The CLUAS Archive: 1998 - 2011


From 2007 to 2010 CLUAS hosted blogs written by 8 of its writers. Over 900 blog entries were published in that time, all of which you can browse here. Here are links to the 8 individual blogs:


Yesterday CLUAS was one of the sites shortlisted for the 'Best Music Website' category of the 2009 Irish Web Awards, the winner will be announced on 10 October at a ceremony in the Radission SAS Royal hotel in Dublin. A total of 26 different sites were nominated in the category, the other sites that made the grade along as well as CLUAS are listed below. Best of luck to all concerned!



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Artist: Noah & The Whale

Song: Blue Skies

Album: The First Days of Spring

Artist: The Hold Steady

Song: Stay Positive

Album: Stay Positive


Artist: Doves

Song: Winter Skies

Album: Kingdom of Rust


Artist: The Blizzards

Song: First Girl to Leave Town

Album: A Public Display of Affection


Artist: Laura Izibor

Song: Shine

Album: Truth to be Told


Artist: The Zutons

Song: Hello Conscience

Album: Tired of Hanging Around


Artist: Stereo MCs

Song: Black Gold

Album: Double Bubble


[Image Credit: 'Walking on Water', shot by Rev Jules, Co. Clare 13th September 2009]


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French pop music has a number of signature styles that the wider world immediately recognises. There's le french touch - that mix (in varying measures) of electronica and indie made famous by Daft Punk and Air and continued by the likes of Cassius, Phoenix and Justice. The dramatic music-hall torch-songs of Edith Piaf have gained new life from the recent Oscar-winning biopic. And the dark cabaret ballads of adopted Frenchman Jacques Brel have been influential on the work of Scott Walker, David Bowie and Nick Cave.

One classic French genre that has slipped out of the international limelight in recent years is the Gallic '60s pop sound. Where British bands of the time seemed tight on uppers and rock n'roll attitude, the music of their French peers has the cool and languid feel of bebop jazz. The drumming is sparse and low in the mix, guitars are clipped, basslines are looser, symphonic strings add je ne sais quoi - and there's an air of liberated playfulness. This was the start of Serge Gainsbourg's golden period: the fantastic singles he wrote for France Gall, Brigitte Bardot and Françoise Hardy, plus his own masterpieces up to 1971's 'Histoire De Melody Nelson' album. You can hear this sound in tracks as diverse as 'Sexy Boy' by Air, 'Veni Vidi Vici' by Katell Keineg, countless songs by Belle And Sebastian and Camera Obscura, and 'Be My Baby', the Vanessa Paradis hit written by Lenny Kravitz.

Diving With AndyWe mention the classic '60s French sound because it's revisited in a wonderful new record by a Parisian band. 'Sugar Sugar' is the second album by Diving With Andy (right), a trio comprising singer Juliette Paquereau and multi-instrumentalists Julien Perraudeau and Rémy Galichet. While there's no killer chorus or earworm hook in any of the songs here, their subtle melodies and arrangements are sufficiently charming to hold your attention from first track to last. In particular, Paquereau's soft croon and tender, thoughtful lyrics are quite lovely. The whole package reminds us of the aforementioned 'Histoire De Melody Nelson'.

Our highlight is 'Merry Dance', a wistful little thing that cleverly expresses barely-suppressed heartbreak and regret with a gently swirling tune and poetic lyrics that play on images of dancing: it begins "Should I ever lead you/My steps would never deceive you". 'Astral Weeks' gets a mention on 'You Don't Have To Cry', a poppier tune loaded with references to England, making mundane placenames like Liverpool and Northampton sound as exotic as they must have done to '60s French fans of imported British pop. (This reminds us that Melody Nelson was from that mystical north-eastern city, Sunderland.)

