It was in the 1950s that a movement amongst certain European playwrights saw the development of “Theatre of the Absurd”. Famously, these were plays that explored the mundaneness of human existence. They focussed on a breakdown of communication – the likes of Beckett and Pinter created funny yet tragic plays with repetitive, seemingly pointless dialogues that were laced with a sense of hopelessness and triviality. Holding Hands With Jamie, the debut album from Dublin’s Girl Band, could be considered in a similar light – there’s an odd lyrical focus on the banal that more often than not ends up drowned in frustrated, fantastic cacophony.
The sun has been shining all weekend which means my life has obviously been soundtracked by glorious reggae, dancehall and soca. One particular sound has pervaded the vibe – the seminal Sleng Teng riddim.
A brief explanation of the riddim concept is perhaps necessary. Riddims are the rhythmic patterns of a song – predominantly the bass and the beat, but essentially the riddim is the instrumental track of a song. There’s no exact equivalent outside of Afro-Caribbean music, as far as I’m aware; sampling is probably the closest you get to it. But while a sample is re-using a section of a song, riddims are “versioned” – so hundreds of different artists will have versioned the same riddim. That is to say, entirely different songs will be constructed over the same rhythmical track. In part, it seems to derive from the reggae and dancehall traditions of adapting old lyrical phrases and tunes in new songs.
It’s kind of a fascinating challenge: you’ve got a track that everyone agrees is great, but it’s not yours, so what are you going to create on top of it to make it stand out – how will you make it yours? From a legal standpoint it’s a complex system regarding ownership and international copyright – increasingly so in a digital age. If you’d like to know more about it all, then the Manuel and Marshall essay on riddims is super.
A perhaps lesser-known example is the Diwali riddim, produced by Steven “Lenky” Marsden which is used in a ton of great songs, including Sean Paul’s ‘Get Busy‘ and Wayne Wonder’s ‘No Letting Go‘ (yes, I am mentioning this solely because I am charmed by the coincidence of a riddim with a name alluding to my Indian background happening to backtrack two songs I love).
Carly Rae Jepsen faces an unusual problem with her third studio album. There’s no pressure on her to follow-up her last album Kiss because – for all the million or so copies it sold – frankly, no one remembers it. The praise and acclaim that surrounds her name is all to do with ‘Call Me Maybe’; that glorious 2012 track that seemed to become universally acclaimed with its sugary innocence, its abundance of hooks and those delightful strings.
So to whom does the ostensible one-hit wonder turn? The answer is to the coolest producers that pop has to offer. Emotion sees credits go to the likes of Dev Hynes, Sia, Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij and Ariel Rechtshaid (the producer who has worked with Beyoncé, Usher and HAIM, to name a few).
It opens with the oddly captivating siren-call of ‘Run Away With Me’. The track packs a punch with its whirring strut of a chorus and its full, glossy production; it’s a banger, and the album is quite literally full of them. This perhaps shouldn’t be surprising, given that Jepsen reportedly amassed 200 songs ahead of the album, before whittling them down to just the 12 on Emotion. Famously, groups like The Beatles and ABBA used to treat every song like it might be a single, and their LPs would consist entirely of songs that had the potential to be a hit – it feels like the thought-process behind this album was very much the same.
I’ve been listening to the Velvet Underground a lot in the past few days. I think it kind of started on my final day living in Dublin last week, my things all packed up and me floating around the house not really sure what to do before leaving for the airport – so I put on ‘Sunday Morning’, and it seemed kind of appropriate somehow; all light, pretty and surreal. The Velvet Underground and Nico is probably still my favourite VU album, not least because it’s the first one I ever listened to – it has that sense of familiarity and nostalgia about it, and that inherent weirdness, extraordinary diversity and sheer ingenuity, all of which I love. But, since then, this week I’ve been listening to the 1985 outtakes compilation, VU, quite a bit because it was only introduced to me recently (and it has some incredible stuff on it – ‘Temptation Inside Your Heart’ is an absolute delight with the ridiculously irreverent/incredible Cale/Reed chats over the top).
