28) Beirut @ Manchester, 06/09/2011

Kicking Against The Pricks #11, 23/09/2011

A few years ago, a friend of mine, once a fervent Zach Condon follower, fell out with Beirut. He fell out with them over questions of “authenticity”. Now. The debate over authenticity goes on and on and on, uselessly. There are not enough trees to print on, not enough servers to flame on, for the arguments of arbitrary purists to be validated or refuted, condemning, or not, musical pastichers/posers to hell over this tiresome and vacuous designation. My friend’s qualms sit unwell with me for another reason, however: Zach Condon and his rota of musicians have at no point actually striven to be “authentic”. The band were born cuffed over the car bonnets of the Pastiche Police, only taking certain select elements from the Balkan and French folk etc. their music is so often cited to resemble, whilst otherwise putting forth pop songwriting.

Gulag Orkestar had the plaintive horn dirges alongside the drunken sailoring, and altogether took a lot more, particularly in mood and melodic shape, from its World Music (my tongue is in my cheek, and I want to kill myself) sources of inspiration. Over the albums, the concoction of European influence poured over Condon’s pretty straightforward pop songs has become more of a sideline than a key ingredient. One’s very first listen to ‘Nantes’ (opening The Flying Club Cup) sets the wheels in motion and the journey culminates in Holland, the Real People half of Condon’s 2009 double EP, where the placed exoticism of his earlier recordings has been supplanted by lo-fi synths and electronic percussion. The Rip Tide, the latest record, the one currently being toured, is in one sense an afterword to the stylistic evolution from Gulag Orkestar to Zapotec/Holland.

The pursuit of pop over continental folk pastiche has certainly paid off for the band, since they have been booked to play Manchester Academy. The city’s own The Travelling Band open proceedings, tepid and MOR overall, but not without their merits. A clean lift of Fleet Foxes’ use of lush, watertight, all-bearded-male vocal harmonies is effective - successfully epic. When the band aren’t dropping out for said vocals, they trundle along quite unvaried in the vein of Iron & Wine, stylistically resilient, but playing sadly forgettable songs.

Beirut tour as a relatively stripped down band this time around, three brass, accordion, drums and bass. This line-up does not read minimal, but trust me it sounds so next to the wonderful cacophony of the records. One drawback is the drumming. It behaves strangely. More rocky than appropriate, with a lot of songs substantially losing their original drive, particularly ‘Scenic World’, ‘After the Curtain’ and ‘My Night With The Prostitute From Marseille’. The latter’s strength on record is tied to catchy electronics, whilst here it blurs in with some of the less impacting numbers. Songs occasionally end on awkwardly cheesy emergency stops - final cadences that wouldn’t sound out of place at the end of an episode of Harry Hill’s TV Burp - evidence that this choice of accessibility over exotic folk ideas has been applied retroactively to Gulag-era tracks, and isn’t always desirable.

The atmosphere Beirut fosters overall, however, thankfully hasn’t changed since my last experience at Leeds Irish Centre in ‘07. The chant-alongs of ‘Postcards From Italy’, ‘Sunday Smile’ and ‘Carousels’ keep the tone light but grand, whilst ‘Gulag Orkestar’ menaces, and Rip Tide-highlight ‘Goshen’ touches the crowd, Zach piano-bound and projecting an unquestionably Antony Hegartish croon. All in all, long term stylistic direction and pedantic instrumentation gripes aside, Condon’s actual songwriting is fantastic, and to those back-of-hand familiar with the discography, like myself, the show is a treat.

Original Publication: http://kickingagainstthepricks.org/reviews/live/beirut-manchester

27) Muso’s Guide Singles Club, 12/09/2011

Muso’s Guide, 12/09/2011

The festival season is over. Basically. No more festivals. Clash-finder sheets and snuck-in arena beers are being slowly replaced with grimy puddles to drag your shoelaces through and an acute drop in Vitamin D to make you slowly spiral into depression, alone, in your stupid house that isn’t even a tent. It’s time to beat the Seasonal Affective Blues in the way that every 2010s net-savvy press-keen music lover does, week after week. Buy CD singles. 

Gescom
‘Skull Snap’

There is a degree of uncertainty as to who and how many actually contribute to Gescom, but the definite fixtures are Rob Brown and Sean Booth (leading post-rave, patch-step, “IDM” duo, Autechre). This short EP sees the most approachable material they have put out since their earlier 4/4 two-chord techno, perhaps more so, certainly compared to 1998’s novel, format-rinsing Gescom EP, Minidisc. The tracks retain the signature squelch and unsettling alien timbres of Autechre, but they are a sight funkier and more basic. Depending on what you personally take from an Autechre listen, Skull Snap could either be boring or… bangin’.