Listen to songs from 'Sugar Sugar' on Diving With Andy's MySpace page. The title track was a recent single and it's rather lovely too - here's the video:


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Bodhi: If you want the ultimate, you've got to be willing to pay the ultimate price. It's not tragic to die doing what you love. [Point Break, 1991]

Sound Waves is saddened to hear of the untimely death of Patrick Swayze, the Texas born actor, choreographer and dancer who made some of the most iconic  movies of the 1980s and 1990s and who, in the character of Bodhi, embodied a particular kind of surfing archetype; the zen master wave rider who takes a wrong turning in his life onto a road paved with darkness, a classic theme revisted in Tim Winton's recent novel, "Breath"

Although the character of Bodhi was a synthesis, the line of dialogue quoted above and the film's final scene on Bells Beach was clearly inspired by Mark Foo, the famous Hawaiian surfer who died in a freak accident at Mavericks and who was often quoted as saying, "If you want to ride the ultimate wave, you have to be willing to pay the ultimate price"

Although sometimes derided for being melodramatic, 'Point Break' has endured in popular culture and Sound Waves has yet to meet a surfer who is unable to quote memorable lines from the movie. Given the outstanding physicality of Swayze's onscreen performances, it is a cruel irony that his death was caused by a disease that slowly robs patients of their physical well being long before claiming their lives.

Perhaps the most fitting tribute one can pay to this brilliant, yet underrated Hollywood Star is to remember him as he is in that final scene in 'Point Break' standing in his wet suit on the beach in the rain, preparing to paddle out into a giant wave which he knows will take his life in the briefest and most thrilling manner possible.

Australian cop: We'll get him when he comes back in!

Johnny Utah: He's not coming back.


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For English-speaking audiences, perhaps the best-known and best-loved French film of recent years is Jean-Pierre Jeunet's 'Amélie', released in 2001 in France as 'Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain' ('The Fabulous Destiny Of Amélie Poulain').

Amélie: the posterYou surely know the scenario by now: in the aftermath of Princess Diana's fatal Paris car crash in 1997, innocent daydreamer Amélie (played by Audrey Tautou) sets out to improve the lives of those around her. But when she falls for the idiosyncratic Nino (Mathieu Kassovitz) she's too shy to take her own chance of happiness.

In France the movie's old-fashioned optimism captured the country's imagination and added to the buoyant mood created by the national football team's World Cup and European Championship successes. It also pleased conservatives who saw the film as somehow embodying traditional French community values - a dangerous idea to be floating in that Le Pen-marked era. (Ironically, the film was originally written to star Emily Watson and to have much of the action in London. Only because Watson was committed to Robert Altman's 'Gosford Park' was the screenplay reworked and recast with the relatively unknown Tautou. And the interiors were shot in a studio in Cologne, the film being co-produced by a German company.)

Sure enough, there were many French people who didn't see its charms and questioned the popular perception of the film as being representative of the real Paris and France. It emerged that Jeunet had digitally removed from location shots any graffitti, dog turds and other such unwanted street details. Critics questioned the film's racial balance: the only main non-white character is Lucien the much-bullied mentally/physically disabled shop assistant (played by stand-up comic Jamel Debbouze, who really does have a withered right arm like his character), and there's a rather superfluous scene on a train platform where Amélie feels intimidated by a group of black teenage boys. (Ironically again, the male lead in 'Amélie', Kassovitz, directed 'La Haine', that searing portrayal of ethnic tension in suburban France and the other internationally-well-known French movie of the period. It's often considered to be the anti-'Amélie'.)

Mathieu Kassovitz and Audrey Tautou in 'Amélie'It's true that the Paris of 'Amélie' is surprisingly free of street detritus, ethnic groups - and tourists. But the film is clearly meant to be as whimsical and escapist as its title character. When Amélie's bedroom ornaments start discussing her romantic problems while she sleeps, it should be clear that this isn't docudrama or cinema verité.

