Monthly Archives: February 2010

Girls @ Scala 23.02.10

Photo courtesy of the extremely talented Anika Mottershaw. (Pictures from the rest of the set here)

Almost exclusively finding, listening and sharing music online can make for some surprisingly jarring effects when dunked into the real world. Outside of the Pitchfork bubble, Girls are a relatively unknown band. Despite performing under the banner of the NME Awards Tour, they don’t manage to sell out the cosy Scala, far from it, and despite the hyperbolic praise lavished upon the band in the past 6 months they’re not quite there yet.

The music lends itself well to its audience. On its own, it’s a sunny California Summer’s day. Cheery choruses full of dorky yearning for girls, la-la refrains thrown in at every opportunity and bright, jangly guitars give the impression that nothing can really and go wrong, and if it does, we’ll try our gosh-darned best to make it right.However, reading about front-man Christopher Owen’s biography makes for sombre reading. Born into the religious ‘Children of God’ cult, one of the many unfortunate fusions of the Hippie counter-culture and American evangelism, his brother died as a baby due to the cult’s views on medical treatment, his father left and his mother was forced into prostitution. To say it puts those sunny melodies in a different perspective and forces you to re-examine those craving lyrics is an understatement. Happy-go-lucky odes to wasted opportunities become somewhat bitter-sweet and bitter-sweet songs about denied love become, well, miserable. The jangly west-coast pop and doo-wop refrains serve as an ironic detachment from reality.

And if there was ever an audience schooled in ironic detachment, it’s this one. Check Shirts, iPhones rather than Blackberrys, unimpressed faces and fringes galore. It’s a fashionable, hip crowd, perhaps a little too so. By the time the band amble out at 9:30 they’re met with warm applause; the crowd are blasé rather than frosty. Girls are unlikely to be anyone’s favourite band at this stage of their career and it’s awkwardly evident after a bumbling start of some of the more nuanced cuts off of Album and a couple of lengthy guitar tuning sessions. Owens himself is an enigmatic front-man but is far from charismatic; he clutches his eyes shut whilst singing, mumbles thanks into the mic obsessively and when he asks the soundboard if the ‘guitars are alright’ for ‘the best song he’s ever written’ he must be aware that the audience is expecting Hellhole Ratface or Lust For Life not a newly penned song about – ‘as all Girls’ songs are – ‘a girl’ with the added twist of her being from ‘the south of France’. The disappointment is almost palpable.

The gig continues to stumble along. One great track is followed by an un-immediate new song and then some awkward silence. The band’s eclecticism and productivity is admirable but they do themselves no favours when it comes to building bridges between them and the audience. Hellhole Ratface is eventually unleashed – the band are far from a one-hit wonder, but this is the song – and though the careful and irresistible instrumental layering on the studio track doesn’t get anywhere near replicated live, and the drummer a little enthusiastic in shunting the song along to its climatic peak with brute force, the refrain is too irresistible for even the hipster with the stoniest of hearts to ignore. The band capitalises with some My Bloody Valentine type guitar feedback wankery and then the very MBV-like Morning Light and the crowd are temporarily won over, some of them even nod their heads.

And then they’re gone. Fifty minutes in and they leave the stage. The encore comes, obviously, and we’re treated to a neat summation of the entire gig itself. The driving jangle of the band’s ‘other’ song, Lust For Life, which is soon counterbalanced with another underwritten b-side, ‘Life in San Francisco’. It’s a frustrating, underwhelming finish to a gig that was almost there so many times but just fell short.
Understandable though it may be that the band has only one album and a handful of b-sides and non-album tracks to play with, it’s a workman-like setlist that fails to take into account the relative benefits of their small discography and it’s a workman-like performance.

The band is young, though and the night occasionally points at their potential and showcases what great songs they have written so far. Whilst it is hard to see a band of their imprint who initially come across as a hipster take on Buddy Holly rock ‘n’ roll jangle fused with a little Beach Boys harmony playing venues much larger than the Scala, on this side of the Atlantic at least, hopefully it’ll mean they can come back to Pentonville Road and nail it to a full-house.

