Friday, October 31, 2008

Deerhunter - Microcastle / Weird Era Cont.

It’s been a prolific year from Bradford Cox. He’s released his solo debut album as Atlas Sound, and followed that up with a run of ‘virtual seven inches’ on his blog. And just to prove that he just can’t stop recording, with his ‘proper’ band Deerhunter he’s released not one, but two albums, hitting the streets this week as one big juicy package.

The fact that there are two albums is related to the aforementioned blog. As all fans will now know, over the summer, when posting one of his Atlas Sound virtual sevens, someone accessed a whole album’s worth of songs in an unsecured folder in Cox’s mediafire account. So given that this material was out there anyway, it’s been appended to the planned release of Microcastle. The good thing is that we now have two Deerhunter albums instead of one.

I say a good thing, but this doesn’t mean two amazing albums for the price of one. Somewhere in the collection of 25 songs, there is one great album. If Cox has a weakness, it’s self-editing. It’s fine enough to have tons of material available, but if you’re lazy like me, you’ll object to having to put some work in, weeding out the fine from the not-so-fine. Now, don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing bad on either Microcastle or Weird Era Cont. but some of it just drifts innocuously past, as if it can’t really be bothered to grab your attention.

Thankfully, there are plenty of songs which do make you sit up and take notice. Deerhunter are best when cranking up the warm, fuzzy guitars and Cox knows how to craft a good song, and also crucially how to rock out whilst keeping the tunes intact (see the particularly excellent Nothing Ever Happened). When these albums are good, they’re very good – particularly Microcastle – and if Cox is slightly more discerning he’ll write a classic album very soon.

mp3: Deerhunter – Nothing Ever Happened
mp3: Deerhunter – Twilight at Carbon Lake

Deerhunter myspace / blog

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Corporate hacking and the war on bloggers

For me, it started back in September. Just after returning to blogging post-holiday, I noticed that something wasn't quite right. I was sure I had done a post about Richard Hawley side project The Feral Cats, but it wasn't there any more. Strange, especially given that the song still appeared on my Hype Machine listing. My first thought was that I had been hacked. But by who? An outraged Richard Hawley fan, furious that I had posted a track only available on a very limited edition 10 inch single? Surely not. Slightly worried though I was, I changed my login and password and left it.

The next one to disappear was much more noticeable. A day or so after I reviewed the new TV on the Radio album, the post also disappeared, with no warning. Now something was clearly going wrong. If it was a hacker, why so discriminating? If they wanted to harm my blog, they could just have deleted the whole thing.

Things got a bit clearer when I read this post on To Die By Your Side. It seems that Coxon (who writes TDBYS) had been targeted in a similar way and his posts on The Verve and Cold War Kids had been ghosted away. So it's clearly been coming from the record companies. But hold on... I was sent the TVOTR album by the blogger-friendly 4AD (though admittedly they never give explicit permission to post). But a quick look at their website shows that TVOTR are on DGC in the US, which is part of the evil empire that is Universal. That explained a lot. Then I found out that this was happening to a lot of bloggers and it's continuing daily, even in the time that it's taken me to write this long-winded post, more bad shit has happened.

In the past, any record company complaints were usually directed via file hosts - mine would either ask me to take the offending mp3s down or delete them themselves. Earlier this year I had my account closed by one host, but I guess that's just part of this borderline game we play. There's also Web Sheriff, which although strident in tone, was similar to a record company or PR simply asking you to take something down, which is the way I prefer it. But the tactics have now switched. By going straight to Blogger and deleting the offending item is a lot more direct and painful. Plus, if you're a blogger who values writing rather than just posting mp3s, you lose something that you may have spent good time putting together.

Over the last week or so, things have taken a decidedly nastier turn. In the past eight days, I've had a further two posts deleted. This time I received an email about these, otherwise I may never have noticed. That's because one of them was from over TWO YEARS AGO. That's October 2006. The deleted post was about a FREE CD I picked up in Rough Trade, featuring a load of young folky types, none of whom are very well known, even now. However, one of them was Johnny Flynn, now signed to Vertigo, a subsidiary of our old friends Universal. The notion that they're trying to clear the internets of Flynn mp3s was confirmed on Monday when another Johnny-featuring post, this time his appearance on Jeremy Warmsley's Welcome to our TV Show, was also deleted. This is all bad stuff, not to mention pretty stupid given that the mp3s had long since been taken down. But let's think about this further for a minute:

- The live track was recorded in Jeremy Warmsley's living room and sent to me by the man himself. I'm sure it is (was?) also freely available on

- The song on the free CD was from when Johnny Flynn was just starting out playing solo stuff and long before anyone at Universal had ever heard of him.

The latter point is compounded by fellow-blogger Ed from 17 Seconds, who had an interview with Glasvegas from January deleted last week. This was before the band had signed with major label Columbia (part of Sony BMG) and the mp3s Ed posted were with full approval of the band.

So does this mean that even if us bloggers stick to the indie and unsigned artists, and post everything with full permission, that sometime in the future some bastard is coming to come crashing down on us because in the past we've had the temerity to write about and post songs from an artist that they have gone on to sign? Does that mean that nothing is safe? Surely one of the sources of information that major labels use to find out about new bands is blogs. That's just having your cake and eating it.

But anyway, I could go on in an indignant fashion, but that would be pointless. There are a lot of bloggers out there feeling a bit vulnerable, though some have suggested some fightback action. Matthew Song, By Toad is writing to a Columbia bigwig, which should be interesting. But ultimately there's probably not much we can do against heavy handed, idiotic people who have money and legal power on their side. Actually, there are a couple of things I can to to mitigate things a bit.

1. Avoid anything on a major label. This isn't going to be very difficult, given that I don't much anyway. However the fear of future action as noted above remains.

2. Move away from Blogger. I actually tried to do this earlier in the year and move to a self-hosted Wordpress blog, but found the process horrendously complicated. However, I'm determined to do this now, because though it won't provide complete security, I'll feel a wee bit safer. Those who have this set-up (like Matthew) seem to have survived so far.

Anyway, this post is way longer than it than it has any right to be, so I'll stop now. The next few weeks in blog-land should be interesting.