And some others just hated it because they thought it was schmaltz. Fortunately for diabetics in the audience, most hints of saccharine are neutralised by a dark strand of tragicomedy - especially in the flashback to Amélie's childhood (her mother's bizarre death, for instance). The supporting characters all have some touch of sadness or bitterness in their hearts - the failed writer, two jilted lovers, the hypochondriac tobacconist, the fragile old painter and the bar owner who was crippled when her lover literally let her down. And the central couple are unglamorous childlike innocents who seem lost in the nightmare of a cynical modern world, especially in the context of Diana's shocking death - Amélie is timid like a mouse and Nino (the world's most unlikely sex industry employee) keeps a scrapbook collection of ghostly discarded passport photos. It's easy to root for them. One rather touching scene is Amélie's daydream of Nino popping down to the shop and returning to her apartment: it rings true.

The film was released in the USA as 'Amélie From Montmartre' - because Montmartre is where most of the action takes place. Fans can visit the key locations and we believe there's even an 'Amélie' tour of the area. The restaurant-bar, Les Deux Moulins, is a real establishment on rue Lepic - the tobacconist counter was removed a few years ago to make room for more seats but the rest is as it appears in the film. Similarly, the greengrocery is a real shop on rue des Trois Frères. Amélie's metro line is the 12: she encounters a beggar playing records on the platform at Abbesses, while her descriptive tour for the blind man ends at the entrance to Lamarck-Caulincourt. And her trail of arrows leads Nino up the park at the basilica of Sacré-Coeur, now a hugely popular tourist venue since that scene. However, the iconic stone-skimming scene is from Canal Saint-Martin, a few kilometres south-east of Montmartre.

If you've never been to Montmartre, it's on a hill in the north of the city. Its bohemian reputation comes from the fact that artists like Renoir and Picasso and Toulouse-Lautrec lived and worked there. On the southern foot of the hill is Pigalle with its seedy strip clubs and the Moulin Rouge. Abbesses, the hip part, is just up the hill from the Moulin Rouge. Most tourists go towards Sacré-Coeur and Place du Tertre, where modern-day portraitists hope to cash in on Montmartre's association with art. Down the other side are streets like rue Lamarck and rue Caulincourt, with few tourists and a more relaxed and authentic vibe. There's a cemetery in Montmartre: the most famous resident is François Truffaut, thus adding another link between Montmartre and cinema. (Three short clips from 'Jules Et Jim' pop up during 'Amélie'.)

Yann TiersenLike 'La Haine', 'Amélie' is celebrated for its soundtrack - the old-style accordion and classical piano score composed by Yann Tiersen. (Musically too, 'Amélie' and 'La Haine' seem to be conjoined opposites.) Not from Montmartre but from the Breton town of Brest, Tiersen (right) wasn't the first choice to write the film's music - but Michael Nyman, Jeunet's original pick, was unavailable. As with Emily Watson's prior engagement, this was a happy accident for Jeunet - Tiersen's evocative and playful waltzes have contributed hugely to the film's popularity. In particular, the film's theme, 'La Valse d'Amélie', is instantly recognisable.

In fact, the soundtrack to 'Amélie' is the story of two records. Tiersen started writing the film score while already making an album called 'L'Absente', from which he borrowed instrumental passages for his 'Amélie' project. Both records were released in 2001: Tiersen was the golden boy of French music that year.

'L'Absente' is a marvellous album, superior to its sibling. Just as 'La Haine' is the counter-image of 'Amélie', so 'L'Absente' is a darker and sadder take on the romance of the film soundtrack. (The title of 'L'Absente' suggests a female who is missing or gone: we can presume there's no happy ending.) The dominant sounds are glacial pianos (think of Chopin and Satie) and mournful strings, with accordions and toy pianos in supporting roles that are almost taunting in their joie de vivre. The standout track of 'L'Absente' is the melancholic 'La Parade' and its dark, velvety vocals from Lisa Germano.

