Saturday, January 26, 2008

Soaring angel...

Nothing is ever the complete story. The hype currently surrounding the imminent release of Rockferry by Welsh singer Duffy might lead you to believe that the single Rockferry released late in 2007 was actually her first release. As far as her new label, Roughtrade/A&M, is concerned it is but that isn't quite the start of her recording history...

In 2004, and as Aimée Duffy, she released an eponymous CD single (AWENCD-212) on Recordiau Awen, a small independent label based in Pentreath, Anglesey. It is, at least at the time of writing, still available new at a sensible price.
It contains the following tracks:

  • Dim Dealltwriaeth
  • Hedfan Angel
  • Cariad Dwi'n Unig
Just a thought.

This Gift - Sons and Daughters

The Gift is here and released in the UK on Monday 28th January on both CD (and also a limited bonus version with a live CD included) and on 12" vinyl (again limited) with a gold-foil sleeve that makes it almost impossible to photograph. I know this - I've just tried several possible ways of doing it and it is much like trying to take a picture of a mirror without seeing oneself in it!

Success is a two-edged blade and they knew it. What could they do next given that in 2005 their second album was both fantastic and so criminally underrated? No band had pushed boundaries as far and not only got away with it but made it their own territory.
That said 'This Gift' is amazing. 'The Repulsion Box' (2005) was always going to be an extremely tough album to follow but they've certainly done it. As it only arrived this morning I'm still undecided on the best tracks. There are plenty to chose from...

This library image really doesn't do it justice and I'll try again in daylight tomorrow morning but, as Domino vinyl always seems to be, the quality is untouchable. Some reviews have hinted that, with Bernard Butler on production duties, this is the album that sees Sons and Daughters go pop.
Well, unless your idea of pop is pitch-perfect in its twistedness - and this album is - then you might just be disappointed. More pop than The Repulsion Box for sure but that is hardly difficult and it is no less recognisable as Sons and Daughters. If this is the future of pop then so be it.

Incidentally someone sent me an e-mail today that contained an interesting suggestion: Once Amy Winehouse is packed off to rehab one of the therapies should be listening to Adele Bethel singing (presumably The Repulsion Box) as the songs are probably as messed-up as they come but Bethel (by all reports) isn't!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Whither vinyl in 2008?

That is hard to say for certain but it's looking OK so far as Adele's album '19', released on 28th January is confirmed as being available on vinyl (same release date). The current single, Chasing Pavements and released today, is also available on 7".

All credit to her label XL for that but, perhaps understandably, you'll have to part with rather more cash for them than you will for the CD or download versions but then you get so much more.

Monday, January 21, 2008

More new artists for 2008...

Real talent will out and with talent like this who needs reality TV music contests?

The first is, after perhaps Adele, the singer-songwriter that has recently occupied more column inches in the newspapers as the release of her début album Rockferry moves closer.

If the single 'Rockferry', released in December 2007 and of which this is the artwork of the 7" version, is anything to go by the hype is justified. Duffy comes from NW Wales but Rockferry is a mythical location in it - well not that mythical, this is actually Porthmadog Harbour station in disguise! The deliberately retro-look of the black and white picture is quite understandable and so, I believe, is much of the hype surrounding this release. Last week she played her first live gig in London, at a small venue, and the reactions that have filtered out from those who were there is one of bewilderment: they expected it to be good but not even half as good as it was.

This should be the album artwork and it is due for release on 3rd March . It is currently #12 in music pre-orders fully five weeks before release, which suggests a very high entry on the week of release.

Cob Records is indeed a proper old-fashioned music store and it is also to be found in Porthmadog High Street, virtually opposite the aforementioned station.

Now some bands:
Foals are widely tipped to explode across the face of the UK in 2008, in perhaps the kind of way that The Klaxons achieved last year. Again they have worked up a huge live following before the release of their first album Antidotes, due 24th March. Expect them to be at many of this summer's festivals.

Ubiquitous at last summer's festivals were the outrageously entertaining Brazilians CSS who will return with their second album in the early summer of 2008. This summer they might even have some southern hemisphere competition and if they do I suspect it will come from a five-piece whose combined age is only about 20% more than Mick Jagger's!

