Archive for May, 2011

May 30, 2011

Planningtorock challenges Lady Gaga for gender-defying album of the year!

Album Review – Planningtorock – W

With the current media hype about Lady Gaga and her constantly revolving wardrobes, it would be easy to think she was the only shapeshifter in pop.  Not so.  She may get the headlines but she doesn’t cross the transgender lines like your regular androgynous pop star.  Of course David Bowie was the pioneer of sexual ambiguity, and thereafter followed a genre of imitators, although usually it was the men that wanted to be women.  More recently the music industry has spawned a number of women that have reversed the trend for sexual mystery, including the electro enigma from Berlin, Janine Rostron, aka; Planningtorock.

Featured on the front cover of her sophomore album, ‘W’, (initial could be a nod to her female origin), with a prosthetic nose looking like a cross between Jean Cocteau and Anthony Hegarty, Rostron announces her intent to mystify and provoke.  The whole album is cast in shades of playful, sexual ambiguity, that is contrived to both confuse and tease the listener in equal measure.  And here lies the dichotomy of the album, on one hand the cross-gender provocation and the liberating sense of adventure is tantamount to the album’s appeal, on the other the sheer willingness of the chanteuse to hide behind her manly mask , and gravelly voice, is perhaps, and frustratingly, a missed opportunity to attain greatness by revealing her true voice.  Many of the vocals dispel all feelings of emotion and character by feeding the voice through a series of effects, which mutate the singing into a male burr or demonic purr.

Last year’s collaboration with the Knife’s, Karin Dreijer Andersson, for the Charles Darwin inspired opera, ‘Tomorrow, in a year’, points towards the shared visionary magic of the two equally perplexing and innovative artists.  Certainly fans of Andersson’s side project, Fever Ray, will find much in ‘W’ to love.  The main cornerstone of the music is buried in a similar off-kilter, unsettling electronica.  Although Rostron elevates her music to a more theatrical style, and one, at times, that certainly knows how to groove, especially in the electro house of ‘Living it out’, coming over all Grace Jones with a funk strutting chorus.

The sense of artistic playfulness is stamped all over ‘W’, none more so than on album opener, ‘Doorway’, featuring arresting synth stabs that sway and pulsate, with Rostron repeating the mantra, ‘I know my feelings.’  All through the album Rostron alludes to sexual desire and intrigue, in ‘Manifesto’ she bellows, ‘I’m a believer in suckular love’, over a bouncing and clacking rhythm.  ‘Going wrong’ displays the theatricality of Planningtorock’s mandate, arriving with pulsating strings and hushed tones it swells to a sax embellished funk, complete with wailing and miawing, like a cyber-age Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

The audacity and inventiveness of ‘W’’ is thrilling with the contorted synths and pulsing beats balanced perfectly with the warm and fuzzy tones of the saxophone, used liberally throughout and perfectly executed on ‘The One’, brooding and melancholic, the sax lifts the mood and casts light on the wistful gloom.  Bringing the album back down to mediocre reality are two ambient tracks towards the end, ‘Milky Blau’ and ‘Jam’, the former is an underwhelming orchestral ditty, while the latter can only be described as an electronic drone.  Majesty is resumed on following track, ‘Black Thumber’, with its call and response synths and orchestral washes it is reminiscent of Moby at his soundscaping best.

W’ leaves Plannningtorock with an intriguing decision, does Rostron stick or twist?  Persevering with the disturbing male register could ultimately hinder her chance of being heard by a wider audience and receiving greater recognition for an album that, at times, touches excellence.  However the master manifesto behind the album is to arouse and bewilder, expelling the sexual ambiguity would cast aside both the artistic and social statement of the singer.  Inspired by masquerading phantom pretensions she will realise better than most, that true feelings come from within.

May 18, 2011

Morrissey shoots out at Monarchy

In yet another broadside aimed directly at the royal family,  coming just a few weeks after he  slated the royal wedding, Morrissey has written an astonishing article in Irish publication, Hot Press, in which he labels the Queen’s inaugural visit to Ireland a PR campaign.  Not content with that he goes on to call the Queen a fascist and compares her to dictators, Colonel Gaddafi and ousted Egyptian President Mubarak, ‘The very existence of the Queen and her now enormous family – all supported by the British taxpayer whether the British taxpayer likes it or not – is entirely against any notion of democracy, and is against freedom of speech. For a broad historical view of what the Queen is and how she “rules”, examine Gaddafi or Mubarak, and see if you can spot any difference.’

