Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Hot Chip finally fulfil potential

Clearly someone at Hot Chip base couldn’t hack the competition.

Since the band released patchy third album Made In The Dark early in 2008 other graduates of Putney’s Elliot School have not only peaked above the popular music parapet but leapt right over it to snag critical acclaim.

Later in 2008 Dubstep producer Will Bevan, who plies his trade with the moodier moniker Burial, saw a hefty sales increase after winning a Mercury Music Prize nomination.

Last year belonged to The xx, the young band whose stunning, elliptical debut album featured at or near the top of many album of the year lists.

To Dem Chip Mans' (as no one has ever called them or probably will again) credit, in 2010 there is little chance of another Elliot alumnus surpassing their latest offering.

From big singles like the staggering, probably career-best anthem Over And Over to awkward-funk album tracks like Keep Fallin’ and Down With Prince via the odd superb non-album single like My Piano, Hot Chip’s confident way with a sorrow-soul dancefloor definite has never been in doubt.

But across their opening trio of albums, they never delivered a consistent enough end product.

One Life Stand sees Alexis Taylor-fronted band brush off the “Great singles band” tag in convincing fashion.

Just to get the one less-than-exceptional moment out of the way first, Slush is less great than the other nine tunes here. As ballads go it chimes away pleasantly enough and unexpectedly includes some steel drums in a melancholic fashion. It just wouldn’t soundtrack Del looking wistful at the end of Rodney’s wedding reception as poignantly as Simply Red’s Holding Back The Years does.

There’s no massive need to think about Slush yet (UK residents have had quite enough of it during this winter), but it does crop up on track six, so be warned.

Back at the start Thieves In The Night begins the album well. Drums that recall the more breakbeat-influenced tracks by The Chemicals Brothers like Under The Influence slot into a song half Air-gone-dark, half Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack.

Hand Me Down Your Love sees the introduction of old-skool pianos of the kind you can hear at Back To ’92 raves and on Northern Soul records. There’s also a beat half-inched from Doves' Pounding.

Are these south-west Londoners only listening to their own record label’s back catalogue now?

String samples figure heavily here and on I feel Better, with the latter notable for an autotuned Joe Goddard vocal. It’s also another occasion steel drums are wheeled out. Twice in one album? Did Super Furry Animals even have the balls to do that?

On the title track there seems to be even more drumming of the kind Londoners usually only clock on August bank holiday in Notting Hill amid crushed Red Stripe cans and jerk chicken bones. Like an especially chilli sauce-covered kebab after seven pints of Wifebeater*, it’s a brave choice, but worth taking a chance on.

The chorus and verses on One Life Stand are both excellent, if completely different. Each verse has a dark UK garage feel, like the sort of track Zed Bias used to put out years before grime became a going concern, albeit with a beat more at home on a current funky or progressive house tune. [That means funky as in the contemporary genre you can hear on pirates rather than funky in a '70s James Brown sense.] For the chorus, it’s a different story – all euphoric Prince chords and lubricated guitar. Like 12 Monkeys, it doesn’t make a lot of sense, but you can’t help but admire it.

As with the three past records there are a few ballads on this fourth, but when they come wrapped up as lovingly as Alley Cats, it’s hard to complain. It sounds like a particularly great song by The Whitest Boy Alive, but also sounds like the cab ride home in the morning after one of those nights that makes life worth living.

We Have Love will be one for the fans who got off on seeing Hot Chip perform Wearing My Rolex with Eskibeat originator and unexpected chart conqueror Wiley at Glastonbury 2008. Unquestionably influenced by that east London legend, it’ll probably go down well with the bassline crowd, too. Thunderous stuff: odd, wobbly and malevolent like someone remaking The Wicker Man in the main room at Fabric.

Towards the conclusion of OLS Keep Quiet has an expansive, haunting quality. Fever Ray and the last Portishead's 3 may have been key influences. That last album may have been made in it, but this song should certainly be listened to in the dark.

Take It In rounds things off in a smoky, mischievous Xpress 2 style. Perhaps the most banging track is saved for last and one that ostensibly made for a 4am dancefloor. This could only be expected with that wink of a title. Whether they're on about dangerous narcotics or academic learning, listening will almost certainly lead to a happier life.

As with the rest of One Life Stand, pleasure will come to those who imbibe repeatedly.

