Sunday, 22 June 2008

Ten Artists Not To Miss At Glastonbury: Volumes 5 & 6

I'm leaving for Glastonbury in a mere 50-odd hours. Just sayin'. Let's continue the Top Ten, shall we?

5. St. Vincent
Today we're keeping a strict Park Stage On Saturday theme, where both artists are performing for my aural pleasure. It should be good, seeing as last year my friend and I ventured to the Park area only once, in order to buy her a limited edition Stella McCartney top. She's worn it maybe four times since. But this year The Park has been allowed to develop further, and is overflowing with some of my favourite artists of the last year or so. The first of which is my old favourite St. Vincent, who made one of my favourite albums of 2007 in 'Marry Me'.

I'm really interested to see how Annie Clark performs live - her previous credentials in The Polyphonic Spree will have shown her how to have fun (in fact, my favourite live performance is still held by the Spree), whereas working with Sufjan Stevens will have taught her how to capture the audience and stun them with music. Her album perhaps lends itself more to the latter, but I'm not gonna miss the opportunity to find out for myself...
See her: Saturday, on The Park Stage

6. Alphabeat
I really shouldn't have to explain this choice by now, so I'll sum up the reasons briefly and succinctly for you and leave it at that. Firstly, Alphabeat are the best pop band currently making music in the British pop industry. Secondly, they are Scandinavian, and therefore awesome. Thirdly, their album is the most consistantly satisfying debut since 'Parachutes'. Fourth of all, they are the best live band I have seen this year.
See them: Saturday, on The Park Stage

mp3: 'Marry Me' by St. Vincent
mp3: 'Touch Me, Touching You' by Alphabeat

Saturday, 21 June 2008

The Good, The Bad and The Cinematic: The Bone Collector

Actually, this isn't about The Bone Collector at all - though that would have made a suitable enough alternative title for 'Teeth', I think. I tried that joke out with my friends as we left the cinema post-film. There were less than impressed, which fortunately was not similar to the response the film received.

You see, for a film that is essentially about a girl with a vagina that bites back, Teeth is fun, witty and overall far more intelligent than it has any right to be. Mitchell Lichtenstein (son of that other famous one) directs with a typically indie-film flair. Some shots are a treat to watch, the bath scene being one, many of the power station shots also catching the eye. The script is witty without veering into smarmy, and the lead character (wonderfully set up as Chastity Champion of her school) becomes more and more likeable throughout the film.

But the key is that Teeth never takes itself to seriously. Or even that seriously at all. It's fun, foolish and occasionally squelchy, which ironically sort of sums up sex without the teeth, so Lichtenstein did a fine job there.


Ten Artists Not To Miss At Glastonbury: Volumes 3 & 4

3. Goldfrapp
There is an undoubtable prescence of summer in Seventh Tree, the latest from Goldfrapp, and if I were a documentary maker I'd be setting up camp front row of the band's Glastonbury set this year. Simply put, Seventh Tree is the music of Glastonbury, grand, swooping and Romantic with a big 'R'. Alison Goldfrapp is herself renowned for putting on a mesmerising live show, and I doubt it'll be any different a week from today. The downside of Goldfrapp's set, if indeed you consider it one, is that the bad will be performing on the Pyramid Stage the same night that The Verve headline. It'll be packed, rammed and generally giving everyone empathy for the sardine. It has the potential to be hypnotic and one of those great musical moments where 70,000 people all fall into a slow-motion unison, lost in the music. Until the twat with the huge umbrella shuffles up into the row just in front of you...
See them: Sunday on the Pyramid Stage

4. The Swell Season
After finally seeing Once a few weeks back, I've not taken the soundtrack, nor the semi-separate Swell Season album off of rotation. To explain to those who have not heard of Once (though, seriously, where have been?): Once is a fantastic independent film from Ireland that cost 100,000 Euros to make and won the Best Song award at the Oscars this year, beating off competition from no less than 3 songs from Disney's Enchanted. It follows two struggling musicians in Dublin, and is sprinkled with some of the sweetest songs to have arisen from Ireland since The Cake Sale album (and, indeed, features one song from said album). Since the film, the two lead actors (Glen Hansard and Marketa Iglova, though the second of the two names requires some squiggles above letters) have continued musically together and released an album under the moniker The Swell Season. Their album features some songs featured in the film and some that were not. They are terribly lovely and ever so slightly incredible.
See them: Saturday on the Acoustic Stage

mp3: 'Cologne Cerrone Houdini' by Goldfrapp
mp3: 'Lies' by The Swell Season

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Ten Artists Not To Miss At Glastonbury: Volumes 1 & 2

