Tag Archives: Tom Waits

The Kills – Midnight Boom (Domino)

Decadent, sullen and minimal, the Kills have always been a band seemingly out-of-sorts with the industry they’ve chosen. Their ragged garage blues and photobooth posing suggest an art installation or some conceptual burst of freedom in an underground movie, not the austere album/tour order of the music business.
The music is as raw as their image, cheekbone-sharp guitars and death black hair. And interestingly for a band that seems to exist in duotone—they have always advocated the artistry of their photography alongside the music—first impressions are of a band devoid of colour, stripped down to it’s bare necessities: vocals, guitar, drum machine. And yet with every Kills release you soon realise how deceiving their minimalist image is. Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince’s refusal to follow the rules and ditch the drums and bass does more than guarantee any income is split a clean 50-50. Subtle multi-tracking and inventive use of that sparse drum machine ensures the Kills have more layers waiting to be stripped away than most bands who rely on the usual drum/bass rhythm section. The resulting sound is visceral, subversive and immediate.
Midnight Boom is the Kills third full-length release, coming three years after No Wow and Keep on Your Mean Side, from 2003. When they first emerged, carving out a niche for themselves with a distinct style and sound that knowingly referenced other artists such as Velvet Underground, Patti Smith and PJ Harvey, the Kills were joyously welcomed and both records were well received. For a band who limit themselves in their choice of instruments and now on their third album, you might ask how they can progress. The answer is an album which shows a maturity that defies its limitations, yet crucially doesn’t dispel with the rich swagger and sass that gives the Kills their intensity.
It’s a brave band who open a record with 12 seconds of hushed dial tone. Over those initial seconds comes the eager tapping of numbers. It’s unclear who’s calling who but that dial tone soon builds into the effortless beat of “U.R.A. Fever”, an immediate sexual sway of a song, dripping with the Kills typically-subversive chemistry. Mosshart and Hince taunt each other with “You only ever had her when you had a fever” while discordant guitars lash violently at the pace of the song. It’s clear that the Kills have lost none of that raw tension, but it’s also interesting to note the difference drafting in producer Alex Epton (Armani XXXchange from genre-blending sleaze merchants Spank Rock) has made to the Kills sound.
Crucially Epton hasn’t pulled-out his usual record chainsaw and torn apart the Kills sound. Brought in for additional production, the Kills have drawn on Epton’s beat-making skills to add extra texture to the drumbeats. The result is more character, more intensity, and it’s beautiful. “Last Day of Magic” slides along on a cool-ass beat and a whispering backwards hi-hat, Mosshart sounding like Peaches at her most temptress, the Kills spitting out more and more erotic charge with every bar. While the fabulous “Sour Cherry” with its “I’m the only sour cherry on your fruit stand” line and tongue-in-cheek swagger, seemingly exploits what sounds like the under-used rhythmic qualities of chopsticks.
The atmosphere here is strung tight, hinting at the sexual energy Mosshart and Hince give off onstage. But the Kills are also a group that understand the Tom Waits vintage of beauty in melancholy. So yes, they’re all hip and sass at the best times, but they also know how to claw at your heart strings.
Nowhere is this more evident than on the haunting “Black Balloon”, a classic Kills ballad that begins by recalling the dry blues of “Rodeo Town” from No Wow. “You can hold on but I wouldn’t waste your time / Farewell my black balloon,” coos Mosshart. The song’s already lighter than air when half-way Mosshart breaks into an ethereal “aaah-aaah-aaah”, and the song lifts skyward along with said balloon, Mosshart calling out after it, suggesting some latent erotic union: “Farewell my black balloon / Let the weather have its way with you.”
Elsewhere Midnight Boom is such a ride. “Cheap and Cheerful”, “Getting Down” and “What New York Used to Be” all bounce along with vigour that makes the album such a joy. It feels free and rebellious, driven on an urgency and playfulness that evokes Jean Belmondo‘s character in Godard‘s À Bout de Souffle. In fact, the jump-cuts, bold energy and fresh tale of modern urban life of À Bout de Souffle make it a perfect celluloid sibling for the Kills.
The Kills talk much about the influence of art and film on their music. Hince and Mosshart have said they drew inspiration for Midnight Boom from a 1960s documentary, Pizza Pizza Daddy-O, about the playground rhymes of inner city American children. “We just started building rhythms around those and had this concept of coming up with modern-day playground songs,” Hince told Domino Records. “Cos they’re really quite dark. Cutting people’s thumbs off, kicking people in the face, throwing ‘em down stairs. I kinda liked it. So I got this old MPC-60 hip hop drum sequencer and just started making rhythms on that. And these playground songs ended up as Midnight Boom.”
Fed to the skewed guitar and beats, the influence of these ghostly patty-cake rhymes from 40 years ago litter Midnight Boom, from the gorgeous drive of “Tape Song” to the art-punk of “Alphabet Pony”. And they make perfect sense, shaping the record’s consistency and adding to the Kills’ extremely infectious build.
The Kills bleed cool and it runs darker and cooler than ever before on Midnight Boom. They’re a soundtrack waiting for a road movie;  If they didn’t exist you can guarantee they’d turn up in a David Lynch film somewhere, busking on the side of a distant highway under lonely neon and a half-moon.
Midnight Boom finishes with “Goodnight Bad Morning”, a song so full of early-morning melancholy it rivals even the Velvet Underground’s “Sunday Morning” for sheer crow-black blues. Over a rocking-chair beat and soft-strum of acoustic guitar Mosshart and Hince whisper “….See it in everyone / Like a lost idea under lightbulb sun / Your eyes ready for take-off melt in your head / What a beautiful state we’re in.” It is a song that could have been the highlight on any Mazzy Star or Leonard Cohen album but it closes the Kills most remarkable record to date, staying with you long after it ends, Hince’s slow humming still resonating in your senses, the cold shiver still working it’s way down your spine.

