisy Sheeran’s previous single, The A Team, it was an ode to a companion succumbing to drug addiction, sung to the tune of Hey There Delilah with lyrics written by someone who’d ingested a rhyming dictionary. Either that, or the faces of junkies really are “crumbling likepastries.” You Need Me, I Don’t Need You is, if anything, even worse, with its acoustic hip-hop like ananaemic Beck and Daisy going to enormous lengths to prove to the world what a prize chump he really is. There are several candidates for the nadir of this song (and perhaps, all of recorded music), but ladies and gentleman, thank you for reading today and I shall leave you with this, a line which makes me never want to listen to music ever again – “They say I’m up and coming like I’m fucking in an elevator.” 0/10

Sunday, 28 August 2011

100% Publishing

Wiley - 100% Publishing
released 20 June 2011 on Big Dada

If you were Wiley, it would be perfectly reasonable to wish it were still 2003. Back then, the man born Richard Cowie was heralded as the leading light of an exciting and challenging new breed of hip-hop – UK grime. It was more brutal and sparse than its polished American cousin, and Wiley was set to take the charts by storm.
Except, he didn’t. Dizzee Rascal won the Mercury Prize with Boy In Da Corner (which Wiley guested on), and Wiley ended up with more critical than commercial success. Now on his seventh (seventh?!) album, it sadly seems he’s stuck at that moment where it all nearly happened.
UK hip-hop used to be something of a joke, and few people have done as much to change that perception than Wiley. However, music evolves, and the landscape today is very different to what it was eight years ago. Since then, Dizzee’s sanded down his rough edges and gone stratospheric, Roots Manuva has continued to innovate, and even dubstep acts (such as Burial) and dancehall MCs (like Toddla T) can be considered part of the mainstream.
All this leaves Wiley ploughing his furrow alone, still claiming he’s the ice-cold 'eski boy'. That said, Wiley clearly remains one of the best MCs around, and that kind of talent doesn’t just disappear. His rhymes are rich, varied and display an artist clearly in love with language. There’s a stack of superb lines to choose from, but you’d have to go some way to beat, I’m a time travel dude and the future can’t be altered / That’s why my life has never been as plain as ready salted.
Like the vast majority of rappers, Wiley likes to inform the listener of his own brilliance, but there’s self-doubt and paranoia creeping in round the edges. The title track is doubtful – nobody knows if it’s gonnawork overseas but you wait until I try – and on Numbers In Action, he acknowledges that People saying my last hit’s Rolex; a reference to his superb 2008 hit single, Wearing My Rolex. Perhaps this is an admission that after a prolific career, he’s becoming susceptible to stress and worry.
In hip-hop, verses can only take you so far, the beats are vital too, and this is where 100% Publishing starts to fall down. Entirely produced by Wiley himself, a lot of the album sounds simply like a man going through the motions. Stuck in his salad days, the problem isn’t so much what Wiley is doing, it’s what everyone else has done in the interim. There are inspired moments – there’s an almost ravey, Balearic feel to Your Intuition – but for the most part, it sounds tired.
Not just that, it’s muddled too. Like Roots and Dizzee, Wiley is a particularly British kind of lyricist, which is why the latter half of 100% Publishing’s forays into the smooth sounds of American hip-hop are so jarring. Again, it’s very 2003, but this time, it’s what was happening over the Atlantic rather than on the streets of London. A case in point is Talk About Life, which starts with a Mr. Scruff riff, tribal beats and addictive synths, and has the potential to comfortably be the best song on the whole record. However, the chorus arrives, and it’s an insipid, radio-friendly slice of characterless R&B. It’s enormously frustrating – Wiley boasts on Boom Boom Da Na that the weed won’t replace my legacy, but he could be wrong.
100% Publishing concludes with To Be Continued, and Wiley’s assertion: To be continued, ‘cos my work ain’t over / Get my mind right, I can make a body of work. This seems a fair summing up of the record; it has potential and is brimming with obvious talent, it’s just as if Wiley doesn’t have the requisite concentration or fire to see it through. Unfortunately, that line finishes with, See, I told ya, meaning Wiley seemingly believes this album is, in fact, his crowning achievement as an artist. Sadly, he’s mistaken, as 100% Publishing isn’t anything like the masterpiece it has the potential to be.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

