Skip navigation

Tag Archives: Pop and rock

Julian Casablancas is back on passive-aggressive form on an album of all-out pop and mid-paced fillers

What was on the Strokes minds when they named their latest album The New Abnormal? Its anyones guess. Part of the appeal of this band has long lain in their inscrutability especially that of singer Julian Casablancas. Its in the way he hollers about something so oblique, spittle-flecked and sublime as to be beyond the ken of the average civilian, even as she pores over a lyric sheet.

No one in Camp Stroke, of course, foresaw the atypical, twilit times into which this album would arrive. But The New Abnormal does herald another unexpected state of affairs: one in which this bands long, slow, painful decline finally levels out a little.

These nine songs, two of them already released, arent all endorphin rushes that recall the Strokes imperial period, but they come closer than this benighted band have in ages to some kind of musical sweet spot.

Two decades ago, the fivesome hit upon a way to bottle grubby lightning, borrowing the attitude of the Velvet Underground and the double-helix guitars of Television (plus a soupon of the Cars and rather more Ramones) and made trapped-nerve rock music a legitimate fetish once again. After 2003, and the bands second album, Room on Fire, the co-conspirators gradually fell out with one another and into rock cliches, addictions and solo ventures, to audibly diminishing returns. The bands two most recent outings, 2011s Angles and 2013s Comedown Machine, went through the motions a little too obviously. The Strokes were great when they sounded prematurely jaded, less so when they had earned that status the hard way.

Now there is new-found energy, discernible in the form of a Jean-Michel Basquiat painting on the cover Bird on Money, the artists tribute to jazz horn player Charlie Bird Parker. There are out-and-out pop songs. A cessation of hostilities has been declared between Casablancass gnarlier meanderings in his side-gig, the Voidz, and the effortless, five-way synchromesh of peak Strokes.

Most of all, there is focus. Strangely, the jumping-off point for this late-life flicker is a barely concealed cover version. Bad Decisions, a knowing rewrite of Billy Idols 1981 hit Dancing With Myself, suggests the band might have actually had some fun knocking around in the same room together, rather than mere strained detente. (A series of between-song outtakes labours this point a little too hard, perhaps.) Moreover, Casablancas is back on rueful, passive-aggressive form, while the twin guitars of Albert Hammond Jr and Nick Valensi weaponise simplicity.

Without going to Shangri-La the Malibu studio where the album was recorded and blending in with the all-white decor, its hard to know exactly what the producer brings to this party. But the guru behind the faders here is Rick Rubin, a badass Buddha now less known for his early triumphs (producing Slayers Reign in Blood, signing Public Enemy, unleashing Beastie Boys) and more for his ability to fix stymied creatives. He is less a gilder of lilies than a trimmer of fat, and there is a clarity to The New Abnormal that commends it.

Watch the video for Bad Decisions by the Strokes

Album opener The Adults Are Talking is another giddy keeper, in which the details pop out brightly: pizzicato guitar, a weird backwards cymbal hiss, Casablancas swapping between croon and falsetto. Despite a random mutter of stockholders!, it all knits together.

With any band of this arc and scope, the task here is to taste the fresh fruit being thrown into the bowl of dubious backstage punch. Billy Idol is not the only 80s reference point: Eternal Summer is an unashamed yacht-rock track that pivots surprisingly towards Talking Heads.

What really stands out, though, is how Casablancas starts the song. When I think of you, he trills, in a soul-pop falsetto worthy of Janet Jackson; the frazzled, FX-laden outro instead recalls her brother Michael.

On Arctic Monkeys most recent album, Tranquillity Base Hotel & Casino, Alex Turner blithely confessed his youthful fandom (I just wanted to be one of the Strokes, he sang). Casablancas unwittingly returns the favour here: fleetingly, he can sound like his disciple. The start of Not the Same Anymore shimmers like an echo of an echo that would have sat nicely on Tranquillity Base. Youre not the same any more, murmurs Casablancas, straight out of the Turner lexicon, Dont play that game any more/ Youd make a better window than a door.

The New Abnormal remains a frustrating listen despite its gleam. Faster tempos would have helped. Nothing says Will this do? more clearly than a mid-paced shuffle, of which there are a few. Some songs just dont gel. Why Are Sundays So Depressing? is, somehow, less than the sum of its discrete good ideas (the bow-wow-ing keyboard, the stuttering melody). Track titles such as Brooklyn Bridge to Chorus could have used a final edit. (The song itself starts with a cute keyboard brio reminiscent of Metronomy before turning into an odd disco jangle; its not at all bad, neither is it magisterial.)

Listen to Brooklyn Bridge to Chorus

You sense that the albums swaying crescendo of a closer, Ode to the Mets, carries a weight of significance. It really isnt about baseball. As ever, the lyrics provide few clues as to the target of Casablancass weary ire. I was just bored/ Playing the guitar/ Learned all your tricks/ Wasnt too hard, he sneers, as the band headily mix swagger and sentimentality. It all makes for an odd state of mind to get used to: the Strokes arent over yet.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2020/apr/11/the-strokes-the-new-abnormal-review-new-found-focus

The singer joined with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to provide shelter, meals and counselling for families at risk in coronavirus pandemic

Rihanna has donated $2.1m (1.67m) to the Mayors Fund for Los Angeles to assist victims of domestic violence affected by the coronavirus lockdown. The singers Clara Lionel Foundation joined with Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey to donate matching sums to the drive. Their donations will cover 10 weeks of support, including shelter, meals and counselling for families experiencing domestic violence during the pandemic in greater Los Angeles.

