Teeth of the Sea are playing a birthday party.
I plead ignorance. I don't know who the birthday celebrant is, and I sure as shit can't see a cake. I'm standing in a mainly empty basement room at the foot of Stamford Hill, watching the best live band in London play, in their words or thereabouts, their 'worst gig in ages'.
It all falls apart somewhere around the third song. What went wrong? Sonically, fuck knows. One minute, they were thundering out the jawdropping psych[otic]-rock battlesound that's steadily drawn people to their standard since they emerged a few years ago. Next minute, they were still doing it, but guitarist Jimmy was on the floor trying to perform emergency surgery on a vast and apparently truculent pedalboard for nearly a whole song. No sign of the soundman. They played one more, and abandoned the stage in disgust. We can only assume the operation was a failure.
The thing is, you can watch a hundred bands a night in this city, and all their sets will go as planned. How many will do anything memorable? Four or five if you're lucky. IF you're lucky. When you watch a gang of musicians royally fuck it up, and still sound better than any of their competitors, it rather puts things in contrast.
Where other bands attempt and imitate and try to start scenes, TOTS actually convince. Teenage and twenty-something boys and girls are out there writing manifestos about what they're going to do, merely beginning to determine their influences, playing with possibilities, and that's as it should be - God forbid we encourage a creaking landscape of decrepit know-it-alls, where no-one's noticed or taken seriously til they've earned their stripes through decades of bitter slog and respectful library-building. Kids are the ones who should be making punk rock and reducing even younger kids to jelly, flinging stinkbombs and shrapnel at aged naysayers, and it wouldn't be awesome to see someone who's slaved at the coalface finally, finally break through and win everything they've ever dreamed of if that were the natural order of things, like some dutiful accountant collecting his company watch at the end of 25 years of service. But Teeth of the Sea walk it like their juniors can only talk it.
They'll release their third record soon enough, and the sound they have built these last few years is complex, giddy, wisely paced and heavy as hell. It's Giorgio Moroder clinging to the back of the behemoth, it's a troupe of mariachis summoning the valkyries... it's heraldic trumpets and thrashing stand-up drums, it's a guitarist who shreds like it's all he's ever been good for, it's a beckoning call from the off-world colonies; it's Doctor Who sound effects, comet swoops and sci-fi flashes. It's baffling. It's absolutely barmy. It's FUN. It's really, really fucking fun.
Over and above and laid down beneath it all, woven in and out of it, they create a groove into which every species of portentous idiocy/brilliance is successively, and successfully, installed. It snakes through the whole, focusing it and transforming even the creepiest sounds and most disconnected samples into a dance party. No irony here, no snarky references to the self-consciously uncool. The intent is real, smashed out with violence and conviction, unanchored drums trying to creep away unseen from the monstrous onslaught above them as they inch across the floor.
Too many bands have treated instruments and equivalent gear as toys, looking merely for a quirky sound, a wonk-footed stance, the cutely off-kilter. The time for this nonsense is done - death to twee, may it bleed out under a shower of knives. Teeth of the Sea have the guts to take this shit seriously, attacking with scope and creativity and malign, mesmerising force. They're not children, they know their references and have built sturdily upon them; I reckon between them these four dudes own thousands and thousands of records. But the old-time heroes and influences have the decency to know their place, to sit on their hands in the back row and let this quartet's own ideas and ambition command your attention. And when one thing goes wrong, integral as it is, the density of this sound betrays nothing until they do.
A couple of months ago, they had the Lexington in the palm of their hand, a sell-out crowd meeting their efforts with righteous praise. Now, on an off-chance, they're in a basement and it's all gone terribly wrong, but it's still magnificent - because they're magnificent. If you're in a band, go and see them, and see what you're doing wrong. If you think you're bored of music, go and see them, and see what you've been missing.
Wednesday, 15 May 2013
Teeth of the Sea are playing a birthday party.
