Wednesday, 21 December 2011

A Winged Victory For The Sullen

As anyone who reads my posts on here, I'm someone fascinated by context and association in music. The way that a certain song or album suddenly makes sense under a set of circumstances, often forming associations that may live with you for the rest of your life, provides an incredible insight into the interaction between sound and conscious.

As a result, I've absolutely adored The Guardian's 'My Favourite Album' series. Not once did they rest purely on academic dissection, but rather interweaved musical analysis with a glimpse into the associations they still have behind their album choice, almost a glimpse into their life at the time. It made for faultless reading. They nearly always fell into two categories: coming of age, or sad/major events in their lives, and as one writer put it when we discussed their piece the strongest associations come out of the saddest situations (in fact, my own nomination falls into that category, but remains shrouded in secrecy on the offchance someone spikes the drinks of either Mr Jonze or Mr Petridis over the holiday season and they come a-knocking. I appreciate this is pretty much guaranteed never to happen, but a man can dream.).

It's certainly true of my album of the year, A Winged Victory For The Sullen's self titled effort. I came back from this year's edition of Indietracks a broken and confused man, having experienced a bout of extreme exhaustion that had left me in my tent by 10:20pm on the Friday night, necessitated a 3 month rest period upon my return and left me unsure if I'd see my friends again before the year was out. Part of me would like to think it was totally unexpected, but looking back the signs were there in the week leading up to it. They must've been. My calendar shows that on top of my normal work I'd made 5 trips to Manchester in a month (including attending the penultimate edition of Pull Yourself Together and being awake for 32 out of 34 hours). Something would have to have given eventually.

Quite what possessed me to tackle a 14 mile walk halfway through the aforementioned 3 month self-imposed rest period remains a mystery - one of the legacies after arriving home from Indietracks was the 2 mile loop that gets trodden on (at least) thrice daily lay untouched. But as the miles got ticked off one by one, and the vast, widescreen soundscapes created by Dustin O' Halloran and Adam Wiltzie's masterpiece were matched only by the sundrenched shoreside vistas nearby the concerns that had blighted the weeks prior were suddenly no more. It was as glorious a feeling as the sounds that were permeating my ears.

The album itself is something of a curious beast. It's somehow escaped the Achilles heel that always seems to have afflicted other ambient albums; that feeling that the listener is being kept at arm's length from the sonic goings on – a sense of being allowed to hear the creations contained within instead of being in some way included. This is an album full of instrumentals which possess a surprising amount of warmth and emotion on top of a beauty verging on – and I know the use of this word is considered poor form, but I can't communicate it any other way – ethereal. At times (especially on Requiem For The Static King Pt. 2 and All Farewells Are Sudden) it feels quasi-cinematic, but never at any point does it feel as though it would work only in that sense. So inviting is the music, so easy is it to bask in, that it becomes the soundtrack to your own little film. You become the film. As an immersive listening experience it's almost impossible to fault.

I've also found that it has this innate ability to extract beauty from surroundings and situations. Views that I've seen countless times a day and become indifferent to suddenly make their qualities known again. Looking back, pretty much every occasion I've listened to the album while having access to scenery has been a special experience – be it the sunset over the endless fields of Southern England while on a train to London in November (which fittingly marked my return to travelling and exploring), or the surreal and odd experience of wandering through the maze of Sheffield's vast Park Hill estate on a bitterly cold December afternoon with the winter sun fading over the city. I can honestly think of no other record in my collection which has created so many potentially indelible associations between sound and vision.

The fact of the matter is, however, that no matter how hard I try I'll never be able to accurately sum up why I love the record, or how much I do. The inexorable links it's formed in the short time it's been in my life have become too complex and too personal to properly document. Why waste time elaborating any further on mine when you could be somewhere forming your own? What I do know is that these associations are merely garnish on a sumptuous and rich musical platter that the record has brought to the party solely on its own merits. If you find yourself at a loose end over the festive period, get yourself a copy, head off for a winter wander and see where the record takes you. I'm willing to wager you won't regret it.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Observations From An Arts Council Of Wales Consultation

Time for something new. While we over here usually just muck about posting comments on a 6-track shuffle on the mp3 player or blathering on about our favourite records, when the opportunity came about to sit in on a public consultation for the Arts Council of Wales' draft proposal for Funding for Music Industry development....well, you just have to, don't you?

The proposal is being jointly developed between the arts council and Welsh Music Federation (WMF), an organisation dedicated to helping organisation and people involved in music, funded solely by the Welsh government. Having already branched out to include international showcases at SXSW it has also been instrumental in bringing world music conference WOMEX to Cardiff in 2013, it has now instigated an investigation into the live music scene in Wales with a view to identifying and potentially solving problems inherent in the scheme of things at present and will provide a key role in dispersing money once the scheme gets under way.

I'm not going to discuss the document itself as such – it can be found here ( doesn't especially constitute a vast amount of reading. I personally found it to be a surprisingly wide-ranging and comprehensive long term strategy, and most of my questions were addressed during the meeting. Those that weren't will be dealt with below. Instead I'm going to discuss the points made during the 90 minute consultation itself.

Given the current economic situation, there's a lot to admire about the creation of this proposal. The first is that it exists at all. The second is that its creators are prepared to venture out and talk to people 'on the ground' to gauge reaction and seek improvements. The third is that it's truly a Wales-wide venture, taking in cities across the South as well as pockets of activity in the North, such as the consultation I attended in Caernarfon. The ACoW from the outset has made it clear that this is to be a collaborative process between the industry and itself, and is actively encouraging the industry stakeholders – whatever they may be and however their interests may differ – to talk amongst themselves on the matter as well, in order to find a cohesive and comprehensive development package for the area. The body itself described the proposal during the meeting as an 'industry-led project focussed on music'.

With the Welsh being fiercely proud of its culture and identity (or parochial and small minded, depending on your point of view), the two most immediate issues of the meeting concerned Internationality and language. There appeared to be some element of contention of what exactly constituted an international outlook, with some people present suggesting it should constitute the rest of Britain, while others thought it more appropriate to attribute it to a global outlook (a suggestion was made for the two ideas to become in effect two separate levels of consideration). It was acknowledged that being truly international presented a wealth of new opportunities not only for artists and the production of records, but also for distribution and and marketing opportunities and formed a key component of any future long-term plans. This was matched with an element of caution, citing the market saturation of the Welsh literature market, where Welsh language books are being produced at far greater quantities than shops can ever hope to stock them, never mind sell. The mood in the room suggested that exposure for the Welsh music industry needed to be matched with sustainability in the long term, and suggestions were made regarding tie-ins for marketing and distribution solutions between the literature and music sectors.

The topic of language proved a complex and divisive topic, with the main point of contention being that at no point is it mentioned in the proposal. Delegates were quick to point out that language shouldn't interfere with the aims and objectives of the draft, and that it didn't want two separate systems to exist. One point that drew unanimous agreement was that language would inevitably form a central point relating to marketability and that the promotional needs for those end products would need to be altered accordingly. The ability to identify and address the issues and concerns to the choice of language an individual or organisation chooses during their application process will form a part of the selection process. It was noted – perhaps somewhat worryingly – that irrespective of language, the ability for small independent labels to get airplay of any sort was especially troublesome.

The attribution of funds to local, traditional forms of music also drew a strong reaction, with mentions of financial quotas to be created in order to ensure they get a fair say. ACoW and the WMF appeared reluctant to set these on the grounds that they didn't want to have to turn away projects based on the fact that a quota had been met, and likewise having to accept second rate projects in order to meet them. However, The discussion did bring up the possibility of greater links between local and traditional forms of music and the tourism industry.