MP3: Girls – Lust For Life

MP3: Girls – Life in San Francisco


Ooohhhh shiiiiittt!

The best game soundtrack of all time deserves more love. Love you, Uematsu.

Check out the whole mix from the Youtube links above, or from Team Teamwork’s tumblr. Children of the 90s, there’s a Ocarina Of Time set of mixes, too.

MP3: MF Doom – Air (Barrett’s Theme)

Muse are still really underwhelming

Muse have unveiled the b-side to their Resistance single which is due to drop on the 22nd. It’s a cover of the Mega City Four track titled ‘Prague’. And it’s not very good, but you’re not really surprised any more, are you?

Check it out on the NME, if you must.

Bad wasn’t it? I remember when Muse covers and b-sides were actually surprisingly good. With that in mind, on a post-Valentine’s tip… Muse – Can’t Take My Eyes Off You

Seven Songs For Valentine’s Day

Love is the topic for a depressing, or inspiring, depending on your current relationship status, amount of art. Year in, year out, it’s a dead-cert that love, lust, sex, or any of its variations and derivatives will be the preferred subject for an artist’s self-expression. Recessions, revolutions and wars come and go, but love is always there.

Music is the most shameless culprit of this shameless recycling of a tired and overrated theme, (have you got that I’m single yet?) so doing a themed post on music suitable for Valentine’s day might be a little dull. With that in mind, I’m going to spice things up a bit and spread the net a little further. Ladies and Gentlemen, The Seven Ages Of Love… in song form.

1. First flushes and unrequited admiration

Probably the most common, most unsatisfying period of any relationship is the period where it isn’t a relationship at all. In the best case scenario you’ll get it together eventually; in the worst your heart will be wrenched painfully through the mangle of rejection. Or maybe you won’t even approach her, or him, and you’ll just admire from afar.

Unsurprisingly this state of inaction, rejection and, sometimes, validation is a pretty rich vein for ‘artistic expression’. From mopey, self-pitying angst, stalkerish obsession, all the way to sleazy, slow-motion perving, there’s a lot to be said about that initial spark.

The White Stripes – Fell In Love With A Girl

Out of the massive pool of songs that attempt to coin that initial jolt of love/lust into a traditional song structure, I can’t think of any other song that best nails it. In terms of both form and content, it is that dizzing feeling of realising there’s someone else. The lyrics, delivered in that excitable yet anthemic spray of pure emotion, the wordless ‘woo-hoo’ cry of the chorus, perfectly sums up the indescribable sensory overload of young love/lust in its initial sprouting; it’s irrepressible, universal nature is only matched by that abrasive buzzsaw-guitar riff and Meg’s chaotic yet straightforward drumming that mimics a panicked heartbeat.

Yet, at the same time, it’s brutally humble, rawly pragmatic. Apart from her ‘red curl’, there’s no time for a soppy and trite tribute to this girl’s beauty; it’s all about that overwhelming explosion of that initial meeting, which is what makes it so great.

And it’s all over in under two minutes.

MP3: The White Stripes – Fell In Love With A Girl

2. She Loves You!

You pluck up the courage to approach her and you get on! She says yes! Excellent! Brilliant! You spend the day together, tentatively feeling each other out – perhaps literally if she’s that kind of girl – and then you skip home and do a celebratory dance in your bedroom (Just me?).

Nothing can go wrong; you’re invincible!

The Beatles – She Loves You

Obvious choice, but it really sums up the buoyant, ecstatic mood of getting with that special one. Like a lot of The Beatles pre-Rubber Soul stuff it does sound very much of its time – it wears that Merseybeat DNA very much on its sleeve. A little trite, a little hokey and somewhat childlike in its excitable naivety, but unlike other happy-smiley Beatles songs of the period, it makes perfect sense for the song to be as it is. Yeah, it’s annoyingly bright, but the opening days and weeks of a relationship are like that. The song’s that annoying couple who are always lost in each other’s eyes, with the public displays of nauseating affection before they become that annoying couple and are merely sweet.

