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Review: Flogging Molly @ Olympia Theatre, Dublin

DAVE KING doesn’t care what you think, and it might just be the best thing about him.

His band, well-travelled Celtic punks Flogging Molly, sit halfway between a session and a riot; a chaotic, unapologetic, ramshackle fusion of Irish trad and punk rock angst.

Based out of California (and largely made up of Americans) – but led by King, who was raised in long-fallen Dublin 4 tenement Beggar’s Bush – Flogging Molly have made a career out of morphing trad stylings into songs about drink and national pride, love and hopelessness. Dublin is a spiritual home, a loose party at the end of a summer-long European tour.

King’s trademark is a husky, snarling yet somehow warm voice, a quick turn of phrase and cutting lyrics. Fuelled by on-stage cans of Guinness, he wiggles with his guitar, gurning between vocals and throwing playful but pointed jabs, like the dedication of ‘Selfish Man’ to his brother, and a quip about so many of his mates coming down that nobody’s actually paid to be in a packed Olympia.

The highs are in the raucous choruses; ‘What’s Left of the Flag’ is a glorious embittered ode to Irish identity, flowing into a manic ‘Rebels of the Sacred Heart’ and melodic slowed-down celebration of the booze, ‘Drunken Lullabies’.

Review: Marina & The Diamonds – The Family Jewels

Touted as the next Florence and the Machine, and laying claim to a medal-worthy place on almost every indie publication’s ‘ones to watch’ list: Marina Diamandis teased critics to the point of exultation with magnificent single ‘I Am Not A Robot’. The Family Jewels – an album accompanied by a level of expectation that borders of ludicrous for a debut effort – is crunch time.

What we get is an immediately accessible, attitude-crammed effort that defies convention. Marina’s ballsy. Her vocals come straight out of left field, flitting between a typical female tone and lines that fly up an octave. In ‘Mowgli’s Road’, she drifts into what sounds like a sarcastic male voice, while the whole album’s layered with head-nodding, bouncy, chart-worthy electronica. Comparisons to Florence Welch are a little off the mark: while Florence is a delicate soul – something that’s reflected in her music – Marina is brash and outgoing. The Family Jewels is a real in-your-face album, opinionated, fast-paced and – aside from ‘I am not a robot’ – more of a musical sledgehammer than subtle heart wrencher, but it works.

Marina and the Diamonds is only Marina, and the inclusion of ‘the Diamonds’ – her nickname for her fans used with flippant regularity on her blog – gives an idea of the way Marina thinks: a few weeks before her debut album comes out, and she knows she’s a mere tip toe away from superstardom. There’s a self-assuredness that borders on arrogance creeping into many of her quirkier lyrics. The new single ‘Hollywood’ – inarguably the most chart ready track on the album – stops an inch short of comparing her own fame to that of Shakira and Catherine Zeta Jones.

It’s ‘Hollywood’, in fact, that’s got the ‘love her/ loath her’ debate going in State’s household. With a similar obnoxious edge to Beyonce’s infamous ‘if you like it than you should have put a ring on it’ lyric, it will either hit a big red ‘repel’ button or go straight in as your song of the year. As utterly insufferable as that particular line is, though, it will no doubt get her noticed. Besides, Marina’s lyrical poetry – in this case an ability to reach inside the public consciousness and put into words our simultaneous disdain and fixation with celebrity culture – hits home.

It’s not her only ‘I get ya’ moment, either. ‘Girls’ gets the fairer sex chuckling with lines like ‘Girls aren’t meant to fight dirty, never look a day past thirty’, while opener ‘Are You Satisfied’ is a musical, motivational kick up the ass, despite the fact Marina’s clearly applying it to herself more than her listeners. ‘Obsessions’ sees a warble of emotion cross the self-assured façade, as Marina muses on a fluctuating relationship.

‘Don’t do love, don’t do friends, I’m only after success… I’m becoming my own self-fulfilled prophecy… I feel like I’m the worst, so I act like I’m the best’. The lyrics to ‘Oh No’ sum up Marina’s output. She’s arrogant, she’s self-absorbed, but she’s produced an album that’s as infectious as any we’ve heard in years, and just doesn’t let up. Every track is a potential hit. It’s electro, but done in a style that could simply be no one else. ‘I am not a robot’, as good as it is, is just another track. This album will divide (like ‘Hollywood’, you’ll either love it or despise it), but whichever way you fall, Marina’s produced something distinct, easy to relate to and amazingly assured. Believe the hype.

