Archive for July, 2009


Preferring Impressions To Ideas, Exceptions to Types: A Short Interview With Black Umbrella

Derek James

The following is a small interview with Derek James, frontman and songwriter for Black Umbrella, a band I’ve mentioned and championed before here on the blog. Note some of the rather clever answers, especially the one to 10 (e).

1. Where did the name Black Umbrella come from?

The name Black Umbrella came to me in a dream. I saw it on a marquee surrounded by lights. I had entertained the idea of calling the band Kindred Act. But in the end I thought Black Umbrella was a stronger name, aesthetically.

2. How would you describe your sound?

It’s strange because the sound of the band is always changing depending on who I’m working with, but I always kind of fall back on New Order meets Smashing Pumpkins or New Wave/Glam/Pop.

3. Who/what inspires your art?

It’s difficult to say. To me, music is the ultimate art-form. Cinema should be, but isn’t. Art in my opinion is literally capturing time. Music not only can be expressed aurally it can be expressed visually, lyrically & there is so much magic taking place anytime you press record. The things you plan go awry & the mistakes you make end up making the song special. Happy mistakes. I guess what inspires me for the most part is striving for pop perfection. Creating a song like “I Would Die For You” by Prince or an album like “The Holy Bible” by Manic Street Preachers. Becoming a part of that pop spectacle where you’re mentioned in the same breath as the people you admire.

4. Who are your musical heroes?

Besides the aforementioned bands there’s a huge David Bowie influence. As a teenager I thought that Bowie defined what a Pop Star should be & Manic Street Preachers defined what a Rock Band should be.

5. If you weren’t a musician, what would you have chosen for your career?

A “career” is death. If I couldn’t be an “artist” (musician is an ugly term to me, as I have no desire to be that great of a musician) which is basically impossible, I would choose to simply exist. So I suppose if I wasn’t interested in music, I would find a way to lead the most pointless existence imaginable & affect as little people as possible. Which in its own way, would be art.

6. How do you intend to stand out from all of the thousands of other bands trying to find success in this fragmented MySpace-Facebook world?

That’s a good question, I don’t know. I think the only way to do that these days is to be a real band that tours, makes albums, releases singles & shoots videos. There’s no real rush to get recognition right off the bat. I’d rather be a band that has a rich back catalogue before people start to notice. Current acts such as Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti & The Brian Jonestown Massacre have that. So in a way it really doesn’t matter because these bands exist whether you like it or not.

7. What was the first album you ever bought?

Dr. Dre-The Chronic (True)

8. In the future, will Black Umbrella warrant a biographical tome or a footnote?

Passionate hyperbole is embarrassing; I only want sunshine & kitty cats.

9. How robust is your ego?

“If you stand up like a nail then you will be knocked down”

10. What’s better:

a. Authenticity or artifice?

Authenticity is a disguise.

b. Lyrics or music?

Morrissey & Marr

c. Analog or digital?

In a perfect world; analog. In an imperfect world; digital.

d. C81 or C86?


e. Whippet or alsatian?

William, It Was Really Nothing

f. Sport or stationary?

Station To Station

Black Umbrella will be touring this coming November and releasing a good old-fashioned 7″ single Down & Out in Paris at the same time.

Fool You Can’t Escape – Black Umbrella

Human Nature in Hollywood – Black Umbrella


Pigs Are Flying Over the Icefields of Hell: The Manics Hit North America

Manics Black and White

It’s finally happened…the Manic Street Preachers are coming back to North America. In honour of the North American release of Journal for Plague Lovers, they will be hitting twelve cities in the US and Canada in September and October. It’s been ten years, but as the posts on the Manics’ official site show, their long-suffering fans on this side of the Atlantic are elated and willing to fly or drive as far as they have to in order to get to the lucky twelve cities on the circuit. I, myself, have bought a ticket for the Toronto show on October 4 (immediately following an email alert from a fellow Manics fan – thank you, evo). After seeing them in Cardiff two years ago, I didn’t know if I would ever get another chance, especially for this latest album (in case you missed it, I reviewed it here). The dates are as follows:

Mon -21 Seattle, WA @ Neumo’s
Tue- 22 Vancouver, Canada @ The Commodore Ballroom
Thu-24 San Francisco, CA @ The Fillmore
Fri- 25 Los Angeles, CA @ The Avalon
Mon-28 Denver, CO @ The Bluebird Theatre
Wed-30 Minneapolis, MN @ The Varsity Theatre

Thu-01 Chicago, IL @ The Metro
Fri- 02 Detroit, MI @ The Majestic Theatre
Sun- 04 Toronto, Canada @ The Phoenix Concert Theatre
Tue- 06 Philadelphia, PA @ World Café Live
Wed- 07 New York City, NY @ Webster Hall
Thu- 08 Boston, MA @ Paradise Rock Club

All I can say is thank you, James, Nicky and Sean.

All is Vanity – Manic Street Preachers

Yes (Radio 1 Evening Session) – Manic Street Preachers


Everyday is Like Sunday, Except for Blue Monday and Ruby Tuesday, and…Well, Friday I’m in Love: Weekly Mix #75

Covers mix

I realize I’ve gone AWOL again. I guess it’s a combination of deadlines at my job and my headspace just not cooperating with writing about music for the last couple of weeks. I have a few album reviews lined up, but I just haven’t been able to write anything decent enough to publish here, nor anything that would be fair to the artists I want to write about. My brain feels sleepy – like the hamster running on the wheel in my head has gone into a coma. In slightly more positive news, I feel like I may have had a few breakthroughs on the novel I’ve been thinking about writing lately. Of course the thought of having enough mental stamina for writing both a novel and this blog makes my comatose hamster hope he never wakes up. So, to let you know I’m still alive, I’m presenting the mix I compiled for last week.

It’s about that time again…another covers mix. This one is rather heavy on cover versions by Filthy Little Angels artists because I just discovered the treasure trove of free compilations on their website. Not to mention I rather love a good chunk of the FLA roster.

This one’s called Hearing Double. Here’s hoping I can get some posts done this week.

