Tag Archives: The National

The price of everything

A comment on my post about this week’s book signing event made from the direction of the mortal bath, when added to a Golden Week spent with delightful visitors from back home, has suddenly opened my eyes to a universal truth. Crikey, life in Tokyo is expensive at times.

I realise that I now regularly pay 4,000 yen (slightly over thirty notes) for a night of clubbing without batting a heavily mascara’d eyelash at it, when back in the East London days, a fiver would be all I would need for admittance to some of the city’s finest warehouse raves. A taxi home once the last train has been missed will cost slightly less than four grand, but is still a hefty chunk of cash and remember, no drinks have been bought yet.

Still, payday is approaching and summer fun is on the horizon. Ticket details for the forthcoming Tokyo performance by the xx were released today and I allowed myself a couple of moments of getting over-excited about the prospect of going. I love their sparse beats, plaintive lyrics and am sure that seeing them would be a highlight.

Then reality kicks me in the head. Tickets have been priced at forty-five quid (5,800 yen). I paid about the same to see The National last year, a band who have released five albums and a stack of additional songs and who were on stage for almost three hours. It felt at the time, and still does, like a good return – much as I hate to be measuring my enjoyment of music in such a way. I suppose I should be grateful that I am able to hand over actual cash in return for a ticket at all, when the xx’s London dates have completely sold out, having been released in a ballot.

And yes, I do appreciate that it costs money to run a club and to fly bands and DJs in from overseas. I don’t begrudge anyone making a living from selling their creativity, especially when the use of it results in me having a cracking night out. That said, there are times on the dance floor when wide open spaces loom all around and the thought that it would be better for the room to be full with people paying less is difficult to push away. If everyone is priced out of going clubbing and gigging, where will that leave the respective music scenes in a decade’s time? We will all be the poorer, not just the promoters, if they allow the atrophy to become irreversible.

So, with some reluctance, I will be sitting this one out. Hoping instead to pick up on some smaller, less well-known, less high-priced gigs and nights out over the summer, to enjoy the immediacy of live music without completely breaking the bank. And for now, I will have to content myself with sitting in my room, writing and humming along to the xx as I do.

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Top 5 Records of 2011

Missed doing this last year as I was toasting myself to a crisp on a beach in Thailand, so it seems long overdue!  I know you are probably all a little weary of ‘best of’ lists, but it has been such a cracking year for music that it would be an awful shame not to share some of the love with your ears.

1. I Break Horses – Winter Beats

In a year so full of albums to fall in love with – from Slow Club to Oneohtrix – it seems cruel to have to choose one, but I Break Horses’ debut Hearts demands the accolade.  Layers and layers of perfection, so the songs blow you away on first listen but still keep enough back to reveal further delights on subsequent plays, it is a beautiful, beautiful piece of wonder.  If you don’t already own it, you MUST.  No question.  And if you don’t believe me, trust The Line of Best Fit, who made it their album of the year.

There are a couple of gems I could have picked, but I have gone for the one I discovered first, the stunning Winter Beats:

2. Octo Octa – I’m Trying

A sublime, silky, Amerie-sampling, soul-laden piece of loveliness from American producer Octo Octa, certain to get you in the mood for whatever tonight’s celebrations may bring:

3. Sully – Let You

I first discovered Sully via his mix for FACT magazine, yet it has been difficult to find out much else about him, as he seems to be that rare breed of producer that shuns publicity.  First album Carrier is another essential listen, mixing strong beats with soulful melodies to sound, in the way all good dance music does, brand new and classic at the same time.

Again, it is tough to choose a favourite, so here is the one that first caught my ears’ attention, with its sparse beats and tough bassline, Let You:

4. I Draw Slow – Goldmine

Slight change of pace for this one, a song I discovered via a friend and have rarely gone a day without playing since, a true mark of quality.  I Draw Slow meld American bluegrass and traditional Irish melodies to provide the perfect accompaniment to this haunting tale of a bad girl falling for a good guy:

5. The National – England

No-one following me on Twitter or reading ten minutes hate this year could have missed how much I fell for The National, even more so once they were able to play their long-delayed Tokyo gig.  I know that latest album High Violet was released in 2010, but hey – my site, my rules.  So I choose this stunner, the words to which never fail to put a tingle up my spine:

So, that’s my 5!  I am sure to have missed many other gems, so please let me know yours in the comments.  It has been such a crazy year for news, politics and life that concentrating on music seems at times dreadfully self-indulgent.  However, I like to think the opposite is true and that we need great music more than ever right now.  Whatever comes, I wish a very happy Year of the Dragon to everyone who has read the site this year.  Thank you!

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We should play Tokyo more often

It’s rare for us all to be in good moods at the same time.  We should play Tokyo more often…

Our songs don’t mean much in English either, so don’t worry.