Amoss
‘Severance’

A sparse, spacious atmosphere opens, bringing to mind Amon Tobin, before a stock drum ‘n’ bass loop takes the reigns. The abstract swells of sub and clinical stabs of synth are used sparingly and essentially free of melody, bringing a dark and formidable edge to the rhythm. Besides the dull genre-badge of a main loop, the sci-fi-esque sonic palette of this is more a kin to the likes of Chris Clark – or indeed Autechre/Gescom – distinguishing Amoss from his dubstep/DnB peers.

Okkervil River
‘Your Past Life As a Blast’

Taken from May’s album I Am Very Far – recognised for how thematically self-contained each song is – you’d expect strong lyrics, particularly with Will Sheff’s existing literary reputation, and you’d be proven right. A shortfall of the song, however, is the lyrics’ relationship to the music. The bright and lush indie-rock instrumentation is uplifting, reminiscent of Arcade Fire, but at odds with, “your throat, where it’s exposed, looks like a crime / I’ll sneak-up slow and whisper quiet”. A lack of correspondence between the music and lyrics, mood-wise, makes it slightly more difficult to appreciate each.

I Break Horses
‘Winter Beats’

A bright ascension of wet synth layers foreword what one could obnoxiously tag “chillwave” vocals – essentially the appropriation of shoegaze vocal production for non- shoegaze ends. The strength here lies in the subdued but infectious melody and the rich, almost orchestral texture developed with lines and pads of synth. This is crowded musical ground to tread, but on the face of it an instantly listenable song.

Love Inks
‘Rock On’

Speaking of reverb-laden vocals, this track takes them to an extreme, or at least so it seems in contrast with the dry crunch of the bassline that cuts through them, and the sheer absence of anything else to muddy them. Love Inks’ penchant for provocatively sparse, demo-length tracks divides opinion, but their stylistic assertiveness and the cohesion that results make them a satisfying listen, this song being no exception.

One Direction
‘What Makes You Beautiful’

An amazing parody of impotent, throwaway Bieberism. You’d hope. X-Factor runners up, One Dimension (sorry, One Direction), are five seemingly CGI twelve-year-old boys, empty sentiment spewing from their MIDI-controlled mouths. Sure, it’s not aimed at my age bracket, but a younger audience listening to and taking on board this music, en masse, will be a generation of prissy, blemishless twats. Stop it.

Original publication: http://musosguide.com/musos-guide-singles-club-12-september-2011/18316#more-18316

26) “Beacons Festival” @ Brudenell Social Club, Leeds, 13-14/08/2011

Kicking Against The Pricks #10, 09/2011

Tom Vek, Jamie xx, Willy Nelson, Jamie Woon, Summer Camp. Artists that were billed for the debut of Yorkshire Dales four-dayer, Beacons Festival. Originally set to take place on Heslaker Farm, Skipton, the event had to be called off last minute due to weather-related safety concerns, as a nearby river burst its banks and the site and surrounding roads were flooded.

In an immensely admirable gesture of promoter solidarity, the Brudenell Social Club hosts a last minute bill, taking the place of - and raising funds for - the tragically submerged Beacons. As a Brudenell regular of several years, I have never seen the venue busier.

Multi-instrumental magician Juffage clatters out his impressive juggling act with characteristic flusteredness - perhaps a little too flustered tonight, owing no doubt to the briefest of sound checks afforded when part of such condensed festival billings. The entertaining slapdashery of his performances is absent on his debut LP, Semicircle - rendering his live performances and recorded sound very different affairs - but the intense, distinctly Chicago-sung songs remain in tact, despite the meandering live structures. The chorus of ‘My Weakness’ has burrowed into my brain and attempts to sing its way out.

Reasonably buzzed Manchester DIY outfit Mazes hit the stage, the drummer sporting a The Clean shirt. The band’s music is almost an elaboration on that statement of influence. The new wave colourings are varnished with an accessibility by way of nods to ‘70s power pop. The spirits of garage bands like The Real Kids and The Boys are channelled through Mazes, knowingly or through second-hand referential means, in their quickly hummable riffs and highly Americanised vocals.

Hookworms engulf the room in transcendental drone. The uncompromising repetition of motorik bass hooks - catchy and hypnotic - recalls Neu! and other krautrock staples, but Hookworms’ music is soaked in waves and waves of ‘gazey, abrasive guitar noise, placing their funkiness in a much more baron context. The cavernous, delay-drenched, and downright distressed-sounding yelps of Matthew Johnson also contribute heavily to this darker, ultimately more distinctive feel.

