Thursday, December 22, 2011

BENJAMIN SHAW There's Always Hope, There's Always Cabernet

I succumbed to the croaky cabaret songs of Benjamin Shaw (“Born in hate and raised in Blackpool”) earlier this year upon hearing his 2010 EP “I Got the Pox, the Pox is What I Got” and slapped lead song ‘Thanks For All The Biscuits’ on this Cloud Sounds podcast back in March. Now at the tail-end of this year comes “There's Always Hope, There's Always Cabernet”. And somehow the despondency is even more epic and the Mark Linkous-on-Mogadon vocals even more anguished. His self-penned bio sets the scene beautifully: “Lurching from one disastrous Customer Service job to the next, and each day turning to nought but filth, there was one of two paths Shaw could take to escape: either write the next great British novel, boldly staking claim to all that is good and pure in the land; or buy a pushbike and pedal himself into oncoming traffic. Luckily, Shaw had neither talent nor bicycle clips, and instead sat in pubs and wrote songs”.

Most of these pub-written songs are five to six minute studies of dusty, domestic despair layering crackle and interference over spidery Sparklehorse sparseness played out on mournful guitars, frail piano or lurching organ. Some of the incidents are astonishingly mundane – dreading a job interview the next morning (‘Interview’), regretting leaving the house because it means being alone for seven hours (‘Home’) or the simple domestic bliss of “something nice for supper, a house, then a dog” – but they are turned into widescreen, (anti-)heroic dramas of wretchedness that wring out the despair for all it's worth. Less tolerant listeners may be tempted just to shout “get over it!” at the speakers. Or like me you may luxuriate in wallowing face down in the deep end of self-pity.

As well as the intense despair (that word again), there’s also a bleak but wicked anti-climactic humour at play here. The drawn-out horror at the ordeal of recruitment and the crushing boredom of the work place at the beginning of ‘Interview’ cracks me up. The faux positivity of ’The Birds Chirp and the Sun Shines’ (“I never wanted to stare into the abyss / celebrate good times come on” sung as though on suicide watch) has a similar effect. The depressive even creates a bitter joke out of an instrumental passage: 'An Exciting Opportunity' is 2.5 minutes of unrealised crackle and hum and aimless plucked notes that never materialises into anything but musique concrète. But let’s not kid ourselves. For the most part “There's Always Hope, There's Always Cabernet” is a mordant slo-mo belly-crawl through the mire of depression.

‘Hulk’ suggests these desolate feelings are uncontrollable: “maybe it won’t / maybe it don’t / maybe it won’t take me over tonight”. Such feelings took the life of Sparklehorse’s Mark Linkous. Let’s hope for Benjamin Shaw this is a more cathartic process and that the only self-slaughter associated with this record is the slogan of Shaw’s record label Audio Antihero: “Specialists in Commercial Suicide”. And you could help avert this form of hara-kiri through purchasing your own set of these anthems for doomed losers. A wise investment but let’s hope any success doesn’t take Benjamin Shaw too far from the pub and his winning ways with failure and desolation.

BENJAMIN SHAW // How To Test The Depth Of A Well by TheArtOf...

Benjamin Shaw There's Always Hope, There's Always Cabernet [BUY]

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


Tired of lists yet? Sadly I’m not - never have been, never will. So here’s another - highly subjective – albums-of-the-year list to throw on the December scrapheap.

This year in addition to the ten below, this year I’ve enjoyed albums from Asva, Awesome Wells, Emily Barker and the Red Clay Halo, Beirut, Benjamin Shaw, Bright Eyes, Richard Buckner, Euros Childs, Comet Gain, Jonnie Common, The Decemberists, Dirty Beaches, Doomed Bird of Providence, Eat Lights Become Lights, Christopher Eatough, Emmy The Great, God’s Little Eskimo, Girls Names, H Hawkline, Half Man Half Biscuit, Hannah Peel, Herman Dune, Invisible Elephant, Rob St John, Jonny, Las Kellies, Lanterns on the Lake, The Leaf Library, Low, The Low Anthem, Mazes, Megafaun, The Middle East, Moon Duo, The Mountain Goats, Moustache of Insanity, Okkervil River, Parts and Labor, Josh T Pearson, Pete and the Pirates, Pulco, Sarandon, The See See, Shady Bard, Shimmering Stars, Singing Adams, Siskiyou, Tasseomancy, Timber Timbre, Trips and Falls, Sarabeth Tucek, The Victorian English Gentleman’s Club, Tom Waits, The Voluntary Butler Scheme, Woods, The War on Drugs, The Wave Pictures, The Wednesday Club and William The Contractor.

Thanks to the four bands who took the time to help wrap up the year over the last two weeks - Y Niwl, Free Swim, Gintis and The Indelicates.

And so my Top Ten Albums of 2011 looks like this....

10. LIZ GREEN O Devotion! [BUY] [Spotify]

A long time coming but well worth the wait. Marvellously atmospheric and surreal tales of murder and bereavement: pre-war blues never sounded so fresh and alive.

9. KING POST KITSCH The Party’s Over [BUY] [Spotify]

Ten tracks of top-drawer basement-pop from Charlie Ward. Versatile vintage guitar riffage and retro-futurist sounds that reference The Sonics, The Beta Band, The Kinks and ‘Odelay’-era Beck, to thrilling – and cohesive - effect.

8. MY SAD CAPTAINS Fight Less, Win More [BUY] [Spotify]

The modest masters of melancholic introspective indie-pop return with a similar/different sophomore album that emulates The American Analog Set, The Microphones and Beck’s ‘Sea Change’. Sublime.

7. VERONICA FALLS Veronica Falls [BUY] [Spotify]

Sometimes records incorporating singles dating back two years plus can lack coherence or freshness. This self-titled debut from the Glasgow/London boy/girl quartet neatly overcomes any such pitfalls to deliver superior death-fixated indie-pop.

6. THE DOUGLAS FIRS Happy As A Windless Flag [BUY] [Spotify]

A subtly shape-shifting and engrossing debut from head Fir Neil Insh and his post-folk collective. Gauzy bliss-pop perfection - what “Lone Pigeon re-recording Sufjan Stevens’ “Seven Swans” might sound like”.

