Tuesday, 23 February 2010

The Indie Rock Axis Of Evil


The words “indie rock” have gradually become meaningless. Just as an unpopular song can be deemed “pop music”, a band conjured up in the confines of a board room, anchored to myriad blue chip brand names and churning out faceless, personality free, repetitive and undistinguishable mush can be declared independent. But for the purpose of this post, I’m going to go along with the mainstream. There are lots of bands and singers I dislike. But there aren’t so many that annoy me to the point of anger. These six do. In ascending order, I will explain just why I loathe the components of Indie Rock’s Axis Of Evil.

6. Kasabian

I can understand why Kasabian are popular. An Oasis-sized hole in the UK soundscapes paved the way for another group of loud-mouthed, self-obsessed domestic badasses. I was never a massive fan of Oasis, but appreciated the quality of some of the songs from their earliest albums (Slide Away, Champagne Supernova). Kasabian simply don’t have the substance to back up their bravado. Can a band be under-qualified to soundtrack a uni night’s smoking in front of the latest edition of FIFA on the PS3? Probably not. But in the cold light of day, shouldn't everybody should be savvy enough to realise that Kasabian are shite?

See also: Tenacious D, The Enemy, Razorlight

5. Biffy Clyro

In Scotland, Biffy Clyro inspire jingoistic scenes of adulation without peer. But for 3 or 4 years now, the Kilmarnock outfit have been resting on their laurels. Their last album, Only Revolutions and its predecessor Puzzle have have been clear shots at the bigtime. A few years back, Biffy were a relatively interesting band (although I was never a huge fan). Their first three albums drew some sort of wayward line between The Offspring and early Idlewild: things weren’t taken too seriously, but they had some decent tunes and a bit of attitude.

But then they placed both feet firmly in the middle of the road. Too many bands have been guilty of sacrificing their early promise in favour of filling stadiums (I’m looking at you, Kings of Leon). Biffy Clyro, I’m afraid to report, did the same. And, well, it worked for them. They bother the charts, fill stadiums and make kids faint at T In The Park. Their fans recently hijacked a poll at Under The Radar to win the best Scottish band of the 2000s. Laughable, really. And this blind (or deaf) loyalty makes me hate them all the more.

See also: Kings of Leon, Green Day

4. Keane

Ah, Keane. Firstly, I hate the lead singer Tom Chaplin. He reminds me of one of those fabric characters from the Comfort ads a few years back. His face has a real cushiony quality about it. His voice vexes me no end – his public school pronunciation (“Don’t laarrf at me…”) adds a David Cameron-esque element to his affluent and cocksure persona. In fact, there’s an aura of Tory Boy that surrounds the band (particularly Tim Rice-Oxley). Whereas certain bands can use such stigma to their advantage by producing elitist music to match their image, the majority of Keane’s output is trite, clich├ęd and bloody boring. The most interesting thing ever to have happened to Keane, was Chaplin checking into the Priory to treat a drink and drugs addiction. Coldplay have a lot to answer for.

See also: Athlete, Coldplay

3. Snow Patrol

Snow Patrol are another of graduate of the Coldplay School of Schmaltz. But for them, their mawkishness came after a few years as a likeable little indie band. As the founder of the Reindeer Section that included members of Alfie, Belle & Sebastian, Mogwai and Idlewild, Gary Lightbody was developing a fine reputation as a songwriter. And Snow Patrol’s second album, Songs For Polarbears, remains an excellent listen, twelve years after its release.

But then Lightbody (who, contrary to popular belief, is not Scottish, but Irish) discovered that he could make much more money by churning out songs written with three chords. Perhaps he’d been talking to Status Quo. Perhaps it’s a sadder indictment of the British music scene and music buying public than the band itself that their reversion to pish was rewarded so handsomely. Either way, I can barely sit through one Snow Patrol song. One mention of the name conjures up an image of a group teenage girls crying at a gig in the Ulster Hall many moons ago. Horrific.

See also: Embrace, Travis

2. The Kaiser Chiefs

Idiocy has a place in music. Of course it does. John Lydon is clearly an idiot, yet spearheaded two of the most influential bands of the past 40 years. The KLF: genius, sure. But I challenge anyone to explain how burning £1,000,000 is anything but idiotic. However, both of these built their reputation on something more than being fools. Lydon with his attitude, image and finally, with PiL, musical nous. The KLF with their avant-garde crossover delights and inimitable ability to ruffle a few feathers.


