Saturday, 20 July 2019

Wojtek The Bear - A Long Wait For Bad News

Fun fact - Wojtek was a bear who was enlisted in the Polish Army during World War II, rising to the rank of corporal, before retiring to Scotland and living out his life in Edinburgh Zoo.

I'm presuming that it is this ursine and its Scottish connection is where Glasgow band wojtek the bear (all lower case) took their name from. The band released their debut album last year, and are just about to set sail with Belle & Sebastian, Teenage Fanclub & a host of other heavy hitters on a set of Mediterranean dates.

The group have just released their latest single, and second of 2019, called "a long wait for bad news". Musically, the song calls to mind the sound of fellow compatriots Idlewild & King Creosote, a melancholic folk-inflected indie-rock song, held together by the sorrowful and haunting tones of Tam Killean.

"A long wait for bad news" by wojtek the bear will feature on "old names for new shapes", a limited edition 10" vinyl collecting the band's planned single releases for the year, in November 2019.

Saturday, 8 June 2019

Buí - Something Else to Talk About

The Belfast-based group Buí first came to our attention back in 2017 off the release of their album "Eugene", and particular its lead track, "People Don't Think", which was a lovely chunk of lo-fi gooeyness.

They've since signed to a label run by producer Julie McLarnon, and the first release to come from this is "Something Else To Talk About", which if you've never heard Buí before is a great introduction to them, and if you have, it's a good continuation of their already established sound. The song is very much indebted to 90s American alternative rock, with its use of analogue synthesizers and slacker-esque sensibility calling to mind the sound of Grandaddy & early Fountains of Wayne, with a little bit of Pavement thrown in for good measure. It's not often we hear bands from here embracing this kind of lo-fi sounds here, so it is quite a refreshing track.

Just as refreshing is the music video for the song, which is an 8-bit animated extravaganza, which sees the band walking past some of their favourite places around Belfast, including McHughs, the Duncairn Arts Centre, The Empire, and of course Boojum (because there is is a rule in place - if you are from Belfast and you enjoy Boojum, then it is your duty to tell everyone who is not from Belfast that when you come to Belfast, you have to visit Boojum).

"Something Else To Talk About" is out now as a 7" vinyl, backed with "People Don't Think", on Analogue Catalogue Records.

Monday, 27 May 2019

King Hannah - Crème Brûlée

You would think listening to the hazy music of King Hannah that they hail from the American heartlands, but you'd be wrong - the band are based in Liverpool, with their lead singer hailing from "the smallest village in North Wales". The fact that they named their debut song after a dessert that one assumes is not very popular in the States is probably another dead giveaway as well.

Their debut single is "Crème Brûlée", a song that already sees them coming into the world fully formed, and with a good idea of their musical identity. The main touchstones would be Mazzy Star & Lana Del Rey, both vocally and in terms of the dream-pop sensibilities at the heart of the song, as well as a little bit of Portishead and, in the extended outro of the song, The War on Drugs at their most laconic. There is so much to love about the song, and if they've got us reeled in so well on their first recorded single, there is going to be so much joy in finding out what else they're going to unleash on us over the next while.

"Crème Brûlée" is out now.

Monday, 13 May 2019

Late Guest At The Party - Most of the Time

Originally from Italy but now based in New York, Late Guest At The Party make rather nifty electro-pop tunes, with their newest song, "Most of the Time", being a great demonstrator of their sound. Its sonic-manipulation production style and lyrical content calls to mind a cross between Cut Copy & CHVRCHES, and has a groove to it that is likely to pull you in.

"Most of The Time" is out now.

Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Will Cash Machine Charges Destroy The Grassroots Music Industry?

(The short answer is no, but please indulge me).

This afternoon, I went to the cash machine at St George's Market in Belfast, in order to take out some money. To my surprise, I found that the Cashzone machine, which up until that point had been free of charge, was now charging a fee of £1 for any withdrawals. This mildly infuriated me, as it would be to anyone who found themselves being charged for something that up until recently they could access for nowt.

This is not an isolated case, as I had heard from a lot of people in my local area that several cash machines that had previously been free were now charging a fee for withdrawals, with some people finding that the closest free machine was many miles further away than it previously was. I contacted Cashzone to understand the reason for this - they explained that the reason that some fees had been introduced was because the banks have cut the fees that they receive for each withdrawal, and therefore to continue operating they will need need to charge a fee for each withdrawal. Although interestingly, according to a recent article, this fee has been cut by just 5p per transaction, so a charge of £1 seems above and beyond what would be required to balance out any losses, but hey ho, it's not my company.

There are two main reasons why the introduction of this fee annoyed me. Firstly, it is because if possible, I prefer to spend physical money where I have the opportunity to, rather than by card or by app. There is a psychological reason why I prefer this - according to research, we are less likely to spend money when we pay by cash than by any other means, as our brains see such transactions as more painful when money is physically exchanged, therefore we are more likely to be savvier when we pay for things with cash. I know there are several things that I would never have bought had I come across them in a shop, compared to something that piqued my interest whilst browsing online (occasionally, influenced by alcohol). Over the years, these have included such joys as the soundtrack to the 1991 film Ranma ½: Big Trouble in Nekonron, China, a toilet brush shaped like a cherry, or a sweater based upon an 1859 woodcarving by Utagawa Hiroshige.

Still, worth every penny

There is another, slightly more pertinent reason why I prefer cash - there are some things you have have no option but to pay cash for. The reason why I took out money from the cash machine was to pay to top up my bus ticket, which in many shops in Belfast you can only do using cash. I've also seen over the years that there are other items, such as lottery tickets & fuel top-ups which will only take cash, which can be rather annoying when you go to pay for it once it has been topped up, only to have to run out to the cash machine when you realise it doesn't take cards. A recent article has claimed that around 25 million people in the UK alone would find it hard to live without cash, so that's a lot of people who are likely to get peeved off if they find themselves having to pay a quid every time they take money out of the machine.

So what does all this have to do with music (this nominally being a music blog, after all?) Well, after being hit by the charge, it got me thinking of the one activity where I would spend quite a lot of physical cash, and that is going to gigs. As someone who enjoys local music, quite a lot of the gigs that I would go to would be cash-only affairs, paying for a ticket on the door, and handing over dosh for any merchandise that I may or may not buy (especially if said merch includes mugs - oh gosh, how I love branded mugs). If paying to take out money becomes the norm, could it mean that myself and others will be less likely to take out money, and therefore spend less money at grassroots music events, therefore meaning decreased earnings for artists to get by on?

Quite possibly, although I'm probably being a little over-dramatic. After all, even if we are become more of a cashless society, there are still ways for grassroots artists to sell tickets & merch without relying on money - they can sell tickets for their gigs on websites such as Eventbrite (indeed, one local artist managed to sell over 150 tickets for his album launch last week through this platform), and as for merch, they can use apps such as iZettle to easily take debit card payments (indeed, the app is even being used by buskers to take payments - although you'd have to be very trusting to give some money that way). The drawback with those services of course is that they will take a small but significant cut of any earnings you make from payments through them, which could lead you somewhat worse off. Although as I mentioned earlier, people are psychologically more willing to pay for something if they don't physically transfer the money over, so swings & roundabouts.

I would love to know your thoughts on all this, especially if you are a musician. Do you still rely mainly on cash for your takings at gigs? And if people were less likely to take cash with them to gigs, do you think this would adversely impact you?

In conclusion, music good. Cash machine charges, bad.

(Also worth every penny - what a soundtrack).