Saturday, May 06, 2006

WL likes...Later With Jools Holland

So, this weekend we've finally passed 40,000 hits, even if it is a weekend during which we've received some slightly more negative attention. The WL team would just like to state the post in question has been removed, simply because the comments were getting completely out of control and becoming rapidly more accusatory and personal, and that's not the point of WL. It's all about your opinion on the music, not what you think of the writer's opinion. Taken from a statement our Fish wrote:

'Correct me if I'm wrong, but if you're in a band, you tend to want to play on the good reviews and ignore the not-so-good ones, not flame the bad ones and encourage your fans to do similarly. It's completely understandable that you're an up-and-coming band, and maybe criticism isn't what you want to hear. It's not easy to make it in a band, we appreciate that. But if you're going to react in this fashion over a review from a relatively small-scale music blog, how are you going to get anywhere in the musical world?'

Can I please note Fish wrote that, and not me. Just so we've got our facts straight this time. Thanks. Otherwise...yeah - 40,000 hits. We never expected to get this far, so thanks to all our regular readers. Keep reading, keep commenting, and most importantly - everyone play nice.


New series. New column. New sense of sticking at it? Possibly not, but here are my thoughts on this week's show. Comments (of the non-abusive kind) very welcome.

Pearl Jam
I never 'got' Pearl Jam. I was once told my a friend that if you missed grunge at the height of its fame then you sort of missed the point. To be honest, this lack of interest for Pearl Jam or any of their contemporaries (excluding the odd Nirvana song) meant I didn't really pay much attention and so was a bit guilty of channel flicking onto E4 where I saw The Pipettes dancing about, singing fun pop songs and looking like they were having the time of their lives. Such a dedicated music journalist am I.

Corinne Bailey Rae
Hailed as the new female solo star of 2006 by many, Corinne's album failed to make any sort of impression on me. Her voice is truly gorgeous - there's no doubting that - but the music just doesn't live up to it, often sounding dull and lifeless in comparison. 'Like A Star' was beautiful when she made her TV debut last year with just a voice and an acoustic guitar, but not even her hit single, 'Put Your Records On', managed to live up to that captivating performance.

Jenny Lewis with The Watson Twins
My performance of the night easily belonged to these lovely ladies. Jenny is easily one of my favourite singers of all time, and she proved this last night, with her vocals (along with the beautiful harmonies provided by The Watson Twins) being absolutely flawless. 'Run Devil Run' is one of those a cappella intros that leaves you with a lump in your throat and a feeling of 'wow!' in your head. 'Big Guns', was the first of Jenny's solo material I really fell in love with and was an excellent choice of performance, even if it wasn't quite as good here as on record, due to the lack of percussion - the bit halfway through when the bass drum kicks in is sublime. Still, as Jenny was limited to one performance and no interview time (the least featured artist on the show) we felt a little bit...snubbed. Hopefully, like Corinne last year, this will provide some recognition and hype for her own work. And, for those who watched this performance and loved it, or those who missed it and want to experience the magic for themselves, here is a similar session recording from KCRW.
mp3 - Jenny Lewis with The Watson Twins - Run Devil Run/Big Guns (Live on KCRW)

Jamie Foxx
Mr Foxx has that intolerably smug near-arrogance that is typical of a few sorts of people when they're interviewed on a British TV show. These people are notably males, americans and R&B stars. Jamie is all three. It rendered his performance completely unappealing to me. Why not have Jenny Lewis at the piano instead? Far more interesting.

The Spinto Band
I was really interested in the Spinto Band because I've heard more about them than I have of the band themselves. I have (and really like) their single 'Direct To Helmet', but unfortunately they didn't opt for this, instead opting for two weaker tracks, the first of which involved kazoos. Now, I'm a big fan of the kazoo. I believe it has its place in music, and can sound good in some select situations. Unfortunately this was not one of these situations. The sound that came out of the band (which had more members than I could count) was surprising limp and minimalist considering their number. They're not living up to the hype for me, I'm afraid.

The Zutons
I really wanted to say The Zutons were fantastic. Well, 'Valerie' was great (and is the band's brilliant next single) and the mesmerising bass playing (as Jools noted, twice) was fascinating to watch and listen to. However, 'Why Won't You Give me Your Love?' showed up even more cracks than its fundamentally flawed chorus by descending into a badly mixed bit (more the soundman than the band's fault, maybe?) featuring odd atonal notes, the rest of the band's backing vocals low in the mix and David McCabe's straining vocals nearly making my throat sore.

