Miniblog 3 – Joy Division documentary

June 30, 2008

I went to see this at the Prince Charles cinema in Soho – it didn’t get much of a release.  I thought this film was great, telling a now well-known story simply and effectively.  What struck me anew was how Ian Curtis sang such distressed, bleak lyrics without any of the other band members wondering if anything might be amiss – they said ‘we didn’t really listen to the lyrics’ – while others thought the lyrics were ‘just art’ and did not view them as a genuine representation of his mental state.   In hindsight……

My favourite bit was a recording of John Peel’s radio show, where he put on ‘Atmosphere’ at the wrong speed.  The combination of the comedy speeded-up voice of Ian Curtis, and the homely, non-pretentious apology from John Peel did a great job of pricking the bubble of pretention and weightiness that inevitably surrounds Joy Division. 

The documentary also did a good job of capturing the grimness of post-industrial Manchester.   I was in Manchester just this last weekend, and despite the facelift and general saturday night joie de vivre, there were still plenty of reminders of Manchester’s less glamourous past.

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Miniblog 2 – MGMT at The Astoria

June 30, 2008

Having heard snippets on youtube, I thought this lot were going to sound terrible, but they didn’t. Instead they sounded pretty damn fine, althought the sound quality in The Astoria isn’t all that good. Overall, I had mixed feelings about this gig – I really love MGMT’s infectious pop songs, like Time to Pretend and Kids. However, I’m not so keen on the 1970’s prog-rock side of things, and there was a lot of that in evidence with lengthy guitar noodlings. They certainly looked like they were enjoying themselves though.

Florence And The Machine were supporting – they were shit. I would like the machine to mangle Florence in its moving parts until she shuts the fuck up.

Miniblog 1 – All Tomorrow’s Parties

June 30, 2008

I have had no time to blog, but there have been some great gigs in the last month or two that I really can’t let go past without comment, however brief. 

All Tomorrow’s Parties at Butlins in Minehead – curated by Explosions In The Sky – was great.  I loved the manageable size, having own shower, loo and bed, access to the beach, great company, and obviously the music was pretty fantastic too!  Highlights included:- Beach House (good for hangover), Dinosaur Jnr, Four Tet, Jens Lekman (awww, happy!), Mono, Silver Jews, The National and The Field.  With The Field being my overall highlight – being on at 1.45am on the last night, only the hardcore remained.  I’ll definitely be going to further ATP’s – unfortunately the Nightmare Before Christmas looks like having a pretty unappealing lineup. 

Airiel and Ulrich Schnauss at The Social

May 4, 2008

I can never think of clever titles for my posts. 

This was a night run by Sonic Cathedral ‘the night that celebrates itself’ (www.soniccathedral.co.uk), part of the somewhat surprising but welcome (to me anyway) resurgence of shoegaze.  We were promised DJ sets from electronic shoegazers James from Maps and Ulrich Schnauss, and live music by Autumn Chorus and Airiel.  Well, first up, we missed the DJ’ing by James due to drinking too long in the narrow and crowded bar upstairs (worth a visit btw – great jukebox, cheap ‘n’ cheerful menu including crisp sandwiches, interesting variety of booze, always lively).  James was in evidence for the rest of the evening, but I was too shy to go and say hello. 

When we finally made our ways downstairs Autumn Chorus were already playing.  This lot hail from Brighton and produce music of the post-rock variety with vocals.  We all agreed that the singer sounded a bit like Thom Yorke, Jeff Buckley and maybe Nick Drake.  So really, really upbeat and cheerful then.  They made a goodly noise, quite beautiful and delicate at times, but it all sounded a bit samey with no  memorable melodies or individual songs that really grabbed me.  Perhaps not the most accessible sort of stuff to listen to in a crowded little venue when you’ve never heard any of the material before – I reckon they are worth a second listen.

http://www.myspace.com/autumnchorus

Next we had a little surprise – instead of DJ’ing, we had a proper set from Schnauss.  Good visuals and great ambient shoegaze electronica (and there aren’t many people you could describe that way).  

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9HOVwJq8b5A

Airiel are a “four man noise unit from Chicago”.   They are loud.  Really loud.  My ears were still ringing slightly the next morning.  They reminded me hugely of Ride (earlier Ride, when they were good), albeit with less impressive songs (i’m harping on about melody again here).  But their material is still pretty good, they played with youthful ferocity, and the general sound they produced made me happy.  Oh, and I haven’t seen such a very fine set of fringes since 1992.  I was less impressed by one of the guitarists standing on a table on stage for the entire set though – the stage is certainly very small (not actually fitting the drummer) and not particularly high, but this struck me as a bit wanky really.  I spent the set slightly hoping that his fringe would get caught in the lighting. 

http://www.myspace.com/airiel

I drank too much beer that night.  Had a bad hangover the next day (luckily had day off work).  Drank banana milk, tea, ribena, diet coke, water.  Started a thread on www.drownedinsound.com asking for recommendations for good hangover music.  Some sadists suggested hardcore techno – bastards!  Others were kinder, and I eventually found Galaxie 500, Slowdive, and Lemon Jelly to work the best.  I also dragged my sorry self out to vote in the London Mayoral election – may as well not have bothered given the stupid tory fucks that i am apparently living alongside.   

