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Category: Music (Page 12 of 12)

The National - Boxer

The National: Boxer

The National - Boxer

The National - Boxer

Part of the experience of becoming attached to an album is that surprising moment when it comes at you out of left field, when something doesn’t go quite as you’d expect. A good album gets behind your defenses and bypasses your algorithms of expectation. It makes you set new frames of reference and reconsider what you thought you ought to expect.

The inwardly-gazing bent of The National’s brooding humanity of subject matter and intermittently bombastic catharsis did just that on 2005’s Alligator, their last album. The deep, woodgrain timbre of Matt Berninger’s vocals chanting the stream of everyman’s consciousness brought the poetry of music for mass consumption into new, more personal spaces. In between nervous breakdowns, oddly-timed just as they are in life, the songs on that album taught the listener to wait and listen to learn how they meant, not just what they meant or how they sounded. Alligator was The National’s beautiful album of pop music without a user’s manual. With no one to ask how to hear it, you had to wait until the wash of sound and verses found a chink in your understanding and flushed in.

The personal settings and themes of the songs on Boxer, the new album, are not new ground for the band, but their delivery is. The songs are less accusatory. They are more often simply in the space they describe, at home with the facts they lay out, such as when Berninger intones on “Slow Show” (“I want to hurry home to you/put on a slow, dumb show for you/crack you up/So you can/Pin a blue ribbon on my breast/but I’m very, very frightened/I’ll overdo it.” We see vulnerability and the admission that to return home to the fake empire of interpersonal myths, like returning to Vonnegut’s all-important “nation of two”, to return to the myths that stand to privately glue people together, is the paramount desire. The concerns the songs are focused on are not with the world at large, but, as with the first single, “Mistaken for Strangers”, whether the play-acting and personal mythbuilding we all engage in severs or strengthens the ties we keep dear between each other.

On Boxer, there is an audible lack of those screaming outbursts that lent their urgency to standout tracks “Abel” and “Lit Up” on the previous record. There are no longer the bewildered pleadings and apologies of tracks like Alligator‘s “Baby, We’ll Be Fine” or “Friend of Mine”. Instead there is a tangible, studied space and pacing to the record. I said it before, but singer Matt Berninger’s voice is woodgrain, it is a part of the music that surrounds it. It ages, changes colors. It becomes better and more careworn the more time the listener spends with it. The subtlety of the production, the absolutely perfect timing of each instrument, the whisper of backup vocals at the decided-upon moment; touches like these, and touches like the mechanical puff of pink noise peeking like Kilroy over the percussion on “Apartment Song”– each of these things bespeaks a flagellant’s devotion to presentation, a maniacal drive and fury behind the scenes. There, behind the bluescreen, is where the twitch and ire worn on Alligator‘s sleeve has holed up, dug foxholes, dedicated pillboxes and bunkers whose cornerstones no one but moles will read where devotees of a long and meaningful moment, devotees of our episodic and continuous human lives, will drink black coffee and pore over maps and strategy in fevered isolation.

To conclude, it is fitting to quote from a poet Berninger’s lyrics’ imagery quite often evokes, Robert Lowell. In Thoreau 2, Lowell writes, ‘…For Thoreau/Life in us was like water in a river: “It may rise higher this year than all others.”/Adrift there, dragging forty feet of line,/he felt a dull, uncertain, blundering purpose…’

This reviewer is reminded of the scene in The Outlaw Josie Wales wherein Clint Eastwood shoots the ferry rope of the raft carrying his pursuers, capsizing the craft and buying him time to escape. Squinting into the sight of his rifle he prefaces the shot by telling the carpetbagger who had moments before crossed the river with him, “Out here we got a thing we call a Missouri boat ride.” To really listen to The National is to admit that you can relate to the foundering Missouri boat ride we drift on with friends, family and lovers, dragging forty feet of line tied to no shore and feeling a dull, uncertain, blundering purpose on our attempt to pull from one bank of life’s flood to the next.

Scroobius Pip Live in London (George Bull)

Scroobius Pip – The Interview


“They say a picture’s worth a thousand words/ so with this thousand words/ I‘ll paint a picture in your mind that breaks the rule of thirds…” sound the first lines of Scroobius Pip’s album opener “1000 Words”. “Anyone can write a poem if you’ve got something to say,” he says when we meet before one of his recent London shows. Be that as it may, not everyone can stand and deliver like Scroobius Pip. Each time I revisit his self-released debut album No Commercial Breaks, I find a new reason to call everyone I know and tell them to get hold of it. A genuine wordsmith, ladies & gentlemen: this here Scroobius Pip might just be the most refreshingly original artist in the UK at the moment.

Actually, let’s take a long step back…

I meet him at The Pool, a dark lit bar in London’s East end Shoreditch. He’s due to play a gig tonight at the Strongrooms – an intimate affair given the small space, and it’ll just be him and the 6”2 Pianist this eve (Pip beat boxing into a loop peddle with 6”2 adding a rift, then coming in with the vocal) pushing his solo work, no Dan Le Sac with whom the first single “Thou Shalt Always Kill” is due out this month on LEX Records. He arrives just after 8pm clad in his trademark suit, skinny tie, and beard – that looks like it’s there for religious reasons he tells me – “I originally wanted a tight eighties moustache, but Hitler’s really got a captive market with that one.” He asks for a tap water (“very rock n roll, I know,” he says with a smile, sitting down).

