Thursday, 16 December 2010

Christmas No.1: Cage Against the Machine?

John Cage was an avant-garde composer from the US who believed that every type of music, from classical to blues to pop, was of equal worth. In 1952 Cage wrote 4’33” and revelled in the controversy it created. His most famous orchestral piece, 4’33”, is a three-movement composition consisting of 273 seconds of silence.

Up until his death in 1992 Cage vehemently defended the piece against accusations of pretentious gimmickry. At a time when there were strict boundaries between ‘proper’ music and pop music created for the masses (sound familiar?), Cage simply wanted to produce a piece of ‘music’ that showed the equality of sound. In those three movements, for Cage, everything you hear can be interpreted as music.

So, it is this ‘song’ that has been tipped to do what Killing In The Name did last year: prevent Simon Cowell from scoring another Christmas No.1 via his X-Factor ‘conveyor belt’ of performers. And with its Facebook group attracting over 53 000 members, 4’33” may well succeed.

But those who say you should buy Cage’s ‘masterpiece’ in order to stop another ‘manufactured’ song becoming Christmas No.1 are missing the point.

The ‘manufactured pop artist vs. credible musician’ debate reeks of hypocrisy, seeing as they’re probably on the same record label anyway. Unless you only listen to music made in your pub down the road, you can hardly claim to be a purveyor of ‘real’ and ‘decent’ music. Every band on a record label is a commodity there to make the record label as much money as possible. In order to be a viable resource, some acts are splashed all over the tabloids, while others are dressed up in skinny-jeans and put on the front of NME.

Any sign of credibility in a non-mainstream band is an illusion. Rather than it being a case of hoping your favourite band doesn’t supply its music to an advertisement, it’s now an inevitability.  After hearing punk-funk-Marxists Gang Of Four’s Natural’s Not In It advertising for Xbox this month, it’s pretty clear that nothing is sacred.

The almost offensive irony in having a song that deals with Marx's theory of alienated labour advertising a computer console, with the lyrics, "The problem of leisure/What to do for pleasure/The body is good business/Sell out, maintain the interest", probably wasn't lost on the advertisers. It just goes to show that even the most unlikely of songs are now up for grabs to be sullied in the pursuit of maximum profit.

It doesn’t matter if its Wagner (the one who did Ride of the Valkyries) or Wagner (you know the one), it’s all part of the same machine. Once you accept it’s as much about the art as it is about the money, things become a lot simpler. Cage said, “Wherever we are, what we hear is mostly noise.  When we ignore it, it disturbs us.  When we listen to it, we find it fascinating”. Maybe music isn’t anything more than that.

So, you shouldn’t buy 4’33” because it is ever so smart and the X Factor is ever so vulgar. You should buy 4’33” because if you do, on the 19th of December at 18:55 on Radio 1, silence will engulf the nation and background noise will become the centrepiece. And that will be music to all our ears.

Join the Facebook group here:

Don’t forget to buy whichever song you deem worthy of the No.1 spot before December 19th

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Is Myspace’s vice-like grip on new music beginning to loosen?

The social benefits of Myspace died a long time ago when it became a hellhole of 12 years olds, people trying to sell you Macy’s handbags and fictional sexy ladies wanting to be your friend. But for most bands it’s still a compulsory requirement, like saying you’re influenced by The Velvet Underground or saying "We've all got really really eclectic music tastes". But Myspace is fading out, with some bands making the ballsy decision to forgo a page all together.

Never underestimate the connection between listener and band when said band has been discovered by chance. Cardiff-based band Islet understand this and so they shun Myspace. This is to try and generate a word of mouth following through the people who have seen them live. At their earlier gigs most audience members would be totally unaware of what they were going to hear, unable to find out what the band sounded like through Myspace. The thinking went that if they enjoyed the music, then they’d like it even more because it’d be a surprise to them. The method seems to have worked, with Islet attracting a fair amount of attention on the internet by virtue of the fact they weren’t trying to in the first place.

 Anyway, Myspace isn’t always a bands top friend. For one, it makes it too easy for people to formulate an opinion on the music before they’ve seen the band in real life. Alex from Islet explains the bonuses of surprise-tactics, “I think it’s a problem nowadays that we get to react to stuff in our own time. I think it’s good when someone shoves something in your face and says, ‘what are you gonna do?’ If not having a Myspace can make a couple of people feel that spark at a gig and think, ‘God, I had no idea about this’ then it’s worth it.”

Islet now have their own website where they occasionally host their songs. What’s the difference between this and having a Myspace? Well, the uniformity of the latter gives a sense of duplicity between bands that most would be keen to avoid. Full control over how many songs are shared and the layout of the site gives a band like Islet a streak of individuality that would be completely lacking on Myspace.

Hopefully we’ll see more bands reverting back to feverish gigging rather than Myspace plugging as the main way to develop a following. Rejoice! It’s no coincidence that the rise of Myspace and the invention of the term ‘landfill indie’ have happened at the same time. The best and most imaginative music comes from bands that’ve worked tirelessly on the road rather than on their Myspace page. You want proof? Listen to Islet.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

An Interview with Ira from Yeasayer

Bed-headed and sleepy eyed, Ira Wolf Tuton, bassist in alt-pop Brooklyn-ites Yeasayer, sprawls himself over a couch backstage of the 02 Academy in Newcastle. At the beginning, he regurgitates stuff he’s probably said hundreds of times before in interviews in response to my questions about playing bigger venues and how their live show has changed. “Bigger, I guess” he says in a monotone Baltimore drawl.

So I shift the conversation onto something less inane. Yeasayer make the majority of British bands seem lazy in terms of how many different styles of music they incorporate into their songs. Is this a conscious decision? He seems to wake up. “Wait…did you just say we make other bands seems lazy? (laughs)…well, it’s always a funny question.” You get asked it a lot? “Yeah. The thing is it’s always a conscious decision because it’s being created out of nothing. It’s not like someone is just holding a recorder to your head while you’re asleep. That being said, you have certain proclivities as a musician… we make these dense compositions with a lot of layering. What we haven’t touched on yet and which I might like to do is a sound that’s more minimal”.

‘Minimal’ certainly isn’t a word you would associate with Yeasayer. Their debut, All Hour Cymbals, was a deluge sounds from different genres and cultures. This year’s follow up, Odd Blood, pushed the pop melodies that previously ran underneath the songs into the forefront. A gamble, as going from experimental darlings to purveyors of pop could have easily come across as a cheap shot for record sales.

It soon becomes obvious that Yeasayer aren’t a calculating band, in that they don’t think about their audience very much. In a good way. Critics seemed to love Odd Blood because they were surprised at how well Yeasayer wrote brilliant, twisted pop songs. But for Yeasayer it was a forgone conclusion that their songs would come with hooks so big you could hang a coat off them: “We grew up in high school listening to pop music. When you’re an adolescence that’s what’s cool and it’s still cool.”

