Feb 27, 2009

Monthly mop-up: narcissistic bloggery, fake plastic Moog, and Portishead badminton

February is so hard to pronounce, yet it has been such a wonderful month that I demand that all my dear readers gallop to the nearest roof and scream February's name to all the animals of the earth.

Here is my once-monthly mopping of all festering detritus I couldn't smear into any of my other blog posts this month.

What's everyone reading right now?

This blog, of course. I feel humbled yet again because I have more readers than ever. It may be narcissistic to prattle on about my own writing, but I don't get a chance to do it much. Unless you're unlucky enough to work with me. So...

Oodles of people ogled in when I wrote a letter to James Blunt. If I get run over by a lawnmower tomorrow, my most-read article in four years of bloggery will be about bloody Blunt.

My strenuous denial of the existence of Aphex Twin's new album turned a few heads, while my most read review in February was of Massive Attack's Massive Samples. I say 'review' - I usually end up talking about anything but the album (in this case, sampling the Open University).

I love the Moog synth, but I also love Barbie. Can I combine the two?

I'm glad you asked that.  Why not get yourself this uber-attractive Moog Doll, featuring the coolest synthesiser maker ever?

"Accessories: jacket, eyeglasses, mini-moog," but no Ken. Which reminds me, I have a Money Mark doll in its original box somewhere. I must dig it out and have it valued.

There was a wonderful Grauniad article about the development of the synthesizer a few weeks ago. The comments rip the article to glorious shreds, and in themselves make interesting reading for any synth-junkie.

What is the future of Portishead?

Little birds can be gobby buggers, but sometimes they tell me fascinating things. One of those was that Portishead didn't have a record contract any more. This was borne out by a MySpace blog post asking their fans about what to do now they have left Island Records.

They have, incidentally, ruled out 'doing a Radiohead':

"i dont think that were into giving out music away for free to be honest...it fukin takes ages to write and we have to heat our swimming pools.....!!!"
You know we're in recession when bands go blue from paddling in the cold.

What is the future of Portishead?

Oh sorry.

The marina area is getting new housing. On the down side, the planned rail link from Portishead to Bristol has been scrapped even though there is an old line in place that could be redeveloped.

And Uphill D's fortunes continue to shine, having just beaten Winscombe B by eight rubbers to one.

For more utter crap like this, why not follow me on Twitter?

Feb 25, 2009

The Prodigy's Invaders Must Die: tingly breakdowns and a trouserful of fun

So Invaders Must Die is the big comeback from the Prodigy, huh?

Here's what the professional reviewers think. The Independent reckons it's a fairly toothless exercise. The Grauniad reckons they're rehashing old material with limited success.  Drowned In Sound blames the Prodigy for the existence of the pants-poor stag party junglists Pendulum.

The Times, which in many ways is the natural home of punk techno, was delighted that Invaders was the "big, brilliant, dumb rave album we have secretly wanted them to make for the past ten years". NME.com hasn't posted its thoughts on the album, although their review of current top ten single Omen chucks us the cutting-edge bone of "it doesn't get a lot more old school than this". Snappy.

Spin Magazine celebrates the Prodigy's "tingly breakdowns" instead of their older style "bratty prattle". Now that's what I call delightful journalism.

What's my non-professional opinion? It's a relief to see a bunch of ageing punksters rediscover their mojo to some extent. But watching The Prodge block-rock their bitch up so many moons since their rave origins... well, it's a bit like Johnny Rotten pretending to be a rebel when all along he just wanted to advertise butter.

Okay, they've got big-teeth rock monster Dave Grohl guesting on the album, but that's where the problem lies. Last generation's white-gloved ravers and nihilistic Cobainers are this generation's MTV junkies. That's what the Prodigy are now: a glorious, hard-edged dance act designed for gigantic stages and wide-screen tellyboxes. Which is fine, but please don't mistake that with the punk spirit that gave birth to rave.

But let's put the negatives aside, into this little shiny box of negatives which I am going to hide under my bed and only bring out when I am in a long-term relationship and I'm running out of passive-aggressive snipes with which to wither away our fading love.

