Wednesday, 29 December 2010

My very lazy top 3 albums of 2010

Time for the obligatory 'my best albums of the year' post. Usually I don't bother, and yet the world manages to remain spinning on its axis, so why this year? Well, actually I was a bit intrigued. And I'm more than a bit lazy. So I just checked out my 'most played' on itunes and it yielded quite a good representation of my favourite 2010 albums and my year in general. Also a lot of favourites that had nothing to do with 2010, but I'll stick to the brief.

Yeasayer's album Odd Blood came top. And just to keep things super neat their track 'ONE' was my number one most played track, which makes me think that deep down maybe I'm not an 'organised chaos' kinda girl but actually more psychotically OCD than anyone could imagine. Now, it would have been at this point that I'd have pointed out that the video below was one of the weirdest music videos of the year, but since Klaxons came along with their 'Twin Flames' video, Yeasayer's efforts may as well be an episode of Playdays.

I got to enjoy seeing Yeasayer perform earlier in the year and tracks 'ONE', 'Ambling Alp', and 'I Remember', still make me hop about excitedly if they come on in a bar. All-in-all a worthy choice for the top spot.

Arcade Fire is up next with their spectacular album The Suburbs. In contrast to Yeasayer, this was definitely not an album that got me throwing shapes all over London, but rather one that helped put my brain back together after all the shape throwing (and sometimes, throwing up) was done. In fact the lilting melodies and shimmering instrumentation of this Canadian band are partly responsible for getting me through the final stretch of my Masters. Having just been annouced as the winner of HMV's album of the year I'm ready to admit that I might not be alone in cherishing this particular release.

Finally, Stornoway and their debut Beachcombers Windowsill have snuck in as my third most played 2010 album. Not surprising that there should be a folksy entry but I think one word can sum up it's inclusion in the top 3, Glastonbury.

The Park, Saturday afternoon, glorious sunshine - the stage is set for what would be some of the best moments of this year's festival. Stornoway kicked off proceedings, and then having swayed in the sun for a little too long already that day, we retreated to the shade where we heard Biffy Clyro do a storming secret gig, had a groove to Candi Staton and the original 'You've Got The Love', and regained our strength in time for Laura Marling and a night of mischief. Clearly I've been trying to recreate that afternoon ever since as 'Boats and Trains' has racked up over 100 listens.

Right, and that's it. My very lazy top 3 albums of the year. For someone as indecisive as me that was a winning formula - letting my itunes do all the hard work.

I think I'm going to go and download a Lucky Number 8 Ball app and let it choose what I'm doing in 2011.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Album Review - Long Live, Snowblink

Written for and published on The 405.

Having already become firm favourites among hundreds of music bloggers everywhere, Snowblink’s full album is finally being released.

Snowblink, made up of San Franciscans Daniela Gesundheit and bandmate Dan Goldman, have produced a beautiful album in ‘Long Live’ that brings a touch of the ethereal to the increasingly popular folk genre. Providing a link between the nature-inspired lyrics of Fleet Foxes and the pretty vocals of Leslie Feist of Feist and Broken Social Scene, Snowblink are very ‘now’ but manage to be wonderfully nostalgic at the same time.

Gesundheit’s voice is really quite mesmerising and thankfully this voice is allowed to be the focus of every song on the album, indeed in parts like ‘Divining Rod’ it is all you hear. The songs might deviate in style – a hint of gospel in ‘Sea Change’, indie pop vibes on ‘Heckling the Afterglow’ and country on ‘The Tired Bees’ - but Gesundheit’s voice forges a close relationship between each and every one. Long Live is very much one whole rather than simply a showcase of fifteen disconnected but well written tracks.

'Ambergris' is the highlight of the album, finger-picked guitars and layers of lovely instrumentation make this song quite anthemic but in the most understated way. The song has enjoyed some popularity thanks to the internet’s capacity for sharing and helped along some way by the 70’s inspired music video, which shows the band in a hippy utopia, walking among wildflowers, complete with floaty dresses and frolicking children…sounds pretty good to me! By the time ‘Ambergris’ is nearing its end with the nonsensical refrain of “I hope you find your ambergris” it has crept all the way up to spine-tingling territory.

