Tuesday, 23 September 2008

What A Way To Make A Living...

No recent posts doesn't mean no work, y'know. Tough Love isn't all days by the pool and champagne cocktails. In fact, quite the opposite. We don't even have a pool, although the bath is pretty big and has one of those retractable showerheads so you can wash your hair. Not quite pure decadence, but pretty hot for two twenty-something wage slaves. And so the point is, we've been busy with other things. I have been moonlighting at Rockfeedback, writing the odd review and receiving the odd brilliant record for my troubles. There's not really much more I want. 

If you're not a frequent reader of Rockfeedback, click on the links below to see what I thought to the new TV On The Radio, The Walkmen and Lovvers albums. It seems everyone loves these records and it's a rare occasion when the consensus is right...

I've also put together a 'mix tape' for the I Say Hi, You Say Bye blog-cum-radio show run by Matteo Disco Drive. You can download it here. Mine's accompanied by a picture of me and a big tree, plus some very kind words from my favourite Italian. It was my first time using Garageband and you now have evidence why I stand behind the camera, so to speak. My mixing skills are a face designed for radio, but the art is in the song selection and yeah, my taste wins.

And very soon, very nearly, the new Situationists EP - Onwards and Upwards - will be with us. It's sounding brilliant. They are brilliant. Self-recorded and produced, there's not much these boys can't do. They've even helped construct the artwork, along with the help of the impossibly talented Alex and Chris double team (see The Sequins, PopShop, Disco Drive et al). You're going to cry when you hear "Fireworks", unless of course you're an awful human being. There's also a Japan-only album imminent through 1977 Records (home to The Horrors and Rumble Strips amongst others). Exciting times. 

In less positive news, Katy Perry remains the musical incarnation of a Loaded magazine main feature interview. Well done turning on 14 year old boys and date rapists. It must have been a real struggle. 

Monday, 8 September 2008

Shit But I Know It?

Suffering from insomnia, it's good to have a hobby. Time stretches out to 20 infinities. There's more hours to fill in a day that constantly plateaus . And night is just a darkened room. Imagine that perpetual childhood wait for Christmas but without the pay off, because all a new day brings is a new 24hrs that you wish could be abridged to 16. But thanks to Friday Night Lights, this past week has distilled into a more bearable sequence of time. It's compelling and enthralling and immersive. I find it filtering into the broken fragments of sleep I manage to steal, dreaming of avenue plot lines, when not dreaming of not being able to sleep. 

For the uninitiated, FNL is a teen drama adapted from a Hollywood film of the same name, centred around American college football team Dillon Panthers in a football obsessed Texan town. Money and God are omnipresent concerns, family and football the bedrock of social existence. In many respects, it's standard teen drama, like Dawson's Creek, but filtered through American football rather than a thesaurus. But there's something more here. Something I can't intellectualise away and equally can't reduce to a guilty pleasure. It's not good per se, but its emotionally manipulative in a way that doesn't leave me feeling cheap or abused. It appeals on a base level, visceral even. I like winning. I like competition. I like sport. Just like the Panthers (ahem), FNL can't lose on those terms. And it elicits exactly the same feeling I have when listening to The Streets. 

I'm constantly surprised to experience the disdain some people - a lot of people - show towards Mike Skinner. Not feeling the same way, I find criticisms of him alien and unwarranted, often veiled behind what is essentially an inherent classism. Indeed, like FNL, Skinner's best (and worst) work reeks of working class sentimentality and the two new songs I've heard - "The Escapist" and "Everything Is Borrowed" - play true to type. 

Whereas Skinner has in the past consistently relied upon modern references - texting, Playstations, drug/drink/gambling culture - he's gone on record as saying that the new album represents a conscious effort to move outside of this comfort zone. While his lyrics have lost a certain amount of their characteristic parochialism in favour of a more ambiguous universality, his concerns remain reflective of that very modern twentysomething ennui. Skinner's perhaps used that excuse for a way of saying that his focus has changed, his muse a little richer in gravitas, or at least that's what he's striving for. The title of "The Escapist" is a give away, the song itself charged with alienation and uncertainty, but incongruently sacchrine sweet, coated rich in strings and a faux-soul leit motif with the faint whiff of ethno-yah! trust fund philosophy in the narrative (and that video doesn't really help). It's both predictable and moving in equal measure. 

Contrary to what my conditioned critical faculties suppose, I like it. It pulls my heart strings in the same way a Matt Saracen 40 yard pass with slow motion drama does and I make no apologies for that. But equally, there's the distinct feeling that it's  a crass, ill-advised mis-step, trying to say something "important" but just coming off stumbling and cloying and laughable. But that's the beauty of Mike Skinner. He does get it wrong, as cliched as he can be inspired. Just like FNL, I can't switch him off even though my inscribed cultural elitism dictates I should. I want to know where it's going and what he's going to do next, because it's stupid and compelling and funny. Given that I've not yet watched The Wire or listened to Burial, maybe this means nothing, but I'm eschewing critical consensus this time. Just this once, mind...   