The city’s Deerhoof-flavoured bread and butter Cowtown take the Saturday late shift, post-1am, and as always the power trio’s effortless, helium-hearted funcore turns many a frown upside down. ‘Animals’ in particular has a bombastic yet childlike main riff, and any band who brings up South Park in their stage-yapping (“Darsh”), I am a fan of by default.

The Sunday is of similar standard.

Comprised principally of Leeds University Music graduates, Pengilly’s is the baby of Ric Hollingbery. The band is a six-piece tonight, missing a few of the extra wind and string players that have accompanied them in past shows, and, altough the arrangements still work harmonically and melodically, the textures at times feel unbalanced or insubstantial. A fuller orchestration would have been brilliant, but the songs are awfully compelling regardless. Tracks like ‘Stillness Is Digging For Worms’ and first single ‘Ode VIII’ (from their Toby’s Hill EP) are subtly melancholic, musically and lyrically, and demonstrate a great maturing since early Euro-folk-pop demos like ‘Doris Is Dead’. Hollingbery’s voice still has Zach Condon at heart, but seems infinitely more intimate with the emotions reached for musically. Despite the emerging serious side, however, the band carry a certain youthful tone, exemplified by a cover of R. Kelly’s ‘Ignition’ - a bizarre move which, although jarring in the arc of the original set, is received well by the Brudenell audience.

Seasoned Lightning-Bolt-Lite Leedscore duo That Fucking Tank hoist on us riffs bigger than their gorilla-demeanoured guitar half. Though less substantial and intense than aforementioned overshadowers, there is a humour to TFT that is lacking in other bands of this ilk (song titles: ‘Bruce Springstonehenge’, ‘Stephen Hawkwind’). The concision present in the guitar parts - frequently two or three notes, hammered into your face - is also very impressive; most acts would fall heavily flat in this much repitition, but risk of boredom during a Tank set is minimal if any.

Jonathan Nash of Cowtown returns for another late one on the Brudenell stage, at the drum-throne in Runners. Again with the repetition, again pulled off well. Not a guitar in sight, the three synths that stand in front of Nash pump out extremely minimal sci-fi ostinati, resemblences ranging from Vangelis, to Kraftwerk, to The Knife, back to Kraftwerk. Over this, naive, often crude melodies buzz out over and over, sometimes fantastic, sometimes very irritating. The strutting vocals of Dominic Clare occasionally come into play, treated with pitch-shifting and automatic harmonising. Clare sounds appropriately robotic, and along with the stylings beneath, The Knife is more than an obvious influence.

To see Leeds promoters and bands support the surrounding scenes, in facilitating and performing at this Beacons replacement weekend, is somewhat inspiring. Let’s wish the organisers luck for next year’s event and pray Beacons has not been drowned at birth.

Original publication: http://kickingagainstthepricks.org/reviews/live/beacons-festival-0

25) Tramlines Festival - New Music Stage @ Sheffield, 24/07/2011

Kicking Against The Pricks #9, 08/2011

Tramlines is a fledgling festival a mere three years of age, where Sheffield’s diverse and thriving music scenes are celebrated by way of a bustling and bewilderingly free of charge extravaganza courtesy of numerous venues, promoters and artists.

Sunday, its opening syllable savagely appropriate, the mathy tap lines of Brontide ring out outside City Hall, from the New Music Stage (the bill of which is curated by self-made Sheffielders and audacious indie darlings, Rolo Tomassi). The uncompromising noonshine fails to get a flinch out of Brontide as they hammer home their stoic, Battles-y patterns, positively masculine in tightness, hard-practised in instrumental prowess, and visceral in rhythmic drive.
 
The mesmerising musicianship of 
Three Trapped Tigers is another pinnacle of the afternoon. Rubberneck at the multi-tasking drummer’s gadgets as he attacks his (venetian…) snares and electronically contorts them into strobing, Aphex-esque flourishes, or keep an eye on guitarist and synthist as their two brethren timbres meld and weave together into overblown Mogwai drama - often savage, often dulcet.
 
We bear witness to 
The Ghost of a Thousands last performance in northern England (calling it a day after seven years) which quickly rallies a wealth of hardcore hardcore enthusiasts raring for the day’s first pit action. This we get, albeit initially an awkward empty clearing in the crowd, and moshing intensifies to the point of backpacks exploding and all possessions being lost in a hurricane of sweaty hair, stretched lobes, and beer-soaked black t-shirts (dramatisation; the fellow in question miraculously recovered his wares). A solid set from the Brighton quintet, with the exception of the super-lame inclusion of a ‘Back In Black’ cover - the iconic AC/DC song that gets more obnoxious each time it graces the ears.
 
