Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Multiple-Bank-Holiday-Madness: Summer daze with Dananananaykroyd (srsly)

It's like pop and punk, together! No, not pop-punk. Or punk-pop. It's fight pop, apparently.

I simply cannot believe that I like this record. Not just like, actively fucking love. I had to give a mark out 10 for L&Q but it's very difficult to do that at the best of times, and with the new Dananananaykroyd album, boringly titled There Is A Way, I ended up in all kinds of brain squiggles about it. I love it, but is it really "good"? I s'pose this is the problem that lies at the rotten heart of music criticism. A problem you learn to ignore.

Maybe because there's a certain amount of guilty pleasure in listening to an album so gleeful, so ridiculous, so summery - attributes I normally despise in music, especially from a chirpy guitar-wielding band who've opted for precision radio-friendliness on a record that's not gonna be on the radio much. I can't explain it! Except I love it! Most people would think that was perfectly okay. To my post-gradu-addled critical theory brain it's almost vertiginous.

But I promise you. If you think this is the sort of thing you don't like, you might be wrong. Go on, have a sniff. (Works best on about the fifth listen.)

First published in Loud And Quiet

There Is A Way
Out on Pizza College, 13th June

Likely the only “fight-pop Glasgow six-piece” in history, Dananananaykroyd roped in Slipknot producer Ross Robinson for knob-twiddling duties on their follow-up to 2009's Hey Everyone! – not an obvious choice, you'd think, but the breakneck thrashiness and razor-sharp clarity of these 11 tracks recall none other than hardcore squealers The Blood Brothers, another Robinson-produced band.

Dananananaykroyd carefully pair that heaviness with contagious melodies and arch lyricisms (“A spider's corpse is carried away by ants/Like voluntary coroners”) for a regionally-accented anti-pop much in the vein of Future of the Left. Stand-out tracks include 'Think and Feel', a ridiculous slice of accelerated punk funk with a dash of B-52s oddballsiness, immediately followed by super-bouncy would-be radio hit 'Muscle Memory'. Best consumed at full volume through knackered car door speakers, rampaging down to the seafront with the windows down: a total summer-gasm of a record.

Monday, 23 May 2011

"Like a red star/ Like a bruised scar": EMA's deconstructed grunge

EMA is Erika M. Anderson, formerly of Gowns. The other week she played the Macbeth in London and shot an arrow through my grunger girl heart. There's something so simple and fresh about her record, Past Life Martyred Saints, despite its constituent parts being mined from other genres - lo-fi, riot grrrl, grunge, folk, noise - that it made me want to grab my guitar. Not many records I like at the moment can say that. I'm feeling a rock revival coming on (might be limited to one bedroom in N5).

This is the single, 'California', and although it's pretty different to the rest of the album it's a hell of a calling card. Below is my live review for L&Q.

First published in Loud And Quiet

EMA at the Macbeth, London
11th May 2011

Seventy-two inches of bleached-blonde, bourbon-soaked, stung-lipped American Woman lopes on stage in hotpants and grabs a star-covered guitar. Erika M. Anderson, wearing a necklace bearing her alias EMA, ain’t too easily ignored. Formerly of Gowns, the cult drone rock duo that imploded at the end of 2009, EMA tonight plays through most of Past Life Martyred Saints, a debut of deconstructed grunge that places her bold-but-fragile voice at the eye of the storm, circled by drawn-out riffs and warped desert rock.

Stripped of the record’s extensive multi-tracking and distortion, that voice takes on a different character, somehow more vulnerable, like a runaway teen with too many tall tales and battle scars. Between songs she jokes with us, slurring her words as she snaps on her “showtime suspenders” (patterned with piano keys), but it's a clownish fa├žade that slips once the guitar kicks in and she's spitting her stories of high school and violence and bluebirds and the Viking funeral ships that bear her ancestors.

