Saturday, December 22, 2012

End Credits?

So is this the end? Possibly. I am going to take a six month break from Folly Of Youth. And then see if I miss it so much I rush back to its cosy embrace. Or if I stay lost in the wilderness.

So not knowing which way this will go, let’s get ready to say our goodbyes after 672 posts. Just in case.

So was that what the last six years have been about? The tally of posts? The 400+ videos from gigs? Or the 36 hours of monthly mixtapes featuring bands playing Manchester? Or about somehow – still not sure how – becoming a Hype Machine listed blog or being a finalist for the Manchester Blog Awards in 2010? Was that what it was about really?

Hell no. It’s been about... seeing Clinic play in Beatles wigs; taking a Larsen B Antarctic coastal shelf cake to Tan Hill Inn for British Sea Power; going to the last ever Broken Family Band gig with a cake for them too; shaking Cate Le Bon’s hand; returning home with the pineapple from a Brakes gig; a Will Sheff re-tweet; buying the only copy of the Brown Brogues Duck Bills cassette; not seeing The Besnard Lakes in a dark and smoke filled upstairs room of a pub; hearing Withered Hand’s “Good News” for the first time; playing Trwbador, Emperor Zero and Free Swim on Cloud Sounds; seeing the first Manchester gig by Eagleowl; being part of a post-gig bar-room set from Jens Lekman for about 25 people; marvelling (twice) at a seven foot giant panda play bass guitar; and many, many more moments like this.

So a heart-felt thanks to all the artists, record labels, promoters, gig venues and festivals who have created those moments. It's been a blast. I'll still be buying your music and your tickets. Just not writing about it.

And let’s finish as I started by misquoting Hefner (I know, the wasted days).

If you liked this blog, start one of your own.

Be kind to small businesses.

Buy more Sweet Baboo, Withered Hand, Gintis, Mowbird, Benjamin Shaw, H. Hawkline, Cate Le Bon, Dan Hayward’s New Hawks, The Indelicates, Free Swim, The Doomed Bird Of Providence, Windmill, The Douglas Firs and Dad Rocks records . To name but a few.

And I particularly need you all to get behind the much-anticpated debut albums from Brown Brogues (January) and Trwbador (March). Because I won’t be here to remind you.

Friday, December 21, 2012


Once again the year ends with the number of albums I still haven’t heard or will only get round to late into next year far outweighing those I actually did listen to. But of what I did wrap my ears around in 2012 I enjoyed albums from Allo Darlin’, Ambulances, Yusuf Azak, Andrew Bird, Blind Atlas, Boletes, Cheval Sombre, Cold Pumas, Cousins, Adrian Crowley, Devoted Friend, Eat Lights Become Lights, Fanfarlo, Goat, Ghost Carriage Phantoms, God’s Little Eskimo, Darren Hayman, Island Twins, Richard James, Jesus H Foxx, Johnny5thwheelandthecowardsKaatskill MountainsLazarus and The Plane Crash, Jens Lekman, The Leg, Jack Lesser Lewis' Awkward Energy, Les Liminanas, Huw M, Moonface with Siinai, Onions, Plank!, Pulco, Race Horses, Randolph’s Leap, Sex Hands, Shearwater, Sone Institute, Standard Fare, The State Broadcasters, The Sufis, Temple Songs, The Wave Pictures and James Yorkston.

And if I allowed myself to break the self-imposed ‘Top Ten only’ straitjacket a 11-20 list would look like (alphabetically) Euros Childs, Clinic, The Douglas Firs, First Aid Kit, Golden Fable, Hooded Fang, Damien Jurado, Kiran Leonard, This Many Boyfriends and Woods.

Huge thanks for those artists and bands who shared their thoughts and reflections on 2012 namely (in order of appearance) Seamus Fogarty, Tigercats, Laura J Martin, The Douglas Firs, The Eccentronic Research Council, Mowbird, Richard James, Hooded Fang, Whistle Peak, Land Observations, Easter and Kiran Leonard.

So following that excellent wrapping up of the year, here is my Top Ten albums of the year. Yes it’s subjective. Yes it’s a rum bunch which at first glance appears wilfully random with no connection or shared stylistic approach between them. But – to my ears anyway – they are all formed by a distinctive and original voice (even when indebted to forebears) which delivers consistently – no weak links - across the full length of the album. You may disagree with this or with entries on the list. But hey that’s the fun of lists.


10. JULIA HOLTER Ekstasis [BUY]
The second album from LA multi-instrumentalist and composer is a beguiling dream-world of layered electronically processed and natural sounds and voice; coolly arty but gorgeously accessible.

Minimal motorik instrumentals about the Roman highways that criss-cross ancient Britain and Europe from ex-Appliance man James Brooks. Again (visual and musical) artiness and accessibility go hand in hand.

8. WHISTLE PEAK Half Asleep Upon Echo Falls [BUY]
A happy-sad electro-folk shuffle from Louisville, Kentucky. An excellent set of “children’s songs by grown men” to luxuriate in.

Practical Electronics enthusiasts from Sheffield, make spooked out spoken word LP with Maxine Peake.” Understatement for the underture to the story of the Pendle Witches then and now and a side-swipe at contemporary society, shallow politicians and Jeremy Kyle.

6. TIGERCATS Isle Of Dogs [BUY]
A joyous, edgy and infectious declaration-of-independence that touches on Talking Heads, Hefner and Los Campesinos. Music that makes you want to be a teenager again indeed.

5. LAURA J MARTIN The Hangman Tree [BUY]
Can I use (someone else’s) phrase again? “Liverpudlian flute-wrangler” goes on magical excursions – from deserts to Morecombe Bay to Japan – switching from child-like (but never infantile) innocence to breathy sultriness. Heart wrangled.

4. COLD SPECKS I Predict A Graceful Expulsion [BUY]
Gospel-flavoured folk-noir from Al Spx and her Anglo-Canadian collective that is subtle but stirring, underplayed but over-powering. I cried when I saw them live (big softie).

3. SEAMUS FOGARTY God Damn You Mountain [BUY]
The James Yorkston-endorsed and Fence Records-signed nomad from County Mayo delivers rough, earthy ruminations with a transcendental other-worldliness. Wayward folky sounds on guitar, banjo, fiddle and cello with the added curious spaciness of analog synthesisers, laptop interventions and sea-shell percussion.