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‘The waters are rising’ – The National in Tokyo, 09/11/11

This shouldn’t necessarily be an earthquake story.  It should be a music review, of a band and how they played, the songs they sang in whichever order, and how happy they made everyone that heard them.

But it is set in Japan in 2011, so of course there’s an earthquake.

The National were meant to play in Tokyo for the first time on 17 March this year.  I wasn’t even supposed to be going, having been unable to get the night off work (here we finish late and gigs start early).  I was trying to be stoic about the disappointment of missing something that I had been keen to see since spying the advert in December.  There would be other chances, I reasoned, they weren’t really my favourite band, there was only one of their songs that I adored.

Then the plates conspired, the waters rushed in and everything changed, for some of us more than others.  People left Japan, perhaps never to return, handing over tickets to those who stayed for a gig we weren’t sure would ever take place.  Biding my time, I bought a couple of albums worth of songs and discovered much more to love.  So much so that I chafed like a kid forced to wait for Christmas when the new date was finally announced.  November?  But that’s miiiiiiiiiiiles away!

Until suddenly it isn’t.  You are packed into a venue so intimate the band could be playing just for you, so close to your neighbours it is like a Yamanote line train.  The band walk onstage to Dylan’s ‘The Man in Me’ and it as well as the Big Lebowski – your second favourite Coen brothers film – give you a big grin.  So much anticipation.  So long to wait.  Could anything live up to the hype?

Well, of course.

Listening to them on record does display traces of humour, but you might be unprepared for how funny The National are.  They are tough on themselves – Matt Berninger accuses himself of messing up two songs, Aaron Dessner promises that the next time they play in Tokyo they will have better jokes – but they are playful, at ease with each other and yes, funny guys.  Still, they are not here for the stand-up, unlike the angels of ‘England’ never needing to be desperate to entertain.

There is a gentle start from the gorgeous ‘Runaway’, before the ‘kind of like a pop song’ ‘Anyone’s Ghost’ and then it is back to third album Alligator for ‘Secret Meeting’.  Perhaps it is the louder moments from latest ‘High Violet’ that get the crowd jumping, either ‘Ghost’ or ‘Bloodbuzz Ohio’, but there is beauty in the quieter moments too.  And almost a tear during ‘Abel’, for the friends that should have been here to see this but are now so far away.

The band mention it too, speaking simply of the horrible events that kept them away and their feelings about them.  Also mentioning that now they have been – and almost managed to get to grips with the Metro – they will be back.  It gets loud cheers from the crowd, as of course it would, but they are genuine ones.  Remembering how Japan felt as people left or postponed visits and how happy we are to see visitors…

Especially ones who bring songs like ‘Terrible Love’ for us to leap around to, hands in the air and yelling the words, the atmosphere perhaps so infectious that Berninger heads into the crowd to sing it from the back, mike lead borne aloft courtesy of some heroics from the roadies as he goes, surrounded by an array of smartphones and dazed expressions.  Did he really do that?

All too soon we reach the end, an acoustic ‘Vanderlyle Cry Baby Geeks’, which everyone joins in with, as instructed – ‘if you know the words or even if you don’t’.

It is a lovely moment, still I can’t be the only one getting chills from all these voices from Japan and elsewhere singing the line ‘the waters are rising’.  Those dark waters and their after-effects brought so much pain still to be healed that an eight-month delay to hearing a band doesn’t seem like such a big deal.  Even so, I am glad they finally made it and hope it won’t be that long until the next time.

Photos by Kate Borland

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Worry not, all things are well

I am probably too late getting to The National, as I would bet they already pick up quite an amount of praise in the right quarters, but given that I don’t really listen to any radio stations or music shows these days, I am often to be found a pleasing couple of months behind the hype machines.  When I was a kid it would have filled me with horror not to have an opinion on the latest band on the day of their album release, or at the very least, one day before you had one, but I suppose letting go of all that ‘now, now, now’ crap is one of the true joys of getting older.

This song I first found via an Andrew Weatherall mix which I wrote about a while ago and so is probably unavailable now (or try searching the internet, you may be able to hunt it down).  I have not stopped playing it since that day, and this beautiful song is one of the many reasons why it remains so essential, never failing to up my joie de vivre.

The next time I fall for someone, I want this to be on the soundtrack.  The search for love essentially does boil down to looking for someone to hide behind the sofa with, in winter, having slept in your clothes.  Right?  What else is there?

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Simple life improvement

factmix85-andrew-weatherall-alt

I have to recommend this mix as it will improve your life to a previously undreamt-of degree.  A perfect blend of really good music, no messing.

In a perfect example of symmetry, Andrew Weatherall has produced the new Fuck Buttons album.  Fuck Buttons are the subject of the most recent post over on  Bone Conduction.

There is also news of a new Junior Boy’s Own book.  Truly, life doesn’t get much better.

(FACT mixes have a three-week shelf life, so download it here before it’s gone!)

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