Boy interrupted: Frankmusik’s return to peak pop fitness with “Between”

Out on a limb - Vincent Turner by Danny Land

Out on a limb – Vincent Turner by Danny Land

Pop records are like babies: no matter how quick and magical the moment of conception might be, the birth is usually a long and messy process, and you never quite know what’s going to come out of the other end.

This is the kind of observation Pop Lifer would once have confidently made based on exactly zero first hand knowledge, but in the case of “Between” – the third record from the stubborn, stupidly gifted Vince Turner (AKA Frankmusik) – we actually know what we are talking about for once.

We were halfway through a long and intense interview with Vince late last year when he made one of his characteristically impulsive decisions and scrapped his planned third record in front of us. Instead of the mellow, mid-tempo suite of piano ballads he’d already written in LA, Vince had a new twinkle in his eye. Inspired by a new track he’d just written called “Captain”, he conceived of a more jittery, European and electronic record – one rather more like Vince himself and rather less like his false step of a second record.

We half expected him to change his mind again before we got on the bus back home, but he didn’t and now, nearly six months later, “Between” has finally popped out into the world. In between Vince has stayed in regular contact, sharing his bottomless enthusiasm at finally making a record which is entirely his own, with every blip and note created, sung or played himself. He was like an expectant mother sharing all the miracles of pregnancy, except interesting.

The process proved two things to us. First, that modern music technology is little less than miraculous (the fact that Vince made such a lavish, sumptuous record in his tiny Croydon studio with little more than a Mac and a mic staggers us). Second, that Vince’s talent has never been so obvious, so boundless as it is right now.

Over the first three months of the year it became a regular thrill to wake up and find an email with a new Frankmusik song attached. We remember the first time we heard a slice of “Cake!”, which was even more delirious and ditzy than it is now, and the first time we heard a nascent, dreamy demo of a song called “Chasing Shadows”, which we realised was not only unlike anything he’d done before, but probably his greatest song yet.

So, no, we aren’t unbiased about “Between”. You can consider all of the above as our full disclosure. But we wouldn’t have been objective about this record even if we’d never met its maker – this is exactly the kind of eccentric, original, restless pop record that we always lose our head over. We loved Frankmusik with a partisan passion from the moment we heard his patchy but brilliant debut, “Complete Me”, but we think “Between” is better, bolder and brighter. Or, as BML on the popjustice forum said within hours of its release “quite the triumph, this album.” Or, as iRyan put it, “wow, this album sounds fucking incredible”.

There are eleven reasons why “Between” may be the pop album of the year.

1. Chasing Shadows

As unexpected an opening salvo as you could expect from an electro pop star like Frankmusik, Chasing Shadows is a slow burning epic. Floating from the speakers on a melancholy sea of rippling synth, Vince’s frail, heartbroken vocal takes flight slowly, then soars higher, then higher, then higher still. The sad, suggestive lyrics – about losing faith, about finally seizing the thing you thought you wanted and then watching it turn to dust in your hands – announce an underlying sadness that never entirely leaves “Between”, though the sheer beauty of the melody makes the song life affirming in spite of itself.

2. Map

Any fears after Chasing Shadows that Frankmusik is abandoning pop are stomped on by Map. Though building from the same mournful synths as its predecessor, a brilliantly deployed vocal hook (like a ghostly echo of Kate Bush’s Hounds Of Love), an irresistible momentum and a small thermonuclear of a chorus make Map Vince’s most swaggering pop song yet. Little wonder Perez Hilton proceeded to wet himself all over the Internet over it. So should you…

3. Cake!

If Map was the sound of Frankmusik revving up, Cake! is the sound of him hurtling at 100mph down the pop highway, barely in control of his vehicle. An utterly irresistible concoction of J-pop fizz, demented beats and an overdose of manic melodies, its proof that Vince is one of a handful of pop singers who has a sound that is entirely and distinctively his own. In a more right thinking, right listening universe, you would hear songs like this on the radio all the time and say “oh, that sounds very Frankmusik”.

