Tuesday 27 December 2011

Born To Die vs. Born To Lose

Comparing two songs which are pretty much only similar in name, and differ practically everywhere else.

Within a couple of days of one another, two highly anticipated new tracks made their way onto the intorweb-blogospherez - first up, the new single from that 'Video Games' woman Lana Del Rey (I must be the only person on said intorweb-blogosphere who still hasn't heard that song), and the glorious return of the downright awesome Sleigh Bells. One track is called 'Born To Die'. The other is called 'Born To Lose'. Which is better?

Back in 2010, Sleigh Bells released one of my absolute favourite albums of the year with their debut Treats. It was a whole awesome mind-splosion of overblown hardcore riffs, gigantic cheerleaders-on-steroids beats, alternately yelpy/cooing vocals and a shit-tonne of attitude. And it was truly fantastic. New single 'Born To Lose' is very promising - blending the laid back swoony vocals from 'Rill Rill' with the harsh, heavy guitars of 'Treats', the in-your-face obnoxiousness seems to have been slightly dialled down. Luckily, it sees the duo moving forward a little, but also retains pretty much everything that was ace about the debut. Bring on the new record - the brutal-sounding Reign Of Terror is released on Valentine's day.

  Sleigh Bells - Born To Lose by AndamosArmados

As such, Lana Del Rey's 'Born To Die' isn't a bad song. In some ways it's quite good. The main problem is that it's never as good as it thinks it is. It takes its hefty, portentous themes and portrays them with heft and portent. There's little lightness of touch, and the production smacks of too much stuff being desperately thrown at the song until it's swathed in actually-pretty-effective strings and actually-pretty-awful rappers' yelps of "AWRIGHT" and weird bubbly sound effects. Strip it all back, take away all of that self-importance and you get the impression that there's not only a good song but something 'true' and, uh, 'real' struggling to get out, man. Oh, and don't even get me started on that utterly indulgent and overblown video.

AND THE WINNER IS... Sleigh Bells, obviously.

p.s. Lana -Titus Andronicus totally got there first with the whole "BORN TO DIEEEEE" thing, and they did it quite a bit better than you.

Titus Andronicus - A More Perfect Union by Merok Records

Wednesday 21 December 2011

Interview: Maxïmo Park

So, Maxïmo Park have been away for a little while, and whilst their third album didn't do huge business, their first two records still stand up as a perfect example of how great some of the indie rock in the mid-'00s actually was. A few weeks ago, myself and the wonderful Chris Scott had the chance to catch up with frontman Paul Smith (the bowler hat guy, not the stripey Nottingham designer), who opened up about the Newcastle music scene, the difficult second album and what the band have been up to following Smith's solo album.

Going Missing: The Imminent Return of Maxïmo Park

“Overall, the Newcastle scene is more diverse than it used to be, but the music industry is based in the South and record labels don’t want to sign something unless it’s a dead cert. For us, we were signed by an independent record label and we remain true to ourselves in that respect. And when I see bands doing a similar thing to that and don’t conform or try to fit in, it excites me.”

As one of the few surviving bands from last decade’s indie explosion, one could argue that that’s how Maxïmo Park have retained their popularity; from their well-loved 2005 debut A Certain Trigger to 2009’s Quicken The Heart, the band have endured not only due to their top-notch alternative anthems, nor their reputation for high-energy live shows but their streak of independence. Despite their success, the band haven’t flung themselves at major money-spinning labels or decamped to America. In fact, three fifths of Maxïmo Park still remain in Newcastle, the other two heading elsewhere with significant others.

One of the three still hanging around the North East is frontman Paul Smith. Often to be seen down at the Head of Steam clad, of course, in his trademark bowler hat, Smith grew up near Stockton-on-Tees and graduated from Newcastle University. Aside from Paul releasing solo album Margins last year, Maxïmo Park have remained quiet for a little while. Just what exactly have they been up to?

Maximo Park - The Coast Is Always Changing by nathanield

“We’ve had a little time off and all been recharging our batteries. We also kind of reinvigorated our raison d’être in the band, figuring out what we do well, why we’re here, what we want to do, what the people expect us to do and put all that into a pot and see what comes out,” Smith rattles off, barely pausing for breath.

Having rediscovered the band’s focus, fans can rest assured that new material is on the way.

“We’ve been doing a lot of demos in Newcastle – we have a little studio, although I think studio is a little bit posh for what it is!” the frontman reveals. “We recorded demos and some of our B-sides there on the last album. We had a bit of money left from touring, so we recorded a few tracks – the next record is well on its way, and if we can find some more money from somewhere, we’ll record some more in December and January and then that will be that. It’ll be nice to start on the artwork and get on with the other jobs, and hopefully put out a record next year.”

Tuesday 20 December 2011

Bands Who Gone and Done Christmas Songs

With Christmas day just a few excitable days away, 'tis the season for loads of bands to try and get your attention by giving away free festive mp3s. Here are a couple of pretty good ones that have caught the eagle-eyes of Quiff Pro 'Fro.

Caitlin Rose and Keegan DeWitt - 'You Never Come Home For Christmas'
The best original Christmas song I've heard in a long time. Caitlin Rose's voice is beautiful, and this really shows off her talent for writing stunning melancholic contemporary country music. Yeah, it's pretty miserable when you focus on the lyrics (about an alcoholic who'd rather spend December 25th in a pub than with his family), but that melody is just too stirring to ignore.

Dog Is Dead - 'Christmas Wrapping'
A cover of The Waitresses' semi-classic (you'll recognise the tune more than the song name), Nottingham's up-and-coming-should-be-huge-in-2012-you-heard-it-here-first-alternative-indie-pop-five-piece do a jolly rendition, with tinkling glockenspiel, calypso-ey guitars, group vocals and parping sax.  Sweet!

Fixers - 'M❅jor L❆ague$ HO! HO! HO!'
Well, this one isn't really a Christmas song. What Fixers have quite cleverly done here is covered Pavement's 'Major Leagues' and stuck snowflakes and HO! HO! HO! in the title to fool us all into thinking it's a Christmas song. It's probably part of a ploy to attract you towards their new EP Imperial Goddess Of Mercy, which is really rather good overall. So um, yeah. Grab the freebie, which is a nice hazy interpretation of the original, and check out the EP.

