Friday, 15 November 2013

Album Review: Poliça: Shulamith

I confess I’ve got a bit bored of writing album reviews, at least I thought I had, but it really depends on the music. Some you just like them, but have very little to say, and others you just can get your teeth into like Goldfrapp’s ‘Tales of Us’ and now Poliça’s ‘Shulamith’, it does help if they are a bit concept-y or have some intense videos to throw in.

That, of course, depends on how you listen to music too, whether just as background noise, or something you get completely immersed in. There are some I would listen to with others (more fluffy nice pop re styled by Miss Selfridge:  Polly Scattergood) and some I like in solitude because they are either weird or just impossible to talk over…and there are always those that can do both the social backdrop and intense. Shulamith is one of those.

I love its intense moments but there is gentleness in it too. You could clutch your head screaming ‘oh god’ listening to it or chat to your mum and dad over a cup of tea with it playing. I've got friends that would just think it was a pleasant noise in the background, the type that don’t listen to music (How!) and others that would prick their ears and listen properly. It probably helps that Channy Leaneagh’s voice is lovely, really lovely, sort of reminds me of Tracey Thorn’s voice (Everything But The Girl, now writes very well, see my Bedsit Disco Queen review here). There is also an undercurrent of melancholy and tension that weaves through the tracks and I personally like that contrast in melody and uneasiness.

I’ve already talked about ‘Chain My Name’ here, it’s the upbeat opener and probably the surprisingly hooky one despite its darker lyrics as it drifts into moody tracks likening in my mind to Portishead at times in the first half of the album. Here’s the track ‘Smug’, Poliça's are a band with lots of cool live clips when you start searching.

I like to pick an odd reference sometimes; three of the tracks, ‘Smug’ and ‘Vegas’ and ‘Warrior Lord’ have a couple of surprising electronic sounds, (the kind that make you go ‘oh what was that?)  One reminds me of ‘Summertime’, yes that 90s anthem from DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, there’s that groove, oddly, and very slowed down (I checked, and you can’t get that fucking song out of your head for days so beware) and another Aphex Twin (much cooler of course) ‘Windowlicker’, this one more so with ‘Smug’ in particular.

‘Torre’ and ‘Trippin’ kind of keep that groove thing going and its something that normally I would find a bit torturous. In this blend of feminist ‘hear me roar’ about identity, about chaining a name and the more obvious lyrical references to marriage and uncomfortable ‘Tiff’ which glitch-cities out on you as you think a new window just opened behind the track, it works beautifully and sounds uniquely Poliça . Watching the video, she appears to be beating herself up, or is it another lost name, whatever it is, its dehumanising and violent and strangely compelling and makes sure it doesn’t descend into absolute 90s frivolity in its sound. ‘Shulamith’ after some googling is named after a dead feminist author, Shulamith Fireston after all.  Credit here for this info to Katherine St, Asaph on Pitchfork.

‘Very Cruel’ sounds like it might be channelling NIN for a moment and ‘Spilling Lines’ is another one of my absolute favourites. Listen below, again, those beats.

The final part of the LP (I’m doing this on vinyl at 3 tracks a side, giving you definite parts, as well as worthy exercise getting up and changing the heavy thing over) seems to me the finalisation of a relationship.  ‘Matty’ wasn’t singing to my soul at first but there’s a super gorgeous beepy interlude in the matrimony (in the lyrics, you start to hear a play on identity and ideals via ambiguous naming) of this tumultuous story. 

 ‘I Need $’ really shows off Channy’s voice, the instrumentals remind me a little of Niki &The Dove (they seem to be lost in space with La Roux and the torture of the second album) and this one floats the idea of independence with the words ‘I don’t need a man’.  ‘So Leave’ is probably my least favourite, which is odd as it smacks a little of The Knife in places, who I love, but that’s just for now, as this album just grows and grows. ‘So Leave’ ends the album on a lighter note, a quiet and captivating journey of liberation wrapped in brilliant music.

Favourite album of 2013 is going to be impossible.

Stream it here on The Guardian.

Book Review: The Casual Vacancy: JK Rowling

The Casual Vacancy has received very mixed reviews and this did make me more curious despite a title that just didn't grab me. Perhaps not being bedazzled by her former magic (being a JK Rowling first timer) allowed me to enjoy The Casual Vacancy untainted (I'm just not that into wizards but I am sure her earlier work is  brilliant). I had no reason to worry that her young fans might pick up this hard hitting book, and why should JK Rowling, its obviously an adult book, nor did I feel the need to pun on the word muggle like crazy, or be traumatised by her frequent use of the word ‘cunt' among other colourful language.

There are uncomfortable descriptions of a teen being raped, prostitution, drug addiction, self harming, mental health issues, bullying, casual sexism and racism...and all this set in a small community, who'd have thought? (Probably anyone that's ever lived in one) But a large part of the message of this novel is how we look away from what is uncomfortable.

We all know to jump ship from children’s literature into adult is a pretty stormy one to make. I think JK Rowling has done a good job with this socially conscious writing, and going by her global success and people I know that swear her books are amazing, her writing has always bridged the generations, and she’s clearly a good storyteller. So why all the negativity, hmm I think mostly readers don't like their favourite authors changing track and this can manifest into begrudging her name on a book other than the creator of a boy wizard. No wonder she tried out a pseudonym for her crime novel.

The passion with which she tells the stories of this small town and neighbouring council estate are evidence enough for me that JK Rowling was writing from personal experience; a ‘turn the other cheek’ and ‘not in my backyard mentality’ in modern society that she genuinely cares about, that is regarding poverty, struggle and mental health.

Yes it is furious in places,  it could be said it has a smattering of socialist manifesto, but at the foundation of it is the way JK Rowling has managed to pull you into the lives of people that in the past, you more than likely have tried to avoid, ignore or blame for a downward spiral in your community while basking in some of your own complacent privilege. We all know that poverty is the root of social unrest, domestic disquiet, harrowing abuse and Rowling writes the story in a way that, at the start, you may sit on the high horse of a Pagfordian, but gradually you unravel your prejudice and actually start to care about the characters from the Fields, particularly Krystal Weedon. Krystal's voice in the novel is hard to hear, she is mostly shown through others eyes and this I think was intentional.