The Prodigy bring a mentalness to the charts which is both primary coloured and full of interesting shades. Punk or no punk, they're one big trouserful of fun, and if that's what you want with the Prodders (and what else would you want?), Invaders Must Die works.

To use a ridiculous analogy, if Fat Of The Land was Fargo, and Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned was The Ladykillers, then Invaders Must Die is Burn After Reading. I do wish it was No Country For Old Men, but still, it's good enough for me.

Global Gathering is just one of the places their live show will invade this summer.  I will be setting fire to my copy of the Times and using it as a primitive light stick at the earliest opportunity.

Feb 23, 2009

Gang Gang Dance will not play Manchester this week

Gang Gang Dance, who gave us last year's tribal wonderfulness of Saint Dympha, are marooned in Amsterdam after a terrible fire destroyed all their gear.

I really feel for them.  It's like the Queen losing all her Corgis in a furnace.  Or Paris Hilton having her chihuahua explode.

Maybe I just have it in for dogs.  Let the band themselves describe the devastation:

"We didn't really know the scope of how bad the fire was until we arrived on the scene to find every piece of equipment we own scattered out in the parking lot...melted, charred, and still smoldering.

"Most of our gear is way beyond repair and the small amount of stuff that looks as if it wasn't physically destroyed by the fire itself has all been doused by the firehoses.

"So we have been left with synths that are melted, a charred guitar, cases full of wet pedals and cables, drums that are nothing but the metal rims, amps that look as if they've been doused in tar."
Ouch. Naturally, this week's appearance with Hot Chip's Alexis Taylor at the Manchester Roadhouse has been cancelled. Read the full statement here.

Feb 22, 2009

Roman walls: an untimely Time Team theme with added Yogi Bear

I feel a botany-themed post coming on.

By the way, speaking of the outdoors, what the hell is Tony Robinson up to? I swear he's digging up the whole nation bit by bit.

Oh, that's fine, Tony, you can dig a trench in my garden to dig up some old dead people or stones or shit. Sure, you can bring an old West Country rocker, as long as he doesn't steal my beer or start waffling on about possible Roman walls. There are always possible Roman walls in archaeology. Change the record.

What you don't realise is, once all Time Team's trenches link up, which they will inevitably do, the entire earth will end up two metres shallower. Scientific fact.

So let's appreciate nature before Robinson bulldozes it all up. Maybe start with Samandtheplants.

Sam loves plants. His sounds are so rural on his debut album The Eft, it's almost as if all his instruments are made from bracken. The songs are the kind you sing in the countryside, so I reckon they have no place on an uber-urban electronica blog such as this.

But then, he'll shoot off, like Tony Robinson in an out-of-control JCB, down a strange, ambient, clicky path. It's worth a purchase, because it will warm your ribcage something lovely. (Hear more of his home-woven guitars and lush electronics on his 41-copy limited edition EP In The Scare Shed.)

In other countryside news, Susumu Yokota (pictured) has followed up last year's Love Or Die with new album Mother.

Mother has more vocals than usual, but the LP remains in the territory familiar to all Yokota fans: organic, spacy, natural-sounding but always synthetic and controlled.

When listening to either The Eft or Mother, stay indoors. Otherwise, they will have you drifting asleep at your picnic, and one of two things will happen. One: bears will steal your picnic basket. Two: Tony Robinson will have the ground from under your feet - quite literally.

Stupid Tony Robinson. I reckon he's trying to steal Earth, bit my bit. Robbing bastard.

Feb 20, 2009

Max Tundra brings his sesame streetfunk to Manchester

So then, me and my chum packed our party bags and jollied off to a Max Tundra concert.  It was one of those events we'd been talking about for ages.

The venue was the Deaf Institute, Manchester's gigging force majeure. We delayed setting off because there were some dodgy lads hanging outside my gaff, and I feared they might break in and steal all my chandeliers and brass candlesticks. We then spend fourteen years in the bustling queue while we spectacularly failed to get a refund on a pre-paid ticket. We then queued for non-alcoholic lager (him) and a diet coke (me) because we're on health kicks.

So we missed support band May68.  A BBC review said they "don't make music; they make addictive little bombs."  Bombs are frightening enough without them being addictive, sheesh.

