John Naughton: Calm down, FBI – there’s little danger of the web ‘going dark’ | John Naughton

The idea that cyberspace is growing invisible to law enforcement isn’t borne out by the facts

The Apple v FBI standoff continues to generate more heat than light, with both sides putting their case to “the court of public opinion” — which, in this case, is at best premature and at worst daft. Apple has just responded to the court injunction obliging it to help the government unlock the iPhone used by one of the San Bernadino killers with a barrage of legal arguments involving the first and fifth amendments to the US constitution. Because the law in the case is unclear (there seems to be only one recent plausible precedent and that dates from 1977), I can see the argument going all the way to the supreme court. Which is where it properly belongs, because what is at issue is a really big question: how much encryption should private companies (and individuals) be allowed to deploy in a networked world?

In the meantime, we are left with posturing by the two camps, both of which are being selective with the actualité, as Alan Clark might have said. Apple is staking a claim to the high moral ground: this is not just about one phone, it says, but about the security and privacy of millions of citizens everywhere. Agreeing to the FBI’s request to write a special version of the phone’s operating system that would disable its in-built blocking mechanism against automated password guessing would set a very dangerous precedent that governments everywhere would exploit. True, especially in China, where, coincidentally, Apple sells more iPhones than it does in the US.

This species of moral panic has a long pedigree, reaching back to the 1990s or earlier

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GIITTV: VIDEO PREMIERE: The Velvet Hands – Habit

Cornish band The Velvet Hands release their second single ‘Habit’ next week [out 4 March], a bolshy, brash garage punk rabble-rouser somewhere between the attitude of early Cribs or Libertines colliding with the death or glory of the Clash. We have the video premiere, its the perfect soundtrack to your jostle to the night club this evening, you can clap your eyes on it here:

The Velvet Hands are associated with the Falmouth scene that Lost Dawn and The Black Tambourines are from. Ben Woods of Lost Dawn produces their material.

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GIITTV: Steve Mason – Meet The Humans (Double Six)

I have come to realise that I am no longer young. This revelation presented itself at 10.13am one Tuesday as a musically savvy colleague enquired as to what constituted my listening pleasure. I advised him it was the latest Steve Mason release, “…you know, the guy who used to be in the Beta Band?“. Silence ensued. The Beta Band drew their final breath in 2004, in relative terms that may well have been the 1960’s for all my colleague cared. Youngsters today eh?

So what of the aforementioned Mr Mason, well, he struggled for a time, putting out releases under a variety of different monikers as he sought to find a new angle, a fresh platform onto which to project his map of the world. By 2009 he opted for the plain ‘Steve Mason’ and has never looked back. Mason then released one of my favourite tracks of the year All Come Down followed by two further albums which both hit their mark perfectly. The only criticism of Mason is this, his albums can be a lesson in cathartic shedding of his demons and that can make for a tough listen on occasion.

Fast forward to 2016 and Meet The Humans, an album recorded in his new spiritual home of Brighton and it’s either the sea air or the close proximity of Choccywoccydoodah but this is a seismic shift in tone, texture and uplifting messages to the world. In short, it’s an absolute joy. The album opens with ‘Water Bored‘ and ‘Alive’ both jaunty and humorous in equal measure before the scuzzy guitar of ‘Alright‘ kicks in and Mason’s vocals head off into the ether along the coast to Hove and gently out to sea.

To A Door’ recalls early Badly Drawn Boy and that’s not a criticism as it comes laced with plenty of happy clapping rather than Northern dourness and the single ‘Planet Sizes‘ is so cheery you start to wonder who this imposter is and what have they done with the real Steve Mason. I am enveloped by the warmth of tinkling synths and his positive outlook on life, “the universe is mine” he claims and he may well have a point. Perversely, the three standout tracks feature late on in the album. ‘Words In My Head’ is an early 90s Madchester techno shuffle with Mason imploring “because I love you/in my own way” and I wonder if he’s finally at peace with himself.

‘Like Water’ is orchestral in its slow climatic build but Mason really nails it on ‘Hardly Go Through’ which opens in staccato fashion with a stifled keyboard arrangement which reveals itself to be a lush, touching ballad of which John Grant would be proud. The ambiguous “and I can hardly go through without you honey/what am I supposed to do with a girl like you” will resonate with people for a myriad of reasons but coming in a week when I lost a friend it hit home like Thor’s hammer.

Meet The Humans is witty, uplifting, tear-jerking and improves with every repeat listen. My colleague is now a fan, you should be too. Steve Mason, please don’t move from Brighton. Ever.

