Monday 12 July 2010

The Drums and "fakeness"

When I was younger, I used to reject bands because they seemed "fake" - commercial, insincere. Particularly those who are marketed as not writing their own music or playing their own songs, assuming they must be models thrown together by record producers (even if they aren't, such in the case of boybands like Take That). These days I like to think I'm a little more liberal in my attitudes towards pop music, but one band I saw at Glastonbury this year left a pretty sour taste in my mouth.

I quite like The Drums. They write fairly pleasant tunes with a wholly 80s style (seriously, how has it not occurred to anyone before now to rip off those 80s guitar effects a la the Cure or the Smiths?), lots of whistling and ridiculous haircuts.

It was fun, it was cute. The songs themselves aren't especially deep, but - and I don't know if this is just a symptom of me not being used to that guitar effect and slightly off-key vocals - took me a few listens to like them. What really weirded me out was the fact that they played with a backing track.

There's nothing wrong with having something pre-recorded for your live show per se. Both Two Door Cinema Club and Fanfarlo relied on recordings for some of the intros to their songs. But when the bass guitar is pre-recorded, something has gone wrong here. It wasn't a shortage of staff: during one song, one of the band members simply leaped around the stage swinging a tambourine. (That clip also illustrates just quite how horrendous the frontman's singing is. I have no problems with that, it sort of fits with their sound and he makes up for it with his posturing.) The bass wasn't the only instrument being filled in for: the catchy and fairly distinctive whistling also appeared to be pre-recorded.

So what's with the backing track, huh, The Drums? It's understandable if a band gets ahead of itself while recording an album, filling it with multiple layers that are fairly impossible to replicate live. Music is difficult to play, and if you guys, y'know, just want to play along to whatever you've already recorded, then - wait, no. These guys are PROFESSIONAL MUSICIANS. We pay to see them PLAY MUSIC. When Peter, Bjorn and John (remember them? my next-door neighbour claims they're not quite as bad as their one-hit wonder, Young Folks, might have you think) do gigs, they perform that catchy whistling bit live. At Reading Festival one year, I saw a band consisting simply of a drummer and a guy playing a keytar with both hands while singing (and dancing quite wildly too). That's the level of commitment I expect from bands when I pay good money to see them live. I want every beating organ of their body to be focused on producing music.

Well. Perhaps that's a bit of tall order. Still, though The Drums may have the sound, the looks, the attitude and the hype, I don't genuinely think they have the talent. Who knows. I'd like to be proven wrong.

Sunday 11 July 2010

Context, context, context

When I listen to music, I find it best to listen to it out of context - perhaps one of the reasons I've begun listening to older albums, although those too are often wrapped in nostalgia or "retro" appeal. Music relies on context to peddle middle-of-the-road crap, but it can negatively affect good artists too, leaving them in a black hole of publicity and PR that colours the music, even if it is many miles from public perception.

Ben introduced me to Crystal Castles a couple of months ago. I think they're great - messy yet concise electronica with chiptune stylings and the shrieks of Alice Glass providing an antithesis to anthemic crap that can be found filling the charts on a regular basis. It's abrasive, claustrophobic, terrifying music (or so I think, anyway). So you can imagine my surprise when, hearing that I was going to Crystal Castles at Glastonbury, a near-stranger turned his nose up and told me they were for twelve-year-olds. I ignored him.

So it was a disheartening surprise that the majority - or at the very least a significant portion - were underage girls. I couldn't get my head around it. Were they here for the riotous crowd and destructive stage show? Or for NME cool list-topping* Alice Glass? I presumed it must have been a combination of the two, because I couldn't imagine the fifteen-year-olds were enjoying the music.

Speaking to a friend (who watches the music industry much closer than I do) later, I asked him why and how Crystal Castles have managed to build up a fanbase of kids.

"It's all about timing, isn't it?" he told me. "Nu-rave. They were grouped with Klaxons and the Gossip and the rest."

* Not that I place any meaning in any magazine's "cool list" personally.

Monday 5 July 2010

Introducing... Dinosaur Pile-Up

Pitched somewhere between the raucous loud riffing of Foo Fighters and the brilliantly catchy melodies of Weezer, Dinosaur Pile-Up are destined to become many people's "new favourite band". Hailing from Leeds, DPU certainly know how to make an almighty racket. For a three-piece (with constant frontman Matt Bigland, and recent bass and drummer replacements Harry Johns and Mike Sheils), the sound is big, often pretty heavy and very tight.

With last year's frankly awesome E.P "The Most Powerful E.P In The Universe!!" still ringing in my ears, I was delighted to hear excellent new single 'Birds & Planes' had been uploaded to their MySpace page, paving the way for debut album "Growing Pains" to be released in September. On evidence of the single and all preceding releases, of which there are genuinely no dud tracks, there is no reason at all why the album shouldn't be both critically and commercially successful.

Having toured with Dananananaykroyd, been hotly tipped by Zane Lowe and been hand-selected to support Pixies on one of the London dates on their Doolittle tour, things are pretty much ready to blow up for Dinosaur Pile-Up. From then, the noise is only set to get louder.

Recommended Listening:

MySpace | Tour Dates | Buy "The Most Powerful E.P In The Universe!!" at Amazon

Friday 2 July 2010

Introducing... Victoria & Jacob

I've been listening to a lot of dense and chaotic electronica recently (namely, Crystal Castles and Boards of Canada), so it's nice to hear a band attempting to reclaim bleeps and bloops as something a bit more intimate. Victoria and Jacob are an electropop twosome hailing from East London, who mix cutesy Kate Nash-esque cockney rambles with lo-fi electronica and little bits of acoustic guitar and glockenspiel.

Although their recent output has been a little more pretentious, with higher production values and low-level philosophy, I reckon there's a lot left to see from these two. And if you happen to live in London, they're performing a gig next friday with a free barbecue! Surely you can't say no to that?

Recommended listening: