The Sunday Times guide to today's music scene : Part 2


18 jan. 2009, 1h39m

The Sunday Times guide to today's music scene : Part 1
The Sunday Times guide to today's music scene : Part 3
The Sunday Times guide to today's music scene : Part 4

Grabbed from the Sunday Times, linked up with

January 18, 2009

The Sunday Times guide to today's music scene part II

Ambient I Alt-country I Americana I Anti-folk I Art rock I Blue-eyed soul I Conscious Rap I Electro I Emo I Fence Collective I Folk traditionalist I Folktronica I Freak Folk I Fridmann's Freaks I Gangsta rap I Garage I Grime I Hardcore I Heavy Metal I House I Hip-Pop I Indie rock I Manufactured pop I Montreal scene I Neo-Psychedelia I Nordic pop I Post-rock I Power-pop I Progressive rock I R&B I Second Childhood I Singer-songwriters I Slowcore I Synth pop I Techno

From the Montreal scene to Gangsta Rap, Hardcore and Nordic Pop: part two of our definitive guide to modern music


The Arcade Fire, The Dears, Stars, Land of Talk, Wolf Parade

Leonard Cohen’s home town, the Wainwright family seat (Rufus Wainwright and Martha Wainwright are natives), a hub of post-rock: Montreal’s place in pop history is assured. Four years ago, however, one band turned up the heat on the local scene: The Arcade Fire. Their debut LP, Funeral, was the first to be blogged to international acclaim.

A concept album, of sorts, about bereavement and transcending loss, it hollered — with stirring strings and apostolic hearts on its sleeve — that here was a group ready to take on “the big music”, a mission that had lapsed since the glory days of U2, The Waterboys and Echo & the Bunnymen. Régine Chassagne’s accordion gave it a certain je ne sais Québécois, and its success shed light on The Dears’ superbly gloomy baroque Britpop, the modern romanticism of Stars, and The Besnard Lakes’ sable, reverb-heavy harmonies.

If there aren’t many sonic similarities across the city, these acts do share key traits: married couples, or a boy/girl frisson, are integral to the dynamic, as are line-ups of at least six players and/or a proclivity for rampant band-hopping. Such qualities are also common to the national-champion supergroups from Toronto and Vancouver, Broken Social Scene and The New Pornographers, although the Dears are now down to a husband-and-wife duo.

A second wave of hip Montrealers is led by the manic indie bar band Wolf Parade and the female-fronted power trio, Land of Talk; the third includes the “new lumberjack swing” (ha ha!) of The National Parcs, potentially Canada’s OutKast, and the electro-infused We Are Wolves. of Montreal, trivia fans note, come from Athens, Georgia.


The Arcade Fire, Funeral (2004); Stars, Set Yourself on Fire (2005); The Besnard Lakes, Are The Dark Horse (2007)

Key track: The Arcade Fire, Rebellion (Lies) (2005)


Gallows, Rolo Tomassi, Enter Shikari

Never has a style been so misleading as , or for short. The fury of the music, the off-putting screaming and the corrosive guitar are usually informed by principles of the most politically correct sort. Just as the vegan death-metal band Carcass launched their career with the album Reek of Putrefaction, so hardcore often rages against injustice and bad attitudes, even if the kids dancing to it are just getting their rocks off.

At the tail end of the 1970s, a handful of bands on both coasts of America realised that punk just wasn’t getting to the heart of the matter; they played faster, yelled less intelligibly and took an even more DIY approach, and a movement was born. Skaters liked it — many adopted the “straight edge” lifestyle that the hardcore pioneers Minor Threat seemed to prescribe in their songs — and kept it bubbling away through the 1980s, but it was seen off by , which did the same kind of things in a more palatable way. By 2007, both in America and Britain, a hardcore scene had grown up again in small pockets that were then starting to coalesce. First, the St Albans band Enter Shikari got into the charts entirely through their own efforts; then their Hertfordshire peers Gallows were given a £1m record deal; now hardcore is the most fecund of all the rock genres. The sound is less uniform than the 1980s version, and keyboards, rappers and prog tendencies are all part of the loud, messy fun. Essentially, if it’s got screaming in it, it’s hardcore.


Recent: Rolo Tomassi, Hysterics (2008); Fucked Up, The Chemistry of Common Life (2008); Gallows, Orchestra of Wolves (2006)

Classic: Bad Brains, Bad Brains (1982); Dead Kennedys, Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables (1980); Fugazi, 13 Songs (1989)

Key track: Gallows with Lethal Bizzle, Staring at the Rude Bois (2007)


