Category Archives: Reviews

The Hold Steady – Stay Positive (Vagrant)

Hold SteadyPopMatters, July 2008

If there’s a nagging conviction behind Stay Positive, it’s a constant refusal to be pinned down on E Street, revealing a toxic indulgence to revel in the spit and swagger of the punk side of town.

And you thought the Hold Steady were just living on E Street? Littered with early Springsteen analogies ever since they broke through with the bar room tales of Boys and Girls in America, Craig Finn has constantly referred to the debt his band owes to the likes of the Ramones, Hüsker Dü and the Replacements, only for critics to remain defiant of their origins in favour of references to the New Jersey Godfather. If there’s a nagging conviction behind Stay Positive, the Hold Steady’s fourth album, it’s a constant refusal to be pinned down on E Street, revealing a toxic indulgence to revel in the spit and swagger of the punk side of town.

While Stay Positive proves that Finn and co. still love to get with the E Street shuffle, the first crashing notes of “Constructive Summer”, the record’s charged opener, are a “White Riot”-style riff that Mick Jones would be proud of. The tingling piano and made-for-arena drums that follows may be pure Springsteen, but only after he’s been dragged through a dozen chaotic bars by Finn, all the time regaling the Boss with the genius of Bob Mould. Seventeen seconds into “Constructive Summer” and Finn has already dropped an Iggy Pop reference:

Me and my friends are like the drums on Lust for Life
We pound it out on floor toms
Our psalms are sing-along songs

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Mysteryland 2009, Floriade Area, Haarlemmermeer, Netherlands

Mysteryland - photo by Paul Underhill

Mysteryland - photo by Paul Underhill

Mysteryland feels like a peacock on ecstasy chasing you down the rabbit hole. The Glastonbury of European dance festivals, this bold, colourful and gigantic event packs more into one electrifying day than other, lesser dance events would dare explore in their lifetime.

Imagine if Lewis Carroll and Terry Gilliam took Bestival, planted it amongst the waterways of Holland, wrapped it in glorious technicolour and fondled the dream with pinches of multiple dance genres. Imagine the fairytale spawn of Paul Oakenfold and Patrick Wolf at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, quivering to rabid techno. Imagine thousands of Cheshire Cats, sky-high on trance, dubstep, gabba and filthy electro, dancing in fields with themes of Mad Max and fairytales.

MysterylandIt’s hard not to speak of Mysteryland (still virtually unknown in the UK) without dealing in such superlatives. This is a 60,000 capacity, 20 stage sacrifice to the God of dance after all. An über-fest of gigantic proportion with so much joy and energy, so much organisation and conviction, that it makes most UK dance festivals look like a few stalls on the village green. In fact, it’s so big, so colourful and so damn fun that it eventually becomes a strain on not just the eyes and legs but your mind as well, as you marvel at how so much has been squeezed into the tiny space of just 12 hours.
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Indietracks 2009, Midland Valley Railway, Ripley, Derbyshire

Au Revoir Simone, Indietracks 2009

Au Revoir Simone, Indietracks 2009

Indietracks feels like Isambard Kingdom Brunel putting on All Tomorrow’s Parties, where the only downside is choosing between the gorgeous music and the unlimited steam train rides.

Virtual Festivals, July 2009

Now in its third year, Indietracks has sprung up from very modest beginnings to be one of the UK’s most endearing and eccentric festivals. Taking place at Midland Valley Railway Centre in Riply, Derbyshire, the event is a labour of love for founder Stuart Mackay, who combined two of his passions: restoring steam trains and indie pop, to create one wholly unique event. Indietracks isn’t just a great excuse to discover some great new music, it’s an opportunity to support the earnest restoration of our heritage: the festival acts as a money raiser for the museum, with everyone involved in the weekend volunteering their time for free.

The line-up represents the very best of the indiepop underground, many of whom would be lucky to even to grace the smallest of stages at ATP. Bands come from as far afield as Japan, Italy, Sweden, USA and Argentina; DJs from Berlin, Barcelona and Hong Kong. With Spain’s seminal indiepop label Elefant curating the main stage, there’s also a great selection of Spanish acts including Cola Jet Set, La Casa Azul and Cooper. For a festival that could fit comfortably inside Glastonbury’s Shangri La field, it certainly knows how to punch above its weight.

