Monthly Archives: May 2010

You’ve Got to Stop

As recently as two years ago, it was completely unknown. Then there was an advert for a new channel called 4 Music which was set to a song called Kiss With A Fist by an emerging artist known as Florence And The Machine. Little did we know the soundtrack to the next two years of our lives had just been decided.

Florence and the Machine’s debut album Lungs was one of the biggest selling albums of 2009, winning Best Album at this year’s Brits. And on its release, the hype was justified. Florence Welch’s voice is a thing of remarkable power and personality, not the usual pop puppet croon, and Lungs felt fresh and inventive after the mortgage indie landslide that dominated the end of the 2000s. It was an unlikely album to cross over given Welch’s often bizarre treatment of song structure and melody: the vocal line shooting into the stratosphere every few bars, Dog Days Are Over isn’t exactly easy to hum along to.

But somehow Lungs found its way onto most of the ipods in Britain, and into the public consciousness. The next step? Television saturation. Evidently bored of mining Elbow’s The Seldom Seen Kid for incidental music, producers set their sights on Florence, and here we are, almost two years later, unable to turn on the TV without Rabbit Heart popping up on Come Dine With Me or Dog Days on a trailer for one of BBC3’s gems about sending WAGs and neds to impoverished areas for reasons best known to themselves. Seemingly, it’s an album for all occasions, from hope over adversity to getting the asparagus just right.

And the worst offender is the album’s low point, the competent but unremarkable cover of You’ve Got The Love, popular with the same people buying those Glee covers albums in their droves on the grounds that they don’t have to make space in their heads for songs they don’t already sort of know. It was a huge hit, it became the go-to montage soundtrack, and then became a massive hit again, albeit in a slightly different form, after Florence performed with Dizzee Rascal at the Brits.

It’s too much. Slowly but surely, all pleasure once found in the record is destroyed. It doesn’t help that albums are hammered until pretty much everyone who can afford it has bought it: relentlessly promoted for anything up to three years, every album is now a Thriller, hanging around until every possible single is harvested – Lungs is now on its fifth single, sixth if you count the downloads of You Got The Dirtee Love (yep, actually what it’s called). And with festival season looming, the next big crossover album is surely due. It could be one you like, ready to be ruined forever, or one you hate on first listen, destined to become a maddening soundtrack to your every move. Pray for ambivalence and you might survive with a love of music intact.

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Recommended: The Wave Pictures

Few things are more satisfying than stumbling across a band for the first time only to discover they already have a hefty back catalogue to immerse yourself in. The Wave Pictures are one such band: only beginning to register on the radar with 2008’s Instant Coffee Baby, the London-based trio have been plugging away since the mid-2000s and already have eight album or mini-album length releases under their belt, as well as a string of EPs. So prolific are they that they managed to release new vinyl only album Suzie Rides The Cyclone last month without anyone really noticing – after all, previous album If You Leave It Alone is only a few months old – but for those who missed it, the band is about to release a new EP and head out on tour.

Defiantly lo-fi, The Wave Pictures’ sound is thoroughly English yet manages to avoid charicature, and while the Smiths/Morrissey comparison is obvious, there’s none of the bitterness, none of the contempt. 

They also have the benefit of singer David Tattersal, armed with an acidic yet somehow tender voice and an utterly enviable way with language, swinging from sombre to hilarious, often within seconds.

Take the bluntly named Now You Are Pregnant for example: mid-way through the a tale about an uncaring ex, he slips in the lines

“I love the back garden at my parents’ house

And I love the view out of my Glasgow window

And I love waking up on the floor of a flat in New York

And you don’t know any of these things.”

The perfect encapsulation of a one-sided relationship in four little lines, delivered simply, beautifully, all the more surprising that it comes from a man who also casually tosses out lines like “you said my haircut was rubbish” and “you got cystitis, didn’t you?”. 

They can’t be recommended enough: a true English pop gem. And with such a sizeable repertoire to delve into, there’s certainly enough evidence to back that up.

