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Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Griff says; Say hello to Laura Hocking & The Long Goodbye

It's an odd sort of business, if I can glorify it with that term, writing a music blog. Sometimes the music comes flooding in waves that make it hard to keep you head above water; other times it slows to a trickle. Sometimes you come across an artist one evening and post about them the next; energised and enthused about your new find. Other times you watch an artist from a distance, sensing greatness not yet ready to be unleashed. Time passes and you stalk them silently across the internet, watching them develop and biding your time. Yeah, music blog writers are pretty creepy that way; too much time spent with computers and not people, I guess. Anyway, tonight's artist is one I've had my eye on for what seems like a very long time; in a journey across several Myspace pages and name changes until tonight... when Laura Hocking (pictured above) comes of age.
If you've not heard of her before, Laura Hocking is an extremely talented, London-based, singer/songwriter from Leeds via Cambridge, who up until last year was a solo artist doing the folky girl with a guitar thing (admittedly with a unique vaudevillian twist) very well indeed. When I first heard her, what made her stand out from the crowd was undoubtedly the quality of her lyric writing. In songs like; Oh La Lolita, Lola B's Got Ultrazoom, Loves of a Girl Wrestler and Strongmen & Acrobats it was immediately apparent that this was a songwriter endowed with not only a strong sense of melody, but crucially also with a keen observational eye and a dark and witty way with words. On the aforementioned Oh La, Lolita for instance, we were given a young girl's perspective on a, shall we say, 'unsuitable' relationship in a penetrating, intelligent and non-sensationalist manner. This is not hyperbole, but when I first heard that song, and the others on Laura's original solo album 'Gin & Scissors' I quickly realised that here was an original talent, blessed with humour and wise beyond her years, who seemed destined to go on to greater things.

And now those 'greater things' appeared to have materialized. Laura is no longer a solo artist and these days has a full band called The Long Goodbye. What's more, Laura and The Long Goodbye launch their debut 7" single this very night with an appearance at The Slaughtered Lamb in London (unfortunately The Streetlamp will not be attending due to the distance and my oft repeated assertion that the only good reason to visit London is The British Museum). Leaving my idiosyncracies aside for a moment, I should mention here that the single comes with an accompanying 4-track EP and is released on Laura's own newly-formed label, Chrome Yellow. The single which can be ordered from the band's bandcamp page is a double A-side featuring ‘Strongmen & Acrobats’ – a wonderful, touching song about her autistic brother – and ‘Talented Tailor’, a typically quirky and mischievous tale of 'forcible tattooing'. The record was mixed and produced by Laura’s bassist Phil Brillo, arrangements are by viola player Danyal Dhondy. The remaining members of The Long Goodbye are Drummer Karl Penney and violinist Flora Curzon.
Laura and the band appear to be gigging around the South East in the next few months, so if you get the chance check them out. In the meantime, as mentioned above, the 7" vinyl single and CD EP can be ordered now on bandcamp, with 20% of the profits from the CD going to the National Autistic Society. If you're interested in the provenance of the music, Laura's early, solo, 10-track demo album 'Gin & Scissors' remains available as a free MP3 download on her page.

To further persuade you of the marvel that is Laura Hocking & The Long Goodbye, here are the two songs from the new single:

And here is a video of Laura solo, singing Oh La, Lolita live:



Monday, 28 March 2011

Griff says; They that go down to the sea in ships.

Cornwall is one of my favourite places in England. Its isolated, rugged landscapes, its wind-blown western seascapes and its place names and people mark it out as a Celtic relic and bring a welcome sense of easy familiarity to any Celt otherwise marooned in the territory of our large and sometimes troublesome neighbour. The Sea Kings, the fine young musical trio whom I want to introduce tonight, all hail from Cornwall but are currently exiled in London. Interestingly, seperation from their roots has produced within them a yearning for their home by the wild sea that runs like a silver thread through their music and art; the sure sign of the Celt far from home.
The Sea Kings are James Wills (Vocals/Guitar), Joe Holtaway (Vocals/Mandolin) and Jake Alexander (Vocals/Percussion/Cello). They describe themselves thus:

"The sound that The Sea Kings make is rooted in folk music but with branches twisting through rhythmic asymmetry, carefully-crafted vocal harmonies and contemporary pop melodies, all under an acoustic canopy."

