September 2, 2011

Tiny Ruins releases debut album

A perpetual supply of new albums by new artists competing against each other in a saturated market of endless blogs, reviews, music sites and apps, for little scraps of recognition!  Who do we trust?  Where do we go? 

Just to add to the ever-increasing info-net, here’s yet another anonymous artist that deserves more than she’ll probably get!  

Tiny Ruins has just released her debut album, ‘Some Were Meant For Sea’.   New Zealand born, Hollie Fullbrook, delivers an intricate collection of poetically poised songs that unravel and permeate the soul with every listen.  Timely enough to sail on Laura Marling’s slipstream.  

August 20, 2011

Washed Out add some chill to the new wave

From Acid house to Math Rock there are a myriad of musical styles and genres, each and everyone invented by a journalist or blogger trying to create a new musical scene by vaguely connecting small threads of similarities between a selection of bands.

One of the latest genres to emerge, Chillwave, the titles seem to get increasingly half-baked, came out of the American summer of 2009 with Animal Collective’s, Noah Lennox’s side project, Panda Bear leading the way for synth heavy washes of chilled psychedelia. Many of the bands that followed, Neon Indian, Toro Y Moi and Memory Tapes mirrored a sound that owed as much to the late 80s & early 90s shoegaze movement as much as to Animal Collective’s own take on ambient, dreamy pop.

One of the main protagonists of the fledgling scene, Ernest Greene, under the moniker, Washed Out, has just released his debut LP, Within and Without. Encapsulating the blissed out sound perfectly while incorporating a bigger groove than many of his peers. A magnificent melange of Sigur ros, Cocteau Twins and the Orb. This is probably the finest example of Chillwave.

August 12, 2011

Soundwave Revolution sounds death knell for the golden age of music festivals

When Michael Eavis announced the demise of his own Glastonbury Festival, in an English newspaper last month, many thought he’d jumped the gun, believing that his forecast was the ramblings of a man who had lost touch after 41 years in the business. With further poor sales and what seems like a festival going under every week maybe the 75-year-old will prove himself as the industry prophet after all?

Soundwave Revolution is the newest kid on the chopping block, cancelled due to the withdrawal of a major headliner.  But surely there is more to it than meets the eye?   Usually one headliner does not make a festival?  There are plenty of bands that would be itching to step up and fill the void.  Recent ticket sales of rival festivals suggest that lack of interest and low sales are probably closer to the mark.  This year’s Splendour in the Grass failed to sell out for the first time in its decade long history, while last year’s Big Day Out second day in Sydney offered 2 for 1 ticket sales and they still fell short of maximum sales.  Good Vibrations had such bad returns Justin Hemmes has decided to put the festival on ice until the end of next year.  In another new twist and more evidence of dwindling sales, Parklife announced today that they have exclusivity over all their acts, meaning there will be no sideshows from any of the main headline acts.  With less than two months until the festival opens its gates the announcement hints at sluggish sales and the anxiety to inject a USP into the marketing.

According to The Music Network there are over 55 registered mainstream music festivals in Australia, which actually doesn’t seem that many compared to a staggering 300+ in the UK.  So congestion and competition doesn’t seem to be a primary reason for such disinterest in the Australian festival season, not compared to the clogged up circuit in Britain.  Which means the root of the cause is the combined effect of high costs, large travel distances and festival fatigue.

August 1, 2011

Elbow delight Sydney Theatre

Elbow – Enmore Theatre, 29 July 2011

In the slightly ragged glory of Sydney’s Edwardian theatre there was a warm, homely glow emanating from the stage.  Often cited as ‘The People’s band’ in the UK, the five men from Manchester categorically proved this beyond reasonable doubt as well as confirming themselves as the most laid-back, professional and delightful bands covering the circuit.  Lead singer Guy Garvey, curator, raconteur, and master conductor – everyone’s favourite uncle or older brother, never put a foot wrong.  Backed by a band who have matured with a delicate balance of power and poise, the Enmore was putty in their hands.  Garvey is both humility and sensitivity personified, teasing the crowd with witty banter, ‘Can I call you Syd – are we on those terms yet?’, but never presuming anything.  The spatial and poignant, ‘Lippy Kids’ is punctured by excitedly mispitched crowd whistling towards the end, poorly mimicking Garvey’s own, to which he admonishes, ‘Proud whistlers you are Sydney’.  

