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


25. Jan. 2009, 1:44

The Sunday Times guide to today's music scene : Part 1
The Sunday Times guide to today's music scene : Part 2
The Sunday Times guide to today's music scene : Part 4

Grabbed from the Sunday Times, linked up with

(Typos corrected where caught. Please let me know if you find any more)

Watch tracks from Culture's definitive guide to modern music

January 25, 2009

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

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 Ambient and Anti-Folk to Garage, Electro and Power Pop: part three of our definitive guide to modern music


Brian Eno, Robert Fripp, Harold Budd, Robin Guthrie, Stars of the Lid, Tim Story

Back in the , when Brian Eno came up with the idea of music that should be “as ignorable as it is interesting”, the genre seemed destined for a limited life in a world with ever-decreasing attention spans. Low-key instrumental music with no great ambition to get anywhere? Next! Yet music persists, in its own quiet way. Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works and albums by The Orb gave the genre a boost in the , and its influence spread throughout related areas: you can hear the influence of ambient on the likes of Air, Boards of Canada, royksopp, Sigur Ros and pretty much anyone who learnt from ambient that you could leave quiet bits in there and people wouldn’t stop listening. Pure ambient music is still heavily populated by the 1970s generation, with Harold Budd, Robert Fripp and Hans-Joachim Roedelius all still making exceptional music, alone and in collaboration. Occasionally, newer faces appear, notably Norway’s Geir Jenssen, whose albums as Biosphere seem to reflect the fact that his home is in the Arctic Circle; the British duo Marconi Union, who bring a darker edge to things; Japan’s genre-hopping Susumu Yokota; the -heavy Texans Stars of the Lid; and the Ohio-based Tim Story, whose collaborations with Roedelius are breathtaking.


Recent: Marconi Union, Distance (2006); Stars of the Lid, and Their Refinement of the Decline (2007); Robert Fripp, At the End of Time (2007)

Classic: Brian Eno, Music For Airports (1978); Harold Budd, Luxa (1996); Biosphere, Substrata (1997)

Key track: Hans-Joachim Roedelius & Tim Story, Downrivers (2008)


Jeffrey Lewis, Emmy the Great, Diane Cluck

First of all, it isn’t. music, that is. In fact, many of its leading players make music that is, if not exactly , then folky. The Hong Kong-born, London-based singer Emma Lee Moss, aka Emmy the Great, is a good example of what the genre is supposed to be about: the songs on her debut album, First Love (due for release on February 9), combine intricate melodies, acute lyrics, intimacy, humour and candour. It takes its name from a dispute in mid-1980s New York involving a musician called Lach, whose raw, punk-infused songs led to him being barred from most of the city’s leading folk clubs. To coincide with the next NY Folk festival, Lach launched his own anti-folk jamboree, and thus was a movement — if something as disparate and disputatious as anti-folk can be called that — born. To give you some idea of how disparate: in America, it encompasses everything from the haunting, laid-bare minimalism of Diane Cluck to the slapstick and silly-costume-wearing of The Moldy Peaches. To give you some idea of how disputatious: in Britain, scenesters tend not to use the hyphen, make music that maxes on a kind of amateurish absurdity and misfit performance-art anarchy, and have little to do with folk or, in some cases, music (which isn’t to say some of them don’t possess their own startling gifts). Emmy the Great belongs in the hyphenated camp, as, arguably, does Laura Marling. They’re anti-folk, but not, you know, actually anti it. In fact, they rather like it. In an understated sort of way.


Diane Cluck, Macy’s Day Bird (2001); Jeffrey Lewis, The Last Time I Did Acid I went Insane and Other Favourites (2002); Emmy the Great, First Love (2009)

Key Track: Diane Cluck, Monte Carlo (2000)


Geeneus, T2, MJ Cole, DJ EZ, Burial, Benga, Kode9, Skream

You may remember a time, at the turn of the millennium, when was the big new thing, and acts such as Artful Dodger and So Solid Crew were scoring Top 10 singles. It had emerged from the rooms at drum’n’bass nights and was originally a speeded-up version of the soulful style. As it evolved, the bass lines became more ruthless and the rhythms more disjointed — especially in the style, with its characteristic missing second and fourth beats. Sadly, with success came a reputation for violence; in 2001, the police started to refuse licences for garage nights and all but shut down the scene. Back underground, the music sent off shoots in many directions. In east London, young crews came up with grime, the British version of . In Croydon, a group of producers centred on the record shop Big Apple stripped out the singing, ramped up the bass and created . Within a few years, dubstep was being championed by a Radio 1 DJ, Mary Anne Hobbs, then it conquered the world.

