Saturday, April 30, 2011


A naturally busy month for gigs is swelled to bursting point this May by a selection of highly recommended festivals. Starting the month is tomorrow’s Sounds From The Other City with 78 acts across 13 stages all for a (probably sold out) ticket price of £18. For my money, the Hey Manchester stage (The Wave Pictures, Darren Hayman and David Thomas Broughton to name just three) is worth the admission alone but the whole day is cleverly programmed delight and a superb advert for the city's independent promoters.

Future Everything brings an eclectic programme to the middle of the month (65daysofstatic soundtracking “Silent Running”!) alongside digital media and art happenings and the Dot To Dot one-dayer finishes the month with a less eclectic, more NME-friendly line-up. And also towards the end of the month is relative newcomer Chorlton Arts Festival with a bijou but smart selection of gigs in St Clements Church (site of last year’s gig from The Acorn) ranging from folk-pop from Leeds to summery psyche sounds from Australia plus more bands still to be announced.

As ever a mixtape [61 mins / 69 MB] of bands playing Manchester this month to help inform your gig-going decision-making - link in the post below this one.

Manchester Gigs In Music Mixtape: May 2011

The Radio Dept Heaven’s On Fire [3.28] (11 May Deaf Institute BUY TICKETS)
Thee Oh Sees I Was Denied [7.03] (28 May Deaf Institute BUY TICKETS)
Psychedelic Horseshit Pyramid Eyes [8.47] (5 May Deaf Institute BUY TICKETS)
Moon Duo Mazes [13.48] (12 May Deaf Institute BUY TICKETS)
Sonny and the Sunsets Too Young To Burn [17.06] (3 May Sound Control BUY TICKETS)
The High Llamas Fly Baby, Fly [20.07] (15 May Deaf Institute BUY TICKETS)
Clinic I’m Aware [23.04] (27 May Deaf Institute BUY TICKETS)
Conquering Animal Sound Maschine [26.58] (16 May Sacred Trinity BUY TICKETS)
Nathaniel Rateliff Shroud [30.26] (24 May Dulcimer BUY TICKETS)
Ra Ra Riot Boy [33.33] (18 May Ruby Lounge BUY TICKETS)
Ear Pwr Baby Houses [36.38] (12 May Night & Day BUY TICKETS)
Greeks A Ghoul! A Spook! [39.31] (6 May Fuel Cafe Bar BUY TICKETS)
Prince Rama Lightening Fossil [43.25] (16 May Islington Mill BUY TICKETS)
Parts & Labor Rest [46.32] (21 May Ruby Lounge BUY TICKETS)
The Black Heart Procession Rats [50.22] (12 May St Philip’s Church BUY TICKETS)
The Sun Electric Band The Last Time [52.45] (14 May Gullivers BUY TICKETS)
Julianna Barwick The Magic Place [56.32] (23 May Kraak Gallery BUY TICKETS)
Sarabeth Tucek Get Well Soon [60.32] (9 May Band on the Wall BUY TICKETS)

And not forgetting:
1 May Laura Cantrell Club Academy / 2 May Baths Deaf Institute / 3 May Frontier Ruckus Ruby Lounge / 3 May Delta Maid Band on the Wall / 3 May Deerhoof Club Academy / 3 May The Strange Death of Liberal England Roadhouse / 4 May Misty’s Big Adventure Jabez Clegg / 4 May Cerebral Ballzy Star & Garter / 4 May The Secret Sisters Ruby Lounge / 4 May I Am Kloot The Lowry / 5 May Spokes The Roadhouse / 5 May Fight Like Apes Night & Day / 6 May Bill Callahan Central Hall / 6 May Young The Giant Ruby Lounge / 6 May The Cute Lepers Night and Day / 6 May Horse Guards Parade Gullivers / 6 May Peter Case Band on the Wall / 6 May Brown Brogues + Ghost Outfit Fuel Cafe Bar / 7 May Anna Calvi + Grouplove + Big Deal Academy / 9 May The Leisure Society Band on the Wall / 9 May PS I Love You Night & Day / 10 May The Handsome Family Band on the Wall / 10 May PVT Ruby Lounge / 11 May Gang Gang Dance Ruby Lounge / 11 Map Group Doueh + The Brothers Unconnected Islington Mill / 12 May Fucked Up Islington Mill / 12 May Beach House Academy 1 / 12 May Steve Reich RNCM / 13 May Scout Niblett Ruby Lounge / 13 May Alela Diane Band on the Wall / 13 May Das Racist Roadhouse / 13 May Tullis Rennie Umbro Design Studio / 13 May Martin Rossiter Deaf Institute / 13 May The Antlers Academy / 14 May Jeffrey Lewis The Castle / 14 May Warpaint Ritz / 14 May Help Stamp Out Loneliness + The Louche FC Gullivers / 14 May The Kabeedies Night & Day / 14 May 65daysofstatic RNCM / 16 May Gonjasufi Band on the Wall / 17 May Perfume Genius King’s Arms / 17 May Chain and the Gang Deaf Institute / 17 May Explosions In The Sky Academy 1 / 18 May Team Ghost The Castle / 18 May Ariel Pink’s Haunted Grafitti Academy 3 / 19 May Idiot Glee Night & Day / 19 May Deep Sea Arcade The Castle / 19 May The Travelling Band Deaf Institute / 19 May Low Club Academy / 19 May Sufjan Stevens Apollo / 20 May Mercury Rev Bridgewater Hall / 20 May Jah Wobble & The Modern Jazz Ensemble Band on the Wall / 20 May Thomas Truax Night & Day / 20 May The Dodos + The Luyas Deaf Institute / 21 May Staff Benda Billi Bridgewater Hall / 21 May Poppy & The Jezebels Night & Day / 21 May Wave Machines Deaf Institute / 21 May John Smith St Clements Church / 22 May Toro Y Moi Deaf Institute / 22 May Blind Atlas Dulcimer / 23 May Three Trapped Tigers Night & Day / 23 May Rural Alberta Advantage Deaf Institute / 24 May Holy Ghost! Ruby Lounge / 24 May Dirty Vegas Night & Day / 24 May Villagers Sound Control / 24 May Mountains Islington Mill / 24 May Abigail Washburn + Sparrow Quartet Band on the Wall / 26 May Hypnotic Brass Ensemble Band on the Wall / 26 May Andrew Jackson Jihad Night & Day / 26 May Koboku Senju The Castle / 27 May The Kills Central Methodist Hall / 27 May The Mountain Goats Academy 3 / 27 May Ellen & The Escapades St Clements Church / 28 May Oneohtrix Point Never + D/R/U/G/S Islington Mill / 28 May The Answering Machine + Colorama Band on the Wall / 28 May Cloud Control + The Moulettes St Clements Church / 29 May Sparrow & The Workshop + Meursault Roadhouse / 30 May Emmylou Harris Bridgewater Hall / 30 May Rachael Sage The Castle / 31 May Phosphorescent Deaf Institute


