Tag Archives: Late of the Pier

Poll of polls, or, Best of the best-of-2008 album countdowns

A music writer casts his voteConfession: I’ve had some free time lately.

I had to use up the rest of my holiday entitlement before 2008 was out, so I now find myself with nine days of welcome but unproductive home-time in mid-December.

My internet browsing is on the high end of the scale at the busiest of times, so inevitably my modem has been working overtime as I endlessly, inanely surf the web in search of… what?

News, snippets of useless information, Wikipedia facts about minor film actors, the mindnumbing allure of Facebook, the still mystifying appeal of Twitter… and best-of-2008 music polls.

And so I’ve been wondering about year-end polls:

Are they reliable barometers of the very best music created over the past twelve months?

Or…

Are they totally whimsical, subjective, indulgent, show-off lists by various cliques of self-important critics who sneer at mainstream taste?

It’s the latter, of course. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t completely bloody addictive. I have found myself scouring music websites from the other side of the Atlantic desperately seeking out that essential album that somehow escaped my attention.

So to take the poll theme to a whole new level, here’s my poll of the best and worst polls of the year!

The Best

5. Rolling Stone: Props on TV on the Radio, but otherwise a bit tokenistic along the beardy rawk/hip-hop/legends lines. Turned me on to Blitzen Trapper though.

4. Pitchfork Reader’s Poll: Can’t really argue, other than point out its obvious American folksy prejudice.

3. Times: Surprisingly well-informed for a Murdoch rag.

2. Drowned in Sound: Friendly Fires should never be in the top ten, but good to see my #2 choice M83 top a poll.

1. The Skinny: OK, maybe I have to say this, but we really hit the nail on the head again this year, even if my nomination for Late of the Pier unsurprisingly missed the cut! Year of the Rabbit indeed.

The Worst

3. musicOMH: I don’t care how well-intentioned the poll is if they put Elbow at the top.

2. Last FM: Coldplay. Best album of the year? Really?

1. Q magazine: Kings of Leon. Best album of the year? Really?

And is this really the definitive poll of the year, with the top three comprising artists I’ve barely heard of? Surely not!

(I still have a few more days off. Maybe I’ll compile a poll of the best Poles of the year now…)

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November in singles: Better late than never

Late of the Pier

I’d forgotten to post November’s singles round-up from The Skinny. Must have been the post-traumatic stress disorder associated with exposure to Razorshite…

And November’s single of the month goes to… Razorlight. Sorry, wrong envelope. I meant to pick up the one for ‘Most nauseous, mock-sincere rock ballad of the month’. That one goes to them for ‘Wire to Wire’ (*, Out Now), Johnny Borrell’s latest rectum-dwelling soliloquy. Presumably the misspelling of Isle of Man band Loverman‘s debut single, ‘Crucifiction’ (**, 17 Nov), is deliberate. At any rate, they’re trying to be the new Bad Seeds but veer far too close to Jet-style rock-schlock for their aim to be taken seriously. Employing a similar low-wave distortion frequency, The Hold Steady do a much better job of keeping blue-collar rock’n’roll alive. ‘Stay Positive’ (***, Out Now) is a brazen, fists-in-the-air chant-a-long (insert other masculine rock clichés here). A very different proposition, Haunts open ‘London’s Burning’ (**, 17 Nov) with a gothic, kitsch, Hammer Horror intro, then break into a much sunnier indie-pop chorus, which they alternate throughout the song. Interesting? Yes. Enough to sustain a career in the music industry? Perhaps not.

With newcomers like Gavin Gordon, Alex Cornish and Rob St John, the Scottish singer/songwriter scene is blossoming, and now we can add another name: Brendan Campbell. On ‘Burgers and Murders’ (****, Out Now) the Glaswegian Campbell sings evocatively about a summer walk through his native Pollock, in all its dubious glories. In this respect it’s a bit reminiscent of the Paul Weller song ‘Stanley Road’, which brings me neatly onto the Modfather’s latest effort. The double A-side ‘Sea Spray/22 Dreams’ (***, 3 Nov) reveals nothing new from him, but it’s still good enough to warrant his eternal presence on the covers of the nation’s dad-rock magazines.

