Sunday, 27 June 2010

Someone Here is Missing/Together

Do you remember in 2001 when you listened to In Absentia for the first time and it was like nothing you’d ever heard from Porcupine Tree or indeed anyone else before? It was such a brilliant and different album and as you listened to it you just knew that it was something special? No? Nor me, because in 2001 I was 9. Let’s try that again then.

Do you remember when you first listened to the entire Porcupine Tree discography and when In Absentia came on for the first time you sat up because it was such a contrast with what you heard so far? It was such a mature, diverse and ingenious album. No? Just me then? Anyway you get the picture. The point is that this is exactly how I felt when I listened to Someone Here is Missing, the latest album by Pineapple Thief. Yes folks, it’s time for another review!

I’m not saying that Someone Here is Missing is the next In Absentia, but it certainly has some of the characteristics. Pineapple Thief are an English Progressive Rock who have been around for 10 years to so but have not really managed to get anywhere, despite being incredibly talented and creating some really fantastic music. Their music is less diverse and experimental than early Porcupine Tree, but they have produced some really fantastic albums, like Tightly Unwound and Variations on a Dream. Someone Here is Missing is a massive step in a new direction for Pineapple Thief in the same way that In Absentia was for Porcupine Tree. However it is a step in a different direction.

Someone Here is Missing is an incredibly dark album, both lyrically and musically. Songs like Nothing at Best and Barely Breathing are perfect examples of this. The album deals with love, loss and suffering in a way that in beautifully romantic without being emo. Lyrically it has the maturity to deal with serious topics without trivialising them into whiney, personal mopes. However it is the music that really makes this album stand out.

Throughout the music is really dark, just like the lyrics, but it’s also very diverse and experimental, exploring some styles that are not present in their previous work. Preparation for Meltdown for example is reminiscent of early Muse (Origin of Symmetry in particular), whereas Show a Little Love would not be too out of place on In Absentia. While the music is extraordinarily diverse, it hangs together as an album really well, even within the space of a song it can go from fairly slow and delicate to thumpingly powerful seamlessly. The entire album is wonderfully united and yet each song stands up on its own as a really fantastic piece of music. I don’t think there is a weak song on this album and there are a hell of a lot of very strong ones.

So in conclusion buy this album! Well, good luck buying a hard copy, I couldn’t find one, but you can download it fairly easily. While you’re at it you should check out the rest of Pineapple Thief’s back catalogue, it is teaming with wonderful albums. These guys are barely know, I mean Pitchfork don’t even have a review of this album, yet they deserve to be far better known because they are extremely talented. Go and buy their album, you will not regret it.

I don’t usually review just one album at a time, and today is no exception. Together is the 5th album from the New Pornographers and their 4th good one – seriously, Electric Version is terrible. Anyway, as I said a few weeks ago, the New Pornographers are another on of those idiosyncratic indie bands that I really love. What makes them stand out is the female vocalist, well two female vocalists, and two male vocalists. Seriously they have a lot of vocalists.

And it pays off. The New Pornographers are incredibly rich vocally; lots of their songs have fantastic harmonies and interplays between different lyricists. It makes them a really interesting band to listen to. Together is no exception. Silver Jenny Dollar, My Sheppard and Crash Years are all fantastic examples of the New Pornographers is full vocal flow.

Lyrically this album has a lot of very well written songs, but it doesn’t really feel all that unified. It is a collection of very good songs, rather than an album that really hangs together well. Unsurprisingly The New Pornographers don’t really do traditional song structure for the most part, or at least they are willing to play around with the rules so much that they almost become meaningless. As such their songs tend to meander around without really arriving at anything concrete. They’re a load of interesting points which don’t quite reach a conclusion. If their songs were essays I’d disapprove, but they’re not, so I don’t. The ambling and incoherent structure is fun to listen to, but it does make it harder to get to grips with a song lyrically.

Together has a fair bit of very interesting and often rather clever music, but most of the time it is hidden behind all the lyrical excitement that is going on. You have to really concentrate and listen out for much of the really good musical bits, although there are some songs on which the impressive music does stand out, Crash Years, Your Hands (Together) and If you Cant See My Mirrors in particular.

Overall, the complex vocals, ambling song structure and hidden musical gems makes Together a real grower. At first listen it is pretty good, but it keeps getting better and better the more you listen to it. While the previous two New Pornographers albums had really immediate appeal (Twin Cinemas in particular), this one takes a while because it is perhaps a little more ambitious, maybe too much so. Even so it is a fantastic album and you should go and buy it along with Someone Here is Missing.