As published in State Magazine, January 2010 (click here to view original)

AU Magazine Album Reviews

HUNTER-GATHERER

I DREAMED I WAS A FOOTSTEP IN THE TRAIL OF A MURDERER

SELF RELEASED

At various times, Hunter Gatherer’s latest manages to sound like air escaping from a tire, the backing track to ET and a Hoover trying to remove a particularly uncooperative piece of gum from a classroom carpet. In electro circles, though, there’s no doubt that it’s the overall effect that counts, and once all the beeps and tings are molded together, the Dublin native takes you on a near-spiritual journey. It’s a head-spinning whirl of vibes that in tracks like the haunting ‘Cloud’ and melancholy ‘Snow Globe’ feel like the world’s a kaleidoscope, and Hunter-Gatherer’s slowly churning the colors. Largely pedestrian but exceedingly heartfelt, this is the kind of album that’s whole is significantly more than its constituent parts, and while you might not want to listen to it every day, it’s a textbook soundtrack to all things wistful and scenic. James Hendicott

7/10

DOWNLOAD: SNOW-GLOBE, LEFT FOR DEAD, ATTICS.

FOR FANS OF: TANGERINE DREAM, THE KNIFE, (KID A ERA) RADIOHEAD.

CHRISTY AND EMILY

SUPERSTITION

BIG PRINT

Sitting staunchly on the fence between conventional classical piano and slowed-down psychedelic nu-folk, Brooklyn-based Christy & Emily’s second LP flits sporadically through the off-the-wall and the jarringly emotional. At times the pair wonders into Aqualung and Sigur Ros territory, an organic effect that’s spoilt somewhat by the 19th century nursery rhyme vibe of tracks like ‘Nightingale’. ‘Golden Rings’ on the other hand is a swirly, lo-fi pop track, while delicate title track ‘Superstition’ tugs at the heartstrings and ‘Tidal Wave’ shows a more experimental side with pulsing drums and deeply layered Spanish vocals. Occasional oblique moments of genius and cleverly harmonized melodies, though, aren’t quite far enough from coffee table to pull this album through. James Hendicott

5/10

DOWNLOAD: GOLDEN RINGS

FOR FANS OF: AQUALUNG, WHITE MAGIC

THE RUBY SUNS

FIGHT SOFTLY

MEMPHIS

Fronted by Californian in exile Ryan McPhun (amazingly, that isn’t a stage name), Kiwi indie stars The Ruby Suns blend haunting, faded vocals with a spacey aural barrage of eclectic rhythms. The three-piece have a penchant for pace change, fluctuating between vaguely danceable beats in tracks like Two Humans and moments of profound, shoe-gazing near-silence in efforts like slow-builder Olympics On Pot. It’s a disparity that throws added weight behind the contrasting electronic melodrama; listening to the album in full makes potential singles such as Cranberry seem powerful and overstated by the chorus. Hints of eclectic trip-hop kings Massive Attack blend throughout with an intensely mellow indie edge, the result is a strange and intriguing cross between elevator music and trance-tinged indie. What have they been listening to?  James Hendicott

7/10

DOWNLOAD: MINGUS AND PIKE, TWO HUMANS.

FOR FANS OF: PANDA BEAR, THE CHILLED OUT CORNERS OF MOBY’S ‘PLAY’.

As published in AU Magazine, December 2009/ January 2010

Classic Album Review: Moby – Play

Part of New York’s notorious late 80s party scene, DJ Moby’s eclectic dance output made him a popular deck master at some of the cities most infamous clubs. His clean-living lifestyle – a reaction to an exposed upbringing amongst drug-fuelled hippie communes – earned him the nickname ‘techno monk’, and had Moby labeled an oddity from the start.

The music press never took to him. The refusal to conform to techno stereotypes singled Moby out, while – once his solo career started – a wild inconsistency in the style of early albums made him artistically awkward, and difficult to define. The problem was, with a background flirting with thrash metal, hardcore dance and offbeat hippie beats (he’s a self confessed Jefferson Airplane fan), Moby simply didn’t want a single distinct sound, and even adopted several pseudonyms to avoid having to adopt one. Instead of pondering the possibility of Moby producing something brilliant, journalists mocked his straightedge lifestyle and dismissed his mottled – and extremely haphazard – output. 1999’s Play proved them emphatically wrong.

