The Null Device

Posts matching tags 'black box recorder'


Tonight, I went to the Forum to a gig in tribute of someone named Nick Sanderson (the frontman of a band named Earl Brutus, apparently, whom I only know from the Gary Numan tribute compilation they appeared on around 1997). Playing were The Jesus and Mary Chain (headlining), British Sea Power and Black Box Recorder.

Black Box Recorder started just after I came in, and were great. They played almost entirely songs from their first album and B-sides thereof, which was good as those were the good ones IMHO. They did England Made Me, Child Psychology, Girl Singing In The Wreckage and a somewhat more dubby take on IC One Female. And Sarah Nixey's vocals were as archly breathy as ever.

When I heard British Sea Power a few years ago, I came away underwhelmed; tonight's gig has reaffirmed that assessment. Their music strikes me as rather dull; competent though uninspiring stadium-filling wall-of-noise workouts in the U2/Coldplay mould, with a bit of Magic Joy Division Dust sprinkled over them to give them some edge.

The Mary Chain, though, were great; they sounded just like the records they made two decades ago, and got the crowd moving. They played mostly more recent tracks, though did get in a few from Darklands and Psychocandy, and they also played one new song. Could there be a new album on the way?

One thing that left me wondering: why was there a huge tinsel rendition of the British Rail logo (you know, the one with the arrows) behind the stage? Is this the RAF Bullseye of 2008 or somesuch?

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Black Box Recorder vocalist Sarah Nixey is back, this time doing solo work and guesting for a band named Infantjoy. She is now workng on a solo album, which apparently will be almost as edgy as the Black Box Recorder material.

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Yesterday I picked up the new Black Box Recorder album, Passionoia. (Heartland had it on import from the UK (and at UK prices too).) Black Box Recorder have, in their career, borrowed a variety of styles, from goth-rock ("Lord Lucan is Missing") to saccharine ghetto-pop ("The Facts of Life"); with their new album, they go electronic (think the post-Summer-of-Love synthpop of Dubstar or Saint Etienne); lots of sequencers, drum machines and the odd retro monosynth.

Other than that, the usual elements are there; sardonic commentary on everything from social institutions (The School Song) to dating and relationships (GSOH Q.E.D., with its recited personal ads and ironic Bacharach/David reference, and the Saint Et-esque These Are The Things), and of course the realities of contemporary British bourgeois aspirations (British Racing Green, The New Diana), all delivered in Sarah Nixey's lovely voice, spanning the entire range from sweetness-and-light to ice-queen dominatrix. And there's even a song titled Andrew Ridgely about growing up in the 1980s, mixing retro-pop references with traces of social commentary; it's sort of their equivalent of Baxendale's I Love The Sound Of Dance Music).

Black Box Recorder's first album, England Made Me, was sharp and minimal guitar-pop with darkly sardonic lyrics sung ever so sweetly. The follow-up, The Facts of Life, was The Awkward Second Album, more produced yet losing some of the black-and-white sharpness. It's now apparent that The Facts Of Life was a transitional work, the intermediate step between England Made Me and Passionoia. Well worth a look; whether you'd pay AUP40 for it, though, is a different question. Who knows; maybe it'll get a local release?

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Apparently the third Black Box Recorder album, Passionoia, is out, at least in the civilised world. No word on an Australian release date yet; though I wouldn't be surprised if Steve Wide was spinning it on 3RRR. I'll have to get it. (It's out on One Little Indian (Björk's label) in the UK; not sure about other territories, though Jetset may still be doing their US releases.)

Oddly enough, the first I heard about it was that Sarah Nixey was featured in Playboy's "b4b3z of indie rock" poll (via Rocknerd). I guess they need some filler to run before they do a "Women of Newly Liberated Iraq" feature or something.

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The time is nigh upon us for the obligatory "top 10 albums of the year" lists (Graham already has his, for example). I'm not going to post my best CDs of 2002 just yet (for one, I'm still not through with all of this year's releases, and am still awaiting a particular consignment from Twee Kitten); however, I am going to do something related, that is, look at the lists for 2001 I wrote up a year ago, here and here, and see how they hold up a year later; which of my picks of the year have stood the test of time, which have fallen by the wayside, and which discs have emerged subsequently as favourites of that particular year. So please allow me this exercise in self-indulgent omphaloskepsis.

Firstly, the RAN list:

  • New Buffalo, About Last Night. I'm still rather fond of this quirky little EP, though haven't listened to it much lately. (Apparently, Sally's off in LA recording an album with EMI/Capitol money. Hopefully they won't turn her into Danielle Spencer or Geri Halliwell or some generic pretty girl singer, though history doesn't give one many reasons to be optimistic.)
  • Lush, Ciao! Best Of. Haven't listened to it, but have since then picked up the entire Lush back catalogue, plus some unreleased MP3s. Split and Lovelife still get played every so and so (in fact, I'm listening ti Split right now, and it was one of the discs I burned to CD-R and took to London with me.) As such, Ciao! has done its work admirably.
  • Radiohead, Amnesiac. Still gets played every now and then; though of the Radiohead back-catalogue, OK Computer gets the most play around here.
  • Spearmint, A Different Lifetime. Since last year, I've picked up their previous 3 discs as well. A Different Lifetime and its more baggy-oriented predecessor A Week Away would be my favourites.
  • Black Box Recorder, Worst Of. Gleefully sardonic, and some of their best work (funny how B-sides sometimes tend to be that way).
  • Prop, Small Craft Rough Sea. This CD still rocks. Groovy, cooler than cool and yet with powerful momentum.
  • Radiohead, I Might Be Wrong Live Recordings. Haven't listened to this much over the past six months or so, though I prefer the version of Like Spinning Plates to the Amnesiac one.

(Of the honourable mentions, I've listened to the Angels of the Universe soundtrack and the Sealifepark album since. The Zero 7 album sort of got shelved, as I really only liked one track of it. Jan Jelinek's Loop Finding Jazz Records suffered a similar fate, having failed to hold my interest with its ultimately less than satisfying combination of deep-house-like rhythms and chords and Max/MSP laptop glitchery; and TISM's De Rigeurmortis lasted about one and a half listens. Oh, and as for the Field Mice best-of, that's still one of my favourites and is usually not far from the CD player.)

And now for the unsung favourites; the CDs that didn't make the list, but ended up redeeming themselves after further listening:

  • A Silver Mt. Zion, He Has Left Us Alone But Shafts Of Light Sometimes Grace The Corner Of Our Rooms. Bleak, desolate, existentially despondent, and beautiful.
  • Models, Melbourne: Their early tracks. The whole thing didn't grab me, but Party Girls and Atlantic Romantic are pretty cool.
  • Mogwai, My Father My King: a 20-or-so minute wall of intense, immersive noise. Put it on, turn it up, and feel it engulf you. It's all good.
  • Vivian Girls, The, The Vivian Girls: like a slice of dimly-lit early-80s post-punk claustrophobia; it's great, especially Black Chair In A Black Room. (To be fair, it probably slipped the list because it was released in 2000, but I think it still rates a mention.)

So there it is. Watch this space for the best of 2002.

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Luke Haines, the man behind Black Box Recorder and The Auteurs, has called a week-long pop strike. Starting from tomorrow, no pop music (including all modern music) is to be made, listened to or consumed, or so the Lukester says. And to discourage scabs, he and some unnamed comrades will be picketing Radio 1. Haines denies that the strike is a publicity stunt for his new album, which, incidentally, comes out tomorrow.

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