Sunday, 31 January 2010

2 reasons to get excited:

1. Hot Chip's new album 'One Life Stand' comes out tomorrow. There have been previews of it all this week on The Guardian's music pages and on their myspace page. After a couple of listens this track 'I Feel Better' stands out to me. This album screams out for a dance floor and a few hundred revellers and I can't wait to be one of them.

2. Yeasayer bring out their second album 'Odd Blood' on Monday 8 February and it is sure to be amazing if this track 'One' from the album is anything to go by. It's like the perfect up beat party track, encapsulating everything that is great about the electro-world-beat psychedelic-pop (yes I did just mash all those terms together. You try describing it) sound that Yeasayer have been championing and can be heard all over the place from Animal Collective to Friendly Fires' latest offering 'Kiss of Life'. Its even got some 80's influences shoved in for good measure, I'm sure if you strain your ears hard enough you can hear a bit of Madonna 'Material Girl' in there somewhere. You can download this track for absolutely free on their website here.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Beach House

Unfortunately my dear old Sony laptop has given up on me, I can't help but think I was asking too much of it. But without a laptop of my own I can't download the new album Teen Dream by Beach House and review it.

Needless to say they are hotly tipped for 2010 and certainly appeal to me. I wasn't surprised to learn that their album was produced and engineered in part by Chris Coady who is also responsible for the most recent Grizzly Bear album as well as having worked with TV on the Radio.

Grizzly Bear are a new favourite although they have been around a while. I like the way their music sounds modern and fresh but also ageless or at least nostalgic, Beach House evoke a similar reaction. It's just as easy to imagine stomping your feel along to hearing each song live as it is to imagine lying happily falling alseep to them. Hopefully I'll be able to do both.

Speaking of sleep - very rarely do the new, slightly pompous genres which some publications feel the need to invent every time a band emerges with a slightly new sound actually fit but 'dream pop' could be said to describe the work of Beach House pretty well.

I'm looking forward to listening to the album in its entirety. Review to come.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Album Review – Fly Yellow Moon, Fyfe Dangerfield

Former Guillemots front man delivers a dreamy debut in Fly Yellow Moon.

The Guillemots were, a bit like Dangerfield’s name, eclectic and eccentric and moreover a band which made jam-packed and over the top songs. They were joyous – full of harmonies and layers and instruments, sometimes whole orchestras. In contrast to this Dangerfield has come up with Fly Yellow Moon and it’s by no means a disappointing move.

Many of the songs on the album are much simpler than Dangerfield’s previous work. For the most part giving an impression of a pared down acoustic sound; piano and guitar dominates and occasionally strings are bought in, all backed up by a drum machine.

However, still very much present are the signature skilfully put together melodies, sometimes melancholic, sometimes lilting and uplifting. ‘Barricades’ has hints of some prolific names – Leonard Cohen perhaps or Lennon.

Overall therefore, it would be unfair to call the album a simple work, especially because of Dangerfield’s first class flair for song writing. But the album was predominately recorded and produced in just five days.

This raw and under-produced sound is fine throughout most of the album but jars against some of the more worked-on tracks such as the single ‘She Needs Me’ which, in a nod to his old ways, incorporates backing harmonies, strings, brass, synths – you name it.

‘She Needs Me’ is a standout track though, Dangerfield has injected his own quirkiness into what is essentially a brilliant pop song – complete with a crazily catchy chorus, “This is where I want to be/ She needs me”. It’s bound to be dominating radio airwaves soon.

It’s reported that Dangerfield’s decision to start and finish the album so quickly was because he found himself newly in love and wanted to capture his feelings as organically as possible. This does give an added poignancy to some of the sweetest lyrics on the album “I can’t help it if I’m happy not be sad…I want you endlessly,” on ‘When You Walk In The Room’ (above), another great track.

And so unabashed is the album about its’ being about love that you can’t help but feel slightly swept up in his obvious enthusiasm throughout all 10 tracks. All in all an excellent and dreamy debut from one of the British music scene’s eccentrics.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Album Review - Contra, Vampire Weekend

Now published over at Running In Heels

It was always going to be interesting to see where Vampire Weekend would go with the clich├ęd ‘difficult second album’. Although it could be argued that they couldn’t go far wrong, so competent are the group of Ivy League musicians.

Fans and music freaks alike would probably have forgiven them if they produced an album similar to their self-titled debut which two years ago shook up the indie band world with its new slant on an old theme.

This sound is as fresh now as it was then. So imagine my delight when giving the new album Contra a listen and I realise lead singer Ezra Koenig and co. have included all that was great about their sound before and more.

The signature afro-pop rhythms are there in force, emphasising the influence of Paul Simon’s 1986 album Graceland on the band, and making songs such as ‘Diplomat’s Sun’ more than dance floor ready.

The band has also not forgotten how to thrash out the guitar-driven indie anthems which were also a staple on the first album. Songs such as ‘Cousins’ and ‘White Sky’ are so upbeat and joyful that they will surely become firm sing-along favourites on the summer festival circuit.

But Vampire Weekend has mixed it up - present in the album is a definite move towards a more electronic sound. The synths have always been there but in Contra they are bought to the fore, sharing the limelight with the expertly written guitar riffs rather than just backing them up.

This move has allowed keyboardist Rostam Batmanglij, described by his colleagues as a musical prodigy, to compose brilliant and complex melodies over the top of the rest of the band – pushing their sound once again into a league of their own in the indie world.

Ezra Koenig also appears to have realised the full potential of his vocal ability – clearly audible in ‘I think UR a Contra’ where his voice floats effortlessly up and down, backed by strings, a nod to their love of classical compositions – this together lifts the song up to being something quite beautiful.