Next week features Richard Ashcroft and We Are Scientists.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Hannah's Single of the Week (01/05/06)

Apart from being something of a monumental re-release week (Kubb, Sigur Ros, We Are Scientists) it's also a fairly good week for singles from emerging bands. Captain release 'Broke', Forward Russia! release 'Nine' and Panic! At The Disco follow-up their hit single 'I Write Sins Not Tragedies' with another long-titled tune - 'But It's Better If You Do'. Also, for the sheer sake of it (and if I featured it in a videowatch you'd think I'd gone mad) please go and watch the hilariously awful video for 'Somebody's Watching Me' by Beatfreakz. It's a cheesy dance video/Thriller rip-off being taken to a whole new tragically corny level. Great for a laugh.

Special Mentions:
Red Hot Chili Peppers - Dani California (official site and video)
There isn't much of a point in reviewing this, is there? If you've got radio or digital TV it's been pretty much impossible to avoid 'Dani California' by Red Hot Chili Peppers. The band's huge crossover appeal lets them get everywhere, and get everywhere they most certainly do. Hey, and you know what happens when I song is practically unavoidable? You get sick of it pretty quickly. As catchy and radio-friendly as it is, there's nothing particularly special about it and, as Lewis said, it sounds like an amalgamation of several of their previous hits.

Jenny Lewis - You Are What You Love (official site)
So...from major overexposure to very little exposure at all. You have to be looking pretty hard to catch Jenny Lewis. After a small tour of the UK and cropping up on the odd late night radio show, the Rilo Kiley vocalist doesn't even appear to have made a video for this second single from 'Rabbit Fur Coat'. She is, however, cropping up on Later With Jools Holland this Friday, so keep a look out for that. Hopefully she'll be performing this gorgeous single, showcasing her marvellous country-tinged vocals and the lush harmonies provided by The Watson Twins.

Re-release extreme appreciation mania:
Sigur Ros - Hoppipolla (official site and video)
Now better known as the music (and a perfect choice, if I do say so myself) for the BBC's highly successful 'Planet Earth' series, 'Hoppipolla' has gained more exposure in those few weeks than prior to its original release. In fact, the song (originally charting at 35) re-entered the chart 17 weeks later on download sales alone and lingered around the lower reaches of the chart for nearly a month. It will be very interesting to see just how well the re-release of this beautiful song does. Oh, and I'm loving the gorgeous artwork, too.

We Are Scientists - Nobody Move Nobody Get Hurt (official site- includes video and very funny band blog)
Charting at 56 in the summer of 2005, 'Nobody Move...' was followed by two top 40 hits. It was pretty inevitable that the record company were going to attempt to release it again and, from what I've seen, things are looking up. Despite the album never making much of a chart impact, it's been getting a discounted price and a lot of advertising on TV (in a similar fashion to Editors earlier in the year) and the video's been lodged in the top 10 of mtv2's NME chart for some time, even making the summit. I guess it's the appeal of seeing a skinny indie band being chased down the street by a man in a bear costume, eh?

Single of the Week:
Feeder - Lost And Found (official site - includes video)
It's by no means the best single Feeder have ever done. In fact, it's far from it. However, the fact Feeder have released 'Lost And Found' to coincide with their singles collection is something to be celebrated, simply because it's a wonderful change and shows there's life in them yet. Consider this - so many recent Feeder singles (in fact, nearly every single from 2003 onwards) have been slow indie ballads sounding even more like Coldplay with every release. This isn't necessarily always a bad thing, but Feeder are capable of rocking, powerchord-heavy, rifftastic songs like 'Lost and Found', and it's nice to hear one of them on the Radio 1 playlist. I certainly won't be confusing this with the latest Athlete release!

All Releases: (ones I've heard in bold)
Adam Green – Nat King Cole, Beatfreakz – Somebody’s Watching Me, Big Brovaz – Hangin’ Around, Brigade – Magneto, Captain – Broke, Feeder – Lost And Found, Forward Russia – Nine, Gentleman – Superior, Ghostly Man – Capital / Advice From Strangers, Goldfrapp – Fly Me Away, Grasp – Breaking Down The Walls, Hot Puppies - The Girl Who Was Too Beautiful, Howling Bells - Blessed Night, Hugh Trowsers Band – Living The Dream, Ivories – Heartstrings, Jenny Lewis – You Are What You Love, Jessica Moon – Eyes On You, Jim Noir – My Patch, Joseph Arthur – Can’t Exist, Junkbox – Guru (EP), Justice – Waters Of Nazareth, Kubb – Remain, Laura Michelle Kelly - There Was A Time, Michael Jackson – Remember The Time, Mocky – Fightin’ Away The Tears, Panic! At The Disco - But It's Better If You Do, Rattlesnake Remedy – Drag You Down, Red Hot Chili Peppers – Dani California, Shack – Tie Me Down (7”), Shane – The Weight Of This / I Am The Man, Sigur Ros – Hoppipolla, Soul Avengerz – Sing (EP), Southside Hustlers – Right Before My Eyes, T Pain – I’m Sprung, This Is Seb Clarke – Fall, Tim McGraw – When The Stars Go Blue, We Are Scientists – Nobody Move Nobody Gets Hurt

