June 2017 Album of the month: Ride “Weather Diaries”

A very busy month with a few okish records from favourites (Phoenix, Sufjan Stevens) a few real disappointments (Royal Blood, Fleet Foxes, London Grammar), an awful record (DJ Khaled)..and the worst record ever made (Katy Perry). However, good news is that the selection below is pretty awesome so enjoy!

 

Album of the month: Ride “Weather Diaries” – Shoegaze Rock – Amazing really to be in a position to write that Ride’s new album is our favourite of the month but this is for real! A great balance between what they used to be and what music is now, it sounds equally retro and modern. These guys give their best when they are together. Welcome back!

  • Runner-up: Lorde“Melodrama” – Pop – 2nd album from New Zealander Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O’Connor. After shaking the world with her debut released when she was 16 (!), she is back at the ripe age of 20 with an even better second LP. Great catchy melodies, weird arrangements, very original voice, moving lyrics,… everything pop should be (and Katy Perry will never be…)
  • Also recommended:
    • TOPS “Sugar At The Gate” – Canadian Power Pop
    • Cigarettes After Sex – “s/t” – Ethereal Pop (..and nice band name!)
    • Kevin Morby“City Music” – Cool folk rock
    • Flotation Toy Warning“The Machine That Made Us” – Complex Radiohead-influenced rock
    • Vince Staples “Big Fish Theory” – Hip Hop
  • Lest we forget: album of the previous month – The Afghan Whigs – “In Spades”

 

Ride with me once, Ride with me twice… Village Underground (12th June 2017) and Rough Trade East (19th June 2017)

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You think one of your favourite bands is lost forever and the only vague memory you have is an April 1990 gig in Paris when they opened for The House of Love and then suddenly you see them three times in a relatively short period of time. I guess this is the recent and nice story many other Ride fans recently enjoyed.

Their 2015 Field Day Festival was a great memory and I remember the emotion when hearing the first keyboard notes of “Leave Them All Behind“. However, the band did not really want to keep things as such and were eager to record a new record first to find back the excitement of creativity but also to be able to bring a bit of fresh air in their setlist.

So here I was, attending two Ride gigs in a row, the first one being held in the friendly and tiny atmosphere of the Village Underground in the London Shoreditch area. It started well with an excellent opening band called Novella made out of young women (and a male drummer!) singing nice melodies with a strong shoegaze influence.

Ride arrived then on stage and one could really feel the pleasure and excitement these guys have to be back doing music together. Their new record “Weather Diaries” was to be released a few days after this gig so there were new songs to digest for the audience…and I can tell you these new songs sounded excellent. I will not be doing any teasing for our June record of the month future review but I would be surprised not to find this record as part of it.

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As often the case with classic bands, their strength lies in the connection between the two leaders/singers/songwriters, i.e. Andy Bell and Mark Gardener. One of the reasons the band split in 1996 was that these two school friends were going into different musical directions. Although they both had interesting musical careers out of Ride, Andy being for instance a member of Oasis for many years, one has to admit that their best material comes from their common chemistry. The show tonight was beautiful and excellently balanced between new songs and old classics from their peak 1990-1996 period. I must say this is such a pleasure to have them back, like meeting old friends after a long period of time.

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A week later, the band were promoting their new LP at Rough Trade East with a short set and the traditional record signing. I was lucky to be there as well to see this great short set mainly focused on songs from the new LP. I queued to have my vinyl cover signed and had a nice chat with Andy Bell (about Iggy Pop’s Royal Albert Hall gig) and Mark Gardener (speaking in French!) regarding his involvement in the Nick Drake tribute band The Color Bars Experience. Thanks Rough Trade for these in-store events which are always great to attend.

 

 

 

Drake vs. Nick Drake: the fight!

Not really planned but the accidents of life made me attend two very different gigs in the last weeks. The first one was a tribute to Nick Drake (fragile folk/rock singer dead in the early 70’s) and the second one was a show held by the biggest music act today (click on the link and you will realise this is official), namely Canadian hip-hop/pop singer Drake. So who won the fight? Answers below!

  • First round: catalogue and discography

Only 3 studio albums for Nick Drake but I would really die to defend them to anyone. His music is a true gem, he is one of the best guitarists ever heard and his voice is magic.

Drake has made 5 albums if one counts his mixtape of 2016 and they all are…quite ok to listen to. The thing that I do not understand (and I listened to them all before the show) is that there is nothing particularly inventive or shocking or different. Everything is quite smooth and his DJ is the real talented guy as he sometimes has very interesting samples. But Drake is neither a very good rapper nor a good singer…

Drake: 5/10 vs. Nick Drake 9.5/10

  • Second round: popularity

Of course, this round is easily won by Drake as he is probably one of the most famous artists…sorry celebrities today and I guess no youngster below 30-years old has not heard about him. However, although he was virtually unknown when he died in 1974, Nick Drake has built through time a new reputation in the music lovers community. And many people have heard his music in this famous VW advertising clip (click here).