A major problem for the industry at Wales at present is the aid given to the training of managers. Artists and organisations at present can receive training and development aid, but those wishing to provide a similar role freelance get no help whatsoever. It was acknowledged that this was an issue at the heart of the ACoW as a whole, rather than the proposal specifically. Talk also turned to giving musicians some form of business guidance to help them achieve the greatest amount possible with whatever financial assistance they receive – it was noted that for many young musicians it would be the first time they'd have come into money and guidance on spending to help deliver the greatest benefits may actually reward the Council in the long run if that project became successful.

ACoW are making it clear that they expect value for money for their investments, and have no qualms in stating that their ideal scenario would be for a project in which they've invested a modest amount delivers, whereby they can demand acknowledgement. They're keen on projects that will recycle the money given, allowing it to be used by other elements of the Welsh industry (for instance, an artist given money for recording would use it in a Welsh studio, rather than an English one) in the hope that in the long term, such continued investment will raise overall standards. Industry experts will sit in on panel discussion in order to ensure value for money is gained (tour managers can look at an artist's budget and suggest areas for improvement, etc). Investing in a label with a repertoire will provide better value than investing in a single artist. They're also clear in how they advertise it – not as a free for all to claim for a new synth etc but as something far more cohesive – and the high quality they will expect from applicants (talk of spending weeks, if not months, and a great deal of energy on the most competent, creative, and potentially viable submissions).

On the whole the document, I feel, touches upon most of the key points in the industry and identifies its current shortcomings well. If those involved take on board the concerns of those in the consultations and the process is as collaborative throughout the industry works as planned then I fail to see how, providing the submissions are up to scratch, the proposal can fail. Good luck to them. Granted to many there will be doubts concerning the lack of true 'grass roots' backing, but having been this afternoon it's easy to see how that isn't possible. There will be limited funds available and you can be seen to be giving them out left right and centre to every new band that started last week who may record a bunch of demos and then split up.

As always though, things are always going to be left out during a 90 minute consultation and what I'd like clarification about are the following:

What constitutes a 'strong track record'? What is the minimum required to be classed as having one?

When it talks about empowering promoters, is it talking purely of large-scale entities such as national opera companies – for example – or independent promoters that may be perfectly adept at their work but put on gigs to 200 people, if that?

When talking of giving financial aid to refurbish and improve venues, again what is exactly meant? A pub backroom? A dedicated small gig venue (such as Leeds' Brudenell)? A 1000-capacity venue etc.

These are but 3 small areas of clarification on what is, as I said, actually quite a detailed document. If you've any queries about it, then do as I'll be doing in due course and contact the people behind it via the means listed in the proposal that's linked on here, by 25th January.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011


 Working in retail around Christmas poses a problem. Well, not even working in it around Christmas. I started working on Christmas promotions and the like in August. As a result, the past few years have meant I'm so sick of that damn festive period malarkey that I've never really enjoyed it. It remains to be seen whether this'll play out again this year, but one thing is for certain: I've realised this year just how many Christmas songs I bloody love – being subjected to them via a piped playlist means you hear them on repeat in quick succession. If they stand up in that environment, they'll stand up anywhere. Here are some of my favourites (playlisted or not), and some ham-fisted attempts at trying to work out why.

The Pretenders - 2000 Miles

Right, let's get the elephant in the room out in the open so we can move on: most Christmas songs have all the nuance and subtlety of Noddy Holder jumping out from behind your tree as you open your presents and ejaculating into your face while shouting 'IT'S JIZZMAAAAAAASSS!'. Granted, part of the appeal of yuletide pophits is their bombast but it's still refreshing when someone does it with a sense of restraint. Enter The Pretenders. A plaintive guitar line, Chrissie Hynde's soaring vocals, and an overall sense of effortless, sweeping majesty. Behold, a timeless festive classic.

Brenda Lee - Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree

This really is just sonic crack isn't it? I defy anyone to listen to it and not find themselves whistling along by the second verse or so. As ever with songs this simple the devil's in the detail - the trebly guitar lines to garnish, the wall of backing vocals as required. Stone cold classic.

The Waitresses - Christmas Wrapping


Julian Casablancas - I Wish it Was Christmas Today

Yes it's a Saturday Night Live song turned into a single, but as Smith and Burrows have proven rather comprehensively pious Christmas songs just souund downright awful. As such, perhaps it's time to celebrate a Christmas song that has its tongue wedged so firmly in its cheek that it looks like a precocious teen insinuating a blow job. You can almost see the knowing winks betwixt Casablancas and the studio engineers as he drawls out every last letter of the 'heeeeee-uhhhhhh/cheeeeee-uhhhhhh' rhyme. It almost sounds like he's having FUN, which is not only what Christmas should be about, but is a welcome surprise from someone who recently appears to believe the only present becoming of his Strokes-mates would be a faceful of sherry glass after Christmas dinner.

The Ramones - Merry Christmas (I Don't Wanna Fight Tonight)

The Ramones doing a Christmas song poses a problem. Yes, they adored all the 60s pop and what have you, but Christmas is usually about love, and the kind of weird fucked up romance that masqueraded as love on a Ramones record doesn't really fit the bill. Answer: make a Christmas song where one half of a (I assume ordinarily) volatile and tempestuous relationship makes a plea to the other to have a nice, pleasant day. Slightly warped Ramones relationship, and a cosy concilliatory normal Christmas get whacked by the same stone. BOOM. Also manages to do all of the above while sounding unmistakeably Ramones-y. Wall of guitars? Check. Sub 3 minute song duration? Check. Pop sensibility? Check. Cracking.

Darlene Love – All Alone On Christmas

Four words: Clarence Clemons saxophone solo.

Darlene Love – Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)

Just to rub it in everyone's face, Darlene Love made not one, but two incredible Christmas songs. While the last one was built around a behemoth of a saxophone line, this one does it all by itself (despite having a decent sax solo itself). In a moment of madness I almost chose the Slow Club cover over the original, before seeing sense and realising you can't really pick a cover over a Phil Spector original. Behold as the wall of 'CHRISTMAS!' that gets wheeled out throughout the song buries itself into your subconscious, and the way the drums go all staccato and the brass builds as each passage ends. Quite the intoxicating mixture. Altogether now: CHRISTMAAASSSS!

Badly Drawn Boy – Donna and Blitzen

In the same way that The Pretenders is understated brilliance, so Badly Drawn Boy's festive offering from a few years ago in unwavering in its class and majesty. From the opening strings of the intro you know it's going to be something special, and from the gentle, lilting piano line to the cascading strings building to a crescendo it never stops being anything else than staggering. To take what's actually a simple, repeating melody and turn it into something so complete is an incredible achievement. To me, it's a criminally underrated Yuletide record.

The Pogues and Kirsty McColl – Fairytale Of New York

So then, here it is. The veritable DADDY of Christmas songs. I remember a few years back staying up late, well into the small hours of the morning, to watch a 90 minute documentary on its creation. I may have almost been falling asleep into my dinner the next day but by Christ it was worth it. It's also the only song to have led me to join in on a sing-a-long comprising an entire pub (a Scream pub. Winter 2008. Drink, I can only guess, must've been involved somewhere). There's not a vast amount to be said that hasn't been said before – McGowan's heartbreaking intro sets the scene for the tale, before the towering behemoth of a chorus steals the show. It's utterly immense and it speaks volumes that a) nothing has come close to matching it in well over 20 years and 2) the public outcry when the BBC threatened to ban it from the radio a couple of years ago for using the word 'faggot'. Cue a lot of backtracking.

But it also raises the issue of how sad some of the most famous Christmas songs actually are. We've already covered Darlene Love's odes to lonely festive days, but you'd have to be totally heartless not to be moved when McGowan's character pleads to MacColl's for forgiveness, citing 'I've built my dreams around you' as proof of his dedication. Even Wham!'s Last Christmas gets in on the Christmas heartbreak train, being the ultimate quasi-Bullseye 'here's what you could've won' tale; the musical equivalent of Den Watts serving Angie the divorce papers in arguably Eastenders' most famous moment back in 1986.


