Archive | August, 2013

Mùm – Smilewound

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Mùm – Smilewound

Posted on 29 August 2013 by Rob Finch

Icelandic foursome Mùm’s sixth album Smilewound will draw inevitable comparisons with fellow Nords Sigur Rós. Fortunately this is for all the right reasons. I think this is a damn-near perfect album, punch-packed with effortless experimental Scandi dreampop and intelligent, intelligible lyrics.

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For those who enjoy the likes of Sigur Rós will been in rhapsodies over second track “Underwater Snow”. It offers sweeping, uplifting minor chords and perfectly high-pitched warbling. But there’s much more besides.

Opener, Toothwheels, is a drum and bass (and strings) epic.  Track 7 Eternity Is The Wait Between Breaths is a music box fantasy – like something from a Grimm fairytale filmscore remixed by Brian Eno.

The not-quite-titletrack  The Colourful Stabwound is pacey and bassy and reminds me of Chicago minimalists Tortoise. I delight in its bitchily sinister lyric “Some people smile with all their teeth”.

When Girls Collide is a violent dots and loops classic. It’s Björk singing along to Commodore 64 loading music. Despite the Nordic comparisons this is an original, listenable, danceable album. I highly recommend it.

9.5/10

by Rob Finch

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Matildaz, Camden Barfly, London (July 20, 2013)

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Matildaz, Camden Barfly, London (July 20, 2013)

Posted on 23 August 2013 by Joe

Three-piece rock funk outfit Matildaz overcame a number of challenges to deliver a cracking set at Camden’s infamous venue, Barfly.

Music Band The MATILDAZ playing live at the Barfly Camden Town 20th July 2013. Photograph Simon Lamrock

The 30 degree heat in a stifling room with no ventilation had diminished the venue’s standard bustling crowd. The trio also performed between two groups that would have been more at home on a Saturday night TV talent show, hosted by a panel of plastic-faced celebrities. In addition, technical problems hit for the final two songs of the set, leaving the band’s front-woman Matilda with a microphone that cut out intermittently, something that visibly (and understandingly) annoyed her.

Unperturbed, Matildaz really kicked it on stage. Matilda belts out powerful vocals, dominating and squeezing the soul out of her material, which switches between a funk-like punk and an angrier tribal sound.

I was lucky to spot this edgy group play briefly at a private party earlier in the summer and I pledged I’d follow them to their next gig. And this was it.

Matilda founded the band with bassist ‘Jackson’ and drummer ‘Lorenzo’ last year and they’ve an excellent selection of early material, most of it bass-led. Band influences are cited as Odetta, Nina Simone, Bjork, Radiohead, Joy Division and Led Zepplin although Matildaz have created a unique sound of their own, apparent through their six-strong set and two encores.

Matildaz sounds, sings, dances and looks the part. Like Tina Turner with extra bite. I can already imagine her talking to camera in a documentary about how life was before the big-time, playing gigs such as these.

The trio hope to release the third track on their songlist (My Karma) later this year and have just completed a mini-circuit of festivals including Green Man and Wilderness. I’m extremely excited about this band’s new work. A must-watch for the future.

Set List…

1. Journey to the Jewel.

2. Origins of V

3. My Karma

4. False Faces

5. Solar

6. Funkier than a mosquito’s Tweeter.

by Sarah Robertson, pictures by Simon Lamrock

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Green Man Festival 2013

Green Man Festival 2013

Posted on 20 August 2013 by Joe

If it’s August it must be The Greenman Festival, pack up your troubles in an old kit bag, but don’t forget the umbrella, it is in Wales after all. The rest of the checklist is as follows, beer, pants, ok, that’s it let’s go.

This years line up was a salivating mix of traditional, well-established legends such as Roy Harper, and ex-The Velvet Underground member, John Cale, through to more modern festival favourites, The Villagers, Midlake, Band of Horses and The Horrors, as well as the strange, ethereal and uncharted waters with Olaf Arnalds, Moon Duo, Melody’s Echo Chamber.

Greenman

A week of fretting about the weather was unwarranted; previous years have seen some very wet conditions, but this year apart from late on Saturday night, the rain held off and for most of the weekend it was glorious, perfect climatic conditions for some serious psychedelic trekking.

The legendary Julian Cope beamed down from whatever planet he now resides upon, to chat about his new book, Copendium, a huge tome in which he unearths, vividly dissects and writes with a hyper-critical eye about all those mega unknown, but no less worthy, bands and artists that exist in the margins.

Cope also talks floridly about his forthcoming projects and gives us his unique perspective on the creative process. Perhaps I should mention the fact that for the entire interview our loquacious raconteur is in full on rock ‘n’ roll mode, huge gauntlets, military uniform chic, and what looks like a tank commanders peaked cap. Oh and he remains standing during the whole time clutching a mike stand. Best quote…’those people who stay in their bedrooms become legends’.

Julian Cope

Julian Cope

The wonderful thing about Greenman is its relatively compact nature, there is no great slog from one area to the next, it’s all painless, also great fun as you meet all manner of weirdoes on your travels. This years selection included a bunch of guys in white togas and sandals, pushing their mate around in a wheelbarrow who was dressed as Tutankhamun, a girl in a nurses outfit with a false bum and a saline drip, two guys in excruciatingly tight lederhosen, people dressed as chickens and tigers, and the occasional sun-God.

Whilst waiting for (what we anticipated as potentially the day’s highlight) the long overdue return of Midlake, quality time was spent in the company of the worlds greatest and perhaps only steampunk band, The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing, dressed accordingly in top hats, uniforms, and with all their songs referencing all things Victorian such as Jules Verne, Robert  Louis  Stephenson, self pollution, Brunel, and Whitechapel prostitutes. They win over an initially worried and perplexed audience of concerned parents and devil may care children, some of whom took great delight in singing along to the encore, Jesus Was A Cockney. Audaciously original and hopefully due some nationwide recognition sometime soon.

In the Far Out tent Beak hammered home their remorseless assaults on the senses. It was Germanic repetitive riff rock, in the manner of Neu!, but heavier and not so subtle. After a more sedate set from Dark Star, late additions to the bill, The Portico Quartet showed why they are so esteemed. Incredible musicianship and spellbinding rhythmic onslaughts were devoured greedily by an appreciative crowd.

Fuck Buttons

Fuck Buttons

A sprint to catch Midlake on the Mountain Stage, and with an expectant crowd bathed in blue light and a new album to promote, the signs looked good. How disappointing then to criticize the band that gave us two of the best albums of the last decade, The Trials of Van Occupanther and the glorious Courage of Others. Vocalist Tim Smith has left and the result is like listening to the worlds best Midlake tribute band, great, but with a great big hole where those remarkable vocals used to be. Let’s move on.

For a bedtime treat we return to the Far Out tent to witness the remarkable Fuck Buttons, my notes reveal a descent into hieroglyphics as I run out of words to describe the live experience. The guys face each other with  banks of equipment that wouldn’t look out of place in the Tardis, creating pulses of sound that ebb and flow mightily above our heads, their non descript figures becoming more animated as the frequencies mesh and bubble, and with a head crunching light show to match the sounds, the result is phenomenal. Don’t ask me what they played, I have absolutely no idea, it’s not important.

Midlake

Midlake

In the Last laugh tent, late night giggles were expertly provided from the very rude Bethany Black and the very mental Andrew O’Neill (imagine an anorexic Eddie Izzard). A quick crumpet and time for bed.

Saturday, fortunately still no rain despite the doom laden forecasts, a useless performance in the pop quiz and on to Greenman Rising (the new bands stage), tucked away amongst trees and a pond. It’s a lovely addition to the site. Cosmos Collapse kick off Saturday’s bill with a sound that veered from early Seventies Curved Air to Talking Heads, an unusual mix but very engaging, a bit proggy but only mildly so and not enough to frighten the horses, nice.

On the recommendation of some horribly young people, a journey to the Chai Wallahs is called for, they told us to check out We Were Evergreen and found a multi instrumental folky band that aren’t  Mumford and Sons and  so it’s ok to like them. They do all their own material, upbeat, uplifting, life affirming groovyness that could quite easily lend itself to world domination, but in a good way. They went down a storm, justifiably so.

Time moves on disjointedly as the dour tones of John Cale singing Fear is a Man’s Best Friend echoes around the valleys. Low turn in an intense set of brooding malevolence and their version of Neil Young’s Down By the River is immensely satisfying.

Roy Harper

Roy Harper

For many, myself included, the highlight of the entire festival will probably be the appearance by a sprightly and grinning pensioner, the absolute legendary Roy Harper. Greeted with huge warmth he plays just five-lengthy numbers. They all hit the button, they all contain more lyrical dexterity and poetic imagery than you could shake the collected works of Shakespeare on a stick at, and his guitar  playing is jaw dropping to the max, Highway Blues, Me and My Woman, One Man Rock ‘n’ Roll Band have never sounded better, and as for the encore as we stood silent in our reverence in the drizzling rain, he played When An Old Cricketer Leaves The Crease…I wasn’t the only soul to be moved to tears. Just when you think music can’t stop you in your tracks anymore here comes this elderly bearded guy with a guitar and a voice to lay waste to the hordes of the apocalypse to prove you wrong. God bless you, Roy.

Back to Far Out for some dirty blues based grunginess from the ever dependable Archie Bronson Outfit. Their tracks Cherry Lips and I Am A Disco Dancer broke through the sound barrier. Best drumming of the festival award goes to the Archie’s Mark Cleveland.

Quite surprised to find Jon Hopkins had turned into The Aphex Twin, the late night, early morning slot was just him, a laptop and what sounded like Kraftwerk’s soundsystem, not a guitar in sight he proceeded to turn the far out tent into Creamfields. Electronica in excelsis.

Greenman2

Finally Sunday arrives bringing with it sun, more sun and in the afternoon more sun, but with beer.

Opening act on the mountain stage are Fernhill, a quartet who do lovely. Highlights from the walled garden included Cowbois Rhos Botwnnog, who curried favour immediately they did a cover of Wild Mountain Thyme, but then morphed into Crazy Horse. They were brilliant, as was Darren Hayman with his finely honed and annoyingly tuneful! Songs. Here is a guy  who is one hell of a singer/songwriter, his band were pretty bloody hot too!