As ever the whole article and the striking views supporting it are subject to much heated debate.  Many blog sites and comments pages are filled with disgust at such vehement views.  Of course this latest attack on the British monarchy is nothing new from Morrissey, who has long been outspoken against the Windsors, ever since his days in The Smiths; ‘Her very Lowness with a head in a sling / I’m truly sorry – but it sounds like a wonderful thing.’  Sung on the title track of landmark album, The Queen is Dead, which incidentally celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.  But this latest outburst comes at a time when the Royals are very much in public favour and Morrissey is seen as a despised outsider, more than ever.

Most news articles have naturally highlighted the comments about Mubarak and Gaddafi, clever soundbite by Morrissey, but there is much more complexity to the article than has been commonly reported.  He mentions the Queens support of Thatcher during the 80s, when she allowed hunger strikers to die at Maze prison.  More recently he bemoans the banning of democratic protests against the monarchy, ‘The most revealing statement came from Commander Christine Jones of the Metropolitan Police last month, when she warned that any British people carrying anti-royal placards who are “seen in the vicinity of the royal wedding would be removed under the Public Order Act.” This means that any political dissent in England is silenced in order to protect the royals, which in itself goes against every principle of democracy.’

There is a peculiar truth to some of Morrissey’s colorful polemic, it’s just often clouded by some overly sensationalist remarks and clumsy vitriol.  But it does create headlines and stir debate, which is ultimately Morrissey’s aim.  Always courting controversy and although he does have a certain point to his argument, it is merely the ‘pot calling the kettle black’ if you ask me!  To say the Queen is just exercising one big PR campaign is laughably contradicting, as this is precisely what Morrissey is doing with this article. Always shooting his mouth off when there are tour dates to sell or a new album to promote.  The acerbic tongue of the skilful salesman is one of the best in the business and he is fully aware of his actions.

The Gallagher boys are his only true rivals when it comes to headline grabbing with this type of diatribe mugging!  

May 13, 2011

It’s official; Splendour in the Grass is not the most expensive festival in the world!

Or is it………?

Thanks to festival regular Pat Duty we have statistical evidence that Japan’s Fuji Festival is actually cheaper when the average wage of each country is taken into consideration.  Splendour finishes in third place, behind Hungary’s Sziget festival, although lets face it a festival in Hungary is always going to be a little pricey with their local currency (Forint), especially with international artists on the bill!  

As stated in my earlier article, The most expensive music festival in the world? on 21 April; Splendour, on sheer price alone, stormed to the top of the rip-off charts.  This new analysis does cast some new light on the subject, but fails to mention that Szigt is a 6 day festival.  Besides, most festivals these days are set up with the global traveller in mind, how many music hungary punters cross borders and take flights in search of the ultimate festival experience?  Especially in Europe, although probably not Australia!  So, as diligent as Pat Duty was in his economic analysis, comparing festival prices based on average wages, it’s not completely water tight!  The fact that Splendour hasn’t sold out is proof enough!

May 6, 2011

Flaming Lips to perform at LA cemetery

The Flaming Lips have just announced that they’ll be playing two gigs at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in LA, this June.  Not only that they’ll be performing the whole of The Soft Bulletin one night and The Dark Side of the Moon the following.  This is a great example of artists using their abstract imaginations (in no short supply with the Lips) to create something unique and rewarding for the fans.  Tired of performing the same old set ( which says something, tiring of a Lips set is like tiring of life!) the artist is re-imagining the scope and framing of a gig.  Taken out of convention it can be thrilling, that’s why we all like festivals?

The Cure also announced today that they’d be performing at the Sydney Opera House, 31 years after their debut in the harbour city.  They will form part of the Vivid festival, which starts at the end of this month and runs for almost 3 weeks.  Not content with just playing at the iconic venue, they’ll also perform the first three albums of their career, in their entirety!  That’s three hours of melancholic splendour!  Another example of bucking convention and showing visionary genius, not to mention a hell of a lot of patience!

Why aren’t more artists playing unusual and challenging locations?  Or plundering their lost or classic albums or someone else’s for that matter?  Can’t we have Portishead playing Dummy in a gothic mansion?    Or Bjork performing Vespetine in a ruined abbey?   Or perhaps TV on the Radio reconstructing Prince’s, 1999 or The Arctic Monkeys recreating The Smith’s, The Queen is Dead?

Try it yourself and see what the imagination can conjure?