Electro swing is perhaps a bit misnamed – it’s a combination of 20s or 30s-style trad jazz (rather than the slightly later and smoother swing) with more modern instruments and styles including hip hop and electronic dance music. The UK’s 2015 Eurovision entry, "Still In Love With You" by Electro Velvet was an example, though a kind of disappointing one. I was pleased it was a bit different and wanted to like it, but couldn’t convince myself and ultimately it didn’t do too well. We scored a majestic 5 points, only 360 behind the ultimate winners, Sweden.
Happily, the French do it better and msinvisfem pointed me in their direction. Caravan Palace formed about ten years ago, and have just released their third album, <I°_°I>. All three are fun and listenable, and I’d recommend checking them out. Here are their official videos, and it’s also worth skipping to the end where there’s a couple of live performance videos, including a full concert. If you like what you see, they’re currently touring and will be in the UK in December, including a date in Glasgow.
Why <I°_°I>? Watch the earlier videos to find out! But if they’re not quite your cup of tea, try <I°_°I> too, as I think the blend of old and new shifts a bit in the third album.
Caravan Palace – 2008
Panic – 2012
Rock It For Me
<I°_°I> – 2015
Full Concert: Karlstor Bahnhof Heidelberg, 2009
...Space 1992: Apocalypse Suite For Orchestra & Choir, featuring the Cowdenbeath Symphony Orchestra. It's an orchestral version of the album, with the tracks renamed after a quote from each (including track 9 of course, An Epic War Is Fight). It's a decent performance, and interesting to hear that it adapts so comfortably, but frankly I prefer the electric bombast of the original.
Sadly, there are no details of the composition of "the Cowdenbeath Symphony Orchestra" in the credits and the only mention I could find online was in reference to the album, but amongst the small print there was this disclaimer of which I approve:
No unicorns were harmed in the making of this album. However, 5.448 billion humans were terminally harmed in the destruction of Earth during track 10. This was an unfortunate side-effect for which we apologise profusely. Please send any complaints to the Dark Sorcerer Zargothrax at the following address: zargothrax at gloryhammer.com
A thousand years have passed since the events of Tales From the Kingdom of Fife, when Zargothrax, Dark Sorcerer of Auchtermuchty, invaded Dundee with an army of undead unicorns before eventually being imprisoned in a frozen pool of liquid ice, encasing his immortal body in a cage of eternal frost. (“Seems legit”, as the top comment under the relevant YouTube video says.)
Now, in the far distant future year of 1992, Zargothrax is released from his prison of frost by a cult of unholy chaos wizards, and Dundee and the Galactic Empire of Fife must be defended from their evil domination by King Angus McFife XIII (descendant of the original Crown Prince Angus McFife) and the eagle-riding Knights of Crail.
Like the previous album, it romps joyously through a Fife-flavoured galaxy of cheese. It’s a worthy successor, but with more laser-powered hammers, chambers of cryogenetical fire, robots, cosmic rage (of Astral Dwarves from Aberdeen), and eagle-riding Space Knights of Crail.
Stylistically, it’s still HEROIC FANTASY POWER METAL (of course), but as befits a more futuristic epic, there’s a greater role for synthesisers than was previously the case.
The previous tale concluded in the ten-minute Epic Rage of Furious Thunder. This album doesn’t pull its punches either, with another 10 minute epic finale – Apocalypse 1992. I can’t express how accurately this track captures the far-off technological future of 1992 – you’ll just have to listen to it and find out for yourself.
As for me – I’m also waiting, for the physical album to arrive, so that I can find out what the disc of bonus tracks has to offer…
Interesting music video. Musically hard to characterise; to me it sounds like a blend of computer game, 70s TV theme, sound effects, electronica, and dubstep (you can see how the album it's from is categorised by genre on Wikipedia). The video's steampunk western and both music and video tell a short story - a bit gorily in the visuals, but very watchable.
Chap hop is a blend of hip-hop music with a chap æsthetic; that is, a dandyish steampunk or early twentieth century style. It’s decidedly uncool – and was even before Michael Gove expressed a fondness for it – and furthermore, a fair proportion of it is not especially good.
However, fear not, for a while I ago I ploughed my way through most of it and compiled a list to share with some friends. Here, for your delectation, I present “Chap Hop – The Good Bits”. (If you’ve only got time for one, make it Fighting Trousers, but they’re all worth checking out for different reasons.)
