Archive | September, 2014

Throwing Muses & Tanya Donelly – Concorde 2, Brighton (Sept 24, 2014)

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Throwing Muses & Tanya Donelly – Concorde 2, Brighton (Sept 24, 2014)

Posted on 30 September 2014 by Dorian

A gig featuring the Throwing Muses and also founder member Tanya Donelly on the same bill was always likely to be popular, and arriving late was not my best idea. The Concorde 2 was filled to capacity and I could only squeeze in at the back to see some of Tanya Donelly’s support set. It sounded pretty good, her voice as sweet as it was with her first band, and later with belly, and a nice line in low-key country-tinged songs. The band, featuring Sam Davol of the Magnetic Fields on cello, sound good too and it is very well received set. Less than half the songs, viewed through the crowd’ is all I get though so I can’t offer up any more insightful comment.

Throwing Muses 1

I have been a fan of Throwing Muses since I first heard them play ‘Dizzy’ on a 1989 episode of Snub TV, a performance available on YouTube here. I must confess however that, apart from a blistering set at the Breeders’ ATP, I haven’t managed to see the band play live in the subsequent 25 years. I own a number of their albums, as well as discs by Kristin Hersh solo and side project 50 Foot Wave, but by no means a complete collection and nothing from recent years. This does mean that for most of the set I am unfamiliar with the songs being played, but that doesn’t get in the way of the power of the performance.

Hersh is a very intense stage presence, her eyes staring intently straight ahead and her voice and guitar playing equally direct. The music is pretty fierce, with little of the pop sensibilities of the band’s 90s output on show. That doesn’t mean that these are difficult songs, but it is the rawer Throwing Muses, the band who returned from hiatus in 2003, that we are seeing tonight.

Throwing Muses 2

About halfway through the set it is no surprise that we welcome Tanya Donelly to the stage to add guitar and vocals to a burst of songs from the band’s albums when they were still a four piece. In this form they sound very different, a little less intense but with more of a focus on melody and harmony. ‘Red Shoes’, from their last album before Donelly left the band, sounds great and I’m suddenly very nostalgic.

As soon as the expanded band part of the set ends they leave the stage to huge applause. It is no surprise when they return (as a three piece again) a few minutes later.

Somehow they sound even more intense during this encore, the songs seem almost hypnotic and it is easy to forget the heat and crowds in the venue. They leave the stage and, more of a surprise this time, return again for one last burst. Two encores is generous, but you sense the crowd could handle a whole lot more when they finally leave for the last time.

By Dorian Rogers

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Mile Me Deaf, Flash Bang Band & Mohit – Green Door Store, Brighton (Sept 21, 2014)

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Mile Me Deaf, Flash Bang Band & Mohit – Green Door Store, Brighton (Sept 21, 2014)

Posted on 28 September 2014 by Dorian

People seem prepared to spend through the nose to spend the evening in a room filled with journalists and minor celebrities to watch Kate Bush not play the hits for several hours. On the flip-side getting people to watch new music, even for free, seems to be increasingly difficult.

A Sunday night gig is always going to be a challenge, but even so a third-full Green Door Store seemed less than the three bands deserved.

Mohit

Mohit

First up was Mohit, the only act on the bill that I hadn’t heard of before the show.  They play an interestingly jazzy take on indie rock that sits somewhere between Foals and the calmer moments on No Means No records. I didn’t get anything from the songs that immediately grabbed me, but the playing was impressive in particular the drumming. Perhaps they needed a bit more focus, there was a lot of noodling around in the tunes, but it was an encouraging opening.

The Flash Bang Band

The Flash Bang Band

Second on the bill was The Flash Bang Band, an act that I have some familiarity with, despite never seeing them live. They have some connection with the wonderful Free Swim (even if that is just sharing a stage) and I’ve seen one of their videos online in the past.

Like Mohit they are a band that is very “sound” lead, by which I mean the performance seems to be be more important than the songs. This is rock through the OK-GO filter and the  more esoteric 60s influenced songs in the second half certainly improve an already good set. Again it is the drums that stand out and, although some of the songs do sound a bit half-formed, this is good stuff.

Mile Me Deaf

Mile Me Deaf

Mile Me Deaf warm up to an almost empty room. The guitarist plays with a drumstick. Things aren’t looking good.