Snowblink’s first full album is essential listening for anyone enjoying the present folk music take over, especially those who like their folk with a country twist. Twinkling melodies and understated it truly makes ears happy, ‘Long Live’ Snowblink.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Live Review - Lissie/ Ramona, Heaven

Written for and published on For Folk's Sake

Lissie played a sold out gig at London’s Heaven, but not without the help of her trusty superglue. She followed a storming set from Brighton four piece Ramona, who were first to take to the venue’s lofty stage and provided a more than satisfactory warm-up for the powerful lungs of Lissie that were to follow.

It might be a lazy comparison, but the punk-influenced musical stylings, the blonde hair, and the pouty attitude of Ramona’s lead singer Karen Anne brought a young Debbie Harry to mind. Single ‘How Long’ was another nod to a punk era gone by: a perfectly modern take on the punk-rock sounds of the late 70s, it reminded me of the Undertones’ ‘Teenage Kicks’. With the addition of 90s classic Blue Boy’s ‘Remember Me’, the highlight of the set, Ramona proved that they are a group with many strings to their musical bow.

Then it was Lissie’s turn. The atmosphere was buzzing as this much-talked about musician opened up with ‘Wedding Bells.’ It’s often a worry that a much-hyped act will struggle to live up to expectations. This was certainly not the case with Lissie. Her powerful and soulful voice – whether she’s singing softly on ‘Bully’ or belting it out on her first single, ‘When I’m Alone’ – changed my cynical mind right from the start.

Appearing totally comfortable on stage, she told a bemused audience that she had to briefly stop the gig to get some superglue. “I don’t play with a pick, I guess I should learn. I actually have this long nail…” she explained to the thoroughly disgusted crowd. But after covering her fingertip with super glue, and as if to prove her method certainly works, she played a truly magnificent and heartfelt rendition of ‘Everywhere I Go’.

The band had chosen to cover Led Zeppelin’s ‘Stairway To Heaven’, as performed on Radio 2 recently, as the ultimate finale (especially appropriate at a venue named Heaven). Lissie and her band produced a particularly magical rendition of the rock anthem, that would have brought a smile to even the most hardcore of Led Zep fans.

Having listened to Lissie’s album I wasn’t quite so sure what made her stand apart from the veritable gaggle of girly singer/songwriters currently in vogue. Actually her album Catching A Tiger just doesn’t do her justice, her powerful and soulful voice is totally unique and definitely one to see live. Lissie is one of the best singers around at the moment.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Exhibition Review - The Museum of Everything

Published on the ever so amazing Amelia's Magazine.

It’s back but not for long. The Museum of Everything has once again put on one of the most intriguing and eccentric exhibitions in all of London and one not to be missed.

Returning for the third time the Museum of Everything’s simply named Exhibition #3 has been put together with the help of British pop artist Sir Peter Blake. It only opened on the 13th October to coincide with the Frieze art fair and is due to close again at Christmas so get down there quick before it’s gone, I promise you’d be sorry to miss it.

A strange little place, the Museum of Everything can be found tucked away down a back street in Primose Hill next to the local library. However, although small in stature this curious museum will still require a good portion of your morning or afternoon to get round because every little space, spot, and shelf is covered with intriguing things to peer at.

Entering through the colourful striped doorway and paying a voluntary donation to a lady in a small kitsch ticket booth and you may be well on your way to guessing that the circus is the theme this time round. Indeed circus mirrors greet you, transforming you into a giant, a dwarf and…God forbid! someone wider than they are tall! Apt then that round the corner is the ‘gallery of unusual people’ and the beginning of an interesting peek into the world of the carnival and the freak show. The gallery is a selection of historic sideshow memorabilia depicting everyone from bearded ladies and dwarves to a man with the completely smooth appearance (yes! including ‘downstairs’) and webbed feet of a frog. This vast collection of posters and postcards are a “celebration of difference” because “nobody’s perfect”, or at least that’s the idea as Sir Peter Blake himself explains in a video later on.