In truth, even Moby’s most successful album was a slow builder. Initially dismissed as an ambient twist on his consistently unpredictable sound, despite strong reviews, Play garnered little early press coverage, and gained a slow-building success through its emergence in copious adverts and films.

Eventually selling over 10 million copies worldwide, and seeing half its tracks launched as singles, Play’s success builds on Moby’s stalwart faith, using gospel samples throughout on what most critics agree was an entirely new twist on electronic music. Porcelain, a chill out tune that became synonymous with East Asian trance culture after it’s appearance in the film The Beach, quickly established itself as the ecstatic stand out, while Natural Blues, a lively remix of a Vera Hall a cappella track that developed into a wild dance classic live became a massive fan favorite. Why Does My Heart Feel So bad, a slow-building, mournful piece of ambient techno with a gospel choir on vocals was an instant backpacker classic, while the lively Honey and Bodyrock showed Moby hadn’t left behind his more dynamic roots altogether.

It’s difficult to imagine a more insightful look into a man’s soul than Play, which oozes sensual spirituality, and many see it as a definitive work in the ambient electronica genre. If you want to know anything about Moby, grab a copy of this album – and the forceful ethical essays that weigh down the accompanying sleeve notes – and enjoy a sound that could only be produced by someone with such a fantastically eclectic background. It’s a moment of sparkling genius, and despite his other successes, Moby has never – and probably will never – reach the emphatic heights of Play again.  Gospel and techno? who’d have thought.

As published in Pith Magazine, Autumn 2009 issue.

Sub Zero Ice Bar

A wacky addition to any night out, Sub Zero Ice Bar is fast becoming another one of those unmissable Hongdae institutions. Constructed inside a supermarket scale freezer and maintained at a constant temperature of -5C, this is hardly your typical Beer and Soju venue.

It usually takes visitors a few minutes to get hold of their first drink. Before settling at the bar most like to drift around the room taking in the backlit icy wonderland: the statues; the igloo like walls; the liquor bottles buried deep in the ice and the lively, woolen clad barmaids. Some even like to test a certain urban legend about tongues on the more intimate parts of some of the statues…be warned, you wouldn’t be the first! When you do head to the bar and collect your drink, you’ll find it’s served in its own hollowed out block of ice that looks great, but does nothing to quench your growing frostbite. Welcome to the only bar in Hongdae in which you’re likely to order tea!

The novelty value here is certainly high. The icy theme alone is enough of a draw for most, but Ice Bars true attraction is that it goes much further to please. There are numerous photo room style dressing-up accessories for photographic entertainment. There’s a plethora of board games on ice block tables in the corner and there’s a God like statue on the bar through which the heavily padded barwoman pours a whole new style of body shot. The crowning glory, however, is the Iceman challenge.

Enclosed in plaques on the icy walls are photos of those who have reached ‘Iceman’ status. In order to achieve this legendary title, contestants must stay in the frozen bar for a seriously impressive period of time. Challengers are frequently seen huddling together in the corner for warmth, sipping on tea and trying anything to distract themselves from the mad mission they are undertaking. If you beat the record the owners will pay for all of your drinks, though be warned, it’s far from easy.

At the time of writing the mark stands at in excess of 12 hours, and is held by a visiting couple from America. Their attempt was pre-empted by some serious planning: winter clothing from Dongdaemun Market, and several days of mental preparation. In fact, the record is only half an hour short of the bars normal total opening hours, though the owners have promised to stay open for longer should circumstances require it. An early start is definitely recommended for a serious assault. Succeed, and you can leave your bottled ‘pee of glory’, alongside a signed photograph, in a frozen placard in the wall of the bar. That is until somebody else comes along and knocks you off your perch.

Most people somehow resist the Iceman challenge, with the average stay in this icy haven amounting to a little over an hour. The imagery, however, will stick with you for much longer. Ice Bar is an unforgettable Hongdae experience: something that stands out above the endless run-off-the-mill clubs and bars. Remember your thermals, and you might just leave with a story to tell the grandkids.

As published on AroundSeoul.com, February 2008.