Pip’s work is hip-hop, it’s jazz, it’s a cappella, but he is first and last a poet. The name in fact comes from the Edward Lear poem “The Scroobius Pip” – a man himself famous for his often nonsensical poetry. Scroobius himself is excellent company – effortlessly polite yet he’s bursting with enthusiasm and despite his sincere modesty, I’m also struck by a quiet confidence in him. He tells me he doesn’t really get nervous before gigs because his stuff is written as spoken word, to be SPOKEN and so if it’s sitting on the page, it’s not doing what it should be. Like the song “Angles” about a young guy who commits suicide after a run in with a security guard and whose brother then sets out to avenge him – “I wanted to write something that wasn’t just linear narrative, but made the listener respond like a viewer does to scenes in a film, characters expressing different points of view.” Originally recorded with a live jazz band on his solo album, this tune has now been blended with beats from friend Dan Le Sac and it may well prove to be this version that brings his sharp social commentary to a wide audience over the coming year.

He’s eager to talk about his influences and passionate about up and coming British artists he’s into at the moment like Kate Nash and Adele London. Spoken word artist Gil Scott Heron “was a big influence” – Saul Williams and Sage Francis are heroes. The history of this here Scroobius Pip shows a man with fresh ideas, who only a year ago made the decision to get his music out there – “this is still my rookie year.” Having made management at HMV then came decision time: “am I going to just keeping talking about my music or go out there and do it?” So he set off in his 1987 Space Cruiser and toured the country for a month doing street performances. He would check the listings and find out who was playing – people like Mr Scruff, the kind of gigs that would attract people who might appreciate the well-crafted spoken word offerings of Pip. He would just pitch up, set up a mic and give the punters a free gig before they got inside the venue to watch artists that Scroobius himself admired. “I was never a fan of the local band scenario. I didn’t play a gig in my hometown for ages, I wanted to get a genuine reaction on my stuff from people I didn’t know, strangers. First performance ever was outside a Buck 65 gig in Camden – I was outside doing my stuff and giving out flyers. Whatever happens Ill always keep doing spoken word,” he reassures me – “that’s where my roots are.”

Scroobius Pip (George Bull)

Scroobius Pip

Collaboration with Dan Le Sac came about more recently: the pair had known each other for years, though weren’t close mates at the time. Originally both photographers, they shared a big appreciation for underground label LEX Records, so when Dan remixed one of Scroobius’s tracks something clicked. XFM’s John Kennedy and Radio 1’s Rob da Bank picked up the demo for “Thou Shalt Always Kill” and championed it on their shows. The combined radio exposure and build up of public support led to more gigs and eventually the current release. Right now they’re both incredibly excited about forthcoming projects together, as well as the very real possibility of getting signed for an album deal.

“LEX Records was a huge honour. Dan and I both said even if our careers ended tomorrow we would be happy just to be able to hold up the LEX vinyl with our names on it.” In fact Scroobius had originally sent them his individual album – they liked it but didn’t think it was right for LEX. For now he’s putting a hold on his solo material, though it isn’t a case of this being separate to his work with Dan, there are certainly crossovers and he just focuses on whatever side of things are exciting him most at the time – and right now it’s the stuff with Le Sac: “We have an album worth. And we’re working fast – the buzz we’re getting from it all at the moment we could probably put it together in a couple of weeks given the chance!” For “Thou Shalt Always Kill” –Dan sent him the beats and he adapted a poem he had half written, recorded the vocal and sent it back within the hour. “It’s a list poem so it’s easy for people to get straight into it.” A list of commandments as an antidote for the wounds of a generation fed on tabloid news and the guns, bitches and bling scenario. They’d love to release another favourite live track – “Letter from God” using Radiohead’s “Planet Telex”, but that really depends on Radiohead. The pair want to be respectful and have stopped it from playing on the radio until they can approach the band for permission.

Our interview wraps up after 40 minutes or so and he asks if I’m going to come down to his show at the Shoreditch Strongrooms. I accept and head down. The little bar, it reminds me of poetry reading – and there’s Scroobius in the corner talking to the 6”2 pianist, bowling past, excited that all the artists and friends he’s mentioned during the evening are here to see him play “See, people will go anywhere for a free gig” he says, smiling.

To check out Dan le Sac Vs. Scroobius Pip, this summer’s British Festival Goers would be wise to hit Bestival 2007 on the Isle of White.

  • Thou Shalt Always Kill by Dan Le Sac Vs Scroobius Pip is available to download from ITunes now and on 7” from LEX Records.
  • To listen to Angles and Letter From God check out www.myspace.com/danlesacvsscroobiuspip
  • Scroobius Pip’s solo album No Commercial Breaks is available via www.scroobiuspip.co.uk

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