Thursday, 28 January 2010

Mastering muerte...

You can’t conquer life until you’ve conquered death. Our greatest fear is surely the abyss that follows the ultimate event; but from this all other petty preoccupations pour forth. It is the biggest change we know – something to nothing – and spreads a nervousness of all the little ones too. Dread breeds inertia, not to mention a whole bunch of nasty little isms. All the major religions attempt to get over it by employing the caveat of an after life, but this is all just so much high hoping and hocus pocus: witness the folly of the Pharaohs. Even the artists and inventors have, somewhere in their souls, the hope of defying the d-word by living on through their work. But much better to be great in this, our only life: no need for nirvana other than now. Apt, then, that it should be the School of Life who take us by the hand and teach us How To Think About Death. Ah, a life without fear: now that’s what I call living…

Room above a pub...

Comedy was never created to be performed in an auditorium, or even in its own special club. No, the pub is humour’s natural home, where comedy feels most comfortable. For the main point of going to the pub is to cut loose, get lashed and have a few laughs with your mates anyway (especially if that pub is a Proper Boozer, like what the White Hart is). An altogether different brand of amusement, room-above-a-pub-comedy can sometimes be hit or miss, many of the laughs coming from the sheer nervous tension in the room. We can say it’s real. But no worries tonight because Josie Long will be upstairs and, y’know, she’s definitely very funny. We hear that this night is run more like a party than a business - a big two fingers up to Leicester Square – which is good news because, after all, you really shouldn’t put a price on laughter. Or, if you absolutely must, it definitely shouldn’t be more than a fiver…

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Chew Lips Debut LP 'Unicorn'

Oh no, not another glibly titled electro-pop outfit? Not more bedroom wannabees bringing tinny tunes and boring beats? More synth-geeks who have inexplicably managed to persuade a pretty lady to voice their Moog masturbation sessions? Well, oh no, actually, it’s not.

Unlike Kitsune label mate La Roux, you won’t be embarrassed to have Chew Lips in your record collection by September. Simply by being, y’know, interesting, they have attained perhaps the highest accolade this brand of electro-pop has to offer, in that no songs on this album will ever become ringtones and it would all sound faintly ridiculous emanating from anything with a spoiler; too subtle for subwoofers, thank god.

That’s not to say Unicorn won’t take up residency in your head; it’s just that it will be a welcome guest. And that’s primarily because of the biggest gun in the Chew Lips armoury, their own weapon of mass devotion: the lungs of leading lady, Tigs. We can say she can sing.

Over the dreamy opening bars of album and the track, ‘Eight’, her vocal comes on like the sullen lovechild of EBTG and Alanis Morrisette. A bit weird therefore, but then that’s the point of this eerie opener. The beats kick in around halfway through, allowing you to exhale and perform a comedy swipe of the imaginary sweat on your forehead. For it is over these beats that Tigs really shines, where she can begin to belt it out a bit. The sullen little girl suddenly becomes Sexy; it’s oh so sultry and comes from the same school as Miss Mossheart and Karen O.

But what about those boys - James Watkins and Will Sanderson - and their beats? Play Unicorn at half volume and it just sounds weird; turn it up to til your ears bleed and it all makes sense. Some producers seem to forget that dance music needs to at least hold your attention; a bare minimum even if it’s mainly for dancing to. If - like 'Play Together' - it can grab you by the cojenes and drag you bodily on to the floor then all the better. There’s so much going on in this track – a seriously big bass line, whirling synth washes and dirty electronic sprinklings – it’s hard to say what exactly has that hold over you, but everything has its place and, either way, it’s anything but ignorable.

There are, however, times when you’ll begin to wonder, hmm, what’s the point of all this exactly? “A high speed chase on a wedding day, give and take it’s all the same”? Whose wedding day? What does this nihilistic nonsense even mean? ‘Karen’ – an ode to the short and tragic life of Karen Carpenter it turns out - could be about any old chick of the same name – indeed, it’s so vague that it could apply to anyone or any situation. You get the impression that the actual words are mere foils to the mouth from which they’ve sprung forth and the beats which carry them along so well. But, if you can countenance a lack of lyrical cohesion, then perhaps it doesn’t actually matter; it has a sense of abandon and maybe that’s enough. Who needs deep from hands-in-the-air-grinning-like-an-idiot-music, anyway?

