Thursday, 26 February 2009

Skint and Demoralised @ Brighton Audio

One has to feel a little sorry for Matt Abbott aka Skint and Demoralised. Brighton Audio is less than a tenth full, with only about 30 people in attendance. On the drum kit are the words “Major highs, manic lows.” This must surely be one of the lows. However, the band don’t seem to think so. As he finishes the gig, with an undaunted charm Matt tells everyone he has had a considerably better time tonight than his other previous time in Brighton; but that was with football when his team got beaten 2-1.

Starting with a spoken word poem about Blackpool, Skint and Demoralised then launch into a set of skewered guitars and jaunty keyboards, creating cheery sounding indie pop with northern soul reference points. They play debut single The Thrill Of Thirty Seconds early in the set, a spirited tune about the adrenalin rush of young infatuation which is romantic and engaging. But with virtually every song from Red Lipstick to This Song Is Definitely Not About You following a similar formula of spoken word verses and flatly sung choruses, Skint and Demoralised fail to hold the attention. It’s a shame as Matt is a personable floppy fringed lad with a heart who flaunts confidence and humour, chatting to the audience about how he disagrees with being called a northern version of Scouting For Girls by a reviewer, and how getting beaten up in Wakefield is something he’s getting quite good at.

It’s only when Matt drops the music, and stands on a box centre stage without a microphone to deliver an anti racist poem against the British National Party, deconstructing the British way of life, that he truly comes into his own. Maybe this is where his future lies, rather than pop stardom. Unfortunately, Breaking More Waves prediction last year of Skint and Demoralised being one to watch seems just a little misplaced for now.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

The Joy Formidable - A Balloon Called Moaning

Last month we checked in with welsh indie heroes The Joy Formidable. This week sees the release of their debut mini album A Balloon Called Moaning. Released via the sexiest record shop / gallery in London, Pure Groove, as a limited edition box set of 500, it sold out purely on pre-orders. Fear not however lovers of scuzz indie guitar trios, because you can download a free copy of most of the album with the bands full consent here and a new version of the CD will be released soon. Breaking More Waves considers itself rather lucky to have obtained copy #391 of the box set, together with a black balloon with the word ‘Moaning’ emblazoned across it.

The CD is a snapshot of the beginnings of the band. From their early demos recorded in North Wales, which the group have described as “playful and experimental; lengthy, intense sessions punctuated only by tea breaks and long walks in the Clwydian hills,” through to their escape eastwards, where they recorded in an attic room in south London. It is an energetic romp of power pop, with surging guitars and distant female vocals with a paper cut edge. There are moments when you can hear moments of early nineties Curve circa Coast is Clear on the dense transcendental shoe gazing song The Greatest Light Is The Greatest Shade , the fizz and stomp of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs on Austere, and elements of Belly, The Breeders and Lush cascading through the mix. Not every song on the album is fuzzy rampant pop however. Ostrich is a big lumbering noisy monster, a dense rocked up shoe gazer, whilst 9669 is a musically simplistic yet thoughtful duet between lead singer Ritzy and her partner Rhydian.

A Balloon Called Moaning is a sharp shotgun of 8 songs that should satisfy even the most ardent fan of the genre.

It finally feels like 2009 is coming alive. Do yourself a favour and download these songs for free, and then invest something back in the band by catching them out on tour with The Howling Bells across the UK now, or at the Great Escape Festival in Brighton.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Polly Scattergood + Loz Bridge And The Box Social + The Marvellous Mechanical Band + Le Plat Du Jour @ Portsmouth Cellars

Before Polly Scattergood parades the stage at Portsmouth Cellars three local acts bring a diverse range of supports for this evenings gig, each of which is worthy of some attention.

Breaking More Waves had the pleasure of attending the very first Le Plat du Jour gig, and two years on we witness an artist slowly finding her musical feet with an ever deepening maturity. She brings scratchy violins, deep literary references, banjos, acoustic guitars and bluesy PJ Harvey meets KT Tunstall vocals to the stage; all highly satisfying for a first on the bill artist. See You Next Tuesday (C.U.N.T for short) is a sad, but self assured song of betrayal about someone that the singer despises “I don’t need to confirm who I am to you,” she sings with an inner strength of someone finding herself against a simple downbeat guitar backing.

“I hope you’re all limbered up,” asks Matt the lead singer of The Marvellous Mechanical Band, with the promise of involving the audience at a later point in their set. Dressed in orange boiler suits, bunny hats, and scary masks the Marvellous Mechanical Band do not take themselves too seriously. They are here to banish those who think that all music should be solemn and weighty with a performance that brings to mind the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, a third division punk group and some hoary old rockers from the 70’s. It is quite frankly bizarre, possibly rubbish, but perversely enjoyable. “Those of you who are stats fans, that was about 8% correct,” they announce after one shambolic song of insanely stupid rocking riffs. Later they engage the audience in quite possibly the first ever call and response drum solo, with the audience asked to replicate what the drummer plays. “We’re very aware that we’re very silly,” they announce. Correct, but nothing wrong with that. It is at least entertaining.

Loz Bridge And The Box Social present a much more elegant blend of musical sophistication. Loz is not your typical rock and roller; he’s suited, bespectacled and drinking white wine (the Cellars has run out of red apparently). The bands sound ranges from elegant cocktail bar jazz to more upbeat bluesy numbers. November sees the band completely immersed in the music, the double bass player eyes shut, the guitarist crouched down , Loz’s vocal effortlessly light yet potent. New single Witches, with audience participation on its bavarian rabble rousing chorus is the highlight, an anthem for anyone who “left the house this morning to a job they don’t like,” as Loz describes it.

