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Sunday, 29 January 2012

~This Elegant Chaos~#10: A Trio Of Duos(well....almost!!)

When Lou Barlow of Sebadoh hollered "Gimme Indie Rock" on the seminal single of the same title, it was a clarion call to the independently minded spirits who were creating some of the most thrilling and vital music of that era (the early 90s!) He couldn't possibly have known that within a few years, and for the next couple of decades, the term Indie Rock would come to be synonymous with the greyest, blandest, most emotionally repressed, joyless music imaginable. Pretty soon, any bunch of four, crap-haired, poorly-dressed oiks would bash out some turgid, major-chord piffle while belching some of the most lame-brained odious lyrics they could compile with a thesaurus and a speak and spell machine. Rubbish like Cast, The Wombats, Scouting For Girls, Embrace, Stereophonics, The Kooks, The Enemy and any tripe associated with the Gallagher brothers just dribbled out like vomited porridge, sounding every bit as appealing.
So, no tears were shed then when it was announced by publications like The Guardian and Q Magazine that Indie Rock was dead! But like so many of these proclamations, it was based as always on sales figures and chart positions. As if chart positions have ever been a barometer of quality!!
In an age when fresh new creative bands and artists are releasing their own music through their websites, or indeed giving the music away free....who really gives a fuck about chart positions or numerological success? Not we at the ~Streetlamp~ that's for sure! So, I'd like to write this week about three acts who go against the grain of Indie Rock in almost every way....three duos(okay,one is almost a duo - they have a drummer as well!!), all boy/girl, all of whom shimmer with sparkling creativity and who radiate beauty in a world of lumpen, hoary, artless twaddle.....

We start with the rather sultry and smoky Psychic Dancehall; a coming together of Chuck Rowell of San Diego noise-poppers Crocodiles, and Hollie Cook, daughter of Sex Pistols' drummer and all-round good egg Paul Cook.
Psychic Dancehall tap into that sleazy, neon soaked world of noir-jazz drinking hostelrys and 60s pulp kitsch; creating a chemically enhanced backdrop of musical menace in which (and this is purely for Griff) The Shangri-Las wrestle with Suicide in Joe Meek's studio under the approving gaze of Gary surely THAT must have piqued your interest!!

The songs were written purely by soaking up the late night aura of San Diego's artier, more decadent culture spots and simply translating the ideas into song, recorded lo-fi style in a loft apartment in the very heart of the city. These experimental recordings were snapped up by Art Fag records (as beautifully apt a moniker as could be) and have been released as the couple's debut album 'Dreamers'; an instant classic possessing a few songs that I'm sure will already be jostling for space in our Festive 30 for this year....even if this is only January.
The album is available to buy, or indeed listen to for free at both Bandcamp and Soundcloud; and if you like your Pop music sexy, dark and dangerous, then why are you reading this and not heading over there??

Next up is the latest signing to All Tomorrow's Parties own record label; a trio featuring a boy/girl focal point, bearing the name of Tennis. Now, if you read my eulogy to All Tommorow's Parties a few weeks ago, you'll know that I champion their independent purist aesthetic, so you'll know that this band will probably be a bit special. And indeed they are!
Now, All Tomorrow's Parties may have a reputation for noisy, math-rock, guitar music and avant-garde, experimental electronica, but if you remember they were founded upon an original idea from Belle & Sebastian, so obviously there have to be Pop roots at the foundation of what they do. And certainly Tennis provide Pop in spades. Have a listen...

Admit it....that was pretty dreamy! And thankfully, that's what all their music is like. Created by husband and wife team Patrick Riley (guitar) and Aliana Moore (vocals), and with help from drummer friend James Barone; the idea for Tennis came after Patrick and Aliana acquired an old sailboat and spent 7 months on the eastern seaboard. Upon returning to land, they immediately began charting their voyage in song, the result being their debut album 'Cape Dory'.
As January grinds on in a puddle of grey rain, what better way to bolster your Vitamin D intake than by basking in the sun-dappled pure Pop of Tennis? Their newest track 'Origins' is a perfect Winter-blues buster with a rather seductive squelchy organ sound that's bound to incur some nostalgic shivers among some of you out there.
Their albums can be streamed at their Bandcamp page, and you can pick up some free downloads at their Facebook page.

And so to our third duo, an Anglo-American boy/girl coupling named Big Deal. Kacey Underwood and Alice Costelloe both play guitar and provide vocals, the two having met when Kacey taught Alice to play guitar, in particular how to sound like Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr.

The fact that they both share vocal duties and that there is no drums or bass, or indeed any rhythm section at all, puts all the focus onto the delicate fuzziness of the music, and the Nancy-and-Lee-isms of the vocals, therefore condensing the very dramatic into the very intimate....

A lot of the thematic pull of the songs seems to build around the suffocating sexual longing that appears to exists between the two collaborators. This dynamism propels the music with both a sense of thrill of the new, with a more reflective sense of the love affair at the centre of Betty Blue (only without the eye-gouging madness).
Big Deal have an album called 'Lights Out' available to stream once again through Soundcloud, and they have some other tracks available at their Soundcloud page.

Great stuff so early in the year! I'm guessing that all three of the bands will feature in 2012's Festive 30. And I can also predict that Griff will especially like Psychic Dancehall, Ray's favourite new band are Big Deal; which leaves me with Tennis....and I'll have that any day!!

Indie Rock is dead!! Let's all go piss on it's grave!!


Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Second Degree Burns: Anne Briggs

Not the best loved of months, but certainly the only month of the year where I feel genuinely, and proudly Scottish. Hogmanay may, of course, occur in December, but it's that spilling over into New Year at midnight and that celebration of all things Caledonian that makes me feel just that little more Pictish....soaking up fine malt Whisky with shortbread, the firing of Mons Meg, the skirl and jig of the pipes and fiddles. Yep, I may only stomach it once a year, but it reminds me of where I'm from.
And, of course, January also sees the celebration of our national poet Robert Burns as we gather together, eat sheep's stomachs, act like alcoholics, and deliver poetry that sounds more Double Dutch than our native tongue....only joking. of course, I love Burns' Night as I get to have vegetarian haggis, neeps and tatties accompanied by a wee dram, and reflect on Burns who has been a huge influence on Scottish culture, including our own ~Sighrens~.
And just as last years Burn's Night where I celebrated the MacDonald Sisters, I've come along tonight to pay homage to the wonderful Anne Briggs.

Now, sceptics will immediately cry that Anne Briggs is NOT Scottish!! No, indeed she isn't....she was born in Nottinghamshire, but she has been a fine interpreter of Scottish folk songs and, indeed, the work of Burns, and was once romantically involved with the late Scottish acoustic guitar hero Bert Jansch.
I have to admit to being terribly shallow here, but I first became interested in Anne when I saw this picture in Record Collector some time in the late 1980s....
....I was immediately smitten and found it quite beguiling that someone could look so modern (I thought she looked like the kind of Breton shirt wearing cool Indie goddess I was waiting my whole life to meet), yet this was in a photograph that was taken in 1962!
Anne became one of the foundation stones of the British Folk boom of the early/mid-60s along with such contemporaries as the aforementioned Jansch, as well as June Tabor, Sandy Denny and Davy Graham. She gained almost immediate acclaim due to her startling unaccompanied delivery....literally standing up at open mikes and belting out well known (and some fairly obscure) ballads, without any guitar backing, in a voice of radiant clarity that stopped even the harshest critic in their tracks.
She became the cult draw of the Centre 42 tour of 1962, in which the trade unions, the Communist Party and the CND aligned to put on a travelling revue of folk music and leftist politics. It was on this tour that folk legend Ewan McColl took her under his wing and convinced her of her talents.

Throughout the 1960s, Anne cut a number of albums and toured constantly, but a propensity for wild living and heavy drinking, to combat severe nerves she suffered before performing, led to an erratic recording career and a potentially destructive private life in which she was often found blind drunk or even unconscious.
There was also the fact that Anne didn't like the sound of her recorded voice, and took more and more persuading to get into the recording studio, and in 1971 she recorded her last solo album. She appeared once more in 1973 backed by a folk-rock ensemble, but that was it! She retired a year shy of her 30th birthday and has not recorded since.
Yet Anne remains a huge influence on such modern artists as Kate Rusby, Eliza Carthy and Beth Orton.
Like that other spectral folk enigma Mary Margaret O'Hara, Anne has received both constant plaudits, and perennial request to return either to the stage or to record but, aside form a one-off performance at a memorial concert for friend and British folk legend Bert Lloyd in 1990, and a one song performance on a TV tribute to Bert Jansch in 1993, there has been nothing. Her silence preserves both her legacy and her enigma.
Her 1960s original albums all fetch a huge price on sites like Ebay which is why it wasn't until 1999, when Topic records released what still remains the only collection of her songs, that I finally got to hear her voice.

So let's raise a dram to one of the finest, yet sadly little heard voices in British Folk....

Slàinte mhòr agaibh!


Sunday, 22 January 2012

Punk's Not Dead!!