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Lewis's Single to Avoid (01/05/06)

Red Hot Chili Peppers - 'Dani California'
It was always going to happen one day. After 22 years and 8 albums, the Red Hot Chili Peppers have finally become a parody of themselves. This sounds like everything they've ever done mixed into one pedestrian, radio-friendly release. There's even an obligatory reference to California - within the dreadful title, as I'm sure you've noticed by now. The rest of the lyrics trawl the tale of this tawdry hooker around the rest of the states, with Anthony Kiedis grunting 'California, rest in peace / Simultaneous release' in the distinctly unassuming chorus. The boys really should realise that they're not sex gods anymore. They're old men. And, after those long 22 years, it might finally be time for the Red Hot Chili Peppers to indeed rest in peace.

Monday, May 01, 2006

WL Live - Kaiser Chiefs/Graham Coxon/Polysics - NIA, Birmingham

Kaiser Chiefs are a band that probably need no introduction, but I'll do one anyway. After the top 30 success of 'I Predict A Riot' in late 2004 they dominated all the 'bands to watch' lists at the start of 2005. And, soon enough, they were easily one of the biggest bands of the year selling shedloads of albums and having several hit singles. However, for everyone that likes the Kaiser Chiefs, there's probably another person that doesn't. It's true - they're hardly the most original band on the planet, play fairly simple music that's been ridiculously overplayed on TV and radio and base most of their songs around 'ohohohoh' or 'na na na na'. Mind you, as I found on Wednesday night, this sort of stuff can translate really well to a live performance and with that and frontman Ricky's relentless energy the Chiefs' biggest tour yet generates a great crowd response.

PolysicsOpening for the Kaiser Chiefs were a band from Japan. Polysics fuse punk, J-pop, new wave and noise music. They also wear red jumpsuits and did a rather nice remix of Bloc Party's 'Luno'. That was pretty much all I knew of them before I saw them for myself. My verdict? Scary. Not scary in a creepy, horror movies way but more out of disbelief for something so completely and utterly bizarre! Being the Britpop devotee that I am, I'd never experienced anything remotely like J-Pop first hand...before now. The Polysics set came across like a twisted Japanese electro version of one of the stage shows at Disneyland. In fact, it summed up my idea of Japanese music - very cartoon-like, zany high-pitched vocals and music being an aural equivalent of an epileptic fit. I couldn't deny their energy (starjumps across the stage, anybody?) or their performance, but I found it all a little too much.

Graham CoxonI sense some irony here. Kaiser Chiefs have oftened been dubbed a Blur rip-off, and yet here is Blur's ex-guitarist, Graham Coxon, writer of my favourite Blur song of all time ('Coffee and TV') being the band's main support. Stuck in the seating of the arena I wondered just how many of the audience realised just how many iconic riffs ('Parklife', 'Song 2' et al) had been performed by the awkward, unlikely frontman now gracing the stage. I say 'awkward' not because Graham doesn't know what he's doing (he does, and he's a fantastic guitarist) but because of the fact he's a shy-looking bespecled man looking and sounding like a teenager despite being in his mid-thirties. Performing a set largely comprised of blistering, snarling punk there was no time to showcase Graham's softer side as he picked out the fastest, brattiest songs from his new album, as well as the singles from 'Happiness In Magazines'. The highlights of the set were 'Bittersweet Bundle Of Misery' and forthcoming single 'You and I'. It was clear from the way they came across live that both songs are easily the best things he's done in his solo career. Even my brother (who rarely likes anything I do) said of the latter: 'What's the song called? It was pretty good!' As for Graham - he seemed to be thoroughly enjoying himself, leaping around like a lunatic, kicking his legs, rolling on the floor and generally enjoying playing his music to a large audience. He reckoned we were 'one of the best' he'd had, although I wasn't so sure. He was great, but I'd definitely opt to see him as a headliner in a smaller venue next time!

I love this shoot!  Kaiser Chiefs - L to R:  Whitey, Ricky, Simon, Peanut and Nick

Now for the stars of the night. They opened with 'Everyday I Love You Less and Less' partly whilst concealed behind a giant red curtain, accompanied flashes of bright light co-ordinated with the pulsating intro. Curtain down - cue big cheers all round. Then seconds later - cue disappointment from me - there were no video screens, at all. In fact, for an arena gig, there wasn't much of an elaborate set-up, just a multi-tiered stage so you could see all the band.

However, as the gig progressed it became obvious that even though the band seemed to be blurry figures in the distance, it wasn't going to have any detrimental effect on the gig itself. Just like when they went down a storm at the festivals, the Kaiser Chiefs dominate an arena setting with ease.

