Record review: The Libertines – Anthems for Doomed Youth (2015, LP)

libertines anthems for doomed youth

Back in 2004, you would’ve got long odds on Pete Doherty living to the following Christmas, never mind making a third album with the Libertines. Adrift on a sea of mistrust, petty crime and intravenous drugs, the singer-guitarist seemed doomed. How pleasantly surprising is it that eleven years later, the Libertines’ full line-up is back with a new album, but is there still a place for a band who once were the doomed youth, but now only write songs for them? The answer is yes, if only to allow the dual songwriting skills of Doherty and Carl Barât to flourish once more. The duo are equally adept at referencing Wilfred Owen and Rudyard Kipling as they are telling tales of crawling the streets of Camden Town or trying to “find a vein”. Much of the edge present on their earlier records is inevitably blunted, but danger’s loss is songcraft’s gain, and a less frantic approach to their work makes sense for a bunch of guys approaching forty. Opener ‘Barbarian’ is misleading as it could fit perfectly into either of the first two albums, while slower tracks ‘You’re My Waterloo’ and ‘The Milkmans Horse’ provide introspective moments, and the garage reggae of single ‘Gunga Din’ shows the band still owes much of its sound to the Clash. Anyone looking for an anthem as glorious as ‘Don’t Look Back into the Sun’ will be disappointed, but maybe it’s unfair to compare the Libertines of 2015 to the 2004 version. Perhaps we should be grateful this album exists at all. Or should that be astonished?

For The Brag

Record review: Wolf Alice – My Love Is Cool (2015, LP)

wolf alice my love is cool

It’s easy to tire of the endless run of identikit NME-endorsed monotone and monochrome oh-so-English toffboy quartets masquerading as the new Clash-via-Libertines for the 21st century. Palma Violets, the Vaccines, Peace et. al are bands whose style-over-substance approach and try-hard ramshackle do little to deter the feeling that each of their parents have probably never driven anything smaller than a Range Rover with a horsebox, and that Pete Doherty is somehow still revered despite having been irrelevant for over a decade.

London’s Wolf Alice skirt around the edges of being such a band, sometimes dipping their toe into the clichéd indie-rock no man’s land that has been the final stop before the knacker’s yard for many a rock-lite pretender, but thankfully their debut album has just enough guts and range to prevent it from being more than just another shade of beige in the guitar-rock rainbow. If they didn’t have singer-guitarist Ellie Rowsell – a Justine Frischmann for the selfie-stick generation – Wolf Alice would barely be worth mentioning; the 22 year-old frontwoman carries her trio of anonymous male bandmates with aplomb throughout My Love Is Cool.

The band’s earliest work was rooted in folk, and it shows as Rowsell engages her inner Sandy Denny on ‘Turn To Dust’ and ‘Swallowtail’ sees one of the lesser three do his best Nick Drake impression. The delicate noir of ‘Silk’ sets up single and belting rock banger ‘Giant Peach’ perfectly; it’s here the controlled vocal talents of the diminutive Rowsell are most impressive, and on ‘Fluffy’ she shows screamo isn’t beyond her. Filler ‘You’re A Germ’ will embarrass as the band mature, as will the forgettable ‘Freazy’, but it’s exactly how Wolf Alice find and settle on their sound on album two which will make or break the band.


Felix Burton of Basement Jaxx: “I saw something sitting right in the middle of the sky that looked a flying saucer”

basement jaxx

IT’S been five long years since the last official Basement Jaxx album, but the English EDM duo are coming back strongly with new effort Junto.

While being free of his record contract and releasing new material means DJ and song-writer Felix Burton should be feeling on top of the world, it’s something altogether more other-worldly he most wants to talk about.

