Zero pounds / Volume 03 / Issue 83 / the alternative music tabloid
HMLTD Polarisation Express
Pissed Jeans | Kelly Lee Owens | The Magnetic Fields Sleaford Mods | Idles | Kadhja Bonet | Rejjie Snow
We have a new w eb si t e! Interviews Reviews Shorts Podcasts Listening Post Magazines + More
PISSED JEANS – 12 kadhja Bonet – 14 IDLES – 16 Kelly Lee Owens – 18 rejjie snow – 20 hmltd – 24 sleaford mods– 30 the magnetic fields – 32
Zero pounds / Volume 03 / Issue 83 / the alternatIVe musIc tabloId
HMLTD Polarisation Express
Pissed Jeans | Kelly Lee Owens | The Magnetic Fields Sleaford Mods | Idles | Kadhja Bonet | Rejjie Snow
c o v er p h o t o g raphy j en n a fo xt o n
I’m into 2017. I know that no one else is, and that’s understandable, considering the state of absolutely everything, but I’m into it. I guess I just got worn down being angry and sad at 2016; at the US election and the European Referendum, in particular, but also at media hysteria, the Murdoch press, The Daily Mail, trolls, everything about social media and the endless after-dinner deconstruction all of these modern horrors. At some point I seem to have told myself that, if nothing else, I can’t talk about this stuff anymore. I can’t spend an hour between lasagne and lemon cheesecake reiterating how much I hate Donald Trump with people who feel exactly the same. And if I ever were to come across a supporter of the guy, I’d be even less interested in arguing with them to no effect but higher blood pressure. So I don’t talk about Trump at all, no more than I discuss the spiteful and dangerous nature of The Mail to my friends who don’t read it and my nan who does. And that’s led me to being into 2017. I genuinely feel good about it. The reason I’m saying all of this (not talking about it by talking about it, I’ll admit), is because this is the first edition of the year, and I specifically didn’t want our articles and reviews to follow the suit of 2016 doomspeak during what is such a troubling time in national and international politics. I wouldn’t say we spectacularly failed; I’d say we’ve done okay. We’ve resisted making needless, easy jokes and references to the world’s impending end (jokes and references like that), and spoken to people happily distracted by the simple joys of making music (“I don’t think that I necessarily have anything fruitful to offer the political discussion,” a refreshing Kadhja Bonet dared to say). Sleaford Mods and Idles, meanwhile, reflect the times in their own unique ways, and even HMLTD turn out to be a band of reflection rather than escapism. Let’s not give up on a better time, then, but we should allow ourselves to eat dessert in peace. Stuart Stubbs
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In 1987, JAMES MERCER of The Shins was living on a Suffolk RAF base with a bad flat-top, a skateboard and a copy of ‘The Queen Is Dead’
ames Mercer: This photo was late 1987. We were on a school coach heading down to London to see Les Misérables. It was a pretty good show from what I remember. In the background, that’s my friend George Farrel, the kid who got me into My Bloody Valentine and a lot of cool music at the time. I was in the UK because I lived there for three years until I graduated. My dad was an air force guy and he worked at Mildenhall in Suffolk, and we all lived on a base nearby called Lakenheath – me and my younger sister, and we had half brothers and sisters also. The feeling there was that of a little restriction, because you can’t get away with much, but one of the cool things was that the G.I.’s had vending machines with Budweiser in them. And I was into skateboarding, so I’d just skate around and grab a beer from the vending machine. The town of Newmarket was nearby, so me and some of the other kids would skate all the way there or get the bus to Stevenage to the skate park, or we’d go to a rock show, of any of the bands that were coming by – bands likeThe Pastels and House of Love. I was hesitant to move to England because I had a crush on the girl down my street, but I was stoked to be moving to the place that was running the game of New Wave music back then. So I thought everyone would be really cool and wearing Swatches, but when we got there… Suffolk is pretty drab. It was raining the whole time and there
A s t ol d t o st u art st ubb s wasn’t anything really cool about it. I thought it was going to be like a Thompson Twins video. Then George came along and could drive his dad’s car, so we could get out to shows at Norwich Arts Centre and the Corn Exchange in Cambridge, which I refer to in a track on our new record, called ‘Mildenhall’ – it’s all down there. It was an interesting story for me to put into a song – this kid with a really shitty flat top that only works with all this mousse in his hair. But of course that doesn’t work in the rain. I was bummed for the first year of being there, from 15 to 16, until I found a good group of friends and ended up having a lot of fun. I didn’t feel that special as an American kid in England, but maybe that was because there were so many American’s around on the base. I was terrible at making friends for that first year, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that I didn’t have a friend outside of the classroom. I was just so shy, and my younger sister was so gregarious. She meanwhile was becoming the president of her class. She was the complete opposite of me – very outgoing but with terrible taste in music. Skating saved me from being completely alone, but I remember in early December we had a snow storm and this kid in my class told me, “we’re going to take the trucks off of our skateboards and see if we can snowboard down the hill by the high school,” and I was like, “fuck yeah, I’ll do that.” I was so excited that I was going to be hanging out
with someone other than my parents and my records in my room. So I sat in my window, and I was so anxious and nervous about it, and I sat and watched them coming along in the snow. They walked and they walked. And then they walked straight past my house and they never picked me up. I didn’t speak to them for 6 months, then the summer came and I told them this story and they were like, “dude, we just totally forgot.” That’s how stupid of a kid I was for the first year. I was finding comfort in music though. I had bought ‘The Queen Is Dead’ from Woolworths, on an island display, and I bought ‘Ocean Rain’ at the same time. I just saw them and got them, so I really lucked out with those two records. And a British friend of mine, his mom was a super Beatles fan and she made me a cassette tape of Beatles hits, which was a lucky moment, too. And I went to see My Bloody Valentine at the Corn Exchange in ’88, who I loved because they had melodies in there. When the ’90s came around people weren’t so concerned with that, like The Smiths had been, for example, and that wasn’t for me. I was happy at 16 because I’d already been through my rough patch. When I was 12 I was hating life. Discovering skateboarding and music is what changed things for me and gave me confidence that I needed. I think there was a healthy amount of fuck the world that I had, and it saved me.
books + ANYONE CAN PLAY GUITAR
Charles Manson Reef Younis catalogues the curious music careers of mega ‘celebrities’. Illustrated by Josie Sommer. / In isolation, Manson’s nasal croon sits easily over the album’s mix of blues-folk tracks and spaced-out acoustic guitar, but listen to it with one eye on the album cover – a parody of a Life magazine cover where a black and white mugshot of a psychotic-looking Manson glares out into the void – and seemingly harmless lyrics can be given a chilling, hidden meaning. Well, most of them. Featuring slept-on lines like “I had a little monkey/sent him to the country/fed him ginger bread” (from ‘Mechanical Man’) and “Oh garbage dump/my garbage dump/why are you called my garbage dump?” (from the cryptically titled ‘Garbage Dump’), ‘Lie: The Lover and Terror Cult’ turned out to be a prophetic snapshot of the marginally less sociopathic Kula Shaker. Still, it hasn’t stopped ‘Lie: The Love and Terror Cult’ from being released almost as many times as Manson’s parole has been denied, nor did it prevent Guns N’ Roses, Rob Zombie, Evan Dando, Anton Newcombe, Devendra Banhart and surname-sake Marilyn Manson from covering or sampling his musical work since. With nine life sentences to pass, there’s plenty of time for a few more, no matter how distasteful and sensationalist.
Before Charles Manson decided that The Beatles’ songs were a catalyst code for an apocalyptic race war, established the Manson Family cult and set about conspiring to murder seven people, he spent his time hanging out on the fringe of the LA music scene, writing and twanging out a few acoustic songs himself. When he wasn’t buried in the dark arts of Dale Carnegie’s How To Win Friends and Influence People or unravelling a non-hidden meaning in ‘Helter Skelter’ for his own nefarious ends, a nascent songwriting ability saw ‘CeaseTo Exist’ emerge on The Beach Boys’ album ‘20/20’ and get released as a single under a different title of ‘Never Learn Not To Love’. Unfortunately, Manson’s love for a six-shooter proved to be stronger than his talent interest in a six-string, and his plans for Frank Sinatra, Tom Jones, Elizabeth Taylor, and Steve McQueen were less about duets and more about death. But not even the distraction and impending incarceration of his infamous trial for murder conspiracy could prevent Manson from getting his own music out there with debut album ‘Lie: The Love and Terror Cult’, released by friend Phil Kaufman in 1970.
by j an i ne & L ee bull man
I Me Mine: Extended Edition by George Harrison & Derek Taylor Genesis
George Harrison, The Beatles’ sitar man, was a notoriously private character. His 1980 book, I Me Mine has been lovingly extended to cover all of Harrison’s life and career and embellished with a trove of material, much of which has never been seen before, covering everything from growing up in Liverpool to his love of racing cars. As well as handwritten song lyrics and photographs, the book features George in conversation with Derek Taylor and is the closest we’ll get to an autobiography of the Quiet Beatle. Happily, Harrison retains his mystery by the book’s end, and this extended edition of I Me Mine proves to be a beautifully curated and affectionate tribute.
Jumpin’ Jack Flash: David Litvinoff and the Rock’n’Roll Underworld By Kieron Pim Vintage
In the late-night of the Swinging Sixties gangsters and rock ‘n’ rollers rubbed shoulders with aristos, artists and models, and David Litvinoff knew them all. The slash mark across his face attested to the fact that he ran in some hardcore circles, too, and it was Litvinoff who was appointed technical advisor on Nicolas Roeg’s psych-noir classic Performance in order to introduce Edward Fox to some real East End villains. Keiron Pim’s book lifts the lid on a man who aimed to leave no trace; the result of hundreds of interviews conducted over five years, it’s a delicious cocktail of meticulous research and delightful storytelling.
John Le Carre: The Biography by Adam Sisman Bloomsbury
If the literary world weren’t so averse to dirtying its hands with what it regards as ‘genre writing’, John Le Carre would be regarded as one of our greatest living authors. Le Carre (real name David Cornwell) has spent his life investigating, first-hand, the world’s political hotspots and dirty stories ever since he ended his tenure as an MI5 and MI6 spook in the 1960s. Sisman’s book is a wonderful and timely biography of a man whose oeuvre offers an alternative and clandestine history of recent world events. Le Carre’s background has been subject to much speculation and Sisman’s book peels back the layers to reveal a remarkable writer whose life is every bit as startling and intriguing as those of his characters.
getting to know you
Lias Saoudi aka Johnny Rocket They are but different degrees of the same man – Lias Saoudi in Fat White Family and Johnny Rocket in one-time-fictional glam band The Moonlandingz, who release their debut album, ‘Class Classics’, next month. One or both of them took our GTKY questionnaire. /
The best piece of advice you’ve been given Make up your mind. Your favourite word Refrain. Your pet-hate I suffer from severe misophonia [the hatred of sound]. The worst job you’ve had I’ve had a lot of shitty jobs. It’s a toss up between meat packer at an abattoir in Northern Ireland and invigilator at the National Maritime museum in Greenwich, where they have an entire room dedicated to the history of clocks. The film you can quote the most of Withnail and I. Your guilty pleasure Hypocrisy. Favourite place in the world Maillot in the mountains of Kabyle, Algeria. It’s where my dad’s side of the family are from. I haven’t been back there for a long while but it was probably where I felt least frustrated, self obsessed and debilitated by an excruciating sense of competition with everybody else that seems to be the MO of western living. Your style icon Nathan Saoudi. The one song you wished you’d written ‘The Future’ by Leonard Cohen. The most famous person you’ve met Yoko Ono. I met her at her house in upstate New York just before starting a session there with Insecure Men. I’d heard she can turn on folks unexpectedly, but I found the opposite to be the case – she was very friendly, wanted to chat all night. Who would play you in a film of your life? Gerard Depardieu.
The thing you’d rescue from a burning building I don’t own anything so probably someone else’s record collection. The worst date you’ve been on Hard to choose. I have a desperate habit of going out with people I barely know that I’ve either encountered while shit faced or met online. So many bitterly awkward moments. Your first big extravagance Paying for my big brother to stay in a 4 star resort for five days in Cambodia last Autumn. It was something I told him I’d do while I was pilled and later came to bitterly regret. The characteristic you most like about yourself It doesn’t matter how depressed or useless I feel I can always comfortably bury my head in a book. Your hidden talent The flip side of being tragically indecisive is that I’m quite diplomatic. I think. Your favourite item of clothing I’m possibly the least fashionable person I know. I usually own one set of clothes at a time. Fat Whites sax man Alex White leant me an incredible shirt the day we played Brixton Academy – a zip up disco number with collars that look like they have elephantiasis. I still haven’t given it back, so...
Your biggest fear That I’m not actually capable of love. The best book in the world East of Eden/Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck, or Dubliners by James Joyce, or The Stranger by Camus, or The Thief’s Journal by Jean Genet, possibly Lolita by Nabokov. Although I just read Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton and it properly knocked me out. What is success to you? Not being terrified of the future beyond the next 6 months. What talent do you wish you had? I wish I were a more competent musician. If you could choose how you die, what would it be? I’d probably take 50 valium and just start swimming. If you could only eat one food forever, it would be… Spaghetti Bolognese I’ve cooked myself. The most overrated thing in the world? The 1975. Savages. Slaves. I could be here all night... What would you change about your physical appearance? I’d have a slightly larger nose.
Your biggest disappointment Not being given 100k from Ryanair for ‘Whitest Boy On The Beach’.
What’s your biggest turn-off? I’m off sex at the moment; the whole thing weirds me out these days.
The celebrity that pisses you off the most even though you’ve never met them FKA Twigs. “Believe in more”? Nike? Are you fucking kidding me?
What would you tell your 15-year-old self? Don’t go to art school.
People’s biggest misconception about yourself That I have any idea I know what I’m doing whatsoever.
Your best piece of advice for others The minute you latch yourself onto someone else’s dreams you’re fucked. It might take a week, it might take ten years, but eventually you’re fucked.
B E H AV I O U R
How to dance at a Pissed Jeans show in 2017 Matt Korvette is sick of guys living up to a dumb cliché of masculinity at his band’s punk shows
ver Pissed Jeans’ lengthy existence, our live shows have garnered a reputation for the furious, the rowdy, the messy and unpredictable. I’m proud of this, but that comes with a caveat: as we march into 2017, why are the men in our crowds behaving the same way as those twenty, thirty years earlier? The act of moshing, slamming or pitting (whatever your local geographic parlance may be) was once revolutionary, but I can’t help but see it as a performative relic when performed today, a countercultural act as stale and harmless as getting a tattoo or wearing a Black Flag t-shirt. Now is the time for men attempting to display some form of physical dominance and aggression to look inward and reassess their behaviour in a rock club setting. Luckily for you, I’m always thinking towards the future, and I’m here to help those who aren’t as creatively endowed. Pissed Jeans intend to return to the UK later this year, barring any Visa issues or anti-immigration barriers on either end of our respective lousy countries. I’m hoping to see your smiling faces in the crowd, not moshing into each other, but rather trying out one of these revolutionary new dances.
1. The Sleeping Policeman This is more of a non-dance, a stoic refutation of physical movement in search of a higher truth. To perform The Sleeping Policeman, the man will lay down in the pit, face up, preferably parallel and close to the stage. As Pissed Jeans rage on, you will accumulate the scent and filth of the club floor, as well as be accidentally (and perhaps intentionally) stepped on repeatedly. The possibility of multiple people falling onto your body, knees first, is not out of the question either.
I llu st ra tion b y jay wrigh t
Consider it a reversal of crowd surfing, where instead of riding the waves, your body is pummelled deep below.
remains conscious then carries his partner out of the venue and seeks immediate medical help.
2. Bass Drum Dreaming
This one is a gutsy, fantastic dance that I advise every dude tries at least once at a raging rock gig. Immediately as the show begins, you walk up to a woman in the audience, hand her your wallet (which should contain at least a few large bills, credit cards and IDs) and skank, in the traditional Operation Ivy style, directly out of the venue. Here’s where the real fun begins: you have to find your way home with no money and no identification. The world is your pit now, and you’ve got to use all your skills and life techniques to return home safely. Bonus points if you toss your phone and keys in a garbage can on your way out of the club, too!
Often, guys in the audience will come on stage, dance around, mug for the crowd, and involve themselves in the performance without being invited. This sort of entitlement is not new to men, but why not take it to a new level of transcendence, rather than simply being in the way? To properly perform Bass Drum Dreaming, you will lie down on the stage, this time face down, with your head positioned directly inside of the bass drum, arms tight at your sides. Ear plugs are not allowed for this dance, as it’s imperative that you don’t simply hear the music but you feel it as well. Don’t be surprised if you burst into hysterical tears, notice intense body temperature fluctuations or reach some deep-seeded epiphany – it’s a powerful fucking dance. To be reasonable, Bass Drum Dreaming should be limited to one song, so that multiple dudes can experience it at the same gig.
3. Hug It Out I realize the first two dances are mostly of a static nature, so this one should appeal to those who need to express their physicality.This one involves a partner, preferably of equivalent size and strength. You and your partner meet on one side of the pit, and you wrap your hands around each other’s waists, directly facing each other. Once both of your hands are locked, you squeeze your partner as hard as possible, in a fairly traditional bear-hug move. Once the squeeze has started, you twirl counter-clockwise (like any good circle pit) in place until one of you passes out. The partner who
4. Power Exchange
5. Purple Pogo In the chance you’ve successfully performed the first four dances and want a real challenge, I offer you the Purple Pogo. This one takes a little bit of work. First, you must schedule a vasectomy on the same day as the show you plan on attending. I’m proud of you! Mind the doctor’s recommended plan of post-operative care for a few hours, and then hobble to the show. Once at the club, order two large cups of ice, and pour them directly into the front of your underwear. I highly recommend wearing briefs, as boxers would not provide the necessary structural support to maintain the ice in place. Once two cups are fully deposited around your genitals, locate yourself in the middle of the pit and furiously pogo, for the entire duration of the set. I’ve seen guys stage-dive off second-story balconies and quite frankly, it’s child’s play compared to the Purple Pogo.
