Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Track Of The Week #6

Vampire Weekend - 'Cousins'

The self-titled debut from Vampire Weekend took me a bit by surprise to be perfectly honest. Buying the album because of the infectious 'A-Punk' I didn't expect to actually love it. But lo-and-behold it made last years end of year list, just for being great.

Now they're back. Album #2 Contra is due out in the new year and following on from free download 'Horchata' is the record's first proper single 'Cousins'. Like an 'A-Punk' meets 'It's The End of the World as We Know It...' it's fast furious and sure to cause a lot of damage to VWs snares. The download is apparently available now, and a nice looking 10" is due to come on December 15th, which is something that I'll be ordering.

Is the last great single of the decade the precursor to the first great album of the next?

Possibly, and it's got a great video!

If you want some freebies then head over to This is Fake DIY where there's new tracks by The Futurheads, Blood Red Shoes and Hot Hot Heat up for grabs.


Tuesday, 24 November 2009

The Keep Pop Loud Tour of Yorkshire - Part 2

The somewhat grandiosely named Keep Pop Loud Tour Of Yorkshire began again in earnest on 11th November and once again saw our fearless adventurer (that'd be me) venture outside of his adopted home-town of Sheffield and head for the wilds of Rotherham.

OK, so it's not that far and the quick car journey preceded us quickly finding the venue, that up until we actually saw it, had doubts over it's existence. Not that we didn't trust Ash, of course, it was simply because none of us found very much information about The Vault on the internet. Anyway: Ash. My fourth time seeing the band, and it was certainly the smallest venue yet (the biggest being when they supported The Darkness at Wembley Arena in '04), to the extent that the centre of what passed for a stage had a beam hanging so low that not one member of Ash could stand there. Furthermore, the central part of the room was divided down the middle by a ruddy wall, giving a somewhat unconventional gig set up.

If you've ever seen Ash at any point across their fifteen-year-plus then you'll know that they're a phenomenal force live and thankfully, since last seeing them they've ditched the backing sampler, for most of the set – which had been providing backing vocals, string sections, extra guitar bits and keyboards – and powered through a veritable greatest hits set as a three piece rock group. Having had such a tremendous career it's pretty difficult to play a set that doesn't miss out massive chunks, and although some great moments didn't make that Wednesday's setlist what did make it was very much the cream of the bands career.

They opened with the opener to their classic album, 1977, 'Lose Control' and followed it with 'A Life Less Ordinary' and 'Meltdown'. Now, there's a couple of reasons why I'm not going to recount their setlist, song for song (memory being one) but highlights did include 'Angel Interceptor', 'Orpheus', 'Oh Yeah', 'Starcrossed' and of course the Big Three: 'Girl From Mars', 'Burn Baby Burn' and 'Shining Light'. Four songs from the current A-Z Series were also aired, these being the first three ('True Love 1980', 'Joy Kicks Darkness' and 'Arcadia') and the forthcoming 'Space Shot', all of which sounded excellent.

Being such an intimate venue for a band that have sold a more than respectable amount of records across their time, the atmosphere was a little electric and the crowd varied. There's few bands today that seem to draw a crowd that varies from young teenagers to much older fans and includes such a high proportion of women. Also present, according to my eagle eyes (and double checked on twitter) was Subways bassist and all round indie goddess Charlotte Cooper. Phwar! Lastly, in case anyone is intersted; support at the gig came from Panama Kings who were definitely on the better side of average.

Although the KPL ToY was to take a break, it came to my attention that a certain Victoria Hesketh was to be participating in the turning on of the Sheffield Christmas Lights (22nd November). Now, I'm a Scrooge as much as the next guy, but if there's one thing that I cannot turn down, it's a Little Boots performance. Therefore imagine my delight when it also transpires that Alphabeat are due to be present too. It was poptastic goodness that even the bitter freezing cold couldn't scare me away from.

Before we got to the good stuff however we stood enduring local radio 'DJs', from the station that was putting on the switch-on as well as some less than brilliant performances. Mini Viva's generic disco-pop was inoffensive enough and preceded a partialy-mimed (as to be expected from this type of event) performance from a member-missing Alphabeat. The 'beat treated us to three tracks which were the underwhelming recent single 'The Spell', decent sounding newbie 'Hole In My Heart' and the chart slaying joy of 'Fascination', all of which featured live vocals and the epiphany that Anders SG is basically Michael Cera with a tambourine.

