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May 2017 – upcoming English gigs by or with Steve Lawson – Neil Murray masterclass + Steve’s Ley Lines trio in Kidderminster (May 2nd); Steve plays with Robert Logan (plus Surjit Sembi-Harding, Daniel Brooks and Dan Rogerson) in London (May 13th); Steve Lawson/Mike Outram/Emre Ramazanoglu trio in Birmingham (May 14th)

22 Apr

Ever-gregarious solo bassist Steve Lawson (who’s been having a pretty busy spring already, with his earlier Birmingham Bass Night and a couple of new albums ready to go) has put out news of three further upcoming live appearances in England as solo player and collaborator. Collectively, they run the familiar Lawson gamut of jazz, ambient fusion, electronica, work with singer-songwriters… and plenty of talking.

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First up is a combined gig, masterclass and interview (with Steve on the interviewer end of the mic…)

Neil Murray masterclass + Ley Lines, 2nd May 2017

“Kidderminster College presents a masterclass with bass legend Neil Murray! Neil’s career is woven into the history of British rock, including his time as bassist for Whitesnake, Black Sabbath, Gary Moore & Brian May. His influential style helped shape the evolution of hard rock from the jazz rock crossover of the 70s in bands like Colosseum II through to Whitesnake’s era-defining ‘1987’ global smash. Neil will talk with Steve Lawson about his career, demonstrate some of the lines that made him one of the most sought-after bassists in the country, and share advice from his life in music.

“The second half of the evening will be a performance by Ley Lines – Steve Lawson, Andy Edwards and Phi Yaan-Zek are the bass/drums/guitar teachers at Kidderminster College, and have released two critically acclaimed albums as a trio. This is their long-awaited live debut outside of the college, and promises to be an enthralling high energy set of improvised music crossing many styles and sounds!”


 
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The Waiting, 13th May 2017

Steve continues:

“May 13th at The Waiting, in Hounslow will be a solo gig and a collaboration with synth genius Robert Logan – Robert and I have been talking about collaborating for a long time. I’m a huge fan of his solo work, and am really looking forward to seeing what we come up with!”

For those of you who aren’t immediately familiar with Robert, he’s a pretty outstanding talent in electronic music. Like many in the field, he earns much of his living from drama or documentary soundtracks (the kind after which you squint eagerly at rapidly scrolling credits. keen to catch the name of whoever’s responsible for the arresting background sounds) but he’s also made a backroom wizard’s name for himself via beats and texture work for the likes of Brigitte Fontaine, Morcheeba’s Skye Edwards and in particular Grace Jones’s ‘Hurricane’, as well as collaborations with Steve Roach and Raf & O.

Four albums into a parallel solo career (which began with 2007’s ‘Cognessence’, recorded while he was still a teenager), Robert’s music displays a startling mastery of broad and exciting strands, going from dubstep, techno thud and ocean-pop ambience to twisted beats, atonal arpeggiations and dark ambience via experiments with banjo and pocket trumpet tracks; plus a magisterial atmospheric and heft of intent drawing from reconstructed classical music.


 
As regards the host event, The Waiting is a monthly gig at Maswell Park Church, boasting particularly full evening bills with a Christian slant (if not necessarily in terms of lyrical fervency, at least in terms of the faith and society which drives and shapes the musicians). On the 13th, in addition to Steve and Robert’s contributions, there will be appearances by Surjit Sembi Harding (frontman with Chiswick pop band Under Control, currently leading his own Surj project) and by Daniel Brooks, a onetime Robert Logan production client who divides his own work between quizzical electro-pop (exemplified by the ‘Toys’ track below), grand digital popscapes and electronic atmospheres. Both men are sometime worship leaders, bringing some of those skills to their pop fronting and songwriting voices; and while it’s true that Christian pop can sometimes be a refuge for simpering blandness, neither Surjit nor Daniel subscribe to this, both being several cuts above.



 
Surjit’s Under Control bandmate Daniel Rogerson will also be on hand for a solo guitar set, plus there’s a two-hour open mic session before the gig for anyone who wants to try their luck.

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Back to Steve for word on the final May show:

Steve Lawson/Mike Outram/Emre Ramazanoglu, 14th May 2017

“May 14th is a really special gig at Tower Of Song, with two of my favourite collaborators ever. Mike Outram (guitar) and Emre Ramazanoglu (drums) are true geniuses on their instruments – Mike and I recorded ‘Invenzioni’ back in 2010 but never played live. Emre and I met as part of a studio experimentation with Beardyman almost exactly a year ago. We played live in London last September and are really looking forward to playing again, and recording it properly for a live release.”

Here’s a trim of what I wrote last time the trio stepped out:

“Possessed of a boisterously convivial and adventurous set of guitar tones (as well as a spontaneous but eminently accessible creativity), Mike Outram is one of a number of contemporary electric guitarists who define themselves via the act of music rather than the reinforcement of genre. Although jazz enthusiasts will rightly admire him for his work with Nikki Iles, Tim Garland, Theo Travis’s Double Talk and Billy Bottle & The Multiple, Mike learns from and adds to whichever situation or artist he works with outside of jazz, be it soul pop with Carleen Anderson, latterday prog fusion with Steven Wilson or the classical/soundtrack work of composer Laura Rossi…. A committed solo performer since 2000, dedicated to presenting bass guitar as a standalone instrument, Steve has also been an enthusiastic and garrulous collaborator. His conversational fretless bass tones, Kaoss Pad rhythmic experiments and panoramic swathing loopscapes have meshed with a wide variety of partners from pianists, saxophonists, singers and drummers to electric kora players and a range of other amenable solo bassists. His own relaxed attitude to genre has resulted in a musical voice which strolls from place to place, touching on points from smooth-hipped jazz to art-rock, slick pop to noisy improv, dance electronica to ambient-aquatic sound painting, but never being tied down to any of them…. Emre Ramazanoglu, a multi-genre drummer, programmer, writer and producer… generally works (semi-invisibly) behind the scenes in the music industry, at the points where high-level musical chops, cunning production ideas and rapidly-evolving technology mesh with contemporary pop music production and bespoke event soundtracks. In between the demands of catwalk and chart, he fits in more esoteric, less overtly commercial work such as writing and shaping new records for reggae stalwarts Trojan, playing the Adrian Sherwood/remixological role on Martin France’s Spin Marvel jazztronica project, and co-running quirky sound design outfit Rattly’n’Raw.”

