Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Hot Chip Live! In Full Effect!

The new Hot Chip album is all. over. the. blogs. Here are a couple of tracks off the album - live on Radio 1 a couple of weeks ago. Check them out. The live version of Over and Over is particularly hot! I can't wait to see them live again...

Download: Over and Over (live on Radio 1)
Download: And I Was a Boy from School (live on Radio 1)

[Credit to JodiWarren for the 'Chip live pic.]

Coldcut - Sound Mirrors

They’re back! After a mere nine years away. Heck, is it really 1997 since their last proper album? Yeah, well it is but they haven’t really been away all that time. In some ways Coldcut are an unusual proposition. A band whose most definitive and critically acclaimed work has been their treatment of other people’s music (namely their remix of Eric B and Rakim’s Paid in Full and their seminal Journeys By DJ mix album) are never really going to be defined by the sum of their own original musical output.

Indeed, they’re pursued a whole host of other avenues. They are the bosses of one of Britain’s most enduring and respected indie labels – Ninja Tune – which has consistently over more than a decade been the figurehead of leftfield dance music in the UK, and have introduced the likes of Roots Manuva, Mr Scruff and the Cinematic Orchestra to the masses. They’ve also dabbled in club nights, art installations, software production, film-making and producing radio plays. They also have their own long-running Solid Steel radio show.

So surprise then that they’ve had the time to put out another album of their own. And what’s it like? Well, quite good. Just quite good though. The start of the album promises great things. Man in a Garage (destined to be a downbeat classic) and the up-tempo carnival of True Skool -rapped by Roots Manuva - are two of the greatest things they’ve ever recorded. Just for the Kick is another pleasingly squelchy Coldcut number that parties like it’s ’91 and is all the better for it. Walk a Mile in any other world would be great, if only it wasn’t for the amazing Willie Hightower version (one of my all time favourite songs). And is it just me or is Everything is Under Control (which brings in hip-hop maverick Mike Ladd and Jon Spencer of Blues Explosion fame) a glorious 00’s homage to EMF’s Unbelievable?

Not all of it is that good though. There are too many anonymous tracks, such as the psychobabble of Saul Williams on Mr Nichols, the uninspired beats of Boogieman, the too-worthy rant of Aid Dealer, and the banal soul of Island Earth.

The end of the album sees another two downbeat gems – Colours the Soul and the title track, which hint where Coldcut’s strengths lie. Well, just some of their many strengths, it would appear. Just don’t expect another album from them anytime soon.

Download: Sound Mirrors
Download: Man in a Garage

Monday, February 27, 2006

Friends of the night

OK, so various tracks from Mogwai’s Mr Beast have been around the internet for quite some time now, but it was very nice last week to get my hands on an actual physical copy of the Glasgow quintet’s new CD, and hear it in all it’s fuzzy, noisy glory, the way Stuart Braithwaite and the boys intended it to be.

Not that 2003’s Happy Songs for Happy People was a drop in form, but this is LP is a much-heralded return to what Mogwai are really good at – holding the supreme tension between the brutal and the beautiful. There are at least a couple of snarly rock monsters on here (Glasgow Mega-Snake and We’re No Here) but there are also moments of aching gorgeousness (Emergency Trap, Team Handed, the majestic Friend of the Night), with a beautiful piano melody against the backdrop of menacing guitar riffs. The titles are good too – Folk Death 95, We’re No Here, the aforementioned mega-snake – showing off the band’s sharp wit which could possibly be lost amidst the crashing guitars.

One thing that puzzles me though is Braithwaite’s insistence on singing on some of the tracks. He’s really no vocalist, and it adds nothing to the music which is good enough without any mic-related interference. That said, on Acid Food, his singing is gloriously upstaged by a lovely steel guitar coming in towards end. Mogwai going country – whatever next?

That apart, Mr Beast doesn’t really break new ground the band haven’t occupied before. But why should it really? When the formula is this good, why mess with it? Pointless experimentation can be a band thing and is somewhere that some of their contemporaries have come unstuck recently (like their fellow Glaswegians Belle and Sebastian). In a musical climate where no-one really still talks about post rock, Mogwai are still totally relevant.

