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 favorite 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.
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:
Friday is with us once again (so soon?), and that means we’re gonna usher in the weekend with another delve into the musical tastes of our staff. This time around we’re asking our newest BAMMer Sophie what’s currently rocking her ears. “My musical tastes encompass a wide range of styles and genres,” Sophie explains. “I’m hoplessley moored to the earthy melodies of Noah Gundersen’s raw americana and just as easily seduced by the crunch of rock and electronic artists.”
1. “Unconsolable” (Litost, 2012) – Ambassadors
The live version of this song feels wonderfully raw and unrefined. With lyrics that border on melancholy, the Ambassadors throw in another drum for a beat with some rage that just works.
2. “Cigarettes” (2012) – Noah Gundersen
Noah’s voice is powerful and his lyrics are poignant. A haunting song about addiction, be it a person or a substance, pick your poison.
3. “So Light Is Her Footfall (Breakbot Remix)” (So Light Is Her Footfall – EP, 2010) – Air
Here’s a welcome return to our occasional series of in-depth articles on issues within the music industry from our London correspondent Zakia Uddin. This time, Zakia takes a look at the ever-present phenomenon of eighties revivalism …
If the 1970s is the decade that ‘style forgot’, the 1980s more than compensated by never quite going away. It’s been vilified, mythologized and dismissed at turns for its power chords and bombast. Whatever you think about that era – and you don’t have to grown up then to have an opinion – it continues informing music, fashion and film. What is it about the decade that keeps artists coming back for more – and when will they stop plundering it?
One of the major artists of this year has been Jessie Ware, whose Devotion album cover picture consciously echoes 1980s singer Sade’s distinctive look. Ware’s hair is slicked back in the same tight bun and we see her in profile, like her predecessor. The MOBO-nominated singer wears her influences on her sleeve, saying that she asked video director Kate Morross to consider Sade’s previous artwork. Ware herself was born in 1984 – the same year Sade released her hugely successful debut album Diamond Life.
Above: hits from Jessie Ware and Sade
The revival continues in the form of comebacks from epoch-defining bands – the most recent memorial celebration was that of the Stone Roses, who released their first album Fool’s Gold in 1989. The band’s return even inspired comment from politicians willing to own up to their Madchester years. This month Dexy’s Midnight Runners released their humbly titled One Day I’m Going to Soar after 27 years of musical ignominy (largely based on this terrible terrible album cover). At the other end of the scale, the hair-rock musical Rock of Ages celebrates all the Elnett cans and power chords which were quietly put into the dressing up box with the advent of grunge.
Is the stultifying effect of the 1980s revival worth fretting over, when artists such as Ware stand up on their own and the reformation of the Stone Roses is considered more exciting than a new Madonna tour? In 2010, critic Simon Reynolds asked in The Guardian whether it’s when ostensibly cool bands start imitating Then Jerico and Robert Palmer that the 1980s revival would end, as though our cultural obsession would fade when we’d found all the good records in the bargain bin.
Above: is ‘Rock Of Ages’ as far as a revival can go?
If the revival goes on, that might be because the decade offers endless musical riches. Synthesisers, samples and Simmons’ electric drums ushered in a recognisably ‘pop’ sound, distinct from the saccharine melodies and the tinnily produced songs of the 1970s and 1960s. And like science fiction tropes cemented in the 1960s, 1980s synths still feel ‘futuristic’. The rise of MTV also gave birth to a more visual culture, making the decade a rich source of pop graphics and iconic imagery. There’s nothing that sums up the initial perceived impact of MTV on music than this panel exchange in 1984 between the future queen of pop Madonna and grizzled old John Oates. Oates angrily states that MTV is forcing musicians to become actors, while Madonna points out the obvious – isn’t a live show all about acting?
