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Header photo by Rich Gilligan
Side projects and collaborations seem to be all the rage among established musicians these days, and Bell X1 frontman Paul Noonan has recently jumped into the mix with a venture called Printer Clips. The project consists of a series of duets written by Noonan and performed with female singers including previous duet partner Lisa Hannigan, Martha Wainwright, and Julia Stone, then recorded in spontaneous and unstructured settings.
The first release from the project, ‘Apparatchik’, features the somewhat predictable combination of Noonan and Hannigan, whose voices blend together in harmony as beautifully here as on their version of ‘Some Surprise,’ from the 2006 project The Cake Sale. ‘Apparatchik’ is a very pretty, melodic little tune, which I found myself humming back after only one brief listen, but as usual with Noonan’s songwriting, there’s more to it than what’s on the surface. Lyrically, it has moments of downright ugliness, especially in the lines, “These are the punches that we roll with / This is the shit / But it’s so much easier to stomach it / When I’m downwind of you.” The juxtaposition of that obnoxiously unpleasant line with its elegantly lilting melodic phrasing is jarring, I suspect deliberately so.
The song’s title, ‘Apparatchik’, is an old Russian term for a professional member of the Communist party, now often used in a disparaging way to describe members of any large political organization as parts of a self-perpetuating machine. I almost wonder if Noonan might have been referring to his own role in Bell X1 there, but overall the song seems like a larger rumination on life, especially in its final repeated line, which I believe is quoted from a stencil by street artist Banksy, “Laugh now, but one day we’ll be in charge”.
‘Apparatchik’ is the first release from Printer Clips’ upcoming EP ‘The Left Sleeve’, which is due for digital-only release on the 25th of April. A second digital EP, ‘The Right Sleeve’, is scheduled for release on Bone China Records on the 16th of May, followed by a physical and digital release of the full self-titled LP on the 23rd of May. This curious schedule reminds me of the idea Noonan discussed for Bell X1 album ‘Chop Chop’ in my interview with him last year, and it’s interesting to see that design come to fruition, albeit in a slightly different context.
In the end, as always, the interpretation lies with the listener; you can form your own opinion after taking a listen to ‘Apparatchik’ below. Printer Clips will perform a live premiere on the 24th of May at The National Concert Hall, Dublin.
By Mary Chang
on Tuesday, 15th April 2014 at 11:00 am
It’s not everyday I write about a DC band. So I’m very pleased to bring you the full album stream of the debut EP from VEDAS; the five-track ‘Exhume’ is out today here in America. Alex Lee and Andrew Monborne started VEDAS last summer when they wanted a creative outlet to “put the individual subconscious thought and emotion into sound”.
Sounds pretentious, doesn’t it? It’s not at all, though, as you will listen below. People often say anything electronic is devoid of emotion, but you will see and hear through ‘Exhume’ – and on standout track ‘Mis Rajh’ – that voices and electronic notes can be extremely expressive.
By Mary Chang
on Monday, 14th April 2014 at 12:00 pm
Fierce Panda Records may be famously noted by pedants of the British music business as being the label that launched the careers of Coldplay and Keane, but if that was all to the label, it wouldn’t be still standing. It’s hard for me to fathom that here we are in the year 2014, and Fierce Panda has been in business for 2 decades. The London indie label has championed the little guy and released so much great music in the last 20 years, it would take me far too long to go through their storied history than there is space on our humble Web site. Instead, I’m going to focus on a new 18-track compilation the label is offering up for free with any record purchase from their online shop.
The LP’s title ‘Endangered: Fierce Panda 2004-2014’ is innocuous enough, not at all telling of its contents when, in fact, it is a careful selection of, oddly, the saddest songs from their back catalogue of the last 10 years. I say oddly, because celebrating and (surviving) 20 years in anything these days is cause for celebration, surely? However, despite being advertised by the label themselves as “some of the weepiest tunes it has had the tragic pleasure to put out over the past ten years”, you should be more impressed by the quality of the music not to slit your wrists. Hopefully, anyway. Maybe the whole ‘sad song’ is meant to be cheeky, now that I think about it.
‘Endangered’ does not rely solely on sob story, folky singer/songwriter types and in so doing, shows the breadth of Fierce Panda’s roster. But let’s first examine the more obvious sad songs. Danish girl/boy duo The Raveonettes‘ ‘Last Dance’ is innocent and twee, and Canadians Woodpigeon‘s ‘The Saddest Music in the World’ that opens the album is similar, but with added Simon and Garfunkel influence. Los Angeles quintet Milo Greene‘s harmonies shine on the Biblical leaning ‘Son My Son’, while the voice and songwriting of Tom Hickox, already being compared to Leonard Cohen and Nick Cave’s, haunts with desolation on ‘Let Me Be Your Lover’, with sombre piano and then added strings and horns.