Rolo Tomassi - ringmasters of this formidable rival to the more mainstream Devonshire Green stage - commence their convulsive yet accessible show in the ever so slightly waning light of 7pm. Their music is a veritable jerkfest - particularly on the part of wunderkind Joe Nicholson - employing adventurous harmonic structures, brash syncopations, polyrhythms, isorhythms, and further muso jargon, whilst fastening a stylistic fusion of free spazz, rifftacular calcu-metal, and the signature, abrasive “mate, that’s a girl?” yelps. The hometown humility in Eva Spence’s dewy-eyed intersong gratitude is certainly at odds with her self-aware indulgence in obvious sex appeal, nonetheless these juxtaposed behaviours create an idiosyncratic stage presence, charming, youthful and energetic. Much of the audience now very drunk (it is, like, 7:30pm after all…), those nearer the stage flail with abandon, paying more heed to the ostentatious 12-year-old crowdsurfers than to the spastic rhythmic trajectories of the music. Appreciation of Rolo’s sonic artisanship is tarnished somewhat by the number of bodies clumsily crawling over our heads (before being removed by admirably patient front-row security). With Tomassi tonight, though, there’s a good time to be had however you approach the show, and it is in this spirit that today’s cohesive line-up comes together, rendering a success one of Sheffield’s most worthwhile events. Long live Tramlines.

Original Publication: http://kickingagainstthepricks.org/node/367

24) Jonny Greenwood - Bodysong (soundtrack)

Kicking Against The Pricks #8, 09/2011

Bodysong (Best British Documentary at British Independent Film Awards, 2003) is Simon Pummell’s ambitious art film intended to document the narrative arc of life. From birth, through childhood, eating, dancing, sex, and *spoiler alert* death. Not only did the very high profile score composer indisputably bring the project to the majority of its audience, but the score itself is integral to the film. The footage is free of dialogue, affording the soundtrack the prominence and attention it warrants. Radiohead fans who face the challenge of this soundtrack with the band’s pop output in mind are going to be surprised (or more likely weirded out) by the remarkably diverse and foreign sonic territory traversed in this score, as it rides the footage through from birth to death.
 
Musically, there is one thing that both the alien atmosphere and the underpinning cohesion of this album can be attributed to, and this is Greenwood’s self-imposed melodic/harmonic constraints: exclusive use of the octatonic scale (Olivier Messiaen’s second ‘mode of limited transposition’). The influence of Messiaen on Jonny Greenwood’s compositions is - as well as being alluded to himself in numerous interviews concerning his foray in “serious” music - aurally blatant. Just compare the lamenting fifth movement of 
Quatuor pour la fin du temps with ‘Moon Trills’ for an obvious example, the two sharing not only the octatonic scale but also the arrangement of block parallel piano chords and a drawn out, melancholic main melody. Whilst the otherworldliness of Messian’s work is sourced from profound Roman Catholic inspirations, Greenwood’s ‘Moon Trills’ evokes deep intangibilities concerning the sanctity of life, as it unfurls over a jarring, beautiful barrage of childbirth footage.
 
There are times, like that above, when Greenwood is undeniably derivative of his French idol, but when he strays from the Messiaen-esque arrangements into the further out timbral territories of free jazz and electroacoustic influence, the music becomes strikingly idiosyncratic. ‘Milky Drops From Heaven’ - accompanying more sex-oriented footage in the film, as its title might suggest - begins with a bass hook both sleazy and disembodied, soon to be drenched in orgasmically chaotic textures of brass improv, oscillators and noise waveforms.
 
Far beyond is 
Bodysong the substance of other Radiohead solo offshoots. Thom Yorke’s The Eraser came across an unrefined expansion of an existing branch of the Radiohead palette - albeit fantastic - and the less said about Phil Selway’s banal debutFamilial the better. This score explores soundworlds that make Kid A sound like Pablo Honey, but is not devoid of Radiohead traces. In parts, ‘24 Hour Charleston’ wouldn’t sound out of place on Hail to The Thief, with a guitar riff that recalls both ‘2+2=5’ and ‘Go To Sleep’, adorned with a loose mess of glitch reminiscent of ‘The Gloaming’. As well as this, the above-mentioned block piano chords in ‘Moon Trills’ shamelessly nod toward ‘Pyramid Song’.
 
With a number of equally well received film scores under his belt (
There Will Be BloodNorwegian Wood) and several orchestral concert commissions (‘Smear’, ‘Piano for Children’, ‘Popcorn Superhet Receiver’ etc.), it’s clear that Jonny Greenwood - a principal member of the biggest band in the world - found a calling equally worthy of his time.