Help! – The Damned (Original: The Beatles)

Punk Boy – Ash (Original: Helen Love)

You’re the One That I Want – Hyperbubble (Original: John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John)

My Way – Polysics (Original: Frank Sinatra)

How Soon is Now? – The Psychedelic Furs (Original: The Smiths)

Are Friends Electric? – The Dead Weather (Original: Gary Numan)

Feels Like Heaven – Happydeadmen (Original: Fiction Factory)

Shoplifters Of the World Unite – The Black Tulips (Original: The Smiths)

Together in Electric Dreams – Nixon (Original: Philip Oakey and Giorgio Moroder)

Open Your Heart – Beki & the Bullets (Original: Madonna)

Train in Vain – Kirsty MacColl (Original: The Clash)

Sleepyhead – The Mummers (Original: Passion Pit)

Why Don’t You Find Out For Yourself – The Killers (Original: Morrissey)

Young Parisians – The New Royal Family (Original: Adam and the Ants)

Open Your Eyes – Soho Dolls (Original: Lords of the New Church)

The Con – Popular Damage (Original: Tegan & Sara)

Straight to Hell – Emm Gryner (Original: The Clash)

Femme Fatale – Big Star (Original: The Velvet Underground)

Use Somebody – Bat For Lashes (Original: Kings of Leon)

Cosmic Dancer – Morrissey (Original: T.Rex)


Everyday is Like Sunday, Except for Blue Monday and Ruby Tuesday, and…Well, Friday I’m in Love: Weekly Mix #74


It’s been one of those weeks again, so I’ll have to try to post three reviews this week to catch up. At any rate, I do have a mix for you in honour of Bastille Day tomorrow. I did one of these last year (see here), but this year I’ve switched in some different artists, especially a few I would consider part of the yé-yé movement. Oh, to have lived in the swinging 60s.

This one’s called Tous les garcons et les filles.

One Minute to Midnight – Justice

Crescendolls – Daft Punk

Tie Me Up Tie Me Down – Huw (Risqué)

Polly (Chateau Marmont Remix) – Koko Von Napoo

Gwendoline – Housse de Racket

Maison Klaus – Chateau Marmont

Love Your Enemy (Kill Your Friends) – Birdy Nam Nam

Miss You – Thieves Like Us

Cool frénésie – Les Rita Mitsouko

Night – M83

Remember – Air

Zapruder – Stuck in the Sound

If It’s Not With You – Phoenix

Comme tu les aimes – Dani

Les sucettes – France Gall

Kiss and Kill – Mary Goes Round

Je n’attends pas plus personne – Francoise Hardy

L’antiquitié – Stone

Poupée mécanique – Die Form

Sandcastle – Little Nemo

Ces petits riens – Serge Gainsbourg and Catherine Deneuve

Weekly Mix #74 (Mediafire)


A Monkey Wrench in The Hype Machine: Music Marketing and Integrity


I’m writing this post as a response to a couple of Hype Machine posts (read them here and here) about music marketing, hype and integrity, especially in the online world. I come at this issue from a few different angles: as an MP3 blogger, as someone who took advertising and marketing at college, and as someone who took communication theory (largely criticizing marketing) at a grad school level. It’s always been a hairy business between artists and financial concerns. Do you starve for your art? Do you “sell out”? Can you manage to maintain integrity when selling your art, period? What exactly is integrity?

Integrity can mean different things to different people. The Oxford dictionary defines it as:

noun 1. the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles
2. the state of being whole and undivided

Integrity for an artist could mean that he/she manages to produce the kind of art he/she wants to regardless of what others think – in a way, adhering to an indie artist set of morals and keeping their work whole despite outside interests or concerns. Integrity for an advertising agency or PR firm often means “perceived integrity,” how surfaces can be maintained to convince the public the brand is trustworthy and credible. In the advertising world, celebrity endorsement or highly expensive advertising spots can equal credibility, and thus, integrity. I think that when The Hype Machine decided to expose the artists seemingly “hyping” their own music by creating false accounts, they were using integrity as a synonym for honesty and were applying that indie artist sense of morality that carries certain assumptions about what is moral in music marketing. These assumptions include the belief that a musician should be able to influence enough individuals to gain popularity, especially through the kind of popularity system The Hype Machine has set in place. If an artist manipulates the charts by pretending more individuals like them than there really are, it seems like “cheating.” No more cheating than in the popular music charts, mind. To think The Hype Machine, MP3 blogs, and social networking sites are subversive, grassroots, word-of-mouth and outside the trappings of the “old” mainstream music industry, is a nice idealistic thought, but also rather naive.

MP3 bloggers themselves have all sorts of aims, not all of them so altruistic. Public blogging is an act of attention-seeking, of validation, of confirmation. Otherwise we would all just set our blogs to private or write things down in a notebook. Or better yet, keep it in our heads. Yes, many of us genuinely want to promote the music we love or promote music that isn’t largely known, but we also look to promote ourselves. Without being able to get at least a small audience, there isn’t much point for the time investment in the blog, nor for the bands being promoted. We are hybrids of PR/journalist/DJ/diarist/fan, and that puts us in a liminal place that can favour one or more of these roles over the others. A large chunk of the most popular MP3 blogs are maintained by more than one blogger and more often than not feature advertisements, already taking away from the more personal, individual feel of a blog; in fact, I would consider many of those sites to be music e-zines. In order to increase and maintain high blog traffic, a blog generally has to post every day, if possible, several times a day – even if the posts aren’t very in-depth. The amount and frequency of free MP3s provided also greatly affect traffic – the majority of readers are likely to come for the music without actually reading the posts. Lastly, the more MP3s from already “popular” artists that are posted, the higher the traffic. These concerns and tactics surrounding blog traffic can tempt bloggers to make decisions with the PR part of their brains rather than posting strictly about the music they love. That’s fine; it’s just something to take into account when discussing the holier-than-thou independent music scene and its off-shoot promotional channels.

Some of the accused artists on The Hype Machine posts or those who work with/for them responded and refuted the claims made by the aggregator, including MJ Digital who represents one of the named artists. A post written over there begs the question, “what is the difference between hype & promotion, when is it marketing or manipulation and where is the balance?”. This question is difficult to answer. In order to generate “hype,” already a term that’s loaded with artificial implications, and to market effectively, an advertiser needs to gain attention even if it isn’t gained “honestly.” Advertising people are always looking for ways to reach an increasingly fragmented market which is drowning in advertising noise; it’s an appreciably difficult job with many practical concerns, and can lead to some not-so-honest practices. Or some downright obnoxious ones. It would be great if a band could gain popularity based completely on the quality of their art, but as one can see by a track record of excellent indie bands that fell apart in obscurity, that isn’t often the case. Music, like all other art, is a subjective luxury item that needs to persuade people even more fervently than other, more pragmatic straightforward items.