“We’d just moved into a new studio; its windows look over London,” he says. “I saw something sitting right in the middle of the sky that looked a flying saucer. Well, it looked like a Ford Fiesta; the way a car shimmers in the sunshine – it was definitely metallic. [A friend was] with me, having a cup of tea, and we were watching this thing in the sky. We realised it wasn’t a helicopter or a hot air balloon or anything like that; whether it was a military device or arable farming technology we’ve never heard about, who knows? Some other people saw it on that day, but what was most interesting was how small-minded some people were when I told them. An unidentified flying object means I don’t know what it is, but people would get angry and say it doesn’t exist or there isn’t such a thing, and I thought it was amazing how closed-minded people are to new possibilities and ideas. I did a lot of research into all this as I was doing a talk at Oxford University, and I was trying to make sense of it, so I was trawling through conspiracy theories and all the stuff out there. I was seeing a girl at the time, and we were out at some exhibition. She had actually seen something when she was eight years old in Scotland; something had hovered over the car, and she had always talked about it. I was with her in this public exhibition and was talking about the UFO, and said ‘my girlfriend here also saw something’. It was a Judas moment because she said she hadn’t seen anything, and when I asked her about it afterwards she said it was because people think you’re crazy if you say you’ve seen a UFO. I just thought it was awful that people walk off on you and get angry if you say you’ve seen a UFO, but she was blatantly disproving it just because she was embarrassed. People can’t say what they think or be honest. So many people are living a charade and getting whipped up in all this bullshit of celebrity culture that has no effect on their lives and makes them feel dissatisfied and envious. I believe in angels, UFOs, ghosts and all those kinds of things, and I don’t have a problem with it. I’ve looked a lot into religions and what my spiritual path is; maybe because my dad was a vicar. But people are scared of even thinking about all these things, which is such a shame. People just jump on something and use these things to feel superior. They don’t like the idea of something they don’t understand, but the fact is nearly all of life and reality we don’t understand; it’s arrogant to think we do.”

Interplanetary interruptions aside, Basement Jaxx are back with an album brimming over with their signature electronic-pop anthems and plenty of vocal collaborators. After over ten years with XL, Burton is happy to be embracing independence on the new record.

“We’ve always felt free in how we write,” he says. “It’s just you might not hear a lot of the stuff that was very free [laughs]. There were people who thought it might be a bit too tangential or might not fit into the idea of what was appropriate. With this album, we were very clear that we wanted to have stuff we could DJ, so we wanted to make sure it could be useful in our live show and connect to Jaxx fans, as well as fitting in with the current resurgence in house and deep house; now that’s kind of like pop music here. A lot of those people are inspired by us, so actually we might as well do our version of ourselves anyway.”

One of the guest vocalists was transgender rapper Mykki Blanco, who didn’t exactly finish the job, Burton says.

“That was the one vocal where we weren’t actually with the singer. It was done in a very modern way, where we e-mailed stuff. I sent him a couple of things and said it’d be great to work on ‘Buffalo’ and get some Native American spirit. We were back-and-forthing, and Mykki was really into it, then we started getting random e-mails and things weren’t quite connecting. Then [someone said] ‘Mykki’s gone’. We thought it was all sounding great, and told them we need the second verse to finish it, but they told us he’d gone to the desert. I thought it sounded all quite biblical, but that was it. We were mastering the album the next day, so ran out of time, but it’s amazing what you can do when you’ve got to reshape something and make it work.”

Having been a major player in the EDM scene since the ’90s, Burton is unconcerned about how the music industry is evolving of late.

“It’s been changing so much in the past ten years,” he says. “I think people who work in the music industry now have no idea what’s happening with it or where it’s going, which I really like. Rather than resting on their laurels, people need to understand life is about change and embracing change. Everything is temporary, and if a tune is good, you’ll be whistling it in a few years and everything else will get left behind. At a time when there’s so much corporate entertainment dross, it’s good that things keep moving forward and we don’t know where they’re heading. Everyone says it’s all about streaming and nobody will own any music any more, but who knows? There are always going to be enthusiasts who pile up vinyl, but I don’t really worry about these things I guess.”

A heaving touring schedule is already locked in for the end of the year, with Burton hoping to add Australian dates.