They go on to admit that their music doesn't fit one particular genre but if you must have a tag for your MP3 player then you might file them under; Folk, or Sea Shanties, or Harmonies, or best of all perhaps, "Medieval pop". That's certainly the tag I'll be sticking with. I can certainly hear how this strange reference has arisen, as one of the most distinctive parts of their sound is undoubtedly Jake Alexander's djembe playing. Rather than providing a straight-forwardly rhythmic underpinning, he experiments with unusual shifting tempos and time signatures that are unlike anything else I've heard from the English folk scene. This gives the music its unusual 'Olde Worlde' feel and also, in many ways, makes it somewhat reminiscent of 'Celtic fusion' folk acts like Old Blind Dogs. The other distinctive element of The Sea Kings sound is their beautifully arranged, three-part, vocal harmonies, which you will hear used to good effect on the two songs we're bringing you tonight (below). Both tracks are taken from the band's debut EP 'An Introduction To The Sea Kings' and the band have kindly agreed to let us make them available as free downloads to Streetlamp readers.

Track 1 is the romantic and aching Villages:

Villages - The Sea Kings by SadPanda

Track 2 is the more boisterous Sails and Boards:

Sails and Boards - The Sea Kings by SadPanda

Aaah, you can almost smell the sea-salt in the air; hope you enjoyed that. The band are currently hard at work recording their debut album (hopefully out sometime later this year, keep your eye on The Streetlamp for details). You can also find out more about The Sea Kings, and hear more songs, on this excellent fansite and on Facebook and Myspace.


Friday, 18 March 2011

Griff says; Rainy night in Austin

Just a short blog tonight to bring you up to speed with the latest songs from our old friends; quirky indie-pop duo, champions of Creative Commons, and all round nice guys, Julandrew (pictured below). We've written in more detail about them before 'here' but, in a nutshell, Julandrew are Julie and Andrew; a pair of free spirits who currently live in Austin, Texas and make lovely, poppy, music for the whole world to enjoy. The duo have been posting their music online since 2008 and have become something of an internet phenomenon. Check out their website (love that 'cost of U.S. wars' counter, wonder if we can get a UK equivalent?) and their Jamendo page.

Last year our own Ray did a wee video for their song 'Wait Just A Litle Bit Longer' and he has been something of a confirmed fan ever since. In a fit of enthusiasm, he's now decided to make two more videos for their latest single releases. The first is for 'Don't Wanna Wake Up' (this is my favourite as I like the psychedelic dream sequences, it's like he can see inside my head!).

The next is for the more melancholy 'Raining' (which Ray tells me is his favourite).

As ever, the songs are available as free downloads. Julandrew are quite the evangelists for Creative Commons licences and they appreciate the exposure it gives them. However, if you do like the songs enough to download them and want to do something in return then you should send them a nice e-mail to say thank-you. They'll like that.



Sunday, 13 March 2011

~Nippy Sweeties~#7: The Monkees Give Head....

....and blow their brains across the screen!!