Before I go, here's a song which I've been given explicit permission to post. So it should be OK. I hope.

mp3: Rod Thomas - Same Old Lines (James Yuill Remix)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Alton Ellis 1938 - 2008

When Isaac Hayes died earlier this year, everyone knew about it immediately, and rightly so. However, 10 October saw another reggae legend pass away with seemingly little comment. I can almost understand Joe Gibbs' death being widely ignored several months back, because he was more of a backroom man (even though hugely influential), but I'd have thought that someone as well-known in the world of Jamaican music as Alton Ellis would have generated a bit more column inches.

Maybe it's just me not being more aware, but it was a week or so after his death that I first read about his passing in the relative backwater of the Guardian's 'click to download' column. First sadness on hearing this, then mild outrage about not hearing before.

Still, looking around the internet now, there are plenty of tributes to this great pioneer of rocksteady, and as I type this, he's number 3 in The Hype Machine 'most blogged artists' list, so there are plenty of music fans out there who aren't letting his departure go unheralded. And rightly so - he was a giant of the genre. Although he's best known for rocksteady, he's recorded a variety of music including a bit of funk, and given that London was his home from the mid-70s, it's perhaps no surprise that he dabbled in lover's rock. There's little that i can say more to the many words that have been uttered so far, so I won't. However, if you're unfamiliar with the great man, you can read the brief bio on Wikipedia, get this compilation, or just listen at Hype.

One of these tracks below - Let Him Try - is my favourite Ellis song, and probably one of my all-time favourite songs. Ever. Call me a big softie, but just listen and tell me it doesn't make you feel all gooey and tingly inside. RIP Alton.

mp3: Alton Ellis - African Descendants
mp3: Alton Ellis - Let Him Try

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

True Story

You know how sometimes an artist who has never really been properly on your radar (or has been out of mind for a long time) in short space of time keeps on cropping up, as if to say "hey, listen to me". Or something like that. Anyway, it's happened to me recently with Matthew Herbert. Firstly, a couple of weeks ago, I rediscovered his amazing 2001 album Bodily Functions in my CD collection. Shortly after that I when I found out about ace new band The Invisible, I saw that he is their producer. Then last week I got an email about his latest project.

He's getting his big band back together, which is perhaps not surprising given that it's been his most commercially successful venture to date (or at least the most high-profile). But this isn't really about cashing in. Matthew's a man with many serious points to make, so he's still managing to get messages into the swing-band jazz. Take this preview track The Story, which contains lyrics about Cambodian refugees, Indian farmers and paying the right price for coffee. And being a man who also likes a bit of performance art in his socially conscious dance music, there's more to the track than meets the eye.

Honestly though, this is what you need liner notes (or a press release, in this case) for. Listening to The Story, you'd never realise that it features the sampled sound of 70 copies of The Sun newspaper. 70 celebrity gossip magazines. one copy of the NME, one Madonna album and one copy of Wallpaper* magazine. But it does. There you go.

mp3: The Matthew Herbert Big Band - The Story (edit)

Matthew's new album There's me, and then there's you is out on 10 November. The Big Band play at the Royal Festival Hall on 21 November.

Oh, and one classic for old time's sake.

mp3: Herbert - Suddenly

Buy Matthew Herbert stuff from Amazon

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sugar baby

It's a a damp autumn afternoon. The Baby Growl is asleep and a measure of peace has been restored to the house. What better to do than spend some time making Nigella's amazing chocolate banana loaf? With added rum of course. And the soundtrack to a Sunday afternoon of domestic goddessness? Van Morrison's Astral Weeks of course.

mp3: Van Morrison - Sweet Thing

Friday, October 24, 2008

Further Education

A Classic Education are one of these perfectly-named bands. In the sense that theirs is classic indie rock, informed by three decades of classic indie rock. You don't have to listen too too hard to sense their influences - seemingly everything from Echo and the Bunnymen to Arcade Fire and everything decent in between.

I've been on about them here before, but today there's two good new things. One is that they're in town this weekend for a couple of gigs. So if you're in London, and are looking for some gig action, you could do far worse than to head down to either The Fly tonight or Dalston's premier former furniture store basement Barden's Boudoir tomorrow night to see Bologna's finest play. I can't make it unfortunately, so if you do go, say hello to Jonathan and the boys for me.

The other thing, is a new song. Freshly recorded this week. It's good of course.

mp3: A Classic Education - We Can Always Run to Hawaii

A Classic Education myspace / website

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Bodies of Water @ Cargo, 14 October 2008

I don’t want to start a review feeling sorry for a band, but lastTuesday night at Cargo there was something lacking. It was nothing to do with the band’s performance, which was superb. It was the audience. Not even their enthusiasm for the band, just the number of people. Cargo’s not even a particularly big venue, but there were no more than 30 people in there, which dampened the atmosphere somewhat. I know it’s the first UK tour for Bodies of Water, and they’re relatively unknown here, but surely more could have been done on the promotion side. There wasn’t much info to be found anywhere other than Cargo’s own website, and I didn’t even know who the support band were until I asked the singer after their performance.

Speaking of which, the unknown support band turned out to be a Danish duo called the Choir of Young Believers, and they were very impressive. It’s not often these days that I’ll attend a gig where I see a support band that I’ve never heard, or even heard of beforehand. And it’s a pleasant surprise when they’re good.

Their set on Tuesday night was performed as a duo comprising COYB main man Jannis Noya Makrigiannis and cellist Cecilie Trier. The songs were slow and measured, with Jannis’s electric guitar and vocals beautifully complemented by Cecile’s haunting cello and gorgeous harmonies. They reminded me of a less dark Low, and their half-hour slot glided gracefully by. I bought their debut album This is for the White in Your Eyes off their manager afterwards, and it’s a fine piece of work, though I wasn’t quite expecting the much fuller, orchestrated sound present on record. It seems that COYB are a bigger outfit than I thought, and it’s likely that resources reduced their touring band to two. On hindsight, this was a very good thing because, although White in Your Eyes is a decent album, I much prefer the stripped-down torch songs from last Tuesday night.

This was Bodies of Water’s first London headline gig, and I was full of anticipation. Ever since succumbing to the wide-eyed euporhia of their debut Ears Will Pop and Eyes Will Blink last year, I’ve thought that they’d be an amazing live band. But it's been was almost a year till I've got to see them in the flesh.

