wears the trousers magazine


trouser shorts: ida maria, soko, dirty projectors

180809_idamaria

Ida Maria has rejigged her 2007/2009 single ‘Oh My God’ for a third shot at the charts, this time with guest vocals from Iggy Pop. Although they did not meet during the recording, the two plan to shoot a video together in Miami later this month. Speaking to SPIN.com, Ida revealed that she’s a big fan of the chiselled elder statesman of punk and is delighted with his contribution. “It turned out to be the most euphoric supernatural sound I could ever imagine,” she gushed. Judge for yourself here. The single gets a digital release on August 31st.

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trouser shorts: madonna, nerina pallot, dirty projectors

060808_madonna

US website Examiner.com revealed yesterday that Madonna’s long-expected new ‘greatest hits’ album (effectively a severance deal following her move to a 360º contract with LiveNation after 25 years with Warner Brothers) will be titled Iconography. They cite September 22nd as a possible release date, and say that three new songs will be included. Rumoured titles for these are ‘Broken’, ‘I’m Sorry’ and ‘Celebrate’. 

It’ll come as no surprise to anyone that Madonna recently topped Forbes’s annual list of top-earning musicians with a reported $110 million in profits earned between June 2008 and June 2009 off the back of last year’s Hard Candy and the still ongoing Sticky & Sweet tour. Céline Dion and Beyoncé rounded out the top 3, earning $100 million and $87 million in profits, respectively. Full list below.

01 Madonna $110 million
02 Céline Dion $100 million
03 Beyoncé Knowles $87 million
04 Bruce Springsteen $70 million
05 Kenny Chesney $65 million
06= Coldplay $60 million
06= Rascal Flatts $60 million
06= AC/DC $60 million
09 The Eagles $55 million
10 Toby Keith $52 million
11 Bon Jovi $50 million
12 Dave Matthews Band $45 million 

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Nerina Pallot is reportedly following in the footsteps of Emilíana Torrini by writing songs for the next Kylie Minogue album. As hinted in the tabloids this week, it seems that Nerina has contributed at least one song, ‘Better Than Today’, to the upcoming album, with more to come. Kylie has also recruited Girls Aloud/Saint Etienne production team Xenomania for six or seven songs. A ‘source’ told The Sun: “Kylie wants to come back with a bang. Her last album, X, sold quite well but it wasn’t the triumphant return to form many people hoped for. By working with Xenomania she hopes she can create a really coherent album which will connect her right back to the pop market.”

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Dirty Projectors gave us all a bit of a scare on Tuesday night when their tour van was involved in a serious collision just outside of Detroit as the band were on their way to a gig in Toronto, even flipping on to its side. Despite rumours that one of the band was “in a serious condition”, all concerned were in fact discharged from hospital soon afterwards and took themselves off home to New York to recover. The only casualty then was the band’s Canadian dates, which had to be cancelled.

The band will be over in the UK & Ireland in September. See them here:

11.09.09 End Of The Road Festival, Dorset
12.09.09 Bestival, Isle Of Wight
13.09.09 Scala, London
16.09.09 Whelan’s, Dublin 

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Marina & The Diamonds posted the new Rankin-directed video for much-blogged track ‘I Am A Robot’ on YouTube yesterday. The song is the lead track from the Greek/Welsh artist’s new digital EP, The Crown Jewels, released on Monday (June 29th) through Neon Gold Records. Body paint fans rejoice.

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Jesca Hoop and Simone White will play a one-off gig together on June 30th at the Garage in Islington, London, at a night put together by Uncut magazine. Tickets are on sale now. Jesca will be playing at Glastonbury on Saturday, with appearances scheduled at Hyde Park’s Wireless Festival on July 4th and new London riverside venue Tamesis Dock on July 15th. 

Simone, whose second album Yakiimo was released this week, also has some other dates coming up. Catch her at the following venues:

01.07.09 Start The Bus, Bristol
03.07.09 The Band Room, North York Moors
05.07.09 Freebutt, Brighton
06.07.09 12 Bar Club, London 

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Anyone who has seen Ane Brun perform with her trio of ‘Diamonds’ will be familiar with Jennie Abrahamson, a successful singer-songwriter in her own right. The Swedish artist’s second album, While The Sun’s Still Up & The Sky Is Bright, will be released in Scandinavia on September 16th. Watch the video for recent single ‘Late Night Show’ below:

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Seventies rock legends Heart are in the middle of recording a new studio album, their first since 2004’s Jupiter’s Darling. Guitarist Nancy Wilson told Billboard.com that she and sister Ann were working with producer Ben Mink (kd lang, Barenaked Ladies), and that the album was taking shape organically. “We’re recording with just a real woodshed, small acoustic element, people playing together at the same time and (in) the same room – like what they used to call a hootenanny,” she said. “There’s no ProTools feel to it at all. We’re just sitting around playing guitars together and going for a performance that is on the spot.” Song titles include ‘Hey You’ and ‘Closer’.

The Wilson sisters are also planning to release a children’s book inspired by the band’s 1978 album Dog & Butterfly. “Ann pretty much did the writing, and I kind of was her editor,” Nancy explains. “She made the initial drawings of the dog and I did the butterfly. She drew the characters, mostly, and I painted them. And then we had an artist come in and kind of fill in some of the other designs ’cause we’re kind of busy right now. It looks really good. It’s really simple.” The book will come with a CD that includes new versions of ‘Dreamboat Annie’ and ‘Dog & Butterfly’. 

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The previously reported collaboration between Canadian jazz artist Diana Krall and Barbra Streisand now has a name and a release date. Out on September 28th on Columbia Records, Love Is The Answer will be Barbra’s first new studio material since 2005’s Guilty Pleasures and “presents the artist as a cabaret and jazz singer of emotional clarity, depth and maturity.”

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Cher is to appear in her first major film role since 1999’s ‘Tea With Mussolini’ in upcoming musical flick ‘Burlesque’, which will also star Christina Aguilera. Cher will play retired dancer Tess who runs a declining neo-burlesque club and acts as a mentor to Christina’s character. Incredibly, it will mark her first silver screen appearance in which she’ll use those famous pipes. The film starts shooting in November with first-time writer/director Steven Antin leading the way.

Not to be outdone by her former rival Christina, Britney Spears is apparently in talks to star as the female lead in time travel/World War II drama ‘The Yellow Star Of Sophia & Eton’. She would play the titular Sophia who “creates a time machine and travels back to World War II where she meets a Jewish man called Eton at a concentration camp.” [source: National Ledger] Stranger things have happened I suppose!

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Alan Pedder




rolling stone poll names aretha franklin greatest singer of all time

131108_arethafranklin“Aretha is the reason women want to sing,” says Mary J Blige 

Rolling Stone magazine have compiled (probably not for the first time) their list of the 100 greatest singers ever in the whole history of everness. Well, that’s what it says on the front page splash…OF ALL TIME…when actually if you read it closer you’ll see they really mean what they’ve loosely defined as “the rock era”. So basically after the likes of Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey and all the other classic female blues musicians. Not really ‘of all time’. But I’ll stop picking holes, they did a pretty thorough job. A huge panel of voters was each asked to list their 20 favourite vocalists from the rock era, in order of their importance. Those ballots were recorded and weighted according to methodology developed by accounting firm Ernst & Young, who tabulated and verified the final results. 

Coming out tops was Aretha Franklin, the only woman in the top 10, and it fell to Mary J Blige (#100) to write a little something about her: “You know a force from heaven. You know something that God made. And Aretha is a gift from God. When it comes to expressing yourself through song, there is no one who can touch her. She is the reason why women want to sing.” The only other women in the top 25 were Tina Turner (#17) and Etta James (#22), with 8 of the 24 female entries (6 of whom are no longer with us) bunched up in the bottom 25. The youngest of the bunch was 27 year old Christina Aguilera (#58) followed by 38 year old Mariah Carey (#79).

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trouser press: madonna, annie lennox and more

– Madonna planning another staged ‘lesbian’ kiss, tour setlist leaked
– solo career of Annie Lennox collected on new album
– Sarah Brightman bags her second Olympic gig 
– new Björk single out in September
– speedy second album for Los Campesinos!
– spacey debut album for Those Dancing Days
– another dose of the blues from Sandy Dillon
– Stacey Earle to release first solo album in 8 years
– Mother Mother announce second album
– news on sixth Sugababes album, special show announced

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Lots of Madonna music news this week ahead of her Sticky & Sweet tour that kicks off in Cardiff on August 23rd. The Sun has published what it claims to be the leaked setlist for the tour, showing that the spectacle will be divided into four parts divided by video interludes, and, at one point, some Romanian folk. We already know that one of these videos features Britney Spears as part of Madge’s bid to get Spears back into a more flattering limelight. Another of the videos, rumoured to be called ‘Get Stupid’, will see her doing her bit for the planet with predictably unsubtle environmental sloganeering. If you’re so inclined, you can see the setlist here

According to the Metro, Madonna, who turns 50 on August 16th, is planning a repeat of her onstage ‘lesbian’ kisses with Britney and Christina Aguilera at the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards, this time with 23-year-old ‘I Kissed A Girl’ singer Katy Perry when the tour comes to London in September. Well, as long as she doesn’t bloody well sing ‘Imagine’ again she can frankly do what she likes.

In other Madge news, it has been hinted that she will return the favour of Timbaland’s production on most recent album Hard Candy with a guest appearance on the sequel to his star-studded album Shock Value, handily titled Shock Value 2. There’s no release date set for this but other names rumoured to be involved include Missy Elliot, Rihanna, Beyoncé and Jordin Sparks.

She’s also made the news for attending the premiere ‘I Am Because We Are’, a documentary about the plight of orphans in Malawi on which she acted as producer, at the Traverse City Film Festival in northern Michigan where she holidayed as a child. Fellow Michigan native and festival founder Michael Moore was on hand to let us know that Madonna has “such an incredible heart and such a generous spirit” and that “she does so much out of the glare of the lights to make the world a better place”.

That’s all very well, but is it as good as this? I doubt it.

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2005/06 reviews dump: a

The following reviews were all published on our old website between May 2005 and December 2006.

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A Girl Called Eddy
A Girl Called Eddy ••••
Anti-

Finally, a vibe worth tapping into. In fact, this debut album by New Jersey-born Erin Moran even goes so far as to reclaim the word from the stoned and surreal, bringing it back to the music in style. Make no mistake, this is rainy day music of the highest calibre. From the faux tattered sleeve in, the spirit of 1970s pop chic slinks and shimmies through each song, most often recalling Karen Carpenter at her most Bacharachian, with a nuance of Aimee Mann in the dusky, self-assured vocal.

As with all great records, the styles here are embodied and lived through rather than simply plucked off the peg and crowbarred into. The world-weary whispered vocals on ‘Tears All Over Town’ (one of two songs here taken from her under-the-radar 2002 EP of the same name), the strident rock-tinged ‘The Long Goodbye’ and the soulful swing of the first single, ‘Somebody Hurt You’, seem to ebb and flow effortlessly.

Although such apparent ease could doom a less canny artist to the dreaded coffee table MOR limbo inhabited by Dido and Norah Jones, you get the sense here that Moran has actually lived and breathed these songs. The lump in the throated ‘Kathleen’, for example, is a minor key memoriam to her late mum. Death is also dealt with in the swelling, glorious finale that is ‘Golden’, a masterclass in the art of tension building. Points must also go to the subtle production by Colin Elliot and former Pulp guitarist, Richard Hawley.

Where this album stumbles slightly is that the lyrical hurdle is only half-heartedly jumped and may prove a touch pedestrian for aficionados of more forthright songwriters. ‘Did You See The Moon Tonight?’ is a perfect example of this, yet Moran’s skill as a mood-maker elevates it above the potential blandness to make it the standout cut. In this respect, she perhaps best recalls Chrissie Hynde or PJ Harvey, with whom the delivery is everything.

What this album exemplifies succinctly is that confessional and heartfelt can be done and done well without the bloodletting or shock tactics favoured by some. If you have time to savour the understatements on offer on this solid, hypnotic album, it will grab at your heartstrings. Equally, if you haven’t, frankly, this is wasted as background music and is likely to pass you by. Next time it rains, you know what to do.

Alan Pedder 
originally published May 14th, 2005

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Mina Agossi
Well, You Needn’t ••
Candid

Afro-French chanteuse Mina Agossi has been making serious waves on the European jazz circuit with her stripped back, to-the-bone approach to avant-garde jazz. This second album follows hot on the heels of her well-regarded debut Zaboum, taking further and more confident steps along her chosen, and certainly somewhat surrealist pathway. Standards, contemporary covers and original compositions are all present and each is delivered in Agossi’s unmistakable, inimitable style, and therein lies the rub.

There’s simply no arguing with Mina Agossi’s skill as a jazz singer. With such commanding control over her warble cords, it’s certain that to watch her and her band perform these songs in a dark, smoky jazz hole would be an experience equal parts exciting, unsettling and terrifically moving. You’d never quite be sure whether the swirls and pulses conjured would coalesce into perfect, pure jazz or collapse into a trainwreck of cacophony, which frankly would be half the attraction. But as has been proven by many who have come before, it is nigh on impossible to capture the adventure and controlled anarchy of this style of jazz on a recorded format. Sure the notes are all there but the danger is inevitably lacking. So often with more avant-garde or improvisational pieces, a moment that when experienced firsthand seems daring and risqué becomes merely sterile and contrived when frozen in time. Rather than a magnificent, wild snarling beast we’re delivered a shadow, caged and pacing with no small amount of discomfort.

There’s a clutch of more digestible songs such as ‘Drive’, ‘Laundry Man Blues’ and ‘May I Sit At Your Table’, and most likely it’s these that will work best for the casual listener. Other tracks take a rather less palatable approach – on ‘Don’t Look At Me’, Agossi’s voice dissolves from an appealingly sultry croon to a wailing maelstrom not unlike scathing electric guitar feedback before resolving back into the calmer vocal line, while on the title track she employs an admittedly stunning scat technique on top of the skeletal backing. It’s initially impressive but soon wears thin, taking on a tonality more Crazy Frog than Ella Fitzgerald. This is a double irony since the vocal on the mostly a cappella ‘After You’ve Gone’ bears more than a passing resemblance to the grand old lady of jazz’s velvet tones. Interestingly, Mina’s signature approach works pretty well on a cover of Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Voodoo Chile’. Her voice is given free reign and she achieves that rarest of things, an effective jazz interpretation of an iconic rock song. The fearless innovator in the late guitar hero would surely have approved.

