Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Discuss: #Hashtags in Music

Including hashtags in song lyrics/titles/videos is just blatant commercialism and forced marketing.


The often-derided Justin Bieber added fuel to the fire when his song "#thatpower" was released, which also had's involvement (whose recent album was called "#willpower"), and was certainly considered to be a somewhat tacky attempt to create a buzz. I'm not sure that he was the first to release a song with a hashtag as the title (the most likely contender appears to be Cobra Starship with "#1nite") but he's definitely one of the more well-known. Mariah Carey also jumped on the bandwagon this year with "#beautiful", a hashtag that was always frequently used anyway so may well have been a pointless choice.

Although not quite the same, last year the third album from the band Reverend & The Makers just used there Twitter account name as the title (@Reverend_Makers). Perhaps they just wanted to gain followers, but it could easily be argued that there was more than a little irony present: the band's music often takes shots at modern life and that could well have been just an extension of that.

Personally, I'm not entirely opposed to hashtags appearing in music videos, and people often tweet about particular songs they like or are listening to, so a provided hashtag for uniform use is convenient from a "social media" perspective as well as clearly smart marketing for the record company/artist/etc. I'd definitely welcome it being done in a more subtle manner though. A lot of TV programmes now flash up a hashtag at the start for those people feeling the need to post about it (Have I Got News For You was the first I noticed - #HIGNFY), so something like that seems perfectly fine to me. But many might say that it has become a little gratuitous of late.

Robin Thicke's video for "Blurred Lines" is definitely the current offender, with blatant hashtags throughout the video. Although again, arguably, this is somewhat tongue-in-cheek due to his name surprisingly trending earlier this year when people were comparing his music to a new release from Justin Timberlake: "Suit & Tie". The hashtag inclusion could well be a statement along the lines of, "This time... It is definitely me". And the overblown, full-screen nature of each word may well be laughing at its own presence.

I'm sure if some independent, home-recorded and self-funded artist stuffed a hashtag in their video or title in order to improve their chances at being spotted on social media then the tuts and sighs would be considerably less (although perhaps not entirely absent). But because the likes of Bieber and are already hugely successful and assumed to be wealthy, then their shameless self-promotion is more heavily frowned upon than the likes of Joe Bloggs doing acoustic sets in the local pubs every night in order to sell his record.

However, I have to admit that I do cringe a little whenever I see a song appear with the # in front of it, as it often comes across as purely an attempt to gain further exposure. An attempt that, in most cases, is rarely necessary. Furthermore, giving social media users something pre-defined to group their posts is probably not entirely necessary, as most are savvy enough to form their own just as effectively.

The latest single from Rizzle Kicks includes the line "hashtag trend" slotted within lyrics that take pot shots at the media, and modern consumption of it. In this instance, it is safe to say that the duo included the words as a knowing reference to this recent habit.

Perhaps it is outright, shameless promotion. It's forced, eager, and often smells of desperation, but the hashtag is also the fashion of current social media. Perhaps, given time, its use will die out as more popular sites start up, and those songs that include them will just feel dated. In the meantime, my preference would be that song titles are devoid of the hashtag, and videos keep things low-key.

What do you think?

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Cultfever - Animals

Since their debut self-titled LP was released at the tail-end of 2011, Cultfever's follow up has been eagerly awaited, with pulses ready to race and feet ready to dance to their unique brand of high-powered electronic pop. 'Animals', expected to be included on their second album, was let loose back in February this year, but has been receiving deserved attention once again since a new video appeared in June.

Brooklyn-based duo Tamara Jafar and Joe Peter Durniak appear to live and breathe music, and specifically show dedication to their own creations with obsessive-amounts of time spent recording and working on new material. This commitment clearly pays off, and is enjoyably evident in 'Animals'; a beat-happy track with no small-amount of cheery synth and dynamic vocals. Durniak's arrangement and production is top-notch, and Jafar's voice moves comfortably throughout the imaginative lyrics from a breathy and sultry delivery of a verse to a sudden powerful call.

'Animals' is an irresistible, groove-filled example of Cultfever's abilities.


"I was the drunk rhythm guitarist who wrote all these weird songs." - Robert Smith

Thursday, 8 August 2013

There's Talk - Tiny Strands EP

Initially conceived as a solo project by multi-instrumentalist Olivia Lee, the addition of Kellen Balla and Young Lee turned There's Talk into a three-piece. Following on from their first single in May, this week has brought us the release of their debut EP 'Tiny Strands'.

A band combining folk and electronic elements, this is no more apparent than in the opening track (and single) 'The Salt', where the fragility in Olivia's vocals are beautifully accompanied by - to begin with - just the steady and simple steps on a piano. An occasional drumbeat marks each line like a lamenting heartbeat.

 And you walked on your own
 Heart out... teared.

As we reach the middle, and head towards a beautiful and bitter-sweet ending, further electronic drum loops are added; a mix that could have felt disjointed and too unfamiliar, yet instead manages to sound appropriately thought-provoking.

'Lint And Feather' is perhaps more traditionally folk with a guitar and banjo taking the spots as the key instruments, coupled with soft harmonies throughout the woebegone words.

 And I lied to you
 And I tried to lose you

Placed at the centre of the EP, 'Hummingbird Place' takes a very defined turn two minutes in. The picks and strums upon the guitar are pushed aside without warning, as synth and drums take over. Even the vocal delivery adjusts, bringing a more serious tone as the final lines reaffirm what the instruments have declared:

 Everything changes
 In this hummingbird place

Penultimate track 'Slip Light Gold' feels purposely restrained as though the song is tentatively circling, searching for a chance to declare itself, to find the chance to speak up. The music builds through crescendos, only to fade again and give space to the gently haunting voice that inches towards its proclamation. This is a song that tells a story as much through its careful arrangement as its lyrics.