 

The Kills

The Kills

PopMatters, March 2008 8/10

Decadent, sullen and minimal, the Kills have always been a band seemingly out-of-sorts with the industry they’ve chosen. Their ragged garage blues and photobooth posing suggest an art installation or some conceptual burst of freedom in an underground movie, not the austere album/tour order of the music business.

The music is as raw as their image, cheekbone-sharp guitars and death black hair. And interestingly for a band that seems to exist in duotone—they have always advocated the artistry of their photography alongside the music—first impressions are of a band devoid of colour, stripped down to it’s bare necessities: vocals, guitar, drum machine. And yet with every Kills release you soon realise how deceiving their minimalist image is. Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince’s refusal to follow the rules and ditch the drums and bass does more than guarantee any income is split a clean 50-50. Subtle multi-tracking and inventive use of that sparse drum machine ensures the Kills have more layers waiting to be stripped away than most bands who rely on the usual drum/bass rhythm section. The resulting sound is visceral, subversive and immediate.

Midnight Boom is the Kills third full-length release, coming three years after No Wow and Keep on Your Mean Side, from 2003. When they first emerged, carving out a niche for themselves with a distinct style and sound that knowingly referenced other artists such as Velvet Underground, Patti Smith and PJ Harvey, the Kills were joyously welcomed and both records were well received. For a band who limit themselves in their choice of instruments and now on their third album, you might ask how they can progress. The answer is an album which shows a maturity that defies its limitations, yet crucially doesn’t dispel with the rich swagger and sass that gives the Kills their intensity.

It’s a brave band who open a record with 12 seconds of hushed dial tone. Over those initial seconds comes the eager tapping of numbers. It’s unclear who’s calling who but that dial tone soon builds into the effortless beat of “U.R.A. Fever”, an immediate sexual sway of a song, dripping with the Kills typically-subversive chemistry. Mosshart and Hince taunt each other with “You only ever had her when you had a fever” while discordant guitars lash violently at the pace of the song. It’s clear that the Kills have lost none of that raw tension, but it’s also interesting to note the difference drafting in producer Alex Epton (Armani XXXchange from genre-blending sleaze merchants Spank Rock) has made to the Kills sound.

