American Football – I’ve Been So Lost For So Long – Track Review

Photo by Shervin Lainez, http://www.shervinfoto.com/

“We can’t just keep playing the same nine songs for people…” Mike Kinsella of emo pioneers American Football recently spoke to Pitchfork in lieu of the announcement of their much awaited sophomore album, American Football (II). Their self-titled debut was released over 17 years ago and, even though there has been an official announcement, it still feels impossible to think they’d actually release a second record now. Their 1999 release has gained such a mythical status over the years, American Football’s whole existence seemed to be for them to create that record and that be it. Alas, with cautious excitement, we’ll have a new album to dissect, listen to and possibly cry over come October 21st. But before then, I’ve Been So Lost For So Long is the first glimpse the world has inside of the project.

After 17 years, Mike Kinsella returns to American Football sounding vocally different. For those who have followed his solo project Owen over the years, this is will come as no surprise. But those who just know him of American Football fame, there might be slight jarring moment at the first listen. However it’s for the best, as his vocals are now brought up more into the mix. Gone are buried scratchy vocals, as they now boast maturity and experience. Sonically, it marks a new chapter for the band.

The melodies of the track roll along like a river lapping over stones and pebbles down a stream. Incredibly intricate and gorgeous, they’re unmistakably American Football. They invoke loss, love and nostalgia through their craft, in a way that no other band can after all these years. The guitars interweave with each other again and again, meaning there is something new to discover every listen. There is a lot for fans to assimilate over here.

Whilst it may be a daunting task to meet the feats of their debut, this seems like a promising start. Some fans may feel disappointed, but that was bound to happen after all this time. 2016 has been a weird year for music. It has been filled with lots of artists returning , such as The Avalanches and Frank Ocean, but we’ve also had many of the greats taken way from us along the way. And now with American Football saying they’ve been so lost for so long, we should be truly thankful that they’re finally home.

Live review: Morrissey at Manchester Arena, 20/08/2016

The man once voted ‘greatest living Mancunian’, Morrissey, returned to his home town this weekend after four years away for his only UK gig of 2016 at a packed out and meat-free Manchester Arena. A palpable sense of occasion hung over the city in the days leading up to the show, with Salford Lads’ Club opening a pop-up store in his honour and the streets being crammed with devotees sporting quiffs, Smiths t-shirts and gladioli.

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Morrissey on stage in Manchester. Photo is author’s own (Instagram: @_atrocity_xhibition)

The man himself arrived onstage after opening act Damien Dempsey and the customary pre-show video compilation, resplendent in a blazer with no shirt, chest decked out in an array of necklaces and somewhat worryingly, a large medical plaster. Set opener Suedehead was a whirl of microphone cord whipping and vibrato vocals, complete with ad-libbed references to ‘the Stretford gloom’. That would not be the only reference made to the location of the show: Morrissey pondered aloud why he had not been consulted on the upcoming mayoral election, to loud cheers. Despite these local references, the set had a markedly cosmopolitan feel. Paris, Istanbul, a host of Spanish cities, Rome and ‘far-off places’ were all name checked, whilst the terrifying underworld of Victorian Whitechapel was evoked in show highlight Jack the Ripper, Moz delivering this fan favourite from behind a cloud of dry ice.

More serious socio-political commentary followed the reference to the Manchester mayoralty, with World Peace is None of Your Business being prefaced with the statement that ‘sportswomen/sportsmen/hairdressers/cows/badgers do not start wars. Politicians start wars. And they love it!’. In this age of Black Lives Matter and the death of Dalian Atkinson, lyrics such as ‘police will stun you with their stun guns/or they’ll disable you with tasers’ strike a chord with the malaise felt around the world, as does Ganglord, which was accompanied by disturbing footage of American police brutality. Even more gut-wrenching visuals were shown on the screen during Meat is Murder, with a harrowing film of animals being abused and killed in slaughterhouse emphasising Morrissey’s claims that people don’t care about animal rights because it isn’t them being killed (somewhat controversially, the film had subtitles such as ‘branding Holocaust’ in twin English and Hebrew). It’s almost a cliché to mention this when reviewing Morrissey shows, but it is almost inevitable that some of the carnivorous sections of the crowd will have reviewed their ethical and dietary choices following this gig.

