"You love me 'til my heart stops"
While you're there, have a look around, read the other pieces in the series and generally take in a better blog than this one.
I'm off to see Arab Strap. Wish me luck!
Although you could argue that it's a complete non-story these days, the latest horrendous snafu in a long line of horrendous snafus by NME has made me laugh. A lot. More for the repercussions than the actual outcome of the fuck-up, which has seen the increasingly laughable music weekly shoot itself in the foot by angering half of the population. Not to mention seeing the very people they were trying to praise turn on them before the fickle bastards even thought about knocking them down.
In case you didn't already know, NME printed their annual Cool List last week, awarding The Gossip singer, Beth Ditto the number one spot. Straight away, I smelled a backhanded gesture (the words that Ditto herself has since used to describe the award), especially because half of the top ten were also women (Kate Jackson of The Long Blondes, Lovefoxxx of CSS, Karen O and Lily Allen were the others). Then, I spotted NME on the shelves of a newsagent in town, totally expecting to see La Ditto snarling back at me.
But she wasn't there. Instead, the cover featured a rather standard photo of Muse, with the Cool List ladies ghettoised to a side banner. This showed the prominence of women in the cool list up for the cynical concession it actually was. In the year that Pete Doherty and Carl Barat were joint number one, NME had two special covers, one Pete, one Carl, but both with snazzy (read cheap-looking) hologram covers. Lily, Beth and Kate got an inset, next to Matt Bellamy's face.
I suppose that we shouldn't have expected more from them, seeing that that insufferable prick, Conor McNicholas is still editor-in-chief, but to completely forget that courage helps in backing up convictions when they had made, by their standards, a bold decision, is just absolutely spineless. It then transpired that the pic of the three women that covers about four square inches on the final cover was (surprise, surprise!) originally supposed to be the cover (with Muse relegated to second place), before being pulled at the last minute.
The shit has been flying ever since, with Ditto labelling NME "cowards" and Allen proclaiming them "wankers" in one of her outspoken MySpace blogs. Lily hits the nail on the head when she says that the whole endeavour is "patronising", but really, who gives a fuck about being 'cool' these days? It's such an outmoded concept that brings to mind (for me, at least) preening, posing tosspots more concerned with how they look than the music they're making. Which just about sums up the NME ethos in 2006.
Now for some music...
Sandie Shaw - Reviewing The Situation (mp3) (Just because it's ace)
My My - Propain (mp3) (I've been listening to the My My album, Songs For The Gentle a lot lately and this is one of my favourites.)
Also, our friends over at Twentyfourhours have the new Carl Craig remix of Brazilian Girls. Go get it!
More news as we have it,
I haven't actually heard this yet but it's got to be shite right? Post your reviews in the comments.
Oh, bollocks to the rest of them. I can't be bothered. Let's just say that there's fuck-all else out and leave it at that.
The original is sweet, downbeat electro-pop a la Junior Boys, only not as good, but this release is all about the remix. And boy, what a remix! Tim Goldsworthy, going under the moniker The Loving Hand turns in a slyly addictive, crystalline, deep house-skewing re-rub that lends weight to the notion that he is the one behind The DFA's more interesting, leftfield remix work. Glacial brilliance and one of the best remixes of the year.
Little Man Tate - Man, I Hate Your Band (V2)
Don't like yours much either, mate.
Michoacan - She's Sent (Heaven) (Tiny Sticks)
Slippery, space-age punk-funk is the direction that Michoacan is heading in here. Seems to be a popular direction these days, but Michoacan does it with such elan and a mastery that belies his experience that it's easy to see that this guy is going to go places. Fabrizio Mammarella and The Emperor Machine add to the fun(k) on the flip.
Oasis - Stop The Clocks EP (Big Brother)
Timely cash-in from one of the most irrelevant bands on the planet. To coincide with the release of their greatest hits compilation, they've stuck out this EP that contains, wait for it, 'Acquiesce', 'The Masterplan', a live version of 'Some Might Say' and a demo of 'Cigarettes & Alcohol'. Sure, 'Acquiesce' is one of the best songs they've ever recorded and further kudos is gained by sticking to tunes from when they were in their snotty pomp, but don't they have enough money already? Don't give them anymore, please.