Here are a couple of tracks that haven’t been quite as prominent on the blogs:

Download: Emergency Trap
Download: I Chose Horses

PS. I haven’t given this a favourable review just so I can escape the acid tongue of Barry Burns, as he’s been giving other publications a sarcastic broadside lately for negative reviews. He’ll probably never see this anyway…

Pre-order Mr Beast

Borough Market photo shocker!

I have a confession to make. I'm no longer a 'proper Londoner'. Yes, I did it. I went to Borough Market and took a photo. I go there every week as part of my food shopping, and have always seen myself above the happily-snapping hordes. 'I'm a proper Londoner' I thought. 'I come here to shop - not mooch around shooting vegetable displays'. Well on Saturday I was there. And I had a camera in my bag (for some other reason - honest!). And I saw this brownie tower and had to take a photo. So sorry. But it is a pretty cool tower...

Thursday, February 23, 2006

I keep a close watch on this heart of mine

I finally got to see Walk the Line on Monday. What a great movie! It's one of these films that everyone you know who's seen it loves it. OK, maybe that's just me - but whoever they are - friends or colleagues - everyone to a person really liked it. Not just 'Oh, it's OK'. More 'it was really good'.

Maybe it's because it's such a fantastic story. And the fine performances help a lot. I mean - Joaquin Phoenix - he doesn't look a whole lot like Johnny, but boy, does he inhabit the person of Cash and make us feel like we're watching the man himself. The mannerisms, the style, just whe whole damn cool lot. Heck, I probably won't even be disappointed if he beats Philip Seymour Hoffman to the Best Actor Oscar. And Reese Witherspoon - I really like her, and I really enjoyed seeing her in a decent film instead of the guff she usually crops up in.

It's one of these films I could watch over and over again - even if just for the music. The music! How good is that (and how well did Reese and Joaquin do to actually sing? How I wish I could have seen him (them) live. Oh well, I'll just to have to listen to these prison albums over and over. I put on Folsom the other night, and it still sounds amazing. Especially after seeing the film.

So here are a couple of tracks from Folsom. Plus a couple from the brilliant Unearthed box set - from the Trouble in Mind CD. Unlike the American albums, which are mostly stripped down and acoustic, this CD has people like Tom Petty and Carl Perkins coming in and they really let rip. I reckon there's only so much downbeat Johnny could do. They sound like they're enjoying themselves here.

From Folsom:

Download: Jackson
Download: I Got Stripes

From Unearthed:

Download: Down The Line
Download: Everybody's Trying to be my Baby

Buy Folsom here. Get somone to buy you Unearthed here - it's a fine present.

(PS - what's wrong with EZArchive today? It's like being on bloody dialup. Is it jsut me?)

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Ballad of the Broken Seas

I was disappointed when Isobel Campbell in Belle and Sebastian. I feared that her solo career would be too much like her previous 'Gentle Waves' side project, which was a bit too indie-twee with not enough good tunes. And I haven't really caught up with her until the new album Ballad of the Broken Seas.

Just as her former bandmates have ditched the twee through more muscular production and exploring new sounds, Isobel has gone for the most un-twee person she must have been able to think of to collaborate with. Mark Lanegan! He of 90s grungers Screaming Trees, Queens of the Stone Age and (most recently) his own Mark Lanegan Band.

What a combination! But it really works. His gravelly-voiced growl is the perfect foil to her breathy ethereal vocals. And their album of (mainly) duets is pretty good. It's growing on me all the time. After a couple of anonymous tracks, the album really gets going on 'The False Husband' and continues to get better. It's not a criticism that the highlight is the Hank Williams cover 'Ramblin' Man'. Obviously the original is great, but they really make it their own with a particular louche swagger. Nice. Other good'uns for me are 'Honey Child What Can I Do?' (with a fine orchestral backing) and the simple piano-backed title track.

The album has attracted the inevitable Gainsbourg-Birkin / Sinatra-Hazlewood comparisons, and although they're fair enough (heck, Campbell starts off 'Revolver' with a whispered "Je t'aime"!), the album has its own gently rolling dusty charm. And Mark Lanegan - that voice! OK - you can buy the album here, but I'm off to check out more Lanegan stuff...

