Thursday, 23 September 2010
Friday, 17 September 2010
A thousand years ago an advert proclaimed, ‘You can’t hurry a Murray’s’ referring to an old school boiled mint sweet. Well there is something of the Murray Mint to Her Name is Calla. It’s been a couple of years since I first brushed up against them around the time of the Heritage mini-album and my quest to get a copy of the majestic Condor and River. The full album has been long promised and much anticipated but The Quiet Lamb is now here, well almost. In an arcane and magical sort of way I seem to be the proud owner of the album before my wooden boxed and card-stuffed version comes tumbling through my door next month or so. Consequently I have been treating myself to many-a listen to this 70 minute plus opus.
HNIC don’t do short cuts, neither do they do hurried and in a time where everything seems to be faster, impatient and needing immediacy, this is welcome counterpoint. HNIC isn’t for everyone, this isn’t going to be up your street if you’re looking for a jolly sing-along or a smack between the eyes hook and chorus. Thankfully for an old prog type like me this is no problem. The slow build, reveal and development in The Quiet Lamb of course has its echoes these days in the perhaps unhelpful nomenclature that is post-rock, shoe-gaze and all the rest, but it also brings back more resonant memories of the album structures of Tangerine Dream and going back further still symphonic structures perhaps of Stravinsky or maybe Bruckner . Oh dear that sounds all rather worthy and pretentious, safe to say HNIC do carefully considered and structured music, written with a lot of heart and invested with a deep sense of authenticity and honesty
The Quiet Lamb is no easy piece of work. It does demand to be listened to in its entirety and at over 70 minutes that’s not always easy to achieve. The album mostly does manage to work as a whole, the shorter pieces such as Intervals I and II together with the perhaps too fragile, Homecoming inevitably suffer in comparison with the substantial set pieces across the work, which is a shame because they merit closer attention that simply link pieces.
The major tracks are either monumental pieces in their own rights, like Condor and River, or combine together as ‘movements’ of extended pieces as with Blood Promise and its associated track (and personal favourite)Pour More Oil and the three part suite The Union. IMHO I might have preferred Long Grass and Thief to be put together in a similar fashion but that’s not how it ended up.
Whilst there is of course a pervading melancholia to the set, inevitable given the provenance of some of the songs, it doesn’t feel maudlin or depressive to me. As you would hope there is a real sense of progression from earlier recordings, greater sensitivity in recording, Tom Morris’ vocals sounding much stronger and more assured, the greater use of horns and strings add splendid layers to the sound, altogether a much more grow-up and mature affair. An interesting little history of HNCI can be found here
I know from reading the excellent and helpful track by track article by Tom in The Line of Best Fit that the trilogy that is The Union is clearly an important collection for HNIC. It is in truth, well for me anyway, the most difficult part of the album and in particular the Recidivist middle section. Whilst I am growing to love the trilogy, the Recidivist still feel s like it needed a bit more work and maybe a little more discipline and structure imposed upon the second half of this very personal and raw piece. The final part Into the West is indeed a dense full on gallop off into the proverbial sunset replete with Mexicana horns, pounding drums and everything including the kitchen sink thrown into the mix.The Quiet Lamb has been more than worth the wait and is certainly worth ordering up from their Label Denovali . A significant piece of work, at times soaring at others almost pastoral, but throughout imbued with an intensity and personality so sadly lacking in much output these days. This is band that deserves a greater audience and a band that promises even better things to come – one of my albums of the year, bless their cotton socks.
Thursday, 2 September 2010
The tickets for Jonsi at the Colston Hall were bought months ago on the basis of an album I had then yet to hear and which I still don’t know very well. As it turned out the show was the night of the first day back to work after the holidays and I was in two minds whether to go or not. The Lad and I did go though and to what must perhaps be the most astonishing gig I have been to.
There are times when music is transcendent, taking you to another level of being (promise no shrooms were consumed), however fleetingly. These are the special moments, the moments when you are so absorbed, so transported, and in truth such moments are still rare.