Sunday, 6 November 2011

Six Shuffle #3 - 6th November 2011

Six Shuffle is a feature where our writers play six tracks from their musical library whilst on shuffle and write thoughts on the track during the track length, no matter what song comes on or how long the song is.

The Hope Conspiracy – They Know Not…

This is the first track from The Hope Conspiracy’s ‘Death Knows Your Name’ which was released back in 2006. For them, it’s a pretty dense and taunt opener. The build is a slow, but when it finally hits, vocalist Kevin Baker is straining to be heard over the rattling percussion which is seriously loud. It’s a gruff, stomping tune that stays seesawing on this howl of venomous fury and layers of trepidation. Most notable for Baker’s roar of “GUILTY! WE’RE ALL GUILTY FUCKING PIGS!” – remember: hardcore – never gonna be happy.

Lagwagon – Alien 8 (Live)

What’s with the first track choosing? Ok, this is from Lagwagon’s ‘Live In A Dive’ – I don’t know about you, but Joey Cape is seriously one of the best punk rock vocalists around. Sure, he’s pretty nasal – but the dude has range and he’s usually in tune and his solo stuff is brilliant (check out his album ‘Acoustic’). For a live recording, this is incredibly clear, with minimal crowd cheering; a chance to hear Cape’s impressive voice and some good old Fat Wreck punk played with passion and speed.

Green Day – Scattered

I can’t stand Green Day now – their preachy, diluted, piss-water political ‘songs’ are an embarrassment. In a perfect world, they split after ‘Warning!’ and lived off of repeats of the ‘Basket Case’ video. Enough hating – ‘Scattered’ is one of my favourite tracks from ‘Nimrod’, an album that was pretty experimental for Green Day – featuring ska, surf rock instrumentals and harsh vocals. This track is pretty standard for them back in 1997, 3 minutes of no-bullshit, thoughtful punk rock done when they had some dignity and charm.

Jetplane Landing – Conventional Thought

One of my all time favourite bands right here. I first got into them at University – seeing they were playing in the Refectory (don’t ask, the bar was being used for some other event) and hearing ‘Acrimony’ from a Rock Sound compilation I went and bought ‘Once Like A Spark’, spent the day listening to it, then headed down to what was the canteen and had now become a makeshift music venue. One terrific gig later, a t-shirt sold to me by the singer and my ears ringing I knew that this band would be a big part in shaping my musical taste. Ripping off Fugazi has never sounded so good, nor has the post-hardcore racket, wailing guitars and ever-changeable spoken/sung/shouted vocals on ‘Conventional Thought.’ I still remember chanting “THEY MADE ME DO IT!” in the refectory and that was over 7 years ago.

Rancid – Coppers

Let’s get experimental! I reckon Rancid were listening to a lot of ‘Sandinsta!’ when they recorded this. ‘Coppers’ is taken from ‘Life Won’t Wait’ – their most diverse sounding album. I genuinely don’t think I’ve ever heard this song. Its 5 minutes long as well. Both Lars Frederiksen and Tim ‘HERON HERON IT’S ALL GONE’ Armstrong share vocal duties and some bloke called Dr. Israel raps on the chorus. Featuring steel drums, a reggae effect and that ska sound present from ‘And Out Come The Wolves.’ I actually really like this – might have to give ‘Life Won’t Wait’ a proper spin through again sometime as it’s been a while and any chance to hear Tim Armstrong’s hilarious singing voice again.

Taking Back Sunday – Faith (When I Let You Down)

I’m so pleased Taking Back Sunday are back with their original line-up. John Nolan really is the greatest. Him and Captain Mic-swing Lazzara compliment each other superbly, especially on this. Both harsh and clean vocals mixing nicely and overlapping, this is just what you want in your emo. I’m pretty sure it’s some sort of metaphor for them reuniting again “please don’t lose your faith in me…I’m not going anywhere…” This is from their self-titled 5th album, which to be fair, is a return to form for a band that have been so splintered since ‘Tell All Your Friends.’

Bonus seventh spin

We Are The Union – I’m Like John Cusack…

(If you’re wondering, it sounds like Four Year Strong meets some trumpets.)

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

The Fucking Snob #1

This feature gives us the ability to look down on the depths of the current popular musical trends to be The Fucking Snob – it's time to look at pop music, latex gloves on.

For the full effect list along with this post using the handy Spotify playlist. Or not. 

Maroon 5 ft. Christina Aguleria – Moves Like Jagger
What happened. I thought Maroon 5 were a band of musicians, but they appear to have been replaced by the gathering hordes of machines ready to destroy our organic way of life. The band that did those whiny Radio 2 baiting tracks that sold millions appear to have been entirely wiped out and thrown away, replaced by what seems like the usual cut and paste normal pop-shit. The autotune, wooosh effects, thudding and pointless drum line. Ugh, what the hell. Also, point of contention; if anyone moved like Jagger they'd get fucking no action at all, colostomy bag needed for the full Jagger effect.

Calvin Harris – Feel So Close to You Right Now
This track is only worthwhile for the absolute fucking laughable attempt at making it seem like he's from the US in the video – yes, they still make music videos, who would've thought it! It is the usual plodding track from Harris who manages to sing the one line once and well, using that as the basis for a song. It would appear that with songs like this that have no beginning, middle OR end, it just kind of stops without any idea of where to go. What's the point?

Ed Sheeran – The A Team
There's not even one mention of the actual A Team in this track, so massive points lost there. Also, the rhyming here is fucking atrocious, as is the whole sickly feel of the song – it sounds like that Nizlopi band's B side to the JCB song that was everywhere a couple of years ago. The feeling is of doing a really smelly shit inside a clothes hamper at the base of your bed.

Christina Perri – Jar of Hearts
I actually had no idea this wasn't a track that had been specially commissioned for the X Factor. It would appear that people have realised that they can make a shit ton of moeny from playing the piano and singing some warbling shit about love again, rather than spending a lot of money on it all. Pop music has returned to the Wet Wet Wet era of music, which is interesting as maybe we'll have a large 19 week number one that kills a band's career. Sometimes, we can only hope. I'd be hard pushed to pick this track out of a line up when paired with anything by Adele a washing line with black bin bags tied to it, or a police officer taking his shoes off after a day of work. It's so mundane and boring, like musical bullshit.

Dappy – No Regrets
Impressive intro on this track – no words uttered for the first few lines, just muttering. The line "done been through it" makes me want to smash up my iPod. I only really know Dappy from being kinda associated with N-Dubz and the impressive hat wearing on Nevermind the Buzzcocks appearance. I actually can't decide if rhyming "Camden" and "Richard Branson" might just be the greatest thing I've heard this year, like some beyond the pale genius that I can't quite get my head round. This has to be tongue in cheek. I mean... it must be? Even the key change made me burst out laughing. It's not tongue in cheek? Oh. Oh dear.

Ed Sheeran – You Need Me, I Don't Need You
This... this is the same guy as before? Okay, that's impressive as it's quite different from the other song, but there's loads of lines in here that are really meta; talking about how you write songs, didn't go to Brit School, and mentioning Damien Rice, it just feels like the kinda song that you write as a kid when you want to be in a band – it has amateur all over it. Then he has the incredible temerity to even suggest that he is rapping. I am not sure what to make of this – the thing is no matter how current you make a track seem, by namechecking Youtube, Myspace, or even Melody Maker, it just dates the track. The songs that have lasted from the 1980s and 1990s didn't mention Sega Mega Drives, SNES', nor did they refer to Gated Snares and 808s defensively. It feels like this song is almost a set of excuses; it certainly is the most defensive single i've heard in a long time. Ed Sheeran, why are you so worried about how you are seen? Just write good music and see what happens.

Jason Derulo – It Girl
Jason "Jason Derulo" Derulo next. I can't stand it. It has that clap snare that sounded dated in 1994. Good gracious me... our children are going to laugh so much at the sound of our vocals from our time – the same way when I listen to the snares and reverb from the 80s, Autotune is going to sound like a fucking disaster in 2020. Our kids are going to hate us. They will despise this era of music. Oh god, what the hell have we done. We've gone and ruined music for ever.

