Peter Robinson, the man responsible for one of my favourite websites about music- Popjustice!- wrote a piece for the Guardian yesterday about how rock music is dead (it's here). Now, I think we can all agree that that is a massive sweeping statement, right?
A sweeping statement from a man not afraid of making other sweeping statements, like boybands aren't fashionable. We could just wait 3 years for his statement to be proved wrong, but alas, this annoyed me a bit.
The piece was filled with lots of criticism about how rock bands aren't selling. I would mention all of the acts who are brilliant in the underground but Robinson has very much framed the debate around sales. And one can't argue with the fact that, yes, rock singles simply aren't selling very well. One could argue that rock n roll "Is about the music, man". But that got nipped in the bud by:
"Given your average rock act's incessant bleating about how their art has nothing to do with record sales, you might not think they were worried about this, but it's interesting how many guitar acts, from Editors to Kele from Bloc Party, have "gone electro" in the last 18 months."
Right, we've all taken that in? Good. Now let's decide just how nonsensical that is.
From how that's phrased, the notion of a rock band picking up a synthesiser is a rat leaving a sinking ship. Forgetting of course that synthesisers aren't the sole property of electronic bands and have been part of rock for years. In fact, rock music has given us some of the best known synth lines in history (evidence and evidence).
Also, pop music is very known for borrowing from other genres, yet I doubt Mr. Robinson would criticise Rihanna for aping rock in "Rockstar 101" (a song featuring Travis Barker from Blink 182, for REAL rock credentials). So how is Editors incorporating the traits of another genre a sign of the shakiness of rock, yet Rihanna incorporating rock music into her style (quite bluntly) isn't her losing faith in pop?
Fergie did a terrible country song. Is she making a break into a new genre? Britney's new song features dubstep. Is she no longer pop?
Robinson apparently finds a mixing of genres fine when it's done by singers and groups already firmly in the pop camp, whereas indie and rock bands have to play with a limited set of toys, otherwise they are somehow "betraying" the genre in its death throes.
What annoys me, is how the multitude of different successful sounds of the year are gathered under pop where as if an "indie band" don't sound like either The Strokes or Arctic Monkeys they need to be put somewhere else.
Then again, even stuff in the realms of traditional indie have thrived in 2010- though mainly in the album chart. The Arcade Fire had a number 1 album! Vampire Weekend became the first artist on a British independent label to top the American album chart in 19 years! Not to mention that Kings of Leon have rarely been out of the top 40 (at the time of writing they have TWO albums in there).
Though mainly, I think it comes down to a difference in perceptions. The National have had, I would say, an amazing year, releasing "High Violet"- a brilliant album- and selling out venues the size of Manchester Academy. That constitutes an AMAZING success for an indie-rock band.
However, if, after going away to work on a new album, The Wanted (for example) then released a single that only charted in Belgium- like The National did- and played venues of The Academy's size, it wouldn't be long before they were dropped from their label.
Rock isn't as popular as pop. But it doesn't need to be. Rock 'n' Roll bands can get by on the occasional top 30 album and small-to-medium size venue tours. By measuring a rock n roll bands success against the likes of Take That and Lady Gaga, would be like complaining that your school bake sale doesn't sell as many cakes as Greg's does.
In short, rock n roll isn't dead. Rock n roll is where it normally is. In the album chart and on tour.
Everyone has their favourite Christmas song. Normally these Christmas songs are classed as "guilty pleasures" (let's not get into how that's a nonsense term) because it is the general rule that the Christmas single is reserved only for silly, opportunistic novelty bands- and while it would be difficult to argue that the majority of recent Christmas songs boil down to simple marketing ploys, there are some recent offerings that have, to me, become yuletide classics.
