Fresher 15 – The Songs That Shaped March

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1).        Tiny Little Houses – ‘Milo Tin’

Australia has produced some fine artists over the years – Smudge, The Vines and Courtney Barnett, to name a few – and now we can add Tiny Little Houses to that list. A sweetly lo-fi thrum, ‘Milo Tin’ is a wistful lament on youth that sounds like a zestier Galaxie 500.

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2).        Parquet Courts – ‘Berlin Got Blurry’

Parquet Courts have been around for quite a while now, but their upcoming record Human Performance could see the New York punk staples make the leap into the publics conscious. The breezy guitars of ‘Berlin Got Blurry’ are counterpointed with an almost Spaghetti Western-style riff and Andrew Savage’s wry vocals.

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3).        PJ Harvey – ‘The Community of Hope’

With Field Day and Glastonbury slots booked, this year looks another good one for PJ Harvey, following the worldwide adulation of Let England Shake. ‘The Community of Hope’ continues the lo-fi melodies of ‘The Wheel’; it’s a scuzzy rant with an anti-commercialism slant not seen since Talking Heads’ ‘(Nothing But) Flowers’.

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4).        The Dandy Warhols – ‘STYGGO’

Over the years, Courtney Taylor and his gang of loveable recyclers have been ever so frustrating; for every ‘Sad Vacation’ there has been ‘A Loan Tonight’. They seem to have arrested this inconsistency with new album Distortland, though, and ‘STYGGO’ – some things you gotta get over – zips along on a minimalist groove and Taylor’s typically hushed, cynical vocals.

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5).        Sundara Karma – ‘A Young Understanding’

While some new bands are ensuring an unfussy production, Sundara Karma are the big hitters – they want their songs to sound big, brash and brilliant. ‘Young Understanding’ continues their trend for bombast, a pounding call-to-arms built around Oscar Lulu’s anthemic yelps.

Palehound's new album, Dry Food, comes out August 14

6).        Palehound – ‘Molly’

Molly has been a song matter for a number of bands (Sponge, Kings of Leon and The Vaselines, for example), and Boston grunge merchants Palehound aren’t a big fan either. “Ooh, selfish Molly,” decries frontwoman Ellen Kempner on this melodic yet scuzzy blast of Pavement-style sludge.

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7).        Dream Wife – ‘Hey Heartbreaker’

Riot grrrl has a gang of new advocates in the shape of London trio Dream Wife. Taken from their debut EP, ‘Hey Heartbreaker’ is a wonderful stomp of traditional, shouty punk rock, building from a Cribs-style verse into a monster of a chorus. It bodes well for their debut album.

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8).        Nada Surf – ‘Friend Hospital’

American rockers Nada Surf have been remarkably consistent over the years, and new record You Know Who You Are has a number of gems. The best one is ‘Friend Hospital’, a fragile ode to platonic love as Matthew Caws angelically proclaims – “so much better that we’re not together / cos I will not lose you, or be the blues to you.”

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9).        Catfish and the Bottlemen – ‘Soundcheck’

After the globe-gobbling success of The Balcony, the Llandudno troupe have wasted no time in broadening their scope and ambitions. Going for the arena jugular, ‘Soundcheck’ has a slick coat of radio polish and a moody non-sequitur of a bridge. They’re going to become a KoL-style guilty pleasure, but oh well.

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10).      VANT – ‘FLY-BY-ALIEN’

VANT know how to raise a pulse. They’ve put on some barnstorming support slots with the likes of FIDLAR, and their upcoming tour for April should really get the eardrums pleading. ‘FLY-BY-ALIEN’ is exactly what you’d expect from the band by now – a blistering chorus, Mattie Vant’s scorching vocals and florid guitars.

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11).      Skating Polly – ‘Oddie Moore’

Staggeringly, American duo Skating Polly are prepping their fourth album, despite still being fresh-faced adolescents. There’s nothing innocent about their sound, though – ‘Oddie Moore’ is an abrasive, in-your-face diary entry set to the band’s typically wonderful riffs and brooding bass. They should be a national treasure.

