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Posts Tagged ‘Belle and Sebastian’

Belle and Sebastian: Girls In Peacetime Want to Dance (Matador records)

READING THE MOJO annual review of 2014 I found a sense of despair at the lack of truly great pop music. A few years ago these lists would’ve been peppered by the likes of Pulp, Blur, James, The Libertines, and The Coral. A list off the top of my head, undoubtedly, but you see the point: bands that blended harmonies with sharp lyrics and attitude. Now, you tell me that Sharon van Etten is really what music is about. Girls in Peacetime Some solace is provided at the beginning of 2015 by these Glaswegians, who after nearly two decades have not lost their love of recording and writing, and have just released their ninth studio album, the first since the slightly disappointing Write About Love in 2010. The artwork, all dashing sepia, as its predecessor, is regretfully, contrived to the max: two gents in Chap-approved gear smile broadly holding wine glasses, a woman holds a crutch while trying to look disdainfully at the camera and another female stands within an empty picture frame holding a machine gun. It all looks awfully forced. Enlisting the man behind Gnarls Barkley as producer, Ben H.Allen, is tantamount to going disco. And so they have, as the likes of Enter Sylvia Plath, boom with Europop and energy and I’m reminded of Goldrapp a decade ago. It can’t be easy to adopt dance music if you’ve been an atypical twee-indie band for so long. And while I can applaud their diversity and am likely to play this particular track and it’s enthusiastic cousin, The Party Line, a few occasions, it sounds more like an idea born of lack of desperation than the product of a meeting between Bowie and Eno. Nobody’s Empire, the first out of the box, is, the band’s fulcrum, Stuart Murdoch, saying it is his most personal song ever, describing his battle with chronic fatigue syndrome. It’s being touted as the highlight of the album but while the lyrics are magnanimous it is musically insipid and hardly inspires me for the rest of the album. Allie, meanwhile, moves out with the confines of the bed Murdoch remains rooted to, and ventures out to the middle east (the use of lower case is the band’s making), or at least it highlights how the issues of other parts of the world, make us wonder about the state of the planet. Being the second track, it moves the album up a gear, thankfully, and then we have the disco-dolly anthem of The Party Line, which I am unsure, even after a few listens, is indie at its finest or a lame duck. This confusion may not necessarily be a bad thing. Girls in ...The Power of Three is essentially Belle and Sebastian as we know them, namechecking Sherlock Holmes and noting the old sage about “Keep your friends close/ Your enemies at your side.” Meanwhile, the mournful The Cat With The Cream reveals some contempt for politicians, with “a grubby little red MP/ Yellow flapping hopelessly”, the latter a reference surely to the appalling Liberal Democrats. Dee Dee Penny takes on vocal duties for Play For Today, carrying on a long tradition of Murdoch taking a backseat for a high-profile female singer, which has always been a successful venture. In terms of a Belle and Sebastian album this takes us on a new adventure with its dancefloor sensibilities, with the middle section of Enter Sylvia Plath being extraordinarily rousing, and pitching itself to daytime commercial radio producers. There’s beautiful string arrangements on The Everlasting Muse and a latino touch on Perfect Couples in which Murdoch bemoans the apparent happiness of others. And then there’s Ever Had a Little Faith? which could have come from any Belle and Sebastian album since 1996. It is flawed, but nevertheless, Girls In Peacetime comes at an apt moment, the beginning of the year after one that offered few real aural pleasantries and within a musical era that is as limp as the era between the break-up of The Beatles and The Small faces and the outbreak of punk. Be grateful for small mercies. See our review of Third Eye Centre: https://craighaggis.wordpress.com/2013/10/11/hells-belles-and-sebastians And for Write About Love: https://craighaggis.wordpress.com/2010/10/26/lowdown-on-the-new-21-wool-britannia/

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A long time ago, when Porky found the ability to use a computer, we reviewed albums much differently from how we do now (see here https://craighaggis.wordpress.com/2009/03/)

This included a wee section on the artwork and packaging, but that was soon canned because, more often than not, there wasn’t much to say, other than state the obvious about the cover. Belle

If I had continued this idea I would have a reasonable amount to write about Belle & Sebastian’s The Third Eye Centre (Rough Trade/ Jeepster) which is encased in a beautiful ‘hardback’ digipak packaging, with an attached booklet with lyrics and notes, as well as excellent photographs from performers at the Centre for Contemporary Arts in Glasgow (the successor to the Third Eye Centre).

