Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Final Thought On Merry Of Horror

hi chaps,

Merry Christmas everybody! It's after midnight on Christmas day, and I am watching the Top Of The Pops episode of the day, including the Christmas number one, which is Matt Cardle, X Factor Winner with 'Many Of Horror'.

Previously, on my blog, I have shared various opinions on this topic, I would like to add one final point which has only just occurred to me. The video tells the story of Matt Cardle auditioning for the X Factor, going to the Judges' houses, etc.

That's what inspires me to think, in this context., the song can be seen to be a metaphor for the singers' relationship with the contest itself.  A Dystfunctional relationship which will only end in pain for Matt Cardle? You decide.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

VIDEO: Breton 'December'

Hotly tipped for 2011, this lot rocked In The City this year, and promise great things with their indie-dance hybrid sound.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

VIDEO: The XX 'Night Time'

This version of Night Time is incredible, with a video performance partially caught on surveillance cameras adding to the dark, moody atmosphere.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Noah and The Whale : Wild Thing

So, the wonderful Noah And The Whale return with this wistful tune. A wonderful mix of 80s influences including Dire Straits and Depeche Mode, it continues the introspective mood of their previous album The First Days Of Spring, augmenting it with electro elements.

  Noah And The Whale - Wild Thing
- Watch more Videos at Vodpod.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Some Thoughts on 'When We Collide ' / Many Of Horror

Last night saw the culmination of the UK's The X Factor TV music show competition, in which 27 painter decorator Matt Cardle beat off competition from Liverpudlian Rebecca Ferguson and teen boyband One Direction to win a £1 million recording contract, with Simon Cowell's Syco record label.

What was fascinating was the choice of debut release, something which has become a source of great contention in recent years, given the X Factors' domination of the prestigious Christmas number one single chart spot. Last year Rage Against The Machine successfully beat of competition from X Factor winner Joe McElderry to take their 1993 hit 'Killing In The Name' to the Xmas number one slot. It was a protest vote from the country against X Factor, Syco and pop blandless hegemony, and sent an important message, which the makers appear, to have a lesser extent, to have heeded.

This year the three finalists had individual songs to be released in the event of winning. Rebecca Ferguson got Duffy's 'Different Dreamer', boys One Direction got Alphaville's 'Forever Young', and winner Cardle got Biffy Clyro's 'Many Of Horror'. It's the last which is most fascinating to me, especially as there's a strong chance it will be at number one for Christmas next week.

Firstly, the producers have renamed the song 'When We Collide', as opposed to 'Many Of Horror'. It's a shame to see the artistic integrity of the original song compromised by tampering with it in this way, but the original's title has a strange, archaic quality which sounds vaguely Shakespearean, rather than contemporary English. Also, 'Horror' isn't exactly Christmassy. Personally, I'm always on the side of the artist, though, so I'd go with the original every time. That's probably why I'm not in a mansion sipping champagne, though.

Secondly, the choice of a Biffy Clyro song is for me a response to accusations of a lack of credibility and cool which have chipped away at the show. Biffy Clyro are a respected indie rock band, who have paid their dues, and the song has been written out of that context, that reality. They have earned to right to sing it, and in appropriating such a song, the X Factor will inevitably appropriate some of the indie glamour that goes with it, even if Biffy lose some credibility by association. I'm sure they'll not too much sleep over it, particularly when the massive royalty cheques start rolling in (anecdotally, I remember a mate getting £40 for a single play on a radio station of his song via PRS. Imagine that x £100,000 for all the poxy little radio stations in the country playlisting the song over Xmas, and into the new year!). They may even gain a new fanbase from it.

Then there are the visceral, gutsy lyrics. 'Many Of Horror' is the take of a violent, turbulent love / hate relationship. From the first person perspective, the teller of the story knows that he belongs with his opposite number, but that they are doomed to mistreat and torment one another. It's incredibly dark, particularly a Christmas song, to have the lyrics "I'll take a bruise I know you're worth it / When you hit me, hit me hard". One wonders what would have happened if a woman such as Rebecca Ferguson were singing it - the implication of domestic violence against a polite, even timid woman would be distasteful.

I'm sure the anthemic quality of the song,  power of the tune, and the credibility of Biffy were a great combination, which is what made the final decision for the producers though. The general public, and by extension, decision makers, often don't care about lyrics, which often leads to history being littered with examples of songs inappropriately being appropriated. Look at the way 'Born In The USA' was used by Republicans in the 80s, even though it's a critique of the Vietnam war and blind patriotism. Or the way David Cameron likes 'Eton Rifles' and The Smiths.

In the end, though, all this debate is a testimony to the fact that, When We Collide / Many Of Horror, or whatever it's called, is first and foremost, a great song.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Top Ten albums of 2010

Dear chaps and ladies, boys and gals, I think it's about time for us to look back over the best albums of the year!

Here's my top 10 of 2010 *queues The Wizzard circa Top Of The Pops 1985*

1. Caitlin Rose - Own Side Now.
2. Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
3. Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
4. Foals  - Total Life Forever
5. The National -High Violet
6. The Like - Release Me
7. Janelle Monae - Archandroid, pts 2 and 3
8. Warpaint - The Fool
9. Plan B - Defamation of Strickland Banks
10. Mark Ronson - Record Collection.