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12).      The Posies – ‘Squirrel vs. Snake’

It’s been six long years since The Posies’ last record, and thankfully they’ve quenched that drought with ‘Squirrel vs. Snake’. A suitably twisting, shimmering song full of Reveal-esque embellishments and a lilting acoustic motif, as Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer’s harmonies wash over the chorus, you know all is well within the world.

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13).      Flowers – ‘All At Once’

There’s nothing wrong with a blast of pure bubblegum pop, albeit with a darker underbelly – Nina Persson knew it, Molly Rankin knew it, and now Rachel Kenedy knows it. ‘All At Once’, from the London trio’s record Everybody’s Dying to Meet You, is a shimmering indie ode with gossamer vocals.

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14).      Drowners – ‘Cruel Ways’

Drowners combined Suede-esque beauty with American-style brawn on their debut (the kneejerk ‘Long Hair’ is still a classic), and they’re back with their long-awaited sophomore. ‘Cruel Ways’ is a little poppier around the edges, but it’s no less impressive.

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15).      We Are Scientists – ‘Buckle’

The lads are back. Known for their cerebral quips on and off the stage, Keith Murray and Chris Cain are letting their music talk once again with ‘Buckle’. The first taster from their upcoming fourth album Helter Seltzer, ‘Buckle’ is a breakneck indie rocker with Murray’s howls puncturing the chorus.

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Bad Habits – Why Miles Kane’s Faux Paus Is Just the Tip of the Iceberg

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Recently, the world doffed their fringes and showed appreciation for all things female on International Women’s Day. Trailblazers from all corners of culture were freshly anointed and adorned, and Instagram was alive with filters of Courtney Love, Emma Watson and Polly Jean Harvey. For Miles Kane, though, he was having to face up to swallowing some considerable humble pie.

International Women’s Day is an important movement, and not just a Facebook frivolity (there were, natch, a few statuses appearing on Facebook denouncing “yet another special day…when’s Oatcake Day?” or the typically anti-feminist boilerplate, “yeah well when’s National Men’s Day appearing?” It’s in November, guys, hush). But one thing the day did highlight was that we’re still considerably far away from reaching gender equality, and surprisingly, one of the biggest setbacks is the world of music.

The medium of sport is still wrestling (or should that be ‘foxy-boxing’ – gender insensitive ed) with accepting gender equality, with full-time football coach Annie Zaidi admitting to facing taunts of sexism and Islamophobia as she tried to negotiate a career in the world of sport (she originally gave up all hope aged 14). But music is all about acceptance, progression and diversity…isn’t it? Sometimes, it really doesn’t seem that way, for lately there has been a slew of sexism sound tracking the current state of music.

LAS VEGAS, NV - MAY 18: Recording artist Kesha attends the 2014 Billboard Music Awards at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on May 18, 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by David Becker/Billboard Awards 2014/Getty Images for DCP)

Kesha has been put under a considerable amount of stress and discomfort after judges ruled against releasing her from her contract, despite the strong allegations of sexual assault and emotional abuse from producer Dr Luke. It seemed Sony Music had finally seen sense when, after an inordinate amount of time, they announced they were “dropping” Luke from their roster. But even then, it was because of a “public relations headache” – it’s like allowing your dog to defecate your rug, and then blaming Ikea for having such “substandard absorbency”; the two barely correlate, and it seems Sony only acted because of intense, and rightful, pressure, rather than the actual allegations.

But now Dr Luke is vehemently denying he has been dropped, remonstrating he has a strong partnership with Sony and that he and Kesha can work “without interaction.” So, in other words, it is okay for Luke to continue to prowl the perimeter, but Kesha must be on her constant guard should he decide to permeate the water cooler. It’d be like letting Jeremy Clarkson stay on at the BBC, as long as the BBC restaurant changes from modern European to a Miller & Carter.

Another blot on the equality copybook has come in the shape of Miles Kane. Despite having a decent solo career and periods in semi-successful indie bands (The Rascals being the most notable), arguably Kane is best known for The Last Shadow Puppets, whose Bacharach-meets-Morricone appreciation of ‘60s fervour gave him, as well as cohort Alex Turner, a new string to his indie bow.

