Saturday, 25 December 2010

Introducing... Fierce Creatures

I got a new pair of headphones for Christmas. They're not superawesome but they play music, which is more than you can say about my previous pair of headphones. One of the first tracks I played on my brand new headphones was 'Phantom Athletes' by a band called Fierce Creatures.

I've been playing this track pretty much non-stop for the last month and I've been meaning to blog about it for ages because it's one of the best - and undiscovered - songs of the last year. The EP it comes from, I Mostri Feroci, is tremendous as a whole (and probably should have been shoved into our Best Of 2010 list somewhere) - but this track is pure unadulterated magic.

Oh, alright. That was hyperbole. It is, however, one of the few songs of recent memory that I've been able to listen to over and over and over again, practically on repeat, without getting bored. In fact, this obsession has expanded and now covers the entire EP.

I've yet to determine exactly what's causing this phenomenon. Fierce Creatures are a practically unknown little band from California with about a thousand Facebook fans and less than two hundred followers on Twitter - which are silly measures of a band's credibility, yes, considering Justin Bieber is one of the most-followed (if not the most-followed) musicians on Twitter, but certainly a measure of their current popularity. Their music consists of familiar elements - powerful group singing a la Arcade Fire, guitars with reverb set to 11 worthy of The Edge and male and female singers providing a nice contrast - which, though nice, are all pretty bog-standard in contemporary rock music.

My only explanation is that the songwriting - a magical, mystical and sadly (for a scientist such as myself) unquantifiable process - is really, really damn good. And this is why I sometimes agree with that old cliché, that writing about music is like tapdancing about architecture. I could list all the disparate elements of this amazing, slightly spooky, EP to you, but that would convey very little about how the song makes me feel. Instead, I think it's best to just shut up and let you listen to it. And if you like the excellent free track 'Satan Is A Vampire' conveniently embedded below, I Mostri Feroci was the best $5 I've spent in a while.

Satan Is a Vampire by fiercecreaturesband

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Quiff Pro 'Fro's Albums of the Year 2010

Here we are then – it’s the end of the year, and it turns out 2010 has been another great one. Seeing as everyone and their mum is putting together their top albums of the year, so have we at Quiff Pro ‘Fro. There’s not much point in waffling on here, so let’s skip straight the point: these are all amazing albums, and if any passed you by this year, we highly recommend you give them a spin in 2011. For us, they were the most interesting, or unexpected, or notable albums of the year, so enjoy, and do let us know in the comments if you agree, disagree and what your favourites were this year. Before we get underway, some honourable mentions for those that didn't quite make the list:

  • Pulled Apart By Horses - Pulled Apart By Horses
  • Dinosaur Pile-Up - Growing Pains
  • Frightened Rabbit - The Winter of Mixed Drinks
  • Gaslight Anthem - American Slang
  • Kate Nash - My Best Friend Is You
  • Yellow Ostrich - The Mistress
  • Weezer - Hurley

Arcade Fire - The Suburbs

Arcade Fire’s latest work rode its tidal wave of hype like a pro (unlike Neon Bible, which got sucked under by the undercurrent of first album Funeral). The album may be a scathing criticism of Arcade Fire’s own fanbase, but that doesn’t seem to have bothered anyone. It’s another step towards world domination by a band only just beginning to dry off after being drenched with hype (I promise that’s the end of the marine metaphor).

It’s difficult to identify exactly what qualities set Arcade Fire so far above their peers. Is it the strength of their songwriting? The cryptic yet evocative lyrics? Their iconic, epic sound? Régine Chassagne’s sexy French-Canadianvoice? It’s all of these things, but The Suburbs somehow becomes more than just the sum of its parts.

If any criticism could be levelled at The Suburbs, it’s that it’s just a bit too long – but with tracks like ‘Rococo’, ‘Modern Man’ and ‘Ready to Start’, each deserving of Indie Anthem status, who cares? It’s the sort of album that brings back memories of teenage years and the highs and lows of youth and growing up, all while pushing the boundaries of rock music. - Elliot

Caitlin Rose – Own Side Now

When you’re an artist who hails from Nashville, Tennessee, you’ve got a heck of a lot of musical heritage to live up to. Johnny Cash, Jimi Hendrix and, er, Shania Twain, are but a few of the legends of the city, infamous for its country music. So when you’re just 23 years old and you’re being lauded as ‘the next big thing outta Nashville’, you’d better put out a bloody impressive record.

Well, Caitlin Rose has done just that with Own Side Now. Blending folk and country influences into a sound that is at once both contemporary and heavily referential to the classics, Rose’s voice manages to be vulnerable and soft, yet at times startlingly powerful, with a breathtaking, crisp clarity. From the gorgeous balladry of ‘Own Side’, to the breezy summer melody of ‘Spare Me’, and the fantastically bluesy ‘For The Rabbits’, Own Side Now is brimming with beautiful guitars, amazing vocals and simple, honest song writing in a truly impressive debut.

