Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Outfit - The Temperley Party

   Courtesy of my new acquaintances at Prendas Publicas, whom I met at the Temperley party at Sketch last week:

   The shenanigans that followed are to remain the stuff of legend, naturally. Though I suppose that it isn't every night that bloggers meet on a dancefloor

Sugababes - One Touch (2000)

   I had an entirely different, and, some might argue, more "sophisticated" record review to address the Broken iPod Blues I've been feeling. But then the news broke that Sugababes had finally become utterly akin to Menudo, Morning Musume and Trigger's Broom, so this response is wholly dictated by the fickle whims of current events. An easy mark for Pop Culture Thumbs-Down News of the Month if I ever saw one. Good times

   It's strange to settle in with their first, and best, album and note that in spite of the considerable charm, ranges and talents of the three founding - and now utterly departed - girls, Mutya, Siobhan and Keisha, that it was not immediately apparent that this was Britain's most successful female pop act in the making. At least, if you analysed the sales figures instead of scrutinising the music. But then the marketing for the group's introductory period demanded an appreciation of the little differences between themselves and their peers. They had a cutesy name but were not being promoted on the basis of their looks (though it's worth noting, now that the girls are in their early 20s, that those looks are more highly rated than popular myth might have it); they were 16 but neither cute like The Jackson 5 nor disquietingly sexualised like Miley; they were a girl group but instead of an abundance of plastic exuberance moulded as Spice Girls in waiting, the public were presented with a youthful, contemporary British pop band pitched somewhere in the hinterland between All Saints and En Vogue. And they could sing

   Quite the curious beastie, pop singing. To the average person, it's an area wherein if the voice conveying the lyrics doesn't make one reach for a rusty cleaver with which to pay personal tribute to Van Gogh then it's fine. Unless there is a panel of at least 3 overly self-satisfied judges on hand to make repeated complimentary remarks about a nascent singer's voice and the transformative effect it's had on their lives, sex lives, rheumatic problems and bank balances on live television or the vocalist on the radio or television is widely recognised as a diva, then no one cares how well the girl(s) in question performs. Especially if she has a face made for posters in a supermarket

   So, Sugababes at the start were different. No smiles, no sex, all 16, all sass. The music and the singing had to be front and centre, and it was rather helped by, as well as hinged on, the fact that the performers all seemed older than their years. Indeed, when they sang such a line in 'New Year', perhaps the least nauseating Christmas song in over two decades, it actually seemed plausible, the way that little Michael projecting age old heartache about the lover he spurned moving on from him did. The album's thematic elements are generally uncontrived - the usual hazards and happy times with boys and girls are mingled with deftly handled singalongs about teenage angst, musical escapism, breakdowns in communication and social alienation, much like a teenager's diary (thank you, Popjustice message board). Alongside this, the production was utterly different to their various peers - sparse, oft-times downbeat, barely melodic in most places and more in the mould of trip hop's pop excursions than the post-Spice World environment

   And these girls could not only sing but harmonise. Unexpected multi-part vocals are a particular highlight in 'Look At Me' and 'Promises', wherein the girls' voices cascade across each other without overwhelming themselves or the listener, while the vocal interplay, while not necessarily unconventional, strives to be interesting, whether through all 3 girls singing the second verse of still memorable debut single 'Overload' or ending an ensemble-sung bridge with a couple of solo lines. The combination of vocals is also a strong selling point, mixing as it does Keisha Buchanan's slightly tremulous r'n'b stylings, Siobhan Donaghy's sweet melodies and somewhat detached delivery, and Mutya Buena's strong range and interesting mix of honey and husk. Emerging as the band's best singer over 3 subsequent albums before resigning, Mutya gives the album moments of added punch, even managing to sound as if she's making little effort at the same time. This becomes particularly evident in the title track, which makes a 15 year old calling her beau "my dear" the most natural statement of declaration for a young 'un whose adulthood is still a few years away (by all accounts, the girl also makes for an excellent mother)

