Friday, 18 December 2009

CD's of 2009

Is it unbearably tragic to do a Best of... listing? Tough, everyone seems to be doing it. I skimmed the NPR list and found much I agreed with and thought this possibly not a good thing, after all should I be aligned with such cross-Atlantic preferences? But then I looked at the Drowned In Sound version which was even more unsatisfactory, trying so hard as it seemed to be oh so out there and hip... Anyhoo for the record and for what its worth here is my top 10 of 2009 - but even as I write I can't be sure - oh to be decisive

No 1 - AndrewBird - Noble Beast

Possibly my most frequently played album of the year, quite mesmeric and beguiling. Andrew Bird Myspace

No 2 - Lonely Dear - Dear John

A mate of Mr Bird, this album too was on heavy rotation, an almost symphonic flavour to it at times. Lonely Dear Myspace

No 3 - Grizzly Bear - Vekatimest

This one took way to long to get under my skin, but it has and a very fine set of work it is too. Grizzly Bear Myspace

No 4 - Dark Soul of the Night

Crying shame this hasn't officially seen the light of day, so many good things here even for someone who doesn't normally like the Various Artist thing

Sorry the Youtube is vid free - but my absolute fav from the album

No 5 - Scott Matthews - Elsewhere

A great talent, superb musician and a great live performer. This second album was a grower. Scott Matthew Myspace

The Youtube vid is frankly a bit duff, but a great track

No 6 - Idlewild - Post Electric Blues

Just about my favourite band (this side of the water) come back with an album that is a real return to form - bless 'em. Idlewild Myspace

Oh for goodness sake - no Youtube of tracks from this album... come on

No 7 - Silversun Pickups - Swoon

Winner of the coolest album cover of the year... and the music ain't half bad either. Silversun Pickups Myspace

No 8 - Wheat - White Ink Black Ink

Brilliant - back on form and a whole album of good stuff. Wheat Myspace

No 9 - There Will Be Fireworks

From the slew of Scots bands these stand out for me, a great self release, would be good to see them live... hint, hint... There Will be Fireworks Myspace

'Midfield Maestro' by There Will Be Fireworks from Peter Gerard on Vimeo. OK Vimeo quality so much better than Youtube - but load times...

No 10 - We Were Promised Jetpacks - These Four Walls

A great, angry bunch of chaps, and a fie debut album - the third Scots band in the top ten this year.... WWPJ Myspace

Quiet Little Voices... ahhhh

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Homour Before Glory

I was a bit of Forward Russia fan, not least because of their extraordinary live performances, and when they announced a hiatus/break I was somewhat resigned to the fact that this was band-speak for an amicable split.

Well no news on FR stuff but more recently their guitarist Whiskas has resurfaced under the Honour Before Glory moniker. A few acoustic sets in Germany, apparently a Leeds date in the new year, and a couple of tracks available for download. Steve Lamacq a long standing FR fan has blogged about HBG recently.

All well worth a listen and strangely new but familiar stuff it is...

Honour Before Glory Myspace

Honour Before Glory website

Honour Before Glory Bandcamp for download and sign up

Whiskas Blog

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Scott Matthews - Birmingham Town Hall

A little bit of heaven sandwiched between two slices of misery. Perhaps unwittingly going to a gig in central Brum on a Friday night with a Christmas fair in full swing, a CBSO concert at Symphony Hall and the Paramore at the NIA wasn't such a piece of great timing. Almost an hour to park meant no time to eat anything save a hideous Mucky D's for me, the Lad and his better half, fresh from her first term at Cardiff; and the IDS was having problems getting into fair Birmingham town, so we were all late in for the start

The (relatively) newly refurbished Town Hall is a grand affair, comfy seats and all, but not perhaps the acoustically most forgiving venue with sounds ricocheting around the room despite the off perspex baffles hanging from the ceiling

James Summerfield was on first for a short but charming set not dissimilar from the one he played at the SM gig in Wolverhampton earlier this year. Mr Summerfield is a fine fellow, with some lovely tunes. Understandably grateful to SM for his continued support he should none the less learn to be a little less self deprecating and be a bit more comfortable with his own obvious talent. Still his apparently relaxed manner and gentle banter was a perfect opener.

Jo Hamilton drifted on accompanied by her bassist and keyboard/percussionist, towering over the mic in her over-long black trousered outfit. Having admitted to a horrendous cold that was all to evident when she spoke, you couldn't help but feel that she was courageous to come on at all. Her illness was invisible from her performance, an extraordinary voice and two fine colleagues. Perhaps the music was too melancholic for the occasion, but I was alone from we four to fine something quite beguiling and beautiful in the set, maybe in a more intimate space, perhaps on my own late at night.... the skills and musicianship is clearly there in spades, worthy of trying again it seems to me.

Mr Matthews on finally and opened with a couple of solo pieces and then one accompanied by Dan the dapper chappie with the hat. Then the remainder of the band came on, Sam the drummer and a now forgotten (sorry) bass player. A mix of stuff from the latest and first albums, everyone was in fine fettle, easy ways and expert playing. Mr M 'fessed to be being very nervous but I saw none of it.

There is something even more endearing about his music in a live context, his voice more abstract, a fluency to his playing all no doubt developed by a few years of live gigging now. I have quite forgotten the set order and it matters not, he could have played all night as far as I am concerned, by turns vaguely psychedelic folky rock-out and delicate, personal acoustic.

His ability to tune his guitar for the next song, despite a busy back stage helper, hasn't improved since we last saw him. But this helps with the between song banter and the curiously matey but nervous bonhomie.

A fine and moving hour and forty minutes set finished all too soon and we were off back into the Brummy Friday night, a few words with Mr Summerfield and then back to the car and to sit for 45 minutes to exit courtesy of the outpouring of the Paramore- ites from the NIA. There you have it, the sandwich - but worth every bit of the gruelling mess than can be Birmingham for Mr M's music. He really should be better and more widely appreciated, as the IDS said, with all the homogenised and sanitised 'talent' in the likes of X Factor clogging our ears, who in their right mind wouldn't prefer some genuine original talent like Scott Matthews?

