The pretty little Japanese garden guitar motif marking Foals’s re-entry to planet Earth is a total red herring. Because “Inhaler” crunches hard—and frontman Yannis Philippakis’s anger, brewing and fomenting during the first verse, soon surfaces as an uncontrolled wave of rage in the sweltering, breath-taking pre-chorus ramp-up. Continue reading Foals — Inhaler
Some songs unknowingly link to numerous trends in music. From “Pull Up The Roots” we get James Murphy’s cowbell frenzy, the slinky bass of Quincy Jones’s productions for Michael Jackson, and the strangled, hothouse sax* that marks early TV On The Radio. There is a punkish energy to the song that also looks back to Talking Heads’ CBGB days, as well as prophetically forward to the rise of evangelical churches, with their rousing call-and-response chants. And, if you listen closely, the subtly finger-picked guitar-work around the three-minute mark became a mantra for The Durutti Column and, later, “The French Open” by Foals.
I wrote a bit about this album here; this song is an under-appreciated gem near its end, which ushers in the simple masterpiece “This Must Be The Place (Naïve Melody)”.
* The saxophone is actually a treated guitar part. I guess they learnt more than a few production tricks from Brian Eno.
Taken from Speaking In Tongues (Sire Records, 1983).
This time last year, I bored you all to death with my fifteen favourite albums of 2009. At the time, I suggested my list was not very useful because I had spent much of the year catching up on older music thanks to Spotify.
A year on, plus ça change. A friend told me he was surprised to see Fleetwood Mac extremely high on the list of most-listened to music on Spotify. I told him I was probably the reason behind this.
Nevertheless, for (non)completists’ sake, I shall persist with this probably pointless exercise. It might give you some weird insight into my warped tastes, at least.
Because I don’t wish to look like a slacker, you can also expect me to publish a list with albums I will get round to listening to in the near future. Continue reading Under-informed profligacy – Favourite Albums of 2010
Yes, I realise my activity on the blog has been minimal in the last week or so – my apologies. It’s been election season at university, meaning most of my time has been occupied with newspaper stuff and not much else.
Luckily, there’s only a week and a bit till the Easter holidays, so expect very soon some mumbled verbiage on the subject of:
Gorillaz – Plastic Beach
Shy Child – Liquid Love
Field Music – Field Music (Measure)
Liars – Sisterworld
Foals – “Spanish Sahara”
and maybe some other sonic goodness too.
Heads up, there’s a new Foals album just around the corner. Entitled Total Life Forever, it’s set to be released on 10th May, presumably on Transgressive Records.
The Oxford quintet’s debut, Antidotes, was something of a damp squib, riding in on a tsunami’s worth of hype, but never really reaching the heights we anticipated. It all felt rather soulless and empty, which is always a risk when you trade in vector-like math rock and guitars and synths that sound like insects, but fail to deliver any particularly meaningful lyrics or emotion. Unlike their contemporaries Battles, Foals’ music rarely captured the playfulness required to lift math rock into the category of music that you could enjoy, and not just appreciate.
Antidotes also had a troubled gestation – producer du jour Dave Sitek had his mix unceremoniously dumped in favour of the band’s own. This new one has been produced by Luke Smith, formerly of Clor, in Gothenburg. Judging by the photographs I saw of the band beavering away in the studio, it looks like some kind of palace to IKEA. Here’s hoping Total Life Forever will succeed in conveying the kind of fun most kids enjoy in an IKEA ball-pen (as opposed to the consumerist nightmare most adults endure in the rest of the store).
In other news, according to this tweet, James Murphy’s new LCD Soundsystem record has been completed, and is imminently being sent off for mastering, in the capable hands of Bob Weston (of Shellac fame).
It’s taken me two years of searching and disappointment, but today I finally came into the ownership of Antibalas’s 2007 album, Security, an event that has also coincided with me finally discovering the meaning of the New York collective’s name: Antibalas is Spanish for “bulletproof”, which, in many ways, is pretty much anathema to how their music sounds. Here is a troupe of post-Fela-Kuti-styled musicians whose contributions to other records (Return To Cookie Mountain, Antidotes) never fail to get mentioned, but whose self-contained output has frequently passed under the radar. Who can forget the dissonant slabs of brass on Foals songs like “The French Open” and “Cassius”? Would TV On The Radio’s “Golden Age” be half the joyous celebration without the rousing brass arrangement? In short, Antibalas’ guest slots on other records have been universally crucial to the success of these records. So why hasn’t anyone really heard their music?
Thanks to Spotify, I can confirm that the band’s first three albums are really tremendous works, even if none of them are terribly original or groundbreaking. Of particular note is 2002’s Talkatif, which channels the spirit of Fela Kuti, Tony Allen and Parliament through… a well-tuned photocopier. All three albums are enormous fun, but I always get the sense I’m listening to a really competent tribute band as opposed to being witness to an exciting new stage in the development of Afro-beat.
Luckily, Security does much to address these concerns, thanks in part to the exciting production of Tortoise frontman John McEntire, who brings to the band a renewed sense of experimentation and a willingness to break out of genre conventions. Security couldn’t begin in much weirder circumstances: like the loping, demented love child of Foals, Tortoise and Stockhausen, the opener, “Beaten Metal”, is exactly that. Showers of alien, metallic percussion rain down on a snake-like bassline, competing all the while with torrents of dissonant brass textures. Keyboards and clavinets that sound tortured and angry flutter in and out of the tight, busy beat. The effect is at once disarming, otherworldly and actually quite good fun once you get past the initial scary-factor.
“The exciting production of Tortoise frontman John McEntire brings to the band a renewed sense of experimentation and a willingness to break out of genre conventions.”
