The CLUAS Archive: 1998 - 2011

Alternative Tunings

02

This week, it seems, is a week for a change in band line-ups. First there was the frankly surprising news that Caroline McKay, the drummer for Glasvegas, has decided to leave James Allen & Co.

This was followed by the announcement of Matt Rubano and Matthew Fazzi’s departure from Taking Back Sunday. And I was just getting over seeing Taking Back Sunday without Fred Mascherino!

Meanwhile, while temporarily taking a break from mourning the demise of Copeland (they had so much left to give!) I went out and bought Laura Marling’s latest album ‘I Speak Because I Can.’ Simply put, it’s one of the best music purchases I’ve ever made. Here’s a brilliant video of her perfroming the first single from the album, ‘Devil’s Spoke.’

 


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22

The ‘Greatest Hits’ album. We’re all familiar with it in some capacity, usually the ploy of the record label. It used to be that greatest hits albums signalled the end of a band, as though they were saying, “Right, this is as good as we’ll ever get.” Now, they seem to occur intermittently. Remember the odd Biffy Clyro singles release a few months ago? I’m just cautiously waiting for there to be a ‘Best Of’ album for Elbow.

There are very few ‘Best Of’ or ‘Greatest Hits’ albums that I like, and I’m certain this is the same for almost every other music fan.  I thought The Cure’s Greatest Hits was pretty good. While naturally it was filled with their most commercially successful songs you could tell the songs weren’t just thrown together, that some thought was put into the track listing and it worked out perfectly. I mean, of course I’ll bemoan them for not including ‘Fascination Street’, ‘Catch’ or ‘Prayers for Rain’, but whatever song selection is picked for these albums I always have some sort of issue with the tracks that either are, or aren’t, on it.

While in some instances the Greatest Hits album is merely an introduction to the band for some people, sometimes a band has so much excellent material that it’s incredibly hard to narrow it down into one album. The Smiths’ Very Best Of is a prime example of this, with no less than 23 songs on the album. And prior to that album release there were two volumes of ‘The Best Of The Smiths’. Some bands, it seems, should just remain untouched. If you were to go out and pick up any one of The Smiths’ albums it would be filled with consistently enthralling material. There was never really any need for a ‘Very Best Of’.

On several occasions some bands are unaware that their label is compiling a ‘Best Of’ album, let alone going to release one. Free from any consultation from the band, it proves an irritating and sometimes embarrassing addition to their discography.  This happened to AFI in 2004, when they left their then-label Nitro, the label released a collection of songs from their previous albums that they saw as being the best. It’s still something the band rarely talk about, but when they do the disdain is always evident.

So, are greatest hits album really so heinous? The Best of R.E.M captures the band at various different stages in their career, and no doubt provides an excellent introduction to the band. Similarly, the Best of Depeche Mode is a stunning collection of their songs. Maybe without those albums, very few bands would be appreciated as much as they are now. In some instances, it can shine a light on a band that had previously been only vaguely known by people. Here’s hoping that Doves’ Best Of garners them all of the attention they’ve so long deserved. The verdict? The Greatest Hits album: a necessary evil.


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18

Congratulations are in order after Adrian Crowley won the Choice Music Prize with the brilliant ‘Season of the Sparks’ album. He had some tough competition in the form of Valerie Francis’ ‘Slow Dynamo’ and Bell X1‘s  ‘Blue Lights on the Runway’ among many others. A CLUAS interview with him can be read here.

I recently got Fionn Regan’s ‘Shadow of an Empire’, which has a lot more electric instrumentation than his debut ‘The End of History.’ While it doesn’t entirely veer away from the folk style he’s known for it does display his immense musical talent, sometimes experimenting with some more traditional sounds.

He has the lyrical sensibilities of Bob Dylan with the sometimes melodious and engaging vocal style of Johnny Cash. Judging by this album, Regan can only ever get more interesting and creative with his music.

The album covers a lot of different ground, starting from the raucous and hooky ‘Protection Racket’ to the personal and intimate in ‘Lines Written in Winter’. Throughout the album it seems as though not a word was wasted in the lyrics, everything has some sort of significance.

Here’s an interesting snippet of the song ‘Protection Racket’, the first single from ‘The Shadow of an Empire’.


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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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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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12

It’s no secret that a lot of bands find making their second album more nerve-wracking than their first, for a multitude of reasons. After the initial high of actually releasing their debut, and depending on how successful it was, there’s the fear that it will never match the acclaim of their debut. Arctic Monkeys are a prime example of this, ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’ was the UK’s fastest selling debut album, reached number 1 in both Ireland and the UK and cemented their place in music history. Their second album ‘Favourite Worst Nightmare’ was never going to be able to live up to its predecessor. But the Arctic Monkeys still released it almost a year after their hugely successful debut instead of mulling over it for too long.