(all links are to Spotify)

Honourable mentions, well, there are so many. Cee-Lo Green's 'The Lady Killer', Beach House's 'Teen Dream' (which I didn't take to initially at all, but I'm now re-appraising, now that it seems to be in a lot of year-end lists), Frighten Rabbits' 'Winter Of Mixed Drinks', and far too many others to mention. Erm, ok, Darwin Deez.

I was left feeling I could / should have listened to loads more, but I've only got two ears, and I have my fingers in several other pies, including TV journalism, tech, and film. I was fascinated that The Drums debut seemed to drop out of peoples' awareness, which confirmed what I believed previously - that they're a band who were built on hype. I am left doubting if there'll be much interest when they return, given that the interest in them was largely manufactured by a small portion of the media.

Kanyes' record was fascinating. Hugely overblown, full of celebrity cameos, but, crucially, it DID deliver. It was the antithesis of stripped-back '808s and Heartbreaks' in production, and perhaps a response to the doubters in the fallout from his public humiliation following the Taylor Swift debacle. 

Caitlin Rose's debut was authentic, with beatiful songwriting, and tasteful 70s country-pop production, a true delight. Janelle Monae's record became one of the most talked about records of the year in media circles, and I guess people were impressed by the ideas and inventiveness of the whole archandroid concept, the variety of the songs, and the quality. r'n'b is often very conservative, and this was the opposite, harking back to the work of Stevie Wonder, or Marvin Gaye's 'What's Going On' in being a concept album in the soul genre.

Speaking of soul concept albums, the Defamation of Strickland Banks was another from Forrest Gate rapper Plan B, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It is one of the most commercial albums in my list, and certainly inspired by the likes of Amy Winehouse and other contemporary takes on Motown, but I couldn't care less, the sheer quality of the songs overrides all other considerations.

Anyway, enjoy Xmas, and have a listen, if you haven't already!

Rayland Baxter : I Do Bad Things VIDEO

hi chaps,

So, it's coming up to Xmas, so Seasons Greetings. I recently stumbled across this unsigned artist from Tennessee courtesy of Caitlin Rose, who I interviewed earlier in the year, on her Facebook.

Rayland Baxter is a solo singer songwriter, and this blues tale of badness and wrong love is truly astonishing.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

'Game Over' Tinchy Stryder - Game Over ft Giggs Professor Green Devlin Tinie Tempah VIDEO

Hi ya'll. This has definitely been the year that UK grime has broken through. Ok, there's been Wiley, Ms Dynamite, and Dizzee in the past, but the sheer numbers of artists releasing actual, proper artist albums, with chart hits is greater than ever.

The collaboration on this record pretty much sums up where it's at right now, and I've not heard anything as convincing since they heydays of 80s / 90s US hip hop, so I'm excited.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

The National : Terrible Love

Love this alternate version of Terrible Love, for the single, from The National. High Violet's one of my albums of the year, and this song is an improvement on the album version.

Monday, November 01, 2010


Lots of boy / girl duos about at the mo. This is another one. I think the word I would choose to describe is "charming", tho you could say "twee", if you were being nasty. Personally, I like. ;-)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Warpaint The Fool - STREAM and LIVE VIDEO

I'm loving the new Warpaint Album - The Fool, which I got in the post this week.

A lot of people are referring to stuff like The XX, in reference to it, but the dark atmospherics remind me of things like Massive Attack, and the hypnotic quality reminds me a bit of late 80s / early 90s shoegaze. The result is still surprisingly original, and probably one of the best records of this year.

I'm kicking myself for not making it to their Sunday night gig here in Manchester, but thankfully someone videoed it for us, so here is some of the footage!


Thursday, October 21, 2010

THAT Record sleeve for Kanye West's 'My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy'

Record sleeves recent made the news pages of music websites when geek rocker Weezer decide to put chubby Lost star Jorge Garcia, better known as the show's character Hurley, on the sleeve for their new record.

The results were greeted with much mirth, and merriment, though it turns out, they claim, that they were in fact naming it after the international surfware company.

Roll forward a few weeks to Kanye West, around whom a great deal of anticipation is building ahead of his forthcoming album, 'My Dark Beautiful Twisted Fantasy'. The rapper says that is label told him US Chainn Walmart wouldn't stock the proposed cover, though they have just an hour two ago released a statement to deny this.

The rapper how now proposed to offer 5 different album covers in order to be able to offer one which will not offend national supermarket chains, and other mainstream retailers.

Anyway, for my own take, I think the proposed image does expose the dark spectre of racism which still looms large over US society. The half-woman half-phoenix straddling the beer-holding man may not be a clear representation of a human being, but the implication is clear - as is the sense that miscegenation is not welcome in America, and represents the worst fears of US's white majority.

The whole fiasco also reminds me of Spinal Tap's 'Smell The Glove' argument in their hilarious movie, where a  woman kneels before a man, who is holding out a glove before. "You should have seen the cover they wanted to use", says their nefarious English manager to an uptight female record executive. "I tell you, he wasn't holding a glove".

