Monday, November 24, 2008

And you will know them by the trail of destruction


Earplugs in for a night of sonic savagery courtesy of Poor Girl Noise and Big Hair? Then we'll begin...

Prefontaine eschew what seems to be the uniform of Oxford's musical underground, check shirts, in favour of tight-fitting late '80s/early '90s Oxford Utd strips, a look mirrored by a gaggle of fans at the front - surely the first time in many a year that the club could be described as fashionable. Fair play to the drummer, in his green 'keeper's jersey - the goalkeeping gloves probably help to ensure his sticks never slip from his grasp as the duo crash their way through a set that sounds like a twenty-minute-long version of Nirvana's 'I Hate Myself And I Want To Die' broken up into short suites. Bonus points for having a song called 'Owls', too.

Eduard Soundingblock I've seen before - wasn't impressed then, and I'm even less so tonight. The Cellar's house band (well, their guitarist is the resident soundman) deal in over-long songs that are equal parts Mr Bungle and prog rock but sadly nowhere near as good or even interesting as that might sound. They do at least help set the tone for the evening, though, with the bassist prodding at the low ceiling with his headstock like a seven foot tall and particularly wired Nick Oliveri in his first day as a chartered surveyor.

Much better are Nitkowski, whose songs by contrast benefit from both brevity and focus. That doesn't mean they're any less complex, though - but while their bass-free and frequently intricate take on post-hardcore is of a mathy persuasion, each song is still more than capable of staring you out before planting a fist firmly between your eyes. A dizzying experience, as it is for one of their pogoing guitarists who goes one further than Eduard Soundingblock's bassist by bashing the aforementioned ceiling with his head rather than his instrument.

Bilge Pump have shared stages with the likes of Les Savy Fav, Lightning Bolt, Foals, The Mars Volta, Erase Errata, Part Chimp and Trans Am. As if that wasn't enough to recommend them already, they're on discerning Nottingham label Gringo Records and have been branded "unlistenable guff" by NME. Peddling art-punk-funk to make you flinch and lyrics to make you smirk, the Leeds trio haven't been mentioned in the same breath as Shellac for nothing - though the combination of sinewy non-linear aggression and the very British exaggeratedly polite call-and-response vocals ("I like your style!" "Thank you very much!") makes Mclusky and their phoenix-from-the-ashes progeny Future Of The Left a more accurate comparison.

"Can you guys give a little back, please? We're playing at up to 120 beats per minute here..." Surveying the apocalyptic scenes unfolding around me, it's safe to say that impeccably moustachioed Oxes drummer Christopher Freeland has a decidedly un-American grasp of irony.

One song into the Baltimore punks' headlining set and the other two-thirds of the band - guitarists Marc Miller and Natalio Fowler, like Freeland clad in de rigeur Oxford Utd shirts - have already performed atop their trademark boxes before taking full advantage of their wireless instruments to meet and mingle with their frenzied public in the midst of the moshpit. For Oxes, clearly, all the world's a stage.

Not content with simply destroying the fourth wall, though, they seem intent on inspiring the crowd into continuing the evening's rigorous structural examination of the venue - and we're only too happy to oblige. Crowdsurfers - including the Prefontaine drummer and DJ - are scraped along the ceiling until a light fitting is brought down, the one solitary moment of sobriety of the entire set being when a punter gingerly hands the long strip lightbulb to a member of the bar staff.

So, you will know Oxes by the trail of destruction, then - but you'll also know them by the scatting interlude aimed at loosening us all up (as if that's needed); by the cover of Nirvana's 'Drain You' featuring guest vocals from an enthusiastic but anonymous member of the audience; and by such bright ideas as inverse crowdsurfing, by which people are pressed to the ground rather than the ceiling, thereby helping to clean the floor at the same time. "Keep Britain Tidy", smirks Freeland.

It's been alleged in certain quarters that Oxes are a math rock band - but suffice to say that if anyone dared stroke their chin tonight they'd soon have a flailing boot in it. This is fast, raw, heartbeat-quickening, ear-mangling punk, played in the sort of grubby, constrictive venue it should be played in, accompanied by the whirling limbs and structural damage it should be accompanied by. What else to do but to rejoice and abandon yourself to the chaos?

"England is just as I remember it: cold, wet and there's fifteen guys to every girl", says Freeland. They may not love England, but England - or at least this sweaty little pit of it - certainly loves them.

Blitzkrieg bop


From 'You! Me! Dancing!' the song to You! Me! Dancing! the promoters in the space of three days. The latter Y!M!D! are responsible for my first visit to Oxford's newest venue, the Regal, and it's a bit of a disorienting experience. I'm hoping it might strike a serious blow against the Academy, and have been led to believe it's a spectacular setting for live music, but the reality doesn't really compute - from the grand art-deco exterior to a low-ceilinged room that's too brightly lit, a long bar and a small stage. Eh? (But there's more - but you'll have to wait until the Don Cabellero review for that...)

