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“Baby You Left Me Sad And High.” – An Overly Personal Look At My Top 6 Albums Of 2013

It’s easy to forget in the flurry of lists that inevitably appears at this time of year, but music is ultimately a personal thing (…I don’t think that’s the first time I’ve said something like that on this blog). All told, this has been a pretty blockbuster year, particularly when 2012 felt relatively lean in comparison (to me, at least). With so many great records around, how do you decide the most worthy of praise? Personally, I keep coming back to the albums that have the greatest emotional resonance – and in that regard, 2013 has conspired to produce half a dozen records that align with the various emotions I’ve often felt this year. “…But I will not spill my guts out.”  – though if you read between the lines, perhaps I’ve come a little closer to doing so than I’d care to admit…

6. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Push The Sky Away

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Push The Sky Away

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Push The Sky Away

A friend of mine compared the words of Nick Cave to the ramblings of a madman when I was playing this record on a drive home, and to be honest, I found it difficult to refute him – but then, the line between madness and genius is one that Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds have often straddled. Cave’s lyrics on Push The Sky Away may seem impenetrable on first listen, but focus on them a little more intently and you’ll find some surprising moments of clarity – and I’m not just talking about the year’s most oddly prescient reference to Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus (on ‘Higgs Boson Blues’).

There’s the wounded pride of ‘Mermaids’, whose opening lines suddenly hit me like a ton of bricks one evening (“She was a catch, and we were a match. I was the match that would fire up her snatch. There was a catch: I was no match.”), or the desperate longing of ‘We Real Cool’, perhaps epitomised by the line “Wikipedia is heaven, when you don’t wanna remember no more.” But its most stirring moment comes at the close of the album, with ‘Push The Sky Away’ having the quiet yet bloody-minded determination of a man close to breaking point – “You’ve gotta just keep on pushing, keep on pushing, push the sky away.”

5. Daughter – If You Leave

Daughter - If You Leave

Daughter – If You Leave

Honestly, Daughter could pretty much have been designed by committee to appeal to me. Beautiful shrinking violet of a singer whose voice is gentle while still having an undeniable power? Check. Lyrics about love, loss and heartache? Check. Set to a backdrop of swooning guitars and tasteful percussion? Check. Thankfully, If You Leave never seems as cynically conceived as that – indeed, it’s a record of such sincerity that one can’t escape the feeling that vocalist Elena Tonra might be nursing some serious emotional wounds.

Don’t get me wrong, the music is gorgeous, but it’s the way it combines with Tonra’s lyrics that really makes this album so special. She’s at her most affecting when she’s making the kind of desperate pleas that will no doubt go unrecognised by the one person they’re aimed at: “Don’t bring tomorrow, ’cause I already know I’ll lose you.” / “Please take me back to when I was yours.” / “Give me touch, ’cause I’ve been missing it.” But she’s also equally moving when dealing with other aspects of loss and heartache, as evidenced by ‘Still’s portrayal of a disintegrating relationship or ‘Youth’s bitter inability to let go of the past. Even ‘Human’, the one moment of defiant resilience on If You Leave, ends in defeat – “Despite everything, I’m still human… but I think I’m dying here.”

4. Arctic Monkeys – AM

Arctic Monkeys - AM

Arctic Monkeys – AM

If Daughter have effortlessly captured the feeling of heartbreak on If You Leave , then Arctic Monkeys have created an unlikely yet perfect companion piece in AM – an album that focuses on romantic and sexual obsession. It’s there from the off with the sultry groove of ‘Do I Wanna Know?’ (“…if this feeling flows both ways?”), before ‘R U Mine?’ ramps up the ante and throws down the gauntlet to a desired partner – “Are you mine tomorrow, or just mine tonight?” It’s an album about being obsessed with someone whether you’re awake or asleep – “I dreamt about you nearly every night this week.” / “I just cannot manage to make it through the day without thinking of you lately.” – and also about trying to satisfy that desire (‘One For The Road’, ‘Knee Socks’).

But it also touches on the situations that would lead these thoughts to occupy your mind – being too close to the one who used to love you (‘Fireside’), seeing an old flame and feeling like they could do so much better than their current beau (‘Snap Out Of It’), or simply being completely wasted (‘Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?’). In the end though, ‘I Wanna Be Yours’ closes the album with the admission that Turner is ultimately following his heart rather than his libido – though he’d certainly like to satisfy the latter in the process.

