Thursday, 13 June 2013

5 New(ish) Bands to Listen Out For

Now, I can hardly be described as having my fingers on the pulse of new music; I'm more of the guy who can't find the pulse, until someone else tells him how to do it and what to look out for. But, having said that, there are a few acts that I've been shown by friends, or stumbled upon that I really like; and are acts it'd certainly be worth keeping an ear out for.


2012 brought a about a whole host of slightly geeky, awkward-sounding indie bands. Well, maybe not a whole host, but it did bring two biggies - Scottish Art School boys Django Django; and the puzzlingly popular (in a good way), Mercury prize winning Alt-J. Teleman can be filed right next to these; with their layered, guitar driven tracks. Cristina, the first track they've released, is a fantastically strange mixture of slow pace yet an upbeat feel; slightly strange lyrics about a girl the lead singer is obsessed with (again, see Alt-J). Whilst currently unsigned, they've been playing live at a few festivals and featured on Radio 6; so could be the next big thing in the niche world of nerd indie rock.

London Grammar

London Grammar are a band who manage to seamlessly mix a beautiful yet powerful voice (belonging to the group's lead singer Hannah Reid), with relaxed and laid back electronica. The band have been called the new XX (high praise indeed), but that's slightly misleading as London Grammar have a very unique sound; flirting from the understated-ness of James Blake, to the more brash tones of AlunaGeorge. I've personally seen them reduce a crowd of excited festival goers at Dot-to-Dot to an awed silence (even after technical issues delayed the set by 10 minutes). Their EP is certainly one to watch out for.


A mostly electronic French act with undertones of disco? Electro-Franco seems to be in great health recently; and Juveniles are the latest in that proud tradition. Their eponymous début album is an eclectic mix of upbeat, slightly disco tunes like Fantasy (above); the Friendly Fires-esque 'All I Ever Wanted Was Your Love'; and tracks lifted directly from the early eighties (Strangers). At times, they sound reminiscent of Brighton synthpoppers Mirrors (currently missing in action; last seen supporting Delphic in 2009. I may have been their only fan. I have a signed album. Come back guys). Maybe it's time to put down 'Get Lucky' and give the youngsters a listen. Well, at least before putting Get Lucky back on.

Dan Croll

Dan Croll is the name of the lead singer and his band. Hailing from Stoke (via Liverpool), this indie band create bright and breezy songs perfect for a sunny summer afternoon (whatever one of those is). According to Wikipedia, Dan was lucky enough to have a one-to-one with Sir Paul McCartney whilst at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts. We can only live in hope that he won't force the band to to release a cover of Hey Jude (I doubt he will, as Hey Jude is pretty much the only thing Macca does nowadays). I'm looking forward to Dan Croll's album; even if there won't be any sun to enjoy it in.

Black Light Dinner Party

I'm unsure how 'new' this band is, as the single above was initially released in 2011; but there's been no sign of an album as of yet. However, Black Light Dinner Party are a group of eclectically named Americans with a sound to match. In parts, they sound like Delphic played at half speed (the good, Halcyon era Delphic as well); with shades of Passion Pit and the chart-conquering Bastille thrown in. Heavily synth dominated, but not gratingly so; with the wispy voice of the lead singer floating in the ether, the band are certainly a unique sound.

So, those are five new(ish) bands of 2013 that I like. Hopefully you'll like them as well. 

P.S. If Mirrors are reading this, please make more overly synthy music.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Del Toro takes the piss

There are many things the world needs. A fast and effective program to return the world to economic bliss; a solution to global food scarcity; an explanation for Keith Lemon. I wouldn't have, however, placed "another movie featuring giant CGI robots" towards the top of this list. Guillermo Del Toro, apparently, disagrees; and has deposited 'Pacific Rim' into the global consciousness, rather like a neighbour's dog deposits something unseemly on your lawn. Before judging a film purely on the basis of a trailer, you have to, firstly, watch the trailer; which is below for your enjoyment.

