23/09/16 – They Jump from Minor to Major, Whilst I Do the Opposite

What I’ve Been Listening To:  ‘New Song’ by Warpaint

Release:  Preview    Release Date:  August ’16    Label:  Rough Trade    Rating:  7.5/10

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I know bands can’t stand being called the new “X”, understandably preferring to be recognised for their own merit, but you can’t help but compare them to the female dominated alt rock bands of 90’s, such as Hole and The Breeders. Their songs may be more psych rock/dream pop (think a mash up of Cocteau Twins and Depeche Mode) than grunge, but the angst ridden, “fuck the establishment” under (over?) tones can’t be ignored. Well, that was until now …

Their new song, the first to be released from their forthcoming album (well, not released as such, it’s more of a sneak peek), ‘New Song’ (ha ha, like what you did there) is lacking in what I feel is Warpaint’s signature, namely that “just out of tune” melody which both intrigues and frustrates (Love is to Die from their 2014 self-titled sophomore album being a good example of this). This is sleek, intelligent, pop – a song to make you jump around rather than slit your wrists. Put it this way, I instinctively started singing ‘Moves Like Jagger’ in places. Gone are the melancholic tones of their first two albums, and in its place are uplifting lyrics, house-esque percussion, electronic loops and mightily catchy guitars.

Don’t mistake me when I say this, it isn’t meant as an insult – but ‘New Song’ is Warpaint Lite. They readily admit that this is their popiest release to date – I wonder if this is the direction they’re now taking, or it’s just a temporary diversion off their uniquely beaten track.

Their new album, ‘Head’s Up’ is out today.

Words from the Brain:

One of the saddest and most frustrating things about anxiety is how much it changes you. Yes, I know, age ravages the body and mind of the sanest person; appendages making a dash for the floor, hairs migrating from their youthful home to some surprising places, risk taking being a thing of a past (although I think we have the arrivals of our little cherubs to thank for that one). But this gremlin, this … poisonous, utterly fucking soul destroying critter called anxiety, in all the forms it takes, has remodelled me from someone who was optimistic, upbeat, adventurous, active, competitive, reliable and damn good at what I did, to an individual that I find it hard to recognise.

You’d really be surprised by what anxiety does to you, so yes, there are the adrenaline pumped episodes when your heart feels like it’s going to explode, AKA a panic attack – which is basically a fight or flight response; a vestigial lingerer from when we had to make split second decisions as to whether or not we could outrun that sabre-toothed tiger currently bounding in our direction, but not so useful when you’re quietly sitting on a train in 2016 – don’t get me wrong, it does have its uses, I can think of a few times in East London in the 90’s in particular. But in addition, the following things have reared their ugly head; short term memory loss; inability to focus for more than a few minutes at a time; debilitating fatigue, inability to stop your brain racing; heart palpitations; a regular feeling of having a lump in your throat (called Globus Hystericus – clearly named by a 19th century male physician), tight chest and sensation of not being able to breathe; problems with swallowing; random phobias (which wax and wane regularly), IBS (I kid you not) and health anxiety.

The latter is a particular bitch. Once (and still in some circles) called hypochondria, an affliction that is regularly perceived as attention seeking and manipulative – believe me, it is not, and I truly hate myself for it. The symptoms are real – for example, I recently had some interesting side effects from some tablets I was taking for acid reflux causing me to involuntarily twitch all over, of course I deduced from this that I was suffering from that extremely rare disease, ALS (AKA Motor Neuron disease). Of course, I’m not, but the irrational part of my brain would not let it go (And Dr. Google doesn’t help), my long suffering husband finding me sobbing on the armchair one evening when he returned from work, empty wine glass (read: bottle) in hand, proclaiming that I would be tripping off this mortal coil sometime within the next 3-5 years. It sounds ridiculous, it IS ridiculous, even I can see that looking at it in the cold light of day. But anxiety makes you catastrophize any situation without discrimination, so why should health be excluded (we can’t have it feeling left out), especially considering all the weird and wonderful sensations it bestows upon you. Oh, and it isn’t restricted to my own health – husband has a headache? Aneurysm. Daughter has a stomach ache? Appendix. Doesn’t help that I’m an ex nurse.