And here’s some of what they played on the night:



 
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Details on all three gigs below:

  • Neil Murray masterclass + Ley Lines – Worley’s @ The Swan, 56 High St, Stourport-On-Severn, DY13 8BX Tuesday 2nd May 2017, 7.00pm – free event – information
  • Steve Lawson + Surjit Sembi-Harding + Daniel Brooks + Robert Logan (& guests) + Dan Rogerson – The Waiting @ Maswell Park Church, corner of Heath Road and Inwood Road, Hounslow, London, TW3 1XN, England, Saturday 13th May 2017, 7.00pm (open mic from 5.00pm)information
  • Steve Lawson/Mike Outram/Emre Ramazanoglu – Tower of Song, 107 Pershore Road South, Kings Norton, Birmingham B30 3EL, England, Sunday 14th May 2017, 7.00pminformation

 

July 2016 – upcoming London gigs – A.R. Kane + Plastic Flowers’ dream pop evening (13th), Jausmė with Nicole Collarbone and Sian Magill in Battersea (13th); Cecil Sharp Choir’s Appalachian evening (14th)

11 Jul

…And in the middle of the week it’s about dream pop, folk music and the margin in between…

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Our Friends Eclectic presents:
A.R. Kane + Plastic Flowers
The Good Ship, 289 Kilburn High Road, Kilburn, London, NW6 7JR, England
Wednesday 13th June 2016, 8.00pm
information

This Wednesday, resurrected dream pop pioneers A.R. Kane play one of only two small, indoors British gigs while they ride the wave of worldwide summer festivals. This little London show is the guaranteed best opportunity to see them for the foreseeable future, especially if you missed their Manchester gig at the Soup Kitchen back in May (an event which, I’ll admit, I myself was too disorganised to even flag up) and especially since ’Kane leader Rudy Tambala has been enthusiastic about his preference for “a small crowd loving it, getting it” (as opposed to a fieldful of musical floating voters).

The original A.R.Kane were many things before those things became more commonplace – Afropean art-culture swaggerers, dissolvers of rock and pop’s hierarchical structures, sound-melters in whom dancefloor politics met punk threshing, electronic upsetters who played equally with roots and the bewilderingly synthetic. Rudy formed the band in 1986 with his childhood friend Alex Ayuli – two east London black kids with family roots in west or south-east Africa; a pair of eclectic clubgoers and self-confessed cocky chancers with broad listening habits, enough gab to make their brainwaves sound seductive (notably, Alex’s day job was in advertising), and a post-post-punk whim for running with ideas rather than technique. The idea of A.R. Kane was conceived as a backfiring party boast that Rudy and Alex felt obliged to follow up. Citing Cocteau Twins, the Velvet Underground, Miles Davis and Joni Mitchell as a range of influences might have been a handful of arty clichés then – it would certainly become so later. For two men who approached music as something envisaged rather than something played, however, it was a recipe for building a project from the ground up.

A.R. Kane’s work is often cited as pop reinvention. In fact, it’s more of a sprawl of jouissance – anti-formalism, a dab of abstract expressionism, and a joy in capturing moments on the fly. All of this should have been in the air when (early on in the journey) they joined forces with experimental dance duo Colourbox for the M|A|R|R|S sessions, leading to a number one hit via the British house classic ‘Pump Up The Volume’. As it happened, an experience that should have felt like a triumph of creative opportunity ended up as a bruising, short-lived encounter with hit factory frenzy, mutual intransigence and a blizzard of copyright litigation. These days Rudy dismisses ‘Pump Up The Volume’ as straight cultural theft from black and gay American club culture, but keeps a soft spot for the flipside – ‘Anitina’ (a confection of careening, planing guitar feedback and joyous narcotic pop vocal over hammering Colourbox industrial drums).

It’s this track that exemplifies ‘Kanework, rather than the pulsing plunderphonics of ‘Pump Up The Volume’. When Rudy and Alex played pop, it sounded like toy music or a process of on-the-spot discoveries. Nurtured along the way by the production suss of Cocteau Twin Robin Guthrie and Gentle Giant’s Ray Shulman (with the latter’s post-prog bass often adding a subtle touch of spine and structure to the core cavortings), A.R. Kane seemed to achieve their aims by recreating music from around its edges rather than heading up through the centre. Paradoxically, they deracinated while remembering exactly where the roots were grounded, as if rock music was a complicated hairstyle which they were ripping the pins out of, sending them rattling onto the floor.

Sometimes they’d sound like what would happen if someone had had the gall to strip all of the blues out of Hendrix’s ‘Third Stone From The Sun’, leaving just the cosmic frizz, fragmentary whippling stringwork and mind-opening vocal fragments; like a disembodied, chromatically-dappled sci-fi Afro. Ecstatic hollers might chase sleepy narratives over chamber strings. Gnarly Guthrie-esque guitar noise, hell-gate heartbooms and refracting-knife feedback would bob around dashes of funk and house (which Alex and Rudy were onto long before the Madchester boom). From Jamaica, they gleaned dub-echo bursts of clipped piano or high snare. From American psychedelia, they drew jelly-baby lyrics that bobbed around dancing synth basslines (as if ‘60s acid casualties were making healing pilgrimages to New York electro clubs). From the underground currents of their hometown, they took their conceptual irreverence, their underlying cheek and their mix-and-match mercantilism. (It’s also where they gained their hard-knocks guile and ingenuity, that second-or third generation immigrant pluck that Western city racism forces back onto even the smartest of its homeboys).

Despite all of this sonic ensorcelment, on the early albums you could (if you wanted to) cock your head, peek underneath the noise and find a couple of guys who could barely play or sing; who were keeping it all afloat via acts of will, wit and weather. Most of the time, you’d wink back at them, then return to the bliss and forget the slender mechanisms holding it together. However, by the time of their sun-kissed swansong album, ‘New Clear Child’, A.R. Kane had skilled up and drifted towards a more coherent pop music. Apparently inspired by Alex’s move to California, the later songs meandered up to both Love and Talk Talk via West Coast funk, with daisy petals matted into their nappy hair. As was only appropriate for a band driven by an elusive and amorphous ingenuity, the more A.R. Kane solidified, the more they dissolved. Alex went solo; Rudy teamed up with his sister Maggie (an occasional ‘Kane backing singer) in Sufi and for twenty-odd years, that was that.

As is often the case, the band were finally tempted back into action via the nostalgia engine which fuels pop festivals. Last year Rudy was coaxed into weaving A.R. Kane back into existence, although he had to do it without his erstwhile partner (apparently busy with his own perspective on dream pop, Alex Ayuli opted to sit this one out). 2015’s ambitious Alex-free septet has now been trimmed to the core trio of Rudy and Maggie Tambala plus new cohort Andy Taylor; a mess of three guitars, three voices, computers and synths. While they originally billed themselves as “#A.R.Kane”, with Rudy optimistically explaining that “should Alex come out-to-play, we can easily drop the ‘#’..”, they’ve subsequently dropped the hashtag anyway, along with the distinctions and (it seems) the hope that Ayuli’s said no, gave no reasons refusal wouldn’t be permanent.

The flipside of this disappointment is that the band’s new lease of life has inspired and toughened them into a more committed playing unit fired up by contact with both fans and heirs. Back in the ‘80s, few bands used A.R. Kane’s methodology and thinking. Nowadays you could pull together a huge, snaking, intercontinental conga line of the fuckers. One of them’s playing at the Good Ship alongside Rudy and co. – Plastic Flowers, the London-based dream pop project of Thessaloniki-born George Samaras, whose grand skeletal lushness (bare-bones drumbox echo, threaded vocal and towering ripcurls of melodic guitar noise) is an almost pure mainlining of the ‘Kane lineage.


