Tyler, The Creator. If you’ve been on the internet this year and you’re under the age of 30 and haven’t heard those three words, well, you must have one hell of a page blocker. For the uninitiated and just plain forgetful, Tyler is a 20 year old rapper and producer from LA, and leader of the Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All collective (OFWGKTA for short). The group have gained mountains of blog & press attention, and notoriety as of late, for a number of reasons; Tyler’s track Yonkers and its iconic video, their punk rock-esque live shows and, mostly, offending nearly everyone.
Subsequently, Tyler has become the figurehead of a rebellious youth. He is already iconic, not for his musical output, but for his style, his attitude, his “swag”. All you need is to do is browse Tumblr to see that he is as instantly iconic to today’s youth as Rotten, Strummer and Ramones were to disaffected and disillusioned kids in the late 70s. In a short few months in the spotlight, Odd Future lready have a mythology, an attitude, a look that is easily identifiable and easily affected. Hell, even I’ve found myself doodling their inverted cross logo on my college file and throwing “swag” into everday conversation. To do all this on the back of one or two songs (and it is mostly just one or two songs; the tracks “Yonkers” and “Sandwitches” providing an entrypoint for at least 80% of their current fanbase, including myself) is nothing short of outstanding.
However, for every new fan won over by Tyler’s rhetoric, there’s at least one other person who’s morally outraged. Homophobia, sexism, misoginy and the n-bomb are all evident in modern rap, that’s a given. But Tyler takes it to an extreme level. Admittedly, out of OFWGKTA’s members, only Tyler and the currently AWOL Earl Sweatshirt delve into the darker realms with their lyrics; the nuermous others in the group provide far easier listening. Despite the graphic and disturbing nature of the lyrics (“Rape a pregnant bitch and tell my friends I had a threesome” being a choice one), Tyler constantly refutes the claim that he and the group are “horrorcore”, going as far to rally against the notion at the end of “Sandwitches”. Tyler has stated that he writes from a persona, called Wolf Haley as well as the perspective of a “serial killer from thirty years ago who was a white male” (quite who this killer is remains unknown); in his words he’s “not just talking about raping a bitch, it’s a storyline”. He has something of a point. In the same interview, Tyler defended his music, saying that the people complaining about him rapping about “socking some bitch in her uterus” ignore the horrors of the wars in the middle-east and ever-growing tally of death, both of civillians and soldiers. Whilst I don’t think they’re ignoring it as such, he’s kind of right, in that his opposers are choosing an easier target.
He just wants to piss people off. He’s a 20 year old black skate punk from LA, brought up in the George W Bush era, on MTV, with an absent father, surrounded a rising banal celebrity culture and living the internet, who’s been called whitey by his fellow black classmates for simply wearing a Slipknot hoodie. He’s lashing out. Lashing out at the shit and mediocrity, perhaps a little misguidedly, but at 20 years of age, he’s not going to be a fully formed popstar giving the media what it wants and say the right things. He’s taking the piss, as would most disaffected kids in the same situation. In response to an open letter from Sara (of Canadian pop duo Tegan & Sara), decrying the misogyny of his work, Tyler tweeted "If Tegan And Sara Need Some Hard Dick, Hit Me Up!". Yeah, it’s immature, childish, possibly offensive, considering T&S are lesbians, but I personally found it funny. Maybe it’s part of my odd sense of humour, but it raised a chuckle out of me, the same way that Frankie Boyle jokes do. You know you probably shouldn’t laugh, but it’s too late, you already have.
Yes, homophobia and misogyny are reprehensible things. Discrimination for something you can’t control or have no choice over is an awful thing, even if we’re all guilty of it to varying degrees. Both pop up often in Tyler’s music. There’s no real way to defend them, especially if you’re guilty of one or both. The words “gay” and “faggot” (the apparent virtues of the latter have been extolled by both Louis CK and Chris Rock) are used by kids all over the western world as both an insult and a term of endearment, as is the word “nigga” by kids who are whiter than white. In a world where you can see some extremely sick shit (sometimes literally) just by searching on Google or even going to the movies (see A Serbian Film, Antichrist et al), I guess calling someone homosexual or a bitch has lost a bit of its impact to the younger generation. I can neither condone nor defend Tyler on this since I, along with pretty much every young person I know has called someone gay in our relatively short lives. It’s the way things are. It’s not perfect, it’s not nice, but it happens.
To quote Tyler himself, “why when a black kid says it, it’s such a big fucking deal?” Not to start chucking accusations of racism at those who decry Odd Future, but there is some validity there. Black metal bands sing… well, not quite sing but shout about some dark shit, yet have a sizeable audience. Tarantino movies are shocking, exploitative and occasionally disturbing, yet he’s revered as a great director and his films are referred to (by some) as art. You just need to watch one interview with Tyler to see that he’s a clever lad. He understands how to push people’s buttons, how to work and wind people up, he knows what he’s doing and knows what he wants to do. This is simply all he’s doing in the media, pissing off as many people as possible. There are more than a few parallels with a certain Marshall Mathers a decade ago.