3. Jon Hopkins – Immunity

Jon Hopkins - Immunity

Jon Hopkins – Immunity

Wait a minute, isn’t this all supposed to be about feelings and emotions? What’s a largely wordless album of electronica doing here? And yet, the reason I love Immunity is precisely because Jon Hopkins manages to imbue his electronica with a sense of emotion. Perhaps it’s most obvious on the sensual, throbbing ‘Collider’, a song which bristles with a relentless sexual energy. It’s immediately followed by the most perfectly-placed comedown in ‘Abandon Window’, which is all stark pianos and ambient swells, together with the fireworks exploding in the distance, as if to emphasise some far-off celebration that the listener is barely part of. King Creosote also appears on the title track to add even more emotional weight to proceedings, with his distant, mournful voice delivering lines like “you said forever was unkind,” as the record comes to a beautiful climax.

But even outside of that, there’s joy to be had in the pure, propulsive techno of  ‘We Disappear’ and ‘Open Eye Signal’, or the way that the piano chords cut through ‘Breathe This Air’ like a moment of clarity. All told, Immunity combines relentless thrills with a melancholy comedown to create one of the year’s most smartly constructed and perfectly-paced records.

2. These New Puritans – Field Of Reeds

These New Puritans - Field Of Reeds

These New Puritans – Field Of Reeds

Again, the latest record from These New Puritans might seem like an odd fit in this list. Were it not for the sheer emotional power of my number one album, Field Of Reeds would probably take its place thanks to its unquestionable compositional mastery. But under the surface, it too is an emotional record – frontman and chief composer Jack Barnett has stressed as much in interviews. The album is able to match the power of classical music to create feelings without words – epitomised by the lump-in-your-throat moment when ‘Organ Eternal’ reaches its crescendo – with the ability to be explicit with words in the manner of a pop song, as on ‘Nothing Else’ (“I pray that just for a minute, real life and dreaming swap places”).

Make no mistake, These New Puritans have crafted an emotional journey on Field Of Reeds – just not in a conventional manner. But then, one shouldn’t expect anything remotely nearing ‘conventional’ from the band these days – and that’s another reason why I love them. (You can find many more reasons in my review of the record over on Soundsphere Magazine.)

1. The National – Trouble Will Find Me

The National - Trouble Will Find Me

The National – Trouble Will Find Me

Over the past five years, The National have gone from being a band I like and casually listen to now and again, to one I absolutely adore. 2010’s High Violet was the catalyst (as I’m sure it was for many others), slowly winning me over and causing me to re-visit the copies of Boxer and Alligator that I already owned but had yet to truly fall in love with. By the time I had attended the ATP event that the band curated at the end of 2012, they’d captured a permanent piece of my (medium-sized American English) heart. All of which leads us to Trouble Will Find Me, whose mere existence made it an almost certain contender for album of the year in my eyes – but that didn’t stop it from having the settling-in period that all records by The National seem to have. But when it hit, it hit hard.

Pretty much every single song on this album has at least something about it that yanks at my heart or sets my mind racing – and I’m hardly even going to have room to mention the wonderful sonics on display, such is the intense nature of this record’s lyrics. ‘Demons’ describes a feeling of social inadequacy, (“But when I walk into a room I do not light it up. FUCK.”), ‘Don’t Swallow The Cap’ cuts to the heart of emotional turmoil (“I have only two emotions: careful fear and dead devotion. I can’t get the balance right.”) and ‘Graceless’ tackles feelings of self-loathing (“You can’t imagine how I hate this, graceless.”).

But many of the record’s finest moments concern matters of the heart. ‘Fireproof’ portrays the devastating realisation of a gulf between two ex-lovers (“You’re a million miles away, doesn’t matter any more.), the final lines of ‘This Is The Last Time’ perfectly sum up the bittersweet nature of lost love (“Baby you gave me bad ideas. Baby you left me sad and high.”), ‘Slipped’ mourns a would-be relationship that will never come to fruition (“I’ll be a friend and a fuck and everything, but I’ll never be anything you ever want me to be.”), ‘I Need My Girl’ captures the way losing someone can make us feel incomplete (“I can’t get my head around it, I keep feeling smaller and smaller. I need my girl.”) – I could go on and on, but I won’t. I’ll just leave you with one final example, a line from ‘Hard To Find’ that caught me completely off-guard when I wasn’t even listening to the album – I saw it while reading through the lyrics. “I’m not holding out for you, but I’m still watching for the signs. If I tried, you’d probably be hard to find.” 

The lyric “And if you want to see me cry, play Let It Be or Nevermind,” appears in the chorus of ‘Don’t Swallow The Cap’ – and I can’t help but think that, years from now, Trouble Will Find Me might be cited by some future artist as being similarly tear-inducing. It certainly has that effect on me sometimes.

Find a Spotify playlist containing all these albums here.

