Monday, 31 May 2010

Charlie Barnes- Album Launch

Charlie Barnes and the Geekks
With Ellen Smith, Jo Rhead and Joby and the Roses
Bar 1:22, Huddersfield
Rating: Do I even need to bother?

Look at my dedication. I should be revising for my last exam, but instead here I am. After losing approximately half of our American contingent before we'd even left Manchester, we arrived in Huddersfield and realised that we didn't know where we were going. Classic case of "I thought you looked this fucking place up?" whilst standing outside the station ensues. A quick call to France later, and we were on our way (yes, we do have a French Connection- mystery!). By the time we got there, Joby and the Roses were already going. It was pretty much your standard well-executed folk guitar playing, albeit with absent violinist, so I don't know how much that would have added to their sound. I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that Mr. 'Joby' was the vocalist; this being the case, Mr Joby has an exceptional voice. Then again, he'd have to, to keep his own against Mr. Barnes. 

After Joby & co., we were in need of some food, so we popped off for some fast food and a pint at Spoons (got an excellent stout called Porter's; 6.5%, and a snip at £1.95, but I digress). By the time we got back, we'd somehow missed Jo Rhead, and Ellen Smith was getting herself set up on the stage. I'm a little pushed for time, so I'm going to resort to hackish music journalism here: her voice was reedy, perhaps sensual, and emotive. Right so I'm guessing you've basically got the sound in your head now. Her songs were good, but those without harmonica were perhaps a little texturally uniform- I seem to spend a lot of my life seeing acoustic acts, so I would say that use of dynamics is a rare skill, but a tremendous boon to the artist if it can be effectively employed. Never mind though, because Ellen's actually in a band called Ellen and the Escapades where this isn't an issue. Either way, it was good enough to make me part with cash for their new single-about the same amount as a pint, in fact- that's opportunity cost, people!

Finally, after a brief soundcheck (where Charlie slotted in the riff from Amplifier's 'Panzer'), the band were ready to go. Coming on-stage to 'A City Built', the band then played most of the new album, Geekk (as one would expect, really). My main preoccupation- which I think the rest of the room did not share- was staring fixedly at Charlie's drummer as he nailed every single beat perfectly, even though he was playing to a click track. My best friend is a drummer, so I'm pretty knowledgeable about the instrument, and really I couldn't tear my eyes away. However, I'm aware that nobody else but me probably gives two shits about drums, so I'd better say something about the rest of the band. From his 'electronic Jeff Buckley' solo show, Charlie and the Geekks have transformed; now, if crude comparisons are needed, they are kind of like Oceansize covering Thom Yorke's solo stuff. I think. 

As equally as from the music, I think the Oceansize comparison could well spring from the way Charlie now handles himself onstage. Gone is the shy boy-that-then-explodes-into-dramatic-performance, and instead we're confronted with Charlie the frontman. Guitar at about the same height as Mike Vennart, he even does most of his singing standing on one leg; but I might be the only one that's noticed this. Whatever, it's a confident, even aggressive delivery that's unfamiliar to those that have seen him before. Making a point of playing guitar on 'Degas Dancer' and 'This Boy Blind' paints them in a whole new light than the album versions, and for 'Snakes, Ladders and Aeroplanes' the distorted screaming is done by a guy wading into the audience- it really is a completely different atmosphere. Obviously, my favourites were always going to be 'Geekk' and 'Final Call', but in all fairness there was a remarkably high standard throughout, and Charlie ends his set on a stool playing his guitar behind his head. Fantastic. 

Coming on for an encore, Charlie returns alone and plays 'Bedroom'. Having earlier thanked Amplifier for all their help over the past year (I notice a grinning Neil Mahoney over one shoulder), all that remains is a dedication to his late mother. After throwing the mic across the stage, Charlie strolls offstage, hopefully confident that a new chapter in his musical career has begun.One of the lads observed that his voice is less at the head of proceedings than before, but the band more than makes up for it; there's a new drive, depth and power here that could just take them all the way.

Nights like tonight are what music is all about. Simple. 

Charlie and his band are headlining Let's Kill Music at Saki Bar on Wednesday the 9th of June in Manchester. It's £4otd or £3 w/flyer (on the Facebook page). The photos used here are (c) Hali Santama

Sunday, 30 May 2010

SVIIB are back...

School of Seven Bells
Disconnect from Desire
Full Time Hobby
Release Date: 13/7/2010
Rating: 5/5

Right, so I interviewed Ben Curtis for HV a few days ago- hence an advance copy of the album. I’m in no way objective about this band, so the HV review is going to be done by someone else- but that’s not going to stop me from scribbling a few words about it here. It’s so good I had to write a review. Simple as.

So what does it sound like? More structured, firstly- that’s the thing that strikes you immediately. It’s still all pretty oblique, but there’s more of a sensation that you are being led through passages of verses and choruses rather than drifting sounds and textures linked by recurring riffs or vocal lines. Ben told me that they’d written the music before playing it all together this time around, and it shows. At times the album gets bizarrely close to electro-pop at its most driving, but usually peters out to a more krautrock ambience before it gets too mainstreamy. This aside, on cuts like ‘I L U’, it’s exactly this potential crossover that could lead to a wider audience for this criminally underrated band.