Local support band Ivy's Itch describe themselves as "post-Beethoven-sludge-math-core", but again - inevitably - the truth is rather more mundane: old-school metal with the minimum of dressing up or finesse - think Tairrie B's assorted outfits (Manhole, Tura Satana and My Ruin) saddled with the meaty, lumpen chug of riffage borrowed from Metallica's self-titled album, albeit with a drummer who looks like an escapee from Foals who's pitched up at the wrong audition. My indifference to their set is compounded by the decision to end with their worst, least punchy song. Ivy's Itch, then: not really up to scratch.

Sheffield has a rich and varied musical heritage - Pulp, The Human League, Def Leppard and, more recently, Arctic Monkeys, The Long Blondes (RIP) and Monkey Swallows The Universe - but I'd wager that it hasn't produced many bands quite like Rolo Tomassi.

If ever there was a band to exemplify the old adage of never judging a book by its cover, then they're it. The cherubic quintet look barely old enough to tie their own shoelaces let alone be in a touring rock band. Bassist Joseph Thorpe spends most of the set smiling at his doe-eyed girlfriend in the front row, while I suspect that vocalist Eva Spence - all what seems like four foot six of her - might be snapped in two by a sudden breeze and is probably wrapped in cotton wool and bubble wrap and put in a box to be transported between venues.

And then they start playing.

Rolo Tomassi's songs sound like The Mars Volta, Acoustic Ladyland, assorted screamo bands and System Of A Down's 'Chop Suey' put into a blender without the lid on and allowed to splatter against and run down the walls. The complexity of their time signatures is truly extraordinary - the title of their debut LP, Hysterics, says it all, really. And what of their diminutive, formerly meek and shy frontwoman? Well, she turns out to be the band's USP. As the first note of each song strikes, she immediately transforms from a mild-mannered Agyness Deyn into a foaming-at-the-mouth Linda Blair, prowling the stage and cocking her head back for maximum projection of a fearsome scream. Christ knows what Blood Red Shoes' audience will have made of this...

However, as undeniably impressive as is their ability as musicians to stay on the same page despite each seeming to be scribbling something different in his or her own margin, it's ultimately also quite showy and not exactly involving of the audience. The Rolo Tomassi live experience may be a wonder to behold, but it's not really much more than that.


Del's thoughts on Rolo Tomassi's performance at Astoria 2 in support of Blood Red Shoes

Monday, November 17, 2008

5x5 II

Remember May 2007? Glastonbury was an event everyone wanted to be at, Scooch were being victims of a continental conspiracy, Mark Ronson was never going to get anywhere reworking old songs like that and a young Joe Piscopo taught us how to laugh. It was also the month of the first 5x5, a concept in which five volunteers were given five unmarked songs belonging to five bands who were then unknown but were being tipped in the industry for big things. You have to say our hit rate was pretty good - picking up on an unsigned Ting Tings, evidently, but also Does It Offend You, Yeah? and Joe Lean And The Jing Jang Jong, who joined the Tings on the NME tour at the start of this year, and Laura Marling a few months before her stock really began to rise. You also have to say, mind, that you don't hear a lot of people now comparing Joe Lean etc to Josef K or Los Campesinos!, or them Ting Tings being described as "the Rescue Rooms, not Rock City" is ironic given which Nottingham venue they played last month.

Anyway, time and fashion moves on, and we've picked out another five bands subject to much A&R chatter, taken all incriminating evidence off mp3s of a demo each (although in one song's case, as you'll see, this proved to be partially redundant) and handed them on to five new subjects - Ian, James, Jonny B and a returning Mike and Swiss Toni. Their tracks for debate, we can now reveal to them, are:

1) Kid British - Sunny Days
"They" say Manchester is on the rise again and this set of four vocalists are at the forefront, self-proclaimed jangle pop rudeboys with massively eclectic influences.
Ian: Between the post-Streets larking about and constant reference to beans and toast this may just be too 'British' for me, but the manic flip-flopping between “I’m happy!” “I’m sad!” is deeply annoying. It’s like the grating inverse of a song like 10cc’s “I’m Not in Love.” Admittedly, I’m normally a fan of pop songs that smuggle in crushing depair under all the happy-clappy crap, but the problem here is that one clumsily rapped verse about table settings and Sky Sports doesn’t qualify. And that fucking constant up!up!up! string and piao refrain could probably give you a headache.
James: This one begins a little quirky, a little ‘Country House’, a little Housemartins. This makes it instantly too jaunty for me. The verse arrives and it is a Just Jack-alike. I am not sure I am enjoying the everyday provincial references. It was sweet when Saint Etienne did it. These guys make me just want to encourage them to get out more. I am also uncomortable about the contrast between the upbeat chorus and the downbeat, verses about heartbreak. It doesn’t quite fit to me. It is not unpleasant, but it could get annoying very quickly – actually about 2 and a half minutes in. This is certainly not for me. 2/5
JonnyB: Was it just me, or did the 'Countdown' line seem forced? One pop culture reference too many? I liked this immediately, though - in fact what's not to like? Very English pop/rock music - bom, bom, bom, bom square four on the bass, down a semitone, bom bom bom bom - that sort of melodic thing that developed here because we didn't take everything we had from the blues, with the vocals fused in very naturally - yes, they make it sound like a natural genre. Possibly very slight hint of 'man performs over backing track', which I think is down to the drums - I'd prefer something more organic as the song goes on but then I'm a sucker for a ride cymbal occasionally. Thumbs up.
Mike: This didn’t begin well – bouncy, breathless, Blur-derived Britpop revivalism not exactly being at the top of my wishlist for the Future Sound of 2009. Hell, even the chuffing Ordinary Boys were never quite this obvious. Then again, “Sunny D” (as I have wittily re-titled it) isn’t aimed at anyone much over the age of fourteen – and as such it’s a clear step up from the witless clod-hopping of Scouting For Girls. And while not exactly subtle, there are some encouraging signs at work here. The incessant staccato pounding, with its faint whiffs of ELO (specifically “Horace Wimp” and “Mr Blue Sky”), has a certain merciless charm, and I’m particularly taken by the overstuffed “badada, badada” backing vocals which run throughout. Meanwhile, the chipper geezer-ishness of the refrain would swiftly grate, were it not offset by the melancholy of the spoken-word verses, in which the band’s Skinner Junior (possibly quite promising) takes over from its Albarn Minor (probably quite irritating). Of the five songs on offer, this is the one which I could most readily see charting.
Swiss Toni: In many, many ways, this is nothing but annoying, derivative shit. It sounds like the bastard offspring of "Mr Blue Sky" and the worst kind of sub-Blur Britpop rubbish. Actually, that's exactly what this is.... and yet... and yet.... after a couple of listens, other stuff slowly starts to emerge from the detritus: there's hints of the urban delivery of The Streets and Jamie T in here, and behind that upbeat, bouncy melody, there's a rather more downbeat story about someone trying to live their life with one less plate at the table and it's beans on toast for tea. I'm still leaning towards this being irritating beyond measure (and that rap bit in the middle is awfully reminiscent of how anyone and everyone in the USA has to have a guest rapper on their record, like it's the law or something). Blur did melancholy better, too, even if they never did namecheck Sky Sports and Countdown (preferring the more highbrow Shipping Forecast). But in spite of all this, it's managed to climb into my head, if nothing else. I actually read about this in the Guardian the other week.... Kid British, innit?