Crucially Epton hasn’t pulled-out his usual record chainsaw and torn apart the Kills sound. Brought in for additional production, the Kills have drawn on Epton’s beat-making skills to add extra texture to the drumbeats. The result is more character, more intensity, and it’s beautiful. “Last Day of Magic” slides along on a cool-ass beat and a whispering backwards hi-hat, Mosshart sounding like Peaches at her most temptress, the Kills spitting out more and more erotic charge with every bar. While the fabulous “Sour Cherry” with its “I’m the only sour cherry on your fruit stand” line and tongue-in-cheek swagger, seemingly exploits what sounds like the under-used rhythmic qualities of chopsticks.

The atmosphere here is strung tight, hinting at the sexual energy Mosshart and Hince give off onstage. But the Kills are also a group that understand the Tom Waits vintage of beauty in melancholy. So yes, they’re all hip and sass at the best times, but they also know how to claw at your heart strings.

Nowhere is this more evident than on the haunting “Black Balloon”, a classic Kills ballad that begins by recalling the dry blues of “Rodeo Town” from No Wow. “You can hold on but I wouldn’t waste your time / Farewell my black balloon,” coos Mosshart. The song’s already lighter than air when half-way Mosshart breaks into an ethereal “aaah-aaah-aaah”, and the song lifts skyward along with said balloon, Mosshart calling out after it, suggesting some latent erotic union: “Farewell my black balloon / Let the weather have its way with you.”

Elsewhere Midnight Boom is such a ride. “Cheap and Cheerful”, “Getting Down” and “What New York Used to Be” all bounce along with vigour that makes the album such a joy. It feels free and rebellious, driven on an urgency and playfulness that evokes Jean Belmondo‘s character in Godard‘s À Bout de Souffle. In fact, the jump-cuts, bold energy and fresh tale of modern urban life of À Bout de Souffle make it a perfect celluloid sibling for the Kills.

The Kills talk much about the influence of art and film on their music. Hince and Mosshart have said they drew inspiration for Midnight Boom from a 1960s documentary, Pizza Pizza Daddy-O, about the playground rhymes of inner city American children. “We just started building rhythms around those and had this concept of coming up with modern-day playground songs,” Hince told Domino Records. “Cos they’re really quite dark. Cutting people’s thumbs off, kicking people in the face, throwing ‘em down stairs. I kinda liked it. So I got this old MPC-60 hip hop drum sequencer and just started making rhythms on that. And these playground songs ended up as Midnight Boom.”

Fed to the skewed guitar and beats, the influence of these ghostly patty-cake rhymes from 40 years ago litter Midnight Boom, from the gorgeous drive of “Tape Song” to the art-punk of “Alphabet Pony”. And they make perfect sense, shaping the record’s consistency and adding to the Kills’ extremely infectious build.

The Kills bleed cool and it runs darker and cooler than ever before on Midnight Boom. They’re a soundtrack waiting for a road movie;  If they didn’t exist you can guarantee they’d turn up in a David Lynch film somewhere, busking on the side of a distant highway under lonely neon and a half-moon.

Midnight Boom finishes with “Goodnight Bad Morning”, a song so full of early-morning melancholy it rivals even the Velvet Underground’s “Sunday Morning” for sheer crow-black blues. Over a rocking-chair beat and soft-strum of acoustic guitar Mosshart and Hince whisper “….See it in everyone / Like a lost idea under lightbulb sun / Your eyes ready for take-off melt in your head / What a beautiful state we’re in.” It is a song that could have been the highlight on any Mazzy Star or Leonard Cohen album but it closes the Kills most remarkable record to date, staying with you long after it ends, Hince’s slow humming still resonating in your senses, the cold shiver still working it’s way down your spine.

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I Found #1 Windmill – Puddle City Racing Lights (Friendly Fire)

Windmill

Windmill

8/10

Summary: Windmill’s attraction is knowing when to let the melody loose, allowing the track to sweep off on its grandeur mission, and when to rein it in, affording the listener an eerie experience of never quite knowing whether the next taste will be happiness or tears.

Much is made of the UK and America’s political ‘special-relationship’ but ever since the Beatles set foot on the tarmac of the newly-renamed JFK Airport in early 1964, it’s the incestuous special-relationship of Britain and America’s pop economies that has really interested us all. And it has very strict rules.

