A-Z of Spotify: D

•May 15, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Sorry for delay; been a hectic few days. Hope you enjoy the new playlist.

Also, would like to say a special thank you to my biggest playlist fan. You know who you are! I’m very grateful.

New Review

•May 11, 2009 • Leave a Comment

I have a review of the new Graham Coxon album, ‘Spinning Top’, up at www.thequietus.com

Please give it a read!

A-Z of Spotify: C

•May 4, 2009 • 2 Comments

Hello,

Just to make sure everyone knows, PopBlog hasn’t gone mad; it really does like The Horrors now. They may have been dreadful in the past, but try to lose your preconceptions and give Primary Colours a try.

Anyway, here is this week’s playlist for songs starting with the letter C. Please let me know what you think!

Feature: Emmy the Great

•May 2, 2009 • Leave a Comment
Photo courtesy of Flickr and Uncensored Interview

Photo courtesy of Flickr and Uncensored Interview

EMMY the Great fidgets in her chair, slurps her coffee and, with wide-eyed insistence, declares: “Steve Martin should be in the world hall-of-fame for geniuses”. She pauses, thoughtfully, gazing intently with her dark eyes which are framed by delicate pixie-like features. “He’s definitely a genius, and that’s not a term I use lightly. I’d only put Stevie Wonder and Brian Wilson in there with him.”

Comparisons between offbeat American comedians and legendary musicians would seem ludicrous from most people, but when the words are uttered in the American-tinged twang of the real-life Emily Moss, they sound quirkily charming. After moving to London from Hong Kong at the age of 12, the now 22 year-old singer-songwriter became a cult fixture in the ultra-trendy Camden underground scene before finally taking the plunge to record and release her debut album, First Love, in February this year. The result was a winning combination of coquettish folk and heart-on-sleeve lyrical sentiment equally capable of inspiring girls to pick up guitars and breaking indie-boy hearts in bedrooms across the country.

Not that Emmy herself is impressed by her own rapidly ascending star . Today, dressed in a scruffy blue denim jacket and jeans, she is decidedly unmoved by her success. “I’m always disappointed with what I have now, but strangely optimistic about what will happen in the future”, she grins. “I’m never satisfied. I’ll probably be sitting in my house at 90, telling myself: ‘this is the year when everything works out’.”

For a girl who endured a lonely and miserable childhood and looked towards music as an escape, however, releasing a critically acclaimed album and touring the country to an expanding and devoted fan base must be delightfully surreal. The daughter of a Chinese mother and English father, Moss found herself isolated between two cultural identities until she escaped to England as a teenager.

“I was so fucking miserable as a child”, she says. “I went to a Chinese-speaking school, and I wasn’t Chinese enough for any of the kids there. And then I was too Chinese for my friends who went to international school. I had no friends and used to get bullied. I remember telling my Mum, and she was like ‘Don’t be silly! Chinese children aren’t mean!’.

“It was only when I moved to London I started to fit in. I had an American accent, which people liked, and I tried really hard—probably too hard—to be cool. I was one of those annoying scenesters at gigs that everybody hates, but I had friends, and friends in bands, and I felt cool for the first time”, she laughs, before adding: “Now I know I’m not very cool anymore.”

Photo courtesy of Flickr and DG Jones

Photo courtesy of Flickr and DG Jones

After picking up the guitar at a young age and teaching herself to play (“I only knew three chords for about seven years”, she admits today), Moss started to write and perform her own song. Originally inspired by the alternative punk bands she idealised as a teenager—Weezer, NOFX and Green Day—she slowly cultivated her own warmer, idiosyncratic identity. First Love combines lovelorn romanticism, such as the jilted lover’s tale of ‘Everything Reminds Me Of You’, to painfully accurate everyday occurrences where Moss’ acidic tongue mocks past boyfriends for either being dull (the TV obsessed couch potato of ‘24’) or pretentious (the preening wanna-poet of ‘Dylan’). Then there’s the title track, which uses the refrain from Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ as a backdrop for a bitter love story as Moss recalls a tape given to her from an old lover which “spat out a broken Hallejujah”. To most, it’s a beautiful, innovative way of exorcising a broken relationship. But to Moss…

“I am so fucking unoriginal”, she groans. “That song is everywhere. Maybe I should have chosen something else”. Pausing, she adds: “At the time I was really happy with the album, but now…those songs are so immature. It’s not what I’d do now, but it was necessary for me personally.”