Closing with 'California', an astonishing ode to the state that “made me boring”, she pulls the mic lead round her neck like a noose and raises two fingers on her right hand: the all-American ambassador, armed with religious blessings and a gun. We're not so much her audience as her battle casualties, joyously martyred to serrated edge rock and roll.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Sit Down. Stand Up. Red Stripe: Gigs are sometimes the worst way to hear music

Last month I wrote about the Halls gig at the Old Blue Last for L&Q, and felt kinda bad about having to conclude that it was mediocre. Essentially, I thought they'd done the music a disservice by failing to turn their bedroom producer fare into any kind of live show. I'm seeing them again tomorrow, same place (according to the line-up that's been floating around), supporting Beat Connection and the rather good Entrepreneurs. If bands ever took advice from sideline snipers and blather-boxes like myself then I'd expect them to rock up with some freshly-honed stage moves and stunning visuals at the very least; ideally they'd make their entrance from the door of a 35 ft mirror ball lemon. But somehow I think this will not be the case.

Last night, at the other end of the synth-dude spectrum, I caught Emeralds at Village Underground. This arpeggio-humping synth/ambient/drone trio came to my attention last year with their album Does It Look Like I'm Here (s'on Spotify), but they've been around for a few years and apparently have about 40 releases behind them on various small labels, including Thurston Moore's Ecstatic Peace imprint. So they're a little more established than Halls, shall we say. But how much better was the live show? Well, there were no laptops involved (that I could see) and they had wisely set up the synths side-on to the audience so that we could seem them pressing stuff, a bit. And they have a guitarist! He sways around in a post-rock sorta way. 

All the same, I don't think more than a handful of people could have been described as 'engrossed' in the Emeralds live experience. This is not to say that there's anything wrong with it - at the very least it's cool to see how such complex, textured tracks are brought to life through the beating heart of analogue - but it makes me wonder about the limitations of the standard gig format. When Brian Eno patented his Ambient music it was all about creating sounds that could happily exist in the background, while the listener splits her attention with something else. Likewise when you're listening to a DJ in club surroundings you're free to dance and chat and move around without looking over to the booth (unless you're one of those creepy booth-snoopers with your eyes fixed on the decks. Weirdo).

And on and on - so much music is designed as part of an overall experience, not as the experience itself. Like in ballet or dance where music is just one of the required elements. Or in many non-Western musical traditions where participation is expected and there's no performer-audience divide. Or, in fact, in its recorded state as the soundtrack to your day. Music doesn't need to be 'Ambient' to be literally 'ambient' - how much time do you spend listening to music while doing nothing else? Most of my listening happens while I'm getting on with other things.

So when it comes to the music of Emeralds, or even Halls, I just wonder if its anti-flamboyance, evolving textures and slow-burn dynamics wouldn't be better served in a less straightforward 'gig' situation. If there's nothing to look at, why are we all facing the same way? Are there other ways of presenting live music that are better suited to the actual sounds being made? By way of example, a couple of memorable gigs: Yo La Tengo at the Royal Festival Hall, providing a soundtrack to a '70s French documentary about marine life. Lucky Dragons at the Scala, handing out homemade electronic instruments to the audience. Both were totally engrossing and gave the audience a sense of purpose and belonging, as though it really mattered that we were there, creating an atmosphere together (ergh, what a hippy I'm becoming). But without that, we risk reducing the gig to something functional and replicable, a simple product to be touted now that CDs are virtually worthless.

Wow, downer post. I'll dish up some happy clappy shit next time!

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Normal service resumes shortly

Public Service Announcement:
A month of academic toil is now behind me, so expect normal blogging service again within days, if not hours.


EMA's deconstructed grunge is like an arrow to my heart

A raucous and unexpectedly addictive comeback from Dananananaykroyd

Popping my Richie Hawtin cherry at the Mute-curated day of the Short Circuit festival

The effortless pop magic of First Lady of Rinse Katy B

Gatekeeper and Laurel Halo soundtrack the half-seen horror vids of my unsupervised childhood

And many many many more exciting things, probably from the worlds of 'post-dubstep' and 'hypnayawnic pop' and 'offensive mainstream pop I feel the need to lash out at', among others.