Monday, 30 November 2015

Charli XCX - The F Word and Me

Charli XCX's documentary, The F Word and Me, aired this week on BBC3. With the "f word" here being "feminism", Charli interviewed fellow artists while touring the UK and US for her most recent album, Sucker, and examined the intersection between feminism and pop music.

As well as hearing from Charli and her band, we also hear stories from Liz, Marina and the Diamonds, Ryn Weaver, Lizzy Plapinger and Jack Antonoff.

I've seen a few articles criticising this documentary for giving a more personal take on feminism rather than an in-depth debate... first of all, the title is The F Word and me, so y'know. I think the more personal approach worked to its advantage; discussions on feminism can be quite complex at times but, by allowing these women to talk about their own experiences with sexism, it not only made the subject more accessible, but also demonstrated how common these experiences actually are.

It should be shocking that these women are all able to recount such similar experiences, but it's almost expected, which is kind of the point of this documentary; these are all universal experiences. As Lizzy Plapinger (one half of Ms Mr, and co-founder of Neon Gold records) talks about meeting with label executives and finding herself blanked, with all discussion being aimed at her male business partner, I immediately found myself thinking of similar stories I've seen posted on Everyday Sexism.

Another common story was how Charli and her band are always referred to as "Charli and her all-girl band"; no one would ever point out the bands gender if they were all male.

Body image and appearance was also a recurring theme; Charli demonstrated the different articles she's had written about her depending on what she wears on stage, alternating between accusing her of showing "too much" or being "too modest". Later, we see Charli talking to Ryn Weaver about body hair.
My only real complaint is that, aside from Charli herself, we didn't get to hear much from any women-of-colour, though I realise this is also partly down to time constraints (Charli herself has stated on Twitter that she wishes she'd been able to feature more artists). It was interesting to hear her take on the reaction to Rihanna's recent "Bitch Better Have My Money" video though, wherein she did briefly acknowledge that race plays an issue in how a pop star is portrayed:
"I think this film speaks to a bigger story; Rihanna is dismantling the idea of what a pop star should be, ie. perfect, polished and usually white."
I'd definitely recommend watching this documentary, if you haven't already. It did a great job of addressing the fact that while, on the surface, pop music seems like a girl-friendly place, behind-the-scenes there's still a long way to go.

Marina and The Diamonds - Newcastle Academy

This week, Marina and The Diamonds played at Newcastle Academy as part of her current Neon Nature Tour. The concept of "Neon Nature" is of artificial earthiness (plastic fruit, plastic trees etc), and this was largely reflected in the images projected onto the back of the stage. Despite being in a smaller venue, it felt very much like an arena show.

The set was split into three "acts", one for each album, and the format worked really well. I especially liked this idea as, despite having been a fan of Marina since quite early on in her career, this was the first time I'd been able to see her live, so I was happy to be able to hear some of my favourites from each album.

For the first act, The Family Jewels, the stage was lit up in green and purple, as Marina opened with "Mowgli's Road", a strong track that set the energy for the night.

As well as performing the album's other singles, "Hollywood" and "Oh No!", Marina sat at her keyboard to perform one of her earliest songs, "Obsessions", with vintage Betty Boop cartoons playing behind her, allowing her to really showcase her vocals, before transitioning into Act Two, Electra Heart.

Returning to the stage in a bright pink catsuit, she went straight into the album's opener "Bubblegum Bitch". "How To Be A Heartbreaker" and "Primadonna" had the whole room singing along, while "Lies" ended the era on a powerful note.

For the final act, Froot, Marina came out in a blue, sparkly outfit. By now, the excitement in the room had reached its highest level. Marina showed off her vocal talent again as she ends the show with "Immortal". That is, before re-emerging after a couple of minutes to perform a two song encore, "Happy" and "Blue".

With a final bow, Marina and her band exited the stage and the neon lights went out.

I'd be surprised if anyone walked away from this gig feeling disappointed. The idea to split up the set into three acts worked out perfectly, the energy of the crowd building up at the beginning of each one.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Chvrches - Newcastle Academy

Last night saw Chvrches return to a sold-out Newcastle Academy.

I first saw Chvrches play at Glastonbury 2014 and, while they impressed me then, it's amazing to see how far the band have progressed since then. All three members look much more comfortable onstage, while frontwoman Lauren Mayberry's voice and performance are much more powerful.