The Singles Bar - 15/8/11

The singles chart is a confusing beast, isn’t it? Once upon a time, a song would be on the radio for a week or three before being released on a physical product you could buy in a shop. Then, when downloads became popular, they had to be incorporated, and now we’ve got on-air on-sale; the concept that no-one quite understands and not all labels seem to be adhering to.
This all means that it’s difficult to know what singles are coming out and when. So, we’re taking it back to the old school, and in the style of music mags of yore, like Smash Hits!, we’re reviewing the singles. Hooray.
These are the platters that matter on Monday 15th August 2011.
Professor Green – At Your Convenience
Rap numpty Professor Green’s new single starts with a slurred, “aw, mate,” and we’ve had a “your Mum”reference before we’re even into the first verse. It also includes the line, “I’ve just had a shit and I can’t find the loo roll.” The squalling guitars in the background work quite well, but Green’s voice is incredibly irritating and his lyrics depressingly juvenile. This is the kind of thing you’d expect to crop up near the end of a D12record. He’s not even a real Professor either. 2/10
Brett Anderson – Brittle Heart
Suede have experienced something of a renaissance in the past year, so it’s curious as to why Brett Anderson’s new release is so low-key. Lyrically, he’s the same as he ever was (“Give me your brittle heart and your ashtray eyes”), but shorn of his band, there’s something sadly lacking. Brittle Heart isn’t a bad track by any means, though it is a bit of a mid-tempo plodder, which fails to hit the anthemic heights it’s reaching for. Nice, but perhaps not single material. 5/10
Cloud Control – Gold Canary
I’d never heard of Cloud Control before, but their close harmonies immediately reminded me of Fleet Foxes. Then the lead vocal came in, and Alister Wright even sounds like Robin Pecknold. However, they’re not quite Appalachian mountain clones – there are some female vocals in the mix and a healthy dose of electronic tomfoolery. Around the two minute mark, there’s a definite shift and the track begins to soar. Accomplished stuff and really quite enjoyable. 7/10
CSS feat. Bobby Gillespie – Hits Me Like a Rock
I’ve mixed feelings about this collaboration. CSS have made some great songs whereas Bobby Gillespie is clearly a deluded plank of the highest order. Sadly, CSS seem to have lost some of their oomph since their riotous debut and Hits Me Like a Rock meanders along quite nicely until a horrible realisation hits me – it sounds like Vengaboys. Gillespie’s hushed vocals work surprisingly well, but oh dear, it’s cheesy Euro pop o’clock. 4/10
The Sound Of Arrows – M.A.G.I.C.
I’ve decided to eat a chocolate and lemon tart while listening to The Sound Of Arrows and it’s turning out to be a very wise decision. M.A.G.I.C. is uplifting and refreshing (like lemon), but there’s clearly something going on which puts it above your standard pop record (like choc… well, not really, the metaphor kind of ends there). Dreamy vocals and an incredibly infectious singalong chorus make this track a surprise success. 8/10
Battles feat. Gary Numan – My Machines
This track is relentless. A repeated, sludgy riff over insane drumming and strong synth lines mean this track is highly recommended. Gary Numan is a perfect fit for My Machines, his voice complimenting the gothic feel of the music. The build-up around the three minute mark is genuinely exciting – anyone who thinks Muse are the best at atmospheric, apocalyptic rock should spend an afternoon locked in a room with this song. 9/10 – SINGLE OF THE WEEK
Wonderland – Nothing Moves Me Anymore
Wonderland are a girl band formed by Svengali Louis Walsh and Westlife member Kian Egan (whose wife just happens to be in the band). Nothing Moves Me Anymore is a syrupy abomination of a ballad – the likes of which you’ve heard countless times before (think Leona Lewis or… Westlife, actually). There are the usual strings, the obligatory over-emoting, in fact, the only thing missing is a key change. As Oscar Wilde would have said, “I tell you what, this song’s a load of old shit.” 0/10
The Wombats – Perfect Disease
I’m no fan of The Wombats, however this isn’t too shabby at all. The lyrics aren’t up to much, and Matthew Murphy’s vocals are overly earnest as usual, but it sounds a lot like a more commercially-focussedKlaxons, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, if you put your preconceptions of The Wombats to one side, you’ll discover a tight, neat pop song, which you can have a bit of a dance to as well. Nice work, my Antipodean marsupial friends. 7/10
Lenny Kravitz – Stand
Yes, I was also shocked to learn Lenny Kravitz was still recording and releasing music. After hearingStand, I’m not sure why he bothers, because this could have been released by Kravitz at any point in the last two decades. It’s got the classic rock feel you’d expect, and is likely to feature on numerous driving compilations. Overall, Stand’s ok if you like that sort of thing, but it’s not bringing anything new to the table – far from it, in fact. 5/10
Frank Ocean – Swim Good
Those Odd Future boys are cheeky scamps, aren’t they? What with their rapping about rape and killing and such. Frank Ocean is a very different proposition from his better-known bandmate, Tyler, though. Swim Good is what I believe the kids call a “slow jam,” and very pleasant it is too. Ocean’s relaxed vocals sit over steady beats and a slightly haunting backing. Maybe it’s a little too drowsy actually, but it’s certainly worth four minutes of your time. The track ends with thirty seconds of sounds from the beach. I like the beach. 8/10

