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April/May 2018 – some more immersive London gigs of various kinds – brain voyages with You Cry Wolf, Joe Corbin and Bokoyono (23rd April); righteous resistance with ‘Gerrard Winstanley’s True and Righteous Mobile Incitement’ (6th May)

19 Apr

Concerts which go a little deeper… a trip to the heart of the illuminated brain in Brixton and a remounting of past dissent in Poplar, both of which you’re invited to soak yourselves in.

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You Cry WolfMath-rock usually constructs and communicates meaning from the abstraction of numbers, even though it’s generally played to non-mathematical people. Ducking underneath song forms, it communicates less through stories, textures and timbres than through its attempts to mine the ecstatic human response to pattern-building. For Brighton math-rock trio You Cry Wolf this clearly isn’t enough. From the start, they’ve not followed the usual mathy practise of turning their back on vocals and words, with guitarist Owain Arthur delivering a near-continuous murmur of cryptically anxious lyric over the bare-bone instrumental notes.

Building from their earlier, more straightforward mathwork (and from their occasional taste for plaintively en-mathening mainstream pop such as Coldplay’s Trouble), You Cry Wolf have broadened out into their own brand of rock theatre projects – ingenious and immersive low-budget affairs in which projected film, sound, venue decoration and even live scent have become integral to the work; a sort of DIY 4D cinema. Their quarter-hour piece ‘A Fresh Start (for Peter Russo)’ (which toured around various fringe festivals in 2015) delved into the psyche and day-to-day experiences of an obsessive, alcoholic middle-aged gardener.

On spec, it sounds like an earnest ‘70s-to-‘80s collision between a lost piece of melancholic English prog and a stern German art cinema – or perhaps a glummer, hushed take on a Mars Volta extravaganza. The proggy theatrical elements were increased by the fact that the band played inside a pod of angled sheets, obscured from view by projected filmwork (from video artist and onetime Polar Bear collaborator Jacek Zmarz) and bolstered by wafts of floral scent as they tried to induce their audiences into following the story through Peter’s eyes and senses: sharing his day-to-day impressions and actions, coming to understand his personal search for meaning and a possible redemption.


 
From the accounts I’ve heard, it was quite an experience, moving from the earthbound and mundane to the magical. Here’s what ‘The Line Of Best Fit’ made of it during its home stint in Brighton, and see above for a video clip of the film and music content, (though it’s evidently a pale shadow of the mirrored and scented storytelling environment which the band summoned into being for each performance.

Transcendence was the climax and key to the ‘Fresh Start’ show; heartened by the success of ‘A Fresh Start’, You Cry Wolf expanded to a related but even larger conceit for 2017’s ‘Only God’ (which ran to a couple of shows in Brighton and south London in June last year and now makes a return to Brixton as the centrepiece of a three-hour concert tagged as “a new fantasy to lose yourself inside”).

You Cry Wolf + Guests
Upstairs at the Ritzy, Brixton Oval, Brixton, London, SW2 1JG London, England
Monday 23rd April 2018, 8.00pm
– information here and here

In many respects, it sounds like a souped-up twenty-first century take on those 1960s psychedelic gigs which attempted to induce altered states with oil-slide projections and the flickering low-tech visual pulses of dreamachines. With ‘Only God’, the band are attempting to stage “a lurid dream-world, a hallucination comprised of fragments of a waking-life reordered into dreamy irreality… a vivid journey inside the dreaming mind.” As with ‘Fresh Start’, the live band setup is augmented by a custom-designed set (this time devised by club installation specialists Moonstone), video projections (specifically commissioned from Cargo Collective artist Agathe Barré) and scene-setting aromas.

According to the band “the concert marks an exploration of the significance of dreams and their effectiveness as tools for introspective self-discovery. As we are prone to futilely create meaning from our dreams, so too is the audience encouraged to create their own conclusions from the fragments of the story provided in its performance. Making use of pithy and surreal lyrics, sensational abstract imagery and fresh emotive rock-music, You Cry Wolf invite the audience to take centre-stage as they are transported inside the narrative, to see through the eyes and into the soul of the sleeping protagonist. There is no stage, no spot light; You Cry Wolf have created a window into their music and inside their protagonists’ fictions, where human experience and narrative supersede traditional performance convention, where concept and character-construction form the all-consuming conditions for this music-based escapade to unfold.”

In support – and perhaps at least partially integrated into the bigger idea – are Bokoyono (an “instrumental psych/desert/surf-rock band, ready to rip you a new one”) and modern electric blues guitarist Joe Corbin (on this occasion armed with “a set specially prepared to rip open the doors of perception until all inhibitions disappear and your mind is malleable for the moulding!” Moonstone member Cal Lewis (also of and loft-party specialists Solis and Palooza) pulls double duty by taking over the DJ slot, which is intended to be as immersive as the rest of the evening…


 
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From psychedelic innerspace to direct action and a spot of tea… a change of tone.

Over at Poplar Union in early May, there’s what appears to be an insurrection boutique. Deptford’s Black Smock Band (“South London’s premier gay socialist folk band”) are collaborating with Bethnal Green’s Daedalus Theatre Company to revive a spot of English radicalism and invite you to participate.

'Gerrard Winstanley’s True and Righteous Mobile  Incitement', 6th May 2018

“The Black Smock Band and Daedalus Theatre Company have worked with Tower Hamlets residents and students from the Applied Performance course at Queen Mary University to create a truly unique, local gig-theatre performance, teaming up with a seventeenth-century rebel to uncover England’s history of protest and ask what it all means today. Expect a song, a dance and perhaps the start of the revolution! They also invite you share your thoughts on East London life over a cup of tea at their pre-show tea party, along with a spot of placard-making and protest-song writing too, if you fancy.

“Part of a long-term project to explore past and present stories of protest and dissent, this performance has been made with a special focus on current and historical protest and dissent in Tower Hamlets. It was developed at Ovalhouse in South London through a series of scratch performances leading to a commission to create a full production for Brixton City festival. The project is an ever-changing, locality-responsive piece of gig-theatre using historical texts and songs alongside new material, using gatherings over tea with local people to inform each new version of the performance.”