Kadhja Bonet That 1940s Disney feeling Ph otogra p hy: nathaniel Wood / writer: katie bes w ick
LE F T : K a d h j a B o n et n e a r h e r h o me i n mo u n t wa s h i n g t o n , N o r t h Ea s t Los A n g ele s .
hen I first hear ‘The Visitor’, Kadhja Bonet’s debut minialbum, it’s like the opening scene of an arthouse movie. I’m sat on my yellow sofa covered in a blanket, my legs folded up underneath me, laptop on my knees. The lights in my apartment are low and it’s dark outside. I’m feeling blue (because it’s January and on top of that some guy I had a few great dates with hasn’t texted back). Rain smashes against the windows, the orange glow from the street lamps makes the pavement – black and slick with rain – look like oil. I’m browsing emails and there’s one from my editor with a one-line question (‘have you heard this lady?’) and a link to Soundcloud. I’m not expecting much, but I press play and there’s this rousing, cinematic, string section – and then the singing: a full, grown-up voice, like something from the past; high and deep, sweet and smooth with a mournful crackle. It’s all my favourite things. It’s Billie Holiday, whisky and 1940s Disney. It’s hopeful yet sorrowful, wistful and touching. Bonet grew up in a busy household, the middle child of seven siblings, whose father, a musician himself, encouraged her burgeoning interest in classical music. She is loathed to attribute her creativity to her large family (“I have no idea if I’d be the same person if I was in a house with three kids or seven kids”), but she does acknowledge that the busy-ness of her childhood meant she often found sanctuary in making art. “It was so hectic in our house,” she says. “Maybe my brothers were monopolising the TV or whatever, so I was just like, ‘I’ll build something with recyclables!’” Bonet laughs when I tell her about the Disney nostalgia during my listening experience. “I think there’s definitely a truth to that. I think early Disney is one of [my] passive influences for sure. When I was growing up I wasn’t permitted to listen to very many kinds of music. What we had was a lot of classical music and a lot of Disney movies.” Although she played classical music throughout her childhood – mainly violin – by her late teens Bonet had started to find the rigidity and repetitiveness of the classical repertoire
stifling. “You just play all these other composers’ work and a lot of times maybe they’re not even that relatable to you,” she says. “Sometimes they are. Sometimes they’re beautiful and soulful and amazing. But a lot of times you’re just like, ‘Oh well. Gotta play this again.’ I had about six years or maybe even more than that where I didn’t even touch my violin. And then at a certain point in college I felt completely empty. Like I wasn’t getting to express myself in the way that I was used to. I wasn’t getting the gratification I was used to getting and so I started just going back to [music].” Finding a salve for her emptiness in creativity, Bonet taught herself guitar and started writing her own music. “I think coming from somebody who was playing classical music growing up, that was the piece that was missing – this, like, personal piece. So when I went back to music I came to it with the intention to make it more mine and to have a piece of it. So I started writing songs first. I started teaching myself guitar, trying to figure out what I wanted to hear. And writing. Writing more than even learning the guitar. I’m not a very good guitar player, but I use it to write with. And I kind of like that I don’t know how to use it properly because it forces you to think for yourself, I think.”
iven her evocative singing voice, the first surprising thing when I speak to Bonet, is how she sounds. That rich tone, thick with the sorrowful amber of experience, is light and cheerful. She seems happy, despite the unfolding political turmoil gripping the USA in the days surrounding our interview (Bonet is based in LA). “The world has gone mad for sure,” she says, when I ask her for her thoughts on Trump’s inauguration. And then, refreshingly, “But I don’t think that I necessarily have anything fruitful to offer the political discussion. I definitely won’t make it a secret that this is the weirdest election and president we’ve ever had. In the US anyway. But I just don’t have anything of value to offer the political discussion right now. I don’t know how to fix anything that’s wrong.” The second surprising thing is her
modesty. I kind of expect, when artists have such an obvious ability for expression in their chosen form, that there will be an underlying confidence that marks them out from the mortals. They must know, I always think, that they are better at this than the average person. But Bonet seems a little takenaback when I ask her about her talent. “Oh, wow,” she laughs (she laughs a lot). “I don’t know that I do have a talent for it really. I’m still learning. There’s a lot of directions I want to grow in. A lot of ways I want to develop and be more skilful. I feel more like a storyteller than a musician, for sure.” But surely, I say, the reception to the album so far – The Guardian placed her in their Future 50 and she’s received radio support from Lauren Laverne, Mary Anne Hobbs, Giles Peterson, Don Letts and others – has bolstered your confidence? “I’m somebody who doubts my talent all the time,” she replies. “So a little positive reinforcement is definitely appreciated. But at the same time I try not to read about myself. I really don’t read about myself. And you know, to be honest, I don’t even like it if my boyfriend tells me that he likes something I’m working on. I can’t stand it. Because I feel like either criticism or praise during the creative process can derail you. Because I might have gone a different direction if I hadn’t got that reinforcement. In terms of where I feel I am now, with the reception, I really just want to put out more music. I wanna just keep going and keep evolving. Because, this first record that I put out, it’s almost like a tattoo. It’s like this is where I was then. Maybe it’s not exactly who I am now. But I’ll counter that with another tattoo I guess.” Although I get the tattoo analogy, Bonet’s music seems less decisive than that. It’s a curious mix that intentionally evades a simple generic classification. “I hate genres,” she says, when I quiz her on the infidelity of her music style. And then: “No. It’s not that I hate genres. I love records that clearly fit in certain genres. I hate that we have to label it. I definitely didn’t put a label on it. Honestly, I was really surprised when it came out to see the labels that people would put on it. I was like, ‘oh really, this is a folk record, or this is a
jazz record?’ I didn’t necessarily go into it with that, so it’s always a surprise what people label it as.” In its press release the album is described as ‘magical realism’. I wonder how far that literary genre really was an active influence. Bonet laughs again. “I actually haven’t read that. But I definitely understand that. I think it’s kind of a mystic philosophy that I try to impart a bit.There’s so much wonder in magic and in us just being. And all of the chaos and hectic day-to-day… how we live today I think we forget how amazing it is that we’re here. And that everything is here. I know that sounds really corny but I think about it a lot, quite often. It’s definitely something I hope I can communicate with my music – a bit of just appreciation and gratitude and love for the wonder that we are.” She pauses, thinking through the implications of what she’s just said. “I don’t subscribe to any religion, but I feel like I’ve had to develop a way of looking at things for my own peace of mind and sanity over the years – it’s something that helps me.” This spring Bonet will begin touring her album. She is coming to Europe, with dates in the UK (London, Sheffield and Manchester), Brussels, Paris and Amsterdam. There’s a festival tour in the summer, and then she hopes to join her boyfriend, Itai Shapira, the composer and musician who plays bass in her band, on his tour of Japan. There is a huge amount to look forward to, not least the completion of her second album. I wonder whether the looming deadlines are stressful for her, but no, she says. They’re more motivational. “Life is super short. I wanna make sure I’m staying on my targets.” You can’t help but wish the very best for Kadhja Bonet. She’s lovely, a rare talent with an optimistic modesty, and a soulful oldskool voice that makes you feel like the star of your very own movie.
Idles The Bristol punk band for the age of social collapse Photogra phy: heather mccutcheon / writer: dominic haley
Le f t : I d l es i n l o n d o n L- R: L ee K i er n a n , Ma rk Bo w en , Jo e T a lb o t , A d a m D e v o n s h ir e, Jo n B eav i s .
here’s a safe umbrella around music at the moment,” sighs Idles lead singer Joe Talbot, taking a sip from his lime and soda.We sit listening to the generic sugary pop song in silence for a couple of seconds before he continues. “That’s how it is I suppose, when there’s not a lot of money ticking over, it’s often only the top branch that get heard.” The Rose and Crown feels like a bit of an anomaly in London Bridge these days. One of the areas last old boozers, its white-lined pool table and flat screens showing the bowls are at odds with the stone-baked pizza and craft beers they sell over the road. Yet, Idles seem at home here. This interview feels a bit like a typical conversation you could eavesdrop on in any pub. Joe Talbot is forthright and articulate, talking passionately about music, politics and his home in Bristol. His mate and lead guitarist Mark Bowen is slightly quieter, jumping in to embellish a story or drop a clever zinger. If you didn’t know they were both in a band, you’d think they were two good friends chatting shit. “People often say we’re an angry band. We are, but more as individuals,” says Talbot when I ask the pair about their last single, ‘Well Done’. “I’ve got a bad temper; Bowen can be a bit fiery and we’re all hungover a lot. We can all be shitty people, but we’re also functioning adults who talk and think about this kind of stuff”. ‘Well Done’ came out late last year with a surprisingly brutal swipe at Mary Berry, Saturday evening TV and middle-class sanctimony. The lyrics, though well observed and intensely vicious, weren’t nearly as jarring as the band’s new stripped-down sound. The hammering drums and slash-throat guitars were a far cry from the brooding indie rock the five-piece were once renowned for. Upcoming single ‘Stendhal Syndrome’ turns its fire on the liberal bubble. It points a finger at people who use their convictions to shut down dialogue. “Art is a language of freedom and expression that can be spoken by all,” the band posted on Facebook recently. “If you don’t like what people are saying, move on. Don’t shut them up. That would make you a prick. This is a song reminding you of what a prick sounds like.”
Both songs tap into the sense of frustration and anger that is following in the wake of Brexit and Trump’s victory. Like Fat White Family and Sleaford Mods, Idles too are riding this wave, although they might not admit it. “Our aim isn’t to start a revolution or anything like that,” muses Bowen when I ask them about their band’s politics. “We talk about political things in the pub, so it would be weird if we didn’t sing about it.” “It’s not like we’ve tapped into a zeitgeist, it’s more that the zeitgeist has tapped into us,” adds Talbot. “People are a lot more socially aware than they were five years ago.They’re a lot poorer than they were and politicians are getting away with a lot more than they used to. It’s creeped in slowly and now bands like us and Sleaford Mods are getting popular you have people popping up saying, ‘who are you guys? You’re just tapping into shit.’ Nah, we’ve always been here but the situation has changed. Conversations up and down the country have turned more political. It’s what people want to hear about right now.” “Do you find you want to write more political stuff now because of what’s going on?” asks Bowen, stepping into the role of interviewer. “No. I want to be more obtuse,” answers Talbot obligingly. “It would be lame to be like Green Day singing all that American Idiot stuff; it’s, like, well done. I bet Little Mix will come out with a political song any day now. I want to be more expressive and explore myself as a man within this political climate. That’s what we’re doing with the album. I’m interested in how politics affects my psyche, my emotions and my role in society. Basically, I don’t want to keep talking about the bastards and focus more on me as a bastard.”
rutalism’ is that album. Named after the harsh concrete architecture that sprung up in the aftermath of the Second World War, it’s as unsettling and monolithic as the buildings that inspired it. Part pointed polemic about crumbling civil society and the dismantling of the welfare state, and part tribute to Talbot’s mother who
tragically passed away during its recordings, it’s the first record that truly captures the intensity that lies at the heart of Idles. Savage, frantic, but surprisingly minimalist, it’s also the closest you’ll get to the band’s live show without having to get your shoes soaked in beer. “We were having such a crap time writing,” says Bowen as the conversation switches to the new album. “We were at a point where if we weren’t at the point of full collapse, then we were definitely close,” adds Talbot. “It wasn’t fun and if it’s not fun then you really shouldn’t be doing music. I mean, there’s plenty of shitty jobs out there.” Bowen picks up the story: “We talked about what we wanted to do and we decided to borrow the philosophy of the brutalist movement. We wanted to take things back to fundamental principles and work from the ground up. A lot of this album is just bass and drums really, and on some of the songs the bass is playing one note.” It’s an approach that especially chimes with Talbot, who is something of a self-confessed architecture aficionado. “I wanted to use this album to rebuild ourselves in a cheap, easy way. So, in one way it’s kind of a cathartic building block and a big, brash headstone for my mum. It’s an analogy that really works for us – like many great things; it clicked. Honestly, it’s transformed our outlook, the way we write, the way we work together, everything.” Idles do feel like a band reborn on the back of the debut album. Originally emulating Gang of Four, Bloc Party and The Walkmen, this record sees the five-piece ditch their post punk trappings. “As we’ve developed as a band, we’ve incorporated the individual influences that we didn’t really focus on at the start,” explains Talbot. “The bands that last are the democratic ones. I know that word has a slightly different meaning these days, but in our case, it means combing all our individual likes while still managing to work together.” Despite being a punk band, Idles are a mess of competing influences. They cite jazz, The National and minimal techno as inspiration while
Talbot grew up on a diet of hip hop, garage, jungle and R&B. In fact, you can draw a direct line between Kanye West and ‘Brutalism’. “‘Yeezus’ really helped us come out of our shell,” enthuses Talbot. “That idea of bravery and restriction really inspired us. “The fact that Rick Rubin gave him two weeks to write lyrics and he came up with all this abrupt and brash sounding music is so cool.” “What did Kanye call Rick Rubin?” adds Bowen excitedly. “He said he wasn’t a producer; he was the reducer. He basically took all this work Kanye had done with loads of different producers and went, ‘keep that bit, ditch that bit.’ He took Daft Punk and Evian Christ and boiled it down. A lot of ‘Yeezus’ is like that – Kanye really took a risk on it.” With the dregs left of my pint, I ask Idles about how they’re dealing with all their growing attention. Talbot just shrugs. “We’ve stuck to being ourselves; you can’t force it. All you have to do is stick to your guns and one day Theresa May will become Prime Minister. Then everyone will be looking at you.” “So have we been lucky that everything has turned to shit?” says Bowen. A sly grin spreads over his face, perhaps sensing an avenue for a bit of friendly piss-taking. “Yeah!” exclaims Talbot, hardly missing a beat, “what else would we be talking about if things hadn’t turned to shit? It would be whack; I’d be singing about trainers.”
Kelly Lee Owens Sonic medicine from a former cancer ward nurse Photography: jonangelo molinari / writer: ian roebuck
Le f t : K elly L ee o w en s i n th e r o w l ey wa y es t a t e, W es t L o n d o n .
can’t see a red curtain’ reads the text as I take a seat beside one.The penny drops. I’m in the wrong place. By a long way. New coordinates are set and I race towards Marylebone to meet Kelly Lee Owens, the enigmatic (but, it turns out, highly efficient) artist behind one of the most talked about debut albums of 2017’s first quarter. On her chosen destination I text back about how ‘dead posh’ it is. ‘It’s dead boring’ is the instant reply. Breathless after our miscommunication, I am glad Kelly took control, which she’s always done remarkably well, it seems. “I had to get a job back where I grew up in Wales when I was 13,” she tells me. “I think that’s illegal but never mind, I was a waitress, but I was kind of running the show. Maybe I just took over. I remember having anxiety dreams at 14 about running restaurants, which is just weird. My family were saying, Kelly you have to earn your keep. At the time I thought it was unfair, but I think it’s set me up for life.” She says she finds herself relinquishing control these days, openly admitting that it isn’t her strong point. “I’m so impatient,” she cries, a bundle of positive energy. The wait for her self-titled debut album – an extraordinary technotinged, immersive odyssey that’s rich in depth but dance-floor-ready – can’t be easy for her. To best comprehend this eponymous, complex body of work you must follow Kelly’s journey, which began in Manchester. “That was the first place I felt there was a load of weirdos that I could connect with and feel on a level with in regards to music. I wanted to move away and I had worked in a nursing home before, in Wales, so the next logical step was to do something similar. I worked at Christie’s Cancer Hospital and somehow got a job there,” she says. “It was so inspiring; it sounds dramatic but being around death inspired me to live and the people I met were so amazing, full of strength. In a way it cuts the bullshit, all the things we overthink in our minds and these situations that we create, you know – it strips all of that away. What always struck me was people would tell me what they would regret and it
was always things they didn’t do – I didn’t try…, I didn’t say… – I just couldn’t forget that. It is so simple in a way but if you can just think of yourself towards the end of your life saying that to yourself, what would you regret? “It really did have a lasting affect on me – music is healing. I think that we need to marry those two worlds and I still think about it a lot.” When pushed, Kelly reveals that now more than ever her time working for the NHS is informing her current state of mind and her approach to music. “We have more power than we realise to heal ourselves and music for so many people is therapeutic,” she tells me. “When I started doing research into sound frequencies, I found that certain frequencies shatter cancer cells. It’s only specific type of cells and they do need to research it some more but it works.” Clearly passionate on the subject, I stop her in her tracks to ask if there’s anything she does to enrich her life through musical healing? “Well…” She pauses. “I have been doing gong meditation. It’s the best thing ever. All you do is lie there with a blanket and a pillow, candles, whatever, and then these massive gongs are played subtly. I mean I think of a gong and think, booooooooong.” The fabulous sound she creates comes complete with frantic arm action and another shrill laugh. Tellingly, there is a ready will to let go that goes hand in hand with Kelly’s newfound hobby. “I am used to controlling sound,” she says, “whereas this is something completely different – someone else is in control and you have to let the sound and vibrations wash over you.” I ask if it played a part in recording the album, as it’s seemingly a recent interest? “There are two tracks – ‘Evolution’ and the album closer. That was when I was most into the gong sound baths, so in my own analogue way I was trying to combine these worlds. When you finish the album I want you to feel in a slightly immersed state, like, ‘what the fuck did I just listen to?’ Later, Kelly’s aquatic description made perfect sense to me. Slowly sinking back as I listened, the final notes gush out of the speakers.