Mixtape: May 2011 [61 mins / 69 MB] - download here

Friday, April 29, 2011


Gloomy, subdued lighting and the Twin Peaks soundtrack. The screen at the rear of the stage set to start playing FW Murnau’s 1922 expressionist horror movie "Nosferatu". Then dry ice billowing on to the stage. It all made me think ‘surely this is a bit much?’ True Timber Timbre’s latest album “Creep On Creepin’ On” wallows in an even more macabre and swampy voodoo-blues than its predecessor but hey, nothing too spooky is going to happen. Is it?

On stage each of the three mic stands were adorned with antique inspection lamps glowing malevolently blood-orange. The three performers wordlessly took to the stage and from the outset it was clear they were out to chill our bones – and in a way that left the pre-show theatricals looking, well, stagey. Here the delicacy of the arrangements on record was swapped for a more intense pulsing rhythmic groove on these murky songs of shallow graves, dark magic, ghosts and demon hosts. And singer Taylor Kirk’s gentle crooning was swapped for a deeper and meaner growl.

It was a novel but effective set-up on stage: Kirk sat centre stage on a round stool with guitar; to his left Simon Trottier played lap steel and second guitar also seated and on the other side Mika Posen stood at keyboards or to play the violin. Drum kit parts and effects pedals were distributed liberally amongst the three – Kirk had a kick pedal attached to a tambourine and a separate bass drum, Posen beat out ominous rhythms with her left hand on a floor tom whilst playing keyboard with her right hand. During opener ‘Bad Ritual’ a lone press photographer made his way to the front but the intimidating shake of the head and scowl from singer Taylor Kirk was unmistakable in its intention (my own camera stayed firmly in my pocket). It may have just been the seriousness of the performance but I got the distinct impression that Kirk is not a man to be crossed. He sung mainly with eyes closed or looking down to the floor at first but when he raised his head and glared into the crowd with his deep coal-black eyes it was unnerving.

The band played all of the latest album (except the three instrumentals) together with four from its predecessor. It made for a short set (an hour and fifteen with encore) but delivered with such an oppressive intensity I’m not sure audience or band could cope with more. The moments of light(er) relief came from some of the earlier songs with their quieter passages and sparser arrangements. However it feels odd to describe the eerie scraping noises from both lap steel and violin and the pained yelps from Kirk during ‘Lay Down In The Tall Grass’ as relief, particularly given the lyrical reference to choking your children.

If the uniformity of the mood is a quibble, it’s a minor one. Especially so when that mood of Grand Guignol spine-tingle was so effectively created, cloaking the faux-Victoriana warmth of the Deaf Institute into something more sepulchral. Faithful to the record but also elevating its morbid, spooky side, it was a performance that, like the shadowy German expressionist horror screening behind them, managed to turn the sunny outdoors to dark and to fill our dreams with disturbing and stark images.

The Set List:

Bad Ritual
Creep On Creepin’ On
Too Old To Die Young
Black Water
Demon Host
Until The Night Is Over
Lonesome Hunter
Lay Down In The Tall Grass
Do I Have Power?
Trouble Comes Knocking

Monday, April 25, 2011


The Doomed Bird of Providence has a very clear purpose on its debut record released in the UK this week: to “bring to visceral life the forgotten stories of Australia’s earliest days, bathed in salt, blood and dark deeds”. These lurid tales of poisoners, embezzlers, murderers and convicts are delivered as dark, lurching folk-cabaret, laced with vinegar and ammonia, maggots and dead flies. It’s deliciously dank and sinister. The five-piece band led by singer Mark Kluzek create funereal, creaking rhythms using accordion, ukulele, violin, bass, guitar and piano (no drums here) that is a world and two centuries away from the sunny, carefree imagery of today’s tourist board adverts for the land Down Under.

Opener ‘On A Moonlit Ragged Sea’ features ominous piano, drawn out accordion and strings and a rasping, nasty croak from Kluzek that sings of “embers of misery”. The song finishes on distressed bowed violin - or is it the timbers of a boat being torn slowly apart? ‘Fedicia Exine’ (“ [her] mother was a murderer...her father was a whaler”) contrasts intensely beautiful string passages with more of that low guttural intoning over eerie atmospherics as it spins out the recounting Fedicia’s transportation to a tense and unnerving eight minutes.