Polly Scattergood arrives on stage in high heels with bows, patterned tights and an outlandish shiny dress. She is certainly here to make an impression visually, but what of the music and performance? Polly may not have the big ballsy vocal that seems to be the de rigeur for solo female performers these days; instead she produces a relatively timid girlish sound, reminiscent of a slightly wonky Kate Bush. However its lack of authority gives the sense of attending a delicate whispered confessional; a schizophrenic confessional that often disarms and disturbs with its lyrical extremes. It’s not clear if Polly is singing autobiographically or if these tunes are just characters in her mind, but either way they are edgy and often bitterly dark. The words are open to many interpretations, but there appear to be reflections on drunken betrayal on Other Too Endless, saying goodbye to life on Nitrogen Pink and hints of a dark relationship and the loss of innocence on opening song I Hate The Way which suffers a false start due to the dreaded ‘technical hitches‘.

It’s not all slash your wrists traumatic however, with Polly making fun of herself on the poppy Please Don’t Touch where she lists some of her inadequacies “I can’t play pretty tunes, and my hair is always messy,” she sweetly sings, whilst clawing the air and tussling her hair in a theatrical and possibly contrived way as keyboards, drums and guitar provide a Bjork meets Goldfrapp meets Black Box Recorder backing.

The songs that Polly Scattergood performs tonight are unlikely to bring her into the mainstream, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. However the unsettling air of her lyrics and the left field creativity that she displays musically suggest that her album, when released in March, may be an intriguing listen. Ultimately a Polly Scattergood show is like one of Breaking More Waves favourite puddings. All sensually good looking and sweet on the outside, but as one bites deeper one finds hidden tastes that may be bitter and dark, but are ultimately more satisfying.

War Child - Heroes

The War Child Heroes album is no ordinary compilation album. Rather than a series of casts off and B sides that form the usual charity CD, War Child take a highly prescriptive approach in the formation of their releases. This approach leads to a much greater focus on the quality of the music. The concept for Heroes combines some of the greatest icons of rock music with some of the most popular contemporary artists of today. The charity asked fifteen rock greats, from U2 to Bowie to Iggy Pop to choose a song from their back catalogue and to nominate a modern act that they would most trust to create a unique interpretation of that song. The end results of these new cover versions are such that irrespective of the charitable status of the project, the album is worth buying for a significant amount of musical merit alone.

Most surprising is how some of the covers that you would expect on paper to be disasters are very good indeed. Take Duffy covering Live And Let Die; whilst at Breaking More Waves we were fans of the Duffy album, the recent screeching on previous single Rain On Your Parade left a sour taste in our mouth. Here Duffy redeems herself with Bernard Butler on production duties and his long time collaborator David McAlmont providing sweet soulful backing vocals. Her version is restrained and sultry, a torch song version of the classic.

Lily Allen also shocks with a very modern middle of the road pop version of Straight To Hell by The Clash, with Mick Jones on backing vocals. It should be a disaster, but Lily gives Joe Strummers difficult anti war lyrics a delicate sugary touch that actually makes them stand out more.

Elbow fare even better, taking Running To Stand Still by U2 and making it sound even more tender and intimate than the original. It’s worth buying the album for this song alone. Bono chose wisely. Elsewhere TV On The Radio deliver a bold mountainous electronic beat laden version of Heroes that follows neatly on from the Dear Science album whilst The Hold Steady, who let’s face it sound like a Bruce Springsteen covers band, get to cover The Boss on Atlantic City.

There are very few duffers on the album. Hot Chips minimal electro calypso of Transmission will probably be hated by most Ian Curtis fans, but one track out of fifteen isn’t bad.

It would seem almost a disservice to review a charity album and give it the thumbs down. Fortunately in the case of War Child Heroes there is no need to do such a thing. Rather than going out this Friday night and spending your spare cash on a round of drinks, buy this album, stay in, listen to it and know that you have helped provide vital funds for War Childs essential and unique work in helping children who live with the brutal effects of war.

Monday, 23 February 2009

Loz Bridge and the Box Social - New Waves @ Breaking More Waves

On their debut EP Portsmouth based Loz Bridge and the Box Social sing of witches by the fax machine and evil in the admin team. Loz Bridge has obviously suffered one too many dead end office jobs and is prepared to let his calloused and vitriolic imagination run wild around the workplace. Witches is set to a stomping and romping bass heavy march that creates images of the monotony of mundane office life as Loz spits “I hate my job,” with a call and response anger at the endless slog. “Come on you scum you can do it, put your backs into it,” he calls towards the end. Loz is not a satisfied man.

Loz Bridge is Preston born, but is now living just round the corner from Breaking More Waves towers. Together with his band the Box Social he claims they are heavily influenced by the likes of Tom Waits and Nick Cave. Whilst musically this may be the case, there is little of either artists savage whiskey soaked growl to the recorded vocal. That is not to say that Bridge’s vocal is not without its own character however. On the smoky jazz of November, Bridge displays a warm unruffled voice reminiscent of Tim Buckley or Chris Martin that beautifully overlays the lightly brushed drums and tinkling piano. This vocal beauty is continued on Sarah And The Wolves, a melancholy number of loss that sees a lonely Loz sing “I don’t want to know what you’re doing locked away behind closed doors.” It could find fans amongst those who enjoy Elbow, Buckley and the more organic side of Radiohead. It’s not all sad and reflective though; the bluegrass of By The River demonstrates that Loz Bridge and the Box Social are a band that are also rooted in the toe tapping banjo sounds of alt Americana and have a mature earthy diversity that will hold them in good stead.

