Sunday, February 28, 2010


It’s odd seeing a gig when you’ve only heard one of the headlining band’s three albums once. Last week curiosity and recommendation led to buy Field Music’s new album “Field Music (Measure)”. And in one of those moments of serendipity a couple of days later I found myself in possession of a ticket for this gig at Islington Mill in Salford. Sadly my planned crash course in Field Music didn’t happen and I didn’t even get to finish the second listen to the double album let alone listen to the earlier records.

Support was from Lucas Renney (ex The Golden Virgins) here performing songs from his album "Strange Glory" (“nine of out ten in NME. That’s NINE not an upside six”). The quiet songs were a Sunderland take on the hushed and introspective end of Cohen and Eitzel complete with barbed lyrics and lush semi-acoustic melodies. Definitely worth listening to properly. It’s just such a shame that 80% of those watching weren’t bothering to give his band the quiet they needed and deserved - despite Lucas’s best teacher impersonations: “It’s your own time you’re wasting”.

Field Music set up their own equipment with a quiet seriousness. And this was mirrored in their performance. There are occasional flashes of humour and chat (over deviating from the set-list, encouraging the audience to fill in their Field Music collection at the merchandise table) but mostly the four-piece are intently focused on delivering these intricate songs. They play angular post-punk that has a passing resemblance at times to XTC but includes a whole host of other reference points from the early 70s onwards (Cream anyone?).

To a newbie like me there was still lots to enjoy: the Brewis brothers constantly swapped between being front-man/lead guitarist and sitting behind drums, leading different sections of the set; and the sound throughout was fantastic. The first couple of rows were enthusiastically enjoying old and new songs, plus diversions to solo projects by both of the brothers, but there was a huge contingent at the back happy to drink and talk loudly. What was going on? Was this because it was a Friday? Was it people on the guest list who had no intention of listening to the band? It was a frustrating experience. The band were well-drilled, mature and professional – it was a shame a lot of the crowd weren’t. Maybe this goes on all the time and I just filter it out for a band whose songs I know?

Field Music continue touring the UK until 6 March before heading off to North America. Me, I’m going to spend some proper time listening to their music. Without interruption.

Field Music
Field Music (Measure) [BUY]

Friday, February 26, 2010


I arrived at this gig with high expectations. I had heard much about David Thomas Broughton live but had always missed out. I’ve followed and listened to the last three Shearwater albums – but never seen them perform live either. And now here they are on the same bill - perfect. Glad to report that tonight neither disappointed.

I could tell you David Thomas Broughton performs acoustic folk-blues with occasional loops but this doesn’t even begin to convey the experimentation, the mischief or the cleverly executed performance that accompanies the music. You can only experience it.

He begins to play holding acoustic guitar high on his chest and enunciating words (“piffle”, “muck-spreader”, “louse”) with detail, relish and long rolled ‘r’s. All very folky. He adds to this sounds and rhythms created by looping guitar or drum beats or his voice but also through heavy breathing, wordless laughing, drawing a scarf over the microphone, even running the microphone from his temple down the side of his face to his chin. If Lady Gaga were to do this it would be high camp. When a bearded man from Leeds with staring eyes does this, it’s just plain menacing.

And it’s difficult to work out what is music and what is theatre; what is there to add to the songs and what is there to entertain, confuse or alarm. Talking of which there was also the old rape-alarm-in-the-pocket-goes-off-mid-song trick. He finished playing against an off-stage chanted chorus from Shearwater encouraging us to laugh at David Thomas Broughton. Well there may have been humour tonight but this performance was no laughing matter. I can’t wait until I can next see him live.

So this high drama and musical dexterity was a perfect entrée to Shearwater. You know something special is going to happen when the drummer Thor Harris, looking as though he would equally be happy in a metal band, walks on stage holding a clarinet.

Shearwater songs are gliding, often rarefied, majestic celebrations of the natural world, migration, birdlife and (on latest album "The Golden Archipelago") islands. On record the songs are carefully sequenced to fit together as a suite. And so live this is what Shearwater played: the first six or seven songs were performed almost as a seamless piece with no spoken interludes but plenty of movement between instruments.

