Monday, April 30, 2007

The Young Republic

I’ve been a bit behind with The Young Republic. A few bloggers, particularly Another Form of Relief have been banging on about them for the best part of a year now. But somehow, I only got round to listening to them recently. Maybe it was something to do with the fact that they’ve been recently signed to the fledgling End of the Road Records, run by the same people of impeccable taste who put on the festival of the same name. But now I’m wishing I had maybe got with it earlier.

The band are a group of students from the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston, who didn’t waste much time there – meeting and getting together a band in their freshman year in 2004. The group are focused around songwriter Julian Saporiti, but number a total of eight people, playing all sorts of things. Essentially it’s indie pop at its finest, which is bound to get comparisons made with Belle and Sebastian right from the start. But like Camera Obscura last year, they are likely to step out from the shadows of these comparisons and make music that’s better than the more recent output of their more famous peers

Despite only being around for less than three years, YR have been relatively prodigious in their output – releasing no less than seven albums or EPs since then. They’ve also managed a couple of American tours as well. And perhaps refreshingly for an indie band, they’re not one obviously trying to ape their indie heroes. In a recent interview with internet radio station, the DJ host teased them about not knowing who Greg Dulli was and one of their number even confessed to not really listening to rock music. Which maybe means they bring a bit of a fresh approach, and I think they do. Saporiti’s songwriting is clear and crisp, and he has an obvious love for 60s pop. And the skill of his music student bandmates in the arrangements and instrumentation in a true joy to hear.

So maybe I am late, but then again, now is a good time to be discovering The Young Republic, as their debut UK release – the 7 inch single Blue Skies is just out on limited 7 inch, and they have a compilation of their recent US releases coming out in the next few months. And best of all, they’re over in this country for a tour in June – hitting the EOTR residency at the Social on the 25th, The Spitz on the 30th, and later of course The EOTR festival in September. I for one will be there at least one of these shows to see if the live experience is as good as I hope it will be.

From the aforementioned woxy session, here are five live tracks, which along with the single and a few mp3s on their website, should keep us in Britian going until 12 Tales from a Winter City comes out. If you want the interview as well, download the whole thing from woxy.

Download: The Young Republic – If You Are a Salesman (live)
Download: The Young Republic – Autumn’s in the Trees (live)
Download: The Young Republic – Blue Skies (live)
Download: The Young Republic – Girl in a Tree (live)
Download: The Young Republic – Goodbye Town (live)

You can get a hold of the 7 inch at Rough Trade, but if it's sold out, you can buy Blue Skies and Small Town in a World War at Rough Trade Digital.

Friday, April 27, 2007

The original Sound of the Suburbs

It seems fitting that I follow up yesterday's post on A Hawk and a Hacksaw with another piece of Eastern European folk goodness. This time it’s real gypsy folk. That is, played by real gypsies.

This album I’m posting from here is by legendary gypsy singer Romica Puceanu, who performed with the even-more-legendary Gore Brothers in Bucharest in the 1960s and 70s. The CD is in the Sounds From a Bygone Age series, from which my previous post on Dona Dumitru Siminica was taken. That was volume 3. This album is volume 2. And interestingly, in a seamless link with yesterday, the last post on A Hawk and a Hacksaw’s myspace blog revealed that they were listening to volume 1.

Anyway, back to Puceanu. She was known as a singer of traditional ‘cantece de mahaha’ or ‘songs of the suburbs’. These suburbs, on the edge of Romanian towns, were where gypsies settled following the abolition of Roma slavery in 1864. There they entertained people in garden cafés with songs with rustic themes, but given ‘urban’ arrangements. Romica recorded her first album with the Gore Brothers in 1964 and was apparently known for turning up at the studio with a teapot filled with cognac! She was said to be a lively funny woman, and despite her inability to read had a vast repertoire of songs which she sang with her unique, haunting voice. We can all hear that.

Unfortunately Romica was killed in a car accident on the way back from a wedding performance in 1996. This album has lovingly restored some lost classics, which probably most of her fellow country-people don’t know, let alone the rest of the world. Let’s hope the re-release belatedly brings her music to a wider audience. I’ve enjoyed listening to these. Hope you do too.

Download: Romica Puceanu & The Gore Brothers – Doi Tovarasi Am La Drum
Download: Romica Puceanu & The Gore Brothers – Balanus

Order Sounds from a Bygone Age Vol 2.

