Saturday, 15 December 2012

Django Django - Album of the Year

Django Django - Album of the Year

Forming at Art College in Edinburgh, you’d be forgiven for writing Django Django off as another electro-indie cliché. While they may be admired by graphic designers and unnecessarily bespeckled teenagers nationwide, they bring a unique combination of critically acclaimed pop music, with more progressive electronic influences. It is great pop music; if we lived in a less of a fickle and feckless world cult-hit ‘Default’ would have almost definitely been number one for almost literally a year. There are obvious influences from Talking Heads and The Beta Band, of which the latter share family connections, but more than a newer version of these bands, Django Django have successfully crafted a superb album, only ‘out-indied’ by Alt-J at this year’s Mercury Music Prize.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

New Order. Live at the Birmingham Ballroom. 29/04/2012

New Order. Live at the Birmingham Ballroom. 29/04/2012

With not exactly a shortage of bands reforming in the recent years you would be forgiven for thinking that recently reincarnated eighties ensemble New Order would be little more than a brief injection of euphoria for angst ridden forty-somethings desperate for that last dose of 1983. Instead, we are presented with a measured snapshot of a unique moment in British pop music history, in a fitting scenario that sees Bernard Sumner and co return to Birmingham, thirty two years after the University of Birmingham played host to the last ever Joy Division performance before singer Ian Curtis’s suicide forced Sumner to take to the microphone and lead New Order into a new era.
Considering this was clearly going to be a ‘greatest hits’ affair, any danger of passive nostalgia was quashed by an urgency to go out and enjoy the moment, both by band and fans alike. Classics such as True Faith and Temptation teased a vibrant reception as few seemed affected by the absence of founding bassist Peter Hook, currently touring the life out of the Joy Division back catalogue. Jubilation ensued at hearing debut single ‘Ceremony’ and the entire crowd, however balding, seemed to form a mutual connection for an upbeat version of Joy Division classic ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’, a rendition that seemed to complete a night of simply exceptional music.
Despite Sumner’s niggling cold, (he had a little lean up a wall during Blue Monday – which could be forgiven given its longevity), the band forged on, with unrelenting vigour, ensuring a performance that never once felt laboured and gave the crowd, not just a flash back to their heady days of ‘then’, but a fresh performance for ‘now’, certifying synth-pop’s relevance in the 21st Century.

Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires – There is a Bomb in Gilead

Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires – There is a Bomb in Gilead

In an age where genres of music can be cheaply copied, hijacked and manipulated (yes I’m looking at you Will.I.Am) it is an enormous relief to find a band who, not only know their genre, but loyally stick to it and produce a fine album that knows exactly what it wants to do, and goes off and does it.
‘Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires’, from Birmingham, Alabama, are technical masters of their art. Their art: out and out barnstorming Southern rock n roll. Sharing qualities and characteristics of every critic’s favourite new band, Alabama Shakes, whom they have also toured with, The Glory Fires are more powerful, more faithful to the southern sound of the USA and carry an unrivalled authenticity. Their debut album, ‘There is a Bomb in Gilead’ is an example of this. And it’s good too. It’s not as if you have to be devout worshipper of Americana roots music or already have a strong grasp of deep American rock music to appreciate and enjoy this little snapshot of America.
It’s a great feat to produce and album that is accessible as well as musically credible, and this is exactly what The Glory Fires have done. It would not feel out of place in a dusty hot summer in Birmingham, Alabama, nor would it be alien in a kitchen in a drizzly miserable summer in Birmingham, UK. With Bains’s distinctive smooth, soulful voice they may face a challenge to avoid becoming clichéd, thus preventing them from reaching a worldwide audience, through dismissal of the genre as a whole; however, Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires have made their first, distinctive step into what could be a very long and successful career.

The See See – Fountayne Mountain

The See See – Fountayne Mountain

With the British summer likely to fail us once again, we look to other methods to provide us with ‘That Summery Feeling’. ‘That-Summery-Feeling’ is, in fact, the main result of the London based band’s second album ‘Fountayne Mountain’. Packed with swirling guitars and iced with plenty of rock-organ, this album is the perfect antidote to seemingly endless poor British summers. There are distinct Beach Boys influences, particularly in their carefully crafted harmonies, but also a heavy Brit-Pop lead sound, mainly as a result of densely packed guitars and a rhythm section that lopes along merrily beside it.
‘Three More Days’ is a particular highlight, with a simple melody developing this into a perfect pop song. In fairer music world, a music world more interested in songs than Katy Perry’s latest haircut, this album would be more widely known and appreciated. Even fifteen years ago, at the height of the Brit-Pop era, this would have fitted right in. And that may be the only downfall of this album; an overreliance on sounds that have already been created, structures that have existed for a while, rather than developing their own, unique style. However, these are songs, created with precision, resulting in an album that is a pleasure to listen to. Besides, it’s the closest thing to a British Beach Boys we’re going to get – and you can’t ask for much more than that.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Tribes. Live at O2 Academy 2, Birmingham. 09/05/2012

Five months after their debut release, ‘Baby’, something has changed. Tribes have seen a significant shift in the demography of their audience; from the artsy festival goers’ thoughtful nods to teenage screams and handmade banners, the band now look out to a increasingly passionate teenage following (lead singer Johnny Lloyd dedicates the encore to two young girls who have attended every show of the tour). Maybe it’s the extensive touring of the album, maybe it’s the beginnings of Lloyds’s evolution into ‘rock front man’, or perhaps, with an increasing absence of guitar music in popular culture, Tribes are now an answer for those who don’t sign up to the general apathy and mass consecration to Cowell and the X-Factor machine.

