Greater Than the Sum of Our Parts

a miscellany of the wonderful and the banal

Posts Tagged ‘music

Review: Emmy the Great, “Virtue”

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Album cover showing Emmy next to a gingerbread house

I was fortunate enough to see Emmy perform some of the material from this album at the Purcell Room at the South Bank Centre back in March (which is, by the way, an excellent venue to experience any kind of music in, given how perfectly acoustically designed it is for listening), and so listening to the album now does tend to bring back images of blue filtered lights and Emmy tapping hypnotically at a string of sleigh bells. It also moves me to use that tired old saw of reviewing, “it sounds better live”, with the addendum “please don’t listen to this album through rubbish laptop speakers”. Really, Ms Moss’s voice deserves better reproduction than that.

As to the album itself, I suspect the term “mature” should be used to describe what has happened both to the subject matter and the lyrics; imagine a whole album of “Absentee”, with the aching undercurrent of loss toned down to barely subliminal levels. This is what maturity means in writing – becoming more literary, with more allusions to more out-of-sight touchstones that can be appreciated by a wider audience, but losing some of the bite that characterised First Love.

“Creation”, for example, is an examination of the coming-of-age story and the way it is always focussed on the achievements and trials of the young man, never the young woman; it is musically beautiful with hints of threat, and Emmy’s voice has become clearer and more powerful with time, it is a more passionate and chilling essay than anything anyone has ever written in their exercise books come exam time, but it is still an essay.

“Cassandra” is one of the the more solid songs on this album, and has been the one which caught in my head for the longest. The song itself cycles through images and notes on the unavoidable nature of beginnings and endings, with the motif of Cassandra (“keep it down”), the tragically-ignored prophetess of Greek legend, revising itself downward toward the question that makes up the backbone of it all: “What good is love if it always ends?”.

“Iris” is an uptempo track, which makes skillful use of dissonance; the twinkly melody and mentions of radiance bouncing off “what if the sight of you could take my eyes”. Like “Cassandra”, Iris is a single-statement/question song, in this instance, what the word is for the emotion the narrator or the subject (it’s not clear) is experiencing. It seems a little empty, made up of syllables to encase the central question, unlike the capsule stories which filled out much of First Love.

“A Woman, A Woman, A Century of Sleep” is, along with “Dinosaur Sex”, for me the stand-out track on this album; performed at the Purcell Room gig as the first of Emmy’s new material it produced shivers under the blue light, and the floral imagery seemed to crawl along the verses as it does over the walls of the house in the lyrics, punctured and punctuated by reference to pipes running bleach, or pipes running bone. Ordinarily I am not a great fan of anything which declares “I am a w0man” (being raised by second-wavers tends to leave one groaning “oh not this bloody affirmation again”), but as with “We Almost Had A Baby”, the shadows at the edge of the words keep the affirrmation from becoming too saccharine.

Leaving my favourite song from this album for last, there is “Dinosaur Sex”, which I am going to include a video of (from the performance of it that I saw, in fact – isn’t YouTube wonderful?).

“Dinosaur Sex” has a broader, almost country feel to it musically, and shows a return to the darker and more final imagery and language which I am more familiar with from songs like “Paper Trails” and “Two Steps Forward”. The chorus is simple and catchy, the verses haunting and somehow sounding like the memory of long-ago summers. It is a very evocative and ties in with “Cassandra”, prophecying doom in sweet tones.

In conclusion, then, Virtue is a more mature album, a more literary album, but one which in moving away from the adolescent themes of death and love has lost some of the emotional weight that First Love carried; however, almost all of the songs Virtue contains are given a significant polish by being performed live, so if it is possible I would advise going to see Emmy’s gigs.


Written by Amelia &/or Delilah

June 23, 2011 at 3:01 pm

Mr B the Gentleman Rhymer: I Say!

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My boyfriend likes to buy presents for me which are actually presents for him; fortunately for peace in the household this Christmas, he opted to give me something which both of us could enjoy – the latest long-player from Chap-hop superstar and rival of Professor Elemental, the great (but appropriately humble) Mr B the Gentleman Rhymer, entitled I Say!. I also have this most excellent Chap’s first album, Flattery Not Included, which I thoroughly recommend.