Many current commentators think the fascination with the period is deeply unhealthy. How much is that to do it with its flashiness and celebratory disposable aesthetic? Reynolds’ book Retromania argues that the obsession with the past bodes badly for the future of music. In an interview with Salon, he lamented: “No one can quite picture a future that seems positive or exciting. At one time the future seemed to suggest grand projects.” This mindset is even more evident with music, given the huge popularity of bands such as Mumford & Sons and Fleet Foxes whose music he describes as “bewildering” with its lack of engagement with any music of the past thirty years.
Above: Mumford and Foxes – ignoring the 80s?
The internet has been blamed for this cultural scavenging. What’s fashionable is no longer about scarcity – there’s so much material on the internet. There’s no point of any music or trend being so obscure you can’t read about it or find it online. Critics of Reynolds’ generation have fetishised waiting around for records to release and having to hunt out all the good bands. But was it really fair for everyone? For the suburban teenager it would have been a case of filling in a mail order catalogue and waiting near the letterbox for a few weeks, for a record they were buying mostly on faith. If you couldn’t get to a gig, you’d have to hope for a performance on either MTV or on a music show with a graveyard slot.
Critics miss the old tribalism of music fans forced to gather around ‘hubs’ such as the NME and the defunct Melody Maker. Outlets for talking and discovering music have proliferated. The internet has now democratised the process of music discovery, so that if you want to know what’s cool, you can instantly listen to it and decide whether it’s worth the hype. There’s no waiting around for your cool friend to validate or veto a record. Youtube, and blogs offer the opportunity of discovering music in a haphazard fashion where everything is made equivalent by simply being online at the same time. It also means anyone can be fashionable, technically making no-one fashionable – unless they ‘discover’ the coolest thing ahead of everyone else.
Above: the internet of the 1980s …
In a Guardian interview with Dorian Lynsky, Mojo editor Andrew Male commented on the endless obsession with the past: “There’s a sense that this stuff has kind of lain dormant. You can rediscover it in a way that you can’t rediscover the stuff that was always considered cool. With CD reissues, you’ve got the freedom to indulge yourself in areas that would have previously been seen as off-limits.” The only jarring note here is mention of the CD reissues. Male perfectly understands the cache of ‘finding’ and re-discovering great music at a time when there’s such an avalanche of material, good and bad, available on blogs, Youtube and music sites.
One of the most popular critical exercises is to identify cultural influences and designate a revival of sorts. The 1980s has so far given birth to several micro-trends including witch house, electroclash, and what’s been termed ‘maximilism’ – music that layers on sound and effects and is impossible to categorise in any genre. But should we suspend the need to label and instead ask why it matters if a musician or band’s musical influences split and did reissues before they were even born? Will the next generation of artists even distinguish between their musically formative decade and that of their parents?
Above: witchhouse, electroclash and maximalism in action
The BBC recently went to a London school to test whether teenagers would recognise the Beatles ‘Love Me Do’ on the 50th anniversary of the single release. Only a few did, causing rock music journalists on Twitter to be mildly flustered about the priorities of young people today. On Drowned in Sound, a blogger spoke of his irritation with Radio 1’s commissioner for complaining about ‘festival dads’ skewing the station’s demographics. It’s easy to accuse young people of listening unimaginatively to old music and buying new music that sounds like old music, but maybe phenomena like Mumford and Sons can be explained by the increased age of the music-buying and festival-going music audience.
Critics should also take some responsibility for the never-ending revival. Underlying assumptions about what constitutes ‘good’ and ‘bad’ music have been shone in the spotlight and seen to favour certain types of artists – those with a long back catalogue who play their own instruments. The 1980s had some of the most unashamed pop and the quickest burn-outs, as well as having pop stars with cross-generational appeal who could sell out stadiums. New York Times critic Kelefa Sanneh said in 2003 that we have to “stop pretending that serious rock songs will last forever, as if anything could, and that shiny pop songs are inherently disposable, as if that were necessarily a bad thing. Van Morrison’s “Into the Music” was released the same year as the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight”; which do you hear more often?”
