11 December 2012

Tuesday Tune: Tame Impala - Elephant

27 November 2012

Tuesday Tune: Adele - Skyfall

A great Shirley Bassey-esque theme for one the best ever Bond films.

11 September 2012

Tuesday Tune (Bestival Special): The XX - Infinity

The xx stood out at Bestival. In a weekend filled with all kinds of noise and colourful costumes, three magicians - introverted if not shy, and dressed in black, thrilled the Main Stage crowd with a typically low-key set including tracks from their second album Coexist. For me it was the best performance of the weekend; honourable mentions go to Alt-JRoots Manuva, and of course Stevie Wonder.


5 September 2012

Bestival Picks

It hasn't been a vintage year for British festivals, with no Glastonbury or Big Chill, washouts at the Isle of Wight Festival and Creamfields, and cancellations everywhere from Bloc (incompetence) to Bedfordshire's Rhythm (didn't sell enough tickets). However, there is one last hurrah this summer - Bestival, which is now into its ninth year and taking over the Isle of Wight. If you're not lucky enough to be going, the good news is that the whole festival will be streamed for free on YouTube.

Here are some of the performances not to be missed over the weekend:

Stevie Wonder

Little Dragon

Dub Pistols

The XX

See you at the front!

4 September 2012

Pet Shop Boys

The Pet Shop Boys' new album Elysium is available to stream on the Guardian website ahead of its release next Monday. This week's Tuesday Tune is one of their earlier hits - the downbeat 'Being Boring', from their 1990 release Behaviour.

22 August 2012

27 July 2012

The London 2012 Logo Has Gone The Distance

After seven years of planning, wrangling and controversy, a budget of billions, crackdowns on illegal shop displays, and last-minute security panics, the Olympics are finally here. Tonight Danny Boyle’s much-anticipated opening ceremony kicks off three weeks of sport in east London. But whether you’re a diehard fan who will catch every minute of the men’s handball, or you’ve fled the country until the whole show blows over, there’s one aspect of the Games which it’s been impossible to avoid anywhere in Britain – that logo.

Unveiled back in 2007, it’s fair to say that the angular, neon-coloured “2012” design by Wolff Olins didn’t go down too well. Seb Coe was forced to defend it at the time, claiming “we don't do bland”. Unflattering references to Lisa Simpson and swastikas followed and the internet became awash with creations from people who thought they could do better using London’s established visual references - the Thames, Big Ben, and Harry Beck’s iconic tube map.

Producing a visual identity for the Olympics was always going to be a challenge – the worldwide exposure of the Games is unparalleled, and something painfully cool in 2007 may well have appeared dated five years down the line. I wasn’t a huge fan when I first saw it (along with seemingly everyone else) but in the flesh, on the banners dotted around London and the other host areas, it definitely works, along with the “sporty” font.

It would have been less of a headache for the Games organisers to unveil a logo based around the Thames or the Union Jack, but they would then have been castigated for playing it safe. You certainly can’t please all the people all the time when making decisions of this scale, but Locog should be applauded for taking a risk on a bold, memorable design. Personally, I have come to love the logo - just not those creepy one-eyed mascots.

Originally published at Dale & Co.

17 July 2012

Tuesday Tune: Alt-J - Something Good (Live)

The incredible Alt-J perform 'Something Good' live. The band have been tipped for the Mercury Music Prize and if they won it would be well-deserved.

24 June 2012

Retro Review: The Streets - Original Pirate Material

As part of HI! Magazine's Retro Review series, I've cast an eye back to The Streets' 2002 debut album Original Pirate Material. Read all about it here.

19 June 2012


I am giving the RailMiles service a go to log my train travels. It's a web-based journey log made by Tom Cairns which allows you to record rail travel in the UK, including traction if you're into that sort of thing. Apparently I've done 3,400 miles since the start of the year, mostly travelling from Manchester down to Kent and back :O

If you're interested you can see an example RailMiles log (mine) at telstarbox.railmiles.org.