On first listen, the standout tracks are clearly ‘Windstorm’, ‘Dust Devil’ and ‘Babelonia’, but after a couple, new tracks like ‘Dial’ (incidentally Ben’s favourite) 'Bye Bye Bye' and ‘Camarilla’ come to the fore. It’s worth also saying that the flow is never broken by an overlong shitter like ‘Semipiternal/Amaranth’, as happened on Alpinisms; in general, Disconnect from Desire, whilst somewhat different in tone is superior purely for its consistency. This does mean that there are no amazing highs like ‘Wired for Light’ or ‘My Cabal’- there are merely tracks that are slightly better or worse than the average. The much more pronounced use of synthesisers does go some way to creating perhaps an undesirable uniformity to the sound of many of the cuts, but usually this impression is removed just in time by the entry of Ben Curtis’ guitar, more subtly employed, and downplayed in importance compared to their older material.

Above all though, it’s great to hear that Alpinisms wasn’t a fluke, that these guys can still pen a decent tune, and that the sophomore sickness hasn’t touched them. It’s not got the sheer creativity and experimentalism of their first, but it is still unmistakably the sound of School of Seven Bells, and thus absolutely essential. If this is their ‘difficult’ second album, then I can’t wait to hear what their third sounds like!

SSD Night #1

Right, so a couple of days ago we had the first Superstar Destroyer night, Let's Kill Music, and we had a pretty full room- I count that as a success... (and we broke even!). In terms of bands, Adam Farnell had to pull out at the last moment due to unforseen circumstances, so Johnny stepped in and played a short set for us- highlights were 'Leaving Home' and 'Midnight Oil', as you might have guessed. Incidentally, if you want to see him Springsteen-style with a band, then come along on the 9th. 

Next was Super Star Destroyer. Uhm, I can't be objective because I play in that band, but even I know it's nonsense. Then again, I think it was a pretty good icebreaker to have a drunken American running around the crowd with a kaoss pad screaming into the mic in Japanese. Maybe. 

Third up were Black Market Serotonin- they turned out to be just as good live as they were on the record. If you need to know more, find the review of their album Something from Nothing on here (I think it's under March), because I could literally talk about this band all day. They were fucking ace, and seeing them gave off probably a similar vibe to seeing Muse in '99. In a fair world, the start of something beautiful.

Then we had Dune; kind of half indie rock, half post-rock, these guys knocked out a set of interesting tunes where one math-y guitar sat layered above tight drum riffs and synth textures, while delayed leads added to the atmosphere of the tracks. The vocals were a little hard to hear for the most part, veering between understated and matter-of-factly spoken word, but I think it's fair to see that everybody who turned up without having heard them before would have come away pleasantly surprised. It's going to be interesting to hear where they go from here, particularly with a few more gigs under their belt to hone and develop their sound. 

Finally, headlining the night were Metamusic. Timings had slipped and it being exam season the room was slowly emptying, so they didn't perhaps get the crowd they really deserved. That said, those that sacked off early may come to regret it. With 2009 being the year of the XX's breakthrough, bands like Metamusic, fusing electronica, progressive and trip hop are going to find themselves ahead of the curve in tastemaking, and I don't see any reason why this young band can't build themselves an audience here and elsewhere if they keep writing songs as good as the ones in their set tonight.
Phew. With a line-up like that it's no wonder the vibe was so good. I've long believed that Manchester is the coolest scene in the country, and it's on nights like tonight, where the most talented of the leftfield Manchester bands all share one bill that I feel vindicated in that belief.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Mr Sportsman
Good Morning Virtue EP
Rating: 3/5

The EP kicks off with ‘The Assassination of Eddie Barzoon’, which aside from having an out-of-tune lead in the chorus is a pretty cracking song. It’s somewhere in the ballpark of the festival end of Snow Patrol’s oeuvre, with a little 90s grunge settled in the attitude of the guitar playing.

Track two, ‘How Have You Been’ is very Without You I’m Nothing-era Placebo (albeit sans Brian Molko’s trademark whine), and becomes rather ‘anthemic’, I suppose, towards the end. A little unfocused then, perhaps, but a good track nonetheless; it keeps up the energy for what they clearly consider to be the centrepiece of the collection.

It’s clear by track three, ‘The Beauty, the Bold…’ that this band have one thing uniting all the tracks- ambition. They’ve unmistakably set their heart on the big-time, and these thick guitar tones, solid rhythms and vocal harmonies are meant to be chanted, not sung, and by thousands of people at that. I can’t say it’s really my thing, but I know plenty of people that want to hear this kind of slightly leftfield-leaning guitar driven indie rock.

