Product DetailsMetric continue to employ electronics, guitars and Emily Haines’ sweetly enquiring and accusing vocals. Their last full length, “Fantasies”, was released 4 years ago and was promoted almost throughout that entire period with the last gasp of remixes being finally released late last year. “Fantasies” was a bombastic, old fashioned, highly polished power pop type of record and it worked very well, stuffed full of great songs. Although “Synthetica” doesn’t deviate from that sound, when the songs aren’t there it becomes difficult to match it.

The tracks that work well here are the ones which employ something a little different sonically; it’s the more basic, traditionally structured songs which really pale when they should pop. Opening track “Artificial Nocturne” is fantastic and serves as a kind of introduction piece rather than a fully-fledged song even though it’s nearly 6 minutes long. A pin-sharp melody with Emily’s first words ‘I’m as fucked up as they say’ grabbing your attention immediately as it morphs and bends into several different musical shapes before it segues into the first single “Youth Without Youth”. This is one of the best songs on here with a schaffel rhythm and a strong hook about corrupted kids and is Metric doing what they do best.

After a strong start the following couple of songs are ok but rather dull and thin sounding.  This is unfortunately Metric’s default sound; when the material isn’t up to much everything flails. The stark honking synth siren that blares from “Dreams So Real” comes as relief. If the themes weren’t clear before now they are made obvious in this track’s mantra ‘Our parents’ daughters and sons believed in the power in songs, but what if those days are gone?’  Hardly subtle I know, but it packs precisely the punch it’s meant to. “Lost Kitten”, which follows,  is a comment on the sex industry with Haines high pitched yelping vocals (yes, they’re kittenish) and thin glam rock.  It starts off sounding like a Goldfrapp pastiche but develops into something much warmer and compelling and is one of the best songs here.

The title track “Synthetica” sounds like a decent Blondie song, in fact very late 70’s Blondie seems like one of the main reference points for Metric and on “Fantasies” they were close to matching Debbie Harry and the boys at their peak for energy and sparkling, songwriting expertise. Considering the over-riding theme here is that of an absence of  something solid and physical this collection however is a predominantly  anodyne, shallow (see the boring Lou Reed duet “The Wanderlust”) and, crucially, soulless album. Download the 4 or 5 good tracks and buy “Eat To The Beat”.

OK, I’m sorry that this is going to be London-centric but, at the moment, you can only see this exhibition in London at the moment and that’s just the way it is.  So, my apologies to anyone who can’t actually get into central London before the end of August, but there are plenty of links to online resources to give you a flavour of this show.

Gallery Different is easy to find, about halfway between Northern Line stations Tottenham Court Road and Goodge Street on Tottenham Court Road, and surrounded by loads of welcoming pubs and interesting places to eat (the Riot Squad always researches background thoroughly).

“London is Calling” is an exhibition featuring music-related artworks by sculptor Guy Portelli, painters Chris Myers and Morgan Howell, mixed media artist Keith Haynes and photographers Charles Everest, Michael Ward and Nathan Browning.  If you’re interested at all in the iconography of pop and rock music, you should really make the effort to see this exhibition.

The photography is all excellent, but the highlight for me is the recently-published selection of Charles Everest’s photos from the 1970 Isle of Wight festival featuring some absolutely stunning images of Miles Davis and Jimi Hendrix and many other great images of a hugely important event in British social history.  Nathan Browning’s work is based on the photographic image, but with the addition of painting, ink and poetry pushing it towards multi-media territory.

Moving on to 3 dimensions, Guy Portelli’s dynamic sculptures successfully capture the essence of artists such as John Lennon and The Who while avoiding the stereotyped figurative representations which are so common in  collections of British cultural ephemera.

Keith Haynes’ pieces are thoughtful and often ironic, constructed from original artefacts stripped down and reconstructed as creative images.  The majority of the pieces are constructed from original vinyl singles and albums, with the exception of the wonderful “Acid Queen” which is made entirely from Smiley badges and is a piece which anyone interested in popular culture should make the effort to see.