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Live Review: These New Puritans @ Heaven, London, 18th May 2011

It’s not often I go out of my way to see a band any more, but as These New Puritans’ gig at Heaven in London on Wednesday was (apparently) to be their only UK show of the year, I figured it was worth the effort. It was the first time I’d been to Heaven, an arched, cavernous space akin to a higher-ceilinged version of Leeds Cockpit with a stage that was about level with my shoulders. The stage is already partially set for the headliners, but first we have a support slot from Nedry – who sound like Blonde Redhead gone dubstep, female Japanese vocalist and all. Her vocals soar over a backdrop of two-step rhythms, throbbing synths and the occasional, reverberating guitar line – overall, they’re both interesting and enjoyable to listen to.

These New Puritans

When These New Puritans take to the stage, the full extent of the the ‘expanded lineup’ is revealed – two trombonists, and two vibraphone/percussion players augment the band’s lineup, although keyboardist Sophie Sleigh-Johnson is notably absent. It seems that they’ve ditched the idea of doing a more pop-orientated record, with frontman Jack Barnett telling NME that “I’ve sort of abandoned that idea. I’ve realised I actually hate pop music. Most people don’t like good music so there’s no point trying to do something for them.” Pretentious, perhaps, but maybe he has a point. Instead, the two new tracks the band debut tonight sound like logical extensions of the ideas presented on Hidden. The tentatively titled ‘Vibes’ is, funnily enough, a lengthy, vibraphone-led composition akin to ‘We Want War’, while ‘Royal Song’ sees the band bring out a female vocalist (a Portuguese fado singer according to Stool Pigeon) to add another layer of sound to a combination of humming sub-bass and mournful brass.

Other than that, the band aren’t giving too much away, as the majority of the night’s set is taken from Hidden. ‘We Want War’ is still as vital-sounding as ever, the relentless ‘Drum Courts-Where Corals Lie’ is a perfect showcase for George Barnett’s powerful drumming, and the likes of ‘Orion’ and ‘5’ get subtly re-arranged without losing any of their beauty. I was surprised that the band didn’t utilise the singer from ‘Royal Song’ on either of those tracks though – she re-appears to provide backing vocals on ‘Attack Music’, but I thought that she could have sung the choir parts from some of the other tracks as well. Regardless, all the songs the band play tonight are well arranged to work with the new lineup, including welcome outings for ‘Infinity Ytinifni’ and ‘Costume’ from Beat Pyramid. It’s an absolute pleasure to hear songs this intricate and detailed performed live, and almost without a fault to boot.

These New Puritans clearly haven’t lost any of the ambition that lead to the creation of an album as remarkable as Hidden, and I can only hope that whatever they come up with next will be as interesting as the new songs I heard tonight. They’ve already proven themselves to be head and shoulders above most of their contemporaries – but I’ve a feeling that they’re only just getting started.

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These New Puritans Release Hidden Live Footage

I hate snow. If it wasn’t for snow, I would have actually been in Berlin to watch These New Puritans playing this:

If, like me, you managed to miss the band’s Hidden Live shows, then this video gives you a pretty good impression of what they would have been like – which is to say, fucking amazing. The video is of the band’s encore from their show at Hebbel Am Ufer in Berlin, and features instrumental track ‘Irreversible’ and a re-worked version of ‘En Papier’. You can also download a live version of ‘Hologram’ from the same show by heading over to their website.

If you happen to live near Murcia in Spain (or fancy a trip in that direction), there will be one final performance of Hidden Live at the SOs48 Festival on the 6th May. The band also have a headline show scheduled for May 18th at Heaven in London, which will apparently feature “an expanded band lineup – playing music new, old and current”. There are also a smattering of European dates announced for the summer – look here for more details and ticket links.

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Phoning It In: Let’s Get Cynical’s Top 10 Albums of 2010

So, here it is, the moment you’ve probably not been waiting for (and if you were actually waiting for it you’ve surely forgotten about it by now) – my top 10 records of 2010. Yeah, I know I did a top 20 last year, but illness and procrastination has sapped my will to write by this point, so I kinda just want to get this done really. Apologies if this article seems massively phoned-in – oh who am I kidding, it’s not like you care anyway, right?

First up, honourable mentions (or the records that would have made up my 20-11 – ok there are 11 here but shush), in alphabetical order by artist.

Arcade Fire  – The Suburbs
Dinosaur Pile-Up – Growing Pains
Grammatics – KRUPT (EP)
Gorillaz – Plastic Beach
The Hundred In The Hands – The Hundred In The Hands
Johnny Foreigner – You Thought You Saw A Shooting Star… (EP)
LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening
Klaxons – Surfing The Void
Talons – Hollow Realm
Sleigh Bells – Treats
Warpaint – The Fool

Yeah, that is Arcade Fire right there – The Suburbs was originally going in my top 10 but dropped out after I decided it was a tad inconsistent and that I actually liked a couple of other records more. Also, regarding KRUPT, Grammatics have now put it up here for free – so if you haven’t already got it then you have absolutely no excuse not to download it now, you ingrates.

