Friday, 22 May 2009

Passion Pit

Stool Pigeon February '09

Anyone who paid attention to the tastemaker lists for 2009 will know
the name Passion Pit. In a year mostly devoid of dead-cert success
predictions, one band bucked the trend on both sides of the
Atlantic, largely due to their appearances at the last CMJ festival
in New York, where their capacity for appearing everywhere at every
moment of the day, and congregating the British music industry
in one place without the promise of free alcohol, was unmatched.

Today, while still enjoying the aftershock of that week, singer and
songwriter Michael Angelakos is largely philosophical about it.
Picking up a call from the studio where they are recording their
debut, he’s more interested in making an awesome record than keeping
up with what’s new in buzz bands. However, he is aware of his own
band’s status, and the expectation that comes with it.

“I listen to a lot of groups and there’s a scepticism involved,” he
says, tired from a late night’s recording, “I totally agree with the
people who would say ‘oh it’s just another new band’, cause it takes
a long time for a band to prove themselves. I know we’re really new,
and that’s ok.”

Angelakos sounds more like a slightly disorganised professor than the
next torchbearer of the East Coast sound, and indeed, the rise of
Passion Pit has a similarly disorganised edge. The EP that caused all
the fuss was recorded on whim, as a gift to a girlfriend, and since
then the band have been in constant activity. They don’t have time to
think about most of the mantles being put on them, and the constant
comparisons to last years big indie breakthrough, MGMT, have him

“It’s really funny,” he says, “We wear the same clothes every day,
you know, shitty sweaters, and we’re tired. We’re not aware of up and
coming things, but if people want to compare us to MGMT, then wow.”

For his part, however, he won’t be pandering to public opinion.
“We’re not the kind of band that says ‘if it’s not broken, don’t fix
it’,” he says, “None of the songs on the EP will be on the record,
and we’re using a different and larger production. It’s a departure,
and we’re excited to be putting it out.” As if to illustrate the
point, he mentions that the day is set aside for horn arrangements.
It looks like those tastemakers may be able to predict success, but
they can’t predict what it will sound like.

“The whole dance mish mash thing is kind of dead,” says Angelakos.

Long live Passion Pit.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Dev on Steve Martin

Extract from the Drowned in Sound Takeover

On the last day of my DiS takeover, I wanted to cover something that wasn't music. Sure music is fine in a pleasantish sort of way. Sure it fills the silences and heightens the emotions, can make a grown man cry and a girl feel like a woman or whatever, but sometimes you just got to wonder what those other sections in the iTunes store are for.

Enter Lightspeed Champion: Dev Hynes is one of those people who has given up hours of his life adding information to Wikipedia. He knows everything to know about rap feuds, and is passionately vocal about the hierarchy of comic book film adaptations. He recently dressed as the Gingerbread Man to attend an Anime conference, and he will cry real tears if you tell him you enjoyed X-men 3.

I asked him for a little wedge of his specialist knowledge, and he came back with two words: Steve Martin. Apparently he's been obsessed with him from a very young age, for the very valid reason of Steve Martin being a certified genius. You may sneer a little at recent decisions like Bringing Down the House or (sorry Dev) Cheaper by the Dozen 2, but you'd be wrong to, because Martin is one of those people who entirely re-wrote the history of comedy. His stand-up years alone will write off most of his film-choice misdemeanors, and he has not only starred in some of the greatest movies of the last three decades, too many to even list, he also wrote a whole bunch of them. There's no one else who can pull off that kind of goofy, nervous physical comedy, and his surfeit of roles in family-oriented films just goes to show how loveable he is. To paraphrase the Beatles – there's something in the way he moves.

Ask anyone what they think of Steve Martin, and chances are they will find some reason why they love him. Ask Dev, and he will give you 1500 words on why he loves him. And not just one Steve Martin, all the many faces of Steve Martin, from Mixed Nuts to The Jerk, to Little Shop of Horrors to, yes, Cheaper by the Dozen, Bowfinger, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Parenthood, Father of the Bride, LA Story, all of it. Sit back, read this interview and let all those wonderful memories wash over you. It may even intrigue you to see Pink Panther 2, which is out this month. Baby Mama, however, not really worth it, unless you want to get the DVD and fast forward to the Martin bits. Man's a genius, nothing else to say.

