New venture: scotspolitics.com

I recently wrote my first post for what will be a regular blog on scotspolitics.com, an online magazine which started last year – but it’s about more than party politics, or the referendum.

In fact, I wrote about Kate Nash and the power of words (sounds a bit like a 60s girl group…) which doesn’t, in a strict sense, have anything to do with Scottish politics.

I’m chuffed to have joined their fantastic lineup of contributors and look forward to sharing my posts with you all in future.

If you’re not familiar with the site already, I particularly recommend Talat Yaqoob’s writing on women’s issues, Gavin Marshall’s music-centric articles, and Andy Davis’s coverage of politics at Hollyrood and further afield.

The beauty of a shiny silver disc

This is the month that the beloved CD turns 30. Gosh, that’s a big one. It won’t be long til the midlife crisis kicks in. Mind you, from the press of the past few years, it seems as though that could already have started. The MP3 revolution devastated the music industry as people simply stopped buying what had been the most popular musical format yet. The demise of many a high street record shop followed, much to the disappointment of many a music fan. That’s not to say there’s none left. On the contrary, HMV’s still going, though it’s reported a drop in profits in the past few years. Loads of independent record shops across the country are making a killing catering to those who still want to buy ‘the real thing’, be that CDs or other, older formats like tape or vinyl.

Now I’m not that old, but I am old enough to remember a childhood spent picking out CDs for long car journeys, buying my dad all of ‘The Best of Air Guitar’ compilations, figuring out how to burn my own mix CDs, and searching through the aisles of HMV for suitable ‘first’ CD purchases (summer 2006, HMV Inverness, 2 singles: Christina Aguilera’s ‘Ain’t No Other Man’ and Kasabian’s ‘Empire’- even then my taste was, erm, eclectic). Like many others, I dabbled in the ‘Now’ compilations, though I didn’t get there until they were into the fifties.

Few people can claim to have never listened to, or bought, a CD. There was a while when I got my first iPod that I strayed from the shiny silver path of the compact disc, but in my youthful naivety and hunger for the Apple, I forgot one thing. MP3s don’t last forever. They’re virtual. Press delete by accident, get a virus, or forget to back everything up, and they’re gone. 79p x all the lost files… right down the drain. Buy a CD, however, and unlike the disposable iTunes voucher, where £15 buys you bits and bobs and sucks all of the beauty out of the process of listening and buying, and you buy a whole experience.

First, there’s the trip to the shop. There isn’t a record shop in my town, so it requires a specially-planned journey, a whistle-stop on a shopping trip you plan for. Make a list of albums you’re looking for, set aside some of that hard-earned cash, and off you go. Every time you wander in, no matter how prepared you are, you never leave with what you came for. But it doesn’t matter, because what you’ve left with is infinitely better. You really have always been meaning to give Radiohead a chance, so you bought OK Computer at last. It’s a classic, you’ve been told. A signed copy of Be Human is something you can’t pass up, you just can’t. And the second-hand At the Drive In album was too good a deal to let someone else get hold of! This one just had a cool picture on the front. You get a bit of banter at the counter, and the smattering of fear that the shop assistant is judging you on your purchases- but this isn’t all of me! you shout, I have more diverse taste than this! I know I’m not dressed like an emo kid, but I’m not trying to be one! And then you have your carrier bag, emblazoned with the record shop logo, which for the rest of your shopping trip you can proudly display to everyone in the street. Always make sure it’s on top of what else you’re carrying, just to make certain it’s seen. The rest of the shopping trip doesn’t really matter any more, you’re too filled with excitement to go home and listen to what you’ve just bought.

A few hours later, you arrive home. Abandon everything else, you MUST hear what is on these discs. Cd player out. Headphones in- you can’t afford any distractions. The first listen is key. You have to listen to all of the songs, all the way through, in order. Before you do this, though, check the inlay. Are there lyrics? YES. Who wrote what? Who played what? Who produced and mixed? There are many questions, but all the answers are before you in that tiny booklet. The first listen is key. Sit back, relax. Press play. Let it run…

I know I’m not the only one this appeals to. There are loads of people out there who still do this, even with vinyl (must be minted). Another wonder of the CD is that you have two copies! There’s one for show, for the collection, to listen to ‘the real thing’ when you want to. The other one is on the go, in your pocket, on your MP3. No matter how much you love CDs, it’s just not practical to humph about a couple of hundred in your jeans.