With such high levels of anticipation, it would be easy to be disappointed, because anything less than mind-blowing just wouldn’t do. Which is why the small crowd was annoying – a packed arch at Cargo would no doubt have generated an electric atmosphere. The other little disappointment for me was the lack of material from Ears Will Pop. But that’s a minor gripe – BoW had their new album A Certain Feeling to plug, and boy did they do that well. I haven’t warmed as much to the new record as much as I’d hoped, until this gig. The songs from A Certain Feeling came alive in new ways, with the band’s enthusiastic everyone-sing-at-once style, and songs that seemed to contain three or four songs in one, shifting tempo efforstlessly and thrillingly.

Even though they were nearing the end of a long tour, the folks from LA still managed to muster smiles, humour and good spirits throughout, even broken guitar strings near the end couldn't stop them from coming back with a spine-tingling set closer of These are The Eyes. They seemed to have some sound problems on stage, but I didn’t notice. A brilliant gig, though I'll be hoping for more people next time. As we left, my friend said that if he could put together his ideal band, it would be Bodies of Water. For a moment at least, it was hard to disagree.

mp3: Bodies of Water - These are the Eyes
mp3: Bodies of Water - Even in a Cave

BoW myspace / website

mp3: Choir of Young Believers - Action/Reaction
mp3: Choir of Young Believers - Hollow Talk

COYB myspace

Buy Bodies of Water albums from Rough Trade or download from emusic. Buy COYB's This is for the Whites in Your Eyes from their myspace.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Alessi’s Ark

Estimates of the prevalence of opiate use

The Daily Growl is a modest blog, and I have no big ambitions for it. Apart from continuing to write about music that I like, which hopefully others will like too. I’m under no illusions about how influential or cutting-edge I am. Heck, this is just a hobby, although most music bloggers (myself sometimes included) take themselves too seriously to admit that.

That said, one of the greatest pleasures of this business is to get positive comments about what I’m doing. This is the sort of thing that makes my hurried lunchtime scribblings seem worthwhile. I got some compliments today from Alessi Laurent-Marke, a 18-year old from North London. While that may be unremarkable in itself, the email came with a nice surprise – a song to “fill your ears".

Alessi, who seems like a modest soul herself, has recorded under her first name, the more awkward Alessi (music) and now seems to have settled on Alessi’s Ark. But it’s still the same person, still playing her unfussy and lovely acoustic folk-pop tunes, some of which have stings, some of which have a little country tinge. Her voice may get some references to Joanna Newsom, but let’s stay away from that, eh? The song from the email –The Horse – is one of these lovely folk-pop songs. I've been enjoying it a lot. Hope you do too.

mp3: Alessi’s Ark – The Horse

Alessi's Ark myspace

You can buy Alessi’s Bedroom Bound EP from her myspace now. She’s on tour with the Pirates-less Peggy Sue and Derek Meins from 31 October. These are guaranteed to be fine gigs.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Friendly fired up

Here, Friendly Fires prove again what an awesome live band they are. And that having two drummers makes you sound amazing. Snow Patrol, who appeared on the same TV show last week, should take note.

mp3: Friendly Fires - Paris (Arto Mwambe Remix)

Friendly Fires myspace / website

XL releases Paris as a single on 10 November, on download and 12" with some remixes.

(PS. If you're thinking that this blog should rename itself The Daily Remix, fear not, normal service will be resumed soon. The proper job and real life are making me busy right now.)

Friday, October 17, 2008

Let the Spirit Move You

Let's round off a week of (lazily posted?) remixes, with another. I haven't got round to reviewing Roots Manuva's Slime and Reason album yet, mainly because I haven't given it enough listens, though what I've heard sounds pretty good. What I do know is that his new single Let the Spirit is totally ace. I can't imagine why there needs to be a radio edit of the Hot Chip remix, but whatever the reason, it still has the word FUN plastered all over its little truncated face.

mp3: Roots Manuva - Let the Spirit (Hot Chip remix radio edit)

Roots Manuva myspace / website

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Down the Tiny Steps

Today we're going to Glasgow via Manchester and Fife. That's because Down The Tiny Steps are from Glagow, part of the feted Fence Collective, but have just had their latest release put out by Manchester's Red Deer Club records.

On their website, DTTS describe themselves as a "Glasgow-based electro-folk-pop trio." This gives you a rough idea of what they might sound like of course, but they're worried about how that may be understood. "That sounds cack" they add "but they are not". They protest too much. It doesn't take long listening to their er, electro-folk-pop (look, it's no better or worse than 'folktronica') to realise that they're onto something good.

The band consist of main man Jonnie Common, and his mates Craig Rankine and Graham Norris. They've yet to release a 'proper' album, but have put stuff out on various compilations and CDRs through the likes of the Fence folks. I guess the new album is the closest they've come to a full-length release. It's a download-only live recording of a gig they did for Red Deer Club at a church in Salford in May this year, and it's a nice little sample of what they do. Reminds me of a more lo-fi Beta Band. Nice. Here are a couple of tracks.

mp3: Down The Tiny Steps - Summer is for Going Places
mp3: Down The Tiny Steps - Handstand

Down The Tiny Steps myspace / website

Buy Live at Red Deer Club 2008 from the Red Deer Club site.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Want another remix? Here's James Yuill

Yesterday, I got a complaint about remixes. It went:

"I think it's pretty ridiculous to post 2 remixes and not a single original song from the artist. You've done this before, and it makes me think that you care more about your ranking on hype machine than about respect from your audience."

Now it's clear to anyone even half-acquainted with The Daily Growl that this isn't the place to come for either remixes or Hype Machine-hot bands. All you need to do is scroll down to discover that. But that said, I have posted a few remixes this week, and I've been known to slip the odd one up from time to time. I hope you don't mind folks. The sort of comment above deserves all the ridicule it can get (and thanks Neil for helping with that), but to keep things straight for now, there are at least three good reasons for posting remixes.

1. I get sent quite a lot of remixes. They're quite handy promotional devises for PRs and record labels, which suits them, and it suits me because they're entirely legit to post. In a climate where (major) record companies seem to be getting more and more paranoid and start targeting blogs in new insidious ways (more on that chestnut later), the more approved stuff I can post the better. Particularly if it's good.