Alyson Messenger, a managing staff lawyer with the Jenesse Center, a domestic violence organisation in South Los Angeles, told the Los Angeles Times last month that the lockdown was a worst-case scenario for anyone in an abusive relationship: Compound that with the fact that access to services is more difficult than ever.

UN secretary general Antnio Guterres tweeted on 6 April: Many women under lockdown for #COVID19 face violence where they should be safest: in their own homes. I urge all governments to put womens safety first as they respond to the pandemic.

In Chinas Hubei province, the centre of the initial outbreak, domestic violence reports to police more than tripled in a single county, from 47 cases in February 2019 to 162 this year. A quarter of British domestic violence charities said that they could not effectively support abuse victims during lockdown owing to technical issues, inability to meet victims and staff sickness.

A statement announcing the donations by Rihanna a domestic abuse survivor and Dorsey said: Victims of domestic violence exist all over the world, so this is just the beginning.

Last month, Rihannas Clara Lionel Foundation previously joined with Jay-Zs Shawn Carter Foundation to donate $2m (1.59m) to support undocumented workers, prisoners, homeless people, the elderly and children of frontline health workers in Los Angeles and New York during the Covid-19 outbreak. She also donated personal protective equipment to healthcare providers in New York State, and gave $5m ($4m) to global organisations to protect healthcare workers and marginalised communities.

Her father, Ronald Fenty, has been recovering from coronavirus after spending 14 days inside the Paragon Isolation Center in Barbados. He told the Sun: I thought I was going to die. He said his daughter sent a ventilator to his home, which ultimately he did not need.

The 32-year old singer is the latest musician to mobilise in the effort to assist healthcare providers and people affected by coronavirus. Lady Gaga has curated the benefit concert One World: Together at Home featuring performances from such artists as Gaga, Billie Eilish, Lizzo, Paul McCartney and Coldplays Chris Martin to be livestreamed globally and televised in the US on 18 April. The BBC will broadcast an adapted version the following day.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2020/apr/10/rihanna-1-point-coronavirus-lockdown-donation-los-angeles-domestic-violence

Written to an imaginary child about what it is to be a woman in this society, the singers seventh album is alternately intimate, sneering and sad, and lavished with gorgeous melodies

Laura Marling has described her seventh solo album as a kind of conceptual work. Song for Our Daughter, she says, is about trauma and an enduring quest to understand what it is to be a woman in this society. The songs are written to an imaginary child, offering her all the confidences and affirmations I found so difficult to provide myself. It has also turned up months earlier than expected. Scheduled for release in August the beginning of the annual three-month season when albums by major artists traditionally appear it has been brought forward. In light of the change to all our circumstances, Marling wrote on Instagram, I saw no reason to hold back on something that, at the very least, might entertain, and, at its best, provide some union.

The
The artwork for Song for Our Daughter. Photograph: Publicity image

However altruistic her intention, its quite a canny move: a lot of people have a lot of time on their hands right now, which may cause them to focus more intently on a singers work. Yet there is always the chance the opposite may happen. These are, as you can hardly have failed to notice, extraordinary, unprecedented times. There is no escape from whats going on in the outside world: to release an album now, an artist would have to be pretty confident theyd made something capable of cutting through the constant roar of news about the terrifying global crisis; something capable of subverting our natural inclination to react by turning to stuff we already know and love and find comforting. But a lack of confidence has never been Laura Marlings undoing: as so-called sensitive singer-songwriters go, she always cuts a remarkably robust figure. I have not a fuck to give, she snaps on opener Alexandra, and all the contents of Song for Our Daughter are distinctly less gooey and self-absorbed than an album offering advice to an imaginary unborn child might be in less assured hands.

Marling is still wont to change her accent with the frequency that some singer-songwriters change plectrums. Indeed, she sometimes changes accent in the middle of a song, as on Hope We Meet Again, where she keeps dipping out of the mid-Atlantic twang thats presumably necessary if youre going to write songs with words such as highway and momma in them, into the kind of cut-glass RP you might expect from someone who comes from Berkshire. The first song that lyrically fits with the advice-to-an-imaginary-child concept, Strange Girl, finds Marling singing in the Dylan-derived sneer she deployed on Master Hunter, from her album Once I Was an Eagle, with what appears to be a little of mid-70s Lou Reeds patent brand of bored contempt stirred in. Which is certainly a bracing way of delivering maternal counsel.

Laura Marling: Held Down video

In fact, it doesnt sound much like maternal counsel at all, more like Marling talking about her own past with an appealing roll of the eyes: Build yourself a garden and have something to attend / Cut off all relations because you couldnt stand your friends / Oh girl, please dont bullshit me. Certainly, its more successful than the title track, where the emotions she summons when imagining her daughter in some pretty grim situations blood on the floor, with your clothes on the floor, taking your advice from an old, balding bore tend to nothing sharper than sighing, well-I-tried-to-warn-you sadness. Its a song written by someone trying to picture what its like being a parent, and not quite pulling said picture into focus.

That said, the title track is extraordinarily beautiful, a quality it shares with the rest of Song for Our Daughter. One of the albums musical touchstones was apparently Paul McCartneys 70s albums, and whatever else you think about post-Beatles Macca, youd have a hard time arguing he was stingy with the tunes. And so it is here. The piano-led Blow By Blow, the gentle strum of For You, and the feedback-flecked Held Down are all lavished with gorgeous, effortless-seeming melodies.

