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dimanche 27 octobre 2013

Album de la Semaine : Future of the Left - How to Stop Your Brain in an Accident

Future of the Left

How To Stop Your Brain in an Accident

Interview d'Andy Falkous, par Mike Diver de Clash

Future Of The Left 2009
Andy Falkous is frontman of Future Of The Left, to some the most important rock band in Britain. Smart, witty, acerbic – the Welsh trio deliver the goods with such ferocious consistency that their second LP, ‘Travels With Myself And Another’, has already flicked Clash’s switches to the tune of a 9/10 REVIEW. It’s a worth follow-up to the group’s phenomenal debut of 2007, ‘Curses’.

Clash sat down with Falkous – who is joined by drummer Jack Egglestone and bassist Kelson Mathias in FOTL – to talk current musical affairs, and also the legacy of his previous band, the equally acclaimed Mclusky.

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You had to cancel a tour to concentrate on writing this new album – who had to make that call? Did you simply not have enough material?
Well, in terms of actually cancelling that dates, that was a decision which was taken on our behalf rather than by us. Even though I understand the logic behind the decision I think it was the wrong decision. It was embarrassing to cancel shows at the last minute, absolutely embarrassing. Basically what happened is that the album needed to be out by June (it’s released on June 22), and so many dates had been put in between November and June that once we worked it out we only had about two weeks to write the thing. So at that point the options became either delay the album, or cancel the shows. Myself, I would have probably tried to do both. In the end it can be a positive thing, giving us a bit more time as the writing has gone far better than we could of imagined. But cancelling at such short notice was pretty embarrassing. I’m not somebody who cancels shows; I’m far too fucking proud for that.

Fans did get a live album though, between studio releases – ‘Last Night I Saved Her From Vampires’. What prompted that release?
Well in terms of being a live band, our total commitment to that medium is obvious to anyone who has seen us – even if they don’t enjoy the music. The repartee which exists with the audience, which varies from show to show, is again an important part of the band. The records themselves never fully represent the personalities of the people therein, so we wanted to represent a bit of that on a relatively cheap CD format. Also, we had people talking to us about merchandise and I just don’t feel comfortable with some bag with the band’s name written apologetically over it being sold for ten quid. Or a bikini with a song title written on it, that’s not the way I see my life going. For us, if we have to be so fucking crass with the music then we’d rather give people some more music. It also gives us an opportunity to make a few quid at the merch stall.

The band’s renowned for the energy and commitment that comes through in its live show. What effect does that have on the three of you?
Even though we’re relatively mellow people off stage, it’s not an act really, it’s what we live to do in a very real sense of the word. The only way it really takes its toll, apart from a residual knackeredness, is particularly on my throat. Singing in that way, at really humid and clammy shows, means that we can only do about four or five shows in a row. I guess some bands with a more fey attitude can probably play from now until the end of time without getting a twinge in the back of their throat. It does get absolutely exhausting, I’m not going to deny that, but it’s that good kind of exhaustion – like you’ve been chased by sexy wolves for about four hours through a dense forest.

Cardiff’s renowned music venue The Point closed recently. What happened there? 
We were actually meant to play there for the first time in May, so we were all disappointed on that front. In terms of the way live music is going across the country, let alone Cardiff, it’s a bit of a damning indictment. Soon you’ll just have Barfly and Academy venues all over the place. I mean, there’s some good people working those venues, but they’re not music venues first and foremost. I can think of the Academy 2 in Manchester which sounds good as a music venue, but apart from that every one of the chain venues I have played has been a room with a bar and stage. Watching someone play rock music is about a lot more than that. You don’t wanna play in a room where if somebody in the crowd moves about five yards to the right then the sonic experience is different. Or if someone moves from the front to the back and there’s no bass. That to me isn’t a responsible way of running music venues and letting people enjoy music. I’ve had enough of running shows where the venues sound like shit; I’ve had enough of watching bands get crucified by the odd shape of a room or a crap PA. I think that music venues should get their fingers out of their considerable arses, and spend less money on drinks promotions and plough some of the profits into rooms that sound good for the bands. The Point is a symptom of that: it was a proper music venue that simply through the action and inaction of Cardiff City Council no longer exists. It’s a very sad state of affairs.

