Thursday, 30 April 2009

A terror to pigs worldwide...

Pigs are getting a bit of bad press at the moment, what with swine flu terrifying the whole world and making us feel that MASS DEATH IS IMMINENT!!!11!!!1 It's probably not the best time to be sporting trotters, but now, just to make things even worse for pigs, they've got Gallows to worry about as well.

While I did love the first Gallows album, Orchestra of Wolves, and think that they're a brilliant, visceral live act, I have to say that Grey Britain - a "very scathing economical, social, political, historical review of the world to date" according to singer Frank Carter - sounds like it's going to be a bit, well, wanky in it's '4 REAL' insistences. If not wanky, at least a bit pretentious. It's album on which, apparently "nothing is fake". Including the sound of a dying pig. Nice.

Although, is it real? It's difficult to tell. At first, in a video interview on the NME website (available here), the band claimed that they rocked up to a Halal slaughterhouse and recorded the sound of this poor swine's dying breath as a sample to be used on the album. I'm not sure why the sound of a dying pig is relevant to a song (even if pigs are "a recurring theme on the album") and, if I'm being honest, my first thoughts were more along the lines of "euw, gross!" rather than "wow, that's dedication!"

But that wasn't a popular thing to have said, despite Carter's claims that "it's special" (it really isn't; it's just a dying animal). PETA, top of every farmyard creature's speed-dial list, issued a statement saying that the sample is likely to turn many listeners vegetarian. Personally, I think I'd just be turning the song off, but you never can tell how others will react, and apparently PEA have received lots of requests for vegetarian 'starter kits' since Gallows made their claims. A bit extreme, perhaps; I just thought it would sound a bit icky. And now my curiosity's piqued as to what's in a vegetarian starter kit.

Even though they're well punk rock and all that, and so should love pissing off all those wimpy squeamish souls, the band seemed pretty keen to do a handy little backtrack at this point. They issued a statement of their own in response: the sample was simply found on the internet, and the band were not present at its recording.

"We do not want to upset our fans who we consider intelligent enough to realise we didn't kill a pig or any other kind of animal to achieve the sounds on Grey Britain" - so why bother making the claims in the first place, espeically if they're not true? Surely upsetting people was the point? or is the latter statement the falsehood? Who knows. As Tim Jonze fantastically summed it up on Twitter: "Don't worry, that wasn't Frank screaming was actually recorded from a live stoning in Iran."

If you're now worried about the authenticity of Grey Britain as a whole, fear not. Gallows even made sure that they traced the sample to Spain, "
where they still use inhumane forms of slaughter." Because obviously potential animal cruelty is fine to be used, as long as it's at a few steps' remove.

Ooh, it's all so mysterious and 'edgy'. Or all lies. It just reeks, to me, of a cheap publicity stunt to drum up some interest about the album. Which is never a good sign.

Gallows - Abandon Ship

Monday, 27 April 2009

Halifax: Villains

[originally published here and in print copies of gair rhydd such as this]

The point of an advert is to make people want to buy your product, to believe in your company. Not to make everyone within smashing distance of a television set take up their hammers and aim. That memo obviously bypassed Halifax.

It all started back in 2000 with Howard. Howard Brown, to use his full name; you probably knew him as something more along the lines of ‘that irritating twat off of the telly’.

Loveable Howard, singing like a sex bomb about how he’d give you extra. And it didn’t stop there, oh no; Howard was then allowed to bring some of his friends along for the ride. They were all sailing away to the happy land of cheap mortgages and and expontentially growing savings. Hah, they were wrong there. And not just in the fact that they were trying to use a building as a boat.

For a while, you thought it was okay to turn on the TV again – a bit like the aftermath of Jaws. Howard and co. had sailed away; the Bad Thing was over. Maybe you even got lulled into a false sense of security by that fun Barclays advert with the waterslide. Then it started again.

The latest Halifax advert has gone back to the normal ‘bank advert formula’. But it’s still excecrable, because now they’re using Bright Eyes as their soundtrack. My blood nearly began to spurt from my ears, but I eventually realised that it could have been worse – at least Howard ‘I sometimes feel like a popstar’ Brown wasn’t involved.

One can only assume that with the current recession, they can’t afford to pay their staff salaries for being both bankers and sham karaoke laughingstocks. Thank God for small mercies, eh?

No wonder the banks are so unpopular these days.

On the plus side, enjoy the original, untarnished Bright Eyes song:

Saturday, 25 April 2009

I've actually found something even more ridiculous than The Enemy...

