The CLUAS Archive: 1998 - 2011

Entries for 'Aidan Curran'

17

So, did you head along to Naive New Beaters at ALT on 6 June? As we mentioned, that NNBs show was the entrée to the main course of Let's French, the annual Dublin festival that celebrates France's national music day on 21 June.

Let's French 2009Let's French 2009 features a mix of live concerts and music films. It all starts tonight (18 June) with a screening of Daft Punk's Interstellar 555 at the Denzille Cinema on Denzille Lane. Later, the first concert of the weekend is by Parisian hip-hop crew DSL at the Andrew's Lane Theatre.

Tomorrow night (19 June) there's a special concert at the Royal Irish Academy of Music in honour of... Jacques Brel. (Yes, Jacques Brel was Belgian. You can take this up with the Let's French people yourself.) But the real treat is a screening at the Denzille of the film of Serge Gainsbourg's fabulous 1971 record 'Histoire De Melody Nelson', the greatest French album ever. A series of colourful and trippy videos for each track, featuring a too-cool Serge and a groovy Jane Birkin, it's a fantastic time capsule.

For any early risers on Saturday morning, at the crack of noon there's a screening of Louis Chedid's musical 'Le Soldat Rose' at the Denzille Cinema, then a family open mic show at the Alliance Française at 2 p.m. That night's concert at Twisted Pepper is the festival's centrepiece - electropoppers Housse De Racket.

On Sunday, Fête de la Musique day, there's another full journée of events. Have your brunch at La Mère Zou while listening to jazz. Then head to the Denzille Cinema again fro an afternoon double-bill: Jacque Demy's children's fairytale classic 'Peau d'Ane' with music by Michel Legrand and (for dragged-along fathers) starring Catherine Deneuve, followed by Alain Resnais' 'On Connais Le Chanson', a romantic comedy where characters sing along to classic French pop hits.

Finally, on Sunday evening there's a free Fête de la Musique concert at The Village featuring French singer-songer Marie Cherrier and Dublin's favourite French rockeuse Lauren Guillery.

Full details are on the Let's French website. Here's Housse De Racket with their 2008 single 'Oh Yeah':


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15

Happy Bloomsday! We hope you’ve been dipping into the great book today, perhaps even visiting the Martello Tower or other Dublin locations.

Guitar tuned to 'The D-E-A-D': James JoyceAs you may know, ‘Ulysses’ was published in Paris by Shakespeare and Co. – not the hip boho bookshop across from Notre Dame but the original store near the Odéon. And Joyce lived here for many years, finally leaving only because of the Nazi occupation.

There are flashes of Paris thoughout ‘Ulysses’, mainly because Stephen has just returned from the French capital as the story begins. He recalls meeting shady exiled Fenians in dark café-bars, remembers seeing wealthy traders on the steps of the Bourse, and he wants to put lemon in his tea. ('O damn you and your Paris fads', says Mulligan in exasperation to him.)

But what if Joyce had set ‘Ulysses’ in Paris rather than Dublin? It could have been done. There’s a famous tower here – not Martello but Eiffel. The Seine is as ‘snotgreen’ as Dublin Bay but you wouldn’t want to swim in it. Eccles Street, Bloom’s home, corresponds on the map to Le Marais, the traditional Jewish quarter of Paris. Stephen could expound his literary theories in the Sorbonne – perhaps blathering about Joyce to American academics. For Sandymount Strand in Dublin you have in Paris the banks of the Seine, where Stephen can stroll in contemplation and Bloom can do obscene things while spying on a young girl. (This is generally what goes on along the Seine most days and nights.) And for Night-town there’s Pigalle or Rue Saint Denis or the side-streets near Boulevard Haussmann or… lots of other places that we’ve been told about.

Tonight at the Irish Cultural Centre in Paris, Terence Killeen will discuss music in Joyce. Of course, CLUAS readers will already be experts on this subject, having read Rev Jules’ fine article on Joyce’s influence on popular music.