Now back to that sorry looking rating. On a purely technical basis, this album is clearly deserving of praise. The sparse production is crystal clear, letting every nuance shine through, and Agossi’s tightly skilled band are beyond reproach. For the jazz aficionado with leanings towards the modern and avant-garde forms, this will be manna from heaven. It really is that well done. But a casual listener, including myself, could find themselves enjoying each successive listen less and less. Elements and devices that first added interest soon begin to grate and it’s a real shame. Those in the know in the jazz world will continue to beat a path to the door of Mina Agossi’s concerts and form orderly queues at their local record stores to get their copies of her albums. For anyone else with merely a passing interest in the lighter ends of the jazz spectrum, the question remains: should you buy this album for your listening pleasure? And the honest answer is well, you needn’t…

Trevor Raggatt
originally published June 8th, 2006 

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Christina Aguilera
Back To Basics •••
RCA

More superficial than supafly, it appears that the new Mrs Bratman has been sucked into her own marketing tailspin. The frustration is that it need not have been the case. The story is well known; using the nostalgic yesteryear approach and namechecking the likes of Ella, Etta, Aretha et al., Christina hopes to cement her own place in the American musical songbook and at the same time maintain the superior position she achieved in critical circles with the ridiculously successful Stripped.

Two points of interest are worth noting; in the majority of this overlong album (was a double really necessary?), RCA appears to be milking the sacred… well, you know… perhaps a little too much, maybe because it knows it may be the last throw of the dice. If it is, it’s a shame, because Aguilera’s music often stands up for itself without the need for props to past icons. Secondly, none of the music could hope to seriously offer a fitting tribute to them anyway, as it retains the smooth, polished production of 21st Century American R‘n’B and the funked-up beat manifesto beloved of the 13-25 year old market segment, many of whom wouldn’t know Aretha from a reefer. When was she ever polished? When was Gaye anything but a tortured artist spilling his guts out for the sport of record producers? Back To Basics is marketing a mimic and a fashion statement, nothing more.

And yet, the music is good. It’s not Stripped, but it’s good. First single ‘Ain’t No Other Man’ struts four-inch stillettos over the parquet flooring, ‘Slow Down Baby’ cleverly turns the boy-wants-girl scenario on its head, and ‘Nasty Naughty Boy’ is, yes, teen porn for the masses; I quote: “gimme a little taste / put your icing on my cake”. Consistently sassy and sometimes downright sexy, Aguilera pouts, preens and warbles it up when necessary with a voice that can cause a few tingles up the spine. Witness the use of her lower register on ‘Oh Mother’, another in a long line of tributes to her hard-done-by parent, or the cod-gospel ‘Makes Me Wanna Pray’, which gives a hefty nod to Christina’s real idol, Guy Ritchie’s ball and chain.

There’s a very, very good single CD in here. E-mail me and I’ll give you a listing. In the meantime, I wish Aguilera didn’t feel the need to keep proving herself. She’s admired for her strength, even by music fans such as myself who wouldn’t normally listen to this genre. She’s got a good voice and a good business brain. She’s got a husband and money in the bank and she looks good. If she’s smart enough, she’ll turn all that into a career, with or without the enforced endorsement of past kings and queens of the Billboard charts. Ignore the hype. If you want Back To Basics in your collection, buy it because it’s her.

Paul Woodgate 
originally published September 17th, 2006

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AIDS Wolf
The Lovvers LP ••½
Lovepump United / Skin Graft

Dissonance can refer to many things; in psychology, it represents a state of mental conflict, in poetry it implies a combination of sounds that clash, and in music it’s a harmony, chord or interval that is unstable and unharmonised. In all instances, it represents something that is conflicting, and dissonant is the ideal adjective for which to characterise The Lovvers LP.

There is always an element of novelty when musicians reject the conventional verse-chorus-verse paradigm, and even more so when they also discard melody, euphony and a tuning pedal. But for AIDS Wolf, this is all according to plan. The raw cacophony that calls itself The Lovvers LP isn’t the result of a badly made album or maladroit musicians, it is the album’s contrived musical premise. As if pulling out random chords from a surrealist’s hat, there is little order to be found here. With the exception of the 12-minute epic ‘Some Sexual Drawings’, every song lasts less than two minutes, and, as a result, many of them seem unfinished and lost in their own self-perpetuating chaos.

