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Posts Tagged ‘p.j. harvey’

Cast your mind back, if you will, to 2009. Right from the outset, the last year of the noughties was being dubbed ‘The Year of the Female’; a clutch of young musicians in possession of the X chromosome were being corralled into a makeshift scene, solely because of their gender. Of course, I can’t play the saintly onlooker and chastise my fellow music journos for their laziness – I’m sure I was as guilty of buying into the fuss surrounding acts like Florence & the Machine, La Roux, Little Boots (above) and Lady Gaga, at the time. (Little Boots, by the way, was one of the worst interviewees I’ve ever had the misfortune to have a phone conversation with. Twice.) The thing was, though, that most of those acts were largely pop/electro-pop oriented. Just two years on, however, and the landscape has tilted in favour of musicians with a rockier demeanour.

Look at the BBC’s ‘Sound Of…’ poll, for example; for all intents and purposes, the taste-making list drawn up by UK industry figures is redundant. New music is there to be discovered and recommended, not coldly thrust upon you by a group of anonymous people cherry picking a list of the bands that are being buzzed about most deafeningly. However, some of the female names on this year’s longlist seemed to demonstrate the shift away from pop music. There’s Warpaint, for example, the LA four-piece that channelled the gloom of the much-missed Organ with their excellent debut last year. Esben and the Witch, a female-fronted Brighton trio, so impressed Matador Records that they became the first British band to sign with the label in five years.

Anna Calvi

The Domino Records-signed Anna Calvi is also currently frantically propelling journos and bloggers thesaurus-wards in search of new adjectives to describe her brooding, guitar-led indie-rock. Personally, I don’t really get the fuss – but maybe I need to give the album more time, see her live (she plays Dublin’s Workman’s Club on February 23rd), or just banish the niggling ‘sub-PJ Harvey’ notion clanging around my head every time I listen to ‘Blackout’. But there are worse artists to ape, of course.

Harvey herself also has a new album out on February 11th, by the way. ‘Let England Shake‘ impressed me from the first listen; it’s her first ‘solo’ record since 2007’s stark ‘White Chalk‘, although her frequent collaborators John Parish and Mick Harvey are as omnipresent as ever. It’s a slightly barmy (one track drops in a triumphant fanfare riff at random points) and completely original offering. Harvey doffs her hat to no one.

But what does this supposed shift away from danceable floor-fillers mean? Is it just a case of swings and roundabouts? Do women with guitars wield more influence as ‘serious’ musicians? Have we finally seen the last of Florence ‘I’m 24, really, I am’ Welch‘s many re-releases of ‘Lungs’, or is she waiting to pounce with a fake ID and a follow-up at any second? Will anybody care about Gaga‘s latest wacky stage show if her next album is rubbish? Will La Roux‘s Elly Jackson lose the source of all her powers if she chops off her quiff for album number two? Feck knows. I’m just glad I don’t have to interview Little Boots again.

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I went to see Vampire Weekend at the Ambassador last week. They were great, in their inoffensive, poppy way, but two things struck me about the crowd. One: girls no longer have to wear sensible shoes to gigs these days. Some day I will write a post about the difference in dressing for gigs when I was a teenager and dressing for gigs now – back then, you only wore shoes you didn’t care too much about damaging, because about 2000 people would have stood on your toes by the time the gig was over, and you pretty much always came home with bruised shins.

Wholesome!

Vampire Weekend: Wholesome!

And two: the (very youthful) audience were really, really into the band. To an extent that kind of baffled me. Because much as I like Vampire Weekend’s jolly Afrobeat-influenced preppy pop, I can’t imagine them inspiring such genuine passion in anyone. But the crowd were singing along to ‘Mansard Roof’ with such enthusiasm that you could barely hear the actual band. And they sang along to all the guitar riffs as well, which was really annoying and part of the reason why the new unreleased tracks were the best part of the night.

I wasn’t sure, at first, why I was so surprised by all this passionate devotion. But I was talking about it with H.R. Costigan afterwards and he said maybe we were both bewildered by the crowd’s enthusiasm because Vampire Weekend – or at least their public personas – are not outsiders. They’re smart, sophisticated rich kid hipsters and that’s reflected in their music. They don’t come across as being in any way insecure. They’re not weirdos or rebels. Their moods seem to range from jaunty to bittersweet. In other words, they are not like the average mopey teen. Does anyone seriously sit in their rooms listening to ‘Oxford Comma’ (a song I totally love, by the way), thinking “only Vampire Weekend understand me!”? Do they stomp forlornly home in the rain listening to ‘Blake’s Got a New Face’ like I used to listen to ‘Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want’ as a preposterously-angsty-for-no-real-reason 16 year old? I just can’t imagine it.

So what bands were you slavishly devoted to as a tiny teen? For me it was primarily (and in chronological order) REM (first band I loved that didn’t, like my other 13-year-old faves the Smiths or Lloyd Cole, originally “belong” to my big sister, and the first band I ever saw live, in 1989. They’d lost me by 1992, but I still have a huge soft spot for their early stuff), Throwing Muses (the first time I heard the sort of music I loved being sung by a girl. It had a HUGE effect on me), P.J. Harvey (she sounded so young on Dry, and the music was so ferocious. I used to listen to that album on my walkman in bed every night for several months back in 1992), Blur (I know, I know. I am one of about five people who bought and loved Popscene in ’92 – I’ve never been able to resist noisy songs with trumpets – and when Modern Life is Rubbish came out, a few weeks before I did my Leaving Cert, it was the perfect soundtrack to the imaginary ’60s film that I wanted my life to be like) and Suede (I had never heard much vintage Bowie so I thought those first three singles were utterly original and thrilling and sexy. They turned out to be the band’s musical highpoint, but they’re still fantastic songs. You’re taking me ovah, indeed! Suede’s first Irish gig at the Tivoli in early 1993 remains the most hysterical concert I’ve ever attended).

Of course, I loved loads and loads of other bands in my teens, some of which I still love now. I used to lie in the garden in the summer listening to Nick Drake and feeling sorry for myself; I would listen devotedly to the Pixies and play the bassline of ‘Gigantic’ for hours on end on my dad’s guitar. The bands I listed above are just some of the ones to whom I felt that strong personal connection that makes audiences shriek like 10,000 maniacs (I liked them as well when I was 13. Oh dear). So now I’ve revealed the objects of my teenage devotion, how about you? What band did you greet with the level of hysteria mystifyingly shown by Vampire Weekend fans?

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