In these times of financial insecurity and much belt tightening amongst the great unwashed, you'd expect rock stars or the music industry in general to act with a bit of tactful decorum; maybe to drop the prices of CDs and downloads, maybe to offer free tracks from their know, civilised, good natured understanding of the people whose cash lined their nests.
But appears this is not to be the case, for it appears every multi-millionaire rock goblin feels it necessary to release 'lavish' box-sets of material virtually all of their fandom already owns many times over. And it appears that it's the same old whores fleecing their fans as it always has been; The Who re-re-re-releasing 'Quadrophenia' (why don't they all fade way?), whilst The Rolling Stones reissue deluxe boxes of albums that their fans didn't even like much the first time around ('Some Girls').

Then there's Pink Floyd! A bunch of torn-faced millionaires whose propensity for greed simply shows no sign of abating. Albums which have been reissued and remastered many times before are now available in 'Immersion Editions' which allow the listener to experience the whole sensurround involvement of albums they've probably heard thousands of times in the last 40 years, and at ludicrously extravagant prices! Floyd fans have been writing to Record Collector magazine in disgust that they cannot obtain any new mixes or extra tracks without having to fork out for the most expensive version of the box. Funny that, eh? Still, what do you expect from a band who allegedly want to stop I-Tunes and Amazon from 'unlocking' their albums; meaning that people can no longer buy individual tracks if they want them, they have to buy the whole album. Seems your 79p isn't good enough, not when they can strongarm you into paying the whole £11:99. Of course they'll say it's to protect the integrity of the album, but I say it's being a bunch of greedy chancers. I mean, exactly how much money do these greedy bastards actually need?? They've been multi-millionaires since flared trousers and casual racism were fashionable! I used to think that John Lydon wore his iconic 'I Hate Pink Floyd' tee-shirt purely as a wind-up but now I see he was way ahead of the game.
Rock stars have always been seen as ostentatious of course, but there comes a time, especially amid a general financial meltdown, where common decency should be required. And I realise that I'm laying myself wide open to accusations of hypocrisy here as my own favourites The Smiths release a lavish box-set of their own ('The Complete Smiths') let me address that issue as well.

A couple of people have already asked me if I was going to write a Blog about Morrissey's 'controversial' comments equating Anders Breivik's crimes with the slaughter of animals by the fast food giants, and I was actually going to but I let the moment slip by too far and it no longer felt relevant. Griff also asked me to write a rant against the John Lewis chain of shops for using 'Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want' in their Christmas ads, but to be honest I didn't have a problem hearing the song several times over the Christmas period and seeing the song slip into the charts.
But I'm afraid the release of 'The Complete Smiths' really got my goat!!

Way back in 1987, on the last official Smiths studio album 'Strangeways, Here We Come' there is a track called 'Paint A Vulgar Picture'. Not The Smiths best song by a long way, but one of Morrissey's most personal attacks on the avarice of the music industry, with the stinging sideswipe of "Re-issue, Re-package, Re-package!" and remarks about such piddley selling points as "an extra track and a tacky badge".
And yet what have we had from both Morrissey and The Smiths since Morrissey's career temporarily hit the buffers around 1997? Re-issues by the score! Albums that didn't sell very well at the time RE-PACKAGED with (yes!) extra tracks, but thankfully NO tacky badges! And guess what? They still didn't sell very well, but longtime fans can now have two versions of a fair-to-middling album. What a joy!
But this box-set, I feel, really rips the piss!
The albums are all 're-mastered' by Johnny Marr. What EXACTLY does that mean? It's not a selling point for me in any guise. If I, in some moment of Proustian reflection, wish to recall the wonder The Smiths music wrapped around me as it soundtracked the most pertinent moments of my teenage revelry, what am I most likely to reach for? The versions of the songs I know and love and have every second of tattooed upon my soul, or some new poncified 5.1 Surround mix with the drums and bass moved further to the front and the heart and soul of the songs ripped asunder. Excuse me if I don't indulge in some gladioli grasping pirouette around the room with happiness that the very aural lifeblood that sustained me through adolescence has now been tampered with! Fuck off more than anyone should understand the importance of the how the music sounds.
And where's the extra tracks to persuade the longtime fan to part with their hard earned cash? There are NONE (so I'm guessing the tacky badge is out the window!) About 10 years ago there was a bit of a buzz about a proposed Smiths box-set purely of rarities. Fans speculated on the Internet about what treasures lay in store....heartbreaking original acoustic demos? Live soundcheck versions of songs that were never played live ('Unloveable' for example)? Or perhaps the jewel in every Smiths fan's crown, the full version of very early gem 'I Want A Boy For My Birthday' of which less than a minute exists out there in Internetland. Well, I suppose if they won't give you them, I may as well offer them up myself....