2. Whilst I regularly post a couple of tracks from albums I review, I almost never post current singles. Simply because a couple of tracks from an album is a taster, and is more likely to encourage someone to buy it than not, whereas posting the main track from a single most likely means that you won't buy it unless you're a vinyl collector. This is not what I want. Remixes of singles can provide a decent taster, and encourage further exploration. Remember, although you can get free music from blogs, this is not what they're about. We (and I know I speak for all good bloggers here) want to encourage enthusiasm and promote artists we like. Comments about wanting 'original tracks' just make me think someone's on the scrounge for freebies.

3. I post remixes if I like them. I get sent a lot of these and only a few actually make it onto my posts. This is the radical concept of bloggers posting music that they like. Amazing.

And although it's clear that I don't crave big Hype Machine hits, the occasional top 50 track is very welcome, because hopefully people will stop by and check out the likes of James Yorkston, Gossamer Albatross and Sky Larkin (to name some recent less Hype friendly acts).

Anyway, enough of all that, because folks, we have another REMIX to post. Oh yes. This time it's from ace computer-folkster James Yuill. He's just had his debut album Turning Down Water for Air released by Moshi Moshi, which I haven't heard, but if it's as strong as his previous singles, it'll be a good listen. Given that James is know for mixing up electronics with acoustic guitar, this fine remix from space-disco king Prins Thomas isn't a radical departure from the norm, Just a bit longer, and very tasty.

mp3: James Yuill - This Sweet Love (Prins Thomas Sneaky Edit)

James Yuill myspace / website / blog

Buy This Sweet Love 7 inch and Turning Down Water for Air from the Moshi Moshi shop.

They want to break free

The Absentee love continues right here, courtesy of an amusing cover I acquired yesterday courtesy of the good people at Pure Groove. The first shock is the huge difference in expected vocal pitch, and the silliness continues from there. And yes it is that I Want to Break Free.

mp3: Absentee - I Want To Break Free

Absentee myspace / website.

Loads more free download goodness from Pure Groove.

The Music Alliance Pact

Here's something different today. A while back, I got a message from Jason who runs Scottish music blog The Pop Cop. His plan was to form a sort of worldwide alliance of blogs which each month would post songs from their country, and so, after a bit of prompting we have the Music Alliance Pact.

It's actually been quite a good way for me to listen to artists from other countries, which is something that I'm often quite rubbish at (apart from North American acts naturally). There's some good stuff here, and others that I don't like at all, but it's worth giving Jason's project a whirl to see how it goes.

There are 12 blogs from different countries at the moment (the UK has been split up, and I'm representing England, which is a funny position for a Scot to be in) but more may follow in time. The list of participating blogs, tracks and some blurbs follow right now...

USA I Guess I'm Floating
Arizona - The Glowing Bird
The title track from their sophomore album which came out on October 14 on Echo Mountain.

France is the new single by Brian Storming, a psychedelic pop orchestra from Buenos Aires. This band was the support act for Coldplay and Björk when they performed in Argentina. The song is included on their new EP, Brian Storming Avec L´Enchanting Device.

AUSTRALIA Who The Bloody Hell Are They?
Miami HorrorDon't Be On With Her
Miami Horror pretty much blew everyone's mind from the start, just by being called Miami Horror even though he's a producer from Melbourne (kinda like when everyone freaked about The Streets being just one guy). Then he cemented the name he had made for himself with unapologetically synth-heavy remixes - bootleg and official - of a crazy-wide array of artists from Perth's The Dirty Secrets to France's Stardust. And now here he is with the official release of his first single.

DENMARK Pastries, Peppers And Canals
Diefenbach On The Move
Diefenbach have been long-time stalwarts of the Danish indie scene, starting out as a post-rock band and gradually evolving into what they are today. Think Beach Boys meets Mogwai meets...well, Diefenbach, actually. The new album, Dark Spinner, is due in late October but the track we're presenting is from 2005's Set And Drift.

Absentee Bitchstealer
Absentee’s debut album proper Schmotime was one of my favourites of 2006, and new record Victory Shorts is a direct continuation of what the East London band does best. Singer Dan Michaelson's ravaged drawl, the sweet boy-girl vocal play-offs with keyboardist Melinda Bronstein and hugely pleasing riffs from Babak Ganjei all call to mind a much less polished Teenage Fanclub or a poppier Pavement.

ICELAND I Love Icelandic Music
Plúseinn Shake
The man behind the band Plúseinn is Árni Rúnar Hlöðversson also known as Árni Plúseinn (a.k.a. Árni +1). He recently released an album called Lettuce And Tomato, made in his apartment in Brooklyn, New York under the name Hungry And The Burger. Árni Rúnar is and was involved in a lot of Icelandic bands and projects (e.g. Hairdoctor, Motion Boys) and is a founding member of the band FM Belfast.

IRELAND Nialler9
Fight Like Apes Digifucker
The band have just released their debut Fight Like Apes And The Mystery Of The Golden Medallion in Ireland and the UK. The album was produced by John Goodmanson in Seattle over the summer. They are currently touring the UK with The Ting Tings.

ITALY Polaroid
Le Man Avec Les LunettesThe Happy Birth Of You And Me
LMALL's new album Plaskaplaskabombelibom is free to download from their website.

ERA – Opium
Taken from the band’s second album Ufocalipsis which was released last year.

Roddy HartDead Of The Night
Roddy Hart made the folk-rock masterpiece Bookmarks, arguably one of the best albums to have come out of Scotland. Dead Of The Night is the first fruits from its follow-up due out in 2009. It’s a live favourite and easily the most immediate pop song the Glaswegian has ever written.

SPAIN El Blog De La Nadadora
Blacanova Los Remedios
Blacanova is a band from Seville and this song is from their second demo, Perro EP. They are influenced by Joy Division, Seefeel, The Cure, Spanish band Sr Chinarro, David Lynch and Tod Browning films, and the writer Alejandra Pizarnik. Their music is a cross between dark pop, IDM (intelligent dance music) and shoegaze.

SWEDEN Swedesplease
Tvärvägen September
Tvärvägen is an eclectic one-man orchestra from Gustavsburg, Sweden. Notice both the clattering instrumentation and hummable melody. It's that dichotomy that makes Tvärvägen so unforgettable. The band's debut record is out November 6 on the small label Knoppar.

You can download all the above mp3s in one zip file here.