Maybe the politics that simmer under the plot are what make the novel hard to digest for some? And perhaps JK Rowlings donations to the Labour party, and her involvement in the Leveson Inquiry, and the Daily Mail (among others) review of the book smacked more of a character assassination? 'Give us whimsy you champagne socialist' is screaming from a lot of the negativity surrounding it while her well documented personal struggles are ignored. The perils of being one of the most successful writers I suppose. In the interview linked at the bottom, she talks of how the Potter books have liberated her writing, despite having to hide from the press now.

As is always the case with a book review, I don’t want to give away enormous spoilers but here’s one (look away now). It begins with bad news and it ends with more. Everything between is simultaneously recognisable, shocking, mundane, despondent, small town yet big picture and ultimately it does feel like a personal piece. That is why its readable, touching and devastating; the real tragedy is that this ‘fiction’ happens right under our noses, there’s no made up world, no magic wands, and that’s the leap she made as a writer that you also take reading it.

Back to the title. The Casual Vacancy makes absolute sense to me now (outside of the local council terminology), a sort of laissez faire with emptiness and not interfering in the beds people make for themselves, a shallow grave of lives that refuses to see the web of cause and effect mingled with local politics because we don’t like seeing the inconvenience of poverty, or believe that one tiny shred of help could make a difference. The digital ghost can’t fill that vacancy through the children of the town and the outcome of the loss of Fairbrother impacts on the community in a sea of sadness you expect will blow over for most. So what can you do?

Read this book for a start. If you've got a pulse, you will get a lump in your throat. That's if you can be bothered to think about circumstances as well as personal responsibility. 

 ‘…and the congregation averted its eyes’. The last words of the novel leave it with a despair that almost smothers the tiny seed of hope in it, leaving you with an after taste that will ultimately open your mind to the devastating consequences of ignoring those that shouldn't be ignored.

Related Link:

BBC interview with JK Rowling

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Agnes Obel: Aventine

It is definitely Autumn now so embrace the airy and romantic with Agnes Obel as you skip through those leaves. Too much? Aventine has an ambience of contemplative and peculiar beauty, starting with 'Chord Left' as a suitably impassioned opener that leads into 'Fuel to Fire' which is just lovely (kind of Simon and Garfunkel in places with a touch of Cardigans, not theirs, the band obviously, and yes Kate Bush) How can you not be intrigued?  I won't spoil any more for you, just listen.

You can stream it first (occasionally advertisement interruptus) then rush out and buy it all windswept and dramatic in a fashionista poncho… and you ladies too of course. That’s if you can find a record shop. Sometimes you need a break from those pop beats and a little ivory/stringy magic to soothe your soul. Feel that love. Stream and share, share, share the unusual oddities dressed in beautiful melody that I would say is best enjoyed in the remoteness of your own solitude. Basically its not a party banger.

And here’s 'The Curse', my favourite so far but they are all muchy/samey on the delightful continual. She’s Danish, her voice is uber lovely and this is her second album, the debut  Philharmonics was very pretty too.

Talking of soothing my soul, in 10 days I will be seeing Depeche Mode at the O2 in a seat that may require a parachute. Excitous.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Goldfrapp: Tales of Us

Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory have binned 2010’s relentless dated neon suited pop of Head First (sorry if you loved it) for this utterly gorgeous, melancholy anthology of betrayal, confusion, death, forbidden love, infidelity, everything that suits the vocals of the beautifully intense Alison. So far, ‘Annabel’ and ‘Drew’ have been visually interpreted with the wonderfully mysterious and artistic insight of Lisa Gunning in the videos that could be construed as film shorts. 

Here is ‘Annabel’, a tale put to music inspired by the book of the same name by Kathleen Winter. A child who is born not obviously male or female and whose parents decide to bring him up as a boy, yet he wonders and dreams of being the other, Annabel, as growing up with the female within is never quite suppressed. The music and accompanying film are moving and sensitive in its secrecy.

I adore each and every one in this collection of stories charged with the human condition, and that’s the beauty of this album, it doesn’t feel as if you’re merely listening to music but while deciphering Alison’s vocals, a tale unwinds at the forefront of simple guitar, breathlessly dark, sexy, desperate vocals and frequent big orchestration that booms a soundscape of vast passion.

Tales of Us is not one to put on before a night out; its bedroom music, music for a late night into the early hours, a downplay revel in the darkness of its pop noir. If you can’t slow down for this kind of dreaminess, then you may accuse it of monotony in its gentle flow from movement to still. Your loss if this is the case as I find its calm energy takes me way off in to a little world of vital moments of contemplation, essential every now and then. If you lose yourself in the tranquillity, you can always antidote with some ‘Lovely Head’ or ‘Ooh la la’.

It works best in a listening capacity for me as a complete album, the tracks weaving seductively together, perfectly placed in this indulgent treat for those that have loved Goldfrapp’s other offerings, most notably Felt Mountain and Seventh Tree.  The Tales of Us track list is a first person narrative of familiarity, 'Jo', 'Annabel', 'Ulla', 'Alvar', 'Thea', 'Simone', 'Laurel', 'Clay', 'Drew', breaking that for the more distant but heavily emotive ‘Stranger’. It does in places emulate the ethereal realms of Bat For Lashes, particularly 'Thea', which is the only one with a distinct beat dominating the track. Tales of Us is unashamedly dabbling in murderous dark pop leaning creatively towards a Lynch inspirited Twin Peaks sleepover (et el).

Here is ‘Drew’, again another exquisite offering and beautifully shot in black and white film, enhancing the vocals and instrumentation with grand architecture and mood heavy framing of vulnerability and human nature. As you can probably tell by now, highly recommended and instantaneously in love with, even ‘Stranger’ with its slightly squeaky guitar string thing that would normally bug me. Enjoy!

