Monday, July 30, 2012
Huw M's second album like his all-Welsh debut is released on Gwymon, home also to Richard James and The Gentle Good. And it's softly-sung, gentle folkiness nestles perfectly between the quiet reflections of this year's "Pictures In The Morning" from the former (but with less heartbreak and loss) and the lush, poised orchestrations of 2010's "Tethered For The Storm" from the latter. Amongst the 50:50 split of English and Welsh language songs on "Gathering Dusk", it is not unfanciful also to hear moments that make you think this could have been the album Sufjan Stevens followed up "Seven Swans" with, if he'd forsaken expansive grandiosity, stayed in introspective mode and decamped to the Welsh mountains - particularly the final sections of songs like 'Martha a Mair' or 'Hide Behind You' with their gorgeous and wordless male/female harmonies and banjo or trumpet accompaniment.
'Babushka, Wake Me!' may have an exclamation mark in the title but there is little urgent or dramatic about it. Like the rest of this ten track album, it has an unhurried, pastoral lilt. Huw M's vocals have a boyish innocence even when rolling over guttural Welsh syllables. Lyrics hint at powerful emotions or the end of relationships but the lasting mood is one of a relaxed stroll through a sunny Spring mid-morning. The orchestral flourishes - piano and cello in 'Chwyldro Tawel' or banjo and trumpet in 'Brechdanau Sgwar' - are restrained and subtle. It is an immensely accomplished and enjoyable record but a minor quibble: sometimes it feels too unrelenting in it's feel-good and balmy cheerfulness. At times I find myself yearning for some tragedy or doom (maybe one or two of those Welsh language songs are actually murder ballads?).
Wednesday, July 25, 2012
By my reckoning this is only the third release from Grubby Mitts, the five-piece Bedfordshire band led by Andy Holden, in a lengthy existence short on physical product. This is mainly because Holden is first and foremost a visual artist and Grubby Mitts concentrate on live performance rather than releases however sporadic. Hence the lead song on this single (7" vinyl + digital release) has "been ten years in the making" - and their live set closer for most of that time. Holden's art career includes a solo exhibition at Tate Britain amongst many others so letting the music play second fiddle is understandable. But when the music comes, as with last year's 'The Way To A Friend's House', it is attention-grabbingly brilliant.
Gentle plucked guitar and glockenspiel sleepily but steadily usher in the five minute song with a folky enchantment. At 51 seconds, tense, pacy drum loops come in at a BPM that sounds dangerously out of kilter with the rest of the song. On first listen even with the "country-drum-and-bass" tag as a tip-off it is a jolt. By your fourth listen, it is unthinkable the song could exist without it. At 2.20 it all drops away to an infectious wordless refrain ("yadda da, dum-dum dum" is the best I can do it justice) before the instrumentation returns, swelling with clarinet, drums and fuzzy electric guitar and the voices similarly grow in volume and number to an epic, celebratory conclusion. And at this point the title is clear: 'standard' as in hymn or anthem. And if 'Friend's House was a "battle-hymn of honest friendship", 'Standard' sounds like one about joyous unity, about standing shoulder to shoulder with comrades, happily facing down fate and adversity.
The cover may be disappointly plain from an established visual artist but as with earlier instances of my relationship with Grubby Mitts its the music that counts. The band may have a lax even lethargic release rate but possess an astonishingly high quality control. One of my favourite musical moments of 2012 so far; and far apart from that other definition of 'standard'.
Standard by The Grubby Mitts by LostToysRecords
Grubby Mitts Standard [BUY]
Friday, July 20, 2012
I was first tipped off to the ‘kraut-math-rock’ of Withington’s Plank! just prior to their debut single ‘La Luna’ in summer 2010. A subsequent AA single (‘Self Harm’ / ‘Pig Sick’) followed from the trio - bassist Ed Troup, drummer Johnny Winbolt-Lewis and guitarist Dave Rowe - on Static Caravan in early 2011. Those latter two songs are included here however ‘La Luna’ has been re-recorded (or at least re-mixed) for "Animalism". Despite thinking it near-perfect – and loving its cut-up David Cronenberg video – I can see why. For the eight tracks here represent a slight shift from the guitar-heavy riffing juggernaut that is the earlier incarnation of that first single.
There’s still guitar a-plenty on “Animalism” but it can sound like a close relative of the synthesiser – not only do the two intertwine and joust throughout, it is easy to mistake one for the other, for the divide between processed and natural to be removed. Also the jagged energy of that single is spread more evenly around: “Animalism” is more about twitch and texture than full-on sonic bludgeon, more 80s synth film soundtrack chase sequence than a series of furious rock 45s. But it’s not without intensity. Both opener ‘Dying For Pigs’ and the multi-part ‘King Rat’ subtly ratchet up the ferocity of the math-rock sparring and the fidgety, frayed guitars. The shimmering textures of ‘Alpha Dog’ are more measured and reflective; ‘Self Harm’ has a soothing quirkiness before unleashing some Battles-like clipped pulses.