I’m friends with a few truly independent, unsigned bands and can tell you stories of frustration and despair about lack of visibility, promotion and success. Everyone is trying to sort out how to “make it” as a musical artist in an industry that has become a free-for-all. Many entrepreneur types have decided to form their own digital PR/marketing/consultation businesses to aid musicians and/or small labels in their pursuit of fame and success – I get contacted by a few of them on a regular basis. I frankly think they’re pretty useless and opportunist, generating far more cynicism and suspicion than messages straight from artists themselves. A perfect example of this kind of “new media advice” can be found at Hit Singularity. The problem with this kind of advice and marketing strategy is the fact every unknown band is trying to do this.

Speaking from my position as an MP3 blogger and music fan, I don’t see the point in saturating every social networking and/or profile site. If you have one decent MySpace profile with enough samples of your music, attention to aesthetic detail and personality, that should be more than sufficient, and better yet, efficient. Add a decent band website with purchasing capabilities to that, and you should have more than enough outlets. I, unlike the author of the Hit Singularity post, have actually found several fantastic bands in the last few years through MySpace. I don’t have the time to check in on every other site, especially if it repeats the information I’ve already found. I, personally, am influenced by bands that clearly display some vision and some thought in their art; bands that have bothered to put work into their entire package. It doesn’t need to be a flashy package, but if it’s creative enough, I’ll pay attention. For an example of a brilliant website idea see IAMX’s enigmatic, labyrinthine site. A band also has to work hard and be persistent to make headway – they should be playing as many gigs as they can even if few people come, they should be meticulously researching the people who might be able to “break” them to the public, including bloggers (I get more than a few emails from bands who obviously didn’t concern themselves with actually looking into my musical interests), they should be producing more music than they need just to keep top-of-mind. It’s easy to forget a brilliant band if they only put out a handful of tracks every couple of years. The many gigs you play should be memorable – including visually, because how many of us have gone to shows where we weren’t familiar with the band’s work and also couldn’t make out much meaning through bad acoustics? And I do agree with the Hit Singularity post in the advice that you should be offering a whole album or EP for free to your well-researched targets. It can be difficult writing anything substantial about a single sample MP3; in some cases, I put sample tracks like this in a weekly mix, and in most cases, I end up ignoring them. Most of all, follow my good friend Lisa’s advice regarding all of life’s activities: walk with purpose and no one will question you. You have to believe in your art and write and perform like you mean it; it’s imperative that you know who you are and what you want people to believe, and give people something to believe in. If you don’t want the trappings of a major label or a manager, you have to be prepared to do these things. If you’re looking to score a major label deal or manager, you have to be prepared to do these things. If you’re making music only for the sake of making music, regardless of whether you have an audience or not, you needn’t bother.

We also have to step back and put this into perspective; we who regularly consult MP3 blogs and their aggregators are not exactly in the majority as far as the general population and even as far as music fans go. As much as we bloggers would like to think we have some massive sway as tastemakers, we are largely preaching to the converted in an online bubble. Sometimes the bubble leaks into the music press and a band like Vampire Weekend graces the cover of SPIN before releasing an album. However, I have to say that having studied MP3 blogs and their aggregators for my MA thesis, I almost never saw unsigned, completely unknown bands coming up as the most popular on The Hype Machine, or elsewhere. Hype or its sister term buzz is difficult to track or to reason out with any logic; if the right people notice you at the right time, your band can gain buzz. You can also lose it just as capriciously. There’s an interesting case study on how Rural Alberta Advantage became a buzz band over at Hit Singularity. As with plenty of artists throughout history, their story is a combination of talent, persistent hard work, timing and sheer luck. This is also the story of many a successful band throughout the past fifty years.

Manipulating Hype Machine charts might be a bit desperate and dodgy, but in the world of snobbish indiedom, is there any less integrity in licensing your music for an advert? Where is that line between creative marketing strategies and loss of indie credibility? Why bother with fickle indie credibility at all? Some of indie’s superstars, like Morrissey, knew how to manipulate their own publicity by providing the right soundbites and strategic interview answers, and by developing a persona that media and fans could easily latch onto. There are far too many gimmicks in the world of marketing, PR and advertising (having worked on advertising campaigns, press kits and media releases before, I’ve come in contact with all sorts), and a large amount of us can see through people who are trying too hard without a clear vision behind the gimmick. And there are plenty of ham-fisted PR/marketing people who think they’re being “transparent” and tailoring their mass marketing to me personally, but who, instead, end up alienating me (including PR people, who after being politely ignored with their musical offerings, try to promote the same music to me as a submission to a fan-based project like my Day of 200 Songs). At the end of the day, some artists are born with both talent and presence, some are celebrated while still producing their art, some are not. Will we remember many of these artists that manipulated The Hype Machine charts in a week, not to mention a year? Likely not.

Music Business – The Sound

Sell-Out – Chicks on Speed


Everyday is Like Sunday, Except for Blue Monday and Ruby Tuesday, and…Well, Friday I’m in Love: Weekly Mix #73

Coupland Canada House

In honour of this past week’s Canada Day, I’m going to do a Canadian music mix. I’ve discussed my often diffident home country before (see last year’s post), and I’m not too sure I have much more to say about it right now (okay, there’s always that anecdote about a boy, whom my friend and I will always refer to as Fat Leo, who approached us in Minneapolis at the Warped Tour and insisted he would be much better off immigrating to Canada – no concrete reason, but he was adamant). As much as I’ve embraced Canadian music in the past few years, I still feel like some treacherous music fan in that I don’t pay very much attention at all to the local scene in my hometown, Winnipeg. I just don’t seem to connect with most local bands; in terms of style and sentiment, I’m much more likely to relate to British artists. It’s not even as though it’s due to some romanticized exoticism or attempt at being “cool” or “different”; I truly feel like I’ve come home when I listen to British music. Having said that, I did include three Winnipeg acts in this mix: Paper Moon, The Weakerthans, and Andrew Spice, who are all great in their own right. And even if I never feel like I fit with the local indie hipsters and university radio musos, I’m quite happy with my identity crisis and my record collection.