Chris Myers’ paintings focus on divas through the popular music era and the Amy Winehouse pieces here are sympathetic representations of a great British torch singer while Morgan Howell delivers larger than life acrylic representations of iconic seven-inch singles from Elvis to The Clash.

Popular culture exhibitions in London can be very tightly-focussed affairs featuring 1 era or 1 medium but “London is Calling” covers a period of 50 years and encompasses photography, painting, sculpture and various multi-media forms.

If you live in or near London (or you’re visiting), go and see this exhibition.  If not, check out some of the links; you won’t be disappointed.

I’ve got to be honest and say I’ve never been able to get my head round this one; why do musicians (particularly guitarists) trash their instruments?  I mean when did you ever see a conductor shred his baton or a ventriloquist decapitate his dummy as a finale?

It’s all Pete Townsend’s fault because he smashed up a Rickenbacker guitar in September 1964 and claimed it was part of his manifesto as a disciple of auto-destructive art; so what’s that funny smell?  I mean it’s not possible that it was just a bit of stage business designed to create a buzz and get people talking about The Who, is it?  So he then spent years destroying guitars (which were more often than not cobbled together from previously-trashed instruments).  Obviously, Keith Moon didn’t need any encouragement to embrace this destructive trend, but that’s another story (actually, it’s several other stories).

So, who’s next?  Someone who didn’t need to resort to any of that nonsense, that’s who; James Marshall Hendrix.  This was a man who didn’t need any gimmicks, but somehow felt the need to show how natural his ability was by playing with his teeth and behind his head.  So when he followed The Who on the bill at Monterey Pop, he had to go one higher so, obviously, he sprayed his Stratocaster with lighter fuel and set fire to it.  As cremation attempts go it was about as successful as Phil Kaufman’s efforts at Joshua Tree, but everyone was talking about Jimi Hendrix and the imitators were queuing up.  Ritchie Blackmore, master of subtlety, pretty soon added Stratocaster destruction to his palette of sophisticated onstage techniques.

If you’re looking for some truly bizarre instrument abuse, then Keith Emerson’s your man.  His big turn in the ‘70s was sticking knives into his organ (his Hammond organ, keep it clean) but unfortunately it always survived to inflict more prog-rock torture on unsuspecting loon-panted male adolescents.  Even the punks got in on the act.  One of the most iconic album covers of all time has a cover picture of a very angry Paul Simonon trying to demolish a Rickenbacker bass.  Now, I don’t know about you but I’ve played a Rickenbacker bass and they’re heavy and built to withstand everything short of a nuclear holocaust.  By the time he’d finally trashed it, Pennie Smith had got the original film developed and printed and the rest of The Clash were halfway to the next gig.  Almost inevitably, Kurt Cobain had to get in on the act as well, extending his self-loathing to his guitars during Nirvana gigs in the ‘90s.

Has anyone noticed yet what all of these musical vandals have in common?  You got it, that Y chromosome; it’s a macho thing, isn’t it?  It’s also an insult to anyone who ever worked hard and saved hard to buy their guitars, drums and keyboards to see performers destroying instruments just to wind up an audience.  Here’s an idea; why don’t we introduce fines for this offence the way they do for racquet abuse in tennis.  Not looking so smug now are we, Matt Bellamy?

And what if Townsend smashed the first guitar because he didn’t realise the roof was so low?

Azealia Banks’ monster “212” debut single could also be her undoing. It’s a massive dance/hip hop hybrid, foul-mouthed, mainly-rapped ode to woman on woman cunnilingus and it is amazing; but can she better it? Can she even come close? Well let’s hope so, yes.