In less than seven days I will be on my way to Glastonbury 2008, hopefully having worked out how to fit my new pop-up tent back in its case (I tested out the other day and now I can't put it down). One week from today I'll be strolling around the back streets of the festival looking for whatever Thursday night music I can - probably Make Model at the Queen's Head... Until then, however, I must tide my time with words and websites. Enjoy my daily countdown of the top ten bands to see at Glastonbury this year...

1. Elbow
I don't know if you heard, but last year Glastonbury was a bit soggy. The wettest ever, as it happens. So whilst I was able to keep the Friday and the Saturday about the music, my fellow-festivaler and I managed to see only four bands on the Sunday. It was a pretty crap day - I had a six-person tent on my back all day, leaving strap-marks for a week (men should never have strap-marks, people!), and the shambolic mess that was the coach park left us tired and grumpy. This Glastonbury, I've made every effort to make Sunday lovely. I don't leave til Monday, and I've decided it won't rain. The key thing, though, is Elbow's set on the wonderful Queen's Head stage. Even if I only see them all day long, it'll be enough. Every one of the three previous live encounters I've had with the band have left me breathless, like the first time you see the Eiffel Tower, or that time your hairdresser cut off a chunk of your ear by accident. And, if I do miss the Sunday set, I will have almost certainly seen them the Saturday too!
See them: Saturday on The Other Stage, Sunday at the Queen's Head.

2. Stephen Fretwell
Keeping on a similar theme, this year also sees songwriting mastermind Stephen Fretwell grace the Queen's Head (fast becoming my essential stage for Glasto '08). I was fortunate enough to meet and interview Fretwell last year, and whilst on his tour bus discussing his friendship with the aforementioned Elbow he proudly displayed their bassist, Pete, having a nap in the bunk next to my chair.

Other than Elbow connections, though, Fretwell still maintains a formidble 'pros' list to outweigh any cons. His songs are sparse but lyrically lush, his voice the Scunthorpe musician's equivalent of James Stewart or Casey Affleck, and his looks hovering between hobo and Hollywood, like a less ginger Glen Hansard. Beautiful.
See him: Saturday at the Queen's Head

mp3: 'May You Never' by Elbow
mp3: 'New York' by Stephen Fretwell

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Facebook Band Group Analysis: Gym Class Heroes

New feature time! The aim of Facebook Band Group Analysis is to reinforce my beliefs about my favourite, and least favourite bands by looking at what Facebook groups are available, fan or otherwise. I'm hoping I'll find that most people are sensible, and like the bands I like, and hate the bands I hate. Somehow, I feel it won't work that simply. My first focus group, so to speak, are Gym Class Heroes, who I recently claimed in print to be my least favourite band of all time. I stick by that, too. Let the experiment begin:

Exhibit A: 'Gym Class Heroes'
Apparently the 'official' Facebook group for the band, though I'm not entirely sure an international hip-hop group would entrust that honour to a bloke called Darren from Kent State University, Ohio. Just sayin'. Still, with a group membership of over 2,250 people, I'm more concerned for those involved than over the legitimacy of their claims.

Exhibit B: 'Bring Gym Class Heroes to Booker T. Washington High School'
I'm only hoping that due to group name length restrictions Facebook had to cut off 'so that we can gas them in the gym.' Somehow I reckon that the only reason for there to be 110 members to this group is that they all live on the exact opposite side of the world from Booker T. Washington High, and are aiming to keep the band as far away from them as possible.

Exhibit C: 'Gym Class Heroes Stole From Supertramp'
Huzzah! This group has the right idea, extolling the gospel of Supertramp over the gobshite of GCH. The amount of friends who thought 'Cupid's Chokehold' was an original song still depresses me now. It's a shame that only 136 people are on my side here.

