LOUD AND QUIET ZERO POUNDS / VOLUME 03 / ISSUE 33 / THE ALTERNATIVE MUSIC TABLOID
REVIEW SPECIAL FEATURING OUR ALBUMS, TRACKS, FILMS, BOOKS & SHOWS OF THE YEAR
CONTENTS DECE M B E R 2011
09 - 10 . . A DESIG N FOR LI FE / SI NG LES & BOOKS
REEF YOUNIS REGRESSES TO HIS CD WALKMAN PLUS THE LATEST RELEASES FOR YOUR EARS AND EYES
13 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . LE FTO V E RS VERONICA FALLS ASK JOHNNY MARR HOW HE KEEPS HIS EGO IN CHECK AND IF HE’LL JOIN THEIR BAND
G I RLS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14 CHRISTOPHER OWENS IS IN SEARCH OF THE PERFECT POP MOMENT
JOKE R . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16 LIAM MCLEAN IS NO JOKE, NOT IN HIS SLICK R&B ELECTRO AND NOT IN CONVERSATION
G A B R I E L B R U C E . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17 DEATH BECOMES HIM: GABRIEL BRUCE CONFESSES TO HIS COLLECTION OF DEAD THINGS
TH E B LACK KEYS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18 DAN AUERBACH DISCUSSES HIS BAND’S SLOW-BURNING SUCCESS AND WHY THE SELL OUT SLUR IS GARBAGE
2011 RE V I E W . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21-33 OUR ALBUMS, TRACKS, BOOKS, SHOWS AND DISAPPOINTMENTS OF THE YEAR
OU R 2011: FUCKE D U P . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23 THEY MADE THE MOST AMBITION ALBUM OF 2011, BUT THEY’RE GLAD TO SEE THE BACK OF IT
MY 2011: G HOSTP OET . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25 HOW RAPPING THE BLUES EARNED OBARO EJIMIWE A MERCURY PRIZE NOMINATION
S H O W S A N D T R A C K S O F 2 0 1 1 . . . . . . . . . . . 2 6 - 27 OUR FAVOURITE FIVE SHOWS OF 2011 AND OUR TOP TEN TRACKS
MY 2011: E MA . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30
COVER ILLUSTRATION JAMES DAWE
CONTACT INFO@LOUDANDQUIET.COM LOUD AND QUIET PO BOX 67915 LONDON NW1W 8TH EDITOR - STUART STUBBS ART DIRECTOR - LEE BELCHER SUB EDITOR - ALEX WILSHIRE FILM EDITOR - IAN ROEBUCK ADVERTISING ADVERTISE@LOUDANDQUIET.COM CONTRIBUTORS BART PETTMAN, CHRIS WATKEYS, DEAN DRISCOLL, DANIEL DYLAN WRAY, DANNY CANTER, DK GOLDSTIEN, DEAN DRISCOLL, ELEANOR DUNK, ELINOR JONES, EDGAR SMITH, FRANKIE NAZARDO, HOLLY LUCAS, JANINE BULLMAN, LEE BULLMAN, KATE PARKIN, KELDA HOLE, GABRIEL GREEN, LEON DIAPER, LUKE WINKIE, MANDY DRAKE, MARTIN CORDINER, MATTHIAS SCHERER, NATHAN WESTLEY, OWEN RICHARDS, PAVLA KOPECNA, POLLY RAPPAPORT, PHIL DIXON PHIL SHARP, REEF YOUNIS, SAM LITTLE, SAM WALTON, SIMON LEAK, SIMON GRAY,TIM COCHRANE, TOM GOODWYN, TOM PINNOCK THIS MONTH L&Q LOVES ASH COLLINS, DUNCAN JORDAN, JANINE BULLMAN, JON WILKINSON, RICH WALKER THE VIEWS EXPRESSED IN LOUD AND QUIET ARE THOSE OF THE RESPECTIVE CONTRIBUTORS AND DO NOT NECESSARI LY REFLECT THE OPINI ONS OF THE MAGAZINE OR ITS STAFF. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED 2011 LOUD AND QUIET. DISTRIBUTED BY LOUD AND QUIET AND FORTE DISTRIBUTION. PRINTED BY SHARMAN & COMPANY LTD.
IT’S BEEN A HELL OF A YEAR AND ERIKA M. ANDERSON DOESN’T EVEN KNOW IT
36 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ALBUMS FILMS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 46 KATE BUSH, WHITE RING, SHE & HIM, THE MEN AND ALL THE MONTH’S KEY RELEASES
IAN ROEBUCK PICKS HIS TOP FIVE CINEMATIC RELEASE OF 2011
42 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . LI V E PARTY W OLF . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 50 RECENT LIVE SHOWS BY PURE X, 2:54, DOOM & GHOSTFACE, THE HORRORS AND MORE
RESIDENT CLOWN PARTY WOLF DELIVERS HIS ANNUAL TOOL LIST
The problem with lists is they can easily come back and make you look like an arse. Once a list is published, once you’ve claimed something as “best”, you’re always looking over your shoulder. Time is cruel on lists. Hindsight always wins, and hindsight is never over. Have you ever thought how awful it would be to have been a huge Gary Glitter fan, one that had his name or, worse, his face tattooed on them? Christ! This year’s Loud And Quiet Yearly Review is unlikely to embarrass us quite to that extent, but the usual trepidations of the list-maker applies – namely, what if all these things we currently like so much are actually complete balls, we just can’t see it yet? For the record, we’re pretty certain that our top albums, gigs, books, films and tracks of 2011 aren’t complete balls, but you can never really know. It’s another reason why creating these polls seems so childish in a way, and yet we’ve done it anyway in an attempt to make some sense of the past 12 months. The valued contributors of Loud And Quiet have pooled their 2011 highlights and this is what we’ve come up with...
CONTRI B UTORS 01
M AT T HI A S S C HE R E R
C H A R L R AV E NS
D A N K E ND A L L
Matthias was born in Colombia but can neither dance nor will he hook anyone up with cocaine. He grew up in non-descript suburban Germany and moved to England when he was 14. He started writing about music ﬁve years ago and has worked for German radio, for whom he covered the Royal Wedding and interviewed Princess Superstar. He has been a republican ever since. He is working on a fanzine about Bruce Springsteen, which will be out next year. He ﬁnally got his chance to interview Fucked Up but was left frustrated by the experience. He still loves them, though.
“I mainly write about music to spare other people the effort of listening to anything,” says Chal Ravens, a steadfast contributor to Loud And Quiet as well as DummyMag. com. For this month’s issue she spoke with Christopher Owens of Girls. Of the encounter in a threadbare dressing room at Camden’s Electric Ballroom, she says: “Christopher was drinking milky tea the colour of day-old dishwater, so I wasn’t surprised to be told that touring the UK was “kind of depressing”. If I’d seen him on the street I might’ve given him 50p, but turns out he’s a pretty successful pop star now, and a fairly agreeable interviewee.”
Dan started out assisting a bunch of music photographers before going travelling in Latin America. Upon his return he was awarded the lucrative job of babysitting Brooklyn punks Cerebral Ballzy on their ﬁrst four UK/European tours. The photos he took during this time got him noticed and he now shoots full time for magazines including Loud And Quiet and NME. His work can be seen at www.dankendallphoto.com. When Dan isn’t taking photos there is nothing he likes better than talking about himself in the third person. His shoot with Ghostpoet can be seen somewhere in the magazine you are currently reading. Dan wrote this himself.
BEGINNING DECE M B E R 2011
AMERICAN BOY / TALES FROM THE OTHER SIDE BY LUKE WINKIE: OUR MAN IN BAR AK ’S BACK YARD
Illustration by Gareth Arrowsmith - www.garetharrowsmith.blogspot.com
A DESIGN FOR LIFE DROPPING HIS IPHONE WAS THE BEST THING THAT EVER HAPPENED TO REEF YOUNIS
THE YEAR OF ADELE WAS FELT NOWHERE MORE THAN ACROSS THE ATLANTIC
“Our children will never know the link between the two.” A picture of one cassette and one pencil, destined to be separated forever, enshrined in a prison of singular purpose; eternally lost to the annals of history. The image might have made a nuisance of itself on your Facebook news feed; tumbled through your Tumblr or teased on your Twitter proﬁle: just another momentary pictorial whimsy in a long, inﬁnite wave of ﬂeetingly funny distractions that make up our anti-social digital lives. You might have made the connection straight away, smiling with a fond reminiscence of trying to salvage a recently chewed ‘Now 32’ cassette with budget stationary, or scowled at the fact it took up a nanosecond more than you were comfortable with. Typically I’d be the latter, but this time I wasn’t, predominantly because I’d drunkenly dropped the bastardised techno pen knife I once called my iPhone a few days earlier and was having to consume (we don’t listen anymore) my music on a CD player. Days. It took days for the shock of not having everything-I’ve-ever-needed-to-make-my-life-a-sociallydigitally-connected-mecca-of-convergent-consumption in the palm of my hand. Or back pocket. Or cracked and croaking on a sticky northern pub ﬂoor. I was disconnected from everything, isolated by my own reliance. Instead of 100 numbers at my ﬁngertips, I had none; instead of 10,000 tracks at my disposal, I had the luxury of 13. But then, I kinda liked it. I wasn’t disconnected; I was unplugged. I wasn’t bound; I was freed. For the ﬁrst time in quite some time, I was taking the long road and for once, my soundtrack wasn’t endless. Without the option to choose from a gargantuan library, I didn’t feel the urge to. I listened to an album from start to ﬁnish, in its entirety. I rolled my eyes at the obligatory album ﬁller, closed my eyes to soak up the beauty; sighed and ﬁst-pumped when the moment demanded. It was more than just a literal journey to work and a CD was more than just the physical representation of my hard drive. And where music’s rabid digitisation gives us an endless selection, it also hatchets and disseminates, undermining an album’s craft; destroying its common thread. So it might be too late for the cassette but for the Nth generation of every over-reliant Apple bite I take, the dust will continue to gather on a CD player that’s outlasted longer than it ever should have, ready to step into the breach regardless of drunken indiscretion or expensive technological failure. It’s a dated, cumbersome, ugly reminder that it wasn’t always like this. And that is something worth being reminded of.
Two years ago, average America didn’t know who Adele was, and if they did they probably couldn’t name more than one song. She was a British popstar who, for whatever reason, didn’t quite have the propulsion to transfer across the Atlantic with a hero’s welcome, much like Dizzee Rascal, Wiley, and plenty others. She seemed destined to have a lucrative career back home and a hipster credo and mid-level venue tours across the world. Not a bad existence. Of course, then ‘21’ turned up. After it hit US shores back in January, it’s consistently been a conversational topic – since February, the record hasn’t left the Billboard top 5. As of this writing, Adele has moved 4.4 million copies. In the face of stiff pop competition this year, from Lil Wayne, Beyonce and Jay-Z to Lady Gaga and Coldplay, she has been the one true success story. So how did this happen? Americans have always had a crush on a bluesy, bourbon-swilling swoon; it’s fostered the careers of the eternal Rolling Stones and the late Amy Winehouse. But lately the pop landscape has shifted to high-impact, synth-fuelled, eurodance assaults – kids have been listening to throwback rave anthems without even really knowing it. An unlikely phenomenon, it’s managed to turn David Guetta, a 44 year old Parisian DJ, into a minor popstar. But Adele doesn’t work in that ﬁeld; she trades in guitars and drums with a creaky, sepia voice and a chip on her shoulder. Her indomitable, almost volatile appeal has been cherished by a lot of young girls who probably feel the same way. She isn’t obviously sexy, she wears mostly black, and she doesn’t seem eager to change. It’s not to say that formula is completely immune from pop success, but it’s easy to see why it’s taken the world by surprise. The primary theory is that someone like Adele appeals to a wider crosssection of the American public than the sexed-up Technicolor electro of Lady Gaga or the druggy wonderlands of Lil Wayne. Unlike both of those performers, Adele is someone you could imagine your grandmother liking. Rough edges aside, her rootsy, meat-and-potatoes soul cuts to an element of traditional songwriting that’s pretty easy to like. The older generations feel inspired by her voice, while the kids get off on her ballsy, confrontational nature – it’s not an easy boundary to straddle but she hasn’t had any issues. Of course, it also can’t be understated that the woman is playing deeply American music. This isn’t the ﬁrst time a British singer has adopted a domestic style and taken it to the billboards, but Adele has done it in an epoch where every instinct urges to update her antiquated shtick. Props to her for sticking to her guns.
INSTEAD OF 10,000 TRACKS AT MY DISPOSAL, I HAD THE LUXURY OF 13
BEGINNING SINGLES & EPS / BOOKS 01 BY DA NIEL DYL A N W R AY
(ABEANO) OUT NOV 21
BO S A NGE L E S D AY S OF Y OU T H / BE A C H S L A L OM
T HE L O V E LY E GG S A L L E R GIE S
(ROUND TABLE) OUT NOV 21
Everything about Bos Angeles resembles the guy who arrives at the party too late, keen to go wild while everyone else has drank way too much of something they used to like. The yankie name despite being a trio from the UK; the songs checking youth and the beach; the fact that their sound is somewhere between The Drums and Male Bonding. If only they’d turned up two years ago! They didn’t because they don’t just sing about being young, they really are young, having spent their recent childhoods in Boscombe near Bournmouth, so the kitch, oh-to-be-American name isn’t totally wack either, nor the perpetuation of a beach obsession from a coastline as grey as ours. Most importantly, though, and the reason why we’re just going to have to extend the garage slacker party a little, is the songs, of which ‘Beach Slalom’ is particularly brilliant, adding The Cure to the usual grunge mix.
B A C K S A BB AT H : M A S T E R OF R E A L I T Y B Y JOHN D A R NIE L L E (CONTINUUM)
The lead singer of the Mountain Goats takes an unusual approach when tackling this book; part of Continuum International Publishing Group’s 33 1/3 Series – a collections of short books about individual albums of the last 50 years. Gone are the stats, facts and the often rigid and banal personal interpretations of lyrics. Instead, here we have ostensibly, a piece of ﬁction. Told from the point of view of a ﬁfteen-yearold boy being held in an adolescent psychiatric centre in southern California in 1985, it’s his quest to get back his conﬁscated Black Sabbath tapes. Told in the form of letters, which act as a means to voice Darnielle’s ﬁrm, intrinsic and deeply passionate love and knowledge for the group and album, it’s a highlight of the 33 1/3 set.
(TOO PURE) OUT DEC 5
You wouldn’t wear one of their T-shirts, would you? There’s nothing less sexy than eggs, except for the word ‘lovely’. Still, the chances are if you’re into this Northern duo’s cosy guitar pop you don’t wear cotton anyway, just wool, knitted with your own fair hands while your cupcakes are in the oven. The Lovely Eggs – as if their name, artwork and the fact that ‘Allergies’ was produced by King of Kitsch Gruff Rhys didn’t give it away – are pretty fucking twee. ‘Allergies’ features an extremely angelic lead vocal from Holly Ross to go with her fuzz-toned guitar that’s always distorted but never aggressive like overdrive should be, while drummer David Blackwell ﬂits between a standard pop punk beat and a 60s Girl Group thump. To say it’s a predictable (and wet) Brit Pop track is a bit like saying, “Christ, what a shit band name”, but at least there’s nothing contrived about the soppy pop The Lovely Eggs make. It’s for twee pop fans, who will love it.
T OM WA I T S : S W OR DF IS H T R OMBONE S B Y D AV ID S M AY (CONTINUUM)
Also from the above 33 1/3 series, David Smay wonderfully captures the essence of Tom Waits in this book without attempting to lift the lid or break the mystique surrounding the great man. Rightly so, he simply tell us, “Tom Waits is an artist that might lead you up to the front door, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s going to let you in.” As a result, we get a captivating insight into the album that acted as Waits’ greatest catalyst and saw his complete re-birth as an artist. Fastidious without the tedium and genuinely insightful without the ‘I know it all’ attitude that many of the other books in the series possess, Swordﬁsh Trombones makes for a read worthy of the album.
Single reviews by John Ford / Stuart Stubbs
S UNL E S S ‘ 9 7 M A K ING WAV E S
The story of Sunless ‘97 goes that the London boy/girl/boy trio formed accidentally, as the result of a 24-hour argument about what makes the perfect pop song. ‘Chillwave’ seems to be the answer, or at least the compromise, and as we all know, chillwave, for all its dreamy nostalgia and faded Polaroids, doesn’t make for perfect pop music at all. Perfect pop songs claw to the inside of your head; aloof chillwave sloshes about your brain while you skin up, but you can never remember how the chorus goes, or if there was one. Still, it was a tall order for any band and just because none of the four tracks on ‘Making Waves’ are ‘perfect pop songs’ it doesn’t mean that some of them are a million miles off. In fact, as ﬁrst efforts go, ‘Illuminations’ (made up of everything from Bobby Gillespie acid house sighs to the processed drum skitter of Telepathe) is duly noted as a bedroom electronica track you can even dance to and, shock of shocks, remember. ‘Heaven Below’, meanwhile, sounds a hell of a lot like Summer Camp, thanks to what is to become the trio’s ‘thing’ – the ﬂirting call and response vocals of members Alice and Edward. I wouldn’t throw out your copy of ‘Crazy in Love’ just yet but Sunless ‘97 aren’t too far from the right track.
BEGINNING LE FTO V E RS
V E RON ICA FALLS
JOH N NY MARR
LAST MONTH WE INTERVIEWED VERONICA FALLS THEY LEFT THESE QUERIES BEHIND FOR JOHNNY MARR Patrick Doyle: “How did you decide who was going to join you in the line up of The Healers? And are there any original members aside from you?” Johnny Marr: “I’ve been working on and off with Doviak, the other guitarist and keyboard player. He played with me at the Royal Festival Hall in 2005 and helped me out on the soundtrack I did for the Big Bang movie. The drummer is Andy Knowles. We met when he played keys for The Cribs at Reading and Leeds in 2008 and we struck up a friendship. I knew we could work together again. Max James on bass came in recently and he was recommended by Doviak, so I knew he would be cool, personality wise. I usually hang out with musicians and artists, not exclusively but it’s turned out that way for most of my life. I put my antennae up when I was about 13 and it’s just stayed that way.”
Photography by Guy Eppel
PD: “What made you decide it was time to start The Healers again?” JM: “I started getting ideas for songs and gigs and records. The bands I’ve been in over the last ﬁve or six years required my guitar playing and personality but the aesthetic is a shared one; collaborative. It was time to put all my own ideas together for a group. The other thing is that my guitar is more to the front.”
RC: “I saw you do a surprise guest appearance with [cult folk singer] Bert Jansch in Manchester once. Do you have a favourite memory of playing with him?” JM: “My best ever memory of playing with Bert was in my kitchen one Friday afternoon. It was probably on the day of the Manchester show we did, which was magic – the music just melded together. He was unique and totally deﬁnitive. Recording the tracks we did together for the Crimson Moon record was quite a thrill too.” RC: “What is your favourite place to play in Manchester?” JM: “What’s now very boringly called Academy 2 was called The University when I was in my teens and I saw so many great bands there; The Only Ones, Cramps, Furs, so that is my favourite. It’s also the best sounding room.
“MOST PEOPLE I KNOW WITH GIGANTIC EGOS ARE PRETTY MISERABLE”
Roxanne Clifford: “From what I’ve heard, you seem to be a very humble and down to earth person. Has it been hard not to let your ego run wild when you have such an important musical legacy?” JM: “Well, I think the work, whatever that is at any point, is the most important thing. Secondly, most of the people I’ve known with gigantic egos are pretty miserable. I also have always had good people around me who wouldn’t really put up with too much nonsense. I do have my moments though.”