On first glance, it appears Del Toro is attempting to retell two of the best loved movies of the late 20th and early 21st centuries; Michael Bay's metallic toy-fest Transformers, and Godzilla, the only disaster movie that had me cheering on the downfall of man. However, on closer inspection, it looks as though this movie could be a level of mediocrity far greater than the sum of it's constituent parts.

The giant not-Godzilla CGI monsters are aliens who live under the sea (rather like Ursula, from the Little Mermaid) who's sole aim in life is to destroy the cities. Not just mankind, but cities. Smart sea-monsters. And the only way for them to be countered is by blowing them up, much to chagrin of the token bespectacled science guy (I assume Jeff Goldblum was busy). So, in order to blow up the evil beasts, mankind initiates 'Project Jaeger" (presumably with some Jaegerbombs). This, as it almost always inevitably does in Hollywood, manifests itself as two guys in a massive robot costume. They undergo a "mind meld" (a common side effect of Jaegerbombs, incidentally) in order to kick some alien aqua ass.

Then something unexpected happens: a plot twist. Mankind must go back, train to be even better massive metal brawlers (or "2,500 tons of awesome" as Jeff Goldblum Junior suggests) in order to win their survival. The advert implores us to 'Go Big' from July 12 ('Big' what is left ambiguous); before we're told that the apocalypse has been cancelled - which is nothing new as Harold Camping has been cancelling armageddon since May 2011.

But, surely this new film must be decent. I mean, Guillermo Del Toro wouldn't direct a B-movie wannabe with more clichés than a Daily Express story on the EU. Unless he's taking the piss. Or he really wanted to make a big-screen adaptation of the video for Bloc Party's Flux.

Of course, the movie could be really good; and it's just the trailer that's crap.

Monday, 18 March 2013

The media and Nottingham Forest - the defence

Forest are on a fantastic run, with 6 wins in their last 6 games; unbeaten in 7. Billy Davies return has, so far, been an unparalleled success; creating a collective sense of belief not just within the team, but back on the terraces. I must admit, even under SOD, I could never have seen such a run being constructed. Billy Davies deserves all the praise being heaped on him from fans (and I must say, as a sceptic of 'the return of the King', he has proven me very much wrong). Despite all this positivity, there has been an undercurrent of discontent at the portrayal of the club, the manager, and the owners. This has been fairly summed up in this article; but I, as a fan, disagree with swathes of it. This article will be my defence of media with regards to Billy Davies; the Al-Hawasi's; and the club in general.

I'll start off by saying, I agree that with the Al-Hasawi's tenure at the club, there has been an undercurrent of xenophobia in some of the reporting, such as the 'non-payment' of wages story earlier in the season. I do agree that the British press do cling to the romanticised image of football clubs being run by the local carpet warehouse magnate, born in the shadow of the football ground. This leads to a scepticism of any foreign owners, with them usually being portrayed as bad, mad or dangerous. However, some of the actions of the Al-Hasawi's, especially over the Christmas period, were questionable. Regardless as to whether or not it was the right decision with hindsight, the sacking of SOD after a 4-2 victory over Leeds, being 1 point off the playoff places at the time was widely attacked. It wasn't just attacked by the media with an 'anti-Al-Hasawi' agenda; but was roundly criticised by fans for being a kneejerk and unjustifiable reaction. Other potentially questionable decisions and actions (the abrupt dismissal of a number of backroom staff including FC; the George Boyd transfer debacle) quite rightly were picked up and critically examined in the press. 