They hail from Queensland, Australia and they are Operator Please! Their first album has not yet had a full UK release but it is neither too hard or too costly to find an Australian import copy.

Yes Yes Vindictive - Operator Please!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

To listen to in 2008 - Part 1

Things are hotting up after the Christmas hiatus and the next month is going to see a whole slew of releases that I've been waiting ages for.

Here are two for starters:

The London five-piece release their second album, following on from 2005's Cuts Across The Land. In place of 'Loog' it is released on a new label, 'You Are Here', but this album is also released on 12" and so no complaints from me! Touring their first album cemented their live reputation and this one may demonstrate that, with Liela Moss on lead vocals and as principal lyricist, 'The Duke Spirit' are now the most remarkable female-fronted rock band of the 21st century so far.

If that wasn't enough then Glaswegian four-piece 'Sons and Daughters' also have a new album - This Gift - the third from the 'Domino Recordings' artists.
In so far as it is possible to pigeon-hole their music they are the finest exponents of
folk gone punk.

Unless they have turned seriously soft since 2005's The Repulsion Box, which took no prisoners whatsoever, do not expect anything approaching a ballad and even if it sounds like one the lyric will almost certainly suggest something very different. What makes The Repulsion Box quite remarkable is that, while it is performed with military discipline, it was written with unbridled vengeance.

It is to be hoped that This Gift will be available on 12" too, as their previous releases both have been, but I can't confirm or deny that yet. If you know better then please let us all know...

Note added 19th January:
A wet weekend is the perfect excuse to stay home and listen to music while also reading about it! This Gift is definitely available on 12" and the latest single Darling is out now and available on 7".

The above is the artwork of the CD single but I'll put that right as soon as I can! I've heard much of the album already and all I'm going to let slip is that it's been well worth the wait. It was produced by ex-Suede co-writer and guitarist Bernard Butler: a name that is going to recur in 2008.

Added 26th January:

The 7" vinyl artwork, as promised.
By the way the 12" LP of This Gift is indeed a treasure to behold.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

No promises, yet?

In 2007 a former model from Italy but also bought up in France, turned singer, recorded an album based on the poetry by 19th century American Emily Dickinson and many others. Before release most regarded that as a project quite excessive in its ambition but she got away with it and No Promises received fairly sound reviews.

While it is not her first album, and her 1994 release Quelqu'un m'a dit was also quite well received in Europe, her other dalliances with music have tended to be of a different kind - the kind that the UK tabloid press very much delights in reporting!

Carla Bruni has now moved into the Premier League; she has even got the usually tongue-tied French press gossiping and footballers are doubtless distraught. I'm not sure if French has an adequate translation for this, quintessentially British, concept: On M. Sarkozy's arm at every opportunity, she is without any doubt now the ultimate Euro-WAG!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Let's Start A Band...

Forget, just for a moment, the music coming out of Wales, Canada and London for here are two more of my favourite albums released in 2007. Both are by artists from Scotland and it seems that there are going to be plenty more to look forward to in 2008...
Firstly one I mentioned last summer but, due to my inadvertent sabbatical, I now realise that it is one which I forgot to review. That is Drastic Fantastic by KT Tunstall (raised in St. Andrews, this is her second studio album), which is happily now also available on 12". I only got the album belatedly and very recently really listened to it properly and now I have I think I'll add it to my list of 'Favourite albums of 2007' for it has impressed me more with every listening. It is better, if not obviously so, than her first not only for its virtuosity and live potential.

It is, however, not to be my only addition and the next is a début album by another female artist who hails from Bishopbriggs, East Dumbartonshire, and plays acoustic as opposed to electric guitar and, just for a change, this is not the cover of the album but that of LA., the third single taken from it.
I had it in mind, last week, to make a prediction and it was certainly not a wise prediction or one that was made by any others that I'm aware of. This was that This Is The Life, the début album by singer-songwriter Amy Macdonald that was first released on 30th July 2007 and has never been higher than ~#6 in the UK album charts in five months of release, would be a bit of a "sleeper success" in 2008.

