Saturday, 25 October 2008

Now the stripes are red

A few years ago there was this new band - just a drummer and a guitarist, girl and boy - that had everyone talking. Fast forward to 2008 and there's another band of the same configuration doing the rounds, and with a not totally different colour scheme.

OK, so comparing Blood Red Shoes with the White Stripes is pretty unfair - the similarities end with the line up as the music is totally different. Whereas White Stripes always sound quite sparse and stripped down, Blood Red Shoes manage to create a dense, textured sound that belies their limited numbers. Disaffected lyrics, buzzing guitars and deadpan 'oh oh's are a few other characteristics that set Blood Red Shoes aside from their American counterparts.

We inadvertently missed the first few tracks of their recent show at Astoria 2 and burst in as Laura-Mary n' Stephen were burning their way through You Bring Me Down from their debut album Box of Secrets.

Blood Red Shoes have famously clocked up an incredible number of live gigs since their inception in 2004, and it showed in their performance. The two were astoundingly tight and performed their interlocking vocals intuitively without barely shooting a glance at each other.

Their bijoux stage was decked out with red lampshades, but unfortunately no one thought to put Stephen's drumkit on a riser. This, combined with the terrible layout of Astoria 2, meant it was near impossible to catch a glimpse of him throughout the gig.

Laura-Mary, on the other hand, was centre stage and soaking up all the adoration. With her overlong fringe and moody demeanor, she seemed to be channelling a bit Chrissie Hynde, a bit Cousin It. She played the guitar incredibly well and with gusto, making it easy to believe the Blood Red Shoes manifesto of playing so hard and fast that they bleed.

In fact, couldn't quite believe that the two of them could make such a full-bodied racket and kept craning to see if I could spot any back-up guitarists in the wings, but incredibly they did seem to be doing it alone.

During the encore Stephen invited everyone onstage and members of the audience clambered over each other to stake their place during ADHD, but there was never much of the atmosphere of anarchy or chaos that the band no doubt hoped to induce.

Thanks to their somewhat limited repertoire the show was over less than an hour after it started, a particularly savage and self-flagellating version of I Wish I Was Someone Better and a tense, menacing rendition of Try Harder a couple of the highlights. Overall, I have to say it was a shoe-perb performance.

Photo by +++ponyrock+++ on Flickr

Friday, 24 October 2008

Le shoegazing est bien, non?

I always kinda thought that M83 was an electronic version of Mogwai - dense, interpenetrate music; sparse use of lyrics; colossal, ominous and sometimes dizzying. Then I listened to their latest album 'Saturdays = Youth' and feared that in fact they were a bit like Air - French; breathy female vocals; poppy electronica. So I went along to their show at the Scala to find out.

'Their show' is, of course, in some ways incorrect as the band technically comprises only monsieur Anthony Gonzalez, but on tour he was joined by another keyboard player, a guitarist and, weirdly, a drummer in a crudely-fashioned greenhouse. These physically enthusiastic musicians helped to conjure up a bit of stage magic, as this show could have quite easily comprised just one man fiddling away at his laptop and a couple of synths.

M83's songs really do need to be played full volume in a dark room to be appreciated, so the live setting is pretty appropriate. Many of the songs seem to blur into one and it's easy to get completely absorbed in the music, to the point that it's quite startling to get bumped by another gig goer.

The celestial themes in M83's songs are conductive to this kind of reverie, the band is after all named after one of the most conspicuous spiral galaxies in the sky, Messier 83. Add oscillating melodies, languorous tempos and effects-laden guitars, and it really did feel as if we were a world away from grubby King's Cross.

On the other hand, some of the cod philosophy 'big think' lyrics grate a little. In Graveyard Girl, for example, the precious protagonist murmurs, "I'm fifteen years old, And I feel it's already too late to live, Don't you?". Vomit-inducing.

The majority of Saturdays = Youth gets played - although being less familiar with their older stuff I could be a bit biased - with pop track Kim & Jessie getting one of the biggest cheers of the night.

The band curiously all take to center stage once they have finished to bow and wave at the crowd, pantomime style. Within minutes they are back and provide an utterly immense version of Couleurs for the encore. Beats slamming, strobes flashing, it's almost a full-on rave as the crowd start moving and leaping about having stood reverentially still for the rest of the gig.

M83's cinematic sound was pretty mind blowing live, so perhaps I was right on with my original Mogwai comparison...

Photo by adman_jamjar on Flickr

Saturday, 18 October 2008

A rootin' tootin' barnstormer of a show from Jenny Lewis and co

The talented and beautiful indie queen Jenny Lewis has long held me rapt with the beautiful poetry of her songwriting. The depth and richness of the characters in her songs is quite something and I have tuned in to hear the travails of these individuals right back from Man Me and Jim in her Rilo Kiley days all the way through to the equally detailed portraits in Rabbit Fur Coat, her solo debut.

Here in Camden Lewis ditches the enigmatic but gimmicky Watson Twins who propped up Rabbit Fur Coat and trades them in for a band who could've walked straight off the set of Brokeback Mountain. It is with this talented and cohesive group of musicians that she regales we urban Londoners with the atmospheric folk tales of her new album, Acid Tongue.

Clad in a matador-style jacket and wide brimmed hat, Lewis initially takes to the piano to open with the first of many tracks from this record, Jack Killed Mom. Throughout the show she pretty much steers clear of soul and gospel tracks from Rabbit Fur Coat, bar renditions of You Are What You Love and Rise Up With Fists.