Olly Murs ft Rizzle Kicks – Heart Skips a Beat
You know something – considering this track is a tiny bit of popular music pre-cum from the Behemoth Cowell and another popular music roll of the dice from an X Factor disaster scene, this track is sonically pretty impressive. There are more deep synths and slight and subtle moves under the melody than anything prior in this column. The death knell of this track is the crowbarred in guest spot from some little guys who I've never heard of. Acording to my Spotify playlist of "Top Tracks" they actually are next. I think not, sorry boys. You'll have to wait for another Fucking Snob time.

In summary
I went in looking for a fight. I walked into the charts and said "come on if you think you're critically impressive enough" and I got what I wanted. Nothing there impressed me and nothing changed my mind. The Fucking Snob is satiated for another time.

Monday, 10 October 2011

The Novice’s Guide to the Intricate Nature of New Music Genres

I am an electro and techno novice. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that I am a music novice, despite spending hours and hours each week listening to varying genres and lovingly gobbling up facts, names, dates and discographies in my spare time. The fact that the people who write on this blog are essentially all bound by the same loving affection for music, I don’t many of us are masters of it. Or maybe that’s just me.

See, music for me has always become more amazing the more I try to learn about it. When I was younger it seemed a very small thing; essentially only existing as far as the radio allowed me to hear. Of course, that was a silly assumption, but it was the reality of music as I grew up. There was this “past” that existed because my parents had heard it, and the present as I heard it. It took an awakening in my early teens as to music’s true widespread nature, and it opened my eyes. Bands that are known to do this to people are known by some as “gateway” bands; the bands that open our eyes to further deeper knowledge and sourcing of greater expanses of music from around the genres of music.

I was brought up on rock music, and slowly found electronic music via my love for the recent output of Radiohead and Boards of Canada. If anyone is to say that the Radiohead albums I am referring to (specifically Kid A and Amnesiac) are over rated, I can only suggest that they might be right, but what it gave me was something beyond simple music. They opened my ears and mind to a whole new style and creative process behind music. Electronic music that was cerebral and interesting suddenly existed beyond the Ibiza Annual adverts and the club music that I had grown up with.

This awakening has only brought me to realise just how little I do know of the music that I am getting involved with. When I discovered the branch of rock music that is named “Shoe-gaze” I was aghast at not having known about it before, and quite quickly I devoured Slow Dive and My Bloody Valentine, the two poster-bands of the genre, and then moved onto more obscure types of shoe gaze, ending in the other genres of shit gaze and electro shoe gaze, or “nu-show gaze”. All made up genres, you understand, much like the “nu-rave” fascination for those three months in 2006.

It led me to remember a phrase I heard at work early this year; “a jack of all trades, a master of none” – my skimming of these genres, and others, had lead me to not really delve deep into them in the same way that my rock music knowledge was. It is always a difficult expectation of people when you start to dip your toes in the deep ocean of a new genre, especially ones that are so wide and vast that it might seem daunting.

I fell into minimal techno via an incredible thread on the world famous Drowned in Sound message boards a long time ago. It is a legendary thread on there for bringing to the masses an almost exhaustive compendium of musical choice cuts from an incredibly detailed hive mind of music (if you want to read the thread, it is here , but be warned – it’s 827 replies will make it a lengthy one to load and an even lengthier one to read) It spawned a massive Spotify playlist that sadly is no longer around, but I picked off various cuts from it and bits and pieces I liked and sprinkled these tracks all over my Wednesday Graveyard playlists that I religiously built in 2009 and 2010. I’ve abandoned them since, but I wish to return to them in the future, and I will post them on here if and when I do.

I made the conscious decision to get into this genre a few months back when I became very bored of rock music almost overnight. I didn’t quite fully grasp the nature of my commitment, and it is only when I look at being involved more and more the less and less I actually seem to know. I started loving The Field and was chastised for not listening to Arthur Oskan, Patlac, or Walls. I’d not heard of them; I now have, and they intrigue me.

The journey into a new music genre is always quite a challenge. First of all you need some guidance on where to even start, and in some cases even that is a most contested point. If you chose the wrong era, or the wrong route to start down, you are either going to be put off for life or going to be sucked in for the long term, reading up on Wikis, detailing on Discogs and most importantly, seeking out all their music on Peer to Peer networks, sharing mixtapes/iMixes, jumping up and down on Spotify playlists and... god help you, joining a forum.

Interestingly, despite all of this, I still enjoy it more than anything else I find in music. Sure, I love seeing bands live and hearing new material from artists I know and love, but there is nothing more daunting or exciting than realising that there is a whole world of new music out there that you might like or you might hate and that’s the point. It is obviously not for everyone, and those who seek out details in each genre are quite different to those who exhaust their singular genre, but that’s the beauty of it. I can write 1000 words on why and how to approach a new genre, and Nick or Gareth could write 1000 words on why they love a particular song. That’s the beauty of it all, really.

Music is cool.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Six Shuffle #2 – 7th October 2011

Six Shuffle is a feature where our writers play six tracks from their musical library whilst on shuffle and write thoughts on the track during the track length, no matter what song comes on or how long the song is.

Elbow – Picky Bugger
From their album Leaders of the Free World (the last Elbow album before their songs started being used to soundtrack every montage in TV history) this track is a rare vicious track, with a dark key and swearing – a bit different to the mellower Elbow we know now. I actually really like Leaders of the Free World, as it’s the album that I discovered Elbow from. It’s shorter than I remember though, but I love the clapping at the end.

The Cast of Cheers – Derp
I love this album – it feels like a better, more mature Bloc Party, with their cool factor still intact. There’s a loud level of math-rock to this album, and this track is a winding and flipping version of the shouty nature of the band. It was available for free from their Bandcamp last year, but is very much worth the money that they are wanting to lay it out – it has that excitable nature that debut albums sometimes don’t have, when someone is doing something not entirely new, but certainly something that will get your attention when it comes on. A very good album.

It is also worth noting is the lovely art work (posted below). It’s very Why?-esque, but it works.

Steven Milne – Falling
Ah! A local boy from Aberdeen: a close contender for my next New Scottish Music column. I ran into this album by going to see the Twilight Sad play an acoustic set, and Steven Milne (who is in the band Little Kicks) wowed the crowd with his lovely solo album. It really is a fabulous singer songwriter album and well worth sourcing. This track gets the hairs on the back of my neck standing on end – it must be the melody on the chorus that does it, and it feels so right and so good. Genuinely a good find and another reason to love my local record shop One-Up. I will get round to writing another column full of new Scottish acts for the winter, and he will certainly involved in the post, this album’s been on my rotation for a while now, and sits proudly in front of my iPod dock CD hi-fi player.

(The) Phantom Band – Folk Song Oblivion
My review of their second album The Wants was a vitriolic run through the worlds of “fucking pop music” and was for a while my favourite bit of writing I’ve done for here. It reads a little petulant and a lot like a music-indie prick acting out, but I kinda still stand by it, mostly that the album is the best British album of the last few years. This is from their debut album, Checkmate Savage, and is a probably the best song they have on that records. The sweeping riff feels like a cloud growing over a mountain, like a folk song mutated thanks to the Mutant X gene. It also feels like Cthulu, swarming a shipwreck. I love it, despite it being linked directly to me lodging my car ontop of a rock one night when going hillwalking and almost destroying my car, and certainly destroying the land owners lawn. Oops.

Battles – Toddler
Um... I’ve not really gotten into the new Battles record, but I loved Mirrored. This seems like a random interlude and is quite nice. It has a feel of one of those mobiles you get on babies beds – maybe that’s where the name came from.