The title track, This Is The Life, is the fourth single and it vies as a contender for the best but the whole exercise now seems pretty futile.

Oh, The wind whistles down
The cold dark street tonight
And the people they were dancing
to the music vibe...

I was so totally wrong - and so totally right - in a very strange way!
This Is The Life was actually the biggest selling album in the UK last week and so much so that can't supply a copy for 7 - 11 days even though it is distributed by Universal. If it wasn't a solid album, and if it had only the odd good track on it, that surely wouldn't tempt people to do more than download those; quite clearly it isn't, it doesn't and I have an original copy already.

The genre is almost indefinable; it is maybe folk-rock influenced by pop (or perhap
s either other way around). The fact that Macdonald sings without hiding her soft, but definite, accent is rather special. She also plays acoustic guitar in a way that few others do and it does her reputation no harm at all.

The title track This Is The Life is the current single, the fourth taken from the album and the title track, but this is the album that is now making waves and the tracks Let's Start A Band (track 6) [see lyrics] and Barrowland Ballroom (track 7) are arguably better than any single apart from This Is The Life . Macdonald wrote all the music and lyrics other than for than LA (track 8) , which she co-wrote with Pete Wilkinson.
I'll tell you another thing; these are songs just MADE to be both sung and played live and she is not one likely to be unable, unwilling or left wanting - if you have any doubt about that just pay some more attention to the lyrics!

Her second album 'A Curious Thing' is to be released in early Spring 2010.

EMI, again.

It pains me to have to report this but, judging from the broadsheet-newspaper reports in the last few days, my optimism about the future of EMI last summer looks increasingly misplaced and things are looking really nasty...
When the s**t hits the fan:
A huge number of employees are likely to be made redundant (and artists released from contract) at EMI and on Tuesday it will probably become far too obvious what is wrong with the industry in general.
I don't blame recording artists for the state of the music industry at all and certainly not the EMI employees who, I reasonably presume, were employed to do the job that they currently do. It is scarcely any comfort but it says much about their dedication that, given the state of the industry, the wheels have not come off sooner. The music industry's experience is (if truth be told and that which is predicted happens) going to be rather widely applicable to others too.
The music itself is probably as diverse (and possibly even better) than ever but it still seems that so much of the traditional music industry is in trouble. They have legions of marketing people, presumably for a purpose, but if they can't see the changing face of things then what exactly are they there for?
Don't just blame downloads, don't blame the (supposed) demise of the CD because there must be a more deep-rooted corporate issue. That said I am far from convinced that the changes that Guy Hands is likely to prescribe for EMI are the future of the music industry; if not, then the future of the industry really is open for grabs.
I hope it somehow must be an opportunity...

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

A great step for iTunes; a dime for consumers?

Today Apple iTunes announced that within six months (yes that quickly) it will reduce its download prices in the UK to be the same as those in Europe. That is good news, in so far as it goes, but as the EU had already decided it must so it is very tempting to suggest this is largely because it would be fined heavily if it didn't.
It is no bad thing but for consumers in the UK but it hardly constitutes a revolution: you'll pay £0.05 (€0,08) or a dime less for a download. That too is no bad thing but does it make everything right on the downloading front?
No it certainly doesn't, so just stop messing about at the edges! While price is, without doubt, important to consumers format/player incompatibility and all the associated DRM problems will remain at the top of the agenda. I'll leave you to guess which industry organisations iTunes principally blame for this situation but it is at least a start and so some credit is possibly due.

See the associated BBC news article here.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

DRM in 2008 - the first skirmishes...

I mentioned this not so long ago and while it has long been obvious that the recording industry and its consumers were in no way in agreement about DRM 2008 looks like the year which it will become a real issue.
That will be much to the detriment of the former because they apparently thought they could continue to run rough-shod over their consumers (and often their artists as well) as they had arguably done for decades. The former, rather predictably I think, responded by deciding that they too could play the game and now artists are starting to consider doing without the very same. As a service industry -
for that is what major labels, in particular, now are - and one with a rather poor recent record for spotting trends in artists, or even more tellingly technology, it is surely vulnerable for it risks simultaneously losing the confidence of both its suppliers and consumers.