This mix is called Souvenir of Canada.

1000 Cigarettes – MSTRKRFT

Magic Fantasy – Dragonette

Bits & Pieces – Junior Boys

Untrust Us – Crystal Castles

A Century Old – Duchess Says

Young Hearts Spark Fire – Japandroids

Body of Years – Mother Mother

Mutiny, I Promise You – The New Pornographers

Benediction – The Weakerthans

Jagwagger – Archivist

Hate Then Love – The Dears

Solipsism Millionaires – The Most Serene Republic

Ocean of Noise – The Arcade Fire

Alive Until Saturday Night – Hexes & Ohs

Mimi on the Beach – Jane Siberry

Say It’s All Over – Paper Moon

Falling Back – Gentleman Reg

Counting Stars on the Ceiling – Stars

Corbeau – Coeur de Pirate

Nice to Know – Andrew Spice

Fish Water Desert Trapeze – Allegories


Painting Pretty Pictures and Falling Down Stairs: Morton Valence’s Bob and Veronica Ride Again

Morton Valence Bob and Veronica

Many musicians (and their labels) are trying to bolster their slumping physical sales by providing as many additional features and combination choices as possible, including bonus material, bonus DVDs, bonus MP3s, and bonus books (see U2’s latest marketing strategy to get an extreme example). While I can appreciate having the extra features for bands that really matter to me, I’m often quite cynical about the whole ploy and don’t bother buying any such bonus combinations for the escalated price. The reason I mention this tactic is so that I can contrast this sterile face of the marketing machine with that of the truly innovative independent scene. And my main example will be London band Morton Valence, composed of Robert Hacker Jessett, Anne Gilpin, Leo Fernandez, Camilo Parra, and Alejo Pelaez. I became aware of them via Anne Gilpin who was also part of Vanilla Swingers, the band who created my top album of 2008. Not only did Morton Valence join the likes of Patrick Wolf and frYars in opening up the funding of their record, Bob and Veronica Ride Again, to fans, but they created not only a record, but an experience. This experience extends to a soft cover book nestled next to the CD and several live “book club” performances, which all comment on and complement each other. The rather ordinary narrative of two potential lovers, Bob Young and Veronica Wilson, becomes extraordinary and three-dimensional and completely surreal in its reality.

The accompanying book begins with a quote from Syd Barrett: “Fairy-tales are nice.” It’s the fitting beginning and summary for a story that keeps itself brief in one-sentence paragraphs, yet at the same time, it foreshadows a happy ending – a happy ending that you’re not quite sure about until you get there, and even then, you’re not sure how it happened. But you find it quite nice in the end. You are plunged into the mundane life of Bob Young, who sees Veronica for the first time while trying to get a job. Through coincidence or fate, depending on how romantic your viewpoint is, Bob meets up with Veronica again, only to discover she’s an evangelical Christian. Despite several botched attempts at winning her heart, or at the very least her body, it seems Veronica, who is as humanly complicated as Bob, is still drawn to him. In spite of herself and in spite of life itself. Even Morton Valence make an appearance themselves as a “raucous hi-energy disco wedding band” in a club that Bob and Veronica are cajoled into going to by Bob’s junkie friend, Zak. The climax of the novella, and perhaps its crux, occurs when Veronica comes over to Bob’s flat for dinner. Their conversation ends up here:

‘Science doesn’t own the truth Bob.’

‘Neither does Jesus.’

‘Ok, but why should everything have to be proven or disproven? I have faith, as have the vast majority of humanity since the beginning of time, having faith is part of what makes us human, having faith is believing in something that cannot be proven, believing in love is a type of faith, how can you prove love? You can’t, but most of us know it exists as we’ve felt it at some point in our lives, just being able to trust and love something far greater than yourself, not something you can necessarily touch and see that needs to be proven and quantified by some egg-headed scientist in a laboratory.’


‘And what happens when people lose faith?’ she asked.

‘Errr…dunno, tell me…?’

‘Their lives become empty, suspicion and anger come in to fill the void and they lose their humanity.’

After this rather informal dialogue about big philosophical questions, things take a rather absurd turn. An LSD-laced teapot hijacks the story for three rather psychedelic, paranoid chapters fillled with a skipping Van Morrison record and a swirling Van Gogh painting. The moment is both comic and tragic as Bob loses his reality and Veronica at the same time. However, in the muddle and the loss, Bob seems to step outside of his passive existence and to take charge of his reality from a decidedly new angle, culminating in that fairy-tale ending.

The album retains a lot of the ambiguity of the novella, and the band has the retro cool confidence and sweet pop of Saint Etienne. The record begins in media res, as does life itself, and amidst the general chatter, banging piano and crowd noises, a short song called Veronica’s Revenge (Continued) emerges. Gilpin sweetly sings that she would like “some souvenir of all the things we did” before the track starts skipping, a fantastic connection to the skipping record portion of the book. It is here that we seem to be launched back in time into a picaresque adventure, where each song becomes a fanciful episode. Chandelier, which I featured a few weeks back in my weekly mix for London artists, is a mesmerizing dream of a song with its enchanting xylophone and interchange of vocals between Gilpin and Jessett. It spirals through a haze of first date emotions before fading into light ballroom music, evoking the silly euphoria of first loves and lusts and the state of a mind drugged by endorphin overload. As much as the couple wants to “swing from the chandelier,” they want to hang onto these crystal feelings and the electric moment. Then Jesus and Mary Chain guitars buzz through the beginning of Sequin Smile while Gilpin’s lush vocals “pay homage to the goddess of the stairs.” The song’s title could be a reference to Veronica’s “silvery smile” as described in the novella. A gentle, pulsing cabaret feel enters the soundscape with Ordinary Pleasures, which reminds me of Black Box Recorder lambasting the ordinary and showing that it isn’t all that normal after all. Tambourine and laconic bass back Bob’s attempt to “unfurl” Veronica’s life even as the walls of the room start to curl in some meltdown of reality. As Ordinary Pleasures fades away in a wash of mysterious feedback and sirens, Funny Peculiar sidles in with pumping synthesizers and trippy electropop a la Pulp. The first lines are “We like to boogie/all night dancing/feel the world spinning round/while everything is so funky” before they start mentioning the people that “sing hallelujah” and how “they’ll make you laugh then disappoint you,” two points that remind me of the part in the novella where Bob attends an evangelical service to get closer to Veronica. The point at which Jessett starts singing “Let it rain all over me,” his vocals continue to echo an overwrought evangelical chorus while Gilpin’s cartoony “bah bah’s” add a frivolous, comic sense to the whole predicament.