The piece is inspired by Gerrard Winstanley, an oft-obscured figure from English history. As one of the founders of the Diggers movement, he led the squatting and constructive reclamation of enclosed private land during that seventeenth century period in which England teetered between the traditions of monarchy and the possibilities of communitarianism. Viewed back through the lens of a twenty-first century London (one being gradually consumed by the kind of landgrabs and land-banking which insidiously push out and exclude its long-term occupants), he and some of his arguments have gained a new resonance and timeliness.

Expect current issues to seep into the story, primarily the erasure of working-class home neighbourhoods and the displacement of their communities by gentrified developments (the transformation of the Heygate Estate into the gentrified Elephant Park, the looming threat of a similar outcome via the Haringey Development Vehicle, and – for Poplar residents – three decades’ worth of the marginalisation of poorer householders and tenants by the glittering elite massing of the Dockland developments).

Travelling around with band, actors and crew is The Mobile Incitement Unit – “a portable installation by artist Andy Bannister containing everything needed to stage a performance, run participation workshops and, of course, foment revolt”. Art is a hand grenade, but sometimes it’s a tea urn.

All going well, the piece should tour nationally in 2019 – for the moment, you can be a part of it here in London, or get more involved by inviting them over to your neighbourhood via the page here.

Black Smock Band & Daedalus Theatre Company present:
‘Gerrard Winstanley’s True and Righteous Mobile Incitement’
Poplar Union, 2 Cotall Street, Poplar, London, E14 6TL, England
Sunday 6th May 2018, 1.00 pm-2.30pm (tea party), 3.00pm (performance)
– information here and here

Here’s a video explaining some more about the project (and offering a peek at the M.I.U.)…


 

March 2018 – upcoming London gigs of various kinds – folk-jazz and loop-tinted songcraft from Gabriela Eva and Yasmyn Hendrix (20th March); post-blues and wakeful dream-pop from Cavey and Moon Panda (26th March)

16 Mar

Woodburner presents:
Gabriela Eva + Yasmyn Hendrix
Servant Jazz Quarters, 10a Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, England
Tuesday 20th March 2018, 7.00pm
– information here and here


 
On video, Gabriela Eva is a colourful explosion of appropriated and deftly spun images. In many respects she’s a tourist, but the kind who pulls off her acquisitive magpie business to perfection – a keen eye for the fabric she can repurpose, the hairstyle she can adapt, the body-paint or tattoo that can be repositioned. A globetrotter and a photographer’s darling even before she dropped her debut EP last month, she’s a natural at the subtly chameleonic star act; the dance of other people’s veils illuminated, assimilated and penetrated by her own charisma.

Gabriela Eva + Yazmyn Hendrix, 20th March 2018I’m hoping that this translates well to the stage once Gabriela’s tucked under the stairs at Servant Jazz Quarters – belatedly launching that selfsame EP, trapped behind her guitar without access to the self-edit suite, the quick-change boudoir screen and the magical boxes for makeup and jewels. That’s when it’ll either all fall apart or show its core roots. She doesn’t lack courage: previously part of Colchester duo Passive Passengers, she’s busked alone, braved the stage at Ronnie Scott’s and she’s certainly thrown her meme-anchors down (while “future organic” could mean bloody anything from cottage-industry world-changers to rich hippies with busy self-aggrandising Snapchat accounts, “driven, dyslexic, dreadlocked” is as good a packed’n’loaded personal tag as I’ve heard recently).

As for the music, there’s skipping rhythmic and harmonic footwork from jazz, some rhythmic echoes from hip hop, some party looseness from the breezier end of soul and R&B. You can trace your fingers through Gabriela’s songs and tease out strands from clear forebears – Erykah Badu, Astrid Gilberto, Van Morrison, Minnie Riperton (for her part, she claims Nina Simone, Little Dragon, Alanis Morrisette and Incubus) – yet her prime musical descent (probably through accidental parallels) seems to be Eva Abraham, the acoustic London jazzfolksoul luminary who, despite having boiled up cauldron after cauldron of superb transfigured rootsiness for twenty years now, seems doomed to remain a perpetual (though beloved) secret.

Setting aside the quick visual fix of a memorable video, though, that’s not a bad place to be, musically. Close your eyes and you’re still left with Gabriela’s rolling carpet of songcraft: just picking three, there’s her conversational, hip-hop storytelling cover of Estelle and Kanye’s American Boy, the airborne soul-jazz of Sailing Over The City and the twinkling Rise Up (heading that first EP – a light-touch groove salute to advance-and-reclaim, flickering through a clutch of delicate psychedelic changes and nodding to the short-lived but renewable hopes of the Arab spring).




 
In support is Yazmyn Hendrix, whom I last saw four-and-a-half years ago providing guest-vocal accompaniment to What?! (a long-dispersed jazz-rock trio). Nowaday’s she’s still most visible for further collaborations (with Euro-soul act Retrospective For Love and with jazz-rapper Mrisi) plus a smattering of Soundcloud cover versions (including Laura Mvula’s Green Gardens, John Legend’s All Of Me, Adele’s Chasing Pavements and Massive Attack’s Teardrop). By herself – armed with a microphone, a loop station, and assorted live percussion and beatboxing – she creates layered a capella choirs and vocal ensembles out of herself: either simple classic sounding pop songs, the cover versions mentioned above, or assorted vocalese experiments.


 
So far there’s not much direct evidence of the harnessed synaesthesia which Yazmyn claims shapes her music-making (and which means that she “associates each song, each word and each instrument with colours and textures”). Let’s assume that the full breakthrough in that direction is still working its way through development and caution, and that one day she’ll be giving us her own ear-boggling parallel to ‘Medúlla’ or ‘Starsailor’ or Todd Rundgren’s ‘A Capella’. Given her tunes-over-weirdness tastes, I’m guessing that we can rule out a head-to-head with Mike Patton in more tangled territory. For now, she stands as a capable one-woman Manhattan Transfer (or a sleepier, slowed-paced Grace McLean) for contemporary pop songs; and that’ll do in the short run.