All the hits (and album tracks) present and correct, the set is consistent with many of the songs sounding far better live than they do on record. Sure, the musical cliches are still there, but when performed live, complete with audience participation, there is a whole new dimension to songs that previously didn't move me and, um...weren't the kind of thing that I liked. Heh.

So it's not exactly surprising when only a few songs in, and frontman Ricky Wilson claims to be 'throwing a spanner in the works' by performing a new song, it doesn't turn out like that. In fact, this new one was just as good as the rest of the set even on the first time of listening. I'm looking forward to hearing it on the next album.

Alongside the relentlessly energetic Mr Wilson (who was constantly moving, covering the entire stage several times over - why isn't he stick thin?) are the rest of the band. On the lower right, with legs like springs, is bassist Simon who proceeded to bounce around for most of the night. On the lower left is Whitey, the band's guitarist who remained static for most of the night while somebody conveniently forgot to light him up. Insanely popular drummer (and chief songwriter) Nick and hat-wearing keyboardist Peanut are both on platforms towards the centre of the stage.
My main reason to praise the Chiefs for giving me such a great evening was that in a live setting they turn what are merely good tunes into proper anthems - the biggest anthem of all being, of course, 'I Predict A Riot'. An anthem we enjoyed so much that, when it came to the end of the song we didn't notice Ricky was, um...missing.

Of course, he re-emerged...standing on a platform next to the mixing desk right in the middle of the crowd. Very, very exciting, especially for our friend Hannah (yes, another one, not myself), who managed to find herself right in front of the Chief Kaiser himself. From his central position Ricky led the crowd in a wonderful rendition of one of my favourite album tracks - 'Caroline, Yes' - and engaged everybody in a lot of mexican waving, saying how much he'd loved it when we'd been doing it in the interval to keep ourselves amused.

Finishing, in typical Kaiser Chiefs fashion, with a very much extended version of their no. 6 hit 'Oh My God' the band left me feeling utterly fantastic and, well...something of a fan. Pretty good for a band I'm largely indifferent about, eh?

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Hannah's Single of the Week (24/04/06)

I completely apologise for the lack of regular posts last week. I also hope Lewis's rant made up for it! We were both VERY busy, and, if you're curious, my pick of the week was easily 'Yeah Yeah Yeah Song' by The Flaming Lips. Anyway, it's all back to normal this week, and what an exciting week it is. The Arctic Monkeys release an EP which might not be (well, at the last time of checking it wasn't) chart eligible, and NME favourites The Raconteurs and Dirty Pretty Things finally give their music a full release after months and months of hype. What's slightly less exciting is the fact there seems to be a recurring colour when it comes to cover artwork - muddy grey. Lovely.

Special Mentions:
Snow Patrol You’re All I Have (official site - includes videolink)
Ah, Snow Patrol. An example of a band who show that one song can change everything. 'Run' appeared almost out of nowhere to become a stadium anthem. The band's third album, 'Final Straw', went platinum, multiple times. But 'Run', bizarrely, is still the band's only top 20 single. So now we have 'You're All I Have' the lead single from 'Eyes Open', ready to cement Snow Patrol's reputation as one of the leading indie bands in the UK. Now, our Lewis may not like them, but I do. The problem here is that while the song begins promisingly with a jingly intro and surges into addictive 'ooohs' and Gary's vocals ring out over the guitars there is one things that annoys me about Snow Patrol. It's not the lyrics (I don't mind them at all) and the melody (that's all good) or the lead guitar line - it's the rhythm guitar chugging away in the background. It's a straight quaver rhythm, the same as 'Chocolate' and also the same as too many other songs by the Patrol. It's there all the way through. For me it sticks out like a sore thumb and puts a dampener on what could be a truly excellent track.
(Also, guys? If your video description says you filmed it whilst performing on a platform 120ft in the air - why not show this in the video itself?)

Dirty Pretty ThingsBang Bang You’re Dead (official site)
So, as the Pete Doherty saga gets a little tired (Pete found with drugs/Pete arrested/Pete standing trial and is let off - the story never really changes, does it?) the lesser-spotted Libertine steps into the spotlight with his 'new' band. This introductory single, 'Bang Bang You're Dead' certainly sounds like The Libertines. Lyrically, the chorus ends up sounding a little childish (the main lyric being 'bang bang, you're dead - it's hard not to) but fortunately it doesn't fall down where many of Babyshambles' singles did. The music is punchy, catchy and exhibits a charming singsong quality and chord progression that allows it to sound suspiciously like Brendan Benson's 'What I'm Lookin' For'. Speaking of Brendan Benson...

