Thursday, 27 October 2011

WHY? - Bristol Coulston Hall, 23rd Oct '11

Bristol Coulston hall is heaving when we arrive, I’m a little surprised by this, until I remember it says on my ticket that we’re going to hall 2 for WHY? Rather than hall 1, where Stephen Merchant is playing. We’re told that they’re running an hour behind, and so we hang around. Eventually the foyer is almost empty, it’s at this point that someone else who’s there for WHY? Turns to my

friends and I to share with us the story of “how my friend has found the most beautiful, true kind of love” (the reason I’m mentioning this will become apparent later). After an embarrassed “uh, ok, that’s nice…” from his friend, and us, the sea of beards and plaid shirts drifts towards the doors, and we’re finally allowed in. 
The room is draughty, and feels a little like a church, with prints of famous musicians performing on the walls, in a similar manner to stained glass windows, and we’re all seated in very neat rows. Serengeti, the support, shuffles on stage, with a nervous air, he perches himself on the edge of a Westlife-esque stool. He welcomes us and introduces Doug, the pianist, because of course, this is not just any gig, it’s part of WHY’s acoustic grand piano tour. He tells us how his album was produced by WHY’s Yoni Wolf and Owen Ashworth of Casiotone for the Painfully Alone (now Advance Base), and begins.
His charismatic stage presence is magnified by a sense of uncertainty, fiddling with his mic, before standing again, clearly more comfortable when he’s able to move, and move he does. Swaying he sings the chorus of ‘PMDD’, with Doug on piano harmonising on Joey Fever’s part. Picking up a recorder he apparently “just bought in Berlin”, he manages to make it fit beautifully with the looped piano and vocals - either he’s been practicing or is one of those infuriating instantly musical people. With a wave he has us all echoing his shouts on ‘The Whip’ and then that’s it, laughing he says “I’ve got shit for sale over there…WHY Will be here soon” and wanders offstage.  

With slicked back hair, thick-rimmed glasses and a shirt buttoned up to the top, Yoni Wolf doesn’t look quite how you might expect. The band launch immediately into ‘These Few Presidents’, to much whooping from the crowd. There’s a masterful surge of dynamics, shrinking almost to nothing and then rising instantly when Yoni begins singing. He rubs his recently broken hand, with a recently broken finger (which led to the cancelling of their tour of America) and tells us they’re going to “play a bunch of new songs”, with a quick plug of their forthcoming album, and how it’s really “taken it out” of him. The first new track is darker and heavier than much of what they’ve done before, and it’s certainly piqued my excitement for the new album. Josiah Wolf is playing bass guitar and bass drum (with his feet), while a new member of WHY? Plays the high hat etc, she’s soon introduced as Liz Wolf, Josiah’s Wife (and musical partner). Laughing they thank Stephen Merchant for opening for them, and “wish him well”.

Yoni’s quick humour, always evident in their lyrics, is shown as he mutters out a joke about how Liz is allegedly “from Bristol” and does a passable British accent when he makes a pun about her maiden name, Hodson (“Hodson, as in what a hot son you have”). They also deal rather well with some half-hearted heckling, including calling one shouter “coward” and inviting him to come up to the stage and repeat himself, this is all done with a smile. Much to their surprise however, to the stage he does come, asking to shake hands with Yoni (oh and look, it’s the guy from earlier who told us about his friend’s new love). Yoni turns this into an elbow shake because of his broken hand - which still looks pretty swollen and his dancing is a little wooden at times because of it. They rush off stage after their final song, but after much cheering return for ‘On Rose Walk’. Two songs later and they finish, this time for good.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Frightened Rabbit - A Frightened Rabbit EP

Poster-boys of Scottish misery, Frightened Rabbit are renowned for their clever, dark and beautiful lyrics, as well as the roaring, swaying music that surrounds them. Having released an album a year, for the past four years (if you include the acoustic version of 'The Midnight Organ Fight'), you might think they'd want to take it easy for a bit, but this seems not to be the case.

Fresh from touring in support of Death Cab For Cutie, they're giving away a three-track EP, for free, and it's also available on limited edition 10" vinyl. If you're unsure whether this is one for you (unlikely as that is), track 2 'Fuck This Place', a heartbreaking duet with Tracyanne of Camera Obscura, has long been one of my favourite songs. Plus, if you read this article on DrownedInSound, you'll learn how it was inspired by a dream, which just seems to add that little bit more to its addictive sound (also follow that link to get your free download!)
If that's not enough Frightened Rabbit for you, have a search around, and give some of their live sessions (particularly the Bandstand Busking ones) a listen, the quality of their music is only more evident when stripped back.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Some Albums For However You May Be Feeling....

Stuck in a musical rut? Even the most musically minded of us sometimes feel like they've run out of stuff to listen to, and perhaps them even more so than others, with that in mind, I've selected some aural delights for you - tailored to the mood you might be in, and maybe even something you've not given a proper listen to before.
Now, this list is only six albums long, but I'm not suggesting that you've only got six possible options to feel. Well, you might do. It's not really any of my business. No, instead I've picked eight albums that have a tangible thematic link within them, so that rather than the perfect tear-jerker ending, and your ears being filled with major chords and tambourines, you can finish your weeping in peace. The same applies to other emotions obviously, but I'm assuming you're all the types that will empathise with misery more than anything else.

