Saturday, September 06, 2008

Off to the End of the Road

I don't have the time to do a proper End of the Road preview (I never thought I would), so this is just a quick signing-off type post. As the very astute of you may have gathered, I'm off to the End of the Road Festival in Dorset next weekend, which if the weather improves a bit, should be brilliant. We'll be on holiday on the south coast for a few days before the festival and heading up to Scotland afterwards, so this will be the last post till at least 23 September, when I'll be back with a full festival review.

This year's festival should be a bit easier than last year's for us, since The Baby Growl is no longer three months, and is probably old enough to actually enjoy some of the music, and certainly whatever kids stuff is happening. So in between running after her, I hope to see some bands. The line-up for this year might be the best yet, and for the first time in EOTR's three-year history it has sold out. So that should ensure its existence for another year at least. Good news.

Anyway, here are some tunes by some of the artists I'm looking forward to seeing next weekend. I'm also hoping to see fellow bloggers Matthew Song By Toad and Simon Sweeping the Nation there at least. And if you're at the festival, say hello. I'll be the one with the 15-month old baby. Oh hold on....

mp3: Low - Breaker
mp3: Micah P Hinson - When We Embraced
mp3: Bon Iver - Flume
mp3: Pete and the Pirates - Mr Understanding
mp3: Devon Sproule - Old Virginia Block
mp3: Woodpigeon - Home As A Romanticised Concept Where Everyone Loves You Always And Forever

See you all in a few weeks!

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Absentee - Victory Shorts

The countdown to End of the Road begins here...

Absentee's Schmotime was one of my favourite albums of 2006. It was one of these records which was remarkable in its unremarkableness. Nothing striking or original, but there was just something in Dan Michaelson's gravelly vocals and the rough and lovely warm guitar sounds that totally charmed me. It's still an album that I return to regularly, and its place at the top of the artists list on my iPod only helps this.

It's been a couple of years and there have been some changes in the Absentee camp (drummer departed) and various members have pursued their own projects (check out Dan Michaelson and the Coastguards, Wet Paint and The Bronsteins for decent music that isn't a hundred miles away from the parent band). Now they're onto their second LP and if it initially seems like a bit more muted or low-key than before, that's probably because there's less of Schmotime's brassy exuberance. Only the ace single Bitchstealer features the parping horns that seemed so ubiquitous on the previous record. This time the tinkling of keyboard player Melinda Bronstein seems much more to the fore.

Brass aside, it's a direct continuation of what Absentee do best - Michaelson's ravaged drawl and these hugely pleasing riffs from Babak Ganjei, all of which calls to mind past favourites - a much less polished Teenage Fanclub, a poppier Pavement perhaps. Victory Shorts has an energy and life of its own, and there's plenty exubarence too - Bitchstealer and Pips at least are proof of this - although it's maybe the more measured moments that linger the best. It's taken me a bit more time to appreciate this album - where Schmotime was pretty much an instant favourite, Victory Shorts has taken me longer. But it's been time well spent, and there are new pleasures to be found each time round. I suggest you try it out.

mp3: Absentee - Love Has Had Its Way
mp3: Absentee - Pips

Pre-order Victory Shorts from Memphis Industries. No doubt it'll be on emusic too.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Magic Arm - new single

One of my favourite records of last year was Magic Arm's Outdoor Games EP, a delicious 10 inch on tiny Manchester indie Switchflicker Records. I haven't really been watching very closely though, because it's just come to my notice that Marc Rigelsford (Mr Magic Arm) sneaked out a cracking little 7 inch single in July. It's called Widths and Heights and it's nicely skewed pop in the Beta Band style (listen to it on The b-side is a cover of the Serge Gainsbourg classic The Ballad of Melody Nelson, where in the tradition of all good covers, Rigelsford makes the song very much his own. The bonus good news is that there's an album on the way too.

mp3: Magic Arm - The Ballad of Melody Nelson

Buy Widths and Heights from the Magic Arm website.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Friendly Fires

Since this blog is all about music that I like, I'm not much given to negative reviewing, but you might find the occasional jibe. If you have a cursory scroll down the blog, these jibes may sound a little like ...bah spiky guitars... bah skinny jeans... bah synth rock electropop... bah trendy scenesters/ no substance and so on. You get the message. All of this is very well, and generally this sort of attitude should be employed against many of the bands who inhabit Camden and Shoreditch, but sometimes it can get in the way of a good thing.

I had already dismissed Friendly Fires by the time I gave their debut album a half-hearted listen a few weeks back, but this was unwise. It was only on giving it a proper hearing at the end of last week that I perked up. Here is a band that doesn't just casually namecheck Talking Heads, but actually takes the best bits of David Byrne and co. and gives them a full 2008 makeover. Friendly Fires also take more than a few leaves from the books of James Murphy and even funk and end up crafting a hugely accomplished debut. This is proper punk-funk, whatever else that means. For a former hardcore outfit, this young Hertfordshire band know how to take indie rock and make it bang for the club. It's even more impressive to find out that they've produced the whole thing themselves - except lead track Jump in the Pool for which they enlisted uber-hot producer Paul Epworth, but amusingly that song is nowhere near the best on the album.

These are tunes that are equally happy coming out of your home hi-fi on a sunny afternoon as they are coming out of huge bassbins in some darkened, sweaty room. Although this isn't the sort of thing that I normally listen to, I can't really find anything wrong with this album - maybe the need for them to rein in their epic indie tendencies, but that's a small quibble - and it's all highly recommended. And I'm sure that they've even better live. So lesson learned - there may well be less sniping from me in future.

mp3: Friendly Fires - In the Hospital
mp3: Friendly Fires - White Diamonds

Friendly Fires is out today on XL. Buy from Rough Trade. Download other Friendly Fires tracks from emusic.