Archie Bronson Outfit

Archie Bronson Outfit

In need of volume and intensity, we embraced the excessive but impressive Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Woods, but Melody’s Echo Chamber simply took the place to pieces, they created a swirling pop heaven. It was like Slowdive on acid, and with the beautiful Melody  herself on vocals and minimalist hand waving it was so dreamy a large percentage of the crowd simply melted into the floor. OMG etc!

Public Service Broadcasting are getting so popular I’m worried about the backlash, until it comes let’s hear it one more time for Spitfire, Everest and Night Mail, despite some sound problems they made lots of people very happy in the Walled Garden.

Public Service Broadcasting

Public Service Broadcasting

Exhausted now, but with enough memories to fill a Rough Trade tent, we bade a fond farewell to our favourite festival, five years and counting, nothing comes close.

Honourable mentions go to the following acts, The very slick Horrors, a remarkably bouyant Ellen and the escapades, Moon Duo, Kings of convenience, Sweet baboo, Lau and  This is the kit, they all served with great distinction and gave their all in the name of rock n roll !.

Thank you Greenman, hopefully see you again next year, love John.

Words by John Haylock, Pictures by Arthur Hughes

 

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Surf City – We Knew It Was Not Going To Be Like This

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Surf City – We Knew It Was Not Going To Be Like This

Posted on 15 August 2013 by Joe

A review of New Zealand band Surf City’s latest album almost demands to be bathed in name checks of bands from across the decades.

There’s the fuzzy, reverb heavy guitars of obscure ’60s psychedelic garage bands such as The Human Expression and The Misunderstood, which come across most effectively on the album’s opener and best track It’s A Common Life.

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Then there’s the cool, New York sound of the Velvet Underground and later The Strokes on No Place To Go. Further name checks come towards the end of the album on Oceanic Graphs, which has the modern, psychedelic inventiveness of Animal Collective and Tama Impala.

Finally on What Gets Me By, which stretches to just under nine minutes, the album also takes a turn towards Television, with its intertwining new wave guitars taking the listener to a satisfying end.

Despite sounding like a whole bunch of other bands that is in no way a criticism. They’ve cherry picked some great sounds to blend with their core influence of 60s garage bands. It’s a neat trick that Hooded Fang did well on Tosta Mista and Django Django excelled at on their self titled debut album. Fans of both of those albums will find a lot to like here.

8/10

by Joe Lepper

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Victoria and Jacob – Victoria and Jacob

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Victoria and Jacob – Victoria and Jacob

Posted on 15 August 2013 by Joe

We’ve been left impressed by Victoria and Jacob’s debut album, which  sits somewhere between the savvy pop of Saint Etienne and the cool atmospheric music of Beachhouse.

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The pair, who formed in Cambridge and now live in London, have released this through two of our favourite labels Fika Recordings (who often give out cake recipes and teabags with their releases) and Wiaiwya (who have a fine ear for emerging UK electronica and folk acts). Their debut is full of smart, swooping pop tracks, with Victoria’s vocals wonderfully reminiscent of The Concretes former singer Victoria Bergsman. She gives the whole album a certain European quality with her vocals, especially on the first single and album highlight Festival.

What is perhaps most remarkable for a debut album is its confidence, with a consistency throughout and the sense of a band that is influenced by the likes of Fleeetwood Mac, Everything But the Girl and Saint Etienne but prepared to wrap them up with their own distinct voice. Any duff tracks? Remarkably not one and how many debut albums can you say that about? One of the best debut albums of the year.

8/10

by Joe Lepper

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John Howard – Front Room Fables (Home Demos 1970-1972)

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John Howard – Front Room Fables (Home Demos 1970-1972)

Posted on 14 August 2013 by Joe

I like writing about John Howard, the singer songwriter signed and dropped by CBS in the 1970s, who re-emerged in a digital age of blogs and iTunes as a cult artist, beloved by  younger artists and now producing some of his best work, mostly recorded at his home in Spain. It’s a good tale for journalists about the highs and lows of the music industry with at its heart a bloke, a piano and some good tunes.

johnhoward

After a prolific recent spell of around eight new album releases in as many years his latest release is a look back to his time as a young folk singer in his native north west of England in the early 1970s. Here he compiles five unearthed tracks, recorded on piano or guitar in one take at his family home in Ramsbottom, Lancashire,  between 1970 and 1972, with no overdubs on a half broken TS1000 Grundig 4-track reel-to reel.

The results, recorded by this teenager who was yet to move to London and then playing the north west folk clubs, shows clearly his influences at the time, from Laura Nyro to Bob Dylan and Roy Harper. But this is no mere work of a wannabe someone else. On the EP’s lead track, My Time Will Be No Others But My Own, its clear how he has influenced others, most notably Darren Hayman, who Howard later collaborated with.

There are also echoes of The Mountain Goats home recorded, lo-fi classic All Hail West Texas, from 2002 and coincidentally reissued this month. This was recorded in similar fashion in one take on a Panasonic boombox.

Turns out that back in his home in the 1970s the teenage John Howard was ahead of the game rather than just another long haired folk singer with a deft touch on the piano. Dismiss this release as mere nostalgia at your peril.