2) Rod Thomas - Good Coat
A part-time London Underground busker who melds folky laments with electronic beats for what's been dubbed acoustic disco, Thomas was a hit at Glasto and Latitude this summer.
Ian: I find myself liking this one almost against my will. It’s just so weedy, and the lyrics are at best weird (“Don’t mind if it rains, as long as I get to wear a good coat”? What?), but the dead simple indie jangle + hand claps arrangement is nice in an understated, minimal way. And even if our narrator comes across as a bit slappable, he’s got a nice enough voice (in a twee kind of way), and having the lyrics remain so personal and idiosyncratic actually works in their favour, even once they start being a bit more universal with “If I put my head on anyone’s shoulders, one day I’m bound to feel like I’m home.” Sure, the band sounds a bit like a narcotized Life Without Buildings without the great vocal performance and the singer really should stop trying to stretch his voice, but this is still oddly loveable.
James: This track leaves me short of words, but not in a good way. It reminds me of a dozen nameless songs or bands – I cannot pick anything out, but it gives me no reason to care too. It has a sort of non-descript catchiness, handclaps and all, and consequently isn’t objectionable. If I was feeling picky, I’d have to point out the buzz on the lead guitar line. The drums and vocal section makes me feel that they simply ran out of ideas on what to do with this – and I am not surprised, it feels like bankruptcy. Finally, I just don’t buy the emotion at the climax – I think he lies!! 2/5
JonnyB: As the intro goes on I thought 'home recording' and 'this is gonna be bland' - it has that nondescript guitar sound. But it surprised me. I can imagine this being a great live track - you can see how they'd do it, and the guitar nicely fits in and locks everything together, keeping it rattling on. Given that he's clearly a singer, the vocals seem a bit low in the mix? Music like this really wants the lyrics to beckon people to lean in and listen closer, but I couldn't make out a lot of the non-repeated phrases. That might be just me. I like it - whether I'd sit down and repeatedly listen to an album of it I'm not sure, but I'd definitely give it a go.
Mike: There’s no point in pretending otherwise for the sake of conceptual purity: I know this one! Why, it’s only “Good Coat” by Busking Indie Troubadour Rod Thomas and his Loop Pedalled Clappity-Claps! This came out as a single just over two years ago, and it’s good to make its acquaintance again – although I still prefer Rod’s 2007 single “Your Love Is A Tease”, which has notched up 36,000 views on YouTube as opposed to a measly 3,500 for “Good Coat”. No matter; there’s a fetchingly open-hearted breeziness and insouciance to all of Rod’s vocal performances, and his instinctive gift for a catchy tune is bound to bring him to wider attention sooner or later. And in the current post-Marling, post-Noah and the Whale climate, I’m thinking “sooner”.
Swiss Toni: For the first ten seconds of this, I had the horrible feeling that someone like Enrique Iglesias or Ricky Martin was going to turn up, but thankfully this feeling dispels as the electric guitar comes on and takes this into Badly Drawn Boy territory... you know, very slightly jazzy indie singer-songwriter stuff. You might hear this being performed by a busker and think they were quite good, but I'm not sure that it works as well on record. Actually, this sounds suspsiciously like a song that Mike T-D put on my shuffleathon CD last year - "Your Love is a Tease". That was by Rod Thomas, who is in fact a busker. It's probably against the rules, but I've nipped across to MySpace to check, and it is indeed Rod Thomas. It's pleasant enough, and I think I'd happily go and see him perform live. Not as good as "Your Love is a Tease", perhaps, but this song is growing on me, and some of the lyrics are quite interesting. Heavens, if Paulo Nutini can make it big, then why the hell not Rod Thomas? Great clapping on this too. You'll go a long way with some good clapping.

3) Mumford and Sons - White Blank Page
London Americana-ites; the titular Marcus Mumford was until recently the centrepiece of Laura Marling's band and has clearly learnt a thing or two about folky wiseness beyond youth.
Ian: Damien Rice, much? I feel kind of like he’s going for more of an Elbow feel, especially once the actual arrangement kicks in (it’s not bad, especially the accordion or whatever that is). That intro is brutally pretentious, though, and it makes it hard for you to listen long enough to get to the nice bits. Lyrics continue to be the guy’s weak suit, however, and while overly serious university students may swoon along mostly this is a case of decent potential not yet realized.
James: I thought it was going to be ‘Avalanche’ by Leonard Cohen initially. It has a nice folky, almost troubador quality about it – all nicely understated. I am unmoved by the lyrics, but the build-up of the instruments is very pleasant to me. It reminds me of gothic Americana band, 16 Horsepower, but slightly lighter and prettier. I like the bass and fiddle especially. Overall, it is nothing special, but it has engaged me. Would I rush out and buy a CD on the strength of this? Probably not – but I would certainly entertain another listen. 4/5
JonnyB: Confession time. I laughed a bit during the first verse - it's just such Earnest Poetry. Which is horribly unfair, as if it'd been the opening track on - say - a new Nick Cave album, I'd have thought 'golly, that's intense and profound'. Of all the tracks, this is the one that both interests and frustrates me most. Half of me wants Mr Heartbroken Overwraught Romantic to sing the bloody thing properly - it's a big, strong song with a lovely arrangement and production behind it, even if they do flog the melody gasping to its death as the needle passes the four-minute mark. But if you overblandify something like this it turns into the Corrs, and nobody wants that. I don't suppose they'd thank me, but I loved the early Steeleye Span stuff with that dark, droney Peter Knight fiddle sound, and this brought that to mind a bit. I'd like to hear more of their stuff as it sounds like My Sort of Thing.
Mike: Hmm, there’s something about the vocals – clenched, histrionic, overwrought – which I don’t quite care to buy into. And there’s a plodding earnestness to the songwriting which makes me want to take the piss out of its pretensions to Great Portent. (I sense that we’re a short step away from folderol-milady-Guinevere, forsooth-I-do-beseech-thee territory.) All of this is particularly exposed at the start of the track, before the unexpectedly agreeable folk-influenced backing arrangement kicks in, all mandolins and squeeze boxes and rippling pastoral lushness. By the time we get to the multi-tracked choral coda, I’m really quite the convert.
Swiss Toni: Goodness, the bit before the singing here sounds suspiciously like Belle & Sebastian, although the careworn vocal soon puts paid to that idea. Then I thought that the next minute or so had quite a Jeff Buckley feel to it (or, less flatteringly, a touch of the Starsailors), but at 1m20s it all turns a bit Levellers with some accordion and fiddles and things. I'm not sure what to make of the mixture as I find it a bit confusing: the lyrical content and the style with which it is delivered is potentially quite interesting, but that flicker of interest is pretty much killed stone dead by the instrumentation which will give me nightmares of white blokes with stinking dreadlocks and filthy bare feet. The lyrics are a bit overblown too, a blank white had a swelling rage? Really? How so? The more I listen to this, the more I think of Starsailor and the less I think of Jeff Buckley, I'm afraid. It's a personal taste thing, I know, but those fiddles are a real deal killer for me. Sorry.