Familiar labels, fanzines and club nights – such as Fortuna Pop, Twee as Fuck and Lipstick on Your Collar – feature throughout the weekend, either DJing, running workshops or generally getting accosted by indiepop enthusiasts screaming, “oh my God, you’re from Talulah Gosh!”
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I Found #4 Dream Bitches – Coke-and-Spiriters (Recommended If You Like)

https://i2.wp.com/www.abstractextract.com/dreambitches/photos/fullgroupforpresscrop_72.jpg

Dream Bitches

If you can excuse the corny title (possibly chosen after one too many rum and cokes) there’s much to love in the second album from New York’s Dream Bitches. The jangling, gnarly guitars and infectious, intertwining, harmonies will no doubt receive many Sleater-Kinney references, but Dream Bitches’ lush, retro-pop has more in common with the wordy, sussed lyricism of New York neighbours Jeffrey Lewis and Kimya Dawson.
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I Found #3: Cineplexx – Picnic

Cineplexx

Cineplexx

That Argentinean born and current Barcelona resident Sebastian Litmanovich is joined on Picnic by Norman Blake of Teenage Fanclub, Jad Fair of Half Japanese and Duglas Stewart of BMX Bandits, is really all you need to know about Cineplexx. But if you’re still inquisitive, Picnic sees Litmanovich guiding the C86-inspired lo-fi through rippling landscapes that take in the Vaselines, Magnetic Fields, Gruf Rhys and Camera Obscura along the way.
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I Found #2: The Terrordactyls – Mike Bowers (Don’t Stop Believin’)

Terrordactyls

Juno didn’t just make us all wake up and see the talents of an awesome Ellen Page. It made us remember how crushingly good the pairing of Kimya Dawson and Adam Green was. True, Juno’s success might have resulted in a surreal and uncomfortable Moldy Peaches performance on the View, but if a few more people stumble across similar idiosyncratic pop hopefully Adam and Kimya’s grins will get even cuter.
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Black Lips, Cardiff Coal Exchange 01/05/08

Black Lips

Black Lips

“Someone that young really shouldn’t be able to grow a moustache that wild!” The curious facial hair that is perplexing certain members of the crowd tonight belongs to Black Lips bassist Jared Swilley. A full-on Eugene Hutz-style lip jacket it looks like Jared has glued a scrubbing brush below his nose. It looks incredible and seems to precede his every tumbling movement about the stage, as if the moustache is in charge, pulling Jared along behind it.
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Monotonix – Cardiff Arts Institute, 30 Nov / Body Language (Drag City) Review

Monotonix

Montonix - Cardiff Arts Institute, 30 November

Monotonix – Cardiff Arts Institute, 30 Nov, with Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs /
Body Language (Drag City) Review

Blames the cops. Three garage punks from Tel Aviv, Monotonix were once contained safely within the boundaries of Israel. Until they started playing gigs. Five seconds later they were being banned from most of the country’s venues for a live show that tends to descend into a wild mix of sweat, chaos, setting themselves on fire (band) and random sex acts (audience). Like a Tasmanian Devil with a Rickenbacker there was no way Monotonix were going to sit idle, so with their homeland refusing to play ball they upped sticks for more welcoming climates.

Produced by the Fucking Champs‘ Tim Green in San Francisco, ‘Body Language‘ is a cacophonic mess of blistering, dirrrty garage and cacophonic punk, with ever so slight nods in the direction of Cream and Led Zeppelin. Just six tacks long and seemingly drenched in as much gasoline and leather-stinking sweat as you’ll find at one of their gigs, this is rock and roll at its most filthy and exuberant.
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The Teenagers – Reality Check (Beggers)

Teenagers - Reality Check

Teenagers - Reality Check

The Teenagers. Has there ever been a more evocative name for a pop band? Pop music owes its success to the obsessions of teenage fanatics who after its emergence in the 1950s dragged it through a thousand splintering sub-genres and into the laps of MTV executives and mega-brand-sponsored world tours.

When the come-down of the last World War forced parents to grant their children more freedoms than they had ever experienced, it coincided with the birth of rock ‘n’ roll and a new concept of youth. The story goes something like this: adolescent is given disposable income and a taste for 45s. Elvis is given a pair of hips so dangerous they could subvert a nation through a television screen. Pop music and teenager falls in love and they’ve been living a symbiotic relationship ever since.