When the set starts in earnest the room fills back up to earlier levels, and you could forgive the crowd for not being sure they had started as the first sing meanders in to life. Mile Me Deaf are the most impenetrable act of the evening, but with easily the best songs. This, as it turns out, is a really good mix.  Once they settle in to their set (I’m not sure if we are two or three songs in) we are in more relaxed territory with the band sounding like Sonic Youth or Yo La Tengo at their bounciest. I never have an issue with bands sounding like the poppier end of Sonic Youth, think a Viennese version of Urusei Yatsura and you have an approximation of the Mile Me Deaf sound on stage.

They really are pretty great, and a couple of the songs in the set embedded into my brain by the end of the gig. I’m straight to the merch stall to buy their latest album, Holography, and I urge you to pick up a copy to if you can’t catch the band live (or even if you can).

Three really interesting bands for free seems a pretty great way to spend a Sunday night. It has to be better than paying £150 and not even getting ‘Wuthering Heights’ for you money, surely?

By Dorian Rogers

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Rural Alberta Advantage – Mended With Gold

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Rural Alberta Advantage – Mended With Gold

Posted on 26 September 2014 by Joe

Mended with Gold is Toronto band Rural Alberta Advantage’s most accomplished album yet and marks a significant progression in their sound from the quirky folk of their 2009 debut Homelands through to 2011’s follow up Departing.

raa4

Homelands’  unusual rhythms and folk influence are still there, but this album sounds much bigger, even indie-rock in places. This larger, radio-friendly canvass suits them more and makes this feel more complete as an album. Homelands, in contrast, with its lower budget sound, hasn’t weathered as well, apart from its standout track Don’t Haunt This Place.

The opening four tracks on Mended with Gold are marvelous crowd pleasing epics and it’s not until track five, Runners in the Night, that we get a hint of the low key trio that brought us Homelands. This largely acoustic, slower number emerges as a  highlight and builds up nicely to another ‘slowey’ To Be Scared, which sounds almost Fleet Foxish at times. After this slow break the album settles back into more rock territory for the final half, in which the frantic pace of All We’ve Ever Known is among many highlights.

Departing garnered a Polaris Music Prize nomination in Canada and their debut gained fans like us across the world. Mended with Gold is an album that will receive similar plaudits and praise from the music press but more importantly oozes with the confidence of a band that knows they are at the top of their game.

8/10

by Joe Lepper

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Guided By Voices – Closed For Business

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Guided By Voices – Closed For Business

Posted on 22 September 2014 by Dorian

So, Guided By Voices have split again, as announced a couple of days ago via their Facebook page and website. The second time they have formally split, the first being in 2004, and the end of the second edition of the “classic line-up”.

GBV Closed

In this second version they never made it to the UK, an aborted ATP show was the closest they got, and I have my doubts that Bob Pollard will ever return to these shores in any musical guise.

The Guardian responded to the news with an article asking if it was possible to pick the five best songs by the band. I have tried this task and found that there are just too many songs to make that possible. I decided to scale down the task; so here (in no particular order) are my top five from the six “comeback” albums.

Doughnut For A Snowman

Everywhere Is Miles From Everywhere

Planet Score

Bad Love Is Easy To Do

Waving At Airplanes

By Dorian Rogers

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Avi Buffalo – At Best Cuckold

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Avi Buffalo – At Best Cuckold

Posted on 17 September 2014 by Joe

Avi Zahner-Isenberg’s band Avi Buffalo started their career in the worst possible way – on a high. With their 2010 single What’s In It For, written by the then teenage Zahner-Isenberg, they had a cast iron classic song on their hands, arguably one of the best of the last decade.

A precocious talent had emerged but their self titled album the same year felt like a let down in comparison, including but overshadowed by What’s In It For . Over the years it became a one track album, with the rest of the album barely played since.

Avi-Buffalo-at-best-cuckold

It’s taken a few years to find their feet again on disc and with At Best Cuckold, the band’s second album on Sub Pop, they have found an album that finally matches their earlier promise.

The twinkling, breezy Californian guitar pop of 2010 remains, as does Zahner-Isenberg’s Neil Young-esque falsetto. But here in 2014 there is a sharper focus on production, with horns and lots of melody throughout the album, not just focused on one track. As well as opener So What the album is packed full of potential singles.