MP3: The Beatles – She Loves You

3. The Honeymoon

Everything’s going swimmingly and you’re a tight unit. You have your rows, but what couple doesn’t? You’re stronger than squabbling anyway. Perhaps you’ve moved in with each other, she’s got a her own key and you’re looking forward to a long future together.

All very nice, but this isn’t really the sort of comfortable equilibrium pop songs are made from. At least not very good ones. Regardless, listening to music isn’t so important to you any more. She doesn’t quite appreciate the nuances of chillwave and prefers to have Radio 1 on for ‘some proper tunes’. You’re cool with that though, right?

Animal Collective – Bluish

Probably one of the less appreciated tracks off a thoroughly appreciated album. Unlike most Animal Collective songs, there’s no huge, dubby soundscapes, ravey repetition or any other sort of sonic tomfoolery at the forefront, dragging you in – there’s just some really nice lyrics that are perfectly romantic and natural. A chorus instructing a partner to dress in a certain way for the singer’s own pleasure would sound seedy and controlling in hands of most bands, but when Avey croons it, its the sound of a lover lost in the beauty of his partner. The delicate, carefully textured melody perfectly suggestive of an enclosed, sequestered space – A bed, a sofa, or, if I’m going for full wanky points, a more abstract ‘place’ such as a happy relationship – in which two lovers are immersed.

MP3: Animal Collective – Bluish

4. Sex

So your differences in what constitutes ‘real music’ are starting to grate, but to make up for subjecting you to all that awful James Blunt, there is that thing she does quite well.

If your a particularly cold, detached bastard you might have ended up here without going through the joys and tribulations of the previous four ages. For those heartless people, have a little Serge.

Serge Gainsbourg – En Melody

It’s Serge Gainsbourg, there’s a woman’s orgasmic snorts, even that guitar riff is pure filth. Smut in the form of music; a News Of The World headline in notation.

MP3:Serge Gainsbourg – En Melody

5. Complications

That thing isn’t doing it for you any more and things are starting to grate. She wants to take you to Radio 1’s Big Weekend, but you’ve told her you’ve already arranged to go to Glastonbury and she’s not happy.

The Long Blondes – Giddy Stratospheres

Karen Jackson got a lot of unjust criticism for trying to imitate Jarvis Cocker – from Jarvis Cocker himself at one point – but I’ve always been a fan. The Long Blondes two albums were pretty much all about relationships and sex, but it was intelligent, witty and catchy. Here Ms Jackson plays Devil’s Advocate, reminding a friend, or maybe a boy she wants to steal away, that the girl he’s with won’t take him to ‘Giddy Straospheres’, presumably in the bedroom department. It’s a refreshing and sharp take on the usual ‘pre-break-up’ angle of pop song which usually revolves around Male/Female tribalism; there’s something refreshing about hearing a girl bitch about a girl for a change.

MP3: The Long Blondes – Giddy Stratospheres

6. The Break-Up

This is going to hurt, but the entire, poorly tagged, John Mayer discography she dumped in what was your immaculate, carefully ordered iTunes library was completely unacceptable.

The Smiths – I Know It’s Over

The prefect song for moping to. Put this on and the tears will come. There there, it’s ok. Like The Beatles song that kicked it all off, it’s perhaps a little OTT, a little maudlin, (‘oh, mother!’) but like The Beatles track, that’s exactly what you want right now. Your world is falling in on you. You can feel the soil falling on your head and Morrissey’s tender falsetto is exactly what’s going to get you through this.

MP3: The Smiths – I Know It’s Over

7. Single and reminiscing

So, it’s all over and you know it. Time to reassess. Maybe you’ll embrace your newly gained independence. Maybe you’ll hurtle into the depths of despair wondering where it went wrong. If it’s any consolation, the best songs get written in this final, post-relationship stage. Just listen to this one.

