Archive for January, 2012

Wolf People / Diagonal, the Haunt, Brighton

January 20, 2012

For the unconverted, tonight’s show requires a leap of faith; an acceptance that classic, high church rock music still has something to say, stories to tell and an ability to generate an emotional response not based on nostalgia or a longing for eras past. That its codified ritual and romance, its melodic intricacies and primal rhythms are still relevant to our flat screen, hi-gloss, technologically mediated, post-everything 21st Century lives.

Diagonal have shed members and re-aligned their focus since their 2009 debut album, but they remain unashamed purveyors of early seventies-inspired prog rock, albeit shorn of its worst excesses- or perhaps they retain the excesses, the peaks, and lose the troughs between. Nick Whittaker’s saxophone may take lead in their mostly instrumental set, yet the key to the 5-piece Diagonal is their rhythm section, alternately thunderous and hypnotic like Tago Mago period Can, or tight and driving like Pink Floyd in full Formula One mode. Hard-edged yet complex, their final number even jumps the (increasingly arbitrary-seeming) 1977 watershed, evoking Television’s fractured guitar spirals before erupting into squalls of post-Pigbag punk-jazz noise.

Wolf People may also seem to have beamed in direct from 1972, but actually draw on a much older, timeless tradition, as tonight’s pounding re-invention of the courtly ballad ‘Banks of Sweet Dundee’ goes to show. But if the Edwardian revivalists largely remade British folk music as an emasculated embarrassment, then Wolf People give it back hips and a swinging cock, underpinning each electrified folk-rock arpeggio and high, yearning harmony with a driving riff and a hard funk groove. And though they can emulate Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin as well as anyone, these Bedford boys are far too nimble, clear-eyed and fleet-footed to descend into mere stoner-rock sludge.

Reclaiming the mixture of folk, blues and psychedelic experimentation that fed into the best 60s/70s rock doesn’t close Wolf Peoples’ minds to later developments either: the guitar duels on ‘Cotton Strands’ develop into a furious maelstrom that’s as much My Bloody Valentine as Jimi Hendrix, while ‘One by One from Dorney Reach’ betrays a youth spent listening as closely to the Stone Roses as Bert Jansch. But the new songs played tonight find them sounding increasingly like themselves, only more so: heavier riffs, more diaphanous melodies, dirtier beats, unmistakably Wolf People.

In going back to the earliest Brit-rock adventurers, like Peter Green and Jimmy Page, Wolf People have tapped into the essence of this high church rock music, and the secret of its enduring appeal. Its power is less to do with fashion, and more to do with being human; in thrall to grief and ecstasy, sexual longing and timeless mystery, power and beauty and the cross-rhythms of three guitars and a drum set trading ideas and phrases at close quarters. Wolf People do it well enough to make believers of us all.

 

 

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Albums of 2011- part one (10-1)

January 10, 2012

   

   

10: Bill Wells and Aidan Moffatt, Everything’s Getting Older

The former Arab Strap man teams up with the Glasgow indie scene’s favourite jazzer to make this masterpiece of mid-life reflection. Inevitably there are echoes of the Strap, and also prime-period Pulp in the way ordinary, everyday experiences are dissected and set to music, and the prosaic is made poetic in the process.

9: Baby Dee, Goes Down to Amsterdam Damn Damn

The sheer pleasure of hearing the full breadth of Dee’s repertoire, in a live setting with a band and a thunderous Steinway grand piano, could have got this double CD set even higher in my favourites of the year. Only my reservations about whether live albums really count, and my familiarity with many of the numbers on here, held it back to number nine.

8: William D Drake, The Rising of the Lights

There are moments when this album gets a tad too whimsical and precocious for my tastes, but it remains a beautiful, warm, intimate, enigmatic collection. And in ‘Me Fish Bring’ it contains possibly the finest single song I’ve heard all year.

7: Sarabeth Tucek, Get Well Soon

I was surprised to find myself rating this album so highly at the year’s end, but it’s true that every listen uncovers new nuances and fresh subtlety. In a soundbite: imagine if Neil Young had teamed up with Karen Carpenter to make the follow-up to On the Beach. A lonely, late-night classic.