This was one of those nights. At times it felt impossible to take it all in – the music, the musicianship, the animations, lights and camera feeds all blending together. Its not often possible or appropriate to describe a concert as beautiful, but this was – the fallen-angelic falsetto, the melodies woven into sweeping sound-scapes, sometimes fragile and faltering at other times majestic and symphonic.
To tell the truth I had little idea which songs were played (but I am assuming that the set list is pretty much as per previous shows as below, virtually the whole album plus a bit – which goes to show how rubbish I am at not recognising these extraordinary live versions). Whether he was singing in English, Icelandic, Hopplandish or double-dutch I wasn’t sure and it mattered not a jot.
After buying the tickets I read glowing reports of the show and they were all true. You could see the show night after night and still get something new from it. The level of meticulous planning and preparation (by 59 Productions, see vid clip below) was amazing and of course necessarily made it far from spontaneous, but there was a completeness, a wholeness, carefully judged and precisely delivered and still in a manner that made it feel special despite the dozens of times they must have performed this set now. The video below gives a small sense of the intensity of the show, but is not able to properly pass on the actual experience of Grow Till Tall, the closer.
A couple of years ago we, as a family, took a helicopter flight over Mount St Helens and into the caldera itself. I was so awestruck that I kept forgetting to breath out, amazed at what we were seeing. All be it in a different context last night too was breath-taking. A brilliant, uplifting and astounding show.
Tuesday, 3 August 2010
A minor coincidence set me thinking today. Along with countless others I am now the owner of the new Arcade Fire album, Suburbs, greedily gobbling up the music, hoping it will have a similar effect to the first time I heard them (almost inevitably not). Bouncing through Tweetdeck tonight and up pop a series of fevered tweets from @hernameiscalla, a band that also help recreate in me that elusive sense of excitement, the sense of something new and to be discovered. The tweets, once joined up , read as follows:
“my thoughts on the new #arcadefire - i do really like it, but a big part of this is cuz of how important the band is to me ...and how an album on suburban life & growin up makes me think of the band soundtracking my exams, feelin lost at uni, loneliness & boredom...... only arcade fire & broken social scene have followed me from gcse & school, to my halls, lonely houses & then love & working life...”
Isn’t it strange the effect a band, an album or sometimes just a track can have? How looking back they become inextricably associated with a moment, a period, an emotion? I am afraid that Arcade Fire don’t take me back to my school days, you have to travel a wee bit further for that.
The guilty pleasure of my teenage love affair with Yes ironically came right back around when, years later, Heart of the Sunrise became the unforgettable, and deeply appropriate, audio track to the journey home at 1am after the birth of my son.
Writing now I realise how impossible it is to try and succinctly attach specific music to life stages without writing a book and boring everyone to death. But the attachments are there, and sometimes only really clear after the event. The Joni Mitchell album Hissing of Summer Lawns is an unexpectedly durable example, at the time my introduction to elements of jazz and the as then unnamed ‘world music’ elements, later to reflect as it did in Harry’s House my own experience of becoming dislocated from home life through the pressures of ‘business’ life.
More recently music has again become centre stage. After years of not going to gigs, the Lad hit fourteen and off we went. Anally I track all our gigs, the supports, the experience of the night, the triumphs, the lesser nights. With the valued input of @binmouth and IDS we share new hopes and passions – The National have and will keep one of those few treasured places in our hearts - all the new bands that come and go, the impassioned early days of bands, those other artists that stay and grow and don’t grow stale.
The thing that has changed of late is the ability to discover bands and musicians from around the country and the rest of the world. It seems only yesterday that discovering new music was asking to listen to a 45rpm in a booth in record shop down town. The internet has revolutionised all that - it is almost impossible to keep track of all that is out there, trying to find the music that will connect with you, resonate and embed itself, become that part of your own soundtrack. But what a damn fine problem it is, this is a blessed time.