...they plan to make a musical of Jade Goody's life. What's more, they even hope to make a reality TV series around the search for the star. Sod the people's Joseph or the people's Maria: this would truly be the people's reality TV star. The full story is available here on the BBC website.

Isn't this just about the most incredibly, fantastically unbelievable thing since, well, The Enemy's claims about the recession? The whole idea strikes me as stupid on so many levels that (despite the fact I can't believe the fact I'm even bothering to blog about this) I actually feel compelled to order a few of them in list format.

1) The whole issue of the media coverage surrounding Jade's death has already been covered to hell and back by commentators ranging from the ridiculous to the sublime, to point that, as Brooker noted on Newswipe, it's become a self-sustaining entity. But if this isn't a step too far, then we may as well go the whole hog and canonise Saint Jade. Maybe we could announce a new bank holiday in her honour? After all, I'm sure it's what she would have wanted, isn't it?

2) "It was her dream as a child to be in a musical" is not an adequate reason for making a musical of an ordinary person's life. Using somebody's "favourite songs" is also a highly doubtful way of composing a musical; it will basically suck, as it will have no cohesion. That is the problem with using pre-existing songs. Even Mamma Mia! was, with the best will (and the most love for it) in the world, was less of a convincing plot and more of an excuse to string together as many Abba songs as possible within the space of 100 minutes. It was my childhood dream to be in a musical, too; I won't settle for anyone less than Lloyd-Webber to write mine, either.

3)What is this sudden obsession with letting the public choose the stars of West End shows? Getting people into the theatres? Well, I'm sure that The Sound of Music and Joseph had been doing just fine for years before the BBC snaffled them up, and News of the World readers will doubtless adore anything that Princess Jade's name is put to, regardless. The general public know next to nothing about casting for musicals: fact. Hell, I've loved musicals since I was a kid (it's a guilty secret which I blame upon my parents constantly playing soundtracks in the car when I was too young to protest, thus brainwashing me) and I'd have no clue where to even start. People demand so much control over broadcast output these days that I'm amazed they haven't just handed over the cameras to us and let us run riot.

I predict a backlash. Eventually.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band - Outer South

I wanted to like this album, I really, genuinely did. I've been a fan of pretty much everything I've ever heard from Conor Oberst since first hearing Desaparecidos in 2003 or so, and I adored 2008's self-titled solo album; hearing him perform tracks from it at Reading was one of my musical highlights of last year. I really wanted to like this; unfortunately, the best I can think of to say is that it sounds like compilation of Oberst and friends on an off-day.

Firstly, it's interesting to note the name this album has been put out under. While last year's record was put out simply as a self-titled Conor Oberst album, despite the presence of the Mystic Valley Band, here they get full credit in the band name. It's an obvious statement of intent, and signals what becomes immediately obvious from even a single listen: this is much more of a band effort than 2008's eponymous disk.

It would be very easy to join the wailing masses on forums, shrieking about how "CONOR DOESN'T EVEN SING ON HALF THE TRACKS ON HERE!!!!!" but that's petty, a cheap shot. The fact that Oberst's vocals aren't always present isn't neccessarily a bad thing in itself; the fact that three out of the other four vocalists' vocals (Rilo Kiley drummer Jason Boesel's aside) aren't in anywhere near the same league as Oberst's, however, is. It's as if Conor has handed over the microphone to his bandmates, surrendering his own ego as he lets them take the spotlight, yet paid no attention to the quality of their voices. After all, they're his friends, right?

This is a record made by friends, make no mistake about it. The predominant feel of the record is that of friends relaxing, having fun and making music together - from the handclaps on Nik Freitas' 'Big Black Nothing' to the irritating call-and-response backing vocals which prevent 'Ten Women' from being the touching lament which it rightfully deserves to be.

The influence of others upon the songwriting - a process usually dominated by Oberst - causes the album to take on a sprawling feel. While much of it is as country as it comes, Taylor Hollingsworth's 'Air Mattress' sounds like Blink-182, had they grown up in Tennessee, and 'Nikorette' boasts a piano hook which is basically the same as that used by the Scissor Sisters on 'I Don't Feel Like Dancing'. The godawful 'Roosevelt Room' sees Oberst seemingly trying to reinvent himself along the lines of a politically acerbic AC/DC, all fuzzy guitar soloing and lyrics about "barefoot dudes down in New Orleans".

It would be unfair to dismiss Outer South as a completely charmless record. Boesel's 'Eagle on a Pole' is perhaps the album's stand-out track, providing a curiously different perspective to Conor Oberst's track of the same name. 'To All the Lights in the Windows', too, plays on Oberst's typically dense use of Biblical imagery, and 'White Shoes' is stripped-down and classic: just vocals and a creaking guitar. Tellingly, neither of the latter would sound out of place on a Bright Eyes album.