Instead we get the far more upbeat alt-country songs of Acid Tongue, such as The Next Messiah and Bad Man's World, ramped up to hoedown. Overall the cracking setlist strikes good balance between these fast-paced songs and Lewis' more melancholy ballads.

Drummer Barbara Gruska is quite a sight to behold, eyes popping she thrashes the living daylights out of her kit, gurning demonstratively all the while.

A particular highlight of the show is the song Acid Tongue, during which Lewis takes centre stage with just her guitar while her band gather in a Bohemian Rhapsody-esque configuration under a set of spotlights to provide the gospel harmonies.

Quite unexpectedly, the Koko soundsystem allows every nuance of Lewis' expressive voice to come through clear as a bell. Simultaneously tender and cruel, her refrains evoke ambiguous emotions and her lovesongs come barbed, case in point being Black Sand, "Who’s going to love you buried underground?".

Throughout the show the charismatic Lewis has the audience wrapped around her finger - so much so that the enraptured crowd are quick to cheer at any quip that passes her lips. It is officially impossible not to be charmed by her.

In the encore, guitarist and boyfriend Jonathan Rice joins her for a heartbreaking stripped-down duet of Roy Orbison's Love Hurts, which is followed by an equally poignant version of Godspeed, one of my favorite tracks from Acid Tongue. Lewis looks almost vulnerable as she sings at the piano of "When I was in bad shape", and shoots the perilously high notes of the chorus out the side of her mouth like they've been squeezed all the way from the depths of her soul.

The show comes to an absolutely thundering finish as the band go all out with the driving See Fernando, Lewis clambering on top of her piano no doubt to flag down the passing locomotive evoked by this song.

Quite frankly anyone would need to have a heart of stone not to love Jenny Lewis after this show, as melt our hearts she certainly did.

Photos by Lorne Thomson on Flickr

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Q do you think you are?

Hey, we're a massive music magazine right? We've got a huge readership of music lovers? And we've got the oportunity to reach out to those readers and do something progressive, forward thinking and tap into what's at the fore-front of every REAL music fans minds right now? Then let's use our power and industry status to celebrate whats been so great about music in 2008. How about at this years Q Awards, we really honour those who have released inivative music that laughs in the face of mediocrity, performed a live set so awe-inspiring people's whole weekends are made in just the space of an hour and lets celebrate the birth of a new band making waves in the sea of dull, dull, dull. BRILLIANT idea Mr Rees! Who do you have in mind? Only these bad boys...







How can a magazine so successful produce a list of bands and artists that's so incredibly off the mark. This is just wrong, absolutely wrong.
It pains me to think that this is what they actually think constitutes as good music and A part of me hopes it's all done so when the likes of 'Viva La Vida' is picked of the shelf at Tesco's, Q gets to go for a ride in yummy mummy's trolley too.

In a year when Elbow, Kings Of Leon, Foals, Vampire Weekend and MGMT just to name a few have stepped up to the plate and produced albums and live performances of the astounding quality that they have it's remarkable Q, in one clean sweep, can mis-judge a stella year for music in such spectacular style.

Mind numbing shiteness is what Q magazine is, just don't expect that to change any time soon.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Blog on the run

I have no idea what happened to our blog. Who's idea was it to make it green? Why does justifying everything to the left make such a fantastic difference? How did the list of favourite blogs appear down the right hand side, and who controls which ones get on there?

Taking into account the last point I had to post this:

The single blog I am completely addicted to is Complicated Dance Steps. On which 'Blackeyed Donkey' regularly posts concise, informed and intriguing reviews of consistently obscure, fantastic albums spanning an eclectic spectrum of genres. Not only that but there is always a link to download the music referred to, fleshing out the review and negating the annoying habit I have of listing albums I want to hear but never buy because the list is too long and the price of records restrictive.

Subscribing to blogs is something I am hesitent about doing. I subscribe only to my brothers photography blog My Absolute Present, in which he posts monthly photographic journals which sometimes include a picture of our family and are often my only indication of what is going on in his confusing life, and CDS.

I guess, in a vain and hopeful thought, if Blackeyed Donkey is reading our blog I'd like Him (or Her) and you to know what a massive effect that blog has had on my life and record collection. I discard some music reviewed there and don't always rate the stuff He (or She) does but have found myself some great new albums and bands. Most of which I have wanted to review here but couldn't have done justice.

It was the first place I heard White Denim, Zombie Zombie and broadened my taste for kraut-rock 70s techno (if that is a genre). Check out the Jeans Team (who I'd never heard of, liked the name and has grown on me since) from earlier posts for some refreshing electro, the Marshall Tucker Band (who I'd never heard of and are f**king brilliant) for LA country rock and the intelligent Thomas Function (who's album cover is shit but are great).

I don't know who you are or where you're at but THANK YOU.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Band on the run

Last week it was proven that listening to music can increase exercise capacity. Good news for Simian Mobile Disco then, who have produced a running soundtrack in collaboration with Nike. The track is imaginatively called Run and is 27:37 in duration. For the less athletic of you, there's a 5:42 free "edit" on iTunes so you can have a taste of the track when stationary. The pounding beats sound a bit slow to me and I'm no Usain Bolt, although according to the top fitness gurus at NME the pace of the track is the ideal bpm for runners.

SMD are following in the footsteps of LCD Soundsystem, who made the track 45.33 for Nike in November last year.