Friday, March 14, 2008

Wet dream

I'm surprised to see Water Lilies - a new film about French teenage lesbians on the cusp of sexual awakening - garnering such universally drooling reviews from middle-aged male film critics. Must be something in the water!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Sons & Daughters @ ULU

[Originally published on]

“That was a song to kill your girlfriend to. This is one to kill yourself to.”
From any other band, such throwaway nihilism might amount to little more than posturing: but no one familiar with Sons & Daughters’ macabre fetishism can doubt their devotion to the cause. Here to showcase their third and most fully-realised album to date – the Bernard Butler-produced The Gift – the Glasgow quartet arrive at tonight’s headline date on the cusp of a long-awaited commercial breakthrough.

Central to their visceral appeal lies singer Adele Bethel. Appearing on-stage in an ultra-revealing slip of a number, her rapturous banshee wails and spasmodic tambourine-thrashing suggest not so much a front-woman as a Dionysian force of nature. Scott Paterson’s growling vocals prove themselves a menacing counterpoint to Bethel’s, while adding a touch of loucheness to proceedings.

Crucially, the band now have the material to back up their ferocious live reputation. Newies such as the Franz Ferdinand-gone-feral intensity of former single ‘Gilt Complex’ and the yearning Morrissey inflections of ‘The Bell’ slip effortlessly into the cannon, while old favourites ‘Dance Me In’ and ‘Johnny Cash’ – the latter re-worked to channel the raw claustrophobia of the Stooges – have lost none of their lusty impact through over-familiarity.

Ploughing a furrow of heady, apocalyptic Roots'n'Roll, Sons & Daughters’ enthralling evocation of rock’s dark side stands up to comparison with Tom Waits and Nick Cave, twin demigods of that particular pantheon. You wouldn’t want to get too close, but from a distance it makes for a hellishly thrilling spectacle.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Ting Tings @ Hoxton Bar & Grill

[Originally published on]

The next big thing: a double-edged compliment if ever there was one. Having formed less than 12 months ago, much-hyped Manc duo The Ting Tings arrive for their biggest headline show to date all too aware that the fall from grace can be brutal should you fail to measure up.

If the pair are fazed by the palpable sense of anticipation in this rammed East London venue, they certainly don’t show it, dispatching their new single ‘Great DJ’ as a sassy, confident opening salvo. Sure, it’s join-the-dots indie-disco, but the insistent post-punk riffs and singer Katie White’s sultry, knowing delivery raise it above the generic. ‘Fruit Machine’ – its “kerching!” hook possibly reflecting their record label’s reaction upon hearing the track – is playful and erotically charged, a teasing vocal building to a Karen O-style caterwaul for the chorus.

Sadly, the quality dips from here on in. Drummer Jules De Martino switches to guitar duties for ‘Traffic Light’, an ill-advised stab at a stripped-down blues ballad which only serves to disrupt the set’s momentum. Much of the material sounds rather two-dimensional, the backing tracks failing to have the impact a full band might have provided. An instantly forgettable newie even manages to summon the unwelcome spectre of Republica.

Despite White giving it her best rip-her-to-shreds Debbie Harry moves and De Martino’s undeniably infectious energy, it’s hard to shake off the niggling whiff of contrivance surrounding the Ting Tings. The band’s vogueish grrrrl pop sound is just rough enough around the edges to be marketed to a credibility-conscious indie market, while remaining safely daytime radio-friendly. Not a bad thing per se, it’s just that with the likes of The Go! Team and Black Kids so definitively setting the standard in exuberant, distortion-heavy pop, it all sounds a little tame.

Interest is belatedly revived with their hook-laden, Toni Basil-aping anthem ‘That’s Not My Name’, but it’s not enough to stave off the gnawing sense of anti-climax at the end of this half-hour set. In a notoriously fickle musical climate, the Ting Tings have the air of a purely ephemeral concern.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Juno it makes sense

OMG, Juno may just be the schmindiest movie ever: if there’s any justice it’ll be this year’s Napoleon Dynamite/Little Miss Sunshine cross-over indie cult phenomenon. It features an awesomely sweet lead performance from Ellen Page (the eponymous Juno), who has that same gonna-be-a-humongous-star aura of invincibility displayed by Lindsay Lohan in Mean Girls (hopefully sans the celebrity hang-ups and tawdry Callum Best trysts).

