Thursday, 27 November 2008

careless whisper.

resonant guitars, crackling delicate vocals, twinkling keys, serene distortion, echoing electronics. crackling delicate vocals, twinkling keys, serene distortion, echoing electronics, resonant guitars. twinkling keys, serene distortion, echoing electronics, resonant guitars, crackling delicate vocals.
serene distortion, echoing electronics, resonant guitars, crackling delicate vocals, twinkling keys.
echoing electronics, resonant guitars, crackling delicate vocals, twinkling keys, serene distortion.
oh and of course, lots of loops.

8 tracks, laptops, computer software, tiny bedrooms, pissed of neighbours, garages, penny pinching, scuzz, a mass of wires all tangled beyond comprehension. home recording and lo-fi production have been the surprise stars of 2008.
with everyman and his dog picking up a modified synth, a broken drum kit and a tesco price guitar and having a stab at pouring their angst onto an 8-track or garage band, no mastering, and before long, it's on myspace for the world to share. i can't say i'm opposed to this, after all i run a tape label, i love the fuzzy punch of home recording and it has given me a lot more music to listen to too. some people have took the lo-fi sound and approach and ran with it, and have acquired many a more adoring fans than they had in previous years, no age, bradford cox and times new viking to name a few. some have tried and failed. i have a fair few pending requests that demonstrate this, i just don't have the heart to deny them, after all this isn't some polished, £1mil, pre-packaged jewelcase release, this is an extension of these people and who i am to judge them as people?

so aside from the big hitters and their new found record deals with sub pop or witchita, one italian born londoner has shone like a un-polished star amongst all of this, un-polised or not a star is a star non the less. his name is robert pulsan, it's not sorry, i couldn't resist. his name is actually alessio natalizia but you might know him better under the moniker banjo or freakout. he started recording his majestic art-pop a couple of years ago, surrounded by people he didn't know in his girlfriends house and without any sign of her showing up, he turned to her computer and began playing around on a music programme and not long later had written his first song, freak out. now, i can't speak for you but i'm certainly glad that his girlfriend never showed that night because since then alessio's music has grown from strength to resonating strength.

he gives himself just one strict rule when recording and that is that he always goes with the first take, of everything, including vocals. of course, he toys with the whole thing afterwards on his laptop, adding loops, and samples and all manor of other-worldly intricacies. the option to go with the first take gives his music a very punk-rock quality and with each new song or cover (upto date alessio has recorded 20 amazing covers of artists such as bob dylan, pavement, why?, amy winehouse, invisible congo people and even burial) that that he posts on his blog comes with a distinct lack of progression in terms production but a sense that he really is finding himself and his place as a recording artist.

below, is possibly the pick of alessio's original material, a track titlted '42' from his upside down ep. it brings together the resonant guitars, the twinkling keys, the serene distortion, the echoing electronics and the delicate vocals crackling away as allessio passionately lets the world know that "i'm not upside down". type banjo or freakout into any search engine and you'll be met with an abundance of interviews and mp3 blogs, which all suggest that he isn't upside down at all, in fact he is very modest and remains grounded despite his growing popularity. all the evidence suggests that 2009 could be a busy year for alessio.
keep your eyes peeled for his debut single 'mr no' out soon on the amazing no pain in pop.

banjo or freakout - 42 (upside down).mp3 (zshare)
banjo or freakout - the hollows (why? cover).mp3 (zshare)

check out banjo or freakouts myspace here
& no pain in pop here


Tuesday, 25 November 2008

stella drinking grannies and other such tales

on the train last week, i saw the best lady in the whole world. she was about 70 i think, but was one of those shrunken small grannies who seemed to be growing down. she had a laura ashley twin-set on with a string of pearls and perfectly curled bluey hair. i liked her already. then out of her carpet bag she took a sandwich box and started eating some home made triangle sandwiches. i wanted to see if she had cut off the crusts but i thought she might see me staring, so lets just say she had.. for the story. i loved her already.

THEN she went into her bag again and pulled out nothing other than a can of stella. she popped it on the table we shared, got a hanky out and dusted off the top, opened the can and took a slurp. im pretty sure she did the 'mmm mmm ' shoulder shrug thing that i do when i like something. again.. lets say she did.

i almost asked for a picture. she is what stop scratching is made of.

ive been travelling all around recently. been to london more than i have been at home it seems.. which is actually quite clever considering i live in reading. not very long until the move now though. im hoping that my new found addiction to property websites will ease off once we're actually living in one. if the housing market wasnt in such a pickle i would maybe think of becoming an estate agent. a nice one ofcourse! who doesnt wear a suit. ive managed to find lots of lovely houses, even a new cross one with a swimming pool (we're abit scared we'll do a barrymore) SO if anybody needs a help finding a house to rent, im your girl.

i also went travelling to birmingham for jennifers birthday. i nearly had an asthma attack on the train home because i dont think i took a breath all night through pure excitement of being in jennifers company.

ooh also, something funny happened. really, its a blog in itself - a very long story. but i shall cut it into a small after dinner pie slice for this occasion. four or so years ago i was having the best time a girl could have at reading festival. running around, being silly, not even wearing a coat! me and my friend hannah-fringe, during a squiggle through mainstage crowds whilst trying to hold onto each other, a bottle of water and gravity.. made a song up. it went...

uh oh, dont let go. the waters getting low but you cant let go.

i cant say it was an immediate hit. but we sang it for the rest of the weekend anyway. later, in birmingham, during nights out i would maybe sing it to special people. then after knowing benjamin for not so long but him charming me into having the band kit stay at my house - i also sang it to vice cooler (drummer of kit and vocalist of xbxrx). at the time i thought he found it quite funny, and recorded me singing it on his recordable thing (that in my memory he just had in his pocket.. but probably not) FAST FORWARD to now - vice, as hawnay troof, has an album and has used my acual real life song and vocals on his song 'water' off his new album, islands of ayle. accidental popstar, me.

hawnay troof - water.mp3 (zshare)

sorry, that turned out to be a whole pie of a story. with custard. x


"i don't make disco music"

For those who are remotely familiar with my writing it would seem as though I have a slight obsession with all things LA, while I can't dispute this fact, i must point out that I never go out of my way find music specifically from this corner of the world. It just so happens that almost everything I hear coming of the sunny state of California shines like a beacon and my ship can do nothing but be drawn in by it.
This time though I am going to write about someone a little different from what i'd normally rattle on about. Her name is Ramona Gonzalez aka Nite Jewel, Ramona is a artist specialising in video and sound installation and while i'm not really an art buff, in any sense of the notion, her CV is an impressive collection of collaborations and recommendations from all walks of underground art & music world. Her music as Nite Jewel is, refreshingly, recorded all on 8 track cassette deck which gives it the delicious lo-fi sounds we've come to associate with a lot of what's coming out of LA at the moment. The beautiful hazy sound of layering tape tracks lends the music a distinct esoteric quality, in the sense you feel as though you're sitting on her bed intently listening while she sways about the room wearing something elegantly sexy and performing solely just for you. Unfortunately, she's not but I did manage to get her to answer some questions for us.

**This interview was intended to be my first peice of editorial for a new blog i'm starting to write for thisisoffset but as a whole i'm not overly pleased with the outcome now so I thought i'd post it up here so that it's not wasted in e-space forever.**

BS: Firstly, could you describe your music as though describing it to someone who has never heard it.

RG: I think the Japanese got it right: "xanax pop". I also like "lounge".

BS: What made you choose to record on an 8 track, was it through lack of better equipment or was in a conscious effort to give the music a delicate, otherworldly quality?

RG: My friend Whitemare got me my 8 track. So in that way it was a matter of convenience. But also I don't jive well with digital material. It's not visceral enough for me

BS: Your planning on releasing a 12" on the super hip Italians Do It Better imprint, how did that come about?

RG: It's already released. I was at Whitemare's house listening to some records. His roommate said I was biting "Glass Candy", who I had never heard of. So I listened. I didn't think we resembled, but I wrote to Glass Candy asking them what they thought of that comparison. That's how the lines of communication opened.