Wednesday, 1 May 2013
I’m as guilty as the next person. Tonight I’m going to see Six By Seven at the Bull and Gate, beer-stained backdrop to my early adulthood (it closes this week, so a fond farewell ‘n’ that). A grinding drillbit of a band who I loved with every living fibre for their fury, their grating dissatisfaction and disgust and despair. A band who struggled and strained and tried and failed, a towering singer who terrorised interviewers and other bands, and then staggered and slurred drunkenly atop the stage of the venue I helped run a few years later, before splitting up in much acrimony and some ignominy.
They have reformed, whether because they never felt they made their point, or because Chris Olley isn’t done and will never be done, or because it’s what bands do now. In my heart I feel that the last reason is the least likely, but I have to admit that I’m doing the thing that everyone does now, which makes me mad as hell; paying money to see a band get some, fuck off for a bit and go again, rather than watching the bright explosion of something new. This is the age of reformation - every band now gets a second shot. Reunions are the new encores – inevitable and bullshit.
The PR juggernaut wasn't rumbled out for this one, Six By Seven just quietly started booking shows again, and Six By Seven, unjustifiably, never seemed to make a penny, so a moneyspinner it isn't. But how did we arrive at this point, where we’re not even questioning the music’s motivations, or the reason a band has formed to make this music, but the authenticity of their continued existence?
In the same week, Neutral Milk Hotel have announced that they’re going to play some reform shows, and the collective indie consciousness heralded the second coming, because nothing like this has ever happened before. I like their first and second records, and the second one, the one everyone cacks their keks over, is a brave, often brilliant, occasionally questionable, strange, funny and beautiful record. It was then and still is – it still exists, the original document, not some grim anniversary edition (please, please, no.) Ain’t that enough? Why do they need to reform?
Am I wrong to demand a degree of brutality? Line it up, take your shot, make your mark then fuck off out of the way, let the young blood step up for their turn. Demand that they in turn match their predecessors, soar above their achievements, and get to work in an industry that actually makes it worth them trying. The life cycle of the band now includes a new grace period before death; when a band say they’re splitting up - irreconcilable musical differences, pressures of life on the road, ill health, inability to write anything of worth anymore, whatever – what they now mean is they’re going into cryogenic stasis. They will be deep-frozen by their record label until such time as they can tolerate each other’s company again, at which point they will be reinjected into their tourbus and sent out to earn their keep again. It’s like when you break up with that sociopath who has ruined your life, slept with all your friends, emptied your bank account and run away with your dog – and your parents cluck and say, “I’m sure in time you two will figure things out and fix it.” It’s depressing and it’s wrong – and if you go back it says that you prefer the stifling comfort of the familiar to the possibility (you know, the one that got you here in the first place) of an adventure.
Bands! Have some self-recocking-spect. If you hate those bastards, if you ran your course, if you can't find another vital record in you – by which I mean, the kind of NEED TO BE MADE future maybe-masterpiece that made you take up musical arms in the first place - do us, and yourselves, a fucking favour. Don’t reform. Don’t reboot. Don’t play Koko or the Hammersmith Apollo or Brixton Academy. Don’t dutifully collect the cash for your label so they can rely on their alumni rather than the untapped talent they should be developing. Don’t take the handout and tell yourself it’s artistically justifiable. Take a stand instead. There are some abysmal young bands out there, and they need telling they’re abysmal so they can either stop being shit or do something else with their lives. There are also some couldbegood, potentially great, already staggering young bands who deserve not just a shot at the title, but the gestation period to grow worthy of it, to be that band who can inspire growing devotion and desperation from fans over six records, not just one premature indebted blurt of a debut. If you already bowed out, don’t backpedal just to set yourself up in competition against the young’uns – it’s just not fucking decent, man. You still wanna make music? Create something, find some new playmates, surprise us, give us revelation, not the fucking reunion show. Remember that feeling?
Because otherwise, you might as well just admit you don’t think there’s any more music to be made; you’ve got nothing fresh to say, and the gangs of young hopefuls with ideas to impart – all those thousands of kids in garages and bedrooms, attempting to make sense of the world in their own way rather than just absorbing yours, aren’t worth a damn, certainly not the record company’s money and time. And if that’s what you think, then you don’t deserve the fans that’ll pay to see you second time around.