If you're interested in further listening, there's a heap more Romica Puceanu mp3s at this website.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

A Hawk and a Hacksaw return - with more folk(s)

Last year some of the phrases on the lips of many bloggers were ‘Balkan folk’, ‘gypsy folk’ or (perhaps more correctly) ‘Eastern European folk’. In almost all cases, they were referring to the rise and rise of Beirut, the project of Zach Condon, formerly of Albuquerque, now of NYC. In some other cases there were some mentions of Zach’s fellow home-towners Jeremy Barnes and Heather Trost, together known as A Hawk and a Hacksaw.

It’s right that they should be mentioned, not only because they plough a very similar furrow to Beirut, as well as being friends. They don’t have Condon’s gloriously mournful vocals, but in some ways they’re more authentically Eastern European. After all, they did record their last album When the Wind Blows with celebrated Romanian brass band Fanfare Ciocarlia. Then, after receiving some acclaim for that, and touring the UK with Calexico and their Beirut mates , they set off back to Eastern Europe – to Budapest.

There, after visiting Fono, a music shop and venue for Hungarian folk music, they met a group of musicians who soon became The Hun Hangár Ensemble and recorded some tracks with Barnes and Trost in December. The fruits of their work are now about to see the light of day on the self-titled A Hawk And A Hacksaw & The Hun Hangár Ensemble EP. To be honest, it’s one of my most anticipated releases of the year, and I was pretty damn pleased to get a couple of tracks off the EP (there are eight in total). And I’m also pleased to say that they sound good. Not a massive departure in sound for AHAAH from the evidence of these two tracks, but pretty good nonetheless. I’m looking forward to hearing the other six tunes.

But not just an EP – a tour as well. Barnes and Trost are bringing the Ensemble to the UK, starting next Saturday (5 May). They hit Bush Hall on 11 June. Can’t wait!

Download: A Hawk And A Hacksaw & The Hun Hangár Ensemble – Ihabibi
Download: A Hawk And A Hacksaw & The Hun Hangár Ensemble – Zozobra

And speaking of Beirut, they’re back in London on 24 June for their first proper headline show here (after Zach couldn’t sing at the original one last November). If you’ve not got their new tracks, head over to Rough Trade Digital now for them. I’m not going to post any – it’s Rough Trade’s wee exclusive, apparently done for them by Condon in return for making The Gulag Orkestar their number one album of 2006. They’re certainly less gypsy folk, more lo-fi Casio beats, but still well worth a listen.

Pre-order the EP.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Thou Shalt Always Kill it off

You either love it or hate it. It’s a Marmite kinda song. But now there’s a third option creeping in – getting tired of it. You see, Thou Shalt Always Kill by Dan Le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip is a bit like a great joke. It’s brilliant the first time you hear it. And the next. And the next. But somewhere down the line, after many, many hearings it begins to wear a bit thin. I think so anyway – I haven’t got there yet (I still like it), but I think it’s possible.

So possible in fact, that the song’s creators have stopped playing it. On the radio at least. I’m not sure how many radio shows they’ve done, but when they came into Xfm last Wednesday to play live on XPosure again they suggested that they’d done it a bit too much and that night was going to be the last time they played it live on the radio, back on the show that first gave them an airing.

I wouldn’t even have bothered posting it again, if it wasn’t for the fact that Pip went into an impromptu ‘karaoke’ (as he called it) slot at the end of the track, singing excerpts from Kate Nash, Adele and Jack Penate songs over Le Sac’s beats. Kind of like a much nicer version of LDN is a Victim. But then, Scroob seems like a pretty nice guy. But he can’t really sing. Apparently he also does a ‘classic hip hop’ karaoke ending as well. I’d like to hear that too.

So I’ve posted it along with two other tracks they did that night – Development and Angles, which should provide enough evidence to the doubters that these guys aren’t one hit wonders.

Download: Dan Le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip – Thou Shalt Always Kill (Xfm live ‘karaoke’ version)
Download: Dan Le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip – Angles (live)
Download: Dan Le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip – Development (live)

Download the Thou Shalt... single. It’s out on 7 inch too, but it’s probably long gone by now…

Photo from cowfish's Flickr.