Recent years have seen Smiths and Morrissey Best-Ofs in abundance, some in quite shoddy packaging, some complete with erroneous song titles (for phux ache!!), and some in sleeves created by people who clearly have no idea what The Smiths were about, and I'm afraid we just have to accept that Morrissey and Marr, whilst hardly skint, are just another pair of money grabbing rock stars. Where did all that independent spirit and integrity go? I find it heartbreaking, and I'll probably continue buying the new stuff, but I'm not shelling out any more hard earned cash for stuff I've already got many fold. Now, I fully realise that apologists for this behaviour can simply dismiss this rant by saying "You don't HAVE to buy it!", but the point is there was a time where I would have purchased Morrissey's bottled breath if it had been for sale, but enough is enough, and if Morrissey and Marr want to alter their fan's perceptions of them, then that's up to them.

And I feel that it must also alter our Blog!
For, as of today, I am no longer going to write about greedy rock stars. From now on I intend only to cover new or unsigned bands, or artists who generally go out of their way to buck the money-grabbing trend, hold maverick opinions on the whole music industry carbuncle, or who embody a whole anti-capitalist, non-conformist idea of music and art.
It's like 1975 again out there, and we may have said that Punk can never happen again, but it can, in spirit at least if not in music, within the confines of our Blog....Griff already only writes about new music or artists who issue their songs for free, and Ray's contempt for pampered affluent rock star arseholes grows more virulent every day. As such I expect our Blog will become less like The Guardian and more like Fight Racism, Fight Imperialism (the paper of the Revolutionary Communist Party).....SO BE IT!

Punk's Not Dead!

¡No pasarán!


Saturday, 21 January 2012

Griff says; Stephen Harrison - true yesterday, true today, true tomorrow

Those of you with very good memories may recall that I first wrote about Edinburgh-based singer-songwriter Stephen Harrison (pictured) way back in November 2010 (see 'here' if you need to catch up on the biographical details). At that time I was so enamoured of his song 'The Colour of Black is Black' that it went on to feature in our 2010 Streetlamp Festive Thirty. What really attracted me to Stephen's music was undoubtedly the timbre of his voice; pitched somewhere between Richard Hawley and David Bowie (not a bad place to be) it has a rich but weary quality that provides an authentic tang of melancholia to his lyrics. Stephen's musical history stretches back to the punk days of yore and it would be fair to say that, despite shifting somewhat across the guitar-based rock spectrum over the years, his music has remained fixed within that milieu. That is why I was surprised recently when Stephen got in touch to announce the release of his latest recording, 'Today Tomorrow' and provided the additional information that he had eschewed the electric guitar to record a 10-song album of acoustic-based, contemporary folk songs.

Having now had a week or so to fully acquaint myself with his new style I can genuinely report that the change has proved to be an unqualified success. Those of you who read these 'Griff says' pieces to keep up-to-date with the best in broken-hearted, reflective, confidential song-writing performed in a spare, intimate and unembelished acoustic style are going to lap this up. Here are Stephen's own videos of two of my favourite songs from the album to whet your appetite. First up is the magnificent and moody 'Sphinx City', which, with its sombre lyric, wistful minor key and unexpected chord changes gives it an air of a French chanson or even (praise of praise) a lost Leonard Cohen classic;

Next up is the equally dignified and accomplished 'And If';

I hope you enjoyed those. There are eight more tracks on the album and I suggest that you take your time to sit down, turn out the lights, and really listen to it from start to finish to get the best from the hushed and almost private nature of the songs.
As usual, Stephen is making the CD available from his own Close Up Records site. The album can be downloaded for free in digital form from his bandcamp site and from his page. The latter also has much of his earlier work available if this latest album piques your interest. Stephen also has his own fine little website 'here', which is well worth a look.