The incomparable Elusive video below and other stuff on Youtube

Scott Matthews Myspace
James Summerfield Myspace
Jo Hamilton Myspace

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Kings of Convenience – Declaration of Dependence

It’s been three years since Riot on an Empty Street but at last here we have the third offering from Norwegian lo-fi heroes KoC. Sitting here on a perfectly horrid Sunday afternoon with the gales blowing and the rain a-lashing there seems no better music to listen to.

It’s a collection of unfailingly delicate and sensitive pieces, just two voices one steel string and one nylon string guitar and the very occasional snatch of viola or stand up double bass. The voices interweaving in a seamless way, the playing deft and accurate, nothing flashy or over-stated, the whole building a luscious sound-scape that lulls and cocoons, soothing away the horrors of the world outside.

The three years since the last offering haven’t seen them tack a hugely different tack stylistically or musically. These songs were apparently all written whilst out touring the world, written in concert halls and other on-the-road places, and they have attempted to capture that sort of reverby sound. Ok not music to rock out to, nor best suited for every situation, but given the right time and place, unbeatable.

KoC Myspace

KoC Website

We Were Promised Jetpacks – The Cooler

As is our way, the Lad and I turn up at the venue for opening time, conscious that this odd little venue has few spots that give a good view of the low-built stage. We needn’t have worried as for some forty minutes or so we were two of no more than a dozen inside the dubious confines of the Cooler. I must admit for some time I wondered if I had got the wrong date.

Finally spotting a schedule stuck to the wall we learned that there would be no support band tonight (surely there must be countless bands in Bristol keen for a live slot... promoters get your fingers out). Instead there was a DJ type who played a selection of non-offensive but reasonably nondescript tracks for the best part of two hours... ho hum.

Leading up to appearance time there was a steady but slender stream of punters to hear the rather excellent WWPJ – in the end perhaps amounting to, let’s be generous, 100 souls... where was everyone, I can’t be so ahead of the curve as all that, or maybe others aren’t as taken with this collection of young Scots lads as I?

WWPJ tumble down the stairs, through the ’crowd’ and onto the stage at a shade past nine thirty and proceed to blast out a very muscular set that amounts to the whole of their These Four Walls album. It must be hard to give it your all to such a meagre collection of people, but to my mind they did a more than passable attempt – despite being rather hung-over from the previous night in Amsterdam.

Apparently they are weary of playing Quiet Little Voices (see Drowned in Sound interview) but this didn’t show. Hard to pull out favourites but I must admit to being taken by Conductor and Ships with Holes. With just the one album to their name and with it all dispatched, after some words of thanks they exited the stage and back up the stairs at 10.25, leaving us also to make a sharp exit back home.

A slightly odd gig then – WWPJ we fine and enjoyable and you can’t help but think they would be better still with a larger crowd, one that had been warmed up by another band, and then a slightly expanded WWPJ cannon of tracks to hear. Don’t stop now chaps, there is much more to come you can’t help but feel, oh and do come back to Bristol. In the meantime babz54321 has posted a whole series of vids from their show at the Borderline just prior to the Bristol show...

WWPJ Myspace

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Andrew Bird - Union Chapel

Well going to a gig on your own is not the best was to see an act but then again sometimes there is no alternative. This time the lad blew me out and went to Muse instead ... but here I was at the Union Chapel in Highbury, possibly one the best venues to see anyone not a straight rock band.

Tonight was the magnificent Andrew Bird, who produced one of the best, if not the best album of the year, Noble Beast.
Support was from Moriarty who were new to me but they put on a great, professional and polished set. Their vocalist has a strong, pure voice ideally suited to the collection of Americana-blues songs. Their harmonica player was outstanding - not always an instrument that I love but when played this well, capable of great things and real emotion. A set all too soon over but with a genuinely warm reception from the crowd.

As the crew cleared the stage it became obvious that Mr Bird would not have the accompanying band that played with him earlier I'm the year in Bristol. And true enough he popped onto the stage as alone as I was, only infinitely more talented.

What you lose in terms of drive and energy from a backing band you make up with, especially in a relatively intimate and acoustically sensitive venue as this, in crystal clarity and an opportunity to see and hear everything that is played.

He is a genuinely virtuoso player - his violin playing is legion, his whistling strong and clear, his guitar playing is up there with the best of them, he has a great and distinctive voice and he can do it all together with the aid of his quick moving stockinged feet around the myriad loop pedals. It is impressive enough that he can manage to do all this but the fact that the result is so brilliant, almost symphonic on ocassions, is nothing short of genius.

The set was made up of some songs unknown to me, some by his own admission a mashup of his own songs (like the mash of Sweetbreads and Dark Matter), some welcome new songs like Lucitania, and of course some old favourites like Natural Disaster that was sublime.

The crowd was strangely subdued, perhaps the influence of the venue, perhaps in some sort of hushed awe, I can't believe that having sold out two night it was indifference.

Of course having to catch the last train West meant that I had to leave well before the end, but better three quarters of the gig than none.

A remarkable man producing innovative, quality music with depth and resonance, how fortunate to have seen him twice in a year that has had him touring almost continually. I wouldn't be surprised if he heads off for some peace quiet and R&R for a while.

Andrew Bird Myspace
Moriarty Myspace
Moriarty Web site

Monday, 2 November 2009

Stornoway – Sheldonian Theatre Oxford

Two gigs in two days is something of an unusual occurrence, all the more so when the two gigs in question are as different as Idlewild and Stornoway, their linkages being only the accidental Scottish name and the affection for things folky.