Above: which makes your party playlist most often?
Carly Rae Jepsen and Britney Spears are now as likely to get serious reviews in Rolling Stone as Radiohead. Soundtracks of hipster films such as 100 Days of Summer bring together The Smiths and Hall & Oates, two bands whose fans were unlikely to be in the same place, let alone sharing a dance-floor. It’s okay to like what you like and own up to it. That’s not a bad legacy for any decade, let alone one which gave us synths and studio-shot music videos.
The most disturbing fact is that we’ll all end up listening to the same music, unable to place it. As in a dystopian scenario we’ll vaguely remember hearing it before but not know whether we were around for it the first time…
BAMM BANDS INSPIRED BY THE 1980s
Here’s a taste of some of our BAMM.tv acts who have taken an 80s aesthetic and made it their own. Remember – you can find all these acts and more on our amazing new iPad app!
Birds and Batteries – ‘Out in the Woods’
This Bay Area trio wear their influences on their t-shirt sleeves. Leader singer and musical director Mike Sempert describes the band to BAMM: ‘Randy Newman meets Gary Numan. Funky and dancy, but also really focused around songcraft and arrangement.Future music.” You can also hear some early INXS and Talking Heads in the sounds of Jill Heinke’s synths. There’s something so distinctively 1980s in their brand of warm upbeat and musically intricate pop which isn’t afraid to make people move onto the dancefloor.
Crafts Spells – ‘Party Talk’
Craft Spells specialise in that gorgeous echoing pop sensibility that underlay so many of the greatest British indie bands of the 1980s. But singer Justin Paul Vallesteros and his fellow band members Andy Lum, Jack Doyle Smith and Javier Suarez are West Coast natives, who continue to live in California. You can hear strains of Morrissey, and a distinct melancholy imported from the drizzly northern city of Manchester whose musical influence far exceeds that of London. Vallesteros is really just following in the footsteps of his 1980s jangle pop-loving counterparts who were influenced by the thriving UK indie scene.
Crashfaster – ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’
Morgan Tucker a.k.a. Crashfaster’s melds the old and the new in this cover of The Smiths’ (them again!) classic ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’. He strips away the guitar and replaces it with a sparse electropop synth backing. Definitively a child of the 1980s, the Monobomb signed chiptune artist’s music is as much informed by the futuristic bleeps and crashes of old console games as it is by the electro beats of the decade.
The Frail – ‘Count on This’
This San Francisco band do a more soulful take on 1980s indie pop. Daniel Lannon’s intensely emotional vocals contrast with a slightly heat-dazed spaced out summery backing from guitarist Rob Pera and bassist Izzy Chavarin. This intimate performance was recorded at SXSW. While their influences are firmly from the noughties – they cite TV on the Radio, the Flaming Lips and The Postal Service as influences – their spectral dreaminess recalls the bands of the jangle pop counter-movement in the 1980s.
Trash80 – ‘Icarus’
If it was a 1980s movie, Timothy Lamb would be the popular brash older brother to Crashfaster’s sensitive soul. Trash80, as he’s known, creates huge bombastic structures that remind you of late night journeys, motorways, light shows and all the things that visually evoke huge complicated synth structures of the 1980s. He’s like a Jean Michel Jarre of the computer console. ‘Icarus’ is about as close to make-out music (and making-out) that chiptune is ever likely to get.
AND NOW … SOME 1980s TRENDS THAT KEEP ON GIVING …
One of the best-named trends of the 1980s. Named after Smokey Robinson’s mid-1970s album, it ushered in the slow jam. Characterised by deceptively low-key verses and ‘stormy’ choruses, it’s music for adults. R&B ballads may be a single and album staple for the serious pop star now, but the form really developed in the 1980s. The influence of Teena Marie, Sade and other soul stars can be seen in musicians as diverse as Jessie Ware, Miguel and indie R&B influenced star How to Dress Well. The Quiet Storm never been away, but arguably it’s at its healthiest yet.
