Headless Children & Don’t Go Back At Ten

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As is often the case nowadays, Marc Riley’s 6 Music show is where I first came across Madonnatron, when they came in to play a session. Very good it was too. Since then they’ve recorded another sesh for Marc and their music has been showcased regularly elsewhere on 6 Music. They’ve toured with Meatraffle and The Moonlandingz as well as performing recently at the Green Man Festival.

Now they’ve released a self-titled debut album on Trashmouth Records.

Madonnatron

Movie gurus often instruct screenplay writers to outline characters when we first meet them in only three words and on their Facebook page, Madonnatron describe themselves similarly, in their case ‘Psychedelic Witch Prog’.

If you’re worried about that last part, don’t worry, the album does include a couple of fluid Pink Floydy basslines and the occasional organ sound that I’m sure Rick Wright might well have influenced but these are more from the psychedelic era Floyd. There’s no grand concept here (unless it’s escaped me), no weird time signatures, no ten minute drum solos and no fold-out sleeve designed by Roger Dean (although the Pope might have preferred that).

Psychedelic Witch Post-Punk might be a more accurate three word description – well, Microsoft Word counts hyphenated words as one, so I don’t think I’m cheating here. Saying that, Psychedelic Witch Prog does have a better ring to it.

Madonnatron have only been together for around a year and a half and apparently they couldn’t play their chosen instruments when they started off.

More proof then that Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule – which I alluded to a few posts back – is far from infallible. They might not be as technically proficient as some but they sure know how to concoct a gloriously primal racket with desperate vocals and harmonies that (I guess) are sometimes deliberately discordant but all the better for it.

It’s an often dark, searingly angry and eerie album. And, yeah, it is rather bewitching.

Highlights include Mother’s Funeral and Sangue Neuf, where they strike up a furiously feral chant like a girl gang moonlighting as a garage band; Be My Bitch has a great rockabilly guitar sound with the reverb cranked up really high while Glen Closer comes over like a female goth band that have just recruited Elena Poulou.

Best of all is album opener Headless Children. This is one of the most invigorating tracks released so far in 2017 and it comes with an inspired promo too.

Set the Controls for the Heart of the Moon (during the Witching Hour of course):


Three words to sum up the album. Top fucking notch.

Madonnatron are playing live tomorrow at the Windmill Brixton as part of the Strong Island Recordings all-dayer and they’re set to tour the country in early 2018.

If you wanna find out more, here’s where you can find them on Facebook and Bandcamp.

*

It’s been a whole fortnight since I last featured Girl Ray. Luckily they’ve just released a new video for Don’t Go Back At Ten from their fantastic debut album Earl Grey, which gives me a great excuse for including them here again.

‘The joyous visuals,’ according to the Fader, ‘transport things back to a time when TRL dominated the culture’, which I think means it’s a parody of the kind of crap videos that I spend my life attempting to avoid.

No need to avoid this though. Here is Don’t Go Back At Ten:


If you wanna see Girl Ray – and why wouldn’t you? – here are the band’s upcoming British tour dates:

Leeds, Headrow House (October 31)
Manchester, Gullivers (November 1)
Glasgow, Broadcast (November 2)
Newcastle, Think Tank Underground (November 3)
Birmingham, Hare & Hounds (November 5)
Oxford, The Cellar (November 6)
Bristol, Louisiana (November 7)
Brighton, Green Door Store (November 8)
London, The Scala (November 9)

For more on Girl Ray click here.

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Whip It & Adventureland (Friday Night Film Club #3)

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Whip It (2009) Director: Drew Barrymore

The directorial debut of Drew Barrymore, Whip It spans a number of genres: comedy, coming of age and sports drama.

I’m not generally a fan of againt the odds sports dramas with their accompanying clichés – the team of losers miraculously galvanised, the star player with a problem and the seemingly unbeatable (and highly arrogant) opponents. Not forgetting the last gasp incredible win. Or crushing defeat with lessons learned.

Whip It does incorporate some of the above but quickly proves infectious anyway. Small town Texan gal Bliss Cavendar (Ellen Page) is highly likeable and who wouldn’t identify with a teenage girl choosing roller derby over taking part in grotesque beauty pageants?

Nobody worth bothering about anyway.

The Hurl Scouts, the team she gravitates towards, are a likeable bunch too, fond of banter, bevvy and brawling on the roller derby track and they have some terrifically badass nicknames like Eva Destruction, Smashley Simpson, Bloody Holly and in the case of Bliss, Babe Ruthless. And, believe me, she really is Ruthless and fearless and whips it real good on the track.

Whip It - Find Your Tribe

A little research incidentally informs me that Glasgow has a number of roller derby teams including the Irn Bruisers (a clever play on the name of Scotland’s other national drink), Tyrannosaurus Wrecks and the Glasgow Dangers – okay I made that last one up – with skaters known by monikers like Hadrians Brawl and Spin Diesel which at least sound more a lot more fun to watch than Scott Brown and Kenny Miller.

Whip It also has a very decent soundtrack that includes The Ramones, The Raveonettes and Radiohead. Curiously, like Boogie Nights, the movie takes its name from a song that is not part of the film’s soundtrack which is a pity but instead of Whip It by Devo, here’s a track that does feature, a 1990s indie classic by The Breeders:

 
There’s a number of subplots here too, notably Bliss’s relationship with her controlling, pageant obsessed mother and her romance with indie singer/guitarist Oliver but they’re never as fresh as the moments on the roller derby track.

So, does the long losing streak of the Hurl Scouts end? Does our star player sort out her problems? And how will the climatic league championship game go?

You’ll have to watch and see.

For more on Roller Derby in Glasgow – & mon’ the T. Wrecks by the way! – click here.

Adventureland

Adventureland (2009) Director: Greg Mottola

Okay, it’s the suburbs of Pittsburgh in 1987.

Jesse Eisenberg plays James Brennan, a young man with two immediate ambitions: to tour Europe with his pals during the summer then move to New York where he’s been accepted to study journalism by Columbia Uni.

Neither of these plans work out, though, due to his family’s sudden economic downturn.

Instead of smoking joints in Amsterdam and elsewhere, he’s forced to take on a summer job at the local amusement park Adventureland, where the games are rigged and the prizes tatty – an oversize felt banana with cartoon eyes glued on, anyone?

But he does get to smoke a bit of weed there.

And he gets to smoke that weed with new pal Joel (Martin Starr), a pessmistic intellectual with a wry sense of humour; Lisa P (Margarita Levieva), a gum chewing Madonna wannabe who the theme park males routinely lust over and Em (Kristen Stewart), a sometimes sullen girl who wears a Lou Reed Transformer T-shirt and whose bedroom is decorated with Buzzcocks and Bowie posters.

At one point James compiles Em a mixtape, describing the tracks as ‘truly miserable, pit of despair type songs. I think you’ll love it.’

Presumably many of these tracks are the songs featured on the film’s soundtrack and if that’s the case then she should absolutely adore the tape.

Before Adentureland‘s opening credits have rolled we’ve already heard The Replacements and Bastards of Young and before too long we’re treated to The Velvet Underground and Here She Comes Now.

There’s also Bowie, solo Lou Reed, The New York Dolls, Big Star, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Nick Lowe, Husker Du and a standout original score provided by Yo La Tengo.

Woah.

Occasionally the music is a little on the nose for my liking – when Pale Blue Eyes plays in the car, James lingers on Em’s pale blue (or maybe they’re actually green) eyes, while when he seems to begin to fall in love with her we hear I’m in Love With a Girl.

Saying that those are two of the most beautiful songs ever recorded so maybe I’m being a little mean here complaining about their use.

And here’s a warning: while Adventureland utilises some stunningly good music, the song you hear most during the film is that annoying Rock Me Amadeus track by Falco which is okay as it’s used is a joke, a pretty good joke actually although maybe not quite as amusing as when the characters in Late Night Shopping had to drive in a car where the radio was jammed on a AOR station.

Adventureland still

Adventureland is a consistently funny film although never quite belly laugh funny. Well, apart from the boner in the pool joke.

The characters are all beautifully drawn and Eisenberg and Stewart are perfectly cast. As is Martin Starr, who when told by potential flame Sue O’Malley that she can’t go out with him because he’s Jewish and her parents are strict Catholics, protests: ‘But I’m an aetheist. I mean more of a pragmatic nihilist, I guess, or an existential pagan, if you will.’

I doubt they were ever going to make it long-term as a couple anyway.

Kristen Wiig appears here in a small role and, like her turn as Maggie Mayhem in Whip It, she’s excellent and Ryan Reynolds also excels as Connell, the park’s repair guy. He’s married, manipulative and might just have jammed with Lou Reed once upon a time, providing guitar on a bunch of Lou classics like Shine a Light on Love.

A few moments didn’t strike me as entirely convincing including Connell’s song title faux pas and while I don’t want to give away the ending completely, I’ll just say that sometimes the climax shouldn’t be what the audience wants, sometimes it should be the ending that they really don’t want.

But I did enjoy the first ninety or so minutes so much that I still reckon Adventureland is right up there with the very best films about the trials and tribulations of first love made so far this century.

Utilised in a great scene with dodgem cars, here’s the song that helped break The Cure big in America. This is Just Like Heaven:

 
For more on the films, here are the trailers for Whip It and Adventureland.

