Album Review: Ceremony

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Ceremony ‘Zoo’ (Matador)

Although it’s not their debut album, this is Ceremony’s first album on the legendary indie label Matador, which will no doubt give their presence an important boost.

Ceremony can definitely be described as punk, although what kind of punk is harder to pin down. Not so much posturing, but certainly maximum riffage. More American than British (as you’d probably expect from a band from California) although one that seems to owe as much to the approach that Wire took on their first album as to American hardcore. One that does not follow the kiddie-punk model, without being po-faced.

Oh, and lots of songs. As you’d hope. Songs to mosh and jump up and down to like ‘Adult,’ ‘Hysteria’ and ‘Ordinary People’ with some more atmospheric numbers like ‘Hotel’ and ‘Nosebleed.’ Now, I’m going to have to hold a hand up here and confess that I hadn’t heard Ceremony (to the best of my knowledge) before Zoo came out. So, invariably there will be those who can point to the ways in which they have changed, and whether that’s for better or worse. For a face value approach though, this is a strong, solid album. Not ground-breaking, but proof that punk certainly isn’t generic, if you really needed that pointing out to you.

***1/2

Zoo is out now on Matador.

Ceremony -’Hysteria.’ mp3

Ceremony -’Adult.’ mp3

Plan B – track of the year so far?

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So…pop songs stopped being political a long time ago, apparently.

…really? ‘Common People’ by Pulp was one of the 90s anthems, and it dealt with the subject matter of those who don’t understand what it is to be poor. And now, nearly twenty years later, as a Tory government set out to destroy everything they didn’t destroy last time round, Plan B’s latest single combines a party anthem with an articulate response on those who refuse to take responsibility for what happened.

It starts with those urgent violins, and then the vocals kick in.

Last summer, as England succumbed to horrific riots, initially as a result of the shooting of Mark Duggan in Tottenham, North London, and then spread across England, people asked where was our ‘Ghost Town?’ Famously, The Specials’ track topped the charts in 1981, at the time of riots then. An unpopular Tory government, a widespread treatment of the underclass as scum, a feeling that the government weren’t listening. 1981 or 2011?

It was both. And here is one man’s response. He’s using irony – and if your response on hearing the track or watching the draw-dropping video is one of disgust, perhaps this is because this is how YOU always react to the stereotypes depicted within.

Here’s what he has to say on the matter.

Plan B’s statement in full (from his website)

” The world, and this country especially, is full of contradictions. I’m just highlighting them, I’m not condoning anything. I aired my feelings about the riots very publicly when they happened and I still feel the same way.

What happened in Tottenham in some ways I can understand but what happened everywhere else in the country was opportunism. I won’t justify it because I don’t agree with it. In fact it upset me so much I want to change it, so I wrote this song to bring the issue back to the forefront of public conversation. I feel it has been swept under the carpet and forgotten about, and it still needs to be properly addressed.

Since the riots happened I haven’t heard enough people within the public sector asking the two most important questions; ‘why did it happen and how can we prevent it from happening again?’ I do have a theory as to why and how but first I need to make my point. And I’ve chosen satire to do so.

The point being made in my song ‘ill Manors’ is that society needs to take some responsibility for the cause of these riots. Why are there so many kids in this country that don’t feel they have a future, or care about having a criminal record?

I think one of the reasons is that there is a very public prejudice in this country towards the underclass. These kids are ridiculed in the press as they aren’t as educated as others, because they talk and dress in a certain way… but they’re not as stupid as people think. They are aware of the ill feelings towards them and that makes them feel alienated. I know because I felt it myself growing up. These kids have been beaten into apathy. They don’t care about society because society has made it very clear that it doesn’t care about them.

An example of this is the word ‘chav’ that means council housed and violent, a derogatory phrase that is openly used by certain sectors of middle England to label and define people from poor backgrounds. It’s a derogatory phrase no different in my opinion to the ones concerning race or sex. The difference is that the papers use it publicly. If they did the same with racial or sexist derogatory terms it would be deemed, and rightly so, as offensive and politically incorrect.
That in my opinion is hypocrisy.

If you’re born into a family that’s has enough money to educate you properly, you are privileged. You’re not better than anyone else you’re just lucky. Certain sectors of middle England, not all of them, but the ignorant ones need to wake up and realise that …and stop ridiculing the poor and less fortunate. That is what this song is about.”

The video is little short of astounding.

…you paying attention?

Gig Review: Los Campesinos!