Mark Sultan - Status

Mark Sultan is probably most famous for putting the ‘BBQ’ in the King Khan and BBQ show, but he’s also contributed to countless garage rock records on labels from Sub Pop to In The Red

Mark Sultan - Status from Daniel Taylor on Vimeo.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

VIDEO: Glasser - 'Mirrorage'

One of the biggest revelations of In The City last week was LA's Glasser. The brain child of 26 year old Cameron Mesirow, the music recalls Bjork and Fever Ray, haunting, witchy, a bit bonkers, and beaty. 

Anyway, this is an incredible promo vid, new as far as I know, for 'Mirrorage', from the album Ring. Checkit! 

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

John Legend & The Roots - Wake Up

I was highly impressed by John Legend and The Roots, with their new album of protest songs which is out this week. I'm a fairly political soul, and it seems to be we live in apolitical, apathetic times, with bands more intent on chasing the dollar than saying something of substance. Although my good Twitter buddy Dorian Lynksey would argue, that rock and roll has always been more about the right to do what you want than fight the system.

Anyway, besides a corking album of soul covers from the era of funk, soul, and black power, they have cooked up a mean cover of The Arcade Fire's 'Wake Up', (below), which I love.

Blogging In The USA

Hi guys. I'm still processing all the incredible new bands and industry news I came across during In The City here in sunny Manchester last week. Probably the most fascinating debate I watched during the day was Blogging In The USA, a debate involving Ryan Schreiber of Pitchfork, Ollie Russian of My Band's Better Than Your Band, Dev Sherlock from Hype Machine, and Drowned In Sound.

Ollie kindly posted the debate on his blog, so here it is in it's entirety. There were various themes, including the huge, ever increasing number of blogs, the need for bloggers to create a unique voice, and the blandness of just posting a different song each day. As the US representatives Ryan and Dev stressed the need for blogs stateside because of the lack of media covering new and upcoming music, as opposed to the great radar media we have here in this small country (Radio One, NME, etc). Ollie also said he thought music fans were looking to blogs to find out where the cool music was coming from, as opposed to Jon Peel, or Steve Lemacq.

The idea of underground / emerging musical tastes being crowdsourced by aggregator blogs like Hype Machine and other means was also stressed. The panel also felt that targeting underground media such as blogs for promoting their new artists, as opposed to being perceived as uncool by breaking their acts in mid level mainstream meda, was the way forward., to make them cool enough to climb the greasy pole of fame. Anyway, enjoy.

In The City: Music Blogging in the USA panel, 10.13.10 by rawkblog

Monday, October 18, 2010

Big Mama Thornton ft. Buddy Guy - Hound Dog

In an attempt to entertain myself, I'm posting a bit more to this blog than the usual once-a-year update! It's a good spot to keep all the good stuff I've discovered, as much as anything else, as a lot of it gets forgotten or just lost during the year.

Twatting around on Twitter yesterday I was sent a link for this. I find the blogosphere a fairly overwhelming place with its' obsession with discovering new artists and new songs constantly, and so finding this old classic and sharing it seems a healthy antidote. They don't make em like this anymore. And frankly, it pisses all over Elvis.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

In The City : Day 2

ok guys, this is going to get patchy now, and my memory of the many bands we saw is already fading and swilling about!

I'm truly exhausted now this fine Manchester Saturday. Anyway, here's what I saw on Thursday. It all started at The Castle pub, with Brown Brogues, who lit up the small working class old school pub with their strange bluesy punk. They're an odd duo, giant, big bellied drummer, and tatooed, vest wearing singer/guitarist, and their music was strange but compelling. I like to hear what a lead singer is singing, though, so bit annoyed with hearing a warble.

 Set 1 by brown brogues

Next was LA's Kisses, fresh in from performing in Tokyo, and after seeing a lot of industry types being too cool for school, it was refreshing to see punters genuinely enjoying their breezy, sun inflected pop. Like a ray of LA sunshine piercing the grim Manchester sky.

 Kisses by Kisses

I then split to catch Fixers at Noho, who absolutely blew me away. Incredibly harmonies reminiscent of the Beach Boys, and a darkness tipping a hat in the direction of the Arcade Fire (who incidentally, seem to cast a long shadow over several bands at ITC).

 Fixers - Iron Deer Dream by ITCManchester

Then it was time for Oxford one man band Chad Valley over at Noho. It was just one dude and some keyboards, so I was expecting the worst. I know some people loved D/R/U/G/S, and I am a fan of dance music, but as a spectacle, the thought of one or two dudes knob twiddling on a stage of keyboards and a Macbook or two is pretty boring to watch. But Chad Valley was good. His vocal added some personality and sense of performance to the music, which raised the dreaded term of "chillwave" in my mind, but without sounding like Travel advert music.

I also saw Oberhofer at Night and Day, and half Spaniard ensemble Crystal Fighters over at Dry Live, as well as Planet Earth at Gullivers, who all get honourable mentions. Favs of the nite have to be Kisses and Fixers, though.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

In The City; Day 1

Right, let the madness begin! This year I headed down to newly comandeered venue City Inn, where ITC headquarters are to be based for the conference itself. After getting my goodie bag, I check out the end of a fascinating debate on how bands can break into China, lead by the right honourable John Robb.

