Archive for May, 2011

BAMM UK: The Aging Game

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BAMM UK is a regular opinion piece from our London-based correspondent. This week: The Aging Game …

It’s an age-old maxim in the movies that there are no great parts for older actresses. Infact, the general ascent/descent of the average Hollywood starlet can be summed up in the following five steps:

1. Who is Megan Fox?
2. Get me Megan Fox.
3. Get me a Megan Fox-type.
4. Get me a young Megan Fox.
5. Who is Megan Fox?

Along with this well-honed pearl of wisdom comes another: the notion that, for male actors, things are very different. They are allowed to embrace their wrinkles, face their twilight years with gravitas and dignity, wear their decades of accumulated wear-and-tear with pride. But – do these same rules apply to the music industry?

As has been widely reported, Bob Dylan turned seventy this week. The write-ups across the press have been (quite rightly) universally positive, full of praise for a man whose artistic output helped define a half-century. None of these articles (again, quite rightly) have been graceless enough to comment on the fact that Dylan isn’t looking too grand these days. The analysis has been purely about the music, rather than his greying wiry hair or haggard features. Good.

Compare that, then, to the experience that undoubtedly awaits Debbie Harry. Now 65, she is recently quoted as saying:

Regardless of what I say about trying to be better at what I do, I rely on looks a lot. Women’s calling cards, unfortunately, are based on their looks.

Is this the case? Is the media incapable of looking beyond physical appearance in female artists, or at least flagging it up as a major interview subject? Brian Wilson’s increasing years hardly ever pops up as a talking point, but the majority of articles concerning the modern-day Kate Bush seem to carry an astonishment that a woman even exists after the age of fifty.

There is, naturally, an argument that Debbie Harry’s looks were an integral part of her fame. No-one’s denying this: she was an ex-Playboy bunny, after all, and undeniably beautiful. (It is worth noting, however, that – unlike a modern era in which uncomfortably ‘sexy’ pop starlets are barely out of their teens – Debbie Harry was a pensionable thirty-two at the time of Hanging On The Telephone. Imagine that! A real-life woman – not a girl, but an actual woman. It’s madness, we tell you, madness!)

Harry is no artistic slouch though, and was also one of the primary musical figureheads in Blondie. She’s no Britney Spears, no Miley Cyrus. There’s substance. Her incredible looks were, in the scale of her overall talent, incidental. And they should be treated as such to this day, the same treatment as befits any significant good-looking male artist of the same generation.

One can only hope things change. Conor Oberst, Kanye West and Avey Tare are sure to see a lifetime of people fawning about their growing body of work, and not paying the slightest bit of attention to how they look. It would be terrible to see a world in which artists like Cat Power, Dot Allison, PJ Harvey and Charlotte Hatherley – all attractive women, but more importantly all extremely talented – have to face a future of interviews in which ‘the aging question’ is the first thing they deal with.

The Friday List: 5 Worst Songs By Great Artists

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BAMM’s regular Friday list of curiosities to keep you talking over the weekend. This week: the five worst songs by great artists …

Remember when you were a kid, and you’d done something wrong, and your parents would say: ‘I’m not angry … I’m just disappointed’? How about the music that makes you feel that way? Everyone has a moment in the catalogue of their favourite band or artist which they find indefensible – maybe a stupid quote in an interview, maybe an embarrassing TV appearance, maybe a sell-out starring role in a product commercial (we’re looking at you, Iggy Pop. And you, John Lydon).

Or – more likely – just a plain old bad song.

This week, we’re looking at the top five worst songs by great artists … those records which sully the reputation of cultural legends and which even the hardcore fanbase find hard to stomach. Ready? Let’s go.