Mr. B The Gentleman Rhymer:
Songs for Acid Edward: a history of 1990s techno, on the banjolele
Just Like A Chap: a more typical example of chap hop
Fighting Trousers: Professor Elemental challenges the upstart Mr. B
(The unseen "Geoffrey" is, of course, the Professor's simian butler)
Sir, You Are Being Hunted: gangsta chap hop; a promo for a computer game of the same name
Sir Reginald Pikedevant, Esquire:
Just Glue Some Gears On It (And Call It Steampunk): chap-hop meets barbershop
A Belated Introduction: Sir Reginald realises he’s being mistaken for Mr. B and Professor Elemental.
Spot the cameo by Glamis castle, and count the knuckles at the end.
On Friday, I left work a bit early to attend the final date on Florrie’s lightning acoustic tour for Coffee House Sessions, which I mentioned when I discovered it a couple of weeks ago. I’m not a great gig-goer – in fact the sum total of my previous gig attendance is seeing Runrig in 1989 and Big Country round about 1990. On the other hand, if you’re one of the select acts that play St. Andrews Student Union, as they did*, and I like your music, there’s a reasonable chance I’ll turn up…
Call 911 (Fred Falke Remix)
I like Florrie’s music, so I went along. I’m not quite sure when I first discovered her, but I think I heard Call 911 on Last.FM a few years ago and it stood out. When I followed up a bit and realised that there wasn’t a duff track on the whole Introduction EP, I started to pay attention.
The Introduction EP
Having been drumming since the age of 6, Florrie started work as a session drummer in 2008 before quickly starting to establish herself as a solo artist, now describing herself as drummer, singer and songwriter. Having seen her on Friday, she’s actually selling herself a bit short, as she plays the guitar too, with a nice crisp confidence. Her recorded style is light, but intelligent, anthemic pop, with strong rhythm and high production values.
Given the very produced studio sound, it was intriguing to see that the Coffee House Sessions tour was to be acoustic; just Florrie and a guitar. Although it’s become more of a “thing” to perform unplugged over the last 20 years, not everyone can do it.
Florrie can. The session was quite short; I just sat and enjoyed it so I didn’t keep a note of which tracks were played or how many, but it must have something like six or eight. Definitely included were Left Too Late (a favourite of mine), Live A Little and Radioactive (a cover of Imagine Dragons), another cover I didn’t recognise but worked out later (Budapest, George Ezra) and the more current tracks Little White Lies and Galaxies. The delivery was sharp, confident and above all musical, emotionally complex and expressive. The studio production may add to Florrie’s music, but she has impeccable foundations and doesn’t need it – with one small exception.
Coffee House Sessions
The envelope of her vocal range is pushed a bit in Little White Lies just before going into the chorus, and it's the one time she sounds a bit weak; the lyric is "My breathing shallows/I can't pretend", rising at the end to the point where her voice cracks. It's an effective musical portrayal of a rising emotional tension when it works, but it doesn't always work live, which is a shame. It's a great studio track, with the blend of a thundering locomotive drum beat and a touch of melancholy that's a bit of a Florrie signature:
Little White Lies
It’s good though, that she’s trying things that test her, and that she continues to be original. The Sirens EP on which a first version of Little White Lies was included is notably a bit experimental, with something just a bit unusual about each track. An acoustic tour is a bit of variety too. Not everything is a hit with me, but the percentage is really high; the only talent I can think of with a similar success rate for my tastes is Marina and the Diamonds. I’m really looking forward to the release of Florrie’s first album in the first couple of months of next year.
And finally – not that this matters musically, but she’s just a really nice person. At the end of the set, with a little time to spare before I had to be somewhere else, I asked for an autograph on a Florrie beermat and we chatted for a couple of minutes. I said the honest but unimaginative sorts of things people say on these occasions (You’re really good! When’s the album out?), and she, who must hear them all the time, was not only charming but offered me a hug before I left – something I didn’t expect at all, being slightly over twice the age of most other folk in the room and probably looking older than that. Particularly impressive after an intensive ten day tour, and three performances that day (the Universities of Stirling. Strathclyde, and St. Andrews, in that order, all in under 6 hours).
I’ve included quite a number of videos in this post, but couldn’t possibly include everything I like. If you enjoyed any of these, check out the rest of Florrie’s back catalogue while it’s still relatively small! The easiest place to do that is on YouTube as florriemusic. Florrie’s also on Twitter and Facebook. Wikipedia is good for track details, and you can buy on iTunes. Finally, check out the adverts:
* For what it’s worth Runrig were ace, particularly listening to them play their version of The Times They Are A Changin’ a few weeks after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Big Country were OK, but a bit samey to listen to for a whole gig, even after the Peace In Our Time album had marked a change in their sound.