The elder statesmen of Manchesters' punk scene lead a fascinating topic, which revealed that there is a burgeoning market for live music in China - there is a huge explosion in the number of venues and bands out there, both domestic, and foreign acts. Modern Sky is a leading Chinese label at the heart of this scene, it was revealed. The scene is not without it's idiosyncrasies - one promoter revealed how his band Star 64, had their visa application refused because in china 6/4 is widely accepted to refer to the date of Tienanmen Square. A quick name change to Star 69, and the application was okayed!

Meanwhile, over in the next room, Blogging In The USA was a really fascinating debate lead by Ollie Russian of My Band Is Better Than Your Band, with notable panelists including Ryan Schreiber of Pitchfork and Dev Sherlock of Hype Machine talking about the merits of blogging, and its' growing influence on the music industry. one of the key points was that having something unique to offer, and voice, or editorial, was key to standing out, as opposed to just posting song after song to drive traffic, as well as the idea that older conventional media publications are definitely threatened by the emergence of the power of blogs.

As for the gigs that evening, I was joined by the lovely Rhian Daly of abeano, who lead proceedings with her ear to the ground for hot new bands, and so we checked out boy girl duo Big Deal, I thought they were amazing. And they look great too.

Big Deal - Locked Up by snipelondon

r Dalston powercore trio No Age (why does everyone hate Dalston so much?) Beaty Heart who were like a more chaotic, less commercial, frantic Friendly Fires. I loved their energy, but I think these Goldsmiths students need the influence of a decent producer to introduce some discipline and tidy them up a bit! Finally, I got my one pick over at The Roadhouse, going to see Chiddy Bang.

 Chiddy Bang - Stylo (Remix feat. Chiddy Bang) by pacificfestival

 Personally I thought they were brilliant, but Rhian wasn't impressed much. *sadface*

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Eleven Tigers: Stableface

I'm quite liking this from Lithuanian producer Eleven Tigers, who'll be releasing long player Clouds Are Mountains soon. What with all the indie-shmindie stuff I get to listen to all day, a bit of minmalist dubstep is a breath of fresh air...

<a href="">Stableface by eleven tigers</a>

October Journalism Roundup

While I'm here, I may as well keep you up to date with my recent scribblings for various publications.

Firstly, my most recent piece was a 25 Classic songs of the 80s feature, which a lot of people seemed to enjoy.

Secondly, I hit the Guardian with another of my articles, this time on the recent falling out between Mani of Primal Scream, and Peter Hook. The disagreement thankfully got sorted, but I'm proud of the piece as a decent bit of journalism for a major publication.

Meanwhile, the recent visit of Mark Ronson to the city was exciting, and although the mess up by PR company meant I didn't get to interview him, I at least got a ticket in and wrote a review of the gig.

As a fan of Frank Turner, I was happy to get the chance to interview him, (he's currently in Europe, and will be back soon) for Skiddle, the results are here. He had some firm opinions on file sharing which were an eye opener.

It isn't just a succession of Indie bands that I interview, thankfully, as I spoke to young grime MC  Aggro Santos about his two top twenty hit singles, the origins of the current, commercial "urban" scene, and his Grime background.

Back on a local tip, I interviewed Jeremy of band-of-the-moment, Everything Everything for Skiddle. He was just insanely eloquent and knowledgeable about the current music scene, and had a lot to say relationship that new bands like Dutch Uncles, Delphic, and EE have to Manchester's heritage. had to leave that bit out, because I had so much stuff, but a fascinating, cool guy, and a great band. Well worth a read.

Going back to the end of August, I was privileged to interview LA hotties The Like, a 4 piece girl group with the look of a 60s girl motown act, and the sound of a British invasion band like the Animals. They were hot and feisty. Great fun.

A completely different music style was offered by Trance meister Paul Van Dyk, who I had chance to interview this summer. He didn't seem to like it very much when I suggested the superclub and superstar DJ era was over, but nevertheless, a very high profile producer, and he had a lot of stuff to say.

Probably my favourite discovery of the entire year has been that of Nashville / Dallas singer Caitlin Rose (pictured), who  had her debut album out this August, and I had the chance to meet her in person and chat. She was cheeky, funny, and knew her music. 

Later that same day I saw her perform at Manchester's Night and Day, where she was absolutely amazing.

Somewhere in there, dunno if I mentioned this before, I spoke to Esben And The Witch, who gave me their first major interview for a publication. They're now signed to Domino records with an album to come next year, so watch this space.

Sadly, it was the three year anniversary of the death of my mentor and journalistic idol, Tony Wilson this August, so I talked to Factory and Hacienda stalwart Dave Haslam about the late, great broadcaster.

That's it for now. There where a few other acts I spoke to and wrote about here and there, but you get the idea!

In The City 2010

It's that time of year again. October. Weirdly sunny. And it's time for In The City, Manchester's music industry conference, complete with a roster of up and coming bands, as well as an unsigned competition.

I'm looking forward to the debates, particularly on Branding (there's a panel entitled Brand On The Wall), and a keynote interview with Nick Mason of  Pink Floyd, who's this years' big name keynote "In Conversation With", alongside Mick Pickering of Factory / The Hacienda.

Bands-wise, I'm looking foward to Kisses, Team Ghost, No Age, Murkage, and generally just being surprised by discoveries / recommendations.