The Kaiser Chiefs and principally their lead singer Ricky Wilson, though, seem to have risen to the top without a modicum of talent, reliant on their perceived image as class clowns, working class heroes and rabble rousers from the council estate. Bullshit. Has there ever been a more annoying brace of hits than “Oh My God” and “I Predict A Riot!”? Wilson meanwhile, is too busy believing his own hype to realise what a twat he is.

See also: Chumbawumba, The Automatic

1. U2

Of course it was going to be them. U2 were once a great band and I have little problem listening to a lot of their older work. Right up until and including Pop, the Irish band were capable of firing out the classics, seemingly at will. But the real problem with U2 isn’t strictly their music. No, it’s more what they embody and symbolize.

Bono is a rich, rich man. Yet given an opening, he’ll happily take an hour to explain how each of us should part with our hard earned to help whatever cause is tickling his fancy on a particular day. Nothing wrong with giving to charity at all, but with Bono, it is more about the lecturing, the pontificating and the sanctimony rather than the giving himself. I went to a U2 gig in 2001 at Slane Castle. Bono’s father had died the day before. Of course I felt sorry for him, but as the concert went on, it seemed that Bono was revelling in the moment. Using this tragedy to elevate his martyrdom, his saintliness to new levels.

There is also the negative impact that listening to U2 can have on other bands. I interviewed Caleb Folowill from Kings of Leon a couple of years ago, after the release of Aha Shake Heartbreak. I loved them back then and was pretty keen on hearing their new material. Folowill went on to recount to me a section from his tour diaries from their dates with U2. Every evening, he had watched Bono and co from the wings as they wowed huge crowds, brought stadiums to their knees. He told me that with that in mind, he had set about writing their new album. The change in the band, the misdirection, the regression from exciting to bland and mundane was marked. I was shocked and disappointed, and I blame U2.

See also: Coldplay, Green Day

S&B Spotify Playlist: February 2010


From here on in, I'm going to put a playlist on my blog each month which everyone can listen to for free. For this month (and probably next month) it will be on Spotify. After that, I will put it up in the form of mp3s. I am moving to South Korea shortly. They don't have Spotify there, but they do have 100meg broadband.

It's not got a lot of new music on it, but stuff I've been listening to a lot lately. Some of it, I'm surprised by! For example, since hearing The Winter Of Mixed Drinks a couple of months back, I've gone back to listening to Sing The Greys quite a lot. I really like Frightened Rabbit's new album but don't necessarily think it's a logical successor to Midnight Organ Fight. I think there's as much of their debut set in there as MOF. Anyway, three amazing albums and Music Now is a great track.

Over the past six months I've been rifling through Jason Molina's creative catalogue. I think the guy is a genius. His work as Songs: Ohia is his best and The Electric Magnolia Co is his best album. So understated, effortless and simple. Bonnie 'Prince' Billy comparisons may have been slightly more apt on, say, Ghost Tropic, but with this album he steps out of that shadow and slips comfortably into his own skin. Funny how I'm only picking up on this seven years after the album's release.

There are quite a few Scottish acts on there... inevitably I guess. Since leaving Edinburgh I've trying my best to keep up with what's been going on. The Withered Hand album, Good News, from last year is one of the best I've heard in a long, long time. I'm sorry I've never had a chance to see the guy live. I'm sorry it's taken me this long to getting around to his debut. Ardentjohn have a new album out which has been received positively, which I'm happy about.

The Drever, McCusker, Woomble album is one I got my hands on last year, but it's only been this year that I've given it sufficient attention. It really is something else. December saw Idlewild's 100 Broken Windows voted The Skinny's Scottish Album of the Decade, but it's amazing how he has diversified himself over the past few years. Before The Ruin is simply gorgeous. Stripped back, rootsy folk songs, beautifully song, lovingly written and played.

The other tracks are gathered from memories, people and places I've loved over the past month or two.

