Saturday, 31 December 2005

End Of Year Polls: 2005 Inpress Writers' Poll


TOP 10 ALBUMS (format: Artist TITLE)
1. Editors THE BACK ROOM
2. The Arcade Fire FUNERAL
3. The National ALLIGATOR
4. Kate Bush AERIAL
5. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club HOWL
7. The Magic Numbers THE MAGIC NUMBERS
8. The Chalets CHECK IN
10.Emiliana Torrini FISHERMAN'S WOMAN

1. The Arcade Fire
2. Gang of Four
3. The Fall

1. Hope Of The States – Astoria, London
2. The Psychedelic Furs – Shepherds Bush Empire, London
3. The Arcade Fire – The Leadmill, Sheffield

Enough of The Birthday Party / Scientists stuff already! None of the Oz acts I saw in the UK this year rose much above mediocre.

1. Gideon Coe – BBC 6Music
2. Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant and Karl Pilkington on XFM
3. Steve Lamacq – BBC 6Music / BBC Radio 1

1. Doctor Who
2. The Monastery
3. Peep Show

Didn’t see enough to say

1. Rip It Up and Start Again: Post Punk 1978-1984 by Simon Reynolds

1. Tachyon TV Hub
2. BBC Cult
3. eBay

Return of Doctor Who – they got so much right, how can you quibble?

Moshpit at the Furs - years fell away…

London bombings and reactions, tsunami, Iraq, Cronulla, etc. Crappy behaviour at gigs

Is disco coming back now? We’ve had everything else…
Looking forward to albums from Apartment, The Long Blondes, The Blue Aeroplanes, The Duke Spirit

“Political correctness gone mad” - almost a catchphrase

The Bell, E17

No idea

The year of Pop. Independent artists are creating great pop music – let’s hope it breaks into the mainstream

2005 was the year of the oldie. With some new acts proving poor live performers, it was up to the old guard [Gang Of Four, The Fall, etc] to show the way. Even Simple Minds and New Order produced their first decent LPs since the 1980’s. Art Brut and The Chalets reminded us that pop could be fun, and The Arcade Fire’s controlled onstage anarchy was a hard act for anyone to follow. Arctic Monkey’s # 1 proved that downloading wasn’t killing music.

Amidst a pile of reality shite, BBC’s The Monastery showed how it could be. Old sci-fi franchises were revived successfully, with Battlestar Galactica and Doctor Who. In comedy, Peep Show continued to impress, and The Thick Of It was almost too accurate to be funny.

The continuing rise of intolerant attitudes made 2005 an uncomfortable political year. Will longer pub hours make us forget nuclear power stations?

© James McGalliard 2007

Wednesday, 7 September 2005

Interview: Editors - Tom Smith and Chris Urbanowicz

"We know that we can make better records," says EDITORS’ mainman TOM SMITH. JAMES McGALLIARD meets him and guitarist CHRIS URBANOWICZ in London to find out how.

"A lot of people say ‘Why do you make such dark music?’ And the first answer is ‘I don’t know. Is it? I thought it was optimistic’…" Chris Urbanowicz, guitarist of Birmingham four piece Editors is discussing misconceptions about the band and their music.

Tom Smith [vocals and guitar] has some thoughts on the names of a few bands being brought up time and time again in reference to them: "I understand why it happens… Maybe they just can’t get past that and listen to what we’re doing; and listen to it without any cynicism - it can grate slightly…" Chris picks up his thread: "Slightly through their teeth they’re giving us compliments - ‘It sounds like so-and-so, but I really like it…’ It’s almost like they shouldn’t like it. They’ve already come with that pretence that they shouldn’t like it…"

The band first met around as friends around five years ago at university in Staffordshire when they were studying the same course. They may not have enjoyed the course, but by the end of it they were playing music together, which led to a management deal. After university, the four (Tom, Chris, Russell Leetch - Bass and Ed Lay – Drums) moved in together "down the road" to Birmingham, taking up day jobs to allow them to play at night.

They changed their name from Snowfield to Editors shortly before signing to Kitchenware Records. "Bands like Bloc Party and Franz Ferdinand have proved to us that we don’t need to sign to a major" says Chris. "One of the reasons we signed to an indie was so that we didn’t get the big marketing push right at the start, we tried to hold the first single back (Bullets) by making it a limited release".