And like the artists themselves, I’m going to kill off posting on this track too. Before I do, one last video clip. You’ll have all seen the proper vid for the song, but here’s a version shot live at The Social a couple of months ago.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Devastations / The Kissaway Trail @ The Spitz, 22 April 2007

Expectations. They can go a long way to determining your enjoyment of a gig, can’t they? Have you had high hopes, only to see them frustrated? Or low hopes only to have them blown away? Well, I had both the other night.

The disappointment came in the shape of Devastations. I’m not sure what it was. Maybe it was the rather thin Sunday evening crowd (was the warm weather and beer gardens and barbeques more attractive than an evening upstairs at the Spitz?) and consequent lack of atmosphere. Maybe it was that the Aussie band played a set comprising mostly unfamiliar songs. Now, I only know their latest long player Coal and I initially assumed that they were playing old tunes off their self-titled debut record. But no. Towards the end, bassist and singer Conrad Standish said that they were playing a lot of new songs, because they had “just come out of the studio” and they had “new toys and are going to use them”.

Maybe that’s it then. Devastations must have thought that they were playing to their own crowd, who would be comfortable with all the new stuff. But I wasn’t. There was none of the lovely sweeping melancholia that made Coal so good. There just weren’t the decent tunes and emotion that I expected. Only What’s a Place Like That… from Coal was aired (I think). And the “toys” seemed to be devices that made electronic beats which added little to the music. And I don’t think I was the only one not feeling it either. At the end of the set, the crowd was markedly thinner than when the band took to the stage. Who knows, maybe these tunes off the album are growers, but on the night they weren’t doing anything for me.

Here’s a little reminder of the quality of the songs on Coal.

Download: Devastations – Terrified
Download: Devastations – Take You Home

On the other hand I had no expectations of support band The Kissaway Trail. I hadn’t heard any of their songs. I hadn’t even any time to check their myspace. So I was pleased to be immediately transfixed when the four guys in tight skinny jeans stepped up to their mics and launched into the first number. It’s probably a good thing when you can’t work out who the lead singer is after the first song. They all sang, even the drummer. Big-sounding indie rock with decent tunes, bah bah bah singalong bits and some fine riffing and general noise. With three guitars in action you’d expect a bit of that though. These five Danish lads are probably not a band who’re going to change the world, but for a support slot on a quiet spring evening, they were as good as I could have hoped for. Their self-titled debut album is out on Bella Union this week. Who knows, I might even get it.

Download: The Kissaway Trail – Smother + Evil = Hurt

Buy Coal and The Kissaway Trail.

Monday, April 23, 2007

The Daily Growl posts intermittently, goes electro

My posts of late have been a bit thin on the ground. That’s because I’ve been mad busy with home improvements and a heap of other stuff going on. But hopefully now something resembling normal service will be resumed.

Here’s some things that were keeping me type faster at work last week, as I combined working my way through a pile of unlistened-to promos with my day job. It’s a direction that I don’t take too often on this blog, but hey, a bit of a change is surely a good thing.

I’ve spent more than my fair share of time in the past dancing to repetitive beats in packed and sweaty clubs, but these days I’ve reverted much more to my indie default. However, it was good to catch up on some of the new electro stuff that’s keeping the kids moving these days. I’d normally leave this sort of thing to much better informed bloggers like headphonesex, but I was enjoying some stuff from the so-hot-right-now Parisians from the Ed Banger label (that’s those crazy moustachioed dudes in the photo above) and here we are. It’s label head honcho Busy P with his recent Rainbow Man tune and one of the other Ed Banger luminaries DJ Medhi with his widely remixed Lucky Boy track. I’m not going to show my ignorance by commenting further – just enjoy these.

Download: Busy P – Rainbow Man
Download: DJ Medhi – Lucky Boy (Outlines Remix)

A bit further east to Germany next, and a couple of blokes who should be delivering one of the most eagerly anticipated albums of the year. This is just the radio edit of Digitalism’s new single Pogo, so I expect the full length version to be a bit more satisfying that the truncated 3:06 one I’ve posted here. It’s no Zdarlight for sure, but still decent enough to keep me going till Idealism drops. And rather than being so-called ‘faceless’ producers, these guys look alright. Pop stars almost.

Download: Digitalism – Pogo (Radio Edit)

Finally back home to the UK, but not quite to the mainland. Just off the south cost on the Isle of Wight, is home to Shakes (not to be confused with The Shakes of course), who deliver probably the best dirty electro in evidence on this post. Their recent single Disneyland, coupled with their fine tune Sister Self Doubt from last year, assures us that the homegrown electro is every bit as good as their continental counterparts.