The Twilight Sad – Made to Disappear
This is my favourite track from their second album Forget the Night Ahead. It’s something to do with the drum rhythm being a little off, and different, and it feels so good to drum along. “You said forget the night ahead... but you’ll never find her on her own...” genuinely love this track. It has this slow approach to the guitar that’s quite different to the actual sound of the drums and juxtaposition seems to work in the songs favour. It feels really good.

Interestingly, I am listening to these through my new Etymotic HF2 Earphones, and I have just noticed a little squeal on the guitar at the chorus I’ve never heard before. I love when that happens.

Bonus Seventh Spin
Dananananaykroyd – Some Dresses

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Six Shuffle #1 - 28th July 2011

A long time ago, in 2008, I had my own music blog with a friend.  I wrote a lot on it.  One of my favourite things that I did was a feature called "Six Shuffle" - I would play my entire musical library on Shuffle, six times in a row, and have to write something about the song or artist in the time that the song played for, without skipping the track.

It was fun, for me at least.  You can check the archive by clicking here. Be warned, it's wanky and poorly written for the most part, so it should be fairly recognisable as my own writing.  So, here it is: the "rebooted" first edition of Six Shuffle for Tones of Town.

The Twilight Sad - Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters
The final and title track of the debut album from one of Scotland's greatest recent exports.  The Twilight Sad are up there with some of my favourite bands of all time, simply because they seem to do exactly what I wanted to do if I had been in a band - loud angry Scottish vocals, spooky lyrics, crashing waves of distortion and guitar, and thudding drumming.  They are my own musical tastes distilled into one band, and this track, a long, winding, immersive ambient track, misses a few things that make the band such a favourite of mine... but that is precisely why I like this track so much.  It embodies their range, and also echoes there EP release Here, It Never Snowed. Afterwards, It Did. that expanded on most of the tracks from the first record to this slow, drawn out expanse.  It works.

The Beatles - We Can Work It Out
This is a stark contrast to The Twilight Sad.  Taken from Past Masters Vol. 2, or the indie-est selection of Beatles tracks you can get this side of the Stereo versus Mono debacle that plagues their back catalogue.  I made the mistake of keeping the Stereo mixes as they play havoc with my left-ear deafness - it sounds like the Fab Four are screaming in my right ear with a band playing just slightly off to the left, in a different room.  Anyway, this song is one my favourites from the band, partly due to the changing pace of ryhthm, and the sweet melody that permeates through the track.  Also, an accordion?  Points given.

The Horrors - I Only Think of You
This neatly ties to a Tweet I made a few weeks back:

I have barely listened to any Horrors material before the release of the recent album Skying, and I did feel dirty listening to their third LP before their first and second, so I acquired them and started listening to them... but they made no impact.  This track is over 7 minutes long, and in that run time it feels like nothing happens.  It is like a cover of How Soon is Now? or My Bloody Valentine that never quite made it.  The production feels like 20 years old, which isn't a bad thing... but it feels so bloody boring.  Maybe in context it works, but as a solo track... meh.  Also, I am yet to be convinced by Skying, but it's at least slightly more interesting on first listen that this track.
Radiohead - How to Disappear Completely
Ah, Kid A... the best/worst Radiohead album there has ever been - in my eyes, it's their Magnus Opus, but my best friend finds it abhorrent.  He is an ardent Bends/Pablo Honey fan, and can't even really listen to OK Computer.  However, in a spate of that "you SHALL like what I like" I have tried to force the later Radiohead releases upon him, letting him hear Knives Out, or Reckoner, and this, one of their most beautiful songs ever put to record.  Some suggest Nude is better, or Street Spirit, or even the recent Codex, but this for me is such a fabulous pop song, with exquisite instrumentation and a clever structure, especially in the face of the rest of the album.  You can draw the lines from this to Nude, I guess, seeing as they are from similar time periods in the bands lifespan.  I really enjoy Kid A and Amnesiac, as not only are they good records, but my gateway albums into electronic experimentation and various other artists, which I think they were and are for a lot of music fans. 
Boards of Canada - Paul Russell's Piece
Speaking of moving into electronic music, Boards, already circle jerked by me on this blog, appear here in one of their shorter, rarer cuts.  The track just ended... moving into...

Boards of Canada - Dayvan Cowboy
Apple really need to look at their random algorithm.  I have 50Gb of music at my disposal and they pick two Boards tracks.  I am not complaining.  Dayvan is one of the stand out tracks from the band, and their most famous track - it's adorned hundreds of BBC programmes since it's 2006 debut.  It appears also on the 2006 EP Trans Canada Highway, which I love.  It's not my favourite Boards track, not by a long way, but it's certainly one that I love to hear, and smile when I know it's coming up.  The previous track in the shuffle is actually from their first "release" if you can call it that, whilst its canonical presence within the Boards discography is still discussed amongst fans.  See, it comes from A Few Old Tunes (Side II) which is a bootlegged tape of cuts from before the band had made a true release.  The story suggests that it was handed out to friends and family in the 1990s.  It has a sister; Old Tunes Vol. 2, both of which I downloaded a long time ago - I don't even know if a real copy still exists. There is still a lot of mystery surrounding the release, which I happen to love.

Bonus Seventh Track
Incubus - Magic Medicine

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Sunday New Music Challenge 1

A few Sundays ago I felt that it was a good day to try some new music; I had eMusic credits, some money to burn, and the idea that this week I'd like to listen to something good.  So, I did this on Twitter:

In return I got three suggestions in due course from @PPlasticHelmet, @Jook and @marckeetect.

So, unto the new music!

PETRELS - Haeligewielle

I am a man of varied musical tastes, and I really want to expand my samplings of various genres.  I have slowly delved into "IDM", also Minimal Techno, as well as Bleep and Glitch, but another one is ambient - I enjoy Oren Ambarchi and Fennsz, so more of this type is currently what I would like.  My musical tastes are jarring, if anything, and once you compare this album to my previously listened to entire Hives back catalogue in one sitting, this felt like a sudden intake of sharp fresh breath on a December morning.  It felt like ice, like air-con in musical form with a dark streak. It is swirling, dark, deep, and grandiose - a soundtrack to the soul.  The album is seven tracks long but it really feels like it should infinitely loop forever.  Simply put, exactly what I like.  Electronic ambient is right up my obtuse muso street, and this release is excellent.
Get this album here.

BUNKY - Born to be a Motorcycle

When giving myself the challenge, I mentioned that it should be an album that I "might like" - and when I fired up Bunky for the first time I was distracted by friends that were over chatting and relaxing. I said "Let me put this on, it's new and I've not heard it before" and within the first few tracks I had been asked "Who is this?".  I didn't really know - the funny thing was that this was the point of this whole thing, and Bunky is exactly what I wanted.  I love the use of the brass section, I like the playful lyrics, the breathy and shouty vocals, and I also really like the strutting nature of the tracks as well.  Wikipedia, my old friend, tells me that the band are from San Diego, and the name of the band is a combination of the words "bunny" and "monkey", so no real help there.  Bunky do sound like a band having fun, which is good, and feel like they have little pretence either, which is really good.  Very, very enjoyable.
Check Bunky out here.


Oh. I had heard of Scritti Politti once before; their name has been mentioned with derision by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant in one of their XFM Radio shows.  This album, which seems to almost not even exist outside of Mediafire, Pitchfork, and the fact I can listen to it, makes me quite confused.  Also, the album  feels like it should be interesting, in a way. I listened to Scritti Politti whilst I was sketching a fictional city's transportation network (something I do for fun) on a break during work and it's disjointed, scattered... it is obviously intended as political, and as an apolitical person it doesn't strike me as anything interesting.  I am sorry to say that this kind of music, with its barked lyrics, loose structure, and middling instrumental performance, which is obviously part of the whole deal, doesn't work with me.  It is beyond what I like in my day to day life.  In essence, the complete extent of political music that I like is Rage Against the Machine and that's 'cause they say fuck a lot.  Not for me, I'm afraid.
Scritti Politti's Myspace. :D

Friday, 1 July 2011

Your Favourite Writers #3 - NICK

Who are you?
Nick Dunkeyson. Yes, that is my real name.