BS: Why do you think the sound of disco's past has been revived to such an extent recently?

RG: I don't really have an opinion about it.

BS: When I was younger I remember my Mum used to laugh at my Dad for being a disco fanatic in his youth. Do you think neu-disco is always going to carry that stigma in some peoples eyes or do you think sexy, cool acts like yourself, Glass Candy, Sally Shapiro etc. can rid it of it's misconceptions?

RG: I don't make disco music. I just happen to have grown up in musical traditions that also lend importance to bass and drums. Sometimes people can dance to my music, which is great. If people have misconceptions about dance music, so much the worse for them.

BS: You're from LA right? Are in involved/associated with the LA lo-fi youth punk scene at all? The Smell, Mika Miko etc. How do you rate the current scene in LA, does it help/hinder you in anyway?

RG: Actually I'm from Oakland. I'm not really associated with The Smell scene, but I love to play there. I can't really rate anything because I have such a tiny purview. I mean, I have a small group of friends and basically just go to see them play. Also, Los Angeles is so huge, you can't take such a broad brush to the music that is emerging here. I will say that Los Angeles gets an A+ for its ability to make its people feel comfortable NOT ascribing to any scene at all.
(BS: I wasn't taring LA with the same brush, i was mearly asking if - with her being based in LA an all - she's involved with that scene!?)

BS: And what about being immersed in a rich art scene, what are the benefits or downfalls, if there are any, to that?

RG: The benefits are all the crazy people and all their art information that gets stored in your brain so you can then spew it out in any configuration you please.

BS: What's next for Romana/Nite Jewel?

RG: My full length LP is out now on Gloriette records and full length CD out on Human Ear in a few weeks. Touring with Times New Viking and Deerhunter next week. Some possible dates with Glass Candy in the future.

BS: Lastly, what tracks are guaranteed to get you on the dance floor?

RG: Over and Over by Shalamar

You can purchase Nite Jewel's IDIB LP here

And you can check her myspace here


Wednesday, 12 November 2008

the circle of life

rings ( are three girls from new york, they came about when drummer abby joined other members kate and nina who up until then had recorded a 7" and a full length together under the moniker first nation. they continued to play under that name until the recording of their most recent effort black habit, by which time they felt that their name change symbolised much more accurately what they were doing and what they represented. like a circle, they are all connected, they are uninterrupted they are whole. their music also mimics the pleasant shapes that are willingly thrust into our thoughts; effortless, soothing, continuous.

still, this isn't as wholly pleasant as one might imagine upon picturing the geometry and it's aforementioned principles, sure it takes great pride in appearing an unassuming folk outfit but underneath all the enchanting multi-layered three way vocals lurks a much more experimental, maniacal beast.
in 'double thanks' the vocals become short, sharp daggers that stab through circles and the haunting effect created by keyboards and ghost-esq wailing. 'is he handsome' is broken up with electronic noise that explodes into the furor from nowhere and the breathless gasping conjures the song a sense of urgency which perfectly compliments the frantic, yet beautiful keyboard hook.
upon each listen to black habit another door is opened into it's darker depths and you start to notice all manor of twisted intricacies that you were previously unaware of. this alone gives the album a great sustainability and has certainly had me reaching for the replay button.
as unpredictable as animal collective, as thoughtful as high places and as oddly unrestricted as (old) gang gang dance, this is certainly worth a listen, or two. or three, or four....

rings - double thanks.mp3 (zshare)


Wednesday, 5 November 2008

yes we can.

"If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer."

powerful words from the man who captured not only the hearts and the hopes but the doubts and the fears of not just the american people but the world over and overcame all the obstacles all the ignorance and sits now in the oval office atop the dawn of a new age in not just american politics, but history itself. we here at stop scratching couldn't be happier that at 4.00am today barack obama clinched the all important 270 electoral colleges and became the 44th - and not to forget first african-american - president of the united states. today america has risen above the cliches and the stereotypes and proved to us all that it's more than just a nation of obese, ignorant idiots and have voted in possibly the most exciting politician of recent times, one who promises change in america, which i'm sure will inspire change in the rest of the world, change that i for one, welcome with open arms.
i'll bet that today, for the first time in a long while, is a proud day to be an american and if i had a glass right now i'd raise it to them, to barack, to democracy and to a seemingly brighter future.

