Blog : Posts tagged with 'pop music'

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Ubiquity

In which there’s a band you can’t avoid


If there’s one band that was ubiquitous in everyone’s best-of-2009 lists the other months, it must have been Florence And The Machine. Everyone, pretty much, loved their debut album, Lungs, and every review couldn’t stop raving about it. We got a copy; and it was, I have to say, pretty decent. I was impressed.

This post isn’t a review of the album, though. This post is a complaint that now, if you turn the telly on, you can’t get away from that album. Over and over again, tracks from that Florence And The Machine album are being used as background music on trailer after trailer. I’ve heard it used to advertise everything from Slumdog Millionaire to The Hairy Bikers to Lard Rise To Candleford,* and more than once I’ve heard successive trailers, back-to-back, with songs from that same album in the background.

The end-of-year lists might well be at fault. After all, the album was released back in the summer, but this wasn’t happening back in October or November. All at once, though, at some point in December, every sound-editing person across the entire TV world seems to have picked up a copy of Lungs and started plastering its tracks all over their output. All channels seem to have had the same idea, all at the same time. It was a good album, but now, you can’t get away from it. Sometimes too much is too much.

* I prefer the typo there to the actual programme.

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Independent

In which we fill the weekend with music


A bit of a musical weekend, this weekend. A bit of a busy one too: there’s always too much in this town to choose between.

It started off with Big Pink Cake. Or, at least, the Big Pink Cake Indiepop All-Weekender, starting off on Saturday at the Cube. It offered free cake, so really there was no choice. Plus, Dimitra is always saying that we should go and see Pete Green, largely because he’s one of the best stars of indiepop to emerge from Grimsby in recent years. He does things like: release songs to benefit the Lincolnshire Wolds Railway,* too.

So, we ambled down to The Cube on Saturday afternoon for the free c… I mean, for the first stage of the Big Pink Cake weekend. The first few bands, including Mr Green, were to appear in the bar, which is really rather cramped. We saw a stream of bands play to the small crowd: The Short Stories, Countryside, Secret Shine, and at least one other band that weren’t on the roster. The singer of said band held up their CD and said that anybody there could have a free copy; the audience carefully avoided eye contact. No Pete Green though. He’d been moved to today’s setlist. Ah well.

After nipping out for food at Café Kino, we returned for the evening bands, over in the cinema. Being a cinema, each band had picked a film to be screened behind them, their choices all rather interesting. There was: something black-and-white from late-50s Britain,*** chosen by French band Electrophönvintage; La Dolce Vita, chosen by The Westfield Mining Disaster; Convoy, picked by Amida, March Of The Penguins accompanying Santa Dog, and classic British film Les Bicyclettes de Belsize showing behind The Pocketbooks. That does, really, tell you more about each band than I could explain myself.**** We weren’t really impressed by the sound quality, though, or the way that the first song of each set turned into a sound check. I definitely wasn’t impressed by the rather rude people in The Pocketbooks’ entourage who got up and started dancing, getting in everyone’s way and being generally annoying and offensive.

The Big Pink Cake weekender did – being, you know, a weekender – extend through to today, with an afternoon of bands at the Mothers Ruin. The bill included Pete Green (moved from Saturday, apparently) and Tender Trap, a band beloved of all C86/Sarah tweecore fans and/or economics experts everywhere. However, we didn’t go along, because we’d left on the Saturday feeling relatively uninspired. As luck would have it, in our meal-break down at Café Kino, we spotted a poster for a rather better-sounding gig that was on at the same time. So, instead, we spent our Sunday afternoon at the Scout Hut down on Phoenix Wharf.

At the Scout Hut we saw Jam On Bread and Mat Riviere, in the middle of a joint tour, supported by local band Boxcar Aldous Huxley. I’ve seen Boxcar Aldous Huxley before, and they were very good then; they were very good again today, with tales of Francis Dashwood, the responsibilities of the free press, and messianic movements in 19th century Canada. They were followed by Mat Riviere, who performed kneeling on the floor with a variety of keyboards and samples; and Jam On Bread, who had both a ukelele and a beard, and played both brilliantly.

I was sitting listening to Jam On Bread’s***** set, and I couldn’t help thinking: you know, his accent sounds a bit, well, Grimsbyish. Not really northern but not really southern, a bit flat and dull but with the full complement of vowels.****** But, of course, he couldn’t be: it might be a small world, but there’s no way that two stars of pop music, both from Grimsby, would both be playing gigs in Bristol on the same afternoon. And then: his lyrics mentioned that he wasn’t Swedish, because he was born in Grimsby. Gosh.

We didn’t get time to speak to Jam On Bread after the gig, so I didn’t have time to confirm his Grimsbyness face-to-face; but the internet seems to think it’s true. So: we did get to see a top Grimsby-born indiepop star this weekend, after all. It just wasn’t the one we’d been expecting to see when the weekend started. I think we might well have seen the best one, though.

