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By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 6th July 2016 at 12:00 pm
Header photo of Nils Frahm’s hands taken from his Facebook
Regardless of which side of the Brexit vote you sympathised with, I think we can all agree that the emotional toll of human migration is worth some, if not all of your waking empathy. This Friday, a collaboration between Woodkid, the nom de plume of French singer/songwriter Yoann Lemoine, and celebrated German composer Nils Frahm will be available for purchase, with all proceeds going to a very worthy cause. And this new release from London avant-garde indie label Erased Tapes couldn’t have had better timing.
Ellis is a short film by JR, a mysterious artist described in this article in the Independent as “the French Banksy”, and written by Eric Roth. The film follows award-winning American actor Robert DeNiro, as he wanders the hallways of the now abandoned Ellis Island hospital complex, now the home to JR’s Unframed art installation. As we follow DeNiro, his spoken word narration is as arresting as the bleak environment through which we are led. This is definitely a case of imagining ‘if only walls could talk’, yet at the same time, DeNiro’s narration is equal parts hope and humility. This is a film about the great sacrifices made by those who passed through Ellis Island and looked to America as the great land of opportunity, the safe haven protected by the gaze of Lady Liberty.
As if the film and DeNiro’s contributions weren’t enough, there is also a beautiful score composed by Woodkid accompanying this poignant narrative. The mini-album being released this Friday comprises two tracks. ‘Winter Morning I’ is Woodkid’s original instrumental with piano and strings. This original feels more like what you would imagine most film scores to be. Most of it, through a sombre mood, elicits gentle emotion while remaining firmly in the background. Thanks to the beguiling string orchestration at its conclusion, the lightness makes you feel like you’ve been picked up and twirled around, as if a wide-eyed child with innocent wonderment.
A reworking by Frahm, ‘Winter Morning II’ with DeNiro’s vocal contribution utilises the harmonium. Woodkid says of his collaboration with Frahm:
I had worked with Nils before and I wanted him to create a sound for this piano part that I composed that was extremely gentle and organic. I wanted the listener to hear the mechanisms, the breathing of the instrument. I wanted it to be imperfect, to sound like a ruin, a trace, an echo, the way the pastings on the walls seem to be ghosts, almost imperceptible. After a few rehearsals, Nils stripped down my piano parts and we removed almost all orchestration around the piano. He then worked on the extended version that is his interpretation of my piece, with Robert de Niro’s vocals.
Nils Frahm is the kind of too intellectual composer whose genius I did not want to investigate too deeply. I always assumed I would embarrass myself in my ignorance of what he did and how he did it, because too many of my musician friends revered him. I can now say I have a bit of that feeling why he’s held in such high esteem. Working with spoken word and music on the same track in a film, there are limitations: you neither want the music to overtake the narration, nor do you want the music to be superfluous. Instead of piano, Frahm’s take with harmonium feels as solemn as being in church. DeNiro speaks the voice of a desperate man turned away and refused asylum. There is hope when he describes those who have gone from walking to running, who have succeeded in escape, “they were at last…home.” The solemnity turns into an awful, sickening feeling when DeNiro says, “[I] am the ghost of all those who will never get there.”
In our safe, heated first-world abodes, we cannot begin to imagine the horrors of those trying to escape civil war. And really, listening to a song about the pain and suffering of those who went before is not going to change things for the better. However, there are two things we can do that will make change happen. Listening to this mini-album by Woodkid and Nils Frahm – as well as watching JR’s film Ellis – will open your mind and heart to the plight of those less fortunate, of those refugees who are our fellow human beings. And by buying this mini-album from Erased Tapes, you can take donate directly to the nonprofit Sea Watch initiative, dedicated to the protection and rescue of civilian refugees trying to reach Europe’s shores. Stream both songs below, and preorder the mini-album on vinyl, CD or digital download directly from Erased Tapes’ online store.
This is part 2 of TGTF’s interview with Northern Irish singer/songwriter Foy Vance about his new album ‘The Wild Swan’. If you missed part 1, you can find it right back here.
“We had plans when we went in,” said Vance of the Nashville studio sessions for ‘The Wild Swan’, “but they were constantly changing, and I think that’s the way a record should be made. You need to evolve, be [receptive] to what’s happening in the room, and not go in with a definitive plan. You can have ideas of what you think it’s going to sound like. I mean, unless you’re U2 and you can take a year and a half to make a record. Then you can make it sound exactly like you wanted it to sound in your head in the beginning.”
