Posts Tagged Electronica

A tin of baked beans and a woman’s weekly

We all remember those legendary Top of the Pops moments: Boy George’s first appearance which confused an entire nation; Morrissey’s marriage proposal; all those shows presented by Jimmy Savile.

What? Oh.

Anyway. My own favourite TotP* moment pales into insignificance compared to most, but that’s the odd thing with favourites isn’t it? Back in 1996 Brit Pop was all the rage, its two behemoths (Oasis and Blur – or was it Catherine Wheel and Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci? I forget) spawning no end of chancers, equivalents, and superiors. Falling into one or more of those categories came Space. On their debut Top of the Pops appearance, the opening line to Me and You Versus The World (“I first met you hanging knickers on the line”) caught my attention and I was hooked for the rest of the song; the tragi-rom-com story of a modern day Bonnie and Clyde set the tone for their first album Spiders.

Tommy Scott’s songs of love and hate are full of bizarre, cartoony characters and settings, including Saddam Hussein and John Major, as well as tearing into the popular hate figures of the Queen and Margaret Thatcher. His wonderfully, fiercely Scouse singing voice** was backed by a raucous, sometimes messy agglomeration of drums, guitar, keyboards, and odd vocal samples. Their poppy uniqueness came from the band being one part lyrical weirdness, one part guitar enthusiasm, and one part dance, with their first two albums both featuring dedicated dance tracks.

Space’s zenith came as they were promoting their second album, in the afterglow of the three hits off the first. A breakthrough to the big time beckoned, with endearingly daft appearances on mainstream TV programmes: on This Morning the band performed Avenging Angels, with Tommy telling Richard and Judy that he did indeed believe in these protective beings, and in fact had seven of them himself***.

While Tin Planet did give them their biggest ever hit, The Ballad of Tom Jones (which proved ultimately to be more of a platform for Cerys Matthews), it failed to be as successful – or as much fun – as the first album. 

Llistening back to both albums, I’m now struck by how much dark humour – and just plain darkness – lurks beneath the chirpy Scouse surface, with spade-loads of anger, murder, paranoia and despair. Exhibit A, the twisted genius of Drop Dead’s “I’m your number one fan and I go to every picture / The more I see you, the more I wanna hit ya”.

From here the band suffered label difficulties and a rapid turnover in members, with the planned album I Love You More Than Football never seeing the light of day. The occasional song popped out, including the enjoyable Diary of a Wimp, later followed by the album Suburban Rock n’ Roll, which was poor fare, even to the ears of this dedicated fan.

The most basic of internet search results in the promise of a new album (worryingly titled Attack of the Mutant 50ft Kebab), but this dates back nearly two years so I won’t be holding my breath just yet****. The associated live clips on YouTube suggest a move towards ska, which nearly threatens to work – time will tell.

Despite a sad fading away at the end of their initial fame, Space will always be the soundtrack to much of my late teens, and will always put a smile on my face. Nothing sounds quite like them, and ultimately Tommy Scott was right: Felix the Cat was a twat.

*as the show was inevitably re-branded during its final days on palliative care

**Scott described how he became a singer to emulate the singers idolised by his Dad. Whichever style he adopted (including Mexican, Sinatra, and plain old fruitcake) his Scouse twang was prevalent

***sadly I can’t find any footage of this appearance. Tommy made his way through the interview with admirably straight face

****I will be

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What the world’s been waiting for

Wow.

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So, how does this make you feel?

If Air achieved huge success with the ambient, relaxed, soothing Moon Safari (or “Smug Aspirational Property Show Original Soundtrack” as it is surely known within the BBC and Channel 4), they unleashed a rather different vibe on an unsuspecting audience with 2001’s 10,000 Hz Legend.

I can’t claim to love this album, and I can’t claim that it’s an all-time great, but it manages to both possess and obsess me at times. It paints an aural picture of a world which is bleak, alien, robotic, cold, and touched by ghosts, but at the same time unsettlingly familiar and comfortable. This could represent 20th century fin de siècle ennui, it could reflect my latent misanthropy, or it could just be the inevitable consequence of locking a couple of talented, arty Frenchmen away in a recording studio with a frankly obscene amount of electronic equipment.

Basically, the whole thing is weird, but in an electronic, Gallic, slightly bleak, slightly pretentious way. Which I like.

The openers, Electronic Performers and How Does It Make You Feel? set the tone with otherworldly mixes of swiping percussion, piano, keyboards, disembodied lyrics, and chain-smoking computers. Radian continues in a similar vein, ghostly and pulsating, before unexpectedly going all pleasantly flutey, while Don’t Be Light buzzes in a cheery, perky, schizophrenic kind of way.