Peaches - Boys Wanna Be Her (XL)
Tired, unsexy, unthreatening, glam shite from the erstwhile Merril Nisker. She really should have just called it a day after 'Lovertits', as she's pretty much wrote the same song since. Nice Flaming Lips remix though.
Snow Patrol feat. Martha Wainwright - Set The Fire To The Third Bar (Polydor)
The lanky, Irish, indie-boy tosspot and Rufus' sister try to out-mawk each other on one of the most deathly dull singles I've ever heard. Forced emotion and pound signs fuel this dirge and, to think, I'll never get those four minutes back. Don't waste precious time on this, go out and drown kittens instead.
Stereotyp feat. Edu K & Joyce Muniz - Jece Valadao (Man Recordings/Funk Mundial)
Barnstorming baile funk, with rave sirens all over the place. The sound of the best carnival/house party/riot you've ever attended. Hot fire! The b-side, 'Uepa' is excellent too.
I was going to say something about the new Robbie Williams single actually being quite decent (until he opens his fucking mouth, that is), but I'm choosing to ignore it.
Back tomorrow, kids!
I'm a bit of a Pavement fan, as anyone who has been reading this blog closely for quite a while now would probably have figured out, but Wowee Zowee is not my favourite album of theirs. That title has always and will always be held by Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, but the older I get, the more appealing Wowee Zowee gets. I'd accredit this to the album's sprawl and the fact that the more you listen, the more you get from it, but it probably has more to do with the fact that, sometimes, when it comes to music, I'm unbelieveably attention deficient.
Wowee Zowee is such a willingly ramshackle collection of songs, with so many different ideas flying around, that if the song that's playing at any one time isn't holding your attention, you can guarantee that the next track will chuck you a sonic curveball, direct to your head, as if to say, "Come on! Keep up!". Malkmus, Spiral Stairs and the rest could easily have coasted after the moderate commercial success of Crooked Rain... but that would have been too easy for them. Also, the prospect of being the next indie-rock poster boys scared them to the point of commercial suicide, so it was pretty much a given from day one that the follow-up was going to alienate a few people along the way.
Covering eighteen tracks and running the gamut from grunge-punk ('Flux=Rad'), tender ballads (the opening 'We Dance'), country-rock ('Father To A Sister Of Thought'), frazzled, psych-blues ('Half A Canyon') and arch, novelty-skirting joke tracks ('Brinx Job'), Wowee Zowee does kind of have something for everyone. Despite the fact that it isn't my favourite record of theirs, it does contain a few of my all-time fave Pavement raves. Take 'Grounded' for instance; a gloriously understated, unassuming epic, this song fills stadiums in a parallel dimension somewhere, with that dimension's inhabitants basking in Malkmus' dazzling wordplay, singing along with the epithets about contract bridge, sterile gauzes and crystal ice picks. Sure beats the usual "I love you" platitudes, don't you think?
That's before we come to the likes of the Pavement-in-a-nutshell, 'Rattled By The Rush' (which isn't to say that it's rote or by-the-numbers, just that it encompasses pretty much all that is great about the band), the loveably shonky, Spiral Stairs-fronted, 'Kennel District', the schizoid acid-pop of 'Best Friend's Arm' and so on. Sure, there are tracks that don't quite cut it for me ('Extradition', 'Pueblo', 'Grave Architecture' to name three), but the amount of great stuff here leaves you with the impression that Wowee Zowee is a bit of an embarrassment of riches.
Well those riches have just got a little more embarrassing with the release of the Sordid Sentinels Special Edition; a two-disc set that compiles off-cuts, b-sides, live and session tracks to give you even more of an indication as to what Pavement's mindset was like at the time. Of the b-sides and such, 'Give It A Day', 'Mussle Rock' and 'I Love Perth' could have all easily made the cut, while some of the BBC sessions and live takes display a band at the peak of their powers who aren't quite sure what to do with that power.
