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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.
By Mary Chang
on Friday, 20th July 2012 at 11:00 am
Editor’s note: All of TGTF’s coverage of London 2012 Olympics – at least my jaundiced view of the musical portion of it – is available through this link.
Put out a BBC Sound of… feted album, then scuttle yourselves away for 2 years with next to no public appearances or live concerts: sounds like a recipe for disaster in this day and age we music editors know too well as the fickle music business and its equally fickle daughter, the music media, aka the people who forget you unless you either keep putting out music or keep getting into trouble. Yet Delphic have done exactly that; without canceling tours on the basis of “exhaustion” or pronouncements of mental illness, the Manchester band voluntarily chose the life of hermits since summer festival season 2010, withdrawing from the scene that had ushered them in as the preferable compromise between indie and dance. Looking back at it now, I can hardly believe it was only 2 and a half years ago when ‘Acolyte’ came into our lives and even then our readers knew we were all in for something special.
So it is with some disappointment (or is that editor’s trepidation?) that I bring to you on this Friday afternoon ‘Good Life’, their new Olympic single that premiered Wednesday night on Zane Lowe’s Radio1 programme. Maybe you weren’t a fan of the Delphs to begin with, or maybe you wanted something completely new from the band? Either way, this falls under the Monty Python rule of “and now for something completely different”. So different that when right after its first play I was asked by the band “YEA OR NAY ?” for my opinion of it, I was too dumbfounded to respond.
Listening to it on tinny office speakers on half volume didn’t give me a good first impression either, so after recording that portion of the show, replaying it several times over the course of an 18 hour period and thinking about it long and hard (even involving the Mother Chang for a second opinion of the new release – PS, she wasn’t entirely fond of it either, asking rather innocently, “where are the electronic gizmos?”), I was left with more questions. So many that somehow I convinced James Cook to hear me out over a cup of coffee (he ducked into a coffee shop during one of what seems to be a series of never-ending English rain storms, judging from my mates’ reports up and the whole of the country), and he kindly considered and responded to each and every one of my concerns while having a cuppa. What follows after the video is a summary of what we discussed.
We all know ‘Good Life’ is Delphic’s Olympic single, but will it appear on the new album? Cook says yes. I then asked if we can take this song to be representative of the tracks to appear on this new album, reported by Rick Boardman Wednesday night as dropping in early 2013. (Yes. I can hear all of you Delphic fans groaning. You aren’t the only ones. Bloody hell, 3 full years?) James’ response? That ‘Good Life’ is “closer to the ‘Acolyte’ material than any of the other new tunes. It is [better] representative more of [the] mood [of the new material], not [its] musical direction”. Colour me intrigued. I personally cannot see the similarities between this new one and ‘Acolyte’, but should I listen to it some more? Maybe. The first mental block I had with this song? I could have been the bit-rate on the version used by Radio1, but the vocals, even the ones purposefully layered on as backing, felt blurred and unclear, directly the opposite of the crispness of those on ‘Acolyte’, all of which I think I can safely say were never shouted out at the top of someone’s lungs (what I’m guessing was the kind of ‘party’ effect they were going for on ‘Good Life’).
When I pointed out the dense yet sophisticated eloquence of ‘Red Lights’ and ‘Submission’, Cook countered with, “I think you should expand on what parts of ‘Good Life’ aren’t dense or eloquent. Not every song can fit in the lyric ‘kickstarted by some neurotic desire to be free’”, of the first verse. Point taken, and I will revisit this when I have liner notes for yet to be named album #2, so I know what all the lyrics are. (I have since listened to the song with my special blog listening earbuds several times, again, trying to hash out the lyrics and it can’t be just me, some of it is unintelligible. So I’m still not sold on the lyrics.)
I also wanted to know what effects, if any, working this spring in Atlanta and with American music personnel would have on their new material. Just look at Mystery Jets and Two Door Cinema Club as two recent examples: it seems to be in vogue for British bands to come over here to America to record their cool new albums, doesn’t it? Cook emphasised, “everything was written before we went over” (in other words, the songs weren’t terribly influenced by their production’s surroundings), but the producer and engineer they worked with were responsible for helping them “attain some great hip-hop drums”. It’s not clear to me which producer he means; NME had reported weeks ago in an interview they did with Boardman earlier this year that both Ben Allen (Bombay Bicycle Club‘s long time collaborator) and DFA’s Tim Goldsworthy were both tapped for production duties on the new Delphic album, but we can expect that information and any delineation of which producer did what – along with the band, who have produced in their own right – will come along when the new album is released.
But I had other questions about this ‘new sound’ of theirs. The vocals sound very different to the ones on ‘Acolyte’ and there seemed to be a lot of different voices, so I asked if part of the Atlanta production involved sophisticated vocal effects. While the track features Cook on lead vocals and Boardman on backing vocals as usual, they also enlisted the vocal talents of Rebecca Lovell, one of two singing sisters in local Georgia folk/bluegrass band Larkin Poe. Right, a folk singer on ‘Good Life’ that they “randomly met in Atlanta”? Whoever writes their biography in 20 years’ time is going to have a field day getting this all down.
