A music blog, reviews and comment from an overly opiniated 26 year old London bloke

I don’t get Animal Collective, am I stupid? September 3, 2009

An Animal Collective fan (artists impression)

An Animal Collective fan (artist's impression)

I’ve posted before about guilt in music listening habits. It’s probably something I should have shaken by now – people like what they like – but from an early age I’ve had a sense of what I am supposed to like, that’s quite apart from what I actually like.

It’s something I suspect every music fan suffers from to a degree. I read an enamoured review of a new album, one that tells me I “absolutely must listen to this”. I start to believe that if I don’t, or do but don’t love it, the insinuation is that I’m not a proper music fan. Nay, I am ignorant, perhaps even stupid.

Neurotic right? How can anyone take that from a harmless album review?

I became heavily interested in music at 13 with the release of OK Computer, so I’ve always figured myself as a reasonably intelligent music fan. I’ve always tried to read intelligent music journalism, so got very into Pitchfork a few years ago. I read their reviews of the latest geeks with beards and a synthesized harpsichord with a convert’s exaggerated enthusiasm, laughed at their brutal dismissal of bands like Black Kids. Pah! Melody? Pah! Songs you can sing along too? Pah! That’s for the pop-munching moronic hoards.

But a sense of unease was underlying all this (and it wasn’t because of their positivity about Lilly Allen, I successfully dismissed that as a bizarre quirk, only increasing their perceived all knowing – they must have seen something I didn’t). I quite liked Black Kids. Yes, their debut had a few weak tracks, they’re not about to release a genre-meshing-game changing-magna-opus written on African finger xylophones, but they’ve got good poppy songs you can dance to.

I also wasn’t doing very well at getting into that staple Pitchfork band, Animal Collective. Or Panda Bear for that matter. After repeated listens to Strawberry Jam and Person Pitch I was finding I could see the brilliance in bits and pieces of what they did, the harmonies, the rhythms, but none of it hung together enough to keep me interested. None of the tracks had what I felt necessary to be likeable – a hook, either through melody, or some kind of structural musical pay off.

I followed the ridiculous hyperbole around Merriweather Post Pavillion (what a daft name, for a start) excitedly. This had happened with another Pitchfork band, I hadn’t been able to get into TV on the Radio’s Cookie Mountain, but then they released the ‘more accessible’ (read: better) Dear Science and hey presto I had a new second favourite band, for that week anyway. This was Animal Collective’s Dear Science! It wasn’t just Pitchfork banging on about it either, Drowned in Sound, the Observer Music Monthly, even the NME – who normally will only get behind a band if they have the pop sensibilities of the Vengaboys, as long as they’re in skinny jeans.

So I listened. Hmm. Listened again. Still nothing. Again? Nothing.

I thought I got it, it’s like the Beach Boys, right? Yeah, Brian Wilson was a genius. Copying him seems like a good idea. But the Beach Boys songs – despite being deceptively unconventional in instrumentation, percussion and structure – still had hooks by the bucket load. I still only come across the occassional hook in any of Animal Collective’s work. They may be more frequent in MPP than previous albums, but sorry, still nowhere near enough for me.

I like other bands that are supposedly part of the same scene. I’ve got Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest on regular rotation at the moment, but even they sound more than a little pretentious when they actually start talking about their music. You can almost hear the beards being stroked on the recording…

Am I stupid? Am I missing something? I just can’t help but feel time listening to Animal Collective is wasted, when it could be spent listening to something more satisfying. My opinion is that AC fan’s are in fact the fools, having been sucked into the Collective Furrowed Brow. I suspect that no one really likes them, they just tell their friends that so they can look clever, and no one questions their choice of facial hair or black horn rimmed glasses, despite no optometrical requirement of them. Really, when no one’s watching, their iPods pump Fall Out Boy into their hungry ears, and they sink into melodic gratification.

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Scotland: the greatest GMP per capita? July 17, 2009

Perhaps the greatest Scottish band of them all?

Perhaps the greatest Scottish band of them all?

Beatles, Radiohead, Led Zeppelin Vs Nirvana, The Beach Boys, The Velvet Underground – the debate of whether the US or UK has produced the greatest bands has raged on for many a year. But what if we distill this question by factoring in size of population, as often seen in judging great sporting nations, or evaluating economies, then what is the greatest nation on Earth? Which nation has the greatest Gross Musical Product per capita?