*Note to non-drinkers: This is one of many crude nicknames for strong Belgian lager Stella Artois.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Crossrail progress leaves sorry station core

Victoria may be the busiest station on the London Underground network and serve a whopping 76 million passengers each year, but it surely loses out in the battle for Most Annoying Tube Station In London.

The true frontrunners for this dubious accolade can only be two fetid Oxford Street apertures: Oxford Circus and Tottenham Court Road.

During rush hour Ox Circ, as everyone writes in txt msgs, is a ghastly crammed hub of gawping slack-jawed tourist flotsam and hollow-eyed wageslave drones surrounded by irascible drooling religious nutters. The rest of the time it just feels like some ludicrous Orwellian joke. No matter how often or comprehensively it is refurbished Oxford Circus will always look unfinished.

Tottenham Court Road’s festering hole is even worse and is surely the lamest Tube station in London. Many weary passengers would happily fellate an entire colony of lepers rather than use it ever again.


Busking doesn’t always have to be the refuge of the musically inept and those who avoid bathing. The man who performs Abba songs in the tunnel leading to the Bakerloo line at Charing Cross may deserve to have their entire regrettable back catalogue (on vinyl, not CD), shoved up his member but some might be allowed to live, come the revolution. But not the woeful goon(s) bleating away at TCR. Come back Jedward, all is forgiven. All except your version of the Ghostbusters theme tune, that is.

At ground and subterranean levels Waterloo station is prone to more fuckwit-filled crowd bottlenecks than Topshop on a Saturday. Part of this is the sheer size of the cavernous orifice and its 23 necessary escalators. Waterloo is often horrendous, but at least two airport-style moving walkways give one stretch a pleasant feeling of unreality. Particularly if you sprint along one listening to drum ‘n’ bass and dodging fellow passengers in an attempt to make your meaningless life more amusing than it is. You can take sharp little glances behind you as you run and imagine being Jason Bourne in The Bourne Fornication or whatever it’s called, too.

But TCR frequently sees bottlenecks that make sentient beings long for death-by-something-unspeakable like happy hardcore or Jeremy Clarkson.

There are endless other reasons why the thought of using TCR is as welcome as Gary Glitter at a crèche, but enough’s enough. This is a blog not a Dostoyevsky novel.

The one thing TCR had going for it was the building above it. Aside from grotty old takeaways with less than rigorous adherence to health guidelines, this creaking edifice was home to the Astoria and Mean Fiddler, neighbouring venues which could always be relied upon for great nights out*.

Aside from hosting many world-beating bands (and as many appalling artists) the Astoria provided a home for perhaps London’s most famous gay night of the last two decades. G.A.Y ran between 1993 and 2008 (until it moved to Heaven) and regularly saw big pop acts - including Amy, Britney, Girls Aloud and, lordy, Chesney Hawkes – appear live. It was obviously a good thing, whether as a straight man you never went but only saw the queues after leaving a Friday gig, a straight woman who went to party with gay mates and avoid being chatted up by dickheads or, of course, as a member of the target audience of gay men or women. Walking up Charing Cross Road and seeing G.A.Y in big red letters could often instil a sense of pride for London’s occasionally almost palpable sense of inclusion and tolerance.

After all, as a straight, white man, it’s sometimes easy to forget that people of my colour, sex and sexuality have it far easier than, well, everyone else. Except for the rich.

Now the surface building above TCR has been whittled down to an essential core, the landscape around one of London’s most frantic junctions looks alien. Crossrail is coming, so Hackney residents can get to Chelsea games more quickly and the TNT-reading Kiwi and Aussie hordes in Shepherd’s Bush can head to Essex without trouble, should they feel the need.

Whether or not a palatial tower of Haribo, sorbet and pancakes fills the space above Tottenham Court Road or whether, more likely, some ghastly mall is built to suck more soul from this town, some of us will miss the sort of grime you just don’t get at the O2.

Coming soon: Have Hot Chip finally delivered a consistently brilliant album on the fourth attempt? Find out when London Liked gives you the skinny on one of the year’s most eagerly anticipated albums.

