Archive | May, 2013

Cloud Control – Hoxton Bar and Kitchen, London (23 May 2013)

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Cloud Control – Hoxton Bar and Kitchen, London (23 May 2013)

Posted on 29 May 2013 by Joe

After seeing The Flaming Lips earlier in the week, it was nice to come back down to earth for a short while with Australian folk-rock band Cloud Control at Hoxton Bar and Kitchen on Thursday. The four-piece’s short set was a very pleasant way to spend an hour in the always too-busy East London venue.

Cloud Control

Cloud Control

Cloud Control are Alister Wright, Heidi Lenffer, Ulrich Lenffer and Jeremy Kelshaw. They’re from the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, and they have that open, freewheeling sort of sound that I can imagine comes from spending time in the bountiful outdoors.

They’re chirpy and catchy, good musicians and lovely singers. They’ve only released the one album so far, but every second song they played was from an upcoming, almost-ready second album, which sounds like it will be much the same – upbeat and uplifting.

Their 2010 album Bliss Release has some awfully likeable tracks, such as ‘There’s nothing in the water we can’t fight’ and ‘Meditation song #2 (why oh why)’ and ‘This is what I said’. The whooping, hand clapping of ‘Gold Canary’ is a joy, and it had the audience singing and stomping along. They came across as nice and easygoing as their music, and lead singer Wright had an affable, easy interaction with the audience. They seemed genuinely pleased to be there and to have had such a warm response from the crowd, which is always good.

My friends’ criticism was that the band didn’t really know what they wanted to be, not slotting neatly into any discernable pigeon hole. But I think they’re trying a bit of everything they like, which is no bad thing. They also preferred it when Heidi Lenffer took lead vocals, which happens more on the new songs.

They’re a bit like an Aussie Noah and the Whale, with a tad of The Drums thrown in. There’s an element of 1960s psychedelia too, and their harmonies have a Mama and the Papas vibe about them.

A short, but fun and enjoyable gig and I’m looking forward to see what comes of the second album.

by Patricia Turk

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Design – Annalisa/This Is Pop

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Design – Annalisa/This Is Pop

Posted on 27 May 2013 by Joe

Somerset based three-piece Design is led by Simon Barber, formerly of The Chesterfields – the county’s gift to the C86 indie scene back in the day.

Joined by Kyle Cullen and guitarist Helen Stickland, Design are still keeping the flames of yesteryear’s indie pop going strong on this their debut 7″ single, which was originally released for this year’s Record Store Door Day.  The dramatic ‘Annalisa’ is built on a spidery guitar riff and bolstered by Stickland’s backing vocals. “And another one, and another one, and another new chance has gone” Barber concedes as it darts through shadowy refrains at breakneck speed.

Design

Design

The lighter jangle of B-side ‘This Is Pop’ is very early 90s. It’s also lyrically cutting; lines like “this is what you get when committees have their say” would have Simon Cowell running for the hills. And in terms of a stellar melody and lyric they give a perfect demonstration on how he should be doing it. Expect more of this proficient and commanding indie pop to come from a revitalised Barber.

by Matthew Nicholson

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Neko Case, Village Underground, London (25th May 2013)

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Neko Case, Village Underground, London (25th May 2013)

Posted on 25 May 2013 by Dorian

The relatively low profile of Neko Case is something of  a mystery. She is undoubtedly the owner of one of the best voices in modern music, a voice that is equally comfortable with country, ballads and pure pop music (watch this video of ‘Crash Years‘ by the new Pornographers for evidence of that). On the evidence of tonight’s show she is a brilliant live performer with an extremely strong back catalogue, and some excellent sounding new songs coming on her next album. By rights she should be challenging Adele in album sales, but she remains a popular but relatively niche attraction.

Neko Case

Neko Case

The Village Underground in Shoreditch, a new venue to me, is packed and expectant when Case and her impressively bearded band hit the stage. It has been four years since she released and album, and although I don’t know how long it has been since she last played in England, this seemed like a big event. From the first song it is wonderful stuff, her voice (complimented perfectly by the backing vocals of Kelly Hogan) is pitch perfect throughout and the song choices are exactly what I wanted.

