LOUD AND QUIET ZERO POUNDS / VOLUME 03 / ISSUE 35 / THE ALTERNATIVE MUSIC TABLOID
Charlotte Gainsbourg --A life in art Grimes The Proper Ornaments Lee Ranaldo Trailer Trash Tracys Psychic Dancehall Ceremony The Maccabees
CONTENTS MARCH 2012
0 9 . . . . . . . . . . L E T ’ S L E T I T G O , AY E ? / A M E R I C A N B O Y IT’S TIME TO STOP LOOKING AT TOP OF THE POPS THROUGH ROSE-TINTED GLASSES
10 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . SI NG LES & BOOKS THIS MONTH’S SINGLES, EPS AND PAGE-TURNERS, FROM BONNIE PRINCE BILLY, TIM BURGESS AND MORE
COVER PHOTOGRAPHY GABRIEL GREEN
13 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . LAB E L P ROFI LE ALEX HALL INTERVIEWS AMANDA BROWN ABOUT HER EXPERIMENTAL DANCE LABEL 100% SILK
TH E P ROP E R ORNAM E NTS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16 YOUR COULDN’T WRITE IT: THE LONDON DUO WITH A STORY TO MAKE A FILM WITH
L E E R A N A L D O . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17 AS THE FATE OF SONIC YOUTH HANGS IN THE BALANCE, LEE RANALDO PREPARES FOR SOLO LP NUMBER 9
EDITOR - STUART STUBBS ART DIRECTOR - LEE BELCHER SUB EDITOR - ALEX WILSHIRE FILM EDITOR - PHILIPPA STUBBS ADVERTISING ADVERTISE@LOUDANDQUIET.COM
CE RE MONY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18 ROSS FARRAR ISN’T INTO ICULTURE. NOR GIVING A SHIT ABOUT PLEASING HIS HARDCORE FANS
PSYCH IC DANCE HALL . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19 FLIRTING WITH DRAG QUEENS, DRINKING DOWN THE DIVE BAR, SINGING KARAOKE AND RECORDING IN A CLOSET
TH E MACCAB E ES . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20 THE INDIE BAND FROM THE MID NOUGHITES THAT ARE STILL HERE, WITH THEIR MAJOR LABEL DEAL IN TACT
G RI M ES . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24 CLAIRE BOUCHER INSISTS ANYONE CAN DO WHAT SHE DOES. IF ONLY IT WERE TRUE
TRAI LE R TRASH TRACYS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 26 THEIR ALBUM TOOK 3 YEARS TO MAKE, BUT WHAT ELSE DID WE EXPECT FROM TTT?
CHARLOTTE GAI NSBOU RG . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28 DAUGHTER OF SERGE, MUSE OF BECK, MOVIE STAR AND MODEL: CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG REMAINS FRIGHTENINGLY GROUNDED
LOUD AND QUIET PO BOX 67915 LONDON NW1W 8TH
CONTRIBUTORS BART PETTMAN, CARL PARTRIDGE, CHAL RAVENS, CHRIS WATKEYS, COCHI ESSE, DANIEL DYLAN WRAY, DANNY CANTER, DK GOLDSTIEN, ELINOR JONES, ELLIOT KENNEDY, EDGAR SMITH, FRANKIE NAZARDO, GARETH ARROWSMITH, JANINE BULLMAN, LEE BULLMAN, KATE PARKIN, KELDA HOLE, GABRIEL GREEN, GEMMA HARRIS, LEON DIAPER, LUKE WINKIE, MANDY DRAKE, MATTHIAS SCHERER, NATHAN WESTLEY, OWEN RICHARDS, OLLY PARKER, PAVLA KOPECNA, POLLY RAPPAPORT, PHIL DIXON, PHIL SHARP, REEF YOUNIS, SAM LITTLE, SAM WALTON, SONIA MELOT, TIM COCHRANE, TOM GOODWYN, TOM PINNOCK THIS MONTH L&Q LOVES CHRIS STONE, KEONG WOO, JAMES AT OOH BRILLIANT! JANE THIRD, RICH WALKER, STUART DAVIES, SUSIE EMBER 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 2012 LOUD AND QUIET. DISTRIBUTED BY LOUD AND QUIET AND FORTE DISTRIBUTION. PRINTED BY SHARMAN & COMPANY LTD.
36 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ALBUMS FILMS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 46 SLEIGH BELLS, THE SHINS, XIU XIU, KAP BAMBINO AND ALL THE MONTH’S KEY RELEASES
PHILIPPA BURT ASKS IF CERTAIN TYPES OF FILMS CAN EVER BE MIGHTIER THAN THE WRITTEN WORD
42 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . LI V E PARTY W OLF . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 50 RECENT LIVE SHOWS FROM THE BLACK KEYS, WILD FLAG, EXPLOSIONS IN THE SKY & MORE
THE INAPPROPRIATE WORLD OF IAN BEALE / CROSS WORDS / GET THE LOOK / IDIOT PARADE
BIENVENUE MARCH 2012
It’s not every day we interview a movie star. They just don’t seem to come knocking. There’s also that very few of them have music careers worth discussing, but mainly it’s that they don’t come knocking. Charlotte Gainsbourg is of that very rare breed – a leftfield actress (and model) with a string of fascinating and disturbing on-screen performances under her belt, and four solo albums that aren’t just bearable but are actually pretty good. Great, in some instances. Maybe it’s because, as the daughter of archetypal Frenchman Serge, she’s half Parisian, but everything Gainsbourg does comes with a certain effortless sense of calm. Or at least that’s how it seems, certainly on new album ‘Stage Whisper’ it does, her second record collaboration with Beck that’s as varied as the Californian himself, featuring suzz pop, girlish singsong, a morose waltz and whispered folk songs. Of course, as affable and grounded as Gainsbourg proved to be, not even she did the knocking, but she was willing to give us a few hours to discuss her stage fright, Beck, the inspiration of her father and how she still doesn’t consider herself an actor or singer, even though she is clearly both. Similarly, Claire Boucher (or Grimes) feels equally as ‘unspecial’, claiming that anyone can do what she does. And The Maccabees are no less modest, despite having something to be proud about. Of the glut of indie bands that emerged in the middle of the last decade they’re still here, having just released their third album in a world where no one makes more than two albums, if they ever follow up their first. What’s especially impressive about them is that they’ve managed to do it while holding on to their major label record deal without outselling Coldplay. They’re also our most featured band ever (we’ve interviewed them 4 times; 3 times more than pretty much anyone else). And they didn’t even brag about that.
CONTRI B UTOR
D K GOL D S T E IN WRITER
Danielle has been writing for us since issue one of volume two, back in 2009, and the little sit-down she had with French chanteuse Charlotte Gainsbourg this month marks her fourth L&Q cover feature. Born in Essex but raised in Cambridgeshire by way of Malaysia, Danielle has spent the last seven years of her life trying to ﬁght her way into journalism. She currently writes for Time Out London, as well as DJing and being a life model. “I was really excited about interviewing Charlotte,” she says. “I’m a huge fan of her ﬁlm work, especially. Despite being halfway through a day from hell, she was very mild mannered and incredibly easy to talk to, even through my embarrassing haze of adoration.” Find Danielle tweeting at @GoldbarsDJ.
COVER SHOOT: CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG AT THE BOUNDARY HOTEL, LONDON BY GABRIEL GREEN
BEGINNING MARCH 2012
LE T ’S LE T IT GO, AYE? TOP OF THE POPS WAS A GREAT SHOW, SAYS STUART STUBBS, WITH EMPHASIS ON THE WAS
THE SUPER BOWL HALFTIME SHOW: WHO ARE WE INDIE FANS TO KNOCK IT?
Sometimes I wonder how on earth we got through the year 2006. No one should have to bury their children, and yet it felt like we – music lovers – had to do it twice over, ﬁrst tossing soil on Smash Hits magazine in February (why, God?), and then onto the boxed up and slung out Top Of The Pops (WHY!?) by July. Annus Horribilis! I think we must have been in shock, because at the time none of us could give a shit. Since then, though, you’re hard-pushed to ﬁnd anyone who didn’t “love Smash Hits” or “watch Top Of The Pops religiously”. Evidently, not enough in either instance. Over time, we’ve all realised just how dire the former was by its death, looking like Take A Break, featuring cover lines like “Inside My Mental Mind” (an exclusive interview with Preston), made up of Shayne Ward tittle-tattle (an X Factor winner who you probably don’t remember). As for TOTP, we just can’t get over that one, and this month, as it was hinted again that the BBC might make its corpse dance once more (this time to provide the Radio 1 Top 40 Chart with an Internet-only show) everyone’s back to damning the day our beloved was cruelly snatched from us. But let’s be honest, very few of us had a fond word to say about the dilapidated programme come the middle of the last decade. Fewer watched, and as Fearne Cotton introduced the ﬁnal ever TOTP with the wonderfully ironic “It’s still number one, it’s still Top of The Pops”, I don’t think she even believed it anymore. The ﬁnal band to play the show was Snow Patrol – it was deﬁnitely ready for the glue factory. And that’s how we survived 2006 and the loss of what was deﬁnitely once a great British institution – because it was no longer great at all; it was as rotten as the charts had become, so why can’t we remember that? Why can’t we remember that Oasis were done after two albums, or that Michael Jackson was actually a pretty creepy dude? Have you never thought, ‘how comes Gold only ever shows TOTP reruns from 1975 through to 1982?’? It’s because it got so crushingly awful (although, admittedly, I would welcome reruns up to 1997, myself). It might be the best thing on TV on Christmas Day, but even that’s a bit like being the prettiest dog turd. And honestly, by the end do you ever really think, ‘God, I miss this’? Because if you do, then yes, you should be able to forever lament the loss of Top of The Pops. Otherwise, let’s remember that it was lucky to make it to 2006, years beyond its cultural-deﬁning peak. And think of these words the next time something we once loved but don’t anymore is axed because we’ve discarded it… God, I miss The Big Breakfast.
2pm: I wake up to the shocking reality that a combination of school, deadlines and cheap pizza doesn’t get me the best night of sleep on a Saturday. Sunday is already half-gone and it’s about to be full-gone – the Super Bowl starts in less than three hours. Everyone hates the Patriots and the Giants have a tepid relationship with my hometown of San Diego that’s too big to ﬁt in this column, but that’s not really an excuse to sit out on the festivities. 4pm: I rendezvous with the few friends of mine that wear basketball shorts instead of skinny jeans. We’re in a wooden dive bar called Double Dave’s somewhere in Northern Austin. Sunday keeps an all-day pizza buffet open to the wee hours of the morning. I’m pretty sure I’m on my third plate before the ﬁrst quarter starts. 6pm: The game does things you’d expect an American football game to do. I’m well aware that the Loud And Quiet readership might be the last demographic in the world to care about gridiron intangibles, so I won’t bore you. Instead, I’m watching the halftime show, probably the one thing about Super Bowl Sunday with enough momentum to puncture the Atlantic. I’m sure you’ve seen it, the production values rival ‘Watch The Throne’, Cee-Lo is wearing a dress, Madonna is looking stunning for a woman older than my mom, Nicki Minaj is big enough to be on national television, M.I.A. is doing something stupid, desperate and pointless, and ‘Like a Prayer’ is still a great song. 6:15pm: I can barely keep up with my twitter account. Jon Wurster mentions, “this is why they hate us.” Some guy from Los Campesinos! scoffs, “this is fucking embarrassing, America”, Wayne Rooney is complaining about how boring American football is, I’m actually really enjoying the whole thing. A few moments later my feed is replaced with people who don’t live on the uberreactionary fringe of the music industry. People like my dad are actually really enjoying this thing. The indie community can be upset, which is okay, it’s the goddamn Super Bowl. 8pm: The game is over, the Giants won. I would make an analogy with New York’s run and the Premiership, but it’s difﬁcult when the English sporting infrastructure is built to only sustain around 3 super-dominant teams. The Super Bowl might be the single most ubiquitous thing in American culture; naturally people are eager to hate it. It’s amazing really, I’m not sure how the indie kids get off thinking something as categorically universal as the Super Bowl Halftime Show should be aimed directly at their (our) little niche. Such gravitas. You could do a hell of a lot worse than Madonna.
WE MUST HAVE IN SHOCK WHEN DIED BECAUSE OF US GAVE A
Illustration by Fraser Davidson - www.fraserdavidson.co.uk
AMERICAN BOY / TALES FROM THE OTHER SIDE BY LUKE WINKIE: OUR MAN IN BAR AK ’S BACK YARD
BEEN TOTP NONE SHIT
BEGINNING SINGLES & EPS / BOOKS 01 BY JA NIN E & L EE B U L L M A N
(SPIRITUAL PAJAMAS) OUT FEB 27
S T R AT E G Y BOX Y MU S IC
R O OMM AT E S W INNIF R E D
(100% SILK) OUT FEB 27
(SLUMBERLAND) OUT FEB 27
Although Strategy – real name Paul Dickow from Portland, Oregon – has been making this type of spongy, day-time techno since 1999, the ﬁve-track ‘Boxy Music’ is as good an introduction to his ambient dub disco as anything he’s put out yet. What you essentially need to know is that while the gentle, funky bounce of ‘Skanking Stabs’ and the motorik thrum of ‘Bolly Valve 2000’ cheerfully play yin to Witch House’s black metal yang, this is serious music – serious electronic dance music for serious electronic dance music fans, who know the difference between funky house and acid house and everything in between. It’s certainly an acquired taste, and if you prefer your instrumental electronica short, sharp and to the point, this, with its running time stretching past half an hour and each song locking into its own comfortable groove, ain’t for you. On another intro tip, though, it’s a glimpse in to the far-out world of 100% SILK.
The Roommates are yet another band of Ben Cook – him of The Bitters, Fucked Up, Marvellous Darlings and solo project Young Governor – this time formed with Mark Fosco (also of Marvellous Darlings) who Cook lived with for four years. ‘Winnifred’ is a four-track EP cobbled together by out-of-print cassette tape songs, which taste exactly how you probably expect – like two young dudes playing lo-ﬁ garage about the weather and how rad life is. What makes ‘Back To The Sun’ particularly interesting, though, is that it’s pitched somewhere between the gutter and stars, sounding like The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart if only they weren’t so trite – blissed out on good vibes, sure, but also the weed smoked by the band that means they can’t remember writing any of these songs. It’s a shame, because we could do with more tracks like ‘Kelly I’m Not A Creep’ (aka what The Beach Boys and The Byrds would sound like if they ever recorded at home).
T E L L IN ’ S T OR IE S B Y T IM BUR GE S S (PENGUIN)
In Telling Stories, Tim Burgess spins a yarn than begins with a childhood spent in the rural North before sampling the delights on offer at Manchester’s legendary Hacienda nightclub, which changed his life forever. It goes on to offer Burgess’s take on the myths that underpin his band’s reputation; the incarceration of keyboardist Rob Collins on armed robbery charges (followed by his tragic death), the accountant who ran off with the band’s cash and left them up to their hips in unpaid tax, and Burgess’ years in LA, living the life of the drug-fuelled ex-pat rock star to the fullest. And despite his success, Burgess’ tone is humble throughout. He seems in no doubt as to how lucky he is and is more than happy to share his excitement and wonder at the mad life he has led thus far. This is no cut and paste rock memoir.
C OMM A ND O : T HE A U T OBIOGR A P H Y OF JOHNN Y R A MONE (FABER & FABER)
Finally, eight years after his untimely death, Johnny Ramone’s autobiography sees the light of day. Dee Dee and Joey Rammone’s stories are well covered, but up until now we’ve not heard from Johnny; erstwhile bandleader, owner of one of the ﬁnest haircuts in rock, Ronald Reagan supporter and the fastest guitar-slinger in the west. Commando covers the band’s story from inauspicious roots on the edge of the New York punk rock scene through the seminal CBGBs years and onto their ﬁnal sad demise. To say they don’t make ‘em like this anymore is of course cliché, but reading Johnny’s story told in his own inimitable style proves that the further we move from punk rock’s year zero, the more precious and unrepeatable the period becomes.
Single reviews by Chris Watkeys / Stuart Stubbs Blowback by Lee Bullman and Michael Forwell published by Pan Macmillan available now. www.leebullman.com
BONNIE P R INC E BIL LY & M A R IE E S IOU X BONNIE & M A R IE E E P
Will Oldham is the kind of artist who, over many years and on the back of a prodigious output under multiple guises, as well as serial collaborations with innumerable alt-folk contemporaries, has built for himself (willingly or otherwise) the kind of legendary status against which almost any kind of criticism seems like a kind of sacrilege. In truth, though, it’s not often that his work is within the bounds of disparagement. For this four-track EP he joins with Mariee Sioux, each contributing one original song, with two covers making up the quartet, backed by a band of collaborators including the Bella Union-signed folkie-du-jour Jonathan Wilson. On ‘Not Mocked’, as is often the case with Oldham, some genuinely disturbing and twisted lyrical themes are delivered over a deceivingly benign, warm-feeling folk-country backdrop. Sioux’s springwater-clear vocals are a familiar sounding foil here for Oldham’s own cracked delivery. ‘Loveskulls’ sees Sioux take the lead for a song that has a similarly menacing undertone, wrapped up in a beautiful musical cocoon. These are two outstanding songs, so it’s sad that the two covers are distinctly weaker. This double seven-inch package, though, remains a beautiful thing indeed to own.