Album highlight ‘Things Change’ is a heartbreaking epic with wonderfully sorrowful lyrics that more than justifies any hype laid upon the shoulders of this amazing new talent. If Caitlin’s on her Own Side Now, it’s high time for we join her. - Ben

[Caitlin Rose - Own Side Now on Spotify]

Crystal Castles - Crystal Castles (II)

It’s all too easy to be cynical about Crystal Castles. A couple of kids who dress in black, trash the stage, scream into the microphone and recycle 90s rave beats? No no no. Crystal Castles are the real deal, the mutant offspring of noise-rock and experimental electronic music; a post-apocalyptic pop music for a generation living up to the media’s stereotypes of anarchistic depravity. It’s the Thom Yorke outlook on life, with added violence issues.

It’s no surprise then that Crystal Castles are just about the only band that has escaped the nu-rave ghetto. Crystal Castles, a second self-titled album, is in many ways more of the same: distorted vocals, bizarre sounds and a dark, brooding atmosphere throughout. There’s development too, such as the acoustic guitar-based (!) ‘Teach Me How To Swallow’, or the poptastic ‘Not In Love’ (later made even more accessible by Robert Smith, of all people).

For fans of jumping around in big sweaty mosh pits, the classic Castles style can still be found in the likes of ‘Baptism’ and ‘Fainting Spells’. The album only gets really weird on the final track, ‘I Am Made Of Chalk’, which dispels with a verse/chorus structure and sounds like Alice Glass drowning herself in an acid (house) bath. Here’s hoping for yet more madness in Crystal Castles III. - Elliot

[Crystal Castles - Crystal Castles (II) on Spotify]

Everything Everything – Man Alive

Among the hundreds upon thousands of identikit “indie” bands of introspective kids with guitars, it takes something quite special to stand out - and with Man Alive, Everything Everything more than did so. Eschewing boring chord progressions and paper thin lyrics in favour of intelligence, inventiveness and ambition, Everything Everything’s debut is remarkably confident for a band so early in their career.

Chucking everything in – funky basslines, offbeat drums, expansive vocal harmonies (complete with regular falsetto contributions), ethereal synths and the like – could have gone pretty disastrously wrong. That it doesn’t it testimony to the band’s effort to make Man Alive a balanced record – for every twist that catches you off guard, there’s a soaring pop hook to bring you back in, with deceptively toe-tapping melodies lying carefully behind the gloriously orchestrated mayhem.

Although listening to Man Alive from the start can sometimes be exhausting, it is never as alienating as you expect it to be. The amount of ideas being thrown back and forth means there’s always something to grab your attention, in levels of aspiration rarely found in indie rock. Finishing with ‘Weights’, Man Alive comes to a close in one of the year’s best tracks, a perfect example of the intelligent and infectious rhythms that Everything Everything deserve to be applauded for. As an album, Man Alive is excellent. As a debut however, it’s really remarkable. - Ben

[Everything Everything - Man Alive on Spotify]

Girl Talk - All Day

There’s isn’t much more to be said about Girl Talk’s latest masterpiece All Day that I didn’t cover in my recent (and very enthusiastic) review. It could be described as a mad Frankenstein’s monster of an album - every single element cribbed from existing tracks - but the truth is that Girl Talk is so deft a surgeon that it’s easy to forget that ‘Jane Says’ isn’t supposed to have ‘Teach Me How To Dougie’ layered over it. It’s simply sixty minutes of head-bobbing, sample-spotting bliss.

Some criticism, perhaps - after listening to it too many times the ADD nature of Girl Talk’s work begins to grate. Though the standard is high overall, some of the mash-ups work far better than others and I can’t help but wish for extended mixes of (for example) that ‘Pretty Boy Swag’/‘Windowlicker’ bit.

Never mind. There are plenty of other DJs to expand on Girl Talk’s endless ideas. The important part is that All Day is a democratisation and distillation of all pop music into a very, very fun record. Picasso (or someone. I dunno, google it) once said, “Good artists copy and great artists steal.” Girl Talk is certainly good evidence of this. - Elliot

[Get Girl Talk - All Day as a free download]

Gorillaz - Plastic Beach

After the gloomy and overlong Demon Days, I honestly felt done with Damon Albarn’s cartoon band. However, their amazing Glastonbury set - essentially a live performance of all the best bits of Plastic Beach - led me crawling back for forgiveness. What was once a silly side project has become a conduit for intellectual, experimental hip-hop that never forgets that it’s still pop music.

From the opening brass section of ‘Welcome To The World Of The Plastic Beach’ (accompanied by Snoop Dogg’s flawless rapping) to the bouncy environmental chanting of ‘Pirate Jet’, Plastic Beach is a joyous experience to behold. It only hiccups a couple of times (seriously, WTF is ‘Glitter Freeze’ all about Damon?!), but the class-A singles such as ‘On Melancholy Hill’ and ‘Stylo’ more than make up for it.