This much anticipated, free ‘mix tape’ (the general term given to  new artist ‘samplers’ that give an indication as to what’s coming in their ‘official release’ and which usually include a couple of songs by other artists that the singer admires or sights as an influence) is a mixed bag of varying quality. Banks has been honest in saying that a lot of what she has recorded over the last 2 years would never have been given an official release and I imagine many of these recordings have ended up on this collection. However, this is a treat and gift to fans (and superb marketing tool, let’s not forget) to tide them over until the release of her debut album proper “Broke with Expensive Tastes” later in the autumn.

8 of the 19 tracks included here (including 1 skit) have already seen the light of day as Azealia has already given them away as MP3s. Of these there some very strong tracks; the breezy, bouncy harp introduced “Jumanji” is commercial enough to be a strong, successful single and contains a brilliantly loopy performance by Banks. “Aquababe” has some brilliant, very dark techno and hard house hoover stabs on it, “Fuck up the Fun” is a Diplo produced military drummed blast and “L8R” incorporates harmonies around the rapped lines giving it character and warmth. So what of the new tracks?

“Out of Space” is The Prodigy’s “Out of Space” with Banks rapping over it. Her performance is a little phoned-in and certainly not up to the standard of, say, the official single “Liquorice” but the relevance of this track is maybe more about the choice of backing track. Along with the razor sharp “Fantasea”, (Banks speed-rapping over Machinedrum’s “Fantastix”), “Aquababe”, “212” and the still unreleased “Bambi” (surely saved for the album?), all reveal Azealia’s obsession and knowledge of UK rave, techno and hard house and I hope that this influence prevails and forms part of the identity of the full length release.

Another interesting theme is the late eighties ball (vogue) culture and its accompanying Salsoul disco and early house soundtrack which is explicitly evidenced here in one of the new song hi-lights “Fierce”. A bare house backing, gay man dialogue sampled tribute to the balls of which Azealia has referred to as a major influence in her look, attitude and sound. Her guest vocals on the Scissor Sisters “Shady Love” were an early clue and unlike the soulless Nicki Minaj this does not ring of cynism. Banks also covers the new ball anthem “Ima Read”, originally by Zebra Katz, but adds little to the original’s seductive power. Throughout all of these tracks Banks flow is relentless, her twang is irresistible but it’s not safe and she brings a much needed sense of threat to pop music.

I referenced Nicki Minaj before and like Banks she gave away several mix-tapes early on in her career which were funny, sharp, original and promised much. Her debut album was sentimental, over-produced and delivered very little of the spark shown in the music that preceded it.  Let’s hope this doesn’t happen to Banks, I have everything crossed that it won’t. Don’t let us down Azealia.

Product DetailsHelen Boulding’s been on the playlist here at Riot Towers for a few years now (4 to be precise, since her “New Red Dress” album) and that’s quite an achievement because we listen to a lot of music and we have very short attention spans.  So any time she releases anything new, we take a bit of an interest.

Her new single “The Innocents” is out this week and if you’re already a fan then you won’t be disappointed.  The intro is a brief highly-processed keyboard pattern which stays in the mix virtually throughout the song.  It’s joined very quickly by an acoustic guitar part, followed straight away by Helen Boulding’s pure, clear vocal.  Lyrically it’s a snapshot from a developing relationship and has that personal feel common to most of her songs which is enhanced by clarity of the vocal and the shift towards a breathy emphasis to bring out that extra ounce of emotion.

The chorus is a huge production with multi-layered harmonies and some electric guitar which wouldn’t sound out of place on an ‘80s U2 single before we drop back into the more laid-back verse.  We even get a string section thrown in for good measure in the third verse and maybe that’s indication of my only reservation about this production.

The song is about innocence and, for me, the production on this version smothers the feeling of the song by throwing a few too many tricks at it.  It’s a good song, but I think it needs a little more space to breathe.

And just to make up for only giving 3 stars this time, I’ll point you in the direction of my review of “New Red Dress” and tell you I still get goosebumps when I hear “Way to Go”.