Download: Honey Child What Can I Do?
Download: Revolver

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Tilly and the Wall @ The Buffalo Bar, 19 Feb

A gig on Sunday night? But there’s work the next day. But it’s Tilly and the Wall. Yeah, they’re quite good (I think), it’s at the Buffalo Bar (easy to get home from) and best of all it’s only three quid? Oh, go on then.
And I’m so glad I did! What a great gig! I was aware of their wayward charms from their album ‘Wild Like Children’ which I downloaded (inexplicably) free from their US record company’s site a couple of years ago. But I hadn’t listened to the album for ages, which maybe was a good thing as their wonderful girl-boy-girl harmony indie-pop tunes came like something new, fresh and very exciting.

Tilly and the Wall are a five-piece from Omaha Nebraska. The above-mentioned album came out in America in 2004 on Conor ‘Bright Eyes’ Oberst’s record label, but it’s only just come out in this country on indie Moshi Moshi (once home of the mighty Hot Chip). Their USP is that instead of a drummer, they have a tap dancer providing the rhythm section. Could be a novelty. Well, it is, but it’s much more than that…

I’d advise you to beg, borrow (and perish the thought) steal to get to one of their gigs. I can’t remember such an infectious, joyous atmosphere at a gig since my first Magic Numbers gigs back in ’04. The band were on fire, full of smiley manic energy, and "feeling the love" (they said) as they ripped through songs from Wild Like Children and a whole heap of other (new) ones. The tap dancer was something else – pounding her on-stage tap dancing board, and only (deservedly) stopping for breath for the odd song where she is usurped by a beatbox. ‘It’s like aerobic exercise up here for her’ says her bandmate, and she’s right. We’re impressed!

But it’s not just her who’s impressive – they all are. A band worth a place in your heart – as well as your CD collection and your diary. Their ‘tour of London’ ends tonight, with another date at the beginning of March at the Barfly. Let’s hope they’re back soon for more. I reckon next time they’ll be playing to more than 150 people in a sweaty basement. Gig of the year so far and easily one of the best three quids I’ve ever spent.

Here are a couple the songs from the album, which were a highlight for me at the gig (damn it, they all were…).

Download: Shake It Out
Download: The Ice Storm, Big Gust, and You

Go on! Buy Wild Like Children!

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Can't keep up the Pursuit

I'm a big Belle & Sebastian fan - have been since I heard them on Mark Radcliffe's olf Radio 1 show back in late '96 - so a new album from the band is always something to look forward to. Things have changed for them over the years, going from the lo-fi shambolic twee outfit they were to the indie superstars they are today - selling out big venues like Hammersmith Apollo in the blink of an eye. And they've also enhanced their sound a bit - last album 'Dear Catastrophe Waitress' seeing them with a higher production values, and experimenting with glam rock and new wave sounds.

But what of the new? The first five, or even six tracks on The Life Pursuit are as good as anything they're recorded before, with evidence of both the 'classic' sound (Act of the Apostle, Another Sunny Day) and the 'new' sound buidling on the innovations of 'DCW' (The Blues are Still Blue, White Collar Boy). However, given the title, it's appropriate to say that this is a bit of a Paula Radcliffe of an album - starts off with great promise, and then fails when it's beginning to look good. Maybe I need to give it more time, but I can't help but think that the second half of the album falls a bit flat.

There's almost a wobble on 'We are the Sleepyheads' where a dodgy experiment with vogueish spiky guitars is saved by a killer melody, but after that it's the poor Sly Stone imitation 'Song for Sunshine'. I've seen the band doing Stone before - A great version of 'Everyday People' at their Albert Hall show in 2001 - but this song is just weak. And save for the familiar 'Funny Little Frog' the rest of the album doesn't live up to expectations.

So (just over) half a great album. But let me assure you that good half is well worth it, and who knows, maybe I'll come to love the other half too...

Here's a couple of my current favourites.

Download The Blues are Still Blue
Download Act of the Apostle

Friday, February 17, 2006

You got the love - again!