Stornoway have built a strong following through their live sets and have picked up plaudits in the national as well as the music press. They also seem to have a bit of a reputation for playing in slightly unusual venues and this, first non-classical, show at the grand and impressive Sheldonian must be the most unusual. Billed as a home-coming gig for the band, the thousand seats were sold out (although ‘seats’ can only be an approximate term for the wooden benches up high). The further unusual component was the use of the Oxford Millennium orchestra to act both as support and accompaniment to the band.

Writing this as I do overhead Greenland en route to Denver, it all seems strangely surreal now; the determinedly Oxford crowd, the august surroundings, the young band on the cusp of bigger success all nerves and anxious in front of a wildly supportive home crowd.

The Oxford Millennium Orchestra seemed to made up of the local college students, playing well together. Mendelssohn’s Fingles Cave was a welcome reminder of music from my childhood and Vaughan Williams selection of English folk inspired tunes was an appropriate prelude to the folk-laden melodies to come.

With no recording contact at present, or at least no label (although and album is promised) the music of Stornoway has had to circle around Myspace and other online sites like iTunes etc, one of which provides chargeable download of four tracks. (and which I can no longer find...) and means that my knowledge of their output is pretty limited. But no worry it is the sort of music that is immediate and accessible without being trite and predictable; strong melodies, intelligent lyrics and accomplished playing.

He band, or at least Brian Briggs as their front-man, were perhaps understandably nervous faced with this their largest crowd to date, a heart ‘beating like a jungle drum’ seemed a fair summing up. Indeed the first one or two songs had a hesitancy to them, but his voice was strong and true with a character all of its own. Each song was welcomed as a triumph by the crowd.

However it was whether orchestra joined in that the set really came to life. Adding orchestral arrangements can be a hit and miss affair, but here it was a resounding hit, adding depth and texture but no maudlin sentimentality, all credit to the two band members who wrote the score. Zorbing and Unfaithful were excellent in this form but it was On the Rocks that was the stand out accomplishment – a triumph indeed.

Having exhausted their catalogue there was no encore, just an exhortation for the crowd to give a unified scream as a last way to unsettle the staff at the Sheldonian and a final appearance by Mr Briggs to say this had been the best night of his life. That it may have been but you cannot help but feel that there will be other and greater highs for this band which, if it can ‘let go’ a bit more and a bit earlier, must be on the threshold of wider, greater and deserved success.

Stornoway Myspace

Friday, 30 October 2009

Idlewild – Birmingham Academy

The Lad, Mr International Decorator Supremo and I lined up a little forlornly outside the new Birmingham Academy with another couple of dozen people to see the perennially wonderful Idlewild. Alongside us were 2000 of Birmingham finest 15 year olds in all their finery waiting to get into see Calvin Harris (apparently voluntarily though heaven knows why). Once inside we took our places with childlike enthusiasm and expectation by the crash barrier up front. I am curiously thrilled and disappointed in equal parts that a band like Idlewild now play to 600 capacity halls rather than the 1500 or 2000 of old, but then I guess it’s a crowd of serious fans not the passing faddists of Calvin Harris et al.

The Olympic Swimmers (renamed from the curious Hindle Wakes of before) gave a, too brief, fine account of themselves, although apparently one down due to illness and left in the bus. Their two track CD, lovingly hand printed by front girl Susie Liddell a very modest two quid from the merch stand.

After the inevitable faffing around of roadies etc our wee Scots heroes took to the stage around nine OK and proceeded to knock out one brilliant song after another from a set list that lasted for an hour and a half. Almost impossible to pick out particular highlights but A Modern Way of Letting Go is affine exit.

I have to say the band looked like they were really enjoying the experience which is always good to see. The new album, the break from the confines of previous labels and perhaps the shows in Scotland and London doing back to back performances of the back catalogue seems to have brought them to refreshed vigour and energy.

Having remarked that you don’t see much moshing/crowdsurfing these days (maybe I go to the wrong gigs?), the exuberant crowd got pretty damned close in the second half of the show, and if I was less restrained I might have joined that would be a sight!

A chap who must have been almost right next to me video’d a couple of songs and can be seen on the Facebook pages here and here– I know such clips are only really any good for those remembering and pretty rubbish for anyone not there, but there you go.

So a wonderful, uplifting gig, nothing like it when it goes so brilliantly right, you step outside the daily humdrum and into another place, bless their little beardy faces

Idlewild Facebook

Olympic Swimmers Myspace

Photo credit: International Decorator Supremo

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Editors at Colston Hall

Having looked forward for some time to see Airship as the first support for Editors it was more than a little irritating to find that the doors open time was clearly a figment of someone’s imagination and we toddled into the hall just as they walked off. It seems far from fair to have a band go on to just a handful of people – lets hope they don’t suffer the same ignominy elsewhere on the tour.

Wintersleep, the second support , were also a band on my ‘want to see’ list. Welcome to the Night Sky is a fine album and they dutifully rolicked through some of the tracks including Drunk on Aluminium, Archaeologists and the like. The lead vocals, certainly at first, sounded like a pale imitation of those on record, but they did improve through the set. A good set, well delivered, it unfortunately to my mind went out on a bit of a duff track and would have been better using a more accessible and immediate song to leave with.

Editors came on all black and moody onto a black and moody stage with an industrial scale light wall behind and went straight into the opener and title track from the new album. Straight through into another two or three songs, mixing old and new. Although not a big fan of the Dépêche Mode era synth stuff, it must be said that the additions make a welcome change and enrichment of the sound, away from what is now a little predictable indie crash and wallop. Of the newer tracks, You Don’t Know Love and Eat Raw Meat=Blood Drool stood out as of course did Papillon as the penultimate encore (should have saved it ‘til last methinks). Papillon, with its disco syth overtones and the slightly bizarre ‘Kicks like a sleep twitch’ line, got me as close as I ever come to leaping up and down in front of the stage (so inelegant and unbecoming at my age).