My fear is that with electronic music increasingly being the norm, this young band have arrived a few years too late. Then again, AFI are still big and so are Feeder, so I guess guitar rock isn’t dead yet. Lucky for Mr Sportsman then, because if they got out there and got people listening to ‘The Beauty, the Bold…’ they might just find that crowd they are looking for.

 The Assassination Of Eddie Barzoon by Mr Sportsman

Monday, 24 May 2010

SSD Podcast #2

Right, so we're going to be recording the second Superstar Destroyer (or sprstr dstryr if you don't like vowels) podcast tomorrow evening, so if you haven't yet heard the first, listen to it here. We're going to be playing some more from the bands at our 28th May gig as well as some of the new Charlie Barnes ahead of his show for us on the 9th of June. 


Ok, so here's the first single by Super Star Destroyer. It's called 'Live in Japan'. They will be supporting Black Market Serotonin, Dune and Metamusic at Saki Bar on the 28th of May (Friday). Details are on Facebook here:!/event.php?eid=128034423873796&ref=ts

    Super Star Destroyer - Live in Japan (punk mix) by acelynham

"Awesome!" - Glyn Reynolds (Drums/Keys/Vocals in Nowhere Again)
"I love the way it's clipping, and clipping..." - Jack Matthias (nominated for an Ivor Novello for his work composing the Empire: Total War soundtrack)
3am, the Beautiful, the Bittersweet
Rating: 5/5

Well, of course it was going to get a five. Anybody who’s heard me wax lyrical about Vex or Septembre knows that I would probably give a bootleg recording of Terry Abbott taking a dump a 5/5, so. I’ve already owned most of these songs for about a year now, because I illegally downloaded them ages ago off their myspace (and in higher quality mp3s than the ones available for free now, I might add), but there are also some exciting new additions.

Right, first the boring stuff- Fears are an electronic band, the final incarnation of Terry Abbot’s musical project that began in the late 90s with Mushroom, and later, Vex Red. After his alt-rock, post-Vex outfit Septembre folded sometime back in 2006, Terry began playing solo shows armed with just a keyboard, some guitar pedals and his Macbook. This live electronics-based performance was thrilling, and it’s no coincidence that I often mention local(ish) hero Charlie Barnes in the same breath as Toluene. After a few shows, Terry clearly began to feel some limitations, and brought Sept’s (legendarily mental) drummer Sammy Lee into the fold on an electronic drumkit.

This new band, christened Fears, re-invigorated the Toluene material, and now, 3am, the Beautiful, the Bittersweet is the finished product from this collaboration. Sure, it was never going to be as good or as earth-shaking as their live performance, and yes, it would have been nice to see ‘kiss kiss bang bang’ on the tracklist, but a re-worked ‘Le Beau Monde’ makes up for that shortcoming nicely. Two previously unheard tracks make an appearance- ‘Pins & Needles’ and ‘As the End Begins’; they are both of consistent enough quality to keep the flow of the album intact, but they aren’t going to steal the show from old favourites such as ‘My My’ (featured on the Exploding in Sound 2009 comp), ‘River’ and ‘My English Heart’.

‘…And I’m Sorry’ even makes an appearance- some Septembre fans will recognise this cut- except it’s been given an electro-industrial makeover, to leave it (like the rest of the album) bearing some resemblance to Year Zero-era Nine Inch Nails. Terry’s voice, as ever, is heartbreakingly good, and the brilliantly realised instrumentation, multi-layered and texturally diverse, beats and vocals come together immediately in the best track on the album, ‘Start Fires’ (formerly ‘Non Participation’), which contains possibly my favourite lyric ever:

As a boy I dreamt of levitation
Highest hopes but lowest expectations

Just sublime. If artistry is to win out over processed club tunes out to strangle our brains, then this is the future of music. If not, it’s a hauntingly beautiful swan-song.

Two or three bands you should check out...

Meursault: the logical continuation of the musical legacy of the Beta Band. But mixed with other stuff. Other, interesting stuff, and lots of it. All happening at once.

The Joy Formidable: yes, I've once again had my head down a hole for the past two years or so. Check this out:

The Kites of San Quentin: a shoegazy/post-rocky Mancunian answer to Portishead and Team Sleep (you can even download the files to remix one of their tracks!):

Sunday, 23 May 2010

The Pineapple Thief - 3000 Days

Ok, so I didn't get around to reviewing the Fears album yet, but I will. In the meantime, here's an album track gem from the new Pineapple Thief album that I reviewed yesterday. If you like it, go and buy the album. If you need more convincing, you can find 'Show A Little Love' in the most recent Kscope podcast, and the video for 'Nothing at Best' is here:

Anyway, hope you enjoy it. 

  The Pineapple Thief - 3000 Days by acelynham

I want to point out here that I don't own this track, that it's (c) Kscope Records 2010, written by Bruce Soord and is track eight on Someone Here is Missing. If you like it, buy the album!

Saturday, 22 May 2010

The Pineapple Thief
Someone Here is Missing
Kscope Records
Rating: 4.5/5

Having only recently discovered The Pineapple Thief through the (excellent) Kscope podcasts, I had no idea what to expect from their new LP. With only ‘Nothing at Best’, the opener, to go by, I was expecting an album of Vex Red electronica with touches of Porcupine Tree- progressive, shades of Radiohead or Muse and a few long instrumental sections.