The 1980s made pop what it recognisably is – and for such a disposable pop form, its major figures had careers that outstripped some of their ‘serious’ technically accomplished counterparts. The best example of pitch perfect pop recently is Carly Rae Jepsen with her huge, guilty and catchy as an STD pop classic ‘Call Me Maybe’. Pop and soul really merged in the 1980s, with the success of Madonna and Michael Jackson. It’s now impossible to imagine a time before synth-based R&B, which is as much informed by 1980s pop as it is by disco.
The 1980s DC punk revival could just be an excuse for skinny jeans and body contoured t-shirts, but it’s become a staple of late night clubs and bars in places like Dalston. Record labels like Dischord (above) and Touch & Go were seminal in creating and establishing a thriving DIY music culture, whose legacy can be seen in club promotion and blogs online now. The thriving US hardcore scene of the 1980s gave way to the commercially popular grunge era, which changed the mainstream viability of punk forever. But recent acts like Times New Viking and the late Jay Reatard heralded a noise revival in the mid-noughties.
Witch house – the genre where bands were so ostensibly cool that they had unpronounceable names printed in the Wingdings font. Bands like Mater Suspiria and Salem harked back to goth, taking on the Germanic aesthetic of heavy doomy bass, and reverb associated with bands like Bauhaus (above) and Sisters of Mercy. Witch house by way of goth also made death metal mainstream. Hipsters started wearing Wolves in the Throne Room t-shirts and pretending to love Black Sabbath.
Where to begin? Like the waking dream-state it’s named after, hypnagogic pop is ambiguous, and layered and mashed-up so its impossible to place any of its influences. James Ferraro’s records sound like he’s been watching John Hughes movies, and listening non-stop to the intros of 1980s high school dramas before they were soundtracked by the Shins. LA artist Ariel Pink (above) has only just found mainstream pop success but his recent championing and collaboration with R.Stevie Moore suggests his aesthetic springs from the 1980s DIY pop scene. Pink also creates all the fragments which sound like samples in his music. Instagrammed pop, anyone?
… AND FINALLY SOME TRENDS THAT SHOULD NEVER BE LIVED THROUGH AGAIN
1980s HAIR ROCK
This is a difficult one. The melodies and the wailing still choke us up but it’s hard to empathise with the unreconstructed sexual politics and the wistful paeans to wife-beating. Saying that, it’s one of the seminal eras in rock for badass women musicians – even if Vixen, and mid-1980s Heart (above) are as dated as pixie boots and puffy shouldered cocktail dresses.
THE 1980S MEGAMIX
Jive Bunny (above). Ironically, the 1980s itself saw a huge trend for 1950s pastiche pop inspired by the Beach Boys and Elvis. The megamix jammed all of these different cultural obsessions together, uniting sound samples and 1950s style production together into three minutes of ADD-styled hell.
THE SOAP OPERA STAR SINGLE
This might have been only been a UK and Australian phenomenon, thankfully. For a short period of time, the British pop charts were dominated by the enthusiastic pop efforts of Aussie soap opera stars. The most famous is Kylie Minogue (above), who managed to turn kitsch into gold. British soap stars opted for cod-reggae instead of high-NRG Stock, Aitken and Waterman-produced numbers. It might be over now (mostly because the charts are over), but one of last year’s surprise covers was Kindness’s electro-pop take on ‘Anyone Can Fall in Love’. And yes, that is the famous song by Anita Dobson, Brian May’s wife, who sang it over the Eastenders theme tune (Eastenders is a grim British national institution, like Dallas with milky tea and market stalls instead of champagne and oil companies).