May 68 are named after Charles De Gaulle's least favourite month (ask your French grandfather, if you have one). They're relatively new onto the Manchester scene, and they're a bright pop baguette with an extra helping of CSS sauce.

The be-masked Wave Machines also supported.  They're Hot Chip-inspired art-poppers from Merseyside who sling their funk way below the belt. Their set had one sparkling gem in the form of Keep The Lights On. It sounded like the Bee Gees and David Bowie getting dirty with Grace Jones.

Finally, to the Max (pictured).  I hinted at Max Tundra's trademark stage spasms in this piece back in October, but it struck me for the first time that he is a man who seems constantly surprised by his own music.

He will buy an instrument (a kalimba, a children's toy microphone, a glockenspiel) to use once in one bar of one song. The result is a man running around the stage trying to keep up with his own incredible music.

So we had the skippy frantics of Orphaned, the speed-freak r 'n' b of Lights, the sesame streetfunk of Which Song, and the bizarre other-worldiness of his "cover" of KLF's What Time Is Love.

The dodgy lads didn't steal my brass candlesticks. But me and my chum did make off with fuzzy warmth in our guts from Max's melody and deadpan pleasantries. "Anyone here from the Owen's Park campus?" says Max, no doubt recalling a quick read of Google maps on the way to the gig.

Max Tundra is a definite for your diary next time he's in town and, no, it won't matter if you miss the support band, or if you have to pay for a friend who didn't turn up, or if some robber nicks your widescreen cafetiere while you're out.

Because watching a constantly startled Max Tundra is worth every penny.

Feb 18, 2009

Live tweeting at the Brits - the full text

As promised a couple of shakes ago, I have just live-tweeted the 2009 Brit Awards on my Twitter feed, which, incidentally, is worth signing up to because I post a few extra links and news that I can't fit onto this site.

Here are my Twitter comments ("tweets") in full, with minor edits so it makes more sense.

- The Brits are copying Glastonbury and using a 'pyramid stage'. Pfffrt. Expect some highly smug tweets as I watch from my tellybox.

- U2 are putting all their words on a big screen like a worship concert.

- Ha ha, look at James Corden, doing a great Homer 'smock'.

- Simon Pegg has kept that weight off.

- Duffy best female?! - the clue's in the name.

- Best International Female up next, it's... NO NO NO WRONG NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO WRONG GET HER OFF NO NO NO NO NO AAAARGH STOP HER TALKING NO NO NO OH PLEASE NO. Katy Perry's stopped. Phew.

- Took Corden 15 mins to do a shag joke to Kyles.

- Girls Aloud look like flamingos.

- Second Brit for Duff(y).

- It's Coldplay - I may have to hide.

- Chris Martin came on naked, doing a rap version of Run To The Hills. Didn't expect that.

- Pet Shop Boys, Brandon Flowers and Lady GaGa later. It could be messy.

- Strong International Group category. It's Kings Of Leon, obvs'ly. Epitome of casual cool, "y'all".

- Why's Paul Weller at home having tea with Adele? (He was in a pub, it turned out.)

- Has Duff(y) finished? Can I un-mute yet?

- Joe Calzagglewaggle looks sheepish because he's totally forgotten which award he's presenting- heh!


- Who are those people with torches?

- It's our hometown boys, Take That. Robbie fever! Rumour was Robbie Williams would turn up. He didn't, but Take That's Brit performance was truly beautiful. Mat Horne is having an orgasm at it.

- Take That looked like Kraftwerk.

- Nick Frost looks like a geography teacher browsing a gardening centre.

- Eddie's just killed Iron Maiden.

- Matt Lucas knows how to find the camera, doesn't he?!

- Hoff and Elbow. What a contrast. Oh as I type, Guy Garvey says to the Hoff, dryly: "You up for a drink later on, David?" Fried Brits gold, ha ha ha!

- Next bit of gossip: Will Katy Perry "controversially" snog Florence & The Machine? Will the Pet Shop Boys, the Killers and Lady GaGa be a car crash? Stay tuned.

- They muted Florence's introduction. Hmm. No snogging.

- Gok's predictable and receding.

- Best International Male Kanye West did a terrible "inter-racial" joke. (International. Inter-racial. It's a pun, see? Kanye's no Tim Vine.)

