Archive for January, 2011

The Vaccines are the latest in a long line of wall-of-sound garage rock bands epitomized by the Ramones. Reminiscent of late summer nights by the beach in the car with the AM radio blasting (there was no FM), maybe not quite as fast and rough, but close enough, and all the songs are under three minutes. Hey, somebody has to carry the banner.

So far there are two “single” releases (i.e. two songs each). All four songs are from an album due to be released March 21st entitled, “What Do You Expect from the Vaccines”.

The first single, released last November, contains “Wreckin’ Bar (Ra Ra Ra)”, which is the song most likely to get you to go “Hey Ho, Let’s Go”, churning full crunch until it stops dead at 1:25, making it the first new song (I assume) shorter than what I hear are the new preview times at iTunes. Despite, the harsh chords on the intro, “Blow it Up” is moderate-tempo, two-chord, teen-angst splendor. “Were you ever my age? No, I doubt it.” Where have I heard that before? Oh, yeah, I said it 40 years ago, and I’m pretty sure I heard someone say it before me.

The second single, released just a few days ago, continues the sound and style of the first release. The single includes “We’re Happening”. “I don’t want to bore you”, they sing. Not yet anyway. “Post Break-Up Sex”, with it’s line “What do you expect/ from post break-up sex”, may be the one they’ve picked as the big song from the album, given the album title.

All songs have the vocals down in the mix, and the overall reverb turned up to 11. It’s about the feel of the song, and having a few words to sing along to. The style is as old as I am, although it’s all about youth. It sounds OK to me. It remains to be seen whether The Vaccines can compete in the twenty teenies. Hopefully, they can.

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Care for something to shake off the January doldrums? Oh, yes please! Then isn’t it lucky that Gang of Four have picked this moment to release their first album of new material in 15 years.

Content - Gang of Four

This post-punk band still sounds as vibrantly angular and jagged as they did when they released their first single in 1978, following through the hole in the polyester torn by bands like the Sex Pistols and the Clash. It’s cerebral rock that hits you in the head and the gut, and makes you want to get up and move. It’s music that refuses to play quietly in the corner and be ignored.

Gang of Four push the boundaries of the 4/4 structure, drums working in 4/4 but avoiding anything like a danceable beat until we’re three songs into the album, a harsh, metallic, rhythm guitar driving most of the songs, but the overall sound is kind of funky too. The odd shaped gears mesh into a unified whole, and the production lets you hear how clearly how those pieces fit together.

The band seem to be at their best chronicling alienation and dysfunctionality. “Content” continues this focus. The album opens exceptionally well with the tense twitch of “She Said ‘You Made a Thing of Me’ ”, in which she does, because she’s objectified, taken for granted, and fed up. The couple in the next song don’t fare much better, with the man trying to avoid a heated argument and the drummer letting him know he’s making a bad job of it. Track three invites you to dance to your loss of individual identity, singing along with the refrain “Who am I when everything is me?”

Most of these songs uphold the Gang of Four standard of intensity. Things slow down to a near-sweetness, sort of, on “A Fruit Fly in the Beehive”, then to a dirge on the next song, “It Was Never Going to Turn Out Too Good”. Both songs provide a well timed contrast without dragging down the album.

I don’t want to blow this out of proportion: “Content” provides much of what you’d want from a Gang of Four album, and it is a good listen. However, compared to a lot of the new music I’ve been hearing lately, it’s a bloody great listen.

Hear “Content” by Gang of Four

Part of my day job involves making sure that the text displayed in our software is grammatically, professionally, and politically correct. For example, I spend a lot of time removing multiple instances of the word, “invalid”, since many developers seem oblivious to its dual meaning.

This morning I was personally offended by one application’s reaction to me when I tried to log in to a test deployment. It simply said, “The user is disabled”.

“I beg your pardon”, I wanted to say, even though I was pretty sure the machine wasn’t speaking to me. Or, maybe it was implying that I’m latitudinally challenged in the way that people who spend too much time in front of computers often are.

I soon realized that the machine was projecting its own issues on to me when it lost the plot completely by asking me to input “natural numbers only”. Natural? Surely, that depends on context. For example, in the following sentence:

Three strikes and you’re out.

Three is a natural number. In fact, I’m pretty sure that sentence was used in a film called “The Natural”. However, in the following sentence:

The user has three nipples.

Three is an unnatural number. In the event that the user also becomes disabled, please contact your System Administrator.

Rock music is partly about being different, distinctive, isn’t it? Trawling through new releases, I came across three successive songs from different bands, all of which used the same approach to vocal dynamics: Sing the slow parts melodically, scream the loud parts as though you’re trying to blow your lungs out through your larynx, a techique developed by such old, established bands as Linkin Park.