Which is the best Steve Martin film?

It depends really. If you are talking about the best film that Steve Martin was in? Or the best performance he gave as an actor? Or the best comedic performance he has give in a movie? Or the best movie that he wrote?

I have an answer for all of these...

The best movie that Steve Martin was in has to be the Ron Howard film 'Parenthood'. Everything was on point during that one. Direction was spot on by Howard, the casting was genius, and as always Howard knew how to get the subtleties of the human emotion across without shoving it in your face. A great movie.

The best performance Steve Martin has given as an actor would have to be 'Planes , Trains and Automobiles' or 'Roxanne'... but I shall discuss 'Planes , Trains...' as I think his talent is vastly under-looked in this movie in regards to how big it became and the comedic connotations applied to it when brought up in thought.... as usual for a John Hughes movie... you look back on it remembering a lot more comedic or classic elements than may actually be in the film. I remember thinking all kinds of shit happened to Steve Martin and John Candy's characters... but when you view it again, it's really only a few incidents. But anyway this is the best role for acting steve martin has been in. He plays the character Neal Page in such a genuine believable way. You have to remember that Steve Martin really had never played that kind of person before in a movie. I guess you could say he developed the high strung-ness somewhat for his role in Nora Ephron's 'Mixed Nuts'... but he is a delight to watch in 'Planes Trains...'.

Now, for the best comedic performance he has given in a movie I first have to mention, I think period when he wasn't actually in movies, so his appearances were cameos are golden. Great moments, he'd pop up.. have 5-10 minutes on the screen, and outshine everything and everyone else. The muppets movie cameo as the waiter.. 'Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts club'... a classic time..

But I guess his funniest performance would have to be ... god this is tough, Maybe 'The Jerk'. But that was his first movie, and I don't think it particularly ties in with the rest of his movies. 'The Jerk' is really like a celebration and goodbye to his stand up.. it features countless routines he would do, that he just wrote into the film. The very first line of the movie was what sparked the whole idea of making the film..(being born to a poor black family)..His best film as a writer is without a doubt 'Man with Two Brains'. It's the perfect combination of his writing, Love story, comedy, insanity, irony... it has everything. It's such a wonderful film and story, and he himself is amazing in it. Even referencing his stand up at several points. A masterpiece of a movie.

A lot of people say his quality control has nosedived in the last 20 years. What do you say to them?

Well, I assume you are talking about since 'Parenthood' in 1989. And I can definitely see your point.The main thing you need to remember is apart from movies like 'L.A. Story' (another great example of Steve Martin's writing for film) and a few others, he stopped writing the movies he was in, and solely appeared in them.

The 'Father of the Bride' films are great, 'Mixed Nuts' is awful... 'House Sitter' is great, and 'Sgt Bilko' is pretty good. They may not match up to earlier standards but that is o.k... I feel his Bibliogrophy during this period more than makes up for that.

Which era of Steve Martin is your favourite - stand up, anarchic movie star a la 'The Jerk' and 'Pennies from Heaven', 'L.A. Story'/ 'Roxanne' era, Dad in every film in the 80's or 'Cheaper by the Dozen'? How do you feel about 'Cheaper by the Dozen'?

'Cheaper by the Dozen' is incredible... I take delight in anything that unite Tom Welling with Steve Martin.

I view every era in a different light thought.. maybe if I had to say something negative, late 90's early 2000's is my least favoured period.

What do you think of Keanu Reeves in Parenthood?


Do you think 'Bowfinger' was a rare return to form for Eddie Murphy and Steve Martin? Do you think they'll ever do it again?

They would never do it again because Steve Martin is on another plane than Eddie Murphy... It's something I don't think most people realise. But Steve Martin is someone that has had multiple grammy records... two for comedy, but one for best country performance in 2002, in the banjo world he as seen as a master of a five finger technique where you push down with your nails rather than plucking the strings. He has written some of the toughest banjo music to play in the last twenty years.

He as had countless best selling books, ranging from novellas, to prose, memoirs, and plays.. and his intelligence is completely out of this world. The fact that he got famous for his comedy in the late 70's is astounding considering the stuff he was doing, the techniques and ideals he was going for and the whole idea of "Anti- Comedy".