Something that became very clear in our brief chat is that Delphic, though known as those Englishmen in suits with suitcase after suitcase full of synths, no longer feel constrained by their electronics that helped make them their name. Sampling, not synthesis, and a musical journey through ‘This Mortal Coil to Kanye West to Aaliyah to Neil Young’ all makes this sound like an album that has a billion different influences, but what will the final sound like? Cook promises “lots more ‘song’ on this record, [as] opposed to dance jams”. This made me feel ill. I am a dancer, I am a mover and a groover. We need more dance on TGTF, not less. But he maintains “it was just a natural progression” to move out of the space that was ‘Acolyte’, especially after having a false start with what he called a “techno-centric album in 2010″ and then abandoning it in favour of something of meaning to them as artists: “There are still images and emotions [like in our previous work], we wouldn’t have written it if it didn’t move us!”
I know why I had such a violent reaction to and became admittedly torn up about this new single. When you’re waiting for a follow-up to an album that means a lot to you, there’s all kinds of ways the resulting product you receive could go wrong. You’ve set the bar so impossibly high, no mortals could meet your expectations. Do I think it’s better than the Chems’ ‘Theme to Velodrome’ that I reviewed on Wednesday? No. But it’s an apples vs. oranges type comparison, and I’ll tell you why.
‘Good Life’ was never intended to be straight techno or overt dance. If you go by what guitarist Matt Cocksedge reported in their Radio1 interview with Zane Lowe, their demo was submitted for Olympic consideration unbeknownst to them, so there’s no way they could have given it an ‘Olympic sound’, if there is such a thing: the song was already written and done. It’s very convenient the single premiered on Radio1, a channel I never listen to unless there’s a feature I specifically want to listen in for, but the kind of radio station with a fan base that, predictably, eats up this kind of urban pop / not really rap / not really r&b / party vibe stuff.
If one of Delphic’s primary intentions with ‘Good Life’ was to connect with that kind of fan base, they’ve done a bang up job and can expect a massive leap in popularity. But that wasn’t what it was all about before. In my eyes, one of the main issues (if you want to call it that) that ‘Acolyte’ had was its trailblazing ‘intellect’ and this attribute, which to me wasn’t a negative at all, probably hurt its sales, especially in America. You either got it and loved it to death, or you didn’t. After an album that Simon Price of the Independent described as “on kissing terms with magnificence”, I’m left thinking that on this grand international stage on which they knew they would be announcing their comeback, this entry falls short and makes you wonder just what could have been.
But those of you clutching ‘Acolyte’ to your chests and sighing, take heart: Mixmag has reported they’ll be using ‘Clarion Call’ on Channel 4′s broadcasting of the Paralympics, so ‘old’ Delphic is still making the rounds in London, just in a less obvious way. However, I’m not sure where I stand on Delphic reworking ‘Chariots of Fire’, the classic 1981 film theme song by Vangelis, to be played at all the medal ceremonies. Let’s leave it at that…
‘Good Life’, the Olympic single contribution by Delphic, will be released digitally for purchase on Monday (23 July). To cover all bases, the video stream of the song in the YouTube embed above can be listened to by anyone, no matter where you are in the world. If you are in the UK, you can listen to it via Zane Lowe’s Hottest Record in the World blog. Rather confusingly, there were two Hottest Records in the World Wednesday night (the other one was the Vaccines‘ ‘Teenage Icon’, who were doing a live session at Maida Vale), so to get to ‘Good Life’ and the interview, fast forward to 35 minutes in to the listen again stream.
By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 18th July 2012 at 12:00 pm
It seemed quite interesting to me that of six bands that have been tapped to have a hand in official Olympics tuneage, half of them are from Manchester: BBC Olympic theme writers Elbow, single-providing Delphic and the subject of this post, single providers Chemical Brothers. ‘Theme from Velodrome’ had its first play on Zane Lowe’s Radio1 nighttime show this past Monday and the single was then available for purchase from that point forward. A velodrome, if you were wondering, is not a made up word at all but actually the proper name for an indoor arena designed specifically for cycling events.
This is the first real release from Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons since 2010′s disappointing ‘Further’ album and their foray into film soundtracking for the Natalie Portman film Black Swan in the same year. Despite all the time that has passed, some longtime fan commenters on YouTube are already complaining in droves that the single is about as boring as wiry-framed men and women riding their wiry frames of metal with two wheels attached in a circle again and again: “‘Pain and tedious’ sums up cycling perfectly!” writes Paul Whelan. Rowlands has been quoted by the Guardian as having said this about their participation: “I have loved cycling since I was a boy. I have always made a connection between electronic music and cycling repetition, the freedom and sense of movement. Kraftwerk obviously cemented this connection with their Tour de France track. For us to create the theme for the Velodrome is a great honour and we’re really excited to hear it in situ.” And indeed, a top comment by darthdevil reads “Kraftwerk mode on”. That leads to another Manchester reference: Kraftwerk played the Manchester Velodrome during the 2009 Manchester International Festival.
I have to say, I like this. It begins with strings and sounds a bit stuffy before a robotic voice intones the three syllables of the venue where this song will feature. Then the music ups in tempo and the melody (if you could say that) in the background goes frenetic. This has all happened before the 1 minute 30 second mark, when the backbeat finally worms its way into the song. For an electronic band, it’s relatively understated and does what it needs to do: build up anticipation for the main event(s). I even like the unusual fade out at the end; not what I would have expected, which is a plus.
While it’s a definite improvement on ‘Survival’, the official Olympics song written by Muse (watch that video here), it leaves the door somewhat open for the remaining two songs – contributions from Delphic and Dizzee Rascal follow in the next 2 weeks – to take the brass ring. Which song will be the most remembered from London 2012? We’ll have to see in the coming weeks.
‘Theme from Velodrome’, the Olympic contribution by the Chemical Brothers, is available as a single for purchase now.