This was Pavement's last great record though, with the next two paling in comparison to what went before (that said, below-par Pavement is still better than most bands firing on all cylinders), so even though the extras available here range wildly between essential and superfluous, this is still a must for all completists and casuals alike.
Now, it's time for something of a confession. Talking Heads are my favourite band of all time (not the confession). When I say that, I mean that I was fucking weaned on their stuff, I didn't just get into them because some hack said that Franz Ferdinand or The Rapture sounded a bit like them. My love for Talking Heads is a pretty much life-long and definitely enduring one. I was probably about five or six years old when I was first introduced to their music by my brother and sisters, alongside such other seminal groups like Pixies, Love, The Smiths, New Order, Happy Mondays etc. Yes, I had a bit of an early start when it came to getting into music, but the one band from that period that I never, ever tire of are Talking Heads.
So here comes the confession; I only recently got the reissue of The Name Of This Band Is Talking Heads that was released in 2004. I'm pretty sure I have it on vinyl somewhere (acquired due to the fact that my brother no longer has a turntable), but the CD eluded me until last week. I have no real explanation why, it was just one of those things that I never got around to doing until last week. Well, I don't know how I lived without it. Maybe people think that you only really need one Talking Heads live album in your collection, but they're wrong. Both this and Stop Making Sense are totally essential purchases and, I think, a good starting point for those who inexplicably remain oblivious to TH's charms.
While SMS contains some of my favourite versions of certain songs ('Psycho Killer', 'Found A Job' to name but two), The Name Of This Band... covers the period when the Heads were at their most productive (1977-1981) and shows two different sides to this ever-changing band. The first disc covers their raw beginnings, with just the core four of David Byrne, Jerry Harrison, Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz really cooking with gas and sounding so metronomically, methodically in step with each other. The second disc, however, displays Talking Heads at the point where they started to branch out and experiment with new sounds. More disco elements were creeping in at this point, no more so than on the badass version of 'Born Under Punches' included here. More tellingly though, this was the point at which Byrne started to look further afield than America for inspiration, specifically to Africa, with the likes of 'The Great Curve' and 'I Zimbra'.
While the first disc shows a side of the Talking Heads live experience that is less-documented (coming, as it did, before the advent of the promo video, something that Talking Heads used to their advantage, and also before the band went huge), it's the second one that I'm more drawn to. This is the period of Talking Heads' evolution that I find more interesting and, more importantly, more thrilling. When they expanded the band to include the likes of Nona Hendryx, Adrian Belew and the venerable Bernie Worrell, they created an energetic, never-bettered sense of magic that I just wish I was old enough to actually see at the time. I've seen David Byrne solo since, but it's not the same. Maybe there's an unshakeable sense of wistfulness that leads me to prefer the later period covered here, but just take one listen to the second disc here and take one look at the Stop Making Sense film and tell me that it wouldn't have been an absolute blast.
The Name Of This Band Is Talking Heads is a document of the best band of that era, nay, of all time (may as well be partisan) that will bring bittersweet regret to those too young or too ignorant to catch them at the time and a warm sense of nostalgia to those that did. Perfect.
Ladies love cool James
Nostalgia isn't what it used to be. I saw Radio 4 at this very venue almost four years ago, alongside Schneider TM and The Faint and had a rip-snortingly good night out. Since then, however, Radio 4 and I have grown apart. They've released two decidedly pale albums since then, lost a guitarist and I've gained a few grey hairs. Around that time, I was loving the Gotham! album intensely, but I don't think that they've done anything as good as that since.
So it was with pretty low expectations that I approached this gig, with my mantra being, "Well, they were really good live". If that comes across as a bit of a backhanded compliment, that's because it is. I just don't think that you can get worked up about a Radio 4 gig in 2006, especially now that the punk-funk scene that was so prevalent four years ago has become so anachronistic these days, with most of the major players expanding their palette in the intervening years (see Pieces Of The People We Love for example). Radio 4, despite being admirably true to their initial blueprint, have kind of become accidental dinosaurs.