The Witches EP is available to purchase here.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Alessi's Ark - Over The Hill

On the 23rd March 2009 Alessi's Ark release the follow up to The Horse EP. Over The Hill is a quietly captivating dreamy sounding folk pop rock song that is gentle and easy enough on the ears to maybe find itself on mainstream daytime radio. Whilst Alessi has drifted in to the so called New Folk Scene, Over The Hill is a far more straightforward song musically, with not a violin or banjo in sight. There are warm keyboards, twanging county guitars and uncomplicated drums. What sets the song apart is a sweet melody and Alessi’s fragile childlike petal soft vocal. She displays a playful whimsical intonation that sounds like she is singing in her second language, even though she isn't.

Taken from her album Notes From The Treehouse which is due for release a week later, the video for the song sees Alessi at a tea party for her and an imaginary friend and shows that amongst her other talents, she can hang a mean spoon from her nose.

You can find more from Alessi at her Brain Bulletin blog as well as a variety of posts here at Breaking More Waves.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

The Great E Mail Challenge (Part1) - Email #2

Of course we never expected our first email to be published. We would have been disappointed if it had; the first part of the challenge would have been over too quickly for the development of this series to run. So it was actually a feeling of relief last Wednesday when we opened the NME letters page to see that our first attempt at correspondence with the folks at IPC Productions had failed.

Without any further planning, our second email is flying across the interweb. More comments on the state of music from Breaking More Waves. We'll continue this for a few more yet, before changing strategy.

Dear NME

Oh the irony. In last weeks issue you jumped on the bandwagon and ran a two page article on Twitter, whilst on the back page your godlike genius Robert Smith of The Cure said that he felt sympathy for artists starting out now, knowing that everything they do is out there for everyone to look at. Personally I’m with Fat Bob on this one. With Myspace, Facebook, Bebo and now Twitter, bands have no mystique anymore. Everything is known and there is no room for mistakes. Acts are being dropped before their album is even released. It’s a harsh harsh world for bands, and the chances of any of the indie hopefuls of today being around as long as The Cure are as slim as Kate Moss’s pinkie.

Robin, Portsmouth

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Skint and Demoralised - This Song Is Definitely Not About You

Skint and Demoralised release their second single This Song Is Definitely Not About You on the 2nd March 2009. Vocalist and so called street poet Matt Abbott, who since his debut single late last year has left the life of a teenager, recites another round of spoken word indie pop of the Topman / NME / boyband kind coming on like Just Jack and The Streets with chirpy guitars and organ sound. He forms a narrative that makes him out to be one of the sensitive lads, with his floppy hair and jangling guitars mashing up against lyrics about an inconsiderate selfish ex-friend. “And does friendship take the sidelines when it's served it's only purpose? Left loitering behind you; success has deemed it surplus,” he raps.

Whilst not quite on a par with debut single The Thrill Of Thirty Seconds it’s a catchy, albeit slight affair that soon gets under the skin. Time will tell if ultimately being under the skin soon becomes an annoying itch. Skint and Demoralised are out on their first headline tour this month. We’ll be catching them to see if our prediction of them being One to Watch in 2009 was a valid one, or if they are just a one trick pony.

Internet gossip suggests equal amounts of love and hate for Skint and Demoralised. Watch this video and decide for yourselves.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Passion Pit + Hockey @ Brighton Audio

Passion Pit bring the live incarnation of their Chunk of Change EP and tunes from forthcoming debut album Manners to Brighton for the first date of a co headlining tour with Portland four piece Hockey. The weight of expectation for this gig hanged hype heavy as Passion Pit have received significant media coverage in the last few months. The buzz can almost be heard through your internet connection such is their profile on many blogs, including right here at Breaking More Waves.

Michael Angelakos and his crew seem completely nonchalant about any such expectation however. “Is it OK if we play a few songs ?” he enquires to woops of appreciation, as if he has just stumbled on stage by accident. And so they do.

Initially technical difficulties thwart the bands sound, but song by song things get better, the bands signature distorted falsetto vocals, mashed up beats, and warped hyperventilating synthesisers combining to get Audio slowly grooving. The band show an adeptness at cajoling and wrestling imaginative sounds from their keyboards, finding a neat niche between dance music and warped pop. Visually they look a little like the lost cousins of Hot Chip, all masculine indie boffin coolness with heads bobbing and shoulders frugging, bringing an engaging energy to the stage.

There is no doubt that Passion Pit are a band that will find as many haters as lovers as the year goes on. Depending on which side of the fence you sit their sound is either absurdly wonderful or acutely annoying and it is Angelakos’s vocal that will divide the most. Despite an initial false start which Michael describes as “the club mix”, Sleepyhead is the biggest anthem of the evening but there are other newer songs that demonstrate that the Chunk of Change EP will not be the last we have heard of Passion Pit.

After Passion Pit it’s left to Hockey to wrap things up. Although most punters here have come for Passion Pit, they stick around to catch 'the other band'. Hockey are a strange group. At their best they are what would result if LCD Soundsystem strapped on a few more guitars and jammed with The Rapture. At their worst they are a terrible house funk band with a second division headband wearing Mick Jagger type camp singer who occasionally likes to attempt to embarrass the room by rapping. Future single Too Fake is sleazy, streetwise and what The Strokes should have done after their debut album. “I'm just too fake for the world. Oh you know it's just a game to me, I‘m just too fake you see” proclaims lead singer Ben over funky beats and adrenalin rush guitars. It’s their best moment by some way, although the catchy chorus of Song Away comes close.