So, for the day that’s in it, here’s the Joyce-esque genius of Kate Bush and her Molly Bloom-inspired ‘The Sensual World’. The Fairlight production may be a bit dated but the track is still thrilling:

 


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10

A review of the album 'Break Up The Concrete' by The Pretenders

Review Snapshot: Though it leans more towards blues and country than its predecessors, the ninth album by Chrissie Hynde et al. is still recognizably safe classic rock. But slipping it into a Greatest Hits package feels needlessly defeatist.

The Cluas Verdict? 4.5 out of 10

Full Review:
The Pretenders 'Break Up The Concrete'This is odd: our review copy of the new album by The Pretenders comes in a double CD with a Best Of. What’s more, the hits compilation is Disc 1 of this set and the new album is Disc 2. You’d think it’d be a brave record company exec who’d propose this to Chrissie Hynde.

Do you really need us to review The Pretenders’ hits? Surely you already know from constant airplay those smart late-‘70s rockers, radio-friendly ‘80s poppers and blustery ‘90s stadium ballads. (We’ll only point out that this compilation doesn’t include a catchy 1999 cover of The Divinyls’ ‘Human’, which is a pity.)

So, the new album, then. For the most part, ‘Break Up The Concrete’ is unremarkable blues-tinted MOR rock. Hynde, forever in skinny jeans and black t-shirt, still pulls the same rawk chick shapes but with a hint of nostalgic wistfulness on gentle country rock numbers like ‘You Didn’t Have To’, ‘One Thing Never Changed’ and ‘Love’s A Mystery’ (“Lovers of today/Aren’t like lovers of the past”). It’s strange and slightly sad to now associate Hynde, one of rock’s great icon(oclast)s, with concepts like ‘nostalgia’ and ‘gentle country rock’. But then, you can hardly expect iconoclasm from someone who subordinates her new album to a Greatest Hits disc in the same package.

There are a couple of interesting moments on this record all the same. Opener ‘Boots Of Chinese Plastic’ is a rousing bit of rockabilly, a sound that suits Hynde’s attitude and voice. (Unfortunately, it’s let down by naff verses about Buddha, Hari Krishna, Allah and Jesus.) And ‘Almost Perfect’ is an acoustic bossa nova groove where Hynde sounds jazzy and (almost) fresh – could that be for her a new route worth investigating?

Anyway, Hynde would do well to heed her album title: please destroy that dull, grey rock. And next time let your new album stand or fall on its merits rather than hide it under the oldies.

Aidan Curran


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10

A review of the album 'Here Come The Vikings' by Astrid Williamson

Review Snapshot: One glorious lyric aside, a record of chugging ones, epic ones, book-smart lyrics and all the regulars of indie-by-numbers. You’re a busy person with other records to hear and other things to do, so this needn’t detain you.

The Cluas Verdict? 5 out of 10

Full Review:
Astrid Williamson 'Here Come The Vikings'The fourth solo album by former Goya Dress singer Astrid Williamson is more plugged-in and amped-up than her previous records. Unfortunately, while for her this might be a grand creative leap, for the listener ‘Here Come The Vikings’ is mid-table indie-rock of the sort you’ve heard many times before.

To be fair, there are brief flashes of personality on show here. When she rocks out, like on opening ‘Store’, Williamson has a strong and soaring voice similar to ‘The Lion And The Cobra’-era Sinead O’Connor. But a lot of the uptempo tracks here are unoriginal and unimaginative chuggernauts, while slower numbers like ‘Crashing Minis’ and ‘Pinned’ strain themselves to sound like epic heartstring-tuggers.

The blandness of the music is reflected in the lyrics, which mostly have a sense of being all craft and no feeling. The poppy ‘Sing The Body Electric’ shoehorns in fairly arbitrary references to Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Walt Whitman, as if Williamson desperately wants us to know that she knows who they are. And then at the other extreme, ‘Falling Down’ features the anodyne ‘insight’ and uninspired clichés of your average Celine Dion or Bon Jovi hit: “They say a little information/Can be a dangerous thing… Love is all we need/Why do we keep on falling down?”