I don't really keep up with the pop charts these days. At my age, it might be expected, but I was looking through my copy of The Guardian's Music and Film supplement today, and was pretty startled to see that in the UK singles charts, at number 7 is The Source feat Candi Staton 'You got the love'! What? Where did that come from? Is it in some ad I'm not aware of? Someone's obviously thought that it needs a bit of a re-release.

Now, it's a great tune, but if you like Candi's voice and fancy checking out some more of her music, you absolutely have to have the complilation, simly called 'Candi Staton' which was released by Damon Albarn's Honest Jon's Records last year. It's an amazing album. But be warned - it's not full of shimmery disco-ness (nice though that is). It's real earthy, emotional southern soul, recorded at the legendary Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Candi sings like she really means it, and given that the lyrics of many of the songs deal in lost love and heartbreak, it's pretty, well, heartbreaking. Totally essential. Check out two of my favourite songs from the album below. You can buy it here, but I remember that it was available from Fopp stores for a £5 recently. Maybe it still is. You'll rarely spend better fiver!

Download I'm Just a Prisoner of Your Good Lovin'
Download Heart on a String

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Back at the Pawn Shop again

Another Monday night in Soho at the Arts Club. Another Pawn Shop with The Shortwave Set and their assorted friends. Like last time we had 'Des O'Connor' the self-styled compere of the Pawn Shop with his sparkly ditties. Unlike last time we had a set by The Superimposers (above), doing their lovely 70s folky thing (shame they were a bit drowned out by the loud chatter). And like last time we had The Shortwave Set - pretty much the same set as two weeks ago, but who's complaining? Still sounding great.

One of the prizes on the tombola this week was the second prize (the first was of course, Babycham and Terry's All Gold), of getting to play with the band on their last number - the noisy wig-out at the end of 'In Your Debt'. So some bloke called Kieran got up and had a go, to much popular acclaim.

No pictures of the SS this time - I was too far back and there were too many heads in the way. Anyway, not that they're going to look much different from last time.

The Shortwave Set are taking the Pawn Shop on the road for a wee national tour. See their website for more details. Get there if you can...

Here's a couple of tunes. The glorious 'Is it any wonder' one of my favourite songs from last year, and 'Better than bad' which prompted a mass singalong on both Pawn Shops I've been to.

Download Better Than Bad
Download Is it Any Wonder

Buy 'The Debt Collection' and other SS goodies here.

The Aliens have landed!

"Bloody junk mail" I thought as I looked at the email called 'Introducing the Aliens'. But look again - the sender is 'Beta Band'. Hold on - The Beta Band split up well over a year ago. Hey - maybe this is some new Beta Band-related project. And it is! This is the best kind of junk mail.

Straight outta Fife, The Aliens collectively are John Maclean and Robin Jones (both ex Beta Band) and Gordon Anderson (aka Lone Pigeon, member of the Fence Collective, and 'founder member' of the BB). And they make a glorious noise! They pretty much pick up from where the Beta Band left off, and you can hear it in the brilliant new song 'Robot Man', which also has massive shades of Primal Scream's 'Loaded' (which in turn had massive shades of the Stones, etc, etc). There's not much to the lyrics (mainly 'Robot Man' repeated over and over) but a catchier tune you'll struggle to find at the moment. If it's not a hit (and in some ad) by the end of the year, I'll be a Sassenach!

Download 'Robot Man' here, and don't forget to check out their myspace site, which has another tune 'Only Waiting' for you to stream. Not as good as Robot Man but it's baggy throwback is still worth a listen. Looking forward to the debut EP “ALIENOID STARMONICA” which is meant to be out in April on Pet Rock records (their own label).

They're playing some gigs in Scotland later this month. Wish I could head back up there to check them out live. But I'm sure they'll be in London soon...

Now I'm off to see what that other ex-Beta man Steve Mason is up to. Judging by his recent patchy King Biscuit Time output, he could be eclipsed by his former bandmates. Let's hope I'm proved wrong.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah / Dr. Dog @ Koko, 10 February

It was the first night of the annual NME shows (so rock ’n’ roll that they’re sponsored by hair products) when the ‘hottest’ new bands who are being hyped by everyone around get to strut their stuff of several London stages. Friday was Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s second gig in London, and Koko is quite a big one for a band at this stage in their career, which isn’t necessarily a good thing. More on that later. First, the support...

