Monday, 25 October 2010
The piece contained within was actually originally destined for a leading internet review site, but owing to an editing backlog it somehow got lost. So, just over a month since the festival itself, it sees the light of day. Apart from a great day/night out with great people, it also demonstrated what a well run event by small, local promoters can achieve. I was going to write a summary of my thoughts on the matter, but I genuinely believe that I couldn't put it better, nor any more succinctly than my original concluding paragraph does. Enjoy, and don't forget to check out the bands mentioned within, and indeed the organisers' other interests, all of which are awesome.
With the festival season winding down and the nights fast drawing in, it was good to see that the enterprising spirit of the Postcards From Manchester collective brought its second Postcards Festival to the Deaf Institute. The collective comprises clubnight/fanzine organisation Pull Yourself Together, and clubnights Underachievers Please Try Harder, You! Me! Dancing! and Young Adult Friction. The festival saw an ambitious smash-and-grab type schedule featuring 13 bands over 2 stages in 9 hours, with the collective providing a 3hr clubnight afterwards
As an opening statement, the raucous Brown Brogues make an arresting proposition. The simplified riffs and barked staccato vocals make comparisons to a scuzzier-sounding Fall inevitable, but they're also capable of more melodic songs recalling 60s surf pop with an overall feel not a million miles away from press darlings Best Coast. Along with Slow Club they also push the boundaries as to how much noise two people can make on stage. Making it a double bill of local bands were Patterns, whose driving basslines and chiming melodicism combine to produce a full rich sound reminiscent of The Chameleons. The urgency and confidence inherent in the songs suggest the band are ready to take the songs to a larger audience - an audience which the sons genuinely deserve based on this performance
D/R/U/G/S, an electronic two piece, continue the Postcards local bands showcase shortly afterwards. Their nocturnal sound was at odds to the level of light being let in by the venue's skylights early on in the day, the compositions nonetheless showed great promise and provided a fascinating insight into the local electronic scene. The eclecticism of the line-up continued with London's Internet Forever. Their short, sharp fuzz-pop songs seemed to encapsulate the frenetic (but never rushed) feeling of the day as a whole. Particular highlights were former single 'Cover The Walls' and an inspired cover of Dire Straits 'Walk Of Life'
Deaf To Van Gogh's Ear (another local band) sound like Foals hyperactive cousins, with their stabs of treble and simultaneously inventive and incredible tempo changes and timing signatures. While these unorthodox timing and tempo changes may not be to everyone's taste, they certainly command attention and respect. From math-rock to the experimental post-Electralane project of Verity Susman, Vera November. Haunting and beautific, the set worked whether playing at its most atmospheric (live saxophone played over a pre-recorded sample) or at its most accessible and pop-y. Certainly one to catch in future.
Golden Glow come armed with a sound suggesting a determination to progress, and certainly wouldn't have sounded out of place in an arena or an academy-sized gig. The infectious 'Adore Me' proved a set highlight, and although towards the end of the set the songs began to sound the same, it was reportedly only the band's 7th ever live performance, meaning there is still plenty of time for the songs to develop. Trailer Trash Tracys' nocturnal sound suited the darkened venue, their airy sounds and sense of melody making comparisons to The xx inevitable. A solid if unspectacular performance on this occasion. Americans Here We Go Magic provided the penultimate entertainment. Despite throwing in nods to David Bowie and Talking Heads, the songs seemed to go on for far longer than necessary and at the same time seemed to go nowhere. A frustrating listening experience.
'Allo, Darlin'end the evening with a stunning display that (following on from their Indietracks performance) only reaffirms what a formidable live act they are. Joyous, beguiling, and grin-inducing, they're the first band to have the entire venue on its feet, openly dancing, and singing along. Elizabeth Morris' way with a melody remains without question, while new songs show that the barrel is far from dry on the songwriting front. Singles Polaroid Song and If Loneliness Was Art pass through in a blaze of energy. Ignore them at your peril.
In closing, three things have come out of the Posctards festival. Firstly, you don't need to be Tony Wilson and have a So It Goes or a Hacienda to showcase local talent - the festival put on 5 acts from the Manchester area alone. Secondly, a dedicated team of enthusiastic people who actively promote can, with the right venue, do as much to promote and nurture new talent as say, a record label tour or an NME radar tour. Lastly, if this event is anything to go by, the professionalism, enthusiasm and dedication demonstrated will ensure that the Postcards collective will certainly be something to write home about.
