Tag Archives: music

Mercury Prize 2008.

So, the cat is well and truly out of the bag: the Mercury Prize Shortlist has been announced, and the twelve albums of which it is comprised are:

Adele – ’19’
British Sea Power – ‘Do You Like Rock Music?’
Burial – ‘Untrue’
Elbow – ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’
Estelle – ‘Shine’
The Last Shadow Puppets – ‘The Age Of The Understatement’
Laura Marling – ‘Alas I Cannot Swim’
Neon Neon – ‘Stainless Style’
Portico Quartet – ‘Knee-Deep In The North Sea’
Robert Plant And Alison Krauss – ‘Raising Sand’
Radiohead – ‘In Rainbows’
Rachel Unthank And The Winterset – ‘The Bairns’

My immediate reactions were twofold: firstly, what happened to Portishead and MIA, whose stellar albums have been improbably overlooked; and then, perhaps predictably, who on earth is Rachel Unthank, not to mention her beloved Winterset? Continue reading

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John Harris – The Last Party.

One of the periods of musical history for which I have the greatest interest and passion is the Britpop era, when the marriage of British music and politics resulted in the brief age of ‘Cool Britannia’. What began as the ultimate counter-cultural statement ultimately ended in drug-fuelled excess and bitterness, but, while it lasted, Britpop begat some of the most socially relevant and original music to have graced the country, producing several defining albums that continue to find new listeners. In its aftermath, Blur forged a newly informed career in artistically-challenging alternative rock (to be found in 1997’s eponymous Blur and 1999’s 13), while Oasis continued to fall into the same illusion again and again, producing the same album ad infinitum.

Nevertheless, my knowledge of the era could do with some reinforcement, so I’ve embarked on a voyage of reading, by picking up John Harris‘s acclaimed book, The Last Party: Britpop, Blair and the demise of English Rock, which was described by Q Magazine as “A fine, bittersweet read.” Harris is a music journalist for whom I have great respect: his articles in The Guardian continue to educate and provoke discussion; his appearances on Newsnight Review are always memorable. I’m hoping that his book will effect similar enthusiasm in me.

I’ll be sure to let you know when I’ve finished reading it, after which I’ll try and get a review of it up on the blog.

Beck – Modern Guilt – Closely-related reviewers?

Modern Guilt, the eighth LP from perennial shape-shifter Beck, is upon us, and with it come an avalanche of reviews from wildly differing publications. Yet it fell to Drowned In Sound to give us a rare preview review of the album, about a month ago, where, having attended an XL Recordings listening party, Sean Adams heaped praise upon it. Just this morning, I drove over to Pitchfork to read their review of the same album (in which they awarded it a 7.0 score, giving it some decent justification), and now, this evening, turning to Drowned In Sound on a whim, in actual fact looking for another review of Mercury, which I’ve already approached with a smile earlier on this evening, what should I find but another review of Modern Guilt, penned by Dan Wale.

So far, so normal. It’s perfectly fine to publish a preview, and then a review. But I advise you to read both the Pitchfork review and then the new DiS review side by side, and perhaps comment on the numerous similarities in detail and in tone between both reviews. I think someone’s got a case of cold feet.

Sorry if I sound ridiculously paranoid, but it appears that Mr. Wale has given to his readers a veritable simulacrum of the review provided by a rival publication earlier on today.

Bloc Party – Mercury.

After the ominous countdown appearing on their website, coinciding with the third anniversary of the 7/7 bombings – oh, they are so relevant, those Bloc Party beatmakers – it transpires they’ve recorded a new song that they’re far too proud to hide or conceal any longer. After an amusing drop-in from Kele in the Radio 1 studio, Mercury received its debut play, and I’ve uploaded a decent quality radio rip in the box.net widget on the right hand side.

What do I make of it? Very simply, it’s a progression on Flux, with added brass and no discernible guitar. That said, it’s got that immediate breath-catching appeal that has blessed many previous singles from the band. I get the same feeling from it as I did upon hearing The Prayer, which I maintain is one of the most daringly impressive moves the band ever made. I’m not yet convinced that Mercury is anything more than a fad-orientated cash-in, particularly since the band have said their next album will combine the rawness of Silent Alarm with the experience of A Weekend In The City – this new song sounds like the band’s nu-rave interest combined with a burgeoning love of excess and pomp, as typified by their giggle-inducing (but ultimately successful) collaboration with a choir at the Electric Proms recently.

Mercury is highly danceable; displays a fondness for Auto-Tune which is at first cringe-worthy, and then bores a hole in your head so catchy it’s difficult not to smile gleefully; and features a brass section clearly transported from Hercules and Love Affair. The bass is frequently droning and fuzzy; Matt Tong has lost none of his propensity for murderous drumming, and, importantly, the whole thing is completely devoid of the over-processed, over-flattened, over-compressed production style (courtesy of Jacknife Lee) that made A Weekend In The City such a lifeless affair at times. Rumour has it that the band’s third long-player will be produced jointly by Jacknife Lee and Paul Epworth, the latter of whom made Silent Alarm such a thrilling listen – on the back of Mercury, I wish the band would dispense with Lee’s services with immediate effect. 

If the rest of the forthcoming album displays similar levels of experimentation, and doesn’t fall back on the metrosexual-lifestyle-clichés that quickly grated on the previous LP, they may have pulled off quite a coup.

Update: Sean Michaels, writing in The Guardian, suggests that with Mercury, Bloc Party have gone all trip-hop, and should consider moving to Bristol. I disagree on several counts. Michaels refers to the appearance of trumpet blasts as a clear sign of the band’s new predilection, but trip-hop never uses trumpets in this manner. Furthermore, the pacing of the song is far too driving and upbeat to be considered trip-hop, particularly when compared to the grimy, spongily-paced songs on Massive Attack albums. If this is a response to that same band’s anti-trip-hop album, Mezzanine, which is what Michaels insinuates, then the Queen might as well be a reptilian alien life form. Mercury couldn’t be less like trip-hop. Even Kele’s vocals are utterly in contrast to the soulful, velvety vocals oft found in songs by Portishead or Massive Attack. The drums are far too raw, and are certainly not buried beneath twenty layers of grime and decay and reverb and delay. There isn’t even a regular bass line in Mercury. Suffice to say that Bloc Party have definitely not gone trip-hop.

Lyrics.

If a singer has nothing about which to sing, is there any point in him singing actual lyrics? Continue reading

Sigur Rós – Westminster Methodist Central Hall Review.

Concerts coinciding with album releases are often filled with a special kind of buzzing atmosphere: for the band, there is a desire to please an obviously devoted crowd with some highlights from a stunning back-catalogue whilst also giving an airing to some new songs; for the audience, it’s always a thrill to see a band who have just spent most a year cooped up in a variety of studios, suddenly unleashing their magic once again, on the road. For Sigur Rós yesterday night, this special atmosphere was intensified by a beautifully intimate venue – Westminster Methodist Central Hall – where even those seated at the back of the balcony could be treated to a close encounter with one of the most emotionally raw and unadulterated bands touring today. With Radiohead performing on the other side of London in the detached environment of Victoria Park, it was clear that here in Westminster, we could be in for an evening’s entertainment that was alternately charming, exhilarating, deafening and heart-wrenching. Continue reading

Sigur Rós – Westminster Methodist Central Hall.

I’m very excited about this concert.

I’m hoping it sounds a bit like this:

I hope it sounds a bit like this.

The only tinge of regret I’m feeling is for not having a ticket to see Radiohead the next day 😦