But are they still "really good live"? Well, I'm happy to report that this statement, while not 100% true, still definitely rings that way. R4 work their socks off to get the (political) party rocking. Sweating profusely and throwing slightly mannered, stuttery shapes as if their amps are sending volts through their bodies, they put on a tight show for the main part, with the odd sag and disappointing troughs between the peaks, mostly coming in the shape of songs from the last two records.
The Gotham!-era tracks that they rattle off remind me why I liked them so much in the first place. Buzzing with manic energy, the likes of 'Save Your City', 'Calling All Enthusiasts', 'Struggle' and 'Our Town' (which was dedicated to "the three guys who were here last time" after a quick show of hands) get the most out of both crowd and band, with Anthony Roman and co. barely hiding their joy at playing songs that they've been playing for the last five years.
The newer stuff fares less well, which means that the pace drops whenever these are aired. Watching a band who are often quite efficient at demanding the audience's attention in an aggressive way struggle manfully through the likes of 'This Is Not A Test' or 'Dismiss The Sound' is quite disheartening. Doubly so when 'Dance To The Underground' still sounds as fresh and vital as it did in 2002.
The overall impression you get of the Radio 4 live experience in 2006 is a mixed one. As I said earlier, they sure do work to get you moving, but oftentimes, it feels like a harder task than it should be. There's only so far you can go with wiry, taut, firebrand dance-punk though and the songs that do stray from the well-travelled path suggest that, despite all the perspiration, it's the inspiration that's lacking. Below-par facsimiles of 'Dance To The Underground' may be a bad idea, but no-one should ever have to listen to bad cod-dub. If their next record is as colourless as the last two, there may be no redeeming Radio 4, but at least their affable, often exciting live show (minus the occasional bum notes) should see that they keep trucking on, even if fewer and fewer people care.
I fucking hate Walkabout; the risible 'Australian' chain pub that is so fucking fake, you half expect Alf Roberts to serve you. It's about as soulful a live music venue as Belsen, so thusly, you have to be something of a special act to avoid going down like the proverbial lead balloon.
So I was surprised then to find the sight for sore eyes that is Ebony Bones rocking the stage with a delightful riot of colour, poise and sass. Like a hybrid of The Slits, The Cramps and Amazulu (ask yer mam), Ebony Bones are one hell of a good time party band. It's just a damn shame that I only catch the last three songs, one of which was a bastardised cover of Delta 5's 'Mind Your Own Business'. They're a band after my own heart and the best I saw all day. Only I didn't know this at that point, so I foolishly stayed.
Next up is Dublin's Butterfly Explosion, who have got the post-rock thing down to a tee, but end up being just a vaguely unsatisfying amalgam of about a hundred better bands. Ooh, that bit sounds like Mogwai! That bassline is just like a Sigur Ros tune that I forget the name of! That keyboard player looks like a bit like Billinda Butcher from My Bloody Valentine! When it's more fun to play spot the reference than get lost in the music though, you know that this band are wasting your time and theirs.
Can Teasing Lulu's glamour punk fare any better? Only slightly, is the answer to that. They make a point of beckoning people to move forward and giving it a bit of 'tude and some of their tunes lean towards backing up their moxie, but again, the reference points are too obvious and too plentiful and, in the end, that feeling that you've heard it all before returns. While there's essentially nothing wrong with wearing your influences on your sleeve, in Teasing Lulu's case it just feels a little protracted. Nice hair though.
A rather misguided friend of mine told me a few months ago that, despite the fact that their singer, Rupert Hill plays Jamie Baldwin in Coronation Street, Shepherds Pi are actually really good. He was wrong. He was so wrong in fact, that I'm considering never talking to him again. The sub-Libertines bollocks that Shepherds Pi peddle is, in my opinion, possibly the most offensively bad music I've heard in a long time and I've heard The Fratellis. Making matters worse, their bass player gets up on the mike every odd song to indulge in a little ill-advised rapping/scatting. This is the aural equivalent of rubbing salt in the wound. You know how when your ears ring, it's a little unpleasant? Well, I'd rather hear that any day of the week than have to suffer the godawful hackery of Shepherd's Pi again.
