Every week, one of our writers will be given a selection of tracks – they could be unsigned, they could be international superstars. Any genre could be included, and the writer gets one week to give their verdict on each song in under 100 words. This week, Craig Forshaw takes his turn. If you like what you hear, click on the band names to visit their website, and if you want your music to be included in the future, send an MP3, picture, short bio and link to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Scream’ by BIM
‘Scream’ most sounds like the future of end credit tracks for Japanese anime series about the inevitable fusion between man and machine. When this singularity approaches, we will ascend from the Earth as machine gods, colonising other worlds and converting them into boring grey nano-goo. Within the goo, our minds will become as one, and we will truly know each other. This is probably why BIM, “Scream”: when our minds are joined, we will truly know the depths to which the human mind can plummet. Every dark, dirty secret. Even yours. Yes. That one. (It’s also enjoyable and dancey.)
‘4 – 7 – 0’ by One Shot Progress
There are many words that can be used to describe ‘4 – 7 – 0’, but sometimes we need to be a bit more creative to fully express ourselves in the most succinct manner possible. The word that best describes my reaction is, therefore, “Pleasitating”. This portmanteau sums up the constant straddling of the fence, between enjoyable and tedious, before eventually veering away from been-there-done-that rock towards something a little more varied and enjoyable. Recommended, with reservations.
‘Pravada Scrolls’ by Modern Faces
‘Pravada Scrolls’ is quite good, make no mistake, but the one part of this rock track that stuck with me the most was the phrase, “jaded complexion”. It struck me as odd. What is a jaded complexion? Jaded, of course, means, “to lack enthusiasm”. Meanwhile, complexion means, “the colour, texture or appearance of skin”. That made me wonder… how can colour lack enthusiasm? Perhaps an image search on google would be enough to explain what they meant… However, the search just produced pictures of make-up containers and women of Asian heritage. Colour me confused.
‘Screwface City Dub’ by Screaming Soul
Imagine a disused, London Underground station, with shafts of light cutting through the persistent murk from somewhere above, when a carnival, all steel drums, colourful dancers with silk handkerchiefs, stomping Morlocks dressed in rags, and a floating cherub choir with beehive-haircuts, triumphantly and ecstatically prances out of one tunnel. If you can imagine how that looks, that is how this track sounds: a wonderful, multicultural, swooping and looping mixture of various underground samples and sounds over a well-paced, seductive beat. Lovely stuff.
‘Lie to me Darling’ by Kings and Aces
‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ has always been a favourite show of mine, and one episode that stands out from the early seasons is, ‘Lie to Me’, in which a bunch of Gothic posers learn that vampires are less, “lonely wanderers”, and more vicious pricks. You may wonder why this review has wasted half its word-count on a topic mostly unrelated to the track or the band, but one of my failings is that lies do not easily trip off my tongue, darling. Instead, it is better to say as little as possible, especially of this dull, guitar-based indie-pap… oops.
Every week, one of our writers will be given a selection of tracks – they could be unsigned, they could be international superstars. Any genre could be included, and the writer gets one week to give their verdict on each song in under 100 words. This week, James Conmy takes his turn. If you like what you hear, click on the band names to visit their website, and if you want your music to be included in the future, send an MP3, picture, short bio and link to email@example.com.
Rita Ora – R.I.P
Produced by the ubiquitous electro-Gods Chase & Status and dexterously introduced by Tinie Tempah, R.I.P is the sort of anthemic head bouncer that works as well in the car as in the club. It’s positive swagger, girl-power hook and euro clubland dub beats lift an accomplished vocal above the clamour – but they never really soar despite the edgy stringwork underscoring. If there’s a problem here for Rita it’s identity: you forget it’s her halfway through the song and replace her with Rihanna. Which should be high praise – right?
Eyes on Film – Something Wicked (this way comes)
This one hits the ground running, infectious reverb guitar strings smash ‘n’ grabbing your attention with an insanely catchy riff. There is something fresh yet familiar here: try taking a dark distorted bite of INXS, Placebo and Mark Bolan and you’re getting there. A vocal of hushed menace is egged on by guitars with teeth. This, my friends, is a song that struts into the room and says something dirty to your mum. As pretty as a flick-knife, I can’t recommend it enough. Something wicked has arrived.