5. THE INDELICATES David Koresh Superstar [BUY]

A fifteen-song rock opera about the life and times of cult leader David Koresh from his early years in Houston to the fateful siege in 1993 in Waco, Texas with the Branch Davidian sect. Humane, witty, sophisticated and deeply moving.

4. BILL CALLAHAN Apocalypse [BUY]

Third album from Bill Callahan having shed his Smog moniker but still making enigmatic music both stern and transcendent, earthy and other-worldly.

3. BILL WELLS & AIDAN MOFFAT Everything’s Getting Older [BUY] [Spotify]

Piano ballads and spoken word chronicles of modern life and ageing – by turns gruff, sordid, nostalgic, romantic, hopeful, bleak. I don’t think there’s another record this year (or any?) that could match the emotional span from the cheap fuck cynicism of ‘Glasgow Jubilee’ to the humane optimism of ‘The Greatest Story Ever Told’.

2. tUnE-yArDs W H O K I L L [BUY] [Spotify]

A more slick and sophisticated album from Merrill Garbus than 2009’s “Bird-Brains” but not losing an ounce of the inventiveness, rhythmic virtuosity and vocal power of her debut. It may have been recorded in – the horror – a conventional studio and feature saxophones, but she still sounds brilliantly unique.

1. GINTIS Idiot Guides and Plans [BUY] [Spotify]

I love hard-luck stories and siding with the losers. The tale of bringing “Idiot Guides and Plans” to life sounds tortuous. It was put out by their label (run by fellow travellers The Loungs) out of love rather than commercial interest. But despite all this and the pained frustrations of small-town lives and thwarted ambitions on show here, Gintis don’t deserve sympathy. They just deserve your eyes and ears for these ten songs of downcast beauty and flawed humanity. The album poses big questions about deterioration and death, faith and freedom, but is also petty, childish and very funny. A beautiful record.

FoY Top Ten Albums of 2011 by FollyOfYouth

Here’s to celebrating more great music in 2012.

Sunday, December 18, 2011


So Manchester institution The Ritz has been taken over by the HMV group as part of their business diversification strategy. Architecturally it keeps all its features and great sightlines but its ‘smartening’ up with padded booths and brown and beige paint everywhere just feels an attempt to turn the place into a (money-making) club. Which is only reinforced when finding out that tonight is curfewed at 10pm. Ah HMV, remember when it used to be about the music?

Support band Lovecraft are an interesting proposition: prog-pop played by what appears to be a band formed in the Junior Common Room: a polo-necked lead singer, a fresh-faced five piece backing band sporting white shirts and ties (lower sixth-formers?) and two female backing singers in boots and white cloaks and sporting gratuitous cleavage. And of course they are signed to Probe Plus Records – exactly the kind of non-conformist, ambitious – and fun - music that has nothing to do with the zeitgeist or the charts.

And so to Half Man Half Biscuit. As with their last Manchester gig at Academy 1, they occupy a large open stage with minimal set-up, lighting or stagecraft – but tonight with some surprising, occasional bursts of dry ice. There’s something of the workman-like pub band about HMHB: they’ll pitch up in unfamiliar locations and turn in a dependable set of old and new songs (27 songs tonight with 7 from this year’s release “90 Bisodol (Crimond)”). But unlike many bands, professional or amateur, Half Man Half Biscuit nearly 30 years into their career possess a peerless scathing wit, deliciously clever word-play and some thumping good tunes.

The sound wasn’t always the best, Nigel Blackwell’s vocals were occasionally muted, but the crowd bonhomie and singing overcame any deficiencies. All songs, even the newest, were sung word for word back to the stage by a motley (and let’s face it ageing) assortment of fans in Dukla Prague and Tranmere FC tops, many band T-shirts, the odd Santa outfit and even one man in a customised ‘King of Hi-Vis’ singlet.

Highlights? Too many to mention – ‘Running Order Squabble Fest’ early in the set, a six minute version of ‘Twenty Four Hour Garage People’ with a modified list of late night purchases (“a sachet of optimism”), a Manchester themed cover in the encores (The Bee Gees’ ‘Tragedy’), and even comedy in mundane incidents like faulty guitar straps. The recent, lengthy article on The Quietus makes an excellent argument for the importance and relevance of “one of England's darkest, funniest, smartest groups”. HMHB never tried to be ‘vital’ even back in 1985 but in a strange way their scathing attack on celebrity, pretence, pettiness and pointless behaviours could not be more relevant today. A great evening of communal goodwill and celebration with nothing to do with Christmas (well except ‘All I Want For Xmas is a Dukla Prague Away Kit’). As the band sing on their new album: “while you were capturing the zeitgeist, they were widening the motorway”. Genius.

The Set List:

The Light At The End Of The Tunnel
When The Evening Sun Goes Down
Joy In Leeuwarden
Running Order Squabble Fest
Shit Arm, Bad Tattoo
Petty Sessions
Excavating Rita
Bob Wilson Anchorman
For What Is Chatteris
Left Lyrics In The Practice Room
All I Want For Xmas Is A Dukla Prague Away Kit
Tommy Walsh’s Eco House
Look Dad No Tunes
We Built This Village On A Trad Arr Tune
Lark Ascending
Vatican Broadside
National Shite Day
L’Enfer C’Est Les Autres
Restless Legs
Turned Up Clocked On Laid Off
Twenty Four Hour Garage People
Rock n Roll Is Full Of Bad Wools
Joy Division Oven Gloves
99% Of Gargoyles Look Like Bob Todd
Fix It So She Dreams Of Me
Everything’s AOR

Saturday, December 17, 2011


The London indie-folk five-piece formed by ex-Fanfarlo guitarist Mark West return with their second release of the year after July’s ‘Desert Tracks’ single (the song also included amongst these four tracks). This EP follows The Lost Cavalry's 2010 debut “Waves Freeze To Rolling Hills” and continues that record’s blueprint of weaving delicate strings and chimes with a more robust guitar, bass and drums set-up to create cleverly orchestrated alt-folk mini-dramas but here adding an extra globe-trotting dimension. So “Snow City Radio” takes us from Arctic outposts to a sunken city via Namibian diamond mines shifting locations with the surety and speed of a quality international short story collection.