Oh, and Steve Lemacq and Marc Riley will both be broadcasting live on BBC 6Music live for the event.

I'll be keeping my eye on Twitter, and you can get touch with me there if you're at the event, my handle is:


See you there. Oh, and here's some music from the bands that will feature over the three days. (thanx DiS!).

Drowned In The City Of Manchester by sjaycats

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Brute Chorus :Heaven

Rather liking this video from Londoners The Brute Chorus. The song Heaven comes from their second album, out next month. Ace.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Mancunian Journalism Roundup

hi fellas & dames,

Back again. It's been a furious few weeks of gigs, writing and whatnot, and so it continues. Just got my first commission to write for The Guardian this week, and been uncovering lots of musical discoveries in my job as News Editor over at God Is In The TV.  From the current crop, I'd recommend:

Anyway, the reason I came on here to post my music journalism. Here's a roundup of the most recent stuff I've done, as requested by my mate John, who makes a bloody good point, that I should put it in one place.

Theres plenty more floating about, but that's all I can get hold of for now. That's about 3 months, and 2/3 of the work I've done, not counting daily news stories for GITTV, and a few movie and TV reviews. Busy indeed. Anyway,thanks for reading, and enjoy.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

FUC51 : Reactionary, but not wrong

Hi All,

And so, it's saturday, so I go to the Guardian website to discover that bloggers Fuc51 have spread word of their campaign to the national media. For the uninitiated, they are a bunch of Manchester bloggers sick of the Manchester revival industry. Apparently the article explains that Ian Brown doing the Parlife Event at Platt Fields' park was the last straw for them.

For my own take, I'm sort of sandwiched somewhere between the "kids" and the old bunch of Peter Hook, Ian Brown, Mani, and other usual suspects living on past memories of this incredible music city. I'm sick of hearing about Manchester heritage stuff in the national media, about The Smiths, Joy Division, Factory  Records, etc. And that's despite the fact I was there for part of it. The late 80s was part of my youth, but I feel strongly that it's important for the old guard to step aside and not keep forever going on about the past, and encouraging bands like Delphic, who sound like a pale imitation of New Order, for example.

I'd love to see bands that sound nothing like Manchester has produced before, but I think a lot of this is driven by Southern, London media expectations of what this city is about, as much as it is by the original players themselves wanting to relive they old days. Bands like May68 point where Manchester is going, and that's a very healthy thing. Whatever happens, we don't want to end up like Liverpool, it took them years of harping on about the Beatles before excellent bands like The Zutons and The Coral finally (amazing 80s stuff like Echo & Frankie not withstanding) were able to step out of the shadow of the city's heritage.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Gaslight Anthem - American Slang (SideOneDummy Records)

Last year was an incredible one for New Jersey punks Gaslight Anthem. The small town boys made good with their blend of feel good nostalgia for the America of yesterday appealed to a great many, coinciding perfectly with a critical reappraisal of the work of Bruce Springsteen, their biggest influence. 

The two met and performed together on each other songs at the Glastonbury Festival, London Calling, and other UK shows. Those shows felt heavy with symbolism, the perfect passing of the baton from a passed generation to a new one. The question is, what have they done with the standard that they are now bearing?

Well, not a great deal, if listening to this album is anything to go by. The dual influences of Springsteen and the Clash cast a long shadow over this album, as they did over ‘The 59 Sound’. That record was full of vintage Americana, old Lincolns, sailor tattoos, and old fashioned radio sets. It was also a record from a humble, blue collar perspective, that yearned for lost youth and innocence, and ‘American Slang’ offers a continuation of these elements.

Right throughout, nostalgia abounds, as on second track, ‘Stay Lucky’, Brian Fallon recalls how “everyone used to call you lucky when you were young”, but now, aged 25, “mother never told me there’d be days like these”. Note the past tense, which continues almost all the way through. On ‘The Boxer’, another mid-tempo number, the singer offers the darker side of memories, remembering how a boy once endured the regular beatings of his father, a former professional pugilist. “They say it never leaves you” is clearly loaded with double meaning, demonstrating the singer’s capacity for writing thoughtful lyrics. 

Whereas on ‘The 59 Sound’, all this nostalgia and harking back to the past was refreshing, here, it’s so ubiquitous, it becomes banal, and repetitive. Even the lead singer seems to be sick of his own shtick, where on ‘Old Haunts’ towards the end of the record, he sings “so don’t sing me songs about the good times / those days are gone and you should just let ‘em go”. 

Overall, it’s a record that rarely leaves mid-tempo. From the opening track that shares the title of the album, it’s clear that this is a more considered Gaslight, the musical parts are more distinct, better played and better mixed with more of sense of dynamics between the instruments. The guitars don’t clash and merge into a muddy mess, for example. There are stabs at newer sounds, with the Clash-like ska of ‘The Queen of Chelsea’, and the ‘Diamond Church Street Choir’ recalling The Boss’s funkier moments.

Sadly, these newer elements aren’t enough to salvage American Slang from being a distinctly average, rock record. It’s solid and decent, but nothing more. There aren’t enough strong songs on it, and not enough bravery to try new, bold ideas and sounds. It all amounts to a less successful version of ‘The 59 Sound’, and leaves you feeling the band’s chief songwriter has spent more than enough time looking at the past, and needs to start living in the present.