Drake : 9/10 vs. Nick Drake 5/10

  • Third round: authenticity

Here also, really no question… On one side, one guy whose only ambition in life is to be famous (and whining about it in his albums) and who indirectly sells clothes and beverages in his concerts. On the other side, a young depressed lad who literally died for his music and did not compromise with the music business for one second…

Drake: 2/10 vs. Nick Drake 10/10

  • Fourth round: the shows

The Color Bars Experience - Eric Pulido

Nick Drake’s tribute was an initiative coming from the Color Bars Experience and their French leader Yann Debiak. They did a first tribute a couple of years ago based on Elliott Smith’s songs interpreted by Jason Lytle (Grandaddy), Troy Von Balthazar (Chokebore) and Ken Stringfellow (The Posies). This time, the tribute was based on Nick Drake’s songs and they did a few dates in the UK and in Continental Europe.

The Color Bars Experience - Mark Gardener

This time, the classical band (no amplified instruments) was as usual made out of musicians coming from all around the world and the new singers were all great: Eric Pulido (Midlake), Brian Lopez (Giant Sand) and Mark Gardener from Ride to give a bit of English favour as he put it nicely. Very moving show either in terms of delicacy and craftsmanship coming from the musicians but also regarding the respect and joy felt through the singers’ voices and serenity.

Drake’s show was…weird. First I was really impressed by the audience as the 20,000 fans were standing up and singing… bit and pieces of non-music as if the guy was a real inspiration to them. Then, you have a drummer, a keyboard player and a DJ on stage but they remain in the shadow as if they did not exist. I have nothing against not seeing real instruments live (hello Sleaford Mods or many other hip-hop crews) but here it looks Drake is between a rock and a hard place and does not really know what to do.

Drake - O2 Arena - 2017

The stage also was supposed to be amazingly impressive…and it was not the case at all. I have still not made what this giant ball held up at the end of the show was standing for. Last but not least, I did not really enjoyed Drake’s performance as he merely sings or (badly) raps bit and pieces of his songs in the middle of slogans or megalomaniac appreciation messages to the crowd. The only interesting moments were when he twice invited young British rappers as they put a bit of energy in the show.

Drake: 4/10 vs. Nick Drake 8.5/10

  • The Verdict: Drake 20/40 vs. Nick Drake 33/40

Easy unexpected win for Nick Drake. Talent-and-beauty-bigger-than-money-and-fame shock! Do not lose your time with Drake really… You may hear and enjoy him in a few songs of his or other singers’ once in a while but there are literally hundreds of bands or solo artists to discover…

and the first in line should be Nick Drake. Listen to his records and I can tell you his music will be with you forever.

Festival Field Day, 6th & 7th June 2015, London Victoria Park

Back to festival time for the blog after close to 2 years of drought as the last one I went to was the excellent Paris Pitchfork Festival in November ’13. So with a big smile on my face and with the pleasure in having a sunny weather throughout the two days, here is my review of this event.

Field Day 2015, Ride

I had taken my 2-day pass ages ago as I did not succeed in being fast enough to get tickets to see Ride at the Roundhouse late May so going to this festival was an excellent opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. Held in the beautiful Victoria Park in the North-Eastern side of London, it is almost the first one of the outdoor British festivals of the year. I was particularly impressed by the way the logistics were taken care of and by the fact the Festival was offering a few big names whilst keeping a decent size. 16 bands reviewed and scrutinised below ; I must admit that to me the second day was by far better than the first sold-out one. Pity for the prestigious guests I had convinced to put on their red shoes and dance the blues with me..

  • Poor : 1 Star

I lately realised that the different posts on this blog might appear slightly boring as always describing good to great concerts and/or books, records, etc… I must say that by getting older every day, one wants probably to keep their energy in writing positive things… On top of it, years of listening and spending well-earned money probably made me aware about which gigs I want to go to. This is why a Festival is always welcome for me as this is a very good opportunity to write about bad bands or bands good on records but less so on stage.

Field Day 2015, tUnE-yArDs

This is for instance the case with Caribou who were the headliners on Saturday evening. Their music and record have been a must in the recent years for those interested in intelligent and melodic dance music but I must say I have been waiting for the show to really start and give a bit of emotion or groove… Almost same deception for me regarding tUnE-yArDs. Exclusively the brainchild of Merrill Garbus, this is an almost-female fronted band whose ambition is apparently now only to mix high-pitched indie rock with tribal drums plaid in an African style. At the end of the day, nothing is particularly bad here but you keep hoping the concert will end soon as nothing really happens. A real pity as she was a real new original voice and presence when the band started but it looks from another age now.