Girl Ray & Gemma Ray (with Sparks)

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Girl Ray & Gemma Ray (& Sparks)

Earl Grey is not my particular cup of tea. The lemony flavoured tea that is.
Earl Grey the album by Girl Ray on the other hand is flipping fantastic.

If you’ve ever read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, you’ll be aware of his 10,000 hour rule. This roughly holds that in order to truly excel in your chosen field you need to put in 10,000 hours of what he terms ‘deliberate practice’.* The author cites the example of The Beatles among others, pointing out the crucial part in their later success generated by their time spent in Hamburg, playing lengthy speed-fuelled shows night after night for months at the time.

Which doesn’t, though, explain why young bands like Girl Ray can arrive and already sound so accomplished.

Girl Ray consist of three teenagers from North London: Poppy Hankin (lovelorn & occasionally off-kilter vocals & guitar), Sophie Moss (bass) and Iris McConnell (drums). Earlier this year they recorded their debut album in Ramsgate with some help from their Man Ray, Mike O’Malley, who is now their touring guitarist.

Listening to Earl Grey reminds me on occasion of Gorky’s and Cate Le Bon and sometimes they even remind me of acts from outside Wales too although none of them could be filed under C86, a comparison that is often made.

Preacher starts out like one of those very idiosyncratic Velvets tracks that Moe Tucker might take over on vocal duties while the instrumental, second part of Stupid Things (Reprise) somehow made me think of old Rod the Mod’s version of I Don’t Want To Talk About It. According to Stereogum, both Rod and Girl Ray attended the same school. But I’m sure that’s just a coincidence.

There really are a myriad of influences here, many of them unexpected like the organ motif in Cutting Shapes that’s more than a little proggy. On their Facebook page they describe former snooker star Steve Davies as their hero so maybe they’re into all that Magma and Henry Cow stuff that he adores.

Or maybe they’re just being ironic.

Monday Tuesday meanwhile is wonderfully melancholic and comes over at times like a cross between Hefner and Judee Sill and on the near title track Earl Grey (Stuck in a Groove) they certainly do get stuck in a groove.

Amazingly the song lasts thirteen minutes but it’s the shortest sounding track of that length I’ve ever heard or am likely to ever hear. Around the five and a half minute mark, the band start on a kind of fade out coda that starts off with an incantation with gorgeous harmonies and then builds like an indie version of the nah nah nah nah nah nah nah second half of Hey Jude but with all kinds of different instruments like mariachi trumpets, wah wah guitar and jazzy flutes making guest appearances over a rock solid bassline. A bit like Tubular Bells now I come to think of it.

Oh and there’s also a wee touch of Bohemian Rhapsody in the second part of the song (it’s structured into three distinct sections) and a bit of an old fashioned wigout as the song reaches its climax.

You never got that on a Mighty Lemon Drops track, did you?

Big favourites of Unthought of, though, somehow and DJ Marc Riley, the girls played two stages at Glastonbury a few months back and they’ve just been longlisted for a Q Awards ‘best breakthrough act’ gong.

Named an album of the day by 6 Music and album of the week by
Stereogum and Under The Radar, I’ll go further. Earl Grey is the Album of the Month and very likely the Album of the Summer.

It’s newly out on Moshi Moshi Records and from it, this is Stupid Things:


Girl Ray will be touring Britain in the not distant future including a date in Glasgow’s Broadcast early in November. For more on the band click here for their Bandcamp page and here for their Facebook page.

~

If you’ve ever wondered how you could get to play Carnegie Hall, here’s your answer. And Malcolm Gladwell might well agree with the advice of Ron and Russell Mael.

‘Practice, man, practice.’

This is Gemma Ray with some help from Sparks and How Do I Get To Carnegie Hall?


For more on Gemma Ray here’s her website.

* A quick calculation tells me that I’ve spent very approximately a thousand hours writing blogs over the past four years so if Malcolm Gladwell’s principle is right then by around 2053, I should be pretty damn nifty at this kind of thing.

 

Bad Cover Versions, Marc E. Smith in 2027, A Comparison between Arcade Fire and David Brent and the Best Thing to Come Out of Halifax since John Noakes

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Few moments in the history of pop music can rival the absolute grandeur of Scott Walker’s baritone soaring over the impeccable orchestrations of tracks like Mrs Murphy or Montague Terrace (In Blue). Utterly sublime, dontcha think?

Maybe best of all is the macabre MOR of Plastic Palace People, which somehow managed to be a damn sight more trippy than 99% of the psychedelia going around at the time of its release; distinctly uneasy listening I would guess for a majority of the mainstream audiences that might tune into the BBC’s Saturday night variety show Scott but were more likely to enjoy a bit of Engelbert to Noel Scott Engel.