Dr Dre, 50 Cent, Snoop Dogg

Twenty years ago, Los Angeles’s N.W.A came Straight Outta Compton, announcing: “You are about to witness the strength of street knowledge.” There was a degree of anger and social protest about early ’s amoral depiction of its life and crimes, but that wasn’t the point. Business was the point, the business of making money (by any means necessary) and of flaunting new-found power and status (cue the fast cars, the pool parties, the hos). Even after the master producer Dr Dre declared gangsta rap “dead” in 1996 — not long before the killings of 2Pac and the Notorious B.I.G., both apparent victims of an infantile West Coast/East Coast label feud — business proved very lucrative indeed. Powered by Dre’s sparse, slow-rolling beats (often called ), Snoop Dogg’s outlaw profanities were catnip to white suburban teens — the audience satirised by Ali G — and led to the rise of Eminem, the rap Elvis. In 50 Cent, the boorish, nine-times-gunshot king of bling, the genre stripped to its bare essentials, but at what cost? The trumpeter Wynton Marsalis isn’t alone in thinking that it perpetuates “debasing” stereotypes of African-Americans. Meanwhile, rap’s fulcrum is elsewhere today, in Jay-Z’s empire and in Atlanta, and Snoop Dogg has become a reality-television star.


Recent: 50 Cent, Get Rich or Die Tryin’ (2003); Snoop Dogg, R&G (Rhythm & Gangsta): The Masterpiece (2004); The Game, Doctor’s Advocate (2006)

Classic: Dr Dre, The Chronic (1992); Snoop Doggy Dogg, Doggystyle (1993); Notorious B.I.G., Ready to Die (1994)

Key track: Ice Cube, Gangsta Rap Made Me Do It (2008)


Lucinda Williams, Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss, Ryan Adams

To understand exactly what is, simply remove the “alt-”. And there you have it. Alt-country is . So why put an “alt-” in front of it at all? Because alt-country is what country used to be, way back before Nashville turned it into a slick offshoot of manufactured pop. The “alt-” says: “This is country, but it’s not Garth Brooks and it’s not Shania Twain.” The alt-country movement took country back to basics in much the same way that punk reminded us what rock was all about in the first place, harking back to the heart-wrenching yet foot-tapping songs of Hank Williams and drawing inspiration from key artists of the late 1960s and early 1970s, notably Gram Parsons and the former Monkee Mike Nesmith. Cowboy Junkies were playing alt-country before the name was invented, and their cover of The Velvet Underground’s Sweet Jane illuminated the shared territory of rock and country that was explored by Ryan Adams and Wilco, thus drawing a rock audience to the emerging alt-country genre. Alt-country singers can vary widely in style, from the prim sweetness of Laura Cantrell (a favourite of John Peel) to the raucous drawl of Lucinda Williams.


Recent: Lucinda Williams, Car Wheels On A Gravel Road (1998); Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002); Laura Cantrell, Not The Tremblin’ Kind (2000)

Classic: Hank Williams, I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry (1949); Gram Parsons, Grievous Angel (1974); Michael Nesmith & The First National Band, Loose Salute (1970)

Key track: Emmylou Harris, Hold On (2008)


Ladyhawke, Frankmusik, Kylie Minogue

When Kylie launched her comeback with the hit single Spinning Around in 2000, she heralded a new era for , one that continues in the work of artists such as Ladytron, The Knife, Hot Chip, Pip Brown, aka Ladyhawke (above), and a new tip for 2009, Frankmusik — to yield superb results, albeit with much less commercial impact than Kylie has had. The most persuasive proselytiser for the notion that electronic music can course and thrum with emotion despite being made with machines, synth pop stretches from Giorgio Moroder’s ground-breaking work with Donna Summer in the 1970s to today’s leading lights. Borrowing from both David Bowie and Roxy Music’s consciously arty 1970s releases and the more clinical and robotic work of Kraftwerk et al, it is seen by detractors as all style over substance, lightweight and arch rather than profound and authentic. Synth pop soared in the 1980s: acts such as Duran Duran (whose shoulder-padded posing scarcely helped defenders of the genre) flew the flag for the frothier end of the synth-pop spectrum; The Human League, Ultravox, Yazoo, Erasure, Pet Shop Boys, Eurythmics and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark occupied a middle ground; while Gary Numan, Depeche Mode and New Order stood on the darker side. The Killers briefly looked as if they would encompass the entire territory, though they then decamped for rockier ground. The Las Vegans’ recent re-embracing of synths suggests they’ve realised there remains musical gold to be mined in the genre. The best examples are stylish, certainly. But lacking in substance? I think not.