Where are you?
N19, init.

How are you?
Pretty good, beyond the fact I'm spending my Friday evening fiddling around with a blog.

What are you?
Public sector enemy-of-the-right-wing-press; defiantly mid-twenties; music fan; sports nerd; computer game nerd; generally a nerd; hopefully vaguely likeable; totally pretentious.

How do you listen to music?
With my ears, hahaha. Erm, I listen on my commute (and return commute), sometimes on computer at home, go to gigs. I guess most people do.

How long have you been listening to music?
I guess I properly got into music around 2002, but obviously I'd listened to (and owned) odd bits before then. But mainly 2002, A-Level days.

First album bought by yourself for yourself?
Lightning Seeds – Jolification. Which I'm not remotely ashamed of.

Who were your “gateway” band?
Turin Brakes or Doves, I guess. Certainly The Optimist and The Last Broadcast were two of the first albums I played over and over again. Actually, maybe it was Coldplay, because I did listen to Parachutes masses too. Yeah, one of those three.

Favourite moment in any music ever for sending shivers down your spine? And why?
Christ, I set these questions and I've asked still myself a super-hard one. So I'm going to pick a few: Salif Keita – Yamore feels like it transports you to a hill overlooking Bamako or something, and you get the awe of this amazing foreign sight, except in music. Erm, Gorillaz – El Manana always gets me, there's just such tremendous sandess in that song. And of course loads and loads of Sigur Ros, with probably the chorus from Starálfur just pipping that moment when Untitled 3 takes off, and the moment HoppĂ­polla kicks in a close third.

What music would it surprise people to know you like?
This is going to sound like I'm taking the piss, but I genuinely really really rate Blue by Eiffel 65. It's a bit unsophisticated, but it's catchy, it's simple and incredibly effective, and damn – it's how all that Europop should've been. It's not trying to be anything it's not, and for that reason, it's not a guilty pleasure, it's just a damn fine song.

Remember music videos? What's your favourite?
Chevy Chase and Paul Simon crack me up on You Can Call Me Al,but for music and and a visual idea coming together, I'm gonna have to for No Surprises.

Do you care about album artwork any more? You do? Great! What's your favourite, and why?
Well, I don't really. But if you press me, Clem Snide – End of Love really nails the kind of slightly sad nature of the song; it's a bunch of family polaroids, but it's presented in a way that feels like something lost.

What's guaranteed to get you on the dancefloor?
The Walkmen – The Rat, LCD Soundsystem – All My Friends, TV On The Radio – Wolf Like Me. In the latter's case, it's also quite likely to earn me a shin injury resulting in a two-weeks-later-guess-I'd-better-visit-A&E-then moment.

What's guaranteed to get you off the dancefloor?
Depressingly, music I don't know. But I'll definitely take a step back if someone puts on Pavement or Guided by Voices or something.

Who's your favourite person as a person in music?
Everyone loves Guy Garvey, and so do I.

Best injury caused by music?
Anyone who's ever stage-dived and not been caught. Watching Jack Black hurl himself face-first on the floor was the only enjoyable moment in the super-creepy wince-fest that was School of Rock.

Best music caused by injury?
Luke Haines claims he didn't deliberately throw himself off a wall when touring Now I'm A Cowboy, but in any case the fact he was in a wheelchair for however many months probably contributed a hell of a lot to the gloriously acerbic sneer-fest that is After Murder Park. Bleak, darkly humourous and with this undercurrent of bile, it's British mid-nineties guitar music par excellence.

Most you've ever embarrassed yourself in the cause of music?
When at Uni in Nottingham, in my old band, yeah, I insisted on going on stage with a double vodka and guava juice. Guava, for those that don't know, produces a juice in a quite feminine shade of pink. In hindsight, mega-cringe.

Imagine someone you fancy, right. What band is it they say they love that tips your over the edge?
Maybe Sigur Ros. I'm a sappy old thing really and it'd be the idea of cuddling up to someone listening to Takk...

Worst band you've ever seen live?
The Magic Numbers were pony, but the worst I've ever seen was this band called Gisli, who supported the Beta Band on their farewell tour back in, what, 2004? JESUS FUCK they were rubbish. Mid-tempo, boring, overlong songs. Thankfully they were never heard of again.

Did you just fart?

You did, didn't you? God almighty. I'm trying to do a music questionnaire here.
Leave me alone.

Tell us your favourite story you've ever heard about some musician.
I was always amused by how Talking Heads – or rather, David Byrne - tried to write and record the vocal for Blind. It's one of their later, not very good songs. Apparently what they did was got him all dressed up like an office worker, sat him behind a bureau and had him improvise loads of stuff over the music. By all accounts it went on for hours, until he was sweaty, everyone was veering on the edge of sanity, and then called it quits.

After all this effort, after all this hard work, what did they get out of it? Well, not much. Most of it was ditched, and all they had was the daft “Blind blind blind blind!” chorus, for which “naff” just doesn't cover. We learn two things from this: one, bands will resort to desperate measures when they're running out of creative inspiration (like the previously brilliant Talking Heads were), and two, affectations and trying to be different just for the sake of it do not work.

Favourite soundtrack to anything – film, computer game, TV show, commercial:
Well, I wrote a whole blog on the Final Fantasy soundtracks, so yeah, those.

Whistle the theme from “Midnight Cowboy” for me.
Sod it, just listen to it for yourself.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Your Favourite Writers #2 - ROSS

Who are you?
Ross is Boss

Where are you?
The Cente of Funk (aka, Biggleswade)

How are you?
Perfectly cromulent.

What are you?
On Halo: Spartan General Grade 1. In real life: Lapwing Commander

How do you listen to music?
With my ears and sometimes a CD player or whatever is currently clogging up my hard drive.

How long have you been listening to music?
Ages. Since this morning I reckon.

First album bought by yourself for yourself?
Now 29 ON TAPE! - (tryhard indie bellend)

Who were your “gateway” band?
The Prodigy. I remember getting 'The Fat of the Land' for Christmas and being very excited and then playing it to death. I'd never heard anything like it before - completely blew my mind. They were perhaps the only band I was interested in, until discovering Blur and The Manics (only ‘Everything Must Go’).

Favourite moment in any music ever for sending shivers down your spine? And why?
Actually, I’m going to say a quite recent one, as I was going to just say “whenever I’ve seen Brand New play live” but I saw Them Crooked Vultures last year at Download and I’d had a few shandies, but their performance was absolutely mesmerising – possibly a weird combination of drunken excitement and brilliant music, but I’ve never felt quite like that before, it was a weird euphoric bliss. So yeah, their whole set was one big spine-tingle of WOW.

What music would it surprise people to know you like?
Even though they look like terrible douchebags I really like 3OH!3 and their ridiculous rapping and frat boy PARTY WHOOO antics.

Remember music videos? What's your favourite?
You’re Not Alone’ by Home Grown. It’s kind of a parody of typical pop-punk videos – always some little hidden in-joke dotted around in the annotations; i.e. lots of mocking directed at the drummer and a close up of Dan (which he hates).

Do you care about album artwork any more? You do? Great! What's your favourite, and why?
Yeah I care about artwork, it’s part of the record, it ties it all together. It’s packaging, it’s something to relate to the music you’re listening to. Plus, it’s good for your stupid friends who don’t know which album certain songs are on, so you can say “it’s on the album that has the fat naked man in a box on the front.”

Favourite? STANDARD

What's guaranteed to get you on the dancefloor?
Anything associated with DJ Lethal.

What's guaranteed to get you off the dancefloor?
Anything that doesn’t ask you to take it to the Mathew’s Bridge.

Who's your favourite person as a person in music?
Without a doubt, it’s John ‘Speedo’ Reis. He’s the Swami of punk rock and one of the nicest dudes I have met, a true gentlemen and a fantastic guitarist.