Field Day 2015, Kindness

Kindness was the third major deception of Day One as although Adam Bainbridge’s will to mix uptempo melodies with Prince gimmicks and soul chorists looks like a great idea, you actually feel like watching an average band covering funky standards. I thought I would have interesting things to say about new UK band Gulf…but no really apart that it sounded to me like (another) soon to be forgotten UK band.

  • OK : 2 Stars

OK in the meaning that I did not spend a bad moment per se and that I even enjoyed part of the show…but, well, you know, ok means ok…

Field Day 2015, Philip Selway

Philip Selway is the drummer of one of our most cherished band (Radiohead) and that was funny seeing this great musician playing his delicate songs in front of around 300/400 people under one of the tent stages whereas the guy is used to play arenas in front of worshipping fans. Nice to see such a humble man singing and presenting his songs …and he has a nice voice by the way. But shall I be severely spanked to say that it was on the edge of being boring ? Too late I am afraid… Another good band watched on the same stage was the Allah-Las from Los Angeles. Their music is a mix of garage rock with nice 60’s West Coast influence melodies and they sometimes are on the verge of greatness. My only feeling is that their sound is so retro that this is a bit embarrassing sometimes.

Field Day 2015, Allah-Las

Third ok concert for me was that played by hype Scottish band Django Django. Their new second LP “Born Under Saturn” is really good but is it for the real reasons? What I try to say is that they are very clever guys much interested in new sounds and textures. They have everything to succeed as their good sense of melodies have already made them popular while at the same time pleasing the indie rock aficionados…but something is missing here. Not sure what this is (soul ? authenticity ?) but I pretended a bit to have a good time whereas in reality I was a bit indifferent to their songs.

Field Day 2015, Django Django

  • Good : 3 Stars

Either unexpected good surprises or confirmation of what I thought, these are bands I would be really happy to see again if opportunity were to knock again.

Field Day 2015, Ex Hex

The first band you see on Day One is always something special in a festival ; it will not necessarily give you the tempo about what is to come but it might give you a flavour of the mood, the audience, etc… Yossarian is a new band from the UK and their set was impressive in terms of energy and good songs (influences I spotted went from Pink Floyd to early Radiohead). Their first album was offered as a free download for those attending the set so nice initiative too! Another very good act on Saturday was the Norwegian Todd Terje. Although I did not have the best spot to see his very nice lounge/dance music, the tracks he played (mainly from his latest LP “It’s Album Time“) were as good live as they were on record, thanks in particular to an excellent drummer on stage. Perfect music to warm up on a declining sunny day!

Field Day 2015, DIIV

The next three acts were as good as I had expected them to be. I started my Day Two with the female trio Ex Hex. Held by singer/guitarist Mary Timony,  a woman who has been around for many years in excellent different bands, their music is a mix of grungy sounds with nice choirs. A kind of modern female Ramones and this is a real compliment! DIIV on their sides were presenting on the main stage extracts from their soon to come second LP and it sounded very promising. Although Zachary Cole Smith looks like a guy getting out of bed in terms of attitude…and clothes, he was actually very much there and focused. I must say the band made me a much better impression than the last time I had seen them at the Pitchfork Festival in Paris and I cannot wait to hear the new LP. Last but not least, I managed to watch the second part of Mac DeMarco‘s set and the guy was the way we like him. Dr. Jekyll on one side mainly on the way his songs are really moving and beautiful (his latest LP was part of our 2014 Top 20) and Mr. Hyde on the other one jamming sometimes stupidly with this bare-chested viking guitarist or crowd-surfing.

Field Day 2015, Mac DeMarco

  • Great : 4 Stars

Field Day 2015, Owen Pallett

My only real emotion of Day One was for Owen Pallett and his violin. This Canadian from Toronto used to be known in the business through his multiple activities and in particular as the one arranging strings for his friends Arcade Fire. On top of these many extra-curricular activities, he is now a solo artist on his own and his latest 2014 “In Conflict” LP is particularly recommended. What he does with his violin is really amazing but the skill he has with this instrument is always at the service of the songs and melodies.

Field Day 2015, My Brightest Diamond

Day Two was particularly heavy in emotions, starting with the great Shara Worden who plays under the guise of My Brightest Diamond. She is a super talented musician but I was not sure about how her intimate songs would get on stage. Exam more than succeeded as far as I am concerned first because her rhythm bass and drums section were astonishing but as well because of her personality. Here is a woman who can be funny, make you dance, give you the creeps,… and all this in a 40-minute set. Discover her if not done yet.

Field Day 2015, Patti Smith

Patti Smith playing the seminal “Horses” under a beautiful day with on her side Lenny Kaye on guitar ; can life be any better? Well, probably not, due to the fact that she was on top form at 68 years old and keeping the same balance of stamina and poetry as she has been famous for all her life. Nothing much to say apart from the fact the great lady is amongst our Top 100 of all times and that “Horses” is an album I have literally been listening to hundreds of times with always the same enthusiasm. The rest of the set was amazing as well and the band finished with their traditional cover of “My Generation” by The Who. Catch her if you can as she will have a few extra-dates comes Autumn.

