Thursday, November 30, 2006

Best of November

Album of the month

November’s album of the month is a bit of a surprise – not least to me. I had fully expected would be Jarvis, Joanna Newsom or most likely Amy Winehouse. But despite such heavyweight competition, the winner is London-based singer-songwriter James Mathe, who because of the colour of his facial hair, records under the name Barbarossa (‘red beard’ in Italian, fact fans). Despite his location in the capital, he’s part of the Fife-based Fence Collective – a group of folk musicians who ply a wonderful trade in off-kilter folk music.

Chemical Campfires is his debut full-length album, released on Fence Records, who also put out his previous mini-album Sea Like Blood. The album features other alternative folk luminaries such as Findlay Brown and Daily Growl favourite Johnny Flynn on violin. It’s a lovely record. One that is understated yet totally addictive. The song that first got me hooked was the first track, Love and You. It’s beautifully simple - melody, acoustic guitar, fragile vocals - and really just plain beautiful. The rest of the album fits into a similar vein. It may well fit under the much abused term 'folktronica', though there's more of the 'folk' and less of the 'tronica'. But nevermind labels. Have a listen to these tracks.

Download: Barbarossa - Love and You
Download: Barbarossa - Seven Years

The album's not actually had its proper release yet, but you can get it from some of the country's better quality record shops. Like Rough Trade. Buy here.

Songs of the month

She may have missed out on album of the month, but in every other way, there's really no holding back Amy Winehouse. She's blasted back onto the music scene, leaving behind the patchy jazziness of Frank for full-on retro soul on her new album Back to Black. And what a result! It's a fantastic album, and this is my favourite track - retro soul doesn't get much better than this.

Download: Amy Winehouse - Back to Black

The real purist's album this month though is Joanna Newsom's Ys. Is it possible for any other album this year to come laden with so much acclaim? Hyperbole has been unloaded by the truckload, but I'm not going to add to it here, mainly becaue I don't think I've spent enough time with it to be honest with my superlatives. But I can be honest about the first track - Emily, because it's amazing.

Download: Joanna Newsom - Emily

This track was one of the stand-outs from the 1990s' storming CSS support slot the other week. These guys don't have any pretensions. No angular guitar sounds or haircuts. Just rockin' riffs and chunky tunes. They're a party band and this is a superb case in point. Actually I fear that they may never better this track, and end up flabby rockers like Oasis or Primal Scream. But so what? This is good, and I'm enjoying it before it gets tainted elsewhere.

Download: 1990s - You're Supposed to be my Friend

As previously reported, Sufjan's awe-inspiring Barbican concert at the start of the month had something new to excite even further. His 10-minute epic Majesty, Snowbird, which only serves to confirm his genius even further. This track is still only available as a live bootleg, but the quality on this one is pretty good. Makes you salivate at the prospect of the next album.

Download: Sufjan Stevens - Majesty, Snowbird

And finally, another new band. It's hard to keep track of new bands sometimes. For example, Good Books. Good Shoes. Blood Red Shoes. It's hard when so many of them ply the same spiky guitar rock formula. It's even harder when the names seem to run together. I get confused sometimes. But not confused enough to recognise that this is a top tune. To be honest, I'm not even sure what it is that makes this track stand above its peers, but somehow I really like it. Maybe someone can help me on this.

Download: Blood Red Shoes - You Bring Me Down

Now, while I'm on listings, I should really turn my mind to my best of 2006. Unlike last year, I'm struggling to come up with any hierarchy this year. It's going to be hard. Hopefully I won't take too long over it.

While you wait, here's some more lists to puruse. You probably know about Uncut's uninspired list, but have you seen the choices of the folks at top London record store Pure Groove? Nice.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Bringing back the (big) beat

Are you ready for the Big Beat revival? Yes? Then check out Kids in Tracksuits. There’s not really a ‘scene’ yet, but you’ve always got the likes of NME around to invent one. When I first heard this Nottingham-based group, doing a session for John Kennedy on Xfm I was immediately transported back to the heyday of what was known as ‘Big Beat’ in around ’96-‘97.

I was fresh in London, an indie kid from Glasgow in a big new place with lots of big new things to offer. Including beats. Big Beat was often-criticised for being dance music to appeal to people who really only liked rock music, but it was my way in. Apart from the likes of Saint Etienne and Screamadelica, I was never really into anything that could be called dance music, but Big Beat did it for me.

It lured me in. It led me to a whole new world of music – hip hop, drum ‘n’ bass and techno mainly, but I even flirted with house. It also led to the capital’s dancefloors – so then, many happy evenings at the likes of The Heavenly Jukebox at Turnmills, its successor Headstart, Sonic Mook Experiment (before it went rock) and The (Big Beat) Boutique at the Scala, early days at Fabric and many, many more.

Kids in Tracksuits help to conjure up these ghosts of the past, especially now that I’ve largely reverted to my indie default. Midfield General. Fatboy Slim. Lo-Fidelity Allstars. Heck, the whole Skint label in the mid-late 90s. All that scratching, silly samples and chunky beats. A lot of it was great, until it began to wear a bit thin as the new millennium approached. Fatboy Slim should have given up long ago.

Yet these Kids bring a fresh approach, sense of fun and the sort of tunes that I never knew I was missing from my music collection, but somehow, now seem to have been. Check them out. Maybe it’s time for a Big Beat revival. Just the good stuff though. Like this.

Download: Kids in Tracksuits – Make it Rock (Xfm session)
Download: Kids in Tracksuits – Bugged (Xfm session)

Another great thing about KIT is that they’re a download-friendly band. There are a load of decent mp3s available from their website. Here’s one of them.

Download: Kids in Tracksuits – Uprock Theme

And finally – just as I was thinking about this post, I was surfing round blogland and came across Good Weather For Airstrikes’ mammoth Justice post. He’s posted a snip from a Justice set at Trash last year, including their reworking of The Prodigy’s Smack My Bitch Up. How appropriate! I thought. They’ve mixed in Wildchild’s Renegade Master. It doesn’t come much more Big Beat than this! And if it’s good enough for these lords of cool, it should be good enough for you. I’ve nicked the tune for my blog. Hope that’s OK.