Download: Shakes – Disneyland
Download: Shakes – Sister Self Doubt

Good though all of this sounds through the headphones, it’s obviously going to sound far better coming out of large bass bins in these packed and sweaty clubs I used to frequent. Time for a return?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

No Shouts, No Calls

When Arcade Fire cancelled the rest of their European tour lately it wasn’t just a shame for their fans from Norway to France, it was probably also a bit of a blow for Electrelane, who Win Butler and co. had invited to support them on the tour. With their new album No Shouts, No Calls due to be released soon, it was the perfect opportunity to expose their stirring sounds to a new and much bigger audience.

One of these big audiences was at Brixton Academy last month, where I was almost as keen to see Electrelane as the more illustrious headliners. Particularly since I hadn’t seen the Brighton band for about three years, around the time of their debut album The Power Out (Arcade Fire connection anyone?). I was totally won over by its blend of fuzzy guitars and lovely melodies and it was one of my albums of 2004. They were pretty good live too. The next year, they released Axes, which wasn’t really the album I was expecting. It was definitely Electrelane, but it was just a bit too experimental, a bit to hard to love for me to stay too interested.

But now they’re about to release No Shouts, No Calls, which really is the follow-up to Power Out that I’d been hoping for. And it’s very good indeed. There may be no male voice choirs on this album, and no singing in French, but it does these ace guitar riffs and melodies again. Electrelane are equally at home on instrumentals as well as songs with actual singing. They’re also pretty hot at these wordless vocal ah-ah type tunes too. The harmonies are right on the button. The lyrics are emotive and interesting. And there’s some of the best use of keyboards /piano/ organ that I’ve heard on a recent rock record.

So back to Brixton then, and a somewhat tentative opening. I don’t think that Verity Susman, Mia Clarke, Ros Murray and Emma Gaze are used to a stage of this size. They seemed a little over-awed. But they got on with it and I was impressed. Verity apologised for playing a lot of new songs, but let’s face it, all of these songs were new to most of the early Arcade Fire audience. And any Electrelane fans there, if they were like me, would have been bursting to hear the new stuff played live. And we weren't disappointed. It all sounded good, but I’ve got a feeling that it’ll sound a whole lot better in the more intimate surroundings of the Scala (well more intimate than Brixton!) on 9 May. With Brakes and The Early Years as well! Can’t wait!

Download: Electrelane – The Greater Times
Download: Electrelane – Tram 21

Pre-order No Shouts, No Calls. True the cover is a little odd, and reminiscent of Blue Peter or something, but the vinyl version is a very nice package indeed. Songs themed by types of knots! What more could you ask for?

More of my photos of the Brixton show (plus Arcade Fire) at my Flickr.

You can keep up to date with Electrelane's current tour on their tour blog.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Laura Marling

At the start of the year, when I was doing my list of singer-songwriter tips for 2007, I kept getting recommended Laura Marling as another good ‘hopeful’. But I never really got round to checking her out. Until the other night. On Monday she was in the Xfm studio, playing a live session for John Kennedy and I was again on hand to hit ‘record’ on the radio. So now I have a couple of tracks to judge her on.

And the verdict? She’s alright really. Nothing special or remarkable, but she manages a decent tune. On She’s Changed, Laura actually reminded me a wee bit of Beth Orton. But in today’s music world she’s much more likely to get compared to Kate Nash, what with her playing acoustic guitar, not singing in the Queen’s English and having a song called London Town.

However, despite the capital-centric title of that song (and the lead track on her new EP, out this week on the so-now Way Out West label) she actually hails from Reading (for overseas readers, it’s a dull commuter town west of London, and home to one of Britain’s big corporate rock festivals). A fact that she’s actually quite proud of – “I’m quite patriotic about Reading” she declared to John Kennedy. But let’s not hold that against her too much.

Anyway, make your own mind up. I think she’s promising at least. I’d probably have gone to see her play for free tonight at Fopp on Tottenham Court Road if I wasn’t stuck in DIY hell again. Maybe there’ll be another time.

Download: Laura Marling – She’s Changed (live acoustic)
Download: Laura Marling – Heartbreaker’s Handbook

Order the London Town EP.

Photo from Laura’s myspace via Chess Club DJs.

PS. Sorry that the quality of the mp3s isn't as good as I'd normally post. Forgive the faint digital burblings and I'll have a stern word with my radio.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Emma Pollock

Today I’ve been listening to The Delgados' album The Great Eastern for the first time in what seems like years. I’d forgotten just how good it is. An indie classic that really should have been massive. Then my mind turned to what the band were up to now. I’ve no idea what the three blokes are up to (I saw some of them in Malcolm Middleton’s band a couple of years ago), but Emma Pollock is very much back on the scene. I've been intending to post on Emma for a while now, but never got round to it until now.

She started off her solo career last year, playing a few support slots and signing a deal with 4AD Records. This year sees the release of her debut album, preceded by a single sometime soon. In the meantime, here are a couple of songs which may or may not be on the new album. Limbs is a lovely fragile little number, with the acoustic guitar and Emma’s voice nicely augmented by piano. Paper and Glue was recorded by Xfm in a hotel in Austin at the recent South by Southwest festival.

Although both these songs are acoustic, I can imagine them getting a Delgados-style orchestrated expansion, and even benefiting from it. But as they are, they're pretty good. I’m looking forward to hearing more.

Emma’s on tour in May with her new band (dates here). Londoners can catch her at The Borderline on 24 May. The same night as James Yorkston at the Union Chapel. Ooh – tough choice for me!

Download: Emma Pollock – Limbs
Download: Emma Pollock – Paper and Glue (live acoustic)

And just a bonus from that great Delgados album.

Download: The Delgados – Aye Today

Buy The Great Eastern (you can get it quite cheap now).

Magic Arm

Here’s a new band today. Or rather that should be a new artist. For Magic Arm is really just one guy – Marc Rigelsford from Manchester – who is pursuing a very pleasing and interesting line in psychedelic alt-folk music.

Unusually for a British artist, I first found out about Magic Arm from an American source - via the excellent blog by Grizzly Bear’s Ed, who recently posted the song Outdoor Games, which seems to be the only track currently available out there. Since then both Said the Gramophone and that ever-reliable source of good UK music Nothing But Green Lights have both been on Magic Arm’s case.

And rightly so. It’s no surprise that Marc’s music is liked by someone out of Grizzly Bear, as there is a definite kindred spirit there, in the way that the song moves from lo-fi warmth into the expansive echoey sound used to great effect by the Brooklyn band. But there’s also harmonica, wheezy organ and tinkling piano to add to the heady mix of what is one of the best songs by a new artist I’ve heard in ages.

This and the three other songs streaming on the Magic Arm myspace all bode well for the debut EP, also called Outdoor Games, which is released on 11 June. It seems just too far away at the moment. Can’t wait.

Download: Magic Arm – Outdoor Games.

According to the website, there’s also a Magic Arm cover of Daft Punk is Playing at my House. Gotta hear that!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Blonde Redhead

For a band who have been around since 1993 and released six albums already, Blonde Redhead have surprisingly never entered my world until this year. I mean I knew the name, but that’s about it. A shame really, because I really like 23, and subsequently their previous record Misery is a Butterfly.

Now I’m sure that 23 and even Misery… isn’t representative of their older stuff, which was apparently more of a Sonic Youth vibe (and produced by Steve Shelley, natch). I’m sure I’ll get round to exploring their back catalogue in time, but for now it’s all about 23. Which thankfully has nothing to do with the recent rubbish Jim Carrey film of the same name.

The title track (the first on the album) has been around for a few months now, made freely available by their record company. It’s a perfect encapsulation of what the rest of the album is like and it’s one of its best tracks. The haunting piano opening, the energetic, propulsive drumming from Simone Pace, then Kazu Makino’s high, ethereal vocals topping it off beautifully.

These days Blonde Redhead seem to owe more to classic psychedelic American indie rock bands like The Flaming Lips and Grandaddy than Sonic Youth or the new York no wave outfit DNA from which they took their name. But on their current form, that’s a good thing.

This is an album to return to again and again. If you’re like me, the first time you hear it through, it may pass by in a lovely woozy haze, with no one track standing out, but instead they all blend together to form the impression of something warm and otherworldly. But go back, listen again and the individual songs begin to take their own forms. There are some great tunes here – in particular The Dress, Spring and by Summer Fall and Silently, but I still reckon that 23 is best taken in a total dose. Y’know the old-fashioned way of listening to an album all the way through before iTunes and pods came along and shuffled our listening sensibilities.

