. The beginning of a new month now signals one thing and one thing only in MLIR Land, and that’s the compilation of a Bands of the Week round-up. Whilst this mostly requires copy ‘n’ pasting, it also takes supreme effort to hunt down pictures and finding the URLs of every website they’ve ever set up across the web – With no further ado, here are the latest four bands I found myself listening to, getting excited about, and promoting as a Band of the Week during May (and, technically, June)…
Band of the Week, #5: These Kings.
Birmingham-based band These Kings emailed me out of the blue, asking if I’d listen to their single, ‘Home’, and its B-side ‘There’s A Light In That Pile Of Snow‘. Although originally worried about how I’d respond to them if it wasn’t great, my pessimism was misplaced. In its four-and-a-half minutes, the A-side builds from a skeletal drumstick solo to a soaring soundscape reminiscent of Bon Iver’s ‘Perth‘, before adding vocals and a show-stealing bassline. Really rather good – and with them supporting big local bands, recording in the studio right now and having a debut song this promising, the rest of the blogosphere will soon be singing their praises too.
Band of the Week, #6: The Yellow Melodies.
A Spanish band of 16 years who really deserve more success than they’ve had thus far. Their trippy cover of The Auteurs’ ‘Showgirl‘ from 2000′s High put them on my radar 18 months ago, as it jazzes up the original with violins, lo-fi production and a gorgeously spidery guitar part on 1:48 – all to devastating effect. Their newest EP, ‘How Television Personalities Learned To Love‘, was released last month and has more of a synth influence (on ‘Look Back In Anger’, my favourite from it, and ’14th Floor’) than their usual material; as with all their catalogue, it’s utterly endearing.
Band of the Week, #7: PINS.
Enigmatic, dramatic, shadowy… but enough about the monochrome ‘Eleventh Hour’ video. PINS are a quartet of Mancunian females whose eerie, fuzz-soaked debut single got music bloggers salivating back in April. Second song ‘Shoot You‘ is more upbeat, but retains everything that makes ‘Eleventh Hour’ so marvellous. Given the strength of both singles, their debut album should be eagerly awaited by any self-respecting fan of new music.
Band of the Week, #8: Shinies.
Imagine Yuck mixed with a between-his-first-two-albums Wavves, and you’ve basically summed up the sound of Shinies, another lo-fi Mancunian band who are yet to release a full album. Beneath an enormous dollop of fuzz, though, are some chaotically gorgeous tunes – as you’d expect from music that’s the love-child of noise-pop and shoegaze. My favourite of their three songs thus far is ‘Spent Youth‘, but ‘Shola‘ and ‘Pillow Talk‘ are also pretty good.
If you genuinely like music, chances are you probably hate the Brits. Despite occasional moments of brilliance (KLF in 1992, Suede in 1993, Jarvis Cocker invading Michael Jackson’s set in 1996), minor altercations (any time Liam Gallagher has been there) and deserved awards (Blur’s unsurpassed four gongs in 1995), it’s usually a lacklustre affair that prompts as much joy from the non-deaf as castration without an anaesthetic. Last year’s ceremony saw an upset as Laura Marling beat walking wardrobe Cheryl Cole to Best British Female, which in itself was enough to save it from disgrace, but could this year better it? With Blur winning the Outstanding Contribution to Music award and warranting a 3-song set at the end, things were looking promising… that is, until the show started.
A lot of hype from alternative music sectors had surrounded this year’s competition, with the likes of Bon Iver, PJ Harvey, Anna Calvi, Laura Marling (again) and Florence + The Machine up for prizes, but needless to say, the sea of Heart FM-playlist-filling dirge washed them away awardless. Adele and Ed Sheeran dominated proceedings, winning two each (Best British Female and Album of the Year/Best British Male and British Breakthrough Act respectively), while those old favourites of mine* Bruno Mars and Coldplay also had a delightfully* tacky statuette to take home (*sarcasm). It’s difficult to argue with these on a sales volume level, if not an originality or musical quality level – although, having said that, Adele’s performance of ‘Rolling In The Deep’ was musically spot on and arguably better than her critically-fapped-over Grammys set – but the lack of surprises meant that even the meatball korma meal that accompanied my Brits viewing had more flavour than the show did. The closest there was to a shock victory was for One Direction’s ‘What Makes You Beautiful’ winning Song of the Year over Adele’s ‘Someone Like You’ – that I think the right song won this category gives you an indication of quite how appalling its contenders were**. The only other shocks were the fact that someone didn’t tell Jessie J her dress was disgusting before she went out in it and that the event organisers managed to resist the temptation to turn Rihanna’s microphone off mid-performance. Her vocals were the sort that make you long for miming. (**…This song definitely isn’t a guilty pleasure for me. Definitely.)