The effect is heightened by the production. Its a highly polished piece of work, big on rich string arrangements and intricate harmony vocals. Theres a particularly striking moment when a swirl of voices all Marlings, multi-tracked to infinity rises up to underpin the line I love you, goodbye, on The End of the Affair. But its recorded in a way that creates a live feel, the lack of echo giving the illusion that Marling and her band are in close proximity to the listener. The effect is impressively punchy on Strange Girl, but on the songs that fill the albums second half, which are largely reliant on vocals and fingerpicked guitar, the production conjures a warm, fresh intimacy that feels welcome in a world of Zoom meetings and FaceTime catch-ups. Perhaps now is the perfect moment to release it after all.

This week Alexis listened to

Jon Brooks – Fonn
Electronic auteur Jon Brookss new album How to Get Spring is pastoral and wistful: sonic lushness spiked with an aching hint of melancholy.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2020/apr/09/laura-marling-song-for-our-daughter-album-review

Star described by her representatives as being stable and responding to treatment

Marianne Faithfull has been hospitalised in London with coronavirus.

The singer, who became famous during the swinging London scene of the 1960s and has had a respected (and occasionally troubled) career since, is said to be stable and responding to treatment, according to her representatives.

Her friend, the performer Penny Arcade, told Rolling Stone Faithfull had self-isolated following a cold, and then checked herself into hospital last Monday, where she tested positive for Covid-19. She has since contracted pneumonia.

Faithfull, who is 73, has had various health issues in the past. She suffered from anorexia during a spell of homelessness in central London in the early 1970s, when she was also addicted to heroin. In 2006, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent successful surgery. In 2007, she announced she had hepatitis C, diagnosed 12 years previously. She also has arthritis, and has had other joint issues, including a hip injury which became infected after surgery and forced her to cancel a 2015 tour.

Apart from a decade-long fallow period following her 1960s breakthrough, she has steadily released music throughout her life. Her most recent album was 2018s Negative Capability, described as a masterly meditation on ageing and death in a five-star Observer review.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2020/apr/04/marianne-faithfull-hospitalised-with-coronavirus

The 60s folk troubadour is on an environmental mission, in tribute to Greta Thunberg. He discusses love, success, Brian Jones and how drugs became big business

Donovan, born Donovan Phillips Leitch in Scotland in 1946, was famous enough before he was 18 for the world to be on first-name terms with him. You dont have to be a boomer to remember Mellow Yellow, although it may help if you want to remember his famous stand-off with Bob Dylan in Dont Look Back, a really poignant moment of the old folk against the new (Dylan, new folk in this narrative, is actually older by four years, Donovan is keen to stress).

Now 73 and living in Ireland, he has wild grey hair and a gentle, thoughtful face; he looks, in real life, like an atmospheric black-and-white photo of a folk singer. His conversation is as wild as his hair, completely ungoverned by conventions such as sticking to the point or answering the bloody question. His mind comes into focus every now and then, when he wants to tell me what to write, how to write it and how to ask a question. I have actually since considered some remote therapy to try and figure out why this annoyed me so much.

Anyway, he is out of retirement with Eco-Song, a tribute album to Greta Thunberg that he has recorded with his wife, Linda. No, wait, its not a tribute album; its an album of songs from across his career with an eco theme, waiting to be turned into a stage opera. He and Linda want to take it to schools, to universities, want the youth performing it up and down the land. They have a plot strung around the songs four young students in Cork, meeting up on a Friday night, after a climate strike but, for the time being, the songs have been released as a standalone CD. A month ago, in an entirely different world, he was planning to take it on tour.

We met before the lockdown in a London hotel; the coronavirus crisis was serious enough then that we bumped elbows as I came in, unserious enough that we forgot not to shake hands at the end, serious enough that his roadie immediately handed him some hand sanitiser. Donovan wanted to explain why he and Linda have dedicated themselves to Thunberg.

It starts in quite an unlikely place, this explanation with Mary Shelley, who first sounded the alarm about the dangers of science while all the great poets were silent (She was the wife of the poet Shelley, we know that now, he says, in a tone of aching significance, though surely we knew that then). And her monster, science, is now raging throughout the earth. OK It was a young woman who sounded the alarm back then. And I rang the bell, 50 years ago, in 1968, alone among my song-poet peers. I think he means the bell for nuclear disarmament. His lyrics, from the start, often had a pacifist edge, along with social conscience; he performed at benefit gigs for striking shipbuilders, contributed two songs to Ken Loachs Poor Cow (which was to domestic violence what Cathy Come Home was to homelessness).

Mellow Yellow may be the song that floats to the top of the memory, but electrical banana / is gonna be a sudden craze is by no means the summit of his lyrical endeavour. We actually invaded pop culture with meaningful lyrics, he says. He was very anti-nuclear and still is but I could get no further detail on which bell he is talking about, that he rang and none of the other song-poets did. Never mind that now.

