Saturday, 26 July 2008
Before I've seen a single band, the boss has set us up with an interview with Gareth, lead singer of Los Campesinos! I meet him in the artists backstage area, sitting on a bed while a wholly unrecognisable indie band plays pool beside us. He's good chat, actually, a warm and funny guy who goes on one particularly hilarious rant about Loose Women (the TV show, not the... looseness of women) and Jordan's son, Harvey. Not sure if it's printable, or if we'd ruin their career (he needs a PR person to sit beside him and say "we retract that statement"). Later we go and watch his band perform in the King Tuts Tent. It's a huge tent and the crowd seems pretty small (they've a lot of young fans). I've written about their album before on this blog, I think it has lots of lovely moments and You! Me! Dancing!, the build and release, is absolutely brilliant here. Shame the crowd was so small (numerically, not the... physicality).
I’m sure The Music were never this popular before. Fans are literally bounding into the King Tuts Tent to get close to the new look Robert Harvey, shaven headed and bulkier, very different from the lanky long-haired hippy of 2002. And when they find a groove The Music know how to pump it: The People is especially riotous; everyone’s going apeshit. Carling don’t do comebacks, but Tennent’s obviously do. [ab]
From where I’m standing, the Chemical Brothers seem jaded. There’s crossed arms and frowns to the left of me, dancers to the right, but they’re dancing because they think they should, not because the beats are making them. We’ve seen these visuals before too. Star Guitar and Out of Control are well received, but there’s little connection elsewhere, so I leave to catch The Verve. [ab]
There’ll always be a nostalgic appeal to The Verve for fans of a certain age: but before Bittersweet Symphony, Richard Ashcroft does his best to inflate his own ego while simultaneously belittling the entire crowd. "Does anyone here know what it's like to write a classic?" he says. “You don’t have to rub it in”, we say. [ab]
Richard Ashcroft thinks he is JESUS, by the way.
dEUS the next morning at the NME/Radio 1 Stage. The crowd was shamefully small - less than 50 I'm sure - which kinda infringed the whole event.
Will Young doesn’t need to do much to convince his flock of adoring young fans of the worth of a soppy ballad. But even for a pop star, this populism is stunningly manipulative: a highland jig, a Groundskeeper Willie accent, and a 500 Miles singalong, all to much acclaim for Lovely Will. I leave before he brings out the kilt and bagpipes. [ab]
I thought he actually might be greeted with bottles of piss, but the tent was chock-a-block with young girls screaming for Non-Threatening Will. His attempts at ingratiation were actually quite hilarious, though I don't think he meant them to be.
In the hospitality area, we were being treated to a live performance from some rubbish jam band playing on the back of a lorry. But who's that drummer? It's only former Formula 1 boss Eddie Jordan! This band, Eddie & The Robbers, were incredibly due to headline one of the tents on Sunday night, after Hot Chip asked to not go directly up against Primal Scream, REM, Prodigy and Aphex Twin. So, get a bit of money together and you can headline T In The Park then, is that the deal? Anyway, such little attention was paid to Eddie & The Robbers in the hospitality area (as you can see on the left - only photographers were interested) that their headline slot was swapped, at the last minute, for a mid-afternoon slot, giving the Brian Jonestown Massacre a chance to headline. Apparently they were shit, too.
This feels epochal. It’s not that Glasvegas play better than usual or anything like that: rather, the crowd response, in a Futures Tent packed full 20 minutes before kick-off, is unprecedented. This band only have one full single, yet every word of every song is belted out at full volume by a rapturous audience in thrall to James Allan. Not only does Glasvegas’ greatest ever gig confirm their big time arrival, it also demonstrates the awesome viral power of fan-shot YouTube videos. Now this is the gig to search for. [ab]
Yeah so I wasn't really impressed with Glasvegas, but that's kinda beside the point. The crowd reaction was unbelievable - I was there with Billy Hamilton, and the two of us spent most of the gig gawking at the chaos around us. I met them afterwards too, and they were thoroughly lovely people from what I could tell. But I have gone off them, as a band, since hearing the re-recordings of their early songs which are now on their myspace. They new versions are over-produced, the epic quality of their sound used to feel spacious but now it feels flat, and some A&R bozo has obviously told James Allan to emphasise his Scottish accent. It sounds fake now; may as well be Mel Gibson. What I admired Glasvegas for was that they were both very real (they sung in their real accents, using real local slang and lyrical references), and very unreal (the detached rockstar glam even while playing in tiny venues) . That detachedness allowed them to be earnestly emotional about a cause of grief for loads of young men - absent fathers, a topic which is very much under-represented in pop music - without coming across as whiney or wet. Well, that authenticity is quickly evaporating since they've signed to a major label. They still don't sound whiney or wet, but now they sound whipped. They have the Major Label Sound and it's ruining them IMO.
Sunday, and Yeasayer (above) are fucking brilliant. That's all I can say, really. I interviewed the bass player a few months ago, wrote up a feature on them, and have still never heard the album. Wasn't expecting much, but the whole 25-minute set was such a thrill, I've completely forgotten it. But everyone agreed.