*On a personal note, I once drunkenly fractured my thumb falling down the stairs one night in 1999 (after Gay Dad's set but before Mansun headlined) and saw Foals perform one of the finest gigs I’ve witnessed in my life on a Monday night in 2008. A toilet attendant also sang, “Born in Lewisham,” at me while I stood at a urinal in 2004 in the Mean Fiddler, but that’s another story.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

xx art show lacks Saam's spark

The xx forged a formidable reputation in 2009 for the stunning after-midnight mood music that comprised their debut album. Voted near or at the zenith of several end-of year-polls, the Putney-educated quartet (now trio after the departure of keyboardist Baria Quresh) achieved great things with deceptively simple songs ostensibly hued from whispers and longing, tears and aching.

When it was announced that innovative music promo director Saam Farahmand was producing a video installation piece involving the album, a richly creative meeting of minds and solid collaboration was the minimum which fans of either could realistically expect.

After all, Farahmand is best known for his regularly impressive work with day-glo slackers Klaxons and has also turned in memorable videos for acts Simian Mobile Disco and New Young Pony Club.

Unfortunately, when viewing The xx installation in the basement of Vinyl Factory, in Soho's Poland Street, it was hard not to feel slightly underwhelmed.

Three individual column speakers arranged in a triangle formation were fitted with small, sunken TV screens a few metres apart in a vast empty room. The speakers played the aforementioned album, while the tv screens showed pre-recorded footage of individual band members singing and playing instruments in time with their respective recorded parts. White light dimmed and brightened to emphasise relevant basslines, guitar parts and beats in time with the music.

This may sound rudimentary in the extreme - and it was. For an audience now hardened to challenging and sophisticated art stunts and even blockbuster movies as obsequiously stunning and visually complex as Avatar 3D, it was hard not to feel somewhat undersold.

A missed opportunity this time, but given The xx's refreshing approach to creatively bankrupt endeavours like cover versions, it's impossible not to write this off as a blip at the start of an auspicious career. After all, if they can breath new life into evergreen house classic You Got The Love and Womack and Womack's life-affirming pop-soul standard Teardrops, they can surely overcome this minor setback.

As for Farahmand? If Spike Jonze is anything to go by, he'll rise again, just sharper and weirder next time.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Ten reasons why 2010 will smack it

1 Fewer lists

Now that the execrable 2009 is over, they’ll be a lot fewer lists cluttering up every vaguely cultural magazine and website or feature section therein. Editors (not the band) and their employees will be forced into generating ideas with a hint of originality.

Lists do have their place, albeit mostly for ensuring toilet paper is not forgotten on the trip down the supermarket. They are also good for stimulating debate among the terminally workshy on important topics like “which Elbow album is the best?” or “which Will Ferrell film most wants makes you want to kick him in the balls?”.

Yes, there is something fleetingly comforting about compiling a carefully prepared group of your favourite things and listing them in one place. But similarly there can’t be many serious or even frivolous pop culture consumers not totally jaded by the endless array of top tens, hundreds and even thousands that have been seen and heard everywhere from The Guardian to Fact to XFM.

Nick Hornby and his list-happy novel High Fidelity have a lot to answer for, even if the book is essential reading for anyone with an unhealthy pop music obsession.

My Top 5 lists:

1 Guest list – any that lets you into a place with free booze
2 Schindler's List
3 Listless – how everyone feels after reading so many fucking lists
4 Jess List – an Australian girl I once took to see Asian Dub Foundation. No joy, though, if you know what I mean
5 Listeria – Foods that can cause it include hot dogs, deli meats, raw milk, cheeses (particularly soft-ripened cheeses like feta, Brie, Camembert, blue-veined, or Mexican-style “queso blanco”), raw and cooked poultry, raw meats, ice cream, raw vegetables, raw and smoked fish and the green lip mussel

2 World Cup 2010

For football fans on their way to South Africa in June, this is already the most anticipated part of the year. Even for those with weddings and babies due. Skint stay-at-homes who live and breathe the beautiful/ugly game are also tremendously excited. There’s more drama at the World Cup than you get in a series of 24. They'll be Dodgy refereeing decisions, unexpected and ostensibly dubious triumphs of teams normally considered to be second rate and moments of insanity that become iconic and as talked about as any footballing excellence on display. There are always moments of hilarity, too. Expect ridiculous and inane punditry from all the usual BBC suspects, bizarre own goals and winning celebrations even Mika would find OTT. Be sure to watch out for unnecessarily extravagant sartorial displays, silly dances and even sillier chants from drunken, semi-literate supporters of all creeds (and that’s just in London pubs. Boom boom).