And then, 50 years later, in 2018, a wee lass called Greta rings the bell again. At first, shes alone. Linda and I waited to see if her generation would have their own songwriters. But they had none. (I would love to drill into this large statement, that there are no songwriters in Generation Z. But Donovan expressly forbade any questions until the tea had arrived.) Rebellions and movements need songs. And Linda and I found it extremely significant that it was Mary, not the poets, and its again a young woman, its Greta, pointing to the disaster approaching. The male domination of science and industry has meant that theres no nurture, anywhere, nature has been raped and pillaged by the male sensibility. Its always a woman who sounds the alarm although, in this timeline, Donovan appears to be an honorary one. Ah, tea. So, about this eco-mission

Donovan,
Donovan: The singer started off as a kid with a guitar, a bard in the old Gaelic tradition. Photograph: Antonio Olmos/The Guardian

In fact, it is a bit of a stretch to talk about retirement, since it is only five years ago that he was releasing a greatest hits album to celebrate 50 years since his first release, and even more years of being Donovan, a kid with a guitar, and a song, and a hat, and a harmonica, the traditional troubadour, minstrel, bard, in the old Gaelic tradition. He grew up in Glasgow, of Scottish and Irish descent, in a song-filled house that was also alive with his photographer fathers unpublished poetry. He has had periods of intense introspection, deepening his relationship with transcendental meditation with sundry Beatles, mainly George Harrison, and periods of hightailing it to Bhutan and Nepal to meet Buddhists in exile, but since he got his first contract in 1964, he has never really stopped releasing music. Its the mission, he explains. He has to go wherever the mission takes him. Nevertheless, youd call the 60s his heyday, the decade of Epistle to Dippy and The Hurdy Gurdy Man, often playing on his own, doors swinging open wherever he went.

Anyway, the tea is here and I am allowed to ask a question, except: First Im going to read you something. It takes four minutes. Ive measured it. Its the mission that has brought Donovan and Linda back in the saddle. If you want me to expand, I can. Tell me more, you should say. He then reads me the speech, which is essentially a longer version of what he had already told me about the young-women-plus-Donovan bell-ringers before the tea.

As the encounter turns into something more like a recognisable conversation, he circles again and again back to the start of his career, meeting Linda, losing her, finding her again. He is the most fantastic name-dropper, but if you ask him for any more detail Ah, celebrities, he says, knowingly. You want to hear about the celebrities. Its amazing, isnt it, how that connects with hell begin, before haring off to the absolutely least connected thing. He is delightful and maddening, although maddening can get the upper hand. Sod it, lets start where he wants to start at the beginning, with his unholy talent.

While the Beatles were doing their famous 10,000 hours gigging in Hamburg, he didnt need to do all that (although he did play Hamburg once, in 1965 It was like a Popeye cartoon: the street was like madness, sailors and tourists and police. Halfway through singing my first song, the wall behind me collapsed and the club behind broke into mine, and everybody was fighting).

I realised television was for me; I picked it up very quickly. Everything jazz, blues, folk, pop music, literature, feminism, ecology I just absorbed it like a sponge, and I was prepared, because I had had poetry of noble thought read to me as a child. He was recording a demo in London when Brian Jones, the founder of the Rolling Stones, walked in. He knew that I was something that was going to happen, and he said to Ready, Steady, Go [like a 60s Top of the Pops, only bohemian]: If you dont have him on, youre going to be sorry.

He thus got his first TV performance before he had even released a single, and slips into the third person, awestruck. And suddenly, he connected with millions of people. How did he do that? And the cameraman loved it, and the directors loved it, and the producers loved it. How did I learn it so early? Because, what Im about to sing to you, you already know. The Gaelic singer-songwriter tradition is actually four: poetry, music, theatre and radical thought.

Or perhaps it was astrological: Im a Taurus, and the Tauruss area is the throat, and Im very highly skilled with vocalising. I can really impress and project a very special feeling. And then he veers into reincarnation: Did I learn this before I was born? Or is it a continuum, that you are actually not a person, but a force, you are an energy, and this energy is manifesting itself in a character called Donovan, but I dont own it, its part of a tradition?

Donovan
A portrait of the song-poet as a young man: Donovan in the late 60s. Photograph: David Redfern/Redferns

That night on Ready, Steady, Go was fateful for another reason he met a woman called Linda Lawrence in the green room, all dressed in black, pure, white, blanched face, a bohemian girl. My dream. They were both just 18, but things were already quite complicated. She wanted to marry Brian Jones, with whom she had a child. She wasnt his first girlfriend he had two or three kids already. He was like the god Pan; he was spreading kids around every six months. Thats one way of putting it, I guess. Jones drowned in a swimming pool at the sadly young age of 27 in 1969, although not before he had counselled Linda that, even though where he was going, she couldnt follow, she should choose someone other than Donovan as her next partner, someone mature.

Whether heeding this or for some other reason, she went to Los Angeles on her own (later moving her young son over to the US to be with her), and Donovan, bereft, went to Japan. Because, can you believe that in 1969 the government were taxing the Beatles and I and others 96%? Why, yes, I can believe it, because I recall a whiny Beatles song about it. Taxman, he croons momentarily. But still, we were rich. I dont think we ever saw any real money, because we were moving so fast and doing exactly what we wanted to do. We never had a purse. Ah, hippies; too cool to have a wallet, never so cool as to forget about money altogether. As long as I didnt put my foot on UK soil, I didnt have to pay any income tax. It wasnt the money, it was the principle.

The Japanese tour was flat, not for audiences, but for Donovan, who was miserable. It wasnt drugs and he wasnt overly crazy on alcohol, he just had a broken heart and its hard to stay interested in your mission through one of those. Without the mission, I wasnt in good shape, he says. Gypsy Dave was always with me. Gypsy Dave crops up a lot when he talks. He was there at the start, apparently, when they were sleeping rough in Liverpool (Well, on benches in graveyards, with a sleeping bag; but that was the rough. The smooth was in St Ives, sleeping on a beach under the stars). Dave makes sage remarks throughout the Linda separation (There are plenty more fish in the sea), but it remains hard, maybe because of his handle, to remember that he was a real person, the sculptor and songwriter Gyp Mills, rather than a kind of spirit animal.