100% SI LK AMANDA BROWN SPEAKS TO ALEX HALL ABOUT NOT NOT FUN’S EXPERIMENTAL, SISTER DANCE LABEL
Read an extended version of Alex’s interview at www.loudandquiet.com/tag/label-proﬁle
Since Amanda Brown embarked on her 100% SILK imprint a lot has changed. Her early mission statement devoting to “release 45 rpm 12-inch singles of diamond-life dance, blissdisco and basement luxury grooves by friends and lovers from all over the world” has proved to be an intoxicating broth, with Brown and SILK growing to be an integral part of contemporary independent music. Through a series of interviews, I picked her brains about the day-to-day runnings of the project and what we can expect in 2012. Hi Amanda, for those unaware of 100% SILK who are you and what is the label all about? “I’m Amanda Brown, I run 100% SILK and Not Not Fun Records, and record as LA VAMPIRES. SILK is a danceinspired vinyl and cassette label focused on various strains of house and luxurious beat music.” So what is a typical day in the life of Amanda Brown and 100% SILK? “Immediately answer a million emails, listen to new demos and recordings from artists on the label, make packages to send out, go to the post ofﬁce, update my site, ﬁll in my day planner with random activities, eat dinner, watch movies and TV episodes I’ve had to DVR because of some show or gallery event, then fall asleep with all my make-up on.” Not Not Fun focused predominantly on experimental/ psychedelic releases. When did it become obvious that you needed another outlet for the SILK material? “Obvious isn’t really the word. One of Not Not Fun’s whole deals has been that me and Britt always keep every door open and follow every curiosity we have. Our goal every day is to stay inspired and believe in the music. Not Not Fun is still as vibrant as it’s ever been, but as my personal taste in music expanded, I started to ﬁnd myself drawn to styles and artists that just did not make sense under the NNF umbrella. I’ve used SILK as an extension of NNF in some ways – we just needed a separate entity to curate this music and out of that impulse 100% SILK was born.”
100% SILK has been labelled as ‘retro’ and having a strong taste for the past. “I disagree with the world’s idea of what ‘retro’ is. Music historians seem to love to immediately name a new phenomenon against its will, then get bored of it, and then decree it over. And if anyone continues to make that music, these critics denigrate it as retro. I use the example all the time of: ‘yes, house music has experienced a “golden age” or two, but just because that’s the case, does that mean that anyone making house music in 2012 is retro? Is every rock’n’roll label retro just because rock is an old form?’ ” How do you come across such an awesome selection of new producers/artists? “This is a question I get asked a lot. It’s not as strategic as sometimes people think it is. I’m part of a community, an underground. Friends of mine recommend friends of theirs; it’s a network of artists. I also get fantastic demos from strangers, because we’ve always had an open door demo policy. I’ll listen to anything and everything, and there’s lots of great dance music being made in the world right now. It’s a new dance era for sure.” How important is the visual presentation of the label’s music to you? “Just like it has been for NNF, this is an art project. I’m not strictly interested in the music alone. I like the whole presentation, the story it tells, evocative song titles, the fullon vibe.” Why do you think House music has made a resurgence recently? “I think some people are bored with what’s being sold to them in regular indie music culture, and a lot of people I know didn’t grow up with dance music, so it’s fresh. Maybe old school house fanatics would hate to hear that, but they shouldn’t. It’s amazing when people’s minds open and they get into styles they haven’t before. Both my labels have never been interested in strict purists styles. Some of SILK’s
philosophy is that it can be dance music for people who might not usually like dance music. And I’m proud to be that.” The label releases purely on vinyl and in 45rpm, 12” format. Why is that? “We’ve recently started making cassettes as well. But the vinyl format is obviously the preferred format for a danceﬂoor inspired label. Who can excite anyone with a CD?” Are you excited about the SILK European tour in 2012? “From an American perspective, Europeans often seem so much less trendy with music, just in that a lot of styles don’t go away there. Peple are freaking out to drum’n’bass like it just hit! And the day that it becomes hip in America to get into some new permutation of d’n’b again, Europeans will already be there. So we’re beyond excited to play for European audiences and dance freaks.” How about in the clubs – are there many differences between the U.S. and Europe there? “YES. A lot of people in America seem like they come to shows mainly to just check it out, stand on the side, absorb out of cultural curiosity, be seen with friends. In Krakow and Lausanne and even Australia, people go nuts.” You’re based in LA. Is SILK a very West Coast sound? “I would say so. It’s subtle and abstract (and debatable), but I’m sure our selection of artists comes across as a bit laid back, looser. The SILK artists don’t necessarily make tightly wound, urban paranoia, minimal music. There’s a bit of a hypnotized pleasure-seeking hedonism to it. It’s not Ibiza or anything, haha, but it’s how I like it.” Finally, what can we look forward to from the label this year? “So much!! Strategy, Polonaise, Body Double, Coyote Clean Up, Polysick, Design, Jonas Reinhardt, Roland Tings, Mi Ami, Fort Romeau, and more music from Ital, Magic Touch, Sir Stephen, and Octo Octa.”
P h o t o gr ap h e r P hil S har p Wr i t e r St uar t St ub b s A r t wo r k by S t é p han e B lum e r
The Proper Ornaments --You couldn’t write it
Imagine being in a band and constantly being asked how you all met. It’s a reasonable question, but you’d be surprised how many roll their here-we-go-again eyes. It’s little more than an icebreaker and fact-checker, really. It has to be, because the answer is never that thrilling. Most can sum it up in one of three single words – “school”, “university”, “friends”. No wonder they’re bored of saying it out loud. Even Lennon and McCartney only had “village fete” to go on. James Hoare (also of Veronica Falls) and Argentinian Max Clapps have something far more serendipitous and British rom-com to offer. “When I came to England I was with this girlfriend of mine and she was a kleptomaniac” explains Max.“She would wake up in the morning and go out to steal. She couldn’t stop, and one day we were in this shop in Notting Hill where James was working and she wanted these boots, so she told me to go and distract the guy at the counter. James was reading a book about The Velvet Underground…” “He said something like, ‘That’s a good book’, or
whatever,” continues James,“so we started talking about theVelvets for a while and then Max asked me if I played guitar because he’d just moved here and was looking to start something up, and so we swapped numbers. Meanwhile, these boots are getting stolen.” “No, she didn’t steal them in the end,” insists Max. “They weren’t her size.” Having entered the vintage store to appease his klepto girlfriend, Max had essentially come back out with a new band-mate. A chance meeting, between two characters from different sides of the planet, one new in town, in a shop, involving books, in Notting Hill… “I know,” says James,“it sounds like we’re making it up, like a Richard Curtis ﬁlm, but if anything we’ve toned it down.” This tale of boy meets boy, which began in 2006, before James had joined Veronica Falls or formed his old band, Your Twenties, only gets more like the stuff of movies. Like all good stories, someone turns up to fuck up the good times – a villain whose job it is to disrupt the cheer that looked too good to be true in the ﬁrst
--“We started talking about the Velvets and swapped numbers. Meanwhile, these boots are getting stolen by his girlfriend” ---
Photographe r Name H e re Write r Name H e re
place. For The Proper Ornaments (a name that James and Max only came up with in 2010), Max’s girlfriend played the part brilliantly. Max had been taken in off the streets by, shall we say, and more mature lady who worked at a national newspaper.“I didn’t seduce her,” he insists. If anything it sounds like it was the other way round as Max was offered full board after an acoustic show at The George Tavern pub in Whitechapel.Without any other options, he accepted the stranger’s offer and moved in.When his (“hideous”) girlfriend turned up, the pair of them were out, and, as James was about to ﬁnd out, on their way to his house. “I was living with some respectable people,” says James, “and his girlfriend was just awful, stealing everyone’s food and being really rude, so I was like, ‘you’ve got to leave, now!’, like, after a day or two. And it gets worse, because after I left the house, we had a massive basement with nothing in it, and they went in there and set up a room with heaters and everything and lived in there without anyone knowing for, like, ﬁve
days.” James continues to tell of how “Yoko”, as the band jokingly referred to her on Marc Riley’s 6Music radio show, went ballistic and threatened to steal all of his guitars. That Max patiently lets James ﬁnish a story in which he’s aligned with our devil woman is almost as much a testament to their friendship as the fact that after 6 months of not speaking, following basement-gate, the pair reconciled their differences and started listening to Lou Reed records and playing together again. Max’s own story reads like a fascinating prequel to all of this, told equally as candidly as he tells me that back home in Buenos Aires, “my family hated me and everything was bad, so I left.” ‘Villain’ might be a bit unfair, although you can decide the best title for Rolling Stones guru and manager Andrew Oldham, who played a signiﬁcant role in bringing Max to London. “I did a record with him,” explains Max, clearly unimpressed. “That didn’t go anywhere or do anything, he spent all the money – it was a mess.Then I met this girl [“Yoko”] and made a record with her, and then Andrew said come
to England and I’ll help you, and again nothing happened. But I was in trouble as well and Argentina was fucked up – there was no money at all.” Max ﬁnishes by saying that things are looking up, so much so that he doesn’t regret buying a one-way ticket to England. So yes,The Proper Ornaments have a more interesting meet-cute that most, but what about the music (or the soundtrack, if I really want to wring this movie metaphor dry)? That, thankfully, is what’s best of all. So inspired by bands like The Byrds and Love that they daren’t claim otherwise, James and Max – as their eponymous debut EP on No Pain In Pop neatly proves – write impossibly melodic guitar pop.The allure of the vocal harmonies is not only in how tightly they synch but how ubiquitous they are – even The Beach Boys didn’t sing in unison this much, and as for the clean guitars, they chime as sweetly as any of the band’s West Coast psych heroes from the ’60s, or anyone who’s since tried and managed to recreate that shimmering sound. “A lot of our inﬂuences really are self-explanatory,” admits James. “There are things like REM in the guitars too, and then neo-psychedelic bands from the ’80s who were pretending to be in the ’60s. It’s a bit like some of The Television Personalities, when they had moments of being quite good at mimicking the ’60s. So we’re not trying to be the ’60s, but maybe 2012’s version of the ’60s. “There was a thing where we had some songs that were garagey, but we’ve always been more into the softer side of the ’60s. Like, if you do everything like that ﬁrst Velvets record, it’s fun playing ‘I’m Waiting For The Man’ for a gig, but it’s a bit limiting.” The third ‘proper member’ of The Proper Ornaments is ex-Scritti Politti drummer Ralph Phillips, the other musician who appears on the band’s EP, as well as their previously released 7” on San Francisco’s Make A Mess label. Live, the three of them are joined by Daniel Nellis, on bass – who also plays in London surf band Jerry Tropicano – and Wesley Patrick Gonzalez of Let’s Wrestle. (Max returns the favour as Let’s Wrestle’s new second guitarist). Past members of the live line-up have included Henry Whithers of Lovvers, Michael Lovett of Your Twenties and Screaming Tea Party’s Koichi Yamanoha. Consistently, it’s been the joint project of James and Max, though, through romantic drama that borders on that of The Libertines. And when you hear The Proper Ornaments you’ll see why it’s all worth it. It’s like they’re meant for each other, like Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts.
Lee Ranaldo --As the fate of Sonic Youth hangs in the balance, Lee Ranaldo gears up for his ninth solo album, happy it was completed while his band we’re still definitely together In 2004 Lee Ranaldo was voted the 33rd greatest guitarist of all time by Rolling Stone magazine, placing joint with his Sonic Youth cohort Thurston Moore and topping an array of musicians as vast and talented as Link Wray, Pete Townsend, Frank Zappa, Tom Verlaine, Bert Jansch and Lou Reed. While the contention for these kinds of lists is obvious, it’s not a bad achievement for someone who has made a career out of deconstructing the conventionalities of guitar playing, both stylistically and with his unique tunings and modiﬁcations. Ranaldo has now been a voracious and incessant artist at work for over thirty years, an avid consumer and collector of artistic endeavours as much as he is a limitless creator of them. While his achievements in the music world are well documented and the results omnipresent in the work of countless imitators, he too is a hugely successful artist – in the broadest sense of the word – ﬁlm, multimedia, photography, producing, poetry and writing are just some of the areas in which Ranaldo has ﬂourished. As he rather insightfully later tells me, “I came to NYC to be an artist but happened to end up with an electric guitar rather than a paint brush.” But he also points out, “but all of the various disciplines have been brewing in the mix – cinema, literature, visual art, sound art, song art, and I’ve pretty much kept working in all of them. “I came to NYC wanting to lead a creative life,” he says, “that was the goal. It wasn’t money or fame, it was to be a life of creative endeavour and interesting company, which it has been thus far…”. Indeed it has. Ranaldo is set to release his latest studio album ‘Between the Times and the Tides in March’. It’s a comprehensive and thoroughly structured rock record, big and classic sounding with resemblances to Big Star, NeilYoung and R.E.M that creates a somewhat mystical time-frame to it, sounding as though the record could have really been from any era at any point over the last forty years. Guests featuring on the album include Sonic Youth’s Steve Shelley and previous SY members and collaborators such as Nels Cline, Jim O’Rourke, Alan Licht, John Medeski and Irwin Menkin, with coproduction from John Agnello – a dream team of sorts then. So how did getting them involved work in the studio? “Everyone had free range. They’d all heard the songs in advance, and each came in with some ideas, which we worked on together in the studio. Alan Licht came in with many fully formed counter parts for my guitar parts, which became pretty integral to the songs. Nels
and John approached each song on the spot and we worked on getting the kind of ‘feel’ I had in mind.” With having so much talent on board, one can imagine the managing of such characters, like the powerful and idiosyncratic Nels Cline, to be a skill in itself. “Nels is an amazingly versatile player who can hold his own in so many different settings” enthuses Lee.“He was very methodical in his approach, seemingly always providing what each song needed. In general, all these guys played over the songs, and then it was up to me to ‘arrange’ the parts, drop this one here in favour of that one, etc. Especially with our three guitars, I really had to ﬁgure out for each song which parts to feature where. It was a puzzle, but really fun.” Even with Steve Shelley behind the drums and previous some-time members of Sonic Youth playing on the record, it feels distinctly un-like anything Ranaldo has created with his band. It’s because, as he puts it himself, “Only a group with me, Steve, Kim and Thurston in is going to sound like Sonic Youth – that’s the short answer.” Lee pauses. “I wasn’t thinking of trying to sound like Sonic Youth, or trying not to sound like Sonic Youth, it just wasn’t an issue,” he continues. “These songs asked for their own thing. One thing that does set it apart from Sonic Youth is the keyboards all over the record.” And for all the seemingly unhinged characteristics of Lee’s band’s work, he notes that this structured record is not a new way of working for him. “I really let the music go where it wanted to,” he says, “and just kind of followed behind collecting it. Sonic Youth works in a very similar way, for the most part – we don’t conceptualize ﬁrst, we play ﬁrst and see what we’ve got, what we’re getting into… anyway that’s what our work in Sonic Youth has always been about, really – structured music, thoroughly structured songs. Sure, lots of experimentation and open sections, but really we’ve always been about putting the songs together. Lee says that “the learning process doesn’t let up, nor the urge to do new things”, and nothing proves it more than the fact that ‘Between the Times…’ is yet to be released (it’ll be out 20 March 2012) and he’s already “got a new group of songs I’m working on” and is “looking forward to developing them further.” It seems like he has restless need to create. “I’m not sure ‘restless’ is the right term,” he ponders. “Ever since the early days of Sonic Youth it’s been more along the lines of relishing the opportunities put in front of us, and wanting to do more with the added access and
responsibility as our success grew.” For all the plenteous enthusiasm and excitement that Lee has for his new project (which will be coming live to the UK around June), the inevitable subject of Sonic Youth’s current state has to be broached, so I tentatively enquire. “We are on ‘hiatus’,” he says. “I prefer to leave it at that. Archival projects will go on, but not much more than that for quite a while at least. No matter what happens from here, 30 years has been a pretty good run,” he says, then pauses, then offers further insight into the relationship with his new project – “I’m happy to have this record to sink into, and it allows me to be less concerned about the fate of the band. I’m also thankful that none of the behind-the-scenes things were up-front or in my view while I was making this record. I’m happy to have made it ‘while still in Sonic Youth’, rather than being confronted with the task of trying to make a ‘solo record’ because my band’s halted all of a sudden. I don’t think I could’ve done it under those circumstances. I’m glad it was so far along before all the heaviness started for Sonic Youth.” To us mere general public, the split of Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon was a sudden, immediate event, largely due to us having no prior context, knowledge or link to their relationship, but I cautiously question about their situation in the band over recent times and the affect this has had on Lee and Sonic Youth as a whole. “This is personal between the two of them, mostly,” he says. “And to that, the band and pretty much everything else, is secondary. It’s been difﬁcult to see them go through this, more than anything to do with what might happen to the band.” And has life without SonicYouth been thought about much? “I try to keep as my motto, ‘change is good’, no matter how hard it sometimes hurts! Change is usually for the better. So I can’t be too worried. It’s not healthy. After 30 years working together, with the history we have, we’ll always be connected to each other, no matter what happens. There are still a lot of things to do, even without the band being active currently.We were always asked what it felt like to still be working together after 20 years, 25 years… It always felt great; it was always viable and creative to us. But nobody expects their band will last forever. We got lucky and had a long long run. The future is uncertain,” he says. “Meanwhile, I’ve got some songs to sing…”
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Ceremony --Ross Farrar isn’t into iCulture. Nor could he give a shit about pleasing his fans “Follow the signs and queue in an orderly fashion, please,” says a uniformed supervisor stood on top of a rocky outcrop. Below him, struggling up the mountain, an unending line of people send one last text message, download one ﬁnal app and watch one lastYouTube clip of an adorable cat before they reach the crusted lip of the hissing volcano. There, they throw their mobile phones into a swirling pit of molten ﬁre and liquid simcards. BlackBerrys and iPhones bleep into oblivion as they’re tossed into the Earth’s white-hot cake-hole. They smile. This is Ceremony front man Ross Farrar’s vision of the future – a little embellished – and I can hear him grinning down the phone at the thought of it. “There’s probably going to be some kind of revolt or revolution one of these days, when everyone throws their cell phones into a volcano and go off to join some commune,” he conﬁrms in a half-joke. I say half-joke because Farrar sounds pretty serious, and because his hardcore-punk band aren’t exactly known for their comedy.“You know, like Zorro, when those guys all went up into the hills, there’s going to be some shit like that happening.” On our initial introduction it’s hard not to paint Farrar and his gang as some kind of militanttechnophobes railing against the modern world. But the point he’s trying to hammer home is a simple one: innovations in technology may mean we can geographically map the nearest Clinton Cards from our toilet seat, but it’s at the expense of one important thing – real human interaction.“Every day I’m walking around at my university and I don’t even see people look up at
me – they’re staring at their phones the whole time,” he elaborates. “It’s supposed to be a collegial place. You’re supposed to talk and converse with each other, but people don’t do that, they just get out of their cars, go into class, look at their cell phones. It’s like down the street too. I mean, guys don’t ask girls out on dates anymore. It’s kind of a weird situation now – technology is a big part of us isolating ourselves from one another.” This theme, this burrowing annoyance, you may have guessed, informs much of Ceremony’s new album, ‘Zoo’. “People can be assholes to each other all the time,” Farrar fumes. “It just amazes me the way people treat each other.” You can almost hear him shake his head as someone checks into FourSquare next to him. One safe assumption then – Ceremony won’t be writing their next album using HTML or collaborating with Bjork on any interactive software. In fact, for those new to the band, they have an old fashioned approach. And an old fashioned story.The ﬁve frustrated suburban (Rohnert Park, San Francisco) teenagers formed a snotty hardcore band with the intention of living their lives by code, playing some blistering live shows and telling everyone how fucked everything is in the process.They succeeded. Their ﬁrst two albums, ‘Violence Violence’ and ‘Still Nothing Moves You’, were justiﬁably saluted as hard, fast, noisy jewels. 2010’s ‘Rohnert Park’, though, was a very different character – still angry, but this time much more melodic (it’s still a racket). The softening in sound pissed some fans off, and the band loved that. So much so they’ve now signed with Matador Records (the home of Fucked Up, Kurt Vile and Cold Cave) and
updated their timeline with an even more melodic fourth album, ‘Zoo’, due out next month. “You can’t write the same record four times. Listen to ‘Zoo’, then listen to our ﬁrst record and you’ll hear a drastic change,” explains Farrar, who generally spends Ceremony’s live shows climbing speakers. “It’s a natural thing to do. Maybe fans won’t like it or maybe they will – regardless, they’re going to have to listen to it.” That’s not to say the band – completed by Anthony Anzaldo, Andy Nelson, Justin Davis and Jake Casarotti – have completely sacked off their hardcore roots.‘Zoo’ is still a seething record; it’s just one that moves them further away from pure sonic assaults and towards something more accessible. Farrar even admits he doesn’t like making the albums, he prefers playing live, but says ‘Zoo’ is the “weirdest” and “strangest” one they’ve made in their eight years together. “The lyrical content was a bit more ambiguous this time because it leaves a little mystery,” he says. “People have to think about them more.” True, it’s not all quite as self-explanatory as the ﬂagship track on ‘Rohnert Park’, ‘Sick’ (Sample lyrics: “Sick of living in America/Sick of mass hysteria/Sick of hardcore/Sick of mankind”), but you don’t have to be Poirot to work out what collective theme bonds brilliant tracks like ‘Hysteria’,‘Citizen’ and ‘Community Service’. Despair. Responsibility. Duty. But ‘Zoo’ isn’t the ﬁrst time Ceremony have looked to civilisation to ﬁnd inspiration. Back in the mid-2000s, Farrar wanted to record a new audiozine. He set foot onto the streets of San Francisco to interview complete strangers (the recordings of which appeared on ‘Rohnert Park’) and was surprised by the response.“It was half and half,” he says of peoples’ willingness to open up. “Some were opposed to it, the other half were OK. I got some really weird ones about guys cheating on their wives for the ﬁrst time and stuff – very private things. It was crazy – the things these people were just telling me!” All of which makes Ceremony sound like an angry social experiment, which it kind of is: a crusade led by Farrar to confront conformity, ignite reactions and generally take a long hard look at ourselves. Don’t Tweet them, Poke them, Like them, Share them... just join them.They won’t thank you for it.
