Archive | June, 2012

Joe De Vita: ‘Ancestral Language’ single (“takes the lead while staying back”)

30 Jun

Still in his early thirties, Joe De Vita’s musical passport is worn and battered, with plenty of stamps and double-backs on it. Previously, this was nothing unusual for a jazz musician, but these days many of them seem to travel smoothly from college to first hire, and then band by band through the swing machine.

Joe’s route-map suggests a more uneven history: checking into and dropping out of music schools across America; mysterious flits from assorted cities; travels through various non-jazz settings (singer-songwriter backup gigs, grindcore bands) en route. Whether he’s releasing music as Shuttlecock or under his own name, Joe’s recordings tend to find him all alone with his guitars, his Casio keyboards and his electronic sound-kit. Is this down to a reluctance to settle into a long-term slot, or perhaps deeper trouble? Time was when this kind of thing was a hallmark of particularly creative jazz musicians: but as Joe’s happy to make the most of it in his own bio, embracing a misfit jazz-punk status, it could just as easily be spin. (Although any musician who’s irreverent enough to release consecutive albums called ‘Reflect’ and ‘Punk Rock Abs’ is worth checking out).

Ancestral Language – a promo single from Joe’s third album ‘Evolution’ – isn’t providing an answer. In itself, it’s pretty accessible – it looks back around forty years to the impressionistic, anticipatory grooves of the late ’60s and early ’70s when Miles Davis, Teo Macero and Weather Report were pushing aside bebop and cool jazz in order to open out a kind of multicultural cosmic funk. Kicking off with a twang of berimbau, it layers up: the patter and slap of frame drums and shakers, the sidelong clunk of a jazz bass, holding its anchor-and-push carefully in reserve; the glint and jags of electric keyboard, restlessly shifting its grip and shifting the chords. If there’s a real band in here, then Joe’s less of the uncomfortable lone gunman than he suggests. If there isn’t, and it’s all software trickery, then at least he has a knack for knowing where all the parts ought to go – at the very least, there’s a full live feel here.

From initial swells of wall-hanging chords, Joe’s guitar eventually takes the lead while staying back. Lurking deep in the mix, distant and bluesy, it has that saxophone-in-a-subway sound: not subdued, but a little cagey. As the tune moves on, more punctuation is worked into the structure – tonks of ever-steadier electric piano, keystroke clinks looped as a digital-age percussion touch. Two-thirds of the way in, Joe begins to wrench gently at his own melodic line, with a promise of further squalls in the evening, but (teasingly) Ancestral Language fades out before we can get that far. A passing curlicue, sprayed onto the wall. Promising.

Joe De Vita: ‘Ancestral Language’
Daddy Tank Records (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download-only single
Released: 25th June 2012

Buy it from:
Free download from Soundcloud. The parent album ‘Evolution’ is available from Daddy Tank Records (CD, limited edition of 100) or Amazon (download)

Joe De Vita online:
Homepage Facebook Soundcloud iTunes

June 2012 – EP reviews – Knifeworld: ‘Clairvoyant Fortnight’ (“spinning something solid out of flim-flam”)

17 Jun

Knifeworld: 'Clairvoyant Fortnight'

Knifeworld: ‘Clairvoyant Fortnight’

Another summer with Knifeworld: another EP with everything on it. If Kavus Torabi was a builder, rather than being head Knifeworlder, he wouldn’t simply build houses. He’d build deliciously awkward crenellated wonders, with Escher staircases and extra rooms poking out into the street two floors up.

As it is, Knifeworld songs never sound as if they started with an earnest bloke strumming away on a stool. Instead, they tend to sound like a gang of scruffy tattooed pixies, busily hauling down a fairy castle and squabbling over the work-shanties. The final outcome tends to be an almighty and skilful art-rock mashup, with horns and bassoons poking out of it every which-way and strangely kinking, spiraling spines of rhythm and harmony locking it all together. You could never accuse Knifeworld of being parsimonious with their music. That said, the amount of musicality which the band can squeeze into their songs is only one of the factors at work.