There's an Irish connection - and, it being sensitive French alternative pop, this can only mean Neil Hannon. Our fellow Francophile sings his own English lyrics to the whirling waltz of 'Les Jours Tristes'. This was the period of Hannon's effort at sounding less whimsical and more heartfelt, and 'Les Jours Tristes' is certainly cut from the same cloth as his writing on The Divine Comedy's 'Regeneration' and Jane Birkin's single 'Home'. The instrumental version of the song is played over the closing credits of 'Amélie', and so Hannon has a writing credit on the film soundtrack too - a rather lucrative little nixer.

Your blogger-to-be was at Tiersen's Dublin concert in Vicar Street in 2003, where the star was backed by a fine Breton indie band called The Married Monk. Hannon didn't appear to sing his song (the lead singer of The Married Monk sang 'Les Jours Tristes' that night), but Tiersen was still captivating to watch. In particular, we were most impressed by how he played the piano and accordion at the same time.

A friend of ours saw Tiersen play at a festival in Spain this summer. Unfortunately, it seems that he has decided to rock out - with excruciating results. Was this a once-off whim or the dreaded 'new direction'? Time will tell: Tiersen's new album is due for release before the end of this year.

You should listen to 'L'Absente' (here in full on Deezer, for instance) and get a complete picture of Tiersen and 'Amélie'. Back to the film and its soundtrack, though - live at La Route du Rock in 2001, here's Yann Tiersen on melodica and piano with 'Le Moulin'.

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It will probably come as no surprise, but I don't remember much about my birth.  I know I was a reluctant child; if my Mam is to be believed she was in labour longer than Pat Rabbitte.  I do remember most of my birthdays though, even the one that everyone else forgot. Unfortunately, John Hughes didn't make a movie about me (probably because I wasn't a 16 year old American girl).  My most memorable birthday was probably my 21st, which I spent in hospital waiting for an operation to remove metal pins from my arm.  That was fun!

That's enough about me though, this blog is supposed to be about the statistical anomaly that has seen so many influential musicians who happen to die at my new age.  The 27 Club or the Forever 27 Club contains the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Brian Jones, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin and Kurt Cobain.  Even Charles Cross, who has written two excellent biographies on Hendrix and Kurt Cobain, has stated that 'The number of musicians who died at 27 is truly remarkable by any standard. [Although] humans die regularly at all ages, there is a statistical spike for musicians who die at 27.'  As many as 37 notable musicians have died at that age.

Cobain's entry to the 27 club had, perhaps, the most influence on me growing up and was, indeed, the first I heard of the 27 club.  There is a huge volume of text available on Cobain's death with many saying he timed his suicide so he good join the club.  Cobain of course was a student of rock history and this, it seems, is the main reason why many bloggers claim he killed himself.  What most don't tell you is that more than 30,000 Americans took their own lives in 1994, the year Cobain died, so it's not entirely surprising that someone, who had as many problems as Cobain did, joined them.

One aspect of the 27 club that, perhaps, has the greatest appeal (and you'd be surprised by the amount of people who actually want to join this club!) is that it is difficult to imagine any of its more prominent members reaching old age.  The idea of a 50 year old Jim Morrison fronting a Door's reunion tour doesn't sit comfortably.  Likewise, it is difficult to picture Jimi Hendrix or Brian Jones as old men.  On the other hand, how great would it be to hear that a new Nirvana album was coming out at the end of 2009? Either way, we'll never know.

Thankfully, Key Notes doesn't have either an outstanding body of work behind him or a face that might adorn a thousand t-shirts surrounding the central bank so he doesn't have to worry about joining the 27 club, even if he wanted to.  Really, this blog was just an excuse to let everyone know it was my birthday and to play this video:

Nirvana: Heart Shaped Box

Now I just have to reach Jesus' age to have an excuse to play that video again!

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Speech Debelle has just been announced as the winner of the 2009 Mercury Prize.  Unfortunately, this means that Ireland's Lisa Hannigan didn't win, keeping Ireland's 100% record of not winning the competition in tact.  Hopefully it didn't lose because, as one of the guests interviewed by Lauren Laverne on tonight's show stated, it was 'too sweet' and 'just nice to listen to when making a vegetable curry' and not suitable for winning the Mercury Prize.  What a terrible indictment of a record and one that is, in this blogs' opinion, totally undeserved.  Sea Sew is, in places, perhaps a little twee, but it is beautiful in parts and contains some very interesting arrangements.  It was, in short, very deserving of its nomination.

