Katherine Rodgers

Ramblings of a (now) London based Hack

Album Review: Dan Le Sac – Space Between The Words

(Published in NME Magazine)Image

Known as the beardy dude in hip-hop duo Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip, Dan is following in his band-mate’s footsteps and stepping into a solo career. As you’d expect from a man commonly found twiddling behind a keyboard, ‘Space Between The Words‘ is feature heavy, with guest spots from Merz, Pete Hefferan from Pete & The Pirates and most notably, indie-folker Emmy The Great. An eclectic mix, perhaps – but the motley crew of collaborations is the best thing about ‘Space Between The Words’. Dan’s production is unashamedly bombastic, and this works best on on the blustering, Merz-featuring ‘Long Night of Life’. Likewise, the wobbling bass and swaggering funk of single ‘Play Along’ bolsters Sarah Williams White’s vocal slinking perfectly. However, Emmy The Great’s turn on ‘Memorial’ is wildly misjudged, with Dan’s overblown disco synthetics crushing the singular charm of her schoolgirlish coo. Despite this, ‘Space Between The Words‘ is an entertainingly volatile affair – wildly skittering between genres to pull together a record which is often patchy, but never boring, at least. Katherine Rodgers. 

6/10

Download: ‘Long Night of Life’, ‘Play Along’

Top 5 Tracks of 2011

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! No, not christmas. The end of year lists time! A time when music nerds everywhere finally have a legitimate excuse to lose themselves in the maze of their record collection (or downloads folder), and I’m no exception.

Oh, and I know my blog usually serves as a compendium of all my published work – before you immediately begin wondering what editor published such ramblings, please note that my end of year lists always fall under the category of ‘unpublishable guff’.  Seriously guys, if you thought my published work was bad… OOOH BOY.

Without further ado, here are my top 5 tracks of the year

(top 10 albums to follow whenever I can be arsed)

    1. Thao & Mirah – Eleven
      If there was any justice in the world, this anthem of a song would be blasted from bars, pubs and nightclubs everywhere. Famous people would do crappy remixes of it! Thao & Mirah would appear in an expensive video where they dance around an air hangar in sparkly hot-pants! Kanye would rap over it! About his penis! And everyone would talk about how clever he is!  HURRAH! ‘Eleven‘ basically sounds like a really really really REALLY brilliant Tune-Yards track (and as you may know, that’s very brilliant indeed, see #2), and Merrill herself even features in it, yelping away in the background like she’s just stood on a plug. And in an age of folk-moping (looking at you, Oberst and Vernon, you drips) isn’t it wonderful to hear a lovely indie pop song about how lovely love is and how it should never go away and everyone should be in love all the time because it’s just so damn LOVELY? And that’s just what this song is. Damn lovely. Ever since I’ve listened to this album for this first time, I haven’t been able to blunder my way through a single morning without sticking my head-phones in and listening to this track at full volume. It should be marketed as a hangover cure. It’s reviving, fortifying. It’ll blow out every cobweb you have in your head and fill your brain full of sunshine. It’s fucking fantastic, is what it is. Have a listen. 
    2. Tune-Yards – Gangsta
      Come on, now. I refuse to do that ridiculous capitalisation/spacing malarkey, Merrill. I can take the grainy home recordings. I can take the face-paints. Heck, I can even take the faux-Jamaican accents. But tUnE-yArDs? W H O K I L L? You are not 15 years old, Merrill, and you are not writing your myspace profile. Cut it out! Anyway, once you get past the obnoxious titles, Merrill Garbus is actually one of the most interesting people floating around pop at the moment. ‘Gangsta’ is her crowning glory – it’s catchy, punchy, exciting as hell. And it has a lovely BANG BANG BANG! refrain you can shout while making appropriate finger-pistol gestures, which is always nice. Have a go…
    3. Jay-Z & Kanye West – That’s My Bitch
      Damn, Yeezy and Hov, where the hell ya been?! Let’s be honest, there was no way messrs Jay-Z and Kanye West were going to get together and make anything less than fantastic, now was there? They could have stood in the studio quietly farting for two hours and the critics still would have gushed about how it’s all an allegory of THE ILLUSION OF CELEBRITY and THE FOLLY OF DECADENCE and KANYE’S STRUGGLES WITH STARDOM and so on. Luckily, Watch The Throne is 100% flatulence-free, and also brilliant, so there you go. There’s so many tracks I could have chosen here, but ‘That’s My Bitch’ is particularly OTT. From Kanye’s ridiculous fake phone-call at the start of the track (Hello – can I speak to, uhh… uhhh…. uhhh… yeah, you know who you are! Look!) to La Roux’s brilliant helium chorus (I’m no fan of the lady myself, but I definitely feel less stabby towards La Roux after listening to his track. She still has silly hair, though. Unbelievably silly hair.) to Jay’s surprisingly tender love-note to Beyoncé in the final verse – although his swoonsome comparisons to Marilyn Monroe and The Mona Lisa are ruined a little by the last line, where he grunts ‘Get your own dog, ya heard… that’s my bitch!’ … I doubt the dog comparison is going to score Jay any brownie points with the missus any time soon. Poor Jay. At least he tried.
    4. St. Vincent – Chloe In The Afternoon
      You know that experiment everyone did in GCSE science when you got a prism and one of those mini lights, and you shone it through the prism and it bounced everywhere and MADE A RAINBOW? That’s what Annie Clark’s music reminds me of sometimes. Both are beautiful, diaphanous and unpredictable. And both are impossible to pin down. ‘Chloe In The Afternoon’ sounds like Sleater-Kinney on xanax – the guitars are grinding and clashing and gnashing their teeth, but Annie seems to float above it all, narcotised, like at the end of old-time musicals, when the leading man and lady float dreamily off into the sky while singing a high note and‘The End! is scribbled across the screen in fancy lettering… ‘Chloe In The Afternoon’ is awkward – it’s all limbs and nerves and angles and jagged edges – and it certainly isn’t the catchiest thing on ‘Strange Mercy’, but it’s sure as hell the most interesting.
      (Also, Annie Clark is RAVISHING. Just thought I’d put that out there.)
       