It’s almost a shame to digress from the sheer fun at play here, from the helter-skelter confection of Knifeworld’s riffs and melodies and the visual humour they’re now bringing to their video work. But it’s important to realize that across its three songs the ‘Clairvoyant Fortnight’ EP actually deals with some pretty serious matters – faith, grounding, mistakes and the business of building a life. All of this might be filtered through eccentric and kaleidoscopic wordplay; but whether expressed via the galactic prog visions of The Prime Of Our Decline, the magic’n’showbiz gabble of the title track or the dancing grumbles of In A Foreign Way, these songs are about spinning something solid out of flim-flam, and gaining the right perspectives.

Under its festoons of decoration and past the hither-and-yon dash of its scurrying melody, Clairvoyant Fortnight itself shows that Knifeworld can compress their strategic wildness into something approaching a catchy single – albeit on their own unusual terms. Half of the time the song sounds like an amalgam of various tasty and tuneful things that shouldn’t fit together but do – XTC, Motown, The Flaming Lips, a dash of 1950s finger-clicking and a brief twist of rapping. The rest of the time, it sounds like an Edwardian fairground carousel trying to slam-dance. Meanwhile, the lyrics are peppered with all manner of mystical, supernatural and hippy tropes. “Well, I’m in a relapse – everyone looks like I did when I was sixteen, yeah?” snipes Kavus, name-checking third eyes, second sight and Ouija boards alongside prophets and scripture.

Grousing and arguing as he sings, Kavus is torn between scepticism and credulity throughout. While he’s clearly implying that there’s little difference between cheap, narrow parlour magic and other forms of belief, he also recognizes the gravitational pull of the supernatural and the way that so many people use it to blot out or cure boredom, uncertainty and terror. In fact, he’s wrangled all of this into an oblique love song, embracing challenge, partnership and natural change as a better way out. “I never felt like giving up before,” he admits, towards the end. “You wrecked my life, but you gave me more… I dig your voodoo and I dig your vibe – I really think that we could make it.” He seems to be suggesting that as much as you choose your own poison, perhaps you choose your own magic too.

There’s plenty to be said about The Prime Of Our Decline. Most simply, it’s unabashed nu-prog done right, from its flamenco beginnings and sea-shanty lilt to the Zappa-meets-Yes riffage, the jumping glockenspiels and the dancing Gong-honkery when it gets up to speed. I could wax lyrical about the slippery percussion allsorts and the stellar rattle of Khyam Allami’s Brufordian snare drum; or about the cheeky burst near the end when the band briefly channels multiple ’70s prog bands in rapid slice-and-dice succession. Throughout its seven-and-a-half minutes, the song also keeps its streamlined shape – as slick as any pop hit you’d care to mention, its tricks with meter and texture cunningly sheathed within a hurtling, bell-swiping, sing-along whole.

Yet this too is a song about footholds; about grasping (and grasping at) your place in the universe. Knifeworld have a knack of dissecting difficult feelings via swirling psychedelic sleight-of-hand – this time, astronomical. Even as Mel and Kavus yammer about black holes and passing stars, their sunny-sounding chants are shot through with evocations of hubris (“we could foresee the day / when nature would bend to our will”), lonely voids, being cast adrift and self-disgust (“orbits and revolutions of the heart / have changed me into something I hate.”) They might be playing at being starchildren, but they’re still weighed down by dark matter.

Somewhere between these two songs there’s In A Foreign Way, a stately chamber-pop jig wobbling under sideswipes at its metre and batterings at the foundations. As the band hack and bounce, the melody doggedly maintains its rhythm, like an Irish matron under attack from a gang of larky Newton’s cradles. Appropriate: underneath the avant-rock fun (including the brief injection of a slice of Henry Cow) this is a song about the frayings and fixes of middle-age.

Kavus frets and kvetches as things unravel around him, old bungles come back to plague him and the familiar becomes blurred. As he does his best to perform running repairs, a chant circles his head – “Where you up to, where you up to, where you up to?” to which the resigned reply is “halfway…” It’d be grim if it weren’t for the zing of the music – stippled with tuned marching-band percussion and the clatter of brains happily at work. That’s Knifeworld for you, though – few bands make it so evident that the sheer joy of music can always salvage something from the darkness.