And Yeasayer aren’t the only new band around channeling huge pop acts from a few decades ago, referencing influences you wouldn’t normally associate with buzz-bands. Neon Indian and Sleigh Bells both cite Phil Collins, for one, as a major inspiration, incorporating the baldies knack for a pounding rhythm in their music. Anand (guitarist and singer) once said Yeasayer wanted to ‘trick people into liking really uncool music’.

But why isn’t the Collins effect so obvious in the up and coming U.K bands? “I think there’s a lot of bands in the UK and the UK music industry itself that are still way more obsessed with image than the US music industry is. And I’m not dissing any of my friends that are in bands from the UK.  But even through the prism of my own band I can see that the industry here and the press and the populist here is insanely obsessed with image.” Ira might have a point, as it seems the British press has chosen to portray Yeasayer as a hip band playing what is essentially uncool music. For Ira, Yeasayer are just doing what comes naturally.

At one point earlier this year Yeasayer were the most blogged about band in the world. “We held that honour!” Ira replies, with mock-smugness that suggests a deeper feeling of humbleness. How appreciative are you of bloggers? “They’ve pretty much given us our career. Without the internet and the speed which information is traded as a commodity, we couldn’t exist at any other time as a band.” They’re yet to have a standout ‘hit’ though and, despite the well-received albums, they remain on the periphery.

Which is exactly where Ira wants to be: “You want to control ‘hype’ as much as possible. I’m happy with burning slow and having a career. I don’t look at bands who are selling way more records than us and get jealous, I get interested. Success is alluring.” With an air of mystique, he adds, “Success can be confusing as to what it actually is…..”

But Yeasayer are more successful than maybe Ira realises. By refusing to stick to a particular formula, as a band they are free from the constraints of one assumed sound. More importantly, their fans seem open-minded enough to stay with them, whichever way they choose to go next. 

Thursday, 28 October 2010

A Gang of Four: Dum Dum Girls and the Lo-Fi Invasion

Dum Dum Girls are a four piece garage rock outfit from L.A. Their debut 'I Will Be' is indebted to feral rock bands like Iggy Pop & The Stooges and Jesus & The Mary Chain, but also the classic pop of 60's girl bands like The Ronettes. Blending these together the band create a sound which is much more than mere pastiche. Dee Dee, lead singer and songwriter, spoke to me about writing pop music in the 21st century and the lo-fi scene before their support slot for MGMT at Manchester Apollo.

You get a lot of praise for the mix of scuzzy guitars and strong melody in your songs – as a songwriter do you see yourself as primarilly writing pop songs with an edge, or garage rock songs with a hook?

Pop songs with the darker edge definitely. I write everything with an acoustic guitar and the melody comes first. It was a decision I made when I finally made enough songs to warrant recording them that I was like OK, this could sound like the Mama’s and Papa’s or it could sound like what I want to do now, which was something loud (laughs).

Do you think people are too dismissive of pop nowadays, in terms of the old-fashioned 3 minute pop songs that you grew up listening to? Is there a place in music now for bands trying to recreate those kind of songs?

I think we have a comfortable spot within a small scene that is very appreciative and enthusiastic about what we do. I always go back to the classic songs, like today we were listening to Tom Petty’s greatest hits and his songs are perfect pop songs. So I’m coming from that school of thought in terms of writing. He was hugely successful and massively popular so I think there’s still a big part of music that is based on the principles of a good pop song. But I’m never going to have a pop song that’s as insanely produced as someone like Lady Gaga.

The lo-fi sound is getting a lot of press on the web at the moment, are you wary of the pitfalls that exist for bands who get labeled in with a certain scene? 

I don’t want to be connected to a scene in the sense that it’s a finite sound that’s going to go out of favour, if it hasn’t already. For me I could never turn my back on the kids and the labels that were the first ones to hear me and who put out the 7” and the EPs, which were super noisy- partially intentional and partially because of my limited recording capabilities.

How did your sound change from your early demos to the songs on the album?

My concern when I recorded the first album was that I had all these demos that I’d done myself and I didn’t want to take too big a leap, I mean, switching from Captured Tracks (Brooklyn-based indie label) to Sub-Pop is almost offensive to some people (laughs). So what I decided was appropriate was to bring in a producer for some mixing and post-production help. I recently recorded an EP which is supposed to come out in the spring and that was yet another step forward. I’m hoping that I can carry those original supporters with me; we’ll have to see.

Your synchronized wardrobe echoes bands like The Ramones, giving a kind of gang look, as a band how much do you feel like a gang?

Completely. If anything it works as a self-confidence booster. That was something that I wanted. It’s definitely a weird thing to go up there and share something that I started just as a personal home recording project. So when we took it to this band level I wanted to have a unified look, not only to show to the people watching but to feel like we were a team.

The band name is a Vaselines and Iggy Pop reference, but is it also a statement about how you think women in bands tend to get portrayed in the music media, literally as dumb girls with nothing to say?

The name Dum Dum Girls is in no way serious- it’s sarcastic if anything. These are three of the smartest girls I know. I don’t know if the band name has helped or hurt us, but I’ve played and toured for many years prior to this band and I’ve definitely had the experience of being treated differently than to my male band mates. It is pretty strange to know that there’s a difference- like my sound guy, I have to ask him to ask for things which we need because we won’t get them. It’s most likely unintentional but it’s definitely weird. 

How important is it to you that Dum Dum Girls remain an all-female band?

It was intentional to have the band be all women, because I wanted to experience what it was like playing with women and because I was so extremely inspired by-all female bands. It was strange to learn about a songwriter like Ellie Grenich who was one of only a few female songwriters at a time when there were all these male songwriters and producers that were putting these girl-groups together. So it’s always been an interest of mine to have complete control and have nobody else telling us what to do. It’s really strange because we instantly get pitted against other girl-bands, it’s like “Dude we’re all friends”- you’d never compare MGMT and a band just because they were guys.

You channel a lot of bands from the past, but add your own original slant. How important do you think it is for a band to acknowledge their influences yet still be able to create something fresh and new?

I think it’s silly if bands don’t acknowledge their influences and it’s almost smarter to acknowledge them because people will always draw their own comparisons which won’t necessarily be true. I have no desire to be a retro or a throwback band and so I’m hypersensitive to that criticism. I just want to continue a tradition of rock ‘n’ roll that has been updated since its inception.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Ladycop + Cats & Cats & Cats at Fishtank, Durham 10.10.10

With a guitarist who plays like Johnny Greenwood and a vocalist who sings in a high-pitched wail very close to Thom Yorke’s, NYC’s Ladycop owe a hell of a lot to a certain Oxford five piece. It’s because of this unoriginality in their sound that makes listening to Ladycop at times akin to being in a 90’s alt-rock time-warp. Whether it’s the R.E.M style melodies or the fact many of the songs seem to be trying to recreate Smashing Pumpkins’ ‘1979’, you can’t shake the feeling that you’ve heard it all before.

Granted, they are a decent live band and songs like ‘Julien’ or ‘I Felt Just Like Anybody Else’ are far more aggressive and structurally interesting than most of those on, say, Radiohead’s debut. But Radiohead went on to perfect that sound with ‘The Bends’ and ‘OK Computer’, leaving Ladycop not much else to improve on. And even when Ladycop incorporate some electronic bleeps into their atmospheric but emotional alt-rock, like on ‘Idea Maker’, they still end up imitating Radiohead. Except new Radiohead.

