Why? Because "Plus c'est la même chose, plus ça change." would fit this album perfectly.
It is a fourteen-track selection of entirely instrumental music which, with the exception of the final one that also features sparse classical guitar, was entirely made by recording mechanical music boxes live and absolutely nothing else. These recordings were then sampled, over-dubbed and looped (but not otherwise electronically altered) to produce the final effect.
The final result, Colleen et les Boîtes à Musique, was actually commissioned by 'Radio France Culture' in 2005 and is the work of Cécile Schott, better known as the recording artist Colleen.
On the face of it would seem to be a rather outré kind of album and in some ways it is... but that would be to get its premise very wrong overall; it is actually very listenable and even soothing but without ever veering towards trite "musak" territory. It was finally given a full CD release in late 2006 by Manchester-based 'The Leaf Label' that has also released her slightly more conventional, yet still very far from ordinary, albums --- Les Ondes Silencieuses (2007), The Golden Morning Breaks (2005) and Everyone Alive Wants Answers (2003).
Sunday, July 29, 2007
Why? Because "Plus c'est la même chose, plus ça change." would fit this album perfectly.
Saturday, July 28, 2007
Just yesterday I was saying that I had albums that were mellow and also those that I hadn't really listened to properly. It now seems that they were often in both categories and yet others are not.
Yesterday and today I've unearthed some more and given them a good listening to. I'll soon disclose more of them but, if anything can be predicted, they point to more purchases of music by Sarah Nixey.
"Sarah who?", I can almost hear you say in unison!
Well, if you don't already know it, she was vocalist for thoroughly English trio 'Black Box Recorder' - the all-time experts in hopeful misery - for whom she sung with a perfect diction that only makes the often quite disturbing lyrics seem all the more surprising. It is an effect both creepy and claustrophobic that can either be soothing or scary but, whichever it turns out to be, the choice is always hers and never yours!
The title of this post is a lyric borrowed from track 4 while the single Child Psychology was even banned from the radio, on account of the lyric "Kill yourself or get over it.", as if it would have had much air-play anyway.
Friday, July 27, 2007
Any regular reader of this blog will know that it first came in to being, in September 2006, as a direct result of my wishing to reply to a post on US-based blog "The Yellow Stereo" that, incidentally, is no longer to be found at the url that they were using back then; it can now be found at http://theyellowstereo.com/.
My first actual blog post was also a comment on the very same new UK band - Bat For Lashes - that is both the creation and the performance alter-ego of Natasha Khan.
Their set at Latitude 2007 (during which I took all the pictures in this post) was stymied by equipment malfunction; in particular the sustain pedal for the electric piano, which proved to be utterly unreliable. It shortened their set by two songs and Natasha's understandable disappointment, tinged with embarrassment and annoyance, was quite palpable (at least from the front row).
One morning earlier this week, and for some reason not readily apparent even to me, I felt particularly unenthusiastic about the thought of going to work. I got in the car and turned up the CD loud, somewhat forgetful of the fact that the previous morning (when I was feeling rather positive) I had changed the CDs in the auto-changer.
The CD that came on was something that I bought on a whim when it came out but had not really paid much attention to ever since. The album in question was Ballad of The Broken Seas - Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan - released in early 2006 and garnering a nomination later that year for The Mercury Prize, which was won by 'The Arctic Monkeys'.
It did the trick for me though - the day passed quickly as the few tracks I heard on the journey to work spent the day going rounded in my head and they reminded me of why I had taken a chance on this album in the first place; that was because I already owned a 2003 release called Amorino, also by Isobel Campbell. As soon as I got home that evening I listened to both in full and was blown away (again).
Ballad of The Broken Seas features an as seemingly unlikely pairing of vocalists as ever there were; her dreamy soprano voice is of the almost-not-there kind (Amorino showcases this beautifully), while his previous output - on solo albums, with Seattle' s 'Screaming Trees' or when collaborating with 'Queens of the Stone Age' - is a full and gritty roar and, at least on his solo albums, also depressingly down-beat.
