Category Archives: Bands in the Ring

Two acts battle each other in categories like Musical Skill, Live Performance, Career Prospects etc.

Bands in the Ring (2): Peace Vs. Palma Violets

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It’s been a while, but here’s the second edition of “Bands in the Ring” – the category in which we let two bands battle each other in a range of disciplines. For this round Redheadess and Belle Brummell have picked two of the hottest UK newcomers, who’ve played the same club in Hamburg within five days, and both released their debut album within the span of a month. Let’s see how Peace-ful the Birmingham quartet will be when it goes against London garage punks – or whether Palma Violets will catch a “Veilchen” or two (which in German is both the flower “violet” and a term for a black eye).

The Story so far: The stories are still being written; for both bands this is only the first chapter. Palma Violets formed in late 2011, their debut album ‘180’ has been out for almost two months now and they’ve already built a large fan base. Whereas a year ago, people angrily tended to leave the club, slagging them off as ‘poor version of The Clash’ or ‘not the new Libertines at all’, they’re now selling out shows in mainland Europe, such as this one in Hamburg. They already have the 2013 NME Award for Best New Band up their sleeve, a category in which they’ve been up against acts like Django Django, Haim and, that’s right, Peace. The latter released their debut album ‘In Love’ exactly a month after Palma Violets, only two weeks ago, and even though they do already have a large fanbase and the fans at their Hamburg show almost kicked in the doors, the hype about Palma Violets casts a shadow. The award winners have been pushed to the top by NME with two front covers, will support The Rolling Stones at their epic Hyde Park show this summer and play Coachella Festival in California this week. I think it’s clear who wins this round by a landslide.

-> Score: Palma 1 – Peace 0

Background: You may say Palma Violets are rich, spoiled, London boarding-school kids. We agree with most of that. Not all of them have been to an elite school though, and with singer Chilli Jesson’s Dad having been the manager of Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds for many, many years, the boys should know how the music business works. Peace are originally from Worcester but are said to be Birmingham-based (which doesn’t make them any cooler than capital boys, though). The brothers Sam and Harrison Koisser have been in multiple bands before, in 2004 already, while still in school. They do have more experience playing together with different people, and if you believe the words of The Guardian, then at least one member of Peace is distantly related to Michael J Fox, and Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood swapped a pair of his cargo trousers for one of their demos. Palma Violets however had their album produced by Pulp’s Steve Mackey, collecting the coolness points this time around.

-> Score: Palma 2 – Peace 0

Musical Skill: Finally time to catch up for Peace, whose experience makes itself heard on their cleanly produced record and live alike. With their purposefully raunchy sound, Palma’s relative lack of skill matters little. It’s all about the raw energy and youthful spirit they convey. Peace’s more laid-back sound, though, makes a basic knowledge of music indispensable. On stage, they even break into long, psychedelic instrumental passages, something Palma wouldn’t be caught dead doing. However, both have notable skills in songwriting, delivering hook after hook. On the plus side for Palma, Sam Fryer possesses the voice of a 50-something heavy drinker, leaving Harrison Koisser’s boyish vocals with no chance to compete. Still, this point clearly goes to Peace.

-> Score: Palma 2 – Peace 1

Stylistic Invention: … is simply non-existent. While Peace dive merrily into 90s indie pop with a bubblegum flavour, Palma basically re-encact The Libertines’ career, sounding exactly like their noughties icons with an organ thrown in. Because of this near complete lack of ideas, nobody gains a point in this round. But let’s not be mean here: Only because something has been done before, doesn’t mean you can’t bring it back for a new generation to enjoy.

-> Score: Palma 2 – Peace 1

On Record: Palma clearly have an advantage here, as their album has been out a whole month longer than Peace’s debut, and has thus had more time to grow on us. Both records have melodies that stick, and Peace’s may be a whole lot stickier – which is already clear after a few spins. However, it is also the one that’s more likely to get on one’s nerves rather soon with its overacted happiness. Palma have the authenticity bonus – they still sound like they mean every line belted out at the top of their lungs, making up for the underperforming sound quality. In the end, the two records are too musically different to say which is “better” – but for us, Palma’s “180” is the one whose anthems will last (and we don’t mean the horribly overrated “Best of Friends”).