If you, like I, are feeling like the MP3 revolution needs a counter-revolution, or maybe more of a reformation (but we won’t burn the Pirate Bayers at the stake… maybe), then start one. Go to a record shop and buy a CD- take the time to pick out what you want to hear. Tease them a bit, pick up a couple then choose one. Take it home. Turn on, tune in, drop out. The first listen is key. Sit back, relax. Press play. Let it run…

Image
from OneUp Facebook

*edit* as I’ve written this, I’ve just learned that the very record shop that gave me a musical life is in danger of closing down. Understandably, this makes me very upset and sad. If you live in the Aberdeen area- HELP ONE UP SURVIVE. https://www.facebook.com/#!/OneUpRecords?fref=ts

Review: ‘America Give Up’

As published here: http://www.stand-news.co.uk/album-review-howlers-america-give-up/

Originally written: 22/01/2012

Have you heard? On January 16th the much-hyped band Howler released their debut album, ‘America Give Up’. The Minneapolis five-piece are hotly tipped to rocket to fame in 2012. Already, they’ve had dates supporting The Vaccines and next month they head over to the UK for their own headline tour. They made it to number 5 on the NME’s Top 20 shortlist of ‘New Bands You Must Hear’. It’s fair to say the music world is pretty buzzed about these guys. But do they make the grade? I listened to find out.

Opening song ‘Beach Sluts’ encapsulates their surf-rock vibe (and not just from the title). The rest of the album also delivers Howler’s summery escapist feel. No doubt they’ll be the soundtrack to the summer ahead. The Julian Casablancas-style vocals mingle with Beach Boys-esque harmonies; their inspiration seems to come from several musical styles and eras. Comparisons aside, the music has a hedonistic, carefree feel about it.

The ‘tales of booze and girls’ theme is always present, but in a different way than usual. Relatable stories of failed relationships and self-esteem issues unfold alongside rock-out riffs and rhythms to give a mix that is at times spacey and flowing, at other times punch-the-air anthemic. The music and its subject matter perfectly fit the summer mood, thoughts of which will surely drag us through the dark winter days and on to the beaches come May. The only thing I found is that, despite several listens, I’m still struggling to tell the songs apart. This becomes something of a problem when they get stuck in your head, as they undoubtedly will be. All in all, though, ‘America Give Up’ is an excellent debut, and a great album to kick off the year. Consider the grade officially made. Howler – welcome to the big leagues.

If you’re still not convinced, listen for yourself. They’re streaming the album at www.howlerband.com, where you can also download their song ‘Back of Your Neck’ for free.

Top picks: Beach Sluts, This One’s Different, Told You Once, Pythagorean Fearem.

You’ll like if you like: The Gaslight Anthem, The Strokes, The Vaccines, old-school rock ‘n’ roll, fun.

‘Review From…’ Arctic Monkeys, AECC, 13/11/11

As published here: http://www.stand-news.co.uk/arctic-monkeys-behind-the-bars/

Originally written: 18/11/2011

There’s no doubt that the Arctic Monkeys are well and truly back. Packing out arenas worldwide, featuring in NME every other week, inspiring a strangely obsessive fanbase on Tumblr… Yup, sounds like the lads from Sheffield who brought us the indie anthems of our teens have gone the distance. They tick all the boxes and have become bona-fide rock stars.

The anticipation at the AECC is palpable – it’s barely 7pm and already fans are jockeying for the best position at the front of the crowd. Bands like Arctic Monkeys don’t normally venture this far north, but tonight is special. Support band, The Vaccines take to the stage shortly before 8pm, and despite the vocals being quieter than they’d have liked, they do a brilliant job of whipping the crowd into a frenzy, storming through an edited version of their debut album, ‘What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?’. One fan in particular keeps calling out for ‘Family Friend’, but his calls go unanswered. The band don’t have enough time to play the 8-minute album-closer this evening. Nonetheless, their set is well received, more so than many support bands – probably due to the mainstream fame they’ve received in their own right.

Post-Vaccines set (if you’ll excuse the pun) the crowd grows restless as roadies set up for the night’s headline act. At long last, the strains of ‘Wild Thing’ are heard over the speakers and Alex Turner struts out on to the stage first, to wild cheers from the crowd. Judging from the average age of the audience, most have grown up to the music he and the other Monkeys have made over the years, so tonight many come face-to-face with their musical heroes. Alex and Jamie (Cook, guitarist) look sharp in leather jackets, and the whole band seem to have embraced the rock n’ roll persona ‘Suck It and See’, their latest album, exudes. Sadly Matt’s leather trousers are absent.

They launch straight into the album’s lead single, ‘Don’t Sit Down Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair’, and the crowd launches its attack on… each other. Mosh pits open up for every song (even slower ones like this) and at times its a chore to move, as those behind pack forward despite there being nowhere else to go. But nobody really minds – Arctic Monkeys continue to play a setlist that seems to please everyone, there’s no absence of hits for those who came on a whim, and there’s a decent number of new album tracks – and ‘Evil Twin’, their latest B-side – to satisfy the more hardcore fans. My only quibble is that, in my opinion, they didn’t play the best tracks from ‘Suck It and See’: ‘Library Pictures’, ‘All My Own Stunts’ and ‘That’s Where You’re Wrong’ wouldn’t have gone amiss.