Monday 19 December 2011

Quiff: Top Albums of the Year That I Haven't Got Around to Listening to Yet.

As our Twitter followers (become one of them!) might have recently ascertained, 'Fro and myself have recently decided upon our list of the top 10 albums of 2011. Already we're anticipating the frenzied response of "OMFG U MIST MY FAVE ALBUM YU NOBS", so to disappoint you all in advance I present a very brief look at the most critically acclaimed albums of the year that I either couldn't be bothered to listen to, or have just simply passed me by, and hence will NOT be appearing on the list.

The Antlers - Burst Apart
Drowned in Sound's #1 album of 2011. Critically acclaimed practically across the board. *EDIT* My friend Mark says that I'll really really like it *EDIT*. And yet I still haven't sat down and given Burst Apart the time of day that it probably deserves. Whoops.

PJ Harvey - Let England Shake
The 2011 Mercury Prize winner. Critically acclaimed practically across the board. And yet I still think I'd rather sit down with one of Peej's other albums, probably Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea, as a way of trying to get into her. Hmm.

Josh T. Pearson - Last of the Country Gentlemen
My very good friend Joe (a.k.a Music From A Green Window) absolutely adores this album, and has named it as his favourite of the year. Critically acclaimed across the board. And yet I think I might have to wait until I fall in love with someone and then have them unceremoniously dump me before I sit down and listen to it. That could take a while.

The Horrors - Skying
The Horrors Mk III. Critically acclaimed across the board. And yet I still haven't heard the full thing. The stingy psychedelic/gothic bastards were obviously too busy being weird and making dark things all colourful and pretty, such as applying vibrant makeup to corpses, to put an mp3 code in with the album on vinyl. Give me a month.

Bon Iver - Bon Iver
Bon Iver's second album. Bon. Iver. Critically acclaimed across the board. OK, so I have actually listened to this one, but I still don't feel I properly know it as an album yet. 'Holocene' is bloody lovely though, isn't it? Still waiting for that mystery heartbreaker until I pounce on this one.

St. Vincent - Strange Mercy
Hadn't heard of her before this album. Critically acclaimed across the board. And yet I only just discovered the incredible 'Cruel' about three days ago. I feel a bit foolish.

  St. Vincent - Cruel by WalterHeape

  Holocene by boniver 

Other (apparently) brilliant albums I haven't listened to this year:
Kate Bush - 50 Words For Snow
Tom Waits - Bad As Me
EMA - Past Life Martyred Saints
M83 - Hurry Up, We're Dreaming
Beirut - The Rip Tide
Bright Eyes - The People's Key
Mastodon - The Hunter
tUnE-yArDs - W H O K I L L (a.k.a B a L L - a C h E   t O   T y P e)

Sunday 18 December 2011

Asking Bombay Bicycle Club Stupid Questions

Whilst on their last tour, after the success of excellent third album A Different Kind of Fix, I was given the chance to sit down and chat to bassist Ed Nash and drummer Suren De Saram. Obviously this was a really great opportunity to ask about the new album and tour, but I decided to just ask lots of silly things instead: see below.

You’re given the chance to follow any living band or artist on tour – who would you tour with?
Ed: Weezer would be one of mine. Pinkerton is one of my favourite albums.
Suren: I’d tour with that rap group who were on before us at Leeds festival – Odd Future. They were trying to hit on our guitarist’s girlfriend. They were really nice actually.
Ed: I went up to Hodgy Beats in the morning and he was pretty chilled out. They seemed very nice.

You’re at the zoo and the zookeeper tells you that you can take any animal home with you – which do you choose?
Suren: I’d go for a sea lion. I’d get a tank built in my house for it.
Ed: I’d get a penguin. They can live on land. And they’re quite small and portable.

You’re offered a once-in-a-lifetime trip in a time-travel machine – when and where do you go?
Ed: Can you alter time at all? Or do you go and just observe? You could change everything… I’d go back two thousand and eleven years to December the 25th and see what went down. That would be interesting.
Suren: I’d come back here in like 150 years time and see what had changed.

You open a restaurant after a busy life of recording and touring the band – what sort of food do you serve?
Ed: I’d serve proper English pub food. And I’d call the restaurant Bangers & Nash. That would be good.
Suren: I’d do a nice little Spanish tapas restaurant. Tapas is amazing.

You’re informed that the Queen is coming to your house and you must provide refreshments – what nibbles do you leave on the table?
Ed: I’d make a quiche. That’s my speciality. Probably just a quiche lorraine. Maybe some carrot batons and dip. I’d buy houmous, I think she’d like that.
Suren: I’d get those little bits of salmon on a disc – salmon blinis. I bet she loves that shit.

  Bombay Bicycle Club - Lights Out, Words Gone by The Sifting Pan

Originally published in The Courier

Friday 4 November 2011

Album Review: Justice - Audio, Video, Disco

Back in 2007, French duo Gaspard Augé and Xavier de Rosnay unleashed their debut album , giving freshers week a new anthem with 'D.A.N.C.E', making dancefloors tremble under the colossal buzzing bassline of 'Waters of Nazareth' and providing the perfect soundtrack should a zombie apocalypse ever arise with 'Stress'.

What's the logical progression for album two then? '70s prog-rock and '80s hair-metal, of course! Indeed, Audio, Video, Disco compounds Justice's predilection for distorted disco with the classic rock of yore, and it's not necessarily a bad thing.

Opener 'Horsepower' is suitably bombastic, with squealing finger-tapped synthesised guitars and a motorbike-engine rumble of a riff. 'Ohio' marks the point where things get decidedly proggy with dreamy vocal harmonies, a laid-back funky vibe, and grown men singing "Ride on!". That's all before a squelching synth line that the Beastie Boys would be proud of crashes the party. 'Canon (Primo)' is a hilariously medieval pastoral intro to its bigger brother, an electro-metal behemoth which indulges midway in an arpeggiated solo as silly as it is brilliant.

Justice - Canon by FranklinP

From thereon out, Audio, Video, Disco is a poppier affair, lighter in tone than . 'On'n'on's laid-back groove gives way to an epic final minute, but for the main part remains a strongly-constructed slice of funky pop, whilst the AC/DC-aping riff of 'Newlands' achieves a glam-rock swagger with its layering of classic guitar and throbbing synths. It's relentlessy catchy, if unlike anything Justice have done before, especially during its peak as a chugging lick provides the platform for a feel-good '80s stadium-rock solo. Just when it seems 'Parade' is about to drop something heavy with its stomping 'We Will Rock You' beat, it gives way to an anthemic lighters-in-the-air refrain; pleasant, if not what you might be expecting.

