Tuesday, April 25, 2006Lily Allen
Since I posted that little blurb on Lily Allen a few weeks ago I've been getting a dozen googlehits a day on her, so I guess she deserves a bit more writing. Lily is a 20 year old North London girl with an ear for fantastic tunes and witty, dry, perceptive lyrics about what it's like to live in London, taking a light-hearted comedic slant at everything which might shock anybody else, but is totally normal in the fantastic and exciting melting pot that is London. I've been falling out of love with London recently - the quality of life in Berlin for young people without too much money is incomparably high - but Lily's upcoming single LDN kinda emphasises the pact you make with London, or any other super-size city when you live there, the balance between excitement and danger, the ugly truths of inner-city poverty and the undeniable bliss when the sun finally comes out. Her video for the song is also fantastic - it's Lily riding on a bike through London, shot in budgetscope for that gritty street aesthetic (even though she's on EMI). Watch it here:
Her album, out in July, is set to be one of the hits of the summer. She has four songs on her MySpace - the music speaks for itself. She is playing a residency at Notting Hill Arts Club in May, be sure to go if you can.
Friday, April 21, 2006Just you and me, pornography
It can be dangerous going to see bands when you only know/like one or two songs. Or only like a band member's former band. Or if the gig is actually in Potsdam, an hour away from East Berlin. And you're absolutely knackered from another week of doing nothing. I went to see Client last night (fulfilling all of the above requirements for a dangerous gig), and, erm, it was ok. I used to absolutely love electro music a few years ago. I was 17, living in Edinburgh and dreaming of London clubs like Trash (still the best club in London!) and Nag Nag Nag, dressing in black and white, gyrating with Peaches, attending $1000000 Fischerspooner shows, that kinda thing. By the time I got there that kind of meaningless, glamorous, disposable electro was almost at the end of its short lifetime.
This was almost three years ago. Which is why it seems a little strange to me that a band like Client, old and wise enough to know better, are still making music in that vein - a genre which was so precisely about the moment, that it simply had to deconstruct when the moment passed. For a short while people thought dance music would change forever, Fischerpooner were signed for a reported $1m, thereby bringing Ministry of Sound to almost bankruptcy (ha!). So it can be argued that Client, Kate, Sarah and Emily (Alan McGee's wife, the singer from Dubstar, and a Make Me a Supermodel contestant, respectively) are doing it purely for the love of what they are doing, since there's no real chance of opening themselves up to a wider market. Quite admirable, really. They manage themselves, do their own website and such. They do put on a really good live show, full of sex, posturing, glares, and warm smiles once the backtrack finishes.
I guess their music is just not my kinda thing anymore, so I'm not really in a position to criticize it. Their two Robbie-friendly songs, however, were immense. Pornography was almost as filthy as on the record (a surprise Carl Barat appearance could've spiced things up a bit more), with Sarah Blackwood strutting the stage in gold high heels and fetish security guard outfit, like a sex-crazed Cindy Beale. It's Rock and Roll, also from 2005's City album, went down a treat, though I didn't feel especially rock'n'roll looking at my watch, conscious of not wanting to miss the last train back to Berlin. On the painfully slow S-bahn ride back I tried to think up my line on the night. I think I enjoyed it, I think I quite like their music with its Depeche Mode undertones, it was perhaps just a bit too much effort going all that way for a band I don't love. Etcetera.
Wednesday, April 19, 2006When the Stars come out...
Why are all bands from Montreal so amazing? I just don't understand it, but it sure as hell makes me want to to Montreal and soak up some amazingness. Maybe I'd just find some quirky peeps in their mid-to-late twenties and start writing songs in museums (or something) which get so close to the bone that it is almost relieving, which describe closest exactly what it feels like to be alive and, simply, to feel. That's what Stars, Arcade Fire, Wolf Parade etcetera etcetera do to me. So, as you might imagine, Stars' concert at Magnet in Berlin last Friday night was a very special evening.