4. Captain

The pop thrills keep coming with Captain, a pivotal song for the record. This is the song Vince wrote when he first arrived back in London from his tricky LA years, and it’s a masterclass in what makes his music so addictive: jittery electronica, scampering beats and more solid gold hooks than Girls Aloud managed to scrounge together for the whole of their last record. 2013 will be lucky if it’s treated to a more exhilarating pop moment than the “oh-oh-ah-woh-oh-oh” ad libbing at the 3 minute mark.

5. Pins & Needles

After the delirium, the deep breath. Opening with a gospel-tinged sigh, Pins & Needles slowly reveals itself as a swirling electronic melodrama. Over the song’s description of relationship claustrophobia and control, synths shudder, pianos plunge and strings scream, but it’s Vince’s tour de force vocal that really pins the listener down. So much has been made of Vince’s past as a piano prodigy that not many people have noticed him turn into one of the best, most assured and versatile pop vocalists we have.

6. Fast As I Can

Another dizzying switch in tempo, to the swaggering electro groove of Fast As I Can. First released in 2012, it’s been sprinkled with pop fairy dust for the album version and sounds brighter, crunchier and sleeker. Melodically and emotionally, Fast As I Can isn’t the most substantial song on “Between”, but it is one of the sharpest sonically. Not one of these songs sounds like any of the others, unlike most modern pop albums, which often sound like very minor variations on a single formula. “Between” is like a bright, glitzy, day glo fairground, with every ride designed to thrill in a different way.

7. Life (Is My Revenge)

In which metaphor, this one is the waltzer. The last song written for the album, Life (Is My Revenge) is what we used to call a banger back in the day. Anchored by a relentless synth riff, the verses are mournful and uncertain, before Vince delivers a huge slamdunk of a chorus. A song about triumph and vindication, which manages to sound like triumph and vindication

8. How Do We Know

Another abrupt shift in tempo, this stark piano duet with Cara Salimando pulls the listener down onto a velvety bed. Vince surrenders much of the song to Salimando’s off-kilter ache of a voice, but his tender croon and plaintive piano anchors the song. One of those duets where the creative chemistry is audible, and perhaps the album’s simplest and most simply gorgeous moment.

9. Stronger

Sustaining the sweetness and simplicity for a moment, Stronger is Vince’s most intimate performance of the album, just the pop singer and his piano and a plaintively pretty song. At this point the listener should be realising that “Between” is that incredibly old fashioned creation: a proper, consistent pop album with no filler.

10. Did Love

After the moody introspection of the previous songs, Did Love is like sunshine breaking through clouds, and is the album’s peak of pure poppiness. The verse skips along like Gene Kelly in Singin’ In The Rain, courtesy of a brilliantly catchy piano riff, while the chorus is like an explosion of pure sunshine. We can also testify that unlike most dementedly catchy songs, Did Love doesn’t wear out its welcome after a lot of repeat plays.

11. Final Song

Vince returns one last time to the heartbreak that fuels “Between” and gives it its emotional weight, and transforms it into a musical tour de force. Sonically, Final Song is absolutely gorgeous, and melodically it sounds like the kind of song Justin Timberlake used to sing before he got mired in marijuana and movies. A riveting climax to a riveting record, one which finally delivers on all the hype that surrounded Frankmusik when he first emerged. Vince once told us that he would make music no matter whether it was successful or not, but it will be pop’s loss if “Between” doesn’t find the audience it deserves.

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Football, Friendship, Family and other F-bombs

We miss. They score. The rest is noise. Anthony Knockheart lies defeated, seconds after missing Leicester's penalty (picture courtesy of the Leicester Mercury).

We miss. They score. The rest is noise. Anthony Knockheart lies defeated, seconds after missing Leicester’s penalty (picture courtesy of the Leicester Mercury).

The referee points to the spot in the 6th minute of injury time. Our most talented player, who had just won the penalty, steps up to take it.

If we score, we are through, to Wembley and, maybe maybe, the Premiership.

The pub falls silent. Fear and pessimism –  the usual companions to a penalty –  sweep over everyone. ‘He’s gonna miss. He’s gonna bloody well miss. I know it.’

He does.

To add insult to injury, he misses the rebound too.