Okay....Pop quiz, Hotshots!
How many major artists do you know who have committed suicide before their adoring public?
G.G. Allin? Nope, he may have threatened to on many an occasion but he never went through with it, and he's not exactly 'major' anyway!
No....perhaps such an award can really only go to The Monkees who committed spectacular (career) suicide in 1968 when they released their only full length movie 'Head'. After 'Head', NOTHING would ever be the same for The Monkees again. Not only did they succeed in ostracising the teenybopper audience that worshipped them, but they confounded the more serious protagonists of the counterculture by delivering something truly worthy and completely 'out-there' while still being a musical pariah, an insult to the (cough) serious music scene.
'Head' was originally loathed by almost EVERYONE upon it's release and was virtually ignored and forgotten throughout the 1970s. In the early 80s, thanks to some film festival showings, the film was rediscovered as a curious timepiece and now is critically acclaimed as a major work of counterculture film making.
'Head' now sits at the top table of rock music movies with 'A Hard Day's Night' and 'Gimme Shelter' and pisses all over such fluff as 'Mrs. Brown, You've Got A Lovely Daughter', 'Catch Us If You Can' or any of Cliff's or Elvis's movies.
So let's take another look and we'll see what all the fuss is about....
'Head' originated when the band's very successful TV show was axed after it's second series. As with their music, The Monkees themselves wanted more input into the shows. The last ever episode, 'Mijacogeo - The Frodis Caper' was written and directed by Mickey Dolenz and is completely off the wall. The band were given one more project, '33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee', an extended TV special in which the band gave a psychedelic hued interpretation of Darwinism....yes, really! It didn't go down well with audiences, but gave the band the courage to break out on their own and go for the big screen.
If popular myth is to be believed, the four Monkees, the band's creator Bob Rafelson, and Jack Nicholson (yes,THAT Jack Nicholson) locked themselves in a hotel room with a bunch of pharmaceuticals and left a tape recorded running into which they babbled all their ideas.
The result, pretty much, is 'Head'....

The film begins with the band (literally) committing suicide (the first of many metaphors) by jumping to their deaths from a bridge. This leads us into the very psychedelic opening titles, and an early indicator of how good the music is going to be in this movie with 'Porpoise Song', The Monkees own 'I Am The Walrus' or 'Whiter Shade Of Pale'.

It becomes obvious after this that the movie is not going to follow any concrete narrative. Scenes begin and end without explanation, there are references to the Vietnam war which was raging at the time ('Head' is one of very few movies made at the time that actually dared speak out against the madness of that war!), then the band do a cheerleader style chant decrying their own fame and slaughtering their own manufactured image,"The money's in// We're made of tin", before we cut to staggering live footage of the band performing Mike Nesmith's 'Circle Sky' proving that not only could they play very well, but that they were a pretty dynamic rock band.
The performance ends with the band being ripped apart by their fans, only to be revealed as mannequins.

It's clear by now that this is an angry movie. The film rages against so many things, from the aforementioned Vietnam war to the manipulation of advertising, the fakeness of Hollywood, police brutality, faux spiritualism, and The Monkees own branding and image. The inner-band rivalry between Davy Jones and Peter Tork is used to create an uncomfortable tension, Mike Nesmith's blatant disinterest in both The Monkees as a band and as people is glaringly obvious, and Mickey Dolenz's wacky persona is often peeled away as a mask revealing a serious man at odds with what the world has thrown at him this last few years....Cue 'Can You Dig It'.....

The films lack of structure, similar to that of Monty Python's Flying Circus which would follow a year later means that the film can cut from humourous parody to a series of shocking images (napalm burned children, the infamous execution of Vietcong guerrilla Bay Hop), back to scenes with a giant Victor Mature and then into the snowy pastoral scenes that accompany 'As We Go Along'...

(unfortunately the audio has not been authorised for this video so all that remains are the images...sorry!)

As the film progresses it keeps turning everything on it's head (if you'll excuse the pun); Peter Tork hits a woman because the script requires it, only for him to spend the rest of the movie lamenting the damage such a scene will do to his image, the band parody The Beatles meetings with the Maharishi by meeting their own swami only to denounce everything he has taught them, Mike Nesmith takes bets on whether a suicide will jump to her death, Mickey Dolenz spears a huge cigarette butt only to sniff it and procalim rather dreamily that its 'an El Zoomo', and in an odd snippet of what appears to be behind the scenes footage is seen rambling cosmically (for real) to an unseen interviewer; and Davy Jones plays a typical Hollywood romantic lead claiming that his face is his fortune only to have said face beaten to a bloody pulp by Sonny Liston. Later he'll bump into Frank Zappa who'll inform him that song he's just performed, 'Daddy's Song', was 'pretty white', meaning lacking in any soul.....

