Saturday, 19 December 2009

Pandering to the Patrons

My mother explained that since she's basically funding my pursuits down south, she should have some say in what I produce: "Shakespeare didn't want to write his histories, Joe, he did them for his patrons. I am your patron and I want a poem!"

So I wrote her a poem:

That Be The Verse
by Joe Nockles

When I was just a little girl,
I asked my mother:
"What will I be?
Will I be pretty?
Will I be wealthy?
And here's what she said to me"

"Why have you cast yourself as a girl Joe? I don't understand. This really isn't what I had in mind! Now man up and try again!"

When I was just a little boy,
I asked my mother:
"What will I be?
Will I be handsome?
Will I be wealthy?
And here's what she said to me"

"Oh for god's sake! You're not a little boy anymore, Joe. You're 21. You can't be a child all your life. One day, you're gonna have to get up and stand on your own two feet! Now grow up and try again!"

When I was just a young adult,
I asked my mother:
"What will I be?
Will I be bread line?
Will I be dole line,
begging for a cup of tea?
And here's what she said to me"

"Why have you lowered your expectations? The world's not that bad is it?"
You'd be surprised, Mother.

When you were just a little girl,
You asked your mother:
"What would you be?
Would you be happy?
Would you be wealthy?"
And she said:
"No one's happy.
You'll be a social worker just like me"

Esben and the Witch

I went to see Esben and the Witch at Cargo in Shoreditch. Instead of buying a ticket like normal people, I went up to the desk and said: "Hello, I'm from XYZ magazine. I'm on the guest list. This is my photographer. Can we come in please?"

It was brilliant.

This is the resulting review.
Photography by Liz Chambers

Saturday, 12 December 2009

CONglamourART Review of 2009

by Joe Nockles

Welcome to The CONglamourART Review of 2009...
This is an opportunity for me to come out of the CON ART pretence and speak to you a bit more directly about the year we're leaving behind. How exciting!

That means, less talk of Credit Crunches and more gonzo anecdotes of 30 minute relationships soundtracked by American wall-of-sound artists in the basin of a field. No mourning Micheal Jackson, because you'd all much rather I recount how Franz Ferdinand cheered me up from break-up blues, yes? Or how three electro legends and a handful of the best friends a boy could ask for came together to make for the best night out ever.

Frankly, 2009 has meant a lot more to me than recession politics, Obama-rama and expenses scandals:

Seven Life Nuggets

I entered the year in an immense rave in York hugging a childhood friend and a few hours later was dying from self-induced alcohol poisoning (a hangover) under a duvet in the coldest sitting room in the Northern Hemisphere.

A terrible break-up turned into a brilliant friendship...twice.

I broke my foot and had a 'Rear Window' style 8 weeks (I've always wanted to be James Stewart).

I attended my graduation with the trendiest accessory at the time, Swine Flu, and sweated through 4 layers of ceremonial garb.

I met a genius in unlikely circumstances, fell in love and went on to plan our lives together (we're getting a place in Brighton in 2010 and one day we'll have a Leonberger).

I moved to London. Quit a course. Started a brilliant one. Got a shit waitering job. Served lots of famous people. Became underwhelmed by the site of famous people, until I met Helena Bonham Carter and melted.

For the first time in my life, I have a pretty good idea of how I can expect the rest of it to pan out and I'm really fucking excited.

Ten Best Live Shows (and one disappointment)
(In chronological order)

Franz Ferdinand - Rough Trade Records, London
January 19th

A secret FF gig showcasing tracks from the third album shakes me out of day five of break-up moping. The next day I met up with the ex during Obama's inauguration. If symbolism ruled my world, Barack would have been assassinated there and then. You see, we got together the day he was voted in. Our lame duck relationship would have spanned Barack's glory days. Instead of explaining this to him, I just recounted how amazing the gig was the night before.

Wax:on, Leeds - Erol Alkan, Boys Noize, Diplo - Leeds University Union
May 30th

I spent three years at Leeds University NOT going to Wax:on. Either I went to the best one of them all, or I'd been missing out on some ridiculously good nights. This was the last one my housemates and I (Sans Miss Jones) would be able to go to together and was thus laden with emotional significance. Strangely, the three aforementioned DJ's realised this and played exactly the right songs at exactly the right times.

How on earth could they have know that there were 5 (4) people there insanely bonded by King of my Castle by Wamdue Project and the Boys Noize remix of Feist's My Moon, My Man?