    5. Wild Flag – Future Crimes
      A year in which a former member of Sleater-Kinney releases some music is a good year indeed, and in 2011 we were spoiled. Corin Tucker’s record was kind of okay, but Wild Flag are something else (I still have my theory that if you got the music from Wild Flag and laid the vocals from Corin Tucker’s album over it, you might make A WHOLE NEW SLEATER-KINNEY RECORD. But I digress.). Wild Flag are an extra-super-group made up of 2/3 of S-K – Carrie Brownstein (she of excellent hair and star of my pre-pubescent crushing) and Janet Weiss, Mary Timony from Helium and generally being amazing, and Rebecca Cole from The Minders. Like Watch The Throne, I didn’t expect Wild Flag to be anything less than amazing, but I was shocked by just how amazing they were. Wild Flag is one of the funnest, grungiest records I’ve heard all year, and ‘Future Crimes’ is sublime. ‘I want you back to front, I want you front to back, I wanna feel this again, just like a heart attack…’ is a lyric that etched itself onto my conciousness for quite some time.

Album Review: Atlas Sound – Parallax

Bradford Cox has always been an otherworldly sort, but the second offering from the Deerhunter frontman is on a whole ‘nother plane of weird. Dedicated to the memory of equally ceaselessly experimental Broadcast frontwoman Trish Keenan, ‘Parallax’ is a singularly strange affair. Take ‘Amplifiers’, which begins something akin to a lo-fi tango, which quickens and quickens, until apexing in a tangled mess of feedback. Or the gauzy dream-pop of ‘Te Amo’ – with it’s woozy synths and Bradford’s 50’s style croon, it may strike many as the most prosiac thing Bradford has ever done, but listen closer and there’s something distinctly feverish lurking under ‘Te Amo’s diaphanous haze. But it’s penultimate track ‘Flagstaff’ that jars the most – a noodling folk epic redolent of Anais Mitchell’s ‘Hadestown’ fare, it pitches Bradford’s mewling lyrics about ‘A future so dark/ I’d describe it, but your jaw would drop’ over deceptively soothing folk guitar and advancing sonic dissonance. ‘Parallax’ isn’t one of those albums that smacks you around the face on first listen – but if you live with it, study it, peel back its layers, you’ll find an enduringly unsettling album that horrifies as much as it delights.

8/10

Key Tracks: ‘Te Amo’, ‘Angel is Broken’, ‘Flagstaff’.
For Fans Of: Deerhunter, Beach House, Yo La Tengo

(Published in AU Magazine)

Album Review: She & Him – A Very She & Him Christmas

There’s always been something a little contrived about the grand tradition of the Christmas album. Artists who have fallen out of public favour so often rely on a sprinkling of christmas cheer and a carefully co-ordinated marketing strategy to line their pockets and reignite their flagging careers over the festive season. So why have She & Him (aka indie heart-throb Zooey Deschanel and esteemed folkie M. Ward) chosen to skip down the tinsel-lined path?