Having recently become festival favourites, voted best band at this year’s Glastonbury, and regularly featuring high up the festival bills their sound has taken on a more stately and well-rounded dynamic.  Second song in – ‘The Bones of You’ rumbles and swells, while ‘Neat little Rows’ muscular blues riff, stomps.  This is a sound that’s been honed on the road of large arenas and festival crowds, for the small, intimate surrounds of Enmore it’s exhilarating.  Although they are just adept at adding lightness and nuance, including a mid-gig lull, where  Garvey gathered around Craig Potters piano delivers a stripped back and plaintive, ‘The River’.  For the following song, ‘Perfect Weather to Fly’, this hushed intimacy is repeated with full band, imagining old friends jamming fireside in the comfort of each others company.  It is this relaxed demeanor, at ease with themselves and with the world that radiates from the stage and gives bonhomie to all.

Inevitably they save their uplifting, life affirming anthems for last.  Full voiced and rousing, ‘Open Arms’ closes the main set while predictably, every brides and TV Execs favourite tune, ‘One day like this’ becomes the show-stopper to end all shows.  After that there’s know where to go but home, with a spring in the step of course.

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July 26, 2011

Amy Winehouse shares fate 27 of the cursed rock star.

Live fast and die young – It’s better to burn out than fade away – Hope I die before I get old.  A long rock lineage encourages the bravado of the young and foolish, the self desire to indulge in one’s fate and the belief of solipsism.  All of this is never more apparent than the rock stars that have left us at the height of their fame, adding to the mythology of their own creation while tragically denying us of their brazen talent.

The 27 Club:

Brian Jones – 27

Jimi Hendrix – 27

Janis Joplin – 27

Jim Morrison – 27

Kurt Cobian – 27

Amy Winehouse – 27

Missing lyricist and guitarist from Manic Street Preachers, Richey Edwards, disappeared at the age of 27.

Satan worshiping bluesmen, Robert Johnson died at age 27.

Nick Drake and Otis Redding didn’t even make it to 27, both died a year earlier.  Syd Barrett lost his mind and receded into the Cambridgeshire suburbs at the age of 26.

Amy Winehouse, the latest 27 club casualty, shares similar psychological traits with all her fellow clubbers, although her one and only female companion on the list, Janis Joplin, could be described as a kindred spirit.  Both of them were troubled souls who often felt alone in a male dominated industry.  Infamous for their hell-raising and heavy drinking they both became submerged into a world of heroin (Janis) and crack (Amy) and consequently died through heavy consumption.  Although musically different both artists only released two albums, Joplin’s second – Pearl was a posthumous release, and both became famous and instantly recognisable because of their powerful and unique vocals, of which spawned a thousand imitators.  Like Joplin, Winehouse’s legacy will live forever and will continue to provide inspiration to many.  Unlike Joplin, Winehouse had already become a global household name before she died.

July 23, 2011

Portishead to head down under

For the first time in 14 years UK electronic visionaries, Portishead, are heading down under for a string of shows this November, headlining inaugural east coast festival, Harvest.  The festival will be held in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, with the seminal band also tipped to perform sideshows in Perth and Adelaide.

The excitement doesn’t just end there.  The touring promoters behind succesful Australian rock festivals Soundwave and Soundwave Revolution, have created a stellar line-up for their new music extravaganza.  Joining Portishead for what is surely one of the best line-ups ever assembled will be:

The Flaming Lips 
Bright Eyes
The National
Mercury Rev
Hypnotic Brass
Family Stone
Holy Fuck
Death In Vegas
The Walkmen
Dappled Cities
This Town Needs Guns
Foxy Shazam
PVT
The Holidays
Phosphorescent
Kormac’s Big Band

Harvest will offer the discernible Australian music fan a world-class line-up in beautiful park surroundings, all with a limited capacity. It doesn’t get much better than that! 

July 12, 2011

Digitalism – I love you dude……..?

Ever since the rise of Kraftwerk and the subsequent dawning of the electronic age German music has become synonymous with dance music.  Digitalism are the latest electronic act to follow this long line of tradition.  Although what Kraftwerk would make of their second album title is probably best left unsaid.  Unlike Kraftwerk, ‘I love you Dude’ suggests that the Hamburg duo are quite happy to appeal to the lowest common denominator.

While the title of the album does them no favours it certainly doesn’t represent the album as a whole, but does unfortunately reflect, at times, a certain fudged approach.  This is mostly evident on the aptly named, ‘Forrest Gump, a synth driven dirge, co-written with Julian Casablancas for Indie kudos.  The experiment, although willing, doesn’t really pay off, with the verses sounding even more soporific than Casablancas at his most uninterested.  This is a dilemma that Digitalism face throughout the album, while trying to evolve and appeal to an indie-dance cross-over audience.