The first- and possibly best- of these festive tunes comes from Frightened Rabbit. Some may find it odd for a band so normally buried in songs of everyday troubles, strife and heartbreak to come out with a song celebrating this, the yearly time of coming together and loving your fellow man. Well... In a WAY they have? "It's Christmas So We'll Stop" is essentially about celebrating Christmas by not being as terrible, depressed and cruel as you are the rest of the year, certainly the saddest way of describing a seasonal get together. However, as this is Frightened Rabbit, they handle bitterness and resentment in the most achingly beautiful way. When singer, Scott Hutchinson, yearningly asks to "let the rot stop for today, let the rot stop just for one day" you get the impression that, as sad as it may be, that really is the best Christmas present he could receive. I would kill to hear this song live. Frightened Rabbit- It's Christmas So We'll Stop
The next, is a song that has achieved legendary status in the world of novelty Christmas hits: Last Christmas. Now as much as I embrace pop music, the original Wham version has- I think it's safe to say- aged terribly since its release (and Cascada's recent, horrific, screechy murdering of the song hasn't done much to resurrect it) and with all the song's perceived cheesiness, it's easy to forget that it is, underneath it all, a heartbreak song. Dumped over the holidays? Being blanked by an ex? Seeing said ex with someone else? Georgie M is dealing with some depressing stuff in this song. That's why the song needed someone like iLikeTrains to come along. The Leeds-based post rock adventurers have managed to rein in both their penchant for towering soundscapes and the song's tendency to spin into ironic-cover-version territory and deliver it how it should be. Quiet, resigned and teary-eyed. Maybe not one to get you rocking around the Christmas tree, but a truly heroic take on a yuletide classic that has fallen on hard times.
No doubt I shall think of more modern Christmas classics in the run up to December 25th, and promptly post them, but I thought these two suited each other well (ie. They're both down-in-the-mouth songs about loneliness at Christmastime) so would make a nice little co-blog.
It isn't a secret that British Sea Power are one of the best bands of the decade, having produced two of the finest albums of the noughties- as well as providing audiences with the best gigs imaginable. From wrestling matches with bears to cannons showering crowds with fake snow by way of parading on unwilling bouncer's shoulders, anything could happen at a Sea Power gig.
With this amazing unpredictability in the live arena, BSP, in my eyes, suffered slightly with the release of their last 'proper' album "Do You Like Rock Music?". Whilst the album was praised by many for being more focused and refined, to me it presented the challenge of how the band intended to trash the stage and throw each other around during whilst playing a sophisticated indie pop song.
Well, with new single, "Living is So Easy" (quite an upbeat title from the makers of "The Lonely" and "Fear of Drowning") it seems that the band have done something very unexpected indeed, by incorporating some synth-pop touches. However, this isn't a Dandy Warhols style "Oh, we wanted to make electro pop music like Duran Duran all along" needless change of genre, as the sound is still very much in the British Sea Power mould, just with an electronic shimmer that indicates the sound of a band trying new things, as opposed to a band abandoning one style for another.
You can download the new song in exchange for your e-mail address using this fancy new widget thing. I recommend that you do.
Also, as a purely geeky point, the widget features a three-legged horse. Presumably this is a reference to the quite poetic inscription on BSP's second album "Open Season" which reads "To spend our days betting on three legged horses with beautiful names". Could the band be returning to the sound of that, their cheeriest and most accessible album?
The Victorian English Gentlemen's Club are one of the most fun bands around, but then again you should already know this from their very enjoyable album "Love On An Oil Rig". You SHOULD do, though frankly, I don't think that album got the attention it deserved despite managing to combine all the fierce, edge of your seat insanity of the Pixies whilst also having a groove to it, akin to those old Wall of Sound girl groups.
The highlight of Love On an Oil Rig, for me, was the single "Parrot", which started with one of the most ominous clunking bass intros, before bursting into life as a twisted dance classic. It also featured a rather brilliant video:
Well now, despite it only being a bit over a year since "Love On an Oil Rig" came out, the VEGC seem raring to go once again with new material, having put up a song for free download on This Is Fake DIY's soundcloud. The new song is the MAGNIFICENTLY titled "A Biting Wind Followed By An Occasional Drift of Snow (Was No Way To Cure A Hangover)". It's a bit more out there than the to-the-point grooves of Parrot but it's fascinating, and has just the right amount of catchiness to make you go back for repeat listens.
And you know what, as a bonus, have the bedroom version of Parrot. In all honesty, I thought the original couldn't be improved on, but then again, I didn't think of having the song played acoustically, in a bed, with vocals sung through an old phone.
For the record, I think it's only fair that every single released from now on should have a "bed-a-phone" version. Watch!
Sorry, folks. I haven't done a blog for nearly a week. It's that whole "working" thing which has apparently become the fashion of today.
To make up for it, this blog's basically going to be a massive dump of all the ace stuff that you can find on bandcamp- one of the most prominent places on the internet for free music that isn't, y'know, "dodgy".
