Tag Archives: idlewild

Best of 2012: A Conversation Well Rehearsed by The Birthday Suit

Second album in two years from Rod Jones’s new venture, and A Conversation Well Rehearsed does not disappoint. Lead single Less Worthless Years hinted at significant game raising (try getting that chorus out of your head), and the quality barely dips across the album. It’s a similar mix to last year’s The Eleventh Hour: there’s punch the air euphoria on You Hear The Drum, gorgeous wistfulness on Out Of This World and balls-out rock on Uh-Huh Uh-Huh (which comes with some excellent screams), but everything is just that bit tighter, that bit better, a little more sure of itself.
Jones’s songwriting is going from strength to strength, with even the big dumb rock moments displaying real heart, and there’s an obvious sense of pride and pleasure in each note. If The Birthday Suit can keep this up, this may be just the start of something very exciting indeed.

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Playing favourites: 100 Broken Windows

Inspired by The Guardian’s My Favourite Album feature (and yes, I’m fully aware that a blog inspired by a Guardian feature may be the most middle-class thing I ever do), I’m having a go at picking my own favourite album, and while choosing favourites is ridiculously difficult, this seemed to be the logical choice.

100 Broken Windows album cover

Idlewild’s second full-length album (although still third album in my mind as you can’t discount Captain) 100 Broken Windows was released when I was 16.  Having discovered Hope is Important and Captain, a little belatedly, the year before, it was the first album of theirs I had anticipated. Pre-album singles Little Discourage and Actually Its Darkness had duly been bought and their B-sides dissected,  and I had even braved Falkirk’s Radio One Roadshow to see them play two songs on a bill which also included Hanson, Craig David, Stephen Gately and Mary Mary. Yeah.

It was so much more than the singles suggested. Little Discourage was the perfect bridge from Hope is Important to …Windows, still loud, still jagged, but somehow more grown up, a pervading sense of melancholy amidst the racket. The album’s sleeve bares one note apart from production credits and thanks, a white page with only the words ‘Subject: history’, and it’s right enough: the album, particularly the second half, is a series of, or possibly just one, relationships splayed open, rich in love and arguments won and lost. Let Me Sleep (Next to the Mirror), one of their finest moments, has a deceptively carefree melody, but listen to the lyrics: it’s a story about someone who can’t stand their own reflection, in some kind of crisis or mental state which cannot be endured any longer, let alone the ten more years it suggests. “Apparently, you’re happy, you’ve realised,” sighs Quiet Crown, “I’m meant to be unhappy, I’ve realised”, while The Bronze Medal’s exhausted cry of “You said you felt weak, I hope it’s got nothing to do with the things you told me” is utterly devastating. The noisy moments are still there, and explore, for the first time, Roddy Woomble’s fondness for a literary reference, and somehow get away with lyrics about Gertrude Stein in one of their best choruses (Roseability) and an entire letter to Henry Millar muttered throughout the verses of Idea Track (listen closely, it is there) without sounding pretentious, possibly because they come complete with wall upon wall of perfect guitar lines from an increasingly confident Rod Jones. There are two big dumb rockers in the shape of Rusty and Listen to What You’ve Got as well, and all together, it’s a perfect snapshot of all sides of the band’s personality at the time, still young with a feral desire to make a hell of a lot of noise but gradually growing up, shades of doubt creeping in.

100 Broken Windows is also the album responsible for my first properly mental gig experience. I had been to a handful of gigs before, and they had been enjoyable, but this was an entry into a new world, a revelation of what live music could be. It was also my first visit to the Barrowlands, a place I had only heard stories of. Sprung dancefloor, went the whispers, you’ll never stop bouncing. And sure enough: the band came onstage, tore into Listen to What You’ve Got, the crowd exploded, I found myself squashed up against the barrier and I didn’t find the friend I had come with for about an hour. This was all new: my friend and I were the only people I knew who had heard of Idlewild, and to suddenly be in a room with a couple of thousand other people who knew every note and syllable as intimately as I did was intoxicating. These songs existed outside of my earphones and bedroom stereo, and they were huge, and unifying, and I was somehow part of it.

