Music


15th December, 2008

JERKIER THAN a speeding double-decker being driven by a two year old and more despondent than watching the Titanic non-stop for twenty years whilst being told that apocalypse is coming, Portishead’s third single from new release Third is to be avoided by all those going through intensive counselling for any kind of depression, as no song this good should have to go through the legal process of worsening some poor soul’s condition.

15th December, 2008

THE ICE Age comes but once a year, complete with enough house-bling to give the Milky Way a month off, family gatherings more volatile than the Middle East, and the bloody awful phenomenon that is the modern Christmas Number 1.

Three and a half minutes of commercialised, artificial happiness, telling us over and over again that “IT’S CHRISTMAS!” (yeah, because that had slipped our minds for all of no seconds) that, like the TV on Christmas Day, has actually managed to get worse over the years. ‘The Christmas Song (Merry Christmas to You)’ and ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’ were made bearable by great voices and clever lyrics. But now…

2000 saw everyone’s least favourite dinosaur decide to imitate Jesus in his ‘Millennium Prayer’ video, only to be beaten to the coveted chart position by Westlife.  2003, 2005, 2006 and 2007 have all seen X-Factor winners dribble all over the number one spot, feeding off the desperation of your aunt to buy you a suitably cheap and easy to obtain present. I’m pretty sure Jesus deserves better birthday entertainments those guys. It’s become a joke, an irrelevance and even a scam – only one song over the last decade has been even remotely linked to Christmas (i.e. Bob the Builder’s ‘Can we Fix It?’). Bah…humbug.

Published in Student Direct, December 2008

3rd December, 2008

I LOVE post-rock; its simple yet hypnotising melodies and harmonies tap themselves together and twirl me around and around like Dorothy, whisking me to a magical magical place.

But as This Will Destroy You’s gig at Jilly’s Music showed, post-rocks’ largely limited soft-loud-permutation formula and a dominant inability to make music different from Explosions in the Sky and Mogwai is slowly consigning it to the status of background music, and after that, the cold dead place at the bottom of the trash/least played on iTunes.

Firstly, let it be made perfectly clear that post-rock is not some kind of innovation desert, not only parching the world’s creativity but stifling and strangling any hope of new birth. No, no, my friend. Godspeed You! Black Emperor (and its child, A Silver Mnt. Zion) and Sigur Ros, to name but three bands, are often held up as the kings of the genre, closely protected by its slightly less weird but by no means interesting bodyguards: Mogwai, Explosions in the Sky, and Mono. All well worth a listen, if you ask me.

The issue of the bands’ styles and sounds is where the genre’s main problem lies. GY!BE and ASMZ make for a discordant, yet strangely mournful and beautiful listen, using orchestral instruments and samples, silences and vocals that to the uninitiated sound like a three year old learning the violin. Sigur Rós create the musical version of those pictures you see on nature programs of grand glaciers and awe-inspiring icicles and secret ice valley hideaways. Mogwai, Explosions in the Sky, and Mono, however, are all proponents of the guitar-bass-drums-here’s-a-melody-now-let’s-spin-it-out-over-seven-minutes mantra. However, post-rock fans would argue that they do it well, each with their own subtle differences; Mono, for example, incorporate violins into a sound that can make a grown man cry with joy or produce enough power to run that ridiculous experiment in Switzerland.

This mantra is by far the easiest to copy (it’s hard work getting twenty or so people together who can’t read music, and tell them to jam until something otherworldly emerges). Better to grab four people and copy the soft-loud masters, since all you need are the guitarist’s basics; dynamics, alternate picking, and an ear for knowing what sounds pretty and what sounds like the devil just farted in your ear.

It’s all perfectly pleasant, but what can you actually do with it? You could add electronica, more distortion, tune your guitars down, add some different instruments, sing a little, but wait, we already have bands for these things. God is an Astronaut, 65daysofstatic, Timonium and ISIS, to name a few, and it is only a matter of time before carbon copies of all of those mentioned appear. For people who want something a little different, the post-rock catalogue range expansion is slowly grinding to a relentless halt, and is in danger of shrivelling like some kind of prize winning marrow that’s been left in the sun too long. One cause of this could be that this genre is one of the most conservative styles of music around. Thinking of adding a few swept-arpeggios? NO! HOW DARE YOU! And don’t even think of speeding it up (unless you’re 65dos).

The range might be shrinking, but the number of identical products is increasing. If post-rock did release a catalogue, it would be like Argos publishing their home-furnishings section ten times in the same book, each time with a different font face (chose from five). A few truly great sofas and shelving units, and then a ton of stuff that would either last a month, gather dust or just be forgotten about. This Will Destroy you shot themselves in one foot by picking two support bands that were to all intents and purposes identical to their patron, (and shot their second foot by picking a third act who were totally void of confidence and even cut songs short to avoid any further embarrassment) largely because there isn’t much variety to choose from.

I’m over simplifying slightly; there are many bands that do this very well and manage to inject their own style. If that wasn’t the case, then post-rock would stone dead. But looking at the genre as a whole, not only is the field full to the brim and lacking in scrumptious greenery, but it’s also hard to see any life beyond its boundaries. All genres lose popularity and yes, there is a large element of hindsight here, but in comparison to the blues and classical music, it doesn’t have all that much to offer to future generations. As an instrumental expression of thought it certainly has power, but often the thoughts are simplistic and easy to copy and manufacture. Standing in the cold, nuclear-bunker like Jilly’s, I realised post-rock is like some kind of musical hermit, living in a cave, shut off from the rest of humanity, intermittently poking its head out of its hole to preach and gather followers.

