Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Fee Fie Foe Fum @ Cargo, 16/12/08, featuring Laura Marling, Mumford & Sons, Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Wit, Jay Jay Pistolet and more.

This year’s been a good one for homegrown folk music. A whole host of bands and solo artists have emerged, acoustic guitars in tow, to create a veritable sonic movement. New-folk distinguishes itself with an emphasis on earthy, acoustic musicality and stylistic integrity – a breath of fresh air in a digitally manufactured and commercially driven industry.

Fee Fie Foe Fum is new-folk’s Christmas party. It feels just like it, too, as the artists stand among the audience between sets, supporting one another and celebrating their individual successes and collective critical acclaim. We arrive to catch the end of Cherbourg, but cannot help being distracted by Laura Marling and Marcus Mumford, just a few feet away, in a romantic clinch. Most of the acts on the bill tonight have been touring together, across the globe, in one combination or another throughout the year, and there is an observable sense of community that makes the rest of us feel like the lucky gatecrashers.

Lucky is the word, though. Jay Jay Pistolet looks quite solitary as he takes to the stage after Cherbourg. He is softly sung, the vocal distorted by a mic effect that resounds in Cargo’s warehouse rafters as though emanating from a gramophone. There is an faux-sadness to his performance that is impossibly endearing, and a respectful hush falls upon the onlookers for each quiet, melancholy love song. What he lacks in versatility is more than compensated for in charisma, as he wishes us all a pleasant evening and, doe-eyed, departs the stage.

Mumford & Sons are next as the midnight hour approaches and the mood in the audience loosens up. The talented four-piece are waistcoat-clad and stand in a line, each absorbed by the task at hand as they dance, subconsciously. Their set is infectiously jubilant – there are soon people jigging in the audience, bottles held aloft. Mumford & Sons come off best in passages of magnificent male harmony (‘The Banjolin Song’) that sees all four of them singing like a dog-eared, growling Fleet Foxes, but without the same drifting tonality. If anyone steals the show it is Marcus and friends – and seeing as they don’t have an album out yet, that’s good going.

A little later, Laura Marling comments on how honoured she is to be playing on such an amazing line-up. “You are the line up!” someone shouts back from the floor, and is duly ticked off by Marling. She does look singularly beautiful in a dress and make-up tonight though – as though the boyish, dressed-down girl that we’ve all grown to love finally learned to take pride in her pretty face. She plays a meagre four songs – one new – and creeps off, before being encored back to the stage by the crowd. A rendition of ‘My Manic And I’ turns into a bit of a sing-along, which is utterly bizarre for a fatalistic little number without anything even approaching a chorus. But everyone loves it, and so we sing all of the well-worn words, encouraged by delighted smiles from the Joni Mitchell of new-folk.

“No one should ever have to follow Laura Marling,” Johnny Flynn grumbles as he takes to the stage. Although he is absolutely right, he still manages it as well as anyone possibly could. Flynn makes an angelic, if visibly nervous frontman, showing off extensive talent on any number of instruments while his band provide musical and moral support, ribbing him for his anxious chatter. Though it is the evening’s most unsure performance, with a lyrical slip-up mid-set, it still encompasses all of the best of qualities of new folk – earnest musicality, inclusivity, and humility. There’s not a single person without a smile on their face by the time Flynn and his band play the closing chords.

Forget idiotic day-glo lycra and faddy electro – if tonight’s anything to go by, 2009 will belong to new-folk.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Live Review: First Aid Kit @ 12 Bar Club, 15/12/08

The flyer says we’re in for ‘a night of new Swedish music’. At least I think it does, it’s in Swedish. And anyway, in truth, we’re here for First Aid Kit. It’s the duo’s first appearance in the UK tonight, and there’s a kind of featherlight anticipation in the air. At just 15 and 17 respectively, Klara and Johanna Söderberg gained mini-notoriety in the blogosphere this year due to their astounding cover of Fleet Foxes ‘Tiger Mountain Peasant Song’, recorded in one take, in a forest (youtube it). They have but a handful of handpenned songs on their myspace that demonstrate glorious, viscid vocal power, thick with harmony, that has attracted quite a crowd of good looking neophiles to hear the real thing for the first time, this evening.

Support comes from Ben Thomas, a plaid-clad thick-set Scandinavian-type. He hulks over his guitar under dense dirty-blonde curly hair, his voice a vibrating growl. Although songs teeter on lyrically clichéd, there is a quiet magnetism about him that hones attention until the end of the set.

Chairs have to be cleared before First Aid Kit, to cater for the swelling audience. Klara and Johanna look unafraid, almost vacant, as they prepare the stage, but when the set opens with an almost-acapella call-to-arms that shakes the dust in the small backroom, the reason for their quiet confidence is suddenly quite apparent. They befit simple, sometimes green sounding folk songs with very little accompaniment, with Klara on lead vocal and acoustic guitar and Johanna colouring harmonic holes with autoharp, keyboard and vocals.

While First Aid Kit’s lyrics, which seem to dwell curiously on infidelity, sometimes slip off the boil with juvenile sentiment, the duo are, for the large part, capable of remarkable maturity, both musically and otherwise. At times Johanna screws up her pretty face and clenches her keyboard stand with the force of her vocal power, which rips through the room. What’s more, there is clear versatility in what the girls produce, ranging from seductive, bluesy vocals to the razor-edge country twang of ‘You’re Not Coming Home Tonight’. And then there is the Fleet Foxes cover, which threads aural vines of earthy forest-folk through the floorboards, leaving everyone spellbound.

Their set finishes with big smiles as the elder bashes the keyboard and the younger strums a coda, and their giggles get lost in applause. The endearing childlike edges that colour their set might not endure, but this is music and talent crafted to last. What we’ve witnessed tonight marks the beginning of a very exciting time for the Söderberg sisters.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Animal Collective: Merriweather Post Pavilion Preview

Gigwise went down to Plastic People in London for a very special invite-only preview of Animal Collective’s eighth album last night (3rd December).

‘Merriweather Post Pavilion’, as the record is titled, will already sound familiar to those who have witnessed Animal Collective live in 2008, with much of it made up from retitled set material performed this year.

From first listen ‘Merriweather’ steps away from the pop sensible inflections of 2007’s ‘Strawberry Jam’, which induced a bit of a panic amongst fans that AC were becoming more commercial. Instead it shows shades of minimalist techno, especially in album closer ‘Brothersport’, perhaps the closest AC have ever come to dance music. This is overlaid with their familiarly strong preoccupation for fuzzy psychedelia, realised through much lo-fi production and down tempo 8-bit.

‘Merriweather’ follows in a more experimentalist vein that might be best described as garage electronica, much like contemporary releases from fellow avant garde noise proponents Deerhunter and TV On The Radio, which will likely delight long-time fans of AC’s ability to push through accepted generic form.

‘Merriweather Post Pavilion’ will be released on Domino in 2009.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Ladyhawke Interview: The Accidental Popstar

It happened somewhere in a field near Leeds in 2007, watching Johnny “firstly, I’m a genius” Borrell strut across a stage lit up brighter than the heavens, clad in skin-tight white, like the Jesus of a generation: the realisation that indie music has a habit of creating these truly ridiculous egomaniacs who will stop just short of actually nailing themselves to a backlit crucifix to prove that they are the undisputed saviour of music. It was the same sentiment that surfaced upon hearing Reverend And The Makers frontman, Jon McClure, proclaim that he was going to quit music earlier this year with the words, "I'm gonna go out having told the truth and with my head held high and having stood for something.” (Did anyone ever work out what?) Thankfully, this mutated sub-species of musical hubris generally results in a nasty media backlash (like this one) and the perpetrators of such usually end up looking like silly pricks (like McClure).

The absence of this all-too-familiar arrogance is one reason why Ladyhawke is somewhat of a breath of fresh air. She’s not reinventing the wheel with her synth-laden Stevie Nicks-esque take on modern pop. Ladyhawke takes what any self-respecting music lover once loved about the eighties – those Kate Bush synth-choirs, that hypnotically tinny drum machine, and that impressively voluminous backcombed barnet – and dusts it off a bit for a new generation, spruces it up with a plaid shirt for the indie kids. This isn’t just all hot air and blonde hair – take a good listen to Ladyhawke’s debut and you’ll hear everything from Tangerine Dream in ‘Manipulating Woman’ to Gary Numan in ‘Paris Is Burning’ to Human League in ‘Better Than Sunday’. So yes, plenty of early eighties references here then. And all that from a Kiwi girl the wrong side of twenty-five with roots in hardcore and punk.

“I guess I never really expected it to get to this,” Ladyhawke admits. Only she’s not really Ladyhawke today – there’s no sign of the vampish alterego that the name suggests – no Jesus complex, thank God (apologies). This is just Pip Brown, admitting that her aspirations “were quite small. I was writing in my bedroom, expecting to sign to some indie label and release an EP in Australia, and to be honest I think I would have been quite happy to do that.” Instead she accidentally made a wildly successful pop record, selling 3500 copies in the first week of release and catapulting her into the media spotlight. Which hasn’t been easy, especially as Brown suffers from Aspergers, a condition on the autistic spectrum that can affect communication, interaction and imagination – three qualities that at first glance seem fairly essential for your average aspiring popstar.