Both Passion Pit and Hockey have potential to go on to bigger and better things than a small basement club such as Audio. Let’s watch this space.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Glasvegas + Friendly Fires + White Lies + Florence and the Machine @ Brighton Dome

The NME Awards tour is a curious beast that demonstrates the evolution of the publication itself. No longer the energised creative and inspiring musical and political force it once was, the NME of today is run by an editor who talks of ‘growing the brand’, features adverts for Top Man and has articles that are at best just sound bites. The NME represents corporate indie. Whereas once the NME used to rally against ‘The Man’ now the NME is ‘The Man’. This tour is evidence of this. On the bill is one artist (Florence and the Machine) who will in two days time receive a Brit Award, and a band (White Lies) who have recently had a number 1 album that has probably been purchased by as many forty something fathers as it has rebellious students. Its hardly edgy or dangerous is it ?

So how do these artists stack up tonight in Brighton ?

With flowers draped across instruments and wire birdcages hanging to each side, Florence And The Machine take to the stage with the Dome still over half empty. This is the straw drawn for being the opener of the so called ‘lucky’ slot of the tour, previously occupied by amongst others Coldplay, Franz Ferdinand, Kaiser Chiefs and The Coral. It doesn’t seem to bother Florence at all. Last time Breaking More Waves saw Florence we were slightly critical of her ‘act’ being too contrived. Tonight we take that back. Florence is a bluesy, guttural, sexual, screaming banshee with songs that are intense and primitively tribal. She is the sound of forthcoming armageddon but with a harpist rather than planets colliding. With a borrowed bass player from White Lies added to her band, Florence thrusts and cavorts in skin tight jeans in a way not seen since Pans People last graced Top of the Pops. Prowling the stage like a monster, she eventually launches into the audience to elicit the first screams of the night from the teenage girls down the front, and possibly a few teenage boys. The pop punk riot of Kiss With A Fist and the galloping chorus of Dog Days finishes everyone off, and frankly if the other bands all cancelled now, many people would have still gone home happy.

White Lies have clinical stadium ambitions and this is clearly demonstrated from the off. Farewell To The Fairground has dry ice, flashing strobes, big power chords and hands in the air. However this attempt at big moody indie rock tonight lacks emotional power, and rather like the album is all very much an exercise in one track darkness. It’s only when Florence appears again to duet on Unfinished Business does the mood change slightly. White Lies play well and are supremely confident, and in Death have written the perfect Killers go goth pop song, but there is a sense of unpleasant emptiness about their set.

After the gloom of White Lies, Friendly Fires appear under a warm red glow and white sparkles. “Hello we’re Friendly Fires from St Albans,” they chirp. Without a moments hesitation they launch into a set of incessant, rhythmic disco that gets the kids dancing, but leaves some of the older members of the audience scratching their heads. With stuttering, choppy beats Friendly Fires know how to funk even if they don’t yet know how to always write really catchy tunes. Wired front man Ed displays a neat line in indie geek rubber legged dancing which matches the strange and outlandish percussion of the music. The concert hall ambience of the Dome may not be the ideal venue for the bands sound, a sweaty sexed up indie disco would suit them better, but the band are happy to be here telling everyone “We’re so lucky to be playing such a beautiful building.” In Paris the band have managed to combine their ability to get your booty shaking with a decent song that is suitably layered over the fringes of electro pop. If they can write a few more like that for album two they could develop their fan base further.

With all of the other bands instruments now cleared, the stage appears barren except for huge stacks of amps and a blank screen. Strings of red lights and a projection of an angel statue appear as darkness falls. A repetitive synth sound echoes the arrival of Glasvegas.

To say that Glasvegas are immense tonight would be an understatement. Where White Lies try to be cinematic and appear hollow, Glasvegas have a sound that is bigger, more widescreen and dirtier than you could ever imagine. The tension of the chiming guitars produces layers of My Bloody Valentine noise combined with quiff vintage melodies that is handled perfectly by the Domes sound system. It’s a sound that you have to shut your eyes to and immerse yourself in. Glasvegas produce a majestic elegant beauty, a second coming of sorts, blinded by bright white lights and brilliant noise. Never before has Breaking More Waves witnessed the strange beauty of grown men singing along to a song that is sung in a heavy Glaswegian brogue with lyrics about a social worker and it seem so right. It is easy to imagine an orchestra playing these tunes. For forty five minutes Glasvegas are utterly glorious. When Ice Cream Van explodes like a bomb towards the end they must have been very close to blowing the roof of the building. As the band leave the stage images of Elvis and Celtic football team flash up on the screens behind. Then its over. There is no encore.

However it appears that not everyone felt like Breaking More Waves. Many of the younger indie kids dressed in their Primark and Top Shop fashions have left the building before the end, confused looks on their faces. And there for just one special moment, in amongst the beer glasses strewn across the emptying floor, it feels like the NME actually got it right. It became the alternative again.

Monday, 16 February 2009

Mumford and Sons + Alessi's Ark @ Reading South Street Arts Centre

The past nine months have seen numerous commentators, including Breaking More Waves, identify the apparent death of the so called landfill indie bands and the rise of the often keyboard or electro wigging female solo artist. One could almost be forgiven for thinking that there was no other genre producing anything of merit. Ever since the Joe Lean and the Jing Jang Jong debacle, record labels have stopped looking for four boys with skinny jeans and guitars.

But the future is not just about girls with keyboards. Step forward four manly souls with double bass, kick drum, accordion and banjo in hand. Step forward also a girl with a whimsical baby doll voice and an acoustic guitar. Tonight Reading plays host to not one, but two of the artists that Breaking More Waves listed as Ones to Watch in 2009; Mumford and Sons and Alessis Ark, all for just a fiver.

By now it seems that the London new-folk scene which these artists are associated with is well enough labelled that it has become an accepted hip genre of its own. Music once sneered at by anyone under the age of thirty is now being celebrated and adored by young and old alike. There are more pretty girls in check shirts here than there are woollen sweater wearing bearded men drinking real ale.

