You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

The Horrors & TOY

Going into a gig with high expectations can sometimes prove to be a bad thing, however, when a band produce a towering performance that dwarfs your anticipation by comparison, there can be a certain satisfaction to sit alongside your enjoyment of the gig itself.

The expectation I had for seeing The Horrors live has built massively since the last time I saw them, in a tent at Reading Festival in the heady days of 2007. In the near five years since, the shouty, riotous goth-punks with strange names have evolved into carefully considered, sophisticated shoegaze gods, releasing two albums worthy of modern classic status.

Having finally seen them live again last night at Birmingham’s HMV Institute, I can confirm that, while the band I saw in 2007 and the one that blew me away last night are almost incomparable, that is in no way a bad thing.

And, almost a year on from releasing third album Skying and after touring the globe non-stop for five months in 2011, as well as a jaunt supporting Florence earlier this year, the band could be forgiven for going through the motions on this tour. However, they did anything but. This performance was a clear signal of a band that have honed their craft; technically brilliant and refined but still intense and thrilling. 

Of course having two amazing albums to choose songs from is an excellent foundation for any gig, but like all truly great bands, they took great songs and injected them with added vitality and edge, making them an entirely different prospect live.

The production of their third album took away the scuzz of their earlier work, putting it in Simple Minds territory rather than the My Bloody Valentine and The Jesus and Mary Chain sound of Primary Colours, but onstage the scuzz is brought back in full force and smacks you in the chest from the get go. The thumping bass drum, synth line and synchronised strobe lights that begin Mirror’s Image grab you and you’re not let go for an hour and a half. Playing a set entirely from their second and third albums, the quality never drops even for a moment.

And each member of the five piece play their part in delivering a near-perfect set. Each song is built on a consistently exciting rhythm section, courtesy of drummer Joe Spurgeon and bassist Rhys Webb, whose roles are brought to the fore in the live arena. The drums pound and the bass punches, with everything else layered on top.

Tall and dark, Faris is an imposing figure on stage, looming over his mic stand and the audience below. His voice, whether brooding or booming, is distinguishable from all other sounds, filling the air and soaring to the rafters. He is one of the best frontmen British indie currently has to offer without doubt.

When not singing, he still headbangs and throws himself around with abandon, at odds with Rhys Webb who calmly bounces alongside him. They are flanked by guitarist Joshua Hayward and keyboard player Tom Cowan, who are reserved throughout, delicately tempting weird and wonderful sounds from their respective instruments.

That is until half way through 10-minute finale Moving Further Away, when Josh lets loose with a unhinged solo, flinging himself around and creating a frenzy of feedback and distortion The Velvet Underground would be proud of.

Highlights for me would be the anthemic Sea Within A Sea and Still Life ending the first set, the riotous Who Can Say and I Can See Through You shaking the building after the ominous opening and the extended finale, in particular Joshua’s crazy solo.

Support on the night came from TOY, a band born from the ashes of Joe Lean & the Jing Jang Jong in 2010 and not too dissimilar from the band they were supporting. With an endorsement from Rhys Webb and two great singles released so far, I was excited to see what they could bring. Any band with the skill and guts to release a debut single that clocks in at just under 8 minutes is worthy of attention.

And they certainly grabbed their slot by the throat, with 6 songs comprising blistering drums, soaring synths and a wall of fuzzy guitars, the highlight being aforementioned debut single Left Myself Behind.

Largely backlit and hidden behind hair, there are clear comparisons to be made between TOY and The Horrors, and while they are still raw, they played their half an hour set with minimal fuss and maximum intensity, their lengthy soundscapes leaving a lasting impression. Ones to watch for 2012 and beyond.

On a final note, it seemed poignant on reflection that 32 years on from the date of Ian Curtis’ suicide, his influence was stamped all over this gig. Can either of these bands leave a legacy like his? Who can say.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Holiday songs

I’m going on holiday tomorrow, and as it’s only in England, the weather isn’t gonna be great. But it doesn’t matter because I still have music, and these are all songs that either bring the sun with them or remind me of when we used to have summers.

The Drums’ Let’s Go Surfing is such a simple and infectious song, it’s one I can’t help but be cheered by everytime I hear it, and it's essential for a beach holiday. Same goes for Vampire Weekend’s upbeat Holiday. Bringing something different as always, The Pixies’ Holiday Song has a great riff and vintage Black Francis vocals to kickstart any roadtrip, while The Maccabees’ Went Away with its soaring melodies should be the anthem of summer 2012, if we get one. And finally, the title track and lead single from Best Coast’s new album, The Only Place. A sunsoaked love song to California and, though I'm not going to California, where I’m going does have the ocean and the waves too, so it'll do for me.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Great voices

While a great riff or drumbeat may be the first thing to grab the attention in a song, it’s
a voice that will keep me coming back. There is something ethereal about a great voice, something that’s tied to destiny or fate or whatever, but some people are given voices
that are meant to be shared.