Finally, after standing though Beverly Knight (she sampled Orange Juice, apparently) and the token festive-ness (not a fan, on both accounts) we got our Little Boots, who as always was a complete star. Even though the lady was singing karaoke style to a backing track on a windy stage in front of City Hall, quite clearly not wanting to be there; she gave it her all. I've said before that Victoria Hesketh is a proper star and I stand by that after said performance. 'New In Town', 'Earthquake' and 'Remedy' are some of the greatest pieces of pop brilliance from the decade and they went some way to warming up a freezing cold Sheffield. It may have been worth standing in the cold for, but the cup of tea that was demanded upon arrival home was never more welcome.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Track Of The Week #5

The Gaslight Anthem - 'The '59 Sound'

I've talked before about how my relationship with music is changing, and for me the most alarming shift has been away from me forming close bonds with artists and records and more towards me listening to lots of music, a few times; ever expanding my tastes and collection. I've been searching for a way to rectify this, or to at least balance the two, and having come across some really good pieces of journalism recently happened upon one.

Over at Juggernaut Brew new ways of listening to music are being discussed and the solution offered is one that I've decided to try. You can read the entire article here, and it's advised that you do so, but in short this week I've decided to an extent to ration myself and let one album be the predominant soundtrack to most of my life, knowing full well at the start of this that it would be an album that I had every chance of really loving.

Therefore I've had The Gaslight Anthem's album from last year, The '59 Sound on repeat. And although I had already had a cursory listen to it when it first appeared in the missuses CD collection a couple of months back, since the weekend it's album that I've truly come to love. There's plenty of fantastic songs on there, all of them with a hefty Springsteen-via-punk vibe but my favourite, and this weeks TotW is the title track. It's highly emotive and managing to talk about death in an affecting and personal, yet universal way. Thanks to a re-issue earlier in the year this song is also in the running for this year's the End of Year list.


Thursday, 12 November 2009

Track Of The Week #4

Ash - 'Arcadia'

Another week another chance to see a band that I've loved for years.

Now, you may or may not be aware of what Ash are up to these days. For those out of the loop; they're releasing a new single every fortnight for a year, with these being themed on the alphabet and therefore being titled 'The A-Z Series'. As of Monday they've reached the letter C and put out the strongest single in the series yet; 'Arcadia'.

Sounding very much like Ash, 'Arcadia' also manages to pack in an understated electric piano and plenty of 'ooh ooh's into the backing vocals whilst the lyrics seem to tell the tale of The Odyssey with all of the usual rock n roll meets sci-fi imagery that Tim Wheeler excels at. Needless to say, it sounded very good in the confines of Rotherham's tiny venue TheVault (so small that bassist Mark was unable to stand anywhere near the middle of the stage, due to height reasons) last night.

'Arcadia' is easily one of the tracks of the year and if you've not subscribed to The A-Z Series then this should persuade you to part with thirteen of your hard earned pounds in order to get the whopping twenty six downloads. There's no video for this track yet however.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

The Keep Pop Loud Tour of Yorkshire - Part 1

It's that time of year once again: the leaves have browned and fallen, the only records that are being released are Christmas-ready greatest hits and reissues, meanwhile every band in the world is on tour somewhere, with most of them going through Yorkshire. This of course means that I've had very little time to sit down and listen to/write about music recently and more importantly it means that I'm very poor.

The Keep Pop Loud Tour of Yorkshire began a little under a month ago (October 12th) with a little warm-up in in Sheffield's The Harley to see Brummie fight-poppers Johnny Foreigner. Despite being based in Sheffield, The Harley was one of very few stops on the Tour of Yorkshire that is housed within the city. This gig would also be the third time that I've ventured out to see Johnny Foreigner this year, the reason being that since seeing them at Fuzz Club back in May I've very much fallen head over heels for them. Support at The Harley came from Mairead And The Voodoo Drive-Through, Japanese Voyeurs and Tellison who ranged from being quite rubbish (Japanese Voyeurs) to really rather good (Tellison) and got us all ready for Johnny Foreigner.