There's no doubting that the film was made with the drug crowd in mind, and the final song of the movie, called (deep breath)"Long Title Do I Have To Do This All Over Again" is a complete psychedelic barrage of the senses. The whole scene is obviously meant to resemble an acid trip and is far more successful in doing so than say, Roger Corman's mega-bore 'The Trip' or the final sequences of 2001: A Space Odyssey....

There are some interesting cutaways and cameos littering the movie too; Jack Nicholson is seen emerging from behind a camera, future Spielberg and Scorsese favourite Teri Garr appears in a scene, as does Beach movie starlet Annette Funicello. Kubrick actor Timothy Carey turns up in a bizarre scene in a wheelchair, and the band end up as dandruff on a giant Victor Mature's head.

The soundtrack album was one of the band's worst selling albums, probably because it only has six songs as well as snippets from the movie, and also as they included a studio version of 'Circle Sky' rather than the blistering version used in the film.
'Head', once so cruelly hated or ignored is now quite rightly regarded as a major contribution to the late 60s counterculture and has recently been given the whole Criterion DVD package, who clearly see it as not just a classic of it's time, but possibly one of Hollywood's only truly avant-garde surrealist movies.
So what have we learned from 'Head' then? Well, we now know that The Monkees really should have been taken a lot more seriously than they were at the time. Remember this was the band who on the very first episode of their TV show performed a song called 'Take A Giant Step Outside Your Mind', delivering it right into the homes of middle America at tea-time; that The Monkees had the foresight to take a neglected Jimi Hendrix on tour with them as nobody else in America 'got' him. That 'Head' is now seen, along with Easy Rider' (which followed a year later), as the beginning of 'New' Hollywood. That The Monkees COULD play. And write. And perform live.
Of course, I may be a tad biased as I consider The Monkees in the Holy Trilogy of 60s Geniuses along with The Beatles and The Beach Boys. I know it's an unpopular view but....ppffffttt, do I look like I care?

Hey Hey We're Tragically Underrated!


Friday, 11 March 2011

Griff says; Hypatia - beautiful, brilliant, accomplished and free.

I took the above title from a description of Hypatia of Alexandria, the 4th century CE philosopher mathematician, and one of the greatest women of classical antiquity, but it applies equally well to the other Hypatia, who I am introducing this evening. This Hypatia is the brilliant new album by Dublin-based, singer-songwriter Syd Lane (pictured).

Syd Lane has been writing and recording music in her own home-studio for the past seven years, and in that time has released eight full-length records, all of which she has released for free. Many of you will, no doubt, be familiar with her as one of the recurring artists on the excellent Daydream Generation compilations released through the lovely, Scottish-based, Quixodelic Records label.

Originally, however, Syd formed a creative collective in 2004 with poet Jeremiah James under the name The Loaded Whispers. Later the duo changed their name to Chansons De Geste, but the dynamic remained the same with Syd writing, arranging, recording, and performing all of the music and Jeremiah James providing lyrics. The songs they recorded can be heard and downloaded for free at the respective pages as well as at Syd's tumblr page and the Quixodelic Records site. Do check them out as they are very, very good.

Nowadays, Syd records her music under the Syd Lane name and describes herself as; "a recluse preferring to write and record songs in my home studio than to play many gigs."

So, while you can't expect to see her at your local venue any time soon, at least give thanks that she is still writing and recording because, quite frankly, whatever name she chooses to give herself this is one very special talent. Syd Lane's music can be hard to pin down as it often shifts brilliantly from genre to genre but basically it should appeal if you like dreamy, psychedelic folk-pop with beautifully harmonised female vocals.

The new album, Hypatia, contains 12 tracks, each given a single feminine name and, even now after listening to it several times, I'm hard pushed to pick out favourites. Every song seems to come replete with a clever, unusual arrangement but still manages to contain a catchy melody. The lyrics are dense, implicative and pregnant with myth and meaning. It's the sort of album that will bear repeated listenings as slowly and magically the full hidden treasure of each song is revealed. But don't take my word for it, after much thought, I've embedded three tracks below to illustrate what I mean.