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Keane – Night Train EP

Keane’s hefty new 8-track EP Night Train was unveiled this week, hitting number one within hours. Just in time to soundtrack the Tories slithering into Parliament, which has got to sting given their recent outburst

The  tv ad campaign doesn’t exactly sell it, flashing snippets the video for Stop For A Minute featuring  Tom Chaplin flailing awkwardly beside rapper K’Naan. And indeed, for its immediate success, Night Train is perhaps their poorest work. Mostly written while touring 2008’s Perfect Symmetry, it seems to have grown out of some of the album’s dodgiest offcuts. There’s Stop For A Minute, an ill-advised foray into rap which actually includes a Keane/keen pun, then there’s Back In Time, which sounds like a stab at Ashes To Ashes played through a siren. There’s the saccharine Ishin Deshin, and then, God save us, Looking Back, which actually samples the theme from Rocky.

Quite why they’ve decided they have to concoct this 80s nightmare is anyone’s guess. If it’s an attempt at cool, it has failed. But we don’t need Keane to be cool. True, they’re often written off as posh boys with a piano, but that’s sort of the point – that’s how people know them, and indeed a big part of why they love them.

2004’s debut Hopes and Fears did epic and intimate, light-hearted and heartfelt, with Somewhere Only We Know and Bedshaped exemplary, well-crafted pop. It was honest, it was a little overwrought, hell, it was even a bit soppy in places, but that, it seemed, was who they were.

Then came Under The Iron Sea, where they absolutely nailed it. Singles Is It Any Wonder and Crystal Ball were misleading as on the whole, it was a genuinely affecting story of childhood friends falling apart, beautifully set against appropriately sombre electronica: listen to Try Again or Broken Toy and you’ll hear a band failing to be anything other than utterly themselves.

Perfect Symmetry, taking its design cues from the title sequence to Saved By The Bell was certainly patchy – we could have done without the saxophones, the dodgy synths and that ‘WOO!’ noise – but when the overused effects were stripped back, it triumphed, as on You Haven’t Told Me Anything and Love Is The End.

The overwhelming feeling is that, perhaps as a reaction to laying themselves bare on Under The Iron Sea, they’re trying everything at once, and it doesn’t suit them: it’s actually starting to endanger them. Fingers crossed it’s out of their system by the time they’re ready to work on album number four.

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Post Post-Electric Blues

14 years after their first few limited edition 7inch releases, Idlewild, it seems, are on the verge of calling it a day. Rumours initially surfaced last week that they were splitting, but the band later clarified that after their current tour, they were going to take a lengthy hiatus before making another album, a phrase which usually serves as band speak for ‘trial separation’.

The reason cited was that the band was no longer viable financially. Indeed, Idlewild have had their fair share of record label moves, with the result that last year’s Post Electric Blues, their sixth full-length album, was self-released.

This is particularly discouraging as Post Electric Blues was the sound of a band finding their creative home. Self-released and financed largely through fan pre-orders, the band was free of record company expectations for the first time in their career, and this was evident in every single note. The rockier songs (Post Electric, Dreams of Nothing) were finely honed, a grown up band rocking out with passion and, almost uniquely, dignity; the folk influences, present on the unfairly unloved Warnings/Promises, were back, confidently and affectingly explored on The Night Will Bring You Back To Life and Take Me Back to the Islands, and the Idlewild signature sound rippled through Younger Than America, Circles In Stars and the stomping Readers and Writers, perhaps their poppiest moment to date. It was thoroughly Idlewild, and yet thrillingly new, the sound of a band truly comfortable with who they are, and after 2007’s patchy Make Another World, it seemed to be a good omen.

But apparently not. Scrapping for survival is increasingly common for bands beyond their first couple of albums. Usually overhyped on the first or second album, follow ups can’t possibly live up to expectations, and bands are dropped more readily. Idlewild’s tactic of taking matters into their own hands was refreshing, inspired, even, at once allowing them to make the album they wanted to and including the fans in the process. But without record label backing, financial strain is inevitable. And so, once their current tour ends, we wait. At the ABC on Friday night, they couldn’t have looked less like they were ready to throw in the towel. On electric form, their set drew more or less equally from every album. The crowd was almost willing them to be brilliant for fear this might be the last time they saw them, and they weren’t disappointed, lapping up every last note. Their playing was exceptionally tight – Rod Jones is becoming ever more of a homegrown guitar god yet still has the energy of a four-year-old – and as the band warily eyed the venue’s curfew, they make no secret of wanting to play just a little bit longer, band and audience clinging to and drawing out the last few minutes.

And so, with the tour over, we wait and see. Rod Jones has a solo album on the way, and we can perhaps expect more of Roddy Woomble’s folkier side projects, but whether or not something as tedious as money has claimed one of Scotland’s best bands, who are quite clearly still loved, remains to be seen.

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