Thursday, December 15, 2005

Gravenhurst Live at the Islington Academy

First time at the Islington Academy and it is actually a really nice venue, the sort of small, informal place that I really like to see bands in.

It is a three-slot bill put on by Tiscali who are meant to be putting a video of the show online but it doesn't seem to be there right now. In fact currently there is a video of my evil celebrity stalker Patrick Duff(y). Whatever you do don't encourage him: don't listen to his music or watch his videos. I think he will do me harm in the end.

Anyway Gravenhurst did a fantastic show that had the emphasis on their new "power trio" material (the rockier stuff from the Velvet Cell). The performance was great and I really enjoyed it. However during the quieter folky numbers all you could hear was people yakking, completely oblivious to the show. I thought it was rude but then I also realise that for a lot of Londoners gigs are essentially places where you go with your friends to score drugs. These people probably consider any band who might try to perform a distraction from the main business of the day.

That side of things was depressing and it reminded of the huge difference between seeing Underworld in Newport and the Brixton Academy. Newport Leisure Centre actually had a great atmosphere because people really wanted to be there, really wanted to the see the band and really wanted to have a good night. At Brixton I think you could have shoved a naked monkey on stage as long as he was dealing speed and Ecstasy.

So after the set I went up to the stage where Nick Talbot (the main man in the band) was packing up his gear and told him what a good show the band had done. First time I have had both the desire and opportunity to do so. I am glad I did because it was a great show but Nick seemed disappointed by the relatively hostile reception he had received.

Gravenhurst were followed by Morning Runner. Morning Runner are probably going to be huge. For a start they have at least one roadie for every member and they are already entitled to have fresh towels brought on stage before they play.

They also have an extremely handsome singer who has a touch of feminine vulnerability (and for all I know a 10" cock), a powerful rock sound and songs with choruses and everything. And teenage girls love them or rather they love their frontman and that's good enough for rock and roll.

We left mid-set and I really felt a Coldplay moment. I saw Coldplay at Bristol's Louisana not long before their management cut Chris's whitefro and they released Yellow. Coldplay were not very good but if I had been more aware I would have realised that they were going to be big. It's the same with Morning Runner, they have all the trappings of a band making it big but they are boring and formulaic.

Thank heavens for Gravenhurst then.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005


In an interesting example of targeted marketing CD Baby sent me an email saying that American ambient artist Diatonis has a new album out. So I duly forked the cash and got myself a copy. Proof that people who bought X really do buy Y. Pretty easy with the same artist though.

I am currently really enjoying Diatonis's Convolving Universe and Highway 1, the new album, doesn't feel in the same league. On the other hand it covers a very different vibe. I need to listen a bit more before passing judgement.

Oh except to say that Ambient Life and Convolving Universe are excellent and you should buy them right now from MP3 Tunes right now!

The Mercury Prize

Well I'm never known for my timeliness am I? The Mercury Music Prize has a few interesting contenders this year, neither of which were the Kaiser Chiefs or Bloc Party. Maximo Park were more interesting that I had previously thought and the folk entry Seth Lakeman actually seemed to be more than a token offering. Similarly The Magic Numbers were actually okay which is better than most bands Noel Gallagher tip.

KT Tunstall gave a great live performance but after checking out her album on iTunes I can't decide whether she is better live or whether she just went with her strongest material. Either way the recorded album is disappointing.

Winner Antony and the Johnsons gave a fantastic performance and I ended up buying the CD. I had seen it recommended before but had no idea what was on it. The lead song is brilliant and the rest of the album is good but not in the same league. Interestingly it is a very dark album with the spectre of death hanging over each track.

The real revelation was The Go! Team who just exploded on the TV screen and were simply more fun and far more inventive than anyone else performing (MIA is excellent but she's not as brilliant as she thinks or wants the public to think). Bleep had the album not too long after the awards so it was duly downloaded. The album is definitely harder listening than the live performance (and a lot of the tracks seem destined for re-recording and re-mastering I believe). However that same energetic invention was all present and correct. The easy comparision is with The Avalanches but instead of just pure 70's and charity store sampling there is a lot more live playing in the mix. Playing a riff or re-recording a rap allows for a different feel to the track. It may be retro but it isn't boring.

Sunday, August 14, 2005


I recently saw the film Dig! at the Everyman Cinema in Hampstead (great place, screen 2 has, well, sofas instead of seats; I can't think of anywhere else I'd want to watch a film).