First up, conventionally enough, is track one; Maya. This is a hymn to the mystical concept in Hinduism which manifests, perpetuates and governs the illusion and dream of duality in the phenomenal universe. And what's more, it opens with 'In Heaven (the lady in the radiator song)' from David Lynch's incomparable 1977 classic Eraserhead; any song that incorporates that particular cultural nugget was always going to be a Streetlamp team favourite.

The next song I'd like to feature is track 7; the short and much more playful 'Kate'. This song owes an obvious debt to the kooky pastoralism of Syd Barrett, and again this was bound to immediately endear it to the Streetlampers.

Finally, here's track 9; Siren. This is a cover version of Tim Buckley's renowned and remarkable Song to the Siren. It's generally agreed that this is Buckley's greatest song and I, personally, absolutely adore the This Mortal Coil version (which interestingly enough featured on another David Lynch masterpiece; 1997's Lost Highway). However, the Syd Lane version stands it's own ground in this accomplished company. Syd's ethereal, gossamer-light vocal floats over the top of a doomy, bassy accordian/organ accompaniment. It's the song I love, but played as a funereal sea-shanty; and you know what? I love it even more.

Hypatia is available as a free download on Syd Lane's bandcamp page or, if you like, you can donate a little money. As regards her attitude to art and commerce Syd has this to say:

"So I recently joined On the front page, there are praises being sung by users of the site, and on more than one occasion I have seen musicians referring to their customers.

I don’t like the idea of musicians and artists having customers. Something about that makes me feel strange and uncomfortable.

I have set my records for free, and there is also an option to donate upon downloading if you like. I’ve done that because over the years people have wanted to have a way to send me money for my music. Certain people have felt wrong about taking it for nothing, and have asked me to allow them to send money. I appreciate the thought behind this - it’s a beautiful idea that they want to support me to continue making music. But I personally love to give my music away for nothing, I don’t like having a price on it… There is no price in the world that could denote all of my thoughts and dreams and tears and love going into these songs."

I think that is a beautiful, well-expressed and profound sentiment; much like a Syd Lane song, in fact.



Tuesday, 8 March 2011

~This Elegant Chaos~#8: Nedelle

As I write this Blog, Adele is currently atop both the British album and singles charts, and this is indeed a good thing. Whilst we here at the ~Streetlamp~ would probably never consider writing an article on Adele, we genuinely like her songs and, more importantly, if she is at number one then it means there is no tripe from talent shows, ghastly dad-rock, or fly-by-night patchwork-making producers at the top of the charts. Britain rarely has quality chart-toppers these days, so when something decent gets there it's always worthy of celebration.
But how much better would it have been if it had been the similarly monickered Nedelle who was currently ruling the roost?

I've been listening to a lot of Nedelle's music of late. There's just something pure and crystal clean about the sound of her music, and the pastoral beauty of her voice.
Nedelle is Nedelle Torrisi who hails from the Bay Area of California and who has been releasing her music since around 2003 through such fine record labels as Kill Rock Stars and Kimchee, and who has recorded solo, worked with Thom Moore as 'Nedelle And Thom' releasing the wonderful 'Summerland' album, supplied vocals for the magnificent Saturday Looks Good To Me, and now fronts the band Cryptacize.

Her first full album was 'Republic Of Two' released in 2003 and which garnered her almost immediate cult acclaim. The title track is featured above, all homemade hip-hopish grooves and treated vocals that don't disguise the Laura Nyro/Joni Mitchell qualities of her own voice. It sounds like music beamed in from a dream on a Winter's morning, like a long lie in on a cold, rainy Sunday.
My own personal favourite track of Nedelle's is 'In Time It Snows' from the 'Summerland' album, this is perfect music for wallowing in when life is getting you down a tad. Louche, languid Jazz vibes within the music before her voice cuts in against the beat sounding like the voice of a long lost girlfriend, a hidden girl of your dreams. It transports you to a hinterland where you can't remember if SHE was real or just a figment of your imagination. If the greatest music is the best medicine, then this song is placebo and panacea, painkiller and Prozac, dulling the grind of everyday living and lifting the soul to where the air is cleaner.

Thanks to Kill Rock Stars you can download this track for free, along with a couple of other wonderful songs.