As the final date on her acoustic UK University Coffee House Sessions Tour, Florrie is playing the Rector’s Café at St Andrews University on Friday 17th at 5:30pm. You don't have to be a student, and entry is free.
She's been releasing EPs since 2010, but now apparently an album is in the offing. I think it'll be worth checking out. I like most of what she's released so far (and kudos to anyone who can release a song called "Experimenting with Rugs").
Well, I already knew I was an extremist, as Nick Clegg was kind enough to inform me of it a couple of years ago.
What I hadn’t realised was that I’m practically one of the horsemen of the Apocalypse. According to George Robertson – sorry, Baron Robertson of Port Ellen – Scottish independence would be “cataclysmic in geo-political terms”. Gosh, nice to know we count for so much.
There’s a lot of inflated language going round about the independence campaign and it’s daft. Really, if a measly 8.4% of the UK’s population peacefully vote to govern themselves, that’s going to cause the fall of Western civilisation is it? Particularly when what’s being proposed actually sounds a bit like a loose confederation with the rest of the UK? There’s a lot of good will there, if folk are prepared to stop caricaturing independence for a small country as a global catastrophe, and comparing the Unionist cause to that of Lincoln in the American Civil War.
George Robertson’s a coof – if you don’t believe me, watch him comprehensively lose this debate in Dundee last year, turning a 38% margin in his favour into a 13% lead against him. And remember he was involved in determining the Scottish Parliament’s electoral system that was going to help devolution “kill Nationalism stone dead”.
Let’s take his words as seriously as they deserve, at this, the dawn of the Apocalypse. If the world says it’s time to go, tell me, will you freak out? No; with fires in New York, locusts in Detroit, and zombies in Atlanta, you’ve gotta laugh at the zombie in the front yard:
And I really, really want to thank you for reading to the end. ;-)
OK, how have I not heard about this before today?
Possibly the greatest concept album in the history of the world EVER, Tales From The Kingdom of Fife (buy it!) tells how the proud city of Dundee was destroyed by the evil sorceror Zargothrax and his army of undead unicorns…
…leading the prince of Fife, Angus McFife (noble and true with a heart of steel, natch), to swear vengeance:
Another favourite track is Hail to Crail, which is all about how hard the knights of Crail are, with their riding on eagles and all that.
Turns out that the band Gloryhammer (with a style self described as Heroic Fantasy Power Metal) are a side project spun off from Alestorm, the leading exponents of True Scottish Pirate Metal. Erm, perhaps the only exponents of True Scottish Pirate Metal. Anyway, enjoy Keelhauled:
...and the more thrashy but epic Death Throes of the Terrorsquid. Watch for the pose at the end:
Back in 2009 I recommended Marina and the Diamonds (a.k.a. Marina Diamandis – the “Diamonds” are her fans, not a band). Since then she’s released not just her first album (The Family Jewels), but a second one too – Electra Heart.
I have to confess I was a bit disappointed with Electra Heart when it came out last year. It has a more conventional contemporary pop style and production than her distinctive earlier work, sounding quite reminiscent of Katy Perry, or a Ke$ha without the rap. This was not really what I’d hoped for after I Am Not A Robot and Mowgli’s Road.
Concept albums have only made occasional appearances since the 1970s. The most notable recent proponents are the somewhat surprising Green Day, whose rock operas American Idiot (2004) and 21st Century Breakdown (2009) fall into concept album territory. Although I don’t think the term concept album was used, it’s always been clear that Electra Heart was intended to be something similar.
The backstory of Electra Heart is that Marina had an unsuccessful relationship with someone who was, basically, looking out for number one. Despite intending not to write stereotypical songs about love, she found herself reflecting on this relationship and writing indirectly about it. The eponymous Electra Heart is a female character with similar attitudes to the ex, who embodies four archetypes: the Teen Idle, the Primadonna, Su-Barbie-A (the suburban housewife), and the Homewrecker.
As released in 2012, Electra Heart the album in some ways has a difficult sell. Electra Heart the character is not inherently a sympathetic character, although Marina succeeds in establishing a bit of rapport for her. The album starts with a couple of songs that grab you fairly emphatically (the poppy anthem Bubblegum Bitch and stomper Primadonna), but after that the focus is rather lost and the album seems to wander through a selection of competent but ultimately uninspiring tracks. You pays your money, you gets your album, that’s it.
However, there’s another way of looking at Electra Heart. Even before the album was released, on 8th August 2011, Marina started posting promotional videos for the album on YouTube, beginning with PART 1: ♡ "FEAR & LOATHING” ♡, and appearing in character as Electra Heart — usually blonde, with 1950s style fashions and a black heart beauty spot on the left cheek. Two years later to the day, the 11th and last video has just been posted, and it becomes clear that the best way to listen to Electra Heart is not to play the album, but to follow the sequence of videos.
Some tracks that are on the CD do not appear amongst the videos, and some videos feature tracks that are not on the album. For those tracks that are found in both places, the video sequence brings a much-needed structure.
First video only - go to the playlist
Where the order of tracks on the album seemed somewhat haphazard, in the YouTube version Fear and Loathing sets the scene for Electra Heart’s different personas and pre-shadows what’s to come, before we meet the Teen Idle in Radioactive. The Archetypes is a linking track of the sort you generally wouldn’t listen to on its own but it introduces the archetypes by name and emphasises Electra Heart’s alienation. We quickly progress through the Primadonna and Su-Barbie-A as Electra goes through young adulthood and gets married, carrying with her her expectations of how she expects life to turn out. Power and Control depicts a rather cynical battle for control in the relationship, before things start to fall apart as Electra becomes the Homewrecker, starting with How To Be A Heartbreaker.
In E.V.O.L. (released on Valentines Day 2013) a failed relationship leaves Electra hurt and resentful. State of Dreaming is more reflective as she looks back on how she’s been living. Up to this point, although Electra’s had a lot of screen time, she rarely looks straight at the camera. By way of contrast, Lies starts off delivered straight to camera and is a powerful accusation that comes across as very personal. In the finalé, posted on 8th August this year exactly two years after the first part, Electra Heart reviews her life (this is mostly conveyed through a retrospective of the previous videos rather than through the fairly minimal lyrics) before deciding on a fresh start.The final shot shows that the persona of Electra Heart is no more (backed up by a tweet from Marina).
Five tracks out of eleven are not on the album, but two of those are relative minimal atmospheric tracks (The Archetypes and Su-Barbie-A) and one is the conclusion, also fairly light on lyrical content. The remaining two are How To Be A Heartbreaker and E.V.O.L. These do give a more narrative feel to the decline of Electra’s fortunes in the Homewrecker phase, but apart from the fleshing out of this stage of the narrative, the main difference is just in track ordering, and it seems at least possible, if not likely, that the album would therefore have benefited from a bit of restructuring.
In the future, I’m much more likely to listen to the YouTube version as a playlist than the album as it was released. It’s also an option to plug in some of the missing tracks from the album where they appear to fit in with the narrative. I won’t go overboard with trying to cram extras in, but for my own listening I think Bubblegum Bitch fits nicely just after the introductory Fear and Loathing, seeming to express an Electra Heart maybe a couple of years younger than in Radioactive.
Just as a final aside, given that Marina is Welsh of Greek origin, and has hinted at the relevance of mythology, it’s likely that the name Electra isn’t a random choice – sadly though, I’m not picking up on any references there may be to the mythological Electra.
Unfortunately, embedding these videos is problematic, so I've included Fear and Loathing above, and you can watch the rest as a playlist.
This is an uplifting video, and it’s nice to see the leaders of our top six political parties agree on something worthwhile!
Credit where credit’s due on an occasion like this, so for those unfamiliar with Scottish politics they appear towards the end after most of the celebs and ordinary folk, and in order of appearance they are:
- Patrick Harvie (co-convenor of the Scottish Green Party)
- Colin Fox (national spokesperson of the Scottish Socialist Party)
- Ruth Davidson (leader of the Scottish Conservative Party)
- Johann Lamont (leader of the Scottish Labour Party)
- Willie Rennie (leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats)
- Alex Salmond (leader of the Scottish National Party)
I was at first puzzled, then interested, when Spain’s entry appeared. Introduced by Graham Norton as ESDM, they and their sound were kind of familiar, and they started with the sound of Asturian bagpipes. Then the lead singer looked familiar, although I didn’t know her from Oxford where apparently she lived for a time. It didn’t take long for the penny to drop – ESDM were El Sueño de Morfeo, a group I recommended a couple of years ago. Their song, Contigo hasta el final, didn’t grab me as immediately as some of their other work, but seemed OK. They came 25th out of 26, just ahead of Ireland whose entry also seemed a bit better than the voting reflected.
In other news, the entry from Belarus arrived in a Sontaran spaceship:
|A Sontaran emerging from his spaceship||The Belarus entry in Eurovision 2013|
Tomorrow (Saturday 29th March) I'll be protesting against the Bedroom Tax in Edinburgh. In my opinion it’s worse than the Poll Tax. If the Poll Tax could be characterised as thoughtless with regard to those on low incomes, the Bedroom Tax by comparison would be vindictive, as it’s targeted on them, and is likely to have a cumulative effect with other benefit cuts.