Original publication: http://kickingagainstthepricks.org/node/64

23) No Ripcord Debate #3: Are The Beatles Overrated?

No Ripcord, 12/09/2010

I came across a jukebox recently in a bar in Leeds. A friend and I thought it well worth one pound to startle the surrounding Stella-smelling wannabe football pundits with the brutal sounds of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, the opening movement of Pictures at an Exhibition, and the completely inappropriately stirring Ode To Joy. It was super, super hilarious. More relevantly, the jukebox’s categories included the following: ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s, ‘00s, ‘10s, Classical, The Beatles. Wait. What? The band are a category of music now. It seems that even some four decades on from their disbanding, the entire world is still one shrieking, pant-pissing fan-girl for The Beatles.

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is frequently awarded the belt of “definitive album of the ‘60s”. Now, not only is it questionable to read “The Sixties” as some unified event in a linear development of music to begin with, but the designation of individual works or artists as “definitive” is counter-constructive, and just silly. Unless you are putting together a shit pub jukebox.

A prominent argument for the importance of Sgt. Pepper… is its part in the development of the album format. It is around this time that power migrates from the record companies to the artists, not only in terms of creative control of the music, but in the selection of artwork, track order, production decisions, and so on. The presence and posterity attributed to certain bands grows: “musicians” are promoted to “artists”, singles disregarded in favour of albums.

At this point in the late ‘60s, a perceived rift between “pop” and “rock” is prized open. The Beatles and The Rolling Stones no longer occupy the same space as, say, Engelbert Humperdinck, and this divergence in weapon of choice (single, album) is a concrete marker of this distinction. A distinction based previously on less tangible, youth-centric counter-culture ideals.

The Beatles’ success rose in part from their apparent straddling of this “rock”/“pop” dichotomy. Critic Allan F. Moore (author of a Cambridge Press companion to Sgt. Pepper…) observes:

“The concern while writing is neither to know what the song is about, nor to recount a narrative or relate a message, but merely to work […] without the slightest care for any prospective audience.”

For The Beatles to have been so far removed from good old Engelbert then, they must have been doing this: pursuing some veiled artistic vision, rather than broad accessibility. But conversely, Sgt. Pepper… was the first record ever to include a lyric booklet, which allowed the audience to sing along and feel like part of record was their own. A curious discrepancy thus arises between the importance of the author and considerations of the audience. The Beatles wedge this “rock”/“pop” distinction with the release of Sgt. Pepper…, but simultaneously work on both sides of it, to their weighty commercial advantage. It’s really very clever.

“I’m a genius, […] I’ve been like this all my life.” (John Lennon)

The elevation of the pop star to the pop intellectual is another important contextual catalyst in The Beatles’ success. This is more cosmetic than substantial, however. It was far more important to present as intellectual, than to be so. This impression, serving to place the artist above commodity-pop peddlers, was basically fraudulent; fashion-based. This is evident in how far behind intellectual developments pop culture actually was. For example, also in the late ‘60s, Roland Barthes’ post-structuralist essay, ‘Death of the Author’, was published. Ideas of “intentional fallacy” in literary criticism had also come about, over two decades prior. These were arguments that audience perceptions of a text (literary, visual, musical) were of greater importance that the author’s. These new critical proposals undermined authorial importance, whilst - in this newly carved understanding of “rock”, and the release of Sgt. Pepper… - mass culture was seemingly only just recognising it.

There is a common claim that Sgt. Pepper… was the first ever concept album. This isn’t true. Not only was it preceded by concept albums by The Moody Blues and The Mothers of Invention (not that the music on these wasn’t rubbish), but Sgt. Pepper… simply had no concept. George Martin himself, unequivocally the fifth Beatle (if anything he was the fourth and Ringo was the fifth), stated:

“We made it appear whole by editing it closely and by tying it up with the idea that the band, themselves, were another band. To heighten that effect, I used sound effects of audiences and laughter and so on, which gave the impression it was a show but in truth, the songs didn’t have a great deal to do with each other.”

Moreover, even if thematic threads had been present on the record, this would still be less structurally adventurous than most music of the previous two or three hundred years. Sets of musical movements with unifying concepts and ideas had been around since the Baroque era, and these extended, motivically intricate forms would not be properly appropriated by pop music until the progressive rock of the 1970s; the lengthy epics of Yes, King Crimson, early Genesis, and so on. This is further evidence of how unsubstantiated the “intellectual” posturing of The Beatles was.

