Archive for November, 2009

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AU60: The Bug live review

November 17, 2009

When I posted my interview with Kevin Martin (aka The Bug), I mentioned that the gig was a total belter. Here’s the review.

THE BUG AND DADDY FREDDY
BLACK BOX, BELFAST

In our last issue, Kevin Martin (for The Bug is he) promised that the live show would be “fucking all over the shop”, “confrontational” and “physical” but “enjoyable”. He wasn’t kidding, as tonight deserves to go down as one of the gigs of the year. It’s nearly over before it begins, though. A deafening blast of noise announces his arrival and demands attention before Martin, alone behind a desk of equipment at the back of the stage, powers into versions of ‘Angry’ and ‘Poison Dart’ from last year’s extraordinary London Zoo album. And then, as abruptly as it starts, the sound and lights cut out. Oops. 10 minutes of uncomfortable shuffling about later, Martin is back and this time there are no familiar bangers to cling on to. For half an hour until ragga MC Daddy Freddy arrives, it’s a sonic battlefield of harsh noise, dancehall beats and teeth-rattling bass – aggressive and deafeningly loud, yes, but compellingly danceable as well.

Eventually, Daddy Freddy does turn up and the mood changes, taking us from confrontation and aural punishment to a chaotic dance party. The familiar tunes are back – ‘Jah War’, ‘Warning’, the peerless ‘Skeng’ and reprises of both ‘Angry’ and ‘Poison Dart’, each with Daddy Freddy completely ignoring the original vocal and letting rip over the top in his own ultra-fast style. It’s a total riot, the MC’s charisma matched to the mood of the crowd and Martin solemnly going about the business of making us move, hard. They are originally scheduled to play for an hour, but once the hour is up the encores begin – largely led by Daddy Freddy, it must be said. Running out of his own material, Bug (as the MC addresses him) starts to DJ, playing fucked-up, noisy versions of dubstep producer 2562’s smooth, spacious ‘Techno Dread’ and even Dawn Penn’s classic ‘No, No, No’. Thought you’ve never heard it quite as gnarled as this before. We hit 2am and the lights come up, closing support act Filaria not even getting a chance to play. It’s a shame, but how would you follow that anyway?

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AU60: Electric Picnic live review

November 17, 2009

Here’s a slightly longer version of my weekend round-up than appeared in the magazine – we were very stuck for space, so it got trimmed. It was a bit of a whistlestop tour as it was, but there you go.

Electric Picnic

ELECTRIC PICNIC 2009
STRADBALLY, CO. LAOIS

Friday starts at a slow drift. I flit in and out of tents, catching morsels of The Temper Trap, Boy 8 Bit, Lykke Li and Major Lazer before settling on Efterklang. Alas, the Danes’ pop symphonies get lost in the tent, going some way to confirm my view of them as little more than pleasant background music. ABC fare better – punchy and fun, the Eighties pop icons on stage are at odds with the filthy weather outside. Thereafter, it’s up to two more reformed crowd-pullers – alt. rock heavyweights Dinosaur Jr. and techno boffins Orbital – to make the evening. They don’t quite. Dinosaur are bracingly loud and energetic in front of their massed amps, but the sound is muddy and some of the material stodgy. Then to Orbital. For an hour, an up-for-it crowd lose their shit to ‘Belfast’, ‘Satan’ and ‘Chime’, but the last half hour drags interminably. They go through the motions, and I slope off to my sleeping bag.

Saturday is the pick. Canadian folk-popsters Ohbijou ease me in before The xx arrive in the Electric Arena. It’s too widescreen a venue for their sultry, intimate sound, but they pull it off by playing those glorious songs to perfection. Later, Jape disappoints and Bat For Lashes cancels, so it’s up to James Murphy and Pat Mahoney to kick-start a busy evening. That they do, with a freshly squeezed DJ set full of classic disco and house. Brian Wilson next, and one of the highlights of the weekend, the weirdly immodest legend running through a magical Beach Boys greatest hits set. From Californian sunshine to a Swedish haze, as The Field’s organic, hypnotic hybrid of techno, trance and Krautrock captivates a packed dance tent. Next, Chic elicit grins of pure joy with the gig of the weekend, Nile Rodgers packing in a host of his productions for Sister Sledge, Diana Ross and David Bowie alongside the likes of ‘I Want Your Love’, ‘Le Freak’ and ‘Good Times’. Moderat’s headline set starts disappointingly, but by the end the atmospherics, beats and rolling subbass make it a triumph of textured dub techno.

