Thursday, June 30, 2011


Prompting me to think of both ‘stonewall’ (“to obstruct or hinder any discussion”) and the more contemporary ‘firewall’, Deadwall appears an odd choice for a band name. It suggests inaccessibility, an unwillingness to cooperate or downright obstinacy. However the five-piece from Leeds are not acting in the spirit of that name: as is de rigueur for any unsigned band, they have tracks streaming on Soundcloud, a moderately active Twitter account and an easily searchable minimalist tumblr website . As well as having the digital tools, the band also has the art-rock-leaning song-writing skills too.

There are five tracks on Soundcloud and embedded into their website; an EP in all but name and physical manifestation. ‘Venus’ Curse’ reminds me of “The Bends”-era Radiohead, when the band (I’m no fan) made the leap from tetchy guitar-rock to something more transcendental, here all shimmering textures with contained tension and seething organ. ‘The Wakefield Questionnaire’ (appearing in tomorrow’s July mixtape) recalls Field Music’s angular rhythms and chunky guitars with a bit of XTC thrown in. The jagged contrasts and falsetto vocals of ‘Curse of the Black Widow’ runs head on at Wild Beasts, deftly getting away even with rhyming ‘hearse’ and ‘curse’, a potential flat-vowelled pitfall. The remaining two songs are a bit more dreamy and drifting - nowt wrong with this but the early momentum of the preceding trio is not maintained as strongly. Yet Deadwall have done enough to show their potential – and I’m drawn to these songs despite not being the greatest fan of any of the bands referenced above.

Deadwall make their Manchester debut this Friday at Night and Day after several months gigging around Leeds and Bradford. I suspect and hope it won’t be their last trip across the M62. “I made a mental note of what it took to succeed” they sing in ‘The Wakefield Questionnaire’. Sharing debut songs this strong is a pretty good start.

Curse Of The Black Widow by deadwall

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


Pity the poor touring band: six sweaty hours on the road from Edinburgh to Manchester, then a BBC radio session (for Marc Riley; listen again here) and then hotfooting it to a pub gig venue to be watched setting up by a small but patient crowd already in situ. The joke made in last week’s interview with Bart Eagleowl about this touring combination being “one band with three different singers” was in some ways shown to be true tonight as most players (okay: eagleowl) remained on stage throughout. But only in some.

The live set started with four songs of “doom-wop” from Rob St John: dark, folky melodrama sung with an ominous deep voice that seemed at odds with his tender years and slender frame. I’d only heard sessions of him playing solo before so it was an interesting contrast to hear him backed by the rest of eagleowl and Mark Hamilton of Woodpigeon. It took the first song to balance out the sound but then the haunted tones of his voice sat well with the full band backing. Darkly engaging stuff. The album from which these songs come is due in September on Song By Toad Records.

After a short break it was eagleowl making their live Manchester debut. The late running and no sound-check meant some compromises (a keyboard wasn’t working so was junked in favour of harmonium) but none of this appeared to affect their set. The graceful, elegiac arc of their early singles and EPs was matched in these new songs but given extra backbone with some impressively powerful drumming from Owen William (of Benni Hemm Hemm). Dulcimer can be often cloaked in murky darkness but here with the blinds up to let the late evening sunlight in, it brought a lightness to counterpoint the sombre post-folk intensity. Although to be fair, eagleowl also lightened the mood with their penultimate song and its Cliff Richard parody chorus of “it’s so funny / we don’t fuck anymore”. The final nine minute song peaked with some pulverising drumming and noise. Never thought I’d use ‘pulverising’ in relation to eagleowl but it all worked beautifully.