Product DetailsFiona Apple in many ways remains unchanged; in some ways she’s regressed. As an artist she appears to have no interest at all in promoting her music other than the now incredibly old fashioned ways of performing live (small venues, not many of them and not very often), a funny, surreal and slimy video that accompanies the first single and 2, maybe 3, interviews. No twitter, no viral campaigns, no personal epiphany involving babies and spiritual enlightenment (hello Alanis), no fashion spreads and absolutely no reinvention. ‘You were a sure and orotund mutt and I was still a dewy petal rather than a moribund slut’ is a pretty typical, lyrical summation of how Fiona Apple is feeling in 2012 and how she’s been feeling for the past 15 years. But this intriguing and intimate album, her forth and self produced with Charley Drayton, succeeds in being the most outstanding of her career.

Every Single Night” (video clip) was released as the first single a month or so before the album and from the outset confirms that sonically, subtle changes may have taken place but little has really changed. Footsteps in gravel, hand and thigh claps, brushed drums and natural sound effects are looped up and serve as a backdrop to the Apple’s piano playing that, along with her deep, clear vocals, take centre stage on every track.  It starts quiet, gets loud, goes quiet and gets loud again. It has a prettiness to it that betrays the madness that Fiona sings of but also a rowdy and raucous vocal on the chorus that is something that she returns to again and again on this collection and is something that was only hinted at on previous releases. No strings this time around (heavily featured on the Jon Brion-produced, and subsequently scrapped, superior version of previous album “Extraordinary Machine”) which initially disappointed me, but they aren’t necessary. Apple is such a formidable song writer and the subtle but effective industrial feel of all these raw, natural elements suits the lyrical themes perfectly; they are in no need of additional embellishments.

Werewolf” sits in the centre of the 10 songs here and would be the perfect track to start with if you were unaware of Apple’s talent as a songwriter, vocalist and musician. Staccato, bossy piano chords and a see sawing vocal melody with Apple comparing her lover to various attacking entities, all which she’s encouraged and is a willing victim of and a defiant middle eight. Songs this powerful and this melodic are hard to construct, believe me, and if you’re listening on headphones beware the 2 minute 9 second mark; if you’re home you’ll probably go to close the window and then realise that it wasn’t open in the first place. Little touches like this involve us in Apple’s world in ways that other artists would never think of.

Left Alone”, “Daredevil” and “Periphery” all adopt similar song structures and play like sisters; a faster pace with tongue twisting lyrics and sticky melodies, sandpapery scratchy percussion, pounding piano and those agonised, sardonic vocals high in the mix. Fiona Apple is a self confessed loner and homebody, (‘I can love the same man in the same bed in the same city but not in the same room, it’s a pity’ in the self explanatory “Left Alone”) happily so, and her relationships are not traditional and not long-term and maybe not even required and this is what moves her to write, it seems. She explores and expresses her desire to be understood as an outsider and to live in a way that seems natural to her and this is what her songs are about and have been since 1996’s Tidal debut. “Jonathan” for example is about an actual person; ex-lover director and writer Jonathan Ames. The lyrics are somewhat oblique, thankfully for him, with the repeated hook of ‘I don’t want to talk about anything’ actually speaking volumes. Like 2009’s “O Sailor”, it’s underpinned by a drunken, disorientating piano melody (two actually in this case), and is backed by a live taped loop of a bottling machine factory, hissing and popping menacingly like a morbid backing vocal.

Regret” is up there with PJ Harvey’s “Rid of Me” with its horrified fury and guttural cry of ‘I ran out of white doves’ feathers to soak up the hot piss that comes from your mouth every time you address me’ and maybe the biggest surprise here is saved until last. “Hot Knife” (‘he’s a hot knife, I’m a pad of butter’) is a jazzed up, playful and almost overwhelming ode to physical desire with the tension being created by overlapping, giddy harmonies provided by Apple and her sister Maude Maggart. It’s an amazing, unexpected performance and a highlight of her career.