The now-infamous Spin article presented journalist Rachel Brodsky the kind of discomfort that should only be displayed when trying to ask Mark E. Smith for his bar tab. Not only was Kane’s perverted presentation of Turner’s seemingly bulging crotch not especially amusing, he spent the interview engaged in some sort of tossed-off, smug honeytrap, in which he blatantly – though tried to make it nonchalant – propositioned the journalist and then ensnared her into an awkward goodbye kiss. Later, he sent a note apologising for his “Carry On” behaviour, as if that would make it all go away. But it doesn’t, because what’s the use in a note? It doesn’t erase the sour taste or the discomfort Brodsky would have felt during and after the interview. It doesn’t excuse Kane’s conceited come-ons, nor does it quell the belief that he really is sorry. Furthermore, it doesn’t mean that it won’t happen again.

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It’s like having a one-night stand with a girl who loves you, then realising it’s wrong and sending a conciliatory Kik a week later – musicians, and men in general, need to learn it’s foresight that’s key – being reactive is pointless. To be proactive is to prevent.

Throughout the Spin interview, Kane and Turner seem, simply, bored – bored with fame, bored with interviews and bored with promotion, and thus decide to make it fun, and that’s what makes Kane’s behaviour worse – it seemed he was asking her to “butter (him) up” and casting her meaningful, disconcerting glances to make it more fun for him. Even if he meant any of it, it would be inexcusable, but on the surface, it plays out that Kane wanted a bit of a laugh and decided to treat this woman with flagrant disregard, and then, when the guano penetrated the fan, urgently scribbled a ‘sorry’. It’s like at the Year 10 piss-up, when your mates egg you on to try and finger the nerd, and later on you’ll make sure your digits do not dared to be doused on a towel.

“I’m going to shag more in my thirties,” “I’ve got a hard-on for Alex Turner” – since when did Miles Kane become the real-life Jay Cartwright? At least in The Inbetweeners, it was pushed to such a pathetic degree that I could laugh about it. Miles seems to think being Turner’s pompadour polisher gives him clitoral credence.

The sad thing is it’s a sorry indictment of the music industry. We may have powerful female figures in music (off the bat, there’s the Deal sisters, Liz Phair, Warpaint, even the always overlooked Juliana Hatfield), but half of their ‘admirers’ would cease spinning their songs if they let their skin sag. Even now, if I say one of my favourite bands is, for example, Alvvays or Best Coast, it is often followed by a quick Google search and an approval of “she’s fit.” I doubt I’d get the same response if I told them to Google a pic of Mac DeMarco. There was also a time when I wanted a female guitarist in a band, but even that led to a Pandora’s Box of analytics, explanations and assurances – it seemed no one could overcome their salient belief this was only because I wanted to start a “Fleetwood Mac” and get my end away.

Freedom does come slowly at first, but in the music world it should be arriving a lot quicker, and Miles Kane’s actions have left a sour taste. But, to paraphrase TLSP’ new record, it’s everything we’ve come to expect.

 

Ode To V – Where Has It All Gone Wrong?

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Ten years ago, V Festival announced its headliners, and, if nothing else, it was a staunch statement of intent. Morrissey had made a two-fisted comeback with You Are the Quarry and Ringleader of the Tormentors, respectively, and was, thankfully, a long time away from writing a trashy, disjointed novella. Radiohead had been buried underneath a cache of demos and environmental pleas, and were readying their follow-up to 2003’s maligned Hail to the Thief (however, it wouldn’t come until the end of the next year). The rest of the line-up was an arms-aloft appreciation of guitar-based music – Beck, Razorlight, Kasabian, Paul Weller, Bloc Party, The Charlatans…it was an exhibition of what British brawn and stateside synergy had to offer.

So let’s go back in time and say you’ve just bought tickets to V 2006. After witnessing the zeitgeist-baiting rock of the noughties, let’s imagine you stumbled out of Weston Park and fell, like Bush on his Segway before you, into the crater left behind by Johnny Borrell’s ego. You’re comatose for ten years. In that time, Kanye West has become the world’s most pretentious pauper, Calvin Harris scraped the Scottish off his stomach and Ian Brown was retiring his strange solo soldier dance. Surely, though, nothing could prepare you for this. This is a joke, surely? Sorry, sir, it’s not. I’ll pull the plug now.