Sunday, 15 January 2012

Wir könnten Helden werden: Barry Hogan and Deborah Kee Higgins

Inspiration for these Blogs often comes from the most unexpected places. And occasionally an idea will spring from an encounter with something we dislike, rather than something we are actually fond of. Take this Blog for example. The seeds of this Blog were sown as I drove into work, my first day back after the Festive break. As I listened to the Radio 1 Breakfast Show, I found that Zane Lowe was sitting in for Chris Moyles. Now....I don't have a problem with Zane at all, I actually admire his energetic enthusiasm for music, especially new and often left-field cutting edge music. He is loved by Radio 1's Indie listeners, and repeatedly wins the NME's DJ Of The Year award. Squint hard enough and you can almost see Zane becoming the John Peel of his generation (though I'm sure he'd baulk at the very suggestion!).
So why did Mr Lowe annoy on this particularly bleak morn?
Because his guest was the very Chartered Accountant Of Beige, Noel Gallagher. And to hear Zane simper, fawn and try not to upset such an anti-music figure as Gallagher was rather dispiriting. I refuse to let my dignity slip and plunge into a tirade about how much I dislike this man's music and how he's done nothing of any worth since 1996 (and even that was shoddy), yet still he lords it over everyone like he's some Lennon/Townshend/Hendrix hybrid; but to hear someone like Zane pamper his bereft-of-an-original-idea arse was just depressing. Yet it reminded me of how Radio 1, the NME, and indeed most of the media are always 1, 2 or even 5 steps behind what really counts as musical innovation, the cutting edge, and the genuinely talented.
And it led me to think of Barry Hogan.....
Now, Barry Hogan is not a musician, but he is most definitely a music lover, and one who, unlike Zane Lowe, would never pander to any Tom, Dick or Gobshite. Since the turn of the millennium, Barry Hogan has been the co-organiser( along with Deborah Kee Higgins) of the All Tomorrow's Parties series of festivals; festivals that literally seethe with outre talents in a fields of musical diversity would give the editor of the NME a reality check, and the controller of Radio 1 a seizure.
So let's take a look at this magnificent series of festivals, and let's ponder how ATP gets it SO right that even Glastonbury looks like a pale and shabby imitation of it's myriad splendour.
All Tomorrow's Parties began as 'The Bowlie Weekender'; a one-off festival curated by Belle & Sebastian and held in the Camber Sands Holiday Camp is Sussex in April of 1999. Named after the curious haircut sported by Indie-kids of the time, the line-up included The Pastels, Camera Obscura, The Divine Comedy, Sleater-Kinney, Teenage Fanclub (~Streetlamp~ favourites all) to name but a few, as well as DJ sets by Jarvis Cocker (of Pulp) and Tim Gane (of Stereolab).

Inspired by the success and unique atmosphere of the festival, Barry Hogan took it upon himself to continue the good work, setting up the All Tomorrow's Parties concept, based pretty much upon the Bowlie Weekender blueprint.
Barry's first major idea was not to choose the line-up himself, but to have a band or artist as a curator and have them choose the line-up and create, in Barry's words, 'an excellent mixtape'.
The first ATP Festival was again held at Camber Sands and was curated by Mogwai who chose artists as divers as Sonic Youth, Arab Strap, Super Furry Animals, Aphex Twin, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Shellac and Wire.
Further festivals would be curated by Tortoise, Shellac, actor Vincent Gallo, Simpsons creator Matt Groening, My Bloody Valentine, Thurston Moore, The Breeders, Pitchfork Media, Autechre and Portishead (among many others). In 2005 Barry Hogan asked his favourite band of all time, Slint, to curate the festival. Not only did they do this, but they reformed for a one-off performance of their landmark album 'Spiderland'.

As the success of the festival grew, it spread over into a two weekend affair with the second part taking place at Butlin's Holiday Camp in Minehead. The branded festival has also branched out, thanks to major involvement from US Indie music champions Pitchfork Media with festivals being held in Long Beach California which have seen performances from Lou Reed, The Cramps, Daniel Johnston, Deerhoof, Iggy & The Stooges, !!!, Built To Spill, Smog and Television (again amongst MANY others).
In recent years the Festival has also taken place in New York, Barcelona, Australia and Tokyo.

In the early days of the Festival, Barry would issue his own missives as little introductions to the festivals, taking potshots at chancers of the time like The Vines, The Hives, The Cooper Temple Clause (and Oasis) while gushing longingly about The Breeders, Nina Nastasia, Mark E Smith and Threnody Ensemble. It was these messages that elevated Barry to the status of HERO for me; that in one sentence he could eulogise passionately about acts like Bad Wizard, Gang Gang Dance or The Mars Volta, then instruct people to go home and set fire to their Bloc Party CDs (who at the time were probably on the cover of the NME and in session for Zane Lowe) made him a man after my own heart.
I wish I could say more about Deborah Kee Higgins as his trusty cohort, but unfortunately she doesn't tend to release many utterances so I'm afraid my info is a little stymied.
Of course there's no way I could hope to successfully capture the whole essence of 12 years of incredible festivals and cutting edge music in one single Blog, so I must point you in the direction of the usual sources; you'll find plenty of info on their Wikipedia page which lists the entire line-up of every festival; there's their own official website where you'll find videos and also the fact that ATP is now a record label on it's own; but most importantly I must bring to your attention 'All Tomorrow's Parties' - The Movie!