It was to prove an inspired collaboration; as well as providing contrasting but also amazingly complementary vocals there is a real spark there. It, and the Mercury nomination, allowed Campbell to incorporate influences from Americana in her music and finally get away from the tag "twee-pop" that her detractors have tended to pin to her music thus far.
I bought Amorino before Ballad of The Broken Seas was released but if you are new to her music, whether the post 'Belle and Sebastian' work (she left that band in 2002) or B&S pre-2002, then I suggest you might do better to start with Ballad of The Broken Seas as it is probably more easily accessible. Amorino can be rather "strange" at times and no more so than the wonderfully weird track 'The Cat's Pyjamas'.
All this led me on a hunt for other items in my music collection that were both of a calming "chill-out" nature and that I hadn't listened to much for some time.
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
I've been hearing whispers about this Portsmouth-based band for some time now and most of them have been as intriguing as they have been favourable. This could however cut both ways; I was thus glad to have the opportunity to check them out live on the Uncut stage at Latitude where they were playing the opening gig at lunch time on Sunday.
It was timely as their first eight-track mini-album Forward March! had been released the previous Monday on Fantastic Plastic Records, which ensured a sizable and enthusiastic turn out.
It was quite clear, even before the set started, that they have a loyal following and it was soon very clear to me why that is. In a set that could only last 40 minutes, why waste time talking? They didn't say a word, other than the sung lyrics, introducing themselves and the songs using hand-written and hand-held placards.
It was very effective and reminded me rather of the occasional frames, conveying plot details, that appeared flickeringly in the days of silent movies. What is more, if you look carefully at the these pictures, you will notice that this is a band very flexible when it comes to who plays which instrument on any particular song.
Monday, July 23, 2007
While 'New Young Pony Club' was clearly an act far too metropolitan for the Sunrise Arena at Latitude 2007 it is actually also difficult to imagine an act for whom it could be a setting so absolutely perfect...
Her nu-folk songs - a genre I rather like anyway - are mostly trans-Atlantic rather than obviously British or American so that they are largely without place or time. Add to this the fact she is an artist who also has the folk-tradition of 'patter' between songs - it veered randomly but effortlessly between musings concerning disturbing the owls in the woods and the various hazards of festival toilets - down to a fine art and you can imagine this gig had all the potential to be a memorable one.
While she had swapped the sylvan glades of her native Wisconsin for those of rural Suffolk on a sunny Saturday lunchtime she clearly seemed quite at home there. The other thing is that I had never even heard of Stephanie Dosen until I bought my 'Festival Programme' when I arrived on the Thursday evening.
She is now signed to UK label Bella Union and her début UK album A Lily For The Spectre is available now from all good independent music stores.
While this is her UK début she has previously released an album, Ghosts, Mice and Vagabonds, in the US that is not currently available on Amazon.co.uk
You could however try buying it direct from her website:
Now in this case I had heard good things about NYPC but almost nothing of their material (except for the single 'Ice Cream') before Latitude and so, as they were headlining the Sunrise Arena on Friday evening, they were high on my list of "must see acts". In fact I was so confident that I would like it I actually ordered their album Fantastic Playroom, which was released on 9th July on Australian label 'Modular Recordings' even though they are a London band and on vinyl as it is available thus, the evening before departing. It actually arrived the day I returned and it was to prove a "good thing" - it instantly transported me back to the previous Friday evening and reminded me why a few bruised ribs were sustained in a wholly good cause.
The Sunset Arena was a venue too small for them and I can well see them performing on the Uncut Stage, or even the main stage, at this (or other similar events) next summer. I suspect that they might follow a trajectory similar to that which CSS have enjoyed in the last year.
The album Fastastic Playroom isn't as good as I expected it to be - it is, in a surprisingly measured and amazingly controlled sort of way, far better than I imagined it would be; perhaps I find it this way because it was a bit unusual to have heard them live before hearing the album? On the other hand it is very largely by playing live that they have secured their current enviable reputation. Go figure - as yet I can't - but no complaints!
