Band biography review – Council Tax Band

Press release analysis – A comparative study

 

The point of a new, unsigned artist sending out press releases, biographies and promo CDs is to pique someone’s interest and make them want to listen to your hastily cobbled together tunes, rather than just chucking your life’s work into a pile of similarly shoddy efforts. You could make their ears prick up by giving a hefty list of unbelievably diverse artists who influenced your music, a list that makes you seem wise and cultured beyond your years. You could also use lots of big flashy adjectives and buzz words to describe the sheer quality of your music so that the reader of your biography will be salivating all over their lap before they’ve even had the time to insert your Sharpie-tagged disk into their computer so they can actually hear this music seemingly created by the gods themselves.

Before I move onto the actually biography in question that’s prompted me to write this, let’s look one done by a proper label person for a proper new artist: such as this one about up-and-coming-for-many-months-now Tom Odell. He was awarded the Critics’ Choice Award at the BRIT Awards, and despite a series of high-profile TV performances and being Taylor Swift’s supposed Shag Of The Day in the Daily Mail (Disclaimer: Term not used in actual article), Tom hasn’t quite taken off yet. Although he has had a little bit of publicity, he is still being wheeled on at the end of shows as a closing act and not actually having the chance to actually talk.

This is Tom’s performance of ‘Can’t Pretend’ on Jonathan Ross earlier this year. I’m sure you will agree it was quite tuneful and at times very loud and mashy. It might sound very good in a studio recording. But would you listen to that performance and turn to you dear lady wife, sitting in her dressing gown with a hot water bottle shoved up her top, and say “Sharon, wasn’t that beguiling?”, or “I don’t know about you, but that music was so magnificently formed that, when coupled with his personality, it becomes somewhat incendiary”. It’s all very fancy sounding. I steer away from that kind of vocabulary because my AS-level Media Studies education does not fill me with the confidence to use such flamboyant lexicon, hence why I describe music as ‘loud’, ‘mashy’ and ‘tuneful’, unlike those  who write these biographies and probably wasted 3 years doing a full-on degree in Media Studies, or those who write for the Guardian, where you can read a 5000-word album review and still not have a bloody clue what the album will sound like, with any clues about actual content hidden behind the writer’s pompous references to early Twentieth Century aristocrats and Evelyn Waugh novels.

The Tom Odell track is pretty good. It would sound good on an advert and I would be keen to hear more from him. But I wonder if any of his influences have been mentioned in his biography? You’ll be pleased to hear that they have, and not only that, but his musical taste includes ‘such diverse pleasures’ as “’Hunky Dory’ era Bowie” (a good era, and cooler than the ‘mainstream’ Ziggy era) and various other  artist, of all genders and sexualities, including “pre-‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ Elton John” (as if ‘Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me’, ‘I’m Still Standing’, and Blue single ‘Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word’ aren’t worthy of his time). That’s our Tom for you he has unconventional tastes, he breaks the mould, he doesn’t care that Princess Diana died for our sins.

His biography goes on and tracks his life, how he has only ever being interested in music, how his songs “emerge in torrents”, and how he ‘fervently’ shops in Rough Trade, not in HMV like the plebs.  Overall it’s a bit of a turn-off but that’s not Tom’s fault, someone else, who was paid to do so, wrote it for him and he probably finds it all a bit embarrassing, yet overall it’s a pretty effective biography.

Compare and contrast with the promotional information I received in the post last week from ‘Council Tax Band’.

Council Tax Band – ‘Three Songs EP’

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Council Tax Band have emerged from the ashes of the so far better ‘Das Wanderlust’ like a crippled, vulgar phoenix, probably so they could start afresh with a hilarious new name. There’s a dual-meaning of the word band! Well done. Sadly, until recently they were unaware that a Sussex-based group of groovy’ local councillors  with names like Nigel and Mary started  up a band with the same name in 2007, in order to reach out to young people and encourage them to vote, with their forceful and imaginatively-titled song ‘Vote!’. That’ll do the trick. Maybe get rough ex-Youth Police and Crime Commissioner Paris Brown in the studio too, to bring in the listeners?

