Tuesday, 9 February 2016
As a father of two teenage girls I can fully appreciate the term ‘wasted youth’. What worries me is that my own wasted youth (listening to far too much pop music, gorging on movies and sampling the delights of alcohol with friends) seems to have drifted into adulthood without much change. If my daughters follow suit then expect conversations with their future partners to mainly revolve around cute cats and dogs they’ve seen on Instagram and The Hunger Games.
Thankfully it seems that not every teenage girl spends her life clicking ‘favourite’ on Jifpom videos. For example take Rosa and Jenny from Norwich, aged 16 and 17 respectively. They’ve spent the last few years occupying a very different world that they call Let’s Eat Grandma. You might remember that I introduced the duo back in August last year, describing their music as ‘idiosyncratic, scrappy, kooky, eerie yet charming out there multi-instrumental pop music with a sense of its own identity and originality.’
Let's Eat Grandma have until today seemed like a special left of centre secret that just music obsessives like me have known about. Now that’s all changed, with news that the band signed to Transgressive Records and have released their debut video proper for the song Deep Six Textbook (streaming below). It’s available on iTunes and will be released on limited edition coloured 7” vinyl on March 18th (pre-order it here). Also, quite bizarrely and brilliantly, the band’s name started trending on Twitter this afternoon, albeit half the tweets seemed to be simply asking ‘why are the words Let’s Eat Grandma trending?’
Hopefully, some of those asking the question went on to find out why and discovered the band for the first time. What they will have heard is a heavily downbeat pop song, cast from the shadows of both the schoolyard playground and the haunt filled spaces between this world and the next. For those who want their pop music instant and throwaway, this won’t be your thing. However, for those who are prepared to let things sink in a little, prepared to get addicted.
Let’s Eat Grandma’s debut album will be released this summer.
Let's Eat Grandma - Deep Six Textbook (Video)
If you like pop music and unless you’ve been hiding in a dark cave for the last few months you cannot have failed to have noticed Dua Lipa. She’s one of those artists who has been carefully seeded by her label / PR people with all of the tastemaker types and as a result found herself on the BBC Sound of 2016 longlist. I’ve not featured her on the blog before, because whilst her releases so far have been good enough (particularly online hit Be The One) they haven’t to my mind stood out way above the multitude of commercial sounding pop music that comes my way. However, that’s not to say I’m not intrigued by Dua Lipa, if only for the fact that she’s originally from Kosovo and her name actually is Dua Lipa and means ‘love’ in Albanian.
So having got to step one on the ladder of pop the question was (and still is) can she climb higher? I decided the only way to make some sort of informed decision on this was to go and see her live. So off I trekked to The Hope & Ruin in Brighton, where a dark room above the pub, probably more suited to sweaty, unwashed indie bands in skinny jeans and leather jackets, provided the location for one of her shows. Let’s not forget though, that I once saw some lass called Adele play in the same room (when it was half the size it is now, following a revamp) for £5 and she did OK didn’t she?
What I learnt at that gig was several simple things. First, that Dua Lipa can do it live. She can sing, she can move and she’s got enough confidence to know that she doesn’t have to over try. Girls love her and so do the boys. The second thing I discovered was that she’s got a bundle of songs waiting to go that are better than Be The One. If she gets the radio play with them (and given her BBC Sound of vote, there’s an increased chance of that) they could actually be bona fide hits.
First out of the blocks of those potential hits is Last Dance, which finds Dua Lipa singing of grabbing the moment: “We could burn and crash, we could take a chance, holding nothing back, like it’s our last dance” she sings as the world explodes in a firework of pop glory. This one will make you oo and ah in exhileration. Embrace it.
Dua Lipa - Last Dance
Monday, 8 February 2016
Before I even get to the music there's a couple of points that need to be addressed in connection with RHAIN (real name Rhian Teasdale). First I'm not exactly sure where she's from. A recent feature on Drowned In Sound suggests Bristol, but her Soundcloud states the Isle of Wight. However, as The Stone Roses once suggested, it's not where you're from, but where you're at and Rhain is certainly at a good place musically.
Secondly, I have to mention the bathtub. If you've spent any time on Breaking More Waves you'll know that I've spent a lot (some would say too much) time pondering why it is that so many musicians have a desire to promote their music by having a photograph of themselves in the bath (for example this post here is just one of many). The only conclusion I've come to so far is that it's because they're bonkers, but I suspect there's some deeper underlying psychological issues going on here. RHAIN has very sensibly gone for the taking her clothes off option (important if you really do want to get clean) but alas has forgotten to put any water in, as well as the fact that the bath is outside and therefore somewhat exposed, both visually and in terms of the cold windy weather. It seems that musicians like getting in the tub but very few of them understand the concept of bathing.
So now to the music. It's good. Very good even. Humdrum Drivel is the first song on her Soundcloud. It's an otherworldly piano ballad that falls somewhere between Regina Spektor and Joanna Newsom in terms of its crisp idiosyncratic vocal delivery, sung with every word perfectly formed and enunciated. It's pretty special and benefits from its sparseness and haunting oddity. You can see why she's already caught the attention of a variety of gig promoters, having picked up support slots alongside fellow Isle of Wight boys Champs, tUnE-yArDS and Olof Arnaulds to name just a few.
