Monday, 28 November 2011

Music Monday: Born Ruffians

Born Ruffians are on my long list of bands that I love but no-one else I know seems to have heard of.  In fact, apart from people who have listened to me rant about how brilliant they are, I've never met anyone who's heard of them.  So this is my attempt to spread the word.  At the top of the page is the ultra lo-fi What To Say, from their most recent album Say It.  I love the slow build up of instruments, beginning with just a sparse bass line until by the end it's a veritable riot (well, for Born Ruffians anyway) of noise.  I like the video too, which is a perfect match for the band's low-tech approach.

Below is a live version (which looks like it was recorded in someone's basement) of Foxes Mate For Life, from first album Red Yellow & Blue.  This is one of my favourite songs for singing along at the top of my voice (usually in the car, far away from any innocent ears).  All together now: "and I kno-oh-oh-oh-oh foxes ma-eh-eh-te for life becau-au-au-se they're in lo-oh-oh-oh-ve". 

Finding these videos has just reminded me how much I adore Born Ruffians.  Let me know what you think of them.  I'm off to put the album on now...

Friday, 25 November 2011

Mag hag: 24 hours with a pile of magazines

Pretty much the only benefit of spending the last two days languishing in bed with a bug has been the chance to tackle the large pile of magazines I'd aquired over the past few weeks.  Reading them back-to-back led me to ponder the weirdness that is women's mags.

Traditional glossy, aspirational woman's magazine.  I used to love it but cancelled my subscription recently when I realised that reading it made me feel bad.  The Christmas issue is a must-buy though, if only for the annual 25% off at Paperchase voucher.
Coverlines include 'My 10-year love affair with Botox'; 'Lorraine Pascal's totally lazy Christmas'.  Did feminism ever happen?
For women who, judging by the articles therein, are in their 30s or 40s, live in impossibly nice houses with their impossibly nice husband and 2.4 children.
Wants you to buy Tom Ford eye shadow palette, a bargain at only £62; a £920 sheepskin beanbag from The White Company; an £8,000 Rolex watch.
Reading it I feel an increasing sense of dissatisfaction with my life.  Looking at the glossy interiors photographs, my thoughts turn to the grubby grouting in my bathroom.  There are some articles that resonate - particularly 'Get an experience high', about how to cut down on buying and focus more on doing (which seems ironic in a magazine that is 50% adverts) - but overall reading it reminds me why I cancelled my subscription. 

Mollie Makes
Relatively new (only on it's eighth issue) craft magazine aimed at young, trendy crafters who might watch Kirstie's Homemade Home then go out to a gig.
Coverlines include 'Thrifty style secrets: recycled makes for your home & wardrobe'; 'Scandinavian inspiration: Norway's coolest design blog'.  Clearly not your average craft magazine, with patterns for teddy bear cross stitch.
For women who have always been into crafts, honest, I'm not jumping on the 'cool craft' bandwagon, I swear...
Wants you to buy a new Janome sewing machine, £99.99; handknitted lambswool egg cosies.
Reading it I wonder who are these people who find amazing junkshop finds for a few quid?  My local junk shop is full of, well, junk and it costs a damn sight more than the £6 for a chair quoted in here.  Mollie Makes is just as aspirational as mainstream women's mags, it's just a different kind of aspiration.  Instead of lusting after Rolex watches and posh make-up, we're lusting after vintage fabrics, car boot bargains and screenprinted cushions.

Fat Quarter
Recently defunct quarterly magazine, clearly published on the thinnest of shoestrings but packed full of interesting articles that feel aimed at women exactly like me (whoever they may be).
Coverlines include 'Kristin Hersh of Throwing Muses'; 'Drag kings'.  Terse and to the point.
For women who "are after a 'countercultural ladies' mag," according to the tagline.  I'll assume the "ladies'" is ironic.
Wants you to buy albums by bands so obscure even I haven't heard of them.
Reading it I want to weep that after only three issues, the only possible UK alternative to Bust or Bitch has folded.  Blogs are all well and good, but I'm old-fashioned and like to turn pages when I read.

This is neither the time nor the place to go into detail about my sexual preferences.  Suffice it to say that I've dated girls and boys in the past (is it bad that I still think in terms of 'girls' and 'boys' at the age of 33?!) and I enjoy the ocassional flick through Diva, if only for the novel experience of reading a magazine for women that isn't obsessed with diets.
Coverlines include 'Feminine lesbians: Too straight looking to be gay?'; 'New Leeds gay quarter - ghetto or fabulous?'.  They like rhetorical questions.
For women who like women, duh.
Wants you to buy The new Bjork album; an Annix dildo for the special offer price of £29.99.
Reading it I decide I want some fabulous red lipstick, like the women in the vintage fashion feature.  But no rage, no yearning for consumer goods... this might just be the winning mag.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Music Monday: Rufus Wainwright

An awful admission for an English teacher, this, but I'm not that familiar with Shakespeare's sonnets, beyond the famous sonnet 18 ("Shall I compare thee...") and a couple of others that I studied at university years ago.  This is a state which I need to remedy, because I have fallen deeply in love with Rufus Wainwright's rendering of Sonnet 29.