Let me know what you think. If you want my quick opinion, the best ones are from Iceland, USA and Sweden. Iceland is particularly awesome.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Take me to the Promised Land

You know how being on an advert can be just the thing to send an artist from unknown to everywhere. That's not always the case though. Consider Findlay Brown whose song Coming Home featured on a cheesy Christmas ad for Mastercard a couple of years ago. But instead of getting that track playing from every commercial radio station in the land, he concentrated on releasing his debut album Separated by the Sea. It was a decent record, full of poppy folky nuggets, but alas no stratospheric sales. However, that may be about to change, with no help from credit card companies. They have their own troubles to seek at present.

Findlay's new single sees him getting some slick production, which is not as bad as that sounds. He's drafted in some brass and backing singers on All That I Have to give it a pop sheen which has HIT written all over it. We'll see. What I'm more interested in is his cover of Joe Smooth's Promised Land, where he turns the 1987 house classic into a 2-minute acoustic pop song. And then there's the Polooski edit where the French wizard takes the cover straight back onto the dancefloor. While we're talking remixes, the Lord Skywave mix of the single is quite tasty too.

mp3: Findlay Brown - Promised Land (Pilooski edit)
mp3: Findlay Brown - All That I Have (Lord Skywave remix)

Findlay Brown myspace

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Invisible

Dave Okumu, Tom Herbert and Leo Taylor have spent too long in other people's bands. Not that their contributions to the likes of Jade Fox, Polar Bear, Zongamin and Hot Chip are unwelcome or begrudged. It's just that now they're getting on with their own thing, and it's shaping up to be a very good thing. If you know that they've got their mate Matthew Herbert behind the production desk, you'll be expecting a guaranteed high quality of tunage, but who'd have thought that they'd end up being Britain's answer to TV on the Radio?

All this bodes well for their self-titled debut, out sometime soon. Before then, they've got an ace new single Monster's Waltz coming out on Accidental Records and they've given the song to hotly-tipped new disco popstrels Micachu and Kwes to rework. Here are the results.

mp3: The Invisible - Monster's Waltz (Micachu remix)
mp3: The Invisible - Monster's Waltz (Kwes rework)

The Invisible myspace

Jay Reatard - Matador singles

After all the tales of on-stage punch-ups and kickings, it would be easy approach the new Jay Reatard album with a certain prejudice. Does this guy need a lairy rep to cover over the obvious flaws in his music? And then there’s his name.

But put these things aside for a moment. You can return them to them later, but for now let’s have a look at Jay. He’s not a complicated guy. He likes living the rock dream. His needs are simple. Sex, drugs and rock and roll is all he asks for. And the music’s much the same. Uncomplicated, shouty three chord guitar action, greasy riffs and songs that last about two minutes in order to fit in as much energy as possible without blowing a fuse. And most importantly, in the frenzy he hasn’t forgotten the tunes.

The man from Memphis is nothing if not prolific and has a huge back catalogue, stretching back to 1998 and numbering about 15 albums through various bands and solo and side projects. But this new album, which is a collection of the a and b sides from the series of 7 inch singles released on new label Matador this year already, is surely as good a place to start as any. You always need some short shouty songs with good tunes in your collection, though I can imagine that live is really where Jay needs to be experienced. Just don't get too close to the stage.

mp3: Jay Reatard – Always Wanting More
mp3: Jay Reatard – Hiding in My Hole

Jay Reatard myspace / blog

Matador Singles 08 is out now. Buy from Rough Trade or download from emusic.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Gossamer Albatross

Just after I got back from my post End of the Road Festival holiday, catching up on my emails I read:

“I noticed that you're heading down to the festival this weekend and thought you might be interested in checking out Gossamer Albatross, i think you'll be pleasantly surprised.”

Ah. Too late. Mind you, I seem to recall that they played on the Friday afternoon, probably around the time when we were struggling with the rain falling down heavily outside our tent and The Baby Growl throwing her food about inside. So I might not have been able to make it even if I wanted to.

Still, Simon Sweeping the Nation seemed to enjoy their EOTR set, and listening to them now, I reckon I may well have been pleasantly surprised. There may seem to be an increasingly crowded room full of orchestral indie types these days, but there’s certainly room to squeeze in the members of Gossamer Albatross. Actually ‘orchestral’ might be slightly misleading given that there’s only four of them, but despite the relative lack of personnel the classically-trained Hereford youngsters manage to create a sound of remarkable depth and maturity. While their peers are no doubt jumping round shouting with guitars, these kids are tuning up their violins and cellos to fine effect.

The songs I’ve been sent show plenty of promise and any lack of weight that you might detect is likely due more to resources than a lack of ambition. I await further songs with anticipation, particularly since they’ve been working with Daily Growl fave Jeremy Warmsley in the producer’s chair. That should be well worth a listen.

mp3: Gossamer Albatross – Elizabeth, Queen of the Sea
mp3: Gossamer Albatross – The Ground Will Take Us Down

Gossamer Albatross Myspace/ blog

Buy the 7 inch single containing the two above tracks from their myspace or Pure Groove.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Sky Larkin

It’s been a while since Sky Larkin have been mentioned around these parts. In February last year I saw them supporting Los Campesinos! at the sadly missed Spitz, and was impressed by the noise that they made, along with the cute guitar poses and madcap drumming. More than a year and a half later the Leeds trio are on my radar again, courtesy of a couple of tracks leaked out by their new label Wichita. Seems like they’re still on fine form, busy channelling the spirit of classic American slacker indie such as Pavement and Guided By Voices and marrying it to Northern wit and charm. Promises well for future full-length recordings.

mp3: Sky Larkin - Molten
mp3: Sky Larkin - Antibodies (demo)

Sky Larkin's Wichita debut single Fossil, I comes out on 20 October. Pre-order at the Wichita shop.

For a bonus, here's their ace 7 inch single One of Two from last year.

mp3: Sky Larkin - One of Two

James Yorkston - When the Haar Rolls In

Back in 2002, the NME sought to assure its readers in the review of James Yorkston’s debut album Moving Up Country that here was folk music that it was OK to like. Fast forward six years and it’s hard to imagine them saying the same thing in the midst of a landscape where every elfin-featured young thing with an acoustic guitar is touted as ‘folk’. Maybe what they were thinking of back then was that Yorkston was OK because he was on Domino Records and wasn’t like that old-fashioned musty British folk, redolent of men with beards, Arran jumpers, weirdly named real ales and songs with 160 verses. In the middle of a New Rock Revolution, that was not what the kids wanted.