want to explore the relationship between sound and healing, in a way that’s more accessible, not just hippy dippy you know. What about trance music? What about coming into the dance world? What about standing in Berghain and feeling completely connected? I thought maybe I could do something where I am exploring these two worlds of sound and healing. One format would be an exhibition, so I am looking into that at the moment, which will include an immersive sound bath.” Kelly Lee Owens seems afraid of nothing, and talking to her it makes perfect sense that she’d curate an art exhibition. After all she printed her own vinyl. Working in some of London’s best record stores, including Rough Trade and Pure Groove, made it almost inevitable. “Yeah, two EP’s I pressed and paid for myself,” she nods. “I lost money but I didn’t care; I just thought I need to do this. I have to say, they were great quality – 180 gram, heavyweight, 200 limited, hand signed. Maybe when everything goes to shit I can sell what’s left on eBay.” It was behind the counter that Kelly’s tastes took a turn. “It is a funny one,” she tells me. “I was an indie scenester kind of kid playing in bands like The History of Apple Pie. I think working in several record stores opened up my mind to all different kinds of music. Bjork would come into Rough Trade and be like, ‘where is the techno section?’ I’d be thinking why does she like techno? It’s fucking shit. I wasn’t ready for it, didn’t respect it. When Pure Groove was opposite Fabric, my friend Daniel Avery would DJ there. I had dabbled in that world but it was when I started working with Dan and Ghost Culture (who would go on to produce her album) that I saw the process. It’s only then, when you see the physical process, that you realise it’s a proper thing, it’s not throwaway and it can be emotive.” As a guest vocalist with a writing credit on Avery’s well-received ‘Drone Logic’, Kelly took valuable time to make notes during recording. “All of the tweaking of the EQ’s on my album, that’s me doing it live, in one take. It’s good to know this stuff; it’s easy just to bypass it but that’s why production is so interesting. I went to see Brian
Wilson perform last year and what he did in-between the tracks is talk about how he made it and I completely connected with that. I thought, yes Brian! The songs are genius because of his process and because of the time he took to think about each individual element and bring them together in a way that’s unique.” ‘Kelly Lee Owen’ will be released via Smalltown Supersound, the Norwegian label home to Dungen, amongst others. It was label boss Joakim who introduced Kelly to his compatriot Jenny Hval, the extraordinary avant-folk performance artist who in ‘Blood Bitch’ released my favourite album of last year. Hval guests on Kelly’s lead track ‘Anxi’. When I mention this there’s much excitement at our table. “Her vocals are perfect for sampling in a track,” says Kelly. “She says such provocative things and she has a great speaking voice. We have a relationship now and we talk a lot. When it came to one of my tracks on the album I was kind of bored of writing my own vocals. I just thought, what am I saying here? I thought the music would be the hard bit but no, it’s the other way around. I instantly thought yes to Jenny – three hours later she sends me pretty much what you hear on ‘Anxi’. Apart from me cutting up some bits and making it quite trippy with vocal production that was it. I wrote back saying, ‘I fucking love you, in three hours this is amazing, you are a genius!’ It’s such a good fit but I am already starting to write the next set of stuff for the second album. Maybe I am a bit impatient… Have I said that before?’
Rejjie Snow The Irish rapper who’s already been a footballer in the US and might be done with hip-hop too Photography: dan kendall / writer: greg cochrane
Rejjie Snow is talking about his allergies. He’s sat on a bench by a bike shop in front of a wall plastered with posters, slogans and community notices, a short walk from his home in Elephant & Castle, south London. A white cat with pink eyes and a charming arrogance strolls into the shot as Rejjie’s having his photograph taken. “I love dogs, but I’m allergic to cats,” he says, in a thick Irish-American accent, “they give me the sniffles.” There’s something both amusing and unexpected about hearing this deepvoiced, athletic, tattooed rapper use the word “sniffles”. But in a way it sums up the 23-year-old from Dublin. Having spent a couple of hours in his company on two occasions he comes across as a sensitive, mild-mannered, honest guy, both proud and unashamed of his roots. In other words: if you’ve heard tracks like ‘D.R.U.G.S.’, in person he’s maybe not what you might think. It’s a bracing cold January afternoon. Outside on the street, the rain turns to sleet turns to sludge. Rejjie walks into a modern cafe serving strong tea and playing reggae on the soundsystem. He keeps his coat on, the spiderweb inked on his neck visible from underneath his beanie. We’d met a fortnight before, in the even chillier surroundings of Groningen, a university town in the north east of the Netherlands. He was performing at Eurosonic festival, an event programmed early in the year, where festival agents from across the continent travel to watch new artists play and book them for their summer line-ups. The morning after his show, I took him record shopping for Loud And Quiet’s web-series Bands Buy Records. He bought some jazz, hunted unsuccessfully for some rap, and came away with a Billy Ocean record as a present for his mother. As I left he was searching for a local place to buy some
dutch hash brownies. “I ate them before I got on the plane home,” he says today, recalling it with a wise smile, “they were pretty good.” Alex Anyaegbunam is a child of the early ’90s’. Born in Dublin he grew up in Drumcondra, on the north-side of city. With an Irish mother and a Nigerian father he has a brother and a sister (who he doesn’t get on with as they’re “total opposites”).As a youngster he’d spend lots of his time at his grandparents’ house. Along with his dad’s music collection, that’s where he first came into contact with the sounds of jazz and ska. The classics: Bill Evans and Miles Davis. But back then he wasn’t going there for that, even if they were subconsciously filed for later years. His other male cousins would be there and they could play football. At school and around home his friends were just mates because they were local. He was outgoing, sporty and “a bit of a terror,” but there was always a nagging sense of his difference. “I always knew I was different to everybody,” he tells me. “I was always reminded of that, too, everywhere I went. I’d put on a brave face everywhere I went. I’d always try to be sociable, but as soon as I went back home I’d be asking my parents all these questions. “The area I lived, for whatever reason I was the only coloured kid. I just had a hard time at school. Not a hard time... just in the sense that I’d have to explain a lot of things and people would say things to me and I wouldn’t know why. I’d always see myself as the same as everyone else – I didn’t see colour. “Because of that I feel like I’ve got too much patience these days. It’s not such a bad thing though, is it? I’m very open to people. That wasn’t always the case, I used to be a bit of a hot head.” All the while music was in the background, but that changed with a
couple of key moments. First was his football coach who’d drive the team to games pumping out the motivational sounds of Queen on the bus stereo. “I just love that shit, so raw and aggressive. I wish I could make music like that,” he says. The second was his choice of company. In his early teens he noticed the tags and designs of schoolmates doing graffiti on desks and walls and he liked it. “Meeting that graffiti lot... I wouldn’t say it saved me, but it kinda guided me into an area,” he notes. “The culture itself was a big catalyst. I never looked back.” Beyond the art, his new passion would become the introduction to the music he’d eventually make. Nas, WuTang, MF Doom. As this education from his peers in hip-hop continued to deepen, a broader fascination with American culture took hold. At 17 it was realised. He left school in Dublin and enrolled in a scholarship playing football (soccer) at a college in Florida. It was, he says, a bit of a free pass. He’d already decided by the time he was 15 or so that despite being a promising player he wasn’t aiming to become a professional. Still, the bursary meant he could go to the US, train in the day and fill his free time with other stuff. “I woke up at 5am everyday for training. It taught me discipline,” says Rejjie. “Even now I treat my music – the hip-hop, the rap, whatever – kind of like a job. I’m quite punctual, I try not to be late or miss shows. I’m grateful for the opportunity to get paid to speak, essentially. I try to just treat it the same as college or something.” After 18 months at high school, he transferred to a university in Savannah, Georgia. His mind by this point was almost entirely off football, instead feasting on the free courses on the timetable – sculpture, graphic design, painting – as he made music on his
laptop at night. Still though, he felt like a bit of an outsider. “My music, I think it was online then, some people knew about it, so I felt kind of like this weird kinda guy on campus.” Home was like a magnet though, and he decided to return. He’d had some success with posting his music on the Internet, to the extent that when he’d visit Dublin those people who weren’t begrudging his achievements would want selfies and conversations. It left him feeling a bit “weird and embarrassed” and, for a while, doubting whether music was the right plan at all, until he started afresh, chose London as his permanent base and came up with the name Rejjie Snow. “I was like” ‘I could do so much better than that.’ I had to reinvent myself.” He made friends quickly. In particular Archy Marshall aka King Krule, and each weekend they’d mess about, freestyling tracks at Archy’s place. “He’s definitely someone who I pay a lot of respect to in terms of how I approach my music,” Rejjie tells me. “He knew all this hip-hop shit too, even more than me. I learned a lot from him.”
here’s been a steady flow of new music from Rejjie the past few years. First, his ‘Rejovich’ mixtape in 2013, which featured the Loyle Carner collaboration ‘1992’ and warped jam ‘Lost In Empathy’. Later came the lazy flow of ‘D.R.U.G.S.’, the creeping, smooth ‘Pink Beetle’ and, most recently on Donald Trump’s inauguration, the smouldering comment on police brutality ‘Crooked Cops’ (sample lyric: “Black and white unite my right / these crooked cops they hate my sight”). Even before the big labels all raced for his signature, Rejjie was doing just fine, bagging a couple of shows
supporting Madonna and having tens of thousands of loyal fans following him on social media. “When people care about somebody they’ll fuck with you, they’ll come to your shows no matter what,” he reasons. “That’s down to, just me being identifiable.” He’s gone with 300 Entertainment, run by music industry big-wig Lyor Cohen and home to Young Thug, Migos and Fetty Wap. Rejjie’s frank about the reasons. “Money,” he says matter of factly, “and being able to do want I want to do. “Even having a label from America I thought was cool. I could have signed with a UK label – that would have been expected so I wanted to do some iconic shit. A rapper from where I’m from signing to America? It hasn’t been done. I’m trying to open these doors, set an example to other people.” That’s a theme that keeps coming up. While in the early days back home in Dublin Rejjie may have been ridiculed for having the aspirations and the nerve to follow-through on them, instead of cutting his detractors off, he’s determined to turn it into something positive. “I’ve got so many friends that just fucked up,” he says, “that didn’t stick
to what they were good at, didn’t find a path or never went down that shit so I’m trying as much as I can to do that. “Yeah, people laugh at you for a month or two, or a year, but at the end of the day they’ll still show respect to you; that’s what I’m finding out now. I’m showing love to everyone who didn’t show love to me.”
A b o v e: r ejji e s n o w in el ep h a n t an d c a s t le, south london.
ll of which brings us to now. In production for a couple of years, his debut album is complete. It’s called ‘Dear Annie’. “I like old sounding names,” he explains, before adding that Annie is an imaginary friend he speaks to throughout the narrative of the album. It’s produced by US producer Rahki (Kendrick Lamar, Eminem, ScHoolboy Q). His attitude towards it, having spent a long time making it, and the recent intervention of his new US colleagues, means he’s both proud of the LP, but also done with it. “I think it’s going to be the best thing out of the UK this year… it has to be. If not, I’ll quit,” he tells me, not long after clarifying that he doesn’t necessarily think this album is his “moment”.
“As an artist you have a defining moment – I think that’s going to be my next one. I was still learning so much about the industry and myself. Everyone’s got their ‘College Dropout’ you know, this isn’t going to be my ‘College Dropout’. I think it’s fucking sick, though.” While Rejjie speaks with focus he’s also thinking about the next step, the new project. Right now, in between playing shows, he’s taking singing lessons and wants to put together a live band in the future. This year, as well as the album, he’s bringing out a clothing line and making a short film based on his life with a Detroit-based friend and filmmaker. “It’s going to show me aged five, get like actors of me, then I’m going to act in it myself. Telling the story,” he says. “There are no limits as a creative person, no barriers. I’m still learning. My next record I don’t even want to make a hip hop record I just want to make music… The evolution of me as the Rejjie persona is just going to go crazy.” Already, at 23, plotting his own biographical movie, it’s a long way from sitting in the back of the minibus belting out ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ on the motorway to an away game.
Is this the real life? The committed, divisive, 24/7 art project of HMLTD is not about escapism Photography: jenna foxton / writer: james f. thompson
I think what I like most about HMLTD is their commitment. For all the hype that has built up around the band over the past year within indie music circles across the capital and beyond, we’ve all seen plenty of part-timers release a couple of singles and get a bit of buzz before fading away. With HMLTD though, you get a sense of something different. You get the sense that they’re so committed to their art as to be indistinguishable from it. You get the sense that they’re the real fucking deal. It’s easy to be cynical in the world of music journalism – you interview and see so many bands and shows that you can end up feeling somehow above or removed from it all. Turning up to interview a band and seeing them dressed up like some mutation of Adam and the Ants and Judas Priest, you could easily laugh to yourself. “Silly kids, eh?” Witnessing them live with their singer dressed up in a PVC body suit, you could maybe have another chuckle to yourself. Only, the joke would be on you. All the best music that I know has come from a place of complete commitment
to an artistic vision, with no room for self-preservation.The reason why David Bowie was so inspiring was that he effectively lived his art – his chameleonlike transformations borne out not only through his music but his image, his fashion and at times even his lifestyle. To my mind, HMLTD subscribe to a similar artistic worldview, at a time when it’s been done before – a whole new challenge in itself. Theirs isn’t so much a band as it is a 24/7 art project. In front man Henry Spychalsk they have a living embodiment of their music.The rest of the band are equally committed. When I head along to watch a show of theirs after speaking to the group, I catch Henry and he proudly explains how the band spent the day painstakingly decorating the stage of the bar that we’re in to make sure it properly complements their music. HMLTD are signed to Sony – they don’t really have to give a shit – but they still care immensely about the presentation of their art, even in a small South London pub. Whether you like their music or not, you’ll have to decide for yourself, but you can’t possibly doubt the dedication of HMLTD to what they’re doing.
meet the band in their fulltime recording space in Shoreditch. It’s a cosy multi-level unit, with a studio downstairs and a spit-and-sawdust bar area upstairs. My head swirls as we shake hands and I drink in each of their trash-chic outfits before we sit down. One guy is in military garb, another is in a zoot suit, and everyone seems to be wearing make-up. Shirt and jeans was the wrong call today, and I feel severely underdressed. First, let’s cover the basics. There are six guys in the band, all in their early-to-mid-twenties. Henry handles vocal duties. Achilles and Duke – sat on the sofa with Henry today – take care of drums and samples, then guitars and risers respectively. The rest of the group are James (guitar), Nico (bass) and Zac (keys). I ask where everyone is from and how they got to the band, but nobody seems keen on giving any straight answers. I press the issue and, with a palpable sense of reluctance, Henry sort of addresses the question. “I didn’t really ever stay in one place; I moved around a lot, so I lived in various parts
of the country,” he says. “Then I moved to London with the intention, primarily, of finding something like this and finding like-minded people to collaborate with. None of us actually came from London – we all came from elsewhere seeking a similar thing and we kind of found each other.” Henry is blond, handsome and all of 21 years old. It’s hard to avoid his eyes as he answers questions and he speaks with what sounds like a posh Home Counties accent, but he’s not giving much away. Duke playfully asks whether it’s true that Henry was adopted. “Er, no,” the singer replies – right before spilling coffee all over himself. “For fuck’s sake!” He’s now cross. “I come from Paris,” Duke continues. “I moved to London looking for a band because the music scene in Paris is dead.” Henry mutters something about everything in Paris being dead while he attends to the fresh stain on his shirt, but Duke demurs. “No, I mean it’s a very beautiful city, there’s just nothing much going on.”
L ef t : d u k e a n d n i c o a b o v e: H en r y & za c o v er : Ac h i lli ea s (t o p) a n d ja mes .