The title track tells of a polar radio station team about to dig in for the frozen winter not sure if either anyone is listening to their transmissions or what the winter will bring but sounding positively cheerful about their precarious fate. The upbeat mood is continued on the even more serious war-torn ‘Desert Tracks’ (which I wrote about back in July).

The other two songs on the EP are darker in tone. The twitchy and tense ‘The Tower’, with its sinister cymbal crashes and edgy strummed guitar, tells of a secretive world where people are tracked by robotic cameras. Its sense of paranoia and suspicion peaks in some delirious and stark sheet-metal guitar noise. ‘The Flood’ is equally elliptical but suggests a drowned post-apocalyptic cityscape ("the ground floors of buildings where we now keep our boats”) but again positivity shines through in the massed la-la-la singalong finale.

“Snow City Radio” is similar in texture and tone to their first EP but has a clear hint of extra confidence and swagger about it. I continue to be nothing but impressed with The Lost Cavalry. They seem to be drawn to extreme locations or incidents but are richly equipped, like an indie-folk Swiss Army Knife, with endlessly optimistic and highly melodic survival tactics.

The Tower by The Lost Cavalry

The Lost Cavalry Snow City Radio [BUY]

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

WRAPPING UP 2011 with The Indelicates

At the start of 2011, I knew The Indelicates by name and reputation only. And my faint grasp of their reputation suggested a difficult, arty clique of headstrong provocateurs (Simon and Julia Indelicate did after all meet at a poetry slam). This was only reinforced upon hearing that their third album was to be a fifteen-song rock opera about the life and times of cult leader David Koresh from his early years in Houston to the fateful siege in 1993 in Waco, Texas with the Branch Davidian sect. Hmmm ‘difficult’, ‘arty’.

But “David Koresh Superstar” is a supremely imaginative, clever, downright catchy re-telling of modern history as musical cabaret sung by the tale’s key protagonists. It has the structure of a stage musical but trumps that – largely – shallow genre with songs that span outlaw country story-telling and art-rock polemic, that are sophisticated without being complex, that play with genre but never fall into pure pastiche and contain more humanity than most bleeding heart liberal bands could muster in a career let alone a single record. If this is difficult art, please please please give me more. Here Julia and Simon Indelicate reflect (provocatively?) on the last twelve months.

What we will remember most about 2011 is...
Julia: Touring America for the first time. It was brilliant :)
Simon: I'm not answering this on the grounds that Alzheimer's is a common condition, still uncured and I don't want to tempt fate.

What should be forgotten about 2011…
Simon: 98% of the output of opinion journalists.

The best gig we played was...
Julia: Probably the Super Special Edition performance we did for Grahm Eberhardt in Port Byron, Illinois.
Simon: Yeah, that was really good. Also, that one show where we managed to get almost everyone who appears on David Koresh Superstar onstage in a working men's club with Jools Holland's PA. That was stressful, but amazing.

The best gig we saw was...
Julia: Honestly really haven't been to any that weren't ours. So I shall give you something else. My favourite comics this year have been "1969" by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill and "The Undisputed King of Nothing" by Paul Stapleton.
Simon: We hate live music, it's like being a pornstar asked to talk dirty to her husband. My favourite sandwiches of the year have included the Roast Pork from DiNic's in Philadelphia, the Banh Mi from Baoguette in the East Village and the Reuben from the downtown deli in Seneca Falls.

A record from 2011 that will be still be played in 10 years time?
Julia: That's a tough one...
Simon: No records from now will be played in ten years time because pop music, as an artform has been concluded. None of it makes any sense except in reference to itself, it can't do anything weirder, more dangerous, more simple or more knowing than it already has so all we're left with is to rake the greying pieces into briefly diverting new patterns. It will follow poetry into oblivion, Pop will only be the preserve of bespectacled hobbyists for a while, then the mentally ill, then it will suffer for ever as the consolation of frumps. That said, there's probably some pre-teen girl out there who really likes One Direction and who will play their album again to herself ironically when she's twenty-two.

Overlooked in 2011?
Simon: The fact that 'One Direction' have been so named by a Neuro-Linguistic Programming savvy Marketing Professional because when you say it out loud it sounds like 'Wand Erection' and arouses pre-teen girls without them knowing why. Also us, as usual.

Brightest hope for 2012?
Simon: A Free Libya? Honestly, we all need to stop thinking about boys with guitars.

And what can we look forward to in 2012 from The Indelicates?
Simon: We are writing two musicals, a grotty cabaret album, two films, an audio story book about magpies and goblins and a children's novel. Julia will be making more necklaces.

I'll repeat what I said when writing about “David Koresh Superstar” back in May: “Less a review, more an instruction to buy forthwith”. Hurry join the sect.

Something Goin' Down In Waco - The Indelicates by FollyOfYouth

The Indelicates David Koresh Superstar [BUY]

Monday, December 12, 2011

WRAPPING UP 2011 with Gintis

There have been other champions of Abergele’s Gintis but the one that brought the band to my attention was Ted from the Cloud Sounds podcast. Hooked from first listen a couple of years ago, I eagerly awaited the release this April of second album “Idiot Guides and Plans”. It was not an easy gestation for the follow-up to their 2006 debut as the band describe on their label’s website: “sadly an unfortunate amount of family circumstances, distance between band members (who all had to move from the area for various reasons), abject poverty, depression and even short periods of homelessness delayed completion of this album for 3 to 4 years. However the band feels this record is a triumph over adversity and it has all been done “in house” getting friends to play brass instruments for free, Steve and Chris at TAPE did not charge for their time nor use of the studio. It cost barely a penny to make this record, using borrowed instruments and relying heavily on the generosity of others (which is good, because the band have and continue to have nothing) but what it is rich in, is depth, love, warmth and sincerity. We hope that you will feel like part of the family too”.