Eddie Murphy recorded a hit single with, written and performed by Rick James. I'm aware people would LIKE to think that this is a more incredible feat..but get real.

Did you see him in 'Baby Mama' and '30 Rock'?

Unfortunately I did see 'Baby Mama'... and it's episode four of new '30 Rock' right? I'm waiting for the season to end so I can watch them all in one go online. But I guess, tied into this.. somewhat, I was in the Rockerfeller center last week to see Steve Martin host his 15th SNL. That was incredible.

[note- unfortunately the Steve Martin episode of 30 rock is not the best one. Series three picks up pretty quickly though after they quit with all the celebrity cameos.]

Do you care for the 'Father of the Bride' series?

I do. A lot.

Am I right in my conviction that a movie without Diane Keaton is NO MOVIE AT ALL?

A Real Estate investment without Diana Keaton is No investment at all!!!

Are there any things that I've missed out about Steve Martin that you need to add?

Lots, do your goddamn research !!!!!!!

Have you heard his joke about the sprocket?

HAHA, of course!! It's on 'Let's Get Small'. That right there is a prime example of what I meant about I have no idea how he got huge in the 70's... telling jokes that are intentionally weird and not funny... he had this whole thing of not telling punch-lines also... that way when the laughter would come it would be more natural. A true genius.

Which is best Steve Martin live CD?

Maybe A wild and Crazy Guy. He was flying high at that point.

What current comedians are worthy enough to follow in his footsteps?

I don't really like comedians.

Will Ferrell...opinion?

End of Interview.

Will Ferrell is funny. In our opinion his website has overtaken cranking in the top ten antidotes to boredom of all time. Go here for a few of the best videos

Monday, 9 March 2009

Eugene McGuinness

Published in Stool Pigeon in November. I'm worried that I made Eugene sound like he was being rude. He wasn't, he was being funny, I'm just not a good enough writer.

"By the way," says Eugene Mcguinness, "Don't put any exclamation marks in the interview. They always put exclamation marks in interviews. You can just picture the guy who said it with their eyebrows raised and a massive stupid grin on his face."

Deadpan, sipping on a Tiger beer at the Social on London's Little Portland St, McGuinness is being somewhat instructive over the course of his interview. This town being the way it is, he is already familiar with both the interviewer and the photographer, and is either batting away questions with absurdist quips, or commenting on how best to write the piece when it's done. It's a little like hitting a tennis ball over a net and having your opponent throw back a fish or a shoe.

"Come on," he teases, "this is going down like the Titanic."

Sure, if the Titanic was sunk by awkwardness. McGuinness makes the kind of music that attracts the hardcore music fan, the kind who is militant about quality and encyclopaedic in obsession, but today his own view of his music is so flippant, it might serve to break the hearts of anyone who has ever tried to find meaning in it. The album, which has come out two days before the meeting, is self named, he says, because he 'couldn't think of anything else', and he stands on the cover staring intently into the camera, wearing nothing but a leotard and a fencing helmet, for no reason other than he liked the way it looked. If he wasn't surrounded by people he would consider his peers, you would think him dangerously nonchalant, but on this occasion, he's probably just being funny. Funny, however, doesn't get you answers.

"What's happened since your album came out on Monday," he is asked.

"I've had a bean salad," he replies.

"Are there high expectations from a label perspective?"

"Not in these serious times. Doesn't credit crunch sound like a cereal?"

It's a nightmare, and don't even begin to ask him about his lyrics. On the pretence that he doesn't think about them enough, but probably because he doesn't want other people telling him what his lyrics are about, McGuinness is being exceedingly literal about everything he's asked. Tell him you like how he writes about London, and he will make you list every song that mentions it, and counter with a list of the ones that don't. Ask him what God In Space, the haunting and absurdly beautiful album closer, is about, and he will claim: "I just try and make the words rhyme." Furthermore, tell him that the strings sound cinematic and he will tell you that all strings sound like that because they are 'classy' and no, he doesn't know any Brian Wilson. Hold on. Pet Sounds? Oh yeah, he's heard of that.

"It's hard doing interviews and things," he explains later, "I don't have any concepts about my music. Nobody can be Bowie, nothing shocks, there's nothing I can say in interviews to surprise anyone with. I just have to write good songs."

