It doesn’t matter how good a festival is, it’s always better when it’s dry, and unfortunately on Sunday evening a little bit of rain hit Camp Bestival 2009. However, this wasn’t rain of Glastonbury 1997,1998, and 2005 or Bestival 2008 biblical proportions, just a light shower to see off the lightweight festival goers and wet the ground a little. Breaking More Waves was there till the bitter end, although our band count was a very low number of three, due to all of the other attractions on site taking precedence. Spending a significant amount of time in the Bookworm tent enjoying spoken word performances was just one of our highlights of the day.
We do however catch The Dub Pistols who swagger on to mix and match ska, reggae, dub and hip hop and even the occasional tropical vibe whilst attempting to gee up the crowd with shouts of “make some noise.” Their influences are all rather too obvious, often coming across as a tribute band, but just don’t know the songs they are covering. “You look like freaks, you should act like freaks,” they demand, but maybe a little more freakishness in themselves would make us like them more than we do.
Breaking More Waves favourite Marina and the Diamonds is our next port of call. Just a week or so ago we raved about her self assured live performance, it was so utterly convincing. And after Camp Bestival we see no reason to change our mind. Marina is a proper entertainer. She struts and parades in her just got out of bed look wearing her pyjama top like she has gate crashed the top of the pops comeback party. Her dextrous almost operatic voice hollers its way through a short set which includes a Late Of The Pier cover version, the cuckoo bonkers Mowgli’s Road and raucous party anthem in the making Shampain Sleeper. Marina is supremely impressive once more, controlled, charismatic and hugely enjoyable. Marina is no cubic zirconia.
The final music we catch is the iconic first lady of southern soul - Candi Staton. The grey clouds begin to empty their contents over Camp Bestival but it doesn’t bother anyone as Candi shows that she’s a seasoned pro, her dramatic vocal forcefully booming out across the air, her band tight and disco funky. As a man seated on a makeshift throne carried on a platform by his throne bearers is hoisted into the air and slowly makes his way through the crowd to the front Candi is almost overshadowed and unfortunately chooses not to make any reference to it, which seems a little disappointingly disengaging of her. But once she pounds out a super extended version of Young Hearts Run Free and the classic You Got The Love (see video) the disco queen has virtually everyone on her side.
So with Camp Bestival 2009 over, Rob Da Bank can categorically state that it was even better than 2008. If it continues into 2010 there is a high chance that Breaking More Waves will be there again. Hi di hi campers !
Saturday. After some early non musical fun and games we head for our first musical adventure on day two. In the Big Top Alessi's Ark are incredibly late, having got stuck in traffic. They arrive just fifteen minutes before their allocated time finishes, set up in what must be the fastest time ever and then race through a very short set. Alessi is full of apologies, apologising for being late and apologising for clashing with Alela Diane on the Castle Stage. The brevity of the set means that the band never really get the chance to settle as they quickly tiptoe through songs such as The Dog and Asteroids Collide, Alessi’s face animated in her expressions, her voice adding a sugar coating to her soft country rock sound.
To display Camp Bestivals musical diversity we jump from Alessis’s Ark to Goldie Lookin' Chain. From chart success with Guns Don’t Kill People Rappers Do, to celebrity Big Brother shenanigans, you could easily be forgiven for thinking that Goldie Lookin’ Chain were no longer a going concern having faded into obscurity. However it seems that Adam Hussain, Maggot, Eggsy and crew are still one big gang, bringing their energetic stage stalking track suited comedy hip hop to a big appreciative crowd. Funny and as puerile as ever GLC tackle everything from Michael Jackson “He’s dead now - he did do some bad things though,” to farting “I put farting powder in Adams coffee,” as they race through a set of tracks old and new. Their tongue in cheek lyrics, colourful leisure wear and comic banter go down well with the audience, with plenty of hands raised in the air (see picture above) Hit singles may now be a thing of the past, but Goldie Lookin’ Chain can probably make some money from a career out of festival appearances such as this for some years to come.
Musical journeyman Frank Turner returns to the UK from touring the States with The Offspring to bring some good old fashioned singer songwriter ideals to the Camp Bestival main stage. Frank seems to spend his whole life incessantly touring, building up a loyal fan base from it. New single The Road, played with jaunty enthusiasm seems to celebrate this fact with its lyrics of fear of staying in one place and the irony of “only being shackled to the road can ever I be free.” Turner is a troubadour with strong principles and his heart on his sleeve, a man who seems like he's grown wiser after taking some kicks, but getting back up again. On the eloquent Long Live The Queen he sings the words of someone who he has lost “You’ll live to dance another day, it’s just now you’ll have to dance for the two of us.” It's poignantly beautiful. There are hints of Billy Bragg in Frank Turner, if Billy if had decided to play acoustic punk rock with a folk twist. Turner is obviously a grafter, and we’re sure that this will pay dividends for him in the long run.
Last year at End Of The Road Festival Bon Iver played the most absorbing and enchanting set we witnessed in 2008. A year on and Justin Vernon, who effectively is Bon Iver has become more accustomed to playing to big crowds, and as a result his set loses some of the humble magic that made it so special a year ago. With a slightly smoother sound and a little bit of chat Bon Iver play through tracks from For Emma, Forever Ago, our album of the year last year, plus a rockier version of Blood Bank and a cover of Yo La Tengo’s I Feel Like Going Home. Skinny Love finds Justin on scratchy guitar and three drummers driving the song home, whilst on Re:Stacks he plays solo, the music meshing with the lyrics to portray exactly how the song sounds “it’s the sound of unlocking and lifting away". Creature Fear ends wrapped in warped noisy derangement and final song Wolves (Act I and II) sees Vernon using the crowd as backing vocals, gradually building in volume as they sing “What might have been lost,” over and over again. It’s good, but it lacks the emotion and awe that we have seen before, although the audience give rapturous applause after every song.
The evening is then left to PJ Harvey to play her headlining set in the Big Top. Earlier this year Harvey astounded us in Brighton (review here). At Camp Bestival she performs a totally different solo show which she states will consist of her own personal favourite songs, performed stripped down, the way they were originally written. From the stunning gutsy blues of opening song To Bring You My Love to the stark ending of Silence the performance feels more like a recital than a euphoric festival set, but it works perfectly. The audience are very respectful listening in almost near silence as Harvey performs everything from well known tracks such as Down By The Water to B Sides such as Nina In Ecstasy which Polly described as “a very small quiet song.” Some songs are played on piano, others on guitar. A new track samples the old tin pan alley song Istanbul (Not Constantinople) by fifties group The Four Lads, looped whilst Polly sings with a bizarre musical minuture harp type instrument. It's an odd yet intriguing piece.