There are exceptions. MBV are allowed to do it, because they never actually split up, Kevin Shields just went away for a very very long think, as is his wont, and what he came back with justified the wait. Faith No More are allowed because between their implosion and resurrection Mike Patton went and did all sorts of shit that ranged from the brilliant to the brilliantly baffling, and their live show does actually feel like a unabashed “class of 1992” reunion party, not a weakly justified attempt at defibrillating their careers. But fuck off Soundgarden, Neutral Milk Hotel (yeah, you heard), At the Drive In, Afghan Whigs (it hurts me to write that but rules is rules), Suede, The Postal Service (they can fuck off the first time round too). Fuck off Elastica, before you even think of reattempting it – actually, I liked your second record, and admittedly you were ahead of the present curve on the whole reunion game. But you’ve had your turn once and again, so don’t you dare come back for a third round. Fuck off Don’t Look Back, the ATP banner that has had a lot to do with this bad legacy, brought us to this musical “end of history” point, fans burbling excitedly about this week's reunion rather than new records or some unknown band in a back room in Putney who handed them their arses the night before. All of these bands; stop. Your industry is a false one, designed to wring more money out of a photocopy when, if you are artists at all, you should be writing the unwritten.
Oh, but the live show – bands you never got to see, finally playing for your delight like well-paid dancing monkeys – tough shit. That’s half the game, aching for bands just slightly before your time, waiting for your own turn, your own generation of heroes and invention, falling passionately upon the bands that arrive to set your imagination on fire, to the disgust of the olds who talk about who they’ve ripped off. You love 'em, right? See them while you can, and accept that nothing does or should last forever, least of all the quixotic and unstable union of a handful of kids with songs in their heads and urgency in their hearts.
I’ve paid my money to see some of these shows, and some were great, and some were a pointless endeavour that left me feeling as stupid as I absolutely should have done, because either way I was pissing away money on a dumb revival when I could have been buying records from the first time round or seeing a new group of adventurers take their first steps, fuck up, figure it out, all the thrilling shit that makes you follow young musicians in the first place, the ‘will they make it’ game, the hope you invest in your new idols and the bitterness if they fail (or worse, if they succeed but lose the spark of brilliance along the way). This is the story that we music fans all engage with, and the reunion culture makes an ugly mockery of it.
Don’t Look Back? You’re damn right.
Thursday, 31 January 2013
A woman boarded the Northern Line at Balham one evening, and settled into her seat. As the train rumbled toward central London, she pulled out her makeup bag and, peering into a small mirror, began to pat foundation onto her skin. One by one, as her skin absorbed the colour she applied, the men around her began to convulse, arrest and drop down dead beneath their seats. The woman stepped off the train at Camden Town, radiant, leaving a pile of dead bodies in her wake.
A friend of a friend opined on Facebook today that few things offend him more than women putting on their make-up on the train. I've heard this before (and it seems to be men that it annoys, rather than other women) and so this morning I canvassed some opinions on it. What is it about it that winds people up so much though? Unless it's something pongy like nail polish, surely it doesn't actually affect anyone other than the cosmetic-wearer herself? Yet it seems to provoke such ire, and it confuses the hell out of me.
Some put it down to an old-fashioned sense that one should just do one's grooming at home; that there's something inherently vulgar and indiscreet about making one's preparations in public. To that, I'd retort that if that's the most vulgar thing people are likely to see all day, they're doing bloody well; I can't see how it even compares to men (or women!) weeing in doorways or people getting fuckeyed and hurling across the street or the tube platform. I see those things every week in London, and I rarely hear many folks actually complaining about it - yet there seems to be something about the public application of concealer that really needles people. If someone's plucking their eyebrows (or nose hair...!) or clipping their nails in public, they'll be leaving residue about the place, and that's just not cricket - no-one wants to park their arse in a pile of fingernail clippings. But unless she has the hand-eye co-ordination of a toddler on a trampoline, make-up leaves no trace except on the wearer.