So does he have no agenda whatsoever with his music?

"I want it to be uplifting," he says, "I can't be dealing with too much unrequited love. I want my music to be uplifting, which makes things seem good and beautiful in its own non-glamorous way."

It's the first statement he's made all day, other than a truly inspired argument against pop snobbery which brings into question if he's ever seen the inside of an art gallery ("Music isn't supposed to be interesting, stuff in museums is interesting." "Well they put art in museums, and music is art." "Yeah well they put stuffed leprechauns in museums too." "Eugene, nobody puts stuffed leprechauns in museums."). However, his lack of statement is something of a statement in itself. If he's already made the album and written the songs, why does he need to further explain himself in interviews? "This stuff doesn't mean anything anyway, I don't read it," he says, "the only thing that means anything is lots of people liking your songs. And it's better if they draw their own conclusions." Furthermore, he says, "I can't make sweeping generalisations about my album, I can't pretend there was an umbrella aesthetic."

In an industry where music is rarely unaccompanied by a carefully composed back-story, and when most emerging artists are so good at spinning their own mythology, you wonder if they didn't start out in PR, to speak to someone who claims not to have conceptualised anything is unique. But, admirable as it is that he refuses to deal out what he considers bullshit, it does seem the boy protests too much. Does he really draw no inspiration from nursery rhymes, even though his last album quoted Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, and this one contains a song called Rings Around Rosa? And does he really not detect an element of nostalgia in his work, despite songs such as Those Old Black and White Movies are True? By the time the decision is made to quit the interview and go find his record in a shop, it seems pretty clear that none of these questions are going to be answered. "Sorry I've been flakey," he says, looking sheepish, "Was it a total disaster?"

It was not a total disaster. The casually named Eugene McGuinness is still a great album, whether it was constructed carefully around a theme or puked onto an 8-track the night before mastering. Like McGuinness attempted to say himself, music means something different to everybody who hears it, and the person who makes it should be secondary to the result. But why, if he thinks so little about it, does he do it in the first place? On this, the boy is finally clear.

"Because music is the best thing in the universe," he says, "and there are people who allow me to do it. Those loons!!!"

Sorry, Eugene, it had to be done. You don't read your own press anyway.

Monday, 29 September 2008

Jenny Lewis Article

for the September Stool Pigeon

It’s eleven o’clock in the morning in LA, a week after Jenny Lewis’ cancelled European promo trip, and the lady in question is answering the phone. “Hello,” she says sweetly, “how are you?”

Hold on, you might think, this is not the sound of a spoilt LA rock star given to canceling interviews on a whim, and at this point you might want to peer down the mouthpiece to make sure she’s the right person, or call her PR to angrily demand the real Jenny Lewis, and not this super nice imposter, but that would be your mistake. This super nice voice on the other end, shyly admitting that eleven o’clock is ‘pretty early, depending on who you ask,” really is the right Jenny Lewis, Rilo Kiley Frontwoman, Postal Service collaborator, and solo artist with two records under her belt. Having been forced to postpone the trip because of admin errors, Lewis is now patiently taking calls from every interview that couldn’t wait. “I’m just in that phase you know, before the album comes out and when you’re not actually playing the music, but you’re talking about it,” she says, “and I do find the playing it bit easier.”

If Lewis is finding today hard, she’s masking it well. Maybe it’s because it’s the first interview of the morning, or maybe it’s a mark of 28 years in the entertainment industry (as an actress, she filmed her first commercial at age 3), but Jenny Lewis really is the picture of professionalism. You keep waiting for her to get restless or self-righteous. She doesn’t. In fact, after about ten minutes, when she gets deep into the mechanics of making records, you forget the 24 hours or so of music she’s contributed to your iPod alone, and start sparring with her about the ins and outs of analogue recording, her latest album having been recorded with a strict ‘no Pro Tools’ policy. “I think you can use digital technology with an analogue mindset,” she says, “like you’re still doing stuff live to tape, but with this record I didn’t want the opportunity for the producer to fix things in post. I’m a fan of precision and production but I just think it’s more fun to record things in the moment, especially as a singer, to be able to emote a couple of times while feeling the energy of the band.”