-> Score: Palma 3 – Peace 1

Live Performance: Seeing both bands live in the span of one week has left its traces not only on our bodies (because boy, those were a bunch of hot and sweaty shows!) but also in our minds. Not only did Palma Violets interact with each other on stage more, they also were the wild young things everyone said they were. Giving cigarettes to audience members, bringing their mascot/entertainer/merch guy with them to kick people’s arses and start a mosh pit, jumping into the crowd themselves and playing some punky cover in the end … once again, Peace could not climb that scale. They didn’t interact really, not with each other and not with the crowd, and singer Harrison was so high you were surprised he actually knew which city he was playing in. Sure, both audiences went absolutely wild, but the club was more packed at Peace’s show and moving was a privilege, while at the Palmas show you actually had some space to dance for yourself as long as you weren’t pulled into the mosh pit.

-> Score: Palma 4 – Peace 1

Appearance: Both bands consist of young and moderately good-looking men, but while Palma rely on their natural beauty to make fashion sense unnecessary (oversized suits, trackies and patterned shirts with shorts could all be seen on stage), Peace took their lack of taste to the next level and performed in sailor suits, a deviation from their usual mixture of nineties “white trash” and frontman Harrison Koisser’s fancy fur coats and retro sunglasses. Haircuts are also totally nineties – meaning, Peace’s are, and Palma don’t have any. In essence, both bands look their own kind of ridiculous, but Peace are at least clever enough to make it a “style”, and thus win by coolness points in this round.

-> Score: Palma 4 – Peace 2

Band name: Naming your band after the most disgusting sweets ever may or may not be a good idea. Surely people who know what Parma Violets – round violet-flavoured candies that come piled up to a roll – taste like would pull a face before even listening to the band. By exchanging the R for an L, it becomes even more dubious what the band was trying to say with the choice of name, but at least this makes it easier for people to google them, whereas Peace chose the worst possible band name ever for internet seach engines. Then again, it’s a typical name for their genre and era. Bands like Kindness and Childhood would agree, and not only does the band name fit their weird clothing style – sort of hippiesque but with a big wave of 90s washed over them – but also their airy-fairy behaviour. And then there’s debut album title: Peace – In Love. We love puns, and we may be falling In Love with Peace by now, so we’ll give that point to them.

-> Score: Palma 4 – Peace 3

Career Prospects: …  are looking rather bleak. Both bands seem to have reached their prime already with the release of their debut. Peace rely too heavily on a certain fashionable “look” rather than a distinctive sound, and are thus bound to become irrelevant once the summer ends, while the NME’s hype machine has Palma in such a ferocious grip they’ll be left in shreds before making it to album no. 2. No points for anyone this round – it’s up to you to prove us wrong in the future.

-> FINALE SCORE: Palma 4 – Peace 3

Let’s face it: Most categories were hard to decide the winner of, but in the end Palma Violets just so win this race. It is very much a question of personal taste in music though, so we can only speak for ourselves. Obviously Peace have more musical skill, but Palma Violets are more of the cool hyped kids everyone wants a piece of, and they don’t even care about all that fuzz themselves. Both bands are still young, they will grow, and hey, maybe we’ll change our minds with their second albums coming out in a few years, who knows? We do confess this match was a bit unfair due to Palma Violets playing a proper concert and Peace only playing a live set during the usual Saturday night party some time around 12:30. Both bands stayed longer to have a big aftershow party though, and that’s just a plus for both of them. After all, the bands have toured together as well and everyone’s friends, and that’s all that counts in the end, innit?

