Monthly Archives: February 2009

Drever, McCusker, Woomble – London Union Chapel 13/2/09

Kris Drever, John McCusker & Roddy Woomble – London Union Chapel 13/2/09

 

An admirable focus on the whole prevails this evening. It would have been easy just to have played this Scottish trio’s recent Beyond The Ruin LP in full and have everyone go home happy, but they insist, worthily, on challenging their audience as much as they can. It would have been easier still to play on the fact that among their ranks is one of the best-loved indie figures of the last decade, Idlewild’s Roddy Woomble. Since the journey from thrashy to classy with his day-job band has been completed, it’s time for Woomble to try something different, and this project couldn’t be in better hands.

Kris Drever‘s devilish guitar and John McCusker‘s multi-instrumentalism provide scintillating bases for Woomble’s roughshod, weather-beaten poetry to fire off of, a constant and evolving battle of soothing and menace. Into The Blue is buoyant, considered and, at its climax, full of glorious vocal harmony that fills the dome of the church with ease. Similarly, My Secret Is My Silence from Woomble’s debut solo LP is full of repressed energy and joyous vocal flourishes. This is continually polarised, though, by instrumentals from Drever and McCusker, who tackle jigs and reels with impeccable virtuosity and real verve. Despite demonstrating that no single member of this trio (and their myriad accompanists) is more important than another, it’s the ensemble pieces that remain strongest. The gorgeous Hope To See defines the evening, sensitively told stories with the most satisfying of plucked and bowed backing – in short, a consummate treat and celebration of balanced musicality.

More info here. Pick up  a copy of The Fly this March and see this review accompanied by a lovely picture! Or view it in the online magazine.

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its a buffalo – Don’t Be Scared

its a buffalo – Don’t Be Scared (Akoustik Anarkhy)

its-a-buffalo

Best buds – should they be in a band together? The stupidly-named its a buffalo all live in one house and play all day, by the sounds of it. This is, undoubtedly, lovely and a reason why their debut LP sounds so unified in purpose, but is there something of a sheltered view unifying them further? The Mancunian swagger is there, the lofty lyrics that equate the mundane to the almost inter-planetary, but its a buffalo have a trump in the fact they have a distinctly lighter touch and softer, more flexible bent than what popular conscience has come to expect from the area.

Marbles is notable for its simplicity and reliance on a well-placed CHANT. Breezy and approachable, that simplicity is matched by its thankful brevity (that’s meant as a positive). Similarly, Somewhere In Range is effortless and a little fierier. All fine, all lovely and pleasantly warming throughout. Then, it all falls apart and the clichés begin to fall like cats and dogs (I’m here all week…). The winsome but flabby and faux-menacing Climb Climb commits the most cardinal of pop music sins by including studio applause at its finish – ‘cos blokes in studios just know when musical history is being created. How conceited to include notions that others think you’re amazing. We don’t need to be told anything as far as reception goes. Let us decide for ourselves.

After that, there’s an awful lot of spirited filler. Jangle jangle jangle, twang twang twang it says, as if it matters or shows any sign of saving itself from being forgotten by the tastemakers. But then, Jesus! It sort of does save itself! You can’t forget the revisited spirit and buoyancy of Divorce Song! It’s a little long, but at least we’re out of the woods. Indeed, the chorusing screams of “RUN HIDE RUN HIDE RUN HIDE!” on the climaxing Run And Hide are pure gang mentality and terrific fun, and make the whole deal an awful lot more difficult to refuse. For all their shortcomings, its a buffalo appear to have created an enticing debut. Bits of it are certainly not enticing, but if those were ironed out we’d have a thoroughly agreeable EP.

Best buds, then. You can operate well in a band, but by Christ have some arguments. Annoy each other whenever you can and don’t valorise everything you create. Slag off what one of you thinks is this year’s At The Chime Of A City Clock. Maybe get a little bit violent. Or just don’t see each other for a while. Exercise some quality control and its a buffalo could bring us their freshness and their boings of charm and vim for a lot longer. For now, though, careful lads.

Don’t Be Scared is available from the 16th of March on Akoustik Anarchy records. PM’s impression of AA, after several gigs and associated releases, is mixed, y’know. Some good, some bad. Check out Neil Burrell, though, he’s good.

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Asobi Seksu – London ICA 19/2/09

 This is actually the best photo we have of the night. Soz for cretiny.

With their beautiful third LP, Hush, released just days before this show, Asobi Seksu have every reason to be confident. They excel tonight, delicately pacing the set and balancing it with spectral, detailed renditions of new material and thunderous assertion of older tunes. Of course, now that their sound has shifted from the pop glee of 2006’s Citrus to the icy, insular and captivating dalliances of their latest work, the live show has to deal with stylistic veerings in the most entertaining way possible. New songs are performed with reverence rather than nervousness – the staccato vocal scales in In The Sky see vocalist Yuki Chikudate’s eyes go skyward, and the lolloping, dreamy Blind Little Rain is a perfect rest before more violent material returns.