* one of the country’s shortest steam railways, and hence in need of the donations. It will, if ever finished, be notable for being the country’s straightest steam railway, a good ten miles long and with utterly no curves. At present it runs for about a quarter of a mile, but it does have a somersault signal, which is obviously a plus point.** I should point out that Pete Green’s song does largely blame Richard Beeching for the line’s original closure: in reality it didn’t shut down until 1970, whereas Beeching was sacked from the British Railways Board in ’65.

** I believe they built it with spare parts bought from the Ffestiniog after the abandonment of that railway’s mechanical Tanygrisiau resignalling scheme, but I could be wrong. If any LWR or Ffestiniog people who know better read this, feel free to correct me.

*** easily dated from the railway carriages featured, if we’d got a better look at it

**** No, really, it does; although it would take rather more space to explain why. Maybe that will be a blog post for next week some time.

***** His real name is Steve Carlton, or at least, that’s what it says on the Internet

****** To be contrasted with the nearby Hull accent, which only uses one vowel. “E hed e slerce ef terst, smerked e feg, end went dern the rerd”

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Trans-Europe Express

In which FP is out of step with Europe


The Eurovision Song Contest rolled round again, last night. We fell into watching it, mostly because we had nothing else to do on a Saturday night, but partly because we knew the UK wasn’t going to win and we wanted to see just how much we wouldn’t win by.

We couldn’t do as badly as last year, of course; well, at least, we couldn’t do any worse. We were surprised, though, just how well the UK did in the end. I mean, it wasn’t exactly a very good song. It was the sort of song that would fit in well at the end of the second act of a second-rate West End musical,* which I suppose isn’t that surprising given who wrote it. It didn’t have any rhythm to it, no memorable tune either, and the lyrics sounded as if they belonged elsewhere: as if we were hearing them entirely out of context.

Then again: I am no good at spotting why a song might win the Eurovision Song Contest. Graham Norton, commentating, seemed baffled why Britain had given Germany a relatively high vote; I was surprised it wasn’t higher, as I thought it was the sort of song that would go down well.** I don’t understand why Norway were a runaway success, but all the other songs with vaguely-folkish melodies and violins didn’t get very far. Next year, no doubt, the rest of the world will be watching and know where to get excited; and I’ll be watching feeling slightly bemused once more.

* assuming three acts in total. And the traditional sort of West End musical, not the lazy modern sort where someone tries to string already-popular songs together with a badly-fitting plot.

** Although I wasn’t sure why Dita von Teese was on stage, lounging around with a riding crop doing absolutely nothing, including appearing on camera.

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Woolies

In which we lament the demise of vinyl


Ah, farewell then, Woolworths. Well … maybe. Certainly my local shop is still soldiering on, as I assume the rest are.*

It’s maybe a sign of how the chain’s going, though. I last shopped there a few weeks ago – picking up a gift voucher for K’s niece – and it was a strange experience. Because my local Woolworths doesn’t seem to have changed for a long, long time. Everyone else on the high street has shiny displays; Woolworth’s here is a step back in time. Slightly worn shelving that wouldn’t have looked out of place in my grandfather’s newsagents twenty-five years ago; everything piled up on it without much thought. Worn linoleum. No fancy ceiling or light fittings: bare plaster and unshaded fluorescent tubes are fine for Woolworths. If the shelves had been emptier, I’d have thought maybe a wormhole had decanted me into Moscow, circa the Andropov years. I almost expected to find carrier bags bearing the 70s coil-of-wool logo that I remember from childhood.

Personally, I still have a little bit of affection for the place. I’d never shop there, not any more, but once upon a time I did. Back when I was a teenager, it was the first place I ever bought music from; my first port of call at first; and then, as I knew more, the place I would come to flick through the 7″ singles and buy ones that had just dropped out of the charts. When they stopped selling vinyl, in about ’95 or so, I stopped going.

I almost typed there: “if you told a teenager today that Woolworths…” – and then I stopped and deleted it, because it made me feel old. Strange to think, though, that people today have completely forgotten Woolworths was once the best place to buy singles, back when Apple were a failing computer company** and portable music meant songs taped off the radio. Nowadays, it isn’t the best place to buy anything. Still stocking vinyl would hardly help, in this decade, but looking a bit smarter might. If they didn’t look like they’d furnished the place with other people’s cast-off shelves, it would be a start.

* A bit different to when the Fopp/Music Zone chain fell over: one day they stopped taking card payments, the next the shops didn’t open, and that, then, was that. Or, indeed, the Dutch ISP Aramiska, which gave its customers a few hour’s warning before they ceased operating with no explanation.

** People forget today that the first Apple Mac was a commercial disaster, so much so that its champion, Steve Jobs, got fired from the company partly as a result. I recommend reading any of the many books about the development of the Mac and the Apple company in the early 80s.

