Friday, July 29, 2016

A Martha Kind of Love

What do you think of when you think of romance? Chocolates, flowers, pink cards containing gooey messages written in swooping, swooning cursive?

If so, then Martha - Durham's foremost purveyors of charityshop jumper indie rock - want a word with you.

Martha's new album Blisters in the Pit of My Heart opens with a track called Christine, ostensibly a tribute to the bassist from Milky Wimpshake. In its chorus, we are introduced to Martha's somewhat unusual idea of what constitutes the perfect love story:

"Passion forged under a four pound box of wine,
That's when you knew, when you felt certain it was love,
He held your hair while you were throwing up,
I never heard a more romantic story,
Christine, everybody else just bores me."

In Martha's world, traditional notions of 'romance' are to be treated with scorn ("naïve romantic shite", as Do Nothing puts it) - real love, they imply, begins in strangers' bathrooms and outside shitty clubs and on hard shoulders, not on sandy beaches and in candlelit cafés like in the movies.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Albums of 2016: 3 to Look Forward To

About a month ago, I shared my ten favourite albums of the first half of 2016. The big question now, of course, is how many of those albums will stick with me long enough to make my proper end-of-year list in December.

To be fair, I've already heard some albums that would've made my halfway list in June had I heard them in time - Mitski's superb Puberty 2, for one. But today, I'd like to look ahead to the coming months and focus on a trio of forthcoming albums that I'm very excited to hear. Don't be surprised if all of these end up in my final countdown come December - if the ten artists who made the list last month are wondering who they ought to be worried about, I'd suggest that these are the top three contenders:

Away by Okkervil River
Release Date: 9th of September

 I love Okkervil River. I have loved them since my first year of university, but I've fallen even deeper even love with them recently, mostly thanks to the release of The Silver Gymnasium (which I spent a whole week blogging about) in 2013 and my belated discovery of the even better Down the River of Golden Dreams early last year. Now they've got a new record on the way - I already adore it for its gorgeous cover art (above), and the two songs they've released so far are very promising indeed. Check out nostalgic heartstring-tugger The Industry below.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Green: The People's Favourite R.E.M. Album

Last week, I ran a series of polls on Twitter to determine once and for all which of R.E.M.'s 15 albums (and one EP) people like best. I called it the 'World Cup of R.E.M. Albums' and it worked in much the same way as an international football tournament, with a group stage followed by a series of head-to-head knockout rounds. 

There were lots of surprises over the course of the tournament. For example, Murmur - the debut album that Rolling Stone named 'Best Album of 1983' ahead of Michael Jackson's Thriller - sensationally crashed out in the group stage after failing to amass more votes than either Lifes Rich Pageant or Automatic for the People. Quite a few people weren't best pleased with this result.

The eventual winner was also something of a surprise. It wasn't Out of Time (the one with Losing My Religion), and it wasn't Automatic for the People (the one that's sold something like 18 million copies to date), and it sadly wasn't Fables of the Reconstruction (my personal favourite) either. Nope - it was actually 1988's Green that emerged victorious after beating its immediate predecessor, Document, in the grand final with 56% of the overall vote.

So what is it about Green that resonates and elevates it above all else in the eyes of the many R.E.M. fans who voted for it? Certainly, many of the album's tracks are quite politically-driven, and it's not hard to see how that might appeal to weary liberals in 2016, the year of Trump and Brexit and goodness knows what else. World Leader Pretend in particular sounds almost prophetic, what with all its talk of walls and stuff.

Other examples of Green's appetite for tackling big issues abound: the title of Orange Crush is a reference to Agent Orange, a chemical weapon utilised by US forces during the Vietnam War, while Pop Song 89 politely asks if we ought to talk about subjects like climate change ("the weather") and the government more candidly. I Remember California sounds like an ominous vision of nuclear apocalypse on the Pacific Coast, although admittedly that may be because the phrase 'Trident submarines' carries certain associations here in the UK.

Friday, July 22, 2016

In Eyeland

You may remember The Low Anthem as that band who recorded their albums in an abandoned pasta sauce factory. They specialised in rickety folkish music; songs like Charlie Darwin and Matter of Time were gorgeously affecting, and yet so fragile that you worried you'd break them simply by listening to them. That empty pasta sauce factory was a hugely important part of The Low Anthem's whole deal, lending their recordings a cavernous sound that made you feel as if you'd stumbled across a beautiful, glistening gem in a dusty corner of an old, derelict building. I saw them on the main stage at the Green Man Festival in 2011, and their performance that evening sticks in my memory for the way that, by some strange alchemy, they managed to make a large natural amphitheatre situated in the shadow of a mountain feel cosy and achingly intimate. 2008's Oh My God, Charlie Darwin was their breakthrough album, but its successor, Smart Flesh, remains their crowning masterpiece in my opinion.