Singles of the Week:
The RaconteursSteady As She Goes (the band's fantastic official site - includes video)
Right from when the idea was first announced, I was very excited about 'Jack White's side-project', The Raconteurs. I'm a big Brendan Benson fan (and also quite like the White Stripes) so it was something of a dream collaboration for me. Thankfully, the music lives up to the hype. However, this track has been on heavy rotation of Xfm (my radio station of choice when it comes to waking up in the morning) since what feels like the dawn of time. In truth it's only since the inital 7" pressing was put out as a very limited release back at the end of January, but when a song has been played so often (take Kaiser Chiefs' 'I Predict A Riot', for example) something that you initially love can quickly become the most irritating thing in the universe. However, I've found it impossible to get sick of 'Steady As She Goes'. Whether it's Jack and Brendan's duelling vocals, the choppy stabs of rhythm guitar or the psychotic cows in the song's video - there's still something that gets me every time.

The Boy Least Likely To - Be Gentle With Me (official site - video in 'videos' section)
The first I heard of The Boy Least Likely To was the high praise they got from our very own Lewis as he named their album one of his favourites of 2005. The second? The fact they were James Blunt's support act as he took on the States. Still, considering he's the hottest British name out there right now, it was an excellent move on their part. It also delayed this single's release by a couple of months, but hey - it's completely worth the wait. Coupled with an excellent video (reviewed on my last videowatch) this brilliant xylophone-led piece of indiepop is delightfully cute and summery. It's one of those tracks that's perfect to listen to while sitting on a grassy field, basking in the sunlight. The lyrics are adorable, the guitars jangly and the vocals sweet and vulnerable. Gorgeous.

All Releases:
General singles:
The Boy Least Likely To - Be Gentle With Me, Brian Kennedy – Every Song Is A Song For Love, Chicane feat Tom Jones – Stoned In Love, Chris Brown - Yo (Excuse Me Miss), Copyright feat Song Williamson – He Is, Demeter – Addict, Director – Reconnect, Dirty Pretty Things – Bang Bang You’re Dead, Druw & Perez feat Don E – Bonafide, Elin Ruth – When It Comes To You, Flies - Temptress, Giant Drag – This Isn’t It, HIM - Killing Loneliness, Killa Kela – Secrets, King Biscuit Time – Kwang Chow, Lynden David Hall – Day Off / Stay Faithful, Matt Costa – Cold December, Michael Jackson – Black Or White, NFD - Light My Way, Nina Simone vs Groovefinder – Ain’t Got No/I Got Life, Notorious BIG – Spit Your Game / Hold Ya Head, Primrose Hill – Shearers Magnificent 11, Raconteurs – Steady As She Goes, Ralfe Band – Women Of Japan, Silver Jews - Tennessee, Snow Patrol – You’re All I Have, Terri Walker – Alright With Me, Tiga – (Far From) Home, Ultrabeat vs Scott Brown – Elysium (I Go Crazy), Warren G feat Snoop Dogg & Ice Cube – Get U Down, Will Young – Who Am I, Wire Jesus – Intruder / Another Day

EPs/7" Only/12" only/Limited Release:
Arctic Monkeys – Who The F**k Are the Arctic Monkeys? (EP), Crazy Girl – The Rebel (12”) , Czar Creek – Get Gone, Euros Childs – Costa Rica (7”), Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan – Honey Child (7”), Jackson Analogue – West Of Here (EP) [Limited], Lily Allen – Knock ‘Em Out (limited 7”), Polysics – I My Me Mine (7”), Sol Seppy – Slo Fuzz (7”), Test Icicles – Pull The Lever (EP on 2x7”)

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Hannah's Videowatch (Volume 3)

Welcome to Volume 3 (what's this? a feature that's actually lasted more than two posts!?) of my videowatch, the feature where I pick out great videos, regardless of whether the music's any good or not. There are some really cracking videos doing the rounds at the moment. Here are a few of the best.

1) Red Hot Chili Peppers - Dani California (video)
The Red Hot Chilis are no strangers to making a great music video or indeed prancing around like idiots in order to make one. For the video for new single 'Dani California' they're doing it again, making a performance vid into something a little more by playing dress-up and imitating various bands. What's more is they do it to great comic effect. If you've ever wondered what the RHCPs would look like if they were an bespecled rock n roll band, goths, glam-rockers, camp 80s popsters or even Nirvana then this video is an absolute joy. Well, apart from Mr Kiedis in lipstick. That's just wrong.

2) Arctic Monkeys - View From The Afternoon (video)
I'm not sure if it's the intention, but this video does one thing, if nothing else. For the first time in a long while I really listened to, and appreciated, what a drummer can put into a song. A really great music video is one that makes you appreciate the music more because of it, and despite the simplicity of the Monkeys' latest output it really is astonishingly effective. That is all.