That's more than can be said for Battles (above), who split opinion between me (reasoned, calm critic) and everyone else (irrational, emotional fanboys). I used to respond to Battles chat with a reasoned, calm "wank wank wank" analysis, but now I see better. While still obviously very influenced by The Wank - very Wank-esque you might say - "wank, wank, wank" is a little harsh. Battles' technical prowess is obvious, as exemplified by their frankly awesome drummer. But too often that’s used as free reign to fanny about, to randomly slap at the keyboard or squeal an off-key guitar chord in the name of the avant-garde. If only all of their forcefully rhythmic attacks crystallised into palpable songs as well as on the bonkers Atlas, they’d be the greatest band in the world.[ab]
The T-Break tent is half-full, but every soul here is crooning “I’ll get my hole!” like it’s divine truth – even the girls are singing it - and when the chorus kicks in it’s utterly triumphant. Everyone rouses from the spell, rubs their eyes in the sunlight, and wishes they were back under. Tonight Matthew, Frightened Rabbit (below) are simply magic.[ab]
Logistical problems notwithstanding, Amy Winehouse would really suit a late slot in a big tent more than a daytime slot on the Main Stage. At times seeming bored, scared shitless by the crowd, or distracted, Amy’s untuneful warbles do her no justice today. But then, I’m nine miles from the stage, and those closer in are more interested in whether she’ll live to the end of her set than in her singing. She does. [ab]
Justice are a bit flat (or maybe I'm just knackered). But then Holy Fuck are a revelation - even to my tired soul and weary legs. I danced like a lunatic - not drunk/drugged - must've looked like a fanny. Again, like Yeasayer, I was so busy enjoying it I can't remember it much. Only that I loved it, and that it was much better than Battles. Then we got interviewed for the telly, or something, someone shoved a camera in front of us and started asking us about "Tennents' unique qualities". It's the only beer at the festival, that's why I'm drinking it. That's not the unique quality they were looking for.
When he’s not doing Firestarter or Breathe, which both go down fucking mentally, The Prodigy's Keith Flint just parades about, gurning like a lunatic. That’s it. It’s Maxim who’s the star of this show, a show which is flat for spells but rescued by the madness that accompanies the hits. Who wouldn’t freak out to Poison or Out of Space? Psychopathy has never been so appealing. [ab]
(ps. I promise never to write "x has never been so appealing" again)
Sunday, 20 July 2008
Primal Scream - Beautiful Future (**)
It’s hard to stay sympathetic to a band who sink to the depths Primal Scream sometimes hit; and again, on ninth album Beautiful Future, the effect of two particularly awful tracks makes me doubt everything about the rest. The contrived shoutalong anthem-baiting of Zombie Man would leave The Fratellis tutting loudly, while Suicide Bomb’s tired and empty posturing would shame a Kasabian b-side. The druggily upbeat title track - sure to be licensed by advertisers who’ll fail to recognise the cynical sarcasm of the titular hook - and Beautiful Summer’s darkly dramatic Depeche Modes stand out, but in this context that’s not hard. Where is the band that recorded XTRMNTR less than a decade ago? Closing track Viva hints it’s still about, but for now that brilliant aggressive focus is being crowded out by an impulse towards retro-rock’n’roll that leaves Bobby Gillespie acting like a rebel without any apparent cause.
I'm not always a fan of Alexis Petridis, but he wrote a really excellent long-form review of this album. It is here -> * <-.
Friday, 18 July 2008
live review for the skinny
Santogold's delayed again - but at least she's in the building this time. Originally due to play here in May, we finally get to see Miss Santi White in the flesh two months after she had to cancel her first Scottish performance due to voice problems. The Sub Club is the perfect environment for Santogold's pick'n'mix art-pop, with You'll Find A Way's battering bass assault particularly testing the sound system and getting full marks by way of a roaring applause. Crowd-member Vicky gives her all as a subbed-on dancer during Unstoppable, and a bigger (but still tiny) stage invasion during finale Creator only reinforces the impression that such a performer demands a bigger platform. Her vocals are perfect and she's evidently having a ball, while her stoney-faced backing singers swerve robotically to each new wave and dub bounce; but after waiting so long to see her, Santogold's half-hour set is brilliant but disappointingly brief.
Sunday, 13 July 2008
Every festival has at least one - a band that blows up just before the weekend arrives so that their stage draw is underestimated - and T in the Park 2008's was Glasvegas. We arrived at the mid-sized Futures Tent for their early evening Saturday show a full 20 minutes before it was due to start, and the stewards were already closing it off; we just managed to sneak in, while desperate others were charging and climbing fences. The atmosphere was just incredible, with thousands of fans heartily singing along to every word of every song - even though this is a band whose discography stretches to just one full single release. They started with Flowers and Football Tops, remaining impressively calm despite the bedlam going on before them - arms flailing, girls on shoulders, hugging, waving, cheering, screaming - so at times it was difficult to even make out the music. Meanwhile, hundreds were standing outside, crushing against barriers and stewards, desperate to hear or catch sight of their new heroes. It doesn't take much to get T revellers to chant "Here we fucking go!" but Go Square Go got thousands belting it out with gusto. Of course, the closer was Daddy's Gone, which already has the feel of a classic festival anthem that will be sung here for years to come; but never will it go down as well as here, tonight. This was a real landmark performance in the career of Scotland's favourite new band.