Gintis may not sound like winners but their modest, sweetly psychedelic melodies are indeed triumphs, mixing small-town domesticity and human failing with big themes like scientific rationalism, existential doubt and technological obsolescence. Carl Roberts (vocals/guitar) and Kyle Lee (guitar) from the band share their thoughts and experiences of 2011:

What we will remember most about 2011 is...
Kyle: As a band, for me personally it would be supporting Evan Dando. Nice to play a decent venue, plus we got to support Evan Dando!
Carl: The creation of my "Vera" night that I go to. Four of us sit around getting smashed and we each pick a song to listen to. However there are rules. First song to kick the night off is always something off “Safe As Milk” by Captain Beefheart, every fourth song (i.e. after everyone has had one selection) we listen to ‘Vera’ by Pink Floyd, every fourth ‘Vera’ we listen to live ‘Vera’. If you reach five live ‘Vera’s you listen to ‘We'll Meet Again' by Vera Lynn, however we have not reached this yet. Double ‘Vera’ signifies the end of the night. Every now and again we have a "special artist round", Nick Drake can only be played in a special artist round and not on any other "normal" round. If you put a pringle on your chin, you can pretend to be Roger Waters.

What should be forgotten about 2011…
Kyle: Not much we do we need to forget about, usually fun all the time.
Carl: Erm... can't remember anything worth forgetting.

The best gig we played was...
Kyle: Either the Evan Dando gig in the Tiv, or our home town gig at the start of the tour. Nice to have people that know your songs around you.
Carl: Supporting Evan Dando in the Tivoli in Buckley, it was set up by a lovely bunch of guys called The Reads and they kindly asked us to come and play as they knew how much we loved Big Evan. He is the reason I write songs pretty much. It was a great gig and we didn't let ourselves down. We didn't get to meet him, nor did he watch our set, but it was just nice to know he was sharing a stage with us, and also he rattled through countless amazing songs, that was a pleasure to behold.

The best gig we saw was...
Kyle: Either Jonny or Bright Eyes, both extremely good gigs.
Carl: Rob Gintis and I travelled to Brussels to watch a band called Flotation Toy Warning. They are one of the greatest bands on this planet. Their drummer produces our stuff. Really nice guys, mind-blowing songs, amazing gig.

A record from 2011 that will be still be played in 10 years time?
Kyle: “Idiot Guides and Plans”
Carl: Go Go Boots” by The Drive-By Truckers - have fallen in love with this album this year. Great country, the way it should be.

Overlooked in 2011?
Kyle: Jonny
Carl: Got to be us hasn't it? Some good bands bubbling under that I really hope release records next year such as Onions and Morffe.

Brightest hope for 2012?
Kyle: There’s loads of good music out there, but my new favourite at the moment is Conor Mason
Carl: That Dev's son in Corrie's golfing career takes off.

And what can we look forward to in 2012 from Gintis?
Kyle: Might be able to get a couple of songs recorded for an EP we want to do, hopefully demo the new album too. Hopefully more gigs, and we'd love to do a couple of festivals over summer, if anyone will have us.
Carl: Tough one...We don't have much planned really. Hopefully we can get a few dates together with our buddies The Loungs.

It's positive the band don't remember anything bad about this year but it’s heart-breaking they didn’t even get to meet Evan Dando when supporting him. It’s also heart-breaking they don’t get the acclaim or attention they deserve either. Maybe, even though they don’t necessarily agree about next year, 2012 will bring them more of both and more people will feel part of the Gintis family?

The Bakery Song - Gintis by FollyOfYouth

Half As Much by freshhairrecords

Gintis Idiot Guides and Plans [BUY]

Sunday, December 11, 2011

THE DOOMED BIRD OF PROVIDENCE The Bell of the Jardines / The Death Flurry

A ‘single’ suggests a pithy, instantly catchy two-and-a-half to three minute song. A single released in December has further connotations: cheesy novelty, schmaltzy sentiment and poor festive puns. Thank goodness for bands like The Doomed Bird of Providence who cock a snook at such traditions.

Following April's “Will Ever Pray” album, the Australian quintet cut adrift between Colchester and London, return at the close of the year to serve up two more weevil-encrusted slices of briny regret and torment about Samoan princesses, whaling, watery graves and leprosy. Both tracks creak as much as salt-stained timber under sail with elegant aching strings under the wheezing accordian, tolling guitar and the ominous growling voice of Mark Kluzek.

‘The Bell of the Jardines’ has a stately procession with chiming tubular bells and plucked strings plus a brief interlude where the string players alone are given centre-stage that softens the grizzled, doom-struck vocals and merciless drum beat. ‘The Death Flurry’ achieves the same softening through a swaying folky tempo and harp-like strings to alternate with more intense, gory passages. Both songs top six minutes and although chart familiar territory to “Will Ever Pray” are clearly no mere off-cuts from that album. The 'Australian Colonial Gothic' of The Doomed Bird of Providence is fine re-definition of what a December single should sound like. But if you are still struggling with the concept, the band will be re-working some Christmas tunes for Tom Ravenscroft on 6Music on 23 December. Just don’t expect glittery, festive cheer.

The Doomed Bird of Providence - The Bell of the Jardines by frontandfollow

The Doomed Bird of Providence The Bell of the Jardines / The Death Flurry [BUY]

Monday, December 05, 2011

WRAPPING UP 2011 with Free Swim

The arrival this weekend to Edinburgh Zoo of Tian Tian and Yang Guang led most people to point out there are now more Giant Pandas than Tory MPs in Scotland. However one lone voice, the band Free Swim, pointed out a different statistic: the UK now has three Giant Pandas. For Free Swim have adopted the titular heroine of their second EP of 2011 as their bass player.

Yolanda The Panda” was one of this year’s unconfined and unexpected joys. A four track concept EP about a mountaineering giant panda who travels from her cage at San Diego Zoo to sail across oceans, escape incarceration by the Chinese government to then tackle the ascent of Everest in a madcap 14 minutes. Like “a neat stitching together of English eccentrics and Peel favourites: Martin Newell, Felt, I Ludicrous, Bearsuit” said I. My Band's Better Than Your Band said it better: "bloody brilliant...99 times better than most bands".

Free Swim is the brainchild of Paul Coltofeanu who also records as The Android Angel (a “more serious” musical side-project. Come on Paul – I regard Free Swim as utterly serious). Joining him live in Free Swim are band members Ryan Say, Steve Matthews and of course Yolanda the Panda. Putting questions to all of them, the band nominated Yolanda to answer on their behalf:

What I will remember most about 2011 is...
Coming to England to play bass guitar with Free Swim!