I’ve seen Woodpigeon admirably fill bigger stages including the main stage at End of The Road last year (and they are at the Barbican this Saturday night) but they felt equally at home in this cosy setting. Despite the six musicians on stage for some of the quieter moments, Woodpigeon found themselves competing with the trad folk jam session downstairs (seriously). This and the small room gave the evening a casual, jovial intimacy. The band played older and new Woodpigeon songs (new album due 2012) and despite several mentions of how early they’d been up and the long day thus far, this did not sound like a ragged or run-down performance. And by the final two songs of the main set, played with all the lights off because “they’re spooky songs”, Woodpigeon created real moments of hushed wonder. An encore of a “Swedish folk love song” (Abba’s ‘Lay All Your Love On Me’) only served to cement the warm feeling in the room for the whole night. The only shame then was giving the late running of the evening, not many people stayed about to buy any of the CDs or LPS on sale. So if you really pity the poor touring band(s), go here or here to help them out.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

PULCO "Small Thoughts"

Small Thoughts” is the seventh album from Pulco (aka Ash Cooke), previously of Peel session favs Derrero and for the last ten years solo purveyor of outsider folk-pop, recorded in a ‘wardrobe studio’ and spliced with “poems, field recordings and interruptions by the kids”. After a few listens I started to categorize the fourteen ‘small thoughts’ here into simple categories. There are warm, drowsy soft-voiced psyche-pop tunes like ‘Place Lid On Me’ or ‘Beanbags’; there’s surreal and/or self-referential spoken word pieces such as ‘Oxbow Lake’ or ‘A Self-Made Man’ recalling Ivor Cutler, a more sedate Jad Fair or even the dramatic verse of Dylan Thomas; then there’s more rhythmic, abrasive types like of ‘Machines/Mind’ which comes across as an arcade game shoot-out between Unicorn Kid and Grandaddy.

But the more you listen to the album the more immune to narrow categorization these songs become. Like thoughts themselves they appear errant, unruly even and liable to sudden metamorphosis. ‘Travel Lodge Mirror’ starts as sleepy Spanish guitar serenade before becoming a nocturnal reflection (geddit?) on career, reward and art. ‘Night Owl’ begins as sweet crooning lullaby, finishes as spoken word. ‘Seahorse See Sheep’ mixes soothing nursery rhyme rhythms with over-excited kid’s screams and cries. Even the more straightforward songs throw in a curveball: the simplicity of quiet acoustic ramble ‘Old Stones’ is played over ambient crowd chatter – but you can’t quite work out if that is a party, football match, political rally or shopping centre hubbub you can hear.

One man home recording projects can often be cursed by indulgent repetition or a lack of self-editing. What “Small Thoughts” is ‘cursed’ with is a restless variety of textures, moods and instruments, a sense of trying to make every song sound fresh and different whilst remaining singularly idiosyncratic. The gently ambling tempos, the sudden contrasts and shifting variety plus the sharply detailed sound (despite the talk of hand-held recorders and wardrobe studios) make it a pleasure to spend time in its unfolding tales and ponderings. In both ‘Oxbow Lake’ and ‘Travel Lodge Mirror’ Pulco reflects on his life and works and finds flaws: “I’m 37 and my life is like an oxbow lake...cut back by the persistence erosion of time...a haunted backwater”. But in both songs, touching tiny manifestos that reveal the vulnerability and doubt behind his calling, Pulco resolves to keep striving, to “carve out a new water course” through his art and music.

The final eight and a half minutes track ‘Mexican Mods and Mexican Rockers’ returns to the question posed in opener ‘What’s In A Name?’ as to whether there is any meaning behind the name Pulco: “it can’t just be a random collection of letters?”. Despite some clever, witty red herrings (“the low quality shellac Russian 78s were pressed on before Glasnost...the mangy clumps of fur dropped by a moulting cat.. a Jamaican slang term for all music that is not reggae”), the track is redundant as well as overlong. Because Pulco has admirably defined himself in the previous thirteen tracks.

Photos of Ash Cooke make me think of the kindly, shaggy-haired hippie uncle from the Welsh branch of the family, the one who kids would love to visit in the summer holidays but strait-laced parents would frown on his wayward ways and ‘creative’ leanings. Summer holidays are nearly here kids - and you know where you want to be spending them don’t you?