The Skinny caught up with drummer Caroline and guitarist Rab after the gig. "The best gig and the best crowd that we've ever played to", Rab beamed, still clearly overwhelmed by the experience. "I expected it to be busy but not quite like that. Our tour manager came on-stage halfway through and said to ask the crowd to calm down. People couldn't get in and then they rammed through the barriers, so they were gonna pull the gig". Caroline said "We've gone around the country and had the most amazing response everywhere we've went, and we're so thankful for that. But you cannae beat that. It was absolutely amazing". Rab also confessed that the band had decided not to headline the stage: "We said no because it's quite early still, we've only brought out one single -although we've done the limited editions - and our album's not out until September. As a band we all said it's too soon"
Rab and Caroline also spoke about the Christmas album the band hope to release at the end of this year. "It's definitely happening" Rab said, "It's all written. He [James Allan, singer] wrote it all in New York when we did the album. It's pretty fucking special to be honest. One of the songs is called Cruel Moon and I think it's the best song he's ever wrote. I get hairs on the back of my neck every time I listen to it. We were gonna put it on the album and I was gutted that we didn't, but I understand it's more suited for the Christmas album. So we're gonna go to Romania, Transylvania, and record it in a big church, live, and maybe get some other people to sing on it. The record company is really excited about it, a second album in a year!But after that quick burst of creativity, that might be it as far as the Glasvegas story goes. "I don't know if we're going to do a second [studio] album," Rab said. "And the record company knows that. They're genuine and they're really into the music. They won't force us to do anything. So if we say we don't want to do a second, they'd be fine with that".
Saturday, 12 July 2008
Rostam needn't have worried: we see the biggest crowd of the day when Vampire Weekend take the stage. Much of this audience is here out of intrigue, to form their own opinions on the most talked about band of the last six months. Late last year an early demo, creatively dubbed The Blue CD-R, began circulating internet blogs and gathering praise. But for every effusive word of acclaim, there was a disappointed putdown waiting to dampen the hype. By the time that debut LP dropped in January, Vampire Weekend had become hot, then not, then hot again... and now what? What enthused some people - and seriously riled others - was Vampire Weekend's daring to use Afro-pop rhythms, like Paul Simon did so well with Graceland. But Vampire Weekend were accused of being 'cultural tourists', appropriating those foreign styles without properly understanding them, and therefore being inauthentic. The underlying tone of the criticism was "How could they understand African music when they were so well-off, and so white?"
Vampire Weekend never analysed it so. "As an artist it's hard to be aware of that" Rostam says. "First and foremost we wanted to make something catchy and exciting, and something that could inspire people to move in some way. But we also wanted to try and bring different kinds of musical worlds together". But there came a point where they had to resist the primal urge to self-Google. "I think when people started to write things about us, of course we paid attention, but we’ve had to grow out of that stage. I think every artist wants to gauge how people are reacting to you, on some level, but then you want to be able to focus on the art that you do for your own sake. At some point you have to tell people that you don’t want to hear about it, whether it’s good or bad".
The comparisons to Graceland were a little clumsy, but a world famous and Grammy-winning African-based pop record is an easier place to start the mental map than a more obscure and precise equivalent. If you can hear the guitar line and rhythm of 'Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes' in your head now, you're in the ballpark. But I ask Rostam if he likes Graceland, and what he makes of the frequent references. "Oh yeah, I love it. I like the one after it even more [The Rhythm of the Saints]. We met Paul Simon at Saturday Night Live. When we were having dinner we talked to him for a while, and one of the things I asked him was whether he thought our album sounded like Graceland. And he said no. I don’t have any problem with people saying it sounds like Graceland, but in light of the fact that Paul Simon himself said it didn’t sound like it, what more do you want?" One of the most obvious differences is the absence of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, whose unique backing vocals aren't duplicated by Vampire Weekend. That would just be silly. "We’ve got two new songs that we’re playing today, they probably sound more African than anything on our first album. I’ve been thinking a lot about the production of the next album, what kinds of sounds and what kinds of vibes would take it to the next level". Let's hope he's not thinking of giving Ladysmith a call.Fast-forward ten weeks, and fly 5000 miles eastward, and Vampire Weekend will be seeing men in kilts at another festival. If you want to catch a glimpse of the most talked about band of last season before the new one starts, get to T in the Park's King Tuts tent in plenty of time. Let's hope they're still frowning: it won't be worry about the size of the crowd, so it'll have to be the flare of the sun.
I'm away at T in the Park at the moment: updates, reviews and interviews to come.
