Archive | March, 2012

The Shins – Port Of Morrow

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The Shins – Port Of Morrow

Posted on 28 March 2012 by Dorian

Writing (or more accurately procrastinating about) this review has taken an unusually long time, and I’m not a quick writer at the best of times. Something about the process was particularly difficult with regards to Port Of Morrow, the forth album by James Mercer’s The Shins. Partly the problem was due to the weight of expectation, I love everything the band has recorded (and regret not including Chutes Too Narrow in our all time top 100 list) and this record is their first for five years. This lack of objective perspective made me worry that my responses would be as a result of a desire to love the album rather than the merits of the album itself.

The Shins - Port of Morrow

Putting off writing the review made things worse as it meant that I got to read a number of other reviews whilst still preparing to write this one, and most of those reviews were pretty luke warm. This made me doubt my judgement even more, I was enjoying the record but maybe it was a bit of a dud and my judgement was flawed?

The breakthrough came (and I apologise for the rather meandering nature of this review) whilst I was running over the south downs during a beautifully sunny early evening. In isolation, with the album playing on my MP3 player, I found myself able to hear the songs on their own merits for the first time and came to the conclusion that this is a rather wonderful album.

The album was recorded with a revolving cast of players, including a couple of contributions from the now discarded original Shins Dave Hernandez and Marty Crandal, and some slick production from Mercer and Greg Kurstin. The album is like a selection box from Mercer’s career with different tracks representing different records from his back catalogue. The opening track ‘The Rifle’s Spiral’ has the production style of his Danger Mouse collaboration Broken Bells, and is as good as anything from that record. Lead single ‘Simple Song’ carries on where Wincing The Night Away left off, and is the kind of big sophisticated pop tune Mercer is so adept at writing.

Other nods to the past are ‘September’, a soft acoustic number that could easily have been left over from the Chutes Too Narrow sessions and ‘Bait and Switch’ taking us all the way back to Oh, Inverted World. However, these songs don’t feel like retreads, at only four Shins albums in 11 years Mercer has hardly stretched the Shins sound. It also doesn’t mean that Mercer isn’t moving forward with this album, the big glossy pop sheen in the production and the generally warmer tones make this a different kind of Shins album.

‘No Way Down’ is just a great piece of glossy pop, all hooks and warm vocals. It is exactly the kind of song that would to make the Radio 2 playlist, but the only one that would finish with a lyrical couplet like “Apologies to the sick and the young, get used to the dust in your lungs”. There have been some criticisms of Mercer’s lyrics on the album, his general happiness with life and warm outlook has been sneered at by the cynical indie critics. I find the generally upbeat and content tone quite refreshing, and if anything Mercer’s lyrics sound better a little more grounded and less arch than before.

‘Fall of ’82’ is like a lost track from the year of its title, bringing to mind Billy Joel, Hall and Oates and Supertramp. One of the reasons that this shameless homage to MOR works so well is that it sounds honest, it sounds like Mercer loves the music of his youth, it is a romantic song and not tinged with the smug irony of the guilty pleasures brigade. And the lack of irony makes the romantic ballads like ‘Taken For A Fool’ work pretty perfectly as well.

The lack of a solid band, and a range of styles, does mean that the album feels a little bit incoherent, and the slick sheen of production isn’t going to be to everybody’s taste. However, this is an album that has been getting regular play on Radio 1, radio 2 and 6 Music, and there aren’t many albums that can appeal so well to all three of those demographics. I can’t see myself finding many albums this year that I’ll enjoy as much as this one, it is still Spring but I think I have found my feel good record for the Summer.

9/10

By Dorian Rogers

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Tigercats – Isle of Dogs

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Tigercats – Isle of Dogs

Posted on 27 March 2012 by Joe

Have a quick scroll down to the bottom of this review and you’ll see something that rarely graces this site. That’s right, it’s a top score of 10/10. For those who are new to us we are not the kind of site that offers these out willy-nilly. In four years of reviewing I’ve only previously given out top marks to two albums, the recent reissues  of The Clash’s London Calling and REM’s Lifes Rich Pageant. This is the first time I’ve ever given a 10/10 to a new album.

So what makes Isle of Dogs, the debut album by London band Tigercats, so deserving of our praise? Well, for a start, as an indie-pop album goes this is as good as it gets. It’s teaming with radio friendly, infectious hooks, especially on Full Moon Reggae Party, Easter Island and Banned at the Troxy. It also has a sense of completeness  as the band take you on an indiepop road tour across the east end of London.

The album starts with “a declaration of independence” on Coffin For The Isle of Dogs, for the “kids in their prams” and “commuters in their commuter trains” to  take control of “this island that has gone to the dogs.”

They then take us across Hackney Downs, for a dream like swim in Regents Canal “with the turtles and prehistoric fishes”, a trip to an indie record shop, bars in Dalston full of people with “ridiculous haircuts” before ending the day with a drunken stumble out of a nightclub, a spot of night swimming and a tale of love.

