Monday, 28 January 2013

Northern Exposure and Southern Clubs

Another name adds itself to the Loudhailer roster this week in the shape of The Elwins. From Canada the band are gearing up to release their first single and album in the UK via Shellshock later in the year and are planning a visit to the UK to coincide with that first burst of activity around May time. More to follow here as plans firm up but a welcome addition to the gang given their penchant for perfect pop songs and wry humour that reminds me of some of my favourite mid 80s bands. For now you can get ahead of the pack by visiting their website.

The Elwins will be playing SxSW this year along with a few more of the roster. I haven't had the opportunity to go to Austin for a few years but I have fond memories of past visits; Elbow supporting The Black Crowes may not be the most obvious double bill but was one hell of a night at Stubbs, still my favourite Austin venue, The White Stripes in the back of a pool hall was a life changer and The Polyphonic Spree's rampage across the city demonstrated how to seize the agenda in five short days.

One of the Loudhailer mob already making massive waves in the USA are The Joy Formidable. Just released album 'Wolf's Law' has racked up the positives in reviews terms on both sides of the Atlantic and it is nice to see critics note the progression from the debut album. Ritzy, Rhydian and Matt represent many of the values I recognise in a truly great band; a desire to push their art to the limit on each recording, a willingness to try and engage with the wider world in their themes and lyrics, a healthy disdain for the shortcuts that sometimes deliver fame more quickly (if only fleetingly). With reports from friends in the UK regions suggesting that they have returned for their UK dates in even more imperial form than I remember it is somewhat annoying that current commitments don't allow me to make a jaunt to one of the shows in my native North. As with many I guess I will just have to wait for the Roundhouse show on 8th March to see the band in full flight but it seems a hell of a long way away at the moment. Their Cardiff show tonight is almost guaranteed to be a stormer. If you are going, much envy from this direction.

Presents continue to drop into my world. As I was writing this the latest version of the new Night Engine video for 'Seventeen' dropped into my inbox. I can't overstate how excited I remain about this lot. Back in the early days of last year I went to a rehearsal in Putney and ever since I have been imagining a world in which their music takes over. Being old enough to have seen that happen with bands more than once I figure I have as good an assessment of how that can take place as the next man. Of course it really isn't vital that they achieve the immediate uplift of the Strokes or Roses before them but they tick many of the same boxes; running counter to the prevailing wind, completely sure in themselves of what they are doing, already possessed of a band culture created from not just their music but an overall world view and, in each member, containing personalities and abilities that far outweigh many of 'minimum requirements' for a successful band. All that aside though, 'Seventeen' makes me want to dance and the unreleased as yet 'On And On' comes with a chorus that stirs my heart in a way akin to Blake's visions . If you haven't already I would suggest spending a few minutes listening to some of their music, which can be found here.

As ever there is much more going on here than the above. From last week's post if you haven't searched out Balthazar you really should, back in the UK on tour with Local Natives in February, all dates and more info here, Golden Fable, who are increasingly owning the blogosphere are on the road through February with details here and Dark Flowers turned up on The Quietus for a wonderful Q & A which gives a lot more insight into their 'Radioland' album which can be read here alongside picking up a lovely album review from Rob Fitzpatrick in this month's Q.

The week's question for me has revolved around how to regenerate the sense of excitement in music. The whispers of festival headliners led me to think about how we have now completely lost the sense of division in music and how that is making the progress of new bands far more difficult than it once was. To add to that The Rolling Stones popped up in the NME Awards list. I may be a big fan of the band (well, up to and including 'Goats Head Soup') but there is something that doesn't quite sit right for me in their inclusion.

We seem to have removed all the barriers that once allowed progression for artists from their beginnings to mass acceptance via a series of steps. Thinking back to The Beatles much of their initial appeal to kids was the very fact that the establishment, forever embodied in the person of the Decca A & R who rejected signing them, thought their music was faddish and destined to disappear as fast as it had appeared. Living in a world where any new artist, however controversial (see OFWKTA as the most extreme recent example) gains critical acceptance and scrutiny at the outset from the broadsheets alongside the more expected likes of NME and music sites has led to a new world in which the old dividers of 'grandads' not being welcome at shows had vanished. It sometimes feels like our generation won't let go of the zeitgeist and the cynic in me feels that we often repackage 'our' version of great music and sell it on to the new generation by controlling the media agenda, leading to a repetition of musical norms that have now become so cliched as to be almost meaningless. As a writer said to me last week 'is 'Band takes drugs' really that much of s atory anymore?'. It would seem it is if you scan the coverage of some of the new names for 2013.

Can music really be cutting edge when it is being discussed by a 40 something writer to a 40 something audience and is based on rock 'n' roll conventions that have been around since the late 60's? Would NWA have carried the same menace had The Times interviewed them rather than been appalled by them on the release of 'Straight Outta Compton'? I am not necessarily a subscriber to the whole 'teen dream' approach to popular music but I did feel my heart sink a little last year at a Savages show when I realised that I wasn't in the minority as a 40 something audience member. You could argue its a desire to retain an old way of being but I miss the sense of a youth driven and youth exclusive culture that pisses off older people in the main. And, yes, I realise I wouldn't be invited were it to happen.....

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