What should be forgotten about 2011…
I don’t want to forget any of it, it has been fantastic!

The best gig we played was...
Everywhere we played people were very friendly and often very drunk!

The best gig I saw was...
The new Lord Webber production of Love Never Dies!

A record from 2011 that will be still be played in 10 years time?
Yolanda the Panda by Free Swim of course!

Overlooked in 2011?
Sponsor a Panda!

Brightest hope for 2012?
I would like to keep playing bass guitar in Free Swim but I want to return to China to start a family soon.

And what can we look forward to in 2012 from Free Swim?
Free Swim is going to release two brand new EPs at the beginning of the year! Hurray!

The first Free Swim EP “Two Hands is OK” was based on the premise “a man is so busy he decides to have two extra hands grafted onto his chest”. What on earth will EPs number three and four bring next year? And maybe 2012 will also bring more promoters outside London enlightened enough to put the band on - as well as the quality of the music their bass player is a seven foot tall Giant Panda fercrisssakes!

Free Swim - I Want to be a Mountaineer! by Free Swim

Free Swim - Harmlessly English by Free Swim

Friday, December 02, 2011

WRAPPING UP 2011 with Y Niwl

As we count day the days to the end of the year, I’ve asked a few bands artists who’ve made an impression on the year to share their thoughts about 2011. This is part of the countdown to my Top Ten Albums of 2011 later this month. Sadly Welsh surf-rock maestros Y Niwl won’t be in that list because their eponymous album came out last December (and snuck into last year’s Top Ten).

But they’ve had a momentous year: opening for and then being the backing band for Gruff Rhys on his globe-trotting “Hotel Shampo” tour. And then being short-listed for the inaugural Welsh Music Prize (won by, that man again, Gruff Rhys...). 2011 saw the release of double A side single ‘Undegsaith/Undegchwech’ and following a delay caused by fire at a Prague pressing plant, the end of the year should also see a 180gram vinyl copy of last year’s album on sale.

What could top off that year? Well headling for the third year in a row the Cloud Sounds Xmas Bash this year at the Castle Hotel in Manchester’s Northern Quarter (advance tickets strongly recommended). Before that Y Niwl’s Alun Tan Lan casts a glance back at the last eleven months. Un, dau, tri...

What I will remember most about 2011 is...
Going to Oxford, Mississipi to the Fat Possum office and getting a Bishop Manning and the Manning Family CD: everyone should get one! And playing with Gruff!

What should be forgotten about 2011…
The red card.

The best gig we played was...
Pictish Trail's birthday party on the isle of Eigg; The Unfortunate Thing That's Between Us, Berlin; and Green Man Festival.

The best gig I saw was...
Deerhoof at Fujirock or Race Horses at the Fairy Falls.

A record from 2011 that will be still be played in 10 years time?
Bishop Manning and the Manning Family. I also heard Arthur Russell for the first time. And “Hotel Shampoo” will be played in 10 years time, it’s such an amazing album.

Overlooked in 2011?
Ted Cloud Sounds as the new voice of Radio One.

Brightest hope for 2012?
Race Horses. The new line up is brilliant, really looking forward to their new album. Plus Jen Jeniro and Alvy Singer.

And what can we look forward to in 2012 from Y Niwl?
New songs, new album if all goes to plan and new mugs.

Y Niwl - Undegchwech by FollyOfYouth

Y Niwl Undegsaith/Undegchwech [BUY]

Thursday, December 01, 2011


Despite opening that first window on the advent calendar today, meaning there's a seasonal shut-down of decent music coming, before that kicks in there's still plenty of great live music to be had in Manchester. And none of it festive. Well except the Cloud Sounds Xmas Bash at The Castle Hotel on Saturday 10th December. But even this is festive in name only - five bands including the peerless Welsh surf-rockers Y Niwl in a real ale pub for £8. Bargain. As ever a mixtape [54 mins / 62 MB] of bands playing Manchester this December to help inform your gig-going decision-making - link in the post below this one.

Mcr Gigs in Music Mixtape: December 2011

Panda Bear You Can Count On Me (acapella) [2.30] (2 Dec Central Methodist Hall BUY TICKETS)
Y Niwl Pedwar [5.07] (10 Dec The Castle BUY TICKETS)
Jim Noir Ping Pong Time Tennis [7.57] (5 Dec Band on the Wall BUY TICKETS)
The Lovely Eggs I Like Birds But I Like Other Animals Too [10.11] (6 Dec Night & Day BUY TICKETS)
Euros Childs Like This Then Try This [13.05] (12 Dec Anthony Burgess Foundation BUY TICKETS)
Peaking Lights Hey Sparrow [16.59] (10 Dec Deaf Institute BUY TICKETS)
This Is The Kit Waterproof [19.44] (16 Dec Band on the Wall BUY TICKETS)
Dan Michaelson Breaking Falls [24.27] (6 Dec Dulcimer BUY TICKETS)
AA Bondy The Heart Is Willing [28.25] (7 Dec Academy 2 BUY TICKETS)
The Felice Brothers Fire At The Pageant [31.47] (7 Dec Academy 2 BUY TICKETS)
Duchess Says Time To Reiterate [36.06] (13 Dec The Castle BUY TICKETS)
I Break Horses Hearts [39.55] (3 Dec Soup Kitchen BUY TICKETS)
Miracle Fortress Raw Spectacle [45.52] (13 Dec Night & Day BUY TICKETS)
Plank! Arse Nick [48.29] (2 Dec Fuel Cafe Bar BUY TICKETS)
Kong Count To Nine [51.47] (19 Dec Ruby Lounge BUY TICKETS)
Malcolm Middleton We’re All Going To Die (acoustic)[54.42] (12 Dec Deaf Institute BUY TICKETS)