Being prior to the release of JoFo's second record, the outstanding Grace And The Bigger Picture, a decent amount of the songs played were ones that I was at the time unfamiliar with. Still we got 'Sometimes, In The Bullring', 'Eyes Wide Terrified' and personal favourite 'Salt, Peppa And Spinderella' from Waited Up Til It Was Light (an album which had I known, like I do now, this time last year would have topped my end of year list) along with the singles from Grace... 'Criminals' and 'Feels Like Summer'. The band were around afterwards and I would have liked to have talked to them but with having work the next morning and with Kelly, Alexei and Junior all looking really sweaty and tired immediately after the set finished I felt that they'd rather be left alone.

The next stop on the KPL Tour of Yorkshire involved us adventuring a bit further out, all the way to Leeds to see Los Campesinos! at The Cockpit (October 30th). The Cockpit is, as it turns out a decent sized and quite nice venue. Sparky Deathcap opened proceedings with some lo-fi acoustic music that gradually incorporated various members of Los Camp! into the performance, as they are apparently rather big fans of his (Gareth would later go on to sing his praises). Overall he was pretty decent, but completely blown off stage by Copy Haho who bought some frantic Hot Club de Paris style guitar work to a busy and quick indie beat. These guys pleased so much that I picked up their EP (Bred For Skills And Magic) from the merch stand afterwards, and can say that it's very much worth a listen if you get the chance.

Similarly to JoFo, Los Camp! were previewing material from their forthcoming album and also similarly they combined said material with all of the classics that you'd rightly expect from a Campesinos! Gig. As it was quite a while ago I can not remember the setlist as clearly as I'd like but 'Death To Los Campesinos!', the opening trilogy from second album We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed and of course 'You! Me! Dancing!' were given airings which the crowd enjoyed massively. The latter of course got the best reception, as to be expected from the group's most famous single. On a personal note, 'Sweet Dreams Sweet Cheeks' was a highlight, being my favourite song from their catalogue thus far. The other major point of interest from camp Los Camp! (aside from how the new material is sounding – VERY GOOD) is that new member Kim Campesinos! seems to have gelled in the band really well, and despite suffering from Swine Flu at the time of the show fitted seamlessly into the group's set up and harmonising really well with brother Gareth.

Having to make the way back from Leeds after the show was a rather tiring affair and I barely had the time to get my breath back before it was time to head out to the next gig. Muse at Sheffield Arena (November 4th). Now, as I'm certain you can tell from the names of both group and venue, this was on a slightly different scale from the previous stops on the KPL Tour, and as I'm certain you can also deduce, was rather amazing. The Big Pink supported and were pretty good, performing in thick smoke and at the base of some towers draped to look like buildings. The post-apocalyptic vibe was furthered through the best lighting display that I've ever seen for a support band and the distorted electo-rock of the band themselves. The highlight from The Big Pink was arguably 'Dominoes', although a friend of mine would disagree due to the song being pretty much all chorus. Still, when you've got a chorus that good then you might as well use it.

There's only so much that I can really say about Muse that hasn't been said before, so here I'm going to have to resort to cliché and inform you that yes, Muse are the greatest live band on the planet. The aforementioned towers that towered above The Big Pink through their set were revealed at the beginning of the main show to be platforms that propelled the three members of the band skywards and it was on said platforms that the band made their entrance. 'Uprising' came fist and works brilliantly as an opener , it was followed quickly by the latest record's title track 'The Resistance' both of which were somewhat arousing. Throughout the set the towers containing the band moved up and down allowing Chris and Matt to move about the stage, at one point towards the end of the set giving Chris the time to get on drummer Dom's riser and perform an instrumental Drums and Bass jam whist said platform rose and span underneath them.

Another highlight from the set came when a piano was hoisted discreetly onto where Matt's platform was retracted in order for the band to perform 'United States of Eurasia' and 'Feeling Good' up high in the arena. Epic, it most certainly was.