Friday, 4 October 2013

Film Review: In Real Life…Beeban Kidron

Contrary to what I thought, I didn't leave the ICA after watching this film feeling the human race was doomed and wanting to switch off all technology to move to a cave in the hills. Phew! So what did I learn from this film? Nothing mind blowing to be honest as I've always held the internet with a modicum of suspicion (not fear) and every now and then have a think about whether the good is still outweighing the bad. I think this is subjective and very much varies from individual to individual, for example, I got rid of Facebook three years ago as I felt it was a negative thing in my life, obviously this isn't the case for everyone.  For me, for now, the good does outweigh the bad, however I only have a blog and twitter account, occasionally watch YouTube and sometimes buy stuff. I'm not an impressionable teenager and I question a lot, but yes that evil cloud probably has stored an awful lot of data about me via anything I bought, liked, commented on or searched in terms. Do I care? Yes, but I don’t know what to do about it right now.

The premise of this film was to question the effect the Internet is having on teenagers, from social life and development, boundaries of fantasy and how it effects their reality. It did focus much more on boys than girls in the case studies although it did make some effort to span class and socio-economic background. It looked at the two most pressing ‘evils’ that everyone discusses, gaming and pornography. These are two things hard to discuss without your own personal bias, so here’s mine, I'm not anti-pornography nor do I think that online porn sites are *solely* responsible for an ever increasing sexist society or that gaming is wholly responsible for an increasingly violent society, I think its far too simplistic to blame one thing for these societal ills and expanding on this is a whole other blog. I also think its dangerous to cite one thing as a cause in the terrible tragedy of teen suicide, cyber bullying is a horrendous problem now, and the victim has no escape even in his/her own bedroom, but some studies on whether its increased since the phenomenon of cyber bullying could have been included along with a look at other underlining issues.

I think the internet is a powerful weapon in the wrong hands, it’s also a damaging invasion in the wrong hands, it can bring out the worst in human nature, young and old, intelligent and stupid, educated and ignorant and ultimately its not going anywhere. So what do you do? Switch everything off or do you do your utmost to educate yourself and your children about privacy and online safety that will quite possibly impact your ‘real life’ at some point. This could be anything from a negative comment on your YouTube video,  blog,  your boyfriend/girlfriend sharing a picture of you in your underwear on Facebook, or a bully being much braver online and persecuting you in a way that would never have happened on the playground?

It is freaky to think that all these giants, Google, Twitter, Facebook, Apple make so much money out of our data (and all declined to take part in the film) and as the Internet is the biggest spy, so does it make spies of us all. This docufilm is definitely worth watching if you haven’t really thought about the vastness of the Internet or how we may have to educate ourselves and the younger generation to be online safely. I stress ‘ourselves’ as adults/parents,  the younger generation do learn by example and if there’s anything that stood out on my journey home, it was the adults, not just the teens that were staring at their smartphones.

Although I agree that the Internet has its darker side, I also think it’s an easy scapegoat in a culture that increasingly allows it to babysit the kids or even to spy on the kids? How many parents have I heard say that Facebook is a good way to keep an eye on their teens? How about you talk to them instead? Isn't this just the digital version of snooping through your teen’s drawers and opening a diary? As for gaming, the case study used in this film was a very bright 19-year-old questionably addicted to gaming that had got an A* and 3 A’s in his a levels and messed up his Oxford application. Watching this disaffected young man, all I could hear was the line that seemed to go unquestioned ‘my parents were disappointed, I was disappointed’… at his brilliant results that should have all been A*. Maybe this was why he couldn't be bothered to work and spent all day gaming instead, no game is going to express that level of disappointment?

Equally the disturbing interview with the girl doing sexual favours to buy a new phone and the resulting gang of boys who raped her after stealing it (using it to coerce her into a house) didn't sit easy with me for two reasons; firstly, an undercurrent of victim-blaming in that she compromised her personal safety for a blackberry and secondly that this was single-handedly an impact of Internet 'addiction' when there were clearly a whole load of other issues involved.

Beeban Kidron’s work does convey a powerful message (albeit one sided for me) in places and I did learn some interesting and also unsurprising statistics, for example,  the average person checks their phone 150-200 times a day and 90% of the world’s data has been collected in the last two years. However, regarding the teenagers, I think some of the research was limiting. There was of course shocking comments from two 15-year-old boys on pornography and how it affects their attitude to girls. Porn is no doubt going to be confusing for those that haven’t yet had or have little sexual experience and exposure to it is too young now, but where this research failed here was a complete disregard for the fact that girls are also watching pornography and what effect it is that having on their attitude/expectation of sex. Is it in fact worse than the 'acceptable' porn and violence  in the mainstream , like page 3 and lad mags in your face in everyday life? 

At least when your searching online, you know it’s something pornographic, a choreographed performance, and if you don't, this is where education could step in (this boy locked himself in the bathroom to watch it) and actually if online porn has done anything for equality, (I'm talking about legal pornography obviously) it does mean women and girls can now access it as easily as boys and men? Probably playing devil’s advocate here, but I did think the research was a bit predictable in its premise of naughty boys watching porn videos and then wanting to ‘jizz’ over the faces of their poor innocent prey? I think this is simplifying a bigger problem of misogyny in society again and stripping girls of their own developing sexuality while downgrading them to victims.

So I came away, not wishing to switch everything off (although I'm still happy to not have a Facebook account even though I know I could probably whip up more traffic for this blog if I succumbed) but rather just even more convinced that online safety and discussing issues around pornography need to be on the school curriculum (and actually, I wouldn't trust schools on this one completely, parents need to tackle this too). No kids want to replace their real life with an online one, but if they’re left being babysat by the Internet then problems will arise. There’s no point us adults sitting on our high horses looking down at the youth and shaking our fingers at them, I'm pretty sure we did this before when the big evil was heavy metal music or a video nasty.

I feel like I've chipped away in places but stand by recommending the film despite its tone of moral high ground and verge on hysteria, it does give you something to think about and it’s very watchable (if heavy on the shots of millions of cables)…oh and more importantly let your teenagers watch it too and have some trust in them to make their own minds up about balancing their real and online lives.

Of all the evils and social problems Kidron points us to in this film, sexism, misogyny, capitalism, teenage bullying , suicide, violence, surveillance, all were a problem before the Internet exploded into a huge data filled cloud and this is where the film becomes inconclusive for me. Yes, nobody really knew how big this Internet ‘monster’ would become,  and how we might have to tame it, but it’s highly unlikely to go anywhere now.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Bestival 2013 : the bangers, the bloopers and the redefining of the word 'posh'.

