Simultaneously hard to believe, and entirely unsurprising, Bristol punk band Idles’ much-anticipated third album Ultra Mono is an aimless, complacent, and lazy disc of rehashed instrumentation and unforgivable, laughable lyrics that does nothing to further their trajectory as artists, and comes close to undermining the spiky brilliance of their previous two records, the punchy Brutalism and the close-to-perfect Joy As An Act Of Resistance.Continue reading “Ultra Mono Review: Idles should fold up their Change.org petitions and go home.”
The further you are from something, the easier it is to analyse; the closer you are to it, the easier it is to feel. Bob Dylan’s latest song (and likely one-off) Murder Most Foul rings out simultaneously close and distant, a hollow elegy for a time which is finally seeing the sunset, usurped by all that has followed in the years since.
Feelings, eh. Feelings, they’re- they’re good, yes? Feelings are good and it’s good to have them, yes, fellas? Feelings are the co-ordinates we lay atop the empty and imposing landscape of the world we live in, the divining rod of human endeavour, the core of how and what we experience in these short years we’re lucky enough to have in this tiny blue orb spinning atop an endless cosmos, indifferent to our whims and yet endlessly sustaining them.
Feelings, they’re- yes- good, no? Yes?
In 1967, the Velvet Underground built the house.
In 1979, Joy Division furnished the house.
The pop song is the perfect form for those emotions that arrive and pass quickly, intertwined with the fabric of our lives; a good pop song can do in three minutes what we fail to, or don’t think to, articulate in a lifetime. A good pop song has to do three things; it has to be universal, it has to sound good, and it has to have a chorus you can sing along to. The second two are easier than the first.
Every good pop song starts somewhere, and Erasure’s masterful jewel-like acoustic-synthpop track A Little Respect starts with a plea, perhaps one of the most universal; a plea for respect, literally, and understanding, figuratively. It is the sound of one man, at his most vulnerable, opening up to an imagined lover (many pop songs are addressed to imagined lovers). It carries a strain of hope, as he asks ‘would you open your arms out to me’, and it carries a strain of sadness, as he declares ‘you’re making me work so hard‘.
The two main notes of this song are hope, and sadness. It exists at the precise point where vulnerability and fortitude collide; singer Andy Bell is clearly at a place of emotional distress, and yet despite his distress he also has the courage to look the object of his desires in the eye and say; do better, be better, I deserve more.
Thus, this is perhaps one of the most empowering pop songs ever made. It is helped by the fact that Bell is a gay man, and the song was written in the 1980’s, when fear of the HIV virus was at its height, and the virus itself remained uncured. Only 24 when he wrote it, one can assume that Bell was very conscious of the worries of the community at the time, especially as he was later diagnosed with HIV, and released music to raise funds for AIDS research.
As I type this, I’m watching Queer Eye, a hugely popular show created by one of the biggest content producers in the world, in which five gay men are the base, or ‘norm’, and the various (often straight) people they encounter are the ones who need their help, who are in some way missing something that those gay men provide. This is an obviously pointed description of the show, but thought of in those terms, it is all the more stark that we can come from a pop song founded on the premise of basic respect, to a widespread media project in which being gay is normalised.
But this isn’t simply a song about gay experiences (although those experiences perhaps lend it an urgency that might otherwise have been lacking). And it also isn’t a song told simply with words; musically, this song contains a very pleasing staccato synth-riff in an oscillating ABAB structure, underscored by a rich acoustic guitar; both of these instrument chug through the song, adding a marching quality that, musically, resembles someone getting to their feet. The deepness of the Clarke’s guitar playing is matched by the fraught falsetto of Bell’s singing, with the singing bringing the sadness and the instrumentals bringing the determination.
But it is, in the end, a pop song; it can be danced to, it can be sung along to, and if the mood is right it can be cried along to. It can be as deep or as lightweight as you want it to be, and that, for me, is the hallmark of a truly great song. Which this is.
Girl Band’s new single, Shoulderblades, is one of the best songs of the year so far, a pummelling and ascendant noise-rock dirge with an uncertain structure that draws repeated listens like water from a tap. This piece is not about the song. It is, however, about the music video. Music videos have long been an underrated artform, and whilst some are simply vehicles for the song, some, such as Pulp’s This Is Hardcore (dir. Doug Nichol), and Grace Jone’s Corporate Cannibal (dir. Nick Hooker), operate distinctly as works of significance in her own right.
(In this article, I reference a genre of films synonymously associated with the term “Hallmark”. This also covers Lifetime movies, and general made-for-TV movies. You know exactly what I mean, even if the precise label may not fit. In this instance, I’m referring to all the movies currently airing in the UK on Christmas24. If Barthes wrote that some things are signified, and that some things are a signifier, then you know exactly what is being signified by the signifier Hallmark.)
John Grant has always been a musician good with contradictions. On “Love is Magic”, he pushes this theme to its extremes and seems to come to terms with his own holism. This is his most explicit album, in that it combines so many of the opposing features of his much and works them into a, sometimes disjointed, but nevertheless fully convincing whole for the first time in his career. This is the most evident on Metamorphosis, the albums’ opener, and one of the best tracks of the year. The song lays this dichotomy bare, beginning with a crunchy 8-Bit stomp and listing disparate things on Grant’s mind in his trademark caustic, childlike manner. The first third of the song culminates in the following stretch of lyrics, which gives you a fair sense of Grant’s new depths of ridiculousness.
I am not a difficult man to please, on the whole. But once, when I and my friends were looking around for houses to inhabit, we found that none were quite right. There’d be a promise of cheap rent, or a nice location, or a good space to cost ratio, but something would just be off. We eventually settled on the least “off” house of the bunch, but I remember that period as being one of pure indecision, as none of the houses we looked at, despite initially appearing to be okay, fit the bill.
Opening with a pulsing snare and what sounds like the bottom of a tin can being tapped mercilessly with a drumstick, introducing a whistle, and then notes that could either be coming from a guitar or a keyboard, the aptly titled “Race: In” sets “Mirrored”, Battles’ first full-length, off like a line of flame slowly making its way to a truck full of TNT. It’s all there; the propulsive riffs, the heavy use of repetition, the interplay of instruments like gears rotating inside a child’s kaleidoscope.