Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Welcome back, and more music

Well, I've made it back on time from my hiatus. I haven't really had time to catch up with what music is red-hot and current right now, so I'll just talk about a band with releases this year, instead.

While I was away, I discovered that a single GB of music on a hard drive is not quite enough to keep me occupied for three weeks of work abroad. However, I came to depend on a few songs, and Back To Back by Dusty Brown was one of them. The picture above is from their Myspace, in case you were wondering. I don't know who it is.

In true RWL fashion, here are Dusty Brown in five bullet points.

1. They are the three Brown siblings from Sacramento, Dusty (keyboards), Jessica (vocals) and Zac (guitar). They have been a band for eight years.

2. Back To Back sounds like someone single-handedly reviving the Bristol trip-hop sound of the mid-1990s, complete with soaring Beth Gibbons-style vocals, understated beats and a delicious air of mystery.

3. There has been a DB album at some point, but I can't find it. I have no idea what it sounds like.

4. Their other output is not all the same. It runs from breakbeat-assisted guitar pop (Weather, How's That) to moody downbeat instrumentals (This City is Killing Me), with a string of operatic-voiced pop-noir mysteries in the middle.

5. This City Is Killing Me is their latest EP, which can be downloaded free, or for a small donation. It came out in June. Download it here.


Monday, 2 August 2010


As you might have noticed, I'm not updating RWL at the moment. Don't worry, I'm not quitting, it's just that my RL life is intervening.

This is not an indefinite hiatus; I should be back at the end of the month.

Enjoy August!

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Gig Review: School of Seven Bells, Manchester Ruby Lounge, 19th of July 2010

Sorry for the missed post earlier in the week - things have caught up with me.
Right, now. Where was I? Oh yes, the School of Seven Bells gig I went to on Monday.

I now feel completely vindicated in my mini architectural reviews that I do of venues I visit. The Ruby Lounge is really a poorly-designed gig venue, with a massive lounge and bar space, but a tiny, cramped stage shoved in an overheated corner, with the view obscured by pillars. This isn't helped by the lowness of the ceiling and the lowness of the stage itself. I didn't actually see much of this performance at all.

The main support act, Active Child, pulled out at the last minute, which was disappointing. Another support was playing when I arrived. She was a solo female singer with an acoustic guitar, a reverb pedal and quite a lovely, powerful voice, but I spent most of her set locating my friend and talking (not near the stage, I might add), which was really rather rude of me. I don't know who she was, although she might have been part of a band called The Steels. She was quite good.

School of Seven Bells take the stage after a suitable delay. They are augmented tonight by a live drummer. For most of the set, I can only see a bit of Claudia Deheza, with the odd glimpse of Benjamin Curtis. Claudia struggles with her monitors and other issues to begin with, and is not quite comfortable during the first number. Things loosen up with the first big song, Windstorm, which makes a welcome, but surprisingly early, appearance.

Understandably, SviiB live is a different experience from SviiB on record, and this is most evident during the newer numbers. On record, these are heavy on the electronics with clean, bright vocals, but live, there is a pleasing fuzzy texture and rawness to them. Both Claudia and Alejandra have strong live voices, and their harmonising chimes well with the washes of guitar and synth noise.

At first, their demeanour is shy, with little eye contact or communication, but they open up considerably after declaring that Manchester is one of their favourite musical cities. Stand-out tracks from the latter part of the set are the new songs Camarilla and Joviann, which combine strong vocal hooks with hazy guitars. The latter's Jesus&Mary Chain-esque drumbeats are especially good and hypnotic.

The set contains songs from both albums, but there are some surprising omissions: Connjur and Prince of Peace do not get an airing. However, the set proper ends with a pretty, note-perfect My Cabal, which leaves the crowd wanting more. The Deheza sisters and Benjamin Curtis oblige with an extra number, a new song I cannot remember the title of.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Album Review: Best Coast - Crazy For You

Best Coast has kindly put their album online for our streaming pleasure, prior to its release on the 27th. For a reliable UK-friendly stream, go to this Guardian page.

Bethany Cosentino and Bobb Bruno play sunny, fuzzy Californian cool-kid guitar pop. Their sound is not groundbreaking, experimental or even particularly innovative, borrowing heavily from Sixties surf anthems, garage rock and lo-fi Americana. However, Bethany's smart songwriting and bright voice save them from AN Otherness, and their songs are just so likeable, it's hard to ignore them.

Crazy For You has an impressive thirteen tracks, but still clocks in at a sweet and concise 31 minutes and 40 seconds. Everything is small (sub-three minutes, usually) and perfectly formed, with not a wasted note. Despite the definite Best Coast sound and set of influences, there is enough variation in tempo and tone to retain interest, as well as the presence of some previous blog favourites like This Is Real and When I'm With You.

In some ways, the album is like a plate of biscuits; you know you're going to get a biscuit when you pick one, but will it be a crunchy lo-fi slacker biscuit, or will it be a crumbly, hazy one with lots of reverb?

Enough of the silly analogies. If you want a great summery pop record about beaches, boys, and worlds gone crazy, this is for you.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

The WTF Files #1: Forum Fetishism

While trying to think up themes for my weekly token non-music post, I go on forums. I spend far too much time on forums, if I'm honest.

After coming up with the idea for "The WTF Files", which was originally going to be me bitching about bands I don't like, I realised there was a whole can of WTF just waiting to be opened in this particular corner of online culture.

I've noticed over the years that certain forum posters, on a variety of boards, are not there to take part in the discussion. They are there to pleasure themselves. They think up ever more elaborate, or simple ruses, to get others to share stories about their strange obsessions. For strictly information purposes only, I'm going to list a few of these. No usernames or forums themselves will be implicated, but you might find yourself recognising one or two.

1. The Piss Fetishist
Sorry for the foul language, but there's no better word for it. This person tries to get others to post stories about wetting their pants. I think it's a he, and he prefers male pant-wetting stories. He has at least five IDs on one forum alone, which are traceable through their similarity and use of the same bland questions about radios and printing to cover his tracks. He also likes to post stories involving policemen and footballers being caught short, or having their dirty underwear exposed. He has a side interest in socks that he finds hard to hide.

2. The School Tie Perv
Known on at least two forums, this individual posts endless threads about school ties, and how to wear them. Worryingly, this extends to the manner in which young and underage actors in TV shows such as Waterloo Road and Eastenders wear theirs. He also likes to talk about other school uniform items, football shirts worn by schoolboys, and tracksuits, particularly worn by young men.
He is seriously creepy and confessed to having a restraining order against him.

3. The Fart Fantasiser
Pops up on several forums posting stories about farting, and tries to get others to do likewise. Usually, they involve a young female office worker who has embarrassed herself at work, or a wife who is disgusted by her husband farting in bed. They are really quite shoddy and post identical stories on different forums.

4. The Knicker Sniffer
Obsessed with women's underwear. Has an imaginary girlfriend who may or may not be a TV weathergirl, whom he allegedly buys the underwear for, thus giving him an excuse to ask about it. He appears to have an imaginary friend who always pops up to agree with him and defend him.

I think that's enough for now.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Music Monday: what is Oh Land doing in England?

I came across Oh Land quite recently on Myspace. There is quite a crop of current Scandinavian bands, from Sweden especially, who I have been following, but Oh Land stands out at the moment.

According to her Twitter, she is on her way to England. As far as I know, she hasn't got any gigs planned here. Who is she working with then? Or is she just here for a holiday? Who knows.