5. The Smiths – ‘Golden Lights’

Morrissey may have aged into a flabby, reactionary embarrassment, but it’s widely held that his four-year-stint with The Smiths was a non-stop procession of pop perfection. Right? Right? Well … kind of. There’s always one who has to spoilt it for everyone else – and that came in the form of ‘Ask’ B-Side ‘Golden Lights’, a cover of a 1965 song by Twinkle. The rest of the band hated it. It’s easy to see why:

4. David Bowie and Mick Jagger – ‘Dancing In The Street’

Two of rock’s premier 20th century icons teamed up in 1985 to make … this. It might be easier to pretend that they were kidnapped by an armed militia and made to dance like monkeys than face up to the horrible truth: that they thought this was a good idea.

3. Lou Reed – anything from ‘Metal Machine Music’

There is a perverse sort of fun to be had with arguing about ‘Metal Machine Music’ – mainly because it’s had a bizarre reappraisal of late, with several cooler-than-thou types insisting that it’s a forgotten masterpiece. It isn’t. In 1975 Lou Reed released an album of impenetrable noise which many people believed to be a grudging contractual obligation. There are people who say they like Metal Machine Music more than Walk On The Wild Side. These same people are the ones who waffle on endlessly about Maya Deren’s ‘Meshes Of The Afternoon’, when they should just admit that they prefer ‘Gremlins 2′.

2. The Beatles – ‘Octopus’ Garden’

The genius quartet behind some of the greatest music in the history of mankind? Check. A song that sounds like the introduction to a Saturday morning cartoon, produced entirely to ensure cereal-box tie-ins? Erm … check. Proof that not even the Fab Four were perfect.

1. The Beach Boys – ‘Summer Of Love’

Some people say that to burn cultural artefacts – a record, a book – is a mark of an irresponsible and twisted society. These people have never heard ‘Summer Of Love’ by the Beach Boys. Remember as you watch this: these are the guys who made Pet Sounds.

So: what do you guys think? What are your most memorable bad songs by great artists? Drop your thoughts in the comments box below.

Watch ‘Down The Well’ by The Moondoggies at BAMM TV

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You know, if we were of a more tabloid slant, it’d be hard to resist the temptation to say: ‘you’d be barking mad to miss this unleashed performance from the Moondoggies’. But we’re not, so we won’t. Instead we’ll just issue a bit of straightforward advice: you really should check out the wonderful ‘Down The Well’ by the Moondoggies, as recorded live at our recent BAMM SXSW showcase. And if you like what you hear, grab a copy of their album Tidelands, or take a peek at their upcoming US tour dates.

Watch ‘My Love’ by The Ferocious Few on BAMM TV

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We’ve already mentioned the killer iPhone app from the Ferocious Few previously on the BAMM blog … and now we’re giving you the chance to check out one of the exclusive performances from their set at the BAMM SXSW showcase. This distinctive two-piece have been gathering a name for themselves around the Bay Area thanks to their wild street performances, and we’re pretty sure they’d headed for the big time.

If you’re a fan, check out their ‘Maximum Ferocity’ campaign page over at Kickstarter too.

Appwatch: Hitlantis

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What with the title being a pun on ‘Atlantis’, you’d be forgiven for expecting this app to feature a man in a tin-foil hat jabbering about lost underwater cities and other such nonsense (such as the Mayan 2012 apocalypse, the faked moon landings, and Barack Obama’s birth certificate). Luckily the good people at Cognitive Maps – creators of this handy tool – have provided something a little more useful than that.

Hitlantis is a music discovery app which features a genuinely eye-catching and innovative interface. The notion is that of an intuiative ‘visual discovery': names of artists swirl around in bright colourful bubbles like planets surrounding a miniature sun, which users then wade through to their heart’s content. At a base level it functions as a Pandora-style personalised radio station; dig deeper and it becomes something really special.

BAMMsterdam Review: I Am Oak – Oasem

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The release of his second full-length On Claws in 2010 heralded a remarkable development for Thijs Kuijken aka I Am Oak. The shy Utrecht-based singer-songwriter suddenly faced spotlights and rave reviews, a kind of attention he wasn’t used to deal with. Even if it was fully deserved based on the lush vocal harmonies and subdued folksongs that sprouted from his voice and guitar, he was more than a little ambigious about his rise as a public figure. You could say Kuijken matured as an artist in the year that passed, in full light of the public opinion.

