Monday, 8 December 2008

Rossz csillag alatt született

Will Langdale is make for more with some Hungarian-sounding experimentalism for you to embarrass yourself trying to pronounce

Venetian Snares – Rossz csillag alatt született

Venetian Snares, aka Canadian Aaron Funk, is an artist notorious for his demanding music, lying somewhere between “'89-'91 summer of love”-style dance on albums such as Higgins Ultra Low Track Glue Funk Hits 1972-2006 and the experimental, harsh, speedy IDM found on Doll! doll! doll!. Rossz csillag alatt született (or “Born Under a Bad Star”), however, hits a clever medium, as he reworks Eastern European classical music with his ineffable skill at breakbeat drumwork.

The album starts low, working in such artists as Béla Bartók, but builds to the drums in a somewhat underwhelming way. The first hint of an embracing album comes with Öngyilkos vasárnap – a remix of Billie Holiday's version of Gloomy Sunday, better known as the notorious Hungarian suicide song. The track builds with glorious misery, the strange 7/4 time working beautifully despite a popular Western audience being generally adverse to the signature. Holiday's voice cuts through the unnerving, wailing synthesiser, and the following track, Felbomlasztott mentőkocsi, leads out from it to truly set the album up.

From there, Funk delves feverishly into dramatic sampled strings, piano, brass and clarinet, using Igor Stravinsky and Niccolò Paganini on Hajnal and Sir Edward Elgar in Szamár madár. One of the best pieces – and one that characterises the album's brooding ambiance and spasmodic beats – is Második galamb, prefaced by a foreboding female monologue, informing the album's artwork of pigeons taking flight. This mid-section is the real meat of the record, with the fantastic juxtaposition of Funk's sampling and rhythm creating an extremely informed hotch-potch of style.

The album comes to a head in the final two tracks, Kétsarkú mozgalom and Senki dala (Bipolar Movement and Nobody's Song). Kétsarkú mozgalom sounds as though it's leaking sadness through digital wounds, and Senki dala has a strange “for whom the bell tolls” ambiance to it, yet after a few listens they can seem somewhat lacking after the crafted brutality of the album's middle tracks. Although it rounds the pace of the album nicely, if anything, Rossz csillag alatt született falls down on its framing, despite being intensely intelligent and challenging throughout.


Code nightclub, Hull

Reviewed by Rory Stobo

Rock clubs and bars are wily beasts to master. Unlike more conventional spots which can be expected, deservedly so in the majority of cases, to be a bit more fly-by-night, those of us who like our beer with breakfast have come to expect a little more in the way of stability. New venues offering us new and exciting opportunities to wear black clothes and dance to Bohemian Rhapsody (Every. Single. Time.) come across the same problematic questions every time. Why is this new place any better than where I've spent my weekends for the past eight years, any why should I care?

It was always going to be with a little trepidation that I made my way over to Code for the first time, the week after it's grand opening night which had, by all accounts, gone quite well. Located in what used to be, I am told, a gay bar, nicely taking care of all your Judas Priest jokes, Code is far better situated for the hum-drum task of actually reaching the place than it's established rival, Spiders. You really get the feeling that there's been a fair amount of rather shrewd thought put into the location of the place. Not only is it clinging lovingly onto the bus interchange itself, it nestles snug in a bug in a rug behind, wait for it, a 24-hour Tesco. So much for your ill-concieved kebab at 3am, just stroll on in and pick yourself up some bruschetta and fine cheeses. Every little helps.

