Tuesday, January 31, 2006

James Cooper & The Protectors at The Betsy Trotwood 19 January

The music mags have long done their tips for 2006, though Time Out has just belatedly (with very nice pics) done theirs. On none of these lists however, was James Cooper, but maybe he should be. His debut album ‘Second Season’ is a cracker – a classic slice of Americana-flecked guitar pop, evoking such singer-songwriters as Ryan Adams and Josh Ritter. I’ve also detected traces of some of my favourite Scottish artists – Teenage Fanclub, Roddy Frame and the Trashcan Sinatras. Classic songwriting with real mainstream appeal, if they could get the right exposure. You can listen to mp3 snippets on his website.

At probably London’s smallest gig venue (are there any smaller?) The Betsey Trotwood, he played songs from Second Season as well as some new ones. The newies were mainly done first, solo acoustic, then on came his backing band The Protectors to perform the rest. As well as an accomplished songwriter, James is also a fine performer, and the songs sound great live. Particularly impressive was my personal fave ‘Dry Reaching for Grace’, and ‘Dream Trader’ came across with fresh life in a live setting.

He’s playing at the legendary rock/folk venue The Troubadour for the UK launch of his album on 16 Feb. If you’re in London, make it a date!

More pics...

Monday, January 30, 2006

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Hidden (Caché)

I managed to break away from the kitchen sink for a few hours on Monday night to see (courtesy of Time Out) a preview screening of Michael Haneke’s excellent new film ‘Hidden’, starring Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche. The Gallic superstars brilliantly play a husband (Georges) and wife (Anne) – he the host of a TV literary show, she a publishing agent. Their comfortable middle-class lives are disturbed when they start getting strange surveillance videos shot outside their house, accompanied by some strange, quasi-violent childlike drawings.

Who is sending the tapes? It begins to worry them more. Georges follows some leads, and their son goes missing. On this level the movie works well as a slow-burn thriller, which has a nagging tension lasting throughout the film. We see their marriage begin to hit major difficulties, as suspicions and accusations rise to the surface and explode, accompanied by arguments that are wince-inducingly familiar.

On other levels, it’s a film about guilt and people’s unwillingness to admit it. This could stand for national guilt too, especially since a French massacre of Algerians in Paris in 1961 features as a not unimportant element in the film. On another level it could be an attack on the middle class complacency of Georges and Anne, and by inference on the director himself, as he in many ways identifies with Georges.

It also works on a level of toying with our perceptions of film itself. The long static opening shot turns out to be a video tape, and this view (in the early part of the film at least) plays with our perceptions of what we are watching. Is this surveillance footage, or the ‘proper film’? It makes watching the movie a voyeuristic experience and things like jokes at Georges and Anne’s dinner party have us laughing along with the guests guiltily, as if we shouldn’t be intruding. And like Georges, do we use film to escape from guilt, or something else we should be facing up to – retire from the world while the real action should be happening elsewhere?

Monday, January 23, 2006

My kitchen sink drama

Not many blog posts lately. Here's why...

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

I'd like to thank....

I have to admit it. As much as I like to talk down Hollywood and mainstream movie crap, I'm a sucker for awards ceremonies like the Oscars and the Golden Globes, even if the best movies, directors and actors always lose out to inferior ones. But not always. It's always a joy to see quality shining through the dreck, like at the Golden Globes yesterday.

Mind you, I'm going on a lot of assumptions here, especially since I've unbelievably still to see Brokeback Mountain (damn you, dodgy kitchen sink!) and some of the other big winners have yet to be released in the UK. But I was just really pleased to see personal favourites like Ang Lee, who's been consistently good for so long, get major recognition. And I've no idea if Capote is any good, but it's great to see Philip Seymour Hoffman getting a major award. Now I can't wait for Walk the Line to come out here - even more...

Full list of winners here.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Marshall in Memphis

Last week I managed to get a sneaky copy of the first great album of 2006 - 'The Greatest' by Cat Power. For anyone who doesn't know, Cat Power is Atlanta native, New York resident Chan Marshall, who does a nice line in stripped down guitar and piano indie pop. Only this time she's gone all soul on our asses. Like Dusty Springfield and many others, Chan has headed down to Memphis to get an injection of soul power into her music, from the old session boys in the Memphis Rhythm Band (including Al Green cohort Teenie Hodges on guitar).

And like Dusty before her, she's a white girl without a classic soul belter voice, who simply sticks to her breathy vocal style and benefits from the depth of musical experience round her. And what a result! I mean, her previous albums were good, but this one takes it to the next level. The arrangements are superb and there's a depth of soulfulness that will exceed most other records that will be released this year. And it's not just the soul that you'd associate with Memphis - there's also some of the country that you'd associate with Nashville, three hours or so down the road.

