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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.
Fresh from their tour dates with those lovable rogues in Blink-182 and those NOT so loveable rogues in the All-American Rejects, Twin Atlantic are releasing their new single, ‘Yes, I was Drunk’. Now, already from the title, I already like this song. It doesn’t matter whether it’s just the lads from Glasgow, sloshing down some whisky on a cold street in Scotland and singing shanties about haggis and why the English are rubbish. But I suppose you’re always told to not judge a book by its cover, so I suppose the same applies to not judging a single by its title… I think?
However, fun title aside, they’ve gone and got themselves some more Fernandez brownie points by offering up their live EP for free! Really guys, you didn’t have to, but poor students, well, we LOVE free things! But back to the song. “And I got into the car/ And put her into first” are the lyrics that stand out for me in this single. A song about being drunk is cool. A song involving any mention of drink driving is never cool. I know rock stars are allowed to play the fool, be a little crazy but come on guys, have some sense. Barring the lyrical blips which irk me greatly, the song impresses on most levels. The video’s interesting to say the least and it has that charm which Twin Atlantic have patented on their latest record ‘Free’.
Their way of being Scottish and rocking significantly hard, yet not being Biffy Clyro, is an impressive feat by any of our Celtic neighbours. Their brand of unsophisticated, ‘pick up a guitar and sing some songs’ rock has its appeal though. While not being massively clever or inventive, it’s catchy and fun.
A solid effort, if not a massively inspiring one.
‘Yes, I Was Drunk’, Twin Atlantic’s next single, is out on the 27th of August on Red Bull Records. The band is heading out on a massive UK tour this autumn; all the details are here.
Forming last year in the depths of a Bristol bedroom, four lads started spinning tunes by Burial and Echo and the Bunnymen. This face-first dive into eclectic minimalism led to the melancholy melodies that Seasfire are gradually beginning to hone and call their own. As a follow-up to their debut single ‘Falling’, ‘Heartbeat’ is an evocative and haunting journey into the twists and turns of love.
Clocking in at just under 4 minutes, Seasfire’s trip-hoppy beats and the Weeknd rhythms delve into the darker and ethereal realms of synthpop that are often overlooked by the mainstream musos. But despite its apparent bleakness, 6music, XFM and BBC Introducing are all fans of Seasfire and their emotive lo-fi gloom. Josh Thorn’s vocals whisper softly a la Benjamin Francis Leftwich and intertwine with the whooshing synth in the vein of jj…only more masculine. It’s a prime example of the sombre, heartfelt music that Britain is capable of producing while the majority of music fans are too busy dealing with strumming an acoustic guitar and saying “yeah!”
‘Heartbeat’, the second single from Bristol outfit Seasfire, is out now on Distant Records.
This month, Blur’s debut album ‘Leisure’ turns 21. Of course, their debut 12” single of ”She’s so High’ is well on its way to 22 (I should know, I own the ruddy thing), but nonetheless, the big birthday of ‘Leisure’ at the end of this month signals a certain coming of age for the winners of that Britpop battle all those years ago.
Of course, much has changed in those 21 years. People listened to the Stone Roses and we had a Tory government. Well, maybe not much has changed in society but for Blur, things have. Alex James has consumed a lot of cheese and Dave Rowntree’s dabbled in politics. Damon and Graham have split, done their own thing, harmoniously reunited, briefly parted ways again and are now back together again as part of Britpop’s best bromance. It’s certainly been a roller coaster relationship.
That second coming together back in February at Graham’s War Child show was where they first premiered the better of of the two new tracks premiered live from a London rooftop on Monday night, ‘Under the Westway’. Coming in at a cross between Procol Harum’s ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ and the Beatles‘ ‘Let it Be’, it’s as much a reconciliation between lost brothers in arms as it is a rambling to last call in the bar. It’s Blur at their most honest and that’s with Damon at the helm, baring his soul. It’s 1995’s ‘Best Days’ for the modern era.
I only wish you could say the same about ‘The Puritan’. Whilst it’s a culture conscious pop-song with lyrics that Damon just couldn’t have created with Gorillaz, that’s no excusing everything else. That drone, the appalling drum sound, the torturous la’s (not the band, the actual bit of the song), it’s all a festival for a band that simply lost the plot and tried to re-create the singalongs of ‘The Great Escape’ and ‘Parklife’ without ever coming close in audible enjoyment. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed ‘Think Tank’, but this is not it.
In coming of age, Blur have reminded us of what most people do on their birthdays. They’ve reminded us of the beauty they can create and the lyrical possibilities of twisting madness into social commentary with a London flair (aka, the best). They’ve also reminded us that mixed into those albums there’s the last half of ‘Modern Life is Rubbish’, the middle of ’13′ and right inside the brilliant ‘Parklife’, there’s ‘Trouble in the Message Centre’ and ‘Jubilee’, which are nothing short of painful. If they’re going to do them both at Hyde Park to close out the London 2012 Olympics, I’d bring some tissues to dab your tears and then block your ears with. Then again, they never did anything by half.
The recorded versions of ‘Under the Westway’ and ‘The Puritan’ are available for download purchase now. A limited edition, double A-sided single will be released on Parlophone on the 6th of August.
