Monthly Archives: December 2008

Festive Favourites…

As a festive treat (and because we haven’t bothered to compile any sort of list of the year’s best), here’s a load of Christmas songs. They’re all really excellent.

Low – Just Like Christmas

Frightened Rabbit – It’s Christmas So We’ll Stop

Darlene Love – Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)

The Beach Boys – Santa’s Beard

Snoop Dogg – Santa Claus Goes Straight To The Ghetto

PM will be back soon with a review of Martha Reeves & The Vandellas at the Bloomsbury Ballroom, Darren Hayman’s new LP and maybe an interview with Angil & The Hiddentracks. Merry Christmas!

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Bubblegum Lemonade – Susan’s In The Sky EP

Bubblegum Lemonade – Susan’s In The Sky EP (Matinee Recordings)

Bubblegum Lemonade

The titular track of this excellent EP from Bubblegum Lemonade recalls the simplicity and chug of The Jesus & Mary Chain in their lighter moments, gleefully and tastefully winding itself up until we reach a pedestrian (not in a bad way, but a satisfying one) conclusion. The gentle narrative is at odds with many of the darker sentiments and delivered with a suiting sweetness, making this a less intriguing but more wholesome experience, and one the charm of which is colossal.

Even better is the following Surfin’ USB (how many bands are kicking themselves for not thinking of that title sooner?) has The Soup Dragons’ lilt and bob, and delivers on all melodic levels. That gentle lilt and bob is irresistible thanks to the opposing motions of its chord structure (down) and the vocal melody itself (up) – an expert trick, and rewarding even if it’s a fluke. Sadly, Just Like You is way dull, but no bother, yeah, because the concluding cover of Big Star’s Holocaust is top, returning the EP to ripping, ravishing and, of course, melodically pleasing form. So three out of four ain’t bad.

Susan’s In The Sky is out already on the delightful Matinee label.

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The Capitol Years – Revolutions

The Capitol Years – Revolutions (SOE Records)

 The Capitol Years - Revolutions

Is it possible to base a song on a raging war of tempi? The Capitol Years (what an excellent name) seem to have answered that question affirmatively, given that Revolutions is constantly flitting between a gentle Byrdsian bounce and a psyched triplet feel in its verses. There are cunning ways in which this duality has been accentuated, the most convincing of which is the deep guitar ostinato that accompanies the bouncy motifs like a returning smell in the nostrils, but there are other little bass bobs and organ wails that appear very carefully in their correct areas so that maximum effect is achieved. The final deceleration is also beautifully judged.

The flip, CIA, retains this schizophrenic template, oscillating between business and laziness in a charming haze of gentle minor arpeggios and bleeps. The lazy sections are the most luxurious and revealing, being as they are a series of lofty statements softly intimated, “Rock is Dead!” being the most casually important. It could be a coincidence that both of these songs rely heavily on the idea that contrasts as big as these will result in engaging songs, or it could be tracing paper for a whole album of similarly confusing and rewarding songs. Let’s hope that when the LP arrives it remains unable to sit still for too long.

Revolutions is released on January 5th via SOE Records, do a click.

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James Yorkston/Malcolm Middleton – London St Giles In The Fields Church 11/12/08

Malcolm Middleton

Gigs in churches are just ace. No one talks, no one wanders around and gets in the way, everyone’s seated, not drunk and the artists are more likely to play at their best ‘cos of all the upturned faces at their feet. Malcolm Middleton seems very nervous about the whole affair, though, even though it’s a support slot. It’s not a nervousness in performance, particularly, more a nervousness that God will strike him down for saying “shite”, “pish”, and “we’re all gonna die” like a quiet shaman. Nothing like that happens, thankfully, and we’re treated to some spirited woe and a beautiful version of Devil & The Angel, leaving the audience several times warmer in this nippy old crypt than when he arrived.

James Yorkston

James Yorkston shares with Middleton a similar wariness about language and content, but unlike Middleton a real, performance nervousness that sees him bash the mic stand and forget his words in the first song. “Does anyone know how to play Steady As She Goes?” he later asks, bashfully. Ah well. From then on, though, it’s admirable festive stuff, with several highlights from the recent When The Haar Rolls In LP getting a welcome leg-stretch. Particularly endearing is the sweet and luxurious B’s Jig (in which the accordion and clarinet blend timbres like the separate elements of a Fruit Corner), and recent single Tortoise Regrets Hare, which features japesy contributions from Pictish Trail and Rozi Plain.