Of course, it doesn’t sound like that. In fact, it kind of sounds like what I imagine Porcupine Tree would sound like if they’d started in 1999 instead of 1989 (or thereabouts)- and that isn’t just because Bruce Soord’s voice bears some resemblance to Steven Wilson’s. The reason Porcupine Tree have finally (rightly) taken the mantle of kings of modern progressive is because they spent ten years absorbing and synthesising contemporary music influences- the music of the 90s, in other words, with their original influences- psych and prog, presumably.

The Pineapple Thief sound like they’ve grown up with Pink Floyd and Nirvana rather than Pink Floyd and King Crimson- rather than sounding like they’ve absorbed from their surroundings, they sound like they were already kind of there, and have simply taken some time to hone their big ideas into the right package. Sure, there are some octave chords and post-2000 Massive Attack moments; I would be surprised if one of them didn’t own a copy of Team Sleep, but I guess what I’m trying to say is that by being more urgent, aggressive, and perhaps a handful of years more contemporary, they sound like that most rare of musical entities- a young progressive rock band. More than that, they are really talented too. And accessible. Progressive? Accessible? “Surely not!” I hear you cry, but believe me, if you can’t get into Someone Here is Missing, you are never going to get leftfield guitar music.

So a quick look at the tracks then: ‘Nothing at Best’ is hands down the best song on display here. It’s so good I could talk about it all day, so go and find it and have a listen. ‘Wake Up the Dead’, from a ponderous bit of strange percussion and synth bass suddenly explodes into a maelstrom of ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ mid-career frantic Muse chord-work, while ‘Preparation for Meltdown’ effortlessly moves from post-rock breakdown to Vex industrial grunge crescendo and back again, before closing with a Now Here is Nowhere-era TSM outro. After the intensity of the opening four tracks, the acoustic ballad ‘Barely Breathing’ seems ill-placed, but soon TPT are playing to their strengths again with ‘Show a Little Love’, ‘Someone Here is Missing’, and ‘3000 Days’, the second best cut on the album. Oddly enough, the ‘chorus’ (I suppose) figure reminds me of a similar repeated section in label-mates North Atlantic Oscillation’s ‘Alexanderplatz’. Who cares. It’s bloody cool, and the swooping descent is a rush not unlike the timeless chorus of the Pumpkins’ ‘Tonight, Tonight’; breathlessly exciting and cinematically epic.

The album closes on an acoustic reworking of ‘Nothing at Best’. When I first saw this, I couldn’t believe it- album consistency gone! Why didn’t they end it on obligatory 9-minute workout ‘So We Row’? Why did I buy the Limited Edition? (Etc.) When I actually got around to it however, I discovered a tasteful version of the track that works to bookend the album much in the same way as ‘Emergency Contraception Blues’ and acoustic version ‘The Giantess’ do on the first Bombay Bicycle Club album. Fantastic.

At its best, this is music to fall in love to; dramatic, evocative and emotive. At its worst (very occasionally, I might add), it’s plodding and repetitive, blighted by trappings of modern prog; lacking clear melody and either verging on metal or sub-Sonic Youth atonal musings. Between the two extremes, it’s still an album to fall in love with.

Friday, 21 May 2010

The Pineapple Thief's new album, Someone Here is Missing arrived in my post-box this morning. After two listens, I thought it was disappointingly flat, and that nothing on it matched the sheer power and vitriolic swagger of 'Nothing at Best', the opener. After about seven listens, I think I've changed my mind. In fact, I suspect that I love it. Very much. Either way, I think I'd better listen a few more times before I review it. 

Also, I need to buy a new copy of Amplifier by Amplifier, because I gave my copy away to Jake. I miss that album.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Charlie Barnes - Geekk Review

I've lost the jpeg file Charlie sent me of the album cover, so that picture will have to do. Charlie's album launch is coming up soon- 30th May, in fact, and at his last gig he was kind enough to pass me an advance copy of it to review. I did my thing, and the review is now here for you to read:


Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Be afraid, be very afraid… the return of Fears

After the indefinite hiatus of his post- Vex Red project, Septembre, lapsed into a de facto breakup, fans of Terry Abbott’s musical vision were cast adrift until- nearly a year later- his idle electronic solo project Toluene resurfaced. Bringing on board drummer Sammy Lee from Septembre on electronic percussion, and rebranding themselves ‘Fears’, the duo played a number of low-key dates, thrashing out melodic industrial music with aggressive drumming and hauntingly perfect vocal melodies. Then, as quickly as they had arrived, they were gone. A number of demos floated around on Myspace, and the band were featured on an Exploding in Sound compilation, but news dried up. Supposedly Terry moved back from London to his native Aldershot. After ten years of musical brilliance and experimentation, it seemed he had finally thrown in the towel.