Maybe it’s just difference of opinion, or maybe it’s a generational gap. I know for sure that I couldn’t play anything by Tyler to my parents or the older generation of people I know. They’d be shocked and quite possibly appalled. But I could send a song or two to my peers without question (as I’m planning on doing, as I’m not watching OFWGKTA on my own at Leeds Festival in summer), knowing that the likelihood is they wouldn’t be offended or as offended as those of the previous generation. But despite his potential to offend, Tyler has repeatedly stated his desire for awards, recognition, the guy wants Grammies, he wants fame. I may be alone on this, but it’s refreshing to hear an artist say they want that level of success but stick to releasing what they want to release. In some ways, Tyler’s ideals are similar to those of the Manic Street Preachers in their early years; releasing fierce, polarising music but aiming as high as possible on the commerical scale. It’s refreshing to say the least, in comparison to weedy indie bands just “doing it for the music”.
Speaking of the music, I personally am undecided on Tyler’s musical output. I love Tyler the icon but, similarly to Nicki Minaj, Tyler is a better popstar than an actual artist. “Yonkers” is genius, an instant classic. “Sandwitches” is in a similar vein. Radicals is a furious, brilliant rhetoric (“KILL PEOPLE, BURN SHIT, FUCK SCHOOL/I’M FUCKIN’ RADICAL NIGGA, I’M FUCKIN’ RADICAL” goes the chorus. It ain’t getting on Radio One anytime soon) although it lacks something in its recorded version. “Bastard” is darkly brilliant, whilst the album of the same name is an alright collection of modern hip-hop at its most playful yet vitriolic. However its follow-up, “Goblin”, released this year, pales in comparison, with poor production, a lack of good beats and it’s just too long. It does contain some moments of brilliance, there’s no doubt about that. It’s just that those moments are a handful of diamonds in a whole load of rough.
In conclusion, it’s horses for courses, I guess. Cop out or what, eh? Either you enjoy Tyler and can block out the dark stuff Or even enjoy it (somehow) or you’re morally offended and are ready to fetch your pen of rage in order to write a furious missive to the Daily Mail. Regardless, Tyler, The Creator doesn’t give a fuck.
“Why do you have so many CDs and records and things? What’s the point?” (My fourteen-year-old sister)
Undoubtedly a valid question. And, sadly, one which is asked daily now we have reached 2011. In many ways, the human race hasn’t changed considerably over the last half a century. We certainly don’t live in a society resembling the dystopia of George Orwell’s ‘1984’, nor do our cities match the visions of science-fiction, complete with hover cars. Of course, there are many things which have changed significantly; technology has advanced in leaps and bounds, equality is more widely accepted (although by no means achieved) and it’s seen as unusual to not own a car. The ways in which music is consumed and enjoyed has also undergone a transformation to the point that it is unrecognisable when compared to the thriving musical communities of the 1980s.
The availability of most songs in existence at the click of the button due to such widespread internet access juxtaposes the record shop mind-set to such an extent that they barely resemble one another, despite both providing the listener with what is essentially the same experience. Or is it? Is listening to an mp3 through tinny laptop speakers or uncomfortable earphones as satisfying as the slight crackle of a record player and the knowledge that the song will be a part of your music collection for the foreseeable future? Many people argue that having 3000 mp3s in their music library is just as impressive as owning the same number of songs on tape, record or CD. And in one sense, this is entirely true. The mp3 collector is in possession of music, just as the record collector is. Both have the ability to listen and make their own judgements, both have the ability to fall in love with songs or bands or albums, both have the ability to enjoy the song on equal levels, both have the ability to recommend the song to their friends. However, the record collector has one thing which the mp3 collector does not, something which has been important since the beginning of music releases, something which cannot be replaced with pixels on a screen. The physical release.
As a teenager, I have never known a world in which mp3s of songs aren’t readily available; the possibility of downloading as many songs as required has been there for a long time. I’ve never had to save my dinner money or pocket money to buy a new release I’ve been excited for and I’ve never had to get a train to the nearest record shop in order to purchase said new release. Yet I’ve chosen to do so, dedicating a significant amount of time and money to music. For many, nothing beats the satisfaction of having a physical release in your hands, whether a CD or a record. There is something undoubtedly lovely about flicking through a lyrics booklet for the first time teamed with the realisation that you are experiencing the music as the artist intended for it to be seen. After all, what would be the point in packaging if it were just for everyone to ignore? Watching a record collection build is dangerously addictive as you come to the realisation that this is just the beginning; there is a whole world of music out there to be explored, purchased and cherished. Purchasing music allows it to be further integrated into your life. It becomes a focal point of your room, a topic of discussion between friends and family and acquaintances, your pride and joy.