Anyway, it was Dave who insisted that he couldnt keep on gigging in Japan when his heart wasnt in it, that he had to go home. My agent, Vic Lewis, said: As soon as you put your foot on [the British airline] BOAC in Tokyo, youre on British soil the whole tax plan is out of the window. I was about to earn more than any British artist had ever earned on a year dropout $7m. Today it would probably be a lot more. Vic was on his knees in the airport, because he stood to get 10%. I quite like this tableau, the mystic bard shuffling sadly on to a plane, foregoing his ancient principle of opposing a supertax, as his agent prostrates himself on the ground for his lost 700 grand. Wheres Hans Holbein when you need him?

Donovan
Donovan with his wife Linda Lawrence on their wedding day in October 1970. Photograph: Bill Orchard/Rex/Shutterstock

So he was home, and Linda had come back to England, too, after life in the US got too dicey. The drug dealers were moving in, and he takes an interesting detour through the end of the psychedelic dream. The drugs were quite safe to begin with, but as the 60s progressed, it was becoming big business, and a lot of our songs were singing about it. So it became like we were the ones who were commercially promoting it. The pair reunited in 1970 in a touching scene involving a cow. We walked up to the woods, me with my guitar, and we sat in the field, and we didnt say anything. Until I said: Do you want to get married now? And she said: I still feel the same. And I started singing a song, and a cow came up and licked Lindas face while I was singing. Id never heard of anything like that happening. And you cant make that up. It must be a Taurus thing.

If his first decade of fame was all about love found and lost, its eventual resolution liberated both Donovan and Linda to delve into the deeper significance of the human condition transcendental meditation. Me, David Lynch, Paul McCartney, but dont focus on me, focus on what the teaching says. This might be part of your article. O K. There are three levels of consciousness, waking, sleeping and dreaming, and we move between the three of them. But there is a fourth level, superconscious transcendental vision.

If you never access that, you never truly relax, and this in a roundabout but mainly non-verbal way, explains why the world is in such a mess and we stockpile nuclear weapons. Yet why have we not already destroyed ourselves? Why has it not already happened?

Go on then, wise guy Well, its extraordinary in itself.

On the plus side, everything you need to know is already inside you you just need to access it. Will our self-awareness come too late to halt the climate crisis? Greta says no. Her generation is saying no. It is an extraordinary mission, and the mission is eco. And I think thats it.

Encounter completed. I dont know what Greta Thunberg is going to make of this intervention. But I hope Donovans tour goes ahead in the future, if only because I am hoping for a future in which all tours go ahead.

Donovans album Eco-Song is available to download at donovan.ie. The rescheduled show at Cadogan Hall, London, will take place on 12 October.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2020/apr/09/donovan-beatles-and-i-paying-96-per-cent-tax-greta-thunberg

The Londoners tales of sex, drugs and mid-20s doldrums have got people talking but the band themselves are keeping stumm

Most bands form over pints, broken hearts and aspirations of superstardom. Few start with mild bullying. But Asha Lorenz, the frontwoman of London band Sorry, used to torment guitarist Louis OBryen at middle school. Teasing and cruel comments were easy for Lorenz when in close proximity to someone as shy and awkward as OBryen. She was a bit mean, he admits over a lukewarm soup in a Shoreditch pub. During their GCSE years, Lorenz mellowed out, and the pair slowly bonded over his long, blond hair, deemed cool by Lorenz, and a love of playing instruments. After competing to see who could release the better songs on SoundCloud, they realised they were, in fact, better together.

Today, Sorry create an unusual, sexy take on modern indie rock the febrile sound of city-dwelling, broke 22-year-olds, whose nights are dominated by hook-up culture and casual drug-taking as evidenced on their debut album for Domino Records, 925. Co-produced by James Dring (Gorillaz, Jamie T), it sees them finally wriggle free of being called a guitar band. Lorenz and OBryen describe their sound as pop music, but in early press Sorry saw themselves lumped in with bands in the south London music scene sludgy art-school outfits such as Shame, Goat Girl and HMLTD. Were both from north London and live with our mums but play at [Brixton pub] the Windmill a lot, says Lorenz. I dont feel a strong identity to where Im from.

According to OBryen, journalists and those within the music industry just want to give people a reason to listen to something by calling it guitar music. So what are Sorry? Theyre a very 2020 band, in that they build their songs round the mood of whatever theyre singing about. A typical Sorry track is just as likely to be inflected with 90s grunge as with jazz or trip-hop.

Sorry
Sorry perform in Manchester in 2017. Photograph: Visionhaus/Corbis/Getty Images

Before Sorry, they were called Fish (until they realised the ex-lead singer of prog rockers Marillion went by the same name), and before that, Lorenz and OBryen were a covers band who played Jimi Hendrix songs. At school, Lorenz was apparently loud in comparison to OBryen, but both are people of few words. The pairs answers serve as cul-de-sacs, revealing little and circling back to face you. Dressed in nondescript jumpers and coats, with no makeup and scruffy hair, they could easily disappear into the background altogether, having never given anything away.

