Franz Ferdinand keep pumping out the songs, and as they get more displaced from the indie revivalism they originated from, they get more interesting. ‘Demagogue’ might not be part of a new album (It’s part of a 30 Songs, 30 Days campaign until the US election), but it shows Franz Ferdinand in hyper-political mode, not cautiously tip-toeing around the subject, but throwing out lyrics like ‘He’s a demagogue / He pleases my fears’ and ‘Feels so good to be dumb’. It’s hard to make a political song without falling into parody, especially if, like Franz Ferdinand, the band don’t mess around with metaphors, but maybe that’s the entire point. It’s a bit like saying the election has gone beyond being a joke, and now it’s dangerous. Franz Ferdinand put together a really good song for this compilation, extra points for the bassline and the extra vocals which sounds like a nation of people screaming – exactly like the election, right?
We’re two weeks in, and there’s more songs than we know what to do with. This week we shuffle through a surprising amount of B’s, and they’re all classic B’s. But seriously – Blur, Beatles, Beyoncé, Bowie. We wallow in post-breakup misery with Blur, damage our hearing with Sparklehorse and catch Bowie in a strange phase.
No Distance Left To Run – Blur
Not the happiest way to begin a shuffle sequence, but do we really have a choice? This highlight from the best Blur album (no question) was about Damon Albarn’s relationship disintegration, and he sounds like he’s falling apart. ‘I won’t kill myself, trying to stay in your life / I got no distance left to run’ – 13 is often credited as an album about Albarn’s breakup, but does it get featured in enough breakup album lists? No where near, but it’s songs like ‘No Distance Left To Run’ stand toe-to-toe with Adele’s heartbreakers. The song manages to have Graham Coxon show off his guitar skills within a ballad, plus there’s some excellent backing vocals. Well, now I’m all sad.
Polythelene Pam – The Beatles
I have one Beatles album saved, and it’s Abbey Road. I haven’t even heard the thing the whole way through. If you’re looking for a Beatles’ song which has some hidden meaning, you won’t find it here. It’s barely over a minute and is pretty much about an attractive woman with the strange line ‘She’s so good-looking but she looks like a man’. Nice back-handed compliment, guys. The scouse accent when they sing ‘You could say she was attractively built’ is the funniest thing on the track. The song sounds underdeveloped, but then again I don’t think I could stand two more verses about plastic bags.
Sweet Dreams – Beyoncé
Oh, we’ve hit the jackpot. Remember when this was played on repeat for about a year? This is 8 years old! Sasha Fierce was peak Beyoncé, if we’re talking 100% pop-Beyoncé. Anything afterwards, it gets arty and conceptual, whilst still making sure Beyoncé remained the Queen of Pop. This album was loaded with singles, top to bottom. The kind of semi-chorus of ‘My guilty pleasure, I ain’t going nowhere / Baby as long as you’re here, I’ll be floating on air’ is incredible, especially when it switches out from the main chorus, just like that. It’s kind of untouchable, even if it’s not ‘Halo’. Now, ‘Halo’, we can’t talk about that.
Ghost Of His Smile – Sparklehorse
I have no idea what Sparklehorse is, I think my first point of contact was his duet with Thom Yorke on a cover of ‘Wish You Were Here’, which I have forgotten completely. Somebody made some weird production choices on this track, I assume on purpose, because the drums and guitars are crushed up to the point of verging on unlistenable. The little keyboard line is cute, and the vocals punch through well. I think it’s about an introvert, but the ‘ghost of a smile’ line makes me think he might be depressed. This is a sad song, and I think I need to move on before the guitars make my ears bleed.
Knock On Wood – Live, 2016 Remastered – David Bowie
This is from the Who Can I Be Now? boxset that came out a few weeks ago and I fully recommend it if you’re as interested as I am in Bowie’s in-between stage between glam and his Berlin period. It’s in-keeping with his soul interest of the time, being a cover of Eddie Floyd, who I’m told is a soul artist from the 60s. But the song gets jacked up into a Diamond Dogs rock track with a glam-rock guitar and a saxophone blaring away in the background. I can’t see him, but I imagine Bowie strutting across stage in some kind of intense suit.
Best Of The Week?
‘No Distance Left To Run’, followed by ‘Sweet Dreams’. Beyoncé might have the shinier song, but ‘No Distance Left To Run’ has you covered for wallowing in sadness, which we don’t recommend, but if you have to, ‘No Distance’ is cathartic.
