Friday, 11 January 2013

David Bowie: What We Can Expect From 'The Next Day'


Bowie's back and its excellent. His new song, 'Where Are We Now?' was released on his 66th Birthday and the video features himself and a woman in 'face in a hole' puppets in front of a black and white video montage of Berlin, a place where he spent a large amount of time making music, and an even larger amount of time taking cocaine and hanging out with Iggy Pop.
With the new album, 'The Next Day', due to be released in March, featuring a cover that can only be described as a very 'Bowie' take on the previous album cover of 'Heroes', it might be quite fun, though ultimately pointless, to have a quick guess as to what it will almost definitely sound like. All we have to go on, at the moment, are song titles.
The album is said to have been produced by Brian Cox-Eno, an artificially engineered part human part robot who only speaks the language of 'Synth', in a very purposeful, very slow Mancunian accent. Recording took place in the very small, one bedroom Spaceship Studio anchored to the International Space Station and there was said to have been a strict daily routine of listening to Roxy Music and watching Wonders of the Universe each morning before recording began.
Opener 'The Next Day' is an instrumental number with the only discernible sound being the harsh croaking of a set of Space Iguanas, obtained while Cox-Eno was on a family skiing holiday on Mars. An as-of-yet secret method of producing noise from a Space Iguana has been celebrated as a highly innovative musical breakthrough and Cox-Eno is said to be contemplating a full length concept album with the Iguana Chorus.
'Dirty Boys' tells the true story of the time the water went off in the spaceship studio and Bowie and Cox-Eno resorted to washing their clothes in the wind, to mixed results.
'The Stars (Are Out Tonight)' is a wistful, romantic ballad with Cox-Eno featuring heavily in the video. The song is said to an ode to the 'billions and billions' of stars and a sentimental thought to the fragility of human life and aesthetic beauty reflected in the solar system.
'Love is Lost' is a short, witty song that tells the story of the time Bowie and Cox-Eno lost their space dog, 'Love', on Mars during an expedition in search for life. The dog ran away and the pair spent hours chasing after him in a rather slapstick pursuit. According to onlookers, the sight of Bowie running around on Mars shouting 'Love?' was so Earth-shattering, it nearly shattered Earth.
There was, famously, only enough room for a bunk bed on board the Spaceship Studio. 'I'd Rather Be High', is an autobiographical song featuring both Bowie and Cox-Eno on vocals. A whimsical duet, the song is the story of the discussion which took place about sleeping arrangements while on the Spaceship Studio. It is also said to be a sentimental thought to the fragility of human life and aesthetic beauty reflected in the solar system.
The pair were isolated from Earth for a long time and as it may be expected, given such close proximity, there were the occasional fall outs. 'Boss of Me' is an angry song, in the style of Carly Simon's 'You're so Vain' and tells of a series of arguments over the direction of the album.
Bowie was said to be increasingly frustrated with the control Cox-Eno was having over Bowie's music. Thankfully, they became friends again, and that is where 'Dancing Out in Space', a saxophone-infused sentimental thought to the fragility of human life and aesthetic beauty reflected in the solar system, came from.
Only time will tell what exactly the new David Bowie album will sound like, but I think it's safe to say it will probably sound almost exactly like I've just described.

Faux-Folk: What is it so smug about?


Just recently I came across this video. There wasn't any sound so all I could see was a handful of people wandering round what seemed like an old wooden house with a group of people that looked as though they were having an excellent time (apparently without the need for drugs, alcohol or even 1950s Beat literature!).
What was disconcerting about this video however was that having fun didn't appear to be enough for them, they had that look on their faces that seemed to say: 'We're definitely having more fun than you. Look, look at how much fun we're having - I bet you're not having this much fun'.
I certainly thought they were having fun, so I watched the video properly, with sound this time, and realised it was that song: apparently very little to get very excited about. It's been out a while - I mean, technically there's nothing wrong with it, it is fine and just about carries a verse and chorus, but certainly not enough to get all self-righteous about.
It's the sheer smugness of it that riles me - it's even got a smug title: 'Ho Hey', by The Lumineers (named after a form of dental treatment) seems to follow in the line of other yawn-classics such as 'Hey Soul Sister' (oh Train, how far you've come since 'Drops of Jupiter') and 'Hey There Delilah' by the equally dull sounding 'Plain White T's', proving these days, if you really want to write a song to bore someone to the point of them leaving you permanently, throw a 'ho' or a 'hey' into it and watch them quickly retune onto something less mundane.
I understand that music can be happy, doesn't have to change the world and can just be, well,nice; but songs that are successful in doing so tend to know exactly what their purpose is, and don't try and pretend they are part of some kind of social revolution. 'Hey Ho''s pied-piper style video goes one step further, trying to preach to us about their perfect vision of the world (presumably one where The Lumineers plays on repeat) combined with their correct form of escapism, emancipation from the bitter 9-5 work day, troubles of finding a car parking space on a particularly busy high street or trying to soften that awful blow when you discover they've run out of Hoisin Duck Wraps in Tesco. But it shouldn't take a video to do it; for fear of sounding like a Gallagher, it should be the music that does it. Man.
The truth is, you've probably heard this song off that Eon advert. And to tell the truth, The Lumineers' would have probably done better to have just used the advert as their video as the Eon version has a better storyline. And they're an electricity company, supposed to be as soulless as a man with no feet. The video, which revolves around a family making various cups of tea for each other does include a slightly smug man, but at least he's contributed something to his family, in cups of tea; all that bloke from The Lumineers has done is knock a basket of flowers off a cupboard, make everyone dress up as if they were some form of Amish paradise, destroy light bulbs (perhaps a nod to the Amish motif?) and frog march them to their own open mic night seemingly lit by a collection of tiles from the new Windows phone; a form of smarmy totalitarianism.
Louis Armstrong has been credited with the phrase: "There are only two types of music, good music and bad music" and while it would be rather nihilistic and arrogant, not to mention my lack of mandate or qualification, to make these decisions it just seems bands like The Lumineers, who, from New Jersey (Bruce Springsteen territory) should know better than to hijack the acoustic guitar to apparently cash in on the euphoria experience and that ultimate 'friendship moment' at the end of a night out.
The Lumineers are by no means the only band guilty of this, and there is a lot worse music out there, but at least it knows it.
And I bet he's probably that guy who plays Wonderwall on guitar at parties. Parties he probably throws himself, and probably forces everyone in the local area to attend.