Next, a slight upturn in fortune with the arrival of the not-unpleasant, Sean Redmond. He's a cocky little fucker with some scrawl on his guitar ("I bet you've never seen anyone do this before", I think it said) and a glittery Bathing Ape t-shirt on and his music is, as I said, not unpleasant. Just nothing to write home about either.
I feel a little sorry for Midnight Juggernauts when they come on, seeing as they're Australian and having to suffer the indignation of playing in a fake Aussie bar, miles away from home. However, despite their hotly-tipped nature, I'm not hearing anything to inspire me. You can lump them in with fellow antipodeans, The Presets and Cut Copy, as they do that electro-rock thing but I kind of hate that stuff at the moment. I don't hate the concept, just the execution. Most of these bands are so ham-fisted at the whole endeavour that it ends up sounding hideously lumpen and completely personality-free. I hear that you and your band have not sold your guitars and bought a vocoder. I hear that you and your band have heard a Daft Punk record and thought, "I can do that". I hear that everybody that you know is getting into French house, ten years after everybody that I know. Have you seen my records?
I feel a little bad now for heaping so much scorn on Shepherd's Pi earlier in the post as the next band to take the stage are light years ahead of them in the terrible stakes. Their name has been bandied around for quite a while now as ones-to-watch and Tony Wilson even signed them up at one point, but Young Offenders Institute are quite possibly one of the worst bands I've ever seen.
A bunch of roughneck, council estate scallies with nary an ounce of talent between them, YOI draw trhe biggest crowd of the day; a crowd filled with roughneck, council estate scallies nonetheless. Words fail me really. Young Offenders Institute are laughably bad. It's as though they all decided to go out and buy Definitely Maybe one day and all come to the decision that 'Digsy's Dinner''s, like, a fucking top song. It's not, it never will be and neither will you guys ever be anything resembling a decent band. Just. Give. Up.
So we exit the Walkabout before the end of YOI's clod-hopping bovver-boy rock set, disheartened and more than a little tired, but decide to give this In The City lark a second bite of the cherry the next day.
MONDAY 30TH OCTOBER: Tiger Lounge & Pineapple Folk @ The Waldorf
We head down to Tiger Lounge, intrepid, yet harbouring realistic ideas that the likelihood of finding the next big thing may well be out of our grasp after yesterday's fiasco. The Philadelphian mavericks, Man Man are at the forefront of our thoughts for the night ahead. I was champing at the bit, dying to see them, if only to salvage the two-day sojourn, but not really knowing what to expect. My companion is less than convinced, having heard only one song and "really hated it".
They're on later however, at The Waldorf, and the reason we'd plumped for the Tiger Lounge first was to see my mate's band, Doublejo(h)ngrey and whatever else is on the same bill. When we arrive, there's a band called Duty Now onstage, doing the whole Joy Division/Interpol, post-punk thing in a not unpalatable way. In fact, in contrast to the shite we saw yesterday, Duty Now actually sound pretty decent. Maybe it's only relative, but it's a slightly promising start to the night.
iDresden have a terrible name and a bass player who looks like he shouldn't even be allowed in the venue, on account of his young appearance. They are, however, not all that bad, in a kind of spaz-pop, Les Savy Fav-esque kind of way. I could imagine jumping around to these guys when I was younger. Nowadays, I'm far too old and far too cynical to do stuff like that, so I sit at the back, sipping my JD & Coke, whilst nodding approvingly.
Next, a band who I don't catch the name of come on and noodle about for ten minutes or so, until the drummer stands up, throws his snare over his shoulder and the rest of the band follow suit in trashing their equipment. I'd be impressed if there was any hint of danger, but the fact that not one member of staff rushes over to stop them, gives me the impression that this is just something that they do all the time.