“Will Ever Prey” is an album of two halves conceptually (but not in mood – that stays dark and foreboding throughout). The first four tracks are tales based on historical accounts of the lives and fates of specific characters; the last five tracks are all segments of a long suite about sea-borne slaughter and betrayal. The first half yarns appear so fantastical (a man chained to an island rock survives by eating offal thrown to him by passers-by in ‘The Wild Beast of Goat Island’) as to almost make the listener doubt their legitimacy. But to me what counts is not historical authenticity but the convincing and deeply spooky mood of the record.

The second half song-cycle is 'The Massacre of the Whole of the Passengers and Part of the Crew of The Sea Horse on Her Homeward Passage from Sydney'. Again based on a contemporary broadsheet narrative, it tells of a small criminal element who hijack a ship and murder everyone else on board to ensure a greater share of the rewards when they land. This is as macabre as the first half but adopts a slightly different tack with many of the movements (including all ten minutes of ‘The Massacre... Part 1’) being instrumental. If the earlier songs recall the sinister cabaret of The Tiger Lillies, this song-cycle reminds me of the spare atmospherics of the Nick Cave and Warren Ellis scores. ‘The Massacre... Part 2’ may briefly introduce a ragged shanty but the overwhelming tone is more abstract, more filmic.

“Will Ever Pray” is an intense and immersive listen and quite unlike anything else I’ve heard so far this year. Despite its quite disturbing sounds it is also beautifully packaged. And if it all sounds too grim for you, there is an album of remixes of ‘Fedicia Exine’ coming in June (but I suspect these won’t be poppy dance-floor fillers).

The Doomed Bird of Providence support Last Harbour this Thursday at Sacred Trinity Church in Salford and next month play Nottingham, Ipswich, London and Shedfest in West Mersea.

The Doomed Bird of Providence - Fedicia Exine by frontandfollow

The Doomed Bird of Providence Will Ever Pray [BUY]

Friday, April 22, 2011

VIVIAN GIRLS "Share The Joy"

Anyone remember ‘difficult third album’ syndrome? These days you are more likely to encounter difficult first album syndrome as groups struggle to live up to the hype and expectations that can smother them from the get-go. However Brooklyn’s garage trio Vivian Girls have not only survived the (new) media frenzy around their debut and two changes of drummer but also made it to that difficult album number three with the release this month of "Share The Joy".

The second Vivian Girls album was released just 11 months after the full release of their self-titled debut, although actually recorded 18 months apart. This plus the brevity of their songs gave the impression of a band in a rush. So now the full 18 months from ‘Everything Goes Wrong’ to the release of ‘Share The Joy’ feels almost leisurely. Opening song ‘The Other Girls’ starts with a reassuringly familiar and pacy garage racket but quickly eases back into a slower more meditative pace. It seems Vivian Girls are looking for leisureliness elsewhere too. This curious anthem of alienated independence stretches to six minutes and has a spacey, almost psychedelic feel to its lyrical repetitions (“I don’t want to be like the other girls / I don’t want to see like the other girls / I don’t want to try like the other girls / I just want to spend my time inside my mind”) and its extended guitar soloing and astral harmonies that fill the final minutes. The threesome - guitarist and vocalist Cassie Ramone, bassist Kickball Katy and new drummer Fiona Campbell – are clearly not allowing themselves to pegged down as exponents of sub-two minute garage-thrash.

As if to confirm this Cassie Ramone said on Twitter as the album was launched: “Just an FYI: Vivian Girls was never influenced by C-86, K or Slumberland. We were influenced by The Wipers, Dead Moon and 60s girl groups”. Indie-pop pedantry aside this is quite illuminating. And the latter of those influences is apparent on the spoken word intro to ‘Take It As It Comes’. with its Mary Weiss imparting of wisdom - just with added reverb (“Should I call Johnny? What else to do alone on a Saturday night? Well let me tell you one rule I always live by..."). The melodramatic and morbid ‘Death’ (“I want to stay alive...ten years from now, I want to be his bride”) continues The Shangri-Las homage but with buzzing lo-fi guitars. In a post riot-grrl garage-rock world the vulnerability and dependency in these songs is surprising but displays a deep appreciation of the complex and intense emotions in the epic pop miniatures of the girl group era.

Elsewhere Vivian Girls are more muscular and feisty: the rapid and rattling (despite a quietly jangle false start) ‘Trying To Pretend’ or the midnight outlaw blues of ‘Sixteen Ways’. The final song ‘Light In Your Eyes’ alternates pulsing bass and shuffling rhythms with more energised ramshackle noisiness but with easy-going balmy harmonies throughout. Again this song clocks in at over six minutes - nearly a third of the length of their debut album.

“Share The Joy” has an amiable confidence underneath its shifting moods and styles. It is a record still firmly in the DIY aesthetic but it is clear that Vivian Girls aren’t simply going to re-tread their debut every new outing. Sweet, spiky and spacious, this is the sound of a group that has not just passed that difficult third album stage deftly but is settling in for the long-term. I look forward to difficult album number six (but let’s keep those songs reined it at a six minute maximum please. Anything longer would just be too prog-rock).