Animal Collective - Park Stage, Glastonbury Festival
26th June

I made a concerted effort at Glastonbury this year to avoid the Pyramid stage and see exactly what I wanted regardless of who else was going. As a result I spent my Friday night solo at British Sea Power in the Fields of Avalon and Animal Collective at the Park. That was the best decision I've ever made.
At BSP, I found myself buying a "truffle" from an elderly hippy for £5. Expensive treat. Tasted Like crap. Lead to a strange night.
I later conquered my fear of heights with the help of a 6 year old girl (I think I was hitting on her mum) and raved like a bastard for the entirety of the Animal Collective set, during which I met a boy who's name I will never know. We fell for eachother's "charms" instantly and were inseparable for the rest of the gig. At the end when the lights came up and the band left the stage, we both felt a bit more attached to reality and suddenly became embarrassed by our actions. We made awkward morning-after style apologies and went our separate ways.

Rufus Wainwright - Pavilion on Albert Square, Manchester
July 12th

This weekend was good enough already. On the Friday, my mother and I attended the world premier of Rufus' debut opera, Prima Donna. We came close enough to Rufus, Jorn, Kate and Martha to touch the sleeve of their jackets (and I'd like to say we stopped there). The opera was brilliant. The set was stunning and the simplicity of the storyline carried itself effortlessly.

On the Saturday, I got a call from the ticket office and on the Sunday evening I was sat in a tiny marquee watching my legend (albeit with an annoying beard, which has since been shaved) perform his songs with the occasional accompaniment on his mother on piano. Very excited about the new album. Zebulon is a bit brilliant.

Pet Shop Boys - Obelisk Arena, Latitude Festival
17th July

By no means, a relic of a the 80's propensity to produce tacky pop. The Pet Shop Boys are serious artists who know what they're doing and are experts at doing it. The show became less about the songs and more about the epic fluidity of the set.
Needless to say, I sang my heart out to It's a Sin with the sort of conviction which should only be displayed if I had a clue what the song was about.
The nearest I've come to enojoying a stadium gig.

Grace Jones - Obilisk Arena, Latitude Festival
18th July
Grace Jones doesn't really perform for the audience. A friend commented that she wanders around in a black leotard rambling incoherently at the audience about how she needs a drink or a spliff or a fuck, changes her "hats" and might sing a song, if you're lucky.
She is, however, the gayest woman in music and she was the cherry on top of a brilliant day.
Earlier on, we'd met Patrick Wolf, Bishi and thier entourage. Patrick was charming although too tall and he had shit teeth. I temporarily stopped loving him for aesthetic reasons and listened to his music. It was alright.

Nick Hudson - St Mary's Church, Brighton
14th September

I attended a concert. It was a bit good. I liked the artist a lot. So I kept him.

Our anniversary is September 14th.

Efterklang and the Britten Sinfonia 'Performing Parades' - The Barbican, London
28th October

The first concert my husband and I attended which he wasn't on stage. Danish band, Efterklang, performed thier seminal Parades album with the backing of a full orchestra. It was mesmirising and euphoric and one of those occasions when you leave thinking, "why is the British media incapable of recognising actual brilliance in its music?".
I bought the LP of the show for my man's birthday. I paid for it online in Danish Krona. The band kindly signed it for him. They're really nice guys.
The day after the gig, they played in Leeds in Mine. I can't imagine them without the orchestra.

Patrick Wolf - London Palladium, London
15th November

I've reviewed this night once already, so I won't bash on about it too much. However, I'm tempted to say that this is a much better review.
I've seen Patrick four times this year and each has its merits. Koko was a stunning come back and an excuse for him to experiment with the Britney microphone. Cockpit was cool despite broken foot. Patrick was stripped down (and not in the way we'd come to expect) and a lot more talkative with the audience. It felt less staged than Koko. Unfortunately, his road crew weren't sympathetic enough about my broken foot to let me backstage. Latitude was glorious. He stayed faithful to fans and won over a whole lot more. Shame about Rusty Superstar though. And why didn't Bishi duet?
The Palladium....well....there are no more words. It was incredible.

A Not So Silent Night - Royal Albert Hall, London
9th December

I won't go into too much detail here, because I'm writing my proper review of this at the moment.