Enjoy (those with Spotify!) Scrawls & Bawls Feb 2010

1. Mason Jennings - Memphis, Tennessee
2. Evan Dando - Hard Drive (Live)
3. The Delgados - Is This All That I Came For?
4. Ardentjohn - Where All Paths Lead
5. The Replacements - Unsatisfied
6. Frightened Rabbit - Music Now
7. Songs: Ohia - Just Be Simple
8. Midlake - Rulers, Ruling All Things
9. Townes Van Zandt - Tecumeseh Valley (Live)
10. Deer Tick - Diamond Rings 2007
11. Drever, McCusker, Woomble - All Along The Way
12. Belle and Sebastian - Sleep The Clock Around
13. Withered Hand - Love In The Time Of Ecstasy
14. Drever, McCusker, Woomble - Hope To See
15. Phosphorescent - Wolves
16. Songs: Ohia - Farewell Transmission
17. Sebastien Tellier - La Ritournielle
18. The Chameleons - Second Skin


Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Meursault vs Frightened Rabbit

Two of my favourite Scottish bands at the moment recently played a gig at an Oxfam store in Edinburgh. Scott from Frightened Rabbit, who will be releasing their third album next month (my thoughts on that will follow) and Neil Meursault, who I think have a second album due soon, played seven tracks. You can view three of them at the excellent Off The Beaten Tracks. I've chosen my favourite, which is an untitled Meursault song, written shortly before the gig took place.

Episode #17.2: Frightened Rabbit vs Meursault - Untitled from Off The Beaten Tracks on Vimeo.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

A Delightful Proposition


I've written about Deer Tick here before. They're a band I've loved for a while and when I caught their show in Manchester a couple of months back, they blew me away. In fact, I said as much. The piece was published by Fresh Underground Culture Magazine and the band saw it and they liked it. Or in their own words: "I think it's the only review of them that we've ever LOVED."

I had an email from the manager Ian last week asking me if they could use the piece as their official bio. I can't say how happy and honoured I am. It's tough to get a little bit of recognition in this game, so when it comes as good as this, I feel a bit humbled. The thing is, I didn't get paid for the piece and it's not very often that I do. Music journalism is a mug's game in many respects. The joy of seeing your name in print fades with time. It really is a labour of love, so when the fruits of your labour gain recognition like that, it makes it all seem worthwhile.

I'll post a link here when it becomes available.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

From The Jungle To The Dancefloor: The Progression of Yeasayer


It's a new decade and Yeasayer are full of the joys. I spoke to a loved up Chris Keating to get the lowdown on Odd Blood.

Yeasayer are in love. The Brooklyn band spent the course of their stunning and somewhat inauspicious debut set All Hour Cymbals bemoaning “the times we’re living in” and fearing “the future we’re born into”. Album number two, though, is a decidedly more starry-eyed brew. With cupid’s arrow firmly lodged in each of their three rears, Yeasayer have made an unashamed, dancefloor friendly pop record. Odd Blood is a libido led sonic boudoir. Their propensity to experiment remains, but their energy and residual creative schizophrenia have been channelled in what lead singer Chris Keating describes as “a more positive fashion.”

Keating was speaking to The Skinny a fortnight before Odd Blood’s release and was on hand to explain a little bit about the band’s change in outlook. “There are more love songs on this record compared to apocalyptic ones. There are still some dark themes there, but we are in a more content place now on a personal level than when All Hour Cymbals was being written. When we were working on it, this all started coming out without us even realising it. We’re all in relatively new relationships and we’re all very happy about that. So I guess that’s pretty obvious.”

The escalating influence of dance music production on Odd Blood, Keating goes on to tell us, encouraged them to be more open lyrically. “In reaction to the inorganic electronic sounds that we were getting from the instrumental tracks,” he explains, “we reverted inwards and started talking about personal things, like relationship dictions. We started telling little stories about that.”

The introduction of matters of the heart is not the only change the band has undergone since All Hour Cymbals. Around the time of their emergence, the drums of Africa were beating with increasing vociferousness over the work of a multitude of contemporary artists. It’s a sound that over the years has resonated heavily with New York luminaries, from Paul Simon to Vampire Weekend. Yeasayer’s debut trod a similar path.

Keating fondly recalls borrowing twenty records at a time from his local library and cultivating an encyclopaedic knowledge of Afrobeat reissues from the late 70s: from Chimurenga, to Highlife to Thomas Mapfumo. Upon discovering that bassist Ira Wolf Tuton shared his passion, it was incorporated into the very fabric of Yeasayer. Thus, its absence is one of the most surprising features of Odd Blood. They’ve peeled away the layers, raised the vocals in the mix and abandoned the sound of Africa. As Keating explains though, the ethos of the band dictates that change and evolution is compulsory.


