A reflection of 2015 in music

Winter

Nobody’s Empire // Belle and Sebastian

After five years off the scene, Belle and Sebastian returned in January with their ninth studio album ‘Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance’. Nobody’s Empire is the opening track, and stays true to Belle and Sebastian tradition. The instrumentals are gentle, like a shy marching band. As usual, it’s Murdoch’s words that give life to the song. Belle and Sebastian aren’t trying to prove anything, they’re just observing, storytelling from their own angle.

 

Spring

Standing in the Cold // Drenge

Drenge’s second album brought (some) maturity and an extra addition to the band – and they are definitely better for it. Standing in the Cold is everything you expect from a Drenge track and more – sulky and loaded with self loathing, embellished with echoing riffs that get progressively haunting throughout the track. Eoin’s lyrics slowly unveil a sort of dysfunctional relationship, ‘I was half your age and I thought we were in love’, demonstrated with sadistic biblical images images of burning cars, being nailed to trees and stained glass windows. You could look for some ‘deeper meaning’ in all of this, but you’d be wasting your time. Meanwhile Eoin would be laughing at you like a satisfied child. Nevertheless, Drenge dominate on this track.

 

Summer

She’s a Witch // Gengahr

Gengahr’s sound is quiet and shy, yet somehow it manages to tease you at the same time. Give it a listen.

 

West Coast // FIDLAR

This song needs no explanation – it’s your standard driving along the motorway in July, windows down and the speakers full blast. It exudes teenage immaturity, ‘got drunk and barfed on my shadow’ to the point of envy. I’m also pretty sure just the intro gives me endorphins. Everything about it is brilliant.

 

Autumn

Lousy Connection // Ezra Furman

I wouldn’t ordinarily listen to music with trumpets in it, but Furman’s witty lyricisms make it irresistible. What drew me in was his attitude – he shows awareness of all that’s shitty about modern life, but doesn’t take himself too seriously, ‘The century seems like it’s turning out okay
It’s like a game of worldwide karaoke, and my rich friends and me just sit and blow smoke rings. There’s nothing happening, and it’s happening too fast’. It seems I’m not the only one who’s been drawn in… His album received 5 star reviews from numerous music press such as NME, Rough Trade and Pitchfork to name a few.

 

Winter

No Fun // The Magic Gang

If you listen to this once, you’ll probably find it catchy. Listen to it a further 10 times and I challenge you not to sing along with the riffs (air guitar is optional). It’s plain to see that good things are to come for The Magic Gang in 2016.

 

Two to Birkenhead // Bill Ryder-Jones

Bill Ryder-Jones’ is a romantic with a guitar. In his latest album ‘West Kirby County Primary’ he gives a voice to his quiet seaside his hometown, West Kirby. With the ambiguity of his lyrics, it seems as if he’s returned as a fly on the wall to favourite streets, bars and even old friends’ living rooms, taken notes, then at the end of the day crafting these overheard conversations into a monologue, and setting them to guitar. Two to Birkenhead is my favourite from the album, a love song in denial; full of the adolescent urge for escape and independence, its emotion amplified by the electric guitar, gathering up so much tempo throughout the song that by the end it feels powerful enough to set a match to and let it burn.

Advertisements

Courtney Barnett @ Technikum, Munich | 20/11/15

This year Courtney Barnett conquered the music scene. She and her band of three played The Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury, featured on The Late Show and released an album ‘Sometimes i sit and think, sometimes i just sit’ which topped not just one, but four Billboard charts. I was pretty pissed off to have missed her set at Glastonbury when I heard her for the first time in a Rough Trade store a month later.

But after seeing her in Munich last night, I take it all back. Seeing her at a 300 capacity venue was, in my eyes, incomparable to The Pyramid Stage.