By Emmeline Pidgen

Giant banners advertising, among other things, “strange little people”, and “the world’s most grotesque creature” are strewn all over the walls in the main hall. Painted by the so-called ‘king of the sideshow banner’, Fred Johnson, his is just one among the many all but defunct crafts that are revered at the Museum of Everything. There’s even a wardrobe door emblazoned with a leopard painted by sign painter Joe Ephgrave, who also painted the iconic drum skin on the award-winning cover of the Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album that Sir Peter Blake designed.

In fact that’s the really lovely thing about the Museum of Everything, iconic artworks are mixed in without fanfare among work from less known, brilliant, and usually eccentric artists’ - like the embroidery of Ted Willcox. Ted was taught to sew in hospital while recovering from injuries incurred in WW2. He then went on to spend the rest of his life indoors finding inspiration in everything from Alice in Wonderland to pictures of reclining bare-chested beauties, recreating them all in needle and thread.

By Natasha Thompson

In many ways the Museum can be viewed as a potted history of Great Britain, though told from a thoroughly left field point of view. Nothing sums this up better than the Walter Potter section, an example of Victoriana at its most bizarre if ever there was one. Cleary no relation to animal lover Beatrix, Walter Potter’s tableaux are made up of stuffed rabbits, a variety of birds, squirrels, rats, frogs, puppies and kittens - all in a surprising range of poses. They are completely grotesque but also fascinating, and of course, today taxidermy is very much back in vogue with artists like Polly Morgan picking up and popularising the ancient craft once again.

The Museum of Everything managed to impart on me the same kinds of feelings that I imagine may have flashed through the minds of the archaic freak show audience. A mix of morbid curiosity, delight in viewing the strange, and a childish excitement over being reminded what a beautiful and odd world we live in. Catch it while the circus is still in town!

Open Wednesday – Sunday, 10.30 am – 6.30 pm until Christmas

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Album Review - Timber Timbre, Timber Timbre

Written for and published by the ever so amazing music site The 405.

Album opener ‘Demon Host’ had already been around a good while before the recent release of Timber Timbre's debut album and had earned the band a number of fans among those who like all things American and blusey.

And 'Demon Host' did appear to be about as American as it could get. In fact the official music video (above) showed the man behind Timber Timbre, Taylor Kirk, sitting in a large countrified barn, picking his guitar, singing about God and repentance, and all in his finest Southern drawl.

So convincing is this stateside charade that it might be a surprise to find that Kirk is actually Canadian. Nevertheless Timber Timbre’s self-titled UK debut (Kirk has released two albums previously in the States) provides a journey through some of the best musical influences that America has offer. From the hillbilly ode of ‘Demon Host’ to gospel number ‘Trouble Comes Knocking’, where you don’t have to make a huge mental leap and you could be listening to the American-influenced rhythm and blues bands of the 1960s - we’re talking The Animals’ ‘House Of The Rising Sun’ in particular.

‘We’ll Find Out’ continues the decidedly gospel vibe, this time with Kirk’s deep and rich voice barely singing but instead talking, preaching even, “Do your actions mention your heart’s intentions? We’ll find out. Is your mind mistaken? Is your conscience not at ease? We’ll find out.” Indeed, although the musical styles vary from one track to the next, the common thread throughout are the dark and mysterious lyrics. There’s always an underlying threat of some sort, like in ‘Lay Down In The Tall Grass’, “In a late basement séance that brought us to tears, dreaming every night of you, I’ll be shaking at the sight,” there’s something very film noir about the overall feel of the album.

Other parts of the album, such as ‘I Get Low’ and ‘Lay Down’ sees the addition of some seriously gothic sounding organ chords that work well with the generally macabre tone. The pairing of this TV horror organ with twinkly piano notes and strings also immediately bring to mind the soul standards of legendary crooners such as Al Green.