Cool people will surely then baulk at the prospect of Yorkston putting himself firmly back in the ale and beards camp with his recording of Lal Waterson’s Midnight Feast, on his new album When the Haar Rolls In, with backing vocals provided by the Brit-folk establishment that is the Waterson clan. Actually, the cool people aren’t even interested in the latest offering from Fife’s premier songsmith. Let’s be realistic, this album is unlikely to win Yorkston many new fans, but it is equally likely to confirm to his existing fans his songwriting genius.

I don’t use the word ‘genius’ lightly either. James is a man who has now crafted four exquisite albums of melancholic and beautiful folk music, each one subtly different from the last, each one equally appealing. There’s certainly been a shift in style since the previous album Year of the Leopard and its stripped-down acoustic introspection. On Haar, Yorkston brings back his friends for a much fuller arrangements (the Athletes are still there, despite being dropped from the titles – mainly because continually playing with a full band isn’t financially viable) involving harpsichord, vibraphone, bouzuki and a host of more conventional instruments. The result is quietly spectacular. We're back in very similar territory to Moving Up Country and every track is excellent, from the long, story-song title track to the sparsely worded Would You Have Me Born With Wooden Eyes?, each song has a ton of loving care invested and there’s not a second wasted even when nine songs last 50 minutes.

It’s to the credit of Domino Records, that not only do they go on releasing James Yorkston albums despite lack of big sales, they even put together a lavish box-set edition of the album for the most committed fans. Me? Of course. I didn’t rush into it, because for £30 I wanted to be sure that I’d really like the album. Fortunately, it only took listening to the two songs posted by Toad to convince me that it was worth getting. Now, several weeks later, I know that it’s his best album to date. For those who have yet to discover the magic of Yorkston, it’s an ideal place to start.

mp3: James Yorkston – Would You Have Me Born With Wooden Eyes?
mp3: James Yorkston – Tortoise Regrets Hare (Down the Tiny Steps Remix)
mp3: Suzy Mangion – Are You Coming Home Tonight?

The first song is from When the Haar Rolls In. Buy from Rough Trade or Bleep. The second song is from the remixes CD, included in the box set and the cover of Are You Coming Home Tonight? by Suzy Mangion is from the CD of James Yorkston covers by the likes of David Thomas Broughton, Viking Moses and King Creosote, also in the box set. Buy the lovely box set from Domino Mart. It’s well worth it.

By the way, it you’re wondering what haar is, look here for the answer.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Twins Seven Seven

You didn't think that what you needed for a Friday afternoon was a 15-minute long piece of spacey psychedelic madness, where a former UNESCO artist for peace leads a chant for the duration while synth-fuelled percussive Afro mayhem bubbles around him. No, neither did I, but now I know better. You may too.

mp3: Twins Seven Seven - Shandoroko

Thursday, October 02, 2008

End of the Road Festival 2008 - Sunday

Sunday’s musical treats started early for the Growl family. Well before the bands took to the various stages, we were thoroughly entertained by a guy in the cinema tent doing kids singing and other activities. The Baby Growl enjoyed it so much that she fell asleep immediately afterwards.

Main stage activity started for us with The Wave Pictures on the Garden Stage. They were excellent, with David Tatersall’s dry wit, both in lyrics and onstage chat shining as usual. I love the way that they so (deliberately?) fly in the face of musical fashion with Tatersall guitar-soloing away and even inviting a solo from drummer Jonny Helm. Again, what often seems so roughly-hewn on record sounds so expertly played and punchy live, and the east London boys certainly won over a host of new fans. Their box of CDs disappeared in super-quick time at the end. One of the new fans was The Baby Growl – she seemed impressed from the instant we walked into the Garden Stage area, dancing on my shoulders. She didn’t buy a CD though, mine will have to do for now.

More Baby Growl appreciation was shown later for Woodpigeon, as she ate her dinner to their main stage set. Coming onstage to a piece of classical music (Salut d'Amour by Elgar, it transpires) played by a couple of members of the band may seem pretentious to some, but it fitted in nicely with all that followed. Do we need another sprawling Canadian indie collective? From what I heard, I would say they’re certainly a welcome addition in a crowded market, but admittedly my full attention wasn’t the orchestral Americana sounds coming from the stage. Feeding the girl and chatting with Mr and Mrs Toad rendered Woodpigeon more of a pleasant backdrop, but still worth investigating further I think.

Mrs Growl and I were certainly looking forward to seeing Richard Hawley. Both of us (particularly her) are big fans, but haven’t seen him live since he appeared on the same stage two years ago. Since then he’s released his best album yet (Lady's Bridge), and hearing these newer songs played was retro rock(abilly) and roll treat. As anyone who has seen his shows will know, it’s not just about the songs, but also the onstage banter from a natural, rough-hewn entertainer. He’s still using some of the same jokes (“Let’s ballad”) but his normally expletive-laden chatter was oddly subdued. Maybe it was the presence of his family (the only festival he’s ever taken them to, he says) or maybe he was just in a mellow mood, but EOTR seems like a well-loved place to him. The Somerset Cider bus went down well the previous evening it seems. Although there were more child-related distractions for us, it was great to see Hawley again and no matter how many times I hear Oh My Love, it still sounds lump-in-the-throat wonderful.

For me, that was the end of my participation in this year’s festival. Save for a late-night dash to the Rough Trade stall for some last-minute purchases, it was only fair that having been out the previous two evenings, I stayed in the Baby Growl and let Mrs Growl have a musical wander. She flitted between The Mountain Goats, Charlotte Hatherley and The Smoke Fairies without finding much to her taste, before going to see Calexico’s headline gig “for old time’s sake”. If that sounds unenthusiastic, it’s because the last time we saw the Tuscon band they were a tad underwhelming, but that was when they were touring Garden Ruin, hardly their finest hour. This time was different. Mrs Growl came back enthusing about their performance, playing some fine new songs (from the just-released and much better Carried to Dust), Calexico classics and even ordering and passing around pints of cider from the bus. I actually managed to hear their usual set climax Crystal Frontier from the confines of our tent, so I can easily imagine how good it was. A fitting end to a superb festival.