Although it’s extremely unlikely this year’s tournament will end with anything as shocking as the Zinedine Zidane headbutt of 2006 , they’ll be plenty of other debate-worthy topics off the pitch. Chief among them being: is sub-Saharan Africa ready for a tournament of this scale? Although it would be a mean-spirited and possibly racist curmudgeon who wished South Africa anything but great success this summer, it’ll be interesting to see how this particular part of the world copes with an influx of spoiled millionaire footballers and the attendant media circus, in light of security and infrastructure questions. Whatever happens, June can't come soon enough.

3 Someone might kill that cunt in the Go Compare adverts.

4 DiCaprio leads movie charge

Leonardo DiCaprio turns up in two exciting releases from directors who’ve made careers out of delivering the goods in powerful, often influential fashion. The much-delayed asylum-set shocker Shutter Island looks to be Martin Scorsese’s first out and out psychological thriller since his underwhelming Caper Fear remake, though he and DiCaprio also tackled mental illness in The Aviator. Christopher Nolan directs Inception, a cerebral thriller apparently set within the mind. Imagine if The Matrix had been made with philosophy students rather than Pepsi Max drinkers in mind. But don’t expect to understand the film on first viewing. Aside from the obvious budgetary differences, Inception appears to have much more in common with contemporary brain/narrative-warping classic Memento than Nolan’s two fine Batman films.

The Expendables looks to be the year’s top unreconstructed action film. Stallone, Willis, Jet Li, Arnie. Surely it can’t fail? Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland should be, at the very least, visually astonishing, particularly as it will be screening in 3D. Regular Burton collaborators Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter are on-board, as is Back To The Future weirdo Crispin Glover, while the Disney film will offer a tempting mix of live action and animation. It’s bound to be beguiling and odd but will it attain the heights achieved by Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

Toy Story 3 is Pixar’s summer blockbuster. This too, will be in 3D, but will have to be amazing to have even a fraction of the emotional impact of the animation studio’s stunning last feature, Up.

Edgar Wright also returns with Scott Pilgrim Versus The World. It’s not the final part of the Cornetto Trilogy but should be pretty impressive. Ever since he shot Spaced Wright’s work has shown a knowledge of and passion for comic book culture, so fans of him and the original Scott Pilgrim stories should expect visceral action thrills and plenty of irony. If all that ain’t enough, The Rum Diary hits the silver screen. Hunter S Thompson's great lost novel is arguably one of the greatest books about what it means to be a man written in the 20th century and remains a pretty damn good take on what it is to be a journalist, too. Withnail and I's Bruce Robinson is directing and Johnny Depp is again playing Hunter S Thompson (or thereabouts)… It can’t, or at least shouldn’t, lose.

5 Loads of great acts returning with new albums

There’s plenty of ace new music kicking about (Washed Out springs immediately to mind as do many other acts that'll be mentioned here soon) but big names that have already made an impact look set to dominate in ’10. Literate New York indie poshos Vampire Weekend , Putney's melancholic ravers Hot Chip and Montreal marvels Arcade Fire are all set to release their latest albums.

Aside from solo albums from both members of Outkast and Nas, politicised Philly alt-rap crew The Roots and top Essex pair Dan Le Sac Vs Scroobius Pip have tunes ready to go. Fans of the short fat production whiz and the tall, fantastically-bearded poet/mc can but hope their second album will match stunning debut Angles. On a pop tip irrepressible antipodean pop princess Kylie is back, London’s finest R'n'B diva Estelle has new material waiting in the wings and Mercy singer Duffy is on her way back. In Unlikely Pairing News, there may even be some tunes on the way co-written by Tulse Hill’s own Adele Adkins and… Jack White. Finally, mentioned here alone because it is likely to be as uncategorisable as their two previous albums, Gorillaz will sling out their third record, Plastic Beach. With De La Soul making at least two guest appearances and Mos Def also joining the project, it could be among the most interesting releases of the year.

6 Election fever brightens recession-hit Britain

It’ll be almost inescapable in newspapers, on TV and online for months but ’10 is an election year. Policy announcements will race out of government at a frantic rate, with countless dusty initiatives forgotten while new ideas are conjured up relentlessly. For the first time in British politics, they’ll be a series of televised debates, in line with what voters have long experienced in the US. Political upheaval usually creates a fertile landscape for satirists, so big things should be expected from the better columnists, old standbys like Rory Bremner and hopefully Armando Iannucci. The Thick Of It is already the best thing on British TV, but it’ll be interesting to see how a major change of government influences the show.