Vivian Girls Share The Joy [BUY]

Monday, April 18, 2011


Mark Christopher Grassick introduces himself plainly as “one-third of the band Deer Park”. On this showing one-third is pretty powerful. The bruised and battered Americana of the band’s 2009 debut and several new songs (some featuring on the limited tour EP on sale tonight) are all delivered with stark emotion on just acoustic guitar and harmonica.

Given the nature of these tales of grizzled reprobates, failed lovers and sinning drunkards I was expecting a downtrodden Charles Bukowski figure. What surprised me was how wide-eyed, youthful and in good health Grassick appeared. To finish his set, he was joined on stage by three quarters of Singing Adams to play a slowed down version of ‘1961’ (rehearsed for first time together in the sound-check apparently) and then a delightfully jangly version of Camper Van Beethoven’s ‘Take The Skinheads Bowling’. From the pathos of failed relationships and bitter experiences to joyously uplifting covers in little under 30 minutes. Why Deer Park is not a bigger noise remains a mystery to me.

If Mark Grassick was fresh-faced and freshly pressed, the checked shirts of Singing Adams looked a little more crumpled, a little more careworn. The sign of a band coming to the end of a tour (“we’ve done twelve gigs in eight days”)? Or just the world-weariness that sometimes attaches itself to the songs of Steven Adams as with tonight’s bitter-sweet opener ‘The Old Days’? This poignant tale of the midlife hipster trying to mix it the “beautiful young people” drew a particularly high arched eyebrow from wry Mr Adams at this line (let’s just say most of tonight’s crowd were not in the first flush of youth). However for all its initial maudlin and mid-paced jangle, the final section of the song finished with an emphatic thump that shook off any signs of tiredness. And this was the same for rest of the evening with the songs from debut album “Everybody Friends Now” feeling as crisp and fresh as on record but given added punch: ‘Injured Party’ with (as requested) unrestrained whoops of joy from the audience and “our newest song” ‘Mint Tea’ were particularly intense and pacy.

The second half of the set saw the band settle into some easy-going showmanship too – getting those standing at the front to trade chants with the seated rear of the Music Room or putting on the giant mirror-ball and singing unrequited love song “Giving It All Away” to crowd member Megan (her sister was at the Leeds gigs the night before and put in the request). Then after final song (the glorious tribute to Norwegian songwriter ‘St Thomas’), Steven Adams and acoustic guitar went walkabout through the crowd to sing Pete Seeger’s ‘Passing Through’ with the band remaining on stage to provide harmonies and percussion from stage. Nothing exceptional or ground-breaking about these moments but they were done with such a casual but good-humoured bonhomie it created in instant sense of warm community and happiness.

Tonight was the third time I’ve seen Singing Adams and the first in which I didn’t even think about the Broken Family Band once. Did I say Singing Adams looked tired and at the end of their tour? Far from it. This felt like a band invigorated and a group who are only just starting to get up a real head of steam.

The Set List:

Sunday, April 17, 2011

GRUBBY MITTS "To A Friend's House"

Grubby Mitts is a five-piece from Bedford led by Andy Holden who has a separate creative life as a visual artist. Actually it may not be that separate: as well as ‘normal’ gigs the band also plays multi-media pieces in gallery and cinema spaces including Tate Britain where Holden also presented a solo art exhibition. But is Grubby Mitts nothing more than a dalliance or a side-project for messing about with mates? The rousing conviction of new single ‘To A Friend’s House’ (released tomorrow on Lost Toy Records) suggests otherwise.

‘To A Friend’s House’ starts with pots-and-pan syncopation and disconnected voices each separately uttering snatches of the phrase “the way to a friend’s house is never long”. A wheezy harmonium is introduced to underscore and hold the fragments together. Further depth is added through layering in extra instrumentation (string section at 2.20) so by the three minute mark the multiple layers and phrases have become an emphatic, impassioned cri de coeur. Deceptively simple but utterly uplifting: an inspiring battle-hymn of honest friendship rather than violent blood-letting.

I included ‘To A Friend’s House’ in the March edition of the Cloud Sounds podcast I guest-hosted. You can also stream it on Soundcloud or download tomorrow from iTunes. However appropriately for the first Monday after Record Store Day the single is also available as a 7” vinyl single (the B-side is a solo clarinet rendition of The Beach Boy’s ‘God Only Knows’ – simple, charming but lacking the depth of the A-side). True one NME writer is decrying the need for physical product but the continued success of Record Store Day and the modest-but-steady increase in vinyl sales suggests there are many who disagree. There is a convenience to digital but the physical form is one which endures. Either way you purchase it ‘To A Friend’s House’ is a song to be cherished.

Grubby Mitts - To a Friends House

Grubby Mitts To A Friend’s House [BUY]

Thursday, April 14, 2011

THE HIGH LLAMAS "Talahomi Way"

Hard to credit that The High Llamas have been releasing records, albeit with spacious intervals, for 21 years (a Microdisney reference now might sound like delving into antediluvian history). I last checked in with them at the end of the 90s so have missed out on the last decade when Sean O’Hagan’s band of chamber-pop stylists have been releasing records every 3-4 years via Drag City. Listening to the latest record ‘Talahomi Way’, on the face of it nothing much has changed: elegant, mainly instrumental lounge-pop, with flawless arrangements and with a great big nod to the shimmering late period Beach Boys with a hint of Sergio Mendes. However listen intently – which you should - and there are very subtle but noticeable re-calibrations. They may not be seismic changes but they underscore that casual pigeon-holing of The High Llamas is best avoided.

