Thursday, 28 April 2011

I Believe In Frank Turner

Look through any 'musicians you'd like to have a pint with' lists from the last few years, and sitting just below Guy Garvey and Dave Grohl, you'd likely find Frank Turner's name. The ex-Million Dead singer has, over the past few years, stirred many souls with his passionate punk-folk, ending up with an ever-increasing dedicated following. And quite right too - Turner's songwriting is often superb, and many of his songs are at once heartwarmingly simple (see the refrain of "Get up/Get down/And get outside!" in 'Reasons Not To Be An Idiot') but expertly constructed, with an endearing everyman stance. Turner's music is both optimistic about the compassion of the human spirit ("Life is about love, last minutes and lost evenings/About fire in our bellies and about furtive little feelings") and often politically critical, leading to the inevitable tag of 'this generation's Billy Bragg'. Not that he seems interested in labels - the most appealing part of Turner's music is the straightforward honesty of it. There are no catches, nothing of a 'scene', nothing artificial, just great, unpretentious songwriting.

That said, personally I feel that he's yet to release a full knock-out album. Between debut Sleep Is For The Week, follow-up Love, Ire & Song and 2009's Poetry Of The Deed, there's more than enough stand-out material to create a storming extended 'Best Of'-style playlist, but you'd be hard-pressed to say that he's made a truly essential full album yet. However, that could all change with new album England Keep My Bones on the basis of new single 'Peggy Sang The Blues'.

I was initially wary but grew to like 'I Still Believe' from last year's Rock & Roll EP, a track which is set to feature on the album, mainly on the strength of an amazing harmonica solo and the boundless energy of the full live band. 'Peggy Sang The Blues' is in a similar vein to that tune, but is much more instantly gratifying, with a wonderful walking bassline, incredibly catchy chorus and an unrelenting, infectious optimism. It isn't the most touching or personal of Frank's tunes, but it's certainly one of the sunniest. In particular, from 2.15 mins in, it's truly an absolute joy to listen to, with uplifting gospel choirs thrown into the mix, the pianist letting loose and a finger-tapping guitar adding a rock'n'roll edge. As ever, Turner's voice is full of conviction - when he sings "better times are coming" against a strummed acoustic, you can tell he means it, and you'll probably start to believe it too. There's not much more I can say about the track to do it justice, so listen to the stream below and repeat: I believe in Frank Turner.

  Frank Turner - Peggy Sang The Blues by Epitaph Records

  Frank Turner - I Still Believe by ZManagement

'Peggy Sang The Blues' is out to download now! Frank Turner's new album England Keep My Bones is released on June 6th - preorder the deluxe edition on Amazon here.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

A Chat With Victoria of Victoria & Jacob

Back in August last year, we published our first ever post on Quiff Pro 'Fro, an "Introducing..." piece on Victoria & Jacob, an electro-pop duo from London. Earlier this week I got a chance to catch up with Victoria herself on their recent goings-on.

“We’re just staying in the studio and working on writing new material,” she tells me on a sunny Easter Saturday, which she is spending on her own. “We’re not back gigging until May, and we haven’t done a gig since probably… November.”

A single, fairly cryptic video (embedded below) has been released of their experiments in the studio, but what does the new material sound like? “It’s still sounding indie-pop songwriting, I think,” reassures Victoria. “It’s dark and moody, but with dubby influences. We’re quite into the soul, electronica sort of stuff going on like James Blake.”

She tells me they’ve been playing with “samplers, synths, vocal effects, delays, and pitch-shifting”. “We really like the pitch shifting,” she says.

For fans of their older ‘folktronica’ material, that drew (unwanted) comparisons to Kate Nash, there is bad news: “That’s quite a long time ago now,” laughs Victoria. “I think we’ve moved on quite a lot since then – but we’ll let you decide that!”

Perhaps I come across as a little too big a fan of that early folktronica stuff, with its endearing glitchy beats and half-spoken vocals, because Victoria defends the new direction passionately.

“I think again it’s important to decide what you are and what genre you’re going to be in,” she argues. “You have so many different sounds to choose from in electronic music. In a band, you’ve got the bass players, the drums - the drum kit sounds the same every time, whereas we’re making a different track every time and using completely different sounds.”

In fact, with so many options at hand, the duo found themselves having to sit down and work out a precise direction for themselves. “We ended up writing a song and liking that, and then writing another song two months on that sounds completely different,” she explains. “So we decided to take some time out and develop a specific sound.”

What kind of stuff has she been influenced by recently, then: does she has any particularly good recommendations?

“I’ve been listening to… Loads of different stuff, really. At the moment I’ve been listening to a band called Creep, some Witch house stuff, like Salem and that sort of stuff, stuff that’s a bit dark… lots of dubby sorts of stuff. A few tracks on Spotify by an artist called Becoming Real too.”

If these name-drops are anything to go by, the new stuff could well be even spookier, and certainly dubbier, than last year's atmospheric EP, With No Certainty.