Another popular whinge is 'she should have gotten up earlier and done it before she left the house' - this hot indignation that someone has chosen to manage their time in such a way that they can sneak 15 minutes extra in bed, and do their final prep on the train before appearing at work looking fresh and composed. Jealousy, is it? It seems to me absolutely no-one else's business how anyone manages their time, unless it actually affects the people around them. I'll react sharply to anyone impertinent enough to suggest that I should have left more time at home to do it; maybe I'm coming straight from work. Maybe the electricity failed at home and there's no light. Maybe a giant panda ate my house before starting on next door. Maybe......it's none of your business and I don't owe anyone else excuses.
Or perhaps it has more to do with the notion that a woman should ensure she's presentable before she leaves the house and inflicts herself on the world. Why? Will men turn to stone or projectile vomit at the sight of a woman without a protective layer of slap hiding her pores? Or is there something unsettling for some folks, seeing women apply that layer in front of them?
I think this latter suggestion is closer to the truth. The kind of men that are honestly offended by it don't want to see women demystified before their eyes. We are, apparently to some, still meant to be pretty, flawless (blow-up) dolls. But it has no basis in logic. Chaps! Have you ever had a girlfriend? Have you ever sat and enjoyed a cup of tea while, beside you, she puts on her make-up for the day? So...you know what she looks like without make-up then? Here's a secret: lots of women look like that without make-up. Women don't have a duty to be beautiful in the first place; in this here century we don't have to preserve our reputations by winching in our real figures with girdles and corsets any longer, unless we want to, and nor do we have to wear make-up at all (funny how it's gone from the being regarded as whores' facepaint to something the media pushes us to wear for dignity's sake) - we get the choice to present ourselves however we wish, much to the noisy chagrin of misogynists, magazine editors and pre-feminist dinosaurs everywhere. Many do choose to wear it, and the world keeps turning. Love and romance and attraction and all the hokey shit that makes people have babies and carry on this argumentative species won't grind to a halt if men see how women make themselves prettier. We aren't goddesses, and this isn't illusive Oz; a woman darkening her eyelashes on a train is just that, no more or less.
There's a lot of talk at the moment about the fetishisation of women's looks (from the ugly furore that surrounded Mary Beard recently, to the Onion's razor-tongued skit on the objectification of women - Teenage Girl Blossoming Into Beautiful Object) and frankly we can't win; we're either wild-haired, unpresentable toads or stupid sluts who'll get what's coming to them. This bitter logic forgets that, actually, we can look however we goddamn want to - and we'll go about our business regardless of the hateful comments of small-minded mouth-breathers who let down awesome men everywhere. Dudes who loudly demand that women sport the "natural look" are plying a special brand of bullshit, because they don't really want to see a girl's spots, they want a perfect girl-next-door cliché. You don't want a woman to stop wasting her time wearing make-up, you just don't want her to apply it on your time. Tough tits - your time and our time have nothing to do with each other, because if you're whinging about a woman on a train she's probably someone you have nothing to do with. We aren't illusions or Athena poster girls, we're people who sometimes run out of time getting ready to go out, and if we can manage to apply a well-practised straight line across our eyelids on a moving train, I don't see what business it is of anyone else's. When was the last time a woman spilled a full bottle of foundation across your lap on the 38 bus?
There's nothing disgusting or offensive about a woman applying make up in public. If it offends you that much, divert your attention elsewhere - she'd probably rather you weren't staring at her in the first place.
Thursday, 24 January 2013
One thing strikes me amongst all of this arguing about the misogyny directed towards Professor Mary Beard and her strident and composed response to it; everyone's got so het up about the internet abuse that followed her QT appearance, that no-one's talking about what she actually said on Question Time.
Which is exactly what the bullies want.
Isn't the whole point of shouting someone down, abusing their looks or character and trying to hurt them, to shut them up? To shut down a discussion they don't like? You beat someone back into their corner in the hope that they won't be pert or strong enough to spring back up and continue to assert their thoughts. You see it in the playground as a child, and across Twitter on a daily basis, and in extreme scenarios like women who are subjected to physical violence to keep them in their place, be they wives in any country in the world with abusive husbands, or Malala Yousefzai, whose bullies were so scared of a child defending her beliefs that they thought shooting her in the head was a proportionate way to deal with the situation.