Once you get into Code, three fifty lighter and with a free drink in hand if you're a new member, you get a chance to take in the ambiance and have a scout around. The first of the club's two rooms, both on the ground floor, I explored was what I had introduced to me as the 'chillout lounge.' In a lesser club, this might suggest some kind of RnB nightmare, but here you're treated to comfortable chairs and the sound of guitar hero blasting out at varying degrees of competency from the Wii console set up on a five-foot projector in the corner. The welcome suspicion creeps in that Code cares, in the same way that Spiders used to care, before it's complacency drove most of it's DJs to jump ship and work here. Strolling into the main room only reinforces this, I won't bore you with a playlist, but suffice to say that the music policy at Code is driven by the clubgoers, not the management, and this earns big points in a social setting where it's all to easy to play the floor-fillers and quickly become stale. Ample dancefloor room, a pool table and arcade machines that actually work make this a place that really grabs the attention. Code has a very good idea of why you should care, and wishes to let you know.

The first snag in the evening comes when it's time to refill my drink. The bar staff will be more than happy to sell you a house spirit and mixer for one of your english pounds, but if your hand favours the pint glass, it's probably best to take out a mortgage first. Far be it from me to get ratarsed on gin in the name of investigative journalism, so I could tell it was going to be an expensive night. Thankfully, in an almost apologetic move, one of the bar staff routinely wander the club with a large bottle of what I suspect had tabasco sauce in it, topping up drinks hither and yon. It's the gesture that's appreciated rather than the liquor itself, but you do get the impression Code are clutching at straws when it comes to the actual drinks they serve. Spiders' cocktail list is infamous up and down the country, and it's a shame that Code couldn't have thought up at least a few to make them sweat for this victory.

Overall though, Code acquits itself well in a scene which has long struggled to rebuild credibility through variety. Okay, as I mentioned the drinks are a bit pricey if you insist on sticking to pints, and the problem with playing what people request is that sometimes people request awful songs. But, when the Spiders alternative nowadays is to drink twenty pounds worth of meths and listen to sweet home Alabama on repeat for three hours in the company of fourteen year olds, I honestly believe the odd doom metal track and a couple of pints less is a fair price to pay for progress.


Friday, 28 November 2008


Image to Follow

Will Langland Reviews Battles

I find it disappointing that nubile and untainted reviewers should, in this day and age, feel that it is their place to unerringly praise the music they listen to. One look at Hullfire will tell you that every CD is fantastic and every artist has something new, or improved, or will make your whites whiter – a perfect promise, really, for an industry that has become boring and saccharine. So many reviews read like some sleazy grey PR company has their fingers up the writer's arse, working them like a puppet in a pantomime of appreciation. It's hard to make a discerning judgement on what you want to buy (or, let's face it, steal) when a page of “criticism” is overwhelmingly positive.

I am sick to the teeth of reading terrible music reviews. How many music reviewers praise an album that they never listen to again, or even want to? Sadly, I too must confess a guilty plea to this crime. I remember a particularly nice review I wrote of My Device, if only because they reminded me so much of a band that truly warrants praise – Battles. While it is hard to argue that music shouldn't be enjoyable I increasingly find that amateur reviewers don't understand that music can be enjoyable for being cerebral. Music can dance across your synapses. Music can impress you for its technicality and innovation. Sheer mindless pleasure is why Take That are good. Profound, cerebral pleasure is why Battles are good.

How many times have you listened to a band that truly understand not just how their instruments work, but how their bandmates instruments work? How many times have you heard a band that have a creative vision that they all understand? My god! What a rare and incredible combination. The Sugarbabes know how to sing and a producer, songwriter, lyricist and (dare I mention them) mastering company do the rest, though the loudness war is another topic for another day. As if Keisha Buchanen knows what a polyrhythm is. Hell, as if Britney Spears knows what a polyrhythm is – as if she knows who Aphex Twin is – and Womanizer has that single brilliant moment of electronic drumwork (on “lollipop”) that sounds remarkably like a nod to him despite basically being yet another cover of Personal Jesus.

Thankyou, Battles. I intend to finally write a good review for a band that actually deserves a good review. Thankyou for knowing what a damn polyrhythm is, then writing an entire album so devilishly clever that I have no idea what the time signature is on half the tracks.