Pulco Small Thoughts [BUY]

Sunday, June 19, 2011

In MCR this month: Q&A with EAGLEOWL

Recently I have been swooning over plenty of new (to me) Scottish bands including Withered Hand, The Douglas Firs, The Savings and Loan, King Post Kitsch and The Scottish Enlightenment. Equally swoon-worthy but longer of my acquaintance is Edinburgh’s post-folk maestros eagleowl. Their first EP "For The Thoughts You Never Had" was released in 2008, followed by a single ("Sleep The Winter") and another EP ("Into The Fold") in each of the following years, as the band who slowly expanded from a duo originally to now a four-piece: Bartholomew Owl, Malcolm Benzie, Clarissa Cheong and Rob St John. In both 2008 and 2010 eagleowl also doubled as Mark Hamilton’s touring band when Woodpigeon played the UK including three sets at last year’s End of the Road, the third being a late night all covers set as festival finale (including Herman Dune, The Velvet Underground, R Kelly and TLC). Now eagleowl are heading out on a short Scottish and English tour reprising that formula – playing their own set supporting Woodpigeon and then returning as part of Woodpigeon. In advance of that tour (Aberdeen, Edinburgh, London plus their Manchester debut), Bart from eagleowl kindly answered a few questions:

I suspect you are a Tarkovsky rather than Tarantino kind of band, but what’s the movie-style synopsis of the eagleowl story to date?
I’m not entirely sure our synopsis would be interesting enough to warrant a movie. But I like the idea of Tarkovsky directing. If there was an eagleowl movie I’d like to have a feel of early Jim Jarmusch or Antonioni. Something that deals more with subtle details than with big action, or tries to find or beauty in the banal.

Supporting then playing with Woodpigeon makes economic sense for touring but does it lead to any schizophrenic episodes, conflicting loyalties or fatigue? Especially for Rob (St John) also playing in his own right?
Yeah – we’re also going to help fill out Rob’s songs with various band members too. There’s a joke – and it’s probably especially true of this tour – that it’s just the same band, we just take it turns who gets to sing. There’s no schizophrenia, I think - just all out rivalry. We’re constantly trying to sabotage each other’s songs by playing the wrong chords, sing off key, that kind of thing.

And there’s talk of an expanded or different eagleowl line-up. What’s changing?
We’ve recently been rehearsing with a drummer and a cellist. With drums especially, we were always holding back, because I didn’t want to just add in the usual standard backing beat to the songs we had. But we’ve been working with Owen William (who played with Woodpigeon at EOTR last year, and has played with people like Benni Hemm Hemm and Two Wings), who’s very intuitive and patient as a drummer. It’s been great working on new material and working drums in from the start so that it’s not latched on – as an instrument in itself rather than just keeping the beat...

3 EP or single releases to date. Is the next recording likely to be an album? And despite “eagleowl believe in doing things right, rather than doing things fast”, any thoughts as to when?
We’re working on material that we’re hoping will form the first album proper. Hoping to record again later in the year.

What are your experiences of touring beyond Scotland to date? And what are you expecting or fearing?
Our ‘tours’ have always been very reserved, as it’s always trying to juggle round jobs and babies and such like. We generally do three dates – Glasgow, Edinburgh, London, then back home. We tend to only go with playing for promoters who are friends or who we know well, so we’ve been very lucky with sympathetic audiences. It can be quite hard playing to a new audience for the first time, especially when a lot of our music is so bare – if there’s a noisy or unappreciative crowd it can really make for a tough time. But I think we’ve been very lucky with the shows that we’ve done to avoid that.

This time around we’re still again doing three dates – playing around weekends and holidays. Then going down to play with Woodpigeon at the Barbican the following weekend. We get to play in Manchester for the first time, which I’m super excited about. And we’re doing a really nice acoustic (PA-less) show in Aberdeen [at Peacock Visual Arts Centre].

At End of the Road with Woodpigeon last year you played Withered Hand’s ‘No Cigarettes’. Are you and Mark packing any new covers for this tour?
We’re not planning any. Though I’m not adverse to a good cover version. I think some bands, particularly British bands (and perhaps audiences) can be quite snobby about playing covers. But I think an interesting cover – one that’s sympathetic but still manages to rework the song – is a real achievement. Just as an aside, Withered Hand is one artist who is really good at that.

And from your three releases which is the single track people should head to if unfamiliar with eagleowl?
Maybe 'Into the Fold'. It’s pretty downbeat.