This week's trolls didn't like what Mary Beard had to say. But instead of combating it with fair argument and reasoned responses, they opted for "Well, NER, you're ugly, so there" sophistication and sexual threats (baffling, considering their stance on her looks, but let's remember, rape [real or threatened] is about power, not attraction - moreover, these people are idiots). In the wake of that, some have praised her for standing up to them, while others (women, no less!) have, missing the point somewhat, suggested that she's letting herself down by whinging about it something as insignificant as violent verbal misogny.
I'm immensely pleased that Mary has had the grace and guts to defend herself in the manner that she has. Her combination of personal unflappability and a frank refusal to accept that women should face such misogyny is exactly what the situation merited. I refuse to accept that the kind of verbal abuse she has faced should be the inevitable consequence of an intelligent woman expressing her views on a television show, and the fastest way to stop it is for women to stand up for themselves when they encounter misogyny, and for the men in their lives to support them in doing so.
But let's take a moment to recall the points she actually made; her opinion was as valid as anyone else's on that show, and for it to disappear under the mire of internet trolling and insults that had absolutely nothing to do with the televised discussion is wrong.
On the subject of a new ruling to allow Romanians and Bulgarians free movement within the EU, she spoke about a report by by Boston Borough Council on economic migration in the area, and said that it was a myth that the economic migrants in Boston, Lincolnshire, were overrunning the town. She suggested that they were actually benefiting the borough, and that local public services could cope with the incoming migrants.
And just so it's clear; in reposting what she said, I'm not registering my agreement or disagreement. My point is simply that, as an invited guest, she had as much right to contribute to the discussion, because unlike what her bullies loudly suggested, her looks have, again, absolutely nothing to do with the televised discussion.
Oh - and for what it's worth, I don't see anything wrong with Mary Beard's looks. Maybe it's irrelevant and even counter-productive to state that, but some of the defences I've seen for her have been, essentially, "she has the right to be ugly". That she does. But she isn't.
Monday, 17 December 2012
Some thought-provoking writing and responses here - NYR Blog - Our Moloch, by Garry Wills.
After a commenter drew parallels between those who seek gun regulation and those who seek freedom of choice for women on the abortion issue, accusing them of hypocrisy, another poster's response was so brilliant that I'd like to reproduce it here in full:
Interesting analogy you choose. Let's explore this further.
1) If given a choice between saving a refrigerator full of Petri dishes with frozen embryos or a 5-year-old, which would you choose? Remember -- if, as the anti-choicers say, life begins at conception, you cannot make any distinction between the two, so I hope you wouldn't let all the Petri babies die to save one other life that, by the very terms of the anti-choicers, is no more valuable than theirs.
2) Since pro-gun advocates always say that you cannot prevent anyone who really wants to get their hands on a weapon and therefore it is folly to regulate them, I presume we can apply this reasoning to the abortion debate (remember, abortion is still constitutionally protected under Roe v. Wade) and end the constant string of regulations that exist only to shame women, lie to them (i.e., bills that require telling women that they risk breast cancer or infertility through terminating pregnancies -- neither of which is true), etc. We definitely know that any woman who really wants to get an abortion will do it, so why make it illegal?
3) Since you say you respect life, may I assume you are working against the death penalty?"
On that note, I'd like to make a suggestion; while I know that in the US women are as free to buy and use guns as men are, and (I daresay) exercise that right, it seems to me that guns have historically been regarded as a typically male domain. Once, it was men that went to war and defended the homestead. Going out hunting (in the deerstalking, rather than the fox-hunting sense) still seems to be treated as a peculiarly male pastime (the rite of passage of a father taking his son hunting etc, or 'the guys' getting away for the weekend). And I can't help but feel part the defence for guns goes back to a sense of preserving an old-fashioned sense of masculinity - as though taking away a man's gun unmans him somehow. Do NRA members all imagine they're John Wayne?
Abortion and contraception, as we know, are treated as a women's issue, though they have huge ramifications for relationships and entire families. If these facts were reversed, I wonder what the political responses would be, particularly from the right. Would the American constitutional right to an abortion be so vehemently attacked if it was seen more as a men's issue, rather than a loose and over-generous freedom for all those slutty women? What if gun-toting had traditionally been more associated with women - would the right to bear arms be treated so reverentially?