Rather than the usual Berliner laissez-faire attitude to gigs (turn up at 10pm, drink/smoke/clap sometimes), gig-spot stand-off was already operational at 9pm, the crowd of eager romantics holding firm for the coveted front spots. After excellent support from fellow Arts and Crafts band, The Most Serene Republic, Stars took to the stage to a rapturous reception. On stage they looked a motley crew - no group "aesthetic", no stupid hair - more of a group of different people, normal people, people who've lived a bit, on a stage with instuments and wearing their favourite outfit. The experience of life which marks their music so poignantly, and perhaps characterises the difference between the Montreal scene and, say, those scruffy Arctic Monkeys - fun? Yes. Moving? Only in a fairly shallow and quick way. I guess they ultimately serve different purposes and markets, so it is perhaps an unfair criticism.
Stars swooned and swooshed through a good hour and a half's worth of material, drawn mostly from last year's Set Yourself On Fire, but with a fair smattering from 2003's Heart and some others. Their lush compositions, with strings, horns, trumpets, keys, guitars, yageddit, made me think of movie soundtracks the whole way through - landscapes of sound creating and conjuring atmosphere. When introducing "Your Ex-Lover is Dead" for the encore, main singer, Torquil, explained how the band want to make the sountrack to moments and feelings of the films and dramas that are people's lives. It's been said before, but it felt so sincere, and everything about the whole band seems so genuine that you simply had to believe him 100%. I've only been at one gig where people hugged strangers after the show was over (No Doubt at the Scala, London, 23rd January 2002), but last Friday night at Magnet felt close to that. I bumped into Elizabeth and danced, failed to play pool, and tried/failed to get a kareoke booth at Monster Ronson's. A great night, all in all.
Monday, April 17, 2006Super Extra Cardigans
The Cardigans have been around since forever. Six albums, two songs which the world seems to know, and what else, you might ask? I interviewed their singer, Nina Persson, on Thursday for Wears The Trousers and we talked at length about the expectations on them to repeat the commercial success of Lovefool or the following album, Gran Turismo. The subsequent albums, Long Gone Before Daylight (2003) and Super Extra Gravity (2005) are far better albums, a band at their song-writing peak 5 and 6 albums into their career, albeit without the same level of sales as their third and fourth albums. Bands don't really get the chance to be in their position now - if success doesn't come instantly, then the record companies lose interest and invest less money in future marketing and promo campaigns and the opportunities for bands to have a career and to develop. She was careful to emphasise the luxury of their situation - a dependable core-fanbase, as they have gathered, means that their recording and touring pressures/commitments are not so much defined by the marketing workings and timings of their record company, but rather by their own agenda. A luxury indeed.
Regardless of such (perhaps irrelevant) questions, the Cardigans are still a great band. Their live set at Postbahnhof in Berlin last week was drawn almost exclusively from the latest two albums. If most other bands who missed out their biggest single they would leave people disappointed, but the strength of the more recent material certainly sufficed. I'd gone into the interview with in a slightly sympathetic and curious mindset, and after the concert I felt assured that they are a band that couldn't be happier with where they are. In fact, I've never seen such a (civilised) rapturous reception - the audience (mostly men 28-38) applaused the band for an oddly long time after each song. Something the band must be accustomed to, as there was a second encore pencilled onto the setlist anyway. Cardigans fans need not worry about the future of the band - Nina told me they are already starting to think about their next album and the myriad of possible directions and influences that it could take. Like fine wines, some bands just get better in every way with age.
Sunday, April 16, 2006Jenny was a friend of mine
Rilo Kiley's frontwoman Jenny Lewis has an astounding voice, rich, experienced and lush. Until this year it was only really heard by American Saddle Creek scenesters and those seeking to imitate them in Britain and perhaps elsewhere in Europe, with floppy fringes and converse trainers with Bright Eyes scrawled across their holy soles. Not so now, as Jenny Lewis' collaborative side-project album with Los Angeles' Watson Twins has become one of many people's favourite albums this year. I went to the gig with a group of friends who hadn't heard the album before and were going on the back of positive reviews - they were taken-aback by the beauty of her lyrics. She tells stories of characters and of herself in the country/folk tradition, absolutely heartfelt and honest. With Rilo Kiley her voice was arguably wasted on fairly standard indie-rock (even though I really like it!) but the kinda White Soul of Rabbit Furcoat fits the voice perfectly.
