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="">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.