It certainly isn’t for want of success – M. Ward has been releasing an increasingly successful string of albums since 1999, and it’s nigh on impossible to turn on the TV without seeing Zooey’s porcelain features blinking blithely back at you. Perhaps they’ve just been overtaken by the holiday spirit – and indeed, there are moments in ‘A Very She & Him Christmas’ that seem to be extemporaneous displays of fancy-free holiday bliss. Take gorgeous rendition of jazz standard ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’, which finds Zooey and Matt switching roles – Zooey taking on the role of hot toddy-pushing seductress, while Matt fumbles with his mittens and mumbles nervously about getting home to his mother. Or whimsical cover of Sinatra standard ‘The Christmas Waltz’, which dreamily sets Zooey’s honeyed vocals against M. Ward’s lazy, Californian guitar pickings. Admittedly, She & Him don’t get it right every time – Zooey’s rendition of ‘Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree’ is a little dead behind the eyes, and their cover of ‘Silver Bells’ transforms an already leaden song into something akin to a dirge – but overall, ‘A Very She & Him Christmas’ is a remarkably uncynical effort that manages to breathe new life into a genre hackneyed beyond belief.

Album Review: Summer Camp – Welcome To Condale

Bounding onto the blogosphere in a artfully filmy haze of fuzzy mp3s, mahoosive fringes and hidden identities, the Summer Camp debate rages on: are the London boy/girl duo innovative and beguiling, or is their perpetual yearning for a era long-gone regressive and, at worst, oddly fetishistic? Qualms about the worthiness of nostalgia and The Future Of Music aside, Welcome To Condale is an mostly enjoyable affair – there’s something satisfyingly natty about ‘Brian Krakow’s plasticky power synths, and in the crackling, John Hughes-sampling ‘Summer Camp’. It’s sometimes even euphoric – see the gorgeous ‘Losing My Mind’, which sets dreamy synths against a plaintive, heart-rending chorus, redolent of St. Vincent’s recent fare. But by the time first single ‘Ghost Train’ chugs around, the sugar high has slumped, and Summer Camp’s shambling schtick isn’t quite as charming any more. Welcome To Condale is a harmless slice of indie-retro… if you don’t look too closely. Katherine Rodgers

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

KEY TRACKS: BRIAN KRAKOW, LOSING MY MIND, GHOST TRAIN.
FOR FANS OF: BEST COAST, VIVIAN GIRLS, TENNIS.

(published in AU magazine)

Live Review: Emmy The Great @ The Limelight.

Anyone who knows anything about the personal life of London singer-songwriter Emmy The Great could forgive her for being just a little off. Last year, the singer’s fiancé underwent a religious conversion, and ran from the arms of Emmy to the arms of the church, leaving Emmy heartbroken, confused and stranded at her parent’s house with little more than her words to keep her company. It comes as a surprise, then, that tonight’s show is not a Morissette-aping parade of scorned vitriol and regret, but a sweet-natured collection of songs that strives to reach redemption, or a quiet understanding at least.

Clad in a floral dress and cowboy boots, Emma-Lee Moss is a master of masking deep personal strife and heartache under a dreamy wash – take the pleasant countryish twang of single ‘We Almost Had a Baby’, whose lilting, narcotised guitars mask a tale of date-rape and lost innocence. “I was only a baby, now I am what you made me,” sighs Emmy, as though she was trilling an innocuous love ballad rather than an off-kilter ode to unplanned pregnancy and emotional manipulation. And B-side ‘Canopies & Drapes’ finds Emmy rendering a bad break-up – a theme that has been revisited time and time again in pop music – into something warm, funny and distinctly relatable. The heartache is real, but it’s impossible not to titter when Emmy gurns “I feel worse than when S Club 7 broke up” over rollicking folk guitars, perfectly encapsulating the laughable melodrama of teenage heartache and ennui.

However, Emmy’s just-released album Virtue finds her scope extending a little wider than her own personal tribulations – newer tracks cover everything from the theory of evolution (‘Dinosaur Sex’) to Jung’s Cassandra Complex (‘Cassandra’), and overwrought romanticism on smouldering torch-song ‘A Woman, A Woman, A Century of Sleep’ – boughing under lush poetic and biblical imagery, Emmy eulogises about “roses in the flowerbed, where there never used to be” and yearns to “love and be loved / to have and to hold” like some swooning Victorian heroine, wafting smelling salts under her nose and composing torrid love-notes to her sweetheart over reticently pastoral guitar.