With that said, onward we go to the top 10!

10. Crystal Castles – Crystal Castles (ii)

Crystal Castles - Crystal Castles (ii)

While there are still hints of their more abrasive side on show, Crystal Castles’ second record is largely comprised of amazing, glacial floor-fillers. ‘Celestica’ is simply sublime, ‘Baptism’ sounds utterly colossal, and ‘Year Of Silence’ makes brilliant use of its Sigur Rós sample – this is exactly the direction I hoped they’d go in after their first record. I guess it’s kinda cheating to mention the version of ‘Not In Love’ that they did with Robert Smith, but that’s an anthem and a half too.

9. Zola Jesus – Stridulum II

Zola Jesus - Stridulum II

Zola Jesus is in possession of a distinctive, captivating voice – combine that with expansive, atmospheric instrumentation and relatable sentiment, and you have Stridulum II in a nutshell. Whether it be the emotional longing of ‘Night’, the massive-sounding crescendo of ‘Manifest Destiny’, or the beautifully melancholy ‘Lightsick’, the album never fails to impress. Definitely one of the year’s most promising debut records.

8. Sky Larkin – Kaleide

Sky Larkin - Kaleide

Kaleide sees Sky Larkin sounding tighter than ever – they’ve really upped their game on their second record. From the breezy indie-pop of ‘Still Windows’ to more contemplative numbers like ‘ATM’, this album is full of gems, but its mid-section in particular is fantastic. ‘Anjelica Huston’ is effortlessly cinematic, ‘Spooktacular’ is the rawest the band have ever sounded, and ‘Year Dot’ is a sheer bundle of apocalyptic joy.

7. Blood Red Shoes – Fire Like This

Blood Red Shoes - Fire Like This

Blood Red Shoes - Fire Like This

If there’s one album that deserves to be my list for sheer consistency alone, it’s Fire Like This – there’s not a duff track on here. There’s no shortage of the loud, clattering indie-punk anthems that the duo are best known for, but they also find time to expand their sound a little bit too. ‘When We Wake’ demonstrates their softer side, and album closer ‘Colours Fade’ is definitely the most epic-sounding thing they’ve done so far.

6. Foals – Total Life Forever

Foals - Total Life Forever

Total Life Forever contains one of the year’s very best tracks in my opinion – ‘Spanish Sahara’ is a stunning centrepiece to a dark, melancholy and more considered second outing for the band. There are hints of the ‘old Foals’ in ‘This Orient’, but the majority of the album consists of far more expansive numbers like ‘Blue Blood’, ‘After Glow’ and ‘Alabaster’. Total Life Forever isn’t just a departure for Foals, it’s a significant leap forward.

5. Pulled Apart By Horses – Pulled Apart By Horses

Pulled Apart By Horses - Pulled Apart By Horses

Reviewing Pulled Apart By Horses for Muso’s Guide, I called the album “big, raw, gloriously dumb fun”, and that’s a statement I wholeheartedly stand by. Massive riffs, killer hooks and crazy lyrics combine to create one of the most raw, instantly appealing records of the year – and crucially, the album manages to capture the energy of the band’s chaotic live shows. An insane thrill-ride that you will want to take again and again.

4. The National – High Violet

The National - High Violet

I admit that High Violet was a bit of a slow-burner for me, but it won me over with its fantastic lyrics – Matt Berninger has a knack for writing songs that are very much relatable despite seeming deeply personal. Back that up with stately, atmospheric instrumentation and you’ve got a record that you can really connect with, from the heady rush of ‘Bloodbuzz Ohio’ to the overwhelming emotion of ‘Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks’.

3. Los Campesinos! – Romance Is Boring

Los Campesinos! - Romance Is Boring

Romance Is Boring sees Gareth still in fine lyrical form – from orchestrating the downfall of his relationship only to miss out on a place in the top 100 “most heartwrenching breakups of all time” to getting the knives out for an ex-girlfriend’s new lover, he never fails to be relatable or amusing. But what makes Romance Is Boring one of the year’s best records is the feeling that the band have upped their game – and no song quite emphasises that more than the heartwrenchingly brilliant ‘The Sea Is A Good Place To Think Of The Future’.

2. Lone Wolf – The Devil And I

Lone Wolf - The Devil And I

I first heard of Lone Wolf (aka Paul Marshall) when I saw his video for ’15 Letters’ on the Green Man Festival website. While the puzzle contained within was far too much for my brain to handle, the song itself quickly wormed its way into my head with its beautiful, finger-picked guitar and effortlessly sung lyrics that told the twisted tale of a murderous lover. Seeing him and his band live at the festival confirmed that he is both a masterful storyteller and a skilled guitarist, and I picked up his album The Devil And I at a subsequent gig in Leeds. Like the single before it, I found myself coming back to the album again and again, mesmerised by the way that Marshall weaves an intricate musical tapestry around each dark tale of love, tragedy and death. ‘Russian Winter’ has never sounded more fitting than during the recent cold weather, and spellbinding album-closer ‘The Devil And I (Part 2)’ features a suitably foreboding soundtrack for a tale of dealing with the Devil himself. From start to finish, this is a record that’s beautiful in its bleakness and, in my eyes, stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the year’s biggest releases.

