Posts Tagged ‘Veronica Falls’

BLEACHED – Ride Your Heart

June 4, 2013

I’ll level, there are times when I feel like I’m getting bored with new “indie” music. Well, yes, okay, I’ve jumped around to Japandroids. Done the dishes to DIIV, each soapy sud plunged rhythmically against wet ceramic with palpable glee. Nodded along thoughtfully to Dirty Projectors, immersing myself in the rhythmic complexity as one would beneath a duvet cover full of sand: it’s warm! It’s rough! It’s comforting! It’s irritating! But however makeshift or weird, it’s still a fucking duvet at the end of the day.

Too often it feels like there’s little out there that really electrifies the blood; cuts to the core; bypasses the understanding of your analytical process and forces you to feel. This isn’t a new complaint. For some, the mid-’90s saw the end of indie’s full vitality, as grunge went overground and Britpop co-opted an alternative culture to make way for a new mainstream; one where the new, the different or the stimulating was skilfully ignored in favour of bland uniformity. Parochial tubthumping with a retro groove. Some even point to The Smiths as the beginning of the rot, when a post-punk-informed sense of adventure and experimentalism backed down in favour of traditionalism – an exhilarating but unfortunate return to jangling guitars and linear songwriting where the future had once seemed wide open; so full of boundless possibility.

Whatever, it’s all food for thought. But what irritates me about music in the 21st century – especially this so-called independent stuff – isn’t any of the above. It’s the way that, for all the promise of the internet and the depth’n’breadth of sound’n’song it’s supposed to expose, so disappointingly little seems to break through that truly and delightfully fucks with one’s head. We finally live in a world where neither radio nor record companies necessarily dictate the direction pop might take – videos go viral almost instantaneously, so all it takes is for a brief chain reaction of excitement before everyone can hear pretty much anything. Indie in its idealised form, one might imagine, would take advantage of this – audiences should be dictating how the media and music industries extrapolate and interpret popular culture, rather than relying on the same old sources to deliver über-polished, commercialist pop. And yet the best or most inventive acts – your Tunabunnys, your Micachus, your Trouble Bookses – are still playing in basements, unlikely to step up without the great Pitchfork seal of approval that (whether they would agree with this statement or not) seems to define how “indie” works. It’s not the bands’ fault, it’s just how the system functions nowadays, and it sucks.

Sorry. Deep breath. There’s a record at hand. And don’t worry, this isn’t one of those tiresome reviews where the author suddenly says “this record transcends all that” or “but this is different” before disproving the original point or attempting to prove by way of exception. Bleached – featuring Jennifer and Jessie Clavin, formerly of very ace post-riot grrrl punx Mika Miko – are a guitar-pop group that evolved from the scene based around LA venue The Smell.  With acts such as No Age, HEALTH and Abe Vigoda amongst its alumni – modern-day indie rock gentry, if not quite royalty – you’d be totally right in thinking that this band might be very symptomatic of everything I’ve outlined above – indie rock as media-distributed product that titillates but doesn’t challenge. But (ah, here’s the caveat!) despite all that, I like ‘em. Their debut Ride Your Heart doesn’t set its stall out as the throwing down of a sonic gauntlet; it’s indie music that feels like pop. Or maybe the other way round… it’s hard to tell now the lines are blurred.

Drawing on powerpop, new wave and girl group harmonies, this record is full of engaging tunes, doe-eyed dedications and wry witticisms. ‘Dead Boy’ is a comically-upbeat number about still being giddy for a deceased lover, while ‘Outta My Mind’ wears its battered heart on its rolled-up t-shirt sleeve. Best of all, though, is ‘Searching Through The Past’: simple melodic joy, recalling Blondie and The Bangles at their most spine-tinglingly catchy. From afar, it’s easy to be bowled over by its uncomplicated charm and bewitching sweetness; up close one can imagine feeling smitten enough to swoon. It’s like being a kid again and catching the first breeze that really whistles through you, tingling the skin; that really makes you question the external forces of the world, be they incidental to your daily existence or just generally driving it. Plenty of other pop songs will do this in 2013 – ‘Teenage’ by Veronica Falls has a similar way with keening straightforwardness, and draws on similar influences to boot – but it’s always great to be reminded that a dumbass hook and the way a voice bends when delivering certain notes can still make you feel as infinite as they did before you filled your head with all this context.