What’s most weird about Plastic Beach is that, like Demon Days before it, it’s a concept album posing as a different concept album. It’s not about the story of Gorillaz’ fictional band members arriving on a mysterious island, but Damon Albarn preaching an obvious, albeit chilling, warning to us all over our rampant consumerism. Well, certainly makes a pleasant change from the soppy love songs most of the industry usually pumps out. - Elliot

[Gorillaz - Plastic Beach on Spotify]

LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening

2010 has seen the emergence of some incredible new musical talent (see others in this list, i.e. Caitlin Rose, Everything Everything and Sleigh Bells), but just as there are exciting new beginnings there are also fond but inevitable farewells. And one such farewell must be made to LCD Soundsystem. Yes, This Is Happening will be the group’s last album, but, as expected, James Murphy was never going to go out without a bang.

From the incredible softly sung opening of ‘Dance Yrself Clean’ (with surely one of the best drops of the year), through to the appropriately titled closer ‘Home’, This Is Happening is not just another amazing LCD album, but a wonderful, hilarious, often heartwarming closing chapter of the project, and you can still absolutely dance your arse off to it. The bubbling synths of ‘One Touch’, the Bowie-esque guitars in ‘All I Want’, the catty lyrics of ‘You Wanted A Hit’ and ‘I Can Change’s gorgeous pop melody are all notable highlights, but this is an album with wonderful depth, continuing to reveal itself over the year. This Is Happening is unquestionably an album of the year, and another knockout from Murphy. You and your cowbell will be missed. - Ben

[LCD Soundsystem - This Is Happening on Spotify]

MGMT – Congratulations

In 2008, MGMT wowed critics and audiences with their debut Oracular Spectacular. They were the festival hit of the summer, whilst ‘Kids’ and ‘Time to Pretend’ ruled the airwaves for months. Those expecting a standard follow-up in Congratulations, however, were set for a shock. First off was the announcement that there were to be no singles on the album. Then when it was put up to stream on the band’s website many casual fans found it a jarring listen.

Yes, after Oracular Spectacular, Congratulations pretty much sticks two fingers up to commercialism. Trippy, psychedelic, with pitch-perfect production, MGMT absolutely let loose in the studio in one of the year’s most exciting albums, leaving any stragglers behind but providing everyone that followed with one heck of a ride.

A well balanced record, the pounding drums, echoing vocals and bursts of kaleidoscopic melodies of ‘It’s Working’, ‘Song For Dan Treacy’ and ‘Brian Eno’, contrast well with the chilled out surf guitars of ‘Someone’s Missing’ and ‘I Found A Whistle’ as MGMT explore all areas of the direction they’ve taken. That said, it’s a mostly upbeat listen, always throwing out exhilarating twists and turns.

Above all though, it’s nice to hear the band clearly doing what they want – ‘Kids’ and ‘Time To Pretend’ are great songs, no doubt, but stuck out even on Oracular Spectacular. The overtly passionate Congratulations however can triumphantly stand as a highly credible psych-pop album from a genuinely inventive band. - Ben

[MGMT - Congratulations on Spotify]

Sleigh Bells - Treats

What an apt name for one of the most unashamed musical pleasures of 2010. For Sleigh Bells’ debut album Treats is just that – a collection of tracks that are sometimes sugary sweet, often bitingly acidic, addictive, are known to cause extreme fits of hyperactivity, and that leave you with a banging headache. If you’ve ever wondered what would happen if you mixed huge, bouncing hip-hop beats, syrupy pop vocals, and hard rock riffs with massive amounts of attitude and sex appeal, Sleigh Bells is the answer.

From the drill-sampling riff of opener ‘Tell ‘Em’ to the final reverb and cymbal crash of the closing title track, Treats delivers an uncompromising sound pushed to its limits that appealed to many critics and listeners, including us here at Quiff Pro ‘Fro. It’s a totally thrilling listen, crammed with incredible moments that come together in a highly satisfy whole.

Treats is undoubtedly one of the best and most important albums of the year – there’s nothing else out there quite like it, nothing that delivers the same adrenaline-pumping excitement (‘Infinity Guitars’) combined with an underlying pop sensibility (‘Rill Rill’). Sure, these Treats may rot your teeth, but, damn, it’s worth it for that sugar rush. - Ben

[Sleigh Bells - Treats on Spotify]

Titus Andronicus – The Monitor

With The Monitor, Titus Andronicus not only gave us an epic punk rock’n’roll album with riffs as huge as its ambition, but also the most fun history lesson of the year.

Based upon the American Civil War, Titus Andronicus took the passion, fury and massive chanting vocals from their debut The Airing of Grievances and applied it to a relevant period of modern history to astonishing effect –what better setting for an angry rock epic than a period of major social upheaval? Featuring quotes from Abraham Lincoln and major American poet Walt Whitman (read by Craig Finn of Hold Steady fame), it’s a smart, well thought-out concept that ties into the music as much as the lyrics in the form of bagpipe solos, military drumming and anthemic guitar solos that wholly correspond to the danger, patriotism and fear of war.

Above that though, few bands rocked in 2010 like Titus Andronicus did. Yes, it’s a great concept and it’s very intelligent, but The Monitor also blows the competition away when it comes down to the sheer, pounding exhilaration of rock’n’roll. Lead singer Patrick Stickles often sounds blind drunk and furious – at times there’s only so much you can do to stop yourself from getting wasted and joining in, the amount of energy surging through this record’s veins is intoxicating. It won’t be long before The Monitor becomes recognised for the modern classic is truly is. - Ben

[Titus Andronicus - The Monitor on Spotify]

So that was our top ten – all brilliant albums which have certainly set the bar high for next year. Now, Radiohead, if you could please do us a favour and release a new album ASAP so that we have a basis for our 2011 list, we would be much obliged.

Merry Christmas everyone!

-Quiff Pro ‘Fro

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Pop Is Dead. Long Live Pop.

Considering my love of music decidedly off the mainstream radar, it was bizarre to find myself playing Nicole Scherzinger - lead singer of slutty pop group Pussycat Dolls - on our recent podcast. Ben was so distressed by the sound of 'Poison' reverberating around the NSR studio that we cut it off after the first chorus.

It's embarrassing to admit to enjoying music as vacuous and moronic as 'Poison'. Scherzinger's vocals are autotuned to robotic perfection; the production is pretty much bog-standard.

Yet I love it despite these obvious flaws. The song, though entirely meaningless (well, unless you consider Scherzinger's declaration of her formidable pulling powers meaningful), possess an energy lacking in plenty of "real" music. And best of all, it doesn't contain a single trace of forced sentimentality. It's just plain, bombastic fun.

I haven't enjoyed a cheesy pop song this much since I fell in love with 'Telephone' - that Lady Gaga one with the ridiculous video - last year. (Funnily enough, 'Telephone' is one of the only Gaga songs not written and produced by pop-factory RedOne - who are behind 'Poison'. Small world, right?)

Another point of contention during the podcast was Black Eyed Peas' new song, 'The Time (Dirty Bit)'. Ben correctly identified it as one of the worst songs of the year, but (as I speculated) the public appear to disagree. With 'The Time', Black Eyed Peas seemed to have cracked the formula to a bona-fide hit:

( familiar, singable chorus + mindless electro-dance breakdown ) x familiar auto-tuned voices = £££

In this case, the chorus is lifted straight out of Dirty Dancing, albeit with contemporary autotune and synths. I've never even seen the damn film, yet I seem to know the lyrics off by heart. The breakdown, though an original composition, sounds pretty damn similar to a lot of recent hits like 'Riverside', 'I'm In Miami Bitch' and 'Pon De Floor'. (That other recent track 'Check It Out', which contains liberal sampling of 'Video Killed The Radio Star', gets away with it purely on the strength of the excellent Nicki Minaj.)

Truly, this is pop music at its most cynical. Say what you like about Nicole Scherzinger, at least 'Poison' isn't just recycling the same old rubbish. BEP's new album is called The Beginning - a name chosen because it's supposedly the beginning of a new phase of the music industry. God help us all if their evil plans come to fruition.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Quiff Pro 'Fro Live Podcast!

Today marked a milestone in the history of Quiff Pro 'Fro - our first ever live radio show on NSR (Newcastle Student Radio)! Hopefully we'll be doing some more in the future, but in case you missed our debut, you can find the podcast below. Lucky, eh?

Listen to Elliot and myself play the tracks we're getting excited about (as well as a few we're currently bickering about), chat about our favourite up and coming artists, and lay into the Black Eyed Peas.


Radiohead - 15 Step
Titus Andronicus - Richard II
Oh Land - Sun of a Gun
Dog Is Dead - Young
Black Eyed Peas - The Time (Dirty Bit)
Everything Everything - QWERTY Finger
Bruce Springsteen - The Promised Land
Noah and the Whale - Wild Thing
Kele - On The Lam
Nicole Scherzinger - Poison
Dananananaykroyd - Black Wax
Sleigh Bells - Crown on the Ground

Quiff Pro 'Fro Live, Dec 8th 2010 by quiffprofro

Monday, 6 December 2010

We Are Scientists Interview

We said we'd be back, bigger, better and stronger than before. And here to prove it is an interview with American indie-pop duo, and the funniest band alive, We Are Scientists. Enjoy:

“A part of me withers and dies when Chris isn’t here. It’s like ET’s flower, it’s in me somewhere. I don’t really function quite as well when he’s not around.”

When I meet Keith Murray from We Are Scientists, who braved the snow for a chat, he’s all alone. Sure, I’m there asking him questions, but the most important person in his life is notably absent. While Chris couldn’t make the interview, an upset Keith bravely soldiered on. Currently battling through the weather to bring their ‘American Barbarians’ tour across the UK, it turns out it’s one of the band’s favourite places to visit.