 
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Cavey + Moon Panda, 26th March 2018

Decave Discovers presents:
Cavey + Moon Panda
The Waiting Room, 175 Stoke Newington High Street, Stoek Newington, London, N16 0LH, England
Monday 26th March 2018, 7.00pm
– information here and here

Young post-blues singer-guitarist Luke Cave – a.k.a. Cavey – is already known as half of stoner-fuzz rock duo Rad Frü. He’s already engaging in some solo wing-stretching, parking the Zep-happy Rad in favour of collaborating with Blaenavon bassist/producer Frank Wright, laying down songs with junior Wrecking Crews full of heavy-duty young session dudes. Not far out of his teens, it’s as if he’s trying to echo Robert Plant’s career development, while simultaneously crushing it down from fifty years to a mere decade.

Perhaps that’s a bit glib of me, as well as overstating the classic rock thing. Similarly, I’m not sure if he’s the same Luke Cave as the one who sprang (literally) from Nick Cave’s loins back in 1991, but even if he is, there’s not much trace of Cave the Elder here. Cavey himself cites Jim O’Rourke, T-Bone Walker, Hamilton Leithauser and Grizzly Bear’s Daniel Rossen as influences; and in his light-touch songs I can also hear a dash of Gomez. Here’s a live performance of his recent Living Room Parade single, plus the studio take of its predecessor Day And Night.



 
Born in Boston but currently London-based (and sporting members coming in from Denmark, Sweden and Scotland), dream pop band Moon Panda will inevitably always ring Californian, not least because of the sheer sun-kissed San Diegan beauty of frontwoman Maddy Myers. A blonde, delicately-freckled photographer’s dream on honeyslide vocals and soft dots of bass guitar, she probably finds this kind of objectivifying attention a damn nuisance. For one thing, it distracts from the thoughtful, intricate details of the songs she writes: just as there was always more to Stevie Nicks than posturing and chiffon, there’s more to Maddy than blank-canvas prettiness or swoony lashes.

Let’s be honest – most dream pop bands think it’s enough to deliver blank blocks of navel-gazing noise and dirty snowplough billows: retrodden, remasticated sub-Lushness. Moon Panda don’t. Their songs are constantly, carefully changing beasts: encapsulated within their yearning melodies and taffy-stretched hooks, they have finely honed choral a capella parts, strange and revelatory key changes, sudden pauses and unorthodox shifts of time and dynamic. As with Gustav Moltke’s carefully-placed, only-there-when-you-need-them tidal smooshes of guitar, Maddy’s keen awareness of structure – of spectral drama, of just how softly and subtly you can make a jump-cut work – has a tendency to shatter the mood from within with a hard-hook shift in rhythm and intensity.



 
The lyrics too, eschew the cough-syrup blankness and drunken, dissolved sensual dazes of the genre; in effect, avoiding its copouts. Instead, Moon Panda are dream pop on the verge of waking up, or of piecing together the dreamwork. Shades of vulnerability, disquiet and suspicion run through these words: I’m still processing them, in the way that one works over the puzzling gristle of a dream, but I’m suspecting that these are songs for the gaslit, the fearful, the unwittingly immured: that they’re the etchings of the beginnings of an escape kit. Their videos, too, have an awareness to them – the disassociative motion, fall and sleep-roll of severed doll parts, ever-so-slightly reminiscent of Todd Haynes’ ‘Superstar’ and its Barbie-puppet retelling of the Karen Carpenter story; the road trip photography with its trapped, continuous-loop feel; Maddy’s own blank-faced ballet moves in which limbs stretch or a back twitches into restless determination.

It’s a shame that ‘Twin Peaks’ appears to be over and done now, and that Moon Panda are a year or two behind its production curve. In some respects they’d have made an ideal Roadhouse band. On the other hand, perhaps I’ve missed the point. Perhaps they wouldn’t have fitted the bill: not quite suited to the seamless and ominous cool, nor enigmatic enough for us to project our hungers, our apprehensions and confusions onto. From here, Moon Panda seem more like a measured curious hand rippling the waters or testing the surface of the mirror, fingertips uncovering and assessing what would otherwise been smoothed away. A band and a songwriter to keep a woken eye on, I think.
 

March 2018 – upcoming gigs – Echo Trails and Djanan Turan in London (10th March); Echo Trails, Ingrid Plum, Kyriakides and Polbrone soundtrack old Russian animations for Colliding LDN in London (8th March); Antigen night in Ipswich with MacGillivray, Sealionwoman and Polly Preacher (16th March)

6 Mar

Echo Trails + Djanan Turan, 8th March 2018

Echo Trails + Djanan Turan
The Betsey Trotwood, 56 Farringdon Road, Clerkenwell, London, EC1R 3BL, England
Saturday 10th March 2018, 7.30pm
information

This month, the roiling, thrilling, mostly-acoustic post-folk band Echo Trails resurface for a Clerkenwell gig in the vaults of the Betsey Trotwood. If you missed them a month ago (at the Magic Garden), here’s what I said about them back then:

“Selling Echo Trails as being some kind of hopeful mashup of “epic groove and post-rock” is a massive undersell. Just because they’ve got a little Godspeed string thunder in them on occasion (and know a thing or two about old-school jazz’n’R&B propulsion) doesn’t mean that they’re one of those bands that milk the juice out of other genres and feed it into papery approximations.

“A well-honed acoustic band is like a set of unhindered precision muscles, able to flex rhythms on the fly and dance in unexpected curves, and this is just such a band. Fronted by Dimitra Tzanakaki (a ballsy, smouldering Greek blend of Beth Gibbons, Tori Amos and Bette Midler) they’re a supple alliance of guitar, voluble double bass, viola and drumkit, the song undercarriage slipping easily from Mediterranean folk to psychobilly to a salsa set-to or to shedbashing Led Zeppelin thrills. Since their arrival in 2014 they’ve phased out keyboard and phased in pedalwork, enriching texture even as the instrumentation shrank: hence the post-rock tag, but there’s Schönberg, Piaf, Korn, Temper Trap, bebop and Hidden Orchestra tucked into their bag of influences along with Godspeed.”




 
In support is Turkish singer turned Egg collaborator and London bandleader Djanan Turan, who specializes in light, chatty near-acoustic party pop with a timeless perpetually-youthful feel. Into the pot – along with her own warm and garrulous vocal – go Turkish beats, cabaret pop, mellow synth riffs, raga, woody spiralling clarinet lines and slithering Romani/Med-jazz guitar (the latter courtesy of Funkshy’s Fatih Ebrem).

