New Alternative Music | 18 January 2019

Stella Donnelly | Gary Clark Jr | The Cinematic Orchestra | KNOWER | Lana Del Rey

Hello again friends, freaks and fans of alternative music of the kind that makes your partner complain, “What is this shit you’re playing?”

It’s something of the proverbial hot potato this week with some real heavy topics covered in the lyrics to the songs.

There’s some stuff in there about the particularly zeitgeisty topic of toxic masculinity, there’s some race-relations, some songs about “one hope”, lack of hope and loss of freedom; oh, and there’s some mad foray into video games somewhere in the middle too.

Hope you enjoy…

1. The Charm Offensive | Stella Donnelly: Old Man

Stella Donnelly is fierce. She’s fierce in the sense that her musical stylings are often sparse and unpolished. She’s fierce in that she steadfastly sings in her Australian accent. She’s even fierce when she’s being tongue in cheek (see her last EP title – Thrush Metal).

But most of all, she’s fierce in the lyrics she writes. She’s got form; Boys Will Be Boys (from the aforementioned EP) was a dialogue between herself and a rapist. The same release’s opener, Mechanical Bull found Donnelly offering to be your “darling, tits, legs, honey, sweet pea” before counteracting that she would also be “a fucking asshole” if you were to ask it of her.

In the week that razor company, Gillette entered the headlines with an advert which, hauntingly, also uses the ‘Boys will be boys’ mantra to starkly highlight how lax and how long we’ve been in calling men on their shit when it comes to the sexual harassment of women, Donnelly’s return seems all the more timely.

On Old Man she spits her most powerful vitriol yet. “Boy, if you touch her again I’ll tell your wife and your kids” she says, before adding “You’re out of line”.

But she’s not done yet; “It’s our words that will keep our daughters safe / your personality traits don’t count if you put your dick in someone’s face.”

As the world apparently wakes up to the sheer enormity of the problem of toxic masculinity, Donnelly’s voice remains (Thrush Metal pre-dated #MeToo by several months) one of the most unparalleled and uncompromising in the industry. And more power to her.

2. The Military Coup | Gary Clark Jr.

While writing and recording his upcoming album, Gary Clark Jr. was racially assaulted in the presence of his three-year-old son.

“He [my son] was asking me what was happening and I didn’t want to explain to my child why this guy upset me.” Clark Jr told the Huffington Post. “It just made me so angry. So we got This Land after that.”

No wonder the opening lyrics to the song are “Paranoid and pissed off”.

Primarily a first-person narrative about what it is to grow up as a black man in the United States, the Texas native widens the scope by talking about how his own home-state is right in the middle of ‘Trump country’ (and it doesn’t take an awful lot of dot-joining to remind oneself that Texas is also ground zero for America’s current travails over Trump’s immigration-halting wall.)

“Nigga run, nigga run / Go back where you come from / We don’t want your kind” he quotes in the chorus before retorting, “Fuck you, I’m America’s son / This is where I come from.”

Lyrical fire from a man who’s pretty handy across a fret-board too.

3. The Peaceful Protest | The Cinematic Orchestra: A Caged Bird / Imitations of Life

The word “pioneers” gets thrown around a lot nowadays but The Cinematic Orchestra are one band that truly deserves the tag.

So groundbreaking, so awesome (in the truest sense of the word), so elevating was their early work on albums such as Everyday that they’ve inspired not only songs and bands, but entire genres of music in the years since.

That the collective has not released a ‘proper’ album for 12 years hasn’t extinguished enthusiasm for new music from it; all it’s done is fanned the flames for a swathe of electronic-jazz challengers to the crown.

And so, when the band returned with new material this week, understandably, the time had come to hold J. Swinscoe and friends’ new output against all that has been borne in its wake.

And, for me, it absolutely lives up to expectations. A Caged Bird / Imitations of Life uses the tried and tested, sweet-and-sour formula of the ‘Orchestra’s strings against Roots Manuva’s gravelly tones, while, at the same time introducing dance-influenced beats that wouldn’t be out of place at a Four Tet DJ set.