So did Jarvis Cocker’s take on the song impress last Friday during the Scott Walker Proms tribute on BBC 4 at the Albert Hall, fanboy karaoke or inventive reinterpretation?

Answer: fanboy karaoke and verging on the cringeworthy too.

The others on the bill, John Grant, Susanne Sundfør and Richard Hawley were better but none really took Walker’s simple advice beforehand to ‘try to approach it in a new way.’ Like Scott’s take on a bunch of Jacques Brel tracks. Or for that matter Alex Harvey’s version of Next.

Terrible though Jarvis was I won’t let it put me off His n’ Hers, or for that matter, the Scott Walker produced We Love Life – which, of course contained a track titled Bad Cover Version with a dig at Scott’s ‘Til The Band Comes In.


I seriously think Mark. E Smith would have been a better choice to tackle a Scott masterpiece as he really does possess the effortless knack of approaching cover versions in a new way whether it’s Sister Sledge, R. Dean Taylor or The Move.

My plan this week was to hopefully feature something from New Facts Emerge but none of the tracks have any accompanying videos and, more importantly, none of them are anywhere near as good as best work of the band.

It’s almost unthinkable – well to me anyway – but The Fall have been on something of a downward spiral for the ten years since Reformation Post TLC and the departure from the band of Smith’s missis Eleni Poulou clearly hasn’t helped matters.

In another ten year’s time Smith will still be The Fall and on his latest album there will no no music as such. It will consist solely of one long piece where the singer rants incoherently about conspiracy theories; growls; coughs up his guts and cackles insanely at something which will never become clear. It’ll also likely make Couples vs Jobless Mid 30s from New Facts sound commercial, which is saying something.

I’ll still likely be daft enough to buy a copy though.

Instead of The Fall, here’s some Arcade Fire.

Their new album Everything Now was produced by the band themselves, along with Daft Punk‘s Thomas Bangalter and Jarvis Cocker’s old Pulp mucker Steve Mackey, with co-production coming from Markus Dravs. Recorded at a number of studios including Boombox in New Orleans, the album has divided opinion. Big style.

The Independent and NME both rate Everything Now 5/5, while the 405’s reviewer reckons it’s ‘horrendously misjudged, with songs that are not just boring but actively unlikeable’ and ‘a compositional mess, somehow both gratuitously moralising and morally repugnant, duller than watching already-dry paint.’ That’ll be a 2/10 which begs the question how rank rotten would this reviewer judge an album to be before he hands out a 1.

I’m finding Everything Now very uneven as a whole (although I do prefer it to their Springsteen influenced second album) and can’t work out they failed to include I Give You Power (ft. Mavis Staples) their single from earlier in the year but thought it was a good idea to accommodate Chemistry, a track that could have been part of David Brent’s set on Life on the Road.

I do, though, adore the title track and it’s two shorter variants – Everything_Now (Continued) and Everything Now (Continued). When I first heard it I thought of everything from You’re Just To Good To Be True and the piano on Dancing Queen through to girls on holiday dancing round handbags and Peruvian buskers on Argyle Street, which can’t be a bad thing – and few songs with such downbeat lyrics have ever felt so joyous, have they?


Singer Win Butler has been railing over the past few days about criticism of the album, particularly of his ‘rapping’ on Signs Of Life. He denies he was even attempting to rap and is utterly pissed off.

So now he knows how some fans feel when his band issue dress codes for their shows, ticket holders for some recent gigs being requested to refrain from wearing ‘shorts, large logos, flip flops, tank tops, crop tops, baseball hats, solid white or red clothing,’ while also warning, ‘We reserve the right to deny entry to anyone dressed inappropriately.’

Fuck that for a caper.

Although, to be fair, they might be on to something by banning baseball caps. And flip flops too come to think of it.

Arcade Fire have just announced some dates for Spring 2018, including a date at Glasgow’s Hydro.

For more on the band: https://www.facebook.com/arcadefire/

The Orielles are a newish indie act from the good town of Halifax – let’s not hold the fact that it’s the birthplace of Ed Sheeran against it.

The band feature a couple of sisters, Esmé Dee Hand Halford (bass & vocals) and Sidonie B Halford (drums) together with their pal Henry Carlyle Wade (guitar & vocals).

Signed to Heavenly, the band like Sonic Youth and Steely Dan, Pavement and The Pastels – and they’re absolutely chuffed that Stephen Pastel is now following them on Twitter. They also cite Quentin Tarantino as an influence.

Filmed while they toured Britain back in April, this is their new single I Only Bought It For The Bottle and very good it is too, in fact, I think they’re the best thing to come out of Halifax since John Noakes. Maybe better!


For more on The Orielles: https://www.facebook.com/theorielles/