 

 

Portishead bloody fantastic at brixton academy

April 18, 2008

This was one of the best gigs I’ve ever been to.  Awe-inspiring, innovative, spellbinding. 

The air of excitement beforehand was palpable and Portishead came on to a rapturous welcome.  I suspect, like me and my friends, the crowd consisted of a lot of people who thought they might never get a chance to see Portishead live and were now beside themselves with excitement.  They started strong and kept it coming.  The set-list (I totally can’t remember what order or anything, sorry) comprised mainly of tracks from Dummy and new material from the about-to-be-released Third.  Both sounded wonderful.  Personally, I thought the new stuff sounded incredibly strong and exciting – with a more industrial edge to it. 

Beth’s voice sounded fantastic – all creepy, uncanny emotion.  She is a weird, alien, techno-futuristic songstress, and that is a fact.  And the cinematic feel remains, only they now appear to have written a soundtrack for a horror sci-fi.   The visuals were spot-on.  They focussed mainly on Beth, with lots of great effects (sorry, I don’t know the terms for any of them), intercut with close ups of the band members playing their instruments (most effective on Machine Gun where there were loads of closeups of the truly fucking magnificent electronic drum playing).  Beth apologised shyly at the end for ‘singing really badly’.  Ok, so i’m pretty sure that she sang the entire ‘Numb’ a note out (didn’t matter, still sounded great), but I don’t think anyone in the crowd was complaining.  

The band all looked pretty moved by the response they got from the crowd, and a band being moved always makes me feel moved (i’m soft that way).   (Digression: I remember Damon Albarn looking as though he would like to burst into tears at the end of a very well-recieved set by Blur at Glastonbury back in the early 1990’s.  And recently the singer of The National was so moved by the audience response that he climbed on top of his monitor only to wobble horrendously and have to be helped down again, saying afterwards with self-deprecating charm ‘as soon as i got up there i thought ‘what the fuck are you doing?’).

The only bum note of this gig was that people kept talking.  I don’t understand this behaviour.  I don’t mean just the odd comment to your pal, I mean literally talking throughout.  I was standing next to two men who TALKED about music all night instead of LISTENING to the music actually being played right in front of them.  They were like a bad stereotype from High Fidelity – endless intellectualising ‘oh i like what they just did there, it reminds me of ………. in 1987’ – with the view presumably being to impress the other male with the size of your, ahem, musical knowledge.  I have no problem whatsoever with talking about music, BUT NOT WHILE PORTISHEAD ARE FUCKING PLAYING YOU STUPID FUCKING BASTARDS.  

Went in with the drumbeat from Machine Gun in my head.  Came out with it in my head even worse.  I might never get it out.

Boom cha

Ba da Ba da Ba da Ba da

Boom cha

digga digga digga digga 

 

So Low Then So High

April 18, 2008

Couldn’t get tickets to see Low at the Union Chapel in London so decided to go see them in Brighton instead.  I discovered Low very late in the day when their last album, Drums and Guns, came out last year.  I was blown away by it’s sparse, bleak beauty.  God knows where I have been hiding my head for all their previous albums. 

Ok, so drove down to Brighton with my flatmate, met another friend at the train station, made our way to St George’s Church.  “Is that the venue?” asked my friend.  “Of course it is” I replied, “look at the TYPES outside”.  Arty, scruffy, you know the sort. 

St George’s is a nice venue, although it doesn’t compare to the Union Chapel.  First up were The Helio Sequence.  I’d had a listen to their album before the gig and had mixed feelings about it.  Some nice tracks and well-crafted songs, but all a bit Christian folk-rockish for my tastes.  On the night, they sounded good, the singer had a really strong and melodic voice and the drumming was energetic, but still that Christian folk-rockish thing going on which I just can’t get past.  My friend thought that one track (the appropriately named ‘Hallelujah’) sounded like the kind of thing a trendy ‘in a rock band’ vicar might play to try and enthuse ‘the kids’ to love jesus.  too true. 

Ah Low.  Dream-like, Christian-tinged miserablism.  Bleak, beautiful doom-mongering.  First let me get the criticisms out of the way.  Their set list contained a couple of really bum choices.  They played ‘Hatchet’ for starters – the one track on Drums & Guns that I can’t stand.  To play that and leave out literally dozens of much better tracks from their back catalogue….  Also I didn’t much appreciate their arrangement of Breaker (pretty much my favourite track) – they chose to ‘rock it up’ thus losing much of the heartbreaking subtlety. 