Saturday, 23 October 2010
A couple of weeks back I did an interview feature with Jeremy Warmsley and Elizabeth Sankey, better known as Summer Camp, for musicOMH.com (which can be found here: http://bit.ly/aNzSx1 in its abridged, narrated form). But while transcribing it afterwards I realised that 1) I was never in a month of Sundays going to fit everything I wanted to be included, plus my comments, into my wordcount limit and 2) that it seemed a shame and a pity for the full transcript to never see the light of day. I felt there was a wealth of material which couldn't be condensed into a 2-sentence soundbite, so with Elizabeth's permission - for which I'm grateful - we've decided to run the full transcript - unabridged, unedited - here.
Given the near-unanimous praise the EP has garnered so far, does it justify the unorthodox route you've taken so far, especially given the backlash from some corners of the online community, who suggested that your anonymity was little more than a gimmick?
Jeremy: 'I think what needs to be said is that praise we've had, or haven't had, or could have or could not have had, is really irrelevant. Forming the band, which was something of an accident, has been nothing but enjoyable so far, and what the critics make of it is not really top of our list of priorities.'
Elizabeth: 'It doesn't really matter. People are going to like it or not like it whether you've come from a manufactured boyband background or whether you've been raised in solitary confinement for the last 24 years....' (Jeremy: 'Raised by wolves!') '…....You can't start worrying about these things. The way we came about is the way we came about.'
Jeremy : 'It's like if you were adopted and you were ashamed of it, there's nothing you can do about it, don't be ashamed about it'
Elizabeth: 'Because we never thought that anyone would think it had been done on purpose, we don't really feel justified or unjustified in the praise that the EP has or hasn't got'.
Jeremy: 'It was all an accident, unfortunately. Maybe we should start forward planning! That said, it's been nice to get some positive feedback from people at gigs as well as the nice reviews we've had, which is awesome.'
Did you feel that there was a greater pressure on you to remain anonymous or did the space to do what you wanted in the way that you wanted allow you greater freedom?
Elizabeth 'I think it acted in our benefit, yeah, but everything's a double edged sword. If we'd come out and said 'It's Jeremy Warmsley and Elizabeth Sankey' most people wouldn't have cared, but some people would've gone 'that's ridiculous', some people would've written us off because of that, some people would have liked us more because of it. It got to the point in our small world that it became quite a big deal and we were worried what people were going to say. It meant that it gave us the space to come to terms of being in a band, but it also meant that people had really high expectations of who we might be, or some people did, and we were worried about disappointing them. There isn't really a definitive 'Yes! We're glad we did it like that' or 'No, we're annoyed we did it like that.''
Jeremy: 'Starting the band was a happy accident, and in a way it's meaningless talking about having done it another way. If we'd sat down and worked out how to use our talents we'd have, I don't know, probably ended up writing a musical!'
Elizabeth: 'The worst musical in the world!'
Was there a eureka moment as to when you were going to 'go public' or was it more a gradual change in mindset?
Elizabeth: 'We were outed by a magazine. We didn't have a plan of how to announce it. We thought that when we were ready to play gigs people would come and see us and it'd spread through word of mouth. We weren't going to make a big announcement because to be honest, we were scared of what people might think when they knew it was us. So the day we were outed was horrible. We didn't know it was going to happen and suddenly everyone knew. In a way it's ridiculous, we're talking about such a tiny fraction of people.....
Jeremy: 'Hundreds of people, at most.'
Elizabeth:'........who know about us now that didn't then, so in a way it's not a big thing, but at the time it was pretty intense.'
Was there ever any danger, in your opinion, that the backstory could in any way have/has overtaken the music? The Arctic Monkeys' first album couldn't seem to get mentioned anywhere without talk of them being a 'MySpace band' given their route of self-publicity.
