wears the trousers magazine


trouser press: björk, shirley manson and more

in today’s trouser press:
– Björk records new duet with Thom Yorke
– Shirley Manson wants women to rock more
– fans buy Kristin Hersh a new guitar
– Grace Jones wins Q award, gropes journalist
– more Peaches album news
– free Sia download 
– Katy Perry dishes the dirt on her preacher parents
– Janet Jackson back on the road after mystery illness 
– country women duet with Elvis, for Christmas!
– new advice-themed compilation features Jenny Owen Youngs and more

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Unless you’ve been hiding under a big ol’ rock all year, you’ll probably have heard about the huge push to raise awareness of the threatened Icelandic environment propelled by writer Andri Snær Magnason’s influential book ‘Dreamland: A Self-Help Manual For A Frightened Nation’ that reached its peak in July with the Náttúra concert, the largest musical event ever seen in Iceland. Or so we thought. A new peak may about to be scaled with the imminent release of a surprise new duet between Björk and Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke, also called ‘Náttúra’, on October 20th. Described as “more of a protest and rallying cry than a lecture”, the song “highlights a grass roots movement in Iceland to reclaim the country’s natural resources and wilderness from the hands of big business and pollution.”

That’s all the information we have at the moment, other than that the song will be released through Björk’s long-time label One Little Indian, and, obviously, that it’s the second time these two musical greats have traded lines, the first being on the Oscar-nominated ‘I’ve Seen It All’ from the Selmasongs soundtrack to Lars Von Trier’s Palme d’Or-winning ‘Dancer In The Dark’. Oh, and that we’re officially excited.

For more background on Iceland’s environmental woes, which presumably loom even larger in the light of the country’s near-bankruptcy, read what Björk had to say on the matter earlier this year.

* * *

She may be busy terminating miserable lives as a shapeshifting baddie in the new series of ‘The Sarah Connor Chronicles’ but Shirley Manson still has time to share her opinions on the current crop of female musicians. Speaking to MTV, she lamented the present lack of powerful women in rock.

“We’re in a conservative era,” she said. “My era was insane, and there hasn’t been an influx of that since. It really upsets me. All the women are expected to be cute and pretty and fun and as super-unthreatening as possible. There’s a place for gorgeous girls making cute music. People want that, they need that, and I’m all for it. But I’m scared by the imbalance in music. There aren’t any females portrayed in a particularly empowered position, and that really disappoints me.”

Reserving particular distaste for the Pussycat Dolls and a cautious word about Katy Perry, she added: “It’s time for young girls to come up and challenge who is sitting on the throne. We want to see the young blood. The youth. The vigor. It’s time for change.”

With regards to Shirley’s solo career, it’s still on the cards and she’s even talking about doing some low-key surprise live appearances with her new band, made up of various friends. “I’m excited,” she said. “I think it’ll be new and fresh for me. I just want to make a noise.”

Read the full article here.

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2007 reviews dump: q r

The following reviews were published on our old MySpace blog in 2007.

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Eddi Reader
Peacetime •••½
Rough Trade

Following 2003’s well-regarded Sings The Songs Of Robert Burns album, the newly MBE’d Eddi Reader continues to venture into deep folk waters on Peacetime. But while her previous album concentrated solely on the work of Scotland’s favourite son, Peacetime broadens its musical horizons to encompass some contemporary material, mixing traditional tunes (including a few more Burns compositions) with songs by the likes of Johnny Dillon, Declan O’Rourke and Trashcan Sinatras’ John Douglas, alongside original compositions by Reader and her long-time collaborator Boo Hewerdine. The result is an engaging and enjoyable album that mainly stays true to Reader’s intention to “inject some soul into the old songs”.

That Peacetime often resembles a Kate Rusby record in its arrangements and instrumentation should come as no surprise – the album was produced by the venerable John McCusker (Mr Rusby himself and a regular Reader collaborator for a number of years). The connections are particularly evident on the likes of the traditional ‘Mary & The Soldier’ and the sublime opener ‘Baron’s Heir’, a track that showcases Reader’s clear, lilting vocals at their best, caressing like honey an archetypal folk narrative of love and class. The wonderfully melancholy ‘Aye-Waukin-O’ is a highlight, as is the brass-augmented ‘The Shepherd’s Song’. Elsewhere, the lovely ‘Leezie Lindsay’ seamlessly weds Reader/Hewerdine-penned verses to a Burns chorus, ‘The Afton’ boasts strong harmonies, and hidden track ‘The Carlton Weaver’ closes the album on a rousing note.