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Bands in the Ring (1): Jamie N Commons Vs. Erland & The Carnival

    

Ladies n gentlemen, I proudly present … a new category! In which I am going to compare two bands for no obvious reason at all. But even if the reason’s not obvious, that doesn’t mean there is none. In fact, Jamie N Commons and Erland & The Carnival have more in common than roughly fitting the folk genre. Both are London-based, but not actually from London, and it’s rather hard to tell if they are a solo artist backed up by a band, or just a band with an egocentric lead singer. Last but not least, I have seen both acts at the same club within one week, and because I’m seriously tired of the same old live reviews of bands I’ve discovered, I thought of doing something maybe a bit more entertaining.

So by playing the same club in the past 7 days, Jamie and Erland are united by another anecdote, for the club in question has a capacity of 350 people, but it also possesses a seperate bar room with a stage in it and a capacity of 100. Whereas Jamie N Commons were booked to play the club, but had to be moved up to the bar due to lack of presale tickets sold, Erland & the Carnival were supposed to play the bar, but kept whining for so long until they’d be allowed to play downstairs. Whether this was fair, we will now see by direct comparison, cut into neat little categories I arbitrarily made up.

The Story so far: Could hardly be more different. Erland & the Carnival are a sort-of supergroup including, among others, a former member of The Verve, have two albums up their sleeve (the 2010 debut and the latest output, ‘Nightingale’) and are backed by a load of critical acclaim. Jamie N Commons has just released his debut EP on an obscure label, while his Facebook page still lists him as ‘unsigned’. However, that EP was put together by Eliot James (producer of the likes of Bloc Party and Noah and the Whale), but still Jamie remains so under-represented that I couldn’t even find out if Commons is in fact his real name. (I always read it as ‘Jamie ‘n’ Commons’; however he introduced himself on stage as ‘I’m Jamie N Commons, and this is the band.’)

-> Unfair, yes, but EATC play the experience card and win this round.

-> Score: Jamie 0 – Erland 1

Musical Skill: Again, youthful charm doesn’t stand a chance against years of experience. The aforementioned Simon Tong, who was in The Verve as well as touring with Blur and the Gorillaz, is allegedly one of the 40 best guitarists in the world, plus those geeky show-offs like to present instruments on stage that no one in the audience has ever heard (of). JNC may not have bragged as much in their old-school set up of guitar, bass, keyboard and drums, but with what they had, they created some nice up-beat folk rock that I wish I had seen more of (but came too late, blargh).

-> Fancy VS. down-to-earth: In this case, the former is a winner.

-> New score: Jamie 0 – Erland 2

Stylistic Invention: Jamie may not be inventing something new, but has more blues than the average 60-year-old midwest cowboy and handles his debut with a security that is astonishing for the newcomer he is. Of course, Erland are the more experimental band, and unlike Jamie do create a sound of their own, which most bands fail to do. Their sound may have little overall consistency, but hey, if I wanted every song to sound the same I’d be listening to the Kaiser Chiefs or something.

-> Not just experience pays off, so does experimentation!

-> New score: Jamie 0 – Erland 3

Vocal Quality: Without a doubt, Gawain Erland Cooper is a skilled singer who knows how to bring emotions across and would probably beat most other vocalists out there. Unfortunately for him, his opponent today happens to be Jamie N Commons, whose voice sounds as if he had been sipping whiskey for more than the 22 years he has spent on this earth, and is possibly the only guy his age who can keep up with Paolo Nutini. Luckily for us, instead of singing romantic campfire ballads like Nutini, Jamie decided to put his talent into heart-bleeding folk songs that sound about as raw and desperate as the width of the American heartland, where Jamie also happened to grow up.

-> I’m still looking for the person to beat Jamie in terms of vocal quality …

-> New score: Jamie 1 – Erland 3

On Record: Pretty hard to compare so far, as Jamie has only a 6-track EP to offer up against Erland’s two longplayers. What can be said, though, is that Erland suffer from being way better live than on record, while Jamie, as far as I’m able to judge from the few tracks I caught him play live, leaves a way greater impression on record. However, his recorded music sounds extremely well-produced, whereas EATC’s recordings have a certain raw, unsteady quality to them, as if they hadn’t been properly mixed. In case it was done on purpose, it’s apparently just not my thing.