Knifeworld: ‘Clairvoyant Fortnight’
Believer’s Roast, BR008
CD/download EP
Released: 11th June 2012

Buy it from:
(updated, May 2015) Original EP now deleted: all tracks are now available on the compilation album ‘Home Of The Newly Departed’.

Knifeworld online:
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LOOKBACKS – Elinor Armer & Ursula LeGuin: ‘Lockerbones/Airbones’ song-suite 1985/1988, released 2010 (“as hardened and hollowed-out as driftwood sculpture”)

14 Jun

While some of her work has been set to music, Ursula LeGuin is best known for her reconfigurations of science fiction, fantasy and myth. The narratives of her stories sheathe cunning, detailed challenges to race, to gender and to the ways in which one can tell a story. More recently her tales have shaded into a kind of conceptual ethnography in order to build stories almost entirely out of explorations of culture.

Less well known, LeGuin’s poetry initially seems like a different beast. Close examination sees the same preoccupations written in microcosm. Sparse and spare, the words in her poems are the tips of long quills of implied experience; to be drawn out and savoured. In these mid-’80s recordings, Californian composer Elinor Armer has taken five disparate Ursula LeGuin poems and (working in a stark, economical style as hardened and hollowed-out as driftwood sculpture) whittled a musical housing for them.

Assuming that it’s a song-cycle at all, ‘Lockerbones/Airbones’ is a loose one. The poems are taken from three separate volumes spanning thirteen years, and the interconnections in LeGuin’s text are tenuous. There are fleeting references to bodies of water. A falcon links two songs; extending this, references to birds link a full three. Unspecified protagonists (all of them apparently female) are observed via brief passing notes and at various ages, generally in relation to a loaded past or a fervently desired future. The obscure bones of the title transform and recur in the shape of crustacean shells or as feathers or teeth; possibly even in the irreducible state of the lean phrases making up the poems.

Armer, in turn, faithfully honours LeGuin’s verbal economy. Her music stops, starts and leaves prolonged expectant spaces as she delicately feathers the text. For ‘Lockerbones/Airbones’ she uses a quintet: flute, violin, piano and percussion set plus Wendy Hillhouse’s stooping mezzo-soprano. Armer keeps her own compositional liveliness on a tight leash. Nonetheless, she brings her particular yen for musical illustration to the table (as well as leavening touches of humour and compassion). Initially building up from a reserved, near-atonal sketchpad, Armer still works in tinges of modern America, ancient Greece and traditional Japan. Direct musical themes are hidden in favour of attentive, close-bound responses to the emotional charges of the poems. Ultimately, it’s this that provides the cycle’s unifying factor.

Elinor Armer & Ursula LeGuin: ‘The Anger’

In the first piece, The Anger, a young woman’s frustrations burst out. She’s trapped between worlds of experience – one outgrown and chafing, the other filled with promise but sealed away). Rira Watanabe’s chivvying violin and Keisuke Nakagoshi’s piano accents usher in a flare of rage, with the first line sung against tolling, breaking percussion: “Unlock, unlock! / So long a silence / needs shouting / and latches smashed / and the damned hinges broken…” In airier drifts, the middle section dreams welcome and ceremony – “open air, the wine / poured out, the hands / empty: and slowly, / grave, straight, smiling, / to step across the threshold.” It feeds the eventual conclusion, in which that earlier impotent frustration becomes a clear, confident command.

Elinor Armer & Ursula LeGuin: ‘The Child on the Shore’

The Child on the Shore is made up of a split dialogue between a daughter and her dead mother. Neither address each other directly: in the poem, their communications are carried by intermediaries of the natural world, by song, by death itself. The entire piece is a bleached landscape of bereavement rituals. Esther Landau’s lyrical flute-playing embodies the elements into which propitiatory gifts are flung – a ring into the sea, a feather into the wind.

In turn, Hillhouse gives voice to two exhausted threnodies, one for each woman. The child’s voice is angry with grief, demanding return of both tokens and parent. The mother’s is windblown and accepting; a thank-you for the gifts, a desire to soothe. Yet there is no confirmation that this message of comfort has been heard. The intermediaries themselves remain silent throughout. Armer divides the two voices with a bleak, unyielding curve of violin melody. Behind them, abrupt traces of marimba and piano stray and hit like bruising raindrops.