Dressed in garments even Noel Edmonds would turn his nose up at and with a lead singer wearing what appears to be a tea cosy, it’s safe to say Cats & Cats & Cats don’t take themselves too seriously. The band begin with bursts of power chords and intense drumming, the kind of noise that makes a band look better than they sound. Generally there’s a section in each song where they show how fast they can play a chord and then stop playing it, which gets tedious. When the lead vocalist shouts “I’m not a singer” in one of the songs, you have to agree with him.

However the obvious folk influence runs through some of their songs adds an interesting slant to their otherwise standard emo-tinged rock. ‘A Boy Called Haunts’ has a grandiose sweeping (albeit pre-recorded) violin with a melody that gives some individuality to the song. But the band tends to rely too much on their, admittedly, sharp sense of rhythm and this isn’t enough to give the songs any sort of lasting impression. These Cats may end up in a pillowcase at the bottom of a canal before not too long.

(P.S Don’t let this put you off going out to see bands in Durham- a lot of people loved the gig and there’s some good bands around here at the moment)

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

"The thing I like about being in a band is that you get to indulge your silliest whims"

Islet are a four piece from Cardiff who have so far released two mini-albums, ‘Celebrate This Place’ and ‘Wiggy’. They sound like a post-rock version of Stomp conducted by Mark E. Smith, with a spirit of experimentalism and daring about them that is genuinely exciting. I spoke to band members JT and Alex before their gig at Nation Of Shopkeepers, Leeds, about why they aren’t a ‘supergroup’, the boredom of touring and their refusal to get a myspace.

The website two of your fans created for you after finding out you didn’t have a website has expired and is now advertising erectile dysfunction remedies and breast implant surgery- does this mean you’re finally going to get a myspace?

Alex: No way, is it really? Haha,  well we’ve got our own website now,
JT: Presumably their subscription ran out….

Are you gonna give them a bit of dosh to help it out?

Both: No way (laughs)

Have you ever met the guys that set it up?

Alex: We played this show in Swansea and it was really nice, they came up to us after this gig and were like, Oh how do we get in contact with you? And we said, well at the minute we haven’t got many things, we’ve got an email but that’s about it. And they said what, you don’t have a website? So they made one then and there in the venue. Within an hour they showed us and we were like, oh thanks. They asked if we wanted to run it but we were like, if we wanted to do it we’d do it ourselves, kind of thing, if you wanna keep it as a fansite though then that’s cool.

JT: We really appreciated it though.

Do you genuinely think it’s a more effective way of getting yourself heard to not have a myspace? I suppose people probably feel more of a connection to something they’ve come across by chance rather than getting told by someone or reading something.

Alex: Absolutely. The crux of it is that we want to get more of a word of mouth following. Sure you’re more likely to come across a band on myspace, but then again if a friend comes up to and says ‘I saw a band and they were well good’, you’re gonna remember that and maybe think about going to see them. It makes it more of a real experience. We’re trying to keep things in a more real space where people get an actual emotional response. It’s pretty difficult in a live gig not to feel something, whether it’s something negative or positive. It’s a reaction. I think it’s a problem nowadays that we get to react to stuff in our own time. I think it’s good when someone shoves something in your face and says, ‘what are you gonna do?’ If not having a myspace can make a couple of people feel that spark and go to a gig and think, ‘God, I had no idea about this’ then it’s worth it.
JT: With myspace, it’s all the same format.
Alex: It’s so easy to have your own website and your own formats and stuff like that. We can stream the whole of the first record, if we want to.

You get described as a Cardiff supergroup. How do you feel about that?

JT: We stay away from the word ‘supergroup’. We’ve played in loads of bands and stuff…
Alex: It just seems like such an ironic turn of phrase, cos everyone’s played in different bands and stuff. I started in a band when I was 13 but that doesn’t get mentioned.
JT: Jimi Hendrix covers….

Your songs shift between quite a few different styles of music- does everyone in the band have similar music tastes?

Alex: It’s quite eclectic. We all have similar ideas about music and how it should be done, but everyone’s specific takes on music are different.
JT: It’s like a crossover
Alex: It’s good because it makes the creative process a lot more interesting. One of us will come up with something that you’d never even think of.

People seem excited by you because not only are you quite an elusive band but the stuff you are doing seems to be very different to most of the stuff that’s around at the moment.

Alex: The thing I like about being in a band is that you get to indulge your silliest whims. I’ve no idea what we’re doing differently from other bands really.

How are you finding touring? They say the drummer is always the craziest member of any band, and you all seem to be drummers and some point, so is it a crazy tour van?

JT: We’re not particularly crazy (laughs), we’re quite responsible really….
Alex: JT and Mark do all the driving so we’re a kind of self-contained Scooby-Doo outfit.

Is touring actually quite boring then?

JT: (laughs) Well, it’s a really exciting story, you get to a place and the soundchecks at 6… and we’re here at three so you park somewhere for two hours, then you’ve drive round and find somewhere else… You do have to think about it, especially since it’s just the four of us, we’ve all got joint responsibilities.
Alex: Technically it sounds boring…..
JT: It’s loads of fun though

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Grinderman, Leeds University Refectory, 27.09.10

The aural equivalent to being spat on, support act The Hunter Gracchus subject a bemused audience to 15 minutes of improvised white noise. This consists of electric guitar and violin feedback, a dying saxophone and the old cliché, a wailing woman; if you're planning on butchering your family with a pick axe and want some appropriate music to do it to, this band is for you. Once the blood from a few audience member's ears is mopped up from off the floor, Grinderman take to the stage, playing material from their first album 'Grinderman' and their recently released follow up, 'Grinderman 2'. Nick Cave's capabilities as a frontman/singer/songwriter/general God amongst men have been well documented and any word from me is frankly unnecessary. But I'll carry on anyway.

Fulfilling his dream of playing the 'Leeds University Cafeteria', Cave prowls and spits across the few metres of stage that he has available to him, his raw and pounding outbursts covering everything from mythical beasts to Gardener's Question Time. Grinderman banish the subtleties of Cave's other long term band The Bad Seeds (of which all three members of Grinderman also belong to), washed away in a sea of sweat and filthy lyrics and even filthier bass lines. What the band lack in imagination for album titles they make up for in the relentless barrages of sexual frustration and ferociously aggressive guitars and drums that characterise the Grinderman sound.