After a five-year hiatus, The Low Anthem released a new album last month. It's called Eyeland, and if you remember The Low Anthem as those quiet weirdos who would hang out in abandoned buildings and sing old-fashioned songs about apothecaries and ticket-takers...well, prepare to have your preconceptions shattered.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

20 Things I Hate

Inspired by this blog post. Mine's far shorter and a bit more music-specific than Fourfoot's, though. And unlike Fourfoot, I haven't bothered to put mine in any particular order.

  1. People who use the phrase 'real music' (e.g. 'Now Led Zeppelin, that was real music, not like your modern electronic nonsense where all you have to do is press a button.') Please stop talking to me and go away.

  2. Oasis. 

  3. People who dislike Oasis 'except for Definitely Maybe, that was a classic debut'. Not it wasn't. It was rubbish.

  4. 'UK tours' that don't include any dates in Wales. The bridge isn't that expensive, guys.

  5. Bands who reward you for showing up to their gigs by ordering you about (e.g. 'Come and stand closer to the stage! You are allowed to dance, you know!')

  6. The song Don't Stop Believin' by Journey.

  7. The fact that I can't listen to a Busted album without remembering that they publicly endorsed the Conservative Party in 2004.

  8. The fact that I can't listen to a Meat Loaf album without remembering that he publicly endorsed Mitt Romney in 2012.

  9. My own very irritating tendency to let a musician's political views affect my enjoyment of their music.

  10. The fact that you have to log into Spotify in order to listen to a Spotify playlist that's embedded in a blog post/article. SoundCloud doesn't fuck us about like this, and SoundCloud LOVES fucking people about, I'm told.

  11. Hidden tracks that are separated from the actual listed track by 5 or 10 minutes of silence. Bonus hate if the hidden track is actually any good (I'm looking at you, Jarvis Cocker's Cunts are Still Running the World) because I might have wanted to put it in a playlist or a mix or something, y'know?

  12. Drummers who insist on using a jillion different cymbals, toms, et cetera, even if the song doesn't really call for it (and no song really calls for it). You know what impresses me? Drummers who can take a knackered snare drum, a knackered floor tom, and a knackered crash cymbal and make it work nevertheless. Surrounding yourself with unnecessary add-ons just reminds me of that spoilt fucker I knew in high school who was given a very large, very expensive drumkit that he had no idea how to play.

  13. Vinyl records. Granted, they're sexier than CDs, and maybe the sound quality is slightly better, but neither of those perks compensate for the format's many shortcomings. Vinyl costs more, takes up more space, damages with infuriating ease, and can't be ripped to your computer unless you invest in a certain piece of hardware. Oh, and you have to get up and flip the record over if you want to listen to a whole album. Nuts to vinyl.

  14. The way everyone fawns over The Beatles. Never did all that much for me. Ticket to Ride is good, I guess. And I like some of the tracks on Abbey Road. But I don't see why they're still - decades later - held up as The Best Band of All Time.

  15. Bands who pander to the 'real music' people I mentioned earlier and make a killing with their 'save rock 'n' roll!' rhetoric and their ho-hum, nothing-to-say rock songs that people blindly lap up because they were made with electric guitars instead of laptops.

  16. The presence of Pet Sounds near the top of every 'best albums' list I've ever read. I remember listening to it a few times and just finding it so absurdly dull.

  17. That moist clicking sound that you can hear on some records because the singer stood too close to the microphone and it picked up every tiny noise their mouth was making. It feels like you're pouring yesterday's gravy in my ear - please stop.

  18. Band apparel nazis. 'That girl's wearing a Ramones T-shirt! I bet she's never even listened to the Ramones!' Fuck off.

  19. The almost entirely meaningless 5-star scoring system beloved of so many music publications. 

  20. People who start petitions just because an artist they don't like is headlining a music festival.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Smash Hits: Helen Love's Pop Scrapbook

When I was little, I had a friend named John who kept a scrapbook of all his favourite things. Its pages were filled with drawings of the Power Rangers, stats about Liverpool Football Club, pictures of his favourite wrestlers, and all sorts of other stuff like that. It was basically a physical document of everything that was going on in his seven-year-old boy brain.

Helen Love's new album, Smash Hits, came out a few weeks ago on Alcopop! Records, and brilliantly enough it seems to have been written and recorded via much the same approach as John used when he was compiling his scrapbook. The cover art is a gaudy collage of stars and guitars and goodness knows what else, with the band members pulling their coolest and most punkily aloof faces in the middle of it all.