She mentions Jamie Woon, the hotly-tipped R&B/dubstep singer. “I liked the ‘Night Air’ single,” she says, “But the album isn’t as good as I thought it’d be. It sounds a bit like it’s been attacked by record label producers or something.”

Recently, they’ve been advertising for additional musicians to beef up their live act. “We want to come back and show that we’ve moved up a step,” Victoria explains. “So we want to define our sound and define our live set. Visually we’re quite static, I think – we wanted something more energetic, so we’re looking at drummers at the moment.

 There's A War by Victoria & Jacob

“It’s difficult to get a balance between what you’re recording and what you’re playing live – with only two people, you can only do a certain amount. But now when we’re producing, we’re using all the equipment that we use live to produce so it’s all easier, because we’re just doing what we do in the studio." In other words, they're trying to bring the live sound as close to the studio sound without losing any spontaneity.

“There is some [post-production on computers]," she concedes, "but maybe we’ll use it as a loop – we can only play so much. Some bands just play over the top of recordings of themselves.”

Yet, having waved the flag of electronic music for the duration of the interview, Victoria briefly lets slip her folk roots. “That’s why it would always be nice to have a drummer," she laments. “The sounds that are coming out – you can actually see someone playing it.”

Victoria & Jacob will be playing The Old Blue Last in London on 20th June, and make sure to check out their official website for further upcoming gig announcements. Oh, and their lastest EP, With No Certainty, is on sale for a bargain £2.37.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Noah And The Whale Interview

Look over the span of Noah and the Whale’s career so far, and one thing becomes particularly apparent. Forget the summer-dominating single ‘5 Years Time’, ignore that the band once included now-Brit-award-winning-soloist Laura Marling as a member, and you’ll see that Noah and the Whale know the art of creating an ‘album’ in the traditional sense of the word.

See, for instance, their debut Peaceful, The World Lays Me Down, with its sunny-sounding yet lyrically dark folk-pop tunes of love and death, or the beautiful, stark and heartbreaking follow-up The First Days Of Spring, and the vibrant optimism and classic pop production of latest album Last Night On Earth. Each are unmistakably Noah and the Whale, yet stand as self-contained bodies of work, representative of where the band were and what they were doing at that point. They evolve in sound, they develop in maturity, and advance thematically. They aren’t a handful of recordings thrown together in a release format – just as all the best records are, these are true albums.

“I think it’s important for albums to have a real coherency in sound and subject,” says Noah and the Whale frontman Charlie Fink. It’s an opinion that certainly shows in his songwriting. “Once we’d found the thread for Last Night On Earth, I knew where I wanted it to go.”

Last Night On Earth, which has received some brilliantly positive reviews (including here on Quiff Pro ‘Fro), is a wonderfully hopeful collection of ten classically-written mature pop songs, bristling with vitality, joy, and, most importantly, glorious, glistening melodies. It's an album which once again marks a startling progression from the band’s previous work, starting a brand new chapter in their career.

“I wrote the first song ‘Tonight’s The Kind Of Night’ on this train journey on New Year’s Day. It was just after we’d finished touring The First Days Of Spring for three months consecutively, and we were all shattered,” explains Fink about the initial conception of the album. “We’d had different band members coming and going, it was a difficult tour. I’d gone to Wales for New Year, and I was heading back to London, and just that moment there is where the whole album comes from really – the excitement of heading off into the unknown again, into the night, making a change for yourself. That song is really where I found the lyrical thread of the album, where I knew what the heart of the record was going to be.”

After the frank, personal outpourings of The First Days Of Spring, an amazing but incredibly sad album about Fink’s breakup with the aforementioned Laura Marling, the majority of Last Night On Earth shifts the perspective of the songs to the third person, focusing on a series of characters; “people living impulsively, and living with the spirit as if it were their last night on earth”. Talking of the change in writing style, Charlie claims: “It was mainly to test myself as a songwriter. I wanted to open up new ground. There’s a feeling that permeates songs that are about character writing.”

However, that’s not to say it’s any less personal an album. “The key is to not let that feeling obscure yourself, and on the contrary you find a whole family inside yourself when you write like that,” Fink explains. “You invest as much of yourself inside the song, it’s just a different expression, a different way of telling the story.”

This time around, the story is one of resolution and revolution, reconstruction and rebirth.

“Largely the theme of the album is people changing, and it’s often set against the background of the romance of the night time. Generally it’s about people making a change in their life, and it was kind of a transformative year for me. However well I tell a story, I’m never going to hold anything of myself back in the songs. I find it impossible not to be honest in songwriting.”

Trying to obtain a classic pop sound (Fink acknowledges influences from Springsteen’s Darkness On The Edge Of Town, Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, Prince’s Dirty Mind, Arthur Russell’s Calling Out Of Context, Brian Eno’s Before And After Science and Another Green World, as well as various Tom Petty records) made recording the album the most challenging studio experience for the band yet.