Overwhelmed with Pride has a wonderful 1960s pop feel to it with the trumpets carrying the melody and Cant’ Be Too Responsible even has echoes of America’s greatest pop band The Monkees. Another highlight is She is Seventeen, which takes the tempo down to create a fine piano ballad to show that Zahner-Isenberg is more than just a kid with a guitar.

Granted there’s a couple of unnecessary rock guitar moments,  such as on Found Blind, but they aren’t conspicuous enough to distract from what is a mature and consistently good album.

9/10

by Joe Lepper

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The New Pornographers – Brill Bruisers

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The New Pornographers – Brill Bruisers

Posted on 12 September 2014 by Dorian

Most reviews of Brill Bruisers, the 6th album by Canada’s New Pornographers, focus on this being a return to form “their best since Twin Cinema”. This is only half true, it is their best album since Twin Cinema but as their last two albums were both excellent as well I see it more as a continuation of consistently good form.

Brill Bruisers

Brill Bruisers does seem to be a return in some respects, retaining the slight melancholy of the last two albums but restoring some of the more high-tempo pop elements from the earliest recordings. This is widescreen pop, lots of guitars, lots of keyboards, pounding drums and LOTS of voices. You only have to listen to the brilliant title track to be sucked in by the multiple vocal tracks blending perfectly together.

AC Newman retains the bulk of the lead vocals here, and writes the majority of the tunes, but also hands vocals (backing and lead) to regulars Neko Case and Kathryn Calder. Their voices on the albums “slowy” ‘Champions of Red Wine’ being pitch perfect stuff. Additionally we get vocal assistance from Neko’s bandmate Kelly Hogan on four tracks and Amber Webber of Lightning Dust dueting with Dan Bejar on ‘Born With a Sound’.

Dan Bejar provides three tracks here and they are all excellent additions and a nice change of texture from the Newman songs on the record. Lead single ‘War on the East Coast’ being a great slice of power-pop and showing another side to the enigmatic Bejar in the process.

However, as much as this is a real band effort, and one where each member does their job brilliantly, a New Pornographers’ album is only ever going to be as good as Newman’s songwriting and his choice of arrangements. The good news is that things are looking good in both those departments, with this being an album that has no quality dips from start to finish. What it might lack in the sparkling surprises of those first three albums is an overall sound and quality throughout the run.

That isn’t to say that the album holds no surprises, even for a seasoned fan of the band. ‘Drug Deal of the Heart’, sung by Kathryn Calder, is short and simple (eschewing the more showy approach of the rest of the album) and sounds like a Magnetic Fields song (or a 6ths song at least).

It may be an album without dips, but it does have peaks, not least the double punch of ‘Wide Eyes’ and ‘Dancehall Domine’. The former showing Newman’s genius at holding back Neko Case’s vocals to a small part in a song where the obvious thing would have been to smother it. Less really can be more. The latter is just brilliant guitar pop with brilliant pop vocals and perfectly encapsulates Newman’s approach to producing a modern twist on glam rock. And by glam rock we are looking at a sweep of music that goes all the way from ELO to Sigue Sigue Sputnik, the latter being an act that are rarely quoted as influences. But if Newman wants to look to Sigue Sigue Sputnik and then produce an album this good then it is clearly a much better idea than it looks on paper.

9/10

By Dorian Rogers

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Papernut Cambridge- There’s No Underground

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Papernut Cambridge- There’s No Underground

Posted on 10 September 2014 by Joe

Former Death in Vegas man Ian Button has roused the troops and drafted in some talented foot soldiers for his second album under the Papernut Cambridge moniker.

With collaborators, such as Mary Epworth, ex-Hefner men Jack Hayter and Darren Hayman, Picturebox’s Robert Halcrow as well as Gare Du Nord label mates Robert Rotifer and Ralegh Long,  Button and friends have conspired to create one of the year’s best pop releases.

Papernut Cambridge

Papernut Cambridge

Full of pop nuggets, with a few hints of 1990s Brit pop and lashings of 1967 psychedelia, it is the most English of albums with lovely Monty Python-esque notions like the government going on strike as well as the Ray Davies borrowed imagery of commuters traveling back to their Shangri-Las, rising out of the London Underground catacombs to the beautiful, suburban sunset above.

Among many highlights is the great pop of When She Said, What She Said,  the aforementioned The Day The Government Went On Strike and the album’s Underground free title track.