Oh Land, real name Nanna Oland Fabricius, is due to release her second album in August, her first for Sony. Her first, Fauna, was released on Fake Diamond to excellent reviews. In true RWL style, here's why she is worth listening to in five points:

1. She grew up in a family of classical musicians and was not encouraged to listen to modern pop music. The only band she was permitted to hear was the Beatles. Later, she discovered pop music through a Bjork album that she bought for herself. All of these things come through in Oh Land's music, from the Beatles' ear for a pop tune, the subtlety and delicacy of chamber music and the organic-electronic approach of Bjork.

2. She trained for a long period as a ballet dancer, until a back injury forced her to retire. This part of her life informs a lot of her lyrics, both explicitly (in Break the Chain) and more subtly (she has another song called Audition Day).

3. Fauna was mainly recorded by Nanna herself, playing various instruments including keyboards, guitar and orchestral instruments. She got some help with vocals on tracks like Heavy Eyes, which has also been remixed by Trentemoller.
Her second album apparently contains more collaborations with as-yet unknown musicians. It is said to have a dancier feel, so more remixes might be in the pipeline.

4. Her live show is very theatrical, making use of costumes and projections. Her videos are also dramatic, without being "wacky". (Take note, Lady Gaga).

5. Her sound is all hers, but some useful pointers are: CocoRosie (without so much of the self-conscious weirdness), Bjork (some vocal stylings, electronic/acoustic crossover) White Hinterland (soul influence, electronic sounds and textures.

Oh Land Myspace
Oh Land official site

Friday, 9 July 2010

Songs in French

This week's vaguely-themed, vaguely topical music post is running under the banner of "songs in French". It was inspired by the first band in question, Cours Lapin, who I discovered on Line of Best Fit with their latest single, Cache Cache. You will find a download link there, too.

Despite their French name and French lyrics, Cours Lapin ("run rabbit") are not French at all, but Danish. Most of the time, all four of them compose film music, but they like to get together and make slightly sinister, somewhat catchy melodies inspired by chansons Francais and other traditional European music. There are also traces of old fashioned gangster film tunes, Gallic pop and bits of Bristol trip-hop in there as well, although their sound is all their own.

The band is Louise Alenius (vocals), Asger Baden (keys), Peder (keys and production) and Jonas Struck (guitar). They have just played a couple of UK dates, but Cache Cache has proved quite popular, so they may return.

The second Francophone act I wanted to blog about is Chat. Strictly speaking, Chat isn't quite topical at the moment, as her last release was in 2009, but she is starting to play gigs again, and more importantly, she is good, so I'm going to talk about her.

Chat, who formerly recorded as Mademoiselle until about 2006, is a young classically-trained pianist who has turned her hand to singing. She is actually French. Her songs combine superb old-fashioned piano with the sort of whispery, rapid vocals you tend to associate with French singers. She collaborates with other musicians a lot. Her songs divide into Gallic piano chansons and looser, guitar-infused numbers. Below, you can see her performing Alice, a song she has been playing since at least 2006. I once saw her rehearsing this in London on the way to another gig. Her piano playing is really quite superb.

Chat Myspace
Cours Lapin Myspace

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Style Inspirations #4: A Clockwork Orange

Yes, I know. There is nothing remotely glamorous or stylish about violence. I also know that if Anthony Burgess's characters inhabited our world and not the world of the Korova Milk Bar, they would be snotty-nosed, tracksuit-wearing hoodies and unsightly as well as a menace.

The classic Clockwork Orange look is more to do with Stanley Kubrick and his design team than Burgess's writing, but there are similar themes - for instance, the all-white look and the single false eyelash do not appear in the novel.

To grab yourself a bit of droog style: monochrome, old-fashioned accessories such as braces and hats, flip horrorshow boots for kicking. I'd leave the codpieces out though.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Music on Monday: Part Zwei. School of Seven Bells - Disconnect From Desire review

School of Seven Bells release their much-awaited second album, Disconnect From Desire, on the 13th of July. Being the generous sorts they are, they are allowing listeners to stream the entire album from their site, for the price of an email address. I have done this and can now report back with an album review, which I will present in the form of five bullet points, because there's not much of Monday left and I should go to bed, to be quite honest.

1. It has ten tracks, but they are all quite long and meld into each other a little, so it doesn't feel short at all. Each song has a couple of changes of direction, as well.

2. My first impression is that it is much more electronically-based than the first record, with an almost dancey feel to the songs towards the middle of the album, such as Dust Devil.

3. The non-remix version of Windstorm opens the album, and it's one of the most kinetic tracks on there. It'll be a lot of people's favourite.

4. Towards the end, there is a darker feel. Joviann, the sixth song, is quite sombre and early-80s-dreamy, with a Jesus and Mary Chain influence. The next song, Camarilla, sounds a bit like an electronic sea shanty.

5. As ever, the vocals are beautifully strong throughout, with Alejandra and Claudia sounding crystal-clear over the layered, scuffed music. We even get to hear Benjamin on back-ups.

The album is out on Full Time Hobby in the UK. The band are touring the UK very soon - more on that later.

Music on Monday: Part Eins. Crystal Ball time...

A little while ago, I blogged about Tennis, and predicted that they would feature in the Guardian newspaper's New Band of the Day feature within one month.
Well, I was right.

So, as I look into my musical crystal ball, who can I predict will grace the hallowed pages of New Band of the Day in the next month?

My money is on Sweet Bulbs. They've been gathering a fair bit of blog buzz in the past month or so, up to and including a mention on Pitchfork. I heard them first on the Pelly Twins blog.

Sweet Bulbs are "Michael, Inna, Jack, Ray and sometimes Alex". Inna is the singer, I'm not sure what the others do, but one of them plays drums standing up. They're from Brooklyn, they've not been going for very long and they play the sort of sweet-voiced, fuzzed-up garage pop made, well, popular by the Vivian Girls and the Dum Dum Girls. With Sweet Bulbs, however, there's always a tinge of melancholy underneath their blurry harmonies: the stand-up drummer is not the only nod to The Jesus and Mary Chain and the Velvet Underground.

Springstung is their stand-out track. You can listen to a demo of it on the band's Myspace, or download it from Pelly Twins or Pitchfork.

Friday, 2 July 2010

Olafur Arnalds: and they have escaped the weight of darkness. Bridgewater Hall, Manchester. 1st July 2010

This was not the ordinary kind of gig that gets reviewed on RWL. Icelandic pianist and composer of delicate, haunting soundscapes, Olafur Arnalds, was in Manchester to play a new, orchestral re-working of his latest album, ...and they have escaped the weight of darkness. This was to be my first classical concert, as the bill also included a Jonny Greenwood (of Radiohead fame) composition, a new piece by Avner Dorman, a contemporary classical composer of whom I had never heard, and a performance of Igor Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. The conductor for the evening was Andre de Ridder.

The Bridgewater Hall is a surprisingly friendly venue, spacious, with comfortable seats and nice toilets. Okay, architectural review over. After a selection of Radiohead songs reworked by the Loudon Piano Quintet in the lobby, which I did not catch, the evening opened with Popcorn Superhet Receiver, a 2005 piece by Jonny Greenwood. Jonny himself did not perform; I'm not sure if he was even present. Popcorn is inspired by white noise and the interplay between car engine noises and tape players on long journeys in Jonny's childhood. It is a wavering, sliding, quite subtle piece, performed by a string ensemble. The ranks of violins meshing over the top of one another creates a convincing, yet musical impression of white noise, and the piece builds to a pleasant crescendo.

