Monday, August 06, 2007

Broken Family Band

Any one for "14 tracks of spite, bitterness and empty-hearted loathing"? That’s how The Broken Family band describe their new album "Hello Love."

Fortunately there’s a lot more to the band and their music than their tongue in cheek critique implies.

What you get is a band from Cambridge using Alt Country and Folk tricks mixed with American guitar bands and clever lyrics that understand the rules of Pop. They’re working in different fields but, like The Beta Band, you also get a sense that the unexpected is just around the corner.

They’ve also managed to do this while still holding down day jobs, working tours around annual leave. In a really entertaining piece in the Guardian recently singer Steven Adams made an excellent case for it.

He’d played in struggling bands for years, spending the days watching TV in his pants, before concluding "It's pretty easy to be in a band and have a job.

"You go to work in the daytime and you play shows in the evenings and on weekends. If we all agreed to take a pay cut (from our existing salaries) and to "do" the Broken Family Band full time for a year, we would require a one-off tax-free payment of £250,000. That's twenty-five grand each, per year, for two years (one year to "do" the band, one year to sit on our arses moaning about how we could have made it, and £50,000 for the pot). Anyone want to offer that? We have assumed not, so doing it this way makes sense to us. Two of our number have mortgages, one has a family to support, and one has an expensive trainer habit. So we've kept our jobs"

Giving up the day job or signing off is one of the foundations of the Rock n Roll world but think of the possibilities if you had to keep your old job, even after you’d cracked it as Rock ‘n’ Roll fabulous.

There’s the very real risk of being taught by Sting, being sold an ice cream by The Stranglers Jet Black or getting your hair cut by Kevin Rowland or Charlie Harper. Keanu Reeves would have to struggle on as a struggling actor.

And what about Bez? Forever cursed to wander the twilight between the worlds of work and Rock n Roll as one of the maraca shaking Undead.

Broken Family Band's current album "Hello Love" opens with "Leaps". It’s a saucy coupling of The Violent Femmes and Magic Numbers. It could be the most blatant celebration of afternoon delight since....Afternoon Delight.

"I love the way that it hides and it leaps out at you and it leaps out at me in the afternoon". The song fades out on a fuzz of discordant guitar, just before falling asleep with the afternoons intended tasks still undone.

The single "Love Your Man Love Your Woman" manages to get that deep ringing sound, like the bom bom bom rhythm of Mr Blue Sky, with the guitar, bass and drums hammering out the same note.

It’s a Grinderman type bastard blues howl and as Steve Adams sings "You need trees and flowers and someone to hold you when you want to be held" his vocals make the change, but the relentless (Nick) Caveman hammering behind him doesn’t follow the progression.

Eventually they do and use up those final 2 chords. Oooh, but they make you wait. It’s primitive and clever and there’s a scouring guitar solo that could contribute to coastal erosion.

Steven Adams vocals have a reedy Gram Parsons twang (obviously that’s a good thing) on "So Many Lovers" while on "Don’t Change Your Mind" he offers practical advice "You can’t always sleep naked knowing you have to run for the bathroom."

Well you’ve either got to wear PJ’s or else it’s cup and run. Might be one for the message boards.

My favourite track though is the wistful and jauntily sour "Give And Take" - "I’m sure she’s found a person/ to give her some attention/ and if I ever do meet him/there are things that I should mention/She will take your heart and crush it/and maybe you two should discuss it".

There’s an odd rhythm to the words but he fits the words round the melody so they sound absolutely right. With the female backing vocals from Jen Maro and the general guitar thrummery it feels like Leonard Cohen’s "The Partisan" meets Bill Callahan. It ends with a really effective reverbed trumpet part.

Closing track "Seven Sisters" goes from Will Oldham fragile hesitancy to a punkathon ending complete with that Johnny Greenwood (from Radiohead) style trick of squeezing needling, mosquito sounds from his guitar and Adams repeated distorted "Hello Love" bellowed refrain.

For a band whose original intention was to play a few gigs at their local and make an album they’re managed to squeeze out four full length albums and a 2 mini albums since 2002 including the impeccably titled "The King Will Build A Disco."

Their website is a treat because it actually captures something of the spirit of the band, sarky and funny and with an awareness of how they fit in (or don’t).

Triumphant gigs are described as "Smashed it" and I’m sorry to have missed two of their gigs in 2002.

"We were inappropriate but ultimately victorious at St. Luke's Primary School PTA Barbeque. It was great. Brian Penny's 59th birthday party was excellent, especially the hot pies, campsite, disco, bar area and eyebrows. Our happy future as a function band is secure"

Friday, August 03, 2007

Kaiser Chiefs

You can go a long way with a great song title or a nifty lyric and even further if the quality of the musical goods backs it up. Kaiser Chiefs have surfed on waves of goodwill partly due to the worth of their words.

I would have liked "I Predict A Riot" for it's title alone and there are probably Academics already researching the magnificence of new album title "Yours Truly Angry Mob."