Jonathan Meiburg moved between lead guitar (standing) and keyboard duties (seated); but also the second guitarist and keyboard player swapped (or played bass or trumpet on occasion); and Kim the bass player alternated between upright and electric bass. On 'Hidden Lakes' the bassist and drummer both played glockenspiel whilst the guitarist beat out a rhythm lying down in front of the kick-drum. I lost track of what everyone else was doing – it wasn’t quite the theatre of David Thomas Broughton but the versatility on show was engaging as the music.

Whilst some Shearwater songs are grandiose and dramatic, most are all restraint, delicacy and even gentle drift, with Meiburg’s floating falsetto hovering above. And both types translated beautifully live, given a bit of oomph through the emphatic playing and even touches of squally feedback. Towards the end of the set Shearwater played a trio of songs that caught this magically: the raw ‘Century Eyes’ followed by the fragile ‘I Was A Cloud’ (with the lights dimmed) and the dramatic ‘Seventy Four Seventy Five’.

A great evening of music with depth, beauty and even a bit of theatre. They might not share a bill again soon but watch out for future dates from both: unmissable.

The Golden Archipelago [BUY]

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


I just don’t get references to The Cure when Xiu Xiu are discussed. Sure the San Jose art-rockers have moments of goth atmospherics with angular post-punk guitar and have had plenty of line-up changes since forming in 2000; but Xiu Xiu are just much more interesting than gloomy Robert Smith’s bunch.

Consider the collaborations (Parenthetical Girls, Deerhoof, Grouper, Devendra Banhart, Casiotone For The Painfully Alone), the constantly evolving range of instruments used (autoharp, Croatian bells, Chinese percussion), the provocative package of art-and-sexuality that accompanies the music or just the fact that band leader Jamie Stewart can do morbid introspection and self-loathing with such a shocking intensity.

This year’s album “Dear God I Hate Myself” is a pretty good summation of this (a limited edition version came with a handmade t-shirt with real blood on it). Rough Trade Shop’s conclusion is “the result is a record that proves that art can be pop and pop can challenge you to look inside yourself… an utterly original mixture of home-studio goth-pop, confessional singer-songwriter outpourings and chamber music”.

Xiu Xiu’s short UK tour calls in Manchester tonight at Salford’s Islington Mill (could there be a more perfect venue for them?). Support is from Deaf To Van Gogh’s Ear and Model Warships – the latter have some free downloads on their page. This is another WotGodForgot promotion after last week's exceptional tUnE-yArDs show.

The Cure may have sold 27 million records worldwide (and counting) but as we all know if ain't all about album sales. Tonight is likely to be a hot ticket for all the right reasons. Best to get advance tickets or miss out.

Xiu Xiu
Dear God, I Hate Myself [BUY]

Sunday, February 21, 2010

“There’s drama in the sky” Screaming Maldini’s ‘And The Kookaburra’ EP

There’s something about the name Alcopop Records that makes me underestimate the label and their bands each time. It’s too easy to assume (wrongly) that each new signing will play nothing but sugary, sharp bursts of fizzing indie-rock. And Alcopop does have that on offer, in a good way, but they also have the rockin’ Americana of Stagecoach, the gentle indie-folk of My First Tooth and the summery power-pop of Stars and Sons.

But even knowing that my first reaction to hearing the name of their new signing was not a good one. Screaming Maldini?! Are they a metal band? Or the audio equivalent of a cheap, caustic cocktail? Well the Sheffield six-piece are a cocktail but quite a classy one. This is how they describe themselves:

We are Screaming Maldini, we live in Sheffield and we are four boys and two girls. We like choirs and trumpets and cabasas and vibraslaps and guitars and handclaps and glockenspiels and horses and breakdowns and organs and verses and violins and 5/4 and 7/8 and more horses and choruses.