The second performance was Spices, Perfumes, Toxins!, a new work by Avner Dorman for orchestra and percussion, in three parts. It is said to be inspired by the three titular substances, and influenced by the sounds and rhythms of the Near and Middle East.The percussion was provided by the DYAD Percussion Duo, who both moved between marimba, drums and orchestral percussion throughout the piece. Each movement became more dramatic and frenetic, culminating in a huge, cacophonous climax. The Eastern rhythms were hypnotic and the contribution of the marimbas put me in mind of more organic electronica I've listened to before, like Four Tet.
The percussion duo were really rather special, and were excellent performers as well as wonderfully intense musicians. They rightly received massive applause.

After an interval, the orchestra reformed for Rite of Spring, a composition considered so shocking on its debut in 1913 that concert-goers walked out in fear and disgust. Telling the story of a pagan sacrifice, a young girl forced to dance herself to death for the gods, it still retains some of its ability to shock now. From innocent, pastoral beginnings, it soon becomes one of the most brutal classical works I have heard, all stabbing violins, lamenting woodwind and thunderous percussion. The RNCM Symphony Orchestra more than did it justice.

After another interval, during which the Bits&Pieces Big Band played some more loose-limbed free-jazz Radiohead covers, Olafur Arnalds took the stage. Looking somewhat nervous in jeans and a bow tie, he took his place at the piano and softly launched in to Thu ert solin. To begin with, it was hard to adjust to Olafur's spare, delicate piano playing after such dramatic precursors, but the ear sooned re-tuned. The first song combined wistful piano with melancholy strings, underpinned by subtle electronic pulses. The second song, Thu ert jordin, continued in the same vein, with rain effects washing over the end giving a pastoral feel. By the third song, Tunglith, the rest of the orchestra joined in, filling out the spaces in the original with warm brass and dabs of percussion.
As befitting an album tracing a journey from the sadness of Olafur's debut to a more uplifting place, the pace and volume, although never more than gentle, increased as the set went on. Towards the middle, the orchestra was joined by synthesized beats and more atmospheric weather effects, which made it impossible not to think of Olafur's homeland with its elemental climate. The stand-out song for me was Gleypa okkur, which begins as melancholy and brightens towards the end, playing piano off subtle strings and the mellow sound of a bass clarinet.
The final song, whose title I will not even try to type using this non-Nordic interface, ended in a beautiful, warm crescendo of percussion and brass, a truly uplifting place to end the journey. Both Olafur and the conductor, as well as the orchestra, received multiple rounds of applause.

This was the only date in the UK on this tour, and the only one with this combination of people and music, and I feel privileged to have been there.

Monday, 28 June 2010

New Music on Monday - 28 Degrees Taurus

It's a bit of a slow week for new releases so far, so I've decided to blog about a band who released their debut album last week. Here are five interesting things about 28 Degrees Taurus:

1. There are two permanent members, Karina (vocals and bass) and Jinsen (guitars and vocals), plus an ever-changing, Spinal Tap-esque turnover of drummers.

2. Their debut album, All The Stars In Your Eyes, is available to download from Bandcamp. The album took two years to produce, and the band raised the money for recording by auctioning off preorders, plus more expensive options such as a song written about you on the next album, or Jinsen coming round to cook dinner for you, in addition to your music.

3. Karina is from Brazil.

4. They describe their sound as "shoegaze/psychedelic/ambient" (not always in that order). They even dip their toes into more unfashionable proggy guitar effects and swirly riffs, but they do it with a great deal of charm and some spooky multi-tracked girl-boy vocals.

5. As well as the longer, more atmospheric songs, All The Stars In Your Eyes contains several sweet two-minute jangle-pop gems, with girly vocals by Karina.

Listen to an album track here:

<a href="http://28degreestaurus.bandcamp.com/track/sun-chaser">sun chaser by 28 degrees taurus</a>


Saturday, 26 June 2010

Sounds of Summer

Yes, I know, the title of this post is a total cliche. However, fear not. There will be no Ibiza compilations or Festival Classics here. It's just a handy hook upon which to hang two lovely new bands I've found.

First up are Sun Airway, aka Jon and Patrick from Philadelphia, who I found on the Yvynyl blog, who described their song Waiting On You as "beachy delight and pop cotton candy". So far, so summery. This is a soundtrack to the summer of barbecue parties and drinking a nice glass of something in the evening, if such cool little tunes ever made it on to the stereo at barbecue parties, instead of the aforementioned Ibiza compilations and Festival Classics. The subtle laid-back hip-hop beat, the upbeat walking bassline, the hint of castanets, the laconic vocal - it all brings summer to mind. There's something quite lovely and poetic to the lyrics too, with the refrain about not going down gently making me think of Dylan Thomas and his good night.

The second summer band that have caught my eye lately is Tamaryn. At first, I wasn't sure whether Tamaryn was a she or a they, but it appears that Tamaryn is a they: singer Tamaryn and producer/instrumentalist Rex, who are from San Francisco. They have been catching coverage from pretty much everyone, but I'm giving the credit to Salad Fork, as I think I heard their song Sandstone there first.
Sandstone is a summer song of a completely different variety, a hazy, dreamy opus that brings to mind the fierce heat of a desert midday. Tamaryn's hushed, atmospheric vocals have been compared to Hope Sandoval's, which I feel is fair, although she is lower down in the mix than Hope was in Mazzy Star. The looped, treated guitars and insistent drums are as hypnotic as a desert mirage, to continue the analogy.

Listen to Sandstone on any number of MP3 blogs, or on Tamaryn's Myspace.

Sun Airway's Myspace is here.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Cornelia Parker has flattened a brass band

Cornelia Parker's latest exhibition at the Baltic Gallery in Newcastle features this new piece: the constituent instruments of a brass band, flattened by an industrial press and suspended in a dim lamplit room for inspection.

In a video interview for the Guardian, Cornelia explains how she liked the idea of wind instruments "exhaling" and being flat and "out of puff".

There is something almost comical about the installation, and Cornelia took inspiration from a Charlie Chaplin film where he accidentally flattens a fob watch in a press. However, for me, there is also something sad lurking under the surface, I think. The instruments make me think of colliery bands and how that part of our culture has been lost and "flattened".

Other works in the exhibition include wire tracery nets made from deconstituted bullets and ominous polished Colt gun cutouts. It runs until September.

Baltic Gallery page

Monday, 21 June 2010

Music from Manchester (on Monday)

Instead of picking up this week's new songs, I've decided to do something different for this week's Music on Monday. This post is the first in a short series I've got planned on new bands from Manchester, partly in the wake of the FUC51 thing and the ongoing flame war on Twitter that goes with it.

The first Manchester band I'm going to big up is The Switch. They've graced these pages before, when I reviewed their Dum Dum Girls support slot and gave them a hearty thumbs-up. Since then, I've located their Myspace page, found out a little about them and discovered that they've posted some new music in the past week.

The Switch in action.

The band are four: programmer and bassist Tom Harris, Colin Dunkerley on synths and programming, guitarist Anthony Grantham and singer Caroline Sterling. Their origins are a little hazy, but they have been playing gigs since the start of the year at least.

The Switch live is a wall of dirty synth and guitar noise, but The Switch on record (or MP3, rather), is somewhat more of a polished proposition. At first glance, their sound does not deviate hugely from the synth+guitar+laptop shoegaze-revival style, but underpinning their waves of ethereal noise are some really quite clubby beats, more in line with classic-period Underworld or Prodigy. This sets them apart from other female-fronted dream-pop acts. Live especially, it also helps that Caroline commands the stage and can pout and pose with the best.