A traditional sonnet is focused on the object of the speaker's affection, whereas this poem is more speaker-focused, concerning itself (to begin with, anyway) with the experiences of the writer rather than their feelings for another.  Only at the end do thoughts turn to a lover, when the poet "think[s] on thee", and his previously despairing wallow turns into something more joyous, "like the lark at break of day arising".  I love the contrast of the image of the depressed young poet in the first octave with the lover of the last sestet.  Beginning with a rather careless, throwaway,"yet..", he decides that actually, he can put up with all of it if he thinks of "thy sweet love".

Wainwright set the words to music as part of a fundraising project for RADA in 2002, and what a spectacular job he did.  Contrasting piano and banjo, and then accordion and cello, it is a startlingly simple orchestration which allows focus to fall on the lines of the poem.

Sonnet 29

When, in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possess'd,
Desiring this man's art and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate;
For thy sweet love remember'd such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

The Rip Tide by Beirut

I appreciate that Beirut aren't for everyone.  Their first three albums were heavily influenced by world music: Balkan folk music on 2006's flugelhorn -heavy Gulag Orkestar; French chanson on the second album (lots of accordions this time) The Flying Club Cup; Mexican mariachi on The March of the Zapotec from 2009.  I happen to love the first two especially and enjoy the thematic way that songwriter Zach Condon approaches the production of an album, but new record The Rip Tide serves as a riposte to those who would claim that Condon can only write 'concept' albums.

Album opener A Candle's Fire may begin with a beautifully mournful accordion solo and yes, that may be a mariachi-style brass band joining in at 00:16, but this is not another musical tour in album form.  The song titles alone speak volumes: previous albums have taken the listener to Bratislava, Rhineland, and Cherbourg, amongst others.  On The Rip Tide, the titles tend towards the abstract rather than the geographical, the furthest they take the listener is Santa Fe and East Harlem.  If there are any influences at work on The Rip Tide, it's straightforward (or as straightforward as Beirut ever get, anyway) American pop music.  Musically and lyrically, this record is closest in style to their Lon Gisland EP; those of you with eagle-eyes will spot that the title of the EP referenced another American location. 

There is more 'space' on this album; more moments where Beirut allow the piano, guitar or ukelele to play unencumbered, which allows extra focus on the lyrics.  It also makes the moments when the trumpet, flugelhorn, accordion, trombone and myriad other sounds rise up all the more effective.  Title track The Rip Tide opens with a quiet piano line before being joined by a brass section, which then fades away for the first verse.  Throughout the song the two elements - acoustic vs. full instrumentation - ebb and flow to evoke the image of waves moving in and out on the tide.

A Candle's Fire has a confessional quality to it, as Condon sings "I, it's certain from afar, have failed to pull my weight."  Santa Fe is more upbeat; almost, even, a Beirut song you could dance to.  And if the album never quite reaches the promise of these incredible opening tracks, there is still much to appreciate. 

Monday, 14 November 2011

Music Monday: REM

At My Most Beautiful by REM

I read an interview with REM in The Guardian on Friday, which prompted me to spend the weekend revisiting some of my favourite albums of theirs.  I love New Adventures In Hi-Fi (which I always think of as I relatively new REM album, so imagine my shock when I realised it was released in 1996.  Yep, that's how old I am: something that happened 15 years ago is 'recent'!); Monster was the album playing in the background when I fell in love for the first time; I have a great fondness for Nightswimming and Sweetness Follows from the album that sent them into the stratosphere, Automatic For The People.  But if I had to narrow it down, I think my favourite REM track would be this one. 

At My Most Beautiful is, for me, the most perfect expression of what it means to be in love. 
When Michael Stipe sings, "I read bad poetry into your machine/ I save your messages
just to hear your voice/ you always listen carefully to awkward rhymes/ you always say your name/ like I wouldn't know it's you, at your most beautiful" there is something wonderful about the reciprocity of the love that he describes.  The fact his lover "listens carefully", the way he describes the leaving of a message, "like I wouldn't know it's you".  These tiny expressions of devotion captured in a few lines of song, so much more impressive than Bruno Mars' recent boast  "I would catch a grenade for ya". 

Monday, 7 November 2011

Music Monday: Smashing Pumpkins

I'm surprised it's taken me so long to get round to posting a Smashing Pumpkins video.  I may listen to other bands more, and the Pumpkins line-up may have changed more often than the Sugababes, but they are the band I have loved most and longest.  From lying in a darkened teenage bedroom listening to their Siamese Dream album for the first time and thinking "sod you Bradford chavs, this is who I choose to be now"; to 'making out' (great phrase, so much nicer than 'snogging', which seems tinged with alcohol and boredom) while Lily, My One & Only played in the background; to watching them on the main stage at Glastonbury while under the influence of a raft of chemicals; to playing Rocket triumphantly on my car stereo after I passed my driving test at the grand old age of 29, the Smashing Pumpkins have been there at every stage of my post-adolescent life.

As soon as I hear the bombastic chords that herald Cherub Rock's  arrival, I feel like I'm 16 again.  My then-boyfriend Ollie and I used to play this down the phone to each other.  Both struggling through the last weeks of our GCSEs at different schools where we were bullied for being different, we decided that the lyrics were nothing short of genius.  Now I look at them and cringe, but I still adore the song.