The set confirms Harvey as a major and unique talent, her voice ranging from an unsettling girlish tone to a powerful strong woman. This show had a feel of being something rather special. It may not have been right for those who want a big singalong, clapalong, lowest common denominator headlining set, but for those who want something born out of pure integrity and quality PJ Harvey ticked all the right boxes. A superb way to end a great day.
“We’ve never played by a castle before, so that’s good,” announces Marcus Mumford with a smile. It’s mid afternoon and Mumford and Sons are playing their soulful blend of bluegrass and folk to a chilled out crowd on the main stage on the opening day of Camp Bestival. Summery vibes may be the order of the day but the accordion led Winter Winds is by the bands own admission not very appropriate for such lovely weather. Irrespective of lyrical rights or wrongs, the bands tunes have a solemnly epic gravitas, Marcus’s quietly rasping roar sounding glorious and tender on White Blank Page. Roll Away Your Stone with its Camberwick Green style intro brings out spots of take your partner by the hand country and western style jigging in the crowd. Mumford & Sons win some new fans and warm hearts, whatever season it is.
Having been celebrated and referenced by Mumford and Sons earlier, Hayseed Dixie continue the banjo revival. Best known for reinventing classic rock songs as ballistic bluegrass numbers they roll out hyperactive hoe down versions Ace Of Spades and Fat Bottom Girls to the delight of the crowd. Performing a song about keeping your ex’s poop in a jar may not be the most spiritually deep moment of the festival, getting schoolboy giggles all round, but these hilarious hillbillies removed the frown from even the biggest cynics face.
The crowd at the main stage swells significantly for Florence And The Machine. She may be third on the bill but young Florence Welch could quite easily be considered headliner status now, with a number two album and a Mercury nomination under her flowing robes. But could she deliver ?
Introduced by a town crier carrying a Dorset flag Florence is like a flaming pre-raphaelite bride, flailing and fizzing across the stage. It was at Camp Bestival this time last year that we witnessed Florence live performance for the first time, and she gleefully tells the audience how then she ended up half naked down at Lulworth Cove. “I was in a pretty bad way,” she giggles. One year on and Florence is now the speaker stack ascending commanding queen. She divides the crowd in two and gets each section to howl like wolves for Howl, instructs everyone to turn round to look at the beautiful sunset and asks for everyone to say hello to her sister in the audience. Just like her performance the music itself doesn’t hold back at all, unleashed in a powerful frenzy of heavy drums and belting vocals it’s brimming with energy and passion. Performance of the day and possibly of the festival - she delivered.
Later in the evening Dan Black headlines the tiny Bandstand stage to just a handful of people. The gig is probably the most surreal that Black has ever played, standing on a bunting decorated bandstand with a number of children stage front, adults seated on the grass in the dark behind them. “Shouldn’t you be in bed?” asks Black to the children as he launches into his set of funky pop grooves with heavy beats. The kids seem to show no fear though “When are you going to play the good one?” a six year old questions. “We‘re saving it till the end,” laughs Black. As his set develops though Black takes the victory. The adults stand and begin to dance and people huddle closer to the stage. Black is engaging, full of funky moves and confidence. Alone in particular storms it, a hot little stormer with sexed up synths and thrusting pumping bass. The children got a right musical education.
2008 was Rob Da Banks annus horribilis. The BBC Radio 1 DJ, head honcho of Sunday Best records and Bestival / Camp Bestival organiser had all manner of trials and tribulations with his festivals. The Bestival site suffered some of the worst rain and mud experienced at a festival and Camp Bestival left organisers pulling their hair out with some fairly major problems arising from lack of camping, parking and toilet facilities.
For Camp Bestival 2009 everyone was smiling again as 10,000 adults and 5,000 children turned the site at Lulworth Castle, Dorset into an exuberant and colourful riot of Hi De Hi fun. The problems from the previous year were fully resolved, with huge banks of toilets, and significant camping space provided for a festival of this size – albeit the camping areas still became fairly full with so many people bringing tents that resembled mansions onto site. The Kids Garden, set on the lawn behind the castle, had been expanded from the previous year and once again provided one of the most delightful areas of the festival. Here young and old alike could have fun with a huge number of activities from uni-cycle practice to donkey rides whilst also visiting a Bestival institution, the W.I tea tent, which served up sandwiches, cakes and cheap tea. There was also The River Cottage Café, a bar, a bandstand which played host to a number of up and coming bands in the evening, clear views of the sea and a huge number of activities, fun and games. The other main addition to the site from 2008 was the installation of a new Big Top second stage in the Magic Meadow area which expanded the repertoire of music, comedy, dance and film that was available through the weekend.
Due to its size Camp Bestival felt very much like the earlier Bestival events before it grew to the size it is today, but with a more laid back family friendly vibe rather than one of hedonistic partying, although for those who wanted to rave into the night the Bollywood Bar and the Black Dahlia provided DJ action from the likes of Skream and Benga, Boys Noize and The Sombrero Sound System. The site was beautifully decorated with an abundance of flags and bunting, with the holiday atmosphere helped even further by plenty of sunshine. By the time some rain fell on the third night it was too late to dampen spirits or the fireworks. As Rob Da Bank played tracks such as Orbital, Primal Scream and Cliff Richards Summer Holiday from the main stage, Lulworth Castle was lit up by a mesmerising display that made the perfect end to the festival. The start of this display can be seen in the video below.
Our only small criticism of the event was that a few more food stalls would have reduced some of the queues that developed at peak times, although a bit of advance planning meant that we never had to queue for more than five minutes. Also the only cider that was on offer was the rather disgusting Gaymers which was over three pounds seventy a bottle, which was in our opinon over priced. However security were very relaxed and there were no problems in bringing your own food and drink into any part of the site.
Although there was plenty of music of all types Breaking More Waves also took in a range of other entertainment including afternoon tea of cucumber sandwiches and cakes with a dose of vintage cabaret in the Edwardian themed Time For Tease tent, fun and games with the Bestival Bluecoats, watching the English National Ballet perform Angelina Ballerina, marvelling at the dazzling and amazing Insect Circus, the cool and tasty Mr Wippy and his dancing ladies performing from an Ice Cream van, dressing as a crocodile for a fancy dress parade lead by kids TV favourite Mr Tumble, spoken word and poetry in the Bookworm tent with Scroobius Pip, Chris Hicks, Rachel Pantechnicon, Kid Carpet and Polarbear, and many other activities in the kids area with the Breaking More Waves junior gang. Quite simply there was too much to do in just three days.
But despite all these eccentric attractions, we still fitted in some music, which is just as well, as this is a music blog. So over the next three posts let us guide you through some of the bands that made this years Camp Bestival so special. We’ll be putting up a post a day focussing on just the bands we saw.