From gorgeous piano ballads like 'Where is my love' to the parping horns of the almost danceable 'Could we', it all combines to a beautiful whole. The pick of the bunch has to be the title track, starting off like 'Moon River' and with the most heartbreaking lyrics about broken dreams, it's a little masterpiece. And if you haven't heard it yet, do yourself a favour and get over to the Matador website and download it!

Yippie, Yindie, Yupster... which are you?

I'm a bit late on this one, but I've just been alerted to a piece in The Independent last week about the new socio-economic group the 'Yindie', basically a indie yuppie. There's even a quiz to determine if you are one. Hey - you're reading a blog, so you could be one yourself!

Because you have to bloody pay the Independent a quid to read the article (and I bet they wonder why The Guardian site is way more popular than theirs), I won't link to it, but someone else has thoughtfully pasted the whole thing in their blog.

Now there are probably some people out there who may contest that I am a yindie. Maybe because:

I have an iPod (but not a nano)

I listen to indie music on it (but what is 'wry northern indie'? - is this old northern stuff like the Stone Roses or new northern stuff like Maximo Park and Arctic Monkeys. Anyway, the answer to all that is no)

But for the rest of the quiz, the Yindie options are all the wrong answers. On the surface of things, it may seem like just a bit of fun, but with heavyweights like Newsweek weighing in (they call 'em 'Yupsters'), it looks like it's a serious phenomenon folks! Really, there's all sorts of variations on the name, most a bit of a laugh (I like the 'hipisters' who listen to trendy folk music). But watch out, the LA weekly prophecies there could be serious consequences to all this hipster/huckster/hindie nonsense....

Maximo Park - the ultimate Yindie band?

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Can we get excited by the Brits?

Well, not really, but I'm tired of talking about George now. I'm going back to music today. And the announcement yesterday of the Brit Award nominees gives me a chance to do just that. The annual industry back-slapping time is well underway, with lots of prizes for mediocrity to go round. And what more evidence of said mediocrity that all these nominations for James Blunt. It was grimly predictable though.

However, there is some cause for mild interest though. There are 3 nominations for Arcade Fire. How good would it be to see them taking the award for Best International Group and Best International Album (for the brilliant 'Funeral') from under the noses of U2 and Madonna? But I guess they'll have to settle for International Breakthrough Act at best.

Note much else of great note, except the inclusion of Antony & the Johnsons in the male solo artist category. OK, I know Antony's the main man, but there's a definite plural there...

I'm also looking forward to see how similar this list is to the NME's annual awards. They used to be called the 'Brats' and were meant to be an 'alternative', but now they've also got big brand sponsorship and are looking more and more identical to the Brits each year. Maybe next year they can merge and save us all the bother of saying "I can't believe they've been nominated!" twice.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Give a little Respect?

What's happening to my blog? It's meant to be on music, film and a bit on London. And I end up doing repeated posts on two things which are really my least favourite subjects - Big Brother and George Galloway! Well I guess it is a London issue, and maybe it's because here I am willing my supposed local MP to let the rest of the country see what an idiot he is!

Or maybe it's because of the fuss it's kicking up over the place. Fair enough, with most reasonable people (apart from George's Respect drones) being fairly unimpressed at his vainglorious antics. In fact, some reasonable people (presumably some of his constituents) have set up a website letting us know how much his sojourn in the BB house is costing us. And recently they've added a 'back to work' petition, which I'd encourage any fellow consituent to sign. Mind you, if he is evicted this weekend, he won't be back doing consituency work. He'll probably go on some national tour, bleating about how Channnel 4 has 'censored' his views.

I see the aforementioned Respect drones have come out in their leader's defence, claiming that the consituency office is still running as normal (it probably is, since George is never there), and that George is actually doing us a favour by representing "the 'wider issues' of his constituents". They're sounding very new Labour really, in their defence of the indefensible.

Still, maybe George will succeed in his stated aim of bringing politics to a wider, unengaged audience. Maybe all these apathetic, apolitical young people watching will be saying, "I used to think that politicians were all cynical, greedy, self-serving nasties who are only in politics for what they can personally gain. But after watching that George Galloway, I can see he's different. He's not like them!"

Just like Respect are so radically different from New Labour...

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Keeping in touch with my MP...

Looks like Big Brother isn't just watching you George, he may well be stopping your 'views' being aired as much as you'd like. The Guardian yesterday reported that Channel 4 may be preventing him using the show as a political soapbox, which was his very reason for going in in the first place!

