Friday, 27 April 2012

Album review: Postcards

This Way to the Seaside!

‘Postcards’ is the second album from weird and brilliant West Yorkshire trio The Housekeeping Society, following 2011s oddball debut, ‘This Way to Power’. If you’ve heard that album, or been lucky enough to catch one of their mesmerising live sets, you’ll have some idea what you’re in for. If not... well, describing them might be a bit tricky.

They’re not normal, you see, the Housekeepers. Quite aside from their decidedly odd moniker, they produce music that pings with wit and invention, bounding gleefully from one musical style to another whilst never losing focus on a sound that is, distinctly, and for want of a better word... Housekeepy. You might want to call it folk music, with its earthy, organic tones dominated by guitar, piano and ukelele, breathing in time with the yearnings of its characters. But then these are also pop songs, with canny, vibrant hooks and melodies that seep unnoticed into the background chatter of your mind and hum away all day.

We start with a journey to the seaside, as opening track The Coast is Clear builds a rhythm around the chugging of a steam train that develops into a wide eyed, playful hymn to the joys of getting away from it all. From this point on we will never be far from the beach, swooping through the lives of holidaymakers, locals, Bed and Breakfast owners and seafarers, as the fortunes of the holiday industry ebb and swell through the years. The tone shifts from vaudevillian whimsy (Seaside Mystery Man) to wistful melancholy (the achingly beautiful Ghosts), taking in romance, nostalgia and social commentary along the way.

Shot through all this like words through a stick of rock is a real sense of time and place. The album tastes of salt and candy-floss, thanks in no small part to the layering of location recording from the North Coast, often sequenced into the rhythms of the tracks by percussionist Ivan Mack.

There are two or three tracks that stand out quite quickly. End Of The Pier is energetic and poppy, with a frenzied electronic bass-line under swooping strings and a soaring lead vocal by Ric Neale that would make Morten Harket’s ears prick up. The plaintive, wistful voice of Spencer Bayles, meanwhile, lends a delicate and beautiful sadness to You, Me And The Swell Of The Sea. Most moving of all, and for this reviewer the highlight of the album, is the Neale penned Still. In this ballad we hear the prayers of a woman widowed by the sea, wondering how the God who moves over the face of the water could let it happen. A powerful lyric over a haunting piano signature, the song burrows deeper with every listen.

There are many other treasures here. Suitcase is either funny or heartbreaking depending on your mood, as the titular item of luggage laments an increasingly one-sided love affair with its owner. And closing track The Seaside’s Been Shut Down sees nothing wrong with being both sing-a-long melodic perfection and a terribly sad curtain drawn on the world we have been celebrating.

The whole album, in fact, plays on the tension between the joy of the present and the pain of the past, finding both beauty and sadness in the fading world of the sea front. This is reflected not only in the carefully crafted lyrics and eclectic instrumentation, but also in the gorgeous cover art. Created by Jean McEwan and Robert Hope, the sleeve design evokes in image what the album does in sound: seaside landscapes, slipping out of focus into abstract, pastel memory. On the cover a child-like scribble of a house soars through the air, carried by a zeppelin over a defocused seafront. Hope and bittersweet nostalgia at the same time, Postcards is something to write home about.

Postcards is available for pre-order. For inormation, including upcoming tour dates, visit

Friday, 20 April 2012

Do Homophobes Dream of Electric Gays?

Hello you, you gorgeous thing. Is that a new haircut? No? Well, maybe I'd just forgotten how lovely your face was. Lovely, lovely face. Like a statue, carved from fragrant soap. May I lick your lovely face? May I? Hmm. Maybe I shouldn't have done that. Your face tastes weird.

Right, stop flirting you hussy - we've got work to do. The weather has got warmer, the evenings longer and, as a result, the homophobes have come buzzing out of hibernation to irritate the shit out of us. You've probably seen them, wittering about how The Gays are coming to eat your sandwiches, steal your toys and have sex with your Jesus. Just as a hayfever sufferer can sniff a high pollen count, I can sense an unusually high presence of self righteous dickheads in the air, and I think it's time to either murder them in their beds as they sleep or, at the very least, complain about them incessantly online. Whichever gets the job done.

The trouble with hunting homophobes is that they a) look just like us and b) often honestly don't know they are homophobes. They think they are reasonable humans, making good and righteous moral arguments from a fair and balanced perspective. A vast proportion of them call themselves Christian, and believe that they are doing God's work. If you went up to them with an axe and said "Are you a homophobe?" they would probably say "Goodness no, I'm just a lovely person who wants to make the world a better place for everyone - even faggots!"