But it’s not all about catchy hooks and road trips around the capital, on an album that was largely recorded live at Soup Studios, Limehouse.  The thoughtful Kim and Thurston, with its simple but effective guitar arrangement is among the highlights. Is it directly about Mr and Mrs Sonic Youth, the coolest couple in indie rock whose relationship was ultimately doomed, a fictional couple, or a real life relationship of lead singer and song writer Duncan Barrett?  Kim and Thurston sounds like it’s a bit of all three. While their songwriting is direct it leaves just enough ambiguity to let the listener put their own take on the tracks.

There’s a humour to the songs as well.  I particularly liked the references to the one hit wonders of new wave on Vapours. And as an expression of teen angst and insecurity goes the Konny Huck line about smoking “so you won’t see me clear” is among the best around.

Across all of this there’s a uniqueness to their sound that blends Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine and  intricate (what NME hilariously describe as “afro beat-tinged twee-core”) guitar arrangements, with the energy of The Wedding Present’s George Best, the irony of Pete Shelley and the intelligence of Hefner.

It is perhaps Hefner that they are perhaps most similar to in the way they capture city life so well in music. I’m sure this is a comparison that Barrett will not mind, seeing as he is a collaborator of former Hefner frontman Darren Hayman on last year’s Vostok 5 art and music project about space exploration. Fans of Hefner will also be amazed how much Barrett sounds like Hayman.

Putting all these elements together gives Isle of Dogs one of the freshest sounds I’ve heard for some time from a UK act. Plus, as we said when we touted them as one to watch this year, they are an indie pop band you can dance to. That’s actually rarer than you’d think.

10/10

by Joe Lepper

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Jack Hayter Announces Singles Series – The Sisters of St. Anthony

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Jack Hayter Announces Singles Series – The Sisters of St. Anthony

Posted on 24 March 2012 by Dorian

Jack Hayter is probably best known to our readers for his time in Hefner alongside Neon Filler favourite Darren Hayman. He has also been a member of Dollboy, Spongfinger and The Organ as well as maintaining a critically acclaimed solo career. His blend of folk, indie and lo-fi electronica, mixed with a unique and natural singing voice, make for fascinating listening.

His latest project is the release of a 12 song single series, The Sisters of St. Anthony, released over a 12 month period.

Jack Hayter - Sisters

Each of the twelve singles will be available individually or as part of a low priced subscription series with exclusive subscription only material.

Cover art will come from guest artists like Benjamin Shaw and fellow Hefner member Antony Harding along with fan submission competition entrants.

The series will be launched on April 4th at The Old Blue Last in Shoreditch.

You can pre-order and stream the singles here: http://audioantihero.bandcamp.com/album/the-sisters-of-st-anthony-subscription-series

By Dorian Rogers

 

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Caetano Veloso and David Byrne – Live at Carnegie Hall

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Caetano Veloso and David Byrne – Live at Carnegie Hall

Posted on 22 March 2012 by Dorian

Live at carnegie hall is a live album recorded back in 2004 featuring the talents of Caetano Veloso and David Byrne. Caetano Veloso is not a name that I was familiar with prior to purchasing this album, the presence of the former Talking Heads front man was my main reason to pick it up. However, it is the talents of Caetano Veloso that really drive this engaging live album. The Brazlian  singer, guitarist and songwriter has recorded dozens of albums since his debut in 1967 and is a significant musical and political figure in his homeland.

Caetano Veloso and David Byrne

The firs third of the album is Caetano performing alone, with cello and percussion being added gradually to the set. The songs here are beautifully played and sung, the skillful guitar work perfectly complementing his understated vocal style. There are two slight problems with the set at this point, the first (and this is not a valid criticism) is the language barrier. He is a famous political figure as well as musician and I wish I could understand the words as I have no doubt they would add significantly to the impact of the songs. The second problem is a bigger one, however lovely the songs are the whole performance is just a little bit polite. The light and airy style coupled with the controlled enthusiasm of the audience’s applause lacks a passion that I would have expected from a musician of Veloso’s reputation. However, these are lovely songs performed with real skill.

The more collaborative parts of the concert start with Veloso singing a David Byrne song, ‘The Revolution’, and half way through Byrne takes to the stage and adds his vocals to the mix. The next few songs showcase David Byrne’s catalogue with solo tracks and Talking Head’s favourites getting a an airing. This is the part of the album I was looking forward to most, but is actually the most frustrating. I had hoped that we would hear these songs interpreted in an interesting way to reflect the collaboration on stage. What we actually get is a kind of “David Byrne Unplugged” set, which is never going to be a bad thing (when the sings are this good) but also something of a missed opportunity. That aside, there is a bit of a thrill to hear ‘And She Was’ and ‘Road To Nowhere’ performed live as they never got a stage airing when Talking Heads were still together (and the performance of ‘Road To Nowhere’ is actually pretty great).

Things get properly interesting in the final third of the set as we get to hear a proper collaboration between the two performers. ‘Dreamworld: Marco de Canaveses’ is a co-written duet and manages to perfectly distill the different writing and performing styles of both men. The highlight of the album is a duet run through the beautiful ‘(Nothing but) Flowers’ which is a spirited and warm performance that quickens pace throughout. It really is a great performance, and one that is very different from the original, and for me justifies the price of the album alone.