Mancunian Rating: 3/5

Manchester : So much To Answer For

hi Everyone. It's been a while. I have elsewhere, in the past few months, had an incredibly busy time as a journalist, interviewing Mystery Jets, The Drums, The Gaslight Anthem, Mr Scruff, and various others, as well as doing various news, reviews and stuff over at God Is In The TV.

This after several years out of the game - I last properly wrote (well, edited)  professionally on a regular basis in the days when City Life was an actual regular magazine, 5 years ago, and, so it's been a while. It's really more like 10 years since I was doing this much writing, back when I was interviewing the likes of Doves, Campag Velocet (anyone remember them?), I Am Kloot, and other indie reprobates for Flux Magazine and City Life, as well as other internet startups which duly disappeared in the web 1.0 crash around 2000/2001.

So, strange coming back to it, feels like I've gone round in a big circle. This week has been hectic, calling Alex Levine of Gaslight Anthem in New Jersey, and Damien O'Neill of The Undertones in London for various features, before throwing myself into 4 days of gigs, with the Hungry Pigeon Festival, and Dot To Dot Festival on Monday, for Clash Magazine. I also got word that I should be attending Latitude festival, and Reading this year for a website (which shall remain nameless until it's totally 100% confirmed).

Busy, busy busy. It's a good feeling getting back on the horse after all these years. In 2000, I was working for Tony Wilson and going out to loads of gigs, the big events at Castlefield, Glastonbury and other shenigans. Wilson was a man who truly inspired me. He would come in from presenting the Granada news every day to the In The City / Factory offices, and tell us stories about Joy Division, The Buzzcocks, The Mondays, Sex Pistols, and all sorts. He would occasionally roll up a joint and smoke it with us, and we would celebrate sales victories by ordering in rounds of drinks to the office, from Atlas bar over the road. A rock n roll office, my first proper job, and probably the best I ever had, besides City Life. Fresh out of uni, I was inspired by his passion for music and journalism, and he filled me with the confidence that I should be a writer in the fly by night creative industries.

That summer, I fell in love with someone (who shall remain nameless), but though she liked me, it turned out she fell in love with the lead singer of a very successful indie band (which shall remain nameless). There was something about that summer, it was perfect. There was something in the air, I had my life ahead of me and I was full of hope.

By the end of the year, in my rush to become a success, and my frustration at how things were going personally, I went off to London to work for Carlton, and it was never the same again, if I'm honest. I was never the same again. I lost my way, both professionally and personally. I was never really that happy for most of the time after that barring the occasional moments or brief periods.

But today, at the Hungry Pigeon festival, in Manchester's Picadilly Gardens, I felt that feeling again. I guess it was partly sparked by being in Factory251, the old Paradise Factory, last night. There's a feeling of renewal in me, a feeling of hope. After a terrible time scraping a living in call centres, and surviving the evil cut and thrust of bitching and gossip that makes those places hell on earth, I feel like I can "be myself" again, by doing what I love doing. I loved hanging round bars and watching bands, talking about books and TV shows, surrounded by scruffy, arty people, but I always felt ashamed of that, as if it wasn't a "proper" thing to do for a living.

When I was a kid, Tony Wilson gave me that permission I needed to do that, when I was young. He went to Cambridge (though once he told me he came close to going to Manchester, like myself), wore a suit, and gave a respectability to a love of rock n roll culture, debauchery and fun that made it seem ok to build a life around. Somewhere, I started to feel I *should* be doing certain things, and I think I quite badly lost sight of who I was. Hell, I even went to Law school, this from someone who agrees with John Lydon's quote, "Rules? Rules are for fools!"

Anyway, right now I have to scrape together a few hundred words on Sheffields' Slow Club, who are now my find of the year after their gig on Friday. They were like The White Stripes without Jack White's angry machismo, which makes it hard to like them sometimes. Thoroughly likeable, defiantly youthful, idealistic with beautiful souls. And they were really funny. I hope they never get old.

Other than that, I have to scrape together a piece on The Undertones, whom it was fascinating to talk to this week. That's all on top of preparing to interview Mystery Jets again on Monday, for Clash, along with possibly Lissie, as well as review the various bands on, and tweet (and twat) about it.


While I remember. Just got back from the Hungry Pigeon. Caught George Borowski, and The Jesse Road Trip. Borowski is, for those who don't know the fella "guitar George" mentioned by Mark Knopfler in the Dire Straits song Sultans Of Swing. A Mancunian folk hero. He was a bit annoying when he spoke, basically telling people off for having a bit of swagger, drinking too much cos there were kids there, etc. The music was amazing though,  a mix of tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, and other classic American rock, but with storytelling  about everyday Mancunian stories, referencing Stockport station, and Openshaw. Great stuff, but it was so bloody cold I got indoors after 20 minutes, cos I may be from this city, and sometimes I love it, but I fucking hate the weather.