The band head over here for a tour in late May. For Londoners, they hit our city at Koko on the 30th. Now I know that this is perilously close to the birth of The Baby Growl, but I hope to be there, mobile phone in my pocket, ready to make a quick escape from Camden if necessary. If that happens, it won’t be the music I’m running from.

Download: Blonde Redhead – Spring and by Summer Fall
Download: Blonde Redhead – Silently

23 is out next Monday (16 April). Pre-order it here.

There’s also a website created specially for 23, which if you fancy yourself as a budding remixer, you can have a go at remixing Blonde Redhead’s upcoming b-side Signs Along the Path.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Singles going steady 2: Avalanches remixes and b-sides

Second stop on my journey through my old CD singles. This one features my Avalanches CD singles. A year ago I posted some Avalanches remixes of other people’s stuff, and then I wondered out loud when we might see a new album from Melbourne’s finest. A year later and it seems we’re still no closer to a new album, though there have been some developments.

The three remaining Avalanches have a club called Brains in a bar in Melbourne, and there are some mixes and mash-ups on their website that you can download (if you register) And before anyone complains that these are just mash-ups and not new Avalanches material, may I note that the whole of Since I Left You was really one big mash-up. So what we have now is real progress.

Apparently in January they posted on the website informing us that about 40 tracks were being considered for the new album and "It's so fuckin' party you will die, much more hip-hop than you might expect, and while there is still no accurate estimated time of arrival, we're sure you're gonna love it when it arrives ... It's ended up sounding like the next logical step to Since, we just had to go around in a big circle to get back to where we belong. And one day when you least expect it you'll wake up and the sample fairy will have left it under your pillow"

So all good news then. Now back to the past for a few tunes – some tracks from the aforementioned CD singles. Three remixes of Avalanches tunes by other people – Dr Rockit, Andy Votel and Mario C (whoever he may be) - and a couple of decent b-sides.

Download: The Avalanches – Electricity (Dr Rockit’s Dirty Kiss)
Download: The Avalanches – Thank You Caroline (Andy Votel Remix)
Download: The Avalanches – Frontier Psychiatrist (Mario C’s 85% Remix)
Download: The Avalanches – Everyday
Download: The Avalanches – A Different Feeling

And a final bonus of one of the mash-ups currently on their site. Wham vs. Digitalism!

Download: The Avalanches – Ray of Zdarlight

Buy Since I Left You, if you don’t have it already.

Photo of the Avalanches DJing in February from JCriquet's Flickr photostream.

I can't sign off before posting the amazing video for Frontier Psychiatrist. Enjoy!

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Jack, Jamie and the over-enthusiastic blogger

For the record, Jack is Jack Penate, Jamie is Jamie T, and let’s say the over-enthusiastic blogger is me. Just for example. This story starts a month or so ago with an interesting piece in February’s Observer Music Monthly by ubiquitous commentator Paul Morley, in which he went on about the disappointment that can so often occur when a much-hyped band turns out to be a lot less good than first appeared. Here’s a sample:

“A new album or group is talked about in a certain tantalising way, but it turns out to be not anything like what the music is actually like. It's as if there is a fantasising about a kind of music that should exist, a hoped-for sound that is described at length even though it is not necessarily anything like what is going on….

…You hear [lists a heap of bands], and you think, I wish I hadn't been expecting the greatest thing ever, because compared to being the greatest thing ever, this is just one those things.”

He’s right you know, and Lord knows that I’ve been guilty. And if you’re a music blogger, can you hold your head up and say you’ve never been guilty of over-hyping a band? One of the potential pitfalls of being a music blogger is that unlike paid critics, we don’t tend to write about stuff we don’t like. We write about stuff that we love, in order to share our enthusiasm with others.

But so often, in the cold light of day, we look back and wonder what fuss is all about. My first case in point is Jamie T. I’m thinking already that I was probably a bit too hasty in acclaiming him like I did last year. Sure, the singles were all pretty good, with plenty of sparkle and promise. But I bought the album when it came out in January and was distinctly underwhelmed. The warning signs were there already though. After hearing Calm Down Dearest a few times live in his distinctive acoustic style, I was a bit disappointed to hear it swamped with over-production when it was released as a single. Who knows, maybe the lad will come good. He’s certainly got a load of good ideas, and he could make something great in the future. Just not yet.