Woodpigeon, eagleowl and Rob St John play Dulcimer in Manchester on 28 June with tickets just £7.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


The February 2010 show by Tune-Yards was a revelation to me. I loved the record that came first but was then bowled over by how one person could create such intricate rhythms and loops from so little and with just assistance from a lone bass player (not even on stage throughout). So seeing Tune-Yards a second time, tonight at the Deaf Institute, wasn’t going to hold any new surprises surely?

Magic Arm, bearded in checked shirt and trucker's cap, used a battered acoustic with violin bow, harmonica and sampler to mixed the melodic with the abrasive and the unpolished in a set of abrupt endings, mistakes and spilled drinks. Beautifully endearing like a backwoods Beck caught between "One Foot In The Grave" and "Mellow Gold" or a scruffier Peter Broderick.

One of Thousands had a beard and a checked shirt but the duo definitely have polish too. They played impeccable coffee house folk, intensely picked strings with a serious intent but soothing effect, recalling Simon and Garfunkel rather than their Seattle neighbours Fleet Foxes. A good chalk-and-cheese contrast but both acts hugely enjoyable in their own right.

Given “Whokill” is a more soulful and slicker affair than the home recording of “Bird-Brains” would Tune-Yards bring extra musicians to help deliver it live? Yes but the first surprise of the evening was that those extra players turned out to be not one but TWO saxophonists in addition to Merrill Garbus herself and bass player Nate Brenner. And then of course despite touring to support the album released just two months ago, the set is opened by a new song, the riotously catchy call-and-response of ‘Party [in a?] Can’. But even having the Tune-Yards experience just 15 months before the real shock of the evening is she can do it all over again – and then some. It didn't think it possible but tonight had extra clout and extra confidence.

There’s a communal delight in watching the loops and rhythms being created out of simple drumstick clatter, wordless chants, plus beer bottle and steel pan percussion; and then a double delight in being hit by the sheer ingenuity and primal power of the music as vocals, bass and drums are added. It’s loud, funky, and playful for the most part but then floors you with the quieter, hair-raising moments such as ‘Fiya’ and ‘Powa’. Ultimately what tops it all off is the magical transformation of Merrill Garbus from smiling, wide-eyed host full of bonhomie and generosity into a shamaniac warrior-princess with fancy, multi-coloured shoulder ruffs - fierce, feisty and able to coax a loud single-note roar out of the ENTIRE Deaf Institute crowd with little more than a stare and a wave of a drum-stick.

Only two songs from the first album tonight but no quibbles from me about this or anything else. An astonishing live performance to match a great record: in person or in the studio Merrill Garbus can do no wrong as far as I am concerned. As the encore ‘Killa’ says “I’m a new kind of woman”.

The Set List:

Party Can
You Yes You
Real Live Flesh
My Country

Sunday, June 12, 2011

THE BELL PEPPERS "Cooking With Bell Peppers"

A basic home recording set-up, some retro knitting pattern artwork and a Bandcamp account. These days that’s all the ingredients a band needs to launch themselves on the world. So say hello to The Bell Peppers - even if The Bell Peppers sound as though the days they are really interested in are from the early 1950s. The opening track on the ‘Cooking with Bell Peppers’ EP is ‘Rubber Bullets’ which mixes fidgety twanging surf-guitar, an occasional shout of “tutti frutti” and a primitive mono sound to serve up a groovy Fifties summer sundae treat. The other four tracks on their debut release (a free digital download) stick with the period but subtly shift styles: the languid romantic sway of ‘Monquito’s Diner’ or the peppier swing of ‘Bell Pepper Hop’ or the spooky strut of ‘Doin’ The Moon Freak’. All sound as though the only thing missing is vintage vinyl crackle.

The duo from Manchester, Meek Bell & Dee Pepper allegedly, play all the guitars and percussion on these instrumentals that unite pre-rock ‘n’ roll innocence with a garage primitivism. There’s very little updating or overhaul of the formula – think of the authentic retro reverence of Kitty, Daisy & Lewis combined with a bit of Cramps rawness – and the band are not as intense or fuzzy as the current surf-rock meisters Y Niwl but there is a tuneful allure and refreshing lack of pretence or archness in their celebration of the innocence of an earlier age. Next for The Bell Peppers will be live performances for Morris Six and Trash-O-Rama nights where the band are “gonna try and cut it live with loop pedals and layering - and vocal spasms done by Dee”. Cookin’ indeed.

