Friday, June 29, 2007

The big catch-up 1: The Voices

First up in my catch-up is The Voices, hailing from Port Talbot in South Wales, whose new album The Sound of Young America was amongst a bunch of stuff I got from the fine Welsh label My Kung Fu. I’d never heard of them before, and this is actually their second album. Mind you, it’s certainly not lack of quality material that’s keeping them from the glare of national publicity.

It really is a very good album, even if it is one that wears its influences clearly on its sleeve for all to see (or hear?). This is a record very much in debt to early 90s shoegaze bands and their ilk. The sound of young America it certainly ain’t. So we have blissed-out ethereal loveliness conjuring up the spirits of Slowdive on You Shared a Smile I Thought Was True… That’s song’s follow-on companion …You Broke a Heart I Gave to You is pure Spiritualized and the next track Don’t Let Go is even more so. Like other Daily Growl faves The Early Years, they also have a bit of a Krautrock thing going on too – most evident in the album’s title track and on I See Dark Times Ahead, the b-side of their upcoming single.

So far, so derivative it seems. Well, it is, but that’s not damning with faint praise. Honestly, this album is as good as thing shoegaze-Krautrock thing gets. And that is pretty damn good. I think I might even like this album more than The Early Years' self-titled debut, which I raved about quite a bit last year. If you like your wall of noise warm, melodic and shimmering, with a slight dash of femininity, this album is for you.

I wonder if they’re as good live as I hope they would be. Unfortunately chances to see them if you live outside of Cardiff are looking slim at the moment. Maybe soon…

Download: The Voices – Love
Download: The Voices - …You Broke a Heart I Gave to You
Download: The Voices – I See Dark Times Ahead

Buy The Sound of Young America.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

A surfeit of pink

Bear with me. One last baby-related post, before I get back onto proper bands and reviews and things. I sort of need to get all the pink out of my system.

You see, you get a lot of pink when you have a baby girl. And not all of it is desired either. Not that Mrs Growl and I are opposed to pink per se – not even baby pink. But the surfeit of pink that has enveloped our house in the last few weeks is something else.

My parents came from Scotland a week or so ago, bearing many gifts which nicely managed to excise the nonsensical stereotype of tight Scots. We got stuff from folk who we don’t know, and are only acquaintances of my parents. Most of the pressies are pink, and there are only so many pink dresses you can take, really. I mean, we're grateful for folks' generosity, and some of the stuff is fine, but others are so evidently bought by people a generation or two older than us. What does one do with all these pink dresses? We’re not sure we want to inflict these on The Baby Growl. She may grow up to hate us for trussing her up in these synthetic, old-fashioned frills. Or maybe not. Maybe she’ll become one of these super-pink girls. I could tolerate that, only as long as she likes good music.

Speaking of which, here are some tenuous pink-related tracks. Not all of them are relevant or even appropriate for a baby theme, but they all share the word 'pink' and they’re all good.

Download: Blonde Redhead – Pink Love
Download: I Was a Cub Scout – Pink Squares
Download: The Flaming Lips – Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (Part 1)
Download: Nick Drake – Pink Moon
Download: Pulp – Pink Glove
Download: Johnny Flynn & The Sussex Wit – Tickle Me Pink
Download: Nathan Fake – The Sky Was Pink
Download: Pink Mountaintops – Cold Criminals

OK, back to normal now…

I'm back! Let the catch-up commence!

I’m back at work today after three and a half weeks off for Baby Growl-related duties. Suddenly life got a whole lot easier. No matter what gets thrown at me over the next few days, it’ll be a dawdle compared to looking after a tiny baby.

The other good thing about being back here, with my view over The London Eye, is regular posting! So hopefully can I catch up with posts on loads of music I’ve been sent, bought or acquired over the last month and a bit. I’ve been out of the loop for a while too, so bear with me on any rustiness. June has gone past in a bit of a blur.