“I’m really hoping we can come in February or maybe January; around that time,” he says. “We just did the Fuji Rock Festival in Japan and a festival here in the UK. They went amazingly and I feel very happy with our live show at the moment. We have a lot of people, so it’s quite expensive, but I’d love to bring everyone. Also, the album is called Junto, which is about togetherness. It’s not about me or Simon, it’s about the audience and ideally all the people on stage as well. But yeah, fingers crossed. If Australia shows some interest in the record, then hopefully we can come. At the moment, we’re slightly in that limbo time where we’re waiting on responses to the album, but in my mind I’ve got it to go to Australia and Japan in February next year.”


For Scenestr and The Brag

J of Jungle: “We almost pictured ourselves in a jazz club, with T doing a door solo over drops”

jungle band

THEIR music has been described as kaleidoscopic modern soul, but being in Jungle is all about feeling before style, says the band’s singer and producer, known simply as J.

“In the real world, I’m is doing all sorts of shit to try to prove myself,” he says. “Whereas J and T are our nicknames; they’re where we go and that’s what Jungle is for us. It’s just somewhere we can go and create and be free, and is a really powerful thing. It’s important that it’s not about any individual. It should always be about the music.”

Along with childhood friend T, J formed Jungle as recently as recently as ten months ago, and despite a much-hyped debut album released this week and an upcoming appearance at Splendour in the Grass, the London-based duo remains as mysterious as ever. Their self-titled record is very much a DIY release, featuring smooth, crisp bass-lines, urban grooves, falsetto vocals and a few happy accidents.

“A lot of the stuff we put down, we put down because it was hilarious,” J says. “There’s a solo that was a door creaking, which some people love and some people hate. Basically, I was on the computer listening to a track and T left the room to make coffee. The door in my bedroom is basically creaky as hell, and creaked almost in tune with the track in a weird kind of way. I was like ‘wow, stop, stop!’ and started pointing a microphone at the door, saying ‘you’re on, it’s solo time’. We almost pictured ourselves in a jazz club, with T doing a door solo over drops.”

Despite mostly being recorded in a home studio in west London, the album is littered with imagery of faraway places, as on tracks like ‘The Heat’.

“I suppose, if you think about it, everything on our album is a visual reference,” J says. “It’s all about how you can be in that place to create that music. For example, with ‘The Heat’; that’s the beach, you know? So, the beach is a metaphor for a feeling of happiness. Rather than just being in a room in Shepherd’s Bush, you can close your eyes and go to that space. Einstein said ‘simplicity is genius’, and it is; I think all the best things in life are simple, and I think we kind of look up to that quote.”

One faraway place Jungle aren’t going to have to visualise is Australia, with the band set to fill a slot at Splendour in the Grass.

“Oh God, I don’t know how big our set is going to be there – don’t tell me!” J says. “I just go around expecting these tiny little hundred-person gigs. Everything for us is about human connection. If you look at our videos, it’s all about the people and what they’re saying through their eyes, which you lose so much of in the digital age. It’s ironic that most people access it through the Internet. I think live we want to make it about having people on-stage, and I think people relate to people more than laptops, and they enjoy it. The interesting point comes when you explore the line between live and electronic; where does the human end and the computer begin?”

Part of Jungle’s mystery has been intentionally engineered; that’s for certain. But as J confirms, the duo are much more down-to-earth than at first glance.