Like Rusby, Reader has a tendency to prettify the darker aspects of folk music, opting for charm over gravitas and occasionally smoothing over the harder edges of the material, with the consequence that there are moments on Peacetime when you may wish for a little more bite and grit. Moreover, the mix of contemporary and traditional material is not always seamless: references to “CCTV cameras” (in Hewerdine’s ‘Muddy Water’) sound rather jarring in this context. Even so, Reader has produced a beguiling collection of songs that should appeal to a wide range of listeners.

Alex Ramon

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Rilo Kiley
Under The Blacklight •••½
WEA

Rock music fans can be a fickle bunch. One minute they’re declaring their undying adoration for some new band, the next said band have signed to a major label, released an allegedly less ‘edgy’ and more cynically ‘commercial’ album and said fans are falling over themselves in the rush to yell “sell out!” Typical, eh? It’s a familiar predicament, and one that Rilo Kiley now find themselves in with the release of Under The Blacklight. Having reached great heights of critical prestige with 2005’s much-adored More Adventurous and kept themselves busy with a variety of interesting side projects, the group have now reunited for their fourth album, only to be attacked by fans for producing a record which is allegedly too slick, too poppy and altogether less adventurous than their earlier work. How very dare they!

Are these accusations fair? Well, Under The Blacklight is undoubtedly a more overtly radio-friendly album than the group’s previous efforts and one that sees them moving away from spiky indie, or at least supplementing it with liberal amounts of pop, disco, dance and country-rock. But while the record seems destined to disappoint the band’s hardcore supporters, the good news is that it might well find them some new ones. For if Under The Blacklight possesses less guitar grunt than its predecessors, it’s also warmer, more immediately inviting and (whisper it) maybe a little less arch and pretentious than their previous work.

For those of us old enough to hold fond memories of Jenny Lewis as a winsome pre-teen actress in such epic motion picture masterpieces as ‘Troop Beverly Hills’ and ‘The Wizard’, her metamorphosis into charismatic indie chanteuse has a special appeal. Lewis retains an actress’s gift for phrasing and expression and her distinctive presence still accounts for a great part of the band’s power. But while there are several songs here that would have been perfectly at home on her solo debut Rabbit Fur Coat (most notably the infuriatingly catchy opener ‘Silver Lining’), Under The Blacklight doesn’t entirely play out like a star vehicle for the singer; whatever their internal wranglings, Rilo Kiley still sound like a cohesive unit.

The Fleetwood Mac comparisons which have surfaced in many reviews are apt, especially on the taut first single ‘The Moneymaker’ and the silky harmonies and seductive rhythms of the engaging title track. Other influences are also discernable: a trace of Blondie, a dash of The Bangles, even a touch of Heart. ‘Breakin’ Up’ is a nicely retro disco-fied anthem that finds Lewis cooing “Ooh, it feels good to be free!” While the majority of fans have balked at such flagrant excursions from the indie rock road map, this is clearly the sound of a band attempting to broaden their music intro fresh territory and having a lot of fun in the process. For the most part, the trademark acerbic Lewis/Sennett lyrics remain (“When you get sober will you get kinder? / ‘cos when you get uptight it’s such a drag”), and at its best the record achieves the not inconsiderable feat of sounding retro and thoroughly contemporary at the same time.

Unfortunately, the quality of the songs takes something of a dive after the consistently strong first half. Both ‘Dejalo’ (written in collaboration with Lewis’s boyfriend Jonathan Rice) and ‘15′ (an attempt at the character-driven narratives they’ve often been acclaimed for) feel forced and unconvincing, and closer ‘Give A Little Love’ is static and repetitious, failing to improve on its corny title. Nonetheless, despite its shortcomings, Under The Blacklight remains an enjoyable album and one that may prove a more enticing proposition to those who felt ambivalent about Rilo Kiley’s previous work. After all, smart, literate, female-fronted rock groups aren’t exactly common these days. This fact alone makes Under The Blacklight an album worth celebrating.