Little has been made of this release and Fiona Apple’s existence in this country and this album may actually be her most difficult, certainly following the relatively slick ‘Extraordinary Machine’.  But the melodies stick to the inside of your head like gum if you give them time (the rhythmically clinking, romantic “Anything We Want” being a perfect example) and you’ll also experience some of the most original, defiant music that you’ve heard in a while from a woman playing the piano; I really can’t think of anyone that comes close.

Contender for album of the year; magnificent.


I don’t know about you, but I’m getting really hacked off with this media obsession with the Stone Roses reunion.  For the last couple of months the level of hysteria about the Heaton Park shows has risen day by day to the point where you couldn’t switch on the radio or TV or pick up print media of any description (broadsheet, tabloid or music press) without hearing about the long-awaited Roses reunion.  Why?

Why have we got a pant-wetting frenzy spreading through even the most cynical hacks about this reunion?  It looks like everyone’s terrified of deviating from the party line.  The NME has been slavering dementedly about it for months in the build-up to the shows and this week, after the event, there’s a front cover, an 8-page poster section and various reader and celebrity reviews.  Just a word to the wise; it’s okay to be critical.  Sometimes you just have to say that the king’s bollock-naked; it’s really okay to think for yourself occasionally.

What was so outstanding about this particular band that it’s heresy to question their greatness?  They released 2 albums in 13 years and only 1 of those was a great album (plus a classic single, “Fools Gold”); it’s hardly prolific is it?  It’s just another nostalgia gig which everyone’s trying to make into something momentous.  If you sneered at the Spice Girls and Take That reunions you should be doing exactly the same with the Stone Roses because the chances are that the motivation’s the same.

You can’t even say that it’s because they were so good live that they built up a fanatical following because there are well-documented live performances (Reading, for example) when they were appalling.  It’s interesting that they refused to let BBC3 show any footage of their headlining T in the Park performance (and that decision was taken a long time before they played).  So what’s that all about then?  Not enough money or they’re afraid of screwing up on a national scale; either way, it’s not looking good.  I suppose 3 nights at Heaton Park gives them the chance of creating a live DVD with passable performances of each song in the set, or is that just too cynical?

And what about life after the Roses? Well, apart from doing a bit of bird, Ian Brown hasn’t done too badly.  I was never a Smiths fan but just look at Johnny Marr’s output after the Smiths split and it makes John Squire’s post-Roses efforts look pretty pathetic.  And the answer to your next question is that I’d rather eat my own toenails than see the Smiths reform.

I’m not saying that the Roses weren’t important, because they were hugely influential and I loved the first album (and “Fools Gold”) but I loved a lot of other stuff from that time as well and I don’t want to see those bands reforming either.  Just be honest about the motivation for all of this; it’s nostalgia.  It’s not really about the music, you just want to get back together with all of your mates and do E and ketamine and pretend that it’s 1990 again; the Roses are just a convenient focal point for a big group hug. Get a life and join the twenty-first century; there are loads of great new bands out there and you should be listening to them rather than trying to recapture a bad drug moment from 1990.

Product DetailsThis 5 track EP from LA based guitarist and song writer for the stars (Britney, Tom Jones!) is a tasty tidbit of slightly wonky pop. From the low-slung, rattling funk of lead track “Explosions” to the sixties dream pop of the second track “Ambulance” (“Ambulance” video clip), Coco Morier is someone who immediately intrigues and impresses with her subtle genre-shifting and seductive, slightly sad voice. The overall sound could be categorised as Niki and the Dove but less so; no bad thing!

The song-writing is top quality as is the European influenced, predominantly minimal-electro production which avoids sounding like the Guetta ‘in the club’ garbage that been polluting the charts for bloody ages. Don’t worry; Flo-Rida doesn’t pop up with his Whistle. The final track “Hallucination” is a bare and very lovely synth mid tempo song and is where Coco Morier shines brightest here with her defeated, breathless vocals perfectly realised. I doubt very much whether even Alison Goldfrapp or Kylie, two artists I could imagine singing this, could dominate the track as much as Morier herself does.  Bring on the album and no 3 years wait please!