“This album took significantly longer than the previous two albums to make, even though they’re only three-and-a-bit minute songs,” says Fink. “I wanted to make as direct a record as possible, and a pop record. I think the hardest part is to have the confidence at the right time to keep it simple, and I didn’t want it to have any extra weight on it, I wanted everything to be broken down to the essentials. I wanted the stories to be as concise as possible, so that was the most difficult thing.”

Following the top 20 hit single ‘L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N.’, ‘Tonight’s The Kind Of Night’, Last Night On Earth’s thematic anchor, is the second track to be released from the album for that reason. According to Fink, it “just seemed like a natural choice for a second single”. Adding to the creative control over their music, Fink himself directed the music video, with previous experience of directing the 50-minute film companion piece to The First Days Of Spring. It’s a fantastically restrained short, successfully capturing the seeming insignificance and intimacy of moments that could well become lifechanging.

“I didn’t want it to be overblown, because those moments can seem insignificant and surprising, those moments that change everything,” Fink claims.

He adds: “I’d love to do a full-length film at some point, it just depends on time, but down the line I’d love to.”

Looking back to the early part of Noah and the Whale’s career, they’ve come a long way since the song that brought them into mainstream attention, the seemingly cutesy but actually bittersweet single ‘5 Years Time’. Does the band feel constrained by the song that still threatens to define them?

“It’s hard, it’s such a big part of the history. In a way, I know that song’s given us great opportunities to go and make these two records how we wanted. I never know really what to think about it. I feel like people are coming more to terms with it, more and more are hopefully seeing it with some sort of relevance within our career so far,” admits an honest Fink. “I hope people enjoy the way we’ve changed – it’s rare that bands get the time and opportunity to develop. It’s cool that we’ve managed to start with songs like ‘5 Years Time’ and then go on to do different things. It is what it is, basically!”

However, Fink does confess that it wasn’t always a welcome addition to the live show.
“We didn’t play it for a while,” he says. “Now I just kind of feel like there’s a certain split in the audience of people who really want to hear that song and people who aren’t so bothered. I feel like with our shows, people work hard to earn the money to buy our tickets, and part of me just wants to leave them satisfied – I don’t mind playing it to keep those people happy.”

With ‘5 Years Time’ having made its way back onto the live setlist, the current tour celebrates all stages of Noah and the Whale’s constantly developing style, despite the deeply personal (at times uncomfortably so), emotional content of The First Days Of Spring.

“We do five or six from First Days Of Spring live. I still love that record a lot. It’s funny, it’s had a kind of resurgence that album. It came as quite a shock to some of the fans of the first record, and I think it took a while for the people who might like that album to discover it. It’s good now, people really want to hear those songs which is always good!”

Whilst a significant amount of time has passed since that album was released, the emotional impact of the songs never lets up. Though it’s all in the past for Fink, performing the songs live still evokes varying emotional reactions.

“I think you always emotionally connect with a song when you sing it, but often they take on different meanings to you. You can have a different perspective on a song, and it can take on a new significance within your life. The biggest thing is the emotion and the energy of the crowd, it definitely brings the songs back to life again, that reaction and feeling a part of that.”

With another UK tour setting off at the beginning of May, now is the perfect time to see Noah and the Whale in high spirits. Last Night On Earth is “connecting really quickly” with audiences and the band are on top form. Fink promises that “relative to the record, the live show is a bit rockier, there’s a bigger guitar sound, and it’s a bit more energetic”. The band certainly seems to be following the characters of the latest album, living in the moment and enjoying the opportunities that life brings up. As Charlie muses towards the end of our chat: “The key is to live every night like it’s your last night on earth, and then just let it happen.” It’s an ethos which, in the light of the latest album, is pretty difficult to argue with.

  Noah and the Whale - Jocasta by bejeebus

Noah And The Whale - Blue Skies by ieatcatlitter

Last Night On Earth is out now, and it’s flipping amazing so buy it. See the band play live in the UK from May 3rd - 18th.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

That's What She Said

My housemate sent me a message on Facebook the other day with a song attached. "Welcome to the future," he said.

'She' is the pseudonym of Lain Trzaska, some Polish guy obsessed with electronic dance music and Japanese culture. Much of Trzask'as work as She is heavily influenced by hyperactive auto-tuned Japanese pop music - or as it's known by its obsessive fans, J-pop. There are definitely some French influences thrown in the mix, too (the epic 'Coloris', embedded above, could easily be a Daft Punk track).

Having started out in the chiptune scene - in which artists purposefully produce music in the style of 80s video games - Trzaska has upgraded to a bigger, fuller, sound in recent years. (Which isn't to knock chiptune stuff in any way; She's 'Nebula' is a great example of utilising the limited pallet to explore some pretty interesting sounds, like a painter restricting himself to primary colours.)

