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By Mary Chang
on Thursday, 23rd August 2012 at 12:00 pm
London melancholic folkies Daughter is having an exemplary year. We will look back at 2012 as the year where the trio not only impressed the suits at 4AD to secure a UK record contract but did the same with New York City’s Glassnote Records, who have managed to catapult both Two Door Cinema Club and Mumford and Sons into the heights of super stardom. This year will surely be remembered by me, if only for the amazing performance at SXSW at St. David’s Historic Sanctuary that I was privileged to experience. On the 1st of October, the band will be releasing a new single, ‘Smother’ (whose title I dearly hope won’t be too confused with the Wild Beasts‘ album of the same name).
Early on in the song are the lines “I want all that is not mine / I want him but we’re not right”, sung by Elena Tonra with a gentle lilt at the end of each line. The words, as they go on, prove that Tonra is not through talking about the pain of lost love. As in previous radio hit ‘Landfill’, ‘Smother’ sounds about as bleak as a suicide note; beginning first with soft guitar, the song swells to the chorus, in which Tonra asserts about her death “what a mess I will leave / to follow…” and a repeat of the lines “In the darkness I will meet my creators / they will agree / that I’m a suffocator”, when all of a sudden, the title suddenly becomes clearer. So it is about suicide, isn’t it? It’s easy to think this way until you reach the end, when you get to the most telling moment of all: “sorry if I smothered you / sorry if I smothered you / sometimes wish I’d stayed inside my mother / never to come out”. Talk about getting socked in the gut.
Have you ever experienced so much pain, so much sorrow in a relationship that broke down, so much that you wish you’d never been born? ‘Smother’ distills all this pain, neatly and so gorgeously in 4 minutes and 3 seconds. It’s the kind of pain you’d never wish on anyone, but with Elena Tonra’s songwriting genius, it’s okay, because you’re left feeling, yes, I have felt such pain. And like her, I’ve come out of it. And survived to live another day. Sometimes we should stop to applaud such a victory.
‘Smother’, Daughter’s next single, will be released on 7″ vinyl on the 1st of October on 4AD; it’s their first single with the label. It will be backed by a re-recorded version of ‘Run’, which was previously available on the band’s free ‘Demos’ EP.
By Mary Chang
on Tuesday, 14th August 2012 at 12:00 pm
When we were in Liverpool, I asked John if he had heard of the band Matchbox Twenty. He said he hadn’t. I rectified that by sending him a link to the video for ‘Push’; I forget the exact wording but he considered it definitely cheesy. No matter. Matchbox Twenty is firmly entrenched in my musical roots.
In the early days of the internet, I wasn’t listening to BBC Radio and only had local radio to keep me company. Matchbox Twenty (then known as matchbox20) were as subversive as an American band could be signed to Atlantic Records; they were on a sub-label of Atlantic, Lava Records, and therefore didn’t have the big label backing or money of the artists on the Atlantic roster proper. But through university radio and music videos for ‘Push’, ’3 AM’ and ‘The Real World’, all mainstays of Total Request Live on MTV pushed the band into mainstream popularity.
At the beginning, I appreciated them for their radio-friendly tunes and the singability of their songs. But my best friend in university adored them, insisting that I should have a further listen. I agreed to, but only if she was willing to give the Backstreet Boys a spin. (Yes, I know what you’re saying. But you have to think about the times and how dependent we were on the radio back then when you didn’t have even MySpace to surf. For the record, I still think they had good harmonies.)
Things appeared to be going pear-shaped for the band when singer Rob Thomas accepted an invitation to collaborate with songwriter Itaal Shur to write a song for Carlos Santana for his comeback album. Legend has it that Santana heard the song and decided it sounded better if Thomas sang it and bada bing, bada boom, there we have it, the origin of ‘Smooth’, which became this massive hit no-one in America or Britain (or the rest of the world for that matter) could escape from. It was everywhere. With such success without his band and starting his new life with new wife and model Marisol Maldonado, you wouldn’t have faulted Thomas if he left the band behind to pursue a solo career. (Which he did do for a time, rather unconvincingly, I’d like to note.)
Yet second album ‘Mad Season’ followed, with some absolutely beautiful songs ‘If You’re Gone’ and ‘Bed of Lies’. To our relief, they weren’t through…yet. Another two albums, bookended by hiatuses, came in the Noughties but I never felt they ever matched the heights of raw power of debut ‘Yourself or Someone Like You’ or the gorgeousness of ‘Mad Season. However, in 2012 we see Matchbox Twenty returning to the scene with a new album ‘North’ out in September, which has been preceded by single ‘She’s So Mean’.
It’s got a simple enough title – “she’s so mean”. There is no hiding the subject of the song. Is this going to be a sob story, or a ‘These Boots are Made for Walking’ kind of thing? I’m not sure where I should direct you first, to listen to the song or to watch the video. For the sake of this review, let’s start with the promo.
What is the first thing you see? Hipster jeans. In burgundy. My initial thought? Oh no. No no no. I don’t know if I can handle Matchbox Twenty becoming hipsters. However, as the screen shows the instruments being played, I breathe a sigh of relief. One thing that Rob Thomas has always been is someone who doesn’t take himself personally; I laughed out loud at the facial expressions he gave as the woman walked in and pushed his mike stand out of the way. Musically, the earworm of a guitar riff stands out as something you can’t help but take notice of.
Lyrically, it’s not Shakespeare: “all her clothes are on the floor / and all your records are scratched / she’s a one-way ticket and you can’t come back” are borderline laughable, but I would argue they’re laughable in a good way: the intention of this song is to have fun, and that’s what the lyrics are. Even if “she drinks Bacardi in the morning ’til it goes to her head”. I’d rather have this than any piffle from Katy Perry any day. The voice of Rob Thomas, as distinctive as it was in the days of Tabitha’s Secret, is pretty much perfect for a rocker – a bit of growl with lots of character, yet…still radio station pleasing.
In the video, the crazy woman being sung about breaks Brian Yale’s bass and pushes Paul Doucette’s drum kit on its side, later setting it on fire. Such things never would have happened in one of their music videos from the late ’90s, which were generally dark, dour, low key affairs. But then again, matchbox20 was a different band from the current Matchbox Twenty. As for ‘North’, their fifth album, they worked with producer Matt Serletic, the same man who saw them through their first four albums. While I don’t expect ‘North’ to give me the same feelings I had upon hearing ‘Push’ on the radio for the first time, the band, as a unit and as individuals, are completely different than who they were when they started. The pain and emotions that Rob Thomas wrote about as a young man have matured into those of grown married men. (Or at least I’m sure they’ve matured enough to realise they needed to write a good pop hook in order to get back into everyone’s graces.) And I sincerely doubt Pookie still answers to that nickname…
Easy to sing along to? Check. Impossible to get out of your head? Check. Monster guitar riff? Check. Poppy as hell? Check. This one ticks off all the important boxes for mainstream success. Matchbox Twenty, all grown up, is worth a listen. Trust me on this one. Especially if you’re like John and never knew about them in the first place.
‘She’s So Mean’, the first single from Matchbox Twenty’s fifth album ‘North’, is out now. ‘North’ will drop in early September on Atlantic.
If you’re a band that uses the Big Muff pedal, unfortunately you’re going to see two words crop up in most of your comparisons. White Stripes. It’s unfortunate, but by no means degradation on your music. This comparison is in no small part due to the diversity of the fallen duo’s backcatalogue. They travelled around the rough sides of rock, even went a bit polished and virtually took their scissor edge guitar riffs and thumping drums to every corner of blues rock’n’roll they could. In light of this, here’s the debut single from Los Angeles duo Deap Vally.
The similarities between the ‘Get Behind Me Satan’ days of the Whites’ are there on a plate. ‘Gonna Make My Own Money’ is heavy on the riff and minimal in lyrics with plenty of repetitive structure. Credit to Deap Vally, the Californian duo have managed to nail the 2006 Alternative Album Grammy to their wall in raucous style, but its in the difference that they do so well. Whilst The Stripes are guilty of the occasional nonsensical lyrics, ‘Gonna Make My Own Money’ is rooted in deep-south melody but shines in its feminist call to arms whilst b-side ‘Ain’t Fair’ channels a more bluesy side of the act with a hearty dollop of slow grunge in a way that manages to also be lyrically heavy in relevant 21st century struggle lyrics. Now we’re talking.
It’s not going to set the airwaves or charts alive, nor is it going to win many over on the first play, but a bit of continued resilience from the girl-duo and they may just end up with one of those Grammy nominations themselves. Whilst musically it’s hardly ground breaking, what’s underneath has bags of potential.
‘Gonna Make My Own Money’, the current single from Deap Vally, is available now from Rough Trade.
‘Cadenza’ is the newest single from Guernsey based indie smooth kids China Aster. Comparisons they have looked to find are in the form of Radiohead, Sigur Ros and in a looser sense, Morrissey. It’s easy to see why, with Josh Moore’s vocals in this track descending ever more easily into the realm of those of Thom Yorke.