Dylan Baldi is one of those indie-rock musicians that graduated from bedroom-rock-pop act into something much more intense and physical, especially their 2012 album Attack On Memory, which was worlds away from songs like ‘Forget You All The Time’. Since then, Baldi has recruited an even fuller band, and on ‘Modern Act’ attempts to bridge some of the intensity of the last two records with their poppy side. It seems directly descended from 90s rock, from the breezy, jangly opening guitar chords and quiet-loud-quiet formula. Baldi criticises the ‘modern act’, he feels like living is just being overwhelmed by everything, gods and wars and ‘count your friends’. It’s not like he’s given up though, he wants a life, it’s just a completely unattainable ideal. It’s a switchup from the last record, and much more enjoyable for it.
The Rolling Stones could easily sit back and play world tours for the rest of their career, but here’s an album full of blues covers. It’s a funny concept in 2016, it’s like if Kanye decided to do an album of classic Hip-Hop covers – no-one would mind, but it’s just kind of unusual. But this is the Rolling Stones, who were around in the era when a big band could do a cover album. I have no idea if the Rolling Stones have approached this blues-cover idea before, but if they haven’t, it’s long overdue. It makes sense. ‘Just Your Fool’ could be easily mistaken for an original Stones song, it’s got harmonica solos, plinky-plonky pianos and casual death threats at the possibility of losing a lover. All in a day’s work.
One of the great things about streaming is there’s very little to limit an album library. Unlike a physical collection of CDs or vinyl, or even an iTunes library, is that eventually you’ll fill up a shelf, or the space limit. Whilst there might actually be space limitations on playlists, it’s so that you can actually fit a broad spectrum on your streaming service of choice. So we’re shuffling the entire thing. Our library, in its ever-evolving growth and decline, is going to be shuffled at random. The aim of this is to somehow get me to listen to things I’ve stored but never taken the time to listen to, or to explain why Dido’s No Angel is no guilty pleasure. We’ll do five songs at random every week. Good? Good.
Just Like A Baby – Sly And The Family Stone
Great. I have to explain why I haven’t heard this classic album yet. I’ve heard plenty about There’s A Riot Goin’ On, mostly that’s it’s pretty great. ‘Just Like A Baby’ is very funky. It’s like a lost time capsule of funkiness, with a silky guitar solo that has Sly Stone moan over it – like a baby, but it’s the bass that rules the track, just like any funk track should. It pops, but don’t think of it in the way that Flea’s basslines pop. It’s subtle and not overpowering, but it’s always there. Stone sings about crying like a baby when his lover lies to him, inside a ‘little big man’. I honestly can’t tell whether it’s a drum machine or not, but the ‘tinniness’ of it makes me think it is. This was made in 1971, so it’s got to be a fairly early introduction of drum machines, right? I just realised I know very little about drum machines.
Reprise – Grizzly Bear
I have heard this before, but I can’t quite remember it. ‘Reprise’ doesn’t stick out like ‘Knife’ or ‘Colorado’ did on Yellow House, but then again this was a fairly quiet album back when Grizzly Bear were a quiet semi-folk band. ‘Reprise’ has grown on me now – look at that repeated like ‘My love’s another kind’. Another kind of what? And in relation to what else? I’m tempted to shout ‘Show yourself’ to Grizzly Bear, but I think it would break their spell. They like their mystery, especially on Yellow House where they do sound like a band singing about hidden corners of houses. Listen to those layers of vocals and banjo. This is when Grizzly Bear sounded a bit like Beach House – especially the start of the song – but then again, I think songs like this are much less obscured than those first couple of Beach House albums. It’s less about a layering of effects and more a layering of instruments without becoming blurry.
Deeper Understanding – Kate Bush
What I’m playing here is the Director’s Cut version that came out in 2011. It’s two minutes longer and arguably not as good as the Sensual World version, which I adore. In a really strange move, Bush adds her son’s vocals onto the chorus with a vocoder, and it doesn’t add much to the song at all, but Bush is fond of her son being part of her work, so there you have it. Generally Director’s Cut was an unusual choice, re-recording many parts of The Sensual World and The Red Shoes that didn’t especially need addressing, but I am fond of the harmonica solo that doesn’t intrude as much as you’d think it would, plus her scrambled vocals at the end are interesting. It turns it into proggy territory, and the back half gets quite hypnotic. Points for keeping the references to ordering computer programmes from catalogues in. I talked about the song’s lyrics a bit in my classic review if you’re interested.