On ‘Curses’ you seemed to feel free to experiment. Is that something that continues on the new album?
Well we didn’t sit down and come up with a plan for it, which is the way it should be with a record – we didn’t dictate too much to the music. Without sounding contrived, ‘The Contrarian’ on the last record just came about in the studio. We were messing about with a piano and the music just fitted lyrics that I had already written. In all, it took about three minutes to write. We find that with our band in general we will slave away for months and months, and write and write, but nothing of great value happens. Then all of a sudden, as has happened with this record, the songs just kept on falling, like manna from heaven, and then two months later we had a record of twelve songs. I guess it’s just like the hard work you do in any walk of life is immediately apparent. You work towards those moments, through months of work doing things that you might have rejected. But you have been consciously moving towards a certain aesthetic. This record is as varied, but it also is more straightforward. Even though ‘Curses’ is hardly full of strange intros and extraneous noises, this one is even less so. It’s even shorter, only 33 minutes long. It’s twelve songs and some people might think that’s a bit short but it’s not – it’s just right! I suppose it’s a bit more streamlined but it sounds bigger and is a little bit more unrelenting. Like ‘Curses’ it starts off with some of its heaviest songs, then the colours kind of gradually start to come in over the course of the record.

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Why did you start ‘Curses’ with ‘The Lord Hates A Coward’?
Just because ‘The Lord Hates A Coward’ was definitely the first song where we reached a certain standard of writing. The album title ‘Curses’ came from the general spirit of that, which the second song didn’t evoke. It’s a bit of a weird opening, as it’s a slow, pounding song, and I know when we play that song live – which we don’t always do – it can be a bit of an intimidating moment for people, whereas songs such as ‘Small Bones Small Bodies’ or ‘Manchasm’ are more welcoming to people who aren’t familiar with us. But ‘The Lord Hates A Coward’ can be very alienating. It just sounds right there, and I like the idea of a record being an adventure – starting with one particular mindset then fruitily bringing in a bit of pop, then the keyboards of ‘Manchasm’. It’s a bit like waking from a bad dream – well, I say a bad dream, but maybe a bad dream where people are wearing nice shoes. Like waking from a bad dream and then being exposed to all the different colours of the world.

While the music’s pretty direct, at its rawest, lyrically there’s always plenty of creativity evident. Presumably wordplay is very important to you?
I guess I’ve always had an interest in rock music, but I’ve always had an interest in words. Some of my favourite bands have had lyrics that are predictable and dull. The lyrics on this new album, while they might be confused with absolute bollocks, are a little bit more linear, they make a little bit more sense. I’m guessing some people might actually be able to see stories in the songs. Myself, I like to create sketches and draw pictures with lyrics – creating an impression of a situation without actually spelling it out for people. For me it comes from reading books like Catch 22 as a kid, or watching Monty Python – just being entertained by the patterns and the fun that language can bring, instead of the rather traditional approach of ‘the man had black hair’. There are other ways of saying it, of painting around the facts, which are far more fun. A lot of my lyrics just start with the rhythms of the songs, and most of them are written at the last second. As much as I enjoy my lyrics, and they are definitely a strength of the band, I would never claim that most of them have any deep meaning – that would be a lie.

The label you were signed to, Too Pure, was absorbed into 4AD, who are now releasing the new album. Has this affected you in any way?
It probably will affect the band but whether that’s a good or a bad thing is impossible to say at this stage. I mean, I’ll be able to tell you that the migration to 4AD has been positive for us six to nine months after the record comes out. At the minute it would be purely hypothetical. We’re still working with the same people there, it’s just that they have different job titles. Beggars Banquet as a group probably did have too many labels, but the difference is that on Too Pure you can trundle along and sell a few records whereas on 4AD there’s more staff and bigger expectations as such. The pressure is on us a little bit more. But I’m fine with that, as I work very well with pressure. I would sooner have that than trundle along in some little backwater. I’d rather get out there.

Does the praise lavished on ‘Curses’ increase this pressure?
That’s why we feel under pressure. I mean, ‘Curses’ didn’t sell any fucking copies – it was spectacularly unsuccessful in that sense. For me, the pressure I feel is mostly coming up with new material. I’m very, very proud of ‘Curses’ – as I am of the last two Mclusky records as well. The first one I can take or leave really, as it was essentially a collection of demos, although there’re a few good songs on there. I was very, very proud of ‘Curses’, and at one stage I thought it was going to be impossible to follow something of that standard. On one level if this record doesn’t take us to a much bigger audience then there’s nothing else I can do. Of all the records I’ve worked on, this is the one. This is the one that at this stage I’m most proud about, the most secure about. It really doesn’t let off at all – it doesn’t step outside of itself for a second. It’s only 33 minutes long but it’s so complete, so confident even to someone who’s in the band, that it’s a little bit farcical. The pressure comes personally; we don’t want to be some lame band who rehash their last record and as a result end up being popular in Germany. That’s how you get successful in Germany: just release the same record for 20 years.