Both of these albums are certainly worth getting. Someone Here is Missing may well be my album of the year unless something really stunning comes out and Together will certainly be up there. It’s not a brilliant album, not even the New Pornographers best, but it is certainly a very good album that grows on you like a tumour. And on that image, goodbye.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

The Voice part 3

Remember a few weeks ago I wrote parts one and two of this story? Well here's part three. Sorry this is so horribly late, but I've had a busy week.

The doorbell rang. Well it was more of a buzz really. The loud, high-pitched squeal brought him crashing into this next episode of torment. He opened his eyes and heard the soft jangling of keys and rustling of bags from outside the door. It did not take him long to realise that he was standing in the hallway of his own flat. To his right was a kitchen, to the left the living room with the table from which he ate his meals squatting in the corner and straight ahead the closed door to the bedroom from which he was currently dreaming. He looked into the kitchen to see the perfect tidiness that told him that this was before Emily had moved out.

The door clicked open and he turned to see Emily, shopping bags in hand, stepping across the threshold, her golden hair bouncing of her shoulders and her smile radiating from her face. She looked straight through him at the closed door of the bedroom. He remembered after a brief puzzlement that she could not see him here, this was a memory, a dream, he was only an observer, helpless to stop the inevitable that he knew was coming. He did not need to look at a calendar on the wall to know what day it was, to know what was about to happen.

He was as helpless as one in the path of a hurricane. He knew the storm was coming and that it would be devastating, but he was helpless to stop it. He felt like grabbing her and dragging her of the flat, instead he just stood there, staring at the beautiful face that he loved, waiting for the gathering storm.

“Honey!” she yelled into the flat, “My meeting was cancelled tonight, so I went and did some shopping and came home early. I got some Pizza, and that film you wanted to see. I thought we could sit and watch it tonight.” She paused, her eyebrows furrowed in puzzlement. “Honey?” She shrugged, walked past him into the kitchen and started unpacking the shopping.

He watched her, expecting to hear the bedroom door open, hoping that it would not and dreading to see the scene that he’d played in his mind over and over again daily for the last few weeks. He watched her, her perfect features gleaming in the dim light as she put away all the things that she’d bought and that he hadn’t even known they’d needed. She had always know exactly what was in the house and what needed buying, always thinking and planning meals days and weeks in advance. He watched her silent labours and wondered how he could have been stupid enough to throw it all away.

The bedroom door clicked open and Emily walked into the hall, packet of Cheerio’s in hand. He turned his head to see himself in the threshold to the bedroom, clad only in a dressing gown. He wanted to shut his ears and walk away, but he just stood there, Emily beside him, suspicion and puzzlement painted on her face.

Why are you naked?” She was trying to suppress a laugh as she spoke; her voice was almost musical as the question reverberated around the small flat. She shook her head and her hair danced.

“No reason” the man in the doorway lied. The lie was punctuated with silence. He never had been able to lie to her. “Did you say something about pizza and a film?”

She smiled a smile that he would never forget. It was the last she had given him. “Yes, but if you’re naked I could make other plans.”

The man in the doorway smiled. “Pizza and a film sounds good, I’ll go get some clothes on.” He turned and stopped dead.

“Is there something wrong dear?” she craned her next, trying to look past him.

He spun again, fear on his face. It perfectly reflected the frantic heart beat and trembling hands that he could not see but knew were there. He opened his mouth to speak, but has he did so slender arms wrapped themselves around his waist. His expression changed to dread and he closed his eyes, trying to wake himself. A face, framed by dark hair, deep brown eyes gleaming, appeared over his shoulder. She placed her chin on his shoulder and rested her long, slender face against his. He shrugged her off, but her arms remained around his waist, pulling him closer. He could see from where he was that she was naked, but he knew that already.

“Who the hell is that?” He heard a crunch as Emily’s slender hands crushed the cereal box she still held. Rage and hurt swam in her gorgeous green eyes. She spoke with barely a whisper; he could see her hands trembling.

The women opposite smiled a cruel, satisfied smile. “I’m your boyfriend’s fuck-buddy.” She purred challengingly, “who the hell are you?”

The man in the doorway still had not opened his eyes. His voice trembled as he spoke. “Emily, I’m so sorry, I–“

“Shut up!” Emily’s voice betrayed barely withheld tears. The crunch of the cereal hitting the floor was the only sound and she turned to the door. She wrenched it open, almost pulling it from its hinges and left, muttering something about collecting her things tomorrow. There was dead silence after the door slammed shut.

He looked at himself with the disgust that he had felt for the past few weeks. He just stood there, eyes shut, barely breathing. The woman still stood behind him, arms around his waist, her grip firm, faint satisfaction danced in her eyes and radiated from her smile. Any spite he felt towards her was drowned out by the anger and disappointment he directed at himself.

“Are you still here?” he asked after a while. Pausing, he wondered if he meant him and if this was where the dream diverged from reality, but the soft reply reminded of what came next.