Los Campesinos! Edinburgh Liquid Rooms, March 28

It’s funny to think how long Los Campesinos! have been around for. As my +1 for the gig comments, they still seem like they’re a new band on the scene -until you realise that actually, with the release of Hello Sadness last year, they are now actually on their fourth album.

And while the Liquid Rooms isn’t sold out, nevertheless, there’s a pretty decent-sized crowd at the Liquid Rooms tonight. And watching the quite young crowd, it’s clear that Los Campesinos! do inspire devotion in fans, that there are most certaonly a number of people who do know all the words.

The reception to the title track of their new album demonstrates not just what high regard the band are held in, but also how good the band are at writing anthems. Anthems in their own image, perhaps, but anthems, none the less. And there’s a huge number of songs in their back catalogue (get yourself over to Spotify before heading off to your local record store) that you ought to know, dammit. ‘Letters From Me To Charlotte.’ ‘We are beautiful, we are doomed.’ ‘Songs about your girlfriend,’ their current single, inspires another massclapalong. ‘You! Me! Dancing!’ perhaps their best known song threatens to raise the roof.

And when Gareth Campesinos! (they all take the same surname) launches himself into the crowd during the encore of ‘Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks’, security may be shimmering with displeasure but the crowd love it.

Although still seen by many as a twee-pop act -and there’s still enough of that element to their music in 2012 -there’s a sense in which Los Campesinos! are continuing to grow -and getting ever cheekier. A great deal of fun for one night out.

The return of Japandroids

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Vancouver duo Japandroids released their rather fine Post Nothing album back in 2009. They will return with their new album Celebration Rock on June 4, from which comes this rather fine single, released on May 14, ‘The House That Heaven Built.’ And if you’re interested (I am, especially seeing as it’s not available yet!) the b-side is a cover of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ ‘Jack the Ripper’ (which was on 1992′s Henry’s Dream, and a double A-side with ‘Straight To You’ if you want to be really pedantic).

The tracklisting for Celebration Rock is as follows:

1 The Nights Of Wine And Roses
2 Fire’s Highway
3 Evil’s Sway
4 For The Love Of Ivy
5 Adrenaline Nightshift
6 Younger Us
7 The House That Heaven Built
8 Continuous Thunder

Not only that but they will also be touring, and playing a handful of dates in the British Isles, just before the album comes out:

17 May Cardiff Club Ifor Bach
18 May Brighton Green Door Store
21 May Bristol Cooler
22 May London CAMP Basement
23 May Manchester Soup Kitchen
24 May Glasgow King Tuts
25 May Leeds Cockpit 2
26 May Nottingham Bodega

Album Review: Grimes

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Grimes – ‘Visions.’ (4AD)

Although this is her third album, I can’t be the only person who hadn’t heard of Grimes until a few months ago. But when ‘Genesis’ started circulating a few months ago, it was (and remains) a strong enough track to suggest that this might well be an album paying serious attention to. And so it proves.

The work of Canadian Claire Boucher, Grimes is a leftfield pop meets electronica proposition. It is fitting that amongst her new labelmates are acts like Twin Shadow and Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti. Though all three acts have their own distinctive sound and none of them are simply mining the eighties, there is a spirit common to all three, as well as a parent label. Not only that, but the ability to be bothy accessibily pop yet experimental in approach without one compromising the other, at least to these ears.

That said, I genuinely think Grimes is a superior act to both of them. This is a wonderful album, that I have had on repeatedly over the last few days, wondering at its’ atmospheric beauty, desperate to hear more.

Album of the year so far for me.

****1/2

Visions is out now on 4AD

Album Review: Michael Kiwanuka

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Michael Kiwanuka -’Home Again’ (Polydor)

There has been no shortage of singer-songwriters over the last fifty years. Whilst a fair chunk of the indie scene currently suffers from being stodge by numbers and from being as far from innovative as it is possible to be, so the singer-songwriter scene suffers from a glut of perfectly pleasant but ultimately offensive from its very inoffensiveness sort of singers of both sexes. So it’s imperative that when yet another singer-songwriter is foisted upon us, much as I hate to use the phrase ‘unique Selling Point’ (USP) that they, um, do indeed have a USP.

See, my first thought on Michael Kiwanuka was that he sounded above average, but I wasn’t knocked out. There was a nice soulful tinge to it, certainly more than the faux-folk that so oftens passes around these days. The title track was a top thirty hit at the start of the year, and there was something nagging about it; that even if you tried to brush it off, it still hung around, gently persuasive.

And then I went to see him live, and he blew me away. See, he isn’t the first guy to listen to the classic soul from the first part of the seventies, but he understands what made it great, rather than the godawful Jamiroquai take on it. Probably the artist he most reminds me of is Bill Withers, but there’s a nod to the likes of the classic soul peddled by the likes of Messrs. Wonder, Gaye, and Mayfield amongst others.