-> It’s too early to judge anyway, but my vote goes to Jamie for the enhanced sound quality.

-> New score: Jamie 2 – Erland 3

Live Performance: Another unfair category: First of all, I hardly even saw half of Jamie’s set, as they hadn’t just been moved up to the bar, but were further degraded by having to open for shameless Strokes rip-off The Rumours instead of headlining. The club stage, then, is at least six times as big as the one upstairs, leaving Erland all the space they needed to unfold, while JNC were not really able to stretch out a limb. Moreover I took great pleasure in Erland Cooper’s dramatic gesturing and wriggling and the amount of funny instruments and his Scottish accent, so the winner in this one is obvious.

-> The circumstances never really spoke for JNC anyway!

-> New score: Jamie 2 – Erland 4

Career Prospects: Erland may not have been around that long themselves, but already acquired a loyal following and enough arrogance to piss and moan until they get their will, capacity-wise (although they claimed it was solely about the space available to them on stage). But despite how much I appreciate them myself, I can’t see much commercial success for them on the horizon. They may continue to live a fulfilled life as an underground cult act, but I don’t really see how their intricate web of harmonium carpets, stomping gypsy folk and elaborately played chaos should make it on a big scale. Now that Florence and the Machine have gone old, there’s even less hope left. Jamie, then, definitely has the talent to make it big; the question is whether his musical style can hit a nerve with a larger audience. As far as no debut album has been released yet, we can still hope for him to lighten up a little and successfully hop on the Mumford & Sons bandwagon.

-> Finally, youth is good for something!

-> New score: Jamie 3 – Erland 4

Personality: Jamie N Commons is the kind of guy that asks the audience where to party after the show, and when you walk up to him to have a chat, he will politely introduce himself and shake your hand. Erland himself was less whiney than other people in his travel party, and capable of asking ‘How are you?’ as if he actually cared. So nobody really fails in this category, but personally I was more taken in with the merry unprofessionality with which JNC even failed to bring any merch to sell after the show, or how proudly he remarked that they had been on tour for a week now. Ask Miles Kane, he must have been touring for a nearly a year now!

-> Now even lack of professionality pays off! Who would’ve thought…?

-> New score: Jamie 4 – Erland 4

Accent: Before attending the show, I had only heard that Erland & The Carnival were supposed to be ‘from London’, but I quite soon realised this was only half the truth, from the way Mr Cooper pronounced the words ‘joke’ or ‘way’.

-> I’m sorry Jamie, but your weird transatlantic accent doesn’t stand a chance against the Scottish.

-> New score: Jamie 4 – Erland 5

Appearance: OK, I only included this category for the lulz, and because it was sort of expected. You must know that when the situation demands it, I can never resist delivering even the worst of jokes if nobody else won’t. So, Erland looks ageless enough to sport his v-necks and skinny jeans on a teen magazine cover as well as babysit his two daughters. Jamie apparently tries to convey a Pete-Doherty-esque air of the lonesome poet in an extravagant hat and a public masturbator trench coat, but seems like such an overall jolly person he just ends up looking fairly funny. I do credit him for attempting an individual style, unlike Erland. So I would deem them both as certainly handsome, but unfortunately Jamie will both have to work out and cast off his overcoat if he wants to keep up with Erland’s so proudly uncovered arms and abs.

-> And now I have lost all credibility I never had, just for the sake of the bad joke.

-> FINAL SCORE: Jamie 4 – Erland 6

I’m not a hundred percent sure this made any sense, but I hope it was at least diverting. So to answer the introducting question: Relocating Erland from the bar to the club was a fair move, however Jamie would have deserved to headline his own show, but just didn’t draw enough people – yet. We will talk again when Jamie’s debut comes out next year! And now please compare for yourselves: