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Friday from the vault – Sigur Ros

Everyone fell in love with ‘Hoppipolla’ when it was first released. However, the people who really fell in love with it were the incidental music people at the BBC, who didn’t feel it was appropriate to let thirty minutes pass without playing it as an accompaniment to a some programme about badgers they were trying to hype. It’s a shame that the power of the song has been eroded by this over-exposure, but hopefully hearing it in it’s most concentrated form will help.

Jonsi – Go Do

Sigur Ros frontman in ‘very Sigur Ros-like’ solo project shocker. But how can we be angry at him when it’s as good as this?

The Friday 5 – things/songs ruined by the advertising industry

Tradition. It’s a wide and varied concept which means many different things to many different people. For some, it’s a proud and disciplined code, a link back to happier times, before credit crunches and Alan Carr. For others, it’s a millstone, a nostalgic excuse to indulge in sepia-tinged memories of situations that didn’t actually exist. For others, it’s a reassuring structure which allows us to bring form to this crazy, chaotic world.

And that’s where we sit with the venerable bastion of ELM that is The Friday 5. The Friday 5 is a precursor to the weekend, the first indicator that a week spent toiling at the coalface of modern industry has ended and that a weekend to recover our weary souls through refreshing beverages, eating binges and oversleeping has arrived. It is a harbinger of better times, admittedly brief. It is also a chance for us to laugh at people smugly through the cover of cyberspace. Hey, we never claimed our lofty ideals weren’t mired in dirt.

This week, we look at the concept of starfucking. No, not the Pamela De Barres style, but the unique effect advertising can have on the profile of something which was once loved. Advertising people have a bad press, for sure, but that’s because they are cunts who no-one likes because they spend their entire pointless little lives trying to shill shit to people who don’t need it on the basic premise that they will look like/get their winkle sucked by some unfeasibly attractive lady who’s probably been digitally altered before the ad went out anyway.

Yes, they make money, but so do pimps, and they don’t have awards ceremonies for them, do they? And since Mad Men hit our screens, they all think ‘hey, I’m a bit like that!’ You’re not. You are an irritating cock munch who wears over-expensive, badly cut suits and too much hair product, and uses the phrase ‘blue-sky thinking’ unironically.

So here we go – five things/songs ruined by the advertising industry.

OK GO – ‘Here It Goes’

OK GO were on the ropes. After a fair bit of hype, their debut album ended up doing, well, not a lot. Armed with a new album but no money, they decided to make an innovative, irreverent video based upon a rather amusing and quite clever synchronised dance routine on treadmills. it cost a paltry $5000 and became a massive hit on YouTube. Band revitalised, well done to all and a nice wee story. And then Berocca ripped it right off for one of their adverts. Bastards. The truly puzzling thing was that EVERYONE had seen this thing, so all Berocca succeeded in doing was making people believe that they were deeply unimaginative idea thieves. Which, of course, they were. Well done chaps!

The Rolling Stones – ‘Start Me Up’

The Rolling Stones said they would never, ever allow one of their tracks to be used in an advert. until Microsoft dangled $10m in front of them for this. Which they took. And come on chaps, Microsoft? You are in bed with the devil there, but not in a good way.

The Howling Bells – Low Happening

The Howling Bells make moody, dark rock which nods to fellow antipodeans The Bad Seeds. They are, therefore, not the ideal band to sell soap, you would have thought. You’d have been wrong. Their sultry pop masterpiece was seized upon because, hey, clanging guitars and cutting lyrics make you want to wash yourself. Ad men are idiots.

The Fall – Sparta FC

In an act which was cool initially, the BBC decided to use one of Mark E Smith’s more accessible tunes as the theme music to Final Score. No, honestly. And it was great. But the thing about incidental music on a long running show is that you hear the same bit again….and again….and again…and again…until it just starts to grate your mind thin slice by thin slice until you can’t cope and want to slaughter a children’s petting zoo at a party and drink the blood. Speaking of which….

Sigur Ros – Hoppipolla

Fucking BBC. They apparently can’t show anything that they think may be large scale, epic or regal without playing this. In fact, scratch that; they use this when trying to fool you into thinking that they are showing programmes which are large scale, epic or regal. They are going the same way with Elbow’s magnificent ‘One Day Like This’. Stop it! Stop it!

Okay, so that’s us a little closer. Have a good one and stay safe people!

Extreme Listening Mode’s Extremely Brief Guide to 2008 – Albums

Well, that was the year that almost certainly was. If anything, it proved that we do indeed live in historic times, and one suspects that when historians look back on this year they’ll conclude that it was the year when, pretty much, everything got fucked. It wasn’t all bad, of course. Barack Obama’s incredible rise to end the year as President Elect gladdened the heart. Oh, and Euro 2008 was good. That’s about it, really.

