Thursday, 28 July 2011

Departures: Why I love Amy Winehouse (Concise Version)

There are so many things to say about the recently departed Amy Winehouse, many of which were said in her short lifetime and many more of which have been repeated in the few days since her death.

All I can to add to the ever-expanding collective memory of her is my own experience of her music and the effect she has had on me. Her addictions, her fame, her disastrous performances and sporadic no-shows, her tabloid status and her immediately iconic look, from the beehive to the missing tooth to the ever-diminishing twig-like limbs... well, these are the things that the obituaries will have to talk about. But I was already a Winehouse fan by the time her personal life took over her musical endeavours, having chanced on her appearance on Jools Holland in 2003.

As a teenager who loved both the Libertines and Lauryn Hill, I was always – and sometimes still am – trying to reconcile my guitar with my voice. All the usual guitar-wielding women failed to hold my interest, like Courtney Love or Chrissie Hynde (this was just before the download age got going – finding worthy musical heroes was pretty tricky in the darkest West Country, despite growing up a few miles from PJ Harvey). Yet my favourite R&B voices seemed worlds away from music I could play myself, with their slick ProTools beats or jazz piano and vinyl crackle.

But then there's Winehouse, bashing out 'Stronger Than Me' on a Strat which even I had to admit was fucking boss, and I hate Strats. And I can clearly remember turning the TV on, in the corner of my room, standing there in a t-shirt and pants aged 16 at midnight on a Friday, as close to the sound as I could get and completely entranced by this girl combining the most unique, drawling, bluesy, growling, sweet and strange voice I'd ever heard with a guitar and a jutting chin, a macho stance and lascivious look. At the time, Winehouse had just turned 20 years old.

Saturday, 23 July 2011


14 Sep 1983 - 23 July 2011
Not wholly unexpected, but no less devastating for that. 
A hugely important musical figure in my life so I'll try to put some more words together later. 

Sunday, 17 July 2011

A quiet evolution in the undergrowth: An interview with Vondelpark

My 100th Helium Raven post is an interview with Vondelpark, a band from the wilds of South London and beyond and currently signed to R&S. Their new EP, NYC Bags and NYC Stuff, is very much in line with the bittersweet echo of London beats that the label has taken such a shine to with other recent releases from James Blake, Pariah and others.

Props also to Phil Sharp who took the photos for the interview, which he previewed on his blog. He's met at least two of my favourite artists of all time, by the look of it. 

First published in Loud And Quiet

Even a stagnant pond teems with life around its damp and fecund edges. There in the broken reeds and rainwater tributaries you'll find all sorts of chary and reclusive fauna, shrinking from your gaze and retreating deeper into the undergrowth to tend their offspring and forage for sustenance. So I find myself in Peckham on a rare visit to this oasis of cheaper living and isolated artistic indulgence, atmospherically a million miles from London's arid centre but really only a few streets south of the priapic new Shard development, a glassy-eyed visual metaphor for the recession if there ever was one.

Vondelpark, despite being named after a green space in Amsterdam, are a distinctly British proposition and a band that have made London's anonymous southern borders their home. Though apparently influenced by a trip to America's West Coast (as hinted at by California Analog Dream, the opening track of last year's Sauna EP), there's something about the mottled patina of their songs – warm yet cool, fond yet distant – that's exactly the opposite of the Golden State's freewheeling optimism. The vocals are submerged and rarely decipherable, floating above reclaimed garage rhythms on 'Hippodrome' or trip-hop shuffle on 'Jetlag Blue Version', and seem to be calling back to warmer, easier times. The Sauna EP is a document of that longing – for sunshine, a younger youth, a smoother toke.

Friday, 15 July 2011

The past is ours for the reaping: The Horrors release third album 'Skying'

SPF 50 all the way.

Dummy Mag asked me to write about The Horrors' new album, and you can read my words here.

I've been listening to Skying an awful lot this week. At first it almost made me laugh, playing spot-the-influence and hearing the band march ever nearer to the present day in their journey through the decades. But as I listened again and again, the album opened itself up to me in the way all great albums do. Things finally fell into place riding home along Great Eastern Street (left earbud only, you understand), drumming the handlebars and singing along to previously meaningless words that had somehow become the world to me. "La la la la..."

Primary Colours was an album I played too much in the space of four weeks and have rarely returned to, although hearing it now does bring me back to a very particular time and place. Will be interesting to see if Skying carves a permanent niche in my life or just my summer. The Mercury shortlist awaits, I expect.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Tie-dyed in knots for Blondes at CAMP Basement

Went to see Blondes just over a month ago. For some reason there weren't many people at CAMP (maybe because it's a shithole with very optimistically priced beverages), but they stepped up and gave it their best for a motley crew of weeknight wreckheads and silent head-nodders. A very good band indeed, and their John Talabot remix is on Myspace, which is worth checking out even in this Murdoch-boycotting age.

May I take this moment also to recommend the head-spinning disco-but-not-rubbish deliciousness of John Talabot. His XLR8R podcast has been keeping me toe-tapping during the daily grind.

First published in Loud And Quiet

CAMP Basement
26th May 2011

At quarter past eleven, CAMP Basement contains just 40 people, give or take some smoking stragglers outside. Those in attendance seem bemused at the low turnout – seems we all expected a roadblock for this mid-week nugget of sensual synth grooves and retro-future-trance. 'Cos everyone loves retro-future-trance, right?

Anyway, Blondes take their position behind an impossible patchwork of hardware, keys and cables, embarking on a slowly building set that gently coaxes us into its ambiguous emotions, involving and evolving through dischordant horns, fuzzy analogue warmth and big, big beats. On record it seems cerebral, almost cold, but by the set's halfway mark we've got a rag-tag anti-rave going on down here, 40 of us locked into the beat, arms raised and heads nodding like clockwork.

Zach Steinman, one half of the Ohio-via-Brooklyn-via-Berlin duo, says of the semi-improvised show, “I'm not really sure if it would work in a huge club. If someone tried that I'd be scared.” Don't buy it. Despite the low turnout, Blondes could easily wave their hypnotic rave wands over a huge club – or better, an arboreal summer festival – and have a thousand-strong crowd tie-dyed in knots for their elegantly engineered free-flowing trance.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

An interview with Husband: Lusty pop-noir from Bologna

First published in Loud and Quiet

Maybe it's no coincidence that one half of pop-noir duo Husband, the bedroom producer and musical director Gianlorenzo, is called Giallo for short. The Italian horror genre most famously affiliated with Dario Argento is a tidy hook on which to peg the band's lusty voodoo rock, which has more than a touch of the George A. Romero about it too. Their debut single 'Love Song' lurches into view like a Zombie Pride parade, beating fleshy drum skins with half-gnawed thigh bones and tapping dead-eyed rhythms on your skull, sending a short, sharp dose of the heebie-jeebies down your spinal cord.

Picked up by Robot Elephant Records after the No Pain in Pop blog spotted their Myspace page, Husband’s output so far is minimal but striking. After putting out a couple of tracks backed with a handful of remixes and playing their first live shows, they're now back in Italy to work on more material and play a stretch of shows on their home turf over summer, including a support slot with the rejuvenated Battles.