Djanan’s also known for organising one of London’s female artist platforms (the Anatolian/Middle-Eastern-flavoured Hura Nights). In keeping with this, her own songs always sound and feel as if she’s invited you back into her kitchen to keep you abreast of developments and to talk a friendly blue streak about whatever’s crossing her mind – world peace, personal disagreements and reconciliations, the position of women, youth recalled and put into deeper perspective. Despite the hints at New Age positivity (I suspect that that kitchen has a couple of crystals hanging in the window), underneath that loquacious flow is an accomplished songwriter with her dancing feet firmly in touch with the ground. There may be gush involved, but it’s never flippant.



 
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A few days earlier, Echo Trails are making another London appearance at New River Studios as part of a film evening. As well as closing the show with a full set of their own songs, they’re one of four artists/bands performing live soundtracks to existing silent films. More below…

Colliding LDN, 10th March 2018Colliding Lines present:
‘Colliding LDN: Reanimation’
New River Studios, Ground Floor Unit E, 199 Eade Road, Manor House, London, N4 1DN, England
Thursday 8th March 2018, 8.30pm
– information here and here

Live cross-disciplinary art promoters Colliding Lines begin “a new, bi-monthly night of live art, sound and vision, presenting experimental collaborations and post-label projects from select performers. ‘Reanimation’ (is) a live re-scoring of mostly Soviet-era cartoons and surrealist animations by four different artists).”

The programme features two shorts by veteran Russian animator Andrei Khrjanovsky (1968’s anti-bureaucratic musical fable ‘The Glass Harmonica‘ and 1972’s ‘The Butterfly‘), as well as alternative 1968 tellings of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid (‘Rusalochka‘ by Ivan Aksenchuk) and Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland (the National Institute of Mental Health’s polemical ‘Curious Alice‘, which took a somewhat counter-productive slap at the early ‘70s drug culture by making it look even more fascinating to children).

 
In addition to Echo Trails, live soundtracking will be performed by extended-voice improviser and soundshaper Ingrid Plum (who blends and savages her own glorious clear vocals with sound processing and field recordings, and stirs in influences from neo-classical and from Scottish and Nordic folk music) and by two different sets of electro-acoustic music-making brothers. In-demand collaborators for film, dance and installation work, Kyriakides (Reuben and Jacob, to their mother) build “expansive, enveloping soundworlds” from live instruments, field recordings and found objects across a wide spectrum of musical and stylistic options. Electro-acoustic fraternal drone duo Polbrone are an alternate workframe for Andrea and Simone Salvatici of Glasgow avant-folk minimalists Clorinde, who in this project loop and gradually destroy their own sonic textures (and on this occasion will be aided by improvising cellist Derek Yau).


 
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A little later on, inspired East Anglian “marginal musician” label Antigen are running a concert over in Ipswich…

MacGillivray + Sealionwoman + Polly Preacher, 16th March 2018

Antigen Records present:
MacGillivray + Sealionwoman + Polly Preacher
The Smokehouse, South Street Studios, 6 South Street, Ipswich, Suffolk, IP1 3NU, England
Friday 16th March 2018, 8.00pm
– information here and here

When she’s out and about playing music, writing or committing performance art, Kirsten Norrie goes by her ancestral Scottish name MacGillivray, pulling her matrilineal Highland heritage over her head like a mask. With many wannabe artists, this kind of method ends up as no more than an affectation: people short on colour, scraping at the bottom of the pot of history in a vain attempt to garner the last scraps of savour. With Kirsten, it’s different: if it’s a mask, it’s the kind that renders everyday matters and habits transparent, allowing her to express deeper and stranger ideas and fancies fervently. What emerges is startling. MacGillivray it is, then.

Discovering her is a little like being startled by a slow-motion jack-in-the-box: she’s already got eight albums behind her, a couple of soundtracks and poetry collections, and a collaborator roster which bags a list of left-field folk musicians of all strands and odd definitions, including The Fall (yes, folk, really), The Pogues’ Jem Finer, Dead Rat Orchestra, Trembling Bells and Current 93. Her performance art involves powerful weird rituals – furiously smoking cigars in Sigmund Freud’s garden; conflating mediaeval stocks and death metal; eating chandelier glass in an abandoned shopping centre; carrying a dead sheep on a pilgrimage.

As a musician (both recorder and performer), she’s similarly unnerving: experimenting with loudness and quietness via folk drones, piano, savagely distorted electric autoharp and vocal wails, but refusing to hide behind them. Slender, still and intense, she rules a stage, dragging up distressed ghosts and the aftermath of harsh laws and bare beliefs. On this occasion, she’ll be performing tracks from her forthcoming mini-album, ‘Watermarked in Flame’.




 
Like Kirsten, Colchester’s Ashleagh Claire Hurren immerses herself in a performance persona, although Polly Preacher‘s “wonky folk troubadour” act is a good deal more comfortable than MacGillivray’s harsher hauntology. That said, the original tag makes her sound a lot kookier than she is. You don’t get cute acoustic numbers about spice racks, paintings and milky heartbreaks. Instead you get a crepuscular, witty electric folk with a homemade feel and a few echoes of lo-fi indie rock. There are a few shades of Kristen Hersh, perhaps even a little Lupen Crook, but for the most part a Polly Preacher song follows its own pattern: cryptic feints into storytelling where the supernatural rubs shoulders with grit, and in which haunted cutlery drawers and fairy tales cross imperceptibly over into stories of how to navigate a female life… or at least how to begin the journey and begin mapping the hazards.

 
Sealionwoman slightly buck this gig’s tonal trend of “folk meets New Weird Britain”, being much more of a dark-dusk monochromed blues-and-jazz basement affair, albeit filtered through loops, noise and the canny restrictions of being an unorthodox duo. The bare bones and wizard’s brew of Tye McGivern’s effects-laden double bass steps in and out of the shadows with subtle changes of raiment, sometimes clean-limbed and sometimes masked; Kitty Whitelaw ‘s vocals stretch from distracted torch singer to ghostly and mischievous jazz acrobat, running deft arabesques around the shape of the song.