The press release by the new Council Tax Band is one of the more depressing and self-deprecating biographies you may have the pleasure of reading this year. They tell us how they write “songs about boredom, disappointment, and failure; as such they’re sure to be a money-spinner with the lucrative pre-teen demographic”.  They haven’t got an interesting back story and couldn’t be bothered to think one up, they have “unremarkable haircuts”, and their “ultimate goal” is to eventually sell out and have their music on cardigan adverts.

They recorded the three songs on their wackily-titled ‘THREE SONGS’ EP in a room full of crap using “a combination of borrowed gear, and gear they bought themselves by slogging their guts out in a variety of shit jobs” and apparently it’s the first thing they’ve churned out which they “consider fit for public consumption”.  Additionally, the cover ‘artwork’ for this EP is a low-resolution snap of the four band members awkwardly looking at the camera and holding mugs of beverages (one can assume tea) in their room full of crap.  Their unremarkable haircuts are in view.

There is a “No bullshit version” of the biography too: “Two guitars/synth/drums. And shouting”, which sums it up completely accurately.

It’s a refreshing take on the necessary but tedious task of mailing out biographies to people who don’t care, but maybe they’re just being modest and ‘funny’ with their lack of effort? Maybe this is actually the greatest EP of its generation? Perhaps the handwritten note saying ‘Please find enclosed three unpleasant songs for your esteemed consideration’ was a red herring and the songs would actually be stunning recordings, or even beguiling pleasures?

The responses to those questions are all no.  If this is the first output suitable for public consumption, you can’t help wondering how sonically unpleasant the first drafts were.

They probably did have fun making it though and it’s obvious they can’t imagine a real career in music, but I reckon you could get into their gigs in Bedford for a quid and have a completely adequate evening out.  I went to a Das Wanderlust gig several years ago and got hit when a bit of a guitar fell off, so that might happen again if you’re lucky.

Track one is called ‘A Salty Grave’. The lyrics are repetitive and quite hard to understand. It goes on a bit.

Track two is called ‘Mentioning No Names’. It is a rare beauty on the EP in that there is actually a little bit of singing. From what I can gather, the song is about a left-wing politician. “He’s let the left down/he’s let us all down/but worst of all he’s let himself down”.  I best not speculate as to who it might be about, since the song’s name is anonymous, but we are told that “he’s not a racist, he’s just an arsehole” and there is quite liberal chanting of the C word during the chorus, which, we can all agree, is fairly rude.

Surprisingly track three is even better than track two, which in turn was better than track one, so we’re making slight progress here, well done. ‘Happy New Year’ has words you can actually make out and appears to be taking the piss out of people who make New Year’s resolutions and expect things to actually change. From the standard “You’ll give up the fags… you’ll hit the gym”, to the slightly less common “For every toilet roll you’ll plant a dozen trees” and something about cooking Lebanese (?)Then there’s a little keyboard breakdown which is not completely awful and a final verse about what I can only assume is the make-believe world where New Year’s Resolvers live, where there is no longer any war and the rivers are made of chocolate. I reckon that’s what it’s about but who knows… Either way, there is a droning chorus of HAAAPPY NEW YEEEAR HAAAAAAAAPPY NEW YEEEEAR, which is fairly horrible.

Nobody is going to gain anything by me pretending this EP is going to take the world by storm. If those brief song descriptions sound pleasant to you, you can download the songs for whatever you can afford at their Bandcamp page, which I’m sure they’ll appreciate. I probably could have just gone on a bit about Kafka or Smiths B-sides and ignored the actual content of the CD and people would have been more inclined to go and listen to it, but if you can’t be honest on an anonymous blog that nobody will read about a poor-quality band that nobody has heard of, then when you can be honest, eh?