There's a Riot Goin' On

“I thought that if you had an acoustic guitar, it meant that you were a protest singer. I can smile about it now but at the time it was terrible.” Morrissey, 1985 (The Smiths – Shakespeare’s Sister)
“Let’s just keep fighting the end of the world. We can hold hands and we can make plans, for life.” MurrayLightburn, 2003 (The Dears – No Cities Left)
Although the riots that recently ravaged the major cities of England were shocking, signs of unrest amongst the populace have been plain to see for a few years. Recession, the MPs' expenses scandal and the extraordinary hike in university tuition fees are just some of the events that have led to a feeling of disaffection and tension on the streets.
Clearly, a sustained period of rioting and looting is an extreme response, and the factors that caused such acts are far more complex and myriad than those mentioned above. Indeed, solving these problems will require a long and sustained period of action, though no-one yet knows how this should be approached. It’s an unusual case; whereas the people normally rise up against their rulers or authority, these riots saw local businesses and homes attacked. It's plain to see that something has gone badly wrong.
However, it’s not the first time there have been economic problems in England and it’s not the first time people have taken to the streets to voice their unhappiness. Pop music often mirrors the mood of the nation. Under the previous Conservative government there were a number of politically-charged records in the charts, but now – where there’s a Conservative government in all but name – the stars of today have been curiously quiet.
The last major riots in the UK were almost exactly thirty years ago. The soundtrack to those events was The Specials’ Ghost Town, a sparse, unsettling song about urban decay and inner city violence. Ghost Town spent three weeks at number 1 in the charts – it’s a fantastic record but the fact it reflected major events of the time was also fundamental to its success. In fact, watch any reports or footage of those riots, and there’s a good chance Ghost Town will have been chosen to accompany the pictures.
In 2011, what do we get atop the charts as the anthem of our distress? Cher Lloyd’s Swagger Jagger. Although it’s an unhappy accident, there’s something that chimes with the attitudes of the rioters and theself-centred, confrontational nature of Lloyd’s song (“You can’t stop looking at me, so get off of my face”). That said, it’s unlikely any of the rioters were inspired by the words of a teenage reality show alumnus.
Protest songs have a rich and vibrant history. In the early to mid-20th Century, folk singers would travel round with little more than a guitar on their back, singing songs of oppression, deceit and skullduggery. These acts were particularly popular in New York’s Greenwich Village in the 1960s, a scene which spawned Bob Dylan, a keen student of Woody Guthrie amongst others. It’s difficult to imagine an artist of Dylan’s popularity today writing something as acerbic (yet articulate) as Masters Of War (except Dylan himself, perhaps).
As the 60s became the 70s, Curtis Mayfield wasn’t exactly shy about saying what he felt, and Marvin Gaye released the timeless What’s Going On. The 80s saw the newly mainstream hip-hop, hardcore punk and Billy Bragg pick up the baton, while the riot grrrls and Rage Against The Machine did for the 90s. In the 21st Century though, a swathe of post-9/11 tracks aside, the protest song seems to be a dying art.
Why could this be? Maybe it’s because the pursuit of commercial success comes before the desire to actually say something of any substance. Maybe it’s because the artists of today aren’t as politically engaged as those of yesteryear. Maybe it’s because rock and roll is now so much part of the establishment, it would seem mightily hypocritical to be rallying against it. Either way, modern artists tend to make any protest-like feelings they possess relatively opaque in their songs. It appears the only recent act to buck this trend and make a real statement against something was Green Day, with their rock opera,American Idiot. In a ridiculous turn of events, The Ordinary Boys started with a mod-like album of scathing attacks on modern British life, Over The Counter Culture, before their lead singer, Preston, became a contestant on Celebrity Big Brother, married a glamour model and ended up as a gossip magazine staple.
So, who is the new Bob Dylan or Billy Bragg? Where is the next Public Enemy? In the wake of the tuition fee protests in London, Brighton-based act, The Agitator, were pushed to prominence. However, further interrogation revealed them to be all fur coat and no knickers, full as they were of clichéd posturing and empty sloganeering. Their rallying cry of, “Now is the time to agitate,” is hopelessly vague and unlikely to overthrow a schoolgirl, let alone a government. In times of desperate need, “agitating” a group makes you a minor annoyance rather than a revolutionary.
Protest music is the music of the people; the lingua franca of the streets. As previously mentioned, it’s difficult for guitar-based music to become that when it’s such a commodity. In the UK, at least, it looks like hip-hop and grime could lead the way. Music journalist Dorian Lynskey - someone who should know a thing or two about protest music, having written a weighty tome on the subject (33 Revolutions Per Minute) - recently mentioned how the lyrics of Dizzee Rascal’s 2009 single, Dirtee Cash, seem particularly prescient given recent events (“Let me take you down to London city, where the attitude’s bad and the weather is shitty”). Dizzee probably has enough influence to become some sort of figurehead for the disaffected, though as his stock rises, how long can he really connect to the feelings of the people? Hip-hop artists generally start their careers stressing how much like us they are, but that attitude often changes when sponsorship, sexual attention and dollar signs come calling. Over the coming months, it will be interesting to see what comes through from new and exciting artists.
It could be argued that the power of song has been diminished, but perhaps this is only the case in the capitalist, commercialised west. When citizens took to the streets of Cairo earlier this year to protest about the reign of Hosni Mubarak, singers armed with acoustic guitars rallied the crowds into the small hours. The protest movement is still relevant after all. Maybe it’s only in times of real strife that people feel the need to articulate their frustrations in such a way. It just seems a shame that in the western world, it’s a tradition that’s falling by the wayside.