His (her?) more recent works have branched out a yet further. New single 'Make Me Real' sounds a cross between Pendulum, Nine Inch Nails and Frou Frou. Although bizarrely, it reminds me most of all of New Order's collaboration with the woman from Scissor Sisters (if you don't know it - don't ask).

Supposedly, the song is "a love story set in between and during lucid dreaming when the dreamer is aware of the dream and tries to take control over it". Certainly can't accuse She of aiming low, at least.

I've recently been enjoying the album Coloris, although it's honestly difficult to express how terrible it should be. Funky guitar riffs have been outlawed in dance music for at least a decade; Modjo's 'Lady' is sampled (what is this, 2000 again?); sickly-sweet Japanese voices sing "Konichiwaaa!"; there are even clichéd piano riffs, tinkling prettily. The man represents himself with generic anime girls, for pete's sake.

Yet Trzaska manages to break through these issues, and against all odds produces music with a remarkable energy and beauty (if not freshness). It's geeky to the max, yes - even more so than deadmau5, who has managed to break out of the internet forum ghetto and cross into the mainstream - and certainly entirely uncool. But then if the vacuous Vaccines are what's cool right now, maybe I'd prefer to be a dork.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Radio BlahBlah: Part Two

So, hopefully you've read part one of my journey into the endless abyss of Radio 1, in which I detailed the songs being repeatedly played which have been making me tear my luscious Quiff-locks out over the past two weeks. You might be thinking, he sounds like a right curmudgeonly bastard, and indeed I probably did, raging against all these hippin' hoppin' club noises that the kids listen to nowadays. Well, luckily the rant side of my Radio 1 tale has been fully told, and part two will consist of all the (surprisingly) good songs that are on the BBC playlist.

Friendly Fires - 'Live Those Days Tonight'
An absolute cracker of a comeback single from Friendly Fires here, 'Live Those Days Tonight' is an incredible vibrant tune packed with exciting percussion, a hip-shaking beat and with generally just a hell of a lot going on. Packed underneath the gleaming production lies a deceptively simple tune that lingers in the head, like 'Jump In The Pool' hyper on cherryade. There's an extremely appropriate repeated phrase of "Don't hold back" - Friendly Fires certainly aren't. New album Pala (which has a brilliant cover) suddenly just became a very exciting prospect indeed.

  Live Those Days Tonight - Friendly Fires by grouppiekid

Justice - 'Civilization'
Sacré blue! Justice sont de retour avec un single fantastique, 'Civilization'. Ah, GCSE French, you still serve me well. Luckily, Justice also speak the universal language of DANCE music, spelled 'D.A.N.C.E', as the band have already taught us well. Swap verbs and nouns for bleeping electronics, adjectives for overdriven synths, and punctuation for thumping drums and you're halfway there. To be honest, 'Civilization' isn't a particularly big departure for the bands - it's 100% danceable, there's a crazily catchy chorus, and it's devastatingly cool (in those opening few seconds, you know shit's going down). That's not to say it's predictable, just predictably ace. This is sure to be the dance tune of the summer, and its increasing coverage on Radio 1 is more than welcome.

  Justice - Civilization by thebluewalrus

Fleet Foxes - 'Battery Kinzie'
Yet another comeback song - this second single from the upcoming Fleet Foxes album Helplessness Blues is an absolute beaut, and it's well on its way to becoming one of my best tracks of the year already. This was Fearne Cotton's Record of the Week the other week (she may seem inept, but she occasionally has alright taste in music if I'm completely honest, apart from her dire choice this week of that mind-bogglingly awful All Time Low single), and it's simply gorgeous, and a wonderful progression from the debut. This tune sees Fleet Foxes sound even more like Simon & Garfunkel than ever, which is no bad thing, and there's a wonderful blurring of wintery bluster and pastel-shaded summer melancholy on the track, which just gets better with every listen - if you haven't heard it yet, click the soundcloud player below RIGHT NOW.

  Fleet Foxes - Battery Kinzie by FBi Radio
p.s That link to the All Time Low single 'I Feel Like Dancing' contains the brilliantly crap lyrics for you to sing along to at home - all together now, "Everybody getting kinda crunk/I think some dude just grabbed my junk..."

Aloe Blacc - 'I Need A Dollar'
Some wonderful, fresh upcoming talent here, Aloe Blacc is now making big waves on Radio 1 with his fantastic single 'I Need A Dollar', a slice of old-school soul/R'n'B at its best. It's incredibly smooth, with silky vocals, classy tinkled ivories, and a wonderfully classic style, whilst the excellent lyrics are both relevant to the current economic situation and also fit within the tradition of blues and soul music. It's a tune that should dominate the summer, and that's well worth both your time and your hard-earned dollar.

  Aloe Blacc - I Need A Dollar by stonesthrow

Nero - 'Guilt'
Now, this following statement may come as a bit of a shock to many of you: I am not, I must admit, an expert when it comes to the genre of dubstep. There, I said it. I usually hate the in-your-face room-shaking type of dubstep, preferring the chilled-out 3am post-dupsteb (what a ridiculous but convenient label) stylings of James Blake and (at times) Jamie Woon, but I must confess that whever this comes on while I'm at work I can't help but perk up a bit, 'cos the bit where the bass goes 'wub wub wub' is pretty cool. Now, if I heard it in a club, I would probably be surrounded by a load of knobs going "mad for it, yeah?", but while I'm on my own, this is an honestly 'Guilt'-y pleasure (ba dum-tisch).
  Nero - Guilt by jonathan90

Yuck - 'Get Away'
Some great '90s-style fuzzy grunge pop courtesy of Yuck, highly reminiscent of early Ash. There's a wonderful sense of nostalgia to the track, with a catchy and simple set of four chords tumbling out of an amp that sounds like it was created way back in the jurassic era. The nasal vocals and squealing, out-of-tune solos add to the fun and reckless youthful abandon. Makes me want to grab a skateboard and try to be 15 years old again for three minutes, before I realise that I'm still at work and LMFAO has come on for the twentieth play of the day.

Get Away by Yuck

Other top tunes:
Sleigh Bells - 'Tell 'Em': The first track from my favourite album of last year. Noisy, abrasive and just flipping awesome. Gotta turn it up when this comes on.
Foo Fighters - 'Rope': Not one of the highlights from the ace new album, but it's certainly grown on me, and makes for a nice break from Jessie J and Wretch 32.
The Strokes - 'Under Cover Of Darkness': Still not bored of this - as soon as that unmistakable Strokes-y guitar intro comes in, the feet start moving and I can't help but grin like a kid who's been given a nutella and peanut butter sandwich. Heck, in this song even the chorus has a separate chorus.
Jamie Woon  - 'Lady Luck': Another grower - wasn't sure about this Woon track at first, but it's a great song that's on the poppier side of the album material .
Dionne Bromfield - 'Yeah Right': Fun soul-pop tune becoming slightly in danger of being overplayed, from a terrifyingly confident 15-year-old.

So there you have it - I'm not always really grumpy, and Radio 1 isn't always awful. To tell the truth, many of these songs are played overall probably as much as the ones I listed back in part one. Radio 1 seems to get a bad rap - it may not offer massive variety or loads of interesting but obscure artists, but if that's what you're wanting then BBC 6Music is right there waiting for you on DAB. Sure I'd take that over Radio 1 any day, but when push comes to shove, I guess Radio 1 ain't that bad after all really. Unless it's playing LMFAO, in which case shut it down.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Radio BlahBlah: Part One

When Elliot and myself initially set out to create Quiff Pro 'Fro, we decided that pretty much the one rule for deciding what to blog about should be a simple one - just whatever we've been listening to. Whether it's a brand new album, a leak, a forty year old classic, a guilty pleasure or the best thing we've ever heard, if we're writing about it, it's because we've been listening to it alot, or at least plan to listen to it many more times. With that groundrule laid, we then set forth into the depths of the internet and, well... here we are now.

So, with that in mind, here's what I've been listening to a hell of a lot recently: BBC Radio 1.

Two weeks ago, I started an Easter holiday job in a warehouse, working nine to five - what a way to make a living, or at least try and pay off some of my horrific student debts. So far that's meant ten days of just myself and Radio 1 in somewhat of a battle of wills in a Raiders Of The Lost Ark-esque warehouse (warning: article may contain exaggeration) with no windows and little contact from the outside world. It sounds like the set up of a buddy cop movie, two mismatched musical partners being forced to work together against the odds, except it's not particularly funny, and Fearne Cotton's dismal "banter" is by no means up to the genre standards set and maintained by the likes of Lethal Weapon, Rush Hour and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Why not just turn the radio off? Well, if there's a compliment that I can pay to Radio 1, it's that it's better than eight hours of silence.

Let's be fair though - I am being a little harsh here. As terrible as Radio 1 can be (which it really can at times - read on my friends), in some ways I've not particularly minded spending eighty hours of my life with it over the last two weeks. Perhaps, to continue the buddy cop metaphor, this is a partnership that might at first seem disastrous, but could work out well. However, for the purpose of suspense, and because doing the bitchy stuff is both easier and more fun to write, I shall start with my least favourite aspects of the station.

