Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Album Review: El Perro Del Mar - From The Valley To The Stars

El Perro del Mar veritably dazzled with her 2006 eponymous debut album, that melted together a sugary concoction of emotionally earnest pop with endearingly lo-fi, homemade sixties inflections. Two years on and the pretty Swedish soprano otherwise known as Sarah Assbring still shows no signs of conforming or caving to commercial pressure, instead returning with a concept sophomore album.

In ‘From The Valley To The Stars’, Assbring attempts to invoke the changing celestial state of heaven, concentrating on making each track an individual hymn or psalm, though it’s unclear whether the album is intended to be a secular representation of utopia or a more god-fearing musical effort. Instead Assbring manages to construct a church of her own making through drifting organ and piano loops, angelic vocal lilting and sparse percussion. Opener ‘Jubilee’ could just as easily come from Scottish folk-pop darlings Camera Obscura, were it not for the fact that Assbring resists the temptation to grow from organ chimes into full-on pop melodies, rather using meandering musical loops to invoke moods and feelings. Organs, recorders and pianos create instrumentally charming interludes, often over ethereal string backings. The simplicity of Assbring’s musical arrangements are nearly always uplifting rather than melancholic, especially in the gentle tinkering chug of ‘Inside The Golden Egg’ or ‘The Sun Is An Old Friend’.

Assbring lets her beautiful and delicate music be the mouthpiece, often limiting her lyrics to mere repetitions of the song titles themselves, as in ‘Happiness Won Me Over’. There is still that Spector-sensible edge to ‘Somebody’s Baby’ and ‘Into The Sunshine’, but by and large the sixties sound that Assbring carried so well with her debut has been discarded for something a little less concrete and defined. Through sixteen short tracks the preoccupation here is with gliding, melodicially inconclusive invocations of sentiment. Title track, ‘From The Valley To The Stars’, is a particular highlight: vocally thick with sonorous harmonies, its pulsing nature belies the need for melodic conclusion or development. Yet sometimes this tendency to drift lapses into the dull and repetitious, as in ‘Inner Island’, which sounds audibly cold and remote, almost trite in the lyrically repetitious ‘don’t cast away your inner island’.

Thankfully though, the shortness of the tracks means that Assbring can get away with a few non-starters. Though not the most exciting of albums, as far as sleepy concept pop goes, this is just about as good as it gets.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Blood Red Shoes Interview

Blood Red Shoes are a notoriously noisy coupling. Their reputation for ear-splitting punk laden pop has grown by gradual increments from its beginnings in small town Brighton, garnering an impressive fanbase and earning them opportunities to tour Europe and Japan, from where they recently returned to home shores. Though constantly critically lauded as the boy-girl two piece with more promise that the rest, the commercial big-time has so far eluded them, and it seems this year could be make or break. With their debut album ‘Box Of Secrets’, of which long-awaited is a definite understatement, released this week, there is still everything to play for. Gigwise caught up with the pretty punk twosome in Cambridge on their current tour to see how Steven and Laura-Mary are bearing up under the pressure…

Curled in a dressing room in Cambridge, dressed in black, Laura-Mary Carter smiles shyly behind a mass of tangled dark hair. She is all sleepy-eyed from touring, still pretty without her make-up, and it’s hard to imagine her red-lipped and screaming furious vocals over her trademark distortion saturated guitarwork. “Um, I don’t know, I feel a bit out of it,” she murmurs when I ask her how it is to be back in the UK after so long touring. “We were away so long that at one point when we got back I was getting on the bus and I forgot what to call a bus ticket, the saver return, in London, and I was really confused, people were pushing past me and I thought I was going to get run over, I was like, “What is going on, I don’t understand!” So yeah it is weird being back, I just feel a bit out of it and I don’t know what’s going on. I definitely miss friends and family because we pretty much never see them. My sister’s having a baby very soon and I’m not going to be there to see my nephew or niece for at least a few months after it’s been born…”

For a moment the exhaustion of constant touring seems to get the better of Laura-Mary. Her partner in crime, the handsome Steven Ansell, sits listening, propped up on the sideboard in the dressing room. There is a steely confidence about Steven, he is almost reluctant to answer questions but eloquent and smart when he chooses to be. Laura tells me she’s exhausted, but Steve says he’d rather be doing this than staying at home: “I get bored at home,” he says, typically direct. I ask them if their schedule ever gets them down and Laura-Mary is disarmingly frank with her response. “Pretty much, yeah. For me it’s like 90% feeling shit after a show,” she musters. Steven interjects, explaining: “It’s because you’re really like, hyped, anyway, so everything’s ten times more intense than real life, you’ve got so much adrenaline in your body and stuff and everything becomes really magnified.” I ask them how they deal with it, and Laura-Mary answers, “The only thing I think that helps is knowing that you have to play the next day, so you just keep looking forward.”

