Saturday, 15 October 2011

A Hairy Moment

"It's fantastic," I say with relish, "I know I say this every time, but you are a genius."

The praise is accepted graciously by H, who has just cut my hair and affected what could be called a sea change; transforming my usual spiky mess into a sensible and grown-up spiky style.

"Really," I continue to enthuse, building up a head of steam, "I know I shouldn't say this since it's my hair, but it looks great. I'm complimenting your handy-work really, not bigging myself up."

"I'm pleased with it, it's come out well" says H, calmly and with a touch of self-deprecation. We walk over to the till and busy ourselves with the business of payment. I catch the eye of one of the girls who works in the salon.

"Seriously," I say in a totally unprompted outburst, "your man here is a genius, I am so impressed as always!"

"I like your hair more spiky," she says "like it was when you came in."

I cannot help but think that this is not the best thing for someone who works in a hair salon to say.

Friday, 14 October 2011


"Chuck Klosterman," I say with the skewed intonation of the tipsy yet assured "will tell you it's the best album on the 1970s. I think he might have a point, although I'd be willing to listen to contrary opinions involving Led Zeppelin."

It is sunny. I am in a park with a crowd of people I have previously not met, and I am holding court. Expressions on the other side of the picnic blanket are largely glazed. It would be clear to anyone with less white wine inside them that none of these people are quite as passionate about Fleetwood Mac's Rumours as I. I have ingested just enough white wine and sunshine to feel (or rather, wholeheartedly believe) that they might just want to ditch the talk of weddings and holidays and discuss whether the opinions of one of Spin Magazine's finest are correct.

"I don't think I've heard it." Says one of my new companions.

"Ah!" I say, ignoring the idea that this was supposed to close the conversation "You probably just think you've not heard it. The great genius of Rumours is that everyone has somehow heard it subconsciously. A compelling argument for it's greatness, I think we can all agree. You all know Dreams, I bet...?"

I sing a few, disjointed bars.

"Didn't The Corrs sing that?" Says someone. I roll my eyes and draw breath for a stream of invective. There is giggling and I feel the conversation slipping down a rubbish nineties pop tangent as people try to recall how many sisters there were and whether they felt sorry for Jim.

"No, no," I grapple, "they did sing it but the point is..."

One girl turns to another.

"So then," she asks, "how was the honeymoon?"

I give up.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Schoolboy French

Having been awoken by the alarm at 3am, it is possible that I was already not in the best of moods. Since that rude awakening I had crossed London in a taxi, crossed the channel on the Eurostar and crossed Paris on the suburban rail. This is a lot to ask of a man on four hours sleep.

It was therefore with some trepidation that I spotted the bag, already positioned possessively on my pre-booked window seat. The bag belonged to a slightly haughty-looking French lady who was at that moment attempting to loft a suitcase the size of a small cow into the luggage rack. I glanced down at my ticket to confirm my suspicions that I was in the right, and then met her eyes with a winning smile.

The smile was, it could be said, not an instant winner. I pointed at the bag on the seat and made a polite yet inquisitive face. I proffered my ticket, temporarily stumped and unable to remember the French for forty-five. She examined my ticket, got out hers (which clearly bore the number forty-six) and started to scrutinise the seat numbers on the carriage wall.

There was no doubt in my mind that I was having that window seat. I had not pre-booked this ticket in order to look at the blue carpeting of the carriage's aisle. Indeed, the constantly scrolling cinerama of French countryside was to be a particular highlight of this five-day jaunt. Something would need to happen.

Drawing deep upon my A-Level French, I pointed to the seat and said, gently yet firmly, "C'est le mien. Numero quarante-cinq est près de la fenetre."

She huffed a bit, but my seat was relieved of the bag. Thus, with a slight feeling of pride, I settled in for the journey.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

The Donkeys - Born with Stripes

This article originally appeared on the peerless (yet now sadly defunct) It's owners are now Suburban Tarts, who should be visited post-haste...

It’s rare in this modern world in which we live, where so much is conducted on a global scale, that one can instantly pin a band to a particular part of the world. Putting this album on before going anywhere near any press material, it becomes instantly and possibly painfully obvious that The Donkeys are from Southern California. I check the press release. I’m right.

The Donkeys have produced an album that owes more than a nod to this region’s great heritage. The parallels to the Fifth Dimension era work of The Byrds and the driftier parts of Buffalo Springfield’s oeuvre are totally unavoidable and it would be pointless not to mention them in passing. But to lean too heavily on these comparisons would not really be fair, since these bands are peerless and magical and The Donkeys are, for the most part, a bit ordinary.