In person, the band have a spaced-out quality, close to the 2000s-internet affliction of being so random. At one point, Lorenz removes a hair from the small pot of soup she and OBryen are casually sharing, and then puts it back in, to his bewilderment. They profess to being lazy, beholden to very little ambition (Were just making some music and seeing how it goes, shrugs Lorenz). Drummer Lincoln Barrett and bassist Campbell Baum are absent today.

We dont let them come to interviews, says OBryen, with a straight face. After a long silence, he adds: Well, were kind of a duo in the way we write songs, but the live thing is more a band.

Their performances on tour, opening for the likes of Fat White Family and Sunflower Bean, have drawn rave reviews for their technical virtuosity and the impressive, insular world they build. But it is the songwriting that sets Sorry apart, featuring intricate layers of sound and an apparent disregard for genre. What is real, this album asks, when everything socially and politically around us is so questionable?

Across 925, the band vacillate between hell and heaven. There is a reference to Tears for Fears Mad World over an ominous sax-line on the jazz-influenced Right Round the Clock, and later a nod to Louis Armstrongs What a Wonderful World on the prangover ballad As the Sun Sets. On More, a pantomime of rock star swagger proclaims the nihilistic MO of every person of student age in London (I want drugs and drugs and drugs and drugs, I want love). Highlight Snakes serves as an analysis of a confusing relationship breakdown: over echoing guitars, Lorenz half-whispers: Every time I made you cry, I was crying too. Album closer Lies (Refix) is a deliberately uncomfortable listen, too, with Lorenzs childlike vocals buried in the mix, emerging to raspily deliver the word lies.

It is an intricate record, the product of years worth of material. Instead of attending university, the pair spent their spare time in their bedrooms making music together. We had space to do it, we wrote the songs over four years, says Lorenz. Were happy we took our time. The earlier singles we put out were more rocky, and thats not what we want to do.

Before Sorry were signed by Domino, the British indie label that launched the careers of Arctic Monkeys and Franz Ferdinand, Lorenz emailed to say they liked its client Alex G; a year later, label reps were at a Sorry show.

We were gonna put in our contract that we had to play with Alex G, Lorenz says, grinning. They didnt, but they ended up supporting him on tour in 2019 regardless. It is clear why they look up to Alex G: he is a prolific songwriter with endless ideas and lo-fi production. He hasnt crafted a personal brand, and doesnt post selfies; the music speaks for itself.

As the band prepare to discover who their fanbase is it has been hard to tell thus far, with so many gigs as a support they have been told to do more on social media. Their posting has been sporadic at best, half down to laziness, half down to not knowing how to best present themselves. OBryen shrugs and says: Its hard to come across well. Or funny. Maybe we never will.

Maybe they wont have to.

925 is out 27 March; Sorry tour the UK from 26 March

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2020/mar/17/sorry-the-band-making-ennui-sexy-925

The singer on pouting like Lauren Bacall, DIY hairdos, gardening in nightwear and discovering the joys of colour

This was taken in 1981 or 1982, right at the beginning of my career. All my clothes at that time were secondhand a hangover from being at art college. The top that I wore in the Kids in America video was from Oxfam, and so was this. These are the same boots that I wore in that video, too.

I was a big fan of Lauren Bacall I really loved that she didnt smile for the camera. When I first started having my photograph taken, lots of male photographers would say: Come on Kim, give us a smile! and it used to drive me insane. So I would just think about Bacall and pout furiously, as I am doing in this photograph. I looked thoroughly miserable most of the time, whereas I was having the time of my life.

I was a bit of a tomboy as a teenager, so my style was an extension of that. The hair was my own doing, all out of a [Clairol] Born Blonde packet, and I cut it myself. I wasnt overly interested in fashion, it didnt flick a big switch for me, but I was always in control of what I wore. Sometimes I got it fantastically right, but there were times when I got it horribly wrong.

Aside from music, I also love gardening. If I get up on a sunny morning, I have to stop myself going out in the garden, because I know I will still be there two hours later with my nightie on and a pair of gardening gloves. I also wear clogs, which makes it sound like quite a romantic image!

I have always enjoyed mixing fabrics such as satin and silk and leather, but mostly in black. I wore a lot of black jeans, oversized mens jackets and stripy tops. I am sartorially lazy; I like anything that is easy to get in and out of. As I have got older, I have found an injection of colour goes a long way to brightening up my day. On my Here Come the Aliens tour in 2018 [inspired by Wildes apparent encounter with a UFO in 2009], I thoroughly embraced extraterrestrial fashion. I looked like something out of Barbarella, like I was about to lift off and go exploring.

The UK leg of Kim Wildes Greatest Hits tour begins in September

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2020/apr/07/kim-wilde-i-look-miserable-but-i-was-having-the-time-of-my-life

Socially conscious singers hit version of Young, Gifted and Black reached No 5 in the UK charts with duo Bob and Marcia

Bob Andy, the reggae vocalist who performed a hit version of Young, Gifted and Black as part of the duo Bob and Marcia, has died aged 75 after a short illness.

His death was confirmed by his collaborator on that song, Marcia Griffiths, who told the Jamaica Observer he died at 8am on Friday 27 March.

Bob & Marcia reached No 5 in the UK in 1970 with Young, Gifted and Black, an uptempo recording of the Nina Simone original. They also reached No 11 in 1971 with Pied Piper, which spent 13 weeks in the charts.