Well, obviously Britain. At times the list of my favourite bands has been weighted in favour of American artists, but never so much as the country’s population is weighted against the UK’s. I’m fairly sure only the most isolated Americans (or people who’s music taste is limited to one or two genres, like country, hip-hop or Uzbek shoe gaze) could possibly say different . If anyone can suggest another country, I’d like to hear about it…

But what if we were to concentrate this further, to within the UK? England, right? All the greatest bands, as mentioned above, plus there’s the Stones, the Sex Pistols, Joy Division, Blur… I could go on, for a very long time.

So what have Wales got? Manic Street Preachers, admittedly, made one and a half good albums. Stereophonics have probably got enough decent material to put one listenable album together (none of it has been recorded since 1999 mind). Feeder have some tunes, I even liked Funeral For A Friend’s first album (anyone who hasn’t Busted-jumped to Juneau is not qualified to argue against this). But then Catatonia, Lost Prophets and Tom Jones cancel all that hard work out. And really, Gold Against the Soul sort of self-cancelled out the Manics.

Northern Ireland: Ash and the Undertones, instantly erased by Snow Patrol.

So that leaves Scotland as contenders. Mogwai, Boards of Canada, Biffy Clyro, Frightened Rabbit, Franz Ferdinand, Primal Scream, Teenage Fanclub, Belle and Sebastian, Camera Obscura, The Twilight Sad, Idlewild, Seafood, Jesus and the Mary Chain, The Skids… how many people live in Scotland?! Currently according to the BBC, it’s 5,062,011. That’s almost one great band PER PERSON, a ratio of 1:1!* Wales have a population of 2.9 million, and only 1.2 great bands, so that makes their ratio 1:2,416,666.

So you might have noticed I may be being slightly biased here, and you might (if you’re really clever) have assimilated that my name probably indicates some kind of Scottish heritage. But seriously, let’s consider a country that has a similar population to Scotland, Finland. How many great Finnish bands do you know? More than the Scottish bands listed above? No. Nowhere near. Actually I can’t name one, sorry, world music guilt setting in…

Any other nations punching above their music to population weight? Sweden? Iceland? Sweden have Sounds Like Violence, The Hives, but a population of 9 mill. Iceland have Sigur Ros, Jakobinarina, Bjork, and a population of around 300,000. It’s good. It’s very good. But it’s still a ratio of 1:100,000, that’s 100,000 times worse than Scotland.

* Not scientifically calculated

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Jack Peñate, Everything is New (2009) June 17, 2009

Filed under: Blog,Reviews,Sticks — gloamsticks @ 11:29 pm
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Every summer needs a soundtrack, right? Around the middle of April every year every DJ and music hack starts harping on about their predicted tune for the season of sun (or occasional sun in between downpours, as it is here in the UK).

I never pay much attention, partly as I’m an album kind of man so I’m more likely to have a full LP to soundtrack my summer. Plus it’s always more personal for me, an accidental discovery that sometimes isn’t even a new release. Today I heard what I think may be my album for summer 2009, it wasn’t really an accidental discovery (I was talked into giving it a fair go by the Observer Music Monthly) and it is a new release, but it is extremely unexpected.

Who’d have thought that foppish indie schmindie solo artist I tried to resolutely ignore back in 2007 would turn out to make an album that should grab me like this?

A well judged brief 9 songs in 34 minutes of inventive pop, it’s not going to change the world, but it doesn’t let up for a second. Single Tonight’s Today nicks some of Vampire Weekend’s African style guitars and layers them over a samba rhythm, Give Yourself Away goes even more samba, So Near is the most happifying song I’ve heard so far this year.

I don’t really want to write about the same albums as everyone else on this blog, and I know that’s exactly what I’m doing here, but I’m excited enough about this album to break the rules for one post.

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What I’ve learnt from Britney Spears, O2 Arena, 14th June 2009 June 16, 2009

Filed under: Blog,Reviews,Sticks — gloamsticks @ 10:37 pm
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OK. I admit it. I was at a Britney Spears concert on Sunday night.

I think there's an international tabloid star in there somewhere...

I think there's an international tabloid star in there somewhere...

I would go through the rigmarole of explaining how my girlfriend couldn’t find a single other sole in the world to accompany her, and that I was only dragged along kicking and screaming. I could claim that as she tried to push me through the entrance to the O2,  security detected with special muso detecting equipment that I wasn’t really supposed to be there, explained that no one with any credibility or discerning music taste would be allowed to enter and that I would have to abstain. But the fact of the matter is, I thought I’d probably enjoy it really. And I did, without half the incumbent guilt I was expecting.