My personal highlight is People In The City, which I’m certain is a story of daily city life being torn asunder by a nuclear apocalypse. At least, that’s the story it seems to tell me at 3 in the morning.

 

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Small talk moves me to violence

Yes, it’s my inevitable review of the Young Knives’ new LP, Ornaments From The Silver Arcade (they were seeking a mysterious, fairy tale-sounding title, and ended up getting inspiration from a Leicester shopping centre).

This is quite a departure from their previous albums, both of which (as I have contemplated before) feature cheeky angst, misanthropy, and spiky indie guitars by the shed-load. This time round, they have taken a conscious decision to be more accessible, poppier, and a touch more optimistic: it was at first disconcerting to find myself mentally referencing bands such as Space, Supergrass, The Killers, Duran Duran, and Kaiser Chiefs while listening to this.

The addition of elements of funk, hand-claps, keyboards, female backing vocals, a bit of brass, and 80s pop-eque production does occasionally veer worryingly close to white-boys-do-jazz/funk-lite. But it certainly achieves that ease of access they say they were looking for – I can see something off this album being a relatively big mainstream hit: pushed, I’d go for Everything Falls Into Place (an infectiously, defiantly upbeat take on life’s mundane worries – just hinting, of course, at their early works’ bleaker outlook on life).

By contrast, on Woman (an ode to transvestism. Or maybe transgenderism. Anyway, it’s deeply sexual), and Vision In Rags, they seem to go too far musically and end up sounding, well, poppily normal (which is the last thing this band should ever try to be).

Similarly, the lack of any explicit rage or contempt at society in general leaves the lyrics feeling uncomfortably watery at times (such as Running From A Standing Start: “There’s a new dance called the sway low / You can do it how you please / Lunchtime Lucy likes to watch me / Do the coochie on my knees”). Sister Frideswide, on the other hand, sees us back on more familiar territory, contemplating a sexually-tempted nun (not a sentence I’ve ever written before).

As always, though, these things are about balance. And with the back-to-back Go To Ground,  Silver Tongue, and Storm Clouds, they get it just about right, striking a happy medium between light and dark. The first of these is pained and heartfelt; the next mixes self-deprecation, self-loathing and self-awareness; the last is a brooding affair with menacing, apocalyptic guitars.

Overall, the album doesn’t fully represent Young Knives’ work to date. But I suspect that’s half their point; in breaking out of their norm, they may be heading down a new path. Hopefully one which continues to tread the line between pop and Wicker Man.

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Hooray hooray

Yes, it’s the Young Knives’ new single, ‘Love My Name’. The first time I listened to it, I didn’t like it, and this feeling made me scared and worried. Second time, I thought it might have something about it. Third time, I got it. There’s no sign of the alleged Rn’B feel they claimed would feature on their imminent third album (but they are cheeky monkeys so could have been having everyone on), it’s more choppy guitars but with a few doses of electronic wibblings thrown in.

What is not to love?

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Bolt from the blue

Just ahead of early 2011’s Valhalla Dancehall, British Sea Power released the Zeus EP. A deliberately experimental eight-track album, it’s very hit and miss, with songs like Pardon My Friends and Can We Do It? being too bad to be instantly forgettable (an outcome exacerbated by the latter failing to deliver on its suggestion of Bob the Builder-themed rocking out). However, there is enough sparkle and magic to keep me coming back for more.
 
KW-H’s take on glam rock-stompery is enjoyable, and faintly reminiscent of Super Furry Animals (and it concerns electricity, of which the means of production is obviously a minor obsession of mine), but better still is the opening title track.
 
Zeus, with its near-chaotic percussion and shimmering guitars, begins with a greeting to Rick Stein, and goes on to invite Nikita Kruschev, Worzel Gummage and Aunt Sally to a bizarre take on the fantasy dinner party (“your bathroom is delightful and your party is great”). As with so many of BSP’s more memorable moments, the lyrics are abstract without (quite) being incomprehensible, Yan desperate to find out “what’s your maximum?” over an insistent, pounding, soar-away climax to the song.
 
Bear, meanwhile, is the stand-out track. Fragile and beautiful in comparison with most of the rest of the album, Yan contemplates a failed relationship, offering apologies for life’s cruelties, and recognises that his angel was “only waiting for the world to catch you up”. Despite the obvious tenderness to the lyrics, contempt for the modern way of life isn’t too far away:
 
Saw you reading the Daily Star
Saw you watching X-Factor
And I was wondering
How could you fall so far?
 
The second half brings in ethereal electronica (a pre-cursor to Valhalla Dancehall’s Living Is So Easy) and adds new depth to the song in its conclusion. This is a touching, delicate track, and its placement in the middle of a testing ground is frankly a waste: this should have been one of the centrepieces of Valhalla Dancehall. They just won’t be told, these music-types, will they?

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