The other untouchable monolith of The Beatles discography was of course Revolver. Yes, due to their success, The Beatles were at liberty to make a lot more audacious requests of the studio engineers. However, the sonic development most people note is the reverse tape playback found on ‘I’m Only Sleeping’ and ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’. Firstly, magnetic tape manipulation to musical ends had been developed through the musique concrète approach in France as early as the 1940s, when Pierre Schaeffer and others adopted the sound object itself as their musical material (see Schaeffer’s pioneering work ‘Étude aux Chemins de Fer’). Secondly, it was not even The Beatles that first brought these techniques to a mass audience, it was the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop, whose experimentation with tape as a musical instrument - soundtracking the radio and television programmes of the day - was essentially the embryo of electronic popular music (see, most famously, the original Doctor Who theme of 1963). Revolver's use of tape manipulation was not innovative, merely interesting.

There were innumerable other developments in music around this time that could be argued to be more important. To name a few: The BBC Radiophonic Workshop; Wendy Carlos’ Switched On Bach; Perrey & Kingsley’s The In Sound From Way Out!; Downtown minimalism; Scratch Orchestra; Fluxus; John Coltrane’s Ascension; Bitches Brew; Can; In the Court of the Crimson King; Andy Warhol’s Factory and The Velvet Underground; The Piper at the Gates of Dawn; Woodstock. Nobody can proclaim any one of these things “definitive”, or more important than another, and nor should they try. They are all there to be explored, along with everything else documented. We are not putting together a shit pub jukebox.

 So, there was nothing sonically innovative about The Beatles’ work - besides a few gestures toward developing electronic music and, ahem, “World Music” that border on novelty - and the intellectualism in their work is a total illusion, albeit a hugely gainful marketing point. The Beatles remain one of the most commercially successful bands in the history of recorded music and nobody can argue with that. This is because their music was the intelligent assembly of others’ ideas however, not the treading of new ground. To again refer to Barthes: “the text is a tissue of quotations drawn from the innumerable centres of culture”.

I’m far from deriding The Beatles, since they did pen some of the best pop albums of all time. I am criticising those who deny their “pop” nature, assigning them intellectual weight and musical importance. Their contributions to the development of pop music were less musical, more contextual, and inevitable with it. They were not the most important thing to happen to music in the 20th Century; they were four lads from Liverpool writing great 3-minute pop songs. Their best album is A Hard Day’s Night, far and away.

For the other side of the debate (from Joe Rivers), see original publication: http://noripcord.com/features/debate-series-3-beatles

22) Peter Broderick - How They Are (Bella Union)

The Quietus (edited by Luke Turner and/or John Doran), 09/09/2010

Efterklang contributor Peter Broderick has produced a daringly pared down mini-album to keep fans occupied until release of his new full-length, a record delayed, curiously enough, by a knee injury. How They Are sees enchanting delicacy contrasting with moments of silence, for example the Eno-esque piano lines of ‘With a Key’, or the soft block-chord meanderings of ‘When I’m Out’. The piano style and combination with a soft soulful vocal, often bring to mind Cinematic Orchestra’s stirring ‘To Build A Home’. ‘Guilt’s Tune’ is the most evocative of the seven songs: a spoken word narrative is held aloft by minimal guitar and piano. Indeed, this imbues the songs with a cinematic quality straight out of the cutesy end of Hollywood. This gives a distinctly Americanised feel to the LP, which unfortunately lacks the continental character that so imbues Efterklang’s work.

Another flaw here is a distinct lack of tonal or melodic variety. Although this may be forgivable given the brevity of the work, newcomers to Broderick’s music will hardly be enthralled. Much of the material simply isn’t strong enough to withstand its intimate exposure. The a capella opening track, for instance never gives up the emotional depths it clearly strives for, feeling self-indulgent thanks to banal lyrics and an unimaginative melody.

How They Are, as a whole feels like a stop-gap, rendering it weak as a standalone release. However, it could be seen to serve a larger purpose. Broderick has hinted that his forthcoming album proper is to be grandiose in scope and instrumentation: “after working so long and hard on this huge album… I was really loving the simplicity and spaciousness of good old fashioned acoustic music. No tricks, no electronics, just me doing what I can do at once with my voice and an instrument or two, however pathetic or beautiful that might be.” Beautiful is, indeed, an appropriate adjective for the more captivating moments, however, a disappointing proportion of How They Are is sadly uninspiring.