“Sometimes, if I didn’t have stuff to do I’d just never leave the house, I went through a period of time when I didn’t leave the house for ages [three months, to be exact] and my friends were telling me that I had to get out!” Pip says of her social nervousness. She doesn’t come across all that shy in person, but she visibly suffers from stage fright in her live shows, something that the media have often noticed. “I always worry I’ll fuck up – make a mistake, sing off key, make a fool of myself on stage…” It was to counter this that Ladyhawke was invented – an alterego for Pip that could embody the starry qualities her creator lacked. This kind of method acting isn’t new – The Beatles tried the same tack to counter the professional pressure they felt with Sgt. Pepper in 1967. But has it worked?

“It didn’t work out, because we’re just the same person,” she admits. “Sometimes I try and use Ladyhawke more, I try to dress differently on stage. But mostly I just take that side of it as it comes, I don’t expect it to get better.” Strangely then, it’s actually the gigging that Pip likes best. “Even though I get nervous and everything, I just have to tell myself it’s over in about forty minutes – my sets aren’t very long. I love playing – it’s kind of a love hate thing. And you get so much free alcohol!”

It’s the same with her music – Ladyhawke is absolutely a pop record, and yet Pip loves heaps of stuff from the other end of the musical spectrum. “First I was in a hardcore band, and then a grunge band, and then this punk rock band. I still listen to AC/DC, and I always think it’s only a matter of time before I revert back to that.” She talks of side projects in sixties rock that feature her on the drums for future collaborations, and reminisces about her early punk days, which even saw her play at New York’s CBGB club – the birthplace of New York punk.

As for Ladyhawke, Pip has no plans to procrastinate over her second album. “I already have an idea of exactly where I want to go with the next album, I want to try something new.” And when asked if she plans for it to come out next year she squeals, “definitely, I don’t know why I would wait until 2010, it seems far too far away! I’d get bored and probably move home!” Pip seems fairly savvy about the fickleness of celebrity culture, quick enough, anyway, for her to realise the importance of capitalizing on 2008’s success with a sharpish followup.

Ladyhawke has had a few run-ins with the weirder side of celebrity this year. “My friend actually put me on to this youtube video called ‘Ladyhawke Lover’, and it is so scary!” she tells me, of her biggest fan. “This girl is obsessed! She has this big picture of me above her bed with lights all around it, and then she goes to her cupboard and she has a shrine with a picture of me in it. And then she gets a glass of wine and she dips her finger in the wine and rubs it on my face, and she says, “Please Ladyhawke if you see this get in touch with me!” She’s a New Zealander though so that made me feel a bit safer – I’m over here and she’s over there!”

Pip seems to find it hilarious that someone out there could really become obsessed by her and her music. There is genuine bemusement at her own success in her voice when she says “it surprises me how things happen and once the ball starts rolling people just seem to catch on – it’s insane.” This kind of humility is a breath of fresh air in an industry saturated in self righteous Jesus-types and mediocre reality TV victims. Here’s hoping Ladyhawke hangs around in the UK long enough for it to rub off.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Jefferson Airplane: White Rabbit

Released in 1967 following ‘Somebody To Love’, ‘White Rabbit’ is arguably Jefferson Airplane’s finest achievement. It was written and performed by Grace Slick whilst she was vocalist for The Great Society (as was ‘Somebody To Love’), and was part of the reason that bassist Jack Casady asked her to join Jefferson Airplane in 1966. ‘White Rabbit’ came from their sophomore LP ‘Surrealist Pillow’, although it was only featured on the US version of the album, and peaked at number 8 on the US billboard charts.

Slick is rumoured to have written the song in an hour, as a reflection of the drug-addled sixties counterculture and based on ideas in Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice In Wonderland’. The original included an oboe solo played by Slick herself, but it was her haunting, sturdy contralto vocal in ‘White Rabbit’ that was to go some way in establishing the solo female vocal in rock music (most vocalists were male at this time) and influence numerous female vocalists throughout the seventies and beyond, including Stevie Nicks and Patti Smith.

The music itself is has a strong Spanish rhythm that Slick claims to have taken from Ravel’s famous ‘Bolero’, the idea for which came to her after taking LSD and listening to Miles Davis’ album ‘Sketches Of Spain’. The propulsive, hypnotic quality of the music climaxes in a terrific crescendo, at which point Dr Gonza demands that Raoul Duke throws the tapedeck into the bathtub with him during a nasty acid trip in Hunter S. Thompson’s ‘Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas’. The ‘one pill makes you larger, one makes you small’ refrain is also an idea rumoured to have influenced the dilemma faced by Neo in the 1999 film ‘The Matrix’.

In reality, ‘White Rabbit’ became the soundtrack to the 1967 Summer Of Love. It represented the lysergic euphoria of a generation of young people who turned to drugs to escape from the horrors of Vietnam and Nixon, as the seventies approached and America began to rot from the inside.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Interview: Frightened Rabbit

Few Scottish bands these days can say they’ve sold out huge venues in the states, garnered a celebrity following and written an article for a British national newspaper. Especially while retaining a level of relative anonymity on home soil that makes it possible for them to gig in tiny pubs in their neighbourhood without so much as turning a few heads. Yet Selkirk natives Frightened Rabbit find themselves in this unusual predicament.

Their latest album, The Midnight Organ Fight, released back in April, is already big news stateside. Early blog support saw it spread like wildfire and has propelled the band to the prestigious ranks of Pitchfork darlings – an enviable if not impossible feat for most British rock bands. This side of the pond, they fill huge venues with ambitiously instrumented layers of sound, if not always people. On top of intricately woven guitars and keys, lead vocalist and songwriter Scott Hutchison, who was the first, lone Frightened Rabbit back in 2003, splutters a cracked and plaintive brogue, by turns desperate, bitter and brave, about a break up that happened some years ago, to him at least.

These days, he’s found someone new, someone who calls over to him to hurry up as we squeeze onto an open table for our interview in the frozen winter night. His brother, Frightened Rabbit drummer Grant Hutchison, comes too, and it is striking how tired they both look this evening. Grant’s drumming is part of what makes Frightened Rabbit one of the singular most exciting British rock acts of the moment. On stage he is transformed into a deranged yeti, teeth bared, shoulders squared, fists clenching drumsticks that he has been known to snap in seconds.

“We haven’t been off the road for months and months,” Scott offers by way of excuse for their exhaustion, “but why would you be in a band and not do all the gigs you can?” Plenty of bands have bemoaned life on the road – few have been invited by The Guardian to write about it. I ask Scott about this recent journalistic triumph. “I’ve actually had loads of e-mails requesting I do more!” he exclaims, clearly delighted. “It’s hard to write about life on the road without coming across as if we’re moaning, because it is great. We’re lucky: I know hundreds of thousands of other people would want to be doing what we’re doing, but sometimes it is just like, fuck this, this is ridiculous! I’m taking years off my life living like this.”

It must be exhausting, too, to relive the trauma of losing someone every night in front of a whole load of new people, I suggest of The Midnight Organ Fight and its barefaced, wounded account of a breakup. “There’s no rawness anymore,” Scott says. “It was two and a half years ago, and I wrote it six months after it all happened, so I could tie a knot over everything, as closure. If you hammer out a song over a hundred times, a lot of the emotion is going to fade away.”

Nonetheless, Scott still manages to recreate the confusion and hurt of that time live. He explains: “We still love playing live. A lot of the audiences, especially on this tour [they are currently supporting Death Cab For Cutie], are new to our songs, and that makes us feel new to them as well, in a way. And maybe our new audiences have just had their big ‘thing’ that happened to them recently, and that’s great, that people can walk into our songs and become the person that I’m singing about.”

Maybe its Scott’s lyrical frankness when dealing with the private universalisms of love, loss and sex that explains Frightened Rabbit’s disproportionate success stateside. “It’s different the way that music spreads in the US. They’re really big on blogs over there – I know we have blogs here as well – but in the US that’s kind of how you find out about new music, whereas over here it tends to be the NME and the music press,” he tells me. It was those faceless, secretive creatures – bloggers – who caught wind of Frightened Rabbit early on in the states and propelled them to the front of their ones to watch. “The Americans have this romantic view of the Scottish,” Scott tries to explain, meekly. Or, just maybe, Frightened Rabbit are really very, very good.

Frightened Rabbit seem perfectly happy with the way things are going, anyway, even if a lot of people ‘over here’ have never heard of them. (“It’s weird to say ‘over here’ as if we’re not from the UK!” they laugh.) But all that could change with their current and upcoming tours with Death Cab For Cutie, of which Ben Gibbard and Nick Harmer are huge fans, and fellow Scot, Biffy Clyro. They’re re-releasing a Christmas single, ‘It’s Christmas So We’ll Stop’, which stings with the broken humour of putting grudges aside ‘just for one day’, and they hope to start working on new material in the new year, if they ever stop touring. I tell Scott that I hope we don’t have to wait for him to go through another messy breakup before he can write a new album. “Speaking of which,” he smiles, motioning behind me where his girlfriend waits, “I’d probably better go.”