Andy was born Keith Anderson in Kingston, Jamaica, and began his career in the groups the Binders and the Paragons before going solo in the mid-1960s. Recording in the legendary Studio One under producer Coxsone Dodd, he cut songs that would become reggae standards, such as Ive Got to Go Back Home and Too Experienced.

He also wrote songs that would be recorded by reggae stars including Gregory Isaacs, Ken Boothe and Delroy Wilson, along with solo numbers for Griffiths, although their partnership ended when she joined the I Threes, Bob Marleys group of backing vocalists.

Young, Gifted and Black was just one of his socially conscious songs. Others, such as Fire Burning and Check It Out, castigated capitalism and the ruling classes. But he suffered from health issues, including migraines, and put music to one side for a number of years from the late 1970s onwards, broadening into acting. He also became an A&R for Tuff Gong records, the label founded by Marley.

As his health improved, Andy returned to music in the 1990s. In 2006, he was awarded Order of Distinction by the Jamaican government for his services to music.

Reggae DJ David Rodigan was among those paying tribute, writing on Twitter: We all loved you Bob Andy and we know how much you loved us, your legions of fans all over the world. At least you are at peace now; youve left us a truly remarkable repertoire of songs which we will all treasure for ever.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2020/mar/27/jamaican-reggae-vocalist-bob-andy-dies-aged-75-young-gifted-black

Singer says Murder Most Foul, recorded a while back, is a gift to fans for their support and loyalty over the years

Bob Dylan has released his first original music in eight years, a 17-minute long song about the JFK assassination.

A ballad set to piano, strings and light drums, Murder Most Foul retells the 1963 killing in stark terms, imagining Kennedy being led to the slaughter like a sacrificial lamb they blew off his head while he was still in the car / shot down like a dog in broad daylight. He paints an epic portrait of an America in decline ever since, but offered salvation of a sort in pop music: the Beatles, Woodstock festival, Charlie Parker, the Eagles and Stevie Nicks are all referenced in its lyrics.

Dylan made subtle reference to the coronavirus crisis as he launched the song on Twitter. Greetings to my fans and followers with gratitude for all your support and loyalty across the years, he said. This is an unreleased song we recorded a while back that you might find interesting. Stay safe, stay observant and may God be with you.

Dylans recent albums have featured cover versions of American pop standards. The most recent was triple album Triplicate in 2017. His last album of original songs was Tempest in 2012.

Murder Most Foul is also the first original song he has released since he became the first songwriter to be awarded the Nobel prize for literature, in 2016.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2020/mar/27/bob-dylan-new-song-kennedy-assassination

With Katy Perry and Led Zeppelins recent judgments reversing previous rulings, musicians dont know which way to tread

Have you written a song? A song so memorable that everyone who hears it starts humming it? A song so good it feels as though it has been around forever and you simply plucked it from the ether? Then a word of advice: get an expert to listen to it. Because somewhere, someone is going to be sure your song was copied from theirs.

An old music industry adage holds that where theres a hit, theres a writ. It was true in 1963, when the Beach Boys released Surfin USA, and Chuck Berry duly noted that the song was simply his own 1958 hit Sweet Little Sixteen with new lyrics (Berrys publisher, Arc Music, was granted the publishing rights, and from 1966 Berry was listed alongside Brian Wilson as a writer of the song). And its especially true now after several recent cases.

March alone saw two important judgments about music theft in appeals courts in California. First the ninth circuit court of appeals ruled that Led Zeppelins Stairway to Heaven did not crib from Taurus by Spirit. Then a federal court overturned last years jury verdict that Katy Perrys Dark Horse had stolen from the song Joyful Noise by the Christian rapper Flame.

Katy
Katy Perry performing Dark Horse in Los Angeles in 2014. A federal court in March overturned a 2019 verdict that the song had stolen from Flames Joyful Noise. Photograph: Youtube

Whats important, though, is not whether anyone was plagiarised, but whether a copyright was infringed. Plagiarism and copyright infringement are related but they are distinctly different, says Peter Oxendale, who has been a professional forensic musicologist someone who offers expert analysis of compositions for legal purposes for more than 40 years.

Copyright, for example, does not protect ideas but rather the fixed detailed expression of those ideas. Copyright infringement is a legal matter known as a tort, he says. Plagiarism, on the other hand, is an ethical matter and occurs when someone uses the ideas or works of someone else in their own work without giving the appropriate credit to the original source. The cases that come to court are not about plagiarism; theyre about infringement of copyright.

Members
Members of Led Zeppelin pictured in 1970. A US appeals court has found the bands Stairway to Heaven did not crib from Taurus by Spirit. Photograph: AP

The Zeppelin and Perry cases have been hailed as important because they appear to offer songwriters the latitude they seemed to have been denied by a crucial earlier trial. In December 2018 the long-running and highly controversial case involving the song Blurred Lines came to a close, when Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams, two of the songs writers, were ordered to pay just short of $5m to the estate of Marvin Gaye, for Blurred Lines similarity to Gayes 1977 song Got To Give It Up.

Blurred Lines certainly stirred up the music community, says Joe Bennett, a forensic musicologist based at Berklee College of Music, in Boston. The reason it had so many musicians concerned is that the two songs are demonstrably different in their melodies, lyrics, and underlying chords. It hasnt set a legal precedent exactly, because every plagiarism case is judged on its individual merits, and every comparison is different, but it certainly has shifted the culture among songwriters, and made many worried about unintentional similarity leading to unfair accusations of copyright infringement.