‘Berry Adams’ with its wistful, carefree pace opens and sets the tone for the album, conveying a blue-skies reassurance with its gliding strings, elegant harmonies and harpsichord. However as the layers fall away at its end, revealed is the very gentlest of motorik rhythms underpinning the track (long-time collaborator Tim Gane of Stereolab produces). The album’s predominant palette is warm but pristine sounds exquisitely wrung from chamber instruments; see second track ‘Wander Jack Wander’ with its tinkling marimba, the softest parps of trumpet and silky strings. It is so restrained in its elegance the effect is almost soporific. ‘Woven and Rolled’ with its references to The Riveria and London hints at jet-setting travel but is delivered at a tranquil ocean liner cruise pace. ‘Fly Baby Fly’ is more animated, pointing firmly to the pop-classicism of Jimmy Webb or Burt Bacharach. As the cover art illustration suggests, this is gilt-framed art-pop exotica, despite the electronic detail at the edges.

What surprises me however and which feels very different from the 90s High Llama recordings is the level of abstraction. ‘Ring of Gold’ has the most vocal content but it is so softly sung it is not just hushed but almost withdrawn, as though it was desperately trying not to draw attention to itself. The song finishes with a repeating string pattern that is much more dominant than the vocals ever were, as though they were a background prelude to this hint of contemporary classical minimalism. The character of Berry is referred to beyond the titular opening song which suggests some form of narrative or travelogue but nothing it is explicit; it’s like a concept album in which the concept has been faded out. And ‘Take My Hand’ relishes the sand, breeze and ocean spray in an almost conventional manner but the persistent repetition of that key phrase becomes less like a chorus and more like a looped sample in which meaning fades into pure mood and effect.

If 1996’s ‘Hawaii’ referred to a real place, ‘Talahomi Way’ appears to be fictional. The former had a more vibrant, electric buzz to it, the latter shifts to finely sculptured organic textures that can be almost dream-like. What could be dismissed as muzak has an enigmatic depth and graceful virtuosity that is not ambient music but sometimes feels as though it wishes it were. ‘Talahomi Way’ never feels arch or wry but I suspect some will find it deeply conservative or dismiss it off-hand as retro-fitted lounge. Others will hear and prize an almost experimental subverting of these bachelor pad transmissions.

FLY, BABY FLY (via Drag City)
The High Llamas
Talahomi Way [BUY]

Monday, April 11, 2011

MAZES "A Thousand Heys"

Without much hoopla or fanfare at last year’s In The City convention the news came out that Mazes had been signed by Fat Cat Records. A great pairing on paper: a major indie label known for supporting artistic independence with a band exploding with ideas and activities (not the least of these being not one but two of their own record labels). Glad to report that “A Thousand Heys” released today delivers on that promise handsomely.

Included amongst the 13 tracks are some of their early singles first released on Sex is Disgusting and Suffering Jukebox labels. Here those songs, particularly ‘Bowie Knives’, are freed from their lo-fi murk of old and given added pop-sheen sparkle and pace. However if you’re not familiar with those versions you may still plonk a big ‘lo-fi’ sign on this album on first listen. Exhibit A being the fuzzy-edged guitars buzzing intensely throughout, sharp but tuneful on ‘'Most Days' and 'Boxing Clever’ or dark and scuzzy on ‘Wait Anyway'.

The four-piece (Jack Cooper on guitar and vocals, Jarin Tabata on guitar, Conan Roberts on bass and Neil Robinson on drums) are steeped in American art-punk guitar rock from the last two decades and have been touring their socks off supporting the likes of Deerhunter, Sic Alps, Crocodiles, Times New Viking and most recently Dum Dum Girls. So it shouldn’t be a surprise to find short and pacy songs (the single ‘Most Days’ clocks in at 1.47, ‘Vampire Jive’ makes it look indulgent at a spritely 1.03) or cryptic, multi-part Malkmus-like song titles such as ‘Surf and Turf / Maths Tag’ and ‘Summer Hits or J+J Don’t Like’. Like Pavement though they also know how to pen a great pop hook. For all its DIY aesthetic and throwaway casual cool, the album is also chock-full of corking ear-worming melodies and summery good times (despite being recorded in December).

Any occasional moments of bitter-sweet nostalgia or darker undercurrents are briskly swept away by the happy, poppy momentum. Towards the end of the latter half of the album the tempo slows somewhat with the never-want-to-get-of-bed pledge of ‘No Way’ and the raw slouch of ‘Death House’ – either a welcome change of pace or a minor failing to maintain the summery pop thrills depending on how generous you are feeling. The exuberant surf-pop of final song ‘Til I'm Dead’ even sandwiched between extended intro and outro restores that fidgety, fizzing energy with ease.

Mazes also sound fantastically – even infectiously - happy on this album. And so they should. It’s a cracking full-length debut that will soundtrack not just this summer but many to come.

Mazes - Vampire Jive by Paul Lilley

Mazes "A Thousand Heys" [BUY]

Sunday, April 10, 2011


Support for tonight’s show was The Head and the Heart a new name to me. The three band members took to the stage explaining that due to travel problems there were only “half there” so would perform an acoustic set. I assumed they meant their instruments were stuck in transit as they went on to perform quiet, folky songs on borrowed acoustic guitar and violin. These songs of dying for love, railcars and whiskey rivers were built around powerfully strong three-part harmonies. It was captivating stuff that sounded perfect in the high-ceilinged church and drew a rapturous reception from the sell-out crowd. Looking the band up afterwards it turns out they were indeed only half there in number – they are actually a Seattle-based six-piece and recently signed to Sub Pop to boot. I found tonight’s acoustic performance faultless but if doubling the players and instruments works as a multiplier on their live show they could be unstoppable.