World Love – The Magnetic Fields
I made it through 69 Love Songs once, more out of a morbid curiosity and the idea of a marathon of genre-spanning pop songs appealing to me. ‘World Love’ integrates the spanish flavours that The Magnetic Fields used on 69 Love Songs plenty. I loved how they had so many songs to write and record that the songs were mostly kept short, light and bouncy. Stephin Merritt’s known for his unique sense of humour, but lines like ‘So if you’re feeling low, stuck in some bardo / I, even I know the solution / Love, music, wine and revolution’ isn’t sarcastic at all, even if he’s proposing love and political upheaval is the key is happiness. He might be right.
Nice To Be Out – Stereophonics
You’ll have to bear with me because this album was my childhood. I can still see that bright green cover stuck in a CD case in the glovebox, probably scratched to shit. Saying that, I don’t remember this song at all, so nostalgia can’t be that powerful. It’s not ‘Handbags And Gladrags’ or ‘Have A Nice Day’, but it’s good to remember when Stereophonics were a bit deal, trying to be a bit like the next Oasis and all that. They might not have the classic album or the global singles that Oasis did, but they could write a damn good song. ‘Nice To Be Out’ is an acoustic song with Kelly Jones’s instantly recognisable vocals, where he occasionally cracks up if he holds a note a bit too long, and some really nice glossy pop production. It’s a bit of a bittersweet song, with jokes like ‘I stood where Oswald took his shot / In my opinion there’s a bigger plot’ and then also ‘Sleep to drink or drink to sleep / One more week and we will meet’. This era of Stereophonics is criminally underrated for rock bands.
Best Of The Week?
‘Reprise’, no doubt. Completely head over heels and now desperately want to revisit Yellow House. Let’s all revisit Yellow House right now. Yeah.
Kings of Leon have now pumped out three singles in anticipation of their new album, Walls, the immediate-pop-first-single ‘Waste A Moment’ and the slower, acoustic-led title track. And to be honest, it’s not been horrifically bad (but was there any chance that Kings Of Leon would deliver anything other than pristine pop-rock?). ‘Around The World’ arguably could’ve been the first single, riding the closest to a dance beat they’ve ever got and has the kind of brittle, snappy guitars that drew them comparisons to the Strokes early on. WALLS is already looking a hell of a lot better than Mechanical Bull.
Bon Iver is a really interesting band if you want to look at bands that really represent how modern technology is arming musicians with the means to push what boundaries we have left – and there aren’t many. Genres are almost completely useless, both from the producers of music and the consumers, as everybody just consumes everything, no matter what labels we put on things. This technology has elevated Bon Iver from a highly organic folk project with Justin Vernon at the centre to a highly synthetic multi-genre and multi-person thing. It’s harder to pin down, and that’s what’s great about it, that it’s very hard even now to say Bon Iver is ‘this’. Vernon has embraced autotune in a way only he and Kanye West have been able to master, to use such a highly synthetic and ‘fake’ instrument to construct beauty. And Vernon isn’t like Kanye – he can sing, so the autotune is an interesting choice. And despite all of this access to technology and communication, have we ever felt more disconnected from everything? When Vernon poses a question about how to be a human being, or repeatedly references God, it creates a stark contrast, and draws attention to why we shouldn’t be more connected. Famously Bon Iver’s first album, For Emma, Forever Ago was created in relative isolation in a cabin in rural Wisconsin, but that was self-imposed. What happens when the isolation isn’t self imposed, and what’s worse, it’s when we’re surrounded by millions of people who feel exactly the same but can’t articulate it to each other?
The technology sometimes gets too much, funnily enough. On the first track, ’22’, and on ’29’*, there are purposeful glitches in Vernon’s extended vocal to the point of being unlistenable. If it’s an aesthetical choice, it completely guts the song, especially in the final chorus of ’29’ and if it’s to represent a fragmentation – of the mind – it’s still very off-putting. Because very often, 22, A Million is very beautiful, so when Vernon allows little inconsistencies to break the lovely guitar strums of ’22’ or the quiet folk of ’29’, it’s infuriating. Fortunately the album has very little of these, and we can get to praising this thing. Technology has saved Bon Iver, in a way. Not only has it freed Bon Iver from folk, but it pushes 22, A Million into something interesting. It began on Bon Iver, Bon Iver, but it is a bigger transformation here, like the watery synths and chaotic backing vocals on ‘666’. Similarly, Vernon offers another ‘Woods’ on ‘715’, where he uses autotune, specifically a system called Messina, to split off multiple vocals from his own, so there’s one higher pitch and one lower pitch, and often when he really reaches deep, it’s overwhelming and magical. It isn’t what autotune was invented for, but hearing ‘715’, you could almost imagine this is what it is for. There isn’t even any extra instrumentation as Vernon remembers his character being abandoned by a creek (with more bible references about being left by the reeds and the more blunt ‘God damn, turn around now), and perhaps that character is comparing being left behind by a lover with being left by parents. Once again, Bon Iver is alone.