Stroudie Tim Smith was in fine voice, lets hope it holds up for the full three months of the tour, a strangely rich and sonorous voice. Physically he is an odd amalgam of Ian Anderson and some hybrid Dickensian character – all distorted face expressions and striking demented angular poses, throwing himself around the stage with abandon.

The whole show was at full tilt, high energy, roaringly loud, blinding lights, Smiths frantic activity counterpointed by his colleagues restraint. The relative lack of interaction with the crowd or backchat reinforced the sense that here might be a band hoping for stadium access and the detached pomp and bombast that the show leaned towards. The vacuity of some of the lyrics is all the more apparent live, however it was impossible not to leave impressed, energised and more enthusiastic about Editors than I had dared hope

Editors website

Editors Myspace

Wintersleep Myspace

Airship Myspace

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

The Duke and The King – Nothing Gold Can Stay

I have come to this rather late, released this year but obviously early in the summer. Purchased now through the recommendation of our local independent record store Kanes Records in Stroud when I was wandering aimlessly looking for inspiration. The Duke and the King comprises Simone Felice (of the Felice Brothers), Bobby Bird, Reverend Loveday and Simi Stone and lay down some immensely satisfying , alt country/americana type music.

There was a strange sense of recognition of these tracks from the first listen, almost old favourites somehow.

Melancholic I think sums up the vibe throughout, a little weary and careworn. The short suite of ten songs all has a sense of longing, loss, of time passing, people making choices and finding themselves or those close to them in a place they hadn’t foreseen or imagined.

Driving across the lower Cotswolds towards Burford, all autumnal and changing, the end of another season, another summer gone, leaves turning golden and amber, seemed a highly appropriate context for hearing this wistful album for the first time. Maybe I am reading too much into it all but recognition of all our mortal destinies seems to resonate, perhaps a sense of regret even.

The Duke and the King Myspace

The Duke and the King Label

The Felice Brothers Myspace

Monday, 5 October 2009

The Twilight Sad - Forget the Night Ahead

The second full length offering from the Twilight Sad sees them, if anything, darker and more unsettled than on Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters or the intervening EP's. Titles like I Became a Prostitute, The Neighbours Can't Breathe are testament to that. So too are the snatched lyrics - 'There's people downstairs', 'You're the bearer of a womb without love', ' They put up no fight.. we'll bury them all' - all lay down an underpinning but still opaque sense of threat and foreboding.

All sounds pretty gloomy stuff but there is something I can't stop listening to here. James Graham's vocals are in a heavy Glaswegian brogue that adds an urgency and directness to the already oddly threatening lyrics, Andy MacFarlanes sundry noises, accordion and signature guitar sound (reminiscent of the Kitchens of Distinction sound) are under scored by the bass lines and squelchy drum sounds from Craig Orzel and Mark Devine. Given the uncompromisingly miserabilist lyrics you do feel that a night out with Mr Graham might be quite a depressing affair.

Although so far it seems to be the early tracks of the album that have burned their way into the memory - especially I Became a Prostitute and Seven Years of Letters, I am sure that the later tracks will inveigle their way in, perhaps That Birthday Present for example (that really does sound like a very grumpy and miserable Kitchens of Distinction somehow)

Well really surely the clutch of Scottish bands must be complete now? Twilight Sad, Frightened Rabbit, We Were Promised Jetpacks and There Will be Fireworks - to a man all with enigmatic band names. Worth a mention too that on the day of this new Twilight Sad album comes the official release of those other Scottish heroes Idlewild's latest and self released album, Post Electric Blues

Twilight Sad website
Twilight Sad Myspace
Idlewild website
Idelwild Myspace
Kitchens of Distinction Myspace
Stephen Hero/Kitchens of Distinction website

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

David Sylvian - Manafon

A long time fan of Mr Sylvian, the owner of possibly one of the most beautiful and affecting voices, many of his albums are right up there with my long terms favourite recordings – Gone to Earth, Dead Bees on a Cake, the Nine Horses output and the Robert Fripp collaboration

I still get excited by the news of a new release but latterly I have to be more circumspect about my enthusiasm. Not because he isn’t still in fine voice and clearly immensely able and talented but albums like Blemish don’t swing it for me – too raw and personal, I feel like some sort of voyeur into a hideously painful episode of his life. Added to this the super minimal quality, the merest fragments of melody make the tracks both hard work and difficult to reward with multiple listens.

Aware that his personal life has been taking continued hits, the announcement of his new album Manafon means that I wonder if the bitterness and hurt shown through the Nine Horses project, beautiful and listenable though it was, is still there to the fore. All the signs from the limited listening available are that yes, and perhaps more exposed than ever, together with the fact that the music is back to the bare, minimal style that I find so hard to warm to. I appreciate that artists, especially those with a capital ‘A’ (much like Scott Walker and his recent projects) will want to push their music, stretch the boundaries, it s just that sometime it makes it wretchedly hard to travel with them. I find myself yearning for the richness and complexity of past music, the high quality playing, the fabulous vocals, I don’t mind if the subject matter is either opaque or transparently harsh but I need something to hook onto, something I can return to without feeling either stupid that I don’t ‘get it’ or aurally brutalised.

No doubt I will gather the album in, but I do hope that his life picks up soon, a spot of happiness wouldn’t go amiss now and then, give us something to transcend the greyness of our daily lives. It doesn’t have to be happy clappy but maybe something with depth, richness, something that rewards the listener. Maybe its just me...

Well here are two vids from past days, Darkest Dreaming and the utterly sublime Orpheus

David Sylvian website

Samandisound website

Manafon website for samples and explanations

David Sylvian fan Myspace and another

Monday, 21 September 2009

Volcano Choir - Unmap

Well this was all a bit of news to me til a friend of the lad sent a link over. The one track on the Myspace, Island IS, was an intriguing and teasing one that promised good things to come. Well the CD was released here today and its in my grubby hands and been through the car player a few times already.