Friday, 11 July 2008
The site's been mostly dry all day so far, but the rain has just come on and The Skinny blames Rain Wizard Gareth, Los Campesinos! lead singer, who we've just been talking to. "The rain is a good thing to us because we're playing in a tent. I think we probably share a similar fan base to The Wombats," he cackled, "but if it rains, we have shelter on our side": and with that, Gareth clapped his hands and unleashed hell. Well, a small downpour. Luckily, the Welsh indie-popsters are only here for tonight, so we should be able to avoid a mudbath. They have three other festivals to attend this weekend, but that means gutted Gareth won't be around to see Will Young here on Saturday. "I would genuinely like to see Will Young," he said. "I think he's a brilliant pop artist, and he seems such a charming, genuine guy. I think it's brave of him to play here, a lot of people won't like him. It's nice when people put pop bands on rather than the same guitar bands. Festivals are so much fun, we play 30 minute sets of our fastest, most upbeat songs, we can exhaust ourselves, we don't have long tedious soundchecks, we just do it and then get off and watch other bands, and there's lots of free beer!" But for Gareth, the main clash tonight isn't between Richard Ashcroft's return and the Ed & Tom Big Beat spectacular, but between The Futureheads and Blood Red Shoes. "We're going to see Blood Red Shoes, they're our mates, but Futureheads are on at the same time. I've not listened to their new record but their first was a big favourite of ours at Uni. Neil's got a really funny photograph on his computer of when we met the Futureheads when we were about 18, and we've both got ludicrous hair and we just look so much younger. We want to show them that and say - look how we've grown!" We've no doubt the Futureheads would be delighted to get a copy of that photograph themselves. "Look, that was us meeting Los Campesinos!" they'd say, "well before they were big!"
We also managed to get a Los Campesinos! update, of sorts. "There is a lot of news coming soon, but I'm not at liberty to mention it now," Gareth said. Any clues? "It's a tour and a release before the end of the year" he added. So you mean a UK tour and an EP release? "I can't possibly say!" But you're winking aren't you? "I was squinting!" That's enough for us.
The Skinny will be reporting from T in the Park all weekend, so keep your eyes on the blog for more updates!
Wednesday, 9 July 2008
interview for the skinny
Twenty-three years after forming in Leeds, seminal indie rockers The Wedding Present are still evolving and learning as they launch their eighth studio album El Rey. Even though two Fifers have joined the band since 2005’s Take Fountain, it’s still hopeless romantic David Gedge who runs the show – he’s the founder, only constant member, singer, songwriter, and tour manager.
Hello there Mr Gedge, where are you and what are you doing?
We're rehearsing this week in Brighton on the south coast, so got a day off tomorrow and one more rehearsal then we're off on our mini tour. Just England, Exeter then Shrewsbury…
All the glamorous places then?
Yeah! Then it’s Norwich and Brighton. Our new album [El Rey] comes out on Monday.
Are you excited about the launch of the album?
It's still nice, yeah, to get a box of the CDs and vinyl from the manufacturers and rip it open and see everything. It's a culmination of a two year cycle of recording and overseeing artwork and everything. It's a lot of work, so to get the final thing in your hands is definitely exciting.
Were you trying to do anything different from previous albums?
Well I try to do something different every time. I've always admired the groups who move on and try different ideas. I hate those bands where you hear a record and you think 'I've already got this!'. I was hearing - do you remember The Lighthouse Family? – they were on the radio chatting about working on a new album, but halfway through working on it they said 'wait a minute, it doesn't sound like The Lighthouse Family', so they scrapped it and started again! I'd see that as a positive thing, if I'm working on stuff and it doesn't sound like The Wedding Present I'm actually quite pleased. We always try to move on and we've had a substantial line-up change since last time.
How does that change the dynamics of the band?
I think it works very well, it's always sad when people have to leave or you have to ask people to leave. You're working with these people quite intimately, so it's quite heartbreaking to see people go, but then a replacement comes in and you've got a whole new set of inspirations and influences and enthusiasms. They always want to ensure that they're as good or better than the people before, they want to be as good as the 1992 line-up or whatever. That competition is good for the group, makes it stronger. After Take Fountain Simon Cleave left the band, he'd been in for 10 years or so, with Cinerama, so that was quite scary in a way. But then again this album is as good if not better than Take Fountain so all these changes work quite well.
Why is it called El Rey, is that a Californian reference?
Nah, it just means ‘The King’ in Spanish.
Is that you?
Nah, it's Elvis! I've always been a big Elvis fan, but also having lived in Hollywood for the last 16 months or so, I quite wanted to have a southern Californian feel, so the artwork and photographs are all from about there. Also thought a Mexican-sounding name would be appropriate.
I was in L.A. recently, is it actually the area of Hollywood you live in?
Yeah, West Hollywood. I kind of enjoy it… when I first moved there I didn't like it, I suppose I'm a big fan of pop culture and that's the home of pop culture really, film music and TV and stuff. It's a big cartoon city really. It is like walking into a film or something.
The city does seem like it’s completely built around the film industry…
Everybody who lives there, or most people, have gone there for a reason, which is fame, working in films or being rock stars. So it's a very self-centered place, it's a very Me Me Me society, and I found that a bit alienating at first. But I suppose I got used to it, and the weather's obviously fantastic. It's just odd that you're sat in a cafe or something... I was in cafe table on the street and as we were leaving I saw a very attractive woman in a very short skirt, and the person sat next to her was Mike Tyson! I thought - of all the people you don't want to be eyeing their girlfriend up, it's probably Mike Tyson! In L.A. you see celebrities everywhere, I saw Dr Who in Urban Outfitters. Not David Tennant, the previous one, what's he called? [Christopher Eccleston - Ed who knows his Who] Lives in Manchester...
Ah but Mike Tyson and Doctor Who were probably going "oh there's David Gedge over there, look!"