My second real point is regards the relationship between Billy, the club, and the local media. It's widely known that the relationship between Billy and the old regime was toxic at best; and Billy will always feel hard done by in the circumstances in which he was sacked originally. But that happened almost 2 years ago, all the major 'actors' in the cold war on the club side are no longer with the club. This should be a new, fresh start for Billy and the club. Which is why the decision to not talk to local media outlets is baffling. BBC Radio Nottingham and the NEP have been full of nothing but praise for Billy since his return; and whilst there have been a number of 'anti-Billy' pieces in the media; these have to be expected. The circumstances in which Billy left were murky, and therefore he media have a right to investigate it. I'm sure the press did stray from investigation to speculation, and which they shouldn't have done, but they weren't alone. In the vacuum of information when Billy left, rumour filled the void. As for BBC Radio Nottingham, I rarely heard anything bad said about BD since his departure or during his tenure; except when fans rang in on Matchtalk.

Maybe the biggest point I want to make is in response to the line "Billy, consequently, has been far less co-operative with local media outlets second time around, bar a loyal journalist from East Midlands Today, Natalie Jackson." Journalists shouldn't be 'loyal' to anything but the truth. I don't want local media fawning over every decision made by the manager or the owners. I don't want dodgy decisions to be glossed over by journalists for fear of losing access to club personnel (as has apparently happened with BD and Radio Nottm, which I see as a childish tit-for-tat manoeuvre if it is in retaliation for 'bad PR'). A good journalist is like a sceptical fan. As the article above notes, we are fans of Nottingham Forest, not the current owners, managers or playing staff. That's why, for me, a journalist has to be loyal to 'Nottingham Forest', not loyal to the owners or staff. This requires them to hold the owners to account when any decisions or actions are carried out. This means questioning the manager when rumours are spreading. Local media has been far from perfect in the last few years; but the club has been even worse over the same period. The club needs to be open to the press and media; as by doing so, it's being open and honest with the fans. That's why we need the media to continue questioning the club. 

Thursday, 31 January 2013

Forest - A Few Thoughts

Since the 26th December, something strange has been happening in the bowels of the City Ground. The decision to sack O'Driscoll (in my opinion, a terrible decision on footballing and moral terms) was made with the excuse that results hadn't been good enough. Of course, the fans (and the manager, players, staff) had been sold the story that this was to be a 3-5 year project; where SO'D could craft a squad capable of taking us back up. A lot of us didn't expect a season of anything other than consolidation, but after the 26th December something seemed to change. Goalposts had shifted. Results weren't good enough, despite being a point off the play-offs. SO'D was shipped out. In came McLeish.

Now, McLeish wasn't an overly popular appointment at first. His record at Villa loomed large over previous achievements with Birmingham and Rangers. But, fans were willing to give him time and patience, to see whether he could succeed. Then, out of nowhere, three members of backroom staff were sacked and/or walked (details still uncertain). Keith Burt - the chief scout and head of player acquisitions; Mark Arthur - the (often maligned) former chief executive, and maybe most tellingly of all, Frank Clark - a club legend who had won the played for the club, managed the club, and steered the club through difficult times. All disposed of, with no explanation given.

Still, people saw a logic. Strip out 'deadwood'. Allow the new owners to install their own men into these positions. They have, so far, not been replaced. This meant entering a transfer window without a head scout, or any connections to sign players. McLeish had it all to do himself. He had been brought in before January in order to be able to bring in his own men. Forest made a few signings, got Ward back on loan; Reyes from West Brom (on loan), Al-Rashidi; but McLeish wanted 3 or 4 more signings. Despite putting in derisory bids, we somehow failed to land anyone. And so in came rumours of a bust up between manager and owner. Maybe this kicked the Al-Hasawi's into action, and signed George Boyd.

Now, George Boyd was apparently desperate to join. He'd turned down Palace (his boyhood club) to join Forest. He arrived and underwent a medical. And failed it, at 10pm, on deadline day - due to having problems with his vision. The club decided that they wanted Boyd on loan instead. He wasn't signed, and (rightly so) Peterborough's MacAnthony took to ripping the club apart.

In a few weeks, after months of sound management behind the scenes, the Al-Hasawi's have turned the club into a laughing stock; with scant credibility left in the footballing world. And with rumours of McLeish having walked, it's yet another day to forget for Forest fans (they're becoming increasingly frequent, no?).