From the beautiful and emotive to the powerful and cool, these are my five favourite voices. There are plenty more I love, but on this particular day, these five are the tops.

My number one was easy, Jeff Buckley. Jeff’s voice had an incredible range, from soulful power to a delicate warble; it was both heartbreaking and life affirming. It is indeed a tragedy that he only recorded one album, but what an album, and what a voice.

My next voice was greatly influenced by Buckley, but Thom Yorke has also had the longevity to demonstrate a number of distinctive styles, from the Buckley-esque Bends falsetto through to the lower-register almost rap on Hail To The Thief songs, such as Myxomatosis, and everything in between.

Stevie Nicks’ voice is all about power and distinction; her voice is special because there isn’t anything else like it. Similarly, Lou Reed’s voice brings an ice cool attitude despite
not being a typical voice.

Lastly, Harriet Wheeler of The Sundays has a voice so sweet it’s like having another kind
of sundae poured into your ears. I often listen to her vocal at the end of this track over and over. Need I say more?

Friday, 11 May 2012

Tanlines – Brothers

Another band off Brooklyn’s seemingly never-ending cool band production belt, Tanlines
are Jesse Cohen and Eric Emm, and they fit into the synth pop bracket, as most of my favourite new music does these days. Named after the studio it was recorded in, this song’s crashing waves of synths, pulsing bass and thumping percussion provide a blissful background for the brilliantly downcast vocal. And the video showcases the multi-instrumentalism behind this talented new band. See an interactive version of the video, allowing you to move the camera, here.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Almost Famous

By now it’s pretty obvious that I love music, and I love musicians, but I also love films, and anything that manages to tick all three boxes is right up my street. So here, in the first of a series of posts, I will discuss my favourite music films, some may be about music and some may just feature great music.

As an aspiring music journalist, there is an obvious place to start. Almost Famous.

The story is that of William Miller, a 15-year-old aspiring journo who meets a band at a gig in 1973 and winds up going on tour with them working for Rolling Stone magazine.

I dream of being the kid from Almost Famous on a nightly basis. The film’s Writer and Director, Cameron Crowe, actually was the kid in the film, well, a version of him. In real life he became Rolling Stone’s youngest ever contributor and for his first job went on tour with The Allman Brothers, where the film’s story comes from.

The near-fatal plane crash scene really took place when he was on board a plane with The Who. And he’s now a successful Director. If that isn’t it enough to make anyone insane with jealousy then I don’t know what is.

The film itself is near perfection, capturing the atmosphere of a time when rock music was truly exciting, and giving a great, albeit exaggerated, view of how music journalism was, which, sadly, is quite different to how it is now, as Laura Snapes referenced in her interview last year. It also has one of my favourite ever quotes about being an obsessive music fan.

“They don't even know what it is to be a fan. Y'know? To truly love some silly little piece of music, or some band, so much that it hurts.”

The performances are memorable, the music is obviously great, and the writing is funny and poignant. The Tiny Dancer sing-along and plane crash scenes in particular are some of my favourite ever film moments.

It also has serious messages about idols and hero worship, something we are all often guilty of when it comes to music.

As a film about my passion, music journalism, it is unrivalled. And visions of my own Tiny Dancer sing-along with a ragtag bunch on a tour bus driving across the American mid-west get me through most days, though I like to imagine it’s Jack White, Alison Mosshart, Win Butler, Laura Marling, Grimes and a surprisingly chipper Thom Yorke singing along with me. It could happen.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Craft Spells – Your Tomb

This perfectly short slice of retro indie pop comes from California four-piece Craft Spells. The entwining twinkly synths and lo-fi guitars contrasting with the brilliantly unassuming and distant vocals create a sound that I find compelling. It has a similar 80s feeling that bands such as The Drums, Wild Nothing and Crystal Stilts have been channelling to great success. From the album Idle Labour, released this time last year, I may have missed the boat somewhat, but it's better late than never.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Short songs

This list is really a catch 22 situation. These songs are all brilliantly short and sweet, so I often wish they were longer, but is their greatness tied to their length? Would the spark be gone if they were a more standard length? Would they become just another song that starts well and loses its way? We will never know, but one can dream.

A short song has to create a lasting impression, and the best way is to burst out of the blocks and go for the jugular, maintain that intensity and generally be loud, energetic and riotous. Burn hot and fast and end rudely and abruptly. So, we’ve got a title track from The Vines that kickstarted one of the best albums of the noughties, some sweary punk from Be Your Own Pet, a noisy effort from The Kills, a great blast of surf pop from Beast Coast, and of course one from THE band for short songs, The Ramones.