Saturday, 22 December 2007

Glasvegas (Live)

Live review for The Skinny

glasvegas @ cabaret voltaire, edinburgh, 7 dec (****)

In a way, it’s ridiculous that Glasvegas should already be receiving such hype on the basis of just five songs. But on the other hand, the way people of all ages are responding to the handful of tracks made available on MySpace is incredible. It’s like an Oasis crowd, with gangs of men and boys hugging and punching the air and singing along from the depths of their throats. They’ve only recorded half an album, but tonight this Cab Vol crowd knows all the words. Glasvegas’ anthemic choruses are wrapped in a dreamy haze, just as the band are obscured by red smoke, but there’s emotional gravitas here too, particularly in their revelatory first single Daddy’s Gone. It’s no surprise when their sixth and final song of the evening is a cover of the Ronettes’ Be My Baby; it clearly inspires everything they do. If Glasvegas can continue to re-contextualise one of the 20th century’s greatest pop songs for the 21st, there’ll be no stopping them.

Future Of The Left (Live)

Live review for The Skinny

future of the left @ glasgow barfly, 6 dec (****)

The new project of former Mclusky and Jarcrew members, Future Of The Left released an exhilarating debut album in October that flew under too many radars. Curses was a record of ludicrous thoughts snarled by Andy Falkous's tongue-in-cheek, over chugging punk guitarwork, and bent into the kind of melodic shape that Fugazi and the Pixies first conjured. The Barfly is tiny, so we can feel the jocular aggression like welcoming heat from a fire, every song bristling with manic tension and playful hooks that beg to be yelped with glee: “Colin is a pussy, a very pretty pussy!”, “s-s-s-sausage on a stick, yeeaah!”, and so on. It makes no sense at all, yet it also makes no sense that Future Of The Left are still playing such wee venues for wee crowds. If a band this good can’t at least book out the Barrowlands, there really is no Future.

Canadian indie-pop singles round-up

Single Reviews for The Skinny

young galaxy - outside the city (arts & crafts, **)

There’s definitely a Canadian indie-pop aesthetic: well-mannered romantic dream-pop with tightly controlled outbursts of passion, and always a male-female vocal duo. Adding to this over-stuffed market are Young Galaxy, a Vancouver male-female duo who carefully calculate their noisy swirls of emotion in an effort to inject edge into otherwise generic twaddle. It doesn’t work – it’s turned into a formula and is becoming generic itself. Even the originators of the Canadian revival are struggling to progress without a change of direction, the last thing we need are late arrivals wearing cheaper clothes.

stars - the night starts here (city slang, **)

Canadian indie-poppers Stars involve three members of Broken Social Scene, but don’t show any of their verve or bluster here. With over-polished production and twee spaceman synths, Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan make unfathomable drama out of whispered clich├ęs like “forget your name, forget your fear” and “we’ll be angels after all.” Perhaps in the context of the album it’s a barnstormer but, on its own, The Night Starts Here is as sweet as melted marshmallow, and as sickly too.

kevin drew - safety bricks (city slang, ***)

It’s not easy to say why Kevin Drew’s Spirit If... is not the new Broken Social Scene album we’ve all been hoping for: packed with charming and catchy songs like Safety Bricks, it lacks only the focus to keep it a concise, fatless full-length. Safety Bricks is one of the happy-clappy songs, the one where he coos “woo-oo, woo-oo, woo-oo” like a courting bird of paradise, over a thrusting, shuffling rhythm, and in between romantic promises. Like the best pop, it’s fleetingly lovely and entirely disposable in equal measures.

Sunday, 16 December 2007

Capello Appointed England Boss

Football report for Blogcritics

Fabio Capello was confirmed as the next manager of the English national football team on Friday. The English FA announced that the Italian has signed a contract for four and a half years, with reports suggesting his salary to be around £6 million a year. He replaces Steve McClaren, who earned £2.5 million a year and was sacked three weeks ago after failing to lead his team to Euro 2008.

Capello has one of the finest club football pedigrees in the world. His first managerial job was with AC Milan in the early 90s, where he built a team that is often considered among the best club sides ever assembled. They won Serie A four times in five years, and are fondly remembered by neutral fans for their comprehensive 4-0 victory over a strong Barcelona side in the 1994 Champions League Final. Capello then left to join Real Madrid, where he won the Primera Liga at his first attempt, before returning to Italy.

In 1999 he moved to Roma, and he brought them their first success in a decade when they won the league in 2001. His following years were not so successful, before he moved to Juventus in 2004 and won Serie A with them twice in succession. (It should be noted that these two titles have now been stripped from Juventus due to the match-fixing scandal uncovered last year). In 2006 he returned to Real Madrid, and despite opposition from fans who disliked his defensive style, he again won them the Spanish title. He now joins England, his first ever international appointment, having left Real in June.

While on first glance the appointment of one of world football’s most successful bosses represents a huge coup for the English FA, fans would be wise to be wary of two things. Firstly, international football is fairly different from club football, and requires different talents. This applies to players as well as managers: there’s an endless list of players who excelled for their clubs and flopped for their country, and vice versa. International football doesn’t allow managers to buy their way out of trouble; Capello is stuck with a pool of around 50 potential England players and must rely on the clubs to develop new players for that pool. Instead of working with the players every day in training, Capello will only have a few days before each game to work on set-pieces, tactics and team cohesion, and there are usually several weeks or months between games. More so than in club football, the international game relies on personal skills of man-management to get players in the right frame-of-mind for individual matches. Capello’s personal skills are frequently criticised: he has fallen out with players at every club he’s managed.

Secondly, Capello has a very poor grip of the English language. In an earlier piece, I said that the English FA must hire a man “who can… communicate his tactical instructions clearly to his array of top players”. Rafa Benitez agrees that the language barrier can cause real problems. How can players play to a disciplined tactical system when they don’t understand their instructions? How can a half-time team-talk be inspirational when it is incomprehensible? Capello says he will bring an Englishman into his staff to help with translation, but plenty of meaning can be lost from a second-hand speech.

England must also look at why they are not developing enough talented managers of their own, as Paul Ince has noted. A major footballing nation with such an infrastructure, such riches, and such passion for the game should have a queue of suitable bosses lining up for their top job.

In the meantime, England fans can only speculate about how Capello will do. He doesn’t officially start the job until January 7th, and faces his first test in a home friendly against Switzerland a month later. Capello has spent his career gathering top credentials in club football; now he faces the challenge of living up to those credentials, in a different country, and in a slightly different context.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Glasvegas

Feature for the Skinny - Glasvegas


Everyone knows the story about Oasis’ breakthrough 14 years ago: they were spotted at King Tuts by Creation Records boss Alan McGee, playing a 20 minute set while third on the bill, and offered a deal on the spot. This summer McGee announced that he had done it again – spotted a brilliant new band third on the King Tuts’ bill, that was “the sound of young Scotland today”. McGee told the Guardian “I hadn’t loved anything that much since the Jesus and Mary Chain demo tape in the 80s”. For a band that had been quietly working away on their sound and building buzz from the ground up, such a grand statement in a national newspaper caused a huge hike in hype and expectation. But frontman and songwriter James Allen has adjusted to it now: “through a little time we’ve became friends [with McGee]. His enthusiasm for the songs I write blows me away at times. I see him as the Malcom McLaren or Tony Wilson of this generation.”

There’s no need to question McGee’s claimed 13-years of sobriety based on this assessment: the Mary Chain’s place in the Scottish music hall of fame isn’t yet under threat, but even before they’ve signed a record deal Glasvegas look a likely candidate for future entry. They’ve borrowed from dozens of sources – a look between The Clash and the Velvet Underground, the shoegaze guitars of early Creation bands and related fuzziness from Suicide, a 50s songwriting style and Phil Spector production values – to mould their own sound unlike anything else being hawked at the moment. Lyrically they have the subtlety to write sensitively about the pain caused by absent fathers, as well as uniquely Glaswegian anthems like “Go Square Go” and “I’m Gonna Get Stabbed”. Even the NME has displayed rare good taste by declaring “Daddy’s Gone” the “…single of the year. No question”.

The release of that debut single on MP3 and limited edition 7” at the beginning of November was the culmination of two years hard work, but things have been accelerating for several months now. They’ve supported Dirty Pretty Things, The Charlatans and Ian Brown, and made more fans in high places. “Ian phoned up out of the blue saying he’d got given a demo” James says. “The guys heart, spirit and soul was an eye opener.” At the time of writing the band remain unsigned, but that surely will not remain the case as you read this. James is already thinking ahead to the debut album: “I’ve got a bunch of new songs ready that the band ain’t even heard yet. My ambition for when we make our first album will be to give as much of myself to it as I can give in the hope of making something sugary and soulful”. This year, the Twilight Sad made an indelible mark with a debut album that caught everyone by surprise. Don’t be caught by surprise in 2008: keep a very close watch on Glasvegas, the west coast’s new, new favourite band.

Saturday, 8 December 2007

Marilyn Manson

Preview for The Skinny

Brian Hugh Warner released his sixth album Eat Me, Drink Me in June, mostly to collective shrugs and “meh” from the media. Remember when Marilyn Manson used to be blamed for shootings and ill morals by outraged tea-drinkers everywhere? He’s shocked us so much there’s nothing and nobody left to offend – even the Daily Mail gave the album a positive review. While Manson might still look grotesque, his music has moved from dirty industrial shock-rock to glam and funk-inspired pop-metal. Supporting him at the Braehead Arena will be Norwegian rawkers Turbonegro, who describe their new album as “full of speed, power, humiliation and freedom!” There are 5000 seats at the Renfrew shopping mall, so there’s plenty room to make it an early Christmas treat for the whole family. Yes grandma, you too.

Braehead Arena, 8 Dec, 7.30pm, £25

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Chutes

Introducing... feature for The Skinny

Exactly a year ago, The Skinny wrote about a young Edinburgh band called The Rushes, who were creating a little buzz around the city after winning support slots with acts like The Fratellis, The Kooks and New Young Pony Club. Back then, frontman Daniel James Abercrombie said: “Next year I want us to succeed and for people to enjoy what we’re doing.” Just months later, The Rushes ceased to be, but that isn’t the end of the story. “That petered out,” Daniel says now. “We hit a brick wall with it about a year ago. We scrapped all the songs and started again: new name, new outlook. We’re a new entity, something completely different”, he asserts.

Despite running out of fuel while doing reasonably well as The Rushes, The Artists Now Known As Chutes are full of optimism for their new project. In just a few months they’ve already played to a packed T Break tent at T in the Park, and recorded BBC radio sessions for Steve Lamacq and Vic Galloway. Daniel is encouraged by the capital’s eternally burgeoning music scene: “We’re doing gigs with other Edinburgh bands that are challenging each other, playing together and inspiring each other. We’ve been part of the Edinburgh music scene for ten years, and there’s never been a better time than now. I often just walk around the place, I find it really inspiring.”

But he remains level-headed about the chances of succeeding in a music industry still trying to get to grips with the revolutionary effects of the internet: “There’s so many bands up on MySpace that are not going to get anywhere. You have to be realistic - to get to that level of success you need to be well marketed and there has to be a marketplace for you. You can make an album that a couple of thousand people really love but that’s not enough to pay your bills. There are bands like Aereogramme that never broke through to that next level but have made some amazing music.”

Chutes are at the comfortable state where they can pick and choose the gigs they want to play. When we meet them, they're supporting trendy New York afro-beat combo Vampire Weekend, and do a much better job of animating the crowd than the esteemed headliners. They clearly know how to write a hook, and Daniel looks like he’s been a frontman all his life. Their tunes are razor-sharp and call to mind local heroes Idlewild and Geordie upstarts Maximo Park. A year ago Daniel said “We need to get a wee break to progress to the next level.” Tonight he says “We’ve pretty much taken it as far as we can on our own, the next thing is getting involved with the industry.”

That's the same final step Rushes faltered at last year. Perhaps in a year we'll be writing again about a new incarnation of Daniel and his band-mates, back on their feet again after another re-think. As it is, Chutes are positioning themselves for the ever-anticipated Edinburgh boom around the corner. It may never come, but if it does, the least Chutes can expect is to be carried onwards and upwards in the slipstream.

Monday, 3 December 2007

Ween - La Cucaracha

Album Review for The Skinny

ween - la cucaracha (***)

Veteran American japesters Ween are masters of the half-serious game they play: mocking music styles and conventions, and building barriers to criticism through their own highly developed sense of irony. When they play it sorta-straight, Ween display a wide-ranging songwriting talent capable of evoking varied reactions: as on the explicitly carnal metal-punk of My Own Bare Hands, the self-loathing ballad Object, or the cartoonish bounce of Friends and Shamemaker. But among the 13 tracks of La Cucaracha are parodies of reggae, new-age spiritual music, hillbilly and prog-rock (at least, we must hope these wacky boys are winking). Like any joke, these spoofs lose their appeal after just a few listens. For example, the 11-minute Woman and Man perfectly lampoons the grandiose ambition of pretentious prog, with ridiculous statements, pompous drum solos, and overblown guitar workouts. It’s a great yarn, but how many times have you actually listened to that Spinal Tap LP?

Sunday, 2 December 2007

Malcolm Middleton

Preview for The Skinny

Together as Arab Strap, Aiden Moffat and Malcolm Middleton were Scottish music’s greatest duo (don't give me any of your Proclaimers nonsense). Now apart, they’re proving just as irrepressible. We gave the latest of Middleton’s three solo albums - A Brighter Beat - a glowing review back in February, even going as far as suggesting the downbeat singer had songs which “border[ed] on joyous.” His first two solo albums weren’t half bad either, even if they were melancholy in the extreme. On this UK mini-tour, expect Middleton to try out some of his new songs . He may currently be recording an “acoustic(ish) mini(ish)” new album, but he will be backed by a full band.

ABC, Glasgow on 5 Dec; Liquid Room, Edinburgh on 6 Dec. 7pm, £11.