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

The Shoes: Crack My Bones – album review

The Shoes - Crack My Bones

The Shoes occupy the same genre slice as many credible eclectically poppy bands at the moment, all of whom find themselves shoehorned into the ‘indie electro’ box, to prevent people assuming their brand of music bears any resemblance to The X-Factor banality.

Pop for some, after all, has negative connotations. That might also explain why they’ve been complicatedly labelled as French disco existentialists. But the definition isn’t actually inaccurate, because the duo from Reims – Guillaume and Benalways – have a wholly effective, matter-of-fact way of expressing their emotional reaction to people and situations in their lyrics.

That said, their easy likeness to a number of other artists does prevent them from breaking new ground. Yet the tracks are served with bucketloads of danceability, which makes them inherently memorable.

Stay The Same describes the album perfectly. It’s upbeat, percussion-led, and reminiscent of fellow countrymen Phoenix. While that means it won’t start a music revolution, it’s polished and remains in your head after the album’s finished – this puts a skip in the step rather than inciting curses directed at the temporal lobe for its poor choice of internal soundtrack.

Prince-esque falsetto vocals and drumstick clatter beats give Cover Your Eyes a deeply rhythmic groove. And Wastin’ Time has extra helpings of melodic pianos and synth, which ooze a sorrow not dissimilar to Miike Snow’s Burial.

That same effervescence continues on People Movin’, with Primary 1 as guest star. It’s an Outkast track that Andre 3000 could’ve penned himself, but isn’t the strongest of the collection.

If Glee covered Arcade Fire you might arrive at something like Time To Dance. That comparison shouldn’t do them a disservice, because after a few listens it’s hard not to submit to its infectious positivity, insistent piano loop and cowbell.

CocknBullKid’s guest vocals on Cliché hark back to Ladyhawke or New Young Pony Club’s aloof yet somehow sultry vocals. There’s also a deeper, darker side to the duo, audible on Crack My Bones, which like the previous track makes them sound like altogether different artists.

Despite an air of Friendly Fires bouts of percussion disco indie – especially on Investigator – The Shoes do feel more MacBook Pro than a live proposition. And Bored reveals another trick to the band’s pop box, with more than a hint of French house about it.

Because Crack My Bones is an album which flirts with guest stars and musical influences, it can appear a little formulaic. But that still doesn’t take away from the fact it’s a great listen. Guillaume and Benalways pack a lot of variety into their music which, when paired with honest lyrics that give knee jerk tales of emotion, makes The Shoes difficult not to like. It’s this that makes their existentialist disco pop label seem to fit quite well. Even Mr Existentialist himself, Friedrich Nietzsche, said, “Without music, life would be a mistake” – and that’s the conclusion you imagine The Shoes want to be drawn from Crack My Bones.

Reviewed for MusicOMH

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New Young Pony Club @ Birmingham Academy 3 – Tuesday March 16 – review

New Young Pony Club

If it was nu-rave that loosely defined New Young Pony Club in 2007, Tuesday night’s gig at Birmingham’s Academy 3 packaged them up into a totally different box – a box from which they are producing music that is streets ahead of the easily consumed, image-conscious, indie electronica of their former counterparts.

They may have experienced a twinge of disappointment at the relatively low turnout. Perhaps word hadn’t filtered through to the Midlanders that NYPC had thrown off their shackles to transform into a seriously good, dark, funky electronic band with a 70s/80s post-punk bias.

First support, T3eth’s brand of disinterested techno Apple Mac infused indie did everything it could to damage the precious aural functions. Is Tropical favoured considerably better with a sound akin to Passion Pit without the rose-tinted spectacled view on life.

NYPC cleverly opened their set with latest single, Chaos – a song perfect to bridge their old sound with the new. Instantly, Tahita Bulmer’s stage persona gave warmth to her matter of fact semi-spoken lyrics.  This also benefited Fantastic Playroom’s Get Lucky and Ice Cream, making them appear less aloof than on record.

Hiding on the Staircase, The Bomb and Tight Fit were also served up from the debut. Live, they had a new sincerity and edginess but Tight Fit (and possibly The Get Go), with its glorious hook over synth loop would probably be the sole protagonist from the debut with enough quality to make The Optimist’s final cut.