RHAIN - Humdrum Drivel
It probably surprises some people when I tell them that The Cure’s Disintegration is one of my favourite albums of all time. After all, this dense, dark, often self-pitying and claustrophobic record is hardly the stuff of buoyant pop music that many people would probably associate me with. Yet pop has a huge part to play here. Because it was through pop that I found The Cure.
The memories are distant now, but I have hazy recollections of first hearing the The Lovecats one summer on a friends Walkman on a summer school coach trip to Guildford Lido. I also remember being transfixed by the Close To Me video on Saturday morning kids TV where the whole band appeared to be shoved in a wardrobe and pushed off a cliff. Both of these tunes are very much pop songs, albeit wonky slightly left of centre pop songs. Yet pop nonetheless.
However, the first time The Cure came to really mean something to me wasn’t until 1987 when they released their album Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me. The happy thrills of the blaring horns on Why Can’t I Be You and the bouncing bass of Just Like Heaven, a song that even now has the potential to get alt-kids flailing around the indie disco dancefloor, may have drawn me in, but it was the darker, sludgier stuff such as the writhing uncomfortable Snakepit and the album’s title track that kept me coming back for more. “Kiss me kiss me kiss me, your tongue is like poison, so swollen it fills up my mouth,” sang Smith on that one, a lyric that was both vulgar, sexual and comical all at the same time.
It was that darkness that was about to envelop Robert Smith for his next record, and despite 1989 being a time in my life full of joy, excitement and endless possibilities, Disintegration’s self-loathing and intense sense of loss found a huge place in my heart and still does to this day, even though I'm a reasonably upbeat and positive thinking person.
Written against a backdrop of Smith being about to turn 30 as well as the tension and decline of friendship between him and band member Lol Tolhurst (“I was determined to involve everybody but Lol’s various addictions were really taking their toll,” Smith has been quoted as saying of the recordings) Disintegration certainly isn’t what you’d normally define as a pop record. Yet it became the band’s most popular record, hitting number 3 in the UK charts, going double platinum in America and spawned The Cure’s biggest hit singles in both the UK and the States (with Lullaby and Love Song respectively).
And there lies an important factor, something that is often missed about this incredible long-player. Despite Disintegration being an album that sounds not only as if it was born out of despair, but is despair itself, there is still within it a heart of pop. Not everyone could see that though, particularly The Cure’s label, who were less than enthusiastic. “I was confident that, although the overall mood of the album was pretty downbeat, there was so much strong immediate melody and interplay in songs like Pictures Of You, Lullaby and Love Song the record company couldn’t help but recognise Disintegration as a perfect Cure album, it was a bit of a shock to find they didn’t” Smith recalled on the inside cover of the remastered deluxe version of the album.
Smith was of course proved right. His label might not have got it, but fans did. The Cure was connecting and growing their audience. “We weren’t attracting or maintaining someone else’s mainstream crowd, we were creating and nurturing our own,” Smith explained. It’s something The Cure has continued to do to this day. When the Guardian recently criticised Smith for playing huge long sprawling sets, fans were quick to point out how the reviewer just didn’t understand what The Cure was about.
So what is the attraction of Disintegration? For me it’s because it’s what every great album should be - a complete body of work, with every track sitting perfectly in the right place. But more than that, if you’ve experienced love, from its heady joys, to the pain of breaking apart, you’ll be able to connect with this record. It’s as sad, intimate, plaintive and beautiful as any long-player I’ve ever experienced.
Writing about individual songs feels wrong, such is the completeness of it, but if I had to pick three defining tracks then the first would be Plainsong, the opening number. It’s not just a song but an event in itself. Starting quietly with soft chimes it leads you (as the original accompanying sleeve notes suggested) to turn up the volume, before booming in with gothic synths, tumbling drums and despondent guitars, setting a majestic tone for what is to come. ”I think it’s dark and it looks like rain you said, and the wind is blowing like it’s the end of the world you said,” Smith sings, his words echoing around the space in an almost dreamlike state.
My second choice would be The Same Deep Water As You. A sombre nine and a half minute soundtrack featuring the sound of a storm and Smith singing of kissing goodbye before he sleeps, it’s both gorgeous and unbelievably sad. It’s easy and lazy to stereotype this song as being one for teenage goths to listen to in their bedrooms, but it’s so much more than that. It can be interpreted in so many different ways lyrically, but however you read it, the music is something to lose yourself in.
The third song I would choose is the title track, where the newly married Smith dives in with a wail of torment and cold-heartedness: "I never said I would stay to the end, I knew I would leave you with babies and everything.” It ends with him repeating the flat-out heartbreaking line of “both of us knew, how the end always is.” A barrel of laughs this song most certainly isn’t. There’s no chorus as such, no happy ending and it clocks in at over eight minutes. You can understand why Smith’s label didn’t get it.
What’s remarkable about Disintegration though is that as it gets closer to its thirty year anniversary it still sounds remarkably fresh, still gloomily intense and importantly is still a record I can listen to from start to finish and feel raw emotion from. It’s for that reason that I feel certain that the word masterpiece sticks.
The Cure - Pictures Of You (From Disintegration)