Their live performance, whipped to a frenzy by icon-in-waiting Tahita Bulmer, really was quite special and certainly not rambling or self-indulgent. It was stopped once, fairly early on, when the barrier at the front of the stage collapsed and also terminated five minutes early; in both cases the reason given was "Health & Safety" and for once in this dangerously over-regulated world it actually seemed plausible!
Sunday, July 22, 2007
As well as the big names the fascinating variety of other acts was, for me perhaps, the greatest attraction of the line up. From pop to nu-folk to rock there was always something interesting to go and hear.
First I'll start with two of the catchiest pure UK pop songs of 2007:
Cherry Ghost's début album 'Thirst For Romance' was released (Heavenly Records) the previous Monday, 9th July. It is my suspicion that, one way or another, Cherry Ghost may turn out to be with us for longer than The Hoosiers.
Saturday, July 21, 2007
A great deal has been written about Brazilian band CSS (Cansei de Ser Sexy) in the last nine months and much of it, it has to be said, sounds rather like hyperbole. The first track on their 2006 début album is even rather self-deprecatingly entitled 'CSS Suxxx'.
See them live and you'll probably discover that it isn't the case. You could well argue that the music itself isn't particularly ground breaking - you would be right too - but that is to miss the point altogether. This album is good enough to hold its own on CD - it is ultimately feel-good music - but CSS live is a quite different experience.
This is a band that is not only clearly loving the limelight but also making it shine brighter and, in Lovefoxxx (aka Luisá Matsushita), they also happen to have one of the most charismatic lead singers of the moment.
She came on stage at Latitude wearing a long grey shawl as they launched the set with 'Patins'...
This was soon removed to reveal the sparkling rainbow number that stunned Glastonbury...
with the crowd providing the lead vocals!
I had such a great time at 'Latitude 2007', overdosing on live music, that it has taken this long to get my head around it all. Well almost a week has gone by and I've finally come to some conclusions! There were so many highlights that my choice of starting place is quite arbitrary...
I've decided to start with Kate Nash who performed in the far too small, and also stiflingly hot, 'Film and Music Tent' on Friday afternoon. Partly because I'd made damn sure I got to see this as I've being enjoying her so-called first single Foundations, and the 'b-sides' - which are all different on the three versions: a CD and two 7" vinyl singles - so much that I already intended to post a comment.
Of course it is not really her first single, that was a double a-side Caroline's A Victim/Birds released by MoshiMoshi Records earlier this year (and I reviewed it - see here) but that was in physical terms only available as a very limited 7" release.
The only question that I still had is can she really cut it as a live performer?
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
'Latitude 2007' was blessed with weather far better than could reasonably have been imagined. It was the 2007 festival to die for - because it had everything that you live for!
It did include headline acts, such as the awesome Arcade Fire, but also plenty of lesser known ones and that is what makes it special; it has taken me all this week to look at all the pictures I took and to ponder and eventually realise what really made 'Latitude 2007' special, which for me at least it most certainly was.
From start to finish it was simply so friendly an event, and one so well organised, that the fact that it was also, as regards artists, a totally awesome event from start to end was almost just a huge bonus.
The Obelisk stage was a strange, bleak and silent place just an hour after Arcade Fire finished their headline performance Sunday evening.
Sunday, July 08, 2007
Lots of new items on my list - so no change there - and they are roughly divided into two categories:
- Those that are not new but I want to listen to.
- Those that are simply new.
- New Young Pony Club - Fantastic Playroom. This is the début album from the London 5-piece, fronted by Tahita Bulmer, who are signed to the Australian indie label Modular. They are playing at Latitude next weekend, so lucky me. They are not really new-rave, as some of the reviews say, just new pop and all the better for it. It is available on vinyl too!
- Stars - In Our Bedroom After The War. The new album from one of Canada's finest bands and the follow up to their 2005 album 'Set Yourself On Fire'. Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan are something of a gold-standard when it comes to boy-girl vocals in my opinion.