The ball breaks, they attack, we panic and within seconds they’ve scored and we are beaten. Scarves are scattered, tears break the surface, f-bombs echo over a stunned disbelief. Doors slam.

The most dramatic and traumatic defeat has been inflicted. The prospect of a Wembley final and promotion to the Premier League, the culmination of nine months and 48 games, all gone in the space of twenty seconds. But of course, hearts can break in less seconds than that.

I should probably take a moment to explain. ‘We’ are Leicester City. ‘They’ are Watford. Though in truth, ‘they’ could have been anyone. ‘They’ often beat us like that. Painfully.

It is arguably the most traumatic defeat I had ever experienced in the 30 plus years I have supported Leicester City. It wasn’t, however, as traumatic as the death of my close friend weeks before. A friend with whom, man and boy, I had spent most of those 30 years of football, sharing this regular dose of pain and the occasional actual triumph.

Though, of course, both traumas were inextricably linked, indivisible really. Because, you see, a football club is not 11 overpaid players and a middle aged man in a tracksuit armed with a post-match cliché, no matter what cynics might think. It is not a three year business plan, a TV deal or a marketing strategy. At its heart, football is simply where the games are played and who watches them. Our games are played in Leicester and I watch them with my friends and family. And one of them is now gone. Continue reading

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“It’s not what a movie is about, it’s how it is about it.” Roger Ebert 1942-2013

ebert_opt

“Life always has an unhappy ending, but you can have a lot of fun along the way, and everything doesn’t have to be dripping in deep significance.” He produced many of these fine quotes. Sometimes about movies as well. Image courtesy of legacyacc.com

Roger Ebert applied his joy and his scorn without prejudice as the most revered film critic of his generation. He was as ready to scathe a vanity piece of art house as he was to enthuse about an apparently throwaway teen comedy. He followed the example set by Pauline Kael, disregarding the distinction between high and low art, the movies and cinema, entertainment and meaning. Good or bad was what mattered – a creed Pop Lifer slavishly follows.  

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“Now the story of a brilliant comedy who lost its commission and the one streaming service who had no choice but to get them back together. It’s Arrested Development.”

The unusual suspects: the Bluth family (image courtesy of Fox)

The unusual suspects: the Bluth family (image courtesy of those darned fools at Fox)

“Now the story of a wealthy family who lost everything and the one son who had no choice but to keep them all together. It’s Arrested Development.”

“Arrested Development” is a mythical beast. Like the cult sci-fi series and film, “Firefly”, its snowballing reputation appears to owe as much to its cancellation as its content. It is a totem to short-term and narrow-minded TV executives failing to see beyond their PowerPoint projections and test audiences – a victory ultimately for quantity over quality. And so it was, like a moth to a cool kid flame, Pop Lifer chose to make “Arrested Development” the first foray into its recently acquired Netflix subscription. Pop Lifer wasn’t just testing the streaming ability on a tired laptop but a bona fide actual cult.

Well, the laptop stuttered only occasionally and “Arrested Development” proved to be worth every knowing recommendation.

“Arrested Development” is a sublimely misanthropic tale of a desperately unlikeable rich family clinging to their ill-gotten privilege. It began in 2003, won awards, acclaim, but no audience and was cancelled in 2006.

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“I’d be proud for “Bloodsports” to be the last Suede record” – Suede interview and track by track album review

Suede 2013 - photo supplied by Quietus Management

Suede 2013 – photo supplied by Quietus Managemen

Suede, Neil Pop Lifer’s favourite band of all time, have returned to the pop fray after a decade’s absence with a fine new record, “Bloodsports”.  A week ago we ran the first of a personal, passionate two part blog on our life as a lifelong Suede fan, including fresh insights from Brett and Mat. The next part will follow soon. But in the meantime we are thrilled to run a full interview with Suede’s Brett and Matt discussing the genesis of “Bloodsports”, followed by a track by track preview/review of the new album.

Interviewing the band

“There’s no assumptions any more, certainly no assumption we will make another record.” Brett Anderson explains, when asked if Suede’s first album in a decade is intended to be a last hurrah or the start of another new phase in his band’s extraordinary and convoluted history. Although there are occasional flashes of his old prickliness, the Brett Anderson of 2013 seems a lot more breezy than he did when he last promoted a Suede record, 2002’s critically and commercially shunned “A New Morning.”