Maybe I'm way off the mark with this but the thought's bothered me all day and the responses to this article brought it up again.
Saturday, 15 December 2012
It is staggering to me that, as 26 children and adults lie dead following another school shooting in the US, the response from some seems to be either that this might not have happened if teachers had been armed as well (!!). Or that the reason for this tragedy, according to Bryan Fischer, was not that the perpetrator was potentially deeply messed up in the head and fully able to acquire a gun to inflict his rage with, but that there's not enough focus on God in American schools. Brilliant.
If you're pro-gun-ownership, if you believe it should remain the constitutional right of every American to bear arms, and that this right outweighs the other laws of your constitution, you're entitled to your opinion. But in the immediate wake of these needless and irredeemable deaths, now is not the time to air this belief. Your opinion on this matter does not trump the grief of those who have lost, and the trauma of those who have witnessed so many deaths, fully unprepared for such horror. Rather, it insults everyone who is struggling to understand why, yet again, it has been possible for this to happen. There have been at least 62 mass shootings in America in the last three decades.
Gun ownership in the US is actually on the decrease, and long may that continue. As much as pro-ownership folks might like to claim otherwise, it seems obvious to me that the harder it is to access a gun, the less likely it is that these crimes will happen at such volume. The stats that chronicle mass shootings in the US are shocking. How about this: 24 in the last seven years.
"People who want guns will get them illegally if they can't get them legally", some cry. No - some people will. Others won't, because not every violent crime is a planned attack. So many are impulse crimes, motivated by fury or shock or jealousy or sheer mental breakdown, and if a gun isn't there to be reached for, the damage inflicted is likely to be so much less. Others might stop at the planning stage if getting a gun proves to be difficult enough. Not all, but the majority of guns used in these mass shootings were legally owned.
On the same tack, teenagers should not have access to guns. An acquaintance of mine told of his childhood at a US school, where there was a shooting range.
I was taught how to shoot guns in my liberal Oregon high school as a kid. The shooting range was underneath the school stage and the NRA handed out awards to all the kids like candy. One of those kids, Ken Janowski went on to shoot/kill his parents a year later. My senior year I had a gun pointed at me from a drunk pissed off kid within a 1/4 mile of the school. I have never seen a gun here in the UK other than on a few cops.
Kenneth Janowski was released in March 2012 after nearly 30 years in prison for the murders. He was 18 when he shot his parents, using a rifle obtained from a friend.
What teenager needs to be able to shoot or get a gun? If they wish to enter the army and use guns in defence of their country, they will be taught those skills when they enlist. Again, I'd suggest that a young man or woman who shoots up a school full of children potentially has something very psychiatrically wrong with them, which requires medical help. How can any pro-gun lobbyist argue that society and the constitution should make it anything but harder for someone so unstable to get hold of a gun?
Equally, those arguing that godlessness in schools is the problem are missing the point entirely. Hasn't thousands of years of history, including our bloody present times, shown us that religion doesn't defend against human violence? More often, it's used by the power-hungry as a political tool to control people and perpetrate and prolong violence, in the name of a 'higher purpose'. (Adam Curtis' The Power of Nightmares series is instructive on this point.) Religion should be preserved as a personal right, for those who feel strengthened and guided by it. But it should not be the framework around which our countries are governed or our children educated. And it certainly will not prevent someone in a murderous rage from obliterating those around him if the tools are close at hand to enable it.
It should be illegal to carry a gun unless your job requires that you do so. A gun should always, always be cause for alarm, because it's a machine that, at the click of a button, allows you to punch a hole through another human body from a distance. If you want to carry a gun to show that you can defend yourself or those you love, to show that you won't be bullied, then learn to fight and defend yourself using your hands and feet, not a machine that with one click can cause such senseless destruction.
Carrying a gun won't stop you getting shot, it won't stop a bullet in transit - it'll just mean you can shoot back. The more guns in circulation, the higher the death toll rises. The clearest way to bring gun crime down is to get as few people owning and using guns as possible, while addressing the social, personal or economic causes of these crimes.