Sunday dawns swathed in mud. Two Door Cinema Club’s perky indie-pop lifts the spirits before The Sugarhill Gang’s farcical karaoke dampens them again. The Acorn’s Canuck charm and rustic indie-rock proves diverting, but Simian Mobile Disco are the main attraction this early in the day. James Ford points to his watch in mock surprise (it’s 4:30pm). It’s a slick, dancefloor-ready live set that thrills the glow-stick wielding kids. Later, we dip into The Big Pink in time for a thundering ‘Velvet’, then swoon to Fleet Foxes’ harmonies as they drift over the site. Royskopp are the band of the day, though, trumping SMD. Forget that chill-out tag, this is a festival dance gig par excellence – pop hits, dancefloor bangers and tons of energy. Next, a disaster, as Skream and Benga’s dubstep gig is thwarted by a blown PA, but that only benefits the safe hands of Erol Alkan. He keeps kids dancing, you know.

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AU60: Why? album review

November 17, 2009

Biggest disappointment of the year, hands down. 😦 It does, however, contain one of my favourite songs of 2009 in ‘This Blackest Purse’. Give it a listen down at the bottom of the post.

WHY?
ESKIMO SNOW
TOMLAB

Forgive me for diving headlong into the first person here, but I wanted to love this record so much. Maybe too much. Why?’s last album Alopecia was my favourite of 2008 – it was pure perfection, full of charm, wit, intelligence, raw honesty, unforgettable lyrics and the best marriage of hip-hop grooves to slacker-pop songwriting since Odelay. So when I discovered that another record was to be plucked from the same sessions, my expectations for Eskimo Snow became unattainably high Or so it has proved, because unfortunately there are only a few songs here good enough to have made it onto Alopecia and that, while acknowledging that the two albums are strikingly different in style, mood and tone (Eskimo Snow is dark and introspective, almost an alt. country record), constitutes a real disappointment.

Yoni Wolf is incapable of writing poor lyrics and his unique style, heavy on arresting imagery and dextrous wordplay, is fully intact here, but for large parts the songs are not. In deciding which ones went where, Wolf appears to have overplayed his hand, overloading Alopecia with his best stuff. It’s not all bad news, mind you, because penultimate song ‘This Blackest Purse’ is gorgeous, affecting and one of Wolf’s best, while bookends ‘These Hands’ and the title track are almost painfully tender and ‘One Rose’ and ‘Against Me’ have much to recommend them. But although the two albums share the same genes, it’s clear which one is the black sheep of the family.

6/10

DOWNLOAD: ‘THIS BLACKEST PURSE’, ‘THESE HANDS’, ‘ONE ROSE’
FOR FANS: SILVER JEWS, BONNIE ‘PRINCE’ BILLY, GRANDADDY.

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AU60: Lightning Bolt album review

November 17, 2009

LIGHTNING BOLT
EARTHLY DELIGHTS
LOAD

I think we all know what to expect from Lightning Bolt by now, and their formula of bass + drums + extreme volume – subtlety has barely changed one iota on this, their fifth album. As usual, the two Brians from Providence, Rhode Island spend a brisk 50 minutes attempting to kick the shite out of you, the listener, with satisfyingly brutal results. It is possible, though, that the band peaked with their last two albums, Wonderful Rainbow and Hypermagic Mountain, especially the latter, because as an overall experience, Earthly Delights is marginally less thrilling. But there’s not a lot in it.

Of interest to the hardcore are the few interesting new ideas scattered about, like the weirdly country-ish twang to ‘Funny Farm’, the sludgy, stoner-metal feel of ‘Nation of Boar’ and ‘Colossus’ and the positively jaunty (these things are relative) ‘The Sublime Freak’, which rejoices in some unusually playful drumming – i.e. not completely bludgeoning – from Brian Chippendale. The main selling point, however, is the monstrous 12-minute closer ‘Transmissionary’, which is utterly breathtaking in its audacity and sheer sustained power. It will grind your face to dust. In essence, the message here is that if you like the band and want more, you’ll be delighted. If you’ve never heard Lightning Bolt but you’re partial to a bit of ear-splitting insanity, start with Wonderful Rainbow or Hypermagic Mountain. The rest of you, move along now and leave the rest of us to our deafening fun.

7/10

DOWNLOAD: ‘TRANSMISSIONARY’, ‘COLOSSUS’, ‘SOUND GUARDIANS’.
FOR FANS OF: HELLA, BORIS, BLACK SABBATH.