DOWNLOAD (that's right kids, my first ever download) Frightened Rabbit - It's Christmas So We'll Stop

Friday, 21 November 2008

Some Tracks I Liked In 2008

There may well be more to come, but it's getting to that list time of year again. And there's nothing I like better than a good list, so I'm getting mine in early. Jamie dabbles in that sort of thing, too...

The Dodos – Ashley (Visiter)

There was something about the biting cold of early spring that I found within the music of The Dodos. I was heading towards my finals at uni and each day entailed an uphill hike to the library for hours of silent reading, and something about the cross rhythms in Ashley seemed a part of the heavy momentum of that time. Coupled with which, the exponential improvement in this band’s live shows over the course of the year make them worthy of an end of year accolade, if nothing else.

Laura Marling – Blackberry Stone (Cross Your Fingers EP)

Alas, I Cannot Swim blew the large majority of the music press, including myself, away, even earning Miss Marling a Mercury nomination. (“I’ve no idea what all this is about,” she later confessed to me at the awards ceremony.) But it is in ‘Blackberry Stone’, originally the B-side to single ‘Cross Your Fingers’, that Marling’s astounding vocal range and the mesmerising ache in her lyrics really comes to the fore.

Frightened Rabbit – Backwards Walk (The Midnight Organ Fight)

The Midnight Organ Fight seems one of those albums that people can form an almost unspeakably personal relationship with – even bloggers who usually muster prolific jive on any given subject. Scott Hutchison’s broken Scottish brogue and the band’s epic approach to instrumentation express a kind of red-blooded hurt that is severed before it really takes off in Backwards Walk, a musical manifestation of the frustrated lyrics. The Daytrotter session of this track is a must.

MGMT – Kids (Oracular Spectacular)

Maybe one day, I will be able to listen to this song again. Right now it’s still more irritating than Katy Perry. It became the inescapable summer anthem of 2008, and it was rammed down my throat almost hourly at every festival I went to. But it’s for that reason it makes the top five, too, because one day I’ll hear it and remember chasing mediocre pop stars around Glastonbury and climbing midnight trees in Benicassim and drinking whisky with boys in bands at Roskilde.

Fleet Foxes – Tiger Mountain Peasant Song (Fleet Foxes)

It was actually stumbling upon a First Aid Kit cover of this that I fell in love with it, leading me to properly listen to Fleet Foxes’ much lauded debut album. Baroque pop? The saviours of American music? Sounds overblown, but in a strange way Fleet Foxes deserve it for reinventing Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young for a new generation, for sounding so unlike everything else that was released this year, and for the best Jesus facial hair this side of the bible. Amen.

And the shortlist: The Acorn – Oh Napoleon (Glory Hope Mountain) / British Sea Power – Canvey Island (Do You Like Rock Music) / Deerhunter – Saved By Old Times (Microcastle) / The Kills – Cheep and Cheerful (Midnight Boom) / The Last Shadow Puppets – Meeting Place (The Age Of The Understatement) / Mystery Jets – Flakes (Twenty-One) / Raconteurs – Many Shades Of Black (Consolers Of The Lonely) / Tokyo Police Club – In A Cave (Elephant Shell) / TV On The Radio – Halfway Home (Dear Science)

The Smiths - 'What Difference Does It Make?' (1984)

Like the second sibling, floundering in the shadow of its predecessor, ‘What Difference...’ had a tough act to follow in the shape of 1983’s ‘This Charming Man’. Both Morrissey and Marr have spoken of it as the song that got away. “‘What Difference Does It Make’, I thought was absolutely awful the day after the record was pressed,” Morrissey confessed in an interview with Q magazine in 1992, whereas Marr put its relative chart success – it peaked at a very respectable 12 in the UK – down to it being part of ‘the peak’ that followed ‘This Charming Man’.

In fact, ‘What Difference…’ was the first single to come off The Smiths eponymous debut album, released just a few weeks later in February 1984. And while its opening riff wasn’t as brashly distinctive as that of ‘This Charming Man’, or its lyrics so boldly poetic, it is significant for its rambling catchiness, as evidence of just how early on in their career The Smiths honed their singular style.

The opening guitar riff was based on Jo Jo Gunne’s ‘Run Run Run’ of 1972, indicative of the importance of Marr in bringing the guitar-based sounds of the seventies back into vogue in a climate saturated in dance music. If you listen carefully to the recording, you’ll also hear a sample of children playing just before the final bridge, the reason for which is somewhat unclear given the lyrical theme of unrequited love.

It might have been panned, but on today’s ears ‘What Difference Does It Make?’ seems to embody more than ever that mordant humour and social realism that was so important when The Smiths emerged in the 80s. Their very name was chosen as the antidote to fanciful names found in 80s dance music, like Spandau Ballet and Orchestral Manoeuvers In The Dark. ‘What difference…’ is musically humdrum and lyrically fatalistic, and yet as one of the five most commercially successful Smiths songs ever released, the difference it made in the course of rock music history is immeasurable.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Live Review: Death Cab For Cutie and Frightened Rabbit at Brixton Academy 19/11/08

Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard is all grown up, which is more than you can say for his average fan. At 32, Gibbard is still purporting Death Cab’s particular breed of teenage angst and hapless romantic pessimism. And the teenagers are still buying into it. ‘Narrow Stairs’, released earlier this year, marked their sixth album release since their debut, ‘Something About Airplanes’ back in 1998, ten years ago now. They must surely wonder at how their music still reaches an almost exclusively adolescent market – the only people above drinking age in the Brixton Academy tonight appear to be emo-sympathetic parents.

Support for the ‘Narrow Stairs’ tour comes from Selkirk’s ‘Frightened Rabbit’, easily one of the best bands to emerge in 2008. It was Gibbard and Nick Harmer of Death Cab who asked the Scottish fourpiece, personally, if they’d provide support on their UK tour, and it’s a well-judged selection. Scott Hutchison’s strained and aching brogue befits the acoustic of the well-worn theatre perfectly. Frightened Rabbit stick to uptempo numbers, but there’s still something brawny and raw about their sound that reverberates magnificently in the Academy, propulsed forward by percussion of unusual ferocity. Drummer Grant Hutchison inexplicably declares ‘drink stella!” before he leaves the stage at the end of the set – maybe that’s his secret.

It must be daunting following support as good as this, even for an act as well-established as Death Cab. Either that, or they’re not quite up for it tonight – ‘The Employment Pages’ is a poor opener, sounding pallid and empty in the stage lights reflected on the expectant, upturned faces of so many teenagers. Ben Gibbard is almost unrecognisable, skinny, lank-haired and spectacle-less, positioned stage-right rather than centre, perhaps to emphasise the parnership between him and lead guitarist Chris Walla.

If anyone shines tonight, it is neither of these two. Bassist Harmer is the only band member who seems genuinely enthused to be onstage, and a lot of the set is somewhat lacklustre – perhaps a pitfall of trying to recreate the fragile intimacy of Death Cab live. ‘We Have The Facts And We’re Voting Yes’ particularly suffers from this predicament; it almost sounds as though Gibbard is singing someone else’s song rather than his own as he trips over himself to get to the finish, while ‘Movie Script Ending’ is rushed, and loses all poignancy.

There are some moments that verge on a kind of polished melancholy, where the music really does seem to work. The anthemic ‘New Year’ is greeted with arms aloft, and set closer ‘Bixby Canyon Bridge’ is thick and taught with instrumental tension. Gibbard executes an acoustic ‘I Will Follow You Into The Dark’ mid-set, “for all the people hoping to find love,” and everyone sings along. It screams teenage campfire, but seems appropriate given surrounding company.

The encore is a generous four songs long, including a request in the shape of the lovely ‘What Sarah Said’, and they finish as per on ‘Transatlanticism’, distortion left to hang in the air as the band leave the stage. That Death Cab can draw such a prolific teenage following so many years since their inception is an impressive feat – they sit pretty in an emo-indie market that demands equal parts love-centric lyrical goo with credible amounts of guitars. Yet there is something particularly disheartening in witnessing such a prosaic rendition of songs that tend to teeter on glib, anyway. Gibbard has certainly endeared a new-generation of angst-ridden teenagers to Death Cab’s well-honed romantic existentialism, but whether the music he now produces still convinces himself seems slightly less certain.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Album Review: Pavement 'Brighten The Corners - Nicene Credence Ed.' released 18/11/08

Completists rejoice, Domino have kept up with their millennium promise of a Pavement reissue every two years with reissue no. 4, ‘Brighten The Corners: Nicene Credence Edition’.

