Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Essentially Eclectic

Sorry for the confusion, but due to lack of audio uploading capabilities on this blog, operations have moved back to Essentially Eclectic

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

School of Seven Bells

Artist: School of Seven Bells
Venue: Scala (King’s Cross, London)
Date: Tuesday 20th July, 2010

Dream pop architects School of Seven Bells are almost defiantly niche in their style. The casual listener must work hard to wade through the electro-Spector productions of new album Disconnect From Desire (and its slightly more lo-fi predecessor Alpinisms) to share in the adoration the band receive from its growing following.
Those already on the inside could have been forgiven feelings of anxiousness while awaiting the band’s arrival on stage at London’s Scala last night. On record the band posses an enviable mix of cutting edge (subtle, guitar-infused electro) and mystique (alluring twin sister harmonies, abstract lyrics), and the uneasy mood in the audience concerned how successfully this mix could be recreated live. However, as opening track Half Asleep crashed in to being, the capacity crowd breathed a collective sigh of relief as it became clear that these elements were not purely the result of studio trickery.
With the addition of a live drummer to the keyboard/drum machine/guitars combination of Benjamin Curtis and twin sisters Alejandra and Claudia Deheza, the band reproduced selected tracks from both releases, often walking the fine line between static electronica ensemble and edgy indie guitar band while doing so. Movement and interaction was minimal, although they were clearly enjoying themselves, with smiles replacing the anticipated pretentious scowl. With a style regularly described as ethereal, and occasionally as a less-organic Stereolab, the band made their way through other favourites such as the livelier My Cabal, and the extended, building encore of Chain. Less established tracks from Disconnect From Desire blended in perfectly with previous material, almost to the point of monotony, and the freshness of the album’s release (just a week prior to this performance) didn’t dampen the crowd’s enthusiasm as they cheered the intro to new song Windstorm. Both Deheza sisters exuded a mesmerising and sultry presence, Claudia from behind keyboards backing up the lead vocals of Alejandra, both glued together by the sweeping guitar textures of former Secret Machines member Benjamin Curtis. The repetitive nature of the performance was evident; many songs were of similar tempo, with comparable floating vocal melodies and synthesiser pad layers. However this is in keeping with the concept of School of Seven Bells, a concept that was fully (and ethereally) realised on stage at Scala.

Monday, 22 March 2010


I have mainly been using this space for general thoughts and opinions, discussion of recent musical findings, and links to interesting and related articles. If you are interested in reading any of my work for university however, please click the links below.

Click HERE for some recent review work. The set brief required 2,000 worth of reviews, of both live and recorded music. One had to be at least 500 words, two had to be a maximum of 150. At least one had to include interview elements.
I went with two long reviews - one of Massive Attack's Heligoland, the other a live review of the recent Music Beyond The Mainstream African Soul Rebels Tour.
My shorter reviews included a live review of a Lee 'Scratch' Perry gig, a look at Four Tet's new album There Is Love In You, which included the required interview elements, and a review of Julian Casablancas' solo debut Phrazes For The Young.

Click HERE for some recent features work. The brief here again required 2,000 words, with a 1,000 word lead, and one with a maximum of 250 words. One also had to be a new based backgrounder. I chose two artists to feature, firstly a techno producer known as Taylor for a 1,000 feature on IDM (Intelligent Dance Music) and the Wigflex label he is working with. Secondly was 750 words on James Vyner, former bass player with indie band Seachange, who now creates audio walking tours of London. Lastly, my 250 word new backgrounder was based around the latest Wailers tour, focusing on other bands that continue to play without their lead stars.

I found the discipline of keeping to a word count difficult at times, and had to edit and re-edit my work on numerous occasions. It was also fairly difficult to write for a target audience (in this case the university), as my tastes may differ a lot to the majority of the readers. Any feedback on any of the writing here would be greatly appreciated.
For more reflections on the practices behind putting this work together, please click HERE

Monday, 22 February 2010

How Wrong We Were About Black Sabbath

"Critics could hear the heaviness, they just couldn't hear that it mattered"

Interesting article from last week's Guardian about what music critics are 'wrong' about, and what they've been 'wrong' about in the past...

Read it HERE

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Heligoland - How To Write A Massive Attack Review

It is a common misconception that the best way to approach a review is to listen to the album/track in question a few times before expressing an informed opinion of the material in some form of context. While attempting a recent review of Massive Attack’s Heligoland, I discovered through research that certain rules must be adhered to and protocol followed. Especially in the broadsheets and monthly music publications, Massive Attack have apparently been ‘sussed’, eradicating the necessity to discuss them in any new way, and therefore making it easier for journalists to put together a paint-by-numbers piece on the group. Here are 6 simple steps that you can follow when writing your own Massive Attack review……

1. Start with a reference to the fact that it has been years since their last release (in this case seven), and imply that they are only pushing a few buttons/recording a few west country-accented vocals, so what’s taking them so long?

2. Follow this up with an observation regarding the amount of weed they smoke. This is a favourite of the broadsheets that still like to think of themselves as mildly ‘liberal’, while confirmation that the journalist in question knows what cannabis smells/looks like is apparently qualification enough for them to be writing the piece. The venerable Alexis Petridis, The Guardian’s Sultan of disagreeable opinion, has demonstrated exquisite use of this technique over the years. See “Massive Attack: ‘Phantom Funk? Who Said That?’ from The Guardian, 10th September 2009.