Achilles is Greek and moved here when he was 18. He took the scenic route towards joining HMLTD. “I wasn’t looking for a band per se but I found that was the best way for me to do what I wanted to do. I studied a lot and read a lot and I tried to approach this through other art forms but then I found that this specific band is the best way, due to the people who are in it right now. Everyone shares the same vision so that we can do what we do.” James, Nico and Zac were also drawn from across Europe. The six might have only been playing together not much longer than a year but it’s fair to say there can’t be many new bands in London who’ve made a bigger impact. Two singles have emerged – ‘Is This What You Wanted?’ and ‘Stained’ – which both show off a Molotov cocktail of gothic post-punk, glam rock and industrial music; think something along the lines of Bauhaus and Gary Glitter via Nine Inch Nails. All the same, Achilles drives home the future-centric focus of the band. “When you reflect on the world, you start from the past. Ignoring that would be escapist and appropriating would be retrospective. A middle path would
“It’s not just about the music with us, it’s the whole art project”
be to channel that to move forwards. We don’t want to go backwards.” “It would be completely naïve to deny, you know, that we take influences from the past – certainly we do – but it’s not done in a retrospective manner and it’s not done in a revivalist manner,” Henry says. “The only point at which we look backwards is to propel ourselves forwards. I think there is a general tendency in some genres to kind of create music based purely on listening to past music. [But] if you do that then all you’ve really come up with is a pastiche, because you’re not placing it in any kind of context.” Henry certainly recognises the importance of broader context in how HMLTD make their music. “If you want to create something which isn’t kind of like alienated from your present context, then you need to pay attention to everything that’s going on around you. Not just listening to music but you know, pay attention to the surrounding world.You can’t just listen to music to create music that’s relevant.” The bands’ live shows have been explosive affairs. Witnessing them play myself, I was struck by the confrontational interplay between Henry up on stage preening over the crowd, and the frenzied mosh pit below. “I think performance has to be confrontational,” Achilles argues. “Otherwise it’s not performance. Like in a play or in anything where someone is putting themselves in a position to be seen, you have to react to the person watching you. Because we’re very keen on what we want to say, we are also aggressive about it. We don’t adulterate the message.” Gigs have also been notoriously polarising, at least in the early days. “At one of the first shows we played, we started to a full, packed room,” Duke recalls. “Probably by the end of the show half of the room was empty. I just remember thinking this means that we’re doing something exciting.” Henry is more direct. “We want to force a change. Changes come about like that.” (More recently, when we told a friend of Loud And Quiet that HMLTD were going to be this month’s cover feature, she said: “I saw them play – I didn’t think I could hate a band that much.”) He continues: “I think polarisation is a very good indicator, in the sense that if everybody likes what you’re
doing unanimously, then it’s kind of a sign that what you’re doing is most likely quite boring, or at least that it’s not challenging the audience – it’s kind of patronising them. You’re always going to end up with a full crowd at the end of the show but you’re not challenging them.” HMLTD have also obviously been playing far more songs live than they’ve actually released yet, with a repertoire of at least a dozen in regular rotation. When I last saw them, there were a couple of new additions, including the fantastically seedy ‘Apple of my Eye’. In fact, there’s such a chaotic energy to each show – from the songs to the stage performances – that I wonder whether it’s a challenge capturing it all on record. “I think we’ve done what we wanted to do [so far],” Achilles says. “It’s more of a question of how we want to roll it out; how we want to space it out and how we want to time it,” Henry elaborates, adding that they’ve only been playing together about a year. “I don’t think there’s any real issue translating the live chaos into the record,” he says. “I think that’s what we attempted to do – I think quite successfully – with the singles.” Speaking of which, ‘Stained’ caused quite the stir when it was released in November of last year, not least because of its genuinely disturbing video – which we’ll get to in a moment. Lyrically, it turns out that the song is effectively all about moralistic corruption and nihilism. Supposed totemic pillars of morality are undermined throughout the song, with Henry taking aim at everybody from his parents to – yes, really – Mother Theresa. Vocally, he crows the bratty crow of Niall O’Flaherty of The Sultans of Ping FC. The idea of the song seems to be that the notion of morality itself isn’t a valid concept – heavy stuff. “At the base level it could be most obviously interpreted as political, but that’s not really the aim of it at all,” Henry explains. “It’s more about kind of moving beyond morality and sort of going beyond good and evil, and living in this world where once you realise everyone is inherently stained, everything becomes quite useless – all attempts to be moral or whatever – and that’s quite liberating. I guess that’s the idea.That’s what we’re trying to get
at in the video – it’s about freeing yourself of the shackles of morality and kind of moving into a post-moral stage where you’re completely liberated in terms of what you can do.” Anybody who first heard ‘Stained’ via the accompanying music video could probably be forgiven for not picking up on the Nietzschean nihilism at the song’s core. The nightmare visuals put together by artist and director Jenkin van Zyl combine the grotesque and the absurd in what is certainly a bracing experience not dissimilar to a particularly gruesome horror film. Starting with zombie-like bodies emerging from blood-spattered cocoons, the video never really lets up from there, climaxing with what will probably be the most terrifying Halloween party you’ll ever witness. “There have been a lot of interesting comments about it,” Duke laughs. “I guess what’s good about it is that it gets a reaction from people.” Henry agrees. “It’s divided opinion, I think, quite dramatically,” he says with a smile. So how does the horror show in the video relate to all the moralistic nihilism that we were talking about earlier? “I suppose it’s the breaking
down of the objective standards of certain things – and that breaking down of objective standards of morality also pertains to everything else including beauty, such that, you know, there’s beauty in the gruesome and the violent and so forth. It’s kind of blending those in the post-moral stage, which creates something uncanny.”
t’s clear by now that HMLTD see themselves as more than a conventional rock band, pumping out albums and touring between releases. Henry’s high-minded lyrics are obviously one indicator of this, taking in all manner of ethical, philosophical and political influences. Really though, it’s the band’s relentless focus on the visual and experiential side of their creative output that belies their grander ambitions. Several of the band have worked in other art forms before, particularly visual arts. Henry has also done some modelling work on the side. This experience absolutely contributes to this sense of importance around the projection of the band beyond their
music. “It’s not just about the music with us, it’s the whole art project, and that covers everything – the music, the aesthetics and everything,” Henry says. Equally though, the group are generally pretty dismissive about the value of a formal arts education – I had assumed some of the band must have taken the well-trodden path via arts college but Henry bristles at the mere thought. “I feel like the idea of the academy in art is just a bit irrelevant. So yeah, none of us have, like, a formal art school background, but we don’t see this as being just about music. We kind of want to create something a lot grander, which incorporates a lot of different facets and becomes more of a complete art form.” In terms of the message that HMLTD are trying to convey across all these different art forms, there doesn’t seem to be any kind of overarching narrative or worldview. The band don’t see themselves as avowedly political, for instance. Equally though – despite the costume and the visuals – the group definitely feel that their art stems from reality, not escapism. “Escapism would imply that you create some sort of utopia, which is the opposite of what we do,” Achilles says. “I think what we do has a lot to do with representing. For example, the ‘Stained’ video I think is a reflection [of reality] but at the same time, it’s a perverse reflection.” One inarguable constant, though, is the sense of experimentation and fluidity across the gender axis. At times the band dress and behave with wilful disregard for gender norms; the group frequently wear make-up and embrace aspects of femininity, yet on stage the show often alternates between representing femininity and an almost aggressively macho experience. “We’re definitely interested in gender and the idea of androgyny,” says Achilles. “I think that’s again another aspect of the idea of how we view culture – and how we view certain solidified ideas that we want to break.
H ML T D l i v e a t m o th c l u b , h a c k n ey , L o n d o n . 3 d ec 20 1 6 . p h ot o s b y m a x phy thi a n .
“For example, when we talk about ‘Stained’ we want to break down the moral. Similarly, within gender, we have our own ideas about it and how we present gender – how we present ourselves within the spectrum of gender. I mean, we’re all male, right, but I don’t think that should hinder us from being able to talk about it.” Henry agrees. “We are very interested in gender and sexuality and that comes across in the performances and everything.” With all the buzz around HMLTD, it’s little surprise that the labels soon came calling. Last year, the sextet signed a deal with Sony. It’s a move that left many indie labels scratching their heads: how could such an outré act slot in alongside the likes of the Chainsmokers, Robbie Williams and – for God’s sake – Little Mix? A quick scan of the Sony website reveals that HMLTD aren’t even mentioned on the signed artists page, as though Sony themselves acknowledge the conundrum. A cynic would no doubt assume that the company executives bounded into the room with briefcases of cash for an advance. The way the band tell it, though, the move happened for a couple of other reasons. The first is the label’s multimedia capabilities. “The scale of what we want to do is large,” Achilles says. “We want to keep on moving forward and widening our vision. At the same time, I think we concluded that the people at Sony got it.” “It’s the particular individuals that we’re working with,” Henry argues, and Achilles agrees. “From the beginning, we made sure that we wouldn’t do anything was it not for a shared understanding of what we want to do,”
he says. “I think we got that across and it’s been going very well so far.” “[Signing to a big label like Sony] is a risk on both sides. That’s what keeps it exciting,” Duke laughs. “We wouldn’t have signed anything if we’d believed it would be a creative straightjacket,” Henry argues. “Every kind of decision, we make it geared towards providing ourselves with the best platform possible for doing what we want to do.” It’s probably safe to assume that it was ultimately at the behest of Sony that the band changed their name. It was only a matter of time before their old moniker, Happy Meal Ltd, raised the ire of Ronald McDonald’s cheerful army of intellectual property lawyers. In any case, it wasn’t a name that particularly made much sense in the first place, Henry says. “We kind of felt we needed to move away [from it] a little bit; the immediate interpretation of Happy Meal Ltd is satire and parody. With parody there comes quite an evident pedagogical ideology and we’re not really interested in pushing a pedagogy.” Nowadays it’s basically a meaningless initialism that defines the band – an astute move from an SEO perspective but also apparently a liberating one. “HMLTD in itself means nothing,” says Henry, “so we can give it the meaning, and that’s important. We create the word’s meaning rather than having a word which is already loaded with meanings, which we can’t control.” Duke argues that people will get it later on. With a big label now on board, I would imagine the pressure would be on to get a record out of the door, although the band insist that they’re in no rush and they’ll be going at their own pace. Likewise, gigs are relatively sparse over the next couple of months at least, although apparently the band are still at full tilt; I ask about life outside HMLTD but everybody just laughs at the idea of such a thing. “There’s none,” Henry insists. “It’s a 24/7 project. When you get home you’re still working and when you sleep, you’re still thinking about things.” The band are down working in the studio “every day,” says Achilles. As if they don’t have enough to do themselves, the band say they could potentially spearhead a grouping of like-minded bands and people at some stage in the future. “We certainly intend to create more allies and we certainly intend to create a sort of movement,” Henry explains. “We’re
“Escapism would imply that you create some sort of utopia, which is the opposite of what we do” not exclusive and we’re not elitist, at all. We want people to be involved.” At the same time, Duke says people have to make an effort to engage. “Yeah. People have to make an effort for them to be invested in something,” says Henry. “If it’s too easy to be a part of, then it requires no investment and you’ll never really feel part of it. If you want to feel part of something then you’ve got to properly invest in it, don’t you?”
It’s a fair point and, perhaps, something of a critique of the broader breakdown of people’s investment in bands, scenes and subcultures – being an armchair fan has never been easier. If HMLTD operate at such a full level of commitment to their own art, perhaps it’s fair to ask that those around them invest the time to understand and be a part of it. Certainly speaking from my own experience, I understand what HMLTD are all about far better now for
having witnessed them live, for instance. As we wrap up our interview, I ask for a tour of the studio downstairs before I say my goodbyes. We trundle down the concrete steps and emerge back in the diminutive rehearsal and recording space that they call home. There are sheets and blankets getting adhered to walls for soundproofing, there’s lowlevel mood lighting provided by a haphazard assortment of lamps and of course there are instruments strewn
everywhere. Exciting things will be coming from the place soon. In fact, I leave HMLTD with a broader sense of optimism. Nothing in what we’ve spoken about during our time together has disabused me of the idea that the band are thoroughly invested in their art in a manner that’s more unusual today than perhaps it once was. People like Henry and his band aren’t just dabbling with making records – they’re absolutely all-in.
tell me about it
Jason Williamson Sleaford Mods’ vocalist on ‘Allo ‘Allo, Twitter trolls and the single vision that’s led to his unexpected success Photography: phil sharp / writer: stuart stubbs
Sleaford Mods first appeared in Loud And Quiet in August 2014, with singer Jason Williamson aware of the music industry’s fickle nature. Media interest will dry up; he was sure of it. And then, he asked, “how do you keep making your lolly?” It’s now three years and two albums later, and papers like The Times are covering Sleaford Mods at The Roundhouse. The music of Williamson and producer Andrew Fearn endures, he says, because all other music is still so crap. But that discredits Sleaford Mods’ own actions and their unique take on British working class post-punk – Fearn’s bloody-minded use of an old drum machine and Williamson’s vicious, yammering half-raps about life in the armpit of a city. Sleaford Mods’ humour is their own, too, and their sense of social duty, which is why their new single is called ‘B.H.S.’ and why its video features their mate John dressed as Sir Philip Green and slovenly falling about a yacht, bloated by champagne, greed and other people’s misery. Considering these gloomy sociopolitical times, perhaps Sleaford Mods’ continual appeal isn’t so surprising after all, but perhaps that’s as overstated as Williamson’s reputation is misleading. His words, never minced and always entertaining, can, written down, appear inflammatory for the sake of it and heavy on bravado, not unlike those of Liam Gallagher. On meeting him in the duo’s hometown of Nottingham, though, Williamson, a family man accompanied by his 1-year-old son, is balanced by a British modesty and a sense of belief that is more American, and can maybe be attributed, in part, to his teenage love for American hip-hop, where confidence and arrogance aren’t the same thing, and where a straight question receives a straight answer.
“My kids have really sorted me out”
“We were considered a joke in Nottingham”
Unless you want to be a shit dad, that’s the only option, to get on with it. My daughter thinks that every dad is a singer, but she’ll soon figure that out. We stash away whatever we make, because of the kids. And when you’re older… I mean, for the first two years I was spanking it – boozing, sniffing – and then I stopped completely. I don’t really do anything now, so that saves a lot of money. We get a holiday every year, so it’s not bad, y’know. Andrew lives on a narrow boat now. He used to live in a dingy old flat up the road: a horrible thing. I used to go around there and it used to break me. I ended up loving it, though – it’s where we recorded the first three or four albums. When we started making some money he bought a narrow boat, so he lives on that, going up and down the country. It’s really changed him. It’s been a release.
Nobody wanted to know. Then we started to get into magazines and things started stoking up. Now that we’ve got somewhere they’ve taken us under their wing. I mean, I can’t blame the Evening Post for not following it from day one, but the local promoters didn’t give a fuck. Now it’s like, ‘Oh yeah, I remember them.’ Fuck off. We did it all by ourselves. We sold out Rock City without anyone’s help and they couldn’t understand why. It was a really nice feeling because for years we were ignored and looked down on, and for once someone turned it into something all by themselves without having to compromise, totally through their own set of beliefs.
“Sleaford Mods go down well in Europe”
They’re not stupid over there. You’d think that you could probably get away with a little bit more, because they’re not too akin with what goes on in England, but they are. They like to ask me what I think of this band and that band, and a lot of them seem to like the bands that I really can’t stand, so I spend a lot of time explaining myself over there. They don’t really get the references in our songs, but it didn’t hinder me when I was listening to hardcore Mafioso rap from the East Coast when I was growing up. There was just something about it that connected me to it, and I think that’s what they get from Sleaford Mods. Particularly in Germany. That’s where we made our name, first in Belgium, then Germany and through to France.We were getting booked all over Europe from 2013, and then we started to get shows in London, then the North and finally Nottingham started to take us a little more seriously, but hesitantly.
“Ideas are what keep you going when nobody else cares”
With Andrew it wasn’t as desperate, but when I was doing it on my own it was terrible. But what kept me going was that I’d get another idea and think, oh, I’ll try that and see what happens. Sometimes it would work and sometimes it wouldn’t and something would push it to another level. And it was easy to maintain, because there wasn’t a band – just me and whatever idea for a backing track I had. When Andrew came along he wouldn’t gig with me, so I was still using his tunes on a CD as a backing track. It was essentially the same but with original beats rather than samples. “How are you supposed to conduct yourself in the street?”
Initially you get a buzz out of being stopped in the street. I never thought I’d get anywhere, ever. And now you take it for granted, people saying ‘alright?’. I know it sounds wanky, but how are you supposed to conduct yourself? I went through a period of feeling a bit guilty about it, people
stopping me, and me saying hello and then forgetting about it. Before it was like, ‘oh wow, who am I? I don’t deserve this!’ “I’m waiting for the media attention to collapse at any minute”
I’ve been feeling like that since they first got interested. Because papers like The Guardian, they’re so, like… [mimes snatching at the air]. Fuck that! And it’s better to think like that – that people are going to stop talking about you in the press – because as long as the music is interesting people are going to be bothered. I reckon we’re still one of the most interesting bands about – y’know, without being a wanker. I listen to music everyday, and try to listen mostly to new stuff, and I think we’re on a par with anyone that’s perceived to be worthy of the moment. We’ve not gone up our arse, and it’s still the same. To be honest, after ‘Key Markets’ I thought, well that’s that. Because where do you go from that? I was weary of just going on about the same old shit, as Noel Gallagher put it, ‘ranting about fried chicken’, or whatever. But it always comes back in a different way; there’s always something else you see. There are a few more songs on this album. I think, for me, that makes it feel like it’s moved on and is still going, but most of the time I’m waiting for it to collapse, because there’s so little to it. “Our enduring quality is the lack of other good music at the minute”
There’s a lot of stuff that’s make-do. It’s alright; it’s ok. Eventually you start humming it and think, ‘yeah, it’s not bad, I’ll buy it.” But there’s nothing that fucking knocks your head off and makes you feel alive – really alive. And I’m not saying that we do, but I think we echo that idea a bit. I come from the era of the mid ’90s, where there was always something coming out of the bag, like ‘Woah!’. I
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can’t think of anything other than grime that has that ‘oooh!’ and even that is tempered now. I heard that Skepta had a burning car onstage at Alexandra Palace. I don’t know if that’s true, but if it is, that’s done. Like the police-linedo-not-cross tape around Guns N’ Roses’ set at Wembley. Fucking done! Maybe it’s my age. And I’m such a fucking mardy bastard. I tend to analyse stuff and make judgments on stuff, and I think, well, I don’t reserve the same judgment for myself sometimes. “We get loads of shit on Twitter”
We got criticised for the ‘B.H.S.’ video. ‘Look at you with your social commentary.’ Fuck off. What are you supposed to do? People are never happy, are they. Every time we’re in the papers we get a load of shit, and we’re generally hated by the guitar crowd a lot. They think we’re a couple of scumbags. And it’s also jealousy as well. People always
thinking, well, I could do better than that, and, actually, you probably couldn’t. I’ve put myself in that position, and you’ve got to have a message that is obviously intelligent, but it’s got to be communicated to people. You can’t be too up your own arse. If I was to quote something out of a critical theory book and put it over a beat, it’d just sound stupid.
so boring, and such a crap part of our personalities – people saying, ‘oh look at them now; I saw him in town the other week with a fucking watch on.’ And I’m not very good at taking criticism. I get really wound up and can be quite horrible with it. So these are great things for songs, because you can get them out, and I feel like the backbone of Sleaford Mods is that.