Download: The Prodigy – Smack My Bitch Up (Justice mix)

Good new things

First, this week's Contrast Podcast is out. I’ve got a bit of an agenda because I’m on there, but it’s as good as usual. This weeks’s theme is Chickens and other birds. There’s a good few avian crackers there. Mind you, I really must brush up on my intros – work out how to use the audio recorder on my camera better, and breathe properly.

The second is not quite as new, but still less than a week old. After a couple of weeks of missed deadlines, the new Rough Trade digital website is now with us. And it sure has been worth the wait! It seems to use the same platform (is that the right term techies?) as, and naturally will share many of the same artists. But there’s a definitely a Rough Trade Shop twist, where they have some of the exclusive releases that they have on their counter and walls – some only available for a short time. There’s also a redesign for the shop website, if you’re interested in old-fashioned things like CDs and vinyl. Of course you are!

Danielson: A Family Movie

So the Danielson Family Movie screening at Grace Church Hackney on Sunday night went well. There was a good load of people to see the film - probably more than we expected for a band which has such a particular cult appeal. But then again, maybe it’s not so surprising given that Danielson’s Luminaire show on Sunday has long sold out.

Anyway, the film? I thought it was pretty good. Quite an intimate portrait of Daniel Smith and his (extended) family, and you end up feeling that you know him quite well. The fact that a lot of the film focuses on his/their Christianity shouldn’t put you off too much, because that’s exactly what they are, and their faith totally informs their work. Which is fairly consistently good, if a little unsettling. I loved the vox pop with the rock dude who said even though he was in a metal band, Danielson freaked him out (and that was a good thing).

An hour and a half in an uncomfortable pew maybe made the film seem a bit longer than it would in more comfortable surroundings. The movie could probably have done with a bit more judicious editing, though some of the bits that initially seemed meandering and pointless – like Daniel pontificating about the ‘concept’ for his solo work – end up being worthwhile when we see the end product – in this case his ‘salesman’ stage show.

And at the end we get the rare sight of Sufjan smiling, winking and giving a thumbs up – surely a pose rarely seen and one worth waiting for.

Head over to Three Pink Monkeys for another view of the show, which isn't too different from mine. Heck, becuase she was quicker off the mark than me, I should have just pointed you in her direction instead of rambling on here. And because I forgot my camera, even the photos are hers. Credit where it's due.

Anyway, all this Danielson stuff is setting me up nicely for the Luminaire show on Sunday night. Can't wait. Also can't stop posting Danielson tracks. Just as well that I'm not going to run out of good ones any time soon...

Donwload: Brother Danielson - Physician Heal Yourself

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Disco Pogo for Punks in Pumps Volume 13

Time to draw this series to a close. Unless I acquire a copy of volume 6, or finding my missing volume 11 CD, this is the last post of my Jockey Slut Disco Pogo for Punks in Pumps features. It’s volume 13, from December 2003. Looking at the tracklisting, it’s not the most illustrious-looking compilation in the series. Maybe things were getting a little fraught at the magazine by this time. But that’s not to say volume 13’s not without its pleasures.

You may think that a John Cale track was an odd choice for a Jockey Slut CD, and you’d be right. But it's alright really. The tracks I've posted are a real mixed bag of styles - from the electronic folkery of John Matthias, to the top-notch scratchin' and rappin' of Diverse, to the funky disco house of Jersey Street Allstars, to the darker electro rock of Midwest Project, to the utterly fabulous endpiece where Tiefschwarz keep it German by reworking Truby Trio's fine grooves and making them that wee bit dirtier.

That's a kinda good way to end, because after this issue, it only took four more months for Jockey Slut to fold. There were only two more issues. It went ‘quarterly’ before it vanished, taking the remainder of my subscription money with it. Not just a loss for my pocket, but for the British music press as a whole.

As a postscript to the whole sorry affair, some of the people behind JS made a comeback this year with Dummy Magazine, this time a quarterly which so far has been true to its word. I bought the third issue a couple of months ago, and it’s actually pretty good. Much more ‘general indie’ than Jockey Slut, but it’s still well worth a read, and it introduced me to some artists that I’d been only vaguely aware of before. More on that later. For now, enjoy this – one of the last great bastions of British ‘dance culture’.

Download: John Matthias - All The Time in The World
Download: John Cale - Bicycle
Download: Diverse - Certified
Download: Jersey Street Allstars - Burnin'
Download: Midwest Product - Dead Cat
Download: Truby Trio - Universal Love (Tiefsahwarz Mix)

After all the inevitable end of year lists stuff is over, I’ll be getting onto a new series for the new year – a journey through post-punk, I think. It’s inspired by a book I’m reading just now. Everyone (including me) is talking about post punk these days, in reference to the surfeit of young bands with spiky guitars. But what does it actually mean? I’m enjoying finding out, and when I’ve explored the music a bit more, I’ll share it with you.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Acoustic Ladyland

Just when I thought I'd got all the essential albums of the year, and I could start spending my money on Christmas presents, another record hits me from leftfield. Well, not a whole record, but a band at least. It happened last Thursday I was listening to John Kennedy on Xfm talking to Pete Wareham from Acoustic Ladyland, and playing session tracks from the band .

As well as sax-player Pete, Acoustic Ladyland also features Seb Rochford and Tom Herbert amongst its number - and these three also comprise acclaimed modern jazz outfit Polar Bear (one of the token non-rock Mercury nominations a couple of years back). Acoustic Ladyland are jazz too, it seems. Now I don't know much about the genre, so I'm disinclined to comment too much, but this isn't jazz as I've heard. It's jazz fused with some kind of super-energetic post-punk. I'm not sure what it is about Saltwater, but I really like it - it's energy, it's craziness, the fact that it doen't follow structures. It's totally great, and could be worth the price of the album alone. The other track Glass Agenda isn't really much like it, and subsequently isn't nearly as good. But it's not bad. And if the album Skinny Grin is more of of the 'Saltwater type', it could be a classic.