One thing you ought to know about Barnett is that her songs each tell a story, every one embellished with a mix of concern, truth and wit. I’ve never heard a more intriguing song starter than ‘I masturbated to the songs you wrote’ (Lance Jr.) By the end of the song you actually realise it’s actually a sarcastic dig at what seems to be a previous partners’ musical endeavours.

Barnett and her band didn’t bother with the generic set list structure (start with a fairly popular song to drag people in, fill next 20 minutes with new stuff, recite the crowd pleasing classics in the last five minutes, inevitable acoustic encore, end with most popular hit so that people aren’t tempted to leave early). As ever, they went for a different approach, which in retrospect I can unapologetically say it seems like the songs were decided on 5 minutes before curtain call. But because each song switched seamlessly from angsty to paranoid, pissed off to infatuated, contemplative to ignorant, it worked. Barnett’s crafted monologue against the backdrop of electric guitar and drums had you completely drawn in and fixated. For an hour and a half the audience stepped out of their own confused minds, and boarded Barnett’s (somewhat unhinged) train of thought.

During ‘Small Poppies’ her words resonate with an unsettling truth, probing modern societies unspoken demons – the struggle for individualism in a time where everyone looks different somehow similar, narcissism in the time of the selfie-stick,  insanity and inevitably depression… The song ends ‘an eye for an eye for an eye for an eye, I used to hate myself but now I think I’m alright’.

The contrast is found in songs like ‘an illustration of loneliness (sleepless in New York)’ where she lusts over an anonymous person in her absence, ‘wondering what you’re doing, what you’re listening to, which quarter of the moon you’re viewing from your bedroom’. Because sometimes you have to fall in love and ignore the shit state of affairs that we’re currently faced with.

To me, it’s sort of ironic that interviews with Barnett have her labelled as ‘the voice of the millennial generation’, – she’s not one voice above the rest, she’s just as confused and pissed off as the rest of us. ‘Put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you’ surely proves she’s no closer to finding a solution than the rest of us. In the mean time, listening to her music is the only way to guilt-free procrastination.

The Modern Lovers

Since returning from the US, I have been obsessed with this band. They formed in 1970, but nothing was released until over four years later, when they split. Frontman Jonathan Richman sung about his frustrations, disparity, wanting to have a long running girlfriend rather than just getting laid at weekends and what it was like to grow up in Massachusetts, taking influence from The Velvet Underground (apparently). I’m convinced there has been nothing like them since.

'some people try to pick up girls and get called assholes, this never happened to Pablo Picasso'

‘some people try to pick up girls and get called assholes, this never happened to Pablo Picasso’

Even though NME have pretty much sold out at this point, I managed to get some use out of the ones my dad and I have bought over the past couple of years, by decoupaging a second hand bedside table that fits my record player on top and (most of) my records inside it! I’m pretty pleased with the way it turned out…

 

 

we’re going nowhere, but nowhere’s on our way …

The Libertines, September 2015

The Libertines, September 2015

When The Libertines announced that they’d be playing ‘intimate venues’ a week ago, I was very skeptical about what that actually meant. I also thought it was too good to be true after seeing them in Hyde Park last July, where they were on top, gloriously fucked, form. Hyde Park has the space for up to one hundred and fifty thousand people to come and watch. Whereas Rock City can hold two and a half thousand at a push. So the tickets were in demand…

Whoever markets the Libertines saw the perfect opportunity to lift people from their post summer blues and hand them a chance to improve their year. And a chance to get ‘Anthems For Doomed Youth’ to be pre-ordered by thousands. That guy is currently very very smug. Who knows, maybe it was the boys in the band themselves.

Despite their surge of festival sets over the summer, which i’ve heard to be somewhat ‘underwhelming’ at times, Rock City was something else. Everyone at that gig wanted to be there. It felt as if no time had passed since the Libertines split almost ten years ago, and the moment they walked out on stage we knew that they would be making a comeback like no others.

Carl and Pete were sharing the mic, Gary was applauded by a sea of beer covered fans chanting his name, and John looked a bit confused by the whole affair, but when Pete decided to launch himself into the crowd, he got his phone out and took a picture.