One week later and I'm finally sitting down to tip tap a little bit on the finale of music festivals in the UK. It’s not the biggest of the music festivals but I think for its size, it is the more diverse, there’s always a lot of electronic, dance, hip hop and experimental acts to counter balance the sometimes guitar heavy bands of other festivals. The nautical dress up theme this year was kind of limiting, although there were some very impressive jellyfish wandering around.

The Big Top

I enjoyed this year’s immensely, even though I have to say the line up was a little weak compared to other years, but the tipi and bed hire was the most sensible thing I've ever paid out extras for and how pretty majestic do they look too (with the added bonus of an amazing amount of tiny spiders spinning their way down towards us on waking every morning, along with the odd grasshopper and other unidentifiable critters landing in your hair or Wellingtons like you’re some macabre Snow White.

Eve's Tipis

As usual, the organisers don’t give away the schedule until you are there which makes it a bit of a rush trying to work out what you can see and which acts are clashing, but this being the third year we've been did reveal more little discoveries, like the Ambient Forest, Amphitheatre and Gipsy Camp that we’d never got quite as far too before. I would have liked to have found the Hidden Disco but clearly it was very well hidden and, as every year, I aim for the comedy tent but never quite make it. And super kicking myself for not getting to the Bestiversity Tent for ‘Feminism Friday’ (I reckon my two male companions hid that one from me!)

So on the whole, a great time but line up?  Well the smaller acts were great with those like Kate Boy, Zhala and Chloe Howl gracing the replay tent. The Big Top always hosts my favourites, from 2010 with the XX and Fever Ray to 2013 show casing the wonderfully weird but mesmerising Shaking the Habitual Show from The Knife. Crystal Fighters, who I think are the most festival friendly act ever to put their lovely percussive indie banging tunes on muddy earth also closed the festival on this great stage. However, and it’s a biggy again, the headliners were as poor as fuckity to be honest.

Sorry Fatboy but what exactly do you do apart from fling your arms around to backed up programmed nonsense, Snoop Dogg I just don’t feel, and Elton John, well I admit I'm not a big fan, but legend and all that, we thought we’d take a look. Sorry Elton but you were boring, not interacting with your crowd and the combo of ‘Candle in the Wind’ and rain just gave you that whole funeral ambience that really doesn't go at a festival.

So main stage ‘headliners’ big thumbs down while the *just before* the headliners like Franz Ferdinand (intense and witty repartee in the performance from the lovely Scots in striped tshirts), The Flaming Lips (who I've never really liked but live were something else) were great and kept the younger ones interested despite having been knocking around for years.  Chic were the stealers on the main stage (if on a little early) and actually made you realise how many pies Nile Rogers’ has/had his fingers in when producing and writing music from Madonna to Duran Duran, and my personal favourite in this particular set Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’.

Franz Ferdinand

 Big big love for Crystal Fighters, the closing act in The Big Top that was just glittering (literally Sebastian) with a wonderful mix of old and new, from 'Champion Sound', 'At Home', ‘Plage’ to new ones as ‘LA Calling’ and ‘Separator’ and it was so good to hear the kind of bonkers but catchy 'I Love London' with different vocals but still just as banging.

Crystal Fighters (if you get a magnifying glass)

The Knife was everything you would expect and oh so loud (buzzing ears time). They did classics like ‘The Bird’ and ‘Silent Shout’ which was such a surprise while ‘A Tooth For An Eye’ and ‘Full of Fire’ sounded ahhhmazing. I can see how the Shaking the Habitual show might have been a struggle for some at the Roundhouse earlier this year, but in a festival setting, it worked brilliantly, even the crazy screaming aerobic instructor (that was really just making the crowd relax and get in the mood) There was some tomfoolery going on with the effects but it was so blatant and had to be taken as part of the show. The choreography was faultless especially for 'A Tooth For An Eye' and I kind of wished we'd got closer in to see it (although flashback to Fever Ray in the same tent where I honestly couldn't even wave a little finger to say 'help I can't breathe' it was so jam packed.)

The Knife

The Knife: you can just about spot Karin?

Scroobius Pip Vs Dan Le Sac at the Swamp Shack were a brilliant mix of playful joshing and intense message in rap; along with ‘Letter To God’, ‘Thou Shalt Kill’ and ‘Get Better’, they also pulled out a brand newbie first performance (didn't catch its title, sorry Scroob, the wind started to howl and the sound when up and down with it).  I've seen them before at Bestival and they never disappoint with their witty banter. Although *sad face* I still haven’t got to his spoken word show at the Satin Lizard Lounge.

Scroobius Pip

The big surprise for me was Johnny Marr, I like The Smiths (obvs), I used to love Morrissey but now I kind of think he’s become an even more grumpy no longer amusing grumpster (where’s the self-indulgent melancholy and good humoured bitterness gone?) and would never want to bump into him as I'm sure he’d just be mean and ruin every song you've ever loved. I digress, Marr did a stupendous *ahem* god like genius job of pulling off ‘Big Mouth Strikes Again’, ‘There is a Light That Never Goes Out’, ‘How Soon is Now?’ I'm sure these tracks were not chosen without great thought to his very different vocal range; it worked and felt like a rare chance to hear such classics live. And yes he can play a guitar in an unusually melodic way.

Johnny Marr (He's not god but he's pretty good)

Huge love for Bestie, but stiff email to Rob Da Bank about the so called ‘posh’ loos in the Boutique camping and six 'posh wash' showers for (I estimate) 300 pods/tipis. Posh is not over flowing toilets in conjunction with no running water at the basin and two grumpy teenage toilet assistants staring at their iphones slumped under a brolly. It would be easier/cleaner and probably more environmentally friendly to put the compost loos in and make them a bit 'posher', maybe with a bit of incense?