‘Special Deluxe’, as singer Chloe Lum is known, along with bandmates ‘Hiroshima Thunder’, ‘Barbarian Destroyer’ and ‘Him, the Maji’ comprise this noisy foursome who would describe themselves as a commingling of noise and rock. Lum and Thunder (aka Yannick Desranleau to his mum) are the creators of the highly popular Montreal poster design shop Serigraphie Populaire, or Seripop, and the column inches afforded to their art in the band’s press is nearly equal to the attention afforded to the music. While the cover art of The Lovvers LP is certainly interesting enough, it is really the naked photograph of the band on the inside that fascinates. Scrawled next to it in the bottom corner are the words “Stay freeeee dudes”. Perhaps this is a proposal, or a warning, to open your mind and allow the soundtrack of your nightmares to manifest itself, because once you’re done with The Lovvers LP, you’re going to need some time for mental recovery.

AIDS Wolf macerates our senses and our wits. ‘Chinese Roulette’ is a series of scraping, screechy high notes superimposed over declining scales and frenzied drums where the only audible lyric is, appropriately, “flinch”. ‘We Multiply’ is a perplexing battle of guitars where Lum’s howling vocals are once again needlessly drowned out. Both ‘Opposing Walls’ and ‘Spit Tastes Like Metal’ feature frantic needling guitars that, at high volume, may well induce involuntary eye spasms. Rescuing the album from bleeding ear oblivion are ‘Pantymind’ and ‘Vampire King’; the former’s catchy riffs explode into a chaotic sea of noise and are complimented by delicate clanging cymbals, while the latter is packed with fun and sharply pointed chords that slowly dissolve into solemn madness and disarray.

The Lovvers LP is a dizzying whirlwind of noises that give you the sensation of stumbling through a dysfunctional house of magic mirrors in the circus that, post-AIDS Wolf, could well be your own mind. Whether intentional or not, the amalgamation of repetitious needling notes, confusing, chaotic time signatures, eruptions of clamour and incomprehensible vocals leave the listener with a feeling of deficiency. Certainly, the album is made to appeal to only a very select audience, and there are some very interesting musical ideas here and much to be said about the aesthetic statement the band is making. However, as a musical work it is strenuous to endure, let alone take pleasure in. It seems AIDS Wolf still has a way to go before affirming a musical expression that is truly equal to their artistic one. The Lovvers LP is a mad conductor knocking at your door; for many, the only escape lays in the ‘STOP’ button.

Lisa Komorowska 
originally published May 1st, 2006

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All About Eve
Keepsakes: A Collection •••½ 
Mercury

It is a universally acknowledged truth that a record company in possession of a good back catalogue must be in want of a career-spanning ‘best of’ compilation. All too often the process of compiling such a package bears all the hallmarks of a minor Jane Austen character’s courtship – more to do with expedience, contractual obligations and financial security than any great level of passion. The formula is well established; gather together all of the hits, sprinkle in a few album tracks and bung on a couple of songs that weren’t really good enough even for B-sides, labelling the latter as ‘previously unreleased’ to ensure the established fans will buy in to the party. Exceptions to this rule are few and far between. Fortunately, Keepsakes happens to be one of them.

Credit for this is down to All About Eve frontwoman Julianne Regan’s determination to make it more than a mercenary exercise. Consulting the fans on the band’s official website unlocked the power of informed opinions and interesting choices, all of which make Keepsakes a worthy addition to the band’s canon. This double-disc set follows the band’s career in chronological order, and all the expected hits are here. However, there’s still plenty to engage the hardcore fan. In some cases, the obvious choices are made more interesting by choosing a rare extended 12″ mix – such as for the opener ‘Flowers In Our Hair’. Elsewhere there are live recordings or radio sessions alongside modern reworkings.

CD1 blankets the band’s early years and their most commercially successful phase. Cherry-picking tracks from their eponymous 1988 debut and the excellent follow-up, Scarlet & Other Stories, it serves to demonstrate what a good band they were and how sadly underrated they’ve been. Certainly, there are depths to All About Eve beyond the hauntingly beautiful acoustic compilation staple, ‘Martha’s Harbour’. Their songs retain a certain timeless quality, making them as accessible to new listeners today as they were when first released nearly 20 years ago. Of course there are sonic elements that peg them to the late 1980s – heavily chorused guitars, big gated reverbs on the snares – but the strength of the songwriting and Regan’s never less than heavenly vocals lifts them beyond that.

Actually, it’s hard to praise the quality of Regan’s pure, clear singing highly enough. In interviews she has often referred to her diffidence towards live performance and her struggles with stage fright; however, the live tracks included here belie any timidness, showing them to be an impressive live act, capable of rocking far beyond their twee Goth-folkie stereotype. The second disc launches with ‘Farewell Mr Sorrow’, marking a watershed in the band’s history – the departure of founder member, guitarist Tim Bricheno, who was replaced by Marty Willson-Piper from The Church. The change in personnel was accompanied by an altered sound that shifted towards a more commercial, pre-Madchester indie-pop.