A Channel 4 spokesperson said "He won't be able to use his time in the house as a political soapbox. There are regulations and Ofcom rulings which mean we would monitor what is said by him and the others. He is one of 11 diverse and entertaining individuals in that house, so he's one of many with different opinions." Entertaining? Well, I won't quibble that one now, but instead just congratulate C4. I'm not usually much on favour of censorship, but in this case, spot on!

Best of 2006?

So the BBC have published their annual poll of the music industry to see who are their top tips for the new year. This year they have picked:

1. Corinne Bailey Rae
2. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (right)
3. The Feeling
4. Plan B
5. Guillemots
6. Sway
7. Chris Brown
8. Marcos Hernandez
9. Kubb
10. The Automatic

Now I don't know much about a lot of these, but after a while of listening to their debut album, I do rate Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, although I'm not so sure about their mainstream appeal. Corrinne Bailey Rae is this year's KT Tunstall vote - i.e. appears on Jools Holland, gets a lot of acclaim, then tips for the top. Who knows, it may turn into album sales. Still unconvinced by how good she is though.

I have almost got into the Guillemots lately. They had two cracking singles last year, but what I heard of the rest of the EPs wasn't so hot. Let's hope they're keeping all the good tunes for the album. You can get some free MP3s from their website of demos and radio sessions, including the ace prog piano ballad 'Sea Out' which I can almost imagine being played to a stadium on the Guillemot's world tour, 2008.

We'll see how these artists get on. Last year the BBC tipped some fairly obvious choices which unsurprisingly turned out accurate. These may be similar. It's tricky though picking unknowns at the start of the year, as some are fairly untested and can go horribly wrong. Anyone remember Akira the Don? No? Really? Funny that...

So what about my tips for the year? Well, I don't have my ear that close to the ground, so I can't be sure about all these new kids coming through, but I'm expecting big things from both Cat Power, who's just recorded an amazing new album (well, the tracks I've heard are pretty damn fine), which is kinda her 'Dusty in Memphis' and could be a bit of a smash, and what I've heard of Hot Chip's new stuff (recoreded and live) their new album could be the business. We'll see...

Friday, January 06, 2006

Mr Galloway goes to Elstree

I nearly fell off my chair when I read this last night! My local MP, 'the infamous' George Galloway has entered the Celebrity Big Brother house! At first it was quite astounding, but why should it be really? It's in keeping with his self-publicising, self-serving character. Some have pointed out / complained that he's away from his 'work' for potentially three weeks, but why break the habit of a lifetime? Why do the work of a consituency MP, when there are foreign visits to go on, and speeches that you can charge people to hear?

On going into the house Georgie-boy said that the show would be a "chance to show a large and different audience what I'm really like" - what a smarmy egotistical git? Hey, maybe he will. Maybe it'll be a good thing for him to stay in for as long as possible. It'll be interesting to see him embarrassing himself, and seeing if he can engage Jodie Marsh and that guy out of Goldie Lookin' Chain in some political debate (or maybe not - he won't be able to get paid for it!). And maybe we'll finally see the end of the term 'Gorgeous George' which is often, mystifyingly, used to describe him - I mean, have you seen him? Well, thousands more will now...

Re-hit the north!

There was an amusing piece in the Guardian yesterday about The Fall. A journalist (Dave Simpson) spent a good month or so of his life trying to track down all 40-ish ex-members of the band. What an effort! I've never really been into The Fall, apart from liking the odd song here and there, but I'm astounded at just how Mark E Smith has managed to keep the band going all this time despite the way he treats his various band members. What attracts them to him? Maybe it's because they feel like they're being part of something legendary? Whatever, few ex-members had much bad to say about him, surprisingly enough.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

13 (Tzameti)

Thanks to Time Out, I got a preview screening of 13 (or Tzameti – but what does that mean?) the debut film by Georgian-French filmmaker Géla Babluani. It’s a pretty impressive debut, shot in atmospheric black and white and it’s a pleasingly tense thriller, which for a considerable time changes into a bit of a white knuckle ride. And although it doesn’t give that much to chew on afterwards, the movie is memorable for both the original concept and a fine performance from the director’s young brother George, who plays the lead role of a young, poor immigrant worker, drawn into a mysterious and dangerous scheme to make some money.

I’ll do a proper review of the film on Collective soon, but it’s best to say that if you’re going to see it, try to avoid reviews, as they may give away the central concept which I reckon it would be better not to know. I wish I hadn’t seen Jonathan Ross trailing '13' just before Christmas, as the clip sorta gave the main game away. It was still exciting, but it may have been even more so if I hadn’t seen it (my review won’t give it away!).

