Thursday, May 27, 2010

Primavera Sound 2010

The thing about the Primavera Sound is that it's not even just the nine gigantic and wee stages on the actual festival site. A number of smaller showcase gigs featuring homegrown and international artists pop up all over the city in the week surrounding the mainstream fest.

Wanting to squeeze out all the goodness available in that one wristband I turned up to as many of these as possible but, as you might imagine, this means an obscene number of bands. In terms of writing it up, you're looking at one heck of an essay, and my shtick is verbose enough as it is.

Thus this review will give each band witnessed for a decent length of time (20 minutes plus) a line to call their own. No more, no less; equality writ, err, small.

To break it up into bite-size chunks, you can find the various days linked here:

Days 1 & 2
(covers Atleta, First Aid Kit, Los Campesinos, Montañas, Nacho Umbert, Peggy Sue, Pelea, Toundra and Two Dead Cats)

Day 3
(covers Bis, Biscuit, Broken Social Scene, Chrome Hoof, Edredón, The Fall, Fuck Buttons, Macaco Bong, Mission of Burma, Pavement, Superchunk, Surfer Blood, Tortoise, Ui and The XX)

Day 4
(covers Beach House, Cuerpos, Forzudo, Fuel Fangando, Les Savy Fav, Low, Shellac, Wilco and Wire)

Days 5 and 6
(covers The Antlers, A Sunny Day In Glasgow, The Big Headed Trouble Boy, The Bundles, Circulatory System, The Clean, Dum Dum Girls, Florence & The Machine, Ganglians, The King Khan & BBQ Show, Matt & Kim, McEnroe, Mujeres, Pet Shop Boys, Rother/Shelley/Mullan, Thee Oh Sees and Thelematicos)

...and now to sleep for a week!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Rage, rage against the dying of the light


Question: if no one is here to hear Chad Valley aka the electronic side project of Jonquil's Hugo Manuel, does it still sound like a budget Animal Collective? Answer: a resounding yes. A psychedelic maelstrom of electronics topped with heavily treated vocals - the comparisons are inescapable. Like Panda Bear and company, he could do with doing more in terms of a stage presence, but when you're trying to spin an array of musical plates at once and ensure none of them crash to the floor, his preoccupation is understandable.

And now for one of the 100% Cast-Iron Rules Of Live Performances: if a band take to the stage with a cocksure swagger and a sample of some bloke chuntering on about the music on the radio all being shit, then you can guarantee that they'll turn out to be the embodiment of EXACTLY what they purport to stand against. A spectacular lack of self-consciousness is just one of the reasons Morning Parade irritate the fuck out of me - others include the Kelly Jones vocals, the superfluous keyboards bussed in from another planet to add "depth", and the airbrushed, vacuous and soul-sappingly boring songs. "You're becoming someone else", the last song declares - if only they were.

But thankfully salvation is at hand - in the unlikely form of a band performing songs from a concept album about terminal illness.

2009's Hospice, the third full-length release from The Antlers, drew a rapturous reception from the critics but somehow passed me by until earlier this year. That title says a lot - not Hospital, which might suggest a place of frenzied activity in pursuit of recovery and cure, but Hospice, a peaceful place where death is awaited helplessly.

Arcade Fire's Funeral and Bon Iver's For Emma, Forever Ago have inevitably been singled out as reference points, but to me it feels closer kin to Eels' Electro Shock Blues - claustrophobically sombre and personal at times but shot through with passages of pure catharsis, like the shimmering washes at the beginning of 'Thirteen'. Sober and serious? Not the sort of thing we've come to expect to hail from New York.

But how well such a record - haunting, harrowing and almost unbearably intense in a one-on-one situation - would translate to the live environment was anyone's guess. The answer is, emphatically, with great success.

The crowd's silence is right and proper, respectful in particular of the fragility and nakedness of Pete Silberman's falsetto - but the fact is that, augmented by all manner of pedals, electronics and effects, the songs puff themselves up to epic proportions. I'm not ashamed to say that Silberman's most memorable lyrics - "You're screaming, and cursing, and angry, and hurting me" ('Epilogue'), "Don't ever let anyone tell you you deserve them" ('Wake') - take on an added urgency and passion that come close to reducing your humble correspondent to tears.

Silberman now finds himself in the unenviable position of having to follow Hospice up - but, for now, he can rest assured that he and his band are busy ekeing the very best out of what is an astonishing album (and, with hindsight, a heinous omission from last year's SWSL Top 10).

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Omar goodness

Omar Souleyman
King's Cross Scala. 17may10.

Call me superficial if you like, but my understanding and desire to witness Omar Souleyman was largely based on his enigmatic appearance, on a poster seen during his last UK tour, in 2009. The fact that his London shows are promoted by the Upset The Rhythm folks sealed the deal that it was probably worth checking out on his return. His actual sound though? No idea. I imagined though, judging a book by its cover, a kind of dusty folk-rock, kind of in the Tinariwen mould.

library pic by Crimson Glow Photography taken from Sublime Frequencies website

What I hadn’t expected was dance floor scenes that couldn’t have been more rave if a giant yellow smiley had been rolled onto the back of the stage and the head-scarfed Syrian gentleman in the middle of it had started squealing “ACIIIIIEEEEEED’ and blowing a neon whistle.