Friday, 30 July 2010
Well it seems an age that we have been waiting the debut album from the glorious but improbably named Her Name is Calla (I have often wondered but never had the temerity to ask what that’s all about). There of course have been the various EP’s and little snippets of joy including Long Grass, Heritage, Blood Promise and the magnificent Condor and River that first introduced them to me and I have posted a couple of short bits here and here. This later track and a couple of the others are included, I believe in reworked fashion, on The Quiet Lamb debut released on Denovali records ( and their frankly befuddling website).
The lovely chaps at @hernameiscalla (for you Twitter following types) have quite properly been trumpeting some nice, positive reviews of the album but we mere mortals are still holding on for a pre-order date, now expected in September for an October release. HNIC (sorry to introduce an acronym, ah OK I instantly rescind it) hernameiscalla do put out their material in some charming packaging ideal for an artefact collector like me, including a wooden box with bits and bobs inside for Long Grass and a make-it-yourself card box for Blood Promise (I think it was that). So I have high hopes for the wooden box presentation for The Quiet Lamb.
Now in a shameless, but ultimately effective ploy, to garner more Twitter followers there was a promise of an album related ‘goodie’ once a certain threshold had been reached, and true to their word the fine fellows put up Pour More Oil from the new album up on SoundCloud for all to enjoy. A great swelling sound filled out with brass and strings, all boding very well for October.
A pre-album tour-ette is on the cards and dates are up on Myspace amongst other places. Disappointingly the only one I have a chance of getting to is Cardiff and that’s a long shot – so still no live experience for me.... any chance of some post launch dates, maybe one around Bristol or so...
It seems an age since I first heard Shearwater on an NPR podcast (what would I do without NPR and the other US public service stations – where’s the UK equivalent?) and tried to get hold of Rook, their second album. There was something immediately affecting about their music, an odd combination of fragility and strength. Golden Archipelago, their third offering, must be one of the albums of this year – graceful, undeniably beautiful, full of regret and anger.
The fact that they decided to cruise by a strange little social club in leafy, suburban Bristol was too good to be true and so Mrs HC and I rocked up super early (my fault, I must have a good spot!) in the golden, warm evening sun. A strange, tiny (what maybe 150 people when its maxed out?), venue with a stage area whose size, according to Jonathon Meiburg’s quoting of his his tour notes is ‘variable , adequate’ – “you know you’re in England when you see notes like that” he joshed.
Consequently we were at most six feet from the stage; it felt like a domestic and intimate setting for friends and family, amid a crowd made up of your favourite uncles and skinny young things reading Russian literature. How heartening it is that, save for the execrable teen stars and plastic pop bands, gigs crowds nowadays are an eclectic mix of people and ages brought together by a common passion ( oops, prose getting a bit purple this morning, better take a pill!)
Support was courtesy of a Nils Frahm, a Berliner playing unaccompanied piano pieces. Seemed like a nice young chap even if his soft German accent couldn’t help bring to mind @stephenfry and his imitation of a German gay... The pieces were mesmerising, played with such fluency and heart. Reminiscent at times of Philip Glass structures but with emotional chord progressions and a cinematic quality. Not easy to deliver music like this in such a personal, close proximity environment, but he had me from early in the first piece. CD duly bought.
The Shearwater chaps (and lady-chap) wandered around the instruments and micro-stage, tuning, re-positioning and then with no to-do they were off. The albums give me goose bumps and I have to admit given the right place and mental state, bring a tear to my eye. Of course some of the finesse of the recordings cannot be reproduced live but the class of playing is there, the band members awareness of each other, and the sheer quality of the songs all more than make up for any minor technical losses.