What do you think of the 80s revival that just won’t go away? Share your thoughts in the comment box below …
Another Friday, another chance to pick the brains of the BAMM.tv crew and find out exactly which tunes are rocking their boats. This week we hand the reigns to BAMM.tv Media Director Jeff LaPenna. Don’t forget – you can make an awesome playlist of your very own by firing up the brand new BAMM.tv iPad app …
1. “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings” (Fear Fun, 2012) – Father John Misty
This album has me hooked. It’s the kind of sound that just grabs you. It’s simple, and profound at the same time. Overall, I love that FJM is bringing some more alternative, otherwise-labeled hippie ideas to a more mainstream audience (i.e. the guy sings about ayahuasca and past-lives). Also, the video for this song is incredible.
2. “Where Not to Look for Freedom” (The Belle Brigade, 2012) – The Belle Brigade
I’ve been really into feel-good music lately, and this band has it nailed. Talk about Americana! Learn the lyrics to this song and drive down a highway singing at the top of your lungs — tell me it doesn’t feel great! The meaning behind the song is just lovely, too.
3. “Lovely Day” (Menagerie, 1977) – Bill Withers
This might be the best feel-good song of all time. It might be scientifically impossible to hear this song and not walk away in a great mood. See me for suggested dance moves.
4. “Omnipotent” (House of Stone, 2011) – Sorne – BADASS
Sorne does an incredible job of combining world / tribal sounds with electronic beats and beautifully intense vocals. Seeing him perform live changed my experience of listening to his music. The man has explosive energy.
This song is one of my favorites of all time. It pretty much captures some of my major ideals, and it’s so fun to sing. “Hey there misses lovely moon, you’re lovely and you’re blue. It’s kinda strange the way you change, but then again we all do, too.” Brilliant.
It’s proving to be a busy week for BAMM’s favored bands. Yesterday we told you all about the upcoming album from Canadian indie stars Hollerado … and now we’re going to add another must-buy purchase to your shopping list. Americana maestros Goodnight, Texas (featured in the video above with an exclusive BAMM.tv performance) unleashed ‘A Long Life Of Living’ earlier this week, and it’s already been getting rave reviews – Absolute Punk labelled it ‘as good as it gets’.
Pascal Terstappen must be a happy man. Despite still being a student, his productions under the Applescal moniker have been widely acclaimed throughout the global techno community, gaining Applescal attention from influential blogs such as XLR8R and Pitchfork (not to mention his tracks being played by dance music icons such as Sasha, Hernan Cattanaeo and Laurent Garnier). In between playing live sets at the 5 Days Off festival among others – and readying his third Applescal LP – he’s also found the time to deliver a nine track album under his new Yoshiba 87 alias: Beaming Flowers From India, a loose collection of tunes that wouldn’t fit the mould he created for Applescal in recent years.
Despite the many styles collected on this album, two principle qualities attributed to Terstappen’s work remain: texture and melody. The album’s cohesion comes from using a pallette of warm synthpads and ringing leads that flow freely throughout this album no matter what rhythmic patterns drive the tracks. Meanwhile Terstappen tries his hand at inert trip-hop beats , glitches, chiming ambient house … all while mixing programmed and live drums with ease. There’s no four-to-the-floor kicks to be found anywhere on the album, a clear indication that this is not Applescal territory. Yoshiba 87 is the perfect moniker for Terstappen to really show the full scale of his production skills.
Perhaps the most notable track here is his collaboration with singer Pien Feith, an artist widely known for her enthusiasm when it comes to collaborations. You’re The Best Thing Ever largely revolves around her cut-up and processed vocals, built upon a looming trip-hop groove that could be mistaken for a Floating Points production. A Message From Tuvalu is a foray into glitch-hop, while Nineteen 8 + 7 is a lighthearted UK bass production. Both are well executed and fun to listen, but somehow lack context here. Terstappen is keeping so close to respective stylistic boundaries that they become a little anonymous in the process. Meanwhile, the uptempo electronica of Earthly Vibes and the ambient We Are Still Alive hug a little closer to Applescal territory, but fit much better with the ambient intermezzo’s on the album. Gravity Hackers takes a few cues from M83′s Midnight City and Walls’ Heat Haze but turns out much less overstated and baroque than its progenitor. It’s the perfect blend between ambient and indiepop aesthetics.