Recent: The Killers, Hot Fuss (2004); The Knife, Deep Cuts (2003); Ladyhawke, Ladyhawke (2008)

Classic: The Human League, Dare (1981); Eurythmics, Touch (1983); Pet Shop Boys, Actually (1987)

Key track: Ladyhawke, Paris Is Burning (2008)


Mogwai, Sigur Ros, Explosions in the Sky

To get a handle on , start by thinking of a rock band that doesn’t have a singer. Now add in the fact that while they may well play standard rock-band instruments, they will certainly not be indulging in any “rawk” clichés. Instead, their music is likely to be influenced by the s of the Velvet Underground, the insistent but not rockin’ rhythm of , the emphasis on atmospheres of , the emotional pull of music and the improvisational ethos of . Then allow them to bring in a singer after all, if they want, but make it clear to him that his vocals are no more important than any other element. Now you have post-rock. The genre emerged with Talk Talk and Slint — the latter’s guitarist, David Pajo, going on to make some of the best post-rock albums under various names (M, Aerial M, Papa M). Chicago has spawned a scene of jazzy post-rock bands, most notably Tortoise, while Montreal has given us the more unashamedly emotional music of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, thee silver mt zion and Do Make Say Think. If you want to find out just how powerful music without words can be, the brutal dynamic shifts of Scotland’s Mogwai are a good place to start. Although Sigur Ros sing proper songs, their tendency to do so in a meaningless, nonsense language easily pushes them into the post-rock world. You might even say that Radiohead, with their wilful refusal to ever, ever, ever act like a rock band, embody post-rock values.


Recent: Sigur Ros, ( ) (2002); Explosions in the Sky, All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone (2007); Thee Silver Mt. Zion, Horses in the Sky (2005)

Classic: Slint, Spiderland (1991); Talk Talk, Laughing Stock (1991); Aerial M, As Performed by Aerial M (2000)

Key track: Mogwai, Glasgow Mega-Snake (2006)


Lykke Li, Hanne Hukkelberg, Emiliana Torrini, Kate Havnevik, El Perro del Mar

The Nordic countries produce a lot of heavy rock, and occasionally turn out a fine garage band — The Hives, The Raveonettes — but the truly unique musical product of these territories is a breed of female singer that appears to draw inspiration equally from the pop genius of ABBA and the left-field genius of Björk. Singers such as Sweden’s Lykke Li and Sarah Assbring (who records as El Perro del Mar), Norway’s Hanne Hukkelberg and Iceland’s Emiliana Torrini marry catchy pop smarts with quirky sonic choices and — usually — a quiet, delicate childlike voice that implies innocence, but often hides darker than expected lyrical subject matter. It’s the kind of music that gets used on ads when the agency wants to prove it’s really creative and the clients want to prove they’re really caring. Gritty urban artists like to call on these singers to provide a vocal counterpoint (Hafdis Huld, once of GusGus, contributes vocals to Tricky's Knowle West Boy), but Nordic popsters can also turn their hand to mainstream fare — Torrini co-wrote Slow for Kylie — and are staples of those American TV shows, such as Grey’s Anatomy, that are as famous for their soundtracks as their plot lines.


Recent: Lykke Li, Youth Novels (2008); Hanne Hukkelberg, Rykestrasse 68 (2006); El Perro del Mar, From The Valley To The Stars (2008)

Classic: Björk, Debut (1993); ABBA, Arrival (1976); The Cardigans, Gran Turismo (1998)

Key track: Emiliana Torrini, Jungle Drum (2008)

Watch tracks from Culture's definitive guide to modern music

Source: The Sunday Times

Link to The Sunday Times guide to today's music scene : Part 1

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  • Babs_05

    I've been checking a few things too! Thanks for reading and your comment. Keep an eye out, I plan to grab the entire series and link them up.

    18 jan. 2009, 22h39m
  • Cacophonaut

    Very interesting, especially since I'm crap at keeping up with the developments. How could I have missed the rise of synth pop? I wasnt ever aware of it, but I'm loving Ladyhawke. I will say though, there are a lot more important things happenig to hip hop at the moment than gansta' rap. Gansta' rap is a bit like the corruption of values that occured in Rock n Roll in the fities, before the British invasion reinterpreted it. Good article though.

    19 jan. 2009, 0h10m
  • Babs_05

    Thanks for reading and for your comment, Cacophonaut. Life kind of gets in the way, doesn't it? There are some developments I've missed too. Maybe they'll do hip-hop in a future article. They did R&B and Grime in part 1, which are kind of related in that their roots are in jazz. I thought Gangsta rap died when Dr Dre said it did!

    19 jan. 2009, 2h30m
  • Babs_05

    It wasn't awesome, it was awful. You're welcome to start your own journal and start a new discussion, link it back to here if you want. Failing that, write to The Times and tell them how bad you think their music journalists are. You'll find contact links in the source links in the main journal.

    11 fév. 2009, 19h13m
  • Maagikki

    Pretty accurate. Gathered most of today's mediocre artists and classified them under a genre tag that's all "hep and funky" these days. Then again The Sunday Times isn't about the music so I can't really blame them either. Gives good insight to what hipsters are into these days though.

    14 fév. 2009, 22h53m
  • Babs_05

    Thanks for the comment, Maagikki. I think the 00s have been a fascinating decade for popular music and all the scenes that came with them. I don't think we have ever had so many on the go, all at the same time. Like, if I think back to the early 90s and grunge, everybody knew about it even if they weren't into it. Nowadays we need a little assistance!

    14 fév. 2009, 23h28m
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