Geidi Primes

Grimes - Geidi Primes
released 8 August 2011 on No Pain in Pop

On ‘Zoal, Face Dancer’, the third track on this record, Claire Boucher (who ostensibly is Grimes) sings, “everybody thinks that I’m boring” in a crystal clear tone, completely unobscured by other voices. This is a rarity on Geidi Primes - the other main example being in the same song: “everybody knows that I’m an island” - and the considered exposure of this line, not to mention the lyric itself, is very telling in the wider context of the record.
Grimes specialises in the kind of woozy, dirty, “chillwave”-inspired pop made by the likes of Tune-Yards and Toro Y Moi. Geidi Primes was originally released as a free download and cassette last year, but is now being granted an official UK release by No Pain In Pop. Her sound is an intriguing one. There is a lo-fi quality to many of the tracks, often interspersed with moments of gorgeous purity. She also makes frequent use of layered vocals, which - aforementioned example aside - tend to be swathed in buckets of reverb. So much reverb, in fact, that the lyrics themselves are often indecipherable.

The oscillation between differing degrees of fidelity, the shrouding of the vocals, and the impenetrable song titles (‘Sardaukar Levenbrech’, ‘Feyd Rautha Dark Heart’) all hint at a fragile character, one who is nervous about putting their art on display for public consumption. It seems unlikely to be an accident that the lines you can deduce are those which convey an insular, insecure disposition. This sort of masking has rarely been seen since Liz Fraser made her songs purposely impenetrable in the latter days of Cocteau Twins.
The album is brimming with some inventive flourishes. ‘Sardaukar Levenbrech’ has a real East Asian feel to it - a motif that also crops up in ‘Gambang’ and ‘Venus In Fleurs’ - and ‘Shadout Mapes’ seems to herald the arrival of some kind of ghostly spirit. Overall, there’s an unsettling mood to the whole record - like a sinister, nightmarish version of Washed Out - which is aided by the adroit use of synths and sparse beats.
The bad news, however, is that often the songs themselves are found wanting. Tracks frequently trundle aimlessly, devoid of hooks, strong melodies or anything to really get your teeth into and inspire repeat listens. A few plays through and it all begins to blend into a soupy fug, and although by no means unpleasant, the appeal of breathy and ethereal mood pieces begins to wane surprisingly quickly.
There is an unshakeable feeling that Geidi Primes is only half-finished, and a fully realised version where the songs were properly fleshed out would be thoroughly rewarding. For the moment, we’re left with incomplete concepts, snatches of inspiration, and a performer hiding behind a cloak of effects. That said, we can’t pretend we weren’t warned by the lady herself. Her insecurities manifest themselves throughout the record, and while certainly not boring, Grimes would be advised to have the courage of her convictions, and follow her ideas to fruition.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Citizen Helene EP