Battles are a math-rock band, and while I'd normally finish this sentence with the phrase “from x”, I can't, because all four of them toured extensively with bands before being signed to the British Warp Records. I can go as local as “America”. Guitarist Ian Williams is a veteran of Don Caballero and Strom & Stress, and regularly finger-taps a guitar while playing a keyboard. Dave Konopka does something similar. Vocalist and keyboardist (and whatever he feels like playing) Tyondai Braxton is the son of an avant-garde jazz musician, and it shows. Drummer John Stainer is from Helmet, and has the absurd gimmick of putting his crash cymbal on a very, very tall stand, as if it symbolises everything Battles isn't, and he must be physically forced to think twice about using it in their music.

Math-rock is one of those genres that sounds like someone made it up to look pretentious and sound complicated. It is. It's based around mashing up riffs in different time signatures on loop pedals then having your drummer try and work out where the beat's supposed to go. And then add effects. Having seen Battles at the BBC's Electric Proms, I can absolutely vouch for Stainer's skill as a drummer, and quite frankly, his endurance. On debut album Mirrored you'd be forgiven for thinking that each track was recorded between long periods of fatigue, where Stainer lies in some sort of cell, gaunt and dying, until he can muster the strength to play another track. It's not. They can, and do, play the entire album live, with Stainer hammering away on that ludicrous cymbal. On tracks like Tij Stainer's work is truly epic, somehow switching signatures and complimenting the other instruments in a way that can only come from hours and hours of rehearsal on a Captain-Beefheart-locked-in-an-apartment-like-a-cult-for-8-months level of dedication. You almost feel sorry for the man. And the live experience really is something special with Battles. Considering the variety and precise nature of the album's sound and the technical difficulty of having three people on loop pedals – pedals that don't automatically synchronise the speed of their loops – seeing it done live is like watching a sculptor make the statue in front of you. For once in music there's not only innovation but sheer and determined technical majesty.

When I first heard Mirrored I was certain that it must have been made on a computer. I thought that it had to be a load of guys in a basement, recording a sample, fiddling with it, turning knobs on thousands of strange pieces of equipment, tinkering and fiddling to fit the sound they wanted. Apart from fairly straightforward songs like Atlas and Leyendecker, possibly disregarding the vocal element, the album is full of tracks with elements that feel like they must have been altered or dragged about to stay in time. The plodding Bad Trails feels like a recording of some weird ambient hangar with bits stuck on top. Battles' punchline is essentially that there was no dragging and dropping, copy-pasting or pitch correction in Protools. I once heard someone say that Battles sounds like a load of kids broke into a shop full of music equipment and recorded themselves fucking about. They were half right. Battles is four obscenely talented men with mad, genre-defining ideas breaking into a shop full of music equipment recording themselves fucking about – and it's just that – recording. The band doesn't need a computer to make their music. The computer's just an ear to them. All they need is them and a ton of weird electronic gizmos. The album art, in fact, is the equipment they used to make the album in a huge one-way-mirrored box.

In the end, while Atlas and Leyendecker may be the “straightforward” songs, it's the longer and more progressive pieces such as Tonto, Rainbow and Tij that mark Mirrored's territory. It's these tracks that are the band's muscle, that show how they work and really impress the listener, both with their pacing and their skill. When you find yourself obsessing over the rhythm and effects Ian Williams is using in looping the sound of him scratching muted guitar strings, then get surprised because the drums have been building subtly and you didn't notice, then you've found the essence of Battles. And for god's sake, try not to get sucked into working out the time signature on every instrument. You'll go John Nash.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Quantum of Solace