- Ting Tings and Estelle's quite good mash-up is more sass than my bowels can cope with.

- Did Grace Jones do Estelle's make-up?

- Allan Carr comes on to 'Womanizer'. Does science teacher joke - I've already done that here, luv.

- Best single Girls Aloud is a major relief.

- Tom Jones is a McLaren F1 car (orange and grey).

- Right, Radiohead, it's your time to win... go on... go on... Duff(y)?!? Oh come ON.

- Duff(y)'s crying. Good. She's ruined all music forever by beating Radiohead.

- Stephen Fry's tummy is rumbling - oh the trivia of Twitter.

- Took Corden 110 minutes to do a shag joke about Brandon Flowers.

- Here's Pet Shop Boys' disembodied heads. Starting with Suburbia, with added pink wig, then Love Etc, then Always On My Mind, then (to a massive cheer) Go West . It's a classic Brits melody!

- Here come the sexy men dancers.

- The sexy men dancers have been replaced by Lady GaGa on What Have I Done To Deserve This. One second of I'm With Stupid, then Brandon doing It's A Sin. A couple more breakneck track changes.

- Wow, those mostly naked dancers don't leave a lot to the imagination, do they?

- Pet Shop Boys didn't need Brandon Flowers and Lady GaGa.

- So that's it, done. Elbow had the best moment with the Hoff, Take That were the best performers and Duff(y) was a travesty.

A finally message to a friend on Twitter: "Twittering was the only way of coping with the awfulness." See my Twitter page here.

Live tweeting the Brits - a short-notice announcement

Twitter is by no means the saviour of the world, but it's a good excuse to send some 140-character bitchin' into the atmosphere.

I will be 'live tweeting' the 2009 Brit Awards, which should mean about a dozen pious comments over the two hour show, from 8pm tonight.

Yes, I know it's short notice, but I really wasn't expecting to get a night in to do this. Go, Johnny, go go go go to my Twitter feed this instant.

Edit: all my Twitter feeds can be found on this very blog post here.

Some lists containing rhyming Autechre, Orbital in colour, and the entire history of dance music

I've been rather busy in a studio making up stupid jingles and idents for a series of radio programmes, so my post today will be a little half-hearted, pathetic and, quite frankly, lukewarm enough to make you vomit.

Which is a shame, because I want to tell you about a really good gig by an electronic musician who seemed constantly surprised by his own sound.  Maybe I'll write about that later in the week.

So for now, here is the standard blog fall-back. Lists.

Five Autechre tracks that don't quite rhyme:

1. Gnit

2. Glitch

3. Slip

4. Krib

5. Theme Of Sudden Roundabout

The entire history of dance music traced through five significant number one hits:

1. Donna Summer - I Feel Love

2. Steve 'Silk' Hurley - Jack Your Body

3. Black Box - Ride On Time

4. Livin' Joy - Dreamer

5. Crazy Frog - Axel F

The most played artists on my Last FM page, including one imposter:

1. Autechre

2. µ-Ziq (artwork pictured)

3. Bonnie Tyler

4. Plaid

5. Bola

The biggest Roland songs in UK chart history:

David Whitfield With The Roland Shaw Orchestra - Adoration Waltz (#9 in 1957)

Roland Rat Superstar - Rat Rapping (#14 in 1983)

Armand Van Helden featuring Roland Clark - Flowerz (#18 in 1999)

Roland Rat Superstar - Love Me Tender (#32 in 1984) ... does anyone actually remember this?

Honorary mention goes to: Grange Hill Cast - Just Say No (#5 in 1986)

What Orbital's albums would have been called if they had continued the colour theme:

1. The Green Album

2. The Brown Album.

3. The Grey Album

4. The Blue-ish Album

5. The Blue And Black Album (original soundtrack)

6. The White Album

7. The Black Album

8. The Brown Album (greatest hits)

9. The Black Album (original soundtrack)
10. The Blue Album

11. The White Album (USA greatest hits)

12. The White-ish Album (live at Glastonbury)

Feb 16, 2009

Out of Jan 'Mouse On Mars' St Werner, Brian Eno and Merzbow, who do you think would do the fandango?