Psychic Dancehall --The one-shot band inspired by their local, seedy dive bar Don’t expect to hear much of Psychic Dancehall after this. They’ve probably broken up already. I think it happened an hour after we met, as they left their ﬁrst live show to what else but ‘Hit The Road Jack’.This was never meant to be full time job; it wasn’t even meant to be heard. Charles Rowell – also of San Diego garage band Crocodiles – met daughter-of-a-Sex-Pistol and then member of The Slits Hollie Cook years ago.Transatlantic relationships can be a pisser, though, and this one wasn’t made any easier by two musical schedules that rarely synchronised. Somehow they made it work, and in 2010, with The Slits having disbanded after the unexpected death of lead singer Ari Up, Charles surprised Hollie with an apartment for them to live in in San Diego. It rained every day they were there, so they would listen to Scott Walker records by day and frequent a local “wonderfully odd” gay bar called Redwing. “We’d go there all the time,” says Charles. “It was pretty seedy, like a local bar – your base-level clientele that were all crossdressers and drag queens. It’s nice. Kinda Lou Reed-ish, Culture Club-ish.We ﬁt in really well there. “They made us feel absolutely welcome.When Holly walked in everyone was like, ‘Oh my god’,” he says in a tempered camp squeal. “It wasn’t only her appearance that all the girls and guys liked, but when she opened her mouth, the British thing, they were just like… wow! It was incredible. So we ended up doing a lot of karaoke there every night, and the bartender developed a crush on me. It was great. It was like a family for a while and we developed a lot of relationships there.” “We got a cheer once when we walked in,” laughs Hollie. “And I actually cried the last night that I was there.” In the daylight hours, Charles and Hollie had started to record songs together in their closet, with a guitar, a keyboard and a laptop.They began with a cover of ‘Long Lost Lover’ – an obscure old reggae song by the even more obscure old reggae group Love Joys – but Redwing now gave them new inspiration for their own material. And so that became their Californian routine – listen to records until the local, seedy dive bar opened, walk in to applause, ﬂirt with the drag queens, karaoke, home, write a song about it. ‘Dreamers’ – the duo’s slurred, no-ﬁ album that’s out now on local indie label Art Fag – encapsulates it all. It constantly sounds like a slow, endless party, largely due to Charles’ heavy-headed baritone bur, clearly inspired by Walker and another favourite of his, Leonard Cohen. It feels unkempt, rundown and grotty, like a neon sign with some of its bulbs blown, and yet it is strangely glamorous and oddly seductive in its own contentment. Like most of Lou Reeds’ records, it’s proudly sleazy, and when Hollie sings over the hissing drums and rudimentary keyboards it’s momentarily completely wholesome. Comparisons to both Crocodiles and The Slits are easily made (‘A Love That Kills’ does sound a hell of a lot like Crocodiles’ ‘I Wanna Kill’, covering ‘Long Lost
Lover’ is a classic Slits move), and that’s partly why ‘Dreamers’ is released as the work of two anti-hero aliases – Dorian Wartime and Sylvia Innocent. “First of all, we wanted to keep it a secret,” explains Charles, “because we didn’t want it to be released or anything. These are closet recordings, which are ambitious because we were making it and wanted it to be good, but there was no idea about it becoming a band or a thing that we wanted to make into a product or anything, so when [Art Fag founder] Mario asked us to release it, we thought why don’t we not divulge who’s done it, why don’t we create some names and make it an artefact, so for people who didn’t know, they’d just pick it up and read these names and think, ‘who is Dorian Wartime?’ It makes it a bit more special and stops people from thinking she does this and he does that.” US magazine Interview blew the whistle on Wartime and Innocent, admittedly with the band’s permission. “They said they wanted to do an interview but they wanted to reveal who it is,” says Charles, “and I like Interview magazine, so we just said OK.Then I saw things online saying they sound like The Jesus and Mary Chain and The Slits, and that they knew who it was but they weren’t going to say, and that kind of annoyed me, so at least a respectable magazine could set the record straight.”
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Besides, Charles and Hollie – who now live in London where it only rains every other day – don’t plan on continuing Psychic Dancehall anymore than they initially planned to release their home recordings. Like their visits to Redwing that inspired their seedy, Suicideon-downers songs, the whole project longs to be temporal; a concise moment in time; an artefact, as Charles puts it. “It really does capture a very speciﬁc and memorable moment between us,” says Hollie, and Charles agrees. “When we’ve talked about it I’ve tended to fall on the side that it should be this thing that happened and then that’s it,” he says. “We just went out at night and got inspired and wrote some songs. But it’s encapsulated in time and in a period, and we can remember all of the songs and when we did them and what we were doing, and that’s great, and that probably fed into the fact that it’s as interesting as it is. It was completely uninhibited. “We did an interview where someone asked us what we’re going to do next, and I was like, ‘I don’t think there’s going to be a next’, because it doesn’t seem right. I like the idea of it being an artefact. If you do another record you fall into that thing of comparing it to the ﬁrst record, and I don’t think we need to deal with any of that. It’s a pure thing at the moment and I think it should stay that way.”
Beating the rush ---
--Few bands from the middle of the last decade went on to make a second record, let alone a third. The Maccabees did, outrunning the indie landslide and holding on to their self-respect --Raking through the slush pile of mid-Noughties indie rock, who would you have predicted to be ﬁlling arenas half a decade later? The Kooks? Good Shoes? The Pigeon Detectives? As we know, the landslide of leather jackets and Telecasters soon became landﬁll, consigned to Changing Rooms, mobile phone ads and Hollyoaks montages, surely destined to be a mere footnote to 21st century pop music. But a strange thing happened in 2011. Three of the year’s most feted albums – The Horrors’ ‘Skying’, Metronomy’s ‘The English Riviera’ and Wild Beasts’ ‘Smother’ – were delivered by bands of the 2006 vintage. While none of those bands could have been mistaken for landﬁll indie even in their embryonic form, they hardly seemed likely back then to blossom into the critically acclaimed list-botherers we now see before us. Even less likely to make the leap from upstarts to heavyweights, then, were The Maccabees – a band on a weirdly similar trajectory to their Class of ’06 peers, surprising probably even themselves as they gear up to play Brixton Academy for the third (!) time. In the dressing room before their headline show, frontman Orlando Weeks and guitarist Felix White are buoyant and unfailingly polite, offering tea and apologising profusely for being four minutes late. Their rider, heaped high on a corner table, consists of fruit, crisps and great leaning towers of houmous. (And when did houmous become an acceptable rider staple? Oasis wouldn’t have tolerated that hippy paste but Kasabian probably do – sometime in the early Noughties chickpea
dip must have entered the register of suitably rock and roll pre-show snacks.) Their politeness towards the intruding journalist is a surprise, given that the press has not always been kind to The Maccabees. Just a few weeks ago The Guardian’s Kitty Empire derided the new record as “[Coldplay’s] ‘Viva La Vida’ all over again, only with better lyrics,” while their debut ‘Colour It In’ and follow-up ‘Wall Of Arms’ were criticised for leaning too heavily on their inﬂuences – ﬁrst The Futureheads, then Arcade Fire – even while the songwriting itself was praised. Do they take notice of the reviews? “I’ve read some of them,” says Orlando. “Felix has been a lot more on it this time,‘cos he’s never read them before.” On purpose? “Yeah. But sometimes you just think, oh fuck it, I’ll read it. And I read a really, really bad one, someone sent me a link to it.” That was nice of them.“But it’s not the end of the world – the writer said it was unimaginative and trite, I think, and then he said, ‘for a second album’! It can be a bit weird to have people lay into the record that you know so much more about than they do. But, then, we get to go and play in Australia for three weeks, we’re going back to America, we’re doing our own tour in Europe, we’re getting played on the radio...” From the ﬁrst few seconds of ‘Given To The Wild’ it’s obvious the band have made their ‘mature third album’, where ‘mature’ means grown-up lyrical concerns (memories, family, mortality) and an attempt at making something warm and expansive rather than youthful
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and spiky.Where they once sounded like a band in thrall to their inﬂuences,The Maccabees now seem invigorated by sounding like themselves, albeit ﬁltered through a careful ear for Mojo-approved classics. ‘Pelican’, in particular, stands out as a classy bit of modernised Fleetwood Mac, a comparison Felix seems pleased with. The record is also strikingly cohesive, creating a hermetically sealed atmosphere of reﬂection and quietude, even on the more epic and rousing tracks. Lyrically there are some pretty dark moods going on there too: “Forever I’ve known nothing stays forever”; “One thing’s for sure we’re all getting older/So we take a lover waiting in the corner/Before you know it, pushing up the daisies.” It’s a far cry from singing about a swimming pool’s wave machine, isn’t it? “Lyrically I didn’t want it to come across as a sad album,” says Orlando, “but I think reﬂective is a much better word for it. When you have memories, or you look back, it prompts you to evaluate what’s going on now. But it’s not meant to be sad, it’s meant to be...” He pauses. “Any time that you’ve put into making a song, it has to in a sense be a celebration, because it requires so much attention and patience and you wouldn’t give that to something you didn’t care about. So that in itself means that it shouldn’t be sad.” On the ﬁrst listen the songs almost bleed into each other, you barely notice the tracks changing. “That is a big compliment,” says Orlando, “just because the way that we set out writing it was so bitty. “We had all these 10-second loops, a chorus here, recorded in a bathroom
somewhere, or on a tourbus with people falling over ‘cos we’re on the M25 or something – to then make that cohesive was a huge challenge. And I think that’s a lot down to Felix, Sam [Doyle, drums] and Hugo [White, guitar] really starting to understand production.” “Some of the sounds are plug-ins and things from working on computers,” adds Felix,“messing around on things like that, but we were conscious that we’d always have guitars, you need the guitars, and we wanted to have more things, so we bought hundreds of pedals.” Orlando:“At one point you were walking round with a Sainsbury’s carrier bag with a grand’s worth of pedals.” Felix: “I was! Which pretty much sums it up.” “This record sounds like a grand’s worth of pedals,” they laugh. There’s also a transition in Orlando’s vocal style,
which had already developed from the clipped yelps of the ﬁrst album through the lower register of the second, and now alights on a buttoned-up falsetto which ﬂoats coolly over the songs, sounding almost detached from the guitars and drums. “The skeletons of the songs were coming from all over,” he says, “so I’d be emailed this thing and it wasn’t like I was in a loud rehearsal room trying to hear what I was singing over the top of everything, I could do it with headphones in a quiet place.And on top of that there’s some busyness elsewhere, so I thought that a nice way of being involved in it would be to not try and out-busy everything, and if there’s that grandeur going on then maybe my role should be to not compete and to just try and ﬁnd the gap that needed ﬁlling.” “Those songs on the ﬁrst record, the more time goes on the more they kind of mean things to people,” says Felix, explaining how he still enjoys playing the band’s early material. “I still love ‘X-Ray’ as a piece of music, I think that’s great. That’s one of the best things about going to see bands that have made three records – you’re going to see a band play a body of work. Like when you go and see Interpol, I think it’s beautiful to see the whole span of it – it’s mixed with hope about what they’re becoming and a sense of nostalgia for songs that mean something to you from 10 years ago.” One review of the album, on The Quietus website, notes that this record is made by grown-ups: “The air of sweet sorrow that blankets their music seems now to be less like indie boys fetishising an abstract sadness, and
more like something homegrown, which usually means the difference between ‘moping’ and ‘dealing with pain through music’.”There’s a long pause, before Felix blurts, “Shit sandwich,” and they fall about laughing. “There’s not really an answer to that,” he says. “Better than dealing with music through pain,” adds Orlando. Clearly wary of coming across as pretentious or selfindulgent, they shy away from answers that delve too deeply into the meaning or purpose of their music. But who would accuse The Maccabees, of all bands, of being pretentious? Take the cover art, a photograph of an Andy Goldsworthy sculpture, a vivid and arresting image that’s an intriguing visual counterpoint to the music. “[Goldsworthy’s] books are like the perfect coffee table book – big, high-res photographs of beautiful things,” says Orlando. So what is it about that image that works so well with the music? Orlando looks over to Felix tentatively. “What d’you reckon?” “I don’t wanna say what it means or anything,” says Felix.“It just looks like an album cover. Not many things look like an album cover immediately, it’s beautifully colourful.” “And it looks good in any size, on a billboard, on posters on the Tube, in iTunes,” says Orlando.
a band who’ve put in some serious hours on the road, Felix has a joke to share. “Why doesn’t a tour manager look out the window in the morning? To give himself something to do in the afternoon.” “Ahh, that is so mean!” says Orlando. Okay then, what are your tourbus rules? “If someone’s blinds are closed, they’re closed for a reason,” states Orlando. “If you fall asleep in your bed then you’re safe, if you fall asleep anywhere else on the bus, you’re not safe,” adds Felix.
