Friday, 29 July 2011

25. Viva Brother - Famous First Words

This is abysmal. It makes Beady Eye sound like My Bloody Valentine. It makes me puke up the soles of my feet.

So that's the review sorted then. But then the devil on my shoulder began whispering in my ear. It's such a terrible record, it's an open goal, and many people will be saying the same thing in newspapers, magazines, websites, in tweets. Jesus, people will be stopping strangers in the street to tell them how bad this album is. So why not go the other way? Why not try to defend it? Look for a single positive and take it from there. They're just four lads, it's just an indie pop album made by not very bright people, don't let it get to you... But no, because (pomposity warning) music is important. It can be joyful, beautiful, angry, funny. It can make you think, it can make you dance like a motherfucker, cry like a drain. It can change people's lives, it might even, sometimes, occasionally save lives. In short, it's too important to let people get away with crap like this.

Think about that moment when a band goes into a studio and the tapes are still clean (it's an analogue studio), not a note recorded. Think of all the things they could put onto the tape, the instruments, the imagination they could use. The possibilities are endless. Anything can be done. And think about what has been done. To name a few: Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Jimi Hendrix, Marvin Gaye, Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, Neil Young, Patti Smith, Prince, Public Enemy, Joy Division, My Bloody Valentine, the Milltown Brothers. Of course, not everyone has the divine talent of these artists, and it would be unfair to approach every album with expectations of greatness, but everyone can try, everyone can show a tiny bit of ambition can't they? Well, apparently not. Which brings us to Viva Brother.

Imagine the dullest, ploddiest, least imaginative, stupidest of the britpop bands. Now put them in a blender. That feels good doesn't it? Really squash those bastards in there. Hang on Heavy Stereo, where the fuck do you think you're going? Get in the blender! Turn the setting to 'dismal' and plug in. Pour the sludge created into your stereo/computer/ipod. Press play. The sound coming out, that's Viva Brother. It's weedy, wet, drab, and cold. Every song is worse than Digsy's Dinner. In interviews they've claimed to have written the best songs of the last 20 years. They haven't written the best songs of the last 20 minutes.

Now for some good news. You are not the A&R person who signed this lot. Unless you are, and then I don't have the words for you. But the good news for the rest of us is that no matter how much our lives crash and burn, even if we find ourselves with liver failure, begging outside an arcade on the front at Blackpool on a freezing Friday night with drunken stags throwing cold bits of half-chewed kebab meat at our head - just remember, we didn't sign Viva Brother. WE WILL NEVER BE THE PERSON WHO SIGNED VIVA BROTHER. There will always be that.

But this will not do. This will not do at all.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

24. Katy Perry - Teenage Dream

When she sings 'melt your popsicle' she doesn't mean 'popsicle' she means 'dick'. Get over it, christians can use dirty metaphor.

Katy sometimes makes what can only be described as 'sex noises'. Get over it, christians can make sex noises.

Occasionally she sounds like a non-vocodered Cher. This is not a criticism. This observation has nothing to do with religion.

There are some really big, catchy pop songs on the album. Again, this observation has nothing to do with religion.

When she, repeatedly, sings, 'I wanna see you peacock, cock, cock, cock, I wanna see your peacock, cock, cock, cock', she doesn't mean 'peacock' at all, she just means 'cock'. She does mean she wants to see it. I've done some research and apparently christians can look at cocks, and sing about them, they just can't touch them, so she's still ok.

Shit. Oh, no. Well, the thing is, I've done some research and according to the Book of Revelations, chapter 3, verse 17, it's forbidden for christians to squirt cans of whipped cream from their tits. So, sadly, she is going to hell.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

23. King Creosote and Jon Hopkins - Diamond Mine

Just so we know who we are talking about, King Creosote is Kenny Anderson, a singer-songwriter from Fife. He has released around forty albums to date, some with record labels, many self-released, and is a founding member of the Fence Collective. Jon Hopkins is a musician and producer, more commonly associated with dance and electronica, although he has worked on many albums including Coldplay's Viva La Vida... and yeah, that's about it.

'I wanted to really make the point that this is an album that is in no rush to grab you and force traditionally structured songs up your arse' says Hopkins of this album, which immediately got me interested, although, to be fair, there is very little experimental about the record. True, the songs and performances aren't showy, everything about the record is slight, but really it is a traditional singer-songwriter album with some interesting production applied to it. Anyway, that out of the way, it is still pretty fantastic.

It begins with chitter chatter taped from a Scottish cafe before mournful piano chords ring out, which, eventually segue into John Taylor's Month Away, what you would call the first 'proper' song. But that is the wrong way to approach this record. The album is made up of tiny moments of revelation, it lulls and pulls you through from beginning to end, and to skip any tracks, any of its carefully constructed pieces ruins the flow, and with the whole album finishing in under thirty minutes, even the most high-powered, brylcreemed executive can surely spare the time? They would find their day better for it.