The elephant in the room is made of titanium, dancing on a California king bed. For at V 2016, the headliners are Justin Bieber and Rihanna, further cementing V’s place in the festival pantheon as one for those with who simply don’t like festivals. V has been on a downward trajectory ever since Radio One throw out their copies of Louder than Bombs, but this line-up is surely a death knell in a Paul’s Boutique coffin. Instead of ‘festival favourite bands’ padding out the afternoon and evening (I’m thinking your Ocean Colour Scenes, Mystery Jets’s, Libertinesssssss), we’ve got Tinie Tempah, Little Mix and Rita Ora (her sister, Kia, is DJing).

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It’s a sad summary of V 2016 that the rockiest band present is Scottish slumber-merchants Travis. I haven’t got a problem with Fran Healy’s wistful croons and the band’s Beatles-esque melodies, but when I attend a festival I expect something a bit more pulse-raising than a crowd surf to ‘Driftwood’. Kaiser Chiefs and Jake Bugg are playing, but this feels like a pathetic attempt to placate the purists while blasting out Galaxy; it’s like putting your Spotify on silent to show you’re spinning Sleater-Kinney, when in reality you’re YouTubing The Best Of Bizzle.

Noel Gallagher has never been one to shy from a barb, and when Glastonbury announced full-time mogul and part-time musician Jay Z was headlining in 2008, he wasn’t afraid to voice his concerns. To paraphrase one G, festivals are for rock bands. To paraphrase another G, festivals are for music. I have no problem with a line-up that is diverse and eclectic, as it aids discovery of new groups and keeps things interesting, but V’s latest amalgamation almost feels like positive discrimination – we can’t keep those who like Bieber’s beefy couplets outside the fences, it’s just not right, so let’s put a festival on to make them feel part of it, too. Slowly, this festival has taken inclusion to a delusional height.

Allow me to use an obscure reference – there’s an episode of Daria, a show devoted to proud pariahs, in which the school’s airheaded cheerleader Brittany attends a grunge club (which actually resembles The Sunflower Lounge). She’s like a giddy child allowed to stay up late to watch Grease, and can’t wait to tell people she’s “lived through it.” Slowly, V Festival has turned this into a reality, in which those that viewed festival-goers with scorn and secret envy can now be among them…without actually having to be in the same field as them. It’s a way for some (and I mean some) people to feel like a typical festival-goer (one that has a backpack from Thailand, a top made of hemp and a BRMC tattoo) without having to listen to that god awful festival music. And then they can return to their offices and say “wow, I’m knackered…but that’s festivals for you.” It’s like when someone proudly states they love indie music, and then rattles off the chorus to ‘Sex on Fire’.

Come August 2006, I was eagerly awaiting Morrissey and his bequiffed aura. In August 2016, I shall be trying to avoid a clutch of sleeved, meat headed frat boys bounding around to ‘What Do You Mean’. I won’t be there, of course, but I live so near Weston Park I’ll be hard pressed to avoid the traffic, the noise and, god forbid, the Example. My only worry is maybe this is a sad sign of things to come – I nervously await Zayn at Reading.

 

‘When You Dish Upon A Star’ – The Death of the Celebrity Cameo?

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Welcoming celebrities into the blue-collar world of The Simpsons was always risky; if they were appearing via television or some fancy awards ceremony, fair enough, but if they happened to physically frequent Springfield, it had to be for valid reasons.

Not only that, but the celebrities had to be fair game for some gentle hazing. Over the years, some of the best celebrity cameos have been the most unusual – Peter Frampton was presented as a bitter curmudgeon, Dick Cavett was a washed-up namedropper and James Taylor was brutishly brusque. Furthermore, celebrities appearing as themselves didn’t happen very often, not until around the turn of the century, and on the infamous ‘When You Dish Upon A Star’, the trend of celebrities gracing the show became an unwanted occurrence.