3) Jim Noir - My Patch (video - go to 'listen/watch')
Imagine you've stepped off the bus, flowers in hand, ready to meet your sweetheart, and you find the neighbourhood deserted, windows broken, and eggshells all over the pavement. Surely there's been some sort of riot? Oh, except they're giant eggshells and suddenly giant eggs are pelting you from all sides. What on earth is going on? Well, I don't want to spoil it for you but there are ever-so-slightly dodgy special effects, a fight sequence (of sorts), and a rather predictable-but-funny twist right at the end. Watch this. It's BRILLIANT.

4) Delays - Hideaway (video)
Considering their last video was the crazily trip-like accompaniment for 'Valentine', Delays have decided to do something a little more real but um...equally nonsensical with follow-up 'Hideaway'. Essentially it's some sort of modern day re-telling of Spartacus. Well, there are some secret agent types attempting to track (well, they're rather rubbish at it) a teenage lad named Spartacus, so I presume that's what it's about. There's no slave revolt or anything. However, there's lots of cruising in convertibles and standing around looking pretty with sunglasses on. Oh, and there's a random sportsbag with a mysterious glow inside. The band keep cropping up - they're clearly related to the plot in some way, but it's not entirely clear how. However, the video itself really brings across the joyously summery feel of the band's new single. Lovely.

5) Hot Chip - Boy From School (video)
This is an Art Attack. This is an Art Attack. This is...ART ATTACK!

Okay...I couldn't resist. Such a potent memory of my childhood being resurrected through the medium of music vid is just too brilliant for me not to! Kudos to Hot Chip for churning out two great, innovative videos on the trot. This latest one is essentially one marvellous big Art Attack (remember - when Neil used to cover the ground with all sorts of sand, fabrics and objects to create a huge - and often very clever - picture) with the band dressed up as caveman with buttons for nipples. Giant inflatable bananas, lots of sand and painted umbrellas are also used. The final result is rather fantastic. Of course, the joy is in working out what it's going to be!

Monday, April 24, 2006

Lewis's Single(s) to Avoid (24/04/06)

Snow Patrol - 'You're All I Have'
More standard fare from the melodic indie rock practitioners - chiming chords, slowburning vocals, lovelorn lyrics, faceless band members and so on and so forth. It sounds remarkably like the last Snow Patrol single, and the one before that, and the one before that; stretching back into the eternal mists of time. They seem incapable of writing about anything else other than relationships, an immeasurably tedious subject matter if ever there was one. I can't imagine Snow Patrol aim to categorize themselves as dull, but after four albums worth of this stuff the noose seems to be tightening.

Arctic Monkeys - 'Who The Fuck Are The Arctic Monkeys?'
I haven't heard anything from this superfluous EP - a visit to the Arctic Monkeys' "legendary" MySpace page yielded nothing, as the songs couldn't be found. Useful! They get a zero anyway, on the basis of being dreadful. Feeble tales of binge-drinking and other asinine antics are just a waste of my time, I'm afraid.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Overwhelm thyself in poesy: the 100 greatest lyrics

It has come to my attention that the esteemed television channel VH1 has just completed a survey to decide (drumroll please) The Greatest Lyric Of All Time. I first found out about this on Saturday, as graced the front cover of The Times' weekend supplement. The premise seemed typically interesting, but that was before I spotted the ominous caveat at the bottom of the page. It said "voted on by you".

You, the viewers. What's happened is that VH1 have selected 100 lyrics, leaving the massed ranks of the electorate to vote on them as they see fit. At the culmination of this laborious process, the original 100 have been whittled down to a definitive top 20. And true to form, all the old favourites are there.

The least surprising inclusion is probably John Lennon's 'Imagine'. It's the quintessential, intellectually lazy vox pop choice - a horrible playschool poem masquerading as enlightened philosophy, rather like a line of Eastenders dialogue. The fact that it was written by a fully-grown adult highlights what patronising, self-righteous crap it really is.

Some might argue that it showcases his more tender side, as opposed to the scathing wit that characterised many of his Beatles songs. It doesn't. It's more sanctimonious than one of Cromwell's speeches. Listen to it too much, and you'll soon find yourself offending dinner party guests with statements like "I always thought that Mark Chapman was a very pleasant boy".

The second most obvious choice is 'Bohemian (C)Rhapsody', which, along with Kurt Cobain's deeply asinine 'Smells Like Teen Spirit', provides the inevitable stream of bloated gibberish that is considered "poetry" these days. The majority of the population are fairly bright; in possession of an O-level or two, that sort of thing - so why is the collective mindset so staggeringly inane?

When you unpick the threads of everyone's eternal favourites, ABBA, the depth of our fixation with the vapid becomes more apparent. The general public will extract detritus from anything. And this is why ABBA are best appreciated as a shiny package. Because once you start to deconstruct them, you realise that the fragments of the songs are just twaddle that somehow synthesises into a well-written unit. That in itself is an impressive skill, but if we're taking down particulars, officer, the lyrics fall flat on their arse.