- The Go! Team - Proof Of Youth. The second album by the London & Brighton sextet is to be released in the UK by Memphis Industries (MI) on 10th September, and in America the following day by Seattle's Sub Pop Records. Their first LP, Thunder, Lightning, Strike (2005) was also released by MI in the UK but by Columbia in the US. If anyone could make the sun shine then The Go! Team would be my bet, with CSS (another SubPop signing and a Latitude Festival act) a very close second! The sleeve will probably look a bit like this and the CD will be MI099CD, but we can hope for a vinyl version too as MI are pretty sound in this regard.
- Ash - Twilight Of The Innocents. This is to be the last Ash album as they have decided that, with the advent of downloading, the return of the singles band is beckoning once again. That is how they feel and you can't fault them for their integrity - throughout vinyl's darkest hour they always released everything they did on vinyl - and there is no reason to think that they will not continue to do so. What they got in recognition is to become, arguably, one of the most under-rated bands of the last decade! During the writing of this album Charlotte Hatherley (the fourth member of Ash, as both a lead guitarist and vocalist, from 1997 -2006) left for a solo career. She released her début solo album Grey Will Fade (Double Dragon, 2005) , while still with Ash. In 2006 she quit and has since released her second solo album The Deep Blue (2007) on her own Little Sister Records label, including vinyl of course. She plays Latitude Festival next weekend, and also the Reading/Leeds Festival in late August, which also features Ash.
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
Yes, it is true!
The better part of twenty years after I last went to a proper festival I've decided to take my own advice and go to one again. A week on Thursday I will be heading to the far eastern edge of England - the 'Sunrise Coast' - and what I'm reliably told was the best kept festival secret of last year, which returns for its sophomore event this year bigger, and if all goes well, even better.
Click the image above to see the list of bands performing.
Updated: Sunday 8th July:
It is almost exactly a week since I decided, absolutely on the spur of the moment, to take myself off to Latitude. I had concluded that there would be no tickets left, but went to look at the website anyway and to be disappointed. There were still tickets available however (and even still some yesterday too it seems) and, without a further thought for the practicalities, the die was cast when I entered my credit card number and clicked
A funny week it has been too...
On Monday morning I did wonder for a moment what I had let myself in for; I was suddenly thinking "Am I too old for this now?" . I got over it and ever since I've been feeling ever younger as each day goes by.
It is excitement and I have suddenly rediscovered that childlike feeling of really looking forward to something while simultaneously not knowing quite what to expect - and actually I like it as much now as I did then!
Yesterday I went shopping (in Argos) for cheap camping kit and this was an odd experience too because I already have a collection of camping kit that can keep me warm and snug in the Scottish mountains in winter. The problem is that it is too costly to be worth risking at a summer festival!
To see if the weather will be any better that at Glastonbury you can click on the the image below. No warranties included except to say that I'll be there, on the ground or perhaps sinking in the mud, to report on both the music and the weather!
Monday, July 02, 2007
This is merely a continuation of yesterday's ramblings on the state of music retailing. Firstly, thank you those who sent me e-mails on the subject today - they have been read and noted.
I didn't mention independent music retailers (on/off-line) and most of you did! I agree entirely and that is why I focussed on the long established chain-retailers. I suspect that HMV will survive the changes in the medium term and probably return bigger and better - in many ways it is the Marks & Spencer of the music retailing industry and that is an example of a UK retailer that has very successfully pulled itself back together, after a few really rocky years, by a combination of good marketing and re-invention. Nipper is an old dog who needs to learn some new tricks.
If that works (and I think the current poll is up and running now) then I'd like to repeat the same survey and, if applicable, ask where you bought your music ten years ago.
If you think I have should have included any other answers, or you want to say anything else about this topic, then please post a comment to this post or e-mail me.
Sunday, July 01, 2007
I have already mentioned, several times in this blog, the problems that the 'Major Labels' have had and also continue to face. The recent change of ownership of EMI is only the latest in a long line of changes here.
The High Street retail music stores have also been feeling the pressure too - at least in the UK.