The film covers the story of two bands: The Dandy Warhols and The Brian Jonestown Massacre. You've probably heard of the former but you're pretty lucky if you've ever heard of the latter (I knew they were a good choice if you want to be hip but not more than that).

Starting out as new bands at roughly the same time the Warhols are stars while Brian Jonestown Massacre ended up in heroin-addled obscurity.

The film isn't an unbiased view of rock bands as it seems to conciously or unconciously subscribe to the tradition view of rock music as being made up of self-abusive genius musicians bent on self-destruction. The more fucked up you are the better music you'll make.

In this view of rock the Dandy Warhols are of course dirty corporate sell-outs who talk about a lifestyle they watch but don't participate in. Now the Dandies (most famous for a track that, no matter how good it is, was popularised by a mobile phone advert) probably are dirty sell-outs but the thing that struck me about the film is how tired the traditional rock narrative is.

Realistically does anyone believe that good music is something other than a productive collaboration? If music is all about the heroic individual genius how come there are so many musicians that fail to have solo careers that match the output of their previous band partnerships?

The real reason the Dandies are more famous than the Jonestown Massacre is simply that they have managed to produce progressively better tunes as a unit. Numerous lineup changes results in an effectual reset of musical progress as far as I can tell from the evidence of this film. The Jonestown Massacre continue to push a Sixties retro-revivalist vibe that actually sounds more tired at the end of the film than when they started.

The film gives plenty of food for thought and is actually pretty cool and funny most of the time which puts the bitterness of success and failure into a stronger contrast. I'd recommend getting a hold of a copy on DVD if you can, it's entertaining and never lags.

iTunes favourites

iTunes with jHymn is useless to me but with it, it is becoming a favourite stop for musical "nibbles".

Recent tracks I just can't seem to stop listening to are:

  • Death Disco - PIL. Fantastic white dub with an intense bassline
  • Marian - Sisters of Mercy. I can't quite understand the appeal but I think it is basically that this track is a kind of archetypal Goth rock sound that completely sums and eptiomises the genre. It gloomy and great.
  • Feel Good Inc - Gorillaz. Like previous hit Clint Eastwood the Gorillaz may not have an album of hit but every now and then they have a killer pop tune that you just cannot help but like.
  • WFL (Think about the Future Mix), Hallelujah (Club Mix) - Happy Mondays. These two mixes are the indie rock-dancefloor crossover of the 90s distilled into quarter of an hour. Both are total distinctive sounds, whose riffs take seconds to recognise and a blind hippo could dance to them without fear.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Live: Ladytron and SnapAnt at the ICA

Went to see Ladytron at the ICA last week. It's been a while since anything was heard from them but they apparantly have a new album and record deal so it's off on tour. The sound is kind of like a fusion of Kraftwerk, The Human League and Moloko. On record it is very electropop with Kraftwerk-like repeated phrases instead of lyrics.

Like Moloko though everything is different on stage with a live rhythm section providing a groove and an intensity that is different to the studio sound. The whole experience was excellent with music for head and feet. See here for pictures from the band's forum.

I've never heard of SnapAnt before (SnapAnt is a guy by the way and accompanied on stage by four other musicians) but despite scepticism they won me over as they seemed to have a sense of humour about what they were doing and also did a nice line in four-piece harmonies.

This was my first gig at the ICA and I have to say it was a nice space with decent acoustics. Interestingly it was also sold out but still very spacious which suggests that they sell the tickets based on the number the venue should have rather than the fact that there is still space to ram people in. The ICA bar is also great with cheap drinks and excellent food. I'd definitely return.

Sunday, April 24, 2005


FLAC is a lossless audio format that Bleep is offering Autechre's back catalogue on. The quality is meant to be top-notch but to be honest I think I don't have the machinery to take advantage of the additional quality. MP3/Ogg is fine for me.

However is appearance does open up the interesting possibility of distributing copies of the original master recording without ever having to mix for CD or any physical format. At the moment it is difficult to distribute high-quality audio because the files are so much bigger and there is, to be frank, little audiable difference between them and the much smaller lower quality files.

As the technology changes though there is the exciting possibility that an artist might be able to send a track straight out of their final mix and straight to the audience with no compromise required because of a physical media.

Leaf Records

Leaf's back catalogue is now on iTunes. On the one hand this is good news as Leaf is a good label with many fine artists. On the other though iTunes does have a lot more DRM that some of the other sites, particularly Bleep. Also you'd need a hymn and a prayer to get the files to work with a non-iPod player.