2. EASTER Innocence Man [BUY]
Crumpsall pipe-dreams, heavy US alt-rock hooks and riffs and experimental post-rock meet for an "immense, brooding and ruggedly beautiful journey, as monumental and carefully hewn as the carvings at Mount Rushmore or the implacable Victorian brickwork of Strangeways prison".

"“Cyrk” is an album inspired by the Isle of Eigg, recorded in Cardiff, named after the Polish word for ‘circus’ but sounding like none of those places. It is at once grounded and otherworldly, cryptic and cool but curiously compelling and warm-hearted. Each listen pulls you deeper in, revealing more but telling you less. At the beginning of the last decade ‘New Weird America’ was coined to describe outer limits folk music looking at the world askance but rooted in heritage, myth and elemental forces. Welsh psychedelic music has been on a parallel course for many decades and hasn’t needed a short-hand description. Whatever the Welsh version is called, with this record Cate Le Bon proves she is at the forefront of the contemporary wave of that movement".

I was fairly certain when I wrote that in April that this record would be one of my top five of the year. By early November it beat Easter in my affections to secure top billing. But the SCANDALOUS omission of this record (and many others above) from record shop, magazine and website end-of-year lists shocked me.

Yes this is my list, it’s personal and wilful and random but surely by any objective standards “CYRK” should be lauded as an eerie creative triumph? How could it be overlooked?? I started this blog to record - for myself - what I liked and why; and if anyone read it and wanted to listen too that would be a bonus. All the above records from 2012 are truly important to me but also all in different ways are under-appreciated in this cruel, inattentive world. I recommend them all to you. Maybe more than just listening, together we can over-turn the under-appreciation that hangs too heavily around them? Over to you...

Thursday, December 20, 2012

WRAPPING UP 2012 with Kiran Leonard

Tomorrow is the end of the world accordingly to the Mayans. So who better to answer some questions about 2012 than Kiran Leonard who has just released the 24 minute “The End Times” partly inspired by hearing of this predicted catastrophe aged 10. If the apocalypse does arrive tomorrow, it may not just be the ancient peoples of Mesoamerica who will feel justified.

When I wrote about Kiran Leonard’s "Bowler Hat Soup" back in March, I commented amongst other things on his attention-span, mainly due to the restless stylistic zig-zagging and multiple time signatures deployed on the album. Having now corresponded with Kiran (via, as well as a restless intelligent mind fizzying with ideas and sounds, I now see this is also matched with an acute sense of detail and control. So not only did he respond almost instantly, he was adamant that the punctuation, grammar and use of case in all his answers was exactly how he intended it, had been thoroughly checked and should not be changed.

So here are the unedited thoughts of a pre-apocalypse Kiran Leonard on his 2012 (and if we all do survive tomorrow he’ll be washing dishes in an Italian restaurant in Delph, where we are welcome to join him and, apparently, “the penne markotte is very tasty”).

What I will remember most about 2012 is...
this year was the first time a group of people started following what i was making rather than just my friends... i started PERFORMING and got in touch with a LABEL or two... it's been a very unassuming and minute crescendo but it's been satisfying

What should be forgotten about 2012...
don't forget anything and preach awareness + pleasure above all

The best gig I played was...
I PLAYED the CAREFULLY PLANNED FESTIVAL in october at the SOUP KITCHEN... it is a lovely venue... the first song we did was a grotesque punk version of WILD WALKS where my guitar was a quarter-tone out with everything else so i just beat the shit out of my strings so it could sound brutal and all the dissonances would no longer be discernible over the wall of noise... i yelled my face off like a phantom howler dog to the moon... everyone in the crowd was smiling but none of them came very close.... our saxophonist went on walkabout.... the band i play with were really encouraging and loud... it was the closest thing to a punk show we as a band, had ever done... we were under-rehearsed and nervous (at least i was)... we sounded terrible but it looked and felt brilliant

The best gig I saw was...
AT THE DRIVE-IN at leeds fest this year... surrounded by people who'd grown up with their music, all screaming the words to the songs... it was exhilarating...
it didn't even matter that OMAR wasn't into it because we were all aware that it wasn't 1998 anymore... chanbara was PHENOMENAL...

A record from 2012 that will be still be played in 10 years time?
DEATH GRIPS' THE MONEY STORE. one of the most incredible records of all time and i do not say that lightly... every lyric is poetic, scarring and fantastic...
they are the defining band of this decade, no question... nobody can reach their level or do what they're doing... i am a proud owner of their complete discography of 46 tracks (as far as i know.. anyone reading who has more hit me up somewhere... on my or something). they'll play this record till the end of civilization, never mind in 10 years time

And what can we look forward to in 2013 from Kiran Leonard?
in 2013, besides the vinyl pressing of the record i put out this year BOWLER HAT SOUP, i am planning a return to ELECTRONIC BEAT MUSIC and NOISY MUSIC. i will probably record approx. 4-5 HOURS of new material in 2013, with the intention of releasing every minute (though i may not succeed in releasing it all within the same year). though i will try to release the follow-up to bowler hat soup GRAPEFRUIT this year... and a beat album... there may also be a couple SPLITS in the making, more work for CASSETTE, lots of VISUAL media, small TOURS around the uk and parts of europe, LIVE albums, OUTTAKE comps.... BUSY YEAR HOPEFULLY. i'm looking forward to it. i think it will move faster than 2-0-1-2 did

Hearing "Bowler Hat Soup" for the first time and seeing Kiran Leonard play live were two of the unforgettable moments of this year for me – that and getting over his age and just concentrating on what a talent he is. 2013 certainly looks intriguingly busy. Hopefully it will mean he’ll be able to spend less of his time as a dishwasher. "Bowler Hat Soup" will be re-issued physically by Hand Of Glory.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

WRAPPING UP 2012 with Easter

If you cast your mind back to May on these pages, Thomas Long was talking about the “more rocked up” mark 2 version of Easter that had created the album “Innocence Man” and was on the cusp of releasing it. Come the autumn, with the album out of the traps and the band touring, there was another line-up change for the band and some internal re-shuffling of roles (Mark 2.1?). Although a quarter different in personnel, this version of the band was still damn sharp in delivering those towering songs from “Innocence Man”.