So the Teenagers already have some living up to do, on name alone. Yet I suspect they’ve never let so much as a thought cross their mind about how iconic their existence actually is. They’re three gorgeous-looking scruff-bags from Paris via East London. The story goes that they stumbled across their own sussed version of danceable guitar-pop after posting a joke MySpace page. Their first friend request was from a girl called Nicole that they didn’t know. “Fuck Nicole”, they thought, and wrote a song called “Fuck Nicole”.

This self-deprecating wit is sprawled all over Reality Check, like favorite bands over a schoolgirl’s text book. Indie-cool and infectious, the Teenagers are dirty twenty-somethings masquerading, with fantasies of still being in their teens. With a tantalising grasp on the giddy highs and lows of adolescence and an obvious weak spot for the candy-pop drum machine and synths of ‘80s pop like “I Think We’re Alone Now”, they sound like a lo-fi New Order with three smutty Frenchmen on vocals. The influences on their MySpace page says it all: Sex, Love, Party, Vodka, Summer, Puberty, Red Bull. A statement of intent for most teenagers, it reads like a shopping list of ingredients for Reality Check.

Take, for example, the album’s first track, “Homecoming”. The filthiest slice of pop since Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg orgasmed through “Je T’aime Moi Non Plus”, “Homecoming” explores the memory of a sexual tryst through the eyes of an arrogant boy and naïve girl.  “Last week, I flew to San Diego to see my auntie”, he says in a dry monotone. “On day one, I met her hot step-daughter / She’s a cheerleader, she’s a virgin, and she’s really tan /… On day two, I fucked her, and it was wild / She’s such a slut”. And then, her version:

Ok, listen girls: I met the hottest guy ever.
Basically, as I was stepping out of my SUV,
I came face to face with my step-cousin or whatever, who cares?
Anyway, he was wearing skinny jeans, had funky hair
And the cutest British accent ever.
Straight away, I could tell he was a rocker
From his sexy attitude and the way he looked at me.
Mmm, he is totally awesome.
Oh my god, I think I’m in love.

What follows is the wildest chorus you will hear all year. Imagine Gainsbourg singing the first words, Kim Gordon the next: “I fucked my American cunt / I loved my English romance”. All this accompanied by an innocent summer-crisp beat, like Belle and Sebastian making out with The O.C. “Don’t forget to send me a friend request”, she says at the end, in what could be the first social networking reference in popular song. “As if”, comes the cutting reply.

It’s like John Waters reshot Grease with a Larry Clark script. The last time pop music seemed this subversive, Ice Cube was ranting about the police “Fuckin’ with me cuz I’m a teenager / With a little bit of gold and a pager”. If only we could get “Homecoming” to number one—it would be like a million teenage girls seeing Elvis’ grinding hips for the first time.

Most of the songs are delivered in the same sullen monotone, only allowing the choruses to fly along with the melody. The result is fascinating. It’s not just the lyrics, which move between melancholic reminiscing of drunken nights and bitter diatribes at ex-lovers. It’s the voyeuristic position it puts the listener in, like dipping into the pages of a secret diary. The prose is hardly Pinter, but the sentiment is instantly recognisable: secret crushes, embarrassing memories, summer innocence, mood swings, underage drinking, bored Sundays and wild Friday nights, putting the first band poster on your wall, slamming your bedroom door on arguments and telling the world you’re right, but secretly, bitterly, knowing that you might be wrong. “I don’t know anything / I don’t know anything / I don’t know anything,” the chorus to “III” repeats.

Of course, we’ve been here before. Pop stars recalling the rushes of their formative years is nothing new. Pulp produced fantastic observant pop music with a refreshing lyrical sting, and the Teenagers do not have the dexterical creativity of Jarvis Cocker. Yet the way they deliver a crushing harmony and then immediately slip back into that soft French accent is as infectious as anything by Franz Ferdinand or Bloc Party.

From the dreamy fan obsession of “Starlett Johansson” (“When I noticed for Jared Leto, I felt sad for 30 seconds / When I noticed for Josh Hartnett, I prayed for 40 nights”) to the skuzzy art-punk of “Fuck Nicole” and the delicious “Make it Happen” (which is begging to be added to the opening credits of the Breakfast Club), the Teenagers are Tiffany via Soulwax. They have a knowing appreciation of pop (à la Gwen Stefani), but with a sly cynicism and sassy attitude. The way their wispy accents make greasy sound like greezy on “Love No” is worth the album alone. That Reality Check draws it’s inspirations from the 80s, but also France’s über-cool Kitsuné and Ed Banger scenes (they are regular touring partners of Justice) shows that they have a Blondie-style ability to mix art, disco and pop.