I still think there's a chance this can be fixed - or at least, attempted to.

  1. We deserve frank answers on what the club's aims are this season. Realistic aims that the owners are willing to finance
  2. McLeish (if he's still here) should be allowed to come up with a plan of action to enable those aims to be met, through loan signings and future investment
  3. The reasons for sacking SO'D, Clark, Burt and Arthur (if he was sacked) should be made clear
  4. Long-term plans for the club need to be formulated, which can be sustainably enacted.
I hope something like this happens.

Not holding my breath however.

Sunday, 30 December 2012

The Worst Advert of 2012

At this time of the year, it is customary for people with opinions to write pieces about the preceding 12 months. As I lack the conviction to go through and write a full review of the year, but I have got the energy to write about my least favourite advert of 2012. Although I wrote about some least favourite adverts earlier in the year, this one didn't feature on my earlier list. It may appear innocuous to the casual viewer, but it is actually such a hive of evil that it needs to be tackled. The advert is...

DHL TV Spot - Partnership with Manchester United

Now, before anyone accuses me of a scorning hatred for Manchester United, I will point out that this advert could feature any team, and I would dislike it. Hell, even if it featured Dan Harding prancing on a big screen TV in the middle of Tokyo or Matt Derbyshire creepily leaning out of the side of billboard to stare at a beach, I'd hate it.

Why is it so bad, some of you might be asking (others will presumably just shrug, and get on with their lives). Let's start with, sensibly, the beginning. Sir Alex is in his office at Old Trafford, presumably returning from Carrington after a hard day's training (he is, afterall, in the DHL branded training kit).What you also may not be aware of is that SAF, the best manager currently in English football, is also responsible for a raft of secretarial duties at Old Trafford, including outgoing post and arranging couriers. Hence his playful shooing of the delivery driver; this shows they have a fantastic relationship forged through regular contact. Maybe they often spend their days off together at the Trafford Centre. Good to see Sir Alex is keeping it real, despite his success.

After the DHL van transformed from a vehicle, forged of steel and plastic, to a pulse of light and pure energy, we emerge into Tokyo to see Ryan Giggs interrupt an interview during a training session at an international stadium (DHL kit again), to receive the pure bolt of energy, run with it, before firing it out. The bolt of energy flashes round the world to Rio, where some street children are playing football. They're not inspired to play football by the fantastic national side, some of whom grew up playing street football like those kids do; instead inspired by that renown Brazilian player, Javier Hernandez. Next, we pop over to a branch of Comet in some Dubaian Meadowhall, where a slightly shifty looking Rooney checks to make sure the coast is clear, before smashing the ball/pulse of raw energy so hard it travels from the Middle East to Old Trafford again, before engulfing Old Trafford in some kind of halo.

Now, it's undoubtedly bad, but is it the worst advert of 2012?


It appeals and glorifies everything I dislike about football. I understand in the modern world of sport, a global appeal helps to shift more merchandise and allow you to pay your footballers a little bit more; but it creates a group of supporters who only follow a foreign team thousands of miles away. Why support a local Japanese side, when you can buy yourself a United/Chelsea/Liverpool shirt and claim to be a fan, because you watch them on TV and follow Rooney/Cole/Downing on Twitter. It's the globalisation of football; and the homogenisation of everyone following the same dozen or so big European teams, at the expense of local sides. Reminds me of someone I knew at college who said he was a 'Real Madrid fan', and would join in discussions of football; following stories of 'Forest beat Port Vale 2-0 at the weekend' with 'Real were sick this weekend, thrashed Seville'. How can you be a Real Madrid fan when you've never visited Madrid, and your family have no ties with Spain? It's good to take an interest in football around the globe, but it begins to appear slightly strange when you support a team playing in a league on the other side of the globe instead of one in your own country.