RC: “I used to play in a band with Andy Knowles who plays drums for you now. Does he still turn the drum kit upside down when you’re not looking?” JM: “What ?...He does what ?...probably...”
RC: “What do you like to do when you’re not playing music?” JM: “Reading (David Hockney’s A Bigger Message, Freidrich Schiller’s An Aesthetic Education Of Man). I put my hood up and run around cities listening to pop music and soundtracks as much as I can.”
PD: “In your interview with Fantastic Man you cited Brian Eno as a fellow collaborator. Have you heard the new Coldplay album? And how do you feel about his input?” JM: “I liked Eno’s albums ‘Here Come The Warm Jets’ and ‘Another Green World’, also his collaborations with Talking
Heads and Bowie, of course. I don’t know about the Coldplay record. I doubt that I’d like it, unless he’s made them sound nothing like they usually do.” PD: “Will anyone you’ve collaborated with (eg. Modest Mouse/The Cribs) be returning the favour and appearing with The Healers any time soon?” JM: “I’m looking forward to pushing some friends onto the stage for the odd encore or two. I love Ryan’s [Jarman] guitar playing and I love Gary’s [Jarman] singing. Isaac Brock is a great performer and cool guitar player, so who knows.” PD: “You’ve been playing in America with Best Coast, are you a fan of the band?” JM: “Yes. I thought the Best Coast record was really good. I like their songs and it’s good that they sound like where they come from. Not everybody does.” PD: “Are there any other bands around at the moment that you follow, or would like to tour with in the future?” JM: “Deerhunter are very good I think. The Horrors have good things going on. There’s a new band called Box Codex who I like. All these bands keep me interested until The Marvelettes reform.” PD: “Have you got any new tattoos? Which one/ones are your favourites and why?” JM: “I’m designing a new one, the last one I think, which is an atomic explosion and therefore pretty tricky to draw. I usually like my “45” tattoo best, maybe because it’s so simple and has a lot of signiﬁcance for me. It’s religious, believe it or not.” RC: “Everyone seems to have an opinion on The Stone Roses reunion. How do you feel about it?” JM: “I’m pleased for them because I think a lot of it is about friendship.” RC: “Will you join our band?” JM: “You never know...”
girls IN SEARCH OF THE PERFECT POP MOMENT photographer – PHIL SHARP
Christopher Owens is the nucleus of Girls, subject to his own chaotic quantum laws on the quest to write the perfect bittersweet pop song. Two albums and one EP into his late-blooming music career, he’s getting close to nailing it as well, but not without the assistance of various capable electrons, orbiting at a distance, yet integral to Girls’ atomic substance. Chet ‘JR’ White is credited by Owens as someone who “helps record” the songs, but listening to their facetiously titled debut, ‘Album’, as well as this year’s acclaimed follow-up ‘Father, Son, Holy Ghost’, it’s obvious that his input has alchemical results on the deceptive simplicity of songs like ‘Hellhole Ratrace’ and ‘Vomit’. After recording the ﬁrst album themselves, the gaps have been ﬁlled for a full touring band, right up to that second album pop cliché, a shimmy of backing singers. I meet Owens on a dark evening when the clocks have gone back, just as the band ﬁnish sound-checking for their sold-out show at Camden’s Electric Ballroom. He slopes into the dressing room holding a vile-looking cup of greyish milky tea, his bleached hair hanging half up, half down and ﬂopping round two very pale blue eyes. He adopts that slightly sniffy, louche air that Californian bands carry with ease, but now and then he’ll become more engaged and set those blue eyes right on you. Wearing the indie uniform, unchanged since Cobain, of blue jeans and ﬂannel shirt, he’s curated his grubbiness right down to the ﬁngernails, baby blue varnished and chipped, though not dirty. His teeth are surprisingly un-American, like an old picket fence out of joint, but somehow this gives him a real edge that orthodontically conventional indie bands miss out on. I think about whether he was maybe banned from having a dentist as a kid. Because Chris Owens, as everybody knows by now, grew up in a Christian cult. His baby brother died because of the cult’s anti-medicine beliefs, and aged 16 he ran away for good. But now his relationship with his mother is on the mend, as you can hear in the handful of songs he’s written about her –
writer – CHAL RAVENS
‘Forgiveness’ and ‘My Ma’, an especially lovely track on the new record that’s somewhere between the Flaming Lips, George Harrison, Cat Power and the ﬁnest AM radio fare of ‘70s interstate journeys. That morning, Chris had met with one of his musical heroes, Lawrence (of Felt, Denim and Go Kart Mozart), a star who never was but is now enjoying a little resurgence with the release of the documentary Lawrence of Belgravia. Turns out Owens had written him a letter and Lawrence decided to wander down to the venue and hand-deliver a reply. This strikes me as something life-afﬁrmingly awesome – receiving a letter from your idol – but Owens plays it down a little (“He just came to say hi”), maybe because he’s tired of soundchecks and press engagements, or maybe because he sees himself more as an equal to Lawrence these days.After all, Owens is the proud owner of a 9.1 and a 9.3 from Pitchfork, no doubt more than Lawrence can boast. Not to mention that Girls have actually sold a few records, steamrollering indie expectations with the sheer universalising force of catchy pop songs. Now, songs by Girls are generally about girls. Sometimes girls Owens loves, or maybe girls he has a crush on, or girls he left behind. Sometimes the girl is his
“I WOULD HATE IT IF I STARTED WRITING WHILE THINKING THAT PEOPLE ARE GONNA BE LISTENING”
mother, of course. The backdrop to this is a hazy atmosphere of drop-out delinquency, the feeling of being lost in a vagrant’s eternal summer. The cosy California bubble that Girls emerged from and that so often informs their writing must seem a million miles away from the noodle-stained and piss-soaked Camden streets outside, so I start by asking him about touring. It’s horrible, right? “I don’t know,” he says, a stock answer that he tends to use as a habitual gap-ﬁller before offering something meatier. “There’s good points, but on the whole there’s a lot of long drawn-out...” He pauses. “In the van, with the same people all the time... it’s nothing too horrible but it’s not the best time ever. I’m not somebody that’s just, like, living the dream or something.” Echoes of that itinerant childhood with the Children of God perhaps, who travelled constantly to spread their mission. Maybe when you’ve seen the world already it’s more fun to just stay home. “I think London’s good,” he adds, “but everywhere else can be a little bit hit or miss, maybe not so many people. It’s a bit difﬁcult to tour here to be honest. It’s kinda like... very depressing.You can end up a lot of times in places with shows that you feel were really unnecessary. Nobody’s that excited to be there, there’s not that many people there, y’know.” What about writing on the road? “It’s difﬁcult because I like to be alone for that, but I’m always around people now. And there’s not much free time really, besides the travel time, and the worst place in the world to try to write a song would be in the van. But it’s not even really an issue ‘cos there’s a lot of songs written. It would just be cool to ﬁnd a way of recording more to catch up so that stuff doesn’t get too old before you start working on it.” A lot of Girls songs are very honest, about people very close to him, some mentioned by name – ‘Alex’, ‘Jamie Marie’, ‘Laura’. “I don’t think it’s bothered any of them,” says Christopher. “And they’re usually nice songs, it’d never
be a bitchy song or anything.” Maybe there are people who want a song written about them. “I’m sure there are, but it doesn’t work like that.” What about crazy fans? “There’s been a few. I get the impression there are a lot of crazy fans, not necessarily just ours, but like, music fans. I don’t really see myself as famous yet really, though... a little bit,” he concedes. “Nothing’s changed, which is really good. I would hate it if I started writing while thinking about the fact that people are gonna be listening.” Lawrence doesn’t have that problem, I would guess. Even after a few decades he’s only really known as a fringe ﬁgure, adored by the very few. Girls have had quite the opposite experience, hailed and hyped from the get-go with support from former Holy Shit bandmates Ariel Pink and Matt Fishbeck and most of the music press. So what’s the price of that success? “It’s working harder, it’s touring.The price though? I don’t know what the price is – it’s too soon to tell. But Lawrence could have done exactly what we’ve done.We went on tour, we worked really hard. Lawrence has never toured, he refuses to tour.You know, if you go out on tour all the time like we’ve been doing, you’re gonna get more attention than people that don’t. And also in
his case it’s different because he was doing most of his stuff way before people were using the internet.” A truism of 21st century indie success, for sure. Owens has previously said that he sometimes writes songs for other voices, imagining Beyonce or Justin Bieber delivering lines like, “My love is like a river, she just keeps on rolling along.” I can see what he means – a universal pop song would obviously sound great booming out of the ‘Yonce. But Owens’ cracked and fragile voice is an elemental part of Girls’ sound, something that fans seem to be drawn to just as much as the songs themselves. “Yeah, I think that’s true, I think people do think that... I think that for what we’ve done so far, for the most part, it is. But not as a rule.” As well as imagining alternative performances of Girls songs, Owens has spoken of using other artists as prompts for his own songwriting, like ‘Jamie Marie’, his attempt at a Randy Newman song.With all this ﬂuidity and striving for some transcendental pop quality, what is the remaining essence of a Girls song? “Well....”A very long pause.“I think the essence is for me to talk about myself, and it’s usually like, uh... some admitting to being unhappy and then, like, talking about some type of alternative to that, like being happy, or wanting to be, or hoping to be.”
So it’s about the words rather than the music? “Yeah, yeah,” he says ﬁrmly. “The music’s just a backdrop. On every record there’s so many different types of songs, so many different genres.” I ask if he really is on a quest to write the perfect pop song.“Yeah, I am. But I don’t know, it could be any kind of song structure, I don’t really care about that. I think it would have to be pretty simple, those songs are usually pretty simple.” For someone who’s had such a complicated life, the songs are strikingly simple, with lyrics of the “mad/bad/ sad” variety that Owens somehow breathes much more life into than you’d reasonably expect. Perhaps he ﬁnds it useful to channel the disorder and spontaneity of his life into easily digestible pop mantras.“The simple thing is really just the only thing I know right now,” he says. “It really is. Everything that has ever been on a Girls song is just the ﬁrst idea.” I try to drag out something more combative, more declamatory, but he doesn’t take the bait when asked why pop music is so important to people. “I don’t know. I just think it would be cool to write a song that everybody knows, that’s all.” We wrap up the conversation and he unfurls himself from the tiny upholstered chair, dishwater cuppa still sloshing in his grip.
JOKER LIAM MCLEAN DEFIES HIS NAME
photographer – PHIL SHARP
The Bristol music scene has always had one foot heavily rooted in experimentation and a few toes from the other in grimey and raw dubstep beats. A glance back to the ‘80s, when battling sound system the Wild Bunch were still packing out clubs from Brizzle’s St Paul’s to St Pauly down in Blighty – the same Bunch that birthed triphop greats such as Massive Attack, breathy rapper Tricky and award-winning producer Nellee Hooper, who was also in Soul II Soul – and it’s clear to see why 22-yearold, Bristol-born-and-bred grime producer Joker, or Liam McLean to his mum, is busting out the sounds he is today. He may claim nonchalantly that he’s “into everything”, but his jagged rhythms and sample choices tell another story. How he’s bringing a refreshing twist to the scene, however, is in his clean-cut production style and the playful atmosphere he creates with retro Nintendo-like noises, recalling an endearing sense of nostalgia for all the 1980s children. “I like computer game music,” he answers abruptly when we ask about the samples. “I like a lot of R&B, hip hop, just everything, man,” he huffs impatiently. It’s hard to believe that someone who makes something so fun, albeit incredibly considered, can be so dismissive and reluctant to shout about it, but we get the impression that fame isn’t something McLean is concerned about.“You can have a commercial audience. Who cares really? You either like it or you don’t,” he explains about grime breaching the mainstream. “If you don’t like the fucking commercial stuff, then go to the forums and ﬁnd some underground stuff. Know what I’m saying?”
writer – DK GOLDSTEIN
Perhaps Joker is a little het up because with the addition of vocal overlays from R&B/soul singers and MCs from within the Bristol circuit on his newly released debut album, ‘The Vision’, some people have accused him of selling out and becoming too poppy. “Right, I’m glad you asked this,” he states, testily, before justifying that he’s, “always made music like that but I’ve not been putting it out. I’ve got two CDs already, from 2006 and 2008 that I was supposed to put out, full of vocals that sound similar to [‘The Vision’]. People think it’s a new me trying to be pop or whatever, but fuck what everyone says, yeah? I’ve been doing this shit for days, know what I’m saying? I listen to a lot of R&B and shit, so it’s nothing new.” McLean tells us that getting that old material out himself took a lot of energy, which is why he’s waited until now to release his ﬁrst LP proper, through both 4AD and his own label Kapsize, named so in dedication to his late cousin DJ Kapsize. “For the ﬁrst CD we put out like 100 copies,” he continues.“We had to burn a load of CDs ourselves, cut loads of paper – shit, it was long, so I just made music and put it online, which was a lot easier.” In terms of the approaches McLean takes to music making, they vary. “I could be sat down watching TV,” he begins, “or playing a computer game and get an idea. Then I’ve got to run to the computer and try and get the idea out of my head and onto the computer. Or I can be sat down trying to make a tune, trying to get a beat going. Sometimes I’ll be sat playing with synth sounds or strings. It all depends. There isn’t a right or wrong way.” It’s worth noting here that there’s no live
instrumentation on the record – everything you hear is synthetic, which is amazing to imagine when you hear the ﬂutter of violins and hammering piano in the intro to ‘On My Mind’. “It’s software,” McLean clariﬁes.“You press a key and it sounds like strings, so you don’t need a violin player to actually come in, you can just do it on a computer. “When you think of grime, dubstep, bass and R&B – that’s not really band-orientated, it’s computerised music and when I ﬁrst started making music at a young age, that’s what I was listening to.” He even channels his vocals as if synth lines, but when we ask if he ever felt tempted to sing over his own tracks, we’re met with a resounding and drawn-out “naaaah”. As Joker, McLean has also claimed in the past to have taken inspiration from the colour purple, and you can easily ﬁnd old press shots of him decked head-to-toe in the opulent shade, but he hates to mention it now, along with most other topics we discuss, in fact. “I think that whole purple shit went a bit too far,” he says irritably.“It’s just a bit gay and people are always like, ‘Oh purple this, I wanna see some purple’. So now I’m trying to go a different way and try different shit.” He’s already started writing for the next album, despite ‘The Vision’ having only hit shop shelves at the end of last month.“I’m one track in,” he admits modestly. “I don’t even know if it’s going to be my second album.” But no matter where this track leads, it’s clear that Joker is one Brizzler who doesn’t mess around. Not in conversation and certainly not in the slick electro-grime that makes ‘The Vision’ sound far bigger than its modest keyboard’n’mouse origins.
ntiquarian book dealer, illustrator, singer, taxidermist. All of these virtues are extolled by Gabriel Bruce, but the modest gent in front of us would prefer to be known as ‘an entertainer’.“I’m more of a song and dance man really,” he laughs. “I’d love to tap dance.” Arresting in a charming fashion, Gabriel’s laidback personality grips with one hand as his intellect probes with the other, over a Guinness on a break from recording his debut album. Heavily inﬂuenced by South American poet Pablo Neruda, whose prose projected a powerfully political intent, Gabriel isn’t your normal 22 year old. “I often worry I’ve missed out,” he tells me. “I remember seeing an old photo of me smoking, black and white, with a suit on and reading Dostoyevsky...” his voice trails off with a chuckle. OK maybe he is. Something of a crammer, many an achievement has already been made. Front-man for the now deceased band Loverman, Gabriel found it tough to move on.“It’s hard to make as much noise,” he ponders. “I try to from time to time but I end up looking silly.” Striking out solo was a bold move; warping his own, very personal experiences was a real rush of blood to the head.“I was basically left to learn how to play so I ended up getting this lovely Farﬁsa organ and these songs are an extension of that process. I’ve still got it and it’s featuring on the record – she’s a humble creature.” The not too assuming Farﬁsa accompanies Gabriel
throughout the record, but before the album comes the single. ‘Sleep Paralysis’ is his signature song, for now, coming on with an insolent strut and a breathtaking vocal. Lyrically it’s bruising and real, the truth coming from Gabriel’s crushing attempts at a good night’s kip.“I actually suffer quite a lot in my sleep,” he says.“The song is my exploration and I did a lot of research into old books. It’s that kind of nowhere between full cognitive sleep and waking, it’s hypnotic and it’s very scary. You feel conscious but you can’t move; you’re constricted in your own body.” Gabriel smiles and morphs into his best terriﬁed face. Released by arts collective Off Modern, who took their background in publishing and Gabriel’s passion for the page and ran with it, in a delightful twist the debut single will actually be a book. “Originally we were just going to do a set of poems about sleep paralysis,” he explains, “but then I wrote the music and the rest fell into place.There’s a book by Anne Carson called Nox (a fold-out book in a box full of haunting images and poetry), which was originally created as a requiem for her dead brother. It’s heartbreaking and I think in my own very respectful way I’m nodding to Anne.” As if researching 18th century text books and releasing a 7-inch by 7-inch book wasn’t innovative enough, a rather macabre interest in the dead has also played a unique part in Gabriel’s artistic development.
“You mean the human spine, don’t you? I was trying to ﬁgure out how to make this thing dance, you know, get a murderous groove, so you hit something and think hmmm that might sound good. I build these kind of drum kits, so a human spine on a metal tray acts as the snare. It rattles around and sounds fantastic. It’s a shaker as well, of course.” Bright eyed and upbeat in person, there’s a dark underbelly piercing through in the music. Finder and keeper of all things grisly, Gabriel ﬁnds beauty where other’s fear to tread. “There’s a lot of dead things in my bedroom. I’ve got a collection of dried out animals that I framed myself. A frog I particularly like that I found in France that must have been run over by a lorry or something as it’s completely ﬂat”. With formaldehyde in the fridge and a skeleton based percussion ensemble Gabriel Bruce’s persona is undoubtedly original, but add his voice into the equation and it elevates his work that much more. Baritone and breathy, he doesn’t so much sing as talk to the melody. “I’m not a singer, I don’t think. I don’t have the voice for it like Harry Belafonte or William Bell; I do the best I can with the instrument I have. I used to like singing low in a choir so that’s how it started and I never wanted to sing high but now I do and it frustrates me. There is more variation though in the full record.” No tap dancing though – get yourself a hobby Gabriel.