The numbers in the titles and the various religious references are important. Both represent hard facts and figures, and in the case of religion, explanations for the wrongs of life from divine knowledge. When something bad happens, you turn to science or faith to explain why it happened, even if the reason is much nearer and much more simple. The answer is often us, but Vernon is almost in denial, looking to much bigger things in order to explain very small faults. On one of the tracks where Bon Iver becomes the larger band that the live performances show, 33 “GOD”, it could be seen as a defeatist song, about how nothing really matters as we can’t live forever to enjoy it. But I think it’s a plea to enjoy what is presented in front of us, and the smaller things we never look to enjoy, like on the line ‘I’d be as happy as hell, if you stayed for tea’ or the sample from Jim Ed Brown’s song ‘Morning’, where they sample ‘Here in this room, this narrow room where life began when we were young last night’, and that’s about enjoying intimacy and not seeing it as a purely momentary happiness.
22, A Million feels like a big concept squeezed into a short space of time (it’s only a minute longer than the Pixies album that got released today – 33 minutes), but it’s one of those condensed concept albums and God knows it has the front cover for a concept album. It set itself a monumental task of dealing with alienation in the face of mass communication and its length and mystery has left us with plenty of questions to ask. Yes, the interpretation of the numbers and titles will be endlessly entertaining, but even at face interpretation it’s very interesting. The logic of maths and equations sitting directly next to the comforting reassurance of religion plays havoc with Vernon’s problems with the lack of things staying still, or being logical at all. The point of all of these things whizzing around Vernon’s mind is that it is too much. There is too much ‘stuff’ going on around us, much of it contradicting and arguing with each other. Bon Iver asks if we should sift through it all and try to make sense of it, or if we’re overwhelmed by it, or if ‘Well it harms me, it harms me, it harms me, I’ll let it in’ as Vernon sings on ‘00000’, and we can accept that it might hurt us, or it will help us make ourselves better humans, if there is such a thing. Clearly, we’ve not done a good job of articulating this album, and it’s very hard to do. Some things are too big to explain.
Funnel Recommends: 715 – CRΣΣKS / 33 “GOD” / 666 ʇ
*We shortened the titles of the tracks, because we’re really not keen on copying and pasting ’10 d E A T h b R E a s T ⚄ ⚄’ over and over again.
I remember Temples arriving with a 60s-psychedelia package well-formed, plus a frontman in James Bagshaw that looked eerily like Marc Bolan. It had some big singles like ‘Keep In The Dark’ and ‘Shelter Song’, so if they were anything to go by, ‘Certainty’ should be a monumental first single for their comeback. The way it sounds like about three songs in one is a bonus – it’s part Disney-soundtrack, part psych-rock and part anthemic pop. It rolls in a lot of elements in four minutes, striking out with a synth lead and a squelchy bassline that has more of an Animal Collective sound to it, or maybe an even better comparison is Tame Impala’s embracing of dance and pop. If Temples want to make psychedelic music that’s more danceable that’s something well within their capabilities, but clearly they want to aim for songs where people can also shout the lyrics back at them at festivals. James Bagshaw’s vocals are less disoriented and he’s allowed to explore his range a bit more. It’s a shame that that bassline from the start is completely reduced to nothing when the synth comes in, but the synth is a big deal – I get it.
You know how Led Zeppelin are always attributed as the kind of band where each player is the best in their field of the time? Then there’s the original lineup of Pixies holding the corner for indie rock. Even the Red Hot Chili Peppers in their chart-topping prime have the four pillars that are unparalleled in talent. Warpaint (funnily enough, initially hyped for their association with the Chili Peppers) have come to represent that untouchable instrumental prowess, with maybe the best rhythm section going, compromised of Jenny Lee Lindberg and Stella Mozgawa. Heads Up is the album that they teased previously with their last two albums – and an excellent EP and collection of singles – but had detours down different routes that sometimes made for a more subdued version of what they intended. Finally, oh so finally, Heads Up is the dancey psych-rock statement that doesn’t lose its groove halfway through or disappears into sleepy R’n’B. Sure, there’s R’n’B, but it’s uptempo, buoyant and holds your attention – ‘The Stall’ is the upgrade to ‘Hi’ and ‘Biggy’ from their self titled album. In fact, most of it is a retooled, upgraded, funk-injected version of what Warpaint offered. Because Warpaint have always been a dance band, they just had to make the album to prove it.