While Oberst's versatility and scope is often to be admired, here it ultimately falls flat. What could, handled differently, have built upon the successes of last year's solo record proves frustrating and incohesive; it's too long by far and just doesn't hang together as a collection of songs. Ironically enough, it's summed up in a lyric from 'Nikorette': "they steal your bright ideas and they make them dull". Sadly, it seems that Oberst and co. have done that themselves here.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

But is it blitz?

I came around fairly late to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, I have to admit. While I was aware of them as they released Fever To Tell, 'Pin' and 'Maps' aside, their debut didn't make much of an impression on me. That all changed, though, at Reading 2006. I didn't fancy seeing Hundred Reasons with my best friend, so I figured I'd chill towards the back of the main stage for a bit. It was definitely a good decision; I experienced one of the most electifying live sets I've ever seen. As soon as I got home, I purchased Show Your Bones and instantly fell in love with it.

So, it's two-and-a-half years later and Yeah Yeah Yeahs are about to release their third album, It's Blitz! While undoubtedly eagerly anticipated, the album has got people talking - especially as it's been streamed for weeks now on Spotify. Much has been made of the band's "new direction", and when I first heard it my response was much the same as many other people's: "but where are the guitars?"

Because the guitar sounds on It's Blitz! are sparse, even absent on some tracks. The songs are far more synth-driven than anything the band have released before. The question is: does it work? Well, yes - in parts.

The chorus of 'Zero' brings to mind Blondie, which is by no means a bad thing, and 'Heads Will Roll' takes their new "disco" aspect into a dizzying spin. Best of all, however, is 'Hysteric' - this album's equivalent of (you've guessed it) 'Maps' or the wonderful'Dudley'. It's yearning, with a crushed vocal and a spine-chilling guitar hook that I've been incessantly humming for days.

There's little all-encompassing guitar sound such as that which made Show Your Bones so fantastic. It's a shame, too, that the few guitar-led tracks on It's Blitz! are the dullest, the most Yeah Yeah Yeahs-by-numbers tracks present here, particularly 'Dull Life' and 'Shame and Fortune'. It leads you into a quandry: you reach a point where you've just had too much synth (it does, after a while, just get a bit samey) but when it drops away for a track or two, you're left reaching for the skip button.

It also feels like a bit of a waste, too; Nick Zinner is arguably one of the best guitarists around right now, able to handle delicate melodies and spiky riffs with equal dexterity. While Zinner claims that he was open-minded to this change in instrumentation, he has admitted that he was strongly encouraged, nigh on pushed, into it.

It's Blitz! is by no means an instant album. It's also the sound of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs doing something fairly different from what they've put out in previous releases. It's a grower, but I am left wondering if they've limited themselves somewhat in trying to broaden their horizons. It's not as good as Show Your Bones, but then again - what could be?

Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Hysteric

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Jonah Matranga, Exeter Cavern, 01.04.09

The Cavern is near-empty tonight; at a generous estimate there can't be more than 40 people inside, which is a terrible shame. After a prolific 18 years or so, including nine years and four albums as the frontman of influential melodic hardcore band Far, Jonah Matranga's never really made it beyond a cult following. Never mind, though - he's obviously not in it for the money, clich├ęd as it sounds.

Matranga openly states this intention himself in opener 'Livin' Small', as he insists that "if that's what passes these days for livin' large / then I'm happy livin' small", his vocal shaking with obvious, real emotion.

It's Matranga's voice, indeed, which forms the set's entrancing centrepiece: switching from a whisper to a half-shout within the space of just a few bars on 'We Had a Deal; a honeyed hum on 'Yr Letter'. Bolstered only by an electro-acoustic guitar, a drum machine and occasionally a sparse drumkit, it's mesmerising, to say the least. Equally endearing to the lo-fi set-up is Matranga's insistence on filling in as many of the parts as is possible on his own - singing the guitar solo, for example, on 'Not About A Girl Or Place'.

What's best of all, however, is Matranga's offer to play any requests from the audience. A veritable human jukebox: you name it, he's willing to play it. With a hefty back catalogue spanning five separate incarnations, there's a lot to choose from, yet he takes all suggestions in his stride, yielding a glorious 'Bitte Ein Kuss' and a heartwarming run-through of 'Smile'.

Impressive and inspiring, this is about as intimate as listening to a Walkman under the covers. Incredible.

Jonah Matranga - Not About A Girl Or Place