As you might expect the influence of Monsieur Bon Iver is strong, the falsetto voice to the fore, with even more impossible to decipher lyrics than on For Emma. The sound too is very familiar - laid back meandering, fleeting glimpses of a hook and a tune from chaps from Collection of Colonies of Bees, but richer and more obviously 'peopled' than Bon Iver

After only few listens there are as yet few tunes to hum along with, although more may emerge slowly, and there is a sense of greater experimentation, almost an art-rock album with only a slight taste of the rock part

The first five tracks are all fine affairs, rather beautiful concoctions of sound an voice, woven together in an almost hypnotic fashion the later tracks have yet to impress to the same extent but maybe they need more time and space.

Some wags are hailing this as one of those genre defining/changing albums, well I have my doubts about that, but none the less it is good piece of work that suggests more rewards the longer it is given. To be honest it might serve as a goof introduction of the possible delights of Collection of Colonies of Bees (what a fine elliptical name they have)

Volcano Choir Myspace
Volcano Choir Jagjaguar
Volcano Choir NPR
Collection of Colonies of Bees Website
Collection of Colonies of Bees Myspace

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Wheat - White Ink Black Ink

After a couple of months rather vainly searching for the next musical obsession it seems like its here. OK I know it came out earlier this summer but it seems absolutely absent in UK stores, but now I have an mp3 download and a hard copy on its way for the US.

Wheat's White Ink Black Ink is frankly a rather wondrous affair. I rather knew that unless it was an absolute stinker then it would be a favourite, I am afraid that they can do little wrong in my book - after all a band who produces the practically perfect in every way Don't I Hold You (despite the odd video) can be forgiven many a slip along the way

Beset by label problems and a less than prolific output; Hope and Adams and Medeiros seem a long time ago and the more recent Everyday I Said a Prayer was a little hit and miss, there has been quite a wait for this bit of product

White Ink Black Ink is a real return to top form, hook laden tunes, quirky bits and bobs and the characteristic vocal delivery of Steve Levesque that works for me every time. the album seems more focussed on the listener with its more tightly drawn songs clocking in around 3 minutes, more immediate without being slight or fleeting

HOTT (Half of the Time) kicks it all off rather excellently setting up expectations for the tracks to come, followed by Changes Is - vid below - (no matter quite what 'changes is the better part of me, boom boom' really means, tho I kind of get the sense). My Warning with its great bass line and the layered harmonies working their magic and then El Sincero and its almost out of tune vocals, destined to be a classic. A personal fav though is Living To Die with the great loping drum and an almost self-perpetuating chorus/verse thing - honestly this cold roll on for 30 minutes and I wouldn't get bored

Another half dozen three minute gems and all too soon its over. Never having had the chance to see them live you wonder how they might reproduce this on stage - the great sound, seemingly slung together, holding on by the skin of its teeth, an almost fragile, chaotic quality to the songs and playing, the vocals that could so easily simply sound rubbish but end up sounding so right all combining to make for heart-warming, fabulous stuff

Wheat web site
Wheat Myspace
Express Night Out Track by Track

Sunday, 26 July 2009

There Will Be Fireworks

Warning - I am really rather liking this alot. Another band from north of the border, down Glasgow way, inevitably bundled up with the likes of Frightened Rabbit, We Were Promised Jetpacks, Twilight Sad and so forth. Whilst its great to have a such a clutch of new bands from this fertile caledonian patch, I do hope they don't get bogged down with that as they are very much their own band.

This eponymous album was released at the start of July despite the band, incredibly, not being signed to a label. Although they are all hideously young blades there is a maturity in approach and sound, a complexity that grabs the attention and marks them out. Not simply another climactic band sound but one that seems prepared to take some chances. The opener, Columbian Fireworks, does this from the off. With apparently specially lyrics/poetry written and read by Kevin MacNeil, the Stornoway poet/writer/musician, the track is scarcely what you might expect from the first track from a first album - no disernible melody but high on atmosphere.

The album rolls through quiet almost delicate tracks interspersed with harder, angrier tracks with Nicholas McManus spitting out the words, not really singing, off key with emotion. Midfield Maestro is a fine fine track (the vid below is blessed by the fabulous Barra landscapes) and contains some evocative lyrics - 'we'll set these tapes on fire, as your heart breaks in my car, you're unravelling in my arms'. Off With Their Heads sees McManus at his least musical vocally but still highly affecting.

If there is any justice TWBF should have a successful second half of 2009, especially if people drop by their web shop and spend the paltry £8 on this fine piece of work (and rather beautifully packaged too with splendid photos from Jonathon Pritchard)

Next question is - how would they translate this to a live show? Well fix some shows where I can get to them and maybe we'd see...

'Midfield Maestro' by There Will Be Fireworks from Peter Gerard on Vimeo.

Buy the album !

There will Be Fireworks Myspace

Kevin MacNeil Myspace

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

We Were Promised Jetpacks - These Four Walls

Another rather late set of comments on this Scottish bunch of lads. The debut album, out on Brighton based Fat Cat Records has been with me a while and has earned a nice little warm corner in my heart.

I think that rather strangely I first heard them via the KEXP posts from Seattle when DJ Shannon got onto them on a trip to the UK. Nothing was available for some time unless you managed to get to one of their gigs, usually north of the border. But the album is now here and well worth geting hold of.

They sit in that clutch of new Scottish bands that includes Frightened Rabbit, Twilight Sad as well as There Will Be Fireworks (of whom more later when their debut hits the mat). In addition to the always alluring Caledonian-ness of the band they have that wonderful energy and immediacy that often gets lost with the passing years. But right now the chaps are young and eager and Adam Thompsons vocals are full throated and uninhibited, in the sort of way that, for example, flamenco singers really let rip, and even if the notes are sometimes not quite nailed, that isn't the point, the point is in the delivery and the gusto behind it.