Of course, downloads are important too. Illegal downloads aside (that’s a whole other topic for another day), it is extremely convenient to have your treasured music collection with you wherever you are. It’s comforting to be stuck on a busy train in the sticky summer heat and have your favourite band blaring in your ears to block out the rest of the world. But it works both ways, it’s equally important for a music lover to have their own favourites sat on a shelf back home for them to come home to and enjoy whenever they like, rather than forgetting about those songs they downloaded last night. It’s disheartening to think that future generations might miss out on the excitement of their parents bringing a box of their old favourite records down from the loft for their own enjoyment, and at best will be faced with an out-of-date mp3 player being handed over.
So, there IS a point in owning so many records and CDs. Whilst the download is an important tool, it should never replace the trustworthy physical release as it will never succeed in bringing about the same experience for listeners, and may well lead to disappoint for future offspring of said listeners. And we certainly don’t want a sad, music-deprived generation!
Okay, maybe that title and image are more than a little OTT, but there are a few worrying trends that point towards the stagnation of all things pop. First against the wall, sampling.
In the right hands, sampling can be an art. Look at Kanye West's first album "The College Dropout" and even his latest efforts "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy" and "Otis", his collaboration with Jay-Z. West often takes samples from outside the typical hip-hop spectrum and remoulds them for his own purposes creating something fresh and new. Very few other rappers would think of using King Crimson, Aphex Twin, Bon Iver, The Backyard Heavies and Shirley Bassey, especially someone of his stature But without imagination, sampling becomes some Auto-tuned berk wailing over a dance track. And yes, that does mean Chris Brown and Jason Derulo. Derulo’s most recent hit "Don’t Wanna Go Home" just chucks a few "in the club" sentiments on top of Robin's classic "Show Me Love" , as well as random outbursts of "Day-O" every now and then. Brown on the other hand doesn’t even bother to be as eclectic as Derulo, simply cutting together Calvin Harris' "I’m Not Alone" with "You Used To Hold Me". This sort of lazy song construsction manages to out-awful even the most banal of dance remixes. Speaking of dance…
Have school music lesson keyboards suddenly become the instrument du jour of producers everywhere? Are RedOne and Timbaland bidding for the last Casio on eBay? Because the world’s pop songs seem stuck on 90s rave demo mode. Somewhere at Pop Star HQ, there was a meeting that I clearly missed in which it was decided every hit has to include the cheesiest dance synth riffs possible. Apparently a just having a good-to-great song won’t cut it any more (with the exception of Adele and Cee-Lo Green), you’ve got to have a tune that wouldn’t be out of place pulsating along on the soundtrack to Kevin & Perry Go Large. Examples? Gaga's "Born This Way" and "Judas", "Only Girl In The World" by Rihanna, whatever Katy Perry's churning out at the moment and every singer who decides to work with Pitbull and David fucking Guetta. I’m sure it all sounds boss in those sweaty dungeons they call clubs, when it’s 5 in the morning and you forgot your own name three hours ago, but sitting atop the charts? I’m sorry but no, thank you. It’s nearly as bad as the continued existence of Mumford & Sons.
Stepping outside of the mainstream pop world for a moment, the main problem with the alternative music scene at the minute is what was summed up with unbelievable accuracy by one Drowned In Sound reader as “People from Stoke-On-Trent ripping off some ephermal rubbish that popped up on Gorilla vs. Bear for a day and then trying to mix it with the little bit of Burial that they vaguely remember someone playing to them once when they were a student”. Or for those of you to who that makes no sense at all, the limp, insipd, paper thin sounds of chillwave and post-dubstep. Instead of bravely pushing music forward into strange new territories and damning the consequences, the current crop of bands create music that’s unbelievably safe and beige. The majority of chillwave artists seem to just be taking the sound of classic late 80s/early 90s pop but drowning it in waves of echo and reverb, taking out any sense of melody and basically making their songs a chore to sit through (hello Toro Y Moi!). For a more vitrolic take on chillwave, I suggest reading Collapse Board’s two articles on Washed Out's latest album. Meanwhile, post-dubstep just digs itself deeper and deeper into a derivative grave; the barely-there wobbly bass, beats sparser that Arsenal’s chances of winning a trophy this season and mumbling chopped up vocals about little else than introspective twaddle. If you’re going to rip someone off, choose someone better than James Blake, possibly the most bland pop star and most underwhelming ‘next big thing’ ever. Still, his electronic take on Bon Iver was still better than Bon Iver’s own electronic take on themselves.