Justice - Newlands by FranklinP

To get the most from Audio, Video, Disco, listeners have to be willing to indulge in its sillier impulses. It's certainly not as 'cool' an album as was, and not everyone will love this new Led Zeppelin-trapped-in-a-videogame direction, but for the most part Justice keep things on just the right side of ridiculous. And that includes Gaspard's handlebar 'tache.

Originally published in edited form in The Courier.

Monday 31 October 2011

Interview: Dry The River

Peter Liddle of up-and-coming folk band Dry the River has come a long way to get where he is today. And I don't  just mean in terms of his career.

"I never knew how far away Newcastle is… but it's fucking far away," he says, sitting in the band's tour van. The group have driven up all the way from Brighton today to support Bombay Bicycle Club at the O2 arena this evening.

He gives me the 'grand tour' of the van: covered in clothes, books and crumbs. "Those three seats at the back are where we sleep when we're doing really long drives and stuff, and sometimes we put roll mats down there."

Sounds like a pretty grim lifestyle, I say. "It's actually really quite nice to sleep down there!" replies Liddle. "It's really quite dark, and the gentle rocking of the van puts you to sleep."

Even at home, the band hardly live in luxury. When not on tour, all five band members live together in a two-bedroom house in Stratford. "We live on mattresses, and we have a rehearsal room in the basement," he says. "It's not glamorous in the slightest!"

Sporting a moderate beard and several tattoos, Liddle looks every part the rock star. But this onetime punk was also once a medicine student who dabbled in journalism in his spare time, interviewing Robert Winston in the house of lords for The London Student. "He took me into the restaurant they have in there and bought a pot of tea and some sandwiches," he says. "It was amazing."

After this current tour of the UK, Dry the River are off to New York to play the CMJ music festival, and then a European tour with another labelmates The Antlers. "We played at Reading and Leeds with them it's gonna be cool to tour together," says Liddle. "With mates!"

The band are known for their loud and energetic performances - not something usually associated with folk music.

"We all grew up in hardcore bands and punk bands," muses Liddle, "so it was always the way we played - less attention to really accurate playing, more trying to bring an intensity to the live show."

Liddle tells me about the debut album - as yet untitled - which is planned for release in February. "It's finished. We did it in the US, in Connecticut, with a producer called Peter Katis who did the National, Interpol, Jónsi's [from Sigur Rós] album.

"We wanted to make an album that's not too hi-fi, not really polished and modern-sounding - but not super lo-fi either. Peter's equipment is all analogue stuff that all has a really old feel to it. He has a really great ear to making textured records."

Being based just sixty miles north of the big apple had further perks: "At the weekends, we went to New York and played a few shows. Some of the guys from the National came to see us!"

So, in the unfortunate case that this jet-setting lifestyle falls through, what will Liddle do? Finish off his half-complete medical degree?

"People keep saying that, yeah! Trying not to think to hard about it… either that, or do a masters and go into something completely different."

"People always say, 'where are you going to be next year?' and I sort of think, well if we're still doing this I'll be over the moon. They're always like, "bet you can't wait for the massive tour buses and big stadiums and whatever" but we absolutely love every day at the moment and we're so lucky to be able to do this for a year.

"If I can do it for another year it would be equally brilliant," he adds. "But you can fall into the trap of constantly wanting bigger and better things without appreciating the fact hat we're known, full time musicians, which is all I've ever wanted to do. And it may not be glamorous but we get to play shows every night, and we don't have to have day jobs, so it's pretty amazing. So we're trying to take every day as it comes and really enjoy ourselves."

A version of this article was originally published in The Courier.

Friday 21 October 2011

Gig Review - Bombay Bicycle Club @ Newcastle o2 Academy, 1/10/11

Fresh off the back of their third and best album to date, A Different Kind Of Fix, Bombay Bicycle Club ventured on their biggest UK tour so far to showcase the newfound maturity of their latest tunes.

The notably adolescent crowd gathered for opening act Dog Is Dead, the brightest hope of the rapidly exploding Nottingham music scene. Best known for their appearance in the latest series of Skins, they played a fantastic set taking in fan favourites and material from their forthcoming album. ‘Young’ was brilliant as ever with crisp, powerful harmonies, new single ‘Hands Down’ already sounded anthemic, whilst their set closer, a new song, was truly electrifying.

Dog Is Dead - Motel by thisisfakediy

As the sold-out crowd continued to pile in, Dry the River took their blend of alt-rock and folk to the stage and played a short but stunning set. Two singles into their career, they already sound astonishingly confident, with songs simultaneously intricate and powerful – like if Fleet Foxes grew a huge pair of cojones. Ending with the spine tinglingly beautiful ‘Lion’s Den’, it was a travesty that the majority of the crowd talked over their set. The world simply needs an album from these guys. Right now.

Dry the River - "No Rest" by Dry the River

With a lengthy wait before Bombay Bicycle Club emerged, the audience were getting restless. And incredibly annoying. Jostling to the choice picks of a between-sets DJ, the two thirds of the crowd not being arseholes were scowling at the third that were. It didn’t stop when the band finally arrived and kicked straight into ‘Shuffle’, to which half the crowd tried unsuccessfully to mosh and began ill-suited shoving matches.

The new album material provided the majority of set highlights. New single ‘Lights Out, Words Gone’ grooved along on a buoyant bassline, as did the fantastically layered ‘How Can You Swallow So Much Sleep’. In contrast, most of the first album material sounded stagnant, all of the loud ‘epic’ moments revealing themselves as blustery noise with no hooks to back them up. However ‘Always Like This’ was fantastic, and should have ended the set in the place of ‘Beggars’. A mini-set of Flaws tracks sounded great, managing the tricky task of not sounding too out of place.

Bombay Bicycle Club - How Can You Swallow So Much Sleep by Terrorize

Bombay Bicycle Club are in need of a more charismatic frontman and a few more killer tunes if they’re to be a brilliant live act. As it stands they were, on the whole, very good, but on this tour it was hard not to feel that they were outshone by their own support acts.