“It’s funny how England hates success”
“I got my sense of humour from shit lunchtime comedians”
That’s a line on the new record, in ‘Just Like We Do’, and it’s really true. We hate it. When mates say, ‘I’m really proud of you’, I think, god, I would never have said that to you. There’s another line in that song about people complaining that we were going to some awards dos. But these people would love to do it. Some people don’t talk to us anymore because we’re bigger, and I can see where they’re coming from because I used to be the same, and I say that in the song. But it’s
Freddy Starr, Russ Abbott and Tis Was. My sense of humour is from the ’80s, and shows like ‘Allo ‘Allo, which actually bordered on racism. Pure shit comedy. They were so crap, and misogynistic, which I obviously don’t centre on, more the feeling that they gave off – just so crap! We mention a few of those in the new album. There’s a song on there called ‘Moptop’. That was originally called ‘Moschops’, after an ’80s kids show. I
searched it on YouTube and the first thing that came up was this guy going, ‘Do you mind!? You just biffed my nose!’ I thought, that’s brilliant, I’m having that. So that’s how that song starts, with me doing that impression. “It would be horrible if I tried to write a love song”
I suppose I could approach one in a more constructed way. It wouldn’t have to be like Pharrell. But this time around I wanted to do something with a loose structure of grime, and I think ‘Drayton Manored’ echoes that a little bit. Generally speaking as long as it’s funny as well as bleak, that’s what we’re after. And immediate – that’s really important, to give an impression of the here and now. Because we’re living in such horrible times at the moment, it really does need communicating. I feel like singing about frivolous things like romance at the minute, there’s a time and place, and it’s not now.
Stuck on You The story of The Magnetic Fields through Stephin Merritt’s ‘50 Song Memoir’, a new 5-disc album that chronicles each year of his life Pho togra phy: ma tilda hill-jenkins / wri t er: alex wisgard
Le ft : s t ep h i n mer r i t t in s o h o , c en t r a l l o n d o n .
hat do you call a Scouse girl in a white tracksuit?” Soho is generally home to a few homeless people who have cultivated talents in order to get money from tourists. There are buskers, artists, speed-poets writing verse on the subject of your choice in seconds flat. My first encounter with Stephin Merritt, principal member of The Magnetic Fields, comes outside of the plush confines of the Dean Street Townhouse hotel, where we’re interrupted by a ragged comedian with an impenetrably thick Liverpudlian accent. Merritt and I look at each other awkwardly, shrugging before the punchline is revealed: “The bride.” This inauspicious start is the first thing we talk about on sitting down, long before we get to discussing any of the twenty five albums Merritt has released in as many years, under a variety of guises. Unfazed, he simply shrugs the incident off with trademark aplomb. “I wasn’t sure if he really was from Liverpool, to be honest. I mean, The Beatles were largely comprehensible in movies.” It turns out jetlag has done little to dull Merritt’s caustic edges; he may not always enjoy interviews, but it seems like he’s at least trying to have a little bit of fun with this one, even dissecting his own choice of reading material for his week-long press trip to Europe. “I’m reading my way through the David Pringle list of the 100 best science fiction novels from 1948 to 1984. I’m not reading them in chronological order, because that would be unbearable. The fifties are unbearably misogynist, and the seventies are often unreadably... a backlash against that misogyny.” At that moment, an unordered bottle is brought to the table. “What is that?” Merritt asks. On finding out that it’s simply still water, he looks up at me quizzically. “Oh. Well, I suppose we could pour it on the table and lick it up if we absolutely need to.” It’s as good a start as could be expected. Stephin Merritt is a curious case in the grand scheme of what you could call indie music. Despite releasing albums on a variety of independent labels, including four LPs with standard-bearers Merge, his sights have always been set a little higher, and he’s not without contempt for the genre ghetto. When asked to supply a unique line of merchandise to celebrate Merge’s fifth anniversary as a label in 1994, he and his manager (and drummer) Claudia Gonson
daubed a series of twenty small boulders, creating a literal “indie rock” for fans to take home. Merge stretched their resources to breaking point for their tenth anniversary by releasing what has been Merritt’s milestone and millstone ever since: a three-disc collection entitled ‘69 Love Songs’. Specifically designed to be discussed (and whittled down from a planned ‘100 Love Songs’), it broke away from the synthesisers and ukuleles which littered earlier Magnetic Fields releases like ‘Holiday’ and the criminally underrated ‘Get Lost’, to reveal an intelligent arranger, master melody-writer and insightful lyricist at the peak of his powers. Since 2004, Merritt has been firmly ensconced on Nonesuch, making him labelmates of kindred spirits and heroes like Randy Newman and Stephen Sondheim. His songs have become modern standards, covered by artists as diverse as former label bosses Superchunk, Tracey Thorn and Peter Gabriel. Merritt once praised the latter’s string-laden version of ‘The Book of Love’ for allowing him to make the down-payment on a house. How fucking romantic. The wit, scope and intelligence of The Magnetic Fields’ output is what surely makes them the only band who could be equally beloved by fans of Cole Porter, Camera Obscura and Cabaret Voltaire. There have been clubnights named after, and devoted purely to, their music, and even a night promising Magnetic Fields karaoke later this month. When I mention this to Merritt, he responds with a characteristically terse “No comment,” and when pushed to suggest a song of his own to become a karaoke standard, he suggests ‘Roses’, a 28-second acapella track from ‘69 Love Songs’. “It’s short,” he deadpans. “And requires no backing track.”
he eleventh Magnetic Fields album is entitled ‘50 Song Memoir’, a five-disc set with one song marking every year up to the point the now-fifty-two year old Merritt started work on the record. Best known for writing in character, this new album is the most overtly personal album he’s ever released. While, as ever, all of the music was composed alone, he did receive help on researching the lyrics, to make sure that all of the details were entirely correct. “My mother and Claudia, my manager, made timelines for me of, respectively, the first and second halves of my life,” Merritt tells me over herbal tea. “I have a terrible memory, which
runs in my family. We all shock people with how little we remember.” When I ask if some years were harder to assign subject matter to than others, there follows a long pause, which is something anyone who has ever read an interview with Merritt should be well aware of. Never one to rush into a sentence lightly, his conversation style isn’t exactly halting – he’s actually a remarkably gregarious speaker – but he clearly takes pains to make sure what he’s saying is exactly what he means. His pauses either end with another sentence, or a nearly inaudible grunt and a shrug to signify “Next question.” It’s a disarming conversational tic, but one which doesn’t take long to get accustomed to. “I don’t remember… probably,” he eventually offers, chuckling. Incidentally, for anyone wondering, the sound of an amused Stephin Merritt is strangely reminiscent of Ron Swanson’s giddy giggle in Parks And Recreation. “The first two years where I don’t actually remember anything, I had to make something up. So the first song is about how I don’t know where I’m from, because there’s too many candidates – depending on what you mean – and the second is about my mother’s… highly unusual teaching style, particularly in ethics. Which will later be revisited [on the song ‘’86 How I Failed Ethics’].” Beyond these relatively imaginative accounts of his origin, ‘50 Song Memoir’ takes in more concrete details of Merritt’s unconventional upbringing, moving all across America with his mother, following the departure of his father, folk singer Scott Fagan. Living in communes and ashrams from Hawaii to Vermont, the beliefs of Merritt’s mother Alix (who also painted the album’s front cover) are chronicled on ‘’75 My Mama Ain’t’, the final track on volume 1: “My mum’s a little flaky – believes in everything. From auras to zenreiki, except crystal healing.” Although ‘’78 The Blizzard of ’78’ notes that while “music was very much not allowed” in at least one of Stephin’s childhood communal homes (although, if ‘’70 They’re Killing Children Over There’ is to be believed, he was taken to see Jefferson Airplane by his mother at the age of 5) – he began learning music early. “I took recorder,” he tells me. “That was my first instrument. And then I had piano lessons when I was 7, and only then did I have the guitar lessons, which was… ass backwards, as they say in America. But at least I learned the notes first, rather than the chords. When I lived in Hawaii, I did not play the
ukulele – we didn’t have one. But now I have a lot of them.” The liner notes of ‘50 Song Memoir’ credit Merritt with playing over a hundred instruments, which are listed in order of appearance – “I had to do it in some order!” he quips – including an instrument which he only recently started learning. “I bought a nice Celtic harp and discovered that, although it’s very easy to sound lovely playing one note on the harp. If you play a few in a row, it’s easy to sound terrible. So I took harp lessons, but my vision started going when I was in my forties, and it became really impossible for me to see the strings, which is already hard. And eventually, I got glasses. But in the meantime, my harp teacher abandoned me, because she thought I wasn’t trying.”
s well as spanning Merritt’s life, ‘50 Song Memoir’ might be the best summary of what The Magnetic Fields can do. Songs take their cues from every phase of the band’s career, from chamber pop to the array of analogue synths and vintage drum machines showcased on the album’s second disc, to the gonzo noise-pop of ‘’08 Surfin’’. The fact that this track corresponds to the year Merritt released his Jesus And Mary Chain-indebted album, ‘Distortion’, is, he says, coincidental. Indeed, despite his wide collection of instruments and recording gear, Merritt opted out of only using periodrelevant equipment on the new material. “I decided early on that it wouldn’t actually be interesting enough to have the trivial developments of instrumentation during my lifetime… If I did do that, it’s completely accidental. I don’t have any memory of it.” Merritt owns a remarkable range of instruments; the 2010 documentary Strange Powers sees him showing off his collection of ukuleles as well as a musical whisk, and he clearly takes an iconoclastic approach to pop music. Yet he insists that his taste as a listener consists of “a pretty narrow range of music… broken into a few different thrusts.” He elaborates: “I like great lyricists, and I would say in that category would be Sondheim, Kate Bush, Joni Mitchell, Tom Waits, Momus… and then I like classic period bubblegum and canonical experimental music.” As far as recent bands go, Merritt expresses particular fondness for Shannon And The Clams, primarily for their fidelity to the garage and bubblegum bands he holds so dear.
retold Right: The m agne tic f ie ld s in se pte mbe r 1 9 9 7 . L - R : J o h n wo o , Clau dia Gonso n, S te p h in Me rrit t and S am D avol.
“If you didn’t speak English you would absolutely think that Shannon and the Clams were from fifty years ago, unless you were familiar with computer reverb... but other than that, they’re very… realistic.” He goes on: “But it’s always been the case with me that the music that I tend to like is the people who sound like the records that they like from a while ago. In the eighties, what I was mostly into was actually not new wave but neo-psychedelica. When I’m asked to name a great psychedelic album, the first thing I think of is the first Rain Parade album.” His enjoyment of imitation may explain why, when I ask if he can identify the first “successful” song he ever wrote, he cites 1992’s ‘The Wayward Bus’: “The first four songs are a Phil Spector pastiche, and I think I was impressed with myself for being able to do a reasonably good imitation of, essentially, Goffin and King.” On that album, and its predecessor, ‘Distant Plastic Trees’, Merritt does everything – production, instrumentation, arrangements – but left the vocals to Susan Anway of the band V. Merritt is candid about his reason for doing so. “I was a horrible singer... not like I am now, when I’m a singer no one would hire. Like, you couldn’t tell what I was trying to do.” This anonymity was quickly turned into a virtue, giving the then-obscure project a sense of mystery far removed from the dominating indie/grunge subculture of the time. ‘’89 The 1989 Musical Marching Zoo’, a daffy piece from Volume 3 of ‘50 Song Memoir’, could be seen as a belated manifesto for The Magnetic Fields at this time: “This is the band that I wanted to be No names and faces and no history Particularly, no pictures of me.” By 1994, Merritt’s voice improved, at least enough for it to grace the two albums The Magnetic Fields released that year: an ersatz country record called ‘The Charm of the Highway Strip’, and ‘Holiday’, their most pronounced foray yet into synthpop – the genre the band are arguably best known for. His musical debt to the eighties is one which Merritt seems to have had mixed feelings about throughout his career. The success of ‘69 Love Songs’ was followed up by what is commonly referred to as the “no synth trilogy”, culminating with 2010’s ‘Realism’, which featured no amplified instruments at all. The contradictions
continue on ‘50 Song Memoir’, as he gripes about being labelled a “new romantic” on one track, before dedicating one of the entire set’s highlights, ‘’83 Foxx and I’, to the former Ultravox! frontman. Even more surprisingly, the stomping electropop of ‘’84 Danceteria!’ recounts the time the now-reclusive Merritt spent as a denizen of one of New York City’s most notorious venues. Particularly intriguing is the moment the song outs him as having “invented the sugar and lettuce sandwich,” which the singer gladly explains. “Danceteria had a café on the third floor, and the sandwiches were priced purely according to the meat on the sandwich, the bread and condiments being free. So I was able to get, for free, sugar and lettuce on marble rye, which happens to be…” he pauses, for once, for purely dramatic effect. “Delicious.” As for the music the club played, Merritt is slightly less sanguine, expressing a preference for “electronic music from the pre-synthesizer period.” He adds, ruefully, “Electronic got less interesting once it got easier to make.” Hence‘’81 How to Play the Synthesizer’; a track which audibly explains and demonstrates every dial and setting on a vintage synth, while still managing to be disarmingly catchy. “I think people are very intimidated by the jargon.” Merritt explains. “Both Moog and Buchla, the inventors of the synthesiser, were engineers, and they were unphased by jargon... and they did not have marketing departments. If they just had someone who was a linguist, or wrote ad copy, then there might be a different group of people playing the synthesizer. Women, for example, might play the synthesizer more. “An acquaintance of mine was trying to name his synthesizer, and he was flirting with the idea of calling it “My Pretty Synthesizer” and painting it pink. There’s absolutely no reason why teenage girls shouldn’t have synthesizers marketed to them... but
they don’t. Yet. Although little tiny synthesizers are more unisex than the traditional big clunky black things. I think eventually the synthesizer will be democratised. My song does not help with that.”
9 Love Songs’ may have marked the end of a four-year absence, but Merritt spent most of the late nineties working on other projects, recording as The 6ths (new Merritt material, sung by guest vocalists from Lou Barlow to Odetta), Future Bible Heroes (a synth-pop trio) and The Gothic Archies (a gothic pop act best known for soundtracking the Lemony Snicket books). The album itself took three months to write, primarily at an establishment now immortalised on ‘’02 Be True to Your Bar’. “Dick’s Bar on 2nd Avenue and 12th Street,” Merritt specifies. “It was never the only bar where I wrote, with the exception of when I was writing ‘69 Love Songs’. I really did go to St Dymphna’s for 8 hours a day, and Dick’s bar for the other eight hours, for three months, with no interruption.” His drink of choice at the time – “at the time, I had not yet fallen out with vodka” – was a cranberry, orange and vodka cocktail called a Madras. “That,” Merritt adds, “and Irish breakfast tea.” When I point out that the latter drink is actually mentioned by name in ‘Be True to Your Bar’, Merritt looks puzzled. “It may…” he muses, pausing again. “When I hear the music in the intros, I am able to, like a zombie, sing the lyrics. That doesn’t mean that I can remember them out of context.” The silence between albums is never truly silent for Merritt. In the half-decade between ‘69 Love Songs’ and its equally conceptual (but somewhat shorter) follow-up, ‘i’, he composed scores for musicals and three Chinese operas. Likewise, the years between 2012’s
‘Love at the Bottom of the Sea’ – a pointedly electronic way to mark the end of the “no synths trilogy” – and ‘50 Song Memoir’ included a solo tour, as well as publishing a book of poetry based on two-letter Scrabble words. Throughout that decade, he was also working with author Daniel Handler on their pet project: a sci-fi musical entitled ‘The Song From Venus’. “The fact that La La Land has been nominated for fourteen Oscars makes me hold out some hope that someone picks [‘The Song from Venus’] up,” he says, to my visible surprise. Clocking my expression, he retorts, “Well, I haven’t burned the screenplay. It’s finished except for the last few scenes. I figure the producers will tell us how the ending ought to go anyway, so there’s no point in writing it until then.” This talk of endings neatly coincides with my five-minute warning on our conversation – an engagement with Radio 3 awaits. Before we have to wrap up though, I ask Merritt his feelings on nostalgia, given the five-year process which has led to the release of ‘50 Song Memoir’. “I’m a hypernostalgic person in terms of my musical tastes,” he says, “and a not-remotely nostalgic person in terms of my own life.” Indeed, Merritt is already contemplating a sequel. “For ‘100 Song Memoir’ I imagine I’ll have more to say on the ethical side of things. With recent political events in the United States, I’ve been thinking I should retire from music and become an ethicist.” Having excavated his past, the many places he’s lived, the people he’s loved and the records he’s made, I feel compelled to ask him that most cliché question of memoirists: do you feel you learned anything from the experience? His answer may be the laconic musician’s most vehement of the entire interview. “Hell no!” he smirks, as he rises to leave. “I wasn’t looking to learn anything.”
Reviews / Albums
Dirty Projectors Dirty Projectors Domi n o By S am Wal ton . In sto res Ma rch 3
If the last Dirty Projectors album, 2012’s ‘Swing Lo Magellan’, represented a successful discovery of simplicity from a band normally revelling in knottiness, it’s perhaps natural that its follow-up would pursue one of rock music’s most wellworn forms: the break-up album. This being Dirty Projectors, though, things are never that straightforward. While the split addressed on ‘Dirty Projectors’ is a romantic one – that of the founding David Longstreth from his long-term girlfriend Amber Coffman – it’s a creative one too: Coffman was the group’s guitarist and most distinctive singer for four consecutive albums, as well as Longstreth’s muse for whom he wrote ‘Stillness Is The Move’, a song that remains the purest-ever distillate of his thorny musical vision. Couple that triple loss – of partner, spark and bandmate
– with the ditching of all previous collaborators and uprooting from Brooklyn to LA to work in relative isolation, and the result is the most intense, undiluted revelation of David Longstreth’s mind yet. Whether that’s entirely pleasant, though, is debatable, due to the often uncomfortably aggressive tone Longstreth adopts here. While Coffman is technically absent, her presence is unavoidable in every song, each of which is addressed to her, be it directly in an angrily accusatory snarl (“I don’t know why you abandoned me,” wails the album’s very first line) or more tangentially via self-mythologising internal-monologue reverie (“We could do the things the lovers do: I could write you ‘Stillness Is The Move,’” recalls ‘Up In Hudson’ of the couple’s beginnings). Elsewhere, too, passages that
appear to quote Coffman directly (particularly in ‘Work Together’) come off as needlessly passiveaggressive and, when juxtaposed with sudden bursts of regret, they contribute to a rather unseemly spectacle. Where many break-up albums allow the subject to inform the record’s general ambiance and allow only occasional pinches of detail, ‘Dirty Projectors’ does the opposite, opting for levels of specificity so granular that we are even told at one point what brand of amp Coffman prefers.That precision feels coldly loveless, and leaves the record reading like a relationship autopsy. Such ugliness is a shame, too, because beneath Longstreth’s haranguing lies some of the most arresting, progressive and addictive music he’s ever made. Each track resembles an elegantly complex
logic puzzle crisply engineered to be as alluring as it is beguiling, from gossamer post-RnB lullabies (‘Little Bubble’) to Beyoncified electro-funk (‘Death Spiral’); quite how he manages to compile so many incongruent musical jigsaw pieces into a song like ‘Ascent Through Clouds’ and still contrive a melody to top it so perfectly remains a mystery. Only occasionally, though, does Longstreth’s musical inventiveness distract sufficiently from the distinctly unbecoming atmosphere of ‘Dirty Projectors’. When it does, on ‘Cool Your Heart’ and the nearly cathartic closer ‘I SeeYou’, the fug is replaced by a rather purifying sense of joy. Otherwise, perhaps Longstreth is simply more honest than most: on ‘KeepYour Name’, after all, he insists that “what I want from art is truth.” Trouble is, when it comes to breakups, the truth can be a grisly affair.