Every day, I turn up to work at 9am, and immediately I switch the radio on. The first hour is always bearable enough - sure, Chris Moyles is a bit of a dick, but some of his team are pretty funny, and I'm a convert to the suprisingly funny Carpark Catchphrase game, particularly the skit pieces with the legend that is Roy Walker. As I sit and sip my cup of tea (black, one sugar) and sort through the first few pressing matters of the day, the time passes swiftly. Before coming to a grinding halt. For 10am brings... Fearne Cotton. For three. Flipping. Hours. Her presence is announced daily by a moronic, mood-crushing yell of "mooooooorniiiiiiiiiiiing!" that sets the quality and intelligence level of the show at a low which is rarely surpassed over the the course of the following three hours. From here, it's pretty much all downhill until Greg James takes over at 1pm, whose show contains considerably more wit and some amusing games and features. But, enough about the presenters - the main issue at hand here is the music currently being played on Radio 1. In part one of Radio BlahBlah, I present to you these songs which have particularly offended my ears for the past two weeks:

LMFAO - 'Party Rock Anthem'
OK, so this one's an absolute stinker. How can a song with three equally terrible synth refrains, and which is so meaningless, bland and derivative be so popular? Four words: "Every day I'm shuffling". Except what does that actually mean? Sod all, that's what. I don't think I'd be taking so particularly vehemently against the song if Radio 1 didn't insist on playing it literally about once every hour or so. It's genuinely mind-rotting stuff, I can't believe that it's a strong contender for number one.
p.s - Also they're called LMFAO. More like WTF?!

LMFAO - Party Rock Anthem (90 sec clip) by Interscope Records
This is just a 90 second clip of the song. I wouldn't subject you all to the horror of the full four and a half (!) minutes.

Black Eyed Peas - 'Just Can't Get Enough'
The good news - Black Eyed Peas haven't gone for a cover of Depeche Mode. The bad news - this is another frankly terrible single.
The main thing about this song is that it once again showcases that Black Eyed Peas seem genuinely incapable of writing songs anymore. I can't confess to being a fan of their earlier work, but songs such as 'Where Is The Love' or even, shudder, 'I Gotta Feeling' (on a side note, please do take the time to watch this hilarious video) had lyrics, themes, and, most importantly coherence. However, compare 'Just Can't Get Enough' to 'The Time (Dirty Bit)' - with both, I have essentially the same problem. They aren't songs. The new Black Eyed Peas material consists of half-baked ideas and hyper-generic dance beats shoved together as a rudimentary sandwich, with a filling of a spoken phrase - be it "dirty bit" or "switch up" - which acts as a catalyst between the two outer bread-like song components. Not to mention the fact that Fergie's shocking vocals on 'Just Can't Get Enough' (like sour mayonnaise, if you're wanting more of the sandwich metaphor) make you yearn for the days she was autotuned and (possibly) sedated - yes, they're that bad. I'm looking forward to the craze for dance songs with pre-drop spoken utterances soon dying out.

Wretch 32 ft. Example - 'Unorthodox'
Despite sampling the Stone Roses' 'Fools Gold', this one isn't too awful to be honest, with a ska-rap-pop mashup kind of thing going on (stellar music journalism as always on Quiff Pro 'Fro), but the vocals in the chorus begin to grate after a few listens. Also, it's just on ALL. THE FLIPPING. TIME. Which certainly gets annoying after a while. That, and I really don't like Example - he often comes across as a bit of an idiot. I've spoken to him before. Turns out he is an idiot, and a little bit rude.

Jessie J - Price Tag
This one is really terrible though, I really don't get the hype around her. The tune to this is annoying, the lyrics are dire ("It ain't about the cha-ching cha-ching/Ain't about the ba-bling ba-bling"), and when she sings "We just wanna make the world dance/Forget about the price tag", which is an admirable sentiment, it's difficult to believe she really means it. There's no conviction in her voice; it sounds utterly unconvicing, like the lyrics and their meaning are completely disconnected, and after the stereotypical, cliched lyrics of the equally terrible 'Do It Like A Dude' it seems like a massive contradiction. Just to refer back to that song, is Jessie J's definition of what makes somebody a man (or a 'dude') that they grab their crotches and wear low hats? She needs to watch The Big Lebowski. Oh, and 'Price Tag' is played on Radio 1 ridiculously frequently as well. Are you seeing a theme here?

Jessie J - Price Tag by Arto

Other repeat offenders (double pun!):
Snoop Dogg vs. David Guetta - 'Sweat': What happened to you, Snoop? Snoop-a-loop?!
Mann - 'Buzzin': A recent Radio 1 fave. It's getting very annoying, I understand by now that you "feel like money" and that you've "got them all buzzin", Mann, I really do.
Jennifer Lopez - 'On The Floor': Another case of Black Eyed Peas syndrome (lots of bits shoved together and no coherence): get back to the block Jenny.

So, that's it for Radio BlahBlah: Part One - look back soon for Part Two, where I discuss, y'know, music I actually like. So as not to leave a sour taste in the mouth after a post full of bitchiness, have a free mp3 from a Quiff Pro 'Fro favourite, Benjamin Francis Leftwich, who is beginning to get a little Radio 1 coverage himself - he's just announced the summer release of his debut album called Last Smoke Before The Snow Storm, and so is giving away a cover of one of my (and his) favourite artists, Bruce Springsteen. Check it out below - I repeat, this is a song that I do like...