Originally published in The Courier

Tuesday 11 October 2011

Best Of The Inbox 3: Girls Shouting

Hello everyone! Thought I'd share a couple of choice tracks that have been languishing in our inbox for a while.

First up is some fuzzy west coast girl rock, courtesy of SNEAKPEEK. Being given away on their bandcamp page is a live version of 'Walk All Over Me', a slow and grungey treat. It may not be complex or particularly original, but its simplicity lends it an irresistible lo-fi charm.

Next, here's latest offering from Unicorn Kid - the third track of his free Tidal Rave EP. Chiptunes may be increasingly unfashionable recently (well, since Kesha got her claws into it...), but perhaps the answer is to simply go up a generation of consoles - from NES to Super NES. 'True Love Fantasy' sounds as if it's been taken straight out of a particularly high-energy platform game (anyone played Donkey Kong Country 2?), and the candy-coloured vocals courtesy of Talk To Animals simply top it all off.

Wednesday 5 October 2011

Album Review: Forest Fire - Staring At The X

If you can cast your memory all the way back to 2008, you may remember a brief time when, following in the footsteps of Radiohead's In Rainbows, bands were desperately handing away their music for nothing.

Forest Fire were one of these bands, giving away their debut album Survival for the low, low price of zero pounds - but with a refreshingly sleepy pace, it stood out among the crowd as a gem of a record.

Three years on, normality has been restored and most bands are charging for their music again. But three years is a long time between albums - could Forest Fire manage to maintain their distinctive sound after such a long gap?

The first three songs of Staring At The X don't inspire much confidence. Compared to the debut, they open with a bigger and more commercial sound - great songs, true, but far from the chilled-out beats of Survival. Perhaps they're just there to grab the listener's initial attention - because with these out the way, the album becomes considerably more ambitious.

‘They Prey Execution Style’ combines buzzing synths with funky guitars to spooky effect. And in 'Blank Appeal' and title track 'Staring At The X', the beat slows to Survival's sleepy, swaggering pace, albeit with distorted guitars and drum machines. Surely the crowning glory of the album is eight minute-long 'Visions In Plastic', a mediative beauty that closes the record in trademark Forest Fire style.

They may be marketed as folk music, but Forest Fire are shamelessly urban; there’s no rural idyll present here. Regardless, Staring At The X is an album that manages to have its cake and eat it - effortlessly expanding on the sounds of their earlier work without sacrificing the band's identity. It's been a long wait, but it's been worth it; this is an album that deserves all the fans it can find.

Staring At The X won't be released until 17th October, but they're taking pre-orders over at FatCat's website now.

Monday 26 September 2011

'i' Really Like This Nicola Roberts Song

Everyone loves a good rant, don't they? A chance to vent, get all your frustrations out. Especially on the internet, where you can shout 'screw you!' at anything or anyone into the overcrowded din before it disappears into the world wide void forever.

In fact, while we're here, I might take the chance to do a few myself:

Screw you David Guetta for releasing the same shit song hundreds of times without anyone noticing and making tonnes of cash!
Screw you Michael Bay for wasting £5 and two and a half of my life with Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen!
Screw you Michael Bay again for making me think Transformers: Dark of the Moon would be any better! It was equally shit!
Screw you Blink-182 for a thoroughly mediocre return!
Screw you Facebook for changing your layout into an even more inscrutable version every few weeks!

That feels better now. Except for the fact that none of what I've said is going to change anything.

Another person who it seems likes to have a good old inconsequential yell at the world is Nicola Roberts. Transforming from 'The Ginger One in Girls Aloud' to 'The Ginger One from Girls Aloud Who Writes Good Solo Pop Songs', Nicola's shy-and-awkward-but-quite-sweet-and-feisty persona may have won over fans on the internet ('Beat Of My Drum' was a great first single), she didn't really make much of an impact on the charts. It remains to be seen how well her debut album Cinderella's Eyes (released today) does in the charts come Sunday, but what's certain is that there's actually some really great pop songs on there.

"I'm scared to think about the Devil 'case he takes my soul"

The one that immediately leaps out is 'i', a big old moan which sees Roberts pretty much list a load of stuff that really annoys or scares her. Despite the odd dodgy couplet (and a bit that sounds like she says 'I don't like Batman', which worried me for a while), it actually makes for a pretty successful set of honest lyrics which never come across as too much of a try-hard attempt to be all 'dark' and 'mysterious'. After years of being 'The Ginger One in Girls Aloud', it's clear that she's got plenty of pent-up frustrations and a desire to speak for herself away from the safe and restrained world of PR and marketing people.

"I don’t like that you won’t let me speak controversially/Because you think that it won’t sit well universally"

Underneath all of the angsty vocals lies a brilliantly doomy funk riff courtesy of Mr. Metronomy himself, Joe Mount. In fact, anyone who's found a lot to love in The English Riviera will probably find much to praise about 'i' - without Roberts' vocals, it would fit fairly easily into Metronomy's latest, with tight drumming, bursts of fuzzed-out synths, a rigid guitar riff and fretboard-wandering bassline.

"I don’t like the people that leave comments on the internet/They preach they’re perfect while they’re killing you with intellect"

'i' is a remarkably assured pop song which will hopefully prove to listeners that Nicola Roberts is a notable musical talent. Give it a listen, and if you're intrigued then go and pick up a copy of Cinderella's Eyes - we should be praising great inventive pop music like this, and the best way to do that is to pay a few quid to the artist and show it's also commercially viable. Screw you David Guetta!

Oh, and check out this live version of the 'i' where Roberts drops an F-bomb!

Saturday 17 September 2011

Friday 16 September 2011

Is That A Docket In Your Pocket, Or Are You Just Pleased To See Me?

*EDIT* Just wanted to bring you the following quick Twitter update:

That is all.

We love a bit of Caitlin Rose here at Quiff Pro 'Fro. So much so, in fact, that her brilliant debut album Own Side Now made it into the Quiff Pro 'Fro Albums of the Year 2010 list. If you never got around to hearing that album, then it really is worth checking out, particularly if you're partial to a bit of folky country acoustic brilliance.

For now though I shall divert your attention to a track from Rose's Dead Flowers EP - released as an appetiser to Own Side Now's main event. It's an altogether more idiosyncratic affair, a distillation of Caitlin's razor-sharp wit and world-weary sarcasm (though she's only 24), though steeped in traditional country themes - namely heartbreak and drinking. As ever, her voice is absolutely astonishing, capable of transforming from a soft whisper to an almighty belt in seconds - just see her cover of Patsy Cline's 'Three Cigarettes In An Ashtray'.