The album closes out with ‘Terra’, a Veloso song that has some of the spirit that was missing from the earlier songs, and a typically stirring take on Talking Head’s ‘Heaven’ which brings things to a conclusion pretty perfectly.

This is a hard album to score (and I’m no big fan of scoring my reviews at the best of times) as it is a recording of what I imagine was a fantastic live concert, but it falls just a little bit short as an album. I imagine that I’ll listen to the album, but mainly as background and less often as the musical focus. It is recomended to any Talking Heads fan who would like to add a few new live versions to their collections, and is a good introduction to Veloso, an artist that I will be seeking out more of on the strength of his songs here.

7/10

By Dorian Rogers

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Diagrams (Hoxton Bar, London, March 13, 2012)

Diagrams (Hoxton Bar, London, March 13, 2012)

Posted on 22 March 2012 by Joe

As a stage light gently smouldered off Sam Genders’ hairless scalp, he became evidently rattled. Amongst the distorted blares of electro indie fuzzing from the PA, Genders’ band looked around in timid confusion. No one could start playing. Nuzzled in a booth remained a dishevelled, apathetic DJ, completely oblivious to the night’s already delayed set times. While the band pointed to distant figures for assistance, Genders smiled to himself privately in hopes that the situation will ultimately deal with itself.

Diagrams

It was this incessant politeness that seemed to be the overriding theme for Diagrams at Hoxton Square Bar and Kitchen. Having returned from the European leg of their tour, a humbled Genders bumbled his way through the onstage performance like a giddy schoolchild. While he awkwardly jerked and charmed, his small arsenal of backing musicians wriggled with fervour. The recent release of Diagrams‘ first LP, Black Light, received an array of praise from the music press and, if tonight’s showcase was anything to go by, it seems they could not be more overtly grateful.

The night begun with a somewhat elongated set from Jesus and Mary Chain impressionists, Younghusband. The kraut-tinged psyche rock boys fashioned a predictable pallet of fuzzed out, Sonic Youth appropriateness without any distinct presence or originality. Nonetheless, their late 80’s throwback Sub Pop sounds were entertaining enough for the sedated crowd before them, whom dazedly grooved throughout the duration.

Fellow Sonic Cathedral record label mates, Yeti Lane, follow. This French duo have been riding the indie wave with ease and precision with commercial aid from overseas comrades such as M83 and Team Ghost. Unfortunately, their brand of tranquillised pop quirk misses the mark as their sprawling ambience loses itself in a room of despondency. And while songs such as The Analog Wheel are equally as adventurous as they are conscientious, the general comedown equates to an empty lack of satisfaction.

Diagrams

The same cannot be decreed of Genders’ band. Diagrams gallop through the majority of Black Light with explicit creativity and emotive courtesy. While the electro staccato glitches from studio tracks like Appetite and Black Light maintained an essence of jovial folktronica, live they translate effortlessly to warm hearted skiffle pop. Their other worldly harmonies soar like the key drone of a Yamaha synthesiser. Genders reproduces the album’s multitude of layers through a building block of delay and loop pedals (leaving a gang of onlookers assuming all the music had been pre-recorded before the show). Songs such as Night All Night and Ghost Lit replicated an air of melancholy as Diagrams’ Delphic synth player winced with crushing sentiment.

Genders sweetly thanked each participant of the night on more than one occasion to a tentative audience that applauded and whooped the band through to encore: the jumpy beating of Tall Beatings. Of course, as the seething proverb highlights, ‘nice guys finish last,‘ it proves to be a patent benefit for Diagrams as they close the evening with a demure bow and a new found sense of confidence for their upcoming headline dates.

by Tom Watson

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Late Night Tales – Belle and Sebastian

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Late Night Tales – Belle and Sebastian

Posted on 21 March 2012 by Joe

We’ve been reviewing the Late Night Tales series for a while now and this second offering from Belle and Sebastian may just be the best yet. There’s the 1960s influences that you would expect, including Joe Pass’s 1969 Time for Us and Blood Sweat and Tears’ Spinning Wheel from the same year. But the band have also included a far broader mix of styles from jazz, to new wave, folk to the modern synth-pop funk of Toro Y Moi.

This breadth helps it fulfill the Late Night Tales brief, of a 25 track collection of music to listen to in the wee small hours, superbly. For those unfamiliar with this brief each compilation also contains a cover version by the curators, with Belle and Sebastian providing one of the most indie pop moments of the year with their endearing take on The Primitives’ Crash, a staple of many a mid-1980s  indie disco.  There’s also a spoken word track on the end, with Paul Morley reading the third part in his Lost For Words story.

The format is also a chance for the curator to really show off their musical knowledge and this is packed full of rare tracks that deserve a far wider audience. Among the best examples are the exquisite jazz noodlings of harpist Dorothy Ashby’s and her track Soul  Vibrations. This is followed by  the inclusion of King Crimson off shoot McDonald and Giles with their laid back prog rock classic from 1970, Tomorrow’s People.

Toro Y Moi’s Still Sound from his 2011 album Underneath the Pine gives the mix added credibility, while Ce’cile’s 2002 Rude Bwoy Thug Life, with its Cure sample, provides the fun.