Elinor Armer & Ursula LeGuin: ‘Footnote’

Footnote briefly enters the thoughts of a solitary woman. It’s unclear whether she’s an exile or a recluse, whether she’s young or old. Her hints at an aristocratic background could be no more than whim, or the last vestige of hauteur. Regardless of this, she finds kinship with nature in all of its wrack, decay and continuance – not just through the heraldic glamour of the falcons, but via the cast-up seaweed, the scavengers, the passing insects and the weather.

Armer treats this cultivated loneliness (and acceptance of the world) in kind. Still, slow and minimal in nature, the music is pierced and enlivened by visitants. After a drifting reflective start, a shift to a dissonant emphasis and Erica Johnson’s rattling wood percussion greets the naming of “crabs / prancing in the shadow / of fierce, stranded seaweed” while the appearance of bats is accompanied by violin and flute.

Elinor Armer & Ursula LeGuin: ‘Hard Words’

In Hard Words, Armer abandons melody altogether and goes for a plosive, theatrical hayashi approach. Hillhouse speaks and swoops LeGuin’s words like a Noh theatre chanter, springing the rhythms in the poetry, which itself abandons all but the most essential nuggets of phrase in an oblique look at the failings of human language. “Hard words / lockerbones / this is sour ground / dust to ashes / sounds soft / hard in the mouth / as stones / as teeth / Earth speaks birds / airbones / diphthongs.” The instrumentalists respond with zings of percussion; with tongued flutes, piano fragments and instrumental noises (including a short resigned squall of violin like the last gasp of a fax machine). On the final word, a lacuna of mingled flute and gong ends in a sub-audible skirl of breath. Relief and release.

Elinor Armer & Ursula LeGuin: ‘For Katya’

The songs conclude with the wounded, optimistic For Katya. A muted and slender melody – seasoned by anger – fleshes out LeGuin’s words, which reinterprets the struggles for control between men and women in the form of a stark fairytale built from halting, frustrated syntax. “They always shut us up in towers / ever since once upon a…” Comfort arrives in the same mythic form, as a transformation of both sentence and outlook: “So we learn alone there / arts of unlocking / Till the old terrors / shed wolfskin and stand brothers…”

It’s an exhausted comfort: yet it’s indomitable, a long parched resistance holding out for a sane outcome. As Hillhouse sounds out the last word, a capella, its pitch hangs unresolved; waiting for the future to catch up with the hope.

Elinor Armer & Ursula LeGuin: ‘Lockerbones/Airbones’
Private release
Download tracks
Released: 2010 (recorded 1985/1988)

Buy it from:
Free download from Ursula LeGuin’s homepage.

Elinor Armer online:
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Ursula LeGuin online:
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REVIEW: The Fierce & The Dead: ‘10×10’ single, 2011 (“post-glum”)

12 Jun
The Fierce & The Dead: '10x10'

The Fierce & The Dead: ’10×10′

So they’re trying on some sparkle, now? The last time I heard Matt Steven’s improv-rock trio they were lurking and cruising somewhere in the loose territory between bluesy prog, smoky space music and easygoing math-rock. They were promising, but they weren’t upsetting much: their initial statement was more of a drawl than a grand pronouncement. However, having shambled forward and established themselves, The Fierce & The Dead are getting down to more serious play. Ideas that were only hinted at last time, down in the small details, now wriggle forward.

For starters, 10×10 itself scrunches up and throws away the idea that this band is just Matt Stevens and pals. Bass player Kev Feazey, a solemn support musician on the band’s opening shot, steps up and all-but-leads the band on their second. His slithering springy bass line, full of New Wave funk, recalls both turn-of-the-’80s Talking Heads and long-lost London math/surf rockers Kenny Process Team: gentle arty neurosis, pinned to a love of groove. A spluttering, stuttering synth break adds a raw danceable edge.