Haha, right. I was watching a DVD film one night and then the next morning the actress from the film was walking down the road! It’s funny really.
I noticed on the track-listing for the new album, 'The Thing I Like Best About Him Is His Girlfriend' is listed as the 'Santa Monica and La Brea' version. Well, a guidebook I had in L.A. said that Santa Monica and La Brea was the gay prostitution district. So what's that song all about then?
That's a complete coincidence that! The only reason we did that is the pedestrian crossing there talks to you rather than beeps, it goes 'wait, wait, wait, wait', and that's the intro to the song.
I think it might be interpreted a different way…
Haha! Well you can take something else from that if you want.
'Model, Actress, Whatever' - is that about anyone in particular, or just Californian girls generally?
It's a general thing really, I'm quite interested in obsession, it's about being obsessed about somebody who's probably obsessed with themselves too. I'm interested in relationships and lust and regret and jealousy and stuff like that in my lyrics, and there's loads of that in that town. It attracts those kinds of people who’re driven to try to achieve certain things. There’s all sorts of lyrical references to L.A. in there, and in the song titles.
All your songs throughout your career been about relationships and such, you must either have loads of girlfriends or a really good imagination...
I think George Best was very personal, it was almost like reading out my diary, but after that you have to move on and make stuff up. I think it's always me in every song in some way, if it's not directly happened to me it's always something I imagine myself in a situation. But I just think it's the most successful way to write pop lyrics. I've tried other ways, to write about politics or science fiction or whatever, but I'm just more happy when I'm writing love or relationships songs, and the best are the personal ones.
So have you got a great cheat sheet of chat up lines or is it just 'hey, I'm a big rock star'?
Haha! well a lot of my songs are about failure, aren’t they?
How does Terry's [De Castro, bassist] co-writing influence your songs?
Not at all when it comes to lyrics because they're always mine. Terry's just been helping with musical ideas.
And you’ve been recording with Steve Albini again...
Seamonsters was the last album we recorded with him. Most bands who record with Albini sound like [makes harsh throaty growl], Big Black or Shellac or whatever. I wouldn't say he's bored with that but he does like the challenge of working on music which is different, so when I said it'd be easier to do strings in Britain he was like "oh, we can do strings here."
If you’re able to take a step back, what do you think of El Rey?
I'm far too close to it really! The last album was produced by Steve Fisk [Nirvana, Soundgarden, Screaming Trees] who's an engineer in Seattle, it sounds great, so there was a feeling that we should perhaps go back and use him again. But I had this worry at the back of my mind I didn't want to make Seamonsters Part 2 with Albini, so my main feeling is that it's nothing like Seamonsters, it's got an Albini edge to it but it's such a different type of LP, so I'm quite pleased with that. I think the thing about Albini is he just kinda records the band, whatever songs you've got at that time. Some of the songs on this record are quite poppy actually, he just records it in the best way that's appropriate, so it's got great sound as well.
Apparently you're contributing to a tribute album for The Cure...
I like the first album, think it's really good, and I saw them a couple times about 1979, but then I kinda went off them to be honest, and I'm not a big fan of Robert Smith's voice, I find it a bit whiny. When the list came through, it was my fault, we sat on it too late, and when we went back all the songs we wanted had gone. I think it was Graeme [Ramsay, drummer] that suggested High, so we're doing that. I don't think it's a fantastic song.
Why did you agree to be on the tribute album if you're not a huge fan?
Because I like doing covers, we've got a history of doing covers. It's very helpful over the years to work out how other people write songs and arrange songs, because sometimes you get ideas from that that you can reapply to your own work. And yes it is weird that we don't like The Cure that much, cos normally it is bands that we like that we cover, but it’s probably good for us in some ways that we don't much like them, because it makes us less precious about it. I think we've made it a better song, we didn't feel like we had to honour the initial version.
Looking forward to finding out. Thanks very much for chatting to us Mister Gedge, bye then!
Monday, 7 July 2008
Leila - Blood, Looms and Blooms (**)
Leila’s debut album for Warp unnecessarily revives two mid-90s styles that should’ve been allowed to rest in peace: trip-hop, and Mr Scruff. Portishead changed their game because they realised trip-hop doesn’t need to come back, and the less said about Mr Scruff’s self-satisfied wackiness the better. For several tracks on Blood, Looms and Blooms, only the first 30 seconds or so are important, because the remainder consists of just quieter or louder variations on the loop. It’s a cheap trick, but it works well on Mettle, where fast-dripping water in a cave, straining strings and a battering bassline come in and out powerfully. Deflect uses the same bassline sound to support typically sultry vocals from Martina Topley-Bird, Tricky’s former beau, and a drowsily narcotic cover of Norwegian Wood with an unhinged falsetto is a highlight. But it’s all a bit dated, as you’d expect; if you dig up the dead, expect it to smell a little.