Throughout, though, it’s clear to see that Yorkston’s ease as a performer is what we’re all enthralled by, and the way he interacts with his hermetically tight band as well as the audience is a lesson in sympathetic control. As he gently crescendos all the way to the climax of the obligatory Shipwreckers, it’s hard not to be swept away by the conflict of grandiose religiosity trading blows with the defiantly homespun in this most glorious of surroundings.

More info and some ruddy music can be found here and here. And, get this, you can see the same review HERE! Why would you want to do that? TO PROVE THAT SOMETIMES PEOPLE DO READ WHAT WE WRITE!

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Her Space Holiday – XOXO, Panda and the New Kid Revival

Her Space Holiday – XOXO, Panda and the New Kid Revival (Mush)

Her Space Holiday

There’s not an awful lot to be said about Marc Bianchi‘s transformation from computer-wielder to guitar-slinger, because the record itself should be able to dictate whether or not this ballsy (apparently it’s ballsy, I’m not all that familiar with him) move was the right thing to do or not. Immediately, the tenets of an updated twee aesthetic crop up – tales told very firmly and sincerely from the foot of the bed, with cacky-sounding electric burbles every now and again. Because the aesthetic at no point graduates to anything more deserving of discussion than simply that, we are left to assume that the lyrical meat is worth the relative musical disinterest.

It’s a good thing, then, that Bianchi is in possession of a rare knack for making each of his throwaway intimations memorable – two kids in the back of class, making the telephone ring, biscuits and tea… these are things, all, designed at inciting the most personal reactions possible. They succeed for the most part, despite the odd clang. There’s a loose bookending structure to the album that is by no means very clever and, truth be told, slightly voided by the album’s sheer length. Fourteen songs is too long a gap to reintroduce an already-heard theme or motif, as we do on both the opening The New Kid Revival and the closing One For My Soul (Good Night). The bookending sentiment of youthful abandonment, of playing music at disgustingly loud levels just because you can, is a charming one, but one too thinly utilised across the whole record.

The undoubted highlight comes on the dreamy, almost sickly sweet My Crooked Crown. Taking the form of a love-letter (“signed XOXO Panda”, naturally), the well-worn thoughts are refreshed by funny turns of phrase and the simplest melody imaginable. For once, Bianchi’s hyper-personal intimations square right up to your face and engage, and it’s wonderful. The other striking tune comes in Two Tin Cans And A Length Of String, the abrasive nature of which, coupled with scattergun vocal delivery, is also very appealing. That it settles down into a pretty bounce so quickly after honking quite so defiantly is a mite disappointing, but the quality of that pretty bounce is high enough whereby you won’t mind. A convincing template for many of the songs here could be that that threaten to bite quite consistently, but usually lose confidence and settle for a little lick on the heel. Which is fine, but Bianchi would do well to bludgeon his audience as much as he dares – it could result in a more daring and rewarding release.

XOXO, Panda and the New Kid Revival is out now, more info here.

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Notes On The X Factor Final

Alexandra Burke is a worthy and unexpected winner, but Beyonce completely shits on her:

 

That aside, Burke will now undoubtedly disappear (after her inevitable Christmas no.1 and some minor activity) until her album is complete. The album will probably be a tremendous disappointment that doesn’t use her voice in the right way at all, in a similar vein to Leona Lewis‘ misfiring (but still impressive) Spirit. So what should the album really sound like?

Constant comparison to Leona Lewis so far in Burke’s career really won’t help her at all, just encourage her supposed musical influences to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead, a heavy focus on her strengths could potentially make for an excellent debut album. Think back to the more energetic moments across her X Factor tenure – these are what people want to hear over the ballads. Candyman, Toxic (though it was by no means a song demanding enough for her consideration), On The Radio and Relight My Fire were all successes, while the likes of Without You in Mariah Carey week were somewhat over-cooked. And Silent Night was a complete shambles. Trying to convince Burke that she was comfortable on the notes in the upper registers was unfair.

That’s not to say that she should avoid slower numbers altogether, but for God’s sake strike a balance. Listen (performed in the final by Burke and Beyonce Knowles, but earlier in the series by Burke alone) is, by and large, the perfect for her. Stately enough whereby her vocals can really warm up, but emotional and plain noisy enough for a surprising amount of honest connection with an audience, the sheer drive and volume of the song suits her just fine. This has been mistaken many times across the series for an ability to consistently deliver ballads; if anything, her attitude is all wrong for them. Burke is far more closely aligned with the likes of Beyonce than she is with Mariah, and an album full of slow-burners won’t sell nearly half as well as a more sprightly effort. 