Before I get my hands filthy with three recent albums, I ought to warn you that I've been obsessed with horses for the past few weeks.  Not Equus-obsessed, but just finding-them-amusing obsessed.  So at some point during this blog post, I will exclaim "Horse!" when you least expect it.  Be ready.

Jan St Werner, of Mouse On Mars and Von Sudenfed fame, has again branched out into his solo guise Lithops.  By all means, look up Lithops' new album Ye Viols, but please don't expect a Mouse-type jaunt.

When it's upbeat, it's like trampolining on barbed wire; when it's downbeat, it's like having your head rolled in setting fibre glass.  I can only assume that while making Mouse On Mars tracks, St Werner tidies out all the mistakes and broken ideas by turning his studio upside-down, shaking it, and letting all the snippets and imperfections pour into Lithops.

Ye Viols is a must only for die-hard Autechre fans and appreciators of sparkling, pristine production.  If you're not fussed about either of these, stick to Mouse On Mars.

Album number two.  Brian Eno collaborated with Moebius and Roedelius, who are jointly known as Cluster (photo: Mark Pilkington).  They brought us an album called After The Heat, an LP rich with rural etherealtronica, Vangelis-inspired soundtrackism and cute popsurreality.

After I've finished making up words, consider that this album is over 30 years old. Its re-release sits neatly in our Twitterfied world of dubstep and glitch, like a cool grandpops who knows how to get out of his threadbare chair and get down with the kids.

The best track on After The Heat is The Belldog.  It has a synthy bass which circles and circles, building a huge sense of foreboding, and also because of its 70s analogueness, makes the whole track sound like the Airwolf pilots getting stoned.

Which brings me, finally, to another old master.  Merzbow has released the first volume of his 13 Japanese Birds series, as written about so eloquently here on my site.

If you can stomach 20 minute tracks of frenetic precision drumming and bustling distortion, then you're a greater person than me. I'm just thrilled he called one track Fandangos In Space.  I want to have a fandango in space.  Can someone arrange that, please?

Did you see my horse-shout?  It's in the first paragraph of this post.  I told you it'd be when you least expect it.  I'm clever, me.

Feb 14, 2009

There are Clark EPs at the bottom of the Garden

Fuzzy techno funster Clark will be hurling up some new material next month, and billions of electronica heads await with nervous, wringing hands.

His four albums have set him up as one of the most mouth-wateringly smashing electronic artists of this decade, so I wouldn't be surprised if Christopher Clark was St Alban's most important export since... er... hold on...  [flicks through a tatty old book about English cities] ... I wouldn't be surprised if Christopher Clark was St Alban's most important export.

The new EP is called Growl's Garden, and Warp Records will unleash it to the world on March 23rd.  The artwork is plastered above.  Clark promises "club tracks", which is very un-Clark, and a "vocal line", which is also very un-Clark.

Will it work?  See what you think of this live Growl's Garden snippet recorded some months ago at a gig in the Polish town of Cieszyn, whose most important export is, incidentally, beer and sweets.

Feb 12, 2009

Blowin' in the wings: why protest songs should return to centre stage

A member of the BNP lives near me.

I know because on the sign outside the flats where this person lives, someone has scrawled a flat number next to the letters "BNP".  And yes, the address was on that leaked list of members last November.

I do wonder if the person concerned wears the graffiti as a badge of pride. Or whether they're vulnerable and fearful in a society that ought to respect people's freedom of speech, even if their views are hurtful and repulsive.

Do you recall the years after Thatcher (you remember Thatcher: she's the mother of the BBC's least favourite celebrity since Jonathan Ross, Jeremy Clarkson and, um, the DEC)?  In the early 1990s, for a generation of young people politicised by the poll tax riots, it was especially cool to bash racism with music.

Some artists waved the flag higher than others. Reggae trance soundsystem Dreadzone (pictured) woke the zion youth and encouraged them to Fight The Power. Credit To The Nation sampled Nirvana with protest single Call It What You Want, and we all learned that (a) racism was wrong and (b) sampling had gone too far.

And Phil Collins threatened to leave the country if the left-wingers gained power. (They never did, because Collins and his ilk secretly infiltrated the Labour party with a drumming gorilla, or something.)