But also I’ve been playing their last record (Squeeze doesn’t count) 1970’s Loaded a lot too, and so when I saw they had just announced a 45th anniversary re-issue of the LP I felt I might as well write a pointless essay about why I think Loaded is so great.
If you’ve seen Dublin five-piece Meltybrains? live in and around the past year, you might have found yourselves encouraged into joining a little dance routine during one particularly upbeat, sunshine-tinged song (sometimes, naturally, resulting in a conga line). That song is ‘The Vine’, and it’s finally been recorded (boasting production from none other than the formidable Kwes) and constitutes as entirely necessary listening to get your weekend off to a good start.
Get ready for lush, colourful melodies that spring to life and bring to mind magical beaches full of soaring tropical birds (or, if not birds, maybe five Irish guys trying to be a boyband). There are superbly lithe undercurrents of Afrobeat-esque rhythms too, that evoke that uplifting aura of something a little bit otherworldly. Altogether it’s sugary sweet and glorious – think endless cans of Lilt on a sunny day (without that being sickening) – and while it nods to Dancehall it retains a certain eccentricity that is inherently a Melty trait. Nialler9 posited that the track “could feature on a Disney soundtrack” and that’s kind of spot on – ‘The Vine’ is a song that seems to revel in its cartoony, uninhibited euphoria, and that’s what makes it so wonderfully moreish.
In the band’s words:
“The Vine is a song about our old music lecturer, Paddy Devine, who taught us harmony and counterpoint back when we were in college. Paddy was the nicest lecturer we ever had, he was big into his rudiments and was very strict, but he was the most down to earth person you could ever meet. We were his very last class before he retired and he often took us out to drink wine with him.
We’ll always remember him in a good light, hence the lyrics:
‘It’s glad to define the fine line and rudiments, and the forgotten necessity of the vine.’
Although the lyrics are about him, the musical aspects of the song go against most of what he taught.”
It’s officially out on August 1, and there will doubtless be an equally fantastical video accompaniment but, for now, enjoy:
Photograph by Eve North.
From its very opening strains it is apparent that My Love Is Cool is a contender for the album to soundtrack this summer. The debut LP from North London buzzband Wolf Alice, this is a record that has been hotly anticipated and, as a whole, it does not disappoint.
The quartet opens with the delicate ‘Turn to Dust’, with engagingly sweet vocals from Ellie Rowsell and mesmerising guitar melodies. It’s a strange, modern take on that mythical British folk sound, and it’s really quite beautiful.
The record ebbs and flows from this point, retaining that innocent, tender sentiment whilst also becoming getting increasingly loud and grungy – as if Wolf Alice grow in confidence and angry yearning in the midst of those romantic, growing pains.
‘You’re A Germ’ is perhaps the best exemplar of this. The recounting of the not-exactly-love story of schoolgirl Georgie, it begins all soft and subtle before bursting to life all growling, feral vocals and brutally distorted guitars. From the pretty, if eerie, intonations of “you’re a creep” to the straight-up yowl of “you ain’t going to heaven!”, it’s a transformative track that is thrilling to say the least, somehow recalling that disconcerting yet beautiful vibe from Big Star’s ‘Thirteen’.
While some have posited that the group wear their influences on their sleeves, with such an abundance of varied influences apparent it seems an irrelevant point to make. The opening of ‘Lisbon’ faintly brings to mind Joy Division, but it turns into more of a wailing siren of a track than such a comparison gives them credit for. There are lots of scuzzy, grunge-y elements too, but Wolf Alice are providing a fresher sound than them just being the latest in a line of ‘90s alt-rock wannabes. There’s an ample dose of darling, youthful indie moments, but Wolf Alice aren’t just the next Pains of Being Pure at Heart.
‘Silk’ starts as seductive as the name might suggest, all sultry, simple bass and gossamer vocals. But, again, it grows into something weirder than that with oddly clashing, whirring harmonies taking the fore as the track unfolds. There are delightfully fluid melodies on ‘Freazy’, while ‘Giant Peach’ is fantastic in its almost riotgrrrl audacity.