Their latest offering, Stowaway, is one of the most dance-oriented of their tracks, featuring fractured vocals and an electro-esque bassline. Also standing out on their Myspace is Ser Etico, a very early song, which is hazy and atmospheric, and Heartbreaker, which has a killer pop chorus.


Saturday, 19 June 2010

Marvellous Men

It has come to my attention that most of my music posts (in fact, most of my posts) have concerned female musicians, or female-fronted bands: CocoRosie, Dum Dum Girls, HTDA, Tennis - this is partly due to the fact that there ARE lots of female musicians around at the moment to talk about, and the fact that a lot of music I like right now features women singing or playing, or both. This is not in itself a bad thing, and will form part of a future post I've got planned.

Despite my rant about lad-rock the week before last, I do actually have a lot of time for male musicians. In the interest of gender equity, and to catch up on some interesting musical bits and pieces I didn't get round to posting about while they were super-topical, here is a round-up of things to do with Marvellous Men.

LA noise-creators HEALTH have been rather busy of late, promoting their DISCO2 remix album. Stereogum has a selection of tracks from the album proper and the bonus disc for your listening pleasure here. A little while ago, the project's sole new track, USA Boys appeared, complete with this nihilistic, yet very sexy video that brings to mind the aesthetic of early NIN. Apparently, it was recorded in Trent Reznor's studio. Warning, the video is definitely NSFW.

HEALTH :: USA BOYS :: MUSIC VIDEO from Lovepump United on Vimeo.

The latest Twilight soundtrack album was only supposed to be online for 24 hours back at the start of the month, but tracks can now be found all over the internet. One of the most talked-about songs on a surprisingly good soundtrack was The Line, the return of Battles. Unusually for a Battles track, it features something very close to a sung vocal from Tyondai, although suitably distorted. The song itself is one of the most accessible Battles tracks, with a simple rhythm and a surprising Cossack influence towards the end.

I can't remember where I first heard about My Violaine Morning, but I've been listening to them quite a lot lately. They play the sort of dense, dreamy post-rockish noise, sometimes with vocals, that's very now at the moment, and my favourite kind of music. The band has been together since 2004, and their last release was in March. They are from Indonesia and led by Roni Tresnawan Smith. Their Myspace is here.

Now, some tour news: Godspeed You! Black Emperor are touring again in Europe in December, following on from their ATP curation, and they're playing in Manchester! Hopefully I shall be there, and will be able to report back on what is sure to be a mind-blowing gig. Let's hope there's a new album on the way, too.

Also touring are Dillinger Escape Plan. They hit the North in October, and should also give us a great show, probably blowing our eardrums as well as our minds.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

American Apparel has strange dress codes for its employees.

Clothing brand American Apparel has come into some heavy criticism this week for the way it treats its employees - Gawker have been running a little series of expose stories which give a nasty insight into a company where "ugly" employees are routinely got rid of. This is enforced by management spot-checks and compulsory "class photos" to be submitted to head office. No-one is hired without full-length pictures being submitted for scrutiny. Men are not hired for shop-floor work, women with short hair are rejected and attitudes to non-white applicants are distinctly dodgy.

The oddest revelation concerns the company's dress and grooming code for its shop and other staff. In line with the image conveyed by the company's advertising, the "natural look" reigns supreme. Hair is not to be dyed, obvious make-up is not to be worn, and most bizarrely, eyebrows should be allowed to "grow out".

Some of the items on the list make sense - most clothing stores give their employees a "uniform" allowance and insist on own-brand - but AA takes it to an extreme where it doesn't even make sense. Surely, the outfit above, taken from AA's UK site, is just screaming for electric blue eyeshadow to really finish off the look?

It isn't clear whether these rules apply to AA shops in the UK. AA's controversial and somewhat creepy boss, Dov Charney, is curiously silent on the revelations.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Anyone for Tennis?

Back after a brief hiatus, and I can't resist an appalling pun. My apologies for anyone offended by it.

Just before going away, I caught a mention of the first gig by a band called Tennis on Salad Fork. Now I'm back, I can investigate more fully. Tennis now have two tracks up on Gorilla Vs Bear, and a Myspace to boot, which includes three songs and two videos from their debut show.

Tennis are a duo, Patrick and Alaina. They are married to each other. According to their Underwater Peoples bio, they first started playing music together on an eight-month sailing trip, and they haven't stopped since. Not a great deal more than that is known about them, but a little mystique is nice to have.

So, to the music. As befitting their name, Tennis have a summery sound, that put me in mind of walking round after dark at a barbecue or beach party, a glass of wine in my hand, the last heat of the day still keeping me warm.

Their songs are short and sweet. I haven't paid close attention to the lyrics as yet, but I suspect there might be something interesting going on there. Soundwise, they are channelling a great lost girl-group of the 1960s, with Alaina's multi-tracked vocals prominent in the mix. The music is pleasantly fuzzed and blurry, but still retains a sharpness and an eye for a tune. My favourite song of theirs is "Marathon".

The band are a hot topic among bloggers at the moment, and I suspect that there is more in store. I am willing to place a sporting wager that they will feature in The Guardian's New Band of the Day section within one month.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Go ha-way the lads.

That's nice.

This piece in the Guardian last week by the FUC51 blogger has got me thinking.

I wholeheartedly agree with FUC51's antipathy to my adopted home city's frustratingly backward-looking musical culture, and there's no way I'm going to be anywhere near Platt Fields when Ian Brown plays. The Madchester-was-over-20-years-ago sentiments have somehow got themsleves mixed up in my head with something I was half-planning to write about why I hate Kasabian so much. Please keep reading, this does make sense, or will eventually.

So, Kasabian. Fairly popular, from Leicester like my Grandma. Why do I hate thee so much? Is it the fact that you were once described as having experimental leanings and being influenced by electronica, when in fact you are a dull indie band with a keyboardist? Is it something to do with your singer's voice?
Someone hit it on the head when they described you as "lad rock". Lad rock, quite simply, needs to go away. Not die or anything painful like that, just leave. Quietly.

By lad rock, I mean absolutely the sort of stadium-filling, unadventurous stuff that will be blasting out of Platt Fields next week. Something that may have been quite interesting when it first started, but stagnated into a formula all too quickly. The "male aged 19-40" demographic's equivalent to Celine Dion: competent yet bland.

Lad rock is never innovative; it does not evolve. It looks backwards for inspiration from a preset selection of influences, dating mainly from the 1960s. It worships its heroes and rarely acknowledges new talents. Most irritatingly, it seems to long for a simpler time when people knew their places. It ignores the contributions of female musicians and all musicians outside of a tiny handful of genres. It looks to its elders for approval, despite its protestations of rebellion, and its elders love the attention. It is anti-progress, anti-intellectual and anti-diversity.

Going on what the media says, Manchester is full of it, although from here in the city itself, I see a huge and flourishing live scene which encourages all kinds of musical innovation. If only it could shed its OasisSmithsRosesMondaysNewOrder ball and chain.

This hasn't made a lot of sense, and it's not something I'm going to go back to often, if at all. It's just something that needed saying. Again.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Mixes on Monday

Not a huge amount of new music flying out of the speakers this Monday, but there have been a couple of new Crystal Castles remixes that have caught my eye in the past couple of days.

Memory Tapes has done a very lovely mix of Suffocation, available from Gorilla vs Bear. It's a delicate and dreamy slow jam, a sort of pretty synth pop with a slight Japanese slant to the keyboard chords. It's great.

Earlier in the week, Stereogum premiered a new Thurston Moore remix of former RWL favourite, Celestica. Thurston, not known as a remixer, has come up with a cracking take on one of CC's most electro offerings. Somewhat predictably, he has slowed it down and drowned it in percussive guitar twangs, but it still works in its altered form, Alice's airy vocal contributing to a shoegazey vibe.