   The most interesting aspect of the line-up changes is how it reveals how each of the founders have shaped their particular tenures, notably in hindsight. Sugababes Mark 2 was filled with fuzzy basslines and grit and spikes in a way that particularly suited Mutya, who moved on to take the majority of first verses and leads on choruses, as well as typifying the "non-traditional" image of the band with her offbeat dress sense, tattoos and piercings. The recently ended Mark 3 focused on Keisha's enthusiasm for American r'n'b, more facile pop and high energy numbers. And so, Mark 1 seems to match the rather indie Siobhan the most through its heart on sleeve-approach, minor keys and utilisation of sunny and plangent strumming. And while this is the record of theirs that I'm most fond of, it does them no end of credit that amongst all the changes, there's still something to enjoy. I only hope that Mark 4 can keep it up

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Blue Gas (We Got)

Photograph courtesy of James Lewis

   My latest visit to The Crate Gallery involved appraising and enjoying the work of James Lewis,  a skilled conceptual artist whose Blue Gas installation brought a certain showstopping grandeur to the usual near-clinical confines of its three day abode

   Naturally, the neon words and numbers created for the show utilise the titular blue gas to achieve their illuminating effect. A number of pieces, such as those that I'm photographed with, crossed over from James' previous Value and Worth show, which addressed the intrinsic value of his creativity head-on, displaying the cost of the time, effort, design and even the electricity invested in the project. The end result was a series of price tags in lights, and very attractive lights they are too - I derived a thrill from having the issues of the pieces' fair value and fiscal effort posed to myself and to others in so forthright a manner

   The artist's methods and thought processes are detailed on The Crate's website; this excerpt addresses Lewis' approach:

 [Lewis] tries to prevent his Conceptual Art practice from being cold and stale. He does this by trying to place a narrative within his work, be it through photographically documenting his physical capabilities during a project or saving his income so that he can produce a series of neon signs. Lewis plays upon a personally devised formula of achieving a finalized “art object”¹. Which often means he financially or physically suffers for his art practice.

   As is common with such work, the viewer may transpose their own views and deductions even if they've been made aware of the concept. One of the first reactions I discussed with the artist was a certain nostalgia of 1980s apartments and the neon decorations that adorned many of them, as well as the use of such lighting and design in public advertising, my supposition being that this was a thoughtful and honest take on an iconic and ubiquitous practice

   I certainly appreciated Lewis' sense of perspective in addressing the true worth of his work in an analytical manner; some might argue that this kind of self awareness is sadly absent in the contemporary art world, although I have always felt that talent and effect should dictate prices. Lewis' projects are all worthy of further investigation - his end results are always well considered, technical, aesthetically interesting and unpretentious

   Perhaps the most delightful thing about viewing them is that not only do they all have something to express but they also seem to have yet more to say

Monday, 14 September 2009

Pop Culture Thumbs-Up 14/09/2009: What We Learned at the 2009 MTV VMAs

   Madonna can give a truly heartfelt speech. And Janet gets fiercer and more powerful with age

   We learned nothing new about Kanye's lack of class, however

Sunday, 13 September 2009

A Placeholder Post

From GlaxoSmithKline's blog. No, really

   I'm doing it again: leaving far too much time between posts, even though I genuinely have material in the pipeline (and I mean actual events, musings and writeups, not only narcissistic outfit diarising)

   The demands of the offline existence I'm eking out (long, fruitless jobhunting) places a small strain on the old thought processes, but combine that with a persistent sleep disorder (oh, and I've also been watching that Shakira video several times too many) and it's only a matter of time before the aforementioned narcissistic outfit diaries start to feature a dark skinned, Afro-haired incarnation of  Christian Bale in The Machinist El maquinista.  Even this is taking around 20 minutes to write, and it's only meant to be a quick missive to paper over my lack of attention.  And I'd rather like this here online ideaspace to last longer than my Livejournal

  One quick thing: Ryan, if you're reading, thank you very much for what you wrote at Final Fashion (enjoyable reading, by the way). Winston indirectly brought it to my attention by mentioning that he'd seen me namechecked by one of my own "confreres". I'm surprised and glad it was you

Saturday, 5 September 2009


   I've no idea how the effect came about, but it's an amusing one. It's also a sign that my camera is incrementally inching towards death as I type. Good times