Dr. Dog are apparently mates of CYHSY, and their fuzzy Americana is the perfect foil to the headline act’s NYC Talking Heads-ish cool. They’re an energetic bunch too – it was pretty hard to get a photo as they twisted their hairy frames around the stage, even missing the mike on occasions. But it was good stuff – that’s the advantage with not having any expectations of a band. Some nice surprises, particularly the last song – a gloriously ragged tune called Wake Up. With the demise of Grandaddy, we need another beardy American rock band, and Dr. Dog seem like the ideal replacements.

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah have the opposite problem to their mates – too much expectation. Ever since the music mags, websites and the blogosphere went crazy for them last year, they’ve got a hell of a lot to live up too. And in a way I feel sorry for them. They play a big gig like this a bit too early and I'm not sure they have what it takes to justify such a lofty slot. Not that it was a bad show – their album highlights like ‘Is This Love’ and ‘My Yellow Country Teeth’ were great live. But one problem was that they were played early in the set, leaving me thinking, ‘what are they going to do now?’. There were a few numbers I hadn’t heard (i.e. not on the album - were they new?), but they weren’t that good, and I got the impression that their material was being stretched a bit thin. Frontman Alec Ounsworth isn’t much of a singer (CHYSY probably stand or fall with you on whether or not his vocals annoy you), which is not necessarily a bad thing, but his vocal deficiencies are exacerbated in the live setting, which in turn was made worse again by the vocals being too low in the mix.

However, there was enough in their set to enjoy, and the gig was rescued at the end by a fine cover of Neil Young’s Helpless (a song I love). Not one that you'd have espected CYHSY to do, and it made sense that they were joined onstage by Dr. Dog doing extra backing vocals and general messing about. A fine end to a patchy gig.

NME has an article on this gig which features their obession with celebrity gig attenders (why?) and a tracklisting (but the writer obviously hasn't heard 'Helpless' before - what's this about 'Heights'??)

Friday, February 10, 2006

My new favourite band...

...for today anyway, are Polysics!

Surfing through the blogosphere the other day I was shaken out of my torpor after accidentally stumbling across The Wild Ones . The frantic energy of their perky electro punk-pop put a big grin on my face. How come I'd never heard of these guys? Since then I've found quite a few tracks via Hype Machine - most notably on tmwsiy* who posts three songs off their new album - not out in the UK till April (in US on Feb 21).

I can imagine that they're pretty amazing live - but their UK tour was as recently as November, so maybe not any time soon. Then I hear that they're to open for none other than the Kaiser Chiefs on their upcoming enormodrome tour. Let's hope all these kids arriving early for Ricky Wilson and co. get suitably blown away (and the headline act themselves get blown away!). And let's hope they manage the odd date of their own while they're in the country...

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Medicine for the February blues

As I curled up at home with stomach pains yesterday, three things kept me sane/amused through the afflication. All film-related:

1. New York, New York on DVD. Scorsese's attempt at the classic MGM musical, which apparently was slated by the critics at the time. But why? It's great! A excellent combination of the big-band musical with the distinctly un-musical theme of a troubled marriage, complete with wince-inducingly painful rows. Brillantly played by Liza Minelli and De Niro as the leads, and the music is to die for! A great way to forget about the pain for 3 hours.

2. The Whole Equation by David Thomson. It is what it says on the cover. This is shaping up to be a fine read...

3. 'Brokeback to the Future' - another of these great spoof trailers, the like of which I blogged on back in November. This is so worth a watch - via the Time Out Movie Blog (which I've only just discovered - shame on me).

Monday, February 06, 2006

In defence of the Oscars

Not like they need me to defend them or anything, but it is the done thing among ‘serious’ music fans to diss the Oscars. It’s not without reason, but as someone who considerers myself a big (serious?) movie fan, and whose tastes are not exactly in the mainstream of Hollywood output, I love ‘em.