“I’VE GOT A COLLECTION OF DRIED OUT ANIMALS THAT I FRAMED MYSELF”
gabriel bruce DEATH BECOMES HIM photographer – COCHI ESSE
writer – IAN ROEBUCK WWW.LOUDANDQUIET.COM
GUITARIST DAN AUERBACH DISCUSSES HIS BAND’S SLOW-BURNING SUCCESS AND HOW YOU COULD NEVER CALLED THEM SELL OUTS photographer – DANNY CLINCH
A decade on from the rough recordings from an Akron basement, The Black Keys are a band dealing with the glare of black tux and red carpet award ceremonies; the mainstream multiplicity of licensing deals and the global reach of soundtracking the idle hours of millions of football-obsessed teens. This wasn’t the tipping point they were anticipating or expecting. Firmly entrenched in an ethos of hard work and spontaneous simplicity, long-time friends and bandmates Pat Carney and Dan Auerbach are as genuine as they come; just two boys from the mid-west beating the hell out of their respective drumkit and guitar. After years of gruelling cross-country, cross-continent tours in cramped Buicks and a growing frustration of watching bands explode, burn out and fade away, The Black Keys have stood ﬁrm, played loud and proudly kept things true to the day two sixteen year old kids decided that they just wanted to make music. “We’ve been doing this so long, we’ve just always had this natural connection,” explains Auerbach. “The ﬁrst time we played music together when we were sixteen, seventeen, it was immediate. We didn’t have songs, Pat hardly played drums and I was just learning guitar, but we could make music and we could make stuff that sounded like music. It’s always been really easy with Pat, to play. “I started playing because everyone in my family played music and I wanted to play with them. If The Black Keys didn’t exist, I’d be playing music.This is what I do. I love music and this is what I live for and I don’t understand any other way of thinking about it.” Entrenched in the spirit of howling blues and feral garage rock, they’ve always been a band that emits a raw, simple power. Pat hits like a blacksmith, powerfully and purposefully precise as Dan coaxes a frontier wildness from his Harmony H77, stoking the guitar swarm with a preacherman bark. On record, they invigorate and enliven; on stage, they make every show feel like the inside of an atom, closing the walls and pinning you to them with an ampliﬁed intensity. And it’s this power, allied to a staunch set of values, that’s enabled Dan and Pat to tough out their slow build to success. “We have a studio now but it’s still the same set up… it’s just Pat and I banging away on the drums and guitar, the same thing we’ve been doing since we were sixteen, although our tastes have changed and our points of view have changed. I think bands don’t have enough time to mature and grow as they used to be able to. Not that we’re The Beatles or anything but they didn’t start to get into their psychedelic, way-out-there stuff until how many records into it? Same with the Rolling Stones or whoever…most bands took a while to mature and it’s a good thing. I think you lose out on a lot of good stuff when you hype a band to death then turn your back on it, then it’s over for them. “When we ﬁrst started coming to London we realised
writer – REEF YOUNIS
the press in London hypes bands even more than the fucking Internet does.You know what I mean? It’s kind of ridiculous. And we’ve seen so many bands over the years come and go, bands that get on the covers of magazines and shit and we’d be like, “Why?!”. Then they’d get headline festival slots over here and we didn’t understand it, but over the years we’ve been so glad it wasn’t us. At the time it made us really angry but we look back now and we’re happy it wasn’t us. We were probably pissed off about it at the time because we’ve seen it happen. It’s unhealthy. Pat and I are from the mid-West so we don’t fuck around like that. We like to make music, we like to make records and we like to play shows.We’re not for that hype machine.We weren’t built for that.” The hype machine never reached the critical levels for the band through the ‘The Big Come Up’ and ‘Thickfreakness’ releases but third album ‘Rubber Factory’ marked a subtle shift in the band’s status.Armed with the timeless ‘10AM Automatic’, the wailing ‘Girl is On My Mind’ and the squalling ‘Til I Get My Way’ it was never the stampede the album deserved but it made many sit up and take notice of Dan’s whiskey and razorblades vocal and The Black Keys’ intoxicating white boy blues. But where the following ‘Magic Potion’, ‘Attack and Release’ and the duo’s solo projects kept an honest momentum, it was ‘Brothers’ and more speciﬁcally the album’s ‘Tighten Up’ that fundamentally changed the perception of the band. “Absolutely,” conﬁrms Dan, “it changed everything! But I think mainly ‘Tighten Up’ changed stuff for us because it got played on the radio, and that was a big thing for us. It was something we’ve never experienced before and I don’t think any other song on ‘Brothers’ was playable on the radio, but because ‘Tighten Up’ got played, it opened the door for other songs, like ‘Howlin’ ForYou’ is on the radio in the States;‘Next Girl’ is on the radio in Canada.Those are not traditional radio songs. “I think it was a combination of things, really. It was the ﬁrst time I’d written songs in that way. I wrote those songs around the same time I wrote the songs for my solo record and was thinking about songs in more of a classic songwriting sense and having a lot of fun with
that and I’d never really done that before. I think with the ﬁrst couple of records we were just kids messing around and I didn’t know how to write songs and we were just having fun. On ‘Brothers’ it was a different thing and it was really getting into the writing part. So there was that and using a really great engineer, Mark Neill, who engineered a lot of the record. It was weird because ‘Brothers’, tracking-wise, was really minimal compared to ‘Attack and Release’. That was way more pro but ‘Brothers’ came out sounding bigger.” ‘Brothers’ didn’t just sound “bigger” it sounded almost alien. The Black Keys were supposed to be raw and rooted in bristling porch blues and primal garage rock and here they were working with Dangermouse, bufﬁng up the process instead of scufﬁng it; polishing the edges instead of making them more pointed. Conversely, it wasn’t a total departure from what preceded, just an unexpectedly layered offering given an extra dimension by taking the production process outside of the duo. “We were in Muscle Shoals for ten days, recorded ten
keys songs, we were at my studio in Akron for four days and did a couple of songs, then we did ‘Tighten Up’ in two days in Brooklyn and pulled the album together and it was a record. We spent less money than probably any major label band; Pat’s brother did all the artwork, as he always has done. Nothing really changed except the process was longer, but that was mainly because we were on tour and we were working with Brian [Dangermouse] and he was working on the U2 record so he’d have to ﬂy out and ﬂy in, then we’d be on tour. It took about a month because it wasn’t consecutive and it felt like forever. I think it’s good to hunker down and get into a groove and we got disrupted a bunch making the record but we’ll take it how we can get it.” For a band that has spent most of their career earnestly “trying to make rent” the opportunities to go beyond basic sustenance were few and far between. Accused of “selling out” courtesy of licensing songs for use in various adverts and soundtracks, it’s a backlash The Black Keys have had to deal with in light of their growing mainstream success. From Nissan to Sony, Levis to Victoria’s Secret, the revenue has been a lifeblood for the band and it’s not an issue Dan is prepared to shirk and shy away from. “I don’t know what to say to those guys. Pat and I have worked harder than any band we know of; we’ve driven more miles across the country in stupid fucking Sprinter vans, across Europe all winter, over and over and over again. To call us ‘sell outs’ would be sort of ridiculous. We turned down around $100,000 for a mayonnaise ad for a company in England because we didn’t want to be sell outs when we were about twenty two, twenty-three, meanwhile we’re driving a Buick Sentry across the country with the amps and drums
ﬁlling the trunk, stopping us from reclining the seats, on 11 hour drives to play little clubs. We turned down that money which was more than our parents would make in a year, combined, and that felt stupid. After we turned it down, we just said we’d never do it again because it was so stupid. That whole sell-out mentality is absolute garbage. Nowadays where records don’t sell, it’s the only way to make a living. How do you make a living from music? “We never sold a lot of records and we’ve still not hit a million in America.We had the number one single for sixteen weeks straight! Man, if you had the number one record in 1985 for sixteen weeks straight, you’d have a platinum record. You’d own your own island next to Richard Branson! It’s pathetic, the record industry. “We had a hit record and our entire team at Warner Brothers got ﬁred [laughs disbelievingly] because of downsizing. It’s crazy. The only way Pat and I make a living is playing shows, which means we have to be on the road constantly. Basically, getting licensing money is amazing, it helps so much and enables us to stay off the road for a little while and enjoy a bit of life, which is nice. “And I think it’s awesome when we hear our music on a movie or a TV show or an advertisement and we get paid for something that we created in a basement for almost nothing when we were 20 years old. I love that. There’s a TV show called Hung over in the States, which is about a male prostitute, and it’s kinda big and they use one of our songs. But it’s weird that this is the only art form where this situation happens. Every actor on the
“THAT WHOLE SELLOUT MENTALITY IS ABSOLUTE GARBAGE. IT’S THE ONLY WAY TO MAKE A LIVING”
face of the earth has watch ads in Japan or aftershave ads somewhere and they don’t get shit for this at all. Who created this?!” There’s a ﬁerce sense of pride and self-awareness and self-sufﬁciency that’s palpable in almost everything The Black Keys have done. To them, it’s more than the fact they feel they’ve earned the right as much as anyone, there’s a frustration that they needlessly compromised on some unfounded values. For them, the austerity of the early days still rings responsibly true and just because they’re in a privileged opportunity to take advantage it doesn’t mean that they’re prepared to exploit the big budgets that may or may not come their way. “We’ve always prided ourselves on being cost efﬁcient.We’ve never had a big budget to make a record and we’ve heard so many stories about bands with a million dollars to make a record. We like to get in and get out because this comes out of our own pocket – we’re not stupid. I had a friend who used to manage a band called Be Your Own Pet, remember them? They were kind of like an ‘It’ band for a while, a real cute girl singer and they were young.They’re gone now but they had $350,000 recording budgets for each record! It’s insane.” With new album ‘El Camino’ – the band’s seventh – the driving decade marker for the band, for all the awards, backlash and the belated recognition,The Black Keys’ tenacity and level-headedness is ﬁnally paying off. Perhaps it’s the maturity they’ve been allowed to develop over the years,learning quickly from missed opportunities or the unyielding commitment of Pat and Dan to see it all through.Whatever the secret,The Black Keys are still as uncompromising and inimitable as they were back in that basement. “We just want to make a good record and have fun doing it, that’s all we’ve ever wanted to do. There’s no other plan. We met people in LA who write songs, pop hits, and are rich but it just seems miserable. We’ve seen so many talented bands ride and fade away and never given the chance to even release a record. We’re not trying to be the best at guitar and drums, we’re just trying to make music that’s interesting, you know? The music that’s not polished and it’s not perfect and we’ve gotten lucky. It’s a combination of three things: luck, timing and hard work. There’s no other way to explain it.”
20 0 11 WRITERS:
DANIEL DYLAN WRAY DK GOLDSTEIN EDGAR SMITH IAN ROEBUCK
JANINE BULLMAN LEE BULLMAN
MATTHIAS SCHERER NATHAN WESTLEY OMAR TANTI
REEF YOUNIS SAM WALTON STUART STUBBS
ALBUMS OF THE YEAR
20. WILD BEASTS SMOTHER
19. FEIST METALS
18. WOODEN SHJIPS WEST
(DOMINO) RELEASED: MAY 9
(POLYDOR) RELEASED: OCTOBER 3
(THRILL JOCKEY) RELEASED: AUGUST 29
The superlative praise for the raw but captivating ‘In Limbo, Panto’ and the perplexed cynicism that inevitably met follow up LP ‘Two Dancers’ set up ‘Smother’ as an odd prospect. First lauded then left relatively unloved, it felt like Wild Beasts were still a band who polarised opinion, and with Hayden Thorpe’s vocal doing much of the divide and conquer, his determination to be the grand story teller was under scrutiny. Whether they ever felt under pressure or not, ‘Smother’ was utterly enthralling. Typically twisting and twirling prose to bend to Thorpe’s operatic vocal, Wild Beasts found the balancing point between their greatest lure and fatal attraction. Where they once over-indulged, this time they reined in any ostentatious impulses with a measured discipline, and the end result was rich, tremulous and elegantly reﬁned. From the simplicity of ‘Plaything’ to the ﬂickering immersion of ‘Burning’, ‘Smother’ was a step back from the crude lust of ‘Two Dancers’ and all the more riveting for it. RY
Upon the release of ‘Metals’ back in October, comparisons were made with Feist’s previous incarnation as the almost quintessential manic pixie dream girl, all sequinned onesies, dance routines and songs about counting. Against type, ‘Metals’ (4 years in the making) was broody and towering, masculine and meaty; there wasn’t a ‘1234’ in earshot. But what that overlooked is that Feist’s latest (and greatest) record is one full of dynamic outbursts, not just some constantly brutal guitar snarl. Indeed, much of it is still seeped in Feist’s sweet voice, dainty melodies and folksy guitar playing, and that sensitivity is only made more affecting by its new surroundings of chaingang chants and cavernous drumming. But ‘Metals’ isn’t just a great album because of what’s been before it – if it were a debut it’d be just as thrilling. Exquisitely paced, it carries the listener over its many undulations without ever a jolt, and while undeniably muscular, it’s also 2011’s most versatile and well-rounded release. SW
THE WAR ON DRUGS SLAVE AMBIENT
16. THE WEEKND HOUSE OF BALLOONS
(SECRETLY CANADIAN) RELEASED: AUGUST 22
(SELF RELEASED) RELEASED: MARCH 29
In terms of sheer unfathomable endearment, ‘Slave Ambient’ has been unbeatable this year, forever ﬁnding its way onto our stereo without us ever really knowing how or why. Perhaps it’s its seamless ability to merge atmospheric, ambient experimentations with classically structured pop songs, or maybe it’s just down to its darn right inherent and infectious nature? Either way it’s a losing ﬁght not to get sucked in by it. The tonalities of the guitars are intrinsic to its success. They become an ever-looping string of melodies that wrap you up and hold you captive until it’s all over and you can start it over again. When glued together with the ﬂoating, melodic keys, they create an almost electronic feel that makes the atmospherics and sounds created psychedelic and expansive, yet concise and self-aware. There are nods to classic inﬂuences from Dylan to Tom Petty, which could be trite in the wrong hands, but here they’re manipulated, moulded and disguised to slip quietly in the back door, creating a wonderful concoction of the old and new. Undeniably inspired by time touring as one of Kurt Vile’s violators, this could have been a sub-standard emulation of another man’s very speciﬁc sound, but it’s not. Wonderfully original in its execution, the world that ‘Slave Ambient’ creates may be one that is unclassiﬁable, but it’s one that you undeniably need to be a part of. DDW
The rightful soundtrack to 2011’s least salubrious moments, for us and likely for you and your most imprudent wreckhead mates as well. As corny as it may be to let a Parental Advisory mixtape encourage your own sordid behaviour, it’s hard to keep your mind on the straight and narrow once you’re hooked on the narcotic, nocturnal pallor of ‘Wicked Games’ and ‘High For This’. Taking slow jams to the dark side, the precocious voice of 20-year-old Abel Tesfaye kicked up a good ol’fashioned wave of buzz in March, with bloggers fawning over the indie samples (Siouxsie, Beach House, Cocteau Twins) and the positively opiatic production style, which smears the gothic mood on thick as the beats sludge along despondently. Tesfaye candidly imparts his tale of regret with a vocal that’s preternaturally capable of intoning the red-eyed wisdom of someone twice his age. Shame that the follow-up mixtape, ‘Thursday’, seemed baggy and repetitive in comparison, but Weeknd really was the R&B innovation this year. CR
We’re prepared to admit that our perception of this record might be skewed. The San Franciscan space rock troupe were L&Q cover stars forever ago and (this is rare) underneath the ten minute freak-outs was a group of kind and considered human beings; smoking American Spirits and waxing affectionate about their city’s social policies and Silver Apples. We were far more skewed by their live show; an ear-bleed affair at Borderline in 2009 and a 5am ecstatic conversion of 200 Bretons at Trans Musicales last November both stand out. Suckers though we are for nice bands who blow minds it’s possible to see through that bias and recognize this third LP as a bewilderingly impressive response to ‘tricky third album’ pressure from a band who’d established themselves and set a bar. Frontman Ripley Johnson’s interim work with Moon Duo shows his feverish creativity (and love of Repeat-Forever psych riffs) hasn’t calmed and (modest) success hasn’t estranged them from their roots. ES
OF THE YEAR CONTINUED ON PAGE
O U R 2 0 1 1
F U C K E D
MAKERS OF THE YEAR’S MOST AMBITION RECORD photographer – TOM COCKRAM You’d really think they’d be in a better mood.After a year that saw them sharing stages with punk rock legends Keith Morris (ex-Black Flag/Circle Jerks) and the Descendents, as well as festival bills with Kanye West, a year during which they toured more than at any stage during their career, and a year that marked the band’s 10th anniversary, Fucked Up should be at least quietly content. Instead, the mood in a cramped backstage room at London’s Scala is one of deﬂation. Bassist Sandy Miranda and guitarist and main songwriter Mike Haliechuk seem tired and distracted, which might be the direct result of the incessant touring, and are curt in their answers.This ties in with their largely static stage presence – they and their colleagues are the professional punk rock machinery to frontman Damian Abraham’s exuberant, huggable school-boy-turned-rock-star character. They look back on 2011 soberly, the last few months presumably blending into one messy mental scrapbook full of late nights and early ﬂights. But there is also a certain reluctance to reminisce at all, maybe hinting at a relief that the chapter of ‘David Comes to Life’, their fantastic third full-length album, is about to be closed. That record was a ridiculously ambitious yet fully coherent, barnstorming rock opera about David, a light bulb factory worker whose doomed love for Veronica, a pamphlet-toting activist, ﬁrst sends him into a spiral of guilt and depression (she dies, possibly as a result of his actions) but then becomes the driving force in his redemption. Bound to feature in almost everyone’s ‘Best of ’ lists this month, it could very well be their best album yet. So, was 2011 the year Fucked Up broke? “Not really”, says Mike. “I think we actually sold less records in England than last time around.” Sandy concurs: “Yeah, it’s mainly that we’re touring more. The shows are better. They’ve been progressively getting better with every tour. But yeah, I don’t know. It’s kinda the same.” Their own relationship with the ‘David Comes to
writer – MATTHIAS SCHERER
Life’ story and its characters is a curious mix of pride and distance – you get the sense that the rock opera idea was something they thought of as the next necessary step in Fucked Up’s line of artistically independent, slightly unorthodox releases (see the series of 12” singles based on the Chinese astrological cycle) as opposed to the storyline dictating the format. They probably felt like a concept album was a Fucked Up thing to do, and because they are Fucked Up, it turned out to be an amazing concept album. But now, after a year of working on it promoting it and touring it, the magic has worn off a bit: “There was no turning back”, says Mike of the recording process.“It was like when you get a picturebook that you have to colour in, and you can’t change the way it looks once you’ve started. Whenever we had doubts, we just pushed on. It was the only record we could have made. I actually thought the plan of the story made it easier, because you had boundaries and limitations.” Have they, after talking about them in interviews and singing songs about them for so long, learned more about the characters and ideas on ‘David…’? “I kinda stopped thinking about it once we ﬁnished the album,” shrugs Mike.“After putting the ﬁnal full stop after the last verse, I completely stopped thinking about the lyrics.” Sandy nods. “Yeah, playing the songs I don’t focus on the lyrics at all, only the music.The only discussion about the story happens when I read an interview or if we ask each other about it.” ‘David Comes to Life’ sounds huge, and the topics addressed are in the same ballpark, size-wise. Among the whirlwind of reverb-drenched guitars and the whippedup drumming Abraham can be heard breathlessly growling lines about romance and companionship (“He understands all her needs, and for that she loves him eternally/Syncretism is so natural and they’re experiencing something so actual”), but the background and location of the story – a ﬁctional English town in the early 1980s
called Byrdesdale – is quite speciﬁc. I ask if the atrophy of the union movement that began at that time, which is referred to on the record, is something the band think is relevant today? Again, the answer is “not really”. “The working class movement in the 80s in England was important for Damian’s part of the record. But we didn’t try to make any kind of political statement. The organisation that is happening now [with the Occupy Wall Street/London Stock Exchange movements], is kind of like post-labour – labour isn’t really part of the equation anymore. But it’s all good, right? Organising is organising.The world is just a different place now.” The world has most certainly changed during the last ten years the band has been together. Fucked Up’s 10th birthday passed without much excitement (“It registered,” says Sandy), and during the last 12 months there were points where band members were close to throwing in the towel, which is something they’re used to, says Sandy. “Things may get tense,” she says, “and then we’ll all ﬁnd some reason to think alright, that’s it. But then we keep going somehow, and we’re still together at this stage.” Maybe it would help if the band toured less? “I don’t think [the tour schedule] is that crazy. I mean, you’re in a band, so you go on tour.You get used to it, just like you get used to going to work every day.” Later that evening, it becomes clear what Sandy meant when talking about the band getting better with every show. Despite their tiredness, Fucked Up turn the Scala into a boiling punk rock cauldron, with Damian giving out high-ﬁves, telling anecdotes about Henry Rollins and hosting a costume competition (it’s the night of Halloween). They clearly are a well-oiled machine now, so part of the reason for the break the band are affording themselves early next year might be to become a bit more un-familiar with each other – both personally and musically. On a scale of one to ten, then, how good was 2011 to Fucked Up? “Eight or nine. It was pretty good,” deadpans Mike.