The track further moves on from their previous release ‘Combination Style’ which focussed more on the fantastic guitar stylings of Moore and the tightness of the band. ‘Cadenza’ focuses on Moore’s vocal talent and the quality of his writing throughout the song. The music, as with previous China Aster outings, is brilliantly subtle in its complexity. The guitar pieces, which were written by bassist Ollie Marsden, float ever so slightly in the background to Moore’s vocals, while George Le page’s drumming is beautifully understated.
With sexually charged themes throughout, it’s a bit of a raunchy affair. Not a musical version of 50 Shades of Grey, but with some sordid lyrics undercutting the single.
The band at this point seems as tight as any outfit in their infancy will be. They are passionate, they enjoy what they do and they by far show a maturity much past their tender age.
‘Cadenza’ by China Aster is out now.
Editor’s note: All of TGTF’s coverage of London 2012 Olympics is available through this link.
Whilst meaning no disrespect to the other five Olympic singles, out of all the performers invited to contribute, Dizzee Rascal surely has the most genuine claim to personal connection with the Games, as he was brought up in Bow, just a javelin’s throw from where the Olympic village now stands in Stratford. This fact surely didn’t escape the attention of organisers when choosing Rascal to provide a song; his personal narrative neatly encapsulates both the rags-to-riches tale of this particular part of east London, whilst reinforcing the best that its varied cultural mix can produce. ‘Scream’, whilst not specifically written with this event in mind (YouTube shows the tune doing the festival rounds this time last year), carries some particularly apposite lyrical content, with its talk of “Worldwide athletic champion”, even though such sentiment is inspired more by the Rocky films than any explicit affinity with the Olympic movement.
After that the lyrics get a bit hazy – yes, I am a white boy from Yorkshire, not a hood from the East side, so I can’t decipher every word of the rapid flow. But if I’m not mistaken, in the latter half of the song there’s a decent bit of social critique of the culture of his roots, of both male violence and female promiscuity, providing a much-needed voice of common sense where politicians dare not to tread, either because they are afraid of being opportunistically accused of racism by their opposition, or because they misguidedly turn a blind eye to social ills in minority communities, mistaking genuine poor behaviour for the perceived norms of a poorly-understood breakaway culture. The song wraps up with an inspiring evocation to be the “future flame” – very Olympian.
Musically, the piece continues Dizzee’s talent for taking very basic ingredients (a sampled harp riff, a few familiar synth tones, the most basic white-noise snare), and making a decent song out of it. Whilst there isn’t a proper chorus, there’s a lovely female vocal refrain sung by Dirtee Stank signing Pepper to break up the rapping. In fact the song never truly climaxes, but for the TV soundtrack purposes to which it will no doubt be put, that’s probably no bad thing. Overall, this is a decent song, particularly the lyrical sentiment, which covers a lot of ground in its sub-three minutes. A decent shock of individual inspiration to counterpoint to the bland, suffocating authoritarianism of the political and commercial concerns that have so dominated the run-up to the Games themselves. And in that sense, Rascal displays all the qualities of a successful Olympian athlete. Let the Games begin!
Dizzee Rascal’s ‘Scream’ featuring Pepper will be released on Monday the 5th of August.
The Stowaways are another one of those bands that I have a little bit of a connection to. Seeing as one of the members is from my beautifully claustrophobic island of Guernsey. Where everyone knows everyone and if somebody does something notable. Here, chances are you’ll be on the front of the local rag and will be the talk of the town for a good few months. Having had the privilege of seeing these boys live once in Guernsey, it’s a joy to see them doing well. It was obvious years ago when I saw them that they were a group of lads who enjoyed what they were doing. They played for a love of music, nothing sinister, just a love of what they were doing.
Their new single ‘Time for Change’ plays on the strengths of the band heavily. The rhythmic drum beat pounds throughout with a thudding jutting bass line undercutting it. The lyrics may not be brilliantly inventive, telling tales of the standard broken dreams and hearts shattered into a million pieces with a who’s who collection of metaphors and similes. The vocals echo beautifully over the top of the music creating a peaceful kind of soundscape to round the track off.
It may be some time before these boys hit the big, big time and it may take a little more than airplay on Island FM and BBC Guernsey. But they’ll keep playing. They’ll keep smiling and fingers crossed, things will fall into place.
‘Time for Change’, the Stowaways’ current single, is available now. Its b-side, ‘Changing Times’, is available for free download through the band’s Facebook here.