Before that though, I’ve got one more baby-related post to get out of the way…

Singles going steady 6: I heart Bjork

The next one up in my trawl through my decaying collection of CD singles is a timely one, following as it does Bjork’s stunning performance at Glastonbury last week. I’ve been caning her albums at home ever since, and Volta hasn’t even popped through my letterbox yet. This single is another CD that Mrs Growl brought to our marriage, but I’m very glad of it. It’s the 1997 single Bachelorette, off the Homogenic album, and features a couple of very handsome b-sides.

My Snare is another Mark Bell production, and it could easily be something she’s brought out this year. Scary is one for all those who lazily compared Joanna Newsom to Bjork (in the voice department at least), what with its harpsichord and all that. And last is a remix of Bachelorette from Howie ‘remember him?’ B, which wisely leaves the original fairly intact.

Download: Bjork – My Snare
Download: Bjork – Scary
Download: Bjork – Bachelorette (Howie “Spread” Remix)

I can’t leave this post without including the awesomeness that is Declare Independence from aforementioned Glastonbury show. I’ve always hated these festival flag-wavers, but somehow here it makes sense.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Glastonbury-by-TV: Saturday and Sunday

So, it seems that Friday was the best day at Glastonbury. On TV at least. Saturday and Sunday certainly gave slimmer pickings of quality – I mean, at one point last night there was a choice on BBCi between watching Mika, The Kaiser Chiefs and The Rakes. Come on BBC – surely there’s better stuff to show than that!

To be fair, I didn’t watch that much on Saturday. That evening Mrs Growl and I managed to get out the house purely for pleasure for the first time since the arrival of The Baby Growl almost three weeks ago. Never has dinner at a friend’s house seemed so revolutionary! When I got back, a set by Bat For Lashes was the perfect antidote to the boring bombast of The Killers on the other channel. I’ve never given Natasha Khan and co much of a listen, but the short set I saw more than whetted my appetite for their unique brand of spooky pop. Headlining the Other Stage, Iggy and the Stooges put on a pretty damn impressive show for blokes who could almost be drawing their pensions. The stage invasion was amusing too.

On Sunday, it was good to see the Go! Team again, but shame that we didn’t get to see much in the way of new material, since like many others I’m keen to hear what the new album has to offer. Amp Fiddler put on a pretty fine retro Blaxploitation-style show, complete with 70 jackets and backing singers with huge hair (who managed to totally outclass ‘special guest’ Corrine Bailey Rae). And the Chemical Brothers put on a stunning display of visuals and beats which made me wonder if it really was 2007 and not 1997. I mean that in the best possible way of course – the big beat survivors showing why they still matter today. It made me wonder why, a few DJ sets aside, I’ve never seen them properly live.

So all in, not a bad event on TV. I’m even more glad I wasn’t there now, when I hear the horror stories of people trying to get back home through the crowds and the mud. Thanks then BBC for all your coverage. I’ll even forgive you for not having any cameras at the smaller stages – I know that resources are limited. This is the kind of thing that makes me happy to pay the licence fee.

Last word from me is more of a snigger as I remember the looks on the faces of Lauren Laverne and Phill Jupitus as they were told that we were going to get shown yet another song by Paolo Nutini on Saturday. My own groans were perfectly reflected. Maybe the presenters’ gig is not always the rosy one that it seems...

Download: Bat for Lashes – The Wizard
Download: The Go! Team – Ladyflash (Simian Mobile Disco Mix)
Download: Amp Fiddler – Ridin’ (Carl Craig Version)
Download: The Chemical Brothers – Loops of Fury

If you want a report on Glastonbury from someone who was actually there, no doubt headphonesex will have something to say soon...

Pictures, as before, via the BBC Glastonbury website.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Mud and bands? Nah, not for me

It’s Glastonbury this weekend. Or Glaston-berry as the Americans call it. I’m not there. But even if I didn’t have a new small baby, I still wouldn’t be there. In past years I clamoured to go, and was bitterly disappointed when I failed to get tickets. But for the past few years I haven’t bothered.