Imagine my surprise then when I woke up this morning to be confronted by a short url in my email inbox from the friend that first introduced me to Vex. I clicked it, and there it was, 3am, the Beautiful, the Bittersweet; the album I’ve been waiting for in vain for almost three years. So Fears are back, but for how long? Live, they are a near-unstoppable force, and while they were ahead of their time in 2007, now there’s actually a scene waiting to receive them, and maybe their luck could turn around. I hope so, but failing that, I’d settle simply for a chance to see them live again.

You can find the album here:

For more information on Fears, try here:

When I've got some time, I'll do a review of the album as well.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Old Stuff...

Thought I'd post a couple of Moho gigs I did for HV a while back. Both were ace!

Er, I've also posted the full text for the Frank Turner interview. Anybody that saw it in HV can probably see right away how much Frank actually said when comparing the two versions... the one here is probably a thousand words (of his) heavier than the published one. Phew!

Also, the Charlie Barnes album happens to be ace. Review on HV coming soon.

If you're bored (or even if you're not), you should listen to this:

That is all. 
J. Mascis and the Fog
W/ Dead Confederate and Midwich Cuckoos
Moho Live 7/12/2009
Rating: 5/5

Perhaps surprisingly given the headline act tonight, possibly the oldest band of the lot is the opener, Midwich Cuckoos. As they worked their way through a fun and reasonably lively set, I couldn’t help thinking they had arrived about twenty years too late (not that this has ever stopped the legions of Stone Roses/James/Oasis imitators in Manchester). Their familiar early 90s sound reminded me of the first James albums, and when they announced “thanks, this is the one year anniversary of our reunion after eighteen years” my brain quickly did the maths: 18+1… aha.

After an excruciatingly long interval, the guys from Dead Confederate took the stage. It is fair to say that I’ve been looking forward to this set for quite some time, and I was definitely not let down. Hardy Morris’ vocals were initially a little too quiet, but once he hit his stride (just in time for single ‘The Rat’), the band’s sound finally took off.

In spite of the energy with which they played, it was at some times clear that solid stage presence aside they are a lot less melodic live than on the record. Perhaps this is something attributable to their recent tour with A Place to Bury Strangers, or maybe it’s a conscious sacrifice to the God of Raw Power. The lead guitar parts were often a bit muddy and indistinct, though I suspect this was more to do with the venue’s sound system and rented amps than Walker’s fretting. After storming through a longer number and rockers ‘Goner’ as well as highlight ‘Heavy Petting’ (“HEEEEAAAAAVVVVVYYYYYY… PETTINGGGGGG!!” screeches Hardy to introduce the tune), DC were done, and few fans heavier into the bargain.
With a working knowledge of Dinosaur Jr., but wholly ignorant of his post-Dino career, I didn’t know what to expect from J. Mascis. After seeing Joe Lally a couple of weeks ago, I was sort of prepared for something a little bit obscene and ‘experimental’. No matter, I can dig, but if I’m in for an hour of feedback, how do DC fit into this line up?

The answer, of course, is that J. Mascis and the Fog actually play highly melodic classic rock-influenced pieces that are, to my ear, almost Pearl Jam-like at times. A poor comparison, but what I mean to say is that the proto-grunge fuzz is still there. So why five out of five then?

In the three interviews I’ve done, each time I’ve asked ‘what was the best show you’ve ever played?’ and only once got a straight answer. I’m beginning to think that a great show is not only at the audience’s discretion, but entirely based on their perception. Like a record, a show is more about the listener than the band. Consequently, whether he knew it or not, J. Mascis was putting on the show of his life. I can’t quite explain why it was so earth-shatteringly brilliant. The music was at times very simple, primary chord based fare; the lyrics were universal and hit the standard bases of girls, love and rock n’ roll, but somehow it was all so much more than the sum of its parts. For me, there was a nostalgic quality to the music even though I’d never heard any of it before. It was honest and LOUD, and the long solos were played with such an incredible grasp of melody that they were utterly transcendent. Their music gave you the feeling that ‘everything is going to be all right’, something I don’t think I’ve felt since I saw The Flaming Lips three years ago. They were what Lester Bangs called “righteous”, a quality that derives from being “informed of hope” rather than “merely sprawling in the muck yodelling about what a drag everything is.” Somehow what the Fog managed to do was capture what Joe Lally called the “link to the infinite” that reminds us why music is the greatest thing around. Another night they might not have, so that’s why I’m glad I was there. 

A Place to Bury Strangers
With Sad Day for Puppets & Japandroids
Moho Live, 14/11/2009
Rating: 4/5

After what can only be described as a nightmare of public transport, rain and a mix up over the time of Doors (Six PM? What?), I arrived at Moho Live for a night of post-rockin’, shoegazin’ noise pop fun. With two weeks’ anticipation behind me, I bound down the stairs to the box office. “High Voltage? You’ve missed Japandroids, mate.” Oops. Consequently, I can’t comment on their set. What I can say is that you should go and listen to their debut, Post-Nothing, and then when they next visit these isles I’ll see you in the crowd.