Please note my maturity in using a picture of Kate and Anna, because the night wasn't JUST about the gorgeous, talented, recently shaven, soon-to-break-up-with-Jorn-and-find-me, Rufus Wainwright....It's about the whole family and especially about Kate McGarrigle's Cancer Trust.

Until then: DROOOOOOL, swoon, tear, drool

Now for The Dissapointment Round

Deadmau5 - Dance East, Glastonbury
27th June

I had heard such great things. He had so much going for him. I bloody love people wearing massive things on thier head. But I'm afraid to say, I thought he was dire.
The music was boring and completely undancable. The dickhead wore a black mouse head without considering that the back drop too was black so he could barely be seen. Stupid.
Luckily 2ManyDJs were on soon after and they made everything perfect....wait, why haven't they made it onto this list? SHIT.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Bobby Con Says....What?!

by Joe Nockles

Bobby Conn is a brilliant man, who unfortunately doesn't warrant the epigram "the man who needs no introduction". Thus, I must introduce him...

So, instead of attempting to condense this great artist's work into a series of cliches ("a modern day Bowie, locked in a 60's Top of the Pops time warp", "more King Crimson than camp lilac", "an avant gardener who nurtures Damon Gough until he's a blossoming tulip, then drowns him in weed killer like the stupid hat wearing twat he really is"), I bring you this. The first two are videos he's made on life's important issues: Satan and drugs.

Confused? How's this....

You know how the longer you spend in a casino, void of clocks and natural light, the more you come to accept that time has in fact been suspended? I guess that's my logic in this. The more I/you/we watch this man, the more I/you/we will learn to accept him.

Not sitting? Try this...

Amazing, yes?

Welcome to the world of Bobby Conn fandom! We ask that you refrain from smoking indoors and dogs must be kept on leads at all times. Enjoy your stay.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

I Dreamed a Dream - Susan Boyle

(Syco Music 2009)

By Joseph Nockles

If you are unaware who Susan Boyle is, let me tell you, you are my idol. I’d like to know the name of the estate agent that got you such a fantastic place under that rock and I’d like to move in next door. Unfortunately, I’m too late, Susan Boyle has infiltrated the consciousness of every innocent person on the planet faster than chlamydia in fresher’s week (and we’re sorry to report, she can’t be gotten rid of with a round of antibiotics).

In August 2008, a bizarre middle aged woman with diagnosed learning disabilities overcame her fears and shuffled onto the Britain’s Got Talent stage. With a name as beige as her dress and an attempted sassiness as cringe worthy as Morrissey doing the Time Warp, Susan Boyle was systematically mocked and ridiculed by Simon Cowell, Ant, Dec and the studio audience. When they eventually shut up and let her sing, however, the laughter stopped. Apparently, 10 million ITV viewers and the Britain’s Got Talent team were completely unaware that talent doesn’t have to come in a size zero and a 34DD.

A year and a half later, Susan Boyle presents I Dreamed a Dream, an album of covers from various ends of the musical spectrum designed to showcase her spectacular voice. It will inevitably be bought by the same people who helped Alexandra Burke beat Jeff Buckley to Christmas number one last year and for those very people it will make for a lovely souvenir of the day they were surprised to hear the voice of an angel emanating from the body of a dinner lady. Unfortunately, it’s a really boring album with some horribly tacky arrangements and it’ll probably be little more than the world’s best-selling drinks coaster by Boxing Day.


Monday, 30 November 2009

A Rough Gem

By Joseph Nockles

If you don't already know, this is Marina Diamandis of Marina and the Diamonds.
(You see what she's done there? It's very clever)

This is Hollywood, in our opinion, Marina's weakest song and video so far. It's not very bad. It has a lot to compete with. You might say, it's a rough gem:

There are a number of things you should know about Marina. Three of them are:

1) She is a beautiful, talented, intelligent girl who puts on a stunning live show.

2) She is half Greek and half Welsh.

3) She doesn't usually bare any similarity to Katy Perry.

The previous tracks she's released to her public have been flawless (diamonds) and CONglamourART can't wait to hear the album. In the meantime, we recommend you try and get your head round the Mowgli's Road video and indulge in the gorgeous I'm Not a Robot.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Alternative Christmas Number 1's

By Joseph Nockles

Does the Christmas no.1 mean anything anymore?