I thought the record an “extraordinary listen: an immense, brooding and ruggedly beautiful journey, as monumental and carefully hewn as the carvings at Mount Rushmore or the implacable Victorian brickwork of Strangeways prison”. Americana UK said “Easter have produced a pretty remarkable feat with "Innocence Man". Its six tracks, some stretching out over six or even eight minutes, are both expansive and intense. There is a delicate balancing act of discordant riffs against powerhouse drumming and intimate, articulate and half hidden singing... Easter are noise alchemists shaping discord and painful feedback into sound sculptures of disconnection and confusion. For the most part it sounds suitably splendid”. I have to disagree – I think it all sounds splendid.

Thomas Long here looks back on the last twelve months of releases and re-births.

What I will remember most about 2012 is...
Getting the album out this year was the big one. It took us a while so to finally have it out and get some good reviews, airplay and people getting into it has been great. But almost as important has been getting the new line-up together, it's feeling really good at the moment cos we can now get out and tour, which we weren't really able to do before. We just did a string of UK dates in November and it was a big buzz.

What should be forgotten about 2012...
Like I say the line-up change has worked out well but it's always a bit of a drag sorting it out, it's almost like starting afresh, it could crumble, but thankfully it hasn't.

The best gig we played was...
The album launch gig at Kraak was awesome - it was packed. But our gig in Edinburgh with Broken Records probably tops it. It was the last night of the tour, great crowd and the new line-up was really firing.

The best gig I saw was...
Best gig for me was Radiohead at the MEN [Arena], it was just immense, epic set, great choice of tracks, a real fan's set. Made me realise how great they are as I'd overlooked them a little bit over the last few years.

A record from 2012 that will still be played in 10 years time?
EL-P “Cancer 4 Cure” is great, really intense, paranoid as ever, and great production. Think he's still one of the few people pushing things in hip-hop. Live he was immense too, played the full album. Only just bought Swans “The Seer” but that's great, lot to get yr teeth into but I think it'll definitely be remembered.

Overlooked in 2012?
Easter “Innocence Man”? Ha!

And what can we look forward to in 2013 from Easter?
Hopefully have a seven inch out in the spring, and we're working on a proper UK tour for around that time as well. Then it'll be down to work on the second album which we’re building up tracks for at the moment. There might just be something else in the pipeline too but I don't want to jinx it.

I agree about “Innocence Man” being overlooked. Some enthusiastic reviews and praise from online sites and record shops, plays on 6Music and Xfm but it didn’t get the recognition it should have done in the monthlies or major music websites. If that was their loss, make sure it’s not yours too: “Innocence Man” is one of this year's, if not ANY year's, essential purchases.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

WRAPPING UP 2012 with Land Observations

In Summer 2011, I became entranced by the “Roman Roads” EP from Land Observations, a trio of minimal motorik instrumentals created out of layered guitar. Although it was hinted this was from a forthcoming album inspired by the major Roman roads that criss-crossed Britain & Europe, I didn’t hold out much hope as Land Observations aka James Brooks, previously one-third of post-rock minimalists Appliance, had concentrated on an artistic career since the dissolution of his previous group in 2003. And nine years on his visual arts practice and interest in cartography and mapping seemed to dominate.

But then in September came the release of the eight track album “Roman Roads IV-XI” on Mute, his old label with Appliance. What I said about the EP in July 2011 still holds true for the album: “although there is repetition to their meticulous construction, rather than those sturdy (and perpendicular) feats of Roman engineering, these songs make me think more of the natural world in those times, of green fields, chalk horses, untamed hedgerows and empty skies: more pagan joy than imperialist perfection”. And this was echoed by The Quietus: “recorded in Berlin, the eight tracks here pay easy homage to their European forebears, but are unmistakably British in their overall sound and feel, nodding melodically to the traditional folk music of these isles, and existing at a slower pace, on a smaller scale, than the cross-continental constructions of Kraftwerk and company”. The EP is excellent but “Roman Roads IV-XI” goes further and not just in length – a more confident and complete investigation of these themes, musical and geographic.

Continuing the Wrapping Up series, Land Observations’ James Brooks casts a glance back on 2012:

What I will remember most about 2012 is...
Well, in musical terms I enjoyed the continuing renaissance of vinyl.... Along with another year cementing the fact that interesting music can still cut through and have an impact... In life - East London flourished and Fender brought out a new Jaguar guitar.

What should be forgotten about 2012...
Musically.... mmm, it feels negative to mention names... In everyday life, that the government and universities made some terrible decisions for education, (or maybe that would be a bad idea to forget)

The best gig I played was...
I think in Kreuzberg, Berlin for the enthusiasm and attention towards the performance. The album tracks are getting broader and it all seemed to grow at this show...

The best gig I saw was...
I enjoyed seeing the Matthew Bourne in Glasgow. Some days you are more receptive to watching a performance after you play and that was one.

A record from 2012 that will be still be played in 10 years time?
(Obviously taking Land Observations out of the equation...) I enjoyed the Lightships record in a 70s album kind of way.

Overlooked in 2012?
The Kranky record label in Chicago, stills seems consistent, but perhaps doesn't get the attention it deserves.

And what can we look forward to in 2013 from Land Observations?
Well, I've started demoing the next record already and plan to record it in a very unique place... So it would be nice to think I could have that out by late next year on Mute.

Plus there are some extra tracks from last year's Berlin recording session, so it would be great for them to see the light of day. Then Enraptured are re-issuing the 3 track “Roman Roads” EP. So, all in all, it should be a fruitful year...

For more from James Brooks including how Land Observations became a musical project and his subsequent return to Mute Records, there’s an excellent interview on The Quietus from September. My main recommendation however is a swift purchase of “Roman Roads IV-XI”.

Monday, December 17, 2012

WRAPPING UP 2012 with Whistle Peak

Whistle Peak is pop music in disguise” says Karate Body Records, label and home of the Louisville, Kentucky band. And indeed it is difficult to pigeonhole these electro-folk “children’s stories told by grown men”. Writing about the album in February, I cited Panda Bear, Beirut, Joe Henry, Eels and Tuung as various reference points on different tracks. Americana UK’s take was: “if the Folk Implosion had imploded they’d sound like ‘Land to Land’, but don’t think that these are inward looking indie fan-boy songs. Yes, ‘Sleepy Pants’ does sound like the Flaming Lips in restrained mood but ‘Play the Ghost’ contains some of the same DNA that makes Gnarls Barkley – notably the combination of dance music, soulful vocals and a leftfield sensibility.”