The original Brighten The Corners was released back in 1997, as Pavement hit their early thirties. They were all living in different cities by this time and made the exception to come together for recording, which evidences itself in the aural completeness of this, their fourth album. In true Pavement fashion, the record is snailpaced, embracing a kind of lazy lysergia that washes over rather than arrests. In many ways Malkmus et al were the underground band of the nineties – they embodied a kind of commercially unconcerned, stoner-rock materialist discontent with modern life, that manifested itself in Malkmus’ dry wit and Kannberg’s deliciously cyclical, unhurried guitar work. The British musical underground were to draw extensively from their intentionally lo-fi sound, with many bands including Blur and Radiohead citing Pavement as a major influence.

Unlike Pavement’s fifth and final album, Terror Twilight, which was completely written (and almost completely credited to) frontman Stephen Malkmus, two of Kannberg’s best contributions to the Pavement compendium appear here in ‘Date With IKEA’ and ‘Passat Dream’. That the duo were still working under the guise of a songwriting partnership during ‘Brighten The Corners’ sessions manifests itself in the balance of band components, with ample space given to instrumental noodling that is indelibly stamped with a heady Californian languor. It was as Malkmus began to overshadow his bandmates towards the end of the decade, with Terror Twilight, that Pavement began to fall apart.

Brighten The Corners, featuring perhaps Pavement’s best known work in ‘Shady Lane’ and ‘Stereo’, showcases the band at its most cohesive. This year’s reissue features two discs containing the whole of the 1997 record remastered from the original tapes, plus all the B-sides and compilation tracks from that period, and a plethora of unreleased live and studio tracks, numbering an impressive 43 tracks in total. Some of the most exciting new material to surface is in the outtakes and live recordings of Pavement’s 1997 John Peel Live Sessions – evidence of Peel’s continued support of a band that he championed right from their roots in the early nineties. The CDs come in an embossed slipcase with a 62-page book containing photos, ephemera, writings and more. Just in time for Christmas...

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Television: 'Marquee Moon' (single), 1977

Punk music was all about doing it yourself, and making the music you wanted with the tools you had. It was ramshackle and raw, and that became its signature: a doing-away with the need for co-ordination and complication in favour of sometimes piecemeal musicality but a professed unwavering inclusivity.

Yet something about the whole movement was ferociously protectionist, from the maverick nastiness of the Pistols to the purer, punched-up bite of The Clash. The Wire perfected a storming yelp and The Ramones made mince meat of eardrums with their unforgiving preoccupation for volume, but all of them snarled that punk belonged to them, and to you, if you only dared to take it.

In their early, Brian Eno-produced sessions, Television showed little sign of being any different. The taught pleading of Tom Verlaine’s vocal comes off wafer thin and grating back then, the balance all wrong. But by the time they recorded Marquee Moon in 1977, Television stood apart from their peers. There is an artistic purity in what they managed to achieve with 'Marquee Moon' that signposted the evolution of new wave and post punk.

The title track from their debut longplayer is Television distilled. There is a subtle artistry behind the musical textures here that goes beyond the simplicity of trademark punk, and yet Verlaine’s desperately reaching vocal alone would have you believe that Television just happened upon the careful progressions of their sound, that anyone could have it that way, if they wanted.

‘Marquee Moon’ rests on the casual groove of Fred Smith’s bassline, and percussion so impeccably placed that it barely registers. Verlaine’s solos meld twisted upturned riffs with noodling motifs, but are always executed with a steely conviction that makes them stand firm against the abstract tension of Richard Lloyd's rhythm guitar. Lloyd refused to sit pretty on rhythm: he had a knack for creating totally unexpected tonalities that coloured Verlaine’s confident solo work with an intense unpredictability.

Television took up Sunday residency at New York’s CBGB in 1974, the first rock band to perform at the club, which soon became the epicentre of the New York punk scene. Later that year Blondie, The Ramones and Talking Heads, to name but a few, would appear in that same venue. There at its inception, Television took punk’s magnetic filth and made it aesthetic – no where is this apotheosis more apparent than in ‘Marquee Moon’.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Album Review: Castanets 'City Of Refuge' released 10/11/08

City Of Refuge is by turns twitching and soothing, awash with experimentalism and the upturned familiarity of American alt-folk. It was recorded in three weeks in a motel in the Nevada desert by one Ray Raposta, in a burst of creative solitude that resounds within the confines of the fifteen tracks.

Most of the themes within City Of Refuge are fleeting, ephemeral glimpses into the mind of a man alone in the vastness of the dustbowl landscape and the hollowed plains of his own consciousness. ‘Celestial Shore’ introduces the City with a guitar fanfare that resounds with sun-bright reverb and a melodic warmth. From thereon in, however, there is probing sparseness about the soundscape that Raposta has created in the City Of Refuge, which manifests itself as a mind creeping into forgotten corners of memory and undiscovered rifts of thought. Some of the time, Rasposta’s compositions are completely abstract. The ‘High Plain’ trio are pointillist experiments in the echo of crystal drops of synthesised sound, left to reverb as though in a goldfish bowl, or the outer layers of the earth’s atmosphere.

Where the city becomes more lucid, however, Raposta shows a clarity of concept that vindicates his exploration of abstraction. ‘Refuge 1’ revolves with dark intentions to ‘run to the city of refuge’, which by the time of penultimate sister track, ‘Refuge 2’ seem to have been fulfilled, as the thickly accented vocal drowns in the watery reverb of production. The momentary gospel of ‘Fly Away’ and the dry, spaghetti western guitar riffs of ‘Prettiest Chain’ place this largely experimental album within a musical context. But it is in the lapsarian tribute of final track ‘After The Fall’ that City Of Refuge is most melodic, and that lyrically and musically the finished album is best explained. Raposta writes ‘if I’d known where we were going, I would not have gone at all,’ but this album reverberates with the sense that it is only through journeying to the vast solitude of the Nevada desert that he could properly reflect on the valleys, plains and shores of his inner landscape.

The minimalist musicality and commercially uninterested abstraction of City Of Refuge is unlikely to win Raposta many record sales or a place in the mainstream music industry any time soon. Yet City Of Refuge resounds with musicality and clarity of expression of thought that makes it undeniably a critical success – that rare wonder of an album that manages to convincingly experiment with accepted forms.

Monday, 3 November 2008

Neil Young: 'Cowgirl In The Sand' live at Massey Hall, 1971

‘Cowgirl In The Sand’ originally appeared on the 1969 album ‘Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere’, Young’s first with Crazy Horse.

He later claimed to have written it, alongside ‘Down By The River’, while passed out in bed with a raging fever in Topanga Canon. It is the oppressive thunk and shifting time of the original album recording that seems to manifest the heavy, crawling discomfort of illness. A rambling ten-minutes long, the original is dominated by hypnotic rhythmic interplay between Young and Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten, of whom Young later said “he just led those guys [bandmates Billy and Ralph] from one groove to another, all within the same groove.”

1971 was a pivotal time for Young, who would hit the big time with ‘Harvest’, and its number one title track, ‘Heart Of Gold’, just a year later. He was to hate the trappings of the musical mainstream. In this recording, as part of his ‘Journey Through The Past’ solo tour, Young is comfortably unfettered by commercial pressure – over half his set was comprised of material he was yet to record. And at Massey Hall in Toronto, where he was born, he appears both coy and contented – a musician enjoying his best work before the mayhem of middle of the road success descends.

Without Danny (who died of a heroin overdose in 1972), and cut to just under four minutes, ‘Cowgirl’ is no longer about the symbiotic rhythmic conflict of two guitarists. Still anchored by that uncompromisingly sturdy tempo, it is Young’s transcendent falsetto that is the manifestation of someone who struggled for liberty from others, but ultimately could not escape from themselves.

Mumford & Sons 'Love Your Ground EP' released 3/11/08

There are only four songs on the Love Your Ground EP, evidence, perhaps of the painstaking meticulousness of Mumford & Sons, who must, surely, have a multitude of publishable tracks to chose from by now.

Each of them is lyrically lachrymose, from the quiet, introverted fury of ‘Little Lion Man’ with its refrain, “I really fucked it up this time,” to the grasping hope of ‘Feel The Tide’, that sings “you and I now, we can be alright.” And yet the words are upended and juxtaposed with banjos and mandolins and ukuleles and those sorts of folk-like, twiddling, inevitably cheery instruments that make the songs themselves seem bright as well as melancholy.

The songwriting here still sounds a little premature and not yet fully formed, and Marcus Mumford is not yet beyond writing lyrics that teeter between trite and touching. There are glimpses of poetry in ‘Hold On To What You Believe’ with the words “we’re young/open flowers in the fields of this war-torn world,” but the chorus is still irritatingly preachy. Similarly the music is heavily circular, risking mudanity, and yet is illuminated by inspired moments, such as in the surprising intrigue of a time-signature change in the same track.