Meet The Humans is released on February 26th 2016 on Double Six

 

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GIITTV: Santigold – 99¢ (Atlantic)

Santigold returns with her third album, 99¢, following 2012’s under appreciated, Master Of Make Believe. With her second album, she shed some of the new wave influences that made her debut album refreshing and came back with a record that despite its quality often sounded like she was having an identity crisis, split between mellow yearning pop and hip-hop influences. 99¢ takes even more of a scattershot approach, yielding mixed results.

All the singles released from 99¢ have been under the radar, including, most surprisingly, the addictive first single, ‘Can’t Get Enough of Myself’. It sounds like Gwen Stefani fronting Tom Tom Club and is as technicolour as the artwork for this album. Santigold brims with self-confidence as she sings, “I can’t get enough of myself” in the chorus. The hyperactive ‘Banshee’ sounds like a great lost single from ZE Records. It’s surprising that songs as eager to please as these didn’t catch on, but if 2012’s masterful, ‘Disparate Youth’ couldn’t get in the charts, there’s not much hope for Santigold as a commercial prospect at this stage.

99¢ peaks with ‘Chasing Shadows’ which is as swoonsome and carefree as some of her previous career highlights: ‘I’m a Lady’ and ‘The Keepers’. It was co-written with Rostam Batmanglij from Vampire Weekend, which explains why it has a similar feel to Charli XCX’s amazing, ‘Need ur Love’. ‘Walking In a Circle’ has a deep electro bassline and eerie vocals that sound like her successfully attempting to emulate The Knife.

After a strong and colourful start, the second half starts to drag. Following the excellent glossy 80’s synth pop sheen of ‘Rendezvous Girl’, the songs blend into each other, leaving little impression. ‘Before the Fire’ and ‘Run the Races’ recall the understated highlights from Master of Make Believe (‘The Riot’s Gone’, ‘This Isn’t Our Parade’) but without the hooks that made those slow-burning successes. Often Santigold takes inspiration from other artists and keeps her own style, however on ‘Outside the War’ her Siouxsie & The Banshees impression is too obvious and becomes awkward.

99¢ ends with ‘Who I Thought You Were’ which sounds like something from Cyndi Lauper’s classic She’s So Unusual album blended with the Go-Go’s. It’s a welcome callback to some of the same influences on her debut. 99¢ ending on such a high makes the flaws of the second half even more obvious.

Hopping around genres worked in the past for Santigold but it’s not as convincing here and ultimately makes 99¢ an uneven record. Charli XCX’s album, Sucker, is a better example of proper execution of a new wave pop album — because she commits to the role. There are songs here that show Santigold has talent and that one day she’s going to have a fantastic singles compilation. It’s disappointing as her first album suggested she might be a brilliant albums act too. Santigold needs more of the self-confidence she displays on Can’t Get Enough Of Myself and to deliver on the promise she showed in 2008.

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GIITTV: Lizzy Mercier Descloux – Mambo Nassau/Zulu Rock/One For The Soul/Suspense (Light In The Attic)

The No Wave scene of ‘70s New York has been all but relegated to a footnote in the history of outsider pop.  The ramshackle grooves and rudimentary musicianship is punk at its core, but the scene’s aims went beyond the recycled tropes of rock into a sense of artfulness and originality.  Light In The Attic, a cult label specialising in reissues of lost, forgotten and maligned music across all genres, have done sterling work in their attempts to redress the balance of canon formation by unearthing outlier gems, and following last year’s reissue of Lizzy Mercier Descloux’s debut Press Color comes four remastered albums from the French No Wave singer’s later career.

Descloux was a cross-genre stylistic renegade, drawing on world music, post-punk, jazz and dub reggae, her catalogue exploring a world of sound.  These albums were recorded all over the world, from the Bahamas to South Africa, and the lyrics include English and French, but Descloux’s vision seems beyond any corner of the world, untethered to convention and expectation.  The four albums (and last year’s reissued debut) are varied and distinct, but there’s certain features that bind them together. The most obvious is Descloux’s voice: a girlish, breathy mix of purrs, gasps, yelps and snarls, expressive and energetic in its commandment.  Descloux is not a natural master of vocals, straining and missing notes at times, but her vocals are rich in character and personality.  It’s a thrilling instrument that most obviously recalls The Slits’ Ari Up, but also Neneh Cherry at her feistiest, Grace Jones at her most bracing, even Madonna at her most playful.

The other thread common to these albums is Descloux’s approach to rhythm. Afrobeat influences loom heavily, particularly on the drums and basslines, while the melodies and structures range across the spectrum of world music.  Descloux may have travelled the world absorbing ideas, but it’s a fragmented approach, a melting pot of disparate styles and ideas than full immersion in specific subculture.  The more cynical might see cultural tourism and appropriation, but Descloux treats her influences with respect, presenting them as a natural directions for her music to take, rather than any sense of exotic cosplay.