Sunday, 6 July 2008
Lil Wayne might be the reigning king of the mixtape, but Washington DC rapper Wale (pronounced Wah-lay) must be next in line for the throne. His Seinfeld-themed Mixtape About Nothing has changed the game, raising the bar of what can be expected from a mixtape. The previously understood definition saw the mixtape as a low cost buzz builder, an excuse to freestyle in-between the real work, while the studio album was the fully committed artistic document. How can that still stand when Wale's free Mixtape About Nothing is as good as or better than almost every full cost hip-hop album in years? Wale is eminently likeable because he doesn't take himself too seriously despite the obvious intelligence behind his lines: in The Kramer, Wale's brilliant deconstruction of how the N-word is used is followed later, in The Chicago Falcon Remix, by the throwaway "I hate rap like Kramer hates blacks". But there are so many great rhymes here, and Wale's flow on top of the go-go funk-flavoured beats is astounding. Don't wait around for Wale's debut studio album, this is his arrival right here.
The Mixtape About Nothing can be legally downloaded for free from www.10deep.com/WALEMIXTAPE/
Friday, 4 July 2008
Commonly painted as the archetypal alt-alchemist, instinctively fusing disparate styles together like an improvising chef, Beck's eighth major studio album Modern Guilt finds him occupying a fully cohesive sound of his own, free from obvious recurring stylistic markers like DJ scratches or folky guitar strums. With Danger Mouse on production duties, Modern Guilt is at its best when the rhythm is allowed to dominate, such as the epically sprawling drum-track of first single Chemtrails, the hollow drum slams ricocheting over a chipmunk aria on Walls [the chipmunk is apparently Cat Power], and Replica's rusting drill'n'bass jerks. On sumptuous album closer Volcano, typically enhanced by the rattling trapped-insect rhythm, Beck languidly laments: “I’m tired of people who only want to be pleased”. Well I’m not pleased, Beck, but only because the 33 minutes-short Modern Guilt leaves me hungry for more of this marvellous meal.
In hindsight 'marvellous' was perhaps a bit of an overstated conclusion (as was 'meal' when it is more of an ample snack); and I should've realised that given that it was a comfortable 3 stars.
Thursday, 3 July 2008
'The Holocaust', so called because it is pure evil, is the 20 minute long mid-section of 'You Made Me Realise' which sounds like being strapped to the underside of a space rocket on take-off. For 20 minutes. It's Metal Machine Music, live, at massive volume. It was harrowing. I was pushing my earplugs as far in as they'd go, while others were braving it with naked ears. I'm convinced hundreds of Scots will lose their hearing months earlier than otherwise because of that 20 minute spell. But then, hearing the reaction afterwards, they'd say it was worth it. Two of my mates said it was the greatest thing they'd ever seen. The others were almost as enthusiastic. A guy in the loos was yelling, "Kill me now! I'm ready to die! Nothing in life will ever beat that!", and nobody was disagreeing.
I didn't feel like that, but you know what? I think it cured my cold. My nose which had been streaming all day gave up during MBV. "Forget fighting this bug fellas, we need to get to the ears, pronto!". On leaving, for the first time in days, my nose was dry. There was some viscous liquid oozing from my ears, granted, but my nose was dry. So perhaps we've found a cure for the common cold: My Bloody Valentine live. I don't want to say 'The Holocaust' - that sounds a little, er, heavy-handed.
More reaction from the gig:
Pat Nevin, former Chelsea and Scotland winger, currently BBC Scotland's best football pundit, said
"I've not seen anything like that since The Jesus & Mary Chain 25 years ago!"
James Graham, lead singer of The Twilight Sad, said
"it's back to the drawing board for us!"
Their noisy bluster owes a clear debt to MBV, and indeed the last time I saw anything as loud was The Twilight Sad in a tiny Edinburgh venue called Bannerman's.
I'm obviously not as cool as Pat Nevin.
But I'm still not convinced that Loveless is anything more than a very good alt-rock record. I read this essay again today - Scott McKeating's Loveless take-down on WWIA - and find myself agreeing with a lot of it. In summary: Kevin Shields wasn't a genius, he was a stoner; the apparently revolutionary ethereal sound was just a more extreme layering of production techniques done by Cocteau Twins before; it conveniently helps mask a shortage of traditional songwriting ideas. There's nothing to grab hold of if you're not transfixed by the visceral thrill of the sound itself - which of course you will be, live, if they roar it at you at incredible volume. Isn't turning up the volume a kinda obvious and cheap trick to make anything sound better? My buddy Graeme, who's writing the gig review for The Skinny, explained that Loveless had changed his life, because it was completely unlike anything he'd heard before. I wonder if he'd have been so blown away if he'd already heard bands like Sonic Youth, the JAMC, or the Cocteaus.
Wednesday, 2 July 2008
It takes either great balls and genius wit, or great idiocy, to name your band 'The Music' - no matter which way you shake it, it just sounds stupid. The Music was a big new thing back in 2001 (see?), belying an inauspicious Yorkshire background by roaring epic psychedelic lurches along The Second Coming lines, as if they were born for stadium jams; and the singer, Robert Harvey, wailed like his surname was Plant. Then, things went pear-shaped: the hype died down, the follow-up album was a flop, and Harvey's substance addictions dropped him in to depression. Now recovered and raring to go, this is the second coming of The Music: working their way back up towards achieving those stadium ambitions second time around, they also have a new album out this month. Just don't try to find it on the internet - ingeniously, their name is ungoogleable.