Elsewhere, and away from remixes, acid-tongued Mancunian blogger FUC51 has been ruffling feathers over at the Guardian. FUC51 has made a name for himself (or herself) railing against the increasingly backward-looking nature of Manchester's music scene, spearheaded by the likes of Peter Hook. FUC51 is absolutely right, of course, Manchester has a great live scene, but some of the bigger players just totally need to move on. I'll be talking more about this at a later date...

This Basenji does not look that amused.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Cover Version Showdown #2: Part Zwei

Okay, having said yesterday that the Sven Vath/Miss Kittin version of Je T'Aime was hard to find, I've found it. Here it is.

It was released in 2001. This is definitely the campest version of the song. Interestingly, Sven Vath has included the sort of 8-bit bleeps that the likes of Crystal Castles are championing now. I'm not sure whether the male vocal is him singing, or a sample, because it sounds very like Gainsbourg. Miss Kittin is great in the Birkin role.

As much as I love the daft French car chase video above, with Sven Vath looking scarily like Rutger Hauer in Blade Runner, the best Je T'Aime for me has to be Nick and Anita - their voices suit the song and the chemistry is there.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Cover Version Showdown #2: Je T'Aime

Struggling to come up with something topical for my Saturday morning post, and without any gigs to review, I thought of doing a rundown of bands containing couples, in honour of HTDA. However, that would be far too long. Then I thought of the ultimate musical couple's song, Je T'Aime.

Serge Gainsbourg wrote the naughty French classic, and his best-known performance of it is this 1969 duet with Jane Birkin. Originally, he sang it with Brigitte Bardot in 1967, but that version is fairly similar to the definitive Serge/JB perv-fest, and not nearly as suggestive. Jane Birkin's breathy, coital delivery and near-perfect simulated orgasm caused the song to be banned from most media. Was she faking it? We'll never really know.

Next up, former lovers Nick Cave and Anita Lane. Their English-language reading of the song was released in 1995. Anita's high, breathy vocals are a good match for Birkin's, and Nick's lugubrious bass provides a perfect foil. Darker and less overtly raunchy than the original, but then there's no point in trying to outdo the experts at their own game. Some say that the translated lyrics don't work, but I like the way they highlight the nonsense nature of the originals.

Cat Power and Karen Elson - Karen has just released an album - see, topical!
Not the first girl-on-girl version, but probably the best known, Cat and Karen teamed up in 2006 for a Serge tribute album. This is a different English translation, slightly more overtly raunchy than Nick and Anita's. Karen's English-rose delivery adds a certain something; she sounds so innocent. There's even a touch of the original's sugggestive heavy breathing, echoed in the guitar line.

This is far from a definitive list of Je T'Aime covers. Apparently Miss Kittin and Sven Vath have recorded one, as have Cibo Matto and the Pet Shop Boys, but these recordings, if they exist, are rather more elusive.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

R.I.P. Louise Bourgeois

Artist Louise Bourgeois died on Monday after suffering a heart attack. She was ninety-eight years old.
I'm not sure I've ever seen a Louise Bourgeois sculpture in real life, although I think there may have been one at Tate Liverpool a while back. However, I have seen many images of her work, and it has always intrigued me.
The image at the top of this post is a 1996 piece, and probably my favourite of hers that I'm aware of. The contrast of insubstantial dresses and underwear hanging on hangers made from human-looking bones and meathooks hints at threat lurking below a superficial surface, or the fragility of image and also of life.

Louise was fond of evoking the sense of human vulnerability, our needs and desires to be protected. She was also interested in the body, and liked to sculpt distorted or combined bodies in multiple media, including textiles. It was this part of her work in which she explored her feminist ideas. Some of these figures are clearly inspired by Neolithic figurines.

Multiple versions of the sculpture above exist, in bronze and other media. I like this one because the figure is simultaneously so slight and vulnerable, and strong. It also reminds me of ourobouros images.

Louise Bourgeois only really became famous late in her life and career. She was expecially known for her large-scale spider sculptures.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Review - How To Destroy Angels EP

My HTDA download link arrived in my inbox in the early hours of this morning. After a drama with computer security settings, it was finally on my machine and pouring out of my speakers. Here is the track-by-track review.

1. The Space In Between
Familiar to many from its gory, mesmerising video, the track has been remastered slightly and given a final polish. As an opener, it's a great choice. Lyrically and vocally, it is definitely one of HTDA's strongest tracks, and the extra room afforded by an MP3 gives Mariqueen's serene vocal some extra clarity and depth. Although Trent Reznor has described the video as being about a dying relationship, it is hard not to pick up some definite lyrical nods to last year's Twitter drama and the ensuing bitterness.

2. Parasite
Begins with a squalling guitar line and dirty beats. Mariqueen's barely-audible whispered voice cuts in, then we hear Trent for the first time. He and Mariqueen share the singing over Atticus's sinuous bassline, and it's almost as if they're one singer, so close are their lines. The whispered refrain of "Parasite" and the distorted stabs of guitar are quite reminiscent of NIN. Towards the end, the song collapses in a jagged mass of guitar and synth, and the talk track returns. The bassline from this was in the second of the teaser videos.

3. Fur Lined
Probably the "poppiest" track on the EP. There is an immediate resemblance to certain more upbeat NIN songs, especially the drum track (Only). Mariqueen switches up her vocals from her usual whispery style to a kittenish sneer, which is a welcome diversion. There are strong electro influences audible here, with trebly synths and heavily treated voices, although it breaks down into something scuzzier at the end. The double synth line from the final teaser appears towards the end of this song as a repeating motif.

4. BBB
Probably my favourite track from the EP. It's another electronically-based number, and it's here that we get to hear the filthy synths from the first teaser video. The Swarmatron is very much in evidence and sounds even better on the finished song, its distorted wail rising above the assorted cat sounds, whines and drones of the other instruments. The BBB of the title stands for "big black boots", which appear in the lyrics. There is a clear nod to BDSM here and it is hard not to interpret this as a bondage love song. Mariqueen and Trent duet once more, with Atticus on the knobs.

5. The Believers
I think this is a slightly tweaked version of the song I heard last week, although I may be wrong. It is a percussive, glitchy electronic number with what appears to be a lot of "organic" instruments thrown into the mix. It has a strong Asian flavour: the drum sounds and patterns sound somewhat Indian and some of the other incidental sounds make me think of southeast Asian tuned percussion instruments, like a gamelan orchestra gone techno. There's a neat guitar and eight-bit style synth duet at the end. Vocally and lyrically, it's the weakest track, but the music makes up for it.

6. A Drowning
The first single will be familiar to many listeners. It is the simplest of the songs, and also the calmest for the most part. Mariqueen sings over a trebly synth bassline, familiar from Atticus's other work. The music builds into a wall of underwater-sounding guitars and synth, before a plaintive and jarring horn section cuts in. The minor-key piano motifs sound very Reznor-ish, and the distorted guitar solo rising above Mariqueen towards the end is also noticeably him. It finishes the EP well, as its length does not burden it quite so much.

You can download your copy here.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Style Inspirations #3: Juliana Hatfield

This picture of Juliana comes from the cover art of her 1994 album, Only Everything. This is the look I spent most of my latter teen years trying for.
It's an easy enough look to pull off; the transatlantic indie kid style works for boys and girls, too. It's come-as-you-are in the clothes department, with a little makeup and a great haircut that looks as if you're not trying. (Makeup optional for boys).
Juliana's style will always resonate with me because it was this album art that helped to show me that image isn't about labels (although they're nice), following trends, or doG forbid, grooming. More often, it's about standing out and being a little different, and sometimes it can be as simple as being yourself.