That said, alongside full ahead stuff like Quiet Little Voices and Ships With Holes Will Sink, there are other sides to the Jetpacks like Conductor and This is My House, This is My Home which is both quieter and stranger.

The chaps are out on tour later this year in the UK (over the summer in the US alongside Frightened Rabbit), and I shall be trekking along tothe dubious delights of The Cooler in Bristol to experience them live and firsthand.

Fat Cat Records website
We Were Promised Jetpacks Myspace
Frightened Rabbit Myspace
Twilight Sad Myspace
There WillBe Fireworks Myspace
Photo credit: Neil Thomas Douglas

Monday, 20 July 2009

Silversun Pickups - Swoon

I am not sure why it has taken me quite so long to get around to this album. I have had it since its UK release a couple of months ago but haven't really gotten into it til these last couple of weeks. Maybe I had one of my fifty quid man moments and bought too many at the same time - always a bad move despite the brief enjoyment of scooping up a bundle of things at the same time. The trouble is they dont all get the time and attention they deserve and I suspect that Swoon suffered this ignominy.

Anyhow its now been on repeated play for a while and I am well in love with it. Despite the rather odd vocal delivery from Brian Aubert, I have grown used to it and even see it as part of the albums charm.

The opener is still not a favourite but The Royal We, and Growing Old Is Getting Old certainly are. Panic Switch is a great blast and Draining represents one of the calmer, quiter tracks that punctual the later stages of the album. Indeed Aubert thinks the quiet /loud contrast is a defining charactersitic of the album. Overall there is something wonderfully melodramatic about the whole set, sweeping soundscapes with for me some particularly impressive and endearing bass lines from Nikki Monninger.

The album artwork is fabuluous, apparently courtesy of Darren Waterston, his piece, 'St Clair' being the basis for the cover with two more pieces featuring inside. Mmm I do regret not getting into the album sooner and so spurring me to get tickets to their Thekla gig which I missed 'cos I was too darned slow... let that be a lesson

Silversun Pickups Myspace
Silversun Pickups website
Darren Waterston website

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Madness – Gatcombe Park

The last (and only other) time I saw Madness was at college in France in ooh err… about 1980 or something. Needless to say the French didn’t get them at al so it was like a show to the gaggle of Brits down the front. Now almost thirty years later here they are, the first band to play Princess Anne’s gaff, Gatcombe Park just up the road for home.

Well off we went Mr and Mrs Me and Mr and Mrs International Decorator Supremo, armed with our picnic and comfy(ish) chairs. The picnic had to be consumed before entering the ‘arena’ as of course they wanted to rip everyone off for as much cash as possible from the yeuky drink and ghastly food stalls – should have known. But never mind, it was a splendid sunny evening after a torrentially wet morning and the lad texted in to say all was dry and funky down at Glasto.

Reggae-lite has never been a big thing for me and so Aswad were never likely to light my fire, but they were OK in a rather monotonous sort of way – it must be said that others around me clearly found them much more to their taste, so I guess it was me…

The crowd was that odd mix of Range Rover Sport crowd and others who, perhaps thirty years ago, were probably more of the skinhead persuasion, but everyone was in good humour and there was much jiggling of tattoo covered flesh alongside the Boden types more sedate wiggles.

Not to be robbed of any of the atmosphere we moved into the throng for the main talent portion and waited the arrival of the Lads. Despite clearly being a bit older than they were they still looked the part in dark suits and shades. The sound was blasting for an open air gig and was mercifully pretty spot on, OK the obligatory bass heavy but with enough ‘top’ to make it all a pretty fair sounding show.

Of course there was more than a smattering of the oldies which they blasted out with gusto and aplomb – truth be told they sounded pretty tight and together. There were a few songs from their recent CD which sounded fair enough, the only duff song of the evening being the title track to their new CD, the Liberty of Norton Folgate. Now this might sound just fine on the CD but was an unwise choice last night – too long, a little complex and not anywhere near enough bouncy enough for the occasion. The end of the show wound up with all the good expected items, Our House, Baggy Trousers, Night Boat to Cairo – fair took me back it did!

All in all though a great fun time, 5000 bods a-dancing and a-jiggling, some rollicking good tunes and a fine way to spend a summers evening – I wonder of Princess Anne was shaking her booty? No, I guess not, just counting I the ackers.

Madness web site

Madness Myspace

Aswad Myspace

Friday, 26 June 2009

Fleet Foxes - Wolverhampton

This was the second time of seeing the Foxes on what feels like their never ending touring of their eponymous album. First off in Bristol and this time in Wolverhampton. The main differences being that in Bristol all I could see was an exotically hatted hippy type in front of me, and this time we had a pretty ace view right up front behind a mercifully short Chinese bunch, and secondly that Wolverhampton was one of the hottest gigs I have been to for an age. Sweltering.

Support was from The Clientele. I have a sneaking suspicion that one of their albums was on one of my wish lists – you know the ones that somehow you never quite end up getting. I just didn’t feel that they quite took off on the night, maybe on occasions just a little too downbeat and gentle, didn’t quite connect with the crowd. A couple of songs flew a little but overall I felt that this wasn’t really their night. I imagine that they would repay a little closer attention on their own not the rather tough gig of supporting someone like Fleet Foxes

The Foxes have been taking their rather wonderful sound around all over the place for a good twelve months on what must be an exhausting round of tours and festivals. It must be hard to try and keep the material sounding fresh of you play it every night, and of course its easy to forget they only have and EP and one album to their names; excellent though the are.