I mean, it can’t be all 3 hour Greek arthouse dramas and Ken Loach bleak council estates, can it? We need a bit of show, glitz and glamour to go with our movies, and let’s face it, looking back over the last 78 years, since the Oscars started, there’s been some damn fine films. OK, there’s a bit of a dip in quality in the 80’s but that’s generally true of most things. The 70’s pictures are to die for, and even in recent years, they’re pretty solid stuff on the whole.

So I’ll be glued to my monitor on the morning of 6 March (who’s going to actually stay up and watch it?), and getting excited by it all…

For the record, here are my predictions (not the ones that I’d like to see win, those that I think will win). I take no responsibility for bets placed on the basis of these.

Best Picture: Brokeback Mountain

Best Director: Ang Lee

Best Actor: Philip Seymour Hoffman

Best Actress: Reese Witherspoon

Best Supporting Actress: Frances McDormand

Best Supporting Actor: George Clooney

Best Animated film: Wallace & Gromit

Adapted screenplay: Munich

Original Screenplay: Crash

I’m not going to bother with the rest (why are the Foreign films always such an odd lot?). However, if you want to reverse this game, you can vote for the film/person least likely to win in each category, over at Drew's "Predict The Oscars...Poorly" contest .

You can watch every detail of the Oscar run-in on, erm, Oscarwatch

Friday, February 03, 2006

Music on the Underground

No, not the Carling-approved buskers. Guardian journo Dorian Lynskey has done a version of the tube map, with bands replacing the stations (and explained himself). Not an entirely original concept I know, but a whole lot of fun. However judging by the comments, there's a lot of sourpusses out there who would like to have seen him include more oldies (or their favouritest band), less hip-hop or not bother at all, and do something more useful (like sorting out this whole cartoon affair maybe?).

Anyway, I liked it. I like the fact that the Central line (the longest) is devoted to reggae, I liked checking out all the intersections and I even don't mind that much that my station is occupied by 'trip-hop' weirdo Tricky (where is he now though?).

And it's 'official'! You can even buy it!

So, what's your station? And are you happy to be represented by that artist?

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Monday night at the Pawn Shop

Monday night down the pawn shop. To be more exact, a very fun kind of pawn shop, with DJs, a comedy effervescent public schoolboy compere with a furry tail doing dodgy karaoke, a lo-fi singer-songwriter called Marc Meon, tombola, a jumble sale selling customised plates and old trainers and best of all, south east London's finest psychadelic popsters The Shortwave Set!

Ever since I picked up a copy of their debut album The Debt Collection last year, I've been surprised that they haven't caught on like some of their tuneful poppy contemporaries like The Magic Numbers, but their time may well come. They've got some higher profile support slots, but for now, they're doing their lovely tuneful stuff down at the Soho Arts Club for a few shows. And it's all good. Playing in the corner of what's effectively a large living room with a bar, at one end, it 's the perfect dingy smoky atmosphere to get aquainted with their charms.

I've loved them ever since I saw them supporting The Earlies last year, 'Is it any wonder' was one of my fave tunes of 2005 with its insanely catchy piano riffs. But the rest of their stuff ain't bad either. They're very much like Saint Etienne minus the disco stylings, and with a big dose more sixties retro. You just have to look at the lead singer to see that!

Anyway, they played pretty much all of The Debt Collection, with the mass singalong 'Better than Bad' and new single 'Repeat to Fade' being particular highlights. And another mass singalong, this time the chorus to 'Hey Jude' to accompany the noisy end of 'In Your Debt' rounded things off nicely to propel us sweaty into Soho's mercifully cold streets.

More pics

Honestly, I couldn't get any pictures without that guy's bald head. It was crowded in there!

Download a copy of the new single from here or here.

Kitchen sink drame - the final act?

Due to popular demand (?) here's some progress in what could be the final act of the kitchen (sink) drama. Some progress can be seen here...

And even more here (this morning) ...

My, I've never been so glad to see the sight of dishes piling up in the kitchen! All that remains to be done now is put the doors on, seal in the worktop, lay a new floor..... groan....