Album art

Every since I got my first iPhone I’ve got a little bit obsessive about having the right album art attached to my MP3s.  It makes it easier to see albums when you’re flipping through and it generally makes for a nicer experience. One of the many problems with iTunes is that its album art detection is limited to items in the iTunes Music Store catalogue.  Combine this with the fact that it uses the frequently ropey Gracenote database to propogate metadata when you rip a CD and you’ve got a recipe for fustration!  While I frequently find myself tidying up Gracenote track listings (misspellings is the most frequent one) I’ve found a very handy site to help with iTMS’s less than comprehensive catalogue – Albumart.org.  It seems to get most of it’s data from Amazon listings, so out of print discs can still be hard to find, but for most things its really good, especially when there are multiple versions of an album’s artwork available.

This has proved very useful for my current project – ripping some of my fiance’s CDs for inclusion in our wedding reception disco (hired PA, laptop and iTunes DJ mode) as some of his selections definitely aren’t in the iTMS catalogue!

DMCA takedown notice kills REMcycle at birth…

I’ve been a fan of the work of the Recycle team (Drew Crumbaugh, Jeb Edwards and Bruce Barlett) since discovering their loving restorations of the Factory Joy Division/New Order single releases and followed the subsequent restoration of The Smiths Rough Trade singles from the start.  Their next project would cover the IRS-era singles of REM beginning with a very early demo tape given away by the as-yet-unsigned band to gig-goers.   It was rather disappointing to hear that, after no legal problems from the New Order or The Smiths camps, that Universal (who own the rights to the IRS catalogue) had issued a DMCA takedown notice on the first media file posted on the new-born blog.

Understandably Drew is now reluctant to continue with the project.  This is a huge shame as  this material is long out of print and much would be unlikely to ever see an official release.  It’s also worth noting that it is the opinion of many (including members of the band) that their work on the New Order singles was superior to the official re-releases!  This is such a lost opportunity for fans of REM…

What is slightly encouraging is that the story has picked up some mainstream media interest, including SpinRolling Stone and CNN!

Django Django – O2 Academy Oxford – 5th June 2012

Django Django’s self-titled début was one of the standout releases of the first few months of 2012, so I was excited to see that they had an Oxford date on their current tour.

Support were provided by Nzca/lines who started their funk/electro-pop set strongly but the material got weaker and weaker as they went on. They certainly have potential – they are very tight live (a mix of drum machines, sequences, live keys and bass) – but the songs were largely missing that all important melodic hook that draws you in.

Django Django more than lived up to the promise of the album. Live they are just as intricate, but the sound is bigger and grittier without losing the clarity. Highlights of the set included the mission-statement of Default, the really-should-be-a-single Firewater and the dub-tastic Skies Over Cairo. It’s always good to catch a band in a small venue at the start of their career and I hope that these guys will be around a while. Can’t wait to see how their psychedelic-electronic-art-rock sound develops!

Untitled

My Music – Regret

This song was written in the summer after my first year at University. I wrote it with a view to recording it with a full string section. The song isn’t really about anything much. It’s a “love gone wrong” song in the same vein as early Pet Shop Boys and yes the chorus does sound a bit like New Order’s “True Faith”! The drummer went on to great things as the regular engineer for Paul Oakenfold and Steve Osborne (AKA Perfecto) and is now a producer in his own right, having worked with bands such as Blur and Doves.

Lyrics 

My life’s a mess
And it’s over you
You’re not leaving yet
But it will be soon
It’s happening again
Always the same
Why couldn’t I see
I thought that you’d need me

I used to think that my time would one day come
I didn’t think I would have to wait this long
I always thought that I’d get what’s due to me
That’s not the way life is meant to be

We’re at the end
Our dreams turn to dust
Our hearts we must mend
No need for a fuss
Don’t scream and shout
The fire has gone out
It’s not what I want
It’s just what we’ve got

Music and words by Stewart Tolhurst
Stewart Tolhurst: Synthesisors, Programming, String Arrangement
James SImons: Guitars
Ben Hillier: Drums