Within a few songs, they moved from ‘Brianstorm’ to ‘Black Treacle’, showing just how their sound has progressed over the years. ‘Pretty Visitors’ inspired one of the most surreal slow-moshes I’ve ever seen, and as the band launch into following track ‘This House is a Circus’, nothing could be more true. ‘Suck It and See’, the first song of the encore, had the crowd still, singing along, as did ‘Mardy Bum’. Closer ‘505’ inspired something of a mixed reaction – a pit opened up next to people huddling together emotionally, belting out the lyrics.

It seems that with Arctic Monkeys, anything goes. Any way you want to react to what’s happening onstage is fine by them; it’s crowd reaction that’s got them through all these years anyhow. It’s certainly brought Alex out of his shell – earlier gig footage shows him staring at the ground, presumably following the dust rolling by in front of the microphone, with minimal audience interaction between songs. Tonight, he provides the banter, and even delivers some moves (he did the Macarena and even executed a power slide at one point).

The band have a great time, the audience love it, and that’s what it all comes down to – one of the UK’s best bands, playing some of their best songs. There’s not much more you can ask for on a cold November night.

Live Review: Kasabian, AECC, 12/12/11

Originally written: 16th December 2011

Approaching the venue (ok, I ran, in the manner of a small child) I found I could little contain my excitement for this gig. The reason for this, however, was the support act. Miles Kane was 90% of the reason I even bought a ticket. It’s not that I don’t like Kasabian, it’s just that I’ve never really loved them, so much as I feel is sufficient to see them live without feeling like a fraud among the die-hards. Miles has been the soundtrack to my summer, and I felt it only right to show my appreciation in person, so I planted myself firmly at the front, with elbows ready to defend my territory.

Call me biased, but he was brilliant. Hopefully this tour has gained Miles more recognition, his solo debut Colour of the Trap is a rather underrated release this year. A newly-announced tour next year should also help him fully emerge from Alex Turner’s shadow and establish himself as an artist in his own right. His set moved through fast and slow songs, all with that distinct old-style rock ‘n’ roll sound. He even threw in a Jacques Dutronc cover. Altogether he met a great reception from the crowd, and at that point I would have been happy to leave.

My mind was changed when Kasabian took to the stage, opening with ‘Days Are Forgotten’. For a moment I was confused, I could hear singing but there was no sign of Tom Meighan (lead vocals). It turned out my poor positioning behind a speaker stack had hidden him from my view. There was no miming. From that first song, I realised how wrong I’d been to write off the band all this time- I was blown away.  The diversity of their sound is amazing, one minute you can be shouting along and rocking out, the next minute you’re being led through a psychedelic storm of sound. They translate their music from record to stage excellently, some bands omit parts, or just generally manage to mangle what on record sounded so good, but with Kasabian everything is there- what’s  recorded is recreated perfectly live. ‘ID’ slotted in nicely to the set- a very trippy, mostly instrumental song compared to the rest. ‘Take Aim’ was a definite highlight in my opinion- Serge (Pizzorno, lead guitar and backing vocals) took the lead and, well, I was enraptured. I’ll admit, the first time I heard the song properly was when I knew they would be playing it, but I thought it was excellent- despite not being able to remember the words.

Unlike Arctic Monkeys, my positioning on the barrier allowed me to actually watch the band, and appreciate the performance more, I think. Both Serge and Tom managed to get the audience going, but in their showmanship they are somewhat lacking. There was little banter between songs, clearly they prefer to let the music do the talking. Thankfully, this is something they have no problem with. Tracks old and new were well-received, but ones from West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum, their breakthrough third album, were the ones the audience were most responsive to.

I don’t normally really notice, but the stage effects were great. During ‘LSF’ a camera skimmed across the crowd, displaying audience members on the large screens. Every few seconds a photograph would be captured, and these end up on the Kasabian Facebook page, which is a brilliant idea in theory. However, logging on later to check where my photo was, I was met with a set of pictures which mostly show one group of people. Where are the rest of the audience? Where am I?! If anything, it’s a novelty, and a nice memento of the gig- for those five or six people. Surely whoever uploaded the pictures must have noticed the same people were in each one?

Despite the obvious oversight in failing to feature me in all my sweaty gig glory (come to think of it… Maybe it’s for the best there’s not a photo of me), Kasabian were a very pleasant surprise. I had expected to go and sing along to all the songs I knew, but I didn’t expect them to actually be… good. Scratch that, I didn’t expect to be absolutely blown away. Kasabian, I feel, have always been somewhat underrated- it took three goes for them to really break into the mainstream as much as their classmates, The Killers and Arctic Monkeys. But now they’ve done it, they’ve proved there’s no doubt they’re worthy of every piece of recognition they get, and that they can completely conquer any arena they set foot in.