I Say! album cover


1. Hail the Chap
2. Lord Byron
3. Shoot the Cuff
4. You Just Can’t
5. Guy Debord
6. How Many Brilliant Minds Are Lost to Work?
7. A Thoroughly Modern Break-up
8. I Say, You!
9. Everything Stops for Acid
10. Hermitage Shanks
11. Crazy Knights
12. Lady C
13. Let’s Get This Over and Done With
14. The Impossible Dream
15. Songs for Acid Edward

Hail the Chap

Being a gentleman of impeccable manners, Mr B typically begins his records with introductions; in this instance he lays down the origin of Chappism and the “ten rules of the Chap Manifesto”, in reference to both the oft-applauded Chap Magazine, who in effect were the vanguard of the Chappist movement and the originators of the rather entertaining and heavily-attended annual Chap Olympiad, and to the excellent Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip song, “Thou Shalt Always Kill” (“Thou shalt always doff thy hat.”).¬† Off to a good start, then, with his very English wordplay (“We’ve upped our standards, now up yours too!”) and frenetic banjolele strumming. Marvelous.

Lord Byron

Naturally the place to look for commentary on the hazards of fame turning someone into a wanker who refuses to acknowledge his friends is in a chap-hop song concerning the famously arrogant Romantic poet. “We’d been out on the sherry three nights on the trot, but when I knocked on your door this is what I got: ‘Lord Byron doesn’t accept requests from fans’ – I can’t believe the ruddy cheek of the man!” It references Beau Brummel, but there is a certain issue of imperfect scanning and perhaps a little less good production on this track than on those from Flattery Not Included.

Shoot the Cuff

The thing about Mr B’s tracks is that they are almost always parodies of popular hip-hop or dance tracks, and the problem with that is that my hip-hop education is woefully lacking. Dance music I stand slightly more chance of identifying, but as a far-from-afficionado who came to the genre via indie, metal, techno, and trance, I haven’t the foggiest to which this song refers. A shame, but no great loss as I find it’s just as bouncy and charming in my ignorance as I’m sure it would be in my ignorance. “Button up your shirt unless you wear a cravat” is also a sentiment this blogger can get behind.

You Just Can’t

This song because with a sheep sound effect. I’m not sure this bodes well. Ah, I see, it’s a cautionary tale about how one can’t rape a goat because it’ll end up on Facebook.

Guy Debord

Yes, that Guy Debord. Pronounced “G-ee”, as the song informs me. This track is noteable for the lengthy playout and rather pleasant brass solo; apparently “boredom can never ever be revolutionary”, a message which will doubtless pain and then be discarded by the audience of hipsters.

How Many Brilliant Minds Are Lost to Work?

Once upon at time your dear blogger scribbled a partly-plagiarised poem combining the witticism “work is the bane of the drinking classes” (ascribed to Oscar Wilde, although as Dorothy Parker noted, that’s no guarantee of its origin!); Mr B here has done a rather better job in advising his listeners to “get off your phones and back on your arses”, and creating a perky pean to the art of slacking off and knocking a few back.

A Thoroughly Modern Break-up

Apparently Mr B wants his tits back. I mean Рoh, a wanking reference  Рthat this is an unexpectedly upfront (pun very much intended) piece of bawd from the Gentleman Rhymer regarding a failed relationship and his desire to remove the breast implants that he paid for. A little childish and possibly out of keeping with the Chap Manifesto, but very funny all the same.

I Say, You!

Straightforward parody of Hey! You by the Rock Steady Crew. Not sure what else there is to be said about it aside from Mr B is causing a broadening in my musical knowledge.

Everything Stops for Acid

For some reason I am picturing this being MC’d by a clown. That is all.

Hermitage Shanks

It’s a song in praise of the people who manifacture lavatories and other bathroom furniture, in which all the rudery is left to the imagination with the glaring omission of the rhyming word, in finest end-of-the-pier entertainer style. The intimated coyness of sidling up to an explicit description of the obscene but catching himself just in time and the juvenility of writing an entire song devoted to the smallest room are so quintessentially English that it’s almost enough to make me consider this – very briefly – as an alternative National Anthem. I’m not exaggerating the brevity of my consideration, though.

Crazy Knights

Gentle mocking of the Kiss song/album; Mr B’s idea of a “crazy night” may not line up with that of the average rock ‘n’ roller but to me it sounds extremely enticing. Except the part about early nights, which I have yet to master. Again it is a fairly straightforward parody/mockery, and what with Kiss not being a hip-hop group Mr B is somewhat straying from his remit.

Lady C

A dancefloor-filling track at any Chappist event, presuming that the floor will fill entirely with ladies, right up until the part where Mr B has to be bleeped out for saying “wankstain”.