Across the five songs on “And The Kookaburra…” (their debut release out tomorrow), the band manage to confound expectations and continually surprise and delight. As per their ‘likes’ above, Screaming Maldini wield an armoury of instrumentation and erratic time signatures, using this to deliver joyous, exotic mini-epics of songs that utterly defy pigeon-holing. Lead track ‘Secret Sounds’ is a refined version of Los Campesinos! with more airy harmonies and less yelping. The romantic yearning and jazzy floating rhythms found in ‘The Extraordinary’ or ‘I Know That You Know That I Would Wipe The Snowflake From Your Eye’ are ‘jazz’ in the same way that Efterklang or Grizzly Bear are jazz.

Throughout the music is shot through with such invention that one song can never be truly representative. And just when you think you have an handle on the band they finish the EP with ‘Miniatures’ which samples vintage audio equipment demonstration instructions then alternates reggae-skank rhythms with grandiose organ-and-trumpet driven prog-pop. And it works.

If you like what you hear thus far head over to the Alcopop shop or check out the short Screaming Maldini and Stars and Sons tours this week:
Feb 21st - Sheffield – The Grapes
Feb 22nd – London – Old Blue Last
Feb 23rd – Brighton – The Albert
Feb 24th – Northampton – The Labour Club
Feb 25th – Oxford – The Cellar

And from now on I’ll make sure I don’t wrongly pigeon-hole Alcopop Records. They are less a single bottle - more a very extensive and very fine drinks cabinet.

Screaming Maldini
And The Kookaburra… [BUY]

Sunday, February 14, 2010

tUnE-yArDs @ THE RUBY LOUNGE 13 February 2010

When Merill Garbus (aka tUnE-yArDs) asked where people were from at tonight’s Ruby Lounge gig, the answers included Liverpool, Leeds and Nottingham. OK she’s only playing a handful of dates on this short UK tour but people are clearly prepared to travel to see tUnE-yArDs and after tonight’s performance I can fully understand why.

I’ve attempted to wax lyrical about how good her debut album ‘Bird-Brains’ is before – and it was one of my Top Ten Albums of 2009. The early part of this evening was spent musing on how she would play that record live: would there be a full band? Would it just be her solo? One of the earlier support bands used two drum-kits, so naturally I assumed at least one would be for tUnE-yArDs. However both kits were cleared away as the 10pm start time approached.

In their place was set up two single drums either side of a mic stand. And some pedals. So the answer to the earlier question was: two-piece band, just Merrill and bass player Nate Brenner. However I will never underestimate a two-piece band ever again – even one with next-to-no kit.

Dressed casually in black leggings and baggy top, Merrill at first glance is quite an unassuming even dowdy figure. OK she has four greasepaint stripes across one cheek but other than that she looks every bit the ‘suburban mom’ her press claims. And chatting to the crowd she was all friendly smiles and modesty: “I’d be happy if there were just ten people here”.
However put an amplified ukulele in her hands and let her chant over the primitive looped rhythms she creates on the two drums (and mic stand) and she is transformed into a shamanic warrior-princess. Check out the full-throated roars at about 5 mins 30 secs into the video below or watch her punch the air with a drum-stick salute. How the woman can keep all those rhythms in her head and set them up with such apparent ease is baffling. But the result is an astonishing live performance: is February to early to call gig of the year?

It was a short ten song set of which only four were from “Bird-Brains” (‘Fiya’, ‘Jumping Jack’, ‘Hatari’ and the first encore ‘News’) and other than recent single ‘Real Live Flesh’ the other half of the set was all new material. There should be another video of one of the new songs ('Danger is Coming'?) posted here shortly. The fact I’m already lining this up as potential gig of the year shows just how good that unfamiliar material is and that ‘Bird-Brains” is not a one-off.
I cannot recommend "Bird-Brains" enough to you. And if you act quickly you can catch her in Glasgow on Sunday or London on Monday. After that tUnE-yArDs spends February and March touring Europe and North America. Can’t wait for that second album or another chance to see her live.

Tonight was the first in a 'season' of gigs promoted by WotGodForgot: plenty more to look forward to including Xiu Xiu, Mount Eerie, Faust and A Sunny Day In Glasgow.