Other bands, namely Klaxons, seem intent on delaying their second album for as long as is humanly possible. Why? Probably because they know it’s unlikely they’ll release another ‘Golden Skans.’ Or, alternatively, some bands could be hoping their second album will launch them into the mainstream, like My Chemical Romance’s ‘Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge’ or Paolo Nutini’s ‘Sunny Side Up.’ Also to be considered is the fear that your band will be dropped from their label if your second album isn’t up to par.

So, who has to worry? Well, do you remember Kate Nash? She’ll be finally releasing her follow-up to ‘Made of Bricks’ this year. It’s very likely that she’s expecting for it to be scrutinised and compared to her debut (I think everyone knows it will be). And there’s no doubt that Florence and the Machine will have a hard time matching the success of their debut ‘Lungs’, same goes for White Lies.

The correct formula for a second album, if any, is hard to grasp. Most bands want to change their sound, be more “grown up” but also don’t want to alienate their original fans. It’s a hard game to play. Jack Penate made a brave move after his unremarkable first album ‘Matinee’. While his debut did garner him some fans, myself included, it was only ever okay. He re-evaluated his sound and in 2009 returned with ’Everything is New’, consisting of more genre flirting as opposed to his previous “indie kid with a guitar” style. And, of course, his second album definitely gained much more positive attention than his debut.

And lastly are the musicians who couldn’t care less about second album syndrome. Dev Hynes, formerly of Test Icicles, seems to eat, breathe and sleep songs. Better known as Lightspeed Champion, he’s currently gearing up to release his second LP ‘Life is Sweet, Nice to Meet You’ and has also written songs for various other musicians. Interestingly, in the past he’s hinted that he released other material under a pseudonym. Perhaps a perfect example of someone who appears to have music flowing through his veins, the release of his second album doesn’t seem to phase him at all.

Possibly my favourite second album of the noughties is Elbow’s ‘Cast of Thousands.’ It’s a tricky thing, making a second album. The first album is  for you to prove yourself as a musician, by the third one you’ll probably have been pigeonholed. It used to be all about the debuts, maybe this will be the decade of album numéro deux?


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01

Firstly New Yorkers White Rabbits combine strong vocals and catchy hooks seamlessly. Switching flawlessly from piano to jagged guitars and acoustic tracks throughout their second album ‘It’s Frightening’ shows that it’s probably time to believe the hype.

The soulful vocals of Blue Roses, aka Laura Groves, show similarities to The Joy Formidable’s Ritzy and a nod to 60s girl group The Shangri-La’s.  She’s self described as “writing songs for instruments I can't play yet and making choirs out of my voice” with songs adorned with tambourines and memorable lyrics. ‘Anyone Who Knows What Love Is’ wouldn’t sound out of place in the backroom of The Cavern in the 60s. A rare glimpse of an artist whose songs may be new, but appears to hold nostalgia for the past without sounding like a distempered tribute act.

Preparing to tour with White Lies and Enter Shikari are Scottish hopefuls Twin Atlantic. At times drawing comparisons to You Me At Six and Biffy Clyro as a result of their heavy rock sound intertwined with pop rock a la You Me At Six. ‘What Is Light? Where Is Laughter?’ is a highlight, and your ears will thank you for listening to it.

Though all three currently don't have plans to tour in Ireland as of yet there's always hope! Closer to home, Irish indie favourite Fionn Regan will be touring Ireland in March and will be playing in Vicar Street on the 13th of March. The dates are as follows:

  

          5th March      Electric Avenue        Waterford  

     6th March      Dolan's                    Limerick

7th March     School of Music      Cork

 10th March   Nerve Centre           Derry

     11th March   The Empire              Belfast

  12th March   Roisin Dubh           Galway

          

Overall, this year is looking good for Irish live music. Additionally, Happy February!


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21

Yes, I still live in the dark ages, emerging from my cave to run to the nearest music shop to buy the latest indie CD as opposed to downloading mp3’s. I just have to get the CD, with the booklet and plastic casing. I probably won’t ever get used to this modern music technology (temporarily ignore the fact I actually write for a music website) because mp3s just don’t seem real to me.

An issue I have with CDs is how deceptive they can be. You wander in to your nearest music shop, and you see the CD in the shop looking so endearing. You sample 1 or 2 songs - it’s amazing! But then you bring it home and all hell breaks loose when you realise it’s not what you thought it was, much like a drunken night in Bangkok, I’d imagine.

This is something I’m sure has happened to everyone at some stage (the decpetive albums, not Bangkok), not that it makes it any less irritating. Here are some prime examples:

Green Day - 21st Century Breakdown
‘21 Guns’ was just about bearable before radio stations began playing it for every second of every day.  Admittedly I thought for the most part ‘American Idiot’ was pretty good, having loved their music from the release of ‘Nimrod’. So I somewhat reluctantly bought 21st Century Breakdown to find quite possibly the most boring and predictable CD of 2009 encased within its plastic shell. I actually can’t listen to this album anymore.