Maybe best to say the five-piece just sound like themselves? Either way I was wowed by “Half Asleep Upon Echo Falls” calling it a “buoyant and luxuriant experience: eleven tracks of melancholy-tinged Vaudevillian alt-pop floating on banjos, xylophone and egg-shaker with washes of electronic flutter and mechanical scrape that soothes and surprises”. Here three of the band - Billy Petot, Michael Snowden, Jeremy Irvin – shared their thoughts on the last twelve months:

What we will remember most about 2012 is...
Billy: I had a baby this year. And UK winning the NCAA was pretty awesome. I'm really proud of the album, of course.
Michael: I also had a baby, which is pretty unforgettable. Watching the record gain traction and making a bunch of new friends while working to promote it has also been great. No matter where things go from here, 2012 will always stand out in my mind as a watershed year for the group.
Jeremy: My lady and I got engaged in Zion National Park, in Utah. One of the most exciting moments of my life, set to the most amazing scenery I've ever witnessed. Let's not forget our single, "Wings Won't Behave," jumping to over 50k listens, practically overnight...

What should be forgotten about 2012...
Billy: Mitt Romney
Michael: Who's that?
Jeremy: Paul Ryan, who, by comparison, made Romney look like a Saint.

The best gig we played was...
Billy: Our album release show at Zanzabar in our hometown, Louisville. And we had a good time at Radio Radio in Indianapolis, though we could have played better.
Michael: Our show with The Cave Singers last Spring was really enjoyable. We played well, the Cave Singers killed, and the crowd was fantastic. Good times.
Jeremy: Record Store Day, at Please & Thank You, here in Louisville, KY. Due to capacity constraints, we were asked to perform a 'stripped down' version of our set, which resulted in what I believe Billy dubbed "acoustelectronic." 80's synthesizers and drum machines paired with acoustic instruments. It came very naturally for us, and if we could ever make it across that grand pond, I believe this would be an efficient way for us to tour Europe. There's a video of "Big & Bright" from that evening, it's floating around the Internet somewhere; check it out.

The best gig I saw was...
Michael: Just saw Lindsey Buckingham play solo earlier this week. Incredible.
Jeremy: Damien Jurado performed here in Louisville, as part of our own WFPK's "Live Lunch" series. These shows are always free, and the station really opens its arms to a wide range of artists. This was definitely my favorite show of 2012.

A record from 2012 that will be still be played in 10 years time?
Billy: I am pretty sure I'll be listening to Bro Stephen's "Baptist Girls" for that long.
Jeremy: "Arrow" by Heartless Bastards.

Overlooked in 2012?
Michael: Big Fresh's “Moneychasers”, without a doubt. It's a solid album from one of Kentucky's most underrated bands.
Jeremy: Red Parole” by Seluah. Label mates, and fellow Louisvillians, these guys kill it at their live shows.

And what can we look forward to in 2013 from Whistle Peak?
Michael: One thing you won't be seeing is more babies. Just new music... my vote is for the melancholic dance album of the decade.
Jeremy: An album FOR babies, BY babies. Or at least for baby-making practice sessions.

Before 2012 I really only knew Louisville, Kentucky as the birth place of Will Oldham. Now thanks to Karate Body Records and the name-checks above, I have a whole new world of Louisvillians to explore. And in Whistle Peak an excellent new favourite band who stand apart from any clumsy musical references. “Half Asleep Upon Echo Falls” does have worldwide distribution but if you have difficulty tracking it down Karate Body ship internationally (including the teal-coloured vinyl!).

Sunday, December 16, 2012

WRAPPING UP 2012 with Hooded Fang

Hooded Fang’s debut UK release “Tosta Mista” is named after a grilled Portuguese sandwich snack. Apparently. But it’s best not to take the tongue-in-cheek, cartoon villain world of the Toronto outfit at face value – even from a band whose (Canadian only) debut EP was called “EP” and their debut album “Album”. Are they are a collective or just a vehicle for chief Fang Daniel Lee? Can these ridiculously infectious beat-pop tunes really constitute a break-up album? Does a 22 minutes and only seven proper tracks make an album? And what’s with the masked Mexican wrestlers?

What is undeniable, except to a few po-faced reviewers, is the effect of the record on the listener: “evocative of summer sunshine and parties on the beach – clean, bright indie pop mixed with ’60s garage and a whiff of Tiki kitsch” said Loud and Quiet. “A record that screams “FUN” across its breezy 22-minute running time... but rather than it sounding like an experiment in kitsch or all surface and no feeling, it really does sound like it’s written from the heart” said The Line Of Best Fit. My take back in March was “listening to this record is like opening a sealed time-capsule from 1968... but rather than diminishing returns retro-nostalgia, “Tosta Mista” feels like a genuine re-tread of garage rock year zero and Lenny Kaye’s “Nuggets” collection. Hooded Fang manage to capture – not recreate - the sense of possibility, experimentation and fun of that era brilliantly... half the length of most albums but twice the psyche-pop fun”.

Here Daniel Lee reflects on the last twelve months for Hooded Fang:

What I will remember most about 2012 is...
The birth of the internet. It came in the form of a 7-billion armed porn monster where ideas are everything and money disappears.

What should be forgotten about 2012...
Clop Clop. It had its day, and now pony cartoons having sex are passé.

The best gig we played was...
Brussels, London, Leeds, Glasgow, Manchester, Berlin, the moon.

The best gig I saw was...
Ariel Pink at Constellation, the surf band in Manchester (shit I forget their name). [that would be The Bell Peppers?]

A record from 2012 that will be still be played in 10 years time?
Slim Twig "A Hound At The Hem", Ariel Pink "Mature Themes".

Overlooked in 2012?
Probably everything good.

And what can we look forward to in 2013 from Hooded Fang?
New record, stupid costumes, purchasing of ponies, holograms, digital fictional live players, extra heads, extra head.

Hooded Fang toured the UK in May with Howler, having to bump a show for Underachievers Please Try Harder at The Castle until the autumn. Sadly I missed both chances to see the band live but let’s hope a return visit to accompany new album “Gravez” is on the cards.