4) Detroit Social Club - Black And White
Remember back when everyone was anticipating how huge The Music would be? This Newcastle six-piece similarly channel powerful bluesy riffs and soulful vocals to much A&R excitement.
Ian: I actually really like the music here, from the chiming, old fashioned-feeling instrument that keeps popping up to the steady drum/acoustic guitar stomp. But as soon as the chorus reveals itself as “you are nothing without me,” the song is pretty much dead to me. I can take and even enjoy songs that are petty, bitter, even pointlessly mean, but they have to be at least clever about it. This is just three and a half minutes of a guy trying to either stomp on someone’s self-esteem or reassure himself that she’s the messed up one, in the bluntest and dumbest way possible.
James: I like the sound on the drums and the lead guitar line – some reverb or other effects. However, that is about all that I like about this song. It is without any substance. The singer wants to sound like Malcolm Mooney, but without the rest of Can behind him, he sounds careless and empty. The musical structure is awfully predictable. On my first listen I had it somewhere between T Rex and Quo. On a third listen I think that this is a little unfair, someone in the band makes a nice guitar sound with an echo box. But sadly, this isn’t enough to make it a worthwhile song. One interesting sound is not enough. I will happily put this one away... 1.5/5
JonnyB: This reminds me of Johnny Dowd, the 'drums set up in the stairwell' sound and a man who walks the line between sounding very pissed off and with turning to violence. This is sung beautifully - he really means it. I admire the restraint of the arrangement that surrounds him, but I could do with a bit more excitement by the end - for me, it's crying out for the guitarist to share a bit more of that anger during the outro.
Mike: More so than its predecessors, I sense we should treat this as the rough working demo that it must surely be. There’s a strong central thrust to the song, whose dogged march-like tempo suits it well, and there’s a serviceably ragged, throaty quality to the singer’s wounded declamations and recriminations. (“You! Are! NOTHING without me!”) However, it’s not yet quite enough to sustain interest, the general lack of detail rendering the track laborious where it could be anthemic, pedestrian where it could be cathartic. Hopefully, this is nothing that a decent dollop of studio time and a sympathetic producer couldn’t cure.
Swiss Toni: This song feels like a rock song that brews but never really takes off. The backwards looping bit at the beginning calls to mind the Stone Roses, but the vocal conjures up a rather more mundane image of one of those sub-Oasis bands (although possibly more creative with that backing track than Oasis have been for more than a decade, which isn't saying much....). The singer has quite a smokey sounding voice, but the song never really allows him to cut loose. It's alright, but for me it just doesn't go anywhere. I think this might have made a great one or two minute section of a song before the drums come in and we really launch into a proper, loud rock anthem...but we never get there. This is as good as it gets, and as a result, I feel a touch cheated.