Songs are largely plucked from her last the albums, the majority from Fox Confessor Brings the Flood and Middle Cyclone, with three very promising cuts from her forthcoming album. Her voice is such a powerful instrument that it is sometimes easy to forget the quality of the songs she is singing. ‘I Wish I Was The Moon’, ‘Hold On’ and ‘People Got A Lot Of Nerve’ are just three of the songs from a packed set that rivals any artists for quality of lyrics, melody and vocal performance.

Case and Hogan are also very engaging and amusing hosts for the evening, their irreverent between song  chat being frequently hilarious, be they discussing the best places to go in order to catch the menopause or Hogan’s improvised song ‘Remembering’, as they ask the crowd to watch rather than film the show. And when Hogan mentions a dream she had where her vagina was full of silicate, or Case’s claim that her vagina ate her bikini bottoms, you know that it is going to be a memorable evening.

I could go on at length about how much I enjoyed the show, and what a wonderful gift Neko Case’s voice is to the world,  but my fan-boy rambling would get tired pretty quickly. Shows later this year, in support of the new album, are promised and I urge you to buy tickets the day they go on sale, you’ll not regret it.

By Dorian Rogers

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Bearded Theory Festival, Derbyshire (May 17-19)

Bearded Theory Festival, Derbyshire (May 17-19)

Posted on 24 May 2013 by Joe

The slightly strangely named Bearded Theory festival celebrated the occasion of its sixth birthday by throwing a mad party in the grounds of the splendid magnificence of Kedelston hall, just outside Derby.

Three days of musical merriement and happy vibes were guaranteed, and I know you may find this hard to believe, but on the Sunday we had wall to wall sunshine, which matched perfectly the wall to wall smiles of the very, very happy festival goers.

Unfortunately due to circumstances beyond our control (yes, work, i’m looking at you !) this mini review will concentrate solely on the Sunday, don’t worry it was brilliant.

Stiff Little Fingers

Stiff Little Fingers

In a relatively small area, the organisers had constructed a mini-Glastonbury, all very accesible, no long treks and with multiple stages, stalls, rides, entertainments and the proverbial beer tents it proved a joy to walk around. On an afternoon of unbroken sunshine we came across all sorts of diversions, including at various times, two cardboard robots, a man with an unhealthy interest in the history of the swastika, Noel Coward, the worlds loneliest fairground ride attendant, some of the biggest wooden cocks it has ever been my misfortune to see on a craft stall, more beards than a Z Z  Top convention and a gang of can can dancers, some of whom were women.

Among  the musical highlights were Stiff Little Fingers, who tore up the main stage especially with their opening broadside of Alternative Ulster, a screaming burst of righteous anger. Goldblade with the uncontrollable John Robb at the helm proved just as volatile.

Goldblade

Goldblade

Mid afternoon saw the arrival on platform 5 of the groovy train , driven by Liverpool’s The Farm, yes  they’re still going strong, all together now and  they were awesome.

In a tiny tent we witnessed the arrival of a talented young lady by the name of Lucy Ward, a local lass with a cracking voice and a wonderfully down to earth attitude, she was a bubbling volcano of folk lava and performed a new tune called Icarus which was stunning.

Also appearing on the Sunday was The Men Who Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing, a band who seemingly emerged from a faulty time machine and billed as purveyors of ‘steampunk’. Imagine if you will a cross between Metallica and Isambard Kingdom Brunel. They were the most original, funny and clever band I’ve seen since the Crimean war, with songs about whores, Nicholas Tesla, Robert Louis Stephenson and Cthulhu. They made my day.

The Men Who Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing

The Men Who Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing

Mind you, the headliners The Levellers weren’t bad either. You might think that after two decades their popularity and enthusiasm may have evaporated but nothing could be further from the truth. They rocked the main stage for a solid ninety minutes, the crowd loved them and it was one big love fest. Those tunes from their album Levelling the Land are going to be standards forever; folk tunes for a generation of dreamers. God bless ‘em.