Final mention goes to the welcome inclusion of new wave oddities Pete Shelley’s Homosapien (Dub) and The Pop Group’s Savage Sea, which sound just perfect nestled in among the likes of the Stan Tracey Quartet and Broadcast.

For Belle and Sebastian fans I’d say this is a must as it showcases the bands influences from the past and present perfectly. But even if their fey indie pop is not for you there’s still a lot to enjoy on this fascinating compilation.

9/10

by Joe Lepper

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Thomas White- Yalla!

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Thomas White- Yalla!

Posted on 21 March 2012 by Joe

As a member of Electric Soft Parade and Brakes, and BFFs with British Sea Power , Thomas White is firmly rooted in the school of proper indie so beloved of Gideon Coe listening, ‘down with this sort of thing’ campaigning 30 plus men. Us basically.

Admit it; we don’t get Skins, haven’t listened to Radio 1 since Mark and Lard left, find Reading Festival too stressful nowadays and if it’s not Stewart Lee then it’s just not funny.

Thomas White is one of us. Ok, he’s only a wee bairn, lording it up in his 20s, but he’s got the pedigree, talent and, with his previous album The Maximalist, the ability to craft a rip-roaring masterpiece: The Last Blast was Rocket From The Crypt jamming with Cud, it had Synapse Galaxy’s
space funk, and the Freidman-esque Starry Night #4.

So what the hell has he done with his third album, or more appropriately demo tape, Yalla!? Well he’s gone to the desert, Dahab in South Sinai to be precise, with an acoustic guitar and a heavy heart.

Yalla! addresses the limbo at the end of a relationship, and moving to a new country… in song form! It’s his very own sixth-form poetry.

If we were at the end of a relationship we would be drinking whiskey while crying in our pants and listening to Nick Drake, as you’re meant to. Or you know, at least going to see the sights, if only to find a whiskey bar. But as I said, he’s a wee bairn, and obviously hasn’t read the Jim Morrison book of how to do the desert in style.

Instead White’s peddled out 10 tracks of maudlin acoustic strumming and damp vocals about the sea and the sky, which barely rise above passive. The Heavy Sunshine Sound pricks the ears with its breezy Teenage Fanclub melody, but the rest reeks of open mic.

The songs are, well, written. And Dreamt I Dwelt In Marble Halls has a psychedelic feel, at least it would if it was finished and didn’t fade out just as interest was stirring.

The underlying problem with Yalla! is the lack of quality control. It needs guidance from his more than capable friends back in Brighton. Waving some twigs with British Sea Power for a while may even snap him out of his gloom.

Yalla! is a collection of rough ideas, which should either develop in to actual songs, or be left for a deluxe edition re-release to pad out some extra sales when a career’s in decline. Not as a full album when a career doesn’t yet have a peak to descend from.

3/10

by David Newbury

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Timber Timbre  – Islington Assembly Hall, London (March 16, 2012)

Timber Timbre – Islington Assembly Hall, London (March 16, 2012)

Posted on 19 March 2012 by Joe

For Canada’s Timber Timbre this foray to the UK has the worrying risk of making them a household name, this one off headline show being cobbled onto the back of a Laura Marling support slot.  More alarming is tonight appearing to be a Taylor Kirk solo show rather than Timber Timbre live.

Timber Timbre's - Creep on Creepin' On

Although I’ve never been a touring rock god, I do have an understanding of ‘The Biz’ and if a band secures a major support slot, the band bloomin’ well turns up: Three people in the back of a van and a bag of records to sell. Career progression 101 isn’t it?

Timber Timbre, though, are hardly radio friendly unit shifters and, let’s be honest here, won’t be troubling festival headline bookers. Instead they have their own commodity, hypnotically sweeping melancholia which trumps feeble gimmicks like band members or this fame malarkey.

Their name-drobablility is unquestionable, having received Poaris Prize nominations for Timber Timbre and Creep On Creepin’ On.  The latter in particular propelled them in to the realm of cinematic horror blues, aurally monochrome and spookily organic. What makes Creep On Creepin’ On’s otherworldliness so special is it’s musical layering and intriguing nuances. How can one man replicate this?

Well he can’t. Kirk looks small on the red lit stage, with just a guitar and bass drum resembling a divorced Bog Log III with the humour leeching into a grimy blues swamp. Stripped back to such a degree loses the songs depth as they meander into a monotonous trail of empty promises. Playing Timber Timbre’s catalogue apparently means an acoustic guitar strummed at the same tempo repeatedly plinky plonking, proving Simon Trottier and Mika Posen’s input is essential.

Kirk has two vocal styles maudlin and maudlin Chris Issac, which occasionally brushes against a 50’s pulp croon, but more often is a vocal reinterpretation of Fleetwood Mac’s Albatross.  His voice, however, is dreamy and epic as it fills the hall, we just can’t hear what he’s singing. He sings I Put A Spell On You, a majestic song, but it’s lost all of the bite Screamin’ Jay Hawkins embedded into it.