Download: Acoustic Ladyland - Saltwater (Xfm session)
Download: Acoustic Ladyland - Glass Agenda (Xfm session)

Buy Skinny Grin

Friday, November 24, 2006

Jeremy Warmsley / Absentee @ 93 Feet East, 21 November

In a better, fairer world, this gig would have sold out. Nevermind that, it would have been sold out at somewhere like Shepherd’s Bush Empire. Instead, despite a fair bit of critical acclaim, the great record buying public seem to have been quite slow to pick up on the charms of Jeremy Warmsley and Absentee.

I've seen these guys a few times already this year, and I’ve written quite a bit about both of them this year already on this blog, so I’ll try not to repeat myself too much. Both of them have released full-length debuts this year, which are in strong contention for my albums of the year. But they’re both quite different propositions.

Absentee’s strengths lie in their rough-edged charm. Their songs occupy a space that might be labelled as ‘scuzzy Americana’. I’ve always got time for this type of simple, melodic guitar pop. There’s so much to enjoy. Dan Michaelson’s pleasingly gruff vocals, the horn section, lingering at the back, blasting goodness across the songs, Babak's ranging guitar licks, always delivered from out stage right. They’re down-to-earth and affable. There’s nothing particularly original in their music, but there’s just something there for me that makes it all very special.

Tonight in addition to established classics like We Should Never Have Children, Something to Bang and You Try Sober, they play a couple of new songs in their short set. They sound great. The next album’s looking good already.

Jeremy Warmsley is great for almost the opposite reasons. Where Absentee are loose and fuzzy and straightforward, Jeremy and his band are sharp, tight and complex. And although he’s a multi-talented chap, he’s not the only one on stage tonight. The bass player is brilliant and it looks like his body is reacting to every part of the compelling grooves he’s pounding out so thrillingly. His keyboard player, Tom Rogerson is a virtuoso of the keys, and his contribution is every bit as exciting. He was actually the first act on the bill, with his band, but a combination of slow-cooking chicken and an over-officious bouncer meant we missed all but the last few bars of his set.

Jeremy is as excellent as I hoped. He showcases his debut album Art of Fiction, and manages to squeeze in a couple of new ones - one of them played towards the end is particularly good. You just can't pigeonhole Warmsley. One track is acoustic, the next is fast and rocking, the one after a piano ballad. He brings in the pounding bass on some, not on others. There's a spare drum kit that the bass player hits for extra percussion on a couple of numbers. And Jeremy drags Emmy the Great on stage to sing a lovely duet on I Believe in the Way You Move. There's just so much to keep track of and so much to be impressed by. New single Dirty Blue Jeans is energetic and urgent. The stripped down 5 Verses sounds fine in its new clothes. Modern Children just soars (only to be marred at the end by a slightly unsuccessful attempt at an audience singalong). And the encore, a version of I Knew That Her Face Was A Lie with Tom Rogerson and Jeremy sharing a keyboard is nothing short of spine tinglingly sublime. The boy's magnificent. And unique. He's probably the closest thing we've got to a British Sufjan Stevens. Hopefully his time will come.

Download: Absentee - We Should Never Have Children
Download: Absentee - There's a Body in a Car Somewhere
Download: Jeremy Warmsley - I Knew That His Face Was a Lie
Download: Jeremy Warmsley - I Promise

Buy The Art of Fiction AND Schmotime (really, you should)

Have a look at my pictures of the gig at my Flickr photostream.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

I am one

Happy birthday to me. No, not my real birthday – that was last month. No, today is the first birthday of The Daily Growl. On 22 November 2005, I set me up a Blogger account and started typing. My posts on that day didn’t actually amount to much, but the next day I launched into what would be the shape of things to come, with a review of Kristin Hersh.

Actually, I started off with broader intent. I had originally wanted to write about three things I love – music, film and London. Over the months, the latter two have mostly fallen away, and The Daily Growl has become a music blog with added mp3s. Maybe that’s a good thing. I’ve enjoyed it anyway. It’s given me an outlet to talk about the music I love, and new discoveries I’ve made. And I hope I’ve introduced a few readers to some good stuff that they’ve enjoyed too.

So all that remains is for me to think of what tracks to post. I’ll keep it obvious. What more obvious than a song called Birthday. And since I’ve named my blog after a certain Lambchop song, it feels appropriate to post it as well.

Here’s to another year. Now I’m off to eat that muffin (yep - the one in the picture).

Download: Sugarcubes – Birthday
Download: Lambchop – The Daily Growl

Buy Lambchop's masterful Is a Woman.

Robert Altman RIP

I feel really sad about this news. This isn't a film blog anymore (it never was really), but I can't let this one pass without remark. I had to pay tribute to Robert Altman. I know he was old. I know he has had heart problems. But it's still a real shock, and a huge blow to film-lovers everywhere.

I'm not sure I need to say anything else except thanks Robert for so many wonderful films, and post this list of some of his movies. Sure, there are some less-then-amazing ones here, but the consistent hight quality is self-evident. Cinema, and the world, has lost one of its greats.

MASH (1970)
McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971)
The Long Goodbye (1973)
Thieves Like Us (1974)
Nashville (1975)
3 Women (1977)
A Wedding (1978)
Quintet (1979)
A Perfect Couple (1979)
Health (1980)
Popeye (1980)
Streamers (1983)
Secret Honor (1984)
Fool for Love (1985)
Beyond Therapy (1987)
Vincent & Theo (1990)
The Player (1992)
Short Cuts (1993)
Prêt-à-Porter (1994)
Kansas City (1996)
The Gingerbread Man (1998)
Cookie's Fortune (1999)
Dr. T & the Women (2000)
Gosford Park (2001)
The Company (2003)
A Prairie Home Companion (2006)

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

No Music Day

So, today is No Music Day. At least Bill Drummond has declared it to be so. For those of you too young to remember, Bill was half of what used to be The KLF, the art-pop anarchists responsible for such varied pleasures as 3am Eternal and burning a million quid on a Scottish island.

If you go to the No Music Day website, you’ll not find that much explanation, apart from that NMD “is an aspiration, an idea, an impossible dream, a nightmare” and that it’s today because 22 November is Saint Cecilia's day. For those of us not up on the saints, St Cecilia is the patron saint of music.