Filmed over the whole duration of all the festivals by the curators, the musicians, and the public alike, the footage has been collated and edited by Jonathan Caouette who made the hallucinatory, melancholic Ode-To-Boy 'Tarnation'.
Like that movie, 'All Tomorrow's Parties' has a woozy dreamlike air, like binging on Mescal jellies; a chewy, intoxicating patchwork of mind-altering visions. Cut together with old footage of the holiday camps in their heyday, we see the probability that a festival goer may end up occupying a chalet right next door to Nick Cave....or Iggy Pop....or Mark E Smith....or Daniel Johnston, and yes, that's every bit as wonderful or frightening as you can imagine. That's one of the things the movie brings across, and one of the factors that makes the ATP festivals so special; there is no 'Superstar' us-and-them mentality....everyone shares the same space, everyone is on the same level (in every sense). Somehow I can't envisage Mr Gallagher so far out of his comfort zone.

The film rattles with sparkling visceral performances from the likes of Battles, Fuck Buttons, Lightning Bolt and Grinderman, then offers moments of early morning reflective troubadouring from Daniel Johnston, Grizzly Bear or Micah P Hinson. Genuine legends like Patti Smith and John Cooper Clarke are seen clearly enjoying themselves and letting loose and you find yourself chanting "What the fucking hell is Glastonbury?".

And that's the whole point of this Blog, my Friends....the BBC and the NME (and all their respective ilk) offer us this version of alternative music, alternative festivals, and out-there left-field art, but they offer nothing! The emperors are undressed and playing songs that sound like old Beatles riffs.
So here's to Barry and Deborah; true independent spirits, purveyors of genuine musical thrills, and above all....HEROES!!
"The sun will come out tomorrow..."


Friday, 13 January 2012

Griff says; Mykonos Flame - setting the world on fire!

You may remember that back in November (see 'here') I got very excited about a band, Mykonos Flame (pictured), who were gradually releasing their eponymous debut album, track by track, on their soundcloud page. At the time of writing that first piece, they had only posted four songs, but these were so intriguing, and seemed to promise so much, that I couldn't hold back in writing about them. I'm now pleased to inform you that the completed album, as of 18th December 2011, is now officially released. The finished article contains eleven tracks in total and I'm delighted to say that the early promise suggested by the initial tracks has now been wholly fulfilled.

For those of you who missed out originally, Mykonos Flame emerged in 2010 between Amsterdam and Rio de Janeiro, and is formed by Johnny Kao (vocals, ukulele and banjo), Daniel Schmidt (backing vocals, guitar and piano), Daniel Hawk (drums, backing vocals), André Falcão (guitar), Danilo Moura (bass, baixolão) and Alex Little Roach (trumpet). I initially described the band's sound as being characterized by a merging of international and Brazilian folk-styles and rhythms; a cross-pollination of MPB, pop, indie-folk, samba and the dance music of Eastern Europe and suggested a similarity to the likes of Beirut or DeVotchKa. Having had a good opportunity to now listen to the whole of the album I'd say that the tracks we first showcased on the blog, 'Jeanne D'Arc' and 'Tutti', are at the more folky end of the Mykonos Flame sound spectrum and that this extends into guitar-based indie-rock, very successfully too, when the spirit moves them.

I'm going to embed three excellent songs from the album (below) to demonstrate the versatility of the band's sound.
First up is Wolfmother Lover, which rather reminds this listener of Gomez:

Wolfmother Lover (official album version) by Mykonos Flame

Next is Joe Doe, which has the ghost of Franz Ferdinand flitting about it:

Joe Doe (official album version) by Mykonos Flame

Finally, here's the bouncy, pyschedelic folk of Sally Joint:

Sally Joint (official album version) by Mykonos Flame

Not unsurprisingly, given that they're too good to stay a secret for long, the band have just signed to the Astronauta Discos label in Brazil. You can order the new CD from their or from the band's Facebook page. In the meantime, the tracks are sstill all available as free digital downloads from their soundcloud page. Mykonos Flame are currently looking for a UK/European distributor so if you're interested get in touch with me here at The Streetlamp or directly with the band.

If you're in Brazil this month you may be interested to know that Astronauta Discos is planning a launch event for Mykonos Flame. The event is part of the project 'Som em 4 Tempos' , and takes place in the Sidney Miller Hall, in Rio de Janeiro,on January 18th. The event kicks off at 18:30 there is free admission, with distribution of passwords an hour beforehand. See the Astronauta Discos site for more details.


Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Griff says; It’s not vulgar, it’s vulva!

Ok, we have another little foray into the wider world of art for you tonight. Specifically, I wanted to bring your attention to an extraordinary work of art which I chanced across last year but which I was unable to fit into the blog; I'd like to put that right now. The art in question is a sculpture produced by British artist Jamie McCartney and entitled 'The Great Wall of Vagina'. Intriguing, yes? Well, let me explain more.

