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

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Anticipating an austere autumn

As the frankly pathetic summer we’ve had nears its equally pathetic end, it isn’t all bad news. The lack of sun has meant a lack of (or need for) distinctly summery releases. But, an autumn of falling leaves, dark evenings and, if it’s possible, even more rain will soon provide an appropriately bleak background for the most anticipated releases of the coming months.

Whether it’s just my taste or not, it seems to be the autumn of the delicate and heart-breaking female vocalist. And I love nothing more than a pretty voice singing something miserable.

The xx have unveiled the first two songs from their long awaited second album, set to be released on 10 September. Angels, the album opener, is a typically sparse affair, built solely around Romy Madley Croft’s beautiful vocals. It’s a brave move by the band to release such a subtle song as their first new music in three years, especially with the mainstream success their debut went on to have after its Mercury win. But it has certainly rekindled my love for them.

Natasha Khan aka Bat for Lashes also returns, with her third album The Haunted Man released on 15 October. She debuted much of the album at a one off gig in July, and a fan-recorded video of one song went particularly viral. Lucky for us that song, Laura, became the album’s first single. A piano ballad in the same vein as Sad Eyes and The Bat’s Mouth from her debut, it is a devastating piece of music, with Natasha’s lyrics offering support to a friend lost in today’s celebrity culture. Hopes are high for the album after her two near-perfect releases to date.

Last but not least, an artist that I have written a lot about on this blog over the last year has released a new song, as their debut album draws ever nearer.

Daughter, a three piece led by vocalist Elena Tonra, have to date released two stunning EPs and embarked on several tours supporting artists such as Ben Howard and Benjamin Francis Leftwich. This week they announced the release of Smother, a new song that has been recorded at Abbey Road in the sessions for their album, alongside their first US tour and largest UK headline show to date. Smother itself is another affecting number of atmospheric guitars and melancholy lyrics. Released on 1 October, it will hopefully be soon followed by an album.

Monday, 13 August 2012

A hard act to follow

Why trying to top the greatest show on earth with a second rate pop concert was a bit futile

I’d never seen an Olympic closing ceremony before last night (I hadn’t seen an opening one until two weeks ago either) and therefore I have no idea what one should be like.

I also remain unconvinced about the need for one, I enjoy a party as much as anyone, but it seems to me that trying to top the greatest show on earth with a pop concert is a bit futile.

I’ll ignore the fact that I felt confused by the randomness and lack of context throughout last night, and instead focus on the music that featured in ‘A Symphony of British Music’, which was billed as a celebration of the best British music from the last 50 years.

Unfortunately, this ceremony didn’t deliver on that. And it slowly came to light throughout the evening that our most talented performers were, rather unfortunately, deceased, not receptive of this kind of event or just absent.

The music that wasn’t played live and was used to soundtrack other proceedings - Lennon, Kate Bush, Bowie, Freddie Mercury - put the people that were available to shame, as the same old faces were pulled out again and the new faces showed that modern British pop music is in poor health. Where were our world conquerors, Adele and Coldplay?

The whole evening seemed unorganised (disappointing after the smoothness of the Games themselves), plagued by these strange decisions, awkward gaps, repetition, and bizarre song choices.

Was having nothing bands like Kaiser Chiefs and Ed Sheeran covering The Who (who were actually in the stadium at the time) and Pink Floyd good enough for the closing ceremony of the Olympics? Did it appeal to fans of either the coverers or coverees? I doubt Ed Sheeran fans know much Pink Floyd or understood the album cover reference. I doubt Pink Floyd fans had heard of Sheeran before last night. If you can’t get the real thing, don’t bother. And shame on you, Nick Mason.

The Spice Girls seemed to be the main event for many in the build up, so why did they only get one and a half songs? Why give Emili Sande and Jessie J (who never seems to leave our screens) more prominence?

Why did George Michael get two songs, and did anyone even know what his second song was? I’m not sure he even did. Annie Lennox (for some reason in a pirate ship) picked a fairly random song too.

Could Queen not have done ‘We Are The Champions’ rather than the standard ‘We Will Rock You’, we were at the Olympics after all. Why not have Spandau out to do ‘Gold’, another missed trick.

Liam over Noel? Fat Boy Slim? The Who rather than The Rolling Stones? I could go on, but it’s all subjective.

I suppose my final gripe would be the obvious miming of most acts. While logistically it may have made sense, this was supposed to be a celebration of music.

But it’s not all bad, there were some highlights. Ray Davies still sounding good 45 years after writing the greatest London song there is. Elbow proving majestic as the athletes entered. Russell Brand bringing some bizarre ‘Wonka-meets-Walrus’ psychedelia. Eric Idle pratting around and successfully keeping the ‘Life’s a piece of shit’ line in there. The Who closing with My Generation.

Add those moments to the stadium, torch and fireworks once again proving spectacular, the athletes and volunteers clearly enjoying themselves and maybe it wasn’t so bad after all. Worthy of a bronze, but not a patch on the Games themselves.