Mumford and Sons have been better known as Laura Marling’s backing band for a good while now, and it is through this musical join-the-dots than they are inextricably interwoven into the fabric of new-folk, inhabiting genre shelf-space alongside Noah and The Whale, Mystery Jets, Marling and Emmy The Great. Their EP reaches for the more artistically sincere side of the new-folk stick, and yet falls just short this time, veering too often towards the predictable and twee. Yet there are moments here that speak of a kind of cold, rattling, expansive folk that needs only to be stretched and refined over time to produce something truly definitive. This will be the task at hand for the band as they put together their debut long player.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Album Review: Ryan Adams 'Cardinology' released 27/10/08

Is it possible to pinpoint a moment when extraordinarily talented musicians make the irretrievably slippery descent into morbid mediocrity? Maybe it comes when they finally slip off the knife-edge of living the life of a rock star and into inevitably drug-fuelled song-writing paralysis – maybe the mainstream seems the only way to go once you’ve dallied with success on the periphery for so long. Dylan himself made the veering trajectory through the exhilarating unpredictability of the sixties into the gospel cud that he churned out with heartbreaking regularity by the eighties. His latter-day prophet, Ryan Adams, seems intent on following a similar path.

With Cardinology, you’d be hard pressed to catch even a faded glimpse of the twisted up, fragile beauty of 2004’s ‘Love Is Hell’, or the bold ache of 2001’s ‘Gold’. That Ryan Adams can churn out piffle is not news – his misguided attempt to release three albums in a single year in 2005 will have alerted even the most hardy of acolytes to his somewhat hit-and-miss approach to songwriting. Perhaps most upsetting with Cardinology is the worry that Adams intended this lazy transition to purporting meaningless puddles of MOR – and yet, equally, that is maybe Cardinology’s only redeeming feature.

Adams has transformed a fascination with mainstream modern rock that emerged with his undeniably magnificent transmogrification of Oasis’s ‘Wonderwall’, into a watery emulation of stadium country-rock acts of boringly prolific output. The U2 comparison here is predicable and yet wholly warranted, especially with the aging warble of the vocal on rock-anthems like ‘Go Easy’ and ‘Magick’.

‘Stop’ is a shallow attempt to capture the deliciously sullen, sparse piano-balladry of ‘The Shadowlands’, but where the latter conjoured the frighteningly dark corners of the psyche of the protagonist, the former drifts into faux-grandiose string arrangements and unconvincing lyrics. ‘Memory Lane’ is twee in its reminiscent chatter of “simple times, hands entangled, fingers engaged,” and yet still manages to be less revolting than the pointless chugging of ‘Crossed Out Name’ or ‘Cobwebs’, which are repetitive enough to make Coldplay or Snow Patrol proud. ‘Let Us Down Easy’ dabbles in gospel, and I’m pretty sure ‘Fix It’ and ‘Born Again’ are actually the same song, mistakenly included twice.

If there was some saving grace, just one track that reminded of the man’s capabilities, a single ‘Hotel Cheslea Nights’ or a whisper of ‘Goodnight Hollywood Bvd’, would that be better? Cardinology might be bad, but it’s at least consistently mediocre: the rubbishy yelps of a man that wants to sell records and is following a well-worn blueprint to do so. One can only hope that this unremarkable, middling result was indeed Ryan Adams’s intention.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Album Review: Deerhunter - 'Microcastle' released 27/10

Since the release of their eponymous debut in 2005, Deerhunter have occupied an underground space carved of white noise noodling and illuminated by frontman Bradford Cox’s obvious preoccupation with Lou Reed and Brian Eno. But for this, their third album, some of the distortion has been stripped to reveal a surprisingly melodic and complete long player. Microcastle demonstrates that, far from the fuzz of previous albums that had Pitchfork applauding and almost everyone else scratching their heads, Bradford Cox is capable of producing structural form and harmonic variance that comprises modern post-everything songwriting at its most interesting.

Where as 2007’s Cryptograms suffered from stylistic schizophrenia, oscillating between prolonged, self-gratifying ambience and tough post punk aggression, Microcastle is pieced together with self-conscious deliberation. Opener ‘Cover Me’ introduces the album with a steady compound sway and unhurried percussion that breaks into a ticking chug for Agoraphobia, which then endures throughout the first half of the album. Cox’s vocals, frequently fragile and submerged in reverb, are laid uncharacteristically bare for the opening of the eponymous ‘Microcastle’, erupting into a gently glorious vocal refrain, before damp, echoing guitars twinkle on into the delicious lullabye of Cavalry Scars.

The best of Microcastle is in its characteristically prolonged outro. Perhaps the finest work on the album is with the uptempo ‘Nothing Ever Happened’. An insistent bassline drives and anchors ethereal guitar effects, which no long swamp the aural landscape as with Cox’s previous work, instead interweaving with cogitable directness so that diasporic musical elements are matched into the melodic weave flawlessly. ‘Saved By Old Times’ opens with the lazy psychedelic loop of twanging guitars and sees Cox singing of ‘elaborate designs', before slipping into the lysergic ramblings of spoken snippets pieced together by Cole Alexander of the Black Lips. The penultimate ‘Neither Of Us, Uncertainly’ drifts off into an upward piano refrain before the gentle melodia of ‘Twilight At Carbon Lake’, with its rocking, compound rhythm, plays out to growing distortion, ending on chordal fuzz which reminds of Cox’s noise-laden preoccupations.

Where Cryptograms introduced many to a musical outfit prone to fits of artistic impulse beyond the comprehension of many, Microcastle sees the superficial fuzz of some of the most musically elusive of Cox’s compositions stripped away. Without this deceptive obscurantism, Deerhunter evidence themselves as surprisingly melodic and accessible, and reveal a writing talent in Cox that goes beyond the expectations of a large proportion of critics. Cox insisted in a recent interview that he hopes people hate the new album to relieve himself of promotional responsibilities: if Microcastle gets the recognition it deserves, the reality for Cox could be a far cry from his negative aspirations.

Live Review: British Sea Power @ Roundhouse, 17/10/08

See original post here.

Few bands can lay claim to really putting on a proper spectacle in show business these days. It is perhaps partly due to this that British Sea Power have succeeded in maintaining exponentially increasing popularity, both critically and otherwise, over the last eight years of their existence. The fashionable Brighton outfit, who have cleverly trademarked themselves with songs steeped in historical narrative and outfits themed to suit their obscure naval preoccupations, can lay claim to a fastidious fanbase, sometimes titled ‘The Third Battalion’.

Having been the recent recipients of a Mercury nomination that dragged them from the clutches of the fashionably elusive indie elite and irreversibly into the commercial limelight, British Sea Power proved their mainstream appeal by filling the circular expanse of the wonderfully architected Roundhouse on Friday, right through to the seated balconies.

The respectable venue, a far cry from the cramped and dingy pubs and clubs where British Sea Power once performed, attracted a similarly respectable audience, whose demographic ranged from the younger, flag-wielding hardcore, to the surprisingly grey-haired surrounding majority.

Not that there’s anything wrong with a band transcending the normal commercial demographic, but the turnout was nonetheless surprising. It was as though British Sea Power asked ‘Do You Like Rock Music?’, and even those not naturally predisposed to gig going tentatively raised a hand and said, ‘Yes, actually, and we’ll buy a ticket to prove it.’

Their set demonstrated British Sea Power’s ability to achieve huge anthemic stadium rock during the likes of ‘Atom’ and ‘Waving Flags’, and then juxtapose it with filthy, angular rhythms and screaming vocals as in ‘Apologies To Insect Life’. Mostly though, the evening was composed of tracks from their third LP, with the London Bulgarian Choir (who also provided support) lit up behind a backsheet, providing vocal accompaniment during particularly epic moments. The rest of the time, the backsheet provided a canvas upon which footage of majestic, encircling sea birds were projected: a fitting visual companion to the revolving sea-sounds of ‘A Trip Out’, and the crashing waves of cymbals in instrumental number, ‘The Great Skua’.

Back-catalogue favourites ‘Fear Of Drowning’, ‘Wooden Horse’ and ‘Lately’ delighted a well-versed and receptive audience, that dissolved into catcalls of ‘easy, easy, easy,’ towards the end of the set, even before they were goaded into it by a huge flashing sign containing that one word during the final applause. Cue a characteristically entertaining encore of ‘No Lucifer’, which saw the band ripping up their tree-filled stage with the help of ‘Ursine Ultra’, their life-sized, patched-up mascot bear. For those unfamiliar with the band’s apocalyptic finales, the hilarious set-piece was unlike anything preceding it in rock music, and a subtle reminder of their deserved Mercury nomination.

With their choirs and costumes, British Sea Power can hardly get more musically epic, more theatrically inventive, or more lyrically intelligent. The challenge for them now is to move beyond this comfortably impressive plateau and continue their increasing commercial and artistic success, without compromising the marvellous eccentricities of their origins.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Album Review: The Acorn - 'Glory Hope Mountain' released 20/10

See original article published here.

