Archive for August, 2011

Housse de Racket – Alésia (Kitsuné)

August 22, 2011

Housse de Racket! That’s much more like it in the band name stakes. Sadly it’s not always as much fun in the music department. Alésia is the sound of a million indie bands who’ve heard Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, patronisingly decided that they’ve actually always been a pop group all along (as though indie is anything else, or their ownership of a couple of Velvet Underground records amounted to a paradigm-shifting revolutionary new sound despite the fact that they just sounded like another shitty Arctic Monkeys rip-off). It’s music as made by guitar-toting hipsters suddenly deciding to invest in some synths to ‘y’know, make everything sound proper 80s, like’. It’s a deliberate throwback to retro-futurism that aims for sophisticated chart-fodder but comes across as disco-tinged indie, slightly more edgy than Hard-Fi and infinitely less fun than Junior Senior.

Well, either that or it’s a vaguely-funky French electro-indie band who aren’t quite as good as Phoenix. I dunno.

Still, Housse de Racket!

I Break Horses – Hearts (Bella Union)

August 19, 2011


“I Break Horses”? Good lord. Ever feel like the well of decent band names has run dry? Still, this Stockholm duo’s English is infinitely better than my Swedish, so maybe that’s worth taking into consideration.

Breaking with their country’s long-running indie tradition of ‘twee’ (for want of a better expression) and powerpop, IBH favour an impressive blend of shoegaze and electro-pop, and the results are pretty interesting. In fact they’re somewhere between Julee Cruise, Jenniferever and M83; familiar dense waves of throbbing, textured electronic noise dripping with sadness and reverb. No need to dredge up those horrible ‘sonic cathedral’ cliches (whoops), but this is definitely the sort of thing that’s going to sound utterlyfuckingphenomenal through beerdrunk ears at live shows. At its best it’s utterly beautiful.

Not every track here’s a winner, but there are certainly no out-and-out stinkers. A pretty promising debut, all-in-all.

I sure hope they tour this record.

Jonathan Wilson – Gentle Spirit (Bella Union)

August 18, 2011

Forest City beardie Jonathan Wilson seems to have quietly built up a decent reputation as a producer and session player, having worked with the likes of Erykah Badu, Elvis Costello and Robbie Robertson. Impressive CV then, and it’s only natural that someone whose natural roles should make music that slots so comfortably into the background. Gentle Spirit isn’t a bad record, by any means – it’s just not especially engaging. As you’d expect, there’s plenty of solid playing (the chiming guitar on Can We Really Party Today? is utterly lovely) and far-more-than-competent musicianship. But that’s not enough.

For a start, Wilson only really has one modus operandi: slow, understated, lengthy folk-rock. Not a problem in itself, but without particularly memorable hooks or dynamic variation, it’s difficult to retain interest from one over-long track to the next.The best moment by far is the pretty (and relatively-brief) Ballad Of The Pines, which conjures up images of Roger McGuinn camping in his back garden whilst declaring himself ‘the outdoor type’.

This record will surely appeal to a certain type of traditionalist muso (the sort who like REAL music played by REAL people with REAL instruments made from REAL trees), but the meandering solos and uninspiring mood are very definitely not WHTB’s bag. Wilson’s hushed voice – like The Clientele’s Alasdair MacLean on a particularly reflective rainy day – is certainly bewitching, and there are moments dotted hither and thither that suggest he has a lot more up his sleeve than this album suggests. It’s just a shame he doesn’t demonstrate it fully.

Kitty Empire reviewed this album for The Observer recently, suggesting (not unreasonably) that “calming music attracts scorn”, despite it being a skillful artform in itself. That’s true, but the calmness itself isn’t the reason that this album won’t make it onto your stereo very often. Artists don’t need to be Black Flag to be interesting. The problem, simply, is that not a lot happens over 78 minutes, and what does happen doesn’t feel essential.  A little chutzpah doesn’t go amiss from time to time.

Fashanu – Cassette Tapette EP (Plan-It-X)

August 17, 2011

I first came acros this Durham lot when they toured with Imperial Can and ONSIND in 2010. All three bands were great, but Fashanu totally blew me away. Their first EP Science Is Awesome, released on bassist JC’s Discount Horse imprint, was a refreshing dose of shouty-but-sincere pop-punk, and this new offering is a hella impressive step up.

Plenty of punk bands are described as ‘impassioned’, to the extent that the phrase is practically redundant in any critical sense – but Gary, Kate and JC truly love this stuff. That much is evident in the gleeful energy emanating from the stereo. Dangling The Carrot Of Parenthood opens with some exciting riffage, whilst Daryl? This Is John and Bible Belt Pity Fuck are pretty sterling pop songs. The lyrics deal with tricky issues, but they do it with sensitivity and intelligence. And you can put that ’emo’ heckle down right now: this is quality punk rock we’re talking about here. The two contrasting vocals really shouldn’t work together, but somehow they’re just blessed with that natural chemistry where everything just fits perfectly. The swine.

