Category Archives: Music

Album Review: Keaton Henson – Birthdays

I reviewed Keaton Henson’s latest album for Epigram.

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Crippled by anxiety and loneliness, Keaton Henson’s debut album Dear… chronicled the break up of his first serious relationship. Although Henson’s debilitating stage fright meant that he avoided live shows, he built up a loyal, almost cultish following on the internet. Henson now seems to be emerging from this gloomy period, slowly putting on more gigs and featuring in more video and radio sessions. This new-found optimism is displayed on his new album too, from temporarily falling in love on the tube (‘The Best Today’) to the surprising raging guitar on ‘Kronos’. The intense darkness of Dear… hasn’t completely disappeared, however. ‘I’d kill just to watch as you’re sleeping’ (‘10am, Gare du Nord’) shows that Henson still teeters between endearingly romantic and creepily obsessive. Henson’s voice trembles through a range of emotions as the album progresses, at times imploring, ‘please do not hurt me love/I am a fragile one’ (‘10am, Gare du Nord’) to protesting ‘And God! You were the one who told me not to be so English!’ (‘Sweetheart, What Have You Done to Us?’). With the sensitive addition of more instruments, and backing vocals by Jesca Hoop, Henson stands out from other, more conventional, singer-songwriters.

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Interview: Marina and the Diamonds

I had a chat with Marina Diamandis for Epigram just days before she announced that she’d been wearing a wig for the last 9 months 😦

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In a sea of pop stars stripped down to their bra and knickers, Marina Diamandis stands out, decked in ribbons and prom dresses, a bubblegum brunette living out her teenage fantasies in the twilight years of her twenties. ‘I’m going to be 27 soon,’ says Diamandis, ‘so this is an excuse to be ultra-girly, until I have to really grow up’. It’s not surprising that the singer is trying to hold on to her youth; her teenage years were spent trying to get 10 A* at GCSE to please her father (in the end, she was awarded 5A* and 5A), before embarking on four different university courses in the space of four years.

‘I went to a different one each year, got the student loan, and waitressed and lived off that while I became a better songwriter and started to produce my own stuff. I went to uni mainly just to appease my mum and dad and make them not worry, and not feel totally weird and out of the system.’

Since giving up on university aspirations for good, Diamandis has used her work discipline to claw her way into the music industry, and has at last reached a level of recognition that she is happy with – her second album, Electra Heart, going straight to number one in the UK charts. ‘I feel like I’m playing catch up all the fucking time! In fact it’s only this year that I feel like I don’t have to do it anymore. It’s so stressful because you never enjoy yourself if you’re always playing catch up; you’re always looking ahead, never living in the present.’ It’s hard to avoid comparing Diamandis to other pop stars, and it’s something she does regularly herself. ‘I think “oh how old was she when she made it?” but it doesn’t really matter in the end because some people make it at 27.’ Though Britney Spears, Diamandis’s pop hero, burst onto the scene aged 16, Diamandis is just as likely to look at Katy Perry, who reached international fame at 26, and slightly less obvious idols, such as Shirley Manson who joined Garbage aged 29. ‘I don’t think it’s something you can really control,’ rules Diamandis, ‘it’s either your time or it isn’t, and you’ve either worked hard enough for it, or you haven’t.’

Diamandis is an intriguing character, torn between wanting to be a Hollywood icon and a respected musician. ‘On the first album I felt really bitter that I was writing on my own, and that most pop girls don’t do that, but then at the same time, I didn’t want to go and write with other people, so you can’t really have it both ways’. This quandary led her to creating the character of Electra Heart for her second album. Whereas Diamandis’s debut,The Family Jewels, is a fairly simple display of her songwriting ability, Electra Heart has allowed her to develop her music to sound more stereotypically poppy, which contrasts with some of the darker lyrics on the record. Electra Heart has also enabled her live shows to become more elaborate. After supporting Katy Perry and Coldplay on their arena tours, Diamandis was impressed by the flamboyance of their shows, and plans to bring this to her own tour. The Lonely Hearts Club tour, which rolls into Bristol on October 13th, will see Diamandis’s Electra Heart alter-ego come to life. ‘It’s set in a teen girl’s bedroom slash sleazy motel, and the theme is sort of wedding meets homecoming,’ she giggles. She anticipates that this will be the perfect outing for her fans, who often turn up to gigs in prom dresses. The whole thing sounds so saccharine, it makes your teeth hurt just thinking about it, but it’s intended that you take it in with a pinch of salt. ‘This image is so sweet, it had to be a joke,’ laughs Diamandis.