Quite how the Teenagers have stumbled across themselves is an enigma. By rights they should be a fashion construct, carved out of teen-cool by Terry Richardson, stuck on the cover of Vice magazine, filmed by Gus Van Sant and sprayed across American Apparel adverts for the summer season.  With their too-cool-for-school, fashion-spread attitude, the Teenagers will annoy many people, but it’s been far too long since an indie band worthy of pinning them to your heart came along. Reality Checkwon’t change the world, but it will make the lives of new-found fans a little more special.

Like they say on “Feeling Better”: “Now that you’re a fan / You can write our name on your body / Take a pen / Write it down: ‘I love the Teenagers’”.

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The Teenagers, Bristol Thekla 05/04/08

The Teenagers

The Teenagers

Gigwise, May 2008

Irony, oh you are such a tease. The Teenagers, three grubby Parisian hipsters with a fondness for infectious electro-pop and filthy lyrical fantasies, are playing the Thekla, Bristol’s floating rock club and a ship once known as the Old Profanity Showboat.  Singer Quentin, skinny, cute and mischievous twinkle in his eye, is leading a rabble crowd of drunken Bristolians through the x-rated chorus of ‘Homecoming‘, the band’s most notorious and deliciously addictive number. “I fucked my American cunt,” they sing in unison, like a Skins version of Songs of Praise. Old Profanity owner, arch-surrealist and Bonzo Dog Band leader Vivian Stanshall, currently mixing it up in Dali heaven, should no doubt be extremely proud.

The Teenagers are of course the most titillating thing to arrive from Paris since Lady Sarkozy eyed up Prince Philip behind the French President’s back. Fashion-mag cool and full of subversive knowing references to their formative years, they’re annoying as many people as are swooning for their unique blend of Gallic sleaze. Tonight, everyone at the Thekla seems far too drunk to care though. Deep in the ship’s bowels, the crowd is a salacious mix of Teenagers-obsessive’s, gearing up for tonight’s performance with impromptu shouts of that ‘Homecoming’ chorus, and dozens of lager-fuelled lads, fresh from the high street and intent on continuing their binge-apocalypse.

If it looks a mess from the stage, then the view for the audience is certainly as skuzzy. Expanded to a five piece through extra guitar and live drums, the Teenagers race through cuts from their impressive debut ‘Reality Check‘ like they can’t wait to get amongst the dirty throng. During current single, the fiery ‘Love No’ – the one where, in their wispy accents, they deliciously pronounce “greasy” as “greezy” – Quentin, mike lead wrapped around hand, other arm outstretched and bouncing up and down like a cat on pins, leans back and fore into the crowd, beckoning the mass to touch him, like some gorgeous lo-fi superstar.

The sight of the lager lads, in their freshly-ironed designer shirts and crap haircuts, reaching out for Quentin, then turning back to their mates with hi-fives (“look mate! I touched the singer!”)  is both hilarious and somewhat disturbing, especially during ‘Streets Of Paris‘. While most of ‘Reality Check’ deals with the sweet and bitter moments of adolescence – sex, love, party, vodka, puberty, red bull, reads the ingredients on their MySpace page – the Teenagers have said the only truly autobiographical song is ‘Streets of Paris’. “We were wearing kitten masks,” Quentin sings in a gorgeous giddy high during the chorus, before recounting bumping into a group of thugs wearing “Nike caps” and running for their lives. It’s quite vulgar watching the same kind of thugs barging other people out of the way to get to the front.

Still, the room continues to swirl around the fuzzy mess of 80s pop and lo-fi electro and by the time the Teenagers play the ‘Summer Nights’-on-ketamine ‘Homecoming’, it couldn’t get any messier. Quentin pulls a few eager people onto the stage to sing the boy/girl vocals with him, cruelly letting a girl fumble through her verse, before the crowd pipe back into the chorus of the teen-sex hymn. Suddenly the louts and the indie-kids become one heaving mass, swaying from port to starboard on the Old Profanity Showboat, all singing “I fucked my American cunt / I Loved my English romance”. Vivian Stanshall would love it.

The Teenagers – Starlett Johansson

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