The songs from 1991’s Touched By Jesus show a record label-encouraged move away from folky acoustic noodlings towards a harder, electric feel. Although not a huge commercial success, it did produce some dividends. ‘Farewell Mr Sorrow’, a stinging riposte to Regan’s former guitarist/lover, remains a perfect slice of jangle-pop that, if justice were served, should be hailed alongside contemporary songs by The La’s et al. There is much to admire from this section of All About Eve’s history, particularly ‘Wishing The Hours Away’, which benefits from a liberal sprinkling of Dave Gilmour’s unmistakable guitar sound. Ironic, then, that the band’s subsequent move to a more psychedelic, electro-tinged sound on 1992’s Ultraviolet is marked by a previously unreleased version of Pink Floyd’s classic, ‘See Emily Play’. Even here, though, the chord structures, guitar sounds and Regan’s always-beautiful voice retain the band’s hallmark.

The album closes with 2004’s abortive comeback single ‘Let Me Go Home’ and two new tracks, ‘Keepsakes’ and ‘Raindrops’, that fittingly avoid any foolish attempt to rehash their early days. All in all, Keepsakes is an effective summary, full of gems for casual and avid listeners alike. Also available is a limited edition run containing an additional DVD with videos of all the band’s singles and a range of live/TV studio appearances, including the famous ‘Top Of The Pops’ taping of ‘Martha’s Harbour’ where no one thinks to cue in the band or provide them with music to mime to – oops! Despite a muddy sound quality that betrays the age of these films they make a satisfying addition to the CD and are guaranteed to bring out the inner pre-Raphaelite in anyone.

Trevor Raggatt
originally published May 24th, 2006 

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Lily Allen
Alright, Still •••••
EMI

With her debut album Alright, Still Lily Allen has officially established herself as the Queen of London. She may be Keith Allen’s daughter (and so unavoidably categorised alongside fellow ‘fame borrowers’ Peaches Geldof, Lizzie Jagger and Kelly Osbourne) but it’s her personable character and musical talent that has propelled her album to the top of the charts. She’s genre defying: indie kids love her, mainstream listeners fight over her gig tickets and even the Queen invites her to parties. She isn’t unbearably considerate or inconsiderate about bad reviews and she doesn’t let fame go to her head. After all, she’s been wearing the same Reebok trainers for the past year. Neither does she succumb to the pressures of being an admired female; ‘Everything’s Just Wonderful’ may seem as though she’s contemplating weight loss, but just one look at her downing beer and chain smoking onstage tells us she’s too strong to give in to societal pressures. In every sense she keeps it 4 REAL.

Throughout the album Allen’s Lahndan accent is paraded both loudly and proudly, causing a certain amount of controversy in the process with critics claiming she’s copying the likes of The Streets. Truth is, Allen is simply one of the first female artists to tackle the chav culture head on. She is also one of the few young artists unafraid to give a very blunt, honest and not-dictated-by-management opinion on everyone and everything she meets. Who needs songs about old news like Top Shop girls and binge drinking when you have a witty, spectacularly real lady singing about embracing the ‘bad’ side of London (‘LDN’) and her little brother smoking dope (‘Alfie’)?

Trading on Allen’s unflinching brutal honesty is the album’s major selling point. She’s verbally attacked practically everyone she’s met along the way to the top: she’s waged a war with Girls Aloud, claimed (probably justifiably) that ex-Libertine Carl Barat is an egotist and, hilariously, spat on Peaches Geldof’s shoes. Yet, in spite of all her newly acquired enemies and their apparent popularity among the youth of Britain, Alright, Still has been an unqualified success story. Why? Because kids wanted some spokesperson, male or female, that did all of these things. Everyone has a little red devil on his or her shoulder, whispering that the girl on stage wearing Gucci thinks she’s it but equally thinks that she’s part of every culture within the gates of London. With her reggae, pop and R’n’B routes Lily successfully asserts her point of view and generally mouths off. Bravo! She could spit on my shoes any day.

Tiffany Daniels
previously unpublished 

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Annie
Live at the Magnet Club, Berlin •••½
October 26th, 2005

Annie is an odd ‘un. On one hand, she’s been proclaimed by many to be the saviour of modern pop, with this year’s kitsch electro debut, Anniemal, receiving widespread broadsheet acclaim. On the other hand, she has yet to appear on Top Of The Pops, she writes her own material, runs her own club night in Bergen, Norway, and, when playing live, finds herself on stages more accustomed to unwashed indie sorts, rather than the aircraft hanger-like arenas of her pop princess peers. Add to that the fact that her Richard X-produced single, ‘Chewing Gum’, is a favourite in the cool London indie clubs like Trash and White Heat, and it’s clear she’s no Rachel Stevens.