Without ranting about how incredible the new record is going to be, I can safely say that everyone there last night was part of something special. It was the perfect way to say goodbye to Derbyshire and my teenage years.

‘Here’s a story about the rules of death and glory
To be learned by heart by all children of men
It’s the hour of the morning on the day after the dawning
When the sun they said would never set finally set again
Was it Cromwell or Orwell who first led you to the stairwell
Which leads only forever to kingdom come
Rushed alone by guiding hands whispers of the promised land
They wished you luck and handed you a gun
Life could be so handsome
Life could be so gay
We’re going nowhere
But nowhere, nowhere’s on our way…’

Bit of a Blur // Alex James’ autobiography

I’ve come to find this book about seven years late, so this is less of a review, and more of a way to express my newfound love and appreciation for Alex James of Blur. It just caught my eye in Oxfam, probably because of the iconic pop art cover. I knew he was a great bassist and one of London’s certified rock stars of the 90s scene, a regular in the infamous Groucho club best known for his anarchism, friendly with the likes of Damien Hirst and Kate Moss, but after reading ‘Bit of a Blur’, I found myself unsure whether I would have rather been him or been one of the girls he dated.

The way he writes is effortless, down to earth and he spares you the usual Liam Gallagher-esque self-praising bullshit. James’ typical middle-class British upbringing in the South not only makes you envy him, but paints a realistic picture of how he got to where he is now, having been member in what were arguably the most successful band of the 90s. From a hopeless teen, failing his A Levels, ‘I wrote things down a lot and listened to Joy Division’, stacking shelves in Safeways, going to Goldsmiths and meeting Graham Coxson, living in squats in Kings Cross, joining Blur and fifteen years of intoxicated debauchery and infidelity with some fucking brilliant gigs inbetween.

The guy’s just so fucking cool. The book is a page turner, it almost makes me want to start a band… it’s a shame i’m musically inept. (I’ll have to become a groupie or something if I want to even get close to the lifestyle he had.) In parts it’s not a biography; it’s a success story that embraces the not so great side effects of rock ‘n roll. In the end he did, to my disappointment, find a wife and settle down (the most boring part of the book is the last twenty pages).

The story of how Blur became what they are is obviously an interesting one, but what I didn’t realise is that it didn’t happen overnight. It was gradual and took a fair bit of grafting inbetween the riotous late nights/early mornings of champagne, drugs and sex. ‘I’d spent about a million pounds on champagne and cocaine. It sounds ridiculous but, looking back, I don’t regret it. It was definitely the right thing to do. It was completely decadent, but I was a rock-star, a proper one, with a public duty to perform.’

In referral to their music, he offers refreshing truth and modesty, unlike most bands… ”Song 2′ was aout the simplest thing we’ve ever done, and the quickest. Dave set up two drumkits and he and Graham played them both at the same time. The loud guitar in the chorus is actually a bass going through a home-made distortion box. The whole thing was done in about fifteen minutes. I had a bad hangover and I felt horrible. It’s a nasty record and it wouldn’t have sounded so nasty if i’d gone to bed early the night before.’. Basically, it’s the best insight into Blur’s career that you are going to find. If you like them, you should read it. James also suggests that the whole Blur vs. Oasis media shitstorm was something mainly created by the NME to sell magazines. Twenty years on, there’s so much less music culture and no one’s interested in magazines anymore. Sad.

‘Blur weren’t part of a movement; we were right on our own musically, but we were part of London’s almost instantaneous rebirth as the world’s hippest city. There were two faces on the cover of all the music magazines. One was Damon’s and the other was Kurt Cobain’s. And suddenly one of them was dead.’

Oh, and I’ve just discovered he wrote a 2012 follow-up called ‘All Cheeses Great and Small: A Life Less Blurry’ Brilliant.

BLUUUUR