I was expecting to need be defiant about my attendance, I knew the ribbing I was in for from my friends, I’d already had a bit of it having told them where I’d be on Sunday night. The best way to deal with it would be to say “yeah, I went to a Britney gig, I loved it, and so would you, what are you going to do about it?” I’d planned a blog post about it being not only a good gig, but a fantastic gig, that all us serious musos could learn from. “You wouldn’t get juggling clowns, magicians and trapeze artists at a Mogwai show,” I’d say. “Stop being so pretentious everyone, I’m comfortable enough with my music taste to see Britney. Maybe there should be unicycling jugglers as part of the next My Bloody Valentine tour.”

Which might be true, but it’s not what I learnt. Some of you will not be surprised at all to hear that I went to a Britney Spears concert and learnt absolutely nothing. Nothing about music, anyway. This being a music blog, technically I shouldn’t be writing about it here.

Britney’s support act (apart from Ciara, who I thought I’d never heard of but did recognise some songs, she seems to be some kind of robot Beyonce emulation) was a circus. The same circus was integrated into the main performance, in this show that was billed as The Circus Featuring Britney Spears. Which sums it up really, Britney was constantly surrounded by dancers, clowns, acrobats, rollerskaters… for large portions of the night Britney was not even on the stage. She wasn’t really the main attraction of the night, and neither was her music. There was so much going on visually that thankfully I found I didn’t even need to pay too much attention to what was going on aurally. Discussion of how much she mimes seems laughably off the point, frankly, as if a Britney show is about music, let alone live singing.

There were people playing instruments, I had a good view of a viruoso drummer, but 80% of the rest of the crowd wouldn’t have been able to see him hidden in a pit to the side of the stage. Bizarrely the bass player was allowed to get up on stage at one point, but otherwise actual musicianship was kept discreet. Real gigs are about real musicians channeling their passion and energy through their instruments, they can involve other accoutrements to add to the experience but the music is the core. Which was far from the case on Sunday night. Sunday night was about massive circular video screens, circus performers, dance groups, lights, explosions and awe.

So what I saw was a probably the most spectacular (and spectacularly expensive) circus in the world, in the largest circus tent in Britain (the world?). Some blonde who is in the tabloids a lot was there too apparently, but I barely noticed. Sounds like a good night to me.

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Coming to terms with World Music guilt June 13, 2009

There was a Guardian Music Weekly podcast quite a while ago which made me realise how wrong the concept of ‘world music’ is. I’ve railed against many a genre tag in my time (I remember being outraged at finding Onelinedrawing in the punk/metal section of HMV, presumably because Jonah Matranga used to be in Far) but it does seem beyond unfair that ‘world music’ seems to be the tag that’s attached to any music that doesn’t come from the US or UK.

Being a big liberal muso type, of course I believe that no genre or form of music could possibly be worthier than another. My theory has always been that if enough people like a certain kind of music, it’s got to be good, and only needs time spent listening to it to be appreciated. Of course sometimes too many people listening to an artist can be a sign that they’re actually especially awful, but for the most part it just takes time to appreciate something.

The thing is, is it bad to say I just don’t have time?

I’m sorry, but as much as I like to think of my music taste as fantastically broad, I’m not sure I’m going to get around to Malaysian nose pipe music, Nigerian alt-hip-hop-folk or Uzbek shoe gaze*. In all honesty, I do listen to a pretty broad variety of genres, but just about every artist is from the UK or US, with a selection from from Europe (and those artists are generally heavily influenced by UK or US artists).

Is that OK? Am I missing out? I haven’t listened to Amadou et Miriam, I’ve read about Tinariwen but what I’ve heard of them I’m not sure I get, and as for Manu Chao… well, what’s so good about bongos? Was Fela Kuti really as good a percussionist as John Bonham? And is Tony Allen actually that amazing? The drums in Good the Bad and the Queen added to the tracks in subtle ways that good percussion should, but was it really good enough for me to go and listen to his previous work?

What with it being cool for a while to say you’re like, totally Afrobeat now, I’m not sure I can be bothered to jump on the bandwagon. I love some of the results of genuine Afrobeat influence, but I’m not sure I’ll ever get around to finding out what these artists have been influenced by.

If it really is worth me not bothering to listen to the next Death Cab or Minotaur Shock album in favour of something with wind pipes, then I’ll do it. The guilt is too much. But otherwise, I’m just not sure I can be bothered…


* These genres are entirely invented, as far as I know anyway. I do not know nearly enough about world music to list one sub-genre, let alone three.