Not safe from what? “Everything.You’re only limited by your imagination,” says Orlando. “Just don’t fall asleep. And also, sleep feet ﬁrst, like a cofﬁn. That’s for safety reasons. It is if you break your leg, if your shins come off and go through your knees.” Back in the UK, Brixton is a venue that must feel like a second home to The Maccabees by now. “It’s always a treat playing here. It deﬁnitely doesn’t feel like home but it feels less intimidating,” Orlando says. “Our ﬁrst show here was terrifying, it was such a big deal.” Seeing them sound-check – with a ping pong table centre-stage, wheeled in from their rehearsal room down the road – you might say The Maccabees got damn lucky.They caught an unstoppable indie pop wave and have been fortunate to end up on a major label (Fiction) who’ve given them room to grow and evolve where other bands (including their beloved Futureheads) were abandoned on the shore. Although, it’s the band that has amassed a sizeable and committed fanbase along the way, something that no record label would turn its nose up at. And like those three bands mentioned earlier – The Horrors, Metronomy and Wild Beasts – they’ve produced a third album that really surprises people, fans and critics alike. “I think those bands have always been thought of as artistic, intelligent bands – even from their ﬁrst records,” says Orlando. Sure, but Metronomy were more like a fun party band,The Horrors were seen as a bit silly and Wild Beasts were just plain bonkers. None of them were taken all that seriously to begin with, but they’re still going strong where others have faded away.“Maybe something that they’ve all got in common is that they weren’t huge when their ﬁrst albums came out, and that might have been in favour of all of them, ‘cos they’ve been allowed to change,” says Orlando. And has that been the case for The Maccabees. “Deﬁnitely!” they both agree. And yet considering how wildly different all four bands sounded to start off with, they’ve all landed on a sound that is not so dissimilar – a restrained, carefully
constructed, moody sound that’s epic without being bombastic, referencing past styles but still aiming for timelessness.“I have no idea why, and I don’t even know if I agree totally that everyone’s come to this same place,” says Orlando, “but I think that having the opportunity to develop and ﬁgure out where they want to go next is the common thread.” “When we started the band,” says Felix,“people were copying – well, not copying, but it was all that postpunk, late ‘70s music, and as we’ve moved on seven or eight years later, the music people are cop… er, referencing, not copying, is eight years on from that. There’s something unconscious or subliminal about people moving through record collections and coming round to this stuff.” He tests the theory out tentatively as though it were completely madcap, this idea of borrowing through the ages. What’s next then? They’ll start referencing themselves if they wait long enough. “Maybe late ‘80s,” says Felix. “I’ve just been listening to Talk Talk non-stop. Incredible music.” So there you have it. The Maccabees, against all the bloody odds, have made a third record, played a third show at Brixton Academy to launch the thing, and – to the gnawing chagrin of the hipsters and naysayers – they’re doing it with some undeniable panache. You’ve gotta hand it to them – we won’t be hearing the word ‘landﬁll’ in reference to them again.
Grimes --Claire Boucher insists that anyone can do what she does. If only it were true
P h o t o gr ap h e r P hil S har p Wr i t e r S am Wal t o n
On one end of an old Chesterﬁeld sofa in an upmarket north London gastropub, Canadian singer and producer Grimes – Claire Boucher to her mum – is mid-ﬂow:“... like, people will say to me, ‘Claire, why don’t you learn another language?’. But why would I want to say the same thing in a different language, and spend all those hours? It’s going to take like 900 hours or more or something to learn how to say something that I already know how to say.” We’ve reached this point in the conversation via a discussion of the reliability of memory, the Internet, sleeping rough, music software, spaghetti
sauces and whether Boucher might suffer from a short attention span. As a follow up, I ask if she might consider music a kind of… “Oh yeah, of course music is a language,” she concedes, “but I don’t think you have to learn it, it’s just a matter of conﬁdence. I mean, for me it was just like one day I was just,‘well I’m gonna do it’ – and then I just did it. From the get-go, I was able to make music. And I’m not remarkable in that sense – I really think that anyone could do it if they wanted to.” She says this with no hint of arrogance or
obnoxiousness, but more a genuine disbelief that not everyone is a natural like her. In a way, there’s a charming self-deprecation to the idea that she thinks she’s just like everyone else, but of course she isn’t. After all, this is a personality that has the self-belief and energy, not to mention the lack of self-consciousness, to quit University to promote and distribute two homemade albums that contain literally the ﬁrst music she ever made, get herself signed to an international record label (4AD, home to the likes of Bon Iver, St Vincent and tUnE-yArDs) and then follow those records up with another entirely bedroom-crafted LP, ‘Visions’. And while all of her discography thus far carries the traits, good and bad, of a ﬁrst-thought-is-best-thought writing process, ‘Visions’ is her most coherent release yet. Bleak and pulsating and swathed with remarkable vocals that swerve from sing-song playground chant to the whistle register of Minnie Riperton or Mariah Carey, it’s a moody scrapbook of an album where snippets of song ideas nestle comfortably among fully formed compositions. Made at breakneck speed – 3 weeks from start to ﬁnish – and entirely constructed on Apple’s super-user-friendly GarageBand software, it is an incredibly modern-sounding album: every chord and melody line is digitally ﬁltered and squeezed, sounding unmistakably like it’s carved out of raw ones and zeros and low-bitrate mp3s rather than warm acoustic instruments and vinyl. Its only nod to a time before its own existence is a scattergun array of inﬂuences – from the dark electronica of Boards of Canada and schizoid hip-pop of Outkast, to Whitney Houston’s melismatic vocal stylings and even, occasionally, the smoothly melodious end of Fleetwood Mac – ironically itself a modern combination that can only result from ten years of frantic ﬁle-sharing. Indeed, Boucher herself has described her music as “post Internet”, referring to the musical eclecticism that has arisen from total instant access to every song ever. “I just always imagine that if Mariah Carey and Aphex Twin came together, that would be the greatest band ever,” she explains, trying to marry the disparate sounds of her own music. “That’s kinda what Grimes is trying to do: bringing IDM and industrial, and all of these sick genres together with, like, pop.Why didn’t Mariah Carey do that?” Born in 1988, Boucher grew up in Vancouver with four brothers, listening to the industrial rock and metal that was a staple diet for any self-respecting rebellious teen of the noughties – Marilyn Manson, Tool, Nine Inch Nails and the like. “I liked the aggression and I liked the aesthetic of it,” she explains. “There was Marilyn Manson, this icon, just so beautiful, and he was doing the Michael Jackson pop-star thing, where you live your art, except that it was scary as shit.” Although her music bears no relation to the heft and grit of that genre, her appearance still does: her huge saucer eyes are thick with black eyeliner, and her hair – not dyed black for the ﬁrst time in nine years, she proudly announces – falls long over shaved sides in the classic undercut style. She also sports multi-buckled leather platform boots and home-administered tattoos on her hands, including the icons from 90s sci-ﬁ classic The Fifth Element across her knuckles. It’s a strong, bolshy but ultimately outsider look that matches her disposition. She left Vancouver when she got a place to read neuroscience and philosophy at McGill University in Montreal. With no formal music training or playing experience whatsoever, Boucher got a friend to show her how to use GarageBand, and, in her words, “music suddenly made sense”. She began making tracks, and it’s there that Grimes was born, as an escape from the
trivialities of real life:“Grimes is not an alter-ego, it’s just me without all the bureaucratic bullshit,” she explains. “Like, it’s me, but I’m not going to the bank and I’m not buying groceries. When I’m doing normal stuff I’m behaving, censoring myself.” Barely two years after she ﬁrst launched the program on her Mac, she’s being touted as the next Next Big Thing. It’s inconceivable that such a meteoric rise would’ve been possible without Boucher’s single-mindedness, and her almost childlike lack of common sense or selfconsciousness. Again and again in our hour together, she tells stories that display an unapologetic stubbornness, disconnection from real life and compulsive drive to do exactly as she pleases. She talks of writing one song on ‘Visions’ in a single sitting, without toilet or food breaks: “I started, and then I looked at the clock and it was 14 hours later and the song was ﬁnished – and then I was so hungry and I had to pee so bad.” Similarly, she explains that she’d rather “dumpster dive” for food than work for money: “It’s far easier to spend twenty minutes digging through trash to get some good food than to go and work for like eight hours. That way, life is free. It’s just days off, hanging out, making music. It’s so much better for me.” This slightly pulse-quickening sense of danger, of a grown-up behaving like a feral child and still enjoying success, can be a seductive character trait, and it makes its way musically onto ‘Visions’, too: song structures and harmonies that one suspects might not even occur to
--“I imagine if Mariah Carey and Aphex Twin came together, that would be the greatest band ever” ---
more reverential or experienced musicians are all over the tracks. Indeed, it is perhaps the most compelling quality of Grimes’ music that so many of her songs feel impish and gotten-away-with, slightly forbidden, and undeniably sexy, although it’s a sexiness that’s far from traditional. That unconventional allure is something that Boucher welcomes:“I don’t want to make blatantly sexy records,” she insists. “I mean, I feel prettiest when I’m wearing a trench coat or whatever, because I think it’s all about conﬁdence and intention. For instance, Britney Spears is not attractive, because of the desperation in her life. I ﬁnd aggression sexy. I think power is sexy. Like, Leeloo in The Fifth Element [Milla Jovovich’s character] is the hottest girl in all of Hollywood, because she’s got power. And what’s the coolest shit that’s happening right now? It’s people making video games, or hackers – the coolest, most attractive people are geeks.” So is Boucher a geek? Despite plenty of supporting evidence – the Fifth Element ﬁxation, the naming of her ﬁrst album,‘Geidi Primes’, after a planet from the fantasy book Dune, the nights spent hunched over a laptop denying her bodily functions – she denies it when I ask directly. Nonetheless, she acknowledges being in possession of a curious sex appeal, and is circumspect but pragmatic about its use. “My femininity is in no way the basis of what I am doing, but I know sex sells, for sure,” she says. “And I deﬁnitely have played that card. Sometimes, you’ve got to look in front of you and recognise that there is a way to make things slightly easier, which will lead to a lot faster success. “And that doesn’t mean being like, ‘oh, my tits are out’, but it does mean that if someone says do a fashion shoot, you do it, why not? I recognise that that’s not the purest way to look at it, but I just think I am really good, and I want power, and that’s a faster way up the ladder.” With a simultaneous cynicism and naivety, conﬁdence and humility, and a bulletproof sense of ambition, it’s easy to think of Boucher as a desperately precocious, disarmingly intelligent little girl (with all the charm and exasperation that suggests) stuck in the body of a darkly beautiful 23-year-old woman. Her ideas are frequently underdeveloped, but they are delivered with a force-ofnature personality that more than compensates for the rawness – a situation that feels deliciously punk, even if her music doesn’t sound anything like the Sex Pistols. She wants to do everything (being a ﬁlm maker is next on the list, apparently), and sees no reason why anything should get in the way of achieving that: the internet will provide, she is sure, and her own curiosity will drive.“With art, I have no preconceptions of how it should be made – I’ve no muscle memory that’s been drilled into me – so it’s a totally free universe of exploration, a constant discovery, and I love the feeling of ﬁguring things out, like Legend of Zelda or something. And,” she adds, as if to demonstrate that anyone can do what she’s done, that’s she’s not that special really,“all the information you ever need is on the Internet.” For Grimes, certainly, and maybe anyone else who wants it enough, success can be boiled down to just a series of clicks.
hree years ago, Trailer Trash Tracys spoke to us about the virtues of good sound men, good equipment and their ambition of making a great debut album. Now signed to Domino imprint Double Six, and with the lustrous analogue beauty of ‘Ester’ impressively lingering a month after its release, the debut album is one thing the band can conﬁdently chalk off that modest list. Treating us to a gloriously low-lit journey drifting between Twin Peaks, reverberating pysch-pop and prettiﬁed B-Movie isolation, ‘Ester’ is a prominent statement of Trailer Trash Tracys’ early evolution. Melding a range of disparate inﬂuences – the black and white static of the Jesus and Mary Chain, submerging production of Phil Spector and an array of ’60s girl group pop melodies – there’s a depth and intricacy to the album few bands attempt to incorporate into a debut, never mind successfully accomplish. “That was always what we wanted to do: the dream of creating a great album,” singer Suzanne Aztoria starts. “That’s quite a big statement though, isn’t it?” ponders guitarist, Jimmy-Lee. “I think the songs are strong and, for me, all the good records I really like have that enduring structure.You can colour it anyway you want, and perhaps two years ago we were associated with something that was more lo-ﬁ, but not so much now.We could polish this album and Britney Spears could cover our songs,” he smiles. “Probably not Britney,” Suzanne interjects. “Who would it be now? Rhianna?” “Yeah, any of our songs covered by Rihanna would be huge hits,” Jimmy laughs. Behind this light-hearted comment, though, there’s also a straight-laced conﬁdence that’s difﬁcult to judge, particularly considering the band’s explanation of their name, inspired by everything from recycled East German cars to a Japanese love hotel to a blow up doll, depending where you read it.With music writers desperate to assert some kind of knowledgeable authority, Suzanne, Jimmy, bassist Adam and drummer Dayo ﬁgured it’d make sense to have some fun. “Trailer Trash Tracys…the three ‘T’s represent the three crosses of cavalry,” Jimmy explains.“The three ‘ra’s’ represent the trinity of the sun god Ra and the ‘iler ash cys’ is Latin for ‘good spirits win’. The hardest thing about it is keeping a straight face,” he smiles. “These guys [points to the rest of the band] are cracking up and the challenge is to make it up on the spot.” True to his point, Suzanne, Adam and Dayo are all grinning away. “I think there are about ten different versions now,” Suzanne laughs. “It would be so boring to have a name we actually sound like. I think it’s the Trailer Trash bit that bothers people. It’s so easy!” It doesn’t take long to understand that the band are happy to have fun, but also that their music is a point of intense sincerity. Buoyed by the positive reaction to their debut but determined not to rest on it, they’re a
band driven by a ﬁerce perfectionism and exploration. Utilising the beneﬁts of both analogue and digital sound to create, record and master ‘Ester’ was an intensive, intricate process, but one Jimmy feels stands the band’s progress in good stead. “I think where we are now, there are deﬁnitely advantages to using analogue and digital. Analogue gives us the warmth but digital allows us to be a bit more creative.We recorded a lot of stuff on tape but we had to make it digital to edit it. The warmth is the feeling, overall, that we want but I like the sharpness of digital.” “With analogue,” Adam continues, “the sound can sometimes be a bit too soft around the edges, so it’s a case of trying to balance both together.” “I think for this album it was a case of discovery,” Jimmy states. “It’s never going to be perfect and you can just keep playing and playing with it. Maybe we’d have liked it to have more live drums but then some days I wake up and like that metronome heaviness. It’s a learning curve and we discovered how to do a lot of things we’ll end up using in the future a lot quicker than if we hadn’t tried different approaches, but at some point you just have to let it go.” Born from a simple desire to do things differently, Trailer Trash Tracys’ lust for exploration has served them well. After attracting attention way back in 2009, it’s a testament to the band’s commitment of creating music to endure instead of simply satisfying that they weren’t washed away by the ever-rabid hype machine. Disillusioned with the music landscape at the time, it proved to be a welcome spur according to Suzanne. “When we did ‘Candy Girl’, we were so sick of all these bands like Bloc Party and we wanted to do something different.Then we put this song out and kind of got lumped with everyone else.” “We were really bad at the time, but Adam had a studio so we took what we had and he was like, ‘the reason you’re falling for this demo is because…’ and he just rammed up the distortion and we all went,‘Oh yeah, we like it now!’ Jimmy laughs. “It’s like we were talking about earlier: it’s the nature of the press beast in London. It’s always hungry and when someone ﬁnds something, everyone wants a piece of it and hurtles it into space. I think there are a lot of casualties as a result of that but we’re always going to do music so it doesn’t affect us. Looking back, it was fashionable at the time to do homemade recordings but we weren’t engineering it to sound shit...” “We were just shit,” Dayo chips in, grinning with perfect, deadpan timing to the great mirth of the rest of the band. “We didn’t know the attention would happen,” Suzanne picks up, “we had no expectations and put the song on Myspace thinking ﬁve people would listen to it.” “Most of us had jobs at the time so we were limited with what we could do. It was kind of frustrating but we
probably got about 50 songs out of that time and put a lot of the best ones on this album.” “We’ve still got a lot of material,” Jimmy adds before Suzanne jumps back in: “We should have released our second album already.” “The anthology’s already right there. It’s all been planned,” Jimmy laughs. Having worked tirelessly to get the album to a place they were happy with, and emerging from a difﬁcult period with a wealth of material, Trailer Trash Tracys aren’t about to let themselves stagnate in any aspect of their music. Balancing the richness of the record with the rawness of the live show, using equipment that still isn’t quite at the level the band needs, is an aspect Jimmy is excited to hit head on. “The live aspect is a whole new challenge,” he says. “Making the album, I never thought about playing it live, properly, but it’s a whole new game. When we’re trying to make the record translate live, there’s a dynamic I almost prefer compared to the recording. Sometimes, live, you can’t get the subtleties and it can be painful playing with a tiny amp and speakers. Our equipment isn’t the best at the moment but it’s getting there as we go, and I think until we get to a level where we’re like, ‘Fuck, we sound really good, live’, that’ll be our focus. I’m enjoying it.” “In general, when it’s loud, it’s good and when we get that volume, it does justice to our songs,” says Adam. “When it’s too quiet, it loses that edge it has on record.” “We post-produce a lot of the guitar and there are a lot of very subtle intricacies around that. For example, I used to have one speaker and two pedals, now I’ve got three outputs on my guitar: one reverb, one echo and one dry signal. So it’s three outputs from just me playing…” Jimmy tries to explain, “…and he’s got an amp that goes up to 11…” Adam interjects. “…that’s on the old amp…” says Suzanne. So from Spinal Tap amps, global pop star covers, a premature anthology via a dislike for the Bloc Party generation and an arresting debut, Trailer Trash Tracys’ next steps are sure to be as grandiose as the noise they make…with or without that ever elusive sound engineer. “I think it’s more about the journey and making it so that it doesn’t get boring,” Suzanne starts. “I think our sound translates to a bigger stage,” offers Dayo, “probably not an arena but it works better in places where the sound can build.” “We played Brixton supporting the Maccabees to about 1000 people and if you play to that many and 10% dig it, that’s still 100 people,” Jimmy reasons. “I think we haven’t lost focus of that and we won’t lose focus of that.” “I’d like to take our little amps to arenas,” Adam grins. “Yeah, but only if we can get our own sound guy,” Suzanne laughs.
