If you check out MusicRiot regularly, you’ll know that our contributors have one thing in common; they’re all passionate about (maybe bordering on obsessed by) music. All of the Riot Squad (John Preston, Louie Anderson and, most recently, Klare Stephens) love music of all styles and the reason we do this is because we want to share our passion and maybe get a few more people to listen to the music we love, whether it’s live or recorded. Also, because music is such a personal thing we like to bring that element into our contributions; opinions are always subjective, but at least we’re upfront about it. Often it can feel like shouting in the dark: then you have a weekend like the one I’ve just had.
Last week I published a review of the excellent album “Closer than you Know” by The Kennedys and I was invited to review their gig at Kings Place in London on Friday. I also had a gig lined up for Sunday night, going to watch the Billy Walton Band in High Barnet with some good friends. Both gigs were superb in very different ways; you can read The Kennedys review and previous Billy Walton Band reviews here on MusicRiot and work out for yourself that I’m impressed.
The live performances by these bands, however, are only part of the story. All of the musicians at these two gigs (Pete and Maura Kennedy, Billy Walton, William Paris, Rich Taskowitz and John D’Angelo) are extremely gifted musicians who love what they do and love to interact with their audience personally and online. Both bands mix with the audience when they aren’t actually performing (and sometimes when they are; yeah that’s you Billy and Rich) and have a huge amount of respect for their fans, fellow musicians and songwriters.
Both gigs were superb in different ways; The Kennedys stripped down their songs to arrangements for two acoustic guitars and two voices while the Billy Walton Band played raucous r’n’r (and blues and soul and the rest) in the way that bands from New Jersey do. Both bands were happy to play requests from the audience regardless of the setlist they had prepared. Most importantly, both bands were obviously having a good time. So far, so good, but excellence is pretty much what I expected from these two bands and this weekend was about much more than that.
I’ve been reviewing gigs in London and elsewhere for MusicRiot for six years now and sometimes it can be a bit depressing; you watch incredibly gifted bands and artists performing to audiences which just scrape into three figures and most of them are friends of the band. I’ve been to blues gigs where the majority of the audience at least twice as old as the musicians. It was great to see two very different gigs this weekend where the ages of the audience ranged widely and everyone was there to hear great live music and have a good time. And that brings me on to the reason why we all contribute to MusicRiot.
We don’t ignore the established bands at MusicRiot; we had two reviews of the Daft Punk album last week and we’ve reviewed albums by Bruce Springsteen, Scissor Sisters, Lana del Rey and Saint Etienne in the last year or so. We also love to discover a diverse range of bands and artists that you might not have heard of and tell you all about them so we’ll carry on telling you all about artists like The Kennedys, the Billy Walton Band, MS MR, Sally Shapiro, Tomorrow’s World, Lilygun, Stoneface Travellers, Dean Owens and many more. We’ve even got some pretty good photos for you to look at.
If there’s one lesson that I’ve learned from six years at MusicRiot it’s this; whatever you hear on daytime radio, there’s always good music out there if you know where to look and that’s why the Riot Squad do what they do. And thanks to Richie Taz for the title.
I reviewed MS MR’s quite special debut 4-track EP “Candy Bar Creep Show” late last year and may have even, in a moment of rare generosity, given it 5 stars. During its release the boy-girl, goth pop duo from New York were already speaking excitingly about their first album being almost ready to go and I remember thinking at the time, that’ll be good, something to look forward to. Well now it’s here and, although some of it’s good, it’s not really that special.
“Hurricane” was one of the best pop singles of last year; it swaggered beautifully. Lizzie Plapinger’s strong, clear vocals moaned about the foul contents of her mind; it was a helluva song. It was part of the aforementioned EP, the other three remaining tracks being equally strong, if subtle, shifts on the same sonic theme. It’s a big mistake though to include all 4 songs again here and especially to front load the album with them. Apart from another couple of songs, which also include the bombastic single “Fantasy”, again released as single before this album, the best tracks here are, disappointingly, still these same 4 songs and the decision for them to dominate the first quarter of the album only succeeds in hammering this point home.