Jeremy: 'Yeah, but that didn't really overtake their music; they sold millions of records and have a huge fanbase that love what they do. I would suggest that anyone who called them a MySpace band probably never listened to their record. In any case, I think with us, or in fact with any band, if you don't have an interesting story for the press to write about, they don't tend to write about you very much. Look at Bon Iver, who had that fantastic, mythological story, hibernating in the woods and beavering away on this project while in the crux of a massive depression. There was a great singer-songwriter record that wouldn't have got written about as much without that story behind it, yet deserved to be written about as much. Certainly, we'd like to be asked questions in interviews other than 'you used to be anonymous, what's that about then', but I don't think the people who turn up at our gigs, or indeed some interviews, are concerned about it. It's not really that big a deal. We used to talk about this quite a lot – how with Twitter and blogs people now have so much information at their fingertips about bands. If you look back 20 or 30 years you'd buy a record and scrutinise the credits, just to find out who played what. I think we came out at a time when there were a couple of other bands such as jj who were a bit mysterious and that worked in our favour. But as we always have to say, we're not clever enough to have been able to have orchestrated anything like that. Our names are now out there and no-one's ran away screaming. If this was a blind date we'd be ordering dessert and talking about the next date.'
Elizabeth: 'We wouldn't be on the dessert! We'd be getting drinks and ordering a starter!' Jeremy: 'I was thinking our first album was our first date......'
Elizabeth 'We'd still be talking about our exes and weird fetishes. We've still got a long way to go'
Your music can't seem to be mentioned without talk of 80s nostalgia and John Hughes imagery. Is this pigeon-holing and categorisation something you agree with or is it becoming tiresome?
Elizabeth: 'I'd say it's correct pigeon-holing'
Jeremy: 'I wouldn't really call it pigeon-holing'
Elizabeth: 'It's cited as one of our influences. I mean, looking at the EP, Young, John Hughes and the photos we use are both a big part of what we've been doing with that EP. But the whole thing with being written about as part of a scene or in a particular context of X and Y isn't a bad thing because these are things we're really proud of. I mean if we'd been named 'Best Shagger' or 'Shagger Of The Year' in The Sun and that kept being brought up when we were trying to launch our religious campaign to be the next Pope, then yeah, that would be annoying. But these are things that we really care about and to a degree we don't really mind what people think about them. In a way it's good because they're not directly related to us'
Jeremy: 'I think you'd make a great Pope, Elizabeth.'
Elizabeth: 'Thank you. But basically we're talking about things that we really like. We like those fan photos, and we really love John Hughes films, but we didn't make them, we didn't star in them. We're just talking talking about the things that we love......'
Jeremy: 'There's this weird thing when you're in a band where people keep asking you what films you're into, which is nice......'
Elizabeth: 'I don't think that, I think it's that we talk about those films'
Jeremy: '…..well yeah, but certainly being asked what music you're into always crops up in interviews. Which is cool'
Is it not slightly strange having a portion of your audience celebrating a decade which they weren't even born in, never mind lived through? I was born at the arse end of the decade and have no knowledge of it, and some of your audience will be younger still.
Jeremy: 'I think it's really cool! There are good things in every decade which are worth celebrating'
Elizabeth: 'The thing with John Hughes films, everyone says they're just these 80s films, these 80s teen flicks, and they're not. They're timeless. The thing I love about them isn't the fact that they're set in the 80s, sure I love the fashion of the 80s, but what I love about the fashion of the 80s is this whole post-punk thing where kids in the suburbs were being really adventurous with their clothing and it was a really exciting time of just being experimental and creative and there were so many amazing bands because of that, and so many amazing teen icons. What I love about the John Hughes films is not that they're 80s teen flicks, it's because they're funny and edgy and raw, and they talk about things which are universal, they talk about humanity let alone being a teenager, and they deal with it in this really amazing way. John Hughes was just this incredible man – you know, he wrote The Breakfast Club in two days – and he took this group of actors and created these masterpieces. I was born in the mid-to-late 80s, I wasn't a teenager in the 80s, but I watched those films when I was a teenager and they meant so much to me and I think that they would to any teenager in any decade because they're just brilliant films. I could talk about other films that influence us just as much, but I think with those films and the photos I can see why there's that sort of connection. We're not a band trying to live in the 80s or trying to recreate it, but it's just a really interesting decade for us. But it was a decade where loads of things happened, and we're still feeling the reverberations of it now as a culture'
Jeremy: 'Yeah, definitely'
Elizabeth: 'And it mirrors a lot – politically, economically - and a lot what happened then is happening now, so I think it's more that'.