Our favourite Norwegian group of the year Casio Kids release a new single Finn Bikkjen! On the 3rd August. A warped bouncy plinky plonky groove reminiscent of Hot Chip with dreamy falsetto vocals, the song is so summery in its sound that unless we knew that Casio Kids were actually from Bergen we would have guessed they were from the Caribbean. We have no idea what they are singing about as the band stick to their native tongue, but even if (to use a stereotype) Finn Bikkjen! was about snow and glaciers it toasts us with a delicious rubbery analogue disco warmth. It’s another superlative release from the Moshi Moshi Records crew.
Casio Kids are all over the world this summer and are hitting a number of UK Festivals including Standon Calling, Jersey Live and Bestival. Here’s a video of the band playing the song in an acoustic style in a balloon. It’s pretty different to the crazy danciness of the single, but it has its own cute charm that musically and physically takes off.
Lemonade are a Brooklyn based three piece consisting of Callan Clendenin, Alex Pasternak and Ben Steidel. This week they released their debut UK single Big Weekend through the Sunday Best record label.
Big Weekend is the right title for this track. It’s a massive dance number full of indulgent voodoo grooves. With a hearty dark thumping drum, big cowbell frenzy and a heady dreamy synth sound Big Weekend transports you straight into the middle of a packed rave where the rampant party is in full swing, before clattering percussion and funky basslines draw every ounce of sweat from your body. Big Weekend reminds us a little of !!!, The Rapture, and Friendly Fires - its lean, mean and edgy - perfect to appeal to both purist dance fans and drunken vibing indie kids. There’s also something just a little bit 'Madchester' about it, the echoing half rap half sung vocal reminding us of the halcyon days of the Happy Mondays but remixed with lots of energy.
The band are currently on tour in the USA and will be playing Bestival in the UK in September.
Yesterday saw the announcement of the 2009 Mercury Music Prize nominations, and as usual there are some nominees that were widely predicted, and a handful of esoteric acts that may benefit significantly from the exposure a Mercury nomination can give. The list contains a number of Breaking More Waves favourites as well as one or two that we’re not so keen on. Florence And The Machine was probably the most widely tipped act to be nominated, and it was no surprise to find her on the list. The nomination was completely justified, Lungs is a fabulous powerful album that sounds good on first listen and gets even better as the days go on. You can read our review here.
After the nominations were announced the usual plethora of articles rapidly appeared on the internet either praising or damning the list, and trying to find connections between the musical styles. Drowned In Sound called it trendy and electro poppy in this article here whilst the Telegraph suggested that it was advertising the death of the genre here. (Note also in the comments section of the article Breaking More Waves correcting the journalists mistake !) Popjustice of course came up with the best article, announcing the Popjustice Twenty Quid Music Prize, with nominations including JLS, The Saturdays and Calvin Harris. Interesting to note that La Roux was nominated in the Twenty Quid Prize list, and features in the Mercury nominations as well. We think this says something about La Roux. In terms of being the sound of 2009 La Roux is it. But then La Roux is also the sound of 1982. La Roux ticks many boxes and appeals to many types and ages of people. Her singles have defined the year – big commercial pop songs that have appealed universally making a sound that until recently was considered cheesy, but is now mainstream and cool again. If the judges are going to define the prize with an album that defined the year in the same way that they did with The Arctic Monkeys Whatever People Say I Am That’s What I’m Not then La Roux will take it.
So what of the other acts ? The other day in Part 1 of this article we talked about artists in less populist genres such as folk and jazz who can use the award to receive wider recognition. This year we are pleasantly surprised to see the Lisa Hannigan album get the vote and this exposure can only lead to increased sales for Sea Sew. Curiously Lisa’s album was nominated for the Irish Choice Prize earlier this year, and therefore we had assumed it wasn’t eligible for inclusion in the Mercury list. Several articles have already appeared stating how unknown Lisa is, but we would contest that Lisa is more well known than many would think, following her work in the past with Snow Patrol and Damien Rice. We caught Lisa live earlier this year and you can read our review here. Other acts that will surely gain from exposure include jazz group Led Bib , who many had predicted would be nominated for Sensible Shoes and Sweet Billy Pilgrim with Twice Born Men who provide an inviting proposition of beautiful country, folk and experimentation. They remind us of Elbow with banjos in their song construction. We think they could well be a good bet as a dark horse.
Then of course there are higher profile acts. Kasabian will be pleased to be on the list with West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum, the buzz being that their current album of lad rock is their best yet. It guarantees them more radio play and further progression through the year leading towards the end of year polls. It’s not really Breaking More Waves cup of tea, but all credit to Kasabian nonetheless. Bat For Lashes aka Natasha Khan has now released two albums, both of which have been nominated for the prize. In terms of some of the reference points (we mentioned Enya in our review here ) there are some similarities to the Florence And The Machine album, although we prefer Lungs by some way. Last year we put Glasvegas at number three in our album of the year listings. Last years winners Elbow were number two. A masculine album that wears its heart on its dense wall of noise sleeve, Glasvegas may suffer from having been released last year when up against very now albums such as Florence and La Roux but we are pleased to see that it has not been forgotten.
At a time when UK urban and black music in general is going through a bit of a fallow period in terms of albums, Speech Debelle seems to be one of the few shining lights and her cool jazzy hip hop will probably reach a few more coffee tables through its nomination. Another dance influenced and highly predicted choice, the Friendly Fires debut has been a slow burner, gradually picking up interest as it funks and shakes its way across student union dance floors and the radio. It does raise the question of where are the nominations for purist genre specific dance music on the list? In the past acts such as Basement Jaxx, Hot Chip, The Prodigy and The Chemical Brothers have all made the list but this year there is a gap.
Another smile was raised when we saw the inclusion of The Horrors. Who would have thought a couple of years ago that The Horrors second album would end up as a Mercury nomination in 2009? We’re very pleased about this. It probably has very little chance of winning, (although what do we know) being maybe just a little too obvious in its references, but Primary Colours certainly deserves its place. Read our review of the album here.
Which leads us to the final act on the list - The Invisible. This is the only act we shrugged our shoulders a little to. Having caught them live earlier this year supporting Doves their funky blend of urgent rock pop failed to move us, which we found surprising as the huge number of comparisons to TV On The Radio made by the press would suggest that we really should like The Invisible. That’s music for you though, full of contradictions.
So that’s the nominations dealt with. There were also some high profile acts that were not on the list. DovesKingdom Of Rust had been widely predicted to ‘do an Elbow’ by many, but didn’t make it. We agree with the panels view on this one, it left us feeling a little disappointed. You can see our full thoughts here on that one. Likewise Hands by Little Boots has not made the cut. Cynically we could suggest she has been beaten by La Roux again. Victoria Hesketh could have done with the nomination to help her not particularly impressive sales figures, which we documented here, but despite some neat pure pop melodies maybe there wasn’t enough innovation on the Little Boots album to be considered for a Mercury.