It's a bit like ABBA's native Scandinavia. On the whole it seems quite a prepossessing kind of place; all glaciers and wilderness and mystery and Santa Claus. But when you examine its characteristics, you begin to realise how torrid the place is - three hours of light a day, suicide rates that go through the ceiling, rampant alcoholism amongst the populace, and reindeer.

The common reindeer is not an attractive beast; it's quite capable of ambushing you somewhere outside Norrköping and then goring you until your intestines fall out. Rudolf may have charmed you all with his red nose and low self-esteem, but there were also eight other bastards that gave him one hell of a hard time. Thus endeth the allure of Scandinavia and all its lifeforms.

This little analogy relates perfectly to ABBA. It is best to concentrate on the glossy veneer, and not the aforementioned particulars. Because when you do, endless rhyming couplets like "Seeing me so tense / No self-confidence" become faintly embarrassing. And sooner or later you begin to wonder what the point of ABBA actually was. They deserve better, and therefore should be remembered under the safe, translucent heading of Great Pop Music. Not as exalted wordsmiths from the heavens, as the public prefer to think of them.

With heavy eyelids, I wonder whatever's left. There's songs by Coldplay and U2, two bands which appear to have merged into one another over recent years. Chris Martin's infectious immaturity combining with Bono's delusional pomposity is the production of a modern rock nightmare. As such, their lyrics have about as much edge as a vegetarian.

So, are there any worthy lyrics in VH1's top 20? Perhaps. Bob Dylan's 'Subterranean Homesick Blues' deserves automatic selection in any poll of this nature, and could almost win the thing on its own. "Johnny's in the basement, mixing up the medicine / I'm on the pavement, thinking about the government" is a line that distils the energy and excitement of Sixties society down into twenty-six frenetic syllables. The same era also produced 'Waterloo Sunset' by The Kinks, a bittersweet tale of love in the capital that is as fine a narrative as you're ever likely to find in modern pop music.

At the same time, there are below-par entries from some otherwise decent lyricists - Lennon, of course, as well as Morrissey, Bowie, and Thom Yorke. All of them are underpinned, in this case, by boring, self-regarding songs. Further proof that polls such as these have an uncanny knack of filtering a lorryload of crud from one diamond.

There are a number of difficulties present when deciding what constitutes a great lyric. When words are set to music, a good melody can do half the work, thereby compensating for any shortfalls in the quality of verse. As a result, the realm of song is frequently deceptive in terms of the literature it produces. It is necessary to study the lyrics in isolation, whilst maintaining an awareness of their context.

A good lyric reconciles a unique means of expression with the spirit in which it was produced. If it lacks either an original language pattern or an inspired context, it just doesn't work. Chris Martin might have bucketloads of white male angst, but his writing style is wholly adolescent. So his lyrics serve little purpose. Whereas Dylan, Lennon, Morrissey, Reed, Yorke, Cocker, Edwards et al were in tune with both their own capabilities and the society (read: drugs) that fired them.

But the general consensus fails to take this into account. The public will vote for whatever they like to dance to on a Friday night, or songs that exemplify nebulous concepts such as 'love' or 'happy' or 'sad'. Perhaps this is the easiest way for them to celebrate their own love of popular culture, as a simple means of cataloguing their own lives. So it looks like I'm the awkward sod, with my over-complicated, ABBA-inspired misanthropy. But don't forsake me. I'm loving angels instead.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

WL Open Blog (10/04/06)

So, here we are again. It's another WL open blog, because otherwise I'm going to struggle in finding anything particularly positive in this week's bunch of releases. Just a quick release commentary from me, first:

Coldplay have another half-decent single out, making me realise X&Y probably wasn't that bad an album after all. Piano-driven and with more music than effects, it's a reminder of the Coldplay of old. However, this means it isn't particularly exciting or new, but the video's definitely worth a watch.

Gorillaz, meanwhile, are releasing a double a-side. Neither song is particularly radio-friendly ('El Manana', in particular is an odd choice) and both challenge the public's idea of what a Gorillaz single should sound like. They're great songs in their own right, but singles? Not really.

Hard-Fi have also squeezed a fifth single from their debut. 'Better Do Better' is actually quite likeable. Slower-paced and actually sounding slightly different from the identical sounding batch of singles they've produced before - it's a welcome change, even if the song really shows up the weakness in Richard Archer's vocals.

The Crimea's brilliant 'White Russian Galaxy' is out this week, instead of last, so that's my SOTW.

And onto our open blog...
Lorraine - I Feel It (official site)
Though technically a re-release (I bought it off iTunes quite sometime ago), this song is the first most people will have heard from Lorraine. They've ditched the slightly rockier sound from their first album, The Perfect Cure, and replaced it with an exhilirating electro-pop soundscape and catchy melody that has had people comparing them to the Pet Shop Boys, amongst others. To get the most out of the song, turn it up loud and throw your arms about like in the video. If you can arrange a helicopter to fly over your head too, so much the better.
Review by Julia.