Naturally the Righteously Indignant Police, otherwise known as the bulk of social networking sites’ users, found cause for scandal when Adele’s Best Album acceptance speech was cut short in favour of Blur’s Outstanding Contribution set. Quelle dommage! It’s not like she’d already thanked half the universe in her first acceptance speech. It’s also not like she’s been overexposed in the last year to the point where her screechy Cockney accent doesn’t induce homicide in anyone with a pair of ears. Who the hell are Blur, screeched the Righteously Indignant Police, (average age 13, average IQ negligible). Why are we letting a bunch of granddads run around shouting when we could have Adele squawking like the lovechild of Phil Daniels and a female parrot? Having said that, Blur weren’t exactly brilliant; Damon sounded incredibly hoarse and I’d have liked their performance of ‘This Is A Low’ to have made the ITV1 show instead of being relegated to ITV2. But their energy and enthusiasm defibrillated the show, even if it was too little, too late. Ah well lads, there’s always the Olympics Closing Ceremony.
So there we are. 1992’s Brits was notable for machine gun blanks being fired into the crowd and a dead sheep being left at the aftershow party, 1993’s was memorable for Brett Anderson misappropriating the microphone as a spanking device, 2000’s for an impending fracas between Liam Gallagher and Robbie Williams. 2012’s Brits will be remembered for very little, except Adele’s-Winning-Speech-Being-Cut-Shortgate™, Jessie J’s quite hideous bloodstained lace tablecloth dress and Blur having a fluorescent kebab spit in their set design. But I’m sure I’ll be back in front of this insipid snoozefest again in a year’s time, moaning to my heart’s content and wondering why I wasn’t born 20 years earlier.
How to create a pop sensation in 2011: take one millionaire’s daughter. Change her name, give her some ludicrous soundbites about being a “gangster Nancy Sinatra”, perhaps make her over with plastic surgery. Get her debut major-label single to be accompanied by a video made with webcam clips of herself, mingled with clips of Hollywood actress Paz de la Huerta falling over, skateboarders falling over and couples kissing (but not falling over), all directed and edited by the artist. Wait for Pitchfork to laud the song, for it to go viral as a result and for people to discover her original name and album released under that name. Sit back and watch the rumour mill buzz about whether or not she’s had plastic surgery while YouTube users ferociously debate whether she’s a fake and whether or not she’s ‘indie’. Most importantly, ensure she’s vocally and aesthetically captivating – and, hey presto!, you have a star in the making.
…At least, that’s how the marketing of Lana Del Rey, ‘the artist formerly known as Lizzy Grant’, has gone. While painfully bitchy website Hipster Runoff has made insulting her its manifesto, and people still can’t work out if her face has been surgically enhanced (the nose is pointier, the mouth is poutier…), there’s no denying that her star is firmly in the ascendancy. Her debut single ‘Video Games’ was a top 10 hit in six countries, topping the chart in Germany, and has had 16 million hits on YouTube (adding the original video’s views with the Vevo ones); it was also The Guardian’s critics’ song of the year for 2011. Her first London show sold out in minutes after her live performance of the song on Later… with Jools Holland – the show that is, let’s be honest, the closest thing that mainstream 21st century Britain has to John Peel’s Peel Sessions as far as breaking new artists is concerned. She’s in the top 10 of NME’s 2011 ‘Cool List’ and is currently the cover star of Q magazine. Born To Die, her major-label debut album, is released at the end of January (on the 30th in the UK), released a week after the album’s second single, ‘Born To Die’. And, if you were doubting how successful she’s becoming, compare the budgets of her singles’ videos to date. Where her ‘Video Games’ video was all but budgetless, the video for ‘Born To Die’ is partly shot in the Palace of Fontainebleau, with Del Rey accompanied in the palace by tigers… yeah, it’s pretty safe to assume that Interscope are convinced that 2012 is her year.
Her New York upbringing and stage name, not to mention her gender, have raised comparisons between her and Lady Gaga in articles. (Adele hit the nail on the head about journalistic laziness on the latter front when she said that “We’re a gender, not a genre”.) But there’s little to compare apart from the points already mentioned – Del Rey’s brand of relatively minimalist ‘Hollywood sadcore’ sounds nothing like Gaga’s brash, gimmicky pop/R&B, and Gaga’s voice is nothing remarkable whereas Del Rey’s sultry vocals, alternating between girlish breathiness and an assuredly deep tone, are used to stunning effect in her atmospheric songs. Whether Lana Del Rey will ever generate the tabloid column inches that Gaga does is questionable, despite the former’s superior talent – but she’s already generating them by the tonne on the likes of Pitchfork. Admittedly facets of her image are throwbacks; the teaser clip for ‘Born To Die’s video featured her, topless, in the arms of a similarly bare-chested male. Insert debate about whether she’s taking the feminist movement back 50 years here. When you add the is-it-or-isn’t-it surgery into the equation, that debate becomes even more heated; she’s signed a modelling deal with Next Model Management this week – is this part of her management’s masterplan? After all, the name change definitely was. Her sensuality and sexualisation certainly make up a large proportion of her bankability, like Gaga’s LGBT following and themes were part of hers.
Is she just a submissive sex symbol, slaving and selling her soul for ‘the man’ at Interscope/Polydor? Who knows. If she is, she’s doing a bloody good job of it. According to Polydor’s president, the excellently-named Ferdy Unger-Hamilton, “she likes to control every aspect of her career”. But he would say that, wouldn’t he? Essentially, though, what it boils down to is the music; on the radio, everything else is superfluous. And that’s why, whatever the BBC’s polls say, Lana Del Rey is going to be the real sound of 2012.