No doubt falling into Kirk’s trap, to become hypnotised by his stylish blues voice, would allow his songs to become clearer, but independent though means it was just too delicate to be gripping. The highlight’s being Magic Arrows’ gritty tremolo, and the use of one of those trendy overlapping recorder effects which seem so popular with friendless singer-songwriters. When Aidan Moffat or Gruff Rhys deploy this tool, it’s to create magnificently executed soundscapes. Kirk overlaps duck noises.

Tonight’s pace is acknowledged by Kirk: “Are you ready to rock out? Too Bad.” He’s also quite humorous introducing a new song as the scariest he’s ever written, its opening line, “I came to Paris to kill you” prompting the crowd’s laughter. To which Kirk responds “It’s not meant to be funny”.  There was also some complaining about him going bald and the lights were reflecting it, hence the show’s brothel red hue.

As far as a voice goes, Kirk’s is dreamy and mesmerising, if lacking in clarity, but it’s not enough. The beautiful bar-room noir of Timber Timbre records was rejected for a case of just going through the motions.

If Kirk doesn’t want to be a band, try, or anything expected from a touring musician then don’t bother doing it, especially accepting a mainstream Marling tour, and certainly don’t treat us as passively accepting lapdogs.

by David Newbury

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Frankie Rose – Interstellar

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Frankie Rose – Interstellar

Posted on 19 March 2012 by Joe

Well this was  a surprise. There we were bracing ourselves for another standard indie-pop release from former Crystal Stilts, Dum Dum Girls and Vivian Girls member  Frankie Rose when this pops into our in box . Turns out she has created not just one of the best indie-pop release of the year, but one of 2012’s best pop albums.

While her previous album, Frankie Rose and the Outs (2010), was far more in keeping with her Slumberland label’s roster of indie-pop acts like Pains of Being Pure At Heart, Interstellar sees her ambitions grow markedly.

There’s still crisp, 80s indie guitar riffs, but now Rose’s guitar arrangements sound more like The Cure or Echo and the Bunnymen rather than the C86 sounds that influence so much of Slumberland’s excellent roster. Synths are high up in the mix as well giving the whole album a similar quality to Destroyer’s excellent Kaputt last year, which recreated the 80s of New Order and Prefab Sprout. There’s a large slice of Beachhouse’s Teen dream as well, and fans of that album are likely to adore this.

Rose has got some great songs this time around as well, in particular opener Intersteller, which starts with wistful synths, dreamy vocals before the thunderous drums come in and a full scale pop song comes out. Second track Know Me is a storming single, on an album of consistency that lacks any duffers. In places the guitars overtake the synths, in others the tracks appear more electro influenced; both are styles where she excels.

Pair of Wings is another highlight, like something from Sufjan Stevens on his recent, critically acclaimed album Age of Adz. I’d argue this is actually a better album than Age of Adz, with Rose ensuring Interstellar is packed with tight, two to four minute slices of pop devoid of the lengthy flights of fancy that Stevens can be guilty of at times.

Interstellar  is a real game changer for Rose and she has set the bar high for her next release. I’m expecting nothing less than a full orchestra and a Phil Spector wall of sound as she continues her ascent from indie niche act to pop artist.

9/10

by Joe Lepper

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Jeff Mangum Curated ATP, Minehead (March 9-11, 2012)

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Jeff Mangum Curated ATP, Minehead (March 9-11, 2012)

Posted on 15 March 2012 by Joe

Neonfiller’s last jaunt to a three day All Tomorrow’s Parties Festival, the holiday camp based event with a guest curator, was two years ago.

The curator that time was Pavement and the event sold out swiftly. In marked contrast latest curator Elephant 6 collective founding member and Neutral Milk Hotel man Jeff Mangum has struggled to attract similar crowds, with the ATP website rather forlornly continuing to advertise tickets for sale right up until the event.

The event has also attracted a small amount of controversy for those that did buy tickets, after ATP postponed it from its original December date without any explanation. For some this move has left a bitter taste. Sure, the rescheduled line up has some added crowd pleasers such as Magnetic Fields, but gone are The Mountain Goats, as well as Fleet Foxes, Superchunk and Panda Bear (strangely all mammal based acts). Also for some, transport costs cannot be refunded and a small minority couldn’t make the new dates.

Despite these problems,  a pretty decent line up has been left and one that certainly addresses the lack of variety of Pavement’s guitar rock focused event.

In terms of musical diversity for me it was the best ATP three day event I’d attended, but in terms of organisation it was far from slick, particularly on the Sunday when scheduling problems and ATP’s decision to forego the main pavilion stage for the event left many exasperated.

Friday

With the Pavilion stage gone the Centre Stage becomes the focal point, with the cowboy themed pub Crazy Horse and nightclub Reds taking smaller stage duties.

It’s a change that works well in respect of creating a more intimate live experience, but falls down flat when the bulk of the 4,000 attendees want to see an act. For the likes of Mangum himself long queues formed and there were a minority who were left seething after missing both his sets, but more of that later.

Elephant 6 Holiday Surprise were first up in the Centre stage, with its sticky carpets under foot and smell of hot dogs gently congealing on their stand by the loos. Their set turned out to be one of the highlights of the event, with the orchestra comprising around a dozen of the Elephant 6 Collective’s most notable names including Olivia Tremor Control’s Will Cullen Hart, and John Fernandez, Julian Koster of The Music Tapes and Neutral Milk Hotel, The Gerbils’ Scott Spillane and Andrew Reiger of Elf Power.