The album's great as well, by the way.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Elsewhere on the internet...

That's me, that is.

I was shown this celebrity face recognition thing on a forum earlier in the week. You upload a picture of your face, and the doubtlessly state of the art software brings up a list of celebrities you look most like. Despite being female, apparently I have a 77% resemblance to Jude Law. Which would be fine, if I were a man. My closest female match was Diane Kruger, although she looks about as much like me as Jude does.
I should go on at this point about the pernicious and vacuous nature of celebrity culture, and our obsession therewith, but the face recogniser is kind of fun, and it's not hurting anyone.

Elsewhere on the internet, music is afoot. Autechre are releasing their second album of the year in July, and have put a track online for our listening pleasure. y7 is available here from Autechre's own site. y7 is quite an upbeat track, with a shifting rhythm of pleasing analog-sounding synth pulses. Despite its upbeat tempo, there's a nice hint of menace lurking within, too.

RWL favourite Trent Reznor has also been a busy boy this week. First, he put out a new track as Nine Inch Nails, a soundtrack effort for the film Tetsuo: The Bullet Man. You can download it here. The Theme is one of the most aggressive pieces Trent has put out for a while. It is almost completely electronic, abrasive as anything and manages to make a synth horn section sound quite scary. This is interspersed with typical Reznor minor-key piano. It works almost like an angry little symphony, with movements and reprises.

Not content with putting the rumours of NIN's total demise to bed, Trent has also unveiled another How To Destroy Angels track. It's meant to be a giveaway with Wired magazine's iPad app, but copies are leaking all over the internet. Atticus, Trent and Mariqueen have taken a more rhythmic approach this time, and The Believers is full of glitchy beats and chopped-up synth. I think you can even hear a Swarmatron riff at the beginning. This is the first HTDA track to feature an obvious TR vocal, which should please many.

Lastly, Klaxons are back, if anyone is still bothered. Their new track, Flashover, was described as a departure from their Nu Rave beginnings by a critic, but to me, it still sounds like Klaxons, albeit a more noisy incarnation. Listen

Monday, 24 May 2010

Models who have gone on to have interesting musical careers.

Karen Elson releases her debut album, The Ghost Who Walks, this week. In honour of Karen, it's time for a look at some music made by fashion models. This lineup is limited to those who have made interesting or at least listenable music; no room for Naomi Campbell's disastrous 90s pop efforts here.

The Classics:


Catapulted to fame in The Velvet Underground by Andy Warhol, Nico, with her striking contralto voice and statuesque appearance, soon broke free of the Factory's control and aesthetic. Her own work is characterised by her morbid proto-goth lyrics, folk-infused style and heavy use of the harmonium, on which she performed often. Sadly, she died quite young after decades of heroin abuse.

Grace Jones

Another Warhol protegee from a different era, Grace Jones began making music in the late 1970s, at the height of the disco phenomenon. She was and is as famous for her fierce pop-art image as her music, and is an obvious influence on the likes of Lady Gaga today. Her music became progressively more left-field as time progressed. She made a successful comeback in 2008 after a long hiatus.

The modern era:

Carla Bruni

After quitting the catwalk and before shacking up with Nicolas Sarkozy, Carla produced some genuinely quite interesting records, mostly performing in French. She was quite fond of setting poetry, such as WB Yeats, to her own musical arrangements. Her light, breathless voice is surprisingly listenable. Whether she will make any more music is yet to be seen.

Lissie Trullie

The video below isn't Lissie's famous Hot Chip cover, which seems to play every time I go in a branch of Topshop. Lissie's music is spare and elegant post-punk, and her own compositions (like this one) more than stand up to scrutiny. Her guitar-playing is pretty handy, too. Sadly, her recorded output is quite limited, with only one EP and a few digital single releases in three years.

Karen Elson

Karen's first album is a couple of years in the making. She has been playing live and recording with her husband, Jack White. Although she releases on White's Third Man label, her style is more dustblown murder ballad than garage rock. She has a surprisingly strong, emotive voice, which she uses to deliver her goth-flavoured lyrics. She is touring Europe soon.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Things I DON'T like this week:

As this blog is partly a fulfillment of my thwarted desire to write articles for a teenage magazine, I can't go round having posts of things I like every week without including the opposite.

So, here are some things I haven't liked this week.

1. Missing a Holy Fuck gig on Tuesday because I didn't realise they were playing.

2. Deciding to buy something from Republic (a pair of leggings, if you must know), then discovering said something has been express-discontinued in the space of a week.

3. Isis splitting up.

4. The fact that I have a Korg dealer practically on my doorstep, when I can't afford this lovely MicroKorg synth:

That is all.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Style Inspirations#2: The Artful Dodger

Forget the fact that if The Artful Dodger were here now, he'd be a snotty-nosed Adidas-clad hoodie. The Dodger of Dickens, even more so of the Lionel Bart musical, could well be the prototype for punks, rudeboys and tomboys everywhere.

Even fashion's House of Balmain has got in on the act this season, with four-figure skinnyfit tailcoats and ripped trousers.

The Dodger look works for boys and girls. The key Dodger piece is a jacket, something which suggests formality somewhere in its heritage, but is worn any way but formally. Waistocats, short trousers and a hat add to the look. A tall top hat might be pushing the boat out a bit far, but any other vaguely masculine hat, worn with both pride and attitude, will look the part.

Monday, 17 May 2010

New Music Monday

A little playlist of new things I've been listening to and watching:

1. How To Destroy Angels - The Space In Between

This is not only a great second song from a scarily-prolific new project, it's an eerie, beautiful video too, if something this twisted can be beautiful in your world.

This video, directed by Rupert Sanders, looks to be part of a series. Will we find out the identity of the murderer? Is it Atticus? Is it the mystery blonde woman? Is it the man in the bathroom?
The music shows much more menace and a harder edge than A Drowning, but still retains the dreamlike (or nightmarish) quality of the first song. You can hear the guitar riff from the third teaser video in here, too.

2. Crystal Castles - Celestica

No video for this. I've not been a fan of Crystal Castles in the past, but this slice of sweetly-voiced electro does something for me. I'm hoping that their new album will grow on me.

3. Emika - Double Edge

Emika is a German vocalist and producer who records on Ninja Tune. This is her second song, and I don't know much about her.

Glitchy, trippy dubstep with subtle, emotional vocals. The video is minimal and somewhat functional, and reminds me of a hostage video.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Gig Review: Dum Dum Girls, Manchester Sound Control, 14th May 2010

After last week's cathedral adventure, Sound Control is a rather more run-of-the-mill experience. A well-maintained, nicely-acousticked venue, gothic ceilings notwithstanding. Note to self: stop going all architectural in gig reviews. Second note to self: stop arriving for gigs so damn early.

The first band up, Golden Glow, attracts only a very small audience. I know nothing about them, but suspect that the lead singer knows my friend Stephen, as I think I've seen him out and about before. I missed the first song of their short set whilst at the bar. The rest is listenable indie pop. They have a nice, chiming, chorus-y guitar sound in parts, but their music could have been made any time in the last ten or more years, and is starting to date a bit. Despite this, they have a couple of nicer songs which passed the time.