Admiring my tipi
I know I know it’s a festival but these Boutique tickets cost almost 500 quid more than the average campsite on the grounds mostly of 'facilities'. It was however quieter and more chilled out than the main sites that as always resembled refugee camps by the second night. So my festival advice, go out for a pub lunch each day as the food is ultra disgusting and over priced (if you can hike a couple of miles, its worth it, there's a few pubs selling nice food nearby), take plenty of hand wash, a girl actually professed her love to me when I gave her some as she panicked about the lack of running water, (it’s not just me!) and finally go in groups and don’t lose each other. I was clinging on to the arms of my people so hard I actually bruised them. See how rock n roll I am?

Here are a few more pics; I wish I’d taken more now. I say this every year! Do click on them as they become much easier to view!

Scroobius Pip vs Dan Le Sac

The Knife (Shaking the Habitual)

The Knife (Shaking *even more* Habitual)

Swamp Shack

A sea of sailor hats watching Johnny

Magic Meadow

There's always someone with a massive inflatable in the crowd

Final note, if you bring your kidlets, especially the tiny wee ones, maybe assume it's family 'challenging' (despite the family friendly camping area) and be prepared as once the sun sets, it gets louder and there’s not much escape from the plastered people. My toddling daughter spent the afternoons with us but I spent too much time worrying about her being stepped on or permanent damage if she pulled her ear defenders off that I sent her safely to Grandma’s at night. This however is only possible if your parents live 5 miles from the Bestival site (so thank you and please don’t move *kiss*) Also handy if you want a quick bath.

Can’t wait for next year now. Here’s a few suggestions for headliners in 2014 Mr Da Bank, you need to make up for Elton: Depeche Mode, David Bowie, Kate Bush, Pulp, go on, see if you can pull it off before Eavis clinches them. (I know Kate is probably building sandcastles in the air though)

Blog love x (and particularly to Imogen who wrestled with my dog while house sitting for me back in London x)

Images: Melodee Writes

Friday, 13 September 2013

On a blog roll...

Lorde: Team

So autumn is here in the UK (clarifying that as my stats show that my readers are mostly far, far away over really big oceans which might be why I get away with making up words) and I’m sure it’s the best time of year for music.  

Staying on the international theme, here is a new track from Lorde, a 16 year-old (!) singer/songwriter with a big, big voice from New Zealand. ‘Royals’ and ‘Tennis Court’ didn’t grab me, but ‘Team’ is most certainly…lovely! I’m going to songkick her right now if I can remember my password.

On a blog roll due to the beautiful sound of September rain.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

I love London.

So I’m back in the city after Bestival, there will be a review of sorts to follow, the heading of this post hints at who (predictably) was my favourite act. In the meantime, this is what I’ve been listening to this week while I adjust to normal life minus Wellington boots.

First off a band I normally find an irritation and I can’t really pinpoint why, they are just a bit annoying, it could be the whole husband and wife working together, living together (hashtag vom) or maybe I just don’t feel them much, however (and it’s a biggy) I lovelovelove this one you sweet, lovely loved up music couple and your massive family of musicians. Reflektor.

So the video for this very, very long but enjoyable track is kind of cool too, it reminds me (and I’m just plucking things out of the air now) a bit of Pan’s Labyrinth and Jacob's Ladder in places, the mahoosive head things are freaky, there’s a disco ball to lighten the moment and the big man singer looks like Rik Mayall. I’ve never noticed that before. 

There’s also a mirrored coffin packed with dolls with back combed hair which I love being the child who chewed the toes of her Sindy doll and actually bit off her little finger too (not sure why, I’m pretty sure my mum fed me).  

This track is good to my ears anyway… and the video gave me a few precious memories. I always kind of like it when a band I don’t generally like do a track I love and a band I love do a track I hate. Trip up pedestrian creativity people.

Oh and not related honest (!) but congrats to Bowie on the Mercury shortlist (or shitlist as I’ve been known to call it) May he win, win, win and may many, many more bands sound a bit like him, the inspiring genius. 

And may we also hope one day that female musicians of his age are treated with the same respect. *There goes the tumbleweed*

So from the other side Arcadian Firians? Break free and go down down down. I also like this one from MØ. It is featuring Diplo (yep him and yes I had to google) Push all that to one side and listen, her voice is brilliant and she’s completely pulling off a few fashionista’s moves with the stone wash denim and gold chains.

Do step away from the youtube comments that basically reveal a world that hates women unless they are in skin coloured bikinis twerking their arses off but also (ironically) giving us ladies a big LOL at how idiotic the menz look.

Super love for MØ on this track.

And in the next day or so I will review Bestival 2013 (toilets and all) just for you, you lucky people. X

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

What’s been going on then?

Firstly and most obviously, I've got extremely lazy about updating this blog space because *drum roll please* I've been busy writing other things including a bunch of short stories that will be all linked/themed and I will at some point do something with. Don’t even bother jumping to my other blog as it is imprisoned in neglectful cyber cobwebs.  Even my tweet stream is a ghost town lately; I couldn't even come up with anything on Peter Capaldi (other than he has brilliant eyes). 

Keep Shelly in Athens: Flyway

So I always make the vague claim this isn't a music blog…but it is most of the time. A fellow blogger recently said to me that it’s a bit strange if it takes longer to read an article on a track than it takes to listen to it, this has kind of stayed with me. So here’s a song I listened to today and liked, it reminded of the Chromatics in places. Keep Shelly in Athens have an album out ‘At Home’ September 17 and the first single, soundclouding above, is V nice in a fluffy way.

West Side Story: Sadler's Wells. (directed by Joey Mckneely)

Side stepping but still in the musical theme, I went to see West Side Story at Sadler’s Wells last week and it was fabulous darlings!  Well it was once I got over the opener reminding me of the Pink Panther theme. (Once its there in your head, it takes a while to shake it off). 

But the performance, the incredible dancing and the tragedy of it all was consuming. Penelope Armstead-Williams as ‘Anita’ stole the show for me, especially her rendition of ‘America’.  I love nothing more than an unhappy ending.  Sometimes you have to kill to make people feel, in a creative sense of course. Go, go see it if you can still get tickets.

Top of The Lake: best drama I've seen in ages and ages...

 'Top of The Lake’ was amazingness, there were so many things I liked about this drama, the women were intelligent, beautiful, crazy, vulnerable, strong, kind, mothering, sexual, addicted, young, old, naked, clothed, bitches, temptresses, androgynous, dying, mysterious,  but never defined merely by the men around them. Hooray!