Hearing Reiger sing the Elf Power tracks such as Spiral Stairs was one of many highlights for me. Another highlight was the tracks Spillane took the lead on, including the Gerbils’ Glue. This large, beaded man leading the collective from the stage for a set finale into the crowd, complete with equally large bright white sousaphone, was another sight I’ll never forget.

Elephant 6 Holiday Surprise

This movement into the crowd also served to engage the acts with the audience, a key feature of these curated events. It was an ethos Spillane and Koster took to their heart throughout the weekend, cropping up in the audience and on stage with the acts frequently. With Mangum staying behind the scenes they become the public faces of Elephant 6, a task they excelled at.

The only down point was that all did not seem right with Olivia Tremor Control man Will Cullen Hart, who stood at the side nervously banging a tambourine and his guitar with a drum stick, but once again, more of that later.

Over to Crazy Horse next to be greeted by another hot dog stand and its still unpleasant aroma and a living legend of English eccentricity Robyn Hitchcock, here playing his classic 1984 album I Often Dream of Trains. For those unaware of the album its typical Hitchcock full of whimsy and childlike thoughts but with a dark underbelly as he takes the listener across London suburbs, old tram lines, psychological theory, loneliness and growing old. Each track in the set, where he was accompanied by Terry Edwards, Tim Keegan and backing vocals from female duo Something Beginning with L, was performed perfectly, with warmth and humour. With his banter during the first half  in French, the second back to ‘his normal voice,’ his eccentricity credentials remain strong.

Back to the Centre Stage a little before Jeff Mangum was due on stage proved a shrewd move. After we arrived we hear later that a long queue had appeared and many couldn’t even get in. ATP did their best, bless. They provided those in the queue, who must have been seething with priority wristbands to ensure they were first in for his second set on the Sunday evening.

Those that missed out look away now. He was freakin’ awesome. Armed with his powerful distinct voice, an acoustic guitar, and the occasional accompaniment from an Elephant 6 collective he put in a festival rousing set focused around Neutral Milk Hotel’s classic album In The Aeroplane Over The Sea. The packed Centre stage crowd was transfixed as Two Headed Boy, King of Carrot Flowers Part I and others rattled by. My highlights due to Mangum’s sheer intensity were Oh Comely, King of Carrot Flowers Part 2-3 and Two Headed Boy Part 2. Powerful stuff from the heart.

His holiness has spoken

We have no pictures. Lord Jeff of Mangum requests none are taken. That’s fair enough, its nice to see a gig without phones waving madly everywhere and made it a better experience. My only gripe was the heavy wording of the posters; a little harsh when the good-natured crowd would have complied anyway and would happily stopped their crappy filming if asked.

Young Marble Giants, back over at Crazy Horse, proved a little disappointing. It wasn’t their fault really. They are cursed by producing one of the most intimate and simple albums of the last half a century with their 1979 album Colassal Youth.  Its not a get up and go album and while warm and beautiful on my headphones while dog walking, its tracks just don’t have the same feel on stage. I still love the album and their performance was still friendly and engaging.

Mark E Smith, looking like the bastard grandfather of Senator Palpatine and Alex Higgins,  was in no mood to play second fiddle to Mangum over at the Centre Stage and conducted The Fall through one of the best performances I’ve seen by this act over the years. I had feared the worst as his band of drones, including his wife Elani on keyboards, has been with him for a few years now and he usually tires of them after a while.

The Fall

The middle aged Fall fans went nuts for it, with Mark E Smith smirking down at the unfortunate crowd surfers helped over the barrier by security like an evil  mill owner watching his workers collapse from exhaustion. Dominated by recent albums highlights included Theme from Sparta FC and Imperial Wax Solvent’s I’ve been duped, which is sung by Elani.

I’d been looking forward to Thurston Moore. His Beck produced latest album Demolished Thoughts beautifully mixed his trademark melodies with low key acoustic guitar and a string section. Tonight, though, he was in a funny old mood, a little grouchy and without Beck to call a halt to his guitar noodling Moore was left to essentially go off on one too many times. The crowd thinned noticeably during his self indulgent performance, in which tracks from his 1995 solo album Psychic Hearts not his recent album proved among rare high points, especially the title track and Patti Smith Math Scratch.

Thurzzzzton Moore

The first day has been a hectic one with most of my favourites coming at me thick and fast. If it was any other act I’d have gone to bed by the time Thurston Moore had finished shortly after 1am but Jon Spencer Blues Explosion are no ordinary act. I first saw them at the first ATP style event, Belle and Sebastian’s Bowlie Weekender in 1999 at Camber Sands so I was keen to see if they’d changed.

They hadn’t, still relentless, still belting it out like the dirty rock and roll outfit they always were. Spencer in tight PVC trousers and occasional Theremin flourish shamed the largely middle agers that remained with their energy. High points included live standards 2kindsalove and Bell bottoms, with its intro sandwiched in among the many cries of “bluuuuzz exploshion.” Marvellous, even if I had to have a little sit down as the clock approached 2am.