The distinction between these instrumentals can be subtle – back to the soundtrack analogy. Also the animal titles are misleading. For all those wildlife references “Animalism” sounds more like a well-drilled piece of machinery in operation, like multi-tool urban komische with some low-level prog tendencies, rather than nature idylls and homage to the four-legged. Although the album is grounded rather than grandiose it is not without ambition and concludes with the nine-minute ‘Moolicks’ an epic of repetitive revving guitar patterns of which there is nothing bovine or slow-moving.
“Think Fugazi crossed with Slint crossed with Stereolab crossed with awesome” was the memorable Guardian Guide review of ‘La Luna’. To update that: “Animalism” is more “Battles crossed with John Carpenter crossed with Can crossed with awesome”. Two years ago, I said of Plank! “I’m looking forward to seeing how this translates live”. What followed was twenty-four months of near-misses, late arrivals and clashes. The release of “Animalism” is accompanied by a launch gig at Manchester’s Soup Kitchen on Friday 27 July. And of course to continue that pattern of misfortune, I can’t make it. One day, one day...
Plank! Animalism [BUY]
Sunday, July 15, 2012
This EP is the fourth in a series from “experimental collaborators” Long Division With Remainders which invited artists to contribute “audio clips into a central pot which is then distributed around the group...to do as they see fit”. I’m not sure which sonic cards Hong Kong In The 60s were dealt as part of Collision/Detection but the result is close to their regular avant-retro-lounge-pop aesthetic (or “Saint Etienne relaxing under cherry blossoms” as it has been magnificently described).
The London/Cambridge trio - Christopher Greenberg, Mei Yau Kan and Tim Scullion – open the four-track digital release with the clicking of machinery and space station console bleeps. Then ‘The Ungrateful Root’ shifts through organ swells and slowly beaten drum into what Sean O’Hagan fronting early Broadcast on Space 1999 might have sounded like. Instrumental ‘Into The Forest Of Eyes’ is a more gentle meander through said arboreal explorations but keeps the sense of space adventure wonder close by with its future-lounge astral atmospherics. The other vocal track ‘Banbury Grove’ combines eerie rattling of pots and pans, drum machine click-and-pulse with a 60s sunshine pop feel, making electronica sound wonderfully human. Closing song ‘The Clearing’ is all quivering ambience, an instrumental hovering in a still point which could equally be the earthbound natural world or far out in deep space.
Previous releases from the Collision/Detection project have come from The Psychological Strategy Board, West Norwood Cassette Library and The Lord and have tended towards more esoteric sound collage sparseness. With version 4, Hong Kong In The 60s’ mixture of friendly pop and experimental tendencies provide a great introductory point to journey forwards or backwards in the series (still to come Sone Institute, The Doomed Bird of Providence, Kemper Norton and more).
Hong Kong In The 60s Collision/Detection v4 [BUY]
Monday, July 09, 2012
There are only eight species of bear in the world today, the Alaska-dwelling Kodiak bear being a sub-species of the Brown Bear. But whichever species or sub-species you may come across (on TV documentary rather than up-close-and-personal I hope) you know you are dealing with a member of the bear family. Blind Atlas offer a dozen songs with a fair degree of variety on their self-released debut album but all are recognisably members of the broad Americana family –mid-tempo country-rock (‘For Carol’), bluegrass duet (‘The Ballad of Uncertainty In The Key Of F’), even 70s dirty-blues boogaloo (‘Fourth Street’), all shot through with resignation and heartbreak.
The twelve songs of their ‘Mancunian-Americana’ here are all originals but four have been previously released on singles (and I’ve heard some live as far back as 2008/9 including this one I caught live in 2010). So there’s a high degree of familiarity as well as the recognisable conventions of the genre(s). But Blind Atlas possess a steely, timeless conviction in their delivery– which is less about attaining ‘authenticity’, more about a meticulous, heartfelt mining of emotions. And this is what makes this album such a success, even if a mournful one at times, and best taken with a bottle of whisky close by.
