The CLUAS Archive: 1998 - 2011

06
Power of Dreams
Twenty years ago an alarmingly young band from Dublin released a debut album full of near-flawless indie-pop tunes. It had a confidence and ambition that was at odds with their youth and it is still t...

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04

Dateline: crack of dawn last Saturday morning. While you were snuggled up all warm in bed, your Seine-side correspondent staggered sleepily across town, up to the Gare du Nord and onto a train. Two hours later, we arrived at St Pancras station. That's how easy it is to go from Paris to London.

It was actually your blogger's first time there. The immediate reason for our long-overdue London debut was a match of rugby at Twickenham, so it was certainly a successful trip. But London made a big impression.

Paris is probably the most beautiful city in the world - and Paris knows it. The French capital can feel quite uptight and self-conscious, as if every Parisian believes he or she lives in the cold-blooded glamour of a fashion show. The sheer beauty of the place can be intimidating, like when you visit someone's new home and fear leaving mud on their carpet. Waiters and customer service staff demand respect for their authority, and the omnipresent French flags suggest an irritation with anything different or foreign. It's hard work to relax in Paris.

By contrast, London was warm and human. Its streets feel practical and lived in, like a comfortable pair of shoes. Compared to the hassle of Paris cafés, London pubs are blissful and kind. And even its monuments are idiosyncratic - despite their functionality and familiarity, Tower Bridge and the Houses of Parliament still seem so odd.

Pop music gives us proof of London's warmth and Paris's cold. There are hardly any French pop songs about Paris - certainly nothing contemporary or cool. Rap acts may rap about Paris - but only as political commentary, not as praise.

By contrast, London has been apotheosised in countless songs by its natives and residents. Waterloo Station and the nearby bridge are quite unremarkable, yet Ray Davies featured them in one of pop's most poetic songs. The Clash, The Jam, Madness and Blur have added their own layers to London's pop mythology by singing of ordinary places like Camden Town, the Tube, Hammersmith and Primrose Hill. (Of course, Paris has no pop/rock anthem to match 'London Calling'.)

Paris has inspired great painting, literature and classical music - but it has no great pop music. North American songwriters like Joni Mitchell and Stephin Merritt use Paris as shorthand for artistic freedom and old-fashioned romance respectively, but those are outsider images with little relevance to daily life Seine-side. The city's only native pop genius, Serge Gainsbourg, recorded his classic late-'60s records - including 'Je T'Aime (Moi Non Plus)' - in London and filled his lyrics with American pop culture references. There's very little of Paris in Serge's masterworks. And as we've pointed out before, the entire 'French Touch' wave of mid-'90s indietronic culture - Daft Punk, Air, Michel Gondry, Phoenix - come from Versailles. 

Why is Paris so poor for pop? Well, it might be due to that intimidating air of cold-blooded glamour we mentioned earlier. Pop music is democratic and open-minded and human and un-self-conscious and fun - and Paris is none of these things. But London seems to have these qualities in abundance, hence it's the pop capital of the world.

So, is your correspondent in the wrong city? Well, that's a question for another time... Anyway, thinking of London and the future leads us nicely to four lads from Colchester who made a classic London single and video - here's Blur with 'For Tomorrow':


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03

The Courteeners have stormed back into the consciousness of indie fans with their impeccable second album ‘Falcon’. They’ve created a distance between the Oasis style lad-rock that was so prevalent on their debut ‘St. Jude’, which has the potential to get them a much larger audience. Like almost every indie band in the land they’ve got strings on this album, but only as a subtle addition to the foot-stomping and energetic guitars and drums which blaze throughout. If you thought ‘St. Jude’ was good, then you’ll be blown away by ‘Falcon’.

Besides the fascinating photography the CD booklet is adorned with, there’s an album of consistently interesting and attention-grabbing tracks. The aptly titled opening track ‘The Opener’ details front man Liam Fray’s love for his hometown of Manchester, while their latest single ‘You Over Did It Doll’ makes a cross over into a previously unseen side of The Courteeners, primarily due to the dance style of the song. It’s something which could easily be considered quite bizarre, but they’ve got it right on point. The whole album is collection of thoughtful and heartfelt tracks, but mainly with an upbeat tempo. ‘Falcon’ easily has the potential to be one of the best albums of 2010.