All of the songs that one would expect from a Muse performance were played and the crowd was as electric as they should be for such a show. Pits were open for 'Hysteria', 'Plug In Baby' and traditional closer (and personal favourite) 'Knights of Cydonia' and a strange keytar was bought out for the R&B tinged 'Undisclosed Desires'. The only negative side to the show was in the length of time that it took to get the tram back into the centre of Sheffield afterwards. In other words, Muse turned out to be certainly the gig of the year!

And so concludes the first part of the Keep Pop Loud Tour of Yorkshire and the entirety of the Sheffield leg. The next stops will be in Rotherham and Doncaster and will be bought to you in due course.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Track Of The Week #3

Muse – Hysteria (Live)

Long-time brilliant three-piece Muse kicked off the UK leg of their Resistance Tour in Sheffield last night, and as you might expect/be aware, yours truly was in attendance. My second time seeing the band (the first was in the same venue about three years ago) was an infinitely pleasurable experience, with a flawless setlist and fantastic stage show that managed to involve more lighting and laser fixtures than should really be possible, even for a venue the size of an arena, as well as a stage that contained three moving sections propelling the members of the band skyward.

Muse is not the only fantastic show that I've witnessed in the past week (last Friday saw a trip to Leeds to see Los Campesinos!, but there's more to come on that) but is Track of the Week for the sheer scale of the event and band. The set included many highlights which could gladly appear as TotW but I've gone for 'Hysteria' for prompting the formation of a pit very early on in the set. The freshness of the audience was apparent due to the ferocity, and the lighting display was similarly energetic.

If you've not been lucky enough to catch Muse on this tour then it's very much possible that you've missed the live event of the year and here's a video that someone took of 'Hysteria' last night at Sheffield, just to make you jealous.

It doesn't do it justice really

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Guilty pleasures and paradoxes

I've never been a fan of the concept of a 'guilty pleasure'. There's nothing in my music library that I'm ashamed of, although this is probably borne of being a rather big fan of Girls Aloud despite otherwise 'credible' tastes. Recently however the concept of a 'guilty pleasure' is coming to the fore thanks to my discovering that given the chance I'm able to enjoy a much wider range of music that I'd like to.

This has come to a head recently after reading some of what Drowned in Sound Editor, Sean Adams, has had to say regarding pop-punkers Paramore. Looking upon his list of songs from the decade (as an alternative to the Pitchfork 500) I was a little surprised to see their song 'Crushcrushcrush' present amongst more KPL friendly fair, and later came across some writing of his elsewhere on the concept of music listening habits and identity formation, singing the praises of the band. Being as easily susceptible as I am I decided to look more into Paramore (ignoring Twilight song 'Decode' which I've long found boring) and I'm pretty ashamed to say that I don't actually mind them.

There, I said it: “I'm pretty ashamed”. So much for the concept of a guilty pleasure.

Although, it must be said: Paramore appear to be a highly paradoxical band. On the one hand we've got their obvious 'emo' styling, yet on the other the lyrical content of their songs veer towards the 'kiss off'. Tracks such as the infuriatingly catchy 'That's What You Get' emphasise this, and combined with Hayley Williams tomboyish yet attractive persona and delivery it's not hard to see how they're appealing to lustful younger lads and providing a strong role model for girls at the same time. Yet a further paradox comes in their staunch Christian beliefs, which is completely contradictory with the usual emo faux-bisexuality, which acts targeting this demographic usually aim for.

As horrifically shallow as it seems, I'm sure it's Paramore's emo-ness and tween fanbase that makes me ashamed to be admitting to enjoying their music. Although, when saying this I'm not making any claim that Paramore are in any way 'good'. Objectively, there's a same-ness to their songs which do all follow standard pop-punk templates with predictable drum patterns and guitars that chug in an non-threatening radio-friendly way.

If my refusal to accept that they are possibly 'good' is the product of some indie snobbery then so be it. But surely it's more important to actually enjoy the music than any of the surrounding factors that I've mentioned in justification; and if this is the case then I'll continue to wrestle with my inner demons in the same way that I'm having to with the prospect that I actually quite like some Beatles songs now. So much for identity formation through listening habits. Or maybe I'm just growing old...