Christiaan Webb – We’re Under the Same Stars
In this track “Christiaan” Webb (additional “a” singer’s own) seems so mystified by the most basic of natural phenomena that I’m not entirely surprised he’s kicking around on his own. The sun, the moon, the stars, his true love and even “air” (!) all appear to be beyond his grasp. The lyrics boil down to the well trodden country path of question after question following a break-up, but it lacks the necessary cohesion to be evocative. His scattergun droning rhetoric, like his probable view of the Earth, can best be described as “flat”. Unless you like whinging-to-music, avoid.
Et Tu Bruce – Never say Trevor Again
Funny, playful and sad, imagine a tongue in cheek updating of “Jolene” sung by a Beatles tribute band and you’re on your way, but it’s so damn polished it’s better than it has any right to be. If this is representative of the band’s style then it’s head-out-of-the-car-window refreshing. The divine comedy and “Corky and the juice pigs” used to do a nice line in this sort of facetious folk merrymaking and like them, you can’t help but feel that intelligences vast and cool sit behind all the silliness.
Centre Excuse – Drop and Roll
This talented trio have whipped away the chintzy tablecloth of 80’s synth pop and left all the important things still standing on the table. If the eco message is a little worthy given the messenger’s obvious predilection for electric over acoustic then we can forgive them this once as they are creating an energy all their own. Although the rock guitar suggests otherwise there’s heart here rather than anger which keeps them just on the right side of likeable and away from the commercial suicide of preachy. Accomplished scouts on a familiar frontier – but no more than that.
Every week, one of our writers will be given a selection of tracks – they could be unsigned, they could be international superstars. Any genre could be included, and the writer gets one week to give their verdict on each song in under 100 words. This week, Mellanie Moore takes her turn. If you like what you hear, click on the band names to visit their website, and if you want your music to be included in the future, send an MP3, picture, short bio and link to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jodie Marie– I Got You
I can’t seem to recall anything exciting about this song. After a second and third listen I was still struggling to figure out a ‘thing’ about it. I do know that she has me though, but even that recollection was aided heavily by the title. All that stayed with me was the melody. I could hum that for you at a moments notice. Other than the melody and Jodie’s gorgeous syrupy voice I’m not grabbed by this song at all. All it brings to mind is a quadrillion montages in a quadrillion romantic comedies that use songs like this one.
EJ – Mama I’m Gunna Sing
A quarter of the way in I’d decided that anybody would dance to this song. Obama, he’d love it. Boris Johnson, he’d go mad. Ivana Trump, King Jong Un…They would all lose their shit to this song on a dance floor. There’s not much singing (and we all know you shouldn’t lie to your mama), but if you’re losing your shit on a dance floor with the POTUS, Mayor of London, Ivana Trump and a Korean dictator, you don’t focus on the little things. Obviously. There’s not that much more to say. It’s a dance track, I want to dance.
The Enemy – Gimme a Sign
This is more like it. It’s forceful and melodic, but not overly poppy as seems to be the risk with rock + melody at the moment. Such peppiness would render the guitars a false accessory, but the track is sufficiently gritty and the guitars are the backbone of the song rather than a generic addition. It’s a perfect blend of anthem and melody with no 80s cringe. I’m not quite sure what eponymous signal they’re waiting for. I’ve no problem dancing with a strangers foot smashed into my face and a spilled pint down my dress while I find out.
Joshua Caole – Sweet Sweet Eyes
What exactly can a man do with a riff stolen from The La’s and a jar of aspartame and ocular organs? He can write this song of course! The riff bothered me for the first half of the song and when I’d figured out why it was familiar it was my favourite part. It was sufficiently distracting that it’s all that remains memorable, even after several listens. All I know is he can’t help falling for some sweet sweet eyes, and they’re not even his. Otherwise the song is dull. My favourite part is from elsewhere, says it all really.
