Friday, 30 July 2010

Her Name Is Calla - The Quiet Lamb etc

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...

Shearwater – St Bonaventure’s Bristol

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

Bombay Bicycle Club - Flaws

I have the Lad to thank for this one - he gave good reports of them at last years Glasto and seemed to jump on this as soon as it was released. It seems I have the first Bombay Bicycle Club CD sitting on my ipod but don't recall ever listening to it, how did that happen?

Given there undeniable youth I guess I had rather put them down as one of those fresh faced indie bands that crash around, to be honest I think I might even have got them mixed up in my head with Black Motorcycle Rebel Club... oops

Well for their second album, the so-called 'difficult' one they have thrown away most form of electric and ended up smack in the middle of the acoustic/folk thang right now. I guess they should be praise for being 'brave' as some reviews allude to, but whatever the motivation it sounds pretty good to me.

Not exactly and over-long set, maybe just as well, as although its a pretty good set it lacks a little variety overall but being on the short side lets them off any hook that might have been there. What a shame I have just missed them in Bristol... oh well better luck next time!

The Coral - Butterfly House

Well they have been around for ten years or so and I have never really taken much notice of The Coral before - just seemed a bit too locked into the Oasis scene for me. A couple of OK singles but never pierced my conciousness.

But the new album Butterfly House, apparently their sixth seems a bit like a new stage for them. The 'Best Of' thing has been done and heralds a difficult period - more of the same or a fresh effort?

Butterfly House feels like and ideal album for the summer - despite the current leaden skies - bright jangly guitars, a jaunty acoustic/rock favour and male vocal harmonies that have finally found their time perhaps. It all feels gloriously like a revisit of 1967 and Woodstock era songs, albeit updated for the new millennium.

The recent advent of bands like Fleet Foxes and Mumford & Sons will have done them no harm, warming up the market for this sort of sound - though of course The Coral are nothing like FF and M&S in so many respects.

Tracks like 1000 Years and North Parade stand out, the later with its more 'let loose' sound where James Skelly takes flight. All in all a pleasantly surprising set, the sound much like the vibrant, multicoloured and slightly hippy/psychedelic cover.

Friday, 2 July 2010

John Grant - Queen of Denmark

I have always found it hard to resist a fabulous voice and John Grant has one of the very best. A deep mellifluous baritone he could sing the proverbial shopping list and make it sound like honey. All the obvious references are there Scott Walker, Robin Pecknold, Rufus Wainwright (albeit on the softer end of his range), but a voice that his own, the potential sugary sweetness stripped back by the sense of loss and damage in his vocals (fine article in the Guardian gives details as does the BBC review to a degree).

Ex vocalist with the under-rated Czars, the fine fellows of Midlake have supported and encouraged him back into music after his troubled times. In addition to Grants vocals and piano , Messrs Midlake provide the full accompaniment here but never try to upstage or overwhelm.

Some of the tracks here are just obviously beautiful (Its Easier), others sounds a little cheesy on first listen (but then again so do many Scott Walker tracks), but there's a hardness here, the result of hurt and personal suffering that perhaps not dealt with in this way would just be too much. Jesus Hates Faggots is scattered with acid drops of experience, and the title track is no bed of roses.

A remarkable piece of work deserving of a wider audience than he has so far had.