Which brings us neatly back to where we started. Yeah, some days I am tired of this whole shebang in the 21st century, particularly after the over-saturation of landfill indie and the endless, tedious recycling of pop culture into ever-more watered-down facsimiles of the original source material. I’m bored of dominant media culture dictating what’s hip and what’s not, even when those media cultures seem weak and anachronistic compared to the press power of previous generations (and yep, I’m aware there’s an irony to me using an album review to make that point). I’m fed up of having to wade through so much unsatisfactory sludge to find the good stuff, because our collective imagination hasn’t evolved (or, less pessimistically, hasn’t realised it hasevolved) to a point where it can place nerve-racking challenge at least on a par with comforting familiarity, which in itself specialises in the easy manipulation of false sentiment. But every now and again it’s worth being reminded that these hips were made for shaking, this heart was made for beating and some songs were made for no greater purpose than to get on down with the pair of ‘em. And some days, with the right record playing and all those elements in sync, I don’t feel tired at all. (7/10)

(Originally published by The Line Of Best Fit, 27/03/2013)

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HARD SKIN – On The Balls / Why Do Birds Suddenly Appear

June 4, 2013

OI OI! Time for more tales of coppers, cunts and council estates from Fat Bob, Johnny Takeaway and Nipper. Piledriving streetpunk classics with more hooks and mob chants than you can shake a copy of Shock Troops at. On The Balls, their latest collection of stirring classics, is as good as anything else they’ve done, if not better.

Menacing promises of vengeful violence (‘We’re Gonna Do Them’) sit side by side with rousing declarations of their own brilliance (‘Another Terrace Anthem’) and odes to the familiarity of their local area (‘The Gipsy Hill’). Like plonking guitars in the hands of the cast of The Football Factory, Hard Skin are raucous and deadly, and they totally rule.

Hang on,” you may be thinking at the stage, “this sounds awful. They sound like thugs”. Weeeeell… yes, that’s sorta the point. But there’s a twist: emerging from the punk scene of the ’80s/’90s, Hard Skin’s members have never been less than left-wing gents, playing with characters for shits and giggles. Fat Bob (real name: Sean Forbes, whom you may know as Noisey’s ever-hilarious Record Store Dude) fronted anarcho-japesters Wat Tyler, while Takeaway (a.k.a. Ben Corrigan) sang with the infamous Thatcher On Acid. Their current outfit pays homage to the enjoyable aspects of oi! – instant three-chord hooks, boozey singalongs, shout-outs to the lads and a good laff – whilst lampooning its less savoury elements. The joke, of course, is on any idiot oblivious to the satire, although the tricky part is that playing with shitty politics can unfortunately attract their adherents (just ask Warren Ellis or Al Murray). But fuck those guys, right? They’re idiots.

This time round, the ace up Hard Skin’s sleeve is to provide a companion record entitled Why Do Birds Suddenly Appear, in which the entirety of On The Balls is recreated with guest female vocalists. Perspectives duly switched, songs reveal themselves in different contexts: ‘Council Estate’s doomed, wantaway narrator is trapped in the life into which he was born. Replace him with Marion and Roxanne from Veronica Falls, however, and their smooth enunciation seemingly twists his words into those of bourgeois snobs, disgusted by their perception of the working classes. Cunning. Other songs, meanwhile, simply sound great, like Manda Rin’s performance on ‘Crack On, Have A Booze’, while there’s no little joy in Debbie Smith’s wry contribution to the homophobe-baiting ‘Sausage Man’. Hard Skin may not be the biggest band in the world, but despite the rough exterior of their records, they’re very clever indeed, and these two records will play havoc with your liberal sensibilities whilst secretly agreeing with you all along. May as well just lend ‘em your voice. (7/10)

(Originally published by The Line Of Best Fit, 04/03/2013)