It was NYPC’s new material which catalysed their audience’s reaction. Familiarity may have made the feet start to shuffle but it was The Optimist and Lost A Girl which suddenly made the band seem vital.  Without the double entendres, the songs have a new honesty and depth of feeling  and the New Order riffs, haunting harmonies, stop-start dancefloor rhythms and dead-pan Elastica delivery finally do the fivesome’s talents justice.

We Want To and Dolls were also deeply inhaled, but, as on the album, it was Stone’s pulsating keyboards, break beats and the wistful delivery of, “You’re stone, that’s what you are” that stunned.

The Get Go was probably the encore people hoped for, but it was the new material which endured in memory.

There is no doubt Tahita Bulmer is an engaging and assertive frontwoman who NYPC desperately need. On the night, her eagerness to involve the crowd softened her edgy asymmetric blonde haircut and fitted gold dress, which on their own may have encouraged judgement on her potential aloofness.

The ‘nu-rave’ NYPC of 2007 would have been shaken by the subdued crowd before them at the start of this gig. Thankfully through, the 2010 NYPC have a new and deeply rooted confidence in the quality of their darker, broodier brand of electronic funk, which saw them pull a rabbit out of the hat by transforming a static crowd to a dancing mass.

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New Young Pony Club – The Optimist – review

New Young Pony Club

Fantastic Playroom was one of the better albums to arrive on the crest of the nu-rave wave in 2007. It may have been packed full of sexually suggestive lyrics, but there was substance to be had amongst the ice cream dreams and jerking.

Many of the tracks on the debut – The Get Go and Tight Fit – to name a couple, have withstood the test of time long after the illuminous paint and ‘It’s a Rave Dave’ slogans finally came out in the wash.

No doubt some of those who danced to NYPC week in week out at grotty indie clubs in 2007 will be wondering whether the band’s new album will reflect the fact that times have changed. And The Optimist is indeed a departure of sorts from light hearted hedonism, opting for a more realistic, darker and altogether more mature sounding record.

The album is packed full of minor key guitar riffs evocative of Joy Division or New Order, with the funk of The Rapture and even a hint of Blondie in the mix. Tahita Bulmer’s lyrics and vocals still ooze attitude, although this time she’s more PJ Harvey and less faux American.

Synths, breathy sighs, jerky, jagged guitars and drums and the line, “I guess I forgot I don’t like you much now”, merge to make Lost A Girl one of the best things the band has done to date. It’s a stop-start track with haunting harmonies that clash and match all at the same time, and a minor keyed, swallowing 70s/80s punk rock sound that would have engulfed Ian Curtis. It really is a far cry from the maligned nu-rave genre they were filed with three years ago.

Title track, The Optimist, takes a similar vein. “I’m an optimist you’re a clean slate baby,” declares Tahita in a way that could take you back to Elastica’s Justine Frischmann on Waking Up. Later, NYPC make way for hypnotic electronica on Stone, with pulsating synths that break out from their mellow repetitive sleep-like state into a break-beat fest akin to UNKLE’s Eye For An Eye.

Metronomy’s handmade instrument quality on their music is evident on We Want To – something that at first struggles not to smack of plagiarism, but as the track unravels the willingness increases to put it down to progress on NYPC’s behalf. This likeness, also faintly audible on Dolls, adds a playful bounce to the bassline from which this new, darker, more assertive band have emerged.

On moments, some of the offerings feel like a u-turn back to Fantastic Playroom. Chaos still has that once-fresh, now more tired-sounding Americanised chant and Cherie, like many of the debut album’s tracks, could do with a 90 second chunk removed. If you bother to get that far, the end actually draws to an accomplished gloom-laden instrumental crescendo. Further to these two, Rapture’s “Can’t you smile on the outside?” feels like a dirge too far.

Yet where Cherie fails, Architect Of Love succeeds. Disengaged vocals and harmonies and melancholic guitars develop into a head- infecting looped beat to close the album seductively.

This is the follow up you would have hoped for from NYPC.  Fortunately it’s not the follow up people expected; it’s much better than that and that is a feat that many of their former nu-rave classmates would have done well to achieve.

It’s ironic that an album entitled The Optimist should deliver music and lyrics which swallow the listener in that same feeling of disenchantment with life that the fivesome’s sound currently seems to reflect. But this is an emotion you are thoroughly willing to try on for the ten tracks, in spite of the fact it sometimes frustrates and fails to deliver. 

Most will be willing to wait for songs like Lost A Girl, Stone and Architect Of Love, as these are their best moments where all of the musical elements are balanced so well that despair and euphoria dance together simultaneously.

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