Amid all this, 'Palaces of Montezuma's melodic conventionality stands out, a rolling drum and bass line flowing underneath Cave's ode to a lover that he'll give her, amongst other things, "the spinal cord of JFK, wrapped in Marilyn Monroe's negligee" in return for a bit of "precious love". It's this twisted romanticism that gives Grinderman their unique spirit, all clearly passionate men, but also all wonderfully unhinged. The acoustic 'What I Know' shows a vulnerability to Cave's voice some may have forgotten existed while 'Get It On', 'No Pussy Blues' and 'Bellringer Blues' all burn with trademark Cave fury. Each song is bolstered by Warren Ellis' vicious stabs at his comically small electric guitar and violin, creating a noise that grates and enthralls at the same time. "Oh won't somebody touch me?" Cave pleads during the hyperactive 'Honeybee (Let's Fly To Mars)'- but the man is untouchable.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

MGMT, Manchester Apollo, 26.09.10

MGMT's fanbase can be split into two distinct groups- those that enjoy the semi-psychedelic extended endings to their proggy songs and those that endure them so that they can hear 'Electric Feel', 'Time To Pretend' or 'Kids'. The trouble for MGMT lies in the fact that those willing to fork out the £20 to see them play live seem to fall into the latter group, while the psych-pop lovers stay at home, either spending their money on recreational drugs or listening to bands who have done what MGMT are trying to do but better (The Teardrop Explodes, Pink Floyd, Television Personalities). Ditching the sound of their three most successful singles to go down a more experimental road, it has turned out to be a one-way-street, with the band happier player more ambitious left-field songs but the crowd apathetic to each new song, providing only unconvincing applause in the hope they'll hear a familiar synth riff sometime soon. At times the passivity of the crowd is understandable as the shifting musical styles and half-baked melodies lack a direction and point. But MGMT are capable of some interesting moments, most of them contained in the drifting and atmospheric 12-minutes of 'Siberian Breaks'. Yet it all seems to wash over the audience and this doesn't pass the duo by, as keyboardist Ben Goldwasser deadpans to the crowd "Siberian Breaks is over, you can come back now".

During 'The Handshake' the indifference in the crowd turns to frustration as a beer is launched midway from the audience, connecting with the drummer. He hurls his drumsticks back into the crowd in retaliation and gives us the finger, leaving the stage. (It later appears in the news that it was apparently a glass filled with piss- maybe the first time MGMT have had such a clear piece of feedback from a 'fan' regarding their altered sound*). The band then run through 'Kids' and an acoustic 'Congratulations'. 'Kids' is performed as usual to a backing track and the duo dance around the stage to the adoration of the crowd- but the half-hearted hand gestures and constant glances between the two suggests an in-joke that the majority of the audience aren't in on. Could it be an in-joke borne out of the frustration of playing oddball psychedelic-pop-rock for an hour and a half to minimal response only to then press play on a recording and get the biggest reaction of the night for a single keyboard riff? During the encore one desperate fan shouted behind me, 'Don't fuck about lads, play Electric Feel!'. The sad thing being they'd already played it.

*Even later it appears that it wasn't piss after all and was in fact beer. 

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Erland & The Carnival, Brudenell Social Club, Leeds, 21.09.10

Sounding like The Kinks playing folk songs at a village fete organised by someone with a penchant for psychedelic drugs, Erland & The Carnival are an engrossing incarnation that borrow as much from old traditional British folk songs as they do from modern British rock. They sound much the same live as they do on record, except with added wig-outs (remember these are folk-rock wig-outs, so band members stay firmly rooted to the stage and no one goes particularly mental). It’s a satisfying sound, convincing you that the beardy men and women who wrote the folk songs that the band update really did have thumping drums and blasts of electric guitar in mind to accompany their quaint songs when they wrote them 500 years ago, they just didn’t have the available tools. The audience chose to take advantage of The Brudenell’s copious amounts of upholstery rather than get up and dance but understandably- this isn’t folk music to jig to, it’s folk music to brood to, with tales of teenage suicide and tortuous unrequited love. Erland & The Carnival are one of the few bands around who are taking it upon themselves to blend folk and rock so literally.

Thursday, 19 August 2010


2010 marks the 15th Anniversary of Harmless records and to celebrate they’ve recruited award-winning compiler, record collector and DJ Dean Rudland to put together Pulp Fusion: The Return Of The Original Ghetto Jazz & Funk Classics all-new set of some of the best and most elusive cuts from the jazz and funk fusion scene. Nico Franks speaks to Dean and gets the skinny on the best way to craft the perfect compilation and why Pulp Fusion still should matter to anyone calling themselves a music fan.

How familiar were you with the Pulp Fusion releases when you got asked to compile another album?
Pulp Fusion is a classic compilation and I remember when that first came out, how important it was to the funk and soul scene. It brought it to people who listened to hip-hop records and dance records that had bits of pieces of funk and soul in them. There had been lots of compilations around but that first one captured a really good point between mainstream and obscure – it wasn’t just giving funks top-10 hits but it was giving something that people could identity with.

Do you see this compilation as an attempt to bring a new generation onto a genre of music that they aren’t really subjected to normally?
Well we’re hoping so, though what’s more likely to happen is that it’ll remind people of a certain age group that this stuff is still out there and is still relevant to them. 10 years ago, if you were 20 and into dance music then it would be appeal to you, now I think the age group is people aged 30 and up that’s gonna get into this. Hopefully people outside of this age group will get it but I think that’s where this music is at.

Are there any rare classics in particular on this compilation that you are particularly proud of unearthing? The notes on the album state ‘Compiled with love by Dean Rudland’, but are there ever frustrating points in the process?
It’s a labour of love and stress really. You go after things and people tell you, ‘Oh no, we don’t have the rights or no won’t license it to you’. Choosing the tracks is almost the easiest bit.

Do you always have a song in mind when you’re compiling, or do you come across songs you never knew existed?
I think for this one we wanted to give a batch of really strong classics, a celebration of 30 or so great tracks rather than ‘here’s some super-obscure b-sides that was flavour of the moment with a couple of club DJs but ultimately isn’t that great.

Some of the tracks have a quite a history in the hip-hop scene, being sampled. The Politicians track was used by Dre and was very popular with the West Coast producers. It’s that kind of thing that helps you hone in one what tracks you choose.

Do you see many of the artists on this compilation as underrated and deserving of a much wider audience?
You’ve got guys like Gil-Scott Heron who do get recognition, who have been around for a long time but I think because of their ubiquity people sometimes people forget just how good they are. People say he’s great but I don’t think people really appreciate just how much of a genius Gil is.

On the songs with lyrics, a few of them carry a political message- was that a conscious decision when you chose those songs?
Yeah, that was something of the era where black artists were being encouraged to make statements like that, in the post-60s radicalism of that classic 70s funk period – they were talking to their constituency who wanted to be told that there were problems out there and that people recogised that there were problems out there.

Do you see Spotify, which allows people a huge database of songs for to make their own personal playlists, as threatening the future compilation album?
I think Spotify, at two years old, is a novelty. For the moment, and I don’t know for how much longer, people like the idea that they can choose things for themselves, but when I started out I knew very little about any music. I learnt about music by other people telling me, by buying compilations, by people pointing me in the right direction, from that angle.

Maybe the need for a well-put together compilation album will disappear or maybe people will realise that what they’re doing is buying the same things…it’s like i-Tunes vs. a well-curated record store. When I’m buying stuff off iTunes or Amazon, I buy what I know. It’s too big to browse properly. All great record stores I’ve ever been in, guys who own it will be playing records. When I worked in a record store we knew records we could throw on and we’d sell copies of ‘cos kids would come in and say, ‘Wow, what’s that?’ Certain records, not necessarily your favourites, but ones you knew were good and you knew had appeal, you could sell all day.