The set was a sensible and rewarding mix of stuff from all three albums, the latest of course getting due prominence. The first four of five songs were played through back to back and I wondered if we would get no interaction form the band, but then a bit of banter broke out and the personal connection was made. As so often live , material comes over in a more muscular way so the contrast between songs like Corridors for which we were asked to ‘hold onto our hats’ and the delicate and heart rending songs like Hidden Lakes and Missing Islands was even more marked; a credit to their ability to let go when needed but other times play with control and constraint.
I, and I am sure everyone else there, could have listened all night, captivated by Jonathon Meiburg’s vocal delivery and the bands multi-instrumental talents. Called back of course for the encore they finally left after delivering the majestic Snow Leopard. Quite sublime.
Of course a stop by the merch stand was required and the purchase of Herr Frahm’s cd and a suitably elephantine sized Shearwater T was made. The super-cool thing about gigs of this size is you get a real chance to meet the band and so I was genuinely thrilled (what a girlie groupie I am) to shake the hand of Jonathon Meiburg and have a (frankly fawning and gloopy) chat with him. But it is brilliant to be able to tell someone face to face just how much you value their music. What a lovely chap too – and he promises to come back to Brizzle as well.
Bless them for taking me out of myself for an evening amid the grinding stupidity of dealing with the new dogma-ridden policies of our lovely new ‘coalition’. Music like this will be around long after their petty politics have disappeared from view
Sunday, 18 July 2010
Friday, 2 July 2010
Sunday, 27 June 2010
Conceivably the hottest day of the year; England at its June best. Young Binmouth and the Fair Nicola cruised by for a spot of lunch and a quick look around the HC ‘manor’ before affording me a rare luxury of being driven up the Brum to meet up with IDS and see the indescribably brilliant Broken Social Scene.
Its seems an age ago that the Lad and I saw BSS at the old Brum Academy around the time of the eponymous album release (when Bill Priddle broke his collar bone just prior to the gig), I remember it being a tad too ‘out there’ for the Lad at the time at a tender 14 or 15 years. Earlier this year Binmouth (aka Peeblemeister - better decide what to call him methinks!)and I saw BSS rip it up as support for Pavement in London only serving to whet the appetite for a full headline set.
I will draw a veil over Sky Larkin as support, nothing terrible just didn’t do it for me.
Stage was set with a million mics and kit showing up how tight it would be to squeeze the whole BSS crew on stage and with no cheesy fanfare there they were and off into World Sick. Impossible to keep track of the set list but as well as the new album stuff (how drop dead gorgeous is Sweetest Kill the truly fab and brilliant stuff form afore and especially the eponymous album stuff – the extraordinary 7/4 Shoreline, Fire-Eyed Boy and Super Connected to name but a few.
The playing is of course uniformly sparkling, Justin Peroff’s drumming inspired, jazzy and magnificent; Andrew Whiteman has that slightly spacey/starey look but plays a mean Gretsch Tennessean with some intriguing leg poses going on (physical tip for Binmouth??); Brendan Canning a little like a blond/grey Jarvis Cocker according to the Fair Nicola and Kevin Drew the essential lynch pin, disarmingly looking a little like a talented Russell Brand. Lisa Lobsinger bringing an other-wordly quality with her dreamy, Stevie Nicks-esque delivery, and her wafting on and off stage. With the full nine(or was it ten?) BSS-ers on stage, including the horns section, there is that wonderful sense of barely contained musical chaos, except you know full well that it is rock solid and they are just too good not to know where it’s all heading.
The hour and a half set disappeared all too soon, a strict curfew for the grim club session that was to follow. You just knew that they would have played and played given the chance. The fabulous and unsettling thing about a collective such as BSS is that the very fragility of the set up makes it something special, an intensity that others only dream of, yet it could all fall apart so easily. So thanks be to be able to experience it whilst it’s here, a thing of beauty, passion and inspiration. The monumental and triumphant Meet Me in the Basement still in our ears we buy our shirts (a big Boo to Mrs IDS for not liking them!) and rejoin the Brummies outside just starting their own sweaty club nights.
Oh and the new Alpine Earplugs work a real treat!