8/10

by Joe Lepper

For more information about John Howard, read our feature Time Will Heal Things here.

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Off The Tracks Summer Line Up

Off The Tracks Summer Line Up

Posted on 13 August 2013 by Joe

John Otway, Dreadzone and Ozric Tentacles are among the confirmed acts for Off The Tracks festival, taking place on August 30-Sept.

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This bi-annual event, held at Park Farmhouse, Isley Walton, Derbyshire, will also feature Simon Friend’s Seismic Survey, Here and Now, Ferocious Dog, Tyde, Swamptrash, Two Man Ting, Strange World, 5 Days of November, Tang, Hot Feet, Blackwater, Howlin’ Circus, The Hang Project, The Fallows, Muha, Stuart Forester and Sangat.

Tickets for the event are available here

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The Mountain Goats – All Hail West Texas

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The Mountain Goats – All Hail West Texas

Posted on 13 August 2013 by Joe

These days bedroom recording artists have Logic X  and a raft of other gadgets to play around with. Back in 2001  The Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle relied on his Panosonic RX-FT500 boombox and its tiny, tinny condenser mic. Turns out this ancient piece of technology, which was bought by Darnielle in 1989, died for a while in the 90s but revived itself  for this recording, was perfect for taking the listener into the heart of his story telling lyrics.

Goatsrs

The technology was just one part of the perfect storm of amateur equipment and mundane events that make All Hail West Texas, which has been reissued this month with seven extra tracks, such a special album. Recorded truly alone, at his new home in a new town during a week while his wife was away playing hockey, gives him a sense of isolation and really understanding the characters he’s writing about here.

Be it Cyrus and Jeff, Darnielle’s two teenage heroes whose dreams are shattered by an adult world that doesn’t understand them in Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton, or the life spiraling out of control in Fall of the Star High School Running Back, Darnielle’s alone time brings them to life. Color in Your Cheeks, about making friends and an idealised view of US immigration, is another that clearly benefits from Darnielle’s lonely situation and his sense of longing for  friendship.

Another factor in its recording was he’d just started a new healthcare job, working with children in a residential facility, and was undergoing a period of  ‘orientation’ training, leaving him plenty of time to scribble down lyrics and flesh out the likes of Jeff and Cyrus.

Mostly recorded as they were being written using this old machine also gives the album a unique feel as if Darnielle had to get the song committed to cassette before it broke down again or the tape ran out.

Thankfully the remastering involved here is more a lick of paint than a full scale renovation. To spruce it up too much which destroy its splendour. The seven extra tracks are also welcome, recorded around the same time and also showing the same keen sense of melody and interesting lyrics of those that made the final cut. Waco would ordinarily have become one of his most well known songs, but the tape cut out as he was recording and further attempts to sing it never quite matched this take for Darnielle. Indonesia, which he confesses would not have sounded out of place on his first album for 4AD Tallahassee, is another highpoint of these extra tracks.

So over a decade on what else is there, apart from some great lyrics and intimate, amateurish recording, that makes this album special? The music itself has to be good to make a great album, and here, Darnielle’s acoustic guitar and vocal delivery are full of wonderful melody and passion. Pink and Blue, for example, is so simple, so effective and so darn catchy. Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton even has a crowd pleasing singalong ‘Hail Satan’ that delights Mountain Goats audiences to this day.

For those new to Mountain Goats this is a pretty good starting point, but far from typical of their current sound. It was the end of an era, with The Mountain Goats moving to the large indie label 4AD shortly after and more intricate, clever use of studio production. Now on Merge they are firmly a full band centred around Darnielle, bassist Peter Hughes and drummer Jon Wurster. There are die hard fans that regret Darnielle’s progression and prefer him to continue to slave away at the boombox. I for one welcome his musical education and feel equally uplifted by the rising horn sections that light up The Mountain Goats’ 2012 album Transcendental Youth as I do when I hear Darnielle strumming away on his own in front of his old Panasonic boombox.

9/10

by Joe Lepper

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Indietracks Festival 2013

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Indietracks Festival 2013

Posted on 08 August 2013 by Dorian

Has Indietracks grown up? It’s a worry, and this nagging concern has been, well, nagging us. A couple of years back the campsite was bursting at the guy ropes. People were camped right up to the indie disco marquee entrance, it was that packed.

This year, while not exactly an unbroken sea of green pasture, there was enough spare capacity for several games of French cricket. Would Indietracks itself be similarly roomy?

It turned out that we Indie-campers were the minority. These days the done thing is to bed down in the plushest of Butterley hotels and train it in. Indie kids are better off than we thought.

Or is it that they are not indie kids? What they are, is indie dads. It’s an oxymoron. It’s a mutually exclusive concept. You can’t mix happy making indie where anything goes and a dad’s panicky concern over his little ones. It’s bipolar.

Indie-dad leans out at you, holding his loved ones by the hair, when you are driving a little lost at two miles an hour making a turn and says in an incredulous tone “indicators mate”. Indie-dad is shocked that they let so many people into the shed to watch Camera Obscura, making it unsafe for little Jakob and Elvira. Indie-dad is up at 7.30am playing French fucking cricket whacking tennis balls at your tent.