In the end, Beaming Flowers From India does much more than simply kill the time in between Applescal albums. Rather, one could call it Pascal Terstappen’s coming out as a full-fledged, boundlessly unlimited producer. It opens up a whole new field of possibilities, ranging from Damon Albarn-esque (or Pien Feith-like) artistic promiscuity to the kind of pop-electronic crossovers we’ve seen from the likes of Apparat, Air and M83. These are big big names in the field of electronic music, but based on his recent output, Terstappen isn’t far behind. With this album and the new Yoshiba 87 moniker Terstappen takes another big leap towards the zenith of electronic music making. Hopefully the positive reception of Beaming Flowers From India will prompt him to flex his muscles even more.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get my pompons and start cheering under Terstappen’s bedroom window. (Editor’s note: BAMM.TV takes no responsibility for any nightmares incurred by the thought of Jasper dressed as a cheerleader).
Capeman are the kind of rock outfit who really wear their cocky, boyish charm well. It’s a trait often associated with Amsterdam natives. Britpop enthusiasts might remember it from their 90′s icons, or perhaps modern-day acolytes Kasabian. Whatever you might call it, singer-guitarist Darko Tadic and his motley crue have plenty of it.
It’s what makes them a particularly exciting live act, even though they’ve definitely dialed things down from their earlier exploits as The Darko. Their previous entity was all energy; Capeman employ a different, more dynamic approach to songwriting and also boast the added bonus of a fourth member, guitarist/soundscapist Ymer Marinus. With plenty of stage time under their belts and harboring a new musical direction, they’re as confident as ever, a fact bolstered by the aptly titled debut album Stand Out Cause Trouble.
Of course, the first question is: how does all this on-stage energy translate to their studio efforts? Well, the pumping rhythm section of Martin Von Lier and Sin Banovic definitely holds it own on record, driving the band’s staccato grooves home to great effect. Oddly enough, it’s not the muscular cuts that hit home the hardest. Aggressive riffs like those in Mass Destructo or Shed Some Light feel transitional, as if there’s a residue of The Darko they can’t seem to shake off. A shame, as such pumped up rock songs can’t help but feel … well … dated. We Got Glue is a notable exception, thanks to it’s Bloc Party-esque guitars shreds and it’s haunting synthpads.
Thankfully, the majority of the album leaves the band with more room to breath. As it turns out, Capeman have found their comfort zone in spacious mid-tempo songs with plenty of influences, ranging from new wave to electro. Here the slick production works to their advantage, pushing tracks Mongolian Oil and single Science to above average performances. But the absolute standout here must be Televisions. It’s by far the best composition, beautifully arranged and produced, with plenty of room for Tadic’s vocals to take the limelight. Combine that with the excellent hook in the chorus, and you could be mistaken for thinking it’s the next big single from Foster The People.
Overall, Stand Out Cause Trouble is much friendlier than the title might suggest. It’s rock tendencies feel more like leftovers from a bygone age, while their more indie/electro inspired tunes have all the potential to take alternative radio stations by storm. If they exercise a little more restraint, and keep playing to their strengths (as well as awesome live shows), Capeman could well become a strong contender for festival slots and greater exposure in the Benelux and beyond. A promising debut, all in all. Look out for Capeman’s session on BAMM.tv in the next few weeks, as we’ll be releasing the sessions recorded by BAMM.tv at Desmet Studio’s in Amsterdam last January.
BAMM writers Chris and Jasper face-off for and against a musical issue of the day. This time around – the pros and cons of the new Coldplay album ‘Mylo Xyloto’.