1. These New Puritans – Hidden

These New Puritans - Hidden

These New Puritans - Hidden

If I was ranking these records based purely on sheer ambition and inventiveness, Hidden would be album of the year hands down – Jack Barnett learned musical notation from scratch in order to write it, which is a fair indication that the band had set their sights high for this one. Of course, if you’re reading this it’s quite clear that I have put it at number one – and that’s not just for its ambitiousness, it’s also because it’s an utterly amazing album that fuses classical instrumentation with electronic elements, hip-hop, children’s choirs, melons being smashed, the sound of knives being sharpened, and god knows what else. You only need to listen to seven-minute statement of intent ‘We Want War’ to appreciate the scope of the record, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. At times oppressive and abrasive, at times utterly beautiful, Hidden doesn’t so much break boundaries as ignore them entirely.

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I woke up in a field near Abergavenny: Tales from Green Man

Another year, another new festival experience. This year I decided to make the trip down to Green Man festival in Wales – here’s what happened.

Prologue: Thursday

Striding through the throng of race-going mutton dressed as lamb that is spewing forth from York station, I collect my train ticket and then duly watch the train I had intended to catch leave the station. Not the best of starts, but luckily I’ve learned from similar ineptitude in the recent past and not booked myself on a specific train. So after a short wait for the next train to Manchester, it’s off to Abergavenny on a train to every station ever (via Boots’ Meal Deal). The weather gets steadily worse as we go further south, and by the time I reach the festival site it’s clear that it’s been pissing it down for hours. After quickly throwing down my tent during a period where it’s not quite raining so much, my entertainment for the evening consists of the ‘lost’ Leonard Cohen film, Bird On A Wire. It’s a very revealing documentary of his 1972 European tour, with some particularly touching moments – particularly during the last gig of the tour in Jerusalem. Worth watching if you’re a fan of the man – and if, like me, you’re not, it serves as a good education. After that, there’s not much else to do but head back to my tent and curse the rain.

Friday

The fact that it has been raining pretty much non-stop all night and throughout the morning makes me inclined to avoid the main stage as much as possible. I do feel sorry for Green Poll winners The Dufflefolks – but no amount of sympathy is going to make me stand out in the rain out of simple curiosity, so I head for the Far Out tent instead. There I find Plank, who not only get an applause for their soundcheck, but also for their set of pleasing math-rock goodness. I remain in the tent for Matthew & The Atlas – and despite the fact that they sound like Mumford & Sons, the idea of being somewhere that’s not dry is still less appealing. I do venture out after that to catch The Wave Pictures on the main stage, who entertain with wry banter and amusing lyrics. After finally meeting up with my friends Emily and Laura, I quickly depart to catch the end of O.Children’s set of dark and menacing rock, and then it’s back to the main stage for Mountain Man – or at least it would have been if they’d shown up, but they’re late. So instead we get some guy called Sweet Baboo who also sounds like a one-man Mumford & Sons, but with far more ridiculous lyrics.

After that diversion, another quick trip back to the Far Out tent for The Hundred In The Hands. I only end up catching the last few songs of their set, and I wish I’d arrived earlier as I like what I hear – jagged guitar meets Crystal Castles beats ‘n bleeps with sultry female vocals. Their set ends a bit earlier than advertised, so I have a walk round as I have some time to kill. On my travels I come across an all-female a cappella/beatboxing quintet called The Boxettes, one of whom is apparently the world female beatboxing champion. Their performance is impeccably tight and so they’re actually very entertaining, performing mostly original material but mixing in covers of ‘Feeling Good’ and some 90’s dance classic or other that I forget now. Definitely one of the weekend’s biggest surprises.

By contrast, Chew Lips suffer from the problem of not being as interesting as they think they are – sure they’ve got some decent enough tunes but they’re kinda throwaway electro-pop all the same. Later, Sleepy Sun battle through sound problems to put on a stirring performance, and then it’s time to wait for what is, for me, today’s main event – and Fuck Buttons do not disappoint. They sound absolutely colossal and are completely mesmerising throughout, seamlessly stringing together tracks from both their records – from ‘Surf Solar’ through ‘Bright Tomorrow’ all the way to ‘Flight Of The Feathered Serpent’s euphoric close. The crowd are absolutely baying for more and an encore would have been completely justified, but sadly there isn’t time.