Welcome to the first ever Hitsville Vs…, where anyone can have a good old fashioned rant against the ills of music, film, tv and everything else we cover here. Submissions are very much welcomed, as per. First up, the ginger hobbit that is Ed Sheeran.
There is no case for the defense in this one. Ed Sheeran has rose to fame recently with no more talent than every other teenage lad with a guitar. Alright, I’ll give him props for doing it through word-of-mouth and perseverance, but outside of that, there’s bugger all to write home about. If you recorded the sounds of a musically inclined 16-19 year old’s bedroom, after skipping past all the porn and wanking noises, you’d no doubt get them strumming along. Sheeran’s music is no different from these amateur noodlings. A dead man’s Billy Bragg. Get Cape Wear Cape Fly for tasteless teenage girls. If you’ve been unlucky enough to hear "The Nando’s Skank", you’ll know it’s quite possibly the worst thing since Swagger Jagger.
Personally I see little difference between the banal sentiments of, say, James Morrisson or Jason Mraz and Sheeran, other than that edgy “yoof” vibe everyone in the media craves. "The A-Team" inexplicably reached Number 3 in the charts earlier this year, despite being as edgy as a circle.; it most resembles an over-earnest sixth-formers attempt at social conciousness. Even stepping away from the beige acoustic stylings of “The A-Team”, Sheeran’s next single "You Need Me" is painful to listen to, the worst attempt at white hip hop since PJ & Duncan. I think it’s concrete proof that gingers can’t rap.
That Sheeran is currently an icon for British youth culture and music is more depressing than the thought of a world without Stevie Wonder (seriously, consider a world without Stevie. The day he kicks the bucket will be awful). Can’t we do better than this? It’s nearly as bad as Bieber existing. Five years ago we had Turner, Doherty and the like. The drop in quality from that esteemed bunch to Sheeran is staggering. If he ever winds up on the cover of the NME, that’s the day to truly give up on that publication.
It’s a common misconception of idiots (aka those who watch nothing but BBC Three and are die-hard fans of Lee Nelson) that Family Guy is the funniest thing ever since cavemen invented “pull my finger”, the new king of animated dysfunctional family comedy, if you will. Now I’m not saying it doesn’t have its fair share of hilarity; one viewing of the Star Wars parodies or the feature length opener to Season Nine would tell you that Seth MacFarlane and co can craft funny out of the unlikeliest of sources. It’s just that when you put it head to head with The Simpsons, it’s like putting me (Family Guy) in the ring with Mike Tyson (Simpsons); I’d give a good effort, maybe even try a few sneaky kicks to the shins and crotch, but ultimately, I’d get my backside handed to me.
The creators of South Park were hilarious and deadly accurate in their criticism of Family Guy in the double episode “Cartoon Wars”, but it has since become the lazy many’s stock jab at the show. The jist of the criticism is that Family Guy episodes are essentially a random combination of nonsensical situations, cutaway gags and pop culture references thrown together (in the South Park episode, the show is written by manatees who choose balls with words and phrases on them, thus creating the jokes). This accusation is one that can be legitimately levelled at a fair few FG episodes, which makes you wonder how the show ever got ‘uncancelled’ and why the same hasn’t happened for Arrested Development.
Of course, at the risk of sounding overly biased, The Simpsons has been far from perfect for around a decade, and is only just regaining some form in the past few seasons. It’s highly unlikely that the show will ever return to its zeitgeist-straddling phenom days of yore, but recent episodes show that it’s capable of being the best TV show around, on its day. However, pitch a golden era Simpsons episode (Seasons Three through to Nine, FYI) against the best of Family Guy and as previously mentioned, it’s a landslide in favour of the former.
In my opinion, The Simpsons has always been the warmer, friendlier of the two, whilst FG is more conciously wacky and in-your-face. To make another bad analogy, Family Guy are The Rolling Stones; louder, crasser, less subtle, and The Simpsons are The Beatles; more refined, wider range and just plain better. Simpsons episodes are more revisitable; you can return to older episodes (as I’ve spent my summer doing) and find something new most of the time; maybe a slightly dirty joke you didn’t understand when watching through younger eyes, finally getting what turns out to be a deceptively simple one-liner, managing to catch one of the many famous sign sight gags or even just enjoying the catchphrases (ah, the joy of a good old Nelson Muntz “Ha ha!”).