 
Now a revitalized Rudy is talking, with giddy enthusiasm, about future recordings and about the new material he apparently brought to the Soup Kitchen gig the other month. (I’ve checked for reviews of that, but found nothing unless it’s been reduced to telegrammatic burbles on Facebook – being off-‘book at the moment, I wouldn’t know). We’ll have to see how his intentions pan out. With planned American coastal tours cancelled (due to date and commitment clashes rather than lack of interest), there are still a couple of showings at the Siren and Half Die festivals in Italy later in the month; and then back home for On Blackheath in September. After that, the future’s both blank and open – which, in a way, is where A.R. Kane came in in the first place.

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If vindicated dream pop discombobulation doesn’t float your boat for Wednesday, then perhaps you’d prefer a free event at Battersea’s delightful acoustic playground on the same night…

Jausmė (with Nicole Collarbone) + Sian Magill
The Magic Garden, 231 Battersea Park Road, Battersea, London, SW11 4LG, England
Wednesday 13th July 2016, 9:00 pm
– free event – information

Transplanted Lithuanian singer-songwriter Jausmė – Vilnius-born, but Milton-Keynes-based – will be performing a set of her own material accompanying herself on the kanklės (a twenty-nine string Lithuanian zither with a sparkling sound) and aided by Liverpudlian cross-disciplinary cellist Nicole Collarbone (whose myriad projects and collaborations include the Neil Campbell Collective and folk ensemble Sonnenberg).

Jausmė describes her work as “urban etherealism”. Translated, this seems to mean a half-invented, half-archaeological folk music (like a less grandiose, less Gothic, closer-to-the-source Dead Can Dance), and one in which the focus is shifted thirteen hundred miles northwest to the Baltic states; it also means that Jausmė listens to, and can slip into, the work of sub-bass, garage and techno producers. On this occasion, though, it’s all wood and no electronics, and the roots are northern. For evidence of what Jausmė and Nicole can do together (and of Jausmė’s skills on her own), see below.



 
In support is another no-less-impressive Milton Keynesian, Sian Magill, who honed her subtly immersive, highly literary folk songs at venues both there and at Oxford, where she studied English Literature at degree level. If the latter suggests someone whose work’s likely to wear its intelligence as clever English hauteur, think again. Sian’s songs draw on more distant traditions, coming across as a more Irish-toned echo of the dense, individual American song-tales of someone like Dayna Kurtz, although she sounds less likely to venture to bars on the wrong side of the tracks, or to lean quite so much into the urban blues. Instead, Sian makes her own way into a story through a quiet and continuous flow of detailed observation and consideration, atop a busy, depth-inducing weave of fingerpicked guitar (see below).


 

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Appalachian 100: Cecil Sharp House Choir (with Alice Cade + Pete Cooper + Ed Hicks)
Cecil Sharp House, 2 Regent’s Park Road, London, NW1 7AY, England
Thursday 14th July 2016, 7.30pm
information

If you missed the Cecil Sharp Choir at the Union Chapel last Saturday (singing songs for a Daylight Music marine afternoon), they’re back on home turf at Cecil Sharp House for another show on Thursday. This time, they’re celebrating the centenary of musicologist Sharp’s first folk-song-collecting visit to the Appalachian Mountains of America, a region replete with influences from sixteenth-century England and from the tough feuding culture of the Scottish Borders, as well as (at least in the Ozark region) a great line in dirty stories.

I don’t know whether any cheerful smut is going to be reeled out at the concert (in song or in asides), but the choir are promising “a selection of glorious a capella harmony arrangements of traditional songs, including some collected in the Mountains”, in new arrangements by leader Sally Davies. Three special guests will be adding to the show- flatfoot dancer Alice Cade, fiddle master Pete Cooper and multi-instrumentalist Ed Hicks (banjo, fiddle, guitar, mandolin, Anglo concertina and voice).



 

December 2015 – upcoming gigs, London & elsewhere – Serafina Steer & Bas Jan at Kings Place; assorted Others cabaret from punk to accordiana with The Bohemianauts and Bad Fractals; a Lost Map afternoon with The Pictish Trail/Seamus Fogarty/Tuff Love/Kid Canaveral at Daylight Music; Thumpermonkey, The Mayors Of Miyazaki and Lolita Laytex hit The Albany in Deptford; and the 2015 London Contemporary Music Festival part 1 (sounds for and from London, West Coast America and the time continuum). Plus the return of Mark Mulholland and Craig Ward in a Scottish village hall; Olga Stezhko in a Staffordshire chapel; and Rocket From The Tombs in London and Leeds.

6 Dec

The end of the month, and the year, is nigh – so what are we looking forward to this week?

Mulholland, Ward, Sissoko & D'Hoine @ Ford Village Hall, 8th December 2015

Mark Mulholland, Craig Ward, Yacouba Sissoko & Hannes D’Hoine (Ford Village Hall, Ford, Argyll, Scotland, Tuesday 8th December 2015, 7.30pm) – £5.00 minimum – information – tickets on the door

Back in 2012, two wandering Scottish singer-songwriter-guitarists – Mark Mulholland (ex-Two Dollar Bash) and onetime dEUS member Craig Ward – quietly released one of the finest records of the year. A compelling murmur of acoustic guitar folk, ‘Waiting For The Storm’ was soaked in the Scottish and British folk-baroque of Davey Graham, Pentangle and John Martyn but, in its settings of moist heat, tin roofs, typhoons and dark forces, it was also informed by the Haitian setting of Port-au-Prince, Mark’s home for the previous two years. Some of you may remember that I liked it.

With Mark now relocated to Mali and Craig settled in the little Argyll village of Ford, the duo are collaborating on a follow-up (provisionally called ‘The Darkness Between The Leaves’) on which they’ll be joined by Flemish double bass player Hannes D’Hoine – who played the Danny Thompson anchor-cable role on ‘Waiting For The Storm’ – and by Mark’s newest collaborator, the Malian djely and multi-instrumentalist Yacouba Sissoko, a master kora and ngoni player. The quartet have been preparing and recording in a number of different countries, and the end of the Scottish sessions will be marked by a Ford performance both taking place in and raising funds for Ford Village Hall, with prices set on a pay-what-you-like basis starting from five pounds.

In its quiet way this should be one of the gigs of the year, so if you’re in western Scotland and have a free Tuesday evening, consider heading over to Ford (at the south-western end of Loch Awe, north-west of Glasgow, with the nearest substantial town being Kilmartin.) If you miss this one, they’re playing again in Glasgow at 7.00pm on Wednesday 9th; a low-key gig at the Hidden Lane Gallery in Finnieston.

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After that – for me – the week doesn’t pick up until a very busy Friday and weekend. Too subjective, probably. Here we go, anyway.