"To Ben, Love Caitlin"... *Swoon*
I only got round to picking up a copy of Dead Flowers a few months ago when I went to Caitlin's gig at the Musician pub in Leicester - she was as brilliant as the previous time I'd seen her in Newcastle, with a fantastic collection of musicians as her backing band (I was again transfixed by slide guitarist Spencer Cullum Jr), an easy onstage presence and - THAT VOICE. Coming back for a double-encore, she finished with a counfounding rendition of Dead Flowers closer 'T-Shirt' - just her and a tambourine. No guitar. It was an amazingly brave performance, and an absolute stunner leaving the entire audience with their spines tingling and neck-hair (ew) standing on end.

Anyway, I digress - I picked up a lovely 10" vinyl of Dead Flowers which I was lucky enough to have Caitlin sign. I'd like to pretend I played it cool, but I definitely stuttered out something along the lines of "OMG THAT WAS SO GOOD THANKS SO MUCH OH WOW THAT'S AMAZING THANKYOU THAT WAS REALLY INCREDIBLE THANKS". When I listened to it, the song 'Docket' immediately jumped out at me and has been on repeat (along with the rest of the EP, which, if you like Own Side Now is definitely worth a purchase) ever since. It's got a slightly Kimya Dawson feel with a sing-song 'woah-oh-oh' refrain, and a humourously rebellious youthful obnoxiousness to it. Give it a listen, pick up the album and EP, and then whatever you do make sure you see Caitlin Rose live.

Buy a copy of Own Side Now here, and Dead Flowers here. DO IT.

    Monday 5 September 2011

    Surfer Blood Are In My Veins

    Did you think the Summer was over? It's September already, and it's a grey evening out there, so I don't blame you if you think it is. Well, you thought WRONG. Don't feel bad about it though.

    I'm going to keep this short and sweet. Partly because the track that this post is about will pretty much speak for itself if you, as I will implore you to later, turn it on and crank it up as loud as physically possible (or at least as socially acceptable), and also because the sooner you hear it the better.

    Astro Coast: THAT'S A BIG SHARK.
    I love Surfer Blood. First album? Ace melodies, Weezery nerd-rock stylings with liberal sprinklings of surfy summer goodness, Beach Boys harmonies and an angsty undercurrent. It also had a phenomenally cool album cover with a big shark on it. If you missed out on Astro Coast last year, get it, stick it on repeat and rock the heck out.

    But before you do that, check out 'Miranda' off the bands forthcoming EP, the brilliantly titled Tarot Classics. It's more addictive than crack (not that I've ever tried crack), catchier than the England cricket team at this year's Ashes (topical sports reference!) and if I could inject it intravenously, I probably would (total lie, headphones are more than sufficient).

    It's a blast of pure foamy surf goodness, weirdly super upbeat and chilled at exactly the same time. The verse sounds like a chorus, the pre-chorus sounds like a chorus, the middle 8 sounds like a chorus, and the chorus IS a chorus. It's that damn catchy. The closest comparison I can make (call me lazy or whatever) is to Bossanova-era Pixies, when Frank Black got all obsessed with aliens and surf-rock. Also, that album had four awesome tracks each named after women ('Cecilia Ann', 'Velouria', 'Allison' and 'Ana'), and this one's called 'Miranda', so there's that too. Now I'm gonna shut up, and implore you to give this a listen and TURN IT UP REALLY REALLY REALLY LOUD. I also implore you to listen with good headphones. And I implore you to put this and Mausi's latest single on a 'Summer Isn't Over Yet' playlist. I hope you feel implored.

      Surfer Blood - Miranda by Too Good For Radio

    Tarot Classics is out on October 25th, and not a minute too soon. 

    Friday 2 September 2011

    Mausi Are Back! And This Time, They're Coming After Your Retinas...

    sol. by mausi

    Back in February, a music video caught my eye. Poking around into Newcastle's local scene on YouTube brought up the then-unreleased debut single from Mausi, a spectacularly catchy guitar-based pop-rock ditty with a sweet video filmed on the North-East Metro line. 'Follow Me Home', as its title might suggest, refused to leave me alone, and so I headed along to the single launch gig at the Cluny and was genuinely blown away by the knack for big melodies that this little four-piece seemed to be able to knock out at will.

    After a quiet few months (despite the odd hint appearing on their Twitter feed and a brilliant set at Evolution Emerging), Mausi are back with their next single, and fair to say they've seriously stepped up their game. Available to download now for free at http://www.wearemausi.com/, 'Sol.' presents a different side of Mausi's sound, with gleaming synths taking centre stage. Where 'Follow Me Home' was Phoenix-meets-Sky Larkin, 'Sol.' is more Phoenix-meets-Justice. Yep. The sun-kissed synths and choruses of kids chanting 'DANCE!' brings to mind Justice's monster hit, erm, 'D.A.N.C.E', while the chorus sticks to Phoenix's laid back, ridiculously cool melodic pop.

    'Sol.' is a dizzying concoction of handclaps, funky basslines and disco strings with spot-on production. There's a lot going on within three minutes, but it never feels crowded or forced. Beneath all of the studio trickery lies a simply brilliant, catchy summery pop song full of youthful hedonism, blue-skied optimism and an unwavering, unmistakable dazzle of warm, bright sunshine; all of which sounds a bit ridiculous and OTT until you actually hear the track. If possible, it's even more catchy than 'Follow Me Home'.

    I really, sincerely hope that this little band from Newcastle reach the audience they deserve when they make massive, astonishingly catchy pop music like this. With some exposure, this could be the big hit it totally has the potential to be. In the space of just two singles, Mausi have already become the brightest hope for the increasingly impressive North-East music scene, and I honestly can't give it enough praise. Mausi, we 'Sol'-ute you!

    To regain hope in humanity after that frankly terrible pun, check out the rather spectacular video to 'Sol.' below in all its summer-drenched glory, and believe the hype.

    M A U S I - sol. from wearemausi on Vimeo.