Bar occasional gig notifications, I’ve not encountered Sealionwoman much since getting very absorbed in a live performance of theirs in a Hackney shopwindow back in 2013. My negligence, not theirs. Go back and have a look at that review: I’ve just done so myself, and it captures the compelling sinewy distractions of their live presence, the transformative implications of their name and their thousand-shades-of-black-white-and-grey better than anything I could come up with right now.



 

February 2018 – upcoming London gigs (folk, jazz, soul, and eclectic acoustica) – Ian Beetlestone & the Drowning Rats (10th February); Matsudisho and Alice Phelps (18th February); plus Tell Tale Tusk (12th February), Alice Zawadski’s cello-heavy Valentine Show (14th February) and Kabantu’s album launch (8th February)

5 Feb

Even more than the Magic Garden (as covered a few posts back), Camden’s Green Note serves as a London folk-boutique par excellence. Most evenings, its small café space wedges in the cream of roots acts, the care they take over choice, presentation and atmosphere often justifying the priceyness of an evening out. You get what you pay for.

Here are a few things on offer there during early February:

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Ian Beetlestone & The Drowning Rats, 10th February 2018

Ian Beetlestone & The Drowning Rats
The Basement Bar @ The Green Note, 106 Parkway, Camden Town, London, NW1 7AN, England ·
Saturday 10th February 2018, 8:00pm
– information here, here and here

Plenty of charming elements and conversational topics converge in Ian Beetlestone. He’s a Yorkshireman-turned-Londoner, a pop and chanson connoisseur, a gay man and a cabbie. Several of these come together in his lively, engaging cabbie’s blog; even more of them combine in the fact that for the last couple of years Ian’s driven the capital’s first (and, to date, only) rainbow-coloured taxi (for what it’s worth, it’s becoming a much-loved city ornament both inside and outside of Pride, and he gets more stick from fellow cabbies over the Transport for London logo than he does for the LGBT+ associations).

As for the musicality, that flourishes in his all-singing acoustic trio The Drowning Rats, who offer “(a) unique combination of ratty jazz, drowned pop, magic, mystery, darkness and light to the capricious twin deities of love and song with ever pleading, hopeful eyes.” Having started up in Leeds about a decade and a half ago (and survived a subsequent re-potting in London), they’ve been the players of regular gigs in Soho (until recently, at the Blue Posts) and their home turf of Kings Cross (at the Star of Kings) as well as the Green Note.


 
With Ian’s florid piano backed by Dom Coles’ drumkit and Tom Fry’s double bass (and with occasional visitations from beery horns and assorted vocal foils), they deliver songs bursting with melody, harmony and joie de vivre; nodding to Brel and barrelhouse, Tom Waits and Paul Weller, Nina Simone and the Shangri-Las; suffused with wry reflection, wit and camaraderie. Ian rolls them out in a joyful soul growl – honey, gravel, fur and phlegm, with the hint of a romantic tenor under the wear and tear. It’s a little Tom Waits, but it’s rather more Dr John (if instead of immersing himself in the Big Easy, he’d taken a ship up the Thames estuary to found a bayoux in a London canal basin).

If you’re specifically after queerness, you’ll find it in the subtle and rosy sexual glow which illuminates many of the songs like fireside warmth, and also in the elastic inclusive community etched out in hints and amongst the broader scope of Ian’s songwriting. Inclusivity’s the word, in fact: there’s little details and easter eggs sown throughout the songs if you want to pick them up and decode them, but in general it’s all woven together with subtlety and open-heartedness. You can walk through their door and enjoy epic magic-realist power ballads about the A40, jaunts around the concerns, compromises and evasions of friendships, sly ballads which put the boot into Soho gentrification, and cheerfully apocalyptic accounts of mornings-after… all without worrying that you need to belong to any particular club. Although, in the extremely cosy confines of the Green Note’s basement bar, you’ll soon feel as if you do belong to one.



 
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Matshidiso + Alice Phelps
The Green Note, 106 Parkway, Camden Town, London, NW1 7AN, England
Sunday 18th February 2018, 8:30pm
– information here, here and here

Matshidiso, 2017
I’m not sure just how hard you have to work, just how much you have to do, blossom and branch out before you burst the “secret” side of “well-kept secret” wide open. I would have thought that Matshidiso would have reached that point a long time ago.

Music flows through pretty much everything she lives and does, stemming from the cosmopolitan stew of her upbringing (a native Londoner with Jamaican and Sotho heritage, a classical piano trainee with a parallel love of soul, hip-hop and the cream of 1970s singer-songwriters) and blossoming into her realisation of herself as do-it-all artist – on-call pianist and singer, producer/writer/arranger for herself and for others. Sometimes a band leader, always a constant communicator, Matshidiso has led creative workshops; run song sessions across the internet from her own front room and played venues from the Southbank Centre to South Africa. All this and she’s also a qualified and multilingual international human rights barrister (with experience fighting sex trafficking rings in Ethiopia); a spokesperson for activism around positive African and female identity; a visiting music therapist at the Royal Marsden; a rehabilitating coach and encourager for young male offenders at various prisons; and a onetime relief worker in Haiti.

All of which would be gems on anyone’s resume (and which suggests someone who’s already learned and given back more than most of us will in an entire lifetime) but as a musician, the final proof has to be in the songs Matshidiso sings. Traditional they might be, but she’s learnt well from the craft of forebears such as Roberta Flack, Laura Nyro and Lauryn Hill, creating harmonically rich keyboard-driven work drawing from songwriter soul, gospel and pop through which she roams with self-awareness and generous interest in other people’s efforts and struggles.


 
Maybe Matshidiso’s relatively low profile is because of the fact that, despite being the best part of a decade into her career, she’s yet to record a debut album, or even that many releases. There’s been a smattering of very occasional singles; there’s been a 2012 EP of nursery rhymes reconfigured for adults (an idea that fits neatly into of what ‘The Guardian’s called her whimsical yet solicitous approach, and one that’s far more successful than its spec would suggest). In many artists this would seem to be a flaw – a shortage of the hunger, the self-assertion, the pushy pride which is needed to succeed.

I’d suggest the opposite – that Matshidiso’s artistic presence is one that’s absolutely caught up in the moment, too much so to have prioritised lumping her output down into artefacts or commodities. Her work is live, whether it’s in the concerts in which she improvises made-up-on-the-spot stories from the personal accounts of audience members, or the connection she makes with prisoners, the lost, the under-represented as part of work which goes beyond being an entertainer and engages itself with re-weaving music (with all of its connecting and healing qualities) back into the fabric of everyday life.