Although feeble, desperate competitors with little chance of winning occasionally pull through to snatch victory from the jaws of ignominious defeat, Gordon Brown is unlikely to. He’s a dour, dull ballbag-looking man who has bumbled Britain through a recession as an unloved Prime Minister, after succeeding a massively unpopular nigh-on fundamentalist Christian warmonger at No 10. He was never going to be a success, really. It’s time for him to step aside, but I won’t be voting for the Conservatives. Regardless of how much the party has changed under Cameron, they’re still the party that represent power, money and privilege of the few over the many. That aside, even a few decades ago they were a racist, sexist, homophobic bunch of tossers and like all decent people I can’t abide that shit.

So Cameron will be the next Prime Minister. Working people will get stitched up a little bit more but not much more than normal as there’s so little between Labour and Tory in 2010. Still at least we’ll have someone to hate rather than just yawn at on TV.

7 Language keeps evolving (on and on)

Unfortunately, no end is in sight for the hideous linguistic trend of smashing two names, either forename and surname or two different people, together. Years after the terms Brangelina, Bennifer and - what was presumably the first celeb instance - J. Lo gained currency the UK reached a nadir with Jedward. It was bad enough that Irish X Factor losers John and Edward were so utterly hateful, but saying or typing “Jedward” was so utterly cretinous it instantly lowered the IQ of anyone who did it.

This may be a minor annoyance, but it is part of an overall brilliant trend, that of language evolution. Over the last decade "sick" and "ill" have finally joined bad as words that can be used as synonyms for good, while the word "standard" has been used euphemistically by Londoners for years. It can mean something which may or may not merely be up to an appropriate standard. Yet more often than not it is applied to something which is commonplace, but simultaneously excellent. For example, a friend might remark that he or she had a heavy session in the pub on a Friday night followed by a lengthy and energetic session of sex with their partner upon getting home. The reply? Standard.

In some circles “actually” became a euphemism for “fucking” in its adjectival sense (ie to mean “extremely” rather than “having sex”) two years ago. This has died down somewhat but there can be few ways more satisfying than expressing disbelief than saying, “Is he actually joking?”

Really, perhaps the latest word to get a linguistic update can mean anything between, “That seems mildly unlikely,” and, “Are you some sort of idiot or lying?”

It can’t be long before more old words wriggle away from linguistic orthodoxy and become used in fresh, interesting ways, even if "really" is getting somewhat stale.

8 We’re getting further away from 2009

Every single day that passes is a good one because we get further away from 2009. It was a stinking, festering, dog-raping, dozen months of unspeakable, unhappy bullshit that shouldn’t be wished upon anyone but your worst enemy ever again. It made 2007 look like the greatest year in existence. Whether or not you personally suffered, unemployment, flaccidity, an STD, weeping genital abscesses, heartbreak, loneliness, depression, the murder of a loved pet by an insane neighbour, the sudden inability to control your bodily fluids or an unforgiving combination of them all, chances are some of your friends or family did. Life is never an endless sunny parade of japes, but 2010 will have to usher in nothing less than the apocalypse to be worse than last year.

9 Sweet US TV still being broadcast

The Wire and The Sopranos have long finished but Family Guy is running until at least 2012, while Futurama and South Park will be knocking about until at least 2011. So they’ll always be something decent to watch for that time between getting in and getting busy.

10 East London back on the map

It’s been a lame old four years for anyone in south-east London wanting to go direct to east London but the bus replacement service finally jogs on into the sunset this summer. By June, lucky Dalston residents will be able to schlap down to Penge on one easy trip on the newly opened East London line extension. OK, so the merits of these two delightful neighbourhoods could be debated for literally minutes, but it can’t be denied that you meet some right wrong ‘uns in both. Serious jammers (and by that I mean people who regularly trot from one compass point to another across the capital) will be more excited about the further extension next year when it’ll be possible to go from south-west London (as far as Clapham Junction) to south-east without the hassle of taking the Northern Line up to London Bridge. But still, a public transport route connecting West Croydon and Hoxton in one move? Inspired.