It shows that, once again, The Cinematic Orchestra can be versatile, can switch things up and can take us by surprise. But it also reminds us that, even while the landscape around the Cinematic Orchestra has changed, it was a landscape that they, themselves, first envisioned. Where jazz and electronica, classical and hip-hop, the sublime and the subversive could live side-by-side and result in music that was not only powerful but also palatable.

4. Guerilla Warfare | KNOWER: One Hope

If one of last week’s songs is anything to go by, video games don’t have their own music anymore; they just get the leading artists of the day to compose bespoke tracks to score their most dramatic ‘scenes’.

But, if you were a 90s kid like I was, you’ll instantly recognize the sound of a specific genre of music now known as ‘chiptune’. A few notes of music from this genre will illicit flashbacks of Atari-logos and arcades, megadrives and – if you, like me, were unfortunate enough to be at a DJ Scotch Egg gig in the early 00s – memories of being pelted from the stage by a Japanese bloke hurling… you guessed it… scotch eggs.

KNOWER have never been a chiptune band (thank God). But they’ve always been just about as close to it as I would have ever wanted to go, combining the energy and synthesized bass lines of those early computer game soundtracks with genuine musicianship ‘chops’ and dollops of good humour and even better harmonies.

Until now. On One Hope Sonic the Hedgehog’s gone rogue. Bored of running around that one headache-inducing track collecting rings, he’s driven a stolen car into downtown Mobius and gone on a killing rampage.

Honestly, the opening bars could be a chiptune version of something from Metallica’s debut album with the distortion turned up to ‘Fuck Off’.

How the song develops into a soaring juggernaut of sheer beauty is as much as a mystery from that point as it is a testament to Louis Cole and Genevieve Artadi’s supreme mastery of their art.

It would even be worth being pelted with spherical sausage meat for.

5. The Quiet Riot | Lana Del Rey: Hope is a Dangerous Thing for a Woman Like Me to Have – but I Have It

It always seemed odd that Lana Del Rey got famous, didn’t it? Everything about her seemed specifically designed not to appeal to the masses from her dress sense, to the depth of her voice to the style of her music.

Even her breakthrough hit Video Games was gothic and ballady in a way that would have made Nick Cave sit up and take notice (were he not too busy gazing at his own navel) but was hardly typical top-40 fodder.

Well, on Hope is a Dangerous Thing for a Woman Like Me to Have – but I Have It, Ms. Del Rey (or Elizabeth Woolridge Grant as she’s better known to her Mum) appears to be confronting all of that.

“All of these debutantes / Smiling for miles in pink dresses and high heels on white yachts / But baby, I’m not that” she says before admitting to a string of very un-popstar-like acts (save, perhaps, Britney circa 2007) such as “writing in blood on the walls” and “tearing up town in my fucking white gown.”

From such lyrics to the sparse arrangement (you can imagine a strings section being just lovely on this), the whole track is geared to eschewpopularity. It’s as if ‘hope’, for Del Rey, is a synonym for acceptance. And, rather than open herself up to the shallow promises of hope/acceptance through creating a song that might actually be popular again, she’d rather stay in her own cold, quiet, gloomy abyss. But fair play to her for that. I happen to love that little abyss and find a great deal of comfort – some might even say hope – in there too. Here’s to not fitting in.

The Outro

And so we reach a cease-fire for this week. You can find all of the tracks reviewed above in the 45 Revolutions per Minute playlist below or click to access the 45 RPM Playlist on Spotify itself.

If you like what you hear (or even if you don’t), please engage in dialogue with me @45rpm_Reviews on Twitter. And, if you’d like to receive updates weekly, please subscribe to the email list to get these recommendations sent to your inbox weekly.

The silence is broken again next week when I’ll return with five more selections for your consideration. Until then, thank you for reading and go in peace.

– SV –

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