Tag Archives: 2012

Marina and the Diamonds

The O2 Academy, Oxford
15th October 2012

Marina Diamandis’s PhD thesis would be on the relationship between surface and substance, with special reference to American society. Her medium would be her remarkable voice, blessed with a beguiling mix of Kate Bush, opera and the histrionics of a couple having an argument. Her conference papers would cover the various personas manifested on her second album, Electra Heart, all of which are present tonight: the regretful Teen Idle, the unapologetic, lock-twirling Homewrecker, the Primadonna, and the trapped-in-suburbia Su-Barbie-A from the nihilistic Valley of the Dolls, a nod to the themes of fame, success and self-destruction of the 60s novel and film.

It seems appropriate that to deliver Electra Heart she’s plunged more fully into what is often said to be the most ephemeral and transient mode of music: pop. It’s a bit odd to pepper this concept album it with the earlier, more new wave stuff; she covered similar themes on a lot of her Family Jewels-era songs, such as Hollywood and Oh No! (albeit from a somewhat more cynical outside viewpoint of celebrity culture), but she still leaves the out-and-out bangers – the Calvin Harris-esque metaphor-flogging Radioactive and latest single, How To Be A Heartbreaker – until later.

Given the many layers steeped in the obsession, it’s a relief to see her paraphernalia limited to a bit of set decoration (neon signs, an old TV) and a few props (like a veil, a negligee and the toy dog, Marilyn, from the Primadonna video); mock castles and hordes of dancers would have been overwhelming.

It’s an overtly confident performance, even when the lyrical content is more vulnerable, as in I Am Not A Robot; whereas Lana del Rey seems to trade on being a victim of the American dream, absorbed and confused, Marina examines it from different sides, from Power and Control to Fear and Loathing.


From Nightshift, November 2012

Bright Light Bright Light

The Jericho Tavern, Oxford
27th October 2012

Every so often a musical act comes along with all the right characteristics for it to become your new favourite but fails in some way, be it execution, tone or sheer lack of tunes. For me, Bright Light Bright Light is not one of those musical acts. In fact, he – singer/drummer/sample triggerer Rod Thomas – takes those characteristics and conjures them into something glorious.

A love of both the sweeping synths and soundscapes of the Pet Shop Boys and 90s piano house is evident; in places, I even get a whiff of Sybil (of Stock/Waterman fame). Moves veers into the dreamy territory of the wonderful Swedish synthpop duo The Sound of Arrows, and latest single Feel It even has an amazing Carol Kenyon/Loleatta Holloway bit.

New song In Your Care is probably most representative of the songwriting craft on display; atmospheric but with a pounding bass, it sounds like a dance remix of a much more delicate and mellow song. The drops and peaks are carefully paced, enveloping and carrying you on the song’s journey.

Rod sings (beautifully) like he’s saying what he wants to say the way he wants to say it, not worrying about cynicism or conforming to any sort of expectation of what people want to hear. And it’s heartfelt and poignant. Disco Moment brilliantly captures a moment it’s hard to describe and one you might not even admit acknowledging to yourself; Cry at Films laments the difference between the perfection of celluloid relationships and reality; and the anthemic refrain of Love Part II – “I’m in love again” – seems simultaneously euphoric and vulnerable.

Sometimes all the analysis you can muster can’t describe the emotion something in provokes in you. “I’m in love again”: quite. Bright Light Bright Light is utter pop magnificence and the world needs to know.


From Nightshift, December 2012

Lianne La Havas

O2 Academy 2, Oxford
9th March 2012

Lianne La Havas is adept at honesty. Tonight, the singer and guitarist – the guitar forming as much of her performance as her voice – is easily convincing her captivated audience that she means every word; she seems charmingly overwhelmed by all the adulation she’s getting in return.

It helps that her subject matter is relationship-based and confessional. Both an ex and her apparently current partner are covered. In Age, she channels a jazz-tinged Nina Simone insouciance into asking “Is it such a problem if he’s old as long as he does whatever he is told?” No Room for Doubt documents a blip with this older chap, her delicate yet selectively powerful voice betraying the despair and eventual resolution of the episode. In the effortlessly smooth Au Cinema, she could be Catherine Deneuve strolling with her beau down the Champs-Elysees into the end credits.

She’s so careful with her bitterness that even when she lets herself go a bit – as on Forget, her upbeat way of telling the ex to get lost – it still seems polite. Yet when she loses the guitar to finish the story of the “delightful ex” in the piano-backed Gone, she’s visibly moved.

Soul is too narrow a definition; Don’t Wake Me Up is probably her most commercial offering tonight but she still manages tight Imogen Heap-esque harmonies with her band, and forthcoming album title track Is Your Love Big Enough? has some great African-style guitar. Her voice has gentle soul inflections but not so much melisma that tune is obscured and subtlety lost (take note, Jessie J).

Few singers would be so gracious in making an audience feel like they’ve been reading her diary. It’s almost as if she’s grateful that she could bend our collective ear; relieved she had someone to sing it all out to.


From Nightshift, April 2012

Rizzle Kicks

O2 Academy, Oxford
8th March 2012

Rizzle Kicks are energy personified. The 20-year-old Brighton duo of Jordan Stephens and Harley Alexander-Sule spar verbally with complementary synchronicity; Jordan does more of the rapping while Harley does more of the singing (and even plays guitar at one point). With the same soul record-plundering sample modus operandi as Fatboy Slim (who produced that matrilineal exhortation to dance, Mama Do The Hump), they seem to be aiming hip hop at a pop level. Less brash and gaudy – and less related to Berry Gordy – than LMFAO, they’re simultaneously T4-friendly and naughty (they do swear a lot).