They certainly have a lot to look forward to. Right now they’re in the middle of a headline tour, with a stint in Europe to follow, returning to England just in time to hit the festival circuit again. It was last year’s festival appearances that first introduced many to Blood Red Shoes, though the charismatic duo have been playing together for several years now. There’s a lot of chemistry between the two of them in person, and they seem to fit remarkably well together, with Steve always thinking of the big picture and Laura-Mary getting involved with intricacies. It’s the same with their favourite tracks on ‘Box Of Secrets’. Steven picks ‘This Is Not For You’, while Laura Mary muses, “there is one thing I really love. I wouldn’t say I’m proud of it because it wasn’t my idea but on ‘Say something say anything’, it’s that little tremolo thing, sounds a bit like Nirvana, no one will probably hear it except me, but I like it, it’s quite difficult.”

It’s Steve that is better at keeping up with his e-mails, and Steve again that wrote the band’s myspace page, with its last minute admission, ‘oh yeh, and we don’t like being called an indie band’. I ask them about this. Steve exclaims, suddenly agitated, “Because indie bands suck!” Meanwhile Laura smiles again, this time almost apologetically, saying, “that’s bullshit, Steve wrote that. We don’t like being called an indie band because we’re not.” Steven looks at her as she continues, “I mean, indie, if it was what it was years ago then yeah, we’d be an indie band, but now, if you’re talking about the Pigeon Detectives, Wombats, The View, The Enemy, then that’s what we’re talking about, we’re not…”

“We’d hate to be considered as on the same time of level as those bands.” Steven finishes. I ask what they’d like to be considered as, and Laura says, “I think more people have realised that now, that we’re more kind of rock, and punk.” Steven adds, “We’re not a jingle-jangle band,” and Laura offers by way of technical justification, “I use the distortion peddle in pretty much every song.”

So they never listen to indie music? “I wouldn’t say that we hate indie music because actually there are a couple of bands that I do like,” Laura says. But Steven disagrees: “I don’t like indie music.” For a two-piece, Blood Red Shoes are clearly unafraid to contradict one-another, though there is an almost magnetic attraction between them that comes off well on-stage and on record. They share vocal responsibilities whilst Steven’s cacophonous drumming fills out Laura’s filthy sawn-off guitar riffs in a sound that is hugely satisfying on the new album, if not sometimes a little limited live.

Still, an enormous amount of time has passed since their 2005 EP ‘Victory For The Magpie’ introduced them as one of the most promising acts of the decade, and while they’ve obviously been working hard in the meantime, there’s a definite sense of frustration that it took so long for their album to be released. It was finished in September, but due to record company bureaucracy only made the shelves on Monday, suffering leakages on file-sharing sites in the interim. Of the leak, Laura-Mary says, “I went from not minding at all to actually being like, hang on a minute, everyone I’ve met so far at every show has said to me, “Great album!” and I’m like, “It’s not even out yet!” I understand people wanting to get it early and that’s really cool, that people are excited about it, but we haven’t even played it to our families. It’s just not how we intended it to be.”

“Personally it’s that issue of control,” Steven adds, “we’re not controlling it. And then when people get it not necessarily in the order that you want, with not necessarily the songs that you want, or with the artwork that you want, and it’s not come out at the same time that you wanted it to it’s a bit like someone’s taking control over our first ever record, someone’s taken that away from us, and that’s pretty frustrating. I couldn’t give two shits whether people pay for it or not. If every single person who wanted our record went out and shoplifted it I wouldn’t care.”

Though frustrated, Steven and Laura-Mary are determined to look on the bright side. Steven tells me that “some good things have come out of it as well, like, now things are moving really quickly. Traditionally people would record a record, and they wouldn’t even put it out for a year, especially on big labels. Now you can’t do that because people get it on the internet, which means you have to move faster. Which we’re actually quite into because we want our record to come out quicker anyway. It’s just proved to us that we can move things way faster; we’re actually going to do an EP of new material within a few months of the album coming out.”