Any particular favourite track on the album?
So many of them are favourites of mine. Ultimately, to me, The Bottle is one of the greatest records ever ever made. It’s just a piece of pure genius. The Joe Bataan version is on there as well, which obviously proves how much I love that record haha. But the Gil Scott-Heron version, the lyrics, the performance, just everything about that record is a piece of genius and it’s uncompromising but it’s accessible. It’s just an amazing piece of work.

‘Uncomprimising’ seems to describe this album very well, is that what you think appeals to people about the Pulp Fusion albums?
I think the sound feels very real. The sounds I know from going to clubs a lot when I was in my late teens and hearing Giles Peterson playing songs like that, it sounds great on a soundsystem but it also sounds great at home.

Nico Franks

Pulp Fusion: The Return Of The Original Ghetto Jazz & Funk Classics is released on Harmless records on September 6th.


For those unfamiliar with jazz and funk fusion, ‘Pulp Fusion: The Return of the Original Ghetto Jazz & Funk Classics’ might be a bit of a bewildering experience. Yet for those partial to a bit of saxophone and bass noodling, oft-played in retro underground clubs, you’re likely to find something to love in this ambitious 28-song compilation. Whether or not you’ll have the patience to find it is a different matter.

The songs can go from the sublime (‘The World We Live In’- The Politicians) to the ridiculous (‘It’s A Trip’ – The Last Poets) and then back to the sublime again (‘Fairchild’ – Willie West) all in the space of 10 minutes. In truth, you might find that the skip button on your chosen listening device gets some frequent usage- but take a step back from the compilation as a whole and there is much to admire. The restrained guitar fills on ‘Get Down With The Get Down’ by Melvin Sparks, Gil-Scott Heron’s admirable social commentary on ‘The Bottle’ or the filthy groove of Average White Band’s ‘Person to Person’- ghetto jazz and funk aficionado or not, the songs are still enjoyable.

However on other songs the groove can be overbearing, such is the intensity of some of the playing as one extended keyboard solo follows another and the 8th consecutive saxophone jam begins to grate. A decent chunk of this compilation album will satisfy the die-hard fans only, but you get the impression that satisfying the fanatics is what the ‘Pulp Fusion’ series is all about. You can’t accuse the creators of dealing in half-measures either, refusing to fall back on mainstream clichéd classics in an attempt to bump up sales. The compilation oozes an authentic sound to which hip-hop is indebted to, a sound that is stylish, at times frustrating, yet undeniably the real deal.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Glastonbury 2010

tUnE-yArDs, the brainchild of the clearly unhinged but super-talented Merrill Garbus, opened my Glastonbury 2010 (Rolf Harris doing 'Stairway To Heaven' doesn't count) on the West Holt Stage early on Friday afternoon, with a set of songs from debut album 'Bird-Brains'. In contrast to the lo-fi sound of the album, recorded solely by Garbus using a sound recorder, a full band complete with 3 drummers, including Garbus herself, meant that the tribal energy of the songs broke through. Driven by a kind of afro-beat rhythm that builds and builds on top of Garbus' distinctive chanting and yodelling, this all came together to form a sound that's brilliantly smart and stupidly brilliant, exemplified in 'Sunlight'.

Rivaling Liam Gallagher in terms of misplaced arrogance, the totally repugnant yet totally irresistible Snoop Dogg finally arrived in Somerset to put the G in Glastonbury. Indulging the secret faux-gangsta desires of the crowd and demanding to speak to the 'ladies' in the audience between every song, Snoop is a formidable entertainer. The Dogg has played a part in some of the best hip-hop of the past decade in songs like 'Still D.R.E', 'The Next Episode' and his own songs 'Gin and Juice' and 'Who Am I (What's My Name?)'. But he's also responsible for some absolute pap, with commercial powerhouses like 'I Wanna Fuck You', 'Sensual Seduction' and 'Beautiful', which meant his set had a distinct patchiness that not even Snoop’s mind-blowing self-belief could cover up. With hip-hop heavyweights getting more and more accustomed to the Pyramid stage surely it's only a matter of time before Snoop's mentor and N.W.A legend Dr. Dre makes a much-needed appearance at Glasto?

Sensing that the 'special guest' billed later that evening was going to be very special indeed, what with the festival's relatively underwhelming line-up and it being its 40th anniversary, we endured The Big Pink's tortuous 'Dominos' and went straight for the front of the Park Stage. Gradually more and more assured whisperings that Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood would play spread through the audience, before Micheal Eavis bounced up onto the stage and introduced them. During the 40 minute set, spread evenly between Yorke's solo work and semi-acoustic Radiohead songs, it was obvious which the crowd wanted more of. This is no slight on Yorke, as he remains an intensely watchable singer all on his own, even when all you can see of him is just the reflection of his scrunched up face on his piano. But the crowd was itching for a singalong and, despite the appeal of the jerky electronics and funk-bass of 'Harrowdown Hill' and 'Black Swan', you could almost hear a collective sigh of relief when Greenwood came on stage and picked up a guitar.

Playing 'Weird Fishes/Arpeggi' from 'In Rainbows' without drums is like eating cereal without any milk, but anyway, complaining about a secret gig from Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood must be just as annoying as the people who said Glastonbury was 'too hot' this year. 'Pyramid Song', 'Idioteque' and 'Karma Police' followed, the latter inducing the much-wanted singalong. 'Street Spirit (Fade Out)', as frequently played at a Radiohead gig these days as a convincing performance by England at a World Cup, closed the set with an intensity that left you needing a sit down afterwards. I’m glad I don’t live in Thom Yorke’s head. 

Although their music is better suited to weather the polar opposite to the glorious sunshine that they found themselves in on the Other Stage, Saturday afternoon, The National's live performance gave credence to their almost overbearing critical adoration. Playing songs mainly from 2007's 'The Boxer' and this year's 'High Violet', lead singer Matt Berninger, a cross between Bruce Springsteen and Ian Curtis, was a constant frenzy of half-drunk energy, clearly desperate to justify the accolades heaped on the band to the burgeoning crowd. A bottle of wine, two reverse crowd-invasions and 13 atmospheric and impassioned songs later, The National left the stage after giving one of the best festival performances I've ever seen. Interested to see how The XX's music would transmit live, I was left disappointed. Whether it was the John Peel Stage's vastness that caused the sterile atmosphere or the band's lack of stage presence, the XX seemed out of their depth, unable to alter their linear and bass driven songs enough to engage a large audience, who may as well have just been listening to the CD, albeit on shuffle. The band were probably better suited to the open-air yet intimate Park Stage they played on the night before, but I had to miss that in order to fulfill my duties guarding a deserted pedestrian gate through the night.