Strings conducted by Matt Potter
Violins: David McLean, Elisa Bergenson, Ben Selby, Chris Hatt, Bryony Fisher
Viola: Daniel Woodall
‘Cello: Kirsty Whalley
Bass: Nick Hughes

The Phoenix Foundation – The Jericho – 1st June 2011

The Phoenix Foundation are yet another band from New Zealand that have caught my ear over the last six months or so. Despite having a large following in their home territory they have been playing small venues here in the UK to promote their first release here, Buffalo. When it comes to small venues you can’t get much smaller than The Jericho. Its a bit of a legendary Oxford venue as most of the Oxford names (notably Supergrass and Radiohead) performed early gigs here. It was a bit of a blast from the past for me, as I hadn’t been to a gig there for about 20 years!

Support were provided by The Title Sequence – a quirky mix of electro-acoustic guitars, retro keys and reel-to-reel backing tracks. That they did an electro-folk Aphex Twin cover tells you all you need to know about them 🙂

The Phoenix Foundation seemed to be slightly boggled at exactly *how* small the venue was (they’ve done arena tour support slots back in NZ). There’s certainly something very intimate about a venue where the band has to come *through* the crowd to get to the stage! It was clear that the band were just as at home doing small gigs though. The set covered most of Buffalo – Bitte Bitte and Orange & Mango being two standout tracks in a very strong album – and a lot of songs from earlier albums that I didn’t know. The full and at times very intricate sounds of the album weren’t lost live – an impressive feat for a five piece band cramped onto such a tiny stage! The incredibly handsome (and beary) Luke Buda and Sam Flynn were obviously having as good a time as the audience and chatted to the crowd between songs – even getting bought a drink when Sam commented that he could use a beer!

The Jericho is a really good venue for getting videos and I was quite pleased with the couple that I took on my iPhone and gives a better description of the band than any amount of purple prose!

The Naked & Famous – O2 Academy Oxford – 29th May 2011

The Naked & Famous are yet more proof that all the great new music is coming from down under at the moment. Cut Copy, Ladyhawke, Empire of the Sun, Tame Impala, The Temper Trap, Van She… The list of great bands from New Zealand and Australia grows longer all the time. The Naked & Famous are yet another band that came to my attention via a session on Lauren Laverne’s 6 Music show. As a result of this session I bought their rather special début album ‘Passive Me, Aggressive You’ and was rather pleased to find they were doing a date in Oxford (the night before I went on holiday to Paris, made for a slightly knackered Eurostar trip, but hey).

As my boyfriend isn’t really a concert-goer and wasn’t joining me I decided to skip the support (especially given how variable the support acts have been recently at the O2) so we could get dinner at a nearby Italian (Fratelli’s for those interested – really good pizzas). After waving T off I headed back to the O2, got myself a pint and found myself a decent vantage point just before the band came on.

Despite a few technical glitches (one of the problems with heavy use of electronics in live performance), so much dry ice that I could barely see the band at times and the O2’s tendency to make the bass a bit too boomy (similar problems at M.I.A. last year) it was a great set. Thom Powers is a charming group lead and Alisa Xayalith complements him perfectly – endearingly interacting with the audience during the technical problems. They covered a good chunk of the album – highlights being opener ‘All Of This’ and the singles ‘Young Blood’ and ‘Punching In A Dream’, which were every bit as glimmering power-pop-rock live as on CD, and a couple of more indie-rock tracks from their early EPs which showed a different side to the Auckland five-piece.

The band are touring extensively this summer, including a number of festivals in the UK, with a full UK tour in the autumn. If you like electronic-flavoured pop-rock they are definitely worth checking out!

NME Radar Tour Feat Anna Calvi – O2 Academy Oxford 16th May 2011

The last week has flown by, so I’ve got a bit of catching up to do!

Last Monday the NME Radar Tour hit Oxford. I bought a ticket on a bit of a whim – a friend had been to the Glasgow date and was completely raving about Anna Calvi so I thought it would be worth a look. The supports did not get the evening off to a good start. First up were ‘The History of Apple Pie’ – who not only had a terrible, terrible name, but seems to be determined to revive shoegazing. It wasn’t much cop the first time round (MBV and Ride aside) so they were on a bit of a hiding to nothing. After that were Grouplove who were rather cheesy Americana – reminded me of Counting Crows or some other such forgettable country-tinged rock-pop.