click here to watch barack's acceptance speech in full.

meanwhile, as the rest of the world is caught up in election fever and history is preparing to be written i've been spending as much time as i can this week watching the writers of arguably my favourite album of all time, why? playing live in both oxford and london. that's something one doesn't get to do every week so i figured i'd make the most of it.
on monday i travelled to the regal in oxford with alex and sally, we set out early so we (sally and i) could enjoy the sights and tastes of it's offerings and so that alex could swoon over a new lady friend. after walking around in an attempt to and failing at finding a decent charity shop we decided to settle down for a few drinks in a quaint little old fashioned hole in the wall named the white horse and after ordering beer and mulled wine we took a seat at a table which was opposite to one seating none other than the mighty boosh's julian barret (& the american one with the funny voice. sorry, i'm not the biggest fan).
we decided to stay for food as the prospect of 'oxfords best fish and chips' was one i felt i had to get involved in. sally had her whole meal in a yorkshire pudding, which apparently is a very exciting and tasty way to eat your dinner. the fish and chips while they were great, left me wondering how average the rest of oxfords fish and chips might be (perhaps someone could enlighten me here?) and definitely failed to make the top 5 in my opinion. after food we noticed that the bar had a very appealing and unique feature in that of a carton to take home 2 pints of your favourite ale/cider/draft, this is also something we now felt obliged to take part in so we opted for addlestons cider and black to take away, a brilliant choice until i spilt the majority of mine all over the streets of oxford.

the first support, whose name i forget, were okay but they seemingly wanted to be architecture in helsinki way beyond citing them as an inspiration and their abundance of people/instruments on stage mostly just sounded cluttered and unnecessary.
i actually fell to sleep during jonquil, that says pretty much everything about what i think of their music and their performance, the music sounded to me a little as if it wanted to be a british arcade fire, the vocalist as though he wanted to be morrissey or something, it all ended up sounding a little to much like keane, or something else frustratingly middle of the road.
the dead science were shockingly uninteresting, the vocals were irritating and pointless and despite the drummer being incredible, they failed to realise his brilliance and instead opted for a rather insignificant minimal approach and succeeded in only boring the hell out of me and everyone i spoke to about them thereafter.
i realise these are all quite unjustified ways to sum up those bands but none of them captured my attention nearly enough for me to write anything more, apologies.

so with all these poor to average bands and performances as the only ground to stand on tonight, and despite my childlike anticipation and excitement, i can honestly say i wasn't expecting to much from the ohio quartet, (which coincidentally started as one of the major deciding states in barack's battle to take the whitehouse) now in hindsight i believe they undoubtedly played the most exhilarating live show i've seen this year.
the sound in regal was one that perfectly captured all the intricate beauty of yoni and co's music while still managing to be loud and clear enough to immerse you completely within the performance. in a time when every man and his dog is using/abusing any instrument they can get their hands on in order to create their own abstract version of what pop music should be why? shine like a beacon to all these budding would-be instrumental whores and proceeded show everyone exactly how it should be done with their infectious, multi-layered hip-pop.
i can't remember feeling that level of excitement upon hearing the opening note or vocal of a song taken from an album i've listened to religiously for the last couple of years probably since i saw something corporate play at the irish center in birmingham about 6 years ago. i found myself singing along at the top of my voice without even realising it, which then made me notice that not many other people in the crowd seemed to be enjoying themselves as much as myself. this then brought to mind the question, is it uncool to sing along at gigs now? my guess is it probably is, everything is looked upon with to much cynicism in this day and age, gone are the times when we could just let down our metaphorical locks and let loose with a complete and selfish disregard, i write of course from solely my own perspective.
tonight though, i managed to recapture some of this youthful vigor, just as japanther had helped me do last month, and it fills me with hope that live music is returning to the days of old and i think i probably have a certain move to london to thank for me renewed faith. so, thank you.

the future certainly is looking very bright today.