Citizen Helene - Citizen Helene EP
released 8 August 2011 on Fair Maiden Records

There’s a fine line between obscurity and fame. The history of music is littered with artists who toiled to no avail for years before hitting on that winning formula or lucky break that propelled them into the spotlight. Consider Seasick Steve, the bluesman who hopped railroad cars and struggled in poverty for much of his life before becoming everybody’s favourite homemade guitar-playing grandfather (his guitar was homemade, not him… oh, never mind).
This line of thinking seems especially relevant when considering the fate of Hélène Bradley – aka Citizen Helene – because it’s difficult not to root for her and feel she’s only one favourable Radio 2 playlist meeting away from the mainstream. With her shimmering melodies and honey-coated vocals, the most obvious comparison here is Rumer, herself an artist who spent a decade under the radar before enjoying commercial success.
The four tracks that make up the Citizen Helene EP showcase a rare and somewhat anachronistic talent. Despite originally hailing from Bridport in Dorset, her unfussy folk-tinged ballads would be more suited to1970s Los Angeles. This isn’t to say Citizen Helene is stuck in the past; her pure voice and clear diction may bring to mind Karen Carpenter or Mama Cass, but there are shades of contemporary pop and plenty of invention packed into the EP’s ten minutes.
Opener, PS I Don’t Love You – apparently inspired by spotting broadcaster Mark Lamarr at a Zombies gig – is short but sweet; an irresistible mix of cool bossa nova rhythms and gorgeous, double-tracked vocals that ends on an eyebrow-raising chord. Sunday Morning Light and ‘Til Tomorrow are simple yet effective with sumptuous chord changes, simple finger picking and vocals that sound like the sun breaking through the clouds. Despite the fact you’ll have heard lots of music like this before, there’s something addictive about Citizen Helene, which comes from the soul-baring clarity of her voice and the sheer quality of the songwriting.
The EP’s final track, Stephen Fry, is a tongue-in-cheek ode to the tweet-happy polymath (“She talks about you all the time / Though she knows you play for the other side”) which is slightly at odds with the previous trio of tracks. However, what could easily be trite or ham-fisted is rescued by a marvellous string arrangement, courtesy of The Memory Band’s Sarah Scutt.
As statements of intent go, Citizen Helene really is a fantastic taster of things to come. It’s likely to be a slow-burner than something that immediately grabs you, its weaving melodies seep into your skin over multiple listens and before you know it, you’re singing your own paean to Stephen Fry in the shower (that’s not Stephen Fry in the shower, its… oh, never mind).
If there were to be one criticism, it’s that these four tracks are very much underpinned by some – admittedly rather fine – acoustic guitar work, and while that’s more than sufficient for an EP, Citizen Helene may need to spread her wings a little farther over the course of an entire album. However, at a time when the temptation is to throw everything including the kitchen sink when producing a record, it’s extremely refreshing to hear songs which are largely unadorned and haven’t an ounce of spare fat on them. A wonderful voice and a real talent has been discovered – highly recommended.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

In Focus: AFC Wimbledon

The tale of AFC Wimbledon will be familiar to anyone with even a passing interest in English football. A non-league club for much of their existence, they were elected to the Football League in 1977, beginning a rapid rise up the pyramid which culminated in their promotion to the top tier just nine years later. In 1988, Wimbledon defied the odds to lift the FA Cup, becoming the first team to have won both the FA Cup and FA Amateur Cup, but it was soon after trophy success the wheels began to fall off.
Forced out of their Plough Lane home, Wimbledon held on to their top flight status for another dozen years after their cup triumph, but finally succumbed to relegation. Following lengthy negotiations and fervent protests, the club were “relocated” 90km north to Milton Keynes and re-branded as the MK Dons. Though such refranchising moves are relatively commonplace in American sports, this move was by far the most high-profile such decision taken by the board of an English football club.
Bereft by the loss of their club, a group of Wimbledon FC supporters formed AFC Wimbledon in 2002 and the fairytale began. They started life in the Combined Counties League but shot up the non-league system and at the end of last season, AFC beat Luton Town on penalties at Wembley to return to the Football League. Saturday 6th August sees AFC take on Bristol Rovers in their first game back in the big time. All the hard work has finally paid off.
All well and good, but what has this got to do with music? Well, for a start, the team play at Kingstonian’sground, Kingsmeadow, which is sponsored by indie label Cherry Records. Plus, the club play an active part in the local community, and have been raising funds by hosting a series of gigs. Joe Rivers caught up with Jim Piddlington, the Commercial Executive of AFC Wimbledon, to talk about how music supports the club but first, how Jim saved Oxford Street’s famous 100 Club.
So, first things first, how did you save the 100 Club?
I wouldn’t say I saved the 100 Club single-handedly but I have no doubt that we had a hell of a lot to do with getting the problem out there in the media and making people aware of it.  At the beginning when we heard that it might be shutting our aim was to raise enough money to buy out the present owner. Unfortunately, as time was short we didn’t raise enough and therefore our plan was thwarted.  In the meantime I worked tirelessly getting the club in the press, on TV, on the radio and buttonholing musicians to do their bit. I managed to get Mick Jagger to do an interview for Planet Rock radio and in one of our first meetings we were deciding who we wanted to play at the club to raise awareness. I said, “Paul McCartney”, to which everyone laughed but in December last year Paul McCartney played the 100 Club as part of the ‘Save the 100 Club’ campaign.  At the end of last year Converse stepped in (pun intended) and have sponsored the club to help it through the bad time it is going through.
How did Cherry Red end up sponsoring the Kingsmeadow Stadium?
Iain McNay, the Chairman of Cherry Red, is a long time Wimbledon fan and has been involved in one way or another with AFC Wimbledon since the beginning. Cherry Red started off sponsoring the President’s Lounge at Kingsmeadow and a few years ago moved up to sponsoring the stadium.
How long have music and comedy nights been run at the stadium? 
We’ve had KingsmeadowLive running a good few years now but the comedy has been at Kingsmeadowsince the 1990s. The last few years has seen KingsmeadowLive grow as a live music venue with the likes of Neville Staple from The Specials and The Beat gracing our stage.  We have got some great gigs lined up for the rest of this year and started booking for next year too. Billy Rath of Johnny Thunders band The Heartbreakers and Steve Dior of the Delinquents are playing in their band The Broken Hearts along with The Sex Pistols Experience here later in the year so that should be a really good gig. Next year I’ve already booked The Selecter in January and Chas Hodges (of Chas and Dave) so as I said, next year is looking good already.
What’s been your favourite gig so far and who would be your ultimate fantasy booking?
My favourite gig here was Neville Staples first show, all the energy you expect and some great songs. My fantasy gig would be an all-day festival, big stage, thousands of people all crammed into the stadium with Paul Weller headlining.
KingsmeadowLive gig which wasn’t help here but held at New Wimbledon Theatre at the end of last year was Mumford & Sons which was a bit of a coup. Marcus [Mumford] is a big AFC Wimbledon fan so they agreed to do the gig for us to help raise money for the club; it was sold out in minutes.
What gave AFC Wimbledon the idea of putting on gigs as a way to raise money?
We have a great venue that lends itself to gigs, a great PA and a capacity of 300; it was a no-brainer to use it to raise money. See some great bands and earn the club some money at the same time? Perfect.
Do you think it’s more difficult for smaller clubs to survive nowadays and how proud of you of what AFC Wimbledon have achieved?
I don’t think it will ever happen again, from trials on the common to the Football League in nine years. I don’t think it’s hard for small clubs to survive these days, I think it’s the middle sized clubs that struggle most, especially ones where the fans are dwindling. AFC Wimbledon is owned by the fans and they have the ultimate say in what happens at the club and every penny AFC Wimbledon make, from fundraising - likeKingsmeadowLive - merchandise, gate receipts, all goes back into the club to help the manager buy players, upgrade the stadium and keep AFC Wimbledon in the black. The AFC Wimbledon story is utterly amazing and what’s even more exciting, is that the story is only half finished. First half, get  back into the Football League. Second half, get back home to the Borough of Merton.
Will you be at Kingsmeadow Stadium for the Bristol Rovers game on 6th August and what are your predictions for AFC Wimbledon in the 2011-2 season?
I wouldn’t miss that game for the world! We are going to have a full house here, it’s live on Sky Sports and the world will be watching. I think we will do alright this season.  Along with most of the team from last season, we’ve made some good signings during the summer and we’ve got some youngsters coming through the youth system, so I’d like to say we will be fighting for a play-off place come the end of the season. That said, I’d be happy with a consolidating year, mid-table, and then automatic promotion next season. [Manager] Terry Brown has steered us to these heights and we all trust him to take us even higher. They say history never repeats; I’m not so sure.
To find out more information including gig listings, visit or You can also follow KingsmeadowLive on Facebook and Twitter.