Many words have been written describing the decade-spanning reference points for Blind Atlas (“think Ryan Adams fronting The Black Keys, or perhaps Fleet Foxes with a Led Zeppelin fixation...” ) plus in their 2010 interview on these pages the band members revealed even more diverse musical inspirations including Calexico, Stravinsky and Radiohead. Despite this and some of the variety listed in the songs in the opening paragraph and in the strange, primal pounding of ‘Ironwall’, the majority of songs operate in a mid-tempo, maudlin gear. One of the stand-out newer (to me) songs ‘Damned Words’ is as personal and as wretched as anything the band have written. Everything aches beautifully – Ross Thompson’s nearly-cracking vocals, the golden steel guitar, the faint distant hum of organ, the slow elegiac viola. ‘Brother Moon’ is more steely and mysterious, a mantra-like chorus that is more ambivalent than the casual greeting appears written down (“hello Brother Moon”) with passages of searing electric guitar and organ.
Music like this may not be as endangered or as in short supply as Alaskan bears but as with those creatures there’s something regal, proud and powerful about Blind Atlas’s music. A long-player that has been a long time coming but now it’s here it is one to savour. Preferably with a strong drink in hand to console a heavy heart.
Blind Atlas Kodiak Bear [BUY]
Thursday, July 05, 2012
“Can we have more volume for the iPad please?” What?! This is an Indietracks warm-up gig? I expect holier-than-thou devotion to keeping-it-real analogue instruments – predominantly guitars. Well the Apple accessory was a minor part of the set-up for five-piece The Birthday Kiss, a convenience to add keyboards to a classic two guitars/bass/drums line-up. And to prove their Indietracks credentials, The Birthday Kiss opened with an acoustic number just on two ukuleles and three voices (that’s more like it). They may not have agreed on who was counting in songs or even what the songs were called but The Birthday Kiss delivered a perfectly fun and tight set. Only demos kicking around the internet currently but an album is promised “before the end of the year”. Looking forward to it and to seeing if The Birthday Kiss’s toe-tapping romanticism goes beyond enjoyable set openers to something more substantial.
I’m late to the Tigercats declaration-of-independence party but catching up rapidly with prolonged exposure to their debut long-player "Isle of Dogs". The London five-piece’s music is littered with references to the capital city but it never feels narrow-focus or tied to one place. Instead it’s 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. This was my first live encounter so I don’t know how tonight’s short ten song set compares with others but it was sharp, feisty and world-beating in my opinion, even if the Manchester crowd were too overheated to dance.
Standard Fare were a band who I’d waited a long time to see, breaking my Noyelle Beat duck last February playing with This Many Boyfriends and Allo Darlin’. There I thought they were given short shrift: opening with minimal lighting or fanfare to a thin early doors crowd. Here to a packed room, they were on blistering form – and I’m not just talking about the paint and varnish coming off the walls and ceiling in the heat. This was a commanding, straight-out-of-the-traps performance – easily glossing over a cock-up on second song ‘Dead Future’ - and feeling like a greatest hits set. The trio became a four-piece with bass duties taken over by ‘Adam’ for three songs but in either configuration the momentum they built up for their punchy, power-pop never dropped (and why I think they skipped over playing slowie ‘Darth Vader’ on the set-list below). “They look too normal to be a band” was said as Standard Fare started their set. As they left the small stage at the end, they still looked the same but demonstrated what a confident band they are and what fine, muscular songs they have.
I have still never been to Indietracks and won’t make it to this weekend’s event either (though always buy the excellent compilation each year). Instead this insanely good value warm-up gig promoted by Underachievers Please Try Harder was my consolation prize. Hats off to all involved: difficult conditions for the musicians in the sauna-like conditions of The Castle but not one of them let it show. Warmed up indeed.
Monday, July 02, 2012
Here’s an odd one: a record containing a song which reached a worldwide audience of 90 million three years ago, only getting a UK release without fanfare this year. This 2009 release by Twi The Humble Feather – lost somewhere between an EP and an LP at five tracks and a twenty five minute running time - finally has a proper UK release via Million Records, possibly with vinyl to follow later this year. Some records may have dated given even a few years’ lapse but for many reasons ‘Music For Spaceships and Forests’ feels timeless.
The New York band – a trio formed by cousins Anthony Lebron and Hector Fontanez – use acoustic guitars and wordless chants to create astral chamber-folk that lies somewhere between the contemporary classical minimalism of Reich and Pärt and the playful globe-trotting excursions of Penguin Cafe Orchestra. I’m also reminded of the pastoral post-folk of Tim and Sam’s Tim and The Sam Band ‘Lifestream’ album or the late 90s coterie of metronomic post-rockers like Appliance or Rothko.