Image to Follow

Katherine Hunter reviews the New James Bond Film

It has come to my attention that there are two types of James Bond fan, those who prefer the new more lifelike 007 and those who prefer the older films with the suave, sophisticated and indestructible English gent who we have come to recognise as Bond.
Casino Royale introduced us to the rough and ready Daniel Craig, who took the films into a new era creating a Bond who actually gets hurt, doesn’t give a damn about his martini and actually briefly dies, if only for a couple of seconds. This was a shock to the general audience, with some people claiming it wasn’t a ‘real’ Bond film, although whether you liked it or not, it was still an amazing film, complete with the usual array of special effects and awesome action scenes.
Consequently the cinema goer expects much the same type of film from Quantum of Solace, a good film, but perhaps not up to Bond standards. In that case they’re in for another shock because the new film manages to combine both the new Bond and the old, creating a hybrid of the best of both worlds.
The opening scene explodes onto the screen as a breathtaking car chase, in typical old bond style, not to be outdone by speedboat and jet fighter action later on. The film has the classic mix of fast cars, women and spectacular stunts, but this time it’s personal as our best loved agent seeks revenge for the woman he lost.
The witty humour is not altogether gone, but Daniel Craig turns Bond into an unemotional killing machine and the body count mounts up as he tries to break the criminal network Quantum. The plot continues on from the last film giving Bond the continuity it lacked, and Craig’s Bond is just as dark and cold as the previous film, injecting the role with refreshing credibility.
The baddies are just as slimy and horrid as ever, creepy billionaire environmentalist Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), and evil dictator General Medrano (Joaquin Cosio) plan to take control of the water supply for a South American country and destabilise it, whilst trying to poison all trust in Bond. Meanwhile Judi Dench again plays a fabulously unimpressed M, who alternatively loves and hates Bond, at one point revoking his licence to kill and remarking “Bond, if you could avoid killing every lead there is, that would be appreciated”
This film definitely has something for Bond fans all round, from Craig’s ruthless charisma to dramatic stunts and so many interwoven plots that you don’t know where to look next.

The Duchess

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Katherine Hunter casts her eye over the Duchess.

Historically inaccurate but does it really matter?

I have to confess that I am a fan of period dramas. I love the costumes, the emotions, the beautiful houses and Mr. Darcy. The Colin Firth one of course. Over the summer my best friend and I had the opportunity to visit Chatsworth, which was an amazing experience in itself. Whilst wandering around imagining we owned the place, we found temporary exhibition of Chatsworth’s famous daughter, Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire. This included pages from Georgiana’s dairy, portraits including the famous Gainsborough painting, and video clips from the up and coming film The Duchess, as well as costumes from the period, and ones worn in the film. The exhibition and subsequent talks gave us a pretty good impression of this famous lady and her intriguing life.
This prompted us to see the film, which I did as soon as it came out. And I have to confess that I was somewhat disappointed. This wasn’t the lady I had seen at Chatsworth, I had been cheated. It’s not that it wasn’t a good film, but it was meant to be a portrayal of Georgiana’s life and it glossed over all the important parts. Consequently we took great pleasure in annoying our friends by pointing out all the historical inaccuracies.
It wasn’t just that they had missed out a few details here and there; they completely changed not only the life of The Duchess but her whole personality too. In her life she had been a hugely influential woman, not only in fashion, but she had been an active political campaigner and travelled abroad often. Kiera Knightly just couldn’t carry off the flamboyance and huge presence that made Georgiana such a powerful woman in her time, not least because The Duchess was a buxom woman with a charisma to match, and Knightly is a twig with about as much charisma as a potato.
Poor acting aside the film still didn’t stand much chance. The whole reason that Georgiana’s life is so interesting is because, as the film constantly pointed out, there were three people in her marriage. The film however just used this to overplay the similarities between The Duchess and her distant descendant Diana, the Princess of Wales. The only similarity that their lives shared is that their husbands had affairs, and it’s not as if this is only a unique trait of the Spencer family.
The intriguing part of the life of Georgiana was that her husband was having an affair with her best friend Bess, who lived with them. Even after Georgiana found out about the affair, she and Bess remained best friends. This is what makes the whole situation amazingly unique and fascinating. What annoyed me most was that the film decided to change Georgina into a long suffering badly treated woman, not the independent resilient soul that she really was. It made her look like the victim of her husband’s affair, hardly focusing on the fact that she had her own affair with Charles Grey, making it look more like a depressing last resort.
The film focused on the plight of a lonely and weak woman, which to be honest, we see in films all the time. This should have been completely the opposite, a strong woman coping admirably with the life forced on her by her husband. The film ended up victimising the main character who in reality was a celebrity of her time, even if her marital life was lacking. She was followed and adored by The Ton, and rarely alone although in the film she was completely abandoned and isolated from everyone. Even Georgiana’s mother was shown to be bossy and domineering when in real life her mother had been a caring and protective woman.
The film focused almost entirely on Georgiana’s marital life, when she was also famous for her good friendship with Marie Antoinette, as she used to travel to France often. The film completely cut this out, presumably to make The Duchess appear even lonelier. The gambling side of her life was also played down, in spite of the fact that Georgiana died with a massive twenty thousand pounds worth of debt outstanding. Her huge political involvement was also cut down to a few short public appearances as a favour for Grey.
However, there were some good points to the film. Like all good period dramas the costumes were visually amazing and the backdrop of so many beautiful houses made it something special to watch. The other actors and actresses did remarkably well, considering the rather limiting script. Ralph Fiennes was particularly good as the aging and inhuman duke, and Dominic Cooper made an especially dashing young lover as Charles Grey.
All in all, the film was still good entertainment, but nevertheless I felt let down. So how important is it really to give a historically accurate view in a film?