For (Christopher Davies):
Look – I’m not saying that Coldplay are full-on, balls-to-the-wall musical pioneers. I’m not saying that they sometimes can’t be a little bit insipid, or lyrically simplistic, or that their tunes haven’t been overused on a million ‘emotional’ reality TV show montages. And – here’s the kicker – I’m not even saying that Mylo Xyloto is their best album (it’s certainly not the one with the most pronounceable title). ‘A Rush Of The Blood To The Head’ retains that title almost ten years on.
Coldplay have never pretended to be anything other than purveyors of mainstream, melodic, instantly accessible pop music. What, exactly, is wrong with that? If they’d been trying to pass off the singalong ‘woah-oh’ choruses of ‘Hurts Like Heaven’ or ‘Paradise’ as monumental leaps forward in sonic engineering, we’d be right to sneer at them. Instead, people feel the need to sneer at Coldplay for that most base and annoying of reasons: because it’s fashionable to do so.
I say: enough. I say: more power to all the soccer moms who’ll be humming along when they get the CD for Christmas. Mylo Xyloto is great big warm-hearted Pop with a capital P: a flawlessly polished and produced collection of FM radio revenue-drivers. It reveals itself completely and brazenly within one listen, hurling out anthems that will no doubt put a sullen frown on the faces of Sonic Youth t-shirt wearers as they mutter into their bottles of Pabst. Good.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to put my lighter in the air … ‘All the hiii-gghs, all the loo-ooows …’
Against (Jasper van der Put):
I will be the last one to say there’s anything wrong with appealing to large audiences. I’m not one of those flimsy indie-hipsters who take pride in hating anything with an accessible hook. But why does Coldplay, once a herald of my teenage anxiety and lack of attention, go out of its way to prove they’re commercial schmucks? In a move not unlike Radiohead’s recent exploits in the beatscenes from London and Los Angeles in particular, Coldplay decided to explore R&B and electro as new sonic frame for their upbeat pop tunes. But unlike Radiohead there’s not much here in the sense of a symbiosis. They’ve simply adopted the idiom without as much as missing a beat.
Now, with most acts one would simply shrug its shoulders and go about its business. But this is Coldplay we’re talking about, once the most genuine band to dominate the world stage. Now, we have to rely on Chris Martin’s funny banter to convince us he’s still this down-to-earth geezer churning out a new record with his UCL mates.
I’m having none of it. I can’t help but feeling as if Mylo Xyloto heralds the demise of Coldplay as a actual band that plays music. It’s all gone behind a wall of processors and a deadly dose of ‘Eno-fication’ (on that note: Eno producing Mylo Xyloto feels awfully similar to Lou Reed doing ‘a Lulu’ ). All that’s left is Martin’s ever-heartfelt falsetto, and the notion of Mylo Xyloto being a concept album, an opera of sorts. I don’t want to sound like a conservative, as if I can’t allow Coldplay to expand their palette and explore new musical territory. I just can’t ignore my inner teen mourning over guys who used to be such awe-inspiring craftsmen of pop-rock gems. A waste of talent if there ever was one, I tell you!
Sometimes music is immediate; the sort of stuff that bludgeons you about the head the instant you click the play button. And sometimes its entirely the opposite – the kind of lilting, subtle organic mixture that needs a few listens to fully establish itself. Beach House – a Baltimore duo comprising of Alex Scally and sultry French siren Victoria Legrand – fall very firmly into the second camp.
Here’s an example to illustrate this: your humble correspondent took a friend to see them live a few months back, after badgering them beforehand with weeks of glowing recommendation. Halfway through the gig, the friend had a confession to make: ‘I just don’t get it’. A few days later, after digesting their last album ‘Teen Dream’ more fully, he changed his tune: ‘they’re incredible. One of my favorite bands in the world right now.’
And if any album of theirs is capable of doing this, it’s ‘Teen Dream’. Released in January 2010, it’s their third full-length effort following the well-received ‘Beach House’ (2006) and ‘Devotion’ (2008). Both of which are great, but neither of which reach the heights of their younger sibling.