Last year, the band did a few tenth anniversary gigs playing the album in its entirety, and down the front of the Liquid Rooms, the feeling was the same. Everyone there, it seemed, still knew every single word, and despite a horrendous cold, I was hollering along with the rest of them, and barely able to speak the next day. And importantly, it still sounds great. It hasn’t obviously dated, and while the band’s sound has evolved, it still does them proud.

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Rod Jones and the Birthday Suit

This year’s Edge Festival is boasting a rather decent line up – with the exception of Cast and Morcheeba, it’s significantly better than last year’s – and tucked away right at the end is the unveiling of the new project from Idlewild guitarist Rod Jones. Going by Rod Jones and the Birthday Suit – whether that’s a new solo moniker, his backing band or his attire, I’m not sure – he seems to be on a mission to shine up the rocky side of Idlewild’s coin while Roddy Woomble is off promoting lovely folky second solo album The Impossible Song and Other Songs. And if taster Do You Ever is anything to go by, we’re in for something rather special indeed. Available as a free download here, it’s a wonderfully raggedy surprise, all serrated guitars and unexpected stop-starts. If Idlewild’s hiatus turns out not to be permanent – please please please – then signs are good for future albums: the inventive spirit is in seriously good health. In the meantime, Rod Jones and the Birthday Suit play Cabaret Voltaire on 31st August.

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Sunsheeine

In honour of the five minutes of sun Glasgow has seen today, here is a handful (all right, two handfuls) of personal summery favourites.

The Avalanches – Since I Left You

One of the most beautiful pop songs ever committed to record. A swirly, swooning perfect four minutes. 

Badly Drawn Boy – Epitaph

Ah, when Badly Drawn Boy was good. Remember that? This is a gorgeous little sigh of a song, complete with lilting bassline and chirping birds.

Mint Royale and Lauren Laverne – Don’t Falter

Kind of forget that Lauren Laverne used to make music, eh? This is still an absolute gem.

Friendly Fires – Blue Cassette

New album Pala was tailor-made for the season, but this is a particular highlight. Thundering percussion all present and correct, it’s somehow euphoric and half-asleep at the same time.

Delays – You Wear the Sun

Again, from an album with sunshine in every note. One of their finest moments, with shimmering keys and, oh, that voice…

Bombay Bicycle Club – Always Like This

Cycling through a field breezy at the start, turns into its own remix halfway through.

ANR – Big Problem

A heady post-sunset dancing in the garden soundtrack if ever there was one.

Guillemots – Made Up Love Song #42

Red was awful and Fyfe Dangerfield now sings covers for John Lewis ads, but all is forgivable when you remember that they made this too.

Idlewild – Too Long Awake

One of Idlewild’s best intros (SQUEEEEEE! NYAAAOOOOW! EEEEEE!), a wall of noise and serotonin. Was the centre piece of the unjustly maligned Warnings/Promises; lovely acoustic version hidden after Goodnight too. 

Teenage Fanclub – I Don’t Want Control of You

It starts with banjos and a “yeah!”, features a devastating middle 8 and ends with a key change. Beautiful.

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Goodbye Grammatics

Last week saw the hugely talented Grammatics play their last ever gig, a devastating event not just because a truly talented band has stopped making music. The real kick in the teeth is that Grammatics’ self-titled debut album was only released last year. That’s one year from dream realised to dream destroyed. And the reason? Largely financial. At their final Scottish gig in Glasgow last week, their merchandise stall offered only t-shirts bearing the slogan ‘Grammatics are fucking bankrupt’.

Money troubles are, of course, nothing new, but it seems that an increasing number of bands are having to stop making music because it is no longer financially viable. Look at Reuben, who held down day jobs throughout their touring days before taking a lengthy hiatus;  look at Idlewild, who have cited similar reasons for their imminent break. After their last album, Elbow have become big hitters, but before that, they were shuffled from record company to record company as they failed to meet sales targets (see also Delays). A deal with a major label is no longer security, a deal with a smaller label even less so.

So what are the options when a band finds themselves without money? Stick it out and hope there’s another label to pick you up? Work even harder for even less reward and risk ending up resenting your own music for getting you into this mess? Or walk away as gracefully as possible? Given the available  choices, Grammatics’ decision to pack it in is understandable, but it’s no less heartbreaking. You can pledge towards their final EP release here, and then all that remains is to say goodbye to an exciting, endlessly inventive band who simply can’t do it anymore.

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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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