Category Archives: music

Little Victories

I could really do with a little victory at the moment, so the end of the tax returns tomorrow – and subsequent visit to the pub – should accomplish that. But last night I went to see my brother’s new band, who are called Little Victories, play at The Louisiana in Bristol and it was a really good gig. I thought it was likely to be great and so took my camera along to do a bit of filming, and ended up recording the whole thing. There was definitely a charged atmosphere in the room and the sense that everything just clicked with the new lineup – certainly it was the most polished “first gig” I’ve ever seen, and people downstairs were raving about the band afterwards.

Since former incarnation Farthing Wood’s only flaw was their rubbishness at marketing themselves, I think I’m going to try to lend a hand this time around, and bearing that in mind I’ve quickly edited a video together of one of their tracks (was quite cool to piss around with iMovie actually, I’ve been meaning to do that ever since I got my Macbook Pro) and stuck it on Youtube. Rendering an HD video takes a surprisingly crazy-long amount of time, but I think it’s turned out pretty well.

Anyway, remember where you saw this first and all that:

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sighTunes

Does anyone actually like iTunes? It’s a hateful piece of software at the best of times, particularly on PC. It has a nice habit of grinding to a halt if you so much as look at it, and the less said about the hoops it makes you jump through to do anything difficult, the better. When you consider that the likes of Plex instantly download cover art, metadata and fan artwork for the vast majority of obscurely titled video files you can think of, iTunes’ remarkable inability to find cover art for many commercially available music releases seems rather silly.

I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve had to go to Amazon to save an album’s cover image, before clumsily inserting it into the music folder (I know I can leave it wherever I like, but I want the image to go with the relevant album so that everything’s all together), selecting all the tracks on the album in iTunes, hitting ‘Get Info’, saying yes I do want to edit information for multiple items, and then doing the parlour trick of opening a window with the image in it while still being able to see the album art pane in iTunes. Much resizing of windows later, I finally get a tiny gap into which I can drag the image, and the art is associated with the music. Huzzah!

What’s also a pain is trying to change the computer you link your iPhone with – it can only share a beautiful relationship with one at a time, you see. While it’s heartwarming to see Apple promoting monogamy, this is infuriating. Last night I wanted the lucky linked machine to be my Mac instead of my PC. There is a fiddly workaround involving transferring entire libraries manually between computers, but the default position is that all your music is wiped off the iPhone, and only the apps currently on the phone are transferred to the new machine – not everything associated with your iTunes account. This means that you have to remember any additional apps you’ve downloaded in the past that aren’t on your phone when you switch computers. Luckily I had already copied all my music across, so it didn’t too long to put some of it back onto my phone – was nice to have a bit of a refresh of tunes, actually – but cross-coordinating which apps I now don’t have is going to take a while.

Oh, and when the iPhone repopulates itself it resets the order that your apps appear in, making them alphabetical in terms of universal apps and then alphabetical in terms of iPhone/iTouch only apps. So, A to Z and then… er… a different A to Z. Also, the default apps on your phone (Youtube, Maps, etc) are restored to their original positions on the opening two screens, leaving those pages looking pretty bare. For a few seconds, I thought that all my apps had vanished and that I’d have to kill someone. As it turned out, they started to be displayed from the third screen onwards. I have a lot of rearranging to look forward to, then.

Overall, iTunes seems happier running on a Mac (probably not coincidence), and the way my iPhone now links with iPhoto is quite iNice. But it’s weird how Apple, maybe the masters of modern-day technological and UI design, still persists with iTunes in the way it currently ‘works’, as well as sticking with the frankly flawed layout of the App Store, where it’s easy for thousands of new apps to be buried without anyone ever seeing them – unless, that is, the developers have a degree in marketing.

I can only conclude that the program’s in Steve Jobs’ blind spot.