Despite her constant self-flagellation, however, Moss’ wit and charm sparkle through. As she offers her views on everything from fellow Leonard Cohen-coverer Alexandra Burke (“I’m surprised she’s able to sing in between all the sobbing”) to FaceBook (“I’ve created a fake account so I can avoid all the people I used to know”), she also confesses to feeling hurt by criticism. “I used to get a lot of it on the internet”, she sighs. “Really bitchy stuff. People really get their claws in about the smallest things—like my name. It’s just an old e-mail address, but everyone would say ‘Oh, she must be really arrogant’”. She shakes her head. “You just have to not let it bother you.”

As Moss gets up to leave, talk turns to her future plans. After a summer of playing festivals, it’s onto the second album. “We have a lot more options now”, she says, “and it would be great to use some famous producers, but maybe I’ll end up just doing it myself. There’s a path everyone expects you to take, and it would be great to defy that by doing things differently”. Collecting her belongings and disappearing out of the door, she smiles and confides: “I always think you’ve only made it as a musician when you’ve made three albums that don’t suck, so it’s a big challenge”. It may be tough, but Moss is already one third of the way there; and the best, hopefully, is still to come.

Review: Primary Colours (The Horrors)

•May 1, 2009 • Leave a Comment
horrors

Photo courtesy of Flickr and rollinga

What’s the auditory version of rubbing your eyes in disbelief? How do you react when confronted with a sound so impossibly unlikely you need to check your own ears aren’t deceiving you? What’s the appropriate course of action when you hear something so surprising, so remarkable, and just so damn good you can’t believe it’s true?

There may not be a name for that reaction, but it’s what everyone from The Quietus to Henry Rollins and the Manics to Kevin Shields have been doing since the arrival of Primary Colours the second album from The Horrors. The record so good that most people refused to believe that it was made by the same band whose previous notable achievements were mingling with D-list celebrities and wearing impossibly skinny jeans; the album so fantastic that it couldn’t have come from musicians with names like Spider Webb and Joshua von Grimm. Their gothic shtick may have been entertaining, but they shared the same musical gutter as The Others and The Paddingtons. Everyone had them pegged as a joke.

Well, no-one’s laughing anymore. Non-believers, cast your doubts aside: it really is The Horrors, and it really is that good. A radical evolution, rather than revolution, of the furious but slightly tuneless and scratchy riot of their debut Strange House, Primary Colours is a brilliant goth-punk hybrid of synth-laced retro-rock which chews up the aggression of The Jesus and Mary Chain, the passion of The Cure and reckless volume of My Bloody Valentine and spits it out in one glorious ball of rock ‘n’ roll. Rather than expand their musical pallet with soft string, mellow acoustic guitars or avant-garde electronic, The Horrors have honed their craft and delivered an explosion of pure, blissful noise; fuzzy, dirty, sweet, sexy noise that should swiftly aid their transition from scenesters to contenders.

Things kick off with the slow, atmospheric build-up of ‘Mirror Image’, a seemingly soft and tentative opening which suddenly pulls the rug away and plunges you into a fantastic collision of Stone Roses-esque melodic chimes and unrestrained squalling electric guitars. It’s a perfect, unsettling start to an album that forces the listener to abandon any of their preconceptions. And contrary to previous evidence, frontman Faris Rotter can actually sing. The strained guttural scream of Strange House has matured into a deep, sonorous passionate languid drawl. “Is it the way/ Is it the way she looks at you?” he belts out, his voice dripping with a heady mixture of love, lost and intoxication. The glorious racket is replicated on the Psychedelic Furs-influenced ‘Three Decades’ with its lurching Wurlitzer guitar and the stabbing, bleeding metallic clangs of ‘Do You Remember’ which sounds like Joy Division jacked up on Edger Allen Poe.