At least ‘Shut Your Mouth’ features an innuendo-drenched couplet that even Cole Porter would have envied: “Please forgive my pursuit of you/But I have to get to the root of you.” (Keeping in that spirit, our spellcheck wants us to change Astrid’s first name to ‘Astride’.)

But apart from that tantalising flash of invention, there’s nothing new or memorable about this record. You couldn’t imagine real Vikings coming and going so unremarkably.

Aidan Curran


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01
June is a special time for live music in France. Cities and towns across the country will celebrate the annual Fête de la Musique, the national music day, on 21 June by staging free open-air concerts. A few days later, Solidays in Paris will kick off the French summer festival season.
 
French communities around the world are organizing their own Fête de la Musique events. In Dublin, this means the Let’s French festival, now in its fourth year. We’ll tell you more about it closer to the time.
 
Naive New BeatersAs an appetizer for the main event, Let’s French is putting on a pre-festival show: Naïve New Beaters (right) will appear at Twisted Pepper in Dublin on Saturday 6 June.
 
Who are Naïve New Beaters? Well, there are three in the band: vocalist David Boring, guitarist Martin Luther B.B. King and keyboarder Eurobelix. The band has just released their debut album, ‘Wallace’ - a mish-mash of electro, rock and rap.
 
We're not impressed by it, though. Boring’s semi-rapping vocal style, delivered in a Californian accent, can get a bit tiresome. Sometimes you can hear in there Thin Lizzy-style twin-lead-guitar riffs, the epitome of dumb fun. But more often than not, Naïve New Beaters are irritating.
 
Nonetheless, you can find out more about them by heading along to Twisted Pepper on Saturday night or visiting the Naïve New Beaters MySpace page.
 
The best-known track from ‘Wallace’ is their 2008 single ‘Live Good’ – we find the video more entertaining than the song:
 

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27

A review of the album Battle For The Sun by Placebo

Review Snapshot: If this is how good Placebo sound when they choose to write about 'stepping out of the darkness and into the light' can somebody please arrange to shower Brian Molko with sunlight for the foreseeable future?  An album full of urgency and optimism, Battle for the Sun has the potential to be regarded as Placebo's finest work.

The Cluas Verdict? 9.5 out of 10

Full Review:
Placebo-Battle For The SunAfter 13 years, 5 studio albums and 10 million album sales, you would have to wonder what possible reasons Placebo have to keep going, especially after the loss of major label backing and Steve Hewitt, the band's drummer for the past 11 years.  Wonder no more, the reason is clear; after spending over a decade dealing with life in the shadows, Placebo, and Brian Molko in particular, have decided to focus on optimism and positivity, the result of which is Battle for the Sun (released June 8).

Those of you familiar with the Placebo back catalogue, 2006's Meds in particular, will be aware that darkness seemed to be an essential element in terms of shaping Placebo's songs, almost to the point of self-parody.  Indeed, at that stage that Placebo were arguably, to quote our own Aidan Curran, 'a band who's future was long behind them.'  That's most definitely not the case however, and while there are still some dark themes on Battle for the Sun it is hard not to feel the sense of optimism that seeps from every nook and cranny of this record. Track 6, Bright Lights, for example contains the following refrain: A heart that hurts/is a heart that works. It's simple, yet equally effective and evocative and a million miles adrift of songs like Pierrot the Clown (Meds, 2006) or Summer's Gone (Without You I'm Nothing, 1998).

The album, recorded in Toronto over three months with Dave Bottrill (dEUS, Silverchair, Muse) and mixed by Alan Moulder (My Bloody Valentine, Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails), actually gets off to a very inauspicious start with Kitty Litter.  For the first 3 minutes, it sounds like typical Placebo fair, musically competent, lyrically excellent and then there is a subtle change of direction and bang, we have the new Placebo.  This continues straight into the excellent Ashtray Heart, which has more in common with the likes of Broken Social Scene and Arcade Fire (it must be the Toronto air) than the Placebo of old.

Battle for the Sun contains far too many standout tracks to list them all.  The sense of urgency that drives almost every track, combined with very polished production, creates a unique listening experience where you find yourself waiting for the next track while not wanting the current track to end.   New drummer Steve Forrest does an exceptional job considering his mere 22 years and his pounding of the skins plays an important part on the majority of tracks, lead single For What it's Worth in particular.