‘Magic Arrow’ brings us up to date with an ‘almost pop’ feel – if you squint your ears you can imagine the likes of Brandon Flowers having a hit with this song. But with Kirk at the helm we have dirty bass riffs punctuating this track making it, well, pretty epic really. As in the rest of the album it is coloured with a feeling of menace - there is too much darkness for it to be a radio hit but it’s all the more interesting for it.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Interview - Jamie Ley

Jamie Ley - 'Goodbye' from Tommy Leigh on Vimeo.

Written for and published by fabulous folk blog For Folk's Sake

Emerging from London’s seemingly never-ending and ever-talented pool of wonderful folksy-types, Jamie Ley has been packing out a variety of the capital’s venues with people, all eager to hear his soulful and timeless tunes. Emma Barlow caught up with him to talk about the rise and rise of folk, his inspirations, and what the future holds.

FFS: Do you describe your music as folk? Or is it a label that has been somewhat thrust on you?

JL: I guess it is folk, but I don’t really think we are this or we are that. We usually get described as folk or nu-folk, it’s always got some folk in there somewhere. I don’t consider it anything I just consider it my songs played as best as we can play them!

London has become something of a haven for up-and-coming folk acts, who do you most admire?

Most admire…I dunno. I like what’s happening with folk and it’s exciting to be in anyway involved in it. I admire how massive and how mainstream Mumford & Sons are now. Like I still cant really believe it. Usually bands takes like 5 years to get that big. I’ve played with them in Cardiff and I know them. That gig in Cardiff – about 2 years ago, there were about 20 people in a room and now they’re headlining Reading or whatever. So I admire what they’ve done for folk – the fact that they’ve made people more aware and bought this kind of music to people’s attention. And they’re great musicians, really great.

I think that’s what people like because it’s less of the kind of manufactured pop music and more people on stage with cool instruments like the banjo and the mandolin making honest music and that’s what appeals, that’s what appealed to me about it forever and that’s what I think people are starting to see. And I’ve always admired Johnny Flynn, he was one of my favourite artists while I was at uni and now I’ve had the privilege to like play with him. Bands like that – I always thought they were cool are suddenly much cooler, which is good for me, so I’m a bit cooler now too!

So that’s you’re more recent influences what are some of your older ones?

Bloody hell! Well, obviously The Beatles, so boring! Have you heard of the band Love? Arthur Lee, he’s a bit of a legend, Bob Dylan. But my true greatest hero of all time is Johnny Cash. Yeah I love Johnny Cash. And also songwriters like him, I kind of aspire to be like Leonard Cohen. As a lyricist he’s incredible and his poetry… even the way he sings them…he sings them as the poems they are, which really appeals.

Okay, so what about the poets that inspire you?

Well I used to be into the Romantics, you know the Shelley’s of this world and the Dylan Thomas’s but I’ve recently kind of moved away from that, just because, you know, it’s healthy! I’m into a few German poets and writers – they have a theory about pure imagery and it’s less about words and more about telling things like straight to the point. It’s all about writing in a purist way rather than using fanciful words so yeah: I’m trying to do that with my songs.

Is songwriting something that comes easily to you then or is it really hard work?

Um…sometimes I can sit there for like a week and nothing will come out! Or even a month! And I’ll just be banging my head against the wall. But other times I can write three in a day so it just depends. It’s cliché but if you’re sitting there with your guitar and you just feel you’re in the zone, you’ve got your music mojo or whatever so it just comes out. That’s the time you’ve got to sit there and make yourself keep working at it because that’s the time that’s going to be the most fruitful.

Are you more at home with a band behind you on stage these days or do you miss going it alone?

Yeah at the moment we are doing kind of a mix. So we play three songs as a band and then I’ll do a few. Because there’s something really special and intimate when you’re on your own on stage with an audience. But personally I prefer having my pals around me on stage and I get more into it. Now I feel a bit naked when they leave!

And how did the current band line-up come to be?