Meanwhile, Matt is quietly at work all over the background – catching a surf of noise in the distance, opening out the landscape beyond with torch-beams of sustain guitar. Some looping, arpeggiating guitars dragged along after the bassline draw their drive from a long-gone, edgier New York: skitchers grabbing velocity from a speeding car, or Robert Fripp’s cyclic proto-‘Discipline’ Manhattan patterns. There’s even a dash of rave dynamics as a delicate, dewdrop-fine piano break spins us around for a look at the dawn. In the cloud of “post”-widget names that swarm around art-rock music these days, pick “post-glum”.

The second track, Foreign Languages is even livelier. A blues-rock grind on bass over mechanical drums; spankingly sharp fingerpicked guitar and a bubbling, ground-shimmying feel of dub.An old ‘Galaxian’ game in the corner of the studio seems to have joined in too, adding zips and lassoos of gurgling analogue sparkle. There’s a tremendous sense of free play – old familiar elements reshuffled and re-zested, and looked at afresh. Since ‘Part 1’, The Fierce and the Dead have recharged their time machine, and now skip merrily between the dreamy psychedelia of the ’70s and the boggling pluralism of the post-punk ’80s with ease and a yen for reinvention. Where next?

The Fierce & The Dead: ’10×10′
Bandcamp
Download-only single
Released: 4th April 2011

Buy it from:
Bandcamp

The Fierce & The Dead online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace Bandcamp Soundcloud

REVIEW – Cceruleann: ‘Fucking Wind’ single, 2012 (“waiting to be wrong-footed”)

6 Jun
Cceruleann: 'Fucking Wind'

Cceruleann: ‘Fucking Wind’

In love and on the road: it should be sweet. Instead, you’re continually waiting to be wrong-footed.

First, there’s the music – electronic dream-pop of a multiple-nostalgic kind. The tune is balmy. The blipping synth lines, the crude keyboard beats, the hiccuping voice cut-ups are all from ’80s sample pop. That dazed, wet-gossamer female vocal and the smudge of stretched-out organ goo (swirling from speaker to speaker), draws inspiration from shoegazery and similar blissful-nauseous mid-’90s psychedelia. The puffed hints of melodica and the yawns of bass swim in from first-generation post-punk; or perhaps I’ve just been drawn into the dream, and am imagining them.

Then there’s the song itself. A girl in a car, savouring the moment, coos the simplest, most sugary lover’s line. “It’s OK, baby, don’t worry / ‘cos we’re driving with the summer breeze in my face.” That’s it. There are four more words in the entire lyric, one of which is “ethereal.”

Finally, lurking around the corner like a mugger-in-waiting, there’s that blunt instrument of a title. It’s already plastered all over the cover art. You keep expecting it to come down hard and smash the reverie. Or, alternatively, for everything to turn metaphysical and carnal as the gale hits, the cuteness ends, the car pulls over and everyone starts rutting in the back seat.

For something so light and fluffy on the surface, Cceruleann’s debut single throws up plenty of confusion. Even more subtext gets plastered in when you discover that the band are a brother-and-sister duo (instrumentalist Elliot, singer Marilyn). If I were you, I’d do my best to ignore that for now. In some ways, that’s easy to carry out: though moving together in musical step, Elliott and Marilyn sound as if they’re musing in different worlds. Along the way, some of Marilyn’s words are caught up and shredded, then tossed like happy litter in the wake of the tune. As for that title, it never arrives in the song. The f-bomb remains undetonated. Have they scammed us? Did they just get sick of their own song and punish it with a sarcastic name?

Or perhaps we’re looking in the wrong place. Maybe the real story is about the other person who’s out on that drive – perhaps listening to this endless burble of contentment and seething, their knuckles clenched white on the wheel or wrapped tight around the knees, wondering once again why it’s so impossible to see how another person sees, to feel their feelings, comprehend their tastes… even to understand how you can get through a single day of being with them anymore. Maybe the romance of the playful summer wind is lost along with that. As it teases and strokes at cheekbones, perhaps on the other side of the car it’s whipping petulantly at a cowlick; and while fringe blows aggressively into eyes, and as love heads into the sour spot for good, perhaps something vile is being muttered into that uncaring breeze.