In other news the NME Awards took place in London’s Brixton Academy last week hosted by the ever affable Jarvis Cocker. As per usual there was a shortage of Irish acts getting a look-in. However, Villagers’ recent signing to the legendary Domino label may just change that. Paul Weller was awarded the ‘Godlike Genius’ award and people with mullets everywhere rejoiced at the possibility that he just might make them fashionable again. On the live performances front there was a staggering collaboration between Biffy Clyro and Marina & the Diamonds on ‘Many of Horror’.  Have a look at the surprisingly suited collaboration below:


 


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02

One of our favourite French acts are John & Jehn (right).

John & JehnWe've told you about them before - a French couple living in London and making dark, swaggering electro-rock. John plays Velvet Underground-style scuzzed-down '50s riffs on his guitar, while Jehn looks after the cool Roxy Music-esque analogue synths. We found their first album charming and simple. But then at the Solidays festival last summer we saw them live for the first time - they were sexy and sensational.

Their second album is due out at the end of March. It's called 'Time For The Devil' and is preceded by a single of the same name.

Well, it's clear that your correspondent is not the only fan of John & Jehn - their new label Naive has clearly been spending money on them. Compared to the home-made feel of their debut, 'Time For The Devil' (the song) has top-of-the-range studio production values.

However, the song is rather slight - all atmosphere, little in the way of a memorable tune. Only Jehn's Siouxsie-esque chorus vocal hook lifts this track out of the relegation places and into mid-table safety. (For his part, John sounds like Ian McCulloch and the track has that rich and doom-laden Echo and the Bunnymen vibe.)

'Time For The Devil' (the album) will be launched with a special show at La Maroquinerie in Paris on 29 March - your correspondent hopes to be there. As we said above, this pair are great live so we'll have a better impression of their new material then.

You can get a taster of John & Jehn's new album by watching this trailer for it. As for the single, here's the video for 'Time For The Devil':


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23

Despite the impression we give in this blog, the most celebrated music venue in Paris is not La Flèche d'Or or La Maroquinerie. Though it may seem strange to us, those busloads of tourists much prefer to visit the Opéra.

The Opéra in Paris

The Opéra (right) is not the only opera house in Paris. Nearby is the Opéra Comique, a charming little roundhouse. Over at Bastille, a modern venue of that name is equally large but ugly like a financial services centre. The Opéra we're talking about is actually called the Opéra Garnier, named after its architect. When you say "the Opéra" in Paris, everyone assumes you mean this one.

In a city whose architectural landmarks know no restraint, the Opéra is particularly over-the-top - a Venn diagram where 'architecture' overlaps with 'wedding-cake'. (In fact, there's a small chocolate cake called an Opéra.) Seen when you're coming up from the metro station of the same name, it looms like an airship. As with many famous Paris buildings, only by walking around it can you appreciate how enormous it is. Commissioned in the mid-19th century, it symbolises the ostentatious wealth of Paris under the restored Empire. The surrounding streets, with their lines of black balcony railings, were designed by Baron Haussmann, architect of the quintessential Paris avenues and boulevards.

Paris in the time of Charles Garnier and Haussman was turbulent, to say the least. (The Avenue de l'Opéra - long, wide and slashed by narrow, angled streets - was specifically designed so that the army could outflank any barricade in the area.) By the time the Opéra was finally completed, in 1875, the Second Empire of Louis Napoléon had been ousted by the Commune, the Prussians and the Third Republic. To attend performances in the Opéra he built, Garnier had to buy a ticket.

Invited by a friend with a spare ticket to sell, your correspondent went to the Opéra recently.

It may be hard to believe, but the inside is even more extravagant than the outside. Marble, gold leaf, hardwood, chandeliers - we found it far more impressive than the chateau of Versailles. The concert hall features Chagall's famous painted ceiling - renowned composers and their works represented in daubs of bright, childlike colour. Most exciting of all is the breathtaking view from the front balcony down the avenue, which makes you feel like a lord or lady looking down on the poor people below. No wonder the people revolted.