My ears pricked up when I saw The Switch's kit being set up: two keyboard benches, synths, decks, and a guitar. The Switch turn out to be a very pleasant surprise. Three men and a female singer took to the stage, and the noise commenced. Swirls of vaguely threatening electronic noise, performed partly on some sort of controller that looked like a Wii remote, layered with distorted guitar and delicate vocals. For the second song, the guitar came to the fore, and the band channelled the sounds of Manchester in 1991, Bristol in 1994 and somewhere else entirely all at once. The fourth song (I think) of their set was more of a straight-up dance number, with pounding beats and a more euphoric vocal, whose lyrics I have forgotten, but were something positive. The last number brought the sound back downbeat, with the bass and beats combining with guitar jags in a fitting crescendo. One to watch, I think.

The room still wasn't really full for Dum Dum Girls, although numbers had swelled. As the Girls are a bit of a hot topic at the moment, I had expected the Manchester hipsters to be out in force. The venue's over-18 policy may have deterred some of the scenesters, however.

Looking the part in brief black outfits and vampy makeup, Dee Dee, Bambi, Sandy and Jules tune up their instruments and launched straight into their set. They started with a slower number, and I was instantly impressed with Dee Dee's vocal, which is sweet and low. Their playing is tight, and their sound lives up to their "blissed out buzzsaw" tag.

The next number was an upbeat one, Catholicked I think (still useless with song titles. Note to self: take notebook next time). The Girls's three-part girl-group harmonies were sweet, and the guitar sound both choppy and blissful. Despite the change in tempo, the singing remains melodic. This remains so throughout the set, although the mix isn't quite right towards the middle of the set.

This was remedied by the time Bhang Bhang and Jail La La arrived. Bhang Bhang in particular is very lovely, all harmonies and scuzzy yet controlled guitar riffing. Jail La La caused a wave of energetic but good-natured dancing to erupt at the front of the stage. The Girls on the stage remained calm; their demeanour is cool and collected, with only the occasional hip sway from Dee Dee or flourish from drummer Sandy. Dee Dee thanks the audience between songs in her cute California accent.

After My Baby Is Better Than You (?), the set came to an end all too quickly. The crowd called out for more, and was obliged with a one-song encore, whose title I have unsurprisingly forgotten. It was a high-energy number with some great "ooh"s from Jules and Bambi. After that, they were gone.
Walking home with tinnitus ears, I thought about how so often, bands sacrifice melody and vocal polish for energy, and how Dum Dum Girls manage to avoid this trap. Their harmony-smeared noise-pop is both tuneful and attitude-filled.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Things I Like This Week...

1. Taking my pets to work with me.

2. Dum Dum Girls gig on Friday.

3. Writing lists of things I like, as if I'm writing for an imaginary teenage girls' magazine. I did apply for a job at one once, but I didn't get an interview.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Style Inspirations #1: the ladies of Bob Fosse musicals

I am not a stylish person by nature. When I manage it at all, I only tend to do so with the help of outside inspiration. One of my favourite inspirations is the classic style of performers in Bob Fosse musicals, particularly Chicago and Cabaret.
Despite what fashion editors keep trying to tell us, there is a time when black is the only colour that will do, when subtle is not what you want, and when you need to unleash your inner high-kicking diva.

Not for the Fosse girl is flirty, cute or even pretty. She is not a bronzed, curvaceous beach babe, but a sinewy, elongated Amazon with the sort of complexion you get from only coming out at night. There is a strong sense of Europe between the wars about her. She rejects the burlesque aesthetic that spawned her; who needs bouncing breasts and frilly knickers when the only weapon you really need is a pair of superbly-toned legs, preferably clad in fishnets?

Obviously, the full-on dancer's hotpants and bowler hat are pretty difficult to pull off in a real setting, but I like to channel Sally Bowles with fitted waistcoats, hats worn at an angle, short skirts or tight trousers, in black of course, set off by militaristic leather boots and as much eyeliner as possible.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Review: CocoRosie, Manchester Cathedral; Friday 7th May 2010

As far as cathedrals go, Manchester's is unprepossessing: lacking the scale of Liverpool Anglican, the Gothic grandeur of York Minster, or the out-there holy-relics otherworldliness of Durham. It makes an unusual and quirky gig venue. Upon arrival, the atmosphere was almost that of a scaled up Church youth club, with two makeshift bars, fairy lights, and watchful churchwarden types keeping an eye on things and guiding gig-goers to the toilets.

The stage was set up in the centre of the cathedral, against the main rood screen. Two rows of pillars defined the main space for watching. There was a longish wait for the first band to come on. No supports had previously been announced, only "special guests". The crowd was a mixed one, mainly made up of early-twenties types, with a healthy proportion of older folk.

The support band was Light Asylum, a duo hailing from the States. Their short set did not start promisingly, with synth drones and non-lexical vocals redolent of a horror film score, but this soon gave way to something quite special. Light Asylum's unique selling point is singer and synth percussionist Shannon, who is possessed of an extraordinary voice; the deepest contralto you will probably ever hear, and wonderfully expressive with it. The laziest comparison would be Grace Jones (there are vague physical and musical similarities), but a more meaningful one would be Diamanda Galas, who has a similar low range.
The music, provided by Shannon and her synth-minding male accomplice, mixed downbeat old-school electro with industrial clanks and drones, and live synth drumming and glockenspiel. There is a hint of Coil's dark theatrics. Although the tone for their five-song (I think) set was minor-key, there are times when their songs swoop into euphoric choruses, with uplifting lyrics. Light Asylum were well-received and are worth investigating further.

It doesn't take long to prepare the stage for the arrival of CocoRosie. Things are shifted, and Sierra's harp is brought out by a roadie. The lights go down, and the Casady sisters appear on the right of the stage, blinking in the lights. They begin their set there, acapella, with what sounded like a cover of Stevie Nicks's Wild Heart. Both are dressed in old-fashioned nightgowns, with mask-like eye makeup. Bianca has accessorised her gown with a military tailcoat and a grey fur hood. The simple, haunting acapella number over, they take up their instruments for God Has A Voice, She Speaks Through Me, which is performed mainly by Sierra, a slow, minimal reading of the song. What looked at first like an analogue synth she was manipulating turned out to be a hand-cranked harmonium, which provided a drone accompaniment to her sweet vocal.

It is only then that the rest of the band come on stage. Notable among them are a keyboardist and a bespectacled beatboxer. They are all modelling the painted-on eye masks. The set really begins then, with Sierra continuing to sing in her distinctive soprano, and Bianca joining in on wind instruments, including a penny whistle and a snake-charmer's pipe. The first part of the show relied mainly on Sierra's operatic tones, with Bianca's cracked, spookchild of Billie Holiday tones taking a supporting role.

I am useless at remembering song titles, and with a set this diverse where the songs came thick and fast, it was a pointless endeavour. We get a hip-hop-flavoured Rainbowarriors (I think), performed mainly by a rapping Bianca and the beatboxer, title track of the new album, Grey Oceans, a lovely, chaotic rendition of Lemonade and a cover of Kevin Lyttle's Turn Me On, made into a swirling, swooning wall of sound. Shannon from Light Asylum joined them for one song, adding her contralto to Sierra's soprano and Bianca's unique style.

The performance elements of the show were suitably endearing and eccentric. Hats were worn and exchanged by various members of the band, with Sierra's pink mob cap donned mid-set later being used as a morris dance hanky. When not singing, each sister lip-syncs to the other's part, and Sierra in particular was enthusiastic in her dancing. She favours Kate Bush-style waving and twirling, as if performing a ritual, whilst Bianca breaks out the odd body-popping move too. During Hopscotch, both sisters came together for a cute playground clapping game. The whole show was set against a back-projection of fairground rides, insects, jack in the boxes and distorted images of the sisters, which created a pleasant kinetic effect on the rood screen and brought to mind a haunted playground at the same time.