We even suspect that indie-dad had a quiet word with the bearded chap that walks about in a full length dress every year before 2013, so that children are not exposed to such rampant transvestitism.

The most outre indie-wear this year was a tie-dye t-shirt and a couple of tutus. What’s happened to all the beautiful youths that used to pour out of their tents like coloured smarties out of a tube? That’s not the only thing that’s changed for 2013, making Indietracks almost unrecognisable. This year they had live owls on the Friday, as well as Saturday and Sunday. And, the model railway had been moved.

The only thing that remained constant was the fantastic atmosphere, and a line up of truly great artists. But then you kind of expect that anyway from this particular festival.

Friday

Big Wave

Big Wave

Glorious weather and a promising three act bill for the Friday night proved to be a great start to the weekend, a decent crowd of early arrivers sitting on the grass in anticipation. First up was Big Wave from Torquay, and the fresh faced act proved to be the perfect start. Slightly cracked vocals and a C86 influenced pop sound that was fun and just on the right side of noisy. Only a few hours after arriving at the site I had a new name on my “bands to check out after” list.

Up next was The Tuts, a band that had already impressed me with their songs online, and had a bit of a reputation following their invitation to tour with Kate Nash. Live they were even better, bursting with energy and putting on a really confident show. Musically they reminded me of Go sailor, only a bit punkier and with a very British sound. Dressed in matching outfits and offering a lot of irreverent stage chat, this was a first rate set.

Bis

Bis

Watching Bis start their set I was initially confused, how come they weren’t the same fresh-faced teenagers from two decades previous? It is always strange to see a  band make a come-back when you have seen so little of them in the intervening years. I also didn’t know what to expect from them, would they have anything to offer live and do they have enough good songs for a headline set? The answer to both these questions was an emphatic “yes” and this would prove to be one of the best sets of the who, weekend. Songs like ‘Eurodisco’, ”This Is fake DIY’ and even the theme tune from the Powerpuff Girls Movie are fun and skillfully played. I was left with the impression that this was a band that history hadn’t been kind enough to and a desire to check out their back catalogue.

The evening ended shortly after for us, after a biref trip to the train shed disco. The only place you’ll here Hefner songs following a chip-tunes version of the Smith’s ‘This Charming Man’.

Saturday

Finnmark!

Finnmark!

As the sun panned across the firmament, no self respecting shoe-gazer would be anywhere else but deep inside the train shed. And that’s exactly where our day began with Finnmark! whose billing belies their ability.

They are way too good to be an opening act and although they probably don’t yet have enough great songs in their canon, they are well on their way. Stark gnarling guitars, nerdishly simple keys, and the sort of drummer everyone wants in their band combined to propel their singer’s baritone vocals marching through the set like a Roman legion. Closer and new single Everyone’s Dying was a highlight but I’m Considering a Move to Sweden is that bit more special.

Our next highlight appeared in the church, in the form of David Leach – so slight that if you chopped him in half and found just foam, you wouldn’t be surprised.

Having slipped in at the nave to a packed venue, we arrived halfway through a number about maternal sexual fantasies. Bending over to empty the dishwasher, quiet nights cuddling on the sofa, it was already awkwardly steamy just from the sheer heat of being stuck in a tin church without that kind of oedipal prurience. So it was quite some relief to work out he was singing about his mate’s mum.

Leach is indeed a true wit and in the most fearless sense. His charm is not just wry songs about the perversity of our prosaic existence, it’s his delivery. If he could sit on everyone’s lap and sing them a song one by one, he’d do it, and he’d be there all weekend with a queue out the door. He’s just that engaging.

The Magic Theatre

The Magic Theatre

Then via a brief sojourn to catch the wild scratchings of the fantastic Tunabunny on the outdoor stage we took a ride on the Butterley Express for Owl and Mouse. Turned out we weren’t the only ones with that idea.

Owl and Mouse, fronted by Australian Hannah Botting, proved the perfect act for a crowded, sweaty guard’s carriage aboard the event’s steam train venue. Botting’s voice on tracks such as Don and Anna, a bittersweet tale of Don Draper’s plutonic relationship with the widow of the man whose identity he stole, and their 2013 single Canvas Bags, proved even more beautiful and tender live.  We named them one of our Top Ten Bands To Watch Out For in 2013 for good reason.

In the hot-box church venue The Magic Theatre presented another change of pace. Stories about Victorian seamstresses set to sampled strings,  time travelling lovers are sung about in a song that sounds like late XTC, albeit with soft female vocals. A brief technical failure even brings an unplanned Russian folk song – these aren’t just any run-of-the-mill indie band. The corer of the band were almost famous in a previous life as Ooberman  and a mid-set run of their songs was very popular with the crowd.

Why have I never seen the Wave Pictures before? And why don’t I own any of their records? Their connections with other artists like Darren Hayman and, on the evidence of this set, a brilliant batch of songs makes them right up my street. The sound is great, and brilliant played with African guitar noodlings, showy drumming and steady bass supporting David Tattersall’s witty intelligent songs. This is three piece pop at its best and I’m already planning on picking up their albums before they finish their final song.