Trailer Trash Tracys --Their debut album took a long time coming, but, then, what did we expect from a band with such a clear vision of how they want to sound? 26
P h o t o g r ap h e r D an Ke n dall Wr i t e r R e e f Yo uni s
P h o t o gr ap h e r G ab r i e l G r e e n Wr i t e r D K G o l d s t e in
Une étoile modeste Daughter of Serge, muse of Beck, guest editor of Vogue, star of art house cinema; Charlotte Gainsbourg remains incredibly grounded, to the extent that she’s always felt like a pretender WWW.LOUDANDQUIET.COM
harlotte Gainsbourg began her music career on the cusp of pubescence when she sang ‘Lemon Incest’ with her father – the late, infamously provocative singer-songwriter, actor, director and producer Serge. In the song’s promo video a 13year-old Charlotte with a short, boyish crop stretches out on a large double bed clad in a man’s shirt, while Serge reclines shirtless beside her. Add to this the sumptuous, erotic whisperings of the great man’s 1967 duet with Brigitte Bardot, ‘Je T’aime…Moi Non Plus’, which was actually released two years later featuring Charlotte’s actress/singer mother Jane Birkin, and it’s clear to see why Charlotte isn’t known to stray from controversy. In 2009 she acted out a scene of genital mutilation in Lars von Trier’s The Antichrist, which caused much furious uproar as well as praise.What doesn’t make sense, however, is the timid, quiet woman who sits before me, carefully pouring a pot of tea from a breakfast tray littered with discarded crockery.“It’s not in my nature to perform,” she admits. It’s a modest statement from someone with such a proliﬁc body of work in acting and music behind her. “I think a lot of actors are shy people,” she elaborates. “Maybe I’m not shy, but I’m embarrassed by myself. With an acting part it’s ﬁne, and with a ﬁlm crew, at ﬁrst it’s difﬁcult, but then you can forget. With an audience it’s completely different because you’re there for them, so you have to look at them.” Born in London in July 1971 but raised in Paris, Charlotte ﬁrst dove into acting when she was 12 years old in the role of Catherine Deneuve’s daughter in Élie Chouraqui’s 1984 movie Paroles et Musique. Two years later she released her ﬁrst album, ‘Charlotte For Ever’ (sic), which was written and produced by her father. She most recently starred alongside Hollywood actress Kirsten Dunst in another Lars von Trier movie, Melancholia, which followed two sisters coping with emotional stress under unusual, life-threatening circumstances. It was released two months before the birth of her third child – son Joe Attal – and she’s just ﬁnished making a ﬁlm with one of the British tabloid’s favourite indie fools Pete Doherty and model Lily Cole (entitled ‘Confession of a Child of the Century’), not to mention her double album, ‘Stage Whisper’ that was released at the end of January. With so much going on (and having gone on) in one lifetime, it’s difﬁcult to know where to begin, so I ask Charlotte if she’d like to kick things off. “Oh no, I’d never know what to say.” She chuckles bashfully and leans forward. “It’s always very embarrassing to explain why you’ve done something and how you’ve done it. You just want people to listen to the music or go and see the ﬁlm and nothing more. I don’t mind listening to other people when it’s very abstract and I know nothing about their lives, sometimes it’s interesting, but I wouldn’t know what to say about myself.” Perhaps it’s best, in that case, to start with the music. After ‘Charlotte For Ever’ came out it took 20 years before the French singer released a follow-up. “Well, with the ﬁrst album I was 16 and my father just wrote it for me,” Charlotte starts to explain. “I can’t even remember talking about it before we did it. Everything was ready and it just meant spending a week in a studio
with him. He did everything, he was even directing me behind the microphone. He was like a cinematographer. Then when he died I was 19 and I thought I’ll never get into music again. It felt impossible because I’d had so much pleasure with him that I was completely lost without him, so a lot of time passed by and it’s only when I met the guys from Air and Nigel Godrich, the producer – we met in Paris [at a Radiohead gig] – and I was about to ask them if they would like to work with me, but they were about to ask the same question because the three of them had talked together and said it could be a good idea. “So we got together and it still took a year to get in a studio because I was so nervous. It was Jean-Benoit [Dunckel] from Air who said, ‘We can’t continue just talking about it, we have to do something. Get in the studio and if you don’t like it then we won’t release it, but still, you have to try’. So he pushed me into it and it was a good idea. But that’s why it took me so long. I was so nervous and very unsure that it was legitimate for me to do music or that I had the right to do something, even though I wasn’t writing, I wasn’t composing. I felt not enough of an artist and I still am not, but I don’t care anymore. I can still do what I like to do.” As she smiles triumphantly at having overcome her irrational doubt, I ask why she doesn’t see herself as an artist.“I don’t see myself as an actress either,” she justiﬁes. “I just have difﬁculties putting a label on myself because I didn’t study to do anything, it just happened. I was very lucky to be able to do ﬁlms when I was so young and for it to continue until now. The music I feel more…er… voluntaires?” She gazes at me questioningly, in the hope of a translation. “Voluntary?” she repeats in a Queen’s English so perfect it’s hard to believe it’s not her ﬁrst language. “Because I did want it to happen. For ﬁlms, projects kept coming in and I was just happy being on a set and gradually I understood what I enjoyed about acting, but the fact that I didn’t go to an acting school, it gave me no right to be an actress. Before I was embarrassed about all of that.Today I’m ﬁne with who I am.”
her second album, 2006’s ‘5.55’, Charlotte not only collaborated with ambient French soundscapers Air, but also Brit-fop joker Jarvis Cocker and The Divine Comedy frontman Neil Hannon. It was a mostly mellow, whispery affair with paired-down, jazzy instrumentation and plenty of piano that was traded for experimentation and far more conﬁdent vocals on Charlotte’s part with third LP ‘IRM’ (the French translation of MRI). Released in January 2010, the record followed a water skiing accident in 2007 that left Charlotte with a brain haemorrhage that could have killed her, but instead lifted the lid on a well of inspiration, even if Beck, who produced the album, was the one pumping it. The title track, for starters, is an eerie post-punk cacophony of buzzing, echoes and other scanner-like noises the MRI machine makes. The single, ‘Heaven Can Wait’, on which the two duet, is a determinedly paced, pianoﬁlled eccentric indie-pop number, while ‘Vanities’ apes
brittle Elliott Smith simplicity as Charlotte sings about regressive behaviour over a string section. She says that she doesn’t do any writing, but her inﬂuence is clear in the retro vibes of the music considering she mostly listens to old records. “I have an old vinyl record player so I go back to old stuff,” she accedes, but admits that she “recently discovered Florence And The Machine” with a smile and a slight break in her voice as if she’s embarrassed that she might be late on the mark. Getting back to ‘IRM’, the strings also appear in the haunting French track ‘Le Chat du Café des Artistes’ (‘The Cat from the Artists’ Café’), which is a cover of a Canadian song that Beck chose.“It’s a funny thing that I wasn’t even the one who came up with the French song,” grins Charlotte as she explains just how much Beck led the way. “He wrote everything and composed everything, but I think the fact that I was there inﬂuenced everything,” she declares. “I had words here and there, but never whole lyrics. Well, in ‘La Collectionneuse’ I had a book by this French poet called Apollinaire, and I wanted to pick some of his poetry and Beck loved that idea, that it would be a mixture of things. So at the end of that track I read pieces of poetry that I chose. In the end [the songs] do link, there’s something that puts them all together, but it didn’t matter if it was things I had in my mind at the time that didn’t really make sense. I wasn’t looking for a special meaning – it was just what inﬂuenced me at the time. I also had a lot of songs by my father from a percussion album that he had made [‘Percussions’, 1964] because Beck started every song with a rhythm and I felt very attracted to that, so that was another direction. “But on this album with the new tracks – not the ones with Beck – but the four other ones, it was a completely different process because they were sending a demo of a song that was already written, so I didn’t have the same input.” Considering her timid demeanour, ‘Stage Whisper’ reveals a huge amount of growth since Charlotte worked with Air on ‘5.55’. She’s taken a leap further and ended up knee-deep in electro-pop and jagged tempos. Opener ‘Terrible Angels’ hints heavily at Goldfrapp, with dreamy vocals over disco beats, while the fantastically femmeelectro ‘Paradisco’ wouldn’t look out of place on a Kitsuné compilation. There are subtler sounds on the record as well, such as ‘Got to Let Go’, which comprises of old-school sythentic noises that throb and whine in an achingly hopeful way, on which her reﬁned tones fall beautifully next to the deeply breathy backing vocals of Noah And The Whale’s Charlie Fink. Her collaboration with Connan Mockasin, on ‘Out of Touch’, is another softy; ‘All The Rain’ seems inﬂuenced by Radiohead in its jittery rhythms, unyielding drums and spliced vocals. The eight studio tracks feel very much like an extension of ‘IRM’ and ﬁt together so well it’s hard to imagine they weren’t made in the same room, let alone by the same musicians. “With Connan, he came and worked on the lyrics while I was there,” Charlotte explains. “For the others the songs were already completed, so it was a funny thing of falling in love with a song that was already done, even if they were done for me. For the Villagers song [‘Memoir’], he sang it on a demo that already seemed perfect. It made me nervous,
“It’s not in my nature to perform. I think a lot of actors are shy people. Maybe I’m not shy, but I am embarrassed by myself.”
the idea that I may be less good.All the others had vocals on, apart from Connan, who was mumbling. He thought that I would come up with some lyrics,” she laughs, as quietly incredulous as is possible. “With ‘All The Rain’ with Beck,” she elaborates, “that song was almost completed, but he wasn’t happy with the song as it was and he wanted to work some more on it, so it was ﬁnally completed recently and I really wanted it, I love that song. But apart from that, the others, like ‘Terrible Angels’, after the tour I went to Los Angeles again and asked him if he could write something with another dynamic, something a little more rough for me to sing with a stronger voice.The tour had helped me go that way. I wanted to try something a little different. He understood very well and it was exactly what I was hoping for. “Then with the others it was funny because it’s as if I went back to a softer voice, something more intimate and not acoustic, but with less electronics. And I think that if I hadn’t released the live album now, I would have gone on meeting people and collaborating as I did and having more tracks. It was nice that things just happened and were ﬁnalised so we could put them in this new CD, because I didn’t want it to be only a live album.” The live side of ‘Stage Whisper’ features a mixture of ‘IRM’ and ‘5.55’ songs – a perfect introduction to Charlotte Gainsbourg’s repertoire, if you haven’t heard anything previously.‘The Operation’, one from ‘5.55’, is a hard-hitting number with jabbing piano and scuzzy riffs that hint at Patti Smith, particularly as Charlotte’s vocals get grittier and deeper. And the raw ‘Trick Pony’ from ‘IRM’ trills a ﬁrm piano that doesn’t feature on the studio version, along with wayward synths and sleazy riffs. There’s also a live DVD that comes with the album, which Charlotte tells me was a very important part for her. “It’s as much a story about the music, as it is visually, because it was my ﬁrst tour. It was quite magical for me to go through America and Europe and to end with Japan, so I wanted those images to be there and not just as a whole concert, I wanted to pick the best bits. I wasn’t proud of everything as live tracks, so I wanted to be able to choose.” It may sound surprising, but Charlotte only played live for the ﬁrst time in 2010. “My very ﬁrst gig was in Paris, which was dreadful and I thought, I’m not made
for this. Because it was only invited people with champagne glasses and it was horrible. I was so unhappy to be there that people felt it and it was like being in a dark tunnel hoping to see light. But then in Brooklyn, after I did that terrible show in Paris, Emmanuel, my record company manager said, ‘Give yourself another chance in America and then you’ll decide if you want to quit or go on’. So I did two in Brooklyn and one in Philadelphia and it was great. Even if I was very nervous, it was lovely.” So why did it take so long to get to that point? “For my previous album with Air, I remember that people asked me if I was going to tour and I was really questioning myself, being very troubled because I’m quite shy, and also the fact that Air were releasing their own album at the time, which meant that they were going to go and tour straight away and to do this on my own I didn’t feel conﬁdent enough. But this time Beck prepared me very much in advance, starting to talk about musicians and if I really wanted to do this, how I could. So I had the impression that he was still holding my hand a little bit, and he was because I was able to rehearse in Los Angeles where he came and he knew the musicians and I wanted to be as faithful to the tracks as possible. Even if now I understand that it’s a totally different story to go live and to perform, it’s nice to be inspired again by the songs but in a different way.” Speaking of performing live, Charlotte made her debut in theatre in David Mamet’s ‘Oleanna’ in 1994, which begs the question, why was she so afraid of the stage? “It’s quite similar,” she accepts, “but again, you don’t watch the audience. It’s the same as a camera that you avoid. You do acknowledge an audience and you don’t play in the same intimate way you’d play on screen, so there are similarities, but I did it, I’d say, 18 years ago, a long time. It was a great experience, very, very intense and wonderful. “Also the other thing was to start that late. Usually you have a band when you’re 16 and do gigs. I’ve never done this before. It wasn’t in my culture. I don’t think I’ve seen that many live shows and I’ve always had a lot of pleasure listening to music but always studio records and very produced. It wasn’t something obvious that my parents, who were musicians, my mother still is… they never started with performances, they did it really late in their careers, so it wasn’t something very obvious.” In terms of overcoming her fear, Charlotte says that she hadn’t really until she saw people’s reactions. “Because I had never done it, I thought that I would be judged in a very cruel way, as I would judge myself, and then I understood that people came because they really wanted to and nobody forced them to come. So I was using them and their enthusiasm to feel good about what I was doing. I was still in a bit of a panic and I would still be today, but the fact that I had to do Coachella at the very beginning of my tour was so unreal; to see that ﬁeld of people, it was very impressionnante… how do you say it? Impressive, But in a nervous way?” Overwhelming? “Yes. It was like going over the top.” By which we assume she means diving in at the deep end. Seated in this stylish hotel suite in Shoreditch, London, surrounded by bags of make-up (six in total), with her young son sleeping in the next room and Charlotte positioned elegantly in a loose shirt and
striped trousers, it’s easy to see why this chanteuse is so well loved throughout the world. Her manners are as mild as her tones, her hair remains long and hiply dishevelled despite her 40 years, and although she didn’t lay the initial building blocks of her career herself, she has successfully maintained it on her own. It’s no longer a huge signiﬁcance that her parents were such seminal players in showbiz and Charlotte is quite sure of that. “At the beginning, yes, sure, I got my ﬁrst audition thanks to my mother who was meeting with the casting director who told her they were looking for a girl my age – I was 12 at the time. So that ﬁrst step was thanks to her and to do my ﬁrst record, yeah of course that was with my father so that’s thanks to him, but afterwards I think people would have stopped asking if it was only to do with the fact that I was my parents’ daughter. So I think now enough time has gone by that I feel I have the right to be who I am on my own.” She beams in relief and points out that even though her father was a very talented musician, she doesn’t get compared to him much, although she tries to steer clear of reading about herself in the press.“I like being very naïve about myself and what I do,” she concedes. “[I’m asked] to talk about my parents all the time, yeah, but comparisons, no. I, myself, am always inﬂuenced by what [my father] has done, he’s always there in the back of my head. But people don’t need to compare. No. I already judge myself quite harshly, you know, thinking that he’s done so much, it’s already difﬁcult. So no, people don’t put us
on the same balance.” All press aside, for now Charlotte is mulling over thoughts of another tour. “Maybe it won’t happen, but I’m hoping that with Connan Mockasin we could maybe do a few dates together,” she reveals, “I’d love that.And it’s been such a discovery for me because we’ve done a small concert in Paris, so we’ve met a few times and we’ve rehearsed quite a lot and the idea of touring with him makes it a whole different story.” And as for the stage, does she still ﬁnd that prospect nerve-wracking? “No,” she utters softly after a long pause, during which her gaze has searched the entire room for an adequate answer. “Not to the point where I’m petriﬁed and want to step back. Now I want to do it again,” she says, ﬁnally satisﬁed. “It was funny, after the tour ended in the UK – I did a festival – and the next day I had to hop on a plane to go to Sweden to shoot a ﬁlm with Lars von Trier and the switch was from one extreme to another. From the sound of the festival with all the musicians and audience to suddenly the quiet, nearly church ambience of the shoot with Lars, but as soon as I got there I was missing the tour.That shows me that I’ve enjoyed myself enough to want to do it again. But this album was really an in between for me. I’m hoping now that I’ve got clearer ideas of what I’d like to do. I’d love to continue working with Beck, continue with Connan and everybody else I’ve worked with. I like the idea that the story continues.”