I played some gigs in Steeles in North London because my friend Rodney Fisher, who is an amazing musician, he runs a folk night there. We used to have lock-ins and things and I got chatting with one of the barmen, Matt. We just got playing some stuff together and he ended up becoming my bass player and then he knows Jack our drummer from a former band. So we pinched Jack from his old band. Elena Tonra – we had played a lot of gigs together and got on well so she started singing and then we’ve got Bobby on piano, who is our newest sort of musical hero. So basically we just went pilfering from other people’s bands. But in a really charming way so no one seems to mind…yeah so, don’t tell anyone that!

So what can we expect from Jamie Ley, what are the big plans?

Well expect to see a release, quite soon. I’m doing my showcase on the 20th October at the Flowerpot. So getting a lot of people down, lots of people that haven’t seen me who want to see me um….and hopefully that will be a great night and we’ll push on from there with a tour and a release and everything that follows.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

The Barclaycard Mercury Prize – A Preview

Written for and published on Amelia's Magazine

Laura Marling by Natasha Thompson, for more of her work click here.

Started in 1992 during the height of Brit pop cool, the Mercury Prize still exists to champion the best of British music. Judged by a range of musicians, journalists and executive muso types the winners get a massive cash prize and usually see their album sales soar. Unless of course, they are one of the unlucky ones who fall victim to the ‘Mercury curse’, which will see them become a distant musical memory - a fate suffered by last year’s winner Speech Debelle. Or ‘Who?’ as you might know her.

As the twelve nominated acts gear up for tonight’s awards we run through the shortlisted nominees. As usual some are well known, legends the likes of the ‘Modfather’ himself — Paul Weller, some have burst onto the scene just this year such as the banjo-loving Mumford & Sons, and some are less well known such as experimental jazz outfit Kit Downes Trio.

The xx by Gareth Hopkins

The xx and their debut album, the imaginatively named ‘xx’, are joint favourites along with Dizzee’s ‘Tongue N’ Cheek’. When you consider the young rapper has already claimed the prize once in 2003 for debut album ‘Boy in Da Corner’ it could be looking quite hopeful for the indie trio. The xx, infamous for their quiet unassuming indie anthems — a description that also fits the band’s demeanour – have enjoyed a brilliant first year. Winning fans on both sides of the Atlantic and among music stars and the public alike, they were perhaps a safe bet for a Mercury nomination. In fact much has been made of the rather impressive list of nominations this year. Important though the Mercury’s are to British music, there is usually criticism that the list is perhaps not representative enough, or trying to be too representative, or, that the judges are guilty of tokenism. 2010, however, sees one of the strongest line-ups of recent years.

Laura Marling and her beautiful second album ‘I Speak Because I Can’ will compete with boyfriend Marcus Mumford’s, of Mumford & Sons, debut ‘Sigh No More’. The boys have enjoyed a pretty meteoric rise to fame this year in contrast with Laura’s steady rise in popularity since she started winning over fans with her pretty folksy ditties as far back as 2007 — her album ‘Alas I Cannot Swim’ was shortlisted for the prize in 2008. And it could be argued that either Laura or the Mumfords would be deserving winners. After some thrilling performances at this summer’s festivals, 2010 really has seen folk rock re-enter the mainstream.

Mumford & Sons by Natasha Thompson

Nominees Villagers and I Am Kloot also belong to the folksier side of British indie rock, the genre to which The Mercury’s remain the most faithful ever since the Brit pop days. Villagers enter the fray as total newbies with debut ‘Becoming A Jackal’. As beautiful as their songs are, eerie and driven by some powerful ‘80s pop influences, some critics argue that front man and chief songwriter Conor J O'Brien still has some scope for growth. I Am Kloot are definitely not newcomers; having come together from various bands in 200, Kloot are a mishmash of some of British music’s biggest names. Nominated album ‘Sky At Night’ was co-produced by former Mercury winner, Elbow front man, Guy Garvey.

Villagers friends — Conor and co. have been touring with the Cumbrian group — Wild Beasts are next, with second album ‘Two Dancers’. It impressed fans and critics upon its release and is finding new fans all the time, possibly thanks to their sound belonging to a genre similar to a range of upcoming and forward thinking American outfits like Animal Collective, Yeasayer and Grizzly Bear.

