“What is it about a bonfire?” The opening question from Phil Elverum’s press notes for Lost Wisdom Pt. 2 is one that haunts the latest Mount Eerie album from start to finish, an elegiac motif that returns to the word “smoldering” twice on its journey. It’s a term that invariably carries a sense of interlocation, though its passing is noted both ways: when we think of a smoldering romance, it evokes the presence of flame waxing, ascendant; when we think of a smoldering bonfire, we mourn what’s left of the light in its embers.
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Pete Wentz is driving around LA, speaking to me over the phone about his newly-launched range of jewellery and apparel, Ronin. As far as rock star business enterprises go, it’s certainly extravagant, and the website’s description of the rings, pendants and hoodies held therein – “born out of the idea of wandering, a samurai without a master, and the free dreams that accompany facing the world on your own” – adds to the initial sense that Wentz’s professional career may have ballooned into parody, the kind of project Connor 4 Real from Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping might have signed off on. “We would go and sample products in the jewellery district in downtown LA, learning why one gold looks more yellow than the other,” he tells me when I ask about it. “It’s been a really interesting learning experience.”
But then Pete Wentz, to borrow Lana Del Rey’s favourite American poet Walt Whitman, is large; he contains multitudes, and some of those multitudes just happen to involve samurai-themed lockets. Among other projects, he owns a clothing company, a film production company, a nightclub, and a minority share in American USL soccer team Phoenix Rising. “It scares me sometimes, watching him,” Patrick Stump once joked. “The two seconds you’re not with that dude he’s made 30 decisions that are going to affect our band for the rest of the year.”
Ah yes: he’s also, you may recall, the bassist in Fall Out Boy.
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If you’ve listened to ‘Desert Sessions, Vol. 11/12’ – the latest record from Josh Homme‘s “bizarro supergroup” – you might have noticed a particularly unusual voice singing on ‘Chic Tweetz’, the sixth track on the album. Alongside British comedy actor and musician Matt Berry, the track credits a certain ‘Töôrnst Hülpft’ on vocals – and fans have been busy posting their theories as to who the mystery singer could be.
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Credit: Danny North/NME
Like most 16-year-olds in 2019, Alfie Templeman finds himself growing up torn between a maelstrom of political uncertainty, environmental crisis and, well, tweeting pictures of your face photoshopped onto a dog. Unlike his peers though, Templeman’s face has been showing up in some even less likely places – namely splashed across billboards in LA and Times Square. With gloriously hazy new single ‘Used to Love’ adding to an already impressive list of early releases, he might need to start getting used it.
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Photo credit: Hanna Katrina
For those who possess both the requisite drunken bravado and burning desire to maul Robbie Williams’ back catalogue, karaoke parties are rarely the start of something beautiful. Mistakes are made, memories are lost, and some traitor inevitably captures the whole tawdry scene on video. When Lewis Maynard, Tom Dowse and Nick Buxton – old friends whose previous bands had crossed paths in London – united to belt out some Deftones bangers, however, it proved to be the unlikely catalyst to start a new band together.
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When Natasha Khan announced a new album informed by the baby pinks and teals of 80s music and cinema, it would have been easy to sneer at it as the latest cultural power-grab for nostalgia, the aural equivalent of a New Coke can left in shot a little too long. That it would be a costume to dress up in for the night rather than something, you know, authentic. As it turns out, Lost Girls is a phenomenal record, which should come as little surprise for an artist whose just about to release her fifth on the bounce as Bat For Lashes (six if you count the Sexwitch LP, which you absolutely should). But that’s almost beside the point.
The point is that costumes and make-up are ways of telling stories; when we strike a pose, we reach towards something higher than the everyday motions learned by rote, which is ultimately what Khan does best. Each of her albums carries a concept, and yet even when they’re playing dress-up – quite literally in the case of Pearl, the blonde-wigged chaos twin she built into the Two Suns narrative – they’re telling us something about the artist, about ourselves.
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If you spent any amount of time getting high with political science undergrads in the last 15 years, you’re probably familiar with the boiled frog concept. The theory goes that a frog placed in boiling water will immediately leap out again, but a frog placed in tepid water before being slowly heated to boiling point will barely notice the change and, in true English spirit, die out of politeness rather than complain. Unfortunately, no less a figure than the Curator of Reptiles and Amphibians at Washington DC’s National Museum of Natural History made his position beautifully clear on the veracity of the theory: “Well that’s, may I say, bullshit.”
Nonetheless, it’s proved to be a hugely expedient analogy in both political and psychological terms, with an irresistible climate change parallel; unsurprisingly, Al Gore borrowed it for his 2006 climate treatise An Inconvenient Truth. While the theory may not tell us much about amphibian cognition, it reminds us that climate disaster doesn’t necessarily start with Dwayne Johnson attempting to navigate a speedboat up the crest of a tsunami. It starts with a punch-up at a public swimming pool in southeast London.
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The pop star has barely been on stage for a few seconds before the screaming begins. At the front of the venue, diehard fans have cast off any prior nerves about seeing their idol in person; now all that tightly coiled energy is sprung into cheering, crying, jumping up and down, singing every word back to every song.
I close my eyes and picture the scene: BTS at Wembley, perhaps, or One Direction at the San Siro. When I open them again, the small stage is dominated by a slightly awkward young man, school tie wrapped around his head, occupying an early afternoon slot at Brighton’s 140-capacity Komedia Studio.
And it’s sensational.
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Ever since Hugo’s head fell off and his teeth spilled across the stage, Sarah Angliss has been hesitant about bringing him on tour. The experimental musician has worked with a variety of collaborators over the years – as I speak to her on the phone, she’s building up to a performance at Supersonic festival, where she’ll be appearing as a trio with Sarah Gabriel (vocals) and Stephen Hiscock (percussion) – but her 1930s ventriloquist dummy head on a stick may not make the journey this time. “I worried that no one would enjoy the show without him,” she confesses, an anxiety belying the fact that her entire live show is extraordinary beyond Hugo.
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Returning to the Orkney Islands of his childhood, Erland Cooper instinctively sought to map out the nooks and crannies of life there as organically as possible. When it came time to record ‘Sule Skerry’, the second album in a triptych sketching the region, the musician didn’t merely seek out standard field recordings and local commentary, but impulse responses – the sonic capture of a specific acoustic environment, echoes marked with as much prestige as the call.
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