These rules ensure only Northern English towns scarred by unemployment and Thatcher, and not Los Angeles, can produce Jarvis Cocker; rules that equally dictate Marilyn Manson could never be aloud to surface in Blackpool, playing early gigs in penny arcades and working men’s clubs. It’s a balance of power that lets the Spice Girls and Backstreet Boys equally sell trillions of records without upsetting the ying verses yang of these two pop nations.

Of course sometimes the heavens are turned upside down and Bush are formed. But generally things run smoothly – even the Killers dropped the Britpop hooks in favour of epic American stadium rock.

Rules, of course, are meant to be broken. And it’s a special kind of joy when they’re broken with such a splendid disregard as the heart-breaking Americana which comes from Windmill’s English suburbia.

Known to many in the UK as just another over-priced service station stop on the M1 as you head North from London, Newport Pagnell was at least recognised by James Bond devotees as being the home of the Aston Martin. Until 2 years ago anyway, when production was moved away by owners Ford. Now, bar lower-league footballers and soap actresses, even Wikipedia struggles to find noteworthy commentary on this small middle-England town.

Yet it’s in these streets that Matthew Thomas Dillon has been toiling away perfecting a craft that bears little influence of a British music industry obsessed with asymmetrical haircuts and skinny jeans. Dillon’s ears have instead been long tuned in to the same channels that feed the contemporary, seminal voices of America: Newsom, Stevens, Coyne, Barnhart, Donahue, Marshall, Tweedy and Smith.

Choosing a name like Windmill to represent his work is quite a metaphor from Dillon. Windmill’s sails move with the same guidance that have informed many of his contemporaries on the opposite side of the pond.  Echoes of Talking Heads, Tom Waits and Joni Mitchell are beautifully littered throughout Puddle City Racing Lights while Dillon’s own voice stirs with the resonance and strained observation of an early Neil Young.

Windmill - Puddle City Racing Lights

Windmill - Puddle City Racing Lights

The result is a record soaked equally with comforting lo-fi as it is with grand, sweeping statements. Piano and strings constantly linger over Dillon’s words, the minimal composition lending an ever-present melancholy to match his heartfelt voice . But Dillon’s genius is knowing when to let the melody loose, allowing the track to sweep off on its grandeur mission, and when to rein it in, affording the listener an eerie experience of never quite knowing whether the next taste will be happiness or tears.

“Asthmatic” is a perfect example of this. If the tingling piano and cello at its start suggests a bold statement akin to Springsteen’s bombastic faith of the Rising, the song’s epic potential is only strengthened by the Flaming Lips-style wall of crashing drums that follow. But just when you expect the melody to soar away Dillon pulls the song back to the ground, only allowing the fragile piano to remain and giving us the words “Always breathing in / Never breathing out”. Arcade Fire would have followed the formula to its logical, spectral, conclusion, but Dillon seems inspired by the possibility of the crescendo, the light and dark of the song, the space that is sometimes covered over and forgotten. For a song he names “Asthmatic”, he actually lets it breathe.

Dillon is also a strong observer or, at least, a strong thinker. Locking himself in his bedroom for hours on end so he can perfect the vision in his head, many of the fourteen songs here have emerged over twelve years through Dillon’s careful consideration and a £300 four track. For the recording of Puddle City Racing Lights, he received assistance from members of the Earlies’ live band, former Alfie guitarist Ian Smith and co-producer Tom Knott, but before it came countless homemade albums, originally only intended for himself and a few friends’ enjoyment, which must have provided the training ground for these tracks.

The observer/thinker is redolent throughout Dillon’s lyrics. He writes evocatively about everyday things – “the detritus of modern life” as the press release puts it” – airport lounges, trains, fluorescent lights, escalators, the feel of an airport’s plastic chair before taking a flight. Just as dEUS sang about the inevitable loneliness of hotel receptions, so “Boarding Lounges” describes beautifully the awkward, perpetual, melancholy of being forced to linger in these human holding pens. Although, as Dillon repeats the line “Gates close / Escalators climb” over the raw piano and slightest of strings, it’s unclear if he is actually advocating the experience.