M Y 2 0 1 1
HOW RAPPING THE BLUES EARNED OBARO EJIMIWE A MERCURY PRIZE NOMINATION photographer – DAN KENDALL Obaro Ejimiwe requesting that we meet at Tate Britain only conﬁrms how differently he approaches things compared to most young musicians, and, in turn, how his year has been quite unlike anyone else’s featured in our top albums list. We ﬁnd him sat in the museum’s café, a ﬁrst time visitor who’s ﬁnally found the time to make it to the River Thames’ Millbank. It’s hard to ﬁt these trips in when, off the back of your debut album, you’re touring with Metronomy, playing festivals and shows across the UK and Europe, performing on Later… With Jools Holland alongside Peter Gabriel and being courted by the Mercury Music Prize. ‘Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam’ is an impressively mellow British hip-hop record that skips the usual swagger and instead takes everyday monotony and makes it woozily seductive. The raps are mumbled in Obaro’s unmistakeable, tranquilised tone and the homemade beats and orchestrations combine elements of indie, electronica, trance and dance, all at half-speed – “the music I’m a fan of,” he says. A little over a year ago Obaro was working a nine-toﬁve job and piecing together his debut album by night. He’d moved to South London from Coventry and describes it as “an eventful time in my life generally; an important time, and important for this record, because if I didn’t have so much going on it might have come out sounding different.” Last night he was watching E4 when he saw a trailer for new drama Top Boy. It was
writer – STUART STUBBS
sound-tracked by ‘Finished I Ain’t’, his own song. “Yeah, 2011 has been a positive step in the right direction,” he nods. “My headline gig at the Scala was particularly amazing, just to ﬁll it up and see so many people know my music and be interested enough to come and pay to see me play, that was amazing. And playing Jools Holland was a highlight as well.” Nothing quite propelled the success of ‘Peanut Butter Blues…’ like Ghostpoet’s Mercury Price nomination though. Looking back on it, Obaro explains how the whole Mercury saga unfolds each year, with the nominees being told they’ve been short-listed when we the public are. “It’s all very cloak-and-dagger,” he says. “It’s like being opened up to a secret world that you never knew existed. It was all a bit of a haze really, a bit mad. But that was the beginning of the Mercury whirlwind.” Obaro’s friends got to him before the Mercury people did, congratulating him via text for a nomination he didn’t know he had. He was then summoned to the The Hospital Club, Covent Garden, and pushed in front of twenty interviewers. “That day happened and then it was a case of, ‘Okay, we’ve got to get back on with what we’re doing’. You have to not get consumed by it, because you can easily get caught up with it, ﬁnding out who else has been nominated and what the odds are etc. I did indulge a little bit, but I did just get on with it, and it’s only after
the Mercury night that you realise just how much it takes over your life.You’re forced to think about it more than you might like to. It was an interesting bubble to be in, and weirdly so, it was nice when it was over. It was like you’re watching television for a month straight and then someone turns it off, and you’re like,‘oh, shit, there’s a world around me.’ “It was a relief to have done it, and for it to be over, and to have not won it. I always said in every interview that I didn’t expect to win it, and it was a relief to have been part of it but to have not won the ultimate accolade, because if you’re a new artist that wins it, it’s expected that everything you then touch turns to gold.” I ask Obaro if he put a bet on himself to win anyway, predicting the spluttered “No way, I’d never do that” that I get as an answer. Arrogance doesn’t become him, which is exactly what makes ‘Peanut Butter Blues…’ such an appealing and uniquely modest hip-hop album – never self-deprecating, but not quite aware of how good it is either. “I never thought about how it would be received or if it would be in the end of year lists,” says Obaro, “so it’s a great bonus to a great year. But for me, I’m just thinking of the future and what I’m going to produce in the future.There’s no rule. It’s like being here at Tate Britain, looking at this art, you realise there are no rules; you can do what you want. I knew that anyway, but after this year I’m more aware of it.”
15. JOHN MAUS WE MUST BECOME THE PITILESS CENSORS OF OURSELVES (UPSET THE RHYTHM) RELEASED: JUNE 28 -----
The downright lunatic sonic expulsions of John Maus’ previous records could never have led one to think that this record could or would ever be made. However, here we have quite possibly the ﬁnest produced record of the year, a sea of glistening synths and electronic waves washing over us in 80s gloss splendour. The sci-ﬁ-tinged production, while rooted in decades of old, feels scarily futuristic and progressive (a rare achievement), while Maus’ mumbled vocals almost act as an additional layer of synthesised sound. The apparent sonic cohesion of the album doesn’t equate in a loss of sense of experimentation or weirdness, it’s simply reﬁned and honed to create a gorgeous journey that is palpably palatable. Rising from the ranks of Ariel Pink, they now seem to have shared a similar career trajectory, except Maus, in his own idiosyncratic way, has written an album full of ‘Round and Round’s. DDW
14. FUCKED UP DAVID COMES TO LIFE
12. METRONOMY THE ENGLISH RIVIERA
(MATADOR) RELEASED: JUNE 6
(BELLA UNION) RELEASED: OCTOBER 17
(BECAUSE) RELEASED: APRIL 11
“The real Suburbs. 8.5/10” – this is how reliably irresistible/infuriating Village Voice critic Christopher Weingarten rated ‘David Comes to Life’ in his Twitter review, and it is somewhat difﬁcult to ﬁnd a ﬂaw in that assessment – except maybe with the rating, which could easily be bumped up by one point. The plot of the Canadian punk rock stalwart’s third album rarely makes sense (something about a factory worker in an English town in the 80s who falls in love and then either sees his loved one die or kills her himself), but the overriding themes – unconditional love, depression, guilt, and redemption – are conveyed in songs of such melodic quality and sheer vigour that listeners stopped paying attention to the characters and embraced the Hüsker Dü hooks, relentless pounding drums and the glistening shoegaze guitars played at punk rock speed. Arcade Fire’s last record was a comfort blanket for thirty-somethings with acute nostalgia; ‘David…’ a musical lighthouse for those who are young right now. MS
FAIR OHS EVERYTHING IS DANCING
PHOTOGRAPHY: OWEN RICHARDS
13. VERONICA FALLS VERONICA FALLS
It wasn’t until we interviewed Veronica Falls last month that we realised they had recorded their debut album twice, so unhappy with their ﬁrst attempt that they couldn’t even bring himself to listen to it. Comprised exclusively of songs about love and death, the band remade the whole thing in 3 days, scufﬁng the edges that had been buffed in a hi-tech studio used by pop prats N-Dubz. It worked, ultimately because of the strength of the songs that were worth saving from a fate worse than ‘Let It Be’. ‘Right Side of My Brain’ particularly is a ﬁne example of girl group revivalism, with the added bonus of deadened male harmonies – the record’s calling card. Elsewhere there’s a bit of Roxy Music going on on ‘The Box’, and The Concretes on the closing ‘Come On Over’. To say there’s nothing new about ‘Veronica Falls’ isn’t to say anything that the band don’t already know, but the indie attitude of it remains honourable, and the doomed drama of songs like ‘Beachy Head’ completely inescapable. SS
2011 has really been the tipping year for Joe Mount and Metronomy. When they released ‘The English Riviera’ in April, they suddenly rocketed from cult status to mainstream players as the brash, whirring synths, blips and erratic beats of 2008’s ‘Nights Out’ were exchanged for a subtler sound that swayed on oceanic vibes, coddled in Mount’s falsetto and the vocals of new drummer Anna Prior. No longer were this foursome skirting around the hundreds in the charts; ‘The English Riviera’ shot straight into the Top Twenty. Fans of Mount’s instrumental, dancier tracks dismissed the new polished, more conventional song structures, but what makes this such a stand-out record is the great strides that Mount has made. From the bedroom-project Metronomy began as, he has proved himself to be an ever-evolving, innovative master of electronic music, and although this is unlikely to be the ﬁnal step in the band’s journey, it’s a dreamy, sure-footed one and the next one could take Metronomy anyway. DKG
10. BEIRUT THE RIPTIDE
(HONEY HIGH) RELEASED: JULY 4
(POMPEII) AUGUST 29
Standing up for guitar music has been a thankless position to take in the last few years. Luckily, along with bands like Cold Pumas and Sauna Youth, Fair Ohs have been providing ample ammunition for those of us whose arm hairs stand up with rage whenever some arsehole claims that the only exciting music these days is being made by other arseholes with laptops. Initially a part of the Dalston DIY punk scene, Fair Ohs started out playing a heady mix of Minor Threat hardcore punk and Sonics-esque garage rock, which yielded some of the tracks on the sweet-ass ‘Paciﬁc Rim’ 7” that came out late this summer. But Fair Ohs’ main contribution to 2011 was their debut album proper, on which the trio, from the front cover and the title to the last ringing chord, refuse to fuck around. Afro-punk super hit is followed by afropunk super hit, with every song catchier than Abe Vigoda and less po-faced than Vampire Weekend. It’s a joyous record, rumbling, tumbling, jumping out at you to drag you down to the front where all the fun is. Drummer Joe Ryan just about holds it all together and Eddy Frankel’s shimmering guitar veers between discordant post-punk and mechanical, David Byrne-inspired phrasing. It’s a testament to producer Rory Brattwell that listening to ‘Everything Is Dancing’ is almost as fun as seeing Fair Ohs live, and if you have neither listened to the record nor seen the band play, do both. MS
OF THE YEAR CONTINUED ON PAGE
After the Balkan brass charm of ‘Gulag Orkestar’ and the sombre ‘The Flying Club Cup’, ‘The Rip Tide’ burned much brighter than the more solemn offerings of its predecessors. Revitalised by his selfenforced hiatus, Zach Condon returned with an album that was breezy and almost carefree by comparison. Buoyed by a refreshed positivity after teetering on the edge of touring burnout, ‘Santa Fe’ stood tall as the beaming sing-a-long, rich with vocal harmonies and a killer chorus that exuded a sense of summertime feel-good that has never really been the Beirut hallmark. But where ‘Santa Fe’ didn’t quite play to type, Condon’s world-weary presence did. ‘Peacock 1’ heaved and sighed, ‘The Riptide 1’ ﬂoated on Condon’s mournful vocal and a decadent orchestral backdrop and you got the sense that for all his determination to keep things upbeat that snowy winter writing and recording in upstate New York quietly crept on. Ultimately it made the contrasts even more beautiful. RY
CLOSE YOUR EYES BY THE BULLITTS FEAT. LUCY LIU AND JAY ELECTRONICA (OUTFIT) RELEASED: APRIL 3
SWEETEST TOUCH BY GROSS MAGIC
TALK BY BIG DEAL
OLD VOLCANOES BY WARM BRAINS (MARSHAL TELLER) RELEASED ON APRIL 18 -----
Taking DIY to the Nth degree, 2011 saw Rory Brattwell do away with helping hands and play and record every instrument on Warm Brains’ debut album himself. It’s a nice idea if you’re any good at drums, guitars, bass and vocals, and Brattwell is. From the droned complaints about the break up of a relationship to the unexpected keyboard chimes of the middle 8 and the scatty syncopation of the drums, ‘Old Volcanoes’, was the clattering, grungy sound of a man in control of sounding out of control.
BUMPIN BUMPIN BY KREAYSHAWN
(THE SWEET SOUND OF NOTHING) RELEASED AUGUST 8
(MOSHI MOSHI) RELEASED ON APRIL 4
(HOUSE ANXIETY) RELEASED JUNE 20
MONICA GEMS BY THE HORRORS
With the exception of ‘Yonkers’, no track this year garnered the same kind of fevered attention as ‘Sweetest Touch’. The lead track from Gross Magic’s debut EP, ‘Teen Jamz’, Sam McGarrigle’s falsetto – sighed like a sex-struck teenager – is underpinned by a glam rock guitar riff so nagging it’s a wonder why it hasn’t been dreamed up already and a grunge bassline, which, okay, is straight from a How To Play Nirvana handbook. Regardless, Gross Magic are most likely to top OTW lists next month.
YONKERS BY TYLER, THE CREATOR
When asked if they are an item in interviews, Alice Costelloe and Kacey Underwood become shocked and appalled, which only makes the open wound of ‘Talk’ all the more impressive – either they’re both singing about other loves, or they should be thanking “The Academy”. Like the rest of the duo’s debut album, ‘Talk’ is made up of two guitars, two voices and nothing else but gutdeep emotion. There’s a million ways to say, “I love you”, but none quite like, “All I wanna do is talk, but seeing you fucks me up.”
HOOP OF LOVE BY DOMINANT LEGS
Brat rap, from Lady Sovereign to Ufﬁe, has forever been cooler than it is credible, and Kreayshawn only dials up the hip, from the YouTube phenomenon of ‘Gucci Gucci’ to her video work with Lil B and acquaintances with Odd Future. By comparison, ‘Bumpin Bumpin’ slipped out to less of a fanfare than, but it also proved the 21-year-old Oaklander to be more than a marketable face for obnoxious hip-pop. With a phoned-in intro, the simplest of beats and plenty of auto-tune, it featured all of the best pop tricks of 2011.
ON THE RUN BY CEREBRAL BALLZY
(XL) RELEASED JULY 11
(XL) RELEASED FEBRUARY 14
(LEFSE) RELEASED SEPTEMBER 5
It seemed odd that while The Horrors’ third album, ‘Skying’, saw them further embraced by the mainstream most latched onto ‘Still Life’ rather than the far more digestable ‘Monica Gems’. Sure, it didn’t receive its own release, but while most fawned over the band’s new love for Simple Minds and Ride, at the other end of the album The Horrors impression of Suede was too audaciously uncanny to ignore. Foppish guitar and vocal bends, The Horrors do Britpop would be their best album yet.
(LOUD AND QUIET) RELEASED: OCTOBER 10
This year we were so taken by we offered to release their debut single ourselves. Backed by the marginally more upbeat ‘Tessellate’, ‘Bloodﬂood’ was as sophisticated as The xx, as musically astute as ‘In Rainbows’ era Radiohead and cinematic enough to sell you shit ﬂavoured chewing gum. It remains a record that seems to get slower and more considered with every listen, as Joe Newman softly squeals and the rest of the band yawn into life. A meticulously placed, strikingly patient debut.
Jeymes Samuel’s highly ambitious Bullitts project began with a debut single full of all manner of aspirational ingredients. It starts with A-list Hollywood sass-stress Lucy Liu, plucked from nowhere to introduce us to the project’s concept (a warped tale of blood-thirsty revenge at the hands of Liu’s character, Amelia Sparks) as she purrs her narration over the intro. Mix into that a couple of cool-as-coleslaw bars from Jay Electronica – the New Orleans rapper freshly signed by Jay-Z and trumpeted as the future of hip hop – and Samuel himself, who delivers a sumptuous baritone soul melody swiped from the lips of Mary Poppins. It made for a brilliantly bizarre introduction to a dark, violent, captivating world; a melodramatic trailer for a murderous hip-hop soap opera.
With the hype surrounding Odd Future reaching boiling point, it was the release of ‘Yonkers’ that shifted expectation off of the OFWKTA collective and onto primary beat maker Tyler, The Creator. By constructing a hauntingly minimal backdrop and mixing it with some sinister lyrics that include disses of both B.O.B. and Bruno Mars, Tyler crafted a tune that made those hyperbolic “this decades Dre” comments temporarily make sense. It’s little wonder that at its peak it was receiving over 100k views on YouTube, daily.
Anyone can listen to Joy Division, buy a guitar and get lonely with the music; writing a straight-up joyful pop song that doesn’t sound like it belongs on CBeebies is a real challenge. With ‘Hoop of Love’ it’s one that Ryan Lynch (of the genetically similar Girls) faced and conquered with the power of white funk, jangling disco guitars and besotted backing vocals from Hannah Hunt. Imagine if you liked Maroon 5 with good reason. It’s tough, isn’t it, a lot like writing a song this giddy yet heartfelt.
RELEASED AUGUST 1
Cerebral Ballzy won’t be caught, partly because they play their hardcore punk at an unfeasibly fast pace and partly because you wouldn’t want to catch them anyway. It’s like running after a shitty stick. These dudes are scumbags, so as singer Honor Titus bitches, “Catch me, if you can, on the run, on the run,” you kinda think, nah, you’re alright. Still, it got the band’s shred-heavy debut album off to a suitably confrontational start and remains the best track to transform your folding bike into a gnarly BMX.