What the Blurred Lines case did was to allow something previously unheard of: the notion that the feel of a record could be copyrighted. Given that the musician who didnt want to replicate the feel of a beloved record, if not its chords and melody, has yet to be born, the verdict sent shudders through the industry.

Much of the feel of a song is created by instrumentation, production techniques and other elements that many people consider to not be part of the song itself, says Peter Mason, a music law expert at the solicitors Wiggin LLP. The difference is starkly demonstrated by comparing Blurred Lines to the Stairway to Heaven case, in which the jury was limited to considering only the notes of the composition, as registered at the US copyright office.

Robin
Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams performing at Miami Beach, Florida, in 2013. A court in 2018 ordered them to pay $5m to the estate of Marvin Gaye. Photograph: Startraks/Rex

Taking away the similarities in sound, feel or playing style reduced the similarity between the compositions. Importantly, much of what remained was commonplace and therefore not protected by copyright.

Nevertheless, says Oxendale, We are aware of a number of well-known clients who have been told to never cite the source of their inspiration in public or in print. This, in my view, has resulted in the stifling of creativity to the extent that inspiration is now being confused with appropriation.

Conversely, we are also seeing a growing number of instructions from clients who wish to pursue claims for infringement of copyright based on the use of nothing more than similar musical or lyrical ideas. I believe the Blurred Lines verdict has had a significant impact on the music industry as a whole and this is reflected in the number of cases coming into our office.

For all the high-profile court cases, though, many music copyright infringement claims never see the light of day. One major star who must remain nameless employed a musicologist for the specific purpose of listening to new releases in order to note any resemblance to their own works. The writer of any offending song received a polite note expressing the desire to avoid any embarrassment, and suggesting the whole matter might be resolved by a payment, without the need to shame the writer by going public or forcing a change to the songwriting credits.

Since the Blurred Lines case, notes Mason, other songwriters have pre-empted litigation by adding writers who might conceivably have had a claim to writing credits famously, Mark Ronsons worldwide hit Uptown Funk ended up with 11 writers. The average number of writers on hit songs has increased dramatically over the last five years or so, Mason says, and part of this is due to composers agreeing to add the authors of past songs that are somewhat similar.

Why, though, do all the best-known copyright infringement cases come from the worlds of pop and rock? After all, one rarely hears of classical composers fighting it out in court, or jazz players arguing furiously about whether one has ripped off the others saxophone solo.

I think there are two reasons, Bennett says. First, popular song is a constrained art form, with a palette of statistically predictable phrase lengths, song forms, scale and chord choices, lyric tropes and song durations. These norms are largely defined by market forces, through massed listener preferences over time affecting the kind of creative decisions that songwriters are likely to make.

Beyonce
Beyonc presesnting the award for record of the year, Uptown Funk, to Mark Ronson during the 2016 Grammy music awards. To avoid litigation, the song was credited with 11 writers. Photograph: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty

Its a type of cultural Darwinism, in a sense, but thats not to diminish the songwriters art writing a world-class hit is incredibly difficult, and needs everyone in the artists production team to excel.

Second, pop is where the money is. A plagiarism lawsuit is a financial matter party A is pursuing party B for compensation, so theres little point in going after someone whose work has not generated significant income.

You might think, of course, that musicians and songwriters are pinching from each other all the time weve all listened to songs and been reminded of something else. There are some artists, in fact, who seem to have made careers out of sounding like someone else: neither ELO nor Oasis would deny their respective debts to the Beatles.

Sometimes, though, musicians dont even realise they are borrowing. On a recent edition of the Reply All podcast, Princes longtime recording engineer Susan Rogers remembered him sitting at the piano and picking out a melody. He liked it, he noted. But had it already been written?

Subconscious recollection is called cyrptomnesia, and it has been responsible for some notable copyright infringements: in the 1976 case where George Harrison was sued for the similarity of My Sweet Lord to the Chiffons Hes So Fine, the judge described the similarity as an example of unconscious copying. Sam Smiths Stay With Me ended up getting Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne added to its writing credits, because of its similarity to their song Wont Back Down, and Petty observed, without rancour: All my years of songwriting have shown me these things can happen. Most times you catch it before it gets out the studio door but in this case it got by.

As Bennett puts it: Most melodic similarity is coincidental, and most accusations of melodic plagiarism are unfounded. In the rare cases when the similarity is so striking that it appears to be evidence of plagiarism, then yes its usually unintentional. Songwriters have almost zero incentive to copy melodies verbatim, and enormous economic disincentives to do so.

The miracle, perhaps, is not that there are so many accusations of musical copyright infringement, but so few. Consider that thereare just 12 semitones in an octave. Or think about how many songs that derive from the blues use the 1-4-5 chord progression (Twist and Shout; Blitzkrieg Bop; Louie Louie and Wild Thing and thousands more). What makes a song special is not its chords, or its top-line melody, or its lyrics, or its feel. It is how it combines all those elements.

Listeners dont hear songs as simple linear sequences of pitches they hear everything all at once, and its that combination of elements, in a recording or at a live show, that produces the powerful emotional response that we find so intoxicating, Joe Bennett says. If the cultural value of a song subsisted only in its melody, the world wouldnt need performers, lyricists, producers, or artists.

And, as everyone sitting in their living room gazing at the empty world outside knows, the word really does need all those people, for the sake of its sanity.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/law/2020/mar/26/a-hit-a-writ-why-music-is-the-food-of-plagiarism-lawsuits