1981’s Mambo Nassau is the earliest of these albums, and feels the most primitive.  With its simplistic basslines, flailing drums, unsophisticated sound palette and Descloux’s undeveloped vocals, it’s the work of an amateur auteur.  Mambo Nassau feels minimal and spacious in its post-punk grooves, recalling !!! and Out Hud, a sense of deliberately angular funk running through its disco strut.  There are throwaway moments – skit ‘Milk Sheik’ runs under a minute, and its merry-go-round oompah march jars – but it suggests a myriad of directions Descloux could have taken.

zulurock

Zulu Rock follows, and it’s easily the stand-out Descloux album.  The arrangements are richer, with organs, accordions, even African choirs providing backing vocals. The melodies are adventurous yet instinctive, while rich brass and steel guitars create an atmosphere of exotic luxury.  Descloux’s voice is at its most charismatic, falling up and down octaves as the music struggles to keep up with her frantic delivery.  At times it can feel a little overpowering, echoing the excess of Kate Bush’s The Red Shoes, but for the majority it sits at the intersection of Talking Heads and Paul Simon.  In any case, Descloux sounds like she’s having too fun much to care, and on tracks like the irresistible ‘Wakwazulu Kwzizulu Rock’, it’s impossible to not get swept up in the joy of it.

oneforthesoul

The album spawned the accidental hit ‘Mais Ou Sont Passees Les Gazelles?’ and thrust Descloux into the spotlight, creating pressure to follow-up with another commercial success.  The resulting album, One For The Soul, sounds polished and glossy in a way that her prior releases could never.  But it takes the wrong approach to what makes Descloux such a captivating performer, downplaying her idiosyncrasies with refinement and almost a sense of tastefulness.  It doesn’t help that One For The Soul contains the most underwritten songs of her career. Acclaimed jazz trumpeter Chet Baker guests, but it’s not enough to save it from feeling like a misdirection.  There’s still plenty to recommend about it, but as a follow-up to Zulu Rock it feels like a missed opportunity.

suspense

The final album of Descloux’s career, Suspense, isn’t quite a return to form, but it’s a strong improvement on its predecessor.  It’s the one album of Descloux’s where the role of the studio becomes obvious, with manipulated sounds and audio trickery expanding her range as a performer and songwriter.  Again, it feels tame by comparison to her earlier career, but there’s a wealth of potential in the ideas it explores.

The record label didn’t agree: Suspense failed to provide a hit and Descloux retreated from music to focus on painting and writing.  Descloux passed away in 2004, aged 47, following a year-long battle with cancer. To die so young is a tragedy, and it is compounded by the fact that, for the majority of her life, her talent and vision was somewhat maligned.  These reissues are an act of retroactive justice for an unparalleled creative whose ability to investigate, interpret and interpolate a world of sound was matched by nobody else.  Descloux’s spirit lives on: in art-rock heroes like Vampire Weekend, pop provocateurs such as MIA, singular visionaries like Roisin Murphy.  These reissues are a fitting tribute, but her subtle yet vital influence on pop culture is her legacy.

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GIITTV: NEWS: Cambridge Folk Festival reveals its first acts for 2016

Location: Cherry Hinton Hall, Cambridge
Date: 28th – 31st July 2016

Returning for a remarkable 52nd consecutive year, the Cambridge Folk Festival once more promises another stellar musical line-up for 2016. Among the first names to be announced for this year’s event is Irish folk legend Christy Moore who will be making an exclusive English festival appearance at what is one of the longest running and most famous folk festivals in the world. Joining him at the top of the bill will be another supreme Irish talent, the rockabilly singer Imelda May and the highly acclaimed Gypsy folk-punk band Gogol Bordello.

Other top names who will be heading to the picturesque grounds of Cherry Hinton Hall come the last weekend in July include the American folk-influenced country singer-songwriter and multi-Grammy award winner Mary Chapin Capenter, the celebrated Irish musician and member of both The Frames and The Swell Season, Glen Hansard,  those masters of cross-cultural collaborations Afro Celt Sound System, the wonderful English folk singer and songwriter from Penistone, Barnsley, Kate Rusby, and affirming that the festival’s musical reach now stretches far beyond that of the grand folk tradition, the Screaming Eagle of Soul himself, Charles Bradley who will be appearing at Cambridge Folk Festival with his regular backing band the Extraordinaires.

All the information for Cambridge Folk Festival 2016 can be found here

Tickets for the festival always sell out well in advance so you would be strongly advised to get yours much sooner than later.

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