So far over the wrong side of ridiculous they've forgotten the meaning of the word 'restraint', Muse gave a predictably OTT performance headlining the Pyramid Stage on Saturday night. Sunday was a write-off for more stewarding, save for Stevie Wonder closing the festival. Admittedly a bit of a stranger to the majority of Stevie's work, I couldn't help but immerse myself in the obvious fondness directed to the man from the thousands of people in the field, later cursing myself for basing my opinion of him solely on that duet he did with Blue....... Sorry Stevie.

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening

James Murphy has always been something of an elder-statesman of the disco/dance/punk music scene, but now, aged 40, he’s apparently decided to bring LCD Soundsystem to an end. With ‘This Is Happening’ he’s ended the band on a high, showing courage to jump ship before the ship has even started sinking.

Staring middle-age in the face, he must be starting to realise that he can’t go on being the oldest person at his own DJ sets for much longer: in album opener ‘Dance Yrself Clean’ the singer laments, “everybody’s getting younger/ it’s the end of an era- it’s true”. Despite this, Murphy is not shrinking away quietly, as the song erupts into a glorious battle between a drumbeat and a pulsating keyboard riff. Guitar driven and unashamedly stupid in the same way that ‘Daft Punk Is Playing At My House’ was, the raucous ‘Drunk Girls’ sustains the momentum. The song is Murphy’s soundtrack to the kinds of parties he’s too old to go to nowadays, where food isn’t safe in cupboards and boys and girls wake up in bed together. If this is to be LCD Soundsystem’s last album, these two songs show that the band have left some of their best till last.

A self-confessed music dweeb, Murphy is the first to admit that LCD aren’t the most original of bands, more the sum of their influences, often making a song with the sole purpose of sounding like someone else. This can backfire, as in third song ‘One Touch’, which owes too much to its obscure electro-punk influences. Sometimes though, when they’ve channeled bands like Joy Division (‘All My Friends’) and The Beatles (‘Never As Tired As When I’m Waking Up’), the results can be inspired. In ‘All I Want’, Murphy turns to Bowie, borrowing the elongated guitar note that runs through ‘Heroes’ and creating something altogether new. The music brims with confidence and style, contrasting with Murphy’s lyrics which invert ‘Heroes’’ optimism, revealing his insecurities: “now all I want is your pity / or all I want is your bitter tears”. The song ends with Murphy wailing to be taken home, a morose feeling of homesickness that reappears throughout different songs on the album that isn’t lifted until final song ‘Home’.

The self-deprecating ‘I Can Change’ sees Murphy mix his love of the best of 80s-synth-pop with his ability to write surprisingly earnest and emotive lyrics, in this case about unrequited love: “tell me a line, make it easy for me / open your arms, dance with me until I feel alright”. He’s America’s equivalent to Guy Garvey from Elbow, except he lives in New York, listens to Suicide and thinks a Mancunian is something you get done to clean your nails. ‘You Wanted A Hit’, a self-reflexive account of songwriting, which at 9 minutes long sums up Murphy’s position on the subject of writing ‘hits’: “You wanted a hit- but maybe we don’t do hits/ I try and try… it ends up feeling kind of wrong”. The song is satisfying in its simplicity, a conversation between Murphy and the listener set to a steady drumbeat and a weaving keyboard line, with a brash, Gang Of Four-esque guitar solo in the middle.

But not all the songs come up to the standard set on ‘Sound Of Silver’, with ‘Pow Pow’ erring towards the annoying and ‘Somebody’s Calling Me’, written in a haze of anti-anxiety medicine, structured around the queasy-drone of a synthesizer and a single piano note, is baffling in all the wrong ways. ‘Home’, on the other hand, rescues the album, the closest the band will come to writing a perfect feel-good (albeit 8 minute) pop song, an amalgamation of keyboards, guitars, drums, harmonies and lyrics like “if you’re afraid of what you need look around you, you’re surrounded, it won’t get any better so good night”. All this combines to close an album that, despite its slight inconsistencies, if it is to be LCD Soundsystem’s last, should be cherished.


I wrote this a few months ago but forgot to put it on here.....

I put it to you that the thousands of internet blogs devoted to finding new music, such as this one, are killing music criticism. The days of paying the seasoned rock critic for their opinion are over, because all we need do now is enter the blogosphere to find out what anyone thinks about a new band, gig or album. Is this tidal wave of free-criticism shining a light on the cream of the crop, helping us choose only the best and most worthy bands to listen to, or is it creating a whirlwind of undeserved hype around new bands?

The thing is, in this post-Arctic Monkeys world in which we now live, we expect any band getting a lot of attention on the internet to replicate what few bands can do, which is release a definitive and trend-setting debut album, like the Arctic Monkey’s debut. And the blame for this lies with the blogger. With everyone so keen to find the ‘best new band’ and to be the one that found them first, a blogger will tell us that this band is the ‘new’ whatever and the music journos follow suit. Unfair predictions of grandeur and comparisons with previous successes risk the destruction of a band at the first hurdle.

Look at The Twang, once hailed as the new-Stone Roses by the NME and looking likely heirs to Oasis’ throne at the top of the lad-rock kingdom in 2007, now damp-squibs at the bottom of a tired and tedious scene, releasing a second album last year that went by unnoticed. Some bands, however, do deserve the hype that they get, and this shows largely in the reviews. The XX, Wild Beasts and These New Puritans have all been hyped to high heaven, but justify it with distinctive and forward-thinking albums.

It’s the easiest thing in the world to rubbish a band that clearly doesn’t warrant the hype that engulfs them. But it’s not really the bands fault that they’re a blogger’s wet dream is it? Look at new internet-darlings The Drums, dubbed by NME as New York's official Coolest New Band... the most contagiously energetic NYC band of the past 10 years’… ridiculous hyperbole certainly gains attention, but how can a band be expected to live up to that kind of introduction?

There’s no doubt that the internet means bands can get their music out faster and to more people than ever before, and we’re the ones that benefit from this. And maybe the hype being spread through the blogosphere is helping great bands get noticed and exposing the shit bands for the pretenders that they really are. But we should start taking the blog-hyperbole with a nice handful of salt and, in the words of someone who has survived the blogger’s curse, Alex Turner, make sure, whatever happens, we ‘Don’t believe the hype’.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Spotify knows you still listen to Limp Bizkit and now so does everyone else.

Snooping on each other is common ground nowadays, blessed as we are with the ability to know what our friends/siblings/that weird guy from primary school are all doing every minute of everyday thanks to Facebook. Now Spotify has opened up the realm of snooping to epic and potentially humiliating proportions with its new ‘social’ feature, purpose built to let us pass judgement on our friend’s music tastes. Jonathan from Spotify optimistically tells us its designed to allow users to share music between each other. Pah. It’s much more about being able to discover that that friend you have, who purports to listen only to neurofunk, darkcore and nitzhonot (which for those of you that don’t know, is a crossover between Goa trance and uplifting trance that emerged during the mid-late 1990s in Israel*) quite clearly thinks the new album of Lady Gaga remixes is pretty great.