Exhibit D: 'Friends Don't Let Friends Listen To Gym Class Heroes'
'This group is dedicated to having interventions with every friend, relative and passer-by you hear playing Gym Class Heroes'. That's a mission statement I can get behind. I may even donate some money to the cause...

Honourable mentions:
'Gym Class Heroes - They're The Reasons For Your Lesions' (actually a pro-GCHs group. Curious)
'Hey Gym Class Heroes, Supertramp wants their song back!'
''Gym Class Heroes - Clothes Off' has raped the original.'
'Lil Chris is a song stealer - Gym Class Heroes are 100% better' (I'll let you work out why I'm pissing myself laughing at that one...)

On Stars and Sons

Far be it from me to jump to non-forensic conclusions, but I have a feeling that the above picture, to be found on band Stars and Sons' MySpace, is a fake. I mean, I'm not claiming to be Sherlock, Miss Marple or even Basil the Great Mouse Detective - but a few things stick out to my sleuthing eye. First of all, there is the fact that Bruce Springsteen seems to have lost the cover spot to a new and virtually unknown band who won't even reveal their true identities. Then, there is the fact that Perez Hilton is referred to as the 'King of Mean', when anyone who's anyone knows Hilton is the Queen of mean. And finally, there's the suspicious website listed in the bottom right hand corner - - which claims that you can 'make your own magazine cover'. I don't know - it just smells fishy. Like tuna, or maybe hake.

Regardless of the veritability of said picture, nothing about Stars and Sons (or, if you like, Michael Lord) screams fake to the discerning listener. Instead, what you get is a raunchy musical kickstart to any day. Their songs have a tendency to be anthemic whilst balancing just this side of camp. Take, for instance, EP highlight 'If It's Good For Me', which has a heavy pop feel whilst channelling the undead spirit of Ed Harcourt. There's something in the water at Michael Lord's house - his music is fresh and funky, his promos are posted in homemade cases splattered liberally with poster paint (which has, quite wonderfully, left my desk smelling like primary school), and his press releases (and MySpace photos) are filled with quite blatent lies that have no intention of being taken seriously. Which is, as it happens, exactly how you should be taking his music.

Oh yuck. That sounded awfully music journalist-y. Just take the track and run.

mp3: 'If It's Good For Me' by Stars and Sons

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Sad songs say so much...

For a long time now I've read the occasional word about the Eels cover of Elvis Presley's 'Can't Help Falling In Love With You'. I've not thought much of it so far, imagining the cover to fall more in line with Eels other covers, such as Get Ur Freak On - a Linkin Park rockiness that worked in that context and not really anywhere else. I never allowed for the possibility it could be any other style - not least that style in which Mark Everett works best - the broken-down and simple tones of heartbreak.

Anyway, I finally got round to downloading everything I could by Eels this last weekend, and as such I finally listened to the track today. Somewhere around a minute in I think something inside of me caved. Everett's cover screams of the pain of love that he works so well with, and is so heart-wrenchingly beautiful I can't see myself ever going through another unrequited love without it playing on loop in the background. And yes, that's a little creepy, but it's nice to know I have something to make my creepy beautiful. I'll have some beautiful blues, if you will...

mp3: 'Can't Help Falling In Love' by Eels

The Good, The Bad and The Cinematic: Mongol

I was round a very good friend's house recently for an evening of generally doing jack-all. We watched something trashy on TV, I'm not sure what, and then realised that the French documentary 'Etre et Avoir' was on the wonderful BBC4. Both of us had heard good things of this documentary, and we settled down to watch it. What we hadn't counted on was my friend's housemate, a certified Illiterate Viewer.

Now, my use of this term should be in no way taken in the wrong context - I'm not mocking those who can't read (though seriously guys, you're missing out! Wait. Why write that? They certainly won't read it...) Illiterate Viewers are those people we all know who refuse to watch films with subtitles. Because, you know, nothing that dares to be in a foreign language can't be good, can it? If that were true, they'd have some sort of Foreign Film category at the Oscars, and there would be no chance of selling crap Angelina Jolie blockbusters to Eastern Europe. But yes, the housemate was an stubborn and immovable Illiterate Viewer, and we had to watch Pocahontas instead - a fine film, but hardly the peak of cinematic quality.

Anyway, my point is that if you refuse to watch a film because it is subtitled from a foreign language - whether it be French, Mandarin, Italian or, in this case, Mongolian. Some of the finest films I've ever seen have been in a language I'd confuse for gibberish were it not for the streaming lines of English at the bottom of the screen. Let's face it, Rush Hour has nothing on Hero, nor do any American spoofs on Shaolin Soccer. Even Cloverfield struggles at times to compete with the equally excellent The Host.

With that in mind, I went to see Mongol tonight - despite the box office girl checking that we were okay with it being subtitled. And - unfortunately, considering the above rant - it was average at best. Actually, no, that's unfair. For the majority of the two-hour runtime the film sat comfortably in a slighty above average position - the acting is great, the child playing the young Genghis Khan an uncomfortably forceful prescence onscreen throught his scenes. The cinematography, whilst leaps and bounds behind other, more successful Asian-based films of recent years, still was stunning and quite often moving.

But it suffered from a few fatal flaws. The overly arty representation of Khan's Lord of the Blue Skies was, essentially, a wolf in slow motion. And yes, I've had the deeper meaning explained, and no, that doesn't change the fact that it is a wolf in slow motion. Apparently the film twists the truth quite liberally at times, and it is seemingly at the points that the film feels (perhaps unsurprisingly) unbelievable. Perhaps the biggest flaw, that dropped the film a mark in the last half hour was the shameless avoidance of ten years of Khan's life - arguably the years in which he grew most as a military leader - simply in order to skip to the final act: a spectacular and fairly original battlescene, and the sort of monologue that is fast becoming atypical of both the historical and faux-historical Asian battle films of the last few years.


A brief look into reviews that could quite possibly have been written by my father.

My father is, by all accounts, a remarkable man. He is remarkable in his complete and utter inability to correctly remember the choruses to even his most favourite songs. He is remarkable in his ability to cross the line without feeling any need to stop the joke, or the teasing. He is remarkable in the sheer volume of shades of grey to be found in his remarkably short hair. He can, on occasion, be a pretty remarkable photographer - the picture above is one I took of him which featured alongside one of his own pieces when it was published in The Times earlier this year. Perhaps most remarkable, however, is his ability to make some of the most controversial musical statements ever to grace this sweet Earth. Perhaps it is no wonder when I find reviews on Amazon such as the ones below - reviews that attempt to put shame upon some the most universally accepted artists of all time - that I wonder, even for a second, whether my father has defeated all his technical woes and contributed to the intermaweb...

On Radiohead's 'OK Computer':
'What sickk twisted mind wrote this album? The tracks are extremely dull and lifeless! I bought this album after seeing it at a very cheap price, £4 but actually found it to be worth -£4 and regret my stupid decision, who that is sane could like it? Refrain from buying I beg of you! 1/5

On Bob Dylan's 'Blonde on Blonde':
'if dylan was starting today he would not got past the x factor final'

On Pink Floyd's 'Dark Side Of The Moon':
'Nearly as over rated as My Chemical Romance.'

On The Velvet Underground and Nico's self-titled album:
' comparison to many albums released the same year, VERY conventional in musical terms.'

On Bette Midler's 'Experience The Divine: The Best Of Bette Midler':
this album DEFINETELY deserves 5 stars!'

See, I think this is what I love about my dad more than anything else - whilst he didn't, as far as I know, write any of the above comments, he could well have, such is the predictability of his utter dadness. He's a remarkable man, and one who challenges me in so many ways (not least by putting on a home-made Musical Masterpieces CD in the car, one that features John Miles' 'Music' and a fair amount of Midler). I just wish I'd thought to write this two days ago, really...