You mention Mclusky, and I know you’ve revived some songs like ‘Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues’ for FOTL live sets. Why make this decision?
Well, that was really a decision of its time. We were playing in Australia last March, and Australian audiences really do make us feel like when we play it’s an event. We get taken for granted by British audiences – if you look at the reaction to our shows, I think that would be true. Also at the time we only had one record out so our set wasn’t incredibly long, and people were paying the equivalent of about eighteen or nineteen quid to come along and see us. There were people who hadn’t seen Mclusky as well. So on one level we almost felt obligated to give them a longer show, and to be quite frank that song is possibly the easiest song in the world to play. It is basically ‘Whole Lotta Rosie’ sped up with lyrics which aren’t as good. It was fun, but that’s the only time we’ve ever played it. I don’t totally rule it out in the future, but what I can tell you is that if anyone ever requests it at a show, that reduces the chances of us playing it to zero. It’s not something which is given to an audience that expects it; it’s a special little bonus present from a band who appear onstage to be a bunch of nasty sarcastic bastards, but who love playing live, and offer it to their audience in recognition of their level of support.

Line Up :
Andy "Falco" Falkous
Jack Egglestone
Jimmy Watkins
Julia Ruzicka

Label :

Tracklist :
01 – Bread, Cheese, Bow And Arrow
02 – Johnny Borrell Afterlife
03 – Future Child Embarrassment Matrix
04 – The Male Gaze
05 – Singing Of The Bonesaws
06 – I Don’t Know What You Ketamine (But I Think I Love You)
07 – French Lessons
08 – How To Spot A Record Company
09 – Donny Of The Decks
10 – She Gets Passed Around At Parties
11 – Something Happened
12 – The Real Meaning Of Christmas
13 – Things To Say To Friendly Policemen
14 – Why Aren’t I Going To Hell

dimanche 6 octobre 2013

Album de la Semaine : Tropic of Cancer - Restless Idylls

Tropic of Cancer

Restless Idylls

Interview de Camella Lobo, par Scott Wilson de Juno Plus

Ahead of her appearance at this year’s Unsound Festival, Scott Wilson talks to Camella Lobo about the sometimes challenging path to the release of her debut album, Restless Idylls.
“I’m sorry I had to push the interview an hour,” Camella Lobo explains as I contact her at her home in Los Angeles, “it was my husband’s birthday last night and we had a dinner and some drinks, so I slept in a little later than I expected.” Despite her mild hangover, Lobo is the kind of person that immediately puts you at ease with her warm manner. This domestic scene – occasionally interrupted by her cat – is something completely divorced from her work as Tropic of Cancer, a project whose combination of synthwave, techno and post-punk influences can often be bleak and introspective, and whose image presented through artwork on records for Downwards, Blackest Ever Black and Mannequin has been an occasionally macabre one that seems on the surface predisposed with the darker corners of the human psyche.
Lobo’s lyrics, heavily obscured by reverb, often tell stories of love coated in a powerful atmosphere of longing. “Sometimes a song is about something that has happened, sometimes it’s about something that I completely fathom in my mind, and sometimes it’s about a person and I just start telling the story of that person,” Lobo explains. Her music has found fans across many genre boundaries, in some part due to the interesting nature of her sound, but it seems most likely down to her innate
ability to create musical narratives that appeal to some more primal part of human emotion, assisted by her oblique method of storytelling which is no doubt informed by her early interest in short story writing.