With the rain still relentlessly pouring down, Doves have the somewhat unenviable task of headlining the main stage. Perhaps the rain is dampening my spirits, but they feel a bit lacklustre after Fuck Buttons’ phenomenal set. Emily and Laura leave after one two many middling album tracks for their liking, but I decide to stick it out until the end. It feels a bit late coming, but there are rewards to be had for doing so in the likes of ‘The Cedar Room’, ‘Last Broadcast’ and obligatory set-closer ‘There Goes The Fear’ (hilariously mis-titled in the programme as ‘Here Comes The Fear’). And with that, Friday is done.

Saturday

Saturday starts with yet more rain and a bewildering but brilliant set from Islet. Their sound is best described as organised chaos – you’d almost think they were making it up as they go along, switching instruments regularly and diving in and out of the crowd, but they still manage to make something that sounds cohesive. There’s something oddly fitting about the moment when one member flung a tambourine high into the air – upon coming back down, it bounced once and then neatly landed on the sound desk.

After that lively start to the day, Joker’s Daughter proves to be far more interesting on paper (specifically, the paper of the programme) than she is in reality. There’s some vague blather about her having sent her demos to Danger Mouse, but all I see is a slightly dull female singer-songwriter in a jester’s hat. She then goes on to sing a song entirely in Greek – at this point, I decide it’s time to leave. I meet up with Emily and Laura again, kinda half pay attention to Wolf People, and take the opportunity to obtain photographic evidence of it not actually raining for once. We stick around the Far Out tent for Egyptian Hip-Hop, who sound like both Late Of The Pier and Foals on occasion, but lack the energy and intensity that makes both those bands great. The Besnard Lakes, on the other hand, make a big impression on the main stage with their powerful, stately melodic rock. Later on, Summer Camp prove to be appropriately named, their twee indie-pop recalling lost youth and blissful summer days, while John Cooper Clarke is as hilarious as ever over in the Comedy tent. I also recall watching Avi Buffalo but can’t actually remember anything about them other than that they were very humbled to be here.

Then it’s time for my big three acts of the evening, beginning with These New Puritans. They come one step closer to truly recreating their astounding work on Hidden tonight by bringing along two Bassoon players – unfortunately, the sound is a bit all over the place for opener ‘We Want War’, but after that it’s all smooth sailing. And while the band do slip in ‘Elvis’ and ‘Infinity Ytinifni’ from debut record Beat Pyramid. , the set is really all about Hidden, from the thundering, staccato ‘Attack Music’ to the majestic ‘Orion’. However, as brilliant as their set is, it makes me yearn to hear the record played live as intended even more – in particular, set closer ‘5’ would be even more wonderful with its full choral vocal. Nevertheless, I still enjoyed their performance immensely.

I briefly catch Billy Bragg on the main stage while queuing for a crepe – with the rain still falling, he offers the assembled crowd some comfort with the words “If it’s any consolation, it’s pissing it down at V [Festival]!” But I can’t stick around, I have Wild Beasts to see – I’ve belatedly come to like Two Dancers after finally getting over my aversion to Hayden Thorpe’s crazed falsetto. They create a heady atmosphere, with shimmering guitars and two distinctive voices filling the tent and drawing a huge response from the crowd – ‘Hooting And Howling’ and ‘We Still Got The Taste Dancing On Our Tongues’ are particular highlights.

The Flaming Lips put on what is easily the most spectacular show of the weekend – and that’s before you even get to the music. Wayne Coyne rolls around atop the crowd in a giant inflatable ball, gets carried around on the shoulders of man dresses as a bear, shoots lasers out of a pair of giant papier mache hands, and liberally showers the crowd with confetti and oversized balloons. Musically they often lean towards giant, psychedelic sounding freakouts, but the real moments are the big singalong songs like ‘Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots, pt 1’ and impossibly euphoric set-closer ‘Do You Realize??’. The crowd are desperate for more (specifically ‘The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song’, which has been oddly overlooked), but all Wayne Coyne has time for is one last, brief show of appreciation before we all head off into the night. There’s no doubt in my mind that the organisers missed a trick here – The Flaming Lips should absolutely have closed the festival. Although at least this way we got to watch them while it was dry.

Sunday

Appropriately enough, the sun finally decided to show up on Sunday. I’ve got a bit of time to kill before the bands start, so I decide to go have a closer look at the Green Man, and discover that the inside of it is full of little tags with messages on them. It’s the sort of thing that fans of Postsecret would have a field day with, with the messages ranging from the morbid (“I wish the plane would crash so I don’t have to miss him so much.”) to the endearing (“Please don’t rain for Mumford.”). My personal favourite was one that simply read (“I found a blank one! :)” ).