The highlight is undoubtedly Fuck Meaty Freegans, a catchy-as-hell piece of grown-up navel-gazing. As a neatly-restrained instrumental section gives way to one last chorus of “the sun still sets in the same place every day”, you’ll find yourself wishing that more bands could be this intelligent, this engaging… hell, this good.

I like Fashanu.

A lot.

Cassette Tapette is available on tape (funnily enough) from Discount Horse Records, with lovely artwork from Chris Clavin, but you can also give it a listen on Fashanu’s Bandcamp page.

Yes, it’s fucking political

August 16, 2011

Yesterday, an article by NME editor Krissi Murison appeared on the Guardian website bemoaning the lack of political music in 2011. The argument goes something along the lines of ‘isn’t it lucky that the NME had The Clash on the cover while there were riots going on – why aren’t there more bands writing about politics nowadays?’ Everett True has already written a pretty succinct response over on Collapse Board, so I’m not going to go overboard in my own musings. But since the original article still appears to be stuck in my craw, I’ll weigh in with some thoughts anyway.

Firstly, although it’s certainly not the same magazine I used to read in school, I have no beef with the NME, nor (by extension) with Murison. If anything she’s overseen a significant improvement in quality from the magazine’s dreadful days under Conor McNicholas – when a double-page photo spread with a few paragraphs of text could pass for a main feature. At least the writing seems to be the focus again, and it’s enthused and (usually) well-informed (certainly not always). There are elements of its content that I don’t particularly enjoy, and some of its misguided attempts to tap into localised scenes can go woefully wrong, but that’s the problem with outsider perspective, especially when it’s widely published. Thanks to the still-growing influence of the internet, and the increased stratification of popular culture, a magazine like the NME simply can’t be the authoritative voice that it wants to be. Perhaps recognising this, the self-aggrandising ‘we invented everything’ tone seems to have died down, and it’s concentrating on music again. Which, regardless of how on-the-money it is, is a good thing.

For all that, however, it still rankles that the editor of the NME can write an article bemoaning the lack of political grit in pop. This, lest we forget, is a music magazine that still publishes an annual ‘cool list’ – a pointless exercise in High Fidelity-style cataloging that has continually placed style over substance. Why do we need to know who’s ‘cool’? Who cares? One of the best things Murison could do for the ailing magazine is to axe that list. When our music critics start to concern themselves with such vacuous, page-filling dross as this, it’s a pretty definite indication that they’re not looking for anything below the surface. They’re as symptomatic of the lack of political pop as the performers are.

But wait – there is no lack of political pop. The article complains that there is no Clash to lead the charge – there are still plenty of punk bands writing political songs, if four chords and some informed shouting is what you want. Look at the folk-punk scene, poplated by the likes of Defiance, Ohio and Ghost Mice. Or, closer to the mainstream, there’s the likes of Against Me!, Gallows and The King Blues – personally I’d rather drink bleach from David Starkey’s tiny, pus-covered severed bellend than listen to any of those three, but nonetheless they’re pop and they’re political… that’s both tick boxes covered, right?

And naturally there’s plenty of other artists from a wealth of genres covering Murison’s criteria – again, Collapse Board has the best summary, which basically saves me the job of compiling anything (phew!). A curmudgeon (hello!) might question whether The Clash are really the best example of a political band in any case – their song most relevant to last week’s events (White Riot) is a clumsy statement at best. Cracking tune, like, but its point still seems awkward, even if its heart is in the right place. This’ll go down well with Clash fans, I’m sure.

The only real argument to consider is that there’s very little of the political in mainstream indie. Gone are the days when Manic Street Preachers would serve up dense polemic to rabid teenagers with scant understanding of what the lyrics actually meant. These days mainstream political rock doesn’t stretch much further than Bono’s sanctimonious blethering, which is unfortunately enough to turn anyone off the idea of charity. But isn’t mainstream society distinctly unpoliticised these days?

Granted, we’re seeing more and more protest against the ConDem government (the university fee protests, for instance), and whether you view last week’s riots as politicised or ‘merely’ political, there are signs that things are changing – basically, people are starting to give a shit. That’s a completely separate debate, of course, and the pages of an indie rock blog that no-one reads are certainly not the place to start it. But mainstream pop isn’t going to change unless society does, and it seems daft to expect pop to reflect anything other than its environment.