Cceruleann: ‘Fucking Wind’
Holy Underground Recordings/Bandcamp
Download-only single
released 14 May 2012

Buy it from:
Bandcamp

Cceruleann online:
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REVIEW – Elephant: ‘Allured/Actors’ single, 2011 (“a slow jam that’s strayed”)

6 Jun
Elephant: 'Allured/Actors'

Elephant: ‘Allured/Actors’

“Oh, hello, / I’m a never-ever-let-it-show – / But I know that you know. / Maybe I should let it, let it show…”

On past evidence Elephant have a knack for drawing us in while admitting to little. Their debut single mingled dream-pop with reggae and industrial chill, and cold electronics with fairy-tale flashes. They ride on a solid understanding of black pop, yet constantly swerve away from it into Euro-cool whiteness. They readily confuse, and they excel in oblique feelings – perhaps they can’t help it. Amelia’s blank singing, their aloof and obscure post-punk textures, their taste for quick-cut lyrics and surreal, visual word-imagery… while their work so far is memorable, all of it’s a conundrum. Yet for a moment, on this second single, everything is clearer.

With only the subtlest indie-pop bleachings and dream-pop shadings, Allured is an R’n’B piano ballad: plain and simple. There’s the deep, minimal support of bass. There’s the gaps, space and swat of a heavy-lidded slow sex-beat; the sparse flick of tambourine like a shimmying skirt-fringe. Essentially it’s a slow jam that’s strayed out of the dance club in its heels and skintights, taken a wrong turning past the taxi rank, and been painlessly swallowed by Elephant’s dreamy way of doing things. In the video we watch as voyeurs as Amelia and Christian languidly nuzzle and smooch each other – lengthily, and uninterruptedly. Either they’re answering that “are-they-aren’t-they?” question that’s hung around Elephant since the beginning, or they’re very committed to the world of this particular song.

Whether Elephant have simply been infected by R’n’B’s outright and intoxicated sexuality, or whether they’ve swallowed it deliberately, is open to question. I suspect the latter. Few areas of twenty-first century pop haven’t rolled over and submitted to R’n’B’s sweaty vigour and its gobby, blinged-up sex’n’suss’n’opportunity confidence. While some diehard indie-poppers might still scream and scrub it off; or cling to older schools of soul, Elephant see a good thing and slurp it up, embracing and engulfing it in their turn. So here they are, reaching out greedily into the wide-open mainstream while happily sunk in obsession, drunk with sensuality.

Only the lyrics retain that peculiar Elephantine distortion. Amelia rolls the words around on her tongue, dabbing them with glottal stops and her own strange short-circuiting shifts of accent or syntax, whether wriggling into a tangled lick of coyness, circling orgasm (“our own anatomy, so I find the path – my brain / it carousels instantly, drives me to insane,”) or swimming in a stupor of surrendered identity (“I dreamt he’d written me… He took me away, crossed me away from the crowd…”) By rights, this clotted wordplay should cripple the song. Instead it lolls sexily across the beat, as if on the brink of falling out of bed.

Then the B-side – Actors – throws us right off the scent. Same old Elephant; entirely different set of clothes. Rather than the wallow of bass and beats, here are acoustic guitars on the strum, a skinny ice-rink organ, and a dose of fast-paced pop soufflé which chuffs around its drum track like a toy steam train. It’s a tune for people in mini-dresses to run around Paris to, or chase summer bicycles through Spanish Harlem. Once again, Amelia’s dazed delivery and tangled string of lyrics ensure that it keeps the Elephant stamp.

It’s anyone’s guess as to what she’s singing about this time – “hop around aimlessly, simply surrender to time. /Animations out past under the feet, imitating a shadow spine.” Somehow the words fall into place as she sings of paying the rent “with a monogram eye” or murmurs about “the highest apple in the tree.” Perhaps, like many of the best and sexiest club hook-ups, it’s just a happy accident.

Elephant: ‘Allured/Actors’
Memphis Industries, MI0193S/D
vinyl 7″/download single
released: 18th July 2011

Buy it from:
Memphis Industries.