I have so far managed to live my life in complete indifference to Tracy Chapman. And after a swift spin of ‘Sing For You’ (**, 3 Nov) I’m happy to remain undisturbed in this respect. Can Gabriella Cilmi, the just-turned-17 Aussie songstress, follow Chapman’s path to MOR success? If she keeps churning out Radio 2-ready songs like ‘Sanctuary’ (**, 10 Nov) it’s quite likely. Lykke Li, on the other hand, is the real deal. The Twilight Sad voted her single of the month in their anarchic singles round-up takeover in June, and ‘Little Bit’ (****, Out Now) is another stripped-down gem.

There really isn’t enough electro in this column. So Mr Beasley (not a man but a boy-girl duo) has attempted to right this wrong with ‘Right As Rain’ (***, 10 Nov) which, if there were electro calories, would be twice your recommended daily intake.

The battle for single of the month comes down to two of the most hyped bands to break this year. Friendly Fires have put the funk firmly back into, er, punk-funk, their debut album a pulsating onslaught of slap bass and cowbell. ‘Paris’ (***, 10 Nov), though, is let down by a rare burst of Hallmark schmaltz: “And every night we’ll watch the stars / They’ll be out for us.” In truth there was never any contest. Late of the Pier couldn’t fail to win in this or any month with ‘Bathroom Gurgle’ (*****, Out Now). Let me break down this extraordinary four-minute song: a long intro of Sparks-esque electro; slows, stately stadium rock guitars crash in behind soaring falsetto chorus; double-speed with vocoder backing; stadium rock bit; speeds up again; stadium rock again; falsetto soars off the scale; ends. Bands take note: that’s how you win single of the month.

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Interview: Late of the Pier

Late of the Pier hang in the woods

A feature for The Skinny

Late of the Pier’s introduction to the mainstream in September was likely to have caused one of two reactions. Either ‘rush out and buy the album’ excitement (if you’re under 21, easily swayed by hype and still possess an open mind) or dismissal along the lines of ‘not another bunch of Klaxons clones’ (if you’re over 21, averse to hype and bullishly cynical).

That’s because the introduction came courtesy of an NME cover, which pictured the youthful Leicestershire band in the midst of a messy tribute to Jackson Pollock (sound familiar?), above a strapline that shouted: “What new rave did next”. But, dear readers (of all ages), please try to forget that image for now. After all, it had nothing to do with the band, according to bassist Andrew “Faley” Faley: “You don’t get any say with the NME. They use and abuse you, but at the end of the day they can do a lot of good, even if they’re using you. The new rave tagline was something that was bound to happen with them and there was nothing we could really do about it.”

Late of the Pier's NME cover appearanceWell, they could have said ‘no thanks’, but let’s give them the benefit of the doubt, because Late of the Pier have conceived one of the most imaginative, ambitious debut albums of the year so far. Fantasy Black Channel is a glorious mess; an unrestrained, unclassifiable, unexpectedly triumphant romp through blaring influences and genres, from the 70s camp rock of Queen and Bowie to the primitive electronics of Gary Numan, with echoes of 90s computer games and snatches of modern house.

As such, it isn’t particularly coherent – the tracks jostle for attention rather than recline together easily – but it’s a statement of huge musical intent from such an inexperienced band. So just how did it happen? “Em… accidents,” Faley sheepishly answers. “None of us have ever really had any training. I think Sam had drum lessons for two hours once. I used to play piano a bit but I was never really passionate about it. But apart from that none of us have done anything. Sam just sat in his room from the age of 12 making music and he slowly learnt his craft that way, and with the instruments it’s just been a case of teaching ourselves. It’s always about trying something new. The music’s just a big array of everything, literally everything. In music pretty much everything’s been done at some point but for us, since we didn’t live through those eras, there’s still something new and magical and fresh. It’s reusing old ideas with newer influences. It’s just accidents a lot of the time.”