For the last four years, the Yule-tide chart topper has consistently been a product of the Simon Cowell pop production line, X-factor, and not one of them has carried so much as an ironic sleigh bell. The festive top slot shouldn’t the prize at the end of an ITV singing contest. It should be a cheese heavy aural fondue of bad writing and even worse singing, preferably fronted by a children’s TV character. Or alternatively, a work of art with a hint of Christmas cheer, but that can be a bit much to ask for.

Since Girls Aloud beat One True Voice to the top slot in 2002 with the brilliant, but by no means Christmassy Sound of the Underground, I’ve taken it upon myself to soundtrack the holiday for myself. The official no. 1 is chosen by confused Christmas shoppers who venture into HMV for the first time that year to buy gift vouchers for people they don’t really like and grab a Leona CD off the pile next to the counter because they saw her on telly and thought she was pretty…I despair. I choose my own Christmas no. 1 by actually listening to music. How novel!

So, if you want something new to play at your work Christmas party, something that isn’t Wizard and hasn’t been touched by the disease ridden fingers of Simon Cowell, just go out and look for it!

Here’s some of mine to get you started:


Pet Shop Boys – It Doesn’t Often Snow at Christmas

Re-released after ten years, this amazing nugget of synth pop realism will have you raving on your desk with Janet-from-accounts’ bra over your head in no time.
[Out on Dec 14th. Won't beat X-factor's offering, but should]


Sigur Ros – Olsen Olsen

An eight-minute Christmas song? A Christmas song without any audible lyrics? A Christmas song which isn’t at all cheesy? YES! YES! YES! It’s brilliant and at 4:31, it goes from being brilliant to life-changing.


Cyndi Lauper & The Hives – A Christmas Duel

A bizarre collaboration that truly has to be heard to be believed. All I will say is that it always leaves me gagging for fresh material from both parties. Please bring us a foul-mouthed come back album soon, Cyndi!


Sufjan Stevens – Get Behind Me, Santa

American indie superstar, Sufjan Stevens has a the ability to churn out vast quantities of mostly great but very rarely exceptional jangly tunes. This is probably the stand-out track on his cycle of five EP’s, Songs for Christmas. Although, I may just have fallen for it for the quality of the White Stripes pun.


Rufus Wainwright - Spotlight on Christmas

Once upon a time, Rufus was cool. He wanted nothing more than crystal meth and a bit of impersonal buggery. Then one day, Elton John made him sober up and record this for The Elton John Christmas Party album and Rufus gradually became less and less attractive while his music improved. Spotlight on Christmas is a song about how we should all be content with the company of loved ones at Christmas and not focus on material things...YAWN...despite this, it's a rather catchy little ditty.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Patrick Wolf

London Palladium

By Joseph Nockles

The crowd parted as I was dragged into the venue on all fours wearing a Vivienne Westwood pinstripe suit and a bondage dog lead. I thought for a second I’d stolen the show – how wrong I was.

Patrick had costume changes including a leather vulture cape, sweaty see-through white trousers (with a black jock-strap underneath, in case you were wondering) and a Fred Butler designed tinsel shoulder piece.

Patrick had German industrial legend, Alec Empire cart his decks on stage and ravage the audience with his trademark aggressive electro and bass lines so bassy that every seat in the house vibrated uncontrollably. He had Kate-Bush-sound-alike, Florence Welch (of Florence and the Machine fame) lend vocals to a beautifully Celtic rendition of Bachelor. He had a spinning bloody podium with a beam of light on him, a mirror-ball base and a shit load of glitter!

Patrick had the audience close to tears, with a full string section and a choir adding even more gravitas to the earth shattering The Sun is Often Out. Oh, and he had a ballad about fisting (Check out the opening lyrics to Who Will?).

There was no way I could compete with that.


[Published on on 19/11/09]
N.B. Picture is politely lifted from Pink Paper. Thanks

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Rihanna - Good Girl, Gone Bad [Acapella Release]

(Def Jam Records 2009)

By Joe Nockles

Were you excited at the prospect of a between album release from Rihanna? Were you thrilled at the thought of an acapella version of Good Girl, Gone Bad? Perhaps it would elevate the pop princess from merely Chris Brown’s arm candy and occasional upper body work-out to the level of intelligent-lady-who-experiments-with-ideas-breaks-boundaries-and-generally-flies-the-flag-of-credibility-in-pop-music-for-the-whole-world-to-see? Well no. You were wrong.

