Friday, June 4, 2010

Reviews And News For You(se)

Guess what gang? This humble blog is going to be shambling to life very soon, how alive? how soon? You'll have to keep reading to find out, but to give it to you short and sweet - Al's Music Rant is going to be part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival as an hour-long faux-presentation of music and comedy. It's taken some good ideas and some greater people to get it all off the ground, and I don't want to count any chickens before they hatch, but more details as they come.
Just know i'm very, very excited and hope to give you all the quality and entertainment that this blog is (hopefully) known for, in a live show. Ace.

So it seems a little lazy that I should be accompanying such amazing news with a couple of simple record reviews, but time has been pressing lately (when isn't it really, heck I sound like a broken record). Anyway hopefully they sate your need for music goodness as winter rolls around. I highly recommend staying indoors with a good set of headphones, a cup of tea, and some good tunes.

Kate Nash - My Best Friend Is You (Polydor, 2010)

Timing, as the saying goes, is of the essence. While Kate Nash’s timing was once perfectly placed, namely in the post-Lily Allen boom of female songwriters in 2007 with her debut Made Of Bricks, in the last few turns of the calendar there’s been a lot to fill the gap. A new wave of idiosyncratic female singer-songwriters with kookier influences (Bat For Lashes, Florence & The Machine, La Roux) as well as contenders to the throne (Pixie Lott, Ellie Goulding, Little Boots) not to mention a return from Ms. Allen herself; which begs the question, is there still room for a talent like Nash?

Well, for the first few tracks it seems to be possibly not. It’s all business as usual, albeit with bigger, brighter production; all handclaps and orchestral punctuation facilitated by ex-Suede man Bernard Butler.

But come Don’t You Want To Share The Guilt? and something remarkable happens. After a steadily simmering emotional narrative, Nash bursts into a torrent of ranting soliloquy and cursive self-analysis (and with her accent, is highly reminiscent of Dan Le Sac Vs. Scroobius Pip). It’s the turning point for the album and the catalyst for the daring manoeuvres to follow. Though there were hints of it on her debut, that cheeky snideness has blackened into acerbic scorn, spurned it seems by a cheating ex. 

It’s positively baffling when you take into account that Nash has been in a happy relationship with Cribs frontman Ryan Jarman since her pre-fame days. Imagined or not, she occasionally gets stuck on a lyrical treadmill of spiteful jealousy (Kiss That Grrrl, Do-Wah-Do, Early Christmas Present, Later On et al.). Musically however, she charts some daring stylistic tangents.
It also asks a lot of her audience – a mainstream one to be sure – to make the leap to such polar extremes, one example being the energetic surf-rock of Do-Wah-Doo and Take Me To A Higher Plane darting to the woolly experimentalism of I’ve Got A Secret and further still to the stripped-back, confronting half-rap of Mansion Song

Again it’s the production of Butler that pays dividends, having worked with eccentric indie kids (Fyfe Dangerfiled) and blue-eyed soul singers alike (Duffy), he corrals Nash’s many curiosities. But even then, when her nastiest instincts are left untamed, it makes for some awkward listening. I Just Love You More may be the right side of unhinged as Nash whoops and hollers maniacally over scuzzy rock, but the experimental I’ve Got A Secret is probably a step too far. 

It’s a shame that these darker turns are more intriguing than listenable. Particularly because they’re now what sets Nash apart from the crowd. My Best Friend Is You will certainly lose her a particular demographic, the potty mouth poetry of Mansion Song (sample lyric: “strip, strip, strip n shag, fuck get fucked ‘n drag”) ensures she won’t be blurted through the speakers of your local Sanity; but few could guess - fans and detractors alike - that she had it in her. It’s a sign of her maturity and growth that even at the tender age of 22, she’s pushing the boundaries and taking risks. Lily Allen would be proud. 

Danny And The Champions Of The World - Streets Of Our Time (Longtime Listener, 2010)

While the reference to Roald Dahl might suggest a spry British indie-pop outfit, it quickly becomes clear that Streets Of Our Time is a record steeped - nay positively soaking - in dusty Americana. If the album artwork, complete with artificial indentations of old vinyl pressed into its sleeve, doesn’t tip you off then the opening strains of Henry The Van surely will. 

Against a bed of gently strummed banjo and robust vocal harmonies, band leader Danny George Wilson’s voice caws out; and you’d nearly have to double check that you hadn’t stumbled across some lost sessions from Neil Young’s seminal Harvest LP. 

Danny & The Champions Of The World sound as if the last thirty years of rock evolution didn’t happen, emerging from a cocoon somewhere deep in Laurel Canyon, proof of an alternate history in which the American traditions of folk, country, blues and roots gelled with the rock mainstream but were never uprooted by the genre formations that would follow. It’s all over Streets Of Our Time; Wandle Swan trundles along on a country-rock shuffle, the title track eases back into a comforting anthemic rhythm (not unlike a rocking chair); while Restless Feet and Parakeets sound for all the world like lost jams from The Band

To call it nostalgic would be an understatement and nostalgia is always a dangerous vein to tap. While it guarantees an audience of those wanting to lose themselves in a rose-tinted stupor, it can also invoke the ire of baby boomers who have the Crosby, Stills & Nash catalogue memorised. Luckily Streets Of Our Time falls short of such pitfalls. Cuts like Follow The River display a kick and lightness of step. Its pulse and narrative may recall Springsteen or early Tom Petty (in Wilson’s raggedy voice), but it wouldn’t sound too out of place on Triple J rotation. The album’s last third, the likes of Your People and Bluebird, even recall Wilco at their most country-inflected, proving that not all of Danny & The Champions’ reference points are vintage.

Streets Of Our Time is without a doubt going to be one of 2010’s love-it-or-hate-it records. It richly imagines a sepia-toned vision of Americana, but that isn’t necessarily a place anyone the 21st century side of The Strokes and Arctic Monkeys generation wants to revisit. Nevertheless, even given its ironic title, you can’t fault Danny & The Champions Of The World for their passion of purpose, and isn’t that what rock n roll should be about? 

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