Another is the lovely, 1960s infused tragi-pop of Umbrella Man. With its lovely melody it is no wonder John Howard, the 1970s singer-songwriter and collaborator of Button, covered this track earlier this year.

The 1990s Britpop comes courtesy of Nutflake Social. It’s like the moment when The Soup Dragons went ‘baggy’ in the early 1990s, except good. This track also features some fine David Bowie Low era harmonica from Nick Tidmarsh to usher in some 1976 pop into the mix.

There are a few artists like Button who excel at traveling down this nostalgia-pop route. Jim Noir and Voluntary Butler Scheme are the two most well known that spring to mind and their fans will adore Papernut Cambridge and There’s No Underground’s unpretentious take on the great English pop album.

9/10

by Joe Lepper

There’s No Underground is released by Gare Du Nord on 13 October. Click here for more details.

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Festival Number 6, Portmeirion (Sept 5-7, 2014)

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Festival Number 6, Portmeirion (Sept 5-7, 2014)

Posted on 09 September 2014 by John Haylock

Situated near Porthmadog on cliffs that tumble down to Cardigan Bay, Portmeirion started life in the 1920s as the whimsical vision of Welsh architect Clough Williams Ellis.  Since then it has provided the real life surreal backdrop to 1960s TV show The Prisoner, is one of the Wale’s oddest tourist attractions and each September is the setting for the music, arts and literature focused Festival Number 6.

Parade

Now in its third year, the festival, which is named after the hero of The Prisoner,  is getting into gear, with the previous two events marred by bad weather. Thankfully though Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, who were among the performers, brought her Heatwave with her and the event was blessed with torrential sunshine. Sunday was especially sun soaked with the location mirroring the town’s Italian Mediterranean inspiration perfectly as festival-goers took to boarding, swimming and sun bathing.

Among highlights of the Friday bill were a rockin’ teen combo called Childhood. These ex-Nottingham University chaps certainly have a classy set of self penned tunes; melodic with fits of noise. Apparently they are bemused by comparisons as they are so young and are not familiar with half of the references, but older listeners might like to think Teenage Fanclub meets The Byrds.

performers

Down by the sea, in a small marquee we cross paths with the bearded and dishevelled post punk singer/songwriter/Krautrock afficianado and now novelist, Julian Cope. He spends an entertaining hour telling us how great his new book is. You do not disagree with Julian, although toward the end of the interview a guy decides to have a go at him for not being green enough by writing paperbacks and using up trees. Sadly though this exchange was cut short by a guy from Cope’s publisher Faber and Faber and Cope’s declaration that, “I’m sorry but the trees must fall, my book must be read by everyone.”

It’s an incredible 14 years since Damon Gough, aka Badly Drawn Boy released his Mercury prize winning album Hour of the Bewilderbeast. I am happy to report that he’s still a magnificent live draw as he played to a packed crowd on a small stage in the woods. With the sun shining and the atmosphere electric he proved to be an absolute top bloke with an arsenal of fine, memorable tunes and a deadpan wit that the crowd just loved. Anyone who can deftly drop in a cover of The First Picture of You by The Lotus Eaters three numbers in, is a bloody star.

Tom Hickox

Tom Hickox

Manchester poetry mafia takeover in the afternoon with a great in-yer-face performance by Mike Garry. He swaggered, shouted, swore and even got people to dance to a poem about former Factory Records boss the late Tony Wilson.

London Grammar headline Friday night and we ask ourselves, ‘why?’You know that point in the evening when you want nothing more than a groovy, happy stupid dance; when you want to get down with your bad self and hug a complete stranger? Well, if that’s your bag don’t book London Grammar.

Fortunately Andy Weatherall and his DJ chums were on hand until 4 am and thankfully groove is in the heart people. We find a castle with a bar and watch old Welsh farmers get pissed and sing songs about sheep.

Saturday is a blur of carnival colour, intimate gigs in a quiet rooms on shiny wooden floors, in particular the great Steve Mason playing a set of his songs with arrangements by composer in residence Joe Duddell. This took place in a hushed packed room of about 50 of us, listening intently as he sang accompanied by a string section. With the sun flaring in through giant windows behind him it was a beautiful experience.

John Shuttleworth

John Shuttleworth

From the sublime to the ridiculous. Less than an hour later and barely 200 yards away John Shuttleworth, aka  Graham Fellows, blows London Grammar away with hilarious renditions of his classics Can’t go back to savoury now, Two margarines on the go and Pigeons in flight.