Anderson calls the album, 'a soundtrack to a romanticised version of a life lived in a Scottish Coastal Village' which, depending on what you want from an album, will either sound fascinating or a load of boring old bollocks. I loved it and am delighted it won a Mercury nomination.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

22. Gillian Welch - Time (The Revelator)

There has been a brief break, apologies (like you noticed). We've had builders in for three days knocking the crap out of everything. 'Can you be careful with those wires?' I asked, nodding to the wires which get me online. 'Of course mate.' An hour later said wires were disconnected and dangling, seemingly severed. Plus it's hard to listen to and concentrate on new music when Key 103 is blasting out from the kitchen and three lads are trying to harmonise along with An Eternal Flame. It was quite touching actually. But I'm glad they're gone. Oh well, to the review.

Male video director to modern female recording artist: 'You know on the line you sing 'I do what I want when I want, and it's all on my terms too'? Can you hitch your tiny skirt up just another inch and bend over a little more to really emphasise how in control you are?'

Oooohhh, the evils of the recording industry! Of course there are many female artists who won't have anything to do with the above scenario. Thank fuck. And one of those is Gillian Welch, although I am a little disappointed with the amount of ankle on display on the cover. Anyway, all primary school girls should be given a Gillian Welch album. They might hate it at the time but at least they will learn the lesson that you don't have have to wear tiny skirts show your tits and shake your ass. If you want to, if that's where your artistic ambition lies, then knock yourself out, but hopefully they may realise that writing a scorched, hushed, mysterious, heart-breakingly beautiful fourteen minute song called, I Dreamed a Highway, which includes religous imagery, folklore, myth, country and western musical history, and god knows what else, is also an option. A truly great song.

The album is only acoustic guitar and vocals, with the odd pluck of a banjo here and there. The man playing the guitar is called David Rawlings, and without wanting to sound like a hairy dude from Total Guitar, but, shit, can he play. Not in a lots of notes really fast kind of way, or a did you hear that tricky chord change? kind of way, but in a perfect notes for the song he's playing on way. A bit like Neil Young I suppose.

There are nine songs on this record, forty five minutes of spirited Americana. Nine brutally brilliant songs and she doesn't flash her tits once.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

21. Beady Eye - Different Gear, Still Speeding

I'm aware I've been neglecting white boys with guitars so, to redress the balance, let's have a look at Beady Eye. Now, you probably don't keep your ear to the musical ground quite as much as I do, so let me fill you in. Noel walked out of Oasis. I know! The rest of Oasis changed their name to Beady Eye and Different Gear, Still Speeding is their debut album. And that's about it, but with a bit more venom and fashion range launching in between.

Before the kicking comes, let me tell you that I wanted to like this. Really, honestly, wanted to like it. As a teenager I endured an hour and half bus journey through the grimiest northern towns (it's ok, I'm from the north) on a wet day, to Manchester, all because I wanted to buy Live Forever in Oasis's home town. And whilst the debut album Definitely Maybe wasn't all that great in the end, it did contain Slide Away perhaps their best song, a song that almost justified they hype. And Liam has always been a brilliant pop star, funny, menacing and cool. That's all I have sadly because this album stinks. It didn't start too badly, Bring The Light was released to radio stations to preview the album, and it was pretty good. Not amazing at all, but it had the energy lacking from the last few lumbering Oasis albums, and it was fun, it had spirit, maybe something was going on here. Sadly not. The rest of the album sounds like it could have been written by Noel. Plodding, meaningless, dreary rock songs. The question you have to ask is 'Do they not like music anymore? Have they broken their ears?' This is Millionaire. Please listen to it. This was a single. A single. Andy Murray wouldn't sound that bored reading the shipping forecast on 24 hour loop. And do you know what, if they can't be bothered to try any harder than that, I can't be arsed write any more about their lazy, clumsy album.

But before we go, the lyrics. The lyrics. Now, I did originally copy some of the lyrics into this review but it didn't seem fair. It was like at primary school, back in '88, when Jonathan Clarkson was made to recite the six times table in front of the class and couldn't get past two sixes are twelve but Mr.Tindell wouldn't let him sit down, so he just stood there panicking, looking stupid, until he eventually wet himself. In short, it felt cruel. The difference of course is that Mr. Tindell isn't making anyone from Beady Eye write lyrics. So maybe they should stop.

Edit - The biggest shame in all this is that Andy Bell, ex Ride, not Erasure, now a member of Beady Eye, was once at least partly responsible for creating something as glorious as this.