The best Warpaint songs force you to latch onto an instrument for the length of the song and zone everything out, then move onto the next instrument, and the next, until you get the entire picture. Though in recent years the number of lengthy songs that they’ve written has thinned out, aside from the excellent ‘No Way Out’, Warpaint do slightly return to that longer tracklength on a couple of songs here, such as ‘So Good’ and the title track, with both stretching to five or six minutes. ‘So Good’ is an instant highlight, driven right out the gate by Mozgawa setting the tempo and some production wizardry by Jacob Bercovici, who sets the drums front and centre, making ‘So Good’ into the danciest track they’ve had since ‘Disco//Very’. The lyrics are about an on/off partner who the protagonist is almost dependant on, and contrasts ‘I’m going out my mind’ with the denial of the next line, ‘I’m handling it’. But the other side, the one who has the power, never seems to connect the way that Theresa Wayman, co-vocalist with Emily Kokal, conveys it. The guitars are way more subtle once again, providing a centrepiece in the gaps and bridges between verses and choruses. But it’s easy to latch onto the needling twin guitars that twirl around the drums and bass, you can zone out to the bass (provided by Theresa Wayman on a rare occasion), or if you’re like me, those crisp drums.
The psychedelic side of Warpaint appears in new ways. Instead of woozy guitars there’s woozy synths and electronics that blur into a haze with the bass and drums on ‘Dre’ and ‘By Your Side’, which has more hip-hop than indie-rock in its veins, though maybe the title of ‘Dre’ gives it away. The embracing of electronic music is smooth and weaves itself nicely into Warpaint, never sounding like this is Warpaint moving away from ‘guitar’ music, as they always slip in and out of sounds, making them one of the few acts around that defies genre within popular music. It’s very hard to define Warpaint, and it only gets harder on Heads Up. ‘Heads Up’, the title track, is a culmination of what Warpaint have done up to this point, beginning with the gloomy piano of ‘Son’ and the lo-fi vocals of The Fool (which at this point, sounds so far removed from Warpaint are presenting here), before Lindberg’s bass gallops in at full pace, a little bit like ‘Krimson’. ‘Heads Up’ – the song – does feel like a throwback to ‘Krimson’ and ‘Beetles’ with all of the time changes, guitar craziness and group vocals.
The album ends with a song Emily Kokal wrote when she was 19, ‘Today Dear’, and is much more in line with any of her solo work in that its just her and a guitar, but it becomes reinforced with bass, glockenspiel and ambient electronics towards the end. So, in the space of a song, Warpaint have transitioned from single performers, excellent or excellent-in-waiting in their field, and by the end, you have the rock-steady group of four that’s now writing some of the most interesting music around. Even in the lyrics, it’s clear this was written for a different time – ‘Today, dear / Today / I saw my blood drawn out / Saw my flood run dry’ begins the song. It’s one of the most beautiful things Warpaint have released, in the same lane as ‘Baby’ or ‘Son’. Heads Up is fully realised. It doesn’t dip in the middle like Warpaint tended to do after a few listens. Maybe it was the pace of recording that made Heads Up a more urgent release; they didn’t agonise over it like Warpaint. Maybe it’s just that they’re some of the best musicians around making pretty great music. We might not be able to label it, but we can enjoy the hell out of it.
Funnel Recommends: New Song / So Good / Today Dear
It sounds like a match made in heaven. There had been rumours that they had been working together, but The Weeknd dropped ‘Starboy’ out of nowhere only a year after his last album, with an eye-grabbing ‘feat. Daft Punk’ stapled on the end. And it does sound like ‘featuring Daft Punk’ rather than ‘featuring The Weeknd’. Maybe that’s the downfall of the track, that Daft Punk are relegated to the robots behind the curtain, never threatening to topple Abel Tesfaye’s rule over the track. Thing is, it’s like when Coldplay got Beyonce on ‘Hymn For The Weekend’ – if through some miracle you get Beyonce or Daft Punk to feature on your track, you let them go wild without them having to stick their name at the start. But despite all that, when the beats kick in at the start, it does sound like a very natural pairing, Daft Punk toning it down to subdued, dark synths instead of the 70s-inspired organic instrumentation of RAM. In that spirit, it is an exciting track for Daft Punk because they don’t recycle the ‘Get Lucky’ sound for easy chart success (This track is going to no.1 regardless anyway). The lyrics are slightly worrying, boiling down into bragging about sports cars, drugs and having multiple women. Try searching for any deeper meaning – I really wanted to find some ironic twist – but it’s nowhere to be found. The most interesting aspect of the song is the Daft Punk feature, and maybe a well-timed Brad Pitt reference.