REVIEWS BY: NATHAN WESTLEY / OMAR TANTI / STUART STUBBS
GIGS OF THE YEAR
PORTISHEAD ALEXANDRA PALACE, LONDON 24/07/11 -----
With 90s reunions now a permanent ﬁxture on the giggoing calendar, it’s surprisingly easy to forget that Portishead were contemporaries of recent hatchet-buriers Blur, Pulp and the Roses. That surprise is not just down to a startlingly confrontational and beautiful comeback album, but also to performances like they gave on two sunny days back in July that were just as forward-looking as their new recordings. It’s not that they shun the classics – indeed, half of their crashingly loud performance comprised of songs older than some audience members – but that they play with such conﬁdence and taut aggression that they feel as relevant as a new band, with all the urgency and self-belief that brings with it. Among the crash, grind and whirr generated by their selection of acts at their Ally Pally extravaganza, their headline performance shone pure, crystalline and impressively aggressive. SW
PHOTOGRAPHY: INMA VARANDELA / SHOT2BITS
AT BRIXTON ACADEMY, BRIXTON, LONDON
PULP PRIMAVERA SOUND PARC DEL FORUM, BARCELONA, SPAIN 27/05/11 -----
The usual rules never applied much to Pulp – a band so stubborn and idealistic that it took them 16 years to have a hit. At the ﬁrst of their reunion shows they landed every cliché discerning indie bands strain to avoid, from their stadium rock entrance (signalled by slowly illuminated P U L P strip club lights) to beginning their opening number from behind a black curtain. The ﬁrst chorus hits, the veil drops, Jarvis Cocker springs to life atop a box, lights light, the people of Barcelona freak out. Even the temptation to start with ‘Do You Remember The First Time?’ proved too much for the band. It was corny and knowing and, at the hands of Pulp, completely brilliant, not least because Cocker then continued to posture, point and pout for two hours as if he’d been cryogenically frozen since 1994, grey around the temples but full of the vigour of a twenty-something speed-freak. With the exception of ‘Mis-Shapes’, the band played every track from ‘Different Class’, the best bits from ‘His’n’Hers’ – including a perversely huffed ‘Pink Glove’ – ‘This Is Hardcore’ and ‘Razzmatazz’. ‘Common People’ was dedicated to local protestors who were that day violently beaten by Barcelona’s police force and there was even time to assist a boy’s proposal to his girlfriend halfway through ‘I Spy’. Pulp’s amicable split made their reunion less vulgar than others; what made their Primavera show so impressive was not just the songs but how they were delivered without snide glances through eyes blinded by pound signs. If The Stone Roses’ comeback carries half the energy, it might not be totally horrible after all. SS
DEATH FROM ABOVE 1979
AT BEAUTY BAR, SXSW, AUSTIN, TEXAS 19/03/11
AT THE SCALA, KINGS CROSS, LONDON 27/04/11
In a question of the concert hall or the living room, the music of Beirut seems almost deﬁnitely more suited to the latter. A warm, syrupy melee of Balkan horns and crooned vocals, it’s music for tea-supping, not beer-spilling, and Zach Condon clearly agrees – he’s long battled stage fright since the release of ‘Gulag Orkestar’ in 2006. Expecting little more than a nervy man in an uncomfortable space, what we got was an overwhelming swell of euphoric brass. Of course Beirut is suited to the concert hall – he brings with him a mini orchestra of golden piped instruments. The space remained uncomfortable, and Condon has hardly leapt from his shell to promote this year’s ‘The Rip Tide’, but after being transﬁxed by the re-imagined sounds of southeast Europe for 90 minutes it was hard to want to leave, and when you’re willing to trade your home for Brixton Academy, something’s up. SS
Certain gigs go down in history as being legendary, others are praised and then swiftly wilt away from memory. For the 200 or so bodies witnessing what occurred in this bar’s courtyard, it would be one that is neither forgotten nor topped. A listing in the schedule that read ‘Special Guests – Toronto, Canada’ gave a clue as to who the unannounced headliner would be and although ‘rehearsal’ footage had surfaced in the days prior, there was still a little doubt beforehand whether DFA 1979 would appear for their ﬁrst gig since reforming. What ensued was a riotous, ﬁercely heavy set of songs from their debut and only album ‘You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine’. As audience’s limbs ﬂailed and songs sprinted by, things descended into such a force that riot police on horseback had to be called to tame the evergrowing hostile crowd outside. Gigs are rarely so chaotic. NW
The unlikely pairing of classically trained Canadian Rachel Zefﬁra and garage rock delinquent Faris Badwan bore an excellent self-titled record of Joe Meek-ish pop in April. At the Scala, The Horrors frontman stood like a leather jacket on a wire hanger, barely acknowledging the musicians around him as he solemnly shrugged off the attention. “I never had trouble getting girls I don’t need,” he taunted, while Zefﬁra sat by her keys with her back to him. But sometimes it’s the simplest words that pack the toughest punch. On ‘I’m Not Stupid’, her voice was unadorned and painfully self-critical: “I know I’m not the prettiest girl,” she lied, “I can see she’s better than me.” Our throats went tight, there was something in our eyes, and ﬁddling with our plastic cups as the song ended we spied the girl in front trying not to look like she was wiping a tear from her cheek. CR
BOOKS OF YEAR
02. PARADOXICAL UNDRESSING BY KRISTIN HERSH (ATLANTIC) -----
As this issue of Loud And Quiet strongly attests, we’re ones for lists, but we’ve never broached the archaic and all-too-often-published ‘Women in Rock’ poll. When others have, a vast majority of them neglect to mention Pauline Black, lead singer of seminal Coventry ska band The Selecter. Although hardly a bestseller, Black’s autobiography was full of enough gumption to rectify this fact with anyone who picked it up, by telling the story of a mixed race child brought up in a white household who went on to front a platinum-selling, racially diverse and politically astute band (remember them?) that spent two years at the forefront of a pop movement whose inﬂuence is still keenly felt today. Set against the backdrop of Thatcherism, racial tension and civil unease, the rise of the 2-Tone label is ripe for the telling now, especially when you consider that thirty years on it feels like an alarming amount hasn’t changed an awful lot. It’s another reason why Black By Design was a fascinating and heartfelt book from an underrated and inspiring icon.
03. MEMBERS ONLY: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF PAUL RAYMOND BY PAUL WILLETTS (BITEBACK) -----
Founder of 80s art-rock indie stalwarts Throwing Muses, Kristin Hersh this year offered a new spin on the rock memoir by concentrating on the events that unfolded over a single year when she was just eighteen. By then, Hersh had already been performing for four years, grown up on a hippie commune, lived in a car and taken tea with Allen Ginsberg. She had a busy year, clocking up a nervous breakdown, signing a record deal, giving birth to her ﬁrst child, being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, forging a ﬁrm friendship with old Hollywood royalty and attempting suicide. These events are rendered with the beneﬁt of hindsight from a calmer, more stable place and the result made for a heartwarming and occasionally brave book, far beyond the typical, “man, I was so wasted…” autobiography.
Paul Raymond enjoyed an edgy notoriety for four decades due to the fact that, besides being a proliﬁc pornographer, he owned the renowned strip club Raymond’s Revue Bar: the garish beating heart at the centre of sex-shop Soho that played host to Frank Sinatra, The Beatles and Ronnie and Reggie Kray. Raymond was of the old school; a lad who originally arrived from Liverpool with ﬁve bob in his pocket and ﬁnished up hitting Soho by night dressed to impress in a fur coat and gold jewellery, with his latest showgirl in tow. Raymond’s ﬁnal days, loneliness, coke-induced paranoia and unimaginable wealth are dealt with without judgement here and as diligently researched and evocatively drawn as the rest of the book.
04. HATE: MY LIFE IN THE BRITISH FAR RIGHT BY MATTHEW COLLINS
05. TWISTING MY MELON. THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY BY SHAUN RYDER
As a young man Matthew Collins became involved in radical, violent, extreme right-wing politics. As an active member of the National Front and then the BNP he saw the Far Right in action close up and did what anyone in their right mind would do. He switched sides. Rather than exit the scene completely, Collins remained at its heart and passed on all of the movement’s dirty little secrets to someone who could do something about it. Once it became clear that Collins was selling out his old allies he had to make a run for it for ten long years before he could come back and ﬁght them head on, full time. Hate… was the year’s most chilling book, and a timely examination of how the twisted ‘characters’ who make up the extreme right wing operate.
BLACK BY DESIGN: A 2-TONE MEMOIR BY PAULINE BLACK
MUSIC IN THE YEAR 2011: IT WASN’T ALL “LIAM THREW A PLUM AT ME,” Y’KNOW.
The life and times of Happy Mondays nutter Shaun Ryder has long been ripe for an autobiography, and ﬁnally, in 2011, it arrived. A man who’s “been addicted to crack cocaine in Barbados and gone cold turkey in Burnley”, and who’s soundtracked a genuine cultural revolution, Ryder has some stories to tell. It wasn’t surprising that Twisting My Melon was an often funny and always entertaining memoir as its author plots his journey from dealing pills to Hacienda revellers to roughing it in the I’m a Celebrity jungle. Best of all, he shied away from nothing – the Mondays eventual and perhaps inevitable acrimonious split is covered in detail, as is the singer’s long and hard fought battle with hard drugs. As if we ever needed proof that most of our current indie pop-stars are a little dull by comparison...
Like any other year, the smooth came with its fair share of rough. Certain disappointments have become so cyclical and unwavering they’ve become calendar landmarks that we can no longer do without – your friends will always surprise you with how many of them watch X Factor; The Strokes will never make another good record. Others leave us feeling cheated and stupid, like the hoards of albums we eagerly anticipate before they prove to be as appealing as a game of Name That B-side round Lou Reed’s house. A repeat offender, Reed upset us twice this year, ﬁrst at Hop Farm Festival where he sabotaged his own greatest hits set by forgetting to play any of his greatest hits (or at least not in time or tune), and then again with his and Metallica’s wankus opus ‘Lulu’, which, let’s face it, was only going to be any good if…well…no...tell us. Tyler, The Creator’s ‘Goblin’, Justice’s long awaited but longingly ungnarly ‘Video, Audio, Disco’, another sluggish Arctic Monkeys album – they all had us marking our diaries and wasting good ink. What was the point? Odd Future, for all their goofy hysteria and “swag!” chants, didn’t even release an album together; Kanye West and Jay-Z’s ‘Watch The Throne’ was almost spiteful in how lazily it was slapped together, the pair of them grossly aware that we’ll buy anything with their names on anyway, so a milked dry Otis Reading sample and a completely uninspiring Beyonce guest spot will do. And then The Stone Roses reformed. Shit. So ‘Lulu’ was not the worst idea since Go Compare. For some, the Roses are the most overrated band of a generation, but not for us. Their eponymous debut album is a masterpiece of its time, but its time was 1989. It’s certainly about time they got paid, and sure, the reconciliation of Ian Brown and John Squire is touching even for non believers, but Brown has always been a bastion of honour; a man who appreciates the legacy of a band as culturally signiﬁcant as his, with a concise and contained history, if not pristine and more than a little ugly at the end. Implosion is rock’n’roll’s cryogenic preservation, and now the Roses are to be thawed out and plonked in a world where they don’t belong, or worse, one where they do. At their reunion press conference, drummer Reni – who spent the whole thing covering his arse, moaning about his age and seemingly at odds with the idea of playing music again – said, “U2 are wonderful. ‘One’ made me cry.” He wasn’t even joking. For crying out loud.
BOOK REVIEWS BY LEE AND JANINE BULLMAN
M Y 2 0 1 1
E M A
IT’S BEEN A HELL OF A YEAR AND ERIKA M. ANDERSON DOESN’T EVEN KNOW IT photographer – GUILLERMO HERNANDEZ For most of us, the entry point for the legend of EMA began with single ‘California’ and its devastated, drawnout, you-don’t-understand-me-so-don’t-even-try video.The world watched as the woman born Erika M. Anderson unravelled herself through crucial poetry, we all fell in love because we’ve never seen it articulated so well – her issues, her struggles, and her angst became shared with her listeners, and so the cult was born. Of course, sitting across from me on a bench outside a soon-to-be-closed Austin club, she couldn’t really be bothered about that stuff. The fact that people care, the fact that people who write for magazines want to talk to her leaves her casually conversational – perhaps she’s used to the blitzkrieg, but it earnestly feels like she hasn’t been paying much attention. Ms. Anderson is who she is, a skinny blonde girl from South Dakota with limbs a little too long for her body and a few stories to tell. She almost looks embarrassed when I mention the lyrics, or even call it “poetry”. She never holds eye contact for long. “I’ve had a great 2011,” she says. “I mean, the record came out, that was big, and I’ve been travelling a ton and everything still feels new and fresh.” She doesn’t mention the acclaim; in fact throughout our entire talk she scarcely even acknowledges success. When I ask her about how this tour compares to her previous excursions, she doesn’t talk about it like it’s a revolution. “It’s cool to have sound,” she says. “It’s cool to be pretty sure you’re going to get paid, but y’know, you miss the warehouse show community.We played a show in San Francisco and the noise kids didn’t show up, which was a shame.” EMA is a child of house-show egalitarianism – the way she talks about her days as a DIY staple (in drone folk band Gowns), she almost feels guilty for leaving it behind. She talks about learning how to set up amps in a forgotten ﬂoorspace like an all-important moment of musical adaptability. She likes where it is, but 2011 might be the year where she left a life behind.
writer – LUKE WINKIE
“The record was intrinsically motivated,” she says, after a deep breath. “I was making it for myself, I didn’t have anything to lose, I always thought that it could be good. It’s deﬁnitely different to a lot of music that gets popular. I just made the record that I wanted to make.” That simple truth is what elevates ‘Past Life Martyred Saints’ to something beautifully rich. The songs – the dark, depressing, soul-shuttering songs – are bled into the tape. A psychotic rant, a soothsaying suicide, a hopeless lullaby, a mantra of relationship abuse, an original story – these are the days of the life of Erika M. Anderson. By the time the ﬁnal track,‘Red Star’, runs its course with an earth-quaking “If you don’t love me someone will” she’s already loaded ballsier, emotional gravitas into 37 minutes than most artists can hope for in a career. The record she wanted to make turned out to be the record the world needed to hear. It created a narrative. We ﬁnd a surrogate life in her plights and triumphs from a small-town beginning. “It was weird when I moved away in the ﬁrst place because I was separating myself, but I’ve been back there last summer, and I do have a picture of Steven and Andrew [both name-check in ‘California’] outside of a bar. I don’t think they really care or understand.” I ask her if South Dakota is really that isolated. “In a lot of ways, yeah.” South Dakota is located at the tip-top of the American Midwest, predominately known for being one of the least populous states in the union and far away from any leftist chic. Not exactly the place for rock music. “It used to really trip me out when I’d return from California. There’s a much bigger class difference – I have something like an existential crisis.” California is the place where Erika became EMA and came up with the now legendary “Fuck California /you made me boring” on a bike-ride home, somewhere in Oakland. It’s where a lot of the germs for these songs emerged, at that place in America were the continent ends and dreams are allegedly born. But none of those ragged sentiments were with her in the daytime. Erika is
a remarkably well-adjusted person for what she often sings about. “I come from the Scandinavian Midwest, people don’t talk about deep shit,” she says with a smile.“But we do get drunk and get wild.You think of us as really mildmannered people, and what’s our primary musical export? Black Metal!” The catharsis we feel in lines like “I wish that every time he touched me left a mark” intrigue Anderson just as much – “Sometimes I write things and think, ‘oh my god, can I say this?’, but I think that’s a good reaction.” Revealing herself is something that seems to come quite naturally. Erika is willing to explain the tiniest curiosities behind her songs. If the EMA project hasn’t responded to the scrutiny, it’s certainly responded to the interest. She’s in a peculiar place, offering an unabashed, unafraid glimpse into her dark sides, and dealing with the obvious ramiﬁcations. “Oh god, my mom, she told me we needed to talk about some things – that’s not going to happen. My grandma pretends she can’t understand what I’m saying.” Towards the end of our chat Erika tells me how she thinks there’s some humour to ‘Past Life Martyred Saints’, how the darkness she’s assigned isn’t exactly intentional.We get onto the topic of image and character and she mentions that there always might be a division between who she is on stage and who she is in a conversation.“There’s always going to be part of me that wants to get into something a little scary,” she says. “I’m gonna be nice when I meet people, but I also want to break this fucking guitar.” I don’t thinkAnderson herself has quite comprehended her place in all this, the cultural penetration of EMA. You could say she might be misunderstood. A record like ‘Past Life…’ has a certain ﬁnite feel to it, a selfcontained exploration of a vast story for a character more than a human. Even after a half-hour chat with the woman, it’s clear she’s not comfortable with this notion. 2011 seems to not be the year of EMA, but rather the beginning of Erika M. Anderson.
