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