Serafina Steer & Bas Jan (Hall Two @ (Kings Place, 90 York Way, Kings Cross, London, N1 9AG, England, Friday 11th December 2015, 8.00pm) – £9.50-£12.50 – information & tickets

The hitherto independent worlds of contemporary harp music and experimental kraut-pop will collide – or at least bump each other – in this concert of two halves by harpist/songwriter Serafina Steer and her new band Bas Jan.

After a few years of mainly only using the harp for her own writings, Serafina went on a roadtrip around Eastern Europe busking, discovering and rediscovering pieces along the way. The result of this experience will form the first half of the programme, which will feature compositions by Richard Barratt (‘tendril’), Benjamin Britten (‘Suite For Harp’), Stephen Dodgson (‘Fantasy’), Rhodri Davies (‘Aqcua Alta’) and Serafina’s own father Michael Maxwell Steer (‘Grovelly Wood’)

The second half of the show will be a performance by Bas Jan, Serafina’s latest collaborative project in which she plays bass guitar and keyboards and writes minimally arranged songs about the Essex coast, the Anglo-Saxons, sex, part-time work and love; with sound artist Sarah Anderson playing violin and OP1 mini-synthesizer and performance visual artist Jenny Moore playing drums (all three women also sing). Bas Jan’s first gig was to six thousand people at Brixton Academy and since then they have gone on – via support slots for Xylouris White and The Decemberists – to entertain smaller and smaller audiences.


 

On the same night, one of ‘Misfit City’s favourite classical musicians is spreading her own particular musical gospel up in Staffordshire:

Olga Stezhko (Abbotsholme Arts Society @ Abbotsholme School Chapel, Rocester, Uttoxeter, Staffordshire, ST14 5BS, England, Friday 11th December 2015, 8.00pm)information – limited number of tickets available, phone 01543 263 304 for details

Olga Stezhko, 2015Following up her recent debut performances at both the Wigmore and Bridgewater Halls (at which she performed full or partial versions of her ‘Lucid Dreams‘ assemblage, a programme of music exploring people’s changing perception of reality from childhood through to adulthood), classical pianist and multi-disciplinary thinker Olga Stezhko is bringing her sophisticated, metaphysical perspective and repertoire to the audience at Abbotsholme.

On this occasion, her choice of music is a little more conventional (leaning on well-established favourites by Mozart, Bach and Prokofiev rather then stretching to the Sophia Gubaidulina pieces she was playing last month). However, there’s still room in the programme for work by one of her compositional touchstones, Alexandr Scriabin; and you can be assured that whichever pieces Olga plays will have been carefully thought out and put into context as part of a programme intended to inspire thought and broader conceptual connections as well as straightforward musical enjoyment.

Programme:

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – Sonata in B flat major, K.570
Johannes Brahms – Six Pieces, Op.118
Alexandr Scriabin – Two Dances Op.73; Five Preludes Op.74; Vers la flamme Op.72,
John Adams – China Gates
Sergei Prokofiev – Sonata no.4 in C minor, Op.29

Back in London, meanwhile, there’s cabaret afoot, plus breathless press releases.

Bad Fractals vs Bohemianauts @ The Others, 11th December 2015

The Bohemianauts + Bad Fractals (Bohemiocracy @ The Others, 6-8 Manor Road, Stoke Newington, London, N16 5SA, England, Friday 11th December 2015, 8.00pm) – £8.00-£10.00 –  information & tickets here and here

An epic face-off between two amazing, unique and bizarre bands.

Bad Fractals are shaman gangsters shooting bullets of love, tearing their way through acid punk, malevolent music hall and trailer-trash blues in a world gone mad. Join us at the crossroads, in a theatre of the absurd: hear story and song shift with the wild wonder of fractals! Watch psychedelic punks get drunk with clown kings! Glare at artificial angels dancing with deadbeat demons! Gasp as astral travellers gather in galactic taverns!

The Bohemianauts are decadent divas of demi-monde carnivalism, playing weird waltzes, pithy polkas and rollicking rhumbas: they will take you on a theatrical musical journey through strange landscapes with absurd humour, exquisite noise and songs of unrequited dread. Tonight they will unleash their female alter-egos, as they parade in their geezer-bird finery, performing for your pleasure as the rarely-seen Bohemianauts – Drag-ed on Stage. (Trigger warning: Bearded Drag.)

PLUS – Visuals and projections from Jaime Rory Lucy‘s Rucksack Cinema and half-time performance interventions from Oleg the Mystic.


 

Friday also sees the start of the London Contemporary Music Festival, which (as if it were part of a conspiracy theory) is lurking in a giant underground bunker near Baker Street…

LCMF 2015: ‘Collective Capital’

LCMF 2015: ‘Collective Capital’ (London Contemporary Music Festival 2015 @ Ambika P3, University of Westminster, 35 Marylebone Road, London, NW1 5LS, England, Friday 11th December 2015, 6.30pm) – £11.25 – information – tickets

London takes centre stage in our opening night, as we celebrate the exploratory fringes of the city’s music scene and the collective imperative that has been a spur to some of the capital’s greatest experiments. The proliferation of collectives among young musician-composers is reflected in new commissions from some of the most adventurous of these musical laboratories. The night will include premieres from Charlie Hope and Jamie Hamilton   (a.k.a. Topophobia), Neil Luck (performing with his Squib Box ensemble) and John Wall & Tom Mudd (Utterpsalm and Contingent Events). We hear recent work by composers Edward Henderson (Bastard Assignments), Shelley Parker and the artist duo Claudia Hunte. We welcome an iconic figure and chronicler of London’s musical edgelands, David Toop, and offer a live improvisation from Poulomi Desai (Usurp), who started the Hounslow Arts Co-op at the age of 14.

We also offer a world premiere from artists Richard Wilson and Anne Bean. In the 1980s, Anne, Richard and Paul Burwell formed the legendary Bow Gamelan Ensemble, enthralled by the aural poetry and parallel visions of the Thames. Now, Wilson and Bean enter the territory as W0B. Theirs is a world that cracks and splinters and grinds into being as it races backwards and forwards through friendships of forty years. ‘NALEMAG’ becomes the totemic incarnation of their endless scrabbling around boat-yards, scrap-yards, gas depots, pyrotechnic munitions, voyages on many rivers in countless vessels and a frenzy of carrying, welding, investigating and making across the planet. The trajectory culminates with a landmark new AV performance from south London’s Visionist, whose singular language emerges from the fragmentation of dubstep and grime.

Programme:

David Toop – Many Private Concerts
Anne Bean/Richard Wilson – NALEMAG (world premiere)
Poulomi Desai – Vermillion Sands (world premiere)
Neil Luck – Via Gut (world premiere – LCMF commission)
Jamie Hamilton/Charlie Hope – New work (world premiere)
Edward Henderson – Tape Piece
Claudia Hunte – The Elephant In The Room Is Afraid Of Dying
Shelley Parker – Live set
John Wall – Live set
Tom Mudd – Live set
Visionist – Live set (AV)

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On Saturday, there’s what looks like a particularly engaging Daylight Music afternoon, with the return of a familiar face…

The Pictish Trail & other Lost Map artists at Daylight Music, 12th December 2015

Daylight Music 210 – The Pictish Trail + artists from the Lost Map label: Seamus Fogarty + Tuff Love + Kid Canaveral (Union Chapel, Saturday 12th November 2015, 12.00pm) – free (suggested donation £5.00) – information

Wrapping up this season of Daylight Music are Lost Map; a loose-knit DIY label/collective from the Hebrides founded by alt-folk troubadour, Johnny Lynch, a.k.a. The Pictish Trail. For this special Christmas show, Johnny will be ice-skating back to the mainland, bringing a selection box of pals from his Lost Map roster, for a cosy festive afternoon of stripped back acoustic merriment, frost-bitten Casio hymns, and mulled-tea fuelled carols.

