Tuesday, March 29, 2005Damn Damn Leash
Mayfair's soon-to-be-closed Infinity Club was packed to the rafters with meeja types, photographers and zeitgeist spotters last Thursday for Be Your Own Pet's much hyped debut UK gig. Be Your Own Pet have recently received some rave press from Dazed & Confused and NME and so were whisked away from their home town of Nashville for a weekend of intensive showcases and gigs to give The Meeja a chance to claim their discovery and the A&R men to fight over their soul. BYOP are creating a stir for various reasons, but the most obvious of these is their age (17) and their singer (Jemina) (though this may be to do with age too). The craziness of playing to packed clubs in a far off land without actually doing anything was explicit in their faces - it really must have felt so crazy. But unlike most 17 year old bands playing shitty bars in their hometown every weekend, Be Your Own Pet have an energy and authenticity that should make everyone from Karen O to fellow-deep-south-youngsters, Kings of Leon worry about their rockstatus.
Be Your Own Pet's sound is scuzzy, dirty, garage with heaps of attitude and energy. They don't look like they are going to be noisy - the guys are all clean cut and fresh faced and Jemina could be a Gwenabee with her valleygirl-cum-punkchicka looks. But in truth they are like the 1976 era Blondie I never got to see - brash, loud, heavy, but with more energy than you can ever imagine Debbie Harry to command. At the same time, it's hard to imagine a band any older having this sort of energy. Their music is unjaded and fresh, which is definitely one of their strongest features. There is none of the apathy induced by looking for jobs, the seeming pointlessness of highwer education when all you want to do is play guitar...they are simply kids who want to be in a band, and what could be more admirable than that?
With so many bands being hyped every week as The Next Big Thing, it's hard to imagine how there will be space for all these Big Things. But Be Your Own Pet really are a cut above the rest. This is only the beginning of something wonderful and let us just hope that they aren't beaten down by others' resentment before they flourish fully. They have a single, Damn Damn Leash out now on XL which is available to buy from Rough Trade.
Wednesday, March 23, 2005Why I love...Black Box Recorder
Most bands try and avoid social commentary. It often comes across as overly simplistic and crass (the Others) or obscure and abstract (Radiohead). Some bands dedicate their career to an overall political message (Anti-Flag and anarchism), but I can only think of one band whose entire career and genius is dedicated to a social narrative of middle-class Britain. The band are Black Box Recorder and sadly, they are no more.
The band were fronted by the beautiful Sarah Nixey, but the songs were written by Luke Haines (the Auteurs) and John Moore, who have both had subesequent solo albums. The general concept is making pure classic pop music, but with very, very dark undertones. The lyrics are what really sets Black Box Recorder apart from anyone else though. On their first album, 1998's England Made Me, they look mainly at the mundanity of suburban life and family relationships, with songs like New Baby Boom which has lyrics like "New baby boom and your father is a famous man, I know he loves me - now I've got the proof". Or the infamous single Child Psychology which was banned from British Radio for its line "Life is unfair, kill yourself or get over it" while presenting a narrative in a depressed child's head and detailing the child's christmas visit home: "An artificial christmas tree that plays silent night over and over again". It may not be a hugely accurate representation of subruban life, but it's all about characters. Characters that don't usually get a mention.
They take a particular interest in bored teenagers, like in Swinging which has the line "Are you a hardcore hooligan? Did you really burn the old school down? If I set fire to you now would you even make a sound?". Their only hit single, The Facts of Life (#20, April 2000) was an anthem for awkward teenage boys and puberty, puting off asking a girl out and then by the time he plucks up the courage "someone else has asked her first and she said yes" to which Sarah Nixey purrs "at this point the boy is probably thinking it's easier said than done and it's true, it's just the facts of life". Sarah Nixey's crystal clear home counties deadpan delivery is the essence of the beauty of Black Box Recorder. The lyrics and the music would not be nearly quite so potent without it - she is an English Rose but with a dark twist, which is essentially a reflection of BBR's music. The underlying perversity of middle-class Britain. This is best heard in Gift Horse where Sarah coos "I just want to be loved..." while Luke Haines and John Moore whisper sinisterly "they're digging up human remains..." while both parts finish on the line "...in Notting Hill", showing both aspiration and darkness.
In early 2003 they released Passionoia, which was took a faster pace and embraced electronica to a greater extent and is, in my opinion, their most accomplished work. The lead single, These Are The Things, was a euro-disco ode to, you guessed it, the banalities of relationships. "A pint of milk, a loaf bread, a magazine on special offer, check the weather forecast, buy a new umbrella, write a text message, send a get well card, I'll meet you in the park in half an hour...these are the things that keep us together". But the aspirational middle-class is given their best tribute yet in British Racing Green, which musically feels like a slow sunday drive in a british racing green Jaguar (and Abstractboy knows exactly how that feels!), trivialising the notion of the British Dream (as opposed to the American Dream) of settling down and moving to the countryside, with reference to "pebble dash houses underneath the flightpath", "clement weather", "everybody needs to dream, romance and love and eight hours sleep". It touches on the peculiarities of the British Dream which (as far as I know) no other band has done in quite the same way. I'm not usually one to think along national lines and think, on the whole, national identity is a construct based on myth and would describe myself as essentially post-national, but Black Box Recorder give deserved attention to the British Class System(TM), seemingly national obsessions with class status, celebrity, love/hate relationships with the monarchy...it is there and it is fascinating.