I’m just a barrel of laughs aren’t I.

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17/08/16 – Citrus Fruit and the Health Benefits of Hangovers

What I’ve Been Listening To:  ‘Freetown Sound’ by Blood Orange

Release: Album    Release Date:  June ’16    Label:  Domino Records    Rating:  8/10

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I first became aware of Blood Orange, AKA Dev Hynes, when we saw him at Field Day in 2012. Don’t get me wrong, the awesome indiness of Vaccines, Franz Ferdinand et al. made for a spectacular show, but Blood Orange brought something very different to the table. An Ilford boy, Dev Hynes’ newest album has an unmistakable West Coast (think: California not Coombe Martin) lilt, electro-soul and defined throw backs to the 80’s (‘But You’ could have come straight out of the Breakfast Club soundtrack); dipping in to dream pop and lo-fi in places. I love a good key change, and in the track ‘Juicy 1-4’ he shows us how just how to do it. With the glass clear and silky smooth vocals of Ava Raiin, ‘Thank You’ definitely skates the closest to present day R&B, albeit a left-field version thereof. This is an album through and through, listening on random just doesn’t cut the mustard; the songs, albeit not seamless, lend themselves to each other very well.

This isn’t just a great listen though, Blood Orange winds feminism, homophobia and race issues throughout. It starts out with a poem by Ashlee Haze titled ‘For Coloured Girls (the Missy Elliot Poem)’ which addresses body image and the representation of black women, setting the tone from the outset. It’s a record that speaks to the disaffected – it would be patronising for me to claim that it succeeds, but from where I stand it is thought provoking stuff. A ‘What’s Going On’ for the iPad Generation?

Words from the Brain:

I remember the moment when my slippery slide into the other side of normal (well, my normal at least) began. It was sometime in 2009 (just to put things in to perspective, I’d been living and travelling in London since 1997) and I was on my way to the Piccadilly Line at Holborn Station, I’d made my way down the gargantuan main escalator (the one that I used to bound up in my younger, more sprightly, days), turned the corner to continue down the itty-bitty escalator that takes you to the platform, and froze … right foot hovering over the moving steps … left foot firmly superglued to the ground.

I had no clue what was going on; why wasn’t I moving? But there I stood, for at least 30 seconds until I somewhat came to my senses and realised that I was in grave danger of being shoved down by an angry fellow commuter (never hinder a Londoner’s passage on the tube – you may not live to tell the tale) and took a few steps back on to terra firma. After a minute or two of silent contemplation of my situation I metaphorically slapped myself around the face a few times and got myself down to the platform.

From then on in it was a domino effect; the irrational fear of escalators soon took over to the extent that they were no longer an option, so the London Underground Accessible Map became a close friend, guiding me to the tube stations with step and lift access. Then the panic started setting in on the tube itself, a classic case of claustrophobia you might say, but only the deeper lines seemed to cause problems. So the shallower ones such as the Hammersmith & City lines became my only method of travel. It was only a matter of time until these were an issue – I was fine if I was moving, but as any Londoner knows tube journeys are somewhat staccato. Then, being in any form of tunnel (tube, train, car, soft play!) set off a panic attack, and finally the lifts and stairs joined in the attack on my senses and the underground (and overground for that matter) was consigned to my history. For the remaining years of London life my commute consisted of a 2 hour bus journey each way (on a more positive note, I got through a hell of a lot of books).