Jesse Road Trip, well she look hot in hot pants. They were good, but nothing special, a 4 piece band with a great female singer/guitarist (with incredibly guitar skills), outside the standard Mancunian bloke rock mould, thankfully, but perhaps missing that X factor or ingredient to make them stand out. Anyway, I'm signing off to get writing. See Ya!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Futureheads - The Chaos (Nul Records)

“5-4-3-2-1 Lets’ Go!” And so begins the fourth album by Sunderland’s not-so-new wave punksters, The Futureheads. They first came to emerged 6 years ago with their self-titled debut, but it was probably 2005 when they really grabbed people’s attention with their cover of Kate Bush’s ‘Hounds Of Love’, named Best Single of the year, by the NME. Their songs quirky sense of fun, and its’ weirdness captured the band. It opened doors for them, winning them support slots for major bands like The Foo Fighters, and TV appearances.

It’s fair to say the record also became something of an albatross for the band, misrepresenting them as a commercial entity alongside more obvious indie brethren like the Fratellis and the Pigeon Detectives, when the Futureheads are probably a more serious, earnest enterprise.

Unsurprisingly dropped by their label 679 Recordings in 2006, after becoming disillusioned with the mainstream, their interview on our very own pages reads this moment as one of liberation. Personally, I loved the record that followed, This Is Not The World, it’s lead single ‘Beginning Of The Twist’ delivering an urgency, and singular power pop kick, while the record as a whole explored their quirkier side.

For me, The Chaos continues this trend. While ‘Heartbeat Song’ offers a clear nod to commercial success with its’ simple pop love song formula, the record as a whole is a driving, urgent piece, full of allusions to being disaffected with the society and politics of Britain 2010.

Whether it’s the title track, and opener, ‘The Chaos’, where Barry Hyde despairs, “We’ve been told a lie, but you still toe the line,” or ‘Sun Goes Down’ where daytime workers go out at night to escape their soul-destroying drudgery, as “the double life begins”. While there’s definitely anger on The Chaos, The Futureheads still do fun, too, with songs like The Connector, a silly, Queen-influenced piece.

Overall, The Chaos sees the Futureheads find their place in music, following a groove set by the previous record, TINTW. It’s a place that’s unlikely to win them large numbers of new fans - it’s clear the band have eschewed a place alongside watered-down A-List Tesco-chasing bands like Snow Patrol. We live in musical era when, for example, The Courteeners’ Liam Fray recently shared his ambition to be as big as U2, while the likes of Dizzee Rascal and Plan B have made a pop records to please their bank managers. The concept of size and profile seems to be more important than quality, staying true to ones’ roots and authenticity. For that reason, The Chaos should be applauded, as a refreshingly humble labour of love.

Abbas Ali

Gogol Bordello, Mariachi El Bronx Manchester Academy 1, 08th May 2010

Like result of an test tube experiment to combine the seed of Joe Strummer and Shane MacGowan, Ukrainian ex-pat Eugene Hutz is onstage, messianic, fuelled by the booze, and the centre of a huge party.

The guitar-wielding singer is the consummate performer, and he and his fellow musicians certainly know how to put on a show. Having come to this venue for over 15 years, I’ve never seen the crowds as loud or as raucous as they are for Gogol Bordello, a rag-tag band of gypsies who first got together 10 years ago in New York to play a cosmopolitan blend of their own traditional gypsy music, mixed with ska, rap, punk, and rock music. In recent years, the band recent decamped to Brazil, adding the Latin sounds of that continent to their influences.

When they first emerged, there was nothing like them, but in the decade since, the internationalism of music has reached new heights, with the likes of Foals and Vampire Weekend reaching out to embrace African music, while Damon Albarn writes Chinese monkey operas.

Things have changed for Gogol Bordello too. ‘Trans-Continental Hustle’ their new album is also their major label debut, and sees legendary label man / studio geek Rick Rubin on production duties, as the band move in a more commercial direction with the aim of reaching out to fans.
On tonight’s display, there is no faulting the band’s live credentials. The 8 piece band move about the stage frantically, changing gears at just the right time between tempos.

Songs like Wonderlust King and Ultimate provide high octane, pogoing thrills for those at the front, while ‘When Universes Collide’ and ‘Sun Is On My Side’ with its’ Latino blues, provide balladry and soothing acoustic sounds for those at the back. Meanwhile, ‘My Companjera’ is a love song almost sounds like what ABBA would do if they were a gypsy folk outfit.

Not just music for the heart, it’s angry, intelligent and political music too, railing against the injustices of the system, and the mistreatment and hatred of immigrants as the hard-rocking riffing of Immigraniada (We Comin' Rougher) demonstrates. Hutz wears his immigrant roots on his sleeve.

Indeed, it’s no surprise that the band will be supporting Rage Against The Machine at their X-Factor payback gig in London next month, and were partly discovered by the agit-rockers in the beginning. Gogol Bordello are the natural successors to their angry, unifying music, and the logicial conclusion of their genre-bending – RATM were devastating and unique when they emerged for their convergence of rock and rap, but their heirs take things further and add many more kinds of music to the melting pot. If he was around, Joe Strummer would be proud.