Tuesday, 1 July 2008
Spain 1 - 0 Germany
42 years of hurt: Spain's reputation as perennial underachievers can finally be put to bed, after they ended over four decades of failure with a fantastic victory in the Euro 2008 final against Germany. Despite missing tournament top scorer David Villa through injury, Spain's majestic midfielders barely allowed Germany a sniff of the ball and carved out a fully deserved victory.
Fernando Torres, the £25m Liverpool striker, was the match winner with a terrific 33rd minute goal. A long slide-rule through ball by Xavi, who this morning was named Player of the Tournament by a group of UEFA experts, set Torres off on a chase with German defender Philipp Lahm, and goalkeeper Lehmann coming off his line.
Despite starting behind him, Torres' speed and strength got him by Lahm just before Lehmann arrived, and he deftly flicked the ball over the onrushing goalie and into the far corner of the net. It was just reward for Torres, who had hit the post earlier with a header, and whose strong running all tournament had facilitated the goals with which team-mate Villa stole the limelight. There were further chances for Spain to win the game, with a Sergio Ramos header being well parried by Lehmann, and a late run by Marcos Senna almost resulting in a wonderful clincher had he been able to stretch his foot a further few inches. Germany were unable to create many clear chances, and their increasing frustration threatened to boil over at times as desperate players flew into reckless tackles.
But nobody could argue with the result, or that Spain weren't deserving winners overall: the only team in the last-4 to have won all their group games, only Italy held the Spanish to a draw. Otherwise, they were superb.
Torres' goal was a fitting climax to a wonderful tournament. It had everything a football fan could ask for - great goals, drama, surprises, great players - and very little of what we don't want to see - diving and injury simulation, red cards or bad injuries, bad refereeing. Here's my round-up:
Goals of the Tournament:
3. Sneijder (Netherlands) v. Italy (group stage, r1) - his clinching goal against France was a beauty too, but this was better: starting with Giovanni van Bronckhorst clearing an Italian chance off his own goal-line, the counter-attack moved at such pace, and was so expertly executed with perfectly sprayed passes, it was the first indication of the awesome ability of the new Dutch team. Italy didn't know what had hit them. This goal shook up the tournament.
2. Torres (Spain) v. Germany (final) - Xavi's pass through was inch-perfect, and Torres' sheer pace and strength to get in front of Lahm and to the ball, just as Lehmann arrived, was breathtaking to watch. His carefully flicked finish under immense pressure was just superb.
1. Nihat (Turkey) v. Czech Republic (group stage, r3) (above) - Just 15 minutes previously, the Czechs had been 2-0 up on Turkey, cruising into the Last-8. Then Arda Turan pulled one back, and Czech goalie Petr Cech, roundly known to be one of the best keepers in the game, fumbled a cross ball to Nihat's feet to bring the tie level. But this? Into injury-time, a ball is slipped through to Nihat in space, and from 20 yards out he thumps a high, dipping, curling ball over Cech and in-off the crossbar to seal a quite incredible comeback. The way Nihat struck the ball was so ambitious, and so risky - he could try that same shot 100 times and 90 of them would fly well over the bar and into the stand - that it seems like a silly thing to attempt in injury-time to clinch qualification. But he went for it, and pulled it off brilliantly.
Most Dramatic Moments:
3. Buffon saving Mutu's penalty - After being torn apart by the Dutch, the Italians are in danger of elimination if they lose to Romania. Adrian Mutu gives the Romanians the lead, before Panucci equalises for the world champions. But then Italy are harshly punished when the referee gives Romania a very soft penalty. Mutu, who plays his football in Italy with Fiorentina, steps up to take the kick knowing it's likely to eliminate his country of residence from the tournament. He hits is straight down the middle; Gigi Buffon has dived to his left, but sticks out his right hand as he falls; the ball hits Buffon's right hand, then his right leg, and balloons over the bar; Italy breathe again.
2. Turkey's comeback to beat Czech Republic - As described above. Nihat's injury-time winner was my favourite goal of the entire competition.
1. Turkey beating Croatia in the QF - Just ridiculous. 118 minutes of boring football. Eventually, some excitement: Rustu abandons his goal-line but Luka Modric gets there first to cross into the six-yard box, where Ivan Klasnic is waiting to head in, surely, the winning goal. Croatia go wild: the manager Slaven Bilic runs onto the pitch in celebration; they've done it! But no - never write off the Turks, especially after that Czech match. With their first shot on target all night, in the 122nd minute of the game - possibly the latest goal ever scored? - Semih Senturk (above) lashes the ball into the top corner. Incredible. The Turkish fans who were disconsolate can hardly believe their eyes; the Croatian fans who were celebrating can hardly believe their eyes. It's going to go to penalties, but we all know what's going to happen. The Croatians cannot recover from such a shock. Turkey win the shoot-out.
Surprises of the Tournament:
3. France - how dreadful were France? They had probably the best squad in the competition, on paper, and certainly the best squad depth - as I illustrated in the tournament preview, there were so many great French players who didn't even make the squad who most other nations would have loved to have at their disposal. But they were terrible. Their highlight was a 0-0 draw with Romania in possibly the worst game of the tournament. They scored just one goal - Thierry Henry in the 4-1 crumbling to the Netherlands.