 

Opening the show is Leeds-based singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Alice Phelps (who, with her full band, was delighting Daylight Music earlier in the weekend). Harpist, guitarist, pianist, violinist and rich grainy singer, Alice spins blues into folk, Irish, Chinese and otherworldly elements to create original songs and a full-bodied chamber pop. On this occasion, she’s on her own; but she’ll be back at the Green Note next month with a full ensemble of strings, harp and choir. For now, enjoy her songs in their simpler format.



 

* * * * * * * *

A few more familiar faces are showing up at the Green Note at around the same time. On 12th February, contemporary female folk ensemble Tell Tale Tusk, who work “spellbinding (and award-winning) vocal harmonies…around melodious instrumentals to reimagine folktales old and give light to folktales new” bring their harmonies and humour back to Camden Town for an evening of old and new songs. On 14th February, Alice Zawadzki – whose name has been scattered around these pages for her voice and/or violin work alone or with Sefiroth, Jamie Safir and others – presents a Valentine’s Day Special of known and unknown songs, covers and originals (assisted by dual cello improvisers Alice Purton and Shirley Smart). Or – if you fancy a different venue and a different blend of polycultural acoustica – then on 8th February Manchester world quintet Kabantu are launching their debut album down at Rich Mix in Shoreditch. Plentiful…




 

January 2018 – upcoming gigs – Moor Mother in London and Leeds (10th and 12th January), with No Home, AlgernonCornelius and Basic Switches

5 Jan

Moor Mother, 10th & 12th January 2018

Over five dense and rapidly-evolving years of releasing and expressing, exploring and pushing, the unification of music and words by Moor Mother (a.k.a. Philly sound art/witness-bearing hip hop interdisciplinarian Camae Ayewa) has become something terrifyingly vital, cathartic and challenging. From the smooth and simple, app-driven, almost homely patchworks of her first EPs, her soundscaping and beat conjuring has developed into a jolting, stirring, often terrifying sonic canvas. Her lightning-raddled masterpiece, 2016’s ‘Fetish Bones’ (hailed at the time as a record of the year by a sweep of critics, from the furious pseudonymous screeders on the most obscure specialised blogs right up to the ponderous proclaimers of ‘Rolling Stone’), could just as equally be record of the year now. Nothing about it has dated, from the explosive Afro-futurist industrial gumbo of its construction to the horrendously untreated, uncorrected misdeeds it chronicles and the righteous rage it swings back with.

Moor Mother, 2017A furious free-electronic beat investigation into the very fabric of American history from its battered black underbelly, the timbre and horror of ‘Fetish Bones’ reveals Camae as a burst but ever-renewing griot – willingly overwhelmed but still fighting the fight that needs to be fought. Her spit of ideas and incriminations are the symptom of an ongoing wound that won’t stop being burst open: “still had enough blood in my throat to gargle up nine words – “I resist to being both the survivor and the victim” – but I know the reality…” A stern, fearless presence, she rides a broken levee’s worth of dirty-historical floodwater and swirling cyclonic indictments, holding American crimes to account – male violence; systematic and institutionalised white brutality against black bodies and souls, or against the nation’s own tormented psyche. Around her voice (sharp beads of slam poetry chorused and gravelled by a flicker of concrete distortion) there’s a massed, jump-cutting collage of industrial-strength beats, chain gang and plantation songs, subway trains rattling into darkness, layered speeches of resistance, samplings of gospel ecstasy crossing into screams of operatic rage. What initially seems like a crazed searchlight, swinging pitilessly and furiously from atrocity to atrocity, rapidly reveals itself as being driven by a diamond-hard intelligence as Camae time-travels back and forth across two American centuries of wrongness, relentlessly weaving her case from aural snapshots of black culture suffering and resisting under the heel that hammers it, and never sugarcoating the price and courage of struggle (“like how mama made biscuits outa nothing, all while having a dope needle in her arm…”)



 
Camae’s in England next week for a couple of shows in London and in Leeds. These should be unmissable. Dates below (tickets are now down to the last fifty or so in London, though I’m not so sure about Leeds).

  • The Islington, 1 Tolpuddle Street, Angel, London, N1 0XT, England, Wednesday 10th January 2018, 7.30pm – information here, here, here and here
  • Headrow House, Bramley’s Yard, 19 The Headrow, Leeds, Yorkshire, LS1 6PU, England, Friday 12th January 2018, 8.00pm – information here and here

In London, Camae’s supported by No Home, a.k.a. emergent blackgirl punk Charlie Joseph, who blends wounded lo-fi murmurs and nightmare dream-folk blues wails with suffocating doses of peat-bog guitar noise plus brooding sub-bassy post-punk atmospheres: all of which is a sleight-of-hand cover for the vulnerabilities and contradictions of her songwriting (as if a teenaged, slightly more fucked-up Tracy Chapman had hired in Gnod as producers). Charlie’s own cited touchstones include Mitzi’s building-a-girl narratives and the floating, questioning experimental R’n’B identities of Frank Ocean, plus the shifting roots-tronic approach of Bon Iver and the populist indie of The Strokes. Her interesting, elusive lyrics touch on current soul-aches like toxic masculinity, besieged defensiveness and post-capitalist malaise (though they’re a little too slippery to stick there).

Still a little crude and understated (in comparison to the expansive, whip-smart Moor Mother barrage she’s got to warm up for), Charlie’s only just scraped the surface of what she’s got to say. Give her time – and a few more turns in carefully-chosen, blazing-kiln support slots like this one – and I think we’ll be looking at something quite special. Right now, she’s the whispering ghost of her own future.



 
In Leeds, the local supports are AlgernonCornelius and Basic Switches – the former a trans-Pennine beatsmaker, the latter a one-woman/circuit-bending/voice-and-effects-pedal show by Hilary Knott (from longstanding Leeds punk-pop “idiosyncrats” Cowtown).