Right, carping over.  Now on to the waxing lyrical.  They played lots of fantastic tracks (mainly from Drums & Guns and The Great Destroyer).  Too many highlights to list.  Their voices were strong and sure.  Their desolate harmonies sounded indescribably beautiful and moving.  As their voices soared upwards into the church rafters then suddenly dropped down, I sat absolutely transfixed and wouldn’t have wished myself anywhere else.  

Some nice banter with the crowd.  Alan told us to ‘talk among your peers or make an announcement’ at one point while he restrung his guitar.  A crowd member announced a fight on sunday, but it turned out it was actually a village fete.  This made everyone laugh quite hard.  

Good drive home too.  Open road, boiled sweets, music, company. 

 

 

These New Puritans / Blood Red Shoes

April 18, 2008

Saw these two bands a week or two ago at KCL Union.  It is not the best venue for ambience, but the booze is cheap and the view is good. 

Firstly, I thought These New Puritans were pretty great.  Hadn’t heard anything by them previously but was particularly keen on their drumming – lots of almost breakbeat stuff and tribal rhythms, raising them above standard indie fare.  The singer can’t really sing, kind of half talking/half singing lyrics (mainly a load of old mystical crap which links them – alongside their youthful enthusiasm and bent for innovation – with Klaxons in my opinion).   I reckon someone in the band likes hip-hop and someone else likes The Fall (although occasional similarity in sound to The Fall might just be accidental).  Also, I thought they had a little bit of Madchester about them (though I think they actually come from Southend or Southampton or someplace south!) – maybe it was the way the singer kept stretching his arms out as if he thought he was the messiah.   Anyway, I’ve ordered the album but suspect i might find i liked them better live.  Lots of promise though.

Blood Red Shoes, hmmm.  I’ve liked a couple of singles and it is difficult to argue with the immediacy of something like ‘Its Getting Boring By The Sea’.   They produce very accomplished punk-pop, they look great, they sound just as good live as on record, but somehow they just don’t thrill me at all.  Maybe it is the fact that, well, all the songs are kinda the same really.  All the same pace, all the same kind of lyrical content (boredom, angst of an adolescent variety), all exactly the same sound with little variation.  I was bored by song three. 

sadly not quite miraculous

April 6, 2008

The recent album ‘Five Roses’ by Miracle Fortress has crept into my heart kind of without me noticing.  It is romantic, dreamy stuff with a heavy Brian Wilson influence, and I love melody and harmony, so it was probably a foregone conclusion that I was going to love this.  A last.fm friend called this ‘music to fall in love to’, and I would have to agree with that (in theory at any rate).  Apparently it is mainly the creation of one guy, a red-headed arty clever clogs from Canada (if they’re not from Canada, they’re from Brooklyn at the moment it would seem), Graham Van something or other.  Anyway, he has gathered a band around him for the purposes of touring and they have become a four piece. 

First things first, the live performance totally failed to capture the magic of the album.  Instead of being carried away on waves of harmony, transcending everyday cares to enter a dreamworld of aural bliss (see, I could write for the NME!), I remained resolutely in Kilburn in a slightly miffed mood.  The sound was ALL WRONG.  Subtle harmonies were omitted or done half-heartedly and the really lovely electronic sounds present on the album were drowned out by a disconcertingly unbeautiful guitar noise.  One of the new band members was the female bassist who also did duty on vocals.  On the album, the sound is achieved through layering and looping Graham’s voice, and sadly her non-descript vocal just wasn’t up to the task.  I thought they would have been better off using technology to add loops of vocals and stuff (i dunno how, what am I, a technogeek? – but Panda Bear does it apparently so it must be possible).  That bassist really got on my nerves actually – she reminded me of the woman from Arcade Fire – all ‘i am a child-woman spirit that roams wild and free, see how i walk barefoot on the grass and pick the flowers in the morning dew’ ish.  They all kept playing different percussion instruments too, another reminder of Arcade Fire.  Nothing against Arcade Fire (well, nothing I’m going into in this post), but I had never picked up their influence in the album before and it was unwelcome live. 

Another (final) criticism is that they seemed just a wee bit shambolic – there were times when I really wasn’t sure whether the music was going anywhere or whether they’d just forgotten what came next.   I don’t mind bands being all over the place if it adds a feeling of excitement to the proceedings, if they make you feel you might be about to witness something amazing, but I just thought Miracle Fortress could do with practicing more.  It may be that their live act improves over time, I hope so.  Happily, I listened to the album when I got home and it sounded as wonderful as ever.  Highly recommended for romantic souls. 