As a teen, I’d presume like most teens, my bedroom walls were covered by posters. Blue-tacked images of my sporting, musical and motion picture heroes festooned my sleeping quarters, long before I had any understanding of art as decoration. They were badges, rather than aesthetic tokens – a display of my favour for certain cultural markers. As an adult, I’ve gained an appreciation for an art form that could adorn the home of both my adolescent and mature self: the gig poster.
The playbill isn’t a new concept by any means. Think of the Victorian printed sheets, with lists of acts in varying type and sizes depending on their prominence in the running order. By the punk rock era, home-made posters appeared that reflected the pathos of the movement. Out of necessity, they were cheaply made, utilizing newly available methods like Letraset, to promote smaller gigs, rather than large, professional concerts.
Today, there is a rich, growing community of artists, carving their own niche in the world as gig poster designers. Posters, as a creative endeavour, have advanced to a point where they no longer only fulfil their original role as entirely promotional material, but are now desirable works of art in their own right. Although not quite at the level of T-shirts or hoodies as gig merchandise, increasingly, well designed, limited edition prints have become collectable. “I think people are becoming more aware of the art form,” Drew Millward, a prominent gig poster figure, told us.
Glyn Smyth, professionally known as Scrawled, agrees it is emerging from its underground roots, but not quite yet in the wider public consciousness, in the UK at least. “It’s still very much a niche concern,” he said, “and still only of passing interest to the average music fan. I think it’s still more of a Stateside thing.”
At this point, I must confess a degree of self interest. For those that don’t know me or haven’t read the blurb, I am an experienced graphic designer who, in the course of his career, has created the occasional gig poster. Let me be clear, I’m in no way putting myself on the same pedestal as some of the other artists I here mention, because apart from being great art what sells a poster is the name. I could spend hours name dropping recognized bands, but suffice to say from Beck to The Beastie Boys, and from Sonic Youth to Scissor Sisters, which might give you some idea of their cultural significance. My success so far has been limited to the smaller end of the scale, although I count a few recognizable names, such as Grandaddy front man Jason Lytle and emerging British band Pulled Apart By Horses.
What inspired this article was a browse around a trendy Edinburgh clothes shop – the type that also sells over priced sweets and coffee table books. On display were copies of Gigposters Volume 2 – an A3 collection of prints and artist profiles, gathered from the best talent on gigposters.com. I am a member of the site, and although my work does not feature in this book or its predecessor many artists of my acquaintance do. I stood in slight awe and marvelled that this was the level it had reached.
This attractive tome aside, at their peak, venues like Madison Square Garden may commission a beautiful, not merely functional piece of poster design, but its roots are firmly planted in local pubs, bars and clubs. “Putting on shows got me into poster design,” said Drew. “We needed posters, so I doodled some. They sucked, but it got me interested in drawing.” This home-made approach is a nod back to the DIY origins of the movement, and it’s how most established poster artists started. From small acorns, as they say. In Drew’s career he has worked for the likes of The Black Keys and Flight of the Conchords. Great oaks indeed.
The community is large and widespread, with literally thousands of artists on gigposters alone. But thousands of gigs occur every week, and the promotion for most is merely functional. The number that utilize this art form is tiny. There are certain venues and certainly a number of bands who encourage gig poster artists. American artist Rob Jones famously created a series of posters for the White Stripes, accompanying their Under Great White Northern Lights box set, for which he received a Grammy Award for best packaging design. He has also worked extensively for singer Jack White’s other band, The Raconteurs. Satisfied customers always come back.
Partially this close relationship is out of practical considerations – the band need to promote their gig – but a large part is due to a real appreciation for the art form: that’s the explanation as to why many of the same band names crop up often. “Some bands will commission them because they are passionate about art,” said Drew. ‘They strive to have a visual identity to the music they create; others will do it as a way of getting some extra merchandise and subsidising their dwindling income from record sales.’