Bird-Brains [BUY]

Saturday, February 13, 2010


Do Fanfarlo ever stop touring? It seems this short UK tour is only a brief respite between mammoth coast-to-coast treks across North America. No Manchester dates on this February UK tour (given they played the Deaf Institute three times last year I suppose they can be forgiven) but with the Brudenell Social Club always being such a pleasure to visit, a trip to Leeds was called for; especially for such an enticing line-up as this.

First band on was Welsh psyche-popsters Race Horses starting their set to a chilly and quite sparse early-doors crowd. At least a third of the set was songs not on last month’s debut album or the preceding EP; clearly they are prolific song-writers. Played live the songs from said album and EP and new ones (‘Alpine Resort’) emphasised their youthful energy and the late-60s references - backed up by singer Meilyr Jones bowl-cut, roll-neck jumper and straight-leg trousers plus the vintage keyboards. However they finished with a series(?) of songs that alternated heavy 70s rock style riffs with quieter choral singing that finished in Sonic Youth style de-tuned guitars and feedback. Thrilling stuff.

Jesca Hoop appeared next as a “palette-cleanser” between the two bands. The American (now resident in the UK) played intricate, often quirky rhythms on acoustic guitar and songs included a murder ballad, a nightmare remembered and a response to her mother’s stomach cancer. Not a bundle of laughs then but delivered with a relaxed demeanour (she’s got to be Californian right?) and an impressive vocal range. Mr P however was not impressed and chose to nap during the entire set on the Brudenell floor. However Jesca attracted an enthusiastic response from the rest of the crowd.

If Fanfarlo never stop touring, it doesn’t appear to be wearing them down. They may not be the smiliest of bands when performing but their live versions of songs old and new is passionate, precise and a joy to behold. The constant touring does however show in their well-drilled performance: singer/guitarist Simon reaches his hand out during ‘Luna’ and violinist/mandolin-player Cathy is already putting the clarinet in his grasp. It was like watching Olympic relay runners passing the baton perfectly.

For a five-piece they recreate the different rhythms, the subtle orchestrations and passion of “Resevoir” beautifully. Three-fifths of the band may quite slight in build but there isn’t anything diminutive about their presence or their performance. As much as I enjoyed the supports, I could have watched them all night. My only disappointment was when final song - I was expecting 'Drowning Men' - was announced as a Fleetwood Mac cover. As well as several older songs (not sure 'Tuesday (You Come When We Call)' was actually played although on the set list below) the two new ones 'Atlas' and 'Waiting in the Wings' sounded very promising.

The Set List:

The Walls Are Coming Down
Fire Escape
Waiting in the Wings
We Live By The Lake
I‘m A Pilot
Tuesday (You Come When We Call) [on set list but not sure if played?]
Finishing Line
Harold T Wilkins
You Are One Of The Few Outsiders Who Really Understands Us
What Makes You Think You’re The One? (Fleetwood Mac cover)

Fanfarlo are back to the States after a Brighton gig on Saturday night but are return to the UK in March supporting Mumford and Sons. Fanfarlo, a request: please take a break from touring soon to record the follow-up to "Resevoir". Please?

Resevoir [BUY]

Race Horses
Goodbye Falkenberg [BUY]

Thursday, February 11, 2010

TONIGHT IN MANCHESTER: Sian Alice Group + Esben and the Witch

Not got a ticket for the sold-out Beach House gig? Or Liam Frost at MoHo Live not your thing tonight? Then how about the Drowned in Sound night at the Deaf Institute? A case-study in dark melodrama and minimalist post-rock torch songs; five bands for £7 with Sian Alice Group and Esben and the Witch topping the bill?

London’s Sian Alice Group released their second album “Troubled, Shaken Etc” last year – described by Rough Trade as “a genre-busting combination… minimalist trances, electronic exploration, techno thump, jazz motifs and eastern music tropes in a joyous and complete listening experience”. Think ‘techno thump’ is over-stating it but the rest is pretty spot on. And Sian Ahern’s voice is mesmerizing.