It’s not fair to say that they’re ordinary because they’re not very good; it’s more that they seem to be trying a little too hard to cram in as many psychedelic references as they can fit on a record: reverb-heavy harmonies, reverb-heavy guitars, drifting melodies, the odd random sound and even a sitar all make an appearance. What this leads to is an album with little cohesion, which is almost instantly annoying and feels a little derivative.

Occasional high points do exist on this record though, with a particular favourite being Bullfrog Blues, which is a nice little 3-minute psychedelic pop song that wouldn’t sound out of place on Elektra’s legendary Nuggets compilation. Here I feel that the band truly achieve their aims. It’s a great little number, but it’s followed by a seven-minute noodle entitled Valerie, which is clearly meant to call to mind CSNY’s fragile and beautiful Guinevere. And this is, perhaps in essence, why this album doesn’t work for me. Touted by the record label as a modern re-working of some of the elements of 60s psychedelia, it really isn’t. It’s actually a bit difficult to listen to without treating it as some kind of I-Spy exercise in spotting 1960s Californian influences. Shame.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Little Screm - The Golden Record

This article originally appeared on the peerless (yet now sadly defunct) It's owners are now Suburban Tarts, who should be visited post-haste...

The Golden Record released 04/11/11 on Secretly Canadian Records

The title of this record is a reference to the golden discs included on the Voyager spacecraft, which contain a representative sample of sounds, languages and music from Earth. The hope is that if the discs are ever discovered by an alien race, they will be able to play them (assuming they’ve not ditched the physical format) and hear a cross-section of our society. Douglas Adams once said that the discs were going to include the music of Bach, but the designers were worried that even vastly superior life forms might see this as showing off. But I digress. Already.

Little Scream’s full debut is, in this case, well titled. It seems to contain a whole range of styles, sounds and influences, all held together by Little Scream’s fragile, soulful voice. The album manages to perfectly pair beautiful lilting folk songs (The Heron and The Fox is a particular favourite) with a rather fine line in bombast (Cannons - Both these tracks can be previewed here). It almost comes as no shock to discover it is produced by Arcade Fire’s multi-instrumentalist and hell-raiser-in-chief, Richard Reed-Parry. The way the louder tracks build and incorporate many instruments is reminiscent of the producer’s better-known work.

But to focus too much on the production or the host of local Montreal guests (other members of Arcade Fire and The National chip in) would be to do Little Scream a huge injustice. Her voice and song writing are both beautiful, and the album drifts from quiet and introspective to epic and enormous (particularly the rumbling Guyegaros and the curveball intro to Boatman) with an ease that carries the listener along, whilst keeping them constantly guessing and occasionally (in my case) squirming with delight. The fact that the album closes to the sound of gentle rain, wind chimes and what can only be a synthesiser playing Land of Hope and Glory will give you some sort of insight into what we’re dealing with here.

This is an album that achieves the core purposes of the debut record: to showcase a phenomenal talent, to leave the listener already itching for the next release, and to make me long to see her live. It’s also a record inside which I could comfortably live; so complete and enthralling is the world Little Scream has created. When next she visits these shores (she’s just supported Jose Gonzales at The Barbican), I shall be waiting with baited breath.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Generic Poor Review #1

This article originally appeared on the peerless (yet now sadly defunct) It's owners are now Suburban Tarts, who should be visited post-haste...

On Friday night I was assaulted in Covent Garden. Head-butted in the face, I was. Blood all over the place. And it was almost the low point of the weekend. But then I went to the pub this evening and saw a band so poor that I am not going to name them, or the pub. Instead, I’m going to generically rant about them for your reading pleasure.

It started poorly. As the band maneuvered their instruments onto the small stage, the signs of doom were all about. The trousers were genital-crushingly tight, the t-shirts achingly fashionable, the hair floppy on one side and long on the other. It seemed like a Spotters’ Guide to modern indie cliché. But something was wrong with this perfect picture: tans. This sort of band should look as though they are slightly unhealthy; as though they have been living off beans and deathly kebabs for the previous three months. They should not look as though they have recently returned from The Seychelles. These are almost definitely the Common People to whom Jarvis was referring. Nor should their drummer be wearing a designer shirt and looking a touch too much like Michael Hutchence for comfort.

So, before the first note had been struck, I had decided I hated this lot. I knew they would be rubbish, and they did not disappoint.

