Sunday, 31 July 2011

This Is Our Music

This afternoon I'm finally getting around to backing up my laptop (yawn), but having time stuck inside waiting for the little computer windows to take their sweet time transferring files is turning out to be incredibly satisfying. It's also a good excuse to revisit some of the new releases and songs that I've been having to put off paying attention to over the past few weeks, so here's a few choice picks...

Brilliant Colors - Again & Again (LP)
Last summer my birthday was spent at Sex Is Disgusting's 'Dude Fest', an all-dayer at the Cowley Club in Brighton with a bunch of bands who had the tough task of injecting some energy into the hungover Sunday afternoon crowd. By around 6pm everyone had risen from their party-induced zombie states from the night before, and the tiny venue was transformed into a mass of headbanging and bodies throwing themselves around, with only wires snaking across the divide between the stage and the pit. Brilliant Colors were over in the UK and headlined the day, their poppy indie cuteness cut with brittle hooks and unruly melodies that perfectly suited the DIY setup of the day.
     Their new album 'Again & Again' - the follow-up to 2009's ultimate debut 'Introducing...', borrows even more from 80's nostalgic indiepop than its predecessor, but keeps up their sass and signature sound with sharp guitars swapped for a swaying, head-nodding sweetness. This record encapsulates all that is Pretty In Pink - you can picture Andy Walsh lying on her floral bedspread in her peach dress, surrounded by pop icons and waiting for the phone to ring as 'How Much Younger' loops on her tape player. Indiepop of this variety - when done so well - can never be over saturated and will always have a welcomed spot in my record collection. Stream it on Spotify now or pick up the limited pink and blue swirly LP from Slumberland.

Wild Beasts - Smother (LP)
Wild Beasts are one of my favourite bands to follow - their sound is always evolving, and with every album it's difficult to predict which direction they will have moved towards. I've loved them since a recommendation from Gary from The Cribs three years ago, and at that point I'd never even heard of this fourpiece from Kendal before, let alone had any idea of the kinds of sounds they made. That quickly changed, and track 'The Devil's Crayon' caught my attention and stayed on my stereo for the rest of the summer. It was enough to want to interview them for Shebang, and just before Two Dancers came out a friend and I went to see them, and were both blown away by the intensity of their live performance and the heart-stopping beauty of their new songs.
     To watch a much-loved band become increasingly well-known and appreciated is exciting, but as with most things I start to lose interest once everyone else joins in (which is a trait I hate - completely ridiculous and snobby - and also meant that Smother's release wasn't really on my radar so I've really missed out). Thankfully I've now had time to play catch up, and have been reminded of why I loved Wild Beasts so much in the first place. It's mature and less frenetic, and the title is apt - it's a record to get readily lost in and to want to approach again and again. The lead track 'Albatross' is stunningly intricate, and rather than stacking up the obvious sexual innuendos as in Two Dancers, this time the lyrics remain understated and tense, creating an other worldly, dreamlike domain. Available on Spotify and online, as well as in all good record shops with good taste. (Totally shameless but what the hell - if you want to read my interview with singer Hayden from the band from a few years ago, go get Shebang #2! I still have plenty of copies left).

And while this isn't strictly music, my iPod plays of choice go to the Desert Island Discs podcasts, merrily waking me up every morning as I take the bus to work (and oddly, they are the exact length of my journey time, so I'm not left wondering which discs would be saved from the waves or the books that would be read). Not content with waiting a whole week for a new episode, I've started to revisit the older DID sessions from years ago, and last week's guests included Jarvis Cocker, Joanna Lumley, Paul Weller and Whoopi Goldberg who all spoke candidly about their lives and picked some excellent songs. Find a castaway here.

And it's thank to Jarvis that I've been introduced to Dory Previn's 'The Lady With The Braid'..

(FACT FANS! Camera Obscura dedicate a song to Dory on their Let's Get Out Of This Country album, gushing "How I adore you Dory Previn, I turn you up to eleven..." Sigh.)

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Book: Doris - An Anthology of Zines & Other Stuff 1991-2001

Doris is the queen of zines; the kind of zine that you might pick up for a quick flick through before drifting off to sleep, and then before you know it you've read the whole thing (twice) and are manically digging out the next issue while your alarm draws ever closer to a rude awakening. It's the kind of zine that talks to you rather than at you, that questions and challenges and whispers deep, sometimes dark secrets to you from its photocopied pages.