Alex Ramon

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LeAnn Rimes
Family ••
Curb

Despite her history of teenage power ballads, prematurely aged inspirational country pop crossovers and shoddy remixes the likes of which pack out the dancefloor in clubs where fake IDs secure a glut of alcopops for underage drinkers, I’ve always had bit of a soft spot for LeAnn Rimes. Don’t ask me what it is, I’ve never really liked her music, but I’ve liked her attitude to it. Switching from country to pop, alienating either audience by turn, she does what she wants, and as other teen pop stars have fallen prey to celebrity magazines, drug addiction and reality TV, Rimes has quietly continued to make the occasional inspirational country-pop crossover.

So I have always hoped that LeAnn would make an album that made me think “good on you girl, I knew you could”. And the news that Rimes has a writing credit on every track on Family filled me with curiosity and trepidation in equal measure. Excitement won out over both emotions when I first heard the lead single; ‘Nothing Better To Do’ is a rollicking bayou rock song more likely to appear on a Kings Of Leon album than on an establishment country album, and delivered with Rimes’s belting vocals it’s a breathless, clamouring triumph of a song. A tale of a bored girl going astray, one imagines that Rimes, who while maybe not squeakily so definitely seems clean, has not drawn on experience when writing this song, but when she purrs “hid deep in the Mississippi backwoods… / I had them wrestlin’ for my first kiss” you really believe that she did. With each listen the muddy vocals reveal another twist in a story of a girl’s unrepentant downfall at breakneck speed. I can listen to this song over and over again without tiring of it, and indeed I have.

So, naturally, I had high expectations of the rest of the album. And opening track ‘Family’ kept my hopes alive: another breakneck tale of dysfunctional southern relationships, this time of siblings struggling to hold it together when parents let them down. Rimes, who has sued her own father, might have more experience to draw on here, and the familiar country territory of personal struggles makes for a lively start. ‘Fight’ is a sturdy country break-up song that sees Rimes giving her formidable lungs a thorough airing. But the territory is much safer; this is the kind of song that could sit atop the country charts for weeks. And once she finds this safe ground, Rimes seems happy to stay there. ‘Good Friends & A Glass Of Wine’ is as dull as the title suggests – a galumphing tawdry party song to soundtrack a sorority sleepover at Alabama State Uni.

The rest of the content will go down a storm with the country fraternity. Guest slots from Bon Jovi and Reba McEntire add to the album’s mass appeal, and as the inspirational country-pop and lung-busting ballads rack up, your interest may well wane. For all that I have this soft spot for Rimes, most of the songs on this album could be by Trisha Yearwood, Reba McEntire, Faith Hill or any number of bland country darlings.

So, Family is a letdown. From a great start it rapidly deteriorates into dull mainstream conventions. But I haven’t given up on Rimes just yet; one day in the future, sat atop a pile of money and platinum discs she’ll decide to put that powerful and sometimes highly effective voice to much better use. In the meantime, I’ll just listen to ‘Nothing Better To Do’ on repeat until my neighbours complain.

Peter Hayward

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Carina Round
Slow Motion Addict •••½
Interscope

Here’s an idea that sounds great on paper. Take one ferociously talented but mystifyingly underachieving homegrown rock chick, fly her out to California and hook her up with the producer of Jagged Little Pill, then shut them in a studio for months and see what happens. Given the fact that the last time Glen Ballard tailored anything remotely astonishing was, um, well, it was Jagged Little Pill, that the results are somewhat mixed should come as little surprise. Since crashing onto the scene at the dawn of the millennium with mini-album The First Blood Mystery, Midlander Carina Round has asserted herself as a woman of vision and as a formidable performer. With an intensity to rival that of PJ Harvey (who is, unsurprisingly, a common comparator for Round’s particular brand of the blues) and a swooping, theatrical vocal style that’s vulnerable yet fierce, a wider audience than the small cult following she currently has is clearly deserved, and kudos to Carina for trying. Slow Motion Addict, her third release, sees her approach a more accessible sound, beefing up the hooks and glossing up her image.

Visceral is the ideal adjective here as Round recycles the attendant goth-chic images of burning and bleeding, poisons and wounds, twisting them to suit her purpose. But where once these motifs tied in with the rawness of the production, their impact on Slow Motion Addict is sometimes muddied. Things get off to an encouraging start with the pulsing, urgent ‘Stolen Car’ and the thrilling ‘How Many Times’, a terrifying plea to break the cycle of anguish and spiralling self-doubt, but things soon falter. Too many songs show remarkable promise only to fail to gel as they rage and thunder along, lacking that vital ingredient to elevate them from simply enjoyable to dangerously brilliant. Songs like the title track and ‘Ready To Confess’ could have been phenomenal, and that’s a great shame.