When I review records, I start off with a score of 10 and try to find reasons to deduct marks.  With Battle for the Sun I found it very difficult to find fault.  It's as accomplished as it is refreshing and while producing an album that defies genres (and indeed people's pre-conceptions of them, this writer included) will be sure to garner Placebo new fans (maybe even Aidan), it is also a record that will startle and delight their many existing fans. I can give Battle for the Sun no higher praise than to say it could well prove to be the essential Placebo album.

Steve O'Rourke


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26

The summer of 2006 must have been an exciting time to be young and French. Springtime student protests had caused the Chirac/de Villepin government to retreat on controversial employment reforms. Les bleus were heading for the World Cup Final and Amélie Mauresmo was winning Wimbledon. Former Dublin au pair Ségolène Royal was shaking up the presidential election race. And a guitar band from Versailles looked dead certs to become global rock megastars.

PhoenixAs it turned out, those protests gained little in the long term. The French football team lost the final so controversially that Mauresmo’s victory the previous day has been virtually forgotten. Royal lost the 2007 election to conservative Nicolas Sarkozy and (like Sarkozy, in his own way) is now more a celebrity than a politician. And that Versailles band, Phoenix (right), are still only big fish in a small indie pond.

But their 2006 album ‘It’s Never Been Like That’ was a cracker and it at least gained them a larger cult following in North America. They are still the only French rock band with a worldwide audience and credibility anywhere near electro acts like Air, Daft Punk and Justice. And their style of music has become a reference point: if any band mixes too-cool-for-school indieness with lovelorn melodic retro-pop, then they sound like Phoenix.
 
So, in this uncharted territory for a French band, Phoenix have just released their new album. Three years on, will it see them finally close the deal and break through to mainstream success?

It will not. ‘Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix’ has at least two excellent singles and rarely puts a foot wrong, but on the whole it leaves you with a sense of disappointment. How come?

Well, a great deal of the problem with the new Phoenix album is that it sounds so much like Phoenix. Most of the tracks on this record wouldn’t sound out of place on their previous album. Thomas Mars’ idiosyncratic vocal style, singing melodies so undulating and jerky that they’re almost out of sync with the rest of the song, sounds familiar by now. Was that all we saw in them?

And now other bands are picking up their sound – we recently mentioned French rivals Pony Pony Run Run, whose single ‘Hey You’ does the Phoenix thing better than Phoenix.

Those two fine songs we mentioned above, ‘Lisztomania’ and ‘1901’, are the opening tracks here and give the album a deceptively strong start. A failing of Phoenix, one reason why they aren’t filling Enormodomes or headlining summer festivals outside France, is that they’ve never written a killer radio-friendly chorus – but ‘Lisztomania’ has a memorable hook (though not as catchy as PPRR’s ‘Hey You’). By sheer force of concentrated Phoenix-ness is ‘1901’ so good. Third track ‘Fences’ is a pleasant bit of disco-indie, but The Virgins sewed up this genre last year with their brilliant single ‘Rich Girls’.

And that’s it for highlights. To mention this album’s fleeting nod to relative innovation, we note that ‘Twenty One One Zero’, the bit of loop-heavy stadium electronica that the band put on the web last year, briefly reappears here during an instrumental called ‘Love Like A Sunset Part I’. It gives way to ‘Love Like A Sunset Part II’, a very brief track which features three heavy acoustic guitar strums repeated. Then next song ‘Lasso’ resumes the classic Phoenix style.

It’d be disingenuous to present this as Phoenix maintaining their standards or refining their distinctive sound – quite simply, this album feels like a risk-free consolidation and the songs aren’t dazzling enough to blind you to this.

Of course, there’s the possibility that several million people who’ve never come across Phoenix before will hear this album and fall for it, or perhaps some well-chosen advertising placement will pierce the mainstream subconsciousness. But neither of these scenarios would make ‘Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix’ any better an album. This is still a fine band, oozing charm and talent, but they need to do something new with their music.
 


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18

DM Stith and The Acorn (live in La Maroquinerie, Paris)

Review Snapshot: A cracking double bill of cinematic, romantic North American folk-rock to warm this cold Paris cellar. DM Stith is the quiet small-town Everyman with an otherworldly voice; The Acorn are your ideal college roommates. In their own ways, the two acts win over the crowd with their invention, sincerity and vision – though most punters will go home talking about Stith.

The Cluas Verdict? 9 out of 10

Full Review:
DM StithThe average rock fan, on heading out on a Friday night, probably worries about catching things other than pneumonia or the common cold. But here we are in La Maroquinerie, a popular Paris venue, on a May evening and it actually feels chilly down here when normally these cellar walls are running with punter perspiration.

You see, the place isn’t even half full – and whenever the door opens, a draught sweeps round the room. It’s odd that more people haven’t come out to see such an attractive double bill of two buzz names on the transatlantic indie music wires.

But those here tonight are the curious and genuinely interested: fortunately for both acts, most people stand right up at the stage instead of leaving a crescent of indifferent floorspace to greet the performers. There are no ‘SHH!’-ers here nor need of them. And tonight’s committed crowd is rewarded by two engaging and enjoyable shows. These two acts go well together.

Both DM Stith and The Acorn (support and headline acts respectively) play a blend of indie- and folk-rock flavoured by more exotic influences, though the American evokes the bookish teenager and the Canadian band are more like your joint-smoking college roommates. (Keyboardist Mike Dubue actually enquires mid-set whether it’s easy to procure marijuana in Paris. For the record, the wisdom of tonight’s crowd holds that it isn’t.)

Where Stith’s recordings are swathed in swirling wisps of ether, on stage with his band those songs are concrete and robust – the man himself (above right) goes about his business in a workmanlike way, chiselling out chords like an apprentice carpenter and grinning boyishly between songs. (He looks like a teenage Donald Sutherland.) To strum the rhythm of ‘Pigs’ he mutes his guitar by folding a piece of cloth through the strings – but then still takes the trouble of making the chord shapes. And as he launches into the next song he forgets to take the cloth out of the strings. His air of affability makes him quite likeable. (After the show he chats amiably with fans at the merchandise table.)

But that voice, piercing and melancholic like a train whistle across a prairie, still conjures up romance and escape and a sort of bruised yearning. This is captured in his music by exotic scales and chord progressions such as in songs like ‘Fire Of Birds’ and ‘Pity Dance’. Adding to the pleasing sense of oddness, the violinist and cellist produce a Theremin-type sound by swinging red plastic outflow pipes over their heads.

Dare we say that Stith steals the show? Well, we can’t remember ever seeing a support act coming back out for an encore, as Stith does tonight after heartfelt calls from the crowd.

This isn’t to suggest that The Acorn are any less enjoyable; they rock. Their songs fall into two camps: lumberjack-shirt folk-rock (‘Crooked Legs’, ‘Fallen Leaves’) and Vampire Weekend-style college world-pop (‘Low Gravity’, ‘Flood Pt 1’). They do both well. The apparent extravagance of having two drummers is justified by the band’s dependence on strong, inventive rhythms: while DM Stith requires attentive listening, The Acorn are for dancing and most of the crowd bop along to their set. That said, in their own way The Acorn are just as poetic and escapist as Stith – those world rhythms, of course, but also singer Rolf Klausener’s rich, warm voice and songs about his mother's youth in Honduras.

The only downer of the night is that this band’s best song, the joyous tribal hymn ‘Flood Pt 1’, is drowned in a murky sound mix that has too much bass: the track’s glorious guitar line is almost completely lost. Many people here tonight have come to see The Acorn on the basis of loving that song, so it’s a pity to hear it slightly botched.

There’s something in the North American experience that constantly inspires books and music and art which are cinematic and sincere and aspirational compared to the self-conscious cynicism and irony of many European artists. Whether it comes from the vast widescreen landscape or immigrant heritage or maybe some last trace of the frontier spirit, both The Acorn and DM Stith exemplify this. They deserve to be playing packed furnaces of venues from now on, and we suspect that Stith’s support-slot days will soon be behind him.