This episode, along with ‘That ‘90s Show’ and ‘The Principal and the Pauper’, has an infamous position in the show’s long-running canon. Not only is it lightweight in the comedic stakes, it is also where the trend for famous people popping up in Springfield ad infinitum began, as well as them being presented in the holiest of lights. From here on in, we’d be greeted to simpering send-ups of Mel Gibson, Michelle Obama, Lady Gaga and (shudder) Tony Blair. None are critically mauled or presented as absurd caricatures; instead, they come in for a scene, bend over to receive a scriptural rear-kissing and then get their cheque on the way out. George Harrison must be spinning in his grave.

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Season Ten represents an awkward middle-ground for The Simpsons – the halcyon days of Seasons One to Eight were, like adolescence, a pleasantly fading memory, although you could still, heartbreakingly, see it in the distance. The tenth season still gave us a few hearty chuckles – and there a few in here – but any emotional resonance was replaced by a cheap laugh. This is represented perfectly in the first few scenes of this episode, where, after an ironically soporific dream sequence involving Homer as Yogi Bear, the family attend the Springfield Lake for a day out.

The scenes where the family go water skiing are quite funny (particularly Bart’s deadpan “she’s down” after Lisa instantly descends into the shallow end). Homer’s insistence on going higher pays off, and his surprisingly eloquent line “I’m soaring majestically like a candy wrapper caught in an updraft” would occasionally appear on Simpsons Hit & Run, for some reason. The episode begins to plummet just as soon as Homer’s body crash lands through the plush property of Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger. From here on in, it becomes a disjointed, affectionate documentation of gentle maternal ribbing and Oscar polish.

I can almost forgive Homer’s garbled glee over sharing a futon with the thespian couple, even though he seems more like a fangirling teenager than a working-class slob. The most egregious line, though, is when, after Basinger begins to tell the origins of why they’re in Springfield, Homer arbitrarily interrupts with “wait! Tell me over breakfast! Who’s for pancakes?” For me, the Homer I know and love would never offer to cook – go back to Season One when he sheepishly ordered pizza while Marge bowled. Sure, he made that heart-clogging moon waffle in ‘Homer the Heretic’, but Homer’s energetic eagerness to become the Hollywood handyman feels especially out-of-character (a few moments later, he offers to fix their broken skylight and do their shopping).

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After that, he falls into a curious kinship with Kim and Alec, and, even stranger, they welcome it. Not only is it out-of-sorts for Homer to become such a vigorous assistant, surely two Hollywood stars wouldn’t succumb to this stranger so swiftly? Later on, there’s a strange scene where Basinger does a workout while Homer watches with a beer, acting like her trainer. She even suggests she wants a neck rub; it’s just so random how all of a sudden they see Homer as a fervent friend, and it’s not charming or endearing in any way. He also becomes snobbish to his family, refusing Marge’s food (again, completely out-of-character) and saying “I didn’t need to fake it with them, I was actually excited to hear about their day”, which is especially cruel.

There are good parts in the show, and the saving grace is Ron Howard, who is written purely to be ridiculed (as it should be). Not only is it heavily implied he is an alcoholic, there’s an amusing scene where he and Homer, who form a much more believable, almost brotherly relationship, play badminton and after Basinger says “in your freckled face, Howard,” Homer contemptuously mutters “unbelievable” at Howard’s poor play. The best moment of the show is in the by-now obligatory action sequence, where Howard says “I guess it’s up to me,” and launches himself from the car to Homer’s mobile museum…only to instantly miss and plummet to the ground. It’s a callback to the good old days where celebrities like Ernest Borgnine would end up killed in the woods, but it’s a jarring contrast to the blinding glow that basks the Baldwins.

This episode marks the beginning of the end for Simpsons celebrity cameos. Wooden stars like Jim Jarmusch and Ronaldo would appear to spout a few unfunny lines, and in easily the worst episode I have ever, ever seen (even worse than the Gaga one), some guy called Elon Musk, who can’t act for toffee, is presented as some sort of God. It was truly terrible. One thing was for sure, after this episode, the days of mocking celebrities with scalpel-sharp satire were, like Ron Howard’s vodka, fresh out.