And not forgetting:
1 Dec Fionn Regan St Philips Church / 1 Dec Malawi Action Aid Concert with Rook And The Ravens + Karima Francis + more Night & Day / 1 Dec George Clinton Ritz / 1 Dec Peatbog Faeries Band on the Wall / 1 Dec Juan Zalada The Castle / 2 Dec The Slow Readers Club MoHo Live / 2 Dec Trojan Horse + Cyril Snear Fuel Cafe Bar / 2 Dec Stephen Fretwell Night & Day / 2 Dec Dutch Uncles Deaf Institute / 3 Dec Beat The Radar + Advances In Mathematics Gigg Lane, Bury / 4 Dec IROK The Castle / 4 Dec Twin Atlantic Academy / 4 Dec Puro Instinct Trof Fallowfield / 5 Dec The Post War Years Islington Mill / 5 Dec The Good Natured Deaf Institute / 6 Dec Spank Rock Ruby Lounge / 6 Dec The Lemonheads Ritz / 6 Dec Rae Morris The Castle / 6 Dec Grant Hart Band on the Wall / 6 Dec Bell XI Deaf Institute / 8 Dec Iceage Kraak / 8 Dec Midnight Lion The Castle / 8 Dec Daughter + Monument Valley Deaf Institute / 9 Dec Leatherface Night & Day / 9 Dec Omar Souleyman Deaf Institute / 9 Dec Death In Vegas Academy / 11 Dec Duologue The Castle / 11 Dec Cherry Ghost Deaf Institute / 13 Dec Gideon Conn Band on the Wall / 14 Dec The Pipettes Sound Control / 15 Dec Slow Club St Philips Church / 15 Dec Ed Harcourt Matt & Phred’s / 15 Dec The Quangos The Bay Horse / 15 Dec Crazy Arm Star and Garter / 15 Dec Saint Jude Academy / 16 Dec The Paris Riots Deaf Institute / 17 Dec The Adverts Night & Day / 17 Dec Half Man Half Biscuit The Ritz / 18 Dec John Bramwell + Thea Gilmore Royal Exchange Theatre / 19 Dec Cherry Ghost Deaf Institute / 22 Dec Chameleons Vox Ruby Lounge


Manchester Gigs in Music Mixtape: December 2011

Manchester Gigs in Music - December 2011 by Follyofyouth on Mixcloud

Or download mixtape [55 mins / 62 MB] here.

Monday, November 28, 2011


Katie Malco inhabits the My First Tooth end of the Alcopop Records stable: melody-savvy acoustic folk-pop. Instead of the indie-folk hoedown leanings of her Northamptonshire label-mates, the Fife-born, London-based singer-songwriter tends towards crisply produced song-writer fare that will mean she will soon (already?) tire of the Laura Marling comparisons. But in the same way Marling can win both a BRIT and a NME award, Malco should span a broad church of music fans.

Opener ‘Laadeedaa’ is a jaunty acoustic number with pacy, plucked guitar and pin-sharp voice. Despite a title that suggests empty-headed nonsense, it sounds emphatically firm of purpose to the point where its final massed chorus becomes the most resolute of clarion calls. ‘Sad Eyes’ adds to this sense of flinty resolution. The full band sound helps – organ hum, guitar twang and swinging rhythms (handclaps would not go amiss) - but again it is her confident vocals and lyrics that carry the message “I'm fine, I'll survive” and you’re left in no doubt she means it.

‘Get in the Car’ is a more halting, plaintive song of ghosts and regret with a chorus of nocturnal escape (and a slight hint of Tracy Chapman's ‘Fast Car’ too, making it the most mainstream-friendly cut here). It is on banjo and fiddle country ballad ‘Johnny’ that Katie Malco moves away from the strong persona evident on other songs, here playing the down-trodden woman, crying at night and wishing to leave. Whether fictional or autobiographical, the depth of feeling in the lover’s exchanges in ‘Florence Nighingale's House’ is palpable. A quiet weepie delivered with simplicity of touch but again that steady, unfaltering voice. Gorgeous stuff.

Even if these songs are not drawn from experience, Katie Malco keeps it personal on the EP’s customisable sleeve: a die-cut gilt frame with three family snaps to swap as front cover. She may not be iconoclastic or ground-breaking but there’s a flinty steel and an elegant classiness that should see Katie Malco’s profile rise and for her to narrow the gap between herself and her double Mercury-nominated nemesis.

Katie Malco - Johnny by alcopop

Katie Malco and the Slow Parade [BUY]

Friday, November 25, 2011

FREE SWIM @ THE STAR OF KINGS 24 November 2011

"That's so new I wasn't sure where to go with it" confesses Matt Emery making up the ending to a song he penned earlier this afternoon. There's a supportive but disappointingly small crowd to support his fresh-as-new-paint opening slot, heartfelt solo acoustic power-pop songs of breaking hearts, weeping moons and feeling alone in hotel rooms.

I wrote about Oh! Gunquit in the new band section in this esteemed organ back in May 2010. The shadowy basement/cave at The Star of Kings is the perfect setting for their high-octane, surftastic garage-rock. Who could fail to love pounding songs called ‘Cindy's Got A Tiger’, ‘Meat Shake’ or ‘The Mentalist Twist’, the latter featuring hula-hooping lead singer. Sadly that moment was not captured for posterity by me. Instead you'll just have to track them down live for yourself. Highly recommended.

It was the 30th birthday of Free Swim’s Head Coach Paul Coltofeanu: "he's the oldest member of the band". But whatever else, he's certainly not the furriest or tallest band member. That honour belongs to the bass player dressed as the titular Giant Panda of the band's second EP “Yolanda The Panda”.

If seeing a band's singer hula-hoop earlier had been an unexpected pleasure, it was dwarfed by the silly-grin delight of seeing a seven foot panda strafe the - sadly still small - crowd with his bass guitar whilst placing one large paw firmly on the monitor. The four-piece band only played seven songs but they ably showed off the humorous and surreal story-telling and chunky rock sounds that made said EP one of this year's unadulterated pleasures.

This was Free Swim’s last gig of 2011 but for next year again highly, highly recommended live. Fun, furious and furry.

The Set List:

The Eureka Moment
I Want To Be A Mountaineer
Harmlessly English
Swooping Swoopily Like A Swooping Swooper
Scoring Bamboo Shoots
Rubik’s Rue
Quality Time With The Wife and Kids

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


We are called, for the time being, Netherlands” was not the most confident of starts for this London-via-Southampton four-piece. However if uncertain of name their sound is assured dream-pop, all shimmering guitar, steady floor-tom beats and gorgeous boy-girl harmonies. They may have forgotten a keyboard but if they hadn’t have told us it’s absence wouldn’t have been noticed, their sound felt so complete. Netherlands have a single out next year (“In January...or February..” they weren’t sure of this either) but whenever and whatever they are called it will be worth tracking down.