6: Bill Callahan, Apocalypse

Beyond a couple of songs (‘Cold Blooded Old Times,’ ‘Dress Sexy at My Funeral’) I never really followed Bill Callahan’s career as Smog. Then I was stopped dead hearing this album playing in my local record shop. Then I was asked to review it (by the Quietus, natch). It’s a beauty; a deadpan, post-grunge Astral Weeks, no less. And like Astral Weeks, I still don’t know what it’s really all about, and don’t need to know, either.

5: Trembling Bells, The Constant Pageant

No longer content to be pigeonholed as an electric folk group in the Fairport / Pentangle mould, Trembling Bells explode in all directions on this glorious, dizzy, joyously melodic and catchy prog-pop-folk-rock confection. Also features probably the only mention ever of the West Yorkshire village of Mytholmroyd in a prog-metal anthem.

4: Wooden Shjips, West

The Shjips’ third album proper is their most dynamic and fully-realised yet: a loose concept album about death and rebirth masquerading as a loose concept album about San Francisco and California. That killer Neil Young inspired rising riff on ‘Home’ emphasises the distance between Wooden Shjips and Ripley Johnson’s other project, Moon Duo: once almost interchangable, it’s now clear that while the Duo make fabulous mutant rockabilly pop, the Shjips are a rock band to be reckoned with (see the Quietus for full review).

3: The Horrors, Skying

The style vultures and trendspotters watch eagerly; what will The Horrors sound like next? Are they goth? Are they krautrock? Is it their shoegaze album? Have they gone- gasp- baggy? Skying is all this and more, a veritable catwalk tribute through the golden years of British alternative music (say, 1977 to 1993- an extended eighties, basically). There are nods to everyone from the Psychedelic Furs to Suede, Simple Minds to My Bloody Valentine and more. By turns gloriously amateur and breathtakingly adept, and still hiding odd corners that reveal themselves fleetingly and for the first time on each listen, this album is far more than just flavour of the month. Still my favourite indie boy band, basically.

2: Puro Instinct, Headbangers on Ecstasy

A kind of feminine, American counterpart to Skying, this overlooked album just has the edge for me. There’s something altogether strange and magical about it: two young sisters from Texas taking the gothic Scottish post-punk pop of Strawberry Switchblade or early Altered Images and pulling it through a hazy shoegaze filter, with a little help from the esteemed Ariel Pink. Melodies like candy floss, echo-laden, unsophisticated harmonies, haunting, spiralling guitar solos; glass brittle yet gossamer soft. The term Dream Pop has never seemed so appropriate.

1: Arbouretum, The Gathering

And so my album of the year is this lumbering, monolithic slab of stoner folk-rock: if Richard Thompson had joined Black Sabbath, or if Loop had merged with My Dad is Dead. But the apocalyptic overtones of almost every song seemed entirely right for 2011’s lowering mood; those slow, uncoiling solos the right way to gradually release the tension. Stormclouds gather overhead, but beauty is never far away. The stars shine down on the burning city, and Arbouretum are heading for the border.

Albums of 2011- part four (20-11)

January 9, 2012

  

20: The Bent Moustache, Pastures New Seasons Turn

Anglo-Dutch ensemble led by the mighty Ajay Saggar (ex-Donkey, ex-Dandelion Adventure), deliver a jooyous and accomplished LP that sounds like a first rate John Peel radio show, with My Bloody Valentine and The Fall most prominent among the influences, but all splattered with trumpets, violins, distorted vocals, feedback and shonky rhythms. Top banana!

19: Tinariwen, Tassili

The dinner party dilletantes may feel they don’t need another Tinariwen LP in their lives, but their loss is our gain; this latest selection of mantric desert psych blues finds them adding brass sections, western guest musicians (Nels Cline, Tunde Adebimpe, Kyp Malone), and their first English language song, ‘Walla Illa’, a trippy chant that in my parallel universe of choice found them miming on Top of the Pops three weeks running.

18: BILL, Spielweise 2

Hans Joachim Irmler from Faust again, this time in collaboration with Can drummer Jaki Liebezeit, To Rococo Rot guitarist Robert Lippok, and world music expert Clive Bell. And it’s as good as you’d hope- classic krautrock meets contemporary German electronica, gamelan and Arabic grooves. BILL is a killer.