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Meat is Murder

These hard-hitting statements are just one of the ways Morrissey refuses to play the rules usually adhered to by artists at his stage of their career playing to arenas. The other is his eschewing of a greatest-hit style setlist for one that instead took in rarities (It’s Hard to Walk Tall When You’re Small) and lesser-known singles (Ouija Board, Ouija Board, All You Need Is Me). Despite the inclusion of Everyday Is Like Sunday (containing a bizarre lyrical interpolation of Engelbert Humperdinck’s Quando, Quando, Quando) and a raucous airing of What She Said, the evening could have been improved with one more big track, something along the lines of Now My Heart Is Full or a better-known Smiths classic.

The material chosen certainly played to the strengths of Morrissey’s faithful touring band. They have previously attracted criticism for their tendency towards chugging, pedestrian rock, but on this occasion, they showcased their versatility. Multi-instrumentalist Gustavo Manzur played everything from flamenco guitar to digeridoo and provided Spanish vocals for the dénouement of Speedway. His compatriot, Boz Boorer, Morrissey’s longest serving sidekick, traded his guitar for a clarinet for a swooning I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris and even had a bash at the drums on the aforementioned Speedway.

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One of the most moving parts of the evening was the elegiac Oboe Concerto, dedicated to a list of the lost from this ‘year of the reaper’, namely Victoria Wood, Caroline Aherne, Muhammad Ali and Prince. Hearing a man who has notably struggled with serious health conditions in recent years singing somewhat wearily about how ‘all the best ones are dead’ was certainly a sobering experience. Although these health concerns have slowed the man down (by his own admission), they have not impeded his ability to deliver an enthralling live show, as evidenced by a final encore blast through Irish Blood, English Heart, culminating with a topless Moz tossing his shirt to the baying crowd as the guitars built to a crescendo. It’s safe to say that not all the best ones are dead.

 

Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein – Stranger Things Vol. 1 – Review

 

Even though it’s only been out for just over a month, it is hard to imagine life without Stranger Things. The Netflix exclusive series has become a cult hit almost overnight, garnering thousands of fans worldwide. Helmed by the Duffer Brothers, the eight part series follows a group of kids who are trying to find their friend who goes missing. We’ll refrain from spoilers in case you haven’t seen it, but it’s certainly one of this year’s stand out TV series. A mixture of E.T and The Goonies, with a dash of Twin Peaks, Stranger Things is the perfect homage to the 80s.

But it’s not just the series itself that has gained a lot of attention, the soundtrack has been praised by fans and critics alike as well. Tracks like Joy Division’s Atmosphere and New Order’s Elegia are peppered throughout the series, with also a brief appearance from Toto’s Africa. But it’s the series’ original score that everyone is losing their minds over. Curated by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein of Austin based band S U R V I V E, Netflix and Lakeshore Records have decided to release the series’ score to the general public. Split into two volumes, Vol. 2 is out the 19th August, fans of the show can now get their sci-fi appetites once again satisfied with Vol. 1. But how does the soundtrack fare on its own merit?

(Disclaimer: the tracks on the album are named after the respective points in which they occur in the series, so potential spoilers lay ahead)

Beginning on the already iconic Stranger Things theme, this intergalactic synth gem still sounds as enchanting as it did the first time we all heard it. A tense and mystifying piece on cinematic scale, Dixon and Stein have created something that will become a quintessential part of pop culture for years to come.

Other highlights of Vol. 1 include Kids, Eleven, Biking To School and She’ll Kill You. Doused in a multitude of synths (yes the word synth is going to be said a lot in this article…), Kids grabs your imagination and throws you straight into the world of Stranger Things. Full of euphoric moments and colour, this track alone proves why everyone was excited to hear this soundtrack in full. Eleven is incredibly isolating, and yet also strangely idyllic. The melodies are kept very simple but they form something really breathtaking. Then the criminally short Biking To School encaptures what it feels like to be a kid again. The layered synths breathe adventure and spontaneity.

She’ll Kill You, for those who’ve watched the series, will instantly place you in the scene in which this track makes its debut. It’s an anthemic piece that swells and swells into this grandiose epic, before it depreciates into this melancholy mixture of warbling synths.

Volume 1 also sees tracks on the more ambient scale of electronic music. This Isn’t You would feel right at home on a Brian Eno Ambient project, whilst Castle Byers features this atmospheric synth that builds and builds into something really powerful. You Can Talk To Me is a short but dark piano led score that really captures the sometimes bleak moments of Stranger Things.

