Saturday, May 19, 2007

New President, new music?

The title is actually questionable! France does indeed have a new President, promising to make real the winds of change. The music scene in France seems to have beaten him to it - by a long kilometre - but both outcomes are probably symptomatic of a certain sea change.
Born long after the first wave of punk, and too young even to remember the US, Nirvana led, punk renaissance they wisely decided to go back to basics.

The Plasticines do punk, with an intellectual edginess (any self-respecting French band would), but also with the pop sensitivity and brevity that few bands since The Clash have been able to muster in the last twenty five years.
What is more, when it suits them,
they can do in French too! The really surprising thing about it all is that The Plasticines are actually four 19-year-old Parisian girls who met at a Libertines concert and decided, apparently there and then, to form a band.
It is an odd story but a good call; as well as writing and singing punk they are now signed to Virgin (France) .

For more info see the following link. (btw it is in French.)

The nearest recent UK equivalent that I can think of is The Subways. It is a fairly good comparison I think although The Subways are a three-piece. Their female co-vocalist, Mary Charlotte Cooper, also happens to be their stunningly good and inventive bass guitarist and co-writer. The 2005 album 'Young For Eternity' has more than a little of the more thoughtful, yet still often bitter and twisted, end of the original punk era about it.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Down Memory Lane... my 'want to listen to' list - part 3

My 'wants' list gets no shorter but I have got used to that now. Here is one more:

Fireworks Night - 'As Fools We Are'
(Kartel Records/Organ Grinder, 2007.)

Usually, and like the example above that falls in the acoustic/lo-fi category I guess, it is new or at least recent items that get added but last week there was an exception or actually two.
On Friday a work colleague and I became involved in a conversation that, one way or another, ended up turning to the influence that late 1970s German electronic music had on Ultravox i
n the Midge Ure era. I'm sure this is exactly the kind of thing that everyone discusses at work on a Friday afternoon but it was diverting anyway :-)

At the time Midge Ure was recruited to Ultravox he was touring with Thin Lizzy as a stand-in guitarist on their tour of the album 'Roisín Dubh - Black Rose - A Rock Legend', so something of a change of style there!

We both agreed that this was the period 1980-4, and that the 1986 album 'U-Vox' was utter cr*p. I even had the misfortune to pay good money to see Ultravox tour this album live at Wembley Arena and it remains as probably the worst concert I have ever endured. That left us with four albums, of which we could both remember the names of the first two (but own usable copies of neither) and also most of the tracks on them. These are:
  • Vienna (1980)
  • Rage In Eden (1981)
As for the second pair, although I knew I had owned both on vinyl for at least twenty years, I couldn't for the life of me remember their titles! We did however, during the course of the afternoon, correctly remember several of the singles that were taken from them! These albums are:
  • Quartet (1982)
  • Lament (1984)
Clearly it was time to dig these out and listen once again, which I did that evening. The problem with the first pair is that I only ever owned them on cassette tape and it was a unreliable Chrysalis "Two on One" edition at that. I decided to buy both again - on CD this time as these releases include some bonus tracks (including several of the tracks sung in German) - but in the end I didn't. While investigating the possibilities I made a very interesting discovery and thus, to keep my long-standing vinyl albums company, I have ordered them as the original vinyl releases instead. It cost little more than the cost of the CDs in any case.

Note added: 10th May 2007.
The above artwork for 'Rage In Eden' is not that of the original UK LP release by the way - thanks to the people that e-mailed me about this. The two LPs were waiting for me when I got home from work this evening so next week maybe I'll try and review all four albums together.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Something I learned today...

I very rarely buy compilations and when I do it is usually because I want to get a cross-section of the popular output of an artist or band. Almost inevitably it is therefore one of some antiquity and of which I am insufficiently interested in obtaining all the albums that they released.

I made a rare exception this week and bought a compilation CD that consisted entirely of tracks by new artists and it arrived this morning. What a good idea that turned out to be!
'Something I Learned Today' is a compilation album, released by UK independent label Dance To The Radio, devoted entirely to new artists in the Leeds/Bradford area.