 It’s all a bit of a racket though, which is a shame. Das Wanderlust, the ashes of which should preferably be scooped up and reconstituted into something that resembles the old band, had many more enjoyable tunes, all with good names too: ‘Sherlock Holmes is Better Than You’, ‘I Wish I Was a Robot’ and the shout-along lost classic ‘Humbug’, but we’ll let Council Tax Band off as it’s early days yet.  They still have time to come up with lyrics as gut-wrenchingly emotional as “After we’ve watched shit TV, we decide what we want for tea. We go to the orange shop and we buy some bits and bobs”, but you can’t just force out that kind of gold 24/7, it has to come to you naturally, in a dream or ethereal vision, and it’s quite clear that Council Tax Band won’t make the effort to hurry that vision along.

They say that if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all, but I think it’s best to be brutal and hopefully the victim can make a few changes and progress from that point. A gig review recently described the band as ‘ungooglable’ which, in fairness, is possibly the best comment you  can make without being rude or lying, and you’ll probably see that word on a label across the cover of their next EP.

 

 

REVIEW: Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra – “Theatre is Evil”

Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra – “Theatre is Evil”Image

A review and general ramblings about my history with Palmer.

Like the majority of fans, I first came across Amanda Palmer when she was with Dresden Dolls. I was about seventeen and had befriended a girl on a music festival forum and met up with her at the festival in 2006. It was nothing seedy, I’m still in touch with her now and do my best to see her when we are both at the festival in the same year. One year on the forum somebody organised a mixtape swap and I was paired up with this girl.
I have no idea what was on my CD that I sent to her, probably tracks by bands that were ‘cool’ at the time, so I could impress her, plus a few of the weird little indie bands that I used to support continuously despite the fact they were pretty awful. There was this one band I loved, the man would badly play a guitar while the woman banged a toy keyboard and screamed over the top about Sherlock Holmes. I bought their album and t-shirt and dragged my friends to their concerts, then I was shocked when the local HMV did not stock their album, and I demanded they order it in. It was at one of their gigs that I first saw an instrument that I have always dreamed of, but I’ll come to that later.
I can’t remember what embarrassing stuff was on my CD, but on her CD was a track called ‘Gravity’ by Dresden Dolls. I had listened to the CD a couple of times and most of it was far too cool for me, but the Dresden Dolls track really caught my attention. This may have been because it only featured piano and drums with some mad banshee singing, talking, whispering then screaming I THINK WE’VE LOST HIM!
In the age where I was penniless and discovering independent music, I downloaded all of their albums, their B-sides and rarities album and then finally Amanda Palmer’s fantastic debut solo album. I tried to get some friend into this music and they did really take to the mildly offensive ‘Oasis’ video, with its rape-LOL and coat hanger abortion scene, but they didn’t want to adventure any further into Palmer’s disturbing mind.
A bit more time passed, I went to live in Spain for a year and had an Australian flatmate who loved Palmer and the B-52’s and many of my favourite acts but it was at last nice to find another fan. Palmer seems to have acquired a very strong Australian fanbase, touring there extensively and releasing an album of dodgy live recordings, ‘Amanda Palmer Goes Down Under’,  solely aimed at Australians and including the disturbing ode to pubic hair, ‘Map of Tasmania’. This wasn’t the follow up album I had been hoping for and I didn’t understand many of the references; of course, I could grasp that a lady’s garden looks like the outline of Tasmania but I could hardly sing along to an old  Vegemite advert like the audience in the recording.
Eventually, with a huge amount of money raised through a Kickstarter campaign, Palmer funded a new album and allowed me to purchase it through her website for the princely sum of one dollar. I’m not sure how much that is in GBP these days and I haven’t checked my bank statement since then, in case she took £100, but this presumably low cost was much appreciated as I am ‘between jobs’ and Palmer must be loaded. I listened to the album a few times and it didn’t really click with me until this week, when I was in the car for a mammoth journey and was able to listen to all nineteen tracks in one go, in the dark. It started to make sense after this.
Every album of Amanda Palmer’s has some tracks that are excellent and some that I would skip or never listen to until the end and there is nothing new with Theatre is Evil. With its nineteen tracks, including some bonus tracks I received because I paid as much as a US dollar, it is long enough to cut down into your own album, which I will probably do in the end. I intended to do a track-by-track review but that would take far too long, so I’ll pick out a few highlights.
                One of the first tracks I heard, ‘Do It With a Rockstar’ , which was a free download before the album was released, really hit me hard and made me reassess my social life. I kind of wish I had heard it before I went to university. Especially so, the lyric:

 “Do you wanna go back home, check your messages and charge your phone? Are you really sure you want to go when you can do it with a rock star?”
                After hearing that, I acknowledged that I am often one of the first to leave things and too eager to get to bed, which results in me missing out on something far better. I have been aware of this since I was about four and I was at a fair with my family. My great-grandmother bought us all some banana-shaped sweets, which she said we could have when we got home, so I went home early just so I could eat the sweets. During the time I was at home eating sweets I was going to get anyway, my siblings were having loads of fun on, possibly monkey-themed rides. I’m not sure if the rides were monkey related, I might just be associating them with the banana sweets… but the point is that I ended up regretting missing out on something far superior because I was keen to go home. I don’t suppose Palmer intended on bringing up these repressed memories but she will probably put some money towards my counselling because she’s a good sort.
From reading fan reactions, one of the most popular tracks on the album is ‘The Bed Song’, with Palmer just singing and tinkling her piano keys. It follows the lives of a couple by  documenting each of their sleeping locations from sleeping bag, to mattress on the floor of a hovel, to big bed and finally to the grave. One partner knows that something is wrong with the other but is too afraid to ask, whereas the other is too afraid to say anything and is instead waiting for the other to ask. It’s pretty bleak; they carry on this way until both are dead and side by side buried under a cherry tree, never knowing what the problem was. She sings, “I would have told you if you’d only asked me”, which will surely make you want to be a bit more open with people before you go and die, or at least man up and ask someone what is wrong. The singing in the verses of this track sounds quite jolly, while the lyrics contrast this, making for quite an uncomfortable listen.
Before you go and drown yourself in the bath, there are more jolly songs on the album such as ‘Lost’, not about confused polar bears on a Pacific island, but more so about losing things and people and them passing on. There are some nice lyrics here, which would lend nicely to tattoos for any obsessive fans, particularly,

“Nothing’s ever lost forever / it’s just caught inside the cushions of your couch / and when you find it you’ll have such a nice surprise”.            A motto for life.

Other good upbeat moments are ‘Want it Back’, ‘Massachusetts Avenue’ and ‘Melody Dean’, if you fancy a toe-tapper without so much emotional involvement. Of course like most other Amanda Palmer records,  around the end, in this case ‘Berlin’, that is very long and starts off really slow and boring before finally kicking off for the last minute or so, but I wouldn’t usually get that far unless I were for some reason unable to skip back to the start. For others that follow this pattern see: ‘Truce’, ‘Sing’, ‘Boston’, ‘Slide’.
So in summary, there’s enough here for everybody and it’s a case of picking and choosing which tracks would make your definitive track listing. For me I would go:
Smile (Pictures or It Didn’t Happen)
Do it With a Rockstar
Want it Back
Grown Man Cry
Lost
Bottomfeeder
The Bed song
Massachusetts  Avenue
Melody Dean
The Killing Type.
Oh, that seems to be the majority of the main tracks anyway, which is a nice sign. It’s definitely worth spending a US dollar, although you are given the option to spend more, if you’re made of money. You can also download it for free if you’re in completely dire straits, but you won’t get the bonus tracks. A final note: Of these bonus tracks, I would also recommend ‘Ukulele Anthem’, and I think this one can be downloaded for free from Palmer’s site anyway. That instrument I mentioned earlier was an electric ukulele and looked like a wooden spoon with strings. I have been intrigued by the uke since then, and Palmer and Patrick Wolf made me ask for one for Christmas one year, but I never got around to playing it until I heard Ukulele Anthem a year or two later. It really is as easy as Amanda makes out. Give it a go.