Thursday, 30 September 2010

Album Review - Timber Timbre, Timber Timbre

Written for and published by the ever so amazing music site The 405.

Album opener ‘Demon Host’ had already been around a good while before the recent release of Timber Timbre's debut album and had earned the band a number of fans among those who like all things American and blusey.

And 'Demon Host' did appear to be about as American as it could get. In fact the official music video (above) showed the man behind Timber Timbre, Taylor Kirk, sitting in a large countrified barn, picking his guitar, singing about God and repentance, and all in his finest Southern drawl.

So convincing is this stateside charade that it might be a surprise to find that Kirk is actually Canadian. Nevertheless Timber Timbre’s self-titled UK debut (Kirk has released two albums previously in the States) provides a journey through some of the best musical influences that America has offer. From the hillbilly ode of ‘Demon Host’ to gospel number ‘Trouble Comes Knocking’, where you don’t have to make a huge mental leap and you could be listening to the American-influenced rhythm and blues bands of the 1960s - we’re talking The Animals’ ‘House Of The Rising Sun’ in particular.

‘We’ll Find Out’ continues the decidedly gospel vibe, this time with Kirk’s deep and rich voice barely singing but instead talking, preaching even, “Do your actions mention your heart’s intentions? We’ll find out. Is your mind mistaken? Is your conscience not at ease? We’ll find out.” Indeed, although the musical styles vary from one track to the next, the common thread throughout are the dark and mysterious lyrics. There’s always an underlying threat of some sort, like in ‘Lay Down In The Tall Grass’, “In a late basement séance that brought us to tears, dreaming every night of you, I’ll be shaking at the sight,” there’s something very film noir about the overall feel of the album.

Other parts of the album, such as ‘I Get Low’ and ‘Lay Down’ sees the addition of some seriously gothic sounding organ chords that work well with the generally macabre tone. The pairing of this TV horror organ with twinkly piano notes and strings also immediately bring to mind the soul standards of legendary crooners such as Al Green.

‘Magic Arrow’ brings us up to date with an ‘almost pop’ feel – if you squint your ears you can imagine the likes of Brandon Flowers having a hit with this song. But with Kirk at the helm we have dirty bass riffs punctuating this track making it, well, pretty epic really. As in the rest of the album it is coloured with a feeling of menace - there is too much darkness for it to be a radio hit but it’s all the more interesting for it.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Interview - Jamie Ley

Jamie Ley - 'Goodbye' from Tommy Leigh on Vimeo.

Written for and published by fabulous folk blog For Folk's Sake

Emerging from London’s seemingly never-ending and ever-talented pool of wonderful folksy-types, Jamie Ley has been packing out a variety of the capital’s venues with people, all eager to hear his soulful and timeless tunes. Emma Barlow caught up with him to talk about the rise and rise of folk, his inspirations, and what the future holds.

FFS: Do you describe your music as folk? Or is it a label that has been somewhat thrust on you?

JL: I guess it is folk, but I don’t really think we are this or we are that. We usually get described as folk or nu-folk, it’s always got some folk in there somewhere. I don’t consider it anything I just consider it my songs played as best as we can play them!

London has become something of a haven for up-and-coming folk acts, who do you most admire?

Most admire…I dunno. I like what’s happening with folk and it’s exciting to be in anyway involved in it. I admire how massive and how mainstream Mumford & Sons are now. Like I still cant really believe it. Usually bands takes like 5 years to get that big. I’ve played with them in Cardiff and I know them. That gig in Cardiff – about 2 years ago, there were about 20 people in a room and now they’re headlining Reading or whatever. So I admire what they’ve done for folk – the fact that they’ve made people more aware and bought this kind of music to people’s attention. And they’re great musicians, really great.

I think that’s what people like because it’s less of the kind of manufactured pop music and more people on stage with cool instruments like the banjo and the mandolin making honest music and that’s what appeals, that’s what appealed to me about it forever and that’s what I think people are starting to see. And I’ve always admired Johnny Flynn, he was one of my favourite artists while I was at uni and now I’ve had the privilege to like play with him. Bands like that – I always thought they were cool are suddenly much cooler, which is good for me, so I’m a bit cooler now too!

So that’s you’re more recent influences what are some of your older ones?

Bloody hell! Well, obviously The Beatles, so boring! Have you heard of the band Love? Arthur Lee, he’s a bit of a legend, Bob Dylan. But my true greatest hero of all time is Johnny Cash. Yeah I love Johnny Cash. And also songwriters like him, I kind of aspire to be like Leonard Cohen. As a lyricist he’s incredible and his poetry… even the way he sings them…he sings them as the poems they are, which really appeals.

Okay, so what about the poets that inspire you?

Well I used to be into the Romantics, you know the Shelley’s of this world and the Dylan Thomas’s but I’ve recently kind of moved away from that, just because, you know, it’s healthy! I’m into a few German poets and writers – they have a theory about pure imagery and it’s less about words and more about telling things like straight to the point. It’s all about writing in a purist way rather than using fanciful words so yeah: I’m trying to do that with my songs.