The showing I went to was later than usual for these Time Out preview screenings, maybe because it had a Q&A with the director and the lead actor afterwards. To be honest, it didn’t really reveal that much, apart from that the director got ideas from the film from his own life (though the story is made up) and that any future films he makes are likely to be similarly bleak. But maybe that was down to the language barrier (he spoke with an interpreter). Or the less than incisive questions.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Favourite songs of 2005

If it's hard enough to choose my best albums of the year, how hard is it to choose a top 10 of songs? Take for instance the Arcade Fire album, all amazing tunes, but how can you single one out? There were so many songs to choose from, but in some way these tunes stood out for me, for a variety of reasons. Here they are.

1. The Electric South featuring Bob Lind: Sing!
Hands in the air euphoric gospel-soul!

2. 7 Samurai: Marvin
A brilliant original rescoring and remixing of Marvin Gaye’s classic ‘I Want You’ in a soulful latin sylee.

3. The Shortwave Set: Is It Any Wonder?
An indie pop classic from the catchy little intro, through the simple piano riff, swoony vocals. The greatest song Saint Etienne never recorded.

4. Fiery Furnaces: Here Comes the Summer
It came out in winter, but it’s just what you need in these cold January days as you look forward to some light and warmth.

5. Hot Chip: Over and Over
A limited release for possibly the best tune Hot Chip have done. On this evidence, 2006 should spell big things for them

6. The Magic Numbers: Morning’s Eleven
This song was the set closer for their gigs in 2004 and early 2005. The album version isn’t as good as the live one, but still well worth it.

7. Sebastien Tellier: La Ritournelle
The French maverick’s lounge classic, played to death by Rob Da Bank on his Radio 1 Blue Room show.

8. Jamie Lidell: Multiply
The title (and stand-out) track from the new soul genius’ album.

9. Emiliana Torrini: Sunny Road (Manasseh Mix)
A great reggae re-working of the Icelandic folkie’s tune which works a treat in this different guise.

10. My Morning Jacket: Off the Record
MMJ leave the dusty country for Hawaii 5-0 meets slow soul jamming, with impressive results!

Monday, January 02, 2006

Favourite compilations of 2005

I created this category last year, because I was listening to a lot of compilations of music which wasn't necessarily the same type as I was listening to on my favourite artist albums. I wanted to a more representative sample of the music that was moving me. In 2006 however, I wasn't listening to nearly so many compilations (probably something to do with more internet usage and downloading), but for what it's worth here's my top comps of the year.

1. Rob Da Bank presents Sunday Best
Sunday Best record label boss and Radio 1 DJ Rob Da Bank presents the fruits of his label’s recent efforts, and a fine selection of eclectic late night grooves.

2. Soul Gospel
Kinda as you’d expect from the title. Soulful gospel music from the likes of Aretha and the Staple Singers plus a load of gems you won’t have heard.

3. The Sounds of Monsterism Island
Graphics wizard Pete Fowler (he of Super Furry Animals sleeve fame) compiles a set of out-there psycadelic tunes for an island of the monsters he’s created.

4. 2046 Soundtrack
My film of the year, and what a soundtrack to add aural pleasures to the visual delights of Wong-Kar Wai’s movie.

5. Soul of Sue Records: New York City
Classic old school soul music from the classic soul label. From famous artists like Ike and Tina Turner to more obscure gems.

6. Prisoners of Love – Yo La Tengo
I discovered these indie legends this year through this fine double comp. A great starting place for similarly interested parties…

7. Dirty Laundry: The Soul of Black Country
Just to show that country isn’t the preserve of white men in plaid shirts – here are black soul and funk artists in, er, plaid shirts, donned specially to cover some country standards. The gap between soul and country has never seemed so small.

8. Studio One Lovers
I always thought that lovers rock was the sappy side of reggae – the equivalent of ‘smooth R’n’B’. Well, thank goodness that although there’s rubbish, there are also gems like these

9. The Singles - Basement Jaxx
Just proves what a strong collection of tunes Basement Jaxx have managed to release in what seems a short space of time. This is the must-have Jaxx album.

10. Oscillations from the Anti-Sun - Stereolab
Another opportunity to discover indie legends through a compilation, this time arty synth pop kings and queens Stereolab. Almost worth it for the classic ‘French Disko’

Best gigs of 2005

Here are my best gigs now. Again, it can be hard to choose, but these are the ones that had that spine-tingling brilliance and were such a joy to be at. Notice the correlation between these and the album. No coincidence then, and plenty indication of the music I was loving in 2005.