Given your past professions (Elizabeth as a journalist, Jeremy as a solo artist), and the way that to an extent they're quite solitary roles, did you find it difficult to collaborate and compromise with each other at first? Did it necessitate a change in mindset at all?
Jeremy: 'For me it was exciting finding someone who I was on the same wavelength as and who I really trusted, and who complimented the stuff that I wasn't really very good at, like the lyrics and all the melodies, and all the pictures and stuff. It's nice being in a band who gets it and gets as excited about it as I am. It's great'
Elizabeth: ' I was only writing about music for about 3 months before we started the band so I don't really consider myself a music journalist. I went to drama school so I'm used to working as a team, but I've never found someone who I can collaborate.....that sounds so pretentious....collaborate so effectively as I can with Jeremy but I think there's more the factor that we know each other really well and we get on really well and we're really close. I think it's more that than our previous professions. The fact we trust each other, and trust each other's instincts.'
Depending on who you talk to, the current climate within the industry either makes it one of the worst times to make music, or one of the best due to the way that the internet has brought about a post-punk style DIY culture and ethic. As a new band putting out music, which side of the argument do you agree with, and why?
Elizabeth: 'If you're in the music business to make money, then yeah, you're screwed. If you're in it because you really want to make music and you really want to play live then it's really exciting, because it's like an economic crisis where everyone's sharing their bread. I personally really like the advent of blogs and sharing because there's this worldwide community...that sounds so lame....but there is. All the bands are into stuff and there's this (*long search for a phrase, culminating in blitz/war spirit*) ...we're all in this together. I think there are people who are now recognising that the industry is changing and those are the people who are going to do really well out of it, because there will be some sort of resolution. The industry isn't going to die, it's just a matter of finding different way to do things.'
Jeremy: 'People aren't going to stop making music'
Elizabeth: 'People I hope will still find value in music, whether it's less than it used to be or whatever, that's fine.'
Jeremy: 'One of the things I'm finding, just anecdotally from people I know, is that people are spending the same amount of money on music as they used to, it's just they are getting far more from that amount of money. You know, that music was going to be made anyway, that money was going to be spent anyway. I know people who don't spent any money on music but still listen to music whereas before they would've just been listening to music round their friends', or taping music off their friends....well, you know, 20 years ago!'
Thursday, 21 October 2010
If Belle and Sebastian were sexual intercourse, there'd be a lot of wining and dining, loads of foreplay and the actual love making would be fireworks on the 4th of July incredible but, annoyingly, the sex would stop being so frequent, require a lot more effort and after a while dry up entirely. Then, last year, you find out that they have been having an affair with some "girl" recording loads of other songs and having a second wind of sexual intercourse that's similar, but not quite the same as before. After a fraught session at councilling you suddenly remember why you love each other all over again and suddenly, bam, you finally have that incredible sex you have not had in a long time.
I guess it's obvious that Belle and Sebastian would take this long, and take this route, to get back to a point where they could start to write songs that would not only sit perfectly on their first three seminal records but also, in the case of the song The Ghosts of Rock School, can actually be mistaken for songs from those albums. Write About L... I mean, Belle and Sebastian Write About Love is one of those blinding moments of surprise Nostalgia, like seeing that Who Wants to a Millionaire is still on the TV, that BBC's Formula 1 coverage still uses Fleetwood Mac's The Chain, or that Scotland will woefully not be able to qualify for the next big tournament because they screwed up the first set of games in the qualifying.
This album serves as a reminder that age is best embraced when recording an album that is so far into the future that you sang woefully about on your debut EP. Some other bands should take heed as to exactly how Belle and Sebastian have managed to keep such a high level of quality output. Save for the foray into Soundtracks (with Storytelling) and the hit-and-miss (grandest highs and lowest of lows) Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like A Peasant, the band have maintained an impeccable level of album craftsmanship ranging from the debut trifecta of the mid 1990s to the 2006 bolt of populist reinvention that was The Life Pursuit. It takes a good band to take these changes and nuances and move them beyond the trap of making the first album 10 times over.