Despite the statement that “No Music Day has nothing to sell. There is no mission statement”, Drummond has been doing a bit of explaining, which is handy. After all, if you love music, why would you boycott it for a day? In last week’s Time Out, he comes pretty damn close to a ‘statement’ by saying “This is a personal crusade” and that “it’s about setting aside a day to be thinking about music and our relationship with it. Increasingly we are all using music to block out reality, or block out our own thoughts.” He also wrote about it at length in the Observer Music Monthly, and was on Radio 4’s today programme this morning. Making more statements.

But you know, I’m sort of with him. As much as I love music, we do bombard ourselves with it every day, and are then bombarded by every other shop, bar or restaurant we go into. By music that’s carefully selected to be as bland and inoffensive as possible (which really renders it very offensive – Mrs Growl told me that she had to escape from a clothes shop the other day due to a particularly awful Whitney Houston song).

Does all this make music lose its value? Probably. And often the people most responsible for devaluing music are the radio stations that play the same songs over and over again. How often have you had a song ruined by repetition? I don’t listen to much radio, but even a song as good as Crazy by Gnarls Barkley has been so ubiquitous that I definitely think less of it now than when I first heard it.

Last night I was sorting out my wayward CD collection that lost its alphabetisation a while back, rendering any specific searches near impossible. So many CDs. How often do I listen to them? What’s the value of them to me? Am I just collecting plastic and paper? But then again, after sorting, so little to put in the ‘Why do I have this?’ pile.

What are you doing to celebrate No Music Day? I’ve given it a go. It’s now the end of lunchtime, and apart from listening to a couple of songs while I ironed this morning (just before I heard Bill on Radio 4 and was reminded about NMD) I’ve been music-free all day. No iPod. No music coming from my computer through my headphones while I work. No shopping in stores playing music (but does reading about music count?) It's been fine so far, but it all comes to an end this evening though, when I go down 93 Feet East to see Jeremy Warmsley and Absentee. Oh well, looks like I can’t escape music. No matter how hard I try.

Obviously, no downloads today.

Picture from Time Out London

Monday, November 20, 2006

Sara Lowes & The Earlies

Only a couple of days after last posting on the Earlies, I’m returning to them again. And why not? First news (via DiS) is that No Love in Your Heart and Breaking Point (posted on Friday) are out as the first single off the album on 11 December. Any bets for Christmas number 1 then? Apparently the whole new album will eventually be released on 10 inch – until they can all be wrapped up in a lovely box set next summer. One for these Earlies-fans-vinyl-collector-aesthetes then. You don’t have to wait that long for The Enemy Chorus though – it’s out on 29 January.

The Earlies are also a fine backing band. I’ve seen them playing with Micah P Hinson (in a double header which is still one of the best gigs I’ve been to in the last five years), and King Creosote. They’ve also provided backing to one of their own number – Sara Lowes. Although the core of The Earlies is John Mark Lapham, Giles Hatton, Christian Madden and Brandon Carr, their extended family takes in a much bigger group of people, including keyboard-player and backing vocalist Sara. She does her own material – a sweet, tuneful, downbeat folk-pop very well. You can listen to her current stuff on her myspace, but the best of the bunch is the limited 7 inch she released with The Earlies in 2004. It contains one of her own compositions, and a cover of the Webb Brothers’ I've Been Waiting. It’s very lovely. Have a listen.

Download: Sara Lowes & The Earlies – The Ballad of Thomas Danger
Download: Sara Lowes & The Earlies – I’ve Been Waiting

You might still be able to buy this. Try here.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Danielson movie - a week to go.

Yep. As the title says, it's a week to go to the Danielson movie. If you're new to this blog, I've been on about this before - I'm helping my friend Ping who's organising a screening of the Danielson Family Movie on 26 November. That's this coming Sunday. If you're in London, and intrigued by the oddball collective that is the Danielson Family, you should come along. Here are the details again:

Time: Doors 7:30pm, film starts at 8:00pm
Venue: Grace Church Hackney (Shoreditch Church)
Directions: Check this map
Cost: it's free! (though a small donation would probably be appreciated)

I'm really looking forward to the this movie, after hearing so many good things about it. I posted the trailer before, so here's another Danielson clip - for Did I Step On Your Trumpet, off the latest LP Ships. Ping said that this video is one delight after another. She's right.

And finally, here are another couple of Danielson tracks to whet your appetite:

Download: Danielson - Bloodbook on the Halfshell
Download: The Danielson Familie - Singers Go First

Buy Ships or Fetch The Compass Kids

Tiny Dancers

A lazy post from me today. I was sent this mp3 the other day, and I thought that it was decent enough to post. The band are Tiny Dancers. They're from Yorkshire, and apparently they didn't get their name because they're massive Elton John fans. Crap name though - I wouldn't have given them the time of day if I hadn't got round to downloading the song.

Anyway, it starts off quite well - nice measured moody opening. Sparse basslines. I'm beginning to think 'more gloomy 80s indie'. Then the chorus builds, the keyboard swells, and I'm thinking 'Inspiral Carpets'! Are we ready for the 'Carpets revival? There's still some nostalgia out there for the old Manc lags. Their revival tours always seem to pack 'em in. Likely all slightly portly 30-somethings remembering their halcyon student days with a tear in their eyes. Is this the market for Tiny Dancers? Probably not, though if they could write a song as good as Saturn 5, they'd surely be onto something. We'll see, I guess.

Download: Tiny Dancers - 20 to 9

Friday, November 17, 2006

Earlies to return, a little late

For a band named The Earlies, they’ve certainly kept their fans waiting a long time for their new album. I’m one of these fans. I loved their debut long-player These Were The Earlies, a wonderful concoction of country, psychedelic rock, and even dub. It was my favourite album of 2004. And ever since then I’ve been eager to hear what they’re going to do next. Not even the trickle of beautifully designed and packaged 7 and 12 inches of songs from the album really satisfied the urge for more.

But it looks like the wait is almost over. Despite the Texas-Manchester outfit’s new album being delayed, it looks like it’s going to hit shops in January 2007. And it’s going to be preceded by a few limited vinyl releases of songs off the album. They did this last time too, and there sure were some lovely records.