In contrast, the closing track 'Tiny Strands' is a lot more direct in its quest. Lacking the depth of imagery and metaphor that its predecessors explored, the words are quickly clear and all meaning is succintly revealed.

 I need to know what I mean to you 
 So long ago since I felt the truth 
 And if there's another 
 Won't you let me know 
 And I'll stop waiting for you 

These earnest messages are projected with the movements of a subdued guitar as we reach the climax, where melancholic harmonies of "oohs" and "aahs" create a chilling, and saddening, aural envelope.

This debut EP reaches a hand out to your emotions, beckoning you to take a trip... a trip that may well be sombre and grave, but one that is also breathtaking, moving, and addictive.


"You must pass your days in song. Let your whole life be a song" - Sai Baba

Monday, 5 August 2013

Marking Marks - Barcodes

A few songs manage to pull me in immediately, when a wonderful intro promises something special. Sometimes, admittedly, I end up feeling that those first few bars were sadly all the track had to offer. Occasionally, I'm treated to a journey that is a constant pleasure throughout. The latest single from Norway's Making Marks (previously known as mylittlepony) definitely offers me the latter.

"Barcodes" begins with a gentle guitar riff that manages to flutter the heart within just a few notes, somehow calling up wistful emotions far easier - and quicker - that one might expect. The male/female vocals that follow are harmonised beautifully, singing of heartache and a return home, and always delivered with a smooth and modest tone.

With an album expected very soon, Making Marks have caught my attention in a gentle and fascinating way: "Barcodes" sounds like falling in love.


"Drums usually seem to tune themselves" - Levon Helm 

Friday, 2 August 2013

The Understudies - Erika K

The latest single from London-based guitar-band The Understudies may be just a few breaths over two minutes long, but 'Erika K' can be suitably labelled as "short and sweet". The track and its video have been floating around online for a few months now, along with promises of a debut album, but this week marked the song's official release and is a perfect excuse to listen once again.

Wonderfully catchy and fun, 'Erika K' bounces enjoyably with a tale of hormonally-charged adoration. The sounds of the dinging glockenspiel and emphatic trumpet keep the spirits high throughout whilst lead singer Brian Bryden's vocal delivery is spot on.


"Like family, we are tied to each other. This is what all good musicians understand." - Billy Joel

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Our Krypton Son - Gargantuan

Our Krypton Son's eponymous debut album went down a storm following its release in November last year, showcasing the songwriting talents of man-at-the-helm Chris McConaghy. With a possible new EP rumoured for later this year, third single 'Gargantuan' was released last month to keep us all happy during the interim.

McConaghy's vocals are typically restrained at first, delivering the verses with a low Bowie-esque ease that then parts to give space to a thrilling jump in register and volume for the chorus - a perfect, and smart display of contrast for a song about the immense glories and trials of relationships.

'Gargantuan' is a rousing, thumping crusade driven by an infectious piano-bashing beat, leading us to a final explanation of its march within the last lyrics of the song.

 "And the whole world trembles when my love stomps
 And the asphalt shatters when my love stomps"

A stand-out track from the album, this is a well-chosen single accompanied by a pair of b-sides that flaunt McConaghy's stylistic range: the acoustic and collected 'Bring the Flood', and the Procol Harum-harnessing 'How Long Must I Dream'.


"To stand up on a stage alone with an acoustic guitar requires bravery bordering on heroism. Bordering on insanity" - Richard Thompson

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Alisha's Attic - Stay Will U Stay

Comprised of sisters Karen and Shelly Poole, Alisha's Attic were probably one of the first groups that I ever truly embraced: actively searching for all their singles, and repeatedly listening to their music. Their 1996 debut, 'Alisha Rules The World', is still one of my favourite albums and I continue to play it regularly (and not just as a nostalgic attempt to remember when I was a teenager). Soon after their third album in 2001, 'The House We Built', they were sadly dropped by Mercury Records and the duo ceased recording together.

Four years later, I discovered that a fourth self-produced album had been made available by the girls. 'The Attic Vaults 1' (a 'Vaults 2' was apparently planned) was a collection of previously unreleased songs that had never made it onto their previous albums, and so the tracks were put together as a final thank-you to their fans. Needless to say, I bought a copy as quickly as possible and soaked up the "new" music.

The penultimate tune, 'Stay Will U Stay', is the stand-out track for me and definitely deserved to have reached a wider audience, although it is difficult to find a place for it amongst the songs on their three albums. With just piano accompanying the sisters' always-beautiful harmonies, the track feels stripped back and raw, a sound that is complemented fully by the sincere lyrics. Perhaps if it had been included on a previous release then further instrumentation may have been added during production, but I am glad that it has remained as it is: a tender, gorgeous reminder of what Karen and Shelly Poole achieved together.

As with Nik Kershaw's 'So Quiet', 'Stay Will U Stay' is on the list of music I intend to transcribe into a piano score one day.

Since Alisha's Attic, both of the sisters have remained in the music industry: Karen has successfully written for many other musicians whilst Shelly has also continued to record, both as a solo artist and in current band Red Sky July.

Alisha's Attic:

Karen Poole:

Shelly Poole:

"Songwriting's a weird game" - Keith Richards