Taking tips from Rza, A Tribe Called Quest and J. Dilla, AlgernonCornelius has spent the last couple of years blending and waxing across a range of hip hop/IDM ideas (from his glitch-soul mangling of Minnie Riperton on 2015’s ‘Blind’ to the shimmying RSJ dub of last year’s ‘Blood Claat’). Basic Switches looks like an extension of Hilary’s other circuit-bending project, Skellingtons, in which she aims for “the harshest possible sound” from twee little Yahama and Casio keyboards plus toys, loop pedals and “broken, cheap drum machines that have previously been rejected by all self respecting electronic music makers.” Wilfully tricky to pin down outside of catching her at a live gig, this unguarded live-at-home Christmas mash-take on George Michael should at least give you some idea of how she works.



 

December 2017 – strange and wonderful sounds in and out of London – Alien, Adrian Lane and Stuart Bowditch in Leigh-on-Sea (14th December); Dean McPhee, Sam McLoughlin, David Chatton Barker, Amy Cutler and Sylvia Hallett up in Homerton (16th December)

6 Dec

As Christmas approaches I find myself in a tearing hurry; so don’t be too surprised if the remaining gig posts for the year rely even more on text ripped straight off Facebook or other gig notifications. I’m just here to boost the signals and blend the options for the month, though I’ll also patch in any missing information as I go.

Now – December news on various Essex sonic artists coming together out on the Thames estuary, and on a Homerton gathering of atmosphere-guitar, homemade instruments and film…

* * * * * * * *

Alien + Adrian Lane + Stuart Bowditch, 14th December 2017

Courier Sound presents:
Alien + Adrian Lane + Stuart Bowditch
Phuse Media, Polar House, 103 Rectory Grove, Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, SS9 2HW, England
Thursday 14th December 2017, 8.00pm
information

“Courier Sound invite you to a launch party celebrating the release of Alien‘s ‘Perimeter’. Al Johnson’s long form piece, made with a bass guitar and a variety of electronics, is presented on a super-limited edition (30) mini CD in a bespoke arigato pack (designed by Machindo, cut by Damien Robinson), with two inserts, a sticker and a decal on the CD. In the small and intimate setting of his own office, Al will be playing a live improvised set, alongside live sets from Adrian Lane and Stuart Bowditch. Entry is free and early arrival is advised. Bring some booze.”

An intermittent surfacer, Alien has previously released work on labels including Southend’s Hottwerk; but here’s some very recent material (uploaded to Soundcloud yesterday!) plus a video swiped from Facebook…

 
And here’s some more I dug up on the guest acts…

Adrian Lane – who’s also recorded as Calicoade and (in collaboration with Guido Lusetti), as That Faint Light – is a man of mutually superimposed talents. He’s a visual artist as well as a musician, or perhaps he’s better described as a simultaneously visual and musical artist: his music integrating acoustic and electronic elements, struggling in a dreamy web of neoclassical/mediaeval folk inspirations and textural ambient foggings. Adrian’s newest album, ‘Playing With Ghosts’, uses cut-up and re-ordered samples of hundred-year-old wax cylinder recordings as its main sound source (something Adrian goes into in greater depth in this interview with his record company Preserved Sounds.

 
The work of Stuart Bowditch (who also records under the names of Hybernation, USRNM and Furrows) is primarily based in sound design and field recordings. As his biog puts it, he’s mostly “inspired by location and the people and experiences he encounters there. He is interested primarily in the sounds of everyday life and those who create them, making work that is inclusive and accessible.His music, sound tracks and art installations are often site-responsive and developed with community groups, the public or people who would not consider themselves interested in ‘art’. In this way of working he tries to make sense of the world he lives in and his place within it. Simultaneously, the creations and experiences of others end up intrinsically embedded in his work, creating a rich texture of layers, representing his life and those he has encountered along the way.”

 
* * * * * * * *

Dean McPhee + Sam McLoughlin & David Chatton Barker + Amy Cutler & Sylvia Hallett, 16th December 2016

The Old Dentist presents:
Dean McPhee + Sam McLoughlin & David Chatton Barker + Amy Cutler & Sylvia Hallett
The Old Dentist, 33 Chatsworth Road, Homerton, London, E5 0LH, England
Saturday 16th December 2017, 7.30pm
– information here and here

“A night of deep audio-visual sorcery in three acts to mark the release of solo electric guitarist Dean McPhee’s much anticipated third album ‘Four Stones’ – featuring Dean’s hypnotic drone-folk guitar work and the visual feedback footage of Barry Hale, the homemade instrument/OHP séance shadow-puppetry of Folklore Tapes duo Sam McLoughlin & David Chatton Baker and the films and musical improvisations of Amy Cutler and Sylvia Hallett.

Dean McPhee is a solo electric guitarist who combines fluid, chiming melodic lines with shimmering drones and deep layers of decaying delay and echo. He has a unique style of playing which draws together influences from British folk, dub, kosmische, post-rock and Mali blues, and his music has a hypnotic and dreamlike quality. His latest album ‘Four Stones’ is due to be released on Hood Faire (a label run collectively by Dean, Sam McLoughlin and David Chatton-Barker) in January 2018… For this gig Dean will be playing to footage of video artist Barry Hale‘s Intraference visual feedback films.



 
Sam McLoughlin plays homemade instruments and contraptions along with guitar, analog synths, harmonium and pump organ. Sometimes he sings songs; at other times he combines handmade Moondog-like percussion with microphone feedback, synth drones and unpredictable bowed textures to produce improvised music with magical and shamanic overtones. Sam recently released the album ‘Flaming Liar’ on Them There Records and has previously released music on Andy Votel’s Twisted Nerve as well as Folklore Tapes, Pre Cert Entertainment and Hood Faire.

“David Chatton-Barker is the co-founder and captain of the highly regarded Folklore Tapes label which was recently described by Brainwashed.com as “possibly the most unique and fascinating label around”. As well as being a visual artist and film-maker, David also specialises in playful and atmospheric collages of sound, dictaphone recordings and live improvisation. Like Sam, he also builds his own very inventive and visually striking homemade instruments and sound-making devices, which he uses to perform live (along with projections and ritualistic interventions).