Sufjan Stevens once tried to write fifty albums, one for every American state. If he’d taken the melodic warmth of his songwriting further afield, to the colourful coasts of Central America, the result may have been something like this. A blend of familiar North American folk and something a little more foreign and tribal, Glory Hope Mountain manages to expound a musical narrative that is extraordinarily descriptive. It was written as frontman and vocalist Rolf Klausener’s tribute to his mother, Gloria Eperanza Montoya (the title of the album is a rough translation of her name), who fled an abusive childhood in Honduras, journeying to Canada to forge a new life.

But Glory Hope Mountain is more than a biographical exercise. A careful ear can hear the chronicled threads of a life caught between cultures and journeying far from home, yet beyond Klausener’s descriptive intentions this LP introduces a vital and diverse musical mind. Each track is an accomplished and carefully realised whole, brought to life through diverse ethnic instrumentation that gives The Acorn’s music a rare vividness and colour, setting it apart from the work of contemporaries in the vein of experimental folk.

Klausener’s music manages to be subtly upbeat without ever straying into the territory of the twee. Clever, poetic lyrics anchor the songs on the right side of comfortingly melodic. Opener ‘Hold Your Breath’ is sparsely orchestrated, telling of a birth, before slipping with a delicious thud into a pulsating, forward facing rhythm during verses. Punctuated mid-track by a beautifully upwards-leading instrumental bridge that feeds into a clattering guitar led outro, it is the perfect introduction to an album that is by shades epic and unrelentingly energetic, such as in ‘Low Gravity’, and at other times unhurried and soulfully down-tempo, as in ‘Flood Pt. 2’.

The foreign influences of the album, inherent and indelible underneath every track, become especially evident in the vocal accompaniment and steady calypso chug of ‘Flood’, a song that sounds so organic it could have climbed, tinkering and rattling, from the branches of trees. ‘Oh Napoleon’ is mesmerisingly woeful, with its rocking, descending guitar riff and lyrics you can disappear into: ‘Talk about your peace of mind/The one I found so hard to find.’

There are weaker moments. ‘Sister Margaret’ is overdubbed by spoken sampling that is barely audible, and never breaks into song, so that it kind of drifts instrumentally, acting as album filler of less memorable quality. Meanwhile ‘Antenna’ starts with radio white noise that leads into uncharacteristically bland songwriting. But with the fragile, wavering double female vocal of ‘Lullaby (Mountain)’, Glory Hope Mountain ends, leaving the listener lost in the mountains and rivers of aural landscapes, handcrafted with painstaking and seamless detail. Though by no means a perfect effort, this critically lauded LP from Krausener and co. nonetheless introduces a profound and expansive folk-writing talent, combining traditional, contemporary and foreign influences that are married with new vibrancy by this Canadian collective.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Music News

Signed Pink Floyd Guitar To Be Sold In Charity Auction

Fender illustrated by Gerald Scarfe will go for thousands…

Those with a few pennies to spare despite the financial crisis gathered in Kensington last night for the launch of a charity auction of a unique white fender guitar. The instrument is signed by all the members of Pink Floyd and illustrated by ‘The Wall’ cartoonist Gerald Scarfe.

The auction is to celebrate the launch of Gerald Scarfe’s book, ‘Scarfe on the Wall’, which details Scarfe’s creation of the artwork for Pink Floyd’s 1979 album, The Wall, a rock opera about the individual’s struggle against society.

The fender is especially valuable as it is possibly the last thing that the late Richard Wright signed before his death from cancer last month. The current bid is £4000.

The only member of Pink Floyd to attend the opening of the auction was drummer Nick Mason. Roger Waters, who resides in New York, was unavailable, while guitarist David Gilmour had to attend a parents’ evening.

Pink Floyd remain one of the most successful rock acts in history, selling over 200million records worldwide since their inception in the late sixties.

The fender will be on auction until the end of the month at

Originally published 16/10/08 here.

Arctics Take Apollo Gig To The Big Screen

In one off cinema preview last night...

Fans of the Arctic Monkeys were treated to a feature length film of one of the band’s gigs in one off viewings that took place in selected cinemas across the UK last night.

‘Arctic Monkeys At The Apollo’, a 76-minute long film of the last performance in the band’s 2007 World Tour, was premiered at the Rex cinema in London on the 7th October, and will become available in DVD format on November 3rd.

Directed by Richard Ayoade, the film captures in high definition and surround sound the ability of the Sheffield four piece to reproduce their recorded work, live.

Vocalist Alex Turner fronts the performance with typical dry wit, at one point convincing the Manchester audience that the cameras surrounding the stage are because of a planned ‘live link-up’ with a Berlin audience, prompting hooligan cat-calls of ‘En-ger-land’ to reverberate around the venue, and several self-serving smirks to be passed between band mates.

The set list for the performance numbered nineteen songs from both Arctic Monkeys albums, including favourites ‘Flourescent Adolescent’, ‘I Bet That You Look Good On The Dancefloor’ and ‘Brianstorm’, and the lesser known ‘Nettles’ and ‘Plastic Tramp’.

Published 15/10/08 here.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Bombay Bicycle Club Interview

“People Treat Us Like A Gimmick...”
Bombay Bicycle Club on the pitfalls of being freshfaced and uber-talented...

It’s busy in the Macbeth in Shoreditch tonight. The pretty and pretentious youth of London’s east end gather on the terrace in the cool evening air of the late summer, puffing resignedly on cigarettes held up to painted lips. There’s a hardened, London look to most of the kids here, which makes it easy to spot three of the Bombay Bicycle Club boys as they shuffle through the smoke for our interview.

Much has been made of their youth by the music press, which is funny because there are lots of young acts about at the moment – Late Of The Pier, Cajun Dance Party, Laura Marling to name but a few. They don’t even look especially young. But there is a kind of sullen reservation in the way they conduct themselves, that soon becomes apparent as shyness. Save for the exuberance of their guitarist, Jamie, bassist Ed and vocalist Jack stare quietly at their shoes, seeming rather endearingly unsure how to answer questions. They might have some confidence yet to gain, but as far as their music is concerned, for a band that have been gigging and writing for over three years, their debut album certainly is a long time coming.

“The last few years have been building towards recording, which is a long time to put together a debut album, especially if you’re semi-well-known,” bassist Jamie says of their plans to record a LP. Semi-well-known is almost an understatement. Bombay Bicycle Club have been a staple festival band since they won Channel 4’s Road To V in 2006, and have been gigging successfully ever since, making quite a name for themselves on the indie circuit as Britain’s baby-faced answer to the Strokes. The only problem being, with their GCSEs only just behind them, there was very little the band could do during term time. “The interest in us was always peaks and troughs,” Jamie explains, “because we’d do festivals in the summer, and then we wouldn’t be able to do anything while we were at school.”

But no longer. The boys finished their A levels in July (Jamie solemnly admits: “School always came first,”) and have decided to take this year off to concentrate properly on the band. While their friends move away to start uni or fly off on exotic gap years, Jamie, Jack, Ed and Suren are getting used to everyday life in a band. “I don’t know what to do with myself now!” Jamie exclaims, with a happy grin, “When we’re not on tour or recording there’s nothing to do. We came back from a month on tour and we just wanted to take a break, but then you realise you’re just sitting at home all day, and all your friends are going on their gap years to East Asia or wherever.”

With this in mind, the boys are keeping themselves busy this month recording their debut album. Lead singer Jack pipes up behind a long greasy fringe that they’re thinking of calling it ‘Emergency Contraception Blues’, “but that might just be a song on it, we’re not sure yet.” As to the album itself, fans can expect quite a bit of unheard material. Bombay Bicycle Club have been lucky enough to secure Jim Abbiss as producer, the man behind numerous Mercury nominated long players from the likes of Adele, Arctic Monkeys and Kasabian. The boys talk excitedly about the prospect of Abbiss’s handiwork on the album. “He’s very versatile,” Jack lauds, before Jamie interrupts, “I think he’s very good at bringing bands like Kasabian and The Arctic Monkeys into the mainstream whilst keeping their edge.”
“Winning a Mercury,” guitarist Ed contributes, finally, “that’s our aim.”

Winning a Mercury is not exactly a one-of-a-kind ambition for a young, gigging band. The difference is, that with the intelligent musicianship and unlikely performing experience of Bombay Bicycle Club, their chances of achieving the outer reaches of British rock celebrity are perhaps not so slight. Each of their tracks combines wide-open-eyed lyrics about adolescence with swirling Bloc Party-esque keyboard and guitar textures and angular, catchy Strokes riffs that stick in the head and induce front row mayhem at gigs.

The only decider for Bombay Bicycle Club, this year, will be for them to get people to finally stop thinking of them as schoolkids and start seeing them for what they are: the most promising act to emerge from North London since Bloc Party. “It sometimes feels as if people aren’t taking us as seriously as if we were older,” vocalist Jack frowns. “People treat us like a gimmick!” Jamie adds, indignantly. “The NME is always saying things like ‘Out of term time, Bombay Bicycle Club are…” he tails off.
Jack adds, “People seem to have picked up on the fact that we’re really young compared to other bands, and have taken advantage of it.”