The first single from the new album The Enemy Chorus, is No Love in Your Heart, and you can stream it on their myspace. Seems like they haven’t changed the template massively. There are still the synth swirls, the mean basslines, the sweeping strings, the lovely harmonies, layered vocals, the blasting horns. It sounds great. Epic even.

Then yesterday I got another track, courtesy of the fine website that it The Downloader. It’s an instrumental called Breaking Point, and like No Love in Your Heart, it displays all of the classic Earlies hallmarks, except with only a faint smattering of vocals and a bigger and dirtier synth sound. It’s all good and bodes well for The Enemy Chorus. Roll on January then.

Download: The Earlies - Breaking Point

And just to remind ourselves of how good they've been, here's a couple of tracks off These Were The Earlies.

Download: The Earlies - Morning Wonder
Download: The Earlies - Song for #3

Buy These Were The Earlies
from Amazon.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

CSS / 1990s / The Rogers Sisters @ The Scala, 14 November

You know the gig's a hot one when you can't see the band for the photographers at the start of their set. And the band's reputation had obviously preceded them - the bouncers were moving into their positions at the side of the stage well before CSS took to the stage. But before talking any further about everyone's favourite Brazillian electro-poppers, let me cast my mind back to earlier in the evening.

The reason I was so excited about this gig wasn't just the oh-so-hot headliners. It was a prety impressive triple bill. I was particularly keen to see The Rogers Sisters again. Their Invisible Deck has been one of these albums that I've kept going back to througout this year, and their gig at ULU in April was excellent. And sure enough, it was another fine set from the Brooklyn garage rockers. Particularly memorable was their cover of Captain Beefheart's Zig Zag Wanderer, and the closer, my favourite Sisters track, the mighty Your Littlest World, where they wrung every last drop of goodness out of their guitars before leaving the stage. Phew, what a start! And The Scala is still filling up.

Download: The Rogers Sisters - Why Don't You
Download: The Rogers Sisters - Your Littlest World

Buy The Invisible Deck

Next up are Glasgow's 1990s, and mates of CSS. This band aren't going to win any beauty competitions, but they will surely rock many venues like this for at least a while to come. I had got these guys wrong. Somehow I had them down as some sort of post-punk-funk outfit or something like that. But there's a lack of angular guitars. Instead I heard big meaty riffs, chunky basslines and singaling choruses. These guys, alumuni of other Glasgow indie bands The Yummy Fur and V-Twin, have partying on their minds, and come across like a slightly poppier Primal Scream (the current Scream, not the Screamadelica-era lot).

They're definitely a good live band, particularly on top tunes like their forthcoming proper debut single You're Supposed to be My Friend, but I'm not entirely sure what they will sound like on record - hopefully not like the Fratellis. I fear a little. It's quite amusing to hear their Glasgow accents creeping through the mid-Atlantic style they affect for their songs. Particularly on the ba-ba-ba bits. A qualified success then.

I would have liked to post some 1990s songs, but since their only release has been a long sold out 7 inch, you'll have to be content with their myspace. The new single is out on Monday.

Everyone is really waiting for CSS. About halfway through their set, Adriano (the only bloke in the band) apologises for them not reading the manuals for some new equipment they'd bought. Maybe that explains something. Because I don't know what it was, but CSS's set doesn't quite soar the way I'd expected. Maybe it was because it was more well, rock than electro-pop-rock. Maybe the audience was a little less wild than I thought they were going to be. Or maybe I just had mentally built the gig up to a level it couldn't reach.

But don't get me wrong, it was a great show. CSS are the best type of live band - out for a good time, to give their best, and most of all they have in Lovefoxx a real pop star in the making. She totally lives up to the tales, spending a considerable amount of time either surfing above the crowd, or in amongst the sweaty bodies, getting down with the kids. She doesn't remain still for a second. The great thing about her is that despite her obvious charisma, she seems seriously lacking in ego. When she joined the 1990s for backing vocals on one song, she didn't disappear back into the dressing room - she headed into the audience, made her way to the front, and spent the rest of her mate's set clearly enjoying herself.

CSS play pretty much the whole of their self-titled debut album. They don't have much else to play, so the set is short and sweet. But despite Cansei de ser Sexy only having been out for a few months, it's clearly a well-loved record already. Alcohol is a natural singalong "You like alcohol in this country" Lovefox says. Yep. Their "R 'n' B number" (of course it is) Music is My Hot Hot Sex is totally thrilling, and the biggest cheer is saved predictably for Let's Make Love and Listen to Death From Above, their last song and messy exit. They do return though for an encore - a cover of L7's Pretend We're Dead, which considering how rubbish L7 were, is surprisingly good. And then CSS really are gone. But they'll no doubt be back soon to entertain and excite us.

Download: CSS - Alcohol
Download: CSS - Music is My Hot Hot Sex

Buy Cansei De Ser Sexy

Look at my photos of all three bands at my Flickr photostream

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Contrast and other stuff

After being aware of the Contrast Podcast for a while, I finally got round to listening to it last week. It was No. 32 - When? It was great. The people who talked up Contrast were right. So I had a go at contributing to the next one. No. 33 came out today, and I'm on it, along with a heap of others. The theme is Album Openers. Check it out.

I'm also making a guest appearance on Sweeping the Nation. Or at least I did last week. It's part of their series Songs to Learn and Sing, where basically they invite other bloggers to contribute a lesser-known classic that they think everyone should hear. Mine is Willie Hightower's amazing version of Walk a Mile in My Shoes. Read more of my praise here.

I'm finally getting round to updating the links on my sidebar. I've been annoyed with particularly the music blog links for a while. I've got a whole load of great British music blogs bookmarked that I read regularly, which weren't in my links. It's a bit of a work in progress, so there will be more added shortly. I just wanted to single out a couple of them.

Firstly, possibly my favourite (newish) blog of the moment is The White Noise Revisited. Not for them the heat of buzz bands, or the lure of the well-in-advance mp3. No, it's just top-notch writing about good, interesting, new or obscure music.

Another even newer blog is Three Pink Monkeys. I have a bias on this one, because I know her, but I think it's a good blog, and well worth a read.

And finally, lazily, an mp3. No real reason apart from that it popped into my inbox at the end of last week, and I like it. Hot Chip remixing Plan B's Who Needs Actions (the title track of his album). Think Plan B. Think Hot Chip. Put them together and you've got the idea.