For the artist it is also a means to an end, although, as most would agree, by no means a cash cow. “More than seeing them as particularly lucrative themselves,” Glyn summarized, ‘I see gig posters as oversized business cards.” As Drew Millward more directly put it “When people question you for selling a hand drawn, hand printed, limited edition, screen printed poster for £10, you know it’s not something that has fully seeped into the public consciousness just yet.”
They’re a beautiful, collectable piece of advertising, for both the band and the artist. The culture hasn’t yet reached a stage where a decent living can be made by aspiring designers. It is just another tool at their disposal.
Aside from the prestige, promotion and minor financial reasons, many artists create merely for the love of it, and to be part of a supportive and sympathetic collective. In addition to Gigposters, Flatstock – a regular international expo of poster work – and Poster Roast for example, offer a structure to their exploits. With this kind of networking, and their continuing emergence, it can’t be long before the art form is regarded as highly as the music it accompanies.
Every week, one of our writers will be given five tracks – they could be unsigned, they could be international superstars. Any genre could be included, and the writer gets one week to give their verdict on each song in under 100 words. This week, Janice Jong takes her turn. If you like what you hear, click on the band names to visit their website, and if you want your music to be included in the future, send an MP3, picture, short bio and link to email@example.com.
WIRESCAN – “Amps”
I’m not usually a fan of electronica, but this track was a pleasant surprise. It is a cheery song with a sunny disposition that reminded me of ‘80’s music without being cheesy. At first, I thought this would be great music to play in the background at a party, but my kids both loved the track and it got them dancing – it’s definitely fit for centre stage. This track is the perfect length – it is interesting the entire way through and there are no slow bits, even without any vocals.
Jo Hamilton – “Alive, Alive”
Jo Hamilton has a beautiful, haunting voice. She sings like a human cello, with clarity and emotion. I loved the first thirty seconds of this track where Jo Hamilton reminded me of k.d. lang with her soulful lyrics and serious temperament. Then, the beautiful sounds were invaded with otherworldly alien noises. This ruined the track for me – as soon as the strange sounds started, the piece took on a cartoonish quality and the delicate emotional balance was destroyed. I found myself unable to focus on the lyrics – I could only hear the invasive sounds. I kept thinking about Bjork and outer space and the entire experience was ruined. Pity.
Pepper – “Running Rings”
This is a song that I would turn up to full volume in the car. It is also a song that I would be tired of listening to after a couple of weeks. (Ahhh…such is my fickle nature.)
“Running Rings” is a high-energy pop track with a repetitive and pervasive raw acoustic guitar backing. It has a slightly angry vibe that showcases Pepper’s gorgeous voice as it intertwines with the choppy guitar. Our local pop radio station loves to play chipper tracks like this; it would fit right in to their regular playlist.
Padraig Whelan – “Off & On”
I wanted to like this track. It is exactly the kind of music I love to listen to – a folksy-slow track sung by a man with an interesting voice. Problem is, I found the song boring. At full volume, it barely seeped into my consciousness, the music and lyrics did not pique my interest, and the emotional effect of the track was entirely benign. I loved the relaxed feel of the song and Whelan’s smooth voice with the pared down band and clean guitar notes. It was just so boring…
Alonestar feat. Ed Sheeran – “Real Life”
Listening to hip-hop, rap or urban music of any sort is way out of my element, so I was not sure what to expect from Alonestar. My impression of this track is that it is hip-hop “lite” – it is not particularly gritty or tough. The “Real Life” lyrics are appropriate for an after-school special, with a peppy and utterly unconvincing hook about how “this is the real life and it will only get harder…” This track reminds me of the only old school rap I had any contact with – Will Smith in his “Fresh Prince” days. It is easy to listen to and not offensive.
It must be hard living up to a label like ‘the next big thing.’ There’s a weight of expectation engendered by the title that nothing can possibly live up to. In terms of popular music, so many next-big-things have fizzled out or else failed to ignite altogether that after a while you stop paying any attention.
Predictions of this kind are common, and made in the expectation of scoring ‘cool-points’ for being the first to make the correct call. But being tagged and branded in this way has its disadvantages.