Biffy Clyro by Natasha Thompson

Biffy Clyro have been around for the best part of a decade but it is this year’s ‘Only Revolutions’ that made an impact on the Mercury shortlisters. Perhaps their increase in sales and fan base is largely down to the securing of admirers among the Radio 1 playlist compilers and consequently listeners, but their Scottish slant on stadium rock certainly appears to have taken off this year.

Then to Corinne Bailey Rae’s moving second album 'The Sea', Rae admitted that many of the songs are about her late husband and the album would probably be up there among the favourites if the list of nominees was not as strong as it is. The follow-up to her million-selling eponymous first album ‘The Sea’ sees a shift from upbeat lounge-friendly soul to songs packing a whole lot more emotional punch and meaning, understandable after the tough couple of years that punctuated the recording of the two albums.

Another Mercury act making a shift in styles between albums is, of course, Foals. Where 2008’s ‘Antidotes’ was all about bounding in with all guns blazing; guitars on the attack and punctuated chant-like vocals, 2010’s ‘Total Life Forever’ showcased another side of the Oxford five piece’s musical talents. This time round it is about quieter melodies, hushed voices and layers of instrumentation that gradually build into something really beautiful like in stand out track ‘Spanish Sahara’.

Since going solo in the early 1990s Paul Weller has released an impressive ten albums, although always selling amazingly well none have particularly made much of an impact, apart from within the circles of his hardcore followers perhaps. His 2010 effort ‘Wake Up The Nation’, however, received some critical acclaim upon its release in April making the Modfather a deserving nominee for a Mercury. It’s the second time Weller has made the shortlist, 1993 album ‘Wild Wood’ made the cut in 1994 — the same year that saw M People controversially snatch the award from firm favourites Pulp.

And then to left-field nominees the Kit Downes Trio and their album ‘Golden’, perhaps proving that the Mercury’s can be guilty of a little tokenism after all? So maybe it was the case that someone on the panel felt the list was lacking an experimental jazz band, but actually the album is totally worthy of inclusion. Beautiful in its brave attempt to forge something different and new — it wouldn’t be that unusual for the Mercury’s if outsiders, the Trio, got the prize – unfortunately for them it could be the last we ever hear of them.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Film Review - Certified Copy

Published over at the divine Running In Heels.

Certified Copy is a film which is as beautiful as it is painful. Provoking questions about the relationships between us and those we love the most, whether mother and son, husband and wife or even between two strangers.

Written and directed by Iranian-born Abbas Kiarostami, Certified Copy is a story which Kiarostami professes ‘could happen to anyone, anywhere’ but it is not, however, like any film you are likely to have encountered before. And despite its focus on a romance between a man and woman, it is by no means your usual Hollywood romcom.

The many themes that construct this film, including art, marriage, and children make for a complex plot but then, life is complicated and that is surely one of the messages Kiarostami is trying to impress upon the viewer.

Juliette Binoche is completely mesmerising in the lead female role; she won Best Actress at Cannes for her performance in the film. Unlike the famous Binoche, however, in the male lead is the relatively unknown William Shimell. Although highly respected in his usual vocation as opera singer, the British protagonist had never acted in a film before Certifed Copy.

The film focuses on Binoche and Shimell’s characters, almost exclusively. Most of the film happens in real time, making the dialogue extremely important – just as well then that it is an exquisitely written script.

The cinematography is truly stunning, helped of course by the glorious rural Italian setting. Self-consciously naturalistic the film has no soundtrack, instead focusing on each scene’s unique background noise and the long lingering shots from a hand-held steady cam make for an almost uncomfortably intimate effect.

Shimell’s character is writer, James Miller, in Italy to talk about his latest book (called Certified Copy) and Binoche, known simply as ‘She’, is an antiquities shop owner who attends his talk with keen interest.

It appears that she has an overwhelming desire to be original, as seen when she spontaneously whisks the middle-aged writer away to the countryside. She is also searching for originality in her life – perhaps why she maintains such a strained relationship with her son – in many ways a copy of her and/or his father.

