Katherine Rodgers

Ramblings of a (now) London based Hack

My Forbidden Love Affair with Mc Fly.

Image Most people had to learn to love rock and roll. But in my case, I was born rock and roll.
In the early 2000s, my father was a frustrated rocker forced into bank work by necessity. Monday to Friday, he was a placid clerk in a tatty M&S suit. But by weekends, he was a surly, aging punk, who wore a Grateful Dead t-shirt over his beer belly and had a pointy little fringe which he trimmed in the bathroom mirror with nail scissors. When I came along, I was raised as his musical protege. All his university friends had moved out of Northern Ireland’s gully to greener pastures, he hated everyone at his job, and since my mother had morphed from the mad haired, Siouxse & The Banshees-loving girl he thought he’d married to a reticent woman with a penchant for Robbie William’s swing album, he was badly in need of a musical companion. So when I grew up into a gawky, wonky-fringed tweenager in plaid trousers and his worn-out Nirvana shirt, he was thrilled. And so my childhood played out – I bopped along to ‘Rid Of Me’, tried my darndest to find something to hum along to in Astral Week’s volatile noodlings, and nodded politely to ‘Funhouse’ by Iggy and The Stooges – a fact I blame for the severely limited hearing in my right ear today.

You might wonder why a child would succumb to such an outrageously mature musical diet? Well, I was from rural Northern Ireland, had no friends to speak of (bar a boy in my class, known for his body odour, who forced me to play jedi fights with him at breaktime with bits of plastic tubing) was only granted limited use of the television set, and had a radio that only tuned into the sports stations and a station that broadcast mass 24/7 – I was in a bit of a cultural vacuum My dad, however, was thrilled! I was the pal he’d never had. I was going to be the next Kim Gordon, right?! He was going to buy me a guitar for christmas! He let me have a sip of his beer one time! He’s awesome.

But then… DOO DOO DOO DOO DOO… DOOO! DOO DOO DOO DOO DOO… DOOOOO! One day, while making the most of one of my half-hour TV sessions, an advert for a band caught my eye. But not just any band, a boy band! With cool, flicky haircuts! And earrings and stuff! And they played music that I could sing along to! Not just screaming and loud guitar that made my ears hurt. They had proper, hum-along melodies! And choruses! Wow! My brain exploded for the first time with the sheer, emotive pleasure of a proper bubble-gum pop song. And the name of this seminal band, the auteurs who could inspire such awe? McFly.

I was hooked, and I needed my fix. My television time was up (heralded by the oinking of a china, pig-shaped alarm clock my mum kept on the kitchen dresser) so I had to be crafty. I grabbed my lime green fisher-price tape recorder from my bedroom, and dived behind the sofa while my mum took up position at the television, pretending to read while hoarding the tape recorder in my lap.

And after a while… doo doo doo do doo…. doo! The advert came on again! I pressed the ‘record’ button, and hurried up to my room. There, I played the 30 second snippet of McFly’s first single, ‘Five Colours In Her Hair’, over and over and over again. It was the first thing I heard when I woke up, and the last thing I heard when I went to sleep at night. I made up a dance routine, which involved jazz-handing to every ‘doo doo’ and shaking my hair a lot, like a deranged horse. I was obsessed.

I had made vague hints to my mum about my new obsession, and was promised a copy of their debut album, ‘Room On The Third Floor’, after I finished my eleven plus exam. The exam came and went, and I gently reminded my mum about her promise. ‘Oh yes, that’ she muttered. ‘Jim, could you run to Tescos and pick up that CD Katherine asked for? It’s McFee or something.
‘McFly!’ I cried, aghast. ‘It’s McFly.’
‘McFly?’ My father looked disgruntled. ‘I’ve never heard of them.’ Nevertheless, he drove off. And came back with his brow furrowed. ‘What IS this?’ he demanded. ‘I put it on the car over and it’s BOLLOCKS!’ I was affronted. My whole body seemed to pang with absolute embarrassment and shame, the kind only ever prompted by parental sneering.

‘You’re right, they’re really bad, I don’t even like them, really.’ I mumbled, miserably. ‘A friend told me to get it, you can leave it back to the shop, if you want…’

‘No! She’s a young girl and she should be allowed to listen to whatever music she wants, Jim!’ my mother trilled. She fought my case, and eventually my dad relinquished the CD. I was far too ashamed to take it whenever he was in eyeshot, so I waited until my parents went to bed, crept downstairs, and retrieved the CD from the kitchen counter. Back in my bedroom, I slotted the CD into my radio set and lost myself in a forbidden world of illicit pop pleasures.

