Posts will still materialise across the week. People will continue to read with less-than-moderate interest.
Have a productive week, see you a week Monday!
Malakai – The Ugly Side Of Love (Invada/B-Block)
There is such tremendous potential for verve, humour, and pure exuberance when you work in a medium so nuanced and fragmentary as this, with samples and vocal hooks flying around like feathers in a fight. Malakai, the name plumped by two Bristol beat-suppliers, would have done well to take less time over developing the intricacies of their debut LP, for it is these intricacies that contribute to the feeling that we should be having more fun than we are listening to it. Geoff Barrow‘s influence, dare it be said, might not have been the healthiest on The Ugly Side Of Love. The Portishead man acts as executive producer here and appears to lend an air of gloom to the proceedings that, while intriguing, might have slugged the record slightly.
Warriors has, initially, no real need to be any busier than it is. The chorus jars with the verse as the uninformed/atonal vocals build in layers over the bluesy electric guitar chugs. An interesting effect is created, but the sheer buoyant/laconic charm of either guise renders the other a little void – a confusing listen. Theodor Adorno wrote, somewhat prematurely, that intricacies in popular music can’t exist to their fullest potential because the repetitive nature of the rhythms and sentiments make them mere background features. Though I’ve long disagreed with this since the dawn of a more stately and informed school of popular music post-war, it applies quite sweetly to this tune.
Throughout, humour begs to escape. Playful rhythms and wailing, Once Upon A Time In The West vocals beg to be noticed, but there is much murkiness to wade through. The natural dynamic contrast in the opening riff on Shitkicker is shrieking to be exploited, but it’s ignored. Elsewhere, the great tradition of the hip-hop skit is revived to completely unhilarious ends, with a war-time sandwich making scene seeming not only out of step with the record, but also just plain unfunny. If it’s a stab at aligning the record with British culture in some way, a juxtaposition with the readier, truer material elsewhere, then it fails by not making any statements about it verbally or otherwise. If it’s just fer laffs, it doesn’t work because it’s childish.
Consummately confounding, The Ugly Side Of Love doesn’t make the best of its more shambling, entertaining and downright danceable ideas. Labouring the muddiness of its milieu sounds like the work of Geoff Barrow (we could be wrong on that one, though), and it spoils what could have been an invigorating experience.
More info here, looks like this isn’t coming out for some time, but eventually it will on Invada/B-Block. I don’t know, though, I can’t find the press release. Malakai were on the Lily Allen TV show once. Whee!
In the first entry of a new category for PM (JESUS CHRIST etc.), there’s room for a truly boggling amount of inappropriateness. The seven-year-old (although probably now at least fourteen and in possession of a rapidly increasing chemical habit of some sort) runner-up of the Britain’s Got Talent mediocrity pageant Connie Talbot has recorded a slightly sick version of Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds. Admittedly, this is not new news, but it is still slightly sick. Almost racist, actually. Enjoy, then digest below…
Obviously not all blame can be levelled at Talbot herself, she’s no idea of what’s going on apart from she’s been told to run and skip everywhere convincing her new friend that, truly, every little thing is going to be alright. But was it really necessary for her to have dreadlocks? As if in some way this aligns her with Jamaican culture? The whole video is peppered with these alignments (a horrific accent and cringeworthy head-bobs among them), reaching its zenith when we see a little boy in the final stage scene who is clearly there because he looks a bit like Bob Marley. They’ve even given him a little multicolour hat. Ahhh.
What’s equally bad is the surreal familial strife plot that dominates the first verse of the song. Talbot appears, in a strange way, to be mocking the other child with her incessant happiness – the juxtapositions between her easy-going and the other child’s hard-going is too much. What will Talbot do? Help her ring Childline? Supervise the visiting hours every other Sunday? To assume that Talbot can deal with these issues is another symptom of having management that continually tries to sell to the wrong audience. Why market her as anything other than entertainment for other children? Once the novelty of being a child singer has worn thin, adults don’t need cultural references to Bob Marley and social work from a seven-year-old.
In a wider context, though, it’s Talbot’s voice that is the most exploited aspect of the product. It’s undeniable that her voice is of a good quality for her age, she manages to stay in tune during live performances and has a knack for imitation. But there are hardly any songs in the popular canon that could ever be anywhere near suitable for her to sing, short of resorting to Grandma We Love You. It’s an equivalent of the scene in the paedophilia edition of Brasseye where the voice of a child is dubbed over a prostitute’s dialogue – unnerving.
In a support role for Ladytron, Asobi Seksu showed that, still, they have incredible power. It’s easy to forget that they are a potent live act, what with their seeming inability to settle on a distinct line-up, but they show in abundance this evening why they really should be considered so. With their amps and stands decked out with yellow and blue fairy lights, the stage resembles that of Pavement’s farewell tour, and is a suitably beautiful accompaniment to the band’s new and old material.
That new material features equally as much as old, but slots neatly in. It is markedly more dense in construction rather than delivery, and somehow thinner in approach. The result is less choruses, but even more intrigue. It’s difficult not to be drawn in by Yuki Chikudate’s involving Japanese words (though no-one understands them… why is that always the way with foreign-language lyrics?), but without the sheer sonic bravado of the music behind them they wouldn’t be half as charming. James Hanna and the assembled band (the bassist of which PM once had a dreadful awkward silence with, another tale for another day…) are thunderous throughout, with Hanna in particular showing deft skill on the guitar. The likes of Gliss and Me & Mary are this new, perplexing and evocative Asobi Seksu personified – rest safe in the knowledge that the new record delivers on this promise.