Lewis has, of course, earned the right to have a bit of fun. She’s been making music for well over a decade now, in so many guises she may be the only person to actually deserve the title ‘Emmy Lou Harris of her generation’. Her first solo record, Rabbit Fur Coat, released in 2006 as an experiment, was a runaway success, but when Rilo Kiley put a record out nine months later, nobody expected her to follow it up quickly. As it was, Lewis wrapped up touring in December, finished a couple of songs over the holidays and went straight back into the studio. Three weeks later, Acid Tongue was complete.
Brushing off suggestions of a superhuman work ethic, she says, “I’ve been working since I was a little girl. I need to have something to focus on, otherwise I’ll get into trouble.”

Anyone expecting a follow on from the country-tinged confessions of Rabbit Fur Coat will be in for an initial disappointment. A lot was made of its themes of Hollywood letdowns and religious disillusionment, as well as its sweetly intimate, almost acoustic, qualities of production. This album is clearly the sound of a band in a room, and the lyrics on many of the songs seem arbitrary, almost jammed out. Even the heart-wringer, Godspeed, has a general quality to it, as though it’s not specific to Lewis’s own experience. She herself is set on the notion that, at least this time round, ‘the words are not s important as the sound of a guitar, or the tone of a voice, or even the sound that the words are making’.

“My only real intention with this album was to capture a vibe and capture a live vocal sound,” she says, “These were the songs that presented themselves of course, but also I really just wanted to make a record of a feeling, instead of taking people through the songs step by step and pushing myself on them in that sense.”

The result is, even to an untrained ear, an exceptionally warm and energetic album. Recorded live and often in one or two takes, it also benefits from having about fifteen of Lewis’ close friends and family in backing, including her father, sister, boyfriend Johnathan Rice (Lewis also features heavily on his latest release), and old hands M. Ward and Farmer Dave. Replacing the Watson Twins’ on female backing are Zooey Deshcanel (of She & Him) and Vanessa Corbala (of Whispertown2000), but with a vital difference. Whereas Lewis’ voice towered ahead of her collaborators on Rabbit Fur Coat, on Acid Tongue the guest spots feel more like an equal billing. Every time you hear Dechanel, Corbala or any of the other singers make their contribution, it’s as though Lewis has stepped aside and offered them her own microphone. On the subject of friend and label boss Connor Oberst, Lewis says, “he is incredibly supportive and an incredibly generous performer. He is constantly shining the spotlight on other people.”

Listening to Acid Tongue, she might as well be talking about herself. "There’s nothing better than a group of people singing in a room,” she adds, shunning the compliment, “it just seemed logical to involve my friends in my touring band, and they are truly my dear friends in the world, and I wanted to reflect that.”

It’s not often you find an album made with such simple intentions; capturing a feeling and doing it with the people you love. Lewis says that without their encouragement over the years, she would ‘never have the courage to make it through a 45 minute set.” With Acid Tongue she has made a perfect tribute to their support, and had fun doing it. "The goal in playing music is surely to avoid the straight life," she says, "so you might as well make sure you have a good time.”

Why? Article

written for the September edition of the Stool Pigeon

Yoni Wolf, the thoughts, words and voice of Oakland’s Why? and a founding member of the Anticon collective, is pissed. Tonight’s show at Brighton Audio has been given a early curfew, and the band have less than ninety minutes between soundcheck and show in which to eat, regroup, prepare and be interviewed. “We gotta not play shows before clubnights,” he mutters, as they navigate the seafront to a restaurant recommended by the promoter. The interview will have to wait. Perhaps it could be done after the show?

No, that’s a weird time to do it.

Tomorrow morning before they leave?

Yoni will be sleeping tomorrow morning.

Next week at London’s Wireless Festival?

Let’s just see what happens later.

You get the feeling that, scenery aside, this isn’t an altogether unfamiliar situation for Yoni. Not the interview so much, but the treadmill-like routine of playing shows, filling your time before and after. Why? is a hard working band, Yoni is a lyricist who seeps you in realism until it becomes magical. Having listened to the band’s most recent album, Alopecia, with its landscapes of gas station toilets and European basketball courts, it’s not hard to imagine the songs taking root on a day like today.