The more bombastic numbers in this collection include the now-on-hiatus Walkmen and their optimistic (or delusional?) ‘In the New Year’, the slow burning Acres of Lions‘ ‘Collections’, Hatcham Social‘s rich guitars in ‘Sidewalk’ and Dingus Khan‘s whistle-filled ‘Made a List’; the latter’s inclusion in particular surprised me, but it just goes to show that even if you’re looking rough and tumble on the outside, you can still feel sadness inside. The sonic beauty of Ultrasound‘s ‘Sovereign’ is marred, presumably on purpose, by the repetition of the lyric “we are unclean” and the business of sex and sin, all wailed by singer Andrew “Tiny” Wood. The same can be said for tracks that include synths or twinkly keys: ‘They All Laughed’ by the Spinto Band sounds cheerful in a music box sort of way but it veils, not very well, the disgust he has for a former love, while the psychedelic feelings that Hey Sholay‘s ‘The Bears The Clocks The Bees’ engenders are appropriate for a song about confusion in a relationship.
It should also noted that sadness can also come out of mind games, craving someone else or the deepest regret. The industrial Nine Inch Nail-sey sound of Department M‘s ‘J-Hop’ (stream above) comes with the element of desire with its sensual lyrics, “we ply / by the logic of the reasoned minds / and one last time I’ll come to your body / what do you need?” The genius behind Art Brut‘s ‘Rusted Guns of Milan’ is Eddie Argos’ admittance, in his usual funny way, that he’s messed up in a relationship and he wants a second chance. Meanwhile, a similar request for a second chance is captured in a brilliant snapshot in ‘Last Decade’ by Goldheart Assembly (video below), showing a man’s final moments, first desperate to reconcile with a lover but then resigning to his fate: “but you know I’d go back, but there is no way…” I Like Trains‘ ‘A Rook House for Bobby’ I’m guessing is named for chess champion and famed recluse Bobby Fischer, using his hermit existence as a metaphor for how love can cause depression. The self-deprecation and admittance of weakness in the little girl voice of Melanie Pain in ‘How Bad Can It Be’ is, no pun intended, painful: “everyone knows I won’t change / everyone knows love is not my game / everyone know who I am / everyone but you.”
Additional Panda melancholy comes courtesy of Sheffield in the form of two exemplary tracks. A man’s exasperation over his lover’s worry about losing him is made all too real in Tom Hogg’s expressive vocals with his bandmates’ gorgeously crooning backing in ‘Would You Be Blue’ by the Hosts (stream below) from this year’s debut album from them, ‘Softly, Softly’. Meanwhile, the loneliness of the protagonist of The Crookes ‘Howl’ from ‘Soapbox’ released today is haunted by the memory of another’s love, as George Waite’s voice is alternately dreamy and contemplative in the romance of song-induced candlelight: “and there’s no time, only light / no clocks, but shadows that hide the point when day becomes night / it’s hard to tell with these skies… I heard the howl, I love you but you keep me down.”
I think those two songs tell the ‘sad song story’ of Fierce Panda’s last 10 years the best, and why? Sad songs, like love songs, are often misunderstood. Emotions like sadness, loneliness and indeed, even love are like jewels. Whether they mean to or not, the people who gloss over emotion don’t seem to understand that they aren’t one-dimensional but instead multi-faceted, with dull and lifeless versus bright and sharp faces and something new to discover upon each listen. As a collection of the ‘sad song’ genre, ‘Endangered’ is a great introduction to the many wonderful artists on the Fierce Panda roster, and I can’t imagine you won’t find at least one song that will make you feel something deep in your heart.
You can get ‘Endangered: Fierce Panda 2004-2014′ now for free if you order any album from the Fierce Panda online shop here. For more information on the bands signed to Fierce Panda, those included in this collection and those not, visit the label’s official Web site. For a limited time, you can get another eight-track song sampler (not all sad songs!); more details in this previous MP3(s) of the Day post.
I’ve been, shall we say, mildly obsessed with Glass Animals since seeing them at SXSW 2014 last month. They were on my peripheral radar, one of those bands I’d heard of but never really listened to, until their oozing electro sensuality captured my attention first at Harvest Records showcase and again at the the British Music Embassy. It seems appropriate that their latest EP centers around a track titled ‘Gooey,’ as their overall vibe does have a sort of thickness to it, a stickiness that grabs me and holds me in, though not entirely against my will.
I’ve discussed my feeling of disorientation regarding electronic music on several occasions, (read here and here for example), but I think I’ve connected to the Glass Animals’ take on it because they come from a more visceral and organic direction; the melding of the reverberant live instruments, the synthetic electro effects and the soulful R&B vocals is as palpable as it is audible. Bayley’s soft falsetto slithers smoothly around often nonsensical lyrics that are almost tangible themselves, including “I’d say I told you so, but you just gonna cry / You just wanna know those peanut butter vibes”.
