Monday, 31 October 2011

Music Monday: Jeffrey Lewis

The Jeffrey Lewis gig on Saturday was a good one, but I felt too lazy yesterday to write a proper review of it.  His just-released album, A Turn In The Dream Songs, is a gentler, more acoustic bunch of tracks than his last couple of albums, and feeling tired from cycling 18 miles around Rutland Water that afternoon, I found myself being lulled into somnolence.  This song, To Go And Return, came about halfway through the set.  As lovely as it is, I was pleased to be woken up when they launched into three blistering covers of 60s garage rock songs (learnt by the band, bizarrely, after being booked to play at the opening of a furniture shop in Brighton) and hence into crowd-pleasers Broken Heart and Slogans from his last album, 'Em Are I.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Not buying it: the aftermath

Two weeks after finishing my half term of buying nothing, and I am heartily sick of shopping already.  Suddenly, free time that I was using for crafting, baking or reading have become consumed with, well, consuming.  After spending the third afternoon in five days shopping, I have decided to call a halt to the whole thing. 

Two dresses, a pair of shoes, two CDs... they're all lovely but the thrill I got from purchasing them was very fleeting, replaced quickly by a little voice asking, "but do you need them?"  Actually, it was five dresses that I bought, but another feature of my borderline addiction to shopping is a tendency to buy something, then return it the next day.  Of course, laziness or circumstance sometimes means I never return the item and hence my wardrobes are full to bursting of things that have never been worn.

One thing I missed last half term was my Saturday ritual of walking into the city centre, browsing the shops, buying a couple of things and finishing with lunch, so this Saturday I was excited to return to my usual pattern.  However, instead of enjoying it I just found the whole experience pretty empty.  Like Chandler Bing at major New York landmarks, I found myself wanting to moo at the crowds mindlessly wandering from one shop to another.

It seems ridiculous to me that I made it to the age of 33 without realising the utter pointlessness of consumerism, but at least now the scales have been lifted from my eyes.  However, I work best with rules and it wouldn't be enough to control my spending to just say to myself, "oh, I won't shop so much".  So I am reinstituting not buying it, from today.  I have some slightly different rules this time though, to make it a more sustainable long-term approach.

1. No more ban on magazines, however I'm not returning to Red or GlamourMollie Makes, Fat Quarter and Bitch will be allowed but magazines that exist purely to fuel consumerism are still out.
2. There are a limited number of clothes that I genuinely do need.  New bras, a new pair of jeans (my old one have holes in the thighs that are becoming obscene) and, because I just can't quit my spot habit, a polka dot dress will be allowed.
3. Bearing in mind the time of year, Christmas presents are of course allowed.
4. Anything secondhand is fine.  The local charity shops, vintage markets and secondhand bookstores can rejoice at the return of a reliable customer.
5. Buying CDs from an independent record store is fine.  Despite usually being more expensive than Amazon, I try and buy from the wonderful Rockaboom in Leicester, because I would feel terrible if they ever went out of business.
6. The thing I missed most last term was my little Saturday trips to nearby towns like Stratford, Melton Mowbray and Ashbourne.  So in a contentious move, purchases out of Leicester will be allowed within reason (so no trips up the motorway to Meadowhall: that's cheating).
7. No internet shopping.  At all.
8. Craft supplies are an essential: I nearly went mad last term, not being able to buy new fabric when I saw lovely bits and pieces.

Last time around, knowing that I had the blog to report to made me much better at sticking to my rules.  This time around I don't intend to blog much about the details because I hope it will have longevity and it would become pretty boring to write about the same thing every week.  However I know my local readers (especially Leanne, who is very good at reminding me of my rules!) will be keeping a watchful eye on any purchases.  Wish me luck!

Monday, 24 October 2011

Music Monday: Sigur Ros

Who else could it be this week apart from Sigur Ros?  While I've always quite liked them (if found some songs overexposed by countless adverts and soundtracks), I've never got it like I did when I was in Iceland.  Listening to Takk as I walked around Reykjavik was a moment of musical perfection. 

Se Lest's chiming glockenspiels and parping brass bands combined with Jonsi's ethereal and otherworldly vocals sound how Iceland looks.  If this video - taken from their DVD release, Heima, and featuring a combination of footage from the band's 2006 tour of Iceland and shots of Icelandic scenery - isn't enough to make you want to get on the next plane to Keflavik then you are very possibly dead inside.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Music Monday: One Direction

As much as my CD collection shouts 'indie purist' and my festival- and gig-going habits are unimpeachable, every so often a pop song comes along that I fall for.  Biology by Girls Aloud, Dynamite by Taoi Cruz, Three Colours In Her Hair by McFly are all songs that I happily rate as some of my favourite singles of all time.  In fact, I think the single is where pop music comes into it's own.  Bands like Midlake or Bonnie Prince Billy might release album after album of amazing songs that work as a coherent whole, but can they write a three minute pop gem that gets everyone dancing at weddings?