‘Swallowtail’ is all soaring elegance before crescendoing into something more. And then there’s the primally slow, sonic breathlessness of ‘Soapy Water’, followed by the roaring monster of ‘Fluffy’. ‘The Wonderwhy’ seems the perfect closing track, bringing together all the elements of the record – that disarming softness juxtaposed with a gloriously pressing sense of urgency.
It perhaps won’t change any lives, but My Love Is Cool is certainly a debut with finesse. Wolf Alice have successfully amassed romantic and raucous sounds from a variety of genres, but rather than seeming nostalgic or “done before” it is a record remarkable for its immediacy.
My Love is Cool is out now on Dirty Hit, you can buy it here.
Today I discovered that this blog is over three years old (a somewhat terrifying realisation), and so I felt the need to write something. Yesterday a friend of mine claimed that the Julian Casablancas + the Voidz record was one of the best guitar records of the past year. I had been avoiding the album because I don’t want my heart broken anymore than the majority of Comedown Machine managed, and recently watching the Voidz performing ‘Vision of Division’ at Primavera was difficult to say the least (not going to link to the video, because that is how upset it made me). And yet, it only seemed fitting to give Tyranny a little test run this evening, given how inextricable my Strokes love is as regards my music taste (and, indeed, as regards the name of this blog).
Writing about a record you’ve only listened to once is perhaps not the best way to treat an album – things that leave only faint impressions on you probably make more sense with each listen, I think. However, for the sake of ease we are going for a First Listen approach with Tyranny, and I will admit that I’m (just about) pleasantly surprised.
Opening track ‘Take Me in Your Army’ has this wonderfully disconcerting slowness; an intriguingly hypnotic, almost seedy swirl of a ballad. At its best that’s what this record does, creating a spiralling, strange ambience that convulses just beneath the surface, as on ‘Xerox’ and the epic, swoon-y majesty that is lead single ‘Human Sadness’. But it is perhaps when that convulsing side of things rears its head a little too much that the record seems a bit hard to stomach. It’s what I would argue was a problem on Casablancas’ solo record, Phrazes For the Young: at times, it was brilliant, but at times he tried to do much, and there can be a brashly overwhelming feel to his baroque opulence. Take from this what you will, but I do think Tyranny sounds very much like the logical next part to Phrazes.
This is an odd little record that’s often compellingly angry and sad (there’s a surprising amount of yelling from Casablancas on songs like ‘Where No Eagles Fly’) and it seems to wind its way between a variety of genres and time signatures, with sometimes poignantly off-kilter, striking lyrics (“I’m the worst” is the refrain on ‘Xerox’). There’s a sweet taste of something akin to African high life on ‘Father Electricity’, nods to metal on ‘Business Dog’ and weird flourishes of tabla and strangely (if not dubiously) Indian vibes on ‘Dare I Care’. There’s an 80s lilt to ‘Nintendo Blood’ while tracks like ‘M.utually A.ssured D.estruction’ I would go so far as to say sound a bit prog? Which is no bad thing, but still something I never thought I would say about a record created by a member of the Strokes. But maybe such comparisons are problematic in themselves: what one might consider as that detached, nonchalant, quintessentially “Strokes” sound hasn’t been a thing since around ten years ago. Much as hearing Casablancas’ smooth, seductive vocals unobscured aside from the distant fuzz of distortion would be beautiful, what he is trying to do musically here is incredibly far removed from what he was doing back on Is This It?. Strokes comparisons, I would posit, are irrelevant.
Tyranny isn’t a masterpiece, but ultimately nor is it underwhelming. There is a constant odd, enthrallingly siren-like nature to the record, and at times it can be a bit much. Overall I suppose you can’t fault Casablancas on ambition. It seems to be a record that might grow with each listen and, while I doubt I’m going to fall in love with it, there are some nice enough moments on it that I will certainly come back to it.
[You can listen to Tyranny on Spotify here.]