“We finished a song called ‘Son Of A Gun’ and it gave us the energy and confidence to finish more,” he says. “And then you start to build up that archive of stuff. A lot of people struggle – and we have struggled – with finishing stuff or having the confidence to finish it. Its only really a sketch when it’s finished and you can only really judge it when it’s finished. It’s an emotional whirlwind of a process, especially when you’re doing everything and you’re writing, recording and mixing; it becomes one and you have to be quite structured in the way you deal with it, because you can end up producing and mixing before you’ve even written anything. There were probably terms where we were thinking that we hated the sound of a snare drum, but the song didn’t even have a chorus, you know? It was just about taking things one step at a time and doing what feels right. It’s quite a DIY process for us, and we kind of enjoy that. Some of the best parts on the record are the big mistakes, and you have to embrace things that just happened off the cuff. That’s a process that happened from when we grew up. When you first get a family computer and get a little USB mic and realise you can do this without having to go to Abbey Road or do it properly. We’re at an age now where you can create and produce stuff to high standards with these tools, and it’s not necessarily about how it sounds. There are some amazing records that sound like they were recorded in the plushest studios, but just don’t have any emotion in them. Whereas you’ve got some records that were recorded on one mic in a basement, that are the most incredible records ever. Therefore, looking at that, it’s not about where you are or what you’re recording, it’s more about that feeling, emotion and energy in the room. You can waste so much time positioning mics and that sort of thing.”


For mX

Record review: Wolf Alice – Creature Songs (2014, EP)

wolf alice creature songs

Questions young bands have to ask themselves number 1186: do we save up all our good songs for a debut album, risking losing momentum and fans, or strike when the iron is hot, put out an EP and potentially lessen the quality of said long-player? English indie-rock quartet Wolf Alice are a band leaning heavily towards the latter approach, this being their second EP of top quality indie-rock in the space of less than twelve months. As their moniker suggests, Wolf Alice’s music is half rough and half gentle, with elements of grunge, rock and shoegaze at the pointy end and subtle indie at the other. This four track effort starts off strongly with the colossal ‘Moaning Lisa Smile’; a mesh of heavily fuzzed guitars and big vocals, before kicking it up another gear with ‘Storms’, a song which isn’t unlike something fellow English rockers Band of Skulls might write. In frontwoman Ellie Rowsell, indie-rock kids might have a new Goddess to worship; her commitment and command of every song being particularly impressive. Third track ‘Heavenly Creatures’ comes as a surprise after two alt-rock numbers; Rowsell’s whispered vocals and ringing harmonies over a simple guitar and bass line provide a cosy cushion for your ears to sink into, and closer ‘We’re Not The Same’ begins in misery before exploding with angst and feedback. It remains to be seen whether Wolf Alice can move past being labelled a ‘hype’ band to something more substantial, but if they keep tunes of this standard coming, the world of rock is theirs for the taking. (Dirty Hit)

Dizzee Rascal: “I’m just trying to make good decisions and stay out of trouble”

dizzee rascal

BARTENDERS TAKE NOTE: Dizzee Rascal would like his champagne served in the traditional fashion when he returns to Australia to play Groovin’ The Moo and a run of solo shows this month.

The East London rapper’s latest album, entitled The Fifth, came out in September, and introduced the 28 year-old to a range of new experiences.

“This was the first one I actually did in America; jumping from studio to studio, working with different big producers and other pop artists,” he says. “I’ve never done that before; everything has always been done at home or in-house up to this one. Going to the clubs out there and seeing the music in its environment can be an absurdity; the crazy, over-the-top-ness, especially within the music industry. I’ve seen things like that in London, don’t get me wrong, but when there’s a line of fifteen girls with fifteen bottles of champagne with sparklers in them that cost a few grand each, or a girl in a rubber dinghy delivering champagne to a table full of fucking drug dealers and rap superstars in the middle of a club while they play the Superman music, it’s a bit much, you know?

“I’m just kind of starting to understand [America] a little bit, so I was linking up with people there, and it just felt nice to record out there and be out of the way. And then obviously – in LA especially – there is a lot of big music being made there; it’s one of the key music places, as well as Atlanta and a few other spots. But LA is the serious one; when you’re there you can bump into anyone. I walked into the studio one day and Chris Brown was there talking to Spike Lee. There’s random shit like that, know what I mean? [My music] was always influenced by American music, but the last few years I’ve spent more time there, on my own even. From 2002 I’ve always spent time there to do shows or a few little tours, but it was always just in-and-out. All I knew about America was just from TV, music and movies, and it wasn’t until the last few years that I actually got to absorb it; mainly Miami, LA, Houston and a bit of New York. You can argue that that’s not even the real America, but those places are their own thing in their own right, and I understand America a little bit more now.”