Friday, 5 September 2008


"Ever feel like you've been cheated?". Actually, yes, all the time. New technology is moving so fast, it's hard to know the difference between an iCon and a true icon. Here's some pretty bad offenders...

The term 'Bloghouse'

Is it OK if everyone stops using the word bloghouse to refer to electronic music that people who don't have less intelligence than a below average reality TV contestant like? Apparently. it's not 'proper' dance music if you have to write about it ZZZZZZZZ. Worse than The Enemy.

Lily Allen
And to think I own her album. On vinyl. Well and truly fucking iConned!

Great idea. Now I can never been anymore than no seconds away from my boss, from work, from having to do something other than nothing. Well done. You've just made a rod for you own back. And those twiglets used to poke the screen are about as cool as the Top Gear Cool Wall.

Celebrity Sex Tapes
Just like porn, except "I can't see anything, I haven't got a hard on and I want to cry". About sums it up.

Can you think of anymore?

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Waiting To Inhale

At the end of this month, Situationists are playing with Hot Club de Paris at Flux at the Yardbird, Birmingham. Flux is always a good night, always has well-considered bills, always accommodating and always DJ-ing our songs between sets. I like these people. I like their taste (it's called self-obsession, thank you). I even like the way Birmingham pours grey across grey in a desperate attempt to turn that "2" into a "1". And there's a few great bands helping turn some eyes the wrong way of the capital - Johnny Foreigner, Calories, Shocked Elevator Family, Bee Stung Lips.

But I'm digressing a little here (mainly as I wanted to mention those bands), because Hot Club de Paris should NOT be playing a venue as small as the Yardbird. Their debut album was, so I've been unofficially told, the biggest selling album on Moshi Moshi, and Moshi Moshi is a great label with some relatively successful acts. But you'd be forgiven for not knowing that their sophomore effort, Live At Dead Lake, has been out for nearly two months now. It's been pretty much ignored in most corners of the press, save the odd token review. Where are the interviews? Why aren't they charging out of the radio like idiots at a Next sale? Why haven't Drowned In Sound fallen over themselves trying to get them to write a tour diary? They're the perfect DiS band too. I'm mystified, like INXS.

So, what's going on? Maybe it's a shit record, right? Well, maybe you're a shit record. I've enjoyed few albums this year as much as Live At Dead Lake. At times, their debut left me cold, ambition not quite matching execution, a little too busy where I'd prefer they let one of the numerous riffs stick around long enough for me to be able to acknowledge its existence. But LADL is different. It fuses their more esoteric leanings - math-y, busy, ironic song titles, Minutemen - but remembers that pop music is the best medium for communication. There's no real verses here, no conduits to pay off, no filler. Just chorus after different chorus even if technically that makes no sense.

Most beautifully of all, they've something to say. Thoughtful, deeply parochial and often cryptic lyrics that some how possess a universal appeal are a rare commodity, but they're laced throughout here. They assume an implicit intelligence in their audience. "This Thing Forever Seems To Last Forever" is as near a perfect guitar song as I've heard since I last listened to Talking Heads. And the comparison is fair I think, because they've the same way of shifting the mundane into the fantastic, into the absurd and fashioning the utterly perfect encapsulation of what it is to be stupid, to be smart, to be confused and clear sighted and not even know the difference. The world is pretty fucking weird. People are pretty fucking weird. Pop music, at it's best, should reflect that and Hot Club do so with their spazzy riffs, sea shanty sing-a-long multi-part harmonies and funny weird/funny ha ha words. I guess Hot Club are pretty fucking weird too, but doesn't that make them the perfect pop band?

Intelligence and mass appeal are not mutually exclusive. In fact, their marriage should be the model, the ultimate artistic aspiration. And lots of great bands have achieved it - New Pop was predicated on that very idea. But then again, maybe I'm romanticising the popular. I'm looking for that 'prole art threat', in fact, I'm assuming it exists. And I'm also assuming that people want it. That Hot Club de Paris aren't the biggest band of their type in this country, or at least somewhere on their way to becoming it, means I'm probably a little naive and I'm also probably valuing my own opinion a little highly but... People aren't tricked by the media. Passive consumption is an out-dated concept*. We know what we want and we buy accordingly. We're an active audience. Not so much choosing freely, but free to choose, right? So stop making the wrong choices, please. Sometimes mark makers don't quite make the mark they should on the world...

*I'm putting a simplistic gloss on a more complex argument here, but I'd prefer to keep the anti-intellectual ZZZs to a minimum here.