Having always ended up with at least one copy of Doris after many a zine fair (usually thanks to the wonderful Marching Stars Distro), my collection was still left with gaping holes, and so when I spotted a chunky volume of Doris (feat. all issues of the first ten years of the zine, compiled into a very professional-looking book), I had to take a copy home.

Doris is the ongoing project of Cindy Crabb, a woman brave enough to share her most intimate and secretive thoughts and stories with readers, and encouraging of others to do the same. In her typewriter text and handdrawn simple sketches, she talks about her life, her friends, her family, her beliefs and values and her dog, written with all the wit and trail-of-thought chattiness of a pen pal you might have been in touch with for twenty years, rather than a stranger living across the ocean.

She doesn't lead a conventional life, and is all the better for it - her tales are of hitchhiking and living in a tree house, silly anecdotes about old housemates building boats and thoughtful passages exploring politics, gender, mental health, lifestyle choices, family issues and a whole heap of other topics that are glossed over in commercial magazines and kept quiet in our brains.

The Intro sums up it all up nicely-

"Doris is about finding a life worth living and creating a world that will allow us to live; Creating a world full of meaning, that we can thrive in, that we can come together in, where we will be heard, where we will be able to believe in ourselves, where we won't think our thoughts and emotions are crazy. A world where we will know for real that we are not alone"

Even now, twenty years of from the first issue, Doris hasn't become outdated and a lot of the topics pondered are still vibrantly impacting on our lives today, for better or for worse. And thanks to this blue book, we can all gain some perspective without sweating it over the many hush-hush subjects of life. Long live Doris!

Get your copy now at Microcosm Publishing and find out more at the Doris site.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Show: Raw Power at Corsica Studios

On Sunday I found myself making a last minute dash to the Raw Power all-dayer held at Corsica Studios in Elephant & Castle. To be honest most of the line-up was a complete mystery to me and it was my first time venturing South of the river for a show since last Autumn, but a day unpacking my suitcase, chain-washing bundles of clothes and food shopping wasn't the most appealing cure for the post-holiday blues, so off I went, avoiding reality for another 24 hours.

With a line-up littered with the odd familiar face but mainly new names, there wasn't the usual pressure to run from stage to stage, and the afternoon was spent eating hotdogs, catching up with friends and getting lost in the maze that is the three stage rooms of Corsica.

After a lot of music-watching at 1234 the day before I was pretty slack at picking myself up from my chair to watch all of the sets on offer, but Bo Ningen were their usual terrifyingly brilliant selves; splitting eardrums in a wash of feedback and hammering jams, their faces covered in the shadows of long, dark hair.

There were also many interesting performances on the acoustic stage, with many duos and bands multitasking their way through meandering instrumentals and peeled back songs, left bare without the usual distortions and effects and the ideal setting for a Sunday afternoon retreat.

But there was one band there that stood apart from everything else, not just on the bill that day but apart from a lot of current music in general. I've always been a sucker for a bit of distortion and Beat Happening-style simplistic, shambling fun, but at times a band will appear that will shake home just how important meticulously crafted song-writing and musicianship can be. Race Horses, a five-piece (who may or may not all be) from Wales, quite literally stopped me in my tracks as I navigated my way through the room, heading for refreshments.

Beginning with new song 'Furniture' (I think), the room was suddenly transformed into what I can only imagine Jarvis Cocker's kitchen must sound like – the clatter of pans, vocal patterns that dance around the walls and a side helping of eccentricity served up with the catchiest of choruses. There were at times two drummers, various instrument swapping at intervals and a frontman who appeared both awkward and entirely at ease in front of the stampede, and yet there were no gimmicks or frills, just a strong set that silenced the nattering crowd and swiftly left a lasting impression on my memory.

After returning home to do some research I think they also played the new songs 'Sisters' and 'Mates', and finished on a beautiful song I didn't catch the name of, closing with a simple vocal refrain sung in Welsh that almost made me have a little cry (please note I was just a tiny bit hungover, but still...). It'd be too lazy of me to chuck in a bunch of comparisons as although they sample all the best aspects of Nineties pop and indie's playful side, it's a world entirely their own. My only regret is not making it to the merch table in time to pick up a record - hopefully they'll play London again soon.

You can listen to their recent Mark Riley session here, and find out more over on Facebook.