Friday, December 14, 2012

WRAPPING UP 2012 with Richard James

Since the first solo album from Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci co-founder Richard James in 2006, the excellent “The Seven Sleepers Den”, the interval between albums appears to have halved – “We Went Riding” in 2010 and then this year’s stripped-back “Pictures In The Morning”. However the latter was actually written in the summer of 2009 and then recorded in two houses in Cardiff with producer/engineer Iwan Morgan. “I record everything now in houses, using every area of the building. It makes it hard to do drum tracks live but you can do acoustic ones. The album is meant to be quite low key and intimate as it’s quite personal.”

However a delayed gap from writing to release date does not Mr James has been idle: not only does he curate the musical side of the Laugharne Weekend festival each April he has also established In Chapters as an umbrella for publishing and promoting a variety of musical and literary endeavours including the Pen Pastwn group he formed with Gareth ‘The Gentle Good’ Bonello and Laura J Martin.

Although a low-key and personal record, The Line Of Best Fit captured the spell that the nine track album weaves perfectly: ““Pictures in the Morning” is also an addition to one of the most overpopulated brackets in the song-writing tradition: the break-up album. Add this to the album’s blanket ban on loud look-at-me antics and its propensity for melancholy introspection, and you’d be excused for assuming we’re faced with a bona fide misery-fest. However, although regret and heartache run rife through the nine tracks, these are nevertheless tunes tailor-made for the bright, warily hopeful morning after the boozy self-pity of the night before has faded. There’s hurt aplenty here, but you can practically feel the sunshine radiating from the gentle, warm melodies that propel most of these tracks.

So a busy year for Richard James?

What I will remember most about 2012 is...
A week long trip to Sudan with the British Council in February. I took the Pen Pastwn band out there to collaborate with local musicians, play 2 shows. We swam off a reef in the Red Sea, met some great people and musicians, and was an eye-opener to that part of the world and its music.

What should be forgotten about 2012...
I can't remember....

The best gig I played was...
Green Man Festival, with a 7 piece Pen Pastwn band. [The gig in May at The Castle in Manchester was quite special too]

The best gig I saw was...
Y Niwl, The Fountain Inn, Laugharne Weekend festival in April. They were meant to play at midnight, but had a gig in Birmingham the same evening, turned up at five past, and were on by quarter past. Super charged rock 'n' roll, great set.

A record from 2012 that will be still be played in 10 years time?
'Spin That Girl Around' by Euros Childs.

Overlooked in 2012?
Depends what you mean by overlooked. If a good artist has the chance to record and release their work, play live and get it across to people, then they aren't overlooked and the view of the media is irrelevant. The almost instantaneous word of mouth and directness to music fans the internet provides means the judgement of the media is increasingly irrelevant. Radio play I would say is the most important because of revenue, and provides a more well-known and well-trodden platform to hear the music.

And what can we look forward to in 2013 from Richard James?
Hopefully a couple of records, a few gigs, working on a couple of projects I hope will come off. Plenty in the pipeline!

Halving that release time again? This can only be a good thing. In exchange for your email address there’s a five track Pen Pastwn EP over at In Chapters. And the Richard James solo albums can be tricky to track down but here is a good starting point.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

WRAPPING UP 2012 with Mowbird

How will you remember 2012? As well as the crooks, liars and continued selling off of our future for profit (see yesterday's Q&A with Adrian Flanagan from The Eccentronic Research Council for an effective summary), I will remember it in part as the year I heard 'We Sell Maternity Swimwear' by Mowbird.

The "surf-punk quartet from Wrexham” (population 42,576) take inspiration from a couple of decades worth of US alt-rock leading lights: Malkmus, Barlow and Lytle and their noisier acolytes including Times New Viking, No Age and The Black Lips . Their somewhere-between-lofi-and-nofi DIY ethic extends to all the band do: self-released EPs (two this year: “We Sell Maternity Swimwear” and “The Quiet Despair of the Starship Enterprise”), hand-screen printed T-shirts, zines and poster design, tour booking and of course the type-written personalised notes that come with releases. They even stuff high quality Welsh air into the packages they send out. You don’t get that from the major labels.

The band’s Ben Sawin offered up these reflections on the past twelve months.

What I/we will remember most about 2012 is...
The apocalpyse/playing at Green Man Festival. In 2047, we will be saying to our android grandchildren and their electric goats, "Your creators prepared for the end of the world with copious amounts of alcohol and dancing in an underground bunker. The world didn't end."

What should be forgotten about 2012...
As little as possible. Especially Mitt Romney.

The best gig we played was...
The Gold Room, Glasgow. It came at the end of a really terrible day (our van broke/we could've died/we spent a LONG time in Glossop). We eventually got to Glasgow, found out the Gold Room was a bedroom occupied by the raddest Scotsman Jackson. We played with three amazing bands (North American War / World Peace / Furrow) in the most DIY venue we've ever been to, and had the best time doing it.

The best gig I saw was...
We all went to see the reformed Grandaddy the week after Green Man Festival and it was surprisingly fresh, d-e-lightful.

A record from 2012 that will be still be played in 10 years time?
John Maus “A Collection Of Rarities”, Islet “Illuminated People”, Cate Le Bon “CYRK”, The Evens “The Odds

Overlooked in 2012?
Mr Dupret Factory - a London-based post-JPEG/worrycore band.

And what can we look forward to in 2013 from Mowbird?
An album / a split 7” with Sex Hands on Popty Ping / a big, big payout from PRS; one of us going mad with the excitement, killing the rest of the band in a meticulous and well thought out manner, escaping maniacally with the riches only to return weeks later, funds extinguished, to face the music.

A pool of bloggers recently put together a Blog Sound of 2013 list as an alternative (not a challenge) to the BBC list. For my first (and only?) contribution to this, one of my five tipped bands for 2013 was Mowbird, who subsequently didn't even make the long-list. Not sure if this says more about me or about the other contributors? The fact that Polydor-signed LA slushy soft-rockers Haim appear on both Blog Sound and BBC Sound lists is a sad state of affairs... a triumph of marketability over all other kinds of ability in my book.