“Our booking agents wisely saved the UK for last. A, if not the, highlight of the world tour! It’s nice to end on a very, very high note.”

If there’s one thing you can say about Keith, he certainly knows to say the right things. But the more he speaks, you can tell that it’s true – We Are Scientists really do love us here in the UK. Despite being American, they even wrote England a World Cup song (‘Goal! England!’) this summer.

“The tour has been great so far. I just went through the mid-tour trench of illness, but I feel really good now,” he says.

With third album 'Barbara' released this year seeing a return to the guitar riff-based power pop of their debut 'With Love & Squalor', Keith reveals that the direct and immediate nature of the songs was partly due to the recording process.

“It ended up being the most fun album to record. Considering it was scheduled to fit our availability and Andy Burrows’ (of ex-Razorlight fame) availability, our producers availability and the fact that we all live in different cities, figuring out the personal schedules and the geography of it was kind of a headache,” he explains of the album, which was recorded in various sessions over a three month period. “We’re not a band who geeks out over studio gear. Messing with microphone placement for three hours is not really our cup of tea. On the first few records, I definitely got a little bit of studio burnout, but this way I had a week of people talking about mic placement, and then two weeks away wishing I was back in the studio talking about mic placement.”

An undeniably lighthearted and catchy album, the only mystery surrounding 'Barbara' is the origin of the album title. Turns out it just seemed as a good a name as any – Barbara.

“That was sort of the rationale. When we were naming this record, the idea of giving it a title seemed really obnoxious,” says Keith. “We were put off with the idea of rifling through random phrases that are benign enough to not seem pretentious, but are referential in some way and signify the whole album. We though, let’s just name it, in the same way that if you named your daughter Barbara, people wouldn’t go, ‘What? Who’s Barbara?!’”

Whilst scheduling conflicts meant that Andy Burrows, now on his solo I Am Arrows project, hasn’t toured the album, he was still an enthusiastic contributor to 'Barbara'.

“He called me when Razorlight were in New York and we met him for drinks afterwards and had a really fun night. We had a really great time, so I just said ‘We’ve been asking people to play on our record, would you be interested in doing a song or two?’, and he immediately leapt on that. A month later he called up and announced that he’d left Razorlight and that he really wanted to play on 'Barbara'. We were like, ‘Woah!’, we didn’t really know what to make of it.”

As he reveals that, if schedules permit, Burrows intends to record the next We Are Scientists album, Keith talks of the friendship that formed between the trio.

“For most of the summer Andy was in New York, I’d moved to Georgia,” he says. “While I was there, Andy and Chris formed quite a friendship which I missed out on. I was the third wheel!”

Having toured the UK during the majority of the student protest, I ask Keith for his opinion on the current situation surrounding the cuts in funding and increased cap on tuition fees.

“It seems ill-advised to suddenly, dramatically change the way that your education system works. It’s interesting when governments just suddenly decide that education is a luxury,” he replies, adding “If we want the government to perform at a higher level as we clearly want it to, it doesn’t seem wise to actively create a scenario where it’s easier for people to remain uneducated. But who am I to say?”

“You’re ‘Keith from We Are Scientists!” I remind him of his position of political authority.

Do We Are Scientists have any appropriate protest songs to play during the opposition to the cuts?

“We don’t really have any protest songs. I think we considered our football song to be the most actively protesting song we have as it was against our own country…”

As the interview winds to a close, I ask Keith which of the science subjects at school was his favourite – Biology, Chemistry, or Physics?

“Definitely physics,” he decides. “I think just because there was so much of it that felt very practically applicable. I was good at biology and chemistry, but I never really enjoyed it. It all felt mathematical in a theoretical way, and I was really into maths, but what I liked about physics was plugging equations into the actual physical world.”

Originally published in The Courier

Recommended Listening:
We Are Scientists' latest album 'Barbara' is out now!

Friday, 3 December 2010

Last Night On Earth - A New Dawn for Noah and the Whale?

It has to be said - Noah and the Whale are a hugely underrated band. Ask a randomer on the street about them, and if they do
n't run away or give you a really weird look, they'll likely mention 'Five Years Time', that one with all the "sun sun sun" and "fun fun fun".

Though it's an admittedly catchy song, it's certainly one of their weakest. That the lyrics are shallow and overly twee certainly put off many who would have found the rest of the album (2008's 'Peaceful, The World Lays Me Down', mainly about love, death and a notable lack of "sun sun sun") a surprisingly strong listen, and which left a lot of Radio 1 listeners very disappointed.

Last year's 'The First Days of Spring' was a huge leap forward for Noah and the Whale - any sense of twee was abandoned for an incredibly emotional album charting the break-up between frontman Charlie Fink and former band member/brilliant young folkie Laura Marling. Full of sorrowful strings, lump-in-the-throat vocals and epic sonic landscapes, it's not an easy listen at times, but is certainly a rewarding one. It also helped to point out that the band were never looking for chart success - though the label and radio stations may have seized 'Five Years Time' and shaken all the life out of it, Fink's artistic aspirations shone through here, particularly in the 50 minute film that accompanied the album.