A notable asset of I Am Oak is the group’s productivity. Since the release of On Claws in 2010, I Am Oak recorded two albums – one of which came into being in Finland. The first to be released is Oasem (pronounce: awesome) an album that sounds very distant from his previous work, but at the same time hugs the most important quality of his music: the vocals. The warm melancholy and sweet harmonies (often dubs of his own voice) survived the transition from traditional folkee to edgy indiefolk artist. As engaging a record as On Claws was, it somehow felt like an exercise into a style of songwriting he admired in his idols: Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes being the predominant associations. On this new release, Kuijken finds a style all his own. Lo-fi organ sounds play an important role, as well as a battered old electric guitar. Drums and bass are louder and distorted at times, making for an intruiging contrast with the vocals.

Oasem cover art

Lyrically, Kuijken still looks to nature for inspiration. In many ways, his lyrics reflect tendencies associated with the late-Romantic era in arts and literature. Having said that; it doesn’t take much imagination to link the album cover (Kuijken is photographed from the back as he looks out across a lake) to Caspar David Friedrich’s trademark painting Der Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer. A fitting image, as Oasem is a record that ponders the wonders of life as much as it celebrates them. Meanwhile, the slightly more bombastic approach is another area where I Am Oak overlaps – at least in intensity – with Romantic era music esthetics. Listen for instance to the song ‘I’, where Kuijken sings with a deeply emotional tremble in his voice that resembles the great Antony Hegarty. If there ever was a great modern Romantic, it’s Antony.

"Der Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer" (1818) by Caspar David Friedrich

Oasem will speak to I Am Oak’s folk-loving crowd, but it’s also an album that clears the playing field for explorations into a host of new musical directions. Keeping in mind the background of his fellow bandmembers (whose other projects range from post-hardcore to electropop), it’s only fair to expect the unexpected from I Am Oak in the future.

Considering it’s productivity, quality of songwriting and young age (Kuijken is still in his early twenties), I Am Oak is only at the beginning of what might become an impressive catalogue. But that’s a thing of the future. For now, Oasem is a new landmark in I Am Oak’s young existence: a wonderful album that is both soothing and daring. Impressive stuff.


social media: @iamoak

[Snowstar Records – 2011]

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Watch ‘Trouble Makes Three’ by Birds And Batteries on BAMM TV

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When one member of the BAMM team was young, he used to have an action figure (the cartoon it originated from is long forgotten) which was a pretty awesome-looking robot vulture. An assortment of LED lights and crazy noises would emit once the buttons were pressed, striking the fear of god into any other toys which dared to cross it’s path. Unfortunately, one day the young man inserted the batteries into the toy incorrectly, which resulted in internal damage and limited functionality. As such, the very mention of a ‘Birds And Batteries’ combination has been enough to drive him to tears ever since.

Until now.

Whenever Birds & Batteries are mentioned now, the first thing which springs to mind is the brilliant, slick, synth-backed, funky, dreamy and harmonious sounds of the band in the video above. The BAMM team was hugely proud to feature Birds & Batteries at one of our packed-out SXSW showcases – and we’ve decided to share a particular highlight with you, in the shape of the insanely catchy ‘Trouble Makes Three’.

Check Out The Latest Best Of BAMM Podcast

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The Bob Podcast #4: “SXSW 2011″ by

For the fourth instalment of the BOB (Best Of BAMM) Podcast, we’ve assembled a selection of our favourite choice cuts from the SXSW Festival (don’t forget you can download our SXSW Video Playlist totally free, or relive some of the SXSW memories with us here, here and here). All of the tracks here are live performances organised by BAMM.

Join BAMM regulars Brock, Sonia and Matt as they introduce tunes from Typhoon, Hollerado, Thao with the Get Down Stay Down, The Flashbub, AB & The Sea and Wallpaper.