“Um,” says Yoni, finally caught up with, “the lyrics are not always based on my life, the main character is based on me, but it’s not always directly from that. Sometimes it’s a, um, metaphor…” He has the look of a caged animal about to be experimented on, or someone who is being asked to hand over an internal organ. “I don’t write on tour at all,” he adds, “I do run out of things to write about.”

Yoni seems tired and defensive. He explains at the beginning of the conversation that he ‘really loses his shit on tour’. When asked about his life away from the band, he says, “I am fairly separate from most people at this point. I have some people I see in Oakland and I’ll develop friendships but they never, really, I mean, when I’m gone, I’m gone.”

This isolation is clearly something that has exacerbated from the first record to the next. Darkness has always been a component of Why? Records, but there was a buoyancy in the first that has now disappeared. Where Elephant Eyelash seemed like a celebration, Alopecia is sucked dry of optimism, bleak and self-destructive, as seen in songs about jerking off in a museum toilet to the handwriting of a distant lover, carving his new girlfriend’s age into the palm of his hand for her birthday, and sleeping on his back for ‘coffin rehearsal’. Through it all, however it has a grim humour that is nowhere to be seen in Brighton until he burps on stage two hours later. Halfway into a year of touring, who can blame the guy, but hey Yoni, the only question left to ask is – if you didn’t want to do the interview – Why? did you say yes?

Friday, 20 June 2008

Meet the Folkers

A one off column for Artrocker. I come off badly.

I was so close to finishing this. This piece was written and ready to hand in five days before the deadline, a completely unprecedented feat for me meaning five glorious days of stress-free self-satisfaction. Five beautiful June days to do nothing but bask in the glory of my own self-discipline. Maybe in these five days I could have been rewarding myself with nice little alternatives to writing anxiously against a clock. Maybe I could have taken some country walks. Learned to love myself. Bought the new Weezer album. Made you each a mixtape.

But it was not to be.

Half an hour before I was due to send this piece, an insider's report on the coming and goings of young British folk artists, I got a mass email from Universal music. Without even the decency of a 'hello…', or 'sorry I stole your email and added to your already indecent quantities of uninvited spam'', it asked me to download a video of one of it's up and coming young London folkies, doing an 'impromptu' duet with another, up and coming, young London folkie. I picked up the meaning of the email pretty quickly. What it wanted to infer, was that, combined, these two young folkies made up the forefront of an uber exciting, super talented new movement which MUST NOT BE IGNORED ON PAIN OF DEATH. Together they were like a mandolin toting Captain Planet, whose music and surrounding merchandise you must consume and consume immediately, else you might as well be living in a cellar communicating in grunts.


When all the vomit had left my body. I reviewed my piece. True to my brief, I had written a pretty straightforward list of the people I considered current folk artists, and the things they did. Noah and the Whale, folky enough to be playing the Cambridge Folk Festival, are due an album. Laura Marling, described by Q as a 'folky Kate Nash', has just released one. Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Wit – enough folk in the name alone to people a Mayday parade and an album with a Celtic title to boot. And then there's Eugene McGuinness. He must be tired of the association by now. Poor boy is skirting rock & roll, punk, even grime more than he's ever touched on folk, yet time after time he's brought up in the blogosphere alongside the Cambridge-approved, harmonium wielding Noah. Is it cause his guitar is half acoustic? I'm only feigning innocence. I know there's a reason why the same five or six bands are destined to circle each other in infinite combinations every festival they play. Someone in charge thinks that bands are more interesting as a package deal and everybody, from the PR at my old pen-pal Universal, to the moist-eyed young up-and-comings who just 'happen' to play their duets in front of video cameras, are playing along.