I have a slightly scattergun approach to new music. I don’t go to a specific magazine or website; I don’t rely on a radio station. That’s too prescriptive and I never get to hear enough of the kind of music I like. Word of mouth, specifically through the internet, is the best source, and it’s easy, with the use of YouTube, Spotify and the like, to adopt a try-before-you-buy approach.
One artist about which you should believe the hype is Blackpool born singer-songwriter Karima Francis. Radio One DJ Edith Bowman named her one to watch in 2012 in an article in the Mirror, describing her as having ‘a voice that spits emotion.’ She also claimed her to be ‘something totally new,’ and that’s not strictly true. Labels of this kind have been applied to Karima before. In 2008, the Daily Mail called her ‘the next big thing,’ and the Guardian put her on their list of the best new acts in 2009. So why, in spite of this high praise, is her name not yet on the lips of every music lover in the UK?
Those kind of unhelpful labels often play no insignificant part in that, although Karima told The Camel’s Hump she doesn’t really feel the pressure. “I’m just excited to have the support of a label like Vertigo,” she said.
People are smart and discerning enough to make up their own minds what they do and don’t like. The music press do play an important part in informing and sharing opinion, but if informed by, say, the NME, that something is hot or upcoming, I automatically disregard it. That’s partially because I don’t trust many opinions other than my own, but mostly because I don’t like to be told what to think. The unfortunate down side of that stance is that sometimes something genuinely good passes right over your radar, and you don’t hear about it until it’s already gone beyond new and cool into the realms of the vulgar mainstream.
Her first album, The Author, was released on her old label, Kitchenware, in 2009, to mixed reviews, receiving almost universal praise for her vocal performance but with many critics citing some weaker songs as its main flaw. But one thing commonly agreed by critics is that where she makes the greatest impression is live.
My first experience of Karima as a performer was as support for King Charles (another artist bubbling under on many of those annoying ‘artist to watch’ lists,) where she not only blew my socks off, but blew them right out of the building, and all the way home to my wash basket. As insubstantial as she appears on stage – a nervy looking, dark-haired dandelion-like thing – she projects more passion and spirit with her performance than you could believe possible. “I feel alive when I’m on stage,” she says. “It’s the only place I want to be.”
Karima is still very young, and not yet fully grown into her talent. She needs the chance to flourish at her own pace. Her incredible ability and potential have been recognized by the industry people who make those kind of calls, but, in this time of transition for the music business, they’re too eager to drop something into the pool of artists then act surprised when it doesn’t make the expected splash. It’s abundantly clear to anyone who hears her just how good she could be, but these things take time and can’t be forced.
Her upcoming second album, The Remedy, is due for release early in 2012. Of it, she told us “this album is so much better than the first; more mature and more about the things that are going on in my life right now.” If that’s true, and her new label give her the support this kind of young talent needs, then 2012 really could be the year in which she becomes the musical prodigy she deserves to be.
Every week, one of our writers will be given five tracks – they could be unsigned, they could be international superstars. Any genre could be included, and the writer gets one week to give their verdict on each song in under 100 words. This week, Nick Duffy takes his turn. If you like what you hear, click on the band names to visit their website, and if you want your music to be included in the future, send an MP3, picture, short bio and link to firstname.lastname@example.org.
SINEAD O’CONNOR – Wolf Is Getting Married
It’s easy to take the piss out of Sinead O’Connor, so let’s get right on with it. “Wolf Is Getting Married” is presumably the first in a series, the next ones being “Wolf Is Getting Unmarried A Few Days Later”, “Wolf Is Tweeting About Bumsex Again” and “Wolf Has Checked In To A Clinic Suffering From Exhaustion”. The song itself is thoroughly meh – take away O’Connor’s admittedly fantastic voice, and it could be any Radio 2-friendly, mid-tempo rock-lite waster. Like Morrissey, she’s far more interesting as an interviewee than an artist these days.