Of course, Flanderization has played a part in the decline in quality for both show (rather ironic that even MacFarlane couldn’t avoid the pitalls of his predecessors in this respect). As the name may suggest, Flanderization comes from Ned Flanders. The character started off in The Simpsons as a normal, decent neighbour, nice and hard-working, who just happend to be Christian. As the years and seasons have passed, Flanders has transformed into something of a right-wing Christian Fundamentalist goody-two-shoes annoying neighbour. What was once a small part of his character has grown to define him. It’s the same with most main characters on both shows. Homer has become basically retarded with massively exaggerated eating habits, Marge is a nagging stick in the mud, Bart’s just plain dumb, Lisa’s become an overbearing holier-than-thou liberal and Maggie… well, okay, Maggie’s pretty much the same. On the Family Guy side of things, Peter, Lois, Chris and Brian followed in the footsteps of Homer, Marge, Bart and Lisa respectively, whilst Meg is just annoying and Stewie seems to have given up the fight to bump off his mother and turned into a catty commentator on pretty much everything. Clearly this devolution of the characters hasn’t been too beneficial to the quality of the shows, allowing them to rely far too heavily on simple character caricatures to shape plots and jokes.
Whilst both have dropped in quality since their respective high points, Family Guy has ramped up its ambition in recent years. The frequent musical interludes (results of Seth MacFarlane’s love of big band music), the Multiverse episode, the Star Wars parodies, the aforementioned feature length opening episode of the ninth season and the much-hyped bank vault episode (in which the action, or lack thereof, focused entirely on Stewie and Brian locked in a bank vault together, with no cutaway gags) are all evidence of the show’s creators wanting to push the envelope and do something different than the standard 25 minutes of sitcom. Whilst the general level of FG episodes has decline, when the producers push themselves like in these episodes, they’re actually pretty damn good. It’s sad to say that all the Simpsons have to match this is the Who Shot Mr Burns? episodes, the movie (which came far too late) and, erm, a few Christmas episodes in the style of the Treehouse of Horror (three separate non-canon stories), including a live-action/muppets story starring Katy Perry. In the last ten years or so, the show’s producers have become far too reliant on talking point-type plots (e.g. obesity, elections) and pointless guest voices with about three lines. Also, on the topic of guest voices, a) the use of Daniel Radcliffe as an Edward Cullen-type character in Treehouse Of Horror XXI should’ve been brilliant, but unfortunately it was a bit of a waste and b) no more Weird Al Yankovic appearances please, for the love of Moe.
That said, recent years have seen some clever stories and genuine gut laughs. The Simpsons Movie, for example, was the best thing the show had done in years, and episodes like Springfield Up and The Squirt & The Whale are up there with the show’s best. The episode The Bob Next Door was an excellent way of refreshing the character of Sideshow Bob, who had become rather less than menacing and more of a butt monkey. In short The Simpsons is back on the road to recovering its old Midas touch, which is good news for anyone with a sense of humour.
HITSVILLE HEROES #1 /// LOS CAMPESINOS!
Another week, another new feature on Hitsville eh? We sure do roll ‘em out. Hitsville Heroes is our way of honouring the best of the best in our eyes; the bands, artists, actors, directors, sportsmen and everything else who are, well, heroes to us. First to be bestowed the title, Los Campesinos!
LC! are something of a Marmite band. Some people pledge undying love to the band (myself included, LC!4LYF and whatnot), some people baulk at their decidely un-rock ‘n’ roll attitudes, indie pretentions and diary entry-esque lyrics. But it’s plain for anyone with the smallest knowledge that Los Camp are one of the most passionate, hard-working bands in the indie universe. Four albums in five years, countless tours, the Heat Rash fanzine (including all its add-ons); the band’s connection with their fans is closer than nearly any other band. They’ve take to blogging and Twitter like a group of ducks to water.
Musically, their sound evolves with every release. From the charmingly ramshackle, twee sugar rush of debut Hold On Now, Youngster… to the maturer, spikier We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed, with third album Romance Is Boring adding post-rock touches to their sound and a blistering honesty to the lyrics. Upcoming fourth album Hello Sadness looks like building further on very sturdy foundations.
It’s become a cliché to say that a songwriter is the best since Morrissey, but in the case of Gareth Campesinos!, it’s quite true. To be more accurate, there’s hints of Morrissey and Jarvis Cocker in Gareth’s lyrics, documenting romantic failings and personal mishaps with painful honesty and a dark sense of humour. Who hasn’t felt like the oft-quoted line in "It’s Never That Easy, Is It? (Song For The Other Kurt)"?; "As if I walked into the room to see my ex-girlfriend/Who by the way, I’m still in love with/Sucking the face of some pretty boy/With my favorite band’s most popular song in the background/Is it wrong that I can’t decide which bothers me most?". Who hasn’t at one point agreed with the sentiment “Romance Is Boring”? "I cherish with fondness the day (before) I met you" should ring true with everyone going through a break-up. These are just three examples out of hundreds.