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Party On

Simon Harrington Ponders Bloc Party

As I write I am looking at the stub of a ticket clumsily stuck to my wall entitled ‘SJM CONCERTS PRESENT BLOC PARTY’. This ticket is from 29th October 2005 and marked an end to Bloc Party’s triumphant UK tour supporting the release of their first album ‘Silent Alarm’, I was not disappointed with the performance I saw in 2005 and with the release of new album ‘Intimacy’ I am not disappointed now.

The album incorporates some of the musical traits that we immediately link with Bloc Party, at the same time we hear a new and more creative element resonating in their music. Their individual sound has been maintained and is never compromised by their willingness to manipulate different vocal and musical styles. In ‘Intimacy’ we still hear the driving bass lines and lyrical complexity that we have come to expect from the band, the opening track ‘Ares’ sets the bench mark for the remainder of the album. The song hits us with an immediate energy, a powerful and cutting guitar riff is the setting for the chanting lyrics ‘War, war, war, war’. Since Bloc Party began they have attempted to make a potent statement through their lyrics, they have achieved this in their two previous albums and do not fail to do so again with ‘Intimacy’.

There is consistent reference to the expected topics of love and War. ‘Trojan Horse’ establishes the vivid image of a lover reminiscing about what has been lost; in this song Bloc Party combine borderline intrusive lyrics with deliberate composition in order to express something that the listener can relate to. The sensitive lyrics of ‘Trojan Horse’ are contrasted elsewhere on the album by the seemingly punk inspired, full sounding ‘Halo’. From a first listen the powerful chord structure seems reminiscent of Queens Of The Stone Age, the song bounds along at an eager and excitable pace, manipulating well timed breaks and diverse drumming to give ‘Halo’ unique and energetic musical traits that encapsulate Bloc Party’s intimate live sound perfectly.

‘Intimacy’ includes the cleverly marketed single ‘Mercury’, released after track ‘Flux’ it marked a new era for the sound of Bloc Party. The band has moved in a direction that appears to have been inspired by an electro sound, this inspiration can be heard throughout ‘Intimacy’ with tracks such as ‘Talons’ using a synthesizer alongside more traditional rock instruments. Although the band has come under some criticism for moving in a new musical direction it is refreshing to see that at least one artist out there is attempting to venture from their comfort zone and try something different. The album climaxes with the song ‘Ion Square’, an artistic song based on elements of the poem ‘I carry your heart with me’ by E.E. Cummings, this final track has a focus on lyrical simplicity, and brings the older Bloc Party sound together with the new.