Tuesday Tune: Public Enemy - Don't Believe The Hype

11 June 2012

Album Review: Hot Chip - In Our Heads

At a time where genres are less rigid and less relevant than ever, the latest album by five awkward-looking men and their synths will appeal to many - In Our Heads is accessible without compromising on intelligence. The record begins with a disorientating combination of pitch-bent synthesisers and mad brass on ‘Motion Sickness’. ‘How Do You Do’ has a studious introduction thrown off-balance by sunny vocals plundered from Take That and a playful break section. ‘Don’t Deny Your Heart’ is another upbeat track with naively glossy synths and an MGMT-esque chorus. It contrasts completely with the slow soul on ‘Look at Where We Are’, where each line of the chorus slots beautifully into the next.

The second half of the album develops a more intimate, end-of-the night feel; ‘Flutes’ is an incredible track, moving into classic trance and feeling divorced from the dancefloor before the “One day you might realise/that you need to open your eyes” refrain. Now and again the lyrics lack inspiration - ‘Let Me Be Him’ being a notably weak spot, and the group should have managed better than the anthemic chorus here which sounds like The Killers with a drum machine. Despite this, the following passage of glockenspiel and birdsong is exquisite, as are the jangly piano and bluesy guitar echoes which wash perfectly out of the speakers, and provide a musical link to Joe Goddard’s side project The 2 Bears.

The band’s broad range of influences, from David Bowie to Timbaland to mean there is still sufficient variation, from downbeat house - ‘These Chains’ to apocalyptic Casio keyboards on ‘Ends of the Earth’. In Our Heads occasionally sounds derivative, and it’s not a giant leap from their ‘Ready for the Floor’-era work. But even if some of the tracks would have been acceptable in the 80s, it’s worth listening to in 2012.

30 May 2012

Album Review: Alt-J - An Awesome Wave

Prince famously changed his name to a symbol. Alt-J started out as one, as their real name is in fact a triangle. The geometry theme runs through their artwork and infiltrates their lyrics: “triangles are my favourite shape, three lines where two points meet” on ‘Tessellate’. Although this sounds like a gimmick, Alt-J can be forgiven - An Awesome Wave has been met by a tide of praise which is completely deserved.
From the first softly shifting chords and ticking percussion in the ‘Intro’, there is a quiet intensity to the band’s sound. The theme is echoed later on the sombre yet lyrical ‘Matilda’. ‘Breezeblocks’ is a rare burst into a rockier style, but this is about as aggressive as it gets. There’s a sense that this is not a singer-and-others setup, rather a partnership of equals. Such an arrangement suits Joe Newman’s unique and understated voice which is complemented by the intricate harmonies, whilst Gus Unger-Hamilton’s shimmering piano arpeggiation on ‘Something Good’ is the closest thing to an ostentatious guitar solo. ‘Ms’ is beautifully austere, particularly when the subtle drumming and guitar fall away to expose the vocals, and the tumbling rhythms on ‘Bloodflood’ challenge the ear.
They resist comparisons to other bands, claiming that if they were too similar to anyone else they “wouldn’t be doing their job”. So many different sounds emerge on the album, from the close-harmony chants which open ‘Fitzpleasure’ to rumbling bass drones on ‘Dissolve Me’, that it’s impossible to fit An Awesome Waveinto a genre-shaped box. The polyphonic soundscapes of Mike Oldfield are the closest musical reference point, but such a comparison fails to appreciate that in crafting such an distinctive sound, Alt-J haven’t forgotten to make great music at the same time. 
Originally published at Dale & Co.

28 May 2012

Say Hi!

Hi! Magazine are launching their music section today, written by a talented bunch of contemporary music experts... and me. There'll be fresh news, reviews, interviews and more every day of the week. Have a look at hihimag.com. The magazine are looking for more contributors so get in touch if you've got something to offer.