I had high expectations for The Low Anthem tonight. Hearing their almost-spiritual music about losers, loners and lovers in the intimate setting of St Philip with St Stephen Church (built 1825) had this atheist salivating. Hearing the whirring pump organ of opener ‘Matter of Time’ echo around the cavernous interior was instant confirmation those expectations were going to be met. For music that is occasionally rustic and sparse, The Low Anthem come well prepared: the four-piece swelled to a six-piece for some songs with extra guitar and banjo, they brought a large sound and tech crew plus a vast array of near-antique instruments that spread beyond the raised playing area down the steps to the church’s floor and even up into the pulpit. The four musicians constantly moved between these levels and swapped roles - you clearly cannot be a member of The Low Anthem unless you play at least six instruments. And then you have to apply a bow to at least two of them - no surprise to see bowed saw but bowed banjo?

For all the use of well travelled instruments – wheezing, wooden pump-organ, battered French horn, over-size antiquated kick-drums – the band also have some modern tricks up their sleeves. Towards the end of ‘This God Damn House’, Ben Knox Miller asks everyone to call someone they are with tonight. This heartbreaking song of break-up and departure dissolves amidst an eerie whistling hum of gently crackling mobile phone feedback. It was unspeakably beautiful and a moment of deep connection between everyone in the church. The band also come with electric instruments and with the intent to up the intensity and volume – the energetic shouted chorus of ‘Hey All You Hippies’, the raw, driving ‘Home I’ll Never Be’ or the pounding drums and brass-driven ‘Boeing 737’.

But the moments I’ll probably remember most were when the four performers stood around a single antiquated microphone with just guitar or stand-up bass and sung their quietest songs, finishing the main set in this style with Leonard Cohen’s ‘Bird on the Wire’. It wasn’t the setting that made this so spine-tingling and spiritual. If tonight involved a quiet crowd respecting the hush of the music and the setting, one voice did interrupt the polite silence between songs to shout, no to scream “What a BAND. What a FUCKING BAND!” You sir are not wrong.

The Set List:

Matter of Time
Sally Where D’You Get Your Liquor From?
To The Ghosts Who Write History Books
Ticket Taker
This God Damn House
Hey All You Hippies
Ghost Woman Blues
Love and Altar
To Ohio
Home I’ll Never Be
Boeing 737
Apothecary Love
Cigarettes, Whiskey and Wild, Wild Women
Charlie Darwin
Bird on the Wire
Smart Flesh

Saturday, April 09, 2011

SINGING ADAMS "Everybody Friends Now", Q&A + April Tour

Having caught the band at both Green Man and End of the Road Festivals last year, there is a meeting-up-with-old-friends familiarity to the Singing Adams album released this week. And followers of Steven Adams previous band The Broken Family Band will find a comforting familiarity too in “Everybody Friends Now”. The new line-up backing Adams bring a range of experience from other bands: bassist Michael Wood from Michaelmas, drummer Melinda Bronstein from Absentee and Wet Paint and guitarist Matt Ashton from The Leaf Library and previously Saloon.

But still intact in the Singing Adams sound from Adam’s earlier work is that sharp wit and word-play, lean, punchy indie-rock tunes (but here less country-leaning) and a confident saunter that can easily collapse into doubt and vulnerability. One noticeably different development is the prevalent theme of flight, escape and progress – apparent in song titles alone: ‘Bird on the Wing’, ‘Move On’ or ‘The Old Days’. But this is tangential rather than directly autobiographical. The album is not one of retrospection or bitter recrimination. This theme has probably more to do with the sense of Adams taking control in a way he didn’t with the more democratic approach in The Broken Family Band: “I've been writing songs and singing them since I was a kid and I thought it was about time I took some responsibility for how it all turns out, so I could say, I wrote these songs, I got this band together, I produced this album”. So a break from the past but not a radical departure, a degree of familiarity but also a relaxed freshness. And of course as ever great hook-laden tunes.

Singing Adams head out on tour this week starting tonight in Cambridge’s Haymaker’s Arms followed by stops in Cardiff (10th), Bristol (11th), Leicester (12th), Sowerby Bridge (14th), Newcastle (15th), Leeds (16th), Manchester (17th) and London (19th). Steven Adams took a break from bag-packing to answer a few questions:

Do you feel Singing Adams is something new, a fresh chapter? Or a continuation of previous endeavours?
It's both. I have a new group, and I've been in a few. It's a new chapter but hopefully it's a long old book.

I suspect will always be asked about the Broken Family Band - how do you feel about this?
Fine. That was a good group and I'm very proud and fond of it. It's not the questions I need to worry about, it's the answers.

How did the four of you meet? Mutual friends, musical respect, by accident?
I knew them all from various places. I think Matt and Michael were dimly aware of one another. They're three people I've liked and fancied playing with for a long time.

These are not the best days of your life, these are the ones you piss away('Red Carpet'). Will there ever be a time when you write a song about contentment?
I certainly hope so. I write about whatever comes easiest or seems most appealing, and I love a bit of contentment. I'm hardly going to start singing "ooh I'd like a biscuit/this is nice/what's on telly next" though. I imagine my songs of contentment would be 'wry' and 'arch' and those other things people say about my songs. I think the others would kill me as well.