It’s not the mud either, it’s just the sheer scale of it. Maybe it’s because I’m getting old, but somehow the prospect of standing in a field with 80,000 people watching a band a mile away doesn’t really appeal. Sure, I know there’s more to Glastonbury than the main stages, but I really can’t be bothered. These days I’m much happier to be found at the small festivals, where you might even bump into people more than once, and the headline bands are ones that would probably be relegated to some mid-afternoon slot at a major festival. Festivals like End of the Road, which now that it has confirmed the appearance of Danielson, is officially the best festival of the year!

Anyway, back to Somerset. I’m of the opinion now that the best place to experience Glastonbury is on TV. And with the BBC’s blanket coverage this weekend it’s not hard to catch something good. Two years ago, I enjoyed the White Stripes blistering headline set much more on TV than I did a few months later at the dreadful North London aircraft hangar that is Alexandra Palace. On TV you got the full-on glory of the performance. At Ally Pally we strained to see the tiny figures of Jack and Meg in the distance and lost any possible enjoyment. Goodness knows what it would have been like at Glastonbury where we’d probably have been straining to see the band on the big screens, let alone the stage. And with the space between the performers and the crowd bigger than most venues that I consider it acceptable to see bands, I really am much happier on my sofa with the vicarious experience.

Thanks to BBC4 and various other digital options presented by the Beeb, I managed to avoid nonsense like Kasabian and the Fratellis, and the mystifying amount of coverage given to super-average bands like Mumm-Ra and Tokyo Police Club, and settle down to enjoy extended footage of Rufus Wainwright, Arcade Fire, Bjork and possibly my favourite ever live band, Super Furry Animals. All of them were on top form. Rufus nattily making a stripey suit with a stripey shirt look good, Arcade Fire playing a similar set to the ones I’ve seen them play already this year – but including an immense version of My Body is a Cage which I haven’t seen; Bjork being as brilliantly batty as expected, with fantastic outfits, a dancing, face-painted brass section-cum-choir and spiders webs and lasers; and the Super Furries playing songs off their new album Venus, which sound like a fine return to form after the minor work that was Love Kraft. Everything was good – from the new facial hair through to Gruff’s helmet for Slow Life, via the three guitar clash at the end of Receptacle for the Respectable and the ‘Big Star version’ of Northern Lites.

You can watch SFA and Bjork on the BBC’s Glastonbury site (where these photos are from). Hopefully someone will have ripped the individual songs for YouTube-ing before too long.

Looking forward to more TV goodness later.

Download: Super Furry Animals – Northern Lites
Download: Arcade Fire – My Body is a Cage
Download: Rufus Wainwright – Between My Legs
Download: Bjork – All is Full of Love

Friday, June 22, 2007

Basia Bulat @ The Fly, 1 June 2007

This gig was only three weeks ago, but it seems like a lifetime away now. There’s a hell of a lot happened to me since then. But even though it’s late, I though it was worth writing a bit about it because firstly it was my last gig as a childless (man and probably my last gig for a while), and secondly because it was just really good.

Like her album release, Basia Bulat’s appearance in London over this weekend was a bit low-key. On the week her record came out, I found it hard to track down a copy of the excellent Oh, My Darling in major record stores (of course I found it in the ever-reliable Rough Trade). And for her first visit to London, Basia didn’t seem to be seeking the limelight in headline slots. Oh no. For her it was a place quite far down the bill at Adem’s Homefires Festival, and two days before, a gig as ostensible support act in this night put on by the nice people at A Badge of Friendship.

So after a set of agreeable and unusually jolly post rock from Future Corpses, Basia took to the tiny stage downstairs at The Fly with her band. “I’m from the other London” she told us. That’s London, Ontario to you, and despite the promise of inherited indie-cool just for coming from Canada these days, this lot don’t need it. They’re too good for that. Basia fronts the band (which also includes her brother Bobby on drums) with her autoharp and guitar, singing songs from the aforementioned album, which as I’ve told you previously is quite a lovely thing. And live, the songs are every bit as lovely, enhanced by Basia’s sweet, smiley charm.

