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

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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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…