Nick Cave – Disco 2000

The ultimate anthem for awkward and bitter geeks everywhere. On the original and in this Nick Cave cover the expression is kept fairly muted but admirably defiant for a song about watching your childhood sweetheart slip out of your life because you were too socially inept to do anything about it. The story of missed opportunities, teenage insecurity and playground politics somewhat redeemed in the end by a hopeful look to the future is wonderfully cathartic. It’s a karaoke classic in the best possible sense. When people sing this, slightly drunk in their local, they’re imagining their own Debra. Like all of the best Cocker lyrics it’s romantically soaring but all the while it remains grounded in the mundane, the kitchen-sink element of ordinary day to day life. The little details: Debra’s married, she has a kid, the woodchip on the wall, the way Cocker intones ‘popular’ with barely suppressed condescension and rage, that her precocious spurt into puberty is what undoes the fairy-tale romance alluded to in the first verse ‘You were the first girl at school to get breasts/And Martin said that you were the best/Oh, the boys all loved you, but I was a mess/I had to watch them try to get you undressed’. A perfect song I’ll never tire of.

Maybe in ten years time you’ll look back fondly on your relationship, maybe you won’t. Time is a great healer, so they say.

…Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!

MP3:Nick Cave – Disco 2000

David Byrne unveils some of Here Lies Love

Concept albums have always been a curiosity in the pop music world, even in their 70s heyday there was something quite unnecessary and indulgent about them. In a post-LP, download-friendly, iTunes dominated landscape it seems even more so.

Not that such concerns would bother musical demi-god David Byrne, and why should it? The former Talking Heads frontman and all around good egg is releasing a concept album this Spring whose narrative centres around that ever popular staple of pop songwriting, former Philippine first-lady Imelda Marcos, who, if I scanned her Wikipedia page right, seems to be a sort of modern-day Marie Atoinette type tragic figure. And this isn’t any half-arsed affair either, it’s a four act (plus prologue), two-disc, rock opera-styled behemoth complete with accompanying hard-back book and all-star cast which is pretty much the who’s who of female pop world. Fatboy Slim also lends some of his talents, too.

We’ve already heard Santogold’s offering, Please Don’t and Florence from Florence and the Machine’s Here Lies Love which serves as the piece’s prologue. Now you can check out the entire album, or at least 30-seconds from each track if you so wish, by going here.

David Byrne & Fatboy Slim: “Here Lies Love” (featuring Florence Welch)

David Byrne & Fatboy Slim: “Please don’t”(featuring Santogold)

MP3: David Byrne & Fatboy Slim – Please Don’t (featuring Santogold)

New Girls – ‘Honey Bunny’

Some more jangly, 50s styled, Buddy Holly meets Costello guitar-pop from Christopher Owens and co live from New Orleans.

MP3: Girls – Hellhole Ratface

Glastonbury headliners confirmed?

The rumours of Muse and Stevie Wonder to be added as headliners alongside U2 seem to have been all but confirmed.

U2 are definitely the kind of band I wouldn’t say I like, but would be more than happy to see if they were just there to be seen. Muse I really have grown tired of, as I’ve explained many a time before, but are undeniably a great spectacle band for a festival. If there’s not a suitable alternative like Animal Collective during Neil Young last year, I’ll probably be content to observe their performance. Just feels a bit too soon to be inviting them back, Radiohead declined a slot recently on ‘environmental’ grounds and the fact they’d played in 1997 and 2003 – would be nice for Muse to show a similar reserve, especially in a year where they’re playing Wembley Stadium again.

But the biggest news for me has to be Stevie Wonder. It’s a choice that feels very oddball for a festival that can be unbearably white at times, but the more you think about it, the more it just makes sense for Sunday night. He’s got the hits, he’s got that feel-good vibe in his music. It’ll be a wonderful way to end the weekend. Great news, hopefully he’ll get confirmed.

MP3: Stevie Wonder – Superstition
MP3: Muse – Knights of Cydonia (Live @ Wembley Stadium ’08)