The Killers - Sam’s Town
Still a bit baffled as to why I bought this album in the first place, I’ve never really been a fan of The Killers. Well, I liked ‘When You Were Young’ and ‘Read My Mind’, but found that they were pretty much the only tolerable tracks on the whole album. I got caught up in the hype, only to realise this album is of about as much importance to me as a sock I lost when I was a toddler.


Jack Penate - Matinee
I bought this on the merits of ‘Second, Minute or Hour’ and ‘Torn On The Platform’.  Not the worst debut album I’ve ever heard, not the best either. I got my hopes up about this one expecting it to be packed full of catchy quirky indie music but instead it consisted of maybe 4 good songs and the rest seemed to be added filler just to make the collection of songs an actual album. Not all is lost though, I loved his latest album ‘Everything Is New’.

This is just a dip in the ocean, I could write about this for days. No really, I could. I don’t expect albums full of singles or amazing hooks, filler just irritates me in a way that can never be adequately expressed. Now, go and look at your CD collection or, for the really modern readers, iTunes library, and recall your disdain at purchasing that 30 Seconds to Mars album a few years ago. There’s a tenner you won’t see again!


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16

Okay, so I’m not exactly a fan of rap music. I like Eminem and Jay-Z. That’s about as far as my knowledge of rap music expands. Surprise, surprise - I’m more partial to rock and indie music. However, when searching through linking MySpace profiles in a daze a few months ago I stumbled across London rapper Plan B’s profile.

The first track I heard was ‘End Credits’ which features the electro duo Chase & Status. It’s the theme track to the recently released film ‘Harry Brown’ and is so, so catchy. Not to the stage of irritancy, more appreciation of it’s brilliance.  Here’s a taste of how great the lyrics are: “When the blood dries in my veins/and my heart feels no more pain/I know I’ll be on my way to heaven’s gate.” And that’s only a snapshot, ‘End Credits’ is without a doubt one of  my favourite songs of 2009.

The video is also an intriguing affair. As expected, it features footage from the film Harry Brown (which, judging by the footage in the music video, is probably pretty good), with Plan B appearing in various different situations, one being in a police interview room and another in a pub surrounded by people who’ve been killed. At one stage he even levitates (yes, I know). If you look closely, Cook from Skins also makes an appearance!

As for his most recent single ‘Stay Too Long’, well, the jury’s still out on that one. Not really sure what to make of it. In the mean time feast your eyes and reward your ears by watching the video for ‘End Credits’.


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01

 I went to see Sam Taylor-Wood’s highly anticipated directorial debut in ‘Nowhere Boy’, a film depicting the teenage years of John Lennon..

In my infinite wisdom I overestimated the time the trailers would be on, so missed the first minute of the film, much to my annoyance. Set in Liverpool in the late 50s Lennon (Aaron Johnson) is torn between two very influential women in his life - his Aunt Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas), who he lived with since childhood and his mother Julia (Anne-Marie Duff), who lived around the corner with her other children. His Aunt Mimi is a staunch, strict middle class woman with upper class aspirations. It’s noticeable that while Scouse accents are of course prevalent in the film Lennon’s Aunt Mimi never speaks with one. His mother Julia is a fun loving, creative and vivacious woman.


Having already read various books about Lennon’s life from many different angles I found it hard at times to not think “that never happened!” and “that character wasn’t really like that!” In which case I found it hard to judge it on the merits of a film of its own, and to not compare it to factual accounts of certain events. But about 20 minutes into the film all of that was forgotten.


At times the way Lennon’s relationship with his mother Julia was portrayed was a bit odd, it appeared to be more like a boyfriend - girlfriend relationship, exchanging admiring glances and kissing each other a lot which are usually reserved for such relationships.

The scenes were mesmerising, at times it felt like I was actually in Liverpool in the 50s. I was expecting ’Ferry Cross the Mersey’ to start playing at any given moment, even though it wasn’t released til the mid 60s! The acting was flawless, never did it feel like the emotion was slipping and everything was very believable, it was a brilliant performance by everyone involved. The only issue I have is, again, the creepy way Lennon’s relationship with his mother was portrayed.



The film ends just before Lennon sets off for Hamburg with the Beatles, and, well, we all know what happened after that. I’ve seen many films concerning the Beatles and John Lennon, some terrible (Chapter 27 comes to mind) and some brilliant. And Nowhere Boy is definitely at the top of the list for brilliance. In short, Nowhere Boy is a film you’ll regret not seeing, especially if you’re a John Lennon fan.


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Nuggets from our archive

2008 - A comprehensive guide to recording an album, written by Andy Knightly (the guide is spread over 4 parts).