Lady Sovereign - Blah, Blah (official site and video)
With the UK urban scene currently subdivided into genres with names that suggest they were made up by Chris Morris, it has yet to produce an international star. Judging by the video, it looks like her record company are expecting big things from Lady Sovereign despite the fact her previous singles have barely made a dent on the Top 40. However, their hopes are not entirely unjustified as she has been collecting high profile admirers from the other side of the Atlantic. As well as working with the Beastie Boys and receiving support from Missy Elliott she has become the first UK act signed to Def Jam Records.

Despite this Blah Blah's lyrics are unapologetically provincial (not surprising since this is one of the first songs she wrote). It will, no doubt, further cement her role as Queen of the Chavs (as if it needed cementing after she turned up to her sister’s wedding in a white tracksuit). Since its early demo version the track has been much cleaned up by Basement Jaxx who also add a superb guitar riff to the mix.However, it’s hard to believe that it will win many converts from those who remained unimpressed by the joys of Cha Ching and Random.
Review by Woodshed, writer on our sister site We Love 1997

José González - Crosses (official site)
Just a few months ago José González was hardly known of in the UK. However, since his song ‘Heartbeats’ was re-released after being used in the Sony Bravia bouncing balls advert, he’s become one of the most popular artists of the moment.
‘Crosses’ is not as much of an immediate love as ‘Heartbeats’ was, but José’s guitar playing is as intricate and beautiful as ever, and is still without a doubt a very good song. The beauty of the song is added to with the lyrics (although they may be few) including the lines “Don't you know that I'll be around to guide you, through your weakest moments to leave them behind you”.
In a world where the charts are (usually) filled with boring, repetitive clones, José is definitely the shining star amongst them all. This song deserves to equal the success he had with ‘Heartbeats’.
Review by Kaytee.

All Releases: (ones Hannah's heard are in bold)
Akala – The Edge, Bearsuit – Stephen Fucking Spielberg, Bif Naked – Let Down, Brian Kennedy - Every Song Is A Cry For Love, Coldplay - The Hardest Part [Download Only], The Crimea - White Russian Galaxy, Death Cab For Cutie – Crooked Teeth, Discharge - Beginning Of The End, Duels – Animal, The Egg – Walking Away, The Energies – Beyond The End, Field Music – You’re Not Supposed To, Filterfunk - S.O.S. (Message In A Bottle), Frank – I’m Not Shy On Mondays, Ghostly Man - Capital/Advice From Strangers, Gorillaz – El Manana/Kids With Guns, Hard-Fi – Better Do Better, Ian Van Dahl - Movin’ On, Islands – Rough Gem, Jakokoyak - Flatyre EP, Jamie Foxx feat. Ludacris – Unpredictable, Jesse James – Everything, José González – Crosses, Lady Sovereign – Blah Blah, The Legends - Play It For Today, Leya – In Our Hands, Lorraine – I Feel It, The Maccabees – Latchmere, Mark Morrison feat. DMX - Innocent Man, Michael Jackson – Smooth Criminal, Mohair - Life, Natasha Thomas – Skin Deep, Paperlung - Days That God Sold You/A Cautionary Vision Of The Future, Radio Dept - The Worst Taste In Music, Randoms - Two Stripes Trainers, Shayne Ward – No Promises, Studio B - C’Mon Get It On, Trina feat. Kelly Rowland – Here We Go Again, Urban Myth Club – I Feel It, Whirlwind Heat - Reagan

Monday, April 10, 2006

Lewis's Single(s) to avoid (10/04/06)

God, there's some rubbish out this week. I've filtered through the dustbins of pop, but sadly I'm unable to find one particular dead dog to gorge myself on. So I present a most delightful melange of feebleness and frippery that you may consume at will. We kick off with Coldplay's 'The Hardest Part', a fairly mundane R.E.M. pastiche that rhymes 'part' with 'part' in the very first line, before dropping in 'start', 'heart' and 'apart'. Nice going, Chris. And now you've got a kid called Moses. But let us move on. Lady Sovereign's 'Blah Blah' is illiterate, style-infested spasticity, but it will probably be adored by metropolitan types who think that text-talk is the forefront of 'cutting-edge'. Then we have The Crimea's single, which isn't terrible, but is somewhat static and could have done with a little more energy. So, whatever's left? There's Gorillaz, whose 'El Mañana' drifts by without ever calling attention to itself, and Hard-Fi, who are just a deeply unpleasant band. The crowning glory of this miserable week? Shayne Ward and 'No Promises'. Dear oh dear. I think I'll go live on the moon until next Monday.