09. GHOSTPOET PEANUT BUTTER BLUES & MELANCHOLY JAM (BROWNSWOOD) RELEASED: FEBRUARY 7
PHOTOGRAPHY: GABRIEL GREEN
TOM VEK LEISURE SEIZURE (ISLAND) RELEASED: JUNE 6 -----
Of our top 20 albums of 2011 Ghostpoet’s debut was released the earliest, and time has served ‘Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam’ well. A British hip-hop record that hangs on Obaro Ejimiwe’s mumbled prose and hazy, downbeat electronics, it slowly seduced even the Mercury Prize into giving it a deserved nod by the time we reached September, offering a far more modest view of urban living than the bombastic, slick Tinie Tempah, who also made the prize’s shortlist. If the hook of ‘Survive It’ (“No, no, no, no, n-n-no, ain’t got a licence to kill like double O/I just wanna live life and survive it”) didn’t say it all, ‘I Just Don’t Know’ did as Ejimiwe professed: “Other MCs want to rap about crime but that ain’t me lets talk about laughter”. Ghostpoet was proudly normal, he was just telling us so on an extraordinary sounding record, inspired by electronic pop music and spoken word, and made all the more special for its lack of bravado. SS
It was, for so many years, like being a cameraman on the BBC’s Planet Earth – patiently, never-endingly, waiting for a glimpse of the rarest animal. But... nothing. In truth, we’d all but chucked in the towel on the hope of a follow-up to 2005’s ‘We Have Sound’, tired of being teased by stories about Vek being ﬂeetingly spotted in east London studios, splashing around in Victoria Park lido or, on one occasion, buying a KitKat in Costcutters. We dined on every morsel which suggested that a.) that he was still alive. and b.) he might – just might – be making some new music. And then it arrived, like some kind of comet born of another planet. Six months on, even after the initial glee of just hearing something fresh from the sound-scientist has settled, ‘Leisure Seizure’ still stands strong. ‘Hold Your Hand’, ‘Aroused’, ‘A Chore’ and ‘A.P.O.L.O.G.Y’ are all classic sounding Vek – trademark wah-pang drums, needle-eye synths and his hound-dog delivery. It’s a testament to his originality that after more than half a decade away still no one else sounds remotely like him. We’d be lying if we said ‘Leisure Seizure’ was perfect. There’s the odd duffer (namely the slower ‘World Of Doubt’ and ‘Seizemic’), but the rest – pulling in Rhinana bass and truly original drums – made for the smartest pop record around. OT
07. SHABAZZ PALACES BLACK UP
06. TUNE-YARDS W H O K I L L
05. SBTRKT SBTRKT
(SUB POP) RELEASED: JULY 11
(4AD) RELEASED: APRIL 18
(YOUNG TURKS) RELEASED: JUNE 27
In a year where Tyler, The Creator and the rest of the Odd Future crew have been largely stealing the headlines, Shabazz Palaces stood as the media-shy ﬂipside who mysteriously appeared and slowly drew attention with a series of sonically adventurous laid back vibes that wriggled with the inventiveness of Flying Lotus. At the helm was Palaceer Lazaro, perhaps better known as Ishmael ‘Butterﬂy’ Butler of the Grammy winning 90s outﬁt Digable Planets, but Shabazz Palaces are not a collective that are largely accustomed with bling culture, nor are they schooled in spouting lines of braggadocio aimlessly. Instead they stand out as being the antithesis of commercial hip hop and with ‘Black Up’ they crafted a record that alternative hip-hop connoisseurs fell heavily for. With this album, Shabbazz Palaces can boast the grand accolade of being the ﬁrst hip hop group to release an album on highly acclaimed Seattle label Sup Pop; they can also boast having released one of the hip hop albums of the year. NW
Arriving in an unexpected ﬂurry of excitement in April, the second album from power-lunged anti-pop pixie Merrill Garbus took a running leap from the unadorned bedroom lo-ﬁ of her debut ‘BiRd-BrAiNs’. Blending multi-layered vocals, skronk saxophone, highlife ukulele and African rhythm, ‘w h o k i l l’ was a spasmodic, cacophonous record that laughs in the face of convention, gleefully skewering song structures and revelling in the freeform mashing of picked strings, looped vocals and rich harmonies. Recalling the odd-pop of ESG, Animal Collective or Micachu, at times there was barely enough tape reel to contain Garbus’ relentless ﬂow of ideas and impatient switch-ups, yet she’s never less than assured and effortless, with her idiosyncratic voice deftly leaping from downlow to up-high in a fractious trill that’s no studio trickery. A vital record that stood apart from anything else released this year, and with a quietly throbbing political heart underneath the blustering riffs. CR
The scarcity of interviews combined with press shots of him looking like an Amazonian Burial made the illusive SBTRKT an intriguing prospect right from 2011’s getgo. Gladly, the tribal image didn’t end up masking the man’s talent. Twelve months on, London producer Aaron Jerome has Drake tweeting about him, artists clambering over each other for his remixes and a sold-out US tour. It’s all down to this, his debut album – an exceptional experiment in electronica. Most impressively, it’s an LP that both conjures the 4am fear of concrete suburbia and the feeling of coming up at sunrise at your favourite festival. An envious mix of R&B, 2-step and glitch. The crackling vocals of guests Sampha, Jessie Ware and Roses Gabor are this cake’s real icing though, promoting a record that’s inventive in sound to one that’s truly soulful. How it failed to capture the imaginations of this year’s Mercury Prize panel is beyond us, but at least the monster-brain behind the mask is already working on the follow-up. OT
04. EMA PAST LIFE MARTYRED SAINTS (SOUTERRAIN TRANSMISSIONS) RELEASED: MAY 9 -----
Erika M. Anderson is many things on ‘Past Life Martyred Saints’ – a Scandinavian arriving towards a new home, a furiously confused northerner trying to comprehend her place on the west coast, a drug-addled manic-depressive psychopath, a girlfriend abused into schizophrenia, the only one who knew the suicide was coming. All dark tales emerging from a dark bank of memories, the record spares no details in the poetry, and unleashing such devastatingly true statements you wonder how she kept them in for so long. This is not a pretty album, but it’s beautiful in its genuineness. Rarely does a character so deﬁned, so sympathetic as EMA emerge over the course of a single LP. Even without a contextual introduction you ﬁnd yourself rooting for her, and while plenty of albums deal with heady themes, or sadness, or breakups, or even death, Anderson’s tale feels different. ‘Past Life...’ is the sound of someone writing songs before they consume them whole. LW
SMITH WESTERNS DYE IT BLONDE (DOMINO) RELEASED: MAY 2 -----
BON IVER BON IVER (4AD) RELEASED: JUNE 20
From the dusty old space of a log cabin in the outskirts of Wisconsin, to a disused veterinary practice in Fall Creek, WI – the choice recording spots for Bon Iver – the uninhibited sound of Justin Vernon’s music-making process always shines through, whether it’s in the sparse, acoustic echoes of debut album ‘For Emma, Forever Ago’ or the cluttered but beautiful soundscapes of this 2011 eponymous release, which knocked everyone for six. It was probably the one record to come out this year that everyone who heard it felt the need to tell all their friends about. It was certainly difﬁcult to ignore when all sides of the music press were screaming Bon Iver at you too, but all the commotion was justiﬁed. By combining his folk roots with two drum kits, multitracked vocals, the odd bicycle bell and more brass instruments than a marching band, Vernon birthed a unique sonic child that hinted at the soul of TV On The Radio in the singing and has done nothing but skyrocket, taking Vernon and his band around the world, including a two-night sold out stint at London’s Hammersmith Apollo in October. The melancholy that hangs in Vernon’s voice is strangely uplifting, drawing you in even though half the time you can’t understand what he’s saying. A quick glance at the lyrics sheet shows a jumbled collection of poetic lines that don’t make much sense together, but the thing about Bon Iver is they’re an experience overall, rather than a band of individual qualities. This is probably why live they perform the album in order. It seems like a boring choice, but why mess with something so reﬁned? It was the gentle, orchestral folk progressions that originally stood out and it’s those same distinctive reverberations that’ll keep us coming back. DKG
PHOTOGRAPHY: TOM COCKRAM
Other than the fact that it ousted Smith Westerns’ eponymous debut album for the amateur hour it was, there was nothing overly smart about this year’s ‘Dye It Blonde’. It wasn’t an album to furrow the brow to, or discuss even. It was what it was: a record of extremely accessible, woolly indie anthems, made by three T-Rex-obsessed kids from Chicago who also like a bit of what Noel Gallagher’s early songs had going for them. The basement-recorded ‘Smith Westerns’ (released in 2009) buried the band deep within the lo-ﬁ set, seemingly inspired by nothing but the glam rock of Marc Bolan and recorded on a dime. It sounded like crap, but unlike many of their peers who embrace the scuzz punk aesthetic, Smith Westerns never wanted to be a hip DIY garage band, and once they had the chance to record in a studio they decided to make ‘Dye It Blonde’ sound as produced as they could. “We wanted to get away from that lo-ﬁ thing immediately,” guitarist Max Kakacek told us in April. With the luxury of the studio also came inspiration from more past greats, like the mid-70s work of John Lennon, David Bowie, Oasis and Queen. No wonder ‘Dye It Blonde’ wound up sounding so hi-ﬁ and commercial. And while we should have tired long ago of songs as enviably youthful and hookheavy as ‘Weekend’ and ‘Imagine Pt. 3’, we haven’t, because ‘Dye It Blonde’ is the best guitar pop album of 2011. SS
01 PJ HARVEY LET ENGLAND SHAKE (ISLAND) RELEASED: FEBRUARY 14
Let England Shake’ has become such a symbolic record over the past 11 months that at times it’s difﬁcult to remember that it was, ﬁrst and foremost, a piece of music. After all, in the year of the Arab Spring and escalating crisis of conﬁdence in the West’s economic supremacy, PJ Harvey’s paean to the horror of the First World War, and the questions it posed about the developed world’s state of civilisation, became an almost uncomfortably apt soundtrack. The album has assumed importance almost by accident of release date – despite being written over the past ﬁve years, here we suddenly had one of the UK’s most consistently thoughtful, creative and distinctive voices delivering a state-of-the-nation address when it was most needed. Accordingly, during the course of its promotion, Harvey performed its songs in front of two different Prime Ministers on Andrew Marr’s Sunday sofa; coincidentally, it was released on the very same day that Hosni Mubarak’s Egyptian government was overthrown. ‘Let England Shake’’s symbolism makes it an important album. What makes it our album of the year, though, is that it’s also a brilliant piece of music. For a start it’s curiously accessible – curious, that is, for a record heavy on the death and destruction themes and from a woman whose back catalogue has a penchant for atonal string quartet arrangements and production advice from Captain Beefheart. But where previous PJ Harvey albums have been easier to admire than to love, ‘Let England Shake’ is a joy: from the
dive-straight-in opening bars of the title track, there are earworms aplenty, delicately swooping melodies and epic, evocative guitars. It’s also a deeply immersive record, in which Harvey uses musical devices as well as lyrics to tell her stories – the lone trumpeter on ‘The Glorious Land’, out of both tune and time, blasting a battle cry while the rest of the track soldiers on is a spine-tingling and inspired metaphor for the oblivion of war. But while ‘Let England Shake’ is undeniably a record with serious things to say, it saves itself from over-earnestness by also being almost ghoulishly witty from time to time. When Harvey borrows Eddie Cochran’s ‘Summertime Blues’ for the coda of ‘The Words That Maketh Murder’, the album’s most gruesome song, the question of, “what if I take my problems to the United Nations” abruptly dislocates the line from its throwaway origins. Equally, the use of an addictively funky ska track to underpin ‘Written on the Forehead’’s bleak story of a city under siege is deliciously macabre, and, crucially, lifts the record’s mood ahead of its ﬁnal funeral march. And it’s this sort of versatility that is ‘Let England Shake’s true triumph. While the album has won deserved praise throughout the year for being the “deﬁnitive war album” – a sort of musical companion to Wilfred Owen’s poetry or Apocalypse Now – and may be remembered as such in the future, it should not be forgotten what a richly complex, diverse and bold musical achievement it is too. SW
RE DEC VI 11 EWS AL BUMS 01 02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25
Bosco Delrey Clean George IV Corridor Dan Mangan Eleanor Friedberger Emmy The Great & Tim Wheeler Fairewell Favourite Sons Frank Alpine Gentle Friendly Kate Bush Los Campesinos! Mark Sultan Mickey Moonlight Mint Julep Peepholes Seekae She & Him The Juan Maclean The Men The Sound of Arrows The Spits Thee Oh Sees White Ring White Town
LIVE 01 02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09 10 11 12 13
2:54 Azari & Ill British Sea Power Constellations Festival Doom & Ghostface Killa Flamingods Gotye Hudson Mohawke Pure X Real Estate The Horrors The Maccabees Theme Park
Kate Bush 50 Words For Snow (Fish People) By Chal Ravens. In stores Nov 21
We wait forever for a Kate Bush album, so of course two come along at once. After the odd rehashing of old material on ‘Director’s Cut’, a surprise Christmas gift of seven new tracks has appeared in our stocking. Given that Bush appears to be one of the most genuine and least cynical pop stars around, the idea that this shock-and-awe approach to album release schedules could be a contrivance to muster maximum media impact isn’t a pleasant one, but it all seems very cleverly played. Still, any cynicism is shot to pieces after hearing ‘50 Words For Snow’, an album dealing in suitably cold and wintry themes: icy precipitation in its various forms; humankind’s relationship with wild, irrational nature; and attempts at love in the face of chaos and loss. ‘Snowﬂake’ casts Bush’s young son as the title ‘character’ drifting down from the sky, partly
sung and partly spoken in the cloying voice of a just-pubescent English boy. His mother interjects in a sweet but slightly icky expression of their maternal bond (“The world is so round, keep falling, I’ll ﬁnd you”). ‘Lake Tahoe’ and ‘Misty’ use a similar palette of skeletal piano phrases, brushed drums, and strangely syntheticsounding string ﬂurries in structures more narrative than musical – all three top 10 minutes. ‘Misty’ is the one about shagging a snowman, by the way. Bonkers on the page, brilliant in your ears, even when she sings, “I can feel him melting in my hands.” The single ‘Wild Man’ is the most immediate, despite its spoken verses and creepy dual-voice chorus. Lyrical loopiness continues, with the abominable snowman as the subject: “Lying in my tent, I can hear your cry echoing round the mountainside, you sound lonely.” But the strongest song on the album – and I can’t quite believe I’m putting this to paper – is ‘Snowed in at Wheeler Street’, the achingly raw duet with Elton John, playing lovers torn apart across the centuries. “Come with me, I’ll ﬁnd
some rope, I’ll tie us together/ I’ve been waiting for you so long, I don’t want to lose you again,” she sings over a twisting horn pattern like a Steve Reich offcut. It’s painfully heartfelt and quite chilling. Then there’s the really batty one, the title track, with Bush cracking the whip on the lazily erudite voice of Stephen Fry. “C’mon man, you got 44 to go!” she urges, while Fry nonchalantly proffers his words for snow, from the sublime (‘stellar tundra’) to the ridiculous (‘phlegm de neige’). ‘Among Angels’ provides a sense of enclosure after an unpredictable second half but, weirdly, begins with a bum chord and a clipped “sorry”. A strange mistake on such a wellcrafted album? With pressure to produce a classic after so many years away, perhaps admitting a tiny error allows Bush to shirk the weight of expectation by making the ﬁrst move. ‘50 Words For Snow’ delicately negotiates its status, never shying from the artistic convictions of its creator, but still careful to put us at ease with her singular talent. Sometimes the genius has to play dumb so as not to scare off the simpletons.
The Juan Maclean
Everybody Get Close
(Weird) By Polly Rappaport. In stores now
By Matthias Scherer. In stores Dec 5
By Daniel Dylan Wray. In stores Dec 5
(Merge) By Sam Walton. In stores now
...And The Time Axis Manipulation Corporation
The title of Michael Quinn’s new album is apparently a tribute to artists who never experienced recognition while they were still active – think Igor Stravinsky and the Velvets.Whether Quinn sees himself in their tradition is unknown, but his music deﬁnitely incorporates elements from genres that are considered an acquired taste. ‘Real Late’ is a cross between gloomy kraut rock, jangly indie, some classical instruments and the gentler end of noise/drone – more The War on Drugs than Glenn Branca.When it succeeds, it’s impressive, such as in ‘Roam Room’, which starts out with a Spanish guitar intro before marching its way through a number of grandiose beats. His vocals are a half-croon half-mumble at the back of the mix, but there are enough interesting arrangements and moments of drama to make up for the overlong songs.
Synth enthusiasts must have been veritably jumping with joy of late (would a synth enthusiast do that sort of thing?).There’s been a deluge of synthesiser-based music – even erstwhile guitar punk bands have swapped their sound for something a bit more moody and retro. Now, out of sunny California stalks this Frank Alpine character, making sounds with such dark vibes they could probably blot out his native sunshine; his main weapon of choice, of course, the humble Casio keyboard. Alpine uses dance beats, dirge-like drone and organ lines that could have been plucked from B-Movie horror reels, David Lynch ﬁlms or vintage video games to concoct tracks that are part No Wave, part electro punk, and even a little krautroky, mainly due to the highly camp spoken vocals, chanting slogans such as, “my heart is grey”. Alpine is riding the synth wave,
This eleven-song collection of previously unreleased, new and remixed tracks stretches to a whopping seventy minutes, making listening to it feel more like a live DJ set. Fusing the very DFA-like sound of modern dancepunk with classic house via way of New York disco makes it a varying and expansive exploration into the world of electronic music, which at times can be a revelatory listen. ‘Human Disaster’ and its rominent piano keys is in many ways classically embedded, with its roots stretching from New York by way of Shefﬁeld and Chicago, yet somehow it still exudes a contemporary and progressive edge that shakes off any feeling of tacky nostalgia. Like all great artists who work in dance music, this surreptitiously nods to the past while still clearly sprinting into the future. DFA’s associations mid noughties aside, their time’s no up.
In Eleanor Friedberger’s main gig as frontwoman of Fiery Furnaces, she was accustomed to a recording pace that saw her band release nine albums in six years, a schedule that would leave even the most energetic bands short of breath. So perhaps it’s no surprise that ‘Last Summer’, Friedberger’s debut solo record, feels so much calmer. Sure, being calmer than a band known for its knotty restlessness might not be too much of an achievement, but the calmness here is a blessing: opener ‘My Mistakes’ has the kind of reassuring laid-back conﬁdence normally reserved for massive stars messing around in their studio, and ‘Roosevelt Island’ swaggers with a synthy funk redolent of the best of new-wave 80s pop. Laboured lyrical references occasionally interrupt the ﬂow, but otherwise ‘Last Summer’ is terriﬁcally cool pop performed with poise and a smile.
(Because/Ed Banger) By Chal Ravens. In stores Dec 5 Ed Banger have pitched a cometshaped curveball with this 16track, retro-futuristic voyage to the Solar System from the imagination of a 10-year-old Bowie fan circa 1973. Screw the cucumboid promise of London’s rotten ﬁnancial centre, screw Wills’n’Kate, screw ‘Jerusalem’ and ﬂag-waving and Pimms.This is the stuff that makes Britain great: an album for a Blake’s 7-meets-Brave New World future, featuring song titles like ‘Music for “Responsible Reprogenetics” Public Service Broadcast’ and an irresistibly deadpan bedroom-disco version of Sun Ra’s ‘Interplanetary Music’. It’s as mad as freeze-dried ice cream. Onboard you’ll ﬁnd the sad, shy soul of Hot Chip, tender Balearic pulsars and the kind of curiously prosaic sci-ﬁ lately heard from Neon Neon.The thing just radiates ramshackle charm.
White Ring Black Earth That Made Me (Rocket Girl) By Stuart Stubbs. In stores Nov 21
New York duo White Ring are middle America’s dream and nightmare. Next time there’s a high school shooting, they’ll get the blame. Opening track ‘IxC99’ even uses gunﬁre and the rattling click of rounds being reloaded as a percussive instrument, while the swathes of electronics that make up this debut mini album are constantly in the red, clearly inspired black metal and cursed industrial techno.Then there’s the fact that the twosome screech from the altar of a genre called witch house, their Blair Witch-mocking imagery could be taken as sacrilegious by the humourless and the vocals of Kendra Malia deﬁne subliminal, whispered in your ear and saying anything you like, from “kill everyone” to “buy milk”. You call the Tea Party; we’ll let Marilyn Manson know he’s off the hook. For sane folk, ‘Black Earth...’ is thrilling for all of these melodramatically haunting qualities and more. Fantastically dark as it fuses slo-mo hip-hop and distorted trance its scare comes in how seductive it is.
AL BUMS 07/10
The Sound of Arrows
Whatever I Want
(In The Red)
(Low Rent Recordings) By Chris Watkeys. In stores now
(Upset The Rhythm) By Dannny Canter. In stores now
By Nathan Westley. In stores Nov 21
By Reef Younis. In stores Nov 21
By Sam Walton. In stores Dec 5
A long lasting member of the American garage rock scene since the late Eighties, Mark Sultan has cooked up a hotpot of a new album that is rich in the type of classically brash rock’n’roll, ﬁfties doo-wop and rockabilly that helped inﬂuence and spawn the early 21st century revival. Opener ‘Axis Abraxas’ kicks this record down a path that takes the sound of a less clean cut Buddy Holly and brieﬂy introduces it to the melodic stylings of the Beach Boys, before it’s lead astray and down a dirtier path that vivaciously twists and turns through Modern Lovers proto-punk rhythms as on ‘Never Coming Home’, swings with Velvet Underground dynamics on ‘Graveyard Eyes’ and the penultimate song ‘No Worries’. While sometimes people are derided for staying still, in Mark Sultan’s case striding a familiar boarding makes perfect sense.
Some very big noises are being made in the mainstream press over this Swedish duo, and their calculated pop sensibilities and surface-deep accessibility go a long way to explaining that.This is pure, unsullied, synth-pop, well-crafted and slickly produced, reaching back through the decades.The standout track here is ‘Wonders’, which opens with an epic-feeling synth riff, echoing the biggest, catchiest nineties chart house, dragging forth powerful images of huge clubs, darkness, strobes, and hundreds of waving arms at three a.m.There’s no contemporary twist here; it’s lifted straight from the era. Meanwhile, ‘M.A.G.I.C.’ is simply a lazy Pet Shop Boys pastiche – no more, no less. ‘Voyage’ is superbly put together, massively melodic, and brilliantly written. Its downfall is in its complete and unashamed lack of originality.
As titles go, the nonsensical, wordless ‘Rrrrrrr’ is perfectly suited to Gentle Friendly’s second album. Say it out loud and it’s a sonic hum, and this duo has always been one that cherishes sound over songs. Beneath the organ loops and squealed vocals of 2009’s ‘Ride Slow’, though, there did lie some kind of leftﬁeld avant-pop, but not here, on a follow up that is far more ambient and far less willing to please fans of hooks, however obscure. It’s more an audio experiment than it is a commercial record in any sense; interesting rather than gripping.Things get real sparse real soon until the minimal techno of ‘Meditation 45’ becomes so hushed it almost vanishes altogether, which makes the closing ‘Speakers’ all the more frustrating. Part witch house/part drowsy industrial, it’s the duo’s best song yet, with vocals you can hear, on one tough album.
Once upon a time Los Campesinos! represented everything you despised about youth; the optimism, excitement and boundless energy that came with a double-dose of fearlessness and naivety. Add to the fact that all seven of them seemed to be BFFs as well as band mates, and made their live shows seem like the last carnival on earth, and you had the basis for eternal resentment. But here we are four albums later with the band older, “wiser” (in their own words) and the rather morose ‘Hello Sadness’. And beyond the album title, it’s immediately evident something’s changed. Dealing with the seemingly omnipresent themes of love, loss and making sense of the world, tracks like ‘To Tundra’ and are a new, beautiful measure of a band that’s more than just found its feet; it’s the hallmark of a genuinely brilliant album.