This image is the perfect representation of what Smash Hits actually sounds like. This album is simply twelve tracks of punky cut-and-paste pop par excellence. Euphoric opener First Girl from Wales in New York samples a plethora of famous NYC artists like Chic and the Ramones, while You Can't Beat a Boy Who Loves the Ramones (they're a bit obsessed with the Ramones, this lot) features snippets from Ghostbusters and Bonnie Tyler's Holding Out for a Hero.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Review: Beneath Your City; As You Dream by Robberie

You're sitting in a pub in Sheffield. The beer is warm, all the chairs have arms, and it's open mic night. Currently crowded into the makeshift stage area (actually just a corner of the room that's been cleared of chairs and tables) is a band called Robberie, a local three-piece armed with acoustic guitars, a glockenspiel, a melodica, and a tambourine. They are certainly one of the better acts you've seen this evening - right now they're playing a song called Journeyman, which spins the story of a lower-league footballer into a moral about how you don't have to be famous to touch people's lives. The singers pull off some nice harmonies and the song goes down well with the regulars, who are probably thrilled to hear something that isn't yet another cover of Hotel California.

Robberie's short set is a highlight of the night - the two or three songs they play are fun, original, and quirky without ever being, y'know, quirky. As you head to the bar for another round, you promise yourself you'll track them down on SoundCloud, but in the end you forget to follow up on this mental note and Robberie more or less disappear from your memory.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Conosci Victor Jara? (or, A 25p Gamble)

Perhaps one of the best things about CDs is that, unlike DVDs, they don't use region codes. You can't buy a Pokémon boxset off US Amazon and expect it to work in your lousy limey DVD player, but you can go to see a folk group in Ireland or a jazz trio in Japan or a country singer in Texas and you can buy their CD and you can take it home and show everyone.

Not that that's how I came to own Consosci Victor Jara? by Daniele Sepe.

I actually bought a second-hand copy of this album from The Record Shop in Cardiff back in 2012. I had never heard of Daniele Sepe before, but I decided that the eye-catching artwork was just too colourful to pass up, especially given that they were only asking 25p for it.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Puberty 2

Do you remember when you hit puberty? I sure as heck don't. I remember boys in school talking about the exact moment their voice broke or their balls dropped or whatever, but I have no recollection of experiencing a 'BAM! Puberty!' moment like that. Where others spoke of puberty as a sort of instantaneous levelling-up, I just sort of gradually noticed that my voice was changing, I was getting spots more frequently, and I had fur where there was no fur before.

In retrospect, though, my teenage years were pretty uneventful in general. While my friends were having scandalous hook-ups, explosive break-ups, and all manner of drunken drama in between, I was mostly watching from the sidelines, convinced that I was somehow above it all (teenage me was kind of a dick). I remained a virgin until the age of 18, and I didn't drink until I was 19. I don't think I even masturbated for the first time until I was in university. My adolescence was primarily defined by playing in bands, listening to music, and sneering at my peers for being normal teenagers who did normal teenager things.

pictured: teenage me

My twenties, in contrast, have been far more tumultuous. Since turning 20, I've been cheated on, I've imbibed an ungodly amount of rum, I've vomited on pavements, I've been to parties that I could scarcely even remember the following day, I've jumped into bed with people mere hours after meeting them...I've basically done all the stuff that my friends were doing when we were still in secondary school. At times, I've felt happier than at any other point in my life; I've also felt more lost, more hopeless, and more bereft of direction than I ever felt during my occasionally stressful but always neatly-structured journey through school and university. In short, my twenties have belatedly given me a taste of the drama, the thrills, the emotional strife, the existential uncertainty, and the heady recklessness that most people associate with adolescence.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Backchat: Johnny Foreigner on Their Back Catalogue

It's time for another edition of Backchat, where awesome bands offer some insight into the nooks and crannies of their back catalogues.

I first discovered Johnny Foreigner in December 2008, when they supported The Futureheads at a gig in Cardiff. They put on a very impressive show - very energetic, very shouty, very sweaty - and I ordered their then-latest album, Waited Up Til It Was Light, soon afterwards. When the CD arrived in the post, I excitedly unwrapped it and immediately dropped it on the laminate floor in my parents' hallway. The case was horribly cracked, which was devastating, but fortunately the disc itself survived, and the songs thereupon were just as energetic and shouty and sweaty as they had sounded at that Futureheads show.

Johnny Foreigner have come a long way since 2008 (although I, regrettably, am still the clumsy butterfingers I always was). Their fifth album, Mono No Aware, is out on Alcopop! Records today, but before we get to that, here are JoFo themselves to take you through the story so far...