I still have Anti-Nazi League stickers on old notebooks somewhere.  The notebooks are full of appalling song lyrics that will never again see the light of day.

Since then, we've forgotten how to be political through music. Yes, protest songs live on, and plenty of musicians rouse the Citizen Smith within us. But Bono made the whole thing a little maudlin, while Morrissey's revived spat with the NME left both parties looking more than a little pathetic.

Politics seems to be hiding in the wings when it should be centre stage.  There is plenty to be political about.  The BNP keep winning seats for their disgusting cause, the red-top dailies prey on people's fears, and the pay gap continues to drive a chasm betwixt all different sorts of people. 

It's pretty disingenuous of me to turn a piece about racism into an exercise in nostalgia.  But I wish we could regain that spark.  Make Chumbawamba cool again. Well... okay... maybe I've taken it too far...

Feb 10, 2009

Aphex Twin's new album does not exist. Now can we just stop worrying and enjoy our knaves-- er, I mean-- lives?

"New album title begins with the letter V. Close enough to Y for Yellow House. Only W and X getting in the way, and keeping Y and V apart."

Warp Records guitar-weilders Grizzly Bear exclusively revealed their new album begins with the letter V, according to this mysterious Twitter 'tweet' (link now broken) from a band member. They later exclusively revealed the LP will be called Veckatimest, and mixing finished this week.

Yes, wow. This website is just like Heat magazine so I can use phrases like 'exclusively revealed' and get away with it.

I can exclusively reveal that "Grizzly Bear's album begins with V" is an anagram of "Warm vegetably sizzling? Rubbish!"

In other Russell Grant-style wild speculation, I can exclusively reveal that the internet is squirming with the rumours of Aphex Twin (logo pictured) releasing an album called Konklaver.

Despite the rumours being absolute guffballs (there is no 'Konklaver'), Aphex fans are dribbling over forums everywhere with their unified cry "KONKLAVER!!!!!!!!!!", wearing down their exclamation mark to a mere smudge of its former self.

Aphex Twin has long been the subject of conjecture, as fans of his pseudonym The Tuss will testify.

With titles no better than 'Fashionable Headpiece', the dull track listing of 'Konklaver' is a far cry from Aphex's rich, early names like Schottkey 7th Path, Acrid Avid Jam Shred and i.*

As speculation goes, it's pretty unconvincing. But speculation's rife, as speculation so often - I can exclusively reveal - is.

I can exclusively reveal that 'Aphex Twin's Konklaver' is an anagram of 'Howl, extra-pink knaves.'

Aphex Twin's new album does not exist. Grizzly Bear's, however, does.

I can exclusively reveal I have been using an anagram generator instead of watching the Grammys. Please stop reading this drivel, and pop over to YouTube where you can see a delightful video of Grizzly Bear playing in a French bathroom in 2006.

Ever-so-slightly related blog post: Aphex Twin's new album does exist, my lying mouth be damned

Update: read my December 2009 update on Aphex Twin's new album here.

Update: read my March 2012 update on Aphex Twin's new album here, including an exclusive comment from Grant-out-of-Rephlex.

*not a typo, honest.

Feb 8, 2009

Chop off your hands and replace them with lazers for Detroit: 313 words about Harmonic 313

Edit: This album is mentioned in my top ten electronica albums of 2009.  (And no, this paragraph *doesn't* count.)

Here are 313 words about Harmonic 313 on the occasion of the release of his first album When Machines Exceed Human Intelligence. And yes, this paragraph goes toward the word count.

When Warp Records are spreading their tentacles into strange and wonderful genres, Harmonic 313 is the root of the tree trunk keeping the label rooted to its past. I could replace 'tentacles' for 'branches', but I like mixed metaphors.

313 is the dialling code of Detroit, a clear reference of intent when you consider this sounds like the daughter of motor city band Drexciya.  But this is not Put Your Hands Up For Detroit. This is Chop Off Your Hands And Replace Them With Lazers For Detroit.

This is the siren song of a cyborg calling from the distant shores of the future. It's the disturbance you get on the edges of hip hop; the fuzzy lines at the side of your vision.