The advert also demonstrates the trend of more pointless commercial exploitation of football. I know even Derby had training kit sponsors, but DHL shelled out £40m for a deal that would see their shirts prominently displayed in private, and on Sky Sports News during their weekly 'footage from Carrington showing footballers practising football' slot. Unless the supply chain/logistics managers of several big companies happen to watch a lot of midday Friday Sky Sports News, I wonder if it isn't £40m wasted.

And the music's bad.


Just read that the Glazer family bought out their contract with DHL, as they believe they can get more than £40m. So the advert isn't just bad, it's also out of date - so a massive waste of money. At least it won't be on t'telly no more.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

My Best Albums of 2012

I'll be the first to admit, I can't write music reviews. I've tried; and most of the time I end up using clichés more suitable to a sports report by Alan G. Partridge. However, similarly to the aforementioned Partridge; I've not let a lack of any discernible ability stop me from writing about my personal five favourite albums of 2012. So, enjoy reading through a couple of hundred words of pretentiousness, awkward phrasing and (possibly) poor taste in music. To compensate, I've created a playlist of my favourite tracks from all the albums, and put them into a Spotify thing that should work.

5. Beacon - Two Door Cinema Club

The follow-up to the band's 2010 début album Tourist History, is no dramatic departure from the busy, guitar-driven style that made Two Door an indie disco favourite. Whilst some may comment that this shows that the band have played it safe, the whole album is a more polished affair, and is more subtle in its execution; however, this does mean that album lacks some of the raw energy of Tourist History. The first track, Next Year manages to set a fairly brisk pace which the album continues, whilst Someday is perhaps the track that sounds most like it could have been lifted from their first album. My personal favourite track on Beacon is Pyramid, which starts quietly enough, before building to a frantic and chorus. Whilst, overall, the album possibly doesn't quite match the high bar the band set themselves in their first album, it's still a very good listen from start to finish.

4. Have Some Faith in Magic - Errors

I must admit I was only introduced to Errors in the first few months of this year; but I'm unsure how I managed to miss them for all these years (well, being behind the pulse of new music may be the biggest reason). The Glaswegian electro group's third album is crammed full of multi-layered synth and powerful guitar riffs. The album's opener, Tusk, is a melting pot of soaring electronica and a more gritty, distorted rock sound. The album, like Errors' others, is hardly what you'd describe as 'radio friendly', with most of the tracks coming in at over 4 minutes long, with the bass-driven Pleasure Palaces lasting for over 6 minutes; and the lack of any vocals (bar for the odd burst of digitised chanting or harmonising with the melodies). This has to be one of the best electronic albums I've heard for while (not that I'm an expert, mind you), and it's already been followed up by a mini album (New Relics), so hopefully Errors can continue their good work.

3. Coexist - The xx

Another band who had to follow up a fantastic début album were the XX. It was never going to be easy, but in Coexist, the band have certainly not disappointed. I would say they've built on their unique sound of stripped down vocals and guitars, with rhythms masterminded by Jamie xx; but for Coexist, the sound was less built on and more reduced to the bare bones. The album is perhaps at its best when enjoyed when listened to as a whole; as tracks flow into each other; leaving the listener hanging on to every note. If you do break the album down, my personal favourite tracks are the single Angels (not related in anyway to the Robbie Williams' track of the same name) and Tides. Following a Mercury award-winning album would always be tricky, but Coexist has proved it could be done.

2. In Our Heads - Hot Chip

Hot Chip can always be relied on to provide an excellent (if always slightly nerdy) album, and they didn't disappoint with 2012's In Our Heads. The album really demonstrates the band's range; from the up-tempo dance tracks of How Do You Do and Night And Day; to the slower and more vocal-led melodies of Let Me Be Him. My personal highlights of the album are the opening track Motion Sickness, and the hypnotic, 7-minute Flutes (which provided 2012's "Unwatchable Music Video"). As the band's fifth studio album, In Our Heads seems to suggest that Hot Chip are capable of producing a mature, yet still immensely fun record.