Pissed Jeans Why Love Now Su b Po p By F r ed mikar do -g re av e s. In sto re s Feb 24
On ‘Why Love Now’’s opener, ‘Waiting On My Horrible Warning’, producer Lydia Lunch coaxes a fantastically hammy vocal from Pissed Jeans frontman Matt Korvette. He snarls and squeals and jabbers over funereal stoner-blues in the manner of Lunch’s old sparring partner Nick Cave at his most bloodand-thunder. However, it is at this point that the circuitry is jammed. Rather than doling out violence ‘Stagger Lee’-style, Korvette in fact lists symptoms of fatal illnesses visited on himself. All your toughness and posturing, he seems to say, can only save you for so long. Urbane and self-aware, ‘Why Love Now’ is a record that satirises both
alpha and beta male masculinities by exploring tensions between the two. After groovy lead single ‘The Bar is Low’, it is on the third track, ‘Ignorecam’, that this begins to be explored in earnest. Korvette here imagines a fetish-cam scenario in which the man pays to be completely ignored. Backed by some classic sludgy hardcore, his yells of “ignore me, just ignore me” don’t come across as the woe-is-me diatribe of a jilted WASP – Pissed Jeans are far too knowing for that. The desired effect is humorous, and they succeed. The phrase is repeated with such force and tunelessness as to become hilarious, and who could ignore this racket anyway?
‘Have You Ever Been Furniture’ turns the power dynamics of ‘Ignorecam’ onto a male addressee. With white men rarely having to justify their seat at the table, he asks the listener if they have ever been somebody’s seat, or an ATM, or if they even know what it’s like to be used, before kissing off with a barbed “yeah, it shows”. Elsewhere, the investment that the patriarchy has in free-market capitalism is eloquently skewered. ‘Activia’ takes cues from Gang of Four’s ‘Anthrax’ by seeing corporate jargon impinge on the language of love, and sub-90-second blast of pure sickness ‘Worldwide Marine Asset Financial Analyst’ is a comic riot of newspeak nonsense.
At the core of the album sits ‘I’m A Man’, a song that simultaneously blindsides you and pulls the record together. Musically, it is miles away from the rest of the songs – the instrumental has more in common with a voguing party than a squat show, with strange slabs of noise pasted over a snappy hi-hat pattern. Instead of Korvette up front we get Ugly Girls author Lindsay Hunter, and her piece spears male-gaze erotic fantasy with acerbic ferocity. It is extraordinary, and Pissed Jeans deserve credit for knowing when to step back and allow a female voice to ram home the point that they spend the rest of ‘Why Love Now’ so craftily setting up.
Over the last few years, there’s been a revival of singer-songwriter types who specialise in sun-dappled, tender, smoky loves songs that unfurl languidly; think brass bands, rich, lush orchestration, and the deep, warm charm that went hand in hand with recording in proper studios to tape. And to the names of Natalie Prass, Matthew E White, and Jenny Lewis we can now add Molly Burch; California native and jazz vocal alumni, who has dropped ten tracks of such heart-breaking
gorgeousness, it’s hard to believe that not only is this her debut, but that she claims it was all tracked live in just one day, and in one room. This is a heady mix of retro soul, country, and pop that sounds… well… nigh on perfect; a sprinkling of the Everly Brothers here, some Phil Spector there, and hints of Patsy and Dusty and Nancy. From the yearning of the magnificent title track to the sweeping drama of ‘Fool’, Burch is utterly captivating, an old-school love-worn chanteuse, and while the
music is luxuriant and beautifully crafted, her smouldering presence is the sun around which everything revolves. That Burch’s father was a Hollywood writer/producer and her mother a casting director shouldn’t come as a surprise when hearing the Golden Era cinematic feel that fills ‘Please Be Mine’. Breathy and dripping with emotion, or soaring through the clouds, she has a voice for the ages, and uses it throughout to devastating effect.
Molly Burch Please Be Mine C a p t ur ed Tr a c ks By Der ek Rober tso n. In sto re s Feb 17
Tim Darcy Saturday Night
Shadow Band Wilderness Of Love
Laura Marling Semper Femina
Summer Moon With You Tonight
j agj aguwar
M e xi c a n S umm e r
k o b alt
By j oe goggi ns. In sto res Feb 17
B y e ugen i e j o hns o n . In st o res Fe b 2 4
By k a t i e b e s w i c k . In sto res m a r c h 1 0
B y c h r is wa tk ey s . In sto r es F eb 2 4
Tim Darcy would have been forgiven for taking some time off after a whirlwind few years fronting Ought, but instead, he’s back out on the road in 2017 in support of his debut solo record, the tracks for which were recorded during the same period in which his band’s 2015 second LP, ‘Sun Coming Down’, was cut. The title reflects the fact that he mainly snatched writing and recording time at the weekends, and it shows; as tightly wound as the album’s concept is, the sonic feel is laid-back, and suggests that at no point was experimentation off limits. Where Ought’s speciality has been in keeping the noise tight and controlled, Darcy breaks away to flit between the raucous (‘You Felt Comfort’) and the reflective (‘Saint Germain’). His peculiarly eloquent vocal delivery becomes the album’s calling card, particularly when the consistently lo-fi backing gives him some room to breathe on the downbeat likes of ‘What’d You Release?’. Fans of Ought’s signature scintillation might find it a touch indulgent, but Darcy has cleansed the palate in intriguing fashion here.
It’s pretty apt that New Jersey songwriter Mike Bruno and his group decided to call themselves Shadow Band. Almost everything they produce is swathed in a cloak of mystery and homespun production, giving ‘Wilderness of Love’ an even dustier, lo-fi sheen. It’s an album filled with mellow, hazy instrumentation, continually threatening to drift away like a will o’ the wisp, even when the ’60s pop riffs of the likes of ‘Endless Night’ burst forth. It’s no surprise that they spent some time recording in an old, allegedly haunted mansion. That’s not to say that this is a gloomy record by any means. The pagan panpipes of ‘Morning Star’ are airy, and ‘Illuminate’ casts a ray of light with its lightly strummed folk melodies. Elsewhere, ‘Mad John’ has a distinctive swagger that’s akin to classic bluesmen, while ‘Eagle Unseen’ has clear shades of Ennio Morricone and could easily soundtrack any Spaghetti Western. ‘Wildnerness of Love’ is an ethereal, otherworldly album, but these moments help tie its ghostly tones to the land of the living.
This is Laura Marling’s sixth album in nine years, and she’s only 27. It’s an impressive achievement and yet, I wonder, when I hear of prodigious talents with prolific output, how much artists sacrifice to push the work out fast. Look at Picasso, who had to invent Cubism so he could produce thousands of works that didn’t really look like anything. ‘Semper Femina’ takes short cuts, attempting to cover conceptually thin songwriting with a convoluted conceptual frame that doesn’t quite stand up to scrutiny. A reflection of Marling’s ‘masculine period’ – and an effort to explore the male gaze from the perspective of womanhood – it sounds a lot just like a collection of quite pretty songs about women. Laura Marling is a stupendous talent, don’t get me wrong, and if you’re a fan of that voice then you’ll love this record. The jazz-inspired ‘Soothing’ starts where ‘Short Movie’ left off, setting a chilled, thoughtful pace that continues through the tracks. But I don’t buy that it’s any more than a very good album dashed off on a tour bus, by someone with more energy than her talent can contain.
Strokes bassist Nikolai Fraiture is the latest member of the band to unveil the fruits of his solo labour, presented as a supergroup (of sorts) that he fronts, featuring the drummer from Jane’s Addiction and members of Uh Huh Her and Airborne Toxic Event. From the outset the record’s production feels, perhaps deliberately, thin and insubstantial, but the vaguely funky overtones and droney, Interpol-esque vocals of the title track are oddly absorbing, and by ‘Cleopatra’ the subtly cool, nicely layered vibe of this record really starts soaking in. ‘Class A’ is driving, edgy and exciting, lyrically and musically tipping a nod to Grandmaster Flash’s ‘White Lines’, while ‘L.I.T.A.’ is cut with thrillingly squally edges. It’s clear that Fraiture has been creatively unfettered with this project, but if history has taught us anything, it’s that one should approach a solo record by a member of The Strokes with extreme caution. In ‘WithYouTonight’, though, Fraiture teaches his bandmates a thing or two about creating a stylistically varied album – a foreign concept to all of them.
Grandaddy have never had the sunniest outlook but always found a way to make maudlin existence feel almost comforting. In 2000, when the world was terrified of a Skynet millennium doomsday, their second album, ‘The Sophtware Slump’, was lamenting loneliness and isolation in the impending digital age. It was Grandaddy at their peak, shuffling through life with a forlorn prescience, and ‘Last Place’ (their first new album in a decade – fifth in total)
exhales like the sad millennial soundtrack to the technological existence they imagined back in 1999. In fact, switch out Joaquin Phoenix and his Selleck ‘tache for Jason Lytle’s trucker hat, the Prozac chug of ‘Don’t Wanna Live Here Anymore’ and the gentle tragedy of ‘That’s What You Get For Getting’ Outta Bed’ and Her could’ve rung even more poignantly true. As Lytle sings with all the tortured tenderness of Elliott Smith, terrified his voice could crack at any moment,
it’s lines like “Where there was love/ now there’s some other stuff” on ‘This is The Part’ where you can almost feel him shrug as he slides into despondency; the piano chords hanging heavy; the strings swelling; the air left dead and empty as Lytle stops short, letting the final word go unsaid. Still intimate, personal, and painfully relatable, Grandaddy’s observant indifference makes ‘Last Place’ as plaintively imperfect as we could have hoped for.
0 7/ 1 0
Grandaddy Last Place c o lu mb i a By Reef Y ounis . In sto re s M a rch 3
The Paperhead Chew
Froth Outside (Briefly)
Jessca Hoop Memories Are Now
Tr ou b l e I n Mi n d
S u b p op
s o n ic c a t h edr a l
By gu i a Cor t assa . I n sto re s Feb 17
B y jam es F. T ho mps o n. I n s to re s Marc h 3
By S am Wal to n. I n s to re s n o w
B y dav id z a mmit t . I n s t o r es M a r c h 1 0
A trio hailing from Nashville, fond of prog rock and old time psychedelia and turning to Canterbury for inspiration; sounds like a promising venture. Unfortunately, relating to The Paperhead’s new album ‘Chew’, the result isn’t as exciting as it might have been. Ryan Jennings, Peter Stringer-Hye & Walker Mimms went a little bit too literal in their love for Syd Barrett and the post-1966 Beatles, and, quite often, the mix with their hometown traditional sound isn’t as smooth and natural as it should be. ‘Pigs’, for instance, is one of the most explicative tracks, a bit ‘Octopus’s Garden’, a bit Pink Floyd’s ‘The Gnome’, and with a country mandolin riff breaking the harmony and balance of an already overloaded song.The only absolutely stand-out piece among the 13 of the record is ‘Dama De Lavanda’, witnessing the high potential of the band’s songwriting. They say never to judge a book (or, here, an album) by its cover but, unfortunately, The Paperhead’s ‘Chew’ sounds exactly like its artwork looks – confectionary that was once sweet and appealing but has now had its day.
Any review of a Froth record would be remiss not to mention how less than five years ago the band was nothing more than an elaborate hoax on the part of Californian pranksters Joo Joo Ashworth and Jeff Fribourg. The pair got as far as preparing to release an LP filled with 20 minutes of silence before they decided to do it for real after all, ending up here with their third album (replete with actual music). Just as well too, since ‘Outside (Briefly)’ largely encapsulates what was good about the preceding two records – namely dreamy, unhurried guitar pop – and does so to better effect than either. Froth sound best when they’re luxuriating in languorous melodies rather than frantically rocking out (which can, at times, skirt them towards the edge of Viet Cong/ Preoccupations); songs like ‘Passing Thing’ and ‘New Machine’ lend dynamism but seem out of place here. On the other hand, the rolling, synth-driven coda to ‘Petals’ sounds gently sublime. For sure, the whole enterprise is derivative in the way that shoegaze invariably is but then, so what?
Jesca Hoop’s fourth album proper comes after a year working with Sam Beam from Iron & Wine, which produced a set of elegantly simple duets that never strayed far from Beam’s template of rustically warming American folk. That collaborative constraint seems to have found a reaction on ‘Memories Are Now’: any restriction Hoop might’ve experienced is discarded across its nine tracks as she explores throaty bluegrass (‘Simon Says’), tidily mournful Eleanor Rigbyisms (‘The Lost Sky’) and a sort of highstrung, coiled-spring interpretation of Elbow’s ‘Grounds For Divorce’ (‘Cut Connection’). Hoop’s singing, too, untethered from Beam’s, is free to roam across its full range, from sweetly mournful soprano to quivering lower register, often within the space of a single song. Meanwhile, themes of religious scepticism, technological frustration and heartbreak are sensitively examined, rendering ‘Memories Are Now’ as one of the most engagingly idiosyncratic and refreshingly broad collections of solo singer songwriting in recent memory.
‘Condition’ is loud. It is taut, it is coarse and it is hostile. And yet it is emphatically clear. Clear in terms of its fidelity, having been mastered beautifully by Mogwai desk-manner Frank Arkwright, but focused, also, in its execution of a distinctive sonic blueprint. It is a masterclass in dynamics and a showcase of genuinely innovative songwriting as it flicks between loud and quiet, fuzz and clean. But while each of its sprawling nine tracks is drenched in distortion, give ‘Condition’ the respect it deserves and you’ll find melodic and compositional brilliance. It is an album that should be taken as a whole, but individual highlights abound. Recalling ‘This Nation’s Saving Grace’-era Fall, ‘Colour Me Out’ emulates Steve Hanley’s steady, chugging refrains while all around chaos reigns. ‘A Fish Called Wanda’ exists in a space between post-punk and baggy-era Manchester, while ‘Dissolve’, with its brawny rhythm section battling for control, brings math rock into 2017. Spectres have said that they’re not interested in success. Go out and buy this and see how they deal with it.
Obvious though it may be, it’s impossible to avoid comparing ‘50 Song Memoir’ to The Magnetic Fields’ previous multi-disc opus ‘69 Love Songs’. Yet, both albums’ blunt titles barely scratch the surface at just how wide Stephin Merritt’s scope is as a writer when faced with a single subject.The concept here, by the way, is a 50-track ablum; one song for each year of Merritt’s life. The notoriously cagey Merritt tackles his life with trademark wit here, but also uncharacteristic
candour, with ‘Life Ain’t All Bad’ dancing on the grave of an abusive step-father to a “na na na” chorus. However, his willingness to leave no genre unattempted remains in tact, from ‘No’’s pseudo-gospel to ‘The Blizzard of ‘78’ – an almost onomatopoeic account of his first forays into music. Volume two, which covers Merritt’s “New Romantic ‘roots’” (the inverted commas are his), is appropriately lavished with analog synths. Tracks like ‘Danceteria!’ are
pure catnip for fans still clutching their battered copies of ‘Holiday’. The cleverness does occasionally drift into clever-clever territory – witness the overly arch brag about “XXX ex-sex” on ukulele ditty ‘The Ex and I’. Still, hearing Merritt put his own life into his work for pretty much the first time in his career is a thrill that has been worth the wait. By shedding some light on himself, he’s stepped out of the shadow of ‘69 Love Songs’. ‘50 Song Memoir’ is a true triumph.
Magnetic Fields 50 Song Memoir n on e s u c h By al ex Wisgar d. In sto res Ma rch 3
Real Estate In Mind
Methyl Ethel Everything Is Forgotten
Xiu Xiu Forget
Dr Chan Southside Suicide
D omi n o
Up se t th e r hy th m
S t o len B o dy
By hay l ey sc ott . I n sto re s ma rch 17
By ch ri s wa t k e ys . I n sto re s marc h 3
B y j ame s F. Th o mps o n. I n st o r e s Ma r c h 3
B y g u ia c o rt a ssa . I n sto r es F eb 2 4
Similar to 2014’s ‘Atlas’, Real Estate’s fourth LP fails to pack the punch of breakthrough album ‘Days’, as their usual propensity for melody is lost beneath too much focus on attempting to subvert genres in a way that seems at times contrived. While a track like ‘White Light’ is guitar music at its most accessible, with its formulaic pop structure, ‘Diamond Eyes’ attempts to emulate alt-country with results that are almost parody. Glimmers of the band at their best can be heard on the wonderful ‘Two Arrows’ and ‘Same Sun’, the latter sounding like a lost demo from ‘Days’, if it wasn’t for the overly polished production, and, fortunately, pastoral guitars and elegantly deployed arrangements are still happily at play throughout. Also, as a group that has always drawn from others heavily influenced byThe Beach Boys, one quality that’ll certainly excite fans of both bands is that ‘In Mind’ is Real Estate’s most ‘Pet Sounds’-influenced record to date. Still, in a world where the white male indie band has become a tedious pandemic, it’s simply not enough to hold your attention.