The band weren’t just relying on their own sponge-like musical tastes and sheer chance though; they also had the input of Erol Alkan, the much-feted London DJ turned record producer. Alkan came to one of their gigs and promptly declared them “not just the most exciting new band out there at the moment, but THE most exciting band around.”

The flattery obviously seduced the band, because Faley reveals that they’re already working on a new EP with Alkan for a January release: “We’re taking bedroom recordings into the studio and refining it and tweaking it with Erol, turning it into a more presentable package. I think we’ll be working with him for a long time.”

Why another release so soon after the album? “We’ve just got a lot of ideas,” Faley says. “Most of the album was old songs that we were getting sick of, so we’ve been waiting to work on new songs. And there is that second album syndrome when a band comes out so exciting and the second album comes out a year and a half later and there’s just not the same excitement. We’re still excited about what we’re doing at the moment so hopefully other people will be.” And with an evident habit of naming their music in cryptic, wordy fashion, have they got any title ideas yet? “No, but I’m sure I could think of 20 bad ones though. We’re really bad at names – really, really bad at it, and so we end up just picking one at random or just picking one up. Even the band name just fell together because there wasn’t anything else that sounded that good. It does have a reference but it doesn’t really make any sense. One idea we had for the album was Peggy Patch and her Sequenced Dress.”

OK, so it’s probably best that they don’t make all their ideas public. With half the music-loving nation still grimacing at the unfortunate new rave reference, dodgy album-naming could be the equivalent of career suicide for Late of the Pier. All that remains to be said is this: just listen to the music.

Fantasy Black Channel is out now.

www.lateofthepier.com

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Connect 2008: roving report

Mud, glorious mud at the Oyster Stage

On top of the ‘live’ blogging I was doing for The Skinny while in the muddy environs of Inverary last weekend, I’ve also cooked up another series of rehashed mini gig reviews for the magazine. This covers pretty much everything I saw, with the exception of The Roots, who were so disappointing in the acoustically shite Unknown Pleasures Tent that I couldn’t bring myself to write about it.

Ladytron

Plonked behind eight synthesizers, black-clad and distant, like a state-sanctioned pop group of the former Soviet Union, Ladytron are definitely no festival band. Rocking their Eastern Bloc, disco-in-a-tower-block style for all its worth, they are pretty unemphatic in this open-air arena, but Seventeen and set-closer Everything You Touch remind us that they have produced some of the best electro-pop since the Human League.

Manic Street Preachers

There have been those, myself included, who wrote off the Manics as Britpop dinosaurs. How wrong we were, because Bradfield, Wire and Moore rollick triumphantly through their back catalogue, plucking out fan favourites such as Motorcycle Emptiness, Of Walking Abortion, Everything Must Go, You Love Us and tailor-made final song, A Design For Life. Covering Rihanna might smack of ageing desperation, but they’re still a superior live band.

Kasabian

With divided loyalties between Kasabian and Mercury Rev, I can only attest to the first half of the former’s Friday headlining set. They could have ended with a cover of the Postman Pat theme for all I know. But early on it’s business as usual: big, swaggering indie hits like Processed Beats and L.S.F, an impressive lightshow, and the newly long-haired Meighan’s hilarious rock-God complex.

Mercury RevMercury Rev

Having enjoyed the Kasabian spectacle for 40 minutes, it is a sense of musical duty that makes me head over to catch the remainder of alt-rock veterans Mercury Rev. Swirling clouds of dry ice may conceal them, but the music is clear, direct, and loud. Their take on Talking Heads’ Once In A Lifetime, with layers of intense guitar and crescendo, is immense, and they save Goddess On A Highway for a rousing encore.