“I’m waiting for you to finish fucking me.” The woman replied in a soft, seductive tone, as she spoke her slender fingers worked at the knot in his dressing gown.

“Shut up and get out.” He growled, wriggling from her grip and pushing past her into the bedroom.

“Oh come on, you might as well, you’ve lost her, so why lose me too?”

“I said get out.” He shouted from within the bedroom, throwing a pile of clothes at her.

Calmly the woman dressed herself in the hall, the bedroom door still open, unaware that he still stood by the door, unseen, watching the tall woman pull on clothes silently and calmly. He looked at her and tried to wonder how she could possibly be better the Emily. No matter how beautiful she was, she did not compare to the woman he loved. He asked himself as he watched the woman dress why he had done it and came up with no answer that did not make him shallow and stupid. He leaned back against the wall and closed his eyes, regret raging through him more than it had at any point since that night.

His eyes opened. The voice was silent. He knew it smiled knowingly. He knew what he had to do.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

My Top Ten... Bands

A good few months ago I started a series of ‘Top Tens’ with my Top Ten Albums I’ve refrained from continuing this series because I’ve had better things to write about and I see this is as something of a cop out. However I am overburdened with exams next week, so I don’t want to be spending ages on a blog post (sorry guys, but you take a back seat when it comes to very important public exams in which I need to do well). So without further ado, as a follow up to the last one, here is my Top Ten Favourite Bands, again in no particular order.

  • Porcupine Tree – One of the best progressive/psychedelic rock bands around at the moment. I’ve raved about how much I love them previously, so I’m just going to tell you to go get In Absentia and leave it at that.
  • The Flaming Lips – If you’re looking for completely insane, joy-inducing indie rock then The Flaming Lips are exactly what you need. They’re essentially guaranteed to put you on a fantastic mood. They have a large back catalogue, but if I had to recommend one album it would be The Soft Bulletin
  • Muse – Probably the first band on this list that I fell in love with, in fact probably the band that made me fall in love with Alternative music. They’re also one of the more commercially successful bands on this list, probably because they’re less strange, although they’re pretty strange. Listen to any album except for their latest one.
  • Pink Floyd – The gods of Psychedelic Rock. Again I got into them before most of the other bands on this list and they’re probably the most well known and successful band on the list. Albums like The Wall, Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here are classics and if you’ve not already heard them then I recommend that you go away and listen to them right now.
  • The Decemberists – yet more Indie/Prog rock that most people will not have heard of but really should have done. In terms of raw emotion, The Decemberists are the best band on this list; their music is so charged with emotion and it is conveyed perfectly, both lyrically and musically. The best example of this is Picaresque, which I talked about last time.
  • Modest Mouse – I think these guys are possibly even stranger than The Flaming Lips. They tend to be a little hit and miss in that their albums will often contain one or two brilliant songs, a number of pretty decent songs then a few fairly ordinary ones. The brilliant songs make the album worthwhile, but it means that no one album of theirs made it to my top ten. However if pressed I would recommend The Moon and Antarctica, if only for the very first song (3rd planet) which is superb.
  • The New Pornographers – The latest addition to my music library and the only band on this list to have a female vocalist. I’m not normally a fan of female voices, but The New Pornographers do it so well. Twin Cinemas and Challengers are both fantastic albums and you should listen to them both. I plan on getting their newest album at some point and will probably review it, so look out for that.
  • Nine Black Alps – The most conventional Rock band of this list so far. I talked about them a fair amount at the start of the year when I reviewed Locked Out from the Inside. Indeed if you want their best album, Locked Out from the Inside is probably it. They’re probably the angriest of the bands listed so far and that is expressed perfectly in their latest album.
  • The Foo Fighters – Even more conventional and well known Rock Music. You see people; I do like ordinary Rock Music as well as all this weird Indie and Prog Rock that I continually rave about. I probably got into the Foo Fighters about the same time as I got into Muse, so I’ve liked them longer than most of the bands in this list, even if I don’t like them as much. Again no one album stands out because they’re all pretty good. In Your Honour is the first album of theirs that I got into, so I’ll recommend that one.
  • Lostprophets – The most metal of all the bands in the list, which is not saying much. It’s not that I don’t like Metal, I do, but no one band really stand out to make it into the Top Ten, apart from Lostprophets, and many metal devotees would rightly resent the label of ‘Metal’ being attached to them. Lostprophets are another one of the bands on this list that I got into relatively early on. I first really got into music in a big way in 2005 and Lostprophets are one of the bands I got into then. In terms of albums, Start Something is the first album of theirs I got into and remains their best.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

The sporting life

So far in my 95 entries (wow 100 might requires something special) I’ve refrained from mentioning sport. You may have noticed this, or if you don’t know me you probably haven’t, because if you know me you’ll know that I quite enjoy playing and watching sport. With the Football World Cup around the corner I feel this is a good opportunity to explain why I don’t like to write about sport here and why a lot of sport pisses me the hell off, football (soccer to you Americans) especially.