Everything's Getting Older - Bill Wells and Aidan Moffat
Joyous to melancholic:
As the title may suggest, this one is in part for those evenings sat at home (alone), with a glass of something, while you ponder on how "there's at least a hundred billion galaxies with a hundred billion stars, and every single one could be a sun just like ours...all life is finite, so use your time wisely" (as heard on 'The Greatest Story Ever Told'). However it's also got some truly beautiful and joyous moments, 'Tasogere' and 'Let's Stop Here' (mentioned as one, because of how closely they fit) are equal-parts euphoric and heart-wrenching.

Allo Darlin' - Allo Darlin' 
Not alone:
This one's for holding hands, smiling and wearing nice jumpers to. Seriously, it's almost unbearably cute, it teeters on the nauseatingly adorable, but tracks like 'Heartbeat Chilli' and 'Let's Go Swimming' just about brings things back, and you can almost hear the Polaroid sunsets, but maybe steer clear if you're feeling a little lonely.

Crystal Fighters - Star Of Love
Like dancing: 

There's dark, thudding bass on 'Solar System', as well as crashing drums and almost unbearably joyous choruses on 'At Home', all of which will make it nigh on impossible to listen to and stay still.

Picastro - Whore Luck 
Sleepy and a little sad:
Sinister, dark and eerie at times, this could also have fitted nicely into a wintry playlist, but with the lurching violin, on tracks like 'Hortur', and Liz Hysen's soft but cutting vocals, it's marked out as more than just your average morose listen. 

Death From Above 1979 - You're A Woman, I'm A Machine
Normally, a bad mood means Mclusky or Bikini Kill for me, but I decided to go with this DFA1979 record, because it's cleaner, catchier and deeply cathartic. 

Sam Cooke - The Best Of Sam Cooke
Everything else:
Whenever I'm unsure about what to put on, I invariably turn to this, and it's also great for background/dancing to when you've got people over - I'm yet to befriend anyone who doesn't enjoy it, even if they've not heard anything from him before. 

 (Look! I’ve put them all in a handy Spotify Playlist for you! Although they don’t have the correct ‘Best Of…’ for Sam Cooke, but the rest are all here)

Monday, 10 October 2011

Nicola Roberts - Cinderella's Eyes

This album has, admittedly been out for a while, and if I’d been more on the ball I’d have reviewed it sooner - but I forgot. That’s the thing; Nicola Roberts is often seen as the forgettable one of Girls Aloud, now personally, I don’t really care about any members of Girls Aloud. Or I didn’t, until I saw Nicola Roberts doing a documentary on the dangers of tanning for young people, she talked about how determined she became not to allow her record label and management to force her into fake tanning, and she now has her own make-up range for pale skin. Which is all pretty admirable, really and I promised myself I’d keep an eye on what she got up to, but somehow it never happened.

Then I heard ‘Beat Of My Drum’, it’s fun, instant and empowering, Roberts is standing up, telling people she’s in charge now. The video is sadly, not very good, but she’s doing her own thing, so we’ll let her off for that bizarre bending over dance move, and it certainly doesn’t seem to have caught on, which is something of a relief.

‘Cinderella’s Eyes’ is at the very least a good listen because it’s daring. It’s depressingly rare to come across an album that’s likely to chart, which does anything different, but if you listened to this abstractly, it certainly wouldn’t sound like Girls Aloud karaoke with only one member (unlike some people, naming no names…Cheryl Cole). In fact, the opening of ‘Fish Out Of Water’ is reminiscent of Xiu Xiu, it’s treading that beautiful line between great pop and plain weird, which if straddled successfully is often the most rewarding, listens. Although, I’m politely ignoring the cover of ‘Everybody Hurts Sometime’ because, well, it’s a bit rubbish.

 There’s a pervading sense of dark regret throughout, dark nights filled with drink, music and emptiness inside, she lists her fears on ‘i’, telling us she’s “scared of dying…scared of getting old” and “scared of bodies…scared I’ll lose control” and there’s something truly heartbreaking about the way she says “I don’t like nasty words, they hurt me like you’d never know”. She whispers “you’re my childhood sweetheart the one I’ve chased for years”, which sounds lovely until the chilling next line, “feels like you’ve got your hands locked over my lips and ears”. The painfully honest confession, ‘sticks + stones’, with its references to underage drinking, “too young to buy my own bottle of vodka so I beg the driver” and mental health issues “say no to the shrink I can fix me I think, I’ve got friends in my head” never once feels smug. Even though she’s talking about the downsides of famous so young, which such subject matter often leads to, instead it feels truly honest.

The artwork shows Roberts sitting on top of a pile of junk, a surreal Alice in Wonderland, but for all her porcelain skin, and doll like hair, she isn’t taking any nonsense. The idea of her being in a fairytale that turned bad, is clear, she used to “write all her dreams in her storybook”, according to a daring and successful rap on ‘Take A Bite’, but she’s taken this idea and turned it around to her benefit. Which is pretty much what she’s done with all that’s happened to her. How do I know that? How do I know ‘what’s happened to her’? Well I don’t, I haven’t read it in any magazines or anything like that, but that’s the picture ‘Cinderella Builds” and frankly, the potential of an honest, heartbreaking, and frankly, shockingly dark pop album, that really tells a story, is not something I want to explain away. For all the open confessions, I’m not left pitying her, because she comes across strong. It may not be to everyone’s tastes, but then very few things are, and the fact she’s done something different, begins to restore my faith in pop music.