So, Sad Day for Puppets then. I’m going to begin by pulling the rug out from under the rest of my review and say that the rating above is almost entirely for them. Opening with a new song, they barrelled through a set that took in ‘Last Night’ early on before going out with a bomb- ‘Mother’s Tears’, ‘Marble Gods’ and highlight ‘Shiny Teeth and Sharpened Claws.’ I found myself in the last song singing along childishly to the refrain of “lion’s head and lion’s paws/ shiny teeth and sharpened claws”, absolutely lost in the music. Anna Eklund’s vocals cut through effortlessly, though her fragile stage presence was emphasised by the guitarists dancing around and the bassist doing Pete Townshend impressions, flailing his arm in wild circles. In between songs, there was minimal banter but a lot of smiling, and a nice ‘thank you’ from the bassist, Alex Svenson-Metes. Their set was over all too soon, and I hope to see that the next time they grace our fair city, it will be as the headline act. After they had finished I met Anna, and it was refreshing to see how much she clearly appreciated the few compliments my friend and I paid her band.

Now, contrary to what you have heard, A Place to Bury Strangers are not the loudest live band around. Indeed, they are not even the loudest in New York City, as many claim. Both of these titles rightly belong to The Secret Machines. The difference between the two is where TSM’s debut Now Here Is Nowhere was bone crushingly loud live, at least it was melodic. A Place to Bury Strangers aren’t. Or maybe they are, and I’m an idiot. The thing is, for their entire set I stood there and wondered whether they were geniuses and I was the philistine, or whether it was the other way around. I was convinced that I was missing something, but how? Shoegaze is my genre! I play it in a band, I even wear a Sonic Cathedral ‘Shoegazer’ badge on my guitar strap for chrissakes! This is the one genre I should be qualified to assess on its merits, and yet I was dumfounded. So what to say about APtBS? They play songs that are clearly influenced by Sonic Youth, Fugazi, and Joy Division along with the classic Creation bands (My Bloody Valentine et al) and their guitarist plays a Fender Jaguar (this should tell you a lot) while staring at his feet (ditto). I want to describe them as the anti-Interpol, as both bands have taken the Joy Division sound and filtered it through completely different and opposite sets of influences. Until the fifth song in, when inexplicably they play a song whose main riff sounds exactly like RHCP’s ‘Suck My Kiss’, they just sound like a wall of guitar noise set to Joy Division-style drums. In their last song, it does all rather come together, but their set has been too self-indulgent and unmemorable. At the end of the day, this is shoegaze music for people that are ignorant of the other bands in the genre, least of all the recent emergence of young bands like Kyte and School of Seven Bells that have revitalised it.
“If Dylan can get writer’s block, then so can I”
The Confessions of Frank Turner

Before his slot at the Academy, the largest show he’s ever played, HV were fortunate enough to catch up with Frank Turner. He strolls tiredly into the room, soft drink in hand, and admits that after a morning of interviews he’s exhausted. It’s not long however before the conversation slips into a comfortable discourse, and Frank’s answers tell of a sharp intelligence coupled with a willingness to voice his opinions honestly, however brutally so. Having said that, what would you expect from a man who finished his third year History Dissertation while on tour with Million Dead in Europe?

HV: What would you say are your biggest influences, musical or otherwise?
FT: I grew up with punk rock. That kind of informs everything I do, there’s no escaping that. In recent years it’s the Big Three: Springsteen, Neil Young and Dylan. In the whole folk-rock, singer- songwriter territory they are inescapable.

HV: Your current set-up is very different from Million Dead, even with the band backing you- how does it compare?
FT: It is very different. When Million Dead broke up I decided I didn’t want to be in a band anymore. The intermeshing politics in Million Dead were fucking ridiculous. I played on my own for eighteen months to set the groundwork for what happens now… my band now is a dictatorship, not a democracy. I’d like it to be a constant, like the E-Street Band. I want people to know the names of Ben Lloyd, Matt Nasir, Nigel Powell and Tarrant Anderson as well as mine. Those are my boys. In Million Dead we were wide-eyed idealists, and I think we were probably dickheads… I can’t believe I just said that!

HV: Can you remember the best show you’ve ever played?

Frank pauses, momentarily lost in thought, so I try to prompt him: “was it with your first band? Like, your first ever gig?”

FT: Ha, no it wasn’t that… with Kneejerk I remember the first show I ever played that people sang along to words that I’d written. That was in Manchester actually, at some tiny practice rooms- it really blew me away. Tonight’s the biggest show I’ve ever headlined… before the London show that is. The other week I played in New Jersey to three hundred people who knew all the words to my songs. It’s a weird feeling being that far away and getting that reaction.

HV: What are your plans for after this tour?
FT: Europe after the UK, then the West Coast of the US, then Australia and New Zealand. After that, a ten-day tour of China. I really don’t know what to expect from that… then it’s festival season. My tour schedule runs through to February next year.