After 'The First Days of Spring's heartbreaking honesty and creative maturity, Noah and the Whale's third album comes highly anticipated. Due for release in March, today saw the first taster for 'Last Night on Earth' with new track 'Wild Thing' premiering on the official website at noon today. The track is a really interesting evolution from 'The First Days of Spring' - while the chilled out guitar work remains, and the emotional intensity has lessened, the introduction of subtle electronics works extremely well. It's highly atmospheric, with hints of an 'xx'-esque sound, but still with that unmistakable songcraft of Charlie Fink, a completely enticing listen that will surely pique much interest over the next few weeks.

The track's unveiling follows the radio debut of new single 'L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N' on Zane Lowe's Radio 1 show a few days ago, which sees a comfortable balance between the radio-friendliness of 'Peaceful, The World Lays Me Down' and the driven songwriting of 'The First Days Of Spring'.

The good news? 'Wild Thing' is free to download and stream below (see the cool little embedded tape player below, click the "eject" button to download the track), so give it a go yourself and see what you think - leave a comment about your opinion on the track if you wish! The bad news? I don't think I can wait 'til March for more...

Noah and the Whale's new album 'Last Night on Earth' is released in March.

Click here for a 'Best Of Noah and the Whale (So Far)' playlist on Spotify, and listen to the new track 'Wild Thing' and new single 'L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N' (in poor youtube radio quality) below.

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Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Gig Review - Kate Nash @ Newcastle O2 Academy, 13/10/10

As lightning crackles through the speakers, Kate Nash storms onto the stage wearing a striking black-and-white unitard, and picks up her guitar for a sped-up version of ‘I Just Love You More’. There’s a switch to piano (covered in pretty lights) for ‘Mouthwash’. So far, so predictable.
Then, the first real stage banter: Nash asks the audience if they’ve seen recent filmMade In Dagenham, before leading into what will become a theme of tonight. “Feminism’s all about equality, right? I’m a feminist and proud!”
If the first few songs have failed to impress so far, ‘To A Higher Place’ is powerful and energetic - in part thanks to the fantastic drummer.
Halfway through the set, the breezy fun stops. A bizarre spoken-word section leads into tribalistic drumming and chanting. The lighting flashes, and Nash is a terrifying silhouette shouting at the audience. It’s an amazing transformation, and really hammers home the self-identity she has developed. But of course the biggest cheer (and heartiest singalong) of the night is reserved for ‘Foundations’.
Before leaving the stage, Nash issues a plea to the girls in the audience to start their own bands. This isn’t just Girl Power - this is the real deal. If I were the parent of a teenage girl I can’t think of a better idol for them than Kate Nash.
Originally published in The Courier. Thanks to Briony Carling for the beautiful photo.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

All Day, All Night

The master of mash-ups is back. In the two years since Feed The Animals, Girl Talk has continued to absorb yet more musicians into his encyclopaedic mega-brain and his gift to humanity is another hour-long mix of rap, rock, pop, metal and electronica, all set to bouncing hip-hop beats.

Opening with a blend of Black Sabbath's 'War Pigs' and Ludacris' 'Move Bitch' (an unconventional mix, to say the least) and including within its 372 samples Lady Gaga, Madness, Aphex Twin, T-Pain, Rhianna, U2 and even John Lennon, Girl Talk's choice of songs - or expert mixing skills - never fails to delight. You'd be hard pressed to find someone whose favourite band - or rapper - is missing from the selection (my favourite band is in there twice!).

The album, like all of Girl Talk's back catalogue, essentially consists of one giant song divided fairly arbitrarily into individual tracks. It works best in a single listen, and Girl Talk's notoriously short attention span means that whenever you might feel even a little bit tempted to turn it off, he'll chuck in some Daft Punk. Or some Supergrass. Or 'Paint It Black'. It's difficult to stop, honestly.

Considering Girl Talk's heavy emphasis on hip-hop (the entire thing is, after all, just one giant hip-hop track) it comes as no surprise that this is as sublime a selection of the genre as you could ask for. I'll admit here that it's not quite my area of expertise; however, my housemate informs me that B.O.B pops up no less than six times throughout All Day as a leitmotif of sorts, similar to Lil Wayne in the previous Girl Talk record.

Look further though, and you'll see Girls Talk's work is so much more just than a demonstration of the breadth of his iTunes library. Somehow he combines these tracks in a way that complements both to the extent that they sound even better than the original. Whether this is achieved by matching up similar rhythms ('Teach Me How To Dougie' and 'Jane Says'), similar themes (Rye Rye's 'Bang' and Rage Against The Machine's 'Killing In The Name Of'), or simply by supernatural powers attained in a mysterious storm is unknown to me.