So we say a beardy  farewell to the first big festy of 2013, and look forward to next year’s close shave

Word by John Haylock, pics by Arthur Hughes

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The Flaming Lips, Roundhouse, London (21st  May 2013)

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The Flaming Lips, Roundhouse, London (21st May 2013)

Posted on 22 May 2013 by Dorian

The Flaming Lips – is there ever anything bad to be said? True, lead singer Wayne does go on a bit with his Wayne Coyne world philosophy. True, once you’ve seen the confetti cannons, the dancing girls, the Zorb ball and lasers, they perhaps can never have the same impact as the first time you saw them.

But even so, is there anything more uplifting than the sky-soaring refrain of Race for the prize? I don’t think so. The Flaming Lips should be available on prescription to treat world depression, because I haven’t stopped smiling since.

Flaming Lips

This was my second live Lips experience and it was typically psychedelic, visually stunning, and Wayne’s “too-tight pants” were a spectacle in themselves. No Zorbing or dancing girls this time, but the light-show was outstanding.

However, he did start the night on a somber note before it even got started. During the sound check he acknowledged the cancellation of Monday night’s show (owing to him having a cold), but went on to talk about the tornado tragedy in the band’s native Oklahoma. About imagining knowing that your child was trapped in the rubble. About being aware that everything we were doing by being there last night was a bit ridiculous by comparison. But then, it was important too, these little bits of joy and music being the medium that can carry people through tragedy and troubled times. Ominously, the cannons, when they erupted, shot out not the glittery rainbow we’ve come to expect, but a black confetti instead (still cool).

Because of his cold, it was a raspy, coughing Wayne that took to the stage (and he is generally accepted to be a pretty bad singer anyway). They played quite a lot from the new album, The Terror, including ‘You lust’ and ‘Look…the sun is rising’. With a 30-year back catalogue to draw on, some old favourites included ‘The W.A.N.D’, a de-constructed ‘Race for the prize’, ‘Do you realize??’ ‘All we have is now’ and ‘One more robot/Sympathy’. They’ve also taken to performing Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ live recently, and it was a truly worthy rendition.

There was a nice moment during ‘Do you realize??’ when a coughing, faltering Wayne saw the audience taking over at the top of their lungs, sending the lyrics through the Roundhouse’s rafters. Wayne seemed genuinely touched, and declared that when the time came for the Spielberg-directed biopic, the moment would be recreated and exaggerated for the screen, but we will always be able to say ‘We were there, man!’. Maybe.  We were also to tell everyone that it was the “most important show we’ve ever been to”. Probably not.

That said, I’m a fan and The Flaming Lips never disappoint. Even when Wayne’s is cuddling and kissing a slightly creepy baby doll on stage, I still want to live in a Flaming Lips world where being weird is the goal, the pursuit of happiness is a daily ambition, and everyone deserves a little joy.

Words and pictures Patrica Turk

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The Great Escape 2013 – Day 3

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The Great Escape 2013 – Day 3

Posted on 19 May 2013 by Dorian

Day three starts in the Komedia downstairs into the unnecessarily dark concert space to watch Mary Epworth play. I am immediately struck by the incongruous nature of the band, two young women, with beautiful harmonious voices backed by a hairy bunch who could easily double as bikers in a remake of Easy Rider. Odd they may look, but they play things pretty well and the prog-folk-rock songs are enjoyable, if let down a bit by some poor sound in the venue with a slightly irritating rattle throughout. This is a minor quibble on what was a strong set by a very promising artist.

Mary Epworth

Mary Epworth

Heading upstairs to the smaller studio venue I manage to get front of stage to catch Husky Rescue a Finnish act that prove to be one of the finds of the day.  Sounding like Efterklang  at their more minimal with impressive vocals by a singer that recalls a less histrionic Bjork it is an engaging set. Johanna Kalén is a calm and ethereal presence on the stage whilst the two ban members quietly and unassumingly produce some really lovely music. One of the bands from the weekend that go down in my notes to check out after the festival is over.

Husky Rescue

Husky Rescue

Outside at the Hub it is Jake Isaac who has the unenviable job of telling the crowd that Deap Vally have cancelled their set and he will be filling in. His voice is nice enough and his acoustic guitar based songs are fine, but it doesn’t make up for missing out on one of the bands I’d been looking forward to (more on whom later).