17 May 2012

Stay late at the office

Tomorrow night in Manchester, local promoters Now Wave are hosting "New Sounds of the North" featuring Alt-J (I don't have a Mac so can't do that triangle thing), Money and the hotly tipped No Ceremony. The gig is in the unlikely setting of a city centre office block and all three are highly recommended. This is the excellent "Matilda" by Alt-J:

30 April 2012

Album Review: Holy State - Electric Picture Palace

Holy State apparently spent three years working on (in their words) the “honest songs” on Electric Picture Palace. Perhaps they got fed up with each other or maybe they ran out of ideas, for despite many recent gigs and a promising 2009 EP, the band announced their split before the album’s release and cut back their tour. That aside, the band have emerged from the currently fertile territory of Leeds with an urgent, unapologetic punk sound - then used it in spades on a series of shouty, concise tracks. The punk ethos is evident as all the tracks clock in under four minutes, giving the album energetic pace throughout.
‘Ride’ and the desolate title track set the tone for the album, driven by frantic drumrolls and chugging guitars. Single ‘Dial M for Monolith’ continues the aggressive style of the first two tracks, mimicking Kurt Cobain on the doomy vocals; the snarling lyrics in the darker yet slightly more tuneful ‘Sultan of Sentiment’ riff on love songs and shallow emotion. ‘Brain Caves’ initially suggests variety with a wailing trumpet note, but soon turns out to be another onslaught – it’s still full-on, but the instrumentation becomes more lively, with heaps of discordance and spiky guitars and brass again at the end.
Halfway through the album (once you’ve turned the LP over - there’s no CD release) ‘Lady Magika’ turns down the noise, with melodic vocals and guitars and sparser percussion, and writing in the style of Arctic Monkeys - “you had a clear vision/vanished like an apparition”. It’s followed by ‘Love Tames The Wild’ which is similarly well-developed. For the remainder of the record, Holy State turn back to punk, apart from the brilliant diversion of ‘The Ego Raiser’, an XX-style instrumental break. These tracks show off the band’s talents to greater effect, but the relative similarity of the other tracks forces Electric Picture Palace into love-or-hate territory.
Originally published at Dale & Co.

27 April 2012

A tribute to Pottermouth

Arsenal's fixture at the Britannia on Saturday reminded me of something I've meant to put together for ages, so here's a few words about one of Stoke's most famous fans, known as "Pottermouth", who produced some amazing tracks in support of the Potters. His first track was Pottermouth's Battle Cry, written in his words "to inspire the squad" as they chased promotion to the top flight. The full story can be found on the BBC Radio Stoke website - but for now, this is is Pottermouth's Battle Cry!


The Potters duly went up and so Pottermouth reflected on the 2007-08 season with his Victory Ballad:


When Stoke began to wobble in their first Premier League season, he was back again with Keep Stoke Up (it worked!):


 And most recently, with this effort for Stoke's 2010 FA Cup campaign:


6 April 2012

Settle-Carlisle Line train tour

This week I took a ride on the Settle-Carlisle Line which is surrounded by the amazing scenery of the Yorkshire Dales, a trip I've wanted to do for years! Took some very amateur photos and finally got round to joining Flickr so the pics are here.

Album Review: Orbital - Wonky

Starting out at 1980s raves in the Home Counties, dance veterans Orbital have survived big beat, the Criminal Justice Bill, several Glastonbury appearances and Ibiza superclubs and they’re still going. In over two decades their sound has evolved but always maintained the free-thinking spirit of their early work; they were also one of the first dance acts to regularly perform live. Now the Hartnoll brothers and their trademark torch glasses have returned with their eighth album after a few years working independently. The title is somewhat naff - but the music merits attention and draws richly on the duo’s past glories.

“Stringy Acid” picks up perfectly from “One Perfect Sunrise”, the final track on the Blue Album released eight years ago - it’s a huge shot of euphoria which will go down brilliantly at the band’s festival appearances this summer. It collapses abruptly into the next track “Beezledub” - here even Orbital aren’t immune from the current dubstep pandemic but it suits as a knowing follow-up to Satan, one of their first and now most famous tracks. However the screeching synths and the percussion breakdown remain in Chemical Brothers or Prodigy territory, rather than Skrillex.

There are weak moments - “Never” sounds pretty at first yet remains frustratingly vague - it lacks the clarity of purpose and sounds like someone impersonating Orbital; and title track “Wonky” is headache-inducing and isn’t helped by the feisty vocal contributions of Lady Leshurr.