Alessi’s Ark is the main support tonight. The last time Breaking More Waves watched a support band in this venue was almost twenty years ago. That support was a little known act from Oxford called Radiohead. And whilst Alessi’s Ark are unlikely to ever achieve the same level of commercial success, Alessi Laurent-Marke is equally enjoyable as Radiohead were then. Coming across like an otherworldly hippy chick, Alessi is a finger biting, twitching, kooky sort of girl who is prone to whispering such statements as “This is the nicest room ever,” and charming the crowd with her wide eyed innocence. Alessi is blessed with a sweet voice and a collection of songs that veer between delicate folk and a gently rocking nature, sounding not far removed from a female fronted version of The Thrills. Occasionally the melodies are endangered by the bands over instrumentation, sounding better when there is space within the music, but Alessi’s voice and personality shine through.

“We’ve been playing lots of pub gigs, but this is like a show,” comment Mumford and Sons, appreciating the number of people who have turned out to see them in a venue somewhat bigger than many of the others they have been playing on this current tour. It’s easy to see why so many have bothered.

Much has been made of Marcus Mumford’s voice, and with good reason; it has a gravely crackling emotive quality that stands out. There are hints of the tone of both Chris Martin and Dave Mathews, but with a greater sneering resonance. This vocal and the near perfect harmonies his band deliver are a winning formula. To secure victory even further the melancholic melodies and stomping hoe downs that Mumford and Sons produce mix perfectly with their living and breathing folk, county and bluegrass instrumentation to sound almost life affirming. Take White Blank Page which builds into a big pirate sea shanty, or Roll Away Your Stone which is a manic foot stomping and banjo thrashing bonanza of the highest order. Both songs receive huge applause.

To contrast with the exhilarating feeling these songs invoke, the bands lyrics are sometimes of rather darker stuff; “I won’t let you choke on the noose around your neck,” sings Marcus on next single The Cave. “Death will steal your innocence, but it will not steal your substance,” he rasps on another new song. If this all sounds rather heavy, it is thankfully tempered by the bands sense of humour. “All of our songs are about football,” announces Country Winston, their banjo player at one point with a cheeky grin on his face.

Mumford and Sons succeed because they display musical honesty, talent and cohesiveness amongst a collection of damn good songs. The only minor criticism is the band do not yet consider themselves big enough to have a set list, making up the set as they go along. With more structure and thought to the order of the songs the set could swell to even greater things. The huge and lengthly applause at the end of the show is testament to the fact that, irrespective of this, Mumford and Sons are a superb live band. They are proof that there is more to music than just electro disco girls.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

DJ Hojo Hits - Version 2.0 Revealed !

A world exclusive. DJ Hojo Hits is back. Breaking More Waves DJ alter ego, created through the Bestival message board last year, first appeared at the Hidden Disco stage playing nothing but songs by 80’s pop star and keyboard wizard Howard Jones. Now Howard Jones has been dropped (although we still love him) and DJ Hojo Hits has a new look and a new sound. Coming to Blissfields 2009 and various parties and club nights through 2009, DJ Hojo Hits is in the mood for dancing and romancing.

May the horse be with you.

Emmy The Great - First Love

When a young female singer songwriter steps up to the floor armed with an acoustic guitar and a folk backing band whose members also play in other bands, the comparisons are inevitable; Laura Marling. Quite simply Alas I Cannot Swim, which was released around this time last year, was so good that it set the level for any other performer of this genre, no matter what their age or sex.

Emmy The Great has produced in First Love a collection of songs that bears many musical similarities to Marling, but the benchmark has been set so high, that this album is almost impossible to view in a favourable light. This is unfortunate as much of the debut from Emma Lee Moss is honest, personal and sung with a sweetness of voice that betrays its often darker lyrics. It is unlikely however that this album, despite its honesty, will find a place in as many hearts as Alas I Cannot Swim.

The reasons are twofold. First, fault can be found with those sweet featherweight vocals, which are unchanging from song to song. Over the course of thirteen tunes they become a little wearing. Second, some of her songs are just too slight and under whelming to fully convince. On paper Dylan sounds great, a fully traditional Celtic folk sound, pattering drums and a drop of early Belle and Sebastian, with lyrics concerning a boy who carried 13th century Italian books around that he didn’t even read. The reality is a song that passes you by like a bus in the rain. Likewise 24 which bitterly dismisses a Jack Bauer obsessed boyfriend with lines such as “Man on the screen, he has done more in a minute, than you have achieved in your whole entire life,” could be angrily great, but melodically sounds like a Suzanne Vega b-side.

When the songs do work, they are frustratingly good. We Almost Had A Baby with its warm Phil Spektor sixties girl group harmonies sees Emma throw off her ‘anti folk’ shackles and produce something rather marvellous. Likewise the title track First Love with its near plagiarism of the Cohen song Hallelujah, sucks it away from X Factor and brings it back to a better place.

But when First Love finishes, the choice to press play again or put the CD back in the box is a difficult one. The album is far from perfect, in places it is disappointingly patchy. Despite some good themes lyrically and interesting ideas, Emmy The Great has not quite lived up to her name.

Friday, 13 February 2009

The Great E Mail Challenge (Part 1) - Email #1

Seven minutes after posting the last blog, Breaking More Waves has composed an email to the NME and pressed send. We've started with our own style. Chances of publication ? Very little.

Dear NME

Your article on nostalgia was so wide of the mark that I wonder if you actually love music at all. Sure, some music is an exciting quick fling, a one night stand soon to be discarded. However other songs are long term partners, that maybe at first don’t stick their tongue straight down your throat, but gradually develop a relationship with the listener that one grows to love. Not every ‘guilty pleasure’ is liked in the first place, but some old songs develop a fondness, not through nostalgia, but through a gradual appreciation of a good tune that was maybe missed the first time around.