She obviously had fun, we enjoyed watching her. In the end the set was all too short, but there was enough to make me hope for a quick return to this London for Bulat and her band, next time in a more prominent way. That’s the least she deserves. And hopefully by then, I’ll be able to make it out.

Download: Basia Bulat – Before I Knew

Buy Oh, My Darling

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Baby's number 1

Forgive me another baby-related post. It is my all-consuming preoccupation at the moment, so I’m sure you’ll understand. Anyway, amongst the many congratulatory emails we received after announcing the birth of The Baby Growl, one was from a friend who suggested that like her, we bought a copy of the number one single of the week in which she was born. If that sounds a bit sad, try being a new parent. We’ll be holding on to her hospital ankle tags as mementos, and we even got a bit annoyed when her cord clip disappeared.

But I digress. I thought this No. 1 single thing was a neat idea, so when out shopping for some essential infant products last Sunday, I popped into HMV to do some blind purchasing. After all, I don’t exactly pay much attention to the nation’s top 40 these days. It turned out that the number one single was Umbrella by Rihanna, featuring Jay-Z. It had also been pointed out to me that the indie number one was Heavyweight Champion of the World by Reverend and the Makers (also in the real top 20). How appropriate too, since at 3.83kg, The Baby Growl certainly wasn’t a lightweight at birth.

So I got my purchases home, and readied myself to listen to how the nation’s tastes had marked my baby’s birth week. The Rihanna single bore some promise. After all, a lot of these big R ‘n’ B artists have at least one blisteringly good song, even if the rest of their material is gash. Could be interesting? But in reality it’s awful. Really, really terrible. Jay-Z turns up at the start for a perfunctory rap, then collects his bag of money and disappears off before the rest of the track turns into a sort of R ‘n’ B power ballad, with none of the spark, exciting production or even just good tunes that allow some of her peers (like Amerie) to make occasionally brilliant tunes. And the remixes are even worse – seemingly conjured up just in time for the Reebok Classics brigade to board their planes to Ibeefa.

So what hope then for the indie number one? Not so sure, especially in these times when vacuous Big Brother contestants declare unironically that a new type of music called indie is taking over. The word just doesn’t mean much any more. And sure enough, the single is another stinker. The only good thing to say about it is that here’s a Sheffield band that isn’t another Arctic Monkeys identikit. Sure, singer Jon McClure’s lyrical flow sounds a bit like Alex Turner, but it’s not his fault he’s from the same city as his more famous peer. It’s sort of electro-pop-rock, but of the JD Sports variety. The sort of electro-pop that the aforementioned Reebok Classics brigade would find acceptable, in the absence of the Happy Mondays. Hold on, they’re back too, aren’t they? Groan.

So despite a having a memorable birth date (05/06/07), The Baby Growl didn’t have a good musical week to mark her introduction into the world. But maybe it doesn’t matter. I fully intend to bring her up well, instructing her in the true musical way (and yes, Matthew Song, By Toad, that does mean no boybands and emo – hopefully), and by the time she’s old enough to understand, I’ll probably have to explain what singles were anyway.

For what they’re worth, here are the smelly singles:

Download: Rihanna – Umbrella
Download: Reverend and the Makers – Heavyweight Champion of the World

No click to buy links here. I strongly advise you not to.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Quick and easy: Black Cab Sessions

Not much time for proper blogging at the moment, but I've got an excuse for that. Instead enjoy a couple of film clips of two of The Daily Growl's favorite artists playing songs in the back of London black cabs. These 'black cab sessions' are the work of the people at Hidden Fruit. Nice start folks - who next? Londoners can also try to work out where the cabs are driving.

Emmy the Great

Johnny Flynn

And this wouldn't be an mp3 blog without a couple of tracks:

Download: Johnny Flynn & The Sussex Wit - Cold Bread
Download: Emmy the Great - Two Steps Forward (a live band version of the song she's playing in the cab)

Thanks to Simon Sweeping the Nation for the heads up on the Youtube clips.