He, however, has little emotional attachment to original things, placing just as much importance on cheap imitations and causing much debate between the pair.

While away the strangers are mistaken for a married couple in a café and appear to keep up the charade. Walking through the beautiful village nestled in the Tuscan countryside the couple talk about their wedding, their life together, and decide it’s their anniversary but of course it’s all an act. Or is it?

If you leave Certified Copy unsure of anything else you can console yourself in that Kiarostami’s film certainly leaves ample room for interpretation and therein lies the catch, and it will either thrill or infuriate you.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Album Review - Memphis, Magic Kids

Also published over at amazing The 405.

Much like the bands’ hometown and the name of their album, Memphis, Magic Kid’s debut evokes thoughts of a bygone era, Elvis Presley, 1950’s high schools, and vintage rock and roll. The group of five’s debut provides 11 snippets of sunshine-filled surf pop that verge on the sickly sweet.

A lot has been made of the band’s Beach Boys influences, and there is no getting away from it. The lilting pop melodies, smooth vocals and backing harmonies are in full swing from opener Phone and are more than reminiscent of some of Brian Wilson and co.’s best work.

There are modern flavours too though – the electric guitars that appear in some of the album’s best tracks are the kind that have been made cool again by the likes of Vampire Weekend and the instrumentation, when it is stripped-down, is not dissimilar to the work of Dev Hynes of Lightspeed Champion fame.

Stripped-down instrumentation, however, seems to be missing from Magic Kids’ vocabulary. In some instances you wonder if while recording the album they couldn’t have benefitted from perhaps telling the best part of the orchestra to go home that day.

Horns, strings, pianos, guitars, sleigh bells, handclaps, you name it they are all thrown into the mix making a big sound which can detract from what are essentially well crafted little pop songs. Literally little, many of the songs are just over two minutes long.

Candy gets the ball rolling with the cutesy indie pop theme that runs throughout most of the lyrics and pretty melodies on Memphis: ‘There’s no baby sweeter than my baby”, they trill.

Hideout is as close as Magic Kids are willing to get to a ballad and it works to provide a quiet breather from the almost relentless cacophony of pure pop.

By far the best track on the album, however, is Hey Boy. Yes it comes complete with dreamy choir, horn motifs and other 60’s influences but it also goes to show that the fundamentals of making a brilliant pop song have remained the same for decades and Magic Kids are masters of their craft.

Sailin’ is similar in that it feels as if it could have been around forever, the lyrics are twee as ever - there is not much depth of meaning here, “We’ll cruise around the Isle of Man, I could be working on my tan.”

And perhaps therein lies the biggest flaw of this album, after a few listens some of these songs change from the endearingly sticky sweet to sickly sweet, and you do begin to hope Magic Kids might change the record.

Released August 31 2010.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Live review - The Middle East/ Temper Trap, Somerset House, 12.07.2010

It was the night that the Aussies came to Somerset House and both the crowd and the bands, The Temper Trap and support band The Middle East, seemed to get a kick out of being at one of London’s prettiest venues.

Part of a run of outdoor gigs called the Summer Series, this years bill included Air, The Mystery Jets, Florence + The Machine, The XX , and The Divine Comedy. The outdoor setting, in the courtyard of Somerset House, did add a bit of extra magic to the proceedings as well as some nice acoustics, which were particularly good to the impressive vocal talents of both The Temper Trap and The Middle East.

The Middle East had the harder task as they are still relatively unknown in the UK but it didn’t take them long to win over the crowd of Temper Trap fans with their wistful, acoustic, indie folk sound.

A band of six talented musicians, they are not afraid of adding layer after layer of instrumentation including banjos, flutes, and accordions to the mix leading to really beautiful melodies and truly dreamy songs.

By the time The Middle East got to ‘The Darkest Side’, one of the best from their eight track 2008 album, ‘The Recordings of The Middle East’, the crowd had stopped their conversations altogether to listen to the guys and girl on stage fingerpick and sing — in perfect harmony, of course, — their way through another song.