LOUD AND QUIET ALBUMS LIVE FILM REVIEWS
AL BUMS 08/10
Alex Winston King Con (V2) By Austin Laike. In stores Mar 5
Sleigh Bells Reign of Terror (Columbia) By Stuart Stubbs. In stores Feb 20
We loved Sleigh Bells’s 2010 debut album, ‘Treats’. By December, some six months after its release, it remained our second favourite record of the year – a gnarly mix of shredding metal guitar, slamming hip-hop bass-beats and doeeyed female pop vocals, all concocted in the bedroom of Derek E. Miller, a bored hardcore punk from Florida, Orlando. ‘Reign of Terror’ suggests it was a one-shot deal, though. For a start, the overall BPM has drastically dropped, from violent thrash-pop to the band’s much sweeter side, until now only seen on ‘Treats’’ standout ballad (of sorts), ‘Rill Rill’. Of course, that wouldn’t be all bad if the tracks stood up, but largely they don’t, the main culprits being ‘Leader of The Pack’, through which Alex Krauss harmonises with herself over twinkly xylophones while Miller ham-ﬁstedly crunches power chords over the top, and ‘You Lost Me’, which is forgettable even while you’re listening to it. It doesn’t help that Miller’s drum machine seems only capable of booming out the same
abrupt beat that got Sleigh Bells through their last album – it just gets in the way now, although admittedly of songs that would otherwise sound dangerously close to those of Atomic Kitten, like ‘End of The Line’ and ‘Road To Hell’. And that’s what’s most disconcerting about ‘Reign of Terror’ – what the hell is it meant to be? As the opening ‘True Shred Guitar’ has us believing, beginning with a bootleg recording of one of the band’s live shows, this isn’t an album swinging for the mainstream, and yet it completely lacks the underground aggression and relative psychosis of the band’s last. God knows how it’s going to translate live – too slow to thrash to, not pretty enough to quietly appreciated, thanks to Miller’s endlessly blasting power riffs and bending of strings. It’s as if Sleigh Bells have partly adapted to a mellower sound (or at least Krauss – originally of major label girl pop band RubyBlue – has), partly refused to change their ways. And yet, their prime concept – that of combining and colliding punk and metal with hip hop and girlish, cerebral pop, in the way that they do – is no less radical than it’s ever been, and occasionally (and especially on ‘Comeback Kid’) ‘Reign of Terror’ reminds of that. Occasionally, mind.
Detroit born Alex Winston spent some of last year being compared to Marina And The Diamonds, partly because the music she makes is unquestionably pop, but mostly because she’s cute and has dark hair and looks good in a jumpsuit. Winston is in fact nothing like Marina – she sings in a high, biting pixie shriek, not a deep, Gwen Stefani-ish head cold, and ‘King Con’ has one real dud track, not one real highlight. She’s Marina, inverted. ‘Benny’ – a nursery rhyme that is somehow both nauseating and dreary – is the shocker, but even that’s about Benny Hinn, a real-life crooked American preacher, perfectly in keeping with the record’s title and order of the day – Del Boys and shaman.The sexualising of every day objects (on ‘Velvet Elvis’), the condoned adolescent rebellion of the Amish church (on ‘Run Rumspringa’) and the idea of selling your kids before settling your debts (‘Medicine’) further pitch Winston as a post-Little Boots pop kook, sure, but nevertheless one who has tales to tell that go beyond developing a crush down the disco. And yet, for all its clever themes, ‘King Con’ could really be all about boys and remain just as appealing, certainly to anyone who appreciates impossibly melodic, blog-dominating pop music. It’s because, like Ladyhawke, every track Winston has made here could make for a radio hit. It means that a lot of people will hate Alex Winston, of course, because everyone else seems to be enamoured with her joyous, primary coloured songs. But sometimes there’s just no denying a hook, and if you discarded all of those that make up ‘King Con’, its running time would be around 5 minutes. For people who claim they like “good pop music”, this is it.
The Echo Show
Dreams Say, View, Create, Shadow Leads (Thrill Jockey)
The Slideshow Effect
Out of It & Into It
By Matthias Scherer. In stores Feb 20
(Sub Pop) By Nathan Westley. In stores Feb 27
(ATP) By Chris Watkeys. In stores Mar 12
(Matador) By Laura Davies. In stores Mar 5
The trouble with a guitar riff fed through a delay pedal is that whenever you hear one, you can’t help but think of The Edge. For Dustin Wong (formerly of noise pranksters Ponytail), the delay pedal is an integral instrument. By determining the rhythmic pattern and tempo, it basically takes up the role of the drum kit as well as creating that cascading, relentless ﬂow of harmonies and melodic clusters that was already on display on Wong’s solo debut, ‘Inﬁnite Love’.This album’s tracks ﬂow in and out of each other with ease, layers of clean guitar loops sliding in and out of the mix in a way that recalls Four Tet’s more avant-garde stuff as well as Steve Reich’s minimalism. Some analogue drum sounds have been included on ‘Dreams…’, (like on the cute ‘Purple Slipped Right’), and thankfully there’s no audible sign of Bono anywhere.
Canadian duo Memoryhouse have moved away from their chill wave beginnings.The lo-ﬁ wares are now off the menu and have been replaced with a luxurious, studiocrafted, fuller sound. For their debut album, they have brewed a collection of heartfelt songs that are rich with delicate melodies and we-mean-it vocals that occasionally contain the odd whiff of Nashville style country slide guitar, particularly on ‘All Our Wonder’. And while the understated pop of ‘Heirloom’ and the spacious ‘Bonﬁre’ then mean that Memoryhouse are now more likely to garner comparisons to a Fleetwood Mac re-imagined for a 21st century audience, the melodically classy pop of ‘Walk With Me’ throws them into the same playing ﬁeld as Summer Camp, and helps cement ‘The Slideshow Effect’ as an album that could melt the coldest of hearts.
Song titles like ‘Suffer So Long’ and, simply, ‘Suicide’, suggest an unremitting bleakness to this third Tall Firs LP, and so it largely proves to be. Music this downbeat can be, if not rewarding, then at least fulﬁlling if it’s done with beauty, if it reﬂects and engages with unhappiness but still offers a shred of hope; but there is little light to be found in this dark forest. ‘Waiting On A Friend’ does have at least a musical warmth, though, like Nirvana’s ‘Something In The Way’ played in front of an open ﬁre rather than underneath a bridge. But the vocals throughout seem to be delivered from a pit of despair, a place where there really is no hope left, and this document of abject misery is ultimately scarred by those vocals, which, at length, grate like hell. Sometimes musically engaging, ‘Out of It…’ is onepaced and best described as almost entirely bereft of compassion.
It’s relentless punk. It’s honest. It’s addictive. It’s one of the best things you’ll listen to for yonks. Remember it, Ceremony are here to make a difference.Throwaway tracks about ‘my folks just don’t get me, man’ these are not; frontman Ross Farrar might just have been Mother Teresa rocking a few tats in a previous life. He’s concerned with humanity, see. Case in point, the explosive ‘Citizens’, ‘Ordinary People’ and one of many highlights, ‘Community Service’. The uncompromising fourth offering from the San Francisco hardcorers is part Minutemen, part The Cramps… or more recently, part Ice Age, part Eddy Current Suppression Ring. No wonder Matador poached them to line up alongside other noisy mares in their stable like Fucked Up. Dig deep and you’ll even discover a hint of a pop hook, delivered with a Lydon-esque scowl, of course.
(Sonic Cathedral) By Daniel Dylan Wray. In stores Mar 5
The Kraftwerk-like cover to this ‘The Echo Show’ suggests a cold, European minimalism from, but as it soon transpires, nothing could be further from the truth. Amalgamating dream pop, ambience, electronica and an almost shoegaze sensibility,Yeti Lane’s second album succeeds in providing a warmth, personality and charm that is incredibly alive. A series of ﬂoating pop songs reign supreme through the majority of the album, however they are interspersed with ambient offerings that are simply titled by punctuation, although their humble names don’t do justice to the intricate, delicate and often exquisite sonic explorations on offer.The rollicking ﬁnale of ‘Faded Spectrum’ is a seven minute haze of twisting guitars and pounding drums, sitting somewhere between Deerhunter and Spacemen 3. A glorious record.
Nite Jewel One Second of Love (Secretly Canadian) By Sam Walton. In stores Mar 5
Deﬁantly uncool inﬂuences are currently hot pop property: recent brilliant records by Bon Iver, Destroyer and Chairlift have all dug up long, oft forgotten relics of (generally) the 80s, and simultaneously made hipsters reconsider the output of bands like Chicago and Aztec Camera. Accordingly, there should be no credibility danger in making a record that recalls Sade, Brian Eno’s ambient period and even Enya, and Nite Jewel would appear to agree – ‘One Second of Love’ is steeped in washy lovers rock, minimal electronics and the occasional foray into wind-chime new-age folk. But where successful revivalists twist their source material, Gonzalez plays it completely straight, frequently leaving a sanitised, joyless sound that’s difﬁcult to love. Occasionally, as on the title track, her chosen combination succeeds, delivering pleasingly unusual, glacial soul, but those pleasures are rare: most of this LP sounds like the hold music at the Holiday Inn – thin, distant and distracted.
AL BUMS 07/10
The Something Rain
Point of Go
The Russian Wilds
(Wichita) By Laura Davies. In stores Mar 6
(City Slang) By Luke Winkie. In stores Feb 20
(Blessing Force / Co-Op) By Chris Watkeys. In stores Mar 5
(Sub Pop) By Chal Ravens. In stores Mar 12
(Agitated) By Nathan Westley. In stores Mar 12
Don’t let the ‘pretty hot’ tag fool you; this New York-based model is not all she appears. For one, she’s been on the scene longer than other paid-to-pout singers who shall remain nameless, releasing her ﬁrst EP in 2009. She’s also a grafter, having played toilet venues ever since, the hype building behind her.Wichita came knocking, knowing a promising, and yes, pretty thing when they saw it, but looks (alone) don’t sell records. Lissy’s Chrissie Hynde voice,Tom Petty guitars and the Arcade Fire anthemic build on ‘Rules we Obey’ probably will, though. ‘Wearing Blue’ is the sort of Bowie 1980s pop that’s now found its way into Julian Casablancas’ referencing points, and the addictive ‘I Know Where you Sleep’ has Blondie written all over it. It’s promising stuff, and with producer Dave Sitek on her side, expect much more from Elizabeth McChesney.
... And Tindersticks return because we all like them enough to keep paying attention. ‘The Something Rain’ comes right from their Nottingham wheelhouse, a good Tindersticks record, if you will – gloomy chamber-pop, a squealing brass section, creeping, dormant song-structures, and Stuart Staples’ perennial grunt. He starts the record speak-singing a nineminute story about a hook-up, he ends the record holding back on one of the best instrumentals his band has ever penned since they formed all the way back in 1991. It works in the ways Tindersticks are expected to work, good sleeping music, good drinking music, and good mixtape music. If you’re left out in the cold, well, you probably weren’t on the bandwagon to begin with. No, it’s not The First Album or The Second Album, it’s The Ninth Album, and it will make you happy.
‘Point Of Go’, Jonquil’s third LP, but ﬁrst in their current guise (since three of their members left to evolve into scene-buddies Trophy Wife), sees the band seemingly making a virtue out of musical simplicity. Opener ‘Swells’ rides on the essence of eighties pop, but is as ﬂimsy and disposable as it is catchy and accessible. One or two of the songs on this record wouldn’t sound out of place as the title music of a CBeebies programme aimed at the underﬁves; largely inoffensive, listenable, and ultimately pretty dull.Things pick up dramatically, though, in the second half of the set; two high points arrive consecutively in ‘The Innocent’, which soars movingly like a Yeasayer ballad, and the faintly detectable, bleak undercurrents to the conformingly simple ‘Real Cold’.These two genuinely ﬁne songs spike interest in an otherwise bland album.
When Vampire Weekend take inspiration from distant climes, we’re told the results have ‘African rhythms’. It’s a typically insensitive catch-all for the cultural output of a billion people in 54 countries, but what if the situation was reversed? Spoek Mathambo, South African purveyor of ‘township tech’, uses American pop, rock and R&B like crayons, scribbling crunchy guitars over booty bass or accented rap over kwaito beats as he grapples with the un-sunny themes of sex and death. Occasionally the bewildering juxtaposition falls in sync (creepy two-part closer ‘Grave’, for instance) but it’s a jarring ride as lyrics about jiggling your jelly hover disconcertingly over emoish guitars, while Mathambo’s singrapping follows its own fancy in matters of pitch and key. Still, ‘Father Creeper’ is essential listening if you think you know African
Names can be deceptive. For example, it would be logical to assume that Howlin Rain is a Mississippi Blues veteran intent on trying to breathe life into a much neglected genre, except instead this Ethan Miller-led band stand as an offshoot of one Comets On Fire who, under the guiding hand of producer Rick Rubin, have crafted an album where the results do not prove as spectacular as one might expect. Opener ‘Self Made Man’, like the majority of the songs here, conforms to the classically clichéd idea of rock. Reinterpreting a seventies blueprint, the songs swing between Led Zep rock riffs pastiche and Creedence Clearwater Revival-aping, country-tinged Southern-rock dalliances, and thus suffer the same tepid revivalist rock hangover that Audioslave once did. Memorable for all the wrong reasons, this, like the Russian wild in winter, is best left alone.
Kap Bambino Devotion (Because) By Chal Ravens. In stores Feb 27
Crystal Castles’ breakthrough success annoyed everyone from hand-wringing parents of Skins wannabes to hipper-than-thou types suspicious of the too-cool-to-be-true duo. And they must have pissed off electro-thrash duo Kap Bambino, a band whose ﬁfth album makes another valiant stab at dethroning the snotty Toronto pair. Known for their fearsome live shows, Bordeaux-based KB have made a surprising success of translating that raw power to shiny disc, with the title track’s arpeggios pumped through the Tokyo grid before collapsing in garbled distortion. On ‘Next Resurrection’, stabbing synths veer towards sickheaded trance through the eyes of John Carpenter, while Caroline Martial’s fembot vocals hit a poppy sweet spot with added juvenile squawks.The drums are fake and tacky like Essex nails, bludgeoning you with perverted Euro House builds and drops, while gothic key grinds make for a zombiﬁed twist on witch house’s weirdness.You’ll hate yourself for loving this.
The Shins Port of Morrow (Columbia) By Reef Younis. In stores Mar 19 We’ve always found comfort in the kindly embrace of the familiar. It’s friendly and reassuring.The Shins know this better than most, having spent their career as the indie rock torchbearers of humanity. Blessed with an ability to create gold-spun songs lovingly wrapped in James Mercer’s imploring vocal, they’ve naturally worn a pop aesthetic more effortlessly than most, and honeyed by Mercer’s voice and pretty, lovelorn poetry, fragility and warmth have never been The Shins’ problem. Diversifying their sound, though, has. Although ‘Wincing the Night Away’ was a worthy attempt at broadening their universal appeal beyond the cosiness of cornﬁeld melodies, it never felt like it struck the rich, personal chords of ‘Chutes Too Narrow’. But buoyed by the immediate perfection of opener ‘Riﬂes Spiral’, ‘Port of Morrow’ fondly reminds us of this band’s inherent ability to create modest beauty from the gleefully simple.Where they tried to manufacture added depth and texture, here there’s a freedom and ﬂuency on the Morrissey panache of ‘No Way Down’; a ready gorgeousness on ‘40 Mark Strasse’; and a knowing nod to THAT song on the drifting ‘September’. Importantly, this is not ‘Chutes Too Narrow’ revisited or ‘Oh, Inverted World’ revitalised; it’s merely a slight return made all the more lovely for it imperfections.
That Fucking Tank
I Thought I was an Alien
(Gringo) By Reef Younis. In stores Mar 12
(Because) By Sam Little. In stores Feb 20
There’s a bludgeoning onomatopoeia to That Fucking Tank.You can imagine the futile desperation as a runaway Challenger Two ploughs unerringly in your direction, clubbing, smashing and battering barricades into a pulp; a well-oiled machine wreaking battlehardened justice. Powerful, primal and jacked-up on a breakneck energy, this duo create a damaging racket ﬁred by a primitive purity. Fuelled by the spirit of Mclusky’s fury and the simple dynamism of two band members, drums are beaten to an unhealthy, misshapen death as guitars are shanked and thrashed to a premature demise. From the shredding ‘Car on Fire’, the guttural speed punk on ‘Nailbomb’ and ‘D8’, and the riff-heavy ragged funk of ‘Acid Jam’, third album ‘TFT’ harnesses most of the simmering rage that powers this twosome. Live, they’re wracked with an explosive claustrophobia; trapped in headphones, it’s commuter decimation. Here, the heft and muscle stands toe-to-toe with both of its ferocious predecessors.