If the discovery rush of the new is all you want (I guess you are called NME so fair play) then you risk missing some of the most beautiful and amazing music that may be right under your nose. And remember as the volume of music and fashion out there continues to grow, it is becoming harder and harder to create something new. History has a way of repeating itself, almost everything is based in nostalgia these days.

PS: Dancing with hobbits to ‘You Can't Hurry Love' did sound pretty scary though. Were you on prescription medication by any chance ?

Robin, Portsmouth

Thursday, 12 February 2009

E Talking - The Great E Mail Challenge (Part 1)

Remember letters? Scrappy pieces of paper, covered in scrawls of ink, placed in an envelope, sealed with a loving kiss and then delivered by Mr Postman? Yes, in the dim reaches of history people used to send them all the time.

Then the internet came along and everything changed.

Or did it? The basic philosophy of communicating an idea, thoughts, or a message to someone remains the same. Things just got quicker.

Back in olden times Breaking More Waves used to write lots of letters. We used to write to bands, record labels and music publications; but for some reason we seem to have stopped doing so. Maybe we had more time back then. Life wasn’t quite as busy or rushed. There’s a quandary; the internet revolution meant that everything happens quicker, supposedly more efficiently, and yet we seem to have less time to do the things we used to do.

Of course this may not be because of the internet. As one ages, relationships, families and careers expand, demanding more of our time. But here at Breaking More Waves we miss writing letters. So it’s time for a change.

And so it begins. Breaking More Waves great E Mail challenge. It’s a bit of a boy project really.

Our mission is simple; to write like we used to, but in the modern efficient way of electronic communication. An email is still a letter of sorts. In fact, the NME still contains a Letters Page, even although most of the items published are emails.

We used to write to the NME a lot. Several of our letters got published. There was a skill in writing an NME letter. Hit the criteria they were looking for and you could almost guarantee publication. That however was over a decade ago, when the NME letters page was full of intellectual debate and politics. Today however the NME letters page is full of comments such as “OMG NME what the hell is going on??? Alexa Chung is best dressed???” and “Thank you NME! I’ve just discovered MGMT and they’re amazing.” Times have changed and the NME has undoubtedly dumbed down.

So it’s time for a challenge.

The strap line for the NME letters page is You Write It, We Print It, Everyone Argues. That sounds good. It’s time for Breaking More Waves to take that on. I’ll write it, they print it, everyone argues. It’s Part 1 of The Great E Mail Challenge. We shall write to the NME. One email a week. Until we get published. Have we still got the knack? How long will it take? It’s time to find out…… It’s time to get writing.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Ellie Goulding - New Waves @ Breaking More Waves

Hereford born Ellie Goulding grew up listening to folk and pop music, but “electronic music won't leave my brain alone and I have a gravitational pull towards electronic producers,” she says. Her mix of power folk certainly gets the ears tingling on her song Guns and Horses. It’s a call to someone who has been let down; “I wish I could feel it all for you, I wish I could be it all for you, if I could erase the pain then maybe you’d feel the same,” she sings all Bjork like over scissor sharp acoustic guitars and solid electro beats. Another song Wish I Stayed is fifty percent plucked guitars and fifty per cent pulsing synths courtesy of Frankmusik, which lends the song an of the moment radio friendliness.

Not everything Goulding has so far produced has an electronic feel. A demo of another track The Writer, displays simple acoustic vulnerability, as Goulding suggests that she is happy to be in the control of a lover "Why don't you be the artist and make me out of clay? Why don't you be the writer and decide the words I say?". Feminists will be most displeased.

From acoustic chanteusse to almost electro folk diva, Ellie could be a female version of Sam Duckworth of Get Cape Wear Cape Fly, James Yuill with bubbles or Hot Chip without the male nerdiness. It’s still early days and so time will tell what direction Ellie ultimately takes, but besides Frankmusic she has been working with Starsmith and Basement Jaxx, which suggest that rubbery computerisation and stuttering 8 bit studio disjointedness may be the way forward for her. Such electronic footsteps are certainly in keeping with the times.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Lily Allen - It's Not Me, It's You

After letting celebrity and tabloid over exposure get in the way of what brought her to our attention in the first place, Lily Allen gets back to being a pop star. And she’s not half bad at it either.

It’s Not Me, It’s You sees Allen back with twelve new tracks that take on a glossed pop sheen, whilst retaining her barbed incisive lyrics. Allen is vehemently now. A girl of her times who is not afraid to tackle some big subjects. From the Girls Aloud meets La Roux electro of Everyone’s At It (Drugs) to He Wasn’t There (Absent Fathers) to Fuck You (George Bush) with its keyboard introduction that melts Aussie soap theme Neighbours and Embarrassment by Madness together in a sickly sauce before bowling out a big stomping circus rant; Lily is happy to put an opinion across, even if sometimes it’s a little simplistic and obvious. George Bush is hardly a complex target after all.

Besides celebrity and bigger issues, Lily also presents several songs that show that she’s just a normal girl at heart, with concerns over relationships and the more mundane. Chinese sees Lily sing of beans on toast, cups of tea, walking the dog and Chinese takeaways, whilst Who’d Have Known is touching in its description of the giddy and desperate awkward excitement of the beginnings of a relationship. “And even though it’s moving forward, there’s just the right amount of awkward,” she coos, before adding gleefully “And today you accidentally called me baby.” It’s an engaging and warm song that makes you want to like Lily a lot, even if the chorus is a direct rip off of Take That’s Shine.