Christos Fanaras turned out to be a friend of the headliners. And it is not unkind to suggest that’s the only reason he was on this bill – the phrase ‘sore-thumb’ comes to mind. Glowering behind thirty year old keyboards he played a doomy and intense set of instrumentals somewhere between Tim Hecker and Forest Swords and sadly falling a long way behind both.

And then the headliners Fanfarlo. I have spent a good part of this year worrying about Fanfarlo. The initially self-released “Reservoir” is near faultless piece of swooning melodic indie-pop. What could a major label hook-up and a then long gestation for second album (due February 2012, three years after the self-release of its predecessor) mean?

Well from tonight’s gig at the Deaf Institute my first conclusion is Fanfarlo have successfully retained their slightly quirky, slighty bohemian otherness – what a troupe of circus children who form a touring band might look like, especially given keyboard-player/violinist Cathy Lewis’s curious one-piece romper-suit-cum-high-cut-leotard outfit tonight. But as well as near-constant touring the band have also been listening to a shed-load of music from 1979 – 1981 by the sound of it, from that era when post-punk morphed into synth-pop. Four of the older songs played tonight were all re-worked – the intro to ‘Luna’ was a dead-ringer for The B52s’ ‘Planet Claire’ – and new songs featured extra emphasis on keyboards, synth-beats alongside drums and saxophone. Elsewhere amongst new songs I heard snatches – just slight ones – of Devo, The Cure, OMD and even A-Ha. These were just snatches mind – I suspect all those references will be quite misleading when it comes to the full album.

This could have been a recipe for a sloppy mess but Fanfarlo confidently delivered it all with poise, energy and those winning harmonies. Given a long day of driving, caffeine, and a 6Music radio session all before this gig, Simon Balthazar said he felt like a cocaine-addled Stevie Nicks. He looked and sounded far from it - the whole band came across as relaxed, happy and clearly enjoying playing this set that felt as fresh as they looked and pleasingly felt like a true set of Fanfarlo songs.

I’ve the message now: the new record from Fanfarlo will not be a carbon-copy of “Reservoir”. And after tonight’s coherent and confident gig, I’m not just over this but really looking forward to hearing it. “Rooms Filled With Light” is released on 28 February 2012

The Set List:

‘Pilots’ = I Am A Pilot
‘Comments’ = Comets
‘Lunadogs’ = Luna
‘Wee Willy Wilkins’ = Harold T Wilkins
Encores not on the set list were a new song (‘In The Bag?’) and The Walls Are Coming Down.

Monday, November 21, 2011


This evening's support A Classic Education are an interesting proposition: displaced Vancouverite living in Bolgona fronts Italian indie-pop band. As cosmopolitan as their nationalities, the band’s sounds is a weaving together of summery sixties-leaning dream-pop with a hefty, rockin’ rhythm section - and then live interspersed with film dialogue and a range of stuffed and ornamental animals onstage (the jaguar is called Sonny apparently). Very easy on the ear but occasionally on this first date too much so to be instantly memorable – we must spend more time getting to know each other.

In his interview earlier this year for Drowned In Sound, Will Sheff couldn’t remember how many people had played on the new Okkervil River record: “Oh man. Ummm…40? Something like that, maybe? I’m really bad with numbers – I’m like a mother bird who can’t count all the babies in the nest”. When it comes to touring “I Am Very Far” however Sheff and co stick with the six-person line-up (with new multi-instrumentalist Michael St Clair) that has served all their recent album tours. And although this year’s release may have had more players, it follows the steady progression of scope and ambition from previous releases for their finely crafted, literate indie-rock ‘n’ rock.

Tonight at Sound Control the band open with a fierce statement of intent: ‘The Valley’ is as epic and monumental as on record (I can’t listen to it without thinking about this review and its reference to the ‘gated snare’) but coupling it with earlier songs like ‘For Real’ and ‘Black’ show how similar in power and feel they are. For a band that largely stick to their key instruments – drums, keys, bass and two guitars – it still surprises me how much variety Okkervil River can wring out of Sheff’s song-writing even with Michael St Clair working so hard at the rear of the stage (look he’s playing a trombone! Now the cornet! Next the violin!).

There is banter about Nas-endorsed milkshakes, repeating “granddad stories” about playing their first Manchester gig at The Star and Garter and a brief Steely Dan interlude but mainly the band are about delivering those songs with a mixture of concentration and fervour, precision and passion. And as finely crafted as the songs is tonight’s set-list as the band traverse the new record and back catalogue in a carefully flowing sweep - high energy opening salvo, more reflective mid-tempo numbers, the acoustic interlude, singalong sections and ballads into the dual song finale an epic (that word again) combination of ‘Our Life Is Not A Movie Or Maybe’ and ‘Lost Coastlines’.

Tonight it struck me that Sheff, overgrown straggly hair, thick beard and thick-rimmed glasses, could be mistaken for a younger version of a latter-day Jarvis Cocker. And he certainly inspires the same fan-reverence if more as an arty, askance story-teller than a champion of the misfit. The final two encores simply cement the affection and ardour of the crowd. For some bands the studio is their province, for others it is the live circuit. Okkervil River manage to span both – intricate and expansive records (their back catalogue feels much more extensive than six studio albums) with exceptional and passionate live performances never diminished or fatigued apparently by their near-constant touring. Essential listening. Essential viewing.

The Set List:

The Valley
For Real
Song Of Our So-Called Friend
Wake And Be Fine
White Shadow Waltz
We Need A Myth
No Key, No Plan (acoustic)
So Come Back, I Am Waiting
John Allyn Smith Sails
Your Past Live As A Blast
Our Life Is Not A Movie Or Maybe
Lost Coastlines
It Ends With A Fall
Unless It Kicks

Saturday, November 19, 2011

BIRD "Phantoms" EP

Witches, phantoms, ancient roots, lunar tides – there’s plenty here to justify a Halloween release. But I get the distinct impression that the Liverpool-based five-piece - Adele Emmas, Mick Dolan, Keith Thompson, Ste Parratt and Alexis Samata - are spooky all year round, not just seasonally so.