Original publication: http://thequietus.com/articles/04929-peter-broderick-how-they-are-review

21) Phil Selway - Familial (Bella Union)

No Ripcord, 29/08/2010

I’ll start with the obligatory observation “good lord! A drummer with a solo project? That. Is. Mad.” It’s true that the percussionist in a band is usually the last you’d expect to put out a solo effort, but surprising moves are hardly a new gambit for Radiohead, who can, on account of being essentially the biggest band in world, do as they please. With the sterling output of Thom Yorke’s The Eraser and Jonny Greenwood’s various superb soundtracks and concert pieces, Selway has an obscene lot to live up to, and, hardly astonishingly, he does not. By a long shot.

Obnoxious and laboured as it may be, let’s have a look at some of the Radiohead similarities. Generally, Phil has managed to avoid them quite well, but there are those that stand out and make you flinch. “Kick it but it won’t go away” is a line that could have fit suspiciously nicely into the second verse of ‘Planet Telex’. ‘The Witching Hour’ is also clearly a reference, consciously or not, to Hail To The Thief’s The Gloaming - not that Yorke has a patent on that phrase, but you see my thinking. When interviewed, Selway claimed “if stuff came up that sounded very ‘Radiohead’ I’d edit it out,”… this is understandable, but surely a compromise of the record’s material. Familial has a very inhibited feel, as a result; a feel of treading on eggshells.

There is a strange pattern on this record of tracks starting out intriguingly but then, terrified of sounding like Radiohead, scuttling back to the bald-faced banality of José Gonzalez-cum-David Gray nonsense. The awesome bass opening ‘The Ties That Bind Us’ is quashed, the tribal lo-fi crunch loop in ‘Beyond Reason’ is quashed, the distant stutter-tronica in ‘All Eyes On You’ is quashed. It’s a great shame.

The album has no shortage of lovely moments: the chorus of ‘By Some Miracle’ is catchy as hell, and ‘The Ties That Bind Us’ - as well as the aforementioned bass intro - has some luscious and cinematic processed strings. ‘Don’t Look Down’ opens with held organ and sparse compressed piano, sounding distinctly Music For Airports-esque, and, for once, the guitar and vocals enter subtly. The song unfolds, reminiscent of Aqualung.

The lyrics are gratingly trite. Most concern family, hence the album’s title, which is fresh to an extent, but it’s certainly milked somewhat. Addressing his son, for example, “I want to keep you from my mistakes”. Smothering parenting aside, the vocals are generally adequate, if unremarkable and unvaried; tinges of Thom are unavoidable, but there is an idiosyncrasy to his voice, and he at times recalls Eels’ Mr E.

It’s a fine record on its own terms, but the it’s just not possible to circumvent the expectations that come with his dayjob. He should probably stick to taking Thom and Jonny’s instructions. I mean. There’s actually a song called ‘Falling’…

Original publication: http://noripcord.com/reviews/music/philip-selway/familial

20) Mice Parade - What It Means To Be Left-Handed (FatCat)

No Ripcord, 27/08/2010

Mice Parade have always been magnetised toward the hip, as it is presumably difficult not to be whilst signed to FatCat. But they have always resisted this attraction, maintaining an instantly recognisable musical persona.

Immaculately-intoned bongo patterns open the album, and the undulations of Swahili vocalist, Somi, combine with this to form a sound instantly evocative of ’90s Ghanan highlife. Pierce’s acoustic guitar finger-picking is reminiscent of flamenco in its rhythm and timbre, but the chord progressions that anchor it are positively pop. Layered with the wonderful kora work of Adbou, the overall plucked string textures evoke the West African guitar of Koo Nimo, or even the old Onyina recordings.

'In Between Times', following a timid electronic intro, embarks without hesitation into the signature Mice Parade soundworld, where soft crunchy bass and energetic acoustic strumming meet stirring, glad melodies poured out in the voices of Pierce's carefully selected collaborators (and frequently, in contrast, his own earnest monotone).

The track conforming most to modern pop trends is ‘Tokyo Late Night’, but it does not sound derivative for it. A dance-like beat plays out on acoustic kit whilst simple, repetitive piano brings to mind scatterbrained rhythm-smith Four Tet. ‘Fortune of Frolly’, despite the promising opening snare shuffles, has some over-familiar flamenco guitar ideas that bring to mind popular pastichers Rodrigo y Gabriela, but the low-mid close harmonies of Pierce’s vocal then reel it back in to the uplifting sonic locale of Mice Parade.

What It Means To Be Left-Handed is amply adorned with Pierce’s distinctive improvisatory drum stylings, with each rim hit and snare taking on a melodic spirit of its own, whilst never intruding. His kit-work is a baffling contradiction of smooth and jagged, providing a solid backdrop whilst playfully interacting with dense acoustic guitar textures or washy post-rock atmospheres. The album does lack the angelic liquid whispers of Kría Brekkan, but her small shoes are satisfactorily falsetto-filled by Caroline Lufkin, whose vocals float above Pierce’s to beautiful effect, particularly on the closer, ‘Mary Anne’ - originally penned by soulful North Dakotan songwriter Tom Brosseau.