But Primary Colours isn’t just about short, sharp bursts of aggression. ‘I Only Think Of You’ is a seven minute ode to lost love with a wonderful hazy, druggy melody and a gorgeous red-eyed vocal from Rotter that chews over every bitter syllable that mourns the ruins of a broken love affair, while ‘Sea Within A Sea’ is a layered eight-minute epic that grows and grows until climaxing with spiky, spiralling keyboards that slowly fade out to close the album. There’s a dark strain of romanticism on display that was never hinted at on Strange House, most aptly illustrated by ‘Who Can Say’, in which Rotter tries to assuage his guilt at deserting his lover, pleading that “I never meant for you to get hurt / Oh how I tried / I could never give you what you deserved / Another man surely will”. In contrast, the positive vibe of the title track seems hollow; musically it pushes all the right buttons, but doesn’t have the same blackened heart. ‘New Ice Age’, meanwhile, is a bland disappointment that thrashes around with no real purpose, and could easily be an off cut from their debut.

Ultimately, though, Primary Colours is a resounding triumph. It’s a record that demands to be noticed and taken seriously, a slab of bruised, melancholic and throbbing rock that cannot be ignored. Just when it seemed that straight-up guitar music was dead, The Horrors have managed to wring a few more drops of life from it, and in the process have proved that first impressions aren’t permanent. Your ears aren’t deceiving you: The Horrors really have made the possible album of the year.

Review: Fantasies (Metric)

•April 27, 2009 • Leave a Comment
Photo courtesy of Flickr and Jalapeno

Photo courtesy of Flickr and Jalapeno

The Quietus isn’t in the habit of sympathising with rock stars — especially ones of a talented, beautiful persuasion — but life must retain some nagging frustrations for Emily Haines. Metric have spent over a decade struggling to break through indie’s glass ceiling. Broken Social Scene, Haines’ collaborative project with musicians from her native Montreal, have been lavished with praise and mainstream credibility ever since they released their eponymous fourth album in 2005. However welcome their success has been, it must be bittersweet for Haines to see her band eclipsed by her own side project.

If anything can redress the balance, though, it’s Fantasies. The fourth album from Metric, it’s a slick and stylish mixture of dirty disco, pop hooks and infectious glam that screams for attention. ‘Help I’m Alive’ may have a title that teeters dangerously on the edge of emo but actually boasts a deliciously dark and broody synthesiser riff topped off with Haines’ yelped insistence that “my heart beats like a hammer”, while the New Wave punk thrill of ‘Gimme Sympathy’ boasts the kind of maddeningly catchy chorus that Girls Aloud would sell their souls all over again for. Best of all, though, is the fabulous ‘Gold Guns and Girls’, which recounts the adventures of a gold-digging protagonist over the top of rumbling bass and violent, staccato electric guitars.

Even when the pace slows down, Fantasies remains engaging. With its airy, layered vocals and hazy, druggy melody, ‘Higher Than High’ sounds like a Space Oddity for the ketamine generation: Metric can clearly do spaced-out bliss as well as fired-up exhilaration. ‘Collect Call’ also offers a glimmer of tenderness, a glimpse into the morning after as Haines experiences the comedown blues. “When the fire’s out, how are you gonna keep me warm?” she pleads sombrely over a slow, sensual riff that would sound suitable at the world’s saddest campfire.

The only frustration with Fantasies is its failure to capitalise on the momentum it siezes. It should be an album that has you constantly gasping for breath, but some overlong tracks and an occasional lack of killer hooks — the kind that will rattle round your brain for days afterwards — allow too much recovery time. It grabs you but, rather than pinning you to the ground, lets you escape after a slight scuffle. Some ruthless snipping and a few more drops of disco gold could have raised the adrenaline level higher, but Fantasies still packs a mighty pop-punk wallop. It may be style over substance, but when it has such effortless, psychedelic glamour, who cares?

A-Z of Spotify: B

•April 26, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Hi,

Here is this week’s Spotify playlist, containing songs beginning with the letter B. There should also hopefully be a new review of Metric’s new album ‘Fantasies’ up on the site tomorrow.

Hope you enjoy.