pop

Bitter and strong: the legacy of Dubstar

Posted on by 5:4 in Retrospectives | 6 Comments

A few months back, the announcement was made that Dubstar were at work on a fourth album, due for release this year. This came from Steve Hillier, brains of the outfit, who has, in the intervening years since Dubstar’s departure from the music scene, continued to maintain webpages connected with their music. Perhaps Hillier’s prevalent nostalgia is what has kickstarted the Dubstar motor once again, or perhaps they just couldn’t help themselves (real musicians never can); either way, things are afoot. i think that history – with all the old-fashioned benevolence of a grandmother – has been kind to Dubstar: they are encased within a memory that finds playful melodies and darkly acerbic lyrics conjoined, a paradox perfectly encapsulated in the person of singer Sarah Blackwood, her strongly northern dialect colliding with her angelic, unwavering soprano voice. Dubstar, in short, are like one of Grayson Perry‘s ceramics, discreetly placing disturbing imagery within a context that at first seems familiar and safe. It’s been interesting, then, to revisit all their old releases, many of which have been untouched on the CD shelves for far too long; ten singles (all long out of print), three albums, plus one or two other odds and ends, totalling a little over seven hours of music. Released over a five-year period, this is a fair achievement. But how does the music acquit itself now? What is Dubstar’s legacy? Read more

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Client B – Acoustic At The Club Bar & Dining

Posted on by 5:4 in CD/Digital releases | 2 Comments

Throughout the Easter season, Client have been releasing a free EP of “Client B” (i.e. the wonderful Sarah Blackwood (whose birthday was two days ago, so the timing is apposite)) performing an acoustic set, one track being made available per week. It’s a real treat, for many reasons, not least of which being the opportunity to hear Blackwood’s beautiful voice performing in a more stripped-down context; it’s something of a reunion too, with Dubstar colleague Chris Wilkie accompanying on guitar. The tracklisting is great, a mixture of songs by Dubstar, Client, The Smiths and New Order; Sarah Blackwood sounds nervous at first, but it’s clear after a short time that she’s really enjoying herself (she introduces “True Faith” as “one of my favourite northern folk songs”!). Hearing “Not So Manic Now” and “Stars” still sends a shiver down my spine after all these years… Read more

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More from The Pipettes – two live concerts

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As an addendum to yesterday’s post, here are two excellent recordings of The Pipettes performing live. The first comes from the 2007 South By South West festival in Austin, Texas; two excellent reviews of the concert – with great pictures! – can be found here and here. The concert includes two non-album tracks, “Guess Who Ran Off With The Milkman?” and “True Love Waits Patiently For A Miracle”. Read more

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The Pipettes: changing once again

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i’m in mourning at present. A few days ago, it was announced that two members of The Pipettes, RiotBecki and Rosay, are leaving “to pursue other musical projects”. i’ve nothing against change, of course, and in their five years The Pipettes have already experienced a fair amount of alterations, but these two together with Gwenno seemed to have achieved the ideal balance. Although there’s more than a whiff of being another pre-fab band (a fact their name hints at), they demonstrate an originality and talent which sets them apart from anything remotely ‘plastic’. The three-part harmonies that fill their early 50s-/60s-inspired miniatures are sumptuous, showing these girls really can sing, not merely perform (though they do perform brilliantly too, playing their own instruments and performing retro dance numbers). All the more sad that changes are afoot; the replacements are to be Anna and Ani (Gwenno’s sister), and according to Gwenno, the trio is demoing 20-25 new songs. Writing about the situation on the band’s website, Gwenno sounds both optimistic – “People may be confused by such a drastic change in line-up but please rest assured – if we were to be an imitation of ourselves we would stop” – and tantalising – “…we’re incredibly excited to be working toward bringing you a new album that will be unlike anything we (or anyone else) have ever done”. A change is probably a good thing; Rosay’s voice, in particular, has been central to the current Pipettes sound, so it’ll be interesting to hear how the new trio will sound. Either way though, The Pipettes as i’ve known and loved them are no more…

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Vitrolic, bitter and brilliant: Transvision Vamp – Velveteen