With her album hitting the German shops in September, almost six months after its release in the UK (where it has yet to make an impact), Annie made a trip to the country as part of the ‘Monsters of Spex’ tour with Danish punk-funk newcomers, WhoMadeWho, for the influential leftfield music magazine, Spex. Despite having released her first single, ‘The Greatest Hit’, in 1999, it wasn’t until this year that Annie has begun to play live. At first, so uncomfortable was she with being on stage that she would sing from the DJ booth. However, by the time the tour touched down in Berlin, she was dancing and singing like a bona fide popstar on the Magnet Club’s tiny stage. But there was no suspended-in-air entrance – she arrived from under a banner strewn over the headline act’s drum kit – and there were no dancers. Only her longtime collaborator Timo, playing with keys and samples, and an aging rock guitarist joined her. None of the trappings were needed in the end; Annie utterly inhabited the space. Charismatic and involving, she often made eye contact with the dancing front row fans and smiling, pointing her fingers as though she was playing a stadium and giggling at her own mistakes.

With a heavy cold straining her vocals and explosions of coughing between every song, the show was not especially polished, especially in light of the additional sound problems. But despite her obvious frustration, Annie duly proved her indie credentials by soldiering on in the face of hitches that would probably cause Madonna to throw the most embarrassing of tantrums. It’s a brave move, but more importantly, it left the crowd of curious music fans and determined Zeitgeist spotters with a warm fuzzy impression.

With new song ‘The Wedding’ (taken from her recently released DJ Kicks compilation) getting rapturous whoops and applause, it seems that Annie’s already formidable acclaim and support will only grow. The game of pop stardom is one of chance without that cynical major label backing, but Annie is good for a gamble. Global adulation and the iconic stature of her idol Debbie Harry is waiting in the wings, but for now it seems this pop idealist is happy to take the Earth one indie kid at a time, Vorsprung durch Musik.

Robbie de Santos
originally published December 19th, 2005 

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Fiona Apple
Extraordinary Machine ••••
SonyBMG

The birth of Fiona Apple’s third album follows what you might call a somewhat complicated pregnancy. If you were prone to brazen understatement, that is. Originally finished in the summer of 2003, already four years on from 1999’s attention-grabbing When The Pawn Hits The Conflict Blah Blah Blah…, the Jon Brion-produced originals were rejected by (quite possibly deaf) Sony executives because they couldn’t hear a single. So, rather than put faith in their already multi-platinum selling charge, the tapes were allegedly put in a box stamped ‘Don’t Open Ever, Or Else’ and locked in a big steel vault. Wisely, Brion leaked this information to the fans, who promptly drummed up an unprecedented protest and bombarded the suits at Sony with thousands of plastic apples, each bearing the name of an outraged signatory. Things became more curious when a leaked version of the album found its way into the hands of a radio programmer and subsequently onto the internet. Rumours then abounded that Apple had given up music altogether, but when Brion claimed that some of the leaked MP3s were not his originals, a rat was swiftly smelled.

As it turns out, Apple had sort of given up. In her own words, she was “sitting [on her sofa] watching Columbo in my bathrobe!”, but after the Free Fiona campaign filtered through to her, that famous fiery spirit reignited and the gears of Extraordinary Machine finally started to shift once more. Two new producers, Mike Elizondo (Eminem, Macy Gray, Nelly Furtado) and Brian Kehew (Beck, Air, Eleni Mandell), were brought in and the album underwent a near-complete reconstruction. Ultimately, despite a painful gestation that could have destroyed its cohesion, it’s a relief to find that the album delivers what it was always meant to – pure, unadulterated Apple.

With its odd rhythms and joyful tones, the utterly unique opener and title track spelunks along merrily and will knock flat anyone who still believes that Apple is some dark and tortured queen. Here, her vocals have grown thicker and loftier with age and she sounds, well, happier than ever. Fans of the leaked MP3s will recognise the hallmarks of Jon Brion’s production, the only other relic of which, ‘Waltz (Better Than Fine)’, rounds out the album in style. Of course, the angsty Apple of old is here too, and her highly publicised break-up with film director Paul Thomas Anderson is an obvious inspiration. The melancholic ‘Window’ positively drips with despair, while the fine first single ‘O’ Sailor’ is an archetypal breakup song that finds Apple lamenting with a maturity never before seen. In fact, it is the lyrical content that elevates Extraordinary Machine above her earlier work. Gone is the well-thumbed thesaurus-inspired, bloated teenage verse that pocked many of her previous songs. Apple is a woman now and rather than soak in her own sadness, she uses her words more strategically, battling the blows of a broken relationship with a logical finesse.

The beauty of having Extraordinary Machine out there in both its forms is that it should just about please everyone – fans have the liberty of cherry picking their favourite versions, be they the bold Brion originals or this stately, more considered collection that Apple herself is so proud of. Although it may not be the pinnacle of what she is capable of, the promise and ebullient sadness of these songs marks an impressive entry in the oeuvre of an artist quite extraordinary too.