Download: Plan B - Who Need Actions (Hot Chip Remix)

Monday, November 13, 2006

Low take the Violet Path

When I was back at my parents' place in Scotland a couple of weekends ago, I was rudely awoken on the Friday morning by a friend's phone call. However I wasn't mad at having my lie-in disturbed - I got some important news that needed action! That news was that Low is playing at The Spitz on 15 February next year and that there were tickets still going. That's Low. At The Spitz! I rushed to find an internet connection, but by the time I had logged on, the tickets were gone. So no intimate evening for me and 249 other people, with Low playing in the middle of the room. Shame.

In the meantime, I'll have to console myself with the news of their new album, tentatively called The Violet Path, next spring. I love Low. There are always times when I need the slow-burning beauty of their songs in my life. Their last album The Great Destroyer was, in my humble opinion, their best yet, so I'm expecting great things of the new one. Alan Sparhawk told Pitchfork "Near as I can tell, it's all about killing. I was kind of realizing the other day that a lot of the songs deal with either killing someone or dying." So a radical departure then, from the people who started their classic Things We Lost in the Fire with the lyric "When they found your body..."

To add to the anticipation, the new record will include Murderer - the lead track from their 2003 limited edition 10 inch EP, which also contained an early version of Silver Rider (from The Great Destroyer). So I've dug it out, given it a listen, and posted the two rarer tracks for your listening pleasure. Murderer can whet your appetite for The Violet Path, and you can enjoy From Your Place on Sunset, a lovely long ponderous song which may not crop up anywhere else again.

Now, can anyone get me a ticket for The Spitz?

Download: Low - Murderer
Download: Low - From Your Place On Sunset

Buy The Great Destroyer and Things We Lost in the Fire

Friday, November 10, 2006

Disco Pogo for Punks in Pumps Vol 12

So I was thinking “I better push on with finishing off the Jockey Slut Disco Pogo series before the end of the year. Maybe even before the end-of-year lists mayhem that will descend in December”. So I reached up to the shelf, picked up the CD case for Vol. 11 (the next one in line), and what’s inside? Nothing. No CD. Aargh! Is it inside another CD case? Is it rattling around somewhere in my house? Who knows, but given the size of my CD collection, it could be quite a while before I find it. So in advance of that happy day, I’m going to skip one ahead and give you volume 12.

This isn’t the best Disco Pogo, with more than usual average or below tracks, but there are still some goodies to be found. Note that although this year saw the final triumph of Justice vs. Simian’s We Are Your Friends (even against the might of the blubbering Kanye), the track – here under its original name Never Be Alone – was on this comp, way back in November 2003. There’s also is some nice glitchy folky tunery from The Books (though after the plea on their website, I’m a bit reluctant to post this, oh well, it came on a free comp), some butt-shaking bleeps and beats from The Juan Maclean and grumpy techno overlord Dave Clarke, soulful indie from Riow Arai.

As you can see, Peaches was on the cover and in the mag, doin’ her durty thing as usual. There was an audience with Bobby Gillespie, The Glimmers (then The Glimmer Twins). Album of the month went to Dave Clarke. The weirdest bit though was the introduction to this new band Kasabian, who were described as “The Creation produced by Four Tet” (for Processed Beats at least). Ha ha, I wonder if anyone would put Kieran Hebden’s name anywhere near the dreary pub rock Kasabian churn out these days.

Download: The Books – Motherless Bastard
Download: Grand National – Peanut Dreams
Download: Riow Arai – Break Roads (re-edit)
Download: Justice vs. Simian – Never Be Alone
Download: The Juan Maclean – By The Time I Get To Venus
Download: Dave Clarke – The Wiggle

Thursday, November 09, 2006


Heads up Nick Cave and Tindersticks fans! Tired of waiting for their new albums to come out? You could do worse than to check out fellow Aussies Devastations, who peddle a very similar brand of melancholy rock music. These are the obvious reference points, and maybe Devastations are fed up of being compared to them already. But then again, they have toured with Stuart Staples and Co, as well as Nick Cave compatriots Dirty Three.

Although I've only recently become aware of Devastations, their new album Coal is actually their second. And it seems like they've been working hard, moving from Australia to Berlin (ooh - so cool) in 2003 and touring all over Europe since then. Coal was recorded in Prague, Berlin and back in Melbourne. Right now they're in the US. Surely the hardest working Germany-based Australian band around? I see they're in London in support of Damian Jurado on 10 December. Could be worth a date.

Coal is often quite delicious, but lacks something of a bite that makes it that little bit more special. The comparisons with other bands that could be made, aren’t always quite right. They don’t have the grandeur of Cave, or the pleasing awkwardness of Dirty Tree, nor the anthemic splendour of The Arcade Fire, nor the soul of Tindersticks. However they do have a fine, sweeping sound, with a few decent, even lovely piano ballads (one featuring Kiwi chanteuse Bic Runga). But they’re at their best on the likes of Take You Home and What's A Place Like That Doing in a Girl Like You?, when they introduce squally guitars whilst the sweet piano and strings keep the melody intact. Overall then, not an album to take you to new musical places, but one to put on, and let it wash nicely over you. We don’t need our lives changed every day. Sometimes we just need to be soothed. This will do the trick nicely.

Download: Devastations – Take You Home
Download: Devastations – What's A Place Like That Doing in a Girl Like You?

Buy Coal

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Beirut & Calexico @ The Roundhouse, 5 November

You know there’s a bit of a buzz about a band when a venue the size of the Roundhouse is fairly packed for a support slot. And that they’re given a 45 minutes set, must signify some expectation. But then it is Beirut, championed by the blogosphere until the word spread further, and people everywhere stood up and took notice. 4AD certainly did. This gig is the day before they officially release Beirut's album Gulag Orkestar in the UK, and clearly there are a lot of people who want to see them. But then again, this is the first ever chance that Londoners have had to catch them live.