The Good, The Bad and The Cinematic: The Happening

Last Friday a friend and I went to see M. Night Shylamalangadingdong's most recent effort, The Happening. I recommend now, as your friend and lover, that you do not make the same mistake. I won't, in the interest of respecting your right to watch an awful film without having it ruined for you, explain any plot details, but I will say these few things:

1) Do not watch this film if you do not want your intelligence insulted. Because, frankly, it will be. Lots. Lots and lots and lots. It turns out the Shylamalangadingdong thinks we're all idiots who will unquestionably accept all we are told. Of course, for reasons that will become apparent if you see the film, my going with a neuroscientist just served to further separate believability from this film. But still, an eight year old would have trouble accepting this film on its believability credentials.

2) Do not watch this film if you appreciate good acting. Because as much as it pains me to say this about both Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel - who are both fine actors in their better films - my Welsh dresser could have put in a less wooden performance than the entire cast of this film.

3) Do not watch this film if you enjoy decent characterisation. Or at least, you don't want your characters to have been created by a twelve year old, as the main players in The Happening appear to be. Mood rings? Seriously.

4) Do not watch this film. Simply put, it's an unbelievable mess in every category, the acting, the characters, the plot, the science. I left the cinema simply exclaiming 'Why?' in a high-pitched and audibly dismayed voice for half an hour or so. Yes, the trailer looked pretty good. But then, so does the trailer for Donkey Punch...


Enjoy a couple of vaguely related songs. Another favourite by my Band of the Year, Alphabeat, aptly titled 'What Is Happening?', and an example of just how fantastic Zooey Deschanel can be as part of She & Him, my second favouritest new band of the year so far.

mp3: 'What Is Happening?' by Alphabeat
mp3: 'Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?' by She & Him

Monday, 16 June 2008

I wanna hold your hand...

Last summer I, like many others, fell in love with the sample-heavy 'Can't Stop Movin'' by the then named Sonny Jim. It's just over a year later, and finally he returns with his first album, and an ever-so-slightly shortened name - Sonny J. I had the good fortune to interview the man himself a couple of months back, and he hinted at the single that would follow Enfant Terrible (which he was promoting at the time). Said single was 'Handsfree', the perfect slice of pop-soul heaven linked below. It samples Donna Hightower, apparently - not someone I'm familiar with, though certainly someone I shall be looking into as a result of 'Handsfree'.

And if that isn't enough, the music video is phenomenal also! It's as if Tarantino directed an episode of My Name Is Earl where the characters all re-enact the video to 'Thriller'. And that can't be bad.

mp3: 'Handsfree' by Sonny J

Naughtiness doesn't always pay off...

When I was a kid, I spent pretty much every car journey being indoctrinated into the cult of Billy Joel. I'm proud to say I'm a lifelong member now, and I'm sure, in time, there will be many posts that will provide evidence of this. But back to the story that I hadn't yet begun: One track I particularly loved of Joel's - one that was briefly my favourite song ever for a period of about two days in 1995 - was 'Only The Good Die Young'. It was naughty to the seven year old me because it suggested misbehaving might be to my benefit. Of course, it was years until I picked up on the whole prostitute vibe. But still, even then it was a naughty, naughty song and I was surprised my parents so willingly supported my listening any music so utterly risque as this.

My sister, too, had her doubts about the song. I found out a few years later that she always hated the idea it put across to her - the whole 'only the good die young' bit - because to her it meant she was going to die long before I did. I'm not sure how I felt about this at the time, but these days the little rebellious kid inside me loves that she thought that. Especially since I never was that naughty, and therefore my lifespan probably won't be that spectacular (I'm lazy, I don't worry about food and I drink like my bladder knows no bounds).

Anyway, this one's for my sister - proof that being the naughty one will only get you so very far...

I heard first heard this song belatedly just two days ago - we were driving to a huge park in Nottingham, and having very little success finding it, and this popped up on Radio 1. My friend and I were both mutually reminded immediately of the new Raconteurs album, but with a little more funk involved. Turns out it's a band whose name has been thrown around a lot recently, and who I hadn't got round to trying at the time. Needless to say, I have now, and they're ruddy great! They don't appear to be at Glasto (one week!) but perhaps Leeds will satisfy my thirst. Til then...

mp3: 'Ain't No Rest For The Wicked' by Cage The Elephant