The band also played a couple of promising-sounding new songs but their most famous song, ‘Blood’ (above) was kept until last supplying another fantastic showcase of their poetic lyrics, mesmerising melodies, and proof that The Middle East are definitely worth looking out for.

Then The Temper Trap took to the stage to a rapturous response from the crowd, which continued throughout their hour-long set.

Starting with ‘Rest’, the group of four stormed through some of their hits from debut album ‘Conditions’, the audience of fans with them all the way, singing along and clapping in all the right places.

New song, ‘Right Here’, went down a storm — slower-paced but still with that great force of energy that is largely down to lead singer Dougy Mandagi’s amazing voice, it left fans whispering to each other that they “can’t wait for the new record”.

‘Fader’ soon got everyone shouting along again, providing a reminder that Temper Trap have already managed to create some great pop songs in their short existence.

Lead singer, Mandagi, has clearly picked up a few crowd-pleasing tricks too — tipping water over the drum he was smashing the heck out of during an epic version of ‘Drum Song’, it sprayed up, hitting the lights and wowing the already spellbound crowd.

Of course, ‘Sweet Disposition’ was the finale, and the crowd really kicked into life when that guitar riff started up, even the rain that immediately started spitting down couldn’t dampen that level of audience enthusiasm.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Interview - Jessica Dance, accessories designer and all-round creative-type person

This interview was originally done for fab lifestyle site Running In Heels.

Despite only just graduating from The Arts University College Bournemouth, Jessica Dance, 22, has already had success with two quirky jewellery and accessories collections. Her latest, called 'Couture Creatures', is available to buy from Kabiri. She was awarded winner of this years Per Aquum Creative Marketing prize at London Graduate Fashion Week and her delightful blog is well worth a visit if you'd like to see what else this creative star of the future is up to.

Have you always wanted to be a designer?

No… I wanted to be a vet when I was 6, but that was short lived. I think I have always known I would not work in a 9-5 job, my overactive imagination meant that I would definitely work in the creative industry.

How did you get to where you are today and would you do anything differently?

Persistence! And always being confident in my work, my work is an acquired taste so it’s so important to really believe in what I am creating.

How did you get started as a designer?

I studied fashion at university. When I started uni I had no idea what I wanted to do. I didn't find my place of study inspirational and I felt I didn't fall into this category of 'fashion'. My way of working seemed to confuse people. I created my own little world; in my mind handmade rabbits lunching in the garden with a picnic set was humorous, endearing and exciting; and that to me was a fashion shoot, is it not? There were quite a few people who advised against my way of working, however being stubborn and probably a bit naive I shunned this advice and this drove me to work harder and inspired me to design my own collection.

How would you describe your overall aesthetic?

My props and accessories are very often playful. I love tactility so my pieces take on a three-dimensional form, inviting people to touch and interact with them. I always make my props and accessories by hand and I always make them myself. I suppose I'm a bit of a perfectionist but I think this is reflected in the overall quality and personality of the finished pieces.

Couture Creatures from Rob Francis on Vimeo.


Fantasy stories and vintage craft books.

Do you feel British or European?

British, I love old fashioned English eccentricity and….tea.

Who are you listening to at the moment?


Jewellery trend for this season?

Tactility, handmade and a return to time consuming craft.

What couldn't you live without?

That’s difficult it’s a tie between animals or all-in-one suits.

Dream purchase?

Electric blue silk, Kenzo Jumpsuit.

Favourite movie?

My favourite film seems to change from month to month…. My current one has to be Fantastic Mr Fox. The attention to detail is meticulously perfect.

One piece of jewellery every girl should own?

Everyone needs to own a little Happet brooch from my current Couture Creatures collection!

Favourite European city and why?

Poland, I love all the little cellar bars and interesting shops.

Desert island book?

Fluffy by Simone Lia.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

I never really know where I will be in 5 days let alone 5 years…. I like to think I'll be working in my own studio making ridiculous props and accessories for a variety of projects from music videos to fashion shows.

Can you run in heels?

No I can barely walk in them. But I own vast amounts.