At this point our coverage enters something of a climatic hiatus. With clouds pouring over the horizon it was pretty clear a mad dash was needed to secure the tents and grab a coat. Damn indie-dad and his luxury hotel room.

Camera Obscura

Camera Obscura

Just get back for Camera Obscura. That’s all that mattered.

We needn’t have rushed. Having been relocated from the outdoor stage to the train shed there was a significant wait for the main event.

It meant the venue was indeed packed to the steel girders, making for a fantastic sound. By the time they came on the audience was visibly rabid with enthusiasm.

After all, with a new album Desire Lines to promote and an enthusiastic home crowd, this was going to be a shoe in for the highlight of the entire festival.

So why the long faces? A set bristling with favourites: “Lloyd, I’m ready to be heartbroken”, “Tears for Affairs”, “French Navy”. What a band, what songs, what a voice.

And yet there’s this disconnect between this joyous stuff going in the ear and sight of these dour-faced static people on stage. They surely can’t be one and the same.

A great gig frustrated – even the set ended with the last song as the encore. No extra treats.

Did they have to get home early? Are they in fact indie mums and dads?

Even so, Camera Obscura loomed large over everything on Saturday – theirs is such a complete sound you can’t fail but be drawn in. Like Father Christmas finding out his missus is having an affair – you feel mildly concerned he lacks his ruddy cheer, but at least you’re still getting the presents.

Sunday

Enderby's Room

Enderby’s Room

After the downpours it was good to wake-up to relatively clear skies and the possibility of an unbroken day of music ahead. A more relaxed plan was also a relief as so few of the people playing were familiar to me and a day of discovery is always a pleasure.

Seabirds provided a pleasant, if unexceptional, start to proceedings with a set of upbeat poppy songs. The band played them well and it was an encouraging start from a band who had only played a handful of live sets previously.

Back on the train Enderby’s Room showed their level of experience (members of Darren Hayman’s band and Owl and Mouse on show) with a short but accomplished batch of songs. The instrumentation, vocal harmonies and melody was the perfect accompaniment to a gentle train ride and their soft folky sound was as good as anything else I’d hear all weekend.

The cavernous train shed space is far less intimate, but still a pretty unique venue and Alpaca Sports, the Swedish act backed by a collection of British musicians they have assembled from other bands, fill it with an insanely chirpy set of songs.

Kid Canaveral

Kid Canaveral

The Soulboy Collective, viewed from the church pews, are a little more distinctive. The male members in matching Fred Perry jumpers and a (slightly samey) Northern Soul drum beat on every track sets the scene. The band sound like a more Euro version (the band hail from Germany) of St.Ettienne but miss the polish of that band by some distance. They sound like a studio act and struggle to get the timings right throughout the set. It isn’t until the final song that it all comes together, and at that point they sound pretty wonderful – the whole church clapping along. One to watch, but by no means the finished article.

Out in the open again the pace switched back to rock guitars with the power-pop sounds of Scottish act Kid Canaveral. The songs and style was likeable and had plenty of energy, a great soundtrack to a sunny afternoon. To top it off was an amusing anaecdoete about strong cider and vomit, what could be more festival appropriate than that?

The winner of the “most band t-shirts worn” competition must have been won by Martha, a punky four-piece who themselves were wearing a uniform of matching black and white t-shirts. Shouted vocals sound pretty good sometimes and it was easy to see why they are developing such a following. A decent version of Billy Joel’s ‘We Didn’t Start The Fire’ is a lot of fun and the final song stage invasion (including the ever present Tuts) is one of the highlights of the weekend.

Still Corners

Still Corners

Helen Love’s performance is one of the most puzzling shows in my many years of gig going. I do get what it is all about, I understand the Ramones references and the deadpan (borderline bored) delivery. I like the plain faced cultural reference points and repetitive lyrics. I also think the show presentation (complete with glitter confetti canons) was a nice change from the straight-up kids with guitars at most of the festival shows. What I don’t get is the music, which is (I’m struggling to find a polite way to say this) terrible. It is like music I’d expect to hear on CBbeebies, how I imagine the Wiggles live on stage would sound. But the crowd love it, easily the best audience response of the weekend, so who really cares what I think?

Due to a delay to the running times on the indoor stage, difficult to avoid at a festival, it is a relatively small audience that greets Still Corners for their headline outdoor set. The band are a big noise new on Sub Pop and it is a pretty impressive show. The sounds is very atmospheric, the projections and lights effective and the voice and instrumentation sound like nothing else I’ve heard over the weekend. It is a little downbeat for a headline act, but no less pretty for it and it is a shame that more of the festival wasn’t there to finish their weekend on this particular musical high.

And so this year’s glorious weekend of wall-to-wall steam-powered Indie drew to a close.

The only negative for Indietracks 2013 is that we think indie-dad quite enjoyed it and might come back.

Will we be going next year? Doubtless. It’s such an inspired concept and comes with a guarantee of great music and moments at every turn.

But maybe we’ve grown out of camping after trying to find the toilet in a roaring downpour at 2am. Maybe next year we’ll get a hotel. Maybe, maybe next year we’ll bring the kids.