Edit - Erasure had their glorious moments too.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

20. Alfie - Do You Imagine Things?

I met a London music biz type once. He wasn't called Tarquin, but let's pretend he was. You could tell he worked for a record label because his trousers were too short for his legs and his socks were pink. And he was a cunt. Anyway, he told me a game him and his biz type mates played. The game was to try and find anyone who had ever bought an Alfie single or album, his theory being nobody actually liked Alfie enough to buy any of their music. Now, what I should have done is say, 'ME! I've bought Alfie singles and albums you pink socked bastard, and I bought them wearing trousers which rested on top of my shoes like a proper person.' But I didn't, I just took the bag of free cds he'd given me and edged towards the exit.

But, sadly, he did have a point. I don't think I've ever met a person who's bought an Alfie album, and I'm exactly the kind of person who would meet someone who's bought an Alfie album, and I lived in the band's home town of Chortlon-cum-Hippy for three years. Anyway, the lack of record sales in their early years wasn't unexpected - they were on the tiny Manchester indie label Twisted Nerve with enough budget for a crisp sandwich each a day. But surely that would all change when they signed to Regal Recordings which was really Parlophone which was really the giant behemoth EMI? Well, sadly not because do you know what they did? They released this fucking barmy, brilliant, nutjob of an album called Do You Imagine Things. An album with songs called My Blood Smells Like Thunderstorms on it, an album which finishes with a twelve minute song about a mole called, wait for it, Hey Mole (I think the mole may have been used as a literary device to represent people who bury their heads in the sand and are incapable of seeing the true beauty of the world we live in, but still...). They released an album full of jerky songs which stop and start and st st st stutter and almost collapse in on themselves. Which isn't to say it's not good, it's really good, it just isn't an album that people were going to rush out and buy, it isn't an album with any songs bland enough to make it on to daytime radio.

The highlights are the the aforementioned epic Hey Mole, the pretty and concise Isobel (although you can't quite forgive them the 'Isobel by name is a belle by nature' line), and the dreamy and disorienting Protracted where it sounds as if lead vocalist, Lee Gorton, can barely keep his eyes open. It's a very english sounding album, from the muted brass to the sixties sounding harmonies throughout. The record is peppered with words like sparrows, willows, pastures, marrow and it sounds like an album which could have been recorded by a band called Shipton Village Post Office in the mid sixties before they split up due to intense confusion or because the bass player disappeared in a forest in Gloucestershire or something.

Interestingly (for me at least) the album was produced by Ken Nelson, who came to the record after producing Coldplay's mult-million seller A Rush Of Blood To The Head. It sounds like he had more fun here. Alfie's next, and last album, was the more simple and truly poptastic Crying At Teatime had genuine possible hits on it. But it didn't matter because nobody was listening anymore, not that too many people ever had. Which is a real shame because Alfie were a band who were a bit barmy and did what they wanted. And most of all, they were interesting, which is what every band should be isn't it?

Monday, 4 July 2011

19. Boards of Canada - Twoism

They aren't from Canada, they're from Scotland - the tricky bastards. I've known the name for years but could never be bothered to give them any time. A cooler than thou electronica duo, signed to Warp, no vocals, one probably has a beard, the other one will wear a hat, not to mention their self-conciously hip sleeves. The kind of men you suspect would bore the fuck out of you in the pub, telling you about an amazing Korg synthesizer they picked up at a car boot sale for ten quid.
'He had no idea man, it's a genuine miniKorg 700 and he didn't have a clue, didn't have a clue!'
'Yeah Mike, listen, I've got to run for my bus. I know I've hardly touched my pint, it's ok, you finish it for me, enjoy it. And no Mike, I can't come to the record fair with you next week, I'll be busy hammering nails into my scrotum then.'
And that's about it, that's about where my preconceptions end.

It's a surprise then to find their music is particularly humane and touching. And whilst it sounds at times that they may have based this whole album on the theme tune of the massively brilliant 1984 kid's tv show Chocky, they get away with it because the music is so affecting. It's often said that said BOC deal with themes of childhood and nostalgia, and that is exactly what I hear on Twoism. Much of it takes me back to my childhood in the eighties - suburban streets on a summer's night, riding my bike back from a mate's house in the twilight, the chemical factory on the other side of the estate, blinking away in the background. But most of all it takes me back to childhood imagination somehow. And the fact that whilst you were just a kid, in a normal town, you were instinctively aware how weird and strange being alive as a human being was. A child's innate understanding of the oddness of being born at a particular time in a particular place I suppose. Does that make any sense? It doesn't does it and now I sound stupid. Have a listen and tell me if you can hear what I'm struggling to explain.

The music here is mainly drum machines and analogue synths, that's the nuts of bolts of it, but that doesn't get anywhere close to describing the yearning BOC squeeze out of the simplest of tracks. Forget any preconceptions, this is beautiful, spooky, haunting stuff. But I bet one has a beard and the other one wears a hat.