Best injury caused by music?
Saw a band called Arnocorps about 5 years ago in a small venue near my home town. The singer wanted a stage invasion; I scrambled up there with several others and found myself hugging the singer – then suddenly I was sitting on the drummer’s kit and he started hitting me in the back with his sticks. I couldn’t move for several seconds due to the cram of people, but was quite relieved (as was my back) to be free. I ached a fair bit the next day, but that’s rock ‘n roll.

Best music caused by injury?
Steve Snere of These Arms Are Snakes; completely ruined on whatever drugs/alcohol he’d been consuming before the gig, acting like it was the last days of Rome. His knuckles were bleeding, he’d probably been rolling in broken glass and I witnessed him smash his back on a monitor near the end of their set, but by god, he put on amazing show, mostly due to injuring himself during the night. Nutter.

Most you've ever embarrassed yourself in the cause of music?
Probably my awful singing voice – had to follow one of my friends who can actually sing at a karaoke night and I pretty much murdered ‘Enjoy The Silence’. I was out of key, forgot half the lyrics and started doing some ridiculous hand-dance moves and dropped the microphone several times. I got a sympathy clap from the guy running it.

Imagine someone you fancy, right. What band is it they say they love that tips you over the edge?
Rocket From The Crypt.

Worst band you've ever seen live?
Lots of competition for this. In the smaller bands stake, it was a group called Lion Sex. Two of them thought they were in Steel Panther – quite the opposite lads. One of them even had a wireless bass. Try-hard glam rock, that everyone in the venue and I mean EVERYONE looked bored to tears with. I felt embarrassed, the band must have felt embarrassed, the claps were surely out of sympathy. After a woeful cover of ‘I Fought The Law’ they finally stopped which was for the best. One of the first times I’ve seen a band properly die on stage.

In the bigger bands stake, definitely Five Finger Death Punch at Download in 2010. Possibly the worst band I have ever seen. Someone needed to tell them that nu-metal was about 9 years ago, obviously didn’t get the memo and their macho-bullshit dross they call music was so awful and contrived I was glad when their set was cut early due to a load of fans swarming the stage. I genuinely have no idea how anyone could consider this band as a favourite, let alone wear a t-shirt of theirs, but the amount of belms I witnessed wearing them was staggering.

Also, Stone Temple Pilots – either get to rehab or stop performing you old cokehead.

Did you just fart?
Yeah, apologies.

Tell us your favourite story you've ever heard about some musician.
I’ve always found the fact when Papa Roach first started they didn’t have a guitarist, but instead had a trombone player really, really funny. Imagine if they’d kept him onboard for ‘Infest’?

*Trombone solo*

Favourite soundtrack to anything – film, computer game, TV show, commercial:
Probably the Halo Reach soundtrack; wonderfully overblown in places, yet quite moving in others. Hats off to Martin O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori for making just breathtaking soundscapes.

Whistle the theme from “Midnight Cowboy” for me.
I tried to, but I ended up humming the Jurassic Park theme really loudly instead.


Who are you?
Mark Peter Shields

Where are you?
Houston, Texas, by way of Glasgow and Aberdeen.

How are you?
Fine; tired, and too hot.

What are you?
Young, bearded, skeptical Scottish-man.

How do you listen to music?
Headphones whilst working, or in the car on the way to work.

How long have you been listening to music?
First album was bought for me in 1995 (Hits 1996 and Now' 35 I think, both on double cassette), so around 16 years in total, but really listening music probably only since 4th Year at High School, which was in 2001, so ten years or so.

First album bought by yourself for yourself?
Idlewild - 100 Broken Windows

Who were your “gateway” band?
Certainly Coldplay, at first, and then others from that acoustic-era in the beginning of the last decade, such as Turin Brakes, Starsailor, and maybe Kings of Convenience.

Favourite moment in any music ever for sending shivers down your spine? And why?
Both the buzzing synth line from LCD Soundsystem's Someone Great and the drop to a lower key in Ashes in the SNow from MONO's Hymn to the Immortal Wind.

What music would it surprise people to know you like?
It would surprise many that I love Celtic Fusion and have seen several bands that perform such music, like Peatbog Faeries. I also regularly go to the Celtic Connections festival that takes place in Glasgow in January of each year.

Remember music videos? What's your favourite?
Jamiroquai's Virtual Insanity is the best.

Do you care about album artwork any more? You do? Great! What's your favourite, and why?
I love artwork that is a photograph and has no title or band name written on it, that is the best. Currently I really like the Phantom Band's The Wants cover, but also the new Mark McGuire compilation has very good artwork.

What's guaranteed to get you on the dancefloor?
Anything by Franz Ferdinand, Lostprophets, or Belle and Sebastian.

What's guaranteed to get you off the dancefloor?
A song that uses autotune.

Who's your favourite person as a person in music?
Jarvis Cocker or Roddy Woomble; it's the music and the beards.

Best injury caused by music?
Black eye and hospital visit when playing drums and losing, quite spectacularly, the control of the right handed drum stick, and almost blinding my self in one eye. Or, if you can count it, my impending deafness. I suppose you could ask me later in my life which.

Best music caused by injury?
Eh... no idea.

Most you've ever embarrassed yourself in the cause of music?
On a first date trying to use my guest-list entry to go and see This Town Need Guns when my name wasn't on the list. Luckily, I knew the promoter and guy holding the night, who let us in, but for a short while it was touch and go. And it was a fairly dreadful gig.

Imagine someone you fancy, right. What band is it they say they love that tips your over the edge?
Not a band, but a genre; post-rock.

Worst band you've ever seen live?
The Star Spangles, in 2002, in Edinburgh.

Did you just fart?

You did, didn't you?

God almighty. I'm trying to do a music questionnaire here.

Tell us your favourite story you've ever heard about some musician.
I went to a night where Roddy Woomble was DJing, and he was on fairly late as the bands had ran late. There wasn't that many people left milling around on the dancefloor, except for me and my friends. He put on an amazing Celtic folk song, and I decided that I'd go and ask him about it. He later admitted that he was trying to clear the dance floor and go home, and they'd let him play anything he wanted, so was playing that. We conversed about his attempts to clear the dancefloor and how they'd been fairly successful.

Favourite soundtrack to anything – film, computer game, TV show, commercial:
The entire LA Noire soundtrack is amazing because of the 1940s Jazz that it uses which is absolutely brilliant, and I am listneing to it a lot, but I think the best gaming soundtrack is Shenmue's. I don't really like TV or film soundtracks.

Whistle the theme from “Midnight Cowboy” for me.
I don't even know what that is.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Scottish Bands for the Summer

Like it or not, the large percentage of my musical wares that I keep on my iTunes and thundering through my earphones and speakers are from my home-country. It was partly due to the fact that I grew up there and have an affinity to push those who are from the same crucible of life that I came from, but also that there's just been something about the music that Scotland has been producing in the last few years that has resonated with me.

Resonated with my fucking soul.

If I was to list the bands on my current iPod that are Scottish, you might blush with embarrassment for me because I am so biased, I shouldn't even be writing this, putting pen to paper or even putting cursor to LCD screen, but recently there's been another burst of bands from Scotland that have blown me away, in various ways, and some of them have been around long enough in my ears for me to finally write a bit about them and be like "aw yeah, look at what I have listened to that you haven't, so get on it and listen to these now!".

If I am lucky you'll like them. Which you will because if you don't I'm going to grab my honours and get them round your house and pan your windows in. But you will like them, because they are all amazing.

It's rare for a band to drop into my lap randomly without me remembering where I heard them first, but for some reason Found are exactly that. I can't remember where they came from, be it from a recommendation, a review, supporting a different band, but they were synced to my iPod a while ago and haven't left. Hailing from Edinburgh the band have been around for ages, really, and I kicked myself for not investigating their music earlier... but maybe they didn't exist before I had heard them, and have been planted into the memory of things afterwards, so that's not my fault. Clever trick. I have been mostly taken in by their third long player Factorycraft that was released earlier this year on Chemikal Underground, the bastion of Scottish expression that they are. Listen to this and then head here to get it.