Published in Student Direct, December 2008

25th November, 2008

I have a friend who quite likes listening to chocolate. Thick, creamy, dark chocolate. Dripping out of a gold platted chocolate fountain, she watches it, and dreams of Persian rugs, fireplaces, and pink satin cushions. Did I say chocolate? Sorry, I meant ‘We Own The Sky’. THIS is what you hear when you dream your sweet, sweet dreams, and feel that wonderful warmth at five in the morning.

5/5

Published in Student Direct, November 2008

24th November, 2008

EXACTLY HOW much is going to a gig, mocking the audience and abusing the band worth to someone? At least £20, apparently.

The signs were there from the start. Opeth, Sweden’s prime metal export, attract a slightly more varied crowd than the average metal band, with goth boys wearing a lot and goth girls not wearing a lot, metalheads, and fans of bands such as Tool and Marillion. Quite diverse, but very friendly. Not, however, hip-hop loving, hostile, balding men decked out in denim, gold rings and a beanie.

Before the p.c. brigade pounce opportunistically, yes what’s on the outside doesn’t necessarily make what’s on the inside axiomatic, but there were other pointers. For example, the man’s “DJ” dancing like he was in some sort of club (you can’t dance to Opeth. It’s like trying to fly a brick), and assortment of “wankers!” gestures at the end of the night (and every song).

Assuming he did pay, what prompts the presumably conscious decision to cough up to go to a performance by a band you’ve probably never heard of and set about taking the piss? And on your own too; if he’d picked a DOWN or Slayer gig, he would’ve been ripped apart, his arms shoved down a toilet, his head lobbed on stage and his genitals impaled on the singer’s microphone stand. But whilst his reasons will remain a mystery, everyone who was in that room now hates him. And their reasons are quite clear.

Published in Student Direct, November 2008

2nd November, 2008

ole-832-the-hawk-is-howlingMOGWAI deliver a post-rock soup which skimps on spices and other exciting condiments, but leaves a warm, full and satisfying feeling.

Mogwai are known in the post-rock world for not being content with constructing simple walls of sound. This Scottish four-piece produce walls of sound complete with barbed wire and graffiti ranging from pretty flowers and psychedelic colours, to political mini-rants and straight up abuse. Happy Songs for Happy people brought the world of minimalist not-quite-rock music the beautiful ‘Golden Porche’, whilst Come On Die Young served up rants against punk rock and ‘Puff Daddy/ANTICHRIST’.

The Hawk is Howling is no different. Which is good. Kind of. It’s Mogwai doing their thing, taking simple phrases and moving them through various crescendos and diminuendos, slowly elaborating on a main theme. It can be catchy (‘The Sun Smells too Loud’), moody and threatening (‘Batcat’), or all of those, plus strangely rousing (‘I Love You, I’m going to Blow up your School’).

But therein lies the problem. If you have any of Mogwai’s albums, or any of Explosions in the Sky’s, the new This Will Destroy You, and I could go on, then you’ve heard it all before. Mogwai’s latest adds nothing to the genre except another entrancing but ultimately slightly above average disc. Tracks such as ‘I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead’ are certainly captivating in terms of melody and dynamics, but if you’re looking for a post-rock band who are doing something new with their sound, then this isn’t the album for you.

But, if you want an undemanding one hour sonic voyage, or just love Mogwai and post-rock in general, then by all means, go get it.

7/10

Published in Student Direct, Noveber 2008 http://www.student-direct.co.uk/2008/09/mogwai-the-hawk-is-howling/

7th November, 2008

OK, THERE’S no denying that gigs and festivals are loud, the equivalent of standing next to a pneumatic drill for an extended period of time, albeit more musical (depending on your point of view, of course). So, to protect those precious personal sound receptors, three things have been recommended. Don’t go (as if), turn the music down (yeah, right), or wear earplugs.

Now, I’m pretty sure my hearing is going down the proverbial toilet. And some gigs are just far too loud; anyone who saw Fu Manchu at Academy 3 last year can testify that. I couldn’t hear properly for a week, no exaggerations. I probably should’ve thought about my future health, my need to hear bird song when I’m 80, or to attend to the wishes of moaning children or spouses. Earplugs would be the answer. But why don’t people wear them?

Maybe people just don’t think about it during the aural pummelling. I certainly don’t.

Or maybe it’s just the general nature of humans to put having a good time way above their health and well-being in their list of priorities. If people drink to excess, risking liver and brain damage, plus anything which could happen whilst stumbling home, then how can we be expected to take care of our hearing?

Here’s a radical idea. Instead of those bland and frankly un-cool lumps of plastic you can get for free…let’s turn earplugs into a must-have fashion accessory. If people put metal studs and fleshplugs into their ears (which carry risks of blood poisoning and miniature dolphins jumping through artificial hoops), surely we wouldn’t be averse to adding a bit more weight to our lugholes, which just so happens to do us a bit of good?

Picture it; just before your dream gig, you make a beeline for the merchandise desk. But what to choose? Before your awestruck eyes you see t-shirts, hoodies, posters, bandanas…but what are these? The Arctic Monkeys official earplugs? Woah! Buy! Buy! Buy?

Published in Student Direct, September 2008

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