Barely nine months after the release of his debut album, the prodigious Australian Jake Webb returns, and while last year’s ‘Oh Inhuman Spectacle’ was epic in ambition but patchy in nature, Webb has stepped up a gear with this second record. The melody-soaked, funky bassline and falsetto vocals of opener ‘Drink Wine’ feels like throwing open casement windows and letting in a flood of sunshine, while the bassdriven ‘Ubu’ is like punk-funk covered in the purest pop, strutting the sidewalk in its dancing shoes – it’s the pearlescent highlight of the record. One can only stand back and gawp at the strength of Webb’s songwriting here, the talent pouring from these tracks. Yet there isn’t a po-faced moment to be found on ‘Everything Is Forgotten’; it is by turns fun, danceable and engaging, and never dull. Threaded through these songs are Webb’s laconic vocals; acrobatic here, stoned there, and sometimes tipping into falsetto. After shedding the occasional musical aimlessness of his debut, Webb has produced a tight, exciting, stonker of an album. Yes, stonker.
With an experimental oeuvre spanning fifteen years, if you’re not already a fan of Jamie Stewart the chances are you never will be. All sorts of collaborators and labels have orbited around the dozen Xiu Xiu records released to date but the more the supporting cast changes, the more Stewart’s defiantly weird noise pop modus operandi stays broadly the same. If last year’s wellreceived album of Twin Peaks covers necessarily engendered a degree of accessibility, ‘Forget’ seems to retreat again from that frontier: the throbbing electro-stomp of lead single ‘Wondering’ is a red herring (barring maybe ‘Jenny GoGo’). Greg Saunier of Deerhoof shares production duties with John Congleton (Sigur Rós) and Xiu Xiu’s Angela Seo, with the scattershot freneticism of ‘Forget’ baring comparison to a typical Deerhoof LP in that the sequencing jumps about all over the place. Mostly though, Stewart’s latter-day Scott Walker vocals, paired with phalanxes of mangled synthesiser and decaying rhythms, make for a characteristically complex – but rewarding – listen.
Dr Chan’s sound is fuelled by two different nostalgias: from a dive deep into the best garage rock of the Sixties to the top of the skate punk scene of the Nineties, California seems to be the place the Parisian band looked to while writing their new album, ‘Southside Suicide’. Nine tracks, all sharing titles that end in ‘anks’ (a potentially interesting and fittingly punk choice if it weren’t for the awkward spelling, disfigured with a dollar sign and complete with an unnecessary subheading added to each one), speed by in 27 minutes, as in the best hardcore tradition. Though there’s a communal roughness among all the songs here, this harshness is more valued in the slower/mid-tempo tracks, which are more influenced by contemporary psych-rock. These include the best songs on the album: ‘HANnnnK$$$ (Lookin 4 Da $in)’ and ‘FRANnnK$$$ (I Can’t Change)’, while the offbeat garage nod of ‘CRANnnK$$$ (Youth $oOO Cranky)’, featuring organs and choirs, is somehow reminiscent of a speed-fuelled ‘Twist and Shout’. There is something here if you’re willing to do some digging.
‘Heartworms’ is the first Shins album in five years, and the first to be produced by auteur James Mercer since their 2001 debut, ‘Oh, Inverted World.’ It is also only the second since relieving his fellow Shins of their duties back in 2011 in order to take back artistic control. And yet, while all of this might suggest the turning of a page, ‘Heartworms’ is, disappointingly, very much business as usual. That’s not to say it’s bad. For longtime fans – the kind who cherished
‘New Slang’ before Natalie Portman handed her headphones to Zach Braff – this will be a welcome addition. Its scenes are intimate and Mercer is direct in a way that he hasn’t been before as he explores ageing and parenthood from the vantage of his 46 years. ‘Fantasy Island,’ for example, looks back at his childhood – setting off fire alarms in school for attention, constantly daydreaming – and reflects on his adulthood, something which he still hasn’t quite gotten to grips with.
‘Mildenhall’ is a very-much-literal account of Mercer’s teenage relocation to Suffolk in order to accommodate his father’s military career. He spent a least some of that time pissed about the rain, but it led him to The Smiths who would inform his gift for writing such melodies. It’s touching, it’s heart-warming. Was it worth the five-year wait? Not really. ‘Heartworms’ is a decent Shins album without ever being great. Can I describe it in three words? Yes. Safe, safe, safe.
The Shins Heartworms c ol umbi a By davi d zammi tt. In sto re s ma rch 10
Reviews 0 7/ 1 0
Sir War Digging A Tunnel
King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard Flying Microtonal Banana
Nadia Reid Preservation
Strand of Oaks Hard Love
Bas i n R o c k
De ad O c e a n s
By de re k ro b e rtso n. I n st o r e s M a r c h 3
B y R ee f Y o u n is . I n sto r es F eb 1 7
Given that King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard apparently plan to release no fewer than five new records in 2017, it might not matter all that much whether the first of them, ‘Flying Microtonal Banana’, is any good – after all, they’ve plenty of immediate opportunity to make amends. As it happens, though, this is probably the most focused fulllength yet from the Melbourne outfit, each track imbued with a palpable sense of purpose. Opener ‘Rattlesnake’ is pure krautrock, whilst ‘Melting’’s noodling guitars give off a heavy acid jazz flavour. The stylistic variation is nothing new (especially for these guys) but the sheer breadth of compositional variety is; ‘Billabong Valley’ collapses into a slow strut in its latter half after a frenetic opening, and the time signatures are similarly askew on ‘Doom City’. The generally lo-fi approach to the production means that ‘Flying Microtonal Banana’ often feels low key, but given their reputation for live improvisation, expect these studio versions to feel like mere sketches by the time they’re taken to the stage.
“Self-discovery” has become a cliché when used by singersongwriters embarking on inward journeys, conjuring images of desolate log cabins, physical hardship and facing bitter truths. But there’s nothing overtly dramatic about New Zealander Nadia Reid’s approach – she simply travelled the world playing gigs – and this softness shines through her gentle, lilting music, which is more a quietly lapping lake than choppy, churning waters; not for her soaring crescendos and fiery bombast. Instead, she paints in delicate little flourishes, occasionally leaving space for a note or thought to hang in the air. The songs bustle along smoothly, sometimes comprising only of guitar and elegant synth washes, occasionally straying into heartland-Americana territory. ‘I Come Home To You’ is pure Sharon Van Etten, while ‘Right On Time’ aims for the Drivetime Radio 2 crowd. But what shines through the most is Reid’s confidence – with herself, her music, and her ambition – and ‘Preservation’ proves that whatever she discovered on her journey, it was worthwhile undertaking.
Strand of Oaks didn’t mean to create an album that feels like a compilation, but it doesn’t stop ‘Hard Love’ sounding like a different band is playing each track. Singer Tim Showalter clearly has stories he wants to tell (and he’s never pulled any punches when it comes to putting is relationship woes to tape), but with a kaleidoscope approach where the heavy, grunge reverb of ‘Everything’ and The Gaslight Anthem spirit of ‘Radio Kids’ anchor the first half of the album, the Coldplay indulgence of ‘Cry’ marks a quick-fire shift of styles that never quite feel connected. The shanty sound of ‘Salt Brothers’ is raucously charming in a late-night lock-in kind of way but then ‘Quit It’ becomes Iggy Pop and ‘Rest Of It’ sets off on a raucous Rolling Stones strut. The intent is apparent on the aired-out guitar of ‘On the Hill’ and the heavy psych trip of ‘Taking Acid and Talking To my Brother’ as it rivals any of Black Mountain’s weirdest wig outs, but for all of the influences (and solid tracks) heard here, the lack of coherence only creates confusion.
If there is a manifesto to be found on the debut album from Bristolian post-punk quintet Idles, it makes itself apparent early in its first track: “I’m just saying I don’t like you.” No one is safe from bludgeoning savagery on the perfectly titled ‘Brutalism’, whether you’re aTV chef or a Conservative MP. These might seem like easy targets, and you’d be right. At their worst, the lyrics, barked out by frontman Joseph Talbot, aren’t all that far off Jez and Super Hans’s pet
musical projectThe Hair Blair Bunch. Yet, repeated listens reveal an unexpected layer of absurdist humour to Talbot’s delivery, which is why a lot of people are likening Idles’ spirit to Sleaford Mods’. Out of tune Beatles quotes, or quips about Francis Bacon painting selfies might seem like non-sequiturs on paper, but they actually support the rants more than they undercut them. Meanwhile, the band are impossibly tight, offering an onslaught that pitches itself
somewhere alongside the sensory overload of Girl Band or Hookworms. From its loping beat upwards, few songs in recent memory have encapsulated smalltown boredom as perfectly bluntly as ‘Exeter’, one of the album’s rare pauses for breath. Otherwise, the rough edges and lack of nuance here are entirely the point. The government may be eager to get rid of the architecture that gives the album its name, but Idles have offered a ‘Brutalism’ that demolishes back.
c i ty sla n g By eu gen i e joh nso n. In sto res March 10
H e ave nl y B y j o e go ggi ns . I n sto re s Fe b 2 4
In his travels across the world as a jazz saxophonist, Swedish multiinstrumentalist Joel Wastburg experienced everything from jamming with Sean Lennon to escaping a coup d’état in Mali. ‘Digging A Tunnel’, his debut solo album under the name Sir Was, draws heavily on these voyages, channelling the sounds from these adventures and turning them into musical jambalaya. On paper, combining a huge number of influences and still making a coherent record should be almost impossible. However, Wastburg makes sure each element is subtle enough to piece together like a jigsaw, working in tandem to create a charmingly lo-fi atmosphere. It’s sometimes downbeat, but Wastburg comes into his own when he turns up the volume.The ramshackle piano on ‘Revoke’ is dramatic, while the combination of harmonica and jazz melodies on ‘Bomping’ are reminiscent of Beck’s fusion of blues and hip-hop on ‘Odelay.’ A few more bold moments like these would have been welcome, but Wastburg has still started to carve out a nice niche for himself.
0 7/ 1 0
Idles Brutalism Ba l l ey By al ex Wi sgard. In sto re s March 10
Albums 0 7/ 1 0
Ryan Adams Prisoner Vi rgi n EM I By D an iel Dy l an Wra y. I n sto res Feb 17
The opening ‘Do You Still Love Me?’ sets the tone for Ryan Adams’ sixteenth album, a record burrowed deep into the questioning, agonising and confusing turmoil hole that is a relationship breakdown – in this case Adams’ marriage to actor Mandy Moore. It’s underpinned by the gentle whir of a Hammond organ and stabs of electric guitar that recall the infectiously melodic AOR rock of ’70s AM radio, a role that Adams seems to have slid into with increasing comfort in recent years with the more unpredictable and stylistically varied records that filled up his ’95-’05 period a bit of a distant memory (with the exception of 2014’s brilliant EP ‘1984’ – a firecracker of
two-minute tracks recalling early Lemonheads and Husker Du). There’s always been an emo side to Adams’ work that has escaped such labels through his association with country music and its down and out, heartbroken, troubadour acceptance, but Adams’ lyrics are filled with self-pity as often as they are an apposite exploration of transient love and loss. The exceptions to the rule are often Adam’s greatest accomplishments, such as the more experimental ‘Love is Hell’. On ‘Prisoner’ however the words are plain, open, and almost teenage in their outpouring. Perhaps all Adams has left is honesty and at times it feels like an uncomfortable
read through his unedited diary. Yet on album highlight ‘Shiver and Shake’ the lyrical simplicity and brute honesty creates a tangible sense of devastation as it portrays the crippling physical and emotional impact of a break-up, as well as all the irrational and tortuous things that spark through your head like an unwelcome presence you just can’t will away. Its gentle pace and atmospheric drones recall ‘I’m on Fire’-mode Springsteen. In fact, Adams slots into Springsteen easily and effectively often, most notably on ‘OutboundTrain’ (also see the sax outro of ‘Tightrope’) which chugs along with an easy groove and shimmering guitar lines that sparkle
and reverberate as the influence of The Smiths remains ever-present in Adams’ work and playing. It’s these textures that give the album a sense of depth and space from the lyrical frankness and singer-songwriter formula; the echo-laden guitars that ripple and linger place Adams closer to the Kurt Vile / War on Drugs end of the spectrum, avoiding steering into the overly earnest songwriter approach (too much). Adams’ voice is still the central vacuum to his records and he still has an infectious pull with melodies (both vocal and guitar) that ooze out of him like a bleeding heart here. It makes ‘Prisoner’ his finest standard release since 2005’s ‘29’.
The title of Sleaford Mods’ first album for Rough Trade was inspired, according to Jason Williamson, by a moment when “Andrew [Fearn] walked into some random pub and saw ‘English Tapas’ scrawled on the menu board. Underneath this beautiful coupling of words were its components, half a scotch egg, cup of chips, pickle and a mini pork pie. It says everything about this fucking place. It’s comedy, it’s make do, it’s ignorant and above all, it’s shit.” ‘English Tapas’ channels those
very English qualities, articulating spiky politics in its humorous social criticism, as we’ve come to expect from this duo, only with better ‘songs’. It opens with a brash, boozy track that showcases their signature pared-down sound; ‘Army Nights’ feels like the kind of banging, aggressive hangover you get after a night out with the regiment boys, downing 17 pints and Aftershock at the local Wetherspoons. On ‘Drayton Manored’ they celebrate the apathetic wit of the English
underclass (“We are the dumb Brits/ Lobbing down pint cans of imported shit”); while ‘Carlton Touts’ satirically mourns the way swathes of England are overlooked in the name of London’s progress (“The Angel of the Midlands has flown away/ Probably south”). In both content and delivery ‘English Tapas’ is reminiscent of John Cooper Clark at the tail end of a cheap amphetamine binge. And I mean that in a good way. It’s bleak, tough and funny. Like life.
Sleaford Mods English Tapas R ou gh T r ade By Ka tie Bes wi ck. In sto res Ma rch 3
Bands buy records A Loud And Quiet video series
Reviews / Live
The Moonlandingz Vera at Eurosonic Groningen, Netherlands 13 / 0 1/ 20 17 wr ite r : g r eg c ochrane Ph oto gr aph er : ti mo thy co chra ne
Eurosonic Noorderslag, held in the university town of Groningen in northern Holland each January, is the place European festival bookers go to discover new bands. The stuff they like, they book for the summer season, and it’s been known for some acts to get 20+ new festival bookings in everywhere from Portugal to Poland off the back of playing shows here. Hundreds of new artists from across the continent play in around 25 venues dotted across the city for four consecutive nights. Any decent space that can get refitted as a venue for a couple of nights does, which means you get Let’s Eat Grandma playing in a grand old theatre reversed so the audience stand on the stage, crowds literally lying down to enjoy the music at domed-venue
The Dot and an art gallery reception turned into a performance space at Minerva Arts Academy. There’s even a temporary train shed built in the town square where locals can watch music for free.The Moonlandingz are playing Vera – a basement venue that ordinarily hosts punk, ska and indie rock nights, their most famous claim being that Nirvana performed here. As you’ve no doubt heard, this is a band of provocateurs with a dark, self-destructive, twisted humour. Here they are, about to play one of their first European shows. Most groups would dress to impress. Not Johnny Rocket – aka Lias Saoudi from Fat White Family – he doesn’t really dress at all. He arrives on stage wearing a bright yellow plastic poncho and a silver glitter codpiece.
That’s it. Apart from a few messages scrawled onto his body in red lipstick, including ‘LEAVE’ penned across his forehead (Brexit’s still a touchy subject here at the conference side of the festival). It’s quite a sight, as he shuffles around the stage with the bright, white spotlights rebounding off his pale bum cheeks. This isn’t just the Rocket show, though.There’s Adrian Flanagan, the deadpan, entertaining curmudgeon from Eccentronic Research Council playing keys with one hand and holding a bottle of red wine in the other. Guitarist Mairead O’Connor’s face interchanges between a sneer and a wry grin as she dishes out motorik riffs. Watching The Moonlandingz is a bit like watching a short, disturbing
horror film where the narrator cackles like Vincent Price from the intro to Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’. The songs are loud and snaking, soaked in a reverb, but also oddly accessible. It’s both clinical and chaotic. For example, recent single ‘Black Hanz’ is tight, but Rocket has half a plastic sheet stuffed up his arse as he performs it. ‘Sweet Saturn Mine’ and ‘I.D.S.’ both sound great. Ultimately, it’s an industry show. Large parts of the audience are business onlookers, which means it takes until the final few numbers for people to loosen up and join in. They might walk off sweat-soaked and looking a bit disgruntled with the general sound and vibe, but it’s fine, The Moonlandingz have made their lasting introductions.
Margo Price Oran Mor, Glasgow
Drake The O2, London
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30/01 / 2 0 1 7
wr i ter : S teph en B utcha rd
write r: s tuart s tubbs Pho to graphe r: c ar oli ne q ui nn
“Let’s go back to Tennessee,” Margo Price pleads, while a stomping assortment of harmonica, pedal steel guitar, crisp acoustic, piercing electric and that voice take you there. Last year’s ‘Midwest Farmer’s Daughter’ stood out among an already strong pool of country albums. It was a collection that used a closeness to the genre’s traditions to its full advantage. Tonight, Price performs Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton with just as much charm as on her own material, the Glasgow crowd eating up each whiskey soaked guitar solo. It’s easy to wish the instrumental freak-outs had as much grit as the stories themselves, which are still ones of prisons, tequila and heartbreak, as in the good old days. At her rawest, Price’s weighty writing is barn-burning all on its own.