So that’s it. The runners are now officially racing. Who is going to win ? Well, the last few years we have had reasonable success rates at picking the winners - three out of the last four. Our personal favourites are Florence And The Machine and The Horrors, but we’re liking what we have heard so far of Sweet Billy Pilgrim as well. But this year we’re really not sure if our own personal tastes will match the panels, so we’re going to cop out and not make a prediction. What do you think ?
But even after the votes have been cast later this year, we'll be putting any wrongs right. Come December the most authoritative and damn special Top Ten Albums Of The Year List will be published. Right here. Humble ? Not this blog !
Here's our little bit of exposure for Lisa Hannigan, certainly in our opinion one of the most unexpected nominations, but also one of the most gratifying.
It seems like Slow Club and their skittering, erratic alt county pop have been around for a long time now. Breaking More Waves first caught them playing live over two years ago and now finally after a number of singles and EP’s, Slow Club have released an album - Yeah So. Some of the singles are featured on the album, such as a re-recorded Because We’re Dead and recent stomping single It Doesn’t Have To Be Beautiful. Further old song Let’s Fall Back In Love can be found on a limited edition bonus CD that comes with early purchases of the album which also include a number of live songs recorded at the Union Chapel, London.
So with the release of this record, Slow Club make their space and firmly establish their ground, mixing exuberant sounding ramshackle indie goes country numbers such as Giving Up On Love and the afore mentioned It Doesn’t Have To Be Beautiful together with slower songs such as the acoustic waltz of Apples And Pairs. This is a collection of tunes that documents the band well, and whilst it never quite catches the joy, beauty and humour of their best live shows it is still a charming campfire cuddle of a listen.
There are of course some limitations to Slow Club. They are after all only a two piece and most of their songs are formed out of acoustic old fashioned sounding guitars and stumbling skiffle like drums. The band seem to be aware of this though, as the running order of the album is designed with subtle variations from song to song enabling the listeners attention to be held. From the echoing haunting piano on Come On Youth to the mixing of vocal duties on the starkly sad There Is No Good Way To Say I Am Leaving You (Charles) and Sorry About The Doom (Rebecca). In fact, it is the twin vocals of the duo that are one of the most endearing aspects of Yeah So. Some may call them twee in a negative sense, but we would prefer innocent and beautiful; Charles all manfully nasal, Rebecca all girlish with droplets of country, folk and soul dripping from her mouth. Whether they’re wailing gang shouts, dropping sweet harmonies or collecting his and hers call and response lines like musical farmers, they harvest a fine collection of tunes to take back to the barn.
So Yeah So despite its arrogant title, is actually a sweet, simple and genuinely natural sounding album with some concise and wonderful melodies. It could easily find a place in the hearts of those who have enjoyed their singles. Lovely. In places the lyrics are sad. But the songs are lovely nonetheless.
Last Friday saw the launch of Scandalism, a brand new eclectic indie, electro, retro night at the Scala, King Cross, London. A host of bands and DJ’s strutted their stuff including several artists from one of our favourite stables - Neon Gold. This included two acts that we have been following since the back of last year and whom have both recently been announced as appearing on this autumns NME Radar Tour - Yes Giantess and Marina And The Diamonds.
Yes Giantess are dancing before they’ve even played a note. As the DJ vibes it up with some school disco eighties campness, Jan Rosenfeld and his gang are shaking their butts stage side. The head jittering, hip shaking, uninhibited grooving continues as they blast through a set of charged synth jams, drums firing like machine guns. Rosenfeld brings a vocal intonation that hints at Michael Jackson loving it up with MGMT whilst bespectacled keyboardist Karl Hohn fluxes like he has been electrocuted; the most manic and animated improvised dance routine seen in London this year. Yes Giantess may be a keyboard band but live there is a big smack of energy, bodies jerking like frantic turkeys, Karl almost losing his glasses in the rush. With the addition of a member of Passion Pit on drums, the smoothly romantic Tuff N Stuff is dedicated to “Anyone who’s been in love,” Rosenfeld so mesmerised that he almost forgets to play the outro at the end of the song. Yes Giantess continue to straddle the tracks between out and out eighties pop (think Kylie, Erasure) and hip indie dance (Hot Chip, Daft Punk, Passion Pit ) all with a touch of college boy geekiness. Jump on the train and enjoy the ride, every station these fun lovin' scamps stop at is going to be a party.
“I am Marina And The Diamonds,” states Marina emphatically. This is no singer and band combined, let’s be clear about this - Marina is the star here. Fully formed, utterly self assured and a raw talent, Marina And The Diamonds commands the stage with massive presence, even when she drops her tambourine mid song. She prowls the venue with her arms and hair flailing, her voice taking a journey from vulnerable and tender on Obsessions to gloriously Kate Bush styled wild and crazy on Mowgli’s Road. Her songs are somewhat unorthodox, but as she blisters her way through The Shampain Sleeper, a huge Pat Benatar meets Roxette synth piano styled stomp, we see commercial potential too. The song is the perfect example of power tune pop. Marina is exactly what Breaking More Waves wants our stars to be - engaging, a little different, supremely confident and just that little bit sexy. This diamond shines bright.
On the 21st of July 2009 the shortlist for the Mercury Music Prize will be announced. If previous years are anything to go by, there will be some artists where the consensus agrees that the artist is a worthy nominee and others where shoulders are shrugged and puzzled faces appear.
What we always particularly like about the Mercury Prize is that (in theory) it has nothing to do with sales and is all to do with quality. Often some of the less populist genres such as folk and jazz can receive nominations that can bring new exposure to these artists that can lead to significant increases in sales. Some may sneer and call them ‘token entries’ but the reality is that far more rock and pop albums are released in a year than these other genres and therefore proportionally there will always be fewer of such genres on the shortlist. Last year we were delighted when Rachel Unthank and the Winterset received a nomination – The Bairns was such a delightful recording and the Mercury Prize nomination took the group to a much wider audience. So this year amongst the heavyweights, we will be looking with interest at some of the less well known acts. Personally amongst this type of smaller artist we would like to see Blue Roses (Classical / folk / pop), Robert Mitchell (Jazz) and The Leisure Society (Folk / Pop) receive nominations.
Until the awards are released, you can keep up to date with the speculation on this thread here and there is an interesting article written by one of the previous panels judges here . In the meantime we’re off to find that needle in the haystack. And when the awards are announced you can read our commentary on them here
Judging music purely in terms of commercial success is a dangerous and rocky road to go down. Often the lowest common denominator can achieve commercial victory over something more substantial.