Shit! It's 9.45 and time to pop over to The Waldorf to catch Man Man. Sorry mate, I'll just have to catch your band next time. In fact, we forgot to figure in the erratic nature of ITC's running orders, so we get there about halfway into a set by The Nightjars, who sound pretty good, in a kind of steely, humourless way. We see too little to make a judgement though, but the fact that loads of people actually pile out after them speaks volumes, I guess.
Watching Man Man set up is part of the show itself. The upstairs room in The Waldorf doesn't have a stage as such, so the band are set up on the floor, with the crowd encouraged to come as close as they desire. Honus Honus and Pow Pow (not their real names) are up front, with their keyboards and drumset respectively, but it's the odds, ends and accoutrements that seem to cover every available surface that really intrigue. There are Hallowe'en-y fairy lights that look like eyeballs, a squeezy Bart Simpson doll, a beanie rabbit on top of the hi-hat and a load of other bric-a-brac, making me wonder if these are all good luck charms. Are Man Man really that superstitious? Oh, and there's also a tomato with a moustache that looks uncannily like Honus.
After taking forever soundchecking, Man Man leave the room, only to return five minutes later, decked out in P.E. kits. Yep, it's white t-shirts and spray-on white shorts all the way for these guys. This is a signifier of the workout that's to follow. They lead off with 'Feathers' the piano-and-voice opener from latest album, Six Demon Bag, before launching into a full-on hour of power, barely stopping to catch their collective breath (their reasoning for this being that "when you go to a club, the DJ doesn't pause after a song").
I've seen bands do this kind of breakneck speed before, but never in this manner. All those bits and bobs are used in some way, either squoze or hit or thrown about, but it never leads to complete chaos. Okay, it's chaotic, but Man Man always seem to have a grip on the mania. Every little quirk or jump or musical non-sequitur is executed with the precision timing that comes with an almost psychic connection between band mates. The wheezy, fractured, junkyard rock of the records is recreated so perfectly and with such kineticism that it's all you can do to just stand there, agape, occasionally smiling a smile that you know is going to be hard to budge.
Highlights of the set include the band using the walls of The Waldorf for percussion during the muted climax of 'Black Mission Goggles' (one of the few moments where the pace drops), Honus reaching out into the crowd with a drumstick at one point, briefly playing some poor sap's knees like the spoons, Honus again, hurling a handful of stainless steel spoons at a brushed metal pudding basin, just to recreate the sound it makes and Pow Pow bringing his foot down onto his snare in a dazzling display of ambidextrosity.
By the time the band reach the girl-group coda of 'Ice Dogs', with Honus donning a black sequinned vest and affecting the desperate croon of the hammiest lounge singer, jaws are on the floor, expectations have been met, surpassed, lapped and blown off the face of the earth and the unbelievers have been well and truly converted. They come back on for a tender rendition of 'Van Helsing Boombox' that acts as the perfect comedown after one of the most thrilling, high-energy live shows I've ever seen. Man Man may well be the greatest band in the world; a brilliantly realised unique voice in modern music that I urge you to seek out.
Or is it all relative still? Have I seen that much disinterested, rote dreck over the last couple of nights that anyone who does anything vaguely different will seem like the second coming of Elvis? Well, a lot of it may well have been dreck, but given the size and scope of In The City, I'm pretty sure there were plenty more acts on over the weekend that were way more deserving of our attention than most of these were, so I'm not about to give up on the Manchester music scene just yet. One thing I am certain about though; I bet not one of them were anywhere near as good as the mind-fuckingly excellent Man Man. We could learn a lot from them.
In other news...
Today's Derek and Clive-influenced post over at 20 Jazz Funk Greats is, without question, the best thing I've ever read on a blog. Good work, guys.
Also, check out Mattie's gold grills in the rather fun new Rapture vid for 'Whoo! Alright! Yeah! Uh-Huh!'.