The best thing about Rihanna’s breakthrough album was the fact that every song sounded great with your twelfth WKD in hand in that club you said you’d never go back to, but you’ve somehow found yourself in, grinding against….oh, wait?! Sorry, I mean the beat. The beat was the best thing about Good Girl, Gone Bad and instead of clever vocal techniques to recreate the backing track (as Disturbia was intended, surely?) they have merely removed a bunch of levels from the recording. A once brilliant (well 61.5%* brilliant) album, now sounds bare and tired.

Move along please. Rihanna’s very sorry.

*NB: Its always good to show your working out....
13 tracks on the album
8 of these are brilliant
Thus the album is 61.5% brilliant

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Girls - Lust For Life video (XXX edit)

(Fantasytrashcan 2009)

By Joe Nockles

Girls are a band from San Francisco who probably aren’t gay. That's pretty cool. They’ve also released a bizarre, but ultimately charming, album which appears to have a ridiculously broad palate of inspiration despite being co-written by Christopher Owens; a guy raised in the smothering confines of the Children of God cult in California with a huge wall between his community and the modern secular world of popular culture. That's very very cool. Album track Big Bad Mean Mother Fucker somehow embodies the greatness of The Beach Boys and the lo-fi production of Broken Social Scene. It's really cool.

Even cooler than that, they've slyly released an X-rated video to accompany their debut single Lust For Life against thier record labels wishes. Despite the title giving a nod to Iggy Pop, the track is definately indie-pop and it's sure to have winkle pickers tapping on sticky floors throughout the western hemisphere. Unfortunately, Girls’ record label, Fantasytrashcan, demanded they return to the editing room and create a safe-for-MTV version (as if MTV would ever play something so brilliant?). Luckily for you, CONglamourART welcomes artistry in pop music so we’ll ignore this silly act of business sense on the record label's part and only accept the not-safe-for-work version complete with 8 boobs, 1 side-boob, a couple of naked boys putting on make-up, girls playing with marker pens and an erect cock-cum-microphone. Hoorah!

The fact is, this is a brilliant video. It’s beautiful. It's all made to look like a super-8 montage, matching the classic sound of the recording perfectly and any intelligent observer can see that the nudity becomes completely unimportant once you realise just how much fun the actors are having. It’s rare to see smiles on camera that are this genuine. The bell ends or boobs in shot always come second to the romance and humour that is constantly on show. The highlight is undeniably when "quiffed gay boy" uses "dark haired gay boy’s" member as microphone. It’s genius.

Here at CONglamourART towers, we’ve got Girls’ album (which incidentally is titled Album, those kooky kids) on repeat and this writer’s relationship with his phallus has been irreparably challenged.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Sister Ray: The Shop That Won't Stop

Independent Record shops are a dying breed and the few that are left fight a constant battle to survive. Joe Nockles takes us to Sister Ray to see what it is that keeps this iconic store afloat.

In 1968, The Velvet Underground closed their White Light/White Heat album with the 17 minute epic, Sister Ray. It was recorded live with each of the players agreeing beforehand that whatever the outcome, it would be done in one take. As a result, the album’s finale is a psychedelic mash of improvisation, instrumental conversation and chaos. The sound engineer reportedly left saying, “I don’t have to listen to this. I’ll put it in record and then I’m leaving. When you’re done, come get me.”

Undeterred by this, the avant-garde rockers went on to unleash a fresh version of this unstructured “heavy metal” saga as a finale for most gigs. These performances would often outrun the recorded version with one live album featuring a 38 minute rendition of the piece. These live performances are now the thing of legend and Sister Ray has become iconic to music fanatics the world over.

Equally iconic, is the music-lover’s Mecca that took its name from The Velvet Underground’s mammoth song. Sister Ray Records has occupied 34-35 Berwick Street in Soho for just over 25 years. In that time it has whittled its way into musical history in its own right by appearing on the cover of Oasis’ What’s the Story, Morning Glory?, the third best selling album of all time. They were also the first shop to stock the Arctic Monkey’s debut EP, Five Minutes With… which these days has a starting price on Ebay of £150.

"The records appear to have been organised with common sense rather than the autistic Dewey Decimal style precision"

It is to collectors what TK Maxx is to bargain hunting shoppers. It claims to be the only independent record store in London to stock every genre of music. The records appear to have been organised with common sense rather than the autistic Dewey Decimal style precision demonstrated by most outlets. Jonny Greenwood’s film scores sits alongside Radiohead’s back catalogue rather than on the other side of the shop under ‘G’ or hidden amongst the soundtracks.