1. Arcade Fire @ ULU, 17 March
I reviewed this gig on Collective.

2. Sufjan Stevens @ King’s College, 31 October
I missed the earlier cheerleader-tastic gig at Shepherd’s Bush Empire, but this lower-key affair more than made up for it. Sufjan had re-arranged a load of his songs (mostly from Seven Swans and Michigan) for a string quartet, as well as his regular band. Just beautiful.

3. Antony and the Johnsons @ Shepherd’s Bush Empire, 6 December
I reviewed this one on Collective.

4. King Creosote and the Earlies @ Summer Sundae, 14 August
I knew next to nothing about KC before this. I knew The Earlies, and their backing to his beautiful songs just blew me away. A true revelation.

5. Patti Smith @ Summer Sundae, 14 August
A few hours later, on the main Summer Sundae stage, this rock veteran showed the kids how it was done!

6. Willy Mason/ The Magic Numbers/ Great Days of Sail @ The Barfly, 24 February Magic Numbers pictured. I reviewed this one on Collective

7. Low @ The Royal Festival Hall, 18 February
Another of my Collective reviews here.

8. Gruff Rhys @ The Barbican, 17 July
A few days after Super Furry Animals’ high-tech Somerset House gig, their lead singer impressed much more with this lo-fi (free!) classic of a gig in the Barbican foyer. He played mainly from his solo Welsh language album.

9. Saint Etienne / Annie @ Koko, 16 June
Great double bill of shimmery disco-indie-pop, with my old favourites Saint Etienne playing from ‘Tales From Turnpike House’ their latest and best album for ages. They’ve still got it!

10. Teenage Fanclub @ The Scala, 29 March
More long-time favourites returning. Another Collective review.

PS. I need to give credit to everyone who I've nicked these gig photos from. I didn't take any of these myself, but all are from the gigs mentioned above, apart from Low, Teenage Fanclub and the Magic Numbers (these are just live shots from elsewhere - ironically the Magic Numbers one comes from one of my gigs of last year!). Thanks!

Top albums of 2005

Another top 10 list, artist albums this time. Like other years, there was so much good music released in 2005 to choose from, it felt bad leaving some albums out. But here are the ones that made the biggest impression on me in 2005, whether through sheer originality, compelling music or lyrics or just that I came back to them again and again. Joining the iPod generation probably helped - these are probably also the albums most played on the wee white plastic box...

1. Sufjan Stevens: Come on Feel the Illinoise
The second instalment in the much feted 50 states project. And rather than running out of ideas, it’s like he’s just beginning afresh. The lyrics, the arrangements, even the lengthy song titles are all out of this world! If the other 48 are anywhere near as good as this, I’ve got a lot to look forward to in my old age!

2. Arcade Fire: Funeral
OK, they were the critical hit of the year. But deservedly so. Their music has a passion and a mad intensity that puts them way above their indie-rock peers.

3. Jamie Lidell: Multiply
So I found the most original and best soul voice of the year in an unlikely place – a white Englishman living in Berlin. Coming on like a latter-day Otis Redding meeting Prince with a definite 21st century electronic twist.

4. Antony and the Johnsons: I am a Bird Now
Forget the awards and all that. This was another original new voice, but not a soul one – just something otherworldly and very beautiful.

5. Devendra Banhart: Cripple Crow
Not just the ‘weird folk’ of his past efforts, with this album the eccentric Banhart took in latin sounds, rock ’n’ roll, southern soul and much more on his longest and most consistently great album yet.

6. The Magic Numbers: The Magic Numbers
Last year I’d have thought this much-anticipated album would have been my number 1. After a load of brilliant gigs, the recorded version was a little disappointing. But the songs are still great.

7. Low: The Great Destroyer
The Minnesota Mormons up the tempo a bit on this release, and their new desire to rock a bit more resulted in their most accomplished album to date.

8. King Creosote: KC Rules OK
Second album on the year from Fife folkie Kenny Anderson, this time produced and backed by the mighty Earlies, adding a further dimension to KC’s beautiful songs. He rules!

9. MIA: Arular
Another critics favourite, and deservedly so. Oddly making it bigger in ‘indie’ circles than ‘urban’ ones despite the jittery, funky dancehall, garage whatever she does. Oh well, it’s their loss. Good outfits too.

10. Richard Hawley: Coles Corner
Fourth album from the crooning ex-Pulp guitarist, and another set of fine set of tunes that exemplify his northern working mens’ club meets Americana sound. Only this time people appear to be taking notice. About time too.

Honourable Mentions: The Shortwave Set: The Debt Collection; Saint Etienne: Tales From Turnpike House; Franz Ferdinand: You Could Have it So Much Better; Super Furry Animals: Love Kraft; LCD Soundsystem: LCD Soundsystem