In Time It Snows

The Natural Night

Begin To Breathe

If you haven't caught up on Cryptacize yet, and you really should have as they've been playlisted on Radio 1 and 2, and they're always being played on 6 Music, then I've included a couple of tasters below and I'm sure that as soon as you hear 'Tail And Mane' you'll wonder where such an exquisite song has been all your life.

Aahh, good old ~Streetlamp~, we're not just here for the nasty things in life like the shittiness of the 9-to-5, we're here to shout our love of music from the rooftops, and for brightening my world up of late, let's here it for Nedelle!

Monday, 7 March 2011

Griff says; The Revolution will not be online!

I spent some time this weekend with the amazing students who have, since Tuesday 1st February, occupied the Hetherington Research Club at Glasgow University. The Free Hetherington, as it has now been rechristened, has been peacefully occupied in protest at the government's cuts to education and wider public services. Since the establishment of the Free Hetherington, it has become a focus for anti-cuts activists; whether students, lecturers, or simply supporters, and is a cool and friendly place to hang out. The Free Hetherington statement of intent reads:

"On 1st February 2011 we reopened the Hetherington Research Club as “the Free Hetherington”, an open, friendly, community space for staff, students and supporters. University management had closed it last year, rejecting business plans that could have saved this vital resource.

We believe that the Hetherington is an essential part of the community, and could not allow it to remain closed. We believe that, in this age of austerity and cut-backs, we as citizens should fight to keep the services and community spaces we need and deserve.

Come visit us for tea, coffee, discussion and events."

If you're in or around Glasgow have a look at the events on their Facebook page and drop in to show your support. Those of you not in the vicinity of Glasgow do not fret. If you've decided, in the wake of the latest insult to the ordinary people of Britain, that it's time to get angry, and that membership of Avaaz or 38 Degrees, laudable as it is, is no longer hardcore enough then I'm sure you can find something closer to home 'here' or 'here'.

Ok, now for some suitable music to go with my mood, this is after all a music blog. I came across this recently and thought it was a really smart modern update of the classic Gil Scott-Heron track:

The artist is Skuff who is a member of the Delegates of Culture hip hop crew. The track is taken from the Deep Covers Project, which is;
"An ever changing projec of cover versions and rip offs." All of the tracks are, of course, freely downloadable and Skuff suggests that you should, "Check back for updates; this album will never be finished!"
Skuff's other releases can be heard/downloaded 'here'.

For those of you too young to remember it, here's the original:

Can music really change the world? If it's this good, just maybe.


Saturday, 5 March 2011

Griff says; Symfoniorkestern and the Summer we grew up

I've written about Symfoniorkestern before ('here' to be precise) and if you missed it, then today is your chance to catch up. Symfoniorkestern, formed in 2007, is a music collective from Sweden who make experimental, but accessibly poppy, indie songs notable for their clever arrangements and unexpected mix of instruments. The line-up of the collective seems to be in a constant state of flux and their page states that the current members are:

Anyone who likes to join.
Pär - Anything
Hanna - Singing and C flute
Staffan - Saxophone
Martin - Bass Guitar
Nils - Choir and Bass Guitar
Jan - Lyrics

Nicely inclusive, we think. So any Swedish Streetlamp readers out there who have been looking for somewhere to exhibit their french horn skills, for instance, this could be your big break. We look forward to hearing you.

The reason I'm writing about Symfoniorkestern today is that they got in touch this week to let us know that the first official video from their upcoming EP is now released (below). One of the nicest things about Symfoniorkestern is their imaginative and entertaining music videos, and this is no exception. The song, a sunny slice of Scandinavian indie-pop, is called Sommardepression '11 and is accompanied by wonderfully evocative, grainy, home-video footage of a typical family at play. The washed-out colours and scratched and faded domestic scenes should immediately awaken memories of your own childhood Summers, and left this particular viewer in an ambiguously pleasing but melancholy mood of nostalgia.
As ever, the song is available as a free MP3 download from the band's website. You can also explore their excellent back catalogue while you're there. The band can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.