But for crunching together noise and melody with quality and distinctiveness in North Wales’s largest town, Mowbird still get my vote, this year and next year. The band finish their 2012 with a gig at Central Station in Wrexham on 23 December.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

WRAPPING UP 2012 with The Eccentronic Research Council

This is the North, the fantastical North, home of proud, hard graftin' bastards..." Some records are steeped in a particular location or thick with geographical reference points but "1612 Underture" - created by Sheffield duo The Eccentronic Research Council and Lancastrian actress Maxine Peake - is one of the richest, most atmospheric, most authentic evocations of a - partly mythical - place you will hear committed to tape. And much of it is set in the 17th century as part of its re-telling and commemoration of the Pendle witch trials of 1612. “Part psycho-geographical field-trip, part history lesson and part contemporary state-of-the-nation address” I said writing about it a few weeks ago but maybe The Quietus put their finger on what makes the album a success: "On first glance, the cover art of "1612 Underture", the preponderance of vintage synths – patched to sound as if they're being played by men in white lab coats - and the subject matter (the Pendle Witch Trials) all point towards one thing: hauntology. But this excellent record on Manchester's Bird label isn't some generic late adopter's attempt to take on the Moon Wiring Club, rather a genuinely unhinged, unique and deliciously weird pop album".

Council member Adrian Anthony Flanagan gives us his take on 2012 - emotions and facial expressions indicated in brackets.

What I will remember most about 2012 is...
Our Government’s psychological war on its own People. Mother Nature flexing her muscles. The surprise that people were surprised about Sir Jimmy, not being surprised what people will do to keep their precious jobs, justice for the Hillsborough 96; 2012 does seem to be the year where everyone you’re supposed to trust or rely on for protection has been revealed to be a crook, a liar, a charlatan. The Genocide on Syria. The endless Tory attempts to steal the NHS. Jessica Ennis winning her Olympic Gold. Man City's league winning game against QPR and the goodwill & kindness shown towards our album '1612 Underture'.. I'm very proud of it..If I was to never write another word or note I'd be happy if that was my final word and note...but...over my dead body (laughs)

What should be forgotten about 2012...
That Boris Johnson still lives (serious face).

The best gig we played was...
Festival Number 6 at Portmeirion for the atmosphere and location and a Spiegeltent in Sheffield for the performance. There was a bit of a eureka moment in Sheffield where the live group really gelled and sounded pretty special/unique.

The best gig I saw was...
I can't watch live bands without feeling I'm facing the wrong way but the most enjoyable stuff I've seen this year has been at tiny D.I.Y nights around 'non venues' in Sheffield. New groups that people should know about/check out are a 3 piece called Blood Sport. They've got that Can & Neu catatonic groove thing going on but with a noise thing that's quite their own over the top, it's both hypnotic but uncomfortable, a winning formula. I also quite like a man & woman duo called Flaming Skulls, heavy Bonham style drums with a lass playing proper rock riffs better than the boys and with a voice that sounds like she's been possessed by a poltergeist. You can imagine her head spinning round 360 degrees as she sings... it's good. There's loads of good music beavering away in Sheffield that on the whole will be forever just Sheffield's, that's not a bad thing though.

A record from 2012 that will be still be played in 10 years time?
I love the Mary Epworth album 'Dream Life', inventive but melodic witchadelia. I'm a sucker for weirdos with big ideas. I Also like the BEAK and Pye Corner Audio LPs. Some people think it’s a crime to have an album with lots of different styles and sounds on it, these kind of people tend to like stupid records. Like this year’s ‘Birdie Song’, ’Gangnam Style’ (laughs).

Overlooked in 2012?
The 200 bowl cut toupees sported by 40 somethings in the first few rows of the Stone Roses reformation concerts.

And what can we look forward to in 2013 from The Eccentronic Research Council?
We may do a couple of live events between now and the start of the New Year but after that the live thing will probably take a break for a while. Maxine's got quite a bit on with TV and film through Spring and Summer so it's going to be hard to fit live shows in... but you never know maybe the odd sporadic last minute appearance where we are not welcome (laughs).

I'd like to start writing and recording another ERC album in late Winter/Spring and get that out late Summer, to be honest I've not really thought hard about it but we've all said we'd like to do something but how that manifests itself and when I'm not too sure. There's never been a plan...The ERC isn't a predictable beast it's a few pals who come together occasionally whilst doing other things to do something out of the realms and constraints and rules of their usual things, to let loose like a great big sexy demon. (Laughs).

There's still one chance to catch the big sexy demon that is The Eccentronic Research Council live this year: in a secret location in Preston this Sunday as part of the Frozen North Weekender. Excellent support is provided by Emma Tricca and Paper Dollhouse all for the bargain ticket price of £10. Plus look out for two January shows to be announced this week: 18 January at Queens Social WMC in Sheffield and 19 January at Hebden Bridge Trades Club. And regardless of your affinity to the North of England or not, "1612 Underture" is an essential purchase.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

WRAPPING UP 2012 with The Douglas Firs

For their second full-length release “The Furious Sound” (see yesterday’s post), Edinburgh’s The Douglas Firs apply accident as much as design. Their excellent ‘gloom-pop’ album inspired by the East Lothian witch trials of 1590 was recorded in locations related to the persecution: South Leith Church, the parish of David Lindsay, who led the witch hunt on behalf of James I & IV as well as the church at Old Kirk Green, North Berwick and the dungeons at Tantallon Castle, East Lothian where the witches practised their sermons. However: “many parts of the record were improvised, inspired by the locations used. No fortuitous sounds leaking onto the tracks were excluded.

Despite there being a spate of witch trial related music this year (and all of it excellent), The Douglas Firs are originals not followers: “The Douglas Firs are a band fearlessly doing their own thing, with as much 1960s psychedelia as 21st-century indie-folk, as many post-rock episodes as ambient soundscapes. Perhaps only The Phantom Band are pushing genre envelopes in quite the same way” says The Herald; “Belle and Sebastian on a spirit-quest” says The List. Or maybe the best of this bunch of comparators is from Subba-Cultcha “ Midlake on a bad trip rather than chirping merrily about cedars and Aunt Roseline”.

Aberdonian Neil Insh, now living and making music in Edinburgh, is the driving force behind The Douglas Firs and answered some questions on his year (very promptly and well ahead of schedule) at the end of last month.

What I will remember most about 2012 is...
That Zlatan overhead kick was pretty memorable, from last week.

What should be forgotten about 2012...
Coming from someone who hates memories, this is a tough one. I'm going to have to say The Weeknd. and I don't even mean, 'the weekend'. I mean the dreadful artiste, The Weeknd. I had a disturbing streaming experience with his music a few weeks ago.