These days, ordinary citizens can come to the Opéra too - there are some tickets available for 10 euros. However, you actually don't see the show from those seats. Of the Opéra's 2,500 or so seats, many of them only have partial views from behind pillars or balcony edges. Those ten euro seats are at the back of a box - but the people who buy them mostly come just for the music or for the experience of being inside the Opéra. Our seats were at the front of a box, but we still only saw about 70% of the stage.

We saw 'La Dame Aux Camélias', a recent ballet made from an Alexandre Dumas short story and compositions by Chopin. (France's other favourite adopted Pole besides Marie Curie, Chopin was born exactly two hundred years ago. He's buried in Père Lachaise - except for his heart, which is in a church in Warsaw.) Those ten euro punters got lucky - the orchestra's pianist gave a marvellous show. For the rest of us, the on-stage show was extravagantly beautiful.

Only by seeing live ballet do you realise how the apparent grace of the dancers hides the incredible physical demands on them. Walk on your tiptoes for five minutes and see how you feel; now imagine dancing, spinning and landing on them for an hour. Your marathon-running blogger marvels (and winces) at the strain a top ballerina puts on every tendon and ligament in her legs. Our trip to the Opéra was very educational indeed.

The Opéra in Paris is most famous because of a musical from London. Yes, a lot of those tourists are actually fans of Andrew Lloyd Webber's 'The Phantom Of The Opera', based on Gaston Leroux's classic French novel about a disfigured man lurking in and under this same venue. (Your correspondent didn't see any phantoms at the Opéra that night. West End musicals - don't trust 'em!) So, here are Sarah Brightman and Steve Harley with its appallingly naff theme song - just for the hilariously awful video. Look out, mullety man!


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22
Valerie Francis
CLUAS fires some questions at Valerie Francis, creator of Choice Music Prize nominated album Slow Dynamo. Tell us about the album - its conception, creation, response... Is there anything you'...

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22
Sounds of System Breakdown
Sounds of System Breakdown, the electronic, pop, dance rock brain child of Rob Costello released their debut album in January. Cluas caught up with Rob Costello from the band for a few words just prio...

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22
The 2010 Choice Music Prize nominees
Now in its fifth year, the Choice Music Prize is well established as a key milestone on the Irish music scene's calendar. The albums shortlisted for this year's prize represent a div...

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22

So, first on the agenda is the sassy, strong and stunning all female choir Gaggle. I interviewed the front woman of Gaggle a few months ago and since then Gaggle have signed to the Transgressive label (home to a certain Graham Coxon) and are releasing a single entitled ‘I Hear Flies’, the mesmerising video for which can be found here. They’ve received glowing reviews for their live performances, their live show has yet to hit Irish shores but considering how much their profile is raising it’s probably only a matter of time.

Meanwhile Dev Hynes, AKA Lightspeed Champion, has recently released his second solo album ‘Life is Sweet! Nice to Meet You.’, and it’s available to stream for a limited time here. It’s a strange yet appealing concoction of various different genres - he jumps from dance to soulful in the space of a few minutes. It all is, of course, well worth a listen. And it certainly doesn’t hurt when it’s being streamed for free.

Back on Irish shores Valerie Francis' astounding debut ‘Slow Dynamo’ has been nominated for the Choice Music Awards, and she was nominated in the Best Irish Female category at the Meteor’s this year, and deservedly so. To get a taster of what perfectly crafted and beautifully expressive acoustic music should sound like then mosey on over to her MySpace here.

Lastly, Welsh songstress Marina Diamandis, better known as the front woman of Marina and the Diamonds, has recently released her debut album ‘The Family Jewels’ and it’s already been certified Silver in the UK. Packed full of catchy tunes, including her most recent single off the album, ‘Hollywood’, and the infectious ‘I Am Not A Robot’ it’s a must for any shameless pop fan. In order to introduce you to the world of Marina and the Diamonds, for the uninitiated here’s the video for ‘I Am Not A Robot.’

 

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20
Dark Room Notes
CLUAS fires some questions at Darragh of Dark Room Notes, the creators of the Choice Music Prize nominated album We Love You Dark Matter. Tell us about the album - its conception, creation, respon...

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Nuggets from our archive

1999 - 'The eMusic Market', written by Gordon McConnell it focuses on how the internet could change the music industry. Boy was he on the money, years before any of us had heard of an iPod or of Napster.