But like it or not, commercial success has weight in the music industry. Let’s face it, it’s called an industry for a reason. Industries don’t work if they aren’t making money.
A while ago we talked about perceptions of success in the music industry here, and concluded that even the measurement of commercial success is fraught with difficulties these days. Chart position alone may not necessarily be a true or full representation of the earnings an artist can make due to synchronisation income from ticket sales, merchandising revenue, advertising streams, and even product placements. However, irrespective of this, the charts still play an important part in demonstrating what is endearing itself to the UK population at any snapshot in time - just look at the number of Michael Jackson singles and albums that have re-entered the charts following his death.
So on the basis that the charts have relevance in terms of public popularity, a careful look down this weeks album charts shows us that it seems that an artist that Breaking More Waves first raved about last October and November, predicting that she may be bound for the stars, hasn’t really taken off to the extent that many hoped. Little Boots debut album Hands entered the charts at a reasonably satisfactory number five, but a week later had slipped down to number forty. Now this may be fine for a leftfield indie or rock band with a hardcore fan base developed through gigging and little spent on marketing, but for a pop act with significant exposure and a team behind her this is a dire performance. She now lags behind Fleet Foxes , Lily Allen and The Script who have all had albums out for much longer periods. Her record company must be pretty disappointed. Her biggest success was having the most downloaded free single on I Tunes in the UK - but it was free so commercially this wasn’t a success, although in terms of personal goals Victoria has claimed that all she wants to do is get her music out to people.
Some may say that comparisons by sex are irrelevant, but as both La Roux and Little Boots appeared around the same time, both bringing keyboard wizardry with pop songs, they are inevitable. And right now the score is about 4-1 to La Roux. The evidence is clear - two big hit singles, a number two album (which in any other week would have been number one, except for a certain Mr Jackson deciding spoil the party in a most unfortunate way) and an autumn tour of much bigger venues than Little Boots.
So the question is what has gone wrong ? Why has the music of Little Boots not resonated with the public as much in the UK as La Roux, despite all of the exposure ?
The cynics will simply answer this question by saying “Well, she’s not very good.” But we would disagree. The Little Boots album is by and large a good pop album. (See our review here.) It isn’t perfect, but there’s certainly more melodic and inventive pop tunes on it than the last Girls Aloud or Britney albums (although both of these acts had one big single up their sleeves) We still believe that Hands could have been a bigger success than it appears it will be. So here are the Breaking More Waves top seven reasons why we think Little Boots has not had the commercial success predicted.
1. The most important reason. New In Town was a terrible choice of single - there are far better songs on the album. Without a big lead hit single the public will not part with cash from their pockets. for an album. Compare with La Roux. In For The Kill vs. New In Town. We know which one we’ll be humming at year end.
2. Not only was the single a poor choice, the video was seriously misguided and didn’t suit Victoria Hesketh at all. The geeky bedroom covers videos were much more endearing.
3. Little Boots was marketed to the wrong core audience. In hindsight trying to market pure pop to Guardian readers and the like didn’t work. By pure pop we mean pop that is populist, that sells and has a certain desposability about it. Throughout history pop music is initially purchased by young girls and gay men. From Take That to Kylie Minogue to The Beatles. All of these acts initially had core audiences from one or both of these groups. Then as time goes on, if the artist hangs around long enough, other markets come on board as the artist gains more serious intellectual respect or just high regard for producing a series of classic pop songs (See Madonna, Take That or even Britney as examples.) It seems that Little Boots was initially marketed as ‘cool pop music’ for those of us who like to read Drowned In Sound and Popjustice. Unfortunately, we are in a minority, most audiences fitting into one or either of these groups. It’s a shame, we would have liked to have seen more Future Of the Left / Fleet Foxes / Los Campesinos fans dancing to a bit of catchy electronic pop, but it seems that such fans don’t dance much. Or at least not to Little Boots.
4. Too many electro pop ladies at any one time. Already the backlash against these artists has begun as over saturation of the airwaves occurs. Little Boots had the head start with the BBC Sound Of 2009 Poll putting her in first place and her record company should have been in a position to capitalise on that and push earlier than they did. Another example of the major record companies not being able to adapt quick enough in todays fast moving world.
5. Whilst we are sure that Victoria Hesketh is a nice enough person, and seems pretty determined, the interviews we have seen / read are pretty dull. We want our pop stars to be outlandish, sexy and provocative. We want them to be the kind of people that you fantasise about, that in your dreams you would bed for a night of unbridled passion. Victoria, despite the glittery dresses and cool hair seems more the kind of person that we’d like to go down the pub with (although when we have seen her play live there is a hint of something sexy there.) The golden rule of pop is that sex sells. From Elvis to Lady Gaga, the evidence is there.
6. Following the marketing and projections of Little Boots as just that little bit cool and a little bit geeky as described in 3 above, something went wrong between the low key release of songs such as Stuck On Repeat and Meddle produced by Joe Goddard in 2008 and New In Town. New In Town was too polished, was void of a real melody and lacked character. It therefore alienated much of the fan base that had cottoned on to the quirkiness and difference of tracks such as Stuck On Repeat, but didn't pick up much of the younger teenage market who like artists such as Girls Aloud and the Sugababes.
7. On the basis that there are better songs on the album than New In Town, the album would have been better released after a further single release, in the same way that the La Roux album wasn't released till after the release of Bulletproof, allowing a slightly slower build and her 'true pop' audience to find her.
So, next up for Little Boots is the single Remedy. It's better than New In Town, but with the album now out, will anyone buy it ? One single and a couple of months are a long time in pop music these days and the synth sound it uses is rather too similar to Lady Ga Ga's Poker Face. Has momentum now been lost to the point where dare we say it, by the end of the year Little Boots parts way with her record company ? Or will her fortunes change ? A Mercury nomination would help. Or maybe a heavy reduction in price to possibly assist the album back up the charts for more exposure following the release of Remedy. Or just a single that captures the public imagination - is it too late for a Stuck On Repeat re-release ? Let's just hope that in desperation Ms Hesketh doesn’t choose the celebrity Big Brother option or decide to get her boobs out for a lads mag -although we're sure Victoria has fine boobs, we don't really want to see them.
We’ll have more on Remedy at some point in the future, but for now here’s Little Boots performing the song on the Jonathan Ross show on BBC1.