In a world where rake-thin, half-naked air-brushed women are often heralded as demi-goddesses, Marina Diamandis represents a refreshing change to the status quo. Her Electra Heart persona allows her to have all the fun of dressing up as a quintessential starlet, while being able to laugh at herself. The change from the Marina from Abergavenny to peroxide blonde Electra Heart might suggest that Diamandis was beginning to buckle under peer pressure, but she disagrees: ‘I don’t think that there’s a pressure to use your sexuality to sell songs. If no one was sexual, or if no one pushed the boundaries or posed naked, then I think that would be a bad thing as well, because it would become a total taboo.’ While she supports singers like Rihanna, who she believes is ‘just a really sexual person’, she doesn’t believe it is a pre-requisite for all female singers to take off their clothes, ‘I think we’ve kind of done that in pop and I think that we’re now at a stage where you don’t really need to do that.’ This stance doesn’t seem to be holding Diamandis back – she’s already planning her third album, but is keeping quiet about what it will sound like, saying only, ‘I think every album I do is going to be quite different from the last, sonically speaking’.

Speaking to Diamandis, you get the sense that she has worked hard to get where she is today, and is enjoying every minute of it. Her transformation to becoming a teen idol is nearing completion, with an appearance on the cover of her favourite magazine in the pipeline, as well as the occasional pinch-yourself moments. ‘I’ve met Elton John a few times, and I went to his house. And then last year I met the Queen.’ Who was better? ‘Of the two queens?’ Diamandis laughs again, ‘I’d say Elton was more entertaining’.

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Three 90s acts you might have forgotten about

This week, I’ve been making full use of Spotify’s ‘Related Artists’ tab. To break up listening to Usher’s Climax on repeat, I’ve travelled through Destiny’s Child’s back catalogue, the collective works of N Sync and Justin Timberlake and into the dark corners of one-hit-wonders. This has uncovered some classics that you had probably done your best to forget about, but upon listening to them again, memories of childhood crushes, old TV programmes and forgotten dance routines will no doubt come flooding back.

1. BBMak – Back Here

Clever readers will clock the Millennium Wheel in the background, which didn’t open to the public until March 2000, however Back Here was originally released in 1999. Spotify’s biography fo BBMak describe them as ‘England’s answer to the Backstreet Boys’ however, unlike the Backstreet Boys who are currently touring the world with New Kids on the Block, BBMak went their separate ways in 2003. Wikipedia reports that Mark Barry is now working as a personal trainer in Bolton.

2. Adam Rickitt – Breathe Again

In 1999 Coronation Street star Adam Rickitt signed a 6-album deal with Polydor. Breathe Again was his only hit single, peaking at number 5 in the singles chart. His debut (and only) album, Good Times, reached number 41 in its first week of release, and subsequently fell out of the charts and Rickitt was dropped from the label. In 2011, People reported that Rickitt was working for the RSPCA as a capital appeals manager. The interview is quite a read.

3. Honeyz – End of the Line

Honeyz were one of those 90s girl groups that wouldn’t have existed were it not for the success of Destiny’s Child and the Wonderbra. End of the Line was their second release, which reached number 5 in the UK singles chart in 1998. In 2005, the band briefly reformed, and competed in ITV’s one-hit-wonder contest, Hit Me, Baby, One More Time, where they performed a cover of Nickelback’s How You Remind Me which is not dissimilar to the version that I sing in the shower sometimes.

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Folk Song Friday: The Grey Funnel Line

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The finest ship that sails the sea
Is still a prison for the likes of me
But give me wings like Noah’s dove
I’ll fly up harbour to the girl I love
Here’s one more day on the Grey Funnel Line

Listening to The Grey Funnel Line, you would think that it had been around for centuries. The story of a sailor, alone at sea, desperate to return to his lover on land is timeless, however the song is actually less than 60 years old. Cyril Tawney was just 16 when he joined the Royal Navy (or the Grey Funnel Line as it’s known among sailors), and this was last song he wrote before leaving the Navy 14 years later. Since then, the song has been covered by a wide range of high profile artists, from June Tabor to Emmylou Harris, but I’m yet to hear a version which encapsulates the wistfulness of the song as much as Ed, Will and Ginger’s version (above). In his notes on the piece, Tawney describes it as ‘a straightforward song about a sailor leaving home and the loved one’ and it’s this simplicity that makes folks songs like this so great.

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Album Review: Kindness – World, You Need a Change of Mind

In 2009, music blogs went apeshit for Kindness, an outfit shrouded in mystery, who released one double single ‘Swinging Party’/’Gee Up’ before disappearing back into the ether. Three years on, Kindness is back. Like many other Myspace maestros, Kindness is in fact a one-man project. Adam Bainbridge originally hails from Peterborough but has since escaped his webbed-feet Fenland friends and now splits his time between Berlin and London. Rather than riding the wave of the initial hype surrounding Kindness, Bainbridge took his time to work away at his album, and this attention to detail is obviously demonstrated throughout the record through the careful layering of synths and vocals. Although Bainbridge managed to avoid having to turn out a slapped-dashed album of electro pop to please bespectacled bloggers, there is a feeling that the ship may have sailed on Kindness’ brand of laid-back left-field disco. Despite songs such as ‘House (All That You Need)’ and ‘Gee Up’ featuring some of the best elements of Prince-style pop grooves, there just isn’t anything groundbreaking about what Bainbridge is doing. Although many artists feature a cover on their debut album, Bainbridge’s decision to cover Anita Dobson’s ‘Anyone Can Fall In Love’ (sung to the tune of the Eastenders theme tune) is simply bizarre, but does at least, cement Kindness in the retro-indie realm he clearly desires to dwell in.