5) We Have Band - Oh
The sons of Hot Chip are filing out of the woodwork, not least this Mancunian trio who label themselves "disco-rock", which basically means it's dancey but with instruments.
Ian: This is very anonymous but competent in a kind of autistic-Hot Chip kind of way – no emotional depth, and not exactly a dancefloor killer, but serviceable. The multi-tracked “oh oh oh”s on the chorus are a nice touch and they keep the whole affair moving in sleek and mildly pleasurable fashion, but I’m not sure those verses are adding much of anything. This could stand to be a lot brasher and more active, although there’s a certain pleasure to the way it just slides past.
James: I like this, although it strikes me as a dreadful throwback musically. I cannot place what it reminds me of (it is late), but whatever it is, I am quite liking it. It is mostly dumb and stupid, but a dumb and stupid I can get along with – kinda catchy and uplifting. I am a sucker for a good noise, and the repeated ‘oh, oh, oh’ has me hooked. I could listen to this again. 4/5
JonnyB: I can't think of much to say, which probably says enough. It builds well. It's a very competently constructed piece that has a good hook but not the killer hook that would distinguish it from anything else like this that a million people could put together in their bedrooms. Over to the others for a more useful review - sorry.
Mike: Doomy indie-dance with pronounced post-punk influences, you say? And hark, is that the syncopated tinkle of the LCD/!!!/CSS/DFA cowbell? Now look here, you dour bellowers of the disco-pocalypse, hasn’t 1981 revivalism been done to death yet? And isn’t this all a little bit, well, Spring 2005? True enough, true enough. And yet, and yet… somewhere along the production line, punches have been packed. The bassline rumbles, the chants accumulate, the looped and layered “ow ows” build the mood – and by the last minute or so, we’re steaming along quite nicely. Eighteen months ago, the Ting Tings’ “Great DJ” blindsided me. Maybe this track is its logical successor?
Swiss Toni: I'm sure I won't be the only person to mention this, but it sounds very much like Hot Chip.... right down to the slightly geeky sounding vocal. I listen to this, and it's hard to get the image of a small guy in big glasses out of my head. That said, it's very catchy and repetitive, and I quite like it. Not that I'm an expert (as anyone who has seen me doing it will readily testify), but it's clearly designed to get you up and dancing, and even stone cold sober I've found myself tapping my foot to the beat, so it must have something. It's just impossible to shift the idea that this could have been done by Hot Chip though, which doesn't make this a bad record by any means, it just means that I'm forever going to think that this was done by a different band. Good, after a fashion. Along with Rod Thomas, this is my favourite of this selection, I think (although Kid British is the only one that I've actively earwormed).

Sunday, November 16, 2008

For the want of a cuddle...

Islington Lexington. 12nov08.

“Yay, we did it.”

So says singer Calum Gunn, like an excited pre-teen on completion of an Airfix model with the negligible help of their alcoholic father. Dananananakroyd have just completed their first song of the night. I guess we all played our part though, guitarist David Roy having insisted prior to that the song wouldn’t start “until we all do this” whilst waggling his fingers in the air [see below].

There are six members of Dananananakroyd, half of whom (including Gunn and Roy) are eager to speak to the crowd, the other being John Baillie Junior who shuttles between the second drum set and acting as a second vocalist like an eager plate-spinner. Not that Baillie spends that much time at the front of the stage, whenever he is on the mic he tends to occupy a space within the mosh.

He is not the only one keen to blur the stand-offish boundary implied by the lip of the stage, he, Gunn and Roy running regular into the crowd like rabbiting beagles. Behind them drummer Paul Carlin, bassist Laura Hyde and guitarist Duncan Robertson keep things together as the others go out to play.

Certainly, they are not content with owning the stage, they want to own the room, and use us as their tools. First there is the ‘Wall of Cuddles’ where the room is divided into two baying packs facing off before charging at each other and cuddling the first person we come across. I didn’t get a cuddle, those of us at the back having to jump on people’s backs like some kind of assault course/rugby scrum/clusterf***. Where’s the romance?

As it happens, that’s here too. Later they create a tunnel of love from the arching arms of punters down the centre of the room, those that traverse it together ending up married. “This is LEGALLY BINDING!” they remind us, Gunn adding “Yay, we did it”, for about the tenth time tonight, as the tunnel explodes out into a tumultuous mosh.

However, despite all the stagecraft; the climbing like frightened monkeys on speaker-stacks and into DJ booths and the team-bonding excursions, these aren’t slight of hand, taking the attention away from a substandard set of songs. Dananananakroyd apply a hardcore energy and guitar sound to a post-post-post-punk-pop-punk jerk and spasm, turning their “hissy fits into sissy hits.” It’s difficult to take your eyes off them and it’s a deal your ears will want in on. “So, we’ll agree to disagree and you’ll just go and buy our stuff” says Gunn at the end, knowing he needs not these possessions, now that he has this room and all those in it.

Dananananakroyd @ MySpace
Dananananakroyd blog from London date


Thursday, November 13, 2008

Shred October


Historically, people have been drawn to London by the promise of streets paved with gold, but tonight the grotty environs of the Electric Ballroom are paved with lagoons courtesy of the pissing rain. So what could have tempted me into the expense and effort of making the journey into the capital on a school night?

Let's see.

Could it be the prospect of the year's finest triple bill, going under the banner of the Shred Yr Face tour and featuring one band about whose Cardiff gig earlier in the year friends have been raving about for weeks, another who may just have released my favourite album of 2008 and a third whose cause I've been championing almost from the very beginning?

I rather think it could, you know.

And let's not forget fine company in the shape of a fellow blogger in the midst of his own October gigging marathon...

I've not heard a note of Times New Viking's music and I'm already pretty much sold. How could I - someone who works in publishing - fail to be when it comes to a band whose name is a font-related pun?

So, what does that moniker say about them other than that they've got a sense of humour? Well, they're not Times New Roman - the Romans being self-controlled, civilised, fond of order and straight lines. No, they're Times New Viking - hairy, lairy, barbarous, out to pillage and lay waste to wherever they pitch up, whoever they find there and themselves.