Today, in the UK at least, some guidelines for consultation and further discussion were published by the government and they make quite interesting reading. Here is the BBC news post about these proposals and I' m quite sure these will only make the whole thing a much hotter potato still! It is a matter that certainly needs to be properly addressed sooner rather than later; don't expect any easy consensus this year however.
The longer it goes on, one near certainty is the greater will be the damage to the traditional music industry in the long term and some predict that, within a decade, the CD will be defunct. It is quite plausible, and wholly so were it not for the persistence of vinyl; far fewer have said that in a decade there will also be no longer be any 'major labels' and that is something that, while I'm not one to place bets, for cash or favours or anything else, I think that I would regard as the least surprising result.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

oops!... U did it again

Dear Britney,

While it is not my place to lecture you, there are some things that need to be said. I don't doubt that you have real problems but so do others; you also have a new album to promote (truth to tell, I think it good and in a year that may well see the resurgence of true pop).

If we want our own disaster scenario then, here in the UK, we have Amy Winehouse. Her husband is no angel and is currently languishing in Pentonville Prison, London, charged with 'perverting the course of justice' but at least her album is today celebrating its 61st consecutive week in the UK Top 10. I understand that you just want your kids back but, if it is any consolation, at least they are safe and your former husband and their father is looking after them.

Get real, get better and be a big sister to Jamie because she probably needs you more than ever now. There are better ways to make the headlines...

Friday, January 04, 2008

Moon Rock

I had somehow got it in my mind that Moon Rock, the second album by Paul Steel, was to be released either at the start of this week or the start of next. It could have been me who got that all wrong, or maybe some label issue is involved, but either way give it at least one listen from start to finish! This following is not wrong, on my part at least, as I have had a copy for several weeks now:

It is pop and although quite listenable and also slightly different to most, I still rather hope that this will not be amongst my favourite albums of 2008. It may grow on me in time but like Mika's Life In Cartoon Motion in 2007, which did somewhat, it probably still won't be enough to quite conquer my initial ambivalence. I'd still be interested to hear Paul Steel's first album 'April and I' though. Only released, by Raygun, in the spring of 2007 what I have read of it tends me to think that it might be rather more original (just a random thought).

I admit that this is a somewhat so-so review and an "I'm not really impressed" start to 2008 but then again not everything can be better than everything else and very occasionally I feel duty-bound to point it out. I don't think, on a more positive note, that it sets a trend for 2008...

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

New Year 2008

Yesterday I somehow lost heart with 2007 at the very last moment but that is not to say it, in any way, was a year to forget. It certainly wasn't and I would like to think that 2008 could be even better, if not for the major labels. The next big things are fairly easy to predict and the single Chasing Pavements by Adele Adkins from Brixton is almost certain to be the first of them but here, and just for starters, are two others and while the first pretty much does 21st century pop and the second 21st century folk that is not something to be held against either of them.

  • The Ting Tings
  • Laura Marling
Amy Winehouse, meanwhile, has serious competition in making her third album despite the new contributions by Mark Ronson. The second album by Lily Allen is likely to be important too and Ronson is likely to work on both these and also has on Adkins début. Pop will, for all its curious beauty and as I suggested yesterday, probably make a significant return in 2008 but everything live will remain at the forefront: only live performance makes money these days and so, in 2008 as in 2007, things look rather lean for the major labels.
The third in my list is American singer-songwriter Ryan Tedder, of One Republic, and were his only mention to date the writing of Bleeding Heart for Leona Lewis then that alone should be enough to ensure that he gets a major award in 2008 - the truth is that, very likely, he won't have to rely on that. Apologize, written by Tedder and co-produced with Timbaland, has done neither of them any harm.
Then there is another huge issue looming because in 2008 downloading, whether legal or otherwise, quite simply won't go away. The majors might wish it would but in fact it will become an issue more pressing than ever before and, while once again largely self-inflicted, DRM should ensure that it does.