Late of the Pier

Late of the Pier live up to their name, with their set delayed an hour as they’re moved up to replace the cancelled Joan As Policewoman. An early afternoon in a muddy field is not the best context in which to enjoy their schizoid, experimental pop, but the musicianship and free-range clattering of this freshly-hatched quartet are still mightily impressive. They’d sound phenomenal in a claustrophobic wee club.

Friendly Fires

Friendly Fires arrive hot on the heels of their self-titled debut album, and they match the hype with a sprightly set of punk-funk. Singer Ed Macfarlane is the main source of entertainment: dancing crazily in skin-tight clothes, a maniacal glare in his eyes, firing off plumes of confetti in all directions. Their music is anything but original, but it still injects some firey fun into a damp Connect.

SpiritualizedJ Spaceman

Spiritualized are one of the most highly anticipated acts of the weekend. We know Jason Pierce’s death-cheating tale, and it’s extra-special to have him, with full electric band, back on stage. They offer no connection to the audience though, facing each other like a studio band, and the set doesn’t nearly delve deep enough into their back catalogue. Just as well the few classics we do hear, like Come Together, are awe-inspiring.

Grinderman

If one band was made for the live setting, that band is Grinderman. On record, Nick Cave’s side-project comes across like cod-badass; it’s only when confronted with his spitting, lanky, wildly gesticulating frame at close quarters, along with his destructive, bearded side-kick Warren Ellis, that you get it. They run riot, dragging us all along with them on the road to oblivion – and huge fun.

ErrorsErrors

One band on the Your Sound Bandstand I am determined to see is Errors. The touted Glaswegians combine esoteric electro with crunchy post rock, and they play a blinding second-top billing set on Saturday night, to a sizeable segment of Scotland’s music-loving fraternity. Salut France and Toes are great, but, as was the case at their Triptych gig, it’s Mr Milk that stands out.

Young Knives

Young Knives are a head-scratching lot. One minute you’re enthralled by the wacky Britpop revivalism of Terra Firma, the next you’re tuning out, put off by the very same-ness of their guitar-bass-drums formula. They do their best to cheer the sodden Sunday early-comers with some witty asides, but it’s impossible to really let yourself forget the conditions with such ironic fare.

SantogoldSantogold

If anyone can dispel the rainclouds – or help us forget them at least – it’s Santi White, the effervescent urban diva behind Santogold. Although a delayed arrival means they only play half a dozen songs, White, in a shiny blue jumpsuit, gets the plastic ponchos in the crowd moving with Lights Out, You’ll Find A Way and The Creator.

Elbow

It is more a lack of options than any fanboy enthusiasm that draws me to the Oyster Stage for Elbow, and this flat set of sleepy indie only embeds my prejudice. The bluesy single Grounds For Divorce does redeem matters slightly, but their uninspiring attempts at emotive, lighters-in-the-air ‘moments’ fail utterly in this early evening slot.

The Gutter TwinsGreg Dulli and Mark Lanegan

In the general hubbub of Connect, it’s easy to overlook two of modern American rock’s true greats. With little fanfare, The Gutter Twins, fronted by Mark Lanegan and Greg Dulli, take to the stage before a sparse crowd. But instant respect is granted to the ever-morose Lanegan, who growls through the songs on autopilot, backed by the loudest, heaviest band of the weekend.

Sigur Rós

The dusk mist hanging in the pine forest on the hill behind the Oyster Stage provides the ideal backdrop in which to enjoy the mystical splendour of Sigur Rós. They open with the sublime Sven-G-Englar, and even reveal a sense of humour when a brass section marches on stage in See You Jimmy hats. The rest of their extensive set is rarely less than spellbinding, and they even trash their drumkit on exiting.

Franz FerdinandFranz Ferdinand

During their only festival appearance of the summer, Franz Ferdinand play a set that acts as a reminder of their sophisto-pop appeal and reveals the musical direction in which they’re headed. Hits like Michael, Do You Want To and Take Me Out rev up the masses, but another half-dozen new songs get an airing, the majority of which boast a fuller, synth-ier and funkier sound than we’ve been accustomed to.

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