An admirable effort for a compilation, one that comprises B-sides, and ‘outakes’ recorded during the past decade. Of the obscurities, there are two tracks that didn’t feature on 2010’s Belle & Sebastian Write About Love. Both Suicide Girl and the vaguely rockabilly Last Trip are excellent, worthy of any studio album, although it is debatable whether either would have fit in with the temperament of Write About Love. There’s also a track from a War Child benefit compilation, The Eighth Station of the Cross Kebab House, which sounds a little like The Specials before they split. The inclusion of this makes me wonder why tracks such as a cover of the Young Marble Giants’ Final Day and The Monkeys Are Breaking Out The Zoo, both only available on compilations, weren’t also included.

Like The Smiths’ and The House of Love, the Glaswegians take their B-sides seriously and most of them are intriguing in their own way, with a special mention going to the hilarious Meat and Potatoes which relates in much detail the fumbling adventures of a couple who “try to spice it up”, but they encounter issues with one of the party having an allergic reaction to dairy products.

Surprisingly there are few tracks that receive the fast-forward treatment and it shows the depth the band have had since the turn of the century. There’s even a Sudanese element to a remix of I’m A Cuckoo.

I hope Belle & Sebastian continue for a few years, but there are bands that should take note that their time has come and they need to say their farewells to each other.

FratellisMaybe it’s fear of the future, the lure of the lolly and groupies, or just out of habit, that some acts just can’t bear to utter those immortal words ‘time to move on’. Arctic Monkeys, Manic Street Preachers, and, dare I say it, because I am a fan, Primal Scream, all produced their best records some years ago.

The Fratellis have long passed their best-before date. The indie rock band, with the emphasis on rock, rose a wave in 2006 on the back of cheepy-chappy, rousing singles like Chelsea Dagger and Whistle For The Choir. But it was never a project that the word ‘longevity’ could ever apply to, the debut album gained pass marks but a one-trick pony is, to state the rather obvious, a non-starter in the next race.

Needless to say We Need Medicine (BMG Records) is the sound of a band struggling to assert itself in the face of a lack of ideas. The riffs are from 1971, the vocals comparable to a school band in a Battle of the Bands contest, and the lyrics were also written in that same classroom. Needless to say, it’ll sell millions. 

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Paul Weller: Wake Up The Nation

Seeing Weller in Auckland in October was my gig of the year. He tore at his set-list with gusto, making the new tracks sound as impressive as Jam or Wild Wood-era solo output. Wake Up the Nation is surprisingly excellent, not just a return to form but possibly his best yet, a rallying call to all those who suffer from apathy and disinterest. Weller hasn’t made a comeback after a couple of iffy albums, with As Is Now and 22 Dreams both good career moves, but few people were expecting him to hit the mark so often, as he does on Nation, especially on Fast Cars/ Slow Traffic and the burning, angry title track.

The Courteeners: Falcon (Polydor)                
Falcon is an album born of the musically-rich north-west of England, the lyrics resonating with Mancunian landmarks, of lovers being in faraway London, and all the things that working class people in the towns across the breadth of dear old England do. There will be comparisons to Editors, the typical “indie-rock band” but the Courteeners are the mature version of the Arctic Monkeys, their tales being of late 20s heartache and exuberance.

Phoenix Foundation: Buffalo (EMI)

Please take a trip with the Foundation through Wellington’s Town Belt and hill suburb of Mt Victoria on Eventually, and take your brolly with you. Be enchanted by the child-friendly Flock of Hearts, be invigorated by Pot and singalong like a mad thing to the wonderfully fruity lyrics of Orange & Mango. Buffalo is a gloriously simple record, one that is very New Zealand in its themes, but also sounds like it could traverse traditional musical snobbery and parochialism, and appeal to, say, indie fans in Manchester.

The Burns Unit: Side Show (Proper Music)                       
Given that the backgrounds of the Unit are folk, alt-country, rap and a band that can best be described as indie-Indian there is a fascinating breadth of ideas and sounds on Side Show. There’s the Kate Bush-esque Sorrys, featuring the enchanting vocals of Emma Pollock, the campfire niceties of You Need Me To Need This and the emotionally, and politically, charged, Send Them Kids To War. With such a range it almost feels like a compilation.