Vance singled out one song on ‘The Wild Swan’ as a turning point in the album’s recording process. “There’s one song in particular on that record called ‘Casanova’, which wasn’t even on the list of songs to record. We were recording another song called ‘Upbeat Feelgood’, and we played it live three or four times, and it became apparent that no one was feeling upbeat or feeling good. We were starting to get into our parts a bit too much, thinking about it too much. So I said, ‘Listen, keep the tape rolling, and we’re going to have a three or four minute departure here.’ And I started playing ‘Casanova’, which actually the bass player had never played before in his life, he didn’t even know what it was. But in that one take, you know, we got it. So that transformed that day, and it sort of transformed the record a little bit.”
As it turned out, the ‘Casanova’ departure indirectly resulted in the album’s first single. “There was another song that I had only half-written called ‘Noam Chomsky is a Soft Revolution’. I had one verse for that, and I thought I should finish that song off because [musically] it ties in with the ‘Casanova’ thing.” In spite of its seemingly cerebral title and subject matter, Vance described ‘Noam Chomsky is a Soft Revolution’ as “essentially a 12-bar rock ’n’ roll song. I think the only thing that makes it cerebral, or makes people think that it’s trying to be cerebral, is the mention of Noam Chomsky. I guess I like that juxtaposition.”
Elaborating on the inspiration for the single, Vance became a bit philosophical himself. “I love Noam Chomsky, I love listening to him. I remember reading these interviews with him, and he’s so articulate and brave. But there’s something about listening to him, ‘cos he has that soft [tone], he sounds like your granddad saying ‘Would you like a cup of tea, son?’ Yet he’s telling you these devastating sort of truths, you know, about how he sees the political structure, the corporations and terrorism and all kinds of stuff, but it’s all so softly spoken and gentle. He’s quite an anomaly. He puts me in mind of all those other people who I feel were revolutionaries in their own right, who saw the status quo, saw the way things were and thought ‘No, I’m not going to have it like that, I’m going to say it how it is and how I see it.’ Take any one of those people named in [the song], you know, there’s Willie Nelson or Muhammad Ali or Dostoevsky, all of these people spoke from their hearts. I guess that’s what that song’s about. And ‘Noam Chomsky’ is just a beautiful thing to say.”
The next single to be taken from ‘The Wild Swan’ is another one with a melodious name in its title, the sweet-tempered ballad ‘Coco’. The song was inspired by the young daughter of American actress Courteney Cox, who is romantically involved with Vance’s friend and Snow Patrol keyboard player Johnny McDaid. I suggested that it might be considered questionable for a man of Vance’s age to be writing songs about such a young child, and he bristled a bit, perhaps because his own daughter is near the same age as the eponymous Coco. “I guess being a daddy myself, you know, I’ve written lots of those songs. I’m a big fan of Paul Simon, who is the master of sweet and innocent. I love his writing, absolutely love his writing. That song about Coco, she’s just such a sort of enigmatic wee girl, you know, just full of the joys of spring and full of the mayhem you would imagine of a 12-year-old kid, or 11 she was at the time. I wrote that for her just messing around one day. We were on holiday and my daughter was with us, and they were hanging out, and I picked up the guitar and was just singing silly songs, and I started singing that to her. And then the second I got to the end of it, I thought, ‘That could actually be a song’, so I wrote it.”
Despite what people outside his social circle might think, Vance had absolutely no reservations about including ‘Coco’ on ‘The Wild Swan’. “There was a guy, a critic here in the UK, who took it like it was a chat-up line, and I was thinking, ‘I don’t know where you come from, mate, but where I come from, that’s not the done thing.’ I know in an age of this media mayhem that we live amongst now, they’d like to portray all that kind of nonsense, but at the core, it’s an innocent song.”
‘Coco’, the latest single from Foy Vance’s album ‘The Wild Swan’, is due for release this Friday, the 8th of July, on Gingerbread Man Records. Vance recently performed ‘Coco’ in live session for The Telegraph, which you can view here. Tune in to TGTF tomorrow for the conclusion of this interview.
Irish singer/songwriter Lisa Hannigan will follow the release of her new album ‘At Swim’ with an October tour of the UK, as well as a list of European live dates later in the autumn. ‘At Swim’ is due out on the 19th of August and will include the delicately beautiful lead track ‘Prayer for the Dying’, which we recently featured right back here.
Tickets for the following live dates are available now. TGTF’s extensive previous coverage on Lisa Hannigan, dating all the way back to 2009, is collected here.