Monday, 1 August 2011

2000 Trees

To paraphrase – not to mention use outrageous amounts of poetic licence – we were somewhere around Gloucester on the edge of a big field when the drugs began to take hold. And by ‘drugs,’ I mean‘excitement.’ There’s something about the drive to the first day of a festival which ratchets up the anticipation, even if you do barely know who any of the acts playing are. Initially, my arm had been twisted but now I couldn’t wait to get into the place. Hell, it even looked like the rain might hold off for the whole day (reader, it didn’t). This was new and underground music festival, 2000 Trees.
For the uninitiated, 2000 Trees started life in 2007 as a local festival with a capacity of only 1,000. That has since risen to the 4,500 people who attended the 2011 shindig at Upcote Farm in Gloucestershire. In an era where the festival market has reached saturation point and several events have been forced to cancel, 2000 Trees is flourishing.
So, a noon arrival on the Friday meant we were just in time to see Young Romance on second stage, The Leaf Lounge. Young Romance have featured on the hallowed pages of No Ripcord before, when they weretwee folk duo, The Momeraths. However, they’ve now ditched the stripy clothes and chamber pop aesthetic, and have significantly beefed up their sound. There was a part of me a bit disappointed to see they’d changed so dramatically, but their set was still a solid one and a great start to a festival.
One pint of lager later (at festivals, it is perfectly acceptable to start drinking before lunch) and we were over at the main stage watching The Anomalies. Unfortunately for The Anomalies, the world has moved on from nu-metal, so their very British take on rap-rock sounded horribly dated. A swift departure away from the main stage meant a first proper wander around the festival site. 2000 Trees takes place in a fairly compact area and actually has camping in the main site. This means you’re treated to the odd sight of paths between stages being lined with rows of tents. Tripping over a rogue guy rope is a serious hazard, but it all adds to the homely feel of the festival.
While taking a tour, we had a devil-may-care moment and went to metal stage, The Cave, to see a selection of songs from Witchsorrow. The schedule noted that Witchsorrow were on a mission to reclaim the concept of doom, and I wasn’t one to argue. Outrageously technically proficient, Witchsorrow also unfortunately demonstrated every heavy metal cliché you can think of. Unfeasibly long hair, screamed unintelligible vocals and denim waistcoats covered in sewn-on patches. Fine if you like that sort of thing, but far too Spinal Tap for my tastes.
On the way back from Witchsorrow, fellow Craig and I spotted a Sleeveface tent. Never one to turn down the opportunity for a stupid photo, we scoured the boxes of vinyl in the tent before settling on an album by Mrs. Mills and Geoff Love (no, me neither). The results from that particular excursion can be viewed here.
Time for more music, and post-rock combo Cats And Cats And Cats bounded onto the stage. When the lead singer is wearing Stars and Stripes shorts, a jacket featuring seemingly every world flag and a Native American headdress from a child’s dressing-up box, you know you’re in for an entertaining set. And so it proved, with a complex mix of hard rock, pop, folk and avant-garde. Cats x3 kept the crowd guessing throughout their entertaining show, and were impossible not to love.
Less so Bath quartet Out Like a Lion, who clearly put all their energy into their gig, but were an ultimately forgettable experience. By this point, the festival lull that always arrives halfway through a long day of live music was starting to set in. A respite was needed, and a perfect panacea was provided by Sidestep DJsover in The GreenHouse. More of a platform in a campsite than a stage as such, The GreenHouse was surrounded by bales of hay, and was the ideal setting to rest weary bodies while listening to a fine selection of old skool hip-hop.
Given a second lease of life by the restoring power of breaks and beats, we soldiered on to the main stage to see Tribes. Tribes are receiving a lot of attention at the moment and are hotly-tipped for success, with their bio describing them as a mix of Pixies and The Libertines. This seemed odd, as they’d apparently digested the Pixies songbook and assimilated the contents, but the only nod to The Libertines was a fondness for leather jackets. Anyway, Tribes were wholly under-whelming but they’re from Camden, they look good and are the kind of band you can imagine doing really well.
The same could be said of Scottish alt-rockers Twin Atlantic. Seemingly attempting to use Biffy Clyro’sslipstream en route to success, they also had little to offer in the way of invention and originality. Again, I’m already prepared to eat my words when they’re cleaning up at the Kerrang! awards in years to come.