But sadly, such passions burn bright but fade fast. In less than a week, I was tired of McFly, and the CD was eventually tossed into a black bin bag, which my father hauled, with relish, to the charity shop.

Blood Red Shoes – Water (EP Review)

(Published in NME Magazine)

After last year’s ‘In Time To Voices’ found Blood Red Shoes’ brand of bratty punk polished to a high shine, the Brighton duo have now made a bid for “pure, badass, rock’n’roll immediacy”. Their words. In a way, they’ve been pretty successful – the only problem is that among the punk-rock rubble, the choruses have been buried completely too. The tracks on ‘Water’ may be crawling with riffs, but without the rousing, infectious choruses that made Blood Red Shoes so bloody exciting in the first place, it seems like a bit of a pointless exercise all round. The storming ‘Black Distraction’ comes closest to recapturing the band’s former, feverish appeal, but unfortunately the rest of it is a bit of a dirge. 

3/10

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Live Review: Laura Marling @ The Royal Albert Hall

published in The Fly.

Best of 2012 Playlist

I’ve made a spotify playlist of my favourites of 2012 thus far. Have a listen, if you’d like. 

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Album Review: Fang Island – Major

(Published in NME Magazine) 

Any band who take their name from genius satirical website The Onion and release soft-focus shots of themselves wearing matching shirts and staring blithely into the middle distance like the geeky table at a school prom must have a great sense of humour, right? Right. ‘Sisterly’ rushes along on eddying guitar solos and shout-sung vocals like the musical personification of an air-punch, while the chugging bass and incessant “woah”s on ‘Asunder’ are devilishly infectious. The whole thing sounds like the soundtrack to your favourite ’90s adolescent rom-com. Not the most inspiring stuff, perhaps, but it is bloody good fun.

7/10

Album Revew: Erin K & Tash – Our First EP

Image(Published in NME Magazine)

Straight outta Soho come Landahn’s answer to Flight Of The Conchords – they’re a bit Kimya Dawson and a bit Adam & Joe’s Kate Nash parody ‘Bums And Binge Drinking’. It isn’t the most ground-breaking of musical escapades – the black comedy of ‘Heart Out’ (“Rip out my heart/ Replace it with quavers/Declare it as art”) is strikingly similar to the lyrical wryness of Emmy The Great, and ‘This Boy’ is a direct descendant of Miss Nash’s plaintive ‘We Get On’ – but if you’re craving a fresh duo of filthy-mouthed indie darlings clad in Topshop print dresses and giggling about small penises, then you can’t go far wrong with this wilfully whimsical EP. 

Katherine Rodgers

 
 6/10

Best of 2012 Thus Far..

2012 has been an objectively amazing year for music, so I think a half-year retrospective of some of the best albums is more than appropriate. Without further ado..

Sharon Van Etten – Tramp

Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel..

Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan

Anais Mitchell – Young Man in America

Grimes – Visions 

Drake – Take Care

Policia – Give Up The Ghost

Andrew Bird – Break It Yourself

Soap&Skin – Narrow

EP Review: The Antlers – Undersea

(Published in The Quietus) 

‘I seem different/ImageMore removed’ coos Peter Silberman on the second track of ‘Undersea’ – a line which sums up the oeuvre of the latest release from The Antlers succinctly. While ‘Hospice’ wasn’t so much a tug as it was a full-blown yank on the listener’s heart-strings, perhaps what is most noticeable about ‘Undersea’ is its sense of emotive distancing, of creative self-restraint.

Fittingly enough, a sense of submersion undertows the EP – the record is brackish and waterlogged; sound seems lazy, delayed even, mimicking the slow-mo panorama of underwater scenes. ‘Drift Dive’ is a sublime example of this – a gorgeous pas de deux between Peter Silberman and Sharon Van Etten, the track is bolstered by a languid, gently-spooling guitar line which cossets their soporific cooing perfectly. Progressing from the brittle falsetto/visceral howl Silbermann wildly oscillated between on ‘Hospice’, here his voice has matured, leavening into a half-articulate drawl, his words braiding and coalescing with the guitar lines to become barely distinguishable from the instruments themselves.