Unsurprisingly and despite the magnificence of the new songs, it’s the material from Citrus that entices warmth from the jam-packed black box of the ICA. Strawberries provides a clattering familiarity early on, the accelerated outro of which is now greeted like an old friend, and Thursday (the one off Skins where bowl-cut learns to write again) is an emotional exhaustion, as serene as it is pleasingly wrought. During the second verse of the same song, guitarist James Hanna allows himself a rare smile as he picks out the counter-melody.

Continually, Asobi Seksu prove themselves more than capable of achieving the blistering power of their recorded output in concert. The drumming is pleasantly domineering at times, the bass almost-stupidly fuzzed and, at the front, Hanna’s intuitive guitar provides subtle but unmissable, vital focus. They prove themselves occasional showboats in the rapturously received encore – Chikudate stumbling into the drummers’ stool to prove that her thwacks can be as malevolent as anyone’s, and certainly more charmingly childlike. Disappearing in an unsurprisingly thick cloud of feedback and moodiness, they exit, their live reputation in London bolstered immeasurably.

This review also appears here, at The Fly. See what PM thought of Hush here and here, and visit the band’s MySpace for a listen.

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M. Ward – Hold Time

M. Ward – Hold Time (4AD)

M. Ward - Hold Time

M. Ward remains irretrievably in the thrall of his influences. This has not always been the case (his earlier work on Howe Gelb’s Ow Om label, though derivative and sketchy, contained a spark and twang all his own), but the emerging status quo for recent recordings. Brian Wilson, commissioned songwriters of the 50s, railroads, Buddy Holly… a long list of fragrant and worthy wells to draw from. It’s not enough to simply prove you have exceptional taste (in the High Fidelity sense), you have to make good on those influences. All Hold Time does is confirm that M. Ward has always used these influences, and that he’s always been this good at mingling them with his own deliveries.

Hold Time necessarily makes small augmentations to the Ward frameworks we’ve become used to. It’s more expansive, a mite more ambitious and executed with more declamation than ever before. At times there’s even something of a swagger to the performances, particularly on the Bolan-esque shuffle of Never Had Nobody Like You. Its joyous simplicity shot through with lackadaisical delivery is judged well, and it was the right thing to do to make it so short, even throwaway. Elsewhere, thunderous synth arpeggios and castanets on To Save Me show buoyancy to be a key new tool. That’s not to say that Ward’s oeuvre tends toward slower tempi, rather he’s using these propulsive new sounds to reach further on this record than any of his previous outings.

Time and again, though, his influences make themselves very plainly known. Like the gorgeous Ella from his 2001 album End Of Amnesia , the Brian Wilson influence seems to permeate ‘most everything he tackles. Again, To Save Me has the requisite “do-do-doos” of The Beach Boys most iconographic works, but those “do-do-doos” feature a raised seventh that Wilson may have deemed too emotionally revealing – it’s the one that lends the wistful edge. Crucially, as we’ve established, it’s Ward’s way of extending his influences into his own work, making them come into line with what he wants to express rather than letting over-adherence cloud the results. It’s the mark of a writer who has become comfortable with his own sound, viewing it alongside the back-catalogues he admires rather than as inferior to them.

Ward’s take on Don Gibson’s Oh Lonesome Me demonstrates a deft duality of reality and the ethereal. You can hear the scratch of the bottleneck on the guitar strings as if it were in the room, but guest Lucinda Williams’ voice is drenched in reverb and the expert string arrangements gently lift off the planet in another hazy tribute to Brian Wilson. Indeed, the fact that it’s a loose vocal duet emphasises this balancing act – humanising and impressing in equal measure.

Though the influences haven’t visibly changed, the confidence and breadth with which he deploys them has certainly gone up a notch. In short, those expecting a logical continuation of Ward’s album trajectory so far will be extremely satisfied. There’s a whole host of little surprises along the way, what with Zooey Deschanel and Jason Lytle turning up and Bella Union wunderkind Peter Broderick sorting out some of the string arrangements, but why boil it down to mere selling points? Hold Time is full of sweet intrigue and stapled shut with intimate references to Ward’s musical heritage, a bold tapestry of what he has become.

Hold Time is available now through 4AD records. An edited version of this review appears at The Quietus.

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How’s Your Week? – The Long Lost

The Long Lost are just lovely (read our review of their debut LP here), and Albert and Laura were kind enough to answer our silly questions. Also, this is the second week in a row someone’s used a ‘-tic’ word to sum up their week. Good one Dent May! Next week, Bono describes his week as, err, ‘fibreoptic’.

The Long Lost

In a word, how’s your week?

Hectic!

What did you get up to last night and how was it?