Then there’s the two that are outright duff. Round is better than ‘Take The Money’, a patently silly cautionary tale of glory seekers who go west in search of fortune that’s rescued only by an inventive use of vocals, a punchy male chorus and some addictive handclaps. Elsewhere, ‘Come To You’ makes for an excruciatingly poor choice for the album’s first single. It feels strangely plodding and dated. Worse still, it indulges Round’s vibrato a little too much, making a feature of the least attractive facet of her otherwise remarkable voice.

Round is at her best when the music broods and swells beneath her like an oil slick, its menace more in its suggestion of ill will than in its uncontainable threat. Songs like the hypnotic ‘Down Slow’, ‘The Disconnection’ and the Harvey-esque ‘January Heart’ (a song that, in parts at least, is reminiscent of ‘This Mess We’re In’ and ‘Beautiful Feeling’) are stunningly dark and unsettling. “It’s bound to come undone / but your body is so much fun,” she croons with delicious intent. It’s a real pity that some of the songs that pound and squall render her sounding as fearsome but neutered as a gummy, defanged Cerberus.

Ultimately, Slow Motion Addict suffers from the clear divide between Round’s visionary, unflinching art-rock writing and her desire to broaden her fanbase. She may well succeed in the latter, of course, and Wears The Trousers would love to see that happen. There are certainly better songs here than you would find on most commercial girl-rock albums; Round is worth at least a hundred Clarksons and Lavignes. Seen live, these songs will most likely blow your head off. As it stands, the album is a brave and bold portrait of the artist, just a little poorly hung.

Alan Pedder

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Kate Rusby
Awkward Annie ••••½
Pure

Don’t be misled by Kate Rusby’s recent flirtation with the charts in the company of grannies’ favourite and former Boyzone crooner, Ronan Keating. You’ll be pleased to know that she hasn’t sold her soul to filthy lucre – she’s still a true folkie at heart. Awkward Annie, her seventh solo album, confirms this unashamedly and with style, further cementing Rusby’s status as one of the UK’s finest vocal talents. Of course, as befits someone of her standing, Rusby has recruited the crème de la crème of the country’s folk instrumentalists, including three members of Capercaillie. Most notably perhaps are the guest appearances from Eddi Reader, who contributes backing vocals on three songs, and Nickel Creek’s Chris Thile, who lends his vocal and mandolin skills to two others.

As you might expect, Awkward Annie has a mix of original songs given an authentically folk feel, traditional numbers and half ‘n’ half songs were Rusby takes ancient words and sets them to new tunes. The hybrid approach works surprisingly well, particularly on the sparkling ‘The Old Man’ whose tongue-in-cheek girl power sentiment has a surprising amount of modern-day resonance. Of course, Thile’s inspired mandolin doesn’t hurt either. There are no duff tracks here; on each song, the honesty and purity of Rusby’s singing tugs at the heartstrings and it’s love all over again. Whether she’s delivering a new song, like the title track with its tale of a friendship stretched to extreme or the simple sentiment of ‘The Bitter Boy’, or familiar folk tunes like ‘Blooming Heather’ (known to many as ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’ or ‘Will Ye Go Lassie Go’) Rubsy’s straightforward but wonderfully crafted arrangements are a delight to the ears.

Saving the best ‘til last, the album closes with its pièce de résistance – a cover of the forgotten Kinks classic ‘The Village Green Preservation Society’. There weren’t many redeeming features of the Jennifer Saunders sitcom ‘Jam & Jerusalem’ but Rusby’s luminous rendering of the theme tune was one of them. Awkward Annie sees Rusby stepping up to the plate and yet again knocking expectations out of the ballpark; there’s no doubt that this will be one of the best folk-based albums you’ll hear this year. It’s been eight years since her second album Sleepless saw her filling the ‘credible folkie’ nomination slot of the Mercury Music Prize. Perhaps it’s time the committee gave her a second look. Regardless of whether they will, Awkward Annie positively demands your attention.

Trevor Raggatt