Having already played a London show with another of Cardiff's great eccentrics, Gindrinker, this year at Plan B's request, the Columbus crew are back and eager to introduce a whole load more people to their scruffily dissolute take on something that was already scruffily dissolute to start with, Royal Trux's back catalogue.

Their raison d'etre isn't hard to fathom: to have a good time, and fuck the consequences - as the chorus to 'My Head' succinctly puts it, "I need more money 'cause I need more drugs". Rocket science it ain't. Gonzo lo-fi it most certainly is. Guided By Voices? Guided by the voices telling them to search out the next wrap of cheap speed, more like...

Every now and again there comes along a band or artist who does something which is at once original and fresh and also blindingly obvious. How is it that, prior to No Age, no one seems to have thought to try joining the dots between fast and messy hardcore punk, ear-challenging Kevin Shields-esque sprawling psychedelic experimentalism (with the emphasis on the mentalism). The dynamic duo did, and christened the results things like 'Brain Burner' and 'Things I Did When I Was Dead'. Initially I wasn't sure about lead single 'Eraser', but their debut full-length LP Nouns (last year's Weirdo Rippers being a compilation of five singles released on five different labels on the same day) took all of about half a spin to have me foaming at the mouth and cursing myself for passing up the chance to see them at the Scala in May.

As one might expect of two guys called Randy Randall and Dean Allen Spunt (the latter the second singing drummer of the night, after TNV's Adam Elliott), live they're a couple of goofy nerds complaining about the weather (they're from LA, so more used to enduring 80 degrees than avoiding a drenching) and asking: "Was anyone's father or uncle or grandfather a skinhead?"

The extended stage time afforded to them means we are able to enjoy Nouns pretty much in its entirety. All of its very best tracks ('Sleeper Hold', 'Here Should Be My Home', 'Eraser' and forthcoming single 'Teen Creeps') are electrifying, but the one song that many of us are most keenly looking forward to we're made to wait for until the very end. 'Everybody's Down', the undisputed high point of Weirdo Rippers, was the first No Age song I ever heard - the perfect illustration of how compelling a simple two chord riff can be - and here it is, stirring up the moshpit like a great big sonic spoon.

And finally, headliners Los Campesinos! - and a bit of a personal confession.

Having lauded the septet to all and sundry almost constantly since first reading about them on Sweeping The Nation (and then hearing 'You! Me! Dancing!' and seeing them live shortly afterwards), their debut album actually lost its lustre for me quite quickly. The problem was, I think, twofold. Firstly, familiarity with much of the material bred, if not contempt, then certainly a reduced level of excitement. Secondly, like many others, I gradually started to find Gareth's neuroses and lyrics more difficult to stomach - always self-absorbed, occasionally childishly petulant and at times spiteful.

While the material from Hold On Now, Youngster aired tonight serves as a timely reminder of where they've come from and how they got to where they are, playing their biggest indoor gig to date, there's also a refreshing unfamiliarity about much of the set - unsurprising given the imminent appearance of sophomore album We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed. In some ways it's a shame that, in the band's eagerness to move on, songs I'd assumed would be staples of the set have now been impatiently and ruthlessly discarded just a few months into their lives, and that one-time signature song 'You! Me! Dancing!', while still a roof-raiser for the crowd, is played with the faint air of it being an embarrassing albatross around their collective necks. But it's nevetherless admirable when bands refuse to rest on their laurels (resting on their laurels being the very last thing Los Campesinos! could be accused of doing) and insist on pushing onwards to avoid any possibility of going stale.

Of course in such instances there remains the constant danger that any follow-up will be rushed, poorly conceived and half-backed in execution. Happily, that's certainly not the case with a record the band have taken to calling WABWAD, which ups both the melody, largely through more prominent synth, and (as the album title might suggest) the "sense of impending doom" of HON,Y's 'Drop It Doe Eyes', now more pervasive and deeper ingrained than a mere facet of teenage/early-twentysomething angst. Maturity: not necessarily a dirty word.

One minute Gareth's drawing an ecstatic response for the so-twee-it's-wearing-a-hairslide opening line of 'My Year In Lists' - "You said 'Send me stationery to make me horny'" - and the next he's introducing new songs by claiming that one's about "how we'll all die alone" and another about a homosexual affair between Jesus and the Devil and the ensuing fallout (a messy break-up, you imagine).
'This Is How You Spell...' and stand-alone single 'The International Tweexcore Underground' remain two of my favourite Los Campesinos! tracks, but on this evidence WADWAB's title track and its impassioned opener 'Ways To Make It Through The Wall' will both soon be jostling for position.