They’re also damn good live, always energetic and eye-catching, lovely people and a very special band, one of the best in a generation. I’ll stop now before delving (further) into fanboy frothing, but congratulations Los Camp!. You are Hitsville Heroes.
With a year-long hiatus concluding in all kinds of split/replacement rumours thanks to NME, the world needs Bloc Party now more than ever.
When Bloc Party released their debut album Silent Alarm in 2005, alternative music was a very different place. Franz Ferdinand and the Kaiser Chiefs were the NME’s biggest BFFs and emotional MOR piano rock was the order of the day. You only have to look at the Mercury Prize nominations for the year before Silent Alarm was released to understand British music at the time. Snow Patrol, Keane and The Zutons were all nominated in what seemed to be a time that ‘rock music’ was becoming anything but.
Silent Alarm changed the game for many reasons. Its stark production screamed of the city and all its dark, twisting alleys. The lyrics were introverted, bleak and represented the mindset of many young city dwellers at the time. Bloc Party were observing modernity with open eyes rather than looking longingly towards the past. In many ways Bloc Party were the war poets to the romantics that had preceded them. More than that, the music itself was new and exciting and the success of Silent Alarm can be rightfully sighted as the reason we have a lot of the bands we have today. The xx, James Blake, Foals, even Two Door Cinema Club, owe much of their commercial success to Bloc Party opening the flood gates for a new wave of alternative music.
However the world needs Bloc Party for more than just their first album. Since Silent Alarm they have continued to challenge what the industry deems suitable. A Weekend in the City was a much more of a political open letter than Silent Alarm. It was a direct reaction to the nation’s situation and again changed the band’s sound just as their rhythmic and electronic sounds had become the industry’s norm. Intimacy did the same, with electronic music pushing the band forward even further and into even more challenging territory.
Talking about how the band changed British music exclusively through their records would however be naïve. The attitude Bloc Party have always had was to challenge what they had created and this is reflected by their challenging of the media. Recent NME baiting aside, frontman Kele Okereke specifically has been known to lead the music press into conclusions that were false. The constant pressure by the band to dispel the celebrity culture that now goes hand in hand with “big” indie music, that in some part contributed to the bleakness of their music makes them one of the most important and relevant bands in Britain. It’s almost as if Bloc Party, indeed any band, are the cool kids in the playground and the music press are their tag-alongs. But rather than patronise them and let them into their life, Bloc Party shut them out and show them up in public. Letting the music do the interviews for them is a tactic a lot of bands could do with smartening up to.
In many ways, British music right now is in the same situation as it was back in 2004, with one exception: electronic music is in vogue. With the aforementioned artists like The xx and James Blake as well as the likes of Ghostpoet,Metronomy and SBTRKT all favourites of both fans and the music press, its prime time for a Bloc Party return. Going back to the Mercury Prize, this year’s nominations, as well as featuring a host of electronic acts, was filled with Elbow, PJ Harvey and other middle class radio-friendly folksy rock. In times of hardship we often look to the past for inspiration but it’s often not the best course of action. What Bloc Party did in 2005, in the height of a Bush presidency and a selection of illegal wars was wake up the people. We can’t stand by and watch the world change and wish for the past because to be frank, it is never going to be the same again. The band had a message that said “look at what we have done, we have to change”; a mission statement that is easily best way to deal with a recession, huge unemployment and a host of ‘austerity measures’. If the NME’s desperation for a story may highlights anything positive it is that people want Bloc Party again. More than that, they need them. It is also the beginning of what should become a musical revolution. The celebrity culture in Britain should not spill over to its music industry.
Bloc Party will without a doubt be remembered as one of the most important bands in post-millennium British music but the legacy must continue; not for the money or the fame but for the people.
Okay, “anti-Christ” might be something of an overreaction, but it’s not far from the truth.
Lana Del Rey; get used to hearing the name, you’re going to be hearing it everywhere over the next six months, at least. The next big thing, in both hipster circles, the blogosphere and the mainstream, Del Rey has been collecting acclaim like Pokemon cards recently. Well I’d like to stick out like a proverbial sore thumb in this sea of adulation; Lana Del Rey is shite.
I’m not the first to disagree with popular opinion on this; debates have been raging for the past month or so. For an artist with only two songs in the public conciousness, Del Rey is pretty damn controversial. Let’s start with the song that made her big, "Video Games". The main piano hook is quite good actually, it almost sounds like something by The National, but that’s where the positives end. Some pointless strings and harps are chucked on top, adding diddly squat. Del Rey is in possession of decent voice but the vocals here sound almost as bored as she looks half the time. Seriously, go google her. I know looking bored is a standard pose for a lot of rockstars, but she’s taking it to the next level. The track just lulls along and turns into a godawful dirge carefully put together to be tacked on to the end of Gossip Girl or some shit. As if it couldn’t get much worse, the performance of the track on Jools Holland is even more snooze-worthy.