As the follow-up, Munich, was released, the band locked themselves away to record what would become The Back Room. The recording took place over 3½ weeks in February and March of 2005, with producer Jim Abbiss (Placebo, Kasabian, Ladytron, Unkle, and DJ Shadow) at the desk. "It didn’t seem to be the obvious choice" states Chris, "That’s exactly why we chose him. He likes his dance music, like us, and… also we clicked straightaway when we met him."

The resulting album, The Back Room, could well be the one album you’re still playing in years to come when you’ve forgotten everything else you bought in 2005. Some of the songs were straight-to-tape live performances, whilst others involved a bit more work. "Lights was pretty well one of those ones where we didn’t really add much from the live take" says Chris. "We wanted to go straight in and show our intentions for the album – it’s a very aggressive start…"

With hindsight, which track is most special to you now? "Straightaway, from the first day we put an organ piece on Camera it became our favourite track" Chris opines. "It’s just so important. Just a three-day blur, can’t remember anything that happened, and just came out with this track and it was very special." Tom continues: "Before we went to the studio it was completely different, it was uptempo, structurally it was different." Chris: "It was one of those potentially awkward ones, there was something wrong about it…we recorded it a few different times, and we just thought ‘Tell you what! Shall we start again?’ I’m really glad we did that"

Do you ever get surprised at the end result, when you make something you weren’t expecting? "After those three days we sat there listening to it all of there in the studio, we’d set ourselves a new benchmark; we’d become something we weren’t before we started recording that song (Camera)", answers Tom. And it’s about trying to keep achieving that through your career, for that reason that felt so important which is why it’s the centrepiece, and why the album’s called The Back Room."

There’s a great contrast to this quiet man, leaning his head on his outstretched arm talking to me now, and the possessed spirit Tom becomes on stage. "Absolutely. We put literally everything we can do into performing the songs…There’s a certain intensity that’s in the songs that when we’re performing comes through, as when we’re playing them; all of us have different ways of expressing that. But we’re not shoegazing, we’re not standing there. We want to try and incite some kind of reaction from the audience - that moment where you feel compelled to move or be moved like the hairs on the back of your neck – you can’t help that"

Although Elbow and The Strokes may have been their student soundtracks, Chris thinks that their environment may have influenced their music "There was this myth that whenever you drove to Stafford it started to rain. You always knew when you were close because there was this big grey cloud. We weren’t really that happy there, and the same in Birmingham because we all had shitty long day jobs and we were going to rehearsals after these day jobs when we were all knackered, so maybe that had an influence." Tom remembers an upside to this: "Birmingham kind of looked after us…It kind of sheltered us and looked after us as well, so as bleak as the place is, and when we get the chance we’ll probably all going to move away from there, we don’t mind Editors being seen as a Birmingham band". "Because, "Chris adds, "the album’s way better than it would have been…"

They’ve a busy time ahead. A new version of Bullets will be released ahead of their large scale UK tour in October. Then they’re supporting Franz Ferdinand in arenas throughout November. They’ve also got to find time for the USA, writing the second album, having a break... So, what are the chances of coming out to Australia for the summer? "I would love to", coos Tom. Chris grins at the thought: "Do you want to give us some time off to write, or do you want to go on holiday to Australia and play some songs? Take your pick. We’ll get to Australia…"

In these days of the firework career, it seems as if these guys are in for the long haul. "We know we’re not the finished article yet", explains Tom. "We know that this is our debut record. We know that we can make better records. We know we’re not going to sound the same five albums down the line, so with that in mind, it’s healthy to want to try and grow and push yourself".

© James McGalliard 2007
I interviewed Tom and Chris prior to their soundcheck at The Scala on 9 August 2005.
A version of this interview was published in Inpress, Melbourne on 7 September 2005

Monday, 1 August 2005

Album: Editors - The Back Room

Editors The Back Room

It’s hard for a new band to get a proper hearing. Critics can spend so much time trying to work out who they sound like that they don’t listen to the music itself. In the case of Birmingham’s Editors, comparisons have been made to Joy Division, Interpol and Echo and the Bunnymen. It’s true to say that their sound has echoes of music from early eighties England, but these tags get applied to any band with baritone vocals, strong bass lines and crystalline guitar sounds.