Elsewhere in the final, the first seconds of this performance sealed Eoghan Quigg‘s defeat. Silly 90s poppet.

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Christmas On Mars London Premiere

The London premiere of The Flaming Lips‘ long-awaited festive psychobilly hellride from heaven movie Christmas On Mars fell on Friday night, and PM was there to take in some first impressions and listen to an interesting Q&A with the director and one of the stars, Wayne Coyne.

Wayne Coyne answering questions, all of them correctly

The narrative is simple enough, but typically skewed: It’s Christmas, we’re in a space station on the Martian surface, and Stephen Drozd is consistently depressed, worried and pacing. A baby is being genetically manufactured on board, and forms a kind of moral centre for the whole film. At many points Drozd says that he feels the successful birth of the child will provide everyone with a new reason to live, and assurance that the universe isn’t doomed after all. However, until that happens, all the inmates (probably the best term) are very messed up. One of them commits suicide by running out of an airlock in a Santa suit, others are generally staring at walls and swearing an awful lot. Vital parts of the space station are falling to pieces (not just a symptom of the defiantly home-made sets), and everyone’s having nightmares of varying graphicness. Cue the entry of Wayne Coyne as a mute alien with green horns who basically wanders around making things an awful lot better, until the end when the baby is finally born and snow falls.

Charming and simple though the plot is, it’s the details and motifs of the film that impress and make it seem most cohesive. There’s an immediate claustrophobia to the whole affair that lasts right from the very opening until we’re treated to the welcome strains of Silent Night about ten minutes from the end. It informs the majority of the aesthetics; we rarely see anything more than dark corridors and white rooms. When we do see something else, it’s often strikingly interjected biological imagery – bloodied babies, strongly vaginal-looking orifices and general psychedelic meanderings. Motifs come in the shape of several sequences where the music’s beats echo footsteps, lights being turned on and off, and other physical actions. When it does happen, the mind is naturally drawn to consider the implications of these synchronisations. Even if they have no real effect on the narrative or the characters, it aids the construction of distinct atmospheric conditions.

The music occasionally deals in leitmotifs, with certain themes seemingly attached to certain ambiences or locales rather than particular characters. For the most part, it finds the Lips indulging their more disjointed and avant-garde tendencies rather than the stadium-sized emotional microcosms of recent years. It’s an able accompaniment to the drama, as we might expect from such talents as these.

The strong contrasts in aesthetic are bludgeoningly simple, so the middle ground for emotional contact has to come only from the characters. Stephen Drozd makes a surprisingly naturalistic actor, and elicits genuine sympathy in the audience more often than not. Other amateur actors also seem to be reasonably competent in their roles, particularly the foul-mouthed captain who provides uneasy humour in all but one of his scenes. Adam Goldberg, the only recognisable non-Lips face, is quite alarming as a therapist describing the dreams of his fellow crew members, resulting in the film’s most striking sequence where a marching band of vaginal-headed musicians trample a baby to death. Neat!

In the final sequence, Drozd has organised a Christmas sing-along with only two attendees – Coyne dressed as Santa and another crew member with a lovely singing voice. As the chorus on Silent Night, the baby is born and a tear of blood is shed. After so much bleak, violent imagery and unsettling humorous touches, this is a tremendous reward and, almost, a step back towards reality. If it seems like there are a lot of holes in this account, it’s because there are. It’s difficult to go into more detail, but suffice is to say that the film succeeds where it really shouldn’t. The brainchild of rock’s most whimsical auteur, Christmas On Mars is a real surprise. Shouldn’t we all be distracted by the fact that – ooh! Wayne Coyne is GREEN! Or – ooh! That bit of music sounds like it’s from YOSHIMI! – and a million other links back to reality? Maybe we should, but it’s even easier to forget those links and accept the film on its own terms.

Also, look at this picture of PM and Wayne Coyne taken after the screening. He was lovely, and more than willing to have a chat. As it happens, we spoke about crackheads in Oklahoma. Always meet your idols kids, but only if they’re Wayne Coyne. Visit the Lips at their website, it’s terrific.

I don't know the guy in the background. He looks like he's having fun, though. Probably 'cos he'd just seen an ace film and met a hero. I know that'd make me smile. In fact, there's evidence enough in the foreground to conclude that.

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