Thursday, June 09, 2011


Jim Wallis is the drummer in London's My Sad Captains, ace purveyors of bitter-sweet indie-pop (their second album due at some point this calendar year). Wallis also releases music in his own right as Looking Glass. Now from a drummer's musical side-project you'd expect thump and clatter right? Well Looking Glass is a much more muted affair. Over two EPS – 2009’s "Fish Fowl Flood" and 2010’s "The First Real Target" – Wallis has made twelve tracks of frail, wistful Americana built on restraint and gossamer-light guitar or banjo - with minimal drum-beats or noise.

For the third Looking Glass release, Wallis has teamed up with Providence, Rhode Island resident Vio/Miré (aka Brendan Glasson) to release a split single with two tracks a piece. Vio/Miré is a new name to me but proves a worthy and apt sparring partner to Looking Glass (although I doubt neither blows nor harsh words were traded in this project).

The Looking Glass tracks are a fine continuation of the sound of earlier releases but take a step closer towards exquisite chamber-folk: echoing piano, yearning cello and metronomic click on ‘Infinite Wisdom’ and more spritely banjo jauntiness on ‘If You See Something Say Something’. Both are imbued with a familiar (to me) feeling of failed ideas and dreams (“I planned another year / and saw it disappear”).

The first Vio/Miré first track “Ivory Gull” is a more electronically textured piece, an ode to “hemlock trees...[and] mighty redwoods” that reminds me of a pared back Papercuts with a bit of Conor Oberst vocal wobble thrown (gently) in. ‘Much That Could Be Found’ is a strummed, acoustic song of loss and despondency which continues with the mighty redwoods references and sounds even more like Conor Oberst but here suffering a quiet crisis in confidence.

The two artists and their delicate despair sit together remarkably well. But the real success of this split single is in making me hungry to hear more from both artists. A hushed triumph, limited to 250 7” vinyl copies worldwide or available digitally courtesy of Tip Top Recordings.

Looking Glass - Infinite Wisdom by Tip Top Recordings

Vio/Miré - Ivory Gull by Tip Top Recordings

Looking Glass / Vio/Miré Split Single [BUY]

Monday, June 06, 2011

RANDI RUSSO "Fragile Animal"

“Fragile Animal” is Randi Russo’s third studio album since 2001’s self-released “Solar Bipolar”, a steady album-every-five-years work-rate that speaks of the careful (and most likely self-funded) progress of a musician working independently (or on small grassroots indie labels like Hidden Target) as well as following a parallel calling as a visual artist. Russo has shared bills with Regina Spektor, Kimya Dawson, Diane Cluck, Ida and Langhorne Slim - but on “Fragile Animal” the native New Yorker is never as caustic or wayward as those anti-folkers or as spectral or sparse as Cat Power (apparently a comparison for some. For my money, "Exile on Guyville"-era Liz Phair is closer to the mark). Instead the album presents ten richly layered, melodic rock songs mixing literate, attentively crafted singer-songwriter fare with occasional touches of garage-rock edginess and NYC chug. Some songs – opener ‘Get Me Over’ and ‘Hurt Me Now’ – have a frail sweetness, almost vulnerability, about them but there’s plenty of leathery toughness too.

The bitter anger and angst of “Alienation” reminds me of Lisa Germano complete with flailing, anguished guitar; ‘Head High’ opens with Tom Waits junk-shop rhythms before settling into a strained, muscular throb with Patti Smith-like chanted phrases. Most songs are more conventional in texture and tone but the final seven minute ‘Restless Raga’ throws another stylistic deviation into the mix with Eastern vibes and drones. Without being driven by a strident stance, gender and identity are strong themes throughout: Russo can sing of two dimensional depictions of women (‘Venus on Saturn’) but equally express personal ambivalence at switching between states of invincibility and invisibility (‘Invisible').

The lushness and detail of the production (label-mate Paul Megna of The Oxygen Ponies - more on them soon) takes away some of the raw bite of previous records but not the quality. Russo plays left-handed guitar but has it strung as though for a right-hander. Not a hugely revolutionary innovation but a subtly distinctive and self-confident one. Much the same as “Fragile Animal” proves to be.