The video is almost as bad. Made by Del Rey herself, it cuts between her looking sultry/bored and singing into a webcam with the kind of pointless, vapid images you find on the majority of Tumblr blogs. There’s no point or deeper meaning to them, they just look retro, cool, hip. Skaters, suburbia, city streets, plants, anonymous couples, swimming pools, black & white film clips; oooh, how arty and deep you are. It’s utterl heartless and soulless, as is b-side “Blue Jeans”, both the song and video. Also, who makes a song called Video Games and doesn’t have at least one shot of someone playing a video game in the video? How does that work?
Next; her image. Similarly to the Hipstamatic-tastic “Video Games” video, Del Rey’s look is painfully studied and Urban Outfitted. Again, she looks straight from the pages of Tumblr. She looks glamourous-but-indie, an unholy hybrid, but there’s no real defining feature. If you didn’t know she was a singer, she could be any other anonymous pouty model. Most critics of Del Rey tend to hone in on her background; she was born Lizzy Grant and has aimed for stardon once before but failed, bringing about her current gimmick, her name and image have both been chosen by managers and labels and, comparing pictures of her from a few years ago to now, she looks like she’s had a few journeys under the knife, so to speak. Now the fact that she’s reinvented herself is acceptable (every bugger does it, from Madonna to Bowie to The Horrors), that she has major labels picking her image and shovelling money into her promo is something that some have rightfully picked a bone with and the plastic surgery rumours, if true, are slightly ridiculous, especially for an act who’s nowhere near even well-known.
The Del Rey hype almost always features the phrases “Describing herself as the ‘gangsta Nancy Sinatra’”,“Hollywood Sadcore” “her love of David Lynch, vintage Fifties movies, hip-hop and heartbreak”. Is it just me or does that sound like a bunch of buzzwords and phrases to entice idiots into the world of Blabla Del Rey? Oh my god, Nancy Sinatra? So cool and trendy right now. David Lynch? I love them! Hip-hop? Wow, I’m a middle-class kid who’s into hip-hop too!
You’d hope people weren’t so easy to read and attract, but then you read this MTV blog about her, and you lose all hope. I’m realising Bill Hicks was right; "When did mediocrity and banality become a good image for your children? I want my children listening to people who fucking rocked! I don’t care if they died in pools of their own vomit! I want someone who plays from his fucking heart!" Right now its entirely justifiable to speculate on the fact that Lana Del Rey doesn’t have a heart, instead just a polaroid of something deep and meaningful, in fucking sepia.
For further Del Rey dislike, see this Hipster Runoff article.
Name a band from the last 25 years with intelligence, wit, fire in the bellies, hearts on their sleeves, pop nous, arrogance, glamour and with something still to say after ten albums? If you said the Manic Street Preachers, then you’re correctmundo. Yes, they may be a long way from their hedonistic, South Wales glam-metal, spray-painted sloganned blouse-wearing days of yore; yes, they may be in their forties with kids, families and responsibilities now, but that doesn’t stop them from being on of the most important and vital British bands around today. Whilst we drown in a sea of musical ennui brought on by James Blake, his pallid white-boy R&B/dupstep and a mass of pouty teenagers in American Apparel hoodies behind synthesisers, a band that means and says something is necessary (even if its a band old enough to remember the Seventies). That band is the Manic Street Preachers.
Even though they are musical Marmite for some, the Manics are everything you could ever want in a band: the aforementioned intelligence matched with a pop nous, the ability to switch between brutal, at times harrowing post-punk to radio-friendly chart topping anthems within the space of one album, the ability to look fucking cool and insane at the same time (see the Generation Terrorists era). For every slightly cliched Gallagher interview, there’s four ridiculous Nicky Wire ones, full of hilariously OTT quotes and contradictions every which way.
The balls to include the line "I laughed when Lennon got shot" (left out in later live performances) in your very first single and to cram later tracks with references to Willem De Kooning, Kevin Carter, Marlon Brando, Kate Moss and god-knows how many other diverse cultural figures without being tongue-in-cheek or painfully post-modern is the sign of a truly great band. Who else would include a track about the fall of Labour on an album that was supposedly “one last shot at mass communication”? Who else would have a live stage set made out glitterball figures and feather boas? Who else could go on Top Of The Pops in its prime wearing an IRA-esque balaclava singing a song like “Faster”? The band’s 25 year history makes them one of the most important rock groups of recent times (albeit, strangely uninfluential; they’ve never been the fashionable name to drop a la Jesus & Mary Chain, Joy Division, The Smiths, Sonic Youth).
