Friday, 27 June 2014

Kult Country makes Britain Interesting

Bilmey, the rolling news channels of Britain are terrifying right now. You switch on and are confronted with news of young British Muslim lads taking up arms and journeying to Syria/ Iraq to become combatants in a jihadist theocracy. Switch over to the other news channel and hyperbolic anchormen inform us that there is a covert Trojan plot by British Muslims to take over state schools in order to propagate fascist curriculums which aim to destroy UK values. These are scary times.
UK values don’t come more quintessential than shoegaze music, and you can’t get a more Islamic name than Yousif Al-Karaghouli. Put them together and you get Kult Country, a Manchester band that is fronted by an enigmatic soul who sings in muffled deliveries while everything around him is drenched in gorgeous reverb sounds. The music is all about feelings and nebulousness. It’s thick with sonic atmosphere and arcane meanderings. Even if the listener can’t decipher Al-Karaghouli’s vocals they still get exactly where he’s coming from. This is the soundtrack of the confused and misunderstood.

Kult Country has only been going a few years and is already one of Manchester’s most exciting new bands. Manchester, an industrial city that has the most violent parts in the country, is changing. Educated and affluent people are relocating there because of its growing portfolio of media enterprises and business opportunities. Locals are already complaining that the Manchester music scene is becoming too gentrified and metropolitan elite. How that affects the range and originality of this rock city remains to be seen, but the downtrodden nature of the place has birthed some of the most startlingly arresting music ever heard. If that is compromised then bands as fascinating as Kult Country may be in shorter supply than currently, and it’s already a pretty dire out there.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

-Music Videos on my Mind- Deers’ “Bamboo”

Ana Garcia Perrote and Carlotta Cosials are two girls from Madrid, Spain who make intentionally rough-around-the-edges vintage guitar pop music constructed around major chords and rudimental arrangements. Imperfections are proudly part of their music portfolio, and that’s why Deers sound so charmingly appreciable. The songs revel in their demo quality, eschewing any inclination for bringing on board expert producers to refine the material enough for it to get played on radio. The music is no-frills stuff, but steeped in pop riffs and infectiously catchy melody.
The Deer girls are seriously young… like, born well into the 1990s type young. They both cite Britney Spears as an influence growing up, but clarify that neither of them had burgeoning ambitions to become pop stars. They happened to go on holiday together to a Spanish costal town and bought two cheap guitars on the way, wasting time in a largely vacated hostel where they strummed away the hours, liking it so much that forming a band became the ideal to strive for.
The stripped down nature of this group’s music calls for a likewise music video. They recorded this clip two days ago, shifting between locations in Madrid and Barcelona, producing the final edit within 24-hours. These kids work fast, but the results are entertaining.

Friday, 13 June 2014

-Music Videos on my Mind- Strand of Oaks’ “Goshen '97”

Timothy Showalter has already scored big pluses in my book for looking like Captain Caveman. There are times when I think that Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels was the greatest thing to have ever come out of America, and as a nation they’ve never again been able to capture the epochal defining brilliance of that show. America is a lesser place without Cavey.
So here comes Showalter, the living embodiment of one of the greatest animated characters in popular culture, but this guy goes by the title of Strand of Oaks and sings blisteringly timeless rock songs full of grandiose guitar sounds and ponderously pummelling drums. And he sings such honest songs that somehow entertain; songs so deceptively celebratory yet totally rooted in aching pathos. That must be so hard to do.
This is what pop music should be.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

-Music Videos on my Mind- Anna Calvi’s (ft. David Byrne) “Strange Weather”

How should one feel about British singer Anna Calvi?
Calvi is undeniably talented and classically interesting; having spent much of her childhood in and out of hospital due to the fact she had a deformed hip.  As is sometimes the case with ill kids, she lived in her own world, one that was riddled with conjured styles and sounds. Her passion for creating sounds meant that she would tinker with instruments and rudimentary recording equipment at home (karaoke machines and cassette recorders). Being a quick learner, Calvi mastered several instruments at an early age, while also raiding her father’s extensive Baby Boomer record collection for inspiration.
As admirable her story is, Calvi is now teetering on the brink of becoming too cool. The danger of being too cool is that you become un-cool. Brian Eno has described Calvi as "the biggest thing since Patti Smith". Interpol, Arctic Monkeys and Nick Cave personally invited Calvi to support them on tour. Fashion powerhouses like Collette, Fendi, Vogue, Chanel and Karl Lagerfeld have commissioned her to collaborate with them on projects, with Gucci designing Calvi’s entire US tour wardrobe and paying the singer to open new stores for them. Calvi is becoming an industry, it seems. Everyone wants to take a bite.
Talking Heads’ front man David Byrne is another high profile fan of Calvi, so much so he’s actually partnered with her on a haunting cover of Keren Ann’s excellent Strange Weather. With songs sung this well, it’s hard to question why Calvi’s popularity keeps ballooning.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Sohn’s “The Wheel” isn’t New, but it’s New Enough to be Given a Second Chance

Five seconds into this song I knew that I liked it. Thirty seconds in I knew it was something I loved. One minute in I knew it will be a treasured part of my music library and something I’d often reflect on.
Then why is it that The Wheel has been floating around for eighteen months, yet only just became something that has come to my greatly (ahem) esteemed (ahem) music blogging attention? The answer is that the shame is all mine.
Sohn may have got overlooked because of bad timing. His arrival in late 2012 was at the same time Spartan electronic wunderkinds James Blake, Jon Hopkins, Gotye and The xx were all putting out new material. Sohn just didn’t have the cultural cache to compete with such established performers, but this song’s resurrection proves that things of greatness will eventually get the attention they deserve.
Sohn is actually a British singer/ producer who is now resident of Austria, though he splits his time between his London and Vienna studios. This shifting between the two working locations informs his music compositions, Sohn’s songs dovetailing spaces of serene silence and compressed energy. The Wheel is minimalist production, though meticulously arranged enough to make the listener forget just how complex the piece is. It works on so many levels of sonic craft that you’ll be catching new tempo changes every time it’s heard.
As much as one admires Sohn’s multi-instrument and expert production skills, it’s his soulful vocals that make The Wheel achingly resonant. For a song that starts with the lines #I died a week ago/ There’s nothing left/ It’s caught on video/ The very last breath# it’s clear that this track is coming from a place of exhaustion and emotional attrition. Every moment of pain derived from a bad romance register in the most acute ways, totally transporting us into the headspace of a man broken by heartbreak, metaphysically assessing his situation through arresting rhythms and cadences. Gosh, this is a hugely affecting piece of music.