The songs are as follows:

  • Weight of the Sun (or the Post-Modern Prometheus) – And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead
  • “Learn to Live” – Architects
  • “The Light” – Decoder

Perhaps I find this similarity more grating because I never really did like that dynamic device. In fairness, Architects sound most like a straight-up rock band, despite the vocal contrivance. And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead deserve a special award for having a combined song title and band name that nearly requires vinyl just to hold the print. But overall, the similarities put me too much in mind a scene from Monty Python’s “Life of Brian”.

In the scene, Brian awakes one morning to find his followers assembled below his bedroom window. As part of his efforts to dissuade people from following him, he at one point calls down to the crowd.

Brian: You’ve got to think for yourselves! You’re all individuals!
Crowd (in unison): Yes! We’re all individuals!
Brian: You’re all different!
Crowd: [in unison] Yes, we are all different!
Lone voice: I’m not.
Crowd: Shhhh!

Forget the crowd, listen to your inner voice. More individuals please.

“The Words that Maketh Murder“ is a PJ Harvey song out in advance of the new album, “Let England Shake”, that will be released February 15th.

The song starts with a “Boots are Made for Walking” kind of groove, ends with a quote from “Summertime Blues”, and has an easy 1960s feel. The lyrics also have a 60s feel – it’s an anti-war protest song teaming with disturbingly graphic descriptions of the aftermath of battle – confrontational action born from confrontational words. It doesn’t preach so much as it illustrates and, hopefully, inspires thought and action.

If only this one would go viral, but at least the PJ Harvey fans will go out of their way to hear it.

“Just to Feel my Love, ” read the text. It wasn’t a personal expression from my baby, but the name of a song (well, almost) that she just heard on the bus. I had no idea what song she was talking about, but I was sitting in front of the Google machine, and a quick trip to we7 later we were listening to Billy Joel singing “Make You Feel My Love”, then Adele’s version.

We could have gone on; apparently dozens of people have recorded this latter-day Bob Dylan track. In Ireland alone there are versions by Mary Black, Luka Bloom, Freddie white, and Ronan Keating. Even actor Jeremy Irons has had a bash. According to Wikipedia, the Jazz pianist Bill Evens has a version of the song, which I find difficult to believe since he died 17 years before Dylan released it, but considering Springsteen just released the studio version of “Because the Night”, I guess I’d better investigate further before dismissing it out of hand.

As I listened to the various versions, the following questions came to mind:

  1. There was a Bob Dylan song on the radio I didn’t know about?
  2. Is it me, or does Adele sound a whole lot like Amy Winehouse?
  3. There so much product out there, how would it be possible for any one set of ears to listen to it all?

What is my point? One of the reasons I don’t blog more often is because I convinced myself that blogging leaves me too open to smart arses who will amuse themselves by pointing out my jaw-droppingly ignorant omissions and mistakes. My experience with “Make You Feel My Love” underlined the fact that nobody knows everything. As I’m sure you guessed, the answer to question 3 is that it isn’t possible to listen to everything, not by half. But it is possible to keep exploring and writing about it. If you know of something worth listening to and commenting on, let me know.

OK, chill. It’s just on the table, it isn’t a done deal. I was sure their 15 minutes would be up on the last night of the panto, but their appearance late last year on Brendan O’Connor’s Saturday show proved them to be as jaw-droppingly surreal as “Father Ted” characters, and suggested that there is still some entertainment value to be had.

OK, but Eurovision? I realize that Ireland has been clueless for years about this song contest, ever since the pitch shifted after our triumvirate of conquests in the mid 90s. You can’t just stand up and sing your song anymore, as I’m sure Brian Kennedy can tell you. You need a big production number that would never work in any other context. You need visual stimulation as well as aural. You need scantily clad women dancing around a disembodied hand emerging from a piano as bare-chested Rank film extras beat giant drums with flashing flight terminal signs around and, just for good measure, demons with guitars. I’m not saying it’s right, but it is what it is. Add to that the number of Eastern European countries that have split like amoeba and are now voting for their former single-cell mates, and we are left scratching our heads over what to do about it, as we have been for well over a decade.

We tried to do it straight (with a pleasant, non-competitive song), we tried to do it pop (with a generic up-beat pop song). We tried to do it trad (without even waiting to see whether we would be putting forward a trad song). We even tried a dusty old turkey (with whatever the hell that was).

Is it just me, or is there a pattern here? Mix and match, pick the gimmick first then throw some inoffensive music at it that was chosen by committee, which in recent times usually consists of the entire population, or at least the ones who watch the Late Late. Now this year, instead of putting up one turkey who can’t sing, we are considering sending two. Have we learned nothing?

It’s a hard thing to have to admit, in a country where everyone has at least one song in them, but it’s time to bring in the professionals. We should let them write and/or choose a song, choose the performer, choreograph it, and road manage it. The extent of our input should be hiring said professionals then staying out of it to let them do their job. That’s what the competition is doing, and the result for us would certainly be no worse than it has been lately.

Or maybe we should just pack it in.