The Great Wall of Vagina is an exploration of women's relationships with their genitals. The concept grew from an original piece called Design A Vagina, which was a single panel of 40 vulva plaster casts made in 2008. McCartney realised that the sculpture would need to be much bigger to have the impact he wanted and since then the work has grown to epic proportions; with the final piece now comprising 400 casts arranged in 10 panels of 40.

McCartney states that the impetus to create the piece was the realisation that many women have anxiety about their genital appearance. He says;

"It appalled me that our society has created yet one more way to make women feel bad about themselves. I decided that I was uniquely placed to do something about it."

McCartney hopes this sculpture will help to combat the exponential rise, seen in recent years, of cosmetic labial surgeries. This worrying trend to create 'perfect' vaginas is the Western equivalent of female genital mutilation and sets a worrying precedent for future generations of women. This work of art counters this desire for 'homogyny' and demonstrates powerfully that vulvas and labia are as different as faces. The realisation of this fact frees us up to appreciate each for its unique intrinsic beauty and leads us away from the misguided notion that one is better than another.

Included in the piece are identical twins (pictured above), mothers and daughters, and examples of male to female and female to male transsexuals. Ages range from 18 year old students to a grandmother of 76. McCartney wanted to include as many possibilities as he could.
The completed work of art is certainly compelling, impressive and, undeniably, beautiful. Perhaps surprisingly, 400 vulva casts arranged in this manner is in no way pornographic, as it might have been if photographs had been used. In conversation with my feminist friend Selina (whom I use as a sounding board of current feminist orthodox opinion) we both agreed that the piece is fascinatingly and provocatively tactile, inducing the desire to touch as well as stare, but is firmly, perhaps paradoxically, non-sexual. McCartney hopes that, through this piece, for the first time many women they will be able to see their own genitals in relation to other women's, and doing so, they may dispel many misconceptions they may have been carrying about what women look like 'down there'.

McCartney is currently seeking women from every country in the world to volunteer to have their vulva cast for a sculpture celebrating the women of the world. If you are from overseas and are representative of the ethnicity of that area and are traveling to the UK this year then he asks that you please get in touch with him if you would like to be involved.

Alternatively, you may be interested in becoming involved in the work of FORWARD (Foundation for Women's Health Research and Development). This is an African Diaspora women-led, UK-registered campaign and support charity dedicated to advancing and safeguarding the sexual and reproductive health and rights of African girls and women. They work in the UK, Europe and Africa to help change practices and policies that affect access, dignity and wellbeing. They tackle female genital mutilation, child marriage and related rights of girls and young women.

Now, what music to complement this article? I decided to go with some more feminist Euro-punk, always a great favourite with The Streetlamp team (see 'here' for instance). The band in question are a three-piece from Berlin called Ex Best Friends (pictured above) who have several fine songs available as free downloads on their page. I understand that the band were back in the studio at the end of last year so look out for some new releases soon. The song I've chosen to highlight is the appropriately named 'Don't Try To Talk About Art' and our Ray has put together a wee video for your pleasure featuring samples of the art of feminist collage artist Barbara Kruger, another artist who had lots to say about women's relationship to their body image.


Sunday, 8 January 2012

~Kitten Wine#31~: An Outbreak Of Solo Asphyxiation

If, as I claimed in a previous Blog, 1979 was a strange year for the Sex Pistols, then it was an even stranger, and infinitely more prolific year for The Stranglers. Not only did they release what many consider to be the best album from the original line up, 'The Raven', there were also albums from both front men, Hugh Cornwell and Jean Jacques Burnel; both quite different from each other, and both a million miles from The Stranglers.

So let's take a look at those two solo albums, both out of step and under appreciated at the time, yet now strangely modern and even relevant....

'The Raven' was a widescreen technicolour vista housed in a 3D sleeve which dealt with subjects as widespread as Nordic sagas, American imperialism, the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, Mishima, alien abduction, the chinless wonders of the upper classes, human genetics, nuclear weapons, whores and heroin. The two solo albums were both, in a sense, concept albums; Hugh's 'Nosferatu' had a theme of horror movies and olde worlde freak shows running through it, whilst JJ's 'Euroman Cometh' was celebration and critique of his own European-ness and of modern Europe in general.