*I didn’t make this up, it has its own wikipedia page

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Foals, Newcastle Union Basement, 30.04.10

Igniting the crowd with newie ‘Total Life Forever’ followed by breakthrough hit ‘Cassius’, Foals’ impish lead singer Yannis Philippakis tells us that after eating one of Gregg’s iced buns in Newcastle earlier that day he realised that he “wouldn’t want to be anywhere else but here right now”. Whether or not his sincerity is as artificial as the icing on the aforementioned bun doesn’t matter; the crowd cheers nonetheless. The adoration amongst the fans continues and the set’s frantic pace is relentless, with material from debut ‘Antidotes’ and second album ‘Total Life Forever’ (released May 10th), instigating equal bouts of melee amongst the crowd. ‘Blue Blood’ and ‘This Orient’ seamlessly fit in amongst older singles ‘Olympic Airways’ and ‘Balloons’, continuing the band’s polarising blend of abstract lyrics yelped over skittering drums, electronic bleeps and spikey guitar notes.

The young crowd erupts in raptures for new song ‘Miami’, either out of sheer enthusiasm or because of an internet leak, and the band seems buoyed by the brilliant response to the song, which sees the band flirt with funk. The sound effect of waves ushers in further change with the downbeat ‘Spanish Sahara’, slowly building to a brilliant climax with its eerie refrain of “I’m the fury in your bed, I’m the ghost in the back of your head”. The lyrics and sound of the new songs fulfill the ‘more mature’ second-album cliché, especially the latter two (Yannis even cries in the video to ‘Spanish Sahara'!), but they’re the better for it, downplaying the often annoying vocal style and giving the songs the extra heart that their debut lacked.

The bounce returns to the crowd with 'Red Socks Pugie' and 'Electric Bloom', during which the lead-singer makes easy work of the barrier separating him from the baying crowd and ends up losing his shirt in the frenzy. 'The French Open' and fan-favourite 'Two Steps, Twice' make up the encore and Yannis proves his rock-star credentials by flouting the smoking ban. Sweaty adolescents leave contented.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Newcastle Student Union Basement, 19.04.10

In the suitably dingy basement of the Newcastle Uni Student’s Union, support for Black Rebel Motorcycle Club comes from Dark Horses*, who play a bewildering form of gloom-rock and come complete with their very own goth-Bez, except with less dancing and a steel chain instead of a tambourine. Then, the perpetually pissed-off Black Rebel Motorcycle Club take to the stage. Opening with a few off their lackluster new album ‘Beat The Devil’s Tattoo’, the show only really begins when a barrage of singles shock the crowd into life, with ‘Love Burns’ and ‘Berlin’ unleashing a wave of lager over a circle of fist-pumping fans. The contrast between these older and much stronger songs and the disappointing new material sums up the night, signaling a band in decline.

Save for an extended acoustic version of ‘Sympathetic Noose’ and a couple of others from their career-best third album ‘Howl’, material comes largely from BRMC’s bulging arsenal of heavy, four-to-the-floor, feedback-laden and riff-driven rock. This all makes for a pretty good time, particularly during ‘Spread Your Love’, a song which encapsulates the spirit of BRMC in it’s fuzz-bass, stomping drums and electrifying harmonica. Before this, ‘Weapon of Choice’ and ‘Whatever Happened To My Rock ‘n’ Roll’ buoy the energetic crowd and allow for sweaty heads to meet leather jackets in sticky matrimony. But the cracks start to appear once BRMC ignore the material off their debut and ‘Howl’, bringing out a number of patchy songs from their other, inferior, albums.

There’s a clear difference between the songs BRMC wrote 10 years ago and the songs they’re writing now- it’s just the difference comes in the crowd’s stunted reaction to them, not in the actual songs themselves. Some of the band’s songs all too often regurgitate the template they followed on their debut, devoid of anything new at all, painfully clear during the nine-minute dirge of ‘Generation-X’ from ‘Baby 81’. BRMC have never been a particularly original band and the garage-rock revival we saw at the turn of the millennium has always worn its influences on its heavily-tattooed sleeve, but BRMC’s new songs reveal a severe lack of ideas: classics aside, they are fast becoming garage-rock dinosaurs, desperately needing to evolve.


Thursday, 1 April 2010

Big in 2010..... (3 months late)


With a quaint and unusual sound that combines grand choruses with neat finger-picking and string arrangements, Stornoway deserve a place in your heart. Their debut album comes out next year but they’ve already released two singles, the spirited and stand-out song ‘Unfaithful’ and ‘Zorbing’ (which they performed on Jools Holland in 2009), a song about rolling down a massive hill in a see-through plastic ball. The song isn’t as good as that sounds, but it still makes a case for Stornoway to join Mumford and Sons in the great UK folk-rock revival. Also take a look at Oxford’s Jonquil ( for a slightly weirder take on the folk-rock template.


Post War Years mix strong rhythms and off-kilter drums with synths on top of three different vocalists, creating indie but punk-ish rock in roughly the same vein as Foals. They released their promising debut album ‘The Greats and the Happenings’ in summer 2009 and have been prodding at the peripheries of widespread recognition ever since. Go find the album on Spotify now.


Occupying Stuart Murdoch during Belle & Sebastian’s recent hiatus, God Help the Girl is a film and music project that features 9 different vocalists, ranging from the lead singer of The Divine Comedy, Neil Hannon, to a few unknown female singers. Murdoch has orchestrated a superb collaboration between these artists, the album (released last year) follows the romantic tribulations of a quirky single woman who needs all the help she can get in finding love. Evoking 60’s girl-band pop and classic 80’s indie, the record is both retro and a breath of fresh air. Expect the album to gain much more attention with the release of the accompanying film, by the same name, in late 2010.


Supposedly Noughtie’s second coolest rock star (after Sir Jack White), Julian Casablancas’ favourite band, Beach House have been around a while but are expected to be everyone’s favourite band by the end of 2010. Slow, lilting dreamy songs are what the American Mid-Atlantic duo do and they do them well, fronted by Victoria Legrand, who has sung with mainstream indie newbies Grizzly Bear. Their third album, Teen Dream, comes out on January 25th.


Already hyped to pieces by the NME and the other usual suspects, The Drums are officially ‘the next big thing’. But don’t take every lazy music journalist’s word for it, listen to their Beach Boys surf pop via the cool of New York City at their myspace and decide for yourself.


Channeling the post-punk dance of New Order, combining dancefloor synths and beats with anthemic choruses, Manchester trio Delphic are tipped to continue the dance-rock revival the Klaxons started in 2007- just don’t mention ‘nu-rave’. Debut album ‘Acolyte’ is out now.

MGMT: 'Congratulations'

‘Congratulations’ sees MGMT delve further into the experimental far-out psychedelica that their first album hinted at, a move which will polarize fans, leaving some championing the new sound and others weeping the ‘do-do-do-do-do-do’ refrain of ‘Kids’ into their tie-dyed headbands come festival season. Frustrated with the disproportionate success of ‘Kids’ and ‘Time To Pretend’ from their debut, MGMT have shunned the ‘single’, taking inspiration from the prog-rock albums of the 1970’s, creating a body of work to listen to as a whole.