But at ELM, we’ve never allowed ourselves to be cloaked in the darkness enveloping the world, preferring to maintain a healthy glow of optimism. Except about Razorlight, obviously. And musically, 2008 has seen some absolutely beguiling sounds in amongst the murkiness. Here a selection of a few of our favourite things;

Barroom bohemia was very much back in vogue this year. The Hold Steady played pretty much solidly through 2008 in support of their superb ‘Stay Positive’ album. When the dust has settled, it was a consolidation album, but still widescreen enough to elevate it above most other releases this year. The Gaslight Anthem were like their younger brothers, no less enthralled by the Great American (Rock) Songbook but still with that splash of idealism that manifests itself in anger and accusations. We were much taken with their ‘The ’59 Sound’ album.

For those who like their Americana more dustbowl-baked, Lambchop’s ‘OH (Ohio)’ was a stunningly beautiful piece of work. Ryan Adams returned with ‘Cardinology’ which had its moments, but fell short of his turn-of-the-century high water mark. We also liked ‘Rustbelt Sun’ by The God Fearing Atheists, a gritty slice of UK Americana, if that’s not too great an oxymoron.

Elbow’s ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’ seems to have come out a thousand weeks ago, but still remains one of the years best work. Nice to see the perennial underachievers get some mainstream success, although, of course, we’ll all pretend not to like them come March. Sigur Ros were at their unsurpassable best on ‘með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust’ which, while difficult to pronounce, was pretty easy to love.

Santogold provided us with possibly the year’s finest debut. From the savvy pop silverdust of LES Artistes’ to the new wave sheen of ‘Lights Out’ to the unbridled mentalness of ‘Unstoppable’ it really followed the three-ring circus theory of music; something for everyone. The Ting Tings proved that a couple of classic singles don’t always mean they are the advance guard of a classic album.

Ida Maria was an early live favourite of ELM, but her debut album lacked the earthiness of her early demos, instead settling for a Radio 1 friendly production sheen that actually pushed her towards MOR territory. Still, as she had hacked about every support slot going for 18 months, you can’t blame her for wanting to see a few records, but what could have been a deranged pop-punk classic instead disappointed.

Jenny Lewis returned with ‘Acid Tongue’ which, sadly, wasn’t as good as her debut ‘Rabbit Fur Coat’. Less time hanging about with the celebrity mates and more on writing decent songs might be the order of the day next year.

Growers were the first albums from Vampire Weekend and MGMT. The VW album in particular revealed itself slowly as an excellent piece of work. The MGMT album was at times guilty of over-ambition and an inability to just let things breathe, but when they got it right – such as on the classic trio of singles ‘Time To Pretend’, ‘Kids’ and ‘Electric Feel’ – there was a feeling that they’d made the kind of electro-pop shudder Alex Chilton may have done had he had access to samplers.

In terms of success, you had to hand it to Glasvegas, who sold many an album but never convinced us at ELM Towers. The next album will be the one that determines if they are one-trick ponies, as we suspect, or truly Spokesmen for their Generation, like the NME does. No matter what, he still came across as a dick on Never Mind The Buzzcocks.

For slightly left of centre treats, can we push you in the direction of Marching Band’s ‘Spark Large’, a lovely collection of harmonious, almost childlike acoustic joyousness. Army Navy’s album was also very worth checking out.

A late mention to the lovely Laura Marling for ‘Alas, I Cannot Swim’ – folky, sweet and very addictive. Bon Iver deserves similar praise, though despite many attempts at it, I just could not get into Fleet Foxes. Different music but similar result was the new Portishead effort. Best of the old stagers was Spiritualized with their ‘Songs from A&E’, the same album they always made but done with polish.

And finally, to this years musical nadir; we hate to say it, but The Feeling’s ‘Join With Us’ made us want to hunker down in the basement to create a new strain of a dreadful disease which rendered society in a permanent state of mental paralysis. It really is that bad. However, it seemed like too much work, so we just ended up down the pub. But we still hope their tourbus breaks down in a remote country and they are left there forever.

Here’s hoping we get a good crop of albums next year!

Speaking in Tongues – Great Non-English Songs

Tonight sees ELM decamp en masse to see Dengue Fever, a strange little Jazz-pop combo who are fronted by a Cambodian lady and who, appositely, have a lot of songs with Cambodian lyrics. Now, pop music is very English-language dominated. How many times have you watched a German or a Lithuanian go 15 rounds with Shakespeare’s lingo on Eurovision? Whilst hilarious, it just doesn’t seem right.

Pop music does mainly seem to originate in the US or Britain and consequently is absolutely dominated by our language. It’s also less of a bugbear for our European neighbours, who have a far higher rate of bi-lingual citizens than we do. for example, 7 in 10 French people speak passable English, whereas only 1 in 10 in the UK speak passable French. That is because French is a stupid language, with three different words for ‘it’ depending on how many of you you are or something.