Even at the time, their rise to Indie Stadium status did seem rapid.

The phrase "I Predict A Riot" had started to crop up as e mail sign offs and in knowing conversations and then at a 5 year old's birthday party in 2005 Punk Rock Builder Dad leaned over to me to recommend the just released debut album "Employment" (A note to Record Company execs. Forget MTV…Children's birthday parties is the way to do it.)

And the rest of course is history; Brit Award scooping, Glastonbury triumphing, "Ruby" at number 1, being covered by Lilly Allen and Girls Aloud, scooting off to America with the usual mutterings of "Could this be the British band to crack America?"

They've also had the benefit of being called "A bad Blur" by Liam Gallagher.

Actually that's not unusual as poor Liam is like the dazed Japanese soldier who's just staggered out of the jungle unable to accept that the Blur/Oasis war is over. He sees Blur in anything from the postman to the toaster.

There is a thick seam of Brit Pop running through their music but it's as much XTC as Blur. Stephen Street produced both of the Kaiser's albums, and even if he wasn't the architect of Britpop, he was certainly the builders merchant, with his Blur and Morrissey production jobs.

The key to the Kaiser Chiefs current success though is their lack of success in their previous incarnation Parva. They've realised this is the last chance of a bite at the pop pie, so they're willing to put the work in, and elbow their way to the front of the queue.

When they reconvened as the Kaiser Chiefs in 2003, they ditched all the old material and purposefully went all out for entertainment and big catchy choruses.

And these choruses are clearly signposted with plenty of spaces for oooohh aaahhhhhhGGGH! (Or other appropriate vocal signage).

You know the chorus is on it's way and you know you'll probably get flattened.

Never mind the Kaiser Chiefs, some of these choruses charge over the hills like the combined forces of Chiefs Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, relentless and irresistible. Bad news for Custer. Good news for the customer.

There are some clever words and some of them may well feature in a song like Na Na Na Na Naa, but the simplicity of the chorus means you can save mental energy for dancing and singing along. Commercial genius!

The other trick they use on tracks like I Predict A Riot or current single Everything Is Average Nowadays is to have long single note guitar lines; picking out the melody lines like 6 string rumble make absolutely sure your attention doesn't wander.

Ricky Wilson described his stage moves as being like a “Lithe Indie Ninja”. His stage persona of big waves, pogoing and crowd surfing where he likes to “Get out in the audience and see what they smell like” is plenty entertaining.

Especially from an Eddie Izzard look-alike in pub lunch office worker short sleeve shirt and tie combo.

The rhythm section have also done a trolley dash round the charisma department....witness big haired bassist Simon Rix and drummer Nick Hodgson.

Hodgson sings “Boxing Champ” from the second album which is a deliberately slight, piano and vocal affair with the excellent line “You were a boxing champ and I was a weakling. You didn't give me a chance, you gave me a beating.”

It's all a bit camp...and even better for the fact that Hodgson looks like the singer from Showaddywaddy who (warning....the following information is pub based research!) would only ever allow himself to be photographed sideways let everyone see the full profile of the pipe in his drainpipes.

First album “Employment” has quite a range of styles from the powerhouse pogo chorus of “Oh My God” and the line “I've seen more blood than a back street dentist” to “You Can Have It All” which is pastoral XTC meets Duran Duran synths.

“Saturday Night” has the choice line “We are birds of a feather and you can be the fat one.” Musically it's Pop Scene era Blur and the revving motorcycle is apparently Graham Coxon's.

The second album “Yours Truly Angry Mob” released earlier this year, is the better of the two.

The intro to “Ruby” is one of the best of the year. It's a statement of intent. You just know this song is going somewhere and you're going to like it.

“The Angry Mob” starts off as “Modern Life Is Rubbish” era Blur meeting the overhanging guitars of “The Queen Is Dead” by The Smiths and changes gear halfway through for the coda “We are the angry mob, we like who we like, we hate who we hate”

There's also a bit of a Julian Cope feel to tracks like “I Can Do It Without You (But It Wouldn't Be Very Good)” and “Love's Not A Competition (But I'm Winning)”. Nice bracket work Ricky! I do like his line in "My Kind Of Guy" - "You're My Kind Of Guy Cos I Like Your Style And You Sound As Horrible As Me"

The best line of all though crops up on the albums best song. “Highroyds” is another of Wilson's despatches from the frontline of the teenage sidelines. Drinking and not getting into either clubs or girls. “I got a text from my ex. She wants to know when we're in London next” is Bolanesque genius

At their Glastonbury appearance 2 years ago they had the air of a band who knew their time had come. This year, Wilson's Indie Stadium theatrics and gestures didn't need balancing with irony. Their time was coming again.

The band never wanted small indie cosiness or to be smug and skint. So it's the full on tour of the UK's enormo sheds. They're not new, but they have got big.....and they are quite clever