17: Moon Duo, Mazes

Not as strong as last year’s Escape, nor the ‘Horror Tour’ EP they released this Halloween (which might be my favourite thing of theirs so far), but Mazes will still conjure 2010/2011 in my ears when I listen back in whatever far-flung future I’m offered; echoing, claustrophobic, monotonous, magnificent.

16: Transept, TRSPT001

Straight outta Norwich like a turbo-charged Tangerine Dream, this debut album from the Transept duo marks them out as the new space-rock contenders. Took a while to grow on me- and alas, missed out on a review at the time as a result- but now its full glory stands apparent. Anyone who calls their record label Dronehenge has to be great, right? Right!

15: The Lowland Hundred, Adit

Both more accessible and less immediate than their stunning 2010 debut, Under Cambrian Sky, Adit finds the Aberystwyth duo experimenting with relatively conventional song structures, recalling the jazz-tinged melodies of Mark Hollis, Robert Wyatt and the mature Scott Walker. Paul Newland’s vocals, incidentally, are more than worthy of such esteemed comparisons. see The Quietus, again, for my full review.

14: Luke Haines, Nine and a half Psychedelic Meditations on British Wrestling of the 1970s and early 80s

Mr Haines’ continues his ever-deeper and more obsessive excavations through the rubble of a 1970s adolescence, this time with a creepy concept album of sorts, built around the likes of Kendo Nagasaki, Big Daddy, Rollerball Rocco and other half-remembered names from the time Tiswas inevitably cross-faded into World of Sport on a grey Saturday lunchtime. Whether this will mean much to anyone under the age of 40 is a moot point, but this is still a glorious folly, song intros referencing the music of the day as much as the lyrical nods to liver sausage sandwiches and Cry Baby Jim Breaks.

13: Cat’s Eyes, Cat’s Eyes

Faris Badwan often sounds like a young Marc Almond on this romantic, melancholy pocket symphony (just 28 minutes long), while Rachel Zeffira comes over like the lost Shangri-La, mascara running as she’s left behind in a haze of motorcycle fumes. Not just a pastiche, this is proper pop music that works on every level.

12: John Maus, We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves

Gloomy, melodramatic early eighties synth pop, re-imagined for the post-chillwave, hypnogogic pop set. We’re back in Berlin, waiting on an empty film lot in a long raincoat as the dry ice billows around our pegged Bowie pants. Vienna? Nope, means nothing to me.

11: Grimes, Halfaxa

Montreal’s Claire Boucher may have been influenced by Kate Bush and Siouxsie Sioux, but she goes further out than they ever could, deconstructing electronic pop into shards of melody, reflections without substance, endless echoes through endless symmetrical rooms. The twentieth century seems like a lifetime ago.

Albums of 2011- part three (30-21)

January 8, 2012

     

    

30: The Feelies, Here Before

Comfort listening: chugging, Velvet Underground guitars, tambourine, NY cool, understated, lovelorn melodies and scrungy solos. Curiously, I never really listened to the Feelies in their 70s glory years, and maybe that’s actually why this comeback sounds so fresh to me.

29: We Are Enfant Terrible, Explicit Pictures

Great French electro-pop; trashy, catchy, knowingly throwaway but inventively melodic, and surprisingly innovative and edgy, too. And that’s before you even listen to the (English) lyrics…

28: Flare Acoustic Arts League, Big Top / Encore

High quality, high melody/melancholy indie pop anthems from one of the voices on Magnetic Fields’ acclaimed 69 Love Songs. Sometimes sounds like Morrissey joined The Stranglers. Great version of the Psychedelic Furs’ ‘Merry-Go-Round’ too.

27: WATERS, Out in the Light

I was definitely unduly harsh in my Stool Pigeon review of this album, suggesting that it really fell apart after the excellent first couple of songs. Listening back now, I can’t think what I disliked about this grungey powerpop gem, like Sparklehorse dragging Cheap Trick through several hedges sideways (and not Bryan Adams as I may have previously suggested…)

26: Fairewell, Poor, Poor Grendel

A late contender for the list, this odd, dream-like album perhaps covered too many stylistic bases for its own good, starting off with Boo Radleys-esque melodic shoegaze and expanding outwards from there. Fairewell’s genius may still be sinking in.