Pierce and his revolving cast have put out record after record of upbeat but earnest pop. Each is resolute in its influences, but never quite rips anything off, so we get the impression of a truly distinctive artist. Also. I just realised Mice Parade is an anagram of Adam Pierce. That is so cool.

Original publication: http://noripcord.com/reviews/music/mice-parade/what-it-means-be-left-handed

19) A Muso’s Guide To Leeds

Muso’s Guide, 25/08/2010

Leeds can be argued the best city in the UK for music. With Manchester or London, the sheer size and intensity of the scenes render them difficult to keep on top of; one must specialise, keeping specific promoters, acts, or venues in mind. The bustling musical climate of Leeds, however, is much more penetrable, and it is feasible (if exhausting and costly) to keep up a comprehensive involvement.

To kick off with the increasingly marginalised “mainstream”: the relatively young O2 Academy is first port of call for ultra-super-mega-popstars passing through the city – usually unit-shifters like The Cribs or Paolo Nutini, but the occasional treat turns up e.g. Morrissey or Public Image Ltd.. In addition, the University Union’s Refectory has been drawing huge acts since the ’60s, from Zeppelin to Bloc Party, all presumably impressed with the canteen.

The Cockpit, a converted air-raid shelter near the train station, will not leave you hungering for faux-alternative touring acts, and if you’re lucky you can glimpse Generation MySpace in their natural habitat as dyed black bangs flail around the dark vodka-and-coke-stickied dancefloor to repeat plays of Rage Against The Machine’s Christmas #1. The Faversham will see medium-profile names come through on occasion, but you will have to put up with a piss-rubbish acoustic and two ill-positioned pillars that bands insist on playing directly behind. It’s also possible to have a good night out at the Fav, so long as you get so drunk that you forget you didn’t have a good night out.

LS6-ward is the Brudenell Social Club, a must-frequent venue that puts on exquisitely selected touring acts and presents as a nice old man’s pub simultaneously. £1.75 pints for the win. The house promoter is 100% on the ball with local and global breakthrough acts, the sound crew are super, and you can kill the inter-band duration or questionable support act in the games room, equipped with cheap table football, pool, snooker, darts, dominoes and novelty pinball.

Entering Nation of Shopkeepers can often be like walking into an issue of Vice, but it regularly plays host to hip blog-hyped acts, and these gigs are often inexplicably free entry (although you do occasionally pay the price of being surrounded by Nathan Barley extras). In the daytime you can flick through a discarded copy of Stool Pigeon and eat nice, pretentious food: hello, brie and avocado burger for £7.50.

The Well (formerly ‘Joseph’s Well’) is on the up, with recent visits from British Sea Power and Keane, as well as its regular solid local bills. Homegrown talent (and often homegrown lack of talent) can be witnessed in smaller live spaces upstairs in the Library and Packhorse pubs, which also provide potential starting points for any budding DIY promoters out there. Royal Park Cellars and The Fenton are regular hotbeds of noisy metal, in suitably small, sweaty rooms. Carpe Diem is fine if you like quantity over quality – they put on bills indiscriminately and without much thought, as well as having circa nine hundred open mic nights per second.

Independent promoters well worth being spammed by include: Brew, British Wildlife, Default This, Dirty Otter, Fancy Claps, Forest of Sound, Futuresound, Good Folk, Melting Vinyl, Room 237, Royal Park Cellars, Tiger Trap, and you can scout the net for many more.

When it comes to nightlife the biggest-bannered establishments are, of course, shiny chain-dives like Oceana, Gatecrasher, Tiger Tiger etc. but since you are reading this I can assume you’re not one to spend the witching hour lying in jock-vomit, with an unfamiliar oompa loopma doll trying to do sex on you. Fab Cafe is a well-located alternative to the above twat-sties, albeit a little too self-conscious in its geekiness, and Santiago now houses many of the alternative clubnights of The Subculture, following its recent tragic demise. Vegan-freegan-queergan-feministarian types should know about the “autonomous, radical social centre” that is The Common Place, a glimpse of whose highly varied events can be seen on their website.

The dwindling proportion of musos wondering “where’s the classical music at, dawg?” should start with the Town Hall, Grand Theatre, and the university’s Clothworkers’ Centenary Concert Hall, for both period and contemporary programmes.

Original publication: http://musosguide.com/a-musos-guide-to-leeds/11569#more-11569