Not that there wasn’t similar punctuating intonations in each tune, yer ‘yallah’s and ‘aaaaahhhhyyyyy’s, regular as clockwork. Indeed, a great deal of Souleyman’s time was spent with the microphone tucked under his arm as he geed the crowd with soft ‘come with me’ gestures, fingertip-led hand-claps or genial waves.

You’ll appreciate; this is all pretty incongruous behaviour from a middle aged chap looking like a cross between Scatman John’s desert-dwelling cousin and a prototype mould for a Middle Eastern version of the joke shop Groucho Marx kit, yet all the more beguiling for its eccentricity.

Turns out the Souleyman set consists of a variety of musical styles from Syrian Dabke to Iraqi Choubi, and since his debut in 1994, he and his group have issued over 500 studio and live cassette albums in Syria. On this form, you can understand the demand for it.

For when the hard beats kick in over Rizan Sa'id’s chaotic dual-keyboard playing; when one of the bands associates removes his suit jacket to take centre-stage and, like a quiet and reserved uncle startling his family at a wedding, begins to gradually work up a slinky sweat; when Ali Shaker barrels out notes on the electric saz as though doing so whilst falling down a staircase; and when Omar takes time out from low-key cheerleading to fire out the poetry, it’s virtually impossible not to be exhilarated by their projected joie de vivre.

Omar Souleyman @ MySpace


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

(Mis)take that


It's such a rarity to be able to say of a band that more conviction and self-belief would be both welcome and justifiable - so step forwards (rather than shuffle tentatively) Jonny Dare. The outfit formerly known as Space Panthers bear the mark of prolonged exposure to the subtle rhythms of Vampire Weekend's debut album as well as a faint echo of Franz Ferdinand's stomp, while the band currently playing across town at the Zodiac, avant guitar pop whizzes Field Music, are also called to mind. Particularly impressive are the brave, exposed vocals and the quiet, measured song referring to superglue which is heavy on the glockenspiel and which manages to be humble and yet pregnant with anthemic potential at the same time.

Next up, another rarity: a New Zealand band who've made it over to Blighty hell-bent on proving to those who get misty-eyed about Flying Nun's mid-80s roster that their homeland scene is alive and kicking more than two decades later. So So Modern are quite an affront, a markedly louder blur of electronics, feedback and snatched choruses of "We don't sell drugs" performed by two men wearing sashes emblazoned with the title of their debut LP, Crude Futures. Genuine grooves are in short supply while misfiring samples cause some consternation, and I think it's safe to interpret the audience's reaction as non-plussed rather than astounded.

It's no surprise whatsoever that Mogwai took such a shine to the headliners that they decided to release their recorded output on Rock Action and give them an opportunity to showcase that material on tour. After all, Errors do sound like the result of the 'Gwai outsourcing the all-too-rarely-glimpsed electronic facet of their personality (think 'I Know You Are But What Am I?' from 2003's Happy Music For Happy People) for it to be refracted through rave, beefed up and squelched up. And that's not to mention that they've got their patrons' way with titles - see 2006 EP How Clean Is Your Acid House? for evidence...

In truth, a closer comparison for the likes of 'Mr Milk' and 'Pump' - the latter very much the high point of first LP It's Not Like Something But It Is Like Whatever - is probably Holy Fuck, but in many of their songs the euphoria is kept in check, at times by the same Glaswegian chill and drizzle in which Arab Strap's The Red Thread was steeped.

Tonight it takes a little while for the lovechild of Jarvis Cocker and Ross Millard in the Prince T-shirt and his accomplices to warm up - during which time I find myself wondering whether all Glaswegian bands are contractually obliged to use the word "pish" at some point during proceedings. But once they do, Errors really are quite something, sending punters skittling and bouncing off the walls of the Tavern like caffeinated toddlers, even on a school night.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

There is power in a union part 2

Carla Bozulich & Francesco Guerri
Dalston Café Oto. 03may10.

Each time Carla Bozulich brings her Evangelista band to the UK, it is rarely with the exact same personnel. This tour is a little different still, seeing her on equal billing with the cellist Francesco Guerri. The fact that they used to group themselves under the name Bloody Claws might give a few clues as to the coarseness of the music. Guerri bows and plucks with free-improvisational dexterity, whilst Carla works over her guitar and effect pedals to parade a dissonant, abrasive blare.

These passages, it might be fair to say, can meander a bit, particular when both Carla and Francesco, at various points in a set attacked at the shins by technical issues, are forced to cover the frantic swapping of leads and desperate sound-seeking strum of the other with some hectic noise on the fly.

Pic: Carla Bozulich (Evangelista) at Café Oto in October 2009

When it works, it’s powerful stuff but, as with any Carla Bozulich performance, it is when she opens her mouth to sing that the performance really comes alive, and particularly when it is just her voice in unison with Guerri’s innovative, thorny playing. In this duo scenario, one might suggest she ditch the guitar altogether, as the best moments, and some of the more inelegant ones, happen when it is sitting untouched at the back of the stage.