But even allowing for the gobbledygook that foreign types try to pass off as language, you do get some corking good songs belted out in non-English. Here are three of the best;

Nena – 99 Luftballoons

Insane German woman sings of a post-nuclear holocaust Planet to an incongruously catchy electropop backing. Indeed, given how fashion has spun 360 degrees, bands sounding like this are getting on the front of the NME. Nena was foxy in a strangely severe way, but being German didn’t shave her pits and had a bush you could lose a badger in. Probably.

Vanessa Paradis – Joe Le Taxi

Vanessa was only 15 when she released this ode to Parisienné cab drivers, and conjured up an image a touch more sexy than a Brit would have managed with ‘Frank the Cabbie.’ I recall – for I was a mere slip of a lad when this came out – being absolutely transfixed by her beauty. Now, almost twenty years later, when I went on YouTube (see above) to have a look for research purposes, I simply couldn’t believe how pointy her nips were. Still a cracking tune mind.

Sigur Ros – Hoppipolla

Now, this rocks frankly. The Ros sing in a language comprised of Icelandic, English, made up bits and Elf-ish. Yes, they made up their own language to sing in. It’s like rock’n’roll Esperanto. That is class. Of course, the true majesty is that even though you don’t have a clue what the hell they are on about, you are absolutely moved by the beauty and power of the songs. That, my friends, is truly special.

Now, loyal readers, any more spring to mind?

Sigur Ros, Glasgow Carling Academy

Photo courtesy Heidi Kuisma
Photo courtesy of Heidi Kuisma

An eagerly awaited sold out gig and one that finds the Icelandic quartet at a crossroads of sorts.

New album ‘with a buzz in our ears we play endlessly’ was something of a progression for the band, drawing from the acoustic work the band produced for their recent DVD as well as from more traditional ‘rock sounds’. They even had one song sung in English! To my ears the best songs were the more gentle tracks, some with very sparse instrumentation: a piano or an acoustic guitar, or perhaps a choir.

Tonight sadly very few of these songs were played, instead the band focused on more bass heavy and percussive tracks. This was my first problem with the gig: I understand that 3,000 people might want ‘entertainment’ but they did buy Sigur Ros tickets did they not? Would slower songs really have been a challenge? Wouldn’t it have sold the album better by playing all the best songs? Of all bands I felt that they could have trusted their audience.

Before the gig I noted was that the band was not touring with Amiina, the string quarter that has been palying with them for several years now. How would the band react? They reacted by simplifying the instrumentation and choosing carefully from the back catalogue. This was my second problem with the gig: it did veer a bit too close to foot in the monitor rock for my taste. This band is different, and therein lays their appeal. The sound is other-worldly, the strings and glockenspiels add layers and depth and the vocals create more raw sound and answer no questions.

Is there a market for them to strip away the layers and ‘get their message across’? Isn’t the mystery the message? The layers of perception their audience add to the band create their appeal rather than lyric sheets or guitar solos. We project a meaning and this emotion works with the music to subjectify the experience.

I have a few theories:

1. They are bored with the noises, clicks, long songs and romantic notions attached to them by over eager fans and fan websites.
2.  They believe that at heart they are a rock band and want to show a ‘new side to their work’.
3. In these days of ‘credit crunch’ they are tailoring their set for stadiums across the globe. Are they perhaps planning the next ‘leap forward’ in their career?
4. Maybe when bands get to audiences of 3,000 or more it does attract people who need loud noises, backdrops, catchy songs. People who attend because it’s cool, or in NME, or their pals are going. Poeple who will drink, and talk over them. Maybe their core audience is now a minority and the band realise this?

Who really knows?  I have seen them 4 times going back several years and they always left me awestruck. Tonight though they were merely very, very good and only ‘Poppligadd’ and ‘Saegloppur’ stirred the blood and raised the hairs on the back of my neck. I love them still but I hope the next album sees a retreat from more clearly understood lyrics, bigger guitars, driving rhythms and attempts to ‘work the room’. Let the room work harder to understand the band and its music.


Millions Now Living Will Never Die – A History of Post-Rock

By Vespertine

Quite a term: Post rock.  What exactly is it? What does it do? Can music be post anything? Or is just a term I like to bandy about to make myself appear more musically sophisticated than the people I’m talking to? Well it is partly that of course, but….

In the first instance the term defines a music that takes its influences from a wider range of sources than most traditional rock music: jazz, ambient, avant garde, early electronic experiments, and foreign developments (mainly German Krautrock and Japanese post-punk noise experiments). The sonic experiments of John Coltrane, Steve Reich, Phillip Glass and Stockhausen were as crucial as The Beatles.

