Posts Tagged ‘Velvet Underground’

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!

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A change would do you good

October 14, 2010

Recently I’ve been reading Rock And Roll Cage Match (ed. Sean Manning), a collection of jovial essays in which the writer is asked to invent or describe a rivalry between two bands, and then pick a winner. Perhaps inevitably, it’s largely composed of self-confessed false dichotomies where half the fun comes from the ludicrous reasons as to why each artist should be at odds. It probably says something about the WHTB mindset that I love a good debate, so what better than a collection of intelligent-but-ludicrous arguments?

My favourite imaginary rucks thus far have come courtesy of Richard Hell (Rolling Stones vs Velvet Underground), Elizabeth Goodman (Guided By Voices vs Pavement) and Tom Breihan (Jay-Z vs Nas). The part that’s intrigued me most, however,  has come not from an actual debate, but rather an aside. Surprisingly, it’s part of Whitney Pastorek‘s sublimely daft bout between Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston that’s really set the cogs whirring.

Discussing what you’ll recognise as Houston’s all-time classic/omnipresent saccharine cackfest (delete as appropriate), Pastorek provides a winning argument for the power of an oft-used musical device:

The Catharsis: the glorious boom of a key change that occurs three quarters of the way through I Will Always Love You, anchoring what is, with apologies to The White Stripes, the best Dolly Parton cover in history. The Catharsis is in effect elsewhere throughout Houston’s career… but the modulation she pulls off in I Will Always Love You is perfection embodied.

That’s exactly what a good key change should do. Admittedly I wasn’t even thinking about key changes when I’d started reading the piece, but by this stage I was sat bolt upright, nodding, with stern features and a fist raised triumphantly. You’re darn right to use the word ‘catharsis’, Whitney Pastorek. Switching key at any point during a song, and pulling it off, is a tricky feat… but save it for a chorus (particularly the final chorus) and you’re onto a surefire winner. Even fucking Westlife knew that, for fuck’s sake. It’s a useful weapon in the pop arsenal. And like it or not, that Whitney H number’s a pretty fucking good example of how to wield it.

Pastorek goes on so enthusiastically that it seems pointless to paraphrase:

I fail to find a way to break this down scientifically, or even articulately; all I can hope is that you have experienced a great key change at some point in your life and you know the rush, the transcendent ping that goes off in your brain and brings emotions you barely knew you had rushing to the surface and spilling out all over the place for no good reason whatsoever. A good key change can save your life.

As someone who has been close to spontaneously breaking into tears on hearing a great key change at a live show, I know exactly what she means (YES, beer was involved. NO, I don’t think that matters). So with that in mind, here’s some of WHTB’s favourite key changes in pop. Nothing so crass as a top five… just some good ‘uns (okay, five), avoiding yer Hey Judes and soforth.

Feel free to suggest your faves.

1. Dance, Dance, Dance – The Beach Boys

A barnstorming classic from the non-surfing surf faves. Dig the way the song suddenly lurches into a higher key halfway through the final verse – and in a song that’s barely got time for verses, that’s a special way of preparing you for one last extra-fun take on the hook. On the dancefloor, that’s the bit that gets your toes from twitching to out and out tapping.

2. Crazy Crazy Nights – KISS / Town Bike

KISS opt for a stranger tactic – after the second chorus, just before the solo, there’s suddenly a brief burst of chorus in a higher key. Why? No-one knows. It’s fucking awesome though. And as a special treat, I’ve linked Town Bike’s free download version, which is so darn good that I now struggle to listen to the original.  Get on it.

3. Summerteeth – Wilco

After two lovely verses of cryptic, countrified pop, Wilco switch key for a mellotron solo that seems to have wandered in from another band. Once that’s over, we’re still in this new key for a final, breezily- plaintive verse and a gorgeous “oo-ooh, aa-aah” backing vocal. Which is frankly ruined by attempting to spell it. Just go and have a listen; you owe it to your ears.

4. Alison’s Starting To Happen – The Lemonheads

Despite the perky pace of the tune, Evan still uses a sleepy drawl to tell us of an unexpected crush on a friend, and all’s good. But for one final verse, as he finally gets his head around the nonsense of the situation, the song lifts in time for the exclamation “this world is topsy-turvy!” From thereon in things get rather more frantic – and yeh, pretty fun too.

5. Bright Yellow Gun – Throwing Muses

Kristin Hersh specialises in fragmented poetry and creepy melodies, even on full-pelt alt rockers like this. The change is superbly effective; suddenly the tension’s cranked up and a pretty-fucking-vital-already song suddenly becomes essential. Ace.