The stand-out track from this debut release by Bird is the title one. An eerie backdrop of nodding sombre drums and plucked acoustic guitar usher in soaring ghostly vocals, spectral choir and sinister violin – a thoroughly spine-tingling gothic take on alt-folk. ‘Hey Hey Moonshine’ has a woozy feel - but is about reflected moonlight rather than illegal stills – yet in tone and content it maintains the supernatural feel of the opener topped off with some intensely anguished violin squeal. Third track ‘Tides’ is a more sombre rumination, occasionally a little too somnambulant of pace but enlivened by some glacial and wordless Elisabeth Fraser yodelling. ‘The Witch Hunter’ delivers Edgar Allen Poe in song: thunderstorm crashes and falling rain opening before lurching through rolling drums, blood-curdling yodels from Adele Emmas, a soulless children’s voices and then sweeping and ominous strings.

This is evocative, mature if a little earnest gothic chamber-folk music that wins hands down in the atmosphere stakes. Some songs on the EP still show a band spreading its song-writing wings (ouch) but in the fully-fledged spookiness of ‘Phantoms’ they soar high.

 Hey Hey Moonshine by Birdofficial

Bird Phantoms [BUY or BUY]

Monday, November 14, 2011


After their August 2011 debut album mined a rich seam of Everly Brothers pop innocence combined with lofi garage-rock, I pondered where Shimmering Stars would progress next. The answer of course: a split single with a fellow Vancouverite living in Bologna, released on a Norwegian label.

His Clancyness aka Jonathan Clancy (also lead singer with A Classic Education) is new to me in his solo guise. ‘Carve A Peach’ is a woozy slice of dream-pop in the mode of Washed Out, Twin Shadow or maybe even a blissed out Bradford Cox; a sweet ache of soft vocals over keyboard washes and soothing jangles. ‘Don’t Worry, Just Understand’ continues the wistful swoon, elevating wavering guitar tremolo over synth to act like a bridge to the Shimmering Stars songs.


Despite the international aspects behind this partnership the two tracks from Shimmering Stars stay firmly in the vein of “Violent Hearts”. ‘Not Growing Up’ opens with rolling tremulous riffs like languid beach breakers before becoming a pounding torrent of widescreen Spector-like teenage anguish. ‘Greyhound Romance’ trips like Buddy Holly with a fuzz-pedal, filled with the sweetness of youthful love and escape suggested by the title before peaking in celebratory fashion. It may be darker lyrically as the reverb swamps the subtlety of Rory McClure’s words but the sounds accurately (I hope) portray the songs emotions.

The His Clancyness/Shimmering Stars split is available on 7” vinyl or digitally. Grab it now and pretend that the low winter sun is actually still the blissful glow of a balmy summer’s evening.

Shimmering Stars- Not Growing Up by Splendour

His Clancyness/Shimmering Stars split single [BUY]

Sunday, November 13, 2011


If you like watching rehearsals, you must be loving this”. George Thomas and his brother Euan’s afternoon practice session had been lost to the lugging back and forth of equipment. However from my brief previous encounters with George Thomas on record, his faltering, faux-naif indie folk wobbles don’t appear to depend of endless practice. Tonight there was a rough-hewn charm to these wonky songs lent a slight antique air, despite the futuristic glasses and one song about space, from the swish, brushed drums of Euan and acoustic guitar or 60s Ace Tone organ from George. There were some stories of the shared histories of George Thomas and Liz Green and Red Deer Club that I didn’t quite follow but no interpretation was needed for this amiably idiosyncratic opening set.

George Thomas had earlier said that hearing this was Liz Green’s album launch party he had put the emphasis on "party" rather than "slick gig". Liz Green’s approach to her own launch party was to push the dial round to "wild variety". Her set started with her alone on the stage necking a glass of rum followed by playing two covers – Son House and Blind Willie McTell. She was then joined by her band, the freshly christened ‘Team Me’, and the evening continued with rambling introductions and reminiscences, hand-drawn note-book storyboarding of one song, more shambling amiability but then beautifully haunting songs of murder and bereavement. As she put it herself “Enough hilarity, here’s another song about death”.

I first saw Liz Green in 2007 in the upstairs room at Cafe Saki. As she led a cross-legged, mainly student audience in a clap-along acapella number I initially pegged her as a coffee-house folk-revivalist. But as her singles confirmed she sides more with pre-war blues here, and on the debut album, given a subtle jazz flavour by her band – trombone, saxophone, brushed drums and double bass. The surreal almost nightmarish imagery of songs – Joe the half-bird man who loses his fourteen sons (also half bird) in the American Civil War before having to kill his wife Oko and himself with a woodcutter’s axe to end their grief in “The Ballad of Joe and Oko”- was explained matter-of-factly as though such stories stalk the imagination of Liz Green daily. The switch from meandering comic explanation to hushed harrowing tales was often sudden and stark.

Highlights for me were a deathly atmospheric ‘Hey Joe’ and a breathtakingly beautiful solo rendition of ‘French Singer’. For ‘Gallows’ the final song of main set performed solo, she walked slowly away from the microphone still singing, her voice becoming more distant until she disappeared into the wings and into silence. A wonderfully dramatic moment. I would dearly love to see a Liz Green show that emphasises the drama and grand guignol without attempting to lighten the mood. May be just too intense? But tonight was a great combination of a cosy night-in with friends-and-rum plus spooky, sparse musical tales of death and loss. Someone had travelled all the way from Germany just to see this show giving another twist to the album title "O Devotion". But Liz Green’s talent and song-writing do indeed deserve such carefully placed devotion.

The Set List:

Grinnin’ In Your Face [Son House] (solo)
Dying Crapshooter’s Blues [Blind Willie McTell] (solo)
Ostrich Song
Midnight Blues
Displacement Song
Rag and Bone
Hey Joe
The Ballad of Joe and Oko
The Quiet
Bad Medicine
Gallows (solo)
French Singer (solo)
Bei Mir Bis du Shoen