Even after a career spanning three decades, the Blackwood trio are still as angry as ever, whilst no one else really seems to be speaking out over the shite of modern life. Jon McClure? He wishes. The Enemy? Only if you’re brain-dead. The fact that it falls to a group of 40 year olds on their eleventh album to be the standard bearers and representatives of the disenfranchised would be a sad situation if it were any band other than the Manic Street Preachers. A band with more passion, power and talent in their collective little finger than most modern bands have in their entire careers.
With the imminent release of their second singles compilation National Treasures preceding a break of “at least two years”, the band are sure to find a new audience or generation of fans using the compilation as a jump-off into the wider world of being a Manics fan. After the break? Well, there are no firm plans but Wire has mentioned “the third great phase of Manic Street Preachers” recently as well as plans for 70 Songs Of Hatred And Failure (one more than The Magnetic Fields’ 69 Love Songs), the band’s eleventh album of “pure indulgence. There’s only so much melody stored in your body that you can physically get onto one record. [Postcards From A Young Man] was just so utterly commercial and melodic.” Never has a title been more apt than National Treasures.
This decade is already promising to be a stellar one. “Why?”, I hear you ask through your non-focal hipster glasses, as you flick through your homemade bootleg collection of bands from the 90s.
Let’s first look at the rise and rise of dubstep. Such a rise in an entirely different genre hasn’t been seen since around about the start of the new millennium with the rise and rise of metalcore, with bands like Bullet For My Valentine and Killswitch Engage being the big innovators of the first decade of the century. We saw the rise of emo and we saw it die away, so will dubstep do a metalcore and rise over the course of the decade, or will it cut its own wrists? Dubstep’s been around for longer than most of you reading this, but dubstep reached chart popularity pretty slowly and is now the selling point of nightclubs and DJs across the UK and the world. Chart hits like the Crookers remix of “Day ‘N’ Nite” by Kid Cudi and a handful Britney Spears singles are obvious examples of pre-2010 dubstep which have experienced a fair amount of success but with the rise of acts like Magnetic Man, James Blake, Nero and so on the 2010s are set to be the era which comes to make or break the dance music scene as we know it now. To see dubstep as a plethora of similar artists is perhaps somewhat narrow-minded, simply citing the gulf between Britney Spears’ brand of dubstep and the dubstep of acts on Doctor P’s Circus records.
The rise of Nero, an act who seem to have been around for as long as I’ve been interested in dance music, is one such case study. Nero began with successful remixes of various club tunes (see their remix of The Streets' "Blinded By The Lights" for an absolute banger) and began to release fairly under-the-radar drum and bass tracks (see "Choices"). Their big break came in late 2010 with the release of the pioneering UKF’s double drum ‘n’ bass/dubstep albums with the exposure of ”Innocence”, followed by successful singles "Me And You", "Guilt" and "Promises". Nero have come to define a modern dance music audience (counterbalance that with the rise of LMFAO and we have a gulf emerging even in dance music).
While Nero have been pretty widely acclaimed by dubstep fans and pop fans alike, there’s acts around that really split opinion down the middle. I barely need to say the name Skrillex for the fangs to come out on both sides of the argument. The emo singer-come-producer has certainly won my affections, but continues to drive people to murderous anger with his ADHD “bass” music (a term I prefer when referring to Skrillex, as he certainly doesn’t adhere to the more slowed down, grime/garage-influenced dubstep rubric that is an industry staple), his image is one that divides even his fans.
2011 hasn’t just been the year of the raver, however, with massive releases from bands on both sides of the rock camp: The Strokes released Angles, a tremendous 80s-influenced return to form for the New York quintet which has tunes to rival their debut Is This It, but also reminds us that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Blink 182 returned with Neighbourhoods (an album I’m not going to pretend to have listened to) (Editor’s note: lucky you), as did Anthrax and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. As well as EDM, I am certainly a fan of heavy rock and punk music, and as such it’s been a gift of a year: Mastodon’s The Hunter was mind blowing, Trivium’s In Waves recaptured the spirit of a 15 year old me, August Burns Red’s Leveler is one of my favourite albums of all time, and Protest The Hero’s Scurrilous did not disappoint.
Every year has its lows, musically – we’ve had the commercial success of Black Veil Brides, the fucking disaster that is Lulu (a disgracefully shit collaboration between Metallica and Lou Reed that nearly reduced me to tears), and even fucking Cher Lloyd. I’m not going to act as though I was not affronted by these aural crimes. But overall, it’s been a terrific year for music, with the fads (OFWGKTA’s rise to “power”), the triumphant returns (Bon Iver’s absolutely breathtaking self titled album) and not to forget the biannual Dream Theater record that sounds exactly the same as the last. I give 2011 a musical 7/10, a point deducted for the 3 travesties listed above. Here’s to a terrific 2012.