3. With customary steps one and two out the way, the review should then go on to inform us how influential this group of Bristolians have been on electronic-based music in this country, indeed that they pretty much invented trip-hop (a genre they neither associate themselves with, or claim to understand). Also mention that they were leaders of the ‘Bristol Scene’ in the mid ‘90s, which, according to the mainstream music press, consisted only of them, former collaborator Tricky, Portishead, and occasionally Roni Size.

4. Whilst on the subject, discuss Tricky’s or even Andrew “Mushroom” Vowles’ unceremonious departure from the group, even though the latter happened about 13 years ago, and the former over 16. This is another favourite subject of journalists, who have some strange desire to blow it out of all proportion while the group look on, bemused (and stoned, don’t forget to say they are stoned).

5. Don’t be afraid to use big words. Massive Attack are now officially owned by the broadsheets, as they are pioneers of the ‘urban, yet critically acclaimed and therefore non-threatening or too difficult to categorise’ school of artists (see Dizzee Rascal or someone like that). In a recent article in The Times, Will Self refers to the band as, among other things: intransigent (dunno what the means), sui generis (sounds Latin or something), and effusive (think that’s like unreserved). The fact that Self also refers to the group as “The Massives” is further evidence that the “serious” music press now see them as one of their own.

6. Write a lot about both Blue Lines and Mezzanine, even though they were both released well over a decade ago, and have subsequently been raped and pillaged by adverts and US dramas (both medical and cop). To be fair to reviewers on this front, the band have not particularly moved on in terms of their sound from this era, so points for relevance may still be earned here.

Oh yeah, Heligoland. Yeah, it’s good. Give it a listen.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Thought For The Day...

Frank Zappa had a parrot named Bird Reynolds.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

2009 In 10 Songs...

I am aware that the convention at this time of year is to compile lists of favourite songs from the previous 12 months, or top tips for the next, but I don't want to. I have however decided to give some thought to my personal top ten listening from 2009...

1. Teenage Riot - Sonic Youth
(from Daydream Nation - 1988)
One of the more commercial efforts from the band's late '80s output, Teenage Riot opens with a repeated guitar phrase that veritably glistens. This is joined by a Kim Gordon-recited mantra, before exploding in to a driving, melodic riff.

2. Iamundernodisguise - School of Seven Bells
(from Alpinisms - 2008)
A collaboration between Secret Machine's Benjamin Curtis and identical twin vocalists Alejandra and Claudia Deheza, School of Seven Bells released the ethereally beautiful Iamundernodisguise in 2008. A hypnotic, electronic folk song, the track opens the band's debut Alpinisms.

3. Atoms for Peace - Thom Yorke
(from The Eraser - 2006)
Arriving late to the party with this album, it didn't take me long to succumb to its introspective magic, aided by the Radiohead revival I was personally going through at the time (it was only after much agonising deliberation that I didn't include a Radiohead song in this list due to the selection of Thom Yorke). I could have included two or three tracks from The Eraser on this list, but have gone for Atoms for Peace. Yorke's melody writing at its best.

4. Efuge Efuge - Stelios Kazantzidis
(from ...And all the Pieces Matter, Five Years of Music from The Wire - 2008)
I, like many others, first heard this track during a montage sequence on the fantastic HBO series The Wire. Its vocalist, popular Greek singer Kazantzidis, sounds pained beyond comprehension as he delivers the song's mesmerising refrain.

5. Haikuesque (When She Laughs) - Bibio (from Ambivalence Avenue - 2009)
It's been an eventful year for Warp Records. They celebrated their 20th anniversary, their film company had a major nationwide release, and they blessed the world with Ambivalence Avenue. Again, this is just one of the many tracks that I could have chosen.

6. Blue Ridge Mountains - Fleet Foxes (From Fleet Foxes - 2008)
After the success of first single Mykonos, Fleet Foxes appeared on the radar as part of the so-called 'folk revival' of 2008. None of the other bands coming through on the back of this influx really delivered however, and the self-titled follow up album to Mykonos, Fleet Foxes, took the crown. The song-writing is as refreshing as it is respectful to its fore fathers, and the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young-type harmonies more than competant.

7. Sugar Water - Cibo Matto (From VIVA! La Woman - 1996)
Japanese expatriates Cibo Matto brought their leftfield take on Hip-Hop/Funk to New York in the early '90s. Their debut, VIVA! La Woman, is packed full of playful lyrics set to the hypnotic prototype Trip-Hop of producer Yuka Honda. Sugar Water is towards the tranquil end of the Cibo Matto cannon.

8. The Race To Be First Home - ISAN
(From Meet Next Life - 2004)
A slice of ambient electronica from English duo ISAN next. This is a charming xylophone-lead track complete with electornic blips and a dizzying,revolving melody line.

9. The Rip - Portishead (From Third - 2008)
The Bristol trip-hop powerhouse that is Portishead released their third album in 2008, keeping up their tradition of making fans wait an excruciating amount of time between albums. Third is a strong effort however, and is worth the wait for The Rip alone, a desolate acoustic track that melds in to a roving synth-led second half.

10. Beaux Dimanches - Amadou & Mariam (From Dimanche a Bamako - 2005)
Mali musicians Amadou & Mariam broke entered the Western conciousness with this Manu Chao-produced album in 2005. Chao's understated touch allows the songwriting and harmonies between the husband and wife duo to come through. Beaux Dimanches also features a memorable and catchy guitar line.