What’s so special about these guys? Simply the love of melody and the craftsmanship that goes into their songs. Beach House are essentially this generation’s Teenage Fanclub: in thrall to warm fuzzy Byrds-esque harmony, adored by the critical fraternity yet not quite the megastars they should be, effortlessly cool, totally secure in their own sound and aesthetic. Bring this into 2011 with a few hints of My Bloody Valentine wooziness and you’ve got a winning little package.
Then there’s the voice: Legrand’s dusky, androgynous tone, a sound so distinct it adds something new and unique to a traditional musical formula, yet also remains warm and comforting at the same time. Just like ex-Concretes frontwoman Victoria Bergsman, expect her to catch the ear of those seeking guest vocalists with increasing regularity.
Plus they’ve already got a couple of high-profile fans …
In which two BAMMers lock horns ‘for’ and ‘against’ a hot topic. This time around: Jasper praises the new album by Justice, while Chris isn’t so keen:
For (Jasper, BAMM Amsterdam):
So, Justice made a bold move. They knew they had to. Producers Gaspard Augé en Xavier de Rosnay obviously learned from the pitiful downfall of fellow electro-rock crossover acts Digitalism and MSTRKRFT. All three surfaced around the same time with the same aesthetic, but were chastised for rehashing the same old tricks (insert Digitalisms latest LP I Love You Dude) or simply threw in the towel and went back to their garage (as in: revamping Death From Above 1979). Meanwhile, acts like Skrillex, Magnetic Man and Deadmau5 ascended, scaling up (or dumbing down – your choice) dubstep and techhouse to stadium-worthy proportions.
In a classic showcase of ‘no guts no glory’, the Parisian duo dig knee-deep into 70’s hardrock while adopting a more subtle, songlike approach for their second album. No, Audio, Video, Disco is no †, and thankfully so. That album already realised the entire potential of their newfound rock-electro crossover. There’s not contesting that on first listen, there are no epic dancefloor anthems here, or chart-topping hits along the lines of D.A.N.C.E. for that matter. But is that really the only meausure by which to judge Justice’s right to exist? Like MGMT, one could say Justice needs to step out of the hype in order to survive. MGMT’s sophomore album Congratulations was initially received with a lot of scepticism, but 18 months later people have become much more receptive towards it. It just took some getting used to.
Moreover, even without the conceptual banter this record still contains a handful of very recognisable disco-rock tracks (Civilization, Canon, Helix) and a novelty hitsong -the title track- to boot. It’s not brilliant all around, but plenty from an act in transit from the pinnacle of hype to the bedrock of the French house scene.
Against (Chris, BAMM London):
There’s nothing wrong with taking a ‘lighter touch’ to your sound – which is exactly how French electro-pop duo Justice have positioned their sophomore album ‘Audio, Video, Disco’, labeling it ‘daytime music’ as opposed to the nocturnal vibe of the last one. It’s just that – if you’re going to make things a little more sunshiney – you’ve still got to keep a bit of attitude in there. A bit of what made you special in the first place.
Does ‘Audio, Video, Disco’ have this? As much as I want to love this album, I’ve got to say that it doesn’t. At best, it’s a catchy but patchy prog-rock pastiche that passes the time amiably enough. Hit up the worst moments (and there are quite a few) and it sounds like a collection of MGMT studio outtakes. The whole record is deeply in thrall to the keyboard-wielding electro-epic forefathers of the late 70s – but it doesn’t do anything else with the sound (unlike, say, M83, whose aesthetic may be grounded in the 80s but whose sound also explores new territory).
Remember when you’re a kid, and your parents told you that they ‘weren’t angry, they were just disappointed’? That’s the overriding sensation I get from this album. After the promising, punchy, discordant and almost operatic vibe of their first album, it seems that Justice have taken a step backwards. And it’s a shame.