On the main stage a gentleman by the name of Tom Hickox is a discovery, playing piano and delivering his songs with a deep, not unpleasant voice somewhere akin to David Sylvian and Nick Cave, he captures an unsuspecting crowd and goes down a treat. He mentions a debut album produced by Richard Hawley, must investigate.

Peter Hook

Peter Hook

Peter Hook, along with his band The Light, continue to uphold the Joy Division back catalogue since his acrimonious split with New Order. Despite his voice going he makes a bloody good fist of it and manages to capture some of the Ian Curtis in the songs. And what songs they are: 24 hours, Isolation, She’s Lost Control and of course Love Will Tear Us Apart. Supplemented with a smattering of early New Order and you have a gem of a set.

Beck is an elusive enigmatic individual not prone to hectic touring schedules. It is something of a coup that Festival Number Six secured him as Saturday’s headline act. His was an astonishingly good show, perhaps the best performance of the weekend, with a visually stunning light show and a six-piece band of dynamite players. He looks dapper in his little black hat and seemingly not aged in the 20 years since he burst onto the scene with the fabulous Loser.

Beck

Beck

A big guitar chord heralds the arrival of Devils Haircut, a deranged riff of epic proportions ensues, the crowd go bonkers, superb as that is, the next hour or so remains equally delirious, he gives us Black Tamborine, hell yes, New Pollution, Loser, (a version that will remain with me forever) as well as a covers of I Feel Love, Blue Monday and The Rolling Stone’s Miss You. For the encore there was Sexx Laws and the fantastic Where It’s At, mindblowing.

As for Sunday, Derry’s most famous sons The Undertones played a good set, minus Fergal Sharkey but still rocking. It was great to hear some of their early John Peel endorsed punk rock poppery, I Don’t Wanna Get Over You, Jimmy Jimmy, My Perfect Cousin and Teenage Kicks, the latter prompting hordes of people to descend to the front suddenly realizing who it was as they had been listening to.

Elsewhere on Sunday The Pet Shop Boys did a rousing version of Go West with the Brythoniaid Welsh male voice choir, ex-Fall bassist Steve Hanley talked about the writing of his new book, detailing his time in this most iconic of bands.  With the combined effects of heat exhaustion and rum at one point I nearly bought a bespoke jacket for £400, fortunately the price tag suddenly sobered me up. With aching feet we surrendered to the sun and listened to a bunch of DJs playing German techno on the seafront.
Checkmate  from The Prisoner

Festival Number 6 is all this but so, so much more. There was also comedy, street theatre, very, very hot curries, more authors, artists, the anti-pissing up fences police, real people chess and the lampshade ladies.

Clough Williams Ellis we salute you.

Words by John Haylock, pictures by Arthur Hughes.

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Flowers – Do What You Want To, It’s What You Should Do

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Flowers – Do What You Want To, It’s What You Should Do

Posted on 04 September 2014 by Joe

Here we go, another C86-drenched indie guitar pop album, this time a debut from London trio and Fortuna Pop act Flowers.

But unlike some of the bland indie pop that limps through our letter box Flowers have a bit more about them – specifically one hell of a vocalist in Rachel Kenedy.

flowerspic

Brought together through an advert by drummer Sam Ayres who wanted musicians to help hom make music like “Madonna though a broken tape machine,” the band has ended up sounding like Everything But the Girl through a Talulah Gosh machine.

Kenedy’s vocals is what in layman’s terms are called, proper. She can really sing and belts out each song in her high, emotional almost choral style.

On first track Young there’s a great mix that allows here vocals to shine. It’s a minor epic indie hit in the making but Forget the Fall introduces a more jangly, early Wedding Present feel, which go full throttle by track 3 and sets the tone for the bulk of the album.

It is a style I loved in 1986 and still listen to in nostalgic moments but is not the best fit for her vocals. Having this voice backed by fairly generic indie guitar pop is almost an injustice. It is this odd mix that makes this feel like a debut of a band that is finding its sound and hasn’t quite got it right yet.

That is until you reach track nine, I Love You. Synths are brought to the fore, the jangly guitars are gone and the result is remarkable. Here is a song that deserves to be with her voice. If the band read this I urge them to focus on this track when it comes to making their second album.

There is a truly great band lurking in this album, they just don’t know it yet.

7/10

by Joe Lepper

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