Thursday night at the Fat Fox in Portsmouth is Hong Kong Gardeners Club, a recession busting evening where for just a few pounds punters can catch up and coming underground indie bands as well as one or two local acts over a couple of pub priced pints. Tonight is the turn of London trio Let's Wrestle, out on tour to support their album In The Court Of The Wrestling Let’s
Let’s Wrestle are a menagerie of mohican beatkids, floppy hair and leopard skin guitar straps that look like they have just drunkenly stumbled in from a student party that has gone on too long. Asking the audience to step closer to the stage the band themselves are distinctly several steps to the left, being very much on the periphery with slightly out of tune singing that seems to be following a different song to the guitars. Let’s Wrestle seem intent on producing a scrappy, scuzzy, ramshackle and generally unmemorable sound reminiscent of late 80’s indie anorak college guitar bands. If this was 1987 they would probably be a support act for the Wedding Present or Half Man Half Biscuit. There are moments when the three piece break from the shambolic lo-fi ghetto with the odd catchy “Ba ba ba” indie beach boy chorus that almost hooks you in, but for the most part their songs lead to a state of muddled utter perplexity, despite the energy of the Buzzcocks gone wrong sound they make.
The most memorable moment of the set is their last number. Amid a flurry of angry instrumentation they yell “Let’s wrestle, let’s fuckin’ wrestle,” before name checking world of sport fighting legends Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks. Dickie Davis would be proud of them. It all ends with a chaotic and noisy barrage of guitar where occasionally a riff of note peeps out above the parapet, before it ducks back down and is forgotten. If Let’s Wrestle were a sexual experience they would be an awkward, fumbling, giggling and slightly grubby up against the wall moment with an ugly spotty inexperienced teenager at the end of a student party. It would probably end suddenly in a burst of premature ejaculation, and in the morning you wouldn’t even remember it.
The Let’s Wrestle style of dumb leftfield indie amateurishness is finding a small fan base, but it doesn’t make us want to don our leotard, jump up into the ring, and perform body presses on fellow fighters. It may have been the band were having an off day, but we suspect that its part of their style. It was a struggle with Let’s Wrestle.
Do you ever have occasions when you’ve had a real crappy day at work / college /school and you come home, put on the computer or radio and hear a song that instantly changes your mood ? Something so life affirming and brilliant that suddenly everything is all right again ? Well, we had one of those moments this week, and quite simply we can’t stop playing it since. Our neighbours probably think we’ve gone crazy, the same song looped over and over again blasting out into the summer air. By now everybody down our street probably knows every word of Once And For All by Clock Opera. Starting off with a simple half electronic half orchestral chiming sound that sounds like a baroque We Are Your Friends by Justice vs. Simian it effortlessly morphs into a broad sweeping pop song, the magnitude of which is so big that if it were a font size it would be 72. Plus more.
The good thing is that Clock Opera have some other delicious music as well. They call it ‘chop pop’ by which leader Guy Connelly means that he chops and samples sounds to create new ones and then splices them together to make brain invading pop symphonies with an edge. So expect unusual electronic sounds that combine texture and harsh beauty; the kind of sound that we last heard on the debut Maps album We Can Create. The fact that the atmospheric ambience of another Clock Opera song Allouette sounds a little bit like Radiohead at their most experimental means that the recent teaming of Kid A and Amnesiac engineer Graham Stewart with Clock Opera is a perfect combination. But for now we’re going back to listen to Once And For All. Like a wonderful drug it makes every day sound perfect. Go take some.
There’s no video to post, but use the link above to access their Myspace and see why we love Clock Opera more than our own children. (Well, almost.)
This is Local Natives first live show outside of the United States ever and they are undeniably excited about it. “Hey everybody we’re called Local Natives and we’re very happy to be in London,” they announce at the start. Even more than this the band appear to be genuinely stunned that so many people have turned out to see them when they are so far from their home of Los Angeles.
It’s easy to see why people have turned up. Local Natives blend of folk beat consists of surging Arcade Fire meets Fleet Fox style harmonies that demonstrate significant power. They perform a rhythmically charged and organically groovy cover of Talking Heads Warning Sign, which sounds better than the original. Then there is the vibing moodiness of debut UK single Sun Hands which they tear apart with rocking guitars and percussive heaviness at the end– it’s quite staggering. It’s no wonder that one of the bands double drummers cymbals has a piece chipped off it - it takes a hell of a bashing during their crashing tribal sonic intercourse. Best of all is the instantly likeable Airplanes, a song filled with catchy melodies and percussive hooks that could easily lead one into a spot of air drumming.
Local Natives produce melodic turbulence, the songs rising, falling and changing in tempo in a manner that feels free and natural despite the obvious control and musical dexterity the group have. Vigour and musical passion are the order of the day here, the band visibly straining, their heads thrown back, their brows perspiring as they join together to produce mammoth “Whoa oh oh” choruses. It's no surprise that even for a cool London audience, the band get a very good reaction.
Earlier this year Local Natives created quite a buzz at the South by South West Festival. Expect that buzz to continue. One of the best bands from Stateside this year.
Skint and Demoralised release their new single Red Lipstick this week. Last time we came across Matt Abbott and his band he was playing to a virtually empty basement in Brighton. It was, as the bands name suggests, a rather demoralising experience, even if the group tried their best. The release of Red Lipstick, which we originally previewed a demo video of here last December, finds the band on much chirpier ground. With an upbeat choppy guitar lick, a hint of the Lightning Seeds and an ounce or two of northern soul piano tossed in, Red Lipstick is a simple love song about a down to earth girl who doesn’t mind looking daft and likes “Red lipstick, fish and chips, orange juice and trips to the seaside.” It may lack the weightier punch of Matts deeper social and political lyrics that can be found elsewhere in his work, but the breezy music and spoken word vocal sound just right for English summertime. Let's get down to the beach.
And if this is all just too happy for you listen to the B Side That Week In October which is darker, downbeat and sounds like Arab Strap if they had come from Yorkshire rather than Scotland.
Matt has described himself as “A poet who occasionally sings,” and even takes his poetry to Twitter where he often posts in rhyme. “The financial effect of Glastonbury was absolutely obscene. Money to last to Wednesday ? Eleven pounds nineteen,” he recently posted after the mother of all festivals. With an album Love And Other Catastrophes now due for release on 5th October, you will be able to hear more of this rhyme set over sound effects as interludes between the more upbeat Motown meets indie guitar songs that are the core of the Skint and Demoralised sound. The group are beginning to push their wares out on display, with the single attracting some daytime exposure on Radio 1 as well as playing a number of UK Festivals this summer including Latitude and Bestival.
After picking up the Brits critics award at the start of the year with two well received singles, and appearing on virtually every single Ones To Watch list including our very own, the last six months have been a daunting journey for Florence And The Machine. Recent hit single Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up) saw Florence Welch dealing and recognising this journey, grappling with the idea of propulsion into a much bigger world of exposure as she sang “This is a gift it comes with a price, who is the lamb and who is the knife.” Florence may as well get used to the price she has to pay, as the idea is now set to become reality - we are sure that Lungs will do the business.