All-in-all Contra is a triumphant album – showcasing the band’s many influences and talents. They have managed to recapture everything that was so brilliant and unique about their first effort but push this even further to make yet another album which really stands out.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Whatever next

Published on Running In Heels site which can be found here

We all know fashion trends are decided upon up to three years in advance but how do fashion designers come up with what we will want to be wearing so far in advance?

The main point is that fashion designers do not have to do all this amazing guess work on their own. There are numerous agencies and companies totally dedicated to fashion forecasting and not just twice a year but up-to-the minute trend forecasts online, 24 hours a day and seven days a week.

Companies such as WGSN, Trend Union, Peclers and MudPie make a lot of money by advising both high street and high fashion designers on what is going to be big through trend books and online services and by providing them with year round creative inspiration.

So how do these agencies predict trends then? Fiona Jenvey, CEO and founder of MudPie, a trend forecasting company based in the UK, explains on their website that the company studies almost every facet of life in order to predict future trends. This will include an array of cultural interests from which Jenvey selects contemporary art and architecture as extremely important starting points.

What might be surprising is how big an impact politics can have on fashion. Jenvey claims that she and the company predicted the effect of the recession two years before the global recession began. She says the only way to forecast two or three years ahead is to closely follow social and economic trends rather than just fashion trends. On the site Jenvey also claims that MudPie predicted the effect that America’s fisrt ever African American President would have on fashion, three years before Obama was actually elected.

So do the trend forecasters always get it right? Well, it could be argued that a significant event like a worldwide recession does not just happen over night and anyone doing research on the global economy would perhaps have seen that one coming. And predicting Obama would get into power? Possibly just a lucky guess – I’m sure Jenvey could probably show me the trends she predicted that were directly inspired by the election of a black president, but really? But then it is not in the interest of the fashion forecasters to admit any sort of failure.

Sometimes there are fashions which come about that even the fashion forecasters cannot predict. Celebrities will frequently influence a trend just by wearing a certain cut of skirt, or a pair of retro sunglasses and being photographed in them a lot. Sometimes celebrities inside the fashion world itself will begin a trend as Tom Florio from Vogue revealed in the recent docufilm The September Issue, “No one was wearing fur, until Anna put it back on the cover of Vogue back in the early 90s and she ignited the entire industry. If Vogue gets behind something it sells.” But usually these trends are fairly short-lived and therefore are not considered in the forecasting of fashion seasons of years ahead.

However, one failsafe and important factor which has yet to be mentioned is the influence that we might have on fashion forecasting. The styling that we impose on ourselves is not necessarily because we are following trends and designers are increasingly becoming inspired by what people, maybe even what we, are wearing out on the street.

It’s all part of the ‘trickle-down, bubble-up’ theory. Trends from the catwalks of all the big players in high fashion will trickle down to the street, perhaps through the high street, fashion magazines or by something more organic and subconscious.

The twists and variations that people impose on these trends may give rise to a whole subculture of people copying each other, until eventually, a new trend is born and this may bubble up to the designers and perhaps be integrated into the next collection. The street influences the catwalk and the catwalk influences the street. What might begin as a style among a rebellious youth subculture can easily go onto become commercially fashionable which, in turn, will trigger other subcultures.

These trendsetting subcultures caught the eyes and imaginations of two fashion lovers, and previously unknown photographers/bloggers. Scott Schuman set up The Satorialist onto which he uploaded his photographs of all the cool young things he spotted around New York. Meanwhile Yvan Rodic was doing almost exactly the same thing in Europe on his blog Face Hunter (see above).

Just two years later and The Satorialist has been selected as one of Time Magazine’s Top 100 Design Influences. Street fashion and the use these blogs is now a major component in fashion forecasting and many would argue that so influential are the use of blogs like this that street fashion is now where most big trends begin.

So how do fashion designers predict the trends of two or three years ahead? Well, with a lot of help from trend forecasting agencies, perhaps celebrities, and maybe, even you.

Friday, 1 January 2010

New ways of keeping New Year's Resolutions

Published in January issue of Running In Heels which can be found here.

Once again it’s that time of year when around 50% of us will make a new year’s resolution, but as we know actually keeping them is a task too difficult for many of us to cope with. In fact statistics show that the majority of us who decide to make a resolution will give up within the first week, so here are some ideas to help you stick with it.

Help is largely at hand thanks to our friend the internet. Hassle Me is the digital equivalent of plastering post-it notes around the house reminding you of your resolution – be it to give up smoking or to eat more fruit, getting to the gym or practicing the piano.

Simply type in your resolution, set the frequency and Hassle Me will do just that – it will send you ‘hassle’ via email. Although you choose how often you’d ideally like to be hassled, Hassle Me can be a bit cheeky and will give you hassle at semi-unpredictable intervals. You can also check out what other people are being hassled about so you shouldn’t feel too picked on!

If sharing the resolution-keeping struggle with others is what you’re after however, then look no further than the 100 Days project or One Hundred Days To Make Me A Better Person to give it’s full name. Started by young, fun, British comedian Josie Long – the project aims to get everyone completing a good deed or task every day.

You register on the site with your pledge which then must be fulfilled every day for 100 days, or, as the site says, longer if the spirit of good will takes hold. The caveat is that you then have to document your efforts where possible and keep everyone else taking part in the project updated on your progress by posting comments and photos on the site.

Of course you really have to be quite dedicated to keep posting updates but on the plus side the messages of encouragement and community sprit within the project might be all you need to keep going.

And that really is the key to making a resolution work, even without the use of a computer the principles remain the same. You have to really want to keep your resolution and focus on the end result whatever it may be. Sharing your resolution with others may also be a good idea, even if it is just a couple of close friends and don’t be afraid to update them with how you’re doing.

Happy resolution-keeping new year!