Words: Matt Whipp, Dorian Rogers and Joe Lepper | Pictures: Dorian Rogers

This review was written by two indie-dads and an indie-uncle. No offence intended to any indie-dads, indie-mums, indie-aunts, indie-uncles, indie-grandparents, indie-kids or indie-toddlers

Our full Indietracks 2013 gallery on Flickr

 

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Scott Walker  – From Teen Heart Throb To Avant Garde Artist

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Scott Walker – From Teen Heart Throb To Avant Garde Artist

Posted on 01 August 2013 by Joe

Scott Walker is the last man standing from the sixties to still be making anything approaching fresh music, with  his current work overshadowing his former persona as a bona fide pop idol teen heart throb. Imagine if Gary Barlow were suddenly to start making oblique art songs referencing the philosophy of Jacques Derrida all to a post-industrial sound collage; tricky isn’t it, but that’s what Scott Walker did, boy band to avant garde artist in five easy pieces.

Within the Walker Brothers Scott had been the only one seeking to move into writing, to get away from solely being an interpreter of other peoples words. On their second album he already has two writing credits and there are three on their last album. These songs stand out immediately from those surrounding them due to their idiosyncratic construction, they scan like short stories rather than conventional lyrics. Working with top arrangers Scott was learning his craft ready to break out into a solo career which has been stranger and more genuinely productive than most.

scott1

With Scott 1 he establishes himself as a mature adult singer, trying to move out of the lovelorn teen market. A threeway split in writing credits between standards, Walker penned material and songs of Jacques Brel. The Brel material is most immediately arresting due to the scabrous lyrics and cabaret arrangements, My Death and Amsterdam in particular signalling a bold move from popular lyrical themes. Whilst Scott is fully in control of all the material and the arrangements and his phrasing on all the standards make his the version you want to hear, it is on his own material that he takes flight.

An unusual lyricist even then, Walker uses the song form as a vehicle for storytelling or mood setting. In Montague Terrace (In Blue) he sings of bedsits, the inescapable crowd and the curious loneliness of the city, “The scent of secrets everywhere”. Only the protagonists relationship seems to steel him against it, but there is a realisation that this is temporary, almost certain to end – “But we know don’t we, And we’ll dream won’t we, Of Montague Terrace in blue”.

The arrangements for Walker’s own lyrics also strike out for fresh territory. Decentred strings, drone forms, brass arrangements punch through for crescendo and there’s an unusual sense of time as the soundstage follows Scott’s own phrasing.

scott2

Scott 2 comes galloping out of the traps with perhaps the most rollicking opening number of any album ever. Jackie had been a single released in 1967, banned by the BBC due to Brel’s lyrics concerning opium dens, brothels and “authentic queers and phony virgins.”  Later in the album Scott sings Next, another Brel song, this time about mobile army whorehouses and the psychic scars resulting, had anyone else ever sung about “gonorrhea” on a number one album before, or for that matter since?

After setting the bar so high at the outset Scott continues to vary the pace with a pair of excellent covers,   Best of Both Worlds and Black Sheep Boy, before the first of his own compositions on the album, The Amorous Humphrey Plugg. In the vein of Montague Terrace in Blue Scott sings a kitchen sink drama in first person, Humphrey Plugg, caught in suburban domesticity, seeking escape –  “Leave it all behind me, Screaming kids on my knee, And the telly swallowing me, And the neighbour shouting next door, And the subway trembling the roller-skate floor.”

His next original composition “The Girls From the Street” glows with poetic wordplay in waltz time, “ Snap! The waiters animate, Luxuriate like planets whirling ’round the sun, Collapsing next to me, Shouts don’t look sad, Things aren’t so bad, They’re just more wrong than right.”

Plastic Palace People takes a surreal bent with a floating protagonist Billy observing the streets from above, Don’t pull the string, Don’t bring me down, Don’t make me land”. Over floating chords with a rising and falling string motif we float along with Billy. Billy’s suspension above the ground a metaphor for adolescence caught between childhood and maturity, dreams and concrete reality. An hallucinatory soundworld is brought into play throughout with sharp discontinuities between sections, use of extreme reverb and leslie speaker on Scott’s voice when the main theme drops out.

There are further delights across the remainder of the album, a further Brel song, a couple of strong ballads, another Walker original The Bridge (a sorrowful song of lost love), and perhaps the best cover ever of a Bacharah/ David song,Windows of the World.

Scott 2 was the commercial highpoint of Scott’s solo career, reaching number 1 in the UK charts in April 1968, however, Scott was not satisfied describing it as the work of a “lazy, self indulgent man”.

scott3

Following this success Scott was granted further creative control and for Scott 3, released in March 1969, he had written ten of the thirteen tracks, the remaining three being Brel covers.

The previous two albums had opened with furious stampeding Brel covers, Scott 3 shimmers into being with It’s Raining Today, a string section play a hovering drone, a bass modulates, a guitar strums a few chords – Scott enters looking out at the rain and reflecting on a love, now gone, almost forgotten. Almost the epitome of melancholic, but there’s a steel within the observation, which stops it being mere self-pity, “You out of me me out of you, We go like lovers, To replace the empty space, Repeat our dreams to someone new”.