25: Ramesses, Possessed by the Rise of Magick

One of two releases from Ramesses this year, and while the half-studio / half-live Chrome Pineal didn’t really do it for me, Possessed by the Rise of Magick quickly transcends its generic doom metal beginnings and moves towards territory both more melodic and adventurous; like Joy Division weighed down on the moons of Jupiter.

24: Eat Lights Become Lights, Autopia

See the Quietus for my full review of this heartfelt homage to all things krautrock and motorik: Neu!, Can, La Dusseldorf, Cluster and, especially, Kraftwerk are all present in this double LP’s every groove, but it never feels plagarised or second-hand; rather, a re-imagining of future days that never quite came into being.

23: White Hills, HP-1

The latest installment in WhiteHills’ epic odyssey of fuzzed-out spacerock doesn’t quite hit the heights of last year’s eponymous breakthrough record, but they’re still way ahead of most of their so-called peers, staking out new territory and leaving naught but scorched earth behind them. Droning synths and angry, anti-consumerist lyrics come even more to the fore amid the usual savage crunch of overdriven guitars.

22. Birdengine, The Crooked Mile

Dark, freakish, cabaret-folk-noir from Lawrie Joseph Tilbury, aka Birdengine, conjuring a unique, surreal universe from wax, callipers, shadows and string. See the Quietus for my full review, or better still, buy it now from our good friends at Bleeding Heart Recordings (no relation!)

21. Radiohead, The King of Limbs

Sourpuss Thom Yorke and his posh prog boy band ahead of White Hills and Birdengine in my end of year poll? I’m as surprised as you are, but this is Radiohead’s finest moment since Kid A. Again, I reviewed it for the Quietus, and was the only critic to suggest that it sounded more like John Martyn than James Blake, more krautfolk than dubstep. Even better with the addition of the two tracks (“Supercollider”, “The Butcher”) that they released after the event.

Albums of 2011- part two (40-31)

January 6, 2012

 

 

40: Damon and Naomi, False Beats and True Hearts

On which the pair update their post-Galaxie 500 dream pop template to incorporate more classic rock moves, fuzz and grind, with occasionally sublime results.

39: Low, C’Mon

Low do Low. C’mon.

38. Dark Captain, Dead Legs and Alibis

Dropping the ‘/Light Captain’ half of their name, Dark Captain more than hold their own next to the aforementioned indie legends. Harmony-laden folk-rock narcotics with a motorik pulse.

37. North Sea Radio Orchestra, I, A Moon

The North Sea Radio Orchestra’s strongest album to date, with acoustic krautrock segments added to their usual beguiling chamber orchestrals. This is also Craig Fortnam’s most personal release under the NSRO banner- search www.thestoolpigeon.co.uk for my interview with the NSRO leader on the subject of this album and its inspiration.

36. Julia Kent, The Green and Grey

Simple, classical cello instrumentals from a member of Antony’s Johnsons. Subtle and understated, you feel their absence acutely when the CD ends.

35. Baby Dee, Regifted Light

Another largely instrumental album in the classical tradition; another former associate of Antony and the Johnsons, for that matter. But Dee edges it on the strength of her songwriting and personality. “I want that pie…!”

34. Liz Green, O Devotion!

Manchester’s oddly old-fashioned folk chanteuse delivers her long-awaited debut album; spare, sweet, affecting and out of time.

33. The Coathangers, Larceny and Old Lace

All-girl lo-fi punk band from the states, whose sense of melody and sparsely experimental arrangements lift them above the pack. Like if the Lunachicks had gone in more of a Swell Maps / Subway Sect direction…

32. Maria and the Gay, Greatest Hits Volume One

More lo-fi punk rock, this time from Manchester’s answer to the Moldy Peaches. A pop sensibility worthy of the B-52s or the Go-Go’s underlies these scurvy council flat rants, the fanzine loneliness and the pritt-stick production values, and there’s an ace cover of Billy Idol’s ‘White Wedding’ to boot. Sent to me by Robert Lloyd of The Nightingales, which is nice.