Last week HMV announced its profits had halved this year to £50 million. That still sounds a tidy sum, but given it was the return on sales of £2 billion it represents a margin of just 2.5% on sales. For a major High Street retail chain that is a dismal return and it shows just how competitive the market currently is. The smaller chain MVC , and a competitor of HMV, collapsed just before the end of 2006 although 67 of its stores were then acquired by another rival Fopp; a reprieve that has proved short lived as it too went into administration Friday last. It is possible parts of the business might be saved, but it is not clear who might be a buyer.
What has gone wrong?
Not as easy a question as one might expect. It is without doubt a combination of factors, some of which apply far beyond the music/video retailing industry (think travel agents - Thomas Cook announced a raft of store closures this week - and holiday store chains have been merging for several years, etc.)
Here are a list of the problems they face (in no particular order):
- Competition from downloading (legal or otherwise).
- Competition from supermarkets (who discount the current best sellers while not stocking anything else).
- Competition from web-based retailers (Amazon and the rest)
- Out-dated/unappealing retailing space and rapidly rising rentals for new retail space.
Is the current situation the result of an inevitable process with the High Street retailers as mere victims? My answer, given without hesitation, is... NO! NO! NO!
Accuse me of 20/20 hindsight if you like, (I don't work in retail management), but that is actually not a defence option for the afflicted chains: the retail environment is intrinsically fashion-prone and it is all about looking for future trends and therefore involves a high degree of risk-taking.
Had they done that, but somehow missed the mark, I'd have rather more sympathy than I can currently muster. If the retail chains had invested in on-line sales of physical music and of downloads before the market was proven they could have used their then cash-generative businesses to push those "new" markets forward as a logical extension of their existing markets. If they had used their retail advantage, even six years ago, they could have challenged the likes Amazon
In fact they made no particular concerted attempt to do either. One might well presume that sheer arrogance led them to presume that these developments were simply short-term trendy distractions.
That they failed to take full advantage of on-line sales of physical music might just be regarded as misfortune. That, having missed one huge opportunity, they then also surrendered the next one almost without so much as a whimper, is quite incomprehensible.
'Downloads' came came fairly soon after and to provide them does not require huge investment. The potential was surely obvious and the risk fairly small.
Why has it come to this?
For thirty years, maybe even more, they simply couldn't believe that the gravy-train that they were travelling on would ever hit the buffers. In this way they have fallen into the same trap as the major labels - COMFORT breeds COMPLACENCY.
Complacency has a strange tendency that rather goes against the grain of capitalist greed: young entrepreneurs set things up, and young (or young-at-heart) investors put up the money to do so and both are not risk-averse. If it works out well then, naturally, they get older, richer and more risk-averse as shareholders.
Companies that look solid and risk-averse tend to attract other shareholders of the same persuasion. The senior management they then directly, or indirectly, choose match those ideals and they naturally tend appoint middle management, etc., and from there down employees with new ideas and grand plans either leave for other (probably newer) companies that match their ambition or to set up their own.
That is not necessarily a problem until a large organization is suddenly confronted with a sea-change in its traditional market and competition which, as likely as not will be provided by the sort of companies mentioned above. It is a fair bet that the main rôles in sales and marketing will be run and staffed by people who know exactly the potential weaknesses and strengths of the companies they chose to leave five or even ten years ago.
I'd be very interested to hear anyone's thoughts on this whole topic?
- Have you been/are you an employee in retail music? What do you think?
- Is this just a UK phenomenon? What is the situation in Europe and/or the USA?
- What kind of music stores will there be in 5 or 10 years time?
Rest assured I'm not going to make any money out of any of this. Google keeps telling my that I should include 'AdSense' on my blog, mentioning the fact that it could earn me money, (10¢/month probably!), but I'm generally inclined against that. If I choose to advertise/promote anything on my blog then I'll be the one who decides what that will be and how and it will be done (and done for free), not least so I can decide exactly where, when and for how long it will appear.
That is my view - do you agree with it?