In my opinion this album marks the change of Bloc Party into a more mature and diverse band both lyrically and instrumentally, they have developed a more full bodied sound that has been delicately and deliberately composed with well timed breaks and punchy, memorable chorus’. To end my review and express myself in the lyrics Bloc Party, their new album ‘Intimacy’ ‘breaks your porcelain nose’.

Monday, 17 November 2008

A Fat Lot of Good

Amy Connolly Chews the Fat

A growing trend of male has emerged of late. Joining his compatriots, the “joker”, the “jock” and the “cringy Casanova”, give a welcoming hand to the weight watching “writer”! Hurrah!
Long has there been a trend for celeb-abuse, and in fairness landing your perfect job and getting paid shed loads for it necessitates a certain amount of stick. However, there is a rising craze of male “journalists” who have, somehow, become qualified to judge the ideal weight of the female celeb.
The “so-funny-its-really-not-funny” Dan Wootten from the News of the World recently advised that a “podgy” Cat (or in his words “Fat”) Deeley should “choc out the scales”. That’s right, defiant Miss Deeley was photographed holding a chocolate milkshake, following her recent move to America.
Stunning presenter Cat is tiny by anyone’s standards and is surely a good five-stone lighter than the UK’s average women who is a curvy size 16! However, by being pictured with this offending item she has broken the unwritten rule of celebrity women who are expected to fast for their fame. How dare She!
After researching Mr Wootten’s qualifications, there is nothing regarding health and nutrition that might at a push render him license to comment on the subject. Furthermore, this boorish character’s own physique has much to be desired!
Does Mr Wootten believe he is taking a heroic stand against the obesity crisis? Will he single-handedly tackle the curves of Britain until we all resemble the skeletal footballer’s wife? Please!
As the issue of obesity is expanding, there is an accompanying deterioration in disordered eating, especially among teenagers and twenty-something’s. Charities such as BeAT are genuinely fighting this life-threatening infatuation with food restriction, but their work is being hampered be idiots who are categorising size 12-14 healthy-eating-gym-goers as “wide”! Advocating that, instead of eating regular nourishing meals and taking the recommended five sessions of weekly exercise, women should be aiming for emaciation by living on lettuce until they lose the strength to fasten their trainers, never mind make it to the fitness centre!
Maybe I’m being unfair, perhaps darling Dan is trying to make the reader feel BETTER! Helping us to justify any slothful-Sunday chocolate abuse! Ahhh! “Let me just grab the News of the World, I want to see whose put on weight this week!” Then after catching the shamefully “wide” Lily Allen we’d feel much more content to return to our cheesecake.
So is this just me being a little sensitive? I don’t think so! After taking it “too the people”, my opinions were confirmed by repulsed retaliations such as “cheeky git”
On Mr Wooten’s double page “showbiz” column on a Sunday, the average size of one feature could comfortably be covered by a gravy-soaked Yorkshire pudding. I wonder what would happen if a breaking celebrity report would require more than two hundred words, maybe some of these would even need to be more than one syllable! Eek!
It would be unfair to mislead you into thinking that Mr Wootton is the only chauvinist, sorry journalist using this theme as the content of his column, EVERY WEEK! And hey, we’re all about fairness in this game, right Dan?

To his credit, Dan is the first to admit he’s lacking in material, offering his contact details at the top of his column; so, if u can think of anything slightly more intelligent he could write (that would comfortably take up fewer than 150words of course) then answers on a postcard!
I’d love to be a fly on the wall when Mr Wootton is asked what he does for living: “Oh you’re a journalist are you? What sort of thing do you report on? Sport? Politics? Breaking news? Oh, overweight celebs eh? Hmmm your mother must be proud.”
Call yourself a journalist? Well why not go out and report on something then, rather than looking at the pictures in Heat magazine.