Dillon finds himself continually compared to Mercury Rev and Flaming Lips by lazy critics and “Tokyo Moon”, “Plastic Pre-Flight Seats” and “Plasticine Plugs” are obvious starting points for these references. Yet while there is certainly a lot of common ground between Wayne Coyne, Jonathan Donahue and Windmill’s pained, graceful, beauty, they fail to appreciate Dillon’s favoured instrument of expression; his piano. Even more than his stark, emotive voice, Dillon relies on the piano to convey the misery, the happiness, the wonder and the dismay. In this way, he has more in common with Tom Waits and Tori Amos, both of whom grew as artists through their deep relationship and exploration of the piano’s emotional and expressional possibilities. The naked piano of “Boarding Lounges” and Tilting Trains” is as stirring as on Amos’ Little Earthquakes, while “Replace Me” and “Fashion House” could easily sneak into Blue Valentine without much suspicion.

Oscar Wilde once commented “We are all in the gutter, but some of are looking at the stars”. Listening to Windmill sounds like Wilde is whispering those words in your ear.

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The 12 Days of Swn-fest: Part 4 – Son Capson, Marina & the Diamonds, Martin Carr, Science Bastard

Marina and the DiamondsLike a marching band of gurning elves bulldozing the entire contents of an Aberystwyth drugstore down their gobs before throwing up a mix of early Gorky’s and Tom Waits’ garage.

Have you heard Magical Trevor? He’s the deliciously annoying viral cartoon that was mutated into an advert for 118-247 earlier this year. Son Capson appear to be his magical Welsh cousin, nestling in the Cambrian Mountains and gouging on Tom Waits’ Swordfish Trombones and Hungarian coming-of-age ceremonies. He conjures past images of Gorky’s Zygotic Mynchi donning wizard outfits and singing about Peanut Dispensers while sounding like Eugene Hutz’s marvellous moustache. He’s got a song about a Sniper on the Roof of Tesco. He’s pretty awesome.

Nicely side-stepping the 80s-girl revival that has seen Pip, Boots and Roux parcelled-up into one comfortably-marketed package for journalists’ pigeon holes, Marina and the Diamonds’ eclectic hymns draw more on the new wave vibrancy of Lena Lovich and Kate Bush. Marina herself puts her roots down to Brody Dalle, Britney, Dolly Parton and a birthplace in “ancient Greece” via Wales. The Joni Mitchell-flavoured “I’m Not a Robot” and aching, lifting “Obsessions” show a rich songwriting and storytelling ability that should soon have ‘Marina and the Diamonds’ roll off the tongue with the same eminence as Bat for Lashes.

Martin Carr‘s biog should read like the A-Team’s: ‘he gave up the charts and a life in pop for the rich-storytelling of life in the Welsh capital’. Ah, so naive! He should have known that his beautiful craftmanship would be constantly called on and his six Brave Captain albums have tied together the enduring sense of pop that he carved out with the Boo Radleys’s with some captivating lo-fi country and psych. New album ‘Ye Gods (And Little Fishes)‘ is the first he has released under his own name and is his most engaging solo outing yet; warm, brooding laments and that stay with you as the last few notes fizzle out.

Grabbing their name from a low-budget flick film that has been described as “pure heroin for pop-culture junkies” seems an appropriate choice for Science Bastard; they have that wreck-all-the-instruments-then-piece-them-back-together-and-throw-some-pop-bubbles-on-the-mess approach – all fuzzy, amphetamine drumming, short-sharp-shock guitars and gurning vocals . Wonderfully, they have no attention span either – throwing delicious hooks about with abandon they sound like a scratch running after an itch.

Son Capson, Marina and the Diamonds, Martin Carr and Science Bastard play Chapter Arts Centre on 22 October as part of the BBC Wales Adam Walton and BBC Radio 1 Introducing in Wales with Bethan Elfyn evening.

Also appearing are: Post War YearsRace HorsesBright Light Bright Light and Zimmermans. The show will be recorded for broadcast on BBC Radio Wales and BBC Radio 1 Introducing In Wales with Bethan Elfyn

How to buy Swn tix/wristbands and full line-up

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