Randi Russo Fragile Animal [BUY]

Wednesday, June 01, 2011


The excesses of May and its mini-festival season may have passed but there's still plenty of excellent gigs this month in Manchester. Unfair just to single out one but last year's Wotgodforgot-promoted Tune-Yards show was one of the best of the year and she is back this year courtesy of Wotgodforgot again, this time at the Deaf Institute.

As ever a mixtape [60 mins / 68 MB] of bands playing Manchester this June to help inform your gig-going decision-making - link in the post below this one.

Manchester Gigs in Music Mixtape: June 2011

Las Kellies Perro Rompebolas [1.31] (15 June Deaf Institute BUY TICKETS)
Crystal Stilts Through The Floor [3.50] (24 June Sound Control BUY TICKETS)
Emperor Zero Mental Health Cafe [7.41] (3 June Fuel BUY TICKETS)
Tune-Yards Bizness [12.02] (13 June Deaf Institute BUY TICKETS)
Papercuts Do What You Will [15.40] (8 June Night & Day BUY TICKETS)
Dan Mangan Sold [19.25] (21 June Deaf Institute BUY TICKETS)
Frank Fairfield I’ve Always Been A Rambler [23.20] (8 June The Castle BUY TICKETS)
The Lovely Eggs Sexual Cowboy [25.33] (1 June Night & Day BUY TICKETS)
Zoey Van Goey Extremities [28.03] (11 June Gullivers BUY TICKETS)
Gintis Do You Ever Stop To Think You’re Dying [31.36] (11 June Gullivers BUY TICKETS)
Eagleowl Sleep The Winter [35.47] (28 June Dulcimer BUY TICKETS)
Woodpigeon Death By Ninja [40.11] (28 June Dulcimer BUY TICKETS)
Darren Hayman My Dirty Widow [43.34] (29 June Deaf Institute BUY TICKETS)
Ducktails Hamilton Road [45.58] (8 June Deaf Institute BUY TICKETS)
La La Vasquez Buoy [48.20] (9 June The Castle BUY TICKETS)
The Pains of Being Pure At Heart The One [52.22] (10 June Sound Control BUY TICKETS)
Screaming Females I Do [54.25] (10 June Islington Mill BUY TICKETS)
Fuzzy Lights The Museum Song (Live) [59.34] (16 June Sacred Trinity Church BUY TICKETS)

And not forgetting:
1 June The Bookhouse Boys Deaf Institute / 3 June The Fall MoHo Live / 3 June Day For Airstrikes + Easter Fuel / 4 June Caribou + Battles Apollo / 5 June Aethenor Islington Mill / 6 June Emmy The Great Sacred Trinity Church / 6 June Benjamin Francis Leftwich Deaf Institute / 7 June Devon Sproule Band on the Wall / 7 June Little Barrie Night & Day / 7 June Six Organs of Admittance Deaf Institute / 7 June James Blake Sankeys Soap / 8 June The Wild Swans Ruby Lounge / 8 June MEN Islington Mill / 8 June Julian Lynch Deaf Institute / 9 June Tera Melos Night & Day / 9 June Mono Sound Control / 10 June Kitty, Daisy & Lewis Ruby Lounge / 10 June Jonathan Coulton Academy 2 / 10 June John Tilbury St Margaret’s Church / 11 June Part Chimp Islington Mill / 11 June Thomas Tantrum Night & Day / 12 June Trevor Moss & Hannah-Lou The Castle / 13 June Tom Vek Ruby Lounge / 13 June The Chapin Sisters Night & Day / 15 June Seams Star & Garter 16 June The Moons Ruby Lounge / 16 June The Horrors Academy / 16 June Damo Suzuki Islington Mill / 17 June Milk Maid Soup Kitchen / 17 June Driver Drive Faster Kraak / 18 June Gnod Gullivers / 20 June Boris Islington Mill / 23 June Ryan Adams Bridgewater Hall / 27 June TV On The Radio Academy 2 / 27 June Gallows MoHo Live / 28 June Fleet Foxes Apollo / 29 June Ghosting Season Star & Garter / 30 June Sons & Daughters Deaf Institute


Mixtape: June 2011 [60 mins / 68 MB] - download here