This is good news coming from a band that have been skirting the edges of success for a good year now. The cards are on the table for Blood Red Shoes, with a lot riding on ‘Box Of Secrets’. But if they manage to maintain their hectic schedules in the wake of the album release, Steven and Laura-Mary could well be jostling shoulders with those controversially popular indie bands on music lovers’ must-see lists for a good while yet.

Monday, 7 April 2008

Radiohead Interview

See published article here:

For a band that have proved themselves capable of reinventing the music industry, Radiohead are remarkably humble. The release of In Rainbows cemented their position as one of the greatest bands of the modern age, not only because of its musical invention, seamless production, and utter aural completeness, but because Radiohead shunned convention in their method of distribution. In a world where commercialism stunts creativity and muddies the simplest of transactions – the one between the musician and his audience – with endless hype and unnecessary top-down time delays, Radiohead proved that it doesn’t have to be that way, that it’s better to discard the hot air and the vanity and get obsessed about what really matters: the music.

A cheerful Phil Selway, the forty-year-old Oxfordshire father-of-two better known as Radiohead’s drummer, was thankfully amused when I suggested that the video for Nude indicates that the band aren’t too concerned about appearances these days. “I hope from a vanity point of view that we’ve got beyond that now,” he chuckled. “We’re more concerned about how we present the music. Then how it all works together. We’ve never sold ourselves on our looks!”

With seven albums behind them, Radiohead have got a lot of music to fit together for their forthcoming tour. Phil explained: “We started working on 70 tracks for the tour - that’s from the whole back-catalogue. There are a couple of new tracks that we might sort of get together in time to play on this tour, but we’re kind of whittling down the amount of songs that we’re going to work on… from In Rainbows back into the mists of Radiohead time.”

And they’re not too sick of going back over the old stuff? “Well, because we haven’t toured for two years, you take a break from it and in two years’ time the way that you play quite dramatically changes. You come back and you find a new way into the songs. Some songs you return to and they just don’t work, they just don’t seem relevant at that point, but then you return to other songs… we’ve been playing Optimistic in rehearsal and that song’s just come to life for us again, and you do find something new in old material. If that doesn’t sound too glib!”

So despite Thom Yorke famously declaring that Glastonbury 1997 was the high point of Radiohead’s career and everything was downhill from there, it seems In Rainbows have given them the chance to revive their early glory days. Phil seems to think that they are in better shape than ever. “I think we’re playing well at the moment,” he declared, “I think we’re playing the best we’ve ever played, so yes, all those things add up to it being a good time to be in Radiohead.”

With their sights firmly fixed on the future, Phil was quick to discard the idea of Radiohead breaking up, saying “I think for all of us, as long as it’s still moving forward and it sits with all our lives then yes, I’m sure we will carry on making music, as there’s loads of impetus there to do it.”

Which begs the question, when you’ve warped and morphed and twisted convention and expectation as many times as Radiohead have over the years, where is there left to go in music? “Well, it’s a cycle isn’t it? There’s a whole breadth to what you can do as so many things are valid at the moment aren’t they. You see bands with very traditional line-ups actually producing very vital music. I think from our point of view, we’re just trying to bring in all those elements that excite us about music, be that stuff that’s been programmed, or live performances, we try and meld those together.” In Rainbows is testament to this theory, with its elegant sparseness that explodes into the choppy fury of ‘Bodysnatchers’ or the ethereal nastiness of ‘15 Steps’. Phil found it difficult to pick his favourite personal performance on the album, stuck between ‘All I Need’, ‘Bodysnatchers’ and ‘Jigsaw Falling Into Place’, perhaps another indication of just how polished the finished product is.

Aside from the utter brilliant of their music, Radiohead are also in the news because of a certain frontman’s political and environmental beliefs. They are increasingly considered a single consciousness in the shadow of Thom Yorke’s outspoken actions against climate change. True, Yorke’s no headline grabbing Bono, but with his increasing public profile as an environmentalist and Radiohead’s subsequent yen for ‘green-gigs’ supported solely by public transport, there is a danger that Yorke comes off as the shepherd of the band. Phil struggled to disagree, saying “with all the things we discuss, be it music or other issues, there’s always going to be quite a range of views that come out of the five of us. I don’t think any of us would have any truck with what Thom’s been saying with Friends Of The Earth, I think we fully support everything he says there. But, also, I think Thom is very much at pains to say, “these are my own personal views, these aren’t the views of the other members of the band.””

