And so it was decreed that on the 23rd day of January after having taken Christmas off to let the punters indulge themselves in X-Factor winners and soft rock compilation albums, proper music would rise again from the ashes of the yule fireplace, shake out it’s lurid feathers and start rocking.
Should we read today then as an omen for what’s to come? Who cares. First up (in true bad punning style) it’s Ricky with a nice dose of the Clap.
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (V2)
Three songs into his band’s self-titled debut, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah frontman Alec Ounsworth sighs, “You look like David Bowie, but you’ve nothing new to show me. Light another fire and let it slowly die.” Reading between the lines, this is no mere name-check; it’s an oblique dig at the music industry’s capricious ‘hype ‘em up, knock ‘em down’ attitude towards the breaking of new bands.
It’s been that way for years: TV schedules dictated by major label promo planners, leaving no room at the inn for the indie-come-latelys; magazines working in tandem to pimp the same bright young things, their front covers all the while reserved for the ‘safe’ elite; radio playlists getting tighter by the day.
But the times they are a-changin’, as they say. Over the last six months, a truth that many of us have known for years has finally been universally acknowledged: the internet is the last bastion of new music.
You see, Alec and his Brooklyn bandmates actually do represent something relatively “new”; they’re the US ambassadors of what will inevitably become known as the ‘Arctic Monkeys generation’. CYHSY may be signed to hipster label Wichita now, but six months ago they were mailing CDs to punters by hand. Thanks chiefly to a nice bit of sycophancy from Pitchfork in June last year, their dissemination throughout the indienet was quick and relatively painless. Now, their debut sits happily in UK record stores, and they’ve even got Auntie’s stamp of approval.
Well-deserved it is, too. The general concensus points to the Talking Heads in CYHSY’s sound, but this Londonista can’t help but hear strains of Pablo Honey-era Radiohead here (always a Good Thing). This runs the risk of making Clap Your Hands sound dated, however, which they certainly aren’t. For a more contemporary reference point, think Arcade Fire on Prozac – more chirpy, less doom-laden, but equally inventive.
The Skin Of My Yellow County Teeth is a particular highlight. Kicking off with synths buzzing behind a wafer-thin guitar melody, it quickly builds with an urgency akin to Bloc Party, the drums pushing the song forward with the bassline high in the mix.
It’s Ounsworth’s unconventional, cracked voice that will set CYHSY apart from their peers, however. He yelps, yodels and yawns his way through the album, sounding part David Byrne, part Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel. Odd, yes, but it works. On Is This Love and Heavy Metal he rambles indecipherably while oscillating multi-track vocals paint a psychedelic canvas behind him.
Rather disappointingly, CYHSY provide three interludes here that clock in under two minutes. Quaint album opener Clap Your Hands can be excused because, well, it’s hilarious, but Sunshine And Clouds and Blue Turning Gray are no more than fillers. Even more frustrating is the album’s final track Upon This Tidal Wave Of Young Blood, which begins as a lovely Sonic Youth / New Order crossover, before Ounsworth ruins it by wailing something incoherent ad infinitum. Then the tape runs out.
There’s a rich bed of sounds here, complimented by touches of harmonica and even the odd music box. It’s just a shame that CYH chose to end their debut with such an irritating track, because this is otherwise a very fine record. Sure, they’ll never match the Arctic Monkeys for popularity, but, all thanks to the blogosphere, this is the kind of album that will continue to sell through word of mouth. God bless the internet. (RB)
Broken Social Scene – Broken Social Scene (V2)
Had it not been for the runaway success of The Arcade Fire last year, it may have taken a little longer for Broken Social Scene to be picked up by our Limey music press but since Canadians are in right now they might as well make the best of it. Perhaps it would be a good time for Godspeed to release something again. BSS the album is the third release from what is effectively two friends (Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning) and a bunch of their friends.
Which is exactly what it sounds like. In a good way. Never happy to sit in one place for any length of time it bounces rambunctiously through styles and sounds, giving an impression of one very long, chaotic jam session where ideas are flowing faster than any kind of creative discipline. This could be a bad thing but these guys do scrappy far too well to be slouches. There’s some college radio rock, nestling against touches of folk, interrupted by the occasional stabs of sampling and electronica washed over by waves of ambient calm, all the while nestling under the comforting banner of what we might like to call ‘music not made by idiots’. Neither does the wonderful bedroom four track feel disguise an album that’s significantly better put together than it might seem.
To top it all off there’s a humour and intelligence behind the songs themselves. Whether they’re pretending to be Chicane on a song entitled Finish Your Collapse And Stay For Breakfast, playing at some kind of Cure/New Order hybrid on Fire Eye’d Boy, doing a genial psychedelic Americana on Handjobs For The Holidays or being Pavement on, appropriately enough, Ibi Dreams Of Pavement, BSS have a diverse enough set of friends, references and influences to keep themselves, and us, amused long past their industry appointed sell by date. MM
Richard Ashcroft – Keys To The World (Parlophone)
Where Sir Richard of The Verve, a holy man to many, discovers he really likes the sounds of the early seventies and makes the point that the world is generally run by muppets and that if we learn to love each other it would be a better place. Thirty-five years ago Sir Richard would be wearing flowers in his hair on the cover of this record. Now we have very expensive conditioning products made from flowers. We’ve long had our idealism beaten out of us, so it’s going to take a little more savvy to convince the masses yet that video phones aren’t necessarily the way forward. Therefore, while there’s nothing intrinsicly wrong with Ashcroft’s Bono style heart-on-sleeve sentimentality, he’s unlikely to do any more these days than preach to the long converted. It’s all a bit David Gray for older indie kids, which at least is better than saying it’s James Blunt for older indie kids, and he can always find an ironic pleasure in that no matter how much of a gentle soul he has become, his status in British music will still ensure van loads of cricket hat wearing nutters mashed on Stella singing along during the anthemic bits hand in hand, mobile phones swaying in high tech harmony. MM
We didn’t get time to listen to the Kooks or Arctic Minkeys albums (Inside In Inside Out and Whatever People Say I Am That’s What I’m Not respectively) but they both seem to do pretty much what’s expected of them which is decent Brit indie guitar stuff.
Eagle-Eyed Action Men amongst you will have noticed that there’s no record of the week as yet. Hold on, now there is. Mark Lanegan and Isobel Campbell covering the Hank Williams track Ramblin’ Man, out today as a single preceeding their forthcoming album, Ballad Of The Broken Seas. The voice of the Screaming Trees meets a voice of Belle And Sebastian. Need we say more? MM