However “Music For Spaceships And Forests” never settles into a motorik groove as demonstrated on opening song ‘Higher Than The End’ (the one that reached that worldwide audience through its unlikely inclusion in a Heineken ad during Super Bowl XLIII). There’s a tightly sprung tension to the individual plucked guitar strings but the overlaying of textures, percussive effects from scraping strings and the shifting patterns and pace within each song are restlessly inventive and uplifting. Despite the use of repeated motifs in short sections, the music is almost anti-motorik in its many and seemingly capricious shifts. The unintelligible chanting in each song is equally celebratory and varied – mainly falsetto mantra-like intoning but sometimes stern basso profondo as found in the ten-minute title track. It’s difficult to credit but by all accounts everything found on record comes purely from acoustic guitar or human voice, no electronic processing, overdubs or additional instrumentation.
In the same way these wordless (excepting the odd phrase like “fall down” in ‘Adventures Of Castle One’) songs are not instrumentals, the five tracks are best not regarded as songs. Instead think of the whole piece as a suite of five movements - some two minutes long, some ten minutes – to become lost in, a delicate celestial rhapsody. I’m late to catch up with the playful enchantment of Twi The Humble Feather but thankful in doing so their music is not synonymous with a Dutch beer or an American obsession. "Music For Spaceships And Forests" taps into something deeper, more ageless and more otherworldly than such earthbound concerns.
Twi The Humble Feather Music For Spaceships and Forests [BUY]
Sunday, July 01, 2012
The month when summer arrives proper and everything quietens down on the gig front? Nobody told Night & Day or The Castle this - the former particular has a full-on schedule for July. Later the month brings many Americans to Manchester before they embark on the European festival circuit. It also brings Withington’s kraut-mathrockers Plank! to Soup Kitchen to celebrate the release of their debut album two years after their first EP.
As ever a mixtape of bands playing Manchester this month to help inform your gig-going decision-making - link in the post below this one.
Mcr Gigs in Music Mixtape: July 2012 [53 mins / 61 MB] - download here.
The Lobster Boat Band The Lobster Boat [3.13] (2 July The Castle BUY TICKETS)
Tigercats Full Moon Reggae Party [5.32] (4 July The Castle BUY TICKETS)
Golden Grrrls New Pops [7.21] (9 July The Castle BUY TICKETS)
Sea Lions A Cloud [9.23] (9 July The Castle BUY TICKETS)
Ty Segall Imaginary Person [12.24] (30 July The Castle BUY TICKETS)
Wooden Shjips Lazy Bones [16.13] (12 July Sound Control BUY TICKETS)
Plank! King Rat [24.09] (27 July Soup Kitchen BUY TICKETS)
Brian Jonestown Massacre Seer [26.37] (8 July The Ritz BUY TICKETS)
Digits Lost Dream [30.08] (21 July 2022NQ BUY TICKETS)
Frankie Rose Know Me [32.55] (20 July Deaf Institute BUY TICKETS)
Tashaki Miyaki Somethin’ Is Better Than Nothin’ [35.35] (24 July The Castle BUY TICKETS)
Black Twig Pickers Last Pay Day At Cold Creek [39.15] (9 July Night & Day BUY TICKETS)
Th' Legendary Shack Shakers Sin Eater [42.29] (15 July Deaf Institute BUY TICKETS)
Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes Man On Fire [46.45] (19 July Manchester Cathedral BUY TICKETS)
Haiku Salut Vowels As Clear As Church Bells [53.09] (21 July The Castle BUY TICKETS)
And not forgetting:
3 July Gideon Conn The Castle / 3 July Lights Academy / 4 July Standard Fare The Castle / 5 July No Ceremony Sacred Trinity / 5 July Folks + The Slow Readers Club Ruby Lounge / 5 July Raised As Wolves Night & Day / 6 July My Computer Band On The Wall / 6 July Active Child Soup Kitchen / 7 July The Empire Signal Soup Kitchen / 8 July Futures + Natives Academy / 10 July The Vans + The Words Night & Day / 10 July Otis Gibbs 2022NQ / 10 July Sam Forrest The Castle / 13 July Asyeda Night & Day / 13 July Alison Krauss Apollo / 14 July The Ninth Watch Night & Day / 14 July The Portlands Academy / 15 July Nite Jewel Soup Kitchen / 16 July Arcane Roots Night & Day / 17 July Dead Rat Orchestra Night & Day / 17 July JP Cooper + David Ward + Stefan Melbourne The Castle / 18 July Man Without Country Night & Day / 18 July The Post War Years Soup Kitchen / 21 July The Merts + Paizley Haze Night & Day / 21 July Ministry Academy / 21 July Carefully Planned All Dayer The Castle / 23 July Fighting Fiction Night & Day / 23 July The Slow Show The Castle / 23 July Mazes The Salutation / 24 July Savages + Palma Violets Deaf Institute / 26 July Brown Brogues + Young British Artists + Temple Songs Deaf Institute / 28 July Endeavours Deaf Institute / 31 July We Are Scientists Deaf Institute
Posted by The Archivist at 10:17 a.m.