Lobo’s husband of course is Juan Mendez, the techno producer better known as Silent Servant who was half of the Tropic of Cancer project until September 2011. Although time constraints were a large part of his decision to let Lobo carry on solo, it was the strain that it put on their relationship that was the deciding factor. “Truthfully, we do not work well together,” Lobo says frankly. “We had different visions of what we wanted the music to sound like, so in that context it just wasn’t healthy for us to work together.”
Lobo and Mendez are still very happily married, but Lobo is honest about her struggle to continue alone as Tropic of Cancer without the wealth of her husband’s musical experience, whilst also juggling her career working for an advertising agency in Los Angeles. Lobo makes it clear, for the most part, that making music a labour of love: “My life is pretty polarised in a sense, but you have to make money – I want to make money (from music) ideally, but what it takes to make money as an artist these days is just not something I’m willing to engage in.” The technology barrier has also proved difficult, with her learning Logic as she worked without Mendez. Despite these difficulties, Lobo has just completed Tropic of Cancer’s debut album, Restless Idylls, to be released on Kiran Sande’s Blackest Ever Black label in September. Lobo is keen to stress the more positive elements of this LP: “I got tired of this idea of sadness and depression – even though some of the songs are like that, I just really wanted to emphasise the light on this one.”
The path to Restless Idylls has been a long one for Lobo. Growing up in Los Angeles, her Brazilian father introduced her to the music of his home country, while her American mother introduced her to artists like Jimi Hendrix and The Cure. Lobo herself was an avid radio listener with a fondness for what she describes as “low rider oldies” and “murder ballads”. At school she sang in a Catholic choir and at college, as her desire to make music had become a more significant urge, Lobo took formal singing lessons, hoping it would help her replicate the sound of the production around Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine. The reality however, almost caused her to give up entirely. “When I got to these classes, they were telling me to do something that was very counterintuitive to me, and so the first time I ever had to perform in front of a class – this was in I think a week of being in the course – I sang the way Kim Gordon would sing. I sang more in ethereal tones, and that’s just not something that is prioritised in classic music instruction…I hated it, to put it bluntly.” It wasn’t until she met Mendez at a show several years later that things started to fall into place for Lobo creatively, with the pair going on to write two EPs and a single together.
Despite the obvious connections to minimal synth and post-punk, Tropic of Cancer’s music is imbued with something much more impressionistic, rooted in the sun-drenched climate of her native Los Angeles. It makes sense to discover that Lobo’s biggest creative influence is Broadcast’s Trish Keenan, whose strong narratives and timeless interpretation of pop and psychedelia could be seen as an earlier British counterpart to the way Lobo combines classic song structures with primitive electronic tones.
“I really wanted to present this idea that there is a light within this music, that it’s not all sad – I hope that people could grab on to that light when they’re listening to the music.”
Keenan’s tragic and untimely death in 2011 had a profound effect on Lobo. “I had met her (through Juan) a couple of times, but to be honest I was completely terrified of her… I don’t think I’ve ever intentionally tried to make music like Trish. But I think about her a lot when I make music – not just in the sense of thinking about her as a person, but I think, ‘I wonder what she would think about this, I wonder if she would listen to this’ – I don’t know, it’s just become that thing for me.” The song, “A Color”, which featured on 2011’s The Sorrow Of Two Blooms EP was specifically written about Keenan shortly after she died. “I had a really hard time with that song in particular because it never felt good enough to say, ‘this is how we’re feeling’ or ‘this is how we feel about you’ – it just never felt like it was enough for her.”
Although Tropic of Cancer is now well established and much beloved by a wide range of fans, it feels that in the wake of Mendez’ departure – and perhaps to a lesser extent the death of Lobo’s primary influence – that the Tropic of Cancer project has entered the second phase of its life. The change in sound isn’t immediately apparent, but it does feel warmer, more enveloping, and less sandblasted
than when Mendez was involved. It’s not a stretch to imagine the album opener, “Plant Lilies At My Head”, or the drawn-out guitar notes of the stunning “Children Of A Lesser God” soundtracking the end credits to some imaginary, tragic ‘80s teen movie. “I think the framework is different,” Lobo explains, “I think the overall emphasis on the aggressiveness of the sound has changed just because that’s not intuitive to me.”

Although this tone is audible in the music, the most readily apparent break from the earlier phase of Tropic of Cancer comes in the artwork for Restless Idylls (designed by Lobo and Mendez), whose vivid palette of jade and brass is a far cry from the monochrome covers of The Sorrow of Two Blooms andPermissions of Love. For Lobo, this was a conscious decision to break with the darker image the
project had portrayed previously – one that had gained her music a ‘goth’ tag in critical discussion which she was keen to distance herself from. “I think the idea behind the colour was just about moving in this other direction”, she explains. “It’s so hard for me to talk about this, because I just don’t want
anyone to get offended, upset or think that I’m saying ‘fuck goth.’ That is not what this is about. I think I just got fucking tired of the dark look, the whole aesthetic of death and destruction. I really wanted to present this idea that there is a light within this music, that it’s not all sad – I hope that people could grab on to that light when they’re listening to the music. I don’t think that I could stomach another record that looked like a page out of a horror movie, y’know?”