Here’s Calm Down Dearest, as it was meant to be:

Download: Jamie T – Calm Down Dearest (acoustic)

The second case is one that I’m probably not guilty of over-hyping, just jumping on the bandwagon. When I posted a few live radio tracks by Jack Penate at the end of last year, I did admit that I wasn’t very impressed with him when I saw him in a support slot last summer. However, I did really quite like his perky debut single Second, Minute and Hour so I’ve been hoping for better things from the bloke that some are calling “the nicest man in pop”. His songs so far are a bit of a mixed bag though. The b-side to Second… was nowhere near as good as the a-side, and now with the arrival of his new Spit at Stars EP I’ve got the chance to assess him a bit more. The verdict again is a bit of a mixed bag.

I can’t help but like the title track, which is every bit as perky and catchy as his previous release. There’s something beautifully simple in the scratchy punk-pop, and although it sounds like a dead ringer for Kenicke’s Punka, in my book that’s a good thing. Second track My Yvonne is a fairly sappy ballad, but one which oddly I’ve got a bit of a liking for. It features XL’s other hot new talent Adele on backing vox, and is, well, just nice. He even shows off his soul chops and makes a decent fist of covering Darondo’s Didn’t I on the third track. I love the original, and covering it is a risky business, but Jack really hasn’t done it a dis-service at all. So I say, well done lad. The last two tracks are a bit more average. One more up-tempo rocker and one more ballad. Nothing much to report there.

So all in, the jury’s still out. Like Jamie, there’s definite promise. I particularly like his soul angle, and hope he pursues that line a bit more. Who knows, maybe he could deliver a decent album. I’ll wait and see.

Download: Jack Penate – My Yvonne

You can get a live version of Spit at Stars on my previous post.

Mind you, I don’t think he needs bloggers like me to hype him. The Kids will do that well enough. With added screaming. In my previous post, someone dared diss Jack in the comments, only to receive furious responses from a few loyal fans. Plus Second, Minute and Hour sold out in a flash, so there must be a whole heap of fans out there to propel him to the top of the charts.

Just for comparison:

Download: Darondo – Didn’t I
Download: Kenicke – Punka

Pre-order Spit at Stars.
Buy Panic Prevention

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Best of March

Album of the month

Arcade Fire – The Neon Bible

In a month of so many good North American albums (LCD Soundsystem, Marissa Nadler, Panda Bear, Lucinda Williams to name but a few), this is the one for me. The more I listen to it, the better it gets, and it was only further enhanced by the live experience. It’s no Funeral, but maybe that’s not a bad thing. With only one duff track (the title track) and 10 other brilliant ones, it’ll easily be one of my albums of the year.

Download: Arcade Fire - My Body is a Cage

Buy The Neon Bible.

Songs of the month

LCD Soundsystem – Get Innocuous

A killer album, which would have been album of the month any other time. This is my current favourite track. James Murphy manages to combine Talking Heads, Tom Tom Club, new wave, punk and disco re-edits – basically the whole of New York’s excellent musical heritage on one tune. It may not be as great as the sum of these parts, but it’s close. Monstrously good.
Buy Sound of Silver.

Lucinda Williams – Learning How to Live

More songs of pain and heartbreak from the woman who does them best. Lucinda sticks to her well-worn, but still wonderful path of world-weary country rock for another album, packed with pain, which nonetheless brings me lots of joy. This is my current fave.
Buy West.

The Broken Family Band – Alone in the Makeout Room

More country rock, this time all the way from Cambridge, as the Broken Family Band do their best to be the East of England’s answer to the Flying Burrito Brothers. If singer Steven Adams is Gram, then lovely Scottish chanteuse Eddi Reader is his Emmylou on this fine tune. All I’ve got by the BFB is this 7 inch and a few random downloads. Why is that? I need to get me some more.
Buy the 7 inch / their albums

Black Lips – Not A Problem / Dirty Hands

7 inch of the month – two slices of dirty, raw, rough-edged retro garage rock, from a band with a growing reputation as a wild live act. I failed to get in to see them last time in London,
I posted Dirty Hands previously – this is the other side.
Buy the 7 inch.

Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Wit – Tickle Me Pink

This is about the third time I’ve posted this track, in different versions on this blog. The song, by the multi-talented folk-pop singer/ actor Johnny Flynn, finally came out this month on 7 inch and just how good does it still sound? I’ll not answer that question. Make your own mind up. But for me, the answer is clear.
Buy the 7 inch.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

iLiKETRAiNS / Troubles @ Dingwalls, 29 March 2007

Some things I learned on Thursday night

1. Camden is still rubbish. It’s a long time since I’ve been to Dingwalls, and Camden town. These days my Camden gig-going is either at the Barfly (Chalk Farm tube) or Koko (Mornington Crescent tube). I’ve not done the walk from Camden Town tube up Camden High Street for years. The street still has the same old rubbish shops and the shady guys offering “skunk, marijuana” seem more sinister at night, skulking in doorways which suggest they might be offering bodily harm as well. I hope I don’t have to come back too soon.

2. Standing right in front of the speakers at Dingwalls isn’t good for your ears. During Troubles’ support slot, I thought one of mine was going to go deaf. When the violin screeched, I jumped.

3. iLiKETRAiNS draw an interesting crowd. For a new band, the audience doesn’t make me feel very old, like many new bands' audiences do. Sure, some of The Kids are there, but this is no Jack Penate or Cajun Dance Party show. There are plenty Slightly Older Male Indie Fans, who look like they might have to dash off quickly at the end to get their last trains home to the ‘burbs. Maybe it’s the attraction of iLiKETRAiNS’ doomy Joy Division-style aesthetics, and early 90s shoegazing that remind the SOMIFs of their student days. Hey maybe that’s me too! Except I don’t live in the ‘burbs.

4. Support band Troubles is basically a re-convening of Hope of the States under a different name. Troubles was initially a side project which took on greater importance after the untimely demise of HOTs last year, and now includes most of its former members. On paper it’s a good proposition. An instrumental version of HOTS perhaps? Given that Sam Herlihy was never a great vocalist, and that the wordless Black Amnesias is my favourite of their previous songs, I think yay! But they’ve abandoned the big, expansive rock sound for something more introspective and abstract. The songs (if you can call them that) seem to drift around without really going anywhere. There seems to be something missing. And I don’t mean just drums (which they don't have either). Mind you, when the bass player starts beating a big drum during the last track, it’s the first time that Troubles seem to come together and approach being pretty good. However, maybe I should reserve judgement for a bit and see what becomes of them.

5. iLiKETRAiNS have been writing some new songs since I last saw them. They sound good, if a lot like their existing ones. I do like iLiKETRAiNS though, as any reader of this blog will know. Typing their name doesn’t even annoy me like it used to. I’ve probably said enough about them already to need to go into more detail here. It was a good gig, and notably their biggest crowd I’ve seen in London so far. The combination of the kids and the SOMIFs, is probably the start of a healthy fanbase. And even despite releasing nine minute singles about the murder of 19th century British prime ministers, I think they’ll go far.

Download: iLiKETRAiNS – Citizen
Download: iLiKETRAiNS – Before the Curtains Close (Part I)

The latter track has been pinched from Corporate Anthems, who has the other side (Part II) of this very rare 7 inch (the band’s first release). Go get!

I can’t seem to track down any Troubles mp3s, so you’ll have to stream at their myspace if you’re interested.

I have a few more photos at my Flickr.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

God on the good foot

It’s a Sunday, so time for some gospel. Or gospel funk to be more precise. Gospel funk? you may ask. What's that? Well, gospel funk was never a real genre or musical movement, and there were no labels concerned with the funk of gospel, as the sleeve notes of the compilation Good God! A Gospel Funk Hymnal tells us.

Rather, the tracks on this excellent collection (which was released in the US last year, but has only just come to my attention via the import section in Rough Trade) have come to light due to the labours of patient people who have invested a lot of time sifting though a whole load of fairly bland 70s soul and R 'n' B 45s and LPs. Tucked away on these records are some great examples of Christian artists experimenting with the funk. The results are quite stunning. God’s name being praised on the Fender bass and wah-wah pedal, as well as the organ and massed voices.

There’s an amazing collection of artists on here, all of whom you’ll never have heard of before, but who will surely move your ass, even if they don’t make your praise the Father, Son and Spirit. These tunes made me do both. Praise the Lord for the crate diggers!

Download: 5 Spiritual Tones – Bad Situation
Download: Horace Family – God Will Dry My Weeping Eyes

I previously posted Cliff Gober’s awesome version of Wayfaring Stranger a few weeks ago.

Buy Good God! from Amazon (if you’re in the UK it’s cheaper to buy from, even with the postal charges).