After a break from bands and a few convention activities I start the evening at Sticky Mikes Frog Bar for some full on classic rock from The Upskirts.  Fronted by a couple of bare foot guitarists they make an enjoyable noise, it is loud and high energy but falls short of doing anything special. I can’t remember a single note of any song they play even as I’m leaving the venue.

The Upskirts

The Upskirts

Superfood are another band that sound pretty good without managing to serve up anything particularly memorable or groundbreaking . They do have some nice hooks, evoking the sound of Blur’s noisier songs and, less favourably, some of the second string Brit-pop acts that history has forgotten.   They are a very young act though and I hear enough promise in their sound and playing to think that they might turn into something more interesting over time.

Superfood

Superfood

Cheatahs are an act that wear their influences on their sleeve, and given that their influences are largely bands I love I can live with that. Fey vocals, echoing guitars and lilting melodies which recall Ride, The Posies and Superchunk across an entertaining set. They are a band I’d heard a lot about prior to the festival, and on the strength of this performance I can see why. If you are going to be derivative then you need to do it well.

Cheetahs

Cheetahs

The schedule is out the window at The Haunt, with Deap Vally make a surprise appearance on the bill with the promised Jagwar Ma nowhere to be seen. To be honest I’m not disappointed by the substitution,  the all girl version of The White Stripes sounds like a lot of fun on paper. Imagine Bette Midler belting out AC/DC tunes in the back of a sleazy dive bar off the Sunset Strip and you’re somewhere close to understanding their strange charm.

Deap Vally

Deap Vally

Parquet Courts are the band that I’d been looking forward to most all weekend, they got great reviews at SXSW and I’ve enjoyed the little of them that I’ve heard on record to date.  The perfect modern New York art rock band, effortlessly blending Jonathan Richman, Sonic Youth and Big Black into a sound that’s uniquely their own. Their ability to take other band’s sounds, like their opening track sounding like Pavement doing the Fall, is one of the keys to their success. There is a level of familiarity mixed with enough individuality to make for a truly excellent show. It is also the best crowd reaction I saw all weekend, with frantic dancing, crowd surfing and a small stage invasion taking place during their frenetically paced set.

Parquet Courts

Parquet Courts

I’ve enjoyed lots of acts each day, and been lucky enough to see one truly great set towards the end of each night. But whereas Phosphorescent are an established band, one who I’ve seen over three years earlier, and Billy Bragg a true veteran it is Parquet Courts who are the best new act at a festival that is really all about new music.

This was Neon Filler’s third year covering the Great Escape and each year offers up something new and exciting. I look forward to another excellent festival next year and urge you to buy a ticket as soon as they go on sale.

Words and pictures by Dorian Rogers and Alex Reeve

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The Great Escape 2013 – Day 2

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The Great Escape 2013 – Day 2

Posted on 18 May 2013 by Dorian

Day two at the Great Escape is really all about one man, Billy Bragg and I could spend the who review talking about him and his excellent show. However, there was plenty of other great stuff to see through the day, so I’ll cover off some of that first and come back to the bard of Barking later.

Eamon McGrath

Eamon McGrath

My first act, albeit a brief stop, is singer songwriter Eamon McGrath whose gravel voiced songs play to a Hub crowd that is noticeably smaller than day one. The downturn in the weather meaning that outdoor and seaside based venues are not quite as busy as the day before.

Cousins

Cousins

My first planned stop of the day is at the Blind Tiger for another act in the Canadian showcase, this time Cousins from Nova Scotia. As always the venue is a hot ticket and I only just beat the queue to get inside the pub-venue sweatbox. Canadian acts in this venue have always been pretty reliable and Cousins don’t disappointing  They are another guitar and drums duo, this time with the classic girl drummer, boy guitarist line-up, but definitely not aping the White Stripes sound. The guitar sound is rough and the drums always one step away from falling apart, with some really nice extended repetition in the songs. Definitely an act I’ll check out on record when the festival is over.

Fletcher

Fletcher

Moving to the slightly odd Brighthelm Centre, a kind of mix between a church and a community centre, we decide to give Fletcher a go. The programme description of bands playing is often a little misleading, but in this case it seems that the organisers may have booked the wring act. Where we are promised a three piece new-age British rock band we actually get a rather earnest singer songwriter accompanied by a harp player. The tunes are very pretty and well played, but it is a much more low key experience than we were expecting.

Wandering into the Komedia we are greeted by the extreme contrast of Lady Chann startling a small crowd with some pretty full on dancehall stylings. Sadly she finishes minutes after we arrive and her compatriots, The Heatwave, start to treat the crowd to a reggae karaoke sing-a-long that is a lot less fun or interesting.

Popstrangers

Popstrangers

Coalition seems to be the venue where slightly sullen acts are booked to play, yesterday Girls Names were the petulant schoolchildren and today Popstangers are the ones staring at their shoes. To be fair they don’t complain, and it is easy to mistake nervousness for lack of audience communication, but more effort is needed to win over a crowd. Better songs than played here would also be a bonus, nothing really catches fire during a middling set and it is a hook free half hour. There are some nice instrumental moments amongst their 90s slacker indie set, and enough interesting sounds to show some promise, but the band isn’t quite the real deal yet.

In Digital

In Digital

On route to get some food we pop into Digital and catch a few tracks by the rap act performing to the smallest crowd we’ve seen at the festival so far. They are pretty good and put everything into their show, something that Popstrangers could learn a little bit from. In a festival dominated by white guitar players an act like this is going to struggle to get an early evening audience. I couldn’t tell you who they were as they don’t seem to match anything in the programme for the time slot.

Billy Bragg

Billy Bragg

Fed and watered we head for the main event, a true veteran of British music who is loved and loathed in equal measure for his straight talking and good old fashioned political songwriting. Although truth be told it is the many love songs that Billy Bragg pens that show his skills and, although there is plenty of politics between songs, make up the bulk of his set.

A mixture of old favourites, pop classics, new songs and Woody Guthrie numbers are all played beautifully by Billy and his band. The experienced performer that he is, he knows exactly how to command a crowd and there is hardly a moment that isn’t top quality in the time that he is on stage.

His band are excellence, and the pedal steel country style suits his back catalogue pretty well (his first dabbling with country music dating back 20 years). In the middle of the set he takes the stage alone and plays some old favourites to a partisan crowd. When he plays ‘The Milkmen of Human Kindness’ there is no need to ask the crowd to sing the chorus for him, they do it unprompted  and it is quite a touching moment.

It is the first time I’ve seen him play since one of my first festival attendances nearly a quarter if a century ago. Hearing him tonight I wonder why I’ve let myself miss out on some great performances in the intervening years.

Siblings

Siblings

After a failed attempt to get in to The Warren to see Iggy Azalea (clearly one of the hottest tickets in town) we heard up to the Green Door Store where Siblings (an unscheduled act) are taking the stage. The appearance of a banjo makes me worry that we have another Mumford and sons on our hands, but an energetic performance gradually wins me over. The songs are pretty good and, if anything, Vampire Weekend are a more accurate reference point. All told it is a pleasant enough end to another enjoyable day.

Words and pictures by Dorian Rogers and Alex Reeve

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The Great Escape 2013 – Day 1

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The Great Escape 2013 – Day 1

Posted on 17 May 2013 by Dorian

The Great Escape got off to a literally bright start, with sunshine make a rare 2013 appearance. Good weather always brings out the best in people and the massed crowds in the many venues around town seemed in good spirits. I doubt that cheerful Canadians The Elwins need much brightening up though, their bouncy pop coming from a naturally happy place. It is always hard to get the audience participation going during an early afternoon gig, but in a packed Blind Tiger they made a pretty good fist of it.

The Elwins

The Elwins

Scottish singer Lauren St Jude, in a dark Dome Theatre, was a radical change in pace slowing things right down. Her voice was pitch perfect and the performance was good, but it was late night music and seemed better suited to a smaller venue.

In further stark contrast was rock trio Velvet Two Stripes playing to an overflowing Komedia basement, with a singer looking like a young bottle blonde Chrissey Hynde, with Joan Jett’s voice after chuffing down a bottle of Whisky and 200 fags. Like a Swiss take on The Kills’ drum machine-backed blues rock this trio of strutting rock vixens proved that Switzerland has more to offer the world than the cuckoo clock and a hideaway for Nazi gold.