The carnivalesque drifts into the rather bluesy, dark John Young, which slinks along behind Gilpin’s old-time siren-style vocals. The chorus takes on some Old West flourishes, prompting me to think that the maverick hero that the song is named after is what Bob and Veronica both wish Bob were. Or what they both can imagine him to be if they try hard enough. Despite the fact “their love is average” and “their treachery is pure,” the duo seems like play actors in a world of their own creation as the outside world threatens to spill in through more chatter by the end of the song. Cracks of thunder and synth chords signal the next track, Hang It On the Wall, which sees Jessett taking over slightly desperate, despairing vocals. The character, Bob, seems to beg for a way to forget their flaws and the cracks in their relationship by hanging a pretty picture over it; this song makes a clever tie-in with the fact that a painting of Gilpin and Jessett is featured as the cover art for both CD and novella. The song ends in a tannoy solo by Jessett.

The album takes a calmer, subdued corner with Nobody Understands. Gilpin’s hushed vocals are backed by minimal music that occasionally swells into a choir-like crescendo. Veronica’s inner turmoil and confusion over a wounded past is brilliantly displayed in the lyrics “They won’t hurt you/unless they have to/but they don’t really mean to.” Filled with pregnant pauses, the song culminates in a beautifully frail, small “me” after several repetitions of “nobody understands.” Sweet pop and xylophone return with Falling Down the Stairs, which provides a new wave sound for yet another metaphor of love: falling down the stairs. Gilpin’s vocals continue their perfect understatement as she asks that you “listen to my story.” Bob, Veronica and Some Crickets indeed feature cricket sounds along with more xylophone and disorienting, reverby vocals from both Gilpin and Jessett. Recounting such regular details of life as double-decker buses and fruit machines, the song also uses some less than typical comparisons for the lovers, including a pillow, a wineglass, sand and footprints. As the speeding heartbeat of the previous song fades away, a Spectorish beat and organ come in for “I Must Go” She Said, “But I Will Al…, a song that lulls you with calming vocals from both Jessett and Gilpin. Both characters are certain of the fact they will leave other, but are equally as certain that they will return. The song bursts into whizzes and fuzzy guitars after a trumpet solo, interrupting the suggestive moment of the earlier half and emulating the unfinished title. After a very brief interlude called Disco, which features as more of a sound effect and setting device than anything else with its garbled crowd noises, the tender Go to Sleep concludes the record’s story. The acoustic ballad becomes Veronica’s lullaby as she lightly croons, “hush now/fly on home.” It’s as though all that came before this was a waking dream, and the “kiss, don’t say goodnight” refrain from Chandelier takes on new meaning.

Since I ordered my copy of Bob and Veronica Ride Again, I’ve been getting e-news from the band, including invitations to “Bob & Veronica’s Book Club” at which Morton Valence play the record in its entirety. If you’re in London on July 9, they’re doing another rendition aboard the Battersea Barge on the Thames. These kinds of performances take the concept of a gig into far more creative territory, much the same way the album/novella stretch the idea of both artforms, and contribute to creating a full experience rather than single pieces of art. By refusing the temptation to have a parallel narrative running in both novella and record, the story becomes richer as the two forms of media present a different way into the same emotions. Morton Valence has managed to decant the messy dregs of life, love, and lust into a sweet, heady cocktail that provides lucidity through madness. Life is a funny, sad narrative populated by thousands of Bobs and Veronicas, who are all painting pretty pictures and falling down stairs…and hoping that their broken lives and unfinished sentences end in fairy tales.

Morton Valence’s MySpace:

Sequin Smile – Morton Valence

Falling Down the Stairs – Morton Valence


Hard Won Resolution and Revolution: Patrick Wolf’s The Bachelor

Patrick Wolf The Bachelor

I’m not about to hide the fact that I invested in Patrick Wolf’s latest album, The Bachelor. I along with hundreds of other people purchased shares via Bandstock and/or TWIN, and frankly, I don’t think the return spread across that many shareholders will be terribly lucrative. But I don’t think that’s why any of us did it; we wanted to contribute and be a part of a piece of art from a truly dynamic artist. I’m not going to encourage you to buy The Bachelor because I stand to get two dollars; I want you to buy it because it’s an exquisite chronicle of a lonely, faithless human surviving at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Though Wolf decided to scrap the planned album called Battle and go with two albums over two years, this record is undoubtedly fighting fit and sees Wolf taking a battleaxe to his demons. This is Wolf wresting back control of his life, his art and his career. More than with any of his previous three LPs, I get the feeling that this record meant everything to him, and that he was going to oversee every last detail in the telling of this painful, heart-desiccating story. I mentioned this fact before in my review of the first single, Vulture, but Wolf seems to be less of a mythological character and/or folktale in this new work; many of the tracks are time specific and littered with unveiled personal detail. Rather than a lackadaisical romp through the English countryside or allusions to Peter Pan, libertines, childcatchers, medieval lovers, or gypsy kings, Wolf takes you to his blackest mental states in very real, urban places in L.A. and London.

Additionally, the story is traced through all aspects of his art, including the stunning liner notes, which take the form of a hardback book and which feature real, yet surreal, photographs of Wolf in various guises against a backdrop of forest and field; there is seamless meld between medieval quest and modern ordeal. The disc itself is emblazoned with both cardinal and carnal directions, including the phrase “your appetite so dangerous.” And in a deliberate act of contextualization and connotation, this album cover returns to the same pose and textual design as his first album, Lycanthropy; though the similarity is definitely there, the contrast is made all the more obvious, and it’s as if to say Patrick Wolf has matured from a runaway street urchin into a battle-weary prodigal son. The Bachelor heaves with unrest and yearning, and not for escape as in many of his earlier songs, but instead, for release.