The album proceeds at this stately pace, a quiet sadness permeating the first four songs.  Big Louise opens imperious, gong sounding, french horn playing a beautiful refrain, strings swelling as Scott sings about the broken hearted Louise, evoked with great economy across just a few lines, with the killer chorus “Didn’t time sound sweet yesterday, in a world filled with friends, you lose your way.”

We Came Through ups the tempo in the style of Mathilde and Jackie but this time the lyrics are less knowing, there is less distance than in those of Brel. The lyrics come from the perspective of the strong, those willing to inflict violence on the weak to wield power over and over through time. There is cruel despair in the final lines made all the more bitter for the upbeat delivery, “and as Luther King’s predictions fade from view, we came through.”

More exceptional songs follow, Winter Night, in particular a luminous miniature only eight or so lines but couched in a beautiful string arrangement, opening on a severe descending chord.

The album ends with three Brel covers, Sons of , Funeral Tango, and If You Go Away, the last of which is perhaps his purest lovelorn outpouring on record (and with the Walker Brothers he had mastered that market already).

Scott 3 had reached a respectable No.3 in the charts, and Scott had his own BBC TV show, a vehicle for his performances and for other guest singers. To capitalise on this he cut another album Scott Sings Songs from his TV Series in July 1969, containing only standards this reached No.7.

scott4

By November 1969 Scott had released Scott 4, an album of only Walker penned music. Although now widely considered one of the best albums of the sixties, it was a notorious commercial failure at the time. Scott’s decision to issue it under his birthname Noel Scott Engel undoubtedly hindered it’s marketing, but the fact that it was his third album release in under eight months probably had a greater effect, albums in the sixties were luxury items costing approximately a tenth of the average weekly wage, few fans could have afforded to buy all three albums in such a short space of time.

Across Scott 4 Walker widens his lyrical ambit away from his previous themes, there are still love lost ballads, but he now takes in socio-political themes, oblique protest songs, and a song offering a plot summary of Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal.

There is also a wider variety of songs styles across Scott 4, from Morricone spaghetti western score on The Seventh Seal, to pedal steel Country on Duchess and Rhymes of Goodbye and lounge funk on The Old Man’s Back Again.

As with Scott 3 the standout tracks are those with the most idiosyncratic arrangements, Angels of Ashes and Boychild. Angels of Ashes has a classical guitar line, punctuated by a harpsichord following Scott’s vocal, light snare brushing, bass line moving the song along, with sweeping strings wrapping it all together.  Boychild uses zither, acoustic guitar and hovering strings to shadow Scott’s vocal lines, a floating world of unsettled yearning – “Extensions through dimensions, Leave you feeling cold and lame, Boychild mustn’t tremble, cause he came without a name.”

Scott 4’s relative commercial failure undermined Scott’s ability to retain creative control.

12090-til-the-band-comes-in

His last album on Philips, 1970’s ‘Til the Band Comes In makes this conflict apparent in the straight split between Scott’s songs on the A side and the covers he returns to on the B side.

A return to covers can only be a crushing disappointment to anyone following Scott’s development as a songwriter through the preceding albums. A great interpreter of standards by any measure, but by this point you only want to hear him sing his own songs because no-one else writes like he does.

The A side, however, is as strong as anything on Scott 4.  A loose suite of songs themed upon the residents of a block of flats, there is a return to character studies, mixed with topical satire/ social protest. Prologue opens the album with sound effects, tap dripping, keys in locks, children playing while a string section swells sorrowfully before fading into Little Things, a headlong brass stomp similar to Mathilde or Jackie.

Arrangements and song forms are straighter across ‘Til The Band Comes In with more defined verse/ chorus patterns and less oblique lyrics, but the subject matter is as off-beat as ever, Joe is about a lonely old dying man, Thanks for Chicago Mr James is about the end of young hustlers relationship with a gay older man, Time Operator is sung by a man so lonely and isolated he calls the speaking clock for company, he’s fantasised for so long about the voice at the other end of the line he really thinks he’s in with a chance – “I wouldn’t care if you’re ugly, cause here with the lights out I couldn’t see, you just picture Paul Newman and girl he looks a lot like me”.

Towards the end of the A side the title track rises to a crescendo, with brass section flourishes and a soul singer backing, Scott sings about taking his leave with perhaps the promise of return – “If you need me to move through, you know where I’m found, still alive, with my sub-human sound to the ground.”

Side A ends with The War Is Over (Sleepers), a promise of peace following the overall chaos which reigned previously. However, war is as much a metaphor for life in this song and the peace that is found is the peace of the tomb – Everything Still, Everything Silent, As after the rain, Still we are after the rain.

‘Til the Band Comes In was not well received at the time and didn’t chart confirming Scott’s fall from grace. For the next few years his career limped along with a series of albums of covers in a strictly middle of the road rut, seemingly a burnt out case at 27. As with the B side of ‘Til the Band Comes In these are all good for what they are, but not satisfying for the same reasons, Scott Walker is too good a writer to sing other peoples songs.

A Walker Brothers reunion rescued Scott from a lifetime of cabaret and Working Mens Club engagements. Although there was no original material to begin with, by their final album Scott was ready to write again. His four songs on Nite Flights are where Scott Walker reappears and strikes out for terra incognita, a road he still travels getting further and further out.    

by Garry Todd

 

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