(A side note: is there maybe a theme to the album? It's difficult to tell, with so many different, sometimes obscure, tracks (wikipedia users are already on it, of course), but starting with 'War Pigs' and ending with John Lennon's 'Imagine' seems more than just a coincidence.)

It may essentially be more of the same - and if you know Girl Talk already you'll know what to expect - but for the uninitiated it's a wonderful pop music 'best of'. Maybe his appeal will wear thin in the future, but for now Girl Talk has undoubtedly himself found a glorious little niche to carve out. The most mind-blowing feature of All Day is the fact that, despite the fact that his records are made entirely from samples of other people's songs, they retain a distinctive Girl Talk sound - celebrating the universal joy of music itself.

Ps. Did I mention the entire album is being given away for free? Oh yes. Now you have no excuse.

Live Review/Introducing... Titus Andronicus

In a Quiff Pro ‘Fro first, we have a crossover post! Is it a live review? Is it an introduction? Who knows! Who cares? I presume very few of you.

The thing is, Titus Andronicus are probably too big to have an ‘Introducing’ feature written about them, but in my period of pre-gig over excitement, the majority of people responded to said excitement with a “Who are they?”

So, here goes: Titus Andronicus, named after an apparently violent Shakespeare play (who knows? I’m hardly an English student. Oh wait…) hail from New Jersey in America and make quite an almighty racket, blending lo-fi punk, covertly brilliant singalong melodies with an unmistakable ‘NJ’ sound, and a sense of the epic. Imagine if Springsteen got into a bar-brawl, and then wrote a totally awesome soundtrack for it. Now you’re probably about halfway there.

Currently Titus Andronicus are two albums into their music career – the first, 2008’s The Airing of Grievances, was almost a statement of their intent; simply to be a wholly passionate and thrilling rock and roll band. It also deservedly won them a dedicated fanbase through tracks such as ‘Titus Andronicus’ and ‘Upon Viewing Brueghel’s “Landscape With The Fall Of Icarus”’. Before long, they were making a name for themselves as one of the best new live bands on the circuit.

This year saw the release of new album The Monitor, a different beast to their first. Whilst Grievances… hinted at the scope the group aimed for in their songwriting, this was truly realised in their second LP. A concept album about the American Civil War, the average track length is six and a half minutes, and ranges from anthemic choruses, furious punk riffs and incredible guitar solos. The Springsteen influence is more pronounced with gorgeously played piano, there are quotes from Abraham Lincoln, and even Craig Finn from The Hold Steady reads a Walt Whitman poem. Oh, and in the ambitious fourteen minute closing track ‘The Battle of Hampton Roads’, there’s a bagpipe solo.

I highly recommend you check out The Monitor – it’s certainly one of the best albums this year, and particularly in the past few weeks has utterly captured me in a way that albums with predominantly seven minute-plus songs rarely do. The lyrics, once you tune into lead singer Patrick Stickles’ voice, are also utterly brilliant, such as in the Boss-riffing ‘A More Perfect Union’ (I never wanted to change the world/But I’m looking for a new New Jersey/’Cos tramps like us, baby they were born to die!) and the incredible ‘Four Score and Seven’ (Humans treat humans like humans treat hogs/They get used up, carved up and fried in a pan/But I wasn’t born to die like a dog/I was born to die just like a man/I WAS BORN TO DIE JUST LIKE A MAN!).

On Tuesday 23rd November, Titus Andronicus came to Newcastle’s Cluny2, a wonderfully intimate venue perfect for their reputation of raucous live shows. Starting with The Monitor’s astonishing opener ‘A More Perfect Union’, it was less than five minutes into the set before both guitarists were in the crowd, playing with a thrillingly reckless energy. The Cluny2’s sound was perfect – the twisting solo that takes over the centrepiece of the track was crystal clear and amazing as on record. But what about the crowd?

As the song drew to a close, with little movement from the majority of audience members, the atmosphere seemed only seconds away from really kicking off. A rolling drumbeat commenced another Monitor highlight, the jaunty ‘Richard II’, by which point I wasn’t going to stay still just because everyone else was. So I danced in my own space.

The set progressed, taking in old favourites ‘Titus Andronicus’, with a fantastically frenetic harmonica opening and repetition of "Your life is over!/Your life is over!" , and ‘Fear and Loathing in Mahwah, NJ’. The group played with an incredible energy and passion, and sounded totally brilliant. There was nothing more they could have done to get the crowd moving, and despite much in the way of cheering and clapping at the end of songs, while the group played nary a head bobbed or a foot tapped.

Thank god, then, that three songs from the end, a few enthusiastic fans at the front obviously couldn’t take the lack of movement anymore, and within minutes were surrounded by more people who were obviously also waiting for an opportunity to dance. The last twenty minutes of the set were an absolute sweaty knockout – the joy and enthusiasm emanating from the band finally found its way into the audience, with ‘Titus Andronicus Forever’’s refrain of "The enemy is everywhere!" being chanted excitedly. After pleas for an extra track persuaded the band to break their 11pm curfew, they closed the set with an astonishing, epic rendition of ‘Four Score and Seven’ that meant the evening moved from being highly impressive to unforgettable – I’m still buzzing from it now.