The ukelele is an instrument that can, in professional terms, “go either way”. It should not, for example, constitute the entire melody line of your Shoreditch-friendly indie band. Nor should it be played with accompanying head banging. Just close your eyes and imagine how stupid that looks. See?

Beyond this, there’s a singer for whom the concept of a consonant is clearly a foreign and slightly suspicious one. Having heard more than one Cure record (I don’t know this, but I’d put my next wage packet on it), he bleats away with a voice that leaves myself and my housemate struggling to maintain straight faces and continence. In the entire set, I heard one discernible lyric, no kidding. There is occasional falsetto because, you know, that’s in right now.

Then comes the best bit: a song featuring the triangle. It is, let’s face it, the instrument you give the utterly rubbish kid in primary school music class. The reason for this is that it takes a very special kind of talent to fuck it up. Needless to say, these guys manage it. The “instrument” is frequently mishit and sometimes even missed. It’s hilarious to watch and we finally give up trying not to laugh when he throws aside the beater (as Wikipedia tells me it’s called) in fury. He resorts instead to saying “Shup” into the microphone instead.

Eventually the set draws to a close, to decidedly scant applause. I feel that here, in this small upstairs room, we have crossed an event horizon. The point where indie music gained it’s own Spinal Tap. It’s all been headed that way for a little while, let’s face it. In this modern world where social media has effectively removed several billion layers of quality control, we may have brought this on ourselves. These guys are so laughably generic that it matters not one jot that I have not given you their name. One day soon they will undoubtedly feature in the new bands section of the music tabloids. Take a look, they could be there already...

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Folkadot @ Green Note, Camden - 2nd February 2011

This article originally appeared on the peerless (yet now sadly defunct) It's owners are now Suburban Tarts, who should be visited post-haste...

I am coming before you to extol the virtues of London’s best folk venue. If you have not yet had the pleasure of Green Note, I have only one word for you: go. The restaurant out front leads you through to a little venue at the back, littered with candle-lit tables and flanked by bare brick walls. It’s what my mind thinks the cafés in 1960s Greenwich Village were like. A tiny stage at one end is lit just enough to create atmosphere, and a bar at the other end serves a good selection of just about everything. The food is out of this world and everyone is friendly beyond description.

Tonight is a monthly night put on by Unstable Promotions and features three acts from in and around London. Before we start though, credit and massive props to Jonny Berliner, who comperes and warms the crowd up with a couple of folk songs about science. His calypso tribute to the marvels of DNA has to be heard to be believed.

First up tonight is Oka Vanga , last heard of on this site in 2009. Before the set, I talk to Angie about why they seem to have an aversion to eating before they go on stage. “Well,” she deadpans “If you were being chased by a bear, you wouldn’t stop to have a pitta, would you?”

That said, there’s no sign of any nerves at all in their performance tonight. The eighteen months since their last review have seen the duo record an album and play a number of folk festivals across the country. Their performance has grown and changed, and the synergy of their playing styles is as stunning as ever. It would be impossible to attribute them to any one genre (unless frantic-vocal-free-speed-metal-folk is a genre in the MySpace generation) but their performance is as intoxicating and breathtaking as ever. The introduction of some slide guitar adds a new dimension to what remains one of the most watchable and compelling live acts you’ll see this year.

Following them is a change down a gear for solo singer-songwriter (no, it’s not a dirty word, it used to mean something) Pepe Belmonte . Pepe is Irish by birth and has been on the scene in various guises for some time now. Tonight his collection of songs are touching and beautifully constructed, and his voice is breathy and perfect for the tracks. His songs are reflective and full of intriguing characters, and his charm and banter have the audience eating from the palm of his hand. I am convinced that we will not be the only ones charmed by his songs and persona in 2011, particularly not with the release of his debut album just around the corner.

Finally, there’s Matthew Neel , who is clearly an old hand at this. Well known to many of the crowd, he appears tonight with a band, who win their first accolade by somehow defying the laws of physics to all fit on the stage without falling over each other. Once there, they proceed to entertain the massed ranks with a clutch of songs penned by Neel and which can, on occasion, conjure up the softer moments of Ryan Adams or Jeff Tweedy. The band give extra oomph to the songs and when the electric guitar comes out (to the predictable yet hil-ari-ous cries of “Judas”), the set starts to swing as Clapton-style licks give the songs a kick. That being so, standout track We Will Be Dreaming is performed solo as the set closer after the happy crowd request an encore.

So in summary then, see these bands and attend this venue. You won’t regret either of these decisions.