 
“As a new duo, geographer-poet Amy Cutler and multi-instrumentalist Sylvia Hallett draw on the dark sides of nature: from sea parasites to forensic botany to elegies based on Arctic bird migrations. They perform live improvisatory settings of pieces drawing on natural history, such as ‘you, the stingbearers’, based on Jean-Henri Fabre’s nineteenth-century chronicle of human desolation, ‘The Life of the Fly’. Instruments include the viola, the musical saw, and Sylvia’s Russian garden vines. Amy’s projections include kaleidoscopes of tree rot and insect forms in nature documentaries, and she will also screen some of her short music videos inspired by drone music and experimental landscape cinema.”
(See below for Sylvia at work on a bicycle wheel, plus Amy’s short film ‘Incantations From Yin Valley’ – made this year with experimental drone musician Bridget Hayden, previously of Vibracathedral Orchestra).



 

October 2017 – upcoming London gigs – heavy art rock with Thumpermonkey, The Fierce & The Dead and Ham Legion; another Society of Imaginary Friends Soiree with Beth Jones, WondRwomN and others (both 6th October)

1 Oct

A couple of London choices for this Friday…

* * * * * * * *

Thumpermonkey + The Fierce & The Dead + Ham Legion, 6th October 2017

Chaos Theory Promotions presents:
The Facemelter: Thumpermonkey + The Fierce & The Dead + Ham Legion
The Black Heart, 2-3 Greenland Place, Camden Town, London, NW1 0AP, England
Friday 6th October 2017, 7.30pm
– information here and here

There’s still a few grab-’em-while-you-can tickets for this friendly clash between these three varied exemplars of British art rock. I keep posting odds and ends about them and always fear running out of something new to say, but here goes…

Described, this time out, as a “merry band of loony pronk heroes”, Thumpermonkey are better pegged as arch New Weird rockers, or as geeks-made-good. Bright, sharp, literate tale-tellers and brain-twisting scenarists, they roll out blistering tales and portraits of strange perspectives and stranger goings on festooned in kinked, scree-slipping riffs and grand declamatory vocals with an ever-present tinge of dark laughter. Unpicking the puzzlebox machinery of a typical Thumpermonkey song is a route to mingled glee and frustration, since singer, lyricist and concept director Michael Woodman packs in tight multi-dimensional digressions and inferences with the skill of a master.

This gig is a launch party for Thumpermonkey’s new EP ‘Electricity‘, inspired by “the luminous magnificence of human foolishness” and the story of “Victorian MP and visionary Lord James Badger… atomized by technology he hoped would transform the canals of the Euphrates, all because he followed the instructions of an angelic visitation.” The particular genius of Thumpermonkey is that they can unroll these kind of parodic slipstream plots without ever toppling into cute whimsy. If you’re looking for the missing link between Mastodon, Zappa, China Miéville, Van der Graaf Generator, Alejandro Jodorowsky and the harder end of the Mighty Boosh (and God knows that if you’re looking for something like that, you’re pretty specific), you’ll find it here. Clever bastards.


 

Currently riding along on the scaly back of their recent live album ‘Field Recordings’, The Fierce & The Dead are heading towards their seventh year as an imposing, boundary-squatting instrumental rock band, forcibly blending post-hardcore, instrumental prog, post-punk immediacy and experimental noise. Despite their music being sweetened by the inclusion of tuneful loop-guitar honeybear Matt Stevens in the lineup, they sport a brutal, angular, drawer-popping rifftastic sound which variously resembles Led Zeppelin and Black Flag simultaneously shaking down a post-rock band, a hotel kitchen getting a forcible mid-meal remodelling by Archaos, or a carhenge attempting to twerk along to highlife. Have a listen to Dancing Robots below for a dose of their live crunch and down-to-earth banter – or, if you prefer, there’s a free Bandcamp download sampler available.


 
Intermittently active Brightonian trio Ham Legion will open the show with a set of their cramped, restless heavy art-pop, matching the other two bands blurt-for-blurt and switch-for-switch.


 
* * * * * * * *

If all of the above is not for you – or if your Friday funds only stretch to a Tube journey and a drink – cabaret art-poppers Society of Imaginary Friends are putting on another free soiree in Wood Green (see passim). As ever, there’s a theme and a new bit of performance art jiggery-pokery from the Society themselves.

Society of Imaginary Friends Soiree, 6th October 2017

Society Of Imaginary Friends present:
Society of Imaginary Friends Soiree: “It’s Our Home County Amateur Dramatic Class Soiree” (featuring Society Of Imaginary Friends + Beth Jones + WondRwomN + Martin Wakefield + Cian Binchy + Lord Buckley + Ted Sawyer/Frank Frenzy DJ sets)
Kabaret @ Karamel Restaurant, The Chocolate Factory 2, 4 Coburg Road, Wood Green, London, N22 6UJ, England
Friday 6th October 2017, 8.00pm – free event
information

“From Tring to Crawley, Amersham to Reigate, the dusky Downs resound to the sound of dramatis personae… for this is the time of preparation… the drawing-in of the nights can mean only one thing to these outcasts… Panto season is approaching.

“Our October Soiree is dedicated to London’s cultural refugees who dwell beyond the M25 where things are quite different… in a quiet cul-de-sac of the mind they float… there is no music other than ’80s power-synth ballads or Gary Numan… the Am Dram village hall is at the centre of the Home Counties mock-Tudor universe… As a mark of deep respect for this tradition, Society of Imaginary Friends will be performing the premiere of their ‘Home Counties’ song cycle featuring their cosy pub classic Please Put That Hammer Away and It’s My Home Counties Amateur Dramatic Class.”

Also on the bill is the usual swirl of other words and music – bluesy singer-songwriter Beth Jones ; poet/raconteurs Martin Wakefield and Cian Binchy, emerging Tottenham groove goddess WondRwomN with a cocktail of psychedelic soul, funk, rap and “grit pop”; and the “deranged and strange” Lord Buckley (presumably a tribute act to the hipsemantic beat standup from the 1950s, unless SOIF have mastered necromancy this year and brought us back the real thing). There’s also a double DJ helping from Ted Sawyer (Northern Soul) and Frank Frenzy (that 1980s power disco sound mentioned earlier) plus Karamel’s usual prizewinning vegan food (this time “reimagining the ’70s classics like prawn cocktail and Boeuf Bourguignon as a death free feast”).

See below for the Society’s poperatic tribute to social media, a harmonica-laden song about infidelity from Beth, and a couple of drum-and-‘bone-assisted joints from WondRwomN…


 

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