The 50-second instrumental intro, Kriespiel, a siren-like barrage of electronic sound, screams into the opening feedback of the second released single, Hard Times, a passionate call to arms if I ever heard one. Set against frantic violins and electronic samples, Hard Times is one of Wolf’s best, and when he soars almost unexpectedly into that chorus, it feels like breaking through on the crest of all the rubbish we deal with on a daily basis. The lyrics are deeply reflective of the musical chaos and the mood of a post-911 world:

Divided nation
In sedation
Overload of information
That we have grown up
To ignore…
Mediocrity applauded
Through these hard times
And I’ll work harder, harder […]

Forced to count the hours
Since two towers
Fell to fiction those higher powers
Putting gods to war
Who keeps the score?

That second verse, along with the fantastical atmosphere of the liner note imagery, evokes a Tolkienesque epic mythology to the events of 9/11. The song is both a challenge and a rallying cry, utilizing a choir for the words “resolution” and “revolution” in the chorus and providing a brief respite of solidarity in a vortex of solitude. As Hard Times screeches away into the distance, actress Tilda Swinton comes in with her first bit of narration on the album and the quieter, seething Oblivion scrambles in like a muddied commando. Swinton, a spectacular choice for this element, comes in periodically throughout the album, sounding like both a polite navigation system and a benevolent matriarch; life would be so much easier if everyone had an inner guiding voice that sounds like Tilda Swinton. Oblivion has a violent edge to it as Wolf sings through clenched jaws before launching himself into a swandive into the void he initially resists and fears. Wolf slips back into some of his folkier roots with the title track, a song with lyrics adapted from a traditional Appalachian poem called “The Turtle Dove.” There’s a fantastically dark groove to the song that takes in both the blues and celtic ballads, and the interplay between Wolf and the raspy voice of Eliza Carthy is even more intense than his duet with Marianne Faithfull on the last album. The refrain of “I will never marry” takes on deeper meaning as other songs on the album explore same sex relationships and in light of Wolf’s vocal opinions on Proposition 8.

The cinematic beauty of Damaris also recalls some ancient celtic magic, including sweeping violins and Irish whistle. While the song can be read as a lovelorn ballad to a dead lover, the fact that Damaris is the Hellenization of the Celtic name Damara, the goddess of fertility, allows for a lament for the death of spring and renewal, and all of the attendant meanings. As Wolf and his choir chant ‘rise up,” it feels like a powerful pagan hymn. After more Irish whistle, Swinton comes back in with the brief, but comforting “Just a little further up the hill boy/You’ll be home soon enough” to signal the beginning of Thickets, one of the more positive songs on the record. It’s a gem of bucolic bliss as Wolf appears to come to himself amidst the burnt-out wasteland and wreckage of his life; as he sings “What have I become?,” you can smell the blossoms and berries pushing their way from the hinterlands of his better memories. This sense of awakening and epiphany continues as Count of Casualty slides in with the electronic elements of an Atari ST. It’s a dark, sludgy wade through the mire of technology and its resultant alienation. Wolf ties the losses of current perpetual war with the lack of real connection in a world of counterproductive social networking:

I dare you
Log off
Sign out
Delete your friends
Start to count
Count of casual
Count of casualty

As death tolls mount and statistics cease to have any tangible meaning, so, too, do mounting friend counts on sites like MySpace and Facebook.

In the same vein as the title track, Who Will? is a gentle, plaintive cry to the universe. Its austere organ makes it all the more self-pitying, and the ticking electronic programming and distant thumping drums imitates a distressed heart, straining for the touch of someone who will understand its inner workings. Even as the emotional need mounts, a more physical lust lurks in its midst (the double entendre of the first line: “Who will penetrate/The tightening muscle”). As I said earlier, I’ve discussed Vulture a fair bit already, but it gains some further context within this album, especially following on the heels of Who Will?. The need from the previous song boils over into a self-destructive orgy of breaking senses and nerves. Ostensibly inspired by Wolf’s encounter with a Satanist in L.A., the track feels like shards of obsidian burying themselves in your flesh as you get swept under the wheels of a showbiz juggernaut. The emotional train of thought rumbles down from these dizzying heights into a shady valley for the more subdued Blackdown. Backed by simple piano, it is Wolf’s explicit plea to his family, especially his father, for forgiveness for the way he severed ties with them and his own history. Mentioning Battle, a town in East Sussex, and his ancestors, Wolf reconnects with his past in order to move on. Eventually the lonely piano gives way to a rousing run of drumming and clapping as Wolf seems to lead a wake for his dead self and lays his false, frantic stabs at identity to rest. Mournful strings surge in as Wolf begins The Sun is Often Out, an undisguised tribute to the memory of Stephen Vickery, a poet that Wolf knew, whose body washed up on the shores of the Thames close to where Wolf lives. A meditation on suicide, the song also seems to be Wolf’s way of breaking out of his own self-destructive self-absorption and reaffirming his own will to live. While the majority of the song is laden with sorrow, there is a moment of euphoria as Wolf repeatedly sings “The sun.” The track ends with the lingering line of “Was your work of art so heavy/That it would not let you live?”.

Tilda Swinton’s narration continues its arc of inspiring hope at the start of Theseus, where she continues to echo Wolf throughout this gentle, nudging composition. Friend and one-time tourmate, Bishi, also adds beautiful strains of sitar through this re-telling of the myth of Theseus and the labyrinth. The myth becomes personal as Wolf queries himself with the line on his disc: “And what is this for…your appetite so dangerous?”. Not only does he feel lost and alone, but he appears to have also misplaced his desire and his dreams for the future, unsure of his surfeit emotion and where to release it. The release then comes in the explosive torrent of Battle, the hardest, harshest music I’ve ever heard from Wolf. Rife with electric guitars and smashing drums, it takes on the legions of the conservative-thinking and those hiding their heads under the right wing, waging war on ignorance, patriarchy, homophobes and conformity. The album ends on a softer note with The Messenger, a song that leads Wolf out and away from the thorny path of solitude and confused identity. The music pushes forward in a natural movement of growth like tendrils reaching for sunlight as Wolf takes stock of his life thus far:

Fearless fifteen
First came that dream
To be seen
To know love
The world
And all its stages

Now 25
Look, made it alive
And what a life
I have known
Not going to stop
Never fully grown

The last words on the album are “When all else fails/Remember/Always/The open road” as the music ends in a classical way, almost like the satisfying resolution of a symphony performance. Perhaps as the resolution first sought in Hard Times. At the same time, it remains open, as Wolf vows to relinquish his fears and keep stretching his boundaries. And in that impulse, Wolf displays his humanity, including the flaws that keep him running and yearning. Having stumbled home in tired tatters, he is ready to venture out anew.

