Alex Turner as sleazy romantic-cum-nervous wreck is best evinced by “Do I Wanna Know”, in which he burbles on the brink of being overwhelmed with infatuation. “I’ve dreamt about you nearly every night this week”, he confesses in the first verse, and later, afraid he’s missed his chance, he asks, “Been wondering if your heart’s still open / And if so, I wanna know what time it shuts”. Continue reading Summer well
I was 31% of the way through Infinite Jest when I realised I no longer had any idea what was going on in David Foster Wallace’s novel. It felt like this lengthy diversion about rehabilitation from substance addiction had no origin and no destination, and at roughly the same time I began to yearn for a simpler and yet more powerful meditation on America. I put on R.E.M.’s Automatic For The People. Continue reading And but so R.E.M.
I suppose it takes a certain kind of musician to turn their back on critical acclaim, much of which has applauded you for bringing DFA-style grooves to the outskirts of the M25, and decide instead to make an album that’s intended to sound like the work of a polished 1990s boy band.
Well, Friendly Fires have done just that, making their second album, Pala, a sometimes frustrating listen for older fans of the band—though it isn’t likely to hurt the St. Albans trio’s commercial prospects. Continue reading Friendly Fires — Pala
The second of my Feel Good Hits Of The Summer bears, according to Pitchfork, an uncanny resemblance to MGMT’s “Time To Pretend”, which is in my mind an inferior creature. Much-vaunted duo The Big Pink release their debut, entitled A Brief History Of Love, next month, but in the meantime they are treating us to a free single, “Dominos”, which should be blitzing through summer playlists like a falling block of ice. Over the top of a crisp, pumping beat blasts through romping, fuzzy synths, and a ludicrously catchy vocal hook, delivered in a voice that is equal parts whiny as it is memorable.
There’s no video, and there isn’t likely to be one anytime soon, but grab the free download while it lasts, because this song is a scorcher. It manages the previously unimaginable, channelling the spirit of shoegaze through the raw energy of great pop music. Let’s hope they’re onto a winner.
This evening I have two official Feel Good Hits Of The Summer about which to briefly extoll.
The first comes from the finest dancers in St. Alban’s, Friendly Fires, who I have already heaped praise upon on previous occasions. They release new single “Kiss Of Life” on 31st August, which if anything is a bit too late to win the hearts of summer festival-goers, who will already have been grooving away to the song’s feel-good samba rhythms all season. The video, filmed in Ibiza, ties in perfectly with the song, which pits a flowering romance against the impermanence of lines drawn in the sand, waiting to be washed away by the tide. The music is unflinchingly euphoric and dancefloor-friendly, a fact impressed upon us by Ed MacFarlane’s inimitable beach-front jiving. My my, he has rhythm.
If this song isn’t a hit, I will despair. It is fully ready for the radio, and yet it doesn’t miss a beat in providing sophisticated, shimmering pop music for music connoisseurs. Expect Friendly Fires to be officially elected as rulers of summer by 2011 at the latest.
Every summer, there is a certain day when the climatic conditions, celestial movements, and god knows what else, contrive to bring us an eleventh Biblical Plague: a clumsy, filmy-winged, mutant downpour of flying ants. For me, this is perennially one of the most grisly, gloomy and anxious days of the year.
Many things make me unhappy, but to see such an awkward cloud of insects descend on gardens and patios, landing not helter-skelter but with a gentle thud, is really quite frightening. All at once, the air feels thick, tropical and apocalyptic, like a humid and portentous scene from a John ‘Mad’ Martin painting. Often, Flying Ant Day is preceded by a night of heavy, summer rain. On the day itself, cloud cover is typically grey and billowing, sending a bitter reminder of the winter months through an otherwise idyllic sky.
Around evening, when the harsh heat of the day has abated, and families seek holiday solace in varnished garden furniture, mother nature takes one furtive glance and unleashes its payload of these ungainly creatures, seemingly forged in the underbelly of the earth from the entrails and ectoplasm of ants, flies and wasps. Armies of them crawl out from cracks in paving stones. Swarms of them fizz and pop out of thin air. And, instantly, we take shelter inside.
What makes Flying Ant Day particularly unbearable is that it is, at heart, one enormous, spontaneous, mating ritual, where hordes of queen ants take flight for a single day to found new colonies. They take off; they mate; they burrow. To gain sustenance after their epic journey of fornication, they chew and digest their own wings. There is something intangibly miserable about this grim, mechanical process, which occurs without any prior communication. It is reproduction at its most inelegant, and it gets me down.
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.