My latest pop obsession is about as wrong as it gets: a group manufactured by evil overlord of pop, Simon Cowell, and managed by his ever-so-aptly-named Syco company.  But if this is wrong, I don't want to be right.  From the opening bars which blatantly rip off Summer Nights to the McFly-like "nah nah nah"s in the bridge, I love You Don't Know You're Beautiful by One Direction and I defy you to listen to it and not feel a grin spread across your face.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Music Monday

Jeffrey Lewis is proof positive that, if at first you don't succeed (in this case, succeed to like a band), then try again.  When I saw him play with his band, The Junkyard, at Summer Sundae festival in 2008 I was underwhelmed to say the least.  I didn't enjoy the music, nor understand the relevance of his illustrations (which were projected onto a screen behind the stage).  When it came to the end of his set and a song called Creeping Brain, accompanied by a full-on animated film about, well, a creeping brain, I'd had enough of what I felt was self-indulgent, Brooklyn hipster shit.

Fast forward a year, and I'm sitting in the film tent at Latitude having dragged myself out of bed early to catch a special performance by Lightspeed Champion.  The audience waits, and waits... and finally an annoucement comes on that they (he?) are not going to make it and replacing them (him?) is none other than Jeffrey Lewis and the Junkyard.  Well, it was raining outside and I was somewhat hungover, so despite hating them at Summer Sundae I stayed put.  And was I ever glad I did.  Something in their performance just clicked for me.  It might have been their cover of Nirvana's Sifting illustrated with cartoons that this time I found delightfully whimsical and amusing instead of contrived and confusing.  It might have been the more accessible songs from his then-new album, Em Are I, such as Roll Bus Roll and Slogans, which have since become favourites of mine.  Or it might have been his, and brother Jack's (the bassist in The Junkyard), engaging banter with the audience.  Whatever it was, I was converted and have since seen him live a couple more times. 

So today, in honour of the silly little dance I did when I discovered that not only is Jeff touring the UK later in the year but coming to Leicester too (no-one comes to Leicester!), Jeffrey Lewis & The Junkyard are my Music Monday choice.  I've gone for the video for To Be Objectified, a rather lovely little acoustic song from the last album that has the most fantastic video, drawn and directed by Jeffrey Lewis himself.  He is truly a man of many talents, and I kick myself for not seeing it sooner.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Karima Francis @ The Glee Club, Birmingham 30th September 2011

In July 2007 I was at the Latitude festival in Suffolk and happened upon a singer called Karima Francis at the In The Woods stage which, as the name suggests, is a small stage in a clearing in the middle of the woods.  The entire tent was silent, focused on this incredible-looking musician playing acoustic guitar and singing with a voice the size of which belied her tiny frame.  I only saw her final song, but it was nevertheless the highlight of my entire festival.  Fast forward 18 months and Francis released her debut album, The Author, appeared on Jools Holland, and promptly disappeared off the face of the earth due to mysterious "health issues".

Well, two years later and Karima Francis has "come back from the dead", in her words, been back in the studio recording a new album (with PJ Harvey producer Flood, no less) and just embarked on a tour of the UK.  Tonight she begins with a couple of new tracks, including the lovely Remedy (which is to be the title track of the next album) and quickly demonstrates that a couple of years away from music have done nothing to dull her passion nor alter her remarkable voice.

And what a voice it is: on The Author she effortlessly moves across almost two scales within the space of one word and there is a richness to her singing that gives texture and depth to songs which might otherwise be mere 'radio friendly unit shifters'.  Yet for all the strength of Francis' voice, there's a fragility about her that makes you want to give her a cuddle.  Her query, "Are you not bored yet?" raises chuckles the first time, but becomes rather plaintive when asked again.  Happily the rest of her between-song chat is more confident (and extremely funny: a rumination on Blackpool rock littered with innuendo being a highlight) although at times she seems overwhelmed by the enthusiastic audience response, which borders on the adoring.

Each song is simple, performed on acoustic guitar, and her lyrics deal with love and, more often, the loss of love.  Nothing terribly earth-shattering there, but the frankness of her words and the vulnerability in her voice makes the songs sound terribly intimate.  They take the listener into the heart of the relationship and even into the bed, as in gig closer Stay, when she sings "asleep on my chest you lay," with such longing that it rises above cliche to become something far more moving and special.

Check out her Facebook page for upcoming gigs and to take a listen.