The best gig we played was...
We played two gigs this year. I'll opt for our gig with Michael Anguish and Iliop, at Old St Paul's.

The best gig I saw was...
I haven't seen any gigs this year, so by default I'll have to opt for Michael Anguish and Iliop, at Old St Paul's.

A record from 2012 that will be still be played in 10 years time?
He hasn't actually released his second album, yet, but Green Gerry has leaked out some teasers. I've been listening to everything else he has done for over 2 years, so that's pretty good going. a quarter of the way there.

Overlooked in 2012?
Green Gerry.

And what can we look forward to in 2013 from The Douglas Firs?
I want to record an album in as small a space as possible, but maximise the amount of people involved. So far, I have 8 people interested. And in my head, it sounds like the Velvet Underground playing spectral samba.

Sounds amazing. And more of that accident and design at play. But as evidenced by both “Happy As A Windless Flag” or “The Furious Sound”, The Douglas Firs are more than capable of pulling off ambitious plans. Bring on the spectral samba.

The third (I think) and final gig for The Douglas Firs is this Friday at Augustine United Church when they play live to launch the new album supported by Snake Until Listen, Lamplighter and Something Beginning With L.

Monday, December 10, 2012

THE DOUGLAS FIRS The Furious Sound

Most of the first half of the second album from orchestral alt-folk ensemble The Douglas Firs is propelled by the heavy insistent beat of multiple sets of drums. Not intricate soft-brushed patterns or jovial rolls and fills but an ominous, repetitive heavy thud. It’s taken a step further on ‘ Fortress’ where the combined throb of drums, electric bass and hammered piano sound intimidating, like the metallic pounding on the gate to said citadel.

If the first album “Happy As A Windless Flag” often recalled the angular alt-rock volatility of Deerhunter, the propulsive menace of this one recalls the baroque intensity of These New Puritan on "Hidden" – only with less roto-toms and (slightly) less martial belligerence and more liturgical chant alongside Neil Insh’s Zach Condon-like airy croon. The oppressive sense of doom for the first six songs does subside but the dark mood lingers and feels entirely appropriate for an album loosely based around the East Lothian witch trials of 1590 at which seventy people were tortured, tried and burned to death. And if that sounds jolly, “The Furious Sound” goes further and seeks to become “an investigation into outsiders, madness, extreme internal states, physical degradation and the brevity of human life”.

There is no easily discernible narrative thread despite these theme(s) and song titles like ‘Vastations’ or ‘Firelight Acolyte Diorama’ lend the album an arcane aura, but there is a tighter musical focus to “The Furious Sound” than its predecessor. Its thirteen tracks - recorded in churches, dungeons and forests – move from the pounding opening of ‘The Great Generations’ to ethereal, post-rock abstraction (‘Black Forest’), haunting monastic shimmer and chill (‘Firelight Acolyte Diorama’) and angelic orchestral elegies (‘The Possessed’ and ‘Monument’). I love the dark atmospherics, the sense of menace and doom mixed with orchestral delicacy and the sweetness of Insh’s voice but it can feel (intentionally I suspect) unrelentingly oppressive. The sprawling randomness of “Happy As A Windless Flag” in comparison does appear a virtue to change and lighten the mood. So far this record is still in the shadow of that predecessor for me but there’s no denying its compelling dark and original powers.

The Douglas Firs - Backroads by Armellodie

The Douglas Firs The Furious Sound [BUY]

Friday, December 07, 2012

MARK MULCAHY @ NIGHT & DAY 6 December 2012

About 3.30pm this afternoon I got rather over-excited by seeing an Instagram photo of a grown man playing an amusement machine in a motorway service station. Mark Mulcahy is somewhere off the M6 and will soon be in Manchester! Proper fanboy jitters. In the life of this blog I haven’t see Mark play live but in 2009 wrote about the tribute CD "Ciao My Shining Star". Gaps between seeing the Springfield, MA resident and ex-Miracle Legion front man are often long – for me 1995, 1999, 2000 (or possibly 2001) then 2005. This latest gap of seven years lengthened by the tragic circumstances of that 2009 album.

But somehow, amazingly, here is the man himself, larger than life in wide lapelled burgundy two-piece suit in the small confines of Night & Day reminiscing about previous solo and Miracle Legion Manchester shows with an uncannily sharp memory (“and before The Hacienda what was it called...yes The International!”). He is here for three English dates before joining the bill at All Tomorrow’s Parties as a guest of the curators The National. But he is also armed with new songs from a fourth solo album “due sometime early next year” and backed by Ken Maiuri on drums/keyboards/percussion (often at the same time) and Henning Ohlenbusch (“of the perfume family”) on bass and backing vocals.

The trio are an odd assortment of heights and shapes (cue some comedy mic stand adjustments as they exchange instruments or spots late in the evening) but play together in an enthralling, spontaneous almost intuitive manner. I have forgotten how physically bulky Mark Mulcahy is. He is a large man but very much the gentle giant, and one prone to sudden deviation and long pauses. In that suit and oversize brown boots he appears the down-at-heel supper club crooner, a decade or two out of touch with the modern world. As he moves across the stage initially, he appears ungainly getting caught up in his guitar lead or clumsily adjusting the microphone. But then he starts singing and something magical happens. He, as we the audience too, are transported somewhere else.

The set cleverly combines songs from all solo albums plus odd singles and EPs, five new songs, some Polaris and as part of the encores a Miracle Legion song. From early, tentative beginnings, we moved through intense, near-chaotic jangle-pop strumming (‘Saturnine’) to hushed, almost whispered harmonies (‘Can't Find A Reason‘ ) to a menagerie of comic animal noises for a new song set it seems in a zoo . And it just gets better and better from song to song: beautifully sharp story-telling with unflinching emotional detail where what is not said is as crucial as what is. Did I say a decade or two out-of-touch earlier?! Forget that this is powerfully authentic. A final ‘Bill Jocko’ is hair-raisingly immense it is octave-shifting grandeur.

For a moment it seems the prospect of no encores is a real one but then we get three. The spooky, jazzy theatrics of ‘The Cottage That We Rented Had A Name’ (B side to single ‘Low Birth Weight Child’ out 10 December), said Miracle Legion cover (there was a shout-out for ‘All For The Best’; “too greedy” was the response, more a statement than a reprimand) then the final solo heart-breaker ‘Hey Self-Defeater’. I could write another 500 words about how good this show was. And I still wouldn’t be finished. Fanboy jitters subsiding slowly but now we have a new Mark Mulcahy album to look forward to. And hopefully a shorter interval than seven years for a return UK visit.