SAM SPARRO – The Shallow End
Likeable enough hipster-friendly disco-funk that never quite gets to the big chorus you feel must be along soon, instead veering off into an ill-advised sax solo (as if there’s such a thing as a sax solo that isn’t ill-advised). Probably destined to soundtrack a few hen parties which think they’re too good for Abba, and the tamer sort of gay bar over the next few months, but unlikely to match the success of “Black And Gold”.
IO SECT – Sneaker
I’m sure the editors put this one in just to watch me make an arse of myself. They know I know bugger all about dance music. That said, I know what I like, and I used to be vaguely up-to-date about a decade and a half ago, which by a happy coincidence seems to be where this lot take their inspiration from – this would have fitted in quite happily between Daft Punk and LTJ Bukem back when I knew where to buy drugs and my knees didn’t hurt when I danced. The Kids – and indeed my kids – will probably think it’s shit, but there you go.
THE KNOCKS – Midnight City
I was liking – honest, I do sometimes like things – this electro’d up cover of the M83 song, which if nothing else, doesn’t have the sax solo which blighted the original. Could easily imagine being driven through a city under the influence of substances and this sounding like the best song EVAR, but then it hit me: guest vocalist Mandy Lee sounds like a combination of Ellie Goulding, and whatsherface from The Cranberries. And there aren’t enough substances in the world to remove that kind of bad taste in the mouth. Shame.
GRAEME CLARK – Kiss Of Life
KIDS! Do you want steamhammer beats clashing with buzzsaw rock guitar? The sound of alienation sliding into euphoria with vodka and amphetamine coursing through it’s veins? The new sound from far out? DO YOU?
Well, better luck next week, because Graeme Clark doesn’t do that. He does earnest, beardy, easy-listening singer-songwriter filth. I daren’t read the press release, because I’m sure at some point it’ll use the words “heartfelt” and “craftsmanship” and I shall be violently sick. Will somebody tell him they stopped making Cold Feet years ago, so they don’t need any more soundtrack for it?
Djanan Turan (pronounced “like naan bread, but with a ja!”) makes a fascinating impression, with tales on her website about singing in cupboards, and lyrics about being a goldfish. More intriguing still is her latest album, Artigo. It invokes the same euphoric absurdity of Regina Spektor at her most bizarre, but with a thread of unearthly yet catchy melodies holding the insanity together. The mixture is something akin to being trapped on an extra terrestrial carousel. In a good way.
Following Artigo’s successful launch in October, Turan has been in pre-production for the music video for ‘Goldfish’. Having experienced the EP it shouldn’t be a complete surprise to hear the video was inspired by some wood she found in a bin. “The scenario is pretty cute,” she says in an email, “this piece of wood I found is a beautiful perfect circle, painted white on one side and looks very much like a full moon.”
Turan was born in Turkey, but is based in London. Her favourite experience as a gigging musician has been to look beyond the “carbon copy” streets of London to see what’s really there. A perfect manifestation of her multicultural influences was a performance with Turkish clarinet player, Selim Sesler, after meeting at the Barbican in London.
“When I moved to this country, discovering London via performing was amazing. It’s like opening millions of little boxes, full of different surprises! So many places that people get crammed in to see live performances.”
Bridging the gap between her Turkish and English-speaking fan-bases requires running two Facebook pages and two websites, as well as responding to direct emails from fans. “We are improving my beautiful website so I can connect with more people. I get lovely messages,” she says. “[My fans] have always been quite friendly and sincere, which makes me feel I am giving that kind of warmth to people and it makes me a happy little lass.”
Women in the music industry often get a raw deal, with the focus being on anything but their music. Whether they’re not thin enough (Amanda Palmer), too thin (Christina Aguilera) too old (Madonna), too young (Willow Smith), too sexy (Rihanna) or not sexy enough (Adele), it’s apparently still something of an oddity to be a female musician, even in 2012. In a profession maligned for its sexism, Turan prefers not to focus on her gender.
“Sometimes it does feel more like a boys club, this whole music-making and performing thing. However this feeling might also be a result of frustration you get every now and then,” she says. “I keep the posture of a ‘person’ in life rather than a woman, and tend not to connect my experiences to my gender, whether they’re positive or negative.”