Tonight, Chvrches songs sounded like they were made to be played on stage; no matter how loud you play their albums, on stage, the songs gain an extra energy and volume that just can't be achieved elsewhere. This energy, and the added lighting effects, allow the band to fill the stage more than you might expect, considering two members are behind plugged in synths!

The set list seamlessly combined tracks from both albums, the crowd reacting just as enthusiastically to both newer and older tracks. Newest single "Empty Threat" saw Lauren multitasking, pounding on a set of synth drums in between bouncing around the stage.

The lights added an extra visual element to the set, "Science/Visions" coming across like the soundtrack to a bad-ass cyberpunk movie.

Martin Doherty and Lauren switched roles to perform "Under the Tide", his performance similarly brimming with new-found confidence and prompting a massive sing-a-long.

Between songs, the band were chatty and seemed happy to be there, even as the room collectively mourned the closure of Metro Land (google it).

I left the venue an even bigger fan of the band than before, which is how I think gig's should make you feel - as they're playing, you feel as though that particular band is your all-time favourite, the only band you ever want to hear. That band, tonight, was Chvrches.

Read more here:

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Five Songs To Listen To This Weekend

The Aquadolls - Girl Riot - Listen here
The new single from The Aquadolls, taken from their forthcoming EP. It has a much more punchy, in-your-face sound than their previous releases, as if the band, particularly frontwoman Melissa Brooks, have all gained in confidence since their last album; the guitars sound fuller, Melissa's voice is stronger and there are even some synths thrown in there.

Chvrches - Empty Threat
"Empty Threat" is the newest single from Chvrches' second album, Every Open Eye, released a few months ago. The video just went online, and tells the story of teenage goths getting drunk and having fun at a waterpark. Check it out above!

Deap Vally - Royal Jelly
It's been two years since Deap Vally released their debut album, Sistrionix, and they're finally back! "Royal Jelly", the bands new single, is the first track to be released from the as-yet-untitled follow-up album (produced by Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Nick Zinner), due out next year.

Missy Elliott - WTF (Where They From?)
It's been ten years since Missy Elliott's last album and, needless to say, she's been missed. The video is classic Missy, and the song itself looks at the problematic nature of cultural appropriation.

Savages - T.I.W.Y.G
Like Deap Vally, Savages' debut album was released two years ago, and their return is just as welcome. "T.I.W.Y.G" is the second single from the bands forthcoming second album, Adore Life. This is just as impressive as the albums first single and it's seeming like this new album might just surpass the first in how amazing it is.
Pop-punk mainstays Melissa Brooks and the Aquadolls have returned with the righteous new single “Girl Riot,” which serves as a feminist anthem ahead of the group’s forthcoming new EP. - See more at:|twt|fsc#sthash.w3BZ9QB9.dpuf
Pop-punk mainstays Melissa Brooks and the Aquadolls have returned with the righteous new single “Girl Riot,” which serves as a feminist anthem ahead of the group’s forthcoming new EP. - See more at:|twt|fsc#sthash.w3BZ9QB9.dpuf

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Carrie Brownstein's Book Tour

Words can't express how excited I felt to not only see Sleater-Kinney perform this year, but to also see Carrie Brownstein in the flesh for a second time as she stopped in Manchester as part of her book tour for "Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl".

While Carrie's book mainly focuses on her early experiences leading up to Sleater-Kinney, ending at the point when the band went on hiatus, she seemed happy to discuss pretty much anything tonight.

Also, this probably isn't a surprise to anyone who watches Portlandia, but Carrie is really fucking funny (her book has had me laughing out loud many times, and I'm not even halfway through). Her self-deprecating humor mixed with her open vulnerability are part of what make her so easy to relate to.

One of the things that struck me was how Carrie had no interest in pretending writing is easy; I feel like there's this myth that surrounds literary works, this image of authors sitting down and words just flowing onto the page, no rewrites needed. It was refreshing to hear somebody talk about not only how not easy it can be, but also about the extra work and research that can go into something as seemingly straightforward as writing about yourself.

Carrie also read a couple of excerpts from her book during the conversation, which had me simultaneously wanting her to keep talking while also really looking forward to getting home and reading it for myself! My personal favourite was the story of Carrie's incredibly awkward audition for 7 Year Bitch.

I'm currently only part-way through the book, but I can confirm that, so far, it is all Carrie fans hoped for.