The soundtrack’s curated by Kimya Dawson from the much-missed Moldy Peaches. It features two of Belle and Sebastian’s greatest songs (‘Piazza, New York Catcher’ and ‘Expectations’) as well as stellar, career-best stuff from the likes of The Kinks, The Velvet Underground, Cat Power and Kimya herself. Best of all, though, it features Sonic Youth’s spine-tingling, otherworldly rendition of the Carpenter’s ‘Superstar’, one of my favourite cover versions.

Read Laura Barton's musings on the Juno soundtrack here.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

"Take off your glasses and apologise"

The dress sense of Nathan Barley, the attitude of Napoleon Dynamite. Awesome.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Falling Off the Lavender Bridge - Lightspeed Champion

[Originally published on Twisted Ear]

Candid acoustic soul-bearing courtesy of former scenester

Noisenik agitators Test Icicles were one of those infuriatingly faddish industry buzz bands whose short-lived hype frenzy quickly evaporated once rock journalists ceased to be titillated by their gimmicky moniker. Few mourned when they announced their split in 2006, least of all band member Dev Hynes who claimed that "we were never, ever that keen on the music. I understand that people liked it, but we personally, er, didn't." In short: we pity the fools.

Mercifully, Hyne’s new vehicle Lightspeed Champion are musically unrecognisable from his previous cohorts. Recorded in Omaha, Nebraska with resident Saddle Creek producer Mike Mogis, and backed by moonlighting members of Tilly and the Wall and Cursive, it’s perhaps no surprise to discover a debut album steeped in lush, introspective alt-country, but with a roguish geek pop edge.

Written by Hynes at the age of only 19, Falling Off the Lavender Bridge is a record defined both by its creator’s precocious musical accomplishment and his eyebrow-raising candour. Previous singles 'Galaxy of the Lost' and 'Tell Me What It’s Worth' showcase Lightspeed Champion’s flair for literate, deceptively upbeat folk-pop. And while Emmy the Great’s mellifluous backing vocals help to sugar the pill somewhat, they can’t completely mask the undercurrent of angsty ennui which lurks beneath the surface.

Self-consciously nerdy and unaffected, Hynes presents himself as a reluctant spokesman for a generation grown prematurely jaded. But unlike, say, Alex Turner, whose alienation manifests itself in sneering condescension towards his peers, Hyne’s tone is a broadly sympathetic one. Whereas most of the acclaimed indie rock lyricists du jour favour an impressionistic, abstract, approach, Hynes style is blunt and deeply personal to the point of crudeness (“wake up smell the semen,” he urges during sprawling, hook-laden 10-minute epic 'Midnight Surprise', making listeners of a more sensitive disposition nearly choke on their sleeve notes). 'I Could Have Done this Myself' is a frank and comical chronicling of an underwhelming sexual encounter, propelled by a rousing, Arcade Fired-up guitar onslaught. 'Devil Tricks for A Bitch', with its withering commentary on racial factionalism, is a yearning country lament recalling Conor Oberst at his most emotionally fraught.

It doesn’t all work: 'Salty Water' is slight and forgettable, never really managing to stir from its oblique, ponderous slumber. But we can forgive such minor lapses when treated to such twin delights as 'Dry Lips' and 'Everyone I Know is Listening to Crunk' – the former a shimmering slice of early-REM jangle-pop, the latter a wistful, retro-tinged campfire croon.

Deploying liberal sprinklings of humour and pathos to a tapestry of folksy, homespun musical sophistication, Lavender Bridge is a bruised but big-hearted debut, serving notice on a new and formidable talent from this self-styled musical polymath.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

This Charmless Cam

Every time I start to think my visceral hatred of David Cameron might just be beginning to thaw, he goes and ruins it with a nauseatingly smug stunt like this.

Perhaps now Dave knows Morrissey is on-message with regards to his party's hardline immigration policy he'll look to recruit him as part of his own "government of all the talents" once elected, mirroring Nick Clegg's rather bewildering appointment of Brian Eno as youth adviser. As a taster for what to expect, check out Moz's three-point manifesto to heal "Broken Britain".