Thursday, 18 February 2010

A heavy dose of creation...

Citing creation and destruction in opposition – as many fine reference books do – is not only naïve but ignores a deeper and fundamental link between the two. Dreams of death are really dreams of rebirth and even Nature enjoys a holiday from harmony once in a while by razing herself to the ground and starting afresh with something new; no great forests without great forest fires. Who amongst us has not strolled around the appliance section of John Lewis imagining what could be created if they only had a crowbar and ten minutes alone with all this stuff? Has not meandered passed Mayfair showrooms musing on what might be made of all those shiny top marques by the careful application of violence? Certainly Joel and Wajid Scrapclub have, and are once again bringing their uber-violent vision to Stamford Works this weekend. Imagine watching your heavy breath in the cold warehouse as you wait outside the smash arena, scaffold pole in hand, eyeing up a fridge-freezer you’re by now convinced has been looking at you funny; and knowing it’s got a heavy dose of creation coming its way…

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Strong Arm Steady - In Search of Stoney Jackson

This record might as well be called Why Hip Hop Sucks in 2010. It could have been, it should have been, so good; the very reason to pull on your three stripes with pride in the morning. Some dope shit to fling back in the faces of the scoffers, those that told you Wu-Tang was the high watermark for West Coast Rap and, indeed, that hip hop itself passed away around the same time as B.I.G; P-Diddy doing a sick little shuffle over both their graves.

Perhaps it’s most disappointing because of the promising pedigree. Not only does Talib Kweli lend his lungs but - following their move to Stones Throw - Strong Arm Steady have also been granted that rarest of rap honours; an entire album produced by Madlib. Not a couple of tracks mind, In Search Of Stoney Jackson is a full on collaboration with hip hop’s hit-maker. Just in case you hadn’t heard the hype, SAS put you in the picture by referencing the princely production roughly every second line; “this a Madlib Strong Arm Steady connect”. Ah, but then there’s giving props and there’s being propped up.

The maestro certainly does a fine job of carrying it all along; in terms of the arrangement the whole thing is as tight as a drum. You can’t help but head nod and there are some inspired vintage voiceovers and samples, the pinnacle of which production, 'Two Pistols', is also the peak of the whole album; beats perfectly matched to a glorious gospel backing. This is, however, supposed to be their second LP, so they really shouldn’t need carrying; it says much that if this album were a Shadow-style samples and instrumentals only affair it’d be infinitely more listenable.

Here’s the problem: if hip hop isn’t clever it runs a very real danger of getting all caught up in cliché. It seems that Krondon, Mitchy Slick and, ahem, Phil Da Agony have forgotten that guns, bitches and bling were never part of the four elements and, y’know, never will be. There’s actually a track on this record called ‘Cheeba Cheeba’. Are you kidding me? Hey guys, Harold and Kumar called and they want their stereotypes back. Easily the most bizarre lyrics you’ll hear in all hip hop come in ‘Chitlins and Pepsi’, a track seemingly about nothing smarter than swearing and cookery. It’s like Gordon Ramsey stepped up to the mic; “No time to waste, we don’t waste food on our plate. Let the haters hate, 12 ounce steak, asparagus tips, delicious, got me lickin’ my lips. On some LL-Cool J shit”. Indeed.

But it’s not only the content: the delivery sucks too. On ‘True Champs’ it sounds like they're drowning, gasping for air with every line and struggling against fast flowing beats; drawing breath like their lives depend on it. In other places the raps are not so much punchy as a punch in the face, boxed ears bleeding whilst you wince; as much from the memory of your mother naively asking ‘isn’t it just shouting?’ Cha. It’s only that, if one of the main themes of your record is how superlative your sound is, hadn’t you ought make sure it is first?