Aside from being the first Turkish woman I’ve ever heard say “lass”, Turan also has the distinction of being one of the few musicians who appear to genuinely want to spread joy through their shows. “I want [people] to go back home with a massive smile to keep ’til they sleep that night, and one to wake up with,” she says. There’s a : ) afterwards, too.
A true description of her music is difficult to articulate. “I’m still searching for those words myself,” she says. “Let’s say free-spirited pop!” It may well be the closest anyone gets. It’s hard to define the wonderful mix of strange melodies and beautiful lyrics produced by traditional instruments and rhythms not usually associated with pop music. Turan works backwards to figure out what the songs mean, drawing sense out of her lyrics months and years after she first brings them forth in her music.
As well as discarded chunks of wood, she draws her inspiration from the work of others, as well as anything else to hand. “Art and music obviously inspire me and help me…inspiration more often comes out from simplicity and subtlety, rather than pretty things or ecstatic feelings. Other people’s completed and shared work certainly inspires me to keep working,” she explains.
Djanan Turan will next perform at The Secret Garden pub in Battersea on 25th February. Her album, Artigo, can be found on iTunes and you can listen in on Spotify as well as getting the latest news at the Djanan Turan website.
It’s a cliché really, remembering parts of your life by the songs you were listening to, but in these days of instant access to online music it is easier than ever to reflect on music and days gone by.
I have been a music fan for as long as I can remember – I have seen the transition from 8-track (ask your parents) cartridges in the car, through getting my first record player, tapes, CDs and, most recently, the MP3. Yes I am actually that old (although if you believe this article turning 40 is nothing to be afraid of any more!) and I find myself appreciating the music of my youth even more nowadays, even listening to things I would not ever have admitted to enjoying “back in the day”.
The soundtrack to my life is an eclectic mix, ranging from the classical, Beethoven’s 5th Symphony on CD when I had my first sports car – a Toyota Supra when I was 25 – to Sinead O’Connor’ s Nothing Compares 2 U (although not a patch on the Prince original) when I was going through my military basic training at the tender age of 17 (the video seemed to be on constant repeat on MTV!). I can tell you what I was listening to when my daughter Emilia was born (Coldplay, a compilation I had made and my wife wanted on repeat for the 5 hours of labour!), the song I asked the DJ to play on my 18th birthday (New Order – True Faith) and the first dance at my wedding (Robbie Williams’ Angels)
Certain songs remind me of places; You Oughta Know by Alanis Morrisette reminds me of being stationed in North East Scotland, Propaganda’s Duel/Jewel of driving back to Peterhead from the North East of England to see my then girlfriend. Runrig and Caperceille will always remind me of my 2 years in the Shetland Islands and The Brand New Heavies version of Midnight at the Oasis will always conjure up images of dancing round a pool table with a lit candle strapped to my head in the Falkland Islands in 1994 (a long story that needs lots of beer to understand!).
Some songs remind me of people, Ace of Bass – All That She Wants of a neighbour who only seemed to own one CD (although after a good night out with friends in Gothenburg last week this association may change). But the associations are always there, provoking my memories and often raising a smile (Arctic Monkeys version of Love Machine)
The digital music age has become my diary, my memory device to remind me of times good and bad in my life so far. Maybe it is because I am approaching 40 that I am taking time to pause and reflect on how important music has been in my life, maybe I knew it all the time and actually take great pleasure in being a music geek – able to chart my life through the medium of song. I get depressed without being able to listen to music; I cannot pass the radio in the morning without switching it on and often fall asleep listening to my MP3 player (Guillemots’ Redwings being my tune of choice this week!). My wife despairs – if I am cooking the first thing to be put in place is my iPad for some tunes (Arcade Fire – Rebellion/Lies is particularly good for chopping carrots). If I go away anywhere with work the first thing to be packed is my laptop and hard drive full of music. What the digital age has saved me from is storage issues – my 2 Ikea racks full of CDs have been faithfully converted to digital then stored in the loft (just in case…) but my obsession is real. I will take hours making a compilation CD for a car journey (don’t have MP3 player connection in the car yet!), sometimes taking longer to sort the soundtrack than the journey takes (Manic Street Preachers – Small Black Flowers for my first trip away with my now wife).