The old material, though, is the purest incarnation of the band tonight. That’s not to say that the new stuff is any way forced or difficult, just that established tunes can’t help but sound more welcome if they’re delivered so brilliantly as this. Strawberries and Thursday are the purest pummels, so minutely and crisply are they given. The key to the band’s digestible fury is that they are essentially popular melodies driven to their absolute volumatic levels – every ounce of power is pushed out through each and every note, with equal regard for beauty and violence. This is a key to great pop performance, and tonight’s lasting impression.
Visit the band at their MySpace.
It seems futile to continually harp on about how Rachel Hylton was literally incapable of delivering a thoughtful and appropriate performance of any of her songs, so these notes will ignore her from now on. She’s gone anyway, so we can all breathe out a little bit. News that she intends to fully capitalise on the boost in profile The X Factor means that we will have to revisit her at some point, but until then may she work hard and prove herself capable of more than one dynamic level.
Instead, we can now focus on possibly the best performer remaining in the competition, Alexandra Burke. Her interpretation of Take That’s Relight My Fire (above) was charged with rare energy and vigour and – importantly – none of it was contrived. If taken in the context of a song in the disco genre (and we should, it sounds like one), then the performance yields interesting results under analysis. The balance between ad-libbing and pure grit has always provided the perfect disco vocal aesthetic, and Burke shows with this performance that she is capable of perfecting it.
Roy Shuker states that disco is fundamentally a genre led by the beat and the following of it for dancing. This explains the relatively small number of disco stars in the world that aren’t producers or ‘hit-makers’ in comparison to other genres with an emphasis on self-authorship. Because Alexandra Burke was able in her performance to add such virtuosity, such an emotional connection (in the gritty sense mentioned above), the performance becomes much more than an excuse to dance. Palpable drama, albeit heightened by a camp routine, is the product of all the greatest disco performances, and this one contains all the basic hallmarks.
Elsewhere, Eoghan Quigg (or, as Louis Walsh creepily dubbed him, The Quigglet) showed a slightly clueless shade when he was challenged with entertaining the crowd, Live Aid style, towards the end of his performance of Never Forget (above). Aside from his ‘narrow eyes equals emotion’ stances and terribly 5ive-esque bobbing dance, his interaction with the studio audience during the breakdown section was a little embarrassing. His voice has improved considerably as his songs have gotten bigger, but the queasy We Will Rock You handclaps and ad-libbed vocalisations made the stage seem terribly empty. However, the positive comments and continued hyperactive support from a nation of biddies will keep him in.
Predictions for next week: Ruth and JLS in the bottom two, Ruth to go.
Seeland – Library (LoAF)
Library is released on December 15th via LoAf Recordings, with its parent album emerging, all wet and warm, in March. Listen to these two tracks and more at their MySpace.
Co-Pilgrim – Pucker Up Buttercup (Low Transit Industries)
The star of Pucker Up Buttercup is, quite irrefutably, Michael Gale’s elastic voice. This might seem a slightly silly statement to make regarding a solo artist (what else could the star be, save for the singer himself?), but the way in which Gale uses his own voice to bring traditional arrangements into another category is occasionally stunning. For the most part, the songs assembled are sweet, quiet, and utterly standard. Jason Molina, Damien Jurado, worry not, for your work goes not unnoticed by Co-Pilgrim. What separates this record is that multi-tasking voice.
Oftentimes on Pucker Up Buttercup we’re lulled into expecting the expected, which maximises the welcome surprise when those expectations are exceeded. Sweet Treason would be a simple-enough alt.country strum were it not for the disarming and extremely chord progression as we leap into the chorus. Gale’s voice gently climbs out of the reach we thought him capable and the surprise is complete. Furthermore, post-chorus, everything stops and we hear free-form, dreamy vocal harmonies before dropping straight back into the next verse. It seems Gale wants us to learn about his voice and skills before pushing himself into top gear.
Similarly, the gorgeous Into The Valley Of Darkness shirks the doom of its title and beautifully falsettos itself to high heaven. The strange effect of singing about “going down” and being buried while the blissful vocal line itself wavers comfortably in the loftiest registers is potent and beguiling – either Gale is an accidental craftsman or quite the knowing musical joker. Either way, this is one of several splendid vocal tricks employed. That the following song Her Soft Voice begins on a terrifyingly low note should, by this point, be no shock, more an expected and quiet “look at me”. Perhaps most confusing is the vignette The Blessing Of A Curse, which plods, Plush-like, with more than a nod in the bassline to Brian Wilson. A curio that’s slightly out of step with the trajectory of the record, but certainly a welcome one.
And so runs the rest of the record, constantly surprising, with the vocal deliveries and layered harmonies impressing the most. If anything, Pucker Up Buttercup is evidence enough that the already-bursting milieu of the singer-songwriter can occasionally be enlivened by thought and the careful construction of surprise.
This record was made available to me by means I’m still not quite sure – a link to download the promo just sort of arrived in my inbox – but more information is undoubtedly available here.