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.
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
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.
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.
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:
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.
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'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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.