Monday, September 26, 2016

Skip a Stone, Let it Sink

It's a sad truth that the vast majority of romantic relationships eventually fail. The oft-quoted statistic is that 50% of marriages end in divorce, but how many more millions of couples split before they even get as far as the wedding? What are the true chances that any given relationship will last until one person dies?

At the beginning of Mutual Benefit's new album Skip a Sinking Stone, we find Jordan Lee (the man at the centre of this ever-shapeshifting musical project) reeling from a relationship that unfortunately didn't work out. As he tosses pebbles into a vast lake, he wonders if he'll ever be able to fall in love again, and he observes that making a relationship stick is like trying to skim a stone: some of them sink straight away, while some hop along briskly for a little while before running out of steam and disappearing into the water after all.

When you embark upon a new relationship, you're hoping against hope that, this time, the pebble will bounce away over the horizon and somehow keep going forever - unlike all the failed skimming stones cluttering up the foreground of the CD cover.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Hello Autumn (Playlist)

I love autumn, and I especially love listening to music when it's autumn. The crisp, cold air, the changing colours around me, the fact that I'm wearing a jumper that's I've had since I was in secondary school...all of this stuff serves to enhance the sounds I'm hearing and up the general feeling of warmth and nostalgia. This is my time of year, people.

Yesterday (the 22nd of September 2016) was the autumnal equinox and the official beginning of autumn in the northern hemisphere. To mark the occasion, I asked my Twitter followers to suggest some of their favourite autumnal albums - the following playlist is made up of songs from the records they chose (plus a few favourites of my own).

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Backchat: Charles Griffin Gibson on CHUCK's Back Catalogue

Welcome to another edition of Backchat, where bands and artists look back at the albums they've released over the years and share their memories with us fans. My guest this time is Charles Griffin Gibson, a songwriter with a wonderfully nasal voice who lives in New York City and makes top-quality laptop pop. Most of his albums and EPs have been self-released, but earlier this month, Old Money Records - an imprint of the Audio Antihero label - issued a compilation of CHUCK tracks entitled My Band is a Computer (read my review of it here).

With CHUCK's music now in front of a wider audience, this seems like a good time to sit down and look back at what Charles has been putting out over the last few years. Here's the man himself to tell us the whole story:

(self-released, 2010)

I made People when I was 23. I had just moved to New York. I was living up in Washington Heights in Manhattan. I was in a 3 bedroom apartment with 4 friends. I was sleeping on an air mattress that would deflate every night, so I would just wake up on the ground. Rent was $400 a month. I'm not trying to glamorise any of this; I'm just painting the picture.

My sister's friend got me a job as a production assistant on The Celebrity Apprentice. The job was mostly driving to CostCo to buy snacks, and then I would distribute the snacks on set. After several months of that, I had a few weeks of unemployment and decided to record an album. I had already made two in college, but they weren't really that good. The songs I had written up until that point were generic and sappy. But when I got to New York, I made friends with a group of guys who were in a band called Uncles (core members are now in the band Frog, also on Audio Antihero) and I remember being really inspired by their music, in particular their lyrics. They were much more compelling and visual and specific than the other stuff I was listening to. Also, there was a lot of humour in their work that I related to.

Monday, September 19, 2016

They Are The Gothic Archies

Longtime readers of this blog will not need to be told that 69 Love Songs by The Magnetic Fields is one of my favourite albums ever. I bought the triple CD set in Bristol in 2009; I was there for a university open day, but I managed to squeeze in a trip to Fopp before catching the train home. I spread the album over a whole weekend, listening to Volume 1 on Saturday morning, Volume 2 on Sunday morning, and Volume 3 on Saturday night. I Don't Believe in the Sun, Papa Was a Rodeo and Promises of Eternity were among the instant stand-outs, but I quickly learned to love all 2 hours and 52 minutes of it. It established Stephin Merritt as one of my favourite songwriters, and I've since delved deeper into his work: I now own all the Magnetic Fields albums, plus several other discs released under other names like The 6ths (Hyacinths and Thistles), the Future Bible Heroes (Partygoing and Eternal Youth), and plain old Stephin Merritt (Showtunes).

However, somewhere along the line I realised that 69 Love Songs hadn't been my first taste of Merritt's musical talents after all. In October 2006, a few years before that trip to Fopp in 2009, I bought an issue of Uncut magazine that came, as all issues of Uncut magazine do, with a free CD featuring tracks from some of the latest new releases. One of those tracks was Crows by a band called The Gothic Archies.

I liked the singer's bewitchingly deep voice and his knack for a clever internal rhyme (example: "Every day we hear the same dumb list of those crows' woes"), but for whatever reason I didn't bother to investigate The Gothic Archies any further. Only much later, when I had fallen in love with 69 Love Songs and was digging around to see what else its author had created, did I twig that The Gothic Archies were yet another Stephin Merritt side project, just like The 6ths and the Future Bible Heroes.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Goodbye Darlin'

Earlier today, everyone's favourite indie poppers Allo Darlin' announced on Facebook that they will be calling it quits after one final show in London this December. This news made me sad (not least because I was under the impression that they were currently in the studio, beavering away on a new album) and so I'd like to offer this short tribute to Allo Darlin' and, in particular, their superb second album Europe.

I am not a particularly keen traveller. My parents took me on many foreign holidays when I was little - Italy, Portugal, even Australia - but since I became an adult and assumed responsibility for my own movements, I've made little effort to continue adding pins to my map. In the last five years, I've been to exactly three places outside of Great Britain: Porto (for a music festival), Barcelona (ditto), and Copenhagen (where I ate at one of the best restaurants in the world courtesy of my uncle, who lives in Denmark and sometimes reads this blog - hi Mark!). While my friends have traversed the globe, slept in hostels and met all sorts of people in all sorts of places, I've mostly stayed put here in Cardiff and observed their adventures through the window of Facebook. And I've mostly been perfectly happy to do so, partially because I've got a lot of things keeping me here (a relationship, a full-time job, my family, a fantastic local record shop) and partially because I'm just not of a travelling nature.

All of that being said, there's one album that has proven consistently capable of making me forget my aversion to check-in desks and unfamiliar public transport systems, and that's Europe by Allo Darlin'. This record is like a key that unlocks a quite uncharacteristic feeling of wanderlust in me; it's very difficult to listen to songs like Northern Lights and the title track without wanting to zip over to the continent and see what's going on in all those other places you've heard about. Even the sad, spare Tallulah triggers a yearning for the sort of rich melancholy you can't really feel in your own homeland.