Friday, 15 April 2011

Best Of The Inbox: Phantom Vibration, Summertime Kids, Freeze The Atlantic

Recently we've been getting a few emails from PR people and bands wanting to promote their music. Some of it's actually quite good, and so in "Best Of The Inbox" we share a selection of the ones that stand out the most. And if you have some music you're desperate to share with the world, our email address is

Phantom Vibration
Looking for a bit of low-key dream-pop? Look no further than Phantom Vibration, a band from Minnesota with more ethereal vocals, effects-laden guitars and spooky organs than you can shake a stick at. Recommended for fans of Beach House, whom the band are clearly very influenced by, it's a wonderfully calming listen with a surprisingly wide range of instrumentation. Their debut EP Kids, described as the first of a trilogy of concept EPs, is available now as a free download on their Bandcamp page - it's well worth a listen, and it isn't going to cost you anything!
- Elliot/Ben

Burlington by Phantom Vibration

Summertime Kids
Here's another band ideal for a lazy weekend in the sun (certainly, the name is appropriate enough). Table Manners is a lovely little EP with a warm yet minimalist feel, like oh-so-fashionable chillwave played on real instruments (rather than being just a loop on someone's laptop). Vocals weave in and out of instrumental tracks and there's just a lovely, peaceful atmosphere to the whole thing. In fact, this one's a keeper - it's going straight into my iTunes library, and you can get it too at their Bandcamp page.

Freeze The Atlantic
If the peaceful, relaxing vibes of Phantom Vibration and Summertime Kids aren't exercising your riff gland, then turn your attention to Freeze The Atlantic. Featuring two ex-members from British alt-rock favourites Reuben, it comes as no surprise that the band's new EP Colour By Numbers, featuring their debut single 'Waking Up', contains some awesome hefty chugging guitars. Overall, Colour By Numbers is worth a listen - the vocals sound a little, erm... (dare I say) emo at times, to use a dirty word, but check out the early-Biffy-esque riff at the 1min 44secs mark of 'Waking Up' below to see why it's included on this Best Of The Inbox piece. Oh, also the Colour By Numbers EP isn't free, but it is being released on CD in a genuine colour-by-numbers package with free crayons - pre-order it here.

Monday, 11 April 2011

EP Review: Childish Gambino - EP [Free Download]

Here at Quiff Pro 'Fro, we don't pretend to be experts in hip-hop - but once in a while a rapper comes along with such talent that it truly blows us away. Such a rapper is Childish Gambino, aka Donald Glover, who is already a fairly well-established comedian on the US sketch show Saturday Night Live.

"Honesty, I’m rappin’ ’bout everything I go through
Everything I’m sayin’, I’m super sayin’ like Goku"

With lines like the above it's no wonder Glover has gathered a cult following among the hipster crowd. Don't be fooled though: despite the level of witty references, Childish Gambino is no novelty rapper. The wordplay and use of rhythm and alliteration are phenomenal - far above the standards of, at the very least, most commercial rappers.

"An elephant never forgets, so my dick remembers everything"

Sure, most of it is egotistical, boastful stuff, but at least it's genuinely funny and clever. Glover spends much of the time emphasising his isolation and unhappiness too; how many rappers open their records with the refrain "I don't wanna be alone"?

In fact, in this context the boastful lines seem defensive more than aggressive, a joke to help shrug off the nastiness of the world. On a more negative note, some of this bitterness comes off as misogynistic, portraying all women as lying, money-obsessed sex objects. Who knows, perhaps Glover has had his heart seriously hurt in the past - but it does leave a slightly sour taste in the mouth.

"I don’t fuck with fake bitches except for when I fuck with fake bitches"

Anyway, onto the music - an aspect of hip-hop that often feels like a second thought to most artists. In the case of the tracks off EP, Glover combines fashionable synths and computerised beats with unusual strings and choirs to great effect. It sounds epic and timeless already.

Sometimes the music and vocals can sound a little disconnected though, and it can suffer from a refusal to allow any instrumental sections last any longer than a handful of bars. (Can I coin a term here? "Instrumental fear" - when a musician worries that their listeners will get bored if they shut their gobs for more than thirty seconds.)

Like the best music, though, EP has an intangible, indescribable quality that leaves it lodged inside your brain, lyrics, music and all. It's hip-hop with a geeky, middle-class, self-aware soul - and is all the better for it.

Arctic Monkeys: Please Sit Up, 'Cause Our New Single Is Ace

So, the new Arctic Monkeys single 'Don't Sit Down 'Cause I've Moved Your Chair' just had its first play on Zane Lowe's Radio 1 show as the Hottest Track In The World, and it's a bit of a belter. To give you that on a sense of scale, it's about ten times better than the pun in the title of this post (but, hey, I'm working at short notice here). And it's also a marked improvement on the disappointing 'Brick By Brick', an album track from the forthcoming Suck It And See which, whilst showcasing yet another new direction for the Sheffield four-piece, also contained some uninspired lyrics and melodies.