    Monday 29 August 2011

    Joy In Misery: Blonde Redhead's '23'

    God, I hate it when someone dismisses music as being "too depressing". How does the presence of a particularly strong emotion make it worse? Surely, you'd imagine, it'd be far preferable to dull, bland stuff with no passion behind it? Sadly not everyone agrees, as a quick listen to XFM will prove.

    Anyway, as depressing rock goes, Blonde Redhead are experts in both departments - with fifteen years under their belts, they know exactly how to put together a melancholy, guitar-driven track. Admittedly I've been unaware of them until excellent mp3 blog ThisBonusTrack recently posted a few tracks, but after just a couple of listens I knew I had no choice but to download their 2007 album 23.

    Also: WTF is up with this cover?
    The best was to describe 23 would be as "Hail To The Thief Part Two". It shares with Radiohead's sixth album not only the bleakest of tones, but also a heavy empathsis on clean guitar and a little bit of eerie electronic squiggles here and there. Not to mention the album's title track sounding a helluva lot like 'Where I End And You Begin' (which can only be a good thing, really).

    This isn't just a big Radiohead tribute act, however. Lead singer Kazu Makino has a distinctive soft falsetto that perfectly complements the dreamy guitars (and may be familiar to those who have heard the song 'Sweetie & Shag' off the latest Battles album). Backed by the strong guitars and enegetic drumming of twin brothers Simone and Amedeo Pace, it succeeds in the rare achievement of sounding both dainty and muscular.

    There are weak moments, of course. At some points in the album, the glossy production (contributed by Alan Moulder, a veteran of depressing alternative rock after working with Nine Inch Nails, My Bloody Valentine and Smashing Pumpkins) threatens to swallow the songs it's supposed to be supporting - the cheesy robot-voice opening to 'Heroine' very nearly spoils one of the most delicately-written tracks on the album.

    I've yet to check out much else by the band yet, but with eight albums under their belts, there's plenty to look into (if anyone can recommend any other good albums, please leave a comment!). That is, of course, as long as you can deal with feeling pretty miserable afterwards.

    Sunday 28 August 2011

    Album Review: Givers - In Light

    Buying an album on the strength of just one single can be a risky business. I, like many of you I'm sure, have been burned before after having a particularly awesome tune stuck in my head before finding out that the album is, well, just not that special (*cough* Funeral Party *cough*). Givers' debut single is the irrepressibly catchy 'Up Up Up', a bouncing summer anthem which borrows the twiddly Afro guitars of Vampire Weekend, the lo-fi blown-speakers effect of Sleigh Bells and the cutesy boy/girl vocals of Cults (as well as prominent glockenspiel) blending them into a buoyant pop song which isn't afraid to delve into fuzzy noise-pop in its closing minute. When I got hold of In Light, I was expecting ten three-minute pop nuggets, of which 'Up Up Up' would probably be the obvious highlight as 'the one with the slightly spikier edges'.

      "Up Up Up" by GIVERS by Glassnotemusic 

    In Light isn't a collection of three-minute pop nuggets. And 'Up Up Up' isn't the spiky one. In fact, it's probably the most 'obvious' track of the ten, considering its simple chorus-verse-chorus etc. formula. But what unfurls over the course of 50 minutes (!) in In Light is infinitely more exciting, surprising and downright delightful than any of my expectations.

    Take, for instance, 'Meantime', opening with a reverb-drenched guitar riff, some lovely vocal harmonies and a mid-tempo beat. Thirty seconds in, a slightly lurching harder-edged melody takes over, and just past the minute-mark you're into full-on surf-calypso territory. It's as thrillingly melodic as it is disorientating. Switching deftly between time signatures and styles with no regard for the conventional structure that 'Up Up Up' followed, 'Meantime' is also one of the most impossibly upbeat, joyous songs of the year, particularly in its confounding final minutes. That it all coheres and sounds quite as brilliant as it does is revelatory.

    The rest of the album follows suit; the confidence as Givers transcend genres belies that this is only their debut. 'Saw You First' begins with a folky Americana feel before shifting into more structured electronics, like if Rusted Root's 'Send Me On My Way' found itself gatecrashed by Battles. Really. In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to find a regular chorus again until the anthemic 'Noche Nada' five tracks in.

    Ironically, one of In Light's poppiest tracks is actually one of the best, as well as being the shortest (though still over four minutes long) - the brilliantly named 'Ceiling Of Plankton'. Through its intensely catchy verse and glowing, heartfelt chorus, it feels like a song from the second album many wish MGMT had made (whateva h8erz, Congratulations ruled). That is, until it dives headfirst into a jazzy flute freakout with a cacophony of rapid-fire drums and handclaps. The final minute is an exercise in blowing minds with the pure power of a bassline; think the 'You Can Call Me Al' solo lasting sixty seconds and you're almost there.

    I'm reluctant to go into much more detail on the album itself - the twists and turns that In Light undergoes are as densely packed as a thriller, and I'd hate to ruin the plot. In some ways, the first few listens of the album are the best, where the line between songs goes unnoticed, but you're continually struck by segments of blazingly creative melody. Weaving an adventurous thread through aspects of experimental pop, afro, funk, electronics and even math-rock, In Light is a thrillingly diverse listen with a pace that very rarely slows. Where you imagine Battles spent their youth in front of dimly-lit PC monitor pixels, it seems Givers spent theirs staring directly into the sun. In Light is without a doubt one of the best albums of the year so far, and certainly one of the brightest and most richly melodic. File this one under awesome surprises.

    In Light is released in the UK on October 10th, and it's well worth a pre-order. Find out more about Givers at their official website.

    Thursday 25 August 2011

    A second look at Florence + The Machine's Lungs

    True story: I wrote this before the release of new single 'What the Water Gave Me' - but it's perfect timing anyway I guess.

    Florence + The Machine burst onto the indie scene in 2008 with ‘Kiss With A Fist’, a three-chord ode to a violent love affair. Yet on the basis of this modest single, few could have predicted the rapid success of the band’s debut album Lungs, which spawned several bestselling singles, Glee covers and a collaboration with Dizzee Rascal. How did such a radically individual album go on to rule a chart otherwise dominated by oversexualised electro-dance divas like Rhianna, Katy Perry and Kesha?