Key Notes would like to congratulate Speech Debelle on winning this year's prize.  To be honest though, I have managed to listen to approx. 75% of this year's albums, and Speech Therapy was one of two records I thought didn't deserve to win (the other being Glasvegas) but might.  For me, it's very much hip hop for people who aren't really that keen on hip hop but who like having a diverse record collection.  For those of you not familiar with the record, Speech Therapy has quite a jazz tinge to it, relying less on artificial production and more on a natural LoFi feel.

Key Notes' own personal favourite was Bat For Lashes' Two Suns and, while it is sad to see this record overlooked, that's the way these competitions work.  People have different opinons than I do.  This is probably a good thing most of the time!

To be honest, there are no real losers when it comes to the Mercury Prize (most bands see a massive increase in sales) but some acts win more than others.  This year's winningest (it's a word!) winner was Speech Debelle and so here's a video to celebrate:

Speech Debelle: The Key

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You may remember that we told you about 'le loi Hadopi', France's proposed legislation to punish those who illegally download copyrighted cultural works such as music and films. The bill, named after the acronym of a state agency that it would establish and empower, featured a 'three-strikes' policy where repeat offenders would have their Internet access cut off. The Hadopi body would track down offenders and administer the penalty. After an initial defeat in the Assembly (France's lower house) on 9 April, the bill was passed in a second reading on 12 May. The Senate subsequently approved the bill, which was then sent to France's Constitutional Council to address accusations that it was unconstitutional.

On 10 June last, the Council ruled that the bill was repugnant to the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and therefore unconstitutional. The major problem with Hadopi, the Council decided, was the idea of a state agency accusing and punishing a person and thereby assuming the power and authority of a court of law. Another difficulty for the Council lay in the notion of cutting off a person's means of communication. Such actions by the Hadopi body, said the Council, would violate freedom of expression and the presumption of innocence.

But President Sarkozy and his Government are persisting with their efforts to pass the Hadopi bill, which is due to be read in the Assembly for a third vote during this month. One presumes the unconstitutional elements will have been addressed, and it remains to be seen if the bill will have changed in any other ways.

Passing Hadopi has now become a high-profile objective for Sarkozy. Why such an effort? Well, it's no secret here in France that one of the main proponents of such a law to punish illegal downloading is none other than Carla Bruni, his wife. Bruni, you may recall, has released three albums of acoustic folk-pop ballads (the first of which was favourably reviewed here on CLUAS by your blogger) and so can claim that as a recording artist she is directly affected by this issue.

Her influence seems to extend even further. On the rejection of the bill by the Constitutional Council, Sarkozy decided to replace the Culture Minister with responsibility for the legislation, Christine Albanel. Her replacement, sensationally, was one F. Mitterrand - Fréderic, nephew of the former President. A regular on French television and in cultural circles, Mitterrand has the higher and more positive public profile needed to sell a controversial measure to a sceptical public. He was heretofore a socialist like his late uncle, in the same way that Bruni was considered to be a political leftist before her marriage to the centre-right Sarkozy.

Bruni and Mitterrand were not strangers to each other. Mitterrand is a friend of Bruni's mother - and it is rumoured that Bruni encouraged the appointment of Mitterrand last year to the prestigious position as head of the French Academy in Rome. And now Bruni seems to have got a capable and sympathetic minister to finally get Hadopi passed into law.

The Bruni connection doesn't stop with Mitterand. As part of the effort to address the question of illegal downloading, the new Culture Minister has set up a working group to examine ways of reinforcing legal methods of downloading copyrighted material and better rewarding composers and creators. The head of this group is Patrick Zelnik, president of Impala, the European association of independent record companies and producers. Zelnik is also head of Naive - the record company of Carla Bruni.