Abbas Ali

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Girls @The Deaf Institute, Manchester Tuesday 2 March 2010

If 2009 was the year for girls, maybe 2010 will be a year most remembered for Girls. Weirdo San Francisco duo Chris Owens (pictured, right) and Chet “JR” White (left) aren’t a skinny, blonde girl from new York, or Hampshire for that matter. And thank god for that. The past year may have brought us gems like Florence, but now we’re scraping the barrel with Ellie blooming Goulding, maybe we should call it quits.

Tonight, onstage, the duo set up their equipment so innocuously for a packed, shoulder to shoulder audience, that they could be roadies. They catch me totally by surprise when they begin playing ‘Laura’. It’s a pretty representative of their album, last September’s slab of California surf-pop ‘Album’. It’s a heady mix of young love, Beach Boys melodies and psychedelic, Spiritualized-influenced interludes, delivered by a singer channelling Elvis Costello or Buddy Holly, which is much better for being heard live, as opposed to on their admittedly imperfect debut.

They continue the set with ‘Ghost Mouth’, and as I listen closer, it strikes me how classically American their sound is, so traditional. Lead singer Chris Owen he says he was fed the classics when growing up, Elvis and the Beatles. And you can clearly hear that 50s US sound in there, that Elvis/Orbison axis. The fact that it is done with an arch, weird quality, psychedelic effects (and drugs, fuck yeah, lots of drugs), and punk attitude is what makes it so captivating.

And believe me, the overfilled room is captivated. They stand in silence most of the night, but it’s not the silence of boredom, it’s the silence of rapt attention and even reverence. Even when Girls switch up a gear, as bassist Chet “JR” White suddenly switches up the pedals on his guitar and knocks out a fat, overdriven bassline, and they suddenly turn, momentarily into the Stooges, only a few people start swaying at the front.

Perhaps it’s because skinny, fragile-framed, long haired Christopher Owens is so compelling and sincere as a frontman. So many musicians affect being deep or “tortured” as a badge of sincerity, but with this guy, you absolutely believe it. With his heartfelt blues, fucked up inner life, long blond hair and Oxfam-reject cardigan, he reminds me in many ways of Kurt Cobain tonight. Owens’ life has the makings of an bestselling biography in itself, with his childhood as a member of Californian cult Children Of God, a particularly disturbed group whose hobbies included prostitution, child abuse, and murder. Since absconding at the age of 16, and washing up homeless in Frisco, Owens met his musical partner JR and developed a prescription drugs habit which runs to this day.

For all the sadness in his life, and the heartbreak in the songs, Owens doesn’t come across as a sad person, instead someone in the process of turning things around. As the band encore with a nursery-rhyme style song with the refrain “it all comes back to love”, it’s clear there’s an immensely hopeful quality to his story, and that this band offers a form of personal rebirth. And, as his former cult family might say, amen to that.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Heligoland – Massive Attack (Virgin)

You may have had enough of 80s revivals until you never want to hear a synthesiser or electro beat again, but is today’s music scene ready for 90s revival. Well, it’s a truth universally acknowledge that pop will eat itself, and, given that, we are destined to revisit the decade that brought us Britpop, grunge, g-funk and an explosion of dance music that exploded and mushroomed into a thousand different genres.

Anyone younger readers wanting to get ahead of the game and discover the best artists that the decade had to offer could do a lot worse than start with the Bristol collective of Massive Attack. Their trio of 3 classic albums in 90s defined and changed the face of music forever. Beginning with 1991’s Blue Lines, the sound they pioneer was ripped off a millionfold, and emulated everywhere. One only needs to listen to the top 40 now to find several tracks that borrow from their musical ideas (Timbaland has been a particular offender), in particular their post modern use of lush string arrangements and pianos over hip hop beats and scratched, sampled sounds. It sounds so obvious now, but back then, they were one of first to do it.

There was a moment in the mid nineties when they were considered to be the most achingly cool act in music. What made them cool was their extraordinary dynamism, their ability to cover so many different styles and sounds across a record, with effortless cool and ease. There was something uniquely British about them – white and black kids influenced by Jamaican dancehall, soul, dub reggae, US hip hop, and later, rock, willing to take on and subsume any sound. In this way, they sounded so modern, putting down a marker for the a new 21st century British identity that we could all subscribe to.

Fast forward to 2010, and MA are elder statesmen on the music scene. This outing sees the return of Daddy G to the fold, and a host of guests, including the usual suspects such as Horace Andy, as well as newer guests, including Elbow’s Guy Garvey and Tunde Adebimpe of TV On The Radio. The former is provides one of the weaker songs on the album, through weak production which is no fault of his own, while the TTOR man starts the record with a downbeat, mournful opener ‘Pray For Rain’. Their contribution is welcome, as the changeup of newer acts brings a different feel to the album, making it clear this is a record for today, rather than a memorial to the past.

It’s an eye opener to see multi-talented, multi-project extraordinaire and 90s posterboy Damon Albarn on there collaborating on ‘Saturday Come Slow’, to provide one of the stronger songs, while Tricky collaborator Martine Topley-Bird also provides melodic vocals and biting breakup lyrics on Babel, another standup number.

While it’s unfair to expect them to meet the heady heights of former glories, Heligoland does provide some decent noughties thrills, though it’s difficult to say if it will bring them to a whole new audience or sink without trace. It is however reassuring to see one of the great acts that this country has produced moving forward than trading on former glories.