Much has changed since Digitalism first appeared with their explosive remix of The White Stripes, ‘Seven Nation Army’, and their subsequent debut, ‘Idealism’ in 2007.  Mainstream dance music has merged itself with the more mellow strands of pop, electronica and disco, leaving the thumping strains of rock behind.  With their latest album, Digitalism are trying to appeal to the Friendly Fires fraternity while still keeping one foot in the rave rock camp.  Understandably it gives the album a slightly schizophrenic sound and fails to capture the true essence of either.

There are moments of clarity, ‘2 heartsand ‘Circles make a pretty good stab at radio-friendly big-beat pop.  2 hearts’, with its building keyboards and hazy synths, echoes French new wavers, Phoenix, while the stronger, ‘Circles’, captures the euphoric rush of Delphic, all squelchy bass and pounding beats.  The second part of the album has the live show in mind.  The pogoing ‘Antibiotics’ and the Higher Sate of Consciousness acid stomp of ‘Miami Showdown’ will sound thrilling in a festival setting.  Similarly, ‘Reeperbahn’ with its menacing atmospherics and chainsaw riff, will sway a sweaty, happy crowd, but its aged sound, a facsimile of 90‘s Prodigy, feels tired.

The rest of the album throws up a few more unremarkable tracks, fine in a club setting, but  lacking any real nuance to form a coherently and consistently good album.  ‘Stratosphere’, ‘Blitz’ and ‘Encore’ could all be part of the same demo, pounding beats, grinding synths, you’ve got the picture by now?  It’s not that ‘I Love you dude’ is a particularly bad album its just lost its footing in the current climate of dance cross-over, lacking a strong identity it falls betwixt and between.  Without the visionary genius or pop sensibilities of Kraftwerk, Digitalism find themselves rehashing old ideas or relying on studio production to find their place.

July 8, 2011

App to the Future! Bjork and Soulwax kickstart a new dawn.

Once upon a time there was a very simple method of releasing a piece of music.  The only consumer decision was the old-fashioned dilemma of  what and who?  Not how, why or where!  Technology, piracy and affordability has given rise to the complexities of choice in an over saturated market.  With music companies getting increasingly desperate in their attempts to market their dwindling artist fold and consumers having increasing power is it any wonder that the financial soothsayers are sounding the death knell for the mainstream music labels.

Since the explosion of web 2.0 and digital there has been a flurry of false – dawns for the industry, including the increasingly popular but ultimate short-comings of downloads and streaming.  For all the fanfare of these two embedded activities there is still a massive shortfall in revenue and a feeling of opportunity missed.  Technology was too far ahead of the game and the music business has been flailing behind ever since!

Enter the age of the app.  Feverishly popular and singularly controllable it could be the music businesses saving grace.  And get this, people are even prepared to pay for the product!   Even though apps have been around for a few years its only in the last 12 months that artists and their record labels are starting to realise the potential.  Even so, a quick scan through the hundreds of artist apps reveal very few of any discernible value , most of them are just an extension of the artist website.  Of course apps are designed, primarily, as advertising tools, but the sheer lack of creativity and cultural value is startling, so much that most of them have become instantly disposable.  Yet their capacity for invention and value is mind-blowing, offering the user a unique portal into a myriad of ideas.  But only if the artist uses the technology to its full capacity.

Bjork and Soulwax are soon to release very different apps,but both in tune with the ideals of multi-platform digi-tainment.  Bjork’s, ‘Biophillia will comprise of  ten apps under one mother app, released at separate times, all representing different themes.  These apps, with titles including; ‘Virus, ‘Moon’ and ‘Solstice’ will allow the user to explore and interact with the songs different components, even adding their own elements.   They”ll be visually, sonically and conceptually specifically designed for the iPad, as ‘Biophillia’ was partly recorded on the Apple tablet.                          

Belgian duo Soulwax have just released an epic mash-up, 24 one hour mixes that all represent a different genre of music, consisting of different albums.  Visually all the album’s covers, that have been used in the mix,  have been recreated in virtual time, complementing the pro-mash-up that we all come to expect from the innovative brothers.  The project took over 2 years to design and is available free to download, the use of so many samples would have made it a litigative minefield.  A new show will be added every week, for the next few months.

Both apps highlight the vision of the artist and their collaboration with developers and designers, maximizing the creative capacity of digital technology for the enjoyment of the user, as well as satisfying their artistic license for evolving and surprising.  Hopefully it will kick-start the industries creative thinking and slow down the proliferation of apps cynically and singularly designed for promotion.  