Since I faced a long drive halfway to Scotland the next day, it was earlier-than-usual to bed, and I fell asleep with Zombie Zombie’s krautrock from the Big Top thudding gently through my earplugs. Roll on next year!

Download: The Wave Pictures – Just Like A Drummer
Download: Woodpigeon – Knock Knock
Download: Richard Hawley – Oh My Love
Download: Calexico – Minas de Cobre

Woodpigeon, Richard Hawley pictures (C) Rom Cemm
Calexico picture (C) Isabelle Adam
Wave Pictures picture by Song, By Toad

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

End of the Road Festival 2008 – Saturday

Saturday started off (almost) where Friday left off when the Family Growl arrived, through the mud for the last couple of songs of Devon Sproule on the Garden Stage. The Garden Stage and the surrounding garden area was much easier to navigate than the glue-like mud in the adjoining field, so we hung around there for a while and The Baby Growl got her first proper taste of a festival (last year doesn’t count – too young). Perhaps it’s no surprise that she seemed to like Noah and the Whale, what with their bouncy pop tunes and up-tempo jigs, and she moved around as best as she could, joining in happily with the applause. Me? I liked them too. I’m not going to be sniffy about them because of recent chart success – I find their songs just too hard to dislike, and they seem well-suited to the bigger stage. Sunny weather and happy families it may have been, but all good stuff.

Half an hour and another Toad meet-up later, The Young Republic had graduated to their biggest stage of the weekend. What a difference a year makes. Not only has their line-up changed, but so has their entire set. 2007’s EOTR saw them playing largely songs from their 12 Songs From Winter City album. The intervening twelve months has seen a major line-up change and a definite decision to break with the past. Not only were all of the songs in their set from their recently-released Idiot Grin EP or even newer, they are definitely now a rock and roll band. None of the sweeping strings and sweet melodies that saw them compared to Belle and Sebastian. This was a country rockin’ band strutting their stuff. Their only concession to older material was the sublime Modern Plays – with an added rock jam ending of course. Julian apologised to all the fans for the lack of 12 Songs material and promised to play any of the old numbers to anyone who requested him around the festival over the course of the weekend. I didn’t manage to spot him though, so my personal performance of Goodbye Town is still outstanding. Next time, hopefully.

The Baby Growl’s teatime had to be maintained, so while I headed back to fill her belly, Mrs Growl stuck around for Bon Iver and one of the most talked-about sets of the whole festival. She and many others later testified to the brilliance of Justin Vernon’s set and having seen them at the wonderful St Giles’ church gig back in June, I have no doubts that they’re all right. This being a festival which also featured Bowerbirds on the same stage earlier in the day, Vernon brought them on to guest on the cover Lovin’ For Fools, which I believe went down pretty well too.

Later we tried to juggle the Baby Growl’s bedtime with Low’s main stage appearance. Being huge fans of the Minnesota couple’s music, we didn’t want to miss them, but getting the small one off to sleep wasn’t easy with all that noise going on. You may not think of Low as being a loud group, but you’d be surprised. She didn’t drop off till near the end of the set, so our full attention was not on the beautiful music coming from the stage, but what he heard was very fine. A Low ‘greatest hits’ set, if such a thing were possible – Sunflower, Dinosaur Act and other old faves were present and correct. The end of the show provided another one of the festival’s talking points. Alan Sparhawk had already complained of having a “crappy day” and seemed in a dark mood, which came to a head in the final song when in a noisy wig-out he attacked his guitar before swinging it and hurling it full-pelt into the crowd. Sparhawk may not be a well man, but this was an inexcusably reckless act which left too many people open-mouthed to muster much applause as the band left the stage. Thankfully it didn’t end badly – no-one was hurt, and one guy has a new, second-hand guitar. It may need some repairs.

Mercury Rev were the headliners, but given that I’m not a huge fan, I wasn’t that desperate to catch their main stage headline show. However, I did wander into the gardens later on and their encore of Goddess on a Highway sounded mighty fine as I walked around the spotlit trees. I’d forgotten what a great song it is.

Two Gallants in the Big Top provided a temporary distraction for me, and again were sounding like they were on good form. It’s easy to compare their drummer/guitarist line-up to The White Stripes, with less virtuoso guitar playing and better drumming, so I will. But the Gallants absorb country as well as the blues and it’s a heady mix, spoilt only by the drummer’s shocking haircut. I’m only familiar with their When The Toll Tells album but a couple of songs from that record got me going for a while before I had to get off to The Local for Shearwater.

Both Toad and I were keen to see Shearwater’s first UK gig since signing to Matador and releasing both an expanded version of Palo Santo and their latest album, Rook. The latter hasn’t quite grabbed me as much as I thought it should, but their live performance was spellbinding. Playing to a packed and expectant tent, they seemed to go down a storm, with Jonathan Meiburg hitting the high notes and the whole band brandishing a range of different instruments, none more so than drummer and multi-instrumentalist Thor who pulled out a bewildering range of (apparently hand-crafted) weird instruments. Despite having relatively short songs, Shearwater always manage to sound epic, and their set seemed just too short. Appetites are now well and truly whetted for future UK appearances.

After that, all that was left for me was some more chat with Toad in The Bimble Inn, with another Young Republic covers set as the background. If (perish the thought) I ever get married again, I’m booking them. As we made our way back to our beds, we ran into a very drunk man raving about Mercury Rev. We were having none of it. It was all about Shearwater.

Download: Noah & The Whale - Shape of My Heart
Download: The Young Republic – Green Hills Mall Blues
Download: Bon Iver – Lump Sum
Download: Low – Sunflower
Download: Two Gallants – Waves of Grain
Download: Shearwater – Rooks

Bon Iver picture (C) Ro Cemm
Low picture by Red_One

End of the Road Festival 2008 – Friday

Although the whole EOTR experience is wonderful, it’s the music that most people are there for. My musical adventures started properly about 9:30pm on the Friday when I popped up to the Bimble Inn to see Devon Sproule play her wistful take on acoustic American folk music. There were songs from her Upstate Songs record, her latest Keep Your Silver Shined, a Neil Young cover and a triumphant ending on current album stand-out Old Virginia Block. A good start to proceedings for me.