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Goldfrapp

Tonight I went to see Goldfrapp at the O2 Academy in Bristol and I thought it was a very good gig, even if Alison Goldfrapp did jump the shark slightly with the outfit she wore for the first section of the encore, which depending on your viewpoint made her look like either a shuttlecock or a cupcake. It was a bit too try-hard wacky.

But after the concert, debate RAGED between one of my friends and the rest of us about the merits of the gig, due to the fact that he thought the band’s performances of their songs were too close to the versions on record. As in, identical. His view was that a gig should be more than this: that songs should be reinterpreted for the live venue to bring something new to them.

It’s an opinion that I can sympathise with. Certainly my favourite group, Radiohead, never settle on one arrangement with their old material. From new keyboard parts in Fake Plastic Trees, to guitar wigouts in Go To Sleep, to almost unrecognisable variations on tracks from Kid A and Amnesiac, part of the fun of going to see the band is to find out what they’ve done to their songs this time around. But there’s also the argument that fans go to a gig to hear the music they love listening to, played in the way they’ve grown to love listening to it.

I don’t think that either opinion is necessarily completely “right”. After all, there’s the old cliche of the overlong drum/guitar solo that makes a four minute song seem to last a lifetime (hello, all 70s/80s rock groups still touring), but on the other hand it’s always cool to hear something unexpected brought to a song which gives a new spin on things.

Maybe tonight I was easily pleased. I love Goldfrapp, I love Alison’s voice, and seeing multiple keytars being used on stage immediately made me think of Rock Band 3. Maybe it was a slightly safe gig. But the songs were so good, there’s nothing really wrong with that.

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Rock Band

Rock Band 2 has once again proven itself to be the preeminent party game this evening. People at the party currently being held in my house have already been on it for hours. And they’re only 15/16 years old, so the fact that they’re addicted to it just as much as many of my thirtysomething friends are, gives an indication as to just how successful developer Harmonix has been in creating a brilliantly accessible music game with a fantastic tracklist.

That the game is so amazing two years on from its initial release makes it even more of a shame how EA, the game’s publisher, has handled the series so abysmally in the UK and mainland Europe. Both Rock Bands 1 and 2 barely bothered the charts due to bollocks-all promotion and a terrible supply chain for the instruments, as well as a silly initial price point. Guitar Hero, meanwhile, despite being more than inferior in terms of note charts, downloadable content and general game design, is much more successful, which is especially harsh since Harmonix created that series in the first place. There is a parallel here with Football Manager, the developers of which, Sports Interactive, abandoned the highly successful Championship Manager series in order to plough its own furrow and create its own franchise. The difference is that Football Manager was marketed well and is now by far the most successful football management game, leaving the game that SI abandoned, Championship Manager, languishing far behind in a perpetual state of crisis.

That this hasn’t happened with Rock Band is truly odd. EA is usually amazing at the marketing biz, but for whatever reason its European campaigns for Rock Band have been pathetic. Here’s hoping that Rock Band 3, due at the end of next month, finally brings the fame and fortune for the series that Harmonix richly deserves. It has a keyboard peripheral. It cannot fail. Unless, of course, EA bafflingly cocks it up again.

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The Wilderness Downtown

This is rather cool, and not just because it involves one of my favourite bands, Arcade Fire:

The Wilderness Downtown

This site is host to an innovative music video for Arcade Fire’s “We Used To Wait” track, which uses the HTML 5 protocol (basically a standard for presenting video, audio and other content on the internet without the need to download any plug-in players) to deliver an interactive experience featuring the house you grew up in. You type in the address you want the site to include, and then via multiple video windows, pre-recorded footage, Google Maps, really nice art, dynamic compositing, and likely lots of long words that I have no hope of understanding, this “Chrome Experiment” (tailored for Google’s fast-growing browser, though it apparently also works with Mozilla Firefox) bamboozles the viewer with what can only be described as a load of freakily clever shit.

Certainly I’ve never seen anything like it before.