Not even the debate on downloading music can escape the Bruni-Sarkozy soap opera, it seems.

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In recent years France has had a strange relationship with its Mediterranean neighbour Italy. You'll remember the 2006 World Cup Final when Zinedine Zidane was outwitted by Marco Materazzi and the azzuri won the trophy. But now that the First Lady of France is an Italian, everything seems to be all lovey-dovey between the two countries again.

The Sophia LoreniansHere, then, are a Parisian trio who seem to be in thrall to another famous Italian woman. The Sophia Lorenians (right) consist of Bruce Sherfield (who we believe is originally American) on vocals, Julien Taillefer on guitar and Yannick Dahms on keyboards and mixing and stuff. Signed to Paris-based label Dialect Recordings, the group have just released their first single, available either on limited edition vinyl for the traditionalists or digital download for the kids.

The song is called 'Locomotion' and has nothing to do with the Little Eva song covered by Sylvie Vartan and Kylie Minogue. Instead it's a fabulous bit of soulful pop that features Sherfield's falsetto croon, some glittering shards of guitar from Taillefer and a retro-tastic '70s soul arrangement - vocal harmonies, old-school keyboards and a hint of Philly strings. The lyrics are about a girl fleeing domestic violence to start a new life, and the music's sincere warmth makes the whole thing sound quite beautiful.

Ultra-hip Parisian station Radio Nova has picked up on the song and given it the round-the-clock airplay it so deserves. Only from checking Nova's website to find out the song details did your correspondent discover that The Sophia Lorenians are French, such is this song's accurate recreation of pre-disco U.S. soul-pop.

If you like Curtis Mayfield and 'Got To Give It Up' by Marvin Gaye (i.e. if you have a pulse and a decent taste in tunes) then you'll enjoy this. Check out 'Locomotion' on The Sophia Lorenians' MySpace page. Here's the video:

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A few months ago we got hold of 'Blacklist', the debut album by Toulouse duo Kap Bambino (below right). Because of the electroclash sound and boy-girl line-up, this pair - Caroline Martial and Orion Bouvier - are usually compared to Crystal Castles. And 'Blacklist' certainly follows a similar line in chassis-shaking beats with industrial-strength techno distortion and electro danceability. Longtime live favourites for the intensity of their sound, the record has been getting great reviews too - we see that Flohic over at Swing Your Soul has been raving about it.

Kap BambinoBy contrast, your blogger finds it alright, no more than that. It has plenty of energy and attitude, but most of the sounds are almost cartoonish. And Martial's vocal style is quite irritating at times - like some spoilt, stroppy teenager she shouts and whines and sometimes finishes her lines with an upward question inflection. If she thinks she's being individual or innovative... um, no. Just irritating.

But 'Blacklist' has one track that we find to be fantastic - it's called 'Bluescreen'. Rather perversely, it doesn't sound like the techno-punk of the rest of the album. Instead it's like a throwback to post-punk new wave synth-pop, with a thudding bassline and icy keyboard parts and a melodic, un-irritating singing performance from Martial. And the song is a million times catchier than everything else on the album.

So, it'll be a sure-fire hit single, then? Well, probably not. Kap Bambino haven't posted it on their MySpace and there's no video for the song anywhere on the web - not even a home-made version or a camera-phone film from the back of their concerts. Could it be that your correspondent is the only person who likes 'Bluescreen' and that Kap Bambino and their fans are somehow embarrassed by this different-sounding and catchy tune? It wouldn't be the first time that your correspondent has been out of step with the musical tastes of the entire nation of France.

You can - and you should - listen to 'Bluescreen' by Kap Bambino here on Deezer.

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Nuggets from our archive

2004 - The CLUAS Reviews of Erin McKeown's album 'Grand'. There was the positive review of the album (by Cormac Looney) and the entertainingly negative review (by Jules Jackson). These two reviews being the finest manifestations of what became affectionately known, around these parts at least, as the 'McKeown wars'.