Dan Mangan is a husky-voiced, melancholic Canadian singersongwriter who does all the things you expect husky-voiced, melancholic Canadian singersongwriters to do: he implores you not to sleep alone, dear; he sings symbolically about trees and forests; he mumbles with heavyheaded vocals that urge seriousness; he stoically suggests that there’s always hope, even if it’s strangely non-evident on the song he’s singing. So far, so troubadour. However, what elevates Mangan is that ‘Oh Fortune’ has as many surprises as predictables. Among several highs, ‘If I Am Dead’ opens up quite bewitchingly in its ﬁnal minute with a splash of gorgeously restrained horns, and closer ‘Jeopardy’ is more slo-mo Mississippi waltz than brooding balladeer. It won’t change the world, but its thoughtfulness might just confound some expectations.
Seekae +Dome (Rice Is Nice/Popfrenzy) By Matthias Scherer. In stores Nov 28
With the most popular (well, in certain circles anyway) brand of IDM/glitch/electronica being made by gloom merchants such as Balam Acab and Pantha du Prince (and, to an extent, Holy Other), it’s very nice to hear someone make music in a similar mould that doesn’t rely as heavily on slouching, faux-dramatic R&B beats and breathy vocal samples. Seekae’s brand of ambient pop is crisply produced but heavy on melody and light in outlook where others might crank up the bass and go in for the kill. On their second album, the three Aussies make do without vocal samples (except for on the most generic track of the album, ‘Blood Bank’, and for the singing on the plaintive album closer ‘You’ll’), which leaves enough space for the oddly comforting mix of ﬁeld recordings, clean electric guitars, drum machines and straightforward bleepy synths.The beats on ‘+Dome’ drop in and out of focus (on the jittery ‘Rock’s Performance’), and there’s even scope for some decent bass grumbling (‘Gnor’).Welcome to the Pleasure (+)Dome.
Thee Oh Sees
The Great Deal of Love
Poor, Poor Grendel
(In The Red)
By Reef Younis. In stores Dec 12
By Polly Rappaport. In stores Nov 28
By Chris Watkeys. In stores Nov 21
By Nathan Westley. In stores Dec 5
Carrion Crawler / The Dream (In The Red)
When traditional electronic labels look to diverge and sign someone substantially more guitar-based, it’s usually more than a token gesture. After all, we’ve seen Warp do it with varying degrees of success with Maximo Park, Battles, Born Rufﬁans and !!! adding a bit of fretboard to the decks. So when Diplo’s bombastically eclectic imprint Mad Decent picks up on a spaced-out kid called Bosco Delrey and puts out his debut album, you’re inclined to wonder what the end result is going to be. As it turns out, it’s pretty fantastic. Classic, soulful and sentimental, ‘Everybody Wah’ is a haze of retro guitars, snaking synth and Bosco’s lazy Tennessee drawl. Like a droopy-eyed Bobby Gillespie ﬁltered through the smoke and leather of BRMC, it’s got style, snarl and the rock’n’roll attitude thousands attempt to hone in bedroom mirrors.
When it comes to punk rock,The Spits don’t piss about. Referencing late 80’s garage punkers The Mummies by wrapping themselves in toilet paper and generally nodding to vintage American punk with Richard Nixon masks, this, their ﬁfth self-titled album (no time to name records, too busy trashing venues), as with its predecessors, has all the attributes of the old school.While it might be tempting to quip that the Ramones phoned up and they want their music back,The Spits’ stabbing, no frills guitar chords, 12-3-4 drum beats and snotty, slackjawed vocals are positively delicious to those of us who cut our musical teeth on the likes of the Clash and the Sex Pistols. Each track is short, sharp, and to the point – perfect for pummelling your best mate to. I am pleased to announce, in the words of The Exploited, “Punk’s Not Dead.”
Favourite Sons is the most recent project of Ken Grifﬁn, formerly of nineties outﬁts Rollerskate Skinny and Kid Silver.This is a record of lyrically world-weary but musically upbeat country-pop; an odd but potent mixture of Beirut, Flaming Lips and The Divine Comedy, uprooted and transplanted deep into Marlboro country.You can almost see the band, playing behind a wire cage in a hick bar, aloof and oblivious while a bar-room brawl spills all around them, bar stools ﬂying while the lap steel twangs. Grifﬁn’s rich, deep, country-tinged voice hangs over it all, resigned and sometimes defeated (“I made four thousand wrong turns to end up here alone in bed”). It’s all immediately accessible stuff, yet more so here than on Grifﬁn’s previous records, the strength of the songwriting lends it great substance.
Solo projects are often painted as being the sole project of an egoladen craftsmen who has a speciﬁc sonical vision in mind before setting off.Whether Johnny White suffers such inﬂictions has yet to be determined, but it’s hard to listen to this album and not come to the conclusion that having another voice involved would be to his detriment. ‘Poor Poor Grendel’ is a melancholic album rich with intricately complicated walls of atmospheric sound, lush shoe-gaze cast melodies and grandiose instrumentation; a recipe that brings many comparisons to both M83,Washed Out and, on the hauntingly cold ‘Honey Street’, with its long-drawn synthgenerated soundbed, much of chillwave’s ﬁnest. Fairewell is not a one trick pony thoug, ‘Others Of Us’ and ‘Born Under a Bad Sign’ marking brief ﬂirtations with the sprightly pop of Belle and Sebastian.
By Matthias Scherer. In stores now
It’s that time of year again is it? Sweet deals. It’s the rule: as sure as the Christmas lights go up in October, there will be a record by Thee Oh Sees out before the end of any year.This one is the fourth album mastermind John Dwyer has put out on In The Red alone (the ﬁrst being the 2009 gem ‘Help’), and it’s another corker. Recorded straight to tape in ten days, there has been little scope for editing down some of the longer tracks, but the relentless clatter is part of Thee Oh Sees’ appeal. There’s driving proto-punk (‘Contraption/Soul Desert’), wordless throwaway jams (‘ChemFarmer’), fret-wanking, krauty psychedelia (‘The Dream’); all of it covered in the lo-ﬁ stardust that has graced Dwyer’s records for the last decade or so. Speaking of cover, the album artwork looks like Iron Maiden fan ﬁction, but in a good way.
The Men Leave Home (Sacred Bones) By Edgar Smith. In stores Nobv 28
This is the third or something album of some littleknown Brooklyn DIY types who are yet to make waves over here. But just you wait - wave-make they shall. Give it ‘til early next year and broadsheets will be beaming that they ‘rip up the post-hardcore rulebook’ etc. ‘Leave Home’ is furious but intricate garage punk with doom underpinnings and cosmic trimmings that doffs its cap at Butthole Surfers and Born Against one minute (try lead single ‘Bataille’), and spins out a bizarre Spacemen 3 micro-medley the next (how do you parenthesize a track named ‘( )’?). “Die, I would die” revolves the only lyric on seven minute opener ‘If You Leave’, although it could be “Die, I won’t die”, you can’t be sure; both vocals and riffs tunnel through a mountain of distortion.This album takes us through a number of different speeds and styles but never once fails to hang together. It’s so accomplished in fact that we’ll even forgive them for that goofy, ‘remember Nuggets?’ name.
AL BUMS 04/10
Clean George IV
God Save The Clean
Save Your Season
Emmy The Great & Tim Wheeler
(Upset The Rhythm)
By Luke Winkie. In stores Dec 5
By Austin Laike. In stores Dec 5
By Sam Little. In stores Dec 5
By Daniel Dylan Wray. In stores now
It certainly isn’t all that effective, but you’ve gotta give it to Clean George IV’s titular George McFall for sticking to what he loves. ‘God Save The Clean’ is about as blownout and in-your-face a debut as possible; bloated pop-metal exuberance, crunchy dude-rock guitars, treble-squiggling solos, all coalescing into a project that’s inherently and probably admittedly dumb. I mean, song titles like ‘Impotence is Bliss’ and ‘Great Highland Crack Epidemic’ kinda speak for themselves. But unlike the high-octane, bum-rush stupidity of, say, Andrew W.K., the songs here mainly fall by the wayside.These aren’t borrowed melodies, they’re botched borrowed melodies. Again, it’s somewhat comforting knowing someone thinks Big Country deserve another spin, you just wished they had more capable hands.
Depending on your age, you’ve probably either never heard of White Town or you’ve not given him much thought since his 1997 hit ‘Your Woman’ – a number one single made in a bedroom at a time when making tracks at home was amateur, not cool. It sold over 47 thousand copies.Take a listen to it now and it still stands up as a brilliantly sinister, futuro-pop song. ‘Monopole’, on the other hand, feels 14 years less progressive.The dead-pan vocals are unquestionably those of Jyoti Mishra, but musically he’s regressed to naff new-romantic disco (‘Cut Out My Heart’), twee indie (‘She’s A Lot Like You’) and MBV shoe-gaze (the marginally better ‘Have I Gone Too Far?). Props to Mishra for having continually created since 1990, but the New Order-ish ‘Invisible Elastic’ aside, you really are better off listening to ‘Your Woman’ 11 times over.
Brighton-based noise-pop duo Peepholes’ debut album gets off to a droney, non-too-appealing start, the bubbling vintage synths we love the band for slowly joined by Katia Barrett’s ﬂat moans that are loud but undecipherable.The following ‘Step One’ is even more jarring, as the pace is quickened and the vocals begin to crack as they edge into the red. But then ‘Caligula’ settles down and gives us the considered ‘Tunnels’, which combines gothic, downbeat techno with end-of-level-boss keys and demonic vocals, still groaning in inaudible fashion but with some deep-rooted melody no less. Thankfully, the rest of the album remains more in this vein – continually weird and impressively noisy for a drums’n’keys setup, but less manic and grating. Peepholes have always been an acquired taste; ‘Caligula’ is dark and challenging but eventually worth the work.
The fact that this record was made by a husband/wife radiates through its uniﬁed sound – a glowing amalgamation of synthesised electronics, harmonies and atmospherics makes ‘Save Your Season’ feel like a very tight-knit and cohesive creation. It ﬂips between hazy, ambient and moody laments and more conventional electro-pop numbers, the odder, more experimental moments being the ones that bring the bands qualities to light, the rest showing their clear eminence for pop songs too. Masters of seemingly inﬁnite layers of sounds, Mint Julep are clearly ones for focussing on differing sonic levels, in which the vocals merge and intersperse throughout. And when at their fullest and boldest, the electronics resemble The Knife’s earlier work, and coalesced with the ethereal vocals it proves to be a rewarding concoction.
This Is Christmas (Infectious) By John Ford In stores Nov 21
What an inspired prank: a Britpop guitarist of yesteryear and a littleknown folk starlet team up to record a Christmas album not of Wizard covers but of original material so completely precocious it’s possibly the most subversive record ever made.They preﬁx it with a lead single called ‘Christmas Day (I Wish I Was Surﬁng)’, start the album’s ball rolling with ‘Marshmallow World’ (“It’s a yummy yummy world for sweethearts,” sing Emmy and Tim as they list sweets that snow looks like), and slip in the occasional semi-serious curve ball like ‘Christmas Moon’ to paper over the fact that this is one elaborate joke. And it is a joke. It is! Is it? ‘Jesus The Reindeer’ has to be. As records go, it makes The Tweenies sound like Ramstein, but what an amazing post-post ironic gag! It is a gag, right? Guys?
She & Him A Very She & Him Christmas (Domino) By Stuart Stubbs. In stores Nov 21
Just when you thought that Christmas couldn’t get more twee here comes Zooey Deschanel and M.Ward with their knitted vanity project She & Him.Yummy. ‘A Very She & Him Christmas’ is just that – a collection of yuletide ditties you’re probably sick of, sung in the duo’s own unmistakeable sumptuous way, the guitar deep and full-bodied like mulled wine and Deschanel’s vocals good enough to ruin your turkey dinner.You’ve heard these songs before, and probably as skeletal and classy as they are here since the revival of lounge singers and big band crooners, but that doesn’t stop ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’, ‘Sleigh Ride’ and the like from being just as well executed as Michael Buble does it. ‘Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree’ – cute and playful – is made for Deschanel, while occasionally, oddly pleasingly so, she makes the odd track sound really rather sad, like the last puppy in the store or the Xbox that’s a Sega Master System. Now that’s Christmas!
Stars in Their Eyes
CONSTELLATIONS FESTIVAL Leeds University, Leeds 12.11.2011 By Kate Parkin ▼
Photography by Bart Pettman
Now into its second year, Constellations Festival is a welcome late contender in the festival calendar. Small and gutsy, the previous line up boasted sets from a very sweaty Les Savy Fav, Broken Social Scene,and the ear-splittingly loud Sleigh Bells, as well as an eclectic mix of local bands. Not just for students, the crowd run across a wide spectrum, this year drawn in by appearances from Yuck, Islet and Steve Malkmus and the Jicks, with a welcome return from Leeds favourite sons Wild Beasts. Peering out from the gloomy recesses of the lecture theatre are local electro-prog merchants Hookworms.They wander around the darkened corridors of our collective brains, spreading a dense glitch-laden fog of confusion before singer Matt Johnson tears through, screeching and howling. Proper psych-rock freak out for the digital age. A more stealth-like hit of the year, the geeky charms of Zulu Winter captivate the restless crowd, who take time out from perusing the running order to indulge in some self-conscious school disco shufﬂing. A few ludicrously cheap beers in, the crowd are feeling more free and easy, and it’s all the better because Cardiff ’s Islet [above left] don’t do standing still, strutting through the crowd shaking their tambourines at passing bystanders. The combination of buzzsaw keyboards and
heavenly voices shouldn’t work this well together, but when clashed against intricate layers of percussion it makes for one of the best performances of the night. At the softer, less experimental end of the scale, Stealing Sheep sit prettily and bring a delicate folk-laden charm to the smaller Mine stage.Thundering drums power the beating heart underneath as we swoon and fall in love with this Liverpool-lady trio. After quickly popping over to see some of Steve Malkmus and the Jicks self proclaimed ‘post-uni rock’, the schedule (hastily written scrap of paper stuffed in my back pocket) has gone slightly awry, so we battle through the crowd to catch a glimpse of hardcore quintet Eagulls. Still visceral and exciting, their sound feels tighter than past shows, and grabbing the audience and pounding them with hails of distortion they leave us dazed and thirsting for more. Taking a short break from the action I check out the ‘pop up cinema’ showing ﬁlms and shorts by Shefﬁeld’s Warp Films.The sound is down and there’s no proper seating, so it’s back to the music and Leeds post-rockers Vessels who are on roaring form, looping beats and switching instruments with polyrhythmic ease. In a town with a huge appetite for new music they still leave crowds open-mouthed. Creating
a hive of activity around rattling percussion, they shift from gut-clenchingly heavy to delicate at lightening speed. After a swift jog to the main venue it’s disappointing to see that Yuck [above right] are running behind, and plenty are pretty vocal about how they feel.The band work hard to brush off the bad feeling and succeed, because with Yuck’s dreamy low-ﬁ it’s hard to be angry for long.The sway of a 1950s pop song, ‘Georgia’ and ‘Milkshake’ are akin to drifting through a cloud of marshmallows and I ﬂoat out on a high. And that leaves, for us anyway, headliners Wild Beasts who return to Leeds as adopted local heroes – a far cry from their student days “strolling round Woodhouse with a fuck off angry look on their faces”. Manipulating ‘Two Dancers’ into a banging dance tune, they ramp up the drums and add extra synth layers, provided by Sky Larkin’s Katie Harkin. Songs new and old alike are greeted with equal fervour, as haloed in a fog of lights singer Hayden Thorpe plucks and teases out his voice for the ﬁnal throes of ‘Lions Share’. When a band can elicit this much love from a crowd it’s hard to see where they can go from here, but with a band as creative and exciting as Wild Beasts the result will be more than worth the wait, and the same goes for next year’s
DOOM & GHOSTFACE The Roundhouse, Camden, London 05.11.2011 By Chal Ravens Photography by Lee Goldup ▼
The man formerly known as MF Doom returns to the Roundhouse for a sold-out show, barely a year after his debut European performance in the same venue. Carting round the UK for a few weeks, the masked and multi-monikered rapper’s schedule happens to coincide with that of his on-off collaborator, the man formerly known as Ghostface Killah. And lo! A co-headline date is squeezed in, much to the delight of the uniform legions of polite-looking dudes in New Era caps and ﬂannel shirts, all of whom seem happy to give up their ﬁreworks in the hope of hearing material from the longawaited DoomStarks collaboration. Unlucky.The intended running times fall victim to hip hop standards of punctuality as they take their sweet time on the solo sets, leaving us with just a few closing minutes of shared stage antics, back-slapping and big-ups. But we make do. Both provide blistering run-throughs of their best bits, Doom stufﬁng his half with snippets from across his catalogue, including Dangerdoom and King
Geedorah material plus tasty treats from ‘Mm… Food’. He ﬂomps across the stage with relaxed authority, face hidden behind the gold mask and sizeable pot belly poking out from an Army surplus camouﬂage net. Big Benn Klingon provides the usual hype man business with gusto to match his gut, and backpacks bump heartily with recognition of each rhyme. Ghostface gives us an equally satisfying selection, throwing in material from ‘Fishscale’ and Raekwon’s ‘Only Built 4 Cuban Linx’ as well as some classic Wu Tang. “Who copped the ﬁrst Wu album?” he barks, provoking whoops that would indicate some of this crowd were seriously gangsta as sixyear-olds. Annoyingly, the corporate gloss of the Roundhouse doesn’t extend to the sound quality, despite there being little more than a backing track and a few gruff voices to amplify. Familiar beats ricochet around the ovoid tramshed like bullets in a tin submarine, while the mufﬂed bass rumbles underfoot as if emanating from a passing rudeboy’s ride – a recurring issue with the venue.The rappers’ white-hot aura keeps us perky, but when it takes Ghostface shouting “Dollar dollar bill y’all!” to realise you’re listening to ‘C.R.E.A.M.’, you can’t help but feel a little cheated.
AZARI & III White Heat, Soho, London 01.11.2011 By Chal Ravens ▼
Some tech-savvy good Samaritan recently ripped and uploaded a BBC radio documentary about house music grandaddy Larry Levan, which included a four-hour live set recorded at the Paradise Garage in 1979. Rescued from obscurity, the tape is a vivid snapshot of the potent emerging scene, featuring soaring live vocals from underground legends Sylvester and Loleatta Jackson. And just when you think they don’t make ‘em like that anymore, Azari & III are in town to squeeze the sweat from your pores through the old fashioned magic of analogue. Yin meets yang in the voices of Cédric Gasaida, silkily purring in a fur hat and teeny-tiny white jeans, and Fritz Helder, streaming sweat and rasping dirty talk in a skintight suit, while the eponymous Azari & III lurk just behind, pushing an authentic ‘80s template through a prism of contemporary ballroom house, trash-fash electro and luscious space disco. Whooping and perspiring, the congregation confers something genuine and majestic on the glossy perfection of ‘Reckless (With Your Love)’ and ‘Into The Night’. It’s a wholly un-ironic resurrection of the extroverted, ecstatic, nearspiritual magic of prototype house, and along with that rip-roaring podcast it’s the closest any bornin-the-Eighties kids are ever gonna get to the Paradise Garage.
REAL ESTATE Brighton Ballroom, Brighton 23.10.2011 By Nathan Westley ▼
It’s depressing to think that for over ten million people, Autumninal Sunday evenings have now established themselves as being the time to work themselves into a tizz over who will be the latest evictee from X-Factor. Still, for the people gathered in this venue there are much more important things to do, like be entertained visually and sonically by the sprightly American ﬂavoured pop of Real Estate. Despite four ﬁfths of the largely
bearded line-up tonight being shirted and with top buttons closed, having the air of being fresh from the ofﬁce rather than wholly ready turn up and rock out some ear-bashingly pleasing tunes, knocking out some ear bashingly pleasing tunes (such as ‘It’s Real’) is exactly what they do.What follows their entrance is a stream of highly functional songs that largely pull from their recently released and critically acclaimed album ‘Days’. They swerve with the vibrancy of Pavement, which can be easily described as slacker pop, albeit with a slightly better work ethic behind it, to a receptive audience in this elegant venue. And while indie this safe is hardly groundbreaking, interest in Real Estate shouldn’t disappear anytime soon.