As a result, it is the perfect place to discover music. It’s thrilling to find the Magnetic Fields section isn’t merely the drab choice of the most famous (69 Love Songs) or most recent (Distortion) album, instead it plays host to the complete works of Stephin Merrit, including his self-penned tribute-album-cum-ego-project, The Sixths (which, by the way, is magnificent). The store is littered with oddities from all sides of the musical pantheon. The avant-garde section probably competes with John Cale’s personal collection and the krautrock stretches far beyond Kraftwerk and Neu!

"It has been fighting tooth and nail to keep afloat"

As with all independent outlets, it has faced difficulties in recent years. Obviously, the impact of Internet downloading, the bargain bin prices of major retailers and a worldwide recession don’t bode well for a humble business. In August last year, there was widespread concern when the store announced it had been forced to go into administration. Since then, it has been fighting tooth and nail to keep afloat.

The future of this legendary shop is still unclear, but like a live performance of the song from which it takes its name, it just keeps on going.

Sister Ray, 34-35 Berwick Street, London W1F

Monday, 2 November 2009

I Love To See You Pissing For Me - Esther Planas

The White Cubicle
Monday 12th October

By Joseph Nockles

Too many exhibition launches consist of trays of champagne, a clipboarded hostess with her hair on top of her head telling you where the art is (on the walls, surely?) and a gaggle of society types searching the recesses of their minds for something intelligent to say. Esther Planas’s I Love To See You Pissing For Me wasn’t your typical exhibition launch.

Around the corner from the Hoxton White Cube, in the men’s urinal of cult queer watering hole, The George and the Dragon, lies the marvellously punned White Cubicle…Ok, so it’s a dank toilet with sheets of A4 lining the walls. But how else would one display such scatologically themed art?

"I’ve always said that what The National
really lacks is water sports"

The images depict the artist (a stunning woman who effortlessly pulls off that Karen-O/Angelica Houston look; perfectly bridging terrifying and incredibly cool) and a male model (his legs and crotch anyway) in a series of compromising positions. The highlight: a drenched Plana pressed against a urinal with a stream of liquid aimed at her face. I’ve always said that what The National Gallery really lacks is water sports.

When the artist attempted to photograph her installation officially opened, she discovered a number of patrons had failed to take note of the “Toilet Not In Use – Please Use Disabled” sign. The previous generation of YBA’s, who have since been normalised (Hirst, Emin), might be furious if one were to urinate on their heavily concept bound offerings. Planas revelled in it! She went into a mad photographic frenzy and started forcing unwilling gentlemen to model for her sans zipper. Pure class.

"As erotic as they were abusive"

Overall it was a refreshing change from the woman with the clipboard. The images were as erotic as they were abusive, but they lacked commitment by being printed on A4. Definitely worth a visit, especially if you’re more partial to a pint of Stout than you are a flute of Veuve Cliquot.

(NB:- Image lifted from Esther Planas' personal blog which documents the event brilliantly and is well worth a look. Thank you)

Sunday, 1 November 2009

The Spell – Alphabeat

(Polydor 2009)

By Joseph Nockles

Did you know Aqua reunited earlier this year? You could be forgiven for not noticing. They didn’t burst back onto the scene with a more mature, acceptable-in-the-noughties, pitched at your mums, “we’re adults and we don’t mind it” album, ala Take That. There was no media storm climaxing with a headline slot at Glastonbury Festival or a series of sold out Hyde Park gigs, ala Blur. Nope, these 90s throwbacks decided instead to kidnap the kooky popsters from Alphabeat, kill them, rip out their insides and masquerade around in their skins while releasing trashy 90s pop under the brilliant brand established through their debut, This Is Alphabeat.

This Is Alphabeat was a fun pop album packed full of odd little surprises and effortless Scandinavian charm. It knew it was pop, but that never felt like a bad thing. They brought in the Britney fans with its great lyrics, simple poptastic tunes and jolly beats. Everyone else wandered over either to ogle the gorgeous leads Stine and Anders SG or because their drugs had settled in and they were confused as to why Los Campesinos were playing a surprise gig with new tongue-twister free material.