Is songwriting something that comes easily to you then or is it really hard work?

Um…sometimes I can sit there for like a week and nothing will come out! Or even a month! And I’ll just be banging my head against the wall. But other times I can write three in a day so it just depends. It’s cliché but if you’re sitting there with your guitar and you just feel you’re in the zone, you’ve got your music mojo or whatever so it just comes out. That’s the time you’ve got to sit there and make yourself keep working at it because that’s the time that’s going to be the most fruitful.

Are you more at home with a band behind you on stage these days or do you miss going it alone?

Yeah at the moment we are doing kind of a mix. So we play three songs as a band and then I’ll do a few. Because there’s something really special and intimate when you’re on your own on stage with an audience. But personally I prefer having my pals around me on stage and I get more into it. Now I feel a bit naked when they leave!

And how did the current band line-up come to be?

I played some gigs in Steeles in North London because my friend Rodney Fisher, who is an amazing musician, he runs a folk night there. We used to have lock-ins and things and I got chatting with one of the barmen, Matt. We just got playing some stuff together and he ended up becoming my bass player and then he knows Jack our drummer from a former band. So we pinched Jack from his old band. Elena Tonra – we had played a lot of gigs together and got on well so she started singing and then we’ve got Bobby on piano, who is our newest sort of musical hero. So basically we just went pilfering from other people’s bands. But in a really charming way so no one seems to mind…yeah so, don’t tell anyone that!

So what can we expect from Jamie Ley, what are the big plans?

Well expect to see a release, quite soon. I’m doing my showcase on the 20th October at the Flowerpot. So getting a lot of people down, lots of people that haven’t seen me who want to see me um….and hopefully that will be a great night and we’ll push on from there with a tour and a release and everything that follows.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

The Barclaycard Mercury Prize – A Preview

Written for and published on Amelia's Magazine

Laura Marling by Natasha Thompson, for more of her work click here.

Started in 1992 during the height of Brit pop cool, the Mercury Prize still exists to champion the best of British music. Judged by a range of musicians, journalists and executive muso types the winners get a massive cash prize and usually see their album sales soar. Unless of course, they are one of the unlucky ones who fall victim to the ‘Mercury curse’, which will see them become a distant musical memory - a fate suffered by last year’s winner Speech Debelle. Or ‘Who?’ as you might know her.

As the twelve nominated acts gear up for tonight’s awards we run through the shortlisted nominees. As usual some are well known, legends the likes of the ‘Modfather’ himself — Paul Weller, some have burst onto the scene just this year such as the banjo-loving Mumford & Sons, and some are less well known such as experimental jazz outfit Kit Downes Trio.

The xx by Gareth Hopkins

The xx and their debut album, the imaginatively named ‘xx’, are joint favourites along with Dizzee’s ‘Tongue N’ Cheek’. When you consider the young rapper has already claimed the prize once in 2003 for debut album ‘Boy in Da Corner’ it could be looking quite hopeful for the indie trio. The xx, infamous for their quiet unassuming indie anthems — a description that also fits the band’s demeanour – have enjoyed a brilliant first year. Winning fans on both sides of the Atlantic and among music stars and the public alike, they were perhaps a safe bet for a Mercury nomination. In fact much has been made of the rather impressive list of nominations this year. Important though the Mercury’s are to British music, there is usually criticism that the list is perhaps not representative enough, or trying to be too representative, or, that the judges are guilty of tokenism. 2010, however, sees one of the strongest line-ups of recent years.

Laura Marling and her beautiful second album ‘I Speak Because I Can’ will compete with boyfriend Marcus Mumford’s, of Mumford & Sons, debut ‘Sigh No More’. The boys have enjoyed a pretty meteoric rise to fame this year in contrast with Laura’s steady rise in popularity since she started winning over fans with her pretty folksy ditties as far back as 2007 — her album ‘Alas I Cannot Swim’ was shortlisted for the prize in 2008. And it could be argued that either Laura or the Mumfords would be deserving winners. After some thrilling performances at this summer’s festivals, 2010 really has seen folk rock re-enter the mainstream.

Mumford & Sons by Natasha Thompson

Nominees Villagers and I Am Kloot also belong to the folksier side of British indie rock, the genre to which The Mercury’s remain the most faithful ever since the Brit pop days. Villagers enter the fray as total newbies with debut ‘Becoming A Jackal’. As beautiful as their songs are, eerie and driven by some powerful ‘80s pop influences, some critics argue that front man and chief songwriter Conor J O'Brien still has some scope for growth. I Am Kloot are definitely not newcomers; having come together from various bands in 200, Kloot are a mishmash of some of British music’s biggest names. Nominated album ‘Sky At Night’ was co-produced by former Mercury winner, Elbow front man, Guy Garvey.