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Festive Music

In which we ponder the potential Christmas Number One


As it’s the week before Christmas: it’s time for the most pointless contest in music: the Christmas Number One Single. It may be slightly meaningless, and it may well end up being won by some talent-show contestant with nothing interesting about him whatsoever; but at least it gets people buying and listening to music. I hope.

The Last.FM website is campaigning to get “Lips are Unhappy” by Lucky Soul to the top of the charts. They have a lot of users, but I’m not sure they’re going to make it. Radio One, on the other hand, is apparently backing “We’re All Going To Die” by Malcolm Middleton. Now, “We’re All Going To Die” is a wonderful song. It’s the opening track to Middleton‘s last album, the one with the David Shrigley artwork, and it’s a lively, exciting, life-affirming piece of music, a wonderful thing to play at this time of year.* I’d be completely behind it, if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s Radio One supporting the damn thing. Admittedly, one of their better DJs, and someone who works hard to broaden the range of what the station plays; but still, I feel slightly odd about the idea of agreeing with a Radio One-related campaign.

* Never mind what the title says, and never mind it being by someone out of Arab Strap, it’s not actually depressing at all.

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Shoe Event Horizon

In which we wind the windows down and sing along


Seeing as Ian loves them so much, I went out at the weekend and bought a copy of the Johnny Boy album. Ian has good taste, I know, and in this particular case he has very good taste indeed.

Capsule review: loud, noisy, nostalgic pop that sounds like it should be pouring out of an ancient transistor radio. I’ve been playing it constantly in the car, turned up full, worrying all the neighbours and anyone waiting to cross the road. The opener, You Are The Generation That Bought More Shoes And You Get What You Deserve seems to have no verses at all, just a catchy hook that builds and builds. Half of the songs on the album are equally catchy, jostling for space in my head, especially Wall Street‘s “300 million down the drain” refrain.

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The Last Days Of Winter

In which we encapsulate things


Still recovering from my awful, hacking-cough cold. For The Mother, who thinks I have had bronchitis continuously since August, this is more evidence that I am leading a terribly dissolute lifestyle and need to stop having sex, stay indoors watching TV, and go to bed at 9pm every night just like she does.

In lieu of a proper entry, it’s time for One-Line Album Reviews. Hurrah! In which, FP tries to come up with pithy lines about some of the albums he’s bought recently.*

The Victorian English Gentlemen’s Club, The Victorian English Gentlemen’s Club: you can’t hum it, the same as you can’t pronounce the name after a few gin and tonics very easily; but it’s some good, chunky angular music to listen to in the car.

The Aliens, Astronomy For Dogs: Like The Beta Band doing rock, which isn’t too surprising really. Rather good.

Gossip, Standing In The Way Of Control: A bit much hype involved, which (also) isn’t surprising really. It’s not a bad album, but they’re not as good as, say, The Kills.

Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly, The Chronicles Of A Bohemian Teenager: Note to self: unlike TVEGC (see above), do not put this on in the car. You will fall asleep, probably at a busy motorway intersection, and kill hundreds of innocent pensioners on a coach en route to Southend.

And that’s most definitely enough of that.

* thus ruling out all the dronerock the Dronerock Fairy has been sending this way. Although the forthcoming Blonde Redhead album is rather good. Erm, so I hear.

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Growing up

In which we remember what we used to like


Tastes change as people grow up. Things you are a huge fan of will slowly fade away, and other things will come along to replace them. Your tastes will change, as you change.

Some of you might have heard of Alexis Petridis, rock and pop critic at The Guardian. I don’t always agree with what he writes, but I tend to pay attention. Because, back in about ’97 or ’98, Petridis was a semi-frequent contributor to Sinister, the mailing list for fans of Belle and Sebastian. I was only a lurker, but I remember his posts, on topics such as: do Belle and Sebastian sound better when you’re on drugs? And if so which ones?*

Since then, when Petridis has mentioned them in the Grauniad, you get the feeling that he doesn’t so much like what they’ve become. He doesn’t think much of devoted fans, but he still loves their early work. And I have to sympathise with that. I, too, used to be a devoted fan.

I’m still a bit of a fan. I’m still the sort of person who will go and buy a new single on its first day of release, for example, like I did yesterday. And then, I get it home, and find that I’m not really very interested in it any more. Compared to their old songs, it’s lost something. It’s brassy and polished, shiny and bland, the sort of track that has never been at all interesting or inspiring for me. Their sleeve designs get better and better,** as the music gets ever-more over-produced. The B-sides are better, but even so it’s not something that I would have bought if it were by any other band.

* No, really, this was something he wrote. The list archive doesn’t work nowadays, so I can’t link you to it; but I strongly remember reading it. I have no idea now if he was being serious or not.

** although I was disappointed to see that they are still crediting the odious Patrick Doyle with helping with the sleeve photography. He’s someone else who was on Sinister, a few years later, one of those people who hero-worshipped Stuart Murdoch and would desperately and deliberately try to appear as twee, fey and indie as possible because he thought that was how a B&S fan should look.

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