While The Pictish Trail often comes across on record as an eerie digifolk creation (like a Scottish oil-town-and-fishing-port David Lynch, with that surreal supernatural undertow suffused by Gaelic angst rather than Americana), anyone who’s caught one of the live acoustic shows will know that Johnny has an altogether more joyous side as unplugged strummer. Many of his tales may be based on shyness, grief and confusion, but I’ve seen few people who take such unalloyed pleasure in warming up and including an audience the way he does. For a reminder of this, have a read of my review of his last Daylight Music appearance back in January… and see below.

Mayo-born but London-based, Seamus Fogarty plays and sings his own soulful version of contemporary Irish folk, dabbled with electronic found sound. His output’s been described as “songs about mountains that steal T-shirts, women who look like dinosaurs and various other unfortunate incidents” and as “summoning all manner of odd noises and audio ghosts”. Taken from his current album ‘God Damn You Mountain’, here’s Rita Jack’s Lament, which showcases all of his various tendencies to the maximum.


 

Glaswegian fuzzy-pop duo Tuff Love represent Lost Map’s more-out-and-out indie rock side, although their cottage-industry approach (recording and producing everything at home themselves rather than chasing studios and jaded professional engineers) reflects the label’s d-i-y philosophy. Julie Eisenstein and Suse Bear (augmented for concerts by Phantom Band drummer Iain Stewart deliver “dazzling, sun-streaked guitar pop songs with mesmerising lyrics, heart-wrenching vocals and dreamy melodies like the sound of pure summer.” Over a scant few years of existence, they’ve already supported Paulo Nutini and Ride and played several overflowing handfuls of rock festivals. ‘Resort’ – a not-quite-debut album pulling together the three EPs that Tuff Love have put out so far – is out in January, but meanwhile here’s what will either be a reminder of their existing delights or an introduction to their world: somewhat shoegaze-y but with mischievous glimpses up through the eyelashes.

Edinburgh four-piece Kid Canaveral (whom Lost Map described as “ADHD pop splendour”) met at university in St Andrews and have been playing together ever since. Imaginative alternative pop, they manage to recall the early-‘80s cleverness of Postcard Records pop or the ramshackle poignancy of Belle & Sebastian without actually sounding much like either. It’s more a matter of spirit, a discreet but inclusive sophistication which reaches out, brushes your arm and invites you along. Two albums in, with a third in preparation, they’re a delightful discovery whenever you happen to encounter them. Their clever videos are a treat, too – here are a couple of tastes below, the first of which had my four-year-old son continually tapping the replay button.


(For anyone who wants a more substantial dose of Kid Canaveral, note that they’re playing a full set at the Shacklewell Arms on the evening of the same day.)

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On the Saturday evening, you’ve got your pick of twisty London rock and West Coast American art music (plus Rocket From The Tombs, but I’ll come to them shortly…)

Thumpermonkey @ The Islington, 30th July 2015

Thumpermonkey + Mayors Of Miyazaki + Lolita Laytex (Something’s Gonna Happen @ The AlbanyDouglas Way, Deptford, London, SE8 4AG, England, Saturday 12th December 2015, 7.30pm) – £3.00-£5.00 – information – tickets on the door

Welcome back everybody: and once again we have two superb outfits centre stage, Thumpermonkey (heavy progressive music) and Mayors Of Miyazaki (DIY 3-piece based in south London, guaranteed to spit and sweat on us at close quarters). The lovely Lolita Laytex will be joining us to add the flavour of burlesque. Yes, people of the universe, with all those ingredients in store, you know the score: £3.00 concessions and a fiver on the door. Bring ya skin!

I’ve said quite a bit about Thumpermonkey over the course of the year. Grand, clever and atmospheric, they also have enough sly, self-aware wit and humour to undercut all of the previous. They’re also tricky to pigeonhole – a band who create intricate catastrophe epics (part Radiohead, part Van der Graff Generator) but also trill the occasional Mastodon cover in the style of early Kate Bush; a prog band with a singer who sounds like an old-time theatrical knight, but also a noise band who happen to wrap their wildness into tightly-composed structures; geeky popcorn information omnivores drawing from Jodorowsky to Lovecraft to William Gibson, but salting it with Chomsky and science magazines before whipping it up into artful tornados of song. This little sample here is both characteristic and unique within what Thumpermonkey do, which in itself probably tells you all you need to know.


 

I don’t think Mayors Of Miyazaki have been in here before, but they should have been. In their way, their music’s as grand and complex as that of Thumpermonkey and even more enthused by its options. It’s punk with all the chains blown off, joyriding math-rock, de-Ritalined bratprog. A typical song sounds like both chase sequence and protracted explosion: spiky, switch-and-swap assemblages of guitar parts doubling back through alleys and charging halfway up walls, over which sibling team Gareth and Claire Thomas declaim a punky boy-girl barkathon, a speaky-drawl of sparking thoughts. Fugazi and The Fall both might be in there, though you could also pull Bis and long-lost ‘90s psych tanglers The Monsoon Bassoon out of the root cluster.


 

I don’t know much about Lolita Laytex except that she’s a fetish model as well as an alternative burlesque performer and fetish model. Not much information about a third-stream digression into music: so perhaps you should expect something sensual and mobile, which squeaks a little when it flexes. (UPDATE, 10th December – Well, that’s that laboured gag wasted. Lolita’s off the bill, replaced by Deptford punk-poppers The Kill Raimi’s. Some video evidence below…

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The second London Contemporary Music Festival night sees the series take a broad stylistic and historical sweep across twentieth and twenty-first century California (with one digression to Alaska, so it’s not all sun.)

LCMF 2015: ‘West Coast Night’

LCMF 2015: ‘West Coast Night’ (London Contemporary Music Festival 2015 @ Ambika P3, University of Westminster, 35 Marylebone Road, London, NW1 5LS, England, Saturday 12th December 2015, 6.30pm) – £11.75 – information – tickets 

The second night of LCMF 2015 is dedicated to the music of the American West Coast, an exploration of 100 years of musical non-conformism, from the piano insurrections of Henry Cowell to the deep listening of Pauline Oliveros (performing her own music on v-accordion). Oliveros is joined by another founding legend of the pioneering San Francisco Tape Music Center, Morton Subotnick, who presents a solo Buchla set and the UK premiere of a 1960s Tape Center composition with a film by Tony Martin. Another composer associated with the Tape Center was Terry Riley, whose ‘Keyboard Study No. 2’ gets a rare outing.