The Set List
New Song (Where's The Rabbit?)
New Song (Impolite and Insecure?)
Cookie Jar
Can't Find A Reason
I Woke Up In The Mayflower
He's A Magnet
The Quiet One
Love’s The Only Thing That Shuts Me Up
Hurry Please Hurry
New Song (Zoo?)
Pasadena Love Story
Bill Jocko
The Cottage That We Rented Had A Name
Mr Mingo
Hey Self-Defeater

Thursday, December 06, 2012

WRAPPING UP 2012 with Laura J Martin

January this year saw the release of Laura J Martin’s debut full-length player “The Hangman Tree”: “intricately arranged, jaunty folk-jazz excursions, mixing eastern vibes and a percussive, soulful swing, all powered by flute, mandolin, xylophone or piano with Martin’s vocals switching from child-like (but never infantile) innocence to breathy sultriness”. The tail end of the year saw a collaborative EP with Mike Linday (Tuung/Cheek Mountain Thief) released under the name Bónus Skór, both this and the album on the excellent Static Caravan. So 2012 has been bookended by family feuds, Morecombe Bay, careless ninjas and 17th century Japanese arsonists at one end, then salty tales of fish scales and apple carts at the other. And in between Ms Martin has toured relentlessly. A year of travels literal and musical.

These spry, gnomic songs echo Slapp Happy’s downmarket Weimar bohemia or the inveterate oddness of The Raincoats “Odyshape”” reckoned Uncut on “The Hangman Tree”. I prefer The Word: “an Oliver Postgate vision of Kate Bush”. Whatever your reference points, there’s no disputing she’s an original.

Having consistently failed to see Laura J Martin prior to this year, I made sure 2012 was about catching up, seeing her in January, in May for Sounds From The Other City, in June for No Direction Home and in August for Green Man Festival (and I haven’t finished yet).

So what does the well-travelled Liverpudlian make of 2012?

What I will remember most about 2012 is...
My trip to Iceland and recording the Bónus Skór EP with Mike Lindsay. A wonderful eerie beautiful place.

What should be forgotten about 2012?
Usually things are painfully etched on my memory forever, but maybe my cover of Phil Collins’ ‘Sussudio’.

The best gig I played was...
A toss up between Ladyfest in Paris and the Union Chapel, I really hope it doesn't get closed down as a live venue.

The best gig I saw was...
Jonathan Richman at Green Man.

A record from 2012 that will be still be played in 10 years time?
Spy’ of course!

Overlooked in 2012?
My friend and esteemed colleague Jess Swainson is an amazing artist. She should be minted by now in my humble opinion.

And what can we look forward to in 2013 from Laura J Martin?
The second album is being mixed at the moment so another album hopefully.

Hopefully? If it’s being mixed now surely that’s a certainty?

Laura J Martin may be may be sparing in her responses and social media pronouncements and may appear diminutive on stage in stockinged feet but there is no doubt that both on record and live she is a formidable force with plenty to say. She also has an impressive address book – “The Hangman Tree” features collaborations with Euros Childs and Buck 65 plus she has worked with Richard James, Sweet Baboo and The Simonsound amongst others. For her two final live shows of the year more collaborations and surprises are hinted at. Don’t miss either the Cloud Sounds Xmas Bash in Manchester on 14 December with Y Niwl or the Kings Place, London gig on 21 December to see what may come of these. A magical end to a fairy-tale year?

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

WRAPPING UP 2012 with Tigercats

Tigercats are a very, very good band. The kind of band that make you want to be a teenager again, so they can be your band. They’re from London but their influences come from America: a splendid guitar busyness inherited from Television, a rhythmic restlessness from Violent Femmes and, from Blondie, an understanding that just because you’re a rock band, it doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to make people dance”.

So spake the esteemed Sunday Times on the album “Isle Of Dogs” from Tigercats. My take on them seeing them live in July for an Indietracks warm-up gig at The Castle in Manchester was “a joyous, edgy and cosmopolitan experience, blending hints of uplifting afro-pop to infectious indiepop goodness that touches on Talking Heads, Hefner and Los Campesinos”. And me and the Murdoch-owned broadsheet are not alone in loving the debut from the band formed by members of Esiotrot and Hexicon: check the long list of full-marks-possible excerpts from their press reviews on their website.

I challenge anyone who reads this fulsome praise or hears a Tigercats song not to be drawn in. The songs are as infectious as the enthusiasm of the reviews. Trust me.

Laura from the five-piece enthusiastically threw herself into the role of band spokesperson for her take on the last twelve months.

What I will remember most about 2012 is...
This year was amazing for us! We released our debut record and are so happy and grateful for the positive feedback we received. We did a lot of European tours this year, but our crazy 7 day whirlwind tour of Europe in April was pretty stand out. We played in a different city every night. We drove from Calais to Porto and back. Our car broke down. We missed a show. Jonny lost his wallet. We had a pizza party in a garage with some teenagers and broke up a Spanish family. It was a crazy time.

What should be forgotten about 2012…
Umm, a show we did where there were only 4 people watching and 3 of them were in the other band. And we also got a telling off.

The best gig we played was...
Indietracks! That was my favourite ever show. So many people, such a brilliant atmosphere and everyone was so happy and danced and oh wow it made me flustered.

The best gig I saw was...
Grizzly Bear at Brixton Academy. So, so amazingly perfect. Best show I think I've ever seen.

A record from 2012 that will be still be played in 10 years time?
Shields” by Grizzly Bear. Incredible. Pretty sure I listen to it at least once a day.

Overlooked in 2012?
Fever Dream! They are good friends of ours and they deserve so much more attention because they are freakin' ace and we love them. Everyone go see them! RIGHT NOW!

And what can we look forward to in 2013 from Tigercats?
A new brand new record!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Tigercats play Nottingham this Saturday. It may not be Indietracks but if you are ANYWHERE in the vicinity you should go. And more importantly if you haven’t got it already, get yourself a copy of “Isle Of Dogs”. The vinyl copy from Fika Recordings comes with “a bag of chaigercats tea and a recipe for chocolate cupcakes”. It’s only £10 – for one of your new favourite records.