Thursday, 27 October 2011

County Champion with Trojan Horse
Islington Mill, Salford
Thursday 20th October
Rating: 4/5

I'm sure by now everyone's tired of me periodically emerging from hibernation to pen words about Trojan Horse, but well, fuck off. Tonight on an incredible bill topped by Circles and Secret Chiefs 3 (who I was regrettably destined to miss) were County Champion and Trojan Horse. The latter - if you have ever read this blog before - you will know already, but the former may be somewhat more enigmatic. 

Well, without further ado let me lift the veil. As perhaps the more acute and tuned-in of you will have noticed, the picture is of Charlie Barnes and Ste Anderson from Charlie Barnes & the Geekks... and that's because County Champion is the new name for that very band. At 2000 Trees this year they effectively announced their arrival with a new set of tunes contributed to by every bandmember, and Charlie finally assumed the frontman role he'd hitherto never quite grown into. Out was glitch-pop and in was drop-D (though fear not, he will continue to perform that under his own name). 

Even though their set was blighted by technical difficulties, you know it's a good sign when Mike Vennart and Gambler from Oceansize turn up to see your first show, and with a setlist that included 'Nasty Bastard', '18' and 'Balloons', County Champion certainly played to their strengths. Their sound is a concise blend of math and progressive, shot through with a slight post-hardcore edge. It sounds, if I were to boil it down to a single song by another band, kind of like the heavier passages of 'Only Twin', off Frames. There's that same epic abandon, the sense of the vocals riding a wave of previously contained, but now unleashed energy.

After the totally brilliant Champion boys had shuffled back into the crowd, it was time for the 'Horse to kick off their second show in as many days. They've always been an exceptionally hard-working band, and these days it seems there's not a week that goes by without a slew of Trojan Horse gigs. As they grow in stature, I'm gradually becoming one of a number of familiar faces at their gigs, and lest it smack of me laying out my wares smugly for all to see, I've got to say that it feels great to have seen a band grow from being a completely underground entity to being a major force on a local scene. That it should be a band as capriciously brilliant as TH is just icing on the cake, really. Here's to Prog Nouveau. Vive la revolution!

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Steven Wilson - Grace For Drowning [Review]

Hello there, I'm not going to post it up here, but Kscope kindly sent me a copy of Grace and I reviewed it for HV here. If you use the little search box on this page, you'll also find an old review of Insurgentes, his last solo album.

In the meantime, here's 'Harmony Korine' from Insurgentes.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Mount Fabric
Hairy Wolf Records
Out Now
Rating: 3/5

Someone's listened to their Muse b-sides. So there's a new Mount Fabric EP, Threads, and this time they've apparently decided to ditch all of their excess influences, for the simple fact is this whole affair sounds exactly like either Muse or Radiohead.

Take track one, 'The Lightning Fork'; the pre-chorus is 'Sober' from Muse's Showbiz, and the chorus is 'Lucky' from Radiohead's Ok Computer. Now personally I'm going to forgive that, as I rather enjoy MF, but I can see a lot of people (even those not initially turned off by the Muse/Radiohead comparison) that will switch off after realising that.

Anyway, the former being true, 'Squelettes' is a guilty-pleasure of an upbeat number, 'ROC' the token ballad/atmospheric piece, and 'Cortisol' the more 'experimental' electronic track; think '13 Step'. Perhaps it sounds like I'm being a little unfair here, but let the record show that nowhere did I say these tracks were bad – they're actually all very good (with the exception of closer 'Fault', which is rather too close to '90s adult-oriented pop-rock for my taste) – but they aren't original, and it's not unfair of me to observe that it's going to be a deal-breaker for some. 
Vasco Da Gama
Vasco Da Gama
Out Now
Rating: 4.5/5 

On 'Nada Mas' the spaz starts immediately (can I say that?), with a set of manic harmonies before pleasantly strong vocals and reverb-drenched harmonies enter the mix. The overall effect is probably the mildest verse on the EP, and it's rather unfortunate that peoples' first exposure to it will come in autumn, for it's got an undeniable summer-pop lilt to it.

'Long Ships, Massive Hands' meanwhile has an almost power-pop vibe to it; I'm reminded of 'Tomorrow's Papers' by Luther Russell (bizarrely enough), and more so than the previous track the drums are allowed to coast to the fore in the composition, highlighting that truism of math- that it just isn't possible without a truly exceptional drummer. Though on the EP the excessively trebly guitars aren't fully counterweighted by the bass, live this song is an absolute belter, and it's definitely one of those tracks that grows substantially better once you've contextualised it by seeing Vasco play a show.

While we're on the subject, let's just deal with their band name too, because it's fucking awesome. I mean, besides the fact that it's one of those band names that I really wish I'd thought up first, it somehow manages to pretty solidly evoke the sheer bipolarity of what Vasco are trying to achieve with their songs.

Their grand math-pop gesture is Guts Ahoy!, which sounds actually rather like Wot Gorilla?; rather it's the EP closer, 'Teach the Young Team' that sets the template for their future success.

Complicated and catchy, obtuse in arrangement, it's nevertheless packed with pop hooks and great melodies. There's no question of it being their 'dumb pop song', or something they should be embarrassed by; for simply constructing something so brilliant is bloody hard. It's almost too cool, too brilliant for its own good, but I can't hold that against Vasco. I'll be humming it for weeks to come, and if you check it out I'm sure you will be too.

My prediction: an album of tracks like 'Young Team' and 'Long Ships...' and Vasco will be huge. In the meantime, slake your thirst with this exceptional EP and get excited about what's yet to come from this thrilling young band. 

Get it from Paypertiger here. Check out Vasco on Facebook here.