Without it hanging from her neck, Carla instead trails the mic around as she weaves in and out of the crowd. One initial foray ends awkwardly as she catches an ankle on her foot monitor and falls dramatically backwards, like David Jason through an open hatch.

This does not curtail the abandon of her movement though as she continues to venture out, commandeering chairs, pirouetting like a toddling ballerina lost in a daydream or leaning her entire body weight onto the back of one chap sat in the front row whilst unleashing the full callused power of her vocal range.

When fully flaunted, it is like a feral growl contained in a rickety cage; burnt yet eager, sharing the kind of ragged timbre one might associate with the Rev. C.L. Franklin as he looms over a pulpit roaring the gospel. It is torch singing as though from the gaping mouth of a fiery apocalypse.

Whether layered over cello drone, guitar spite or just unaccompanied, Carla Bozulich as a performer and as a vocalist is arresting, spell-binding and not a little haunting.

Previously, on the Art of Noise.
27apr08: Evanglesita @ The Old Blue Last.
06jun07: Carla Bozulich @ The Spitz.


There is power in a union part 1

Micachu & The Shapes with The London Sinfonietta.
King’s Place. 01may10.

When a piece of work provokes what the cynical might call ‘the law of diminishing returns’, there is a positive spin that can equally be applied, relating to the strength of that initial impact.

For example, in the four times I watched Micachu & The Shapes in 2009, they were never so good as they were the first time around. The only exception to this rule was during the encore to that fourth show when they hooked up with tour-mates The Invisible for a collective cover of Paul McCartney’s very-80’s electro single Temporary Secretary, which was astonishing. Thanks, one assumes, to that element of surprise.

This is perhaps The Shapes’ greatest weapon in much the same way the first Fall album you come across tends to remain your favourite. However, it does put pressure on them to turnover the material, and indeed their style, at a rapid rate. Although, of course, this is no guarantee of artistic success.

Indeed, the non-album material that was aired on those later dates last year hinted at a more dirge-based direction, rather than the scratchy giddiness of great album tracks like Lips and Vulture. If I’m honest it didn’t quite seem to fit.

However, this collaboration with the London Sinfonietta, as part of the latter’s ‘Experiment’ festival, makes sense of it. Mica Levi, Shape-leader, is a classically trained musician and composer and, despite her youth, has already composed for the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

This is her 50 minute score, Chopped & Screwed, essentially a brand new set-list weaved together like the Bayeaux Tapestry; an avant-garde symphony sharing its aesthetic quality in places with both the austere and the more aggressive moments in Scott Walker’s string score for ‘The Drift’.

There are sparse moments which complement the John Cage and Christian Wolff pieces that five of the Sinfonietta had performed in the first half by way of warm-up, whilst other interludes see all the players tapping at their violins, cellos and wind instruments like amphetamine-fed woodpeckers. Reflective vocals and samples weave in and out whilst one passage is reportedly anchored on the speech patterns from slowed-down hip-hop records.

It’s never been in doubt that Mica is brimming with musical ideas, perhaps too many for a common-or-garden band making an assault on the pop charse or even just the indie/alternative consciousness. As such, so you can well see her and the Shapes (whose contribution should not being ignored, drummer Marc Pell doing a fine job of conducting the pace of the Sinfonietta players at various points) ploughing a more ambitious furrow than merely the indie toilet circuit.

Then again, you can imagine that that ambition might not necessarily manifest itself orchestrally, it could equally be a hardcore grime record, an album of ‘English folk music’ to reflect the modern shape of East London, or the pursuit of the perfect avant-pop sound.

Hopefully it won’t be any of those and Micachu & The Shapes will continue to strike out with the shock of the new.


Monday, May 03, 2010

Hot - or, rather, not


What difference does six months make? In the case of From Here We Run, not that much. Sure, there's been a bit of an improvement since our first rendez-vous, at the Cellar at the tail end of August last year, but the same criticisms still apply - they're not tight enough or at least are too fussy and overcomplicated (laudable though their ambition is), and frontwoman Pieteke still sounds as though she's stumbled into a boys' club rather than being fully integrated within the band.

So much for the proteges - now for the real deal. But tonight This Town Needs Guns - purveyors of mathy emo, or "tappy tappy" as a friend has christened the genre - are a bit off target themselves, bungling one song half way through and sheepishly having to pick up the pieces. The fact that I can't remember there being vocals or that Jamie Cooper of fellow Oxonians Hreda plays bass suggests I may have been more drunk than I thought at Southsea Fest in September. Either way, This Town Needs Guns could perhaps rechristen themselves This Band Needs Hooks without fear of false advertising.

Which means it's all down to headliners Hot Club De Paris - who, it turns out, aren't really up to the job. You'd have thought that sounding like the Futureheads as interpreted and performed by Lily Savage would be more entertaining and diverting than it actually is, and sadly there's precious little of note other than the guitarist's complaint about being refused tobacco at the age of 29 (among a few other snatches of barely audible banter) and the two songs delivered a cappella by the three of them clustered together at the front of the stage. Lukewarm or Tepid Club De Paris doesn't really have the same ring to them, though...