“The idea is to never have to be pigeon-holed or pinned down in any one corner. We have to be cagy, like Mohammed Ali in the ring. It’s important to move from idea to idea, especially in this early stage in your career. We want to get as many different people to put as many different labels on us as possible… and then maybe slow down a bit when our fighting legs are a little slower. We’ll have to play rope-a-dope or something!”

Their kitchen sink approach may be the very thing that comes to define them. They throw everything at the wall and for the most part, it sticks. When quizzed on whether he finds it difficult to focus on a single idea, Keating insists that such an approach is intentional and in this day and age, perhaps more relevant.

“We try to make music that reflects how people are music these days. There’s a whole lot of scrolling through iPods, trawling the internet and MySpace and a general shift from the ‘album format’. The whole world is becoming chaotic in terms of information: we’re overdosing and this is how I want to make music.”

However settled and content Yeasayer may be with their personal lives, there are still grander issues that they feel strongly about. Keating is a self-confessed Democrat. He was vocal in his support of Obama’s election and his tone is lifted when he discusses the mood in New York City in the months that followed it. “It was ecstatic; there were parties on the streets and people cheering… it was insane. New York is a liberal place but for a few months it was crazy. You’d go up to people on the street and high-five them; there was a genuine sense of celebration.”

Yeasayer: 2080 / Tightrope on Blogotheque



But a year into his term of office, the critics are sharpening their knives. Despite (controversially) bagging a Nobel Prize, things have improved slightly, if at all. The American public’s optimism has waned and Keating is no different.

“Things are screwed up. Slowly there are minor changes, but the sweeping, hopeful change people thought was going to happen hasn’t materialised. I like the guy (Obama) but I’m done with the support. The Republican fucks in this country make me sick. The fact that a liberal like Obama has to appease them, these corrupt congressmen and senators, and can’t even squash them, despite having the majority, makes me sick.”

Keating goes on to voice his distaste for George W Bush, at whose feet he places the blame for the crisis enveloping the world: “Bush dumped out an entire trashcan of shit on someone’s doorstep and you try to walk into the house without getting dirty.”

For Keating at least though, the future is rosy. Odd Blood has the potential to earn them commercial success to rival the critical acclaim that met All Hour Cymbals. A wider audience may be just around the corner. To paraphrase: it’s a new year, and Yeasayer are definitely glad to be here.

Written for The Skinny

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Ardentjohn @ Dry Bar, Manchester, 29 January


I’ve been spending a lot of time in Manchester lately and over the course my visits, I’ve been to a few great gigs including Rodrigo Y Gabriela, The Pogues and Deer Tick. But on Friday night we decided we would take in a couple of local bands. My girlfriend’s friend James Kelly was playing at an unsigned night at Dry Bar (a venue I’m told is experiencing a massive downturn. It did look pretty shoddy on Friday).

On the way in though, I noticed a name I recognised on the roster of acts: Ardentjohn. I first encountered the Islanders at Leith Festival about four years ago. From there, I reviewed a single and their debut album, before meeting the band for a pint and a chat (I think) in the Best Western Hotel. They had also recently been in contact regarding their new album and kindly sent me a copy. I was delighted to happen upon them, having been impressed by their new LP.

On The Wire continues on a similarly blissed-out trajectory to their debut set, When The Time Comes. I remember comparing them to The Verve previously. The comparison is tenuous enough upon revisiting their work, but I think I was getting at their tendency to drift into pseudo-psychedelic acoustic noodling. Seeing them live, I was impressed by their solidity as a unit. They’ve added a cellist to the mix, which certainly augments what they had before. It builds on what was already a rich, organic sound. Their songs seem remarkably well rounded, the songwriting is confident (and has grown in this respect) and their performance was self-contained. The highlight of their set, though, was an early song: Orange Nights.



I spoke to lead singer Keiron Mason before they went on. He’d just spotted Guy Garvey in the crowd and was cursing his luck. “I wish I’d noticed him after we’d finished our set!” He needn’t have been nervous. Their set was enjoyable and a refreshing reminder of what a good band they are. The smallish Manchester crowd seemed to share my appreciation and it was great to bump into them again. Small world.