Records Records Records is a relatively new label. What attracted you to them? Did you not consider self-releasing the album?
Yes, we thought about self-releasing but it seemed like such a lot of hassle. These guys are pals and they make the whole thing seem like fun, which most record labels seem to have forgotten about. We love 'em.

Recording the album in Norfolk: quiet rural seclusion or party hard in the Fens? It was more about the focus than the rumpus. We had fun, but I wouldn't say we partied.

Finally, nine gigs in ten days: what's on the Singing Adams tour rider?
We've been pretty undemanding so far. I'll be interested to see if anyone takes the piss.

Singing Adams: undemanding when it comes to the rider, to-the-point when answering questions but a pretty damn fine band live and on record. Support for all dates is the excellent Deer Park

Wednesday, April 06, 2011


Those who enjoyed the bubblegum-pop soul groove of one-man band debut album "At Breakfast Dinner Tea" may be surprised here. For on the lead track of “The Chevreul” EP, The Voluntary Butler Scheme goes chip-core. Well not quite. But ‘Do The Hand Jive’ is a fidgety glitch-fest of stop-start rhythms and stuttering chants that is proudly - even defiantly - low-tech. But repeated plays and a little mental re-framing of expectations and the pop hooks shine through. It is deeply, even luridly, addictive.

Those looking for more reassuring sounds will enjoy the sentimentality and melody of ‘To The Height of a Frisbee’. Here dance-around-the-room carefree abandon and swinging guitar-pop meet fond, life-long commitment: "Grandad Jones / I’ll care for your bones". It could easily fit on 2009’s "At Breakfast Dinner Tea" in a way the remaining two instrumentals could not. ‘Satisfactory Substitute’ sounds exactly what you think DJ Shadow’s ‘Organ Donor’ recreated in a suburban West Midlands back bedroom would – jerky keyboard pulses, a plummy voiced, very English vocal sample and endearingly daft. ‘D.O.P.L’ is a cheesy casiotone and drum machine shuffle that is fun but feels incidental.

Rob Jones has said he found his first attempt at a follow-up album too predictable – hence he has taken his time to cut-up, remix and relocate The Voluntary Butler Scheme sound. But there’s still a familiarity in the bedroom boffin budget approach, the melodic hooks and how he has made throwaway experimentation sound fun and engaging despite the departures. It won’t be a re-run of "At Breakfast Dinner Tea" but there’s enough here to keep anticipation for second album “Grandad Galaxy” due this year high. A plucky, pleasurable side-step forwards.

The Voluntary Butler Scheme The Chevreul [BUY]

Monday, April 04, 2011

TIMBER TIMBRE "Creep On Creepin' On"

I didn’t really engage with the eponymous Timber Timbre album released in summer 2009. I narrowly bracketed it with the swathes of bearded log-cabin troubadours that came to prominence in the wake of the commercial and critical successes of Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes that year. An appearance by the Canadians at last year’s End of the Road Festival should have helped dispel my misconceptions but sadly their travel plans went awry and they didn’t get to play. However this year’s album “Creep On Creepin’ On” certainly puts me right. On a number of counts too.

The trio of Mika Posen, Simon Trottier and Taylor Kirk have taken the bare country-noir of that first album proper (it followed two self-released albums in 2006 and 2007) an impressive stride further on. Released this week, “Creep On Creepin’ On” manages to expand the instrumentation, extend the swampy voodoo-blues feel but also retain a focused intimacy and intensity too (no expansive Arcade Fire-style stadium fillers here). So now alongside the acoustic and lapsteel guitars, autoharp, violin, loops and percussion is piano (from Mathieu Charbonneau of experimental improv trio Torngat) and saxophone. And don’t be put off by the latter – on some songs I didn’t even recognised the harsh horn squeals as saxophone (think Magic Band rather than Magic FM).

The piano makes it presence immediately felt in lead track ‘Bad Ritual’ setting an emphatic nodding pace and adding to the spooky atmospherics. Kirk’s sweet but haunted baritone croons throughout, occasionally ominous but always hypnotic whether he is singing of possessive love, rituals, poltergeists or a lack of sunshine. The title track unites celestial strings and doo-wop innocence, the soulful pulse of ‘Do I Have Power’ recalls the macabre cabaret of Dead Man’s Bones and the instrumental ‘Swamp Magic’ is pure spookiness: all eerie violin, crashes and creaks. The mysterious frights are amplified in the chilling pounding intro and the twanging guitars of ‘Woman’. But if ‘swampy voodoo-blues’ makes you think of the hammy theatricals of Screaming Jay Hawkins this is misleading. There is an almost formal poise and elegance to the band’s precise arrangements here; there is nothing camp or comic-book to the murky swirl of instrumental ‘Obelisk’ and final wordless coda ‘Souvenirs’ recalls the apocalyptic post-rock quiet of Godspeed! You Black Emperor.

My musical references may be scattergun, this album isn’t. There is a purity and rich cinematic scope to “Creep On Creepin’ On” that is magnetic and beguiling – and this is its real voodoo magic. It will be fascinating to compare this to the Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes follow-up records later this year. I know who I’m backing to have progressed the most.

Timber Timbre - Black Water by Arts & Crafts

Timber Timbre Creep On Creepin' On [BUY or BUY]

Friday, April 01, 2011


April gigs in Manchester have a distinct charitable slant to them. On Monday 4 April at the Deaf Institute (and then on 7 April at the Union Chapel in London) the Manchester Aid to Kosovo album "Ten" is launched. Playing the Manchester leg are Badly Drawn Boy, The Travelling Band (acoustic set), Jim Noir, Silverclub, Jo Rose, Liam Frost, Gideon Conn, Josphine Oniyama and Liz Green. Tickets just £10 if still available.