Let’s Get This Over and Done With

The biannual battlecry of the genteel when faced with the noisy enthusiasm and flag-flying of the Euro Whatsit Football Thing or the World Cup has long been “let’s get this over with and get back to the cricket.” Set to a tune immediately recognisible to most as “that bit from The Great Escape“, this is a firm march through the loutishness of the World Cu, hurling a bridge of criticism of the “nouve-riche” and the failings of the modern footballing elite, featuring penny whistles, an “aaahing” chorus, and the strong desire for a cucumber sandwich. Easily the best football anthem my country has ever produced.

The Impossible Dream

“To fight for the right to make ‘party’ a noun, and have those who use it as a verb run down” numbers among the ambitions of Mr B’s impossible dream – “to make hip-hop gentlemanly”. I think he may be fighting a losing battle there, especially as this song is far more West End than West Side.
Songs for Acid Edward

Several immediately recognisible parodic references here, from “Move Any Mountain” by the Shamen through a menagerie of much loved trite dance classics. Don’t take my word for that – watch the video.

Overall, then, a charming album although if I’m honest it lacks a little of the novelty value and enthusiasm of its predecessor, and the “hissing record” noisebed has been somewhat overused. Still, he is a jolly good banjolele-playing, and Mr B does have a very fine moustache…

Written by Amelia &/or Delilah

December 27, 2010 at 3:01 am

Either the hardship or the sweets made this evening special

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What feels like a lifetime ago, tickets for Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People hosted by Robin Ince and arranged by New Humanist magazine, at the Bloomsbury Theatre, came on sale. In an uncharacteristic flush of adulthood, I bought some for myself and two friends and promptly forgot about it for six months apart from the bits where I relentlessly nagged Chris to pay me back for her ticket because I am a tight-fisted Scrooge.

Then my other friend contracted the flu about two days before she was due to fly over from Ireland, because God hates Sandra D. I almost feel as if I should downplay what an excellent night it was to preserve some sense that she wasn’t missing much, but I doubt Sandra will take that lying down.

Oh, and then it snowed.

London doesn’t handle snow well. London takes snow in the same way that I take exams, which is to say that it freaks out at the first sign of it, then shuts down arbitrarily and in complete lack-of-correlation with the actual amount of white stuff that falls out of the sky. And then people buy a lot of bread for reasons that I still haven’t quite got to grips with yet.

I woke around noon to what felt like excruciating cold (my bedroom is the coldest room in the flat, and the place isn’t very well insulated) and discovered that white cold shit had fallen from the sky in a bid to ruin everything ever. My boyfriend left for his referee meeting (he’s a rollerderby ref. attached to the London Rollergirls) and texted back to inform me that the buses were buggered but apparently still running, but if I left enough time to get there I should be fine.

This turned out to be a lie; I stepped off the doorstep up to ankle-deep snow, and penguin-waddled down my break-your-neck slippery garden path (and promptly managed to fill my pocket with snow without noticing, which meant that getting my gloves out was an unpleasant experience); the bus stop display informed me there was a bus due in ten minutes. I walked to the next bus stop just to be on the safe side; after a five minute walk it was also showing ten minutes, at which point a woman popped out of the nearby shop and informed me she’d seen no buses for the last hour.

I was on my way to the third stop when my boyfriend told me he’d walked to the tube station.

So I set off at as close to a trot as one can on an ice-and-snow-packed pavement, when one has knackered knees and relatively worn Doc Martens, and, being a slave to the correct soundtrack, plopped the iPod on Fall Out Boy’s cover of “Beat It”. Feel free to mock me for my appalling choices, but that and subsequently high-speed, purposeful songs got me down to the nearest tube station without falling, stopping for breath, or calling anyone a C-word on my way. And that was exercise in the cold and those are two things I really do not normally have any truck with. I am one of nature’s extremely potato-esque couch potatoes, for god’s sake. I break out in tantrums if I have to so much as look at a walk of more than the length of my road.

And that is the story of my “brave trek through the snow”, which was slush by the time I reached Warren Street. The moral of the story is always have an iPod and a good book with you. And wrap up warm!

Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People

As friend and reviewer at the Spectator blogs, Rose Watt, is either going to be writing about tonight’s show or Tuesday’s, I don’t feel it’s quite fair to go on about the entire line-up. Also my memory for names is bad, I ate an entire bucket of sweets beforehand and had a sugar crash in the middle of Robyn Hitchcock‘s set in which I got so relaxed that I started dreaming about hedgehogs, and I’m really lazy.