The best thing about It’s Not Me It’s You however is that despite continuing to use the F word on several tracks, the delivery is more sophisticated than its predecessor. From the cover art where Lily looks relaxed and dressed up, rather than the cocky “let’s ‘av it” look on Alright Still, to the clear tone vocals which are less market trader street lass and more gratifying and sweetly sung; Allen has improved. In terms of overall sound, the songs here have a reasonably big similarity with Saint Etienne in their more electronic mode and the now long forgotten Dubstar. Songs that work well in the studio, and on the stereo but will never massively move or excite live.

For those who dislike pure pop music, you will find no pleasure here. However for those who think that The Fear is the best song of the year so far and find excitement in the short passing kiss of such songs whilst they last, It’s Not Me, It’s You is worth your money.

Monday, 9 February 2009

A Camp - Colonia

Away from the day job as lead singer of The Cardigans, Nina Persson delivers the second album from her side project A Camp after a hiatus of 8 years. Colonia is a relaxed, less forced sounding album than the most recent output from her other band, that ruminates in a melancholy way on the nature of love and life. Take, for example, the song I Signed The Line where Nina sweetly sings “So don’t give me platinum it just weighs me down,” hinting at the breakdown of a relationship, be it a personal one or maybe even that of her other group.

Colonia is a mature sounding pop album, with a slightly wider musical remit than the A Camp debut. There are touches of Shangri La’s sixties girl band stylings on Here Are Many Wild Animals and sumptuous cinematic strings on It’s Not East To Be Human. Persson’s ice cream voice remains utterly recognisable throughout, bringing an often wistful inward looking feel to the songs whilst retaining some lovely melodies, particularly on Love Has Left The Room and the personal sounding Golden Teeth and Silver Medals, a duet with Nicolai Dunger, where Nina and Nicolai refer to each other by their first names in the songs lyrics. “Do you think you’re happy Nicolai?” Nina questions. “I don’t know the answer Nina,” he responds. Single Love Is Stronger Than Jesus is also good enough to just about get away with its shots of brass and pints of organ sound by having a chorus that gradually seeps its way into your head.

Colonia has been recorded with many of Persson’s musician friends. There are appearances from Joan Wasser of Joan As Policewoman, ex Smashing Pumpkin James Iha, Guided By Voices’ Kevin March on drumming plus Nina’s husband Nathan Larson who plays all manner of instruments. The danger of involving so many experienced musicians is that an album can degenerate into a display of muso cleverness, but for the most part Colonia avoids this trap, with reigns just tightened enough. However there are moments when the horse bolts into a pit of easy listening schmaltz and middle of the road average housewife respectability such as on the brassy My America and the rather dull The Weed Had Got There First. There are plenty of attempts at good song craft here, but there is a danger that they could easily become just background music.

This is the sound of Nina Persson the adult. It is hardly likely to sell by the bucket load. However it is undoubtedly an album Nina wanted to make, with her friends, free of commercial pressure.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Camp Bestival Announcement

It’s that time of year when we are deluged with announcements concerning summer festival line ups. Each day we hear more news of the artists and attractions that are going to be performing their hearts out to a sun kissed or rain drenched field somewhere in the UK this summer. Here at Breaking More Waves we find this all very exciting, but for some this bombardment can become a rather wearing process, each announcement leading to a gradual state of apathy.

So it’s good to see one festival organiser do something a little different to combat that apathy, and maybe raise a smile on your face. Summer is coming campers, and Rob Da Bank and his Bestival crew are getting into the Hi De Hi spirit again at their family orientated Camp Bestival, with this fun video announcement of their line up. It certainly makes a change from just sending out a press release. With Breaking more Waves favourite Bon Iver who produced our album of the year from 2008, Marina and the Diamonds, one of our ones to watch for 2009 plus the fabulous PJ Harvey all set to grace the stage, Camp Bestival is shaping up very nicely. If the organisers manage to sort out the camping and parking problems from last year it promises to be a great weekend for young and old. Breaking More Waves will see you there.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Emmy The Great + Exlovers @ Brighton Komedia / Resident Records

"It’s cool that it’s snowing and we’re completely unplugged," smiles Emma Lee-Moss, the singer songwriter more commonly known as Emmy The Great. Perched atop the counter at the best record store in Brighton, Resident Records, Emmy is here to play a free early evening set with little amplification and not even a microphone stand. Instead she asks a member of the audience to hold the mic for her so that she can play her guitar. Accompanied by just a violin the simplicity of the set highlights her often thought provoking and sometimes disturbing lyrics; "They pulled a human from my waist, it had your mouth, it had your face, I would have kept it if I'd stayed," she sings staring hard at the audience on City Song. Despite this intensity, Emmy has a warmth with her banter that keeps the snow at bay. "Are we going to have to eat CD’s and start mating with each other?" she asks after suggesting that everyone may get snowed in tonight. Fortunately mating is not required, only a short walk along the ice wrapped slabs of the North Lanes to the main event at the Komedia later in the evening.

In the basement darkness of the Komedia, main support band Exlovers bring their jingle jangle guitars and boy girl harmonies to Brighton. The recorded version of Just A Silhouette is sparkling and sprightly, but tonight both the bands appearance and sound is lackadaisical, the vocals languid, the guitars sounding just a little too distorted to do their songs any justice. The whole performance seems too straightforward and pedestrian indie, misjudged to an audience that for the most part are seeking gentle folk thrills, with seventy per cent of the crowd sitting on the floor of the supposedly standing area.

Then it’s Emmy again. With her second performance of the evening brings a full band. Against a backdrop of tiny white lights Emmy displays a calm detached stillness that charms the appreciative silent crowd. In between songs she maintains the engaging and amusing dialogue that seems to be an integral part of any Emmy The Great gig. "My manger doesn’t think I would get past the auditions of X Factor," she jokes. The musicianship is delightful, a gentle flush of acoustic folk touched with a hint of Joni Mitchell in the vocal that shows the benefits of playing numerous shows. We Almost Had A Baby even adds an unusual late 50's / early 60's influence to her gentle sound.