And then ten days later at the Ruby Lounge is Japanchester, a fundraiser for the work of the British Red Cross in Japan following last month's earthquake. Line-up includes Patterns, Trojan Horse, Plank!, From The Kites of San Quentin, Day For Airstrikes and The Goddamn Electric. Advance tickets just £5. All credit to bands on both bills for doing their bit. Now over to you - if can support either or both nights please do. And as ever a mixtape [58 mins / 65MB] of bands playing Manchester the rest of the month to help inform your gig-going decision-making - link in the post below this one.

Manchester Gigs In Music Mixtape: April 2011

Kid Congo & The Pink Monkey Birds I Found A Peanut [2.29] (19 Apr Deaf Institute BUY TICKETS)
Cold Cave Love Comes Close [6.53] (1 Apr Ruby Lounge BUY TICKETS)
2:54 Creeping [11.50] (13 Apr The Castle BUY TICKETS)
Pete & The Pirates Winter 1 [15.28] (15 Apr Ruby Lounge BUY TICKETS)
Treefight for Sunlight What Became of You and I [19.12] (6 Apr Deaf Institute BUY TICKETS)
Dry The River Coast [23.45] (26 Apr The Castle BUY TICKETS)
Deer Park Waiting on a Change [26.46] (17 Apr Deaf Institute BUY TICKETS)
Dan Haywood’s New Hawks Smiley Patch [31.32] (14 Apr Islington Mill BUY TICKETS)
Polly & The Billets-Doux To Be A Fighter [34.57] (8 Apr Gullivers BUY TICKETS)
Singing Adams I Need Your Mind [38.20] (17 Apr Deaf Institute BUY TICKETS)
Trash Kit Cadets [39.58] (10 Apr Gullivers BUY TICKETS)
Milk White White Teeth The Calendar Will Crawl [44.36] (9 Apr Gullivers BUY TICKETS)
Lone Pigeon Oh Catherine [46.38] (22 Apr Islington Mill BUY TICKETS)
Last Harbour Sunken Bells [49.41] (28 Apr Sacred Trinity BUY TICKETS)
Timber Timbre Demon Host [53.16] (28 Apr Deaf Institute BUY TICKETS)
Lucas Renney Think of Me Kindly [57.07] (14 Apr The Castle BUY TICKETS)

And not forgetting:
1 Apr Air Cav + Christopher Eatough + The Sun Electric Band Fuel Cafe / 2 Apr Earth Islington Mill / 4 Apr Eli Kezler The Castle / 5 April Hammell on Trial Ruby Lounge / 5 April Thousands The Castle / 6 April Heather Peace Sound Control / 6 April Ruarri Joseph Jabez Clegg / 7 Apr Esben & the Witch St Phillip’s Church / 7 Apr In Flight Safety Night & Day / 7 Apr De Staat Deaf Institute / 8 Apr The Low Anthem St Philip’s Church / 8 Apr Pocket Hercules Sacred Trinity / 8 Apr Cloud Control Sound Control / 8 Apr Portugal The Man Roadhouse / 8 Apr The Virgin Marys Deaf Institute / 9 Apr Simone Felice St Ann’s Church / 9 Apr Crippled Black Phoenix Islington Mill / 9 Apr William Tyler The Castle / 9 Apr Errors Joshua Brooks / 9 Apr The Heartbreaks Deaf Institute / 10 Apr Austra Islington Mill / 11 Apr Marcus Foster Night & Day / 12 Apr Steve Mason Deaf Institute / 12 Apr Washington Irving Dulcimer / 13 Apr Architecture in Helsinki Academy / 15 Apr Agnes Obel Deaf Institute / 16 Apr Manchester Orchestra Ruby Lounge / 16 Apr The Longcut & Day for Airstrikes Night & Day / 16 Apr Skull Flower Kraak Gallery / 16 Apr And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Our Dead Academy 2 / 17 Apr The Mummers Ruby Lounge / 17 Apr Jim Jones Revue Club Academy / 18 Apr Sara Lowes The Castle / 19 Apr Mi Ami Islington Mill / 19 Apr Tom Williams and the Boat Night & Day / 19 Apr The Money The Castle / 19 Apr Belleruche Roadhouse / 19 Apr Eli Paperboy Reed Sound Control / 19 Apr Lykke Li Academy / 20 Apr The Dears Ruby Lounge / 20 Apr Left With Pictures The Castle / 21 Apr Voodoo Johnson MoHo Live / 21 Apr Steffen Basho Junghans The Castle / 22 Apr The Rain Band The Ruby Lounge / 22 Apr Kassidy The Deaf Institute / 23 Apr Deaf To Van Gogh’s Ear + The Spotlight Kid + Pirouettes Gullivers / 26 Apr Curtis Eller Ruby Lounge / 26 Apr Saint Saviour The Deaf Institute / 26 Apr Best Coast Academy 2 / 27 Apr Bonobo Band on the Wall / 27 Apr Times New Viking + Mazes Deaf Institute / 28 Apr Johnny Foreigner Night & Day / 29 Apr Alasdair Roberts Sacred Trinity Church / 29 Apr Mount Kimbie Deaf Institute / 30 Apr Durutti Column Bridgewater Hall / 30 Apr Tape The Radio Night & Day / 30 Apr Gideon Conn Academy 3 / 30 Apr Dan Sartain Deaf Institute


Mixtape: April 2011 [58 mins/65 MB] - download here.