So please, Titus Andronicus – if you read this, please come back to the UK soon. We promise to dance this time.

Titus Andronicus’ second album The Monitor is out now – click here to listen on Spotify, or here to buy from Amazon.

Titus Andronicus - A More Perfect Union by jasonfharper

  Titus Andronicus - Four Score and Seven by ObscureSound  

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Dinosaur Pile-Up Interview

Their debut album is full of awesome riffs, amazingly catchy melodies and a wonderful sense of 90's nostalgia. Turns out Dinosaur Pile-Up are also really nice, chatty and funny guys. Want to know what their favourite dinosaurs are? Keep reading!

“This tour has been a long time coming.”

So says Matt Bigland, frontman of Leeds’ rock trio Dinosaur Pile-Up. In the year the group have had off touring, Matt has recorded an album, recruited a new bassist and drummer, released two BBC Radio 1 playlisted singles and kept Pitzacano takeaway in business.“It’s rad to be out – especially as for us three as a band this is our first time. We’ve been practising the album for six months, going out of our minds,” he says. “There were some dark days, we were going nuts!”

“That’s my favourite thing about this tour,” adds bassist Harry. “It’s training.”

Released last month to murmured excitement and whispers of big things to come, the group’s debut Growing Pains is a set of straight-up Foos-esque no-nonsense rock’n’roll.
“It was rad to eventually get that out – again, it was a long time coming. It’s nice for people to hear the songs that we’ve been hearing for God knows how long,” explains Matt of the release. “It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.”

After receiving heaps of praise from those who heard it, the band’s debut E.P. The Most Powerful E.P. In The Universe!! certainly gave Matt a pretty lofty bar to surpass, particularly as he went on to write and record the album solo.

“I put myself under a lot of pressure to make a rad record that I was happy with. If we’d put it out there and I wasn’t happy with any aspect of it, I’d have been heartbroken.”

“It’s a really unfashionable record,” Harry notes. “We weren’t going to change that to fit any kind of fashion, but we were very aware that we were going to release this record that’s a like a black sheep in a world of indie.”

Whilst recording was something Matt could achieve on his own, it still left the problem of finding two new musicians to join the band.

“I rang up Harry, and I said ‘Do you know anyone who can sing and play guitar?’ Harry was like ‘Well, I know one obvious person’, obviously meaning himself. But we were so freaking emotionally weird about it because we were mates,” laughs Matt.
“It was like when you’re friends with a girl and you sleep together and it gets weird. And there was a real weird tension about it,” grins Harry.
“We promised that it wouldn’t get weird, and I was like ‘OK, I’ll speak to you later’. Then for the next week we kept texting each other like ‘I know this is weird, but… I can’t stop thinking about it!” continues a now hysterical Matt.

After the challenges of recording alone and finding new band mates came a whole new set of trials – notably teaching Harry and new drummer Mike how to play the songs.
“I’d go to Matt’s, listen to the album, then play it, then go to work listening to it, come home from work, play it, eat pizza,” Harry recalls.
“I was stoked when I first heard the album, it was just like my drumming style. It was great – I really liked the record, otherwise I wouldn’t be here!” says Mike.

Between the three of them, how do they aim to recreate the absolutely huge sound present on the album recordings? Simple.

“We just use loads of massive amps!” Matt says. Like the one Doc Brown has in his flat at the start of Back To The Future?
“That’s what we were going for,” he laughs. “We watched that in the van the other day,” he says. “We got in the van and forgot all our DVDs, and when we opened the DVD player the only one we had was Back To The Future! It’s definitely one of the best films ever.”

Before leaving, I make sure to ask – which is each band members’ favourite dinosaur?
“I’m gonna throw this out there, try and be a bit alternative,” says Matt. “Either a brontosaurus-“
“There’s one bigger than that, a brachiosaurus,” Harry interjects as Mike adds “The herbivore”
“The fucking nightmare massive monster one!” Harry continues.
“And there’s the Triceratops,” remembers Matt.
“I didn’t used to like those as much,” Harry claims. “But when I grew up I realised they’re just fucking vicious!”
“Yeah, just like, ‘I’ll fuck you up’! I’m going with brachiosaurus,” Matt decides.
And Harry?
“My favourite’s the stegosaurus. When you think about stegosauruses, you think about the spines on its back, but you forget about that nightmare tail situation! That’s gonna fuck shit up!”
“It’s like a mace!” laughs Harry
And finally, Mike’s favourite?
“Definitely the velociraptor!”

Dinosaur Pile-Up’s debut album 'Growing Pains' is out now. Listen to it here on Spotify, or buy it here on Amazon. It is most definitely worth it!