It isn’t all woozy and melismatic – ‘Endless Ladder’ is very nearly funky, if not really bloody catchy, featuring twinkling piano and a sinuous, two-stepping guitar coda. While ‘Hospice’ was renown for its prolix, quasi-novelistic lyrics, ‘Undersea’ finds Silberman becoming increasingly lyrically minimalist, his songs often structured over refrains and phrases, rather than a convolute narrative arc. Take ‘Crest’, which finds Silberman howling ‘Closer to truth, but much, much further’ over eddying guitar arpeggios and wilting horns. It’s a nonsensical statement, almost paradoxical, but Silberman clearly didn’t chose the refrain for semantics – it’s a purely musical phrase, chosen for the way Peter’s croon slips gracefully over the ‘closer’, before breaking in sharp staccato on ‘much, much further’. On ‘Undersea’, Peter’s voice is less of a communicative tool, and more of an extension of the song – it serves only to echo the guitar lines, to add accent to the horns, to ride roughshod over the melody, another vivid stitch in an intricate musical tapestry.

If there’s one boon to be said for ‘Undersea’, it’s the sense of progression it offers. The Antlers are a very different band to the one who waxed poetic on skeletal girls with ‘scissor pain and phantom limbs’ on ‘Hospice’ – both ‘Burst Apart’ and ‘Undersea’ have marked a significant shift from the panoramic solipsism of ‘Hospice’ to a vaguer, more prosaic, more typically indie rock sound. But while the aquatic theme pervading ‘Undersea’ may make for some interesting sonic experiments, it also acts as a distancing mechanism. Perhaps Silberman’s detachment is a mere lack of enthusiasm masquerading under a stylistic decision? For all its musical accomplishment, much of ‘Undersea’ drifts past in a pretty, twinkly daze, leaving little impression in its wake.

Still, it’s insincere to attempt to milk the same sense of tragedy twice. ‘Hospice’ was a masterpiece, but it was decidedly singular in its genius – Peter Silberman & Co have been wise in deciding not to exhume Sylvia’s ghost. Let’s hope that the suspension offered on ‘Undersea’ is just a postponement while Silberman taps into some new, real emotion.

Album Review: múm – Early Birds

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(Published on The Line of Best Fit)                                                          

There’s something about the phrase ‘Icelandic folktronica outfit’ which screams ‘Post-Bjork gimmick’ – but múm are no such ploy. Resisting an ever-shifting line-up, label changes, increasingly silly song titles (‘The Smell of Today is Sweet like Breastmilk in The Wind’ anyone?) and economic meltdown in their home country, múm are made of sturdier stuff than their giddy, cowbell-heavy pop ditties may suggest. And with 5 albums, three EPs and a Peel Session tucked under their (colourful, hand-woven) belts, it’d be churlish to fault the band for indulging in a celebratory retrospective.

To even the casual listener, múm’s musical evolution is fascinating stuff. They started life in 1997, as the brainchild of Icelandic duo Gunnar Örn Tynes and Örvar Þóreyjarson Smárason, who made sparse, strangely charming musical exercises on cheap four-track tape recorders in each other’s bedrooms. Their sound was soon fleshed out by a number of talented players in the fertile Icelandic music scene, apexing in the superb ‘Finally We Are No-one’ and ‘Summer Make Good’ – both breath-taking marriages of the willful strangeness of earlier releases with  newly-found linear pop sensibilities.

Since then, múm’s scales have been progressively veering towards the more pop side of things – their fourth release ‘Go Go Smear The Poison Ivy’ featured a gurning, demonically twitterpated facsimile of their previous sound, and following album ‘Sing Along To Songs You Don’t Know’ was more of the same – in recent times, múm have sounded less like a band of rabble-rousing pop ingenues, and more like a particularly rambunctious episode of Cbeebies. The brooding, briny intrigue which masterfully curtailed the whimsy of previous releases has sadly been sanitised.

So for those of us disillusioned by múm’s recent releases, a retrospective mightn’t seem like such a bad idea. The first half of ‘Early Birds’ encapsulates múm’s talent for conjuring up a yearning for childhood memories you didn’t even know you had. ‘Gingúrt’ and ‘Bak Þitt Er Sem Rennibraut’ both sound like arcade games malfunctioning in the best possible way, and the zippy hair metal guitar solo on the latter is tastelessly endearing, redolent of the tinny, pre-recorded backing tracks on toy keyboards and guitars.

However, it’s the second half of the compilation – featuring more contemplative tracks – which truly stands out on ‘Early Birds’. ‘0,000orð’ is a gorgeous, string-laden wisp that reminds us how purely beautiful múm can sound, while ‘múm spilar la la la’ is a delicate two-step between jangling bass and ethereal accordion, showcasing Tynes and Smárason’s underused knack for melding seemingly incongruous musical textures to harmonious effect.

While ‘Early Birds’ is essential only to the hardcore fan, it is by no means completely unnecessary. ‘Early Birds’ provides an intriguing insight into the formative years of a band who have strived through their sheer talent for shape-shifting. And while change is good, as ‘Early Birds’ attests, sometimes the past is even better.