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My musical ramblings – gig and album reviews, music news and views

Hot Chip – One Life Stand album review

Hot Chip - One Life Stand

One Life Stand is proving to be a controversial little so-and-so. Opinion at the critics’ first hurdle appears to be widely split on Hot Chip’s fourth studio album. Yet panning it seems a bit too easy because in truth, it doesn’t have the instant Ready For The Floor rush about it, which may explain why some reviews have been positively blaze about this glorious album.

Behind the specs and chinos, this geeky fivesome have created pure chemistry. They’ve done the musical equivalent of tinkering with a complicated looking set of tubes, vials and chemicals to produce a really rather stunning, inventive concoction packed with 2-step, disco, 80s, funk, electro, soul and pop.

It’s a coming-of-age of sorts for the British band, who have crept into the hearts and heads of those looking for beats without the obvious chart sound. The songwriting talents of the charmingly shaky falsetto voice of Alexis Taylor and the rhythm engine room, Joe Goddard, have come together to create a sensitive record – both in lyrical exploration of love and the elaborate attention to beats and melodic hooks using more than just a handful of instruments.

The thing with Hot Chip is that they don’t look like they could create such hip music, which is why this – arguably their most varied, musically inventive album to date – forces more than just a wry smile and an insistent desire to dance.

 It opens emphatically with rip roaring floorfiller, Thieves In The Night; a tale of passion which sees Alexis conclude, “Happiness is what we all want.” Hand Me Down Your Love has mismatched four-to-the-floor rhythms, pianos and vocals which burst into a softer, romantic, violin tinged chorus.

I Feel Better steps up as One Life Stand’s clear, pulsating crescendo. It echoes all the best bits of 80s Madonna and 90s trance, without the bad bits. And its two-step rhythms, arms-in-the-air synth, steel drums, together with Alexis’ catchy declaration “I only want one night, together in our arms”, all combine to make this Hot Chip at their playful best. Even Joe Goddard’s touch of magic turns the normally offensive use of auto tune into dulcet bliss.

The first single and album title track, One Life Stand, as well as closer, Take It In, are also neatly chiselled grooves, with the latter offering a brooding bassline and siren-sounding keyboards before a sing-a-long chorus suddenly breaks through the foreboding.

There are also really cozy moments on the record. Brothers is essentially about their deep bond of friendship and Alley Cats is a fascinating story mirroring the homage to love that One Life Stand becomes.

The only gripe with the album is that there are a couple of slightly below par tracks. Slush and Keep Quiet feel a bit like fillers, but this could be due to the lack of balance where beats normally mellow the sugariness of Alexis’ vocals. It could even be because Hot Chip just do spine tingling pulse racers so impeccably well that comparison ultimately leaves the ballads wanting.

One Life Stand isn’t as accessible as Made In The Dark, but then it has fewer weak spots. In fact, it offers more than Hot Chip’s previous three albums – more disco, more two-step, more soul, more emotion, more everything – a factor which may mean it gets pushed further left of field from mainstream consumption.

Ask in a year and the opinion that One Life Stand is their best yet may have changed. But that’s doubtful, as this album stands head and shoulders above the others a real stunner, full of dancefloor moments, fit-to-burst tales of love from Alexis’ soulful tones and brilliantly crafted hooks that nestle in a sweet spot in your head for days.

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Maps interview – 5 October 2009

The end of The Music Magazine is nigh, which is pretty sad as it was a fantastic online site which really championed new music, didn’t just go for all the predictable buzz names and boasted some top quality writing. I didn’t put this up on my blog at first as it felt a bit rude, but I don’t want it to get lost in the ether once the page can’t be viewed so here it is. My interview with Maps…

James Chapman - the face behind Maps

With his second album Turning The Mind released this week and a tour fast on the approach, The Music Magazine chatted to Maps about Mercury Prizes, misappropriation… and erm, Eminem. 

What are the themes and influences behind Turning The Mind?
I took the title from a form of cognitive therapy called Mindfulness, which I got into about thee years ago. The whole album is about mental states and is much more personal than We Can Create was. It’s really about euphoria and what I have seen people go through.

It’s a darker, angrier sounding record than We Can Create…
To be honest that album was made from a whole back catalogue of demos I had made since I was 19 so I had loads to choose from – there wasn’t a cohesive theme there. I’ve recorded Turning The Mind from scratch and I think it really shows where I am at the moment – I really let it all out in the music on this album!

You worked with Tim Holmes from Death In Vegas for the recording, did that have a bearing on the sound, especially as you’ve taken a more electronic direction?
Tim was brilliant. He’s really talented and down to earth and we clicked straight away. The demos I had done in my bedroom this time around were a lot more advanced. Some made it onto the album needing only a bit of brushing up and a bit of sparkle adding, but other tracks had a real overhaul. Nothing was the one that changed the most – before it was a banging techno tune all the way through, but Tim had the idea of starting it with a piano loop and building it layer upon layer.