The next act was The King Blues. I wasn’t familiar with their work beforehand and they immediately rubbed me up the wrong way with their faux-gangsta accents and easy political targets (guess what, boys and girls, extreme right-wing views are bad, who’da thunk it?). They certainly knew how to whip up a crowd, conjuring an enormous circle pit in only their third track, but I don’t like being preached to and patronised, so I meandered off in search of food.
Luckily, I returned in plenty of time for the day’s headliners, Dan Le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip. I was unsure as to whether socially conscious, literate hip-hop was the ideal way to close out a day at the festival, but my fears were allayed by Dan Le Sac’s scattergun attack of beats and bass. The limitations of their second album were exposed at times, but the hits were breath-taking. A full crowd chanting “just a band!” during Thou Shalt Always Kill while glowsticks waved frenetically is what festivals are all about.
The day’s live music over, we trudged back to the car and made our way back. We’d bought camping tickets but decided against pitching up due to one of our number living nearby and the fact that camping is the devil’s own pastime (my own views, not necessarily representative of No Ripcord as an organisation). It’s a good job we did too, because we awoke Saturday morning to torrential downpours and skies thick with dark cloud. As a result, we waited for a break in the rain before heading back to 2000 Trees.
This meant that the first act we saw that day was expansive Canterbury five-piece, Yndi Halda. The intricacy displayed in their ten-minute soundscapes was incredible, their songs exquisitely crafted from barely a whisper building up to a cathartic release of noise. The most obvious comparison here is SigurRos, but Yndi Halda look to be carving a niche all of their own – spellbinding stuff.
Next on the bill were Left With Pictures. I was curious as to why they’d drawn the smallest crowd I’d seen over the two days, but within five minutes I’d discovered the reason. Left With Pictures deal in the kind of chirpy, piano-based pop that’s reminiscent of a more facile Maroon 5 or Toploader with less substance. Musically, they were entirely competent, but the overriding feeling was that they’d been booked at completely the wrong festival. Plenty of people would love Left With Pictures, unfortunately for the band, none of those people were in attendance at 2000 Trees.
With that disappointment fresh in the mind, we dutifully made our way to the main stage with the intention of spending the rest of the day there. We were greeted by the thrilling racket of noiseniksThree Trapped Tigers. I’d never heard a note of TTT’s music before, but was immediately enraptured by their stage presence and incredible sounds. Imagine an all-out assault of electronics accompanied by the most fevered drumming you’ve seen this side of Animal from The MuppetsTTT were a revelation, their songs have no vocals, they made my ears almost bleed, and they were comfortably my band of the festival. I implore you, investigate further.
Three Trapped Tigers were followed by The Twilight Sad, who didn’t particularly seem to be firing on all cylinders. Their reverb-drenched tracks failed to capture the imagination of the crowd and at times they sounded frighteningly like fellow Caledonians, Glasvegas. At one point, frontman James Graham impertinently threw something on the stage behind him, branding the crowd member responsible for its transit to the stage as “a bastard.” I never did discover what the offending object was, but it may have been the Frisbee I found an hour later, which had written on it a detailed list entitled “Why The Twilight Sad areshit.”
Next up came the band I’d most looked forward to seeing, Los Campesinos! Unfortunately, it seemed LC! weren't quite as excited to see me as I was them, and there was something oddly flat about their set. The bigger songs – Death to Los Campesinos!Straight In At 101You! Me! Dancing! – were formidable, but for too long it seemed they were running on auto-pilot. Lead singer Gareth Campesinos! was in a real self-deprecating mood, constantly thanking the crowd for their patience and seemingly on the edge of breaking down on more than one occasion.
Headliners Frightened Rabbit closed the festival with their measured brand of alternative music. My fancy was very much not tickled – think of a Scottish Snow Patrol – as Frightened Rabbit seem to be writing songs aimed purely at the stadium market. And good luck to them, they’re more than competent and unlikely to be put off their stride by not receiving my patronage.
We left part-way through Frightened Rabbit’s set. A poor showing, you might think, but the weekend didn’t stop there. After all, the festivities were set to continue in twelve hours, over 200 miles away…