The Radio Dept. Scala, London 3 1/ 0 1/ 20 17 wr i t er : c h r is wa tke ys
The Radio Dept. is a many-headed beast, their live setup perhaps more organic than dance-based recent album ‘Running Out Of Love’ might suggest. This is a band that can take a pure, sweet melody and introduce it to some fire and a touch of darkness, and this set is stylistically amorphous, sliding coolly between shoegaze, New Order-esque synthpop and brief moments where it feels like a ’90s rave might break out. ‘Swedish Guns’ is thrilling and urgent, its klaxon-like synth riff setting the Scala on edge. The band remain more or less in silhouette, and there’s no superfluous chat between songs; if they take themselves a touch seriously, it’s forgiven, because this is seriously good. ‘Occupied’, also from the new record, closes out the main set – a thrilling, cataclysmic electronica meltdown.
Whenever I go to a big pop show like Drake at the O2, I question what the hell I’ve been doing with my life. Overthinking things, it seems, which just won’t do at a Drake show anymore than it will do at a Beyoncé show or a Taylor Swift show or a Rhianna show. Something more primal occurs on a night like tonight than it does at, say, a Radiohead show, sure, but also a stop on a Kings Of Leon tour, where the crowd and band, however unfashionable and swollen, are droning ‘Sex On Fire’ from the same mildly cynical hymn sheet. The singer will say, ‘You’ve been the best audience we’ve ever had,’ but only once, and he’s right when he suspects that everyone is thinking, ‘bollocks! You say that every night.’ When Drake says, ‘I feel like I’m home, London,’ which he does around 1000 times tonight, everyone screams with hyperactive pride, either in total belief or for the sake of a good time. Who cares if he’s finessing us – he’s playing ‘Headlines’ now and we’re only a couple of songs in. Admittedly, waving a Union Jack around after another 2 minutes is pushing it, but not as much as Drake insisting, ‘I was
thinking of London when I wrote this album,’ before he segues into ‘9’ from last year’s ‘Views’ LP, a record so publicly for and about his hometown ofToronto. Still, we take it, and the simple pleasure of screaming and dancing is king for the next two hours.We are in a giddy pantomime and it feels good to let go and play our important role in the party, where Drake really is a natural host with one eye fixed on the pace of the show, which he expertly controls, shouting out to ‘all the women in the building’ (Drake evidently likes women almost as much as he likes London) when things occasionally sag, usually after a slow ‘Views’ number where he sings rather than raps. He’s always got his escape planned, though, and is self aware enough to know that although he fancies milking a loungey ‘Feel No Ways’ we might not want to hear it. When rare collective mutterings confirm that tonight, at least, it’s not for us, he turns to the script – an agreed bit of back-and-forth with his keyboard player who cops the blame for bringing the vibe down. A rapid
sting section that features ‘6 God’ and ‘Worst Behaviour’, and ends with a sing-along to ‘Successful’, reboots the room and the screaming continues. Section Boyz generate their fair share of hype too, when they rush the stage for a sloppy performance of ‘#Worst’. It sounds like a mess and goes on too long (especially beside Drake’s sharp delivery and his reluctance to play out more than 60 seconds of any given song – a sticking point that can be annoying and reaches critical mass when we get the opening steel drum bar of ‘Take Care’ before it’s snatched back: ‘We can’t be giving London old shit,’ he insists, incorrectly). Still, you can’t knock Drake’s team mentality in getting Section Boyz up there, and Giggs a little later on for a powerful go at ‘Whippin Excursion’. In the O2, constantly shouting about London serves a purpose, but it’s not all hot air from a man who got a Boy Better Know tattoo on his shoulder last year. We almost get the whole of ‘Hotline Bling’, as the 300 illuminated globes on the lighting rig turn pink and hypnotically bob from floor to ceiling on their strings – a long way in an arena like this, and an effect so brilliant in its simplicity that it makes the enormo-globe that inflates in the middle of the room 15 minutes from the end appear overblown and redundant. If nothing else, on the second, round stage in the middle of the arena, this big blow-up world means that as many people can’t see Drake as can, as he constantly runs around it and performs a bit to the left side and a bit to the right. No one really cares by then, of course, not least because the globe inflates directly after ‘One Dance’, which so many people film it feels as if the house lights have come on early. Drake ends on ‘Legend’ and a short, heartfelt speech. About London (one for the road) and multiculturalism in a world full of ugly tension. As he points out, the O2 is full of people of all races, genders and walks of life. It might only be a pop show, but tonight celebrates what connects us without overthinking the details, as Drake embodies the pure instinctive happiness we can get from experiencing music en masse. And screaming.
The Flaming Lips Manchester Academy 22/ 0 1/ 20 17 wr it er : Woody De la ne y Ph otogr aph er : ma x p hythia n
A bleak, grey winter sky looms over Manchester’s Academy, which tonight plays host to The Flaming Lips’ second of only two UK shows on their tour. Eager fans huddle
together in the queue, a thin, droopy rollie their only source of warmth as rain drizzles down. Inside the venue it’s like stumbling upon a different reality, because, hey, this is The Flaming Lips. But what is that reality in 2017, now that ‘Oczy Mlody’ exists – the band’s 17th album; an uncharacteristically ambient record from this troupe of confetti-lovers and carnival float hippies. How does that affect the Flaming Lips party? The simple answer is that is doesn’t. A 12ft inflatable mushroom greets us from the cold, and a giant disco ball hangs in front of vocalist Wayne Coyne as he bursts onstage with the psychedelic theatrics of ‘The Soft Bulletin’. Countless multicoloured balloons bounce around the audience and a dazzling light show erupts.That’s song one, and no doubt sounds familiar, as is Coyne’s giant hamster ball, confetti canyon,
inflatable friends and – perhaps a new addition – a unicorn covered in wedding disco snake lights. The band’s set is dominated by older favourites like ‘Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots Pt. 1’, during which some technical difficulties cause them to cut out briefly during the first verse, but an ecstatic audience yell the words back with dedication before the band swoops back in for a triumphant chorus. Elsewhere, cuts from ‘Oczy Mlody’ are spliced into their set, and the glistening electronics and moody ambience of tracks such as ‘How??’ (performed from the unicorn) and ‘There Should Be Unicorns’ in fact settle in comfortably as respites amongst ‘The W.A.N.D.’, ‘Are You A Hypnotist??’ and a stunning rendition of ‘Space Oddity’ for a timely tribute to the late David Bowie, who Coyne after reveals has
been a constant source of inspiration to their own genre-melding music. No real surprise there, but the gesture seems genuine and heartfelt. In another brief pause between songs, Coyne admits to the audience that he’s been feeling disconcerted as of late. “There are things out of our control,” he ponders, and it’s not hard to imagine what he’s referring to, just two days after the inauguration of a president who poses nothing but threats towards creatives and minorities. Moments later a giant rainbow inflates above him at the front of the stage, and a feeling of positivity quickly drowns any discontent before the band close with (of course) ‘Do You Realise?’. It’s business as usual for The Flaming Lips, at this weird, frightening time. Fans slowly exit the venue and wander back out into the rain. Can’t we all stay a little longer?
Love‘, it’s an upbeat soulful medley of whiney guitars, snapped together with Jonathon Richman “alrights”. Insecure Men’s influences are worn transparently as the set flits from The Beatles to The Fall. Throughout, they look totally absorbed, the eight of them rarely looking beyond their own instruments. But it’s their last track that has us
twisted all the way sideways. Guitars screech like Sabbath, keyboards sound drunk and primitive “heys” get shouted around the gargled lyrics. In come maracas as Saul Adamczewski waoowls. Unified, Insecure Men are the kids causing havoc in your school’s unattended music room, caged by rulebook hyperventilation, gnawing themselves free.
Insecure Men Brixton Windmill 24/ 0 1/ 20 17 wr it er : c ec ilia di nw o o di e / p ho to g ra p he r: Lind sa y m e l b o urne
The Windmill in Brixton is like a pirate’s ship – crooked, creaking, with layers of dust-encrusted paint flaking away. Much like a wrinkled, creviced smile, it hails tales a plenty – each flake a story better than the last. You can only imagine how it’ll look in the morning – but, for now, this place is no shipwreck. Perhaps best known for having conceived FatWhite Family with Lias Saoudi, Insecure Men is Saul Adamczewski’s latest baby. It’s a ten-man band, comprised principally by Saul himself and Childhood’s Ben Romans-Hopcraft, along with the offhand comings-and-goings of other personalities, including Sean Lennon and Jon Catfish de Lorene. So far they’ve played only two gigs, and they’ve just finished recording their first album. Tonight is another debut. It’s their first UK performance. It begins slightly delayed, with
Saul sifting about, looking for keys. “Where is it?! Someone’s nicked my keyboard,” he wails at the band. Stepping over to the mic, he then addresses the crowd: “Jacob from Ormesby, I need to borrow your guitar. Please come forward…” Right then, good. That’s one box ticked already, anyway. Ramshackle? Certainly. With the crowd all shook and the band set up, the stage hosts two keyboards, a vibraphone, one saxophone, one guitar, a bass, a drum kit and synths. Additionally, eight band members. Slithery and slow at first, their set slinks about in pace. Saul masters capsized cries, often slipping beautifully out of tune. It’s sincere, playful and, at times, splenetic. Checking into the second hit of the night is ‘I Wanna Dance With My Baby‘. A little like Bowie’s ‘Modern
W r i te r : A n d re w A n d er s on
Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny (2006)
Tenacious D became a big deal in 2001 just as I was getting seriously interested in music. This was really bad news for me, because it meant that every time I turned on MTV2 in the hope of hearing The Strokes’ ‘Last Nite’ or The White Stripes’ ‘Hotel Yorba’ I’d instead get doused in the stream of shit that was Tenacious D’s hit, ‘Tribute’. I didn’t know much about music back then, but I knew that I hated ‘Tribute’. I hated Jack Black’s endless enthusiasm, which always brings to mind an over-excited pug puppy that just won’t piss off. I hated the music, which felt like something an inept sixth form stoner could have come up with. I really hated the fact that the video was five minutes long and had Dave Grohl in it (whose band Foo Fighters I also hated). But most of all I hated the fact that the song – a comedy song, let’s not forget – wasn’t even funny. And yet, this video was top of the ‘most requested’ lists every single week. How could this be? It was at about this time I realised most people on earth are idiots – or at least the ones that watch Kerrang TV were. This loathing has stayed with me ever since, to the point where I can’t watch anything with Jack Black in it – even if it’s recommended to me by someone whose opinion I respect (an example being Richard Linklater’s 2011 film Bernie). Given how ubiquitous Black was in the
period 2005-2015 this was problematic. The most annoying part about the whole thing is that all the anecdotal evidence suggests Black is actually a nice guy. On several occasions I’ve typed ‘is Jack Black a cunt in real life?’ into Google in the hope of getting some facts to back up my burning hatred, only to find loads of posts, stories and pages documenting what a ‘friendly’, ‘charitable’ and generally ‘lovely’ person he is (the bastard). Could it be that I’m the one in the wrong here – that Jack Black, and by proxy Tenacious D, are actually good?To find out I watched their 2006 film Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny. Guess what: it was a bit shit. But not quite as shit as I thought it was going to be. Here’s why. The first half-hour of The Pick of Destiny is mostly fart and weed jokes (I thought it was impossible for farts to not be funny – this film proves I was wrong) and documents how Jack Black and Kyle Glass met one another. It then transitions into an adventure film, as the two set off to find a special guitar pick that will allow them to become amazing musicians (and thus pay their rent). Unlike many band films, this one actually had a pretty decent budget. It is well shot, and the plot moves along at a good pace. Sure, a lot of the humour is based around weed and ogling women’s breasts, but it is
no worse than many other silly films that I’d happily watch. There’s even an improbable cameo from Tim Robbins to keep you entertained. The film’s major problem though is Tenacious D’s songs. For those that have not heard any of their tunes they all revolve around the same structure. First, Kyle Glass plays something a bit baroque on his guitar while Jack Black sings the words ‘cock’, ‘rock’ or ‘fuck’ in a quiet voice. Then a loud riff kicks in and Jack Black sings the words ‘cock’, ‘rock’ or ‘fuck’ again, only this time loudly. What I’m trying to say is this: both the music and the words are rubbish. The whole loud/quiet dynamic is fine for the Pixies (come to think of it Kyle Glass does look a bit like he could be Black Francis’ tubbier older brother) but with Tenacious D tracks it just gets very wearing. Listening to an album of theirs is rather like hearing a crap cover version of Bohemian Rhapsody played on repeat. Then there’s the lyrics – they just aren’t funny. One of the key elements in comedy is surprise, which means good comedy songs are not easy to write, because once you’ve heard it once you know what is coming when you hear it again. This is an issue for Tenacious D because they only have one joke: namely, interjecting the words ‘cock’, ‘rock’ or ‘fuck’ into any situation. Here’s one verse from their song ‘Car Chase City’:
Car chase city that’s the name of my game / It was all groovy now it’s totally lame / KG really fucking blew us some ass / Now we’re fucking headed for a total collapse. See what I mean?There’s about 15 songs like this scattered throughout the film and, as a result, you can’t really ignore them. And you know what – it’s a shame that Tenacious D’s songs are so terrible, because otherwise The Pick of Destiny is actually not that bad… I’d even go as far as to say I enjoyed some of it. Yes, it is silly and over reliant on pot smoking tropes, but it’s got some funny moments and the dynamic between Black’s boundless energy and Glass’ gentleness works really well. Even Dave Grohl wasn’t totally unbearable in his cameo as the devil. It’s just those fuck/cock/rock songs that are the problem. Another thing I realised while watching this is that I might be a bit more like Jack Black than I’d care to admit. I’m always making rubbish jokes about farts, cocks and fucking (so I’m told), so maybe this is why I have hated Jack Black so much all these years: he reminds me of the most embarrassing parts of who I am. Since hating yourself isn’t a very healthy thing to do I’ve decided that from this day forth I’m going to try my best to not hate Jack Black. Maybe I’ll even watch Bernie. Just don’t expect me to listen to a Tenacious D album anytime soon.
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+ Albums of the Year London O’Connor Jehnny Beth Totally Noga Erez Virginia Wing
Let's Eat Grandma Not weird, just... different
Plus Bobby Gillespie
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The day Josh Tillman came to town
The Goon Sax
Lightning Bolt Ian MacKaye LoneLady Heems Blanck Mass The Eccentronic Research Council
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l o u d a n d Q u i eT aT P r i M av e r a s o u n d w iTh
Compulsion of a poet
S o la n g e in case you were wondering
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Party wolf Let’s get it on: The Valentine’s Days of your life and how to avoid dying alone
First love (ages 13-16)
a bit of fun (Ages 17-25)
don’t panic (ages 26-32)
DONE (ages 33-death)
frame of mind: Sex, sex, sex, dread, sex, excitement, anxiety, sex, distrust, worry, sex, fear, sex and sex. And iPhones.
frame of mind: “Like, I don’t really subscribe to the notion of constructed holidays. You shouldn’t have to show someone you love them b...” Yep. We got it.
frame of mind: “Sweaty Ben got married last August. Ben! Sweat Patch Ben! Fucking hell!!! BEN?!!”
frame of mind: “I mean, I kinda miss the excitement of being single, but I did wake up crying a lot more back then...”
Should I send a card? Could be kinda cute, right? Or mad desperate. I mean, we’re not kids anymore. Oh god. Ben! Of all people!
Should I send a card? If you’re with a long-time partner a valentine’s card acts like a contract renewing your relationship for another year. Forever Friends are a good firm to go with.
Should I send a card? And risk the whole school gobbing on your back in ridicule, you mean? Welcome to this game we call love.
Should I send a card? Yeah, go on. But get it from Moonpig, so you can include flirty/snide injokes, you ironic, sexy bastard!
the perfect gift: Nothing says ‘I-like-Drake-too-weshould-get-the-bus-to-town-onSaturday-with-6-other-people’ like a Spotify Drake playlist. Ferrero Rocher are also pure class.
the perfect gift: An iPod Nano or bust. Anything else is way too sentimental and might send out the wrong signal that you care, which, of course, you don’t.
the perfect gift: A book is a good way of showing you’ve been paying attention to their interests and is just thoughtful enough. It’s also a handy way of checking they can read.
date movie: You should go for an old movie from your mum’s time called Titanic. Go retro for an extra laugh and watch it on a TV. Jks.
date movie: Scream 4 – a dogshit horror film on a soppy-ass day that you can mock together and don’t mind missing a majority of while you shag.
date movie: Notting Hill really is very good. If they don’t understand that or 100% agree, kick them to the curb right away. You’ve not got time for this!
Dinner: Deliveroo a pizza. Plain and simple.
Dinner: Two bottles of red wine. Each.
Dinner: Pizza Express. No! Zizzi.
warning! Watch out for cards received that are designed purely to make you go all red.These will come from classmates loads better looking than you.
warning! Your choice of dinner could affect your confidence. If you can’t say anything without sobbing about your ex, it’s best not to say anything at all.
warning! Your date might like you more than you like them. It’s because you’re a catch, no matter what mother says. And they’re 32 and single. No offense.
the perfect gift: Anything recently bought ‘for the house’ can be written off as a gift. A big candle, a throw, the council tax. ‘Gifts’ don’t really exist these days. date movie: Wherever you’re up to in Season 3 of The Bridge, which, okay, you’d be watching in silence tonight anyway. Dinner: Waitrose’s Valentine’s 2-meals-for-15-pounds.
warning! Agreeing to not do gifts this year means fuck all. Have a back up of Ferrero Rocher ready to go.
( It’s selling the Avon catalogue. How can I fuck that up?
You need any new knickers, love?
You’re going to make sure you don’t say anything creepy on your first day, today, aren’t you, mate?
Disclaimer: The representations of the persons herein are purely fictitious
Photo casebook: The inappropriate world of Ian Beale
HMLTD / Idles / The Magnetic Fields / Sleaford Mods / Kelly Lee Owens / Kadhja Bonet / Rejjie Snow / Pissed Jeans