Field Day 2015, Andy Bell & Mark Gardener

Last but not least, I ended up this 2-day marathon with the amazing Ride from Oxford, UK. This band is part too of our favourite ones and the least I could say is that a year ago I would not have believed such a tour possible. What made the reunion of the original four-member band possible was the good idea Liam Gallagher had last year of disbanding the post-Oasis mediocre Beady Eye, thus leading for an event all rock fans were waiting for almost twenty years. I had only caught them once in April 1990 as the opening act of The House of Love (remember them?) and that show was still a very strong memory. Faith and belief are two key words in rock’n’roll and Ride played at Field Day Festival as if their story had just begun. They opened their fantastic set with “Leave Them All Behind” and kept the pace as such throughout the whole gig. Not sure what will happen next (is this reunion for long ? any plan in trying to record new songs ?) but tonight there was magic in the air so thank you gents.

Field Day, see you next year!

 

TOP 100 Artists/Bands of all Times : 76 – 80

Follow-up of our TOP 100. As a reminder, clicking on the title related to the artist/band will give you more information about them.

80. The Colourfield / Terry Hall

from : Manchester, England / first great sounds : 80’s / style : sensitive pop/ essential album : Virgins and Philistines (1985)

Terry Hall was/is the main singer in great UK ska band The Specials. All his career has been made of musical experiences with different partners, sometimes with artistic or commercial success…and sometimes not. The Colourfield was a band he created with Toby Lyons in the 80’s and they made two LP’s only, the second one being nice but very 80’s sounding. Which leaves us therefore with their first LP….whih is a real masterpiece and sounds as fresh today as it did 27 years ago. I already reviewed this album when doing the best of 1985 and its title might have influenced this blog…

79. Creedence Clearwater Revival

La Chanson de la Semaine 58 dans Musique & Music creedence-clearwater-revival-reunions-617-4091 from : El Cerrito, California, USA  / first great sounds : 60’s  / style : pure american music / essential albums : Creedence Clearwater Revival (1968), Bayou Country (1969)

Lead by John Fogerty, Creedence Clearwater Revival represents as far as I am concerned the quintessence of American music. In other words, this band had American country-rock basics but went way far away creating punchy soul-influenced songs, sometimes lasting for a very long time, never in a “muso” way but on the contrary on a hyper sensitive one. Difficult music to describe actually except one could say it could satisfy a very large audience coming from very different universes. Hear their cover of “I heard it through the grapevine” and you will understand what I am trying to write.

78. Phoenix

from : Versailles, France / first great sounds : 00’s  / style : euphoric pop/ essential albums : United (2000) / Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (2009)

After years of not knowing if admitting having done my studies partly in Versailles was something to be proud or ashamed, the early 00’s brought a new wave of great French bands, allowing to answer “yes” to this question. I remember not understanding why such a melodic and creative band could not be more successful when I saw them live in Strasbourg at the time of their second LP in a half empty concert hall of eighty people… But they kept oneplaying and recording and their talent has eventually being recognized, which is justice. A band to recommend to see live as they are particularly great when on stage.

77. Spiritualized

 

12 from : Rugby, England/ first great sounds : 90’s  / style : dreamy repetitive gospel-rock  / essential album : Ladies and Gentlemen…We Are Floating In Space (1997)

Essentially the child of Jason Pierce which he created after disbanded the great Spacemen 3, Spiritualized has been a band which only did good or great records in their whole career. The formula is indeed often the same and based on a slow mantra that accelerates during the length of the song and therefore creates a repetitive and hypnotic atmosphere but with something else on top brought by Jason Pierce. Their 1997 masterpiece is the kind of record everyone should play loudly at home often and even if Jason Pierce has been closed to death in the past years following a complicated surgery, the guy is with us more than ever, as can be heard in their great “Sweet Heart, Sweet Light” 2012 recent LP.

76. Ride

 from : Oxford, England / first great sounds : 90’s  / style : shoegazing godfathers  / essential albums : Nowhere (1990), Going Blank Again (1992)

I remember very well starting the 90’s, reading the NME talking about the first EP by an amazing new band called Ride and having bought this same record. Quite magical the way young and exciting new bands can arrive out of nowhere… I saw them as well opening for then very good The House of Love and the band played probably with more intensity compared to the main act. They did not last very long (1990-1996) but their melodic fuzzy rock gave us four beautiful studio albums and many great EP’s. Andy Bell and Mark Gardener went on having a so-so career after this (Andy being the bass player in Oasis!) and never managed to get better than their first records. The first two albums have been reissued so get them if not the case yet.