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AU60: Girls album review

November 17, 2009

This was the lead album review in this issue, superbly illustrated by the excellent Mark Reihill. Seriously talented dude – he’s doing all the lead reviews now and the section is all the better for it.

GIRLS
ALBUM
FANTASYTRASHCAN/TURNSTILE

By now, you may well be familiar with the backstory of this San Fran duo (and if not, get thee to our Incoming piece on p. 19), but while it’s a ripping – and harrowing – yarn indeed, it doesn’t deserve to cast too large a shadow over the music on this splendid debut, already dubbed “a lo-fi Pet Sounds” by The Guardian. The pair are led by one Christopher Owens, a quintessential Californian longhair that bears ample resemblance to one of Wayne and Garth’s mates in Wayne’s World. He also has the faraway look of a man who inhabits a different world to the rest of us, which makes sense when you discover where he came from – a childhood stolen from him by the Children of God cult, before escaping to spend his late teens cultivating a fearsome drug habit in Texas, then being taken under the wing of a rich philanthropist who put him on the straight and narrow before he decamped to the bright lights of San Francisco, formed a band called Curls with his then-girlfriend, and then, when she left him, Girls with best bud and recording whiz Chet ‘JR’ White.

All of which would suggest that Owens and White are now fine, upstanding young men, perfect role models and pictures of sobriety. Not a bit of it. Their MySpace page lists the band’s official website as Drugs.com’s handy pills identifier, where you can input the code of whatever disco biscuit is in your clammy hand and instantly find out what’s in it. And in interviews, they’re not shy about their genuine love of prescription drugs, even going so far as to complain that they were stuck with ketamine during their first trip to the UK. Stoned slackers they are, and stoned slackers they sound, but to good effect.

Album wears its influences on its sleeve, jumping about from sun-kissed Californian pop to fuzz-drenched shoegaze and from Beach Boys-style surf to nervy nerd-rock, a comparison that’s helped no end by Owens’ Elvis Costello-style vocal tics – though he couldn’t look more different if he tried. Opening track ‘Lust For Life’ is a classic, happy-sad pop song in which Owens’ deals with the lack of a father figure in his childhood, declaring that “Now I’m just crazy and totally mad / Yeah, I’m just crazy and fucked in the head.” There are also references to the end of a relationship – probably the one that ended before Girls began – but it’s not a maudlin song. The melody is exquisite and the arrangement weightless, skipping along on a bed of tambourine and handclaps. The nostalgic, hedonistic video is a treat, too.

‘Laura’ and ‘Lauren-Marie’ are gorgeous, yearning love songs, but the very first single, the awkwardly titled ‘Hellhole Ratrace’ is the real jewel in the crown, a seven-minute epic that starts off at a gentle strum before exploding into life as a glorious, life-affirming hymn to sucking up your problems and getting on with enjoying life. Spiritualized, with their Royal Albert Hall-sized, narcotised take on gospel, loom large. Elsewhere, ‘Morning Light’ would sit well on The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart’s album with its frantic, soaring shoegaze, while ‘Big Bad Mean Motherfucker’ and ‘Headache’ are straight out of the early Sixties, the former a fuzzed-up ‘Surfin’ USA’ and the latter a rich croon, complete with wall of sound backing vocals.

Although defiantly lo-fi and a touch scattershot, the whole thing sounds gorgeous. White, whose brief it is to commit Owens’ songs to tape and silicon, has worked wonders – though Album is never quite sure what type of, er, album it wants to be, there is a measure of cohesion here. It sounds rich and aged, like it could scarcely have been made anywhere but San Francisco – all sunshine, warm breezes and the sweet smell of weed smoke. But if it does fall down, it’s in a few overlong songs and the constant flitting between genres. This is a debut and it sounds like it – the aesthetic and songwriting chops are there, but the vision and focus haven’t turned up yet. If they do, then we really could have a successor to Brian Wilson on our hands. Until then, enjoy a promising debut.

8/10

DOWNLOAD: ‘LUST FOR LIFE’, ‘HELLHOLE RATRACE’. ‘LAURA’.
FOR FANS OF: ELVIS COSTELLO, THE BEACH BOYS, THE PAINS OF BEING PURE AT HEART.

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AU60: Fuck Buttons feature

November 17, 2009

This was for a double-page feature in the mag. Andrew Hung was pleasant enough to talk to, but not the most garrulous of interviewees. I think it shows to an extent in the piece, but I hope it was successful anyway.

Back for another assault on our ears with a towering second album, erstwhile noise duo Fuck Buttons tell AU about working with Andrew Weatherall, ignoring the hate and the love, and why making music is nothing more than child’s play. Read the rest of this entry ?