Man I wish I could explain how much the term 'up and coming' makes me itch. I haven't even heard every Neil Young album yet, so I don't have time for the latest single from Joe Lean and the Jing Jang Jong, no matter how many A&R men attended their latest show. But the hype machine in this country is obsessed with the new. Obsessed with listing who's going to be the biggest new acts of the year, the month, the week, the minute; and once they identify these hot new acts, they need to herd them into groups like cattle and give them a name. A couple of years ago they noticed that singer-songwriters were back in fashion, and dutifully, in an orderly manner, they shone the spotlight on the new Streets-inspired singer songwriters (Lily Allen, Jamie T), then the new Lily Allen-inspired singer-songwriters (Kate Nash, Jack Penate), then, briefly, the new Kate Nash-inspired singer-songwriters (every female artist available at time of press), and finally, currently, the new gang of nu-folk singer-songwriters (spearheaded by Marling, Flynn, the Whale and whatever reluctant extra has been drafted in for the sake of the article). What all the press failed to mention is that some of these singer-songwriters have appeared on every list for the last three years, and only shifted slightly from Mike Skinner to Joni Mitchell in the process. It seems that making it onto these lists is completely arbitrary. Sneeze close enough to a Myspace player and you'll probably get on one, but I digress. What I mean to say, is that the burgeoning London scene of new-folk artists is a construct, just like the fleeting, but hilarious phase of the 'Mini-Allens'. As yet, only two of these artists and their associated satellites have even released albums, let alone that path-determining second or third. When I read about people getting excited about the London folk scene, I have to wonder how exciting a collected effort of 15 singles can be? No wonder there needs to be a flow chart of who's shagging who before anyone dares dedicate us a column inch. That's why, for the rest of this article, I'm going to stop complaining and concentrate on the people who I think deserve excitement. The Professors, if you will, to the London undergraduates.

It always confuses me that the most exciting artists are the ones who are collecting the least amount of hysteria. Seriously, if you ever see a hysterical crowd, just look in the opposite direction and you'll probably find something good. The last time I saw the Mountain Goats play, I cried so hard I finally understood Beatlemania, yet I was only one in an audience of sixty. The Mountain Goats have released fifteen full-length albums, three of which I consider essential tools for a complete existence – and still i was able to stand at the front of the stage, and have John Darnielle look me in the eye from two feet away. That was a good day for me, but it's not so good for the people who will never know the power of that feeling. What misery they must be in! How horrible it must be to never hear the lyric 'how much better can my life get?/ 900 cubic centrimeters of raw whining power/ No outstanding warrants for my arrest', from the song Jenny, and never laugh at its depiction of complete joy. And what is bleaker than hanging on in a dead relationship? Surely it's never hearing that bleakness reflected in the song No Children. 'Our friends say it's darkest before the sun rises/ we're pretty sure they're all wrong', sings Darnielle, and I have to wonder what it's like not to hear it. Similarly, I hate to think what my life was before I discovered Diane Cluck, and I guess Laura Marling must feel the same, given that her album is a very loving tribute to the great lady.


If Diane Cluck knew how dangerously close to being in fashion she is now, I wonder if she would be pleased or horrified. From her scratchy home recording on the first Anti-folk compilation, to the second album she decorated and distributed entirely by hand, Cluck has always been the kind to shy away from attention. Her pure focus on the creative side of music (to her, it seems, music industry is being industrious about music) has led to a pretty low profile over the years, but in spite of having no website, no label and no distribution, she has a deeply devoted following across the world, all the more special for how hard people have worked to find her. Last year, after a serious miscarriage of judgement saw her booked to play at the venue owned by the Fly, I watched amazed as, surrounded by photographs of the Kooks and the Fratellis, she turned a beer-sozzled stable of a room into a glowing magic den. Furthermore, I've never been to a show where even the bar-staff weren't slack jawed and drooling by the end of the night. There's just something about her clear voice, her cool, easy delivery, and the way she sings as though in the throes of hypnosis, that knocks all the thoughts out of your head, and the fact that she's so elusive, so content to remain obscured in legend, makes it somehow even better.

It's weird. When I first started listening to Diane Cluck, I wasn't particularly knocked out. That was the year that Joanna Newsom's first record came out, and I was much more impressed by how clever and pretty it was. That was also the year when a lot of folky records were coming out of the West Coast, and people were starting to pinpoint Devendra Barnhart as the head of some twisted hippy movement. In amongst the immediately obvious talent of Newsom, the dark brattiness of Cocorosie and the well-established but rediscovered comforts of Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, Diane Cluck was just a quiet throbby blur in the horizon. Over time, however, my interest in folk has proven to be a bit of a fad. Cocorosie loses interest on repeated listens (although say that to John Darnielle and he'll hurt you), Barnhart looks like a pervy tree, and my admiration and awe for Joanna Newsom never matured into love. Diane though, is a different thing all together. Somehow over the years, the occasional listen grew into a deep obsession, creeping up on me like her voice creeps over her rambling lyrics and thick earthy rhythms. It's really, really hard for me to describe the effect she has, so I suggest you go out and get your hands on some music. Start with Oh Vanille/ Ova Nil, and make sure you at least download the song My Teacher Died from the album Countless Times. Finally, no matter what you thought of those other songs, find the EP Diane Cluck, and listen to it in full, especially the songs Monte Carlo, You are Like Elvis, & Ambulance. Find these things now, and discover Diane Cluck, before the spell is broken and she disappears into dreams.