2. Turkey - the biggest over-achievers, not only did the Turks escape from a group they were tipped to finish fourth in, they also made it to the semi-finals and outplayed eventual finalists Germany. Granted, they benefited from a few giant dollops of luck - if Petr Cech had just caught that cross, as he would do 99% of the time, Turkey would have gone straight home - but they also suffered plenty of bad luck against them. They only had 3 fit outfield subs for the Germany game, missing key players like Nihat, Arda, Tuncay, and Emre.
1. The Netherlands (above) - Going into the tournament, the Dutch were being regularly criticised by their own fans and journalists. Everyone knew they had good players, but nobody expected them to trounce both Italy and France so comprehensively. They instantly became every neutral's favourites. OK, so maybe it was just me that under-estimated them so much. I won't make that mistake again.
Top 3 Refereeing Controversies:
3. Austria's last-minute penalty v. Poland - English ref Howard Webb gave this decision which initially appeared to be a mystery - an Austrian was jostled to the ground as a free-kick was flighted into the box. The result? An equalising goal from 38-year old Ivica Vastic, effectively eliminating Poland from the competition. Was he right? It depends how rigidly you believe rules should be stuck to. By the letter of the law it was a foul and those fouls should be punished. But by being so strict, referees would have to give several penalties in every game, and that would fundamentally change the game of football. Indeed, Webb himself would have had to have given several penalties already in that game for the Polish defence to realise that they should be careful. So in my opinion he was not right - where were the other penalties in that game Mr Webb, or in the other matches you refereed? Instead, this penalty was like a gift given to the hosts, like a bottle of wine bought in thanks for a dinner party.
2. Van Nistelrooy's goal v. Italy - Ruud looked a good yard offside when he turned a shot towards goal, but it was given because Italy defender Panucci was off the pitch behind the goal. Apparently, because he hadn't asked the referee for permission to leave the pitch, he was still playing the striker onside. Again we have a situation where the strict interpretation of the law may be technically correct but gives an absurd result. The Italians felt aggrieved at the goal being given and I think they had a right to.
1. Kolodin's red card reprieve v. Netherlands (above) - With just minutes left, Slovakian referee Lubos Michel appeared to give Russian centre-back Denis Kolodin a second yellow card and then a red, but before Kolodin left the pitch, Michel ran over to speak to his assistant. The assistant seemingly told Michel that the ball had gone out of play, and therefore Kolodin's foul didn't count because play should have been stopped. Michel waved his hands to indicate that he had changed his mind about the red card, play carried on with Kolodin on the park, and Russia went on to win 3-1.
Television replays showed that the ball had not gone out of play, but also that Kolodin had barely made contact with the 'foul'. So it seems the assistant got it wrong, but that justice was done, because the referee had also got his first decision wrong, and so two wrongs made a right. But referees just aren't supposed to change their mind, because it gives players encouragement to harangue them about decisions they disagree with. So this was either a very brave decision, or a very bad example to set. What do you think?
Team of the Tournament:
GK. Edwin Van der Sar (Netherlands) - made more great saves than any other, and commanded his box. Honourable Mentions: Buffon (Italy), Casillas (Spain).
RB. Hamit Altintop (Turkey) - must have covered every blade of grass on every pitch he played on. HM: Bosingwa (Portugal), Bhoularouz (Netherlands)
CB. Carlos Puyol (Spain) - often criticised for his positioning, but the all-action defender never gives his opponents a second's peace. Team only lost 3 goals in 6 games.
CB. Giorgio Chiellini (Italy) - an absolute tank after he came in to replace Materazzi. HM: Pepe (Portugal), Gokhan (Turkey), Marchena (Spain).
LB. Yuri Zhirkov (Russia) - bombed up and down the left-flank with endless energy. A left-back and left-winger all-in-one. Brilliant. HM: van Bronckhorst (Netherlands), Lahm (Germany)
RW. Arda Turan (Turkey) - the new star of Turkish football, a constant danger, scored a couple too.
CM. Wesley Sneijder (Netherlands) - On course to be player of the tournament after the first two games, when he was a stand-out in Holland's magnificent group victories against Italy and France. HM: Fabregas, Xavi, Iniesta (all Spain), Modric (Croatia), Deco (Portugal).
CM. Andrei Arshavin (Russia) - Missed the first two games due to suspension, but was so good on returning against Sweden and particularly the Netherlands that he instantly became Europe's hottest property. Super-rich teams like Chelsea, Inter Milan and Barcelona are now set to battle for his £20m signature. Disappointing in the semi-final against Spain.
CM. Marcos Senna (Spain) - The so-called 'Makelele role' should be renamed the 'Senna role' now. The Brazilian midfielder intercepted everything and was the main reason creative players like Cassano, Arshavin, and Ballack were quiet against the Spanish.
LW. Lukas Podolski (Germany) - Germany's best player. Scored three goals and assisted a few too from the left flank.
ST. David Villa (Spain) - who else but the top scorer? HM: Pavlyuchenko (Russia), Nihat, Semih Senturk (both Turkey), Torres (Spain).
The end of a major International football tournament, like one minute past Christmas midnight, is a very sad time for me: because it's the longest possible time until the next one. You mean we have to wait two whole years for the next World Cup? I don't know how I'll cope. But if it's as good as Euro 2008, it'll be worth the wait.