Alongside this we zig-zag through the experimental landscape, calling on John Cage‘s concussive ‘First Construction (In Metal)’, which premiered in Seattle in 1939, John Luther Adams‘s monumental ‘Among Red Mountains’ and Catherine Lamb‘s subterranean ‘Frames’. We excavate two gems from California’s 1980s computer music scene, Maggi Payne‘s ‘Flights Of Fancy’ and Carl Stone‘s ‘Wall Me Do’. On the fiftieth anniversary of the Watts Uprising we present an extremely rare performance from Otis O’Solomon, whose collective The Watts Prophets emerged from the rubble of that uprising and helped lay the foundations for hip-hop.

Programme:

Henry Cowell – The Banshee (for piano) – performed by Gwenaëlle Rouger
John Cage – First Construction (in Metal) (for percussion ensemble) – performed by PERC’M and Serge Vuille
Morton Subotnick/Tony Martin – PLAY! No. 3 (1965) (UK premiere)
Terry Riley – Keyboard Study No. 2
Maggi Payne – Flights of Fancy
Carl Stone – Wall Me Do
John Luther Adams – Among Red Mountains (for piano) – performed by Gwenaëlle Rouger
Catherine Lamb – Frames for cello & bass recorder (UK premiere) – performed by Anton Lukoszevieze/Lucia Mense
Otis O’Solomon – Selected poems
Pauline Oliveros – Pauline’s Solo (1992)
Morton Subotnick – solo Buchla set

 

 

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On Sunday, the third LCMF event has a polycultured and temporal feel:

LCMF 2015: ‘Five Ways to Kill Time’

LCMF 2015: ‘Five Ways To Kill Time’ (London Contemporary Music Festival 2015 @ Ambika P3, University of Westminster, 35 Marylebone Road, London, NW1 5LS, England, Sunday 13th December 2015, 6.30pm) – £11.75 – information – tickets 

Time is stretched, bent and finally dissolved in ‘Five Ways To Kill Time’. Sound artist Ellen Fullman opens the night with a UK premiere of The Watch Reprise, which will be performed on her 50-foot Long String instrument that one writer compared to “standing inside a giant grand piano.” Ethiopian composer, pianist and nun Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou makes her first visit to the UK to perform a selection of her intimate piano miniatures that seem to drift through space. Plus Minus Ensemble, meanwhile, offers up the intricate and disorientating world of Bryn Harrison‘s ‘Repetitions In Extended Time’ (conducted by Mark Knoop and featuring strings, organs, piano, guitar and clarinet). Mixing spoken text and music, theatre maker Tim Etchells (Forced Entertainment) and violinist Aisha Orazbayeva offer a set of fragmentary improvisations in ‘Seeping Through’, a work fresh from a critically acclaimed run at the Edinburgh Fringe. We end with a time-obliterating live set from doom pioneer Stephen O’Malley, whose work within and beyond his seminal group Sunn O))) exists in a kind of transcendent stasis.

Programme:

Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou – selected piano works
Bryn Harrison – Repetitions in Extended Time
Tim Etchells/Aisha Orazbayeva – Seeping Through
Ellen Fullman – The Watch Reprise (world premiere)
Stephen O’Malley – live set


 
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And finally…

Rocket From The Tombs, 2015

Rocket From The Tombs + Luminous Bodies (Baba Yaga’s Hut @ The Brewhouse, @ London Fields Brewery, 369-370 Helmsley Place, South Hackney, London, E8 3SB, England, Saturday 12th December 2015, 8.00pm) – £19.25 – informationtickets

Rocket From The Tombs (Brudenell Social Club, 17 Brudenell Road, Leeds, LS6 1HA, England, Sunday 13th December 2015, 8.00pm) – £17.60 – informationtickets

In their initial lifetime they never got past a series of scorching mid-‘70s gigs in their Cleveland hometown (plus a handful of demos and radio sessions). Yet Rocket From The Tombs have long been counted as proto-punk ancestors, kicking up a frumious Velvets-and-Stooges racket long before every other garage band was doing it. These days, onstage rock rage is quotidian; when Rocket From The Tombs brought it to the gig, it was a revelation. Following a headstrong and punchy split, they even spawned several other key bands. Main ranter David Thomas, doomed-and-driven guitarist Peter Laughner and soundman-turned-bass-player Tim Wright would create the first lineup of Pere Ubu. Second guitarist Cheetah Chrome and drummer Johnny Blitz hooked up with Stiv Bators and others to form hardcore punk pioneers Dead Boys. The rest was bootlegs and rumbling mythology. Rocket From The Tombs became one of the ur-bands, a surviving impression holding its ghostly mark but pushing onwards, providing inspiration above and beyond its initial ideals.

Rocket From The Tombs/Luminous Bodies @ Baba Yaga's Hut, December 2015By the ex-members’ accounts, being in the band had been a short, brutal and vivid experience; but it seems that there may also have been an unspoken, slow-burning sense of unfinished business. Twenty-eight years later, in their grizzled early fifties, and with plenty of other experience clocked up, most of the surviving band members (minus the retired Blitz and the long-dead Laughner) reunited for piss-and-vinegar-fuelled gigs, a long-delayed debut album and an actual afterlife. Although Laughner’s initial replacement (ex-Television guitar star Richard Lloyd), left in 2011 and a tour-burned Cheetah Chrome is now opting to sit out the live gigs, Rocket From The Tombs are still going – very much the garage end of Cleveland’s infamous avant-garage, making the most of this ornery self-driven second shot while bleeding in lessons learned from Pere Ubu and elsewhere.

The band have never played in Britain before, something which is being remedied with these two gigs in Leeds and London. In an interview with ‘The Guardian’ earlier this year, a currently chair-bound David Thomas growled “I’m approaching the end of my life, I’ve got my foot to the floor and I’m going to be going full speed ahead when I hit the wall.” It’s probably worth your while coming to one of these shows to check out his main accelerant.

There’ll be no support band at the Leeds gig, but in London things will be warmed up by Luminous Bodies, a “knuckle-dragging rock & roll” supergroup stealing members from Part Chimp, Terminal Cheesecake, Ikara Colt and others. See below.

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And that’s that. More coming shortly with the remaining December gigs and the seasonal parties… keep warm…

 

More British concerts, first week of November (2nd-8th) – Illuminations London present Holly Herndon/Jam City/Claire Tolan in Bethnal Green and Josh T. Pearson/Richard Dawson/Briana Marela/Let’s Eat Grandma in Hackney; Laura Moody plays solo in Cardiff and Sheffield; Jenny Hval/Briana Marela tour the UK

2 Nov

Some more concert dates for the current week. If you’re thinking that these have a definite female slant to them, you’re right. I’m indulging my latent X as well as stretching my perspective.