However, it’s heartbroken closer ‘Trellick Tower’ that leaves the biggest impression – it finds Emmy finally ditching the metaphors and crafting her starkest and most plainly autobiographical song yet. Over jarring piano chords she laments over her lost lover who “propelled himself into the arms of God, and Christ, and all the angels”, wading out into the audience as and staring stock-straight into their faces she repeats “Something holy used to touch me” with all the resigned grief of a funeral mourner, or a doom-laden prophet. It might be an old trick, to craft something beautiful from a bleak situation, but as Emma-Lee Moss attests, it has lost none of its poignancy. Katherine Rodgers

(written for AU Magazine)

Album Review: St. Vincent – Strange Mercy

The main draw with Texan indie darling Annie Clark, aka St. Vincent, has always been her unprecedented versatility. Debut Marry Me found her going from disillusioned, heavy-lidded housewife on the title track, trilling “we’ll do what Mary and Joseph did without the kid”, as painfully aware of the fallacies of ticky-tacky suburban life as Frank and April Wheeler, to shell-shocked soldier on ‘Paris Is Burning’, cooing “send my cinders home to mother” over spindling, claustrophobic instrumentation; drubbing drums and oozing horns pressing in on Clark’s frayed vocals like masked strangers leading the wide-eyed ingenue down a dark alley. And follow-up Actor was no less diverse, finding Clark shape-shifting from slighted lover in ‘The Strangers’ (“playboys under the matress, like I wouldn’t notice”) to hysterical sooth-sayer on ‘Marrow’. The only constant in Clark’s music has been the album art – all disarmingly gorgeous portrait shots, her doe-eyes and bubble-cut curls preened and perfected, her features poised in a tempered Mona Lisa smile, reminiscent of the heady, faintly narcotisised studio shots of Hollywood starlets from the 1950s.

So when Annie eschewed the pretty portrait shots for an arty photo of her mouth screaming through a layer of latex, followed by a series of zeitgeist-y promotional tools; a twitter campaign encouraged users to tweet the hashtag #strangemercy to unlock teaser videos and tracks from the album – one teaser featured a clip of animals eating their young – “It is not uncommon for a mother feline to eat or kill their young if they are sick” said the narrator, as ‘Surgeon’ hazed omniously in the backdrop. A video circulated of Annie covering Big Black at NYC’s Bowery Ballroom, purring “I think I fucked your girlfriend once… maybe twice, I don’t remember! Then I fucked all your girlfriends, now they hate you!” in her trademark honeyed tones. It’s a million miles away from the girl who once proclaimed herself “a wife in watercolours”. Annie’s message was pretty clear: shit was about to go down.

But what of the actual album? Strange Mercy kicks off in good stead – opener ‘Chloe In The Afternoon’ is one of the most exciting things one is likely to hear all year. It’s an odd, nebulous shape-shifting beast, pitting Annie’s hiccuping, disneyish vocal purling against fairground synths before being corroded by lusty riffing; Annie repeating the track’s title as it all shudders to a seasick conclusion. It’s the perfect concilliation between Annie’s disney princess alacrity and her nascent, riot grrrl fury – like Sleater-Kinney shot through a bubble-gum pop filter. Meanwhile, ‘Cheerleader’s ebullient, hinge-rattlingly massive chorus blows the cobwebs from Clark’s more experimental leanings, while ‘Champagne Year’, as well as being a literal Champagne Year (Annie is turning 28 on the September 28th, hurrah!) is also an educated nod to the hopelessness of the financial crisis, featuring Annie in full-on gloom-mongering mode, sighing “when I said it was going to be a Champagne Year…” with all the lost optimism and burgeoning rage shared by most of the world’s population. This is indie-rock with a conscience, and when Annie bemoans that she “tried so hard to be clever” (‘Cheerleader’), you hope she never stops – because it works.

‘Surgeon’ is ostentatiously weird – just when the track settles on the pretty “get along, get along, get along” refrain, Annie does a musical u-turn and begins squawking “best finest surgeon, come cut me open!” over funky, Hendrix-esque guitar and teetering strings. Annie’s riffing has always been her secret weapon, the golden arrow in her already jam-packed quiver – while her breezy good looks may trick you into thinking she may be more prediclined to sedate acoustic plucking, think again: this chick can play.

Case in point: ‘Northern Lights’. By far the album’s most prosaic indie rock track (well, as prosaic as Annie can get), Clark’s febrile guitar races through the tale of a relationship gone sour (“well I guess it is what you say it is, but I don’t feel anything”) her glorious voice swooping and swan-diving so effortlessly it’s easy to miss the heart-break and honesty that lies beneath, before the whole thing ends with a guitar solo that sounds like the air being let out of a balloon. And that isn’t the only display of axe-wielding mastery: throughout the course of Strange Mercy, Annie races through South Youth-y dissonance, self-conciously funky psych-outs and even a cheeky nod to ‘Hallelujah’ on the faint guitar braiding that wends its way through the social paranoia of ‘Champagne Year’.