This atmospheric style borrows from its delay and echo effects, which create a striking sense of open space and a vivid atmosphere. Perhaps buoyed by dubstep’s success, garage producers set to work again, and the scene, with a strong element of nostalgia, is regaining ground, although part of the fraternity has moved into a lighter, supposedly more female-friendly style called , or simply , which pretty much brings garage full circle. For those who like it raw, there is , an abrasive Sheffield-born style that is the most pared-down garage sound yet.


Burial, Burial (2006); Various Artists, Box Of Dub (2007) (Amazon UK); Various Artists, The Very Best of Pure Garage (2008) (Amazon UK)

Key track: Benga & Coki, Night (2008)


DJ Hell, Aphex Twin, Kissy Sell Out, Soulwax, Daft Punk, Herve

Something big is happening in the clubs. Not for nothing did NME, the touchstone of young music-lovers, lead off its Scene 2009 roundup with the Dance & Electronic section. For NME, there was only one type of dance music to get excited about: a new sound that, with a breathtaking lack of respect for boundaries, throws a bit of everything into the pot, including old-fashioned riffs, a prurient interest in the and lots of threatening . Some types of dance music are as easily defined by what they are not as by what they are, and that is certainly true of electro, music’s catch-all category. It began life in Detroit, descended from the stern rhythms of Kraftwerk and Throbbing Gristle and the of George Clinton’s project, and was the precursor of . Dave Clarke, a techno DJ-producer, has a healthy sideline in electro and defines it as “held together by left-field spirit and no 4/4 beat programming”. To that, one might add the fact that whereas , say, often aims for a smooth, organic feel, electro revels in the synthetic, the modern and the bumpy; often electro tracks have vocals and song-like forms, but you can bet the producer will have messed about with them irreverently. These days, the genre has three main strands: (often called ), the stop-start, poppy descendant of The Chemical Brothers-style big beat; the experimental, acquired-taste variety, whose tart, curious tones are increasingly taking on the bass fixation and open rhythms of ; and the , or , style, the kind NME believes is 2009’s most exciting music — which is also developing a bass obsession. There’s a lot of it about at the moment.


Daft Punk, Alive (2007); Freq Nasty, FabricLive 42: FreQ Nasty (2008) (Amazon UK); Bomb the Bass, Future Chaos (2008)

Key track: Hervé & Kissy Sell Out, Rikkalicious (2008)


Kate Rusby, Karine Polwart, Roddy Woomble, Seth Lakeman, Cara Dillon, Eliza Carthy

While you will regularly hear tales of a “”, the truth is that, in the rock’n’roll era, folk music has never gone away. Each generation simply reinvents it. Recent years have spawned several mergers between folk and other genres — , — but they have also seen the emergence of a new breed of folk traditionalists, who, while they might not quaff real ale and wear Shetland woollies, sound as if they might know someone who does. The 1990s band Equation never quite lived up to its billing as a “supergroup”, but it did unleash the talents of Kathryn Roberts, Seth and Sean Lakeman, Cara Dillon and Kate Rusby. Both Seth Lakeman’s aggressively played music, which hovers between folk and Singer-Songwriter territory, and Rusby’s gorgeous work, which stays true to its Yorkshire roots (brass bands and all), have been nominated for the Mercury prize — as was The Bairns, the second album by Rachel Unthank & The Winterset. Roddy Woomble, the lead singer of Idlewild, is the latest rocker to revert to folky roots, with great success. Both Scotland’s Karine Polwart and Ireland’s Damien Dempsey exemplify the ability of the modern folk singer to tackle current issues in a traditional format, Dempsey’s music, in particular, having an astonishing ability to move from the grim realities of today’s world to a state of transcendence.