In this sense, they're like the Replicants in Blade Runner. You've seen Blade Runner, right? Ridley Scott film from 1982. In it, androids that look exactly like humans are loose on future Earth - violent, clever androids that will snap your fingers off as soon as look at you with their artificial eyes. Harrison Ford is sent to catch them but - oh oh - not only do these Replicants look human, but they've been implanted with human memories, so they feel emotions and, in some cases, believe themselves to be human.

Harrison Ford employs a test to determine if someone is human or not, called the Voight Kampff test. It's a series of questions, designed to elicit an emotional response. If the subject fails to register enough emotion, Harrison concludes that this person is, in fact, made of wires and plastic and stuff, and quite rightly shoots them in their artificial face. It's a very efficient system, and I've devised my own version to aid us in our fight against the Homos (I thought I'd shorten homophobes to 'homos'. That's alright, isn't it?)


Here comes the test. Just confont your homo with the scenario, and gauge their response from the options I have provided.

The Voight Campff Test

Scenario One

You see a gay couple outside a church. Two men, two women, doesn't matter. And they're in suits. Wedding suits. All their friends are around them, throwing confetti and taking pictures. They are smiling. They have rings on their fingers. Behind them, a Vicar smiles, as if to say, "I have just performed a marriage service for these gays."

How do you feel?

a) Outraged and homicidal. Jesus invented marriage in 32AD and quite clearly stated that it was to be on a Saturday afternoon, and you have to wear a tie, and that it's NOT FOR THE GAYS. Now this Gay marriage has happened, all straight  marriages are rendered void and we will all be forced to have anal sex and/or whatever it is gay ladies do.

b) Pleased. The institution of marriage is not exclusively religious in nature - it has some foundation in the context of social and economic norms and thus has changed over time. The Bible certainly doesn't have a consistent, set in stone approach to marriage and it's frankly a lie to say that it does.

c) Bored - it's a wedding of people I don't know. I hate those.

Scenario Two

You are playing a computer game. In it, you can murder a wide variety of people using all manner of exciting weapons. They explode pleasingly when you kill them. Every woman you meet is half naked and fetishised to the point of absurdity. Suddenly you are confronted with a character who is clearly a homosexual. He has an earring and everything. And you have the option to kiss him, if you want to.

How do you feel?

a) Horrified and disgusted. The wholesome, Christian hobby of murdering people in computer games has been invaded by disgusting filth. I am being literally forced to choose the option where I kiss this muscular yet tender space marine in his perfectly designed stubbly face. There are no gay people in real life, or in fiction, so why are they in computer games?

b) Pleasantly surprised. Massive under-representation of homosexuality in mainstream media is one of the contributing factors to their social status as 'other'. If they remain 'other', they are easier to ignore, or - worse - persecute. Also, I assume it is nice for a gay person to be able to play a character which better fits their sexual orientation. In fact, I think it might be a closer fit for good old hetrosexual me, rather than the screaming masculine insecurity of the brutes I'm usually forced to play.

c) Indifferent. Sexual orientation really doesn't come into it when all you're planning to do is bayonet people in the face.

Scenario Three

You orchestrate an advertising campaign suggesting that gayness is basically a disease that can be cured. You try to put your adverts onto the side of buses, but are told that you can't because that's a horrible, small minded twattish thing to do.

How do you feel?

a) Marginalised and oppressed. Middle class white males like myself have been persucuted since the beginning of time, and this is just another example of a society that tolerates and loves homsexuality above all other belief systems. Also, being a gay is clearly quite similar to being a leper. Just as Jesus tried to heal those with leprosy, I am simply trying to heal those with Gay Disease. Basically, I am Jesus.

b) Ashamed of myself for my incredible arrogance. Rather than focusing my efforts on sex trafficking, gang warfare or the ever worsening plight of poor families, I have chosen to criticise the lives of people whose orientation I simply do not understand. I have adopted a simplistic approach to the situation based on a selective misunderstanding of social science, psychology and religion. I have allowed my own personal fear of difference to dominate my judgement and now I am legitamising prejudice and abuse by perpetuating the myth that homosexuality is an illness.

c) Confused, because Boris Johnson has said something decent and sensible.

Anyway, that's the test. Feel free to take it yourself, or apply it to suspected homophobes. If they test positive (mostly 'a's), feel free to chase them through the streets, leaping onto cars and shooting wildly with your space pistol.