Elephant online:
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June 2012 – demo reviews – The Many Few’s assorted Soundcloud demos (“as cosily misshapen as candle stubs”)

1 Jun

The Many Few don’t exactly do precision. One guitarist slops acoustic rhythms around like a drunken waiter losing control of a tray. The other doodles away cheerfully, or hiccups free-improv dribbles in a corner. Sometimes both of them land in the same song. Meanwhile, two singers are jostling together: Johnnynorms (he of the small, dry voice) and Melissa Wyatt (who aims for creamy breathiness and theatrical intimacy but ends up kittenish and blowsy). The drummer pins everything together, but worries and wobbles over anything more complex than a mid-paced chuff-along. The bass guitar stumbles vaguely after the other instruments, distracted by a nearby jazz gig.

Unless they’re deliberately deconstructing their pop, or unless they record only while cheerfully drunk (both of which are possible), The Many Few are a thorough fucking shambles, and I think they know it. Do you think I’m going to bury them for it? Hardly. That tumbledown, lopsided indie-pop stagger is integral to their approach and charm. You can toss in those usual Syd Barrett and Captain Beefheart comparisons (you know, the ones applied to almost any wayward indie band who ramble outside the beat a little) but The Many Few are far too friendly and floppy for that. In their cheery, ramshackle way, they sound more like ’90s nouveau-skifflers Zuno Men… if the latter had been stuck in a house-share with a teenaged Kate Bush and spent most of their time half-cut.

You could easily imagine them all sprawled over a tatty sofa – arguing over the washing-up, loving each other and picking over the usual daily scams of living together. You can imagine them hurrying off, at any opportunity, to the local pub for the kind of lock-in which ends in howls of laughter and wrestlings over a battered old board game.  I wouldn’t want to be the one to try getting them organized. It would only spoil it. This scraggy comfort must have been all over the making of this enjoyable batch of songs, which they call “armchair surrealisms” and I’d call animated scrawls, as cosily misshapen as candle stubs.

On the irresistible Catching, Johnnynorms repeatedly starts off on a story, only for Melissa to barge in and take it over. As all of the stories are about naïve men making comically doomed attempts to win over smarter women, this is only appropriate. Wonky high-life guitar ambles around like a cheery woodpecker as Melissa teases “I’m sorry but she had a child when she was young / and she’s not catching that from you”, before announcing her intent of fleecing some other poor bloke for all he’s got.

The upbeat Sweep and Swipe (part genial commuter-belt revolt, part kid’s TV song) bumbles through work, procrastination and rebellion in a very British jumble. There’s a sense of urgent feelings swaddled up and hidden under a brittle, chirpy exterior: something which this song shares with another, Typical British Weather (itself tipsy, woozy and smiling a crooked smile in the rain). It’s left to the messy, chunky power-punk of Meet my Clone to sideline the shambling and the evasions via dirty guitar, a tight irritated momentum and the band’s most ingenious idea. Johnnynorms and Melissa wrangle over the doppelganger relationships of people grown close in appearance and habit, but not feelings: “Eye to eye you’d think we were the same. / But it’s me that feels all the guilt, and rage, and love, and shame.”

Past the 18th Town is entirely different. A haunting acoustic dirge touching (in the briefest of sketches) on transient people, it follows them as they move from rented room to rented room. As old roots fade and new roots become stunted, they lose their ability to recognize and return love. Tingles of guitar harmonics tickle the nerves while the band capture a world of disengagement in simple, telling lines like “send the letters on, / send them back unknown.” It suggests that the ghost of a cold and lonely wind, blowing under that gap in the door, sometimes haunts The Many Few’s sprawling house party.

The Many Few: assorted Soundcloud demos
Soundcloud (no catalogue numbers)
Free download tracks
Released: various dates in 2011

Get it from:
Free download from Soundcloud

The Many Few online:
HomepageMySpace Soundcloud

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A music blog written by Rich Brown

Archived Music Press

Scans from the Melody Maker and N.M.E. circa 1987-1996

OLD SCHOOL RECORD REVIEW

Where You Are Always Wrong

Fragile or Possibly Extinct

Life Outside the Womb

a closer listen

a home for instrumental and experimental music

Bird is the Worm

New Jazz: We Search. We Recommend. You Listen.

Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

eyesplinters

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FormerConformer

Striving for Difference

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