Of the remaining 8, unheard, tracks only “Think of You”, which follows the same, already established, template with a catchy-as-hell chorus that, instead of being bellowed, is thankfully more reflective and the Lana Del Rey-indebted ballad “BTSK”, which actually stands for Big Teeth, Small Kiss (you can see why they decided to abbreviate it), has drama and build with another big but dumber chorus, comes close to the quality heard eight months ago on “CBCS”. Like Florence’s second album in particular, which MS MR’s brand of broad, glam pop has, rightly to a point, been compared to, the set up for every track is almost identical and that kind of repetition can of course work, but only if the songwriting is strong enough to support it. “Salty Sweet” is the one variation musically and is a lilting, feather-light reggae mistake. A song like “Twenty Seven” (as in the age, at which it’s hoped one will live past) feels so set up to soundtrack a Tumblr account of pop cultural clichés, is too shallow and under-written to penetrate in the way that it wants to. By the end of the album one song blurs into another and any strong sense of identity that may have been established at the beginning of the album has all but disappeared.
There’s a sense here that maybe there was a pressure to get this album out as soon as possible; MS MR have the feeling of a band who are very of the moment and dangerously hip. I’m sure that their moment hasn’t passed, half of this album is certainly good and enjoyable enough to make an impression and get them noticed, but if they want to headline Glastonbury, their ultimate dream, they’re going to need more than 1 EPs worth of cracking material so let’s hope that they can deliver on that initial promise.
It’s beginning to look suspiciously like the start of summer, what with the rain stopping and the sun appearing at last, but the Riot Squad don’t care about any of that (apart from the fact that we can wear our shades now without looking ridiculous). Anyway, we’ve got a busy few weeks coming up with plenty of live and recorded music to tell you about.
I’m finally going to get to see Anna-Christina’s live, unplugged show “Pretty Little Lady?” this week and I’ll be telling you all about that next week. The highly-acclaimed New York duo, The Kennedys, are touring the UK and Ireland to promote their latest album “Closer Than You Know” and we’ll be telling you all about that later this month. Then, at the end of the month, I’ll be going to Edinburgh to see Modern Misfortune whose first EP is out now.
John’s going to be reviewing albums by Little Boots, Alison Moyet, MS MR and Daft Punk and I’ll be having a listen to The Kennedys album. I’m also trying to get hold of a review copy of the debut Federal Charm album which is out in June. I’ll keep you posted on that.
We’re also kicking around the idea of a monthly Riot Squad podcast to let you know what we sound like and what we’re up to each month. It’s going to be an interesting month.
This 4-track EP by the girl on vocals, boy on keyboards Brooklyn based duo conveniently collects all their releases so far, highlighting the newest track “Bones” as the lead-off single. The worst thing I could say about MS MR is that they can resemble thematically, sonically and vocally Florence and The Machine (the year’s most tiresome and frequently used reference) and the best is that these doomed, timeless, high school girl vignettes call to mind a more magnified version of Cat’s Eyes (responsible for one of the very best albums of last year), where all the blurry edges have been rubbed away.
The aforementioned “Bones” is very good, all Bernard Herrmann ‘Psycho’ strings and tripped-out tension, but of all the tracks here is maybe the least effective and is the one where Lizzy Plapinger vocally and lyrically (‘empty churches with soulless curses’) most resembles X Factor goth, Ms Welch but thankfully without the contrived histrionics and harps.
“Hurricane” is one of the best pop songs (and it is pop song) of this year, hands down. ‘Welcome to the inner workings of my mind, so dark and foul, I can’t disguise’ so says Plapinger with a swagger and confidence betraying the sentiment in this multi-layered, clanking and creaking cinematic gem and with finger-clicking “Dark Doo Wop” (potentially disastrous song title but fear not!) picture Lana Del Rey and spear it with your stilleto, screw it up and throw it away, that’s the attitude here. Strings quivering in the corner with the refrain ‘This world is gonna burn, burn, burn’ and Plapinger sounding very Sinead O’Conner circa “Troy” with an emphasis on the ‘buuurn’; mental health problems have never sounded so appealing.
“Ash Tree Lane” is the most complex and fullest sounding track here, although it’s fair to say that MS MR don’t really do bare, and is probably my favourite. There’s little deviation from the sonic tone already established but the swell of brass wrapping itself around the ‘ooh ohh, woah woah’ wordless chorus and the moment where Plapinger declares her ‘mind is a mess’ and she inhales an audible gasp of breath and the music stops for split second is hugely effective and exciting, creating pitch black vivid imagery.
If MS MR don’t take 2 years to release their debut (which according to the group is coming, it’s finished apparently and they’ve secured a record deal) and can maintain this level of quality then they are truly an exciting prospect and will be something to really look forward to in 2013. I, for one, can’t wait.