“Distractions” is stunning bleepy, spacey techno with lurching synths and lush vocals. The thoughtful New Order-style rhythm underpinning single “New France” complements the soulful vocals by guest Zola Jesus well. Final track “Where Is It Going?” shifts between fluid and harsher, angular techno moods but never loses its way. The familiarity is in fact welcome and despite a few questionable patches, Orbital prove that they still know what they’re doing.

Originally published at Dale & Co.

16 March 2012

7 March 2012

The return of Orbital

Very excited about Wonky, the first album in a while by Orbital. This is New France:

2 March 2012

Album Review: Fanfarlo - Rooms Filled With Light

Who are Fanfarlo? In 2006 they were a duo - Simon Balthazar and Giles J Davis - but the lineup has changed several times since. Davis left and Balthazar went on to accumulate a talented bunch of multi-instrumentalists for Reservoir, the band's self-released 2009 debut. Three years later they’re back with Rooms Filled With Light, which is part post-punk, part indie-pop, part almost everything, but is mostly incredibly enjoyable.

There’s a sense throughout the album that the band had big smiles on their faces recording these expansive, layered soundscapes. It begins with the urgent Replicate, alternating between spiky strings and keyboard sections and an insistent, more lyrical chorus. Deconstruction is earnest pop inspired by A-ha or the Human League, and it’s hard not to like the optimistic lyrics “it comes together again somehow”. Lenslife threatens to become something Belle and Sebastian would dismiss as too twee but it’s rescued by the punchy chorus. The track ends unexpectedly with languid sliding violin work by Cathy Lucas.

Fanfarlo are perhaps anxious not to appear too clever - despite tracks titled Replicate and Tunguska (referencing a meteoroid strike in Siberia). They give the game away halfway through the album on the short instrumental Everything Turns, a mesmerising piano and glockenspiel composition in the same vein as math-rockers Battles.

The sunshine peaks on Tightrope, a busy collage of playful harp runs, trumpet breaks, upbeat vocals, and then, in case you thought things were getting boring, an apocalyptic burst of orchestral chaos that could have been heard on A Day in the Life. Feathers has a similarly upbeat carnival atmosphere. Straight after comes Bones, a breather after the frenzy of the previous tracks. Here, as well as on the religious A Flood, there is more generous exposure for Baltazar’s vocals in the style of The Killers’ Brandon Flowers.

The songs here are catchy enough to provide instant enjoyment and the deployment of so many instruments means there are further delights to be found on repeated listening - Rooms Filled With Light is a fantastic combination of beauty and brains.

Originally published at Dale & Co.

4 February 2012

Album Review: Tribes - Baby

Baby is an assured first album from Camden four-piece Tribes, who wear their influences on their sleeves but come up with an exhilarating record revealing an unexpected maturity. Formed in 2010, Tribes have opened for the Pixies and steadily gained attention on the summer festival circuit last year.

Much of the album is a lively mixture of walls of grunge guitar, Britpop-style singalong choruses, distortion, and splashes of bluesy Americana. Halfway Home and Nightdriving are cool counterpoints in a more introspective style, underpinned with just enough of Miguel Demelo’s drumming.

Single Sappho, with a nod to Queen, showcases the lyrical depth found throughout the album, with intimate whispering vocals which smoulder and build to a classic rock’n’roll chorus. However the standout track is Nightdriving, in which a hypnotic guitar rhythm and talk radio samples, and lead singer Johnny Lloyd’s plaintive chant “What use is God if you can’t see him/What use are friends if they don’t want in?” create an ominous mood of self-doubt. Alone Or With Friends starts in a shoegazer style before bringing in gorgeous vocal harmonies, crashing drums borrowed from Oasis, and sun-drenched drones.

We’ve been here before with the Strokes, Arctic Monkeys, and the Vaccines only a couple of years ago - with dance and R&B acts dominating the charts, Tribes have been declared the saviours of guitar music by NME. On We Were Children, they sing “we were children in the mid-Nineties”; while it’s clear what they listened to at the time, this debut, although heavy on the anthemic choruses and grunge revival, could just inspire a generation bored of Adele and Ed Sheeran to pick up a guitar.

Originally published at Dale & Co.

1 February 2012