Various Artists: The Flow compilation

The Flow compilation from the Make Mine Music label (see the sidebar for the website) is an excellent collection that is extraordinarily generous and varied. It is also only £8 which is silly money.

There's a lot of good pieces on the CD and you can now preview three of the tracks at the Make Mine Music website including Schengen's City which is one of the highlight tracks. I was a bit surprised to not see something from July Skies as part of the preview as their contributions are excellent. I'm going to write about their album at some point in the future but for now I would say that it is worth getting a hold of a copy if you like atmospheric, melodic electronica.

Autechre: Untilted

Listening to any new Autechre album is for me a rather tentative process. I'm not a huge fan of their more hardcore sound. Granz Graf for example doesn't make sense to me as music, as a DVD I can just about see it, otherwise no.

However a quick preview at Bleep and I was surprised to see that as with the last album Draft 7'30 (I think that's the title) there are some concessions towards, say, melody. The first track is actually really engaging and reminds you why Autechre can be so great. It immediately persuaded me that I had to download the whole thing.

Overall I think Untilted is a great release but as I tend to have followed the Autechre releases almost religiously it is hard to tell whether the music is any good or simply becoming less-bloody mindedly abstract and more accessible. One thing I'm pretty confident of saying is that a minute or two of most of these album tracks would actually form the basis of an entire track for lesser artists. I would also say that this release confirms for me that in terms of the way electronic music is constructed and structured Autechre are the masters. No-one is quite as inventive or intricate in their designs, it's breath-taking. There's a continual sense of progression and change while every track has a sense of consistency. Technically too their engineering is excellent, sometimes Autechre's music sounds so effortless or natural it is easy to forget how densely layered the tracks can be. Sometimes when I really listen to the tracks I can't believe how they can have four or five motifs chattering away simultaneously without it sounding like pure chaos.

All of that on the record I do have to say though the repetitive treble hits and sharp snare hits do get a bit samey. Yes it's impressive that they can do so much with them instead of more conventional rhythm sounds but I don't need to hear it done again (or at least I only need to hear it once or twice and album).

Mogwai: Government Commissions

This is a brilliant album (a compilation of the Scottish post-rockers BBC Sessions) that I have been listening to again and again. I've never seen Mogwai live so I've had to rely on the BBC to hear anything outside their album sound. There's not a huge difference between the studio recordings and some of the stuff here except that of course familiarity and practice tends to make the songs sound slicker.

Perhaps the major difference is that almost every track here sounds more powerful than the studio albums. Regardless, it's a superb introduction to Mogwai if you aren't already a fan and a great retrospective if you are.

MP3 Players

Finding a decent MP3 player is actually a lot harder than it seems. Sure there is a lot of choice but partly that's the problem, there's hundreds of different players and some are "integrated media centers" by which they mean they can control your TV, display a low-resolution lightshow when listening to music, lookup the cover art for the album you're listening to but more often than not crash.

I needed a player that was simple, allowed MP3's to be mixed with Ogg files, was preferably open source and didn't get too hung up on playlists. It also had to be pretty stable. Zinf has been a favourite since wayback when but it can be a pain to switch between music based on the file labels. It is also not being developed in Windows any more. After that came wxMusik which is pretty good but is very unstable (it crashes if you shutdown Windows without exiting the app). The File Tag editing is particularly good I feel.

I have finally settled on MusikCube, very stable, strong codec support and Tag editing, minimal interface (influenced by iTunes but not, for example, obsessed with the concept of playlists). It also claims to be able to play CDs (unlike most file players). So far I'm very impressed.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Gravenhurst: Flashlight Sessions

In case you hadn't noticed there's a major folk revival going on (if you hadn't then just take my word for it, it's all Bonny Prince Billy's fault for being brilliant). So far this has mostly been American's rediscovering their folk music traditions (and not getting them confused with fucking Country music). Gravenhurst though is an offering from this side of the Atlantic and is a brilliant album.

Earnest, soulful lyrics backed by minimal accompaniment equals an emotionally engaging and beautiful album. Soundwise you're not a million miles away from the recent Piano Magic albums but a lot more stripped down and personal.

You can buy and preview it on Bleep so stop wasting time and do it now. Do consider buying the CD though as the digipack is quite nice, similar to Godspeeds'.