With school behind them and an album currently in production, Bombay Bicycle Club have a lot to prove in the coming months, especially to those that have underestimated them in the past. For now, as they shuffle off, all awkward handshakes and shy smiles, one can only think that if this young London four-piece can put together an album that is even just a fraction as promising as their early demos, they won’t be quite so unassuming for much longer…

Suggestions for the evening times courtesy of EYOE:

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Concrete and Glass Festival - various venues, London, 2+3/10/08

See original article here

‘The whole idea of a music and art event we know sounds a bit stuffy, but basically what we hope we do is expose you to a bunch of stuff you wouldn’t ordinarily see…’

Those extraordinary things ranged from the neo-classical piano works of Ludovico Einaudi to the Kung Fu games of contemporary artist David Blandy. But somewhere less high-brow, in the midst of the experimental and the avant garde, Concrete and Glass also offered the punter performances from some of the most enticing and eclectic bands and musicians in the industry, including inventive electronica from Fujiya & Miyagi, stumbling and beautiful indie rock from Frightened Rabbit and laptop-folk from James Yuill and his loop pedal. Set across a prolific number of venues in London’s East End, Concrete and Glass politely asked purveyors of art and music in the impressively comprehensive programme to ‘please try to venture beyond your comfort zone’.

This wasn’t difficult given the magnificent job the organisers had done on the line-up. On Thursday Gigwise discovered two of the more promising acts to appear on our musical radar for several months. We started the evening with the enveloping, lazy psychedelia of The Oscillation in 93 Feet East. Though the turn-out left a little to be desired, those in attendance felt privy to an extended and unusually polished jam session rather than a performance. We clung to the edges of the dark venue like the luminous spotted visuals, which were handmade by a boy with a bowl of water over a coloured light. Saxophones and basslines swirled around the magnetic presence of vocalist Demian Castellanos, each song underlaid by a silken, steady rhythm that underpinned the wandering melodies of lengthy tracks.

Over at Old Blue Last, Errors concocted electronic hypnotism of a different variety. It was almost impossible to get into the tiny upstairs venue, but those with the foresight to get a place ahead of the queues witnessed wonky electro-pop with an edginess Foals can only dream about. This critically lauded Glasgow four-piece meld angular guitar riffs a la Battles over sustained keyboard counter melodies, like a more commercially concerned Mogwai. They ended on the delayed, glitchy keyboard refrain and buzzing bass of ‘Mr Milk’, all smiles and substance where their contemporaries rely on hype and frosty pretentiousness.

Back in the Old Blue the following day, Gigwise is just in time to grab a pint and catch the closing folk-rock cries of Kid Harpoon’s cover of Leonard Cohen’s ‘First We Take Manhattan’. The obvious youth of the diminuitive plaid-clad figure of Kid Harpoon making his way from the stage still manages to surprise, considering his distinctive gravelly vocal style and epic acoustic talent.

It is Lykke Li that Gigwise turns to to kick off the weekend over at Café 1001. The program hails her as ‘the next big thing’, whatever that might mean, but she keeps us waiting some twenty minutes longer than expected, apparently due to illness. She is dizzyingly illuminated once on stage, her recorded hip-hop-pop moulded into new sound-shapes by added keyboards and crashing cymbals, whilst her body buckles its way through polished choreography. It comes off a little try-hard, but is carried by the strength of Lykke Li’s songwriting – ‘Little Bit’, ‘Dance Dance Dance’ and ‘I’m Good, I’m Gone’ are pop gems that can absorb a little too much lipsticked pouting and still stick in the head long after the set.

For the darker and cooler musical underground, Cargo’s dank and windowless arches host the height of Brooklyn brilliance – TV On The Radio. It seems the perfect pinnacle to a refined art-school line-up. Vocalist Tunde Adebimpe and multi-instrumentalist/producer David Andrew Sitek rarely grace this side of the Atlantic with their genre-elusive musical melting-pot of hip-hop, electro and punk. This is their first performance in the UK for nearly two years, and the turn-out evidences how much they’ve been missed.

We gather, pinned against each other, stepped on and shoved, with nothing to do except submerse ourselves in the haunting rumble of dystopic guitar fuzz and delicately pitched falsetto. Though the majority of the crowd are crushed and clearly off their faces, TV On The Radio still manage to get them clapping cross-rhythms before the first song is out. It’s testimony to their cult status and magnetically soulful songwriting that so many stick out the set despite the conditions. Adebimpe suggests we make ‘lateral moves’ rather than shoving each other forward, but with the seductively suicidal ‘Dreams’ most of us are at a loss to make any conscious movement at all, and merely sway, squashed against those surrounding us and subsumed by the comforting intelligence of the music.

It is the wonky techno of James Holden at Plastic People that provides our musical outro to the evening. Border Community’s finest plays in an underground pit, in near pitch darkness, with no fancy visuals needed to enhance the mesmerising polish of his intricately placed electronic beats.

Gigwise might not have made it to the art exhibitions, or have managed to witness more than a fraction of the innovative and intelligent musicianship showcased at this two day event, but, unlike from other London day festivals, we don’t come away feeling cheated. A well-written and simply presented programme makes even the most esoteric musical acts seem both accessible and enticing, while venue-hopping is better-accomplished with the help of a good map and pre-released schedule. While Gigwise regretfully misses the non-musical, the quality and scope of entertainment available at Concrete and Glass makes this an event that will keep people coming back for more ‘extraordinary stuff’, year after year.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Gig Review: Jonquil, The Shakespeare, Sheffield 26/9/08

See original article here

We’re driving round some kind of industrial wasteland in Sheffield. (This isn’t hard – there’s apparently quite a lot of it.) The taxi driver’s lost, deep in conversation with his satnav, on which he’s spelt our destination wrong, anyway. My gig-going accomplice is telling me about prostitutes and drug-dens and where not to go after dark in the steel city as boarded up grey blurs in my outervision.

Defeat seems imminent, and we’re about to give up and head for the shiny lights of the centre, when a little lit-up pub miraculously appears, with a couple of kids sporting skinnies and shoes smoking on the doorstep. After paying the driver about half of what it says on the meter for the pleasure of the picturesque detour, we order double gins in the sudden noisy glow of The Shakespeare. It’s busy here considering the out of the way location, a concentric hub of plaid shirts and painted eyes that seems to do trade by word of mouth among a fairly clique-y clientele.

Tonight the kids are out for one of the most promisingly obscure faux-folk bands of the moment, Jonquil. Faux-folk because, having warned the aforementioned accomplice that he was in for a few hours of ‘experimental folk’ (for want of a better description) and watched him guzzle several pints in trepid anticipation, Jonquil got about five minutes into their set before he turned to me, toe-tapping, and happily admitted, “they’re pretty good, not too weirdy beardy at all.”

Genre-tagging is something Jonquil have been avoiding for a while now, with frontman Hugo Manuel confessing in a recent interview that the band would rather be associated with rock than folk. Live, it’s obvious why. There’s a spreading energy about each of their tracks, rooted in organically created sounds, but multi-layed and building so that the jubilant swell of their music is neither twiddly nor twee, but kind of noisily cacophonous and catchy. To achieve this they fill the tiny stage with band members (all six of them) and instruments that most rock acts would never have heard of.

Tonight Hugo’s vocals are a little shaky to begin with, as he struggles with falsetto in ‘Sudden Sun’, but he soon warms to the task at hand. Hypnotic unison vocals in the humourously entitled ‘Babe, so why no,’ contrast with the utterly mesmerising orchestration of new track, ‘Parasol’. Jonquil end with the creeping twinkle and bespoke beauty of an extended intro to ‘Lions’, their best known song and the title track from their recently re-released album. It’s a wonderful moment, encompassing oom-pa accordion propulsion with sea-shanty chanting, inciting infectious grinning in the audience in the poky venue.

This talented Oxford six-piece have lyrics that transport to musical Narnias, and instrumentation that colours these landscapes with tumescent exuberance, with solid melodic cheer as its motivation. Tonight, though, with the unresolved ending of ‘Lions’, our out-of-town excursion is over, and we’re stumbling down the stairs and out the door, for the directionless, uphill wander back to the city lights.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Feature: Branded

This week it’s been Levi’s ‘5 Night Revue’, showcasing the best in new and unsigned talent as deemed suitable for the Hoxton clique, by Levi’s (who obviously know exactly what they’re talking about, being jeans manufacturers…)

The line-ups for these nightly Shoreditch showcases have been fairly predictable, with those that made it down to the east end being treated to the raucous promise of recent school-finishers Bombay Bicycle Club, handsome electro duo Iglu and Hartley, and eclectic toy-pop illuminators Metronomy, to name but a few.

Levi’s have been putting on their ‘Ones To Watch’ for over four years now with some success – past winners have included The View (thank you, Levis), Kooks and The Fratellis. Oh, and The Natives. (The Natives who?!)