The problem with Write Abo... Belle and Sebastian Write About Love is that there are a few misses. And, amongst the back catalogue of the songs that Belle and Sebastian have fastidiously put out with almost impeccable control, these misses are so far reaching and stand out it is not surprising that it lets the rest of the album down. The sweet piano and drums intro to I Didn't See It Coming and the gorgeous slow wander of Calculating Bimbo are destroyed by the horrible vocals that Norah Jones puts on the record. Indeed, this is not only the low point in the album, but also an indicator of the band forgetting that they don't need to use Norah Jones - listen to the sweet vocals that appear on the album elsewhere - even, for goodness sake, the other womanly vocal guest, Carey Mulligan of movies fame - she is used to perfection and as a great accompaniment in the track that in all honesty really shouldn't be the title track. It's a good song, but compared to other title tracks in the history of the band, it ranks as one of the weakest there.
I am a sucker for the similar. For example, the best track on the album, The Ghost of Rockschool, in my opinion, and as I have already mentioned, is so obviously Belle and Sebastian it actually feels like it is taken from an old recording session... for all it is worth it might as well have been. Indeed, this is a highlight that not only sees the speed that was rarely let up on The Life Pursuit slow down to a crawl and you are suddenly more comfortable in the shoes of this 21st Century version of the band. As with The Life Pursuit there are a few new sparkles to the repertoire but they feel a lot more natural here and more polished, and not in that Autotuned perfection kind of way, but in that way that actually compliments the album. Now that they have done a trilogy of pop infused albums embracing the new techniques given to them by their success, Belle and Sebastian are probably the greatest band Scotland has ever produced. Remarkably still the band that does this kind of music the best and still the band that slips underneath the mainstream clouds.
The question remains - if I find Belle and Sebastian to be so great, why the fuck would I ever give this a bad review? Could I? Would I? Well, yes I would, as not only would I disappointed, but it'd be a luscious "Told You So" after the "God Help the Girl" episode. Write A...Belle and Sebastian Write About Love isn't the best Belle and Sebastian album, it never could be, but it again works and proves that the collective is a grand thing. The only worrisome feature of the album is the long gestation period and the implications that we are now another album closer to the bands Final Album. When that day comes Scotland will be a tiny less sunny.
Alright, time for an admission. Until a few years ago most lyrics passed me by. Well, actually, that might not be entirely true. I can't decide if they – generally speaking – passed me by out of my ignorance or if the music I listened to had lyrics so uninspired and so insipid that they passed me by out of their sheer....well, nothingness, and then tuned me out of lyrics entirely. Probably a bit of both.
This used to surprise a few of those around me who'd ask me how I could listen to stuff like Pulp and indie pop (or twee pop if you're so inclined) and all other kinds of music where lyrics are such an integral part of the experience. I can't say if there was a eureka moment when everything clicked into place and lyrics started to mean something to me, or if it was a gradual frame-shift over time, but since then, deciphering and/or visualising lyrics has become a real joy. Whether it's alternating between the despair and romanticising of the blue collar worker (Springsteen), quotable, pithy one liners (Craig Finn, Howard Devoto, Edwyn Collins, Jarvis Cocker), abstract narratives (David Tattersall) or emotive, genuine odes (Stuart Murdoch, Bobby Wratten, Jeremy Warmsley, Elizabeth Morris)
But I never thought that a lyric could have such a profound effect on me as one which I rediscovered yesterday. Darren Hayman is without doubt one of the nation's finest lyricists, a man able to paint vivid technicolour landscapes to his songs, which at the moment focus on finding love in loveless places (see my review of Essex Arms on musicOMH – proof if ever it were needed that his abilities remain undimmed by time). When I was no older than 17 or so a friend lent me a Hefner best of, and having listened to it a few times returned it. The songs were alright, but nothing special. Only when Pull Yourself Together spun 'Hello Kitten' at Manchester's Postcards festival in September did I go back and reappraise the back-catalogue, and I'm glad I did. Despite not hearing some of the songs for around 6 years, there were several which I could recite word for word. I can't think of any other instance where this has happened. It demonstrates the quality of lyrics when they're to songs which at the time you don't even especially rate, yet still become so engrained into your subconscious. Oh, and yes, I concede, Hefner songs are indeed something special.