It’s hard to knock an album as crushingly sad as this prolonged debut by Stéphanie Sokolinski – a 25-yearold emerging French actress who has been making music for ten years and has already quit the business once, due to fear of the music industry. Unapologetically, wholly cathartic sums up ‘I Thought I was an Alien’ – a record through which Soko repeatedly resembles Laura Marling at her most bereft (‘People Always Look Better In The Sun’, ‘For Marlon’) and more than once threatens to break down in ﬂoods of tears mid song (‘Treat Your Woman Right’, ‘Happy Hippie Birthday’). Soko is hurting and this, it seems, is her therapy – 15 confessions accompanied largely by just one acoustic guitar, each one a little more exhaustingly emotional than the one before. Aside from the opening ‘I Just Want To Make It New With You’, which is Parisian cool in its French speak-sing and rudimentary bassline, it’s like the musical equivalent to Schindler’s List - if you don’t cry by the end you might be a Nazi.
A L BUMS 08/10
Xiu Xiu Always (Bella Union) By Daniel Dylan Wray. In stores Feb 27 Often, the central focus of Jamie Stewart’s work as Xiu Xiu, and indeed the key to his success, is in his seamless ability to exist in opposing emotional states almost simultaneously. One minute he is a refrained, quiet whisper in which you can feel his breath in your ear, the next he is manic, shrieking, almost deranged, making you retreat in fear. ‘Always’ encapsulates these opposites just as perfectly as anything Xiu Xiu have ever done – never more so on the transition between the beautiful, plaintive and pop-like ‘Honey Suckle’, which then turns into ‘I Luv Abortion’, a ﬁercely aggressive and industrial assault that sounds like a Steel Works imploding.The record strikes a wonderful balance between experimentation and accessibility, the ideas present are vast and the execution of the production is glowing. Much like The Fall, Xiu Xiu exist around their own unique sonic template and on each release manage to break new ground, yet with that ever present feeling of familiarity still there. Chances are, if you haven’t succumbed to Xiu Xiu’s charms by now it’s because they simply don’t charm you, and this album is unlikely to convert any nonbelievers. However, for those who are already in awe of Jamie Stewart’s twisted, brooding and persistently curious music, this album contains some of his greatest and most expansive work to date.
Put Your Back N 2 It
Dracula is just The Beginning
(Organs / Turnstile) By Chris Watkeys. In stores Feb 20
(LebenStrasse) By Luke Winkie. In stores Mar 12
As long as human life persists on this planet there will always be a steady supply of melancholy solo artists making music born of a broken heart, a tortured soul, or both. Seattle’s Perfume Genius is one such individual, and he does it better and more beautifully than most, with a sophomore album that thankfully avoids the pitfalls of monomaniac acoustic woe.The wryly-named ‘Normal Song’ is a simple, strippeddown, ghostly ballad of conspicuous and fragile beauty that recalls Tracy Chapman, while elsewhere the ofttremulous vocals and wistful songwriting bear comparison to Antony Hegarty at his best.There are brushes of euphoria here too, though; the two minutes of ‘All Waters’ feel like an ecstasy-drenched house track, played underwater at 33rpm.There can be a tendency towards self-indulgence in music of this ilk, but Perfume Genius’ songs are short, each like a swiftly delivered pill of a different emotional hue, and the album is over long before it all becomes too draining.
If you buy records based entirely on NPR recommendations, I bet you end up with a copy of ‘Dracula is Only the Beginning’. For a band that take their name from a mostly forgotten Disney movie about a dead-last-ﬁnishing Jamaican bobsled team, Coolrunnings sound exactly like you’d expect they would – monochromatic, hollowed-out indie rock with a cutesy streak, good for attracting bright teenagers and manchild hipsters, but not for much else. There’s a reason we pushed Freelance Whales to the side a couple years ago; we as a universal culture demand substance, not oozy woozy ‘I Can Be Dreamy’, not rumble-fart ‘Thunderbirds’. Coolrunnings are the type of band that make the unacquainted world think our scene sucks.The game doesn’t need their glee, their music, or their facial hair. It’s just impossible to fall for this thing twice, especially when last year’s mildly acceptable ‘Fool Moon’ hasn’t even made the cut.
My Best Fiend
School of Seven Bells
In Ghostlike Fading
Another Happy Day OST
(Warp) By Laura Davies. In stores Mar 5
(Bella Union) By Tom Goodwyn. In stores Feb 20
(Halleluwah Hits) By Matthias Scherer. In stores Feb 27
(Full Time Hobby) By Tom Goodwyn. In stores Feb 27
(Erased Tapes) By Matthias Scherer. In stores Feb 27
Before we begin, no not a typo. So what of this Brooklyn-based ﬁvepiece with a knack for bad grammar or an unhealthy obsession with German ﬁlm director Werner Herzog? Well, they’re dreamers, creating Spiritualized-sized ﬁve-minuteplus romantic lullabies. Opener ‘Higher Palms’ is subtle, ethereal and beautiful, even if frontman Fred Coldwell does border on sounding like Courtney Love in her better (ahem) days. ‘Jesus Christ’ and album highlight ‘Cracking Eggs’ keep the romanticism alive, but there isn’t enough of this edge to make the snails-pace 1990s soft-grunge really stand out. At times, ‘In Ghostlike Fading’ offers such tenderness, there’s a glimmer that we’ve found the next Mercury Rev, but this debut takes too much effort to warm to, or perhaps it’s just not that warming.
Sometime Efterklang member Peter Broderick certainly seems intent on making a statement about download culture. As well as naming it after its accompanying website, the singer songwriter has made it clear he wishes for all its listeners to have constant access to its lyrics and liner notes when they play this album online.Whilst this is all rather charming in its intentions, it’s much harder to determine whether this is the kind of album that demands that kind of attention from listeners. Lengthy in parts, ‘http…’ is comprised mostly of serene background music in the manner of early Fleet Foxes, rather than the kind of intense, lyric-led offering that makes you want to delve into the meaning of every turn of phrase. It’s pleasant enough, but ironically slots in nicely as background music, rather than as an LP that demands the listener devours every detail.
Named after the only semiacceptable Bruce Willis vehicle, this Glaswegian outﬁt don’t play – as one might suspect – some kind of macho hardcore, but a softlysoftly kind of experimental pop. The aspirated vocals, the bubbling electronics and the acoustic guitars point unsubtly towards the hazy ambient folk of Animal Collective, but there is also a degree of playfulness, for example in the way sex noises and pitched-down vocals are combined with orchestral samples in opener ‘In the Garden’. ‘Mmmm’ sounds like someone playing a miniature drum kit in a house haunted by a longdead experimental choir; ‘Nailed to the Cross’ has a nice beachedout synth and a pace that laps like the surf on a calm day. Sadly, the woozy feel quickly starts to drag, and there’s an overwhelming sense of the band operating ﬁrmly within a narrow comfort zone.
The third album from New York duo Alejandra Deheza and Benjamin Curtis is being presented as the record which will take the pair from the lower reaches of the touring circuit and festival bills to somewhere much, much higher. It’s certainly grander in scale than their previous efforts, with each track of this nine-song collection produced with a glacial sheen. Much like Ladytron when they were at their best, ‘Ghostory’ combines an elegant poppyness with a haunting sonic backdrop that brings to mind My Bloody Valentine when they were at their most eager to please.Tracks whirl by, with the likes of ‘The Night’, ‘Lafaye’ and ‘Show Me Love’ particularly standing out with their icy layers of sound and stupidly infectious choruses. ‘Ghostory’ is being presented as School of Seven Bells’ crossover record, and that’s exactly what it’ll be.
In a lucky twist, we get to hear Ólafur Arnalds’ soundtrack to Another Happy Day before the latter even gets a release date in the UK. Lucky, because the ﬁlm, starring Demi Moore and Ezra Miller looks rubbish (something about a drug addict teenager and a super-rich family having a wedding), and because the pianoled, orchestral music – written and recorded in only two weeks – is of an even higher standard than the already gorgeous ‘Found Songs’ EP of 2010.The songs, presumably, are named after characters and scenes from the ﬁlm, but as a whole the album works as a collection of ambient, soothing sound poems that aren’t reliant on any familiarity with the plot. ‘Lynn’s Theme’ is reminiscent of John Williams in its catchy simplicity and effectiveness, and the ﬁnal ‘Everything Must Change’ is a ﬁne piece of chamber drone-pop. Get this and skip the ﬁlm.
Electricity In Our Homes Dear Shareholder (Fierce Panda) By Stuart Stubbs. In stores Feb 27
It’s taken Electricity In Our Homes ﬁve years to give us their debut album.We should be impressed that they’ve stuck it out this long, never mind the fact that ‘Dear Shareholder’ is a far more varied clatter punk record than anyone expected. For many, the elementary EIOH are an unskilled trio that can’t play their instruments properly – the missing link between The Raincoats and Beat Happening. For those people, that’s how they’ll remain, but while ‘Dear Shareholder’ suggests that the band still haven’t sat through a single music lesson between them, they’ve managed to feel out a weird and blunt appropriation of West Coast psych (‘Drumming Around The Room part 1’), add loopy, ‘Strawberry Fields’-ish brass parps to the outro of ‘Appletree’ and write the jolliest known song about death in an ambulance, in ‘Buddy Lemonade’, which sounds like Pavement doing ‘My Cousin Kevin’. Eventually the knowing speak-sing wears thin, but a lot later than you probably think.
THE BLACK KEYS Alexandra Palace, London 09.02.2012 By D K Goldstein Photography by Sonny McCartney
There are two of them, they’re American and they play a bluesy brand of rock’n’roll, but they sound nothing like the White Stripes. But of course you’re probably already acquainted with The Black Keys’ countriﬁed rhythms by now. Perhaps you always have been; perhaps it happened all of a sudden. At the end of 2011, they released their seventh album, ‘El Camino’, almost a decade after their debut, ‘The Big Come Up’. And yet it’s only recently that the Akron duo have rocketed to such notoriety that the are able to ﬁll such an enormous venue as Alexandra Palace, three times over, no less. In April they’re headlining Coachella festival, alongside Radiohead and Dr Dre, but before they head into the desert they’ve got 30,000 people to play to over three nights. From the edge of Muswell Hill, ﬂecks of snow ﬂicker between the thousands of lights shining up from the city, but inside the cavernous main room of the palace, the Ohio-
based twosome blast out the ﬁrst chords of ‘Howlin’ for You’ to a ﬂashing, polka-dot screen that suits their ’60s garage licks to a tee.Tonight, perhaps due to the size of the room, there are four of them – extra hands on bass and keys – and yet despite this it’s difﬁcult to understand how the band will ﬁll the room from a stage that appears to be miles away.That thought lasts all of a minutes, as The Black Keys instantly prove to be one duo that knows how to make a racket. Suddenly, the effort of walking up that steep, snowy hill to get to the gig seems worth it. Of course, it shouldn’t be taken for granted that the band won’t look like Borrowers from certain points towards the back of the room, or that the sound won’t get suffocated in the echo, but a track like ‘Run Right Back’ from the new record cuts right through with its jabbing beat and biting, stand-out riffs. ‘Money Maker’ is another foot-stomper that ﬁghts through the dense mufﬂe with a strong, “hey now” chant of a chorus that can be sung along to just as easily as
“a broken heart is blind” in the meaty, raspy ‘Little Black Submarines’. ‘Next Girl’ – taken from their 2010 LP ‘Brothers’ (along with ‘Howlin’…’), which bagged them two Grammy Awards – then plods along at a slower, determined pace, but there’s something about the way the drums roll effortlessly along with the reverberating, twanging riffs that make you feel like you can grab hold of its chunky rhythms. These guys aren’t big talkers, but the songs follow one another in show-stopping style, and even when they play a handful of numbers on their own they still take over the entire stage with their presence. Red, white and blue spotlights shine over them as they bend countryinﬂected guitar solos and Dan Auerbach sexily croons his cigarettes-and-velvet vocals, and you realise that this isn’t a particularly cool band – they’re just a couple of thirtysomethings who couldn’t care less about what’s fashionable.They just know how to rock.
EXPLOSIONS IN THE SKY Brixton Academy, Brixton, London 27.01.2012 By Chal Ravens Photography by Kelda Hole
“We never dreamed that with music like ours we’d be playing somewhere like this,” says Munaf Rayani, de facto frontman of Texan post-rockstars Explosions in the Sky. It may not be totally sold out, but back in 2000 when EITS released a few hundred CD-R’s of their debut, no one could have predicted that such an apparently niche musical proposition could appeal to so many. Despite sticking to roughly the same template over 12 years, each of their six records and every epic live show has seen them pick up new fans steadily, until whaddya know, they’re playing one of London’s largest stages. Perhaps it’s not the ideal setting for them – a previous gig at the Astoria was more intense, sweaty, personal – but the crowd happily surrender to music where nothing needs to be said or thought, dunking themselves under and allowing bodies rather than brains to process quiet pools of picked chords and vertiginous slabs of smouldering volume. It’s manipulative and basically samey, and not by any stretch the most innovative exploration of loud-quiet instrumental rock, but c’mon – you could eat Christmas dinner every day and it’d still hit the spot.
JUSTICE Brixton Academy, Brixton, London 10.02.2012 By Reef Younis Photography by Lee Goldup
Tonight, Justice are pretty much ﬂawless. It’s a show of superlative power, pomp and circuit-blowing energy, with bass booming and unrelenting force layed in front the ﬁercely epileptic light show and the selector anticipation of any live set.You feel the force rufﬂe your jeans and watch the rumble peel the plaster of the Brixton Academy parapets. Kids ﬂock to the cross in a frenzy, blindly fumbling into the white light, stumbling, dazed and confused to safer, higher ground after the ferocity of ‘DVNO’ and ‘Civilisation’ have taken their brutal, sweaty hold. At the height of the frenzied, leather-clad anthemia, it’s Queen doing Daft Punk; the Bloody Beetroots dragged kicking and screaming through ‘November Rain’; the Spinal Tap dynamics jacked up to 11. A stylised performance with grandiose moments of theatre that have been lovingly, painstakingly designed and choreographed to perfectly play out in Justice’s electro-rock opera. As a live show, it’s got the same production value of anything over in the West End, but here it’s the mainstream conﬁrmation Justice don’t just play anymore, they exist to entertain. And they absolutely nail it.
LIVE 01 Wild Flag Photographer: David Sutheran 02 Roots Manuva Photographer: Mike Burnell 03 New Look Photographer: David Sutheran
GILES PETERSON WORLDWIDE AWARDS 2012 Koko, Camden, London 21.01.2012 By Chal Ravens ▼
After 12 years hosting the Worldwide show on Radio 1, Giles Peterson has been shoved through the revolving doors along with a few other station stalwarts to make way for a baby-faced generation (goodbye Judge Jules, hello Toddla T). Loyal listeners make up the bulk of the crowd for the show’s annual awards do, featuring favourites from the past year like Dimlite, Julio Bashmore and Hudson Mohawke. SBTRKT and Sampha provide a partystarting set that proves just how far they’ve come in the six months since the masked one’s album release, and the cherry on top is Little Dragon’s Yukimi, who steps in to add her unique vocals to bona ﬁde hit ‘Wildﬁre’. More exciting though are The Pyramids, the veteran Afro jazz collective led by Idris Ackamoor, who picks up a Lifetime Achievement gong after leading his band through a couple of glittering freeform pieces. Geeky Toronto jazz-hoppers Bad Bad Not Good then perform their bizarre inversions of hip hop, playing instrumental covers of Gucci Mane,Waka Flocka and James Blake with virtuosity in spades but no obvious purpose. If hip hop came into the world through sampled cuts of jazz and funk, why bother ﬂipping it back again? Still, it’s competent and by no means a piss-take – more Nouvelle Vague than Richard Cheese. Still, long live Worldwide.
ROOTS MANUVA Condcorde 2, Brighton 31.01.2012 By Nathan Westley ▼
Much has previously been written about how Roots Manuva is now an elder statesman of Brit-hop; a burning light that led the way for others to follow. Many in his position would be tempted to trade off the illuminated highlights of past material, but tonight Rodney Smith seems intent on refusing to revisit past glories as an easy option. In the here and now, with a bow tie increasing the dapper factor, Smith ﬁrst embarks on a six-song expedition from 2011’s ‘4everevolution’. It’s a bold statement that boasts how Roots Manuva is still facing forward after 13 years in the business, and with a backing band in tow to help slightly jazz-up, ﬂesh-out and bring to life the electronically nurtured material, the respect is reciprocated. Of course, later he does shufﬂe back in time to revisit the highs of his past catalogue, rolling out the perennial crowd pleasing ‘Witness The Fitness’, where the audience turns into a heaving sea of marauding bodies to its bubbling bass line, while the soulful sentiment of ‘Let The Spirit’ entices them to slowly grind along. But by the set’s end, one thing is evident – Roots Manuva is still around because he’s refused to get lazy and ﬂabby and accept that his creativity has peaked. And whether you agree with him or not, it’s hard to not respect him, and the world British hip hop is a better place for still having Rodney Smith around to lead the way.
GENTLE FRIENDLY / PEEPHOLES The Green Door, Brighton 03.02.2012 By Nathan Westley ▼
It seems a logical progression for the Upset The Rhythm label, pairing a few of their bands together to create a tour that showcases what the DIY team has to offer; even more so when you note the striking similarities between tonight’s noise pop headliners Gentle Friendly and Peepholes.This evening not only serves as the ﬁrst night of the tour but also as a homecoming show for Peepholes, so it is little wonder that they are greeted warmly before drummer Katia Barrett and Nick Carlisle embark on etching their unconventional sonic wares into the space and minds of those that stand in front of them. Creating a noise that wouldn’t sound out of place on an intergalactically set ’70s B-movie about apes, theirs is a chilling blend of vintage keys and punk drums that some would label as pretentious. Essentially, though, these heavily synthesised experiments in sonic manipulation have a lot in common with headliners Gentle Friendly who come armed with enough electronic gadgets to make Kraftwerk blush. Singer David Maurice spends the majority of his time perched over a board of electronic boxes and switches, summoning otherworldly noises and casting out sound waves over a drawn in audience. And while as far away from easy listening as it is possible to get, both of tonight’s bands prove that it is nice to be challenged. Here, brutally.