2013: The Year of Peace

It's been a long time coming. At times it looked like it would never arrive. It seemed like it didn't matter how much it was desired, by how ever many people, we were all going to simply put up with it. However, the time seems to have come. At last, 2013 seems like the year we finally get Peace.
Forming in late 2011, one EP, two singles and many self-curated club nights later Peace are on course to be Birmingham's most substantial musical offering since the New Romantic days of Duran Duran and the Paranoid nights of Black Sabbath. Psychedelic guitar lines, catchy pop choruses and not sounding dissimilar to pop-mentors 'Mystery Jets' have helped this band remain both cool and, increasingly, critically successful. Bands have often found it hard to tread the thin line between being seen as 'selling out' and actually being able to afford lunch, but, so far, Peace have been managing to walk down this line with little confrontation.
It's hard being a 'cool' band these days. With the increased relevance of social media in entertainment, Twitter, Tumblr, the NME and, the ultimate authority on music these days, Fearne Cotton, are all ready to build you up and then, not so much knock you down but just become disinterested, leaving you like one of those uninhabited Spanish villas that seemed a great idea five years ago but no one wants to live in any more. Mediterranean metaphors aside, it's hard on your own; you need a 'scene'.
Enter 'B-Town'. Not, in fact, Birmingham's answer to, 'O-Town', MTV's less successful answer to N-SYNC, but the burgeoning music scene in Birmingham. Unfairly maligned for the past few years, B-Town is hoping to shake off the social shackles of Birmingham being often famous for little more than the Spaghetti Junction, Chris Tarrant and an accent that can make some locals sound more unfortunate than something very unfortunate, and help transform the West Midlands into a cultural metropolis. Sort of.
Peace, who claim their music 'makes you want to shake and makes you want to cry' (presumably both in good ways), are leading an army of Brummie bands all set to receive increased exposure in the coming months. From bands like Swim Deep and Jaws to other bands that don't necessarily harbour watery references, a 'scene' allows multiple bands to be put under the spotlight at one time, relaxing the strain on individual bands, ultimately allowing extra time for bands to develop, consolidate and release music in their own time, without the fear of suddenly becoming irrelevant or, something that is often more frequently fatal to a band, being hyped so hard that a band implodes through a hugely successful single and being cast off as a 'one hit wonder' or producing what is, by the label's inflated predictions, an under selling album.
It is vital to give bands time and space to grow and develop. It is important to remember that bands may not get it right first time; casing point being Blur, who's first album, clearly a rushed attempt at cashing in on current baggy musical trends, was hardly a classic and probably would result in them not be offered a second album these days (and where would we be without Parklife and celebrity cheese?). Music 'scenes' have been crucial in the development of British music. From Madchester to Brit Pop, once Camden now Digbeth, scenes encourage music companies to pay attention to a concentrated selection of bands, either by genre or geography, and with a bit of luck, may well just start to shift the plethora of wholly dispensable pop music roughly served up and force fed to the general public.
So Peace, after signing with Columbia early this year and subsequently making their label place a huge 'WHAT THE FCK BIRMINGHAM' poster in Birmingham, are due to release new single, 'Wraith', officially in January, with the video currently circulating on YouTube. And it's good, very good. With Peace set to do the rounds opening the NME Awards Tour, there's a big chance we could all be seeing a lot more of them in the coming months. Ultimately it's Fearne Cotton's decision how 'cool' they may well turn out to be, but here's hoping that they manage to hold on to their own future and help 'B-Town' help Birmingham produce the pop stars it deserves.
I wish you a very happy and, well, Peaceful New Year.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Django Django - Album of the Year

