Sunday, 31 July 2011

Arabella - Girders

I was introduced to Arabella  this Saturday by hearing them play outside the Boots in Cambridge.
They were playing a good line in light soul rock and had their album going on a "Please take a copy, leave a donation if you wish" offer, so I put a couple of quid in and took a disc, expecting to get home and hear some reasonably aspiring tunes that would show potential. What I got was a wonderfully crafted album of modern soul and blues inspired tunes from a band who, imo, should be heading their way to next season of Later with Jules Holland if there is any justice in this world.

The album starts as soul, modelled on the 60's & 70's style, but quickly diverges to show off salsa, light-jazz, rock, and even some folk influences. Rather than sounding like a mess of eclecticism for the hell of it this is a band willing to experiment and play with their influences and interests. This is not to say that they don't have a distinctive sound, one thing that ties all of the tracks together is their impressive close-harmony singing and well crafted lyrics, but a compliment that the album never hangs around one motif too long or gets boring through repetition.

Stand out tracks are the opener "Lift Your Head Up" and their single "No Easy Way", both offering master-classes in modern soul, and the more easy listening "It's Ok", which effortlessly gives of so much ambiance if you ever hear in a coffee bar when you are talking to that special someone that you just never got around to asking out is the fates way of saying "do it!"

The only thing that I fail to get with what I've heard is why they bill themselves as a "Pop soul band" on their Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace. Whilst I can see them getting popular I am hearing non of the lightness or blandness that is associated with Pop. This is good, solid, here to stay soulful music that will nourish your ears and give you that extra little spring in your step for the rest of the day.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

2011 Mercury Music Award Nominations

It's time for annual Nu-Glastonbury gong show that is the Mercury Music Award, the pseudo-edgy UK recording industry award for "Album most likely to shift lots of units at Tescos until the Brits come along".  This years list has the usual assortment of safe picks and highly polished crowd-pleasing performances that will get the Radio 2 audience rocking out during their traffic jam to and from work whilst ensuring that the PR reps of the associated record labels get to keep their bonus for another year. Whilst non of it is especially terrible it is the usual mix of 'quirky' and serious that ensures that the winner will be stuck in a rut for the rest of their creative life. And it also has Adele in the running, so if she doesn't get it then we know that the judge's are just trying to be controversial and if she does get it everyone will yell 'fix' whilst forgetting that the producer god Rick Ruben was behind it.

And the nominations are...

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Punk's Not Dead

The history and current state of Punk is a highly contested thing, not least because as a genre it means so many things to so many different people. Questions such as "when did it start" and "what is 'real' punk" are highly emotive topics that are fueled by the passion and urgency of the music itself, often resulting in disagreement and tension between the various camps claiming their experience as the authentic voice. Further complications arise from the fact that a music aimed at youth is now, by most peoples markers, into it's 30's and the scene (or rather 'scenes', as it is one of the most fragmented tribes out there) is made up of multiple generations and iterations that have simultaneously built on, embraced and rejected the past.

Thankfully the 2007 documentary Punk's Not Dead doesn't try to answer the question of what is the real punk, instead embracing the diversity and presenting the controversy from as many different angles as possible. Using interviews from over 150 members of the punk community, with representatives from every major era and approach (mostly from the UK and USA), it presents the 'punk-eye-view' of where the genre came from, what it's core tenants are, and, most interestingly and contentiously, where it is now going.

The only 'downside' I can see about this film is that because it is produced by an American team it does not see the UK 76-79 scene as the be-all and end-all of punk, though it clearly holds it and the continued UK scene in high regard. This is no back-slapping and retro focused Punk: Attitude, focusing on a brief 3 year period of creativity from one city so 'trad punks', people who picked up their haircuts from London postcards, or folks that think The Offspring and Green Day broke up their special little party may be upset.

So if you are either a dedicated punk, who just wants to enjoy the constantly entertaining views and stories of the giants of the scene being interviewed, or just an interested observer, who wants to know more about Punk as it enters middle-age I heartily recommend this for your viewing pleasure.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Is This Hyperreal? - Atari Teenage Riot

In 1992 Atari Teenage Riot exploded onto the Berlin rave scene, bringing a punk attitude and anarchist/anti-fascist message into a techno landscape that had focused on partying and having a good time in the recently reunified Germany. Over the next six years they released 3 classic albums, invented and established Digital Hardcore as its own movement, and then split to go their separate ways due rather than conquer the planet like they were on the cusp of doing.

12 years after their last album release Alec Empire, Nic Endo, and new guy CD Kidronik are back with Is Hyperreal?, missing Hanin Elias, now working on other projects, and the departed Carl Crack, posthumously appearing on one track that was recorded before his 2003 death, and aiming to re-bottle the lightening that made them one of the most exciting acts of the 90's. Can they do it? Well, not especially.