Working with a counsellor, it seemed my problem stemmed from an event some 4 years ago that had been lurking in my subconscious, preparing itself to strike. 7th July 2005, I got on the Circle Line at the Liverpool Street, just before Shehzad Tanweer detonated a bomb. Due to having a stomping hangover (and being early for my train) I decided, a split second before the door closed, to get off and buy myself a can of coke … a.split.second … the doors were closing whilst I jumped through them. The train left without me. I had just enough time to buy my restorative beverage from the platform kiosk and return to the platform edge before we were hit with a blast of air and a strange smell (no sound you may notice, just this whoosh of wind and the smell. … strange), a low level panic ensued as no one knew what was going on except that we had to leave the station. The emergency services were beginning to arrive by the time I got overground. I started my walk, not knowing what had just taken place (there were rumours of a power surge, I was trying to get a rudimentary – this was 2005 – news feed on my phone, but to no avail), each street I walked down was cordoned off by the police by the time I reached the end. After eventually reaching my destination (London Bridge Station) I was told I could leave London, but I wouldn’t be getting back in. I decided to walk home to Bethnal Green, it was raining by the time I got close to home, I was knackered. My mum finally managed to get through to me, I answered the phone and just crumpled on to the pavement on Bethnal Green Road with a mix of exhaustion and sorrow (I’d managed to find out what had happened by this time).

I was back on the tube 2 days later, stoic and stubborn (“the bastards won’t grind me down”), I grieved for the victims – we all did – but never did it occur to me that I was in any way one of them. My counsellor banded around words like “delayed PTSD” and “survivor’s guilt”, these made me feel like a fraud. I was not a victim, those who lost their life and limb, those with loved one that never returned home – they were.

The counselling came to an end and, although the daily panic attacks had somewhat subsided, I still wasn’t able to get on the tube. By this time my anxiety had begun to manifest itself in other ways, and it wasn’t too long until I had to leave the city for pastures new.

It would be easy to say that the root of my problems stemmed from this incident, it was certainly a contributing factor, but not the whole story – which I’m still unwinding to this day.

08/08/16 – Palm Trees & Gallic Funk

What I’ve Been Listening To:  ‘Safe & Sound’ by Justice

Release: Single    Release Date:  July ’16    Label:  Ed Banger Records    Rating:  7/10

justice safe and sound

It’s been 10 years since ‘We Are Your Friends’; Justice’s mix of Simian’s ‘Never Be Alone’, was released, and 5 years since their last release. A new album is in the pipeline for 2016, and it seems we’ve had our first taste of it in ‘Safe & Sound’. Justice are well known for their indie/rock remixes (e.g. Mystery Jets, Klaxons, Franz Ferdinand) but meander in and out of Nu-Disco, which is where they’re currently residing, think: heavy slap base guitar, soaring strings and an anthemic chorus (provided by The London Contemporary Orchestra and Mara Carlyle). This is a seamless and smile-inducing tune. Not overproduced, not contrived, very Justice. I look forward to the album.

Words from the Brain:

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We just landed back from two weeks of all inclusive, waited on hand and foot, tropical island … now, what noun to use; “Paradise”, “Bliss”? I’d love to use one of those, I really would, but I’d be talking out of my arse.

Apart from monumentally screwing my back up the day we left for what was supposed to be the ultimate honeymoon (changing the water in the fishtank, that’s what you get for being a responsible pet owner) which put a dampener on things, it hadn’t even occurred to me when I was staring at the palm treed and white sanded island on the website that as soon as our water taxi from the mainland had chugged off, my little anxiety gremlin would whisper in my ear, “ohh dear, what if something catastrophic happens to either of you? 999 isn’t going to help you out now is it. And how could you be such an irresponsible parent? 4,300 miles is a long way to go if something terrible happens to Holly, which of course, you know, it will”.

This wasn’t helped by the regular power cuts the hotel experienced pretty much every night whilst I was lying there, eyes wide with nerves and jetlag. Now a normal, regular, you know – balanced – person would listen to the sounds of the waves lapping the sand and crickets chirruping away, uninterrupted by the hum of the aircon and think, “ahh, nature; pure, wild, calm” not “oh fuck, I’m going to have a heart attack and the bloody phone won’t even work” whilst I lay there visualising a globe with us, on this completely blacked out island, in the middle of the Atlantic (OK, so we were all of about a mile away from the mainland but anxiety doesn’t bother itself with facts).

So to summarise, back buggered, mind doing overtime, and just as a little added extra (buy two, get the third free) as soon as I stepped off the coach transfer from the airport I was hit by the oh so lovely feeling of vertigo which visits me every few months – 2 weeks now and going strong – just one of the wonderful outward symptoms of an anxious brain or something else? Answers on a postcard please.

I won’t go into the flight.