A Speak and Spell machine is the gimmick, but in the android hands of Harmonic 313, it becomes something more sinister.  The desolation rips through me, like someone has whipped the bottom end of my spine and sent a shockwave up into my cold, cold brain.

When Machines Exceed Human Intelligence works better when things are kept simple. Like mashed potato. So we don't need the rapping that appears in small doses. Like mashed potato. I hate mashed potato with raps. Hey, Vanilla Ice, get out of my mash. That's what I'd say.

This absurdly cadillac-themed Harmonic 313 tribute on Hipsterwave amused me no end. It seemed non-sequitur. I have been getting friends to post non-sequitur comments on this Aphex video (edit: some bugger deleted them) - please join in.

Where was I?  Oh yes, 313 words.  Just enough remaining to say Harmonic 313's When Machines Exceed Human Intelligence can be bought from Piccadilly, Boomkat or Bleep.

Feb 6, 2009

Telefon Tel Aviv's big hair sound is shrouded in darkness

Edit: This album is mentioned in my top ten electronica albums of 2009

I want to describe Telefon Tel Aviv's new album, heralded as something to watch in my 2009 preview, as a collection of "driving pop anthems."

Don't get me wrong: they're not the Pet Shop Boys. They're not singing glorious ditties about naughty sex for a start. But there's something super-electro-pop about Telefon's third album, titled Immolate Yourself.

Spiralling opener The Birds' punches the air with eighties snares, an energetic stadium keyboard line and breathy vocals. Helen Of Troy should have its own big hair video and rolled up jacket sleeves..  Stay Away From Being Maybe steals the bassline from Bill Withers' Lovely Day and fires it into space.  Yet, it's all muzzled and shrouded in dark contemplation.

The deeper you push into the album, the more their sound hits a more familiar skewy electronica beat, with layer upon layer of melodies that ultimately lead nowhere. And that's the flaw with Telefon Tel Aviv. The production sparkles, the new nods to bands like Kraftwerk are a massive improvement, but they're never going to hit you in the face like, for example, Apparat or Wisp.

It's insubstantial... but it's a really pleasing, cotton wool, uplifting, dark and wet insubstantial.

And so to the electronic elephant in the room: the death of one half of Telefon Tel Aviv.  Charlie Cooper (in yellow, above) went missing after an argument with his girlfriend, but beyond that, the details are sketchy. They should stay sketchy in respect to his family and friends.

If this is the end of Telefon Tel Aviv, then Immolate Yourself is the sound of a band reaching their suitably melancholic climax. In the words of one commenter on Telefon's Myspace page, the "group put New Orleans (and the US in general) on the IDM map. Heck of an accomplishment."

IDM, for the uninitiated, is the name for most of the music you read about on this blog. And its historic connection with New Orleans is, well, zilch. It has been a British-led genre, so you could say America doesn't "do" IDM.

Except, it did. And for a while at least, its name was Telefon Tel Aviv.

Dear James Blunt: a reply

I wrote a letter to James Blunt proffering my expert advice on how he could improve his career prospects.

I got a reply.  And honestly, I feel like I've waited for my hero, autograph pad in hand, through rain and cold, and upon arrival he's just swished past into the stage entrance without a by or leave.

Dear Fat Roland,
Unfortunately due to James busy touring schedule he is unable to reply personally, however all messages will be passed on to his house for him to read on his return.

Kind regards,
Twenty-First Artists.
So he has my advice. His cleaner is probably reading it. Apparently he's travelling across Mexico on a horse at the moment, but I see he's due to play Moscow, so I hope he'll stop by his Ibizan pad to pick up his messages some time next week.

Read my Dear James Blunt letter.  Any ideas on what he'll say?  Personally, I think he'll be delighted.  Post your thoughts in the comments.

Feb 4, 2009

Dear James Blunt

To: Twenty-First Artists Ltd,
1 Blythe Road,

Dear James Blunt,

I couldn't help noticing that you aren't quite the chart presence you once were. Your last three singles, which the BBC lovingly described as "catchy and uplifting, in a Chris-Martin-on-an-off-day kinda way", have reached numbers four, 57 and 20 respectively. I would have thought if these chart positions befell Girls Aloud, KitKat's sponsorship moguls would be spluttering into their sugary tea.