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AU60: Strait Laces In The Studio piece

November 17, 2009

Lovely lads, these. Their debut single ‘Seconds Out’ is out now by the way on Bruised Fruit – check the latest issue of AU (Air on the cover) for my review of that.

IN THE STUDIO

STRAIT LACES

WHAT: TBC, possible EP
TITLE: TBC
ENGINEER: Joe Fields
STUDIO: Roundhouse Studios, London
TRACK TITLES: ‘Away To Escape’, ‘Kissing In The Reichstag’, ‘Where The Wolf Roam’, ‘Your Fearful Admirer’.
RELEASE DATE: Early 2010
LABEL: Bruised Fruit Records

At the start of September, fast-rising indie-rockers Strait Laces took their trusty Citroen Picasso off to England and played a couple of gigs in London. However, that was just the cherry on top – the main reason for the trip was that they won a free day’s recording at Roundhouse Studios in Camden, courtesy of EMI Records and presided over by an engineer who has worked with Paul McCartney, Cat Stevens and Placebo. On their return, David and Jonny from the band called in to the AU office to tell us about their fruitful day.

How did the session come about?

Jonny Creelman (bass) – Our manager, Jen [McCullough] from Bruised Fruit Promotions, entered us in a competition online and kind of forgot about it. One day Dave got a call from her and she explained that we’d won this competition for a day’s recording in Roundhouse Studios in Camden. It was a big surprise – doubly surprising because we didn’t even know we were in the competition!

David Hanna (vocals, guitar) – Demos were sent in and they picked 30 bands, so each band got a day in the studio.

Had you been planning to go into the studio before this opportunity came up?

David – From the start of July, we said that we’d take six weeks off to write and record demos and not play gigs – just to practise as much as we could. And we’d done that – it was only mid-August when we found out about this competition. We didn’t really plan on recording, but we were probably the most ready for recording that we’ve been as a band.

Were you able to do much in a day?

David – We decided to record all the instruments live and do the vocals afterwards. We went in and got four songs done – brand new ones that we didn’t even plan on recording – with vocals as well. We had an hour left at the end so we set up a video camera and recorded an older song live, so we’re going to sync the music to the video. We ran out of new stuff to record!

What are you planning to do with the songs you recorded over there?

David – There’s a few ideas floating around. We’re releasing a single on the second of November. We recorded it a year ago and we’re waiting for the right time to release it. The launch date is the Friday before [October 30] with The Cities We Captured. Then we started looking at releasing an EP in January/February. If we got back into the studio again, we’d have quite a lot of songs done, so it’s deciding whether to call it a four-track EP or put six or seven songs in. We’re not fully sure yet.

How was your time in London overall?

Jonny – We saw Amy Winehouse! She just walked past, I couldn’t believe it. I thought it was a lookalike. But the studio, it was such a good experience. The sound was amazing. It was so good. I can’t believe the quality we got from a live recording. I said to the engineer, ‘Would there be any advantage in us doing single tracks, because I can’t imagine it sounding better than this?’. It was above and beyond what I expected the day to be – getting five tracks done at that sort of quality, I was well chuffed.

RECORDING IN PROGRESS

They are bona fide rock legends and after spending the last couple of years touring all over the world to great effect, the mighty Devo are still working on a new album, which would be the first since 1990’s Smooth Noodle Maps. Indicating recently that they are interested in working with modern artists like Outkast, LCD Soundystem and Justice, frontman Mark Mothersbaugh told Rolling Stone, “”The new challenges… are interesting to us. With the business turned upside down like it’s been in the last couple years, we’re looking for ways to use new technology that wasn’t around when we did this the first time.” The album, working title Fresh, is expected some time next year.

Phil Selway is set to become the third member of Radiohead to release a solo album, following in the footsteps of Jonny Greenwood and Thom Yorke. The drummer has yet to confirm a name, release date or release method for the album, but we do know two things – he sings on it, and celebrated guests include Wilco members Glenn Kotche and Pat Sansone and solo artist Lisa Germano.

He’s only just released The Blueprint 3 – to huge sales but a lukewarm critical reception – but Jay-Z has already announced that he’s working on his next album, and he vows that it won’t hit the same commercial heights. Which seems unlikely, to be honest. Speaking to MTV.com, the Jigga man said, “My next album, which I’m working on now, is not gonna be a Number One album. That’s where I’m at right now. I wanna make the most experimental album I ever made.” Could go either way, really.

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