The dark tracks don’t stop here, there are more than a handful pieces of music on this soundtrack that hold onto the darkness of the show. The Upside Down is unnerving, with its off-kilter melodies that really instil the horror that reigns down on the small town of Hawkins. Photos In The Woods is similar, with some moments making it a difficult listen. But that’s what is so great, Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein have got the tone of these tracks down to a T. The most chilling track is Lights Out. An intimidating and claustrophobic listen, Lights Out stabs at you with eardrum piercing synthesisers.

Fans of Boards Of Canada will certainly find something to like here, as some of the tracks could have been easily ripped out of a project from the illustrious Scottish electronic duo. Lamps could be mistaken for a song off Geogaddi, with the more accessible Hawkins seeming like a cut off their 2013 album Tomorrow’s Harvest.

More tracks worth mentioning off the impressively long track-listing are A Kiss, Papa and No Autopsy. A Kiss bottles the feeling of teenagers falling in love, with luscious and gentle synths that envelope you in everlasting love. The sombre Papa really pulls heavy emotionally, with these elongated notes that carry so much weight and sadness. Finally No Autopsy is this space-age expression that is filled with subtlety and intrigue.

Vol. 1 is one of those soundtracks that can stand completely on its own, much like Cliff Martinez’s score for Drive. At 36 tracks long, there’s so much on here for fans to digest and lose themselves in. It’ll fully immerse listeners into the world of Stranger Things. So as fans eagerly await the inevitable announcement of season 2, they can live out their own Stranger Things adventures with this sinister, exquisite and gorgeous soundtrack. Grab your mates and become the next Mike, Eleven, Dustin, Will and Lucas, until you realise you’re 20 and you’ve got to go back to university in a couple of weeks…

8.5/10

Nick Cave – 10 of his best

nick cave little history

They say that writing about music is like ‘dancing about architecture’, and if there’s one artist who sums up this analogy, a man who consistently strives to avoid feeble attempts of interpretations and explanations for his music, it’s Nick Cave. Here goes nothing then. I won’t attempt too much to box-in an artist who thrives in the open air of the literary playground, but more or less showcase a songwriter that has refused to settle down into a comfortable musical easy chair, instead wandering endlessly down the corridors of song, looking for the next door to open. For me, no artist has changed and adapted to his surroundings whilst maintaining his core musical identity quite as well as Nick Cave has, writing some of the best melodies, and in particular, lyrics, of the last 30 or so years. We’ll be taking a look at some of the gems in his back catalogue, narrowing it down to ten songs (no easy feat) that best represent the man’s lyrical and song-crafting expertise.


10. –  Red Right Hand – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds -(Let Love In)

Kicking off the list is one of Nick Cave’s most well known songs, “Red Right Hand”, recently given a second wind of popularity for it’s use on BBC’s Peaky Blinders. ‘Past the square/Past the bridge/Past the mills/Past the stacks’ lurks a tall handsome man in a dusty black coat, indicating peril is just around the corner, with organ stabs adding to the chilling undertones. Nick had also created a whole fictional town that existed outside the boundaries of the song, with characters and landmarks that didn’t feature in the song itself existing in his lyric notebooks. It just goes to show the detail and care that Cave puts into his alluring and stimulating fictional worlds.

9. No Pussy Blues – Grinderman (Grinderman)

Formed in 2006, Grinderman saw Nick and three other members of the Bad Seeds break off from the Bad Seeds and tackle songwriting with a more stripped back, raw garage-rock approach, with Cave donning the guitar for the first time in his career. “No Pussy Blues” sees Nick at his satirical best, with it’s mockery of man’s “Mr. Nice Guy” act that’s only in motion for one reason and one reason only. ‘I sent her every type of flower/I played her a guitar by the hour/I petted her revolting little Chihuahua/But still she just didn’t want to’ sings the incessant sex pest sycophant, the human embodiment of the archetypal man depicted in the SCUM Manifesto by Valarie Solanas. Now there’s a face-off i’d like to see.

8. Slowly Goes The Night – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (Tender Prey)

We find Nick in his definition of a musical comfort zone here; bleeding dry his wronged heart into song. The master of rumination, Nick finds himself tossing and sweating over some long-gone lover, with melancholy piano from Roland Wolf and atmospheric guitar work from Blixa Bargeld adding to the almost desperate despair. The spoken word piece by Cave at the beginning of the song is a definite highlight.

7. (Are You) The One That I’ve Been Waiting For? – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (The Boatman’s Call)

The Boatman’s Call is an album that follows the full trajectory of a relationship (or a few, in his case) right from their wonderful inceptions to their ragged end. This song depicts the former, with beautiful imagery and lyrics that yearn for the start of a romance with a new figure in his life, perfectly encapsulating the dizzying feelings of infatuation such a person brings to them: ‘So i’ve sat and i’ve watched an ice-age thaw/Are you the one that i’ve been waiting for?’. Full of striking couplets such as this, and a painstakingly-good chord structure, it could quite possibly be the quintessential Nick Cave love song.