1. An Awesome Wave - Alt-J

This may seem a tad predictable seeing as the album has been lauded by everyone (except Pitchfork, who inevitably managed to wriggle a reference to Radiohead into their review), but this first album from the Cambridge-based quartet is worthy of all the praise (and the Mercury Music Prize) that it received. Alt-J (not to be confused by X-Factor filler 'Union J') have created a fantastic record that blends folk, dubstep, electro and more traditional indie rock seamlessly, from the heavy sound and awkward rhythms of Intro, it leaps to the haunting a cappella that is Ripe And Ruin, before again switching to the syncopated drumbeat and powerful piano chords of Tessellate. Matilda offers a slower and more hushed tone to the piece, before the band let loose on my favourite track, Fitzpleasure. The lyrics can be baffling, and the vocals strained; but it all adds to the unique sound of the record. Like The xx and Two Door Cinema Club, who have had to follow up fantastic débuts; I can't wait to see what else Alt-J have to offer.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Uncharted territory

This piece was originally going to be about local radio (general jist - it's dead and probably isn't worth saving bar local football coverage; but that's for another time); but in doing some brief research, I looked at the charts for the first time in years.


Stock image of lots of records acting as a metaphor for the number of copies needed to be bought before your single gets anywhere close to outselling 'Gangnam Style'.

I'll try to be as fair as I can. Four tracks were R&B, which, whilst not my taste, I'll let pass. One was Robbie, who does deserve some kind of reward for services to tabloid editors and Gary Barlows everywhere. Three of the 'Top 10' were the mundane products of the television talent trawls (on the current evidence, there appears to have been extensive overfishing), one was the current soundtrack to a certain department store's advert (only in the world of snowpeople, is knitwear an acceptable present), and one is Gangnam Style. The album chart offers little else more exciting; bar the presence of SuBo (whose album was launched with the questionable Twitter hashtag of '#SusanAlbumParty') and some Christmas albums you can tell only shift any copies due to strategic placement in branches of Asda up and down the country; enticing impulsive shoppers that with Christmas only a month away, they desperately need to buy a soundtrack to fill even the most magical of days with intense mediocrity. 

My own Spotify chart is maybe not representative of wider music tastes...

The thing is, are charts even relevant now? The singles chart is based on physical sales of CDs (although I struggle to imagine anyone who buys any of the singles featured on a CD) and downloads; but in a world of streaming, actually purchasing a track is becoming increasingly rare. There are differences between the official top 10 and the most-played charts on streaming services. Six tracks appear in the Spotify 'Top 10' recent most-played that aren't in the official 'Top 10' (on a side note, my recent most played does feature New Order topping the charts, so I might be slightly out of touch with modern culture). How would you begin to classify streamed tracks though? How many plays of a track on Youtube would be equivalent to one full purchase? This would also enable the charts to be much easily manipulated - can you imagine the droves of One Direction drones playing 'Let's have a party but not tell Mum and Dad' (or whatever their tracks are called) repeatedly to ambush the charts. However much I would love the chance for 

Are the charts even representative of the modern music landscape? With so many alternative acts managing to spread their music over the internet, music has been diversifying away from the mainstream recently. This undoubtedly leads to a dilution of music; with more artists managing to attract attention outside of the traditional channels. Does this reduce the charts' importance? Are they anymore of a relic of simpler times, reduced to showing nothing more than the purchasing whims of a small section of teens.

More popular than Joy Division? Possibly. More eco-friendly? Again, possibly. 

Maybe a more apt question is whether the charts ever mattered? Lots of acclaimed bands (e.g. The Smiths, Joy Division, Arcade Fire and many more I can't be bothered to 'Wikipedia') were never massively successful in the charts; whereas Mr Blobby (Christmas number 1), the Wombles (four top 10 singles) and Black Lace (three top 10 singles). Serious acts don't always thrive in the charts, whereas wishy washy pop and novelty singles will always do well (Crazy Frog?). So the questions about the importance of the charts might be pointless; rather like the charts themselves. They may become less important; but they never were anyway.