Photographs courtesy of Emma Morgan

This is the sound…

Originally written: 30th December 2011

2011 has been quite the year. Many things have happened, a lot of changes have taken place but overall it’s been a brilliant year for me. Musically it was brilliant, too: old bands released new albums, and new artists made their way into my life. Below are some of the tracks that, for me, have stood out and defined this year.

Alex Turner- Piledriver Waltz (from Submarine): this is the better version I think, and makes the ideal soundtrack for a long stroll on the beach.

Arctic Monkeys- Evil Twin (B-side to Suck It and See): such a contrast to the A-side but I instantly loved this. It just astounds me that the band still have the ability to make every song a masterpiece.

Arctic Monkeys- All My Own Stunts: proof if it were needed that Alex’s lyrics are still on fire. This song has some of my favourite lines on the album.

Bon Iver- Towers: This isn’t usually the sort of music I listen to, and I can say I don’t like all of Bon Iver’s music but this track has a strange sort of appeal to it.

The Black Keys- Little Black Submarines: El Camino is just unbelievably fantastic, and this song jumped right out before I’d even listened to the whole thing. It inspires nothing but a very emotional sing-along.

Foo Fighters- White Limo: a hilarious video, and the perfect driving anthem. This was the song I drove to when I first passed my driving test. Though it’s a silver Peugeot…

Kasabian- La Fee Verte: this was perfectly placed in the album, and kind of took on a bit of a spacey Beatles feel. True evidence of the band’s diversity.

The Kills- Future Starts Slow: I was so excited for a new Kills album, and it was this one that sparked my full-blown obsession. A beautiful song from one of my favourite albums.

Knife Party- Internet Friends: the incredible ‘side project’ featuring Rob and Gareth of Pendulum- what’s not to love? Apart from the fact they’ve not played any Scottish dates (yet…)

Miles Kane- Come Closer: I completely fell in love with Miles’ solo album. He proved he could hold his own and completely won the Aberdeen crowd over as a support act to Kasabian.

The Strokes- Machu Picchu: the long-awaited return of Julian and co didn’t disappoint. Even though I wasn’t there, this song is T in the Park as I saw my friends in the crowd while watching the band perform.

The Vaccines- Wetsuit/ Family Friend/ All in White: this year’s breakout band, providing THE summer soundtrack. Also an excellent support act to Arctic Monkeys last month.

Velvet Audio- Nice Cup of Tea/Junctions: a bit of shameless promotion for a band in my town, who earlier this year released their debut album. It’s on iTunes, check it out, it’s really very, very good.

Listen to Nice Cup of Tea in full here: http://soundcloud.com/rosscortg

Overdue #2

Originally written: 1st September 2011

 THEY’RE (STILL) RED HOT

 While not as ‘overdue’ as my last review, it’s still a bit after the release date of I’m With You, the latest offering from Red Hot Chili Peppers- their tenth album to date.

Before even listening, one wonders how an album without John Frusciante on guitar will sound, but new guitarist Josh Klinghoffer comfortably slots in to the line-up. He has helped them build on their signature style. Some will argue he will never match up to Frusciante, but Josh has a different style altogether; Flea claims, “It’s not so much about the big riff- it’s more subtle, sublime…” and he’s right, it works brilliantly here.

The sound has progressed but it still remains upbeat, with the jazz/funk influence that runs throughout their works. However, what really grabbed me was the lyrics. The meticulous attention paid to rhyming, typical of the Chili’s style, comes into play throughout and though the music sounds incredible you can’t take your ears off Kiedis’ vocals. He defies you to be moved by Brendan’s Death Song and Police Station. Even the faster, ‘happier’ songs pack an emotional punch.

All 14 tracks are nothing short of a delight- once again the band has produced a great work, one that’s a definite contender for album of the year.

Their name is well known, they’re one of the most prolific rock bands of the past 20 years. The album went straight to number one around the world, but there seemed surprisingly little hype about it. Kiedis was featured in Q a couple of months back, but it seems that for a band at their level this album has almost… slipped out unnoticed. But that is perhaps the hidden beauty of it- it may not contain so many obvious ‘anthems’ as their earlier works but it is not to be dismissed. From the first listen, it’s obvious they’re on to something special, further plays only reinforces it.

Fans will complain when a band keeps the same style too long, and complain when they change their sounnd. What RHCP have done is merely capitalise on the sound they have honed for many years now, taking it another step further, and one thing’s for sure- they’re (still) red hot.