6. Stagger Lee – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (Murder Ballads)

1996’s “Murder Ballads” saw Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds score their first mainstream chart hit, a duet with Kylie Minogue. The album is full of tales of violence and death, and Nick reached a new level of balefulness on “Stagger Lee”, playing the part of Stagger Lee himself, bad mouthing his way out and into trouble, painting visuals in your head with the blood of his victims. The story of Stagger Lee is an old tale, but Nick makes this an original and exciting take on it. Brimming with controversial one-liners, the song’s become fabled in it’s own right, and has become a staple at a Bad Seeds gig.

5. Higgs Boson Blues – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (Push The Sky Away)

A song from the Bad Seed’s most recent (and remarkable) album, 2013’s “Push The Sky Away”, “Higgs Boson Blues” paints an apocalyptic picture of a car ride down to Geneva, as ‘flame trees line the streets’ and Nick contemplates the meaning of existence behind the wheel, not caring for what the future has in store. In Nick Cave’s recent biopic “20,000 Days On Earth”, Nick is quoted as saying that songwriting is ‘all about counterpoint’, and what better example of this than making Hannah Montannah do the African Savannah as Miley Cyrus floats in a swimming pool in Toluca Lake. Trademark Nick Cave: contemporary, reflective and mood-inducing.

4. The Mercy Seat – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (Tender Prey)

In his years living in Berlin during the mid-late 80’s, Nick found this period in time to be an immensely creative and productive time in his life. One key song from that time period, and now considered a Cave classic that’s been played at every show since it’s birth (as of 2014), is “The Mercy Seat”. Nick was heavily into the Old Testament at the time (he was also writing his first novel And the Ass Saw The Angel during 87 -89), so allusions to the bible heavily seeped their way into his work during this period. The song follows a prison inmates final moments on the electric chair, with the antagonist proclaiming to God and witnesses that he’s not afraid to die, until the final verse, where he confesses that he’s been lying all along.

3. Jubilee Street – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (Push The Sky Away)

With Blixa Bargeld leaving the Bad Seeds in 2003, and Mick Harvey following suit in 2009, there was a huge dynamic shift within the band when it came to recording and playing live. Warren Ellis, who’d been in the band officially since 1995, really came into his own after proceedings, allowing the band to mature in the best way possible and avoiding any form of stagnation. “Jubilee Street” features enthralling strings by Warren, as they propel the song towards it’s crescendo with Warrens’ incredible work on the violin. ‘I’m transforming/I’m vibrating/I’m glowing/I’m flying/Look at me now’ sings Cave, oozing with aplomb; never has the man been more assured of himself than here.

2. Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (Henry’s Dream)

It doesn’t get much better than this when it comes to album openers. Conjuring up scenes of a violent barren landscape in the Gothic Deep South, with it’s ‘lynch-mobs, death squads, babies being born without brains’ and it’s ‘mad heat and relentless rains’, it literally feels like a grotesque, disturbing novel is unfolding right in front of you, with each subsequent verse growing more and more unhinged and ferocious. Nick had been inspired at the time by buskers he’d seen playing ‘violent acoustic’ songs on two-stringed guitars on the streets of São Paulo in Brazil, where he had lived momentarily. A tour-de-force of wordplay and compositional prowess, the song is regarded by many fans as perhaps Nick’s best lyrically, it’s lyrical vibrancy almost unmatched within The Bad Seeds canon.

1. More News From Nowhere – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!)

The closing track on 2008’s “Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!”, “More News From Nowhere” is a 7-minute magnum-opus that starts off with one of Nick’s best opening lines: ‘I walk in to the corner of my room/See my friends in high places/Don’t know which is which or whom is whom/They’ve stolen each other’s faces’. Full to the brim with brilliant wordplay, literary references, and references to his own musical career along the way, it’s a roller coaster of a song that demands to be ridden again and again, with it’s relentless yet measured rhythm. Each verse unfolds like a miniature play where Cave stars in all three of the main roles: the actor, writer and director of this cabaret of past, present and the absurd. All the proof you need that no one has aged as well as Nick Cave in the game of song; a man never certain where his feet will land next, but the music all the more certain for it.

‘Well I gotta say, yeah I gotta say, goodbye.’