Frank explains that he’s writing his new album for the end of this year, and that he’s also planning an album of traditional English folk songs. He’s also writing a book; explaining, “I’m coming up to my thousandth solo show,” he’s choosing a hundred entries in his tour diary to turn into a consistent narrative of his life on the road thus far. I ask him, is he sure he’s keeping himself busy enough?

FT: I’m a workaholic. I’m haunted by the idea that my enthusiasm or my songwriting will dry up. If Dylan can get writer’s block, then so can I.

HV: What do you think of the current musical climate? For that matter, as someone who’s very involved in the punk scene, any thoughts on that? The US and UK scenes are very different…
FT: I don’t know and I don’t really care. I don’t care about scenes. It’s always struck me as a rubbish reason to like a band, because they came from a certain town. I’m still working my way through the Gram Parsons bootlegs.

He goes on to mention Frightened Rabbit and Gallows as favourites, as well as expressing admiration for Craig Finn (of The Hold Steady), Aiden Moffatt (Arab Strap) and John le Sampson (The Weaker Thans) as lyricists. He confesses that he’s not familiar with Andrew Jackson Jihad although he’s been recommended them several times.

HV: What is your view on illegal downloading? Do you think downloading helps or hinders musicians?

Ok, so I’m going to pause here and observe that this question provoked a nearly half-hour discussion. I’ll set it up by my comment that Dead Confederate had come out in favour of downloading in an earlier interview of mine.

FT: They have the luxury of saying that. They are paid by a label. I’m on an independent, and I have less money than when I was a student. As it is I work as hard as I do and I live with my mum. I’m playing to 2,400 people tonight and I can’t even afford a flat. There’s a short-term and a long-term. As long as record companies rely on record sales then the artist is getting fucked. We’re rapidly reaching a time when all music will be free. I’m not necessarily saying that’s bad… but lots of people work hard in this industry… other things need to change or two things will happen: less music will be made and it will be of a lower quality.

Frank refutes my assessment that Radiohead did well off their last album, “nobody paid for it; why do you think they buckled and released it on CD?” I ask about The Crimea’s free album- pointing out it notched up 120,000 individual downloads for a cult band, “exactly, I know those guys. Do you see them touring off it?”

FT: We’re in an attention-deficit market. People only care about singles and the record companies have been forced into an economic position which focuses on the hit debut record. Neil Young didn’t come into his own for a couple of albums; Kevin Shields hates playing live. Neither Young nor My Bloody Valentine could exist today.

I point to the growth of niche labels to allow the emergence, for example of a new shoegazing scene:

FT: Sure, but those don’t sell enough that the bands can live off it. If you got a record out in the 70s, people would buy it. These days, it’s about getting heard amongst the noise. Madonna’s taken a step that’s ahead of the curve by signing to Live Nation rather than a label- now her records only act to promote her tours. The bottom line is that this is a business. If people are consuming music then they need to contribute financially. The ‘I’m fucking the man’ attitude is wrong; it’s just a rationalisation for stealing. If you download my album, you aren’t fucking David Geffen, you’re fucking me and my friends who run the label with me.

After that passionate discussion, I decide to close with something I hope he feels equally passionate about.

HV: What do you love about music?
FT: I don’t know. It’s so completely infused in my life. It sounds pretentious, but I can’t imagine my life without this much music in it… it’s the context for everything. I just fucking love to play guitar and sing. It’s the coolest thing in my life and I hope nothing ever comes between me and that. It’s a fucking joy. My life would be fucking empty without it.

Frank Turner is on tour for the foreseeable future. His newest album, Poetry of the Deed is out now.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Last night...

I was at Charlie Barnes's last ever solo performance. It was great. I will write about it later. First I have to go to a seminar and then get some flyers printed for the 28th.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

One of life's little ironies...

Although Blur's drummer Dave Rowntree stood as a Labour Candidate in the General election this time around, Alex James (Blur's bassist) apparently had David Cameron as a guest at his birthday party. Oh well. I'm just going to quote the lyrics to 'Charmless Man' from The Great Escape verbatim: they describe Cameron perfectly (and also why I intensely, intensely dislike the man).

I met him in a crowded room
Where people go to drink away their gloom
He sat me down and so began
The story of a charmless man
Educated the expensive way
He knows his claret from his beaujolais
I think he'd like to have been Ronnie Kray
But then nature didn't make him that way

He thinks his educated airs

Those family shares
Will protect him

That you will respect him
He moves in circles of friends who just pretend that they like him
He does the same to them 

And when you put it all together
There's the model of a charmless man

He knows the swingers and their cavalry

Says he can get in anywhere for free
I began to go a little cross eyed
And from this charmless man I just had to hide

He talks at speed 

He gets nose bleeds
He doesn't see his days are tumbling 

Down upon him
Yet he tries so hard to please 

He's just so keen for you to listen
But no-one is listening 

And when you put it all together
There's the model of a charmless man

He thinks his educated airs

Those family shares
Will protect him

That you will respect him
Yet he tries so hard to please 

He's just so keen for you to listen
But no-one is listening 

And when you put it all together
There's the model of a charmless man

That's the last thing on here you'll see about the election, because although I wear my politics on my sleeve, five years of Conservative government is too fucking depressing to mention more than once. 