Velvet Two Stripe

Velvet Two Stripe

After a strong start the afternoon hit a bit of a lull with the underwhelming Young Husband playing to an overflowing Prince Albert. Their retro indie sound is nice enough but really fails to engage and this is the first set that we abandon to enjoy the sunshine.

Girls Names prove to be another disappointment, their surly performance failing to win me over to their surf guitar influenced sound. They seemed annoyed at having their set cut short, but surely giving the huge Coalition audience a good time for 20 minutes would have been a better approach? Thankfully the vocal mic was so quite that it was hard to hear the singers grumbles between songs, and the shorted set was a blessing in disguise.

Staying at the same venue it was up to Wolf Alice to show them how to do it. Engaging, cheerful, noisy and showing a mix of swagger and indie-pop hooks ready to reach a mass audience. They prove that enthusiasm and good tunes is the (not-so-secret) recipe to a good show and set us up nicely for the evening.

Drenge

Drenge

The Corn Exchange can be a bit of a soulless venue, the sheer length of the room means that bands can get a little lost, but the NME stage there each year always presents some interesting acts to catch. Drenge are a guitar and drums duo, which is a line-up that will always see a band compared to The White Stripes. In practice if you play bluesy rock in this set-up it is going to have similarities, but Drenge have a style and sound that just about sets them apart from Jack and Meg. The set takes a while to get going, but for most of the performance it is very enjoyable, and the drumming is excellent. They make a poor choice of final tune, a turgid affair, which brings a promising performance to a rather flat conclusion.

Merchandise are up next, and one of the bands playing today with the most hype around them. A Smithsy single getting play on 6 Music suggests that they could be a big thing in the future. The performance tonight doesn’t rule that out, but it wasn’t to my tastes at all. Elements of Simple Minds and even Big Country show they know their 80s stadium pop, but it feels mannered and I don’t hear enough classic tunes. Maybe they’ll prove to the new Killers, another bland throwback act, but I’ll not be keeping an ear open.

Merchandise

Merchandise

Taking some time before the evening’s main event we manage to catch the end of two sets in the various Komedia venues. Boats, with a mountain man lead singer, are hard to categorise but seem like a lot of fun and I’m tempted to catch the whole of their Saturday performance. The Skints are also a welcome find, a band I enjoyed last year, and another act I may try and catch again today. Their skinny unassuming singer having one of the biggest and best voices of the festival so far.

Boats

Boats

Phosphorescent prove that they are one of the best live acts around, as well as having a catalogue of excellent songs to play. Tracks from their excellent last two albums, along with a a stunning version of Merle Haggard & Willie Nelson’s sobriety-yearning hit from 1983, Reasons to Quit, sound big and bold in the Dome Studio with electric piano and organ high in the instrumental mix. Matthew Houck’s mumbled vocals take a while to adjust to, but it is an assured headliners set and a closing version of Los Angeles is as wonderful as when I first heard it several years ago at End of the Road.

Phosphorescent

Phosphorescent

There are still many shows left to play when we head home, but with two full days and dozens more bands to see a good night’s rest is in order. This year’s festival is has more names that are unfamiliar to make than ever before, and as a result it is proving to be the most interesting Great Escape to date and I can’t wait to see what today has to offer.

Words and pictures Dorian Rogers and Alex Reeve

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The Ballet – I Blame Society

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The Ballet – I Blame Society

Posted on 15 May 2013 by Joe

The Ballet come close to being the perfect band with the perfect album. A host of interesting influences and sounds come together in I Blame Society to create beautiful tunes.

Seriously, someone could have read the phone directory over the top of these tunes and still scored highly. It’s just sad that they didn’t.

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I truly love the opening bars of the album on the track Alright. I also love the chilled out Meaningless and poppier Too Much Time – tracks with 80s throwback keyboard settings and tropes. Meanwhile, Cruel Path evokes Joy Division and Sonic Youth and All The Way is a bit Mary Chain-ish.