Black Box Recorder are now sadly disbanded. John and Sarah married (and were driven in a La Fee absinthe Routemaster from the ceremony), had a baby, divorced in true British style. John Moore works for Rough Trade records and has released an album this year titled Half Awake, Luke Haines has played a few gigs with the Auteurs and is still writing solo material, that is as dark as you want it. And Sarah Nixey has sadly disappeared out of the public eye, presumably to raise her child. But luckily the genius of Black Box Recorder is immortalised on these three albums and a Worst of. Gone, but not forgotten.
Sunday, March 20, 2005Let's Rave On because you know that you want it
At last! A non-singer-songwriter to blog about! It's all been getting a bit personal recently, hasn't it? As well as a bit quiet, but fear not for Abstractboy's 2nd year teaching comes to an end on Tuesday and there will be no more deadlines with which to juggle, not until September anyway.
So the Raveonettes are back after not even a year of writing and recording their follow up to 2003's Chain Gang of Love. Both Chain Gang of Love and it's predeccesor Whip it on were characterised by the heavy feedback and the former being written exclusively in Bb major and the latter solely in Bb minor, with the emphasis being on increasing creativity in song-writing through the restriction of writing in one key. If anything, it made working out the guitar parts much easier. Unfortunately, despite the rave(!haha!) reviews that Chain Gang of Love received and the mini-summer-anthem of That Great Love Sound hitting the charts, the album never-quite became the success it was expected to be.
But hopefully the follow up, Pretty in Black, due for release in early May, will pick up where Chain Gang left off. The new material played at their two recent London shows a huge progression in songwriting skills and a move away from the feedback heavy sound from the previous albums, which some listeners found it hard to see through. The album also features some very, very special collaborations from Ronnie Spector and Suicide, among others. The sound is, like the previous album, very 60s girl group inspired. Chief song-writer, Sune Rose-Wagner, cites the Ronettes' "Be My Baby" as the reason he makes music, so to have one of the most distinctive voices of the movement on the record is something special. But more so than on Chain Gang of Love, it really does sound like the real thing. The compositions are as simple and as pure as "Be My Baby" or the Shangri-Las, with some Wall of Sound-style production and some real classical twist of bitter-sweet love songs. Some of it is even twist-and-shoutable and future single, Love in a Trashcan could be blared out at full volume as you drive across the desert in a shiny red convertible.
Puting this CD on will be just as good as playing the Ronettes at full volume and knowing sure whether you want to laugh or cry. Every song so far sounds like it could be a single, and every song is all the more sincere in its imitation of one of the most classic pop sounds. While Girls Aloud's excellent 80s inspired pop is fun, the organic and sincere approach that the Raveonettes take towards recreating this sound sets it above all the those rubbish retro-revivalists filling up the pages of NME. Black Velvets, Jet - I mean you!
Wednesday, March 02, 2005Shellie not?
A long long time ago, in the land of the mid 1990s, there was a pop band like no other. They sung of rocketships and karma and fairydust, their photoshoots involved french fancies and bedsits and lighting cigarettes off burning copies of the Daily Mirror, japanese fabrics and heavily kohled panda eyes. They were called Alisha's Attic and had a string of sizable perfect pop hits between 1996 and 2001. They were the first band that I ever fell in love with - their self-defining single, Alisha Rules the World, summed up my 13 year-old, confused, faux-bi-polar existance perfectly. But unlike most of the other pop around at the time, much of Alisha's Attic's material stands the test of time, especially their last, and sadly least succesful, album The House we Built. EvilMercury didn't offer a contract for a fourth album and Karen and Shelly were thoroughly disillusioned with the biz, they decided not to continue with Alisha's Attic.
Karen began to carve a very succesful career out of writing for other pop artists, including Kylie Minogue, Rachel Stevens, Britney Spears, Will Young, Shapeshifters, Jamelia, Enrique, Amy Studt and many many more. Shelly (now Shellie McErlaine), however, still wanted to write and record and perform as an artist, while also making a career out of writing for other artists (including Janet Jackson!), and has recorded a solo album and played a handfull of exclusive acoustic sets over the past 6 months.
The material is something to be very excited about. There is an element of the trippy, floaty, quirkiness that characterised the Alisha's Attic sound, but it is a lot more personal and heartfelt. When she stands on stage with just an acoustic guitar, strumming away and singing with her distinctive and delicate voice, you wouldn't be mistaken in likening her too a young Joni Mitchell or Emmylou Harris. There is a real pop-singer-songwriter pedigree in there, which is hardly suprising considering that some of the songs on the first Alisha's Attic album were written almost 20 years ago! So the material from Shellie's debut solo album has the maturity and confidence found on most artist's 5th or 6th album.
Totally Underwater is what the album will be called, and due to some managerial/contractual melarky there is no set release date for it yet. But it will be soon, and Radio 2 will start playing the single "Hard Time for a Dreamer" very shortly. It really is all about to kick off for Shellie, and her beautiful perfect floaty acoustic pop will be all you want to listen to before long. In the mean time, catch her play a 4 song acoustic set in the Shakespearean Globe at The Bedford in Balham, South London on Thursday 17th March. It's free to get in and doors are at 7.30. For more info on her, check out her website.