HUDSON MOHAWKE XOYO, Old Street, London 19.10.2011 By Chal Ravens ▼
The best shows are most often those where artist and audience fall into a frenzied feedback loop of mutual appreciation, ecstatic vibes and perverse egging-on to go louder, harder and faster. Of the many qualities attributable to Glasgow producer and prodigyturned-scene-stalwart Hudson Mohawke, that ability to tap into exactly what the crowd wants – or needs – is perhaps his most natural talent. Faced with a sold out venue of pumped up Londoners defying the too-cool-to-dance stereotype, he plays it wide, ﬁlling the stage with giant letters spelling H-U-DM-O and wisely breaking up the cascading Technicolor onslaught of his own material with snippets of anything from Pusha T and dirty South hip hop to Bjork’s crystalline yelps and a ﬁnal coda of Tweet’s ‘Oops (Oh My)’.Tracks from this summer’s ‘Satin Panthers’ EP more than hold their own against Kanye and Young Jeezy though, with all hands raised for the horn splatter and glass shatter of ‘Thunder Bay’ and the sizzurped wobble of ‘Cbat’. Happy hardcore rubs up against low-slung crunk and the ratatat percussion loved by HudMo’s peers, but the effect is always one of all-consuming PARTY rather than unfocused eclecticism. Bottle this and ﬂog it as a legal high for school nights.
THE HORRORS Concorde 2, Brighton 25.10.2011 By Nathan Westley ▼
The Horrors. Pic: Tim Cochrane
Theme Park. Pic: Bart Pettman
In a time where it seems that every week an announcement is made about some legendary band or other burying past arguments and reforming for a one last payday, we’re faced with an fresh question: Which of today’s bands will be met with a similar reception in ten or ﬁfteen years time, once it’s all gone a bit horrible.Well, tonight, in this shoreline venue,The Horrors give many reasons why they should be considered one of the likeliest contenders.They tick a majority of the boxes required. Having released three highly different and largely praised albums, and having established a loyal following,The Horrors have grown from the black-obsessed, media-bashed Goths of 2008 to hugging motorik rockers and eighties-tinged baggy types, gaining an unrivalled air of unquestionable credibility. Never wanting to repeat themselves, it’s unsurprising that tonight Faris Badwan and Co. embark on a set that totally neglects material from debut album ‘Strange House’, instead turning their attention to this year’s ‘Skying’, pepping it with the occasional wander into ‘Primary Colours’ territory.They lock into a retro groove as backlights swirl around them, their silhouettes casting a clear signal that this is a band destined to achieve far greater things.They still look like the group of your dreams, and some ﬂat notes from Badwan aside (who has been continually trying to ‘sing’ rather than speak ever since writing ‘A Sea Within A Sea’), they’re playing their best too. They’re the awe inspiring reformed band of the future that you can gladly go see today.
British Sea Power. Pic: Mike Burnell
FLAMINGODS The Shacklewell Arms, Dalston 19.10.2011 By Mandy Drake ▼
Save for an old electronic keyboard and a delay pedal that makes singer Kamal’s vocals ping-pong out of the room, Flamingods don’t do instruments with wires. Nor do they do chairs. A ﬁve-piece from South London, they sit and squat,
huddled together on the ﬂoor, surrounded by bongos, maraca-like objects, the odd dented steal drum and things to either shake or hit, but mainly hit. By the end of their beaty din, all members will have smashed sticks on skin, accompanied by someone else doing the same. Judging by their boyish grins and waves to the audience to signify the end of each Afro jam, and by their cute group bow at the end, this might be their ﬁrst show, or their ﬁfth, or their one thousandth. It’s hard to tell because Flamingods are seemingly a very organic bunch, interested in the excitement of rolling drums (and Casio tones) rather than how schooled they can be in sinking their patterns.Watching them is completely enthralling, as long as you can get close enough to the front to see the ﬂoor. And while clearly enamoured with African music and culture, they’ve not added a pop sheen à la Foals or Vampire Weekend, nor smart-arse layers like Animal Collective, nor Yeasayer-like spiritually. Flamingods are as primal as beating animal hide with sticks, and they do it very well.
THE MACCABEES Oxford Town Hall, Oxford 24.10.2011 By Tom Goodwyn ▼
Any tour that a band sets out on with the intention of road testing new material is always one that’s going to be greeted with mixed feelings, but touring new material when your fans have not heard a single note of it should be damn near impossible. However, when you’re The Maccabees – the band who surprised everyone by coming back with a second album that far surpassed their ﬁrst – being given the beneﬁt of the doubt is pretty much guaranteed.Tonight they air seven tracks from their forthcoming album, ‘Given To The Wild’, bravely kicking off with a double helping of newies. Album opener ‘Child’ starts the set with ‘Feel To Follow’ straight after, both being gentler and grander than anything from ‘Colour It In’ or ‘Wall Of Arms’, both with a real brooding quality to them.The same goes for the other ﬁve new songs played, with the massivesounding ‘Forever I’ve Known’ and
the closing ‘Grew Up At Midnight’ in particular standing out.They’re dished out in batches, so it’s hard to see how they ﬁt with the band’s earlier stuff, but they certainly go down a treat. Of course, the band bang out the hits too, with Oxford Town Hall’s regal ﬁxtures and ﬁttings bouncing as ‘No Kind Words’ and ‘First Love’ hit their stride. Surpassing expectations and delivering surprises is something The Maccabees have learned to do routinely, and you’d be a fool to bet against them falling short with ‘Given To The Wild’. It’s certainly going well so far.
BRITISH SEA POWER Concorde 2, Brighton 01.11.2011 By Nathan Westley ▼
It’s hard to fathom that British Sea Power now have ﬁve albums under their belts. Originally surfacing at the turn of the century, they were largely regarded as oddball eccentrics, more concerned with the identikit nature and studied cool of the garage rock revival. But while many of their contemporaries have long since disappeared, BSP have made a deep connection with an audience that have never quite let go.Tonight’s show in their adopted hometown stands as a celebration of their longevity. Now elder statesmen of a once thriving scene that desperately needs life breathed into it, their show has calmed down in madness and the once decorative foliage and bear that accompanied them onstage has been retired; such gimmicks are not required when you have a full blooded set of rippling and often overlooked classics locked away.With tonight’s committed, easy-on-the-ear performance, the quintet show that they are in essence a cult band with a ﬁne selection of turn-ofthe-century guitar pop songs and a knack for writing about unconventional subjects.Tonight ‘hits’ – such as ‘Fear of Drowning’ and ‘Remember Me’ from 2003 debut ‘The Decline of...’ – are aired to appease the more casual fan, alongside a spattering of less commonly known later material such as last year’s ‘Living Is So Easy’. Against our better judgement, BSP are still around, and the world is richer for it.
2:54 Corsica Studios, Elephant & Castle 09.11.2011 By Ian Roebuck ▼
PURE X The Shacklewell Arms, Dalston 01.10.2011 By Stuart Stubbs Photography by Elliot Kennedy ▼
Drugs.They’re rife within popular music. Especially within the type that Texan trio Pure X make, courtesy of a Spiritualized habit they just can’t (or won’t) kick. Even their name stems from illegal chemicals, shortened from Pure Ecstasy earlier this year. Almost shamefully indebted to The Jesus & Mary Chain and a number of other early 90s seminal shoegazers, the band’s debut album, ‘Pleasure’, remains aptly titled, drifting along in the most mellow of fashions, their simplest of drum beats constantly on the brink of stopping altogether. It’s a pleasingly dreary collection of space noise and soothing drones. Live, as this evening proves, Pure X are a different trip; a less seductive thrill; a bit of a bore. Largely bathed in red light with dry ice hissing out of a pipe behind them, all of the
druggy, ethereal rock trimmings are there, except for the odd warmth of the band’s recorded songs.The Shacklewell Arms is full and hot, but the music is cold and automatic, against the best intentions of the three men in front of us. It’s singer/guitarist Nate Grace’s desperate (and admittedly heartfelt) cries that are particularly off putting. He’s trying to give us a show; to let us know that these songs mean something; but where he softly sings on record he rasps onstage, grabbing the mic at one point and clutching his own head as he wails out.The bass grooves on (at an uncharacteristically booming volume) and at times, especially on the most delicate, ﬂange-tickling, downbeat numbers, the drums seem to drift out of time, even though they more often than not consist of two beats. Oddly, no else seems to notice or care, and as Pure X play on, the dry ice squirts away and everyone in front of the band whistle and cheer and nod approvingly to each other, I realise just how much like drugs they are – no fun at all if you’re the only person at the party not on them.
Sisters Hannah and Colette Thurlow famously named their bristly, glowering rock band after a favourite moment on a Melvins song, 2 minutes and 54 seconds in, to be precise.We don’t catch the time but I’d say Corsica Studios really sets alight around twenty minutes into the band’s taut, brassy and surprisingly upbeat set.The sisters are joined on stage by a live drummer and bassist, one of them called Joel, it soon transpires, much loved by an increasingly familiar friends-and-family audience. An opening barrage of stuttering, repetitive grunge gives way to an energised drive, full of hooky grooves and kicks forcing movement from the otherwise still south London hole of this backstreet venue. A promising punk approach scattered the band’s early live shows, but a scrub of soap seems to have cleansed 2:54’s grubby edges – time will tell if this is detrimental.Their joyful attitude and ballsy stage presence is what carries tonight though, and ‘Got a Hold’ is the clear catalyst in a set that’s gripping in a chilling fashion, albeit inconsistently.The next level is comfortably found and the band’s sheer exuberance washes over. Shades of noughties grunge queen Brody Dalle spit out from the stage, although we’re not sure she would have digged Colette’s foray into the robot dance as the night reached its gritty denouement.
GOTYE KCLSU, London 01.11.2011 By Helena Goodwyn ▼
King’s College seems an odd venue for Australian singer-songwriter Gotye (real name Walter De Backer), whose particular blend of dreamy electro pop seems a far better ﬁt for halls like St Stephen’s Church, where he played last night. Perhaps it’s to avoid being pigeon holed, which his new LP, ‘Making Mirrors’, certainly seems at pains to do. As with the album, tonight’s gig is fairly eclectic – one minute we’re in the company of Stevie
Wonder and the Motown horn section for ‘I Feel Better’, the next we’re cresting the ethereal waves of ‘Hearts a Mess’, a slow-burning song more akin to the soundscapes of Norwegian musician Magnet. Gotye certainly embraces experimentation, what with his heavy focus on sampling bizarre musical instruments, such as the Winton Musical Fence (an inconceivable instrument comprised of ﬁve large metal strings attached to wooden fence posts and a resonant chamber), and his set is packed with musical ingenuity throughout.Whether it be the inventive steel drum sampling that accompanies ‘Bronte’, or the unselfconscious moments where De Backer lets his vocal dexterity meander over the haunting brilliance of single ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’, if you like your technical brilliance mixed with some sugary, heartfelt vocals, you need Gotye in your life.
THEME PARK The Brudenell Social Club, Leeds 11.01.2011 By Kate Parkin ▼
It’s Friday, time to kick off the shackles of the day job and have some fun, and Theme Park are a fun band. It’s just gentle fun, made for house parties dancing to 80s disco and drinking bad punch, not Sambuca-fuelled warehouse raves. They are so fun, in fact, that even this hardened cynic can just about forgive the grating steel drum samples and dodgy rocket-ship shirt sported by the keyboard player. Quite possibly exuding happy from every pore, they liven up the crowd with the summerinfused rhythms of a ‘Mountain We Love’. Mutterings of ‘the new Talking Heads’ trail them around and while the lead singer’s ﬂat monotone voice may have a hint of the David Byrne about him, without the razor sharp dialogue these are just straight-up party tunes. But that’s no bad thing, as the collective grins of the crowd will attest. Busting a move to the glitterball funk of ‘Milk’ they groove to a uniﬁed beat, and the only thing missing from this party is a heavy dose of cowbell.Theme Park make infectious pop tunes for a great night out, just don’t take them or the hype too seriously.
FILMS OF 2011 03. DRIVE -----
It’s been a hell of a year for ol’ blue eyes Ryan Gosling. He greatly impressed in Blue Valentine, a melancholic delight that showcased his banjo playing skills just as much as his ﬁne acting. However, it’s in Drive where Gosling really stood out – Nicolas Winding Refn’s deftly original take on the crime caper genre pushed the well loved laconic American as the star and the move really paid off. Gosling’s effortless cool combined with a timely soundtrack and a Coppola-esque colour board (Soﬁa not Francis Ford) creates undoubtedly the coolest ﬁlm you’ll have seen all year.
04. SENNA -----
The second of two driving related movies to make the top ﬁve, this was a documentary that gloriﬁed Formula One and lauded the need for speed. Scratch under the surface though and Senna was a wonderful human drama that’s as much a social commentary on Brazil as it is about ﬁnishing a race in sixth gear. Remarkable access to the drivers and gut wrenching footage throughout, Senna was the most moving of our top ﬁve ﬁlms. The emotion emanating from the screen as he ﬁnally wins the Brazilian Grand Prix and, physically drained, struggles to lift the trophy is breathtaking.
02. WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN -----
We Need To Talk About Kevin is a shining example of the mind-melting horror we’ve been subjected to throughout 2011. Lynne Ramsay’s torturous tale of a boy gone bad was not short of pleasure, though. Bristling with black humour and unforgettable images, the Scottish woman sealed her reputation as Great Britain’s ﬁnest prospect in the director’s chair with this magical ﬁlm. A clever and concise story structure builds to a ﬁne crescendo. Just try and catch your breath as Kevin, played with such venom by Ezra Miller, grows into every parent’s nightmare.
05. THE SKIN I LIVE IN -----
We’ve always been a little bit creeped out by Antonio Banderas and in The Skin I Live In the Spaniard teamed up once again with Pedro Almodovar to create Dr Robert Ledgard, a lizard-like character drawn to tight clothing and perverse practices in plastic surgery. Vindication, then, on one front, but there was so much more to this masterful ﬁlm. Almodovar toys with notions of human identity and with the audience to create a perplexed, genuinely frightening thriller full of surprises and remarkable attention to detail, and suspense that Kubrick would have been proud of.
REVIEWS BY IAN ROEBUCK
Fantastically deranged cinema teetering on the right side of hysterical, Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan spoilt us with playful abandon and nerve shredding performances. A frantic tale of self awakening and ambition led magniﬁcently by a perfectly poised Natalie Portman stunned cinema-goers at the turn of the year and pirouetted its way through the award season with ruthless grace. Nearly a year on and certain scenes still linger, Portman’s wild night out with Mila Kunis or practically every encounter with her frankly mental mother (Barbara Hershey letting rip in a great role) have you squirming in delight. The ﬁlm cemented Aronfsky’s already ﬁerce reputation but his Black Swan plays it relatively straight. What he does so skilfully is ramp up the tension and believability scene by scene so by the time the ﬁlm takes ﬂight with its fantastical third act we have already been swept off of our feet. The character of Nina Sayers is a perfect canvass for Portman’s alluring but enigmatic talent, her ability to seem empty yet at the same time viciously tormented has to be applauded and the presence of her ‘evil twin’ seems as natural as Vincent Cassel’s propensity for playing sexual predators. Warped and twisted but in a very accessible way, Black Swan is a beautifully pitched ﬁlm that trades on past masters like Roman Polanski and even Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s The Red Shoes to create a modern day classic. Swan Lake will never be the same again.
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PARTY WOLF’S TOOL LIST 2011
ALEX ONE SHOW
With ﬁlm critiques as in depth as “I was eating popcorn when I watched Tin Tin. Then Snowy did a jump and I laughed”, Winkleman redeﬁnes the word ‘unqualiﬁed’. Film 2011 throws us a bone in the shape of Danny Leigh who doesn’t think that cinematography is a new fragrance by J-Lo, but it doesn’t make Winkleman’s pointers of “There’s a man in it who’s brilliant” any less insightful.
He makes me itch. A crack tramp geography teacher, McMullen thought he was brave and righteous being so outspoken about his part in the News of The World phone hacking scandal. The thing is, he forgot to turn up to the party with an excuse better than “Hugh Grant’s got loads of money”. Who gives a fuck, pal? My neighbour’s got an iPad but I don’t stand with a glass to the wall to ﬁnd out if he watches Strictly or X Factor. Nosy pervert.
“Huh? She’s got a surname? I never realised.” That’s probably what Alex One Show’s own family say about her, if they remember ever having met their TV presenter relative, which they probably don’t. Beige on lettuce, Alex One Show is so inoffensive and bland she spends her whole time on telly shitting herself that someone is going to say something vaguely rude. “One Show, sounds a bit like Bun Show, which could be Bum Show. Fuck! We’re doomed!”
There’s something a bit cheeky and loveable about the other one – Masterchef baldy man Gregg Wallace, who used to be a green grocer and doesn’t give a shit about your perfectly presented venison. He just wants the pudding, like a huge, round baby. Torode, though, eats with his mouth open, shovelling in the food and talking before he’s swallowed. Greedy bugger.
When was the last time you felt sorry for Vernon Kay? I never thought I would, but just imagine living with Tess Daly all the time. She’s like a giant hen, clucking and gurning, her Northerness dialled up to ﬂat-cap’n’tripe. Cluck, cluck, cluck, she goes, like Les Dawson going at it with Colonel Sanders’ live stock. She’s the antidote to Alex One Show in many ways, winking at camera like a randy matron in the making. Yuck.
Sometimes I go into Topshop for a daytime disco. I don’t know who picks the music they play in there but it’s always going off. When I feel sick, I vomit in a loafer; if I need the loo, I time it with trying on a pair of skinny jeans. It’s because Philip Green is a taxdodging crook. Wait. That’s unfair. SIR Philip Green is a tax-dodging crook.
Winkleman! Have you been at this one? Seemingly a fellow graduate from the School of How To Say Nothing While Saying A Lot, Dixon went on Strictly Come Dancing, won it, and now spends her days telling Johnny McFly that, “This dance suited you” and, “Push yourself!” It’s a bit like The X Factor employing Joe McElderry to judge new contestants with the sage advice of “Sing”. So, so scandalous. Genuinely.
So Jodie Marsh fucked off for a bit. Wonder what she was doing. Oh my lord!
If you’ve ever had the misfortune of ﬁnding the E! channel there’s a chance that you’ve happened across a programme called Fashion Police, on which the melted Wellington boot that is geriatric hag Joan Rivers slags of Hollywood A-listers’ clothes while what appears to be an actual pig snorts along in agreement. That pig is actually Kelly Osborne who, unlike Rivers, is sane enough to know better. Up next on E!, Dating In The Dark with Joseph Fritzl.
Real life Dennis The Menace Jonnie Marbles is the clown who thought he was doing us all a favour by throwing a custard pie at Rupert Murdoch. Really, he threw the old tortoise a lifeline, making him look like the victim at the hands of the village idiot. What’s more, the plonker managed to largely miss Murdoch and instead hit his own face. Still, if your real name was Jonathan May-Bowles, you’d change it to Jonnie Marbles, right?
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2011 Review Special, featuring our albums, tracks, shows and bands of the year.