This aside, Chew Lips clearly have respect for their audience; a respect which lends Unicorn more longevity than - on paper, anyway - it should have. The whole record comes in at almost exactly 30 minutes - a nice round number that allows for ten songs of in and around three minutes each - which keeps it punchy and makes the whole thing move: no time to get bored, here comes the next song, anyway. It also shows a certain humility - no need to over-cook it, now is there? There’s no lack of confidence though; leaving previous singles ‘Salt Air’ and ‘Solo’ off their debut, despite their success, shows a dedication to the creative process and an originality which sets them apart from yer average synth-pop pretenders. In short, it certainly has swagger but not so much you’ll want to punch it in the face: Chew Lips have planted a carefully selected crop and, for that, they deserve to reap the rewards…

Let go me ting, Duppy, let go me hand...

When Duppy took a hold of his hand while he was writing, it seems Mr. Manuva never quite managed to shake the grip: for the Rastafari spirit of mischief has a strong influence over everything Roots puts his name to. The music policy of his latest venture, a quarterly Dub College no less, is testament to that, playing everything from mutant bashment to disco dub to electro ghetto and jazz crunk. But it’s not just grubby dub beats, this is a full on dub cabaret. Standard issue Banana Clan mayhem comes by way of a Dawn Penn PA, live magic, comedy, palm reading, a speakers’ corner and live media installations. Mr Smith himself is presiding over the whole thing, summoning up the power of Banana Clan from behind the decks and, hopefully, giving us greedy dub addicts a sample of what’s afoot on his forthcoming compilation album. Well, well, well…

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Maccabees Interview - Hugo White

December 11th 2009

You might not even expect to see Roots Manuva and The Maccabees on the same bill, let alone the same track, so on the face of it this unlikely collaboration in the November release of ‘Empty Vessels’ may have sounded incongruous. But both artists have a history of making things happen, and always on their own terms, so in reality it sounds anything but. In fact, it sounds like it was always intended: Orlando and Rodney coming on like slightly messed up messiahs over a tune that already had a driving hip-hop drum beat.

Clearly they’re not afraid of trying new things and their second record, Wall of Arms, is further testament to this. Although it has the same spirit – that same sense of abandon - as their first album, Wall of Arms is much more atmospheric. The same peaks, the same driving beats; there’s something new there as well. ‘We sort of felt we’d done a lot of that jaggedy, thin sounding music and we made a conscious effort to embed stuff more and have a bit more depth to everything.’

Some of this depth comes courtesy of the Markus Dravs production. He’s performed the same trick for Bjork, the latest Coldplay album and that master piece of the soaring song, Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible. If that difficult second album is sink or swim then Markus Dravs is the ever attendant lifeguard by the side of the pool. ‘Markus was pretty amazing at helping, it was his call to get the brass section in and things like that really worked out.’

They’ve gone further for sure but they haven’t lost the essential essence of the Maccabees; it’s just as sensitive, just as profound and has all the same urgency. A lot was expected of this album and that hasn’t been lost on them, something which is obvious from the attitude they took to the making of it. ‘We wanted to sort of disappear a bit and not see anyone we knew so we got a house in Paris and did it in a small studio, which was amazing.’

Whilst they clearly took the task in hand very seriously, they appear undaunted by any weight of expectation. Rather, it seems they enjoy the challenge and this is probably because everything they do is their own; they’re doing it as much for themselves as for anyone else. They don’t just write the songs, they design the covers and shoot the videos - manage the whole aesthetic - so the experience can’t help but feel personal. “In some respects, it’s just as important as the music. If you’re doing the music then it’s important that you represent it; we’ve always thought it was important to keep it coming from within the band rather than just handing it over to an outside person and saying, ‘do the artwork.’ It’s just, really, making sure that it’s our thing.”

All this independence necessarily breeds originality and whether that manifests itself in music videos which double as a documentary on cheese rolling or a doubtful but delightful duet with Roots Manuva, you know that not only can they give it, they’re always giving it their all…

White Lies @ 02 Academy Birmingham

Saturday 5th December 2009

Just like the iconic indie front-men of the 1980’s, Harry McVeigh didn’t give away much tonight. Even during their big moments - Farewell to the Fairground and To Lose My Life - he seemed unmoved and stood on stage like a modern messiah - your own personal Jesus - legs apart, shoulders set wide and one fist clenched behind his back.

All this confidence made it easy to see how this would work in a stadium. During A Place To Hide Killers comparisons came easily - and maybe this makes it a might middle of the road. Then again, all clad in black they looked like musical mercenaries, guitars for hire, and, at times, it didn’t seem like they were playing instruments so much as brandishing weapons.

Aptly the last song of the encore - and the whole tour it emerged - was Death. For the first time all night a huge grin cracked across McVeigh’s face as he beat a fist against his chest and implored the throng, ‘you sing it!’ A completely unnecessary appeal; they were already echoing his every utterance with full voice, rapt and adoring. In this peak, this petit mort, all the earlier swagger was vindicated and, when it had finished, the crowd lay back, sweaty and exhausted but completely satisfied…