This is a big, ballsy album full of tribal drums, pagan harps and breathy gutsy immense vocals that grab you in and lift you to new levels. The constructions of the songs on Lungs bear structural similarities to dance anthems, pushing higher and higher, and it is therefore no surprise to see live favourite, her cover version of disco classic You Got The Love (subtly renamed You‘ve Got The Love) included at the end of the record. The other much talked about reference points of Kate Bush and Bat For Lashes with their spiritual and gothic mysticism are also accurate; imagery of coffins, werewolves, saints and darkness giving Lungs the sense of being a record of its own unique time and place rather than a fashionable pop record. This is despite production duties for the majority of the recording being handled by James Ford and Paul Epworth, two of the most hip and in demand producers around.
Lungs is an album that works as a complete whole. Quite simply there are very few weak moments on it. Only I’m Not Calling You A Liar is a little flat, the vocals grating a little, seeming to lack a direction or pure melody. Other than this though every song is brutally good. Songs full of drenches of passion, soaring crescendos and studio polished intensity abound. From the edgy blues of Girl With One Eye, the string laden, clattering church like intensity of Blinding to the sweet hopscotch start stop of Between Two Lungs with a chorus that flows to the heavens, Lungs is consistantly excellent.
Florence Welch has been fearless enough to rub away some of her earlier rough edges, but has not lost the soul and power that made her such an interesting prospect in the first place. Lungs delivers. Big time.
We're on blog exile at the moment (back Monday for a full weeks worth of catching up), but in the meantime enjoy Russian people enjoying Britney Spears. Proof that a great pop song crosses borders, cultures and genres.
Here's something a little different. If music be the food of love, play on. Give me excess of it. That’s what old Shakespeare said. It would seem that these couples at the Blur gig at Hyde Park, London and the Sasquatch Festival, Washington took the music being the food of love to its ultimate conclusion. We wonder how long these two will stay on You Tube before they are taken down ?
It seems like everyone at Sasquatch had a fine old time. If you haven’t seen the dancing man starts dance party clips yet, you really should (below). The psychologists amongst you can analyse a group behaviour model and talk knowledgeably about emergent-norm theory and convergence theory. The rest of us can just laugh. We’re just glad that such behaviour didn’t occur in the first two videos.
Solo by London based Chew Lips was ace. A competent and primitive slice of electro pop with enough melody and strong Liza Minnelli meets Karen O styled vocal to get the head nodding and the hips shaking. The follow up, Salt Air released later this month follows Solo’s lead and casio grooves its way along with a slightly more subtle tune than its predecessor and fists in the air pulsing keyboards. As lead singer Tigs bellows “You’ve been drinking, you’ve been driving, crashed your car, said a prayer,” we can easily find ourselves dizzily spinning on the dance floor, drunk with the rush, but as we dance we wonder if this song is just a little too obvious and derivative of artists such as La Roux and Little Boots that have already hit the mainstream ? The dance floor is crowded with electro dance pop acts right now and we suspect that Chew Lips are going to have to throw their musical arms and legs about a bit more to get some space.
Following the unsuccessful attempt to change venue and step up from an event of around one thousand capacity to five thousand with subsequent cancellation due to poor ticket sales in 2008, Blissfields 2009 returned back to its roots, down at Bradley Farm in Hampshire. This year however Blissfields sold out weeks in advance. With headliners Super Furry Animals playing their smallest festival of their year and Mercury nominated and Breaking More Waves approved Laura Marling appearing on Friday night, organisers Paul and Mel Bliss served up aces on a weekend when Britains tennis hero Andy Murray failed to do so at Wimbledon. Added to these headliners were a variety of other bands and DJ's, including Breaking More Waves very own alter ego comedy DJ persona HoJo Hits supplying some slices of musical mature cheddar interspersed with the occasional of the moment big synth pop tune (Yes Giantess, La Roux, Passion Pit) to a relaxed chilled crowd who lapped up the sun at the main stage. Here’s DJ Hojo Hits daring to play Hansons Mmm Bop.
This year Blissfields welcomed punters to the ‘United States Of Bliss’, from entry onto the site with signs stating ‘Border control, please have your papers ready,’ to the camp site which was labelled the ‘Shanty Town.’ The festival even had its own president who was elected by way of a competition prior to the event and its own national anthem which was played out at the opening of the main stage each day. Then at the end of it all, a so called ‘Ambassadors Party’ was held in the big top with the eclectic Bestival / Sunday Best residents Sombrero Sound System and DJ Little Chief bringing the house down with a bunch of big old party anthems, whilst in between Beans On Toast brought his gravel clawed voice, acoustic guitar and songs about festivals, MDMA and Laura Marling to an appreciative crowd, complete with a stage invasion at the end.
So what of the live music highlights ? On Friday night the main stage belongs to Mumford and Sons and Beans On Toast favourite girl Laura Marling. Mumford and Sons play as the sun sets and the site turns into a romantic twilight haze lit by the moon, trails of lights marking pathways through the campsite and a few carefully considered spotlights. Marcus Mumford charms by explaining that he didn’t understand why there was so much disappointment when Blissfields was cancelled last year, but now he does. There is a real glow from the bands set, their sound unhindered by fashion; it pulls at the heartstrings. There is a tendency for the songs to be formulaic based around simple acoustic guitar and banjo building with a swell as kick drums take the songs rolling forward, but it's a formula that works. With the bands harmonies and bluegrass sound Mumford and Sons win many new fans at Blissfields and are probably the highlight for many. Half of the group then remain on stage to accompany Laura Marling who has grown massively in confidence since we first saw her about two years ago. Playing a mix of songs from her debut album Alas I Cannot Swim and new songs such as Hope In The Air, Marlings voice seems to be maturing, less girlish and more rasping and hearty; the sound of American country / folk played by a girl from Reading, England.
On Saturday three bands define the festival. Imperial Leisure first wowed Blissfields in 2007 and return as triumphant heroes, pulling one of the biggest crowds of the day, their energetic blend of rock, rap and ska skanking like Rage Against The Machine sparring with The Specials. From the word go the audience are in the palm of their lairy sweaty hands, their punchy brass and adrenalin soda fizz exertion creating a bouncing bottle of an audience that almost explodes with too much shaking. You can’t see the band in this video, but an audience reaction says it all.