You might also be interested in my previous Johnny Flynn post with live radio tracks, now re-uploaded.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

The Baby Growl is here

Apologies for my lack of posts recently, and for lack of posts in the near future too. There’s a good reason for this though. On Tuesday morning at 7:06am we were introduced to The Baby Growl for the first time, when she was forcibly evicted from the dark warm place she has called home for the last nine months. She even has a proper name now – Isobel Eve*. But she’s still The Baby Growl as well.

It’s been an intense and amazing experience so far, but also one marked by very little sleep. So catching up on rest and just generally getting used to being a parent is taking priority over blogging at the mo. Normal service should be resumed sometime in the not-too-distant future.

In the meantime, here are some songs. The first is hardly one of Stevie’s finer moments, but its icky sentimentalism is quite appropriate for me at the moment. The next track from folky oddball Devandra Banhart describes exactly what she is. Well, half of what she is anyway. And finally, a song that I’d completely forgotten about until a friend reminded us of it in a congratulatory text the other day. It is her name after all.

Download: Devendra Banhart – Chinese Children

*In case anyone asks, she isn't named after Isobel Campbell. We just like the name.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Singles going steady 5: my Radio 2 tendencies

For the fifth instalment in my trawl through my old CD singles collection, I’m going a bit mainstream. Certainly a lot less cool. You don’t get many tracks on music blogs by these artists, and maybe there’s good reason for that. But that doesn’t mean that they’re entirely without merit and I’m not going to gloss over the less glamorous regions of my music stash. These are a mix of the good, the alright and the frankly bizarre.

First up we have Athlete. Although they’re now much-derided purveyors of epic stadium indie rock, a la Coldplay and Snow Patrol, it wasn’t always so. Back at the very start of 2002, a single appeared which was a bit of a hit on John Kennedy’s Xposure radio show, by a young band from Deptford (south east London). And it was pretty good, with its crackly lo-fi start, explosion into sparkly indie-pop and wry lyrics about wanting to be part of the rock scene (which brings me back to notions of ‘cool’ again). It boded well for things to come, and I eagerly bought a copy of the EP that the song was on. But alas, the early promise didn’t really lead anywhere and it’s the only thing by the band I own. A shame really, but at least we have this.

Download: Athlete – Westside

Next we go even more pop. In common with most machine-tooled chart pop acts, All Saints have got some great songs, but there’s never any point buying their albums. This is one of these songs, from back in 2000, just before the band fizzled out in mutual acrimony, egos and ill-advised solo projects. They actually returned, reformed and (apparently) reconciled last year, and had a hit. But by the time the next single and album came round, no-one was really bothered. My point exactly.

Download: All Saints – Black Coffee

Now it’s Tori Amos. This one comes to me courtesy of Mrs Growl (who’s a Tori fan) and our marital pooling of music collections. Now I do have time for Tori Amos, particularly when she’s on more of an oddball streak, which happily is more often than not, and no more so than on the b-side of her 1996 single Caught a Lite Sneeze, where she covers two songs by Cockney knees-up merchants Chas & Dave. Honestly. Here’s one of them. It defies further description.

Download: Tori Amos – London Girls

Finally, we have another Mrs Growl CD. It’s Aztec Camera’s single Birds from 1993. I’m a big fan of this band, but latter-period 'Camera, including this song, is far from their finest hour. It’s not very good, but thankfully, the b-sides hark back to better days. Maybe WEA didn’t have much confidence in the quality of Roddy Frame’s output at the time, because it’s surely an odd choice to go back almost 10 years for a b-side. But it was worth including the title track from the 1984 album Knife, just to make this release more bearable. Aztec Camera was always pretty much just Roddy Frame, and thankfully after discarding the band name after 1995 in favour of recording under his own name, a much better run of form was discovered. Most notably the brilliant acoustic album Surf from 2002 – easily as good as anything from Aztec Camera’s glory days.

Download: Aztec Camera – Knife

* for overseas readers, BBC Radio 2 is the most popular radio station in the UK. Its programming is generally, popular middle-of the road music. It’s lazy categorising I know, but I needed a title to cover all these tracks, and I’m fairly sure all these artists would fit comfortably on the R2 playlist today.