Villagers friends — Conor and co. have been touring with the Cumbrian group — Wild Beasts are next, with second album ‘Two Dancers’. It impressed fans and critics upon its release and is finding new fans all the time, possibly thanks to their sound belonging to a genre similar to a range of upcoming and forward thinking American outfits like Animal Collective, Yeasayer and Grizzly Bear.

Biffy Clyro by Natasha Thompson

Biffy Clyro have been around for the best part of a decade but it is this year’s ‘Only Revolutions’ that made an impact on the Mercury shortlisters. Perhaps their increase in sales and fan base is largely down to the securing of admirers among the Radio 1 playlist compilers and consequently listeners, but their Scottish slant on stadium rock certainly appears to have taken off this year.

Then to Corinne Bailey Rae’s moving second album 'The Sea', Rae admitted that many of the songs are about her late husband and the album would probably be up there among the favourites if the list of nominees was not as strong as it is. The follow-up to her million-selling eponymous first album ‘The Sea’ sees a shift from upbeat lounge-friendly soul to songs packing a whole lot more emotional punch and meaning, understandable after the tough couple of years that punctuated the recording of the two albums.

Another Mercury act making a shift in styles between albums is, of course, Foals. Where 2008’s ‘Antidotes’ was all about bounding in with all guns blazing; guitars on the attack and punctuated chant-like vocals, 2010’s ‘Total Life Forever’ showcased another side of the Oxford five piece’s musical talents. This time round it is about quieter melodies, hushed voices and layers of instrumentation that gradually build into something really beautiful like in stand out track ‘Spanish Sahara’.

Since going solo in the early 1990s Paul Weller has released an impressive ten albums, although always selling amazingly well none have particularly made much of an impact, apart from within the circles of his hardcore followers perhaps. His 2010 effort ‘Wake Up The Nation’, however, received some critical acclaim upon its release in April making the Modfather a deserving nominee for a Mercury. It’s the second time Weller has made the shortlist, 1993 album ‘Wild Wood’ made the cut in 1994 — the same year that saw M People controversially snatch the award from firm favourites Pulp.

And then to left-field nominees the Kit Downes Trio and their album ‘Golden’, perhaps proving that the Mercury’s can be guilty of a little tokenism after all? So maybe it was the case that someone on the panel felt the list was lacking an experimental jazz band, but actually the album is totally worthy of inclusion. Beautiful in its brave attempt to forge something different and new — it wouldn’t be that unusual for the Mercury’s if outsiders, the Trio, got the prize – unfortunately for them it could be the last we ever hear of them.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Film Review - Certified Copy

Published over at the divine Running In Heels.

Certified Copy is a film which is as beautiful as it is painful. Provoking questions about the relationships between us and those we love the most, whether mother and son, husband and wife or even between two strangers.

Written and directed by Iranian-born Abbas Kiarostami, Certified Copy is a story which Kiarostami professes ‘could happen to anyone, anywhere’ but it is not, however, like any film you are likely to have encountered before. And despite its focus on a romance between a man and woman, it is by no means your usual Hollywood romcom.

The many themes that construct this film, including art, marriage, and children make for a complex plot but then, life is complicated and that is surely one of the messages Kiarostami is trying to impress upon the viewer.

Juliette Binoche is completely mesmerising in the lead female role; she won Best Actress at Cannes for her performance in the film. Unlike the famous Binoche, however, in the male lead is the relatively unknown William Shimell. Although highly respected in his usual vocation as opera singer, the British protagonist had never acted in a film before Certifed Copy.

The film focuses on Binoche and Shimell’s characters, almost exclusively. Most of the film happens in real time, making the dialogue extremely important – just as well then that it is an exquisitely written script.

The cinematography is truly stunning, helped of course by the glorious rural Italian setting. Self-consciously naturalistic the film has no soundtrack, instead focusing on each scene’s unique background noise and the long lingering shots from a hand-held steady cam make for an almost uncomfortably intimate effect.

Shimell’s character is writer, James Miller, in Italy to talk about his latest book (called Certified Copy) and Binoche, known simply as ‘She’, is an antiquities shop owner who attends his talk with keen interest.

It appears that she has an overwhelming desire to be original, as seen when she spontaneously whisks the middle-aged writer away to the countryside. She is also searching for originality in her life – perhaps why she maintains such a strained relationship with her son – in many ways a copy of her and/or his father.

He, however, has little emotional attachment to original things, placing just as much importance on cheap imitations and causing much debate between the pair.

While away the strangers are mistaken for a married couple in a café and appear to keep up the charade. Walking through the beautiful village nestled in the Tuscan countryside the couple talk about their wedding, their life together, and decide it’s their anniversary but of course it’s all an act. Or is it?

If you leave Certified Copy unsure of anything else you can console yourself in that Kiarostami’s film certainly leaves ample room for interpretation and therein lies the catch, and it will either thrill or infuriate you.