While I’m far from a boffin when it comes to things like this (though I do like to be confused by science – there’s something reassuring about not being able to understand everything), I definitely see the potential. It seems that we’re no longer limited by standard linear progression even in something as ostensibly simple as a music video, and that’s an exciting thought for the future of all media. It’s likely that if this experiment is a success (and judging by the internet reaction, it probably already is), we could be seeing a lot more of this kind of stuff, further advancing the delivery of audio-visual interactive experiences that will be uniquely tailored for each individual user.

It seems that the only limit going forwards will be human imagination. And, of course, how hard the fans on your PC can blow.

Over to you, Radiohead…

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Radio Dread

Radiohead! Best band in the world. Yes, they are. No – they really, really are. But grandiose statements like this are nothing without evidence to back them up, so have a Youtube video:

While I mention Radiohead from time to time on here, I can’t remember writing a blog entry specifically about them. And that leads me to a confession: I find it very difficult to write about stuff that I could listen to or watch forever. The reasons behind this are many, but they mainly involve a sense of unease about potentially not living up to the material. Letting it down would be bad. I find music reviews to be mostly terrible, and often feel that they’re the worst kind of pretentious crap around. (Although Anthony Quinn’s film reviews for The Independent get a dishonourable mention here. Any film that isn’t (a) Romanian with subtitles, and (b) ten hours long with absolutely no toilet-friendly intermission, seems to be given a maximum of one star. Monsieur, wiz zis wankery d’arse, you are really spoiling uz…)

Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy reading the likes of Pitchfork et al, but often it seems like the writers are sponsored by Roget and are tapping away at their keyboards with old-fashioned smoking pipes in their mouths. Not with a knowing sense of irony, either, but because they actually believe that what they’re coming out with is in some way profound. Despite not actually understanding the meaning of half the words they write.

If you think I’m puffing out my chest and somehow proclaiming I’m superior, however, I’m really not. Indeed, any time the word “capricious” turns up anywhere, I have to consult a dictionary. Mental block ahoy! Instead, I just consider myself to be realistic in my assessment that I can’t write any words about Radiohead, or The Wire, or bacon, that could possibly do justice to the material. So while this remains the case, I’ll happily not try to explain exactly why I love them. Sometimes words aren’t enough. An occasional link, however, says everything it needs to.

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Resurrection

The 22-20s, then. Majorly hyped originally, this bluesy rock ‘n’ roll band from Lincolnshire were the subjects of one of the biggest A&R scramble for signatures in recent musical history back in the early noughties. One album later, they imploded and split up. Unbeknownst to me, however, they got back together a couple of years ago. I was very surprised to learn a few days ago that they released their new album in Japan on 19 May, before its recent Stateside bow and forthcoming UK release. I now have the record. I haven’t listened to it yet. I pray it’s good.

Here’s the kind of thing they did on their first album:

It’s quite a shock when a band you imagined were dead and buried come back to life. The Verve is an obvious recent example of such a resurrection, although one suspects that had more to do with money than anything else, given the group’s acrimonious history.

So, which band would I really like to come out of retirement? Probably The Cooper Temple Clause, a group fuelled by a mixture of spikey guitars, electronica, and Liam Gallagher-esque spirited vocals from lead singer Ben Gautrey.

I first saw them when they supported Muse back in 2001. A cult first record (See This Through And Leave) followed, with their second (the improbably titled Kick Up The Fire, And Let The Flames Break Loose) being an altogether more ambitious and obscure release, which the critics loved and the public unfortunately ignored en masse. By the time of their third album, Make This Your Own, the band seemed unsure whether to pursue their own musical agenda or aim for the sales which would ensure record label survival, and ended up with a muddled record that proved to be their downfall, not helped by the departure of their charismatic bassist, Didz Hammond.

Sadly missed by me and many others, I firmly believe that the Coopers could have been really big, given a fair wind and a little bit more luck. I wonder how many other bands have similarly fallen through the cracks, and whether the 22-20s will reap the potential rewards of their second chance.

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