There are more than a few excellent tracks on it; The Grammatics - 'The Shipping Forecast' is one that was quite new to me, and something of a revelation, but while many tracks on the album are pop-rock-indie driven there is one truly remarkable exception. That is Coast - written by, mostly played by, and entirely sung by Laura Groves - because it defies any easy attempt at categorization and is totally acoustic and truly wonderful.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The Besnard Lakes - what, where & who...

The Besnard Lakes are, rather unsurprisingly I suppose, lakes. They are situated somewhere in Canada and are apparently incredibly beautiful. I can't tell you for sure because I have never seen them. I expect it is true but for once Google isn't proving too helpful...
So successfully have Jace Lasek and his wife Olga Goreas made 'The Besnard Lakes'
(TBL) the name of their band that the natural feature that inspired them has all but disappeared from the map!

Firstly two apologies:

  • The whole musical world does not actually revolve around Brighton (HSCS release 'The Death of Nightlife' next Monday and it too is available on 12" vinyl) and Canada but in this blog it might seem like it just at the moment!
  • I'm going to review two perhaps "difficult" albums in succession.
The album 'The Besnard Lakes Are The Dark Horse' has some features in common with my previous review, one being that it takes a bit of patience to see where it is going. It is about the same length, but only eight tracks long, and while 'No Shouts, No Calls' is 'atmospheric' this one falls more into the 'epic' category and even, dare I say it, induces a certain nostalgia.
In some ways it is even easier to make a comparison with Arcade Fire here, but equally unwise to take it too far!

Yes, they are from Montreal, have a husband and wife team at the front, and have a liking for lush instrumental arrangement but then the differences are apparent. TBL are a five-piece but make ready use of other artists on this album, notably Sophie Trudeau - of Godspeed You Black Emperor - on both violin and cello.
TBL however make much more ready use of Olga Goreas on female lead vocals (she predominates overall and particularly on the decidedly heavy numbers that owe much to the influence and use of techniques taken more obviously from 1970s prog-rock and even heavy rock) and while the lyrics are almost always gloomy the songs often still sound remarkably cheerful. The opening track Disaster, which she mostly sings, being a good case in point as
it starts off sounding like a lullaby before Jace takes the thread and it gets complicated. It is followed by For Agent 13 that is also sung by Olga but there is much electronic distortion, particularly on the vocals, which gives it a slightly creepy edge and the lyrics are rather more urgent. It is pretty obvious by now that something strange is going on as the percussion is sometimes quite deliberately at odds with the rest (a trick Charlotte Hatherley also uses on her 2007 album 'The Deep Blue').

By the start of track three the album is in full flow and for the next four tracks it is quite unstoppable.
  • And You Lied To Me
  • Devastation
  • Because Tonight
  • Ride The Rails
They rock in every sense of the word. Only the last is less than five minutes, and then only by a few seconds, and two are well over seven minutes long. This section of the album is 'epic rock' done properly and not just a pastiche. It takes 1970 'space-rock' and firmly anchors it on planet earth.
And You Lied To Me is sung by Jace and is a fine track with a particularly good finish - even the more subdued TBL tracks tend to build to a finale. If Disaster was light-hearted then Devastation dispels the myth; Olga returns to vocal duties backed by a rhythm section consisting of three bass guitars (one of which she plays herself) and three drummers. There is usually no excuse whatsoever for this kind of indulgence but, without a shred of doubt, it works here!
Because Tonight starts rather like Agent 13 but this time more slowly and with a choral section and some strings, backed by continuing radiophonic garbling, before the track once again turns serious and the guitars make themselves known. This the most "spaced out" song on the album and Jace and Olga sing in harmony. It then ends surprisingly suddenly.
Ride The Rails
is another fine track and it is more obviously down to earth than those that came before and the nearest that this album comes to narrative.
Some people have suggested that the final two tracks are "weak". I think that is a relative: while I agree that On Bedford and Grand is the weakest track on the album it is not one I would be bothered to skip. The final track, Cedric's War, I really like. It sounds that the band are just having a lot of fun but as usual the lyrics aren't in the least bit cheerful.