May I offer a suggestion that would help return you back up the greasy pole of fame?

These days, it's all about chicks with synths. Trust me on this: I have my finger on the pulse of modern whims. Lady Gaga is a chick with a synth. La Roux is a chick with a synth. Britney Spears is a chick with a synth (that is, assuming "synth" is rural states slang for a snaffled bag of Bic razors).

You need to have a synth. You need to buy a nice shiny silver synthesiser and get it into every publicity shot you can.

You don't have to play it yourself:. Maybe smuggle in a synth pop legend such as Gary Numan, Adamski or Richard Clayderman to tinkle the electronic ivories for you. Then mime playing, as though it's your big new thing. "Look, there's James Blunt, and he's a keyboard wizard," people would say, and they would point. People would point at you, although this time it would be in admiration.

You should do this. Become a chick with a synth. Every single would go to number one.

Which leads me to one last thing. You will, of course, need to alter your gender. I am quite happy to offer my services. I once cut the leg off a teddy bear with my dad's nosehair clippers, and I'm sure changing your sex wouldn't be much different.

I still have the nosehair clippers.

It wouldn't be pervy or anything. I have no desire to see you naked; I think we had quite enough of that in your 2005 smash hit video I'm Quite Beautiful. One quick snip, maybe a bit of a push-in with a sink plunger, and we can leave matron to mop up the blood.

Just let me know.

Yours sincerely,

Fat Roland

Feb 2, 2009

Massive Attack sampled a sewer designer? This must be Massive Samples then

The advent of the sampler in electronic music gave us geeky music enthusiasts our own special game: see if you can find the original bits of audio used in sample-heavy records.

Some samples are well documented, such as the Utah Saints' ripping of Kate Bush's Cloudbusting. And the shuffling Soul II Soul drum beat was copied by every dance band from here to eternity.

But every now and then random bits of sampleness jump out and mug your brains out.  Orbital's seminal record The Brown Album, which is topped and tailed by sampled voices, is a case in point.

I nearly spat out my cleaning fluid while watching Withnail And I, when the-one-who-isn't-Richard-E-Grant posited that "even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day". That phrase, sampled menacingly near the start of the Brown Album, had been on repeat on my CD player for years. Following the sample on the Orbital record, a lazer then jumps out from the speakers.  No zapping befell McGann in the film; just abject hopelessness.

And once, I was watching a late night Open University progamme (brown jumpers, big collars, scribbly hair) about how squeegee mops work. The droll presenter explained it was "input translation, output rotation".  Again, that was used on the same Orbital album, and I couldn't believe my ears.  It was definitely the same voice, and I was spooked for weeks.

This is a long way of going about introducing Massive Attack's new album (band logo pictured).  Protected - Massive Samples spoils the game a bit because it's a compilation of the songs the band has sampled and covered.

And so we have, in order: Level 42's mate Wally Badarou; soul singer Lowrell; sewer designer (and musician) William De Vaughn; the very reverend Al Green; every lawyer's friend James Brown; ex-Chef Isaac Hayes; jazz fusion drummer Billy Cobham; Lewin Bones Lock (never heard of 'im); slushy reggae legend John Holt; Blue Note-spawned 70s soulsters The Blackbyrds; jazz fusion group Pieces Of A Dream (who appeared on an astonishingly-titled album The Weather Channel Presents The Best of Smooth Jazz); and kings and queens of funk Rufus And chaka-chaka-Chaka Khan.

If you paid attention to that last paragraph, yes Massive Attack sampled a chap who, apparently, used to be a sewer designer. Or rather, they covered one, in the form of William De Vaughan's brilliantly written Be Thankful For What You Got.

As a closing thought, my sources remind me that Massive Attack were sued for sampling Manfred Mann's Tribute, forcing the Bristol dark-hoppers to change the name of the song on future pressings. Considering the amount of sampling they got away with, the Massive boys* should count themselves lucky.

I recommend Protected - Massive Samples, if only for the reason that it's a collection of tracks that was good enough to be pillaged by one of the greatest bands of all time.

* If I get any dodgy google traffic now for 'massive boys', I'll be livid.