"This is ‘punk’ music – not in the comic-book fashion that seems to define that term lately."
For my sins – well, more by accident really – I found myself watching one of those TV talent shows that will provide the top end of the commercial charts for the next couple of weeks - until the other channel’s version of the same thing starts. It again reinforced just had devalued music has become. That’s not knocking some of the artists involved, because some of them are genuinely good voices who may prove to be something more than the karaoke trained seals they are during the ‘grand-final-elimination-curveball-knockout-round-loser-goes-home’ section of the show. Sadly, it seemed to come down to how good the back story (‘He came to the audition in his Hi-Vis shirt straight from his job on the railways!’) rather than any measure of talent to encourage the 14-year-old girls with Hello Kitty smartphones who appear to make up a large element of the voting constituency.
The eventual upshot of all that cynical manipulation made me realise how much we still need bands like Savages. Their gender and social politics are not ignored – but equally, not yelled as slogans in the music – but in the lyrics of T.I.W.Y.G. (Matador/Remote Control) they’ll directly tell you what the problem in your relationship is. This is ‘punk’ music – not in the comic-book fashion that seems to define that term lately. It’s jagged, ragged, sincere art. It nods to various eras of such music – there is some Siouxsie Sioux swoop in Jehnny Beth’s vocals, the guitars sometimes have the opaque swirl of Jesus & Mary Chain to what they do. The music drops away to a relative calm, before arcing up to rip in again. Nope, this will never been turned into an X-Factor dance number. Thankfully.
Then again, you can take yourself a little too seriously. Razorlight were/are one of those middlingly successful UK bands that probably outstayed their welcome, and their myriad lineup changes that left Johnny Borrell – lead singer of the fine English model of being utterly convinced of his own abilities and intellectual superiority over the likes of you – as the only member left who could put up with him. To finally differentiate himself from that brandname – and/or because the album he put out under his own name sold 597 copies in its first week of release – Johnny now fronts a unit in his own image called Zazou, hopefully not named for the wonderfully bent Wes Anderson movie with Bill Murray, and the guy singing Bowie covers in Portuguese. Black God (Atlantic Culture) has the circular insistence of too many people sitting round a campfire passing around the bong made from a juice bottle. To up the pretention level just a bit further, you can get a copy from the label for free by forwarding them a sketch of the Mandala – the Indian symbol for the universe, not Nelson – or you can listen to it here, and just go on with your life.
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Sometimes you can end up with some tension and drama in the actual making of the music. Her peripatetic life has seen Krista Polvere go from Adelaide through Melbourne, to make her alt.country of quality in the country from which it originally emanated. There’s the collaboration with Ryan Adams which always looks good on the resume, and now an album previewed with the high plains demand to Shut Up & Ride (Inertia). Ms Polvere may have some mixed feelings about the record, and the songs of it, as by the time it’s released the tempestuous romantic and musical relationship she had with the album’s producer Brian Elijah Smith has now gone south. Her voice already has the necessary broken-hearted longing to it, so the resonances you think you hear in it might be there – or not. That said, it’s a fine example of the form, from whatever emotional or physical location it emerged.
There’s more than that country, or the alternative thereof, in Texas. Purple certainly aren’t rounding up the cattle and gazing into the middle-distance as the livestock settle for the night. Unless they’re doing the herding in a Mini Van ([PIAS] Recordings). How about we go for the description of them being something akin to a white trash White Stripes? And then throw in a side order of a bit of Beastie Boys-ish yelling. It’s quite likeable, although you’d probably not want them living next door.
Staking out their territory in the name alone, Skyscraper Stan & The Commission Flats back that up by describing their emotional state that led to Always Thinking Of You (Independent) as coming from ‘a period of inebriated self-reflection in Fitzroy’. Result: music of that Melbourne style with its bit of folk-rock with maybe just a little country twang in the underpinnings. The imposingly tall Mr Woodhouse who provides the first part of the band unit name, has the voice with the necessary balance of sentimental regret and ‘Bugger it, I’ll have another pot’ that further identifies the form. Music for a Sunday afternoon where the local is on the way home from the tram stop, and you know there’ll be someone in the bar you know.
There has always been an idiosyncratic sweet madness to Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros which you either embrace or look past to the next thing on jukebox. ‘Indie folk’ covers part of what it is, but lost in its own ramblings there’s a slightly foggy psychedelic element there as well. Although Hot Coals (Community Music) finds a bit of earthiness in its need as the object of affection faces the demand of ‘Stay the fuck in my heart…’. There are times they might be the slightly more urban and urbane relation of The Flaming Lips mid-west hallucinogenic scruffiness, albeit a little more deliberate in the shiny bits they tack on to songs to try and get on the radio.
There can be a real intimacy in what some want to label ‘indie electronica’. Could be that it can really be made by one or two people hunched over a laptop in a sharehouse bedroom. There’s a bit of that feeling in Feel (Deaf Ambitions) as Melbourne’s Leisure Suite then build beds of quite rich sound which allow Bridgette Le’s voice to float and dive into them. Really nicely put together.
Castlecomer make old-school pop-rock of the non-embarrassing kind – yes 5SOS, it can be done – as Escapism (Title Track) is a good example of just what it says on the tin. Bede has a voice of interesting qualities and the guitars build the scaffolds around it. It’s good, they’re probably the half-hook away from the big hit song, and have done the traditional ‘paying of dues’ to suggest they have the patience to go with it.