Another influence was sound itself: production qualities were prized. Guitars, drums, bass, cello…anything used was not for riffs, solos or muddy wall of sound; they were all parts of a composition. Each instrument had its place in the mix and added its own colour. Many post rock musicians are also producers or sound engineers.

Its external influences were punk (although not the music itself), the American independent scene encompassing non-traditional rock views as regards sexism, racism, and rock excess; “Librarians with guitars” perhaps? Revenge of the geeks?

Musical stirrings came when a ‘rock band’ took their avante garde influences and added shades, leather jackets and attitude: The Velvet Underground and their ‘drone’ saw the influence of John Cale’s mentor Lamonte Young come up with Tin Pan Alley songwriting, hard drugs and guitars. The drone gained added beef with the “Krautrock” of the 1960s and ’70s – its rhythm known as “motorik” being added to the template by bands like Can, Tangerine Dream and Faust. An taste of these ideas merging came with Public Image Ltd (PiL) described by the NME as “arguably the first post-rock group.” Their second album Metal Box almost completely abandoned traditional rock and roll structures in favor of dense, repetitive dub- and krautrock-inspired soundscapes and John Lydon’s cryptic, stream-of-consciousness lyrics.

A more telling signpost on the road to modern post rock was the final two albums released by Talk Talk: ‘Spirit of Eden’ and ‘Laughing Stock’. These combined jazz, English folk songs, strings, triangles, guitars and tape samples. The songs were long, lyrically dense and ran into each other leaving the album feeling like a classical piece rather than a rock album.

So we arrive in the 1990s. My own arrival into post rock was through Steve Albini’s review of Slint’s ‘Spiderland’ album in Melody Maker (More from Albini later). The album didn’t disappoint me: all killer and no filler. Ambivalent lyrically, guitars used to wind around songs rather than to riff or solo, production allowing songs to breath and each song focused on dynamics as much as hummable tunes. Build up, coil, release. No communal standing in a field singing the lyrics together. This was ‘head music’ of a different kind. Headphone music would perhaps be more accurate.

The album gave the green light for a host of bands to release albums. A common thread was that a lot of these bands had been punks or at least noise freaks, which is similar to a lot of bands in the latter ‘switch’ to alt.country; amps turned down, and space sought between the notes. An escape from the conformity of guitars.

Another landmark release at this time was Tortoise’s ‘Millions Now Living Will Never Die’ which combined ambitious drones, unusual timings, electronics and superb production values. The scene at this stage was focused on Chicago and Tortoise’s John McEntire became a much sought after producer, along with Gastr del Sol’s Jim O’Rourke.

A slew of bands emerged, each with their own style; Rachel’s fused minimalist musicianship with classical music whereas Rodan maintained a loud/quiet guitar based dynamic. Aerial M, Cul de sac, The For Carnation, June of ’44, Karate and their jazz timings….take your pick folks. The sound proved not to be a sound, but as described earlier as an idea: the idea being to strip rock of needless musicianship, ego, sexist bluster and replace with a studied approach to rock’s possibilities.

In Britain the scene emerged slowly. Some bands favoured a more electronic approach, and were perhaps even approachable, bands such as Stereolab who mingled Moogs, French ‘yeh yeh’ music, Marxist politics and 80s C86 indie; whereas other bands were less easily digested, bands such as Bark Psychosis or Pram. Loud/quiet was seized upon by Mogwai as a template to use.

In the late 90s / early 00s the scene moved, to Montreal where God Speed You Black Emperor held sway with myriad offshoots. Constellation Records provided an outlet for many bands: Exhaust, Fly Pan Am, Do Make Say Think, and its compilation ‘Music Until Now’ is a good place to start to understand the Montreal scene. Another change was in electronic music merging with post-rock as beats were dropped, or featured less heavily: Icebreaker International, Boards of Canada….’ambient’ came close to meeting post-rock.

And now? The scene is fragmented, thankfully, as the ideas behind post-rock are now more widely accepted and can be swapped through the internet. There will always be bad music but bands can now feel no shame about being as influences by Arvo Part or Fela Kuti as by The Kinks. That in the end is what post-rock was always about: geeks trying to expand rock’s parameters, and a valid criticism is that maybe they thought about it too much in what perhaps should be an area where gut feeling has as much to say as hours of thought. But it is important that a line can be drawn from Stockhausen to 2008 as clearly as one can be drawn from The Beatles to 2008.

The influence can be heard in Vampire Weekend, Sigur Ros, Bonnie Prince Billy, Explosions In The Sky; any band where music can be and is seen as a process, and where influences can be as varied as a favourite guitar effect to literature or to African music. It is outsider music, and it is often hard to listen to, but pushing the boundaries is always going to happen, and we should be grateful people are willing to try.