Thursday, 29 November 2012
Ah, now this is fucking immense.
LA troupe Fidlar make really wickedly scuzzy, oldskool, surfy garage rock and roll. This has been done many a time, in disappointingly neutered fashion, by a veritable parade of would-be no-goods. This here, this is better. Much better. You do not get the impression these miscreants would fill onstage bottles of Jack with iced tea. They're self-denigrating and cut-throat, obnoxious but legitimately fucking fun. At their least interesting they sound like the Death Set, but elsewhere it's harder and faster and uglier.
They've been touring with the Hives and Jeff the Brotherhood, if that gives you an inkling to the kind of fun you're about to encounter. But unlike the Hives' cartoon punk or JTB's WOO! RIFFS! outlook, Fidlar's songs come with a bitter, serrated edge. Don't expect Proust - "I - DRINK - CHEAP - BEER - SO - WHAT - FUCK - YOU" is a sample of the wordsmithery employed by these dudes. But "White on White", above, is a compellingly nihilistic middle finger to the joy of being army drafted - the fast-and-fuck-you Stooges yell is the first thing you'll notice, but it gets a lot darker once you take in the words - a succinct account of a society drop-out being shoved overseas and out of the way to 'serve' his country.
Tuesday, 27 November 2012
You know the 90s revival is in full swing when singers start sounding like Sarah McLachlan again. Listening to the new Rebekka Karijord record. It's quite pretty, very melancholic, and if she's not wearing a long floaty dress and Doc Martens while singing this, then I've been lied to. This one's off the Norwegian singer's second LP. Maybe I sound a bit dismissive, but it's actually a beautiful record. I don't agree with the 'what a pioneer!' panting I've read about her though; the way she uses her vocals (melodramatic minor chords, great big tragic harmonies, vulnerable high notes and trills emerging from an obviously powerful voice, plenty of studio layering with lots of background aaaahs...) the soft, pensive piano... there's a thick streak of Lilith Fair running through the whole record. Familiar but certainly very listenable. She's got some UK dates in January, if this is your bag.
Wednesday, 7 November 2012
I'm floored by “The Lonesome Death of the One-Man Cabaret Act” by Sweetheart Contract.
I can’t write about it for my usual spots, as it’s too close to home for me to feel comfortable writing about with my journo hat on - I’ve always avoided reviewing friends’ bands etc. It’s really, REALLY good though.
Love the clattering, whipsmart psychobilly drums, love that whizzing guitar slide and the jittery riff, and of all their songs, this is the one where I think the vocals work the best - starting out sly and kinda predatory in the verses, before it rips into this wailing chorus howl that clutches at your throat then crumples to the floor.
You can hear country and rock n roll influences in there but at its core seems to be the kind of emotive, literate punk thing that Jimmy Eat World did so brilliantly - melodrama without absurdity, a convincing now-or-never urgency. Just awesome.
Saw them do it live last night at the Windmill supporting country singer Lydia Loveless, and it ripped the heart out of the room. And they were giving out cds with this song on for signing up to their mailing list, so now I have a copy. They’re supporting Lucero at the end of November… I’m there with bells on.
Thursday, 16 August 2012
Once upon a time, in a wintry land across the sea, there was a punk band. They lived as they died; blinding, brilliant, furious; a flash of nuclear light in the blackness; the multitudes who missed their passing felt the fallout for years to come.
Refused struggled to make an impact during their original tour of duty, coming up against criticism from all quarters; they didn't look enough like a punk band, they didn't move like one. They weren't interested in aping their forbears and making a fuck-ton of money; they wanted, they claimed, to take apart the system that disgusted them, to replace and totally sideline what passed for popular music. People missed the point and ignored the challenge. In a way, maybe they didn't translate precisely because they were /too/ easy to like. They were no blunt instrument; the anti-capitalist, reactionary, damn the man lyrics were married to squiggling basslines and an enviable, rude sense of rhythm that commanded you to DANCE, motherfucker. If you struggled with the basics of this, Lyxzen was only too happy to demonstrate, bodypopping and snaking across the stage. Fully punk in their sensibilities, they found themselves at war with the purists, and internally they struggled with the tug of war between their political raison d'etre and the reality of the music industry - not to mention their own inter-band conflicts. By the time they released their third record - the magnificent, unchained lifeforce of The Shape of Punk To Come - they were fed up.