'Euroman Cometh' is an odd album which flummoxed a lot of people, including Stranglers fans, at the time because it sounded so removed from what was occurring within music at the time, and indeed from the music his parent band were creating. One of the most instantly noticeable elements of the soundscape is the use of what sounds like the most primitive drum machine imaginable. This is quite odd given that The Stranglers had been blessed with one of the most reliable drummers of the Punk/New Wave era in Jet Black whose laser guided precision rhythms were a major facet of their sound. The drum machine hisses, clicks and pops with an almost amateurish lack of subtlety.
Also removed from the mix is the driving top-heavy bass sound that really propels The Stranglers' early records. The bass is mixed well into the background with scratchy, scribbly guitars and skronking keyboards giving the album a very trebley sound; unusual for such a thundering bass player.
Vocally, JJ seems a little recalcitrant and unsure of his voice's qualities, seemingly employing a different vocal technique on each song, even using vocoders to distort his voice on certain tracks.
This may make it sound like I'm being overly critical of the album, but all of this makes the album sound better these 30 years down the line than it probably did at the time. The album has a lo-fi, Post-Punk, Artrock vibe that chimes more cohesively today.
And the subject matter of some of the songs is incredibly relevant in 2012; take for instance 'Euromess' or 'Euroman' both of which could apply to the dissolving European Union or the current financial cataclysm Europe has gotten itself into. Then there's 'Freddie Laker(Concorde & Eurobus)' which could easily appertain to the lack of people travelling abroad and the collapse of travel firms all over the world. And being half French and half English, JJ has always had his suspicions of the Germans; in the film 'Punk In London'(a documentary filmed in 1977 by a German film crew), JJ snubs an impromptu interview with the crew before lambasting their arrogance and getting in a dig at their Germanic attitudes....this also comes across in the track 'Deutchsland Nicht Uber Alles'.

Of course, this being a Stranglers related album, there are moments of masculinist machismo thrown in that are often misinterpreted as sexism or misogyny, like for example 'Pretty Face' or the quite preposterous(though almost certainly humorous) 'Crabs'.

The album was housed in a sleeve that set out JJ's agenda pretty broadly, being a shot of him posing black-leather-clad-rock-god style in front of the Pompidou Center. It's an odd, sometimes too experimental work that clearly jarred against other contemporary music of the time, but which now sounds more in tune with today's lo-fi electronica and indeed with the thinking of our messy Eurocentric times....

Hugh Cornwell's 'Nosferatu' is a different beast entirely.
Not so much a solo album, more of a collaboration with Captain Beefheart percussionist Robert Williams, and with the Mothersbaugh brothers from the band Devo. William's jazz inflected offbeat time signatures and Devo's jerkiness combine to create an off-kilter bedrock upon which Hugh builds his discordant soundscapes.
Unlike JJ's album which dealt with contemporary issues of the times, Hugh sculpts an album built around old folklore, expressionist horror, giant monster movies, and freakshows. The album is dedicated to the actor Max Schreck who portrayed Count Orlok in the titular German horror masterpiece, and it's a fantastic shot of Schreck/Orlok that houses the album.
The title track opener also lets us know that this is no Stranglers album; over a hurricane of pattering drums and seething synths, Hugh delivers a frantic guttural vocal far removed from his Stranglers growl.

That growl does return for some of the songs but the music is an eccentric deviation from that which usually accompanied it, and again is quite incongruous with other music of the era.
Tracks like 'Big Bug' and 'Mothra' move in unfamiliar rhythm patterns, whilst 'Wired' and 'Rhythmic Itch' have more in common with the New York No Wave scene than with British Punk inflected New Wave.

We can forgive unwelcome Cream cover versions('White Room') when doomy atmospheric pieces like 'Losers In A Lost Land' sound so majestic, but it's the last two tracks on the album that are it's two strongest moments; 'Puppets' moves like a typical Stranglers composition fed through a broken calliope and makes a rather broad comparison about people who can't think or do things for themselves with the tangled string operated creations of a puppet show. And final track 'Wrong Way Round' takes us into a Victorian freakshow to gawp at a girl who has been created entirely back to front. The track features a splendid cameo from Ian Dury(under the alias of Duncan Poundcake) as a fairground barker which gives the track a wheezy carnival authenticity.

Despite 'The Raven' reaching number 4 in the British charts, neither solo album sold in a great quantity; 'Euroman Cometh' scraping to number 40, whilst 'Nosferatu' simply didn't chart. Clearly out of sync with the music of the times, and too offbeat for their casual Stranglers fans, the albums have actually dated well. I liked them both at the time anyway, but now find them satisfying and challenging curios from a band more talented than their critics at the time would admit. Contrary to the popular belief, The Stranglers didn't jump on Punk's bandwagon looking for fame, they were simply adopted by punks who found their aggressive playing and bullshit-free stance welcoming in the wasteland of the mid-70s.

I would have liked to have offered both albums as free downloads but The Stranglers appear to take such actions pretty seriously so I don't want to get the Blog into bother, but if this article has piqued your attention then I'm sure both albums are out there in cyberspace somewhere.