Garbage - Manchester Academy

Last week, Garbage played in Manchester, the penultimate date on their short "20 Years Queer" tour, a tour to mark the anniversary of their debut self-titled album. Unsurprisingly, the gig sold out and the Academy was packed, anticipation and excitement buzzing in the air as we all waited for the band to take the stage.

A white curtain concealed the stage as a short video, simultaneously celebrating the past 20 years and transporting the crowd back to 1995, while "Alien Sex Fiend" played. As the video ended, the instantly recognisable silhouettes of Garbage cast themselves on the curtain as they launched into "Subhuman" (my personal favourite B-side), a perfect song to start their set with.

The drapes finally fell, as the band went straight into "Supervixen", the stage engulfed in a pink hue, reminiscent of the album cover.

Throughout the night, it was obvious why Shirley Manson is considered an iconic frontwoman by so many. Her hair dyed pink, to match the night's theme, and with her matching feather boa, she had the crowd mesmerised as she stalked and circled the stage.

20 years later, these songs still sound just as fresh as they did back then. Even the lesser known B-sides, seamlessly mixed in the album tracks, had the crowd dancing and singing/shouting the words along with Shirley. As well as "Subhuman", "Girl Don't Come" and "Butterfly Collector" were definite highlights of the night.

"Stupid Girl" had new life breathed into if with the unexpected, but welcome, addition of synths, giving it an almost industrial feel.

"Vow" brought the 22 song set to a close, its anthemic chorus bursting with even more of a "fuck you" attitude than ever before.

This was certainly a special night for Garbage fans, seeing the band in such a small venue and hearing some songs that will, most likely, not be played live again after this tour. The relative intimacy of the venue also allowed for some more personal moments with Shirley addressing the crowd, sharing stories between songs.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

The Mansplaining of 1989

So, as you probably already know, Ryan Adams recently released his own cover album of Taylor Swift's 1989 album.

It all just seems like another iteration of the tired belief that "pop" means vapid and meaningless, while "indie" is deep and intellectual. Now that a piece of indie royalty has blessed Swift's album with some white-boy-with-a-guitar credibility, critics who were too cool to acknowledge 1989 upon it original release are falling over themselves to gush over this version of the album. Reviewers are suddenly finding hidden depth in Swift's lyrics. Neckbeareded hipsters are nudging each other, smirking over listening to a "Taylor Swift album".

Am I to believe that Ryan Adams is so magical, that just by playing Swift's songs in his own style, they are suddenly more sincere? While I don't actually believe this to be true, their are countless examples of people who seem to think it is.

The Australian radio station Triple J, for example, has actually refused to play Swift in the past, but hasn't hesitated to play one of Adams' covers.

Pitchfork, who have never reviewed a Taylor Swift album (despite consistently including her in their end of year Best Of lists), have, of course, reviewed Adams' release. While Pitchfork is generally considered to be an "indie" publication, the truth is that they regularly review releases from major artists - Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West, D'Angelo etc. In fact, they have reviewed each of Adams' albums, most of which were released on a major label themselves.

The truth is, melancholy, earnest-sounding covers of upbeat pop songs are every these days. Like anything, some are good and some are bad. But slowing something down and sounding sad while you sing it does not add to its sincerity.

I think the main issue with how each version of 1989 has been treated is the undeniably gendered way each artist is talked about. Swift is portrayed as uncomplicated and sexual, not to be taken too seriously; Adams is praised for taking these lyrics and applying them to his complex man emotions. Now that Adams has revealed to us these hidden depths (after all, how could she possibly do that on her own?), it's suddenly okay to like Swift's album.

I can't help but wonder how this would have been received, had the roles been reversed. Imagine, a 40-year-old female musician, covering a chart topping album from a 20-something-year-old male pop artist, not even waiting until it's dropped out of the charts. Would she be praised for this? I don't think so. At best, it would be seen largely as an ill-judged publicity stunt; at worst, an embarrassing attempt at clinging on to youth, reaching a younger audience (after all, this is certainly the most mainstream attention Adams has received so far in his career).

Women in all areas of work/art/etc are used to having their work judged differently to that of their male peers (if you don't believe me, there are studies that prove this).