The music was exquisite and the use of Bjork's ‘Joga’ at such a poignant point just made it all the more powerful along with how beautifully it was shot and how daring (but not gratuitously) it dealt with gang rape and child abuse, mob mentality and small creepy communities *shudder*. Brilliant writing from Jane Campion and Gerard Lee.

When you see good drama on that box, you want to just grab it and hold on to it and say ‘aaaargh fuck you reality television’.  However I have one thing to stamp my foot about regarding bbciplayer; you don’t give enough time to catch up! I've been recommending it all over the place and its gone already. So I suppose I'm recommending a boxette now? Here's Bjork's 'Joga' that is just gorgeous and was used so well in this...

Björk - Joga from Yose Kristian on Vimeo.

Talking of funny little communities, this time next week I will be back on the island I was born on, and making my way to Bestival. I’m going click my heels together and say ‘yes, yes I will enjoy Elton John’.  Such a gamble when you buy these tickets before the line-up is announced. Will keep you posted. If nothing else it has enabled me to invent a strange collection of steam punk pirate lady outfits and it’s my first time living in a tipi for four nights and days. This has to inspire a short story.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Sirena, Izzy Bizu and some bloke you might have heard of...

Sirena: Love is Not

So in the last couple of weeks since being bowled over by Amanda Palmer, I've watched that Taylor/Burton thing on Beeb 3 and felt like I was wading through thick soup if I'm honest. I love Helena Bonham-Carter but it wasn't doing much for me and Dominic West just kept flashbacking me to Hector in The Hour. He wasn't channelling Burton well enough. 

I accidentally watched The Kite Runner which wasn't bad *but* making note to read the book. It *tenuous link * reminded me of The Stoning of Soraya M which is a far better (but traumatic) film, not in the story so much but the structure and the patriarchal comment and how its oppressiveness affects both sexes.

Apart from that I caught a bit of Big Brother, also by accident and its still ugly television so nothing to report on that.  

So music? Sirena from Sweden. This is a great track. File it next to Wounded Rhymes basically…loved it instantaneously.

Izzy Bizu: White Tiger

Next is Izzy Bizu. I listened to this a few months ago and thought ‘wow’ but got distracted, then bumped into it again today. Her voice is effortlessly brilliant and reminded me of my (slightly insane) music teacher at school telling me the greatest musical instrument is the voice. 

At the time I sulked clutching a flute desperately. Every now and then, a voice reminds me of what she said and Izzy’s definitely does…

And talking of voices? AlunaGeorge were pretty cool before they got in the charts? Or am I just being a snob? I don’t know… but Body Music is sounding a bit tame. Resurrect Analyser  please?

I heard a joke this week and I've actually remembered it.

‘How do you drown a hipster?’ 
‘Put them in the mainstream!’

Dear George and Aluna.  Don’t bloody drown! *crosses everything*  


And in other news: The Next Day

I kind of rebelled in a childish way about the newest  Bowie album, refused to listen to it in a yeah yeah blah blah, everyone is going to love it pedestal etc ...then I did listen to it. It's very, very, very good. And I particularly love The Stars (are out tonight). When Mister Bowie sings about stars (spacey or celebrity), you can be rest assured he's going to do a good job. I adore Tilda but.... stop trying to act David, just stop it. Stick to writing and singing.

Everyone get this album. I expect you probably have though. This video is a blinder. The song is amazingness.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Amanda Palmer and The Grand Theft Orchestra: Roundhouse. July 12.

I loved this show. And I nearly didn't go, shame on me! It was fantastically eccentric and felt like so many other things outside of a standard gig being kind of vaudeville mixed with street art, cabaret, and punk… and all in Camden Town (which of course is known for its diversity). Surprisingly 'Amanda Palmer and The Grand Theft Orchestra' managed to make this show feel personal and partially political (blah blah...) culminating in a memorable event.

So her secret? She loves her fans, she appreciates them, she trusts them. Seriously, that crowd surf right around the Main Space at Roundhouse and being naked playing a keyboard with a song you wrote hours earlier in response to negative media coverage… that took some faith.

She appears pretty fearless as an artist, in creativity, in opinion and although this may get her in trouble sometimes, it gains her a crowd she can connect with on many levels. However if you watch her talks or read her blog, she shares her innermost turmoils and hangovers beyond the realm I could comfortably in real life let alone online, and this so far is the tool she uses to ensure that connection and reject distant celebrity.

The night involved an avant pop marching band, 'Perhaps Contraption' and 'Bitter Ruin' (unbelievably amazing female voice so check them out), 'Tom Milsom', 'Jherick Bischoff',  'Simple Pleasures', 'Sxip Shirey' and 'Kate Miller Heidke' (she did a song about facebook but personally I like her cover of 'The Real Slim Shady' more).  Basically, Amanda introduced and sang with everyone which just added to the personable intimacy of it all, quite something to pull off in a venue that size. Hand-picked, it seems by Amanda, whether it was a creative friend, via a tweet, or someone she met outside. Who knows? It worked in its busyness, she had many to support her… and on an equal trade as they were all worthy of the platform if you doubted  with any fleeting reservations to begin with.

She is infectious, a collision of vulnerability and strength which comes through in her music, photography and writing. I've spent the last three days sharing her infectiousness with everyone I know.

But importantly, the setlist, 'The Killing Type' sounded amazing, 'Trout Heart Replica', 'Want it Back', 'The Bed Song' mixed in with some of the older Dresden Dolls tracks and mingled with bringing in her support acts to sing with intermittently perfectly. She came on around 8.45 and went off at 11pm. At no point was anyone looking at a clock.

Kudos for her Liam Gallagher face in an anecdotal way when telling the crowd how she bumped into him and asked him to bring her a flower on stage  *but* he wasn't sure if she was taking the piss…and for keeping her promise to perform Pulp’s Common People in full after ‘doing it by accident’ at Glastonbury Festival just a fortnight ago. 