The album opens with the infectious, surf-pop inspired ‘It’s Working’, followed by ‘Song For Dan Treacy’, which bounces with nervous energy into ‘Someone’s Missing’, a song so unmistakably MGMT that you can almost smell the free-love drenched ponchos through the speakers. The psych-pop vibe continues with the kaleidoscopic ‘Flash Delirium’ and lyrically baffling ‘I Found A Whistle’. 5 songs in and so far, so not-too-weird- it’s only in the second half of the album, during the adventurous and supremely satisfying 12-minute ‘Siberian Breaks’ that the band really start to flex their psychedelic muscles, melding about 4 different songs into one massive cosmic journey. Channeling The Flaming Lips, the song weaves between melodies and tempos and, crucially for a 12-minute song, never falls back on bloated instrumentals to fill up the time.

‘Brian Eno’s punk-pop bass-line and simple chorus of, well, ‘Brian Eno’, is about as brilliant a song about a multi-talented music producer you’ll ever hear. Unnecessary instrumental ‘Lady Dada’s Nightmare’ misfires as an atmospheric, experimental almost-album-closer, but doesn’t upset the flow of the album, which MGMT have clearly spent a lot of time obsessing over. Things mellow out for ‘Congratulations’, closing an album that for what it lacks in hit singles, makes up for in impressive ideas and depth. MGMT will probably lose a lot of fans as a result of the shortage of single material, but they should be respected for bringing the focus back onto the ‘album’ in an era of cherry-picking songs for 79p a pop. Appropriately, the album ends with applause.

Tetur, The Cluny, Newcastle, 13.10.09

Walking through the audience onto the stage of The Cluny in Newcastle, baby-faced Teitur Lassen smiles nervously and picks up his guitar. Teitur is probably the Faroe Island’s biggest pop star, and armed with his 3rd English-language album, The Singer, released last year, the ‘angel of the North’ is looking to establish a fanbase in the UK. Teitur and his band are squeezed onto the teeny stage, surrounded by equipment- I never see the bassist, his face hidden behind an impressive tower of amps throughout the set. He writes sweet and melodic songs about girls; girls from his childhood, girls that hitchhike and even girls he doesn’t know. The fact that English is not Teitur’s mother tongue means that his lyrics have a lack of pretence about them, often simple and charming. Don’t Want You To Wake Up, the first song, showcases his youthful voice and melodic guitar work, which quickly catch the attention of the audience, made up of students and arty-Geordies. Whilst playing he looks very relaxed, the only sign of exertion coming in a single bead of sweat that falls from his forehead during Josephine. Louis Louis (not Louie Louie) continues Teitur’s inoffensive blend of personal lyrics and a strong melody. These songs are all perfectly nice, but a couple of the songs stray dangerously close to John Mayer/James Morrison territory and could get Teitur lumped into the turgid landfill of bed-wetting singer-songwriters that make Jo Whiley excited. However, when Teitur tells us to ‘just imagine an American highway’, Hitchhiker changes the pace of the set. The bluesy riff contrasts with his innocent vocals and a few intermittent blasts of aggressive distorted guitar give the song a pleasing dark edge. Hopefully Teitur will continue down this more experimental road which, coupled with the charm and sincerity of his other songs, will set him apart from his contemporaries.

Pete Doherty, 02 Academy Leeds, 23.03.09

Pete Doherty has changed his name. Gone is his self-proclaimed ‘evil twin’, who gave crack to cats and sprayed blood at journalists, replaced by the more reflective and poetic ‘Peter’ Doherty. The letter ‘r’ has emerged in time for the release of his long-awaited solo album, Grace/Wastelands, and has signaled a new sense of maturity and seriousness in his work. Yet it wasn’t ‘Peter’ that the crowd chanted for at the recently opened 02 Leeds Academy, it was the ‘Pete’ of old that the crowd wanted.

To satisfy the ‘Pete’ lovers in the audience, Doherty, starting out alone, opened with two Libertines songs. First, the early B-Side ‘The Delaney’ followed by ‘Music When The Lights Go Out’. The crowd, singing enthusiastically and enjoying the opportunity to reminisce his former glories, lapped them up. Both songs, however, were dispatched quickly and with little fuss. It was almost as though the singer was keen to get the formalities of playing Libertines songs over and done with in order to start playing his new songs as soon as possible.

Arcadie, the opener from the new album, was the chance for ‘Peter’ to shine, accompanied by indie-royalty Graham Coxon and half of Babyshambles. Doherty seemed much more relaxed once joined by his bandmates, spraying the crowd with Guinness and encouraging them to clap along to the songs jaunty tune. ‘Last Of The English Roses’ was even more of a revelation, its infectious dub-beat filling the room while Doherty sang about an old childhood sweetheart. The presence of Coxon clearly has a positive effect on Doherty, inspiring him to sing and play with conviction, determined to prove himself as one Britain’s best singer/songwriters.

The set dipped during ‘1939 Returning’ and ‘A Little Death Around The Eyes’, the next two songs from Grace/Wastelands. These songs highlight the hit and miss nature of Doherty’s solo album. However, the best parts of the album were even more brilliant on stage, given extra depth by the two violinists’ that joined the band and also by Coxon’s amazing guitar playing that added some raw aggression to Doherty’s tales of heartbreak and addiction. ‘Palace of Bone’, with its swaggering rhythm and random guitar screeches, gave the crowd an excuse to get moving after the dip in pace.

Being a fan of Doherty’s can be infuriatingly frustrating because of his tendency to act like the divvy he sings about in ‘What A Waster’, and often the appeal of Doherty is hard to see through all the tabloid headlines and farcical stories about his personal life. But it is because of his ability to write a song that sounds fresh and exciting every time you hear it that he first gained attention, albeit with the help of his fellow Libertines, and it is when he plays these songs that it becomes clear why he is revered by so many. Those in the audience who were unfamiliar with the new solo-work, of which there were notably a few, were rewarded for their perseverance when Doherty brought out some more of this older material, mixing both Libertines and Babyshambles songs.

‘Killamangiro’, one of Babyshambles’ first hits, inspired a mass sing-along amongst the crowd and ‘Beg, Steal or Borrow’ kept up this momentum. Clearly chuffed with the crowd’s reaction, Doherty sprayed more of his Guinness upon those at the front and thanked them for coming out for a second time.

The real highlight of the set came in ‘Time For Heroes’, still the best song Doherty has ever written. The opening chords sparked frenzy amongst those in the audience and each lyric was sung back at Doherty, who was by now clearly enjoying himself. With this, the band left the stage and returned to play two more songs, the impressive B-Side ‘Through The Looking Glass’ and routine set-closer ‘Fuck Forever’. The crowd, aware that this was their last chance to kick the shit out of each other, screamed along with Doherty to the very last bit of guitar feedback.

There’s no doubt that Doherty is eager to show his talent to those that dismiss him as the car-crash that he tends to be portrayed as in the tabloids. Performances like this show what a versatile musician he is, with the ability to write lilting acoustic ballads as well as far more intense sounding songs, which makes watching him play endlessly engrossing. With Doherty now able to satisfy both the Pete and the Peter inside him, it may be that we see less of the infamous Pete Doherty and more of the Peter Doherty that deserves to be famous.