There are many other locations throughout the UK where something’s happening tomorrow, listed onscreen at the end of this video. You can skip to 2:55 if the song isn't your thing. I hope you enjoy it, and consider coming along:
If you don't know the original version of the song, here it is:
Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds has been available to listen to – or even watch – in a number of forms since it was first released in 1978. The latest incarnation is Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds – The New Generation. (This title was enunciated by skilled stunt men and should not be attempted at home – at least, not without taking a very deep breath first.)
This is a modern re-recording of the classic with, as the name might suggest, a new generation of artists. Probably just as well since Richard Burton and Phil Lynott are a wee bit dead to be taking part this time around.
Instead we have Liam Neeson taking on the Richard Burton role, Gary Barlow standing in for Justin Hayward, and others including Ricky Wilson of the Kaiser Chiefs, Joss Stone and Maverick Sabre. Yeah, we’ll come back to him.
Names such as Gary Barlow may give you pause. Funny how twenty years or so of maturing doesn’t doesn’t translate “boy band” into anything but, well, boy band. (At least Robbie Williams managed to cream off the Angels share…) Hold that prejudice though – he has a good voice, and does a pretty good “Forever Autumn”. It’s nearly as good as Justin Hayward’s.
That’s the problem this album has though. Most of it is nearly as good as the original. Most of it is nearly the same as the original. Ah, what a shame.
There are three possible reasons for a remake. One is to do it better. Another is to do it different. Though The New Generation is a decent effort, and you’d probably love it if you’d never heard the original, it does neither of these things.
So the third reason it must be; to draw in a new audience haven’t been exposed to it before. I guess that’s commercially fair enough, but artistically disappointing.
Annoyances are not major, but there are several. The music develops a judder at a few key dramatic points, and distorted, echoed lyrics at others – both electronic tricks that already feel more dated than the original album. There are additions to the narration that feel pretty unnecessary – is it essential for us to know that Martians don’t have sex? – and, oh dear lord, who thought we needed chirpy Cockney newsboys à la Dick van Dyke, singing “Morning paper, men from Mars, men from Mars!” on Horsell Common?
And if you’ve listened to any Jeff Wayne War of the Worlds material produced in the last fifteen years or so, you won’t be surprised to hear that the voice of the
devil Martians is heard in the land! It will be the phrase you think it is, plus a load of unintelligible background muttering. While I liked it the first time I heard the Martians speak (in cut scenes from the 1998 video game), it’s a shame they haven’t learnt to say anything new since then.
Good points include the gorgeous packaging, which could only be improved upon by making it the size of a proper 12” album. It’s a nice touch that the changes to the words are printed in gold, as it saves highlighting them with a green marker. Liam Neeson is not generally my favourite vocal performer. but he makes a fair replacement for Richard Burton and I even felt that he conveyed the emotion of relief at the conclusion better than Burton did (I’ve seen another review say the opposite, so your mileage may vary).
I can’t put it off any longer. Let’s come back to Maverick Sabre. Cool name! Unfortunately that’s the only thing he has over Phil Lynott, who might well have called himself Maverick Sabre too if he’d thought of it. Thing is, though, Phil would have lived up to it, the way he hammed up his Preacher in the original War of the Worlds, to the enjoyment of all. Maverick Sabre’s Preacher – well, I struggled for a while to identify how best to characterise his voice in the role. Is it spoilt child or querulous old man? Thinking of the character, you may think that either might work, but take it from me they don’t. It was on the fourth listening that I nailed it though, when he quavered “don’t touch me!” – he reminds me of nothing so much as the camp German pigs from Shrek! The rest of the album is OK; I am a little disappointed with minor aspects of it, but Maverick Sabre’s part is the only thing I wish just wasn’t there.
If you’re a fan of the original album, don’t get this one unless you’re a completist. It’s good, but ultimately it doesn’t add anything. If by some weird mischance you're reading this and you haven’t heard the original, then you might like either better – probably the one you hear first – but you’ll be down with all the cool kids if you choose to make that the original*.
* Caveat: a wise and cautious reader will check my profile picture before accepting my advice on what’s trendy.
Some music with a bit of personality, and a story-telling video to match. Although it's definitely a modern piece, the vocals have a drama that reminds me of the early 80s - sort of jazzy R&B with hints of the energy of Toyah or Siouxsie, laid over Peter Gabriel-style funk. Give it a try:
If you're wondering why the name Kimbra seems familiar, she provided the female vocal in Gotye's Somebody That I Used To Know – and if you’re not already aware of that, it’s worth checking out too.