The ‘Gooey’ EP contains the dizzyingly sensual original version of its eponymous track, as well as a reworked version with a rap overlay by Chester Watson and remixes by Chicago producer Gilligan Moss and Los Angeles DJ / producer Kingdom. The Gilligan Moss remix is a bit more crisply upbeat, the percussion a bit sharper, the electro sounds a bit edgier than the original. The purely instrumental Kingdom remix is ethereal and dark, even a bit harsh without the fluidity of Bayley’s vocals.
‘Holiest’ features responsively slinky female vocals by urban r&b singer Tei-Shi mingling with Bayley’s. Speaking of the collaborations on the EP, Bayley says, “I love collaborating. I love it when someone outside the group can bring something to a track that we can’t ourselves. Be it a crazy idea, a skill or something stylistic…we’re only four boys from Oxford and there’s only so much we can do musically.” However, this EP proves, if nothing else, that Glass Animals are more than willing to stretch their limits. [Then again, we already knew this from their covering of a Kanye West track down under last week. - Ed.]
Stream the entire ‘Gooey’ EP below. The EP is out now on Wolf Tone/Caroline International.
The Horrors have always been synonymous with an urban aesthetic of neon punctured gloom; of gothic, monotone fashion under bulging bouffants. It’s an image that requires two opposing characteristics – a strong sense of self-identity, and a dynamism capable of keeping pace with the zeitgeist. Some would say that the purest blend the five boys from Southend-on-Sea have achieved so far was on 2011’s ‘Skying’, but all the right signs we’re there with the first single from the band’s upcoming album ‘Luminous’, starting with the 7 minute 30 second epic single ‘I See You’. Their follow up, ‘So Now You Know’ – out now on XL Recordings – doesn’t go quite so far. And, here’s why.
A ponderous opening from the rhythm section of drummer Joe Spurgen and bassist Rhys Webb forms a familiar scaffold from which the rest of the song is hung. The droning guitar and clipped choral notes (half-buried in the mix), complete a desolate scene that is immediately dispelled by the upbeat cyclic riff of the verse. The vocals are lofty and tuneful, but singer Faris Badwan reverts to type as a moody, almost spoken chorus with a sound akin to arty ’80s pop ala Simple Minds. It’s a typically Horrors combo, which might have seemed progressive on one of their earlier offerings, but with not much else other than the odd techy guitar squiggle to note, this is a track that would slip under the radar of more avid indie aficionados.
What they have produced here is a kind of dot-to-dot effort that would doubtlessly be overshadowed by other East End trendies trying to forge a reputation by starting as an uncertified homage to The Horrors. The opening single suggested something fresh and altogether more intriguing, but all is not lost for ‘Luminous’ – scheduled for release May 5 on XL Recordings- as there were signs within the production (such as the guitar solo, that sounded like it was emanating from a nuclear silo) that more variety might be on the way. And, if all else fails, dream pop’s resurgence means they could just cheer up a bit, allow the synths to take over and give CHVRCHES a run for their money.
Single ‘So Now You Know’ is out now on XL Recordings. The Horrors’ fourth album ‘Luminous’ will be released on the 5th of May.
Swedish chanteuse Lykke Li has dropped the first proper single ‘No Rest for the Wicked’ from her coming album ‘I Never Learn’ for our waiting ears in advance of the album next month. Lykke has been away for over 3 years crafting her next work -and acting in a Swedish crime thriller! – having also spent quite a bit of time with iconic American director David Lynch. It would be easy to think that this off-beat filmmaker has had a significant influence on Li if you were listening as a neophyte. But truth be told, she’s always possessed an unnerving, otherworldly quality so the influence likely flowing in both directions.
Opening with smartly struck keys on the far right side of the keyboard, this simple theme returns at each valley of the song. Not breaking from the familiar haunting, slightly nasal sound from her past songs, she presents a tune that undulates from plaintive soul-bearing to crashing self-loathing. The pain of destroying a good love comes through with a swelling intensity as the lyrics build and recede, yet always pulling back into the simple beaten out piano melody, retreating to where it is safe and alone. The message is of simple pain and regret. Barely asking for redemption, the song has a simple acknowledgment of failure as the pain billows with the music’s crescendo and then abates into nothingness at the end.
The song becomes clearer on repeated listens, but it also becomes simpler. Initially, the crashing cymbals of the chorus obscured Li’s voice for me, but as it repeated, it settled into a nice little verse chorus verse structure. There is nothing wrong with that formula, nothing at all. But with an artist that has the experimental Swedish roots that she does, we can hope for a little more from the full length coming later.
‘No Rest for the Wicked’, Lykke Li’s forthcoming single, is out on the 21st of April on Atlantic Records. ‘I Never Learn’, the Swede’s third album, follows on the 5th of May.
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