Alphabeat are unashamed of their new pure 90s thumping house sound, showcased throughout The Spell. Bless 'em. They weren’t here the first time round. They don't know. They're oblivious to the trauma it caused us. No one has told them about the secret wars between the Ministry of Sound and the Department of Smash Hits! which resulted in a huge cover up operation restricting tracks like “Ride on Time” and “Rhythm is a Dancer” to be played only at office Christmas parties, small Spanish islands full of ex-pats and wedding receptions. That small troupe of cute Danes, “The Fantastic Six” have naively undone years of denial and made us, as a nation, confront a pocket of our musical history that we had almost ignored to dust.

That’s not to say The Spell is a bad album. It’s Alphabeat and if there’s one thing they can do, it’s write a bloody good tune. Approach it with a pinch of salt. Possibly save listening to it until you’re getting ready to go out somewhere that isn’t particularly cool (hairbrush in hand?). I’d recommend it for private bedroom raving before gay nights, drinks with work friends or awkward meals with an ex (just to confuse them when you turn up smiling from ear to ear and gurning a little).

Every track will transform perfectly into a solid house remix and will probably be the soundtrack of 2010 for every Oceania goer out there. We were hoping for some more kooky lyrics about living in a jungle, advice on safe sex masked as wet weather fashion guidance and maybe a few more incidental lyrics thrown in there for the “LION” fans. Oh well, until Alphabeat unleash their third album which will either deliver all this and more or embody the spirits of T’Pau and BWO, we’re quite happy to munch on some disco biscuits, reach for the lasers and stare in awe at Stine’s amazing new haircut. Safe as f**k.

Vapours - Islands

(Anti-Records 2009)

By Joseph Nockles

Switched On, the opening track from Islands’ third album, presents the listener with a series of follies. In the first minute we’re promised an awesome beat-heavy album, then panic sets in as they unveil some new Frankie Valli style barber shop harmonies. Fortunately, this quickly shifts into the familiar realm of Nicholas Thorburn’s luscious vocals coupled with a new sythy sound which is more than welcome.

Unfortunately, this disjointedness continues throughout, with no commitment to any one sound. There is more emphasis on drum machines than in the past, but this is never sustained long enough for it to be labelled their beat album. The Frankie Valli sound re-emerges most notably on title track, Vapours. Thorburn successfully pulls off this newfound crooning for the duration of the verses, but allows the chorus to plunge into what could by now be an overused signature Islands melody, but at this point of the album is just a well needed, comforting return to familiarity. Thankfully, the verses are flourished with an almost ironic brass section hinting that there might still be a pinch of humour left in this newly grown-up collective.

Overall, that might be the fundamental problem with this offering. Islands have grown-up. At times they appear to be shuffling towards the more credible, marketable stylings of Air and Zero 7 and abandoning the epic, grandiose performance pop of their previous albums.

In the past, they’ve produced massive indie-pop foot-stomping anthems without for a second compromising the intelligence or artistry of the music. This album lacks. You won’t find yourself blaring out the lyrics of Tender Torture (a wonderful title which just falls short of its potential) as you bounce down the street, in the same way you might have done for Rough Gem or The Arm. In fact I’m not sure what the modern Islands gig goer is supposed to do these days. Bop along to the first 30 seconds of a few tracks? Rave to the last 20 seconds of The Drums (interestingly, the only point at which it escapes a tiring feux-reggae beat)? Or struggle to stand up in a boredom induced K-hole like the entirety of a Massive Attack audience?

It’s not an entirely flawed album. It’s just not at all what we expected after the consistency of the first two. It's unlike Islands to settle for an unfinished record, but with this offering, they appear to have peaked on track two and allowed the album to fade out altogether by the 5th track. Perhaps it is designed for dinner parties? It can be the source of discussion for a couple of minutes then shuffle into the background once the starters are served.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Monorail (For Joe) - Nick Hudson

By Joseph Nockles

Mere months after the release of his aching orchestral break-up album, Nick Hudson presents us with ‘Monorail (for Joe)’, an amuse-bouche of things to come. This silken serenade comprised of shamelessly sentimental epigrams marks a shift in Hudson’s life which has found its way firmly into his music. “About your body I’m at my most eloquent”, eh Nick? Lets hope this single’s official release comes with a raunchy B-side showcasing said eloquence. Despite this lunge into love songs, Hudson has by no means annulled his marriage with cynicism, symphony and urban disarray. A haunting two minute refrain proclaims a yearning for urban dystopia characterised by monorails. Whether a love song for a cityscape or a new partner, our mouths are very much watering.

Available at