By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 27th June 2012 at 12:00 pm
Sheffield’s Crookes know how to work their fans into a frenzy. They did a nail-biting countdown to the release of their newest video, ‘Maybe in the Dark’, on Facebook last Thursday. The video itself is a warts and all, musicians’ sweat, blood and tears, black and white presentation, which I find very interesting in that they could have easily hired in a selection of dance hall or club-type actors to recreate the story of the song literally.
By a mere 6 seconds, ‘Maybe in the Dark’ manages to be the shortest song on their second long player ‘Hold Fast’, and instrumentally, it’s a taut little number with melodic guitar guaranteed to stay in your head forever. Or at least a very long time. I know I can’t get it out. Not that you would ever want to: its gaiety and punchiness with George Waite’s rapid fire lyrics make for one engaging piece of pop music indeed. But therein, you see, lies the deception. Just like you can’t judge a book by its cover, you should never, ever judge a song solely on the way it sounds. The words, at least in my experience, are often criminally overlooked if the powers-that-be deem the song to be ‘catchy’. Sometimes, it is the lyrics that prove there’s something far deeper in meaning that the people who are stuck on the sheer catchiness fail to hear.
I asked Daniel Hopewell of the band if he would be so kind to provide me the lyrics for two reasons: so we could have a look together and I could better analyse them for the purpose of this review. Daniel’s punctuation has been kept intact below.
Maybe it’s just cheap easy lust with chemicals. We’re dirt forever.
Maybe we’re blessed. I’ll rip your dress, you pull my hair and we’ll leave together.
Maybe you’re young. I’ll bite your tongue, your lip will bleed. We’re trash forever.
Maybe you’re right, just for tonight. But your clumsy kiss won’t taste so clever.
And all I need is a substitute, maybe in the dark she’ll look enough like you….
I’ll take the shame, lust to blame. What if we ever meet again?
I’ll know your face, not your name. But we’ll know
Maybe I’ll find pleasure tonight? With chemicals I’ll hardly miss her.
Maybe you wear clothes like she wears. Same coloured hair. I’m sick forever.
And all I need is a substitute, maybe in the dark she’ll look enough like you….
I’ll take the shame, lust to blame. What if we ever meet again?
I’ll know your face, not your name. But we’ll know
Our eyes were bright, out of sight. Two strangers caught behind the night.
You’re the perfect second best.
Every time I see your ghost…(you’re the perfect second best)
Let’s attack the first verse, shall we? Lust and emotional fallout fueled by chemical means is nothing new, and neither is what the chemicals usually lead to, such as embarrassing situations (showing up at your ex’s door after she’s dumped you in the Script‘s ‘Nothing’) or just plain inappropriate action (even though she’s moved on, ringing your lost love in the middle of the night just to hear her voice in Stornoway‘s ‘Long Distance Lullaby’).
But the line going into the chorus is pretty telling: “and all I need is a substitute, maybe in the dark she’ll look enough like you…” Even though Waite sings this in such a way that seems carefree, it’s a loaded statement. He’s drinking to forget a woman. Beer goggles or whatever, lust has taken over and he’s accepted a girl who looks like the girl he loves is “good enough” in the dark and worthy of his affections, or at least worthy of his lust. The desire coupled with liquid courage is overtaking him, causing him to hallucinate this girl in front of him as “maybe in the dark she’ll look enough like you…” Call it a rebound move, call it what you want, but it is what it is.
And let’s talk about that darkness. I’ve had a couple conversations with some girlfriends of mine, and we’ve all agreed that as women, club lighting makes everyone look better: imperfections that would be obvious in bright or even regular lighting are minimised or disappear altogether. I imagine this also works conversely: if you’re a woman and you’re looking at a man, he probably looks all the more handsome and debonair, framed by the darkness. Taken together with the alcohol, this is setting up our protagonist for a train wreck. He knows it’s wrong, admitting “we’re dirt forever” and “we’re trash together”, willing to “take the shame, lust to blame” for his reckless actions, feeling completely regretful that “I’ll know your face, not your name” in his attempt to rub out the painful memories of the woman he lost with the woman that could be “…right, just for tonight”.
At the end of the song, there is one saving grace to his thoughts, if you could call it that. “You’re the perfect second best” is our protagonist’s admittance that no-one, even a cute girl he runs into while drunk at a dance, can take her place. This, I imagine, is the sadness he feels when he’s alone and stone cold sober. No matter how much you drink, the next day you wake up – with the hangover – and the realisation that yes, I’m still without her. No matter with what drink or what woman you try to rub her out of your life, the ghost of her still lives (“Every time I see your ghost…”) How they’ve managed to distill all these feelings in less than 2 and a half minutes is nothing short of a miracle. Unfortunately, I think most people will latch on the fact that “Hey! This is catchy as hell! Woohoo!” and not bother to look further.
However, reader, I implore you to try listening to this song in the dark, where you will find a lingering, heartbreaking feeling. Sometimes the most innocuous pop song reveals so much more, if you’re willing to scratch the surface.
You can help the Crookes out a bit in the funds department by preordering ‘Hold Fast’ on PledgeMusic. There is still some pretty sweet ‘prizes’ up for grabs, such as the signed guitar Daniel Hopewell used to record ‘Hold Fast’ (£350), a five-a-side football match with the band against you and your mates to take place in Sheffield (£100) and a set of 10 professionally matted photos of the band taken by drummer Russell Bates (£40), just to name three of many options. The Crookes’ album ‘Hold Fast’ drops officially on the 9th of July on Fierce Panda.