Patrick Wolf both asserts and bemoans his independence in The Bachelor in a moving display of honesty about desire, disappointment and despair. This record take you on a journey of Wolf’s fight to find his way through his own wants and to come to terms with the world around him. Wolf’s wasteland is, like T.S. Eliot’s, simultaneously medieval and modern. I’m very curious and excited about next year’s companion record, The Conqueror, the title of which Wolf has said refers to his current boyfriend, William, to whom he also writes a tender note in the liner thank-yous. In his desperate, lonely moments on The Bachelor, where he wonders if he will ever find someone that fits him, Patrick Wolf connects to me, and my loneliness and latent fears and worries, and likely those of so many of us. There may never be complete resolution for my own issues, but this record makes me feel like revolution is possible. My financial investment is negligible when compared to my emotional investment in this album.

Hard Times – Patrick Wolf

Who Will? – Patrick Wolf

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Gigs Attended

Arcade Fire w/ Bell Orchestre + Wolf Parade (2005)

Arctic Monkeys w/ Reverend and the Makers (2007)

Austra w/ Young Galaxy + Tasseomancy (2011)

Big Audio Dynamite (2011)

Billy Bragg w/ Ron Hawkins (2009)

Billy Idol w/ Bif Naked (2005)

Bloc Party w/ Hot Hot Heat (2009)

Buzzcocks w/ The Dollyrots (2010)

Damo Suzuki (2012)

David Bowie w/ The Polyphonic Spree (2004)

Diamond Rings w/ PS I Love You + The Cannon Bros. (2011)

Diamond Rings w/ Gold & Youth (2012)

Dragonette w/ Ruby Jean & the Thoughtful Bees (2009)

Frank Turner w/ The Cavaliers (2010)

Frank Turner w/ Into It Over It + Andrew Jackson Jihad (2011)

Franz Ferdinand w/ Think About Life (2009)

Gang of Four w/ Hollerado (2011)

Good Shoes w/ The Moths + The Envelopes (2007)

Hot Hot Heat w/ The Futureheads + Louis XIV (2005)

IAMX w/ closethuman (2007)

IAMX w/ Coma Soft + The Hourly Radio (2007)

Interpol (2007)

Janelle Monae w/ Roman GianArthur (2012)

Joel Plaskett Emergency w/ Frank Turner (2012)

Jonathan Richman (2011)

Keane w/ Lights (2009)

Lou Reed w/ Buke and Gass (2011)

Manic Street Preachers w/ Fear of Music (2007)

Manic Street Preachers w/ Bear Hands (2009)

Manic Street Preachers at Wanaja Festival (2011)

Mother Mother w/ Old Folks Home (2009)

Mother Mother w/ Whale Tooth (2011)

Mother Mother w/ Hannah Georgas (2012)

MSTRKRFT w/ Felix Cartal (2008)

Muse (2004)

Nine Inch Nails w/ Death From Above 1979 + Queens of the Stone Age (2005)

of Montreal w/ Janelle Monae (2010)

Owen Pallett w/ Little Scream (2010)

Patrick Wolf w/ Bishi (2007)

Prince (2011)

Pulp w/ Grace Jones, TV on the Radio, The Hives, The Horrors, Metronomy, Devotcka, Vintage Trouble (2011)

Rufus Wainwright w/ Teddy Thompson (2010)

Snow Patrol w/ Embrace (2005)

Snow Patrol w/ OK Go + Silversun Pickups (2007)

Sons and Daughters w/ Bodies of Water (2008)

Stars w/ Thurston Revival (2006)

Stars w/ The Details (2008)

Stars (2010)

Steven Severin (2010)

Stroszek (2007)

The Antlers w/ Haunter (2012)

The Flaming Lips w/ Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti (2010)

The Jesus and Mary Chain w/ Nightbox (2012)

The Killers w/ Ambulance Ltd (2004)

The New Pornographers w/ Novillero (2008)

The New Pornographers w/ The Mountain Goats (2010)

The Ordinary Boys w/ Young Soul Rebels (2006)

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart w/ Suun (2011)

The Rakes w/ The Young Knives (2006)

The Raveonettes w/ Black Acid (2008)

The Stills w/ Gentleman Reg (2009)

The Subways w/ The Mad Young Darlings (2006)

Tokyo Police Club w/ Smoosh + Attack in Black (2008)

TV on the Radio w/ The Dirty Projectors (2009)

Yann Tiersen w/ Breathe Owl Breathe (2011)

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The only certain thing that is left about me

There is no part of my body that has not been used

Pity or pain, to show displeasure's shame

Everyone I've loved or hated always seems to leave


So I turned myself to face me

But I've never caught a glimpse

Of how the others must see the faker

I'm much too fast to take that test

The Smiths Queen is Dead

A dreaded sunny day

So let's go where we're happy

And I meet you at the cemetry gates

Oh, Keats and Yeats are on your side

A dreaded sunny day

So let's go where we're wanted

And I meet you at the cemetry gates

Keats and Yeats are on your side

But you lose 'cause weird lover Wilde is on mine

The Clash London Calling

When they kick at your front door

How you gonna come?

With your hands on your head

Or on the trigger of your gun


Charles Windsor, who's at the door

At such an hour, who's at the door

In the back of an old green Cortina

You're on your way to the guillotine

Here the rabble comes

The kind you hoped were dead

They've come to chop, to chop off your head


Then you came with your breezeblocks

Smashing up my face like a bus-stop

You think you're giving

But you're taking my life away


Won't someone give me more fun?