At times the tunes are hauntingly sad. At others laid back, and yet others they sound like The Cure with extra electronic wiffles (such as on Is There Anybody Out There?). Feelings moves into more upbeat territory, and that’s fine. It leavens the laid back mournfulness.

Obviously this album has ‘credible indie music for Peugeot ad’ written all over it. In part this is because at times the talented flaunting of musical influences begins to sound like plagiarism or even pisstake. For example, anyone who has listened to The Moog Cookbook  will be at home with the tune to Sorry.

And what’s more, there’s an elephant in the recording studio. It’s the old auto-tune elephant once again. Only it’s no longer an elephant, it’s a virus. An epidemic. Your ears are at risk on pretty much EVERY SINGLE TRACK. The subtly leaden out-of-kilter voice setting leads me to suspect the lead singer’s voice simply isn’t up to it. Surely they didn’t deliberately have created an entire album of songs spoilt by a vocoder set to a soullessly atonal Stephen Malkmus?

It’s sad that by the end of a musically, lyrically excellent album that there has been no let-up from Mr Voice Modulation. As the last track All The Way faded it left me so incredibly tired and frustrated. Please, somebody tell me if there’s a way to scrape vocals off an MP3 file. It would make me so happy.

With I Blame Society, The Ballet skirt with perfection. But they have made very large musical error. They only have themselves to blame.

3/10

by Rob Finch

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John Grant, Leeds Met (May 11, 2013)

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John Grant, Leeds Met (May 11, 2013)

Posted on 13 May 2013 by Joe

John Grant’s beautifully realized debut ‘Queen of Denmark’ was an undisputed landmark album, heralding the arrival of a major new singer songwriter.

Word of mouth and a huge touring schedule subsequently won him a devoted fanbase, and three years later his much anticipated follow up album Pale Green Ghosts is with us. Produced by  Birgir Þórarinsson, a.k.a. Biggi Veira, of Iceland’s electronic pioneers Gus Gus, it’s a radical departure from its Midlake produced folk rock predecessor, discarding the skeletal arrangements of old and dipping its toes in the waters we call disco. It was a brave move and one that could have possibly backfired; I mean, how can you be sensitive without a very large shiny grand piano?

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Somewhat surprisingly, John is now using a five piece band, gone apparently are just his vocals and keyboards, so when he launches into Queen of Denmark tracks such as You don’t have to and Marz the songs are fully fleshed out.

It’s a little disconcerting to hear the fragility of these Queen of Denmark originals revamped and rewired, it works on some such as Dreams and Sigourney Weaver but is slightly overbearing on others. Caramel for example takes quite a battering, the only old track that benefitted hugely from the overblown rock action is Queen of Denmark. This is always a stunning tune and really hits you in the face with its supplemented guitar, bass and  drums.

Finally the new material arrives amid a polite light show, and much bleepage, Pale Green Ghosts, Sensitive New Age Guy, Vietnam and best of all the fantastic Blackbelt  (with the greatest use of the word ‘supercilious’ in a rock song ever ). They all sound tremendous, and whilst heading off into Giorgio Moroder/New Order territory, the resulting aural melee provides John the opportunity to throw some shapes, not something I ever expected to see! But these new tunes are so funky you have to have a little dance.

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The new album proves to be more enjoyable than the older tunes, proving effortlessly that you can be sensitive and not have a grand piano. GMF is greeted with the same audience reaction as the winning Wigan goal one hour previously (in the FA Cup Final), we sing, we laugh, we cry and  Glacier takes our breath away.

Three encores later he leaves us with love, sore feet, and grovelling to the security to pass us the set list. Job done. Pale green ghosts better than QOD? You better believe it.

*Support was from a nervous new kid on the block, an Icelandic artist called Asgeir Trausti who is blessed with a trembling and distinctive voice pitched somewhere between Jeff Buckley and Jónsi Birgisson from Sigur Ros.

He’s evidently self conscious and kind of shy, only playing a handful of tunes but going down really well, although the presence of his band seemed slightly superfluous. They tended to drown out the subtleties inherent in the music and I got the feeling he may be better served playing solo. Enigmatic and engaging, though, here’s somebody we might be hearing lots of in the future.

Words by John Haylock, pictures by Arthur Hughes

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