Despite the cover’s rejection of a certain aesthetic, it nevertheless taps into another in its iconography of early Hollywood’s emotional duality – a fascination that she tells me came in some part from her father, who was a homicide detective for the LAPD. “I’ve always been completely obsessed with that Noir age of Hollywood decadence,” Lobo explains, “when I was growing up, I used to read tons of books about crime and about Los Angeles in particular.” Although the interest in her environment and its rich history has certainly informed the album’s artwork and the visual aesthetic of Tropic of Cancer in general, Lobo is keen to stress that the influence on the music itself is much less literal. “I guess Hollywood particularly is an influence because Los Angeles is where I grew up – but it’s that idea of the rise and fall, that whole idea of ‘the brighter the light, the darker the shadow’, that the better your life looks on paper, the worse it is in reality.” Even if not taken literally, it’s hard not to see this idea in track titles like “Beneath The Light”, taken from last year’sPermissions of Love EP, whose cover (and that of A Sorrow Of Two Blooms) seemed to tap into film noir’s idea of a surface beauty obscured by shadow and uncertainty.
This album has also seen Lobo enlist the help of her husband’s Sandwell District associate Karl O’Connor to assist in the album’s final production, as well as adding musical elements to certain tracks – most notably on “The Seasons Won’t Change (And Neither Will You)”, which features a piano piece from O’Connor, and on “Court of Devotion”, which features vocal treatments and icy synths from the producer. His involvement was something that proved to be invaluable in the wake of Mendez’ departure from the project. “He really provided this ability for me to just think about the music and not have to worry about the end production and the mixing,” Lobo explains. “It really was a relief just to have someone else involved because I think the reason why there’s been a lot of pressure is because I don’t really have anyone to tell me ‘yes, keep going in that direction’, or ‘why don’t you dial that back and focus on this’. Juan was there to some degree, but for the most part I didn’t want to involve him, because to keep him entrenched in my business in Tropic of Cancer was too much for him.”
This iteration of Tropic of Cancer’s live show also features DVA DAMAS member Taylor Burch (pictured below) in place of Mendez, a change that has further increased Lobo’s confidence in continuing the project solo. “Her and I at this point have almost become like sisters”, she explains, “we have literally never had an argument – knock on wood – about the music or over anything, we just genuinely support each other, and I feel so lucky to have her involved.”
Of course, aside from those immediately involved in the Tropic of Cancer project, it feels particularly prescient that the album is being released at the height of what seems like a flurry of similar acts which have released music in the past year. Aside from DVA DAMAS, who recently released an album on the Downwards America imprint Mendez curates, acts like The KVB, Oake and HTRK have risen to prominence, while Blackest Ever Black and Powell’s Diagonal imprint have also championed the intersection between guitar music and primitive electronics. Although in a previous interview Lobo has denied being part of any LA-based scene, so does this preponderance of similarly parched sounds, make Lobo feel like she’s part of a growing global movement?
“I think what’s happened since then is that something has gathered all of us together, and now it’s become a very cohesive scene – of people who genuinely love each other, and who are very supportive of each other’s music. It has to do with a number of reasons, but one is Mount Analog, the record store in Los Angeles. They’ve really created the nucleus in all of this I think, it’s like the glue that’s holding all of this together. And then you have Juan and Karl with Downwards America and Downwards in general, just allowing these artists to be part of this family. There’s Michael Stock from Part Time Punks, and everybody that comes through plays at Part Time Punks, the LA standard at this point for our scene, and Kiran (Sande) has just been such a big part of things – I just trust Kiran with my life basically at this point, I mean he’s been really super supportive”.
Despite Lobo’s network of friends and collaborators willing to help her bring her vision into the world, and her opinion that the early music she made with Mendez was, in her words: “the best music that will ever be produced as Tropic of Cancer,” it’s obvious that Tropic of Cancer has always been, and still is Lobo’s musical vision, albeit one that is very much still developing. “I think the hardest thing for me is that I would love to be able to make songs that were above 90BPM, but it’s impossible for me,” Lobo explains. “Tropic of Cancer, I guess when I say ‘that’s the best it will ever be’ is because it’s kind of impossible for me to see Tropic of Cancer as fully formed because I would really love to make faster, more aggressive songs, but I can’t do that yet on my own.”
Although Lobo may not feel herself that Tropic of Cancer has finished gestating, it seems clear thatRestless Idylls is undoubtedly the most emotionally affecting, personal, and fully formed work the project has generated to date, and one that comes with a very distinct message. “I don’t want my music to make people more sad or make them wallow in their strife and upset,” Lobo explains, impassioned, “I just want people to be able to come to this music and listen to it and feel better on the other end, and feel like there’s a light, and there is hope. I hope that it comforts, and that’s all I want.”

Line Up :
Carmella Lobo
Juan Mendez (The Silent Servant)

Label :
Blackest Ever Black

Tracklist :
A1. Plant Lilies At My Head | 
A2. Court of Devotion | 
B1. Hardest Day | 
B2. Children Of A Lesser God | 
C1. More Alone (Album Version) | 
C2. The Seasons Won't Change (And Neither Will You) | 
D1. Wake The Night | 
D2. Rites Of The Wild