    The boom in solo female artists that began halfway through the last decade spun out some truly successful and, in some cases, talented acts. Yet an early emphasis on indie rock and singer-songwriters like KT Tunstall was replaced by Lady Gaga's prevailing electro-pop, a style which, Adele excepted, still maintains a vice-like grip on the public consciousness. Florence + The Machine's debut album sticks out like a sore thumb, its use of (mostly) acoustic instruments and blustering, non-autotuned vocals going against all current mainstream trends.

    To describe Lungs as a folk record would be misleading; yet, with an emphasis on the band's harp and Florence's strong voice, it sounds almost rustic. These are great songs, too - gloomy yet singable, with massive choruses derived from the darkest of feelings. 'My Boy Builds Coffins' is spooky and ethereal; 'Hurricane Drunk' is a clever take on the old theme of 'drinking the pain away', and 'Dog Days Are Over' is a joyous yet violent song of sheer celebration. Sure, the closing cover of 'You've Got The Love' may be a popstastic, neutered version of a dance classic, but in the context of the album it makes for a pleasant palate-cleanser after the gloom that precedes it.

    It's not just the music: Florence's lyrics are mostly about her own mortality, with songs about her heart as both another bodily organ and a mysterious supernatural force in its own right. In the euphoric 'Rabbit Heart', Welch sings of herself as the "rabbit hearted girl… shedding her skin", natural imagery contrasted with pseudo-spiritual ideas of "offerings" and "sacrifices". I would go as far as to say - and stop me now if this is getting a bit too A-level English for you - that parallels could be drawn to Lyrical Ballads and other works of the Romantics in the presentation of the natural world as some kind of otherworldly, supernatural force.

    Regardless of how you interpret it, as an album Lungs is a pleasant listen with plenty of variety and some very strong songs. But what's truly remarkable about Lungs is the manner in which it took off after release. In the same way The xx's debut album was pounced upon by serious documentaries as a Serious Soundtrack, Lungs has become the de facto standard for inoffensive reality shows and daytime trailers. 'Dog Days Are Over', 'Howl' and of course 'You've Got The Love' are now inescapable TV clichés. The band's mainstream success was cemented with a TV-friendly duet with Dizzee Rascal at the Brit awards and - shudder - a Glee cover.

    How did an album that at one point was destined for underground, if not cult, recognition, do so well? Its glossy production and position on a major-label go only so far. To see the album from a wider perspective of society at large, Lungs was released as the recession began to ratchet up, but the popular environmental movement was still in fashion - perhaps explaining the success of an album that emphasises our own fragility as humans and our powerlessness in the face of nature.

    The question is, will the follow-up - due in November - still find an audience among a public who always preferred the easy-listening bits to the truly dark and moody highlights? And will the band opt to charm the charts once again, or revert back to the underground (who may or may not be interested now the band has 'sold out')? Here's hoping Florence + The Machine can find a way to capture the public's imagination once again without compromising any of their vision.

    Monday 15 August 2011

    Little Dragon, Big Tunes

    If you can cast your mind back to last year's excellent Gorillaz album - I am of course referring to Plastic Beach, not that iPad-produced bore The Fall - you may remember a female vocalist guesting on a couple of the tracks. Well, the owner of those vocals is Yukimi Nagano of Swedish band Little Dragon, who have just released their third album, Ritual Union.

    Though produced entirely on electronic instruments, Little Dragon's music is pleasantly low-key and subtle - the type that makes you click your fingers but not quite throw shapes on the dancefloor. With this third album, the band maintain their strong, original sound - all glittery computerised twinkles and glitchy beats - as well as their strong songwriting.

    It's a great album, missing just one thing - the emphasis on bouncy rhythms is crying out for a guest appearance by a rapper (and I mean that entirely seriously)! I guess that's a job for the remixers, perhaps.

    Anyway, here's a couple of choice songs from the new album. Enjoy!

    An Unironic Love Of Motivational '80s Cheese

    Though you're reading this on Quiff Pro 'Fro, for Elliot's sake I shall state explicitly that this post has been solely conceived and composed by myself. It's 'Quiff (No 'Fro)', if you will. For I shall, from the next paragraph forth, be expressing an utmost fondness for the sort of music that I'm sure many 'real' music critics (if such a thing exists) would turn their nose up at. So here's some wiggle room for the 'Fro in case this is just too embarrassing for him to bear.

    I love the '80s. I frequently wish I'd been alive in the '80s. They had the best teen movies, the funniest fashion, and it was the decade that Batman got his balls back. It was the era of Born In The U.S.A, the beginnings of the Pixies and Graceland. But there's always some sidelining of certain aspects of '80s pop culture, especially when it comes to pop music. Whilst the aforementioned Born In The U.S.A and Graceland are deemed pop albums with real integrity, much of the chart music of the '80s is often viewed as being pretty awful. Many cried accusations of style over substance - and in lots of cases that would be true, though one has to ask themselves how any quantity of substance could ever possibly top the excessive style so prevalent in that decade. Many tunes from the '80s are usually seen as 'guilty pleasures', tunes with a certain novelty kitsch value; inevitable really, what with '80s production being so unmistakably of its time.

    But here I present a song which I absolutely love with no irony and no sense of it being a 'guilty pleasure' - John Parr's 'St. Elmo's Fire (Man In Motion)', the song from the brat pack film of the same name.

      John Parr - St Elmo's fire by slstrand

    Originally written about a Canadian athlete on a world tour in his wheelchair to promote spinal cord injuries (excellent, I know), it's one of those supreme, uplifting motivational songs that the '80s did best. Just listen to that beast of a chorus, overflowing with increasingly grandiose and brilliantly ridiculous visual metaphors of eagles, horizons, mountains and seas - that kind of stuff simply wouldn't pass in the charts nowadays. Here in the '10s (is that what this decade is being classed as?) it's all just David Guetta lusting misogynistically after every bitch/chick/bad girl (delete as (in)appropriate) he can shake his knob at. The fist-pumping optimism of 'St. Elmo's Fire (Man In Motion)' is so impossibly buoyant that it never fails to raise a smile - it's so OTT that it passes all the way from being one giant cliche back around to actually being pretty damn brilliant. Those lyrics also happen to coupled with a genuinely stunning melody, catchy enough that it'll stick in your head all through the day (whilst conveniently providing you with a constant flow of positivity) and appearing even better than you remembered it being every time you listen to it, whilst the constantly bubbling synths underlying the whole song give it a real momentum. The chord progression in the verses, well, it simply just does it for me. I don't really know how to describe it, it just sounds really bloody good. 'St. Elmo's Fire (Man In Motion)' is a song so extravagantly '80s that I'm sure many will scoff at it, but remove any cynicism and it's actually just a really brilliant pop song.