After that, our first musical act of the day are Message To Bears, who Emily has been told like a folky Godspeed You! Black Emperor – a description that proves accurate in terms of sound, if not quite in terms of quality, but they’re pleasant enough. After that, Je Suis Animal also prove to be very lovely, sounding a bit like a French Asobi Seksu. In between times, we hear some improvised raps about science – yes, really – in the appropriately named Einstein’s Garden. They’ve also got pedal powered mobile phone charging going on, which is a nice touch.

Lone Wolf helps me fill my obligatory quota of Leeds-based musicans in style, with his band consisting of members of Grammatics and Duels, as well as solo artist Napoleon III. He’s also really damn good, with the beautiful ballad ’15 Letters’ and stirring set closer ‘The Devil And I (Part 2)’ being real highlights. There’s also a treasure hunt going on around the site, with the clues having been provided via the video for ’15 Letters’. Lone Wolf gives us one final clue, telling us to check out the ivy wall near the Green Man Pub stage. I duly do so, only to find I’ve been beaten to the clue by a group of eager kids. C’est la vie.

Back on the main stage, Field Music prove to be an effortlessly melodic joy to behold and remind me that I really must get round to listening to their latest record. Later, Emily berates Laura Marling for lacking stage presence, and I have to concede her point – despite her admirable songwriting, the poor girl does just look a little bit worried all the time. In complete contrast, The Tallest Man On Earth suffers no such problems despite being just one guy and a guitar – despite my being unfamiliar with his material he proves captivating throughout, and when he brings on his friends from the band Megafaun for his final song, it’s an endearingly touching moment. Beforehand, I’d also caught a bit of Sparrow And The Workshop, who display a knack for catchy folk-pop tunes.

On my way back to my tent to get something a bit warmer and pick up my umbrella, I catch the last three songs of Mumford & Sons. To be fair to them, they’re alright in small doses despite the formulaic nature of their songs, and everybody seems to be loving ‘Little Lion Man’ and ‘The Cave’. They prove to be about a billion times more exciting than Tindersticks, who absolutely bore me to death on my return. The rain is once again setting in and so I look to find a diversion from their mind-numbing tedium. I find that diversion in Silver Columns, an amusing Scottish duo making slightly ridiculous but fun dance music.

Feeling much more entertained, I head back to the main stage to meet up with Emily and Laura again. However, with the rain continuing to fall hard, watching Joanna Newsom proves to be an exercise in endurance, both in terms of her lengthy songs and the increasing pain in my bony arse from sitting down on the hill that overlooks the stage. Don’t get me wrong, she’s fairly listenable – but she’s the kind of act I’d prefer to listen to while chilling out on a sunny afternoon, rather than when it’s cold, wet and dark. I finally give up about four songs in and go to see Gold Panda – who starts his set ten minutes late, takes another five minutes to produce something vaguely resembling a tune, and another five after that to elicit a response other than slightly confused shuffling from the crowd. Having said all that, once he gets going I do enjoy myself, although that’s probably because I’m in a covered tent with an excuse to move around a bit and keep warm as much as anything else.

Emily told me that they were going to burn the Green Man statue at midnight, so I decide to head out and see what’s happening, having the good fortune of bumping into her and Laura on the way. After that there appears to be a lot of indeterminate dicking around – tribal drums are played, some fiery bolas are spun around for a very long time, and at one point a paper dragon lit up by green flares processes past. Of course, we can’t really see much of this as there are at least three or four rows of people stood in front of us – and bear in mind that it’s still raining pretty heavily at this point. After well over 40 minutes they finally set the damn thing alight – luckily the spectacle does make up for the wait, and there’s a lovely fireworks display to go along with it. With the night having threatened to turn into a damp squib, Green Man finally goes out with a bang.

If you asked me to sum up my opinion of Green Man 2010 in one sentence, it would be as follows: nice festival, shame about the weather.

Epilogue: Monday

I awake after a fitful night’s sleep, and slowly pack up my belongings among an ever-dwindling sea of tents. Feeling optimistic because of the morning sunshine, I chuck my umbrella into my rucksack and dig out my sunglasses for the first time all weekend, before heading over to help Emily and Laura finish packing.

As we leave, it begins to rain.

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Let’s Get Cynical: January Round-up

Well, January sure disappeared fast. While I haven’t got anything that I wish to blather on at you about for 2000 words, I do have a few things I want to talk about briefly.

Glass

Glass - The Sound Of Glass

Glass - The Sound Of Glass

My first record purchase of 2010 was not a big-name, international release – it was, in fact, the debut album by York locals Glass. At seven tracks long, ‘album’ seems a bit of a misnomer, but the record does clock in at just over 32 minutes – and even with double the number of songs, Johnny Foreigner’s Grace And The Bigger Picture wasn’t much longer than that, so I guess that complaint isn’t valid.

Anyway, Glass make dark and moody rock in the mould of Interpol or Editors, with a very narrative slant – there’s even an intriguing backstory about a young boy creating a machine that can transmit art through time.  There’s something familiar and yet also new about the band’s sound, splicing their rockier influences with synths and strong harmonies to create something that feels quite theatrical. On record, the band’s vocals are a lot clearer and more prominent in the mix, drawing more attention to the often cryptic lyrics. Generally, this is to the band’s benefit, but occasionally it dampens the impact of their sound – ‘My Elan’ in particular lacks a little of the impact that it has when used as a stirring conclusion to the band’s live show. This is a minor gripe however, and overall this is a strong debut from a very promising band. If you’d like to find out more, check out the band’s website, where you can also purchase a copy of the album for a very reasonable £5, should you so desire.

The Blueprints

Supporting at Glass’ album launch were another local favourite of mine, The Blueprints. They’ve recently added a new dynamic to their sound in the form of keyboardist Tom Williams. How does this sound, you ask? A little bit like this:

Lovely stuff, no?

Hadouken!

Hadouken! - For The Masses

Hadouken! - For The Masses

I was going to write a full review of new album For The Masses, but after reading a few other reviews I realised that they’d already said most things that needed to be said. So, in brief then: Hadouken! have produced another decidedly meh album – in fact, it’s noticeably worse than Music For An Accelerated Culture. Musically, it spends most of its time in thrall to The Prodigy and Pendulum – the former, at least, isn’t a bad thing, but they don’t feel like they’re distinguishing themselves from their influences in any significant way. Elsewhere, there’s a Michael Jackson pastiche (even James himself has said that ‘House Is Falling’ has definite shades of ‘Dirty Diana’), and the opening track sounds like some sort of cobbled-together Frankenstine’s monster – drums from Klaxons’ ‘Two Receivers’, guitars that would fit on any Lostprophets track, and that electronic choir sound from Editors’ ‘An End Has A Start’. The end result strives for epic but just ends up feeling a bit flat.

James seems to have adopted a grime MC-aping, aggressive tone for most of this record, but it just sounds like he’s trying too hard rather than being in any way believable. It doesn’t help his cause that lyrically, the record veers from vague attempts at ‘anthemic’ (‘House Is Falling’, ‘Lost’), through completely banal (‘Mic Check’), and finally all the way to utterly laughable (‘Ugly’). That last track is particularly worth of mention, with James spitting “I’m gonna fuck your face up!” before delivering the bombshell: “It’s ugly like your sister!” – an insult that will surely go full circle back to the playgrounds it was plucked from. For me, it’s this pathetic sort of bravado that sums up where Hadouken! have gone so very wrong with this record. Gone is any wit, any sense of wry humour, any knowingness – largely replaced with tough-guy posturing, aggression and dumb threats. I can’t say that I was disappointed with For The Masses, as I had no particular expectations of it anyway – but that said, the days when ‘That Boy That Girl’ was fresh and exciting now seem like an even more distant memory.

Plasticines

Is it mean of me to take the piss out of lyrics written by groups who obviously don’t speak English as a first language? Not if the group in question is Plasticines, I’d argue. I pointed out the inanity of ‘Barcelona’ in one of my very first posts, and now they’re back at it again with ‘Bitch’ – a song whose opening lyrical gambit is (I kid you not) “I’m a bitch/when I brush my teeth”. What would that involve exactly? Spitting all over the mirror so the next person has to clean it up? Squeezing your toothpaste from the middle of the tube? Honestly.

It gets even better/worse though, as the second verse begins with the line “I’m a bitch/when I walk my dog” which clearly frames the singer as one of those types who leaves their mutt’s shit lying around for some unfortunate person to step in. At least when Meredith Brooks was a ‘Bitch’ she was lots of other things as well, but you, Plasticines? Well, you’re just bitches. But don’t take my word for it:

If she’s “a bitch in disguise,” what is she disguised as exactly? A hot French girl*, singing about how she’s a bitch? Brilliant, NO ONE WILL EVER GUESS!

*No offence intended if you are hot/French/a girl. Well, unless you are actually a bitch.

These New Puritans

These New Puritans - Hidden

These New Puritans - Hidden

I had a listen to Hidden when it was up on These New Puritans’ Myspace, and found myself rather intrigued. Their new material has a more sinister feel than the jittery post-punk of their debut, with orchestral flourishes mixed with their more familiar electronic sound. So, while I haven’t picked up the album at of yet, it’s probably a contender for ‘Album Of The Month’ – or at least “best record released in January”. Then again, I haven’t actually listened to many records released in January, so that’s not saying much so far. Decide for yourself – first single ‘We Want War’ gives you a good idea of what to expect, and they’re also offering album track ‘Orion’ as a free download via Drowned In Sound.

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