The whole band returned for a two-song encore, with Bianca in a military cap. It was here that we got to hear Lemonade, one of the duo's poppiest yet strangest offerings. I left the cathedral feeling as if I'd been part of an art happening (do those exist any more?) rather than just a gig; thoroughly impressed by the vocal prowess of the sisters and not quite believing what I had just seen.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Things I Like This Week:

1. Angel Hunting

I blogged last week about How To Destroy Angels, the suspected new project from Trent Reznor and Mariqueen Maandig. It all got a bit previous - although I stated that they had owned up, that didn't happen until yesterday, when the band's first song, A Drowning, appeared on pitchfork.com. More on that in a minute.
The few days before the reveal were a flurry of frenetic online angel hunting. The band - Trent, Mariqueen and Atticus Ross - stepped up their programme of teaser videos and enigmatic, faintly survival-horror-esque images. The players were revealed one by one, apart from a guitarist whose hands and arms were the only part of him displayed. This turned out to be Trent, who is being very coy in promotional pictures, either standing at the back with shades on or turning his back to the camera.
So, the music. A Drowning is gentle but menacing, with a pulsing beat and dreamy piano motifs, interrupted by mournful synthesised brass and a scuzzy guitar lament towards the end. It's sung by Mariqueen, who shows herself to have a delicate, ethereal voice. It is a very controlled and polished performance. I love the song.

2. Shiba Inus

The little dog that's big in Japan. Someone near me has one. What's there not to love?

3. I'm going to see CocoRosie the day after tomorrow. Watch this space for a review.

4. Old Vic and Bob sketches, specifically the Bra Men. I used to watch Vic and Bob, and I never remember seeing these superb comic creations.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

How To Destroy Angels: yes it is Trent Reznor...

This video appeared yesterday online (sorry for the knockoff copy - the vimeo original won't embed on here properly). The name of the project is How To Destroy Angels; there are no official song titles as yet. At first, no-one owned up, but the rumour soon spread that this was Trent Reznor's new project with Mariqueen Maandig. The accompanying artwork shows someone who looks very much like Mariqueen, and, well, anyway, it is her, because the duo owned up today.

A six-track EP is pencilled in for the summer and rumoured tracklistings are already floating around. It's not known whether Trent and Mariqueen are recording as a duo, or whether they're part of a larger group, but all will probably be revealed, sooner rather than later. The video shows Mariqueen operating an interesting-looking synth that I would love to have a go on, and is there a hint of heavily-treated vocals there? It's not even certain that How To Destroy Angels, seemingly named after a Coil album, will feature any, or much vocal at all, and no clues other than the video have been given as to who's doing what within the band. It's tempting to think of it being the classic "man twiddling knobs while woman sings" setup, but who's to say it won't be the other way round? Mariqueen, judging by her revived Twitter, is quite keen on knobs at the moment.

And the music? Hard to tell right now, but the 40 seconds we do have is 40 seconds of dirty, threatening synth, and I like the sound of it very much. It could be a purely instrumental thing, but I could see this heading in the sort of direction that someone like Dot Allison has taken in her harder-edged work. Despite being described as the ex-lead singer of West Indian Girl in several hundred blog posts and articles, Mariqueen was/is actually more of a vocal effects singer than a frontwoman, and this might show in her new project.

As for Trent, he seems capable of turning his hand to most things. I'm looking forward...

(Official website is http://www.howtodestroyangels.com

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Cover Version Showdown #1: That's When I Reach For My Revolver

Okay, I just thought it would be interesting to look at some covers of songs, and compare them, like those arguments you have in the pub, only with videos as evidence.

The first showdown is That's When I Reach For My Revolver, written and first recorded by Mission of Burma in 1983. For the studio version, you'll have to find a CD or a download, but here's a good-quality recent live version:

This is one of MOB's more accessible tunes, replete with rough-hewn three-part harmonies, an urgent driving rhythm and some great angry lyrics. It's very catchy and yet retains its edge.

The earliest cover version I can find is by pop-grunge types Soul Asylum, from 1989. The quality of this recording is poor, so it's not the best listen. They've left the song virtually unchanged, although the tempo is slower and the sound appears less abrasive. They've kept the multipart vocals.

British band Catherine Wheel recorded their version in 1992. It isn't vastly different to the original, although, like Soul Asylum, they have slowed the tempo, to begin with at least. The bassline remains very similar, but the guitar sound is brighter somehow. The vocals are different, with less harmonising and a clearer delivery.

Moby's 1996 cover is probably the best-known version of the song. It comes from his rock/metal album Animal Rights. His interpretation is cleaner and more minimal than the original, but it is still very true to MOB, down to the vocal stylings.

Graham Coxon has covered the song live, despite never making a recording of it, to my knowledge. His distinctive vocals bring something different to the song. His arrangement is quite simple, but keeps a similar set of guitar effects to the original. This is most up-tempo version.

Of all of the covers, Graham Coxon's is probably my favourite, as he has put his own stamp on it more than the others. That's When I Reach For My Revolver obviously inspires a lot of respect from other musicians, as none has felt the need to adjust the original very much, even when their own style is quite different.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Moustaches with (Coco)Rosie

My tickets for the CocoRosie gig at Manchester cathedral came today. In honour of this, I drew on a CocoRosie-esque moustache for this picture.
I'm very excited about the gig. I won't be modelling the moustache for it, however.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Film Review - Whip It

The directorial debut of Drew Barrymore, Whip It is a familiar tale of hero (or in this case heroine) triumphing over adversity, set in the high-speed world of roller derby.
Our heroine is Bliss Cavendar, a rather aimless teenager bored with her mother's beauty pageant ambitions for her, who discovers roller derby by accident and finds that she has quite a talent. She joins a team, despite being underage, and plays in secret without her parents' knowledge, falling for a local indie-boy singer along the way.
You know from that brief description pretty much how the rest of the film will pan out. Whip It
is a pretty formulaic story that sticks to several sports-movie and girl-friendship-movie tropes. For example, you know from very early on that Bliss, in her guise as rollergirl Babe Ruthless, will come across a spiteful adversary who dislikes her for no good reason. You know that her parents will find out and almost - but only almost - end her roller derby career and send her packing back to pageants. You know that Bliss will somehow "find herself".
However, Whip It is done so well that the cliches are almost part of the fun. A strong cast, well put-together, gives great performances, especially Ellen Page (Juno) as Bliss, who is pleasantly understated, Kristen Wiig as the tough-but-kind roller derby veteran Maggie Mayhem, and Juliette Lewis, revelling in her comedy bad-gal role as Iron Maven, a derby rival. Barrymore herself puts in some funny turns and memorable pratfalls as Smashley Simpson, Bliss's hotheaded and accident-prone team-mate. Rapper Eve is surprisingly effective as Rosa Sparks. another rollergirl.
Where it would have been easy to fill a movie like this up with crude one-liners a la Dodgeball, Drew Barrymore eschews this route, instead allowing us to appreciate the sport of roller derby itself. There are many snappily-filmed action sequences which seem to capture both the speed and the crunching blocking techniques of the girls-only game. Some real-life rollergirls might not agree, but the flying tackles and sinuous dodges make for great dramatic viewing. There is not shortage of gags either, some of them crude, in keeping with the not-taking-itself-too-seriously nature of roller derby.
Despite ticking off so many in the Big Book of Film Cliches, Whip It is a great piece of escapist feelgood comedy, a promising debut and a sweet tribute to roller derby, which the writers and directors obviously hold great respect for.