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This Machine is Off, Brixton Jamm, 29th May 2009 June 1, 2009

Filed under: Blog,Reviews,Sticks — gloamsticks @ 11:17 pm
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This Machine is Off at Brixton JammIt seems to be a bit of a trend at the moment for guitar bands (particularly those of the emo / post-hardcore persuasion) to eschew their guitar driven sound for something dancier and more synth led. Guitar bands have been allowed to get away with this for a little longer in the US, where bands like The Rapture and !!! have been making music you can dance too, no, you can’t NOT dance to, that incorporates house beats, synths and guitars – dance music with roots in indie/rock/punk. Those two bands have turned the endeavour into relative commercial success, not something that’s been done by a UK band until Friendly Fires, who incidentally, were once of the emo / post hardcore persuasion.

It seems to be a good, if unlikely, combination. The soaring vocals of emo (and by gum, Ed Mcfarlane of FF has some blistering vocal chords, as anyone who has seen them live will attest) over bleeps, swathes and beats. This Machine is Off’s machines are on, and Jake Roche provides suitably dramatic vocals to ride over the barage of sound that they make. Fewer steps away from the emo sound than FF (no samba calypso here!) TMIO press a lot of the right buttons. I suppose it’s inevitable, when you press that many.

The thing is, I admit, I grew up a bit of an emo-kid. This was before anyone what one was of course, and when I say emo I mean early Jimmy Eat World, New End Original, Mineral, Sunny Day Real Estate, pretty much any band on Deep Elm… And now I’ve (thankfully) lightened up a bit. So emo that you can dance too? It was never going to go too far wrong for me.

If I had a complaint, it would purely be that the songs are a little sincere. Like many emo vocalists Jake sounds like an angrier Robert Smith trying to conjure the darkness of Ian Curtis. A contemporary comparison would be the vocals in White Lies. Which is all very well, nothing wrong with a bit of melodrama, but lyrics like ‘erase our programs’ sung wrought with all the emotion of the last human of the robot apocalypse, sound incongruous enough over an upbeat track to end up sounding a touch too much.

That said, you can still dance to it. In fact, you can’t NOT dance to it.


PS: I saw TMIO playing before a Hot Chip DJ set, the real reason I was at the Jamm on Friday. Unfortunately, due to unforeseen beers, I can’t remember very much about the new material Hot Chip played except that it was ace.


Motion Picture Soundtrack, Water Rats, London, 22nd May 2009 May 31, 2009

Filed under: Blog,Gloam,Reviews — gloamsticks @ 9:44 pm
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motion picture soundtrackI’ve known Motion Picture Soundtrack since my days at Uni in Canterbury. My band played a few gigs with them, and other bands on the same circuit always showed a certain amount animosity towards them. This was partly due to what appeared to be a lot of well looked after expensive equipment (you see, you’re not a real band unless your gear was battered when you bought it off eBay and has got more battered since) but mostly due to them apparently being on the brink of real success. Envy, I suppose, but I found it hard to feel anything negative towards them, as they were  nice guys who got us a few gigs. And, well, they were really good.

I say the brink of success, it actually became a bit of a joke during the years of playing with them that nothing actually would come to fruition. There was always a rumour that MPS had got interest from a major, their debut single was coming out next week, no, week after next, no, next month… Talking to the band before this gig it was clear that this was still ongoing, only now it didn’t sound like bullshit. An album recorded and major labels at the door, they are waiting for a bit of positive PR to give them the green light.

So, to the music. Back when we first heard rumours of MPS hitting the big time it seemed feasible, the world was looking for another Coldplay. Main touchstones are, Jeff Buckley and… er, mostly just him. Since then though, indie bands started aping the Libertines, carried on aping the Libertines, then aped the Libertines a bit more, until we all got very very bored and invented a new genre which didn’t have to involve guitars. It was called New Rave and only people who wrote for or read the NME really believed in it. Nonetheless, the Libertines were only aping the Kinks in the first place, so that makes the term ‘the new Coldplay’ a massive oxymoron – anything traceable back to Coldplay is inevitably old hat and unfashionable.

All of which basically means that for the majority of their life, this band has not made fashionable music. Which I think is the major reason why they haven’t breached the next level, because they are certainly good enough. They have always created soundscapes, but before those were created with guitars, delay and the occasional e-bow. Now it involves strings samples, Graeme Blackwood’s drumming has become massively fuller and more rounded, whilst the guitars and bass sound the same but EVEN more expansive.

Other than being unfashionable, the only shortcoming of MPS’ have ever had is a lack of songs that you’d be able to pick out of a line up. Nothing is particularly memorable. As debut single Departure bursts into life the sound hits you deep in the chest, and as I sit here now I could probably still hum the melody to the chorus, but it is still the only moment in the entire set that might stick. The rest is just a feeling…

But, it is a good feeling. I am unsure as to whether they’ll make that next step. I do hope they do, but MPS have crafted a sound for stadiums, and I’m not sure I can see them playing much bigger venues than here at the Water Rats…