“Last weekend we were at Glastonbury and it was too much like hard work,” announce Subgiant , echoing the thoughts of a number of punters at Blissfields. Subgiant are almost on home turf here, having been a Blissfields favourite and regular for some time now. Occupying the same sunset stage time as Mumford And Sons the day before, Subgiant bring samples and beats so large that we swear we feel the earth below our feet vibrating. A hedonistic warm old school festival vibe sweeps over Blissfields as bleeps and electronic riffs build and rise, strobes flash wildly, electronic drums pound and hands are raised in the air. Dancing outside has never been so much fun.
The final highlight comes from Super Furry Animals. Just last month we reported on their performance at Wychwood 2009 and suggested that they failed to move or engage. Tonight with a radically revamped set list SFA show us exactly why they have remained an essential part of the UK music scene, with their unconventional approach to song writing, ability to pen flawless pop songs, fine beards and sense of humour. “This is a live show just in case you thought you were watching the TV,” announces Gruff Rhys at one point. Later he gets the crowd to turn to the moon and howl at it. The songs they play have a spliffed out psychedelic oddness and inventiveness, but the band are never afraid to create just plain old infectious pop such as on Golden Retriever, which they dedicate to the kennels next to the festival site. Super Furry Animals are a fitting end to the main stage and whilst they may still not be a band we can adore, our admiration has been significantly increased.
Blissfields is the antithesis of corporate festival monsters such as Reading, Isle Of Wight and V Festival. It has a laid back, good natured feel that is suited to both young and old alike. With no over zealous security, lots of smiling faces, a site so small that it takes only five minutes to get anywhere, and this year a number of artists who gave excellent performances, Blissfields has firmly reasserted itself on the independent festival map following its stumble in 2008.
And to finish this review of Blissfields 2009 here’s a little more of our very own DJ set from a pod next to the main stage. Sun, dancing, and a bit of Wham. See you there next year maybe ?
Several weeks ago Rose Elinor Dougall, the ex Pipette who came good, released Start/Stop/Synchro - her second single. Desperate to post about the song, we held back until the video had also been released.
Start/Stop/Synchro is sophisticated and fresh sounding pop that bounds with musical intelligence. Opening with a churchlike harpsicord shuffle, the song quickly grows into something that is full of thoughtful retrospection, the sound of someone moving on. “I was once beautiful to you, but we can’t escape the fact that I will never be her, Oh I’m pleased to say that I will never be her,” Rose sings in a tone that is mournful and yet uplifting. Dougal guides the music through something that is ultimately just a pop song (not that there is anything lightweight in being just a pop song - great pop has the power to change lives) but Start/Stop/Synchro seems somehow more than that. This depth suggests that Dougal may be heading towards darker edgier territories, a sound that recalls The Book Lovers by Broadcast, french pop noir, a dash of Stereolab, arthouse cinema and just a vague pinch of the debut from Bat For Lashes maybe. It’s an exciting prospect. Another Version Of Pop Song was good, but this is gratifyingly better.
Enjoy the stark black and white minimalist video, filmed we believe in Suffolk, where Rose and her gang mooch around for a while before forgetting to take their clothes off as they go into the sea. You can also read an interview with Rose by Breaking More Waves here
Esben And The Witch create darkly atmospheric creeping soundscapes that they describe as “Nightmare pop.” Like a cobweb covered Portishead or a celestial disconnected Slowdive their beautifully edgy and experimental sound is full of electronic beats, echoing floating vocals and the odd blast of intense punch hard guitar noise. It probably sounds ridiculous but Esben And The Witch are both wounding and healing all at the same time.
Named after a Danish fairytale and consisting of Rachael, Daniel and Thomas, the band hail from Brighton, UK. The group have picked up a variety of support slots in their home town and have released a debut EP entitled 33. Therein you can find Marching Song, a mesmerising sonic adventure that takes a template from School Of Seven Bells and moulds it with searing guitars and trippy aloofness. Even better is the immense Corridors which gradually builds over nine minutes of ambient bliss and transcendental disturbance; like a long intense shag, it will leave you feeling shell-shocked but fulfilled all at the same time. The band have even been known to bring Confide In Me by Kylie Minogue crashing down to earth in a gloriously morbid haze of gloomy guitars reminiscent of The Cure (see video below). You can catch the group at this years End Of The Road Festival in the UK and other selected dates.
Like it or not the programmed drum beats, tinny sounding bass-light production and synthy robotica of La Roux has become music for the masses. In For The Kill was a number two hit that won’t go away, and Bulletproof has gone one better, straight in at the top. In the UK, La Roux is the sound of 2009. This is a little odd as the sound of La Roux looks directly backwards to a musical time and place that until recently was associated as naff and cheesy; the early eighties. Ironically, the plastic mine that La Roux dig is the one that in the eighties was seen as futuristic, but is now seen as revivalist. It’s all very confusing.
So let's make some sense of this. La Roux the album follows on from where the debut single Quicksand and two hit singles left off. This is a recording full of stabbing synths and heady hooks. The hits represent well, with a number of other songs packing catchy choruses and plugged in computer riffs to produce some dance floor delirium. I’m Not Your Toy is spunky calypso disco ball pop that if it were a single would also be bound for the charts. Cover My Eyes has the best sampled steel drums emanating from a keyboard since Like To Get To Know You Well by Howard Jones in 1984. Ok, its probably the only song to do it since, but hell it makes a change from those who think adding a few strings to a song is a radical move. Fascination sounds like it should have been a Human League song (except they already have one called Keep Feeling Fascination) with its twitching swabs of electro pop that would make even the saddest android dance. Like some strange splicing of every best eighties synth album in the world ever, La Roux have conjured up the love child of early Eurythmics, Blancmange, Depeche Mode, Yazoo and Visage to create an album that actually makes pop sound cool again. In an amazingly freakish piece of timing they even manage to make a very obvious reference to Michael Jackson and Thriller, with a theatrical vocal in the middle eight of the stuttering processing plant sound of Tiger Lilly. In the style of Vincent Price, Kit Jackson father of lead singer Elly creepily intones “Have you ever felt, like you’re being followed ? Or watched the ones that held your stare? Turned around to see who’s behind you, to find that there’s no one there ?” All it needs now is a zombie dance video.
So this is very much a pop album. A sublimely stylish self produced pop album. If anyone will be playing it in a years time is of course another matter. By then the La Roux sound may have become a little too singular and channelled in its eighties replication. As good as this album is, we wouldn’t want another version, although a remix collection could easily be on the cards, particularly following the 'remix of the year' from Skream on In For The Kill. If La Roux are to be an ongoing force we suspect that they are going to have to broaden their musical scope pretty damn quickly. Hi energy disco ? Maybe. Acoustic folk ? Who knows. Elly Jackson has already referenced Joni Mitchell as an influence and her high pitched ghostly wail could easily lend itself to such a genre. For now however, we’ll enjoy La Roux for what they are. The Cyber synth king and queen of 2009.