Album opener, ‘Whenever’, is a particular highlight, and Tribes well rehearsed and tightly refined pop-grunge validates their popularity, showing just why they have been the recipients of high critical acclaim. Aside from a small dip in tempo in the middle, presumably to give the album tracks one last run out; Tribes’ show is excitably received, with main finale and indie ‘hit’, ‘We Were Children’, proving particularly rapturous.

Whilst there are signs of obvious enjoyment from the band, there is a sense that the episode of ‘Baby’ is about to finish, and a new album may be what Tribes need to continue growing up. This inevitably poses questions for both band and fans as to the direction of the next album. Whether a conscious decision to remain critically respected and resist the temptation to resign into a potentially dangerous zone of popular mass appeal, consequently ‘doing a Razorlight’, is as yet unknown, but here, on the last day of their UK tour, Tribes seem happy to roll out the album, and as well they might.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Chiddy Bang - Breakfast

How Chiddy Bang ever got to the stage of releasing an album is beyond me. Mildly famous due to their cover of MGMT’s ‘Kids’ entitled ‘Opposite of Adults’ (see what they did there?) they probably should have faded away by now. But still they hang on.

I wouldn’t worry too much though as their main demographic is probably pre-schoolers if title track ‘Breakfast’ is anything to go by. Helpfully instructing listeners to ‘get your plate, get your fork, get your spoon -Yeah, it's time to have breakfast!’ Fun and informative! It’s actually neither. Furthermore, if that wasn’t enough, we are even enlightened to the fact it ‘goes well with OJ’ – presumably the juice not the American football player.

Overall, this album seems to sort of exist without actually performing any function. Of course there is a place for fun music, not everything has to be groundbreaking, but unfortunately this is neither, to the extent where they sound like they’d rather just be doing something else. And so would I.

Their cry of: ‘I’m Ray Charles’, the lead single, apart from triggering an involuntary ‘no you’re not’ in a similarly repetitive tone, does little to further their cause. Nonetheless, it is undeniably catchy, but so are lots of things, like flu.

‘Does she love me?’ sees one of our little pop princes worried that a girl doesn’t love him because he has leprosy, no matter how many times he cries: ‘I aint got leprosy!’ – or something like that. My advice? Get yourself to a doctor and give her some proof!

This pattern of irritating pop continues, with ‘This Is Happening’ - imagine a Cher Lloyd song which even she rejected - unfortunately reminding me that I genuinely am listening to this.

Generally every song sounds almost exactly the same and follows the same format of: nauseating synth introduction, mildly inoffensive rap, instantly forgettable chorus, some more generally off putting keyboards, another chorus and then if you’re lucky, the end, which overall results in a shallow album that you probably wouldn’t want to listen to more than once.

The Civil Wars - Live at HMV Institute Birmingham 13/03/12

In their first gig of their first headlining tour outside of America, The Civil Wars are visibly struck by the reception they receive: a standing ovation before they even start; but one that is ultimately deserved. Fresh from the release of their excellent debut album, ‘Barton Hollow’, the sheer musicianship of vocalist Joy Williams and guitarist/vocalist John Paul White is genuinely astounding. In a world where a larger emphasis is placed upon the album itself, with touring acting as a sideshow, The Civil Wars really inject something extra special into the album, making it come alive, inviting everyone to enjoy a little taste of southern America.

This is helped extensively by the chemistry between the two performers; Joy, the ever excitable smiling face of the band; and John Paul, interjecting with the occasionally witty observation in a deep southern drawl. The set up of just one guitar and two voices is both fresh and completely successful, leading some audience members to raise their hands or rock as if in some spiritual environment, the emphatic lead single ‘Barton Hollow’ an example of this. There is a distinct delicacy to their music, both a necessity due to the instrumental set up, but also one utilised to maximum effect, resulting in a precision I consider to be unmatched by anything I have seen in a long time.

Thoroughly deserving of the two Grammys they won this year, an event in which they also performed, they remain criminally underrated, especially in this country, where indeed most forms of music influenced by ‘country’ are largely ignored, or left to stagnate in the doldrums of a Radio 2 playlist.

However, this is all set to change. Having recorded the soundtrack to the new film’ The Hunger Games’, featuring the highest earner in pop music for 2011, Taylor Swift, there is going to be a lot more attention given to this band, which may lead to a more deserved recognition. And with this new admiration and appreciation, surely The Civil Wars are on the brink of a musical revolution.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

R U Mine - Arctic Monkeys

Fresh from trying to fool the American population into thinking he is in fact John Lennon, bequiffed Alex Turner and co have made their first cowboy boot-step away from 2011’s populist compromise ‘Suck it and See’. Borrowing a Black Keys’ shuffle and a Queen’s of the Stone Age sneer, ‘R U Mine’, is a full on rock and roll tune, bound to tease a ‘yee-ha’ from even the most reserved indie fan. This of course, despite the fact the title wouldn’t be out of place on the back of a Ke$ha album.