“I’ve really enjoyed coming back to this,” bassist Mat Osman expands, “and one reason is because it hasn’t been a process that just moves along automatically without us actually deciding to do things.”

“That’s where it starts going wrong, when you start doing things because they’re expected of you,” Brett says. “Though that was our fault,” Mat laughingly points out. “We built that machine around us!”

In a way, it’s surprising to find Brett and Mat – friends and bandmates over three decades – quite so relaxed. After all, a new Suede record hasn’t had so much to prove since 1996’s “Coming Up” was released after their traumatic break up with original guitarist Bernard Butler. “Bloodsports” could be a last chance to redeem themselves after the colourless “A New Morning” and – maybe maybe – to remind the world they deserve a bigger chapter in the pop history books than their current footnote as appetiser to the main Britpop feast. Yet they seem almost nonchalant about whether “Bloodsports” will be another of their glorious victories, critically or commercially. “I’m much more realistic about what records are nowadays. I used to think every record we did was absolutely brilliant,”Anderson smiles wryly. “But I do think this is a fine record.”

As lifelong, obsessive Suede fans (see part 1 of our blog on life as a teenage Suedehed) we are delighted to report that Brett is an unworried man with much to be unworried about. Though he seems reluctant to spell it out, “Bloodsports” is a huge return to form. Not quite a return to the breathtaking form Suede reached on their second record, the fearlessly ambitious and beautiful “Dog Man Star”, but far better and more consistent than their last two efforts. Continue reading

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“It was 20 years ago today” – my life as a teenage Suedehead

20 years ago today, Suede released their third single, “Animal Nitrate”. A grimy paean to violent gay sex, it became the band’s first top ten hit, thanks to a chorus so big it could swallow continents. For the band’s growing army of rabid, hysterical fans, this breakthrough felt like an extraordinary and unlikely victory. In the first of a two part blog, Pop Lifer Neil – one of those hysterical fans, and probably the first person in Newcastle to own a copy of a Suede single – recalls how the band won his heart and wrecked his life. Singer Brett Anderson and bassist Mat Osman agreed to take a stroll down memory lane for this piece.

1. “Introducing the band”

Suede in 1994. Photograph: Kevin Cummins.

Suede the world conquerors in 1994. Photograph: Kevin Cummins (www.kevincummins.co.uk)

“I don’t remember us telling people to move to Streatham,” says Mat Osman, looking puzzled and a little aghast.

I’ve been explaining to Mat and Brett Anderson the price I have paid for being a lifelong fan of their band, Suede. There’s the thousands spent going to see their shows, the abuse hurled my way in their early flamboyant phase, the pair of glasses lost dancing at their Royal Albert Hall reunion show and – worst of all –  the six months I spent living in Streatham, one of South London’s grottier and noisier enclaves.

Brett Anderson’s face, on the other hand, is suddenly dawning with recognition. “Oh my God,” he starts to laugh. “Because of the lyrics in “The Chemistry Between Us?”” His dry chuckle becomes a throaty cackle, “Oh God, I’m so sorry.”

Yes, in 1997 I finished university and was foolishly entrusted by two friends with the task of finding us all a flat in London, a city I knew almost nothing of. Obviously, I turned for guidance to the lyrics of Suede, my favourite band, and one of the most London-obsessed outfits in pop history. I remembered Brett dreamily singing “maybe we’re just Streatham trash and maybe not/ And maybe we’re just capital flash in a stupid love,” and how it had sounded seductively, romantically scuzzy. It turned out to be scuzzy, at least.

“Well,” Brett says, still laughing, “you should really have done a bit more research. But at least you got to see a bit of the world.”

In fact, Suede had inflicted more profound damage years before this sorry episode. They’d persuaded me back when I was little more than an impressionable child that life was a glamorous undertaking, that England was a land of sordid sex and soaring romance, and that pop music offered meaning and hope to human existence. At least the last point wasn’t a lie.

2. “Slow down, slow down – you’re taking me over”

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s rewind. Continue reading

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