Natacha Atlas: Mounqaliba (World Village)
Mounqaliba is written almost entirely by Atlas and Samy Bishai, who grew up in Egypt, the orchestral players are Turkish and Atlas sings in Arabic, with interludes in French on a Francoise Hardy song and English on Nick Drake’s River Man. Atlas moves easily through the languages, adding beauty and grace to the non-Arabic tracks while adding some bite when she sings in Arabic. It would be difficult to pigeon-hole this album as World, something Putamayo would make a compilation out of, but like a band she performs with Transglobal Underground this is an album that reflects the sounds, sights and feel of the modern world.

Chris Difford: Cashmere If You Can (Saturday Morning Music Club)
A wonderfully Squeezy title from a songwriter who keeps the curious English observational style very much alive. Cashmere If You Can jumps from one joyous catchy singalong to another. On Like I Did, Difford tells a familiar parental tale, of how kids do exactly what they did once: “He’s getting stoned (like I did), he plays bass (like I did), he lays in bed like I did, how can I complain.” Society is awash with vacuous lyrics and music, so it’s refreshing to hear tales of regret, of young men leaving their loved ones to go to war, and the problems of noise in a small house, sung by someone who’s not just observing society, but who has lived some of the tales he puts to tape.

 

Belle and Sebastian Write About Love (Rough Trade)                                                      
The basic tenets of a B & S album are all enclosed: dreamy vocals, plaintive melodies, and beautifully penned songs about relationships that never happened, schoolyard bullying and, a tale of the toxic friend who only calls at midnight when a relationship with a muscleman goes awry. There are some lovely tracks with ’60s bounce; it’s impossible not to be entranced by the hook-heavy I Can See Your Future or the escapist harmonies of the title track featuring actress Carey Mulligan.

 

Ten City Nation: At The Still Point (Sturm Und Drang)
As the band have progressed from their days as Miss Black America, they’ve become even more nihilistic. More guitars, more anger, more Stooges and more Nirvana influences. The opener, Flashing Lights is very accessible – punk with discipline – but Room 10101 is, shall we say, the kind of thing that would scare mothers around the world. At times we need noise in our life. Not the Korn or Green Day form of noise, but something more digestible, even though At The Still Point might give you that bloated feeling after listening to all 12 tracks in one go.

Howl Griff: The Hum (Recordiau Dockrad)
A single, Crash and Burn, is a cosmic outpouring of twee, delirious pop, reminiscent of a lovely Canadian bunch called Cinderpop and shares a sense of the surreal with The Coral. And, like those scousers, Howl Griff tell stories of real characters, such as a lady who “can help you in the dark of night and improve your memory”, on Jean’s Therapy. Meanwhile, on Uduhudu, spirits are raised from the dead in a spangly, manic and effervescent shanty. Glorious, bonkers stuff only the British can do, and the Welsh do best for some reason.

Goldfrapp: Head First (Mute)                                
Goldfrapp have revisited electro-glam with an album that’s unashamedly steeped in the glorious synths of the 1980s. The opener, Rocket, sounds suspiciously like The Pointer Sisters’ Jump, and is followed by Believer, a beauty that harks back to the radio-friendly Supernature album of 2005. It ends with Voicething which wouldn’t sound out of place on the last Kraftwerk album.

FParom 1977 to 1982 Paul Weller was

the driving force behind the Jam,

a Mod band that had the energy

of punk. All guitars and rousing

statements, the Jam enjoyed an amazing

run of numbers ones in the UK. Cocktail

pop came in the form of his next band

The Style Council and since 1991 has

been a solo star.

In recent years, Weller’s credibility has

dripped and some people have written

him off. However, Wake Up The Nation

is, well a wake up-call, to the Modfather

and to his fans. And to Britain to shake

off its apathetic lumber and get groovy

again.

The 16 tracks here crackle and fizz,

proving that no matter his age (over 50)

Weller remains a formidable force. The

edginess of his early solo career is mirrored

on the opening track Moonshine

and its equably impressive cousin, the

album’s title track.

Paul Winders and The Goodness prove

that the Dunedin sound is very much

alive. You Can Have It All has the kind

of nicely-scripted lyrics, tuneful observations

of New Zealand life and the

easy-going manner that reminds me of

bands like The Chills, The Bats and The

Verlaines, who Winders was a member of

once. Best of Friends is so dammed hummable,

and Thank You is as good as anything

the above bands have recorded.

On our world trip, we now take in

Argentina, the beef, rugby and, above all

football-loving South American country.

And music: ah yes, the tango. The Gotan

Project are its 21st century flag-bearers

giving latino music a modern update,

fusing the traditional dancefloor freneticism

with jazz and a touch of electronica.