Ok, so maybe earlier I overstated the arbitrariness of the yearly lists. It is a fact that last year's London accent has softened into almost American tones, and in place of what was bright and brassy is now reflective and melancholic. And while I still think that tastemakers can be pretty non-discriminate with their predictions, there's more than enough finger-picking and fiddle going on to indicate a trend. With all this in mind I'm excited to say that I know why this is happening. The answer is a band called Beirut. Three years ago, the folkiest thing we had in British indie was Patrick Wolf, who followed up the camp electro of his debut with a collection of Cornish Sea Shanties. Then Zach Condon came along with The Gulag Orkestra, inspired by his travels around the folk of Eastern Europe, and in his wake came the renewed interest in mandolins, rattles, trumpet solos and ukeleles. It would have been impossible to predict the effect the album would have – back then it was just generally liked by anyone who heard it, and being a retro record wasn't described as groudbreaking – but its steady growth and strong live follow-up meant that for the next two years record labels were happily collecting anyone who could mimic that success. I mentioned that two of the folk brat-pack (I just read that phrase on the Internet) have released albums already, and both contain at least a song on which Condon's influence is, to put it mildly, strong. Likewise, the rise of Noah and the Whale, who manage to marry being interesting and organic with very, very successful, is a testament to the doors opened by Beirut, as is Marling's slow evolution from Reading teen pop sensation to Gibson-strumming siren. Two years ago, I can hardly imagine a label being cool with her wish to tone it down a notch and get to the heart of her emotions. Thank Zach, that we never found out what the word 'Mini-Allen' meant.

Not Drowning - the Wave Pictures

Published in March in the Stool Pigeon

“It’s hard to imagine a world where Tom Waits is a superstar,” sighs the Wave Pictures’ Dave Tattersall, “It’s a nice world, and I don’t know where it went.”

It’s early January, and the Wave Pictures are talking Golden Ages. Holed up in an studio beneath East London’s Duke of Uke, the band are laying down tracks for their new album, three months before the next is due for release. Apparently this is how it used to be done, and how it should be done. “Neil Young used to make two albums a year,” says Dave, “He’d write a song every two weeks then record the last ten, and it would be awesome.”

You get the feeling that Dave and his bandmates would rather live in simpler times. Moving to London over a year ago, they still carry themselves with the wide-eyed wonderment of three boys from the country, and most of the trappings of Myspace-era indie are completely alien to them. Dave listens mainly to vinyl that pre-dates the eighties and the other two wander around like a pair of 1950’s shopkeepers on loan from Brighton Beach. Don’t take them for naive though – the band have a stronger sense of identity than any band you’ve met, borne out of the isolation of their rural upbringing. “You develop a stronger sense of who you are when you don’t know anybody else,” says Dave, who started playing with bassist Franic six years ago, “For better or for worse we are a band who were completely unfamous for six years.” He adds, “that’s why we’re here recording when nobody asked us to, because it’s what we’ve always done.”

Things have changed recently for the Wave Pictures, the communal move to London made it easier to play shows, and a deal with independent label Moshi Moshi has them tipped for big things in 2008. This concept of course, means nothing to them, which is part of their appeal. Word is spreading about the group of boys so far from image-led, branded indie superstars, and their live shows are starting to attract not so much a fanbase but a community. “I guess this could be a year of life-changing success for us,” hypothesizes drummer Johnny, “but either way we’ll still be making music.”

That music, by the way, is 60's influenced surf pop with lyrical candor the Magnetic Fields couldn't touch. It's partly shocking, partly charming and it’s also fucking great. The golden age is back, riding in the wake of the Wave Pictures.