Rough Trade Counter Culture 2004

A huge compilation (2 CDs) that allows you see what's cool with your fellow record store nerds. I don't think I need to say that this is a great compilation and still the best guide to good indie music today.

The obvious standout track is Cornershop's Topknot, it's just excellent and a surprising inclusion as it was a decent hit single. Other tracks that are standing out for me at the moment are Pony Up!'s "I heard you got action" which is really fun grrl pop. Coil's "Sex with Sun-Ra" is equally quirky and fun with a great squirmy melody line.

I already liked Cobra Killer who do a combination of electroclash and 60's American girl groups in a definitely Teutonic fashion. But if you needed pursuading of their virtues then they have a decent track on the compilation called "L.A. Shaker".

Retro: Illcommunication by The Beastie Boys and Rage Against the Machine

Two albums from the early Nineties when I was a student. Tracks from both albums were almost impossible to avoid then but apart from rock clubs you don't hear them so much now. It doesn't help that after Illcommunication the Beastie Boys needed G. Bush Jr. to get them back on track.

At first listen Illcommunication is the better listen, putting on a track or two it is easy to end up listening to the whole album. Rage Against the Machine on the other hand feels more like a singles album, all the hit singles are immediately likeable and time hasn't diminshed their raw power, rage and energy. Listening to the album though there is a definite comparision with the Beastie Boys more inventive and humourous musical invention. There's no denying RATM technical ability but they often fall back on the same riffs and ideas (I was also surprised to find out how much they owed to the Red Hot Chilli Peppers). Illcommunication still sounds fresh and surprising.

As an album of political polemic though RATM is still a raw slice of anger and a strong contrast to the stylish and slick BB production.

Both albums though have easily lasted the decade though and remain essential listening.

The Dears - No Cities Left

I suspect that The Dears are about to be huge any second now but for the moment they don't have the profile I think they should have. I first heard them on BBC Radio 6 and after a while Rough Trade in Neal's Yard admitted they did have a CD copy of the album.

The Dears sound like Oasis would sound if they were actually the best band in the world. It is big, big indie rock with an orchestral sweep. Gloriously uplifting and with lyrics that are neither doggerel nor self-involved.

To my ears they sound a bit like Gene musically and kind of like the Tindersticks lyrically. Like Radiohead they are promoting themselves with a few judiciously released MP3 versions of their tracks. I got mine from Salon but if you are file-sharing type of person have a look for "We Can Have It".

There's more to say about The Dears but I need to sort it out in my head first.

Bola: GNAYSE - The final verdict

I've been listening to the album for a bit and to be honest I haven't enjoyed it as much as the previous ones. It is hard to tell because technically I can tell that this is actually better. The production is just slicker all round.

My current thinking is that perhaps the improvement is actually the problem. The organic analogue sounds are now really lush and beautiful but the synthetic elements now sound too harsh. The two don't really combine in the way they did on the earlier albums. Sometimes it feels as if there are two separate tracks that are simply playing at the same time.

Despite that I still have to say that Bola are head and shoulders above most electronica. Gatyse is maybe not their best but it's still the most engaging electronica album I've heard recently.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Queen: Jazz

I loved this album as a teenager so I had no problem paying a fiver for the CD in Fopp. Except, except, rose-tinted glasses and all that...

Some tracks are still excellent dirty blues/funk/hard rock. Let Me Entertain You, Dead on Time, Fun It and in particular More of that Jazz all rock pretty hard. Fat Bottom Girls? It's not holding on to its nostalgic appeal just yet.

Interestingly the highlights are split fairly equally between the members but Taylor definitely was the coolest of the bunch. The album was originally put out in 1978 which is odd because I remember it sounding quite edgy in the Eighties but it's really quite tame compared to something really leftfield like Blondie's Rapture. Listening to it now the most interesting thing going on is the way they manage to marry some pretty different styles into the earlier rock style of their first couple of albums.

Oh, also features the most ballless recording of a thunderclap evar.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Last Harbour: Hold Fast, Pioneer

Sounds vocally like the Tindersticks crossed with Nick Cave but musically it's an interesting intersection between the Godspeed orchestral sound and the Bonny Prince Billy school of American folk revival.

A bit too wierd to comment on the moment.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Bola: GNAYSE Here

I ordered the latest Bola album from Skam last weekend and it turned up today. The packaging is just beautiful and the photomontage is strange and engaging. Can't wait to give it a spin, in the meantime I am converting yet more albums to OGG so they can go on the iRiver.