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?