First, a recap of bands who have stuff on Bandcamp who I've already told you to check out.
Firstly, the ever-great Borland (I blogged bout em here) who have new EPs to download on their bandcamp (I think Quantum Woman's my favourite, though Radio Waves is perfect evening ambient music)
Then I linked to Starslinger's bandcamp. He's been interviewed by Pitchfork so that explains why he's the most popular thing on Bandcamp from Manchester- fill your face with downloads here.
Three tracks of lovely acoustic-ness, all done on a laptop by one guy. Bear in mind that the "one guy" in question is in Day For Airstrikes (a band i adore with a fiery passion) and Pooch (which is basically Day For Popstrikes) and you can realise this is a higher class of bedroom singer/songwriter. The songs are simple, summery and soothing, not to mention free so get on them.
Boy Genius- Bandcamp Boy Genius deal with the simple, no-frills rock that I must admit, I don't tend to go for. Normally, if a band aren't pushing limits on hideous-sounding distortion, or providing a fey sentimentality to their rocking, then I'm not usually interested. Boy genius however, temper their butch rock ways with a likeable catchiness. And, the opening title track on the DragonKick EP contains the superbly fun singalong chorus of "I FEEL JUST LIKE AN ANIMAL DOES!" One for fans of straight forward rocking in a Foo Fighters or late-period Ash style.
DJ A-Trak- Bandcamp A-Trak is a pretty big deal. He DJ-ed for Kanye on his "Graduation" tour and is currently one half of the very fun Duck Sauce (they did these twoparty jams) and has recently embraced bandcamp as a way to circulate his latest mixtape, Dirty South Dance 2. As one might guess, DSD2 is the sequel to 2007's Dirty South Dance. Which I still stick on on my iPod for some ace strutting music. It essentially takes rap vocals and lays them over "body-jacking" electro remixes. A very good match.
(I'm just going to point out that this is officially one of my favourite images currently in existence)
Chromeo are a special band for me. I first discovered them on Modular's Leave Them All Behind compilation- a disc that, to me, was a revelation. I was a bit shocked at how well indie and electronic music went together. To my mind, there were indie bands and then dance producers and never the two shall meet, but this CD put Tom Vek and Fiery Furnaces songs next to remixes (the 2005 me had hardly heard a remix up until this point) and would you know it worked?
The next time I came across Chromeo was hearing some live tracks they did for the sadly missed "And This Is Our Disco" podcast, the first podcast I subscribed to that wasn't based on the premise of "DJs play indie songs you can dance to" but "DJs play electronic music, alright?" To say they were instrumental in my discovery of electronic music might be a bit much (and would leave out bands like The Knife, Clor, Ratatat and of course, Daft Punk) but they were definitely an important stepping stone out of my comfort zone. The best thing about Chromeo is, without a doubt, the shiny, retro-futuristic keyboard sounds- complete with talkboxes- and it's obvious that, despite their albums being roughly 1000% fun, a lot of hard work and technical know how goes into making that sound.
Here's a video showing a bit more of that side of Chromeo, though it still seems like a hell of a lot of fun ("I'm much more arrrr-tic-u-laaate"). It's basically a nerdy studio tour that shows how they get those pristine synth sounds. Enjoy!
ps. Anybody fancy seeing Chromeo in Manchester? It's gonna be mecha-awesome.
I have been told many times in my life that I'm a music snob. I disagree (read about why I'm not a music snob, actually, here) but The Flaming Lips are one band that my entire opinion of you hinges on. Put simply, if you don't enjoy any aspect of the Flaming Lips' music- and they've been through many, many line-ups and sounds to choose from- then there are fundamental things that you and I will never agree on, and it's best you leave right now.
However, it's apparently not as simple as that, what with the Lips releasing the dense, wilfully weird album, 'Embryonic' last year. It seems even those who liked the Lips found it difficult to get their heads round the repetitive, blisteringly distorted grooves of "Convinced of the Hex" and "Silver Trembling Hands", though I personally found them thrilling. One criticism often levelled at the album, is simply that it's less pop minded than "At War With The Mystics" or "Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots", and the Guardian even called it "career killing". Christ...
So what makes a band release that kind of album? Well you can find out in a very good documentary called "Blastula" that has interviews with the band about the recording process and how the songwriting went. Plus there's juicy studio footage.
You can watch a making of Embryonic, for one week only here on Pitchfork TV. You blatantly should.