I’m one of them. I like Calexico, but I’ve seen them twice this year already and I’m not that desperate to see them again. However, a triple bill featuring the Arizona desert-rockers, Beirut and A Hawk and a Hacksaw is pretty appealing.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get there in time to see AHAAH, so I’ll just have to console myself with their fine recent album When the Wind Blows. But members of the group are also part of the mighty ensemble that is Beirut. I'd read loads about the prodigy that is 20-year old Zach Condon, but live Beirut are much more than a solo show. I think there's about 11 of them in total, coming and going on stage. Playing all sorts of brass and horns. And strings. And accordians. And hitting drums and other random bits of percussion. You may well like Gulag Orkestar, but their live show is something else. Condon and co. manage to take music that sounds beautiful, but quite mournful on record, but turn it into something utterly celebratory and truly exciting live. They seem to play the bulk of Gulag. They play an unreleased, untitled number, which naturally sounds great. And best of all they play Elephant Gun, the lead track on the new Lon Gisland EP, which doesn't mess with the Beirut formula but may be the best thing they've done yet. It's all a total treat. Talk about living up to expectations!

Calexico were going to have to be super special to beat that, and tonight I'm not into them. I'm not sure what it is. Maybe I've seen them too often this year. Maybe it's because they were never going to top that sizzling 100 Club gig in April. Maybe it was the Beirut factor. I don't really know, but as I stand and watch them, even though hugely impressed by the sheer virtuoso proficiency of the band, I'm not feeling it. Don't get me wrong. There are definitely highlights. Back Heart, Minas de Cobre and El Picador (as ever). And I'm glad I stuck around to hear Guero Canelo just before Calexico went off stage for the first time - the mariachi and stabbing synth combo was probably my highlight of the gig. But Mrs Growl says she's bored, and I'm kinda with her. So we leave whilst Joey Burns and co have just started their encore. Apparently there was a big 'supergroup' version of Crystal Frontier. That would have been good, but I'm not that bothered. On the way out I saw notices about the show being filmed. That might explain the lack of songs off Garden Ruin, and the general 'greatest hits' setlist. Oh well, maybe I'll check out the DVD when it comes out. Might be good.

Download: Beirut - Elephant Gun
Download: Beirut - Brandenburg
Download: Calexico - Guero Canelo
Download: Calexico - Black Heart

See more of my pictures at my Flickr photostream.

Buy Gulag Orkestar. You're spolt for choice with Calexico albums, but why not start with The Black Light and Hot Rail

PS I'm trying out a new file host. Let me know if there are any problems with downloads.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Sufjan Stevens @ The Barbican, 3 November

Pros and cons about gigs in concert halls. On the plus side the sound is almost faultless. Well, it would have to be. The Barbican is the home of the London Symphony Orchestra after all. The sound system has to catch every nuance of a whole host of instruments normally, so Sufjan's big horn section and everything else is in perfect balance.

However on the minus side, there isn't the celebratory atmosphere that maybe Sufjan was expecting, given the huge piles of inflatables on stage - a pile of Supermen on one side and an even bigger pile of Santas on the other. Maybe it's the concert hall vibe, but when Sufjan started tossing the Supermen into the crowd at the start of The Man of Metropolis, I think he was expecting people to start bouncing them around in a fun kinda way. Instead the lucky audience members just catch and keep them. When he chucks the Santas out later in his set, during That Was the Worst Christmas Ever!, he has to encourage the folks in the stalls to go for the flying Santa participation thing. It lasts for a few minutes, and from our position up in the gods we look down on an oddly comical flurry of flying red and white Father Christmases, wheezing as they go. But then the concert hall vibe kicks in again the funny flights stop.

These things aside, the gig (or should I say concert) is pretty amazing. Sufjan's not one to trot out the same live show again and again. This is a far cry from his Bush Hall gig a couple of years ago when he was armed with an overhead projector, a map of Michigan and swan wings. It's even different from last year's cheerleaders shows and the string quartet gigs at Kings College. He's an artist that seems to want to keep trying new and interesting things. So he's here with a full horn section augmenting the rest of his band. It all sounds fantastic, with Sufjan leading the pack of butterfly-winged players, whilst sporting his own eagle wings. The big brass sound doesn't suit every song – the quieter songs like Casimir Pulaski Day don’t need their beauty augmenting, but on the likes of Seven Swans, it’s stunning, adding an element of awe to the apocalyptic imagery of the song.

The songs Sufjan and the band play mostly come from Seven Swans and Illinois. But he also plays a new song – Majesty, Snowbird which certainly lives up to the first word of its name – a glorious, spine-tingling 10 minutes of wonder. Much like the rest of the gig.

Sometimes I wonder about the appeal of Sufjan Stevens. How can a man whose songs celebrate America and strongly reference Christianity hold an indie audience in secular, too-cool London so rapt? But he does. There’s no idle chat during songs tonight. And he gets a standing ovation, which he follows with a three-song encore, which I’m not sure was all totally planned. As he stands there playing guitar or banjo, rocking backwards and forwards, his wings flap gently, as if he’s warming up for flight. He may as well have. Tonight he really does soar.

For the interested, here's the setlist, with some downloads (thanks to Sufjanfans for the info)

1) Sister
2) The Transfiguration
3) Metropolis
4) The Tallest Man
5) Casimir Pulaski Day
6) All the Trees in the Field will Clap their Hands
7) Detroit
8) The Predatory Wasp
9) John Wayne Gacy Jnr
10) That Was the Worst Christmas Ever!
11) Seven Swans
12) Majesty, Snowbird
13) Chicago


14) Corncerning the UFO Sighting
15) The Dress Looks Nice on You
16) Jacksonville

Buy Michigan or Illinoise or Seven Swans or The Avalanche

mp3 of Majesty, Snowbird from ryspace
decent photo of Sufjan from freekorps' Flickr photostream. The crappy one at the top of the post is of course, mine - all the way from the upper circle

Friday, November 03, 2006

Emmy and friends @ The Luminaire, 30 October

A combination of a delayed train back from a weekend in Scotland and a strong need to eat meant that I arrived at The Luminaire too late to see Morven Callar. But I did arrive just in time to hear Duncan Brown’s literate acoustic strummings. I’m sure he said something about William Blake. He’s even got a song on his myspace about New England puritan John Cotton. Pretentious? Maybe, but I liked his stuff – he’s got rich vocals and subtle but disarming tunes. A good start to the show.