Some songs will inevitably remind me of sadder times (plenty of imploding relationship stories here) like Steps – 5, 6, 7, 8 when I came around from a coma in 1997 (my nurse was obsessed and sang it all the time – she also used to sit on my bed and watch Top of the Pops but that’s a story for another day!).
So I urge you, whatever your age, take the time to sit down and work out what songs mean what to you – you may find some pleasant surprises lurking in your CD rack.
It was bound to happen just days after I post my only review, in which I clearly state I don’t normally do reviews, that I get sent a number of CDs to pass my judgement upon. Although not a dedicated music site, many releases have landed on the desks of The Camel’s Hump*, and, for one reason or another, we feel inclined to write about them.
I never feel so inclined. Without wanting to discourage or dismiss the efforts of reviewers, to be frank I find them a little too easy. They’re a bit of an excuse to avoid actual writing and, when uninspired, they’re little more than filler material.
They can also become the causes of very ugly arguments. Someone, somewhere, will be offended by your opinions, even if you’ve been relatively nice, and take it upon themselves to dissent in the strongest terms. Reviews are potential cans of worms, and I prefer to steer well clear.
That said, the selection I’ve received have made my job easier. They’re neat little four or five track EPs, and neater still all pretty good.
You’d be forgiven for believing the four slabs of hairy, testosterone pumped man meat that grace the cover of Garçon were the members of Hello Bamboo. Their riffs are beefy enough and their sound sweats manly juices. As it happens, these prime examples of the male beast are their fathers, and families are clearly a subject of concern to the band. As are the subjects of life after death, David Gest and cheap clothing retailer Matalan, if this collection of recordings is anything to go by.
It seems the only way to legitimize more traditional heavy guitar music in the post-rock era is to play with a sense of irony. Although by no means a novelty act, they do not take themselves too seriously, which only adds to their charm. For example, on The Cycle of Domestic Abuse, probably the best track, they juxtapose dark imagery of an abusive patriarch (“Daddy, why did you fuck Mummy up?”) with a ridiculously over the top, old fashioned guitar solo, and make it work surprisingly well.
Calling your band Fighting and your first release Thriller II (presumably to be followed by Led Zeppelin IV-A) suggests its creators are either geniuses or idiots. Or both. Whilst not in itself punk in its stylings, it follows punk sensibilities – keep it fast and grimy and no one will notice or care if you’re rough around the edges. Their sound is reminiscent of the sadly defunct Test Icicles and the emerging Pulled Apart By Horses, but with less art college pretentiousness, and a distinctly northern no-nonsense edge.
The duo take turns on vocal duties, although I can discern little meaning from the indirect lyrics, except that on the opening, and best, track Keelie Needs Practice, someone called Keelie needs to practice. Their main raison d’etre appears to be the acquisition of girls, booze and their due amount of fun. Although let down by the song Guest Appearance Bruce Springsteen, they deserve respect too on the strength of this promising recording.
I can’t listen to these four tracks, probably the best selection from those on offer in this article, without thinking of Beck, which, for me, is a huge compliment. Although bearing little vocal similarity, the sound, achieved with a mixture of samples and live instruments, combined with the whole being a solo effort, is reminiscent of the artist, whom I consider one of the most inventive and distinctive recording artists of the past twenty years. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was also a pint or two of the Eels influence pumping through this CD’s veins.
A trawl though the bandcamp back catalogue of Stephen James Buckley reveals a series of short studies that sincerely chronicle a life by the instalment plan. Previously more of a troubadour, his heart worn on the strings of his acoustic guitar, this is an evolution in his sound – a maturing – although he still sings with emotion, irony and wit, such as on She Drove Me Like She Stole Me, one of the highlights here.
*Not physically, of course, as we are a loose collection of writers, with our respective desks scattered all over the world. Some of us don’t even have desks, just laps.