After a while drinking and chatting with Mrs and Mr Toad, next up was Akron/Family, but unlike last year’s amazing Cargo show, I wasn’t feeling so tuned into their set. Maybe because it was at a festival, I was less tolerant to their hippy meanderings and I just wasn’t feeling the improv noodling. But after a wander through the magical gardens (made slightly less magical due to excessive mud) I returned to find them striking up Ed is a Portal, which with its all-singing, all drumming, all dancing madness was a real treat. They didn’t take the roof off like they did in East London last winter, but it was still a lot of fun. But then the hippy shit started again, and I was off to The Local tent more something more to my taste.

I knew very little about The Miserable Rich beforehand, other than that 6Music’s Marc Riley is a big fan, and it’s only now that I’m finding out that they’re from Brighton, but I was mightily impressed with their set. Lead singer James de Malplaquet cut a different figure from a lot of the performers at EOTR. Instead of bearded scruffiness, James’s nearly cropped hair, jacket and stage manner (and surname, come to think of it) suggested more of a gentleman and dilettante. They play a very pleasing chamber folk-pop, with cello, violin, double bass and guitar with nary a drum in sight. Which made it all the more remarkable when they launched into a cover of Hot Chip’s electro-pop classic Over and Over, which has to be heard live to be fully appreciated. It was one of my favourite shows of the whole weekend, and definitely a band to keep an eye on.

After hanging around The Local for what I thought was going to be Fence Collective types The Pictish Trail and Rozi Plain’s double act, I was surprised to see a familiar sight from last year’s EOTR – Julian Saporiti of The Young Republic with his Rolling Thunder Revue-style whited-up face, setting up his gear on stage. So no Pictish and Rozi (they ended up playing the following afternoon) and instead a YR covers set, which has now become an EOTR staple. Sure, you can think of this as throwaway karakoke fun, but I think that the songs that Saporiti and co perform offer something of a window into the soul of the band. When a first heard The Young Replublic, I had them firmly down as indiepop, but hearing them play Dylan, Chuck Berry and other rock classics, as well as Wagon Wheel by fellow Nashville residents Old Crow Medicine Show, shows off their true colours as a rock and roll band, with a dash of the ol’ country. But more on them later…

After that, I contemplated hanging around for what might have been Pictish Trail, and what might have been a set by last year’s festival favourite David Thomas Broughton, but tiredness prevailed, as did a suspicion (later confirmed by DiS chatter) that a late-night set to a well-oiled crowd might not be the best place to hear Broughton’s quiet songs and freeform theatrics, and I headed to bed. So far no more rain.

Download: Devon Sproule – Keep Your Silver Shined
Download: Akron/Family – Ed is a Portal
Download: The Miserable Rich – Over and Over
Download: The Young Republic – Isis

End of the Road Festival

I’m back. It’s been over three weeks, the holidays and festivals are over and new bathrooms have been installed. I’m back to work, and more importantly, back to blogging. Given where I left off, he first thing that I should report back about is the End of the Road Festival, so here goes. There will be a full review of music to come, but it won’t be comprehensive. For a more detailed rundown on musical happenings, check out Sweeping the Nation’s reviews, or even Matthew Song, by Toad for a more equivocal opinion. There are also loads of other reviews out there (like this one), if you care about such things.

Before I begin in earnest, some general observations:

Less intimacy. Obviously this is relative, because if you’ve been to any of the country’s megafests, EOTR with its 5000 capacity is as intimate as they come. It’s just that compared to the previous two years, there were a lot more people around. Now, with line-ups as good as they have been, they should have sold out every year, but this was the first. I wish the organisers every success, because each festival has been excellent, but I guess it’s just me complaining that a couple of thousand extra people gatecrashed my festival. This is silly of course. I hope it sells out every year. I’ll just have to get used to it.

More people + rain = lots of mud. It was the first EOTR with proper festival mud. Although it was dry (and even regularly sunny) for most of the weekend, a three-hour downpour early on the Friday did for the site. Five thousand people tramping through two gates and around a field soon made a sticky bog. I’m so glad that I bought a pair of wellies during a wet camping holiday a few days earlier.

Still magical. Each year, the EOTR team make a fantastic effort to make the festival site look as lovely as possible. So we enjoyed the usual fairy lights in the woods, the piano in the clearing, the library in the woods and the various odd quirky decorations scattered about. It’s also good to see how they’re trying to make things a little different each year, so this year we had brightly-coloured papier-mâché masks hanging from the trees, a light-up dancefloor and a table tennis table.

Good food and drink. Being proper campers, we dined out mostly on the food I had lugged up from the car, though there were plenty gastronomic delights on offer. The Pieminister queue was longer than ever, so much so that come Sunday afternoon when we went seeking pies, they had sold out! However, the organic burgers were an excellent alternative and put most of London’s self-styled posh gourmet burger joints in the shade. At the bar, there was a pleasing lack of bland lagers and plenty decent beer to be quaffed. Result again!

Festival parenting. This was the Growl family’s first time as proper festival parents. Last year we stayed off-site but this year we returned to the full camping experience. The first thing we noticed in the family camping area was what terrible parents we must be, as our three-man tent was dwarfed by the über-tents of the über-parents around us. We were further shamed by our lack of tables, chairs and fully-equipped portable kitchens. But despite such neglectfulness, we had a great time. The Baby Growl seemed to enjoy both camping and the festival experience in general, and the little waterproof suit we bought her proved to be one of the best purchases ever.

I know that festival going non-parents often complain about the presence of families, as if that lowers the credibility of the occasion, but hey, starting to procreate isn’t always accompanied by developing a liking for Phil Collins and realising that one arena gig a year is enough. EOTR had plenty of good activities for kids laid on and although most of it was pitched for kids a couple of years older than ours, there was still fun to be had and future years can only get better. Mrs Growl has already started trawling the internets for a cheap, end-of-season deal on an über-tent.

Finally, there are a few complaints, as you'd expect. The sound mix was occasionally a bit dodgy on some of the stages. The toilets left a lot to be desired (more people + what seemed like the same number of toilets as previous years + lots of mud led to long queues and generally poor conditions inside), though the organisers are aware of this and have vowed to improve next year. We could have also done with some sawdust or suchlike substance thrown down in the gates and main thoroughfares just to make walking a little easier. But all in, as with previous years, there was little to quibble about. A great festival all round and my finger is already hovering over the ‘buy’ button for the early bird tickets for next year. Who needs to know the line-up? It's going to be good!