But it’s clear that not many in the LOTW alumni can lay claim to much more that flash-in-the-pan first album success, followed by a disproportionate trajectory into second album obscurity – so is it really worth their while?

When we asked the Bombay boys about their decision to get involved in the Levi’s sponsored event, their unanimous response was, “We get free jeans!”

The attractive Levi’s promoters, however, confessed that they’re already looking for new ideas of ways to get new music out to the kids, without the stigma of corporate sponsorship. “This has been done now,” one PR said, “we need to change the concept, find new ways to do the same thing.”

The Branding Stigma is a problem that Jack White’s also suffered from this week after his Bond-theme collaboration with Alicia Keys was pilfered by Coca Cola for prime time TV advertising. “Jack White was commissioned by Sony Pictures to write a theme song for the James Bond film 'Quantum Of Solace', not for Coca Cola,” his management proclaimed in a statement.

Begging the question, is it possible to gain and keep commercial success in the modern music industry without being tainted by the grubby-fingered, money-hungry lure of branding? Answers on a postcard…

All this talk of branding leads us nicely to the recent Converse ad campaign, in which lurid billboards flanking the main stages at major British music festivals and corporate-sponsored gigs proclaim: “Rebellion is the only thing that keeps you alive.”

Now, I understand that Converse have long been the footwear of choice for the subculturally preoccupied masses. From Kurt Cobain’s endorsement in the mid-nineties (and his posthumous Cobain Converse released earlier this year) to M.I.A and Karen O in the most recent ‘Connectivity’ ads, the colourful classics have carried a long-standing reputation for giving their owner a certain understated yet irrefutable veneer of ‘cool’. Even when they were uncool, Converse were cool. They’re the closest thing alterna-kids have to Chanel.

But just when did it become possible to convince the large majority of converse-sporting gig- and festival-goers that the star on their footwear means that they are, in fact, the unsuspecting vanguard of an impending cultural revolution?

Has everyone forgotten that Nike has owned Converse since they saved the brand from liquidation in 2003?

Comfy and colourful they might be, but nonconformist and original Converse certainly are not…

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Gig Review: Bombay Bicycle Club – Levi’s Ones To Watch @ Macbeth, Shoreditch 21/9/09

See original article here

There’s an art to fitting in in Hoxton, one that involves wearing silly clothes and looking disinterested, or mean, or both. Beyond this, the insatiable need for the musical new, unsigned and undiscovered hangs heavy over the vintage-clad vanguard of Shoreditch, as the marker of those who have it and those who don’t. For over four years now, Levi’s Ones To Watch have made it their job to sift through the up-and-coming in indie and present to the impressionable east end with their own special ‘fit for consumption’ seal of approval. Never one to be taken in by marketing tricks, Virtual Festivals went down to the first in their 2008 ‘Five Day Revue’ to see if the music stands up to the hype...

First up, Sky Larkin’s set contains a handful of fairly same-old fodder that has some kids dancing, and others looking especially disinterested, even for Hoxton. Frontwoman Katie, a little breathless behind dark hair, has perfected the slightly-off-key-at-all-times indie-girl vocal in the Los Campesinos/Jemina Pearl vein. One punter is overheard saying “she’s not even hot.” There are those that happily subscribe to the splashy generic indie-pop of their more recognisable singles, but on the basis of this performance, this Leeds-based trio have some way to go before they’re worth watching again any time soon.

This is especially apparent when Bombay Bicycle Club take to the tiny stage some moments later. Though barely out of school, their music belies their youth as both commercially astute and intelligently created, complementing the savvy verdure with which they execute their set. Two guitars allow them to embellish standard guitar progressions with alternately jangling and drifting riffs, adding a glinting playfulness and glossy texture to hook-friendly melodies, as in ‘How Are You’ and ‘Ghosts’. The latter of these encompasses dystopic guitar work and the ethereal shimmer of keyboard effects, that provides the ground from which wandering counter-melodies and splashy cymbals emerge.

Bombay Bicycle Club’s ability to goad the audience through changes in tempo, snapping back into percussion-led riffs with enviable precision, strikes of the infectious energy of early Maccabees gigs. Meanwhile their sound combines double-guitar effects suggestive of a very British take on The Strokes, or the synthetic keyboard textures of Tokyo Police Club. But it is the ethereal, quivering vocal of frontman Jack Steadman that distinguishes them, complementing hebetic lyrics that are endearingly innocuous rather than juvenile or ignorant. Yet to record or release an LP, the London four-piece rattle off a polished performance ending on ‘The Hill’ to a jubiliant hand-clap reception. And though they are bent double over their guitars as they dance around each other on stage, Bombay Bicycle Club cannot conceal their delight at the unexpected, word-perfect enthusiasm of their audience, who no longer look so apathetic. Ones to watch, indeed.

Monday, 22 September 2008

London Airwaves Festival - 19/9/08

Music festivals, as the mainstay of the revelrous masses, have come a long way in the last five years. The well-worn formula of a long weekend dedicated to rural rebelliousness of the most extreme and exhausting variety has become pummelled, condensed and morphed into newly enticing manifestations. One such variety, the urban one-day event, has become vastly popular, this year especially, as a way of getting some of the best in new and smaller acts onto a festival bill for just a fraction of typical prices for the punter.

Airwaves is but one example of the one-day festivals that have emerged in this climate of live music diversification. Planned to celebrate the ten year anniversary of Iceland’s veteran Airwaves Festival, which has featured a range of high-calibre headline acts including everyone from Klaxons to The Kills, Airwaves branded itself as ‘an all-day extravaganza of cutting-edge music and culture’. But the reality of the event was somewhat different. Plagued with entry queues, schedule-clashes and street-level congestion, most ticket-holders were left feeling more than a little frustrated at a line-up that promised top-end entertainment, without much regard for the practicalities involved.

Even for those who managed to rock up straight from work, the eight venues earmarked for the night stretched right across London’s trendy East End – from Hoxton to Brick Lane – a fair distance on foot. Gigwise spoke to one girl who, in a fix about to get from Metronomy’s 9.30pm set at Hoxton Bar and Grill to Young Knives at Vibe in Brick Lane by 11pm, jumped in a taxi, only to find herself paying an extortionate £18 fare at the end of the five minute drive. For newcomers to the East End the risk of getting lost in a back lane and missing nearly every act on the bill was a very real possibility.

As such, gig-goers found themselves pigeon-holed into one or two similarly-located venues. For Gigwise, this meant missing the illuminated electro-pop innovation of Metronomy and the entrancing sequenced electronica of A. Human so that we were in the right place to see Young Knives at 11pm, which rather unfortunately meant suffering the poker-faced pouting of These New Puritans for a good half a set. Their heavily punctuated art-rock was lost on the dingy confines of the upstairs at Vibe, where clean lines of sound blurred and fuzzed into the humid central space of the sparsely populated venue, rendering the set messy-sounding and underwhelming.

The same sound issues plagued Young Knives’ subsequent set. With a band like Young Knives, however, personality alone is enough to counter technical imperfections. The unlikely-looking trio, done up in an assortment of clownishly large trousers, oversized specs and handlebar moustaches, played a set of overdone enthusiasm and unpretentious, commercial hooks and harmonies that induced a sudden bout of joyous, if not slightly odd, dancing on the floor. Between songs, lead vocalist Harry Darthall spouted comedic one-liners of varying profanity, at one point declaring, “The only fucking reason we’re here is because we get to go to Iceland –we’ll send you a postcard!” But their live set belied their proclaimed apathy, characterised largely by monosyllabic staccato nonsense held together by impeccable rhythm. They ended on a cacophonous blend of vocal and distorted guitar that was somewhat lost on the Shoreditch audience, who, in various states of inebriation, was only vaguely listening.

Last minute line-up addition, Digitalism, raised the festival spirit of the evening with their DJ set opposite, at 93 Feet East. The venue was soon bulging at the exits as people squeezed their way onto the dancefloor, overspilling onto the main stage and infesting tables and chairs in a jubilant and unrestrained display of nocturnal festivity. Musically, though, Digitalism offered little by way of interest, instead choosing to utilise their undoubted talent to mix crowd-pleasing fodder like Run D.M.C. and Nirvana into more enticing digital dance-numbers. It went down well, but critically did little but cement Digitalism as the poor man’s Justice in the electro pecking order.

For those still standing at the witching hour, there was little to do but trek to Hewitt Street carpark for an organised rave. Organised being the operative word, as kids queued in their fancy outfits to get through the barriers, queued for drinks tokens, queued for drinks, and then sat huddled in corners by corrugated metal fences, looking fashionably bored. We took the safer option, and headed for home.

On paper Airwaves and its urban festival cousins look like the ideal way of getting new music out to the consuming masses in one dense evening line-up. But in practice, the implications of switching venues eight times in a night to see just a fraction of what’s on offer left most punters wishing they’d spent their twenty quid on a proper gig, instead. Unlike Young Knives, we didn’t even get a trip to Iceland for the trouble…