Highlights, then, of this year’s Godless, for me:

Robin Ince: Always an experience, Robin seems perpetually on the verge of a sleep-deprivation-linked nervous breakdown, leaping from subject to subject as if he is unable to keep track of all the very important things he has to tell you, waving his arms and recounting anecdotes from his life, episodes of science history, irritants from the media, and nuggets of information expressed with a kind of breathless enthusiasm for ideas that is extremely contagious. All while making one laugh like an idiot (the man in front of me glared several times and eventually walked out, so evidently not everyone finds him as funny as I do). At previous shows he’s run over time and had to leave several things hanging, but this time he just about managed to reign it in. A pity in some respects as I can quite easily listen to Robin Ince talk about almost anything for two hours on his own.

Frisky and Mannish: A dissection of pop songs, in this case during a festive event, Christmas pop songs. I have seen Frisky and Mannish before, at The Portrait of Dorian Grey, a caberet/vaudeville variety event centring on MC Dusty Limits and his prodigious ego, on my birthday a couple of years ago. In a bizarre coincindence, at that event they were, if memory serves, preceeded by Mr Limits talking about a book he’d read recently about the sexual habits of bonobos; at this evening’s events, they were preceeded by Mr Ince talking about … the sexual habits of bonobos. Of course, as pointed out by Matt Parker earlier in the show in his data analysis section (I promise it was funnier than those words make it sound), stunning coincidences are shocking and meaningful when they happen to us, but they’re not really meaningful in a wider context.

To be honest I’m not sure I’d want to know about a wider meaning to a link between Frisky & Mannish and the sexual habits of bonobos, and I’m not sure they would either.

Mark Thomas: I have been a fan of Mark Thomas since my mid-teens, when he was still appearing on TV often enough for me to see him, and I own the book from which he was theoretically reading this evening. Like so many of the acts, I felt that the constraints of the time limit robbed me of a potential couple of hours of fantastic comedy; while one or two acts were fine at the length they were, others were the kind I’d have preferred to savour over a few hours, and Mark Thomas was definitely one of them.

Simon Singh
: Answered my question on how he thinks the universe will end and therefore is the best person ever. I am … not an intelligent person, more someone who is just intelligent enough that she knows how much she doesn’t know, and I appreciate having very complex ideas broken down to a level that I can understand. Mr Singh has a talent for that.

Baba Brinkman: Perhaps not to everyone’s taste, but I have a soft spot for high-velocity eloquence, and having recently become more interested in hip-hop than I was, I find the combination of good delivery, meter, and rhyme with principles that I approve of to be a good use of my ears. And I’m sure there’s something to be said for covering a Dead Prez song about inciting a race-based revolution and turning it into an inclusive song about how everyone comes from a common ancestor.

On the way home I discovered something of which people from less temperate nations are already aware, that fallen snow and a full moon are a recipe for fantastic visibility. I cut through the park behind my house, along a road which is usually as eerily dark as anywhere in London can manage with the omnipresent light pollution, and ended my night by dancing in the snow under a full moon to Emmy the Great. This is probably disgustingly twee, but I promise that I said the C-word a lot later to make up for it.

I leave you with this Richard Feynman quote lovingly read out by Robin Ince at this evening’s show:

There are the rushing waves…
mountains of molecules,
each stupidly minding its own business…
trillions apart
…yet forming white surf in unison.

Ages on ages…
before any eyes could see…
year after year…
thunderously pounding the shore as now.
For whom, for what?
…on a dead planet
with no life to entertain.

Never at rest…
tortured by energy…
wasted prodigiously by the sun…
poured into space.
A mite makes the sea roar.

Deep in the sea,
all molecules repeat
the patterns of another
till complex new ones are formed.
They make others like themselves…
and a new dance starts.

Growing in size and complexity…
living things,
masses of atoms,
DNA, protein…
dancing a pattern ever more intricate.

Out of the cradle
onto dry land…
here it is standing…
atoms with consciousness
…matter with curiosity.

Stands at the sea…
wonders at wondering… I…
a universe of atoms…
an atom in the universe.

At which I, I am not ashamed to admit, teared up a bit. You’re welcome.

This post was contributed by Delilah

Written by Amelia &/or Delilah

December 19, 2010 at 1:26 am