Unfortunately by halfway through the set some doubts concerning the ability of this balladry to hold the attention begin to creep in. The lyrics are intelligent, observant, detailed and sometimes just plain funny, as on one of her oldest and best songs The Hypnotists Son, where she sings "Every time that I think of you, I have to go to the toilet, can’t tell if this is love, or a stomach disorder." However the melodies have a tendency to meander. Although in recorded form this may bring a more longer lasting and satisfying experience as one delves into the complexities of the song, in the live arena unfamiliarity can sometimes be helped by a degree of immediacy.

This doesn’t seem to bother the highly attentive crowd however, who lap up every moment, and Emmy The Great certainly seems to have achieved ‘job well done’ status tonight. It will be interesting to see if the album, when released next week, can fully hold the attention through sophisticated song craft or if the lack of in between chat will be much missed.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Billy Vincent - New Waves @ Breaking More Waves

We’ve all heard of the tag ‘New folk’ used to describe the breed of young artists championing a sound that until recently was as unhip as thermal underwear. Now here’s another one; dirty folk. This is not thankfully a description of a bunch of musicians that haven’t seen a bath for a while, but a label provided by a band themselves to describe their music. Dirty folk arrives in the form of a five piece check shirt wearing clan from south London named Billy Vincent.

Fronted by Billy Barratt and David Vincent, Billy Vincent bring passionate rabble rousing sea shanty style gypsy folk rock with big choruses. This is a band who produce a sound that seems to exist in the sodium yellow twilight of the past, where fiddles kiss with loose acoustic guitars, and where words like tavern and bourbon are still commonly used. We doubt if they have ever even heard of Weatherspoons, Primark and Burger King.

There’s a touch of The Levellers in the sound of Billy Vincent that will get you skipping jauntily around the camp fire on The Wayward Fall In Line, and a slight vocal tremble reminiscent of Conor Oberst on The Ballad Of Billy Vincent. Another song, Street Champion, despite its folk backing has a rock pop sentimentality. If it were recorded with a more mainstream sound, for instance, by The Fray, it would probably be a big hit and used as the backing for a cringe inducing U.S television teen drama. Luckily Billy Vincent take a more earthy route of instrumentation that serves them well.

The band are due to release their debut single in March and are likely to be hitting the road for some festival appearances this summer. If it rains at those festivals and the mud makes an appearance, the rise of dirty folk may happen quicker than Billy Vincent could ever imagine.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Passion Pit - In The Studio

Passion Pit have nearly finished recording their debut album and soon the UK will get to catch one of Breaking More Waves new favourite bands when they head over to play some shows with Hockey. The band have been blogging their studio exploits here, with producer Chris Zane claiming that they are attempting to make it sound “Bigger or louder than the hype.” If Passion Pit get anywhere near this goal it could even exceed expectations. To understand just where the band are going, the video below from Fader shows the intentions of the band at work.

Ninety nine per cent of the time children on a rock, pop or dance record is a potential disaster waiting to happen, but judging from this clip, there are exceptions to the rule. For anyone who loves the Chunk of Change EP, the song shown here sounds like another funked up dose of electronic pop hooks in the head.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Antony and the Johnsons - The Crying Light

Antony and the Johnsons The Crying Light is the successor to the Mercury prize winning I Am A Bird Now. The complications of following a critically acclaimed album are sometimes complex for an artist; should they pursue pastures new or give the audience more of what they already seem to like ? It seems that for the most part, this album plays safe. Antony Hegarty has produced a work of chamber ballads that play on old territory in terms of music. His voice remains the centre point of focus, a shimmering warbling Nina Simone for a new generation, but collectively the songs have less emotional punch and consistency than their predecessors, despite the impresssive vocal.

From the opening Her Eyes Are Underneath The Ground, where a piano and simple string arrangement accompany Hegarty, to Dust And Water where an almost silent ambient backing allows him to mournfully sing nonsense lyrics, these songs are slight and delicate. From an artist of lesser stature they would be considered better than average. Antony and the Johnsons however have expectation to live up to, and this time around they don’t quite make the grade.

Lyrically the album seems to have moved from the personal to a more global theme of nature, and the words in this respect are a failure. “I’m gonna miss the sea, I’m gonna miss the snow, I’m gonna miss the bees, I’ll miss the things that grow,” he moans on Another World. “When the grass is green with grow, and my tears have turned to snow,” he bumbles on Kiss My Name. It’s like Key Stage 1 poetry at infant school. Of course, Hegarty can almost be forgiven because of his wondrous voice, but these words do not deliver the personal vulnerability that we saw on songs such as Hope There’s Someone and You Are My Sister, and for this reason they fall flat.

Individually many of these songs create some fine moments. Epilepsy Is Dancing is gorgeous chamber pop, with pastoral acoustic guitar accompanying the piano and strings as Hegarty sings “Then I cried in the kitchen, how I’d seen your ghost witching, as a soldering blue line, between my eyes .” Aeon breaks the mould of piano and strings with an almost bluesy electric guitar and strong but untheatrical vocal performance. And despite our criticisms of the lyrics of Another World, and its similarity to the songs on the previous album, it does remain a peaceful and rather sadly beautiful tune.

However when packaged together as a whole, the overall impact of the music in The Crying Light is one of Hegarty trying to hard to please, but lacking the spark or feeling to create anything other than a dull sense of emptiness. Frustratingly, The Crying Light is a lesser version of what has gone before.