So they split. A corrosive statement vowed that they would never reform or try to 'celebrate what was'; they were, they felt, part of the the problem, not the solution.
And yet, here we are. I'm smashed up against the barrier of Kentish Town's dingy Forum. A man who seems composed of 30% flesh, 25% blind faith and 45% sweat is wordlessly and rhythmically threatening to break my nose, his head swinging at me with every guitar stab. After chivalrously letting me in on the barrier, he spends the next half hour trying to shatter my ribs. This is the decade of reformation, and while it's no surprise that bands like Soundgarden and the Stone Roses have stepped up to enjoy the headline slot again, something weird is going on when firebrands like ATDI and Refused accept the gauntlet. The band who bypassed actual success and shot straight to mythology are right in front of us. Dennis Lyxzen, still wiry, still angry, still bearing a 'straightedge' inkbrand across his spine, is rocketing back and forth, robot-dancing, scaling Babel-towers he's built from up-ended monitors, walking on water through the sea of outstretched hands in front of him, and the fucker next to me is trying to kill me.
Who cares? What's played out in front of us is so fucking fast and fun and on the money that it brings back those teenage endurance levels - you know, like when you would stake out your place hours earlier and collect your barrier bruises, leaving the notion of the bar and the toilets to the less dedicated plebs who just didn't care enough. Because you knew it would be worth it. That sense of urgency floods back, and although Refused have broken their promise, although it's harder to trust in Lyxzen's fervent, black and white optimism, for one hour everyone with a functioning soul gives in to it again, and every chorus, missive and shouted call to arms alights the crowd. This is not a gig, it's a rally.
What are Refused's intentions now? What does the Refused Party Program entail in 2012? Is the mission still to take apart, reduce and destroy culture and replace it with pure, collective feeling? Are they just here to party? Are they going to make a new record? These things are not clear. They're not young men any longer, though they move like them. They must know that this can't play out the way they demanded it would in their 20s. The TV rights to the revolution were sold a long time ago, and popular culture is not about to bow to Refused, any more than it was the first time around. "Shitty band with an awesome plan"? Maybe in the end it was the other way around. But if Refused accept that what they do matters for less grandiose reasons, then maybe they'd accept that they're still the best punk band in the world.
Or maybe they already know that and maybe that's why they reformed; because they could. Because they knew that there is a generation of young and not-so-young men and women here that never got to see them rip the roof off. What they do has value, even if you strip away the professed political intent that shaped it in the first place. It has cultural value, because they're fucking incredible; they attack in fifteen minute raids, ripping the breath from your lungs as they burn through 'The Refused Party Program', 'Liberation Frequency' and 'Rather Be Dead'. Their timing is impeccable. It goes dark, you slump for a moment, wanting the onslaught to stop, then wanting it to start again and never stop - and it begins again. People, and writers, and bands, talk about the influence of Refused, the music that came after them, because of them. Of course they do; if it was anything like this first time around, of course it lit a fire under some creative arses - and this latecomer knows they probably burned twice this bright 20 years ago, albeit in significantly smaller venues. As angry as the words are, the music is joyous, inclusive and celebratory. These are not tired, angry punks, they're men with ideas who still want to dance - and they can dance better than you.
They have political value too, even if it's not the kind they originally aimed for. They still inspire; they make you feel young again, a vital tool in the fight against mediority and creeping irrelevence. No, it's not just you; no, you're not getting too old to demand something vivid and alive; you can ask for better. And tonight, Refused can provide it. If their sloganeering and their blissful, brilliant fury keep one person out of a shitty job at a bank, and in a studio or a laboratory or a disaster relief zone or anything else that feels like living and contributing, instead of just existing and administrating, they have done their job. Refused are not fucking dead.