Kiss me. No, seriously - kiss me right in the face. If you haven't already, you will be stupid not to after I've told you about this other tiny band that hails from Glasgow. OVER THE WALL are like, the best ever sex you've ever had, but it was video taped and you are watching it on a Saturday Morning, with Phillip Schofield and Gordon the Gofer introducing it. It's quite amazing pop-electronic-fun and, well, also has something that I love - melody. If you were to listen to the album Treacherous long enough you'll end up wanting to rush out and buy it - this happened to my friend in Texas who literally bought the whole album after hearing the track Istanbul twice. So listen to it here and buy the album here (Sorry for the Myspace link, ugh).

Find more Over The Wall albums at Myspace Music

Aberdeen, represent. I first saw these gentlefolks powering through a set supporting a band in Aberdeen, and since then have seen them a few other times, picking up a CDR or two along the way and FINALLY they have managed to get a record out and by the thunder of Thor it's pretty special. I've yet to pick a copy up (I will pick one up from my local record store in Aberdeen, the bloody brilliant One Up, when I get home OR grab one from their Bandcamp page) (linked at the bottom). So what do they sound like? Well, I think it's like a more electronic or experimental Twilight Sad, but that's my useless attempt at sounding like I have any idea how to describe their pulsing rhythms and grand vocals that bound across the soundscape. Live however, they sound entirely a different beast, so loud and thudding, like a hell march set in 1990s Falaraki. I'd listen to the album and see what you folks make of it, but they are excellent. And from Aberdeen, did I mention that? So listen to them here and then go and buy their album from here.
Empty Your Lungs and Breathe by IndianRedLopez

What is it with going to Idlewild play concerts and being barraged by some of the best support acts I have ever seen? In going to Idlewild concerts I have been introduced to The Walkmen, Stapleton, The Twilight Sad, and now Fatherson. From Kilmarnock (which for some music writers is close enough to be called Glasgow, but I know different) this trio came at me like a bolt of hot sweaty thunder, like an erection in the middle of watching a triple heart bypass. It was such a surprise to hear the loud-quiet dynamics from such a close knit group of young fellows. I quickly purchased the EP Where the Water Meets the Land and decided that I really liked them - I mean like I want to make them a mix tape like them, they are that interesting. They have since released another thingmy online, Town For Tourists are due to release the self-titled EP in July 2011. I guess you could go and see them live, if you so fancy it... They are great. So listen to them here and go and get their EP here.

So, now that you've heard them, GIVE THEM A HUG at a live show:
FOUND, OVER THE WALL and FATHERSON are all playing the Summer Nights festival run of shows at the incredible King Tut's Wah Wah Hut. Get it on.

INDIAN RED LOPEZ at Box in Glasgow - 25th June 2011 AND Snafu in Aberdeen - 30th June 2011

Monday, 20 June 2011

Father and Son: Tim Buckley, Jeff Buckley and Me

So, one of the things I remember about meeting people at university who weren't really into music was that they all absolutely fucking loved Jeff Buckley's version of Hallelujah. Even more so after it was on that episode of the O.C., you got all these geography students and trainee primary school teachers emoting to it whenever it came on wherever you were. If this were Rob's history in High Fidelity, essentially it's the new Baby I Love Your Way, or something.

That's a bit unfair on poor deceased Jeff, and I'll happily admit his version of Hallelujah is bloody good. It's ridiculously over-the-top on the melodrama, but when you've got a voice like that, you can pretty much get away with it. Besides which, if you've ever seen Leonard Cohen's performance of it on French-language TV, you'll wonder how Jeff pulled that much heartbreak out of it.

Nonetheless, I went through uni sporadically enjoying Jeff Buckley, especially Lover, You Should've Come Over and Grace, for what it's worth (always skipped Lilac Wine, obviously). And yeah, Grace is still a good album, for all that it's quite rightly criticised as being overindulgent it shows someone not afraid to show off their numerous musical talents, and while it's gained some extra fame (infamy?) since his death, I don't really think it's undeserved at all.

But one day I discovered Tim Buckley. Now, I knew Jeff had a vaguely famous Dad to some degree, but he was just one of those names to me at that some point – someone I'd heard of but never bothered to engage with. At that time, he'd sit alongside John Martyn, Richard Thompson, Neil Young...y'know, the sort of people who shouldn't be gaps in your, er, listening history. In any case, an opportunistic young me picked up a whole bunch of Tim Buckley CDs from someone on a messageboard (who I'd go on to have a feud of sort with) for next to nothing, just on impulse. And they're a mixed bunch. His last album, Look at the Fool, for instance, sounds like what it is, a man coming to the end of his tether both creatively and technically (his voice! His poor voice.)

So now I've badmouthed him, I'm going to build him up to high heaven. For those that don't know, Tim Buckley died in 1975 at the age 28 as a result of doing what can only be described as a large amount of heroin, having released nine albums. Yeah, nine! They really worked them hard in those days. His first album was only in 1966, and it's a self-titled, vaguely psychedelic, obviously Beatles-influenced poppy album. Considering he'd essentially go on first to be a folk-rock staple and then a slightly misguided step towards what was described as “sex funk”, the dude definitely knew a genre or two.

It's for his folk-rock and free-jazz stuff that he's best known. Starsailor – from his free-jazz leanings – is his most highly-regarded album, and yes, that is where there early 00s English yawn-core band got their name from, but my favourite is, of all things, a not-very-well-known live album from his folk-rock days, Dream Letter: Live in London.

It's a two disc affair, recorded at Buckley's first ever performance in England (or outside North America at all, really). It's a stripped back affair, with voice, guitar, vibes and bass, and he rattles through twenty songs (over 16 tracks) with that wonderfully soulful voice, sympathetically backed by his band; songs passing through 7 or 8 minutes sometimes without ever seeming like it. Supposedly – though I know this from Wiki-browsing – these performances, with more improvisation and less of a focus on being the “folk-rock poster boy” he apparently was, alienated audiences a bit. Well, more fool them, it's totally hypnotic. Phantasmagoria in Two gets a cheer, and deservedly so, though not until everyone recognises that “If a fiddler played you a song, my love” line. It's still a magical song, as is Morning Glory, a surprising song of anti-sentimentality, demonstrating perhaps a bit more than the simple declarations of love Buckley can be associated with.

On studio recordings, Tim Buckley's voice can seem a little over-produced. Add raspiness and remove the fake-gravitas from the album recording of Pleasant Street, and it's slightly menacing, but rich and honest in a live environment. The guy was what, 21 when he sang this live? 20 when he recorded it? Already with a heck of a body of work behind him and a strange knack for sounding mature in tone and deed? Christ. My highlight of the live album is Buzzin Fly, perhaps a simpler number, a more straightforward song, but Buckley's rich, pleading voice and rhythmic guitar drives the song along as the band flex their muscles. This is more of the traditional love song, but the slight jazz feel to it that belies the path he was taking gives it that extra dimension. Sure, at heart it's a folk-rock song, but it's about as good as folk-rock songs come. Elsewhere, check out the sparse, solo performance of The Earth if Broken, which is so quiet you're straining your ears but it's worth it.

It's his voice, isn't it? That honest sound to every syllable; that's the key that makes me really buy into Tim Buckley. His son's is a little too ostentatious, and maybe that's why I've always felt a little distant and excluded, it's someone showing off rather than consoling with you. Tim Buckley's voice is pretty much empathy and sympathy incarnate. This man, who released nine albums in nine years across a ridiculous array of genres, battled heroin addiction, and eventually drove himself to destruction. He was a fantastic writer of songs, and an addictive live performer from what little I've heard, but the way his voice just pings off the heartstrings...that's how music gets me.