From the poster in our lounge: "if you vote me in, I will become more annoying than you can possibly imagine." Charmless man indeed. 

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

How Much Do You Suck?

Around about the mid-point of this decade just passed, the Jeevas, (the band formerly known as Kula Shaker), put out their second album, entitled Cowboys and Indians. On it, there’s an unlikely single called ‘How Much Do You Suck?’, a protest song about the Iraq war. It’s frankly lyrically retarded, but over time I’ve come to appreciate it more and more.

At the time of the war, two million odd-people marched in London against the proposed invasion, and Tony Blair allegedly justified himself in private by commenting that 58 million people were not marching. In the context of this level of callousness and mistreatment of the electorate there really wasn’t an alternative but going straight to your Rage Against the Machine and getting fucking angry.

By the time I write this, however, it’s less of a bitter taste in the mouth. “Sometimes ‘I told you so’ isn’t enough” said Will Smith in I, Robot (a film I watched last night, as it happens), and that’s how I feel about the war now. We’ve fucked up the public finances, undermined the UN, ruined our credibility in Europe, looked like the retarded hunchback to the caricature Frankenstein (America, and N.B. I have read Frankenstein, and know there’s no hunchback. C’mon, artistic licence… anyway) and sent a lot of young men to their deaths. It’s no longer a case for anger (though perhaps it should be), but rather for sadness. We’re in an election where all parties are talking about the public debt, and yet only one- the Liberal Democrats- is talking about disarmament on any substantial level. It’s only very recently that the bulk of our forces finally left Iraq and there are still weekly carbombings and massacres. No wonder people have switched off after so long.

So anyway, the Jeevas. The point is that in as childish a refrain as “how much do you suck/do you suck/do you suck/to lose a popularity contest with Saddam Hussein/yeah, how much do you have to suck/to lose a popularity contest to Saddam Hussein” the conflict is finally dealt with by a musician in terms fitting for just what a fuck-up it was. Even a five-year old could have told you that there were no WMDs and that (my pet hate) there was no link between Al-Qaeda and Iraq until Saddam was removed. The whole war was a bunch of lies, the people that prosecuted it should be tried for war crimes, and it’s just sad (if inevitable) that nobody was able to stop the whole sorry mess from happening.

How much do you have to suck
To lose a popularity contest to Saddam Hussein
You’d have to be a sleaze
An oil-drilling fiend
How much do you suck?
Saddam Hussein, Saddam Hussein
Everybody knows that the man was insane
How much do you suck
How much do you have to suck
To lose a popularity contest to Saddam Hussein
Well nothing much has changed
There’s just some different names
Freedom for our people
They’re saying it again
But freedom always comes from the barrel of a gun
How much does it suck, does it suck?

Sometimes the simplest way is the best.

All roads lead to Grunge...

Ok, so I have this theory. I’ve done a fair few interviews now, and moreover around the music scene here in Manchester have come into contact with a lot of musicians and I’ve come to notice something: that most of the experimental musicians I meet still (when pushed) admit that their roots are in grunge rock, and it’s what they often fall back on when just listening to stuff at home.

Great, I hear you cry. So why is this relevant? Well, I have two or three ideas about how people have gone from grunge to the proverbial dark side of the moon. If you’re pissing your parents off with Nirvana one week, then is it really that big a stretch to move from there to say, cranking ‘Only Shallow’ by My Bloody Valentine at (ahem) 11 and seeing how much that pisses them off?

Aha, that not quite do it for you? Enter idea two: take the example of a song everybody’s heard: ‘Come As You Are’ off Nevermind: in the guitar solo, Kurt stamps on a chorus pedal and out comes this lush, crazy guitar tone. You really like that tone, you go out looking for it… you find it again in say, Deftones, or Perfect Circle, or Team Sleep (or, indeed, Ride) and from any one of those bands you can then veer off into art rock, progressive rock, trip-hop, or shoegazing. It won’t be long before you’re listening to Massive Attack, trust me.

Still not there? Option three: you like the ‘grunge sound’ and wonder where it came from. You go back a bit- Fugazi, Black Flag, Sonic Youth, Melvins, Dinosaur Jr., or (in the case of Smashing Pumpkins) stuff like The Cure, Jesus and Mary Chain or My Bloody Valentine. Going from these bands we’ve got the option of hardcore, post-hardcore, progressive, no-wave, drone, musique concrete, industrial, post-rock, stoner rock, shoegaze, noise-rock, goth rock, new-wave, math rock and (phew) psych rock.

All I know is that in Super Star Destroyer we have three main members- I’m a shoegazer, Tom is an indie kid who’s turned post-punk (think Japandroids etc.), and Jake is obsessed by the Flaming Lips. We decide to form a side project in SSD from all of our main bands, we get jamming, and what comes out? Mudhoney.

Your honour, I rest my case.