I made a rule fairly early on in my blogging career (sorry, that is not the right word… ‘Adventure’ we’ll call it), that I would refrain from writing about sport because I find that sport tend to be very divisive and will only really interest a small number of people. Now this same accusation could be levelled at music, but the thing is with music is that one does not just like one particular band or genres to the exclusion of everything else, people tend to be fairly open minded and willing to listen to other styles and other bands of a style they like (on that note I recommend you all go listen to the New Pornographers and Modest Mouse). This is not the case with sport because people tend to support one (or maybe two or three) teams in each sport, and only really like two or three sports if that. So if I started blogging about my favourite Rugby or Cricket team, the likelihood of anyone actually giving a damn is pretty low, unless I advertised on a forum for that particular club, but in my experience people who go to sports team forums are unlikely to be interested in indie music. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I doubted any of you would care about sport enough to read. Even if most of you did care about sport (which you might), it’s unlikely that many of you would care about the right sports or the right teams for my ramblings to mean anything. I am even more reluctant to write about my own personal sporting achievements because, unless you know me personally, you would probably care even less.

Another very good reason for not writing about sport is that a large number of sports and even more sports fans fill me with such uncontrollable rage that this blog would eventually descend into so much bile and hate directed at sporting culture that you would all stop reading it because your eyes would start burning. This leads in very nicely to what I really want to talk about today – the disturbing attitude of many people towards sport and, in particular, football and the upcoming world cup.

You might be asking why I call it disturbing; it is a strong, foreboding word which implied some kind of danger involved. Well the reason is that the kind of enthusiasm and irrational dedication people have towards sports teams is exactly the same as the kind of enthusiasm and irrational dedication nationalists have towards their country. Sports fans (and I’m generalising here, I know many people support sports teams without adhering to this model, but if even if you don’t, you know someone who does, actually you know someone who does even if you don’t support a sports team) want their team to do well; no they want their team to be the best, so much so that it offends them when other people are better than them. In fact they are so convinced that their team is the best that, whenever anyone beats them, they find someone to blame; a player, a coach, a referee (usually the referee), but they never loose the faith that someday they will win. Now wanting your team to do well is fine, but when it gets to the point when you despise other teams for doing well and despise their fans for supporting a team that is doing well, things are getting a little far. The thing is that this allegiance, no matter how strong, is based solely on where you were born of maybe where your father was born, or where you live.

This is worrying enough because it is irrational, but let me do a little experiment. Here is a large chunk of the paragraph I just wrote, with all the references to sport replaced with references to nationalism.

Nationalists want their country to do well; no they want their country to be the best, so much so that it offends them when other nations are better than them. In fact they are so convinced that their country is the best that, whenever anyone beats them, they find someone to blame; a leader, a general, luck, but they never loose the faith that someday they will win. Now wanting your country to do well is fine, but when it gets to the point when you despise other countries for doing well and despise their people for being from a nation that is doing well, things are getting a little far. The thing is that this allegiance, no matter how strong, is based solely on where you were born of maybe where your father was born, or where you live.

I think you get the point; the same basic instinct which drives people to nationalism (and if you don’t get what is wrong with nationalism I suggest you study the history of the 19th and early 20th centuries, or maybe I’ll write a blog about it someday), also drives sports fandom. Of course when the two meet it is impossible to separate them (because they’re the same thing). Support for a national sports team involves lots of flag waving and racism. We start hating people from other countries because they’re from other countries.

This is why the World Cup annoys me. It is such a coveted prize, because if you win you are obviously the best in the world and you can revel in that knowledge for the next decade or so, that people go absolutely batshit loco about it. They get so into the even that they forget that it’s just 22 people kicking a ball about for 90 minutes. People from every country buy into this mad concept, despite the fact that most of them will end up being disappointed because there can only be one winner. People get very excited over something which, ultimately, means nothing. I don’t mind that so much as the fact that they actually turn to violent, nationalistic hatred for other countries for the sake of a cup which they themselves played no actual part in winning.

Maybe I don’t quite ‘get’ something that is going in here, but all the emotional investment people make into sport is a complete waste of time, effort and money because most of the time, most teams will loose in the end. The entire concept of supporting a sports team is highly irrational and is indicative of a dangerous attitude which I think we would all be better off without. I’m not saying we should not follow sport, or even support a team, but I think our support should be somewhat less fervent and much less like nationalism, because that kind of attitude it a dangerous one.