After this somewhat chilling opening blow, Security settles into a familiar, yet subtly improved, formula, with the two lengthy jams, “Filibuster X” and “Sanctuary”, cleverly shoved in at the front to create an overall balance to the album, tempered as they are by the more concise second half. The first of these, “Filibuster X”, is the more frantic, with amusing call-and-response vocals and intentionally messy trills of organ and saxophone. “Sanctuary” is more sultry and leisurely in pace, with ample room for meandering solos and beautifully measured guitar work.
And then comes Security’s second secret weapon – a second half that is unexpected in its direction, and, if anything, even more rewarding. “Hilo” continues where “Sanctuary” left off in terms of tempo, but the two songs could not have more different moods. Where “Sanctuary” was resolved and, for want of a better word, happy, “Hilo” is far more humid and frustrated. Clavinets ping off each other in each channel; rich and lush synthesisers cast a slightly ominous sparkle; the vocals are more mournful and bleak. As a reference point, imagine the Gorillaz song, “Every Planet We Reach Is Dead”, re-imagined by In A Silent Way-era Miles Davis. The two songs share a sense of dread and paranoia, conveyed through a musical form that is typically spirited and rousing—it’s a bit like The Specials, maybe. The next song, “War Hero”, has been circulating through my iTunes library ever since the album was originally released, and the intervening two years have done nothing to change my opinion of it – it’s the truest idea of a collaboration between the older style of Antibalas with Tortoise circa-TNT. Drums real and artificial ricochet off the walls; keyboards and buzzing synths swap riffs and melodies; by the end, it sounds like bits of Abraxas are being implanted into a Brooklyn block party.
“Clavinets ping off each other in each channel; rich and lush synthesisers cast a slightly ominous sparkle; the vocals are more mournful and bleak.”
The final pair of songs are great summaries of the album as a whole. “I.C.E.” oscillates and shifts between Jaga Jazzist-style atmospherics and humid jazz; “Age” slows down to a crawl that is almost too sluggish: as a wash of reverb from the percussion threatens to drown out everything, excitable whooshing synths provide a modern counterpoint to the New Orleans funeral jazz stylings of the brass and guitar.
Ultimately, Security still isn’t quite the original and break-out piece of music I’d hoped it would be, but that’s not for want of trying. Musically, it never fails to excite, or at least evoke some kind of strong passion, but it still gets out of its comfort zone frustratingly rarely. That twenty-five minutes of it are still devoted to Talkatif-style jams do little to dispel the preconception that Antibalas are still thoroughly in awe of their progenitors. Nevertheless, when Security does do things a little differently, it succeeds so outrageously that you wonder why they don’t mess with the formula more often. Very often, you can see the influence of John McEntire struggling to do more than add some sonic bells and whistles, when what you really dream of – a full-blooded Tortoise-Antibalas hybrid – is only manifest on a few occasions. When it does so, it gets it spot on – the end of the album is right up there, on a par with TNT’s “Everglade”. I was left with a slightly false emotion of enjoyment – I loved every minute of it, without being challenged as often as I’d like. But have no doubts – it’s a lot of fun, and it’s certainly less of an imitation product than one might have feared given Antibalas’s previous output. Be sure to track it down. If you can.
According to the king of music news exclusive scoops, the NME, Blur have at last announced the full line-ups for their Hyde Park gigs this July. Excitingly, I’ve managed to secure a ticket for the Friday date, where I will be treated to the delightful strains of Vampire Weekend, Amadou & Mariam, Florence And The Machine, and Deerhoof. This news mostly makes me extremely happy, though it does mean I’ll be obliged to get to Hyde Park insanely early on the day. But, happily, it’s the final day of my university term, so a short hop to the other side of London shouldn’t be too taxing.
Vampire Weekend: I absolutely adore their eponymous debut. It’s a glorious celebration of life as a young person (albeit a highly privileged young person) in America; a witty and musically enchanting depiction of campus life. Almost a year into my degree, I can safely confirm that this album most sums up what university is about. As a live act, I’m slightly intrigued by the band. They’ve overcome the limitations of the a four-piece taking on compositions full of polyrhythm and counterpoint and string arrangements reasonably well, bouncing off the irrepressible energy of frontman Ezra Koenig (owner of the coolest first name ever invented) and keyboardist Rostam Batmanglij (owner of the most unwieldy name ever considered fit for usage). I think they will fit in pretty well with the audience, particularly since they’ve wooed numerous crowds on the festival circuit last year.
Amadou & Mariam: A very good friend saw the Malian couple up in Scotland earlier on in the year, and, having closely observed Amadou’s dextrous guitar playing through many years of watching Jools Holland, I think they will be pretty special. It only helps matters that their latest album, Welcome To Mali, is currently one of the highest scoring albums of all time on Metacritic, and that this accolade is entirely deserved. Of course, it’s not that surprising to see them here – as with Vampire Weekend, they channel the spirit of African music into a pop setting, and they’ve worked with Damon Albarn through the Afrika Express coalition. He even produced bits of Welcome To Mali.
Florence And The Machine: The one band on the whole list of support acts about whom I know very little. Then again, she came out pretty highly on the BBC’s Sound of 2009 industry poll… which is probably a mixed blessing. I would guess that this was Coxon’s choice – she’s a vivacious solo artist with a bit of a soul vibe, apparently.
Deerhoof: Famous in blogosphere circles, no? They’ve been around for a number of years, with a huge back catalogue to choose from; their frontwoman is a very excitable Japanese lady; their music destroys genres and is generally great fun.
I think this probably makes this gig a better value day’s entertainment than most British festivals. Possibly even better value than cocaine?
Only kidding on the last comparison; poor taste.
… but sadly I’m doing some Economics instead.
Looking at the excerpt of the graph below, you’d think the battle of acceptable math rockers was much closer than it actually is.