On first listen, 'Don't Sit Down 'Cause I've Moved Your Chair' is most notable for it's giant, thunderous rock'n' roll riff. When it kicks in, it's pretty much impossible not to grin and nod your head along - live, I bet it would sound bloody fantastic. It again displays a Queens Of The Stone Age influence, though less so than much of Humbug when the smooth, clean chorus vocals of cooed 'oooh's, comes around.

A significant improvement on 'Brick By Brick' is the lyrical content of the new single, which sheds the dull cliches such as "I wanna feel your love" for Turner's usual eloquent vocabulary. The dark, mysterious subject matter of Humbug seems to have returned ("Do the macarena in the devil's lair"), along with the quintessential Sheffield wit (as a song title and a sung refrain, 'Don't Sit Down 'Cause I've Moved Your Chair' hardly rolls of the tongue, but it's amusingly obtuse), which hopefully reveals that the lackluster lyrics of 'Brick By Brick' may be a minority on the album. That said, the "Go into business with a grizzly bear" line is certainly a bit of an odd one.

The last quarter of the track is pretty much a continuous build of squealing guitars, with some of the fretwork that proved one of the saving graces of 'Brick By Brick'. Overall, it's still got some of that classic '60s sound of 'Brick By Brick', but with a pounding, QOTSA-ey riff and, thank goodness, much more charm. Give it a spin and see what you think.

Don't Sit Down 'Cause I've Moved Your Chair by arcticmonkeys

  • [mp3] 'Don't Sit Down 'Cause I've Moved Your Chair' - Arctic Monkeys

MP3 file removed at request

The single is being released as a 7" vinyl for Record Store Day on April 16th. Buy it and pretend to be the girl in the 'Brick By Brick' video.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Newcastle Bands Emerging From Obscurity

As the years go by and Newcastle’s Evolution festival expands, it is becoming evermore apparent that the real highlight of the local music festival is actually Evolution Emerging, a platform for the best local bands to play some of the city’s greatest venues. Whilst the main event gets further and further away from what it once set out to be, getting more commercial but less exciting names and charging increasingly high prices for it, Evolution Emerging line-up improves every time, and remains absolutely free.

This year’s edition, on the 27th May, sees six venues and bars across the Ouseburn valley, including the Cumberland Arms, The Cluny and the Star and Shadow Cinema, hosting twenty seven acts over the evening. It’s one of the biggest and best evenings for the local music scene, allowing Newcastle to showcase the quality and diversity it has to offer.

Though the stage times have this year been staggered to hopefully allow for less set time clashes than ever before, the main difficulty still of the evening is deciding who to see. Opening at the Star and Shadow Cinema are the frankly brilliant Shift-Static, who create beautiful, epic electronic soundscapes, full of shuddering, fragmented beats and gorgeous female vocals. It’s a fantastic live act that should appeal to fans of Radiohead’s more experimental electronic work.

Line-Up Poster - click to see in full size
Making a rising impression on the local scene are Quiff Pro 'Fro favourites Mausi, who can be seen playing the wonderful Cluny2. Newcastle’s answer to Sky Larkin, they play shining, melodic pop-rock with ridiculously catchy melodies, and have a captivating frontwoman in Daisy Finetto. With an impressive launch of their debut single ‘Follow Me Home’ at the Cluny the other week, they’re certainly ones to keep an eye on and to try and catch on the day.

Fans of Everything Everything should make a point to see Tomahawks for Targets at the Cumberland Arms early in the evening. Featuring ex-Yourcodenameis:milo member Ross Harley, strong comparisons can be seen to Everything Everything’s joyously mind-scrambling mix of indie, pop, funk and art, but they’re still a promising prospect in their own right, and well worth seeking out on the day.

At the Cluny, indie-dance three-piece Polarsets will no doubt be playing to a crowd of tapping feet and wiggling hips (or, more likely, loads of pissed lads who still think they can dance credibly after several pints), in one of the more unmissable sets of the day. They’re one on the region’s biggest bands, and the chance to see their highly energetic live show for free isn’t one that should be passed up. Folk-tinged anthemic bar-rockers Coal Train headline at the Cumberland Arms. A good bet for fans of the likes of The Decemberists, they’ve recently supported the likes of Maps & Atlases, and have a dedicated local following.

If all that isn’t enough to tickle your fancy, the the Star and Shadow Cinema is also hosting Evolution Emerging’s official afterparty, featuring various DJ sets including Whip Your Hair, Kingsley Chapman, and, erm… Fist’n’Poon…

It’s great to see that although Evolution may be becoming a bigger name on the UK festival map each year, the Emerging event shows that it’s certainly not forgetting its roots. So before you head off on the Saturday and Sunday in giddy excitement to ‘Pass Out’ to Tinie Tempah, go ‘…On A Mission’ to find Katy B, or wait for Example to ‘Kickstart’ things (see what I did there?), be sure on Friday May 27th to take the chance to check out what Newcastle’s music scene has to offer – I think you’ll all be mightily impressed.

Originally published in The Courier.