Alan Pedder
originally published November 7th, 2005
 

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Asobi Seksu
Citrus ••••
Friendly Fire

Currently garnering lots of rave reviews in America and recently selling out a string of shows at the Bowery, Asobi Seksu are super hot property and most definitely in vogue. Never heard of them? Never fear! Here’s a few factoids for you: Asobi Seksu means ‘playful sex’ in colloquial Japanese; there’s four of them; frontwoman Yuki Chikudate sings in both English and Japanese; and the band’s 2004 self-titled debut earned them a reputation as modern-day shoegazers, a pigeonhole that they try hard to break out of on this rockier follow-up.

So keen are they to hammer this point home that their press release emphatically states that the band “have outgrown the comparisons to My Bloody Valentine and Lush”, but to these ears that’s not altogether the case. There are several parallels with Lush’s Lovelife in particular, but Asobi Seksu are more sonically and structurally adventurous and pack a more powerful and insistent punch, ratcheting up the noise level more than Lush ever did. Come the midpoint of ‘Red Sea’, for example, Mitch Spivak’s frenetic drumming and James Hannah’s guitars are creating such a maelstrom of curiously melodic noise that you wonder where on the earth the track can possibly go from there; the answer is into a plunging sea of reverb and feedback. Fantastic! ‘Exotic Animal Paradise’, on the other hand, is every bit as beautiful as its title would suggest, for the first two minutes at least, shimmering languidly and recalling Yo La Tengo at their most perfectly poppy before going off on a tangent with a sudden and exhilarating twist of manic energy.

Listeners not au fait with the Japanese language might find it a little more difficult to engage with some of the songs, but the impassioned soundscapes and squalling guitars carry more than enough emotional charge to render this minor concern practically irrelevant. ‘New Years’, for example, is one of the album’s highlights; a soaring wall of guitars is overtaken towards the end of the song by feedback that sucks in the sounds around it like a black hole, only for the melody to re-emerge even more powerfully. Even if you don’t understand what Chikudate is saying, her voice lends meaning to the words with vocals that are sweet but edged with a knowing tone, sometimes reminiscent of The Cardigans’ Nina Persson.

Citrus is very much an album for these times. If Asobi Seksu can be lumped in with the footwear fixated crowd, it’s only because they’re the most forward-looking shoegazers of 2006 – how’s that for a paradox? – and certainly not looking to retread the steps of their predecessors. Even if they were, you could guarantee that the shoes on their eight well-turned heels would be oh so terribly chic.

Danny Weddup
originally published March 7th, 2006

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Au Revoir Simone
Verses Of Comfort, Assurance & Salvation ••••
Moshi Moshi

Welcome to the keyboard overload of Erika, Annie and Heather, the three members of Au Revoir Simone. Or to put it another way, alight here for Super Casioworld. Maybe this is the future sound of Brooklyn, but more than likely it’s simply the audioscape for their private little world. Named after a tiny book of Biblical prose, this debut mini-album was recorded in a shower stall (converted into a vocal booth with the aid of a few handy quilts) in their manager’s basement apartment. Now if that doesn’t rack up the intrigue as to what it actually sounds like, maybe nothing will. So if you’re still with us, read on…

Lead track ‘Backyards Of Our Neighbours’ starts with a mere hiss of synth behind the sweetest voice imaginable as it sings about cherry trees and dreams come true. It’s the sound of having your cake and eating it, with a cherry on top and lashings of cream. Next up, ‘Hurricanes’ crackles and pops, while the singer struggles a little to keep up. It employs a ‘la la la’ chorus (always a surefire hit) before it hops, skips and changes tack completely – the music skitters while the vocalist intones, “this message is for all the people, the people who are always waiting”. There’s also a charming keyboard interlude, which may sound like an odd thing to say about a synth-based album, but the moment when things get stripped back and become even purer.

At this point, perhaps I should apologise for not picking out who sings what, but all three blend together so well that it’s difficult to distinguish between them. Whoever sings on ‘Disco Song’ makes a very good job of making the tune sound like something by Piney Gir, complimented by some lovely harmonies while the words “and you say” are buffeted from speaker to speaker to quite disorientating effect. ‘Where You Go’ proves to be a pivotal point. An interesting turn up for the books, it’s an icy slab of electro reminiscent of Ladytron, and marks the start of some ambitious moments where Au Revoir Simone break out of their self-imposed shackles. ‘Back In Time’ is a hushed, hymn-like mantra about not going over old ground, especially in relationships. ‘Winter Song’ couldn’t be more aptly titled, conjuring up images of snowbound scenes as it shuffles along. And ‘Sleep Al Mar’ is a sensual, Spanish-sounding tune that may well be about Mexican boys if I’m hearing things correctly. The slow synth blues of ‘Stay Golden’ wraps things up.

Three girls, as many keyboards, a drum machine and hand percussion. Bet you never thought that would work did you? But it does, beautifully.

Russell Barker
originally published March 7th, 2006