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June 22, 2011

iTunes to live stream London festival worldwide

Apple will continue the live digital revolution by broadcasting select performances of its upcoming festival, held at the Roundhouse Theatre, London, for the whole of July.  A dizzying array of artists feature, 62 in all, including; Coldplay, Foo Fighters, Paul Simon, Arctic Monkeys, Kasabian, Moby, Linkin Park and many more.  The shows will be streamed to all Apple devices in HD through the new app, iTunes live.   

Surely this is just the start of a whole host of multi-platform digital streaming?  The public demand for festivals has increased tenfold over the last decade, allied to the fact that digital has finally given us the technology to tap into this under-exploited market.  The major digital players have been slow to form partnerships with the main festival promoters allowing TV broadcasters to corner the market, particularly in Europe.  This weekend Glastonbury Festival will be transmitted to a UK audience only, through the public service broadcaster, BBC.  The sheer investment of BBC’s public purse, including over 400 staff and a budget that’s close to the £2 million mark suggest that they regard it as TV gold and an extremely important event in the countries calendar.

Earlier this year Google teamed up with Coachella Festival for live streaming of the three-day event on YouTube, which offered excellent coverage and will surely spark the momentum for the impending live digital movement. This latest announcement from Apple confirms that the digital giants are starting to wake up to the vast possibilities of the cash cow of  the live music scene, although they could have a bitter fight on their hands with the TV broadcasters ready to dig their heals in, especially for the prestige events.

June 6, 2011

Arctic Monkeys – Suck it and See

Heralded as one of the greatest bands of their generation, the Arctic Monkeys have increasingly felt the heavy weight of expectation and the burden of the zeitgeist.  So much that they have gone out of their way to avoid any fan delusions or media typecast, last month Alex Turner rejected the mantle of ‘Voice of a generation’ in an interview with The Observer, while mischievously self-referencing their dilemma with cryptic album titles!

Of course they’re not the first band to find themselves labeled as the avatars of British indie-rock.  25 years ago The Smiths were adored with equal rapture and reverence after releasing The Queen is Dead.  Ironically this latest Arctic’s album offers similar comparison with Morrissey’s work, though not that of The Smiths.  The retro dense production, feed-back driven guitar lines and over all nostalgia recalls Morrissey in his solo years.  Although most of the 60’s romantic pop sound borrows more from fellow Sheffield troubadour Richard Hawley and Turner’s own project, The Last of the Shadow Puppets.

Interestingly the Arctic’s have chosen to divert their career path to a safer, more secure destination than on their previous desert rock album, Humbug, with the exception of terrible lead single, Brick to Brick, with its lumpen rock.  This is never more apparent than with Turner’s songwriting.  Once a quick-tongued commentator on life’s youthful pursuits, he’s now tuned his songwriting craft to a romantic bent, less swagger, more waltz, ‘Makes me want to blow the candles out/Just to see if you glow in the dark’.  By focusing on abstract wordplay, rather than acerbic wit, he’s managed to become frustratingly conformist.  You suspect he’s capable of more challenging subjects, but chooses career security over hostility!  Nevertheless, at times, he still paints sharp and funny imagery, ‘Your rarer than a can of dandelion and burdock/ And those other girls are just post-mix lemonade’. Similar to his mentor, James Skelly from The Coral, he’s fine tuned his vocals to a rich and plaintive timbre.

It’s The Coral who the Arctic’s first nod their influence cap too, with the album beginning with the 60’s Mersey beat of ‘She’s Thunderstorms’, ‘Black Treacle’ and ‘The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala‘, all distorted jangles and soaring choruses.  And it’s this mid-tempo guitar pop that the band settle into, switching to a sound and environment that feels much more natural than the heavy, murky riffs of Humbug.  At times the musicianship shows mastery and maturity.  Of course there are moments of stoner rock, red herring single, ‘Brick to Brick’, the ordinary ‘Library Pictures‘ & ‘All of my own stunts‘ and the riff – baiting ‘Don’t sit down cause I’ve moved your chair’.  

It’s the album finale where the Arctic’s display their undoubted talent.  Titular song ‘Suck it and see’ is a wonderfully crafted pop song, and like its northern touchstones, Morrissey and Hawley, it sways and invigorates. ‘That’s were you’re wrong‘ swings like an indie anthem of yore, The Smiths and Echo and the Bunnymen compressed into 4 minutes of unbridled joy.  This is a sign of what might have been, where the song writing flair soars to impressive heights, unfortunately the majority of the album is shackled by conformity and fails to get out of the Monkey’s default setting.