For all it’s good points (and believe me, there are quite a few), Strange Mercy isn’t a straightforward listen – there are extended guitar noodlings, off-kilter electronic textures and a whole host of wordy literary references jammed into melodies that don’t quite fit. But while Clark may allow herself an extended solo or two, there’s nothing indulgent aboutStrange Mercy – it exists somewhere in the hinterland between Joanna Newsom’s unabashed indulgence and The Yeah Yeah Yeah’s efficient, furious pop. I mean, all Annie’s songs at least have choruses, or at least some faintly catchy motif you can make a stab at humming in the shower, they just take their own sweet time getting there. But aren’t all the good things in life slow-burning? Strange Mercy is yet more proof that there’s nowhere in life worth going to if you don’t enjoy the trip.

(Published on TLOBF.com)

Album Review: Benjamin Francis Leftwich – Last Smoke Before Snowstorm

The lost young man toting a battered guitar and a fistful of broken dreams has now become a mainstay of mainstream post-Mumford British pop culture. Luckily, York singer-songwriter Benjamin Francis Leftwich has more in common with the stark confessionals of Nick Drake.

The devil’s in the details here: songs that sound prosaic at first peel away to reveal dark idiosyncrasies – take slow-spooling album closer ‘Don’t Go Slow’, which finds Leftwich detailing lovers literally swallowing each other with a twisted detachment that would put Villagers’ Conor O’Brien to shame.

Katherine Rodgers

7/10

(published in NME magazine)

Live Review: Joanna Newsom @ Marlay Park

Album Review: Patrick Wolf – Lupercalia

Have you heard? Patrick Wolf‘s in love! Gone is the smudged eyeliner, the peroxide locks and leather bondage gear – The Bachelor is getting hitched! If the giddily tweeted engagement announcements didn’t clue you in to Patrick’s recent romantic fortunes, maybe the video for lead single ‘The City’ might – featuring Patrick gleefully pirouetting around on a sun-soaked beach, gambolling in the waves and grinning at the camera under a coiffed crimson fringe like the human personification of pep, it’s the single most joyful spectacle I’ve seen (or heard) this year.

And testimony to this newfound joy is Lupercalia. The whole gorgeous affair kicks off with the four minute pep-rally that is ‘The City’. It’s an exhilirating, blustering major key affair, featuring rolling, hammered piano chords and a pleasingly ritzy sax solo, it’s pure schmaltz, pure exuberance – at one put he even hollers “Take you in my arms and wish you top! top! top! of the morning!” – as an Irish person who would inherit a small fortune if given a penny every time the urge has been suppressed to sock every smug so-and-so who dares to utter this reputation-ruining piece of nationalistic triteness, it goes against every bone in my body to approve of a song containing the dreaded cliché – but I do. In fact, I adore it.

Speaking of clichés, Lupercalia is riddled with ‘em – ‘The City’ finds Patrick prattling on about the “key to his heart” and kissing on top of niagara falls, the swooning ‘House’ finds him reprising the old adage “only love makes house a home”, ‘Slow Motion’ likens the transforming properties of love to “the kiss of life” over fittingly disneyish strings, while ‘Together’ pits rousing, “we can do it so much better/together” sentiment over tiering strings and a twitching, itchy disco pulse in a glorious amalgamation of Patrick’s baroque and electronic leanings.

But no matter how trite, opulent or downright ridiculous the lyrics or instrumentation, Patrick’s strength of conviction never wanes – even the obligatory paeon to separation ‘Time of My Life’ manages to keep its head held resolutely high – Wolf choosing to bypass all the pain and misery that comes as an unfortunate package with the end of a relationship, instead choosing to focus on the catharsis, the in-your-face triumph of being ‘happy without you’.

And in the end, it’s Patrick’s ceaseless, unerring romanticism that transcends Lupercalia – it’s far too easy to feign moodiness, disaffection or despair, to maintain a facade of sophisticated sulkiness that hints at hidden depths never actualised, excuses a lack of any real emotion and artfully strikes chords with overgrown adolescent critics everywhere. It’s ten times braver to embody the kind of unfettered bliss often snobbishly dismissed as mindlessness – but when done right (like on Lupercalia) this starry-eyedness, the heart-swelling, knee-knocking, flustering flushes of love can be the most wonderful thing of all.