Saturday

Ever wanted to stand up for an a hour and a half watching a Russian film, seemingly about goat farming, while two people occasionally play Eastern European music? Well, nor did most of those that witnessed Hawk and a Hacksaw perform along to Russian film maker Sergei Parajanov’s Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors in Crazy Horse early in the afternoon.

The venue was constantly packed, but few seem to stay for more than 15 minutes, before their legs started aching. This was the first of many scheduling blunders. There’s a reason films are shown in cinemas with seats and not cowboy themed pubs, which I hope ATP learn from.

Boredoms

The afternoon in the Centre Stage was dominated by Boredoms the Japanese experimental drumming collective, who at times have had as many as 88 drummers. This time round their leader, called Eye, was surrounded by just the five drummers, a large number of guitarists and a couple of totem poles of welded together electric guitars, which he hit with what looked like an old curtain pole.

It was amazing; with the drumming becoming hypnotic and taking the packed crowd to church to melt their faces. The entire hour and half set was too much for me, my brain was starting to evaporate, but I have to admit they are one mother of a band.

As the afternoon was drawing to a close what proved to be my favourite segment of the weekend was starting at Centre stage, with Elephant 6’s most accessible, mainstream act The Apples in Stereo, followed by harpist Joanna Newsom, then Low, who produced one of my albums of 2011 C’mon.

The Apples in Stereo more than delivered to a crowd that was thinned of the middle aged punks and replaced with some bookish men but mostly women. These are the Apples demographic, something not lost on Robert Schneider as he introduces the final two songs Dance Floor, from 2010’s Travellers in Space and Time, and Ruby as “the first is about physics, the second about a girl.” New Magnetic Wonder’s tracks dominated a set that still managed to span their entire career. I challenge anyone to hear Travellers in Space and Time’s Dignified Dignitaries and not at least tap toes and nod a waifish head.

Apples in Stereo

Joanna Newsom is one hell of a performer, with her cat-like, haunting voice, compelling lyrics, stunning harp playing and occasional piano for the more Tori Amos like numbers.  A spell binding hour with 2010’s Have One on Me almost, just almost bringing a tear to this hardened music reviewers eye.

Low ended up being and remaining my highpoint. Intense doesn’t begin to describe the way lead singer and guitarist Alan Sparhawk approaches a live set. The slow, precise and very American sounding tracks from C’mon proved the best, but I can’t think of a single track that didn’t leave me transfixed, and its worth noting that Sparhawk was one of the rare artists I heard to even mention the outside world, with his lament on the situation in Syria.

One of his few smiles came as he invited the crowd to go jogging with him the next day. Given the way he approaches performing those that attended were in for an intense experience.

Low

Penultimate band for me were hardcore punk veterans Scratch Acid. Formed in 1980s Austin they released only an album and a couple EPs before disbanding. Singer David Yow and guitarist David Wm. Sims are better known for forming cult band The Jesus Lizard. Wm. Sims and drummer Rey Washam also joined Steve Albini’s Rapeman briefly, giving them further legend status. Yow joked that they had been called old men at the airport.

As if to poke two fingers at those who look at their age before enthusiasm he launched into one almighty set of crowd surfing. It was the most energetic show of the night and special praise must go to Headline Security staff for their good natured approach to the granddads on stage and the audience whizzing past their heads. Yow singing (or rather screaming) lovingly into the ear of one smirking but highly professional security guy was another image I’ll never forget. Not bad for a bunch of old geezers.

Last band of the night for me only lasted a song. I decided to pop over to Reds where ATP were curating proceedings. While Mangum has assembled a truly eclectic bunch he had failed to include many young acts. This is where ATP could have stepped in to showcase some new, young talent. Sadly with Demdike Stare they provided neither youth nor talent. Essentially its two blokes on DJ decks making sounds like a vacuum cleaner while crappy video images hurtle by. What a mess and what a waste of a slot where a young talented band could have played.

Sunday

American Contemporary Music Ensemble (ACME), improbably but effectively joined by Julian Koster on saw, kicked off the day at Crazy Horse, performing a few modern classical pieces as a string quartet. The highpoint was Gavin Bryar’s moving Jesus Blood Bever Failed Me Yet where the strings build up around a loop of a homeless old man’s moving, crazy words of hope and despair. I never thought I’d spend my time in a cowboy themed pub listening to classical music for an hour but I’m so glad I did. This was exactly what Mangum’s ATP was about, broadening the musical palette. A fine and different addition to the bill.

American Contemporary Music Ensemble

Sadly during the rest of Sunday afternoon time was spent either swimming, eating, twiddling thumbs and wondering what qualifications the  ATP schedulers had. For some reason they had the bright idea of providing no musical alternatives to a second mind melting set by Boredoms all afternoon. Sure there was a pub quiz and some talks in the cinema, but like many there I came to see music and they could have provided at least one alternative act for those who didn’t want their mind melted twice in one weekend.

It wasn’t until 4.30 that another band got to the stage, in the form of North Carolina indie folk outfit Lost in the Trees. Quite a queue of people had formed for their Crazy Horse set, more than their light and average sound would ordinarily have got. While a little boring, at least they were a band, so I was thankful for small mercies.