31. Magazine, No Thyself

An ultimately disappointing comeback from one of all-time favourite bands still manages to be my 31st favourite of the year, and maybe not as bad as my Stool Pigeon review made it out to be. Worth it for the comedy-porno second track alone, this often descends into knowing self-parody and often sounds weirdly like the great lost Brighton band of the last decade, Celebricide. Still not a patch on Real Life, mind.

More to follow!

Albums of 2011- part one (50-41)

January 6, 2012

Okay. I know nobody gives a damn about these lists once January 1st has rolled past, but I’ve been giving this a lot of thought and a lot of re-listens, and this is my own personal Top 50 of 2011 for posterity. Of course, it’s based solely on what I happen to have heard; if your favourite, or many of the albums that have topped similar polls elsewhere, aren’t included, it’s probably not because I’ve dismissed it as crap, but that I just haven’t had a chance to listen to it (that means you, PJ Harvey). I get sent a lot of random stuff; some of it I love, some of it I don’t so much. Maybe half a dozen records on this list I specifically sought out and bought; the rest was just sent to me and maybe I woldn’t have ever come across it otherwise. Some I reviewed at the time; others I didn’t, and hopefully their inclusion here will go a tiny way towards making up for that. One or two I maybe reviewed too harshly at the time, and have gotten more into their particular charms since. The order is as correct as I could make it; sometimes, a cluster of records together are really all equally as good, and their positioning is somewhat random. And finally, as I said before, it’s a personal choice: cultural and sociological significance be damned, this is just what I enjoyed listening to.

 

50: The Memory Band, Oh My Days

Folk, pop, rock, soul- you can’t quite pin this CD down. And if at times it gets a bit too much like Morcheeba play The Wicker Man, then it’s redeemed by having the good taste to cover Sandy Denny, Graham Bond and that spooky ‘Come Wander with Me’ song from The Twilight Zone.

49: Delicate Steve, Wondervisions

Weird electro-tropicalia, or something. Unclassifiable. Intriguing.

48: Motorhead, The World is Yours

Angry, outlaw, hi-energy rock n’ roll, with gentleman Lemmy as some fiery, scorched earth, existentialist preacher; still vital, still resisting cartoon caricature and being safely filed away as a “national treasure.”

47: Luther Russell, The Invisible Audience

A sprawling, double album odyssey through 20th Century American music, from ragtime to rock n’ roll, blues to grunge and all points in between. Search www.thequietus.com for my full review at the time.

46: Bong, Beyond Ancient Space

Three mammoth, epic, heavy metal drone tracks: nothing much happens, but there’s the constant ominous suggestion that everything could explode at any moment. Pretty much sounds exactly like you’d expect from the title.

45: Ane Brun, It All Starts With One

A tad polite, yes, and half the tracks will probably end up selling luxury goods on TV adverts, and Jose Gonzales is on there for fuck’s sake, but something about this record got under my skin. Maybe it’s the voice, or the space in the production, the sparseness and reverb; whatever, it’s a keeper.

44: Rutman’s Steel Cello Ensemble: featuring Ginsberg, Hentz and Irmler

So there’s this 80-year old artist, right, and he’s built this massive fucking steel sail which he plays like a cello, and gets these old krautrockers (including Hans Joachim Irmler from Faust) to jam along on drums and wah-wah guitar and samples with the resulting drone. Of course it’s great.

43: Six Organs of Admittance, Asleep on the Floodplain

A step back, certainly, from last year’s stunning Luminous Night, but a new album from Ben Chasny’s Six Organs is always welcome. Business as usual: pastoral acoustic picking, flecks of psychedelic electricity, much loveliness and a spice of violent dischord.

42: Alex Monk, The Safety Machine

Another one I reviewed for the Quietus, if you want to check it out, but basically this is high-quality drone music that fuses electronic, synth-based soundscapes with modal acoustic guitar playing and even songs, with words and singing and everything. Ominous and engrossing.

41: Kreidler, Tank

Instrumental, post-industrial post-rock from Germany, that rocks. Not thrashy or noisy, this is motorik in a non-obvious way; hard-edged, dark, winding, propulsive, addictive.

 

Next chapter to follow soon!