    Saturday 13 August 2011

    Friday Power Playlist #1

    Whilst at work the other week, I found that my Friday afternoon zipped by so much more quickly if I sat down on my lunch break and made a playlist on my iPod full of the biggest tunes I could think of. Nothing subtle, nothing dainty, just wall-to-wall power-tunes - as soon as the next track starts, if you don't immediately think "YES! TUNE!" then you're doing it wrong.

    This week I thought I'd try and get some of you involved, using a Twitter hashtag #FridayPowerPlaylist and a Spotify playlist to build up an awesome playlist aimed to allow any listener to coast through the afternoon and blast them head-first into the weekend. Well, here's the result embedded as a Grooveshark player below - thanks to anyone who added to the Spotify playlist, and to anyone who didn't unfollow us on Twitter despite my incessant playlist tweets.

    Enjoy your weekend everybody, and see you for another Friday Power Playlist soon!

    Thursday 11 August 2011

    It Wasn't Meant To Be-acons

    Can't help but feel I jinxed this a bit...

    Like many others, today I was informed mere hours before I was due to hop on a train to Skipton that the first ever Beacons music festival in Yorkshire has been cancelled. Crap.

    Needless to say, I'm pretty disappointed - this was to be my one festival of this summer, and though there weren't any massive names on the lineup, it was set to showcase a strong range of top-notch smaller bands and up-and-coming talents including Quiff Pro 'Fro favourites Dananananaykroyd, Benjamin Francis Leftwich and Jamie Woon to name but a few. At first, I thought, the claims of a flooded festival site seemed a bit of a wishy-washy excuse (no pun intended) to call the whole thing a day. Though heavy rain had apparently battered Skipton over the last day or so, surely music festivals are usually prepared and equipped to combat such adverse weather conditions? After all, the likelihood of it raining in Yorkshire can hardly have come to a surprise to the organisers...

    Aw, crap.
    Alas, once I'd returned home from work and saw the photos posted on the Beacons Facebook and Twitter pages, I understood the severity of the flooding. Just see to the left - it looks less like a festival site, more like someone's tried pitching a teepee in the middle of a lake. Obviously there was nothing that could be done to get rid of that much water at such short notice. As let down as all my fellow ticket holders surely feel, my thoughts also go to those who've spent the past year organising the festival only to have it fall rather spectacularly at the final hurdle. If any of you read this - thanks for going to so much effort to put together such a great line-up, it's a real shame it hasn't gone ahead and I really do hope that you're able to try again next year.

    All of this got me thinking about the current music festival situation this year - Leeds festival is still yet to sell out, ticket prices in general have risen to dispiritingly high levels, and it seems like more new events are ending in last-minute cancellations than ever. Just last week, Newcastle's first camping music festival Ignition was forced to cancel the day before it was set to kick off due to the venue pulling out. My suspicions lead me to think that poor ticket sales might have been the cause for that - why else would the venue withdraw from the event other than if they were likely to make a substantial loss?

    With so many smaller festivals cropping up every year (every city seems to have their own now), it's not particuarly surprising to see that not all end up being successes. Within every tier of festival size - from big hitters like Glasto and Reading/Leeds, fairly large ones like Bestival and the Big Chill and smaller ones à la Y-Not - more new events seem to spring up year upon year. This summer, I found myself put off by the high prices of the large and even medium-sized festivals, especially when most of the acts doing the rounds this year have appeared on previous line-ups. I saw Beacons as an alternative where I could pay much less and discover a load of new music instead of paying big bucks to go and see a few stadium-filling bands.

    "If you book them, they will come" - still true?
    Whilst I believe that Beacons would have been a success had it gone ahead (Friday day tickets had apparently sold out, and there was a strong buzz about it on the whole) due to its diverse and alternative bill, the festival market has become dangerously overcrowded - there are only so many willing festival-goers, who only have so much disposable income, and if your new little festival isn't offering anything different to other well-established ones of a similar size, you're not offering an incentive to pull the punters in. Devon Rox, Amplitude, Northern Lights and First Days Of Freedom festivals have all been unlucky enough to have to withdraw their events this year, all due to either being financially inviable or venue troubles. Whilst it's great seeing so many places trying to host their own festivals, it's no longer enough to assume the Wayne's World 2 mantra of "If you book them, they will come".

    The danger here is the effect that this will have on future festivals. Yes, what happened to Beacons is extremely unfortunate and unavoidable (there's no stopping the weather), but had it been a on a larger scale with more money available then a solution along the lines of a water pump and bark chippings may have been an option. Of course, the line-up and independent style of Beacons wouldn't have suited a large budget and a Bramham Park-esque site - my point is, rather, that there is increasingly a risk when choosing to invest your money as an attendee in smaller festivals. Year after year, Glastonbury has coped with ridiculous weather and mud precisely because: it's Glastonbury! What happened here shows that smaller festivals can be less well-equipped to deal with the many problems that these sort of events can come up against. With so much money involved in larger festivals, they carry a much lower risk of being cancelled.

    That's not to say the 'anyone can do a festival' spirit doesn't work - just see LeeFest, also taking place this weekend, which has retained its intimate, independent spirit whilst growing every year from its origins of literally being in someone's back garden. In fact, I think it's brilliant that there are so many options available to festival-goers in the UK when it comes to choosing a size, price and line-up that suits you. My worry is that with the instability of smaller festivals becoming more apparent, the safer option for audiences will be to cough up a bit more cash to go to Glasto or Reading and avoid the independent festivals safe in the knowledge that what you've booked will at least be going ahead. If that becomes the case those wonderful, charming little enterprises, just like Beacons could have been, will be in even more danger of becoming financially inviable through poor ticket sales.

    I'm not pretending to know any sort of solution to all of this. However, it does seem clear that if smaller festivals are to survive, there needs to be a serious re-think as to what approach organisers should take, with an emphasis on fewer events and more diverse line-ups to ensure that corporate giants don't become the only options and, crucially, more paying customers aren't left in the lurch with last-minute cancellations and festival dreams dashed.

    02. Dananananaykroyd - Good Time by Republic of Music
    Tom Vek - Aroused by modularpeople