Just to clarify, my problem isn't at all with Ryan Adams choosing to cover Taylor Swift's 1989; I actually like his version and, from what I've read, I do think he's sincere in just simply wanting to cover an album he enjoys (after all, his public praise of Swift dates back before this album was even recorded, let alone topped the charts). My problem is purely with the response of so many "indie" music critics, the presumption that Taylor Swift is now credible enough to like without irony, and how this album's reception ties into the treatment of women's work in general.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Five Songs To Listen To This Week

Seth Bogart featuring Kathleen Hanna - Eating Makeup
Seth Bogart aka Hunx has just announced a new solo album, set to be released next year. "Eating Makeup" is the album's first single, a catchy synth-punk track, and features the amazing Kathleen Hanna (Bikini Kill, Le Tigre, The Julie Ruin).

Regrettes - Hey Now!
Fresh off their stint supporting Jack Off Jill on their final three shows last month, Regrettes have put together a video for "Hey Now!", filmed whilst in the UK. It's a fun video and goes perfectly with the song.

The Spook School - I Want To Kiss You
While The Spook School's new album, Try To Be Hopeful, is already out here in the UK, its US release is coming up at the end of November. What better way to celebrate than with a new video? "I Want To Kiss You" is less overtly political than the album's other two singles, but is just as passionate and instantly addictive.

Niagara Balls - Don't Be A Dick At Christmas
It might not be December yet, but it's never too early for a punk Christmas song! "Don't Be a Dick At Christmas" is a great way to start the festivities, and if you don't celebrate Christmas, then it's still a fun song.

Sonic Boom Six - No Man, No Right
Channeling the "girls to the front" mantra of riot grrrl, this tracks sees SB6 addressing the fact that many female fans are still treated badly at gigs, be it as audience members or playing on stage. It's taken from their forthcoming album The F Bomb, which you can still pre-order on PledgeMusic.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Grimes - Art Angels

The wait for Grimes' fourth album, and follow-up to 2012's Visions, is finally over - Art Angels has landed, and it's a huge step forward. While Visions was a ghostly and distanced experiment in pop, Art Angels is bright and deliberate. It's as if Grimes has somehow found a way to become more Grimes; it's louder, it's catchier, and hasn't lost any of the complicated textures that resonate throughout her previous releases.

Opening track "laughing and not being normal" is a beautiful two-minute introduction, its dramatic strings making it seem almost like the score to the coolest fantasy film yet to be made. This leads into one of the first standout tracks of the album, "California". It starts of sounding like the kind of upbeat positive track we've come to expect from tracks named after the sunshine state, but on closer inspection, there's actually a lot of pain and hurt within the lyrics.

Throughout this album, one of Grime's most powerful instruments remains her distinctive voice, and the different ways she has trained herself to use it, which is perhaps what makes "SCREAM" such an interesting track; it's the first track produced by Grimes on which she doesn't perform the lead vocals. Instead,  it features Taiwanese rapper Aristophanes, while Grimes herself can be heard screaming in the background.

The first single from this album, "Flesh Without Blood", seems like a standard break-up song, but is actually directed at the backlash she faced last year after releasing the single "Go", with fans accusing her of "going pop" and "chasing money".

"Kill V. Maim" is my personal favourite track from this album; to me, it perfectly sums up both Grimes and this album as a whole. The bratty chant-a-long chorus even had me thinking of Kathleen Hanna and Le Tigre, mixed with Sleigh Bells.

Personally, I fell in love with this album before I'd even listened to the whole thing. There's just so much going on, every track stands perfectly strong on its own. It's hard to make such a varied album without it sounding disjointed or awkward, but Grimes has managed to pull it off.

Oh, and it was definitely worth the four year wait. 

Rating: 5/5
Standout Tracks: California, Kill V. Maim, Venus Fly
Scream” is a collaboration between Claire Boucher and Taiwanese rapper Aristophanes, who delivers rapid-fire Mandarin verses alongside Boucher’s actual screams and growls. Take a listen above; the two-headed creature bearing toothbrush and axe at the bottom of the page is the single artwork and an apt visualization for how this song sounds.

Read More: Grimes Shares Blistering New Track ‘Scream’ |
Scream” is a collaboration between Claire Boucher and Taiwanese rapper Aristophanes, who delivers rapid-fire Mandarin verses alongside Boucher’s actual screams and growls. Take a listen above; the two-headed creature bearing toothbrush and axe at the bottom of the page is the single artwork and an apt visualization for how this song sounds.

Read More: Grimes Shares Blistering New Track ‘Scream’ |
Scream” is a collaboration between Claire Boucher and Taiwanese rapper Aristophanes, who delivers rapid-fire Mandarin verses alongside Boucher’s actual screams and growls. Take a listen above; the two-headed creature bearing toothbrush and axe at the bottom of the page is the single artwork and an apt visualization for how this song sounds.

Read More: Grimes Shares Blistering New Track ‘Scream’ |

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Kesha, Rape Culture and Pop Music Misogyny

In a genre that periodically pays lip service to the idea of "girl power", what happens when a female pop star alleges that one of the most powerful men in the industry has sexually abused her?
It's been just over a year since Kesha filed a lawsuit against producer Dr Luke, for sexual harassment. Dr Luke responded with a counter suit for extortion.

Kesha met Dr Luke just after turning 18, and signed a recording contract with him soon after. From the beginning, her image and career have been in this man's hands. Kesha's lawsuit refers to Dr Luke pressuring her to take drugs and drink alcohol, before sexually assaulting her; one specific incident involves Dr Luke getting Kesha drunk before persuading her to take "sober pills" (later revealed to be GHB). She woke up in his bed the next day, feeling sore and with no memory of how she got there.

In January 2014, Kesha entered rehab for an eating disorder. Soon after, her mother posted on Twitter, confirming that Kesha was suffering from bulimia and that Dr Luke's ongoing verbal abuse was to blame.

Currently, Kesha is, legally, unable to tour, record (her last album was released in 2012) or further her career in any way due to her contractual obligations to Dr Luke and Sony. Despite being accused of abusing, drugging and raping her, Dr Luke still has full contractual control over Kesha's career.  Because of this, Kesha's legal team have, this week, asked the courts to allow a preliminary injunction against Dr Luke.

Sony recently broke their silence and sided with Dr Luke, claiming that Kesha's testimony is inconsistent and referring to the fact that Kesha did not report the incidents straight away. Sadly, this is a pretty common response when it comes to rape and/or assault cases, even more so if the victim has lost consciousness at any point. And it's exactly this kind of response that stops more people from coming forward.

Fans of Kesha started the #FreedomForKesha hashtag, which trended worldwide. This whole story has received relatively little coverage, and the idea behind the hashtag is to draw attention not only to Kesha's own situation, but to the overriding corruption and misogyny that exists within the mainstream music industry.

Look at Chris Brown, for example - he is still able to enjoy a successful career despite his physical abuse of ex-girlfriend Rihanna. Yet Kesha, after coming forward about being raped and abused by her producer, is having to fight just to record any new music. She has been, effectively, silenced and blacklisted while Dr Luke's career hasn't suffered at all. We live in a society that encourages us to wait for concrete evidence against a man before saying he is guilty, to avoid ruining his life - why don't the same rules apply to victims? Victims are often accused of being liars, without any evidence to back that up.

Regardless of how you feel about Kesha's music, this is just yet another story of a young woman being manipulated and assaulted by someone in a position of power. Every rape survivor deserves to have their accusations validated and taken seriously.

Monday, 2 November 2015

Five Songs You Should Listen To This Week

ILL - Ill Song
Having just supported Lydia Lunch last night, Ill have also released their new single this week - a Double A side consisting of Ill Song and Slithering Lizards. Ill Song sees the band taking a darkly comical view of mental health treatment and the government's current mission to destroy the NHS.

Muncie Girls - Gone With the Wind
Check out the new video from Exeter-based Muncie Girls, for their song Gone With The Wind, taken from their split 7'' with Sandlot Kids. They have an album due out next year, which gives you plenty of time to listen to this song and fall in love with them.

Martha - Six Men Getting Sick Six Times (Mendable) Listen Here
Martha have become known for their perfect blend of indie-pop and punk but this track, taken from their split 7'' with Radiator Hospital, sees the band showing a different side to their sound. Six Men Getting Sick Six Times (Mendable)'s strength lies in its fragile acoustic chords and urgent-yet-restrained vocals.

Cat Bear Tree - Adult
Adult, the gorgeous opening track to Cat Bear Tree's just-released Settled in our Hearts EP, is complex danceable, yet-serenely-melancholy, track that sounds like a perfect mix of Warpaint and Sleater-Kinney.

Kitten Forever - Temple
Currently supporting Babes in Toyland on their US tour, Kitten Forever have a new album due out soon, on JD Samson's record label Atlas Chair. Temple is the first single from the album and is a perfect example of the bands lo-fi, hectic punk style.