Django Django - Album of the Year


Forming at Art College in Edinburgh, you’d be forgiven for writing Django Django off as another electro-indie clich├ę. While they may be admired by graphic designers and unnecessarily bespeckled teenagers nationwide, they bring a unique combination of critically acclaimed pop music, with more progressive electronic influences. It is great pop music; if we lived in a less of a fickle and feckless world cult-hit ‘Default’ would have almost definitely been number one for almost literally a year. There are obvious influences from Talking Heads and The Beta Band, of which the latter share family connections, but more than a newer version of these bands, Django Django have successfully crafted a superb album, only ‘out-indied’ by Alt-J at this year’s Mercury Music Prize.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

New Order. Live at the Birmingham Ballroom. 29/04/2012


New Order. Live at the Birmingham Ballroom. 29/04/2012

With not exactly a shortage of bands reforming in the recent years you would be forgiven for thinking that recently reincarnated eighties ensemble New Order would be little more than a brief injection of euphoria for angst ridden forty-somethings desperate for that last dose of 1983. Instead, we are presented with a measured snapshot of a unique moment in British pop music history, in a fitting scenario that sees Bernard Sumner and co return to Birmingham, thirty two years after the University of Birmingham played host to the last ever Joy Division performance before singer Ian Curtis’s suicide forced Sumner to take to the microphone and lead New Order into a new era.
Considering this was clearly going to be a ‘greatest hits’ affair, any danger of passive nostalgia was quashed by an urgency to go out and enjoy the moment, both by band and fans alike. Classics such as True Faith and Temptation teased a vibrant reception as few seemed affected by the absence of founding bassist Peter Hook, currently touring the life out of the Joy Division back catalogue. Jubilation ensued at hearing debut single ‘Ceremony’ and the entire crowd, however balding, seemed to form a mutual connection for an upbeat version of Joy Division classic ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’, a rendition that seemed to complete a night of simply exceptional music.
Despite Sumner’s niggling cold, (he had a little lean up a wall during Blue Monday – which could be forgiven given its longevity), the band forged on, with unrelenting vigour, ensuring a performance that never once felt laboured and gave the crowd, not just a flash back to their heady days of ‘then’, but a fresh performance for ‘now’, certifying synth-pop’s relevance in the 21st Century.




Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires – There is a Bomb in Gilead


Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires – There is a Bomb in Gilead

In an age where genres of music can be cheaply copied, hijacked and manipulated (yes I’m looking at you Will.I.Am) it is an enormous relief to find a band who, not only know their genre, but loyally stick to it and produce a fine album that knows exactly what it wants to do, and goes off and does it.
‘Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires’, from Birmingham, Alabama, are technical masters of their art. Their art: out and out barnstorming Southern rock n roll. Sharing qualities and characteristics of every critic’s favourite new band, Alabama Shakes, whom they have also toured with, The Glory Fires are more powerful, more faithful to the southern sound of the USA and carry an unrivalled authenticity. Their debut album, ‘There is a Bomb in Gilead’ is an example of this. And it’s good too. It’s not as if you have to be devout worshipper of Americana roots music or already have a strong grasp of deep American rock music to appreciate and enjoy this little snapshot of America.
It’s a great feat to produce and album that is accessible as well as musically credible, and this is exactly what The Glory Fires have done. It would not feel out of place in a dusty hot summer in Birmingham, Alabama, nor would it be alien in a kitchen in a drizzly miserable summer in Birmingham, UK. With Bains’s distinctive smooth, soulful voice they may face a challenge to avoid becoming clich├ęd, thus preventing them from reaching a worldwide audience, through dismissal of the genre as a whole; however, Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires have made their first, distinctive step into what could be a very long and successful career.

The See See – Fountayne Mountain


The See See – Fountayne Mountain

With the British summer likely to fail us once again, we look to other methods to provide us with ‘That Summery Feeling’. ‘That-Summery-Feeling’ is, in fact, the main result of the London based band’s second album ‘Fountayne Mountain’. Packed with swirling guitars and iced with plenty of rock-organ, this album is the perfect antidote to seemingly endless poor British summers. There are distinct Beach Boys influences, particularly in their carefully crafted harmonies, but also a heavy Brit-Pop lead sound, mainly as a result of densely packed guitars and a rhythm section that lopes along merrily beside it.
‘Three More Days’ is a particular highlight, with a simple melody developing this into a perfect pop song. In fairer music world, a music world more interested in songs than Katy Perry’s latest haircut, this album would be more widely known and appreciated. Even fifteen years ago, at the height of the Brit-Pop era, this would have fitted right in. And that may be the only downfall of this album; an overreliance on sounds that have already been created, structures that have existed for a while, rather than developing their own, unique style. However, these are songs, created with precision, resulting in an album that is a pleasure to listen to. Besides, it’s the closest thing to a British Beach Boys we’re going to get – and you can’t ask for much more than that.