Album opener ‘Tell Me A Tale’ isn’t just soul by numbers, there’s hints of jazz there too. And live, the magic comes together to make the Michael Kiwanuka Show something spectacular to behold. It’s not necessarily all translated to his debut album, but there is something here that makes this album a quiet joy. And the potential is being dveloped, by him, not a bunch of faceless record company men (and they are almost always men) in suits.

Beware of taking it out of context: one friend dismissed him as ‘beige’ – i.e. music that is middle of the road. He’s not – though it’s not an album that pushed the envelope in a way that some of his heores did on, on records like Curtis, What’s Going On or Songs In The Key Of Life. It isn’t an album as amazing as those – but then, none of those albums were their creators’ first albums, either.

The fact is: Michael Kiwanuka isn’t about a USP. He’s quietly producing music that genuinely is effective, getting into his stride, and astute enough to know that winning the Sound of 2012 may come with baggage. And I believe that he will build upon this album.

***1/2

Home Again is out now on Polydor

The return of …White Heath

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I’ve given a reasonable amount of coverage to Edinburgh’s White Heath over the years, or so I like to think.

Following on from the release of their debut album last year, Take No Thought For Tomorrow, they are now back with a new free single, entitled ‘In A Glasshouse.’ The band have never been a stranger to producing epic music, but they have clearly stepped up a further gear with release of this new track. It clocks in at over eight and a half minutes and goes some considerable place in that time.

Apologies for not plugging their Edinburgh gig from the other day, but here are four more English and Scottish dates they are playing in the next month:

March 31st – Manchester – Jackson’s Pit
April 6th – Liverpool – Zanzibar
April 7th – London – Bull and Gate
April 14th – Glasgow – Nice n Sleazy’s

Presenting…The Garlands

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Now, normally, I’d be looking for a bit more information on a band, but The Garlands’ lovely record company did try (Big Pink Cake Records, google it), and the song was so lovely and such a pefect example of c-86ness that I couldn’t not post their song.

What I do know is this:

Swedish band The Garlands were formed in 2007 by Christin Wolderth and Roger Gunnarsson (previously of Free Loan Investments, Happy Birthdays, Nixon, Cloetta Paris etc.). They discovered that they shared the same passion for indiepop in the style of Heavenly, Go Sailor! and Talulah Gosh, and started writing songs. Since 2007, The Garlands have releases on labels Cosy Recordings, Cloudberry Records and Atomic Beat Records. Since 2010 The Garlands have also a live band, which consists of Christin Wolderth, Maria Petersson, Einar Ekström, Patrik Lindgren and Robert Klaesson.

‘You Never Notice Me’ was written in 2007 and was the very first song the Garlands wrote, but have only existed in demo versions and have not been released until now, along with ‘Continue’, which was written in 2010. Both songs are written by Christin Wolderth and Roger Gunnarsson, Recorded by Roger Gunnarsson and The Garlands, mixed and produced by Einar Ekström in Stockholm in 2011.

They have changed their drummer recently, and there are no photos to use, but just take this track and listen to its’ sheer indie-pop perfection!

Stream more tracks at their myspace

The return of…The Cribs

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The Cribs have returned! Whilst their last couple of records didn’t do as much for me as 2005′s The New Fellas (even if Ignore The Ignorant did see them joined by a fourth member in the form of none other than Johnny Marr!), their new album In the Belly Of the Brazen Bull is out in May and the tracks doing the rounds so far suggest that the band, now back to just th three Jarman brothers, are very much firing on all cylinders.

They’ve also been working with two very notable American figures on the album. First of all, the legendary Steve Albini (who never produces albums but engineers or records them), and you can hear his work all over the first track to do the rounds, ‘Chi-Town.’

The Cribs -’Chi-Town.’ mp3

Meanwhile, they’ve also been working with Dave Fridman, who not only worked with The Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev, but ALSO produced The Delgados’ The Great Eastern, my favourite scottish album, by my favourite Scottish act ever.

This is the first single, due out next month:

..and here’s the video, too:

The album tracklisting, by the way, is as follows:

1. Glitters Like Gold
2. Come On, Be A No-One
3. Jaded Youth
4. Anna
5. Confident Men
6. Uptight
7. Chi-Town
8. Pure O
9. Back To The Bolthole
10. I Should Have Helped
11. Stalagmites
12. Like A Gift Giver
13. Butterflies
14. Arena Rock Encore With Full Cast