Download: Duncan Brown - Trip to Spain

The crowd tonight at this special Drowned in Sound birthday gig, curated by Emmy the Great, aren’t really a compliant lot . The well-meaning signs put up by the venue asking people not to sit in front of the stage were ignored, as were the (many more) signs requesting quiet during performances. Poor Duncan. He wasn’t the only one to suffer their rudeness. London’s indie folk scenesters are obviously too polite to challenge. What we really need is for some hard people to sort them out. Shame there's none of these around tonight.

I was hoping I would get there in time to see Johnny Flynn. I was so glad I did. His song Tickle Me Pink has been going round in my head ever since my last post about him. He plays it tonight, as his last song, with a backing band – guitar, bass and backing vocals boosting Johnny’s singing and strumming and making it sound totally fantastic. That’ll be another couple of weeks in my head then. Before that he played a few more fine folky numbers, one of which featured Johnny on violin, all of which only confirmed his promise as a songwriter. Can’t wait to hear more.

Since my file host has disappeared since the last time I posted this song, here it is again.

Download: Johnny Flynn - Tickle Me Pink

Next up was the intriguingly-named Annie Frank Sinatra who turned out to be a bloke in a hat gaffer-taping a cassette player to the mic which gave us a stream of electronic warblings for ten minutes or so. People started off listening and facing the empty stage, before realising that things weren’t going to change much, and got back to drinking and chatting.

Noah and the Whale turns out to be the band led by a guy called Charlie (who may also be called Johnny Hatracket), who I first saw playing ukulele and furry bass with Emmy the Great at the End of the Road Festival. He plays ukulele again, and acoustic guitar. He’s accompanied by a couple of other people as well as Emmy doing backing vox on one song. There's probably not enough ukeleles in music today, so that may be reason alone to recommend him. Though his songs are good too.

Download: Noah and the Whale - 5 Years' Time

Tom Hatred departs from the night’s normal instrumentation by plugging in an electric guitar, but his music still has that measured folky flavour, though it does seem he’s a fan of Morrisey and the Smiths, both in his tuneful inflections and lyrics (his myspace confirms this). Another short set. Another enjoyable and promising artist. Check him out.

Download: Tom Hatred - One of Your Adventures

There's a problem with Emmy the Great’s set tonight. It’s too short. Judging by the hushed venue and number of people who seem to disappear after she left the stage, Emmy was the star attraction. But I guess tonight was, as it was billed, Emmy and friends. She hasn't even put herself in the headline slots, and she's basically showcasing a load of her friends, which so far have been all very good. Together with Charlie, Jeremy Warmsley and a guy on violin, she treated us to gorgeous versions of Edward is Dedward, Secret Circus, Aiko and Absentee. One bonus though – the first, very short song was new to me. This turns out to be her contribution to 50 minutes, (a new charity compilation with 50 one-minute tracks). I'll be adding that to the 'to get' list then.

Download: Emmy the Great - My Party is Better Than Yours

Headlining were The Mules, a band I've been meaning to check out for ages. They're great. The word 'gypsy punk' has been much misused this year, being used to describe everyone from Gogol Bordello to Larrikin Love. All you need to be tagged is to use fiddles or accordians. I'm not going to call The Mules gypsy punk, but I'm not sure what to call them. The band, focused around drummer Ed Seed who sings and whacks the skins in an increasingly manic fashion from centre stage, have elements of spiky post punk, fast fiddly folk music, bits of country rock, frantic waltzes and seemingly boundless supplies of energy. The one thing they don't do is quiet and slow. They're a bit of a contrast to what's gone before them, but are a total blast. Heck, the indie-folksters of North London are almost dancing. Long may The Mules dance their raucous jig.

Download: The Mules - Problems With Exits

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The odd couple

A colleague sent this to me today, and I had to post it.

I so hope that this gig really did happen. If it did, and if you were there, I'd love to hear about it!

Best of October

Well, it's that time of month again. Cast the mind back over the musical happenings of the past 31 days and pick out a few gems for your listening pleasure. Here's some of my favourites.

Album of the month

Jeremy Warmsley - The Art of Fiction

So he's gone and done it. Well, almost. A few months back, someone at Drowned in Sound said (on a podcast) that that this album was the best one released by a solo artist this year. I'm still not sure about that, but come the reckoning, in a month and a bit's time, I'm sure The Art of Fiction will be there or thereabouts for me. It starts with a blast on 5 Verses, and then proceeds to weave its way through different musical styles, complex arrangements and literate lyrics. It's not straight pop music, but there's something immensely satisflying about immersing yourself for a while in this album. From it, my current favourite - the sweeping, soaring Modern Children.

Download: Jeremy Warmsley - Modern Children

Buy The Art of Fiction

Songs of the month

1. Epic Man featuring Plan B - More is Enough

OK, so this isn't that new, but I have only recently laid my hands on a copy of this beauty. For once, Plan B isn't rapping about urban grit 'n' squalour. This time it's partying, pure and simple, while Paul Epworth lays down stabbing synths that make this tune more 'new rave' than Klaxons.

2. Jamie T - If You Got The Money

In which the cheeky chappie from Wimbledon delivers the goods yet again with another tale of urban life. If he keeps getting better at this rate, he'll be a world beater next year.

3. M. Craft - You Are The Music (Playgroup Remix)

Trevor Jackson's Output Records may have gone, but the man's still got what it takes on the remix duty. He's taken Martin Craft's wonderful You Are The Music, already a firm Daily Growl favourite, and done a remix that not only changes the song and fits it for the dancefloor, but keeps its feel just the same. No mean feat.

4. Simple Kid - Serotonin

My memories of the song are firmly in the woozy delights experienced when I first heard it at the End of the Road Festival. Listening to it on Simple Kid's new album 2, it still sounds great - coming on like Neil Young's Heart of Gold taking a delivery of hip-hop beats, then sloping off to laze around in the English countryside on a warm summer's day. Lovely.

5. Lavender Diamond - You Broke My Heart

The Queens of Noize folk CD introduced these LA folkies to me. The track on the compilation was just a warm-up for the simple ethereal beauty of this track. Y'know, sometimes hippies are alright.