Holly Herndon expanded A/V show (featuring Mat Dryhurst and Colin Self) + Jam City + Claire Tolan (Barbican & Rockfeedback present Illuminations  @ Oval Space, 29-32 The Oval, Bethnal Green, London, E2 9DT, UK, Wednesday 4th November 2015, 7:30pm) – £15.00

Having already made a showing at Liverpool and Bristol during October, peripatetic techno-pop/IDM composer Holly Herndon brings her expanded show to London. This is a full multi-media experience including the usual music, visuals and dance elements but with an interactive component that goes far beyond Holly’s onstage collaborations with programmer/life partner Mat Dryhurst and with interpretative dancer/additional singer Colin Self. In particular, Mat’s adaptive and conceptual SAGA software reaches out beyond the stage to work – consensually – with the audience members’ own browser histories and Facebook content; mixing it all into the visuals (and, potentially, the sounds) as a communal mashup, both representational and communicatory.

Intriguing as this factor is, it’s an adjunct to Holly’s music; which remains the core material of the show. Continually glitched, tweaked and deconstructed, her compositions are a cool, complex, thoughtful and exhilarating mixture. They’re informed by post-classical forms, dance techno, and anthemic synth pop; they utilize experimental textures and broad vocal stylings (from standard singing to semi-voluntary sounds) and they bury philosophical queries deep within their tunes. Holly’s soundwork is as immersive as her stagings, full of implied questions and reflections regarding our access to and immersion in technology and how this affects the way in which we think and express ourselves, leaving comet-trails of information, interaction and yearnings.

All of these additional subtexts and pointers are there if you want them, but Holly is first and foremost a communicating musician, and her pieces are as melodious and accessible as they are multi-layered. Drawing on her ongoing music studies (doctorate level at Stanford) , her time as a precocious and enquiring teenager steeped in the heat and fun of the Berlin club scene, and her work with everything from choirs to customised laptop software, they sometimes sound like particularly complicated pop songs, stuttering their way through myriad changes of attention and focus. Sometimes they sound like accelerated dream-state dances; sometimes like madrigals sung during earthquakes (see Unequal, below). At other times, they’re like the chatter of path-switching in a circuit; or like carefully-directed cultural channel-surfings which quick-step deftly back and forth across a breadth of urban art and experience (from grand opera house to downloads in cramped bedsits). Brain food which encourages you to wander.

Also on the bill are Jam City and Claire Tolan, both of whom share Holly’s interest in interactions and in the results of our being embedded within a dense informational culture, although each has their own way of approaching the situation.

Jam City is the alias of dance-electronica producer and deconstructionist Jack Latham. Though Jack’s background in fashion and “corporate espionage” sounds almost too good to be true, as if it’s been dream-tailored for counter-cultural media discussions and for high-end elitist posing, he doesn’t use it that way. As a musician, he’s evolved from collaging various dubstep tropes towards using his work to develop and express questioning, outright political critiques of neoliberal capitalism (such as the Unhappy single, which explores the dulled angst of online porn consumers while juxtaposing it with riot footage). In the process, Jack’s also developed as a performer – backgrounding the laptops and the passive role of the standard electronica performer in order to retake the stage as guitarist and singer, and delivering a new phase of material described as sounding like a Prince record constructed from cold, chunky industrial sounds”.

Claire Tolan is an artist, programmer, sampler, writer and soundscaper specializing in autonomous sensory meridian r – a psychological process in which carefully-arranged sound and speech – usually a blend of themed, targeted whispers and quiet diegetic noises (scratches, scuffs, intimate room sounds) – triggers euphoric physical and mental reactions in the listener. With sharp wit, Claire links all of this to new developments in programming and acoustic surveillance technologies, exploring the question of how it might be applied: from simple mood enhancements and healing systems through to neurolinguistics and perception and to the potential manipulation and control of people. Her recent Holly Herndon collaboration Lonely At The Top (see below) might give some clues as to her concert performance. A cosseting monologue, coffee-pot dribbles and the close-up noises of small rooms are interspersed with the rubs and slaps of massage, fingernails ticking on keyboards and screens, and increasingly intimate sounds of hand and mouth: the language, desires and end results of relaxation tapes, executive relief, socially-reinforced senses of entitlement and prostitution blend and overlap to sardonic, disturbing effect.

Information and tickets for the concert are here  while the Facebook event page is here. At the end of the month, Holly will also be appearing at All Tomorrow’s Parties at Prestatyn.

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There are some similarities between Holly Herndon and Laura Moody  – not least an overlap with classical music and a sense of being on the outcrops of songcraft, delving up malleable truths and questions. Yet whereas Holly’s a post-classical theoretician (reconciling her education with her human instincts, and with life outside the college bubble) and works primarily on computer, Laura comes from older and more familiar traditions, and is almost exclusively an acoustic performer. Possessing outstanding talent both as a singer and as a cellist – and able to cover both fields simultaneously, as well as beatboxing and cello-drumming – she pounces into her own music with the terrifying, exhilarating technical skills of a top-drawer classical soloist.

Laura’s songwriting instinct, meanwhile, seem to come from multiple directions at once. Tense twentieth-century string figures (from her earlier years playing avant-garde pieces with the Meredith Monk Ensemble, and her current work with the Elysian Quartet); ancient, eerie folk airs; expressionist opera; P.J. Harvey’s cleaver intensity; the clever, idiosyncratic and individual art pop of a Kate Bush, a Tom Waits or a Bjork. Everything that she delivers sounds immediate, whether it’s the savagely equivocal hormonal take-down of an older man on Creeping Alopecia, the raindrop attenuations of Call This Time Love, or the stormy dissections of love-gone-wrong and betrayal on Turn Away and We Are Waiting.

The live gigs are enthralling wonders: supple switchings between Laura’s own welcoming personality and the performance persona which handles the songs, blurring the line of physicality which separates woman and cello. She’s out on a brief tour now, playing outside London for a few events. Go see for yourselves.

Laura Moody:

* * * * * * * *

For many female pop musicians, an increasingly outright or explicit public sexuality is both a marketing point and the prime hook. To an extent, this is also true of Jenny Hval. Many people will have initially heard about her thanks to what seemed to be a head-turningly saucy lyric:“I arrived in town with an electric toothbrush pressed against my clitoris.” Curious (and possibly a little numbed by Rihanna, plus memories of lubricious Prince party-funk), many of us will have followed this expecting a licentious slow jam, only to find something very different – the opening line of a mirror-calm songscape of hovering bells, limpid murmurs and breathed-on acoustic guitars which dealt with the secret worlds of strangers within cities and, in particular, their self-reliance.

A polymath whose methods blur as artfully as her perspectives, Jenny doesn’t write songs so much as drop carefully-charged texts and pointers, and then explore and adorn these recitatives with chantlike melodies and poised minimal instrumental textures, pulling them apart and working in and out of the word-rhythms. Her guitars, keyboards and samplers (as well as her heavy-lashed, light-tongued vocals) work like soft-edged sculpting tools. Her lyrics are the lines of resistance.