Kate Rusby, Awkward Annie (2007), Karine Polwart, Scribbled in Chalk (2006); Roddy Woomble, My Secret Is My Silence (2006)

Key track: Damien Dempsey, It’s All Good (2004)


Girls Aloud, Sugababes, Spice Girls

At its most blatant, (MP) is a puppets-on-a-string affair, with managers, producers and songwriters (and, more recently, stylists, make-up artists and designers) on hand to pull the levers and buff the product. Sometimes, the involvement of the actual singer or band can seem like an afterthought. Bands such as Spice Girls, S Club 7 and, further back, The Monkees were recruited through ads placed in the trade papers, and Girls Aloud were assembled on a talent show, lending weight to the idea that such acts serve merely as photogenic money machines for the svengalis behind the scenes. Today’s legions of gun-for-hire songwriters — Xenomania, Cathy Dennis, Max Martin et al — and impresarios as canny and ubiquitous as Simons Cowell and Fuller have a strike rate that is so consistently successful, and targeted with such precision at national radio’s current requirements, it is easy to concentrate on the manipulation, as it were, and forget about the quality, and eccentricity, of some of the records they contribute to (and that acts including Girls Aloud and Sugababes make their own, in some cases co-writing). A whiff of snobbery certainly attends perceptions of MP. Purists who doff their caps at the Brill Building greats — conveniently forgetting that the likes of Lieber, Stoller, Goffin and King often churned out songs to order — remain ostentatiously deaf to the pop perfection of singles such as S Club 7’s Don’t Stop Movin’ and Girls Aloud’s Biology. Less uptight folk have no such difficulty. Pop as product, sniff the critics. Oh, relax.


Recent: Rachel Stevens, Funky Dory (2003); Girls Aloud, Chemistry (2005); Sugababes, Taller in More Ways (2005)

Classic: The Monkees, More of The Monkees (1967); Take That, Everything Changes (1993); Spice Girls, Spice (1996)

Key track: Girls Aloud, Biology (2005)


Fountains of Wayne, OK Go, The Feeling, Weezer, Jonas Brothers

As the word “” became debased, essentially being used to describe the worst kind of manufactured pop, we needed a new way to describe pop that was actually good. Hence . Think of it, then, as anything that harks back to The Beatles (up to and including Revolver) and especially anything that brings in a little extra energy — as typified by the dumb but infectious hooks of The Knack’s My Sharona, the slick, more-power-in-reserve coolness of The CarsMy Best Friend’s Girl and the driving riffery of Tom Petty’s American Girl. Power-pop classics of the 1990s, such as Matthew Sweet’s guitartastic Girlfriend and Jellyfish’s incomparable Bellybutton, failed to connect with a wider audience, but power-pop gained a new level of success this millennium when it was co-opted by the kind of boybands who protested that they weren’t boybands at all, such as Busted and McFly, and by American grunge-lite acts such as Blink 182 and Good Charlotte. The Disney popsters Jonas Brothers are currently continuing this tradition, while a classier version of power-pop can be heard in the works of Maxïmo Park and The Feeling. The spring in power-pop’s step is neatly symbolised in the video for OK Go’s Here It Goes Again, where the band perform their YouTube-famous dance on treadmills.


Recent: Busted, A Present for Everyone (2003); The Feeling, Twelve Stops And Home (2007); Fountains of Wayne, Welcome Interstate Managers (2003)

Classic: The Cars, The Cars (1978); Matthew Sweet, Girlfriend (1991); Jellyfish, Bellybutton (1990)

Key track: OK Go, Here It Goes Again (2005)

(Links not checked. Please let me know where amendments are required.)

Source: The Sunday Times guide to today's music scene part III

The Sunday Times guide to today's music scene : Part 1
The Sunday Times guide to today's music scene : Part 2

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  • catachresistant

    I always wondered why "anti-folk" was called "anti-folk". Now I know! Also, big YAY for Ambient and Manufactured Pop!

    30. Jan. 2009, 0:45
  • Babs_05

    Glad you enjoyed reading, catachresistant. Keep an eye out for the rest of the series.

    30. Jan. 2009, 0:47
  • Ascayavie

    So there's more to come? I have read the first 3 (okay, at least scanned through) parts and i have to say there's a lot of music missing. Anyway, that prog rock thing in part I is a miss by a hundred miles.

    14. Feb. 2009, 19:36
  • Babs_05

    Thanks for the comment, Ascayavie. Yes, one more to come. I've been a bit distracted by my book. I'll get on to it soon. So what music's missing, do you think? You're welcome to expand on the prog rock thing in the journal for Part 1 if you like.

    14. Feb. 2009, 23:30
  • Ascayavie

    Well, there's a lot more than what I am missing, but based on my listening habits: They have not mentioned any kind or genre of metal music. I personally am into prog metal and sludgy stuff, they missed out on that so far. Maybe some chillout in the form of nu-jazz, trip-hop or psy-chill wouldn't hurt either. And many more genres I'm not really even aware of... Btw, what kind of book?

    15. Feb. 2009, 11:32
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