The live show was impressive. It was at Passionskirche, the most beautiful venue in the world, and somewhat fitting considering the frequent religious/gospel questions/references throughout the album. The band (including fitty singer-songwriter and J-Lew's beau, Johnathan Rice) came to the stage dressed entirely in black. The lighting was also dark, creating a very dramatic atmosphere as can be seen from my pictures. It was certainly more Walk The Line than Dollywood. The Watson Twins have been playing on all the dates and are a haunting presence, tall, slim, identical and also black clad, their otherwise soothing harmonies providing a slightly chilling depth to the arrangements.
The whole thing was enigmatic, there wasn't a huge amount of dialogue and Jenny's face was largely concealed behind her voluptuous fiery mane. It was all about the voice and the music and at one point in the encore, J-Lew came back on her own and sung the first part of a song unplugged, walking into the aisle before being joined by the rest of the band, showing that she is indeed fo' real. The gig, though not sold out, was a success - Berlin's record stores had sold out of her album by the end of the week and it'd be hard to imagine anyone leaving the Passionskirche that night feeling anything other than touched.
Friday, April 14, 2006Goodbye Lenin
Moscow was the most amazing place I've ever been. I wish I had an "I heart Moscow" t-shirt to show everyone in the world that Moscow is heart-worthy. I've dreamed my whole life of walking across Red Square, of metros every 30 seconds, of cyrillic alphabets, of 8 lane motorways filled with Ladas, the bright lights, the furs. To arrive at Red Square as the sun was setting on my first day was utterly humbling and awe-inspiring. To think of the amount of history that's taken place in that one square makes you feel so insignificant. I guess the same applies to Berlin - you can only be small in comparison to the concentrations of world international relations that have occured in these places. But I like little more than to be dominated by the world's great cities.
When in Moscow I stayed with one of my best friends from school who is living and studying in Moscow for the year. She speaks Russian which really helped me to get the most out of the trip - she handled the difficult situations and toured me round the world's most used metro (9 million users every day!), built on the principle that it must be beautiful so that the worker's were not miserable in their daily commutes. I could list everything that I did and saw, but you'd be best going to this page if you're interested - it has pictures and titles and descriptions.
Much of Moscow surprised me. I hadn't expected it to be expensive, and it was almost as expensive as London for eating out and "nice" shopping. I had expected the people to poorer, but it was much more mixed than that - poverty was clear to be seen, but much of downtown Moscow seems largely to be a playground of the Elitny, the new rich Muscovites who can afford to frequent the city's many fine institutions. I'd expected to feel a bit scared and to stand out as a "Westerner", but I felt comfortably anonymous. And then there were many things which I hadn't even thought about which surprised me, but I'm glad for it - it'd be boring for every experience to be as you'd expect.
In any case, I'd totally recommend, at some point in your life, to visit Moscow - it's a rush and unlike any place I've ever been before. It safely joins my "Top 5 Cities EVER" which might run like Berlin, London, Moscow, Istanbul, Edinburgh. I'd love to go back at some point, but there's so much else to see. If you are considering flying there I'd recommend German Wings which I flew - it's a German low-cost carrier, and the only low-cost carrier to fly to Moscow from Western Europe. If you book in advance you can get a real bargain. For visas I'd recommend RealRussia who were very efficient with my application.
Wednesday, April 05, 2006
My website is now being hosted at abstractboy.ORG.uk. It's been a busy little period, visits from lovers and mothers, and I'm off to Moscow tomorrow for the week. How very exciting. I will return on 12th April with gig reviews from Jenny Lewis, The Cardigans, Stars, and hopefully some lovely photos from one of the greatest cities in the world.
In the meantime, some MySpace finds:
Elle Milano Sound a tad like Bloc Party, but more clever and exciting. "Swearing is for Art Students" is particularly great.
The Low Miffs...Singer Leo was in my year at school and after listening to an album I recorded (aged 16) said I had "failed, but failed very well". The Low Miffs make excellent music - I promise you.
Lily Allen I can't say I know Lily Allen, but I wish I did. She's an Islington girl (HOLLOWAY REPRESENT, N7 str8 2 heaven) who makes carnival tinged pop-hop with lovely, funny, cutting lyrics. The best new music I've heard in quite a while. And check out her MySpace blog too.
Bombay Bicycle Club The singer from BBC is the little brother of my dear friend Anna. The band are all 15 and 16 years old, but display a talent that can only be described as prodigal. Jack Steadman's voice is fragile and honest and their music is very professional sounding. I really do think big things will happen for these boys.
Over and out.