Aidan Curran


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13

Okay, so we might not have fancied their most recent album. But in the spirit of ‘G’wan Oirland’ and all that, we’re pleased to report that Bell X1 are playing a high-profile Paris show tonight (14 May), one that’s bound to win them great exposure and interest among French music fans.

Bell X1 at Les Inrocks Indie ClubFor the last concert on their current continental tour, the Kildare band are headlining the latest edition of Les Inrocks Indie Club, the regular band night hosted by Les Inrockuptibles, France’s best selling and most respected music and culture magazine.  The show takes place at La Maroquinerie, one of the best-known rock venues in Paris, and the line-up is completed by The Phantom Band, The Soft Pack (that fine Californian band formerly known as The Muslims) and local hopefuls Toy Fight.

You being fairly sharp, you’ll have noticed that the nationalities of the acts are given on the poster (right). G’wan Oirland!

One of the added benefits of headlining a show organized by a top-selling music magazine is that said top-selling music magazine invariably gives you plenty of glowing publicity and blurb and what have you. Thus Les Inrockuptibles have called ‘Blue Lights On The Runway’ “glacial et lancinant” – icy and piercing. (‘Lancinant’ is also the word in French to describe a sudden, shooting pain such as your correspondent’s recent running injuries.) We don’t see what they mean (unless they mean ‘painful’), but that’s the sort of language you find in French music reviews.

The band supported Nada Surf in France last year, but it seems their second-fiddle days are behind them now. With tonight’s high-profile Paris show and a Benicassim appearance to come, Bell X1 are really making a go of things here on the continent and perhaps they might return to Eire all inspired and creatively reinvigorated. Good luck to them.

Honestly, we really like ‘Neither Am I’ – especially ‘Man On Mir’ and this one, 'Pinball Machine':


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11

Did we, by any chance, happen to give the impression that the Solidays festival is happening in early July this year? It seems that we did: sorry. The annual Paris summer event is actually on a week earlier than last year – the weekend of 26-28 June. We know this because it says so on the CLUAS Foreign Correspondent (Paris) weekend pass. Yahoo!!

Solidays 2009We’re yahooing because the line-up has some cracking names on it. Sunday night headliner: Manu Chao! Saturday night: Amadou and Mariam! Imagine how cool they’ll sound on a summer evening – and even if it pours rain those two alone are worth the trip.

And if that wasn’t enough, the rest of the bill is studded with little gems. Friday night features Yuksek, Digitalism, Hockey, The Dø and Tony Allen. (That evening’s headliners are local rappers NTM, of little interest to us.) Warming up Saturday night for A&M are The Virgins, Alela Diane, Friendly Fires, Girl Talk, The Ting Tings (a hit at last year's festival too), Late Of The Pier and a host of other domestic acts. (Again, local headliners Keziah Jones and Benabar doesn’t excite us.)

Then, along with the boy Chao on Sunday you’ve got a trio of French Letter favourites: Cocoon, John & Jehn and Syd Matters. Plus, there’s Metronomy and the good-time Balkan folk of Emir Kusturica and the No Smoking Orchestra.

There are still weekend tickets available at the ridiculously decent price of €48. The festival takes place at the Longchamps racecourse, conveniently located at the end of two metro lines and (more importantly) within an hour’s summer stroll of Chateau French Letter.

As we explained before, Solidays began as an AIDS awareness event (‘solidarity’ + ‘holidays’) before growing into a large and respected summer music festival. It still honours its origins: proceeds will go to AIDS charities and on the weekend the site will host information and advice tents. Full details are available on the Solidays website.

Manu Chao! From the 2005 compilation of his old band Mano Negra, here’s the fairly deadly uptempo version of ‘Out Of Time Man’: 


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Nuggets from our archive

2002 - Interview with Rodrigo y Gabriela, by Cormac Looney. As with Damien Rice's profile, this interview was published before Rodrigo y Gabriela's career took off overseas. It too continues to attract considerable visits every month to the article from Wikipedia.