So here’s her response to The Daily Mail about her rebellious boob taking on the British sun on a stage at Glastonbury. A feminist rant can be funny and powerful ladies and gents. To be honest most of the press should take note. My only boob of the night was yelling over the music 'look out for Scroobius Pip, you can't miss him, he tweeted he was coming', not realising he was stood behind me in true pantomime fashion. (thankfully my voice is tiny) Anyway, this video contains a naked woman if you need warning...even my parents who have read the Daily Mail for at least twenty years have just cancelled it, possibly unrelated but let’s rejoice anyway!

And here’s the TED talk that fascinated me regarding the internet and music and the whole global village that I in equal measure love and hate, trust and fear,  and made me get to that gig and now I'm in love… and clutching a flower with intense eye contact. Listen. x

Stream Theatre is Evil on her website here.

Images: Melodee Writes, share away if you please, they're not as blurry as my usuals, just kind of pixely  x

Monday, 1 July 2013

Emika- DVA: album review

Dva is a beautiful thing from start to finish… the album mixes up techno, classical, trip hop, chillwave, dance, oh just about everything? In its entirety, it sounds contemporary and unique, leaving well behind any accusation of club retrospective while gathering up elements and dropping them *booooom* into a pit of post dubstep?

No, not really, what bullshit trying to define and box everything up, just listen to it and free yourself.  Ema Jolly aka Emika even covers Wicked Game *how dare she, I hear you cry* well, I love that too. So what if everyone covers it.

Starting with the orchestral Hush Interlude (feat Michaela Srumova) that jumps effortlessly to 'Young Minds', throws itself into glitchy 'She beats' and closes side A with 'Filters', it’s all so tech-pop perfect and sounds amazing on the double LP vinyl, every bit of Emika’s composing travels clearly and crisply.

Side B is my favourite so far, I actually put it on first by accident, then had to backtrack a bit to the Interlude, all part of the joy and effort of putting on a record of course, there’s sides and it’s a tactile, unrushed experience in music listening. Each and every track sends shivers up your spine. ‘After The Fall’ is so melancholically enchanting and deals with the darker sides of intimate relationships, a theme that weaved through Emika’s debut and continues to do so on this album, angst in its intensity and truly addictive listening.

'Sing To Me' asks you to do just that really (and was a great encore at her recent London gig) and then 'Dem Worlds' just takes you over a rainbow into a huge cinematic, *erm * big soundscape thing and glides effortlessly into 'Primary Colours', which as I listen to while writing, I just keep floating off so will no doubt have to re-write this…or perhaps I’ll throw caution to the wind and just leave it all dreamy to mirror the music. I just love electronic music when it starts sticking in orchestral stuff.

Side C starts with 'Sleep With My Enemies' which is just perfect and really stood out at the album promo at Birthdays a couple of weeks ago. I kind of wish I’d had a bit of time with the album before the gig but it’s great finally hearing and getting the reminder of a good night. On first hearing, this track resonated, the vocals, the layered instrumentation all melt together superbly and appropriately sinks into 'Wicked Game' and the shadowy sides of human love, lust, loss and jealousy. 'Fight For Your Love' puts you back into clubland after *predictably * losing yourself on a beach shot in black and white for the last track. I love the pop beat and her vocals in this one, it’s the lighter side Emika, versatile but still with some fight in her composure alongside a bit of dancefloor anthem.

Here she is doing 'Sleep With My Enemies' and chatting intermittently...this clip does capture her stage presence. It will feed your soul, your heart and make you feel pleasure, as she says and hopes it will herself.

Side D reverbs into 'Mouth to Mouth', and I try to avoid comparisons now, but there’s a touch of Crystal Castles in this one, a sort of come down, morning after the crazy night feel to it and as the album unfolds, you start to get the feel of a story being told, the mouth to mouth symbolising the recovery, jumping in and out of beats as if lying on a club floor battling a near death experience. And then 'Searching', a furious lament of green-eyed jealousy and stomach churning anger *bitch*. I thought this was put in for the live gig originally but obviously online versions have been softened as this track leaps with vengeful, desperate heartbreak and despair to quietly menacing fury.

'Centuries' is sublimely melodramatic and dark with an iciness that just touches base at this point in album, a detachment that’s cold and needed and vampire like in its feeding off the emotion of the previous tracks.  The operatic bit that’s in the video is missing sadly but forgivable with an album this insanely good. The album closes with 'Criminal Gift', quite a changer in a similar way to the outro of Emika's debut.

To sum up… GET THIS ALBUM.

Related Post:
Emika live at Birthdays

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Lose it in Hoxton : Austra and Kate Boy play live…

June has been a busy gig month, too many bands I wanted to see decided that it was all happening this month and in the end I scaled it down to four while keeping fingers crossed the ones I missed will turn up again later in the year, or even better at Bestival.

Following Emika’s fab show, Austra put on a performance of sound histrionics that could not disappoint, even after some reservations on my part in an initial luke warm listening experience of the new album Olympia. But and big *but* streaming first listens is never quite the same as listening to the album properly, minus annoying ads, inopportune pauses, and constant clickity of play buttons rudely interrupting a smooth and consistent appraisal of the noise you are trying to connect with. 

Having heard some of the new tracks live, they definitely did start to resonate and as I’ve said many times, instantaneous isn’t always a good thing, ‘What We Done’ and ‘Painful Like’ sounded divine, despite an overwhelming need in me to change 'done' to 'did', but importantly, I have learnt to love Olympia, particularly Annie (Oh muse, you) which I initially thought ‘what the fuckery?’ if I’m honest.  If your passion for music lies outside the charts or commercial radio, some effort brings reward. Anyway, not wishing to be so serious, basically it was a good show and a really pleasing set list that rolled back and forth from Feel it Break to Olympia with ease, beat and pulse.

The epic sound of Katie’s operatic vocals and the somewhat unusually large membership of the band (although still modest by Arcade Fire or Polyphonic Spree standards) plus the simplicity of the stage set and lighting make the whole experience a big and yet strangely understated thing…

The dynamics of the six members works like a well oiled reciprocal, call me old fashioned but I like that real band feel, looking to each other for cues and everything! It was unmistakably live, from when the lady with large spectacles *said that in QT Dimblebot fashion* drumming missed her cue (and tapped her drumsticks together to start tracks, haven’t seen that for a while), to Katie’s microphone switching off and a missed note in ‘Spellwork’, it smacked of imperfectly perfect, true bloopers bringing out the authenticity of a performance which I’m sure a lot of bands wouldn’t even risk in this day of gimmicky standardisation.