For anyone that got carried away envisioning all five band members chatting environmental issues over a barbeque every Sunday, with their wives in tow and a gaggle of Radiohead offspring playing together sunshine, the truth is not quite so: “well, we do get together occasionally but I think, for us, as we do spend so much time together, our home time and work time are fairly separate. We do all get on extremely well outside work, but you do need some time away from it!”

Phil’s time out from the band has involved him changing his sticks for a guitar in ongoing solo projects with producer John McCosker, as well as keeping up with the fickly music industry. Radiohead have been working solidly on their tour set in the studio for a month now, but Phil still has plenty of time for new music. “Well, I like going on and seeing what other people’s recommendations are, that’s good fun. I’ve been listening to the new Portishead album, which is very good. The new Four Tet EP, that’s great…”

Though the Radiohead will go down in history for the way they utilised the internet for distribution purposes, I wondered if Phil didn’t ever yearn for a simpler time where music came from records, and such things as leakages and illegal downloads were sci-fi impossibilities. “I like the fact that you can have more direct access to music, it just means you end up listening to an awful lot more music, as well. I suppose you get through music a lot faster these days. I don’t know if your attention span for it is quite the same, speaking personally, as it used to be. There’s that whole thing where as a teenager you’d buy a record and you’d really get into it and listen to it over and over again. I don’t think I’d necessarily do that now, although that might just something to do with the age I’m at. But you do have that breadth of music to choose from.”

Breadth maybe, but there is also the added frustration for new bands trying to break into the mainstream that potential fans just buy one or two tracks, never delving into the rest of their material. Phil, who by this time is showing his true colours as keen new music enthusiast, is much more positive, saying “I think if you’re a music obsessive, there are bands that come along that you will obsess about, and I think probably that is something that is still there within people.” He goes on to enthuse about Lou Reed and Velvet Underground, citing a more recent obsession with Will Oldham, until it is transparent that it is no accident Radiohead have managed to crawl under so many people’s skin and send shivers down so many spines, and cause overexcited bloggers to brand them ‘so far ahead they’re out of sight’. It’s their obsession with music that makes environmental ranting and weird slow motion videos not just passable, but somehow endearing. I tentatively suggest to Phil that he’s obsessed by music, but I realise he’s known that for quite some time when he replies, “I hope so, I hope so.” And suddenly it’s clear that even if the future of the music industry is potentially grim, as long as bands like Radiohead are about with their contagious musical obsessions and refusal to conform, there’s hope for us all just yet.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Gigwise: Radiohead News Story

See original article published at:

Radiohead's Phil Selway: "We're playing the best we've ever played."
Gigwise exclusive by Hazel Sheffield

Phil Selway, the drummer from genre-defining British act, Radiohead, told Gigwise yesterday that the band are playing better than ever ahead of touring this summer.

"I think we’re playing well at the moment," the percussionist from the prolific band said. "I think we’re playing the best we’ve ever played, so yes, all those things add up to it being a good time to be in Radiohead."

Radiohead are playing two exclusive, sold-out gigs for the BBC today as part of 'Radiohead at the BBC'. The first is at 4pm at the BBC Radio Theatre, with the evening performance following at 8pm. They are also taking part in a series of interviews that will be broadcast on the BBC.

The band, who released their seventh studio album, 'In Rainbows', last December, are playing a huge transatlantic tour this summer. The first leg kicks off in Florida on 5th May.

Phil told Gigwise that the band are looking forward to getting back on the road.

"With this tour... we can draw on all seven album’s worth of material and all the b-sides, I mean that’s a very pleasant position to be in, to be going out and doing most of year’s worth of touring, as you can change the set a lot," he explained.

Phil also told Gigwise that the band have no plans to stop making music anytime soon, saying, "I think for all of us, as long as it’s still moving forward and it sits with all our lives then yes, I’m sure we will carry on making music, as there’s loads of impetus there to do it."

Look out for the whole interview coming soon on Gigwise!