Oh, and I might have liked their performance more if I had been in a better mood 🙂

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ryJVQcG3tXg

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z94V2phbWKY&feature=related

 

Alcest

March 28, 2008

Jeez, I am cooking on gas tonight with my blogging.  Could be something to do with the fact that I have a whole tonne of proper work to do – the only proper response to this fact is to become immediately immersed in something entirely unrelated. 

I want to write about Alcest because I totally and utterly love the album from 2007 – Souvenirs D’un Autre Monde.  It is french shoe-gaze, with some post-rock influences.  Alcest is basically a one-man band comprised of Neige – he is one of those chaps who appears to play every instrument thus making everyone else who can barely master one feel like a talentless imbecile.  They are everywhere these days.  He has crafted an album which is just lovely, lovely, lovely, and manages to be definitely shoegaze without trying to sound like MBV (a totally fantastic thing to aim for, but everyone just ends up falling short and sounding really second rate – i’m thinking of Asobi Seksu and Blonde Redhead for starters (the odd great track aside).  If you ever read an interview with him – well, my advice is just don’t, because he sounds like a great big pretentious pseudo-intellectual doofus – reminded me of an Ulrich Schnuass interview actually (highly recommended Germanic electronic shoegaze for the uninitiated among you).  Must be something about being from mainland Europe – maybe it is more acceptable for musicians there to talk about their music being about ‘half remembered words and unspoken dreams’ etcetera etcetera.  Apparently Neige used to do ‘black metal’ (not entirely sure what that is) but then moved onto shoegaze without having ever heard MBV et al.  I have ordered an earlier EP out of interest, so my knowledge of black metal will soon be immense.   

Anyway, none of that gubbins should detract from the sheer beauty of the album.  Very seriously recommended.  If only he would play in the UK – I may suggest to Club AC30 (who do very good post-shoegaze gig nights in north london) that they should invite him over.   

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The 64’s @ PUNK

March 28, 2008

Went to see this lot, who come from Hertfordshire I think, because my friend James’s friend Al (are you following) is the bass player.  Unfortunately, Al couldn’t play due to carpal tunnel problems, so they had someone else filling in.   James didn’t think they would be my cup of tea “too rock”, and he was largely right, but there was still much to enjoy.

Their music is a bit strange actually.  It is definitely ‘rock’.  The rock was quite cock.  Lots of guitar solos of the ‘is he playing the guitar or having a public wank’ variety (blushed as i typed that!).  This is never good in my book.  But someone in the band has a real pop sensibility and a good ear for a tune, and this kept things from ever getting too self-indulgent or macho.  I’ve heard far worse on the radio frankly.  At other times, the music veered towards metal – these were my favourite bits by far (i have often lamented heavy metal largely being done by complete misogynist twats with stupid lyrics.  I particularly love that thing the drums do in metal – is it where they have a double kick pedal? – i dunno, i am completely ignorant about such things – and the guitars make that kind of drilling noise.  Anyway, i digress.)  This mixing of diverse influences might make them more interesting, but it does give a bit of an uneven flavour.  I can imagine that this has contributed to them remaining unsigned, despite being very ‘tight’ (even with the stand-in bass player) and having good songs.  All the small indie and metal labels wouldn’t touch them with a barge pole because ultimately they are just too ‘rock’.  But they aren’t quite clearly ‘rock’ enough to interest the big boys (the sort who signed Stereophonics for example – don’t get me started).  And one couldn’t help thinking that this sort of music just isn’t really that popular anymore – the ‘fashionable’ mood of the moment definitely still lies with indie of The Libertines kind (don’t get me started on them either – I will just comment that they aren’t what i mean when i talk about ‘indie’, and have brought a lot of people onto the scene who i could quite easily live without.).  One of the other acts on – Baxter (stupid name – nearly called my dog that) – were much more in the trendy indie fashion with ‘hair styles’ and ‘cheekbones’ and ‘military coats’ in the style of Kasabian.  Can’t even remember the music.  No doubt they will be famous by next week.   

 Oh, and Dave the drummer of the 64’s was a huge Ride fan.  I want to know how he keeps his glasses on while playing. 

Can I just say that I absolutely hated PUNK as a venue.  Apparently it is very fashionable.  Bah!  It was very ‘west end’, lots of carefully ‘eclectic’ and ‘vintage’ chairs and sofas to sit on (nothing against eclectic or vintage you understand, i just really hated the feeling that they had been chosen by someone who would have bought elephants legs for stools if they thought they were currently fashionable), and these really annoying beaded curtain things that served no purpose except to give the place the air of a posh lap-dancing club.  The stage was tiny and low (any rockers getting carried away and doing exuberant jumping stood in grave danger of clouting themselves smartly on the head), the lay-out was long and narrow with sofas and chairs in awkward places, and the loos didn’t have clear signage because that just wouldn’t be cool or something.   And too many staff wandering around keeping an eye out for totally non-existent trouble.  Expensive too, but you expect that near Tottenham Court Road.