Posted on by 5:4 in Miscellaneous | 1 Comment

When i was 16, i bought my first CD player. At the time – and i’m conscious how old i feel saying this – it was still a real novelty for anyone my age to possess their own CD player, and it was one of the (mercifully) few times when i was the centre of attention, everyone wanting to experience the clarity of digital music. At the same time, i bought 4 CDs, the start of a collection that i now have neither the time nor the inclination to count. Among those four was Transvision Vamp‘s second album Velveteen, that had been recently released (also among the four was Martika’s self-titled debut album, but we all make mistakes). My interest in Transvision Vamp began when their first single, “I Want Your Love” was released the previous year. Both the song, and its accompanying video, are breathtaking; it’s one of those amazing moments when you hear a song by an artist you’ve never encountered before, and the experience is totally enthralling. i can’t recall another female vocalist who was quite like Wendy James at that time: she snarled and screeched and screamed, she was the archetypal rock-chick, full of froth and feist, and she oozed sexuality (i admit i had many posters of her on my wall). One of the reasons why their sound was so refreshing, i think, is because it was at a time when the acid-house scene was reaching its peak, and the so-called “Madchester” bands were beginning to become really popular, a style of music that, with a few exceptions, i found bland, generic and – worst of all – eager to please. So Transvision Vamp’s combination of rock with (rather mild) punk was an exciting break from the norm. Read more

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Elsiane: strange, radiant pain

Posted on by 5:4 in Miscellaneous | 8 Comments

For years, i’ve had a penchant for female singers with unconventional voices. This is, i suspect, as much to do with the fact that such singers usually surround their voice with equally unconventional sounds, as with the actual voices themselves. The list is considerable: Clodagh Simonds (Fovea Hex), Liz Fraser (Cocteau Twins/This Mortal Coil), Toni Halliday (Curve), Sierra and Bianca Casady (CocoRosie), Imogen Heap, Joanna Newsom, Anne Marie Almedal (AM and the UV), Claudia Brücken (Onetwo/Propaganda), Beth Gibbons (Portishead), Emiliana Torrini, Björk, Tori Amos, Ute Wassermann, and i’d even include t.A.T.u.’s Yulia Volkova, although she’s rather more mainstream. Perhaps the most significant aspect of these singers’ appeal, though, is in their ability – fuelled by their unconventionality – to bring a new kind of expressive power to songs, a power that is often extremely direct and moving.

A notable omission from the above list – and one of the most rapturous voices i’ve ever heard – is Elsieanne Caplette, one half of the Canadian duo, Elsiane (the name is an amalgam of her and drummer Stephane Sotto’s first names). Apart from anything else, they’re a curiously stylish entity, Caplette’s classical training fusing and fizzling with Sotto’s background in art history. Sonically, they are, literally, breathtaking; it becomes apparent listening to them how often singers don’t really sing, preferring either to murmur within a narrow cluster of notes or meander aimlessly in all directions. Elsiane, on the other hand, are the epitome of cantabile, their melodies singing out the journey that their poetic, intimate lyrics require, at times almost too low for Caplette’s voice, other times squealing high notes, but whether each comes from ecstasy or angst remains ambiguous. Read more

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Scandanavian sounds, part 3: AM and the UV

Posted on by 5:4 in Thematic series | Leave a comment

Every now and then, a band appears that seems to bring together the most engaging qualities of several other artists. A delightful example of that – and proof that not everything coming out of these remote arctic regions is quite as intense or brooding as Deathprod and Biosphere – is AM and the UV, the relatively unknown collaboration of singer Anne Marie Almedal (AM) and obscure duo Ultraviolet (UV). The result is some of the most delicate and compelling songs i’ve heard, effortlessly blending the vocal lyricism of Alison Goldfrapp, the dark funkiness of Portishead (ok, so it broods a little) and the drifting washes of the Cocteau Twins, easily rivalling those artists, the songs are that good. Sadly, they only stayed together long enough to produce two EPs – Tomorrow Is All Like Flowers and Silently The Birds Fly Through Us – and an album, Candy Thunder. The titles of the EPs, in particular, point towards the ethereal aims to which AM and the UV are working. The songs communicate a kind of transparent (if perhaps world-weary) bliss, which grows with repeated listenings. Among the brightest of the highlights: “Whisper” is simply one of the most gorgeous songs ever recorded, “Speak” features some spectacular melodic writing, “Wonderful, Beautiful” is a bizarre retro/modern combination (Almedal sounding a bit like Karen Carpenter), and the chorus is irresistible to sing along with, and “Everywhere We Go”, the final track from the album, is very mellow, with the most delicious ending.

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