For both new listeners and previous converts, sexuality remains a prime Hval hook. It’s what we expect to hear from her, although we’ve quickly learnt to appreciate that she turns the expected approaches on their heads and back-to-front. She revels in the unfixed: in the course of a single song, lovers will pass fluidly from mysterious passion to friendship to absence, and between gender, ages, species or state. Even when singing of cupping her own cunt (while cupping the blunt, unadorned and troublesome word itself, delivered throughout her songbook without a hint of shame, taboo or aggression and with a succinct matter-of-fact poise) she’ll let the action lead her somewhere that doesn’t fit the usual expectations and commodities – appreciating its centrality at her body’s core; being inspired to cup in turn a lover’s “soft dick… accepting restlessness, accepting no direction, accepting this fearful wanting that isn’t desire… can we just lie here being?”; or imagining a world of peaceful masturbators (“a million bedrooms with hands softly lulling… without telling anyone, a million ships come alone out on the calmest seas”) while asking, with a sense of disquiet “are we loving ourselves now? Are we mothering ourselves?”

Also running through Jenny’s work (whether entwined with or separate from the sexual themes), are ambiguous accounts of bodily disintegration. Opening her second album ‘Innocence Is Kinky’ with an account of watching online porn, she moves from commodified enervation into an eerie and exultant dream of escape, relinquishing her own body and its passive needs, and finally symbolically destroying the eyes with which she consumes the images. Yet this song and its sisters aren’t quite nightmares. Sometimes they’re triumphs – disassociative fantasies of freedom in which the wrack and ruin seem to be the natural rites of passage of a cool mind walking free, unconcerned, its passions become processes.

Jenny’s writing casts a wide net – violent upsets echoing classic French surrealism; deep-running strands of myth both classical and original (from the “Oslo Oedipus” of Innocence Is Kinky to the dark, quasi-pagan tree-figure in Amphibious, Androgynous that stands as lover, doppelganger and the next phase of self); and musings on the ambiguous trap of language (“the tongue is upon for the restless /An indecipherable alphabet / Each word an island less… And we speak in tongues from part to parts, broke all to parts / From invisible state, to invisible state…”). Most recently, on her latest album ‘Apocalypse, Girl’ the political subtexts have broken cover to become direct challenges (“You say I’m free now, that battle is over, / and feminism is over and socialism’s over. / Yeah, I say, I can consume what I want now..”). So too have preoccupations with ageing and survival (in the breathless narrative of Heaven, surrounded by loops and fractures of cemeteries and childhood choirs, Jenny wrestles with the pull of memory and the drag of mortality) and a increasingly solid approach to identity. “What is it to take care of yourself? Getting paid? Getting laid? Getting married? Getting pregnant? Fighting for visibility in your market? Realizing your potential? Being healthy, being clean, not making a fool of yourself, not hurting yourself? Shaving in all the right places?”

All of the above – the obliqueness and the rapier hits – makes listening to Jenny’s records akin to haunting her apartment at 2am (or some similar time  when manners and manneredness come unstuck and the shapes of other truths come walking). I’ve not been fortunate enough to see what her music is like live – though I know that past concert showings have seen her play bolstered with  guests or simply alone, surrounded by laptops, devices and ideas. On the five quick dates of her current UK tour, you’ll be able to see for yourselves.

Jenny Hval:

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On the Glasgow, Manchester and Bristol dates, Jenny will be joined by her on-off tourmate Briana Marela, a singer-songwriter from the Pacific North-West who’s currently working a string of European tour dates in support of her second album ‘All Around Us’. As you might expect from something recorded in Iceland and co-produced with Sigur Rós associate Alex Somers, ‘All Around Us’ is ghosted and garnished with touches of Hopelandic enchantment (with beautiful smeared, paper-thin sounds intruding on the edge of the mix, like lost amnesiac ghosts or distant pipes), but it’s very much Briana’s inspiration – a luminous, thoughtful work blending layered melodic sample-patches and banking her petal-delicate vocals into choirs and a capella counterpoint.

Though Briana cites Björk, Laura Veirs, Vashti Bunyan and Meredith Monk as influences (she has something in common with Laura Moody, then), I can also hear the same kind of all-round sound-mastery that’s on display and working away in the songs of Imogen Heap; deep-level sonic exploration and sound curation tied to the urge to tell you a story and sing you a straight earworm. In the album’s lead single Surrender I can even hear something of the pure pop of ABBA, while the midnight lushness of the follow-up, Dani, recalls a Julee Cruise ‘Twin Peaks’ ballad.

Though Briana’s voice is soft, it’s never wispy – never insubstantial. If there’s a hint of girl-next-door to what she does, she’s the quiet, observant girl full of thoughts, going her own way but ready to let you walk alongside.  Like Jenny, though less explicitly, she explores possibilities of intimacy. Her songs hover carefully on the borderline between selfhood and loneliness, a delicate staking out of possible togetherness, subtly resisting the pressures to put out or submit, to be deformed by needs and expectations (“What does love mean in this day and age? /  To me it’s a moment where we resonate at two frequencies close in phase… /  It’s not a competition /  Everyone has music within them.” ). Meanwhile, the perfectly-pitched American-visionary tone of the album (its hallucinatory fairy-tale sonics, leaflike piano falls and misty country swells) suggests that there’s common ground between Briana’s dream pop and the ostensibly cleaner work of breakthrough CCM-pop singers like Lexi Elisha, which in turn suggests that there’ll be a lot of people who’ll end up liking this.

* * * * * * * *

In between dates with Jenny Hval, Briana Marela will also be joining the bill at another Illuminations concert in London, this one a stew of assorted flavours which also includes the battered Americana of Lift To Experience frontman Josh T. Pearson  and the skewed Tyneside noise-troubadour work of Richard Dawson.

Probably because of the female orientation of this particular post, I’ve got to admit that I’m more intrigued by the youngest act on the bill, and the only other female one. It’s difficult to work out just how tongue-in-cheek the psychedelic rag-doll sludge-pop” duo Let’s Eat Grandma are, assuming that they’re joking at all. Eyes down, singing from beneath and behind tumbling pre-Raphaelite locks, and tucked into stolen Stevie Nicks dresses, Rosa and Jenny rummage with various instruments like toybox-divers and play songs as if it’s only occurred to them to do so. Two Norwich teenagers who’ve known each other since childhood, they’ve sustained, into near adulthood, that mysterious blankness of two little girls who are ignoring your interruptions to their game. The songs themselves are tangled musical fairy stories, or (as with ‘Eat Shiitake Mushrooms Into Chocolate Sludge Cake’) extended wooden-legged instrumental mantras owing more to Faust or Beefheart: spontaneous-seeming, utterly absorbed in themselves. The band feels like a musical chrysalis twitching what might become an astounding breadth of wing. It’s all to discover.

Josh T. Pearson/Richard Dawson/Briana Marela/Let’s Eat Grandma (Rockfeedback present Illuminations @ St. John Church at Hackney, Lower Clapton Road, Hackney, London, E5 0PD, UK, Saturday 7th November 2015, 6.00pm) – £20.00 –  informationtickets

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More concert previews coming shortly for November…

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