Brighton’s Esben and the Witchsounds a lot like a decrepit sunlit mansion being overtaken by its dark, organic fertility of its mysterious garden” according to Source Magazine. Their Myspace page features pictures of séances, ectoplasm, Victorian medical experiments and a biography in the style of the Brothers Grimm. This live video shows off their nightmare-pop to good (bad?) effect (and elsewhere you can hear them turn Kylie’s ‘Confide in Me’ into a truly dark and disturbing listen). You can hear their new single 'Lucia at the Precipice' on Bandcamp or buy the limited 7" vinyl from Rough Trade Shops.

Plus support from Chapel Club, Gyratory System and From The Kites of San Quentin.
Advance tickets are just £7 or pay more on the door.

If you are going, once home: sleep tight and sweet dreams.

Sian Alice Group
Troubled, Shaken Etc. [BUY]

Esben and the Witch
33 [BUY]

Tuesday, February 09, 2010


I am conflicted when it comes to Vampire Weekend. Actually I’ll take that back: I’m just downright prejudiced.

Firstly they are hugely popular which means my inner music snob instantly moves them over the divide into the mainstream camp I cannot possibly like. Secondly their much-reported privileged upbringing and education brings out the (middle) class armchair-warrior in me. Thirdly they look like a Tommy Hilfiger catalogue in search of a yacht (see previous prejudice). Fourthly lyrically they either reinforce the aforementioned prejudice (Louis Vuitton and Bennetton references in ‘Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa’) or indulge in meaningless fridge-magnet nonsense (rhyming ‘Horcharta’ with ‘balaclava’?!). And fifthly daughter 1.0 is now a huge fan - so in much the same way as I disdained (some of*) my parents’ music, I feel compelled to disdain my child’s music.

But, but, but. There are moments on both the first record and this year’s ‘Contra’ where I overcome these narrow prejudices and enjoy the music. The top three songs or so on both records have their moments: a catchiness and knack with rhythm that is infectiously and guiltily pleasing. (And hence their popularity?)

Last time I saw them live I was pretty unimpressed by their attempt to replicate the record note for note – what’s the point of being at a gig if it is a pristine reproduction of what you hear at home or in your earphones? I’ve been trying to keep an open mind on this gig but it definitely was an improvement: sticky floor, pint spilt over my arm during ‘A-Punk’, lead singer Ezra Koenig actually breaking a sweat. And musically there were moments too that broke out of the pristine jacket of the record: the drums on ‘Cousins’ were hugely chaotic and exciting.

But it came to me during tonight why on balance Vampire Weekend, live or on record, doesn’t truly work for me. They blend literate US college-rock, which I love, with African highlife guitar music which is unstoppably funky. But somehow with Vampire Weekend the combination of both just lacks spirit. It may be catchy and poppy but it has no emotion or earthiness or grit.

So sorry this was a list of prejudices rather than a review. To compensate those looking for something more the set list follows. And certainly the word-perfect singing crowd at this sold-out show adored the band.

But if you want some American music that brings African rhythms into (lofi) alt-pop with imagination, edge and and truly unhinged abandon, try Tune-Yards. The album Bird-Brains is out now on 4AD and her first UK tour starts tomorrow in Brighton. This might just be my inner music snob at work again (you know me so well) but seriously give this a listen and tell me it ain’t a damn sight more interesting and emotional than preppy and clean-cut songs about grammar.

The Set List:

White Sky
Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa
I Stand Corrected
[something here]
California English
Taxi Cab
One (Blake’s Got A New Face)
Diplomat’s Son
Ladies of Cambridge
Giving Up The Gun
Oxford Comma
Mansard Roof

Vampire Weekend
Contra [BUY]

Bird-brains [BUY]

* I could never disdain The Carpenters. Too much heart-break and sadness for disdain.