A seasoned touring artist and grime pioneer, Rascal is confident of putting on a good show.

“There’s lots of energy in our show, and we’ll be bringing it all to Australia,” he says. “There’ll be material from all my albums, from the first up to The Fifth. At the smaller shows I’ll be playing more of the stuff that I won’t be able to fit into the festival set. I wouldn’t call it abstract stuff, but it’s stuff that’s geared more towards the die-hard fans, as well as the big or the more commercial stuff. For the festivals, it’s all the big stuff; things that will work in a festival environment. Big sing-alongs and things that will make people jump up and down, basically. [The new material has] been going down alright. To be fair, we played a lot of the stuff before it came out anyway. A lot of it was debuted in Australia as well, and it’s going to be nice to come back there after the album has actually been out and people have got to absorb it, so I’m looking forward to it. The thing is, for the last few albums, because of the time of year they have been ready to be put out, the music was tested out in Australia and New Zealand first.”

Collaborations have always been a major feature of any Dizzee Rascal album, with his latest featuring a range of guest vocalists and producers.

“Some of it was planned,” he says. “Someone like; I’ve bumped into him for years but we never managed to get anything recorded, or we recorded some shit and never finished it. This time I was working with Jean-Baptiste and he and have done a lot of work together, and that’s how the thing came about this time. Robbie Williams was another one I’ve bumped into a few times and we got on and everything, and I was looking for someone to record that song with. We rang him up and he agreed to do it as long as I came out there and recorded with him, which is rare as these days as most of the time I’m never in the same room with people. It was nice to actually sit down with him as he recorded his vocals. I’ve got number one songs I’ve done with Calvin Harris and we were never in the studio together; it’s crazy.”

Despite having been a recording artist since the age of 16 and already a veteran of the scene at 28, Rascal still feels the pressure of releasing new material.

“There’s always pressure,” he says. “It’s always one of the most stressful things, anticipating how it’s going to do and all that. But once it’s all over, I just want to get stuck in and do it all again. I know what it’s like, but just love doing it and seeing how far I can go. If it works, wicked. If not, I’ll try something new. There’s nothing worse than thinking you’ve got a big tune and when you play it live it’s not quite going that way, and everyone’s looking at their watches. That’s never any good. You got to work harder to perform those songs and get them across, but you live and you learn, innit? Some songs don’t come across as well live either; some are better for radio or albums, and vice versa as well. People get twisted up in asking about what I used to sound like or what I still sound like. What was good about what I did back then was that it caught the moment; I think that’s what the best music does. If I tried to capture that time again it wouldn’t sound right, so I’m just capturing now the best way I can, and so that people will still want to hear it in ten years time.”

While his earlier career was peppered with controversy, mainly surrounding an alleged feud with fellow grime MC Crazy Titch, Rascal insists the future is all that matters.

“I’m just trying to make good decisions and stay out of trouble,” he says. “The biggest thing for me is just trying to not do too much dumb shit; that’s what ruins a lot of artists in this day and age especially. Information gets out there so quickly and people can change their minds about you so quickly. Sometimes it works in your favour, because a lot of people seem to like the whole fucking reality TV idiot thing, but people can get really tired of you quickly as well. The best thing to do is to stay out of the way and let the music do the talking. The most you’re going to get out of me is my Instagram; sometimes I’ll put some crazy shit on there just to have a laugh and show a bit of my personality. I’m always working on new stuff; I’ve got ‘We Don’t Play Around’ with Jessie J, [which] I’ve just approved the video for that a few days ago, so that’s going to be on TV soon. I’ve been surprised [that] it’s been really big in Australia; I never saw that one coming. Even though I’ve played it there, I didn’t expect it to be the song with the most radio play so far. I love the friendliness of [Australia]. It’s one of my top-three places to perform. I like the people, the vibe, the buzz. There’s a really good gauge for live performing in Australia; if they like something you fucking know you’re onto a winner.”