This was a pre-Glasto gig and they seemed relaxed and on good form, as ever taking good time to get the tunings right, no undue haste, and a good smattering of backchat between stuff. Given their recent success they still come across as being slightly surprised by it all and a little bashful – all very endearing. They played just about all their tracks all met with rapturous applause and a small whistling competition form some of the crowds off to one side. There was the running joke about cries of ‘Where’s Stephen’, answer, ‘He’s coming’ which Mr Pecknold obviously views as some ancient and arcane British tradition

Amid the familiar were a few new tracks, all sounded great, especially the solo offering from Pecknold that sounded like an old time tune (maybe it was, who knows). Despite claiming to be a little hoarse he was in fine voice, as were the rest of the band , all of whom have very effective pipes, not least Josh Tillman on drums. The harmonies were all spot on and beautiful.

After returning for encores, initially solo from Mr Pecknold, during the break as the band set up for the final encore, Blue ridge Mountains, a personal favourite, a cry went up that Michael Jackson had died. A surreal moment that no-one quite believed until others confirmed. Not quite a President Kennedy, Princess Diana or Elvis moment, although some will think otherwise, it will mark out this show in my list of gigs. A sad and tragic loss although probably foretold in the stars and destiny, he was never going to be an old guy now was he?

A roaring good gig from a top notch band with humanity and an understated gratitude. I note that after the gigs between now and September there will be no more until the new album is finished, lets hope its not too long – although methinks they deserve a rest from the road for a bit

The Clientele web site

The Clientele Myspace

Fleet Foxes Myspace

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Idlewild - Post Electric Blues

This has been a bit of a marathon new music week, and the third new CD to plop through the letterbox was the oh-so eagerly awaited new Idlewild offering.

Having fallen out with, walked away from, or somesuch, their last label they decided last year to self-release their next (and sixth?) Idlewild album. They asked their fan base if they would pre-order the album in return for an early copy of it, some free live downloads and a mention on the poster included with the CD. How could I resist? And lo and behold there is yours truly printed for all the world (perhaps with a magnifying glass) to see. I know its a bit tragic, but it does instill a small sense of ownership and an unfounded closeness to the project.

Another case of being anxiously eager to listen, but worried that it might disappoint. Not a bit of it, a rollicking good set it is . It would appear that being released from the shackles of a label has done them some good; the set feels free-er, lighter of touch and less laboured than the last outing; they even sound as if they were enjoying themselves!

There is good mix of quieter tracks that have some of the hallmarks of more recent Woomble work of a folkier vein (including the voice of Heidi Talbot and John McCusker on violin), and then again some up-and-at-em stuff with the Scottish inflections and more than a whiff of former greatness. Of course for those of us visionary enough to get the pre-order CD there is an extra track, No Wiser, as another reward for our committment and patience.

If this sort of fan based financial primer to fund music actually works then it does seem a good alternative model to getting tied down by a label. They must feel much more in control of the whole thing although they too have had to carry the problems that ensue like the pressings getting stuck in the Czeck Republic and so forth.

I can only hope that the advent of the regular release in September will see them back on the road to promote it - it should sound very fine live I would have thought. I didn't catch it at their Dingwalls residency but they were on exemplary form for the night we were there - more of this please!

I might have stuck up a track here to listen to but they asked very nicely in an accompanying note with the package, not to push the music around the web and so erode their investment - you can't help feeling supportive of this when you know they have had to go out on a limb to get this CD released.

Here's to a continued return to form for Messrs Idlewild

Monday, 15 June 2009

World of Fox – Everything is for the Best

Seems my case of folkiness is showing no signs of abating – does this mean I shall have to grow a beard if only to stand around stroking it meaningfully (or is that just a bit pervy?). Anyhow my latest folky thang is the improbably named World of Fox, aka Simon Fox, ex-post-rock guy, now all gentle and acoustic.

I got to Mr Fox via the Scott Matthews gig (ah, quite brilliant) where the support was James Summerfield (splendid chap) and scurrying around various places stumbled across World of Fox with whom JS apparently collaborates and who produced the latest Summerfield product… phew

Right, the duly purchased CD, Everything is for the Best arrived post haste with a Post-It Note from Mr Fox (ah don’t we all love to feel that its personal!). Unashamedly folk with a capital F it’s another charming (word of the week, see the My Sad Captains post – must buy a Thesaurus for alterative words).collection of songs written, played and sung by Simon Fox – clever so-and-so.

What makes it a little sharper of edge than some offerings is the often present reminders of a rather more rocky life – the underpinning scratchy electric guitar of Idiocracy and later tracks on the CD

Anyhoo its all jolly good stuff and well worth eight quid of anyone’s money, so go and get yourself a copy! He’s up and playing at the Moseley Folk Festival in Brum at the start of September along with his pal James Summerfield – also playing are the unutterably brilliant McClusker, Drever and Woomble (ah the joy)

World of Fox website

World of Fox Myspace

Moseley Folk Festival

My Sad Captains – Here & Elsewhere

I have been waiting for MSC debut CD for a long time now. Having first heard them on the defunct Music Exchange between Steve Lamaq (Radio 1) and Nic Harcourt (KCRW) and then seeking out a handful of download tracks (see posts passim) I have been awaiting more in a rather impatient manner. Well at last their first full length item is here.

You know how it is sometimes that waiting in anticipation can leave you a little deflated when the product arrives? Well I am afraid that this was my first feelings on listening through Here & Elsewhere. Nothing really wrong but then again not the euphoric thrill I had been hoping for these long years. Not wanting to admit to disappointment I left writing a post for a few days and kept spinning the disc.

Now a few more plays in I feel a bit different. Initially I was going to say that the album finishes more strongly than it starts, but I am not so sure anymore. Truth is that this is a bit of a slow burner for me, gradually giving up its charms – and it is a charming set of tracks. I knew Bad Decisions, All Hat and No Plans and Ghost Song of old but now Good to Go, You Talk All night and Hello Bears have also plugged themselves in.

The things that make MSC so charming (there we go again) may well be the things that failed to hit an immediate punch. They still sound, like they did on early demos, as if they have rather haphazardly thrown it all together in their bedrooms; the Pavementesque vocals, the sense of reaching the end of songs almost by accident at times, the jingly jangly-ness of it all.