Barﬂy, Camden, London 11.02.2012 By Stuart Stubbs
Electric Ballroom, Camden, London 01.02.2012 By Matthias Scherer
It seems odd that Hooded Fang are tantamount to a chirpier version of The Drums. Odd, because how’s that even possible?; odder, because who’s not bored of The Drums’ 2D surf pop by now?; oddest because ‘Tosta Mista’ – the band’s forthcoming second album – is in actual fact a break-up record.You’d never know it from its tracks that giddily smile through rattling guitars pepped up on American good times (even if the band are in actual fact from Canada). Live, it seems to be a similar like-it-orlump-it affair, and yet it’s hard to feel strongly either way. If anything, the vocals are annoyingly muddier than they are on the proudly crisp record, singer Daniel Lee’s reverb’d whine sounding like it’s coming from a busted transistor radio in another room. Lead guitarist Lane Halley makes his instrument sound like a keyboard by only playing the high notes, which is pretty neat, but then his preppy cardigan is also a visual highlight in a show where nothing much happens.The band just jangle on until their closing weepy waltz, a Back To The Future homage. No one leaves, but no one shows much more than polite appreciation, which sums up just how ‘ok’ Hooded Fang and their hop music are.
Is there anything she can’t do? Cocreator of the sidesplittingly funny Portlandia sketch show and former NPR music writer, Carrie Brownstein has also played in one of the essential modern rock bands, Sleater-Kinney. Actually, make that two essential rock bands, because going by tonight’s showing,Wild Flag are not so much on another level to other contemporary guitar-wielding outﬁts but in another dimension where showmanship is substituted for thrilling realism, a sense of positive abandon and the experience of playing toilet venues all over the world.Together with co-lead singer Mary Timony (ex-Helium), drummer Janet Weiss and keyboardist Rebecca Cole, Brownstein tears through riff monsters like ‘Electric Band’, balancing pitch-perfect vocals with loose, accomplished guitar work where there’s always a noodling little lick complementing the other instrument’s meaty chords. ‘Short Version’ has one of the most joyous moments of ﬁnger tapping since Van Halen’s ‘Hot for Teacher’ and ‘Glass Tambourine’ dissolves in a ﬁt of über-grungy, deliciously drawn out jamming, but it turns out Wild Flag also have impeccable taste when it comes to cover versions. Their take on Television’s ‘See No Evil’ has people beaming, before everyone loses their shit when Brownstein turns into Patti Smith for a rambunctious version of ‘Ask the Angels’.
Islington Academy, London 31.01.2012 By Chal Ravens
The Garage, Islington, London 12.02.2012 By Austin Laike
Cargo, Shoreditch, London 08.02.2012 By Olly Parker
The Garage, Islington, London 06.02.2012 By Stuart Stubbs
Wu Tang Clan’s very own Genius is passing through on a European tour in support of nothing in particular (although ‘Liquid Swords 2:The Return of the Shadowboxer’, a collaboration with his old partner-in-rhyme RZA, is still optimistically pencilled in for 2012).This lowkey date is a raw set of back-tobasics hip hop: no hype, just decks and a mic.Tickets are pricey and the compact venue is hardly bursting at the seams, so it’s a weird one – either GZA loves the touring life or this is a straightforward money-spinner. Appearing in a beanie hat and three layers, which naturally come off after one minute, the 45-yearold is neutrally attired and predictably formidable in his older age, sprinting through a selection of back catalogue highlights with a sort of regal (or perhaps presidential) panache. At times he comes off as cynical towards his devoted crowd, challenging them to identify an Ol’ Dirty Bastard track and dismissing their (correct) answer, but he’s clearly content to keep bringing the ruckus with lines he wrote 20 years ago. ‘Clan In Da Front’ from ‘36 Chambers’, ‘Investigative Reports’ from ‘Liquid Swords’, ‘Reunited’ from ‘Wu-Tang Forever’, ODB’s ‘Shimmy Shimmy Ya’ – it’s an allgold retrospective, but it would take the mercenary edge off if we got to hear something more contemporary or even, God forbid, brand new. Still brilliant, obviously.
I was expecting something from Porcelain Raft – the solo project of Rome-born Mauro Remiddi – but it wasn’t this. On a Sunday of all days, I presumed that this would be the kind of show where people shush those breaking the poignant dead space that comes (or doesn’t, perhaps) from the stage. Remiddi’s music has never been completely hushed, but his washy electronica (okay, so chill-wave really is the only word for it) is particularly delicate, his vocals often down to a whisper on record.With the help of a live drummer tonight, things get loud very quickly, from the opening ‘Drifting In And Out’, in fact, and that’s where the volume and tone stays throughout – somewhere between a travel-size Spiritualized and life-size Toro Y Moi. It’s not a horrible surprise, per sé, but Remiddi could certainly do with toning down the faux American singing voice that jars with his friendly, Italian thankyous between songs. Against the odds, the addition of live drums doesn’t do him too many favours either (their best track is completely electronic, clearly designed to be played loud, and, in this instance, dedicated to Whitney Houston). Even the closing ‘Tip of My Tongue’ mostly booms, no matter what Remiddi says about how “this is going to be such a quiet song, so please come closer”. Most bands want to turn it up, which is precisely why sometimes lowering the volume gets more attention.
The ﬁrst job of any new band is to know how to grab the audience’s attention.With stunning visuals and a powerful opening instrumental piece that maps out the contours of their dreampop sound, Still Corners know which buttons to push; we are deﬁnitely listening. Sprinkles of Mazzy Star, Slowdive, Broadcast with little bits of the Velvets peppered throughout, “the sound”, as they say, is textbook.That’s a list of any thinking gig goer’s favourite bands right there, so what’s the problem? The problem is, I can hit a drum loudly and get your attention, to keep your attention I need to follow it up with something else, something that will connect with you and make you want to keep listening. So, even though the sound is beautiful and the visuals dreamlike, without any emotional connection underneath our attentions start to wander, friends go to the bar, phones come out of pockets and the audience starts to drift away. Attempts to change the dynamic by stripping the sound back to just guitar and voice help draw us closer, but there is still something missing, a spark that will take us from polite observers to feeling like we’re a part of something bigger. As indeﬁnable, frustrating and nebulous as the concept is, it’s that emotional connection – not the video editing and FX pedals – that make you love a band, and Still Corners have much to learn.
Practically everything about New Look suggests a level of cool that’s so hip it has to be a spoof.The living in Berlin and Brooklyn; tonight’s questionably ironic shirt of programmer Adam Pavao; the obligatory, wibbly projections that come with boy/girl electronic duos; the keyboard around singer Sarah Ruba’s neck; the two guys in the audience wearing orange rimmed sunglasses on the coldest night of the year – it all makes you think that a Speak & Spell solo isn’t out of the question. It turns out, though, that the Canadianborn twosome are in fact as cool at their affectations would have us believe. More than that, their dub pop is so sexy it overloads the sound system. “Oh my God!” exclaims Ruba as one song suddenly dies with a ﬁzz, “What was that?! Damn, it’s too hot and dewy and sexy in here.That’s what’s happened.” She might be right – New Look were playing (and soon continue to play) some steamy electronic jamz, the kind that warrant a sexy z on the end. The projections are pretty pointless, and Pavao doesn’t seem to be doing too much himself, but Ruba is a star, and especially on the slower, ’90s RnB-tinged tracks, the pair come across like a halfway house between bonkers rave trio Teeth and The xx.Your disco has never felt so steamy.
CLAP YOUR HANDS SAY YEAH Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London 08.02.2012 By Phil Dixon ▼
Like the popular woodstain cliché, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah does exactly what it says on the tin. It’s impossible to expect anything less than unmitigated joy from their eponymous debut and new album ‘Hysterical’ (though tonight is thankfully light on tracks from jarring sophomore effort ‘Some Loud Thunder’).That new material largely embellishes upon the classic formula: songs like ‘Same Mistake’ and ‘Hysterical’ have that familiar, compulsive drumbeat backing the melodious guitars, now decorated with euphoric synth strings, while slower numbers like ‘Idiot’ or ‘In A Motel’ turn Alec Ounsworth’s signature caterwauling into beautiful yet mournful cries you wish you could decipher to uncover their true sentiment.These more polished songs, however, do seem like mere echoes of earlier output when placed side-by-side, reminding us what we preferred the ﬁrst time round was the unashamed haphazardry of it all.This is most clearly evidenced by the misstep of closing the set proper with a glorious trio of ‘Is This Love’, ‘Yellow Country Teeth’ and ‘Tidal Wave of Young Blood’ – the calfbusting kickdrum, hyper-infectious basslines and Ounsworth’s wails echoed by the crowd in a chorus of joyous delirium – which sadly left the encore falling short. Not quite the glossy ﬁnish one would hope for, but with a little less polish, they could be good as new.
By PHILIPPA STUBBS
THE WOMAN IN BLACK
The beautiful cast of Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby
Cinema Preview The page versus the screen: Can adaptations really live up to their novel sources? It’s a brave director who steps up to the challenge of putting a classic piece of literature on the big screen. Regardless of its success or critical acclaim, there will always be a small band of anoraks ﬁlling up Internet bemoaning the absence of Tom Bombadil, arguing that this Jane Eyre is far too pretty and commenting that Bridget Jones was never really that fat anyway. The latest director to put his balls on the block is Baz Luhrmann, who releases his version of The Great Gatsby in December onto a public of literary fans ready to draw blood. It will be the seventh attempt to ﬁlm F. Scott Fitzgerald’s decadent tale of love and loss in Long Island, a story that many believe to be unﬁlmable due to the fact that, beside the odd hit and run accident and ill-fated swimming pool dip, not that much happens.The beauty of the book is all in the sub-text, something that has been notoriously difﬁcult to capture on the screen. Just ask Sam Goldwyn, Billy Wilder and Marlon Brando, all of whom tried and failed to stage the quintessential rites de passage, J.D. Sallinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, citing an inability to catch hold of protagonist Holden Caulﬁeld as he embarks on his lost weekend in 1950s New York. Sallinger himself blocked a number of attempts to adapt the book for ﬁlm, fearing the damaging effects of a director not sensitive to the narrative.With Sallinger’s death and with renewed interest from Steven Speilberg and Harvey Weinstein, it is possible that an adaptation is on the cards. For an example of how damaging an insensitive adaptation can be, though, see Marek Kanievska’s truly abysmal 1987 Less Than Zero, which manages to take Bret Easton Ellis’s debut story of lost youth and apathy – this time in LA – and turn it into a passion-ﬁlled thriller which does little more than provide Brat Pack hunk Andrew McCarthy with opportunities to ﬂick his coiffed bonce around.
While on the subject of Ellis, speculation is rife that this will be the year that ﬁlming will ﬁnally begin on his 1998 novel Glamorama, which is unﬁlmable for very different reasons. In keeping with the violence and dark satire of Ellis’s ’90s work, the story of international terrorism inﬁltrating the modelling world (the obvious similarities with Zoolander prompted legal action) has scared off many directors, but not Roger Avary. Despite Ellis stating in 2010, “I think the days of being able to make that movie are over”, last year he announced to his Twitter followers: “Just ﬁnished reading Roger Avary’s adaptation of Glamorama which he will direct next year. Hilarious, horriﬁc, sad. He’s a mad genius.” Of course, Avary is an old hand at Ellis adaptations, having written and directed The Rules of Attraction in 2002 and Glitterati three years later, the intended connective tissue between The Rules of Attraction and Glamorama, which has never been released due to it being “ethically questionable”, to quote Avary. So, bearing in mind all the pitfalls he faces and all those waiting to criticise, how will Luhrmann do? With a cast full of the beautiful and the talented – including Leonardo DiCaprio as the mysterious Jay Gatsby and Tobey Maguire aptly cast as the wide-eyed Nick Carraway undergoing his initiation into 1920s high society – it seems as if aesthetically he can’t fail. Yet, Luhrmann is best known for his red curtain trilogy, dramatic extravaganzas very much out of keeping with the subtleties of Fitzgerald’s writing. And the fact that Luhrmann has decided to ﬁlm in 3D has raised eyebrows to say the least. An epic like The Hobbit in 3D makes sense, but The Great Gatsby? While Wim Wenders showed how moving and poignant 3D can be with his astounding Pina, the worry is that Luhrmann will sacriﬁce style for substance, and spectacle for subtlety.
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Sophie Stuckey, Roger Allam, Lucy May Barker Director: James Watkins There’s nothing better than a good old-fashioned ghost story, is there? Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black is a ghost story that has been scaring people for nearly thirty years, as both a book and as a West End spectacular that has seen many an A Level Drama student wet their pants with an equal measure of fear and excitement. For its cinema outing, the sequence of events has been transformed although the central premise remains the same – Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) is a tormented, young solicitor sent to the remote town of Crythin Gifford to sort through the house of a recently-deceased recluse, where he soon becomes haunted by the ghost of a vengeful old hag in black who has the knack of encouraging young children to top themselves. Hilarity ensues. Or not, as the case made be. Set in the late 1800s, a period that lends itself perfectly to ghoulish chillers, Director James Watkins (a man who scared us all shitless when he penned The Decent: Part 2) takes full advantage of the age to create a visuallyattractive ﬁlm, ﬁlling the decrepit house with glimpses of Victoriana and truly terrifying mechanical toys.The ﬁlm is paced beautifully, allowing the suspense to build gradually and creating a quality of stillness that mirrors the repression of the town and its children. And then, all of a sudden, it’s over - a rush ending. On top of this, cinema-goers need not worry about any pantwetting scenarios here, because it is far too bloody predictable for any of that. Every single cliché is present, from eyes appearing at keyholes to faces appearing in the back of photographs, with a spot of black ﬁgures appearing from the shadows thrown in for good measure.You half expect a painting’s peepers to follow the cast around the room, or for a suit of armor to come to life. Furthermore, Radcliffe struggles to convince that he is tormented by his own lost love (something you’d think he’d be used to by now) and spends the whole ﬁlm wearing a rather stupid, empty expression.
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PARTY WOLF CROSS WORDS An angry puzzle 1.
THE IDEA Answer the clues to ﬁll in the crossword.Then, once you’ve got them all, arrange them to form a hidden sentence. Email it to info@loudandquiet. com by March 12th to be entered into our price draw.
THE PRIZE Yeah, it’s the same as last month’s - a year’s subscription to Loud And Quiet Digital and a copy of our I AM V 12-inch record. STILL a prize draw with a cash equivalent of £15!
A CLUE It’s called Cross Words for a reason - the ﬁnal sentence is likely to be dumb and angry, like last month’s: Did ewe sea Madonna on the Graham Norton Show? I seriously thought he was going to vanish up her arse.
Down: 1. Matt Bellamy’s hole, it really is ______. (5) 3. Dane Bowers’ level. (7) 4. It’s no Wannabe, but as tribute band names go, Simple ______ is pretty good. (5) 6. Jesse J says she’s 23, but really she’s pushing... (5)
8. Bros are probably still asking. (4) 10. MSTRKFT’s debut album was good. But what was is called? ‘The _____’. (5) 12. A haircut that links John Squire and Lloyd Christmas. (4) 15. Rhiana says she’s got 23 great songs, but really she has exactly _____ .(3) Across: 2. Example loves doing this in the shadows. Dirty bugger. (7) 5.A much underrated Smiths songs,‘Half a ___’. (6) 7. Despite its title, this was U2’s twenty sixth single. (3) 9. After what was then The Stone Roses’ ﬁnal show at Reading Festival, Ian Brown reportedly said it had gone what? It had, by the way.(8) 11.Two record labels with the same name, one owned by Kanye West, the other by Tim DeLaughter of The Polyphonic Spree. (4) 13. How many people ‘do it better’ than Carly Simon? (6) 14. Gordon Ramsey does this way too much, probably to pull focus from looking like a radish. (6) 16. As predicted in 1999 by Staind, it’s been this long. If only it had. (5)
GET THE LOOK Dress like someone famous
So I’m on The One Show last month, and this bird on there says, “What do you think of the protestors?” or something, and I’m like, “They should all be shot!” And she’s like, cringe. And I’m like “what?” And the BBC are like, “Get out!”. And I’m like, “cool”. And they send me away while the media storm dies down. And I’m in Columbia and the cigarettes are really good there. And after a week, I’m like, “Guns aren’t good. Cars aren’t good. Protestors are sound. Richard Hamster is sound. Total Wipeout is sound. Total Wipeout USA is good but not as good as Total Wipeout.” And I’m just feeling so much better about everything, all thanks to Columbia and m... Huh? Oh, my look? I dunno. I like having a red light on my face. It’s soothing.
“Sometimes my hair is straight and sometimes it’s curly,” moans Liv in a shampoo ad like the world is going to end. Last week I had to eat my own hair for dinner. My downstairs hair, Liv!
Don’t be mad but I’m all out of moisturiser... so I kinda borrowed a little of yours
Disclaimer: The representations of the persons herein are purely ﬁctitious.
PHOTO CASEBOOK “The inappropriate world of Ian Beale”