But yes, profound lyric story time. After finishing work and getting home at lunchtime, I was greeted by news of the spending cuts. Probably because of the reference to greed, I decided to put on 'The Greedy Ugly People', which contains the line:
Now, I'm not saying I sat there in floods of tears (not that there's anything wrong in doing so, it's just inaccurate), but I suddenly felt compelled to hear the song again, and again, and again, and to hell with my severely skewed last.fm charts.
I think the resonance may have to do with the fact that the people currently running our country at this present time seems to have little or no compassion. The sudden nature of the cuts feel like we've all been thrown into a car with a brick on the accelerator, the brakes severed, and a brick wall looming on the horizon. But we really shouldn't expect much else from a cabinet where 22 of 29 cabinet ministers are millionaires,19/29 were educated at private,fee-paying schools and 19/29 are Oxbridge graduates. Darren Hayman's words seemed to encapsulate my fears about the future of society under the current government and its oppressive cuts. A future where the country will potentially not only be divided into the haves and the have nots, but into those of two differing mindsets: those who look at the bottom line and nothing but, and those to whom deeper things – such as love, empathy, compassion - take priority.
The song as a whole feels like it could soundtrack footage of the miners' strike in 1984, the poll tax riots in 1990, redundant staff carrying their desks out of soon-to-close offices in boxes or in fact any other instance where a fixation with the bottom line has shrouded judgement at the expense of society. As far as I'm concerned, Darren Hayman's words are bittersweet. They either offer a beacon of hope that even in the difficult times ahead people can still proudly exude such emotions in the face of adversity, or signal a time of great misery, where a government's obsession with number-crunching with little regard to the consequences will mean it's all the populous will be able to do to keep its head above water. What it does show, unequivocally, is that even without the overt view of 'The Day That Thatcher Dies', Hefner's 'We Love The City' may just offer a surprise soundtrack for the turbulent times ahead.
Tuesday, 19 October 2010
Get a grip, popular music. I mean, look at the fucking state of you. Seriously, come on. We gave you such a long length of rope in the 1990s and for parts of the 2000s you almost were breached by some of our “darling indie bands” but they themselves fell under your spell. These days popular music is nothing but a pastiche, almost a parody of it’s self – it is indeed beyond parody now with clones upon clones of the same music entering at number one week in week out and labels are constantly looking at the internet to try and predict exactly how the tide will turn. These days of Twitter and instant feedback suddenly we are all the same collective hive mind and those fans what would’ve just bought the records are suddenly able to sound off about how much they “luv Bibier omG fukin luv him” in a cacophony of intense infinite and incessant imbeciles.
So pop music, get a fucking grip. Check into rehab, gather your thoughts, and come out next year ready for a change. In the meantime bands like the Phantom Band are quietly producing some of the decade’s first exceptional songs and collating it into an, almost archaic, best-of-the-year list album. For the demise of the album just look at the EA Sports style releases of the Lady Gaga, Rihanna and the aforementioned “Bibier”, with their 2.0 and 3.0 versions of “Art” for the required evidence needed for the cultural cease and desist.
The Phantom Band hail not only from my city of birth but also from the record label that has given Scotland and Glasgow some of the greatest home grown wing-spreading in the past 15 years. With the release of their debut album Checkmate Savage there was a glimpse of a band that for a short while would be playing and creating music as wild and speculative as any imaginable. There was a rugged feel to the album and it had it’s moments and to be honest I didn’t see them releasing anything like it again – and I was right and I was wrong. The Wants is the perfect sequel to Savage but unlike most Hollywood sequels this album isn’t more is better but different is better. There are lines drawn from here to there that will tell you this is a Phantom Band album, with the crooning vocals and small electronic signature bleeps here and there, but in essence this album is like what we were promised music would be like in the future. This is the future and it’s not like this all the time. The Wants is not going to be for everyone for several reasons:
- Everyone is an idiot.
- It’s a difficult album to easily understand
- And it will consume your life like a Japanese demonic spirit.
So, polarising it might be for the unlearned masses, but whereas Arcade Fire might’ve fucked up their new album by missing the mark entirely, coming under Be Here Now syndrome and forgetting to install an editor as well as a producer, this album’s concise nine track length forgoes that need for more and gives us more. If that makes sense then I have made my point.
Pop music, get a fucking grip. Until it is discharged with a clean bill of health we can enjoy this album, this band, and their little nugget of anarchy while no one is looking. The Wants is exactly what we need.