As Gareth praises No Age and Times New Viking - "I'm soppy and sycophantic at the best of times" - before the curtain comes down with the traditional 'Sweet Dreams Sweet Cheeks' (an indication they haven't completely moved on), I realise that I'm falling in love with them all over again. Back to evangelising, then...


Drowned In Sound tour frontline reports, as written by Gareth Dobson of the Shred Yr Face crew: Day 1 / Day 2 / Day 3 / Day 4 / Day 5 / Day 6 / Day 7 (including photos of the Camden gig)

Shred Yr Face tour pics on the Guardian site

Del's late October gig round-up, with a mention of the Shred Yr Face gig

Monday, November 10, 2008

For the want of oomph…

Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen. 29oct08.

Born in the mid-80’s, Cranes have shown a remarkable staying power, ploughing a furrow they have developed from gothic aridity to a dream-pop ethereality. Early songs like Beach Mover pre-dated Scott Walker’s astonishing Tilt by five years but have a similarly desolate authority. From their early EP’s even through to their Top 40 pop tunes Jewel and Shining Road, they were dancing a defiantly dark ballet, softened slightly on those latter songs by the presence of an acoustic strum.

This year’s new self-titled record continues the delicate progress made through 2001’s Future Songs and 2004’s Particles & Waves. Where once Jim Shaw juxtaposed sister Alison’s elfin vocals against stark piano and drilling guitars, their band’s music now twinkles around and alongside her fragile gasp.

Despite these organic shifts, they remain informed by their experience and their home town. Named after the cranes littering Portsmouth dockyard, they originally espoused mechanics and industrial alienation, but their music these days has much more to do with the ambient lap of the coastal waves at low-tide.

This dampening however causes more than a little consternation around their live sound, several of tonight’s audience heckling vehemently during the opening numbers that both the vocals and electronic drum-set are far too low in the mix. Jim Shaw, sat on a stool virtually out of sight to the side of the stage and, looking ever more like shambling John Peel circa 1995, initially looks non-plussed, that is until someone shouts “give it some oomph.” “You’ll get some oomph on the louder songs, these are the quiet ones, for fucks sake”, he replies unable to contain his annoyance. Later he responds to a mistake made by instrumental utility-man Paul Smith by sighing “this is the end of the fucking Cranes, I ain’t fucking joking.”

Following these exchanges, Alison spends many of her non-singing moments diverting a concerned eye in her brother’s direction, at other times gripping the mic-stand like a child inattentively following the buffeting of a party balloon tied to their wrist and caught in a slight draft. One might guess that touring Europe, even only for a fortnight, may these days be taking more of a physical and mental toll. Thus there is a tension at odds with the calm wash of their updated sound. It is perhaps for this reason that the louder songs work best, although the tickling and cascading Feathers from the new LP is also a highlight.

They place their meatier songs correctly, building to two crescendos. Adrift closes the main set, crashing like a galleon, while the wonderful Lilies is where they depart after a seven-song encore. Lilies reminds me of Captain Beefheart’s Ashtray Heart, in a way. Despite their voices sounding as different as is perhaps possible, it is the vocal method that conjoins them in my head; Alison Shaw breathing in her porcelain trill here and thus injecting the lost-child blamelessness with an uncommonly imposing glottal power and therefore a shot of menace.

Here’s hoping that this isn’t where they bow out for good.


Thursday, November 06, 2008

I wanna be elected

Browsing the shelves in Waterstones yesterday, I came across 'The Guardian Book Of Rock 'N' Roll' which brought to my attention a frankly bizarre piece written in the run-up to the 2001 General Election by the MP for Witney, one David Cameron, in which he sets out "why the lead singer of The Ramones holds the key to success for the Tories".

Disappointingly, he explains he's "not suggesting that the party's law and order stance should be toughened along the lines of the lyric much quoted in obituaries this week: 'Beat on the brat, beat on the brat, beat on the brat with a baseball bat'". Oh no, it's all to do with their directness and repetitiveness, apparently.

Lest you should go mistaking Cameron for a diehard Ramones fan (which, let's face it, would suggest a potential PM with better taste than either the previous incumbent or his Arctic Monkeys loving successor), he noted: "Once you could hum one tune (if tune is the right word, which it isn't), you could hum them all." Still, despite labelling it "Joey's meaningless wind up to (virtually) every Ramones song", he concludes the article with "Gabba gabba hey". Short, meaningless phrases repeated ad infinitum? On reflection, it's little wonder Cameron should be so appreciative.

On an unrelated music tip, something I was directed to a while back but never linked to: Carrie Brownstein, formerly of Sleater-Kinney, gets to grips with the video game Rock Star. (Thanks to Simon for the link.)