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

Friday, November 04, 2011


"A haunted evening... with spine-chilling tales" promised the poster. Well there’s little spine-chilling or terrifying about Golden Fable (Rebecca Palin and Tim McIver late of Tim and Sam’s Tim and The Sam Band with Tim and Sam) but they were certainly spine-tingling. Especially when their seven song was at its simplest i.e. the recorded backing track took a back-seat and the live elements were foregrounded: Rebecca Palin’s glacial, haunting tones and sparse keyboard and guitar accompaniment. After four songs on the raised platform at St Philip’s Church, it was a brave step to move from behind the keyboard and mic stands and perform one song acoustically on the stone steps in front of the pews but it worked beautifully. They finished with current single ‘The Chill Pt.2’ but the whole set was a tasty appetiser for their debut album due next year.

A performance poet?!” Ms L wasn’t pleased at the prospect of Alabaster de Plume (possibly his real name) but he provided the ghost stories and song in an entertainingly eccentric manner. He veered swiftly and unpredictably from (one third) spoken word to (two-thirds) mannered madrigals all accompanied by some intense glowering eyes, like a young John Malkovich playing David Tibet playing Jake Thackray in his best stage voice. Odd but captivatingly so.

It was also an odd experience to see The Miserable Rich and not be familiar with their latest album “Miss You In The Days” released this week. And odder because the main set compromised nothing but songs from said new album, with the chamber-folk band’s sound rounded out by drummer and guitarist and then made even larger and rounder by the cavernous echo of the high-ceiled room at St Phil’s. However I found the newness of set-up and songs refreshing and enjoyable – and the six piece ably filled the large space comfortably. Singer James de Malplaquet was slightly, only slightly, nonplussed by the setting – “I’m not sure I can say what I normally talk about between songs”. But their songs about ghosts, death and sex, recorded in part in a haunted ‘Jacobean Palace’, felt perfectly at home here.

After a ten song set introduced by Alabaster de Plume (who later joined them on saxophone for 'Pillion') the six piece relocated to pew level of the church to ask for requests for older songs. The band offered a public vote to select just one but graciously played both candidate songs – ‘Pisshead’ and then a particularly lovely ‘The Boat Song’ - the poor drummer redundant whilst the rest of The Miserable Rich played unplugged. Returning to the raised platform they finished with a final new song ‘True Love’. A shame not to hear some more older songs but the combination of newness, gentle spookiness and relaxed bonhomie was a winning one.

The band continue their UK tour up to 12 November before heading off to Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

The Set List:

Thursday, November 03, 2011


Faced with a five track EP and a listening public increasingly gripped by attention deficit disorder, many bands would be tempted to shove their best track out first and allow a tail-off in catchiness or immediacy to follow. Anglo-Swedish four-piece Francobollo adopt a different tactic – a more evenly spread albeit eclectic running order with, in my opinion, the best and most ambitious track slap bang in the middle.

That’s not to say other tracks are without merit or catchiness. Opener ‘Future Lover’ mixes languid slide guitar boogie riffs and 90s alt-rock swagger to create a slacker anthem to being alone and losing. ‘Good Times’ continues the 90s vibe in a more optimistic vein: crisply produced, crunchy grunge-pop that is more Seattle than Stockholm in its melodic appreciation of eyes and revelry (not as deep as it sounds – it really is about “good times”).

Then the aforementioned ‘centre-piece'. ‘I Found A Bike Today’ is the sound of Pavement and Wild Beasts fighting over the rights to drag the Syd Barrett nursery rhyme psychedelia of Pink Floyd’s ‘Bike’ into 2011 (or possibly 1994). From muscular rhythms, chiming guitars and surreal falsetto trills, the song steadily escalates into a hefty math-rock work-out that keeps layering on the intensity without ever collapsing in on itself. Dizzyingly epic in a way a song about romancing an inanimate object should not be able to achieve.

If the band have been zigging, they now zag with ‘I Hope Not’ a pulsing, shimmering slice of dance-rock à la LCD Soundsystem. Final song ‘Pretty Colours’ returns to the angular crunch of the opening songs but with a more downbeat repeated plea (“oh how I wish you were here”). This ends up as strained screeching and the song begins to grate in a way that elsewhere Francobollo nimbly avoid. An intriguing and intense set of surreal party tunes that couldn’t sound any less like they were recorded in a cabin in the woods of Northern Sweden (which they were). An EP worth overcoming ADD to spend some time with.

Future Lover by Francobollo

I Found A Bike Today by Francobollo

Francobollo Harpholma EP [BUY]