Such comparisons are lazy, unfair, and unimaginative. Why does no one ever reference The Sound, or Comsat Angels? You want an Interpol comparison? Here’s one: "The Back Room is a better debut than Turn On The Bright Lights!" This is an album of thought and depth, which can evoke complex emotions and improves with every listen. It’s sad and uplifting at the same time, and has the power to move below the depths, so that the songs and mood continue even when the album’s finished.

Credit for this is due to the simple and direct approach taken by the band and producer Jim Abbiss, whose work is so good you don’t even notice it. The strongest songs aren’t the three singles [Bullets, Munich, and Blood], but those which form the centre of the record. All Sparks has a simple motif that wraps and repeats; the insistent riffs of Chris Urbanowicz’s guitar rising above the backbone of Ed Lay’s thumping toms and Russell Leetch’s bass, which bounces like “cigarettes on the road”. This is followed by wistful Camera, which explains that The Back Room is “where we hide all of our feelings”. There’s nothing to do when love dies “I'll just close my eyes as you walk out”.

Fingers In The Factories is about the only time the restraint is unleashed; the near desperate repetition “Keep with me” hints that these songs will expand explosively in a live context. Conversely, the album closes with the almost stately pace of Distance. This sombre tune is unlike quite the rest of the album and it’ll be interesting to see if they progress in this direction in the future.

The Australian version has two bonus tracks not on the UK release. You Are Fading was one of tracks from rare Bullets debut EP, and the wonderful Let Your Good Heart Lead You Home was produced by members of Elbow, and should have replaced that Someone Says on the main album anyway.

If you’re quick, there is also a limited edition of the album with an extra disc collated from b-sides (Cuttings) which proves that Editors are no “one album wonder”. On Lights, Tom Smith sings “I've got a million things to say…”. Based on the evidence of what they’ve released so far, he may just be right.

Without any doubt one of the albums of the year.

© James McGalliard 2007
A version of this review was published in Inpress, Melbourne in August 2005

Monday, 11 July 2005

Album: The Departure - Dirty Words

The Departure Dirty Words

If you wanted to crucify The Departure, they’ve given you lots of material to work with. There’s their youth, the fact that they were signed after only a few gigs, and the stories of singer David Jones’ childhood in the Jesus Army, isolated from the modern world until the age of 15. And I haven’t even touched the rumour that they were manufactured…

When I first saw them nine months ago, I thought they were just TOO good to be real. But maybe they just had to be - this is the age of the firework career, and only a few acts get more than one crack at it. Which is why it helps that four of the eleven tracks on Dirty Words have already been released on singles, making it feel a little like a greatest hits set already.

If you want to spot reference points, you don’t have to look too hard – the guitar break on Talk Show could be an outtake from War-era U2, the bass line in Changing Pilots is pure Duran, and there are hints of the Bunnymen, Depeche Mode and The Comsat Angels. But these are all British signposts – there’s also reminders of the Deluxe-era INXS [but without the charismatic front man], Kids In The Kitchen and The Expression.

There are enough hooks here to fish a river dry; whether they catch you or not will probably depend more on your attitude to the band itself, rather than the music they make. It’s a solid record, which grows with repeated listening, but it’s not going to change anyone’s life; the Numan-esque alienation of both lyrics and vocals will stop you loving it too much.

Still, it’s better than The Killers debut, and the band are a better prospect live. The biggest criticism is that the recording is too clean and reserved, as all the rough edges have been hewn away. Which is a shame, as Ben’s a great bassist, and the interplay between the two guitars provides solid entertainment. So go and see them at The Corner, and expect to nod in appreciation, rather than have a Franz-like conversion.

Then again, if you look at early Depeche Mode, you‘d never imagine meek Dave Gahan could become the Hutchence-like rock god of Devotional [even if it did nearly kill him], so there is hope. At a recent instore, Lee was sporting a beard and a Smiths t-shirt, and ended the gig by throwing himself into the audience, guitar and all. The Departure have been signed for a five-album deal; if they get past this, they may even find their own voice.

© James McGalliard 2007
A version of this review first appeared in Inpress, Melbourne in July 2005