Not too much though. Gotan cut and

paste the Argentinean commentary of

Diego Maradona’s Hand of God goal

against England in the 1986 World Cup

and immserse passages of a famous local

novel into Rayuela. Somehow I can’t

imagine Latin America’s biggest star,

Shakira, doing things like that.

 

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Who? Belle and Sebastian

Title: Belle and Sebastian Write About Love
Label:
Rough Trade
Tell me more:
A glorious sepia-tinted cover means only one thing: a new Belle and Sebastian album. And this one is celebrity-endorsed with guest appearances by Norah Jones (boo) and An Education actress Carey Mulligan (yay) on one track apiece.
The Lowdown: The Glasgow icons reached a zenith during the past decade with two stellar albums, Dear Catastrophe Waitress (2003) and The Life Pursuit, from well over four years ago.
And to this bulging library of goodness we can add Write About Love, more beauty in a digipak, complete with idyllic photos of a couple reading Keats in a field.
The basic tenets of a B & S album are all enclosed: dreamy vocals from Stuart Murdoch and Sarah Martin, plaintive melodies, and beautifully penned songs about relationships that never happened, schoolyard bullying, and, on Calculating Bimbo, a tale of the toxic friend who only calls at midnight when a relationship with a muscleman goes awry. “I’m your captain for the long haul” sings a willing Murdoch as the call for help comes in. There are some lovely tracks with 60s bounce; it’s impossible not to be entranced by the hook-heavy I Can See Your Future or the escapist harmonies of the title track featuring Mulligan.
But the decision to rope in Jones was a big mistake: she has no idea of what B & S are about nor does Murdoch really how to utilise her fully. Some people have cruelly labelled this an MOR album: it isn’t that and yet there are cringeworthy moments and languid balladry, a la Read the Blessed Pages, that gives those calls some authority.

Anything else?
In 1999 the band were awarded the Best Newcomer gong at the Brit Awards, upsetting the corporate industry’s hopefuls Steps and 5ive.

Who? Lupen Crook

Title: The Pros and Cons of Eating Out
Label:
Beast Reality records
Tell me more:
Crook’s persona shifts between ” lone folkie, loco punker, schizoid artist, gutter poet, sex-obsessed lover, drunken romantic, twisted rocker, doting father and provocative prankster”.
The Lowdown:
The above description came from the accompanying press release, something Porky tends to avoid as it’s usually full of glowing, over-the-top hype but in this instance I can only but praise the effort the label has gone to in trying to win over the world’s best pig-based music blog. The CD comes within a booklet that contains photographs of Crook and his band, a statement “on the album title, artwork and themes” by Crook, excerpts of lyrics and various confused and bemused articles. In the cold and fake age of downloads and iTunes, such effort needs a raft of one-hand clapping at the least.
It would be, given this volley of flattery, naive to expect something tantamount to a masterpiece in an era of wanton musical turgidness, and I’m of an age that I can gird my loins on ripping open a parcel from a PR company acting on behalf of a record label. The salt is easily spread over, a pinch or a teaspoonful at a time. The Pros and Cons … is a challenging album, consuming the sounds of the Balkans, musical theatre and the New Wave of New Wave, not always deliberately. It ends up as a stir fry using leftovers and flavours that clash, providing a 41-minute dish that both sparkles the tastebuds and leaves you feeling bloated. I can think of the Libertines, and moreover the flood of imitators that followed, in using intelligence with pace; glamour with individuality. It worked with Barat et Doherty but the imitators missed the point. Crook HAS the point, he is just confused what to do with it.

Who? The Woe Betides

Title: Never Sleep
Label:
Songs in the Dark
Tell me more:
Woe Betide: Simon Mastrantone, Grundy le Zimbra and Colonel Sexlife; only Mr Sexlife was born with his stage name.
The Lowdown:
There are as many indie-rock bands in the YooKay as there are slugs in your garden. They play places like Bury St Edmunds, have created a hundred web pages to plug themselves, and have a following of 18-year-old humanities students.
Never Sleep starts promisingly, with the bass-reliant On The Wheel, and the excruciatingly over-done Bone on Bone, but then I hear some wonderful use of the piano on the heart-stopping One of Your Pills while This Head, Your Heart is just about the finest three-minute rousing anthem you can get outwith the Manic Street Preachers circa 1999. A single, Sylvia, is infuriatingly cuddly, the kind of thing you want to fast-forward but can’t because it has already dig a hole into your soul. Their use of instrumentation is admirable but the songs don’t always match the ambition.

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