Thursday 13th October 2016 – Cardiff Tramshed
Friday 14th October 2016 – Brighton Old Market
Sunday 16th October 2016 – Oxford Academy 2
Monday 17th October 2016 – Bristol Thekla
Wednesday 19th October 2016 – Glasgow Oran Mor
Thursday 20th October 2016 – Salford St. Philip’s Church
Friday 21st October 2016 – Liverpool Arts Club
Saturday 22nd October 2016 – Leeds Brudenell Social Club
Monday 24th October 2016 – London Islington Assembly Hall
Tuesday 25th October 2016 – Birmingham Glee Club
Wednesday 26th October 2016 – Leicester Academy 2
Benjamin Francis Leftwich has just announced a list of UK live dates for this September, in support of his upcoming new album ‘After the Rain’. The album is scheduled for release on the 19th of August on Dirty Hit and will include the song ‘Mayflies’, which editor Mary featured as our Video of the Moment #2108 back in June.
Tickets for the following shows will be available for general sale on Friday, the 7th of July, at 9 AM. In the meantime, you can check out TGTF’s previous coverage of Benjamin Francis Leftwich right back here.
Wednesday 21st September 2016 – Norwich Arts Centre
Thursday 22nd September 2016 – Islington Assembly Hall
Friday 23rd September 2016 – Cardiff Gate
Saturday 24th September 2016 – Bristol Fleece
Monday 26th September 2016 – Nottingham Rescue Rooms
Tuesday 27th September 2016 – Manchester Academy 3
Wednesday 28th September 2016 – Leeds Stylus
Friday 30th September 2016 – Glasgow Oran Mor
Saturday 1st October 2016 – Aberdeen Cafe Drummond
By Mary Chang
on Tuesday, 5th July 2016 at 6:00 pm
London alt-rockers Palace have been knocking around for a few years, coming from a less than promising origin, but they’ve enjoyed an admittedly low but continual level of buzz. Not surprising, with Radio 1 presenters Annie Mac and Huw Stephens having their back since early on.
Last month, they revealed ‘Break the Silence’, the first taste of their upcoming debut album expected in November. Now, ‘Break the Silence’ has its own music video. Having been described as possible successors to The Maccabees – err, isn’t that presumptuous, don’t they still exist? – I can see the comparison. Smoky dark, yet still anthemic indie that might develop into the kind of sound that could fill stadiums, we’ll have to see how ‘So Long Forever’ does when it drops on the 4th of November on Fiction. In the meantime, watch the dark – literally – promo for ‘Break the Silence’ below.
By Mary Chang
on Tuesday, 5th July 2016 at 12:00 pm
2015 was the year of XL Recordings rising stars and sisters Ibeyi. 2016 boasts a new sister act destined for greatness, and we have Rob Da Bank to thank in bringing them to our attention. Holly and Coco Chant, who are now better known under their whimsical act name Xylaroo, released their debut album ‘Sweetooth’ on Da Bank’s Sunday Best label. Prior to its release, they racked up support from Radio X’s John Kennedy on BBC 6 Music’s indie champion Steve Lamacq. No small feat indeed. One thing you should be aware of from the get-go with Xylaroo: prepare to be surprised.
But what made me stand up and notice the pair was an acoustic (dubbed ‘Home Sessions’) version they did of Arctic Monkeys’ ‘I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor’. The stripped-back approach Xylaroo took to one of the Sheffield band’s biggest hits added an unexpected fragility through their expressive voices. The sisters tapped into an entirely new facet to an otherwise one-dimensional, annoyingly frenetic tune I never warmed up to. It was a conversation starter, if there ever was one.
Their first single, ‘Sunshine’, may come as a shock after you learn about their globetrotting upbringing. The song features a quote from Dolly Parton, yet after being bounced around the world to follow the career of their civil engineer father, the sisters started gigging in Maidstone, Kent. They spent 10 of their nearly 25 years of life there, “around the Medway scene where all the bands were doing ska”. Not exactly where you’d imagine the beginning of a duo more aligned with the dulcet, harmonious tones of fellow sisters First Aid Kit than The Specials. The sisters are quick to point out that it was during their time living and going to school in Sri Lanka that they picked up a simpler way of performing, watching locals sing and play the guitar.
The sweet sound of ‘On My Way’ is jarred by the mention of black magic practitioner Aleister Crowley, drug use, a 2-day drinking binge and the gaily sung lyrics “I’m on my way to hell”. If this is the way to the River Styx, it couldn’t be any more enticing. Same goes for minor key masterpiece ‘Consume Me’, with its references to cannabis, coke and lust. The title of ‘Set Me on Fire and Send Me to Canada’ seems oddly prescient of the minds of some Remain voters post-Brexit, but it’s actually a saxophone-tinged, upbeat yet wistful number. If the Chant sisters were locked in a room with the Soderbergs, would they get along famously? Or would there be dead silence? Until that meeting happens, we’ll just delight in the wonderful melodies and harmonies Xylaroo have gifted us.
‘Sweetooth’, the debut album by Xylaroo, is available now from Sunday Best / PIAS.