From left: Lewes Herriot, Junior Elvis Washington Laidley, Alexei Berrow, Kelly Southern

we left you sleeping and gone now
(self-released, 2006)

Junior Elvis Washington Laidley (Drums & Noises): This is our first ever album. It was my first "proper" band and I joined after Alexei and former member Daniel decided they needed a drummer. What I'm fond of when remembering recording this record is the complete freedom of time and deadline. We were just doing it because we could, spending pretty much every evening down the studio with no grown-up real life commitments to make us compromise. Experimenting with sounds and recording chants in the rain. Even after a night out we'd usually end up there again, just because. It's a record I would love to steal most of the songs from and record again.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

My Favourite Album: Variations on Swing (Guest Post)

Today's blog was very kindly contributed by Jamie Halliday, founder of a record label called Audio Antihero (the self-proclaimed "specialists in commercial suicide" who released such great albums as Kind of Blah by Frog and There is Nothing More Frightening Than the Passing of Time by The Superman Revenge Squad Band).

I told Jamie to write something about his favourite album and...well, he had a bit of a time deciding what exactly his favourite album is, but he eventually came up with this ace post about Variations on Swing by Meet Me in St Louis. Enjoy!

Music has always been quite a solitary thing for me and more often than not this meant a fixation on just a few artists, rather than a broader enjoyment of many. I think this has shaped how I’ve run my stupid record label

Even still, I'm kind of fickle and I've probably had a lot of 'favourite albums', so it's possible that I never really had one at all. Nirvana, Joy Division, Dr. Dre, (hed) P.E, Jeff Buckley, Deftones, Lacuna Coil, Gary Numan, Bruce Springsteen, Glassjaw, The Smiths, At The Drive-In and others have all made albums that were my 'favourite' at one point or another. Some albums lost their shine and some were tarnished by their creators doing shitty things, but others still feel like heaven.

Since I have no definitive favourite album, I've chosen one that wasn't just influential, but inspiring too. Meet Me In St Louis issued a rough-as-fuck demo in 2005 and I loved it. I might never have heard it were it not for the fact that I vaguely knew their bassist, Lewis, from college and I guess we had some mutual friends. A rare occasion where I actually knew something.

MMISL started to do well and their debut EP, which came out in 2006 on a label called Function Records, was mind-blowing. None of the bands we knew were doing anything like that. MMISL offered hope that if you had something special and it resonated, then there was a real world out there. I listened to that gorgeous EP on a loop. 

Then, in 2007, they released Variations on Swing on Big Scary Monsters.

While I had loved everything that had come before, this was somehow different. These weren't songs that really made sense. It was violently emotional and musically unpredictable. The band themselves swore they didn't understand time signatures, that it was just how stuff was coming out. This kinda sounded like bullshit at the time but it feels true now.

Toby Hayes was a one-of-a-kind vocalist and lyricist. For me, the meaning of his words change every year. The album is uncompromising. It's a near-perfect 10-song album that doesn't sound it like was made for any specific audience, time period, outlet or purpose. Despite its ferociousness, it doesn't feel like a Rock record. Rather, it feels like music for the soul. I don't want bands that sound like MMISL, I want bands that feel like MMISL.

Not long after the album came out, they split up. It was unthinkable at the time, but really, that wasn't the end. The band members individually went on to make lots of music that I ended up loving; in particular, Shoes and Socks Off and Colour led me back to Big Scary Monsters, who delivered heaps more bands for me to love. That Toby continued to make great and creative music post-MMISL was something that I found inspiring too. This proved that one door closing isn't the end of the story, that you can tell your story in different rooms, to different people, as long as you've something worth telling. In a way, MMISL gave me all of this music. I believe that the best music doesn't just claim you as a listener for itself, but instead it gives you more music to listen to. It doesn't mind sharing you.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Still Valid: An Intergenerational Review

Still Valid, the new album from MJ Hibbett & The Validators, is out today and well worth a listen if you're a fan of catchy punk songs with lyrics that make you chuckle so much that you almost miss how insightful they are.

Now, many of this album's tracks deal with the theme of getting a bit older and thinking about the past and stuff, and I worried that as a mere 24-year-old I might not be able to fully appreciate the middle-aged wit and wisdom on offer here. To counter this problem, I played the album for my mum and asked her to write down some of her thoughts, which you can find below after my own review of Still Valid. I'm hoping that, by offering a perspective from either side of the big four-oh, we can do this ace little album justice.

Reviewer #1: Joel Dear

Blogger, copywriter and musician, born in 1991

I'm nearly halfway through my twenties now, and the prospect of getting older still is a pretty terrifying one. I've been doing the same job for four years and I increasingly feel like I've missed my chance to be a rock star or a successful music journalist or, y'know, something actually fulfilling.

Friday, July 1, 2016

June Playlist: This Ledge I'm On

Welcome to the second half of 2016, motherfuckers! As June is now over, here are 10 of the tracks I've been rocking on the regular over the past month...

1. It Was Christmas When I Fell Apart - Little My
(from Beeps)
Contrary to what this song's title might suggest, Little My's Beeps is a lovely, summery listen with loads and loads of fun pop moments. Read my review here.