Going back to your Mercury Music Prize nomination in 2007, do you view it as a bit of a launch pad for your music? Did it put any pressure on you?
The nomination was great I was totally surprised by it at the time. It just got more people listening to my music and helped with sales, but I didn’t really feel any pressure with it. 

Which makes it perhaps surprising that after her win, Speech Debelle’s sales haven’t risen too much and the hype hasn’t really materialised yet…
A lot of people see winning the award as a bit of a curse. But with that £20k that would just make me want to would go and make an album that was even better – it would certainly put a rocket up my arse! 

Looking forward to your tour, do you have any idea what you would like people to get out of the gigs?
We have been working really hard so I’m really looking forward to it. Up until now it feels like I’ve been testing the water and it can be quite hard playing new material to people, but hopefully they will have heard Turning The Mind by the time the gigs come around and there will be a good response.

What’s your view on the illegal downloads debate? Does it nark you?
To be honest if people are downloading music, like it and support it by buying the album then it’s fine. But I’m a bit bummed out because all of the illegal downloads of the album are missing out on a sample that’s on there, so I really want people to buy the real one! I must admit have done it though in the past because I’ve been so eager to hear an album, then bought it on CD and iTunes, so as long as the support is there that’s what matters.

Is there anyone you idolise in music?
This is going to sound funny, but Eminem; he’s a Bob Dylan of our time. He releases albums just when I need them. I have had a hard time with addiction over the last couple of years and I’ve got a way to go, but I love his honesty and that’s what really stands out. You always know people are going to slag off his records but he just talks about what he’s been doing.

What are your favourite venues to play and to watch gigs?
I love Brixton Academy for the layout and for the fact it’s sloped so everyone gets a good view. Obviously it would be a dream to play there. Of the festivals I played Latitude was exciting – it has a nice vibe and its size means it is fantastic for being able to easily walk from tent to tent.

Do you have any ideas and dreams for the future of Maps?
I really want this album to do well so I can make a third album. Times are hard in the music world so that is as far as I am looking ahead to at the moment – that and being a success.

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First Aid Kit: The Big Black and the Blue – album review

These teenage sisters from Stockholm, Sweden, have made a folk album full of wizened stories and vocal harmonies which utterly belie their real ages.

Klara and Johanna Söderberg are the 90s generation.  Except they play autoharp and acoustic guitar, are positively melancholic rather than mainstream and favour fairisle knitwear over lycra.

Released on 25th January, the 11-tracked The Big Black and the Blue is the follow up to their debut EP, Drunken Trees. But it was the pair’s sublime cover of Fleet Foxes’ Tiger Mountain Pheasant Song that suckered the first punch to make the music world sit up and listen.

Since then they’ve been busy creating this emotive, breathy soundtrack to their lives so far. And even though in a couple of places the album feels a bit samey and the fingers start twitching over the skip button to avoid tracks, it’s nevertheless a lesson in how to do folk properly, with beautifully plucked guitars, heavenly vocals and well-spun yarns to music.

On the first track, In The Morning, the Söderbergs’ echoing harmonies offer more than a hint of the mystical call of the Sirens from O Brother Where Art Thou – no doubt the temptress aura was not a comparison the teen sisters were looking to draw.  The track is a real heart warmer, but if the female vocalists/folk genre isn’t to your leaning, this won’t be your cup of tea; or whatever the hot beverage of choice is amongst the Scandinavians.

Hard Believer offers the same kind of lyrical honesty and accusation as Ida Maria, but without the venom and red wine. It’s anti-faith, anti-preach, but the pair should note that preaching to the contrary of the converted is still preaching. That said, the track is lyrically captivating.

Klara and Johanna have been likened to Joan Baez and Bon Iver in their short careers to date. Heavy Storm’s tale of ‘perhaps’ and Sailor Song will do nothing to refute those comparisons, with their note perfect harmonies and weathered recollections.

Waltz For Richard is a great example of how to pluck the hell out of an acoustic guitar, whilst Josefin offers a slightly more up tempo release to the sometimes ever so slight plod of the insistent folk slow paced rhythms.

The storytelling is none more so obvious than with Ghost Town and I Met Up With A King. The former is an antithesis ballad, if you like, which will strike a chord with anyone who’s held a bit of a torch for someone only to find it’s probably not going to happen. Ever. The latter has the written maturity of a 40-something re-telling a childlike dream of a teenager’s life. Meanwhile, Winter Is All Over You is another startling reminder of the musical and lyrical talent these two young sisters possess.

One thing is for sure, The Big Black and the Blue is not about teen love, a fumble behind the bike sheds and MD 20:20 on a park bench. Considering they were hotly tipped this time last year, on the evidence of this album it’s fair to say First Aid Kit will be on many a hotlist again for 2010. And for anyone who loves a bit of folk, these two will probably be gracing one of the stages you’ll be standing in front of at some point this year.

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