Next up over at Reds was another scheduling error, one that is admitted by ATP with hindsight. While the Magic Band were on at Centre Stage some bright spark at ATP decided to put legendary Elephant  6 outfit Olivia Tremor Control on at the smaller Reds stage. We got there early but it soon became packed and many outside were unable to get in throughout their set.

Here’s what Jamie Summers at ATP PR headquarters had to say:

“As you saw with the Olivia Tremor Control show they had a bit of a queue when The Magic Band were playing upstairs to a less full venue – but The Magic Band can sell out venues more than twice the size of the OTC in London so this stuff is very hard to predict but we think on the whole we get it right.”

I may be unfair, but I think they should have realised that for an audience of Mangum and Elephant 6 fans they are of course going to want to see OTC rather than the Magic Band, no hindsight needed with that one.

Ironically though those unable to get in didn’t miss out. Olivia Tremor Control were quite frankly a mess. Ok, so some might argue that’s the point of this experimental outfit. I concede they are little loose on record, but for me the joy of an album such as Dusk at Cubist Castle is the controlled Bealtes-esque pop songs that emerge from the bleeps and whirrs. Live though they were just uncoordinated. Part of the issue was Will Cullen Hart, who a few years back was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

He was clearly not happy with how it was going, getting more nervous and agitated as the songs progressed. I felt for the guy, especially as he left the stage at one point unannounced leaving the rest of the band to shrug and give each other panicked and confused looks. I got the impression it took all his bravery to carry on and we wish him all the best for the undoubted tough times ahead.

Versus

Versus, the 1990s indie rock trio who reformed recently, followed the chaos of Olivia Tremor Control at Reds with a punchy, well-worked set that showed why they are revered by so many bands today. I’ll certainly be looking out for their 2010 album On the Ones and Threes, which featured heavily during their entertaining set.

Magnetic Fields have gone back to synths for their latest album Love at the Bottom of the Sea, but leave them at home when touring. Over at the Centre Stage they instead opted for traditional acoustic instruments, a move that gives a different and in some cases improved take on their latest tracks such as I’ve Run Away to Join the Fairies.

Band leader Stephin Merritt, who was dressed more for a day out at the allotment, in coat, scarf and hat than an hour’s set under hot lights, was on good form tonight, even putting his own unique stamp on the type of stage craft Scratch Acid excel at by hurling a tea bag into the audience.

Highpoints included Plant White Roses, from Merritt’s 2011 Obscurities release and No One Will Ever Love You from the band’s never to be bettered 69 Love Songs.

There’s always tough decisions to be made at festivals and while the whimsy of Magnetic Fields was enjoyable I was keen to see Tall Firs as well, so ducked out half way through their set to head over to Crazy Horse.

Tall Firs

Turned out to be a great move with the Tall Firs duo of Dave Mies and Aaron Mullan putting the in the performance I’d hoped to see Thurston Moore do. Their songs sound a little Sonic Youth like, unsurprisingly given they were once on Moore’s Escstatic Peace! label before moving to ATP recently. Just Mies and Mullan and distortion free electric guitars they come across as something like a hungover Kings of Convenience as they showcased tracks from their latest album Out of It and Into It.

I’d hoped to end the festival watching Mangum’s second set. I was left disappointed, but not as much as those that missed him twice. Those with priority wristbands, handed out to those stuck in the queue the first time around, were allowed in first, which was nice, but there was clearly a contingent who hadn’t got these wristbands and once again a queue of people missed out. Solutions could have been to have the pavilion stage available, or at very least to have another act on at the same time over at Crazy Horse. Sadly though with just DJs or the cinema for an alternative I decided against spending my final few hours at the festival queuing and so ended my festival.

The front of the queue half way through Mangum's Sunday set

Here’s how ATP’s PR man Jamie explains the Sunday queuing situation to us:

Everybody who was in the queue by the time the doors opened got in, it was only people who arrived and joined the back of it 5 mins or so before he started playing who may have missed out, and very few at that. Basically everyone who really wanted to see Jeff saw him, and many did twice. If it had been a big problem I’d have been expecting angry people at the production office and lots of angry emails, but the feedback as a whole has been overwhelmingly positive.

The problem is that on twitter there was plenty of criticism and exasperation. @roadtojoie (Alie Brett) for example who said at 11.20pm, a good 50 minutes after Mangum was due on, “Queue for Jeff Mangum has defeated me.” Another was @mikewinship who simply said “Sunday night queues = vibe killer.”

Also Jamie’s response is contradictory; he admits those who joined the queue before he started playing missed out yet says “basically, everyone who really wanted to see Jeff saw him, and many did twice.”

It was a disappointing end to what was on the whole a good festival. I loved staying with friends in a chalet,  watching exciting and unusual bands  including some of my favourite acts. But for me to go to ATP again I’m going to need far more assurances that a) the event will not be postponed b) I’ll not spend time queuing in vain to see the main attraction. I hope ATP learns some lessons from Sunday’s mistakes in particular.

by Joe Lepper

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