Monday, February 08, 2010

RESIDENTS OF THE LOST CLUB: Showstar + The Victorian English Gentlemen's Club

‘Residents of The Lost Club’, the title of the opening track on their new album suggests Showstar are a troupe of wayward bohemians. Further listening to ‘Think Ringo’ shows the band to be a bit more grounded with domestic and mundane preoccupations: watching TV and arguing over which channel to watch, falling out with friends, playing in a battle of the bands. But all delivered without the gritty social realism of say Pulp, despite Showstar’s declared anglophile leanings.

This Belgian five-piece blend crisp 90s Britpop with sunny 90s US alt-pop – genres that both drew heavily on the sixties in their use of harmonies and strong melodies. So it is with Showstar: smartly-turned out and catchy rhythms, crisply jangly guitars and punchy-but-not-overpowering drums. In songs like ‘(Love)’ and ‘On The Telly’ it is a winning and engaging combination and calls to mind early Blur or Spoon, even Fountains of Wayne.

Apparently there is cynical malaise underneath their songs but this hasn’t come through strongly to my ears yet. What does impress is how tightly drilled and shiny-smart they sound. Which is explained when you realise they are now on their third album, with a slew of previous support slots (The Rakes, The Thrills, Maximo Park, The Charlatans) under their belt, and they made this record under the guiding hand of Gareth Paton (The Go Team, Foals, Pete And The Pirates, Beta Band amongst others).

‘Think Ringo’ is not original or ground-breaking, and in the second half the momentum sags somewhat, but there’s enough catchy and infectious power-pop on show to keep me coming back. In return for sharing your email address with Showstar you can get a free mp3 of first single ‘Gold Mine’.

Think Ringo [BUY]

Staying with the Belgian theme, The Victorian English Gentlemen’s Club released their third single from the excellent "Love On A Oil-Rig" album last week: ‘Bored in Belgium’. It was inspired by a Belgian man's suicide note, where he claimed it was merely 'boredom' that drove him to it: "Belgium has one of the highest suicide rates in Europe - while we were there we passed 'Happy Street', so named to tackle the issue. It was complete with signs asking people to smile at each one another as they passed in cars".

The single ( 7" vinyl and download with unreleased B-sides) is highly recommended as is the album it comes from. This ‘acoustic in Belgium’ video does not do it justice.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010


At my only live encounter in January 2008 with These New Puritans I dismissed them as youthful and shouty Fall copyists - but with synths. How foolish and narrow-minded of me. Again.

Second album "Hidden" from the Southend-on-Sea four-piece is epic in sound, monstrously ambitious and couldn't be further away from my throwaway pigeon-holing. Jack Barnett has described the record thus: " the main musical components are: brass and woodwind ensemble recordings; really close, solo woodwind; beats/roto-toms/taiko drums; knives and foley; pre-set sounds (dancehall, US pop). It's anti-experimental music - deliberately anti-distortion and anti-reverb".

Coming to me via The Album Club, my first listen to it was an extraordinary experience. Expecting an angrier The XX, what I got was martial drums, tribal chanting, brooding string sections, choral singing (including at several points a kids choir), programmed beats and more ominous drums. And at one point I'm sure what sounded like a sword being drawn.

After the gentle woodwind instrumental prelude of 'Time Xone' that opens the record, you are hit with the belligerent seven-minute ' We Want War'. It's like Benjamin Britten and Timbaland collaborating on a fight song. With forty-nine instrumentalists.

"Hidden" does take itself too seriously and at times the constant stridency and the thin estuary English vocals can be wearying. But it's early days for me and this record. Each time I play it, I hear something new in the musical detail. So I'm not sure what I will think of the record come the end of the year but one of my first thoughts on hearing it was 'how the hell are they going to pull this off live'??

Well, Manchester will find out tonight when These New Puritans play The Deaf Institute with support from Trailer Trash Tracys. I cannot be there but would love to hear how it was: leave a comment or link to any reviews. As on record, I'm sure live These New Puritans cannot be second-guessed.

Tonight is a Now Wave promotion with tickets in advance at £9 face value. Don't leave it to chance there will be tickets on the door - that would be foolish. And narrow-minded.

These New Puritans
Hidden [BUY]

The Fall
Totally Wired [BUY]