I texted my mate bemoaning the qualitity of the supports and he assured me it would all be worth it and was it ever! Anna Calvi is an incredible vocalist, she brought to mind a combination of Alison Goldfrapp and Siouxsie Sioux performing a David Lynch soundtrack. Absolutely spellbinding! Highlights of the set were, of course, the single Blackout and her exhilerating version of Piaf’s Jezebel. Given that Piaf is to female singers what Brel is to male it was unsurprising that both Marc Almond and Siouxsie’s The Creatures sprang to mind. Anna Calvi is definitely one to watch – she might not set the mainstream of Radios 1 and 2 alight, but I can see her filling venues like the Royal Albert Hall and holding the entire audience in the palm of her hand. Amazing stuff…

Metronomy – O2 Academy 2 Oxford – 20/04/2011

I’ve only recently become aware of Metronomy, primarily via the single ‘The Look’ which has received quite a lot of airplay on BBC 6 Music and their recent session for Lauren Laverne. The session interested me enough to see if their new album ‘The English Riviera’ was on eMusic. Sadly it wasn’t (Spotify to the rescue – for now anyway, but that’s something for another post) but the eMusic artist page *does* have upcoming gig listings and I noticed they had one coming up in Oxford so I thought ‘what the hell’ and bought a ticket.

Support were provided by Keyboard Choir (not very interesting Orbital copyists) and Ghostpoet (pretty good UK rap – reminded me of Roots Manuva). Metronomy themselves were very good. The obvious comparison is LCD Soundsystem (a band I regret not catching live before James Murphy decided to do other things), though I think Metronomy wear their 80s influences a bit more on their sleeves (or should that be chests?). Only slight criticism I would have is that its fairly unrelenting pop-funk. There was very little in the way of ebb and flow to the set which, given the heat of the venue (for some reason O2 Academy 2 is only air conditioned at the bar) this made for tough going towards the end. That aside I was impressed. The rhythm section were tight (plenty of John Taylor-style slap bass), the songs were catchy, Joseph Mount is an affable front man and the chest lights and dancing were just the right side of gimmicky. Definitely a band to watch.

Hey Mr DJ!

Must try and write stuff here again….  In an attempt to kick-start this blog I thought I’d share a cool piece of software I’ve found.

http://www.djay-software.com/

Basically I was looking for something to do DJ-style mixes and this seemed to get very good reviews and isn’t too expensive.

I’ve downloaded the demo and had a play and its pretty cool.  You drag and drop tracks from your iTunes library onto ‘virtual decks’ where you can cue them up, change the tempo and generally do all the things you’d do in the analog vinyl world.  There’s a tap pad for linking the BPM to the track and it can automagically sync tracks to the same tempo.  In theory you can point it at a playlist and tell it to automix it, I’m not entirely convinced this will work well – but the chances are high it won’t be any worse than my rather terrible initial attempts at mixing!

I’ve got ten days to decide if I want to buy it, which coincides nicely with a couple of days off work – just hope the neighbours work during the day!

eMusic

Alex recently extolled the virtues of eMusic so I thought I would give it a go. For a monthly subscription of the price of a full-price CD you can get ~8 album downloads (99 tracks) from their fairly comprehensive catalogue (to which more is being added all the time). What I like about this service is that the files are VBR MP3 – so no DRM – and it is cheap enough for me to take more risks than I might in a store. What I can do now is take a look at the 6Music playlist, find the tracks that I’ve heard and liked and see what is available by that artist on the site. This has led me to Midlake, Peter, Bjorn & John and Camera Obscura amongst others. It has also let me pick up huge chunks of back catalogue from artists as diverse as Cocteau Twins and Basement Jaxx. As it is a subscription service it is easy to forget that you have it and have a download splurge just before the credits run out (only down side is that there is no carry over) – but finding 99 tracks you want to download is part of the fun and there is a certain amount of ‘well I might as well download that to use up the credits’ that makes you try out an artist you know the name of but not much more or back catalogue of someone you already know.