(and the skin flies all around us)

We kiss in his room to a popular tune

Oh, real drowners


Don't walk away

In silence

See the danger

Always danger

Endless talking

Life rebuilding

Don't walk away

Walk in silence

Don't turn away in silence

Your confusion

My illusion

Worn like a mask of self-hate

Confronts and then dies

Don't walk away


You don't want to hurt me

But see how deep the bullet lies

Unaware I'm tearing you asunder

Oh there is thunder in our hearts

Is there so much hate for the ones we love

Tell me we both matter don't we

The Associates Affectionate

I don't know whether

To over or under estimate you

Whether to over or under estimate you

For when I come over

You then put me under

Personal taste is a matter of gender


I wake at dusk to go alone without a light

To the unknown

I want this night inside of me

I want to feel

I want this speeding

I want that speeding


You'll never live like common people

You'll never do what common people do

You'll never fail like common people

You'll never watch your life slide out of view

And dance and drink and screw

Because there's nothing else to do

Vanilla Swingers

All I have is words, words that don't obtain

And I feel I'm a stain on your horizon

So I stay away - it's easier that way

And there won't be no-one I need to rely on

Is it him, is it me

Or is there something only I can see

How did I get here, why do we blow around like straw dogs on the breeze

I'm a special one, what they used to say

But I've to stay on, finish levels-A

You don't need exams when you've read John Gray

The Indelicates American Demo

And nobody ever comes alive

And the journalists clamour round glamour like flies

And boys who should know better grin and get high

With fat men who once met the MC5

And no one discusses what they don't understand

And no one does anything to harm the brand

And this gift is an illusion, this isn't hard

Absolutely anyone can play the fucking guitar

JAMC Darklands

And we tried so hard

And we looked so good

And we lived our lives in black


Plucked her eyebrows on the way

Shaved her leg and then he was a she

She says, hey babe,

Take a walk on the wild side

Said, hey honey, take a walk on the wild side


Hide on the promenade

Etch a postcard:

How I dearly wish I was not here

In the seaside town...that they forgot to bomb

Come, come, come - nuclear bomb


Back when we were kids

We would always know when to stop

And now all the good kids are messing up

Nobody has gained or accomplished anything

Wire Pink Flag

Prices have risen since the government fell

Casualties increase as the enemy shell

The climate's unhealthy, flies and rats thrive

And sooner or later the end will arrive

This is your correspondent, running out of tape

Gunfire's increasing, looting, burning, rape


Well, maybe there's a god above

But all I've ever learned from love

Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you

It's not a cry that you hear at night

It's not somebody who's seen the light

It's a cold and it's a broken hallelujah


And what costume shall the poor girl wear

To all tomorrow's parties

For Thursday's child is Sunday's clown

For whom none will go mourning


My body is your body

I won't tell anybody

If you want to use my body

Go for it


Oh it's opening time

Down on Fascination Street

So let's cut the conversation

And get out for a bit

Because I feel it all fading and paling

And I'm begging

To drag you down with me

Mansun Six

And you see, I kind of shivered to conformity

Did you see the way I cowered to authority

You see, my life, it's a series of compromises anyway

It's a sham, and I'm conditioned to accept it all, you see

Japan Gentlemen

Take in the country air, you'll never win

Gentlemen take polaroids

They fall in love, they fall in love


We just want to emote til we're dead

I know we suffer for fashion

Or whatever

We don't want these days to ever end

We just want to emasculate them forever

Forever, forever

Pretty sirens don't go flat

It's not supposed to happen like that

Longpigs The Sun

There's no perfume I can buy

Make me smell like myself

So I put on perfume

To make me smell like someone else

In bed

Calvin Harris I Created Disco

I got love for you if you were born in the 80's, the 80's

I've got hugs for you if you were born in the 80's, the 80's


Does his makeup in his room

Douse himself with cheap perfume

Eyeholes in a paper bag

Greatest lay I ever had

Kind of guy who mates for life

Gotta help him find a wife

We're a couple, when our bodies double

Simple Minds Sons and Fascination

Summer rains are here

Savaged beauty life

Falling here from grace

Sister feeling call

Cruising land to land

No faith no creed no soul

Half a world away

Beauty sleeps in time

Sound and fury play

Bloc Party Silent Alarm

North to south


Running on


As if to say, as if to say

He doesn't like chocolate

He's born a liar, he'll die a liar

Some things will never be different


LCD Soundsystem

Well Daft Punk is playing at my house, my house

I've waited 7 years and 15 days

There's every kid for miles at my house, my house

And the neighbors can' the police

There's a fist fight brewin' at my house, my house

Because the jocks can't...get in the door

Johnny Boy

I just can't help believing

Though believing sees me cursed

Stars Set Yourself

I am trying to say

What I want to say

Without having to say "I love you"

Josef K Entomology

It took 10 years to realise why the angels start to cry

When you go home down the main

Your happy smile

Your funny name

Cocteau Twins Bluebell


Doesn't she look a million with her hairagami set

Hair kisses 'n' hair architecture

Yes, she's a beautiful brunette angel from heaven with her hairagami set

Hair kisses 'n' hair architecture

Augment a beautiful brunette

New Order Power Corruption

How does it feel

To treat me like you do

When you've laid your hands upon me

And told me who you are


You must let her go

She's not crying



Feeling like I'm waiting

Modern times



Hating to distraction

Just leave them alone


Girls in the back

Girls in the back

Puressence Don't Forget

They say come back to earth and start getting real, yeah

I say come back to earth and start getting real

I know I can't


So I walk right up to you

And you walk all over me

And I ask you what you want

And you tell me what you need


The problem of leisure

What to do for pleasure

Ideal love a new purchase

A market of the senses

Dream of the perfect life

Economic circumstances

The body is good business

Sell out, maintain the interest


Sitting in my armchair thinking again and again and again

Going round in a circle I can't get out

Then I look around thinking day and night and day

Then you look around - there must be some explanation

And the tension builds

Psychdedelic Furs

India, India

You're my love song

India, you're my love song

In the flowers

You can have me in the flowers

We will dance alone

And live our useless lives

Ladytron Light Magic

They only want you when you're seventeen

When you're twenty-one

You're no fun

They take a polaroid and let you go

Say they'll let you know


No consolation prizes

Spit out your lies and chewing gum

Cut off your hair yeah that's it!

If you look like that I swear I'm gonna love you more


All the neighbors are startin' up a fire

Burning all the old folks, the witches and the liars.

My eyes are covered by the hands of my unborn kids

But my heart keeps watchin' through the skin of my eyelids


Prince charming

Prince charming

Ridicule is nothing to be scared of

Don't you ever, don't you ever

Stop being dandy, showing me you're handsome