‘Lose It’ was a highlight for me, a searing lament of a pop song along with ‘Beat and the Pulse’ and ‘The Choke’, all teased into new versions for this current tour nothing short of celestially. The show opened brilliantly and continued with new tracks like ‘Reconcile’, ‘Sleep’ and ‘Forgive Me’ that reminded me of a Chromatics song in places, which was a treat, as I’d foregone a Chromatics gig a few days previously.  They went off and came back for an encore, I say ‘off’, there’s actually nowhere to go, they moved to the side, had a quick chat and a few hugs, while the audience did the old foot stamp and they sidled demurely back, throwing themselves in ‘Spellwork’ and ending with ‘Hurt Me Now’.

The main backing singers provided by the sisters Tasseomancy really weaved the spell of Austra together and were given quite a moment to front in ‘Lose It’ as Katie sat down to sing. I felt they, as an indie pagan folk duo probably had a bit more input into Olympia this time around which could be why the doom laden electronic die hards from Feel it Break times may need to readjust their ears a little? There does seem something a little lighter and confident with this new release, more shadowy than dark perhaps. They all seem to have an equal presence as part of Austra’s identity despite the signature of Katie Stelmanis’ vocal power.

I would say that bands doing album promo gigs on the day they release is a tricky one for me though as it doesn’t give you much time to listen, I felt this with Emika too, release and give it a fortnight? Give us time to react and know what we’re hearing. Maybe that’s just me?

Austra are playing at KOKO in November so do get along if you are so inclined, you won’t be disappointed.

*photographs are mine*

And now for Kate Boy…

Just 48 hours later, I was back at the same venue, which is a pretty cool one to be honest, small but of note, however, on this particular night, it could have done with some air conditioning, highlighted by Kate (who’s Australian) saying it was too hot.

It did feel like trying to listen to icy Nordic electro, (the rest of Kate Boy are Swedish and it certainly trades on that) in the subtropics. This culminated in a weird mash up of heat colliding with icy sound and people fanning one another while sipping beer from plastic glasses. I love London.

I enjoyed this gig despite the closeness, which is quite a lot as I suffer heat in a generally irritable way. I have to say Hoxton Square Bar and Kitchen (they could drop that kitchen bit really) is uber friendly and you forgive it most things.

Now this gig was a little more gimmicky. There were bleepy machine things that probably weren’t doing much and even though the drummers did a ‘drum test’, I suspect there was some unlive jiggery-pokey going on in places. The laser show was probably a bit much for a teeny tiny sized room about the size of a school assembly hall but it all looked very impressive as the band emerged dressed in a baseball cap and erm bondage overalls (?) I liked the effect of the androgynous blend. 

Most importantly, Kate Akhurst was singing live. I will forgive all manner of rigged up machinery and pretence so long as someone is singing, properly, and people leaving were smitten with the performance. The six songs all sounded good with ‘In Your Eyes’ and ‘Northern Lights’ stealing the show. I liked it and I want to see Kate Boy again once an album is out and they have more material. I said at the latter end of 2012 Kate Boy were ones to watch and this gig has re-affirmed that.

And digressing a little, I noted the feminist leanings of some of the lyrics at Austra and the androgyny  of  Kate Boy  and was reminded of a post I wrote about women in electronic music a few months back What's with all the theatrics in female electronica lately?, it is focussed more on Planningtorock and Gazelle Twin but is kind of relevant...

Kate Boy spoke recently about the conscious decision to blend the band here and stand as a collective. It seems women and bands are now stealing the shows with good music and imagery that confronts the pitfalls of being a female front woman defined by 'looks' first and 'music' second, or any one member getting all the attention. Not an easy task.

My next stop at gig central is Ssion (said ‘shun’ apparently) with Twat Boutique (try saying that with a straight face) in the line up. I’m sooo excited…


Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Emika – live at Birthdays, London.

Dva is out now and every song has been to my liking so far. After seeing her live last night, I know this will be an ongoing love affair. For such haunting and intense music, her performance is surprisingly warm, although this was a venue with a stage about the size of my sitting room (that even she commented on as tiny half way through her set); it was hard to not feel it was an intimate gig. 

Her performance was full of energy from start to finish and she mingled in with her fans before and after the show to sign copies of Dva after injecting some humour into the proceedings when technical hitches threatened to scupper the beginning of the set.

There was of course a lot of backing as she’d have to be an octopus to play it all herself, but vocally it was live and tracks had been tweaked slightly for the show which I also like to hear. Favourites for me were ‘Searching’ (slightly edged up the jealousy theme with the uncensored ‘ shhhhush bitch look into my eyes’), ‘Drop The Other’ and ‘Centuries’ (minus the operatic interlude but that probably is too much to ask) And I loved the way she messed about with 'She Beats', teasing the crowd with slowing and speeding it up in a kind of mischievous 'I'm doing all this with a button' honesty.

I do wish she’d played a few more from her debut, particularly ‘Common Exchange’ which is my fave orProfessional Loving’…but you can’t have everything. Overall, it was a great gig and my only slight criticism is that her encore was a song she’d already done, not that ‘Sing to Me’ isn’t a great track to finish with…but she had already done it early on in the gig? Anyway, enjoy some blurry pics with me, it was so dark and she didn't keep still for long enough...

This is the new video for ‘Centuries’; it’s Emika baring her soul through dream-like nightmarish sequences, quite literally; vajazzled and eating her own eyelashes (ick)…but all in the best possible taste of course. I love the melodrama of the operatic part; in fact I love all of it. 

The claustrophobic and spiralling emotions of her songs and videos (made with Berlin based filmmaker Matt Lambert) sort of contradict the very smiley, high-energy show she puts on where she just looks like she’s having a ball, particularly when she poured water over her head before the encore and said ‘I’ve always wanted to do that’ and ended the gig with ‘I’ll be signing my album if you want to say hi or cuddle me later’. 

She is fab and here’s hoping she gets a bigger venue sometime soon, she’s more than worthy of it…