Their live show is the kind of disjointed affair that might have naturally progressed from originally impromptu bedroom jams, PAs and support slots. Tracks from their debut album, Stereo Typical, are sometimes incidental to jamming and rapping over random tunes, which range from the Inspector Gadget and James Bond themes to Seven Nation Army and Hot in Herre.

They’re into questions. What Jordan’s saying doesn’t seem as important as the act of engaging the crowd; queries about whether we’ve heard of James Brown and the film 8 Mile get as much of a cheer as Ed Sheeran’s Brit Awards success and an announcement that the pair smoke (their “hip hop jive” Miss Cigarette is a nicotine analogy, you see).

When I Was a Youngster samples The Clash’s Revolution Rock and is their most obvious connection to that mariachi/ska/reggae element. This fusion could sound like a mess, but they keep it light, making every track sound distinctively Rizzle Kicks, be it from their early Hadouken-style vocal patterning or the trumpet (present throughout, as you might hope for an act whose breakthrough hit was Down With The Trumpets). While their live presence doesn’t hold together as well as the recorded music does, you can’t fault their exuberance and enthusiasm.


From Nightshift, April 2012


O2 Academy 2, Oxford
29th January 2012

Stephen Jones is a man riled – so much so that it seems he’s built a career on it. It could almost have been deliberate that his band became best known for an often misunderstood song – the anticipation of which hangs in the air tonight like a dirty plastic bag caught on a washing line.

The mid-late 90s expansive guitar sound is still in evidence, but the music largely feels secondary to Stephen’s lyrics and voice. He carries the words’ emotions masterfully, his weariness picking its way carefully between anger, resentment and resignation.

Tonight’s journey takes in self-loathing (Goodnight), hope and despair (Send Me Back My Dreams, Unloveable) via musings on parenthood (Like Them, I Love Her). Songs like Drug Time aren’t subtle, but aren’t mawkish either. The mood conjured by the repetitious, menacing insistence of songs like Back Together and the internet stalker tale www.song seems effortless.

These mini sagas are punctuated by some heated chat and banter with the audience. Cornershop is “dedicated to our government for slowly destroying life”, and the gloriously sinister Bad Old Man is dedicated to Louis Walsh, not far off the luminaries it was rumoured to be about at the time. “Everything’s written from a happy place – I’m not a tortured artist!” Stephen insists, somewhat belligerently, and his encore is announced by an acerbic “I’ve just found my happy pills backstage!”

Stephen complains that “someone’s got Gorgeous Tourette’s” after only three songs, but the band do eventually play You’re Gorgeous – and even the arrangement seems reluctant. He almost spits his parting shot – “You wouldn’t want me to sing that to you if you knew the real meaning of the words” – suggesting the hecklers have hit a nerve about a misunderstanding of Babybird in general. There has long been far more to them than that, though.


From Nightshift, March 2012


The Jericho Tavern, Oxford
8th May 2012

Watching Glasgow trio Errors touring their third album, Have Some Faith in Magic, is like being treated to an electro-rock baroque concert. Simon Ward and Steev Livingstone’s Foals-like guitar riffs repeat over and under bubbling electronica and soaring synth lines somewhat contrapuntally, with James Hamilton’s varying, syncopated drumming underpinning everything. Steev does provide some vocals, but they’re soft, chillwavey and effectively, as with Cocteau Twins, another instrument.

Tonight makes me wonder how much instrumental bands think they need to work on making their music engaging without lyrics; trance and so on have no problem, but words and guitars often seem mutually requisite. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article explaining why Adele’s behemoth Someone Like You provokes such an emotional reaction, psychologists at the University of British Columbia have found that chill-provoking passages have at least four features: beginning softly then becoming loud; the introduction of a new “voice” (either a new instrument or harmony); an expansion of the frequencies played; and unexpected deviations in the melody or the harmony.

The effect of these things in Adele’s song is of course intensified by the lyrics, but the beauty of Errors’ music is such that all of these melodic manipulators are abundant, relentless and seemingly effortless. Apparently our sympathetic nervous system goes on high alert when music suddenly breaks from its expected pattern. With Errors, this is usually more subtle than sudden; every phrase of “the chords and notes and that”, as Steev puts it, is different: riffs build up and drop out, counter-riffs weave in, pick up chords, drop chords…

Despite the tracks’ differences, they are all characterised by being simultaneously conventional and unexpected, memorable but free from traditional verse-chorus restrictions. So lyrics really aren’t needed; tracks such as the stand-out A Rumour in Africa are far too busy – and fun – for that.


From Nightshift, June 2012


Bright Light Bright Light – The Jericho Tavern, Oxford – 27th October 2012

Marina and the Diamonds – O2 Academy, Oxford – 15th October 2012

Errors – The Jericho Tavern, Oxford – 8th May 2012

Lianne La Havas – O2 Academy 2, Oxford – 9th March 2012

Rizzle Kicks – O2 Academy, Oxford – 8th March 2012

Babybird – O2 Academy 2, Oxford – 29th January 2012