Wednesday, September 4, 2013

WMP Nominees - Fist of the First Man

The Welsh Music Prize shortlist was announced a couple of weeks ago, and I immediately decided that I was rooting for Praxis Makes Perfect by Neon Neon. It's a great album with great songs and a great back story (not to mention the great gig-cum-theatre performance it spawned) - what could possibly beat it?

And then I realised that I had absolutely no idea of what could beat it, because Praxis Makes Perfect was the only album on the list that I'd actually heard. The music I listen to tends to come from the States, and considering that I used to write for a local music magazine, I am shamefully ignorant of all the great stuff that's right on my doorstep. I'm familiar with most of the nominated artists: I've seen Racehorses and Fist of the First Man play live, reviewed a single by Little Arrow, and conducted a blimmin' interview with Metabeats (albeit via email). But if anything, these experiences just destroy any excuse I might have had for not listening to these albums.

So I've decided that every Wednesday between now and Swn Festival will be dedicated to one of the albums nominated for the WMP. I'll be having a listen to each album in turn, and deciding whether or not Praxis Makes Perfect really is the best of the bunch.

I'm starting with Fist of the First Man, because they were great when I saw them live (opening for Public Service Broadcasting last December) and I figured that the album would be equally good. I had to download it from FotFM's bandcamp page, because when I asked for it in Spillers I was told that the limited pressing had sold out (maybe time for a second run, WMP-nominated band Fist of the First Man?)

Sadly, when I finally sat down and listened to Fist of the First Man, I was a little disappointed. The songs aren't nearly as dramatic as I remember, and while that restless, uncomfortable energy is still present and accounted for, the studio stuff never sounds as dramatic, or as urgent, as the live performance did. The "industrial post-rock spaghetti western bazaar" has trundled out of town, it seems.

That said, when I did go back to my PSB review (mostly seeking evidence that I was listening to the same artist), I was reminded of how good the bass work was that night, and actually, it's still pretty awesome on the album. But something has definitely changed; Mothers Against Violence in particular is worlds away from what I remember, with soulful vocal samples that sound like DJ Shadow, of all people. Cool, yes, but not what I wanted from Fist of the First Man. it better than Praxis Makes Perfect?

Nope. It will take something severely stellar to top Neon Neon's second album, and while FotFM surely know their way around a groove, this album just isn't connecting with me. A few more listens might endear it to me a little more, but to the extent that I prefer it to Praxis? Doubt it.

Come back next Wednesday to see what I make of the next nominee. I haven't decided who it will be yet, but that all adds to the suspense, don't you think?


  1. Praxis Makes Perfect is not a Welsh album and Neon Neon are not a Welsh band.

  2. That's a very fair point, although the WMP panel would presumably disagree. Perhaps they decided that one Welsh musician (and a guest spot from another) was enough to justify its inclusion on the list?

  3. It's not a guest spot. Boom Bip is 50% of the act and from the US, this makes it a 'half Welsh' album by a 'half Welsh' act...Would Atoms For Peace be up for the Mercury?

  4. The Mercury albums are announced next Wednesday so I suppose we'll find out then! Cate le Bon is the guest I was referring to, but you're quite right - if one Welsh person is all it takes, then The Velvet Underground & Nico is a Welsh album, too.

    Does anyone reading this know anything about the criteria for WMP eligibility? I suppose the collaboration with National Theatre Wales might have helped PMP's claim to Welshness...

    Out of curiosity, which WMP album are you rooting for, anonymous commenter?

  5. I was surprised that the Neon Neon one made it myself (having been on the original jury where there was a lot of to-ing and fro-ing over its validity). General consensus did seem that 50% of the band would be enough.

    Last year's winners, however (Future of the Left) don't even fall into that category but have been based in Wales for an acceptable amount of time to be considered Welsh - kind of like a musical green card.

    I agree that the guidelines need to be a little more set in stone next year.

  6. If a band operates out of Wales (like FOTL), then I think that is grounds enough to be accepted.