We went to “Give Up” (dublab.com‘s monthly sad music night) and cried into our drinks…

What’s for dinner tonight and who’s cooking it?

We’ll have delicious Indian food cooked by our favorite All-India Café – shahi paneer, sambar, chai, mmm!

What have you listened to today and did you like it?

We heard Aretha Franklin’s Say a Little Prayer on the radio and it was awesome on a rainy day.

What’s your favourite/least favourite thing that’s happened this week?

We saw a glorious rainbow, and my [Albert’s] dad went to the hospital.

The Long Lost will be coming over to see us (THE PEOPLE OF BRITAIN) in mid-late March – PM, for one, is happy about that result. Visit their MySpace to see those dates and hear some pretties.

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…And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead – The Century Of Self (pt.2)

Part two, whee! (You can have a read of part one here).

ALL IN BIRO. RIDICULOUS.

The aggressive, joyful and beautiful harmonies on Fields Of Coal provide the mid-session entertainment, with sheer vitality buoying things along just as much as the circulating pianos and helicoptering double-drums, proof that trying to consciously write singles on the last couple of albums has done Trail Of Dead no harm. In Inland Sea we find the centrepiece, we “prepare to face the old world”, and we reach zeniths unmatched at any point in the band’s career. It’s almost romantic in scope, chameleonic in execution and finishes with an ingenious ritardando climax that’s released at exactly the right moment. An example, again, of how the synthesis

If there are any discardable numbers (and there barely are), it’s the slower, more ponderous affairs. Luna Park isn’t perfect, outstaying its welcome despite its inviting unison piano and acoustic guitar motifs and cooed words. The following Pictures Of An Only Child essentially performs the same idea an awful lot better, jittery and restless in its hush, but never frightened to expand and contract. Elsewhere, the child-like melodies and indie-pop guitar solos of Ascending sparkle, but the hasty album conclusion of An August Theme and Insatiable Two don’t quite provide the cataclysmic ending suggested by the first act. Though the vocal harmonies on the closer are sweet and mellow, there’s not enough substance to warrant the early exit. It’s like losing a sneeze.

So the grandiose finds a mate in fury, and Trail Of Dead’s confusing (for some) previous form finally forms focus, now a clear schematic rather than a cloudy impression. The violence of early releases finally sits alongside their massive ambition and is controlled for the most part, resulting in an album of balancing acts, genius construction and well-placed fireworks. It finishes on a slight whimper, pleasantly enough, but the main thing is that …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead could well have crafted the first album in a period of new focus and importance for them.

You should go here now and have a listen to the whole lot while it’s still there! Also, you can now read this review at The Quietus.

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…And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead – The Century Of Self (pt.1)

…And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead – The Century Of Self (Richter Scale Records)

ALL IN BIRO. RIDICULOUS.

Most concluded that …Trail Of Dead were lost at sea with their last two releases. Both Worlds Apart and So Divided, similar in title and sound, were blusterous affairs, and apparently subject to occasional label interference. Singles needed to be strong, but the band seemed so desperate to expand their sound that the wholes were deemed by most to be messy at best. If anything, those ‘troubled’ records after their money-spinning third LP Source Tags & Codes were their most ambitious, until the arrival of The Century Of Self. Recorded live with no overdubs, this latest LP is their most accessible since Source Tags…, and certainly the best in terms of energy, vim and expansive thought.

From the outset, it’s not an unusually bold record, but is still incredibly striking. Giants Causeway lumbers into life with a piano pedals and adjoining ensemble rock that would’ve sat beautifully on an early Queen album. Far from high camp, though, it’s played straight and with vigorous intent. The live playing immediately creates tension; we are privy to a performance of immense magnetism from beginning to end. Rolling into the crashing waves of Far Pavilions, the band announces itself vocally with gusto not heard for some time. Where previously they may have relied on nuance or gesture, they now use sheer force and contrasting deftness. Pulverised vocal harmonies eventually yield to soft synths and choral backing, building and frothing until we finally revisit the initial themes. It’s simple, but extremely satisfying.

Relentlessly pushing forward is the only option when you’ve accrued this much energy, so the Trail elect to continue to rock the fuck out like it’s a debut album. From the glitz and pomp of Isis Unveiled, it’s plain to see that those more progressive works of recent years have had an irremovable effect on the band’s sound and, in particular, their guitar work. While it’s always been frenetic and a basis for melody, it’s yet to be more satisfying than the galloping main riff here. For the most part and until its manic “oh-oh-oh” climax, Halcyon Days finally calms things down, utilising contrasts like musicians really should. Elevating noise levels and tautness ’til near-explosion, the only way to satisfy is to either explode or deflate. Though it’s a deflation we experience, it’s a necessary one and one that hints that real explosions are still to come.

This review concludes tomorrow. More information on the world’s most righteous record (for today at least) then have a looky. And read part two of this review here!

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