But a few listens reveals the really rather good songs, and a greater sense of purpose than is apparent at first glance. It has an odd combination of jolly summeryness and a whiff of melancholia – not at all unpleasant and I suspect it will become all quite endearing and more durable than I feared on first listen. Bless the little blighters – now how about heading somewhere westward for a show or two?

MSC Myspace

MSC website

Stolen Recordings website

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Scott Matthews in Wolverhampton

Scott Matthews debut album made a big impression on me when it was first released, being on heavy rotation during a French holiday. I missed a couple of chances to see him and regretted not making more of an effort.

The advent of his second CD, Elsewhere, saw Scott hit the road again, this time with a couple of ‘intimate’ show in his hometown of Wolverhampton. So I snapped up a couple of tickets and went along with the 'international decorator supremo'

Intimate it certainly was, Newhampton Arts Centre squeezed in perhaps 80/100 people onto comfy(ish) chairs around table-clothed tables with tea lights (when did they stop being nightlights?). We nabbed a table right up front, feet from the modest stage, with a couple from Cannock Chase – there seemed an unhealthy obsession with Jelly Belly jellybeans, I am not quite sure why…

James Summerfield provided support for the night – a sweet voiced, folky singer-songwriter and served up a very pleasing set, slightly shyly delivered with a little light-hearted banter. I do so enjoy someone performing on their own, no gizmos or gimmicks, just a sense of their real talent. Of course CD’s were purchased from James at the make-shift merch stand in the hall, duly signed in case of future mega-stardom

Back at our seats for the main event (oh and two bottles of Speckled Hen at £4 the pair… not the nutso prizes of your regular gig bar). Scott shambled through the crowd and onto the stage – like a crazily talented cousin playing for the family in the front room. Clearly pleased to be back playing his home town, Mum and dad in the audience and no doubt sundry other friends and family

The set was punctuated with jokey comments ( not least about it being a ‘fu**ing good start’ to discover his guitar was wrongly tuned for the opener), unhurried re-tuning and more domestic vibes with everyone at their tables all being chatty and sociable with one another, a strange but welcome and comfortable ambience

Live and alone Scott plays beautiful, delicate and emotional guitar with his extra-ordinary voice (seemingly at odds somehow with the body from which it emanates) showing what a substantial talent he is. If anything I prefer the stripped back versions of his newer songs, with their greater immediacy and emotional punch

Of course there were welcome selections from the first CD, including the stunning ‘Elusive’, which not unnaturally got some of the greatest reactions of the evening. Surprisingly some of the more obvious tracks from the new CD didn’t get an airing, perhaps not being as appropriate for this solo, acoustic approach

Well, trekking up the M5, with all the related joys, on a Friday evening was well worth the effort. An unusual, personal gig of beautiful music performed with skills and integrity. Give me a gig like this anytime over dozens of over-blown stadium shows – this is what live music should be like

James Summerfield MySpace

James Summerfield Website

Scott Matthews MySpace

Scott Matthews Website

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Idlewild at Dingwalls

There is still something profoundly exciting about lining up for a gig, appropriating your selected spot and waiting in anticipation with a few hundred others for your chosen band. This time we had to trek up to Camden Lock and Dingwalls for the third and last night of Idlewild’s residency where there were playing all their albums over three nights – something they did last year at King Tuts in Glasgow.

Although I would have been more than happy to try and make all three nights (with the first performance of Post Electric Blues, the self released - almost - new album) the lad and I could only make the last night Make Another world and The Remote Part, in part as celebration of the end his exams

Idlewild have been a long held favourite of mine, generating the kind of personal allegiance only a very few artists can. There is something about the unavoidable Scottish-ness of the band and its music, not just the lyrics or Roddy Woombles vocals, but the chord structures that make it resonate so deeply.

Anyhow with a prime by-a-railing-on-a-kind-of-balcony position we stood ready with our over priced pints in hand. Make Another World was the first half of the set, and whilst I have always found it to be perhaps the patchiest of their albums, live it came imbued with more punch and drive; punchier than when we saw them tour the album first time around.

The 450 in the crowd were obviously going to be paid up supporters and responded accordingly. A Ghost in the Arcade and If It Takes You Home being personal and crowd favourites it seems.

A short break and they returned to play The Remote Part - fired up for this harder but still melodic set of tracks. Clearly this was what the crowd anted and very fine stuff it was as well. You Held The Whole World In Your Hands, American English, A Modern Way of Letting Go – breathless, punchy stuff – the final track Scottish Fiction saw them leave with the tape of Edwin Morgan speaking out his poetry.

The encores largely went back to earlier !00 Broken Windows and Hope Is Important tracks – Fireworks and Captain earning particular grateful shouts, and then all too soon it was over. A great night, sounded brilliant, band seemed happy and relaxed.

Its always a worry hoping a band lives up to your expectations or hopes – how great it is when they exceed them. The long but elated drive home, an evening very well spent

Idlewild Wikipedia

Idelwild Web SIte

Idelwild MySpace

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Dark Night of the Soul

The album of tracks put together by Danger Mouse (Gnarls Barkley) and Mark Linkous (Sparklehorse), titled Dark Night of the Soul, looks like it might never see the (official) light of day thanks to 'legal issues' with EMI.

How is it that you could get so far - 13 tracks completed with quality collaborators from the Flaming Lips, Strokes, Iggy Pop, Shins, Vic Chestnutt etc; a teaser poster campaign at SXSX, a booklet of stills photos from David Lynch etc, and fall at this hurdle - what a waste.

The CD is currently (but perhaps not for too long) being streamed by NPR (although the site is pretty hard to bring up right now), apparently the only place where the album can be heard in its entirety. I am sure that if you dig around enough a Torrent copy of the CD could be downloaded - not of course that I have tried :)

NPR Website