In the end, perhaps In Search... is just so inbred it’s capable of little more than frenzied tail wagging on a podium - its maniac tongue lolling - all eager and expectant that someone will pin a rosette to it just for having a nice shiny coat. The equivalent of getting ‘must try harder’ scribbled all over your school report, heaven knows you’ve got potential but you pissed it all against the wall chasing girls and acting big man; we’re not angry, we’re just very, very disappointed…

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Hot Chip Interview - Owen Clarke

Surely one of the most eagerly anticipated records of 2010, Hot Chip’s ‘One Life Stand’ aims to make even the flightiest of fans swoon, court new admirers and cement a monogamous musical relationship with all who hear it. With a list of influences so diverse they might seemingly have been pulled out of a hat one late night in the studio, there’s certainly something for everyone. UK funk and soul lines up alongside modern R&B, Northern Soul, Gospel, Golden Age Electronica and House and the band cite influential artists as disparate as Prince and Theo Parish - but these are no uncomfortable bed-fellows; all are snuggled up, warm and cosy under the familiar duvet of Hot Chip’s trademark soaring emotional intensity. Here, Owen gives us an idea of how it’ll all sound;

"There are ten songs on the album and it’s more beat pop songs broadly speaking, but there’s also some flavours from pianos and house records and steel pans and things like that."

Did he say steel pans and pianos? He certainly did and this new musical experience can instantly be felt on the title track of the album, One Life Stand, which will achieve its full release on February 1st - the same day the album is released - but can be heard now for free on their myspace site.

For all their musical moving on, however, every single member of Hot Chip still has a synthesizer up their sleeve; whether they be lead guitar, lead vocals or, like Owen, bass, they’ve always got a synth on stand by. If the boys have got a somewhat geeky reputation, that’s only compounded by their attention to detail when it comes to all things electronic - not hard to picture them getting excited about the newest Nord like your average boy-racer anticipates the arrival of some hot new ceramic disc brakes, or hornily poring over the pages of Max Moog Magazine. No bad thing when such obsessive aural tendencies result in – as in the case of 2006’s The Warning - Grammy award winning music, and when, as Owen points out, everyone from traditional garage bands to grime artists are employing an electro beat these days anyway;

"I’m not really thinking about scenes or whether they’re reaching their epoch, zenith or decline but I think that people have become much more open minded to the use of electronic instruments and things like that in pop music, I think it’s fairly ubiquitous now."

Doubtless pioneers of this new wave of New Wave, Hot Chip are far too smart to typecast themselves under any one scene; remaining free from labels and attempts at classification leaves them a much greater freedom of musical movement;

"If someone asks what kind of music do you do, it’s usually like at passport control, we try not to get into too many particulars, but broadly speaking I’d say electronic pop."

The consequent aural autonomy afforded them can best be seen in the background and around the fringes of One Life Stand; beefing up the percussion section, Hot Chip have enlisted the talents of Fimber Bravo of Steel and Skin on the aforementioned steel pans and Charles Hayward of This Heat on drums. It’s interesting to see how these new elements will fit into the live show; this is, after all, primarily music for dancing too. Owen teases us with what to expect when Hot Chip finally fulfil their on stage destiny and give us our chance to dance;

"Well, just some interesting movements when we get on stage. It’s a big set up, we’ll have a drummer with us and we’re working on the percussion side of things. Not quite sure yet, the exciting thing is that we’re still working on it. We’re in rehearsals now, just figuring out how to do all that stuff live for next year."

Ready for the floor? Just try and keep us off it…

Fyfe Dangerfield @ Glee Club

Poor Fyfe Dangerfield. On paper this was his night; debut solo album out today and a homecoming in the Glee Club, the audience all seated and expectant. This gig should have been the champagne against the bow of the good ship Fly Yellow Moon.

Any nerves were understandable therefore, as he tripped over the piano stool on his way onto stage before referencing his inability to find his guitar lead - ‘I’m supposed to be cool’. But he still had to answer the question on everybody’s lips; can he cut it without the rest of the Guillemots?

The first two songs certainly did, managing to have all the trademark melancholy without being dreary, and it was all going so well when he swapped acoustic to electric for Faster Than The Setting Sun. From here on in however, basically every song was plagued by technical problems.

But the boy is almost as humble as he is talented and has charm to spare; who could deny him some slack? What’s more, his voice alone can hold you hostage; he still has absolute pitch and that made the singles shine.

So his salvation was well deserved - and earned with a ukulele encore. The simplicity of the four-stringed instrument next to the soaring vocals of So Brand New was sublime and his redemption was made complete by finishing on a highly original version of Made Up Love Song #43; it sounded a little bit like a champagne bottle smashing…