-from Issue 249 of Epigram.

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Album Review: The Magnetic Fields – Love at the Bottom of the Sea

Love at the Bottom of the Sea sees the Magnetic Fields return to their celebrated sarcastic synthpop style, after their last three albums, went down a more acoustic route. Despite the fact that the band, driven by eternal pessimist, founder and lead singer, Stephin Merritt, has released three albums in the last eight years, they are still remembered for 1999’s epic concept album, 69 Love Songs. Love at the Bottom of the Sea is unlikely to usurp it as the band’s crowning glory, which is alright according to Merritt who recently told the Guardian ‘I will spend the rest of my life living down 69 Love Songs, just as I planned to. It’s fine.’

Despite what the title suggests, Love at the Bottom of the Sea is not a collection of fifteen songs about sex amongst aquatic animals. Instead, it features a range of bizarre and varied topics, from falling in love with a drag queen on ‘Andrew in Drag’ to hanging out with metaphysical beings on ‘I’ve Run Away to Join the Fairies’. On a superficial level, the album is a perfectly pleasant pop album, but on second listen, Merritt’s unique lyrical style presents itself. Album closer ‘All She Cares About is Mariachi’ best exemplifies this as Merritt laments, ‘So go ahead and hire Saatchi & Saatchi/to advertise the sausage in your pants/but all she cares about is Mariachi/and all she ever wants to do is dance.’ Elsewhere, ‘Quick!’ and ‘Your Girlfriend’s Face’ see the band exploit their rediscovery of synthesisers to the full, creating loud, brash pop songs, which though not necessarily enduring classics, are certainly a refreshing change from other songs currently masquerading under the banner of pop.

The record is laced with nostalgic references to childhood, from similarities between First World War song ‘If You Were the Only Girl (In the World)’ and ‘Only Boy in Town’, to the imploring nature of ‘Horrible Party’ ‘take me away from this horrible party and let me go home to Mother’. Sadly, the use of synthesisers means the sincerity of these ideas is somewhat lost, but the juxtaposition of these sentiments with Merritt’s miserable baritone makes Love at the Bottom of the Sea an interesting release. Interesting, but perhaps not enthralling.

-from Issue 248 of Epigram.

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Album Review: The Tings Tings – Sounds from Nowheresville

Pop music generally falls into one of three categories: something so wonderful it will live on far beyond the life of the artist who made it; a fleeting piece of fun, or something that generates what can only be described as a feeling of ‘meh’. The Ting Ting’s sophomore album unfortunately falls into the latter category. Each and every single song on the album is so unspeakably dull, it’s hard to pick out specific low or high points. As one housemate described it, it features music ‘only fit for a car advert’. Although the band’s debut record, We Started Nothing, was hardly epic, it was certainly popular, selling more than two million copies worldwide. The Ting Tings made the bold decision to delete their first attempt at a second album (provisionally titled Kunst, because they’re, like, so edgy), after it was received ‘too positively’ by record company representatives. Instead, they went back to the drawing board, hunkered down in a Berlin basement, and produced ten tracks of tedium. In the creation of this album, Katie White and Jules de Martino maintained the repetitive themes of past hit ‘That’s Not My Name’ whilst abandoning the fun qualities that led to their success. ‘Day to Day’ best exemplifies both the duo’s dreary lyrical style and White’s monotonous voice as she sings ‘day to day/day to/day to day/day to day/ day to/day to day’. Much of the album is reminiscent of cheap 90s pop (more Samantha Mumba than Britney Spears), from White’s white-girl rapping to the sheer number of samples that sound like the result of someone falling arse-first into a child’s toy box. The album title alone, Sounds from Nowheresville, is incredibly juvenile, and bears more than a passing resemblance to Busted-spinoff band Son of Dork’s first (and only) album, Welcome to Loserville. For a band that owe much of their success to the use of ‘That’s Not My Name’ in an iPod advert, they have at least managed to create another collection of songs which might feature in an episode of Gossip Girl. Current single ‘Soul Killing’ is one example which might see some success in the realms of advertising, but epitomises just how disjointed the album is with its ska beats fading into dance track ‘One by One’. Whilst we usually commend artists for sticking two fingers up at record executives, we can only wonder whether this time the money men may have been right, and the band’s attempts to isolate themselves from other chart music has, in fact, isolated them from everyone.

-from Issue 247 of Epigram.

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